“Dogs aren’t quiet, that’s for sure. At least, mine isn’t.” The dwarf finished washing his hands, dried them on the dingy-looking towel, turned around and hopped off the stool. When he took a step back toward me I managed not to cringe this time. He offered his hand to shake. “I’m Ron Driscoll. I do odd jobs, electrical work, that kind of thing. I was sorting out some issues with your fuse box.”
I finally noticed that his dark green work shirt had a name tag above the pocket that said “Ron” in yellow script. I needed to work on this noticing thing.
I shook his hand. It was a big rough hand, the kind of hand that would belong to someone who did odd jobs. So maybe he really had been sorting out my fuse box—damn it, the fuse box—and wasn’t in the pay of the Great Old Ones to do unspeakable things in the dark cellars of abandoned houses. My heart rate was slowing down to normal. “Nice to meet you,” I said, feeling inane. And like a verifiable moron. I had totally believed that was Yog-Sothoth in the cellar. I tried to think of something else to say. Failed. Forgot I hadn’t given him my name because I got distracted wondering if he lived in Cold Valley and was available on Sunday mornings when the hot water was failing to be hot, but felt asking this might be pushy.
Oh, wait. You can ask people about their dogs. “What kind of dog?”
“Mine, y’mean? Hank’s a Malamute. Good dogs—one person dogs, though, at least he is.”
Note to self: Do not drop by Ron’s when he’s not there.
“He’s not a barker, but he’ll howl like you wouldn’t believe. I live just down the road a piece—so if you hear howling, it’s probably Hank. Coyotes tend to avoid this area.”
And then Hayley showed up. Finally. The front door banged and then there was the unmistakable sound of a woman looking forward to spending her old age in a wheelchair walking quickly in four-inch heels: clicketyclicketyclicketyclickety. “Helloooo! Kes, are you here?” Hayley appeared in the kitchen door. “Oh, hi, Ron! I see you’ve met Kes.”
I suppressed the “thank the gods you’re here” that was trying to fly out of my mouth. She’s twenty years old! She wears four-inch heels! She’s trying to rent me a house only slightly smaller than Grand Central Station! With Yog-Sothoth in the cellar! “Oh, you know each other?” She and Ron are in it together! Whatever it is! “And, um, good about the coyotes.” I glanced at Ron, hoping maybe he was kidding. But he was giving me that impenetrable, measuring look again, like maybe I’m a load of shingles he suspects are substandard. I wondered if coyotes ate rose-bushes.
“Hi, Hayley,” Ron said. “I was just finishing up some work on the electrical. I’ll get out of your way so you can show . . . Kes, was it? Nice to meet you, Kes . . . around.” He shouldered his ladder, grabbed his toolbox, then headed down the hall to the front door. We heard it open and thud shut behind him.
Oh, hell’s false teeth. I hadn’t introduced myself. No wonder he’d been glaring at me.
“Ron’s the local handyman, he does great work,” Hayley said. “I’ll make sure you have his number in case you need anything fixed around the place.”
“Oh good. Thanks.” I took a deep breath.
Hayley looked at me, looked away—and then looked back. Her eyes didn’t slide away. “Kes?” she said tentatively. “Are you okay? You look a little—pale.”
I knew I was still semi-paralytic at least in terms of coherent speech and while Ron might just think I was a moron (which would be too bad, because he was kind of cute: I liked the little streaks of grey in his hair), Hayley had seen me in my post-pancakes sugar high and knew I could talk. I took a deep breath. “Ron was in the cellar when I got here, so I didn’t know what was happening. I just heard something coming up the cellar stairs—he was carrying his ladder and —”
Hayley started laughing and then couldn’t stop. I started to grin involuntarily. She was laughing at me, but it wasn’t unfriendly. And it made her look like a human being rather than a cheerleader in four-inch heels and a navy-blue blazer. “Oh dear,” she said at last, blushing through her face powder again. “I’m so sorry. It’s just—I’m—um.” She took a deep breath and reverted to professionally crisp. “It must have been—very alarming.”
“Yes. You could say that.” Feelingly. I looked at her. She was still blushing, but her eyes were sliding away from mine again. What was with this babe? I liked her better laughing. She stood there, as stiffly upright as one of the chairs in the parlour, clutching her (rather large) handbag like an enchanted sword. Maybe it was an enchanted enchanted sword. Hmm. Flowerhair hadn’t been cursed to be a realtor yet. It could happen.
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