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Draw One in the Dark: Snippet Sixteen

       Last updated: Friday, September 8, 2006 21:08 EDT



    Kyrie remembered. But she also remembered that she wasn't sure what all this meant to Rafiel. And didn't want to known. She'd been a fool for trusting Tom. She'd be damned if she was going to repeat the mistake with Rafiel. What if he had the door fixed, in a way that he could somehow, come in and kill her in the night?

    She couldn't figure out any reason why he would want to kill her. But then, she couldn't figure out any reason why anyone would want to go around killing other shape-shifters. It had to be a shifter. Only a shifter would smell them. So, what would he get out of killing his own kind? And who better to do it than a policeman?

    "No, thank you," she said, again. "You don't have to take care of me. I can take care of myself. I've been doing it all my life. Pretty successfully, as you see."


    "No buts, Officer Trall." Without seeming to, she edged around him, and guided him through the doorway from the sunporch into the kitchen. She locked the door to the outside, then grabbed the extra chair and wedged it under the doorknob, the way she'd secured her bedroom in countless foster homes, when she'd been lucky enough to have a room for herself. "You'd best leave now. I need to have something to eat, and then I'll go to the Athens early. The day shift is often a person late, and if I can pitch in at dinner time, I can work some overtime, and that will help pay for this... mess."

    As if taken off balance by her sudden forcefulness, he allowed himself to be shepherded all the way out the kitchen door.

    "Thank you again," Kyrie said. And almost told him it had been lovely. Which could apply to the luncheon, but certainly was a gross overstatement when it came to the autopsy, and just plain silly when applied to what they found back here. Which, admittedly, wasn't his fault.

    He was still staring at her, the golden eyes somehow managing to look sheepish, when she closed the door in his face. And locked it.

    Alone in the house for the first time in almost twenty four hours, she rushed to the bedroom. She needed to get out of her skirt and into jeans and a t-shirt. Then she'd eat something - at a guess bread, because she imagined that Tom would have eaten every ounce of protein in the house - and get out of here. The diner had to be safer. More people, more witnesses.

    Although it hadn't helped the guy last night, had it?

    She shuddered at the thought of that bloodied body on the slab. She would park up-front, she decided. On Fairfax avenue. Within plain sight of everyone.



    "Damn," Keith said, after a while of driving in silence.

    "What now?" Tom asked. He'd been sitting there, his head in his hands, trying to figure out what he was going to do next. He felt as if his life, over the last six months, was a carefully constructed castle of cards that someone had poked right in the middle and sent tumbling.

    If Kyrie was no better than him, then maybe it was something wrong with the nature of shifters. Maybe that was why everyone he'd met was a drifter, or...

    "I forgot to tell you why I came looking for you," Keith said.

    "I thought it was to make sure I was all right," Tom said.

    "Well." Keith nodded. "That was part of it, only... I went to pay the rent today and I got to talking to the building manager about what happened at your apartment and she said... The manager got a bunch of your things from the floor. Before she called the police to look at it."

    "The police? To look at my things?" Tom asked. He was trying to imagine why the woman would do that. She was a little old lady who looked Italian or Greek and who had always seemed pretty nice to him.

    "No, you fool. She got the things before the police came over, because she figured they were your things and you might need them, and the police would just tie them up."

    "Oh, what did she get?"

    "I don't know. It looked like was some of your clothes, and your boots, and a credit card."

    Tom blinked. "I don't have a credit card." Had one of the triad dropped his credit card behind? Tom hadn't been impressed by the collective intelligence of the dragon enforcer trio, but that seemed too stupid even for them.

    "Your ATM card, then."


    "The manager said it was none of the police's business. She asked me to bring you by for your stuff." Keith looked at Tom. "But perhaps I should take you to emergency first. For your feet?"

    "No," Tom said. First, because he had enough experience in his own body to know that any wound would heal up seemingly overnight. And second because if he could get some clothes on, and his hand on his ATM card, he was going to find some stuff to buy. Heroin, by choice, but just about anything else would do, short of baking soda. This time he was going to get high and stay high. He would be feeling no pain.



    In jeans and a comfortable t-shirt, Kyrie went into the kitchen. She felt naked without the earring she normally wore. She'd found it in a street fair when she was about fourteen and it had been her favorite piece of jewelry since. But there was no point crying over spilt milk or spoiled jewelry. She had lost it somewhere at Tom's house, while becoming a panther. She would have to look out for another one.

    Meanwhile she need to eat something, even if just bread and butter.

    She put the kettle on for tea, and opened the fridge to see if perhaps a couple rounds of her lunch meat had survived. And was shocked to find eggs and bacon still sitting on the shelf, where she had left them. Looking at the containers, she determined he'd eaten about a third of her provisions. Which meant she would still have enough for the rest of the week, even if she shifted once or twice.

    She'd long ago decided to make breakfast her main protein meal of the day. Even if she ate breakfast at the time other people ate dinner. Eggs and bacon, particularly bought at a sale, were far cheaper than meat for other meals. Also, she often woke up after what she thought was one of her episodes in desperate need of protein.

