Chapter One: The Man
It had begun with The Man In The Shadows, and it would end with The Man In The Shadows. He stood, enshrouded by the darkness, reluctant to make a sound. A street lamp was buzzing beside him, but he ignored it, trying to conceal himself in the nearby alley. He knew it had been foolish to come, but he hadn’t been able to resist the temptation. He’d had to see her.
The Man In The Shadows sighed, waiting for the click-clacking of the heels he’d come to associate with her face.
The sound came with the easy splash of puddles from the rain that had ended only moments ago. The Man had been here since then, and he’d waited for her.
And now, here she was, oblivious to the man staring at her from the cover of the surrounding buildings. He allowed himself a grin.
And she’d claimed to be so phenomenal at her job! Oh yes, the keen
senses of a wolf! Hadn’t that been her brag only last week?
Yes, yes it had been, and The Man had laughed, saying that he could sneak up on her easily. She had retorted and he had replied with some sort of sarcastic remark, but he couldn’t remember his exact words now.
His thoughts didn’t stay with the memory long, for now she was at the door to her townhouse. She was going to reach for the keys, then tuck her purse beneath her arm. Her dark red hair would fall across her shoulders.
The Man smiled. Already her bun was coming undone, thick strands falling across her thin face. She had a very disheveled look about her that–to The Man In The Shadows–only made her more fetching.
He heard the jingle of keys.
She raised her head in order to better see. The shine from the street lamp illuminated her silhouette into a single dark outline.
The Man spent so much time staring at her that he forgot why he’d come until he heard the click of the lock.
He rushed from his place, still staying in the comfort of the darkness. He removed his hands from his pockets, and clasped one around her thin waist, the other over her mouth.
“And what do we have here?” he whispered.
He continued to conceal himself in the shadows–as he preferred–and led
her into the alley, whispering, “You know it’s a dangerous city. Dangerous times.
You should really watch yourself, Miss–”
He felt her struggle intensify, as he’d known that it would.
“What’s this? Can’t you get a clear shot at me? Honestly, you’d think someone with the keen senses of a wolf would have little difficulty.”
He heard her gasp, and could even imagine her eyes widening in anger. He released her, and she fell from his grasp, raising her purse over her head and throwing it at him.
“I swear, you are so–”
“Not the word that I was looking for.”
“Of course–it never is.”
She ran up to him, kneeling and retrieving her purse from the wet ground.
“Are you going to invite me inside?” he asked smoothly.
“I don’t see why I should after that little trick. You’re lucky I didn’t hurt you.”
“Yes, because you could have.”
“I’ll believe that when I see it.”
“Well, keep this stuff up and you might.”
“Did I hit a button?”
“You know you did.”
She turned on her heel, retreating back to the apartment. The Man In The Shadows followed, tucking his hands into his pockets.
“I didn’t say you could come in.”
“I don’t need an invite.”
“Oh, yes you do!”
“No. Not when I have bribery like this.”
She turned, her green orbs–The Man couldn’t help but notice how much like emeralds they were–turned upon him expectantly.
“Well, I can’t very well tell you here in plain sight, can I? No, that would be unwise.” A sardonic smile crossed his face, and he inclined his head to the door. “Allow me inside, and I might–”
“Oh, hush up!”
Her tone was indignant, but she opened the door nonetheless, allowing him to enter first.
He obliged, waiting for her to follow. She entered, swiping a loose lock of hair from her eyes.
There was a hallway leading both to the left and to the right. The halls were dimly lit, and The Man was immediately reminded of a hotel he’d once occupied. It had been in… Tennessee? Yes, that was the time, before the failed assassination, but after the counterfeiting. Yes, Tennessee. The name of the hotel escaped him, but he’d been forcibly reminded of a horror movie.
He was again reminded of the same horror movie, though he didn’t say
“You prefer the stairs, right?”
Her voice shook him from his thoughts, and he turned to face her. “Beg pardon?”
“Stairs, right, Mr. Fit-Exercise-Into-Everything?”
“Normally, but….” He trailed off, pulling at his pants leg; he revealed a long gash, some of the blood still wet.
The woman gasped, stepping back slightly.
“It’s not important. And besides, even if it was….” He rolled his hands to emphasize how easily they could be overheard in the hallway.
The elevator was directly across from the door, and she walked to it quickly, pushing the button. There was a slight rumble from inside the wall, signaling the elevator’s slow descent toward them.
She stepped back, staring into his cool gaze, which didn’t hint at any actual emotion. No, despite his humorous antics of the evening, his eyes were unusually somber.
“Could I take a guess?”
“How you were hurt.”
“I believe you know.”
“But will you tell me?”
“If you insist, but please save me from recounting every detail of my stunning heroics.”
“I wasn’t planning on asking about them.”
She turned toward him, smiling.
The elevator came, and he limped into it.
The doors closed and she turned to him. “I hadn’t even noticed.”
He released a hollow laugh. “That’s why I prefer darkness.”
“You enjoy hiding your weaknesses?”
“I enjoy pretending I don’t have any.”
The rest of the ride to the fifth floor, then the walk to room 512, was incredibly quiet and stiff. Only after they had entered her apartment and she’d done her best to bandage his leg, was the silence broken.
