Here's the prologue and first three chapters.
Brickell Lofts, Miami
December 5, 2013
Donnie Hines was passed out, drunk, in a corner of his studio when the flames made their way to the painting he’d just finished.
It was a true work of art, and he knew it. Not just good, but great. He knew it even as the whiskey made his tongue thick in his mouth and his eyelids droop. A diabetic, he knew he had no business drinking that much. When he could no longer hold a paintbrush, he sat back in a metal folding chair and realized that he had finally done it. He’d captured, perfectly, the fractal shapes he’d been chasing his whole life.
Ever since his father took him to the Cleveland Science Center when he was ten, he’d seen them in his imagination. That day a scientist showed the crowd how fractals could be found everywhere: in mountains and rivers and on seashells. The never-ending patterns that repeated themselves in an ongoing feedback loop were the most beautiful things Donnie had ever seen. For the past thirty years, he’d been trying to capture them on canvas.
And in the end, all he needed for inspiration was a bowl of broccoli.
Not just any ordinary broccoli, either. This was special. “Romanesco broccoli,” the woman at the market stall called it. Lime green, with florets spiraling into fractal shapes. He bought a bag of it, had it sitting in a bowl on an old Formica table. Mick, whose studio Donnie shared, kept threatening to cook it up for lunch. But he agreed it was special. “Froccoli,” Mick called it.
Donnie had worked feverishly that night as a way to tamp down the loss he felt after the worst conversation of his life. Working always helped, always freed him from feelings he couldn’t sort through. But in the end, his masterpiece at last finished, the drinking won out. A bottle of whiskey, three-quarters empty, sat on the floor by the cot where he slept.
Donnie hadn’t even signed the painting.
But it didn’t matter. The fire that raged through the studio that night, devouring his masterpiece, knew no names and took no prisoners. The paint was still wet when it went up in a shimmer of orange, igniting the wooden two-by-four easel behind it.
Mick’s paintings caught fire next. An angry slash of black on a field of red curled easily into charred shreds. A thick decoupage of mixed media first melted, its bits of metal and rock sliding down before the canvas disappeared in flames. One painting after another—some finished, some not—went up in flames.
The fire leapt to a stack of framed paintings leaning against the wall like oversized dominoes, first eating their stretched cloth and then attacking their hardier wooden frames. Bottles of turpentine, paint thinner, and oil paint fed the flames, as did the men’s bottles of whiskey, wine, and gin, all of them exploding, their glass shattering.
Donnie did not stir.
Perhaps he was already dead.
Or maybe he dreamed in his sleep as the fire raged, smoke pouring in behind the curtain surrounding his cot, enveloping his passed-out form and invading his lungs. Those who knew him would expect him to dream of the fractals that were his singular obsession, how they would keep repeating into infinity, so small his eye wouldn’t be able to see them.
First his skin fried. The flames licked across the surface of his body, the top layer quickly peeling off. Then the fire attacked the thicker layer underneath, causing it to shrink and split. As it split, Donnie’s own body fat leaked out, feeding the fire as another kind of fuel.
Maybe in his dream, he was eating the broccoli. Maybe since the florets were made of the energy of fractals, they kept repeating inside him. He could feel them spiraling through his gut. Soon he could only watch as they emerged from his belly, bursting out of the core of his body, rippling in space, turning him inside out. He was a vibrating, swirling entity of math and matter. His body dissolved.
But as Donnie died, maybe he still existed in a larger way, his spirit flowing as part of the energy that is everything in the universe at once, the largest supernova and the smallest quark and everything in between.
Maybe Donnie’s true masterpiece was this: He became a fractal, never ending.
Holding a sweaty gin and tonic in one hand, the napkin under the glass damp, Grace watched her granddaughter out of the corner of her eye.
Cat had lost too much weight. The young woman’s cocktail dress seemed to hang on her. Her face lacked color, her spunk gone. It had been more than a year since Lee Stone, Cat’s childhood sweetheart, died. Grace thought the trip to Miami for Art Basel would knock her out of the Seattle doldrums. But surrounded by vibrant art and tropical sights, sounds, and smells, Cat remained sullen, uncommunicative.
It was all Grace could do to get Cat to attend the party tonight. Her granddaughter had wanted to stay in the hotel, reading statutes and case law.
“You’re worried about her, I can see,” said a voice at Grace’s elbow.
She turned to find Ernesto Ruíz, an old Miami flame of hers she’d bumped into a few days ago. He’d been hovering around her ever since, trying to get her alone for a bit of the nostalgic, trade-wind-fueled romance they once enjoyed. At seventy-eight, Grace commanded as much attention from men as she had in her twenties. Even more, in fact. She was self-possessed, and she understood that this quality radiated from her, drawing men like Ernesto to her despite the wrinkles, the gray hair, the natural aging of her physique. A smart man like Ernesto knew he would find Grace a much more satisfying partner than any of the young, inexperienced, waifish artists in line for the bar.
Ernesto cut a dashing figure, his hair perfectly trimmed, his fresh face giving off a musky aftershave scent. His impeccable suit appeared tailor-made. His shoes reflected the light of the crystal chandeliers as if they were a source of illumination themselves. Grace had to hand it to Miami men. No matter how hot the weather, they turned out as if every event were red-carpet.
But she knew she was too distracted to take full advantage of Ernesto’s charms this time. Grace allowed his arm to nestle her waist, drawing her toward a nearby alcove. But Grace’s gaze returned over his shoulder to Cat, who was slumped against a balcony railing opposite them, a plump Miami full moon hanging overhead.
“It is simple.” Ernesto’s speech was correct but inflected with Cuban rhythm. “She still thinks the shooting was her fault. That’s what we do. Blame ourselves for that which we cannot control.”
The truth in Ernesto’s statement singed her. And Ernesto didn’t even know the half of it. He had no idea that Grace and her granddaughter were both dreamslippers, and that a good deal of Cat’s depression had to do with her gift. Dreamslipping was, in Grace’s estimation, a rare gift, something to cultivate and hone. But Cat regarded it as a curse and blamed it—and herself—for Lee’s death.
Ernesto took her hand. “But she is young, my Grace.” He lifted her hand to his lips. “She will survive this. It will pass. In time.”
“You’re right.” Grace shifted her gaze at last from Cat to Ernesto. “But it’s been a year. She needs to move on. And you know it’s never been my style to wait around for time to take care of things.”
Ernesto laughed, revealing unnaturally white teeth. The band, which had been on a break, picked up again. “Care to dance?”
She accepted his hand with a nod. The two slow-danced across the room, Ernesto a gentle but firm lead.
