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Draw One in the Dark: Snippet Seven

       Last updated: Saturday, May 27, 2006 09:26 EDT



    There were other wounds too. One on her hip, which she could bandage herself, and then one across her shoulder, at the back, which she didn’t think she could take care of without help.

    She got out of the shower and dried a little more vigorously than she need, to punish herself for her stupidity in getting involved in Tom’s affairs. She bandaged her hip and her torso, before putting on her robe again.

    Frank was going to make her pay for the apron. But at least she still had a job. She’d called while Tom was showering. While Frank had been none too pleased to hear she wouldn’t be back the rest of the night, neither had he fired her.

    In the kitchen, Tom stood, holding the cup of coffee. The one with the dragon. Kyrie smiled. She hadn’t even thought about his reaction. It had come, like most of her dishes, from the Salvation Army thrift store. She picked up the cup left on the counter and poured herself a cup of black coffee. He hadn’t thrown a snit at the dragon. He hadn’t imagined it was a dig directed at him. Perhaps he was not quite so touchy and anti-social as she would have thought he was. Or perhaps...

    Kyrie looked him over. He smelled of soap and her shampoo, and he looked far less dangerous than he had. His black curls were damp from the shower, dripping down his back. His expression was just bewildered enough to make him look younger he normally did. Even the fact that he was frowning into his coffee cup didn’t make him look threatening, just puzzled. He looked at her, and the frown became less intense, but the eyebrows remained low over the blue eyes, which looked like they were trying to figure out something really difficult. Like the meaning of the universe. “Why?” he said. “I’m dangerous.” He shrugged, as if he hadn’t said exactly what he meant to say. “I mean, it’s dangerous to hang out with me. You saw... my apartment.” He took a sip of coffee, fast, desperately, as if trying to make up for words that didn’t come out quite right. Then choked, coughed, and set the cup down to cover his mouth. “Why did you let me in here?” he asked.

    Kyrie could have said many things. That his apartment was one of the reasons. Who would send him out there naked, in a car that looked, clearly, like it had been broken into? Who would send him out into the night with nowhere to stay, no safe place to crash?

    But before she spoke, she realized that there would be many people – perhaps most people – who would do that. She’d met them often enough growing up. The families who took foster children but didn’t want them associating with their real children; the children at school who shunned you because you lived in a less than savory part of town; the teachers who assumed you were dumb and hopeless because you didn’t live with your blood family.

    Had she done the same with Tom, in shunning him because of his appearance? His drug habit? But no. She’d been justified in that. Those were things he could and should control. However, this trouble... Well, perhaps he’d brought it on himself. Perhaps at the root of it all was a drug deal gone bad, or the theft of something valuable. She couldn’t imagine anyone stealing anything valuable from a triad composed of dragon shape-shifters. She would have to assume Tom was brasher, and perhaps braver, than she. But she didn’t know him well enough to rule it out, either.

    And again, she had had plenty of experience with his type: the alcoholic foster parents, the doping foster brothers. You gave them chance and chance and chance, and they never improved, never got any better. They just told you more and more lies and got bolder and bolder.

    She didn’t know what to say and she couldn’t guess in which category Tom would fall. So, instead, she stuck to the need at hand. That had always seen her through. When in trouble, stick to the need at hand.

    “I need you to help me bandage my arm and disinfect my back,” she said. And not sure why his eyes grew so wide at this request, added, “Please?”

    He nodded and shrugged. “Of course,” he said. His eyes remained wide, as if he were either very surprised or very skeptical. “Where do you keep the first aid supplies?”



    “They’re in the bathroom,” Kyrie told him. “Behind the mirror.”

    Tom headed that way. It was a relief to have something to do – to have something to think of. He’d been sitting there, feeling miserable, drinking his coffee, wondering what was the best way to leave.

    The bathroom was still full of steam – but the smell was indefinably different there. Not just the soap and shampoo he’d used also, but something else... Something he could neither define nor explain. It smelled like Kyrie. That was all he could say. It was a familiar smell and he realized he’d smelled it around her even under the layers of odors at the Athens. A hint of cinnamon, an edge of burnt sugar. Only not really, but that was what the smells made him think of. Like... What the kitchen smelled like when Mrs. Lopez had been making pastries.

    He opened the medicine cabinet and collected bandages, antibiotic cream, small scissors, bandages, hydrogen peroxide and cotton wool. It was the best stocked home cabinet he’d ever seen. Other than his own. Shape-shifters. You came home cut, scraped, you weren’t even sure how.

