Your Mountain Is My Valley (Raise Your Expectations) - An Answer to Bill Holland's Writing Prompt
Are You Up for It?
When the undisputed Professor of Hub Pages Bill Holland (aka billybuc) gives you an assignment, you try to take it seriously, but usually wind up hitting snooze on your alarm clock and going back to sleep. He has to get up at 5 AM to feed the quail, after all, but you certainly don't. But then, when he tweaks your tail by saying "Are you up for it?" that sounds more like a dare than homework, and who can back down from a dare? This, then, is my entry into the latest Bill Holland writing challenge. As with most homework I've done in my life, I forgot the due date and threw it together almost at the last minute. As with most of my other writing, the idea came to me in a flood of inspiration while showering.
A Sign on The Front that Said Fender Champ
And a cheezy little amp, With a sign on the front that said Fender Champ, And a second hand guitar, It was a Stratocaster with a whammy bar
Kingswell Firoz couldn't help but hum the merry lyrics to Zappa's Joe's Garage as he finished his office remodel by hanging the last of his inspirational art pieces. Art? Could he really call it art? Probably not in the strictest sense of the definition, but it was inspirational in its own limited way, and it did serve a purpose. When you were in the art business you could invent your own definitions anyway. If someone was willing to pay millions for it, then it was art. That was the strictest sense of the word, as far as he was concerned.
As he went about his renovating duties, another Zappa album reminded Kingswell that he was the kind of man who really got a kick whenever an Apostrophe(') was attempted with his spoken surname, which was why he had picked Firoz above the rest of those spit out by the random name generator. People got all tongue tied trying to pronounce that apostrophe 's.' It would come out like Mr. Firozuses or something ridiculously awkward like that. Then he could glare at them with mock offense and get away with it.
...with a sign on the front that said Fender Champ... Kingswell hummed, skipping a few lines to get to the relevant part. All of Kingswell Firoz's "art" pieces had signs on the front indeed, signs that dispensed varying degrees of cheap, drugstore wisdom. It was the kind of mediocre motivation, feigning sophistication and sagacity, that is found hanging above the desks of idiot bosses everywhere. As for Firozuses art, it was wise in its own vapid way. It had absolutely no place in an art broker's office, but then it did.
A knock came on the door. That was okay, he was ready now.
"Come in," said Kingswell.
"Good afternoon, Kingswell," said the cultured swine standing in the doorway. "Is it safe to enter the Sanctum Sanctorum? With all of that vile pounding, it sounded like giant rodents were burrowing into the walls here."
Kingswell was pretty sure that the voice's owner, one Brent Lightfoot, had not picked his title from a random name generator. He was also pretty sure he wasn't no damn Lightfoot either, and that his east coast gentrified accent was entirely affected, not real. No big deal, in the art broker business artificial aristocrats were as common as randomly generated names.
"Mr. Firoz," Kingswell corrected him. He really wasn't big on formality, but it delighted him that this effete snob would sooner or later trip over his apostrophe, and that would be funny as hell to hear in his blue blood English.
"Mr. Firoz," Brent Lightfoot said hesitantly, suspecting it was a trap. "Oh Lord, that's absolutely atrocious."
Kingswell adjusted the frame in his hands a few degrees to the left. Then, without releasing the adornment he turned his head toward Brent, the faintest of grins causing a brief glimmer to flash across his well practiced callousness. "What, this?" he asked.
On the wall before Kingswell hung a framed photograph, approximately 48 X 60, of a mountain peak half shrouded in clouds. The glacier cap at the top of the rocky massif stood out like the bald spot on Brent's fake blue blood, bow-tied head. "What? You don't like it?"
"It's awful," groaned Brent. "What does that say on the bottom there?"
Kingswell moved to one side so that Brent could see it for himself, but then read the words to him anyway. "Your mountain is my valley - raise your expectations."
"How horribly trite," said Brent, curling his thin lips in disgust. "Whatever does it mean?"
"It means whatever you want it to mean," answered Kingswell, "But it makes you think, which is the point."
"I'm sure I don't understand you at all. How on earth could it make one think? It makes me think about vomiting."
Kingswell's nostril's expanded impatiently as he took a deep breath and turned to face Mr. Brent Phony Lightfoot. "That's exactly the desired effect," he said with a touch of the peevish professor. This full frontal shot was KIngswell's best side, his neatly trimmed muscles creating stunted but powerful waves beneath the requisite tweed of his sport coat, his perfectly groomed dark hair and Turkish mustache sparkling like Renaissance marble beneath the finely adjusted lights that were compulsory in an art broker's office.
"If the meaning is not immediately clear, the client sitting in front of my desk is apt to ponder its purpose, rather than listen clearly to the misrepresentations it is sometimes necessary to wave before that client's eyes."
