A Little Princess

"Red, why are your hands covered in paint?"

He flushes, hiding a smile. "Have a seat?" he waves vaguely at the dark table with his briefcase, "Joel hasn't joined us, yet."

Jazz ducks out of the room, muttering to another of her colleagues something I can't quite hear. She eyes us before she leaves, gaze flicking up and down Red's made over look and arching an eyebrow at me. God, she can be a pain.

I lay my bag on the table and lower myself into a chair. It squawks when I try crossing my legs, making Red chuckle as he sits across from me.

"That guy into power trips? Seems like he enjoys the tension."

I purse my lips, flick the hair out of my eyes. Something about the outfit makes the lady - so why am I acting like a bewildered - "No," I snap, "Joel's just... He values his job."

Red nods, picking at a corner of the leather case, "Ah."


"What what?" He blinks innocently up. It irks me.

"There's nothing wrong with Joel, okay?" My fingers are splayed over my bag and I'm twisting the braided cord. A thread snaps and I jump.

"Okay, fine. Nothing. Got it," he says.

The soft pressure of steps, the door easing open, breaks the silence. Red lets out a high breath through his teeth.

God. She's just a kid.

Laika is led into the room, gripped at the arm by a hulking, suited man. She pauses in the doorway and her cold, grey eyes sweep around the table, the room, hover at the streaming window and Red's briefcase. Her hair is a sopping bird's nest of crinkled black, dribbling over her silk shirt so it clings around the collar while simultaneously gaping at the neck. Her guard sits her in a chair, out of arm's reach of anything, and he turns to me.

"You got a bandaid in that purse?"

"Er," I flick the clasp and dip my hand in. It touches something heavy and cold and I shudder. "No. Um. Sorry."

He grimaces and rubs his arm, glaring at Laika before he, too, leaves.

"Um," Red smiles at the girl, "Puppy? How's it going?"

She pauses, motionless. Abruptly, her eyes widen and she bares her teeth. A pink tongue arcs over their surface and she digs a finger in. She peers at the resulting black thread and a smile edges crookedly across her face. I gag and she looks at me for the first time. Her face is blank, pale.

"Laika," Red brings her attention over again, "Have they interrogated you? Are you alright?"

She squints, considering the question as if for the first time. I can see her hands working under the conference table from where I sit, and the fingers are pulling at a run in her dress. I wonder if maybe that's what she's really thinking about.

"Here, let me help," I say and scoot my chair over. Her eyes widen again, like twin grey mud puddles, and she grips the fabric tight in her fist, shaking her soggy head.

"Laika?" Red sounds like he's panicking, "Are you going to cry?"

I reach for her hand and she jolts away, head still bobbling and eyes pooling. She tries to rise and the dress rips across the bottom seam; a sound like a slow fire. The strip of silk twists in her fingers and she gapes bewilderedly at it.

The door swings open again, slapping the back of my chair. Joel steps in, smiling at us.

I scrabble up, adjust my dress, and trying to return the smile. Red grimaces from his seat.

"Well," Joel circles to the end of the table, fanning himself with a paper sheef, "I must say the search did turn out productive." He eyes the wavering Puppy at the other end of the room, then tilts his head and winks at Red, "You didn't tell me she was that Laika, Jeremy."

He sends the papers across the slick table top, smirking, "If it isn't little Laïka Grozny, mobster princess."

The End

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