    And Kyrie was one of them. Just like him.

    That he was attracted to her didn’t make it any easier. He’d been attracted to her from the first moment he’d seen her – giving him the jaundiced once-over when Frank introduced them. But his attraction to women had come to nothing these last five years, ever since he’d found out he was a shape-shifter.

    There were too many things to be afraid of – shifting in front of her, for instance. Hurting her while he was shape-shifted. And then the whole thing with the drugs, with which he’d tried – unsuccessfully – to control his shifts. It made him associate with too many shady characters for him to want any girl he even liked involved with. And then, of course, the... He shifted his mind forcefully away from even thinking of the object. That. And the triad. This without even thinking of nightmare scenarios: pregnancy. A baby who was born shifted.

    And now in one night he’d managed to visit all but the last of these scenarios. He’d shifted in front of Kyrie. He’d probably hurt someone else in front of her. And he’d landed her in the thick of his trouble with the triad. Damn. And all this when he’d just found out she was a shape-shifter too. She was one like him.

    Oh, she was not the only one he’d met, in his five years of wandering around, homeless and rootless. But she was the first one he’d talked to, the first one he’d had anything to do with. The only female... Up to tonight, he would have sworn that only males shifted shape.

    And what good did it do him that she too was a shape-shifter – that she would understand him?

    Absolutely none. First, he had blown it so far with her that if his hopes were a substance they would be scraping them off the floor and ceiling for months. And second – and second there was the triad.

    Tom had been attracted to Kyrie before tonight. Now he liked her. He liked her a lot. He might very well be on his way to falling in love with her. If he had the slightest idea what love was and how one fell in it, he would be able to say for sure. But here the thing was – he cared about her. He cared a lot. An awful lot. He didn’t want her dead. As he was bound to be, soon enough, now that the triad had got really serious about finding him.

    “It’s right there on the shelf,” Kyrie’s voice said from the doorway. He turned to see her framed in the door, those big, dark eyes, looking puzzled.

    “Oh, yes, right,” he said. “It’s actually in my hands.” He turned around and lifted the hands filled with first aid stuff. “I’m sorry. I spaced. I guess I’m tired.” She nodded solemnly. He didn’t remember ever seeing her laugh. Smile, sure, a bunch of times, mostly the polite smile you gave customers late at night when they came in looking tired and out of it. But never laugh. Was laughter too far out of control for her? And why did he want to know? It wasn’t as if he’d ever find out.

    “Right,” she said. “Shifting that many times in a row. Staying shifted that long. I’ve shifted, but not for long tonight, so I’m not–” she yawned and covered her mouth with her hand. “That tired.”

    He smiled, despite himself, grateful that she couldn’t see it because she had turned her back and was heading back towards the kitchen. Where she sat at the table, pulled the cord on the lamp overhead to turn it on, and rolled up the sleeve of her robe to show a narrow wound with bluish borders, like a bruise.

    He sat on the other chair, laid the first aid materials down on the table. “That looks awful,” he said.

    She nodded and turned her arm over. On the bottom there was another bruise, another puncture.

    “It went all the way–” he started.

    She shook her head. “No. The dra– He just bit me. I don’t know how deeply. It feels different... In the other body.” She’d lowered her head to look at her own arm, and her hair had fallen across her face. The temptation to reach over and pull that multicolored curtain back was almost more than he could endure.

    “Have you had a tetanus shot?” he asked, going on routine. “Because if you hadn’t, you should. I don’t know how clean...” He realized he was about to say he didn’t know how clean dragons’ teeth were and caught himself in time. He smiled. There was no avoiding it. He was a dragon. She knew he was a dragon. And on that, at least, there was no reason for awkwardness. Hell, she shifted too. He had to keep telling himself that. He had to remember. “I, personally, brush and floss. Use mouthwash, even. But I can’t answer to the cleanliness of another dragon’s teeth.”

    That got him a smile. Little more than the polite smile that she gave customers, but a smile nonetheless, and even a teasing sort of reply. “No unified dental hygiene guidelines for dragons?”

