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24. End of Intermission

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The story concluded – I sat in silence. A cloud of smoke had settled overhead. The ashtray needed emptying, actually…we needed more cigarettes. What was I supposed to say? He had given me a piece of his life. A tragic piece – sharp and dangerous. What was I supposed to do with it? Was I supposed to bury it? Pretend this never happened? Console him? No. He was an adult – he didn’t need comfort. Even if he did, it wasn’t my place. I just so happened to be here at the time. A quirk of fate. Nothing more.

There was that uncomfortable stretch of time when you don’t really know what to do. Nobody talks because you’re both listening strenuously for the slightest sound to clue you into the truth. We were waiting anxiously for something to snap.

“Happy now?” he muttered. His head was low, the smoke trailing from the cigarette held carelessly in his hand. He kept his eyes pinned to the floor, on my feet. I shrugged my shoulders and got up, pacing around slowly, forcing him to move if he wanted to keep his eyes on me.

“Now we’re even.”

“Why does it matter?”

I turned back at him. “It doesn’t. That’s the point.”

He shook his head. “Do you have any idea what you’re talking about?”

I turned and smiled at him. “Sometimes.”

“And the rest of the time?”

“I make it up as I go along and try to move quick enough for nobody to notice.”

And he laughed a little to himself, a reserved laugh that hid behind his pain, behind his misery. A laugh that showed his weakness, or that showed his lack thereof. He hadn’t laughed in ages. When he did, it was hidden in other emotions, buried too deep to get out.

“You’re not scared of anything, are you?” he asked. He dared to look up at me for a moment. I thought about it for a bit.

“I never was too crazy about spiders…”

And he laughed again, louder this time, coughing on the smoke. I smiled as best as I could manage. As much as I resented being here, being under containment, it wasn’t the worst situation in the world. Things could always be a lot worse.

There was a child captive in the man’s body, a younger, bolder self – dying to be free. We all had one, but his was visible on the surface, screaming through his eyes. I finished my smoke and went back to where he was to put it out. I was within arm’s reach; the usual chill ran down my spine. I hated being closer than I had to be. It was just…intolerable. He reached a hand out to touch my arm. I jumped and he pulled back quick.

“Touchy?”

“Slightly.”

“I’m sorry,” he whispered, his eyes returning to the floor. I shook my head defiantly.

“No reason to be.”

He shook his head, but it was more of an absentminded nod. He was still looking at the ground. He agreed in barely audible tones and the topic dropped. He got up and shifted past me carefully, staying out of reach. I was out of range and so was he.

“I’m going to sleep,” he said finally, after he’d gotten past. I nodded and watched him go, sitting myself back down to think.

He wasn’t a scumbag. He was human in there. He had a heart and soul and cared. But then again, he was working for the enemy. He was playing both sides. Unless he had an ulterior motive. Unless he was only on this side of the line to gain something.

I had to talk to Layne. I had to find out the truth. But while I was here, that was impossible. How long would they hold me here? How long would my life be put on hold for the assumption of investigation? How would I know when it was clear to go? I trusted my freedom to someone else’s word.

Serkis would come. She’d fight this. She’d have to. She was the great Serkis Draft. Now and forever.

I gave up on thinking and trudged off to sleep myself. There was no point in trying to figure out the obvious. There would be plenty of time to think, there wasn’t anything else to do in this steel box. Nothing but think. My own mind would be my only comfort and closest friend.

Oh goody.

I went to sleep and woke up without interruption. Sylum was gone, as usual. We spent a lot of days like that. Weeks crept by. Serkis didn’t surface until we were three weeks into it. Sylum happened to be home that day. I was curled up in my room, writing aimlessly, when I heard the knock at the door. Nobody ever visited. Nobody came in or out except Sylum. I jumped up and ran out into the living room. Sylum crept to the door gun in hand. He looked through the peephole, saw nothing, and opened slowly. He had a gun leveled at his head.

“Nice to see you again, Officer Bishop.”

“Don’t you have any manners?”

Serkis edged herself in, pushing Sylum back with the gun. He was smiling, ironically. She smiled too, closed the door neatly behind herself, and gestured to Sylum.

“Drop the gun, it’s not nice to threaten a lady.”

He smiled wickedly at her. “You show me a lady and I won’t threaten.”

