I was able to bring the word count down to 999, just squeaking under the 1000-word limit. There are a few more spots I think could be improved (that playful smirk line for one) but I’m stuck on the how right now. Overall, considering I don’t write short stories, I’m happy with how this is turning out so far.
It goes off to my critique partners next for feedback and input, which will hopefully help me identify how else I can make it stronger.
What do you think? Did the edits improve on the rough draft?
Life and Death
Nora sat smoking in the window of her Gastown loft, her view of the street below cloaked by night and the rain streaking down the glass.
Was he out there watching? The man who’d drawn his finger across his throat in silent threat.
She’d seen a lot from her window seat, but never a murder. And he’d seen her, too.
His face stared up from the sketch pad in her lap. The detectives had said a forensic artist wasn’t available until morning, and she hadn’t trusted her memory. She’d picked up her charcoal the minute her hands had stopped shaking.
The sketch was good. She’d captured the killer’s wide eyes and nose. The blunt jaw. The way one shoulder hitched up. Most of all the complicated twist of emotions on his face as he’d fired the gun.
It was the truest thing she’d done in weeks.
Stark contrast to the unfinished canvas mocking her from the easel, her palette of oils congealed beside it. For years, she’d painted from a driving need to prove wrong her husband’s constant, belittling remarks about her skills as an artist, to hold on to one thing for herself. Now he was gone and her drive, her talent and passion, gone with him it seemed. His final revenge.
She’d tried to exorcise his haunting presence by painting the Point Reyes shipwreck they’d explored on their trip to California six weeks before he died, the last of the rare times she remembered him happy. Her technique was fine, but as with all her work lately, her execution was flat, as lifeless as the body she’d watched fall to the sidewalk earlier.
But today, she had created something true and beautiful out of ugliness.
The door buzzer invaded the quiet, making her heart trip in her chest. She stubbed out the cigarette and opened her phone app to see who was outside.
“It’s Detective Jackson, Ms. Quinn.” He held his ID up to the security camera.
She buzzed him in. Leo, his name was Leo. He’d said it when he questioned her earlier. She’d been rolling it and his beautiful face around in her mind ever since.
“Not too late, I hope.” His tall frame filled the doorway. “I was punching out when you called, thought I’d stop on my way home.”
“No, not too late.” Something told her his timing was right.
“You’ve got a sketch for us?”
She retrieved her pad and handed it to him, tucked her flowered silk robe tighter around herself. “Do you recognize him?”
“No, but it’s a good sketch.” He laid it on the table, under the light, and snapped a photo. Tapped out a message and sent it off. “We’ve already got a BOLO out, this will help.”
“No sign of him, then?”
“Not yet, but we’ve stepped up patrols and your neighbours have strict instructions not to buzz anyone in without ID.”
“Do you have leads?”
“A few.” He stepped closer. Warmth radiated off his body. His musky aftershave teased. “Don’t worry, we’ll get him.”
“Look close to home.”
“His face.” She pointed to the sketch. “So much rage, but pain too. Whoever the victim was he hurt this man somehow. It was personal.”
“Miss your calling?”
“Maybe. And something else.”
“Go on, Detective,” he said, with a playful smirk.
“I don’t think he’d killed before, at least not often. Horror followed the rage, and when he saw me watching, shame.” She shrugged at his inquisitive look. “I’m an artist. I notice things.”
He inched closer. “I notice things too. Like how pale you are. The dark circles under your eyes.” He smudged a thumb there. His hand hovered by her cheek, but he stepped back. “Have you eaten?”
“Not since breakfast.” She was trembling again, but not from fear. “I sometimes forget to eat when I’m working . . . or witnessing murder.”
“I’m not a bad cook. I could fix us something.”
Though restaurants lined her street, she didn’t suggest going out. She liked him here, filling up her lonely loft.
“Not much in the fridge. There’s wine.” There was always wine these days.
He passed her the bottle and she got glasses while he rummaged around. He found an ancient pie crust in the freezer, some eggs, milk…oh my, the man was making quiche.
She watched him cube cheese, whisk eggs with those fine, strong hands. When he was done, he slid the pan in the oven and picked up his glass. Walked around the long, narrow space looking at her paintings. He gestured to a stack facing the brick wall. “Do you mind?”
“Be my guest.” He turned them around, paused flipping at one of Vancouver’s waterfront, gritty industrial against the backdrop of gorgeous mountains.
“I used to be.”
“You said you were a widow. What happened to your husband?”
“He choked on his lunch while berating the server who’d brought it.” So ignominious, so fitting. She changed lanes, banished his ghost. “Do you always come by personally to pick up sketches from witnesses?”
“Not always.” His eyes spoke the rest. He’d wanted to see her. “Did you ask for me specifically when you called in to say it was ready?”
He didn’t ask why either. He stood close enough to touch her but didn’t, and she craved him.
“I can’t fuck up this investigation by getting involved with a witness, however much I want to.”
Her mind fumbled for a flirty retort, but that wasn’t her. She settled on honesty. “I can wait.”
His mouth curved up in a crooked smile so sexy it stole her breath. “Well, all right, then.”
She answered his smile and it felt foreign on her face. How long since she’d felt happy? Since anticipation had simmered in her blood?
“Quite the day, huh?” He trailed fingers lightly down her arm, took her hand loosely in his.
“Yes, quite the day.”
Someone had died. But she’d taken one step closer back to life.