A commotion at the entrance to the ballroom stopped them. A group of uniformed police appeared, a woman officer and two wingmen. “We’re looking for an artist,” she said, and the crowd chuckled at that.
“Almost everyone in this room is an artist,” someone called out. “This is Art Basel. One of the biggest art shows in the world.”
“The one we’re looking for is Mick Travers.”
Grace felt alarm at the sound of her brother’s name. Where was Mick, anyway? She scanned the room but didn’t see him anywhere.
Someone in the crowd near the door motioned toward Grace, and the police approached her. Grace caught Cat’s eye, and her granddaughter drifted over.
The officer asked Grace, “You know where we can find Mick Travers? There’s been a fire at his studio.”
The gin and tonic in Grace’s hand slipped to the floor, where it shattered, shards of glass prickling her exposed toes and ankles.
“He-he’s supposed to be here,” she muttered, reaching out to Cat. She felt uncharacteristically wobbly in her heels, and it wasn’t just from the glass underfoot. “I’m his sister.”
“What happened?” Cat directed her question to the police officer. And then, as if it had just dawned on her: “Was anyone hurt?”
The look on the officer’s face caused Grace to fall further into Cat’s arms. “Oh, God…”
“We need to talk to Mick Travers. If you two are his family, please tell us where to find him.”
Cat pulled out her cell phone, and Grace watched as she tried to call Mick. He did not answer.
The officer turned to her crew. “Ask around, find out if anyone’s seen him here tonight.”
The wingmen broke formation. The officer stayed with Grace and Cat, introducing herself as Sergeant Alvarez. She asked them who they were and what they were doing at the party.
“The two of you are from out of town then.” She said this not as a question but as if noting its suspicious nature.
“That’s correct, Sergeant Alvarez. We’re visiting from Seattle.”
Alvarez shook her head. “Such a long way to come for an art show.” Grace bristled at the way she said it, as if the distance in itself suggested guilt.
Fifteen minutes later one of the officers returned with Mick, whose eyes were watery. He swayed, obviously unable to stand straight. “We found him in the lounge downstairs, drinking. By the looks of him, he’s had more than a few.”
“Wh-what happened? This guy says there was a fire.” Mick rubbed his chin. And then, as if it had just dawned on him: “Donnie.”
“We need to speak to you in private.” Alvarez’s hands dropped to her belt, which supported a sidearm and nightstick.
She led the way, with Mick following. “Is Donnie all right?”
Alvarez took Mick by the elbow and steered him into a side room. Grace followed, and when Alvarez held up a hand as if to keep Grace out, she set her voice hard. “I’m Mick’s older sister. I should stay with him.”
Mick looked surprised. “Oh, I’m okay by myself.”
Grace shot her brother a reprimanding look, and he shifted gears. “Uh, yeah, Pris should be there. She’s a PI. She gets this police stuff.”
Grace ignored Mick’s use of her birth name and spotted Cat. She slung an arm around her granddaughter. “This is my partner. And she’s Mick’s great-niece.”
“A family of PIs,” said Alvarez. “That’s all we need.” Her voice softened. “This is a shock, I realize. So I suppose you can be present. But please, don’t interrupt. We need to talk to Mr. Travers now.”
Then Alvarez’s gaze settled on Ernesto Ruíz, who politely hung back. “Don’t tell me you’re somebody’s third cousin twice removed. And that you’re a PI as well.”
Ernesto chuckled. “No, no. Just a friend … who’s perfectly content to wait out here.”
The officer nodded for her staff to close the doors to the room.
“Now then, Mr. Travers,” Alvarez said, motioning for Mick to sit. She introduced herself and her deputies, Speck and Santiago. Santiago sat near them and began to take notes.
“I know this is hard,” Alvarez continued, “but I need to ask: How long have you been here?”
“You mean at the hotel?” he asked.
Alvarez sighed, and Grace detected a weariness in her bearing that suggested the sergeant was at the end of a long shift. “Yes. In the lounge downstairs.”
“I don’t know. What time is it now?”
Alvarez checked her cell phone. “It’s nearly two in the morning.”
“A couple hours, I guess…”
“I know this is a lot to take in. But you’re going to have to be more specific with us here, Travers.”
Grace’s feeling of alarm worsened. Come to think of it, where had Mick been? He was supposed to meet them at the hotel, but he’d called and told them to go ahead, that he would be at the party later. And then he never showed up.
“Why? You think I torched my own studio?”
“When was the last time you were there?”
“Not since this morning.”
Grace broke in, “He was busy entertaining us for most of the day. Cat’s never been to Miami before…” She glanced at her brother for assistance.
“Say, why don’t you tell us what this is about,” said Mick. “Where’s Donnie?”
Alvarez sighed again, this time with genuine feeling, not weariness. “I’m very sorry to inform you of this, Mr. Travers, but Don Hines is dead.”
“No,” Mick said, running a hand through his hair. “He can’t be. He didn’t want to go to the party. He hates parties. He wanted to paint. His own stuff, not mine. He said he was onto something big…”
Mick covered his face with his hands.
Grace wobbled a bit on her heels and went to embrace her brother, as much to steady herself as to comfort him. Mick’s body felt tense, as if rejecting the news in a physical way. Grace hadn’t known Donnie well, but she found him to be a charming character, always ready with a smile. And she was a great admirer of his art. What a loss for the world, she thought. And Mick was so fond of him, too.
Over Mick’s shoulder, Grace tried to catch Cat’s eye across the room, but her granddaughter looked away. Cat didn’t know her great-uncle very well, so even if she hadn’t already been lost in a cloud of her own grief, it was understandable that she didn’t seem drawn to comfort him. Grace felt the heaviness of their double losses, and her own inability to ease their pain.
Mick’s grief seemed to take more of the edge off Alvarez’s questioning. She waited a few beats for him to regain his composure, and when she spoke again, her tone had softened further.
“I’m sorry to ask this, Mr. Travers, but I’m going to need a full account of your timeline for the evening.”
“Where is Donnie?” Mick stood. “I want to see him.”
Grace touched her brother’s arm. “Mick, wait,” she said. “The fire marshal, forensics—they’re probably still on the scene.” She glanced at Alvarez, who nodded. Grace lowered her voice. “And he might be unrecognizable.”
Mick sat down again. “Jesus.”
Alvarez touched Mick’s hand. “Take it easy tonight, Mr. Travers. We’ll deal with the details in the morning.”
She nodded a good-bye to Grace, who did the same.
Cat fetched a cup of coffee for Mick, who took it in both hands as if it were the only thing he had left in the world.
