Max Lancaster's neighbor--his muse, the young ballerina Elena--has gone missing. Between secrets from his past and the fact that he's altering his paintings in his sleep, Max is worried that he's lost his mind. By the time forensic artist Sumner Ellison arrives as part of the investigation even Max can see himself in the role of "person of interest."
Sumner Ellison doesn't believe that Max killed Elena, yet he isn't certain Max is entirely sane. Sumner offers Max oblivion in bed and unflinching honesty. Max takes what Sumner offers, losing himself in the younger man's body while hiding his heart from Sumner's love.
When doubt pulls them apart, it takes the all of Max's passion and the purity of Sumner's faith to find answers create a love that won't fade away over time.
Publisher's Note: This book contains explicit sexual content, graphic language, and situations that some readers may find objectionable: Male/male sexual practices.
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Loose Id, LLC
April 26, 2010
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Excerpt from Fugitive Color by Z.A. Maxfield
The moment Max woke up on the couch in his studio, he noticed his painting had changed. On the face of it--though it had no face--he thought it looked...similar...to the one he'd completed the night before. There was no doubt it was his work. Except when he'd gone to sleep the night before, that pair of feet he'd painted had been in a relaxed third position.
Now they were poised to jump.
There was no mistaking it. Muscles bunched under translucent skin. The angle of the ankles was slightly more open, a wider V-shape, as it were, and energy was concentrated in them, tension building, alluding to a leap, springlike, into the air.
Max walked to the window and pressed his forehead into the still-cool glass. It was early morning. Barely light. When the sun hit the side of his loft apartment building, the wall of glass that made up one entire corner of the studio would warm the room and make it almost impossible for most people to work. But Max always felt cold lately, so it couldn't happen soon enough for him.
Shadows still lurked behind the boxes of supplies and the rows of finished canvases waiting to be framed or reworked. He hadn't been happy with his work in a long time. He picked up the altered piece and put it with the most recent ballerina studies in his collection of unfinished paintings.
He then walked across the studio and took out a portrait he'd done of Elena the winter before. It was Elena's delicate and ethereal beauty that had earned him both a comparison to the work of Degas and his reputation as a man who had a fascination with the adolescent female form.
The first, Max was ready to admit, probably didn't bother him too much. Because whether the comparison was favorable or unfavorable, both he and Degas painted ballerinas. So the similarity was apt, in the way that it was apt to compare King Henry the Eighth to Burt Bacharach. It was certainly accurate that at one point or another, they had both composed love songs.
Yet any fascination Max felt for the adolescent female form was solely devoted to the ballerina and really had nothing to do with gender at all. It owed everything to the apparent fragile beauty that covered the iron framework of a superior athlete and to the grim determination to endure pain, manifested on a dancer's ravaged feet.
Max liked to add, for the record, that he liked male ballet dancers far better. However, he didn't have one who lived up the stairs on the third floor of his building, had summers off from school, and modeled for a fee that was more like babysitting money than a professional model's wages.
In short, Elena, whose body graced over half of the canvases currently in his studio. Whose torn feet had so moved him that he'd created a whole series of paintings showing the terrible trauma to the axis on which his sylphlike ballerina spun.
Elena had been missing for three days.
The police had already knocked on neighborhood doors asking if anyone had seen her. Soon they'd be knocking on his door again, asking more pointed questions. He would, if he were in charge. He was a single white male in his late thirties. He was quiet; he kept to himself. He distrusted technology. He liked to paint adolescent ballerinas. Even though he sold his paintings and made an excellent living--a terrifying, obscene amount of money that he had little use for but to live well and assist charitable causes--he rarely ventured out. Rarely had anyone in, either, except his models. Even Max had to admit he liked himself in the role of person of interest.
Not that he'd done anything wrong. He'd never so much as sketched Elena's pinkie finger without the presence of her grandmother, who sat knitting in a small tufted chair he'd gotten especially for her when it became clear that she got stiff in the Italian leather sofa he kept for his own use. Elena called her Abuelita Nonna, a nod to her Hispanic-Italian heritage. In an envelope on the worktable, there were still bits of yarn that Nonna had cut for fringe and not used.
For the life of him, Max couldn't remember the last thing he'd said to Elena, and it bothered him now. Had he told her to take care? Had he commented on the weather? Was there a boy? Had she sparkled just a little bit more brightly? Had she been afraid of something? Was she subdued? Depressed? It seemed he ought to be able to remember what they'd talked about the last time she was here in his studio. That he couldn't broke his heart.
