Interference Colors

Drin’s eye is caught by a glint of sunlight, and he glances downward as he puts away his briefcase from work.

Dance is curled up on his side on the couch, the game controller fallen out of his slack hand, and his hair has fallen over his eyes. Instead of turning on the a/c in the summer heat of the house, he’s changed into swim shorts that leave nothing to the imagination, and he’s conked out. The heat always makes him sleepy. As he breathes, ribs moving gently, little glints of sun flicker across his shoulder like a dusting of mica from beach sand. Drin is struck hard by the thought that he always felt Dance was beautiful, and it hits even harder the more he looks, because unglamorous totally conked-out sleeping Dance looks particularly wonderful right now. Dance looks like he should be asleep next to a driftwood fire, pulled out on some hot tropical afternoon, with a surfboard blocking some of the wind for him. Drin moves, and notices that bits of peeled skin coming off Dance’s back catch the slanting light in mica-like glints, an array of prisms that flare color.

When Drin shifts around from the end of the couch, he sees other patches like it lifting off Dance’s shoulder blades and the small of the back.

Dance’s skin is peeling from the last time he was out in the garden too long a few days back. When he gets burnt, he doesn’t bubble and turn red and painful like other people. He just itches, and sheds big scruffy patches of skin. But Drin has never seen such big patches before.

The sun catches little interference patterns on it in regular rows and patterns, prisms of colors in tiny lenses. It glints and sparkles. It’s not from sand.

Drin stands and looks at his beautiful sleeping musician for quite a long time.

Nothing appears to be visible until the skin is detached; and then it is suddenly full of these minute little flecks of reflective cells. Those little glinting cells are like nothing Drin has ever seen before. Slowly, Drin drags up a chair, and sits down, and props his face in his hands. Things are stirring to the light, far back in memories that make him flinch. He puts out his hand, and touches Dance’s ankle, strokes his foot.

Dance stirs, turning his head and lifting his hand out to Drin, and yawning. Drin takes the hand, kisses it, leans into it. Then he murmurs, “Hold still a moment, would you?” And he lifts one of the patches of peeling skin. “Look at this, would you?”

Dance scrubs at his eyes with his other hand, yawns again, and blinks at the fragment in Drin’s fingers. “Yes?” he says, puzzled.

“Look,” Drin says, and puts it in the shaft of sunlight from the window. Needles of color sparkle against the drapes.

Dance blinks again. “What? Why is it shiny like that?”

“Let me try another,” Drin says quietly. A great shard of it lifts away easily in his hand. A scrap the size of his palm hangs in the sun from his fingers. There is no mistaking the tiny little prismatic reflections.

Dance peers at it. “It looks like those shiny blue butterflies or something.”

Drin smiles. Typical, he thinks, that Dance would think of something harmless like Morpheus butterflies instead of something big and scary, like reptile scales. “Yes,” he agrees. “It’s pretty. I noticed it in the sun.”

“Well, that’s weird,” Dance says, twisting around effortlessly to peer owlishly at his own backside. Then he scrubs at the small of his back, sighing as it relieves the itch briefly. Glinting little crumbs scatter across his hand.

“Mind if I grab some of these for a look under a microscope? Somewhere at Emma’s work one of the conservators probably has a decent one.”

“Please to be my guest,” Dance says, puzzled. “How come? Why do you think it’s doing that?”

“That’s what I’d like to know,” Drin says calmly.

micrograph of Sunset moth wing scales
Sunset Moth scales

Dance cuts a look at him under his eyebrows. “Okay, talk,” he says, while he rolls around onto his belly, and props his chin onto his wrists, giving Drin access to his peeling skin. “Would you mind cracking my back too?”

“I would be happy to give you a good hard knee in the spine, if that will be enough to do it,” Drin says, bending and delicately pulling away dead skin. All of it that he checks on has the glints, but they appear in slightly different sizes from different parts of Dance’s body. The largest scales, if that is what they should be called, run at the small of his back. Which is strange, since that’s an area that gets a lot of bending and twisting and use.

Dance grunts. “Well, if you can bring enough weight onto it. Oooh, itch it at that spot right there, that’s been bugging me. Yeah, that’s it.”

“You’re as bad as the cat,” Drin says, scrubbing the meat of his palm into Dance’s back. He calls a halt, goes off into the kitchen, and tucks the bits of skin into a plastic bag. Then he returns to Dance, puts his knee between he upper slopes of Dance’s shoulder blades, and shoves his full weight down into Dance’s spine at a very precise angle. He can feel the little clunk of something like a joint, and Dance sighs.

“Better,” Dance says. “You know, one of these days it’s going to stop working, and we’ll have to figure out what to do about it. Some days it feels better if I leave it hanging out.”

“Hanging out?”

“That’s what it feels like. Like a chunk of something crooked that’s stuck half in and half out of my backbone, and it can’t decide which way to be, and either end of the extreme hurts like blazes, as Emma would say.”