“She’s right, Mick,” Grace said. “Let’s head back to the hotel. I don’t think you should go home tonight. You can stay in my room. I have an extra bed.”
Mick gulped the coffee and set it down. He wiped his eyes. “I don’t know how I could sleep.”
There was nothing Grace could say to that, so she squeezed her brother’s shoulder instead. She and Cat watched him finish his coffee. When he was done, he let the cup clatter onto the tabletop. “I’ve got to get out of here.”
The three went back into the ballroom. Grace saw Speck and Santiago talking to people. She overheard Alvarez on her phone with a member of the forensics team, which was most likely crawling over the wreck that was her brother’s art studio.
They left the scene behind, Grace leading them through the corridors of the convention complex to the hotel adjoining it, where she and Cat had rooms. The hotel had seemed so impersonal at first—Grace would have preferred rooms in a boutique hotel or a bed-and-breakfast, were it not for the convenience. But now it seemed like a refuge.
Grace let them into her room. She slipped off her heels and sat on the bed, wondering vaguely where Ernesto had gone, realizing she hadn’t said good-bye to him. Cat slumped into a chair by the window, the lights of South Beach garish behind her. Mick went straight for Grace’s laptop, which was sitting on a desk.
“What are you doing, Mickey?”
“I’ve got to get his parents’ phone number. I need to call them.”
“That can wait till tomorrow.”
“I don’t want them to find out from the news.” Mick pecked away at the keyboard.
Grace put her hand on his shoulder again. “It’s two in the morning,” she said softly. “You don’t want to wake them, tell them like that.”
Mick slowed down, his face crumpling again. “Here’s their phone number and address.”
“That’s great,” she said. “We can give it to Alvarez in the morning.”
Grace motioned to Cat to hand her a pad of hotel stationery and a pen. Then Grace copied down the information.
“I’m not going to sleep,” Mick announced. “How can I?”
They were quiet a minute, and then Grace said, “All right then. Let’s talk about your timeline for the evening, before you forget the details.” She slid the pad of paper and pen in front of him.
Mick crossed his arms over his chest. “What am I supposed to write?”
“Write down where you were every hour today, and who you were with.”
He stared at the paper. “No.”
Cat finally spoke up. “But Uncle Mick, the police are going to make you do this anyway. It’s better to be cooperative.”
Mick glared at Cat. “Did they teach you that in cop school?”
“It was a bachelor’s program in criminal justice,” Cat said. “And yes.”
Grace winced a bit at Cat’s defensive tone. If Grace weren’t glad to see her granddaughter finally exhibiting something other than passivity, she would have lightly reprimanded her. Instead, she turned to her brother.
“Cat’s right, Mickey. You need to be as specific as possible.”
“Not right now.” He put the pen down and stood up. “I want to see Donnie.”
“That’s not a good idea,” Cat protested. “You’ve been drinking.”
“Nonsense. I’ve had coffee.” He stood and made for the door.
Grace had no choice but to follow her brother. She grabbed the pad of paper with the contact information and ran after him. Cat followed.
By the time they got to the parking lot, they’d managed to talk him out of driving. He wasn’t in shape for it, and besides, Grace regarded his small brown Fiat convertible as a death trap. It was a ’78 and on its third clutch, which Mick had a tendency to ride hard. He’d acquired it in a trade for several of his paintings.
Grace knew the authorities wouldn’t be keen to let any of them into the crime scene until investigators were done, which might not be till the next day. By the way Alvarez and her crew were acting, they must already suspect arson.
But she couldn’t keep Mick away, and she owed it to him to find out whatever she could.
So Cat drove the rental car, with Mick riding shotgun and Grace in back. As they turned onto Coral Way, Grace smelled the smoke. Where Mick’s corner studio had been was a mass of charred beams and broken glass. Water left over from the firehoses pooled and dripped. Tendrils of smoke drifted up out of the sodden, burned mess. A palm tree that had filled the two-story bank of studio windows was nothing but a burned stump, its pot cracked and leaking water and soot.
As the three of them gaped at the wreckage, a woman in a pink peignoir clapped over to them in silver mules. Her unnaturally red hair was in curlers, a gauzy yellow scarf tied around them. Grace had met Rose de la Crem the night before; she was one of the artists with studio space in the same building as Mick. Her prominent brow ridge and masculine feet revealed the gender of her birth. But other than that, the transformation to woman was a convincing one.
“Mick!” she exclaimed. “Oh, Mick.” She wrapped her arms around him.
The four of them gazed at the burned structure, one whole exterior wall now gone, the studio’s remnants exposed to the full moon’s judgment.
“I’m the one who called nine-one-one,” explained Rose. “I smelled the smoke. Oh, God, Mick. Donnie. I can’t believe it. At first the cops thought he was you—but I told them you were at the party. They found Donnie’s ID bracelet on him.”
Grace remembered that Donnie was diabetic. He wore a Medic Alert bracelet, which would have made his identification easy, no matter the condition of the body.
Sergeant Alvarez was on the scene, chatting with the fire marshal. Grace sidled toward them and stood within earshot. She heard the word “accelerant” several times. She waited for a break in their conversation and then moved in to talk with Alvarez when the fire marshal returned to the burnt studio.
“Do you suspect arson?”
“That’s police business.” Alvarez began to walk away.
Grace raised her voice to Alvarez’s departing back. “If you do, it won’t be a secret for long.”
The sergeant turned. “If we determine this was arson, your brother is a suspect. He arrived at the hotel after this fire was set. And he has no other alibi so far.”
Grace set her voice to calm. “I believe my brother was the intended victim. If it weren’t for our visit, he would have been working in his studio tonight. The only reason he went to the hotel is because I insisted.” Then Grace motioned toward her granddaughter, who was talking with Mick and Rose de la Crem. “I thought the party would cheer up Cat. She’s been depressed.”
“That’s very interesting.” Alvarez did not seem swayed.
A stretcher was wheeled into view, toward an ambulance. It held a body bag.
Mick went to it. “Can I see him?"
Alvarez blocked him. “I’m sorry, but it’s better if you visit him in the morgue.”
Wanting to leave with a gesture of cooperation, Grace drew the paper with the contact information for the Hineses out of her pocket and handed it to Alvarez.
“Here’s how to get in touch with Don Hines’s parents. Let Mick call them first, though. Please. Give him some time.”
Alvarez nodded and took the paper.
Cat stepped in then, speaking to Alvarez in an authoritative voice, the likes of which Grace hadn’t heard much since Lee’s death. Her granddaughter had been distant and cerebral ever since, and she’d shied away from any case that seemed the least bit exciting. They had yet to take a murder case, and it had been more than a year.
