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Draw One in the Dark: Snippet Eight

       Last updated: Tuesday, June 6, 2006 00:14 EDT



    Tom swallowed hard and was sure he’d turned pale at the announcement that the man on the other side of the door was an officer of the law. He’d had run- ins with the police before. He had a record. Oh, he’d never been arrested for more than a night or a couple of nights. And he’d been a minor. And every time his father had bailed him out.

    But still, he didn’t know what kind of record they kept or if it would have been erased when he turned eighteen. He was sure a couple of times they’d tried to charge him as an adult. Wasn’t sure if it had stuck. He hadn’t been paying much attention back then. He’d been cocky and full of himself and his family’s power and position.

    Since he’d left home, he’d done his best not to be caught. He tried to visualize being in jail, and needing to shift. Or shifting without meaning to. He imagined turning into a dragon in confines where privacy didn’t exist. He couldn’t be arrested. He wouldn’t be. He would kill himself first.

    Kyrie looked at the ID, then at the man.

    “May I come in?” the man asked. “I have a few questions to ask you. Just a few minutes of your time.”

    Silently, Kyrie opened the door, and the man came in. He didn’t look surprised at all at seeing Tom, whom he greeted with a nod. But then why should he look surprised? He couldn’t know that Kyrie didn’t have a boyfriend, could he?

    Tom willed himself to relax, to show no fear. Fear would make the man suspicious and would make him look harder for something that had triggered that reaction.

    “Look, this is just a quick visit,” the policeman said. “A quick question. You work at the Athens on Fairfax, right?”

    Kyrie nodded.

    “Mr. Frank Skathari, your boss, said you had left about midnight?”

    Had it been midnight? Tom wondered. It seemed like an eternity to his tired body, his dizzy mind. He saw Kyrie nod and wondered if she had any more idea of the time than he did.

    “You didn’t see any large animal in the parking lot?”

    “An... animal?” she asked.

    “There was a corpse... I’m sorry. You might not have noticed,” he said. “It was behind some vans. But there was a corpse, and it looked like it died by accident. An attack by some creature with large teeth. We’re thinking like a Komodo dragon or something.”

    Dragon. Tom felt as if the word were directed at him. The policeman looked at him as he spoke. Or at least, his face turned in Tom’s direction. It was hard to see what the man was looking at, exactly, with those sunglasses on. “People bring these pets from abroad,” he was saying, as Tom focused on him again. “And let them lose. It could be dangerous. I just wanted to know if you’d seen something.”

    “No,” Kyrie said, and sounded amazingly convincing. “I saw nothing strange. I just concerned with Tom...” She made a head gesture towards him. “With getting Tom his medicine.”

    “Medicine?” the policeman asked, as if this were the clue that would unravel the whole case.

    “Migraine,” Tom said. It was the first thing to cross his mind. His father, he remembered, had migraines. “Migraine medicine.”

    “Oh.” The policeman said. “I see.” He sounded alarmingly as if he did. He looked at one of them and then the other. “So, you won’t be able to help me.”

    “I’m afraid not,” Kyrie said.

    “That,” he said. “Is too bad. I was hoping you’d have coffee with me tomorrow.” He looked at his watch and nodded. “Well, later today – and discuss if you might have heard something suspicious or... found something. Perhaps in the bathroom of the diner. We haven’t looked there, yet, you know?”

    Tom heard the sound of a train, inside his ears, complete with whistles and growing thuds. He felt as if he would pass out. The bathroom. The damn man had looked in the bathroom and... seen the towels. And he going to use it to blackmail Kyrie? Blackmail Kyrie into what? What had Tom got Kyrie into?

    He felt a spasm come over his whole body, and knew he was going to shift. And he didn’t have the strength nor the will power to stop it.

    Kyrie gasped. He managed to see her through a fog of pre-shift trembling, and realized she wasn’t looking at him, but at the door she had just closed.

    Then she turned around and something – something about him, about the way he looked, made her eyes grow huge and panicky. “No,” she said. “No, you idiot. Don’t shift.”