Drin hears himself say coolly to Dance, in a strange far-away voice, “You’re coming unpinned, you know, and things are going to start getting weird if you do.”

Dance twists his head and looks up. “What? Drin? What was that?”

Drin stares at him. Nightmare images of smoke and flames billow past the living room furnishings, past Dance and his staring eyes. The bones in Drin’s hand crackle and burn and ache and he hears himself screaming again. Dance is still staring up at him, twisting around, coming up at him from the couch, warm palms touching him lightly and carefully on the arms. Dance knows. He never grabs first thing. He knows Drin is halfway in the past, where the screaming is.

Remember the creature who rescued you from the fire? It wasn’t human then, and it isn’t human now, says the strange voice in his head. The memory of those golden eyes superimposes itself over Dance’s face, matching up like a forensic checklist of skull landmarks, and then it all slides away from him again. And he’s falling, legs limp.

But Dance catches him. Pulls him in, floppy as he is.

Drin can hear himself panting into Dance’s chest. This is the way the nightmares often go away now, with Dance’s arms sliding up around him, drawing him down onto Dance’s body. Legs and arms embrace him. It helps. It shouldn’t. By all the guidelines, being grabbed should make it worse, but it helps him. He gasps into Dance’s hair, pressed close into the hot skin of Dance’s body, grabbed now as hard as Dance can hang onto him.

“It’s all right,” Dance says. “I’m right here. You’re home. You’re in one piece. You’re all right.”

Drin can feel himself gasping frantically for air. “Right. Okay. Sorry. Oh damnitall, I’m sorry, Dance. Shit, that was… that one came out of nowhere.”

“Just lay here a bit, let me hold you,” Dance murmurs, and kisses him. “It’ll make me feel better! You’re all right, love, it’s okay.”

It takes awhile before his heart rate goes down enough and he can think, and ask Dance what he said during it, because the memory of what he said is gone, shot through with smoke and pain and confusion. Dance repeats it, carefully, the way he always does when Drin asks this, because Drin usually doesn’t want to hear it again. He knows Drin only asks him to repeat it when it’s important, or seems to be.

“What does coming unpinned mean?” Dance asks, eventually.

Drin stares at him blankly. “I don’t know.”

“And who does you mean?” Dance asks then, because he knows all about linguistic confusions, and having to be careful about sorting them out. “You or me or the cat?”

And of course the cat takes that moment to leap up onto the small of Drin’s back and curl up there and start purring, happily kneading his shirt and his skin with her sharp little claws. Drin makes a face, and Dance chuckles. Dance reaches up and pets the cat, encourages her to settle differently. Drin settles more comfortably between the two warm pressures, and finds himself falling asleep on Dance’s shoulder. Oh, he’s pretty tired too, he finally realizes, and sighs a little as he drifts off.

He’s lying on his side, curled up on the sofa in in Dance’s place, with his shoes off and his collar loosened and a blanket over his legs, when he stirs stiffly. The sound of voices wake him. Emma and Dance are in the kitchen, there’s the sound of dishes being washed. “Well,” Emma says then, “I’d rather go in early and get a look at those bits of skin myself under the scope, without somebody looking over my shoulder, if you want the truth.”

“Why is that?” Dance asks.

“Well, something about the shapes remind me of those armor plates you see underneath lizard scales. They’re called osteoderms. It’s not on the surface, you see. If you look at those carefully, you’ll see the shiny is pretty deep in the skin.”

“But I just– ”

“Dance, I know. I know what Drin was talking about. I’ve seen it on you before before.”

“What?” Dance says, bewildered.

“Yes, every time you’ve got yourself burnt like a piece of toast, you peeled just like that. And it’s been shiny like that. You just never noticed–but I have. And yes, I knew it was your skin the minute I saw it. It’s just more obvious now. It used to be thinner. I didn’t realize they must be growing.”

Dance is silent. there’s just the sound of pots being put away.

“You okay?” Emma says.

“I don’t– I don’t know. It isn’t like butterfly wings?”

“Those shine because of the little plates that overlap on the surface. These shine like that, yes, but it’s way under the surface.”

“It’s not a cancer, is it?”

“Not any kind I’ve ever read about, and believe me, I’ve read enough to make anybody a hypochondriac.”

“What– what do we have to do?”

“Well, I take that in and get a look at it in private, first, and see what I can find out. Maybe I’ll call in some expert help who’s a little more discreet than the guys at work. I’ll find somebody.”

“Something about seeing it set off one of Drin’s attacks,” Dance says then, unhappy.

“I thought maybe so,” Emma murmurs.

“I don’t want to make him have bad memories!” Dance says.

“I know, love, hush, it’s all right. It’s all right.”

When Drin gets up, and walks slowly into the kitchen, he finds Emma hugging Dance fiercely, one hand at the back of his head, the other stroking his spine. She looks up at Drin.

hand on man's chest in open shirt
hand on heart

Wordless, Drin wraps himself around them both. “Shhhh,” he murmurs. “Shhh, it’ll be all right, Dance, it will be, I promise.”

