By J.S. Kierland
NEW MOON RISING
Long rays of headlights crisscrossed Manhattan and plunged northward towards the dark patch they called The Heights. The steel herd picked up speed and disappeared into winter trees, frozen grass, shopping malls, and flickering suburban living rooms. Hector looked down at the stream of lights as he moved across the tenement's roof. It'd been about a year since they'd worked. No moon. Perfect.
He pulled his collar up against the wind and headed down the stairs to have another look at the building's insides, checking the corners for anything that might get in their way. Broken walls, cracked ceilings, pipes ripped out for the brass and copper. Even the structural cables had been exposed and hung over him like a giant spider web. The wind whipped in low across his legs. He moved up the stairs with it, crossed the roof to the next building and went back down to the street from the other side. If the weather held they wouldn't have anything to worry about. A good fire lived off the wind. But they'd have to be quiet. People were still living in there.
* * *
The Cadillac purred its way into the traffic along the Henry Hudson Parkway. "I can't believe there's no moon tonight," Stella said. "I wanted a moon."
"It's up there," Jason said.
"I know it's up there. I just want to see it."
"Is all this moon-phase bullshit coming off your new wristwatch?" he said with a laugh.
"It tells me exactly what to expect."
"But only from the moon," he said.
They rolled past the George Washington Bridge, hugged the rail, and swung onto the Westside Highway. Stella lifted her cashmere skirt across her thighs to look down at her new shoes. She hated heels, but wore them for Jason. He loved to look at her legs. She presumed he looked at other women's legs too. It was one of his few admitted weaknesses.
"You know, we don't really have to go to this damn thing tonight," he said. "I could make some excuse--"
"I don't really mind," she said.
"It's just another one of his dumb parties."
"Your brother's parties are never dumb. In fact, your brother's parties are smart."
"What's that supposed to mean?"
She smoothed out a wrinkle in her stocking. "A smart party always has smart people," she said.
"They're not smart. They're successful. There's a big difference," he said.
"You mean connected."
"Attached to each other," she said. "Same neighborhoods, summer camps, private schools, colleges, clubs. Connected. To each other."
"Are you saying that I don't have any connections?"
"Your brother's the one with the connections, Jason. That's why he throws the parties. We just go to them."
"Eli's parties suck," he sneered.
"You're not getting it," she said with a sigh.
"You're talking about having connections."
"The people at Eli's parties don't need connections. They are the connections."
"You don't know what you're talking about," he mumbled as they rolled down the narrow ramp. "Connected is connected," he said. "Period."
"Not really. You see, the connected ones have each other's unlisted phone numbers. And they do call each other."
"So what?" he said. "Eli would give me any one of those phone numbers if I asked him."
"Wanna bet?" she said.
"Sure I'll bet. How `bout fifty bucks?"
"I forgot. I don't bet with you anymore."
They sat quietly and rolled across Seventy-Ninth Street toward Central Park.
"Has Eli ever given you any of his friends' phone numbers before?" she finally asked.
"Of course...lots of times."
"He helped me that time when I needed to talk with someone in city housing." He looked over at her but she didn't answer. "And what about the car leasing problem I had?"
"He gave you their office numbers, Jason. Office numbers don't count. They're listed in the phone book," she said.
"Then what the hell does count?" he asked.
"Unlisted home numbers, Jason. That's all that counts."
They drove across the park without saying anything. Jason made the turn on Fifth, cruised for a place to park, and found a spot about five blocks away. Stella didn't like walking in the cold wind, but she didn't complain. Walking up Fifth Avenue still rated as her favorite sport, even without a moon.
* * *
The cold wind pierced Hector's mask and a sharp gust rushed through the open doors. The slap of gasoline sloshed across the landing and streamed down the stairs. The fuel led directly to the rags they'd stuffed in the walls. He heard the clang of an empty gasoline can that meant Shadow and Bee were nearly done. Their staccato barks came at him from below. If it didn't work tonight they'd have to wait weeks before trying again. That'd be bad for business. He had a reputation to protect.
Hector snapped a wooden match against the dry wall, looked for the gasoline stain trickling down the staircase, and waited for the next rush of wind. It gusted up the stairs behind him. When it hit, he dropped the match. The roar pushed him back as the flames ran up the stairs. Then the blast carried the fire up over the cracked walls.
Another sharp bark came from below. The halls were lit from the blaze above. The three of them were running and banging on doors as they raced down the stairs, howling like wild animals. Hector looked back at the upper floors to make sure the fire kept moving, and they poured out into the street. The cold air hit Hector's chest like a hammer as he ran with them through the snow.
