James wasn’t entirely sure what one should do on a cruise. Most people around him on the deck were sunbathing their already sunburned selves. He knew others were probably in the casinos, wasting their money.

He looked around, and saw artificially augmented beauty, world-weariness and general despair (the losers at the casino below them, then). So he lowered himself carefully into a lounge chair and read.

“Hawking? Hardly relaxing reading, is it,” a female voice said from above him. James searched for the source of the voice. Instinctively: the quick fingers and soft arms- confirm she’s in the computer industry. No make-up- not marketing- but really pretty.
She sat next to him, holding a glass of something sticky and orange.
“You’re a programmer,” James ventured.
“Close enough. More a hacker at heart. Not going to ask how you know. So why’re you here? You don’t look like the cruise type.” She spoke rapidly
“No air of despair, you mean, but not sunburned? Um. It’s a long story.”
She grinned. “I like long stories.”

Advertisements

Gregory ascended the stone stairs automatically, sifting through the stack of junk mail that had accumulated in two days’ absence. He rounded the corner, feeling the sudden draft which signalled his apartment- right opposite a pair of French windows which never closed. Even after his concussion, he could remember things like this. Maybe it hadn’t been that bad.

Still not looking up, he unlocked the door and went in.

He was so engrossed in his mail, he tripped over the bag at his door and landed on an errant rug- what was it doing there? Gregory threw his mail aside, closed the door and pulled the bag closer.

That was not his bag. Even though he sometimes got the date or his name wrong, this was definitely not his bag. Too expensive. He touched a finger to the handle and sniffed it.

Leather- real leather- and wood. Branded stuff. Whoever last handled it had eaten bacon and oranges for- no, not breakfast, scent too old- for supper, maybe. And faint scent of perfume and- what was this?- some other smell. Without opening the bag he knew this was a woman’s bag.

But he unzipped it anyway and riffled through its contents: clothes, toiletries, a book. Obviously a woman’s. Amount of clothes: by what he knew of women, enough for maybe a day or two. All the clothes smelled fresh, so she was entering. Entering his house? Why?

Book was cheap- some romantic novel, featuring a busty blonde and a shiny bronzed man embracing. Gregory made a face. Peeking inside, he saw a written name: Susan. Just Susan. Gregory searched his memory. He know anyone named Susan? Uh, no.

Gregory reached the bottom of the bag. He found nothing else of interest, so he put everything back in and zipped up the bag. Satisfied, Gregory made a mental note to tell Pollux tomorrow- except his mental notes rarely lasted. He scribbled on a Post-it, pasted it on his dining table. Help him remember.

Out of habit Gregory ambled over to the bedroom-
“ARGH! Who are you what are you doing here!”
There was a woman- red lips, shoulder-length hair, same perfume as ‘Susan’ but with added smell of fried chicken- on his bed. Gregory clutched a scarf for support.
“You’re… You must be Susan. With the bag.”
“Greg? You okay?”
“Uh, how did you get in? Into my house?”
“You gave me the keys, Greg, are you sure you’re alright? The doctor said there’d be-“
“You smell funny.”
The woman paused, because there never is, really, a good reply to remarks like this.
“I’m your wife! I’m Susan!”
Oh dear. Oh dear, now he had a wife he didn’t know anything about.
“Your bag, then-“
“We- we…”
Gregory frowned, then an idea formed with surprising clarity.
“Take out my notebook on the bedside table, pass it to me, please. Thank you.”
Picking up the phone, Gregory dialled the number labelled, “Emergency”.

Cold, cold.

She hurried along the narrow cobbled streets that were flanked by dark buildings. They loomed like tall guards- but guarding who? Certainly not her. At this time, the city had gone to bed and the windows were all dark, making the buildings look faceless. She turned the corner, hearing her shoes pad on the cobbles. Wind whistled through the streets. She listened to the wind’s eerie melody for a moment; she continued on her way. She needed to be there, soon.

She looked up, and the sign on the wall said “Belmonte Street”. She turned a corner and entered the dingy alley, where the temperature was always colder by a few degrees. She could hear her breath rattling in her chest. Momentarily, she thought she heard the sound of another pair of boots on the road- but it was only a dog.

Dark door after dark door, she walked past all of them, until she reached the last block. It was right next to a church. She stood on the doorstep of one of the houses, an apartment, and called someone on her handphone, speaking quietly.

The closed door opened slowly, the darkness within threatening to swallow her up. Suddenly the lights in the lobby flickered on with a hum. It revealed a grubby man. He rubbed his eyes and yawned, then seemed to see her for the first time.

“Oh, you.” He gestured inside, and closed the door behind her.

This apartment block had been here for… for a long time. The stone stairs chilled her feet, even through the thick fluffy socks and her shoes.

His apartment was on the third floor. They walked through dim corridors and past fuzzy rugs that marked each home. His home was the third on the floor. He opened the door and let her go in. Once again she coughed, and this cough was a dreadful chesty cough. He sighed.

“I’ll get you something.”
“That’s not what I’m here for!”