“We’d like to see the evidence reports,” Cat demanded. “We’ll need to see the lab and autopsy reports, too. We’re happy to comply with any further questioning you have for us.”
Alvarez surveyed the trio. “Don’t any of you leave town.”
For the past year, and especially the past six months, Cat had consistently wished Granny Grace would leave her alone about Lee. Ever since he died, her grandmother had been trying to make sure Cat “healed properly,” which meant constant invitations to grief workshops and meditation events. Once Cat found a brochure on her bed for a four-day course on “healing with color therapy,” which would begin with a questionnaire meant to identify her “one true color” and end with an exercise that promised to “integrate her color’s vibrational harmony with the universal rainbow.”
The old Cat would have confronted her grandmother with such a ridiculous brochure, and the two would probably have joked about it. The new Cat tossed it in the trash without a word.
She didn’t need poking and prodding around the wall of sadness lodged in her chest. What she needed was work and time, and to get clear on her new life as a committed single person. For Cat had no intention of ever getting entangled again. As a dreamslipper, how could she? The people around her would only get hurt. Even friendships were off limits; her friendship with Wendy, made possible by Cat’s undercover work in the Plantation Church, had ended in pain and betrayal. No, it was her duty to focus on her purpose—her work—and leave relationships to normal people.
She kept this to herself, though. Everyone had so many expectations of her grief, as if she were supposed to follow a script. Even her Granny Grace was guilty, with her pressure on Cat to heal correctly.
Being in Miami had helped lift the persistent heaviness off her chest, even if she hadn’t shown it. Cat figured this was partly due to an infusion of vitamin D from the sunshine.
In drab Seattle, people tended to paint their houses in equally drab colors. But in Miami, a riot of tropical flowers and ostentatious birds, people drenched their homes in tangerine, aqua and pink. It made her wish her grandmother lived here, near Great-Uncle Mick, instead of in the Northwest. Why did the two siblings live on extreme opposite ends of the country, anyway?
The fire in his studio had pulled her out of a fog, though, that was for sure. She’d liked Donnie right off. He was intrigued by her name, and when she said it was short for “Cathedral,” he launched into a rambling account of the cathedrals he’d visited in Europe.
“By far, the most amazing cathedral in the entire world is the Sagrada Familia,” he’d pronounced. He retrieved his phone and showed her a slideshow of images. “Look, here we are creating monuments to God, and Gaudí instead found God down here on Earth, in nature. The columns are like trees!”
That was the first thing she’d thought of in the hotel room when Sergeant Alvarez said Donnie was dead. He was so gleeful about that church in Barcelona. He made her promise to visit it sometime, saying, “Cross my heart and hope to die.”
She wished he hadn’t made her say that. It was such a silly, girlish thing, and now…
She had to put on her PI hat to stop from thinking about what a schmuck God was to take people like Donnie and Lee. She focused on the puzzle of that night: Who set the fire? Did the arsonist mean to kill Donnie, or was that an accident? Then there was the worst question ever, the one she could not vocalize to her grandmother: Could it have been Mick?
Cat didn’t know Mick very well. He’d visited her family in St. Louis only twice, and they were short visits. She remembered the watercolor set he gave her. And how, frowning at her drawing of him, he told her not to try to paint people the way they really looked.
“Paint the way they feel instead.” He had a bushy beard back then, and she saw him as a kind of magical creature in his paint-splattered clothes. But Cat had never been able to figure out how to paint people the way they feel. She still didn’t know what Mick meant by that.
The night of the fire, Granny Grace took Mick back to her hotel room. She hadn’t wanted to leave him alone. But it was clear neither of them got any sleep. “He went back to whiskey and then tried to sober up again with hits of coffee before our trip to the morgue,” her grandmother had told her.
Cat did not accompany the two of them to the morgue the next morning, but she understood that Mick needed to see Donnie to believe that he was gone. When Mick returned, he asked to be left alone to call Donnie’s parents.
Afterward, he promptly got drunk again and stayed that way. Cat counted five bottles of Bushmill’s in two days. And he still hadn’t written down a solid timeline for the evening or done anything to strengthen his alibi.
With his studio torched, the three of them had moved into a rental house, one in Coral Gables owned by Granny Grace’s friend Ernesto. Mick’s beach house was off limits since Granny Grace suspected Mick was the target of the fire, and that the killer would hit it next once he found out Mick hadn’t died in the studio fire. It was too small for the three of them anyway.
This put three dreamslippers together under one roof, which was a challenge.
“Mick’s in no condition to control his dreamslipping right now,” said Granny Grace their first night in the rental. They were in the kitchen cleaning up after a thrown-together meal of plantains and Cuban rice and beans. Cat knew her grandmother was warning about what she might find if she slipped into her great-uncle’s dream, or vice versa.
“And frankly, my dear,” her grandmother continued with an emphatic swipe of a rag across the countertop, “neither are you.”
“Thanks, Gran, for your confidence in me.”
“Oh, I didn’t mean it as a criticism. Just an observation. But no one is expecting you to have it under control. Nor Mick, for that matter. I know he cared a great deal about Donnie, and there’s almost nothing more upsetting than knowing someone wants you dead.”
“Well, unless you know of a tinfoil hat or something that keeps us from dreamslipping, Granny, I don’t know what we’re supposed to do.”
Her grandmother laughed. “Remember the rules.”
Cat nodded. In her apprenticeship with her grandmother, they’d established ground rules that governed their dreamslipping ability, giving it dimension but also keeping it in check. The first rule is not to try to dreamslip in your loved one’s dreams. This one was pretty challenging, as Granny Grace claimed to be able to keep herself from slipping into people’s dreams most of the time, but the more she loved them or the closer she felt to them, the harder it was for her to keep from picking up their dreams as if they were her own. Cat had not mastered this ability, and Granny Grace herself had trouble staying out of Cat’s dreams. Cat wondered if this was because it was easier to slip into another dreamslipper’s dream or if it was because of their emotional connection.
Thinking about rule numero uno made Cat realize how little she knew about Granny Grace’s relationship with her brother, especially where their dreamslipping was concerned.
“Gran?” she asked, “can you keep yourself from slipping into Mick’s dreams?”
Recognition seemed to flicker across her grandmother’s face. She smiled.
“Oh, such lovely dreams that man has, when they’re his own. I remember one from our childhood to this day. He must have been three or four at the time, as I’d just entered puberty, and my dreamslipping had recently started. We’d been given our own rooms by then, after having to share one for forever, or so it seemed to me at the time. But my room was still next to his, not that it mattered. I was regularly picking up my parents’ dreams, and they slept downstairs.
