Tangible Schizophrenia


Straw Man

Author: Guede Mazaka
Rating: NC-17. Sex and violence.
Pairing: Dwight/Gail, Dwight/The Salesman (Joe), vague Gail/Miho and Dwight/Miho
Feedback: Spelling errors to character analysis.
Disclaimer: Not mine.
Notes: I made up the name ‘Joe’ for the Salesman, Josh Hartnett’s character, and though I have reasons for picking it, none of them are canon-related. Briefly references A Dame to Kill For, The Big Fat Kill and Family Values.
Summary: Dwight goes through some personal shuffles.


He broke up with Shellie.

Dwight liked her, yeah. He liked the way she smelled in bed, fresh linen even after they’d rutted harder than stags in heat. He liked her cooking, and her laugh when he, dead-faced, told her about his day. She wasn’t an idiot and she knew full well what he did and how bad it was, but that was her way of dealing with it, pretending that he was joking. And when he looked into those baby eyes of hers, he didn’t have the heart to tell her off.

Gail, on the other hand, had probably never had baby eyes. She’d been born to an Old Town girl and she’d grown up knowing nothing else. Rumor had it she’d played with her momma’s handcuffs and riding crop instead of dollies and tea cups. Her eyes were the eyes of that mad English guy, Blake, who had nightmares in watercolor since Technicolor hadn’t been invented yet and who talked about gods in tiger metaphors. They could shrivel a man’s dick and eat him up in the flutter of a heartbeat. Someday they were going to get Dwight killed, or else they were going to kill Dwight themselves.

Really, it would’ve been in his best interest to forget about them. He had tried, and look what good that had done. Then he figured he could just take the eyes, the sight of them, and paste them over another woman’s face. But that hadn’t worked either, and not only because eventually he’d felt too damn guilty to keep doing that to Shellie. Dwight liked her every other time but when they were fucking and he came in the wrong body for the eyes at which he was looking.

So he broke it off, nice as he could. She took it okay, and left the door open ‘just in case you ever feel like looking up old friends.’

Which of course made him feel worse. But he shrugged it off because he had an appointment with Gail and he was already late.

* * *

Lucky for him, Gail was running behind schedule too. The girl at the backdoor of the establishment let him in and showed him to the little parlor-bar the doms retired to when their throats burned too bad from doing the Heil Hitler voice or their arms tired of swinging leather. He sat himself on a stool in a quiet corner and had a glass of water. All around him, gorgeous curvaceous women were strutting around in six-inch heeled boots and various straps of leather. A whip flicked by his ear when he reached for a bowl of candy on the bar; a petite redhead prowled after it, smiled nicely and told him to keep the fuck off her bonbons. Then she offered him a bag of jellybeans that she’d produced from who the fuck knew where. The plastic smelled vaguely of sweat and human shit.

He smiled back, took the bag by the edges—he could see grins passing the doorway—and thanked her. Dwight was stupid about women, he freely admitted, but not about calculating the odds. Thankfully, she didn’t stay to see if he ate any, but instead said she’d go and tell Gail he was around.

“Here, let me get that.” It was a man’s voice and that alone sent Dwight’s hand, previously resting easy on his knee, crawling up his thigh to the gun hugging the small of his back. But the stranger wasn’t a moron or blind, and he eased out from behind Dwight with hands down but visible.

The guy was a couple inches shorter than him, with carefully gelled and combed brown hair that came to Dwight’s nose. He was built too compactly to be a wanderer from a fag bar, but his face was pretty enough to qualify him for that. And he was smiling like an angel.

In Sin City, the only people who got called angels were the dead and the wicked. About a week ago, Dwight had gotten called an angel.

“The jellybeans are all right—I had some earlier—but I couldn’t tell you where the bag’s been since.” Still smiling, like he wanted Dwight to pet him or something, the man gingerly tugged the bag from Dwight’s fingers and put it behind the bar. He was dressed nice, too—top-notch business suit, neatly knotted tie, expensive watch. If he was packing he did it well, for Dwight couldn’t see offhand any suspicious bulges in his clothing. “Smoke?”

