Greenwich, Conn. shares its name with a trendy neighborhood in Manhattan, the location of the Royal Observatory in London and a smattering of small towns throughout English speaking countries. It is one of the most affluent communities in the United States, being a short commute from New York, and having launched an aggressive campaign to attract businesses through subsidies and low taxation. It boasts several well known schools as well as notable residents, many of whom are CEOs of large corporations or celebrities.
The Greenwich Art Society was founded in the 1920s, an offshoot of the Cos Cob Art Colony of American Impressionists who lived in the area during the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. Early evening found Wesley Wyndam-Pryce outside 299 Greenwich Avenue, adjusting his tie and taking several deep breaths before entering the building that housed the Society. He was one of the guests of honor for an exhibition of nature photography by a Greenwich-based photographer, whose name he tried to recall but kept slipping his mind. He was glad the exhibition was on photography, not art; he knew next to nothing about the technical aspects of painting and people always wanted to discuss it with him.
Ever since moving the States four years ago, Wesley's star had been on the rise. The streets of London were full of dunces with a double-barreled name, minor public school education and nothing much else. His father had repeatedly threatened to cut him off unless he found himself a 'real' job -- failed artist was not a job in Sir Roger's book.
Wesley wisely bypassed the cynicism of New York when he arrived stateside. Instead he settled in the Anglophilic communities of New England where for the first time in his life, people actually seemed to be in awe of his name and couldn't get enough of his accent. He taught ESL for recent immigrants and found himself doing voiceovers for public service announcements. Someone mistook him for a minor British aristocrat and he never took the trouble to correct the error. It soon got to the point when he himself fancied himself a titled gent, which he alluded to when he opened his eponymous English language school in downtown Boston.
During one cocktail party when he was waxing lyrical on the merits of real tennis (a sport he had read about but was pretending to have played since childhood), he met Richard Wilkins III. Something about the jovial man with the permanent cheery disposition gave him the willies, but when the man started flattering him he quickly swept aside his reservations. Mr Wilkins, upon learning that he was an artist, immediately requested a private viewing. The ex-mayor of Sunnydale loved his paintings and encouraged Wesley to give up day-to-day operations of his school and concentrate on his art; he guaranteed Wesley buyers for his work.
Wesley couldn't paint fast enough. Soon there were hordes of buyers clamoring for a Wyndam-Pryce original. At first, critics trashed his work -- unoriginal, pedestrian and eyesore were words branded about; but such critics would suddenly find themselves fired from their jobs or victim of a debilitating, though carefully non-fatal, accident. Soon, criticism dried out and his paintings were being auctioned for four-, sometimes five-figure sums. Mr Wilkins and his partner Mr Balthazar got a healthy cut of the proceeds, but there was always enough money for Wesley to spend. They even provided him with a fabulous four bedroom house in Greenwich, together with studio and his own media room.
The trade-off was he had to show his face at the local art scene occasionally. He never minded that, the folks at the GAS were friendly enough, consisting mainly of amateurs with more enthusiasm than earth-shattering talent. He was looking forward to the free wine and perhaps an appearance by a celebrity or tycoon or two.
"Mr Wyndam-Pryce?" His thoughts were rudely interrupted by one of those GAS people. Until he looked at the source of the voice and almost fell down. A young redhead with keen green eyes was looking at him eagerly. She was easily the most beautiful creature he had ever seen.
Beautiful Creature frowned and cleared her throat. Ooops. "Ah, yes. This is he," he said pompously.
"I'm Dani Rosenby from Pepper magazine and this is my associate Tamara Livingstone. We were wondering if we could speak to you for a few minutes." The redhead stepped aside and introduced her associate -- good mother of god, Wesley thought to himself as he nearly wet his pants at the sight of another angel, this one a blonde with the sweetest smile. He shook hands with both and made a mental note to not wash his hands that night. Not until he was in his bedroom and taken care of his, ah, nightly business.
"Of course," he squeaked, his voice going up one whole octave.
Dani Rosenby spoke again. Oh! Her voice! "We're sorry to approach you directly. Usually we work through agents, but --"
"-- don't have one," Wesley interrupted.
"Ah, I see," Ms Rosenby frowned. She must think I'm a wanker. "In which case let me make you an offer you can't refuse," she smiled enigmatically. Oh! Her smile! "An interview with Pepper. Two, may be three-page profile. If our editor shows sufficient interest, may be even the cover."
Wesley couldn't believe his ears. Front page coverage! It didn't matter that he had never heard of Pepper, he never read art magazines because he didn't understand the articles. "You want to do an interview? With me?" he blubbered, looking between the two.
