The sculpture was eight feet tall, suspended from the ceiling by rays of light and metal. A jagged starburst of incredible complexity repeated in all its mirrored angles. All polished glass, mirror and metal with light gushing out from somewhere in its centre, the sculpture was remarkable. Looking at it, he could believe this precious, fragile thing was perfect. He hoped it would stay that way.
In the autumn of 1939, the Winged Victory was removed from her perch in the Louvre. On the night of September 3, she was packed in a specially made crate and was carried gently down the stairs, descending on to a wooden ramp and lifted into a truck. She sheltered the second world war in safety at the Château de Valency along with the Venus de Milo and Michelangelo’s Slaves, all of them waiting to shine again. If Winged Victory could survive the second world war, he thought, curling his hands into fists, this blooming abstract form of glass and light would survive this. Him.
The sculpture reminded him of a tall ship, a floating city seen a dream, like a thousand things and none of them, something enterally its own. An infinity of reflections bound in an installation room of an art gallery, filling the air with light so sharp it was almost a sound, a keen wail.
He was alone, and this was how this piece was meant to be seen, he was sure of it. You had to be alone in the room with nothing but the razor edges of the shape and the crowd of one’s reflection. He hadn’t moved for at least the last half-hour, could not take his eyes from it. Every movement ricocheted around the sculpture, like a bullet. He wanted the stillness of light and glass and metal to be uninterrupted as he looked at it, so he became stillness personified.
This was another critical part of the piece. The observer needed to be still as death. He was good at this; it was part of being a hunter. Or perhaps you needed to be dead, invisible as a ghost, to see it empty of any reflections at all. He smiled softly to himself, took a slow breath and prepared for motion, leaned a little deeper again the wall, feeling the hard, familiar comfort of the gun behind his shoulder. Even this smallest motion shattered around the sculpture, a simultaneous wave that suggested vertigo.
Ruby would love this, he thought, wondered if he would be able to bring her here after this was finished. If it would be safe enough.
Ruby Iowa, his drop of blood, his precious gem. The piece reminded him of her a little. He would like to watch her face when she saw it, her red hair cut to her chin and tucked behind her ear like a curtain in the quiet neighbourhood where he grew up.
Her attic bedroom was silver in pre-dawn light, and the house smelled of rain and wind. Ruby stood at the edge of her bad and he stood behind her, hands sliding under the hem of her shirt, lifting it off with a gentle brushing against her skin, she curled her fingers. He undid her jeans and pulled them down her legs, moving his hands along her calves, up her thighs, over her hips and stomach to her breasts. His forearms tight against her ribs, lifting and pressing her into him.
“Bed.” He said and she bent forward, clawed, knelt in the centre of white sheets, watching him undress, which he did with a clean heated efficacy, as though it were a drill that one day might save his life. There was an element of fixed resolve to their fucking. Both of them lean and hungry. He bit into her shoulders, and she worked against his body with a strong intensity. They began to sweat lightly, taking deeper rhythmic breaths in harmony. His stubble scraped her face, against her lips, and neck. She scratched into his skin, driving him into her. They were tied in a knot of pleasure, focused and serious and working hard. Every motion twisted with pain, power, slow hard drawing violence.
After, as they lay in the middle of the bed, their legs extended and tangled together, Ruby rested her had against his chest, and they breathed heavy and slow, fingers grazing damp skin.
“Stay here one second…”
Slipping out of the bed, tottering a little on tired and trembling legs Ruby walked over the old dresser near the stairs, bare feet making soft noises on the hardwood. She pulled open the top drawer, old wood moving with a bright squeal. He watched the slats of solid tight muscle that made up her back and shoulders, the neat diamonds of her calves as she moved thing around in the drawer. Without a word, she pulled on a loose-knit grey sweater that reminded him of chain male and when she turned around was holding an ancient camera in a tattered leather case.
Crawling back into the bed, she held the camera over him and focused it. She curled up alongside him, wool scratching at his ribs, and held the camera tightly overhead, turned it back on to them. He was amazed to feel his heart stutter, his breath catch. He had no idea how long it had been since he’d let anyone take his photo but he wanted her to have all of him forever.
They lay in the middle of the bed, their legs extended and tangled together again. She laughed softly as she took the photo and he could feel it vibrate slowly through her body into his. It made him smile. Out the window was a dark scene of willow trees against the sky slowly flooding with the dawn. Ruby looked up at him and smiled as the camera shutter closed with a black rattle, in her face was calm happiness.