* * *
Stella thought they'd stayed too long at the party even if Jason was socializing more than usual. He'd even danced with the Park Avenue dentist's wife. The one that laughed too loud and too much, but had nice legs. When Stella mentioned what a good time he seemed to be having he said that he'd "finally felt connected." She apologized for what she'd said in the car but that only seemed to make matters worse, so they avoided each other for the rest of the evening.
The politicians were the first to leave and then the psychiatrists. Jason shook hands, kissed cheeks, and said goodbyes. Even his brother noticed the difference and encouraged it.
"We'll do lunch," Eli kept telling his departing guests. "I'll bring Jason."
A small claque of young lawyers lingered in the kitchen with their dates. Most of them had just graduated from high-priced law schools. The music had finally stopped. Those who remained talked about the ones who had gone. The party had ended.
The heated Cadillac rolled through the light snow flurries. Stella listened to the pluck of violins playing Holiday For Strings. Then the smooth tones of Nat Cole drifted in singing The Christmas Song. Jason reached over to touch her leg. He asked if she wanted to stop for coffee.
"No, let's go straight home," she said. He smiled, made the turn onto the Westside Highway, and headed the big car northward with one hand on the wheel, the other on her leg.
* * *
The light snow reflected in the growing fire from across the street. Gusts blew the pink flurries into the air and dropped them like crystal sheets across the dark rooftops. A heavy metal door creaked on its hinges. Charley Johnson slipped out on to the roof and crunched across the untouched snow. He stopped every few feet to look behind him at the crisp white sheet that he'd broken with his cowboy boots. Shivering in his peacoat he watched the blaze growing larger across the street. He sniffed at the fiery air as the hot pieces of tarred roofing sparked, exploded, and fell back again into the burning structure. The first wail of sirens began to echo through the canyons of empty tenements.
A sound came from behind him. He moved back from the edge but couldn't see anything through the falling snow. Standing frozen in the wind he watched the roof's metal door swing back and forth. The only tracks he could make out were his own and he remembered closing the door before he came out.
"Hector?" he whispered. "Hector? That you?" Something moved just above the door. He looked for a place to run but the only way out was the way he came in. "Hector? It's me," he said. Nothing moved except the slight swing of the open door. He started to circle it but stopped when he saw the figure move. "What're you doing?" he said in a shivering voice. "I've been looking for you, man."
Hector lifted the ski mask over his head. "We been looking for you too," he said.
That's when Charley noticed the two catlike figures behind him. "You guys been up here all the while?" he asked with a nervous giggle. "Mysterioso, man, mysterioso."
Shadow lifted the loose fitting hood over his head to reveal a young black kid. Bee, closer to the stairs, stopped moving. Charley could see her eyes watching him through the ragged slits in the stocking mask.
"Long night," Hector said.
"Yeah," Charley answered, edging toward the edge as the moaning fire engines turned the corner. "The blaze looks beautiful, man. It's like a fucking postcard. That's a great touch signing the front of the building like that. Moon Children '86. Fucking poetry, man." He stuffed his hands into his pockets and watched the fire below. "You did a great job, Hector. Except for one thing. You torched the wrong fucking building," he yelled over the sirens. "You fucking dummies!" The dark figures stared silently back at him as he moved along the edge of the roof yelling at them. "Four-sixty-two! Not the one on the corner. The one next to it!"
"They're both going," Hector said.
"What're you talking about?"
"We started the burn on the corner, 460. Made sure it'd spread next door. This way the report lists 462 as an accident," Hector said. "You got a perfect burn, Charley. Your client collects. No questions. 460 will get the rap."
Charley stepped back to take another look into the street. Firemen were running heavy hoses into both buildings. The flames had already cut through the top floor of 462. "Yeah, I see that now. It's definitely on the torch, man. Wow! You're the best, Hector. I can tell my client that he has a burned out building. A scorcher. Totaled. Nothing left. No questions."
Hector moved up behind Cowboy and put his hand out. "Pay time," he said.
"What're you talking about? I paid you, man."
Charley sensed a slight movement from the two others and Hector moved in closer. "You were shy five hundred in the first payment," he said in that same monotone voice.
"I promised I'd--"
"Make it up in the second payment," Hector said. "Now you owe us five grand. Payment on delivery." Charley glanced behind him but there was nowhere to run. "No sweat, I'll get it," he said. Hector grabbed the front of Charley's coat. Nothing moved except the falling snow reflecting in the fire across the street. "I can explain," he said in short breaths. "The guy...the client...still hasn't paid me. This all happened...you know, so fast. I'll get it from him today. First thing."
