Friday, February 18, 2005

Natalia clung to him for a moment, grinning into his chest. With only a moment’s hesitation, Walter slipped his arms about her shoulders and gave her a little squeeze. She giggled and took a step back, looking up at him with her intense dark brown eyes. As the night wore on, she would be cold in her miniskirt and high-heeled sandals, if she were still outdoors.

“So, is tonight the night, Walter? Do I finally get to feel you-“

“Not tonight.” It was a struggle to hold eye contact. He caught the little spark in her eye even before she smirked at him and punched him in the solar plexus. Surprisingly good swing for a girl her size, at which Walter smiled very slightly.

“I know. You’re one of those nice guys. Come on, buy me some coffee. It’s a slow night. Whatchu doing out here?” She walked beside him toward an all-night café, re-rolling the sleeves off her white button-down dress shirt.

Walter’s eyes lingered on her for a moment before he answered. “Trying not to think about a case. I hope to come back to it with a fresh mind later. Just airing out my mind tonight.”

Natalia nodded, pulling a pair of costume glasses from her purse and slipping them on. “Good idea. Get your mind off work and come see your favorite little ho.” She grinned at him mischievously.

He winced. “Natalia, that is not how I….” Strictly, it was an accurate description, but he hated thinking of her as a whore. The look on his face said exactly that, in no uncertain terms.

She laughed and looked away from him surreptitiously.

The young man behind the counter at the café saw them approaching. “The usual, right?”

“Ah, Donovan. Thanks for showing up.”

Councilor Donovan Llewellyn squeaked at the sudden noise and about-faced sharply. Somehow, he never heard Giovanni approaching. The young Councilor was wearing another expensive, form-fitting shirt and baggy slacks. One of his many nightlife outfits, though not one that the tabloids would latch onto. Not compared to some of the others. Giovanni bowed smartly to Donovan, hands in pockets.

“Giovanni. Looks like you’ve got other plans after this.”

And there was that twinkle in the young man’s eye once again. Whenever Donovan had seen that look in his own children’s eyes, he never hesitated to punish them. “Yeah, just a physical therapy appointment. You should try her sometime, Donovan. Get the hormones moving again.”

Donovan yawned, just in time to conceal a look of utter disgust. “Actually, I like my hormones how they are. Tepid. What did you want to discuss?”

“Geoffrey Harrison.”

It was silent for far too long before Donovan managed a reply. “Have you heard something?”

Giovanni appeared to look up at the sculpture above them, but was really watching the question hang in the air. The small pin attached the right pocket of his slacks, the knife of the Cult of Masael, caught the light.

“I heard he was a good worker.”

“Yes. Very thorough.”

Giovanni nodded, pointing his finger at Donovan. Exactly, the gesture said. The junior Councilor never took his eyes off the sculpture. “Do you think that’s why he was killed? Maybe he saw something?”

It certainly sounded like he was asking a question. “I can’t imagine what.” And honestly, Donovan couldn’t. There was certainly corruption in these halls, but it didn’t tend to get people killed.

Giovanni chuckled good-naturedly. “That’s good, I suppose. I mean, if you knew, you’d probably be in trouble!” He looked to the elder Councilor, and there was only laughter in his eyes. Still though, that kind of laughter Donovan hated to hear from his own children.

Donovan found his pulse climbing. “What do you know, Giovanni?”

“Know? Nothing you don’t,” he replied, looking Donovan in the eye. “I just wanted to say that I hoped you’d stay safe through all this.” With a soft, statesmanlike smile, Giovanni patted Donovan on the shoulder as he walked past. “Good night, Councilor.”

At such a time, Donovan would have expected himself to say something. But as the young man, his peer, made his way casually to the door, he could only muster: “Wait… what…”

“Sorry, got that appointment. No way I’m gonna be late for her.” And with a backwards wave, he was out the door.

It could have been an hour that Donovan Llewellyn stood there beneath the steel moebius strip, dumbstruck at the fact that Giovanni Tolermo had just told him to stay out of the way. Of what, he had no idea; which was, of course, was the worst part.
Kleinmann. He was investigating. He had to have discovered something.

“So you can’t talk about it?”

“Not legally,” said Walter. “I can say that it is a very disturbing murder investigation, but that’s all.” He took a sip of his house decaf, noting once again that he only drank coffee with her.

Natalia stirred her usual drink, a high octane mix of espresso and mocha. It occurred to Walter that he had never seen her drink anything without caffeine. She leaned onto his arm comfortingly. “I’m sorry. That’s no fun. It was probably exciting the first time, huh? But not anymore.”

Walter nodded in agreement. “True. The first time, I was out to prove myself, test my skills. But now, it is just…”

“Frustrating.” She gave him an understanding look. Not one of the practiced looks she gave her customers, but a look full of insight. Sipping her coffee, she gave him a little scratch on the back.

“Yes. Frustrating. I wish I could tell you more. Perhaps you could help me figure it out.”

“Pshh. Not my line of work, guy.” Her eyes jogged to the side as she took another sip, widening suddenly. “Ha. Work. Here comes my only appointment for tonight.”

Walter narrowed his eyes, looking up to see Councilor Tolermo emerging from the Council Halls just across the street, looking eager.

“Oh, come on, Walter. You’ll see me another night. Don’t be greedy.” She grinned at him, squinting as she did. It was the same look she gave him every time they parted.

Walter removed the look from his face as best he could and nodded to Tolermo. “Councilor.”

“Good evening, Court Officer. And hello, Natalie.” Tolermo wrapped an arm around her waist. “It was Natalie, right?”

“Mmm-hmm,” Natalia said. “Right this way.” She quickly led the young man off. “Good night, Walter. See you later.”

As Kleinmann waved, Councilor Tolermo looked over his shoulder and mouthed a name. Natalia. He smirked wickedly at Kleinmann and turned back around.

Donovan looked out the door to see, in the midst of the usual midnight crowd, Walter Kleinmann. The Court Officer had his back to Donovan, and seemed to be watching someone. What they had to discuss, Donovan thought, was best discussed in private. Perhaps in the morning, after he had tried, and likely failed, to get some sleep.

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