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Draw One in the Dark: Snippet Nine

       Last updated: Friday, June 9, 2006 22:25 EDT



    Okay, and on top of everything else, the man is paranoid, Kyrie thought as she got out. Why would he think I wanted to turn him in to the police? In the cool light of day, her car looked truly awful, with its smashed driver’s side window. She would have to get a square of plastic and tape it over the opening. Fortunately it rarely rained in Colorado, so it wasn’t urgent. As for getting money to fix it... Well...

    She put the key in the broken ignition socket, thinking that would probably be more expensive to repair than the window. And she would make sure Tom paid. Yes, he’d done it to save their lives, but much too thoughtlessly. Clearly he’d either never owned a car, or never owned a car for whose repair he was responsible.

    From the look of the sun up in the sky, it was noon and it was a beautiful day, the sidewalks filled with people in shorts and t-shirts, ambling among the small shops that grew increasingly smaller and pricier in the two miles between Kyrie’s neighborhood and the hotel.

    There were couples with kids and couples with dogs dressed like children, in bandanas and baseball caps. Lone joggers. A couple of business women in suits, out shopping on their lunch hour.

    Again Kyrie experienced the twin feelings of envy and confusion at these people. What would they do if they knew? What would they think if they were aware that humans who could take the shape of animals stalked the night? And what wouldn’t Kyrie give to change places with one of them? Any one of them. Even the business woman with the pinched lips and the eyes narrowed by some emotional pain. At least she knew what she was. Homo sapiens.

    She pulled into the parking lot of the hotel, and, unwilling to brave the disdain of the valets, parked her own car. Wasn’t difficult to find a parking space during the week.

    Entering the hotel was like going into a different world from her modest house, her tiny car, or even the diner.

    The door whooshed, as it slid aside in front of her, and the cold air reached out to engulf her, drawing her into the, tall and broad, atrium of the hotel, whose ceiling was lost in the dim space overhead, supported by columns that looked like green marble. The air conditioning cooled her suddenly, making her feel composed and sophisticated and quite a different person from the sweaty, rumpled woman outside, in the Colorado summer.

    The smoked glass doors closed behind her. Velvet sofas and potted palms dotted the immense space. Uniformed young men, on who knew what errands, circulated between. This hotel was designed to look like an old west hotel, one of the more upscale ones.

    She could all too easily imagine gun slingers swinging from the chandeliers, a bar fight breaking out and the uniformed receptionists ducking behind their marble counter.

    Kyrie hesitated but only for a moment, because she saw the signs to the restaurant and followed it, down into the bowels of the atrium and up in the elevator to the top floor that overlooked most of Goldport. Light flooded the restaurant through windows that lined the every wall. Kyrie could not tell how big it was, just that the ceiling seemed as far up as the atrium’s, but fully visible – a cool whiteness twenty feet up. Soft carpet deadened the sound of steps and the arrangement of the tables, on different levels and separated by partitions and judiciously placed potted palms, made each table a private space.

    A girl about Kyrie’s age, blond and cool and wearing what looked like a business suit in pretty salmon pink, gave her the once over. “May I help you?”

    “Yes,” Kyrie said. “I’m meeting a Mr. Trall. Rafiel Trall.”

    The girl’s eyes widened slightly. And there was a gratifying look of envy.

    What, thinking I can’t possibly be in his league, sweetie? Kyrie thought, and reproached herself for her sudden anger and calmed herself forcefully, giving the woman a little smile.

    “Mr. Trall is this way,” the hostess said, and, picking up a menu, led her down a winding corridor amid wood and glass partitions and palms. From the recesses around the walkway came the sounds of talk – but not the words, the acoustics of the restaurant being seemingly designed to give tables their privacy – and the smells of food – bacon and ham and sausage, eggs, roast beef. It made her mouth water so much that she was afraid of drooling.

    then the hostess led her around a wooden partition, and stepped back. And there, getting hastily up from his chair was Rafiel Trall. He was perhaps better dressed than the night before, when his pale suit had betrayed a look of almost retro cool.

    Now he was wearing tawny chinos and a khaki colored shirt. His blond hair still shone, and still fell, unruly, over his golden eye. The mobile mouth turned upwards in what seemed to be a smile of genuine pleasure at seeing her. “Miss Smith,” he said, extending a hand. He tossed his head back to free his eyes of hair. There were circles of tiredness around his golden eyes, and creases on his face, as though he too had slept too little and not well.

    He shook her hand hard, firmly. The hostess disappeared, silently, walking on the plush carpet as though gliding.

