(This is late from the week of 2/10/14)
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Maria leaned in close to
Lesstin, letting him hold some of her weight on his arm. “It's just
not the best neighborhood, you know?” She kept her voice low, and
aimed toward his ear, as if afraid that saying so would summon her
A cool breeze whirled down
the dark city streets, tugging at leaves edged in yellow and orange,
pulling the tails of Lesstin's coat. Maria wrapped her arms around
her body to hold in a shiver. Even in the dim glow spilling from the
street corner lights, he could see the goose bumps on her arms.
“Here,” he said, wrapping
his suit coat around her shoulders. “If I'd known it was going to
be this chilly, I might have brought a coat.” He left it unsaid
that he had brought a coat, but she had only worn a thin dress. It
put her athletic body on good display, but she had been shivering
even when they left the house.
“Or you could have parked
closer,” Maria threw back. After fifteen years of marriage, she
knew what he meant.
Down to three layers, if he
counted the vest, now it was Lesstin's turn to feel the cold. Well.
Better than hearing about it for the whole ride home.
“There's no point in paying
for parking when there are open streets nearby.”
She made an annoyed sound
from the back of her throat. “You consider this nearby? We're ten
blocks off of First, and more than that from the restaurant.”
This wasn't a new argument.
“I offered to come pick you up,” he said. “You didn't want to
wait in the restaurant.”
“It's in the other
direction,” she said. But the tone of her voice said she wasn't
interested in the argument.
Lesstin changed the subject
to their meal, which they both agreed was nice, but overpriced.
“I think someone is
following us,” Maria threw into the conversation. It took Lesstin
several seconds to piece together what she could have meant.
“No,” he said, patting
her hand in a way he had seen actors do when calming a distressed
damsel. “There is no sidewalk on the other side of the street.
Where else do you want people to walk?” Lesstin refused to look
over his shoulder to check. He didn't want to encourage her
foolishness. It had nothing to do with not wanting to look bad to
whomever was actually behind them. Nothing at all.
“Is there some other way we
can go?” She asked. The nervous notes in her voice gave her a sharp
rasp. Lesstin suspected the people behind them could her her quite
easily, and wondered if they were whispering to themselves about the
paranoid woman in the red shoes.
“To our car?” Lesstin
asked, unsure of her intent. “Do you want a detour that adds ten
minutes to our three minute walk?”
She didn't have a good answer
to that, but Lesstin could tell she was nervous. A few months
together and he could tell when she wanted to talk. A few years, and
he could tell when she just wanted someone to lean on. After nearly
three decades, he could probably have quoted what she was thinking
just from the tremble in her shoulders, or the curl a the edge of her
“Here,” he said,
carefully moving to drop his hat on the ground. “Oops.” He spoke
louder than needed, and stopped, looking backward as he moved to
recover the hat.
A quick glance, and a smile
backwards spotted a pair of dark garbed men, who slowed awkwardly,
seeming more startled than they should have been. The taller of the
two frowned, and Lesstin would have sworn the man's lips formed a
word he wouldn't have said where his wife could hear it.
As they rounded the corner,
Lesstin affixed the hat to his head. “You might be right,” he
admitted. “But nothing to worry about. Our car is just ahead. If we
walk a little faster, I doubt they'll catch us.”
“What will,” Maria
started, then lowered her voice, as if they hadn't already heard her.
“What will you do if they...try something.”
He patted her hand again. Did
that actually help? He certainly felt better, having something to do.
Feeling a little manly, he affected a British accent. “Stiff upper
lip, and all that.” But he wasn't entirely sure. He knew he
wouldn't give them his wallet, or anything of the sort. “I've been
in worse trouble. I'm sure I can brush off a couple of hooligans.”
Another two blocks and they
turned onto a side road, where the bright lights of first street no
longer reached their fingers of light and glamour. He wasn't sure
which car was theirs. This time of night, the entire side street was filled. But they were most of the block up, under a large willow
tree. He thought.
They hadn't passed more than
two of the tall apartment buildings that lined both sides of the
street, when a bundle of young men stepped out from a particularly
dark alley. Maybe they were armed; Lesstin couldn't tell in the
“Wallets and phones,” one
of them said, a rough demand. He waved his hand at them. He gestured
to the clutch gripped in Maria's left hand. “And your purse.” In
the alley, movement said these three weren't alone.
He heard the men behind him
move up. They seemed to know these new bandits. Maybe the lot were
“You'll get nothing from
us,” Lesstin said, feeling brave and sure of himself.
For a moment, confusion
flashed over the tallest stranger's face. As if that response had
never occurred to him. Lesstin smiled, now quite sure of his victory.
Oh yes, these men would buckle.
Even as he watched, the
confusion vanished, and the man's eyes widened in rage. His lips
twisted into an animal snarl. He reached into his pocket, digging for something that bulged oddly in the half light. But his feet
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