Today's Reading

The rain was heavy now. It curtained off the world around the house with a fall of water, blurring everything without. Edward checked his watch and cursed. It was a gentle, old-fashioned way of cursing that reminded Madeleine of her grandfather. Words not even considered swearing in this age. It was interesting, given the sleek modernity of the décor.

He ran up the iron staircase to the bedrooms on the floor above. Edward McGinnity's bedroom was neat, no random deposits of clothes, the bed made and taut, a dozen or so notebooks of various style and size stacked in an orderly tower on the upended trunk beside his bed. It was a masculine room, functional and unadorned except for one painting: a nude in oil in an Art Deco frame. The composition was simple and the pose direct. The brushwork evoked a certain wistfulness. Somehow Madeleine knew the artist had loved his model: it was perfect.

Edward stripped as he walked into the en suite to shower. The water did little to soothe the tension from his body. Every muscle was tight, wound, ready to begin. He loved this part. Discovery yawned before him, and it was glorious. The sheer possibility, exhilarating beyond measure. How seductive the existential strain between writer and character—almost erotic. Edward was charged with the liminal intimacy of it. Not only would he know her, she would come to know him. And therein would be the danger and the essence of story.

She'd be a crime writer. Edward smiled. He'd always considered authors of detective fiction an interesting breed. They identified with their genre more than other novelists, inhabiting a definite subculture in the literary world. There was a naivety about crime writers that intrigued him, an underlying belief in heroes and justice, despite the darkness of their work. And sometimes, just sometimes, a crime writer would be accepted into the literary elite, lauded for style, despite a dogged commitment to plot and pace. It would allow him to test her sense of literary self, as he intended.

Madeleine d'Leon would begin as a vignette of middle-class success. Professionally and personally contented. A lawyer, with a lawyer's detachment and dedication to reason, she would live in the country in fulfilment of the bourgeoisie yearning for views of trees and cows. But there was an honesty about Madeleine d'Leon, a humour that recognised absurdity. Hers was a mind he wanted to know. Hers was a life suited to prose.

He'd been searching for her all afternoon. In the beginning, she had been elusive, soft, but she was clear now. Small, not conventionally beautiful, but with a smile that made her so. She possessed the kind of face that seemed always to be thinking. She laughed sometimes for no outwardly discernible reason, but because something in the perpetual movement of her mind had amused her.

Edward dressed quickly, knowing he was late. Shirt, cuff links, watch, bow tie, dinner suit. He checked his breast pocket for the invitation, stopping to glance at the naked woman on his wall. He'd purchased her in a small gallery just outside Paris, and she had owned him since then. His muse. Edward thanked her for Madeleine d'Leon.


Madeleine thought about the murder all the way back to Ashwood. It was a three-hour drive. The roads were familiar and required just enough attention to allow her to think, but not too hard.

Someone would have to die. That went without saying. It would have to be someone who mattered to Edward McGinnity. Unlike their police procedural counterparts, amateur detectives needed a reason to investigate.

Madeleine watched as the scene unfolded before her. The gallery was crowded with the exquisitely elegant. Thin, svelte women who glittered discreetly, whose eyes longingly followed the waiters with their silver trays of hors d'oeuvres. And men who seemed, well, less hungry. A lone cellist provided a tasteful background to cultured conversations. Edward stood by himself with a glass of Champagne, gazing somewhat distantly at one of the large modernist works on display. He looked comfortable in his dinner suit, standing naturally, without the need to finger his collar or adjust incessantly. He had a good tailor, perhaps. Probably. Or he wore a dinner suit often.

Madeleine sighed. Men looked so handsome in formal attire. Hugh hadn't worn his dinner suit since they were married. She wondered if it still fit him.

A young woman approached Edward McGinnity, and he smiled in a way that made Madeleine's breath catch. So this was she: the woman who would be Edward's unrequited love. She was indeed a vision. A brunette, of course—the beautiful blonde was too cliché. Soft and curved, her face was lit with an inherent mischief and an open warmth. She hugged Edward. A real hug, a genuine press, rather than some social affectation.

"Ned, I'm so glad you're here. I have no idea what these people are saying!"

Edward laughed—an easy laugh, but not loud. More an extension of his smile than an expression of its own. He left his arm around her shoulders—companionable rather than possessive. "But they're your paintings, Will," he whispered.

She took his glass and swigged the imported Champagne. Her movements were graceful, imbued with a natural theatre. "Yes, but they're interpreting them...with words I don't understand, so I don't know what I'm pretending to have painted!" She grabbed his lapel. "You have to stay with me. These are your people. You understand their strange gibberish."

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