An easterly wind blows
Lord Thornbow leaned back; the leather desk chair squeaked slightly as he did so. Mr. Patel stood to the right of his boss’s desk, facing the visitor, his eyes had a distracted look about them, but his ears taking in all.
“I might have a way, but,” the supplicant began, his accent thick, but Thornbow cut him off mid-sentence.
“I am wholly uninterested in ‘mights,’ Takuya-san. Have you, or have you not?”
The visitor hesitated, and shuddered slightly, either in fear of his host or his proposed solution, he knew not. “Hai. Y-yes.” He nodded, his body language communicating that he was pulling out the last resort option, an option he would sooner not have to use. It was not too late, he mused, though if he continued on this course, the point of no return was imminent Mr. Patel excused himself to the small private office just off that of his Lordship’s. The smaller room was wired for sound, so he would be able to hear the offer without Takuya knowing. His choice was now made. There was no turning back.
As the Japanese visitor handed over a folder he pleaded with Lord Thornbow, “In exchange for this you must promise me two things. I must regain complete control of my family, and,” dropping his voice to a whisper, “He must die, he must—this I demand.”
Thornbow slowly turned the pages in the folder, moistening his the tip of his index finger as he did so to facilitate the action. He did not answer until he had completed the dossier. As he closed the folder he deigned to answer. “Agreed, but you must leave the artifact with me.”
Takuya opened his attaché case and removed a small chamois bag with a drawstring at the top and handed it across the desk to Lord Thornbow, who opened it and removed a piece of mineral greatly resembling obsidian, about the size of a child’s fist. Oblong, tapering to the end to form a blunted point, the dark glass-like substance seemed to have a luster to it belying its black hue. Lord Thornbow noted that it was surprisingly warm to the touch.
“When she has completed the task for me, when delivery is made, I will return this to you, and not before. Then he will die. The control of your family will once again be yours. I need not say, Takuya-san, that I am a man of my word.”
“No, indeed, Your Lordship, you need not,” was the answer the Japanese visitor gave as he stood and then bowed formally.
Mr. Patel returned and showed the visitor to the door.
It was a hot day in the concrete jungle that is Manhattan. Alan waited on the stoop in the early morning, the contractor due to arrive at any moment. A few minutes before nine Wilkins arrived, his briefcase bulging. The closing on the house, a medium-sized single-family brownstone in the West Nineties, just west of Amsterdam Avenue, had taken place at Wilkins’s office the Friday before, and Jack would be arriving in two days, renting an apartment on a short-term basis at the Apthorp until the renovation and modifications were complete. Alan was glad to see Stan, because he himself did not have a set of keys with which to allow the workers to enter.
Wilkins pressed Alan about coming into the office one day over the coming week. “It’s a feeding frenzy! The amount of money just laying around is enormous. I’ve talked to Bernard, and he thinks this contract could just about equal all of the work the company has ever done, in pure dollar amounts.” The chaos in Iraq, specifically the looting of the National Museum and Library had necessitated the U.S. government to put out a request for bids for contractors to coordinate the restoration of the collections, including recataloging all of the recovered items, and a setting up of a system, in conjunction with Interpol, for tracking the illicit trade in looted artifacts. “We’re talking low eight figures, Alan. We need to set up a conference call with Rome, us, and Neil. We need Neil back here, or at the very least, in Rome. We need to hire a lobbyist, someone who knows who has the juice in Washington, and most importantly we need Jack to get in on this. He has the most knowledge.”
“Yeah, totally,” Alan put in, trying to stanch the lawyer’s over enthusiasm. “I’ll talk to him when he gets in. Pencil in Thursday or Friday, but I’ll let you know.” He checked his watch, worried about the parking meter and missing Kate’s flight. “It’s a good thing Jack can travel so soon,” he added absently, as he bid a good day to his attorney, and headed to his car.
