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It's a good idea to stake out a spot near an alley, if you can manage it without a fight. Occasionally you get a john who's in a big hurry, or who enjoys the thought of making out in almost-public. Either kind can be dealt with in a quarter of the usual time, with minimal effort, and neither kind is liable to insist on a discount. Besides, if you think about it, they are getting a discount since they don't have to pay for a room.

You have to look them over carefully before going up that alley with them. Even the cheapest, sleaziest hotel room has an inhibiting effect on a rapist or mugger or nutcase. Whereas an alley is a place from which he can escape in two directions in a hurry.

But it had been my experience that, while perhaps a quarter of all johns were weird in one way or another, less than one in a hundred was dangerously weird. And I had never met one of those that I couldn't cope with. I used to quote those statistics about how the vast majority of murder and rape victims were assaulted by someone they knew. So when I hit the set that night, the first thing I did was to grab a spot near a good alley. One with no overlooking windows or fire escapes, or intrusive lights. I got there just ahead of Suzy Q, and he glared at me, but surrendered the spot. (Suzy was a pre-op transsexual, who billed himself as the One-Stop-Shop, and he and I had an understanding. He didn't mess with me, and I let him stay a pre-op transsexual.)

The moon was just coming up over the pool hall across the street when a well-dressed couple walked past me: a short, sad-looking man and somebody's maiden auntie, talking in low voices.

I only noticed them because of the glance the auntie gave me. Lots of well-dressed aunties looked at me with a mixture of pity and condescension and revulsion. This one's eyes held only pity. Somehow that was even more irritating.

So I half watched them as they walked by me and neared the mouth of the alley. I noticed vaguely that he had awfully big ears, and that she had a pretty fair little shape for an auntie. And then his worried sounding murmur rose in volume, so that I caught the last two words "—right now!" He thrust something into her hands, and she took it at once, began doing something to his neck with it. The gestures she made were oddly familiar, but I couldn't place them. She stood back, and I got it. He now wore a dog collar around his neck, and the end of the leash was in her hand.

And they ducked into the alley.

I broke up. They were just the most unlikely couple I could imagine to grab an alley quickie—much less to be into B&D.

I stopped laughing almost at once. When I was her age, came the thought, I'd probably have to take the weird johns too.

Or maybe their relationship was personal rather than professional. In any case, they were consummating it in my goddam alley. I followed them into the alley on cat feet.

A shaft of moonlight on the alley wall provided dim illumination. I saw them about twenty yards away, their backs to me. I moved so that I was no longer silhouetted against the mouth of the alley for them, and settled into voyeur mode.

The show was already in progress: he was removing his clothes with considerable haste. All of them, which I thought was strange and rather rash considering the exposed location. As he removed each garment he handed it to the auntie. In a surprisingly short time he was stark naked. Not even socks; not a wristwatch or a ring. Just the collar. He looked . . . like they all look.

"You'll forgive me if I don't watch," I heard her say, and she turned away from him. She was British, and unquestionably she was someone's maiden aunt. I had heard that some Brits were into this sort of thing. The question was, did I let them proceed with whatever the hell it was they were doing, or chase them off my turf?

While I was deciding, he changed. . . .

I don't scream, okay? I never have, not once in my life. Oh, I've yelled at the top of my voice a few times, hollered "Ouch!" or "Stop!" or "You bastard!" or whatever. But that cliché of a thousand suspense films, the unspellable, unpronounceable, generic falsetto female scream, is just not natural to me. Believe me, the life I've had, if it was going to happen it would have by now.

I didn't scream this time, as he changed. But I tried.

If you go to the movies much, you've probably seen a physical transformation very like it. That was my first thought: state of the art special effects. Skin stretched or shrank, changed color, changed texture, sprouted hair. Bones shifted, melted, extruded. The overall effect was a shrinking, a compacting. There was a constant muffled sound, like someone tearing up a whole chicken wrapped in a towel. I remembered that the moon was full tonight.

Maureen, I thought, you are watching a werewolf change shape in an alley in Brooklyn, while his auntie discreetly turns her back.

Of course I was wrong. Even in the lousy light, I could see the moment the transformation was finished that he was not a werewolf. If he had been, I think I would have refused to believe my eyes. But what they told me was so silly I simply could not disbelieve it.

He was a werebeagle.

* * *

There was no mistaking that shape, those ears. I had been in love with a beagle from ages five to seven, and had never really gotten over his loss. I recognized the new smell which was making the alley even riper than it had been a moment ago. Well, of course, I thought dizzily, it stands to reason that a beagle's bowels must be smaller. . . .