    “Afraid not,” he said. He soaked one of the balls of cotton wool in hydrogen peroxide and gently started to cleanse the area. “Seriously, you really should go to a doctor. I know we shifters heal quickly, but these deep puncture wounds can be dangerous. Only a tiny area exposed to air, see. The space in there can develop an infection very easily. And you could get blood poisoning, something horrible.” He looked up and saw her open her mouth. “I know what you’re going to say, and I’m not going to tell you that you’re wrong. The last thing we need. The very last thing is to call attention to ourselves – particularly with strange animal bites. And I understand how you feel about being in the hospital. I slept under a bridge many a night, rather than going to a shelter when the moon was full and the impulse to shift greater. But, Kyrie, I’m not joking.” He pushed as much hydrogen peroxide as he could into the puncture, on both sides, by squeezing the cotton right atop of it. “If you get a fever, the first sign of swelling on your arm, and you must – must – see a doctor. It could kill you.”

    “You know a lot about this stuff.”

    He nodded pulling back the cotton wool, tossing it in the kitchen trash in the corner and waiting while her arm dried. Then he got antibiotic cream and started slathering it on. There was no reason to tell her anything. Or maybe there was. He’d been so desperately alone all these years. “My mom is a doctor,” he said.

    “Is she...” Kyrie swallowed. “Is she...” “She left dad about ten years ago,” he said. “When I was a kid. Went down to Florida with her new husband. I haven’t seen her since. But up till I was ten I gave her many reasons to perform first aid on me, and I heard this speech a lot.”

    Kyrie frowned at him. Then shook her head. “I was going to ask if she was a dragon.”

    Tom shook his head, then shrugged. “I don’t think so. I know dad isn’t. And I don’t think mom is. I’ve never...” He was about to say that he didn’t know any older shifters, but then realized he did. He had seen a couple of derelicts shifting while he flew above in the middle of a summer night. It had been further out west, towards New Mexico, and they’d shifted into coyotes and headed for the hills. He remembered because back then, seeing the tattered men shift into ragtag coyotes he’d wondered if he’d end up like that. Old, still a transient, still homeless. It had been part of what led him to steal... “I don’t think it’s hereditary, or at least not that way. Why? Are your parents shifters?”

    She shook her head and shrugged, and her eyes got soft and distant. “I wouldn’t know. They left me at the entrance of a church in Charlotte, North Carolina when I was just a few hours old. I was found by parishioners coming in for the midnight services on Christmas night. There were headlines all over the papers, about it. But I never knew...” She shrugged again. “I was raised by foster families.”

    And perhaps that explained why she held herself under such tight control? Tom wouldn’t know. He knew about as much about foster care as he knew about happy family life. A couple of his acquaintances of convenience, while he had been on the streets, had been foster children. They’d told him hair raising stories about the system. But did it mean that every one was like that? Or only the ones who’d gone seriously to the bad? He taped the bandages in place over the puncture. “Blood poisoning will make a visible circle, it will start just above the wound, and it will be a red circle that will slowly move upwards if it’s not treated. If you see a circle on your arm, you must go to the doctor, immediately.”

    “Am I to assume personal experience speaks here?” Kyrie asked.

    He managed a smile. “My best friend and I.” He hadn’t thought of Joe in years. Wondered where he was now. What he was doing. “We had these plastic swords, but you know, they were disappointing because they really couldn’t cause enough damage. We could bang on each other all day long with them, they were too light and definitely not sharp. So we improved them by sticking nails in the tip. Rusty nails.” He saw her wince. “Yeah. Lucky for us my mom caught the infection in time. Even then I was on antibiotics forever. Now that I think about it, lucky we were both lousy swordsmen, too. We never managed to kill each other, though we tried for a whole day.”

    He pulled her sleeve down, and started to gather the stuff.

    “No,” she said. “I want you to look at my back. “It feels abraded.” As she spoke, she loosened her robe, and edged it down at the back – to reveal a shoulder that had been stripped bare of skin.

    “It’s more than abraded,” Tom said. And because the sight of the robe sliding over the raw flesh of her shoulder made him cringe, he added, “Let me,” and pulled the robe down slowly, at the back. In the process, the front fell too, revealing one of her breasts almost to the nipple. Golden skin the color of honey, and it looked velvet soft. His fingers wanted to stray that way, wanted to feel...

    He concentrated on her back, kneeling so that her back was all he saw. He found the end of the skinned portion where her shoulder blade ended. “This looks awful. How?” “I think it was a paw swipe,” she said. “The claws missed me, but the scales got me.”

