I went through the drill. Take off the cover, turn the bucket over, sit on the bottom, commune with the machine. Okay, just swap out the thingamabobber that's all scorched and used up-looking, and it'll run at least til Ed can get out here for a proper overhaul on the day shift. There's a new one in the tool box I brought in from the truck, and there. Let it rest a bit, hit the red button, and…
Woh, dizzy. And I wasn't sitting down, worrying about plumber's butt in the general direction of Mrs. Washington Street, who was no longer snoozing on the bottom step. There was no bottom step. Damn, it was cold. My feet were… like ice. Because they were bare and in snow. No footprints at all, leading to here, only the two I was standing in.
"Damn, girl," said a voice. I turned to my left. "Naked in the snow. Don't you know this is a bad neighborhood?"
There was a sign under the street light. Larimer Street. Notorious red light district, from when this was the rail yard for the West. As if on cue, the signal light turned red.
"C'mere," she said. "Put something on."
I guess business was slow that night, and she was wearing two layers, so she gave me one of them. And then, with a shrug, she took me by the elbow and brought me in out of the storm. She rubbed my feet til they began to feel like she was sticking needles in them; maybe some of the ones I'd seen in the bathroom. And then she snuggled into the bed beside me.
It was… nice… Nice to be warm. Nice that somebody cared enough to pick me up. Nice to, well, turnabout. Or whatever. Tricky, like.
What she said when we woke up chilled me almost as much as the snow.
"Gotta get to work, or Junior will…" she tailed off. She sat up, lit a smoke, found another outfit, put it on.
"Well, maybe I can help with that."
She snorted. "A little waif of a girl like you." It wasn't a question.
The door slammed open, and there he was. Right out of the comic books, including the diamond cemented to his front tooth. Must hurt if somebody hit him. But for tonight at least, he was doing the hitting. I have this amazingly unfortunate superpower of being in harm's way, and even though he wound up on… Huh. I don't think I caught her name. My streetwalker of a lover, across the small room from where I sat naked on the bed, it was my teeth he connected with, half a second later.
More or less as you'd expect, my jaw cracked, my head recoiled, my neck snapped, and I fell in a heap of emaciated elbows and knees, senseless.
"I thought he'd killed you," she was wailing, when I woke up.
"I think he did," I admitted, spitting blood and a tooth or two. I gently readjusted my neck and heard it crunch into place again. "Where'd he go?"
"He ran off when he saw the blood. It won't do for him to be at a murder scene."
"Well, then you're free."
"And you're… alive."
"Temporary immortality comes with the gig," I said.
"Gig." She's one of those people who repeat something if she doesn't understand.
"Not sure how it works. I'm the guy who comes out at two in the morning and fixes your heat," I said.
"Uh, yeah. Somebody in need, they connect somehow to the right whatever, and hey presto, I get to be the goddess of love for a night. Or some damn thing. Kinda like being a werewolf, I guess. Without the teeth." I spat out another one.
"A wereslut or something," she said.
"You could say that."
"The immortality thing would be handy," she said.
"Be careful what you wish for. I'm in for the Mother of God's own hangover, and I still have to finish Mrs. Washington Street's furnace tonight."
"Thanks for coming. It was nice," she said, suddenly shy. "Can I, like, call you up again sometime?"
"The phone doesn't exactly work…"
"Like a genie, I mean."
"I don't know who the dispatcher is, or how it works. But I think I'd like that."
And she faded from view, and I was back in the basement on Washington Street, a little dizzy from having hit my head on the side of the furnace when it kicked on. "That'll do til Eddie can come out and have a look in the daytime," I told the woman.
"Thanks," she said, waking from her doze.
I packed up my tools and went home.
"Hey, Joe," Marcia murmured when I crawled into bed beside her. Usually I didn't get home til she was up. Knocking off early confused the dog, who figured it was time for breakfast and a walk if I appeared. "Fall asleep on the job?" she asked. I guess I must have had a bruise on my forehead.
"You don't know the half of it," I said, and kissed her good morning.
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