“You fucking losers can die trying on your own time.” William remarked. “Get this shit down the stairs or I’ll tell Kala'amātya you were dogging his piece.” He squeezed past the door frame toward her, scowling at their soi-disant allure and walking back along the hall with her in the nominal hope of privacy, closing the door to Edward's suite behind them.
A pane of sunlight slid over the matte black of her suit as she walked past the window, the shadow of an elm bough lying on the floor around her feet. Her face was lightly powdered, a slim, dark line painted over her lashes; when she looked at him he could see the strange marriage of desperation and impassivity in the black circles fixed so tightly in the centre of her eyes. Toward the bathroom door her clothing rack stood emptied. William glanced down at the suitcase by the foot of the bed and then at the phone she held out to him.
“Call me a cab.” Lilian insisted. When he made no move to comply she lifted a hand to her brow as though something kicked against the inside of her skull.
He took the phone from her and sat down on the corner of the bed.
“I have dreams about him sometimes... he's always an animal in the hold of a plane that's breaking up at thirty thousand feet... I can't do anything, but I get to watch.” he told her. “I lost him when Helaine died, for four hundred years. If you go, I lose you both.” She stood looking down at the floor. "What does she say?" he asked quietly, looking up as she leant her head against the window.
"She came to say goodbye, because he needed that, but... the more she holds his hand... If you don’t help me leave, she'll fucking stay with him, and you’ll have to watch that too.”
William murmured to himself in his own language, pressing his hands to his face as she sat down beside him. The dry, powdery scent of the orris in her perfume reminded him again of her avatar, the smell of Helaine's fields swept up across the river to her house; he saw his brother sitting with her in the kitchen door of that ancient pile while she read from the creaking volume on her knees.
“Where are you going?” he sighed.
“I got a trick waiting... it’s fine. I’m good.”
"Fuck." William closed his eyes. He reached slowly into the pocket of his dirty jeans, pulling out a business card and handing it to her, then spoke carefully, conscious of the rote, suspended nature of her gaze. “This is Gideon... he’s in France. If you’re in trouble, if you ever need anything... he doesn’t ask questions, and he knows where to find us.” He looked down at the phone and turned it over in his hand.
Susan walked with Edward through the sliding doors into a branch of her domestic bank, feeling the immediate, gravitational assault of the attention he so unwillingly commanded. One by one, as though in response to an audible demand, the clerks and store assistants in the teller queues turned to satisfy their curiosity; security guards shifted in their shoes without knowing why, touching hands to the equipment on their belts and frowning. She was appraised for the first time of the manner in which William absorbed and diffused such unwelcome notice, sheltering her from its effect. Edward's person offered no such concession. He performed instead the discreet examination of the room that was his first act in any new situation, turning gazes from himself with a retaliatory sweep of his own. Perforated ceiling tiles floated overhead; the new carpet, printed with busy triangular motifs in scarlet and grey, smelt strongly of solvent-rich glue. Susan murmured her inquiries.
“Should I close my account? Won't that look like I'm planning to leave or something?”
"Withdraw two thirds of whatever you have." he replied.
The teller processed her demands with bored efficiency, her neat bleached hair crowned by a white halo of static-riven frizz, glancing past her repeatedly as she worked the keyboard. Susan looked back to her companion herself; his gaze was focussed squarely through the wide glass frontage and on something in the street outside. Rejoining him, she stood stiffly at his side, clutching a half-crushed printout.
"Someone's ripped me off!" she whispered. He perused the transactions briefly, and took out his wallet, discreetly handing her the sum in cash, which she initially refused, and then stuffed into her bag, shaking her head. "You owe me a month anyway." she muttered as they returned to the street, making a lightning dash through the traffic and coming back to the car with a plastic-wrapped bunch of pink chrysanthemums, a white paper bag that grease had already rendered half-translucent, a large milkshake and a sack of sugar-dusted donuts, handing him the flowers and pressing her face into the paper as she slumped down beside him. “How long has it been since I had a kebab?" Susan sighed, chewing busily. "What I could actually murder right now is a whole tandoori chicken dripping with ghee, and a great big bloody Kashmir naan..."
The frigid milkshake tingled in her sinuses as she drew on the thick blue straw, gaze wandering to the blooms with which he had been so unceremoniously presented. She plucked one of the slightly ragged flowers from its stalk and bit into it herself, pulling a face and spitting it out the window. He refused the donut she offered in compensation, watching cinnamon-tainted sugar drop into her lap as she stuffed it into her mouth. The sight of a huge oil-black SUV in her side mirror attracted her attention with its polished panels and darkly obscure windscreen, crawling two cars behind their own. Eating the rest of the donuts in a brown study, she watched the vehicle for three more blocks before fishing her sunglasses from her tote and sliding them onto her face.
“This sounds stupidly paranoid, but I think that great big thing back there is following us.”
“It’s not those... what are they? Something Investigation muppets?” He did not respond to her speculation and she blew a frustrated breath, scowling over her milk shake at him. “Well I don’t know... I didn’t join the secret bloody service in my gap year.”
“You can see them. Perhaps you studied logic in your gap year.”
“I couldn’t afford the fees and had to work for sarcastic people instead.” She spat out the straw. “Alright, so I can see them, which means... they’re not trying to hide... which means... they want us to see them because they’re trying to... intimidate us?”