    She got the microwave bacon tray, and noticed he'd washed it very carefully. She put the pan on for eggs, and again noticed it had been scrubbed with a soft, plastic scrubber, per manufacturer instructions for non-stick pans. Sitting at her little table,

    washing down the food with a cup of sweet tea - which she preferred to coffee unless she felt a need to wake up suddenly - she felt vaguely guilty about throwing Tom out.

    Then she realized the source of her guilt was that he'd actually made an effort to wash the dishes and that, as ravenous as he must have been - she remembered what she'd felt like at the restaurant - he hadn't eaten all of her food. She smiled to herself. So, it was fine if the man were a one-person demolition engine, as long as he had good household habits?

    She shook her head. Okay, she clearly was going soft in the head. Perhaps it was the shifter-bond. But if so, couldn't she feel more tenderly towards Rafiel? Was the way to her heart to give as much trouble and cause as much damage as humanly possible?

    After washing her dishes, she grabbed her purse and hurried towards the Athens. She'd park up front. With the driver's window in the state it was, she didn't want to leave the car unwatched, anyway. She'd park up front, and keep an eye on it through her work shift.

    Hopefully the diner would be short-staffed for the dinner shift, the last few hours of the day staff. Hopefully. They usually were, but then things never went the way one wanted them to, did they? And she'd have to buy another apron from Frank's stock, kept for when a staff member walked out of the job with the apron still on.

    Another expense.

    She checked the chair under the lock between the kitchen and the back porch before leaving the house.



    "We were all very worried something dreadful had happened to you," Mrs. Rizzo looked at him, her sparkling black eyes narrowed in what might indeed be worry. Or suspicion. Though that wasn't fair, because she'd never been suspicious of him.

    A small woman, so short that she made Tom feel tall, she stood in front of her desk in the little, musty manager's office at the back of the apartment complex. Every possible inch of space on her wall was covered up in pictures - pictures of smiling brides, pictures of babies, and pictures of children looking sticky and sweet in equal measures and displaying mouths with a varying number of teeth in unguarded smiles. A set of pink-booties, half knit, lay on her desk, with a gigantic ball of pink yarn and two green plastic knitting needles.

    Tom had often wanted to ask her if the pictures were all her children, but he was a little afraid of the answer, and not quite sure if yes or no would be the scarier reply. Instead, he threw back his head to move the hair out from in front of his face - he really needed to find something to tie it soon. A rubber band would do - and smiled at Mrs. Rizzo. "Fortunately I was staying with a friend."

    She cocked an eyebrow at him. "A girl?"

    "Yes. She works with me."

    Mrs. Rizzo grinned, suddenly. "Well, and isn't it about time you found someone to settle down. Is she a good girl?"

    "Yes, a very good girl," Tom said. Or at least he'd thought that until today, and finding out about the sugar. But he wasn't about to discuss that with his apartment manager.

    The lady nodded. "Good, maybe you can stay with her until we get your place fixed. It should only be a couple of weeks. Or we could move you to number thirty five, if you want. I talked to the owner, and he said it would be okay to give it to you. It's a little bigger, but he said you could have it for the same price."

    A few hours ago, this would have been an offer for Tom to snatch with both hands. He could have got into the new apartment without paying a deposit, and with no real inconvenience. Oh, his furniture and utensils were gone, but he hadn't had all that much, and he could always replace them in a month or less from thrift shops and garage sales. A sofa first, until he could afford a bed, and a pan and a frying pan would do for cooking in, till he could get more complete utensils. And...

    But he stopped his own thought, forcefully. He would have been very happy to do that a few hours ago. It would have made him non-homeless again. But a few hours ago, he now realized, he'd still been under the mistaken impression that Kyrie was some sort of ideal woman, something to aspire to. Someone whom, even if he could never have her, he could imitate and hope to be more like. Now... "I don't know what I'm doing, yet, Mrs. Rizzo. I'll let you know in a couple of days, if that's all right." Of course he knew perfectly well what he was doing. He was getting heck out of dodge before nightfall. He might come back later - if he could - for the ... object in the water tank of the Athens' bathroom. But he wouldn't come back to live. He wouldn't go back to working there - with Kyrie. No way, no when, no how. And no one could make him.

    Mrs. Rizzo sighed. "You're staying with her, right? Well, I hope it works. But if it doesn't, remember we have number thirty five. I'll hold it for you for another week." She smiled. "It's the one with the bay window." And sounded exactly like someone holding out a sweet to a kid.

    Tom nodded. "I'll be in touch. But Keith said you had some of my stuff..."

    She reached behind the desk and brought out a box that was larger than Tom expected. Protruding out of the top were his boots, and he gave a deep sigh of relief upon seeing them. Then, as he dug through, he found a couple of pairs of jeans, one black and one blue, three black t-shirts, and - carefully folded - his black leather jacket. He felt suddenly weak at the knees. It was like losing half of your identity and then retrieving it again.

    At the very bottom of the box was his ATM card, and he found himself taking a deep, relieved breath. He wouldn't need to wait till the banks opened to get out his money before he got out of town. Next to the ATM card was a library book - The Book of Sand by Jorge Luis Borges. He could drop that off at the library depot on the way out of town. Good. The library was unlikely to make much of a search for him on the strength of a single hardcover book, but it was best to get out of town with as few things hanging over his head as possible.

