Vignettes Regarding the Artwork of Brendon Kotes
Brendon waited until the car doors both closed. “If you’re going to accost all my previous customers about their grief, I won’t share any more of them with you.”
“She liked me. She called me young man. No one but my mother calls me that.”
“You have a mother?”
Orion sat back in the driver’s seat and pursed his lips in an unreadable expression.
“When I was working on the painting, she called me young man when she couldn’t remember my name. Be more respectful.”
“I will be the epitome of respect, Mr. Kotes.”
“Sarcasm? Your repertoire must be limited.”
“Why are you upset, truly?”
“Because you pressed Emma. She’s a wonderful woman who went through a terrible time. And you’re a terrible man bearing the sorts of delusions I’m starting to think hide some want to convict me despite what you’ve claimed. I should be back at my studio. I’ve commissions and deadlines and can’t very well charge per hour I’m not actually working. Unlike some people.”
“I will compensate you for your time. Where next?”
“Did you really just offer to throw money at me over this?”
Orion shrugged carelessly, though Brendon hadn’t gotten the impression Orion did anything truly carelessly. This was blatant dismissal, a gesture attempting to alleviate the sharp tang of that offer. “Take me somewhere there is no grief and we’ll both be happy.”
Outside the car there came the rat-ta-ta of a woodpecker against a tree within the forest, distant, but no less powerful, like it sang a song Orion knew by heart. That forcefulness beating against Brendon until his bark flecked and holed and he was left barren, secrets tugged free and swallowed.
“You’re avoiding having to respond to me,” said Brendon, his voice low, but more from a level of disturbed doubt rather than fury.
Orion glanced at him this time and must have seen something in Brendon’s face because he reset the gear shift into park and turned so they faced one another more fully. “Brendon—Mr. Kotes—I’m in no way attempting to insult you or your customers. But I have a job to do, one that you should wish seen done as well. I’m willing to compensate you for your time; I think that would be fair given the circumstances.”
“No.” And for a moment, Brendon almost left it at that. Then a thought crept into his mind, either insidious or inspiring, whichever it was he was sure he’d find out eventually. “You’ll commission a painting instead.”
Orion opened his mouth, but there he paused.
“That way you won’t be lying to my customers,” said Brendon, warming to the idea. “And I’ll still have something to show for my time.”
“I came to you for your help in destroying a painting. I’m not even sure you should continue making more at all. As for hanging one in my home…”
“I’ll make the canvas a wash of fucking pillows then if you’re that scared.”
Orion laughed, eyes crinkling as he laid his hand on the gearshift. “Pillows. Anything worth looking at among them?”
Brendon chose to ignore the question. “Just don’t treat anyone like you did Emma. Look all you want, Mr. Detective, but don’t hurt anyone.”
With a somber expression, Orion nodded. “Did you see the saltwater stains on the couch? Like the tide washed out and left the salt behind on a ragged shore.”
“I didn’t,” whispered Brendon.
But Emma Holde’s house had smelled of the river. And Brendon’s skin had felt sticky when they’d left, sticky like sea swept wind had deposited crystals on his hairs and left him with fresh air in his lungs.
Must have been a beachy candle.