Art In The Blood Chapter Twelve

THE STREETS WERE dead and sheeted over with cold white reflections from occasional lights. It was after midnight and one look at the lead gray sky clamped hard over the city was enough to make you realize how far away dawn could get if it really tried.

Escott sat next to the door and pretended to look straight out the windshield.

Between us was Alex Adrian, who was doing the same thing, only he wasn't pretending. The stuff inside his mind was keeping him too busy. His face was drained and white, even the lips. His hands with their bandaged wrists were curled protectively around one another, the right thumb and finger twisting his wedding band back and forth in slow, unconscious rhythm. Except for that and the motion of the car, he was perfectly still. He could have been a corpse, right down to the invisible wall behind his eyes.

I'd asked a lot of him, and before things were finished I'd have to ask more-the question was, how much could he stand. He was an unexploded bomb now and I didn't know the length of his fuse.

’’Turn here,’’ he said. I nearly jumped-you don't expect a corpse to talk. ’’It's the servant's drive, better access,’’ he added, his voice soft and distant.

I turned into a narrow break in the curb line. Trees crowded overhead and we rolled slowly along the drive's smooth cement surface for a hundred yards.

’’Stop now and get out.’’

It wasn't a command, only another unemotional direction to follow. I eased the car to a halt and got out, pressing the door shut instead of slamming it. Adrian slid over on the seat, worked the gears, and drove off with Escort. They would circle around to the front of the stone castle Reva shared with Brett and use the main door.

They'd called ahead and were expected company. I was not.

I followed in their wake. The driveway ran by a long slate-roofed garage with four wide doors and then curved away out of sight, masked by the bulk of the main house.

The garage had two stories, but no lights were showing in any of the upper windows, so no chauffeur had been wakened by the passing of my Buick. The plain cement gave way to a span of decorative brick in a pattern, which I crossed to get to the house.

Except for a subdued night-light in the kitchen, the rest of the place was as dark as the garage, at least on this side. I found my way to the back garden and the line of French windows that marked the long hall where Bobbi had sung. The place was quiet enough now with all the people gone and looked larger than I remembered. The wind stirred unswept leaves around my ankles and I was just able to pick up the soft rush from the fountain at the far end of the grounds. It seemed like a century had passed since the night of the party, when I'd dragged Evan sputtering from the water.

Pressing my ear to one of the doors, I only heard the slow tick of a clock somewhere inside. The quality of the sound muffled, went silent a moment, and returned sharp and clear as I slipped into the house and became solid again.

Oriented, I fumed left and walked quietly through a series of rooms and halls, my ears cocked and the rest of me ready to vanish at a second's notice. The bedrooms were all upstairs, though. I didn't expect to run into anyone else prowling around and did not.

Like Adrian, Leighton Brett placed his studio on the north side of the house to take advantage of the light. It was a much bigger room and filled with more stuff, but had the same air of organized chaos. A line of wet canvases mounted on different kinds of easels took up a lot of floor space on one side. They covered many subjects: landscapes, some flowers with a jug, and the start of a bowl of fruit. The air was thick with the smell of linseed oil and the sickening bite of turpentine.

Operating on the principle of The Purloined Letter, I made for them and took a good look, comparing the colors of the canvases with the leftover smears on a palette I found. I was anything but an expert, but they seemed to match, which didn't prove much one way or another-Sandra had used the same colors. We'd probably have to wait and work it from the fingerprint angle later on, just to be sure.

I caught the low voices and approaching footsteps in plenty of time to vanish.

Something clicked after the door swung open, probably the light switch, and they walked into the studio.

’’The kitchen really might be better for this,’’ said Leighton Brett. ’’At least I could offer you coffee or something stronger. I don't keep any supplies here where I work.’’

’’We want nothing,’’ stated Adrian, his voice toneless as ever.

’’Then why are you here at this hour?’’ The question held no exasperation, only reasonable curiosity.

I moved close enough to Escott to give him a shiver and let him know I was around, then floated off a pace. The door was shut, very firmly and quietly, and Escott said, ’’We must talk.’’

’’All right. About what?’’

He did not get a direct answer. They were probably staring at him, reluctant to start now that the moment had come.

’’Alex, what is this about?’’

’’Sandra's murder.’’ This time there was some expression to Adrian's voice, more than enough to put Brett on his guard.

’’Jack.’’ But Escott didn't really have to call me, I was already fading into the room.