    “Ah,” Tom said. He had never thought he was that lethal in his dragon form, and to be honest, he wasn’t sure he was. He didn’t know how much he looked like the Chinese dragons. He was aware the tail was different, the paws more massive, but he’d never looked at himself in a mirror while shifted. Or if he had, he hadn’t managed to remember it. He got the antibiotic cream and started applying it in a thin layer to Kyrie’s back, trying to touch so lightly that he wouldn’t hurt her. She didn’t seem to flinch from the touch, so he must be succeeding. There had been a time he wanted to be a doctor. Before... All of this.

    “When did you shift for the first time?” Kyrie asked.

    Tom’s hand trembled immediately, as the memories flooded him. Flying over the city. Not the first time, but one of the first. Seeing everything. Then coming home. Breaking the bedroom window. It was devilishly hard to work the paws when you weren’t even sure what was happening to you. And then his father. His father, with the gun, ordering him out.

    Hell, he didn’t even know his father had a gun until then. Until that moment, had anyone asked, he’d have said his father wouldn’t have a gun in the house. Tom had heard his father go on and on about gun control quite often. And he was too young to understand hypocrisy.

    He took a deep breath and managed to push the memory away. To this day he wasn’t sure why his father had ordered him out of the house. He’d shifted back by then. He’d shifted back and grabbed hold of his robe. Which is why he’d ended on the street in his robe and barefoot.

    But he controlled the memories, squeezed a dollop of cream from the tube. Kyrie hadn’t asked again, so he probably hadn’t taken that long to get himself under control. “I was sixteen,” he said. “I never had any warning before. I just... Shifted. In the moonlight.”

    In the moonlight, in his room, with its comfortable bed, and all the posters, and the tv, the stereo, the game system. All the things he’d once thought needed to survive. “I was all excited too,” he said. “That first time. I thought it was a cool, super hero thing.”

    She was silent, and he thought she was thinking about what a fool he’d been. He concentrated on what he was doing. Fingers on the wound on her shoulder, lightly, lightly, spreading a thin, shining layer of antibiotic cream.

    “I was fourteen,” she said, speaking as from a great distance. “I thought I was dreaming the first few times. And then I thought I was hallucinating. I thought I had ... I don’t know. Seizures or something. I used to imagine that my parents were two mental patients who’d had me and had smuggled me out of the madhouse so I could be raised on the outside.”

    He laughed despite himself and she turned to look at him, her expression grave. Not offended, just grave.

    “I don’t think there were any mental hospitals like that in the nineteen eighties,” he said. “Where they kept the children of the patients locked up along with the parents. Were there?”

    Kyrie shook her head and smiled again, a smile fractionally warmer than the ones she gave the customers. “Not in this country, no, I don’t think,” she said. “But I was very young. Just a kid. I thought...” She shrugged. “Actually at first I thought someone was putting datura in my food or something.”

    “Datura?” he asked.

    “An hallucinogenic. At least, Agatha Christie has a mystery in which someone is putting it in a man’s shaving cream to make him dream that he’s a werewolf, and I thought–”

    “I read Christie too,” he said. Often her books were the only thing available in safe homes for at risk youth or what not, where he sought temporary refuge. That and the ever-yellowing pile of National Geographics. It was Tom’s considered opinion that National Geographics were alien artifacts routinely bombarded down onto the Earth. “But isn’t datura something Indian, something...”

    “I didn’t tell you I was rational, did I?” Kyrie asked.

    He shook his head and reached for the gauze, cutting it to fit the area on her shoulder, and laying it gently atop the wound.

    “I thought someone was trying to make me think I was crazy. Perhaps my foster parents. They get more for special needs kids, you know? And then I read up on it, and I decided I was schizophrenic. I couldn’t tell what I did while I was under this condition, so I started hiding. At first I was lucky that no one saw me, and then when I realized what caused it – the full moon, a feeling of anger. Anything. I was damn careful over the next four years. Always slept alone, even if arrangements called for other kids in the room. I’d take a blanket and go sleep on a tree, if needed. It... Made for interesting times and made me change families even more often. And then I was on my own, and I’ve been careful. Very careful. But I still thought it was all in my mind. Till tonight.”

    Tom shook his head, as he started taping the gauze in place. He couldn’t imagine not knowing the shift was true. But perhaps it was different for dragons. He saw the city from above. He saw things happen. And, of course, within a month of his first shifting, his father had seen him shift and had shouted at him and ... ordered him out. For shifting. Hard to tell yourself it was all in your mind after that.