“Anyway,” she continued, “the dream was so lovely, so fanciful. The circus was in town, and little Mickey dreamed he was riding on the back of an elephant, which flew! I think he thought of it as Dumbo. We flew up above the clouds, looking down on our farm town, and a pretty accurate aerial depiction, I must say, especially considering his age. He got the Catholic church steeple right, and the dairy plant on the edge of town. I remember the feel of the elephant’s back under my hands, its hair bristly and its skin dry… I think they let Mick touch the elephant at the circus, so he got that detail right, too. We flew through the clouds, doing loop-de-loops! There were giant hot-air balloons going by us, and then things got really strange, as a World War II flying ace zoomed by, and then a pirate ship.
“The captain spotted us in his spyglass, and then his crew began to shoot at us with cannonballs! So Mick swerved to avoid being hit, and they missed us every time. Then a dinosaur so big it could reach into the sky tried to swipe at us, but again, Mick swerved to avoid him.
“The elephant set us down softly back on earth when we were ready, and then it presented us both with giant lollipops held out in its trunk, the old-fashioned candy that looks like a swirled ribbon shaped into a disk. Back then those were a rare treat. Oh, the dream was grand and beautiful, the kind of dream you think children should have.”
“But how about now, Gran?”
Mick walked in without a word to either of them and began rifling through the cupboards, looking for more liquor.
“Maybe you should ask Great-Uncle Mick if I’ve picked up any of his dreams,” Granny Grace proposed, her voice a bit stern.
He startled. “What’s this? Oh, the dream thing. Humph. No sister sightings in many a year, thank God.” He found the bottle he was looking for and practically cuddled it to his chest, as if it were an old friend.
“Well, we’re all under one roof now,” Granny Grace cautioned. “So who knows what will happen.”
That first night, what happened was this: Two of the three dreamslippers got very little sleep.
Cat didn’t necessarily agree with Granny Grace’s rules, especially in this instance. Even though Mick refused to write down a timeline for the evening, Cat made a mental note of the whole evening, and she could not account for Mick’s whereabouts after they met him at seven p.m. for dinner at the Blue Pineapple.
“Nobody eats dinner in Miami before eight,” Mick had complained. But he gave in, and they’d had the early dinner. The next time they saw him was at the hotel when the police came just before two a.m. That left nearly the whole evening unaccounted for.
Cat tossed and turned before finally giving in to the temptation to open herself up to any dreams her uncle might be having. It was a skill she’d honed over the past year, thanks to her grandmother’s mentoring. Using their ability this way, they’d been able to catch two embezzlers and a woman cheating on her husband.
As she drifted to sleep, she entered her uncle’s mind space by imagining one of his paintings, the big, abstract one that sort of resembled a seashell. She pictured him creating it in sweeping, broad strokes….
There were no pirates, dinosaurs, or flying elephants in this one, but it did strike her right away as most likely Mick’s.
She was in his art studio, before the fire. Donnie was there, painting, and Rose de la Crem clopped in on her heels and tossed a cup of coffee at the painting, mixing it in with the paint Donnie had applied to the canvas.
“See?” she said, a hand on one hip. “Isn’t that better?”
Cat heard herself say, “Yes, it is better” in Mick’s voice.
Rose broke down crying and threw the cup to the floor. It shattered, the pieces flying. “Why can’t I do this with my own work?”
Donnie hugged Rose till she calmed down while Cat-as-Mick knelt to pick up the pieces. The mug was one of Rose’s thrift-store finds. “Florida Quacker” was printed in bold pink on an image of a duck wearing a trucker cap that was more redneck than ironic. The duck was sitting in a beach chair, sipping a cocktail. Cat could tell this through the broken pieces, putting them back together as if they formed a puzzle.
“C’mon,” Donnie coaxed Rose. “Let’s go take a look at what you’re working on.”
He motioned for Mick to follow, and the three walked down the hallway to Rose’s studio. But when Rose opened the door, a swirl of black smoke blew out, swallowing them up. Cat couldn’t breathe. She coughed, choking on the smoke as she saw Rose drop to the floor, overcome by the fumes. Cat could feel herself about to go down next. But then the dream changed.
They were in Mick’s studio. She caught a glimpse of Donnie, asleep on a cot behind a curtain, a bottle of Bushmill’s open on the floor next to him. Cat rode along in her uncle’s consciousness as Mick picked up pots of paint thinner and turpentine and began dumping them out around the room. He opened the curtain and poured the liquid onto Donnie, who woke in time to see Mick and yell out. But Mick lit a match and threw it onto him, everything going up in a burst of flame. Donnie screamed and screamed until he couldn’t scream anymore….
And then Mick woke up, and Cat was forced out of the dream.
She sat up, sweaty, her heart pounding. She heard Mick stumble to the bathroom, coughing and clearing his throat. Did he know she’d slipped into his dream? He hadn’t seemed to show it within the dream. She lay in bed for a long time, considering her uncle’s possible guilt and how she could tell this to Granny Grace.
But then Cat fell into her own recurring nightmare, one that had plagued her for the past year, a dream within a dream.
She is sleeping in bed with Lee and begins to dream. The killer, Anita, slips into Cat’s head. Anita was not a dreamslipper in real life, but in Cat’s dream-within-the dream, she has the ability. She fuses with Cat’s consciousness so that Cat can feel Anita in her head; she can hear Anita’s thoughts.
Cut out the rot to make the wood strong. In Jesus’s name. You will be the Church’s salvation.
Quickly, Anita overpowers Cat so that Cat becomes Anita. She gets up and looks in the mirror, and it’s Anita’s face staring back at her. The dream always ends the same way: Cat-as-Anita opens Lee’s dresser drawer, pulls out a gun, and shoots him there in the bed.
Only this time, as Cat/Anita turns around with the gun, she finds there’s someone else there, sitting in a side chair, drinking whiskey.
“Whatcha doin’ there, my mild-mannered grand-niece?” Mick says, motioning with his drink at the gun in her hands.
Cat hears herself as Anita answering him. “I’m going to shoot that man,” she says, pointing the gun at Lee, sleeping in the bed.
“That’d be a waste of time,” Mick says, taking a drink. “Seeing as how he’s already dead.”
Cat turns to the bed with a start and sees Lee as he looked that terrible day on Granny Grace’s front porch, after Anita shot him, with part of his head blown away and blood spilling out around him like a halo.
“No!” she cries, and suddenly she’s Cat again. Anita is gone, and Cat crouches down to stop the blood.
Cat awakened from the dream in a panic, and it took her a few moments to realize where she was. Then she heard the sound of her uncle, shuffling to the kitchen for another drink.
