Last time on Ace Archer: Ace and Jeremy, freshly escaped from the hospital, pick up Caryn and Lara as they all converge upon the Alex Raymond Gallery, where Lara’s new show opens tomorrow…


Part Twenty-One

“Um, are you sure this is okay with the directors or whomever?” Jeremy asked as Lara Termigant fidgeted with the key in the locked door of the Alex Raymond Gallery of Art.

Caryn smiled at him, mostly because he used the word “whomever” correctly.

“They wouldn’t have given me a key if they didn’t want me to use it,” Lara said. “Of course, I can’t seem to get the key to work, so maybe they gave me a fake key thinking that I’d never actually try to use it, and it was just a courtesy that they thought they could get away with. God! Art dealers are so underhanded! I mean, to your face they’re all ‘oh, yes, Lara, your art is so fresh! So daring!’ but then behind your back they laugh and twirl their mustaches and say ‘I wonder how much of her valuable lifetime we can waste with our fraudulent gallery key!’ and then they start taking bets and…”

The key turned in the lock.

“I think it’s okay with them,” Caryn said.

Lara stepped inside to look for a light switch.

Ace grimaced and made a pain sound.

“Are you okay?” Caryn asked.

“I haven’t walked this much since the really cute physical therapist they had last year,” he grunted. “Maybe…”

“…escaping from your hospital wasn’t a good idea?” Jeremy asked.

Ace didn’t answer, but the diminutive Caryn put one of his bone thin arms around her shoulders and helped him shuffle into the doorway, followed closely by his hostage.

Just as their eyes began to adjust to the darkness, it was expelled by a stunningly bright line of track lighting running along the ceiling.

“Okay, we’re in business!” Lara Termigant called from down the hallway. “It’s in here!”

Caryn helped Ace forward. The passage seemed to go on forever to the aged spaceman. Behind them, Jeremy checked his iPhone and frowned.

“Um,” he started, but then he stepped into the large rotunda that was the hub of the “Lara Termigant: Postfuturist” art show.

Paintings ringed the circular room at the same level like a belt of unearthly visions. The painting of the Gaslights was here, hanging next to a still life of a stylized dagger resting next to a red glove and entitled “Tal’s Dirken.” A naked man bearing a black sun on his back, Atlas-like, was called “Prospero’s Downfall.” A painting of a hairy beast wielding a barbed whip and threatening a naked woman of metal hung next to it.

Hanging from the ceiling like planets around a sun were several sculptures that looked like modern appliances outfitted with chrome fins and silver lame and blue crystalline extrusions. The toaster that was jettisoning flying saucers was particularly impressive, though even it fell short of the centerpiece.

Because in the center of the installation was a rocket ship.

Almost ten feet tall and twice again as long, there was a certain retro-futurism to it; it was a cylindrical frame of metal with a conical nose from which an old television antenna protruded. Wings and fins had been soldered on in a purposefully industrial style, patterns of rivets and bolts suggested lightning and fire and speed. Molded polyurethane droplets trailed behind the ship’s curved lines, making a crystalline wake. Several wooden model figurines, the sort available at art supply stores, had been painted in a variety of styles, from the impressionist woman in a yellow dress to a cubist figure that seemed to be stabbing himself. The most curious part of the vessel, though, was the giant bronze keyhole suspended within a spherical framework like the skeleton of a globe. While an etched and stained linework in the metal plate clearly delineated the classic circle-on-triangle icon of a keyhole, there was also an actual hole within that, an irregular round shape lined with some kind of luminous crystal containing thin grooves that wound their way into the keyhole itself.

“Holy… it… it’s the Tempest!” Ace cried. Caryn blinked. The ship looked nothing like the cover art on the Ace Archer novels.

“I call it ‘Syzygy,'” Lara said.

“I think we might want to head out now,” Jeremy said slowly, his eyes more interested in his phone than the art surrounding him.

“That…” Caryn said, pointing to the keyhole. “Where did you get that part of it?”

Ace was running his wrinkled hand along the metal frame of the ship. It felt like home under his fingertips.

“I got it in an estate sale when I was visiting Chicago,” Lara said. “Funny story, actually. It had been found in an abandoned footlocker at Ravenswood Airport by an army historian who was doing an article on G. I. Bill licensing opportunities in post-World War Two civilian America, and…”

“Did you say Ravenswood?” Ace asked, turning from the ship with a start.

“Seriously, guys,” Jeremy said, looking back down the hallway to the entrance they had come in through. Headlights crossed the glass door twice. “I think, um, maybe we set off an alarm or something?”

“I don’t know why, it was this weird hollow cylinder but for some reason it struck me as a keyhole. I welded it to the plate and did the embossing myself.”

“Ignition,” Ace said.

Caryn, meanwhile, was rummaging through her purse. A moment later, she pulled out the space lipstick she had found among her Granne’s things.

“Was there something like this with it?” she asked, holding it up.

Before Lara could answer, before Jeremy could be disturbed by his phone, before Caryn could even marvel at the speed a man of his age and infirmity shouldn’t have had… Ace had taken the object and slid it onto his bony finger.

“Hey!” Caryn found the time to shout.

The old man reached his hand into the Syzygy’s frame, into the shell of the globe, and slipped the key–for that was indeed what it was–into the keyhole. The grooves in the crystal matched the studs on the outside of the space lipstick.

“They wouldn’t have given me a key if they didn’t want me to use it,” Ace said, an echo of the recent past.

The key turned in the lock.

There was a flash of light and less than a moment later, the rotunda of the Alex Raymond Gallery was empty.

To be continued in two weeks…

Next week join us for a special New Year’s Eve Convergence City story!

© 2013 by Douglass Barre, All Rights Reserved.

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