~This story was previously published in Chicago Tribune Printers Row Literary Journal (2014).
"How much did you say again?" Davis Javits had heard the number perfectly clearly. He didn't doubt his hearing; it was his imagination that he mistrusted.
The heavyset man seated across from him grinned, unconsciously straightening the lapels on his obviously expensive suit. He casually leaned back in his chair, about as far as he could without tipping over. "One million, two hundred and fifty thousand dollars." He'd said it as "one-point-two-five million" the previous time, but took the question as a lack of understanding. When that second response was met with only a quiet stare, The Suit leaned his girth forward, opened his metallic briefcase, and removed a strapped-together stack of bearer bonds that totaled the quoted amount. He handed the bearer bonds to Davis, who examined them in silence for so long that The Suit half expected him to bite one to verify its validity, like a cartoon version of a nineteenth-century merchant. "Satisfied?" The Suit asked, leaning back again.
Davis Javits drew a breath and looked around his gallery. The man in the suit was the only thing inside the whole former field house that carried even a coincidental smell of success. That uninspiring reality started with Davis himself, with his thrift-store clothes, hand-me-down shoes, and generally scraggly appearance. He liked to think that his beard — a thick but untrimmed mess that didn't quite connect with his sideburns, leaving an uncomfortable gap on each side — gave him a vaguely hipster look. He also thought it was cool how his hair, which didn't grow as long as he would like and was thinning a bit in front and on the top of his dome, bunched up in the back and always seemed to have a natural bedhead look. In reality, he looked more like a newly homeless man or a college student who'd recently ceased to care, although his hygiene suggested better than either of those scenarios.
Not quite thirty, but not far from it either, Davis Javits didn't lack for work ethic. His art had been a lifelong pursuit, a hobby he'd chosen to make his career when he found he lacked the qualifications for any other appealing option. He'd gotten in on the found-object art trend long before it became overexposed, and continued to toil away at it despite a complete lack of financial reward. When he failed to find success, acclaim, or even acknowledgement in the medium, he refused to alter his basic style but doubled down on quantity. He decided he simply wasn't coming up with enough pieces, and began to work at an almost superhuman pace, producing a new work of art nearly every day.
He'd discovered his affinity for found-object art back in elementary school, when he would spend almost every recess alone, collecting sticks and rocks from the fields and fashioning them into eccentric trinkets he tried to peddle at class fundraisers or through door-to-door sales to townspeople, many too concerned about looking cheap in front of their neighbors to refuse. Until The Suit arrived, those sales for a few dollars each represented the most lucrative stretch in the art career of Davis Javits.
His gallery was an abandoned school gymnasium he'd rented back when his finances were in better shape, when he took a few thousand dollars of inheritance money his great uncle had expected him to spend toward a college education and instead invested it to fund his theoretical career. The building had seen better days, with several contradictory coats of paint visible through cracks in the wood, and more than a little rust showing on the hinges. The gallery had started out as a barn but, like many such buildings in eastern Indiana, it had been repurposed several times. It endured stints as a speakeasy, a munitions storage facility, a town hall, and ultimately as a basketball court for several area high schools before each built their own. When he learned the building's history, Davis Javits felt it fit his own extremely well. Before the small inheritance, he'd scraped by financially as a bartender at an often-empty dive, a checkout clerk at a gas station, and a greenskeeper at a third-rate golf course. The landlord didn't really use the field house anymore, and gave him a good deal. When the building's rightful owner died, Davis and his monthly rent somehow got lost in the paperwork, and he saved even more money when he decided to live there too. For three years, he'd slept on a mattress in the old visitors' locker room, using the showers there and storing his few possessions in the vacant lockers. That way he could work to the point of exhaustion anytime he wanted, then collapse for as long as he needed to recharge.
As he looked around his makeshift gallery, contemplating the magnitude of The Suit's offer, Davis Javits started to consider how much money his existing collection could bring in if a single piece was suddenly worth more than a million dollars. Every wall in the field house was lined with art. Every corner held stack upon stack of completed pieces. Every locker in the abandoned home locker room overflowed with supplies, with incomplete scraps of incomplete ideas. A good percentage of the building's square footage was filled with raw materials yet to be put to use or, more accurately, in need of repurposing. The ability to stock up with virtually no overhead was one of the advantages of practicing found-object art, so the parts of the building not visible to the public looked like a cross between a city dump and the aftermath of a small, localized hurricane. Finally, Davis thought, it had all amounted to something. Something far more financially viable than he'd ever imagined. "Thank you," he told the fat man, extending his hand. "It's a pleasure to do business with you."