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“Gelb wants you to call him.”

            I looked at Frankie, opened my mouth, began to slowly shake my head. My reply delayed by the image of Gelb, monocle in eye, brow raised, lips tight, grimacing. I cringed at the thought.

            “I ain’t calling that prick,” I finally declared decisively.

Frankie put a hand on my shoulder.

            “Relax,” he said from a large toothy grin surrounded by a three day

stubble. “Gelb likes you.”

            “Is it about Hansen?” I asked.

            Frankie was eating cheese balls from a bowl on the bar, the trivial offering that differentiated happy hour from all other hours at Charlie’s Blarney Pub. Frankie’s fingers were orange and his shirt was covered in crumbs.

            “What do you think?” he replied, stuffing another handful in his mouth.

Charlie had one eye on him as he went about his business behind the bar. He didn’t like to fill the bowl more than once. He and Frankie had been down that road before.

            “When isn’t it about Hansen?”

            He was right. As much as I disliked Gelb, Hansen was my friend. With all the shit that had been going down lately, I had no choice but to make the call.

            “Hey, barkeep.” Frankie held up the empty bowl, smiling broadly. Charlie flipped him the bird and mumbled something under his breath. It was a well-rehearsed routine.

            Frankie was always relaxed. The two of us had been watching Gelb’s emergence on the scene for about a month now. Frankie seemed to be enjoying it; I was freaked the fuck out. I was used to the whole Frankie thing. I never called him Steve any more. But with him it was different, a seamless transition. They were one and the same. The Gelb-Hansen thing was jarring.

As we left the bar and headed to our cars, just for good measure he asked me again.

            “You’re gonna call him, right?”

            “Yeah, Frankie, I’ll call him.” And as if to reinforce the notion, I repeated it softly to myself.

            “Let me know what happens. Call me if you need anything. I’m

gonna see Gelb tomorrow. Shit’s gettin’ interestin’.” “Later, Frankie.” I gave him the two finger salute, got in my truck, and sat there in the dark parking lot. Call Gelb. Call Gelb. Call fucking Gelb.

            My world was a lot simpler with no Gelb in it. Chaos reigns, right is wrong, the order of things has been turned upside down. I am on a bus hurtling down a steeply inclined, rain-soaked highway, and it is being driven by Hans-fucking-Gelb.

            “Plummer, I need to see you. You must come at once!”

            He never called me anything but Plummer. My name is Sam. He knew this; I had reminded him numerous times but still he insisted upon referring to me by my trade – I was a plumber.

I told him I’d just gotten home. It was a little after seven, I’d had a long day and needed to shower.

            “Never mind that,” he said. “It won’t take long and you can shower later. But Plummer, do wash your hands.”

            My inclination was to tell him to fuck off but he wouldn’t have listened anyway, even if I had. He hung up the phone before I could.

            It had all started innocently enough. Hansen had Gelb, Straus had Lucy. Straus also had Schmenk but with Straus it was mainly Lucy. They were painters and they had each created their own styles that over the course of time they had felt locked into. This pseudonym stuff freed

them from the molds they had created for themselves. Straus and Hansen were realists. Their alter egos – Lucy, Victor (Schmenk), and Hans respectively – were abstract/modernist. They had been dabbling in this form for years but had recently begun to show at Hansen’s gallery, stuff

their alter egos had created. Frankie was a writer and photographer whose real name was Steve. And me? Call me Plummer; everyone else does.

            The Gelb persona began to emerge with a photograph, Hansen scowling into the camera lens, wearing a monocle, and a brief, fictitious bio recounting Gelb’s early life in the Netherlands. It was something Hansen had put together for a press release for a gallery event where sprinkled among Hansen’s works were a few Gelbs, a debut of sorts, Gelb’s coming out. It was supposed to be in fun, but Gelb took on a life of his own. That Dutch accent, at first tongue-in-cheek, Hansen        switching quickly back and forth for a laugh. We all had fun doing Gelbisms, pretentious, self-important pronouncements on the sanctity of art.

            But one day the dual personality shifted to all Gelb, as if by acting in character, there was no more Hansen. Frankie was fascinated. He thought it was a performance art type of thing that one day would all be over. Hansen would be back and we would all celebrate his coup. I was not so sure.

            I hadn’t been to Hansen’s place – well, since it was really Hansen’s place. It was a comfy space, an attached studio filled with studies of buildings, trees, and cityscapes, intricate and detailed. You would think you were gazing at photographs until, moving closer, you noticed the brushstrokes so cleverly laid as to fool the eye. Gelb, on the other hand, worked in colors bright, his brush stroking the canvas wide and heavy.

            It was an hour past dusk when I arrived, no moon, the darkness thick. Another car sat in the driveway, its parking lights on, the engine idling. The front door to Hansen’s house opened. A figure emerged, tall and hooded. It seemed to be a woman wearing a dress that reached to just below the knees. The hood obscured her face. She made no effort to look my way, hustling to the waiting car. She got in the driver’s side. I watched the car back away, then disappear into the night.

            “Plummer, come in, come in. Don’t just stand there in the dark.”

            Gelb was waiting in the open door.

            He had the goddamn monocle in his eye, a black turtleneck sweater on, and a fucking black beret on his head. There was some kind of avant garde jazz, the kid that hits your ears like an ice pick, playing on his stereo. The walls, once bearing the works of Hansen, now contained nothing but Gelb’s.

            “I like what you’ve done with the place,” I said somewhat sarcastically, gesturing at the walls.

            “Did you see Lucy on her way out?” Gelb asked, ignoring my comment.

            “I saw someone,” I said. Then, not being able to play along with the farce any longer, “Gelb, I mean Hansen, this is insane! I don’t’ know what to say to you any more, man. This was funny for a couple minutes, the whole Gelb thing, but fuck, treating Lucy as if she’s real?”

            He stared at me intently. There was a trace of a smile, a smile with no humor, with arrogance, contempt, barely controlled anger, but controlled it was.

            “Hansen is no more. There is only Gelb. If you want Hansen, go to the basement where his work is hanging, where he once kept me.”

            “Hansen created Gelb, remember?” I protested in a last ditch effort to reach him. But it was clear he was completely out of his mind.

            He was a big fellow and in this agitated state, he was more than a little intimidating. I had never felt that way about Hansen before. Maybe this wasn’t Hansen.

            “You must understand, Plummer. I was always there. As a boy he felt my presence. When he learned the arts he resisted my pull. I showed him my genius and he locked me away. It was only when he learned to remember his dreams that I was able to escape. Do you remember your

dreams, Plummer? Those little wisps of things that disappear so quickly when you open your eyes? Things so real, so beautiful, so terrible? Your true self lurks there as did I, as did Lucy. Frankie, he has always had a foot in both worlds.

            I had been prepared for some ranting, a bit of posturing, a few off-the-wall theories about existentialism or synchronicity or some other crap that Gelb liked to spout but what he had just said to me had left me thoroughly unnerved. All I wanted to do was leave. I think he sensed my

discomfort.

            His eyes were closed; his face softened. His head began to tilt and roll to the music. He smiled.

            “Tonight when you dream, you will remember. Yes?” His smile broadened.

            “Frankie said you needed to speak to me. Was that it?” I asked as I backed away towards the door, the exit, the escape.

            “Yes, yes, I almost forgot. Frankie, Lucy, and I are doing a show.   It will be called Pseudonyms. We would like you to do a story.”

 

End

 

 

J D Plummer

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