Shadows at Noon

Debra Fran Baker

dfbaker@panix.com




When I signed off on their latest 302 that morning, we weren't alone. Under the official talk, I could only speak to them with my eyes. I told him to be careful, to be safe, to come back to me. That I loved him. I told her to watch out for him, to take of him for me, to take care of herself, to bring them both back to me safely. His eyes told me he understood; hers were as unreadable as always. I know what a burden I'd laid on those slender shoulders, but she's stronger than I'll ever be.

They left on their wild alien hunt and I finished up my business for the morning. My office emptied. On a whim, I checked my e-mail. Maybe he'd left me one of his cryptic messages before he caught his plane.

One message had no subject header, and an unfamiliar name. I opened it.

"Shadows at noon."

I had just time to get my coat.

***

Mama was standing behind the bar as I came in. She looked at me and nodded to a table in a remote corner. There was someone there, hiding in the darkness. I walked past the other tables, filled with men known and unknown. No one caught my eyes. If I recognized any of them, I gave no sign. No one has a name in that bar.

I slid into the booth, and took a good look at the man there. His eyes sparkled over his dark suit. My stomach clenched.

"You."

He nodded and sipped his tea. "Me."

Mama, quiet despite her size, put a cup of coffee in front of me. There was a warning in her eyes, but I knew better than to risk exile. Men like me sometimes need the Shadows. She dipped her eyes in acknowledgment and left us alone.

"What do you want? You want him?"

He smiled coldly. "I could have him anytime."

"Is this a challenge?" I looked into those sorcerer's eyes, and then at his stiff left arm.

"What do you think?"

"Do you think he'll go to you if I'm out of the way?"

He shook his head. "I know better than to predict what he'll do."

"Why are you here? Why have you risked meeting me?"

He took another sip of tea. "You love him."

I stared at my coffee for a moment and then looked up. "So do you."

"I've been watching him. I'm good at watching. Rats are. He's almost happy. He's almost safe."

"Almost." The word cut like a knife.

"