From dailyprompt: “waking to a storm.”
Cole woke to a storm, thunder booming close by, lightening flashing through the blinds. He checked his cues before he moved: the sheathed antler-handle knife hanging off the bed, the tall blue vase sitting on the nightstand, the sheets, also blue, and the painting on the ceiling. His bed, his home, his world. No other permutation or variation he’d encountered had this specific set of things.
Home. Right. And alone in the bed, because tomorrow they were out again, and he needed to not wake up with his arm draped over a teammate somewhere unless he’d meant to do it. But it was just barely ten in the evening, according to his clock, (like the knife and the vase, a souvenir from another world, its workings more reliable than a battery when he spent more time gone than home). He had twelve hours until he had to report.
He contemplated the slim phone with its thick list of numbers, the rotary phone next to it, the drawer in his nightstand where he kept a stash of condoms and other necessities. Not tonight. Not and risk leaving someone sleeping in his apartment, or risk sneaking out like a thief in the morning. Anyone he could call deserved breakfast, and probably lunch and dinner, too.
Bar it was, then. He knew a few around here, and they knew him, but with the storm attacking the night sky, there was only one that seemed appropriate. He showered off the grit and dust of downtime, dressed, and headed through the rain to Any Port in a Storm.
The bar was quiet tonight – a Wednesday – with only a few regulars around, the rain keeping out all but the diehards. No college pickups here, no travelers relaxing after their business, although the stranger in the corner booth might be looking for a friend. Cole plopped down at the bar, and waited for Susie to bring him the usual.
“Been a while,” she murmured. “There were some folks in looking for you last week.”
“Knee-breakers or tax-takers?” And how the hell had they found his favorite hideout? There was more than Susie’s accounting to account for his cash-only business here.
“Neither. Law-makers, maybe?” she hazarded. “Or, you know, profs. They really looked like profs, and gave a couple of the juniors a panic.”
“Heh. Whatcha tell them?” He paid for the drink and the information with a folded bill.
“Cole who? No, we heat with oil.” She affected her pretty-ditz expression and, dutifully, he chuckled.
“Yeah, well, you pay the rent. Someone here tonight, though, didn’t ask for you, but she’s looking for something.”
“Oddly, I don’t owe anyone money right now.” In this world.
“Honey, she doesn’t look like the sort you pay, and I’ve never known you to pay for it anyway. She’s wearing at least three concealed weapons, five if you count the cleavage.”
“Oh lucky day.” He downed the drink and overpaid for another one. “Let’s see who she is, shall we?”
“You have fun with that. I’m going to hold the bar down so it doesn’t walk off.” She leaned her massive tits on the polished wood by way of demonstration; Cole patted the top of the left affectionately (in bed, she called one Suzie and the other Kwoozie) and took his drink and himself further into the dark ships’ boards of the Storm.
Ed, the insurance saleman. Mindy, his on-again-off-again mistress. The stranger with the expensive suit and the cheap phone – yep, not touching that one. A biker with three empty glasses and a half-full basket of nachos. None of them even looked at him. He wasn’t who they were here for.
The burgundy-red on white of spilled wine over marble caught his eye, gleaming even redder in the dim stained-glass-filtered light. Cole’s fingers tightened on his glass, and he nearly turned and left. He had to work tomorrow; he didn’t want to be working tonight.
She noticed him, of course, before he could leave. That was one of her skills. Xenia looked up from her tall, foamy glass of beer and waved at him, the languid way a cat’s tail waves warning. He waved back, a half-hearted three-fingered sort of thing, and joined her at her table.
“Tracked me down.”
“I do that.” Entirely unrepentant. “I wanted to see you.”
“There’s work tomorrow.”
“There’s always work. I wanted to see you in your element.”
“So you’re saying work isn’t my element. What, I’m out of place in the team I lead?”
She grinned at him and leaned over the table, like she was sharing some sort of big secret with him, her small tits peeking out of the top of her tank top, and whispered, “at work, you are the team, Cole. I just wanted to watch you at play.”
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