This was a short story written for my Techniques of Fiction class back in the day, prompt "The Artist." There's some embedded con artist references in there that may not come through, so sorry for any confusion or seeming randomness.
Oh! and there's some negative opinions on certain types of art written into this story, but I assure you that it's the opinion of the character and not myself :)
"The Art Student"
Nadie bumps into a businessman.
"Oh, excuse me, sorry!" She stammers, stepping back from their point of impact on the bustling Manhattan sidewalk and a blush colouring her olive-toned cheeks.
He merely grunts and continues on his way, paying little mind to the young woman. Nadie doesn't seem surprised by this, much less perturbed, and starts walking too. She turns right at the intersection half a block away, pace quickening every few feet. Ducking into the alley, she finally stops to catch her breath and snicker behind her curtain of bronze curls. Her deft fingers slide into the pocket she'd sewn into the inside of her cheap varsity jacket, extracting a crisp, black, leather wallet. The businessman's face stares up at her from the I.D. within, but is quickly tossed to the grimy ground, along with anything else non-monetary.
After re-pocketing the wallet and payment cards and tucking the $47 cash into the hollowed-out padding in her bra, Nadie quickly moves on from the alley. She takes the subway to Williamsburg, nicking four pairs of sunglasses from women on the C train and selling them on the M train in a pop-up sale to some foreign tourists, advertised as Prada. In their rush of broken-English thank-yous as they exit the terminal, they don't notice Nadie slipping away with one woman's lavender scarf and another's cellphone.
Once in Brooklyn, she puts some hipster-shades and loiters in three different Starbucks shops before she finds the perfect mark: a group of trendy twenty-somethings, crowded at a window table, arguing about some underground street artist, Zeddix, and how he was "obviously being ironically self-indulgent, rendering avant-garde negative space in politically-charged chroma, juxtaposed by sexual motifs and sub-commentary on feminist activism." Nadie can honestly say that she has no idea what they were saying, only that it's what she wants to hear.
"Oh my goddess," she gasps, sidling up to the group, "you guys actually got that? He was so worried that it wouldn't come across."
The group stares at her skeptically, tense silence filling the warm, coffee-scented air. Finally one of the girls, the blonde dreadlocked one wearing the exact same hipster-shades as Nadie except in cobalt, responds:
"Um, you know Zeddix personally?"
"Oh yeah, we've known each other for, like, seven years now? He's had a rough time," because they always have, she thinks, "so I'm so glad to hear people talking about his work. I think he's really building some recognition."
Half of the group seems to accept this, deeming this enough accurate information for her to seem credible. Nadie makes sure to subtly shift her attention towards them, giving them more eye contact than the others.
"You guys should see some of the studio pieces he did – they're so deep."
One of the suspicious ones, a man with a curled mustache and knit beanie, scoffs, "Zeddix doesn't do studio work; he's not a sell-out."
Nadie expands her eyes and gasps again, "You don't know about his studio work? He dropped hints in his last piece…I can't believe you didn't notice it. He's showing at a gallery like six blocks away tonight. Some of them are even for sale, which – between you and me – is a little preemptive since he's not major yet. I mean, he's selling for pretty cheap, I guess, but still."
The twenty-somethings exchange glances before a couple try, as nonchalantly as possible, to claim that they totally saw the aforementioned hints before inquiring about the address and time of the show. Nadie writes it down for them, suppressing a smirk as the dreadlocked one states to have bought art there before, then bids them farewell. Within minutes she's at the very same address of the "gallery" and picking the lock on the heavy door.
It only takes four-and-a-half hours to transform the borrowed storefront into an art gallery. After googling this Zeddix and the sloppy splatters he calls artwork, Nadie finds some similar-looking art from around the internet and quickly prints or paints them on plywood, cardboard, and canvas bought with the stolen cards from the businessman's wallet. She hangs the pieces on the walls, as well as spray-painting a few of Zeddix's tags.
Nadie phones her cousin, Troy. He's been her partner-in-crime their whole lives, under the tutelage of their uncle, Anthony Mannone, and had been the one to tip her off about the empty business location. She tells him that "The Art Student" is on for tonight. He rushes over to wire the storefront to skive power off the apartments above, lighting up the gallery. His roommate, Ellis, tags along too, bringing some of his own oil paintings to make the gallery look legit.
A few random people wander in and out of the gallery in its first hour. Troy, now donning a blazer, glasses, and a clipboard, attempts to sell them some of the knock-offs unsuccessfully, though one person buys two of Ellis' oil paintings. When the group of twenty-somethings arrive, however, Nadie feels her luck changing.
"Oh good, you all made it! I wish you'd come a little earlier, though – the best piece walked out of here twenty minutes ago," Nadie insisted, walking with the group around the room. They don't pay much mind to the oil paintings, but ooh and ahh at the knock-offs, starting up their pretentious, artsy-fartsy lingo again.
"The purity of the lines in this one is sublime…and see how the internal dynamic of that mauve corner is obviously a subliminal dialogue about his father? Ugh, Zeddix is so good…"
The mustached one still seems wary of the operation, and asks where Zeddix is.
Nadie responds with a scandalized look. "Um, are you not a true Zeddix fan? Because everyone knows that he prefers to stay anonymous so that his work can be appreciated without being tainted by the image of the artist," she regurgitates from the flashy Zeddix website. "You don't even know that he's not here – he could be anyone in here. And, as his friend, I respect his privacy, and I ask that you do too."
The mustached man looks absolutely humiliated, and mumbles some sort of agreement before loudly offering to buy the first Zeddix in sight. Troy takes the cue and informs him that "that piece will be $350, how will you be paying for that today?"
By the end of the night, nearly every piece of art in the makeshift gallery is sold. After giving Troy his finder's fee and 15% cut, Nadie finds herself a couple thousand dollars richer. She tosses the only thing that connects her to the day's crimes, the businessman's stolen cards, onto the floor of the gallery then saunters out into the night with Troy and Ellis for a well-earned drink. If she ever actually paid for the drinks she ordered, she would offer to buy the first round.
Thanks for reading!