I returned to the apartment and again knocked my special knock. Crystal opened the door before I could use my key.
"Where have you been?" she asked as I stepped in. I closed the door against the snow and cold.
"I told you, I had to see someone—someone who might be able to help us." I nodded toward the futon, and Crystal sat.
"So, it's us now. You've decided you're going to help me, after all."
"No," I said, "I haven't decided yet if I'm going to help you or not. I'm just taking some preliminary steps."
"I understand. Can he help?"
"Maybe. We'll see."
I removed my overcoat and went to the closet. Keeping my back to Crystal, blocking her view, I hung the coat up and took the .44 from its pocket. I put the gun on the high shelf at the back of the closet, beside my coffee can bank. Eventually I'd have to check the coffee can. But not yet; that would be too obvious. I'd wait until Crystal went to the bathroom.
My watch read 2:37. It was time we both got some sleep. I needed it if I was going to be any good to her, although I wasn't sure yet if I wanted to commit to helping her at all. She needed sleep if she was going to help me help her.
She patted the futon mattress. "We can share the bed, you know."
"I don't think that's such a good idea."
"We don't have to do anything. We can just sleep."
"We won't just sleep—you know that as well as I do."
Again we were quiet. Finally, Crystal said, "I guess you're right."
There had been women since Sylvia—two in three years. They had both been hookers. Just sex, no connection or commitment. Both times I'd left the money on the motel night stand and simply walked away without any conversation beyond what it took to consummate the transaction.
"I'll take the chair," I said.
"No, this is your bed."
"There's no way I'd be able to sleep knowing you're here in the chair."
She smiled. "That uncomfortable, huh?"
"No. In fact, most nights I fall asleep right here." I patted the chair's arm.
She smiled again as I got up to change.
That night the nightmare invaded my mind as I drifted off to sleep, slashing like the sharp blade of a knife. I woke the next morning sweating and trembling beneath the blanket.