    Her hand grabbed firmly at his arm, and it felt warm and human and real.



    Kyrie turned from closing the door on the policeman’s smiling face, and saw Tom... She couldn’t describe it. He was Tom, undeniably Tom, human and bipedal, but there was something very wrong about his shape. His arms were too long, the wrist and quite a bit of green-shaded flesh protruding from the end of the sleeve. His hands were stretched out, too, his fingers elongated and the space between them strangely membranous. And his face, beneath the huge, puzzled blue eyes looked like it was doing its best to grow a snout.

    “No, no, you idiot,” she said. “Don’t shift. No. Calm down.”

    He stood on one foot, then the other, his features blank and stupid. His face already half-dragon and unable to show human emotions. His mouth opened, but what came out was half hiss, half growl.

    She slapped him. She slapped him hard. “No,” she said. “No.”

    And he shivered. He trembled on the edge of shifting. She realized she had smacked what could be a very large, very angry dragon in a minute. And then she smacked him again on the nose, as if he were a naughty puppy. She judged how her shifts had left her, tired, witless. He’d shifted twice now. Oh, so had she, but the first time very briefly. How long had he been shifted? What had he done?

    “You cannot shift now,” she said. And slapped him again.

    He blinked. His features blurred and changed. All of a sudden he was Tom, just Tom, standing there, looking like someone had hit him hard with a half brick and stopped just short of braining him. He seemed to be beyond tiredness, to some zombie-like state where he could be ordered about.

    “Oh, damn,” he said, so softly that it was almost a sigh. He looked at her, and his eyes showed a kind of mad despair behind the tiredness. “Oh, damn. I can’t be arrested, Kyrie, I can’t. I was... when I was young and stupid. My father... got me out, but sometimes I spent a night in lockup. Kyrie, I couldn’t survive it as a dragon. When my dad threw me out, I spent the night in a runaway shelter and... It was torture. The dragon... The beast wanted to come out. All those people. And being confined. If they take me in on suspicion of murder, if I have to stay... Kyrie, I couldn’t. I’ll kill myself before that.”

    Suddenly she understood why he’d started to shift, what the words of Officer Trall would sound like to him. She sighed, heavily. “No one is arresting you. At least not yet.”

    “But he is blackmailing us. He’s blackmailing you. About the towels in the bathroom. He knows about the blood. And it’s all my fault.”

    “Yes,” Kyrie said, wondering if it was blackmail, or what it was, exactly. She remembered the expression in his eyes. Those eyes... If it was blackmail, what did he want, exactly? “He knows about the towels because he smelled them.”


    “He found them by the smell of blood, I’d bet. Before any other policemen got to them. He got to them and bagged them and... I presume hid them. You were starting to shift, so you probably missed it, but he lowered his glasses and I could see his eyes.” “And?” Tom asked.

    “He had the same golden eyes as the lion in the parking lot,” she said.



    “He is... like us?” Tom asked, as his mind tried to adjust to the thought. “He is the lion? How can...”

    “You know the lion was like us,” Kyrie said.

    He heard the annoyed note in her voice. She had slapped him. Hard. He’d almost gone to pieces in front of her. He felt like an idiot. “But, he’s a policeman. He looks... He looks well adjusted. And he traced us... And... he’s in the police?” He swallowed, aware of sounding far less than rational and grown-up.

    She nodded. “Yes. I’m very much afraid he’s in the police.” “And he’s like us...” Tom couldn’t imagine it. How would he hide his shifts? How would he shift? How would he... Did his family know? Or didn’t they care? He tried to imagine having parents – a family – who accepted your shifts, who loved you even when you, yourself, weren’t sure you were human.

    Kyrie shook her head. For just a moment there was empathy in her look. “I can’t imagine it either,” she said. “I suspect he normally works the night hours, though, as we do. Cops do, too, you know. It’s a nocturnal occupation. So we will probably find some of our kind. It’s easier to control the shifting if you’re awake.”