    “Sit, sit,” Rafiel Trall said. “Relax. I was horribly hungry, so I ordered an appetizer.” He waved towards a platter on the table. “Seafood croquettes,” he said. “High on protein, though perhaps not the kind...” He grinned. The golden eyes seemed to sparkle with mischief of their own.

    Kyrie sat down, bonelessly. What am I doing here? She asked herself. What does he want from me?

    And there, she knew the answer to the first one. She was here because he had blackmailed her into coming. Regardless of whether a threat had been uttered, regardless of what the threat he might actually mean, Rafiel Trall had mentioned those bloody towels in the bathroom.

    Kyrie didn’t own a television, but she had watched enough episodes of CSI on the diner’s television, during slow times of the day, that she knew that on the show, at least, they could tell if someone had wiped someone else’s blood off their skin with a paper towel. There would be skin and hair and sweat...

    But she remembered Tom and the way Tom had looked. What else could she have done then? Short of ignoring the whole thing and pretending it had nothing to do with her? And then what would have happened to Tom? She wasn’t sure what she thought was worse – Tom eating the corpse, or Tom getting killed by ambush in his bedroom.

    So she’d used the towels, and now Rafiel Trall held the towels over her head. And Tom’s head. Which had brought her here.

    But why did Officer Trall want her here? And what was the point of it all? Did he want to blackmail her for favors? No. If he wanted to do that, he would demand she meet him elsewhere, wouldn’t he? However secluded the table might be... It wasn’t that private.

    Besides – she looked up at Rafiel Trall and refused to believe that he had that much trouble getting dates that he needed to force a girl into bed. Even if she admitted she didn’t look like chopped liver.

    She became aware that he’d said something and was now sitting, his napkin halfway to being unfolded on his lap, while he looked at her, expectantly.

    There was no point lying. “I’m sorry,” she said. “I have no idea what you said.”

    He smiled. “No. You were miles away. I said your outfit is very becoming.”

    Before she could stop it, she felt heat rise up her cheeks. “Thank you,” she said. “But I would like to know why you asked me to come here?”

    He grinned at her. “I would like to have breakfast with you and to discuss... some cases the Goldport police force has encountered recently.”

    Her expression must have became frozen with worry, because he shook his head. “I do not in any way suspect you, do you understand? I just think you could literally help me with my enquiries. And I thought it was best done over a nice meal.”

    Kyrie nodded and picked up her menu, then put it down again, as the prices dismayed her. “Ms. Smith – I’m hoping for your help with this. I’ll pay for your meal.” He smiled, showing very even teeth. “This is a business brunch.”

    She hesitated. She was aware that whatever he said, breaking bread with someone was an expression of friendship, an expression of familiarity. After all, throughout human history, enemies had refused to dine together. “Look,” he stared at her, across the table, and, for the first time since last night, didn’t smile. “I’m sorry I mentioned the bathroom, which I meant to make you think of the paper towels. It was unworthy of me. And stupid. In fact, I ... got rid of them, okay? I risked my position. But I’m sure... Just, I’m sorry I mentioned them. I didn’t know any other way to make you help me, and we must talk. About... dragons and what’s going on.”

    His voice was low, though Kyrie very much doubted anyone overhearing them – and the restaurant really seemed to have very good privacy-designed acoustics – would have no idea at all what they were talking about. But his expression was intense and serious.

    She nodded, once. Not only was she starving, but she had left Tom in charge of the kitchen, with bacon and eggs at his disposal. Considering how many times he’d shifted the night before and how tired he’d looked, she was sure that he would have eaten all of it and possibly her lunch meat besides, before he could think straight.

    Besides, what did Trall mean dragons? He’d mentioned crimes. More than one? What had Tom done? Before she threw her luck in with his, she had to know, didn’t she?

    “Very well, Officer Trall,” she said. “I’ll have brunch with you.”

    He smiled effusively. At that moment, the server reappeared and he informed her they would be having the buffet. He also ordered black coffee, which Kyrie seconded.

    The buffet spread was the most sumptuous that Kyrie had ever seen. It stretched over several counters and ranged from steamed crab legs, through prime rib, to desserts of various unlikely colors and shapes.

    Kyrie was interested only in the meat. Preferably red and rare. She piled a plate with prime rib, conscious of the shocked glares of a couple of other guests. She didn’t care. And at any rate, back at the table, she was glad to notice that Rafiel Trall’s plate was even more full – though he’d gone for variety by adding ham and bacon.

    They ate for a while in silence, and Rafiel got refills – how long had he been shifted the night before? Could a lion have killed the man? – before he leaned back and looked appraisingly at her. “How long have you known your friend? The... dragon?”