She was sitting across from him, her legs together. She had released her hair from its bun, and it was cascading beautifully down her shoulders, her stare was concentrated upon the window. The Man followed her gaze.
“Not much of a view.”
She turned toward him.
“The view. I don’t like it. It’s just the alley.” He grabbed at his injured leg, setting it upon the table, and stretching it as far as he could without wincing–
Because The Man In The Shadows didn’t wince. It was one of his rules. He had a lot of rules, and wincing was about number three. Right now, he was breaking number one–the most important rule.
He grinned at her, and nodded again to the window. “Not much of view.” He shrugged when there wasn’t any answer; instead, she rose to get the tea that was whistling from the kitchen.
The Man was alone for quite some time, and he spent his solitude staring at the bandages without any real thoughts entering his mind. He was tired–exhausted, actually.
Not that he would let her know.
That was the first word she had spoken in a while.
He nodded and took the silver cup she handed him. A thin wisp of steam rose from the brownish liquid inside, and he blew across it gently.
She followed the gesture, and sighed.
“So, now may I ask?”
“If you really want to.”
He nodded for her to continue, but his attention seemed to be focused more heavily on the tea than on what she was saying.
“Was it him?”
“No, actually, it was a Girl Scout. You see, I still haven’t paid her for the Thin Mints, and–”
“I want a serious answer.”
He sighed. He had joked, and yet his tone had remained even. When he spoke again, however, his voice was much softer.
“It was Cyrus, yes. But, I believe you already surmised as much?”
“Very well. I was there today. Things were going smoothly until–”
“When I said I didn’t want to know about your heroics, I wasn’t joking.”
He stopped, looking slightly crest-fallen; he regained himself quickly, however.
“I mean it. I don’t really care about knowing.”
“Fine! Have it your way!” He set his tea on the table; his voice had risen, but he calmed himself almost instantly. “I learned some things.”
She raised an eyebrow.
“You won’t like it.”
“Since when have I liked any news?” She took a sip of the tea, still held in her hand.
“That’s a good point.”
The Man In The Shadows sighed, and leaned toward her, his voice so low that she had to strain to hear him. Her eyebrows were knitted in concentration as she listened…
And then her eyes widened.
“That can’t be.”
“Will you let me finish?”
She nodded. He leaned in again, his whisper restored.
The silver cup trembled in her hand for a moment, before she let it fall from her worried grasp.
The Man jumped back slightly, his leg giving a sharp pang.
The woman swore loudly, leaping upward and reaching for a nearby box of tissues; she pressed them against the mess as quickly as she could. She cursed again, flipping her hair over her shoulders, her cheeks flushed.
When she looked up, she noticed that The Man In The Shadows was eyeing her strangely.
“What?” she snapped, but he merely replied with a shake of his head, and a small sigh.
“If you have something to say–”
“I’ve never met any girl who curses as much as you do.”
She seemed about to retort, then thought better of it, turning on her heel toward the kitchen.
The Man stared at the cup, still on the floor, and bent over to retrieve it.
“Don’t touch it; I’ve got it.”
“It’s not a–”
“I said–” She returned, armed with a towel and cold smirk. “That I’ve got it.” She pushed him harshly, causing him to fall back onto the couch.
A pillow was wedged uncomfortably against his back, but he didn’t dare move.
“You know, it’s a cut. I’m not paralyzed.”
“Well, you–” She stopped herself, rising from where she’d been patting the towel against the floor.
The Man stared as she sat beside him. When their eyes met, hers were more serious than they’d been all evening.
“You know what this means.”
“I’m aware of it.” The Man didn’t meet her eyes, but instead, stared resolutely ahead.
“If Cyrus knows–”
“I can still protect him.”
“Yes, you seemed to do an excellent job today.” Her voice was as hard as the liquor The Man now wished he could be drinking.
“He’s safe, isn’t he?” he spat.
“Safe? I don’t know. Where is he?”
She raised her eyebrows, and he made to leave.
“Why not?” He turned, snapping at her. “If you’re just going to mock my judgment–”
“I’m not mocking it. Just calm down–please, sit!”
The Man stopped; he was halfway to the door, but he’d paused at the frantic note in her voice.
“Listen, perhaps you’re a little bit….” She paused, as though choosing her words carefully. “Biased about what’s best.”
“You think the alternative is better?”
“Possibly. If the alternative saves his life.” Her voice was raising in pitch. The Man had long come to recognize this as a sign of aggravation, and he smirked.
“He’s perfectly safe under my watch.”
“I can see that!” She motioned toward his leg.
“Well, no harm came to him!”
“Are you sure?”
He reached for the doorknob, ready to leave. This conversation had taken an unpleasant turn, and he wanted out of it. He’d come for… for….
He didn’t know what, but not for this. If he’d wanted to be questioned, he would have went straight to the Department. No, he’d come to her for… something different, something he couldn’t get anywhere else.
He heard her speak his name, and looked again at her. “What?”
“Can you handle this?”
“Goodbye,” he spoke the word harshly, and swung the door open. The hallway was much darker than her apartment, and he smiled, releasing himself into the shadows. “You and I both know I need to be somewhere.”
Copyright Sarah Davidson 2020