    Tom nodded. The whole thing was that even if you didn’t shift, if you were a shape-shifter you felt more awake – more aware – at night. It was inescapable. So if you wanted to sleep and actually be able to rest, you did it during the day. And therefore, of necessity, you worked nights.

    “Speaking of which,” Kyrie said. “Sun is coming up soon, and you’re practically falling down on your feet.”

    “You’ve been yawning,” he said accusingly.

    She looked at him, puzzled and he realized he’d said it as if he needed to salvage his manhood. While she’d just been... telling the truth.

    “I’m sure I have,” she said. “It’s late. Come on. You can sleep in the backroom.”

    Tom pulled his hair back and very much wished he had something to tie it back with. “I really should go,” he said. “The triad dragons are after me and...”

    “Oh, not that again,” Kyrie said. “We’ve been over it.” And she said it in such a tone of great tiredness that Tom couldn’t answer.

    Meekly he followed her back through the hallway, where she opened a linen closet and got out a thin blanket. And then she led him all the way back to the kitchen and opened a door he hadn’t even been able to see, next to the fridge. It was a narrow door, as if designed for very thin people. At the very back of the house, a small room, enclosed all in glass, opened. There were blinds on the windows, which made it not quite like sleeping in a fish bowl. Besides, the backyard was the size of a normal flowerbed. Maybe ten feet by ten feet, if that much, and surrounded by tall wooden fences. Not a fence belonging to it, but the fences of other houses that met there.

    “Sorry there’s not much of a view,” Kyrie said. “I planted roses out there, to hide the fence, but most of them died in the drought. Only a couple survive and they’re tiny.”

    He realized she thought he was looking at the fence in horror, and he managed a smile. “No, no. It’s fine. I just need to sleep...”

    “Well, this is the love seat. It doesn’t open up, but it’s fairly comfy. I’ve napped on it on occasion.”

    Tom felt the sofa reflexively, even as a voice at the back of his mind asked him what exactly he intended to do if he found it lumpy. Go and sleep in a better place? Like, for instance, all the hotels that accepted barefoot men without a dime on them?

    He sat down on the sofa and clutched the thin blanket to himself. “Thank you, Kyrie. Thank you.” She looked surprised. Had he really come across as that much of a prick, that she’d be surprised because he thanked her?

    Apparently, because Kyrie stood there, looking at him, eyebrows raised, as though evaluating a new and strange artifact, before she said,“Good night,” and left.

    Tom lay down and pulled the blanket over himself. It couldn’t have taken more than ten seconds before he fell asleep and into dreams populated by darkness, pierced by sharp claws and glimmering fangs – and a huge pearl, the size of a grapefruit and glowing like the moonlight at the full.



    Kyrie frowned all the way to her room. She told herself that she must get her head examined, she really, really must.

    In jerky movements, angrier at herself than she would like to admit, she undressed, throwing her robe over the foot of the bed.

    Normally she slept naked. It was a habit she’d picked up since she’d started renting this house. All her life, up till then, she had been staying with someone else, under someone else’s rules – when she was a foster child – or in a communal building, an apartment building where she didn’t want someone to come in attracted by noise, while she was having what she thought of as one of her episodes, and find her naked. In retrospect, it was very foolish of her to think she didn’t actually shift, since the episodes usually meant she woke up naked. At least, she told herself, she had learned to remove her clothes fast in the first throes of the shift.

    Looking back, she thought it had all been an elaborate game with herself, to keep herself fooled about the nature of the shifting. After all, if she’d wakened with clothes nearby shredded to bits by large claws, she’d have had to think. She’d have had to admit something else was going on, right?

    But in her own home she went to sleep naked, so that when she woke up naked she could pretend nothing at all untoward had happened in the night. Dreams, just dreams. She could tell herself that and believe it.

    Only now, she stood naked in the middle of her bedroom and felt... well, nude. There was a man in the house. A young, attractive and not particularly wholesome young man.

    Okay, so he was in the back room and frankly, from the way he’d been swaying slightly on his feet, he probably wasn’t in any state to be walking around. Not even stumbling around. And there was a locked – she paused and turned the key in the lock – door between them.