“What if this–what if these things stuck in my skin–what if it has something to do with those dreams–those boxes– those crab things in the boxes–” Dance says.

“Dance,” Drin says, and feels the jittering body in his arms grow still, listening. “Dance, maybe it does. But that part doesn’t matter. I love you. Emma loves you. We are not afraid of you loving us, or what you might have lived through, or what bad dreams you might have because you’re such a goddamn tough survivor. It’ll be all right. You’re our beautiful musician, our gardener who cooks and laughs and makes funny jokes and makes us happy to be here in this life with you. Nothing else matters to us. Truly, it doesn’t.”

“If I can’t play any more–” Dance is panting, he’s breathing so hard.

“You’re still a musician when you’re so old and gnarled you can’t play a single note. You told us that one night. You remember? That night watching Pablo Casals made Emma cry,” Drin says, holding on very tightly.

“Yes,” Dance says. “Yes.” It calms him. “Don’t cry, Emma, I didn’t mean to upset everybody all over again–”

Then Emma is kissing Dance, fiercely, pushing him back into Drin’s support and just taking his mouth as if she can’t get enough of him, cupping his head in her hands. He’s just opening himself to her, letting her do whatever she wants with him, he’s responding sluggishly compared to what they’re both used to from him. He’s afraid of–something. Drin grabs his arms around them both tighter, and kisses Dance’s hair, and his forehead, and finally he feels Dance give a little silent chuckle, one that is felt rather than heard. Dance starts kissing Emma back, and his hands come back and stroke Drin’s hips in the way that turns all of them on so fiercely. When she draws back for air, breathing hard, she says, “Right, love, you got that?”

Dance smiles crookedly. “Yes. I got that.”

“Well then,” Emma says. “Now, if you’ll just shove that casserole in the oven for a little while, with timer, please, then I think we’ve some leisure to put Dance flat on his back and make sure he really got it. Right?”

Drin smiles. “Right.” He releases Dance, allowing him to take about three steps in the tiny kitchen and put the long cheese-covered pan in the oven. The ridge in his pants is an absurdly reassuring sight.

“I go through more lipstick around you boys,” Emma says then, wiping her face with a tissue, and blowing her nose with an unladylike honk. Her face looks tired and blotchy and soft and fierce, all at once. Drin looks at her, and holds out his arm, and she slides into his embrace with a sigh, leaning into him. He strokes her lower back, feeling the spasming and knots there. She’s going to need Dance’s expert help with that.

Dance wipes his eyes on his knuckles, blinks at the oven, adjusts it, and looks owlishly at the timer. “Right,” he says then, frowning, and adjusts it with all the care of a drunk, even though he hasn’t been drinking.

Drin hauls him in with his other arm, and walks them off to bed. Bed isn’t the solution for everything. But it’s a good start, and he’s willing to do nearly anything to reassure them both.

===

a bit from googledocs collaboration.

Among the Finer Gifts

Drin is aware that his fellow serious Symphony patrons are mostly auditory people. They can remember voices but not faces.  They do not respond to, nor do they think of appealing to, visual sensory input–which explains a lot about the Metro’s ads and website content. Their houses tend toward the speaker-heavy, TVs in every room–either a lot of racket, or a dead hush that magnifies whatever sound is permitted. Other senses are just not important to them.

That was why, in the early days, Drin was gratified to see those posters pinned up in Dance’s bedroom, the flowers in his garden, and Emma’s splashy-colored clothes. They both modulate their voices to suit Symphony patrons, but it also makes sense for the two of them to understand and reach those areas of other people’s brains too, connecting with those folks in the audience who respond as much to the look of things.

Dance and Emma are not blind. Or noseless. Dance responds powerfully to scents, Drin realized that much just from the kind of stringently herbal, piney things that Dance dug into his garden.  When he considers gifts for his partners, he thinks about satisfying many kinds of sensory appreciation at once.

But he thinks of a particularly wonderful combination, a unique gift he can give them both. He schedules an afternoon together for all three of them, claiming that he has to discuss what they’re going to do about the house. He chooses the restaurant carefully, out in one of the sleepier beach towns, and he warns the waiters that it may get loud and rowdy.

And then he opens his can of worms, once they are stuffed full of big sloppy pizza slices overloaded with cheese and meat and artichokes and olives.  He shoves all the artichokes at Dance, laughing.  Dance could probably live happily on pickled artichokes, goodness only knows why.   He adores certain brands.  Something about the herb mix they use in the olive oil, he says, and shrugs happily.  He smiles up at Drin, lips gleaming.

“It’s about the house.”

“Yeah, what about it?” Emma is wearing her opened-mouth look of satiation, so damn distracting.

“We own it, we’ve bought it.” Drin says.

“How did we bought it?” Dance demands. “I can’t buy it, Emma can’t. You bought it, Drin.”

