Last time on Ace Archer: Caryn’s date Jeremy Roth–actually Toby Proctor, head of Project Sagittarius–ditched her to return to his office where Ace Archer’s latest dream has activated a mysterious alarm putting his watchers in a panic!


Chapter Seventeen

Lara Termigant woke with a start, which was strange because she was certain she hadn’t been asleep.

She was sitting in her studio on the second floor of the old blue-grey Victorian. A huge round window broken down into twelve leaded wedges around a central clear circular pane illumined the room with overcast Massachusetts cloudlight. Still, it was more than enough for Lara’s current project, a still life of a throne that had come to her in a dream several weeks ago.

The speakers attached to a crossbar on the back of her easel were playing Loreena McKennitt’s album The Visit. The whish-whish-whish of her ceiling fan above was in perfect rhythm to the music. Lara loved synchronicity like that.

She was trying to mix just the right shade of silver-and-white for the throne’s intricate flocking when

the sun was suddenly out, casting bright anti-shadows across the wood floor. Lara blinked. The CD had stopped right after “The Old Ways.” The clouds hadn’t parted, they just weren’t there.

Oh, and there was suddenly a dead woman painted onto her canvas, lying lifeless on the throne.

Lara checked her watch. It was 7:19pm.

“Suffering Sappho, I’ve lost time!” she said, half astonished, half gleeful. “This is so early X-Files!”

She looked again at the painting. She had been pretty sure early on, painting the empty throne, that this was likely to be an orrery piece. Now, with a dead woman on the throne, she had no doubt. Comparing the colors of the corpse to the palette in her hand, there was no denying that she had painted it. The style was hers, even down to her shortcut for hands.

The cause of death was obvious; the woman in the throne had been stabbed by an ornate silver fencing sword, the kind that also had an edge. Lara could never remember which one that was. Epee? Saber? Stabbity-poker? Still, apparently she didn’t need to be able to name it to paint it. There was a lot of ornate detail work on the handle (pommel? hilt?) though it was stylistically different from the intricacy of the rest of the painting. While the throne and throne room were art nouveau, the tracing on the sword was more geometric.

The woman herself was pale; though that could be accounted for by loss of blood. Her hair was long and coppery-red, a perfect match to her lips and nails. (Except wouldn’t her lips be blue? Lara thought.) Dangling from her brow was a silver and gold crown.

Lara had seen that before.

Forgetting to even put down her palette and brush, she ran out of the studio and down the curving steps into the open foyer of the old Victorian.

Into the orrery.

Lara moved things around in the orrery often, so it didn’t surprise her that it took her several minutes to Where’s Waldo the small black and white photograph she was looking for. Lara had carefully slid it into a paperback copy of a Shakespeare play to look like a bookmark. She went to grab it, realized that both her hands were still full, and fumbled to get the palette and brush put down someplace without dripping or ruining anything. It was a feat of slapstick worthy of Buster Keaton. Finally, secure in her belief that the pinky and ring finger of her palette hand were paint-free enough to handle the antique photograph, she pulled it out slowly and stepped away from the installation to look at it upstairs.

The fading light of sunset melded with the bright eco-friendly flourescents of the studio. It was ample illumination to compare the two images.

The black and white photograph showed a svelte woman in a long glittery dress wearing a sash that proclaimed her in clear block letters to be “MISS CHICAGO 1934.” She was arm in arm with someone in jodhpurs and a fur-lined leather jacket, but he was obviously not the interest of the camera jockey, who had centered the frame on Miss Chicago.

It surprised Lara a bit, but looking at the two figures, it was obvious that they were not, as she had anticipated, the same person. The dead woman was much taller, and where Miss Chicago was thin, the body on the throne was curvy in the Jessica Rabbit style. Lara hoped that was due to artistic interpretation, then remembered that she had painted it, and decided that she hoped that wasn’t how she interpreted women after all.

The one thing that both pictures had in common, though, was the crown. The tiara worn by Miss Chicago 1934 was an exact duplicate (or maybe vice versa) of the headgear on the dead woman. It was hard to tell, with one being an eighty-year old photograph and the other being a fugue state painting, but it seemed to Lara that what was likely a piece of costume jewelry in Chicago looked to be all-too real in the world of the painting.

Either way, there was no getting around the fact that something massively weird was going on here. Lara found her cell phone and scrolled down to the contact she had recently added, the strange girl who had come out of nowhere with oddly perceptive questions about her orrery. The phone buzzed twice, then the sound of ambient public space, then a slightly down-sounding, “Hello?”

“Is this Caryn Alexander?”

“Speaking,” came the voice on the other end.

“This is Lara. Lara Termigant? The artist?”

“We spoke two days ago, I remember,” Caryn said.

“Well, do you remember how you said I should let you know if I had any weird ideas or inspirations for my orrery?”

There was a brief sarcastic pause. “Again, Lara, only two days ago.”

“Right, right. Well, I think I’ve got just the thing you’re looking for!”

To be continued…

© 2013 by Douglass Barre, All Rights Reserved.

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