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Vignettes Regarding the Artwork of Brendon Kotes

XLIV: Present

Though Brendon tried to bow out, Orion insisted on treating dinner in that confident way of his. Yet with each passing moment, Orion’s presence felt more like an imposition rather than a treat. The entire day more a press of weight, a guilt riding on Brendon’s shoulders and a sick sense of dread that kept him from reaching for his sketchbook.

“We’ll have to go through your sales book,” Orion said as they waited for a table. “Find the most likely to cause problems and double-check that everyone is safe.”

And if they’re not? Brendon wanted to ask. What then? Did he take the blame for the suffering, the death? Would the legal system even consider his guilt? Would they—

“This way, sirs.”

A heavily tanned girl—no more than sixteen or seventeen, with plastic nails and purple eye makeup that cast interesting shadows around her eyes—guided them into a booth and rattled off a series of daily specials that sounded decidedly unspecial.

Then she whisked away to fetch Orion a couple fingers of bourbon and Brendon a water. Just a water, he’d said. He couldn’t handle anything else. Or maybe he should drink. Drown away this inexplicable dread, tear away the filters stopping him from cursing Orion for all the doubt he’d brought.

“This whole situation is troubling. Just got off the phone with Wendy and she agrees that we need to get to the bottom of this. Not just the paintings you’ve already done, but why and what and how. Can it be replicated? Can it be militarized?”

Brendon looked up from the menu.

Orion smiled serenely and continued. “And are you the type to be militarized. What type are you, Brendon?”

The waitress brought their drinks, the scent of cherries in the air. How would he capture the scent of cherries on canvas?

Orion didn’t wait for an answer even after she left. “Your credit score is hovering in the mid-six hundreds. Your debt to income ratio is…not amazing, but somehow you have high loan capability. That never bodes well. One wrong misstep, a sickness, an accident.” He paused. “And a single painting can drag you out of debt. And then another, until you’re sliding down a slope greased with blood.”

“Stop it,” murmured Brendon.

“Why? Does it make you uncomfortable because I’m right or because you don’t like taking responsibility?”

“Why would you think I don’t take responsibility?”

“A question for a question? I don’t, actually. But I like putting people on the defensive to see what tactic they take.”

Furious now, Brendon focused far more intently on his menu than need be, wishing he were anywhere else. Wishing he’d not bothered sketching Orion last night.

“Some people would have stalked out by now,” observed Orion as he leaned forward onto his arms. “Others would be attacking me back with all the minimal tools in their arsenal. But you just sit there. Angry, obviously angry, but unwilling to say anything. Why?”

“You’re the armchair psychologist. You tell me.”

“Because you’re used to not being listened to?”

“Because there’s no point in trying to change people’s minds.”

“Isn’t that what I just said?” asked Orion, but his amusement made the question lack any need for a response. When Brendon didn’t say anything, Orion went on, seemingly happy to fill in all the voids left from Brendon’s quiet. “You don’t mind silence. I tried that tactic on you at lunch yesterday. Silence makes you too comfortable. It’s the noise you don’t like. The incessant chatter, the inability to focus on one thing for more than a few moments.”

“And you seem to think you have no faults.”

“Would you like to discuss my faults?”

And this time Orion remained still, his eyebrow slightly quirked up as he waited for an answer.

Brendon crossed his arms over the menu. “Sure.”


Next Chapter: XLV!