So he had the ability to appear and talk to her in her dreams, as Granny Grace did.
The next day, Cat tried to broach the subject of Mick’s possible guilt to her grandmother, but she couldn’t find the words. “I think your brother might be an arsonist or murderer” didn’t exactly roll off the tongue.
Mick came out of his room only to piss or get more alcohol, helping himself to Ernesto’s ample stash. Cat was sure Alvarez and her posse would identify the hole in his alibi soon, if they hadn’t already. But they were probably waiting for the forensics reports. They’d want more evidence on Mick before interrogating him further. Granny Grace went to the precinct station but got no more information.
When Granny Grace was out, Cat called her mother to let her know what was happening. Mercy was upset, and as always, worried about Cat’s safety. She was relieved to hear they weren’t staying at Mick’s beach house. Cat took the opportunity to ask her mother about her family history.
“What do you know about your uncle, Mom? Why do Granny Grace and Mick live on opposite coasts?”
“Oh, those two had some kind of falling-out in the Eighties.” Her mother clicked her tongue in judgment. “Tedious, if you ask me.”
“Do you know what it was about?”
“No idea. They used to be extremely close, and then… It probably has to do with you-know-what.”
Cat’s mother didn’t like to talk about the dreamslipping thing. Up until Cat proved she could do it by relating the content of her mother’s dreams exactly, she had denied its existence. It apparently skipped a generation.
As she said good-bye to her mother, Cat wondered if there wasn’t a personal reason Granny Grace had set up those rules.
The next night, things were a bit better for Cat. Mick had had so much to drink his dreams were washy and disjointed, and that made it easy for Cat to pop out of them when she inadvertently slipped into them. And he didn’t slip into hers.
And now after a couple of days, Mick was sprawled out on the lanai, which he was using as a sort of makeshift studio, a giant easel on two-by-fours set up in the middle. But not much painting was getting done, Cat noted. She took him some coffee and a sandwich, setting the plate on a side table next to where he was reclining on a vintage Sixties-era sofa. Ernesto was a collector of Mid-Century Modern furniture.
“Uncle Mick,” she said sharply, “you’ve got to eat.”
“Right.” He opened his eyes halfway. “Eat.” He slumped back down on the sofa.
Cat snapped her fingers in front of his face. “Uncle Mick!”
It startled him into opening one eye. “Whaaat?”
“It’s lunchtime, a couple of days after your studio was torched. You’ve been wallowing in drink long enough. It’s time to get up.”
He lifted himself up into a sitting position with great effort, placing his bare feet on the floor. He was wearing the same pajamas he’d put on two days ago. She could smell his sourness.
She gestured to the food on the side table. “Eat.”
He set the plate in his lap and then lifted the coffee to his lips.
“This isn’t Cuban,” he said. “And it’s pretty weak, besides.”
Cat resisted the urge to smack him.
He put the cup down and took up the sandwich, grinning after the first bite. “Say, this is tasty, Cat. Thanks.”
She smiled back. His bipolar nature caught her off guard.
He polished it off handily. “Got another?”
She stepped into the kitchen, made another sandwich, and returned. He was up and standing in front of a blank canvas on his easel, stabbing into the surface with charcoal. Cat watched as he worked.
Slowly the image took shape, and she gasped: It was Donnie’s burnt body.
“When I look at the canvas, that’s what I see.”
He put the charcoal down, went to his bedroom, and came back dressed. “I’m heading out for some real coffee.”
Before she could offer to tag along, the door slammed, and he was gone.
Cat went back to work, shrugging off her great uncle’s loss-infused rudeness. She was researching every square inch of his storied art career to see if she could turn up anyone who hated him enough to torch his studio. There were plenty of jealous types, including a couple of suspicious ones from his grad-school days, but were they envious enough to try to kill him, especially after all these years? She’d have to find out.
After an hour or two, Mick hadn’t returned, but Granny Grace swept in. “Still at the computer?” she asked, disapprovingly. “You know, Cat, in my day, we never used computers. We had to do our investigating on foot.”
“On foot? I thought you went around on horseback.”
“All right, Smarty Pants, we’ve got more interviewing to do. Here, I’ve marked a few we haven’t met.” She tossed Cat the Art Basel artists’ directory. “Today’s the last day of the show, so let’s vamoose before these artistes leave town.”
Cat groaned. So far, talking to artists had turned up nothing other than a few choice anecdotes for future cocktail-party fodder. She and Granny Grace had tackled a few the day before, wanting to do something other than sit and wait for Alvarez’s team. Cat had her fill after meeting with the performance artist whose entire shtick involved making music with an electric razor as his instrument.
Cat scoped the directory, finding the entry Granny Grace starred in a purple pen. “South Beach?” Cat questioned, her voice edged with sarcasm. “This requires travel. In a car. Across the causeway.”
“Better wear sunscreen,” Granny Grace advised.
What should have been a twenty-minute drive took them twice as long due to traffic, and they were nearly wiped out by a guy doing ninety and swerving from lane to lane while watching TV on a screen built into his driver’s-side visor. Even a short drive in Miami meant risking your life.
But soon they were in the loft space belonging to the first artist on the list, Kazuo Noshihara. He’d rented the space for the show. It offered a commanding view of the beach from floor-to-ceiling windows. His work was scattered around, and he and his assistants were busy crating it for the return trip to Japan.
From what Cat could tell, his work amounted to nothing more than white canvases with pieces of lint stuck to them. But Granny Grace gasped as if impressed when she saw them.
“Brilliant,” her grandmother pronounced, and there came Noshihara, in his crisp white jeans and equally crisp white shirt, to greet her. Cat drifted away from them as they lapsed into a conversation about the artistic influence of Yoko Ono, whom Granny Grace said she’d once met in person, as had Noshihara. Cat wondered briefly if every artist in Miami had once met Yoko Ono.
Walking the length of the paintings awaiting their crates, Cat kept expecting to see something more than simple white canvases with a single piece of lint stuck into the middle of each, but that’s all there was to see.
As she returned to her grandmother and Noshihara, Cat watched as Granny Grace reached into the pocket of her linen trousers, grabbed what lint was there, and offered it to the artist.
He accepted the gift with tears in his eyes. “You have a deep understanding of Minimalism, of the detritus of living, in a small way,” he said. “My English fails me. But I think you know.”
“I think I do,” said Granny Grace, nodding.
“I will title my next piece ‘The Gift of Grace,’ for you.” The artist bowed.
Cat had to hand it to her grandmother. She really knew how to connect with people. But as for shedding insight on the case, Noshihara had not much more to offer than, well, pocket lint. He knew Mick only by reputation and had a solid alibi for the night of the fire, which had been verified already by Miami PD, which had been by for a chat.
