A quiet moment

"Oh bugger," I say with venom.  The cops?  Already?  "I guess someone's tipped them off then, but why?  Do you think we were seen?"

"Well, we weren't exactly sneaking into the building," says Red, "but I don't know.  Everyone we know who wants a word with us would probably rather shoot us on sight than send the cops for us."

"That's what we get for being the coolest kids in the school," I say.  "Reckon we'll be picked for prom king and queen?"

Red takes the binder, then the envelopes which he slides inside the binder, and finally my hand.  I'm pretty certain that's the wrong order, even for someone who's relationship with Puppy has just gone mysterious -- if she's not and never has been his girlfriend, where does this connection they have come from?  Who said no to whom?

"Nah," he says, "I wouldn't make a good prom queen."  I beg to differ, he's definitely got good legs and his beard grows as slowly as lichen.

We're out of the apartment and Red is closing the door behind him when I stop him, dash back inside, push the door to so I can reset the alarm, and then I'm out again and the door is closed behind me.  It clicks shut reassuringly, Red's lockpicking skills are clearly professional.  He takes my hand again and starts off towards the stairwell.

"Maybe it was the neighbours," he says thoughtfully.  "Are they nosy round here?"

"Invisible!" I say.  "I don't think I ever saw any of them, even in the lift or the lobby."  Red is trying to go down the stairs, so I pull hard on his hand until he stops and looks at me.  "Up," I say.  "Let's not meet the police until we have to."  Red looks unconvinced but allows me to take the lead.  I hurry up the stairs, managing three flights before I start to limp a little, and then I hug the wall slightly to make it less obvious.  It's not like I'm the only injured one here, after all.

At the top of the stairs in a locked door, which I stand aside from and look expectantly at Red.  He pokes his tongue out at me.

"It's not a party trick," he says, "I don't pick locks on demand, not even for you." I tap my foot, and he sighs dramatically and bends to his task.

"There was a time when I would have married Joel," I say, "but even before his family decided to interfere I was changing my mind.  I thought maybe he was having an affair, but there was never any evidence of that.  I caught him sleeping alone in his own bed, I found his dirty shirts free from lipstick and perfume, and he was always where he said he would be when he went abroad and I tried to call.  But there was still something that wasn't right, something he wasn't telling me.  Something I wasn't willing to have between us, hiding in plain view."

Red has stopped picking the lock and is looking at me, his eyes bright in the darkness of the stairwell.  I'm glad it's too dark to make his face out clearly, I'm worried that he might be looking at me tenderly, with a degree of concern.

"Pick the lock already," I say, and he turns back to it and carries on.  "So when he said his family didn't think I was Jewish enough, it wasn't really a problem, it was more of a relief.  Though it did kind of confirm to me that there was something else going on.  For a few weeks I did wonder if he was gay, but that never went anywhere either.  Which is kind of a shame, as if he was I could at least have had a shopping buddy."

The door opens and Red makes a choked sound, possibly him stifling a laugh.  I stalk through the door, leaving him to follow me and close it behind him.

This is the roof-garden on the top of Joel's building, open only to residents and rather secluded and beautiful, even in the snowy depths of winter.  Narrow little paved paths lead through dense, evergreen shrubs and carefully tended trees that grow no taller than six feet.  There are some dark, empty-looking beds where bulbs are planted for tulips and daffodils, and there are two little clearings hidden by the shrubs that contain iron-work benches, tiny little wooden tables, and most importantly, patio heaters.

I hurry through, Red tagging along behind, to one of the clearings and turn the patio heater on.  As it pushes out welcome heat from beneath its thin metal umbrella, I sweep the snow from off the bench and sit down.

"Come on then, handsome," I say, "let's find out what's in those envelopes."

The End

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