He flipped out a pack of cigarettes and held them out to Dwight.

For a second the old black craving rose and clawed like hell, but Dwight wasn’t too stressed at the moment. Just feeling shitty about Shellie, and a bit of residual lust from the sex-smell that leaked off the walls, but that wasn’t enough to get him started again. “No, thank you. I don’t.”

“And anyway, he takes his from me.” Gail stalked in, her hips swinging a touch more rapidly than usual. Her voice had rasped just enough on her last word for Dwight to look at her funny. “I take a little longer with a client and you’re already catting around? That waitress not enough for you? Can’t take care of all your needs?”

The man, Dwight noticed, had made the cigarettes disappear and had silently withdrawn a pace or two. He didn’t look at Gail like he’d like to drop and lick her boots whenever she gave the say-so, which was weird. In fact, he was tugging uncomfortably at his tie and shooting opaque glances at Dwight, which was even weirder. But weirdest of all was that for a second, Dwight could have sworn he saw the dull shadow of black leather beneath the tie. The girls didn’t get that attached—Old Town was for the one-off transaction, and the women who specialized in longer-term deals based themselves up in Sacred Oaks where they could afford to risk that connection.

Now Gail was flush against Dwight and playing with his collar lapels, and his dick was starting to take notice. “Babe, I just got a new six-inch dildo that I’ve been dying to try out…”

Dwight rolled his eyes because he knew that she knew that that did shit for him. He pulled off her hands and kissed her on the cheek, which was worse than a tease for both of them, but it was the closest to revenge that he could get with her. “You’ve got men hacking open their piggybanks for a chance at that—save me for the shit you can’t sweettalk someone into doing.”

“I’m just trying to piss you off,” she cooed. She’d leaned into and then flinched from his mouth. “You look better when you’re angry. Though I guess Shellie’s one for the puppyface.”

There lies the rub, Dwight thought. Inappropriate quotation, but then, very little of his education and experience had been put to the appropriate uses for a while now. “I broke up with Shellie.”

Gail, oddly enough, didn’t laugh openmouthed and brash as Dwight had expected. Instead she went stiff. Then she stepped back and shook out one of her Russians. Lighting it up instantly doubled the amount of smoke in the room, or so it smelled like. “No shit.” Her voice was a little tight. He’d thrown her, and she didn’t like it for reasons besides the fact that he’d thrown her. “Come on.”

Her heels pivoted and click-clacked towards the door. The man was still standing there, composed again and leaning against the bar. She paused a second and told him to see Sally, whereupon he nodded and casually walked off.

“Got a new mutt?” Dwight asked. Even more casually. As nonchalant as a bull before a red flag.

“Don’t be an asshole, Dwight. Joe’s not mine.” She tried to toss off the whole matter with a coy look. But as cramped as her voice was, it didn’t work and they both knew it. As usual, Gail pretended she hadn’t. “Special case,” she said, lower and more serious. “If Miho were like anyone, I’d say he’s like her. But she’s not.”

Just out of curiosity, Dwight turned back to look. The door was open and Joe was holding the knob, staring at him with that same strange opaqueness, like the guy had black holes for eyes. They sucked in everything and left nothing to see. Or maybe he was just airheaded—though Dwight’s gut said otherwise.

As soon as Dwight had spotted him, Joe nodded. Smiled that blank smile, and shut the door as quietly as any butler. Creepy. “Sounds like a story. Want to tell me?”

“You like him.” Gail was amused, accusatory, and something else that Dwight couldn’t quite place.

Since it was her, not being able to place it bothered him. “Gail, you know better.”