"That wasn't the deal!" Hector said, and in one quick motion he pulled out a long, crude shiv and cut one of Cowboy's pockets. A few coins fell out into the snow. "First payment on agreement. You were five hundred short," Hector said waving the glinting piece of steel in front of him. "Second payment, right after fire is set. Remember?"
"I just wanted to make sure you guys did the job," Charley said. "It's confidential stuff. The client agreed to pay on delivery. The dump burns. I get paid. You get paid."
"The dump is burning," Hector said, pulling Charley's sleeve up. Small scabs of blood ran along his arm.
"Is that where the money went?" Hector asked, pinching him just above the vein.
"No, no, man," Charley said. "I'd never do that. Deal's a deal. The client wants to pay you."
"Let's leave this shit with the garbage," Bee said. "He's nothing but a junkie-whiner."
Hector pulled Charley to the edge of the roof and they looked down at the firemen wrestling their hoses in the street. "Tell me who the client is," Hector said, twisting his ear. "We'll deal direct. That way there's no fuckups."
"Let me do it, Hector. I know these people. Who they are...how they think." Hector threw him in the snow and the others grabbed him from behind.
"Who's the client?" Hector said.
"I'll get the money for you. I swear it."
They dragged Charley through the crusting snow. Hector threw a knotted loop around Charley's chest, and pushed him toward the edge until he fell off.
The rope tightened as Cowboy swung into the mist that drifted up from the fire below. He hit the side of the building, the rope jerked, and a loud grunt came out of him. He reached up to grab the rope, almost fell through it, and watched the buildings roll in the flickering light as he swung through the darkness. Sounds of fire trucks and sizzling water faded as the pressure on his chest grew tighter. He was falling again.
* * *
Stella woke up in the car. She looked out at the snow that angled down through the trees. Dimly lit lampposts reflected off the water below. She knew this place. They used to come here after Jason's fraternity parties, before they were married.
It had stopped snowing but there were fresh tracks leading away from the car. She got out and followed them down through the naked trees to the footbridge. A lone figure stood just beyond the lights along the path. The cold crept up under her cashmere skirt, edging its way along the tops of her stockings. The wind murmured through the leafless trees like someone crying. When she reached the flat stones that led out onto the bridge, she saw someone staring down into the lake.
"Jason?" she called, moving in closer.
He wiped his eyes as she came across the bridge.
"Are you all right?" she asked.
She felt the warmth of his breath on her neck. "You're not fine. You're crying," she said.
He didn't answer. She felt him tremble as she held him in the cold. He seemed frightened. Needy. When she looked up he kissed her and began to unbutton her blouse. She opened her mouth to his kiss. For a moment, they stopped breathing. His coat brushed across her cheek. She looked up to find him staring at the traffic on the parkway. It began to snow again.
He edged her in against the low wall of the bridge as they'd done so many times before. Only this time it felt distant, lonely and detached. When he kissed her neck she had to dig her heels into his back to brace against the wall. A chill ran through her. He lowered his head across her belly. Her legs tightened around him. She watched the rushing headlights dance through the trees along the parkway. His tongue moved to the small space near the top of her thighs. The clear, cold air rushed into her. She felt the sudden warmth between her legs. Then she leaned back to let herself float up into the icy web of bare branches, and rocked to the rhythm of his breathing. His tongue went deeper. Her vision blurred. It started snowing again.
* * *
Charley couldn't stop shaking. He kept repeating the name in Hector's ear. "We ever do a burn for this guy before?" Hector asked. Hugging himself, Charley shook his head. "I want to talk to him," Hector said. "Now."
"The office is closed, man," Charley stuttered.
"Take me to his house."
"That's up in Westchester," he said, trying to get up.
"You know where he lives?" Charley looked up in surprise. Hector's dark eyes stared coldly down at him. Shadow and Bee grabbed him from either side. He tried to get to his feet but this time they wrapped the rope around his neck. "It's still early," Hector said. "Why don't we go for a little drive?"
"I don't have that much gas, man."
"We'll fill it for you. Take it out of what you owe us," Hector said. He lifted Charley up by his hair so he could stare down into his drugged eyes. "You ain't in any shape to drive, Charley. Gimme the keys."
