By: S.J. Harper

It’s her studio.

Zack pushes past me. “Look at this,” he says with obvious appreciation. “North light, high ceiling, expansive windows. It’s the perfect setup.”

“For what?”

“For a studio.” Zack stops in front of a large canvas spread in the middle of the floor. “The northern exposure means the space is bright, but the light is even. Not shining directly onto the canvas or in the artist’s eyes.”

“So you know a little about art, huh?”

“This must be the last project she worked on.” He squats down for a closer look.

I join him. All I see is an explosion of red in a pattern that resembles poppies, intertwined with blotches of bright blue, orange, and dribbles of yellow.

“It’s beautiful,” Zack says. “Primitive and alive. Soulful.”

“Yeah. Just what I was thinking.” I stand back and let Zack continue his rapt study of the canvas. I move around the room looking for anything that might give us a clue as to what became of Amy. I stop in front of a credenza covered in plastic and topped with cans, bottles, and tubes of paint. There are brushes soaking in jars of some kind of oil. Others are standing upright in an old ceramic vase. A couple have been left to dry on the top of the workspace.

I pick one up. The bristles are stiff with red paint. The other one on the credenza is caked with orange.

Zack has come up behind me. He takes the brush from my hand. “Remember when I asked what kind of woman would go on a trip without her makeup and toothbrush?”


He turns the brush slowly in his hand. “Well, what kind of artist walks out of her studio and leaves an expensive brush to dry without cleaning it first?”

“I’m guessing the answer’s the same.”

He returns to the painting. The canvas is stretched out on the floor, a taut plastic tarp underneath, anchored on the four corners with tacks. There’s a heavy blotch of bright red paint that bleeds from the corners of the canvas onto the tarp as if in her exuberance, Amy overshot her target. It’s at these places that Zack focuses his attention. I remember what Haskell said about those short, intense brushstrokes. What Zack said about Amy being controlled and deliberate.

He looks up at me. “I’m going to call Forensics. I think there might be more than paint here.”


Zack and I are seated on an outside patio in a restaurant not far from Amy’s condo. Our forensics team is busy inside, and since we just seemed to be in the way, Zack and I left to grab lunch while we await their findings.

“You really think there might be blood on the floor?” I ask to break the silence that’s fallen.

Zack takes a pull of his iced tea. “I think it’s worth looking into. Call it a hunch.”

Or a Were sensibility. Could it be Zack was able to smell two-week-old blood through the paint? If so, neat trick.

Silence descends once more. We’ve exhausted the subject of the case. My choices are small talk or the topic we’ve been avoiding all day. I suck at small talk. So I drag in a deep breath and go for the second. “It’s lunchtime. Time for that awkward conversation you and I need to have.”

It’s hot. Zack and I have both shed our jackets. Our food has been in front of us for all of two minutes. He’s gone for a double portion of slaw with his pulled pork sandwich. I’ve picked the corn on the cob and the onion rings. Admittedly the corn was a mistake. The kernels are shriveled like raisins from sitting in water for too long.

Zack makes a face. “I was hoping you’d forgotten.” He scrunches his napkin into a ball and tosses it on the table. “Looks like it’ll be an early dinner tonight. Next time, I pick the place.”

“Don’t change the subject. What are you doing here?”

“I’d say enjoying barbecue, but that would be a bald-faced lie.” He pushes his plate back, then combs his fingers through his hair. I notice it looks a little lighter in the full sun.

I lean back in my chair and cross my arms over my chest. “You know what I mean.”

He sighs. “You’re pissed.”

“You thought I wouldn’t be?”

He takes a bite of his sandwich and chews. Since he’s so eloquently expressed his opinion of the food, I know he’s stalling. I’m not one of those people who feel the need to fill gaps of silence with needless chatter, so I just wait.

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