Kate’s flight was late, so he bought a coffee from a stand in the Marine Air Terminal at LaGuardia. She had taken off from a small airport in Maine, and then transferred to the shuttle in Boston. When the flight arrived, only about ten minutes late, Alan watched the stream of passengers as they came out, but Kate was one of the last off the plane. “Am I ever happy to be home,” she said wearily as they made their way to out of the terminal.
At first glance she looked good. Alan had never really seen her with a tan, but even her near-religious application of sun block during her canoe trips in Maine had not prevented Kate’s usually porcelain from bronzing. She was wearing a halter top tucked into khaki shorts, and sandals. Her upper body was toned, real definition to her arms, but her belt was cinched tight. Alan could tell she had lost weight, and she looked over-thin. They kissed in the terminal, the commuters averting their eyes to their wet reunion, and he took her duffel bag and led her to the car.
“What are you doing?” he asked with alarm as she began unbuckling his belt, leaning over his groin to better see what she was doing.
“You have to ask?” she giggled.
He grasped her by the shoulders and put her back in her seat. “Not here,” he said with a grin. “Patience,” he counseled, pulling out of the lot and steering the car towards the Grand Central Parkway.
The ride back to their hometown was fast due to the lull in heavy traffic common at midday. Kate filled him in on the going on of her summer.
“Well, for a pilot project, it went really well. We had three groups of girls, and each group spent a week in the canoes, and then three days doing life skill building exercises. This summer we put through thirty girls in three groups in forty-five days. Next summer I want to double that, so I’m going to start drafting grant proposals for next year right away.”
“Isn’t it your dad who hands out the grant money?” he asked with a smirk, not taking his eyes off the road so she couldn’t see the expression on his face.
“Yeah,” she admitted, “But don’t forget, there’s still all the committees each proposal has to pass, and then the board of directors.”
“Yes, the board of directors. Your aunts and uncles. Cousins. Your brother Cal. Your dad’s old college roommate.”
“It still has to be a good proposal,” she sniffed.
“Are you going to do it yourself, or get professional help?”
“I’m thinking that if I can squeeze the money out of the foundation I’ll hire a full- or part-time employee. Something to talk to my dad about. Someone t handle all of the organizational stuff, and the proposal writing, and I’ll just supervise and participate in the summer programs.”
“Cool. It’s nice to see you getting into something like this.”
Michiko did not understand why the abbot of her monastery wanted to see her. A novice, a boy of twelve or thirteen, had interrupted her in the midst of her morning meditations, not at all a happenstance occurrence, handing her a small square of rice paper with the message upon it. Straightening her robes as she stood, she followed the boy through the hewn-stone passageways to the central courtyard. The novice stopped in place as she crossed the open area to the opposite side, towards the abbot’s office, not following her along.
She scanned the boy’s mind as they parted, hoping for a clue as to the nature of this unusual summons. She had lived at this holy place near the northern end of Hokkaido almost half her life, rarely even leaving its walls. Now twenty years of age, at first a novice, then a student, and now a Mistress of the Art, a teacher of others; the last nine years had been spent honing her skills, deepening her abilities. Sadly, however, her sweep through the mind of the young messenger told her nothing. It was, of course a breach of protocol for her to even probe him at all, but he was new, unskilled in the Art, and would know nothing of her trespass. She was only slightly worried that the abbot would learn of her bad manners; he himself had recently told her that her own skills surpassed his, implying that at his retirement he planned to push for her to succeed him, to become the abbess. As she reached the entrance to the abbot’s place she put her worries behind her, confident she could suppress within her the act she had just committed from his ken.
The door to the abbot’s office stood before her, a door made entirely of wood, not a nail or any other metal a part of it. Even the hinges were of wood. The ritual upon entering his office was simple. One did not knock, but merely pulled the door and entered. There was a small stand holding a candle, and the visitor lit the candle, which illuminated the anteroom. The anteroom was separated from the main room by a rice paper screen, and the abbot would know the visitor had arrived by seeing the light from the opposite side of the screen. Michiko did this, and then knelt. Mere seconds passed before the abbot bade her to enter.
