Chapter IV

“When you said ‘see you soon’ I didn’t think you meant this soon,” Shah said.

            Aurora smiled.

            “Can I get you something else?” Karl shouted over the background noise of the bar.

            At Shah’s enquiring look, Aurora shook her head. “I’ve had enough for now.” She glanced him a momentary smile he almost missed. “To drink.”

            “Ah.” Shah kept his voice carefully neutral. He had found over the years when lost for words that ‘ah’ was a good expression. He also found it useful sometimes to stay silent, and let the silence squeeze the next answer from the other person. If Aurora had shown any signs of wanting to leave he might have said more, but she looked as if she was settled.

            The lengthening silence repaid his faith. Aurora stared at the counter and said, “You know–” and stopped. She looked up at him. “You’re not making this easy.” Her nervous little smile robbed the words of any rebuke.

            “Making what easy?” He knew now where the conversation was going, but he wasn’t sure why.

            “I was going to repay you with your own cash,” she said.” If I can’t do that, I have only one thing that I can offer. But normally, I don’t have to work quite so hard to sell it.”

            “Well,” he said, nodding slowly, gravely, to show his sympathy.” That must be very difficult for you. Having to work quite so hard at whatever it is that I’m not making easy.”

            Her laugh was an explosion of air that ended as abruptly as it started.” You’re very funny,” she said, tone belying her words. “Are you fully partnered, or just as slow as you make out?”

            “Partnered? Yeah, I have one, though she’s mostly on a different shift from me. We overlap slightly, occasionally.”

            “Ah.” She tilted her head back, and her little smile suggested she was deliberately mocking his earlier non-commitment. “So… complicated, huh?”

            He laughed staccato, betraying a slight attack of nerves. “If we lived out in the boonies, it wouldn’t be an issue. Everyone’s reverted back to working daylight time only, to save on the power bills.”

            “Not everywhere. We live shifts in Llewellyn.” She ran her finger around the rim of her glass and studied him. “Stop changing the subject, Officer Shah. Is your name Persian, by the way?”

            That she recognized its ethnicity warmed him inside. “It is. And I’m not changing it so much as trying to work out what the subject is.” He looked straight into her eyes, and held her gaze until she looked away. “I’m an old man–”


            “I’m an old man,” he insisted. “I’m not young enough, or ruggedly-handsome enough in an old-man kind of way to be remotely attractive to a woman like you. Nor rich enough to afford your rates.”

            “Do you know,” she snapped, “that’s the first sweeping generalization you’ve made since we met?”

            She tapped her finger on the bar, and he guessed it was to help her think of what to say next. “Why do you think my clients come to me?” she asked, flushing slightly. “Apart from the obvious.”

            He puffed his cheeks out. “Dunno.”

            “Good answer,” she said sarcastically. “There’s as many reasons as clients. Some come for sex, no two ways about it. Others book me for a massage. Sometimes they’d rather talk – they just need someone to unload onto, because they’re lonely, or they have friends, but they think those friends aren’t interested in their problems.” She stared at him and tipped the dregs of her glass down her throat, but when he reached out to signal Karl, she put her hand on his arm. “And you think you know why I want to go back to your place!”

            “Sorry.” Shah held his hands up in surrender.

            Aurora took a deep breath, then grinned. “Even whores have feelings,” adding quickly, “not that I consider myself a whore.” She leaned closer to him and whispered in his ear. “There’s one other reason.”


            Aurora straightened so that the gap between them was again a meter or so. She tipped the salt shaker up and sprinkled grains of sand on the counter, and licking her finger, dabbed it on the micro-mountain she’d made. Then she sucked her finger and when she’d finished said – not loudly but clear enough to carry, “I like to fuck.”

            Shah sat, his face burning and thought, It’s so quiet in here they must all be able to hear my heart racing. “Oh.”

            “Oh,” Aurora echoed, her face straight, but he could hear the not quite suppressed laughter in her voice. “I’m here, you’re here. I like you. Do we really need to complicate it with our motives?” She sprayed perfume from a tiny atomizer and held out her wrist. “Like it?”

            It wasn’t strong, but the perfume seemed to poke him between the eyes. Wow, must be some powerful pheromones in that. “Yeah, very nice.” 

            Aurora stood up. “Come on. Let’s go back to my place.”

            Shah stood too. “I’m not going all the way to Llewellyn tonight. My place is three blocks away.”

            Aurora took his hand and led him to the doorway. Shah felt every pair of eyes in the place tracking him. One of the construction workers grinned at him, and Shah winked. He couldn’t ever remember feeling so good, or so young.