    “How many of us are there?” Kyrie asked. “I mean – there’s you and the triad, but... You’ve known about this more and have been more places. How many shifters have you met?”



    She had to talk to keep her mind off what he was doing. He wasn’t hurting her. On the contrary. His fingers, touching her skin ever-so-lightly were a caress. Or the closest to a caress she could remember.

    It had been too long since she’d even let anyone touch her. Certainly not since she’d started shifting. Before that there had been foster siblings who’d got close, some she’d hugged and who’d hugged her. But not since then.

    Tom’s touch was very delicate, as if he were afraid of breaking her. It felt odd. She didn’t want to think of him, back there, being careful not to hurt her.

    And she really wanted to know how many shifters he’d seen in the five years since he’d left his house. She hadn’t been out much. Well, not out on the street and not out while aware of being in a shape-shifted body. She hadn’t been looking for other shifters. But he might have been. Hell, considering his thing with the triad, he probably had been.

    He paused at her question. He’d been taping the gauze down over her wound, and he stopped. For a moment she thought she’d offended him.

    But he sighed. “I don’t know for sure,” he said. “I wasn’t counting. Including the occasional enforcer for the triad or not?”

    “The enforcers for the triad have been trailing you all this time?”

    She was sure he’d smiled at that, but she wasn’t sure how. His fingers resumed their gentle touch, taping the gauze in place.

    “No,” he said. “Only a... part of a year.” He paused again. “Without counting them and ... and the other triad dragons, of whom there are many, I’d say I’ve seen about twelve, maybe thirteen shifters. Not... Not close enough to talk to. I’ve only talked to a couple. I never went out of my way to talk to them. And sometimes, it was ambiguous, you know. Like, you’re walking downtown and you see someone walk in a certain direction and moments later a wolfhound ... or a wolf... comes from the same direction. The only ones I knew for sure were the triad and the orangutan and the coyotes. There seems to be any number of them within the triad. Hundreds. And that might be hereditary. They seem to think they’re descended of the Great Sky Dragon. They marry among themselves and they have rites and... and stuff.”

    “So – excluding the triad – a dozen in five years? That doesn’t seem like many.”

    “No. And most of the time it was larger cities than Goldport. Large cities back East. New York and Boston and Atlanta.”

    “Odd,” Kyrie said. “Because just last night...”

    “Yes, you and me and that lion,” Tom said, his voice grave, as he finished taping the gauze in place. At least she assumed he’d finished, because he lay the tape back on the table, with the scissors on top of it. And then, ever so gently, he tugged her robe back in place. “I’ve been thinking the same. Why that many in one night. With the triad here, too, we must be tipping the scales at ... a lot of shifters. And I wondered why.”

    Kyrie wondered why too. She’d been living in Goldport for over a year. She remembered the greyhound bus had stopped here and she’d thought to stay for a night before going on to Denver. But she’d never gone on. Something about Goldport just felt... right. Like it was the home she’d been looking for so long. Which was ridiculous, since it was what remained of a gold boom town that had become a University town. And she never had anything to do with either mining or college.

    But Goldport had felt... Not exactly familiar, but more safe. Secure. Home. Like the home she’d never known. She had walked from the Greyhound station to the Athens and seen a sign on the window asking for a server. She’d applied and been hired that night.

    But what attraction could the small, odd town have for other shifters. Well... Tom had come via the Greyhound too, she supposed. And Frank had offered him a job.

    As for the lion... She wouldn’t think about the lion. “It’s probably just a coincidence,” she told Tom. And it probably was. Three were not, after all, a great sample. Perhaps they were the only three shifters in town – other than the triad – and had just chanced to bump into each other. The blood had surely helped. She swallowed, remembering what the blood smelled like in the other shape.

    Tom came around and started gathering the first aid supplies.

    “What kinds of shifters are there? What kinds did you see? Just big cats? And werewolves? And dragons? Or...”

    Tom stopped what he was doing. He didn’t drop the supplies, just held them where they were. He didn’t look at her. “You’re going to think I’m an idiot,” he said.

    “Um... No,” Kyrie said. She couldn’t understand why she would think he was an idiot now. She had a thousand reasons to think him careless, low on self-preservation instincts and probably a little insane. But... an idiot? “Why?”

    He sighed. “I swear one of those shifters was a centaur. I know what you’re going to tell me, that centaurs don’t exist, that I was just seeing a horseman, that–”

    “No I’m not,” Kyrie said.