“Yeah. I know you don’t like boys but you like company in bed.” She looked up at him and half-smirked around her cigarette, the smoke framing her eyes like she was some pagan idol. Then she relented and hooked her arm through his, pulling him down an alley. “There’s this quack doctor been preying on the new girls. He’ll cut a baby out of you, fix up your nose, do all sorts of wonderful shit…except Molly ends up putting you back together from the mess he left you. Or worse. So here’s what I’m thinking we do…”

* * *

Plan decided and arrangements made, Dwight and Gail ended up in a coffeeshop on the edge of Old Town somewhere around three in the morning. She was finally beginning to wilt and so they were sitting on the same side, her head tilting towards his shoulder and her legs up on the opposite bench, his coat wrapped around her. After a moment, Dwight put his arm about her shoulders.

He felt like an idiot. A teenage idiot, only without the excuse of inexperienced youth. Though when she sighed, warm skin of her shoulders pressing through his sleeve, all that damned experience came flooding back.

The coffee arriving was a godsend, even if Gail’s hackles came out at the waitress’ wink at him. It gave him a reason to take his arm away and to stop touching her before he fucked it up again. “Other than the good doc, how’s the streets? Anything from Wallenquist?”

“He’s busy with the Italians, so I hear. You?” Gail picked up her coffee and sipped at it with a strange grace. In moments like that, Dwight could look at her and see the ghosts of the wife, the mother, the daughter in her.

Emphasis on ghost, because she’d gone as far from those as he had from being one of the regular honest citizens of Basin City who worked the nine-to-five, went home to a nice porkchop, and locked their doors after six in the evening. Difference being, of course, that she’d done it coolly and with eyes wide open, while he’d blundered into it with his usual stupidity and was now adapting as he went. “Same. Disappoints some of my old coworkers at the paper—they got a kick out of covering his appearances at parties and insinuating just a little. But now he’s too busy even to make the Mayor’s summer bash.”

She laughed, looking conspiratorially at him, and stretched so her thigh flexed alongside him and her throat flashed its golden brown length at him.

Dwight gritted his teeth and stared into his coffee. At his watch, even though it was half-bashed and always fifteen to twenty minutes off. At the dark specks beneath his thumbnail, which was—fuck—blood from the last clean-up. At anything that didn’t look like Gail. But God, he was in love with her, mind and heart and fucking body, and they could. Not. Not if they wanted to survive. Not if they didn’t want to wake up one day to only themselves and a ruined world, since then all there’d be left to wreck would be each other.

She was watching him. He could feel her gaze raking over the side of his head, a loving set of nails carefully peeling him to pieces. Then Gail shifted, drank more. “Why’d you break up with her?”

Diffident as she sounded, Dwight knew better than to think she really didn’t care. “Why aren’t you gloating? You thought she was a chatterbox without a single real thought in her head.”

“I did not. I just thought she talked too damn much.” The scratch of a match, and then Gail blew a stream of charcoal smoke over the table. It was thicker, coarser than regular smoke, and it textured the air in a way that made Dwight’s hands itch for his camera that was lying dusty on the high shelf in his closet. “You liked her, didn’t you?”

“What, am I liking everyone nowadays? And you never told me about him.” He turned to show her how irritated he was and something caught.

Maybe it was the glow of the cigarette-tip, whore-red. Maybe it was the way her mascara had smudged just on the corner of her left eye. Maybe it was the coffee he hadn’t touched. But whatever it was, it had Dwight staring at Gail like a lovesick jackass and it had her staring back at him like she was going to…her eyes closed and she leaned in.

He leaned back. Then he realized he should’ve taken the fucking outside seat.

By then Gail had resumed her old position, maybe with a bit more hardness in her vixen face. She regarded him for a long time, letting him wriggle on the hook, before lifting him off. “Goddamn you, Dwight. Walk me home.”