Perhaps that small, homely detail made it plausible to me. They'd certainly never mentioned such a side effect of lycanthropy in any of the movies, and I knew I would never have thought of it myself—but it made sense. I didn't stop to work this out consciously at the time; I simply believed what I was seeing.

And did what seemed an intelligent thing: I turned very quietly on my heels and began tiptoeing out of there. This wasn't my alley (although I had thought so until twenty seconds earlier); if people wanted to walk their werebeagles here it was none of my affair.

How could I have guessed that I was walking in the wrong direction?

I'd have sworn my heart was already beating at maximum speed, but it revved up sharply as a large male figure appeared just before me in the mouth of the alley, silhouetted against the lesser darkness of the street. Then I recognized him, and felt a wave of relief. All right, I thought. If the gods had allowed me to summon any one I chose to assist me in that moment . . . well, he would have been somewhere above fifth on the list. It was Big Travis, my pimp.

"Hey, Baby Love," he said lazily.

I had always hated that stupid name: now it sounded sweet in my ears. Bad weirdness was behind me, but my protector was here. "Travis! Jesus, I'm glad you came along—you won't believe what I just saw—"

"You won't believe what I just heard."

"—later, honey; first come see this, honest to God you'll—"

I was shocked when he hit me.

* * *

I had actually thought I could control Big Travis—that I was controlling him. It was a powerful and necessary illusion for a girl in my position, I guess. I took a great deal of secret pride in being able to control so strong and wild an animal. Perhaps Travis was aware of the illusion, and had allowed it to persist as his means of controlling me. If so, the illusion backfired on us both, for it had given me the idea that I could get away with skimming from him. It kept me from noticing a smouldering glow in his eyes that night, and it persisted right up to the moment his big fist smashed into my left side, just below the ribs, and its loss caused me several kinds of pain.

Least of which—at first—was the physical pain. Travis had hit me much harder than that once, back when we'd been defining our relationship. I was convinced that I had allowed him to do so then, deliberately given him the illusion that he was the one in control, as a means of establishing my control over him.

But this was different. The last time had been the kind of male violence I was familiar with: he'd picked the quarrel, spent a few minutes shouting and working himself up to it, built his anger to the proper dramatic peak, and let fly. I had had plenty of time to decide how I wanted to react. This sudden explosion of cold violence was shocking, dismaying, disappointing . . . and above all infuriating. I might have accepted a slap in the face; but an unexpected punch in the side seemed . . . disdainful, rude.

"You son of a bitch," I gasped, backing away against the wall. I wanted to rub where it hurt, but I was so mad I wouldn't. "What the hell was—"

"You been holdin' out on me, girl," he said. His voice unnerved me as much as the punch had. Travis knew.

I felt faintly dizzy.

I tried anyway. "Bullshit! You know how many guys I do a night, you know what I charge, you get a dollar for every dollar I make, even the tips." Believe it or not, most street girls give all their earnings to their man, in exchange for room, board, protection, and all the luxuries they can wheedle. Since I'd learned where Big Travis hid his cash (pimps don't use banks), I didn't mind that so much—my money was mine on twenty-four hours' notice, anytime I decided to leave—but a girl likes some folding green in her pocket, so . . .

"Been talkin' to your johns. You raised your prices. And still gettin' tips on top of that."

Shit. "Then I must be worth it! If I can get more than the going rate out of those bozos, it's my business."

He shook his head. "No. It's my business. And I'm teachin' you what happens when you screw around with my business." He shook his head again and stared closer. "Bitch, what you smilin' for?"

"Because I know something you don't know."

"What that be?"

I felt very tired all of a sudden. "I grew up on Army bases. My father started me on hand to hand combat when I was six. I took a punch from you once because I figured that a bodyguard is more use with his precious male ego intact. But I would say that this relationship has come to an end. You take all my money, and then the first time I actually need you, you punch me. I know half a dozen guys I can replace you with, Travis. Thanks for everything, and you were a fair lay, but I am now going to beat the living shit out of you." I squinted through the darkness. "What are you grinning for?"

He laughed aloud. " 'Cause I know somethin' you don't know."

"What's that?"

"Look down."

I shook my head. "Nice try, Travis."

He was nearly hysterical now. "No, no," he said, backing away. "I'll stand right here. Just take a peek."

I glanced down and back up before he could have moved. Nothing there. I took two steps forward to attack him before it registered.

