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Draw One in the Dark: Snippet Six

       Last updated: Saturday, May 20, 2006 11:58 EDT



    “Admirably described,” she said, and heard the hint of sarcasm in her own voice, and was surprised she still had the strength for it. “But what do they want with you?”

    He hesitated. For just a moment he glanced at her, and the scared little boy was back, with wide open eyes, and slightly parted lips.

    He looked back at the road in time to take them, tightly, around a corner, tires squealing, car tilting. “They think I stole something from them,” he said, with the defensive tone of a child explaining it really, really, really wasn’t him who put the clamp on the cat’s tail.

    Something. Kyrie was not so naive that she didn’t know Chinese crime syndicates – like most crime syndicates – dealt mostly in various drugs. “A drug deal gone bad?” she asked.

    He had the nerve to tighten his lips, and shake his head. “I don’t deal drugs,” he said.

    Whee. There was one form of criminality he didn’t stoop to. Who would have thunk it? “So...”

    “I didn’t steal it, okay?” he said. “I didn’t steal anything. They think I did, and they’re trying to get it back.”

    “Sounds ugly,” she said. Somehow she felt he was lying but also not lying. There was an edge to his tone as if he weren’t quite so sure how he’d got himself into this type of situation.

    “It is,” he said. “They’ve been after me for months.” He shrugged. “Only they’ve just figured out my name, I think. Now they can follow me, wherever I live. They’re shifters. Dragons.”

    “I gathered.”

    “They worship the Great Sky Dragon...”

    “Uh?” she had never heard of any shifter divinity. But then again, she’d never heard of any other shifters. All of a sudden, vertiginously, as though standing at the edge of a precipice and seeing a whole world open before her, she wondered if there was a whole culture, a whole society she didn’t know about. Some place she belonged, whole families of shifters. Perhaps the only reason she’d never known about it was because she was adopted and she didn’t know her own birth family. “Shifters have their own gods?”

    Tom shrugged. “I think he was a Chinese divinity. Or one of their sacred animals, or something.”

    “Did you get involved with them because you... shift? Into a dragon? Is your family ... does your family shift?”

    Tom shook his head. “My father doesn’t... No.”

    “Then how did you get involved with the triad?”

    He looked confused, then shrugged – not a precise shrug. “I don’t know,” he said. He seemed on the verge of saying something, but shook his head, as if to his own thoughts. “My father–” He stopped dead, as though something in him had halted not just the words but the train of thought as well.

    They were driving down a narrow, tree-bordered street. Ahead of them, loomed the dark expanse of the Castle – officially known as Chateau D’Aubigerne, a castle imported from the Loire, stone by stone by a man enriched in the gold rush. It now stood smack dab in the center of Goldport, abandoned and empty, surrounded by gardens gone to seed and an eight foot high iron fence like massed spears. Now and then there was talk of someone buying it, restoring it, and making it into a hotel, a mall, a resort, or just a monument for tourists to gawk at. But all those projects seemed non starters, perhaps because the Castle was well away from all the hotels and convention centers, in a street of tiny, workmen brick ranches, with cars on blocks and broken plastic toys in the front yards.

    Tom slowed down till he was going a normal speed and said, “Where can I take you?”

    “Beg your pardon?”

    He grinned at her, a fugitive grin that transformed his features and gave her a startling glimpse of what might lurk underneath the troubled young man’s aggression – humor? Joy? “Where can I drop you off? Where do you live?” He smiled at her, a less naughty smile this time, more that of a patient adult facing a stupid child. “You can’t go to work like that, can you?”

    She shook her head, panicked. Gee. Frank was going to be mad. She might already have lost her job. A surge of anger at Tom came up, but then vanished again. Someone had once told Kyrie that if you lost a job making less than ten dollars and hour you could find another one within the day. In her experience this was true. And besides, it wasn’t like Tom had asked her for help.

    She’d just jumped in and helped him. Hell, she thought she’d learned not to do that years ago.

    “My place,” she said. “It’s down the next street . Turn right. Third house on the left.”


    “Rental. It’s smaller than an apartment, really. I just... I don’t like people around.”

    He nodded and maneuvered through the turn and up to her house, at a speed that could only be considered sedate after his early high jinxes.

    The house was tiny – eight hundred square feet and one bedroom, but it had a driveway – a narrow strip of concrete that led right up to the back door and from which a narrow walking path led to the front door. This late at night – or early in the morning – all of Kyrie’s neighbors would be asleep and she was grateful for that.

    As Tom pulled up to the back door, she had only two steps to go, stark naked. And she always left the key under a rock in the nearby flowerbed. She hated to be locked out of her house and didn’t know anyone in town she could trust with a key. It was one of the side-effects of moving around so much.

    As she started to open the door, she looked at Tom. He was sitting behind the wheel, the engine still going, looking forward. The car was hers, but she could hardly tell him to leave it and run off naked into the night. On the other hand – where was he going to go even with the car?

    She had to invite him in. She didn’t really want to, but she saw nothing else she could do. Nothing else a decent human being could do. She tapped him on the arm. “Turn that off. Come inside. Have a shower. I’ll grab another jogging suit for you.”

    He looked surprised. Dumbfounded as if she’d offered him a fortune. “Are you sure?”

    “Where would you go otherwise?”

    He shrugged. “I’ll figure... I’ll figure something. I always do.” For just a second a dangerous liquid quality crept into his voice, but he only shook his head and swallowed. “Look, it’s not safe to be around me.”

    “I’ve noticed. But you have nowhere else to go. Come inside. I’ll make coffee.”