She laughed, clicked hers onto safety and tucked it into her waistband. She kissed him on the cheek while sneaking his out of his hand. She dropped it somewhere and led him over to sit down near me. “You taking good care of my kid?”

“Your kid?”

She left him where he sat and edged herself next to me, an arm wrapped around me proudly. “Yeah. Mine. You got a problem with that?”

“Should I?”

“Good,” she replied, nodding her head. This could go on all day. I think we all knew it. Serkis turned and looked me up and down, inspecting me carefully.

“Satisfactory?” Sylum asked. Serkis smiled.

“Maybe. But we’re to go have a little talk, her and I. I know you won’t mind.” She got up abruptly and I with her, following her to my little nook. She stood in the doorway for a moment then consented to relocate things in the room. The mattress was heaved up, turned, and left in the doorway. This way, the door couldn’t close and we couldn’t be locked in.

“You know how this place works, don’t you?”

She was still smiling. “I’ve been here before.”

I was going to ask more questions, but it would have been a waste of time, patience, and effort. She would merely smile. She was good at that, the infamous smile that left you dying for more. But you never got it. She knew just when to take and just when to give. And I loved her for the mystery of it all.

Serkis sat herself on the floor, curled up like a child. She patted a spot next to her, which I seated myself at. She was eying me carefully.

“Are you really okay?”

“Yeah. Course.”

“You wouldn’t lie to me, right?”

“Why would I do that?”

Serkis shrugged nonchalantly. “He hasn’t touched you, right?”

“Right.”

“You’d tell me if he did, right?”

“Serkis, what’s wrong?”

She shot her eyes to the ground, then back up again. Blink, and you would have missed it. “I’m just worried. I’m allowed to be worried about you, aren’t I?”

“But what’s with all the questions? How much trouble can I get in while I’m here? He’s never home and when he is, he stays as far away as possible.”

“Good. Try to keep it that way.”

“I don’t understand.”

“He’s a guy, kid. He’ll do whatever it takes to get what he wants.”

“I still don’t understand.”

“Just…be careful. Guys are jerks. He plays both sides of the line – he’s a traitor by nature. His morals aren’t exactly clear-cut. And being a cop, he can get away with murder. Almost literally. He’s gotten away with a lot as is. Just…don’t be thrown off by the charming exterior. Always be on your guard. Always.”

“Yes Ma’am.” I saluted her halfheartedly. She laughed and poked at my side. I laughed and things were better.

“Keep your nose clean. It’s…tense times now. And it’s only going to get more complicated. Keep your head down and stay as far away from him as you can.”

“Will do.” I always spoke in as few words as possible, as if my own words scared me. My thoughts ran rampant without me, going on and on, spanning invisible millennia of madness. I nodded and we both got up. She kissed me on the cheek and roughed up my hair.

“Be good, kid. I’ll be seeing you soon.” She looked around with a slow glance. “Keep your bags packed…okay?”

I nodded and she wrapped her arm around me and led me back out. Sylum hadn’t moved. If anything, he’d lit a smoke in the meanwhile. Serkis was all types of close to me – she was one of the few people I could tolerate it from.

“Remember everything I told you,” she whispered to me before stepping back into the room to Sylum. He looked up at us casually as we approached.

“Back already? I though you’d be in there for ages, I was going to go in and ask if I should prepare for more company.”

Serkis grinned at him. “You know I wouldn’t stay here even if my life depended on it.”

And he smiled back, to match her. “Thank God it doesn’t, right?”

Serkis stepped away from me and made her way to the door, edging past him. She stopped when they were face to face. She crept as close as she could, speaking so that her breath brushed his face.

“You lay a hand on her and I’ll kill you.” She paused, smiled, and kissed him on the cheek. “Do you understand?”

He nodded, smiled wider, and she slipped past. There was sweat slipping down his forehead. From his reaction, I take it that he knew she wasn’t kidding. She was in the doorway when she turned around to face him.

“I nearly forgot, here.” She produced his gun…I don’t know where she had it. She spun it around a few times on a finger and tossed it to him, closing the door just as it reached his hands. He turned it around idly. She’d taken the clip.

“Isn’t she something?” I said. He looked at me, realizing for the first time that I was still there. He took the gun and aimed it at me; I heard the click when he tried to fire. There was nothing in it.

“She took the round out of the chamber.” He looked around, amazed. “She doesn’t leave anything behind.” His eyes rested on me. “Keep your bags packed.”                    

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