NEW MOON FALLING
A sharp bark bit the cold air. Hector answered it with a low, growling yelp. A deep shiver ran through his body as he stood in the brisk wind that cut through the naked trees. They were in so close he could smell the smoke from the chimney. The client's old stone house was well built. It'd be hard to torch a house like that.
When the second bark hit he came out from behind the trees, dragging Charley with him. "You're gonna wake up the whole neighborhood with that crazy barking shit," he said. "It's stupid, man. They'll call the cops and we'll end up getting grabbed for walking on their dumb lawn."
Another bark came and Hector pushed Charley toward the house. They were in so close he could see the Christmas wreath on the front door. "You can't bother these people at two in the morning," Charley pleaded. Hector pushed him up on the porch.
* * *
They'd hardly said a word on the ride home. Stella felt like she had made love with some stranger in the park and didn't quite understand it. She turned the glass of brandy in her hands as Jason threw another log on the fire, sending a cluster of sparks up the chimney. Then she leaned over and clicked on the Christmas tree lights, turning the color of the room into a pale blue moonlight.
"We ought to sleep down here tonight," she said.
"Like old times," Jason answered with a little laugh. "Remember the look on my mother's face when she'd find us curled up on the couch? She never understood the younger generation."
"I miss her," Stella said, offering him her brandy.
"I miss both of them."
"I miss that little twinkle in your father's eye," she said. "Whenever I saw it I knew something would happen."
"It usually meant he'd closed a business deal."
"Funny, I always thought the twinkle was for me."
He laughed. "His first love was the deal. After that you got whatever you could out of him."
"He adored your mother."
Jason raised the brandy glass in a toast. "I'm glad they didn't have to live too long without each other."
"Do you think we'll be that lucky?"
"Lucky enough to retire to San Diego?"
"You know what I mean."
He put down the glass and kissed her. His hand moved up along her slim waist to her breast as a distant bell began to ring in his head along with her breathing. Her body tensed. "There's someone at the door," she said.
The chimes rang again. "Don't answer it," he said.
"It might be one of the neighbors."
"At this hour?"
"Someone might be in trouble."
For a moment it was quiet again. Then a desperate pounding hit the door. Stella fumbled with the buttons on her blouse.
"I don't want to see anymore people tonight," Jason said, peeking out the window to see another face staring back at him.
"Hey, man," Charley called, waving his fingers in a childlike greeting.
"What're you doing here?" Jason asked.
"It's okay, man. Everything went down."
"What's the trouble, Jason?" Stella asked, but when she tried to look out the window he blocked her view.
"It's nothing, darling," he said. "Just the boy from across the street."
"Why don't you let him in?"
Jason waved her off. "We're about to go to bed," he said through the window.
"We gotta talk."
"Tomorrow," Jason said. "Call me at the office. Anytime. I'll be there all day."
"No, no," Charley yelled, his breath clouding the cold window. "Gotta see you now. It's about the building."
"What does he want, Jason?"
"Honey, go upstairs. Let me handle this."
"Something about a building?"
He opened the front door and Charley tumbled in, pushing Jason up against the heavy oak table at the entrance. They had to hold on to each other to keep from falling. Two children, a black kid and a white girl with stringy auburn hair, came rushing in behind them.
Then a handsome boy, about fifteen years old, moved into the doorway. The light from the porch glowed behind his curly hair making him shine like an ancient icon. His deep, dark eyes scanned the room and stopped when they reached Stella. She held her breath as the boy's gaze took her in.
"Tell him to close the door, Jason," she said. "He's letting in the cold air." Hector stepped in and the door closed by itself as if a force had come in behind him.
"What the hell's going on here?" Jason demanded. "I don't have time for this kind of--"
"Who are these children?" Stella asked.
"It's okay, Mrs. Grimsky," Charley said. "We've got a little business to straighten out with your husband."
"I'll make some tea," she said.
Hector motioned Bee and Shadow to follow Stella into the kitchen and moved to the fireplace. Jason watched him and switched on a bank of lights, wiping out the blue glow from the Christmas tree.
"You know I wouldn't come here if it wasn't important," Charley said quickly.
"Who the hell is he?"
"I'm the supplier," Hector said, staring down at the burning log in the fireplace.
"He's the one that did the job, Mr. Grimsky."
Jason put his hands up to cover his ears. "I told you I didn't want to hear anything about this until--"
"It's done!" Hector said.
"What did he say?" Jason asked, dropping his hands.
"You can notify your insurance company first thing tomorrow morning," Hector told him. "It's over."