    But still, she looked at herself in the mirror and she looked distressingly naked. Which meant... She blew out a breath, in annoyance at herself, as she scrambled to her dresser, got her loosest t-shirt and a pair of panties and slipped them on.

    What was she thinking? Up till this night she’d never found any reason to like Tom. And what had changed about this night? Well, he might have killed someone. And he was being chased by triads trying to recover something he’d been stupid enough to steal from... gangsters.

    Yeah. There was a good reason to allow him to sleep in her house. There was a good reason to expose herself to the potential danger of a practically strange – no practically about it, in fact, she knew Tom was strange – man in the house.

    She pulled back the covers on the narrow bed pushed up against her wall. The bedroom was barely large enough for the bed and the dresser – both purchased from thrift stores. It would be too small if she had a double bed.

    She lay down on the mattress – or more accurately, threw herself down on it with the sort of angry fling of the body that a thin thrift store mattress couldn’t quite take.

    She shifted position and flung the covers over herself, refusing to admit she’d bruised something.

    There was a reason for Tom to be here. Sure there was. She didn’t want to throw him out into the night, barefoot, tired and confused.

    Only, if she’d caught the drift of Tom’s story right, he’d been surviving on his own, out there for a long time. He was a big man. Well, perhaps on the short side, but definitely well developed and muscular and...

    No, this was worse than the lion. She turned face down on the mattress and buried her face on her pillow.

    The bedroom was in deep darkness, partly because it was the only room in the entire house that had only one tiny window – very small and high up on the upper corner of the back wall. Now she wondered if the full light of day was near.

    What kind of an idiot was she?

    Tom was clearly dangerous. Beyond the fact that she’d found him leaning over a fresh corpse, beyond the fact that he seemed to know how to steal cars, with barely a moment to think about it, he’d just admitted to a career of juvenile delinquency. And he’d almost shifted. In the middle of her living room, he’d almost shifted, for heaven’s sake. And he’d almost for sure stolen something that had the triad gunning for him.

    What? Was she now suddenly attracted to hard luck cases? She’d always laughed at women who came to the diner and, over breakfast with their equally clueless friends, complained about being disappointed by men that, surely, they knew were no good from the beginning. If you picked up with ex-cons, drug addicts, thieves – how could you expect anything good to come of it? Why would they respect you when they’d never respected another human being?

    She knew this. So, why would she take this one in? Why? He wasn’t even any good at being bad. He was a mess of trembling jelly between bouts of dangerous behavior.

    She remembered him in the parking lot, under the moonlight. Pale skin and muscle-sculpted body, and those eyes...

    Okay, so he was pretty. Since when was pretty worth all this trouble? The world was full of handsome men who weren’t her problem. Men who would run the first time she turned into a panther. And there was the problem, and there she came to and stopped. Because for all else that might be said for Tom, he wouldn’t run.

    Neither – probably – would officer Trall. She remembered the disturbing moment when he’d lowered his glasses and fixed her with those recognizable golden eyes, that even in human form, with normal sclera, iris and pupil were unmistakable. And he looked just as good in human form.

    She threw back the covers.

    Again, pretty he might be, but that man was trouble. Pure trouble. He was a shifter, yes, but he was also a police officer. And what did the officer want with her? Why did he want to meet her? She was not so innocent that she didn’t notice – of course she did – that he’d mentioned the bathroom which meant the paper towels. Was it a threat? Was he blackmailing her? Blackmailing her into what?

    She remembered the lion in the parking lot of the Athens – virile and energetic and very, very male.

    She bit her lip. She wished she could convince herself that it would take a lot of blackmail to get her to what the Victorians called a fate worse than death. But she doubted it. If Tom hadn’t been there, if he hadn’t pulled her into the car, she very much suspected she would have shifted and...

    And then there was Tom. His image flickered through her mind, as she tossed her thin blanket and turned first this way, then that. He’d been so gentle, so... respectful, when he helped dress her shoulder. Which, by the way, should hurt, shouldn’t it?