    He took a few seconds, then grabbed the screwdriver and turned it. And nodded at her. “Can I come out through your side?” he said. “Less–”

    “Exposure, yes,” she said. “And don’t break anything. I have a key.”

    She dove out the door and retrieved her key from its hiding place. #

    Later Tom would think he might never have agreed to go to Kyrie’s house, except for the chunk of glass slowly working its way into his buttock.

    It was clear she didn’t really want him around, and he wasn’t sure he could blame her. After all, he wasn’t sure he wanted himself around most of the time. And she’d seen him at one of his most dangerous moments.

    It would probably be a kindness for him to leave. But then he came up on the fact that he was naked, he was shaking with exhaustion, and there was a big glass chunk becoming a permanent part of his behind.

    He turned off the car and waited till she was out and had opened the door, before he dove out of the car, after her. And stepped into a cozy kitchen – cozy and homey and like no place he’d ever been before.

    His father’s condo had been huge. This entire house would probably fit in the kitchen. And the kitchen of that house had been white and chrome, imported Italian marble and mosaic floors. But it was the domain of Mrs. Lopez, their cook. Never the family kitchen. Never a place where the family gathered for meals.

    Of course no family could really gather in this kitchen either. Not unless they were all unusually close. It was barely big enough to contain both of them, a card table, two folding chairs, a refrigerator, stove and a tiny counter with sink. Above the table, on the wall, hung a painting of an old fashioned-bicycle done in shades of red and pink on black, the front wheel dwarfing the rest.

    Kyrie closed the door behind him. “This way,” she said, as she led him out of the kitchen via the interior door, and into a hallway. She opened another door and turned the light on. “The bathroom. I’ll go get you something to wear.”

    He stepped into the bathroom, where there was just enough space for himself, between tub, sink and toilet.

    Kyrie returned almost immediately and knocked, and he hid himself behind the door as he opened it. It seemed silly when they’d been together, naked for most of the evening. But then Kyrie had put on a robe – a fluffy, pink robe that made her look young and feminine.

    She handed him a bundle of clothes and said, “There’s plenty of water. Outsized water heater, so don’t worry too much. But I’d like to shower after you, so don’t use more than you have to.”

    He nodded, took the clothes, set them on the toilet tank, and started the shower. Plunging under the water he felt it like a warm caress. He tried not to notice that it ran red-stained down the drain. The corpse...

    The corpse seemed wholly unreal in this white-tiled shower that smelled of lavender and a subtle hint of Kyrie’s perfume. Tom had never noticed her perfume before, but it was definitely her smell. Something spicy and soft that he’d caught before as an undertone at work.

    He removed the glass chunk from his backside, by touch, then soaped himself vigorously. He had no right to intrude on her life, nor to bring his own messes into her house. He had no right to endanger her. He should leave as soon as possible.

    Guiltily, he used her shampoo, which was some designer brand and smelled of vanilla. His hair, too, yielded quantities of red blood-stained water.

    What would the police think? Would the police track him? And Kyrie? He’d tell them she was innocent. He was the murderer.

    Was he the murderer?

    He couldn’t think about it. Stepping out of the tub, he heard Kyrie knock at the door. She then opened it a sliver, and held out a towel. “Sorry. Forgot to give them earlier,” she said.

    And she was being kind to him. Far kinder than anyone had been in a long time. He thanked her, dried himself, combed his hair with his fingers, the thick black curls falling into their natural unruliness, and dressed in her jogging suit.

    Coming out the door, he had his words ready. About how he would be going now, no time to chat, really, best thing would be to get out of her hair as soon as possible, and then–

    And then she was waiting at the door and smiled at him. “I made coffee. It’s in the kitchen. Do you drink coffee? I won’t be a minute.”

    And she went past him into the steam-filled bathroom.

    He couldn’t exactly leave when she was being so friendly, so he went into the kitchen, where she’d run the coffee maker, and set cups, sugar and cream out. He didn’t know whether to laugh or cry that one of the cups was embossed with a dragon, but he took it, anyway. #

    Kyrie showered quickly, wondering what was wrong with her. Didn’t she want him out of the house. Now? Yesterday?

    But she’d never talked with another of her kind. And perhaps he knew what had happened. Perhaps he’d remember if he’d killed the person in the parking lot. And perhaps she’d be able to figure out how he’d got involved with the triad and if she’d now be in danger.

    And perhaps tomorrow it would rain soup. And cream.

    But there were more material considerations, too. Her arm, where Two Dragons had got in a glancing bite at the panther’s paw. It looked like the tooth had pierced her arm. It wasn’t exactly bleeding – just a trickle of blood that increased under the warm shower. She examined the puncture dispassionately. Her memory of the adrenaline-fueled fight had fuzzy edges and she could not remember if the bite had released, or if it had been fully completed before something she did caused the dragon – who in human form wore the tattoo of two dragons on his hands – to let go.

    If the first, it was probably a narrow, not too deep cut. If the second... Well, she could easily be looking at a puncture all the way to the bone, at an infection. She couldn’t afford that, but neither could she afford to go to the hospital.

    Oh, not monetarily. She probably could scrape up the money for a quick visit to the emergency room or one of the twenty four hours med centers. What she couldn’t afford was for doctors to ask how she got her wound. For them to notice anything at all strange about the shape of the wound. For them to remember her wounds when someone brought the corpse in, certainly with similar wounds. No. Better to trust in Tom and ask him to help her clean her arm and perhaps bandage the wound. Better the devil you know.

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