If I hadn't been wearing a white blouse I'd have missed it altogether in the dim light. A large spreading dark stain . . .

Suddenly the pain in my side went from dull ache to lancing agony, and I was so scared I seemed to become hollow. He was still laughing at me, rocking slightly back and forth.

"Oh yeah? Well I can handle a knife, jerk, that's first year stuff, what do you think of that?" I screamed.

—and fell hard onto my knees—

His laughter tapered off. "I think you in your last year," he murmured, and moved toward me.

I saw his knife now. The blade was long and wet, and I knew I'd taken it all; I was cut bad. Most murder victims, I remembered thinking, are killed by someone they know. . . .

I swayed on my knees. My arms were too heavy to lift. So were my eyes. I have seen a man turn into a beagle, I thought, and now I am going to die, and my last sight on earth will be Big Travis's crotch there, coming closer to my face. No fair. I wasn't ready. Start again—

"Told you once before, be no second chances, sweet thing. Whore cross me once, she'll do it again, an' I can't be bothered spendin' energy keepin' you scared." He took me by the hair, yanked my head back so that I was looking up at him, throat exposed. I was grateful, thinking that I preferred to die seeing his face. Then I saw his face. "My other bitches already scared good—but when they read tomorrow in the News what Baby Love looked like when she was found, the gon' get industrious. I don't plan to let you die fo' 'nother hour or so . . . so the first thing we got to take is your voice . . ."

"You must stop this at once. At once, do you hear?" someone's British maiden aunt said.


I was not scared. I had passed way beyond scared, seconds ago. I knew scared would return as soon as I felt the knife again, but now I was conscious only of a vast sadness, sadness and the bitter taste of defeat. It seemed unfair, and anticlimactic, of the universe to torment me further by adding dollops of guilt and shame to my sorrow. I had been stupid: the message did not need underlining. So why did I also have to bear the guilt for the death of an innocent bystander, somebody's harmless, brainless auntie? Not to mention the beagle, which Travis was probably going to stomp to death and sell to a Korean restaurant.

"Go 'way," I croaked. "It's a game we play—"

"That's right, Auntie," Travis said, grinning. "We playin' a game. Like foreplay, you dig? Better beat it on home, we jus' gettin' to the good part." He unzipped his fly partway with his knife hand, still holding me by the hair.

"If it is a game, dear boy, then I should very much like to play too, if I may. And in my judgment it is your turn to be It."

Big Travis frowned, confused. I closed my eyes and groaned, because I knew how he always reacted to confusion. Sure enough, he let go of my hair, and as I slumped back onto my heels I heard his snakeskin boots stride slowly away.

"Old woman," he said, "I think it be your turn to be shit—"

I knelt there marinating in sorrow for a thousand years. I could feel things rearranging themselves inside me where he had stabbed me, cut edges rubbing past each other, but the pain could not distract me from my sadness and guilt. Something exploded in my head, and I knew I had to open my eyes and look at her, had to see her sweet, well-intentioned, stupid face once, so that I could take the sight of it to Hell with me. I deserved to; I had gotten her killed. I turned my head in her direction with a massive effort and forced my eyes open.

There was something wrong with what I was seeing. The point of view was too high. I was on my feet! How had I gotten to my feet?

At once came the thought, Maureen, if you are strong enough to get up on your hind legs, you are strong enough to turn around and run.

I calculated my chances of escape at one in a hundred. But even that one chance made it more imperative than ever that I see the old lady's face before she died. I focused on it, squinting because she was silhouetted against the mouth of the alley.

Then she took a step forward, toward Travis. She entered a zone of weak light reflected from something shiny in the trash around us, and I saw her fairly clearly.

She could have been a duchess. Her bearing was as aristocratic as her accent. She was smaller and slighter than me. She was dressed very expensively and very elegantly and very tastefully. She carried no purse. I guessed her an expensively preserved fifty. She carried herself like someone used to respect. She looked like a nice old lady, and my heart sank.

She was still holding that leash in her hand. On the other end of it was the beagle. He looked as sad as I felt.

Getting enough air to shout hurt dreadfully, but I did it anyway. "Lady, run!" I called. "He's got a knife."

She stood her ground. "I know, dear. Don't be afraid." Her voice was deep and throaty, and she sounded just slightly tipsy, as though she'd been nipping at the port. A British Tallulah Bankhead.

"That dog come at me," Travis said, "an' I'll take it away from you, put it someplace you might not like."

