WARNING* Contains spoilers! If you haven’t read any of the Talion books. We highly recommend that you do before reading this content.
For Roy, it all began with Arya Stark.
Not so Susie.
Susie woke up late with a headache. Just past lunchtime. That last bottle of wine had been way too much. And the cigarettes didn’t help. Nor did the altitude. Roy was right about that.
She jumped out of bed, and, as she was accustomed to doing when she travelled, dropped to the floor. Fifty crunches. Twenty push-ups. Twenty deep squats. She repeated three times.
Susie was a big believer in physical fitness. She worked out regularly at her home gym. When she travelled, she followed this short regimen. It took fifteen minutes, but she believed it kept her metabolism up, and kept her mentally tough as well.
Man, but her head hurt.
Fucking Arya Stark…
After a shower and drying her hair, she put on some comfortable jeans, a nice fitted top, and fashionable snow boots. She put in her diamond studs and put on make-up. Light. A soft peach lipstick. Nothing too slutty. She wanted to look good, but not too good. Too good was risky. She knew herself, and although she was disciplined, a few glasses of wine and she might end up naked in the wrong bed.
Susie grabbed her purse, and headed for the door. Before opening it, she paused, and took out and unzipped the change purse. She held the hospital ID bracelet in her hand. The jagged edge where it had been ripped from Bareto’s arm was still sharp. Below the bar code, it read as follows:
PT 06730574 RM# 772
AD 03/30/2013 AB-
M 32Y DOB 11/27/81
It was the perfect gift. Deb was special that way. Susie frowned. She had to keep her wits about her.
Deb was a charmer. She knew that Deb loved her. They’d been through so much together. But, why had Deb kept the ID bracelet for so long? Why hadn’t she given it to her sooner?
Because it was a reminder. Currency. Deb needed a favor, and this was her way of ‘gently’ reminding Susie what she had done for her most recently. The two had a very strong bond. Maybe she even loved Deb back. But, as Deb had told her years ago that night at Camp Willow – “trust no one, not even me.” Still, it was a thoughtful gift. She put the bracelet away, to take home for safekeeping.
Susie entered the 8100, and immediately spotted Deb at the bar. She was on ski bunny overload, looking as if she had simply walked into Gorsuch and said, “I’ll take what that mannequin is wearing.”
Susie had long ago learned that sometimes the best way to be inconspicuous is to be remembered in the manner of your choosing. She pulled out her cell phone and feigned checking messages, waiting for the right moment. As she surreptitiously scanned the room, she saw that Deb had noticed her standing at the end of the bar. When she saw that the bartender was heading towards Deb, Susie began her approach. As she reached Deb, Deb raised her glass to take a drink. Susie bumped her, a little harder than intended. Deb spilled her drink, and dropped her glass on the bar, just as the bartender walked by. It bounced, not breaking, and he caught it in the air on the rebound.
“Whoa,” he said.
“Shit” said Deb.
“Oh my God. I am sooo sorry, exclaimed Susie.” She apologized profusely, to Deb, to the bartender, making a big show.
Deb half-joked, saying to the bartender, “What a lame ass pick-up, right?”
The bartender laughed. Susie feigned embarrassment and offered to buy Deb a drink. Deb reluctantly accepted a refill, on Susie’s tab, and asked Susie to join her.
As the bartender prepared their drinks out of earshot, Deb said to Susie, “Meet cute, check!”
“Yep, and right under the security camera. Nice choice of seating.”
“Thank you my dear.”
When the bartender brought their drinks, Susie said, “We’re going to go sit next to the window, so I can keep an eye out for my husband and kids.”
The two settled in at a high table, out of earshot and facing away from the security cameras, towards the windows and the slopes.
“Well,” started Deb, “last night was fucking brilliant.”
“I had way too much wine.”
“It did the job though. Roy’s speech was perfect. Justice. Revenge. Capitalism in its purest form. Tom was hanging on every word. Well done.”
“Roy has strong feelings about this. We both do. I’ve cultivated them over the years. He’s a pretty bright guy. Gets melodramatic when he drinks. But, oh, what a fucking headache today.”
“At least you got to go to bed after your balcony scene. That’s when my work began. We were up until almost three. But, you steered the conversation nicely. You really know your man.”
