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Authors: Greg Curtis

Tags: #Fantasy, #Paranormal, #Contemporary

Pawn (8 page)

BOOK: Pawn
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Chapter Eight.

 

 

The doorbell rang, and for a second or two Rufus’ heart started racing. He’d barely stopped his heart from racing during the entire previous two days and several times he’d worried he was having an attack. The slightest sound made him jump, and the noise of a car driving past down the street was enough to set his knees shaking. He’d barely slept at all, and those few times he’d drifted off, he wished he hadn’t.

 

Every time he closed his eyes, a man with breath of garlic and mouthwash was with him, whispering in his ear, and pulling a wire noose tight around his neck, while another was shooting at him with a thousand machine guns. And then at night in the dark, it became a thousand times worse as his new enemies were joined by the dark memories of his childhood and the sound of footsteps creaking on the stairs.

 

He hadn’t been this frightened since he’d been a young boy, always waiting for his older brother to beat the crap out of him, or worse, the sound of his father’s heavy tread on the stairs. It had been a long time since those days, he’d done his best to put them far behind him, he’d almost forgotten. But now the fear was back and worse than ever. He’d lost the safety of his home and its deadlocks. He didn’t even have his normal refuges to flee to, the school or the hospital. Like a worm flushed out of its hole by heavy rain, he was exposed, lying there out in the sunlight, helpless, waiting to be eaten.

 

When the doorbell rang for the second time though, he remembered where he was, that no one knew of this place, and he knew that it had to be innocent. There was no way anyone could find him. Besides, bad people, murderers and monsters in the night didn’t ring doorbells. He hoped. Still as he dropped his oily rag on the bench beside the Jaguar, and straightened his overalls, the only clothes he had left since his escape from the hotel, he knew a few more twinges of terror. After all he had no idea who was after him or how many, and he wasn’t completely sure how they’d found him at the hotel.

 

He couldn’t really be sure of anything. Which was why he kept his hand on the solid steel wrench in his pocket. It was comfortably heavy and he hoped it would make a good impression on someone’s head if the need arose. And he promised himself, if it looked bad, he would hit first and ask questions later. Never again would he let someone slip a cord around his neck.

 

Rufus made his way in through the house from the garage, he loved the fact that the small beach house had an internal access between the garage and the living room, especially now when people were hunting him. His own house in town only had a carport, and he couldn’t have parked a classic Jaguar there let alone worked on it. That was why he’d rented the lock up.

 

In the main room, he stopped for a moment by the kitchen bench to take a good look at the front door, which happily had full length glass insets on both sides. The glass was textured which made it difficult to see anything clearly on the other side, but still he could see enough to know that his visitor wasn’t a huge Russian with a cannon, or a smaller man with a chain, or even someone holding a machinegun. It wasn’t a policeman either. She was a woman and by the looks of things she was holding a cake tin. That seemed odd, but at least not threatening.

 

Wiping his hand on his overalls first, he didn’t want to mess up Kirby’s house, it wasn’t the most well decorated house in the world but the man would never stop complaining if he left a single mark, he walked the rest of the way through the lounge and opened the front door. Then he just stood there, dumbstruck.

 

The woman was gorgeous, a vision of loveliness, a dream in the flesh. Dressed in something summery and colourful that swished around a little in the breeze, she was soft and blond and willowy with all the right curves where a man would want them, and the face of an angel. In fact if someone had gone through and created a list of all his likes and wants, she would have been the woman that ticked all his boxes. Every single one of them. And then she smiled and he knew he’d done her a terrible injustice with his thoughts. She was beyond that.

 

“Hello?” It was embarrassing how long it took him just to find that single word, but she was far from what he’d expected. Then again, he wasn’t sure what he’d expected. Kirby was often going on about his surfer chick neighbours at work, and how they all jumped into his arms, but this was no teenage hottie in a bikini. This was a woman in all her splendour.

 

“Oh, have I come at a bad time?” The woman seemed genuinely concerned, something he simply wasn’t used to. Maybe she had good reason though, since he was covered from head to foot in grease. Jaguars, especially classic E types, weren’t the most reliable of vehicles, and getting at the engine’s innards even to do something as simple as clean a few sparkplugs was a messy job. But it had to be done. Especially when he needed a reliable car, just in case. And besides, he’d figured when he’d first moved in that a little grease on his face would make for a good disguise.

 

“No, no that’s fine. Just working on the car.” He answered on automatic, really only staring at her face. She was a stunningly beautiful woman, the sort whose face would be found on great works of art, and whose body should have been gracing the catwalks of Paris. In all his life he’d never seen such a dream given form. And when she smiled, she only became more so.

 

“Will it live?” She smiled some more in good humour, and he almost went weak at the knees. What was wrong with him? He never reacted like this to a woman. And yet he couldn’t seem to stop himself.

 

“Yeah, she’s just old.” Was that the right thing to say to a vision of beauty standing on his doorstep? Letting her know that he drove an old wreck of a car? Surely no woman ever wanted to hear that. And why yeah instead of yes? He knew how to speak the Queens English properly, and not like some vagrant street kid.

 

“She’s a classic Jaguar.” Desperately he tried to cover up for his lapse, and failed again. As explanations went it was probably ok, but as recoveries went it was simply awful, and he would have kicked himself if he could have. In a single sentence he’d just switched from an uneducated street kid to a stuck up petrol head who referred to his car as a woman. What woman would ever find either of those attractive? And he wanted her to find him attractive. Desperately. He’d never wanted anything so much in his entire life.

 

“Can I help you?” Mentally he kicked himself a few times as the words slipped out as though he was a shop assistant, wondering if he was really as bad with woman as it appeared. Maybe he was. But it had never mattered before.