    “You’re not?”

    “Tom, dragons are thought not to exist too.”

    “Oh,” He looked shocked. As if he’d never thought of it that way. Then he grinned. “Well, then I can tell you. Another one of them was an orangutan. Little stooped man, sold roast chestnuts on the street near ... Near my father’s house. And he shifted into an orangutan at night. He was a very nice man, once I got to talking to him. He told me that his wife and his daughters sometimes didn’t notice when he shifted.” He grinned at that, as he gathered all the first aid supplies, and headed back to the bathroom.

    Kyrie followed him, wondering what to do next. He’d helped her. And, whether his association with the triad was dangerous or not, he, personally, didn’t feel dangerous. And they’d lost the triad for the night, hadn’t they?

    She was reluctant to send him out alone and barefoot into the night. What if he got killed? How would she feel when she heard about it? How would she live with herself?

    And besides, having grown up without family, all alone, this was the first time she’d found someone who was genuinely like her. Not family – at least she didn’t think so, though he could be a half brother or a cousin. One of the curses of the abandoned child was not to know – but someone who had more in common with her than anyone else she had found. And if he’d gone bad... She shook her head.

    She didn’t know why he’d gone bad. She remembered the smell of blood in that parking lot and the madness in the apartment. Clearly, she too had it in her to commit violence. She would have to control it. Perhaps he was just weaker than her? Perhaps he could not control himself as well.

    He put the stuff back in the medicine cabinet, carefully organized, and turned around. “I’ll get out of your hair now, okay. Just report your car stolen. You have insurance, right?”

    “Yes, but...”

    “Oh, I’ll still pay you for the window,” Tom said. “But it might take me a while to be able to get to an ATM. I have some money. Not much. I don’t think I’ll get my deposit back for the apartment. I thought I’d head out of town, lead the ... the dragons away from you.”

    “And leave me stuck in the middle of a murder investigation?”

    He opened his hands. “What else can I do? I can’t undo what happened.” He looked earnest and distraught. “Someone died. And, Kyrie, I wish to all that’s holy that I could tell you it wasn’t me who killed him. But I can’t. He’s dead, and I’m...”

    He opened his hands denoting his helplessness. “I wish I could tell you I never touched him and that I would never have done that, but my mind is all a blank. I don’t even remember being attacked in my apartment, honest. If it weren’t for the state it’s in...”

    His hair had fallen in front of his eyes, and he tossed his head back to throw it back. “Look... I might very well have done it, and they might find evidence linking me to it. I’m not sure how your DNA works when you’re shifted. But if it was... If they think I killed him, all you have to say is that I asked you for a ride home, that you had no idea anyone was dead. You could have come out in the parking lot and never seen it, you know? It was behind the vans. I took advantage of your charity and stole your car. No one will hold that against you.”

    Kyrie bit her lip. There were other things he wasn’t even thinking about, she thought. For instance, the paper towels. Properly looked over they’d probably find traces of her hair, dead skin cells, whatever.

    But fine, the major evidence would point to him, and she could probably come up with a story that would let her off and get him out of her life forever. So, why didn’t she want to? Was it because once he was gone she could go back to imagining that she was just hallucinating the shifts? And she wouldn’t have a witness to her shape-shifting.

    She put her hands inside the wide sleeves of her robe. “I think that’s tiredness talking,” she said. “I think if I can come up with an excuse, so can you. You’re exhausted from who knows how many hours shifted. And you don’t look well.” This last was the absolute truth. Tom had started out looking shocked and ill, and he’d progressed to milk-pale, with dark, dark circles under his eyes, bruised enough to look like someone had punched him hard. “You could crash the car out there,” she said, and seized upon that. “And I don’t want it made inoperable. The insurance never pays you enough to junk it.”

    He frowned at her, the frown that she had learned to identify as his look of indecision. “I have a love seat,” she said. And to his surprised look, “In the sunroom at the back. Sleeping porch, really, from when they treated tubercular patients in this region. They thought fresh air was essential, so they had these sun porches. Someone glassed this one in, and there’s a love seat in it. Nothing fancy, mind you, but you can have it and a blanket.”

    She could see him being tempted. He was so tired that, standing in the middle of her little bathroom, he was swaying slightly on his feet. She could see him looking in what he probably thought was the direction of the sun porch, and she could practically hear the thoughts of the love seat and blanket run through his head. She could also see him opening his mouth to tell her thanks but no thanks.

