November chilled New York City and shrouded the corner brownstone in dark moon.
The woman’s presence danced on Lum’s skin before he saw her creep up the front steps and into the house. Her black corset, jeans and duster left their shadow in his mind’s eyes.
How did she get in? Lum had watched the widow’s son lock the door at sundown. Even if he hadn’t, no one ever approached that house after dark.
He wanted to stay put. Interfering in human affairs rarely ended well. His resolve lasted almost a minute. “Damn corsets and daunting auras,” Lum said to himself. After the lights of a car vanished up the street, he jumped down from his perch on an oak tree and landed in a crouch in front of the door. He had no need for keys.
Lum slipped into the foyer, and the woman’s blade was under his chin before he could take two breaths.
He was looking into her dark eyes when he felt the nick make him shiver. Thanking the Silver Mother for the blessings of smelting, Lum said, “This isn’t a good place.”
“Was it you?” she said, pressing her body and her blade closer to Lum. The disgust in her tone told him exactly what it was.
“I’ve never killed in this house.” He tried not to move his jaw. The steel didn’t burn like iron, but the blade still stung. Lum’s six-foot frame was slim. And the woman’s eyes were leveled with his. The feel of her body pressed against his front suggested she probably had a few pounds on him. If the moon had been full, he could’ve had her back against the stairwell with little effort. But he had used the last of his active energy casting a deep sleep charm on the widow and her son. The boy didn’t rest much these days.
She dug her elbow into the soft tissue between his shoulder and chest. “Why are you following me?”
“I’m not. I’ve been watching someone who lives here.” When she gave him a dubious look, Lum added, “I’m afraid for a boy.”
She relaxed. Her confusion was replaced by curiosity. “Who are you?”
“Luminous,” he said.
“I didn’t ask your—”
“Someone’s coming,” Lum said. She glanced towards the door separating the foyer from the rest of the house. “He’s outside.”
“How do you know?”
“I mean you no harm, lady, but the man on the sidewalk feels… wrong.”
She cocked her head towards the exit, and Lum let himself be dragged closer to the door. The woman looked through the peephole, while keeping her blade on his neck.
The heightening of her anxiety made his body jolt. “You know him?”
She pursed her lips. “Is there another way out of here?”
Lum glanced over her shoulder, and said, “Up the stairs.”
“That man is bad news.” She lowered the blade. “And he’s here for me.”
“The second floor apartment was vacated recently. There is a window and a fire escape.”
She looked out the peephole again. “He’s not there,” she whispered, “probably waiting me out. Show me that window.”
They both waited for the other to go up the stairs first. Once they noticed neither of them would expose their back, they walked up quietly side by side.
“There,” Lum said, pointing at a door towards their left, a few steps from the top of the stairs.
She walked in before Lum could stop her. The house held so many evils that the bearded man’s presence registered too late.
“You have a partner,” the man said, his gun pointed at the woman’s left temple. “We wondered how you made such a mess.” He shook his head. “I knew you would bad for business, Darlene Tapia. You two shouldn’t have done this.”
“We didn’t,” she said.
The man shrugged. And Darlene pulled a blade out of… Lum wasn’t sure where the steel had come from, but it had left the man holding his throat, crimson seeping through his fingers. The gun lay on the other side of the room, where Darlene had kicked it.
She eased the man to the floor. “Who marked me,” she said to him.
“He’s dead, Lady Darlene.”
She kept staring at the man’s unblinking eyes. “I need to fix this,” she said, looking at the darkening wet spreading on the carpet. “If they find him here, things—”
“I can take care of it,” Lum said.
Darlene stood up and looked at him. “You have people?”
Lum looked away. “I will do it myself.”
“Thank you. I appreciate the help.” She wiped the blade on the man’s black slacks, and sheathed it in her corset, under her left arm. “We get him out through the window?”
Lum shook his head. He looked at her, knowing that the tricolored green of his eyes was probably glowing with the surge of her kill. “I will do it.” He wasn’t sure why, but he wanted her to ask the questions he had never answered for any human. “If you wait outside the door for a moment, I… I will fix things.”
She watched him for a while. “What are you?”
“Luminous,” he said.
She took a deep breath. The in and out of air made the black corset move slightly up and down on her torso. “How long?”
“How long do I need to wait outside, Luminous?”
“You can call me Lum,” he said. “And it will be just a minute or two.”
“Are you going to walk out the window and call the cops, Luminous?” She emphasized her use of his name.
“No, Darlene Tapia.” He found himself grinning. “And my kind can’t lie.”
She nodded and walked out of the apartment.
After closing the door behind Darlene, Lum crouched next to the man. He placed a hand on the bloody chest. It was warm. He pushed his will and hunger to the palm of his hand, and absorbed the man’s essence—flesh, bone, blood and soul—until only a white long-sleeved shirt, belted black slacks and a pair of black loafers lay flat on the clean carpet, under his touch.
He got to his feet and opened the door.
Darlene barely glanced at the empty clothes. All her attention was on Lum. Without speaking, she touched his cheek with the tips of her fingers. She caressed the skin under his right eye with her thumb. Lum leaned into her hand, and she cradled his face. Her eyes were full of wonder. “I want to know you,” she said.
“I want the same,” he told her, feeling the truth of it with everything he was.
Lum didn’t know why Darlene made him feel so much, so intensely, so soon… But in the depths of his collective souls, he understood that the Silver Mother had just put him, face to face, with the woman who held every cord that had been missing from his life’s weave.
More Lum and Darlene:
- “Darlene’s Dad”
for Magpie Tales 248