    She sat up in bed and prodded at her bandaged areas, but nothing hurt. Perhaps the antibiotic cream was also an analgesic. She had a bad habit of buying whatever was on sale without reading it too carefully. Well, just as well it didn’t hurt. She lay down again, and closed her eyes.

    But her thoughts went on behind her closed eyelids.

    What was she going to do with Tom? Did she have to do anything with Tom? How far was she responsible for him?

    She saw his features close at her comment, she saw his lost expression, all pale face and huge, shocked eyes. She saw him the parking lot, dragon-form, muzzle blood-stained, and in the bathroom of the Athens, all over blood, his long, dark hair caked with it. She saw him in her living room, half dragon and mostly man, clearly out of control.

    What had he meant to do? Attack the officer? Why? For speaking out of turn?

    All right. So, Rafiel Trall might have sounded like he was blackmailing her – blackmailing them. But she wasn’t sure he was. There was something to his expression – a softness, a hopefulness... that made her doubt that he meant to threaten her. And even if he were. What did Tom mean to do? Eat him? Was he so devoid of any sense of right and wrong? Had no one ever told him you didn’t eat people? Ever?

    The bed felt too hard, the blanket too hot, the sheet too wrinkled beneath her tossing body.

    She was never aware of the moment at which she fell into a dreamless sleep.



    Kyrie woke up with the phone ringing.

    The phone was on the dresser, across the room from the bed. The ring itself, seeming to run up and down her nerves like fire, carried her halfway there, still asleep, and she woke up fully with the receiver pressed to her ear, while she heard herself say “Hello,” in a sleepy voice.

    “Ms. Smith?” the voice on the other side was a masculine purr, dripping with sensuousness that caressed the syllables, making the Ms. sound dangerously like Miss and Smith sound like a compliment, an indent proposition.

    She knew it was Rafiel Trall without his announcing himself. She could see him at the other side of the phone, relaxed and seductive masculinity, poise and confidence and that something in his eyes, that something in his expression that said he was very bad for her. In the way that chocolate was bad for you. And all the more irresistible for being bad.

    “How may I help you, officer?” she asked, making her voice crispy and official. All business. She had to keep this all business.

    “In a lot of ways,” he said. “But right now I just want to ask you a favor.” She could hear him smile, and she couldn’t quite tell how. One of her first jobs, out of high school, had been with a cold-calling telemarketing company. The job hadn’t lasted long, though she’d been surprisingly good at it. Perhaps, she thought now, they could hear the harmonics of the panther in the human voice. And bought. And bought. And were very polite with it.

    At that job they’d told her to always smile while she was talking because people on the other side could tell. She’d never believed it till now.

    The silence lengthened between them, stretched like taffy, feeling sticky and endless, thinner and thinner, but never breaking. “All right,” she said, at last. “Ask.”

    This time there was a very masculine chuckle at the other end.

    “I can always say no,” she said, tempted beyond endurance by the chuckle.

    “You can,” he said, gravely. “But I hope you don’t. There’s a restaurant about... Oh, two miles from your house. It’s the in-house restaurant at Spurs And Lace.”

    Spurs and Lace, was the one good hotel in a western town plagued with cheap motels and improbable cabin resorts, which catered to those families too poor, too numerous or too shy to stay at the one Holiday Inn. The nineteenth century hotel was in a completely different class. Once used by moneyed Easterners coming for the benefit of the mineral waters and the dry western air, it had been renovated within an inch of its life, furnished with antiques and updated. It was now the haven of moneyed business travelers and honeymooning couples. An executive resort, Kyrie believed they called it.

    “The Restaurant is called Sheriff’s Star , but despite the name it’s good,” Trall went on. “They serve brunch, which we’re just about in time for.”

    Again, she said nothing. Oh, she could see where this was going, but she would let him come out and say it.

    “I’d like to swing by your house to pick you up in about ... oh... five minutes?”

    “Why would you like to pick me up?” Kyrie asked, though her mind, and the recollections of his smell from the day before, gave her pretty good indications.