Brent Lightfoot was not amused, even though he understood misrepresentations quite well. His specialty was "art procurement," after all, with all the sinister implications surrounding that job description, dating back to Hermann Goering and his crew of Nazi art plunderers. He could condone a lot of things, but Lightfoot could not condone inferior decorations. Repulsed by the immense photo he turned to the left where, looming before him, stood the equally imposing captured image of a deteriorating, long-abandoned string of rail cars, rotting on a side track that was framed by tumbleweeds and desiccated dirt. "And this one?"
"Focus - Stay on Track," said Kingswell, pronouncing the words with an almost parental pride. "I believe its meaning is rather obvious, don't you think? It represents the consequences of what happens in this business if we lose sight of our goals. We wither away on a side track. Pretty simple."
Kingswell was becoming annoyed by this line of interrogation. What did Mr. quote unquote Lightfoot know about art, anyway? He was the best in the business at the procurement end, that much could not be denied, but you literally had to draw him a picture of which picture to procure, because in spite of all of his pompous posturing he couldn't tell Vermeer from Van Gogh if Vincent's self portrait walked up and bit him in the ass.
Apparently rendered speechless by the inferior wall decorations hanging in Firozuses office, Brent Lightfoot merely gestured to the photo hanging on the wall to his right. He wagged a half-raised finger feebly in its direction, as if the effort required to properly point was beneath him. On that wall hung a picture of a ramshackle, decrepit old barn with a rusty roof and a silo tilting precariously to the right, like the tower of Pisa one hundred years after the zombie apocalypse. The weeds and high grass surrounding the structure threatened to consume it completely.
"Rusted, not busted - Guard your harvest," said Kingswell, reading the bold letters superimposed upon the blue sky, the only pleasant part of the picture. His voice contained no sarcasm whatsoever.
"Oh, please," replied Lightfoot painfully, as if the effort required to gaze upon these unworthy adornments was giving him a horrible migraine. "May I sit down?"
"You forgot the one behind you," said Kingswell.
Lightfoot turned reluctantly, his hands held together before him in a prayerful stance. "You have a touch of the macabre, I see," said Lightfoot, rolling his eyes.
Up there on the back wall, three rain-stained, carbon copy tombstones rose above the lush grass of a lawn only slightly encroached upon by leaf litter and twining vines.
"Make Noise, Wake the Dead," KIngswell read without waiting for a prompt. He was tired of this now. He wished this conceited prick would just go away.
"How heinously vulgar," pronounced Lightfoot as he took the seat proffered politely by Mr. Firoz. "And how scandalously inappropriate for an art broker's office."
Kingswell sat in his own chair behind the exquisite cocobolo desk that clashed like the Israelites vs. the Philistines against the horrible portraiture hanging in cheap plastic frames upon the office walls. "Did you come here to criticize my interior decorating skills?" he asked.
One Man's Objet D'art Is Another's Bathroom Decor
Mr. Brent Lightfoot straightened himself up impeccably in the chair, crossed his legs, and folded his exquisitely manicured hands upon his lap. "Not at all," he said. "I have come here to file a formal protest. I have come here to denounce the complete lack of foresight and sheer folly involved with taking priceless works of art and hanging them up like cheap Chinese copies in the corridor."
The words spoken by Mr. Lightfoot were as true as his limited perspective could render them, Kingswell had to agree. Van Gogh's The Painter on The Road to Tarascon, not having been burned by the Nazis after all, hung from a nail in the hallway as casually as one of those pastoral scenes your Mother buys at Home Goods for $10 to put up in the bathroom. It was worth uncalculated millions. Cezanne's once missing Boy in The Red Vest, skillfully procured by Mr. Lightfoot, was on display in the vestibule between the boy's and girl's bathrooms. The priceless Count Lepic and His Daughters, by Degas, another previously Nazi-pilfered work now relocated, hovered above a plastic plant in the lobby. Picasso's Le Pigeon Aux Petit Pois, all 28 million dollars of it, was exhibited above the microwave in the lunchroom.
"What would you have me do with it, instead?" Kingswell inquired.
Lightfoot was flabbergasted. The complete lack of necessity for the question caused his face to go a very unnatural shade of pink and his lips to flutter. "Why, you put it in a safe, you keep it under guard twenty four hours a day, but you don't leave it on display in the hallway for all comers to gawk at and possibly...fondle."
Mr. Firoz gave Brent Lightfoot a long suffering smile, because they had already conducted this conversation. "Your concern is duly noted, Mr. Lightfoot, But there is no need for uneasiness. We have adequate security here."
Lightfoot practically launched his light feet into orbit as he sprung to attention and pounded an indignant fist upon the cocobolo. "Adequate security! Are you kidding me? The guy standing in the lobby makes $11 dollars an hour! The night shift has been caught sleeping twice. We might as well leave the door open and send out embroidered invitations to art thieves!"