“Is that so? Then I don’t know why you two have as much equity in it as I do.”

“What!” Emma is shocked out of her stupor. “Bloody– Drin, why our house? There’s no fucking investment value in the neighborhood, and the place is a dump!”

“And we got it for a song,” Drin says calmly, “so Dance’s garden will always belong to him.”

“My– garden? But it’s only dirt and cuttings.”

“Yeah, and your Baroque violin is only some wood and catgut.” Drin smiles at his husband. And keeps on smiling, the way he smiles every time he remembers signing the papers at City hall. People took pictures, handed them flowers and bottles of water and hugged them. The whole string section was there, playing Lohengrin and laughing their asses off, by God.

“And plastic, don’t forget!” Dance covers his mouth and burps. “Onions, man.”

“You son of a bitch.” Emma says as she raises her pointing hand. “I knew it. I effing knew it, I could tell you the day and the time when you got the deed– two months ago! And we’ve been paying rent!”

“Yeah, that’s still around, tucked into your 401(k)s, my beloved.”

“I don’t have a 401 alphabet,” Dance says, blinking at him.

“Lemme at him!” Emma struggles to her feet, stumbling around the table while Drin laughs and cowers. “I’ll fucking teach you a lesson, damn you!” And Drin finds himself with all of her beautiful, sweet-smelling person in his lap. First she grabs his ears and she squeezes–damn, she has strong hands!–and then she rocks his head from side to side, growling at him, and then she kisses him. Great big rude sloppy cheese-flavored kiss all over his mouth, halfway biting him. “You set up retirement funds for us? For Dance?”

“Oghlf-ffh- of course I did!”

Dance starts to laugh. “Get medieval on his ass!”

“You did.” Emma sits back and looks at him with tearful eyes. “You really did. But you lost all your own money, and you still set this up– Sweetheart.”

“Oh, now don’t scare me like that, Killer, calling me nice things. I’m used to that feggeleh mouth, you know, the queer Yiddische insulting thing there–”

“Is that what the 401 is, for retirement?” Dance’s eyes widen. “If I grow too old to play in any orchestra?”

“You’ll always have a home, and you’ll always have an income.”

“Well, barring the collapse of the financial markets that we both predicted was–” Emma says, and she looks at Dance with the gloss on her eyes falling down into tears. “Oh damn your eyes, Drin, you’ve fucked up my makeup again. You’re always making me do that.”

“Your money isn’t in anything so volatile, trust me. I don’t want either of you left like that.”

“And I’ll always,” Dance says, “Have you. Always.” That’s when Dance starts to cry.

Emma kisses him, too, and she gets streaking eyeliner on Dance’s face, and then they’re finger-painting each other, and laughing, and smearing it on Drin’s face too. Emma kisses Drin again and puts lipstick all over his mouth.

Then he’s got both of them in his lap crying and laughing and smacking him as much as they smack each other.

Fortunately, Emma’s amazing purse has baby wipes in it which are up to the task of taking clown faces off children, and they work well on pretty brown men and girls with storm-blue eyes.

Then he takes them shopping among the odder little tourist boutiques along the boardwalks, where they exclaim over the brilliant colors of the dichroic glass in the art bead places Emma loves.  They laugh over the bizarre tee shirts in the head shop, and the shells and the driftwood in the nature shops, and the seascapes in the one really decent art gallery. They’re so used to not having money that neither of his beautiful partners even thinks to covet anything. They just admire, pointing things out that they know somebody else will like, and giggling at the really silly trashy stuff. The thought of asking him to buy anything doesn’t seem to cross their minds, they just love looking.  They never ask him to buy things.  They never did.  But they’re even more careful about it since he locked his main wealth away into trusts.

When he does pull out his wallet, they’re both frowning, worried. But he buys Dance a dragon pendant on a silver necklace from the nice gallery place, and he buys Emma an outrageous silk wrap dress with the underwear it deserves from a boutique, and he buys them both bright lycra running shorts and shirts and jackets, and he gets kissed a lot when they think nobody is looking. He spends rather a lot of money from the amount he’d saved for this, and is well-satisfied he’s getting value for his investment.

It probably speaks to their level of trust in him that they don’t ask questions when he insists they step into a shoe shop. He buys pool sandals for everybody. This is what money is for, he thinks.

When the pizza has been walked off and they’re feeling peckish, he takes them to one of his favorite seafood stalls, and introduces them to fried squid that melts away on the tongue. Then he takes them back to the car, and they stop in the gas station restrooms to change into the lycra. Then he drives down to a parking lot off the beach, the one closest to the cliffs.

West Coast beaches are not friendly places, not in the warm, shallow, sandy, welcoming sense known on the East Coast, in places like the Carolinas or the Keys.

Many of the surf zones of the West that he’s seen are forbidding and rocky, where one climbs around on frozen igneous flows, or one observes, through binoculars only, huge granite cleavages plunging four and five hundred feet straight down. These are places where rookeries of gulls and cormorants and seals are the only tenants, and landscape features deserve names like The Devil’s Elbow.