“Are we intimidated?”
Edward planted his foot and cut over the sidewalk, in front of a car already occupying a parking building entry lane; they ducked the boom, skirted a reversing van and took six ramps in a smoking drift, climbing four more toward the roof at a slightly more leisurely pace while Susan squeezed between the front seats and knelt upon the rear, blowing bubbles into her lidded cup. She hung out of the window and peered down into the floors beneath them.
“Bastards! They're still there... what should we do?"
He chose a park in the midst of the floor, circled the car and caught her elbow, marching her swiftly across the tarmac toward the lift bay. She chuckled to herself inside the mirrored compartment as the purpose of their eccentric detour occurred to her, shuddering at the pungent yellow brass and faux marble mall scape revealed by their debouchment. They walked together through a flock of preening teenage girls, their dour, thickly-pencilled stares following Edward as the latter accompanied her toward an outdoor retailer. Glancing over her shoulder, she took some time to look both ways along the crowded aisle, then disappeared with him into the head-high racks of pastel puffer vests and stripy thermals.
"The House always wins." he mused.
“I know, alright, but if we have to come into a mall we should make it count. I need some gear for wherever we're headed anyway. And you can stand there with your death ray going but you shop for underpants like everybody else, so can we just get on with it?"
Tugging items from the displays on her way toward the changing rooms, she stuffed the overflow into his arms but Edward abandoned the pieces as fast as he was entrusted with them; he took the remaining clothing from her, dropped it onto the attending counter and walked away toward the men’s department. Susan strode after him, folding her arms against the lengthy, number-coloured parka that he handed her.
“It looks like it fell off a skip. Or a wino." Compounding her dismay, he chose a drab brace of thermal underwear and hiking pants, wholly unconcerned by her displeasure. "I'm not a fucking trainspotting troll!" she hissed, glancing around them. His patience shorted when she refused even to examine them for herself, eyes brightening like a glimpse of distant hazard lights. Susan stood in her defiant attitude for as long as she dared, then trailed him toward the counter.
“All you need worry about is how fast it will dry in the shade. And how you’ll look to twelve drunk paramilitaries while they’re still only joking about who goes first.” he informed her, looking toward the till girl's open-mouthed dismay. Susan's gaze rose, wide and vehement; from his height and with his stare he invited her to contradict him, and they suffered deadlock until she felt her pique subside, finding points of interest in his tactics.
“Does that work on Lilian?” she asked. Edward took money from his pocket and dropped it on the chair beside the clothes, leaving her to carry them herself.
Nursing an enormous soft-serve ice cream in her free hand as the elevator returned her to the car park, she performed a watchful traverse of the bays, both elbows weighed down with bags that she threw onto the back seat, cracking the stiffening chocolate at the top of the cup with a plastic spoon as she sat down.
“I know going on the lam probably isn't a picnic, and I know you’re trying to get that through my thick skull, but sometimes I just have to stick my fingers in my ears and go la la la first.” she confessed, dragging a bag into her lap to show him the items she had acceded to. “See? Neutrals. I’m sure I’ll have plenty of time to sew my name into them on the train to Crapistan. It's going to be bad, isn't it... where we're going?"
"Everything is relative." he said, looking pointedly at the handles of another, smaller bag beneath her thigh. Frowning, she hauled it out and discovered a forest-green presentation box, compressed by her unwitting weight; it contained a hunting blade with an antler hilt, its gift card left blank. She smiled at him and tossed the box over the seat, dropping the knife into her handbag.
The windscreen framed a view of the vehicle that had prompted their excursion as they reversed and swung past its position between two supply vans. It continued after them until Edward engaged the hand brake at the foot of the descending ramp; behind them, the pursuing vehicle was forced to a halt, boxed in by tail-gaters, and she whispered a furious caution as he pushed open his door and walked back up the ramp. He stood gazing in through the windscreen; Susan's disquiet gave way to appreciation of his unorthodox gambit as he returned.
“Who are our numpty stalkers?" she murmured, looking back between the seats.
“Nothing exotic. Low-ball contractors... geriatric Special Forces, dishonourable discharges."
"Judging by the taste level."
"Wouldn't you feel like a dick following someone around all day?" she wondered, scooping out the bottom of her ice cream.
"Viagra and hair plugs won't pay for themselves." She smirked into her cup at the ungenerous sentiment. “Were you not tempted to stay at the house and supervise? I wouldn’t advise leaving Sachiin with Auberjonois’s entourage for longer than it takes to source hash and pornography.”
"I don't care. They probably don’t accidentally touch you inappropriately twenty eight times before nine o’clock in the morning."
“I assume he and Gideon have resolved their glittering differences.”
“You're asking the wrong person.” she assured him. “Why? Is it just because he loses his pants in the woods, or is there something else I should know?”
“Auberjonois is not my field.”
They rode in silence until she muttered and began scratching at her neck.
“Are you going to sue Opal for being a horrible bloodsucking trout?” she asked, brightening.
“There are no applicable statutes.” Edward admitted, pulling up outside a manicured brownstone while their pursuers continued onward. “Keep your eye on the road. There’s a full clip under my seat if you don’t like the way things are going.” he told her. She scowled.
“I'm not a bloody gangbanger.”
“They’ll be pleased to hear that.”
CONTINUED NEXT WEEK
© céili o'keefe do not reproduce