When they got there, he left her at the door. He found himself heading towards Kadie’s out of old habit, corrected himself and as soon as he got into his apartment, locked himself in the bathroom. Then he leaned against the wall and pulled at his cock till he came all over the fucking toilet seat. Kept pulling until it was raw and red and hurting without anything remotely sexual being involved, and then he stopped. His throat hurt and so did his head, but when he closed his eyes it just made the headache worse.

* * *

Dwight came home, vaguely thankful that his coat was black and wouldn’t show the stains. Other than that, he felt…not much. Not much at all.

They’d tracked down the doctor to his latest makeshift operation room and there they’d found him in the middle of a surgery. In the fridge were neatly wrapped and labeled packages, and equally neatly labeled jars, and there was blood and gobbets of flesh all over where the doc had flung them in his haste. After all, organ-trading was only profitable if the goods were fresh.

It was the second time Dwight had pounded a man to death with his hands alone, but this time he didn’t feel a single pang about it. Well, possibly a little annoyance at Miho, who all the way back wouldn’t fucking stop with the disappointed sighs and dirty looks. She got to handle all the others, so he didn’t see why she’d begrudge him one. And Gail…Jesus, Gail had gone white looking at the bloody tips of ribs sticking out of the girl’s chest, and after that she’d gone red with cursing and with cheering on Dwight. She’d grabbed him from the pulped corpse and she’d slung her fucking perfect body against him and she’d taken his head in her hands. She’d laughed, white teeth bared at him not in hostility but in pure wild love, and when a drop of blood had fallen from his face into her mouth she had licked her lips. She’d tried to lick him.

He’d almost let her before the memory of who he was and who they were and what they were had flooded back to him.

On the way back, she’d driven. And she’d given him an earful, railing at him for nothing and everything, and he’d just sat there and taken it. Taken it. Because that was what he fucking did. He took it.

He took it and carried it into the bathroom where he knelt, palms smearing a few last traces of blood on the toilet rim, and puked it all out. His stomach squirmed inside of him like a dying fish. The pulse in his head pounded to the tune of a mad man’s delirious whistling.

Maybe he felt something about the whole damned thing after all. Dwight grabbed the offered towel and wiped off his face. He rested his head on the back of his hands and felt the gore squish between his eyebrows and his knuckles.

When he looked up again, it was gun first. “What the fuck are you doing here? How’d you get in?”

Joe, pristine in his light tan suit, shrugged and ignored the gun to take the soiled towel from Dwight. “I heard you might need a little clean-up. You look terrible. I can help with that.”

There wasn’t a safety on Dwight’s semiautomatic. He didn’t like them anyway, but now he wished he had one because then it’d give his fingers something to do. Right now they were shaking and spasming and he thought he might shoot the weirdo out of sheer epileptic nerves. “You’re late for the clean-up. The bodies are already gone.”

The other man knelt down, still looking as unassuming and harmless as ever. He kept eye-contact with Dwight while pulling up the side of his coat to show the pistol hanging beneath it. Professional-grade with silencer. Which he then slid across to Dwight. “I didn’t come for the bodies. I came here for you.”

“I bet,” Dwight snarled. He held back a second longer, feeling his muscles stain, then lunged. Hooked the fingers of his gunhand in the bastard’s tie and yanked him up against the sink, muzzle holding up his chin. Then Dwight patted him down hard for more weapons. Stripped off his jacket. Ripped off his belt hard enough for the end to crack around into Joe’s arms.

Joe didn’t finish. He didn’t do anything except stare, eyes big and dark and too damn transparent.

“Who sent you?” When the man didn’t answer, Dwight flung him out the bathroom door.

Predictably, Joe had reflexes like a cat and rolled with it just in time to come up into Dwight’s fist. That sent him staggering into the bedroom, where he backed into the mattress and fell over it. Dwight was on him with the gun in his face before he could breathe. “Who. Sent. You?”