Did they really embroider invitations? Kingswell wondered. He cast a disagreeable gaze upon the greasy smear left by Lightfoot's fist upon his cocobolo. "I think you are exaggerating, Mr. Lightfoot. Furthermore, I think you will agree that the decor in our place of business must reflect a certain standard of cultural sophistication."
Lightfoot sneered, then made a sweeping motion with his arms that embraced the cheap art on all four walls of Firozuses office. "Oh, do you mean like the culturally sophisticated stuff you've got going on here?"
"That will be all, Mr. Lightfoot," Kingswell said. He shooed him out and then locked the door carefully behind him. He didn't appreciate it when people over-scrutinized his office decor.
Flip Phone Flams
Almost as soon as a still steaming Mr. Lightfoot was ushered out of the room, the very cheap, disposable flip phone Firoz had purchased with cash at 7-11 a week ago rang in the drawer of his very expensive cocobolo desk.
"Is it ready?" A sinister smooth voice on the other end of the line said. It was a shady, indistinguishable bad guy growl straight out of a low budget Hollywood gangster movie.
"Of course," Kingswell answered calmly.
"You owe the investors millions," the anonymous caller, the pleasure of whose acquaintance Kingswell had never made and never would, said. "It better be worth it."
"Oh, don't worry, you'll get all you say I owe you and then some."
"Where will it be?"
"Don't let that trouble you, you'll find it. I don't think I could have made it more obvious."
"Do we need to bring our safe-cracker? He's the best in the business."
Kingswell's lengthy pause was the equivalent of a verbal shrug. "Bring him along if it makes you feel better. You might need him, you might not."
The line droned an empty electronic tone, having gone dead without so much as the courtesy of a goodbye. Kingswell snapped the phone in two, wrapped up its useless parts in plastic and put the remains in his briefcase, to throw in a public trash receptacle at the first opportunity.
"Bastards and thugs," he grumbled.
That night, the unspeakably worst that could ever occur at a prestigious art brokerage took place. Four men dressed in ridiculously predictable black sweaters and color coordinated pullover ski masks entered Firozuses place of business through the front door. They bound and gagged the $11 dollar an hour slumbering security guard before he could even wake up, removed the Degas from its moorings above the plastic plant, detached the Cezanne from its spot in the vestibule between the little boy's and little girl's rooms, hijacked the Picasso from the nail hammered into the lunchroom wall, then hauled down the Van Gogh from its hook in the hallway.
Cheap Chinese Copies Revisited
Lightfoot was indignant and distraught. "I WARNED YOU!" he wailed at Kingswell when they both arrived on the scene shortly after the crime, and then the proficient procurer had to be medicated.
As for Mr. Firoz, he stood in surprisingly professional calm and dignity as police officers and insurance investigators roamed the now artless corridors, dusting for fingerprints and taking statements. "Where is the stolen property report?" One of the investigators asked.
"Er...I think I saw it in Firozuses office," a policeman answered uncomfortably, and Kingswell chuckled merrily behind the mask of his offended scowl as the peace officer stumbled clumsily over his outstretched apostrophe.
Two days later, when the crime scene was finally abandoned by the investigators, Kingswell Firoz returned to the office late at night. The security company had been summarily dismissed, of course, so nobody challenged his entry.
Kingswell's gaze took in the denuded walls with satisfaction. "Cheap Chinese copies anyway," he laughed. Not that cheap, really. They had been good enough to pass the muster of the uninitiated, that arrogant mother-effer Lightfoot being one of those. He was one hell of a procurer, but he couldn't tell Dali from Dr. Seuss.
Firoz entered his office and quietly approached the enormous inspirational photograph of the bald-headed mountain, the one with the caption that read - "Your Mountain is My Valley - Raise Your Expectations." Kingswell had definitely raised his expectations and then some, he thought with a twinge of irony, if it really could be called irony. He was never sure.
He took the photo in its cheap plastic frame down from the wall, exposing a wide safe behind it. From the interior of the safe he rescued the real Van Gogh from those dizzying alpine heights. Next he went over to the "Stay on Track" train and derailed the genuine Cezanne, followed by the "Rusted, not Busted" barn with its authentic, unoxidized Degas, which he extracted carefully from within. Finally, he visited the "Wake the Dead" tombstones and disinterred the bona fide Picasso.
Kingswell had been pretty sure that no one would pay any attention to his inspirational wall decor. Just another bombastic boss with delusions of grandeur hanging cheezy, essentially meaningless artwork on the wall. Uncounted narcissistic asswipes across the fruited plain did it all the time, after all.
The art broker carefully wrapped up the precious, priceless cargo, put it on a dolly, went down the empty elevator and then across to the parking lot, where he loaded the loot into a van.
Far down the van's route lay a set of fake identification papers with another randomly generated name, tucked away aboard a yacht, going to an island where, most importantly, an art loving buyer with mountains of inestimable millions waited.
From there, who really knew what lay beyond the hidden horizons of his elevated expectations?