Brett went comically slack-jawed at this. A whimpering sigh of fear rushed from him and his pupils dilated, turning his eyes to black pits. I clearly heard the jump and throb of his heart. He stumbled away from me, grabbing at the back of a fancy brocade sofa for balance. I kept still and did my best to hold his eyes. They kept dancing from me to Adrian, to Escott, and back as he tried to take it in. I didn't dare look away to see how they were doing, I was completely focused on Brett.

His surprise died abruptly as common sense took over. He'd seen something impossible, therefore he hadn't really seen it. My appearance had been some kind of trick. He was desperate to believe this, I could read it on his face like print on a page.

When he looked at me for some kind of tip-off or confirmation of the joke I had him cold, and he went blank and wide-eyed as a store-window dummy.

I kept my voice low and even and told him to sit down on the sofa. He did so. He wore scuffed loafers and some old paint-spotted pants. Neither of them went with the embroidered Chinese dragons crawling all over his green silk smoking jacket.

Maybe it had been a present from Reva for some birthday or other.

He was tractable now and it was safe for me to divide my concentration. Escott was on the other side of the studio examining the paintings on the easels. Adrian regarded me with caution, but he was not really afraid.

’’This is what you did to Evan?’’

’’More or less.’’

’’How are you able to do it? Why?’’

Escott and I had speculated on everything from telepathy to simple hypnosis, which my influencing resembled, and had yet to find a clear answer for how. Why I could do it was directly linked to vampiric survival: it was easier to drain blood from a quiescent source, whether animal or human, than from one awake and fighting the process. I shrugged;now was not the time for a lecture on my changed condition.

Adrian let it go and sank into a chair opposite from Brett to stare at him.

I joined Escott by the paintings. ’’The colors looked alike to me.’’

’’And they appear to be painted in Brett's style.’’

’’You spot anything that could help?’’

He was bent down behind one of the canvases and was comparing it to another he'd taken from a storage rack. ’’Indeed, yes, while not conclusive, it is certainly worth consideration. The wet painting's supporting frame is of a slightly different construction than the others in this room. It's homemade, while these came from a commercial supplier.’’

’’Sandra and Evan made their own,’’ said Adrian, not looking up from Brett's face.

’’They couldn't afford to buy pre-stretched canvas.’’

Escott peered at the raw edges of canvas through his magnifier. ’’The weave pattern of the fabric is also slightly different, but I believe-yes, there are some fingerprints in the paint. That will give us the final confirmation at least of the circumstantial element. As for the rest...’’ He broke off and replaced the dry canvas on the rack and went to stand just behind Adrian. I sat on the sofa, close to, but not touching Brett.

’’I want you to speak freely and answer some questions,’’ I told him. ’’You will give us the complete truth. You will tell us everything we want to know.’’ I licked my dry lips and nodded to Escott, who leaned forward.

’’Brett, did you take some paintings from Sandra Robley?’’

’’Yes.’’

’’Why did you take them?’’

’’They were mine.’’

That puzzled him. ’’They were your paintings?’’

Adrian spoke. ’’He means they were done in his style.’’

Escott noted that with a quirk of one eyebrow and continued. ’’Brett, did you kill Sandra?’’

’’Yes.’’

He spoke without hesitation, no emotion, no change in his empty face. I looked away from him and kept watch on Adrian. He was also leaning forward from his chair, a sullen fire burning deep in his eyes. Maybe it was hot enough to set off his fuse, maybe not. I was there to make sure the explosion wasn't too destructive.

’’Why did you kill her?’’

’’She was... stealing from me.’’ Now a long shudder sieved through the big man's body and he seemed to shrink a little.

’’What do you mean, stealing?’’

’’My life, all my work, taking it, using it.’’

Adrian stood up suddenly and crossed to the wet paintings. He glared at them, half reaching for them, then dropped his hands and swung back on Brett.

’’ You killed for this, because she imitated your-’’

’’Stole my vision and method, my ideas, and sold them for pennies,’’ Brett whispered.

He stepped toward Brett and I tensed for the rush, but it did not come. It was less self-control than sheer disbelief that kept him from doing anything. He came closer, slowly, and stood over Brett. ’’Look up at me.’’

Brett looked up as ordered, with defiance creeping into his expression. My hold on him had slipped, but it didn't matter, he saw only Adrian. Escott and I were just part of the furniture.

’’Try to understand, Alex, I worked hard to get here. It doesn't come easy for me, and then when I found out someone was imitating my style, capitalizing on it, using it, degrading it-’’

’’Stealing what you could have made on it?’’

