CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 License.
The house is grand. It has seen better days, but hasn’t quite fallen into neglect: the paint is faded but not peeling, the windows are dingy, but are neither broken nor caked with grime. The car in the driveway is an older model Bentley Continental, outdated to the modern eye but as far as Matthew can tell quite serviceable—definitely more modern than the thing Henry drives.
Matthew stares at the address in his spiral notebook and checks it with the mailbox number. It matches. This, according to Randy, is the address of the woman who bought his paintings at the Richmond show.
He was surprised when Randy told him her name—surprised, because he knows her. Edith Everett an art broker who focuses on unknown and semi-known talent. “Getting in before they take off” is how she describes it. In Matthew’s opinion she has really good taste, with the exception of an apparent disinterest in his own work. She was an amazing storyteller, though the stories she told were always about people she knew, and the things she did. She never once mentioned where she was from.
He stares at the house again. It is grand. There is an elegance about it, in spite of the browning, unkempt grass, and gardens full of mostly dead bushes and weeds. It is grand, and it is elegant… and it is familiar.
This house looks eerily like the manor—like that manor—if you take off the top three floors. It doesn’t have the east or west wings, but it looks like a piece of the house was cut out and replanted right here. Only this house doesn’t have the gleaming splendor of the night of the party, or the ramshackle decay of the morning after. It has hints of both.
It’s just a coincidence, he thinks. Plenty of southern houses were built in that style. I bet if I spend enough time looking I’ll find plenty of examples of houses built this way.
However true the thought might be, he can’t get past the similarities. They even use the same color paint.
Before he can bring himself to do anything, the door opens and Edith steps out. She’s an older woman, though she doesn’t quite look her age. She has white-blonde hair cut into a ragged bob, wears a dark blouse styled to look like a more flowing version of a man’s collared shirt, wide-legged pants, a red scarf wrapped around her neck, and open-toed sandals. Her style is very reminiscent of Katherine Hepburn from the 1950s and it strikes him how well it fits with the house: it’s elegant but faded, out of date but still stylish, affected but not overcome by the passage of time. She holds a tall glass of something and a lit cigarette in the same hand.
“Can I help you?” Her voice is husky and tinged with humor.
Matthew shakes himself out of his stupor. “Hi Edith. It’s Matt.”
She doesn’t answer immediately. She raises the glass and transfers the cigarette from her hand to her mouth, taking a long draw. “Well as I live and breathe. Matthew Garrett standing at my doorstep.”
“Yeah…” Matthew feels the beginnings of awkward embarrassment, decides it’s warranted, and lets it bloom. “Sorry about that. Randy told me you bought two pieces in Richmond, and I was so surprised you lived here, of all places… I couldn’t help myself. I was working up the courage to ring your doorbell.”
Edith blows a long line of smoke out of her mouth. From this distance it’s hard to tell exactly what the expression is on her face, but her default is usually grim amusement. “You’re not usually known for being timid. Why not call first?”
“Aha.” Matthew grins sheepishly. “Despite Daylight being one of the few places in the world to still have a real, honest-to-God phone book, it appears you are not in it.”
Edith laughs at that, a deep guffaw that sounds much too large for her. “I forgot,” she says. “Come on up, Matthew. Have a seat. You’re a surprise this morning, but not a bad one.”
The porch has a collection of wicker furniture. Edith sits on a padded bench, a low glass table to her left with a half-filled ashtray and covered in condensation rings. She places her tall glass of something on the table, flicks some ash into the ashtray, and takes another drag as she watches Matthew choose one of the large wicker chairs set off to the side. The wicker snaps and creaks as he settles in, but it holds.
“Would you like an iced tea?” Edith gestures to the glass.
“I’m fine, thanks,” Matthew says.
“As you like. So I have to ask: what the devil are you doing in Daylight, of all places? This seems a little out of your way.”
“I haven’t come up with an explanation that makes sense,” Matthew says. “I left the Richmond show early—sorry I missed you—stopped off at Charlottesville, then on the way home I got sick. Really sick, apparently. It’s been causing me no end of trouble.”
Edith’s eyes sparkle. “Oh. That was you.”
“…Probably,” Matthew admits.
“You were the ‘strange young man’ Sheriff Dobbs found in the street, the one who had some kind of fit a few days later?” Edith takes a sip from her tea. “All kinds of stories about you in the last few days. Most don’t use your name, so I had no idea.”
Matthew sighs. “It’s been a weird week so far.”
“But Richmond,” Edith says. “I have a bone to pick with you about Richmond. I finally reach the point where I am fully moved to buy two of your works—at criminal prices, no less—and you aren’t even there! It’s always a pleasure to see Randy, but I confess I was robbed the satisfaction of seeing the expression on your face.”
“Sorry,” Matthew says. “I had to get out of there.”
“Trying to stay one step ahead of the law? He isn’t pressing charges.” Her voice is dry—far drier than her tea is, he’s sure of it—but it’s obvious to Matthew she’s enjoying this.
Can’t blame her. Objectively, it is a pretty good story.
“I didn’t expect to see Wyatt there,” Matthew admits. “I didn’t expect to see anyone from the old crowd… but definitely not him. And we were… not willing to keep things civil.”
“You sucker punched him and bloodied his nose.”
“I’m not much of a brawler, Edith. ‘Sucker punch’ is pretty much all I’ve got.”
She laughs. “I’d have liked to see it. It’s a shame I couldn’t get there earlier.”
“I could have handled him insulting me,” Matthew adds, “but he started going in on the work. And he has a real talent for that.”
Edith nods. “I’ve read his reviews. He’s not nice.”
“He’s terrifying when he has time to prepare,” Matthew says. “I suppose I’m lucky he was just riffing. But he managed to push almost every button I have, and after it all went down I had to leave. I left New York to get away from all that.”
“Looks like it followed you,” Edith observes.
“Anyway…” Matthew shifts in his chair, causing the wicker to crack worryingly, and desperately casts about for a change of subject. “I am sorry I missed you there. Especially since you bought my two most expensive pieces. What’s that about? I didn’t think you were a fan.”
“Oh, come on…” Edith tsks reproachfully. “I was always a fan, Matthew. You just weren’t ready yet. You’ve been in a period of transition ever since you painted the hallway with the doors. What did you wind up calling that?”
Matthew clears his throat self-consciously. “‘Hallway With Doors.’”
Edith takes a long sip from her glass, then puts it back down on the table. “Bless your heart.”
“Yes,” Matthew admits, “it’s not a great title. Randy says I have a ‘presentation problem.’ He swears when he says it.”
She guffaws. “I’ll bet. But, look, Matthew: those two latest paintings of yours? Church on the Rock, and Ocean Sentinel? You really upped your game with those.”
“I thought so,” Matthew says frankly. “I didn’t even really want to sell them. That’s why the price was so high. I was surprised anyone bought them at all.”
“Well…” Edith switches over to the cigarette. “It’s not my money. And my client was very pleased. Now don’t look at me like that, you know I don’t talk about the people I buy for.”
“I was hoping you’d break that rule,” Matthew admits. “Just this once.”
“Not a chance.” She smiles as she says it, softening the no with a sympathetic smile. “You have a secret admirer. Let’s leave it at that.”