"Oh, I've always been one for a fair fight," she said cheerily, and let go of the leash. "I'll take him alone, Charles," she told it. It looked up at her and panted mournfully.

Travis stood still for a moment. Then he shook his head. "Sure is a night for dumb bitches," he said, and moved toward her.

Then something happened and he fell down.

I was looking right at them and that is what I saw. Doubtless it surprised him even more than it did me. It didn't seem to surprise the duchess at all. I swear I never saw her move a muscle.

He got his hands under him, and then his feet, stayed in a crouch and felt his face. He glanced down at his hand, flung something from it that made a splatting sound on trash cardboard. "Jesus, Christ," he said softly, "you broke my damn nose!"

"It protrudes," she said. "Or did."

Travis's nose was inordinately important to him. I should know; I'd worked hard keeping it fed. He made an animal sound.

She sighed. "I shall only give you one more lesson, dear boy," she said. "Then if you absolutely insist I shall kill you."

He sprang upward toward her, screamed, and did a back flip. At least it looked as if he tried to. But although he tucked well, he just didn't rotate fast enough, and landed hard on his back. He stayed tucked. After a moment, he began making an odd, whistling sound.

"I, for one, certainly hope we're done now," she said, and waited.

It took him long seconds to straighten out, and more to let go of his crotch and get his breathing back to normal. He got to his feet slowly and with extreme care. He looked down stupidly at the knife he still held in his hand. Then he looked back up to her. Travis's crotch was inordinately important to him, too, and I had no idea what on earth was going on but I, for one, was sure we were not done now. He began to growl—

And she took a step toward him, eyes flashing, and the growl turned into a yelp, and he fled.

He ran so fast he lost his footing, fell headlong, did a tuck and roll and came up running even faster; so fast that when he burst out of the alley he had to run a few thundering steps along the side of a parked Buick to make his turn.

The duchess did not relax. She was already relaxed. She sniffed. "What an asshole," she said delicately.

The beagle, panting happily, seemed to nod.

I was still on my feet, but the alley wall was against my back now. I decided I was hallucinating, that I must have gone mad, like people did in the movies. I thought of a movie they showed us once in one of my dozens of schools, "An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge." Was this my dying fantasy? Was Big Travis even now slicing me open, humming thoughtfully and artistically? I did feel my feeble reserves of strength draining, and I did hear a humming sound.

I shoved myself away from the wall, tottered forward four steps on my stilts, stared at the calm, unruffled auntie. She separated into two identical copies of herself, like an amoeba reproducing. So did the beagle and everything else. I made an immense effort and resolved the double vision.

"Thank you for not dying," I said. My voice sounded distant. "It was kind of you." Manners. Duchesses placed high value on manners. "But I'm afraid I'll have to now. Terribly sorry. Will you excuse me—?"

Falling to my knees hurt worse the second time. The light at the end of the alley began receding rapidly, taking the deadly duchess and her dog with it.

My last thought was that I'd have to hurry if I wanted to get to Hell before the evening rush—

* * *

But I woke in another place.

Or so it seemed when consciousness first returned. I was lying on my back on a very comfortable bed, under soft warm covers. I had only the vaguest recollection of the fight, something unimportant that had happened a long time ago. Nothing hurt, not even my side. I did not try moving to see if that would make it hurt. I was too weak to move.

Wherever I was, it was quiet and peaceful here. The room was not dark; a soft feeble light source of some kind lay to my right. The air was full of pleasant girl-scents. This was not a hospital room or an emergency ward or a police infirmary. And it certainly didn't seem to be Hell.

With great effort I rolled my head to the right, toward the light, and became much less certain.

My vision was watery at first. But even in the first glance there was no mistaking what I saw. A small naked man.

No, not naked, wearing some sort of odd, leather harness, and slippers, and a short apron-like affair tied around his waist that left his buttocks bare. His back was to me. He seemed to be making an effort to move quietly. He was standing before a large beautiful old dresser, and from its second drawer he was just removing a red satin corset, taking care not to let it rustle.

Jesus God, I thought, while I was hallucinating killer aunties Big Travis killed me and now he's rented me to a necrophiliac. A necrophiliac fetishist. Doesn't anybody just want to get naked with a nice cool corpse and make love normally any more?