    Kyrie, busy with a mouthful, swallowed hastily. “About six months,” she said. “Frank hired him from the homeless shelter downtown for the night hours. He told me he was hiring him from the homeless shelter and that he thought Tom had a drug problem, so I’m guessing that Frank thought he was doing the world a favor, or was trying to garner a treasure in heaven, or whatever.”

    Rafiel was frowning. “Six months ago?”

    Kyrie’s turn to nod. “No, wait. A little more, because it was before Christmas when we were really crunched with all the late shoppers and people going to shows. And the other girl on the night hours had just left town with her boyfriend, so we were in the lurch. Frank got a couple of the day people to fill in, but they don’t like it. Most of them are girls, who think this part of town is unsavory and don’t like being out in it at night. So he said he was doing something for community service, and he went and hired Tom.”

    Rafiel was still frowning. “And is he? On drugs?”

    Kyrie shrugged. She thought of Tom, so defenseless last night, she thought of Tom, looking ... admiring and confused this morning. And she felt like a weasel, betraying him to this stranger.

    But she didn’t seem quite able to help herself. Something was making her talk. His smell, masculine, feline, pervasive, seemed to make her want to please him. So she shrugged again. “Not on work time, that I’ve noticed,” she said. She didn’t find it needed to mention the track marks. To be honest, they might be scars. She hadn’t looked up close. It seemed more indecent than staring at his privates. Which she hadn’t done, either. Well, maybe she’d seen them by accident yesterday, but no more than to note he had nothing to be ashamed of.

    “His name is Thomas Ormson?” Rafiel asked. “Thomas Edward Ormson?”

    Kyrie shrugged again. “I’ve never known his middle name. I know he’s Ormson because he introduced himself as Tom Ormson.”

    Rafiel made a sound at the back of his throat, as though this proved something. “If you excuse me,” he said.

    She ate the rest of her roast beef in silence, wondering if, by confirming Tom’s name, she had given something essential away and if Tom would now be arrested. But Rafiel simply came back with yet another plate of meat. “How long have you known he was... a shifter?” Rafiel asked, cutting a bite of his ham. “Not... not until last night. He was late. I heard a scream and I went to look. And he was... shifted.” Why couldn’t she stop herself talk? Why would she trust this stranger? “And there was a dead person?” Rafiel asked.

    Kyrie nodded.

    Rafiel frowned and ate home as fast as she could. “Has he been late other nights?”

    “No,” Kyrie said.

    “Are you sure? Not last Thursday? Does he work on Thursdays?”

    Kyrie frowned. “He works on Thursdays, and he wasn’t late.”

    “And he’s been in town for more than six months?”

    She nodded.

    Rafiel Trall ate for a while in silence. Kyrie was dying to know what this was all about.

    “Why do you ask?” she said. “You said there had been crimes, not one crime.”

    Rafiel nodded. “What I’m going to tell you is not known much outside the police department. There have been a couple of reported cases, but no one has put two and two together.”



    Alone in the house, Tom showered. He felt guilty about it, because it was Kyrie’s shower. Her water. Her soap. Her shampoo. But at this point he owed her a bunch of money, and he just added to it mentally. Most of his time on his own, he’d found shelters for runaway kids and, then, when he was older, homeless shelters. He hadn’t been homeless as such. He’d just moved from shelter to shelter in between bouts of getting in trouble and running away. He’d only slept outside when the moon was full. Shortly after leaving his father’s house – even now his mind flitted away from the circumstances of that leaving – he’d thought it best to abandon New York City altogether. There were too many opportunities, there, for a rampaging dragon to do serious damage. And far too many people who might see him do it.

    He’d drifted vaguely south and westward, moving when he thought someone had caught a glimpse of him in shifted form and, once, when a picture of him, as a dragon, in full flight, was published on the front page of the local rag. It had been syndicated to the National Enquirer, too. If his father caught a glimpse of it, on a supermarket line, would he have– But Tom shook his head. If he’d not actually given up on his father, he should have. Long ago.

    But running or settled for a while in a town, he’d never had an apartment until these last five months. And all showers at these institutions had been rationed and far from private. All the soap had smelled of disinfectant, too. The last five months, the showers had been heaven. And he’d bought the best soap he could find. His one luxury. But now he was homeless again, adrift. And, with the triad pressing down, he might have to leave.

    He only hadn’t left already because Kyrie had insisted he stay. And Kyrie was... the only one of his kind he’d ever got close to. Oh, he might also have quite a huge crush on her. But that didn’t count. He’d had crushes before. He’d moved on. But Kyrie... He bit his lower lip, standing in her tiny bathroom and turning on the water.

    Kyrie was something he didn’t know what to do about. He didn’t want to leave. He didn’t want to loose the only kindred feeling and fellowship he’d ever known. But with the triad chasing him, what else could he do?

