“Bid to you, Mr. Woodhouse. One hundred million. Going once?”
The auctioneer’s question echoed through the silent room. Every bidder in the Chelsea gallery other than Harrison was sitting on their paddles, unwilling to get caught up in the price war between tech billionaire Harrison Woodhouse and an anonymous foreign phone bidder.
The room crackled with tension. The audience knew they were watching art history in the making. Harrison’s plan was unfolding perfectly.
He gave a slow nod to the auctioneer at the front to raise his bid to $100 million.
His date, Tina, grabbed his arm. Her tapered blood-red nails dug into his skin through his Brioni jacket. At least she had enough class to suppress the squeal he could tell was trying to burst from her perfectly glossed lips. He missed Svetlana’s decorum and her stoic Eastern European manners.
The auctioneer turned to speak to his colleague manning the phone. The woman handling the foreign bidder looked stressed. “We have one hundred and two million and on the phone. One hundred and five to you, sir?”
Harrison smiled; he could feel it. The sixth sense that he relied on in the boardroom told him this was it. The final bid. He removed his arm from Tina’s stranglehold and straightened his cuffs before he casually raised his paddle. He was spending more money on one painting than most people dreamed of making in a lifetime.
The woman on the phone with the foreign bidder shook her head and stepped into the shadows.
“The phone bidder is out. I have one hundred and five million in the room. Going once? Going Twice?” The auctioneer paused for dramatic effect. “Three times? SOLD.”
This time Tina didn’t suppress her squeal. Harrison stood, and the room erupted in polite high society art aficionado applause. Tina leaped up and pressed her waif-like body against him, jumping up and down in excitement—or trying to. The towering heels she wore left her gripping his arm to keep from falling over.
Phase one accomplished.
The auctioneer leaned close to the mic so his words would cut through the din. “Andy Warhol’s Orange Charge Card is sold to Mr. Woodhouse, paddle number three twenty-four. Congratulations, sir.”
Harrison examined his new acquisition before the auction staff removed it from the stage. It was a depiction of a Diners’ Club credit card in Warhol’s signature cartoonish style. He was sure Warhol had intended the orange and black silkscreen painting to be a bold statement about capitalism or excess. The artist might have found the situation amusing had he been alive—a billionaire buying his panting of a credit card for millions in cash as a PR stunt. The irony would surely have entertained the counterculture icon.
Harrison urged Tina back down into her chair. The rest of the auction would wrap up quickly. Nothing else on the block tonight would come close to the record price he paid for the Warhol. Tina was giddy, squirming in her seat. The young ones were always impressed by the money. And Tina decidedly was too young. He’d be forty in a few months. Hell, he had socks older than the twiggy aspiring model next to him.
Part of him missed Svetlana. She’d been a consummate professional. But after the incident in Palm Beach, the sophisticated blond wasn’t returning his calls. Cynically, he reminded himself she had cashed his check. Everyone had a price.
Gavin, his PR mastermind, had called a few of the city’s modeling agencies and found Tina on short notice. It wouldn’t do to have the dashing Harrison Woodhouse seen out and about without a date. He was selling a lifestyle. Indigo was more than an app that let consumers buy stuff via cell phone.
A short time later, the last item was gaveled sold, and the crowd began to file out of the auction room and into the main gallery. Cocktails and chit-chat were on the menu for most guests, but for Harrison, checkout would be the highlight of the night.
A waiter met them with champagne on the threshold of the bright white industrially chic space. He took two glasses, passed one to Tina, and wrapped his arm around her shoulders. One of his PR team fought against the crowd to meet them. The guy had a DSLR camera ready to snap a few pictures.
“This was amazing,” Tina gushed, sipping the wine and giving the camera her best picture-perfect smile. She fished in her designer handbag for her cell phone. Successful, she turned it toward them. “Selfie?”
“Sure. Why not?” Harrison pasted on one of his signature sexy smirks for her fans.
In a moment, Tina had a perfect shot of them edited, filtered, and hashtagged, ready to be posted to her social media. He glanced at her follower count on Instagram. It was nothing to sneeze at. He might need to rethink his dislike of young American models for ‘Public Relations Dates.’ This girl had #skills.
He glanced over his shoulder, sure that his PR team was still following them as they worked toward the checkout station. En route to his destination, he stopped to shake hands and receive congratulations on his new purchase. He and Tina joined the mayor and a Tony award-winning producer in a photo for the New York Post.
Tonight, Gavin had sent him the full crew: a still photographer, a cameraman, and a sound operator. After spending a hundred million on a PR stunt, you don’t cheap out on the coverage.
Ahead he saw Antonia, the owner of A Gallery, ready to assist him at a private checkout table. Everyone who was anyone in art in New York dealt with Antonia at some point. And when he and Gavin cooked up this stunt, he knew she’d be the perfect person to bring in.
As always, she wore head-to-toe black, the only color a slash of blood-red lipstick on her thin lips. Her ebony knife-edged pageboy was so perfect that Harrison often wondered if it might be a wig.
“Harrison, darling. Congratulations. The Warhol, I was surprised. I thought for sure you’d buy the small Hockney.” Antonia gripped his shoulder and floated a kiss above his cheek as she spoke.
“You know I always buy American when I can.” Though the Hockney sketch had been a nice piece, the Warhol’s subject matter and the chance to set a record had made it the ideal choice. “Are we all set up?”
“I think so. One of your staff was here earlier and installed the new wireless terminal and explained all the merchant advantages of Indigo. What I’m saving on processing fees compared to a standard credit card will pay for tonight’s party and then some. I should have ordered the Beluga Caviar.” She laughed at her own joke.
