Brushstrokes of Intrigue
The First Coat: The Vixen in The Red Dress

A Short Story by Tim Josephs
Written using the suggestion "Lavender"
Originally featured on 06-19-2007
As part of our series "Breakfast Serial"

If you asked him, Harvey Fiedler would have told you his life was pretty great. How could it not be? He was head of the Paint Department at the third biggest Ted Fryer store in the tri-county area. He had Sundays off and most Saturdays. He had insurance — medical only — and eight vacation days a year. He even had his picture over the paint mixer. Sure it was taken ten years ago before his mustache had turned gray and they still hadn’t corrected the spelling of his last name, but he didn’t really mind.

And he was an important fixture in the store. If someone needed a can of paint mixed, Harvey was called. If somebody wanted advice on a drop cloth, he was called. Someone needed to return a paint product? After Mr. McGregor, the store manager, was consulted and the proper forms were filled out, you better believe he was called.

Yup, life was good.

But that all changed on a Thursday morning when she walked down aisle 49A and into his life.

As Harvey stocked the new paint rollers on that fateful day, he noticed the handles had been changed slightly; now they were a little easier to grip. Apparently they had read his letters, he happily thought to himself.

Suddenly he perked his head up; there was a new smell in the air, the customary aroma of turpentine and wood glue had given way to something else, something sweet but also a little spicy.

“Excuse me?”

He turned around to see a tall woman standing a few feet from him. Right away he noticed how vastly different she was from the usual women who perused his department. For one thing, she was much younger and she was also quite attractive. Plus, she wasn’t wearing baggy jeans and pushing around a cart full of children. Harvey easily matched her colors to the paint samples he knew by heart: her form-fitting dress was Persian red and her russet curls cascaded over her peach no, apricot shoulders.

“Hi, welcome to the Paint Department. Can I interest you in some spackle?” He immediately felt silly; it was a greeting he was obligated to give every customer who asked him a question.

“Um, no thanks,” she said. “I just need some paint.”

“Well, you’ve come to the right place. Right this way.”

Her burgundy heels clicked as she followed him down the paint aisle.

“Here’s what we got. Did you have a color in mind? These are pretty much standard but we could always mix something special.”

“Do you think you could make this color?” She pointed to her lips and leaned towards him.

Harvey was no stranger to people wanting colors from unusual items: a flower, coffee beans, one woman even had her husband remove his shoe and sock from his right foot because she said the fungus growing between his toes was just the color she wanted for their guest bathroom.

But when that slender finger with the perfectly manicured scarlet nail pointed at those plump, slightly-parted lips, he felt a little flush.

“Um, the lipstick? I think I could probably do that. Do you have it with you?”

She kind of half-heartedly rummaged through her small purse. “I’m sorry, I don’t. Can’t you just, you know, use my lips?”

Because of an incident in house wares several years earlier involving an overzealous assistant manager and an egg beater, there was now a strict store policy about any physical contact with customers. But since Harvey knew camera eight — the one that viewed the paint section — wasn’t working, he decided to bend the rules a little.

“I think I could do that. Let’s see.” He started grabbing some of the little cardboard rectangles. “I think I’ll need some crimson and some lavender and maybe a touch of rose.”

When he held up the last sample to her mouth, her tongue darted out and grazed his thumb. Harvey smiled nervously.

“I could probably have this done in about a half hour Mrs.…?”

“Rogers and it’s Ms. I’ll just go look at some stirrers while you work. See you in a bit.” She glanced down at his nametag. “Harvey.”

He swallowed hard and got to work. She returned just as he was sealing up the last can.

“I don’t think I’ll be able to fit these all in my car. You don’t by chance deliver?” Her burnt umber eyebrows lifted slightly.

“Well, we do, actually. We have a kid, Jerry I think his name is who does the delivering. I could set that up for you if you want.”

“Oh, that’s too bad,” she said, picking up a long-handled paintbrush. “I was hoping maybe you could deliver them. You did such a nice job that it’d be a shame if you didn’t get to see what I was painting.” She gently stroked the soft bristles against her cheek.

“What, um, what are you painting?” Harvey stammered, suddenly feeling warm.
She smiled. “My bedroom.” She took out a card from her purse and handed it to him. “Here’s my address for Jerry.” She began walking away. “Or whomever.”

 

After a quick masking tape inventory and a promise from the new high school kid, Travis that he wouldn’t go near the mixer, Harvey decided to deliver the paint himself. He wasn’t exactly sure why he was going; something about Ms. Rogers just intrigued him. Plus, he thought her taste in paint stirrers was excellent.

As he drove, he grinned thinking about the look on McGregor’s face when he told him he would be taking the afternoon off. Of course he wouldn’t be getting paid for it since he had long ago used up his yearly personal day, but he didn’t care.

After a series of wrong turns, Harvey finally found the address he was searching for and turned down a long, curving driveway. He pulled up in front of a big eggshell-white house and popped the trunk. He grabbed two of the paint cans and walked up the steps. Putting the cans down, he rang the doorbell. He heard the pleasant tone ring through the house but didn’t hear any movement. He rang the bell again. After another moment he knocked. The door opened a little.

“Hello?” he called. “Ms. Rogers?”

He picked up the paint cans and stepped inside. Before him stood a large, winding staircase. To his left, down a small hallway, was the kitchen. There was a shuffling sound to his right and he headed that way.

“Ms. Rogers? It’s Harvey from the store. I have your paint.”

Again he heard kind of a thumping sound that seemed to be coming from a back room. He slowly walked down a narrow hallway and opened the door at the end. The room was dark and he fumbled for the light switch.

“Ms. Rogers?”

When the lights came on, Harvey froze and dropped the cans, they thudded to the floor.

“Oh, my God,” he muttered.

He couldn’t believe what he was seeing; it was like his worst nightmare had come true: the chipped paint, the uneven lines, the splatter on the moldings. He suddenly felt sick. He walked over to one wall and gently caressed it.

“Who did this to you?” he whispered.

He heard a rustling and turned around. In the corner next to the bed was Ms. Rogers; her hands and feet were bound with a cinnamon-colored rope and there was a small mauve towel stuffed in her mouth. He rushed over and grabbed the towel.

“Ms. Rogers! What happened to you?”

Her hair was a mess and her lipstick was smudged. Her look of relief quickly changed to terror. “Harvey, behind you!”

Before he could turn around, he felt something hard slam down on his head and he sank to the carpet. Prussian blue was his last thought before things went dark.

When he awoke he slowly sat up and glanced around. The room was dim but he could see that Ms. Rogers was gone. Harvey rubbed the sore spot on his head and started getting up.

Just then he noticed something wet and sticky covering his arms and hands. I think I remember spilling the paint, he said to himself as he stood. He glanced towards the door. One can was still there unopened. The other one was by his feet and although it now had a dent in the side, it was also unopened.

He stepped closer to the window to get a better look at what was on him. It certainly resembled paint — it was a dark red, almost a maroon. He held one hand under his nose. It didn’t smell like paint though, it had a metallic odor, kind of like an old penny.

Just as it dawned on him what the substance was, he heard the sirens.

Read More By Tim Josephs

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Portland Fiction Project

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