Home > Midnight Labyrinth (Elemental Legacy #4)(9)

Midnight Labyrinth (Elemental Legacy #4)(9)
Author: Elizabeth Hunter

Samson was killed in Drancy internment camp in 1943 during a confrontation with camp guards. His work was labeled as degenerate art by the Nazi party, and much of it was destroyed. The current exhibit was made possible by a generous donation from Historic New York and surviving friends of the artist.

Ben walked through the exhibition, finally understanding all the buzz. Recovered art always felt more exciting. Even Ben, who’d spent countless hours in museums and galleries around the world, felt his pulse pick up as he wandered. The room had filled with chattering clutches of excited admirers whispering over each painting. Photographs were strictly prohibited, but he saw a few respectable folks grabbing cell phone pictures behind their wineglasses. The energy in the room was palpable.

But then there was the woman.

She sat on a bench in the center of the room, back straight, eyes going back and forth between two canvases that sat side by side on the longest wall. Crowds blocked Ben’s view of the paintings, but the young woman didn’t seem to see the people. She stared through them, her gaze distant.

She’d been crying.

Ben felt someone bump his arm.

“I see you found the best room,” Chloe said. “Isn’t Samson’s work amazing? This is so cool.”

“She doesn’t seem to think so.” Ben nodded at the crying woman.

“Hmmm.” Chloe narrowed her eyes. “How do you manage to find a damsel in distress even at an art museum?”

“It’s a talent.”

“It’s something.”

The woman appeared to be around Ben’s age or a little younger. Early twenties. Her skin was a pale cream and her hair the color of bittersweet chocolate, sleek and twisted in a knot at the base of her skull. Her face was a Botticelli Madonna, but her eyes were red. Her cheeks and lips were flushed.

“Well,” Chloe whispered, “I have to say that is the prettiest crying woman I’ve ever seen.”

Ben bit his lip to keep from smiling. “Don’t be a brat. She’s genuinely upset.”

“I can tell. But when I’m upset, my nose gets swollen and snotty and my face turns red. It’s not very pretty.”

“I know. I remember.”

Chloe’s elbow landed in his side. It hadn’t gotten any softer over the years.

“Moved by art or tragedy?” Ben said.

“Can it be both? The painter was killed by the Nazis because he was Jewish. Most of his work and his family were destroyed. It’s a tragic story even if you’re not a fan of his paintings.”


“Are you going to talk to her?” Chloe said.

“I think so.” He cocked his head. “Italian?”

“You and your weird thing about nationalities.”

“It’s languages more than nationalities.” He glanced at Chloe. “Should I try Italian? It might be charmingly disarming.”

Chloe examined the woman again. “French. No one wears scarves like French women.”

“Oh, good eye,” he said. “You may be on to something there.”

Chloe patted his arm. “Go and comfort her, Romeo. Make sure you get her number. If you give her yours, she’s too emotionally distraught to keep it.”

“Good call.” Ben started to walk away, then he turned. “Is this weird?”

“Me giving you advice about picking up crying women?” Chloe scrunched up her face in that way he found adorable. “Kind of? But not really. Just don’t be a toad. If she wants to be left alone, leave her alone.”

“Okay.” He nodded. She was right. It was weird. But his whole life was weird, so that bit didn’t bother him much.

Casually, Ben walked over to the bench and sat next to the woman, staring at the two paintings on the main wall as he relaxed for a moment. He glanced at her, saw her looking before she looked away. He smiled and crossed his arms, bringing his hand up to his chin and idly stroking his thumb over his lower lip.

The woman sniffed delicately, and Ben saw his opening.

Reaching for the linen handkerchief he kept in his pocket, he held it out to her. “Mademoiselle, un mouchoir?”

A faint smile through her tears. “Merci.” She reached for it and dabbed her eyes. “How did you know I was French?”

“Just a feeling.” She didn’t have much of an accent, but Chloe was right. Definitely French. “My name is Ben. Are you feeling all right? Can I help you?”

“I am fine, I assure you. I’m…” She shook her head and motioned around the gallery. “Emotional, I suppose. A bit overwhelmed by all this.”

“You’re a passionate lover of Samson’s art then?”

“I am.” She smiled. “I’m very passionate about his art.”

He smiled back and angled his legs toward her. “But that’s not the whole story, is it?”

She offered Ben her hand. “I’m sorry. You told me your name was Ben, but I didn’t introduce myself. My name is Emilie.”

“Nice to meet you, Emilie. That’s a beautiful name.”

“Thank you. I was named for my great-grandmother’s twin brother, Emil Samson.”


“So your family, is it involved in the exhibition?” Ben had recovered from the shock and moved closer to Emilie on the bench. She wasn’t leaning away from him.

“I’m afraid not.”

“That’s surprising. You’d think they’d ask the artist’s surviving family for—”

“Some of his paintings?”

“Maybe. Or sketches. Family pictures. Things like that.”

“I doubt they even know we exist. And it wouldn’t matter if they did. We have nothing.” Emilie gestured around the room. “These all come from private collections.”

“Samson left no paintings with his family?”

“He did,” Emilie said. “Of course he did. But Emil wasn’t the only one arrested. My great-grandmother, Emil’s sister, was taken to the camps with most of the family. Her daughter, my grandmother, was sent to a convent to be raised in secret. My great-grandmother did survive, but when she returned there was nothing left. Everything had been stolen or destroyed.”

Ben frowned. “That’s horrible. Surely there’s some recourse for her. She has birth records?”

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