    The chuckle again. “I’d like to feed you, Ms. Smith. Nothing worse than that. And if, during brunch, you should feel like talking to me about the diner, and what you think might have gone on in that parking lot in the dark, I will discuss the other cases we’ve had with you and–”

    “Did you say other cases?” Kyrie asked.


    “Other cases of...” She remembered his story the day before. “Attacks by Komodo dragons?”

    “Possibly. Mysterious attacks, shall we say.”

    “I see.”

    “Well, I think if we discuss it, we’ll both see better,” he said. “So... I’ll pick you up in a few minutes, if that is acceptable.”

    “No,” Kyrie said, before she even knew she was going to say it. But as soon as the word was out of her lips, she knew why. She knew she had to say it. Stranded at a restaurant with only this relative stranger and no way home on her own? No. She didn’t think so. She might have gone stupid last night, but now it was the next day and she wouldn’t be stupid anymore. “No. I’ll bring my car. I’ll meet you there. In twenty minutes.”

    She could see him hesitate on the other end of the phone. She wasn’t sure how, or not exactly. Perhaps the letting out of breath, or perhaps some other sound, too light for ears to consciously discern. But it was there. And it was followed by an hesitant, “Your car...”

    And now it was her turn to smile into the phone, “Why, officer. Would you be embarrassed to be seen with me, because of the condition of my car?”

    “What? Of course not. It’s just that I thought with the broken window, you have a security liability and–”

    “Oh, I wouldn’t worry, Officer Trall. After all, it’s a good part of town, isn’t it?”

    After she put the phone down, she thought that it was a good part of town. And that her car might look ever so slightly embarrassing. But probably more so for Officer Trall whom she doubted ever left the house without wearing a pressed suit.

    She refused to be intimidated by him. Or scared by his obvious, open, clear sexuality. To begin with, whether he turned into a lion or not, he was – as she had reason to know, being a female counterpart – only human. Or possibly something less. How much the animal controlled them was something that Kyrie didn’t wish to think about. And second, there was very little reason he would be romantically interested in her. She’d guess his suit had cost more than she made in a month.

    Chances were he turned on that feline, devil-may-care charm with every female in sight. And meant nothing by it.

    Still, she wouldn’t look like a charity date. Not at the Sheriff’s Star, she wouldn’t. Too many times in childhood, she’d found herself dressed in foster sisters’ – or brothers’ – discards, cowering at the back of a family group, afraid someone would ask why a beggar was let in.

    Now she might dress from thrift shops – her salary rarely extended to new clothes, except for underwear and socks – but at a size six that meant she got last year’s designer clothes, donated by women so fashion conscious they spent half their time studying trends. That and a bit of flair, and her naturally exotic features made most people think her beautiful. Or at least handsome.

    Before getting in the shower, she checked her wounds under the bandages, and was shocked at finding them completely healed and only a little red. There would be scars, but no wound. Interesting. Very interesting. She must make sure to figure out what that antibiotic cream was. She needed to buy more of it. She always kept a well stocked first aid cabinet – part of her trying to be prepared to survive any emergency on her own – but this had been the first time she’d needed it.

    She rushed through a shower, dried her hair properly into position and slipped on a white t-shirt – or at least a knit shirt – with a mass of soft folds in the front, that gave the appearance of a really deeply cut decolletage – but a decolletage so hidden by the swaying material in the front that it was a matter of guessing whether it was really there or not.

    Then she put on the wrap-around green suede mini-skirt. No fishnets, which she occasionally wore to work. There was no reason to look like Officer Trall was having brunch with a hooker either and – with this outfit – fishnets would give that impression. Instead, she put on flesh-tone stockings and slipped her feet into relatively flat shoes.

    Fully dressed, she thought of Tom. If she was going to leave him here alone, in the house, without a car, she should leave him a note.

    Backtracking to her dresser, she grabbed the notepad and pen she kept in her underwear drawer, and wrote quickly, I had to go out. There’s eggs and bacon in the fridge. Shape-shifting seemed to come with hunger and, from the way her own stomach was rumbling, Tom would be ravenous. Don’t go anywhere till I come back. We’ll discuss what to do.