Further south, you get cliffs made of mess instead of rocks.  It’s not even sandstone, it’s just sand.  In this town, houses are put up on slopes with stilts, just for the views among the steep fire-prone canyons, and the night air smells of flammable sage and eucalyptus. The consulting geologists brought in on legal cases at work carry big rolled maps with elevation markings which step down slopes so tightly that the palisade maps look like magnified dollar bill engravings of George Washington’s nose.

Hiking what’s left of the wilder wrinkles, Drin has found the canyons are amazing. Very steep, very pretty, amazingly unstable, and dangerous as hell. These cliffs never made it up to the status of real stone. They are hills made of loosely cemented sand that is full of cobbles, and these humps erode right under your feet.

Black's Beach Sunset by moonjazz
Black’s Beach Sunset, photo by moonjazz on Flickr

The sea isn’t anything like the tourists expect either. It is an Alaskan bolt of frozen nutrients pouring down the gullets of the astonishing variety of intertidal life, and it is colder than hell. The surfers all wear wetsuits. Nobody is quite sure if wearing bright colors reduce the risk of looking like a seal, but the dive shops make promises all the time. Great white sharks normally predate on the seals out on the offshore rock stacks and islands. People taste bad and just aren’t fat enough, and get spit out. Usually.

Needless to say, he is not talking Emma into taking her easily-chilled back spasms into the water. That day, the water is a colder, tougher, stormier gray than her eyes, which is saying something. Out on the beach, smiling into the bright shadowless light, her eyes are a wonderful strange blue.

Ahhh, but the sound of that surf, nibbling away at the ragged matrix of cobbles, streaks of clay, beds of sand, and almost-sandstone. The sound of it, that’s what he’s come for. The colors are pretty intense, too. The cliffs rise two hundred feet above the parking lot in streaks of color, with bald rocky bits broken up with little tufts of chapparral hanging out like a man who hasn’t shaved for a couple of weeks. The surf shifts the beach sand away every winter, and causes collapses after every storm.

There’s the birds wheeling and calling over the rookeries, the seals barking behind the protective fences that the Park Service put up to keep people from pestering them too much–and as much for the safety of the people as for the animals, because seals have jaws and teeth every bit as powerful as a large dog.

Beach never seems like the right word for this place, to Drin. To him, for some reason, beach connotes a bright happy Caribbean steel band, or a shouting cheerful NOLA funeral parade celebrating somebody’s life.

This? This is more brooding than that, and oddly rewarding. It’s all far more like Beethoven in a dark mood–the Pathetique or the Moonlight Sonata.

One can hike for a hundred miles, if you just keep walking, and you don’t mind getting wet.

The water has a sound to it that does something deep to a person’s soul, if they respond to it at all.

It does, as Emma says happily, induce a larger sense of perspective in a person.

They hike slowly along the winding piles of seaweed, darting down to the water’s edge whenever something flashes, wandering about and turning in circles very much like the little bewildered sandpipers trying to probe the sand. They’re exclaiming over driftwood shapes and making silly faces, and helping one another over the rocks when there’s no other way around.

The strand narrows down until the water intrudes among the rock stacks and broken bits of cliff.

Beach, La Jolla
sea cliffs and caves

“Oh, a sea cave!” Dance exclaims, and he touches the cobble-laced wall of it, turning into the hollow of it, and staring upward with his mouth open wide. He cocks his head to listen to the echoes of the surf slapping and pulling at the walls. Then he smiles at Drin, slowly. “Listen.”

Drin just smiles back. After a long quiet moment of listening, watching their faces, he smiles wider. Then he says, “There’s more. They all sound a little bit different, at least to me they do. Something about the harmonics and the cave’s size, maybe.”

“Wow,” Emma says. “Look at the light bouncing around, too!”

“Yeah,” he says, watching the reflected watery light bouncing in hypnotic lenses and colored shapes all around the walls. The best light is like this, when the sun hits a certain strong late afternoon angle, not quite heading toward sunset. “This is a little cave. There’s some bigger ones you’ll like. We might have to get our feet wet, but you’ll like it. And the tidepool anemones are awesome too.” He points.

“Oh, my God!” Emma exclaims, “They’re pink, look–” and she goes back out of the cave into the light. “And that one’s orange. My God, they really are that color!”

Dance puts his hands up on Drin’s chest. “Drin,” he says.

“Yes, my dear?” he says quietly.

“You are awesome. You are the best husband. You make us so happy.” And he kisses Drin on the nose.

Drin folds his arm around his husband’s bright lycra jacket, feeling the very solid muscles inside it, and he smiles, and kisses Dance on the cheek. Then Dance slips out of his arm, and follows Emma back out into the sun, and he squats down to point at something and he laughs with her, waggling his fingers.

