Time for another Saturday Scenes! Here’s the last selection I’ll share from Valkyrie. (Click for the first excerpt and the second.) After their meeting at the bar, Rick and Desi run into a bit of trouble, then part ways. The next night, Rick heads home early and prepares to settle in for the evening when he’s interrupted by the doorbell.
I open up the door to see a pair of large burly men wearing suits that might have been expensive in a previous life. They haven’t bothered with umbrellas, and are thus rather damp. One of them is wearing sunglasses. I wonder if he’s blind, or perhaps just trying to develop sonar. They don’t look familiar. “Can I help you, gentlemen?” I ask.
“Evening, Mr. Marshall, mind if we come in?” the one in front says. They don’t wait for my reply before pushing past me into the house.
I’m so stunned by this that it takes me a moment to be able to reply. “I do mind, actually,” I manage at last. “Could this maybe wait until tomorrow?”
They’ve barged ahead into the living room, and I’m left to trail after them like the undersized kid on the playground trying to keep up with the older boys. “Oh, this won’t take long, Mr. Marshall,” the same one as before says. “We just wanted to have a little chat, come in and dry off.” He spots the half-prepared drink on the bar. “You expecting someone?”
“No,” I say through gritted teeth. “I was actually expecting to be left alone tonight.”
“Well, we won’t waste too much of your time, then,” he replies. “Mr. Marshall, what do you know about the Valkyrie?”
I frown. “The Valkyrie? I mean, I’ve heard of her…” I quickly run through the catalog of stories I’ve heard over the years, local legends blown wildly out of proportion. I don’t know too much about the players in the city’s underworld, but everyone’s at least heard of the Valkyrie. Some people say that she’s an assassin for hire, loyal to no one. Others think that she’s more like a serial killer, an indiscriminate murderer. Still others paint her as a defender of the city’s delicate balance of power, only striking out at those who are threatening to overstep their bounds. The only things all these competing legends can agree on are that she’s supposed to be very beautiful and very deadly. “I think everyone’s heard of her, though. What do you expect me to know?”
“Well,” the spokesgoon says, leaning heavily against my bar, “we have it on good authority that you gave her a ride yesterday.”
“I drive dozens of people every day,” I say in a measured voice. “There’s no way I’m going to remember them all.” No, they can’t possibly mean…
“Do you have drinks with all of them at the bar?”
“Well, not all of them, but a lot.” As true a statement as I’m willing to favor these guys with.
The spokesgoon straightens up. He’s unpleasantly large. So is Glasses, who’s started to close in slowly, like one of those statues in the horror movies that only moves when you’re not looking directly at it. I find myself involuntarily starting to back up, and try to stand my ground. “Now, Mr. Marshall,” the spokesgoon says, his tone still casual, friendly, nonthreatening, “you should be aware that this woman is extremely dangerous. We think that she might be coming after you, and people don’t tend to survive long when that happens. We’re just trying to help.”
Somehow, I find that hard to believe. “I’m sorry, gentlemen,” I say, and my voice falters a bit. For all my bravado, there’s a part of my brain that’s gibbering in terror, making it difficult to for the rest of me to focus. “I don’t really think I’m the one that you’re looking for.”
All pretense of this being a normal, polite conversation has been utterly abandoned. “I’m pretty sure you are,” the spokesgoon says softly. He’s close enough now that I’m almost within reach of one of those chimpanzee arms. “And I’m pretty sure we can jog your memory.”
The lights go out. The darkness isn’t absolute; I can see the twinkle of streetlights and the glow of my neighbor’s TV through the rain sheeting down my picture window. Not some storm-driven power outage, then. It’s only my home that’s lost all of its comforting illumination.
My visitors’ reaction is not what I expect. “She’s here,” one of them says.
“No way, just relax.”
“Let’s get out of here!”
“Calm down, Jesus–”
“You’re on your fucking own, I don’t get paid enough for this shit.”
“Get back here, you pussy!”
Retreating footsteps, a crash, and the sound of my front door slamming. I’m alone again, in the dark and utterly bewildered, listening to the squealing of their tires as they drive off, followed by the soft, unconcerned tapping of the rain on my rooftop. Then there’s a brief hum, and the lights come back on. Perhaps I’m not as alone as I’d thought.
I glance around for something that I can use for self-defense. There’s a small steak knife behind the bar that I usually use for cutting up citrus. Well, it’s better than nothing. I grab it and rush out. The only way to be able to kill all of the lights in the house and bring them up so effortlessly is to use the circuit breaker, which is in the laundry room. I’m vaguely aware that this is a supremely stupid thing to do, but I have to know. I’m just glad I’m not a cat.
