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Conduct in Question

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PROLOGUE

Was it wrong to take a life so young?

Such beautiful skin was soft, smooth, and white as cream. He stroked her lustrous brown hair. A nervous smile flitted across her face.

He stared into her eyes. She was a university student, filled with the idealism of youth, but her lips and nails were painted red.

The ceaseless debate pounded in his head. A painter should not discard a sketch for its lack of finish. With time, a musician could weave a simple tune into a great symphony. A true artist never rushed to judgment. He shuddered at the prospect of mistakenly snuffing out a life of promise. He had to contemplate her value before the final moment.

In time, she might become a doctor, a judge, or a professor. But how could that be? Her dress was tight and low-cut. She would create a scandal wherever she went. He could resist no longer.

He caressed her long, slim neck. Fear flickered through her body.

His fingers dug deeper. She gasped. Like tiny birds, her hands fluttered upward to pry away his fingers.

Passion overcame his reason. The desperate pleading in her eyes drove him to heights of ecstasy. Her arms and legs thrashed pitifully. Her fear thrust him into his dark world of freedom, where only he could redeem her soul. It was an act of compassion.

Lacing his fingers around her throat, he twisted his hands hard and fast.

“Just a common harlot, begging for it,” he panted.

At last, she was quiet.

He stroked her long neck and hummed a lullaby. An exquisite subject, he thought. He withdrew a silver knife from his pocket. An artist, who sought new challenges, deserved the finest tools.

Carefully, he drew back her long black hair and exposed her face. On her cheek he carved a tiny petal. Pausing to admire his work, he drew another petal close to her chin and then scrolled a graceful stem down her neck.

Disappointed, he sat back. He had not yet perfected his artistry. The line lacked the easy flow of a master. But with his mark, now she was truly beautiful.

The next morning, he sat at a café on the mews, which was suffused with a calm, ethereal light. He sipped his coffee and scanned the front page of the newspaper. He wanted to savor the latest review of his artistic work. The media called him “The Florist.” He would send the editor a sketch of his next carving. Soon he would be known as an artist with daring in his soul.

 

 

CHAPTER 1

 

Trapped next to the open casket, Harry Jenkins glanced at the deceased woman, an elderly client whose face was rouged into a grotesque parody of life. Poor Miss Richardson. Only at her death did her relatives come out of the woodwork. He brushed back his thinning hair and swallowed hard. His senior law partner, Richard Crawford, stood close by. His fine features and elegant attire made Harry feel clumsy and overblown.

Crawford always found just the right inflection for his softly spoken words of condolence. Even after countless funerals, Harry’s own phrases seemed stilted and woefully inadequate. Crawford moved gracefully amongst the damp-eyed mourners, greeting each one with a grave but gracious air. Taking the hand of one, giving a dry kiss to another, Crawford worked the room for new clients. Harry’s teacup rattled in his hand as he sought a place to set it down.

Natasha Boretsky, a realtor for Crawford, gently touched Harry’s arm and drew him closer. “Harry, good to see you. I called you the other day.”

Her hair was dark and lustrous. He caught a hint of her perfume. Smiling, he awkwardly took her hand and managed to say, “Really? I’m sorry I missed your call.”

Her dark brown eyes widened with pleasure. His cup threatened to tip, but still he held her hand for just a moment longer, until they were parted in the crush of the crowd.

His back turned, Crawford stood in front of him. Trapped, Harry gazed over the sea of mourners and out the window. Caught in the afternoon light, dust motes hung motionless in the funeral-parlor air. A promising spring day lay beyond the curtain. Outside, a man and a woman were kissing. She laughed and broke away. A gentle breeze lifted her broad-brimmed hat and sent it soaring upward to the sky. Enchanted, Harry watched the man rush to catch the hat and place it on her head. Arm in arm, they disappeared down the block.

Suddenly, he had to escape. He touched Crawford on the arm in order to pass by, and the old man jerked backward. Harry’s cup was knocked to the floor. The clatter silenced the mourners only for a moment. Harry swept the shards of china to one side and strode from the room. Crawford shook his head and smoothly returned to his conversation.

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Conduct in Question, the first in The Osgoode Trilogy.

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