“Much of what I am about to explain to you, young mistress, will not seem to make any sense to you, but listen you must nonetheless.”
He continued: “From time to time masters and mistresses are required to do service outside these walls. Often in the past, young one, these tasks have been distasteful, perversions of our code. Service to the Empire, to the emperor himself, made demands on our order, demands we would have been happier not to undertake. Gladly, those days have passed.
The abbot reached for a small glass of water on the table between them, and Michiko did likewise.
“I regret to inform you that your services are needed, needed outside the confines of our monastery.”
A loud knock on the outer door interrupted him, startling them both. The abbot closed his eyes, frustration and dread upon his face. “Enter,” he sighed. The new party opened the door and pulled the screen open without invitation. The man who intruded was big, especially for a Japanese, more than six feet tall. He wore a black Western-style suit, a white shirt with solid black necktie, but what caught her eye the most was the collar. Not the collar itself, but what was peeking out from the top of it. She saw the edge of a lick of flames, brilliantly inked into the man’s skin.
A gangster. The last sort of outsider she had ever expected to contaminate the purity of this place.
“This man,” the abbot said, not bothering with proper introductions, “Will inform you of your task.”
The gangster grunted, at which the abbot blanched.
“If you would be so kind,” the abbot said to the Yakuza, gesturing to the door, but the man failed to budge. His mission orders were explicit: once in sight of the mistress he was not to leave her side until she was delivered to Tokyo.
<You must follow him, Mistress Michiko. The future of our order depends upon the success of your mission.> the abbot projected.
<Why, Abbot, why?>
<I wish there was more time to explain, young mistress, but this barbarian arrived sooner than I had expected. The stone has been stolen, held for ransom by this man’s obuyan. It will be returned if you complete the task. I do not have to tell you what this means for our order. Go with him.
She bowed to her abbot and followed the man out. In the car to the airfield she scanned the gangster’s mind, finding no information contained therein the slightest bit helpful.
When Alan and Kate arrived at her house they found it empty. Conchita, the family maid, was on a long vacation, Pauline was at her job, as was her dad. The question her mom’s whereabouts were solved by a note left on the kitchen table.
Welcome home. Sorry I’m not here to see you, but Aunt Vicky fell in her apartment. We think it’s her hip, and I’m at NYU Medical Center dealing with the doctors. You can reach me on my cell if you need to.
“Who’s Aunt Vicky?” Alan asked, reading the note over her shoulder.
“Not my aunt, my mom’s aunt. She’s like really old, eightysomething.”
“Oh yeah, I think I met her at Pauline’s sweet sixteen.”
“Probably. You know what this means? We have the house to ourselves.” She took his hand and led him to the stairs, but they were interrupted by the ringing of his cell phone. It was a steady BEEP BEEP BEEP, rather than its usual trilling ring, signifying that this was a call coming in on the secure line. Alan released her hand and answered the call.
“Sorry about this, I have to take this call,” he said to her as he brought the phone up to his ear.
“Yes, Karick, it’s me.”
“I’m back in New York, at the office. You have to come in. Now.”
“Now?” he asked with some exasperation. He was really looking forward to some alone time with Kate.
“Yes, it’s imperative. Are you at home?”
“No, at my girlfriend’s.”
“Good. Do not go back to your house.” Karick hung up.
Slightly puzzled, Alan pocketed his own phone and shrugged his shoulders as a form of apology to Kate. She had heard his side of the conversation, so he didn’t need to explain. “I’ll see you later,” he said as he kissed her cheek at the door.
Karick had called immediately after he had cleared customs at JFK, and his cab reached the entrance of the office building just as Alan was walking up.
“What’s the big deal?” Alan asked as they entered the building. Karick put his finger to his lips and whispered that he wanted to wait until they were behind closed doors. Locking the door behind them the former Czech intelligence agent rushed to the computer in the corner and booted it up.
“So?” Alan asked again.
