With each new conquest, Gabriel Poynter felt more alive. Ironic that her sensation of ecstasy came because of a death.
Rasher Castille bid on the Poynter oil because of the intriguing widow of the artist, and because of the swirling rumors about a studio filled with more oil canvases. Predictably, when he contacted her about the availability of other paintings, she jumped at the chance to invite him to the studio.
“Mr. Castille, I’m so pleased you could come,” Gabriel purred, her delicate hand held out for Rasher to kiss.
“The pleasure is all mine,” he said. Bringing her hand to his lips, he was distracted by the wealth of artwork displayed on H-frame easels set up in the open atelier. Scattered around the space, canvases were also leaned against the walls or were stacked in drying racks.
As Gabriel escorted him around her studio, Rasher inhaled the thick scent of oil paints, the sweet aroma of varnish and tang of gesso. Perfumes never smelled so luxurious. It was intoxicating.
“Such rich colors,” he said, leaning in to study the vibrant pigments in several paintings. “Did your late husband mix his own palette?”
Gabriel smiled at the private joke she shared with her husband. She knew what ingredients made the colors distinctive. She mixed the compounds herself.
“He had a secret formula that produced tones and hues no other artist has ever matched.” She made a show of being the grieving widow, managing to squeeze out a single tear and letting it trail down her cheek.
Catching the drop at her chin, Rasher licked the salt from his fingertip.
“Human tears are remarkable,” he said, savoring the saline taste. “Every emotion, every cause for shedding tears creates a unique crystalline masterpiece. Much like how an artist can create separate, unique paintings while using the same pigments.”
“My husband never used the same pigments,” Gabriel said, walking backward to the next easel so she could watch Rasher’s reaction. “New colors were mixed for each painting. No two reds are exactly the same, no two greens, nor blues.”
Closing the distance between them, Rasher took a canvas off its frame to admire the masterpiece up close. Gabriel did not step away, leaving an indiscreet space between them so she could admire him up close.
“Did you know that the same chemical compounds that give paints their vibrant colors are also used to create brilliant fireworks displays?” Rasher’s eye sparkled with anticipation. “Forgive me my yammering. I am an amateur alchemist. The chemistry of color fascinates me.”
The lights inside the studio, best suited to display the paintings, also brought out the intricate diversity of Rasher’s auburn hair, highlighting individual strands of honey, copper and mahogany, and flecks of gold and amber in his hazel eyes. He would do nicely, Gabriel thought.
After the studio tour, Rasher made arrangements to return to buy two more paintings. Gabriel made her own arrangements for his next visit. She would make such beautiful reds and greens.
That night a new moon rose. Luna shared none of her light, casting her darkest shadow. Yet, the brightness of a full moon shone through Gabriel’s bedroom window, waking her from an amatory dream. Rising to investigate, she pulled the sheers back to witness her studio fully engulfed in flames, a kaleidoscopic conflagration.
Rushing from the quiet of her home towards the scorched landscape that was once her cherished art studio, Gabriel’s screams drowned out the wailing of sirens, and the rush of water from fire hoses insufficient to douse the inferno. A gathered crowd held her back from the flames and overwhelming heat.
Mingling with the spectators watching the disaster as they would an elaborately staged melodrama was an auburn-haired man. His distinctive locks poorly hidden beneath a black fedora worn at a jaunty angle to shield his hazel eyes.
Rasher Castille – alchemist, arsonist – was not disappointed in the display of color his pyromania ignited. The rich hues and tones were more than he hoped, far better than any fireworks extravaganza. His only regret was not learning what Gabriel’s secret ingredients were for compounding her remarkable paint pigments before he set it all on fire.