Sunday, March 23, 2008

Two Guns 21 - Hunting High And Low

A stray beam of sunlight coaxed Sharon's eyes open. It would have been poignant to say that she woke up with a shock, amazed at the unfamiliar surroundings, but her rise was slow and methodical, as though her consciousness needed a few minutes for pre-flight checklists and spooling up. She was in a well-furnished bedroom, the walls mostly covered by bookshelves. The little beam of light that had woken in came from the room's only door, lazily left half-open. As she righted herself, she felt the consequences of a caffeine crash thump against her skull. Yesterday's underwear was sweaty and had left uncomfortable strips of reddened skin on her, while the rest of her clothes formed a rough pile next to the bed. With deliberate moves, she cast aside the heavy comforter and turned to get up, the mattress's springs aching under the shifting weight. Her naked foot touched the hard ground, and she almost recoiled at the unfamiliar semi-cold of unheated solid parquet.

Time to get up.

Tiptoeing both for silence and to establish a more favorable heat transfer (or rather, lack thereof) with the floor, she snuck towards a nearby bookshelf, as if looking at them would answer her questions. She found a row of technical manuals for firearms of various stripes; their organization was roughly alphabetical, if haphazard in places. As if to counterbalance such cold facts, a collection of crime pulp novels stretched below, some of them worn down to the raw spine and pages with no cover left.

She filed all that away for later consideration, but first things first: You can't case a house when you need to pee.

The bathroom was right next door, the standard issue nightmare of white tiles, sink + mirror to one side and a shower cabin on the other. A towel holder hung from the far wall, while a metal basket filled with shampoo bottles hung from the top edge of the shower cabin. Without looking, she closed the door behind her and locked it, then removed her remaining clothes and stepped into the cabin.


Sharon was in the middle of a very long and comfortably hot shower when she heard the front door being unlocked; she could recognize Mark's footsteps by their heavy rhythm, a stomping beat as if he was compensating for all those places where he had to be seen but not heard. She rinsed some foam from her hair - for a macho guy with short hair, Mark sure had a lot of conditioner in his bathroom.

"Shar?" he called, and she heard the door snap closed behind him, then more footsteps. "Enjoying the shower?"
"Did you undress me?"
"Etiquette failed me." Thumping, a fridge being opened. "Dear Miss Manners," he began with a mocking inflection, "my girlfriend fell asleep before she could make it to the bed. Is it okay if I take off her clothes, and if so, to what degree? What if she doesn't like sleeping in her undies but objects to being naked? Can I dress her in a nightie? Do I get to choose which? If she wakes back up, how do I explain myself? And why are sleeping girlfriends so unbearably hot?"
"Thanks for the conversation, Lil' Marcus. Can I talk with Mark now?"
"You wound me, M'lady," he said, slamming the fridge door closed.
"That was Berkovitz's shield, by the way."

Sharon rinsed the last of the conditioner from her 'do, then turned off the shower, pushed the curtain aside and grabbed two towels on her way out. The big one she wrapped around herself, the small one around her hair.

"I said, that was Berkovitz's shield."
"In that case, I can definitely say that he wasn't there. Not with the Russians, not otherwise, he wasn't there."
"That's good."
"Yeah, I'd feel really bad if I had killed a cop."
"That's good, too. I called Whitton, he said Berk was undercover. Doesn't really shed any light onto the issue, does it."
"Look, all I know is that one of the Russkies had his badge."
"So they killed him."
"Probably. They're fucking crazy and they don't care."

Sharon rubbed the small towel through her damp hair as her eyes darted about for a blow dryer. No joy; her theory about Mark's mane-related vanity felt slightly shakier.

"But why?" she asked.
"I mentioned the 'crazy' part, right? I'm meeting Boris later today, I'm going to ask him."
"Do you have a spare toothbrush?"
"You can use mine."

Sharon snatched the toothbrush from the glass it was in, filled said glass with half water, half mouthwash and swished it for a good couple of seconds before spitting the result back into the sink. She regarded the toothbrush for a second, then put it back into the glass and set it down on the sink.

Time to play dress up.


Unsuitably dressed - what is it with guys and band t-shirts, and why, oh why, did it have to be Journey? -, Sharon limped into the living room. The pair of jeans from Mark was quite a bit too long for her, to say nothing of their tendency to ride down her hips despite using the last hole in the belt. Since everything in nature must have an opposite, the pair of boxer shorts was headed upwards instead. (Small mercy: Sharon had no idea that people were doing this intentionally on the Left Coast. The thought might have shattered her remaining faith in humanity.) Finally, there was the matter of footwear, but she walked al natural - Mark's stockpile of socks (A sockpile?) would never wrap its filthy mojo around her toes, no Sir.

The living room had the windows both bedroom and bathroom lacked, though most of them were shuttered half-closed at the moment. The parquet just stopped a few feet from the fireplace, where the ground abruptly transitioned to stone tiles. In another corner stood a small armchair with a plastic folding table in front of it, opposite a TV with a mess of wires leading down to a brickish VCR. The bookcase theme continued, though those were filled with videocassettes - more than Sharon had ever seen in one place outside a rental shop. In another corner stood a stereo system, topped with a record player and a case of LPs.

Must be nice to have disposable income.

"The guns are in the basement, in case you're wondering," Mark said with a smirk.
"Let me guess: this is not your house."
"Technically, it belongs to a guy named Winston Cooper. Large fella. Looks a lot like me."
"A lot, huh?"
"We could be fuckin' twins. What matters is that Winston paid cash, has all his taxes in order and doesn't do anything the Homeowners' Association frowns upon. Bulletproof ID, social security, all the stops."
"Crime pays, huh?"

Mark smiled, with just a tinge of guilt on his lips. With a few tentative steps, she approached the stereo, her eyes locked on the prize.

"Uh, you can just put some music on," Mark said. "Are you hungry?"

She knelt down next to the LP case and browsed his collection. Stupidly obvious, for the most part, except for...

"You said you can waltz, right?" she said.
"Used to, yeah."
"Slow waltz or Viennese?"
"Slow...I guess."
"Perfect. Do you feel like dancing?"

Before he had a chance to respond, she had the record on the table and the needle on the vinyl. As the music started playing, she turned to look at him.

"Yeah," he said. "Yeah, I could go for that."


Journey shirt on the floor.

Spent as much time picking it out as she spent wearing it.

Totally worth it.


Mark's fingers hooked into Sharon's reddish hair, slowly rifling through it while she turned her head and snuggled up closer to his chest. They hadn't gotten past the cuddling stage, and Mark desperately wanted that to be okay when his endocrine system put every effort into calling for escalation.

"Am I teasing you again?" she asked playfully.
"God, yes."
"You know..." she began, then thought better of it.

After a few precious seconds, she answered.

"Not to kill the mood, but I actually have a serious question."
"Of course you do."
"If you had to leave me...would you do it?"

At least that took care of his erection.

"Have to leave you?"
"You have responsibilities."
"Sure, but..." Mark said, trying and failing to stop this train of thought.
"And as soon as I become a danger to the cartel..."
"Don't talk like that, Shar."
"No matter what I do..." she began to say, but he wrapped his arm around her shoulder and drew her in closer.
"You're not alone, Shar," he said, a tangle of emotions stuck in his throat and bubbling out in a random cadence. "You're not alone."

He drew her closer still, feeling her heartbeat mix with his. Felt her I become a We. Felt what could be, felt what couldn't be.

And he thought about the things he had to do.

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