Beautiful Creature flashed a smile at him that made him spurt. "Both of us. We'd like to schedule it as soon as possible, perhaps sometime," she paused and said in a low, seductive voice, "this week?"
He tried to maintain a semblance of sophistication by not blurting out that he was free tonight, tomorrow and every single night in the foreseeable future. "How about tomorrow? You can have the whole day."
He was still staring at Beautiful Creature when the blonde angel piped up. "That will be great. Shall we come to your house? Around 1pm?"
He gave them his address and reluctantly tore himself away from their attention. He fell asleep that night, a stupid smile on his face as at the fantasized image of himself and Ms Rosenby in wedding attire.
Wesley's house was located on the curve of a quiet tree-lined cul-de sac, the type of street where it took ten minutes to walk to the next house.
He answered as soon as Willow rang the bell, opening the door and grinning at them like an over-excited guard dog waiting for his owner's return.
"Mr Wyndam-Pryce," Willow greeted him, noting his dazed expression and the drool.
"Thanks for having us," Tara added.
He stepped aside and ushered them in. "Oh yes, pleasure. Please come in."
He led them through a wide foyer, pass the large but unutilized kitchen and to the conservatory. The french doors and ceiling-high windows allowed full sunlight inside. Large pots containing indoor plants occupied the corners and the floor was covered with a paint-scorched cloth. In the middle of the studio were several easels, some covered and some supporting works-in-progress. Brushes, pots of paint, empty frames and blank canvases were scattered everywhere.
Willow walked around, as if appraising the working area. "Very nice," she nodded.
Wesley audibly gulped. "W-would you like something to drink?" he stammered.
"Water would be good," Willow answered. "Ms Livingstone?"
"Water for me too," Tara nodded.
Wesley came back with water and they stood in a circle like candles on a birthday cake, waiting for someone to start the conversation.
"So," they all said at once.
Willow was first to recover. "Nice house, Mr Wyndam-Pryce. Your bio says you live in a 280 year old former textile mill cottage in Rhode Island. This is no cottage, in my limited experience as a realtor."
He shuffled his feet. "The cottage sounds more, um, romantic. Yesterday, did you mention cover article?"
Neither Ms Rosenby nor Ms Livingstone elaborated on that. Instead Willow got down to business. "Let's do this informally. Tell us about yourself. How you come to the US. Who inspired you. What are the secrets of your success."
There was nothing Wesley Wyndam-Pryce liked more than to talk about himself. Over the next few hours he entertained them with exaggerated tales of his adventures. It was all Willow and Tara could do to not snigger at some of his 'achievements'. According to him, he won a scholarship to the top art school in London, had his first exhibition at the Royal Academy while still at college, and was in line for a Turner Prize. America was lucky that he deigned to move here, where his brilliance continued.
At their request he showed them some of the finished paintings stacked at one side of the studio. They were all of the same style -- random paint splattered on different colored backgrounds. The patterns wouldn't have been out of place on the walls of a paintball arena.
"You definitely set a great example to aspiring artists. The perfect story for our readers. I mean, how often do we get to stand among the epitome of the American Dream," Willow said with a straight face, pretending to examine one painting in detail.
Wesley looked like he was about to spontaneously combust.
"We understand that you have a generous sponsor and benefactor," Tara added, moving to a 'masterpiece' that seemed to be the work of blind monkeys.
Wesley preened even more. "Yes, Mr Wilkins' tremendous patronage has freed me! I can paint whatever I want, however I want. He even supplies me with canvases!"
Both Willow and Tara stopped and looked quizzically at him. "Canvases?"
Wesley shrugged. "I have to paint to order. He says he has a thing about control and specific dimensions. So he gives me canvases in various shapes and sizes and I, uh, do my thing."
"Well, every man has his kinks, right?" Willow winked. Wesley whimpered. Tara didn't know whether to laugh out loud at Wesley's very obvious crush on Willow or to kiss Willow senseless in front of the man to stake her claim.
She distracted herself by picking up a blank canvas. It was already neatly stretched and primed for another Wyndam-Pryce original. She felt around the cotton material and examined how it fit inside the wooden stretcher. Willow and Wesley were trading coy remarks but Tara interrupted to wordlessly show the prepared canvas to the redhead.
"Does he supply you with all your canvases?" she asked.
"Not all. But usually before an auction he gives me a few specific ones. For some reason those always fetch the highest price."
They exchanged a knowing look. "So you're working on the next auction?" Tara continued.
"I'm almost finished. There's one in a couple of weeks' time at Travers & Son. Would you like to see them?" he asked in the manner of a child before show-and-tell.
They agreed enthusiastically. After staying another hour and politely declining the offer of dinner, they bade good-bye to a clearly besotted Wesley Wyndam-Pryce.