Jason almost laughed, but when he saw Hector staring at him he picked up Stella's glass and finished her brandy.
"The job's also guaranteed," Charley said. "The supplier started the fire in the next building so there won't be any investigation of your dump. You're clean, Mr. Grimsky. Absolutely spotless."
"That's great," Jason said in a rush, waving Stella's empty glass in the air. "Sounds like you do terrific work. Thanks for dropping by," he said. "Sorry I got angry but I've had a long day and--"
"There's more," Hector said.
"More?" Jason asked. "No one got hurt...did they?"
"It's about your payment, Mr. Grimsky. That's why we dropped by. The supplier still has to get paid."
"I paid you," Jason said.
"You paid front money. Now there's back money," Charley said, pushing away his straggly hair.
"I gave you everything I had."
"And I got you the best."
"You told me that money would cover everything."
"You got it wrong, Mr. Grimsky--"
Hector made a quick turn, grabbed Charley and reached into his coat. A bent spoon, a hypodermic needle and a plastic bag of brownish powder fell out across the deep reds and blues in the carpet.
"Charley had himself a busy night," Hector said. "Bought a good high, watched a great torch, then had a nice ride up to nowhere land. All this good shit in your arm, but it still ain't happening, is it, baby?"
Charley moaned and Jason glanced nervously at the kitchen doors. "Pleeeease," he begged. "Can't you settle this somewhere else? I don't want my wife--"
"We ain't moving 'till you pay us for that sweet-ass deal you got tonight!" Hector demanded.
"I don't have anymore money!" Jason said. "That's why you had to burn down the goddamn building. I owe banks!"
"Your fucking building's gone. You owe me!" Hector said, moving in closer.
"Once the fire is verified and my insurance--"
"The supplier wants it settled now," Hector said.
The room got quiet except for the crackling of the burning logs in the fireplace. Jason took in a deep breath. "Get out, or I'll call the police," he said. "You're just a lot of snot-nosed kids."
"Take it easy, Mr. Grimsky," Charley pleaded. "You call the cops and it'll blow your whole insurance thing."
"I don't care," Jason said. "Get out!"
Hector grabbed a Turkish vase off the sideboard and held it up over his head. Thin glints of light reflected off it from the fire. Then a dull thud hit the marble along the edge of the fireplace and slivers of color flew across the room as the vase shattered.
"This is bad, man...bad," Charley muttered.
The kitchen doors swung open and Stella stumbled in with her hands tied behind her back, her mouth taped, eyes in a panic, and her blouse partially opened. Jason tried to reach her before she fell but Hector slipped quickly between them and caught her.
"Leave her alone! She's got nothing to do with it!"
"Don't move," Hector said, helping Stella to a chair.
"This won't take long, ma'am," Charley said, and Stella tried to answer but only a muffled squeal crept out from under the tape.
"She bit my goddamn hand," Shadow said. "It's bleeding." He took a quick step toward her but Hector cut him off.
"We got business here," Hector said.
"She tried to call the cops."
"What do you want from us?" Jason asked.
"You owe us five thousand dollars! Not including collection fees," Hector said.
"I'll get it for you when the insurance company--"
"We want it now," Shadow said, flexing his bitten hand. "You got money all over this fucking place. I can smell it."
"Just give me a little time."
"If we wanted the money tomorrow we wouldn't a showed up tonight," Hector said.
"That means empty your pockets and open the drawers," Shadow drawled. "Otherwise I'll do your fancy bitch so bad you won't be able to put her back together again."
Hector caught the sudden terror in Stella's eyes as she tried to figure out what the broken pieces of pottery were doing on the rug. Then she glanced toward the staircase where a little boy in pajamas, pushing sleep away with the back of his hand, moved down the stairs. He took in the strangers, jumped the last few steps, and ran toward his mother tied in the chair. Shadow caught him just before he got there.
"Let him go. She's all finished fighting," Hector said. The little boy tore the tape off his mother's mouth.
"Don't let them frighten you, Michael," Stella said. "Give them what they want, Jason. Get them out of here."
"You got a smart mamma there," Hector said.
"I'll pay you twice as much if you leave us alone."
"Sounds pretty good," Bee said.
"He's all bullshit," Shadow told her with a wave of his sore hand. "Let's just grab what we can and get out."
"What're they doing here, Jason?"
"It has to do with that last building of my father's. The one on The Heights."
"Didn't Eli tell you to sell those buildings?"
"I thought we could get a better price on it because of the location. We were close to cutting a deal but it fell through."
"What do these kids have to do with it?"