With his hand on Joe’s chest, Dwight could feel the rise and fall of Joe’s breath. It sped up. Joe gasped and fucking stared and fluttered his lashes like he was stunned or desperate to pick up someone. Beneath Dwight’s fingers Joe’s heartbeat fluttered as well, so close that if Dwight curled his nails hard enough he could probably tear it out. Just like that doctor…the rage whirled up in Dwight’s throat and ripped out a strangled, unearthly cry that he could barely recognize as himself.

It wasn’t a good time for anyone, even Gail, to touch him. But Joe did, lifting his hand and brushing fingertips over the blood crusted on Dwight’s face like a goddamn damsel out of a fairytale.

Dwight tried to belt the man with the gun and couldn’t. He choked on another incoherent noise and tossed the gun on the table before ripping into Joe’s mouth. Couldn’t kill the man, so instead he ground Joe’s wrists into the bed and half-suffocated him. But goddamn him, Joe moaned and was soft and warm no matter how Dwight forced him, and so soon Dwight was off him with disgust welling up inside of himself.

Edge of the bed. That was what Dwight’s hands were touching. He gripped it like a lifeline and breathed, deep and fast. Told himself that he didn’t cut up girls. That he knew who he killed and exactly why he had killed them and—fucking Christ, lips were kissing the back of his neck. They triggered his raw nerves and Dwight was around before he even knew it.

Joe held on to Dwight’s coat, so Dwight dug his teeth deep into Joe’s neck and yanked off his coat. When he rose again, he could see the imprint of the bite marked out in bruises and a little blood. And Joe was lifting to follow him, goddamn stupid fool, so Dwight went down again and slashed his mouth from shoulder to shoulder. Savaged the hell out of Joe’s lip while his hands hysterically ripped at their clothes. Before long there were rents in Joe’s shirt and Dwight was missing his pants and Dwight had his nails raking the lean thighs that had appeared beneath Joe’s slacks. He nuzzled his way into one of the shirt rips and left two arcs of teeth-marks around Joe’s nipple to make up for the tenderness. Striped the insides of Joe’s legs with thin red lines, bruised his mouth again and again till even Joe couldn’t take it and started turning his head from Dwight.

But by then it was too late and Dwight made him take it, made him squirm and whimper while he got fucked hard by Dwight’s fingers. His asshole was good and stretched and then some by the time Dwight got his dick into it, and his shirt was in ribbons and only his tie was still in one piece. Dwight used that to pull him up and Joe still came, twisted idiot, to wrap his arms around Dwight and bury his face in Dwight’s neck like it was the soft-soap ending to some cheap romance novel. His body clutched at Dwight’s cock and his hips moved how Dwight’s hands wanted them to, and still he was mouthing Dwight’s jaw and ear with the lightest touches in the world. There was blood, clotting and flaky dry, dotting him, and some of it was from Dwight’s stains and some of had been drawn from him by Dwight.

He still let Dwight fuck him. Still fucked Dwight, fucked him even though it was him in Dwight’s lap and his legs going to stiff bent rods when he came and his ass getting worked raw because Dwight fucked him God knew how much longer before Dwight got off as well.

And then he came with Dwight into the shower, turned into the slow guilty hands soaping him and pressed his cheek against Dwight’s. God knew why. God knew everything but was the ultimate closemouthed bastard.

The tie came off, and beneath it was a collar, plain featureless leather with simple steel clasp. Joe dried it himself but when they were on the couch later where it wasn’t bloody, he put Dwight’s hand on it. And he dozed off while Dwight was rubbing it and reluctantly, grimly thinking.

* * *

Shellie had looked cute in a high-school girl way when she’d worn Dwight’s shirt. On Joe it was also too large and too long, but he wore it like it was a monk’s robe, shadows of bruises and cuts glowering through the shirt fabric to add that last medieval touch. Serene if limping heavily, he was washing the dishes and Dwight was clumsily folding freshly-washed sheets when the doorbell rang.

