**Paintings in the above photo by Simran Narmis (Slow Camera Paparazzi)**
LISLE PICKS UP PAINTING
“Ah, yes. Ms. Vaughn. Mr. Reed is expecting you. If you take the elevator just there to floor three, turn left and head to the second door on the right, you’ll find the viewing room where he will meet you.”
The pretty receptionist handed Lisle a key card and smiled at her.
It had been about four months since Piper’s murder. Lisle, putting her grief and guilt to work, had planned a fundraiser for domestic abuse victims in Piper’s honor. This afternoon she was picking up a painting to be donated to the cause by Dominic Reed, the owner of Hidden Light Gallery.
To say Hidden Light Gallery was the largest independant art gallery in Prospero was an understatement. It was a fortress. Four stories of ancient and modern art, a ballroom on the fifth floor and a top floor penthouse belonging to the billionaire owner, Dominic Reed. The entire building was alive with security guards, cameras and metal detectors. Key cards were required to get anywhere beyond the main floor gallery.
Lisle took the key from the receptionist and headed to the elevator. She got in, pressed the “3” button and inserted her key card which flashed green as the door slid shut. As she waited for her floor she looked into the mirrored walls to smooth her hair and check that her lipstick hadn’t smudged on her morning tea.
The elevator made a polite ding to indicate she had reached her floor. As she stepped out and headed down the plushly carpeted hall towards the viewing room, she heard voices coming from the first room on the left.
“...through all my research and I’ve dated the piece. It’s seventeenth century Dutch.”
“But it portrays the shifting of a Sandwalker. That is an Arabian shapeshifter.”
“It would seem that more than just tulips were imported to the Dutch Republic…”
Lisle peered into the room where three men were hovering around a large painting laying on a table. One was facing her but focused on the painting. He had dark skin and even darker hair that fell in soft waves around his face. His suit screamed style and money, but his silhouette spoke of a more ancient regality. The other two stood with their backs to the doorway. Lisle could only get a full view of one of them, a slight, blond man in jeans and a loose sweater who delicately flipped pages in what looked like an antique book. The other was nothing more than a suited elbow and a shiny shoe.
“As you know, Vermeer, was a shapeshifter himself,” the blond man said without looking away from his book, “He was a Kobold, a goblin form. It’s possible that he had interest in shapeshifters from other countries. This could very well be painted by Vermeer himself. See look at this…”
The blond man turned the book toward the dark gentleman on the other side of the table who looked up and saw Lisle standing in the doorway. He straightened up quickly and started walking toward Lisle causing the blond man to yelp in surprise.
“Ms. Vaughn, I presume?,” the dark man walked toward her with his hand extended.
Lisle nodded in agreement and stepped back to allow him to walk into the hallway.
“Dominic Reed,” he took her hand in both of his, “Lovely to meet you. Please join me in the viewing room. I have the perfect donation for your event.”
Lisle looked back at the other two men just long enough to see the third man in the room looking at her with a broad grin. Nathanael Glenn, the pushy stranger from that ill-fated party that saved her from Mr. Brownstein’s wrath. Dominic looked over his shoulder at the men now standing in the doorway, released Lisle’s hand and set one of his onto her back to guide her to the viewing room.
“Please excuse me, gentlemen. We can continue our discussion after this.”
“Yes, of course,” said the blonde man
Lisle was swept forward further into the hall by the pressure in her back. At the doorway to the viewing room she put out a hand and halted the march. She looked back down the hall at the room with the apparently secretive painting. Somehow she wasn’t surprised to see Nathanael leaning casually in the doorway smiling and staring directly at her. Lisle’s heart beat faster at the sight of him. She was debating whether if was because she found this man charming or disturbing. She raised an eyebrow at him and went into the room.
The room was filled with large, sturdy easels surrounding the walls; each with a light shining directly on it. There was a large table at one end of the room. At the end of the table sat a package wrapped in brown paper.