’’Not just that-’’

’’No, it's worse for you, isn't it?’’ Adrian grabbed two fistfuls of Brett's silk jacket and hauled him to his feet, dragging him close to Sandra's paintings. ’’You wouldn't have killed her for just the money.’’

Brett didn't resist and only stared. Adrian released him, took out a landscape from the racks, and held it next to the one on the easel. Side by side you could see the difference. Brett's painting looked like the work of an imitator, Sandra's was the more expert piece.

’’The money wasn't that important to you but your precious vanity couldn't take it. Anyone, even one with a crippled soul and no talent can see it. She copied your style because it's popular with the public, it sells, but she was better at it.’’ He turned back to Brett. ’’She produced the kind of quality you could never hope to master, you knew it, you couldn't stand the thought of it.’’

Brett slapped the back of his hand at Sandra's canvas, missing it by a fraction.

’’She was embarrassed at first-and then she laughed, tried to make a joke out of the whole thing. She asked if I minded very much, that maybe I should be flattered...’’

The muscles in his heavy face knotted into something unrecognizable and I knew what Sandra had seen the second before he struck her down. Adrian saw it, too, and sensibly kept his distance.

’’ Flattered.’’ He looked to be working into something I couldn't stop, unless I stopped it now.

’’Brett.’’

The interruption distracted him just enough. He looked at me and most of the tension left him, but none of the bile. ’’You helped, you know. You told me about those other paintings and where they were being sold from. I got Sandra's name from them-’’

Adrian cut through the smoke. ’’Don't shift the blame, Leighton, he never told you to kill her.’’

He didn't like hearing that and shook his head as though the words physically hurt him. ’’I didn't mean to, I really didn't- you have to believe that...’’

Adrian said nothing and turned away. He stopped before the studio door. ’’The only things I or anyone else can believe are your actions.’’

’’Alex, I am sorry. I lost my temper.’’

’’I'm sure the jury will be more than sympathetic,’’ he murmured.

Brett didn't hear. ’’It got away from me. I truly am sorry, it was like before, I just couldn't help myself.’’

Adrian's spine stiffened. ’’What did you say?’’

’’I... am... sorry.’’

I got Brett's attention. ’’We know you're sorry, now tell us what about.’’

His tone flattened from pleading to bald fact stating. ’’I'm sorry about Sandra...

and Celia.’’

Adrian turned, his face all caved in, and hell in his eyes. ’’ Celia?’’

My influence had put the chink in the dam. Brett's conscience, what he had of it, did the rest, and the dam broke at last.

’’She said she wanted to go back to you. I told her you wouldn't change. You're like nails, Alex, all sharp points and iron outside, and nothing inside but more iron.

What woman could love that? I tried to tell her.’’

Adrian made a glottal sound and swayed, but stayed on his feet.

’’You knew what she'd done, I told her she'd already lost you, that it was too late anyway. She was mine by then-she wouldn't listen to me. She wouldn't admit it to herself and she was wrong, and I hated her for... then later, when I saw how you took it, how much you did love her, I was sorry, more than you'll ever know.’’

’’You killed her?’’ His lips barely moved.

Brett's eyes stabbed around the floor for an answer. ’’She'd written me a note breaking it off, said she couldn't go on any longer. I told her it wasn't good enough and that I had to see her. I really tried, but she was in an awful state, and we'd both had a lot to drink. She just would not listen.

’’I couldn't stand it, I was so damned angry with her-I just couldn't help myself.

It was quick, she was passed out drunk when I took her home. I left her in the car along with the note. She suffered no pain...’’He trailed off and finally shut his mouth.

Adrian backed right up to the door, bumped against it, and scrabbled for the knob with stiff fingers. It twisted and he got the door open and went out, leaving it to swing free;a gaping hole leading into darkness.

got in front of Brett and froze him to submission and gave him some very precise orders. Escort had taken a step toward the hall, but paused when I said his name.

’’Stay here with Brett, I'll go.’’

He nodded and looked at his charge with more contempt than pity. It was still fresh on his mind that Brett had hired him to keep tabs on the progress of the murder investigation, and being used like that galled his professional pride. He moved toward Brett and put him to work.

Adrian hadn't gone very far. He was in some kind of sitting room down the hall.

In passing, I just glimpsed his silhouette against the gray windows.

