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

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.



“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 on the Internet, 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  keep a gun flopping around loose under the pillow.” 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 playing 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!

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