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by Matthew Perryman
A tempestuous hum filled the Langham’s illustrious ballroom. Its vaulted chamber was awash with a sea of influential figures, who hailed from all variety of fields. They had flocked here for a charity benefit held by the esteemed Beatrice Steele, whose humanitarian agenda was even less genuine than the altruism boasted of by each guest. For the evening was rife with the sort of self-importance that punctuated the highest tiers of social congregation, and so clear was this deceit that the crowd may as well have been forming queues to disembowel one another right there on the ballroom floor.
Schubert felt like a vegan locked in a slaughterhouse. He heard his name and, turning to face his harasser, was met by the voracious Felicity Mire. She had recently inherited her father’s power, fact that was yet to sink in as shown by the pain of the smile stretched across her cheeks.
‘Mr. Fearfield, how are you? So wonderful to meet with you in happier climes!’ The words fell from her mouth in a mixture of respect and embarrassment, and Schubert recognised the wavering masque that covered her still-tender grievances.
‘The pleasure is mine, Felicity! If only Malcolm could see you now, his little girl at the helm of the ship! A veritable Mire, for certain!’
‘He always spoke highly of you, Mr. Fearfield. Right to the end.’ ‘Please, please, call me Schubert.’
She continued to talk, spurred by new familiarity, but Schubert’s attention was diverted by the unmistakeable leer of the vapid Kinkade, who had just loped into view across the floor. A lazy and spiritless jeweller, Kinkade shifted substandard stones for a quick margin and was fuelled by ambition alone. He had harboured a specific resentment for Schubert ever since his public mockery of Kinkade’s proposition of partnership. But Kinkade’s resentment was coupled with an undying idolatry, and his lecherous eyes twinkled with regard. Schubert had openly conveyed, to the laughter of many a party-goer, how the thought of association with Kinkade made him shudder. There was great entertainment found in the pair’s growing rivalry, and Schubert was often heckled for his opinion.
‘What a shame that the grease leaked from a man’s face is not an indicator of his own greatness,’ he would tell them, ‘for then I would surely bow to that petulant Kinkade!’
Kinkade was laughing to himself, an act that caused his glistening visage to wobble with an unsettling resonance. Schubert was uncertain as to what could be so amusing about basking in one’s inadequacy and wondered whether everyone found this man’s babble so incoherent, or whether he simply did not care. Some fractured ramble about inferior stones, no doubt. His eyes darted, in hopes of a distraction.
‘Found time to grace us rodents one last time, then?’ Kinkade quipped. He regarded Kinkade as a cheap imitation, one that had fallen from the storeroom shelf a few too many times. He was accustomed to being copied; it had been a double-edged affliction for longer than he cared to remember. But Schubert was less than flattered by this precise impersonation.
He was rescued by the gracious Lady Florentine, who twirled across the mezzanine to greet him. But the sight of her bulbous approach, in all of her forced flamboyance, instilled a sheer repugnance in Schubert’s stomach – for her figure within the dress was rather reminiscent of squeezing raw chicken breast within one’s fist.
‘My Schubert, my Schubert, how are you my dear?’ She lapped her lips, surveying him with hungered eyes. She held out a hand that bulged beneath an ambitious glove, and Schubert stooped. Despite her protruding presence, Lady Florentine garnered his respect. She, like he, was quite aware of the aristocracy’s underlying design. She also flitted between the layers of orchestrated benevolence, meeting him on many of those levels, for she was one of the few to see through the dirge of upper-class lies. She was certainly a bounty, a treasure amidst these fools who toiled over a golden image. He tightened his stomach regardless, anticipating the bile that threatened eruption as he planted his lips on her trotter.
‘Have you any new fancies for me to pore over?’ Her appetite for jewellery was matched only by her lust for food, and she was always searching for new pieces.
‘I acquired a new piece actually, yes. An amulet from Mr. Kinkade, cast in obsidian it is!’ She flashed Schubert her trinkets but her gabble was deflected upon mention of Kinkade, and Schubert’s focus averted itself to the incredible crossbeam allocation of the Langham’s Edwardian rafters.
For Schubert’s brain refrained from operating within accepted norms and instead of paying amities to this ballooned companion, his mind was charting all variables of social venation as he observed the hollow whimsicalities around him. The estranged dance of discourse between unwilling strangers, the cunning glances and hungered gaze of secret sweethearts, the squealing swarms of fat tycoons who beat their chests in fiscal showmanship. There may as well have been a secondary lens imposed upon Schubert’s perspective, an ever-shifting palimpsest that annotated this cordial swarm.
He moved through endless circles, increasing in speed as the consideration of leaving grew more attractive with each second. He had more pressing matters, and an overdue consultation from his foreign mine plagued his mind. Guests hurled him adoration from every direction, in hope of ensnaring his attention.
‘It’s Mr. Fearfield, the master of the diamond-forge!’ ‘The Adonis of business, that’s what they say!’