“A good guy, Roy. A bit slow, like most. But he means well.”
“Honey, they’re all slow. Tom so royally fucked up dealing with Harlan the first time… well, here we are.”
“Any news on whether they’ll ultimately press charges?”
“No. Soon, I expect.”
“So, how did it go with him last night?”
“He’s not there yet. I mean, he was pretty committed to killing the little fucker himself, but after the Whole Foods incident, he’s gotten skittish. Talk about bad luck. If he hadn’t run into the little shit that day, he’d probably be dead already. But, now Tom’s possibly facing jail time, and… I guess things just got too real for him.” Deb paused. “I really need your help, hon. And a fucking smoke, come on.”
Deb waved to the bartender, “Can you watch our table?” she said, waving the cigarette pack at him – Marlboro Reds.
He looked up from hand drying a glass, smiled and nodded.
Deb and Susie stepped out onto the terrace and lit up.
“I hate to ask,” said Deb, “but the first rule is ‘No motive.’ And if we weren’t already the first people the cops would look to, after the fight, there’s no way we could get away with it.”
“You should’ve asked sooner,” said Susie. “Tom is just too obvious. There’s no way he’d get away with it.” She knew this. Deb knew this. She knew Deb knew this. Susie hadn’t inquired as to why Deb had planned to have Tom kill Harlan initially. Not her business. But, she had her suspicions.
“Yeah. Well…” said Deb. “I gave him poor odds on succeeding – I mean, he’d kill the little fucker, but I’m pretty sure he’d get caught. But, he’s a loyal guy. I’d give pretty high odds on him taking the fall 100% if he got caught. Don’t get me wrong, he’s special to me. But, I wouldn’t mind living alone for a while. Two birds, one stone.”
Susie was about to respond when they heard a woman’s voice rise in volume, “Well, it should be a no smoking area. It’s unhealthy.”
Susie looked over her shoulder and saw a thirty-ish couple sitting at the only occupied table on the terrace. The woman had been “speaking” to her other half, but the remark was clearly intended to be heard by Susie and Deb.
No one else appeared to be within earshot.
Deb took a few steps toward the couple and spoke. A bystander, viewing from a distance, would have thought that she was perhaps commenting on the lovely weather, asking where they were from, making small talk.
What the couple and Susie heard Deb actually say was, “Smoking is allowed out here, actually. But, I am pretty sure this is a no fat cunts zone. So, why don’t you head inside – there’s a trough at the far end of the bar where I know you’d be more comfortable.”
Susie snickered and waved over Deb’s shoulder at the couple. Then she made a “call me” sign with her hand at the man. They heard nothing further from that table.
“Well,” said Susie. “At this point, the ball is in your court. I mean, if you want I can always tell Roy that you approached me with the idea. Same story, but that it came from you to me. That cuts to the chase real quick.”
“No,” interrupted Deb. “That puts you at too much risk, honey. I still think the ‘ask’ should come from Tom to Roy. If I can get him there. He’s not a complete fool. The plan, as of this morning, was for me to ‘meet cute’ you and charm you and Roy into dinner. Then, after some drinks, Tom thinks he’ll have the guts to make the ‘ask.’ He thinks the drinks will not only grease the skids with Roy, but also give Tom an out if Roy is a ‘no go.’ You know, ‘We had too much to drink. I got emotional, I didn’t mean it…’ that kind of bullshit.
“So,” Deb crushed out her cigarette, “I think we go with that plan for now. And, if my Tommie can’t make it across the finish line, then we can always fall back on me approaching you.”
Susie thought for a few moments and took a final drag on her cigarette. Then said, “That sounds good. Let’s go sit by the pit, I’m cold.”
The two sat in silence for a while. A waiter came by and took their order for champagne. Their conversation switched to other topics. It felt to both as though things were settled, for the time being. A weight seemed to lift. The sun came out from behind the clouds.
“So, you have to be anywhere right now?” Deb’s eyes sparkled, as she cocked one eyebrow. “No one’s at our place right now… ” She reached over an put her hand on Susie’s thigh.
“Mmmmm. There’s an interesting thought.”
“Or have you given up on the ladies?”
