Cicero Dies

I woke, startled. At first I didn't know where I was, the dream had been that real. It was early evening, and crickets were chirping outside. The room was warm, but not stifling. I looked at Cat Dupree's long leonine body laying next to mine. As she slept her chest rose and fell lightly. A thin veneer of sweat sparkled on her radiant skin, reflecting the moonlight filtering in through my screened window. I reached over and touched her, lightly, on the thigh. She rolled onto her side, moaning slightly.

I pushed myself off the mattress and stood. Had it been a dream, or was Tank talking to me from beyond the grave again? Whatever it was, I knew what I had to do. I padded out of the bedroom and slowly shut the door behind me, leaving Cat to her dreams. I flipped the switch for the living room light and flooded the room in electric incandescence. I blinked, then rubbed my eyes as they adjusted to the sudden luminosity. There was my magnum opus, propped on the three chairs against the far wall. I approached it slowly, almost as if I were creeping up on an enemy, until I stood in front of it. I studied it for a few minutes, then grabbed the old dinner plate that served as my palate and squeezed out three dabs of paint from their tubes: alizarin crimson, thalo blue and bone white.

I selected a detail brush from the collection of brushes sprouting from the old jelly jar I used as a brush holder, swirled it around in the coffee cup half-filled with turpentine to loosen the bristles, wiped it clean with one of my old paint rags, plunged it into the crimson and slashed the first line on the painting: one bold, self-confident stroke, then cleaned it off in the turp, dipped it in the blue, applied a second bold stroke, repeated the process and made a final bold stroke with the white, cleaned off the brush and set it back in the old jelly jar with its brothers and sisters, like a Samurai smartly sheathing his sword. One, two, three. The whole process had taken no more than one minute. Clutching the stained and tattered paint rag, I stepped back a few steps to study the effects what I had done. Cat Dupree would be pleased. The painting had its smile.

 As if on cue Cat Dupree came up silently behind me and put a hand on my shoulder.

"It's done," she said. "It's perfect."

"I think so," I said, noticing that she, too, was naked but also was still holding onto that damned gun. I wondered if she took it in the shower with her, maybe used it as a loofa.

She squeezed my shoulder. "No, it is," she said. "It only needs one more thing."

She answered my quizzical look. "Sign it," she said.

I grabbed the detail brush and swirled it around in the thalo blue and quickly applied my initials, "JJ," and the date "8/74," in unequivocal strokes. I cleaned the brush again and placed it back in the jelly jar.

"There'" she said. "Now it truly is finished."

I nodded my head in reply. It was complete, and whatever it was that I had been lugging around inside me had been exorcised. It was now my legacy to the ages.

"What are you going to call it?" Cat asked.

I studied the painting. "I thought maybe 'Epiphany?'" I replied.

"No." she said. "Too vague. Too pompous."

She analyzed it for a long few seconds. "Tricky Dick Nixon and the Five Naked Nuns."

I thought on it, and then replied, "It's outrageous, but it fits. You gave the painting its 'smile,' and now you've given it its title."

"And you gave it its soul, Johnny," she said, exhibiting a tender side that took me by surprise.

"There's something else," I said.  I proceeded to tell her about my dream, and my conversation with her brother's ghost. I knew how crazy it sounded but I gave it to her straight, with no embellishment, or editing. Her face alternated between incredulity and understanding as I told my fantastic tale.

"I don't know," she said after I'd finished. "I don't believe in ghosts, but I believe your subconscious is telling you something."

"I agree," I replied. "And I know what it is."

"Me, too. It's time to find the sonofabitch who killed my brother and waste his sorry ass."

The tenderness was gone, now replaced by the she-cat on the hunt; fangs bared, claws unsheathed, ready to rip the guts out of anything that crossed her path.

I was glad we were on the same team.

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