In my defense, I was tipsy and it was pretty funny. Those are the only reasons the guy got the drop on me.
John and I had dinner at this great Lebanese place he likes. For values of ‘likes’ that possibly mean ‘owns.’ It was completely packed – the wait staff carried most of the dishes over their heads, because there was no room in the narrow aisles. John and I had a corner table, sheltered by a potted plant behind me and a suspiciously empty table to our left.
We sat knee-to-knee, half a dozen tapas and a bottle of wine and a this is a date candle between us. John was dressed down in a dark green sweater and a pair of jeans that fit like a second skin.
You get his tie off and pry that fancy phone he’s leashed to out of his hands, then apply a few glasses of wine and give him a couple hours . . . I won’t say John relaxes, because that would be a lie. He switches modes – off goes the businessman and on comes the attentive date. Not a big difference; both know exactly what they want and how to get it. But I can tell.
We lingered over dessert and the last of the wine, talking quietly as the restaurant emptied out. There are people who you get to know until you hit a certain point where you have nothing else to talk about, and then you’re done. And there are people who, the better you know them, the more you have to say. John was one of those. He’s not the most comfortable person to be around, that’s for sure, and he still pissed me off as regular as the tides. But when it was just him and me, he was also thoughtful, wry, bitingly funny. I . . . liked him.
Nine months it’d taken us to get here, to regular old date night. Well, okay, truth. Nine months for him to get me here, fuckups and fumbles notwithstanding. But I was on board now, and I figured that’s what counted.
John signaled for the bill at last, his other hand lingering on my knee under the table. I let him handle the check without any grief because he actually hadn’t done anything obnoxious in days, and I try to reward that sort of thing.
Hendricks approached us as soon as we stood up. John had this arrangement where he’d pass off his phone to someone close but out of my usual range. Hendricks stayed about ten feet back, gesturing.
“Call,” he said. “Rapheli, ten minutes ago.”
John’s spine straightened minutely, and I dropped my hand away from its spot low on his back. “I’ll just go wait in the car,” I said. It hadn’t taken much trial and error for us both to figure out everyone was happier when the business and I didn’t meet.
“Thank you,” John said. “I’ll be quick.”
I wove my way through the tables and out into the cool fall night. The parking lot was just around the corner, stuck back behind a dark sporting goods store. I strolled over, looking idly up at the stars and humming under my breath. Good food, good drink, and good sex in the near future, maybe. It didn’t get much better than that.
When I looked down, there was a guy crouched next to John’s mustang, staring big-eyed at me with his hand still on the slim Jim he was working in the driver’s side lock.
I stared back, resisting the urge to slap my hands over my face. “Seriously?” I said, because certain depths of stupid are just inherently funny to me. “Seriously, you think this is a good life choice?”
The guy popped up fast, eyes rolling left and right. The line of cars was nosed in against a brick wall, and I had him unintentionally boxed in. I leaned on my staff, still amused more than anything. Because seriously! There’s dumb, and then there’s trying to jack John Marcone’s car.
“Oh man,” I said. “This is Darwin Awards level, right here.”
The carjacker clearly didn’t know what those were. I only did because Murph and some of the guys from S.I. printed me up a fake certificate. You jump in front of a train and try to stop it with the power of your mind, and you never hear the end of it.
“Get out of the way, motherfucker.” The guy danced forward, breathing fast.
I almost did. Because this was John we were talking about, and I was only 95% sure where this would fall in his complicated rubric of proportional responses. But then the decision was taken away from me.
“Harry?” John said from halfway across the parking lot. “Is there a problem?”
I glanced back. He was coming fast but casual, not particularly worried yet.
“Naw,” I said. “Just a—“ John’s eyes widened, and I spun back around. The guy was suddenly a lot closer, and whoa, knife. He went for my face, swinging wide and panicky, and I ducked. I fumbled with my staff – my weight was placed all wrong, I was still leaning, I didn’t really have my feet under me.
The guy plowed into me with his shoulder. I staggered a few steps back, my staff clattering away. And then there was a knife at my throat.
“I don’t wanna hurt you, but I will,” the guy said into my face. His hands were shaking. Hell’s bells, he might slit my jugular by mistake. This was just sad.
“You might actually be the unluckiest person I’ve ever met, and that counts me,” I said. I lifted a hand away from my body, keeping it open and unthreatening, and readied one of my rings.
