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Alicia Creecher hadn’t made it quite halfway down the hall to the door when it creaked, then swung open.
The man who stepped through was wearing jeans and a white button-down shirt, brown western boots and a matching belt, and a silver belly western felt hat. He caught the door and pulled it shut behind him.
She smiled. “Mr. Smith, I presume. I recognize you from the photos you sent. I see you found the place.”
Even in the dim light of the failing overhead florescents, her teeth glistened white. Beneath black bangs neatly trimmed just above her eyelashes, her eyes were dark and large. Her hair fell to just below her shoulders on either side, framing high cheekbones and hiding her ears. Beneath a narrow chin, her throat was particularly well formed. A small cross hung from a thin gold chain in the dip between her collar bones. It glistened against her skin, which looked soft, as if it had been formed of dusty pink coral.
She reminded him of so many of the beauties in southern Louisiana, one of the two places on Earth where the best of the French and Native American physical characteristics were inextricably mixed. And always to great advantage.
Mid-20s maybe, he thought. Maybe 26. Not more than 28. And gorgeous. Much too young to show any interest in an old sot like him, but still great to look at.
Michael Smith smiled, nodded and touched the brim of his hat. “Yes ma’am. Good directions.”
Her dress was dark, black or very dark blue, with some sort of small, intertwined floral pattern overlaying the basic color. It had quarter-length sleeves that covered only her shoulders and was belted with fabric at the waist and pleated below.
She laughed lightly and her slender right hand came up in a gesture. For a moment he thought she was going to offer to shake his hand.
He had meant to shake her hand when they first met. At least that’s the way he’d envisioned it. He would shake her hand and say thanks for the opportunity. He liked to show his appreciation straight away whenever anyone chose to interview him about his books. Even at an hour as odd as this.
But she was still too far away to shake hands. One long, delicate finger brushed her hair back. Behind the fabric of the dress, perfectly formed medium-sized breasts shifted slightly.
“Right this way,” she said, and as she turned in the hallway, her dress swished away from her legs, then settled back to an inch or so above her knees. As she walked it continued to sway with an enticing rhythm.
He followed her. Great scenery. The dress swished left, right, left, right.
There was more to the pattern than twining vines and minuscule flowers. Hearts, maybe. Tiny red hearts where some of the flowers would otherwise have been. He frowned. And maybe faces. Was that a face?
It gave him an excuse to look more closely, to focus.
He grinned. As if the view itself weren’t already enough.
Yes. Some of the hearts were faces, their mouths drooping open, kind of stretched down unnaturally.
But it had to be his imagination. The spots among the tendrils were hearts and flowers. The flowers were clearly defined. The others had to be hearts.
He’d meant vines, of course. There were a million little leaves extending from them.
He looked more closely. Or maybe they were claws. Little sharp minuscule claws.
He shook his head. Silliness. It was all silliness. Mark it up to the late hour.
He let his gaze drift down over the backs of her knees, her calves contracting and going smooth, contracting and going smooth. Great muscle tone.
Her shoes were the same dark color as her dress and had low heels. They made almost no sound on the hard linoleum tile of the hallway, which was the same off-white color as the concrete block walls and the ceiling.
He focused. Listened. In fact, her shoes made no sound at all.
But then, she was tiny.
She was a bit shorter than average, maybe 5’2” or 5’3” taking the shoes into account, so really only five feet, maybe. And she was slight, with a trim waist and narrow shoulders. Great muscle tone though. Maybe 100 pounds. Not over 110. And maybe not slight. Maybe petite was the right word. Women had different ways of being measured and fit than men had.
Whatever the case, the dress fit her very well. It and she seemed to complement each other. It was a very nice combination. Alluring if he weren’t so old.
Maybe she’s 32, he thought. Or even 34. That would make her at least half his age.
He might have found out somehow if they’d greeted each other by shaking hands. You never knew what sort of small talk would ensue when you shook hands with people.
Anyway there would be time enough for that later. For now, the motion of the dress was enough. Very enjoyable. Almost mesmerizing.
She reached a corner in the hallways and turned without missing a beat. She was still walking, still facing away from him when she said, “So are you liking what you’ve seen so far?”
She had to be kidding. Was that a trick question or what? Oh dear god yes.
Then he realized she was probably waiting for a reply. His mouth opened to say something nondescript and polite, but his voice caught in his throat. He coughed slightly to clear it, then said, “I’m sorry. What?”
And she stopped. “Here we are.” She reached for the door knob with her right hand, gripped it and turned to face him.
