Well, why doesn’t somebody go in there during the day and fix all those broken streetlamps? I’d asked. Wouldn’t that get rid of them? Or at least help?
The city has forgotten that section exists, he’d replied. You will not find a district of the Gardai that claims it, and if you ask city power or water they will have no record of service to any address within its bounds.
I’d snorted. Cities don’t just lose entire neighborhoods. That’s impossible.
He’d smiled faintly. In time, Ms. Lane, you will cease using that word.
As I climbed the steps to the rear door, I raised my fist and shook it angrily at the Shades. I’d had my fill of monsters for the night. The Shade that was creeping along the foundation startled me by bristling visibly back at me. I found its display of sentient hostility chilling.
The rear door was locked, but the third window I tried slid up easily. I muttered beneath my breath about Barrons’ appalling lack of safety-consciousness, as I boosted myself up and over the sill. After a quick bathroom stop, I headed for the front of Barrons Books and Baubles.
I don’t know what made me hesitate when I went to open that second door that separated residence from store, but something did. Maybe I heard my name as I was reaching for the knob, or my curiosity was piqued by the urgent undertone in Fiona’s voice that was carrying clearly through the door, although her words did not. Whatever the reason, rather than betray my presence, I nudged the door slightly ajar, pressed my ear to the crack, and displayed a dearth of manners that would have appalled every woman in my family ten generations back; I eavesdropped on the conversation taking place beyond it.
“You have no right, Jericho, and you know it!” Fiona cried.
“When will you learn, Fio?” Barrons said. “Might makes right. That’s all the right I need.”
“She doesn’t belong here. You can’t let her stay. I won’t stand for it!”
“You won’t stand for it? When did you become my keeper, Fio?” There was danger in the very gentleness with which Barrons asked the question, but Fiona either didn’t hear it, or chose not to heed it.
“When you started needing one! It’s not safe to have her here, Jericho. She must go—tonight, if possible, tomorrow at the very latest! I can’t be here all the time to make sure nothing happens!”
“No one asked you to,” Barrons said coldly.
“Well, someone needs to,” she cried.
“Jealous, Fio? It doesn’t become you.”
Fiona sucked in an audible breath. I could almost see her standing there: eyes bright with passion, two spots of color high on the cheekbones of her aging movie-star face. “If you must take this to a personal level, then yes, Jericho, I am. You know I don’t want her here. But it’s not just about me and what I want. That child is as ignorant and innocent as the day is long—”
Okay, I really resented that.
“—and she doesn’t have the slightest idea what she’s doing. She has no notion of the danger she’s in, and you have no right to continue placing her in it.”
“Not right, Fio, might. Remember? I’m not interested in rights. I never have been.”
“I don’t believe that, Jericho. I know you.”
“No, Fio, you only think you know me. You really don’t know me at all. Stay out of this or leave. I’m sure I can find another to”—he paused a moment as if searching for precisely the right words—“serve my needs.”
“Oh! Serve your—oh! Is that what I do? Serve your needs? You’d do that, too, wouldn’t you? Find someone else. Just pack me off on the nearest train. I bet you wouldn’t even say good-bye, would you? You’d probably never even think of me again!”
Barrons laughed softly, and although I couldn’t see either of them, I pictured him taking her by the shoulders, maybe brushing his knuckles to the pale, soft curve of her cheek. “Fio,” he said, “my foolish, sweet, faithful Fio; there will always be a place for you in my thoughts. But I am not the man you believe me to be. You have romanticized me unforgivably.”
“I have never seen any more in you than I know you could be, if you wanted to, Jericho,” Fiona declared fervently, and even I—a child as ignorant and innocent as the day was long, to coin a recently minted phrase—could hear the blind conviction of love in her voice.
Barrons laughed again. “And there, my dear Fio, you make one of Womankind’s greatest mistakes: falling in love with a man’s potential. We so rarely share the same view of it, and even more rarely care to achieve it. Stop pining for the man you think I could be—and take a good, long, hard look at the one I am.” In my mind, Barrons grabbed her when he emphasized the word “look” and was now shaking her, not quite so gently.