It looked like Antonia would be a new app customer. He’d make sure the PR team tagged A Gallery in the videos and posts from tonight.
“Gentlemen, are you ready?” Harrison asked his PR crew. After a few adjustments to the lighting setup on the video camera, he got a thumbs up.
He pulled Tina close and leaned in to give Antonia yet another air kiss and exchange greetings. This time it was all for the cameras.
“Congratulations on your winning bid, Mr. Woodhouse. Orange Charge Card has now set a price record for a Warhol. How will you be paying?” Behind Antonia, a huge flat-screen TV showed the painting and the logo for the Indigo App.
Without spilling a drop of champagne or letting go of Tina’s delicate waist, Harrison pulled his cell phone from his jacket pocket. He tapped the screen and brought up the Indigo app. His baby. The app he created while finishing his master’s degree at MIT. It took years of work, rounds of venture capital, and a bit of luck with social media marketing, but Indigo was now the fastest-growing payment app globally. And he was just getting started.
“I’m paying with Indigo.” He held up his phone to a sensor on the side of Antonia’s computer. The amount due was staggering. He angled his phone, ensuring the PR crew could get a few good shots of the total. It had been the right call to have the screen formatting on the app updated to fit the eleven-digit amount. No other app could handle this size transaction. And Indigo would do it flawlessly and securely.
The muckraker from Page Six at the Post was snapping photos now too. Harrison held his pose and his smile. Tina preened while more shutters clicked.
“Thank you, Harrison. The A Gallery is happy to accept Indigo for payment.” Antonia purred as the funds flew through cyberspace. Her commission would be enough to satisfy anyone.
The chime from the Indigo app on his cell let the room know the sale was complete. He was the proud owner of a $105 million painting of a credit card. A good thing his Indigo account didn’t have a limit. The small crowd that had gathered to watch the theatrics clapped. He shuffled his phone to his other hand and turned it to flash the Indigo logo at the camera crew. Then he dipped Tina back and locked their lips together. The photo needed to be great. He wanted something his followers would like, love, and share across the internet.
Photo op over, he pulled back from the lackluster kiss. His work here was done. Tina looked at him with stars in her eyes. She was absolutely too young for this game. That embrace had been acting, stage dressing, not an invitation to join him back at his place for a nightcap. He stepped away from her. A foot of space might help cool her down.
At least Svetlana understood that he needed a woman on his arm to sell an image. Not because he wanted to get laid. Women made eighty-five percent of the consumer spending decisions in the United States. He needed them buying with Indigo.
“I think it’s time to head out.” He headed toward the coat check.
“Awesome. I know the best place. There’s this ultra-hip speakeasy just a few blocks away. The craft cocktails are to die for.” She clung to his arm and tried to thread their fingers together.
“I was thinking more like a slice of pizza and a few beers before heading home.” Nothing sent a high-fashion model running for the hills like carbs and grease.
“Really? But that’s so not you.” Tina blinked up at him, disbelief written across her flawless face.
Honestly, it was him. The world just had no idea. He’d worked to craft his perfect playboy persona for years. Since the first time he’d logged on to Instagram, he’d been cultivating an image, the son of a wealthy family that played hard and went to all the fashionable places. It was all a strategy that Gavin had carefully crafted to push Indigo’s brand to younger consumers. And it worked.
Harrison tipped the coat check and helped Tina slip on her scarlet red jacket before he shrugged on his topcoat. The sidewalk in front of the gallery was a mob scene. More people were waiting for the valet to bring around their cars than were inside sipping wine and talking about contemporary art.
He shouldered his way to the valet stand, dragging Tina along in his wake.
“Hey, man, hold on to your ticket. We’re short-staffed tonight. It’s going to be a while,” the harried valet parker said while wiping sweat off his forehead. Before Harrison had a chance to slip him a couple hundred bucks to expedite the process, the parker dashed off, a set of keys clutched in his hand.
“Looks like we’re waiting,” he told Tina, his arms over his chest to keep her from trying to hold hands again.
“Ah, yeah. It’s not a—” Her sentence turned into a startled shout.
Before he could grab her, she fell forward into the street. She was on her hands and knees, her red jacket lit up by the headlights of an oncoming car. He stepped off the curb and snatched a handful of her coat. Pulling her up with all his strength, he stumbled back, dragging her with him. They fell tangled together into the crowd on the sidewalk. Safe.
As the car zipped past, a man somewhere behind them shouted, “Someone grab that guy. He pushed her.”
A dull pain radiated from his elbow where it had struck the pavement, but it was nothing. He needed to be sure Tina was alright.
He laid her back on the sidewalk. “You okay?”
Her breathing was shallow, and she was trembling slightly. “I think so.”
A camera flashed, lighting up Tina’s pale face. Fucking paparazzi and cell phone cameras. He helped her sit up. Before anyone could take more pictures, he smoothed her skirt over the scrapes on her knees.
She rested her head on his chest, and he rubbed a soothing hand up and down her arm. Thankfully, her breathing was back to normal. He turned over her hands. Her palms weren’t too bad, only a little road rash.
If he’d been a second or two slower, there would be more to cry about than skinned knees. She could have been seriously hurt.
Against his chest, she mumbled something about stupid stilettos and being too clumsy to be a runway model. It sounded like she’d be fine.
“Sir, I’ll take your ticket and bring your car so that you can get her home.” The valet leaned down, concerned.
Harrison passed over his ticket, more than ready for the evening to be over. He’d bet a million bucks that Tina wanted to go home too.