The Story Of Who
I know. I should have stopped reading X's file the moment he barged into my room, panting and looking to kill—with Matron Elsa clinging to his arm, explaining something that was clearing going through one ear and out the other because he soon pushed her out the door and locked it behind him.
In hindsight, it was a mistake to have played my hand so soon, but it was too late to backtrack. I could see it the moment he walked in, the way he stiffened when he caught sight of the documents I had flipped through so many times that some pages were dog-eared. He knew that I knew every known truth that had ever been recorded about him yet he still carried on with his silly plan to confront me.
Had I expected him to barge into my room when there were less than ten minutes of my time left to purchase?
Did I revel in how disgruntled he looked now, sitting across the table, whisking his tea into foamy oblivion?
He seemed to have come here in a rush. His uniform hadn't yet been crisped to perfection; there was no gel in his hair and he looked even more sour than usual—bad night, maybe? Still, he looked more kempt than Owen on a good day, and I was starting to think that even a messy version of him was dangerously appealing to me.
Was it just his good looks that made him more tolerable or did we have something else that stopped us from clawing at each other's faces? I didn't want to think that I was shallow, but I just couldn't understand why I let him get away with things that would have gotten my other patrons banned.
There were already rumors that he was my favorite, and that was bad for business. If things went on like this, Matron Elsa was going to skin me alive.
Why are here again, X? I thought we were through with this game. There were two things that made today different from all the other days we let this tango play out between us: the files in the room and the gun holstered on X's hip. He had never brought a weapon in here before—in fact, weapons weren't allowed into the curtain rooms. How did he manage to sneak it past all the sensors?
Does he want to use it on me?
With his file remained balanced in my open palm, I took small sips of the wine I had smuggled into my teacup in between patrons—I wasn't supposed to be drinking so late into the day but I clearly deserved it.
The other file was splayed open on the table, bulgy and swollen with a thousand, dirty little secrets I hadn't bothered paying Margo to help me erase. X had thrown it there when he first arrived two minutes ago, obviously expecting to get a rise out of me.
He wouldn't. Not in a million years.
The two looked almost identical: conspicuous manila folders with fat bellies stuffed with soft, recycled paper. It tickled me to know that he and I shared a habit of poking our noises where they don't belong. Maybe if he wasn't actively trying to arrest me, there could have been something more between us. Something less deadly—more romantic.
You should kill him, a voice whispered to me, soft and sweet. He knows too much.
But what did he know?
The voice went silent—a sign that it was my job to find out not its. Useless.
"You had surgery to change your eyes from brown to blue." As the bigger man of us two, I decided not to let him waste his money on silence. "Detective Renshaw, I feel so betrayed."
That seemed to touch a nerve.
He narrowed his eyes at me and shook the whisk with a pointed flick of his wrist. I watched the trail of foam fizzle and pop on the wire loops before dripping to the lacquered table.
"I'm not a detective," he said, leveling those too-blue eyes on me. They seemed to pierce through me, seeking the bits and pieces I had hidden away over for years. I felt naked, exposed and filthy, but that was impossible. No one knew about her, they only knew me—Who, the most desirable woman on the Block.
I buried the urge to look away and scoffed instead. "Are you a child?"
To reply his silence, I shut his file and placed it beside the one I assumed contained every known fact about me—detailed in fine print. I had read it enough times that its only purpose here was to serve as a intimidation—the one I had on him served the same purpose. There was nothing in it that could incriminate us. If the government didn't know our secrets ten years ago, it certainly didn't know them now.
"Are you aware that The Baron Kor has acquired the former curtain girl 'Bess'?" he asked, with that sharp line of questioning I now knew he was known for. He was a good soldier who rose steadily through the ranks by his own merit but why was he here? Most career-driven men gave the Block a wide berth unless their wife wanted a child without having to push one out herself.
I laughed lightly and crossed my legs; his gaze stubbornly remained on my face, scrutinizing my expression. "How was I to know?"
"You have danced for the Baron on several occasions."
"I have danced for many on several basis, do you have a point to make?"
"It was Lady Kor who hit you on Râini," he said. "Several people can testify that she wasn't pleased about the relationship developing between her husband and Bess."
"I had heard about that," I inclined my head towards him and flashed an innocent smile, "but what does that have to do with me?"
"The Baron wanted to acquire Bess' contract but his wife was standing in his way… Is it just a coincidence that Baroness Kor died a day after Râini? Or that on that day she died, Bess was also sold to the slave markets where Lord Kor was able to buy her for less than a third of her original contract?"
"Mr Renshaw, I don't know what you expect me to say. The Baroness' death is unfortunate and Bess has the good fortune to be redeemed by a kind man who loves her."
"Your other roommates then. All but one of them have been redeemed despite the likelihood of a curtain girl being redeemed is less than one percent. Would you also call this their good fortune?"
"What other explanation could there be?"
"A simple one. That you are their good fortune."
"I'm flattered that you think so."
"Is this all a joke to you?" He slapped his hands on the table hard enough that the teapots trembled and the wine jug tipped over.
I caught it before anything could spill. "Do you know how expensive this wine is?"
His slender fingers gripped my wrist so hard that my own hand began to tremble. I stared into his eyes and watched him watch me, my heart galloping a million miles a minute. What is this? Why do I feel like we've done this before?
With a frustrated growl, he shoved me back. Still cradling the jug, I fell back into the cushion, staring in confusion as he shot to his feet and started pacing. I watched him yank at his hair and mumble sentences to himself.
Did I take things too far? But I haven't even done anything yet...
"Don't call me that!" he roared, and for the first time in years I was filled with a strange sense of guilt about my actions. What is this?
"Look," I forced myself back to my feet, despite wanting to be anywhere but in the path of his anger, "I don't know what's going on with you but I think you should sit down and drink some—"
He stopped pacing and stared blankly in my direction, chest heaving. "You were there the day Lady Kor died."
"No, I wasn't."
"No." He took one step towards me then another, until he was standing right in front of me—close enough to kiss me if he wanted to—and I could smell the tea on his breath. "You were. I saw you."
The jug slipped out of my hands and crashed to the floor, splintering into pieces and drowning the hem of my gown—and his dress shoes—in sickly sweet grape wine. "What?"
"And yet you keeping lying... And still..."
"Didn't you read my file?" he asked, the frigidness back in his voice. "I'm a human lie detector. And you. You were there. I saw you kill the Baroness that night."