The art gallery was warm after the chill of the street. Drake stopped just inside the door, taking in the scent of tea brewing and that mixture of expensive perfumes and men’s cologne typical of Manhattan haunts, mixed with the more down-to-earth smells of resin and solvents.
At the sound of the bell over the door, a man came out from a back room, smiling, holding a porcelain mug. Steam rose in white fingers from the mug.
“Hello and welcome.” The man transferred the mug from his right hand to his left and offered his hand. “My name is Harold Feinstein. Welcome to the Feinstein Gallery.”
The smile seemed genuine, not a salesman’s smile. Drake had seen too many of those from people who knew who he was and knew what resources he could command. Everything that could possibly be sold—including humans—had been offered to him, with a smile.
But the man holding his hand out couldn’t know who he was, and wasn’t presuming he was rich. Not dressed the way he was.
Drake took the proffered hand gingerly, not remembering the last time he’d clasped another man’s hand. He touched other people rarely, not even during sex. Usually, he employed his hands to keep his torso up and away from the woman.
Harold Feinstein’s hand was soft, well-manicured, but the grip was surprisingly strong.
“Have a look around,” he urged. “No need to buy. Art enriches us all, whether we own it or not.”
Without seeming to study him, Feinstein had taken in the cheap clothes and pegged him as a window-shopper, but wasn’t bothered by it. Unusual in a man of commerce.
Drake’s eyes traversed the wall and Harold Feinstein turned amiably.
“Take my latest discovery,” he said, waving his free hand. “Grace Larsen. Remarkable eye for detail, amazing technical expertise, perfect brush strokes. Command of chiaroscuro in the etchings. Quite remarkable.”
The artist was a woman? Drake focused on the paintings. Man, woman, whoever the artist was, the work was extraordinary. And now that he was here, he could see that a side wall, invisible from the street, was covered with etchings and watercolors.
He stopped in front of an oil, a portrait of an old woman. She was stooped, graying, hair pulled back in a bun, face weatherbeaten from the sun, large hands gnarled from physical labor, dressed in a cheap cotton print dress. She looked as if she were just about to step down from the painting, drop to her knees and start scrubbing the floor.
Yet she was beautiful, because the artist saw her as beautiful. A specific woman, the very epitome of a female workhorse, the kind that held the world together with her labor. Drake had seen that woman in the thousands, toiling in fields around the world, sweeping the streets of Moscow.
All the sorrow and strength of the human race was right there, in her sloping shoulders and tired eyes.
The door behind him chimed as someone entered the gallery.
Feinstein straightened, his smile broadened. “And here’s the artist herself.” He looked at Drake, dressed in his poor clothes. “Take your time and enjoy the paintings,” he said gently.
Drake smelled her before he saw her. A fresh smell, like spring and sunshine, not a perfume. Completely out of place in the fumes of midtown Manhattan. His first thought was, No woman can live up to that smell.
“Hello, Harold,” he heard a woman’s voice say behind him. “I brought some india-ink drawings. I thought you might like to look at them. And I finished the waterfront. Stayed up all night to do it.” The voice was soft, utterly female, with a smile in it.
His second thought was, No woman can live up to that voice. The voice was soft, melodic, seeming to hit him like a note on a tuning fork, reverberating through him so strongly he actually had to concentrate on the words.
Drake turned—and stared.
His entire body froze. He found himself completely incapable of moving for a heartbeat—two—until he managed to shake himself from his paralysis by sheer force of will.
Something—some atavistic survival instinct dwelling deep in his DNA—made him turn away so she wouldn’t see him full face, but he had excellent peripheral vision and he watched intently as the woman—Grace—opened a big portfolio carrier and started laying out heavy sheets of paper, setting them out precisely on a huge glass table. Then she brought out what looked like a spool of 10-inch-wide paper from her purse.
Goddamn. The woman was…exquisite. More than beautiful. Beautiful was nothing nowadays. Beauty—the crassest kind possible—could be easily bought. Americans could afford the best of everything. Girls grew up with good nutrition, good dentists, good plastic surgeons, good hairdressers, good dermatologists. It seemed that all of them had good teeth, healthy hair, clear skin. All of that was nothing.
She wasn’t very tall, but had long lines to her. Long legs, long neck, long, supple fingers. She moved easily and well, more with the light grace of a dancer than the strength of an athlete. Her shoulder-length hair looked as if it had just been washed, but not by a hairdresser. Washed and left to dry in the air. There was no perfection to it, except for its glossiness and the color—an amalgam of copper-bronze and light brown. She moved into a ceiling spotlight and her hair came alive, a sunburst of shiny colors.
She was smiling at Feinstein but there was a melancholy air there, a sadness, as if she’d seen into the heart of the world many times and found it cold and black.
Drake recognized that look. He saw it in the mirror every morning.
She was unadorned—no makeup, no jewelry, no fancy clothes. But that was as it should be, because she was almost extravagantly beautiful. Any jewelry would simply distract the eye from the porcelain skin; green-blue eyes; high, perfect cheekbones; full, serious mouth.
Cool air, a bell ringing. Three people walked into the gallery, two men and a woman. They were immediately drawn to the artwork up on the walls, planting themselves in front of the paintings making hmmm sounds.
They made wonderful cover.
Circling slowly, making no noise whatsoever, Drake drifted until he was in the direct line of sight of what Grace was showing the gallery owner, flipping through the papers.
Miracles. That’s what she was showing the owner. Goddamned fucking miracles, each and every one.
Drawings of just about everything under the sun. The woman seemed to draw everything that came into her line of sight, and then, as if the world weren’t enough for her imagination, there were some fantasies, like the carefully rendered dragon on a hilltop, as finely drawn as any Chinese classic.