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LIFE AND DEATH
by Sheri MacIntyre
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.
She’d seen a lot from her window seat, but never a murder. Until today. And the killer had seen her, too.
Was he out there now, watching? Waiting?
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 didn’t trust her memory. She’d picked up her charcoal the minute her hands 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 higher than the other. Best of all, the complicated mix of emotions on his face as he fired the gun.
It was the truest thing she’d done in weeks.
Stark contrast to the canvas mocking her from the easel, her palette of oils crusty beside it. For so long, she’d painted from a driving need to prove wrong her husband’s constant, belittling remarks about her art, to hold on to one thing for herself. Then he died, and took her drive, her talent and passion, with him. His final revenge.
She’d tried to exorcise his lingering, suffocating energy by painting the shipwreck they’d explored on their California road trip, a rare stretch when he’d been at peace with her and himself. Her technique was fine, but as with all her work lately, the execution was flat. Lifeless as the body she’d watched crumple to the sidewalk earlier.
But today’s ugliness had sparked something in her.
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, he’d said his name was Leo. She’d been rolling his name and lean, craggy face around in her mind since he’d questioned her that afternoon.
“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.” Instinct told her the timing was right.
“You’ve got a sketch for us?”
She retrieved her pad and handed it to him, wrapped her flowered silk robe tighter. “Do you recognize him?”
“No, but it’s a good drawing.” He laid it on the scarred oak table under the light to snap a photo, then tapped out a message and sent it off. “We’ve got a BOLO out, this will help.”
“Am I in danger?”
“We’ve stepped up patrols and your neighbors have strict instructions not to buzz anyone in without ID.”
“Do you have any leads?”
“A couple.” He stepped closer. Warmth radiated off his body. His musky aftershave teased. “Try not to worry, we’ll get him.”
“Look close to home.”
“His face.” She pointed to the sketch. “There’s so much rage, but pain too. I think the victim hurt the killer somehow. It was personal.”
He glanced up. “Maybe you missed your calling.”
“Maybe.” She looked for scorn and found none. “There’s something else.”
“I don’t think he’s killed before. Horror instantly followed rage, and when he caught me watching, there was shame.” She shrugged at his inquisitive look. “I’m an artist. I notice things.”
“I notice things too. Like how pale you are. The dark circles under your eyes.” For a charged moment, she thought he’d smudge a thumb there. His hand was a whisper from her cheek, but he retreated. “Have you eaten?”
“Not since breakfast.” How long since anyone had cared? “I sometimes forget to when I’m working . . . or witnessing murder.”
“I’m starving.” He hesitated, ran a hand through dark curls. “I’m not a bad cook. I could fix us something.”
The fridge was nearly bare, and restaurants lined her street, but she didn’t suggest going out. She liked him here, filling up her lonely loft.
“Not much to work with, but there’s wine.” There was always wine these days.
He grinned, passed her the bottle, and rummaged around while she got glasses. He found an ancient pie crust in the freezer, some eggs, milk…oh my, he was making quiche.
He cubed cheese, whisked eggs with fine, strong hands. When he was done, he slid the pan in the oven and picked up his glass to wander the long, narrow space looking at her paintings. He gestured to a stack of canvases facing the brick wall. “Do you mind?”
“Be my guest.”
He turned them around, flipped through until he got to one of Vancouver’s waterfront, gritty industrial against the backdrop of gorgeous mountains. “You’re good.”
“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 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 eloquent gray eyes spoke the rest. He’d wanted to see her. “Did you ask for me specifically when you called the station?
He’d moved close enough now to touch her but didn’t, and she craved him.
“I can’t screw 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’m not in a hurry.”
He gave her 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?
He trailed fingers along her wrist, the briefest, lightest of touches. A promise of more. “Quite the day, huh?”
“Yes, quite the day.”
Someone had died. But Nora had taken one step closer back to life.