His palms were pressed flat to his eyes, with his fingers curled up over his forehead. He held his body erect, but was trembling all over as he fought for control and sanity against his grief and rage. After an endless moment the trembling lessened and stopped. The tension eased from the set of his shoulders and his hands fell away to hang forgotten at his sides. The walls were torn down and realization had flooded in. Perhaps he had known about Brett on some subconscious level, but had found it easier to blame himself for his wife's death than anyone else;things not our fault always are.

There was a sideboard on one wall with a half-full decanter and glasses. I poured out whatever it was and took it over to him. He accepted it without comment and drained the contents as smoothly as a glass of water.

’’Did you know?’’ he asked. The pale curtains had not been drawn against the night and his eyes drifted aimlessly in the dim light seeping through the windows.

’’Not about Brett and your wife.’’

He placed the glass carefully on a table. ’’I had to get out, it was that or kill him-

and you wouldn't have let me.’’

’’No.’’

’’You saved me that humiliation, at least. Do you like what you do?’’

’’No, but it has to be done.’’

’’And by whom? What are you? Is there a name for what you are?’’

’’Too many, and all of them ugly.’’

’’Nemesis comes to mind. It's the wrong gender for you, but appropriate on this occasion.’’

’’I'm sorry.’’

’’Oh God, please don't start parroting Leighton.’’

’’We had to have you along.’’

’’Yes, I was the ideal choice to witness your wresting the confession from him. I can keep silent about your methods. Was there no one else?’’

’’It had to be you. You needed to know, to see.’’

’’Did I?’’ His head came up sharply, but his gaze faltered after a second and eventually turned inward. ’’Yes, you're right again. You told me what to expect tonight, but you could have hardly anticipated this.’’

’’I'd been looking for him, though.’’

’’For Brett?’’

’’For your wife's killer, if he even existed.’’

’’Perhaps I'm being obtuse. Would you explain?’’

’’I've still got a lot of reporter in me and it sticks. I checked (he papers, talked to Barbara Steler-’’

’’Barbara?’’ He went cold on me again, or even colder, if that was possible. ’’What did you learn from her?’’

’’A sad story. She still loves you, you know.’’

He didn't believe me, which was hardly a shock.

’’We had quite a talk, only she doesn't remember any of it.’’

His mouth twisted, bordering on disgust.

’’That's how I learned that all the stuff about you killing your wife was so much eyewash. Barbara had been hurt pretty bad, it was her way of getting back at you.’’

’’I already knew that.’’

’’I think she knows she overdid it. She insisted on coming along the night you took on Dimmy Wallace.’’

’’I never saw her.’’

’’She didn't want you to.’’

’’It's probably just as well.’’

I let the subject drop. ’’Anyway, I talked to a few people about you and your wife.

The one thing that really got to me was that no one who knew you or even casually met you could believe you'd killed her.’’

’’How generous of them.’’

’’Then the chance came up for me to ask you directly.’’

’’And just like Leighton, I told you the truth. Well, it's too late now to be offended by your curiosity. How did you come to realize she'd been murdered?’’

’’I didn't and I never did. I thought it was suicide like everyone else.’’

’’Then why pursue it?’’

I didn't want to tell him how I'd slipped back to his house and seen the portrait he'd done of Celia. I'd seen her through his eyes and the truth he'd recorded about her. Alex Adrian really had no conscious inkling of how deep his talent ran or the emotional effect it could have on others.

He'd painted the whole woman, her beauty, the guarded happiness, and the thin line of selfishness lodged in one corner of her mouth. In ten years that line would have taken over most of her face;in twenty, she'd have been quite ugly. The girl I had killed had been selfish, and I'd taken pains to make sure her death had looked like suicide. The parallel between her and Celia had gotten stuck in the back of my mind, so far back I hadn't thought of it until now. I hadn't wanted to think of it.

’’Why?’’ he repeated.

Because by finding the truth behind one suicide and freeing Adrian of his guilt I could somehow expiate my own crime, or at least learn how to live with it as Gordy had advised me.

Because in my experience-and by now I did have experience-selfish people don't kill themselves. They have to have help.

Maybe my reasoning was screwy, I was feeling tired again. That made it easier to lie. ’’I don't know why, Alex. I just did, is all.’’

By now his eyes had grown used to the darkness and he was studying me closely.

’’There's more to it than that.’’

He was as perceptive in his own way as Escott, damn the man. I nodded. ’’Yeah, there's more, but it's only important to myself.’’

He believed me this time and knew I wasn't going to talk about it. He shrugged acceptance and glanced past my shoulder. ’’What are they doing in there?’’

