The knock on the door was weak and timid, but enough to jar me, forcing me to jerk the barrel from my mouth. I winced in pain as the forward sight chipped a jagged arch out of my two upper front teeth.
My eyes snapped open and I waited. After a few seconds the knock came again, with a bit more urgency.
Damn! I thought. It was probably some idiot trying to sell magazine subscriptions, but it might also be important. Very few knew where I lived, and they wouldn't bother me unless they had to.
I removed my thumb from the revolver's trigger and placed the .44 on the small table beside the battery-powered radio, covering it with the front section of The Denver Post. Then I got up from the easy chair and went to the door. I unlocked it, pulled it open. Snow blew cold around a small black woman standing in the doorway before me—a woman I did not know.
The first thing to strike me was that she wasn't wearing a coat in the sub-zero weather. She was no taller than five feet two or three inches and extremely thin. Her hair was dirty and matted, her clothing—jeans, a green marijuana t-shirt, red high-tops with holes in them and no laces or socks—was soiled. Her nipples showed prominently through the t-shirt, emphasizing her small breasts, and her breath came in rapid pants.
She looked thirty-five or forty, maybe a bit older, maybe pretty once but street-hardened and haunted now. Her cheeks were hollow, her eyes shadowed. There were a few small open sores on her face and her teeth showed a couple brown spots, indicating the beginning of decay.
One look at her soft brown eyes and I knew she was on something. That, and the amped-up way she moved—jerkily, scratching nervously at her neck, darting her head about as if someone was chasing her. Meth, I thought as she shivered in the doorway. I wanted to slam the door in her face.
"What do you want?"
She blinked twice, then took a step back. "Are you Scar?" she asked in a light Southern drawl.
"'Course I am." All she had to do was look at my face—the livid slash, pink against my dark-tanned skin, running from the outside corner of my right eye to the right side of my mouth. What else would my street name be?
"I need your help. Father Albright sent me."
The wind blew more snow in the doorway around her. "I'm into something just now—something important." I ran my tongue over my newly-roughened front teeth.
"Father Albright said you would help me."
There was something odd about the way she spoke. Her speech pattern was too clear, too precise—not at all what I would have expected from someone who'd spent time on the streets.
"Sorry," I said. "It's something I can't put off."
Tears filled her eyes, and she shook her head in frustration and disbelief. "I don't know...." She stopped, scratching again at her neck. "I don't know what I'm going to do. I... I need help."
And suddenly I knew she was as bad off as I was. Maybe worse.
I ran a hand over the stubble atop my head and sighed, then waved her in. "Hurry up. I don't want to heat the whole damned outdoors."
She stepped in and I slammed the door against the storm. It was too late—the meager heat had already escaped my apartment. We stood in the middle of the room, neither of us knowing what to do or say. I waved a hand toward the futon and she moved the faded blue comforter to cover the sheet. The futon's springs complained as she sat and shivered.
I returned to the easy chair, reached down to the space heater at my feet and turned it up a few notches. Angel rustled in her bedding and the woman looked over her shoulder at the rat's cage. Angel remained predictably silent.
The woman's body shook with more than cold as she glanced around the room. Her gaze finally centered on me. "This place is hard to find. No apartment number."
My grunt was noncommittal. "There's a reason for that."
It was an unmarked basement room with a kitchenette and a small bathroom beneath a rundown liquor store I occasionally watched for a few dollars or, more often, a bottle of cheap whiskey. I paid two hundred dollars a month rent in cash to Tony, the liquor store owner, and I maintained a minimal mail drop rented under an assumed name downtown on the Sixteenth Street Mall. I generated no traceable income, neither declared nor paid taxes, held no current driver's license, and did not maintain a savings account or credit card. There was no cable or television—only the radio for the news. It amounted to a bare bones existence without a paper trail.
"What's your name?" I asked.
I stifled a laugh. Last name Meth? I almost said. Instead: "Your last name."
She didn't respond.
"You're not going to tell me."
She shook her head, then shrugged.
"Crystal's okay—for now. I'm John Point."
She nodded. Chester would have told her that much.