But he’d gotten into his own rhythm as he walked. That and his daydream caused him to stop late, only a foot or so from her. Her perfume wafted up to him. Like everything else about her, it was very pleasant. Lilacs, maybe? Something like that.
She looked up at him and flashed a broad smile again.
She ought to patent that smile. It might be the most wonderful smile I’ve ever—
“Tombstone, silly. You like it so far?”
Silly? Was she flirting with him? Well, she might be 36 or 38. Maybe the age gap isn’t so wide after all. “Oh. Sure, it’s all right. Lot of history here. You know.”
She looked away and nodded as she opened the door and led him inside then stopped to the left, still holding the door. As he passed behind her, he got a second whiff of her perfume.
She closed the door and locked it.
The click of the lock filtered into his subconscious as a faraway sound, but he didn’t really notice. He was still mulling over why she’d called him silly. Or maybe he hadn’t heard her right. No way was she flirting with him. Was she flirting with him?
He busied himself with looking around the room, trying to push the image of her walking in front of him out of his mind. He was here for business, after all. Strictly business. An author interview. Business that would benefit him.
Maybe in more ways than one.
A grin crept through his mind, but he kept it from his face. There was nothing overt to grin at, and he didn’t want to look like a complete moron.
The room wasn’t much larger than a closet, the walls covered with some sort of off-white, sound-absorbing material. Probably sound proofing to make the recording cleaner. It reminded him of the stuff on the ceiling of the hallway.
A small, wide wooden table sat near one end of the room. A single secretary’s chair on the far side of it and a thick guest chair at an angle in front of it. The guest chair was institutional burnt orange with a heavily padded seat and back and thick arms. And it was shiny in a muted way.
Leather. Or maybe pleather.
On the end of the table next to the wall that abutted the hallway was some sort of machine, probably the recorder. Well of course it was the recorder. The microphones were right there on the table, one on her side and one on his, and both of them were plugged into the machine.
“Yes sir. Lot of history,” he said, and finally let the grin escape. “Actually I’ve been here a lot, though. Tombstone, I mean. Really, it’s one of my favorite places. I like walking where the likes of the Earps and Doc Holliday and John Ringo and—”
“Uh huh,” she said as she brushed past him. “And there are a lot of ghosts here too, I guess, right?” She gestured toward the guest chair. “Please,” she said, and continued around the table to the secretary’s chair.
Michael took off his hat. He held it in front of his chest, his fingers working nervously at the brim, and waited for her to sit. “Ghosts?”
As Alicia settled in her chair, she glanced up at him and smiled again.
No doubt a reward for his gentlemanly behavior.
She put her palms on the edge of the table and leaned forward slightly, pulling her left leg up into the chair beneath her.
Despite his attempt to keep his gaze on her face, it flicked down to her dress again.
Tendrils and claws and— No, vines and leaves and flowers and hearts. They don’t make prints with claws and disfigured human faces in agony.
She shifted again, leaned forward and put her elbows on the table, and clasped her hands. The smile still in place, she said, “Okay, I’m finally settled.” She laughed lightly, then gestured toward the guest chair with her chin. “Please, have a seat.”
He frowned as if he hadn’t heard her, then quickly looked over his shoulder.
Oh, the guest chair.
“Yes, ma’am.” He dropped into it and set his hat on his lap.
Something didn’t feel right. Like the shine on the chair was actually something sticky. It took great effort just to lift his left leg and cross it over his right at the knee.
Should he say something?
But probably she didn’t know, and probably it wasn’t her fault anyway. Someone’s kid smeared a jelly sandwich over the seat or something. He didn’t want to start the interview off on the wrong foot.
He resettled his hat on his left knee, then leaned back.
The back was sticky too. Seriously?
He ran his hands over the arms of the chair, as much to wipe the thin film of nervous perspiration off his palms as for any other reason.
The arms of the chair were sticky too, though the substance wasn’t as—thick, or something—as it was on the seat and back.
He gripped the ends of the arm rests and squeezed, then looked at her and forced a smile.
What had they been talking about?
She said, “Yes, ghosts. I mean, that’s what you do, right? Talk with ghosts?”
“Oh, those kinds of ghosts.” He allowed his head to bob. “Yes. Yes, ma’am, that’s what I do all right. Well, me and my friends. That’s what we do for sure.”
She laughed again. “Do you mind if I call you Mike? Is that all right?”
“Oh, yes ma’am. That’ll be fine. That’s my name. A lot of people call me Michael, but Mike is good.”
Her eyes were still glinting with the remains of her mischievous laughter. He’d never met a woman who could smile so readily with only her eyes.