I shifted mental gears to bring myself back to the present, to the house I stood in now, and the people in it. ’’Brett's writing. I told him to do a full confession-on both murders. Escott's keeping an eye on him.’’

’’That's good.’’ His chin fell to his chest with sudden exhaustion.

’’Alex...’’

’’What?’’

’’I can take the pain away;the memory will remain, but it won't hurt so much.’’

He thought about it and even raised his head a little. He knew what I was offering and could appreciate that I sincerely wanted to help. He was also aware I was giving him a choice in the matter. ’’I don't doubt that you could, I may even take you up on it-later. For now I can stand things-I've gotten used to it after all this time.’’

’’It's not the kind of thing you want to hold on to.’’

’’It will be exorcised soon enough-I'm not planning to kill myself, if that's what you think. I meant when we take him in to the police. Will this mean the death penalty?’’

’’I don't know.’’

’’I hope it does.’’ His eyes glittered unpleasantly and his mouth curled into a dry and bitter smile. ’’Don't you?’’

He misinterpreted the answer in my face.

’’Or is it too bloodthirsty of me to want a little justice?’’

’’I was only thinking this is going to be hell for Reva.’’

’’She'll be better off without him,’’ he said, dismissing the shattering of her own life with a casualness I didn't like, but could understand. ’’God, but I'm sick of it all and it's only just begun.’’

’’You need sleep.’’

’’I used to know what that was. I suppose you could fix that, 100, as you did for Evan.’’

’’Yeah.’’

’’Evan.’’ Some of the hardness went out of his manner.

’’He gets out of the hospital tomorrow,’’ I reminded him. ’’He's expecting to come here.’’

He looked pained. ’’Of course he can't come here, not after this. I'll have to take him in for the time being and-’’ He froze. ’’Evan would have seen the paintings-unless Leighton planned to destroy them.’’

’’If he wanted to destroy them he would have done so by now.’’

’’Then why hasn't he?’’

’’You said the money wasn't that important to him. Maybe not, but Brett wasn't going to throw it away.’’

’’He'd finish them and sell them as his own?’’ Adrian shook his head, trying to take it in.

’’Evan wouldn't have been allowed to see them. Brett would have made sure of that. After the breakdown Evan had that night, no one would be too surprised if he took his own life. It's easy enough to arrange.’’ I nearly choked on those last words, but he didn't know the real reason why.

’’You knew all this?’’

’’Charles and I put it together as one of the possibilities. If the paintings hadn't been destroyed, we figured he had a reason to hold off. Greed was one of the ones we figured, it seemed plausible at the time.’’

’’Leigh ton has everything already, how could he possibly want more? The money they'd bring in would be only pocket change compared to what he has. Why should he take such a risk?’’

’’Greed was just part of it. You hit on the real answer earlier. He doesn't have everything and he knows it.’’

He started to twist the wedding ring again, then stopped and looked at his hands.

He held them flat, palms up. They didn't look like the hands of an artist, they were broad, the fingers blunt, but strong looking. Somehow they could transfer what he saw and felt onto paper and canvas in the manner that he desired. He could communicate his vision and emotion to others without spoken explanation. It was a gift, and perhaps by him it had been too long ignored or taken for granted.

’’Sandra's talent,’’ he stated.

’’It's as you said;he'd finish them, sign them, and sell them-as his own. That's the key to all of it.’’

’’Talent.’’

’’Her paintings would have been his best work.’’

’’The bastard,’’ he said, with an odd uplift to his tone.

The DA got the verdicts he wanted, not that he had to work too hard with Escort practically handing him Brett's signed confession on a silver platter. Brett was found guilty of the first-degree murder of Celia Adrian and the second-degree murder of Sandra Robley, but avoided the death penalty in the end. He looked good in court and his obvious contrition impressed the judge and jury, if no one else.

Escott and Adrian were the prime prosecution witnesses, but they didn't have to work too hard at it, either. The facts concerning the murders were the bald truth, after all;the only lies had to do with how those facts were obtained. Escott gave the court a song-and-dance act about being suspicious of Brett's behavior the night Brett hired him to look into things. He later communicated his troubles to Adrian. When the two of them decided to ask Brett a few direct questions he quickly broke down and confessed. I'd made sure that Brett agreed with their story. It was a lousy one and I'd squirmed the whole time when we'd worked it out, but everyone swallowed it.

Escott wasn't too surprised. ’’They believe the most impossible things they hear on the radio and read in the papers every day. A simple little problem like this is hardly going to hold public attention for very long.’’