Susie became a bit more matter of fact. “I do miss it,” she said. “Things are different now. Who has the time? And Roy’s not bad in bed. I guess it’s good enough with him.” She smiled, a bit melancholy.
Deb raised her champagne flute, “Sweetheart, men are like champagne. A quick pop, and a little fizz.” She leaned forward, still holding up her glass, and lowered her voice, “But a woman is like a glass of good brandy – a nice long burn, that gets inside you, makes your heart pound, and leaves you wanting more.”
Susie giggled. They clinked glasses, and both drank after Deb toasted, “To the ladies.”
Susie looked away, then back at Deb. “Well,” she said, “I am afraid we’ve missed our chance, my love. My dear husband is leaving the bar. Don’t look! He’s got three more champagnes – so I think we’ve been spotted. Just keep looking at me and pretend I’m saying something interesting… and you’re going to laugh in three, two, now…”
Deb laughed. So did Susie, who then looked up in surprise.
“Ladies…” He said, setting the drinks down on a table.
“Are any available?” The blonde stranger asked, feigning to look around herself with a giggle.
Susie laughed, harder than the joke merited. “Hi babe,” she said, standing up to kiss him on the lips.
Roy noticed that she was somewhat unsteady on her feet and that she’d probably already had one too many.
“Roy, this is Deb. Deb…” Susie paused.
Her companion held out her hand to Roy and finished her sentence, “Wise, Deb Wise. Pleasure.”
The friend was a skier; obvious from the boots and gear. And there was a bit of a twang to her accent—sounded like Texas. What she was wearing seemed new. Very poseur. In his opinion, she hadn’t spent more than an hour on the mountain in that gear.
She was taller than Susie, who is petite at five-feet-three-inches. Deb had a good six inches on her, he guessed. He also noticed the contrast between her cold blue eyes and her very animated face.
He sat on the edge of the firepit, facing their chairs.
Susie gushed, “We’ve been hanging out since just after lunch. And we’ve been very naughty. Plotting all sorts of evil.” Both giggled again.
“We’ve had way too much to drink,” Deb said.
“Although things have calmed down a bit since we switched to champagne,” Susie added.
Deb laughed, hard.
Not that funny, thought Roy. “What were you drinking before?”
“Brandy,” they said in unison. Something they both found equally hilarious.
“How was your day, hun?” Susie asked.
“All good.” Roy smiled. “Lots of powder. Had some great runs. Hard to beat a day like today.” He leaned back slightly, letting his back absorb the heat coming off the firepit.
“I bet you’ll never guess how we met,” Deb said.
“Beauty contest,” Roy suggested. “Tied for first place.”
“Oooh,” Deb purred, smiling at Susie. “I like this one. He’s definitely a keeper.”
“Deb lives in Austin, Roy,” Susie said.
“Ah. Hook ‘em,” Roy commented, raising the appropriate fingers.
“Roy and I met in law school at UT,” Susie added.
“You told me,” Deb said. “Tom went there, too. Business, I mean. Not law. His MBA.”
“Roy still gets back to Austin quite a bit, on business,” Susie added.
“Sure do. So, Tom is your husband? Is he around?” Roy asked, seeking testosterone. The air hung thick with estrogen.
“He’s a bit under the weather actually. Altitude, I think.”
“Tell me about it.”
“We’re thinking of getting dinner, the four of us, tomorrow night,” Susie beamed.
She had worked for some time in television—journalism—and she could switch the smile and the charm on and off at will. Roy knew that. He also sensed he might still be on her bad side for raking up their past the night before. Better to go along to get along. “Sounds great. Love to meet him.”
“Speaking of,” Deb said, “I should go check on him.” She smiled at Susie, and then, in a quick and surprisingly elegant gesture, drained her champagne flute.
Susie stood up. “Okay. Big kiss.” They exchanged double cheek kisses.
“We’ll touch base tomorrow. Yes?”
“Okay. See you both then,” she said, smiling at Roy and heading off toward the hotel.
“She seems nice,” Roy said.
“Very. Chatty. Funny. Kinda cute, too.” Susie smirked.
“I hadn’t noticed,” Roy said with a grin. “So, where, for dinner tomorrow?”
“I was thinking Swiss Chalet” Susie replied.
“Cool,” said Roy. “By the way, you guys never said. How did you two meet?”