Zim hesitates, his hand resting on the neck of his guitar, his left foot already turning, pulling his body round though his head has yet to follow. As he dithers, Lehar looks up from her station back at the counter and her eyes narrow at the sight of someone outside the Excess Café reaching for the door-handle. The heavy-set man has his back to the door and cannot see, but he tenses anyway, and his companion draws a gun from her belt.
Zim's eyes widen; the gun is sleek, silver, the essence of streamlined elegance. The barrel is ridiculously long and has been intaglioed with Arabic script. The woman starts to raise it, then lowers it again, uncertain of herself. He wants to turn and see why she's drawn the gun, but there's still a sensation of cobwebs in the air, of strange threads drifting around waiting to find their anchor points, an aching potential that wants to be earthed.
"I'd like that," he says, not quite sure why he's saying it. His foot stops turning his body and he seems to snap back to where he was, facing Lissa who's still sat the table, his cup mere centimetres from his lips. The world seems to flicker as though it halted and needed to be restarted, as though he's sat in some third-rate alternate-reality theatre waiting for the inevitable headache and nosebleed.
"We can start now," says Lissa, his voice quiet and thin. He sips from his coffee cup, tasting bitter memories again.
"I might have a few things to do this afternoon," says Zim. "Where can I find you this evening?"
The sound of the gunshot is like a punch in the face: short and intense, disorienting and deafening, bewildering. A miasma of something burned floods the Café, and the harsh taste of cordite coats the back of Zim's throat. He staggers, trying to flinch in several different directions at once as the echoes bounce back off the wall, too fast for an unaugmented mind to perceive and too slow for an augmented one to ignore. He crouches, scraping his cheek down the side of a plastic chair and is close to the floor before the first shards of glass from the window strike it and shatter.
Lissa surges to his feet, not sure what is happening now. The heavyset woman has raised her gun and fired at the woman coming into the Café and he's sure that the etching on the side of her gun writhed just before she did so. The glass in the door has fractured and pieces of glass like laminated jigsaw pieces are sliding out of place and smashing on the floor. The door vibrates like a violin string and there's a faint, resonant squeal on the age of hearing, the protest of innocent matter caught in the cross-fire.
The woman in the damaged doorway, one hand still on the handle, has a far-away look in her eyes and her hair is strewn around her head as though she's been out in high wind and heavy rain. She's not quite wearing make-up, it looks as though she laid it all out before her, between her and the mirror, and then fell asleep on it. Random colours splash about wrinkled, raddled flesh suggesting different expressions in different lights; for a moment Lissa wonders how many different people are buried beneath her skin. In her other hand, impossibly, she's holding something tiny but lethal, steel-jacketed lead carved with every one of the million and one names of God. The bullet fired from the gun.
"Anna-Mix," says Lehar, and everyone hears her as though from far away or under water, and then the ringing in their ears starts and their eyes water with the acridity of the smoke.