“The team in London. They’ve spotted him. He’s moving. Coming here. The Indian, Patel.” Karick often spoke like this when he was excited or anxious, spitting out short sentences in machine-gun fashion. He beckoned Alan over and tilted the screen. A slideshow of surveillance pictures was running, the first showing Patel, the man who had arranged Alan’s kidnapping last Thanksgiving weekend (which Karick had carried out), leaving a Belgravia mansion in a black car. Karick’s London team had trailed the car to Heathrow, calling him on the way, and Karick had grabbed the next flight. It was the first time the London team had spotted Lord Thornbow’s right hand man since last year.
“Where is he now?”
“The Marriott in midtown. I have a small group watching the hotel.”
Alan understood why his summons had been so urgent. Patel meant trouble. “So what now? I can’t go home?”
“No, I have a team headed up to your place right this moment. I needed you here, and not there, to give them time to get settled.”
The phone on the desk started to ring, and Alan answered. It was Jack, calling from London.
“Sorry to put a bit of a scare into you, young man, but Tadeusz and I discussed it, and we decided that his place was next to you, for the moment.”
“No, no, it’s cool. I understand. When are you coming in?”
“Two days from now, and a good thing, too. I think I’ll be needed. When my step-brother makes his move through this Patel fellow he will be in for quite a surprise. I don’t think they reckoned they were going to face two Vessels, as opposed to just you.” He bade his good-byes and hung up. Five minutes later Karick’s team called in to say they were in place. Alan agreed to lend his car to Karick for a few days. It was better that way, anyway, since Thornbow’s people undoubtedly knew of his, and he could always borrow either his mom’s or dad’s.
“Be careful,” Karick said as Alan walked out into the hall. The door to the office clicked shut behind him.
The burly gangster said nothing to her on the drive to the airfield, instead concentrating on the road. To her surprise, upon leaving the abbot’s office, she saw that her belongings had been packed into a small suitcase, her sword in its scabbard placed neatly to the side.
A small private plane was waiting on the field’s lone runway, its engines already turning, and they boarded forthwith. Thankfully, from her point of view, the gangster (his name Kozo, a fact he had not volunteered, she had to steal it from his mind) took the seat farthest from hers. Without having anything better to do with her time she leaned back in the plush seat and slept. Danger would come to her, she knew, but it was on a distant horizon; Kozo, though dangerous, was not the slightest danger to her.
The sun was high in the sky, near midday, she guessed, as the plane began its descent. The change in pressure, that faintly uncomfortable popping of the inner ears, awakened her. A limousine was waiting for them at the bottom of the small set of stairs which protruded from the aircraft’s hull, but to her surprise Kozo did not follow her in after depositing her things in the trunk. The chauffeur closed the door right after she had settled in and pulled away with her alone in the rear. The windows were dark, not merely tinted but completely opaque; the divider separating her from the driver was raised, so her view of the outside was entirely blocked. She shut her eyes and opened her mind, her powers allowing her to follow the route precisely. They were leaving the city, traveling southwest. The highway was jammed as always, and the going slow. She opened her eyes, no longer interested, deciding instead to use the time to meditate.
Lost within herself she was shaken out of her trance by the opening of the door. The chauffer offered her his hand as she got out of the car, but she gestured him off. The house before her was modest in size, but the garden was large. She walked the path the driver had indicated, and it was less than a minute before she came upon her host. He stood square in the path, blocking any progress. He welcomed her and invited her to a small sitting platform next to the garden’s artificial pond. The man was all business, and their conversation was short.
Quickly they went through the dossier, and in less than a half hour after arriving she was back in the limo, headed back to the airport; a copy of the dossier and a mobile phone awaited her on the back seat in the limo’s passenger compartment.