The police were still treating it like a missing persons case, but Max had the sick, cold fear that it was more than that. He knew she was close to her family, and they doted on her. She wouldn't have left them without a word.
When his coffeemaker surged its last puff of steam, he went into the kitchen and poured himself a cup. Police cars had pulled into the parking lot behind the large protoindustrial building that housed his loft. Sooner or later the police would knock on his door. Anything--and everything--he told them would have to be the most perfect truth he'd ever told if he wanted to be believed.
Max looked back at the painting he'd finished the day before. Truth was in short supply. He wasn't sure if he'd know it even if he heard it. He found he was having trouble believing even what his eyes could see. Because the night before when he'd finished and signed that painting, the feet weren't about to jump.
Yet now, they were.
* * *
Sumner Ellison looked around the studio where he sat in a small blue velvet chair and wondered again if its owner, Max, could sense how unusual all of this was. When Lieutenant Cruz had sent him here, it was clearly a fishing expedition. Even in tiny Sea Crest, it wasn't likely that he would go out to a person's home and do a police sketch, and frankly, he never worked without his computer. But here he was, with his pencils and his giant sketchpad, like in the old movies, listening to Max Lancaster give a description of the man he'd seen with Elena Genovese.
Genovese had been missing since the previous Saturday, seventy-two hours before. Now Sumner was trying to draw a composite sketch of a man both the artist Max Lancaster and the grandmother had seen with Genovese in the days before her disappearance.
"No," Max was saying, "I think--no, I'm sure--his hairline was lower, he had a widow's peak, and it stuck up, so you could see it."
"I see," said Sumner, making a minute adjustment. Max Lancaster. If Sumner ever hoped for anything in his life--and all in all he was a pretty satisfied guy--it was that Max Lancaster had nothing to do with the disappearance of a missing girl. Just sitting across from him, sitting in the room surrounded by all of his paintings, gave Sumner a serious thrill.
When Sumner had been a student at CalArts, Lancaster spoke there often. He'd given a lecture in which he'd described the process of finding a true passion, that which makes an artist want to look at something over and over again, in as many ways as it takes to really see it. He'd talked about the human form, and specifically the dancer's body, and why it fascinated him; especially, he'd said at the time, he was captivated by the dual nature of arduous work and the necessity to make that very work appear effortless. Sumner had written arduous effortlessness in his binder that day and scribbled it pretty much every time he'd doodled and daydreamed ever since.
Now, confronted with the man himself, he really, really wanted Lieutenant Cruz to be wrong.
"That's good," Max was saying without looking at him. "The upper lip was a bit fuller, maybe." Max was squeezing his own upper lip with two fingers of his right hand, giving him the look of a fish. His eyes rested on everything in the room but Sumner's face.
"Is something the matter?" Sumner asked, knowing it was his job to get Lancaster to talk. They'd sent him in here, an artist, to lull Max Lancaster into careless conversation. They hoped that, under the guise of getting a sketch of the man Lancaster said he'd seen with Elena the day of her disappearance, he, Sumner, could open a dialogue about the girl. His lieutenant saw him as a kind of Trojan horse, carrying a kindred spirit, another artist in whom this particular suspect might confide.
"Hm, what?" Max started. "Certainly something's wrong."
"Did you...care for Elena?" Sumner asked carefully.
"Yes. I did. She was a sweet girl."
"Did you and she...?" Max could not mistake his meaning.
"Me?" Max asked him, his hazel eyes wide. "No, of course not."
"Sorry." Sumner turned the picture around. "Like this?"
"Yes," Max said. "He had an oval face, almost round, but ever so slightly oblong." He framed a space with his hands.
"You must be going crazy to do this yourself. You'd probably do a much better job. It's not like you couldn't have sketched this guy," Sumner replied.
Max folded his hands in his lap. "I wouldn't have done a good job."
"Really," Max said. "What I paint isn't so much reality, is it?" He lifted his hands to indicate the work that surrounded them.
"Well. We all have our thing." Sumner tried not to imagine them in some Norman Rockwell-style triple self-portrait with him painting the artist who painted the missing girl.
