Marc’s favorite place in winter was the conservatory, with the winding brick paths that led through tropical trees and plants. The humid warmth was soothing to skin that had been buffeted by sub-zero temps.
As usual he leisurely struck out for the center, where the splashing water of a fountain added to the calming atmosphere of the place. Outside it was cold, a stark contrast of winter white and dead black, but here it was lush and green and inviting.
He sat on a bench, took his sketchpad and pen from a satchel, and drew the fountain. He’d done this several times, but it was something to do while he waited. He moved his hand with sureness, confident in his ability to capture the essence of the subject.
A pretty young man came over and looked at his picture. “You’re good. Mind if I watch?”
Marc glanced up, smiling. “I don’t mind an audience.” He introduced himself.
The young man sat, his shoulder brushing Marc’s. “Sebastian. I’ve done some pen and ink, but I’m still learning.” He pointed to the spiky plant to the left of the fountain. “How do you make it so realistic?”
Marc demonstrated, pleased by the compliment. Though he’d been drawing for years—he’d started when he was four, with lined notebook paper and crayons—he never got tired of hearing how good he was.
He put away the pen and got out the pencils. He chose his colors carefully, blending them to match the real thing as closely as possible, but inevitably, what he did in his sketchbook minutely changed the things he drew. Couldn’t be helped. So far no one had noticed, so he didn’t sweat it. Colors changed with the light anyway.
Once he’d added a beautiful male bluebird, perched on top of the fountain; it had lent just the right pop of color, but he heard later the staff had had a hell of a time capturing and releasing it outside. Fortunately, it had been summer then; eastern bluebirds migrated south, and a Minnesota winter would have killed it.
Sebastian was leaning over his shoulder, watching closely. “I’ll never be this good,” he said reverently.
Marc didn’t comment because he couldn’t. He hadn’t seen Sebastian’s work. He might be good, and he might be awful. Most people were the latter.
“Castle pencils? Is that what you recommend?”
“They’re highly rated and affordable.” He rubbed overlaid colors, blending them. “And portable, if you sketch and color onsite.”
The woman he’d been waiting for arrived and sat at a bench catty-corner from him. Susan looked nervous, twitchy, her lips a tight thin line. There were shadows like bruises under her tired eyes.
He paused, hand suspended. Now for the person she’s meeting…. Yes, there he is, striding in as if he owns the place. Fucker. “Let’s try something else, shall we? I can finish this later.” He flipped to a blank sheet in the sketchbook, retrieved the pen, and quickly sketched the man, capturing him in fast, bold strokes.
Sebastian exhaled in wonder, and Marc felt the warmth of his breath on his cheek. “How do you do that? You’ve captured him. It’s amazing.”
“It’s something you learn in time and with practice. Be persistent. Don’t just look at the subject. See it.” He crosshatched an area to add shadow, making the man’s eyes come alive. He was talking intensely to Susan, who visibly cringed. Marc’s anger rose, but he viciously controlled it. I’ll take care of you shortly.
Sebastian pulled back. “Will you color this one, too?”
Satisfied with this sketch, Marc relaxed and looked at him. “No. I have all I need.” He laughed a little. “I was showing off.”
Sebastian grinned. “You can do that anytime. I love watching you work.”
A spark leapt between them, and Marc refocused. “Would you like to go somewhere warm for a drink?”
Sebastian leaned in again. “Yes.” His voice was soft. “Your place?”
“Why not?” He closed his sketchbook and slid it into the satchel. The pencils and pen went into the front pocket.
They walked to the exit, and Sebastian said, “A blizzard is being forecast. How would you feel if we were snowed in together?”
Marc held open the door for him, and their eyes met. Oh, you pretty, pretty boy. “I can think of worse things.” It was colder than fuck outside, and the sky was a threatening, roiling mass of dark clouds. He raised the collar of his coat, then slipped on thick gloves. “Meet me there?” He told Sebastian the address.
They separated to go to their cars. When Marc finally got to his, he climbed in behind the wheel with relief. The wind chill was terrible. Saint Paul in winter; fuck. His face felt as if it had been sandblasted. He started the engine and turned the heat on high, then removed the sketchbook from the satchel and pulled out the drawing he’d made of the man. Connor Daniels. Rapist, blackmailer, murderer. It ends now. He tore the paper in half, then in quarters.
Connor was shaking the woman’s arm to make a point when his heart exploded. He cried out, the pain excruciating. She hastily slid away from him, then got to her feet, face white, preparing to flee. He barely saw her, his vision had contracted so much. Son of a bitch. Is this it? Is this all? Goddamn.
His bladder let go, his bowels loosened, and he fell forward, dead before he hit the brick floor.
Genre: contemporary horror
Word count: 929