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On to the story...
Belinda Marshall skipped down the stairs of the Spokane, Washington courthouse. The beautiful 1895 building still housed the Clerk of the Superior Court Office where Belinda finally had divorced Reedy. The statute of limitations required three years of abandonment to obtain a divorce, but it had taken four because he was assumed deceased. Her heels clicked on the hard steps like the tap shoes she’d fallen in love with when she was six years old.
Belinda hoped Reginald Oliver Marshall (Reedy) had found the pot of gold he sought. She hurried to her Bronco SUV that made her frugal mother cringe, and headed across town to her Nevada Street art studio. The building had belonged to her father, who converted it from simply a pin-ball machine shop to a full fledged casino gaming machine factory. He was its only employee. Belinda inherited the building when her father died years ago of cancer. A huge modern painting was due to be hung in an art show in the promenade at Nashville, Tennessee in a few weeks. Overworking a painting to death was a habit she thought she’d dropped. Perfection was in the imperfect.
As soon as she stepped up into the SUV, she texted to Chris: it’s a dun deal.
Two minutes later her iphone dinged: gud now you cn marry me,
She laughed. Once was enough.
The warmth of the SUV made her sleepy. Till she stepped outside. “Wow, it’s colder than I thought.” Her words froze, balanced for a couple of seconds in a cartoon balloon, and dropped. If she hurried maybe her nose wouldn’t turn red. On the way upstairs, something felt wrong. She peeked into the other studio. Finding nobody, she shook off the odd feeling. Now unlocked, her loft door was locked when she left. Wasn’t it? But, the outside door at the bottom of the stairs had been locked, so it wasn’t a major issue. At twenty-five she wasn’t a candidate for Alzheimer’s disease quite yet.
There was no chance in minus three degree weather that she’d air out the stuffy studio. A coconut-scented candle lay behind her wash sink for that purpose. Nothing looked out of place. Paints lined up like colorful messy soldiers in their rack. Brushes looked trashed, but that was normal. Canvases leaned against the inside wall, waiting to realize their potential. The new painting was so large it dwarfed her easel so was set on blocks and leaned against two-by-fours.
She donned her paint-splattered apron, filled a can with water and turned toward her work across the room.
Water splashed all over the floor and her shoes when she dropped the can. It rolled under the sink. A man’s body--a manikin--had been painted over her picture as if he were walking in 3-D through the canvas. She peered at the kaleidoscope of stained glass faux art and tried to not let her eyes roll up into her head as she stepped closer. For a fleeting second she thought he might be a real human. Right before she passed out onto the floor.
He was a human alright.
She surfaced, made herself look closer. Heels protruded light green. Each of his toes was painted a different color and his Achilles tendon was streaked red. Was that paint or blood? With her hands shaking badly she clutched the phone and dialed 911. Then she ran downstairs. Five minutes flat is how long it took the EMTs, police, and sheriff deputies to arrive and trample up the stairs past where she stood inside the stairwell. Reporters were corralled outside the street-level door.
Blonde, blue-eyed Sergeant Sam Magers shooed a renegade reporter outside with the others, ran upstairs two at a time. She’d never talked to a policeman before. She didn’t know they were so gorgeous. If she weren’t crying so much she could have asked him to pose for her. But she remembered why everybody was there. What a stupid idea.
Several cops got busy taping and measuring, looking through her supplies. Magers came down, took Belinda into the other studio that opened onto the hallway and asked, “Do you know how this happened?”
Her “no” sounded hollow. They perched on two high stools. A plain clothes detective with a badge clipped to his belt walked past the door, saw them and stepped inside the room.
“Granby!” Magers said. He introduced Belinda as a witness.
“Sammy, how you doing?” Granby said, his eyes grazing the room. EMTs lumbered up the stairwell and past their door with a gurney.
“Hey!” somebody out of sight called into the hallway. “You aren’t going to need the gurney.”
“Ms. Marshall here has no idea how this happened,” Sam said. He wrote something on his notepad. “Do you know the fellow on the painting?” he asked Belinda softly. Great bedside manner.
“No. No!” She said. “I couldn’t see his face and there was so much paint on him I didn’t even notice he was there until I stood right in front of it--him, I mean.”
“Right, Granby said. “Well, he’s been super-glued to the art work, as well as impaled on a large hunting knife.” Grandby gritted his teeth. His cheek muscles flexed. “The handle protrudes from the backside of the picture frame, through it into him.”
“Canvas,” Belinda said.