It was Gail. Her hair was unstyled and her makeup was limited to lipstick and eye-liner, as far as Dwight could tell. Either it was her day off or she was really that worried. Dwight opened his mouth to greet her, but then he noticed that she was looking over his shoulder in a mixture of relief and ferocious envy.

Joe leaned in the doorway of the kitchen, staring back at her. His eyes flicked to Dwight. Then he turned around, face blank the way newsprint was when held so far away that the words couldn’t be distinguished. Soon Dwight heard the sound of the other man messing with the dishes again.

So instead of greeting Gail, Dwight grabbed the nearest jacket and stepped out into the hall. “I’m taking you for coffee. Now. Don’t argue.”

“Fine,” she said shortly.

* * *

“We think his mother was one of us. Not sure, but the first time he showed up I’m told he couldn’t have been more than fifteen and he’d learned the Old Town signals from someone.” This time Gail and Dwight were on opposite sides of the booth, her lounging so every so often she could stub out a cigarette and him leaning forward like he wanted to break her neck.

He might. He hadn’t decided yet. “But you said—”

“I know. He was working for the Italians then, and already was one of their best hitmen. But something went wrong—my guess is they got scared of how good he was and tried a doublecross. Anyway, he’s around eighteen and he’s shot up and he still drags himself three blocks to the backdoor. Sally and I nearly trip over him leaving after our shift.” Gail dragged on her cigarette before nervously fiddling it between her fingers. That was the only outward sign of her state of mind, but it was a telling one. Ashes had been flicked all over the table. “He hadn’t killed any of the girls yet; they only sicced him on people that could defend themselves. Anyway, he…just was so young. And back then you’d just left, you bastard, and I was itching for a distraction.”

Something rang. Dwight looked down and saw that he’d nearly slammed the mug into breaking against the saucer.

The corners of Gail’s mouth lifted, but only briefly. “I didn’t sleep with him, you jackass. None of us did, though some of the girls tried pretty hard. He’s one of those that’s stuck on men. Does put up a good act, though.”

“So now he works for you,” Dwight guessed. Which made him wonder why the others let him hang around, seeing as they had their very own professional assassin.

“No. He does favors for us, sometimes. When he’s in town and we can’t get anyone else. He still works as an assassin—just not against us, and not for the Mob. Half the year I don’t think he’s even in the country. It’s like having this cat that keeps running away and coming back.” Another jerk of her hand sent ash flying towards the window. Her eyes went towards it, jerked back to and past him, then finally settled into a brazen stare. She was going to stick to her guns.

Which were bigger than Dwight’s, but damned if he was going to let her off easy. “He and Miho know each other? I always wondered if that’s what she does whenever she’s wandered off where we can’t find her.”

“I never asked. Why don’t you—they like you.” Gail’s lip curled over ‘like’ as if she were going to take a chunk out of the word. She narrowed her eyes and smoked the last of her current cigarette fast. “You goddamn bastard, why couldn’t you fuck her? Or stay with that fucking airhead waitress? You—”

“Because you spoiled me. You and Ava, and don’t look at me like that, Gail. I’m not blaming you for her—I’m explaining--don’t look at me like that. God!” Dwight sat back with a thump and ground his knuckles into the edge of the table. “She was my lady, traitorous bitch that she was. I loved her that way. And I love you for being nothing but woman and—and—what else is there left for anyone else? Aside from the fact that Miho likes you better and would kill me, I can’t pretend with her. And I couldn’t pretend any longer with Shellie.”

It looked like Gail was chewing on her nail. She pressed her knuckles to her mouth, half-hiding and half-restraining, and stared at the counter. And after his outburst, Dwight couldn’t look at her either. The counter was temporarily safe.

“You’re wrong about Miho,” Gail finally said. She sounded tired, and blackly amused by something, and just…sad. “I know. And we can’t help pushing each other even though we shouldn’t. But I can take it out on my clients. Who do you have? You.”

