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When the ash blonde next to him shook him out of his sleep, Leo Rivers grunted and woke up to find a man standing at the foot of the bed with a gun in hand.
“Take it easy,” Edwin Stern, the ice cream truck driver, said. And to the ash blonde, “Hit the bathroom sweetie, lock the door, and run the shower.”
The woman, a nice-looking broad, swept the blanket off herself, and sprang up to her feet. She was naked, and the dim light of the bed lamp was flattering to her skin tone. Naturally, and mostly out of reflex, her silver fingernails reached for a piece of clothing.
“Tsk, Tsk, Tsk––” Stern said. “Are you going out, or are you going in the shower, sweetie? Because people don’t shower with their clothes on, do they now?”
The woman held her lower lip between her teeth. She didn’t know whether the question was meant to be answered.
“The hell are you standing around there for? Off you go!”
She threw a vaguely troubled eye towards Rivers, overcame her pink embarrassment at being naked in front of the stranger, and hurried out of the bedroom.
“I know this is your apartment,” Edwin Stern said after her. “But fight the urge to sing in there, alright?”
The woman didn’t answer. Her butt cheeks bobbed away in the small corridor outside the bedroom. With her being naked and prudish and all, there was no chance she’d be going outside like that. And Stern had always had some scruples killing women, especially if he could help it. So he waited till he heard the bathroom door bang shut. The click of the bolt and the sound of the shower running followed. When he was satisfied to the point he could forget about the woman, he riveted his attention back to Rivers and basically told him who he was, which was a contract killer, and what he wanted, which was the dagger.
“I don’t have it,” Rivers said. “Honest to God, I don’t have it!”
“Then who does?” When Rivers hesitated to give a name, Stern added, “Who has it? Blanchard? Hodgson? Jeter? Or Norris?”
Rivers looked at Stern, eyes blinking as if a speck of dust was tickling them. Stern could see Rivers rack his brain to figure out how the hell he, Stern, knew about his friends, to the point of knowing their names.
“Oh, that’s right––” Stern said again, “Blanchard’s dead. So who’s going to be next? Norris? Jeter? No–– looks like it’s you.”
“Jesus––” Rivers said. “What you want? I don’t have the dagger. Hodgson’s got it.”
“And where can I find Hodgson?”
“I don’t know––”
“Honest,” Rivers said. “Why would I lie? I don’t know.”
“Well, I guess I’m going to have to find him without your help ––”
Stern’s finger tightened on the trigger.
“Wait––” Rivers cried.
Rivers’ body shivered under the blanket. He pushed himself more out from under it and leaned his back on the headboard. He too was naked. He had very broad shoulders and a meaty leather chest that was growing too much hair.
“Maybe––” he started, passing his calloused hand over his face. “I mean, maybe I know where Hodgson is going to be in two days.”