Drin, watching, sees Dance cock his head to one side, hears Emma whoop suddenly, over a sudden crack of surf. Spray stings his face. Out of nowhere they are surrounded by an armada of paper drink parasols, fully opened, green and violet and luminous blue, tossed across the rocks by the sleepers and swept up from the little drainage stream, and on and down the beach, hundreds of them, just there, whirling in the surf, then vanishing, gone.

FWD to AH, ATTN: TS

Hi teslamomma,
Got yours of the 29th.
Let me know.
I owe ya, thanks!
Pimpernell

ATT: AH
Well, it’s clear from the focal convergence the sloppy photog was taking it from that two-story across the street, can see how grainy it is. D, D & E don’t know who it is, but I sure do. The wife of the second violinist took a lot of stray shots while she waited around for our lot to get busy ironing the sheets.

nude woman at window among blinds, b/w photo
looking out

Lot of work for shots that involve nothing more exciting than Drin reading the newspaper and Emma vegging in front of the TV, and Dance cuddling with them until bedtime.
Puzzling why the snooper saved any of these sequences.
Strange stuff. Turns out this is probably where Dance fell asleep briefly one night, but then Emma had a back spasm bad enough to make her squeak, woke him up.
I don’t know this is terribly useful as footage, but it shows Dance doesn’t wake up swinging or anything, so long as he trusts who’s in the house.
You don’t need a snooper with a telephoto to figure out it’s all hostage-bait.
Just how it is. I know, soppy, but there you are.

ATT: AH
Server coughed up more pix from the jealous wife. Hope you’re onto tracing who’s paying. Trying to scandalize the Metro Board? Jealous of Dance, for making her hubbie look second rate?
If that’s all there is to it, of course it’s totally pathetic.
Also, useless trying to hide the way this makes me feel about it from Drin when I’m talking emails to him.
Oh, somewhere in there he knows the tip of the wave may break any day, might be time to shift in a hurry. He’s been hitting the Fogarty road-trip tunes a little hard, lately.

Hyphen

Well, he was expecting something. They’re cleverer than he anticipated.

Must be younger supervisors in charge these days. These are a different sort of Fibbie. Mountie. Whatever it is, the Canuck version of TSA. Or whatever the hell they’re calling themselves, these days. Not suits. They probably look great in the suits, when they bother to get dressed up for official receptions, but they haven’t.

Incognito, with a capital I.

Only the civilians are fooled.

Flipping out their ID, one-two-gone– as if he’s going to quiz them on their authority to ask questions in a different jurisdiction.

There’s two of them, young, picked out and matched up like wooden blocks from a kid’s toy bin. They match this job like loopy caricatures in some funhouse mirror.

One of them is a tall sloucher, sloping forward with an angular long head of wild curly blonde hair, a beard that runs down his neck to his chest, and an open Daddy-o shirt that carries beige asymmetric stripes down the front. Skinny dark slacks, penny loafers with no socks. He’s all run to knees and elbows, like a pup still growing into his feet. Says he’s an auditor, bless his untimely soul. There should be a ciggie hanging off his knobbly long fingers, but he was born too young for that. Wide reflective blue shades are just extra icing shoved up on the top of his head.

His partner is Korean-American, very pretty, very severe, very dignified in a very clipped serviceman way. Short-coupled, muscular, gelled crewcut with henna streaks at the front, dark tight-cut clothes that show off how butty he is. Bronze-framed glasses that just emphasize the cheekbones and those soft, pink pretty-boy lips. Annoyed with the brilliant slacker he has to cope with, and totally poised to strike if he’s touched. Doesn’t shake hands. Nobody’s going to cop a feel. Seems a shame, it’s a great ass going neglected. He sees Drin looking, too, and he goes very grim of jaw. He probably speaks a couple of regional varieties of Korean, and will grill Dance like a goddamn teacher, given the chance. Hell, he probably is a teacher, in some technical school of theirs.

Dance will just laugh, and keep talking in English, gently refusing the invitation to fight.

In one respect, they’re a right ruddy failure.

They’re so not queer.

Just ask them.

Their postures say they’re pissed as hell.

They can see the reflection as clearly as he does, and they don’t like it one bit.

Not getting to visit your happy place?

Drin is struck with the impulse to say it, to lean back luxuriously and stretch in his chair, but he doesn’t. He just smiles. Read the thought, boys.

“So what can I do for you guys?” he says, mildly. He pushes some work aside on his desk. Looks like he won’t be getting back to that report any time soon. “Coffee? They give us free sodas and water around this place, if you want some.” He looks at his watch. “Dance ought to be here shortly, Emma had to give him a ride. You get what you needed from Personnel? I’ve got copies of my domestic partnership filing with Dance, if you need that.”

They look at him. Don’t look at each other. Blink blink. “Yeah, they were helpful, nice ladies,” says the slacker. “Thanks, though.”