Though her host had told her his name was Hiroshi, she knew that he was Takuya Tagumi older brother of the head of one of Tokyo’s biggest Yakuza clans. One of his men had stolen the crystal, and in return for her first killing this Alan Marshall person, and then performing the other more distastful act which she chose at that moment not to dwell upon, her order’s property would be restored. On this she concentrated, caring little about the target himself. Her training, which included hours in the classroom participating in long and drawn out ethical debates, should have stirred revulsion within her at the mere thought of this mission, but she was following the dictates of her abbot, the head of her order, and so was able to push these feeling to the back of her mind.
On the long flight over the Pacific she reviewed the dossier repeatedly; according to it Alan Marshall was a Master, like she was, but his power was derived from some other source. There were no gaijin in her monestary, and knew of no other similar institutions. If he really did posses powers like her own, which a small part of her doubted, she would have to move swiftly. She could not afford to stalk him for any significant amount of time, for he would be able to sense her presence. Her contact in New York, a man named Patel, would tell her where the boy could be found, and she would set out for his location forthwith, and do the deed. She would work at night.
“What was that all about?” Kate asked on the ride back to her house from the station a few hours following his abrupt departure.
“Just some report I was working on. The deadline was moved up, so I had to go into the office to put on the finishing touches and send it off.”
She kissed him. “Well, it’s nice to have you back, but unfortunately we’re no longer alone.”
As she led him into the house he heard voices from the kitchen. Pauline was back from her summer job, and was chatting with their brother Cal, their Mom, and to Alan’s surprise, his mom as well. The were all having dinner together, the Marshalls and the Van Devanters. The dads were on their way, taking the next hour’s express from the city together.
Dinner was taken in the dining room, for with all of the members of the two families present the kitchen table would not have been big enough to accommodate. It was still early when the plate were cleared away by Kate, Pauline, Cal, and Alan. Cal was going into Manhattan to meet up with some of his college buddies (borrowing Kate’s car), and Pauline was going to the movies when her boyfriend, Brian, whose summer job didn’t let out until 8, was able to pick her up. Alan and Kate set out on foot for a jaunt around the neighborhood. The two sets of parents were in the den, Mr. Van Devanter setting up for a four way game of Scrabble.
As the reached the foot of the Van Devanter’s drive Alan held out his crooked arm, and Kate weaved hers through it. Arm in are they walked, and it wasn’t long before they had tunred off Westervelt Road and onto Vaughters Lane. Alan’s house was near the end of the cul-de-sac. The didn’t talk much on the walk over, Alan distracted by the ominous reappearence of Thornbow’s agent, and Kate was a little tired from traveling, and just happy being with him. Alan stuttered his step at seeing the surveillance van parked two houses up the lane from his own, but Kate didn’t seem to notice, lost in her own thoughts.
After they climbed the three porch steps to his front door Kate wrapped her arms around his torso and pulled him down into a kiss. Breaking the kiss Alan smiled and put his mouth to her ear, licking and sucking at the lobe. She ground her body against his, her long skirt swaying in the light breeze, the hem of its soft material tickling her calves.
“How much time do you think we have,” she asked, her voice muted, breathless.
“Hmm...at least one Scrabble game amount of time,” he said back, releasing her ear to do so.
She plunged her hand into his pants pocket.
He straightened up with a jolt. “Hey! Not out here.”
“No, silly,” she giggled, continuing to fish around in his pockets, “I’m just looking for your keys.”
Upstairs in his bedroom they stood at the side of his bed as they undressed eachother. Alan leaned into her and she fell back onto the bed, her skirt on the floor, her blouse unbuttoned and open. Something was bothering Alan, and had been since he had collected her from the airport, and now, watching Kate take off her blouse it dawned on him. He could see Kate’s ribs through her skin. When he had hugged her at La Guardia she had seemed slighter to him, but seeing her full in the flesh was nearly shocking. The cups of her bra were loose around her breasts, and her panties were similarly baggy, the elastic of the waistband bunched up around her hips. Her skin was ever so slightly slack over her flesh.
Kate could sense something was wrong just by the way he was looking at her. Her feelings of concern was mirrored by the look of worry in his eyes. She followed his gaze down her body.