No, I decided, this will not do. I picked my johns while I was alive and I'll pick them now, and this guy is entirely too scary! Even for a corpse. Oh God, I think I'm naked under this blanket—

I summoned up all the energy I had for a roof-raising shriek of terror and rage and outrage. What came out was a squeak, such as you might hear from a sleeping baby mouse having a bad dream, and almost at once I stopped being afraid. Because the squeak caused him to leap a few inches in the air like a startled burglar, and when he spun around and gasped at me his face held such a comic mixture of dismay and confusion and fear and anger with himself that if I'd had the strength, I might have giggled. He looked so silly in that apron and straps. Jiminy Cricket in bondage. Balding slightly, with the beginnings of a pot belly. He gestured vaguely with the red corset and began speaking in a high rapid voice. "Oh God, I was sure I could do it without waking you I'm so terribly sorry I'm such a fool oh I beg you please don't tell Mistress Cynthia please don't or she won't punish me tonight!" He waited expectantly. Garters dangled agitatedly from the corset.

"Nng," I whispered.

He slapped himself in the face. "Oh, I'm such a fool please forgive me of course I'll go at once pretend I was never here just go back to sleep I promise everything is all right you're in good hands the best hands the very best hands and there's nothing to be afraid of Doctor Kate fixed everything someone will be here soon to look after you if you want anything I'm really sorry please don't tell Mistress Cynthia thank you!"

He sprang for a door I had not yet seen and was gone before I could say "Nng" again.

Then he sprang back into the room, scurried to the dresser, snatched up some nylons to go with the corset and was gone again.

It never occurred to me to doubt that he was real. I know the limitations of my imagination. But those same limits left me unable to guess how I ought to react.

I decided I did not need to. I went to sleep. My first intelligent decision for a long time.

I should have stuck with it. When I woke again I felt just awful, stiff and sore and queasy and sour and sweaty. My mouth was dry and tasted foul. My cheek hurt. My knees ached. My head throbbed. There was more light than last time, and it hurt my eyes even through the lids. But the worst was my side. It felt as if someone had had carnal knowledge of the knife wound. That much pain was scary.

I whimpered, and tried to curl up around my left side. Gentle firm hands touched my shoulders, pressed me back. Woman hands. One of them brushed my hair back, stroked my forehead. The hand was cool, its skin soft. The fingers wandered at first, then seemed to sense little currents of pain beneath the skin and targeted them. I gave up the struggle to remain tense, let myself go as limp as the pain in my side would let me. I kept my eyes closed, because as long as I didn't open them, nobody could scare me or make me think or ask me questions. Not even me. Blindness wasn't a lot of comfort, but it was all I had.

When people rub your head for you they never quite get the right spots. She never missed. Her fingers traced veins of suffering, soothed knots of muscle, stimulated circulation, adjusted their pressure and direction with uncanny precision. As my headache washed away, the pain in my side began to diminish slightly. Which made the fear begin to ease, which caused the faint nausea to wane, which helped the headache . . .

"That's better," she said. "Everything's going to be all right."

Her voice was as gentle and firm as her hands. I remembered it very well. Those compassionate fingers trolling for pain across my forehead were the ones that had wiped up the alley with Big Travis.

I opened one eye part way. The duchess, all right, resplendent now in evening dress. The sad-faced man with the big ears, the one who turned into a beagle when the moon came out, stood silently behind her. No sign of the little man in the apron. Her eyes were kind. She smiled faintly.

"Sleep some more," she suggested.

Splendid idea.


The third time I awoke I did not feel as good as the first time or as bad as the second time. My side hurt as much, and there were aches at my knees and the right side of my face, but I felt stronger. I was alert, and terribly thirsty.

"Water," I croaked.

The light was dim again. Someone got up from a chair in response to my plea, but from the sound and silhouette I could tell it was not the duchess, nor the sad-faced man, nor the cricket in the apron. Someone bigger, heavier than any of them. Another woman, in a robe. She crossed the room, then came back again, stood just outside my peripheral vision.

My head was lifted from a pillow. Wetness occurred at my lips. I drank eagerly.

"Easy now," she said. "Not too fast." Her voice was deep and slightly husky.

Finally I lay back and sighed. "Where am I?"

"That'll have to wait," she said. "I've got more important questions."

"What could be more important than `where am I?'?"

"Your answers will tell me how much painkiller I can give you."


"I need to know what drugs you've taken in the last forty-eight hours—scrip, street or even booze. Also, what do you take regularly, and when did you last eat?"

"I don't do drugs."

She said nothing at all.

"Oh, coffee and cigarettes, and some juice with the johns when I'm working, half a pint of tequila, maybe that much vodka. But not, you know, drugs. Are you some kind of cop or what?"

She sighed. "In the absence of reliable data, I must reduce your dosage to zero, to be safe." She made as if to get up.