Interesting, he thinks. They’ve been working together longer than he thought. They’re playing pissed, thinking he’ll buy the naive act. It’s gonna be a long few hours. He sighs. “So did you catch up with that bastard who killed all those girls in Russia?” He points his index finger. “Ahh, don’t tell me. Diplomatic immunity.”

The slouchy guy gives a thin smile. A very unpleasant smile, come to think. The smile of an auditor running a finger down fraudulent records. “And what will you do if you catch up to him first?”

Drin taps his knuckles on his desk, frowning. “I hadn’t expected our paths to cross. No intention of seeking him out, either.”

“And if he comes chasing your husband?”

long-haired girl in pale skull makeup
ghosts

Drin’s eyes come upward to that face, and the other, and away, grimly. It’s a look that dismisses them irritably. He frowns off at the gray cubicles stacked all round. As clearly as words, he’s dismissed them as ‘not somebody he can call on for help.’ He knows–oh, he knows–this will flick them on the raw. Young guys, still angry about those damnable pictures of dead Russian girls? Of course it will hurt when he ignores them.

Call it motivation for them to catch up to that bastard, before the killer’s bosses take another trip north for Afghan product. Tha stuff is clear enough in the pictures too. It’d be hard to explain how Drin recognizes the wrappers left stray in some shots, so he doesn’t. They’re not dumb, they’ll figure out what the script and the stamp marks on those crumpled papers mean.

“I don’t see why he’d bother,” Drin says, frowning, “since it adds so nicely to official confusion.”

“Oh, ouch,” says the sloucher, and leans back in his borrowed chair with a sigh. “You’re an organized guy, you think about endgames, you know it could happen. Boxing Guy’s ego takes a bruising, somebody waves pictures of your guy Dance, what happens?”

“Well, if he defies orders from his bosses and comes here instead of his usual… work,” says his partner, adjusting his glasses, leaning forward, and looking totally innocent of how this pulls his clothes. Yeah, right.

Drin looks irritably at the stacks of work on his desk, the work that isn’t getting done while he twaddles away time on these guys because they answer to agency supervisors too slow to keep up with the script. Whatever the hell their agency is called.

Then he flicks a glance at the guys on the line, the guys who may have to wade in and stop that thing that came out of that Sarcobox in his nightmares, that thing from the box next to Dance. That other Black Ops Naga, the one in his bad dreams who probably got sold to monsters to pay for the trip that brought both Dance and his evil shadow to this place. The sacrifice in blood to the gods of anonymity, the gods of physics and travel, a loan whose interest is getting paid now by girls dying in Odessa and Seoul and who knows how many other places. “You know what I call him?” Drin says.

“What?” says the guy who speaks Korean dialects. Kim. Sung-Jae Kim. Jay Kim, in most of America.

“Hyphen.”

“Yeah?”

“Dance never used one, in his given name. That guy does. Same name, just add a hyphen, Ha-Neul.”

“Yeah,” says the guy in the bronze glasses. “I noticed that.”

“I hope people are careful, going up to the family over there,” Drin says. “I’ve heard nasty things about the companies that Dance’s parents used to work for. No idea who employs them now, they don’t talk to Dance. I’m not sure they even get his emails or his phone messages, these days. But I have heard that Hyphen sends them money.”

“How do you know that?” says the guy with the dialects.

Drin smiles. “Friends in the Internet provider business, they got worried for us. I know, they’re not supposed to. They might be who called you guys in. I mean, aside from me trying to notify somebody. I don’t know.”

“Is he related to Dance in any way?”

“I don’t know. Dance doesn’t know. Maybe the honorable parents would rather pretend that Hyphen is their only son, God help them. Could be a half-brother or something, who knows. I mean, Dance doesn’t know of any brother–you can ask him yourself–but they do look related.”

“And if he does come looking for Dance?”

Drin rubs his face, shakes his head.

“Shoot him?” says the tidy dark guy, tilting his glasses downward, looking down his nose.

Drin waves it off. “Unlikely to work, if Hyphen’s reflexes are as good as I suspect.”

“We understand you have a nice rating at one of the local ranges,” says the sloucher. His name is Marcel Roi. Mark for short. Quebecois, from the trace of accent in some of his consonants.

“I keep my stuff in a locker there, I don’t have the space for a decent gun safe at home, and I’m not about to keep one flopping around loose under the pillow. This is the US of A, this is America, goddammit, I don’t have to sleep with a gun. ” He’s frowning at cubicles. “I’m a good enough shot to know I won’t get him in time.   Hell, no odds of me stopping someone like that, if they catch us totally flat-footed–videogames, asleep, on the toilet, whatever. Much more likely that Emma might have to deal with a perfectly ordinary neighborhood rapist, tell you the truth. That’s something I’d spend time worrying about.”

What he worries about is Emma getting hurt, dealing with something like that. Having to stand trial for the way she’s likely to handle it. She’s a big enough woman that she’s not as likely to be attacked as a smaller, more fragile person, but there’s no guarantees. He and Dance drilled her so she has some resources if she’s caught alone. Let her get a good grip, she’ll fucking kill the poor sad bastard. By bits.