Cat felt the time was wasted, but she also knew from her criminal-justice classes that most of detective legwork wasn’t glamorous or even relevant. In the white elevator of Noshihara’s building, Granny Grace turned to Cat. “You know, you should really take more of an interest in our potential suspects.”
“Do you know how much his lint sells for?” Cat spat back. “Fifty thousand dollars! For the fuzz some hipster scraped out of his pockets, Gran! It’s ridiculous. The whole art world is a joke.”
Her grandmother raised an eyebrow at her. Sizing Cat up and down, she asked, “Let me see your lint.”
“Let’s see it. Whatever you’ve got in your pocket. I want to know.”
The elevator chimed, and they stepped out into the white-and-turquoise building vestibule, To Cat, it felt like walking into an iPod. Granny Grace steered her over to a white leather bench perched on aluminum legs.
“There,” she said, pointing to the bench surface. “Take it out and set it there.”
“We have two more people to interview on South Beach,” Cat protested.
“Fine.” Cat reached into the right pocket of her slacks, not expecting to find much, as they were warm-weather slacks and not appropriate for Seattle most of the year. She’d hardly worn them before this trip.
She turned out her pocket, and a scraggly array of fibers fell into her hand. She set them on the bench.
Granny Grace knelt to look at them closely, taking her smartphone and flipping to a light-bulb app, which illuminated the pocket lint. “Let’s see…” Amidst gray fibers from Cat’s pants, there was what looked like the corner of a dollar bill. Cat had to admit it was visually sort of interesting, but not earth-shattering or surprising in any way.
“A bit of money. Big deal.”
Also caught up in the gray pants fibers was a crumb from the pastry they’d had that morning at the Cuban bakery on Calle Ocho. “Yeah, that’s a cool detail,” Cat conceded. “But art worth tens of thousands? Hardly.”
“The detritus of everyday life,” Granny Grace pronounced. “It tells the story of what we do with our hands, and what we value enough to keep with us.”
“Sure,” Cat said, smiling. “So apparently I value food and money. Can we go now?”
“What’s in your other pocket?”
“Really? We’re doing this?”
“Yes,” her grandmother said, motioning to the bench.
Cat emptied the contents of her other pocket.
Granny Grace bent forward like a forensics examiner. “Oh, look at this,” she said. “It’s paper…” She unrolled a piece of paper fiber that had obviously been through the wash. Faded but still readable were the words Dave’s Drive-In and a logo of a frosty soda mug with a happy smiling face superimposed on the white mug froth.
Cat took it from Granny Grace’s hands. Seeing it instantly brought her back to the day that Lee had shown up in Missouri, worried about her, foolishly playing the white knight come to rescue her. She had no choice but to take him with her on a trip to Johnson’s Shut-Ins, where she found a clue, etched into the rocks there, that was relevant to her case. They’d stopped at Dave’s Drive-In for lunch on the way, and the two of them had scrunched up the papers around their straws and then siphoned soda onto them, watching them grow like worms. She’d felt like a kid again, laughing with Lee.
Her eyes began to water.
“What is it, Cat? Is it something from your trip back to St. Louis?”
“Yes. I went there with Lee.”
Cat felt her grandmother’s arms around her as the tears came. “Oh, my poor dear. You just got socked with the power of art.”
Cat recovered, and, laying a hand on her grandmother’s shoulder, she said, “Gran. I need to ask you something. I hate to ask it, but I have to.” She cleared her throat. “Should we consider Uncle Mick a suspect?”
“He doesn’t have an alibi….”
“Yes, I know.” Her grandmother looked away. “He’s hiding something about that night. But he didn’t set that fire. He lost most of his art, not to mention his best friend, in that fire. So get that out of your head.”
“It’s just…” Cat hesitated, swallowing hard.
“What, Cat? Say it.”
“I, um, dreamslipped with him.”
Granny Grace silently regarded Cat.
“I couldn’t help it … I wanted to know… And I found something. He dreamed—”
“—Whatever he dreamed, it doesn’t matter.”
“But what if you’re in denial because he’s your brother? He dreamed that he set his studio on fire and killed Donnie.”
Her grandmother sat there for a long time, not saying anything. Then she picked up the remnant of the straw wrapper, which Cat had set in her own lap. “Like you keep dreaming that you shot Lee. That’s not the same as this, is it? Hard evidence. Always remember that, dreamslipper.”
Cat let the words sink in. Her grandmother was right. But then Cat realized something. “Hey, you’ve slipped into my Lee nightmares! What about the rules?”
“As you illustrated, Cat, rules are meant to be broken.” And with that, Granny Grace hoisted herself to her feet. “C’mon. We’ve got more artists to interview.”
It was the worst conversation Mick Travers had ever had in his life.
Telling Donnie’s parents that their precious son was gone, their precious boy, no matter that he was a forty-three-year-old man who hadn’t yet made it as an artist—to them he would always be their precious boy sitting on the living room floor drawing like a boy genius—that was the worst conversation he’d ever had. It wasn’t even so much a conversation as a verbal bloodletting. Poor Mary Ellen Hines and Donald Hines, Sr., sitting in their suburban kitchen in suburban Ohio, getting this information over the phone.
Mick had let Donald Sr. cry in that silent, wracking way a man not given to shedding a tear finally does when something happens that is so painful, even he can’t hold it back. “No,” was the first thing the man said. Just “no.”
Mick waited while Donald told Mary Ellen.
“We should come down,” Donald finally said through choked sobs. “We should … see him.”
Mick thought of Donnie’s unrecognizable body. No parent should have to see that. He also knew they couldn’t afford several trips to Miami or funeral costs. Mick had heard from Donnie that his parents struggled financially after the airline company Donald had worked for all his life defaulted on his pension. The two survived solely on their small savings and Social Security. Donnie hoped to make it big as an artist so he could help them. They’d never been able to visit their son in Miami, not that they were the traveling type anyway. Unlike their free-spirited son, the two had barely ever left Ohio in their own lifetimes. Donnie had driven up to see them whenever he could, usually making the trip in a record two days in his aged Datsun.
“You don’t have to do that,” Mick told the man. “Really. It’s better … if you remember him the way he was.”
Seized with a galvanizing sense of guilt, Mick said, “Please, let me handle the wake. We’ll have it here. You can come down then. It won’t be long. Just a week or two.”
The two agreed, and Mick left them to their black hole of grief.
There was nothing for it, nothing at all, not even five bottles of Bushmill’s. When he came out of his stupor, he was still angry enough to carp at his well-meaning grandniece. He left the house just so he didn’t end up saying something he’d regret.