    He showered, enjoying the water, then dried his hair and put the jogging suit Kyrie had lent him back on. He didn’t own anything else. He didn’t even own this. Nothing but his own skin.

    A look outside, through the kitchen window, showed him a paper in the driveway. He wondered if Kyrie would mind if the neighbors saw him. But considering she hadn’t told him anything about it, he’d assume she didn’t.

    He walked out to get the paper. It was noon, or close to it. The earliest he’d wakened in a long time. The air, though already suffocatingly hot, felt clear and clean, and he smelled Kyrie’s roses, and the neighbor’s profusion of flowers that spilled over the lawn and around the mailbox, in an array of pastel colors.

    The neighbor, an elderly lady, sat on the porch with a tall glass of something, her white hair in curlers. She smiled pointedly at Tom and waved at him. Tom waved back and found himself grinning ridiculously. Bending to pick up the paper, he felt as if he were living something out of a movie. A domestic morning. And he wished madly that he could live that life and have that kind of morning. That kind of life. Just be a normal person with a normal life.

    But, who was he kidding? Judging from all the trouble he’d got into before he’d started transforming into a dragon, his life wouldn’t have been any different had he been perfectly normal. He’d probably still be running from town, a drifter. He probably still would have used. He probably...

    He put the paper on the table, while he nuked himself a profusion of bacon and fried some eggs in a frying pan on the gas stove. He left half the eggs and bacon in the fridge. He could have eaten them all, easily enough, but he didn’t want to do that to Kyrie. Yeah, she’d probably get lunch bought for her today, but what if she shifted again tonight and needed breakfast tomorrow?

    Tom knew how much food cost. Over the last five months one of his delights had been learning to cook. He’d bought cookbooks at the same thrift stores at which he shopped for clothes and furniture. Since – on a diner’s waiter salary it was a challenge to cover everything and put money aside – as he felt he had to – he’d reveled in trying to create quasi-gourmet dishes from meats on special and discounted produce. And he’d eaten a lot of tofu.

    Now he cooked quickly, peppering his eggs from a shaker by the stove. His stomach growled at the smell of the utilitarian fare. He knew, from other shifts, that the craving for protein was almost impossible to deny, the morning after a shift. Kyrie, clearly knew it too, having given him access to all her food.

    Kyrie again. Sitting down to eat, he opened the paper. And choked.

    Right there, on the front page, the headline above the fold screamed Murder at local diner! The picture of the Athens in black and white made the huge parking lot with the tiny diner beside it look like something out of a film noir.

    The story was all too familiar to Tom. They’d found a body in the parking lot – of course anyone reading only the headline would think that they’d found it in the diner proper. Which meant that Frank was probably sizzling. If he was awake. Since he preferred to work nights, perhaps his day manager hadn’t found it necessary to wake him and tell him about the paper. Then again, sometimes Tom thought Frank worked around the clock. He always seemed to be at the diner.

    Frank’s mood might matter or not. Tom hadn’t decided yet what he was going to do about work. He needed the job. Wanted it. He’d enjoyed working at the diner more than he cared to think about. It had been his first long-term employment. A real, normal job.

    Before this he’d just signed up with the day laborer places. But he’d enjoyed the routine, the regulars, and getting them served quickly, and getting their tips. Smiling just enough at the college girls to get a good tip without their thinking he was coming on to them. The minor feuds with the day staff, the camaraderie with Kyrie and... well, he wouldn’t call it camaraderie with Frank, but Frank’s gruff ways.

    He had felt almost... human. And now it would all vanish. It all would go as if it meant nothing. Like, having a family. Like school. Like a normal adolescence.

    He finished eating and cleaned his plate with bread from the red breadbox over the fridge, before carefully washing the dishes and putting them away.

    Normally he compensated after nights of shifting by grabbing some fried chicken on the way to work the next evening. Or by eating a couple of boiled eggs. Most of what he cooked at home was near-vegetarian. So this might be the most protein he’d eaten at one sitting in years.

    Oh, he could afford bacon and eggs, but he’d been saving money. He had some idea that he would go to a community college and get a degree. He’d dreamed of settling down.

    Now, of course, as soon as he could swing by an ATM, he would have to empty the five hundred in his account to pay Kyrie for the car repairs and the groceries. And at that he’d probably still owe her money. But he would send her money from... somewhere.

    And on this he stopped, because he hadn’t told himself he was going to run. Not yet. But, after all, with the apartment in ruins, and the police investigating a crime around his place of employment, what else could he do? He had to run. Just as soon as he could retrieve... it from the Athens.

    The doorbell rang.

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