Schubert shook his head, amazed by these hilarities. He preferred to maintain distance from the pretentious excess this society gorged upon, for tempting as it may have been to immerse oneself in praise, such allure paved a one-way path to the soiree of self-worship. And even so, Schubert needed no recognition to comprehend his superior worth. His reputation was sublimely crafted, an intricate network that had flourished following decades of kissing the correct posteriors, while shunning those whose name had been blackened.
His thoughts were hampered by the intrusive voice of Ernest Kind, a rotund critic whose eyes had surveyed a million artworks but never himself in a mirror. He was stood before a magnificent portrait of the Langham’s proprietor, the venerable Duchess Smallhand, and was surrounded by guests who fought in their ranks to savour his every word. Schubert slipped his ear into reach, hoping a little unintentional irony would lighten his mood.
‘…haphazard strokes, an overly muted palette, an abomination to my refined eye!’ His raucous fans exploded in concurrence, casting their own opinions to the dirt. ‘My friends, I hope you remember this lesson – it is not possible to make a masterpiece from muck!’ His disciples clucked in subservient glee. Schubert was dismayed. How could someone remodel their own disposition according to one man’s asinine utterances?
Ernest had thrown an acknowledging nod his way, but Schubert declined to return it. He was excited by Schubert’s presence, as was audible in the fluctuation of his exasperated voice, and Schubert considered whether Ernest was aware that he was a living contradiction.
‘And now you know, my friends! If you possess an obscure countenance, you never commission a hyper-realist!’ The blind appraisal that Ernest received spoke tomes of these people’s insanity. At least their deranged laughter bought about the unexpected benefit of drowning out Ernest Kind’s voice. Schubert’s mind settled on departure.
He had almost reached the foyer when a hand encroached upon his coat-tail. He spun about, half-expecting some puckering débutante, or perhaps a flustered widow whose proposition might be worth mulling. He was, instead, confronted by Kinkade once more. ‘Enjoy the quartz, Fearfield! Enjoy the quartz!’
Schubert shook his head in disbelief. Always with the inferior gems! He was unable to comprehend the idiocy before him.
‘You are a moron Kinkade, and I am no petty crystal bandit! I leave such meaningless stones to a simple rock merchant like yourself.’ It was hardly commendable to beat a dead horse, but an evening full of repressed retorts had left Schubert fuming, and he didn’t hold back.
‘Be gone, Kinkade! Do you not have rings to make for children’s dolls?’
Kinkade’s features wobbled with glee, and Schubert could almost see the rusted cogs of his brain whirring as he formulated a response.
‘And you thought we could have partnered? Ha!’ Schubert broke from his stony disposition and expelled a curdled chuckle. ‘Perhaps we could have, if you were a respectable man, but thankfully integrity is one thing you cannot feign.’ He left Kinkade in mid-speech and finally reached the exit. He was aware of the stare affixed to his back, and hoped that Kinkade’s admiration did not extend to his retreating rear.
The street lamps outside bore an ominous glow, combining with the crepuscular light to hurl a bloody sheen upon the street. Vibrant oranges permeated Schubert’s sight, and it was all that he could see in the confusion that followed. His ears were ravaged by indecipherable sounds that lashed at his dazed state. His cheek was cold, uncomfortably so, and the pressure exerted upon his skull became most unsettling.
The onlookers had gathered quickly, and almost every guest now stood outside the Langham, watching and whispering as Schubert Fearfield was held against a police car bonnet. Schubert gazed out at the crowd, still disoriented, his ears ringing. They stared back with a strange expression. It was a look of disdain, of disappointment, a look he had all but forgotten. Schubert had toiled to maintain their pleasantry, whether genuine or not, and for many years had shelved his misanthropy in cultivating his rapport. But now they mocked him, with pitied eyes.
One face shone bright amidst the bustling mass.
‘Behold, your honourable Fearfield! The self-proclaimed king of diamonds! Now you see, my friends, he is the true fraud! A trickster and a criminal, profiting from diamonds that were carved by the hands of tortured children!’ The crowd consumed his every word, for Kinkade seemed to have developed a new air of confidence, a sudden wave of relevance that any mortal must enjoy when usurping the gods themselves. Schubert sat back, shifting his gait to account for his tightly cuffed wrists. The sentence posed no bother – his army of legal hounds would bare their teeth at any challenge – but Kinkade’s words cycled through his mind.
Enjoy the quartz, Fearfield! Schubert scoffed. The courts! Such self-indulgent humour was typical of Kinkade’s cretinous being. He peered from the car window one last time, and watched Kinkade’s sneer grow as new admirers flocked to his side. Such prestige would take the remainder of his life to reclaim, if not longer. The police car struggled to pull away and photographers bounced against the vehicle as it edged through the sea of onlookers. How fickle is the turning tide of reputation! Schubert squirmed in his seat, clammy in the foreign chill of embarrassment.
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