And then John happened to the guy like a sledgehammer would happen to an egg. The knife went skidding across the pavement, there was a flurry of motion, a snapping noise, and a shriek. John straightened slowly. He had one foot planted on the guy’s chest. I didn’t think it was really necessary – most people don’t get up on a broken ankle.
“What the fuck was that?” I said over the yelling.
“Are you all right?” John looked me up and down, eyes lingering on my throat.
“Yeah,” I said, rolling my eyes. “I had that, there was no need to go all Jackie Chan on his ass.”
John’s nostrils flared. “No one pulls a blade on you but me,” he said, clear and cold.
“Um,” John said, looking honestly taken aback, like he hadn’t planned to say that. Like he hadn’t planned to think it, maybe.
“Hang on,” I said, scrubbing my hands over my face. “I’m rearranging the list of the top five most disturbing things you’ve ever said to me, it’ll take a minute.”
Hendricks arrived late, running hard. “Boss?” he said.
The shrieking had died down to whimpering. “Dispose of this . . . gentleman, please,” John said, removing his foot and stepping back.
Like hell, I thought.
“Like hell,” I said. “John.” My protest slid off him like water. He turned away to retrieve my staff, handling it respectfully as he brought it back to me. I closed my hand over his and didn’t let go. “John,” I said again, more sharply. His face was implacable and cold, his mind made up.
Hendricks was staring at him, a line between his brows. He hadn’t moved to do anything, and it dimly penetrated that he was on my side here. Huh. I shelved that realization for later.
“No,” I said to John. “You are not executing a guy for being desperate and uninformed enough to try and steal your car.”
He blinked, and I realized he wasn’t thinking about that – he hadn’t even known about it. Crap. What would satisfy John logic?
“Also, I was the one he was manhandling,” I said. “So it should really be up to me.”
There was a long beat of silence. Then John bent his head to me, formal. It looked like it was an effort.
“Name your pleasure, then,” he said.
“Um.” I hadn’t actually thought that far ahead. “Just, uh, drop him off somewhere out of town. Somewhere close to a hospital,” I added hastily.
John’s mouth compressed. “And explain to him that he is no longer welcome in this city,” he added. He was speaking to Hendricks, but he was looking at me.
Hendricks nodded. He picked the guy up, one-handed, and tossed him over a shoulder. “Coupla hours,” he grunted, and stumped off across the parking lot. John watched him carry the carjacker away like a cat might watch an escaping mouse.
“Hey,” I said, touching his elbow. “You promised me coffee.”
“I did,” John said, exhaling carefully. “Shall we?”
I kicked something as I circled the back of the car. It was the knife, blade gleaming when the light hit it. John wasn’t looking, I checked. I snagged the knife without thinking hard about it – just impulse, boom. It folded up with a snap, and I stuck it in my duster pocket. I didn’t know why, not then.
And then I failed to forget about it. I would wake up in the morning, next to John or not, and I’d remember that surprised look on his face. Seeing that was as rare as spotting an endangered falcon or something. Then I’d get up and get dressed, and every time I stuck my hand in my duster pocket, my fingers brushed over the knife.
It was a pretty good knife. The handle was wood instead of molded plastic. The blade was steel, long and slim; it folded up into the handle and snapped back out on a powerful spring. I sharpened it, working the edge to gleaming perfection down in my lab one afternoon.
I didn’t forget. I . . . simmered.
I used to think about sex all the time, but if I ever thought about, you know, kinky stuff, it wasn’t in the way of something I would ever do. I mean, I was a P.I., I saw my share of weird shit that people get up to. And I just always thought, I don’t know, if you were doing it right in the first place, you wouldn’t need all the floggers and Easter bunny costumes.
That, and I didn’t know how anyone ever started the conversation. I mean, how do you just come out and say, Hey, honey, how was your day? Also, bulletin, I’d really like to spank you and make you beg. Who does that?
Well, okay. John does.
Maybe he got the x-rated tour of my soul, way back when. But he just knows. He knows when I don’t know, and it turns out that’s kind of a lot. And he makes things happen. Like, random example, the thing with Kincaid where they – anyway. It still makes my eyes roll back in my head whenever I think about it, is the point. Not all of it is stuff I like. Not all of it is stuff I’d want to do every day, or ever again, sometimes. But I’m always glad we’ve done it.
I was thinking about sex a lot. Only now it was full-fledged thoughts, well-fed on a banquet of new experiences. Distracting. Very welcome.