Her eyes seemed huge. And they were brown. The light was better in the room, and he could see them better. They were definitely brown. And definitely beautiful. Alluring even. And that smile. On her lips, in her eyes, it was all the same. Incredible.
“Are you nervous, Mike? You seem a little nervous.”
He realized she was talking again and reeled himself in. “Me?” He effected a practiced half-grin. She was flirting with him before with that “silly” thing. He was sure of it. And now she wanted to call him Mike. And what was with the chair? But he shouldn’t bring that up. Of course he was nervous. “Naw, I ain’t nervous. Why?”
“Well, I’m not a ‘ma’am’ in any context of the word.” She laughed. “I’m Alicia . Or ‘Miss’ if you insist on formality. I’m not married, and I certainly wasn’t part of the Tombstone red light district.”
He felt his own eyes grow wide. “Oh, yes ma’am. I mean, no ma’am. I mean, I didn’t mean any disrespect at all, ma’am. I mean Alicia . I promise, I only meant—”
She laughed and wagged one slender hand at him.
Her fingers were long, gracious. Her fingernails were finely formed. They looked—strong was the only word that came to mind.
And she was talking again. “It’s all right. But call me Alicia if you want. After all, we’ll be together for awhile, won’t we? And you said it’s okay if I call you Mike, right?”
He nodded and tried to shift in his chair.
“Absolutely.” He paused. “Alicia .”
“Okay, Mike it is. So,” she said, “any last-minute questions?”
He gripped the arms of the chair for the second time and shook his head slightly. “I don’t think so.” Then he frowned. “Well, yes. One I guess. Why midnight?”
“Oh.” She hesitated. Then she smiled again. “Well, you do chase ghosts, right? So I thought this might be the best time for an interview about it. Kind of the witching hour, right?”
“Oh, okay. Got’cha.” But her hesitation bothered him. And her answer sounded like she hoped it made sense, which it didn’t.
He tried to shift in his chair again, but his back and legs were firmly stuck. He forced a smile. “Y’know, not to complain—I mean, you’re very nice and all, but, well, did you know this chair— It has something on it. It’s sticky, like maybe some kid—” He tried to shift his shoulders to illustrate. “I mean, I can’t even adjust in this chair.” And he emitted a short, nervous laugh.
Alicia nodded. “Yes, I know. It’s a special chair.” She paused, took her chin from her fists. Then she leaned back a bit, her gaze still directly on his face, and lowered her palms to the edge of her desk again. “Mike,” she said, “listen, do you trust me?”
His gaze flicked from her face to her breasts and back. “Trust you? Sure, I guess I trust you all right.”
She began to unfold herself from her chair. “Good, Mike. That’s very good. And do you like me?”
“Like you?” His throat went dry. “I—yes, I like you.”
She laughed with that same beautiful musical tone as she stood. “I know you at least like the way I look, yes?”
“Oh. Yes. You look very nice.”
He paused. Color rose in his throat, up through his cheeks. She was flirting with him. And the sound of a click came to him from his subconscious.
His throat dry, his palms sweaty, barely above a whisper he said, “Did you—did you lock the door? Before, I mean?”
She put the fingertips of her right hand on the desk and dragged them along lightly as she started around the desk. Quietly, her eyes smoldering, she said, “Oh yes. Yes, I locked the door.” She rounded the back corner, her fingertips still tracing along the edge of the table. “We wouldn’t want to be interrupted, now would we?”
Unable to speak, his throat thick, he shook his head.
She was rounding the front corner of the desk, her gaze still locked on his eyes. “I have a new technique I want to try out. You okay with that, Mike?”
“A—a new technique?”
She laughed quietly, lowered herself onto his lap, and draped her left arm around the back of his neck. Her face inches away from his, her gaze still locked on his eyes, she said, “Yes. Well, it’s actually a very old technique. But with the aids scare, none of us have tried it for ages. Eons, even.”
She nodded. Whispered, “I’m not quite as young as you probably think I am.” She paused. “Okay?”
He only nodded.
She smiled again, took his left hand and place it on her left thigh. “Pleasure, Mike. It’s all about pleasure.”
Oh dear god. Her thigh felt smooth and supple beneath his hand.
She leaned down across him and allowed her lips to lightly brush over the left side of his neck and throat. “You might feel just a little pressure.”
He could barely whisper, “Huh?”
“Sleep, Mike. Sleep and dream.” She bared her fangs and sank them into his carotid artery.
He closed his eyes and relaxed, his hand still on her thigh. He’d never felt so warm and cold at the same time.
And even as he slipped away into the soft red darkness thrumming behind his eyelids, he thought this must be the best interview ever.
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