Chapter 1 – The Morning After

 As my mind swam slowly up from the gray depths of a fitful sleep, I became aware of two things. One, my mouth tasted like the stuff you pulled out of your clogged bathroom drain.

The second thing was a bare leg lying across mine. My left arm was wrapped around the owner of that leg, and it was starting to cramp slightly. Her cheek lay on my shoulder, her breath making a tiny cool breeze across my bare chest.

I ignored my aches and regarded the pile of blonde curls underneath my chin.

Blonde?

A muffled moan came from underneath the hair and Amy Harper rolled over onto her back. Her dramatic eye shadow had smeared, making her look a little like she was wearing a superhero mask.

“Oh…God,” she moaned, resting one hand on her forehead. She blinked a couple of times, then squinted at me.

“I know. I look terrible.”

“You look fine,” I said.

“Fine,” she repeated, her voice a hoarse rasp. “What a glib devil you are, Becker.”

We looked at each other, and as we did, foggy memories of the night before began to surface.

There had been several vodkas at The Kremlin. Then things had gotten a little hands-y. We had stumbled back to my place, pulling at each other’s clothes as we fell through the door. Finally, we reached the bedroom. And…

Actually, that was it.

Not for lack of trying, on either of our parts. But there had been, so to speak, no cork in my bat.

At some point, we had given up and pretty much passed out.

I looked at her. Something wasn’t right, but I couldn’t figure out what it was.

“What?” she growled with an exasperated head shake.

“Have you always been blonde?” I blurted before I could stop myself.

“Fuck you,” she replied.

She looked at me for a moment more, then swung her legs off the bed and stood. She grabbed her clothes off the floor, darted across the room, and slammed the bathroom door shut behind her.

 Glib devil, indeed.

I pulled on some sweats and gathered my own clothes. In the process, I nearly stepped on my phone, which apparently had fallen out of my pocket during the night’s futile exertions.

There was a reminder on the screen, alerting me to a noon appointment with Anton Kaaro downtown. The meeting subject simply read, “New Project.”

Why on earth did I have a meeting with the city’s biggest crime boss on my calendar?

Because I work for him. This gave me an odd feeling. Probably still the vodka.

Fortunately, I would have time to get a workout in before meeting him. With any kind of luck, vigorous exercise would flush some of the hangover out.

I brewed coffee while I was ruminating, and before long Amy emerged from the bedroom. She had re-dressed in last night’s clothes, a pair of skin-tight jeans composed of holes just as much as they were of denim and a tank top that displayed several inches of taut belly. The navy-blue leather jacket that completed the ensemble was thrown over one shoulder. In her free hand she carried a pair of high-heeled boots, the kind with a cutout in front to display bare toes.

The rocker-girl look was spoiled somewhat by the fact that with her makeup showered off, she looked like a fresh-faced teen.

“What are you grinning at?” she asked irritably. Still, she accepted the mug I handed her.

“Sorry.”

“What is the matter with you?”

“If you mean last night, I guess you poured me one vodka too many.”

“I don’t mean that. Although I never thought I would see the day when Trav Becker couldn’t get it up. You spent half the night staring at me like you’d never seen me before. What the hell is going on?”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

She leaned in closer. “Cut the crap. If you want this to be done, Trav, just say the word. I’m not your fragile violinist.”

“Vio— You mean Mary?” I chuckled in spite of myself. “Mary Logan may be a lot of things, but fragile is not one of them.” I frowned at her as I continued. “And where the hell did that come from? Mary and I have been over for…Well, it’s over.”

“Bullshit,” she spat. “You still love her. You mumble her name when you’re asleep. And that’s fine. You’re not my first choice either. It’s been fun, but if you want to move on, just tell me.”

“I never said that.”

“Well, what do you want, then?”

I opened my mouth but nothing came out.

“That’s what I thought.” She put her mug down and pushed past me.

“Amy, wait.”

“Forget it, Trav. I don’t do head games. Call me. Or don’t. It’s not that big a deal.”

And she swept out the door, not even stopping to put on her toeless boots.

I thought about going after her but knew that would just make things worse.

So, I went back into my small kitchen, found the large bottle of Advil I kept in the cupboard for just such an emergency as this, and dry-swallowed four tablets.

I examined the room while I waited for them to take effect and was suddenly disgusted by the crumbs on the counter and the sink full of dishes. I busied myself putting the room into some semblance of order. By the time I finished I felt almost human again.

There was still plenty of time before I was due to meet Kaaro, so my original plan of getting in a workout seemed feasible. I pulled on some clothes, grabbed my gym bags, then stopped.

Bags?

I had two gym bags. Why did I have two gym bags?

One was familiar. It was simple black nylon, no logo. I had picked it up at the dollar store figuring it would last a few months and then I’d get a nicer one. Turned out, the thing was damn near indestructible. I’d gone through three Kevlar vests while on the force. The gym bag had outlasted them all.

The smaller bag was bright red, narrower than the black one, but longer. I unzipped it and reached inside.

The polished steel blade of a sword glinted in the early morning light.

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