I knew some things that John liked. He liked being in charge, big surprise. Except once in a while he liked really not being in charge, putting himself into my hands and letting me take care of him. Actual surprise. He liked being face-to-face, because he really liked staring into my eyes. He liked watching Kincaid rock my world, then coming in to pick up the pieces. He liked to hold me down, and he liked me to fight him; he liked it when I lost, and he liked it when I won. John is all about win-win scenarios. He loved fucking me, with his dick or his fingers or his tongue or . . . other things.
And he liked knives. I hadn’t known that. Which made two of us, apparently.
I spent a few days thinking about why, and coming up with a lot of things I didn’t like. People talk about John, and one of the things they say is that he’s real good with a knife, nudge nudge, horrified face. Try waking up in the middle of the night sometime and rolling over and thinking that about the guy next to you.
But I was pretty sure . . . mostly sure that he didn’t actually want to, y’know, carve me like a turkey. I just couldn’t figure out what he did want.
Then again, I still couldn’t figure out what I’d gotten out of being pinned between John and Kincaid with both their dicks opening me up wide, and I was there.
I thought about doing a little research, but there weren’t exactly any avenues open to me. I entertained a brief notion of wandering over to Executive Priority. I still had a VIP membership, because John’s a passive aggressive asshole, and also I was banging the boss. Surely at least a few of the working girls could give me some pointers?
Except I was banging the boss, and I had a funny feeling the boss would go actual ballistic over that, and not in the funtimes way.
Also, that plan involved talking. Doing I was down with. Talking, not so much.
So I figured, all right, the deep end is a pretty good place to jump in. And John had surprised himself. And I wanted . . . I wanted to make something happen for him, the way he did for me.
And really, it was just adding a sharp pointy thing to sex. What could possibly go wrong?
We didn’t have a formal date night or anything. John was too much of a workaholic, and my life was too weird. Mostly I showed up whenever I had the time or the itch, and if that didn’t happen every other day or so, John would start tailing me in a black suburban with illegally tinted windows, making a lot of really transparent jokes about kidnapping. Such a charmer.
Every now and then, one of us would get it together for something a little more formal – a weekend of sailing with a lot of sunscreen and wine (him) or a trip to the Lego exhibition or a drive-in movie (me). I’m a fine catch, what can I say. Also, John thought the Legos were fascinating, no lie.
We wandered out of a loud Cuban place after dinner one Friday, late in the fall. We strolled for a while, mellow and kind of chatty, and eventually ended up in a bar I’d never heard of. Lots of eighties music, the bartender couldn’t make anything with more than two ingredients counting ice, that sort of thing. I propped up a wall, nursed a beer, and watched John Marcone hustle pool. He was dressed way down – torn jeans, a black t-shirt washed out to gray, a ball cap pulled down low over his face. He had a bunch of grad students falling all over themselves to give him their money, and he was the hottest goddamn thing in the room.
He came back over to me after a while, tilting my beer to his lips with two fingers. I leaned in, tucking my hand into his front pocket.
“Wrap it up,” I said into his ear. “We’ve got somewhere to be.”
John’s eyes were shadowed under his cap, but I felt his quick inhale. He returned to the game, face intent, and turned a rout into victory in less than ten minutes. There were a lot of fancy trick shots in there; John sent me a wink, showing off for me and knowing it and amused with himself.
I held his jacket for him when he was done. He slipped into it, princely and smiling.
Was he like that way back when, before the power and the money? I suspected yeah, this was just John. I wished I’d known him back then, suddenly. Back when he was a disillusioned twenty-something, a hired killer with a big, big plan. Then again, maybe not. It wouldn’t have been any easier to like him then. To live with liking him.
John had driven us himself. He didn’t head for the Gold Coast; instead he turned east, back towards the mile.
“Apartment,” he said briefly at my look. “It’s closer.”
“Yeah,” I said. It’d taken me a while to figure it out, but John goes quietly crazy when I’m demanding. And apparently tonight he couldn’t wait. We were definitely on the same page here.
It was an anonymous thirtieth floor one bedroom, no frills, no display, no personality. John dropped his keys on the breakfast bar and pitched his cap onto the coffee table, uncharacteristically disorderly. Even without it, he still looked like he should be burgling this place instead of owning it.
I came up from behind and put my arms around him. He leaned back into me, rubbing his hands up and down my forearms. I loved the breadth of him, the solid strength.
I rubbed my cheek against his graying temple, taking a long, slow breath of him. Then I extracted one hand and slipped it into my duster pocket.
I gave myself a three count, then I snapped the knife open with a click, just an inch from his ear.