“Emma, your roommate,” says Kim, the guy who speaks Korean, and goodness knows what else. There’s an odd note in his voice. That means he’s met her, consulted her for help on a case, something. Not just heard about her. There’s an odd sound they get after they’ve met her. After they’ve had her mow them down with detailed, factual, crisply-stated information that Reality Says No, their pretty theories are Just All Wrong.

“Emma, my other partner,” Drin says, patiently, having explained this a good few times before, “but it’s not tidy and it doesn’t fit anybody’s forms. She has her own health care and retirement, and she’s filed Durable Powers of Attorney. She wanted to make sure Dance is taken care of, and so did I. You can be some diplomat’s serial killer and everybody loves you, but you can’t be a real musician in this country without ending up in the fucking street when your joints go.” He says it as much because they’ll expect it of a patron of the Symphony as because it makes him mad.

Dance asked him last week to shift the money from his own endowed chair to the Symphony’s retirement fund, when it looked like that fund would end up in receivership so deep there’d be no money for months. So did many of the other first chairs. They don’t have a fucking bean to their collective names, and they’re offering to make sure their retired members still get their regular checks, just to tide them over. And the things they said, coming up to him privately: “Oh, you wouldn’t know her, but I go and see Mrs. Sievers, who used to knit charity baby things backstage, and Miss Johns with the piccolo at little circus events for the children, and there’s Mister Able who played bass at all the local convalescent homes until his back gave out, and Miss Kerns, who used to go volunteer for things like those house-building projects and Doctors Without Borders, and–“

He blinks, and glares at the young guys who are waiting for him to come back to the present. It looks like they’re used to people zoning out on them.

Then Jay Kim the Korean-American guy says something that surprises him. He smiles, and he says, “They only love the diplomat’s serial killer as long as there’s money. A lot of it. When that goes away, poof–“

Drin narrows his eyes. “Yeah,” he says, glaring. “You’re right.” Meeting those cool dark eyes that are smiling still. You want to enlist my help? You’re on, kid.

The guy in the glasses just nods. “So you think this guy’s reflexes are that good? Is it just because of Dance’s own capabilities? I see. Where did you develop these suspicions?”

“Pictures of his victims that somebody sent to Dance, with ugly threats,” Drin says, not blinking, and finds it hard to make his eyes slide away. The habit of authority is hard to break, but he does it. Probably too little and too late, because they felt it, and they’re not surprised. He sighs. “Probably sent by a member of some poor girl’s family, thinking they tracked the guy down when they saw pictures of Dance on the web. Dance is not exactly low-profile. They post pictures of folks in our Metro symphony on the Internet all the time. They probably don’t change out the Metro content often enough, if you really want to know.” He snorts. “Like some guy who plays violin would murder those girls with his fists.”

“How did Dance take the threats?” asks the sloucher, Mark Roi.

“Threats, hell, it was the pictures pissed him off,” Drin says. “He asked me to look into it, to the best of my limited abilities. Then I got some fun things from the same sources. Reported it with my Internet provider, of course. What puzzles me is how some girl’s family knows what the murderer looks like. Where the hell did they see him? That’s a good way to get more people killed, spreading that kind of thing around. I hope to God somebody else warned them to shut the fuck up, too. I certainly did. At least until somebody can catch up to this guy, corral him away from his keepers, may God have mercy on their stinky little souls. Suspect they’ll tire of him and he’ll just disappear. He can’t possibly be that good as a bodyguard, no patience. Looks to me like he’ll go increasingly erratic. I’m just saying. I’m no expert on serial killers.”

But they are, very likely. They don’t blink. They just watch him breath fast. He lets them see some of it, the anger roiling there inside.

“Did they send you more emails in reply?” says Mark Roi.

man's shoulder tat of looped snake photo by Thomas Hooper
Ouroboros tattoo, photo by Thomas Hooper

“Hell yeah. With more stuff attached. They sent me a link, claimed it was Dance breaking boards, and it’s not. Some kind of demo from a regional tournament in Singapore– you’ve seen it? Yeah. Then you know it’s not Dance. He doesn’t do competitions. Says he can’t be bothered to get up that early. Emma and I can go to hell, too, if we want him to do something in the morning.” Drin smiles then. “He only gets up at five am for his violin.”

“Have you considered,” says the sloucher, “if the guy in Russia might be the one who sent those threats?”

This is not sounding like questions you’d ask a witness, a suspect, a source. It sounds more like the way that you’d chat with a colleague. Odd. Very odd. Maybe they think he’ll be more open that way.

Drin nods. “I called Carlson  I guess that was his name, I tried to forward him all of the facts that I have.”

There’s the slightest of glances between them. Carlson’s not the brightest crayon in the box, says that look. And they’re both real tired of bodyguards with nasty habits in diplomatic circles.

===

from mass googledocs collaborations!