“So this is what, some kind of intervention? I’m fine, Gail,” Dwight snapped.

She flashed a glare at him that cooled his heels in a second. “Maybe you are, but I’m not. Goddamn it, Dwight. If I’ve spoiled you then you’ve done the same for me. I love you, and I want to see you alive and okay if not all that you could be, and with you that means company. You need someone to look after and you need someone to wake you up from your goddamn nightmares, and I can’t do that.”

Dwight raised his eyebrows at her reasoning. “So you pop Joe in my bed once I’ve dumped Shellie?”

“I didn’t pop him—he asked about you after you two met. He never asks about people. Just does his own research. And…all right, I did give him the key and the go-ahead.” Gail raised her hand to her forehead and rubbed it, then sighed. She scratched at some of the ashes that littered the table. “We aren’t faithful to each other like that, Dwight. I know that. I can live with that. But it helps if I know who you’re fucking. And yeah, I feel better if it’s a man and not another woman. Maybe it doesn’t make sense to you, but you are not the only one depending on your sanity.”

Actually, it did make sense, however reluctant Dwight was to accept it. From Gail’s point of view, he had to be kept in the fold, and if he went looking for company outside of Old Town, there was always the chance that he’d reveal things to an outsider. But he wasn’t about to fuck one of the other girls. That would hurt Gail too much, no matter how she protested about acceptance, and that…just didn’t sit well with him. He was too close to them, he’d seen what other men had done to them too many times, and he knew he wasn’t saintly enough to call himself better than that.

And she was right about the other things, as usual.

Dwight reached across the table. After a moment, Gail put her hand in his. For a long time they sat and smiled at each other like old friends soon separating, only their fingers holding them together.

“I knew you liked him,” Gail snorted. Her eyes were slightly moist but her mouth was hard and mocking. “At least he won’t panic when you come home a mess.”

“I’ll come over later. Bring you some of your favorite ice cream, since you get out tonight after the stores close,” Dwight promised.

* * *

“I’m around till next Sunday, and then I’m back two weeks from then.” Joe made decent if uninspiring coffee, but his spaghetti was delicious. He sat on the kitchen counter with his plate, another one of Dwight’s shirts draped on him, only half-buttoned so the collar showed. His cuffs were undone. The bruises were fading, but occasionally he’d reach up and finger one.

Dwight put his scraped plate in the sink and stalled there, still not sure how closely he wanted to handle this twist in his life. “Why? You know about me and Gail.”

The chewing sounds went on for a few moments till Joe had finished. After wiping his mouth on a napkin, he set his plate in the sink on top of Dwight’s. “You know when I asked you if you wanted a smoke? Offering someone a cigarette…the moment when they take it is one of the best times to read someone. They’re vulnerable then, and not just to getting shot.” Pause. “A woman told me that.”

“Did you love her?” Outside the window shadows were moving, gleaming; Dwight got a bottle of fine sake he’d just picked up and went over to the sill. He opened the window, carefully set the bottle on the outside ledge, and stayed there, looking. “If it’s not your taste,” he muttered, “Gail likes this.”

“Not the way you’re supposed to. She’s dead now.” A thud as Joe slid off the counter. He did that for Dwight’s benefit, since he could walk as silently as Miho when he wanted to. His hand gently alighted on Dwight’s elbow.

Dwight shut the window and pulled the shades before turning around. He ran his fingers along the edge of a line of reddish marks that tracked up Joe’s chest to disappear beneath the collar. “Some kind of reminder?”

For the first time, a little bit of shade entered Joe’s eyes. They flickered with depth, then cleared to show the same transparent nothing as always. “Close enough.”

The line of bruising started again on the other side of the collar, and Dwight skipped his fingers to it. He pressed a little and Joe arched up, eyes half-closing. This time, he left a couple of his own marks on Dwight, though those were far fewer than the fresh ones Dwight put on him.

Close enough.