John stopped breathing. He stopped moving, too, but somehow I felt like I was holding a live wire all of a sudden. He turned his head slowly, at last, eyes locking onto the blade just a breath from his cheek. I was pretty sure the last guy to shove a knife in his face hadn’t gotten this reaction. Then again, the last guy hadn’t known what I knew.
Okay, totally guessed at and wanted to poke until it made sense.
I lifted John’s right hand with my left, flipped the knife, and closed his fingers around the handle.
John’s hand clenched, and he let out an explosive breath.
“Yes?” he said
“Yes,” I said.
Something wild moved in his face. His pupils were already dilated black, the color rising in his cheeks. But his voice was even when he said, “Boundaries?”
“Uh.” Was I supposed to have boundaries?
His mouth curled. “Get back to me on that.” He stepped away, turning deliberately to face me. Then he closed and reopened the knife twice, weighing it. He balanced it across his palm, ran a fingertip delicately up the side of the blade, then caught the point between two fingers, flipped it neatly, and caught the handle. I watched it flash, fascinated.
When John looked back up at me, he was grinning. It made him look crazy, and it was amazing.
“Take your coat off, if you don’t want to lose it,” he said.
I shrugged it off fast, letting it pool around my feet. John nodded to himself, that wild intensity coming over him again. Then he sliced my shirt off with a flick and a tear, perfectly controlled, the blade just a hair from my skin.
“Hell’s bells,” I yelped, recoiling and then freezing. Both reactions came far too late. John watched me, calculating, the knife tucked in the space between his thumb and fingers. Intent was pouring off him like heat pours off the sun. I breathed out, adrenalized and shaky. “Don’t even,” I said, reaching for my belt buckle. “I like these pants.”
I kicked off my boots and shimmied out of my jeans under John’s intent stare. I was expecting it, but I still squeaked and twitched when he sliced my shorts off with two flicks. I slapped a belated hand over the fragile skin at the hollow of my hip; it was pristine but prickling with goose flesh.
“Hold still,” John said. He took a step back. I watched the knife point; it didn’t waver.
I stood there naked in the middle of the living room for a long minute, trying to look like I did this every day. John circled me once, a thoughtful set to his mouth.
“Hey,” I said irritably. “You’re not shopping for a car here.”
He ignored that, and circled me again, stopping at my back. There was a long pause. I strained, listening to his even breathing, the minute shifts of his weight. I wanted to turn my head to watch him so bad, I had to lock my jaw to keep still.
Something touched me high up on the back of one thigh. I twitched hard, realizing only seconds later that it was John’s fingertip, not the blade.
He let it linger there, a single point of contact. “You know the difference between having a gun and a knife at someone’s back?” he said conversationally.
“Oddly, no,” I said.
John ran his nail casually up and down the back of my thigh. “You hold a gun on somebody, they’re thinking about the gun,” he said. “You hold a knife on them, they’re thinking about their skin.”
Hell’s bells, it was true. I was quivering and hypersensitive, twitching at stray air currents.
“Like so,” John murmured, thoughtful and instructive, and scratched me stingingly down the back of my other thigh. I felt myself reacting – my pulse jumping, the little bloom of pain, the minuscule welling of blood, not even enough to count. But mostly I was tuned into John, hearing his uncontrolled breath, like he’d just shocked the hell out of himself.
He came around fast, snapping the knife shut.
“On your knees,” he said roughly, and manhandled me down when I didn’t move fast enough for him. “Come on,” he said, fumbling at his belt.
Yeah, this I could get into. I worked his dick out and sucked it down, no messing around. He was already wet and salty – sometimes I didn’t like that taste, but sometimes it hit me where I lived, base and physical. No guesses about how much I liked it right then, as keyed up as I was. I slurped wetly at him, unself-conscious and loving it.
John popped the knife open, snapping the flat of the blade against my cheek. “Hold still,” he said, hoarse.
I did, the head of his dick pressing against my soft palate. I rolled my eyes sideways to watch the knife, breathing carefully through my nose.
And okay, maybe I could drop the story I had going in my head, that little watchful bit I was holding reserved. Maybe this wasn’t just for John, maybe I was into this, too.
“That’s good,” John said. He stroked the flat down my cheek. “Just keep doing that.” He eased out of my mouth, then back again, pushing deep until I swallowed hard, not quite choking on it. I watched the knife. He flipped it, hand steady as a rock, and ghosted the point down my face. I couldn’t see it anymore, but I felt it pass down the side of my neck, up again under my jaw, back down to the hollow of my throat.