    Between the book and the ATM card was a red object, which at first he couldn't identify. And then he realized it was Kyrie's red plumed earring.

    He should take it back. He should... His hand closed around it. Or not. Or not. He couldn't see facing her. He couldn't imagine her reproaching him for getting high and destroying her sunroom. He would have to tell her, then, that the least she could have done was tell him that the sugar wasn't exactly sugar. She must keep the real stuff somewhere. After all, they'd had coffee the night before to no ill effects. So, why didn't she tell him where it was? Tom would much rather have had it.

    His hand closed on the plumed earring and he shoved it into the pocket of his jacket.

    "You can change in the bathroom," Mrs. Rizzo said, pointing to a little door at the back. "If you want to."

    The bathroom was a continuation of the office. Oh, there were no pictures on the walls, which was a very good thing. Tom would have hated to undress completely in front of a mass of staring babies and prim brides. But the hand-soap was pink and shaped like a rose, and, on the toilet tank, a much too tall crochet angel with a plastic face, squatted contentedly over three spare toilet paper rolls, as though hoping they would soon hatch into chickens.

    Tom had to watch that, and the mirror, and the vanity, because the bathroom was so small he could barely move in it. He removed Kyrie's jogging suit, folded it carefully and put it beside the toilet paper angel. Then he put on his jeans and t-shirt with a sense of relief. He wished some of his underwear had been preserved, but if absolutely needed he could do without it a little longer.

    Socks were something else - as was the need to put his boots back on. He hadn't felt any pain from his feet recently, but then he'd been... busy. He sat down on the closed toilet lid, to look at his feet. And was surprised to find he'd shed most of the glass shards. Only a couple large ones remained, embedded in his skin, but his skin seemed to be... He stared at it. Yep. His skin was pushing them out, forcing them out and growing behind them. The other cuts were already closed, though angry-red and likely to leave a scar.

    This was one of those changes that arrived when he started shifting into a dragon. All of a sudden, he could cut himself or scrape himself and it would heal in a day, or a few hours, depending on the depth of the injury. It was just about the only change that wasn't completely unwelcome.

    He washed the bottom of his feet with damp toilet paper, and looked again. Nothing really. Just rapidly healing cuts. He slipped his boots on, wishing he had socks, but it couldn't be helped. With all his belongings still in a box, he went back to Mrs. Rizzo. "I'm sorry to bother you, but could I borrow a plastic bag? It's easier to carry than a box." Meaning, it would actually be possible to carry while he was in dragon form. Which was how he'd kept most of his belongings, while moving all over the country.

    She nodded, and bent to get something from behind her desk. Tom wondered what exactly she kept back there, just as she emerged with a backpack, not a plastic bag. The backpack was pale blue and made in the sort of plastic that glistens. "The Michelsons left it behind, when they vacated number 22," Mrs. Rizzio said. "It used to have wheels, but they're broken. They left a bunch of the kids' old clothes, too. Ripped and dirty." She made a face. "When people do that, I wash them and fix them and give them to charities in town. Such a waste. People throw everything away these days. But the backpack I kept, if someone moved in with a school-age kid and needed it."

    "It's all right," Tom said. "I only need a plastic bag."

    "No, no. It's okay. You can have it. There will be two or three others by September, when school opens. People throw them away."

    Well, the backpack was more practical because it closed. Though, in dragon form, he would still have to carry it the same way - by wrapping the straps around his huge ankle - the backpack zipped shut. And there was less chance of losing stuff. "Well, thank you then," he said, reaching for it.

    Up close, as he stuffed his remaining belongings - and Kyrie's jogging suit - into it, he realized the full extent of his problem. The backpack had a little orange dragon with stubby wings on the back, and it said underneath, in fiery orange-red letters Scorchio. He scowled at it.

    "Kids these days like the weirdest things, don't they?" Mrs. Rizzio said.

    "Yes," Tom said. And then, with everything in the backpack, he had to say goodbye somehow. Only he'd never said goodbye to anyone or anything, and certainly not to anyone who liked him and whom he liked. "I'll be back," he lied. "In a few days."

    "You do that, dear," she said. "I'll hold number thirty five for you, okay?"

    As he headed out, he caught a glimpse of his reflection in the window of the next door apartment. Against the dark drapes, he looked like something out of a horror movie - unruly hair, tight black jeans, black leather jacket. Even with the stupid pale blue backpack on, he didn't look like anyone that someone would want to bother.

    He stalked off, down Fairfax Avenue, away from the Athens and towards the nearest ATM that way. He had a vague idea that he should go back and pay Kyrie for the mess. He would have done it the day before. But now he told himself there was simply no way. Not any way in hell. She should have told him about the sugar. It was all her fault. Yeah, he probably still owed her for the car - but because of the sugar he was now headed out of town, with nothing but a handful of possessions. He was going to need all his money.

    He realized he was holding her responsible for the fact that she wasn't perfect. And that was fine, as far as he was concerned. Wasn't there someone - one person - in the world he could look up to?

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