“Ms. Vaughn, forgive me for allowing my meeting to run late. I had hoped to have this up and displayed for you when you arrived,” Dominic’s eyes focused on Lisle. He seemed to actually notice her for the first time. Lust flashed in his eyes for a moment, followed closely by guilt and then quickly back to professional composure.
“You have no need to apologize to me. You’re doing me the favor by donating to the event. A painting from your collection will have such an impact on our fundraiser. Thank you for doing this,” Lisle stepped further into the room, but inclined her head back at the hallway, “Sounds like your friends are excited about a new painting?”
“Oh, my consultant gets overly excited about analyzing new aquisitions. He seems to think it might be a missing Vermeer,” Dominic shrugged, “More than likely it was made by some college kid taking an art history class.”
Lisle knew this was him trying to discourage her interest in the topic, but she wasn’t going to argue. Lisle set down her purse, laying the key card next to it.
“I’d love to see what you have for us.”
Dominic unwrapped the package and set it on an easel. The painting depicted the Lady of the Lake from Arthurian legend. She was shown under the water, a silver light shining around her, a blue-green gown billowing like waves around her body. Small, silvery fish circled her head like a living crown and her blond hair floated in cascading curls. In her hand she held the golden Excalibur with the blade resting against her other palm. The painting seemed to glow. The lady’s delicate features stared at Lisle as she stared at the canvas. It was the eyes that brought small tears to Lisle’s eyes. They were Piper’s eyes. Lisle drew in a deep breath.
“Oh,” was all she could say.
After a while she turned away, blinked back her tears and turned toward Dominic.
Dominic smiled, “Believe it or not, I know every piece of art in this building by heart. I can practically feel when one has sold even before I get the sales ticket. Honestly, I probably would have ignored your donation request, but that photo of your friend fell out of the letter. I saw her eyes and instantly knew I had seen them before. I reached out to the artist. He said he never met any of the models that inspired this painting, but that he was sure he had used a photo of her in his reference material.”
“Thank you,” Lisle whispered, “She means so much to us.”
“I’m sorry for your loss.”
Lisle stepped away from the painting and reached into her purse, “Here is the receipt for your donation. Is there anything else you need from me?”
“Nothing else. I’m happy to help. Let me get this wrapped up again and you can be on your way.”
Dominic set the painting back on the brown paper, placed the corner protectors on it and began folding the package back up.
“Yes, I’ll let you get back to your overly excited consultant.”
Dominic gave a nervous laugh, “Ryan is most likely buzzing around that room ready to convince me I’ve found a new million dollar painting. It really is quite sad to see him when he’s disappointed. Or who knows? Perhaps I have a new painting worth more than this whole building. We shall see.”
“Nathanael doesn’t share his enthusiasm?”
Dominic glanced sharply at her, “You know Nathanael?”
“Only met him once, but he saved my ass that night. Hard to forget him after what happened...”
Lisle’s last few words trailed off when the realization hit her she was talking about the same night Piper was murdered.
“Anyway, never learned what he did for a living. He works for you then? Or is he an overly enthusiastic consultant as well?,” Lisle knew she was prodding too much, but she couldn’t stop herself.
“You could say he represents some very important people with whom I do business. Here is your painting. I hope it fetches a pretty penny for your cause,” Dominic finished wrapping the painting and handed it to Lisle with a finality that said their conversation was over.
Lisle slung her purse over her shoulder, tucked the painting under her arm, gave a few more words of appreciation and walked back down the hall towards the elevator. When she passed the first room the door was closed. She pressed the button to call the elevator and stood in front of it waiting. As she was waiting Dominic proceeded down the hall and into the closed room making certain that Lisle was not peering into it. The elevator doors slid open in the same moment Dominic opened his door.
As she stepped into the elevator she caught voices speaking. First, the calm voice of Nathanael saying, “You realize of course that the Parliament must be told of this painting’s existence.” Followed by the excited voice of the consultant, Ryan, “Absolutely not! They will destro-”
The elevator door shut tight, cutting off the rest of the conversation.