While Max talked about the unknown young man's physical attributes, Sumner was discovering Max's. His hair was tan in that it was neither blond nor brown, yet tan was a massive oversimplification for hair that had more shades in it than Sumner could count. It was cut short and crisply, and stood up in front in an artlessly contrived way that he thought just might be natural. Bedhead. He had a lean, tanned face, squarish and strong, with a jaw like Hemingway, more fitting on a sportsman than an artist. He was colorless though, as though he rarely went out, and pale freckles stood out on his skin. His hazel eyes danced with a yellowish spark that made them seem more green than brown right then. Sumner had seen him before, when he'd had him sign a lecture program at school, and at the time they had looked as brown as coconuts.
"It might be best if I tell you something," Sumner said.
"What?" Max nearly jumped.
"We've met before." Sumner watched his reaction. It almost made him laugh. He could see Max trying to figure out where, and when, and how. He frowned as he combed his memory for Sumner, in case forgetting him would be an unpardonable sin. "You spoke at my school. CalArts. I asked you to sign my program."
"Ah." Max looked relieved. Did he drink at parties and not remember? The lieutenant would surely be interested in the answer to that question.
"Does that happen a lot?" Sumner teased. "Are you forgetful?"
Sumner couldn't have imagined it. Max paled.
"No," Max muttered, getting his coffee cup. "More?" he asked Sumner politely. Sumner refused; his mug was still half full. "I do meet a lot of people."
"Well." Sumner shrugged, embarrassed now.
"But I'm surprised I don't remember you," Max told him.
"Why?" That was the natural question, wasn't it? Except it seemed Max didn't expect it at all.
He looked away. "No reason, I guess. I usually have a good memory for faces. For details. Your boy there"--he pointed at the sketch--"he had one eyebrow that was higher than the other. It quirked, but naturally, if you know what I mean. I thought it was insouciant at the time. Rather dashing. I should think I would have remembered your face."
Sumner blushed. "I wore a beard at the time. And my hair was long." Max nodded, as if he was replacing those things on Sumner's image as he looked.
"You must have looked like a thousand other starving art students at the time." He smiled. "I remember I always looked one bong hit away from a good long nap in art school."
Sumner smiled back at him.
"Alas, I've already forgotten I'm talking to the Man. What's the statute of limitations on the inhalation of marijuana? Not that I'm implying--I will state for the record--that I ever inhaled." Max sat down across from Sumner again, this time slightly more relaxed.
"I'm really not the Man," Sumner said, although they both knew that wasn't entirely true. Max smiled a real smile when he looked at the sketch again.
"No," he said. "You're genuinely an artist, aren't you? I'm amazed that little Sea Crest has a real forensic artist."
"Well, I freelance for this county and Lake County. Sea Crest, as you can imagine, isn't big enough for its own forensic art department."
"I imagine." Since Sea Crest was only about two square miles of spectacularly unspoiled coastal real estate, it hardly had the need.
"What about cheekbones?" Sumner asked.
Max smirked. "Do you mean am I for or against?"
"High or low or round?" Now that the room was warming up, so was Max.
"High, but not prominent." He got out his own sketchpad and a soft pencil and illustrated what he meant, and again Sumner felt the deceit. He has to know this is all a charade. He could easily have sketched the boyfriend and just turned it in. They worked together in companionable silence for a time.
"By now you've probably realized I'm here for more than just the sketch," Sumner said finally.
"I have three major agendas." It couldn't hurt to be up front. The lieutenant told Sumner to do whatever it took to establish a rapport with Max without compromising the department's case. If there should turn out to be a case.
"And they are?"
"I'm supposed to sketch this guy." Sumner held out the sketch, which, he had to admit, already paled in comparison to Max's. "I'm supposed to get you to confide in me, so that I'm the good cop in that good cop/bad cop equation they might want to set up later."
Max's eyebrows went up, and he frowned a little. "And the third thing on your agenda?"
"I guess that would be finding out the nature of your relationship with Elena Genovese. Was she your muse? Was she your lover? Was she both?"
"Were you told to find that out?"
"Yes," Sumner told him. "And I want to know. For me."
Max looked away. "No, she wasn't my lover. Just a beautiful, spirited girl with a will of steel who pushed her body so hard it suffered. All so that when we watched her dance, we would sigh." He looked down. "Is that what you wanted to know?"
"Yes. No. Did you want her?"
Max rolled his eyes. "I don't think much of your gaydar, Skippy." He laughed. "I remember you with a beard and long hair. Back then...you had hungry eyes."