"All right! Forty-eight hours? Five or six joints . . ." She waited, " . . . and three or four lines. No, all right, let me count them up . . . eight total, no more, really. Terrible shit; they couldn't get Third World mothers to feed it to their babies any more so they sold it to Big Travis. So hardly any coke, but a lot of that other kind of 'caine that makes your nose numb. Oh, and one of the johns, I think his pot was dusted, but I didn't have much of it." She still waited. "And half a 'lude with a little wine to get to sleep last night."

"But no drugs."

"I don't have anything to do with needles!" I snapped, and regretted it. Just talking hurt my side plenty. Emphasis was too costly.

"I know; I looked for tracks. Even the sneaky places. Speed?"

"Not for months. I stopped doing it. I never did really like it."

She put her face in front of mine, close. I saw only the eyes. "Snort smack?"


"Your pimp made you stop."

Her eyes were huge. "What have you, been reading my mail? I just let him think that! I'd already decided it was dumb."

"And when did you eat?"

"Pizza for breakfast at ten, a bowl of chili after the lunchtime rush, six hours later I got stabbed, when the hell do I get the god damned painkiller?" 

Her face backed away. "I'm sorry. Right now." She took a black doctor-type bag from the floor beside the bed, got out a hypo and a small stoppered vial, busied herself loading the needle.

"That doesn't look like much," I complained. "What are you giving me?"

"Well," she said, squinting judiciously at the needle as she purged it of air, "with your history I figure you've built up a heavy tolerance, so it's safe to smack you pretty hard. I wouldn't give this stuff to a civilian. You'll like it." She circled my arm with her big hand, squeezed until a vein came up.

"A-a-l-l right!" I said feebly, looking away. I hate needles. "Thanks. What is it?"

She slid the point home, thumbed the plunger slowly and steadily. "Fifty milligrams of laboratory-pure Placebo in a potassium chloride/dihydroxide solution." She took out the spike and rubbed the spot with a piece of cotton.

"Wow. Sounds good." The name rang a bell. "Isn't Placebo the Russian word for `thank you'?" My father spoke Russian.

She coughed loudly into her hand, and bent to put away her gear. "Yeah, it's Russian-made. Experimental. It'll come on like gangbusters in about four heartbeats."

"I can feel it." The pain, and the body in which it resided, moved about two feet to the left of me and stayed there. I could see it pulsing vaguely in the gloom out of the corner of my eye. "Thanks a lot. What's your name?"


"Hi, Mary, I'm Maureen." I realized I'd given her my real name, and wondered why.

"Hello, Maureen."

She sat at my bedside while I enjoyed the feeling of being distant from the pain. I noticed vaguely that she was holding my hand, though I could not feel it.

"I had morphine once," I said after a while, "in a hospital, and this is better, you know?"

"Yes. It is."

I rolled my head over and looked at her, focusing with some difficulty. She must have been close to two hundred pounds, and she did not look at all like a jolly fat lady, but I got the idea she could be merry when it suited her. "Hey, Mary, where the hell am I, anyway?"

"Lady Sally's house."

"Is that the duchess?"


"The killer auntie."

"Oh. I think so, yes. Her Ladyship brought you here."

"That's the one. She's got one wild maid, I'll tell you."

"More than one."

"The one I mean was half bald, with his tush sticking out of a cute little apron."

She laughed. She tried to keep it down to sickroom volume, but it was a pretty substantial laugh. "That's Robin. He belongs to Cynthia, not Lady Sally. Don't worry, he's harmless."

"Tell me about it! The shape I'm in, I chased him out with his tongue between his legs. I mean his tail between his teeth. Boy, this Russian shit is terrific. I always knew rich people had secret dope that was dynamite. You a doctor or a nurse?"


"Somebody fixed me up pretty good. This Lady Sally actually got a doctor to make a house call?"

"Kate's on staff. She said it was nice to do some real medicine again, sew something besides costumes for a change. You'll meet her later."

"Fine by me." Everything was fine by me. I made a mental note to tell Travis about this Placebo stuff. Then I remembered that Travis had gone away somewhere and wouldn't be back for a long time. Then I remembered that I didn't like him anymore anyway, for some reason. Then I discovered that while I'd been pursuing this train of thought, I'd mislaid the room in which I'd left my body and its pain. It was around here someplace. . . .

I went looking for it, and got distracted by other rooms, with funny things in them. Daddy was in some of them, and Mommy wasn't in any of them. It was fun.


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