Belinda Marshall skipped down the stairs of the
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. Spokane, Washington
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
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 and Belinda inherited the building when her father died. 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, he replied. She laughed. Once was enough.
The warmth of the SUV made her sleepy. Then she stepped out. “Wow, it’s colder than I thought,” froze her words, balanced them for a couple of seconds in a cartoon balloon, and dropped them. 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, the loft’s 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 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 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 so 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 and to 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 reporter outside with the others, ran upstairs two at a time. He came down and gave Belinda a bottle of water. 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 took Belinda to the other studio that opened onto the hallway and asked if she needed an ambulance.
Her “no,” sounded hollow. They perched on two high stools. A plain clothes detective with his badge clipped to his belt walked past the door, saw them and stepped inside
Magers said. He introduced Belinda as a
“Sammy, how you doing?”
said, his eyes
grazing the room. EMTs lumbered up the
stairwell and past their door with a gurney. Granby
“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.”
said. “Well, he’s been super-glued to the art work,
as well as impaled on a large hunting knife.” Grandby’s gritted his teeth. “The
handle protrudes from the backside of the picture frame, through it into him.” Granby
“Canvas,” Belinda said.
“Canvas.” Sam looked at Grandby with a half smile. “What I’ve got to wonder is where did anybody get enough superglue to stick a body on a canvas? The perp used a lot of little tubes of the stuff for that job. It would take time. His eyes had a question lingering in them when he looked away.
“The responding officer says the docs have a compound that will dissolve the 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 don’t guess there is 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 looked warm and safe and in charge while she was cold, scared and confused. He looked so concerned, she realized that
he had more there than professionalism.
Sergeant Magers asked who else had access to the loft. “Madrigal,” Belinda said, “and a guy named Donny who uses the other 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 do 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.
“Nope, not since Reedy. I’m divorced.”
“Well, Chris I guess. I haven’t really dated anybody else lately.”
“Any reason why he would be angry with you?”
“Not unless you count not agreeing to marry him.”
Sam’s lips curved up just a little bit.
“Sergeant Magers, I...”
“Sam. Sam Magers. What about your family?”
“Well, 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 made a pre- nuptial agreement and made new wills when they married. I saw them. Besides, neither of them had anything anybody would want anyway. They lived 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 and Sam walked her down the stairs. 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 succinctly slammed the driver’s door of her SUV.
She lowered the window a couple of inches. “I’m good, I’m good. Just cold.” She pulled away, leaving him silhouetted by flashing lights from the police cars.
None of this made any sense.