“Lost a little weight on the trip. But it’s not that bad. A little aerobics, and some other stuff, and I’ll tone right up. Been meaning to shed a few pounds, anyway.”
“A few pounds, Kate? How many have you lost?” he asked her pointedly, his tone demanding
She sat up on the bed and looked away from him, his staring highly unnerving. “Fifteen,” she answered in a tone so low Alan had to strain to make it out. A small clear drop formed at the corner of her eye, and she turned away farther, swinging her legs over the far side of the mattress, so he wouldn’t see. “You think I look awful, don’t you?” she sniffed. Alan sat down on the bedspread behind her and enveloped her in his arms.
“No, baby, no,” he soothed her. “It’s just,” he paused, his mind floundering for the right way to put what he needed to say into words, “It’s just that you look so, uh, unhealthy, that is, I mean to say, it just seems so unhealthy for you to have lost this much weight.”
She wriggled out of his grasp and fell on him. “I’m sorry,” she sobbed.
“Don’t apologize. You had a very strenuous summer, and the food couldn’t have been that good, right?” She nodded, her silky black hair running up and down over his chest, hot tears dripping over his skin. He held her awhile longer, until she mostly quit shivering, and then she looked him in the face and drew him into a kiss, which warmed her to the point that her trembling ceased in full. She positioned him on his back and then straddled him, reaching around behind herself to deal with the clasp of her bra, but before she could release it he opened his eyes and took her in again.
“Milkshake,” he said evenly.
Kate stopped what she was doing. “Pardon?”
“Milkshake,” he repeated, scooting out from under her. “Get your clothes on, were going out for milkshakes. Maybe some chili fries, too.” He gave her a playful sway on the ass.
“Uh, Alan, don you want to, uh, you know?” she asked with a blush.
She didn’t move except to drop her hands from the clasp, and looked at him with an uncomprehending gape.
“Do I need to make it an order from you Master?”
She grinned, reaching for her blouse.
She was achy and tired from the long flight. Following the instructions she had removed from the pouch back in the second limo she hailed a cab and directed it to midtown, to the Marriott. Halfway across the Triboro bridge the cell phone in her pocket rang, and she answered it promptly.
“You have arrived?”
“Good. Listen and do not speak. Your room has been reserved. You will find further instructions and information in there. I will be in touch with you by means of this phone regularly. We have been tracking the boy’s movements, and we will let you know where he can be found when the time is right to move against him. You are understandably weary from your travels. I will call again tomorrow, around midday.” The caller clicked off.
She didn’t like the sound of what she was hearing. She was the trained Mistress of the Art, and she, she felt, should be the one deciding when the correct time was to make her move. If the target was as dangerous as the dossier had made him out to be then only she was qualified to be the judge of these things. Too tired to be indignant she settled back into the seat of the cab, looking forward to a long night of sleep and an uninterrupted meditation session in the morning.
“You have some chocolate on your chin,” Alan told her, an amused tone to his voice. She ran her finger over it and licked it off. Alan had just started up his dad’s station car, an ancient Cadillac sedan, more than twenty years old, only used by Mr. Marshall to drive to and from the Metro-North station on work days. The engine was old and somewhat unreliable, and the car never left the borders of their small suburban village.
They had had a nice time at George’s, the diner/ice cream parlor. As they entered they saw old classmates arrayed around the establishment in knots and bunches. A few friends who hadn’t yet been seated when Alan and Kate arrived invited them to join them, and the hostess led them through the restaurant section to a booth in the back, away from the jam packed ice cream counter. Alan ordered a large chili fries for them to share, and a coke, and Kate chose a chocolate milkshake. All in all they spent a happy hour, gorging themselves and catching up with friends.
“Well, that was fun,” he offered, and Kate agreed.
As he turned off State Street towards their neighborhood she put her hand on his arm. “No, keep going, up to Staunton Road.”
“Huh?” he asked.
