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Christian moved from shadow to light, and back to shadow. A mist just short of drizzle softened the light from the street lamps, giving glowing auras to the glass globes. In the hour before dawn the mansions scattered along the street were dark masses with unlit windows.
A police car slipped out of a side street, its tires hissing on the pavement. Christian slowed, then stood and waited as the cruiser rolled to a stop beside him. The officer on the passenger side wound down his window.
"You all right, sir?"
"Just fine, thanks."
"Not the nicest morning. Live near here?"
"I'm not sure where I live any more."
"Have some ID you can show me?"
"Guess that wasn't the best answer." Christian slowly reached into his pocket and took out the laminated door pass for Casa del Carlos. It was the only piece of identification he had with him. "What I meant is I'm staying at my old boss's place over towards Yonge until I find somewhere of my own." He handed the card to the policeman.
"Christian Plowman?" The tension left the policeman's face. "I knew I recognised your face, sir. Guess it was from the front page of the tabloid, not a 'Wanted' poster."
"Honest... I'm innocent."
The officer laughed as he handed the pass back. "I doubt that... sure you're all right?"
"More or less, thanks. Just trying to sort out my life."
"Yeah, getting dumped isn't easy, no matter who you are."
Everyone knew about Liza, or thought they did. Did losing her bother him? Yes, but not as much as people believed. Could you lose what you'd never had? He'd been in love with a dream, an illusory Liza, not theone who'd left. No, "getting dumped" wasn't the problem.
But "no matter who you are?" That was an entirely different matter. He was no one, a fraud. His accomplishments were nonexistent. But people couldn't see that. All they saw was an illusory Christian.
"You'll get over her," the officer continued in his matter-of-fact cop voice.
"Hell, you're sure to. With all those women you have around? Tell you this, Mr. Plowman, there's a millions of guys who'd just love to be in your shoes. And their pants," he added with a chuckle.
"Damn right! Shit... Freyja van Deer, Aurora Medici, that blonde who used to work for Cosmo down at The Factory... what's her name?"
"Yeah, that's the one. Hell, most guys would kill for a chance to screw any of those broads. And you've had them all. Lucky bastard!"
The police radio crackled. "Twenty-seven."
"Damn! That's us." The officer picked up the microphone. "Yeah?"
"Seventeen at Sixty-three Rose Drive."
"Again? Assholes! Okay, we're on it... sorry, Mr. Plowman. You were saying?"
He'd been about to say, "don't believe everything you read." The only woman mentioned Christian had actually slept with, was Aurora. And that had been business on her part; when she wasn't using her body for fame and profit, Aurora preferred women. But would the officer believe the truth if he heard it? Doubtful. And even if he did, would it help anything? No. Let him believe what he wanted.
Christian sighed. "I forget what I was going to say."
The driver cleared his throat. "Charlie... we gotta go."
"Yeah, yeah... you have a good day now, Mr. Plowman. Been an honour to meet you," he added, as the car pulled away.
Christian waved a "so long" and started walking again. He hadn't made it a dozen paces when he heard another car, this one approaching from behind, throttled-back engine throbbing. Without looking he knew it would be a sleek red sports car. He'd wondered if Vanna would be up at this hour. She came alongside, passed him at a crawl and then stopped with a squeal as she suddenly applied the brakes.
She flung the door open. "You damn jerk! Wandering around like some lost soul...how's a girl supposed to get her beauty sleep, tailing you? And for a moment there I thought I was going to have to bail you out of the hoosegow just so I'd still have a job."
"You're on the night shift?"
"And the day. Idiots in Ottawa assign two people to do twenty-four hour surveillance, then drag one back for some stupid project or other, or consultation, or something -- they don't tell me what -- and you would be an insomniac."
"Sorry. You seem to be holding up well."
"You think?" Vanna shook her platinum curls and treated him to a profile, chest thrust forward.
"I think. I've always wondered... are those things real?"
"You bet! Hey, rake in all that lovely money a bit longer and you'll be able to afford me. Then you can find out firsthand."
"This won't last. Or I won't."
Vanna turned towards him again and moved a step closer. Suddenly serious, her deep blue eyes gazed up at him. She shook her head. "Thought it was getting to you. Roll with it, pal. Nothing's really changed. You haven't."
"And therein lies the problem."
"Damn. It makes me all hot when you talk intellectual. Maybe I'll offer you a deep-thinker's discount and fax in my 'bye-bye' to the Federal Bureau of Shitheads."
"I'm not even sure why CANFIB is still interested in me."
"Sure you don't... you're just a nice Canadian boy trying to make an honest billion or two. Give me a break, Christian -- you and I both know you're literally fucking with two of the biggest multinationals in this sorry world. It's so damn obvious even my moronic boss noticed. What gives?"
"You tell me. You're the superspy."
"Yeah right... some spy... standing on a sidewalk talking to her quarry." Vanna took a deep breath and grinned at Christian's wide-eyed reaction. "Just tell me if you're tighter with Gracie X Machina and friends, or Firman's delightful slime, and I'll convince my asshole leader you're playing ball."
"Gracie... I mean Grace, of course. You know perfectly well that I worked for her until she fired me, and that she's backing the talent agency now."
"Sure, except it's Firman you're boinking, not Gracie dear. Say, is it true Firman likes her visitors to use the back door, not the front?"
"Why would your people care about that?"
"They wouldn't now that sodomy's legal as well as fun, but thanks for confirming you two've done the dirty. I'll pass the news on." Vanna yawned. "Shit, I am tired." She shook her head as if to clear it. "So... you going into the office today?"
Christian sighed. "Guess so."
"Gonna stay there? Please? I'd really like to catch some winks."
"For you? Yeah, I'll put in a full day."
"Thanks -- you're a sweetheart." Vanna turned, walked back to her car and opened the door. "Want a lift?"
"Promise not to show off?"
"You're kidding, right?"
"I'll walk, thanks."
"Your choice, pal. It's always your choice." She got back into her car.
Vanna knew he didn't deserve his success, but didn't understand why he didn't want it. According to her, "take the money and run" was life's number one rule. Unless there was enough money involved, in which case you stayed. Except that was another of her jokes... it had to be. Vanna was one of the most desirable women Christian knew and, recently, he'd met many. With her intelligence, wit and looks she could have pretty much anything or anyone she wanted. Or so it seemed. No, to her life was a romp. She enjoyed playing too much to ever want to win. Christian envied her the joy she'd found.
She backed up the car and stopped beside him. Their eyes met. She reached down to the control panel, pushed a button and the lock knob on the passenger side popped up.
"Well?" she asked through the glass, mouthing the word with exaggerated precision.
Christian shook his head, turned, and started the slow trudge back towards Grace's. The working day approached. He didn't want to go in to the office but would, and would have even if he hadn't promised Vanna. People were counting on him. Or rather, they were counting on the Christian Plowman who featured in the tabloids. That Christian had a lot to answer for. As did others, like Grace X Machina, Lucille Firman, and everyone else who'd played their part in making the image of Christian so much greater than the material man.
At the corner, he stopped and looked back. He'd been expecting to hear Vanna launch her car down the street with a sudden scream of tires, but she hadn't.
She was, however, gone. Maybe he didn't understand her as well as he'd thought.
Copyright © 2003 by J. Crispin-Ripley