"They burned it down tonight," he said.
"Oh, my God."
"Get outta my house!" the little boy said. Hector smiled down at the little boy.
"Don't stare at him like that. You're frightening him," Stella said.
"I'm not afraid of them," the kid said.
"Go back to bed, Michael," Jason told him.
The kid stared back into Hector's dark eyes. "I don't like you," he said.
"Kid's tough," Hector said with a laugh.
"For God's sake, Jason, give them what you owe them before something terrible happens."
"I gave them everything I had," Jason said.
"What about the money you keep in the drawer?"
"I used that for the payroll a few months ago. I'm three weeks behind! I'm even late on my quarterlies. Why the hell do you think I had them burn the place down?" Tears began to well in his eyes. "The insurance kept going up. I had to find someone crazy enough to buy the place... or burn it down."
"Nice family stuff," Hector said, grabbing a bottle of wine off the sideboard. "Open this. We could all use a hit," Hector said, handing the bottle to Jason.
"Suppose I don't want to?"
"You take care of your family, I'll take care of mine," Hector told him in a cold, vacant tone.
"Open it, Jason," Stella said. "A nice glass of wine might change the atmosphere in here."
Jason took the bottle and searched for the opener. When he found it, the phone began to ring. Shadow jumped across the leather couch to get it.
"Don't answer that!" Hector said.
The ringing clicked into a woman's voice, telling the caller to leave a message. "Are you there, Jason? Pick up," a man's voice demanded. "I just got a report that one of our buildings burned down on The Heights tonight. Didn't we sell those? Call me back immediately. If I don't hear from you I'll drive up. We've got to talk."
"Let's get the fuck outta here," Shadow said.
"You and Charley tie up the clients," Hector said.
"Me?" Charley said.
"You do the kid," Shadow said. "I'll do this one."
"I'm doing this under protest, Mr. Grimsky," Charley assured him.
"You're even worse than they are," Stella said. "I know your parents. You're from a decent home."
"Lady's pissed," Hector said.
"It isn't my fault these guys don't take credit, Ma'am. I told your husband that a hundred times."
"Once we get what you owe us," Hector said, "you can all go back to being one big happy family again."
Shadow wrapped the ball of twine around Jason's legs, up across his chest, then down behind him. "You don't have to do this," Jason said. "I'll pay you."
"I'm tired of listening to your bullshit, Grimsky," Hector said. "If you can't get the money up we'll take it some other way." He spread the tablecloth across the floor, and Bee began rolling in bottles of wine and throwing in the pillows off the couch. Shadow grabbed Jason's glittering tennis trophy, the open bottle of brandy, and some silverware.
"None of this shit is enough to cover what you owe us," Hector said, wrapping a piece of tape over Jason's mouth. "We'll just call this stuff a collection fee."
The others had already headed out the door, dragging the tablecloth with them. "Don't change the locks or the phone number. We're coming back," Hector said, turning off the lights. "Count on it!" The rattling sound of the loaded tablecloth grew fainter. Then it was gone.
Jason stiffened in the straight chair. When he tried to reassure Michael his words came out in a muffled grunt that seemed to frighten the boy even more. Stella began to hiccup. The only other sound was the crackling logs in the fireplace beginning to die in short bursts of sparks. Stella tried to turn and face them but she couldn't quite make it. She shook her head, took a deep breath, and her body jerked with another hiccup.
A sudden cold draft rushed into the room. Jason tried turning the chair and caught sight of the dark boy again. He was standing in the Christmas tree's pale blue light, taking a sharp piece of metal out of his pocket.
"There's no way I can trust you shits," Hector said, holding the steel piece out in front of him. Stella struggled against her bonds and a high squeak crept out of her, making her body jerk forward in the chair.
Jason began to rock from side to side as Hector bent over Michael with the piece of steel. Stella leaned forward, her head straining against the tape on her mouth, as the dark boy cut Michael's ropes and pulled him towards the front door. When Hector heard Jason's garbled cry he spun around and came back across the room.
He leaned down so close that all Jason could see were the dark eyes staring into him. He heard a low, rolling growl and looked into the uncontrolled rage rushing at him like a wild animal, and he sunk into its fiery smell.
"I'm just taking a little Christmas present. You get the money up and put it into one nice pile. Call the cops, you got no kid." The words rushed out like cold numbing water. Then a door slammed.
Michael's chair stood empty. Cut ropes lay in pieces on the floor. He was gone. So were Stella's hiccups.
(Part II in January/February issue)