“Trust me,” she shot back, a sly smile crossing her lips. She directed him to a back road, behind the old, now disused, post office, and he pulled the rickety car into a small opening among a copse of trees. In an instant they were in the spacious backseat. As they kissed Kate pulled his shirt from out of his waistband and ran her palms up and down his body. Alan had his hands on her butt, massaging her gently. She moaned, her tongue vibrating within his mouth, and before long he was stripped to the waist. Now it was Alan’s turn to moan.
Kate had broken their kiss, attacking his nipples with her lips and tongue as her hands went furiously to the task of unbuttoning her blouse and shedding her brassiere. That done, she slipped out of her skirt as he was unbuckling his belt. She grabbed at the waist of his chinos and yanked them down, her fingertips curling around to grab his briefs as well. As Alan kicked off his pants from around his ankles and sat back, she descended on his hardening cock, first licking around the head, and then taking him in a few inches. He ran his fingers through her dark hair as she did this, and it wasn’t long before he was completely erect.
He pulled her off of him and laid her down on the wide bench seat. She scooted back and brought her knees up, spreading them just enough so he could settle between them. As he caressed her inner thighs as he moved to her, she began to hum to herself. It had been ages, she realized, since she had been with him last, and she really missed it. His shaft settled against her moist and hairless slit, and she loosed a small moan, calling out to him. Slowly he rubbed himself against her tacky flesh, and after a very short while his cock was coated with her secretions.
“Oh, Alan, yes,” she hissed as he entered her slowly, their eyes locked to each other’s. Before she knew what was happening he was laying atop her fully, his mouth once again pressed to hers, his slithering tongue seeking hers. He began to fuck her gently, only very gradually upping his pace, and even then he never approached a full head of steam. To Kate it seemed to be going on forever. He moved back into a crouch after a few minutes, and she could see the moonlight shining off their sweaty bodies. The insides of the car’s windows began to steam up as she moaned out her passion. He was still giving it to her slow, and it was inscrutably pleasurable, his thrusts making her climb higher and higher on a ladder of ecstasy, though not permitting her to make the ultimate leap. Through near chattering teeth she began to chant, “Alan, Alan, Alan...”
He realized something as they made love. He had been home for nearly a week, but until this moment he hadn’t really felt fully returned. Being with Kate was special to him, though she wasn’t his only partner, and wouldn’t be going forward. Lost in his musing he wasn’t paying full attention to her, and the suddenness of her climax startled him back into the here and now. Her back arched, and she let out a stifled scream, her teeth grinding together in an attempt to control her volume. Alan at last began to increase the rapidity of his thrust, and after a few minutes of this they came together. He collapsed, falling off the backseat for a moment before righting himself. Kate turned on her side and made herself small against the seat back and the snuggled together for a while, chatting of frivolities, her hands languidly rubbing all around his bare chest. The necked for a bit, and then redressed and made for their neighborhood, laughing at their luck at not being caught.
The sleep did her good, though she had found the soft mattress less confortable than her usual spartan sleep mat. She was up more than two hours before the call was expected, so she meditated for one of those hours, and used the other to do her sword exercises. If she had her way she would move against him this very night. She was anxious for the call to come, and anxiety was very out of character for her. With nothing left to do she went over the maps and photos once again. There was a particularly good aerial shot of the target’s house, and she pored over it, focusing on the large tree in the front yard. A good place to conceal one’s self, a good place from which to strike. Five minutes after five. “What is this delay?” she thought. The phone chirped, and she speeded over to the table to answer it.
The whole day seemed off putting. Something was seriously wrong. If he was more of a comic book fan he might have said his spider sense was tingling. As it was, all day long the small hairs on the back of his neck were standing on end.
He didn’t know it, but Jack was having the same experience. All through his long trans-Atlantic flight he couldn’t shake the feeling that something was going wrong. He had planned to head straight for the sublet apartment, but by the time he landed he had changed his mind, directing Karick to drive straight to Alan’s house, hoping against hope he was not too late.