    She went to the kitchen and was about to put the note on the table, when she heard a rustle of fabric from the doorway to the back porch.

    Tom stood there, looking only half awake. But his blue eyes were wide open as they stared at her. “Whoa,” he said, very softly.

    It was, in many ways, the greatest compliment anyone had paid Kyrie in a long time. If nothing else, because it seemed to have been forced from his lips before his mouth could stop it.



    Tom awakened with the sound of steps. For a moment, confused, he thought it was his upstairs neighbor walking around in high heels again. But then he realized the steps were nearby by. Very nearby.

    He woke already sitting up, teeth clenched, hands grabbing... the side and seat of a rough, brownish sofa.

    He blinked as the world caught up with him – the night before and the events all ran through his mind like a train, overpowering all other thought and leaving him stunned.

    And then he realized he could still hear steps nearby. Kyrie. He was in Kyrie’s house. She had put him up for the night, though he still couldn’t quite understand why. He’d have thought he was the last person in the world whom she’d want around. But she had given him the sofa to sleep on, and the sweat suit, and...

    Still half-asleep, and with some vague idea of thanking her and getting out of her house and stopping endangering her as soon as possible, he lurched to his feet and stumbled towards the kitchen.

    Kyrie stood by the table, her hair impeccably combed, as it usually was when she came to work. The first time Tom had seen her, he’d thought she was wearing a tapestry-pattern scarf. When he’d realized it was her real hair, he’d been so fascinated that he couldn’t help staring at her. Until he’d realized she was looking at him with frowning disapproval bordering on hatred. And then he’d learned to look elsewhere.

    But this morning, in her own kitchen, she looked far more stunning than she usually did when she came to work. There was this folded down front to her blouse that seemed – at any minute – to threaten to reveal her breasts. He remembered her breasts and his mouth went dry. Beyond that, she wore this tiny suede thing that looked like a scarf doing the turn of a skirt. Below it her legs stretched, long and straight to her feet which were encased in relatively low heeled but elegant shoes, seemingly made of strips of multicolored leather woven together.

    The whole was... He heard himself exclaim under his breath and she turned around. He had a moment to think that she was going to disapprove of him again. But instead, she looked surprised, her eyebrows raised.

    “I’m sorry,” he said. “I’m not used to seeing you dressed up. You look... amazing.” He just wished her little feather earring hadn’t got lost. It would have looked lovely with that outfit.

    “Thank you.” She smiled, and her cheeks reddened, but for only a second, before the smile was replaced by a worried expression. As if she thought he wouldn’t compliment her unless he had ulterior motives. “I was about to leave you a note,” she said. “There’s eggs and bacon in the fridge.”

    He realized he was starving. But still, it felt wrong to impose that far. She was being too generous. There was something wrong. “I should go,” he said.

    “Eat first. And then we’ll talk,” she said. She spoke as if she had some plan, or at least some intention of having a plan. She threw the note she had written to him into the trash, opened the cupboard above the coffee maker. “There’s cups and coffee beans here,” she said. “The coffee grinder is behind the coffee beans. I’m going to go for brunch with...” She took a deep breath and faced him. “I’d rather you don’t leave because I’m going to go for brunch with the policeman.”

    Tom felt a surge of panic. “You mean, he might want to arrest me?”

    She looked puzzled. “No. I mean I might get some information out of him about what happened and what we can do, or even if there’s any danger at all.” She waved him into silence. “I know there’s still danger from the triad, but I’m hoping there is no danger from the police. If there is, I’ll call and let you know, okay?”

    He nodded dumbly. Something in him was deeply aggrieved that she had dressed up to go to lunch with the policeman. But of course, there was nothing he could do about that. She wasn’t his. He had no chance of her ever even looking at him like less than a dangerous nuisance.

    And then for a moment, for just a moment, she looked at him and smiled a little. “Wish me luck,” she said.

    And she was out the door. And he silently wished her whatever luck meant to her. But he felt bereft as he hadn’t in a long time. As he hadn’t since that night he’d been thrown out of the only home he’d ever known.

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