Donnie hadn’t deserved to go out like that.
It should have been me, Mick thought, about fifty times an hour.
He drove to a Cuban bakery in a strip mall where he knew he could get some decent coffee. He would have preferred a walk or a bike ride, and maybe one of those would have cleared his head, but nobody really did that in Miami. Both activities were in fact dangerous; the head of the city’s transportation department had recently been mowed down by an SUV while biking to work. That was Miami for you.
He sat in a booth and ordered a cortadito, though he preferred the taste of the colada. But coladas were meant to be shared. He, Donnie, Rose, and some of the other residents of the Brickell Lofts often took communal coffee breaks that way. One of them would go out and get a colada in a big Styrofoam cup and pour the syrupy coffee into tiny plastic thimbles, one shot each. It was the perfect afternoon pick-me-up. They’d stand around in Mick’s studio shooting the shit, Rose complaining about her boyfriend (in Mick’s opinion he seemed to only come around when he needed something from Rose), and the three of them criticizing what they’d read in Art in Our Time that month.
Donnie was Mick’s studio assistant. His first. Donnie could handle the large canvases Mick painted, the twenty-by-twenty-foot behemoths his patrons and collectors loved to put in their big Miami manses. Mick could no longer stretch and manage them on his own. Everyone told Mick to work with the local colleges to get an intern to do it for free, but Mick didn’t believe in slave labor.
Donnie reminded Mick of himself twenty years prior: an artist with amazing work ethic and experience who hadn’t ever hit it big. So Mick hired him and paid him, even gave him health insurance through the Miami Artists’ Guild. And when Donnie’s escalating rent had forced him out of his apartment, and Mick found out Donnie had no savings whatsoever for “retirement,” whatever that was to an artist, or anyone anymore for that matter, Mick let Donnie move into Mick’s own tremendous studio space.
Mick’s cortadito arrived, but then he added a guava pastry. Cat’s sandwich had already burned up in his stomach, which hadn’t been fueled in forty-eight hours. The waitress was Cuban and either knew no English or refused to use it. So Mick was forced to tap into his Cuban-styled Spanish, still accented by his Midwestern roots despite his long stint in Miami. “Pour fahvor, dee gamey una pasteleez con hwava.”
While he waited, he swirled the sugary coffee in his cup and contemplated the target of his anger, and that was whatever piece of excrement coated in five layers of vomit and snot had come into his studio and set fire to his works-in-progress, killing his friend in the process. His sister was right; clearly the intended target had been Mick himself. Outside of Rose and some of the other live-work tenants, nobody knew Donnie had been sleeping in Mick’s studio. But before he’d let Donnie have it, Mick often slept there, when he worked late at night and didn’t want to drive back to his beach house in South Dade.
Mick had already been killed a million times by other artists’ jealousy. This had begun to happen even before he’d had any success.
As early as junior high, it had set him apart. In the small town where he and Priscilla, aka “Amazing Grace,” grew up, it had already started. In his junior high class, no less, which was made up of Mick and eleven other kids. They didn’t have locks on their lockers, which were stacked against one wall of their homeroom. In art class, Mick painted Johnny Cash performing on The Ed Sullivan Show. His teacher, who was a Cash fan and encouraged Mick’s talent besides, held it up for the whole class to see. Later, when Mick went into his unlocked locker to take the picture home to show his parents, it was no longer there. Someone had stolen it.
In graduate school, his talent quickly became known, and one of his professors declared, “We have a real artist in our midst.” But that professor’s rival was a man who’d recently been granted tenure without the level of artistic success the others in the department enjoyed. He had made it his personal mission to destroy Mick not only as an artist but as a human being. Chester Canon, or “Chester the Molester,” as Mick liked to call him, screamed and threw things at Mick during crits, described him as a “no-talent hack” to anyone within hearing, and ridiculed his work with insatiable glee. Canon enlisted into his campaign several of Mick’s fellows, students who couldn’t find the perspective in a painting if it were diagramed into the canvas like a paint-by-numbers kit.
Canon got his comeuppance, though, when he refused to enter Mick’s painting in a national contest of MFA art students’ work. Several of the professors wanted to enter Mick’s Pink Splash. To create Pink Splash, Mick had taken an old advertisement for facial bleaching cream, decoupaged it onto a canvas, set the canvas on the floor, climbed to the top of a very tall ladder, and then dripped pink paint over it. Canon’s vote was trumped by the other faculty, and Pink Splash was submitted against his wishes. In competition with the work of hundreds of students throughout the country, it won.
“A riveting commentary on the nature of racial complexion,” said the judges. That had taken the wind out of Canon’s sails, for sure, since Mick’s talent had been vindicated by an independent panel of judges whose opinion he had to accept, even if he vehemently disagreed.
Mick ran down the list of hating grad students in his head, wondering if any of them still bore a grudge. It was possible. A year after grad school, Art in Our Time published a Letter to the Editor that bad-mouthed the work of one of Mick’s professors, making it sound as if the letter had been written by Mick. It was signed Mick in Miami, which is where he’d fled after graduate school. He was the only “Mick” in the Miami art world. Coupled with the letter’s references to the professor’s work and the classes Mick took, it was easy to assume that Mick had written the letter. That professor had been one of Mick’s staunchest allies, and it pained Mick to think the professor believed he’d written it. Mick tried to get the magazine to print a retraction, but it refused. And the professor refused to take Mick’s calls.
The worst part was, Mick had criticized some aspects of that professor’s work, over beers with the other students, in confidence, but never to the professor’s face. Whoever wrote the letter cribbed some of Mick’s details from those conversations. So the letter had an air of authenticity to it, and Mick knew whoever betrayed him had been close enough to be involved in the regular round of criticism most art students doled out against their professors, especially when drinking.
The pastry was a delicious concoction of orange guava jelly between layers of buttery, flaky crust. Mick wolfed it down and gulped his coffee. Then he took his flip sketchbook out of his back pocket and began to jot down some names. It was something Priscilla and Cat had been asking for since the night of the fire. It was a humiliating task, compiling a list of people who might want him dead for no other reason than jealousy over his knack for putting lines and colors together on canvas. And he was alarmed to find that it was a rather long list, one that had grown through the years.
When he was finished, he sat there staring at the ring of milky brown coffee left in the bottom of his cup. He could give this list to the police, but they would still think of him as a suspect unless he coughed up his alibi.
But he feared his alibi would make him look guiltier.
He flipped the cover closed on his sketchbook and decided to talk to the one person who could verify he hadn’t set the fire that night: A goth chick named Jenny Baines.