They took him at wordpoint (the gun was not visible but had been mentioned) into the basement. It was cold and well lit and there were shelves on which the usual basement detritus lurked dustily. In the centre of the floor was a gurney on which lay a dead body. That did not shock him, he had seen too many of them for the simple truth of meat-hood to bother him. Guns bothered him and he was trembling.
“Do your thing,” said the unsmiling man who’d led him there.
“Yes, of course.” He looked at the body. She must have been beautiful in life, but death’s alchemy made all gold into base metal in time. “Photograph? From before?”
“Thank you,” he said. He put it on the gurney by her head, and opened his case.
He massaged the dry skin of her eyelids to loosen them, make them close more naturally, rubbed dry lips with Vaseline until cracks vanished. He took up a stiff brush and foundation cream and began to work.
He took pride in this. His cosmetics could not cover enough to remove grief, but they painted over truth well enough. A sponge and crème blush for the cheeks, a very subtle lip colour applied delicately. This took the most time, it’s hard to make cold lips look real, and any imperfection in art here stands out. Eyeliner and mascara then, necessary to give the eyes definition or they would get lost in the unmoving matte landscape. He worked precisely and carefully and blotted away excess with a dry white tissue.
He stepped back then and looked, nodded in satisfaction.
“What now?” he said, nervous breath in the cold air.
“We take you home,” said the gunman, “with enough money to erase your memory.”
A whisper then, soft and paper dry from the heart of the room.
“Has anyone got a mirror,”
The artist kept his eyes on the gunman. “It had better be a lot of money,” he said.