            Outside the rain had slackened off and was barely worthy of the name any longer. Men and women still strained between the shafts of their harnesses as they hauled their cabs along, while the clop of a few horse-drawn hansoms echoed along the street, interspersed with the beeping horns of the even rarer yellow cabs. One chugged past, bloated hydrogen bag on its roof now almost empty and drooping, spilling over the sides of the roof onto the tops of the windows.

            Aurora took his arm and led Shah to the curb. “Nah, it’s OK,” he said, suddenly feeling very lethargic, and determined for some reason to fight it. “We’ll walk to my place. Three blocks.”

            “Let’s get a cab,” Aurora said. “I’ve a town house a mile or two away.”

             Shah took a great lungful of air and with a huge effort hauled himself upright. It was the hardest thing he’d ever had to do, though not quite as hard as what he did next. Somehow it seemed important, though he couldn’t quite fathom why. “No,” he said. “I have to go to work tomorrow. Not until late, but I have to work. My place – or nowhere. Sorry, Aurora, but that’s the deal. And I can’t afford cab fares.”

            “Then let’s compromise. If they’ll take this c-note of yours, we’ll see whether it’ll carry us to your place. OK?”

            “OK,” Shah sighed.

He was acutely aware of her hip pressing into his as they sat scrunched close together in the back of the pedicab, the fragrance of her perfume tickling his nose, and the warmth of her breath on the side of his neck.

            The cabbie, a muscle-bound giant who probably ate every calorie he got in fares just to stay alive, grunted with exertion.

            “See.” Aurora sprayed her wrist again, “I said we should get a cab.”

            “But that note of yours wouldn’t have got us to your place, even the one in town.” Instead he’d run his credit down that little bit more. He shifted slightly, hoping she wouldn’t feel how much he wanted her, but she ran her hand over his erection, stopping his breath. “We could always go on to my place afterwards,” she crooned. “I’ve got something that’ll keep you going all night, my fine stallion.” She nibbled his ear.

            “We’re here,” he croaked, running his card through the cab’s scanner, and hearing the clunk of the doors unlocking as it successfully validated the payment.

            She held onto his arm as they ran through the rain to the lobby, stopping to wipe their feet on the mat. “We’ll break our necks on the floor if we’re not careful,” he explained.

            “It doesn’t absorb the water?” Aurora sounded shocked.

            He sniggered. “The landlord would put another thousand a month on the rent if it did.”

            Too tired to walk, they took the elevator for once. He caught her chewing her lip slightly as she straightened her hair in the mirror. He looked up at her, and touched her arm. “Leslyn and Doug will be asleep.” He added, “But they have their own room.”

            “Leslyn switches?”

            “Yeah – our shifts intersect once a month or so.”

            “Doug’s fully hetero, then?”

            “Both of us are.” He smiled slightly. “Our generation weren’t quite as, um, flexible as yours. It’s Leslyn and me, or Leslyn and Doug.” He added, “Do you know, I had only one set of parents.” He laughed at her shocked look. “They called it a nuclear family.”

            “They were toxic?” She leaned her shoulder into his.

            “Boom boom,” he said, adding an equally ancient punch line.

            She seemed to understand for she said, “It’s the way I tell ‘em,” a line almost as old as her previous joke. 

            “Hard as it may be for a young lady like you to believe,” he said straight-faced,” but it worked perfectly well for thousands of years.”

            “Yeah,” she drawled as the elevator juddered to a halt on fifty-four, “but we don’t live on raw meat nowadays, or club each other unconscious as a pick-up line.”

            “It only broke down in the end because so many people worked all around the clock, and partnerships split up all the time. It was pressure that broke it, not inherent flaws in the idea.”

            She shuddered theatrically. “Imagine it – only one set of parents, and just blood-brothers and sisters.”

            They emerged from the elevator into the thickly-carpeted corridor. “Hush now,” he said. “This is a respectable building.”

            She snorted.” You just want the last word. No one in New York goes to bed before three am.”

Shah awoke muddled, the room swimming. An image, of him naked and her head moving down his torso, past his waist–

            –the thunderous pounding that had dragged him from sleep resumed, and a male voice shouted something that Shah didn’t catch. The room seemed to wobble and waver.

            “Wha– Aurora?” Shah peered blank-eyed, head tilting one way then another, to offset the wobbling of the room.

            The door crashed in and a man’s voice shouted, “NYPD! Flat on your face! I said flat – NOW!

Chapter V

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