“Canvas.” Sam looked at Grandby with a half smile. “I’ve got to wonder where somebody got enough superglue to stick a body to a canvas? The perp had to use a lot of little tubes of the stuff for that job. It would take time.” A question lingered in his eyes when he looked away.
“The responding officer says the docs have a compound that will dissolve glue and not mess up skin. When would there have been enough time to paint all over him?” Grandby asked Belinda. “Aren’t you here every day?”
“Not this week. It’s been cold, and half the time my heater in here doesn’t work very well.” She sighed. “I guess there isn’t much of the painting to save.” What happened to the blood? Tears gushed. “What happened to the blood? Wouldn’t there be blood?” Blood is important. Her skin tingled and her body froze still between statements.
“Well, there doesn’t seem to be any--it wouldn’t mix in with oil paint, so if there were any here, we’d see it,” Granby said.
“But it’s acrylic paint, which is water soluble, not oil. You mean I could have blood mixed in with my paint?” A shudder started up her spine.
“Yeah, she’s right. He was killed somewhere else or there would be blood for sure. Looks like the painting will have to be a do-over.”
She headed for the bathroom to lose her breakfast.
Belinda returned feeling no better. Magers was warm and safe and in charge while she was cold, scared and confused. He looked so concerned, she realized there must be more to him than professionalism.
“We’ll talk later,” Grandby said, and went back toward the chaos in Belinda’s loft.
Sergeant Magers waved, then asked Belinda who else had access to the loft. “Madrigal,” Belinda said. “And a guy named Donny who uses this studio for pottery making. He’s on tour right now though, so he’s not in town. Donny rents the loft we’re standing in. He does sculptures.”
“My friend. She shares my studio to create her art.”
Magers poised his pen over his notebook. “I need your name and address and those of Madrigal and Donny.”
Belinda still clutched her iphone. She scrolled through its address book and relayed those items to him.
“Are you married?” he asked Belinda.
An odd question? “Nope, not since Reedy. I’m divorced.”
“Well, Chris I guess. I haven’t really dated anybody else lately.”
“Any reason why either of them would be angry with you?”
“Not unless you count not agreeing to marry Chris. Reedy is probably dead.”
Sam’s lips curved up just a little bit.
“Sergeant Magers, I...”
“Sam. Sam Magers. What about your family?”
“Other than my mother, I don’t really have one unless you count my step-father’s children--all adults.”
“Yes, but they don’t particularly like me for my mom horning in on their dad’s life.”
He raised one eyebrow. It stood out like a huge question mark on his forehead.
“What? No, take that out of your head. My mother and step-father have a pre- nuptial agreement and made new wills when they married. I saw those. Besides, neither of them had anything anybody would want. They live on retirement checks.
“Sam, I don’t know why somebody would do anything like this. I’ve been painting for several years and nobody has ever been in this loft without me here. At least not that I know of.”
“As soon as we can identify the body, I’ll be back in touch with you.” He gave her his card. “You call me if you think of anything--that’s my personal cell number. I can be here in five minutes.”
She picked up her thermal jacket. Sam walked her down the stairs to outside. Icy tears formed on her cheeks before she got to her SUV. She thought vaguely that salt water isn’t supposed to freeze so easily.
“Are you okay? Is there somebody you can stay with?” Magers asked. “You don’t look so good.” He slammed the driver’s door of her SUV.
She lowered the window a couple of inches. “I’m good, I’m good. Just cold.” Her breath puffed mist through the window gap. She pulled away, leaving him silhouetted by flashing lights from the police cars.
None of this made any sense.
Half way back home her SUV sputtered and died at a stop light, but it started up again. She dreaded having it break down. She’d freeze solid if it did.
She had a dead man in her loft.
A blue car was parked in front of her shotgun two-on-two ancient vintage bastardized bungalow. Cars all looked the same to her, but this one had steamed up windows. As she passed the car the SUV, of course, died.
The blue car’s driver side window came down two inches when she got up next to it. A handgun barrel pointed out at her.
As she frantically tried to restart her engine, a hole in her side window popped open, the bullet angled into the front windshield, spiderwebbing them both. She actually heard the bullet go by
“Oh my god, oh my god, oh my god!” Another bullet hit the side of her SUV just before the vehicle finally started. She slammed it into reverse. That’s when she saw the license plate on the blue car lit by her headlights--which she made herself memorize, go figure. Somehow her brain still worked.
Fumbling the cell phone, she dialed 911 for the second time today and headed to the North Market St. Police Department. “GJX473,” she hollered to the 911 operator who answered her call. “Write it down. Write it down. It’s the license number of the car that shot at me.”