 

“Yes, I’m Di. My home is just next door and I saw that there was someone new in Mr. Winstone’s home and thought I’d introduce myself.” Of course she was. Kirby had always said he liked his neighbours, but he’d never said what was so good about them. Suddenly it was all becoming obvious. Lucky dog! So why did he suddenly hate him so much?

 

“I’m very pleased to meet you. I’m Russ.” Changing his name had always been necessary, but he’d compromised by picking another name similar to his own. That way he’d hoped, he’d still respond normally if someone called him by it. He’d read too many books where the hero was caught out by not recognising his assumed name. Still he’d never liked Rufus as a name anyway. It sounded like a dog’s name.

 

“Kirby’s just letting me stay here while I work on my car and he’s overseas. He has a large garage.” As cover stories went it wasn’t brilliant, but it was all he had come up with over the previous few days of trembling and panic for if and when someone came calling. That, and wearing a lot of grease all over his face and a cap pulled down low, so that no one would recognise him. The high collar on the button up T-shirt he’d stolen from his workmate’s dresser at least covered up the bruising and deep cuts all around his neck. That was important when his face was plastered all over the nightly news along with a description of his injuries.

 

A person of interest so they said. But Rufus knew enough by then to know that they meant suspect, at least in the annoying inspector’s eyes. Everyone else did too in all likelihood.

 

He rather imagined that Inspector Barns was spending most of his time hunting him, still believing him somehow involved in whatever nightmare it was that was playing out all around him. And he also knew that given that he seemed to have acquired so many utterly determined enemies all of a sudden, the police couldn’t keep him safe. No one could. Especially when it seemed that it might be linked to his family. If they were involved and they considered him an enemy, there would be no limit to the lengths they would go to to hunt him down and kill him. And his mother was damnably good at finding people. That was just one of the many reasons he was glad to be away from them.

 

“That was nice of him.” Yet her smile seemed to slip a little as she spoke, as if she didn’t really believe what she was saying. Maybe she knew Kirby. Maybe she knew he wasn’t that generous with his things. Or maybe she just didn’t like him. It was always possible, and she was out of his league. Actually she was out of both of their leagues, but for the first time in his life that wasn’t going to stop him trying. Actually he’d never tried before, he’d never been interested.

 

“Yes it was, but we work together and he owes me for a couple of clients.” Kirby actually did and letting him stay in his house while he was away would barely have begun to repay him for his favours, but he was never the sort to pay up. Boast and brag incessantly, take credit wherever he could, and sometimes even say thank you in private, but never actually pay back a debt unless there was a contract involved. It was one of the reasons Rufus didn’t feel guilty about moving in to his home, especially when he’d given him the key so that he could water the plants and check the mail. The other was that the man was a pig. Sexist, racist, and always ready to put someone down. He did it to him too, when he thought he wasn’t around. It was only that Rufus didn’t care about such things, that stopped there being friction.

 

It was time to change subjects, maybe. “What’s in the tin?”

 

“Chocolate mud cake. It goes well with coffee.” For a moment Rufus was simply pleased by the idea of having something tasty to eat. The fridge was empty and the cupboards almost bare, and he didn’t dare go out to shop. Then in a classic double take, he picked up the other part of what she’d said, and was shocked almost speechless. He couldn’t quite believe what he was hearing. That she was actually inviting herself inside to have coffee with him. Maybe he was misunderstanding her. Beautiful women just didn’t do that. Not to him. Hell no one invited themselves over to his place. He didn’t have to discourage it, they simply didn’t come.

 

Mostly he was happy about that though. It suited him. His nice quiet home, everything perfectly in its place, everything just how he liked it. Visitors would only have made a mess. But not this time. Absolutely not this time.

 

“Yes of course. Please come in.” He spluttered it out like a teenage boy talking to a pretty girl for the first time, but she didn’t seem to mind. She just smiled and when he stepped aside, brushed past him in a cloud of gauzy material, long blond hair and the scent of flowers. She headed straight for the kitchen he noticed, seeming to know exactly where it was, and that was disturbing. But there was nothing he could say as he closed the door behind her and gave chase. Nothing at all.

 

In the kitchen she’d already flicked the kettle on and was setting out the cake on a plate by the time he’d got there, and he had to admit it looked good. After two days of sandwiches and black coffee it looked very good.

 

“So have you known Kirby long?” Rufus kicked himself mentally again as the question slipped out. He desperately wanted to know what her relationship was with his colleague, but he also didn’t when it made him look like a jealous kid with a crush, and he certainly didn’t want to interrogate her. It was rude and might upset her. Besides, he was terrified that he might hear something that he didn’t want to, and the thought of her with Kirby was intolerable. Kirby was a sexist pig, and the very thought of him being with such a lovely woman was intolerable.

 

“Not long, and not well.” She turned back to him and smiled, and he was left weak at the knees all over again. “He’s a very self absorbed young man.”

 

Rufus tried not to laugh with relief and poorly concealed jealousy and ended up spluttering and coughing like an idiot. She was so very right even if she worded it so much more politely than he would, and more importantly it didn’t sound like the two of them were close.

 

“Are you alright?” She seemed worried for a moment as she watched him make an ass of himself, and her eyes, so very big and blue, were suddenly filled with concern.

 

“Yes I’m fine thanks.”

 

“No you’re not.” In a heartbeat she’d crossed the kitchen floor and her hands were pulling down the neck of his T-shirt. He guessed she’d seen the wound and suddenly it didn’t matter how beautiful she was any longer. The throat wounds were also all over the news, and if she watched the telly at all, his secret was out. Suddenly he needed to run. “You’re really not well at all.”

BOOK: Pawn
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