The laundry room is just down the stairs that descend from the other side of the foyer from the living room. The front door is massive, heavy, and loud, so I would have heard someone come in that way. A window, then. There are none in the laundry room — that’s another project that’s been hovering near the bottom of my to-do list for a while — so it would have to be the ones in the basement. I fly down the steps, my feet somehow keeping up with the impossible momentum of my upper body. I reach the bottom and flip the light switch. Sure enough, a slim, dark figure is halfway out of one of the narrow windows that sit just below the ceiling. “Stop!” I cry with a touch of despair, knowing the uselessness of it.
To my astonishment, the intruder pauses, then drops back to the floor. She lands in an easy crouch — how the hell did she get up there, anyway? I moved everything away from the walls so I could paint and haven’t had time to set things to rights — and rises deliberately to her feet, unfurling like a cobra. “Desi” draws herself up to her full height and stares at me imperiously, making me feel as though she’s the mistress of this place and I’m the trespasser. Her brown eyes are cold, flat — the eyes of a killer. They flick down to the short bit of cheap stamped metal in my hand. “What are you planning on doing with that?” she asks, the barest touch of amusement in her voice.
“Hell if I know,” I reply. “Those guys seemed to think that you were coming here to kill me.”
“And what do you think?”
“I think that if you wanted me dead, I wouldn’t be standing here.”
She smiles. “You’re a fast learner.”
“So I’m told.” I toss the useless little blade onto the coffee table that’s been serving as my workbench. “You are the Valkyrie, then.”
The smile vanishes, replaced by a look of annoyance. “I guess you want an autograph?”
I contemplate the merits of handwriting analysis in profiling and identity detection for a moment before I register the sarcasm. “How did you know where to find the circuit breaker?”
“Oh, I’ve been here before.” She catches my shocked expression, and adds, “Back when it used to be offices. It’s a cool place.”
I want to ask more about that, but I let it go. “If you’re not here to kill me, then why are you here?”
“I was doing some digging into the Pineview fire, and your name came up.”
I gape. “In what context?”
She leans against the wall. I’m glad the paint is dry. “Seems like someone thinks that I might be involved.” There’s a bit of a bite running under her words. “Someone was watching me at the Commodore and saw me get into your cab.”
“Were you involved?” I blurt out, and instantly regret it once she gives me a sour, offended look. A bolt of lightning flashes as though summoned by her indignation. “I mean, er, so you came here to make sure I didn’t tell them anything?”
“No, I came to make sure that you did.”
I’ve never done a literal double-take before in my life. It’s a bizarre sensation. “Come again?”
She sighs, and starts to pace a little, like a caged animal. She’s not wearing any sort of coat, and the rain drips off her and pools onto the carpet as she prowls. I notice that she’s not limping anymore. “These guys that showed up tonight? They’re not after you. I’m the one they want, you’re just a means to an end. So I figured I’d give you the heads up, tell you to cooperate, so they’d get what they need to know and move on.”
I’m utterly, utterly confused. “So you want them to find you?” I stammer.
“Of course not,” she scoffs. “But I knew that you’d try to play all coy, and I didn’t want them beating the information out of you.”
“And what made you think that?”
Her expression is slightly patronizing. “I was right, wasn’t I?”
I start to pace a bit myself. It’s been quite a while since a conversation has gotten me this flustered. It must be the adrenaline that’s still charging through my system. “So you came here to warn me, but you don’t want me trying to help you?” It’s not quite what I intended to say, but close enough.
She stops and fixes me with a deadly serious look. “No, I don’t.” I start to interject, but she talks right over me. “Look, Red, I know you have this idealistic hangup or something that everyone is good and the world is this fantastic place, but I don’t need any misplaced chivalry. I’m not some damsel in distress, and I’m not a nice person. You need to look out for yourself, or you’re just going to wind up getting hurt.”
We stay frozen in that little tableau for an interminable moment, then she turns back and, in a motion almost too quick to follow, scales my basement wall and grabs on to the narrow ledge of the window. She’s most of the way out before I gather my thoughts enough to go after her again. “Hey!” I call. She doesn’t come back inside this time, but bends down with her head at an odd angle to look back, her wet hair defying gravity and clinging to her neck. “If you’re so keen on looking out for yourself, then why did you want to warn me?”
It’s almost impossible to tell in the darkness outside, but I’m watching closely, and so I see the barest flicker of a smile cross her face as she looks away. At least, I think I do. I could be imagining things. “Get some locks for your damn windows,” she tosses back, and she’s gone.