Not A Cheap Melodrama.

Hey- Aw Gawd Sly! Dere’s a Hideous Mutan’ on da ski lift!

“Max, you shouldn’t talk about your relatives that way.”

Whut? No really! See it right dere? It’s like… some six-limbed ‘orrible centaur ting! Wit skis on both the front and back legs! Is ridin in some kinda hang-glidin harness attached durectly to da lift!

“That is clearly a dog and a bird riding side by side on the completely normal ski-lift.”

He squints. Ok, now dat someone’s pointed it out…

“Was there something you wanted?”

Oh yeah. Cassie’s ‘ere. Thought ya oughta know.

“Yeah, nice try, M-”

Well hello there, stranger. Fancy running into you here.

“Oh.”

Max is TOO EXTREME to wear a shirt in the sub zero alpine temperatures. Hypothermia is hardcore.

“What do you want?”

Isn’t it your job to figure that out? she says through her eyelashes.

If this were a cheap melodrama, this’d be the part where some suspicious stranger tries to listen in on our conversation, and we work together to outwit him. It’s not. The only other person anywhere near earshot is Max, who just got himself stuck in a snowbank.

“Are we going to pretend you don’t have an ulterior motive in coming here, or should we skip that bit and get on with double-crossing eachother?”

To double-cross you, you’d have to think I was on your side first.

“So this is seriously going to cut into my vacation, then?”

You? Taking time off? We aren’t dead, are we? Because hell has got to be looking like a ski resort.

“Just goes to show, you don’t know me. I take time off. I go skiing.”

You look about as easy on those things as if you had banana peels strapped to your feet.

“I’m still a better skier than you, to judge by those crutches. Assuming, of course, that you really are hurt.”

See, this is where you ought to be gentlemanly to an injured lady.

“Being gentle to you is an invitation. The next logical step is ‘Being Surprised At The Absence Of My Wallet.'”

Flatterer.

If this were a cheap melodrama, this is where she’d slip me a note for a secret rendezvous late that night. She doesn’t. She adjusts her grip on the crutches and says Your move, Foxy.

“Why are you really here?”

Same reason you are. I’m on vacation.

“Oh, right. In the isolated resort full of rich, absent-minded, and three-fourths drunk revelers.”

Sounds like a good vacation spot to me.  But I could ask you the same question.

“Maybe I’m here keeping an eye on you.”

And maybe I’m here following you.

We watch eachother for a long, careful moment.

If we have to spend every waking moment watching for a backstab, then we might as well do it in a more comfortable setting.

“Well, what would you suggest?”

Well, I could start by buying you a drink.

“So long as you don’t touch it before I get at it.”

Then you have to buy me one, same condition.

“Deal.”

Deal.

The music in lodge bar is some bastardization of slow jazz and hooty alpine yodeling, but at least they have the sense not to play it loud. I have a bourbon and water. Cassie has a gimlet. I’ll give her this much: she’s got good taste. And the sense to pick a more expensive drink.

The crutches are propped against the barstool. Ok, Foxy. If you’re so sure I’m not to be trusted, what’s your working theory on why I’m really here?

“Tomorrow night, a Railway Baron from India is throwing a birthday party for his five-year-old daughter. Among this character’s recent acquisitions is a run-down temple that’d been used as a hideout and factory by a ring of drug smugglers, until it got flooded by a rival gang in an attempted theft. Now he’s ostensibly funding the reconstruction, but rumor has it that the number of not-quite-priceless jewels listed as missing in the flood has increased since the project started.” I take a sip. This place has good cellars. “And who’d look in a five year old’s jewel box, with the doll tea sets and the shiny buttons and the sea shells, for ancient hindu treasures?”

And you aren’t worried you just gave me a potentially valuable tip?

“Either you already knew or you didn’t. Either way, now I know where to watch for you.”

My turn. She tips back her drink, signals for another one. Posh bartenders are always quiet, and it creeps me out. They don’t seem sociable, and that just aint right. You’re here tailing Paulo ‘Plugger’ Fortunato, because he’s turned coat on every mafia in every major city, has got nowhere left to run to, and your bosses think he might cooperate on the witness stand. If Leopardman doesn’t get to him first, of course.

“If Plugger’s dumb enough to think he’s going to blend in a place like this,” I gesture with the empty glass at the gilt mirror, the wrought iron lights, the picture windows that let in the look of the snow but not the feel, “then I doubt we’d want him on the stand.”

Well, now that we’ve both finished our drinks, what next?

“You’re the one that suggested we circle eachother and show our teeth in comfort.”

Then let’s call dinner showing our teeth, and dancing afterward circling eachother.

“I thought your leg was hurt.”

Funny. I thought you hadn’t fallen for that one.

If this were a cheap melodrama, this’d be where I’d say something about how I knew what she really wanted. And she’d say ‘You!’ and that’d be where the scene would cut, because that’s as far as you go when in writing.

But it isn’t a cheap melodrama.

We had a nice dinner. We went dancing. Turns out she really had gotten a little hurt–bruised her ankle–so we only did the slow dances.

The next day she was gone. No thefts were ever reported.

Never did find out what she wanted.

The Final Word.

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