Though Cedric Brayford never appreciated my work, I had always found it possible to ignore his criticisms. As an art critic, it was his job to make his opinion known and, though I did not share or agree with his opinion, I did respect his right to voice it. It was when he stepped beyond simply criticising my work and dared to question my creativity that I found it impossible to wave his hateful words aside. This went far above and beyond simple opinion and into the dark realm of insult. I could not let such slander stand. And I would not.
I ran into Cedric at a party. It was one of those ghastly events attended by the so-called elite of the art scene. Painters, sculptors, even a few film-makers, mingled, laughed and flirted with critics, agents and gallery-owners for three solid hours, powered solely by wine and ego. Cedric was already drunk and he laughed as he draped an arm over my shoulders. He was wearing a horrendous lime green four-button suit with a white tie that was much too long. His breath smelled of gin, vermouth and olives. He waved an empty martini glass about as he spoke.
“Heeeeeeyyyy,” he said. “I’m glad you’re here.”
I nodded and smiled. “Yes, yes I am glad to see you here as well.”
He laughed inanely.
I allowed my smile to widen. “You know, Cedric, I’ve just finished a new piece and I would love to get your professional opinion before I unveil it. Of course, if you’re too busy, I can always ask Gina Taylor to take a look at it.”
Gina Taylor was second only to Cedric himself among the city’s art critics and cognoscenti.
He squinted at me, confused by the booze in which his thoughts now swam as much as by the words I spoke. “Gina? Screw Gina. Actually, don’t, she’s a lousy lay. Ha! Naw, forget her. Where’s this piece of yours? I’ll tell ya what’s what.”
With that, he grabbed me by a sleeve and pulled me toward the exit.
I smiled and followed.
In the elevator, Cedric leaned against the wall, drinking from the bottle of wine I’d filched from the party. I watched him, smiling.
“You know,” I said, “creativity is a truly precious thing.”
He nodded at the elevator’s low ceiling. “’Specially in this town, my friend. Creativity’s in short supply in this town.”
“Mm, I agree.”
The elevator rumbled up and up. I had pressed the button for the top floor of the edifice. I didn’t know whether it was an office tower or apartment complex. I had chosen the building simply because it was eighteen stories tall and held absolutely no ties with me in the least.
“So where’s this piece of yours, anyway?” Cedric asked and followed his query with a gulp of cabernet.
“This is a monumental piece, my dear Cedric. I will show it to you from the very top of this building. It is a work of unmatched genius and unparalleled creativity.”
He nodded slowly, peering into the mouth of his nearly empty bottle. “So another installation. Christ, and we gotta go all th’way up this building to see the thing? God, can’t ya just paint somethin’ and show me that?”
I fought to keep the smile upon my face. “Yes, an installation . . . of sorts. Truly, Cedric, I think you will appreciate this one, I really do.”
He shrugged and emptied the bottle down his gullet. Just as the last drop of crimson hit his outstretched tongue, the elevator doors slid open with a soft ding. Cedric tossed the empty bottle out the door before stumbling out himself. I followed him, careful not to step on the shards of glass he’d left in his wake, and directed him to the stairs leading to the building’s rooftop.
At these heights the night air was cooler, fresher, the wind more energetic. I stared out over the city. The building upon which we stood was not one of the metropolis’ tallest. It didn’t need to be.
“Okay, where’s this piece of yours?” Cedric asked again. “I’m gettin’ bored here. Bored and sober.”
“Well we can’t have that,” I said, turning from the vista to face him.
Cedric appeared to be having difficulty keeping his head up, as though his neck had gone to rubber. I watched, smiling, as he struggled to keep his eyelids high, his eyes open.
“What the hell . . . ?” he mumbled and sat down hard on the pebbled surface of the tower’s roof.
I waited a few moments until I was sure he was unconscious. The drug I had slipped into the wine I’d given him was fast acting but would only keep him under for a few minutes. I walked over and knelt by his side. He was snoring gently. Satisfied that he was asleep, I walked to the vent pipe behind which I had earlier dissimulated the roll of piano wire. I knew this building to be exactly one-hundred and fifty-two feet in height. The piano wire measured exactly one-hundred and forty-four feet in length. One end of the wire was tied securely to the vent pipe. The other end I had tied into a rather handsome hangman’s noose.
Carrying the knotted end, I walked back to Cedric’s side and slipped the wire noose over his carefully coiffed head and around his neck. I then pulled the tube of quick-drying liquid cement from the inner pocket of my suit jacket. I squeezed a dollop of the adhesive into each of Cedric’s limp palms. Finally, I placed his hands, palms in, over each temple. I held his hands there, allowing the liquid cement to dry, to fuse the skin of his hands to that of his head. After a moment, I stood back and admired my work. Cedric looked as though he were suffering from a terrible migraine, holding his head to keep it from exploding. The wire winked in the moonlight like a cheap necklace.
I kicked him in the ribs.
He stirred but did not wake.
I bent near him and slapped him on the right cheek, just below the spot where I’d glued his hand to his head. He finally awoke, mumbling.
“Ready for the unveiling, Cedric?” I said.
He blinked a million times, clearing the drug-induced sleep from his eyes. He peered up at me. “What’s going on?” he said.
“I’m about to show you my newest piece. Remember?”
Suddenly, he realized that he could not move his hands. Comically, he tried to look at his palms, straining his eyes till only the whites showed. “What did you do?” he cried.
I laughed and hauled him to his feet. He was wobbly, his knees still weak, but he could stand.
“Come with me,” I said and grabbed one of his cocked elbows.
Still confused by the mixture of drugs and alcohol, Cedric followed me as I lead him to the roof’s edge.
“What the hell is going on?” he whined.
Peering over the edge at the street far below, I said, “What is going on is this, Cedric: You will fall eighteen floors to your death. I will cause this. In itself, this is in no way creative. It is murder, which is unusual and, even in today’s supposedly violent world, it is quite rare. However, the method, as described, is not creative. The creative aspect of my latest work lies in the glue that holds the palms of your hands to the temples of your head, and the noose that encircles your neck.”
I grinned at him. Cedric frowned at me, still spectacularly confused. He then tried to get a look at his own throat.
“Once I throw you off the top of this building, Cedric, you will fall through the air. Though the fall itself would be sufficient to kill you, as I’ve explained, this isn’t solely about killing you, it is about creativity. You will fall for exactly one-hundred and forty-four feet. At that height, the piano wire will grow taught and tear through your throat and spine, severing your head from your body. The glue, however, will ensure that your head follows you for the remaining eight feet of your fall. Upon striking the ground, you will be left holding your own head between your hands.”
He stared at me, mouth agape, eyes wide, disbelieving.
“How’s that for creative, Cedric?” I said, and shoved him off the roof.
The outcome was spectacular. It was everything I’d hoped it would be. It was beautiful, magnificent. It was a work of unmatched genius, a work of unparalleled creativity . . . It was, in short, a work of art.