The papers were full of the story for a while, but mostly because of Alex Adrian's name. Escott and Adrian covered all the angles between them so my name never came into it, which suited me fine.

Brett's art at the gallery was sold off, and very quickly. The notoriety of the trial had drawn out collectors, thrill seekers, souvenir hunters, and other vultures.

Because of the morbid competition, the paintings auctioned at premium prices. The money went to Brett's sister. Reva gave the gallery's commission to charity.

Things were tough for her, of course, though Escott was of the opinion she'd been more upset by Brett's affair with Celia than with his murders. After the trial, she went back east to stay with relatives until things cooled off, which they did, eventually. The next time we heard of her, she was re-opening the gallery, business as usual.

’’What a resilient woman,’’ Escott commented as he studied the article in the paper.

Evan came in with a tray of drinks. ’’And she's got good taste to boot. She's promised she'll take on anything I might have to sell.’’ He put the tray down and helped himself to a glass. ’’Maybe I should rephrase that, it sounds a bit rude.’’

’’We know what you mean,’’ said Bobbi, and that made him smile.

’’I'm glad to hear she doesn't hold anything against you or Alex-or vice versa.’’

’’It's not her fault that Leighton's a... well, that he's the way he is, and we all know that. She's better off without him, if you ask me,’’ he said, unknowingly echoing Adrian's opinion from four months ago.

Christmas was only a week away and we were at Alex Adrian's house to pick up Bobbi's present.

’’Anyway, it should be a success. She's got a head for the business, knows everyone worth knowing, and has the two best artists in the country to supply her with goods.’’

Evan had aged a little in the last few months but was looking better tonight. He said he had a date coming by later, so apparently old habits were asserting themselves again and I was glad to hear it.

’’Well, here's luck to all of you.’’ Escort raised his glass and indulged in a sip, and the others followed his example. I kept out of sight in the back and faked it.

Adrian walked in and managed a smile. It was faint and a little self-conscious, but sincere. He still wore his wedding ring, but had dropped his habit of twisting it at about the same time he'd broken his painting block. ’’It's ready for view,’’ he announced.

We followed him back to the studio. All the lights were on, blazing against an organized explosion of colors from every wall. Adrian was a busy man again, as much in demand as ever, but he'd found time to fulfill one private commission, and I was anxious to see it.

Bobbi's face was lit up with pride and excitement as Adrian flipped back the dust cover from her portrait.

Evan had promised that Adrian would do a painting that would knock our eyes out and he hadn't exaggerated one bit. Bobbi's vibrancy, beauty, and sensuality crackled off the canvas like electricity from a summer storm. It was the kind of painting that made you realize why people loved art for its own sake, but then it was by Alex Adrian, and I had expected nothing less than a masterpiece.

The one thing I didn't expect to see was myself in the painting as well.

’’What gives?’’

Bobbi laughed at my puzzlement, and now I understood all her suppressed excitement. ’’Merry Christmas, Jack.’’

Jeez, I never know what to say at happy surprises and started mumbling I don't know what idiocies.

’’I think words are not necessary at this point, old man,’’ Escort chided.

He was right, so I grabbed Bobbi and lifted her high and spun her until she shrieked for me to stop. Then I gave her a kiss and we looked at the painting again.

As in his original sketch, Adrian had her reclining on a low couch, loosely wrapped in some timeless white garment that clung to her figure. She looked like a slightly worldly angel about to become more worldly than heaven might want to allow. One hand rested along the top back of the couch and was covered by one of my own. I loomed over her in sober black, but he'd somehow managed to make me look ghostly and ethereal in comparison.

The background was dark, neutral chaos with my figure emerging out of the swirling non-pattern. Where my hand touched Bobbi's I was quite solid and real. It should have looked ominous and threatening, but did not. This was what he'd seen that night months back in the garage when I dived out of thin air to save his life.

He'd said it had been beautiful and here he'd found a place to record his vision.

I held my hand out to him. He seemed surprised at the gesture, but shook it and finally smiled again. This one had more confidence.

’’How do you do it?’’ I asked.

He decided to answer with more than a deprecatory shrug. ’’We're artists. We see and understand more than most because we've had to look at ourselves first-and accept what we find there whether we like it or not.’’

’’It still doesn't make us any easier to live with,’’ added Evan. He stood back a little from the painting and compared it to the models. ’’I'm not sure I understand your symbolism, Alex, but it's certainly one of your best.’’

’’There's no symbolism,’’ Adrian assured him, keeping his face supremely deadpan. ’’I only ever paint what I see.’’


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