He hoped the photo would show their shining happiness, in the hope that someday if evidence was demanded of their passage through time, that moment could be called when they stood in the dazzling darkness of their love, under weeping trees, and felt something remarkable. Something that would survive, frozen in time. Perhaps he only wanted proof of the rightness of some of his action actions and his fate, her smiling eyes and easy lit bodies a salute in dusty darkness that he could be good.
He’d always been good at his job, excellent in fact. He was fast, efficient. Time only seemed to make him better, unusual in his line of work. The things that made him hard to know, almost impossible to like, also made him good at moving in straight lines, committing permanent acts. If he had one idiosyncrasy, it was his gun.
He took a particular kind of pride in the condition and working of his weapons. They were a passion, sensual. He loved how the pieces alone were nothing; their power was in their order, their motion. He loved the distinct precision of bodies, how every surface was designed to fit into at least one other part. He felt the gun pressed against him and was reminded of Ruby, the way her body locked against his.
The door of the room slid open, and he glanced at the man who walked in. Despite all the reflections moving, this man was his only point of focus. His vision narrowed, body tensed, right hand flexed, like a boxer feigning a fist, lifted his weight away from the wall, slow, slow, and stood, shifted his gaze from the men to the closing door to the sculpture – it was beautiful and bright, almost too beautiful and gorgeous and too bright to see, just like her.
The mark shot first. A millisecond, but it mattered. He got off a shot too, a good clean one, his aim was true, and the man dropped hard, the back of his head cleaved off to the left, shattered against the still closed door. The sound was everywhere, screaming around the room.
He’d been shot before, but no one had ever killed him.
The pain was cold and deep. It ground down into the very centre of his being. Pierced his breath to his spine. His body folded, shocked back, brought him down hard on polished lacquered concrete, wet with reflections. It felt cold; smooth against his fingertips. The pain got heavier but also somehow farther away. Pain crawled near him, but its scream became a whisper. He was cold. Blood spread out around him, a red circle, a void, a depth, and he watched it in fractured and violent beautiful reflection, blood filled the sculpture above him.
When the Hunter opened his eyes, he was standing on the outdoor platform of an old railway station. His shirt was wet with blood, clinging cold to his chest, but when he put his hand on it, there was no pain, just damp and cold. No wound. When he looked at his fingertips, red with blood.
A drop of blood, the thought came with a small wave of deja-vu, but it fled as he tried to remember...
All around the station was a black forest of spruce cloaked in a thick white mist, silver sky, silver frost on the grass. Snow fell softly but never seemed to land, and there was only silence. Train tracks cut through the forest, a greenish gleaming steel river. He jumped down off the platform and started walking into the mist; it swirled around him, touching him softly. He followed the tracks through the tall grass. After a little while, it started to snow a little heavier, but the flakes melted as soon as they touched him, tiny pinpricks of cold that vanished quickly.
He didn’t know how long he'd been walking, it felt like forever and no time at all, when a narrow trail curved away from the tracks and disappeared into the close confusion of trees. He followed it without thinking, stepping through the grass his steps didn’t make a sound. The snow seemed more oppressive in the trees, more silent. The mist was thicker, swirling in intricate patterns.
Out of the mist, a small clearing broke the dense trees, a small circle of grass. In its centre was a splash of pale yellow flowers, a young girl kneeling among them, her dress puffed up around her. Carefully she reached down and picked a flower, a few strands of long black hair slipped across her face. She looked up as he approached her, and she rubbed the small cup of the flower petals against her chin, crushing their pillow curves against her skin, closing her eyes tight as though making a wish. He looked up, above them, the sky was full of black spruce needles and snow and all that endless white mist.
He knelt with her in the flowers, and she looked at him again, letting the flower fall to the grass, and picking another one. There were many picked and crushed flowers scattered around her, but her tiny face was clean.
“Do they smell pretty?” He asked.
“I don’t know.” She shrugged, picking another flower.
“You can’t smell them?”
“I’m dead.” She said her voice closed like a fist. “Smells are for the living. Can you smell them?”
He could, almost. The dim shadow, like a half-forgotten memory. Pepper and butter and sweet cream. Fresh cut grass. And then it was gone, curling away like the mist.
“Only a little.”
She reached up with her freshly picked flower; her dress didn’t rustle in the dry grass. She rubbed its springy petals against his face, dim shadows of sensations, glimmers of a world receding. He felt the flower as he felt the still air.
She smiled at him, her face brimming with expression. He looked down the front of his jacket and saw a dusting of bright yellow pollen—the only real colour he had seen in the black and white of spruce and snow and mist.
“Its dust stuck to your chin!” She smiled a ghost’s smile. “That means you’re in love.”