And the whole time he fucked my mouth, steady and relentless. I sank into it, the fullness, the heaviness on my tongue, that intimate smell that only the people you sleep with a lot ever know. And I followed the knife with my whole body, all but screaming under the skin.
It was a shock when John wrenched himself away. He made a dissatisfied noise, though he was sweating, out of breath. He closed the knife again and pulled me to my feet, only to toss me down on the couch.
I would have said something about all the manhandling, but then he was over me, he was tossing my legs over his shoulders, he was running his tongue down behind my balls. I twitched away, then pushed back, my body at war with itself. I loved this once he really got going, but there was always this weird, crawling moment when he first got his tongue on me where I wanted to close my legs, I wanted to push him away, it felt too weird and invasive. John has gotten really good at working me through that.
“Hold still,” he barked, and opened the knife again, this time against my thigh.
. . . Or he could just do that.
I held still, kicking and flailing on the inside while he flickered his tongue over me and slowly worked it in. After a minute, the problem wasn’t stopping myself from crawling away; after a minute, all I wanted to do was shove myself onto his mouth.
He tongued me for a long time, the knife moving restlessly over me. He didn’t use his fingers on me at all, but I loosened up for him anyway. I held still, riding the wet, muscular pushes into me, still watching and watching that knife.
He rose up over me at last, mouth swollen, eyes narrowed. “Talk to me,” he said.
I realized suddenly that John was pretty lost here. That was what all the switching directions was about, he was trying to find the right thing. And not getting there. I wanted to make this good for him so bad, it actually shocked me.
He wanted me to talk? Okay, I knew how to talk. A dozen filthy sentiments sprang to mind, the sort of things I could never just come out and say, some of them not even right here with John’s spit slicking me up and – yeah, even with a knife on me.
“Um,” I said, clearing my throat. “I like it?”
“Good to know,” John said, rolling his eyes.
What did he want? Should I tell him what a big knife it was? I didn’t think I could get that out with a straight face. “You can fuck me,” I offered, adrift.
John smiled with teeth. “I know I can,” he said with certainty. Asshole.
Except I got it, all of a sudden. The blade, and the creepy little anecdote earlier about guns and knives, psyching me out. This didn’t have to be, “I want you to fuck me until I cry.” No, just—
“I want you,” I said. Simple. I made eye contact, set my jaw, repeated it. “I want you.”
Bingo. John’s whole body flexed, powering into me. His dick slid slickly against me, catching right where I wanted him but not quite pushing in. His face flushed dark, and he moved fast, putting the blade to my throat.
“Yes,” I said, losing my breath. “Yes.” Still. “I want you.” His business and his issues and his knife -- his whole bottomless well of fucked up. All of it, and I still.
John thrust again, and that time the head of his dick spread me open. I thrashed under him, to hell with the knife, because it burned through me. John hitched once, just barely in me. Then he made a shocked noise and flipped the knife, digging the flat into my throat. And he came just like that, eyes squeezed shut. It was one of those that looked like it hurt.
I clamped down on him, desperate. He moved in me, snarling something wordless between his teeth, slipping easily on his own come but still just barely opening me up. I whined desperately, bucking against him, grinding my dick up into his belly and my throat up into his knife. I came like that, feeling the bruises forming under my jaw even as I shouted.
John is usually the one who goes for washcloths or gets us moving to the shower. But that time he wasn’t moving. He lay heavy across me, breath rushing against my shoulder, his face hidden. I put both arms around him. Stars, we’d never even gotten his shirt off.
There’s something about his weight over me. I can’t explain it. Even though he’s just a little too heavy, even though my ribs slowly compress, I just . . . settle when he’s on me like that.
I held him, one hand at the back of his neck. His breathing was still erratic, a little out of control. That had been intense for me, but it had clearly been an order of magnitude more for John. I rubbed my knuckles along the line of short-clipped hair at the base of his skull. I felt pretty smug, pleased, a little . . . tender.
John moved after a long time, slowly and like it was a big effort. He got himself up onto his elbows, his face close to mine. I breathed out carefully, shocked. He looked wrecked, worn out. Like I could flay him with a word right then. I suddenly thought – I don’t know why, I just did – I suddenly thought about Aurora laying me down in the summer court, taking away all my worries, how I’d rested there in peace, and how I’d wept. Weird, the things you think of at the oddest times.
John looked away from me. He picked up the knife, open on the cushion by my shoulder. He held it a moment, then quietly snapped it shut. Then he offered it to me, formal, across his palm.
“Yeah,” I said, breaking the silence. I took it. “I’ll keep it for you.”