    Which was when the doorbell rang.



    The noise of the doorbell echoed, seeming to fill the small house.

    Kyrie jumped and Tom turned his wrist towards himself, as though checking time on a watch he didn’t wear.

    She swept her gaze towards the narrow little window in the shower, instead, checking the scant light coming through, blue tinged, announcing the end of blind night, the beginning of barely lit morning.

    “It can’t be anyone about the... It’s too early,” she said.

    And saw Tom pale, saw him start shaking. “Go to the kitchen,” she told him, sure that in his mind as in hers was the memory of the bathroom at the Athens, full of bloodied towels, probably tainted with his hair and skin. And hers.

    Why, oh, why hadn’t she put the used towels in her car? Dumped them somewhere? But where? Outside Tom’s apartment? They hadn’t exactly had time to stop anywhere and get rid of things.

    It was too late for all that, now. All her life, she had faced crises and looked after herself. What else could she do? There hadn’t been anyone else to look after her. Now she had to look after Tom too. Not the first time she had this sort of responsibility. Younger kids at foster homes often clung to her, sure that her strength would carry them. And it did, even when she thought she had no strength left.

    He was shaking, and she put a hand out to him, and touched his arm. It still felt too cold, even through the sweat suit. “Go to the kitchen. Sit down,” she said. “Stay. I’ll go see who it is. I’ll deal with it.”

    She walked out through the kitchen and the hallway, to the front room with its curved seventies vintage sofa that she’d covered in the pretty red sheet, and the table made of plastic cubes where she kept her books and her few prized possessions. It should give her a sense of security, but it didn’t. Instead, she wondered what would happen to her books if she were arrested and what would happen to the house if she lost her job. Though it was just a rental, it was the first place she could call hers, the first place where she was not living on someone else’s territory and on someone else’s terms.

    She shook her head. It wouldn’t come to that. She wouldn’t let it come to that.

    The front door was one of the cheap hollow metal ones, but it did have a bull’s eye. The neighborhood was quiet enough and the whole city was safe, so she supposed it had been put there to allow occupants to avoid Jehovah witnesses.

    Now she leaned into the door and put her eye to the tiny opening. Out there was... A stranger.

    He stood on her doorstep, and he was tall, blond. Broad shouldered, she supposed, but with the sort of relaxed posture and laid back demeanor that made him look more like a surfer than a body builder. Increasing the impression was hair just on this side of long, the bangs overhanging his left eye. He wore a loose white linen suit that seemed to accentuate his relaxed expression. The sunglasses that covered his eyes despite the scant light made him look like one of those artists afraid of being recognized, or else like a man who’d just flown in from a vacation in Bermuda and had not yet fully realized that he was back home.

    The sunglasses made his expression unreadable, but he seemed to be looking intently at the door. As Kyrie watched, he raised his hand and rang the doorbell again. It was what? Four, five in the morning? Surely this was not a casual visit. Casual visitors didn’t insist on being answered at this time of night. But then what? A rapist or a robber? What? Ringing the doorbell? Wasn’t that sort of unusual? Besides, she could handle herself. Surely she could handle herself.

    Kyrie unlocked the door and opened it the length of the chain. The chain was another puzzler. Either the neighborhood had been a lot worse when the security device was installed, or the Jehovah Witnesses were unusually persistent.

    “Ah,” he said, when she opened the door, and smiled flashing teeth straight out of a toothpaste commercial. “Ms Kyrie Smith?”

    Before she could answer, there was a faint rustling sound behind her. She Turned and saw Tom mouthing soundlessly “Police?” He raised his eyebrows.

    She shrugged. But it if was police, then she really needed to answer. Before he took too close a look at the car. The upholstery was doubtlessly smeared with blood. And, doubtlessly, some of it would be the murder victim’s.

    Tom nodded at her, as if to tell her to go ahead and open the door. And Kyrie did, about a palm’s width further.

    The man on the other side got closer. He wore some strong aftershave. No. Not strong, but insinuating. He looked down at her, his eyes unreadable behind the sunglasses. “Ms. Kyrie Grace Smith?”

    She nodded. Smith was the name of a foster family she no longer remembered, but it had stuck to her throughout her growing up years.

    He reached for a pocket of his linen suit, and brought out a leather wallet, which he opened with a flourish that must have taken years to learn. “Officer Rafiel Trall, Goldport Police Department. May I speak to you for a moment?”

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