|The C-Word III: Due Diligence
Author: Guede Mazaka
12:55 P. M.
It was an ordinary phone. Plastic, black, vaguely stodgy in style since the place was run by law enforcement. It probably didn’t deserve the glare that Guinevere was directing at it.
God, that prick.
Though she did wonder what on earth had gotten into Lancelot; it wasn’t like him to be introspective. Vain, yes, but he tended not to look any deeper than whatever was most likely to get him and Arthur horizontally-oriented in the next five minutes. Maybe he and Arthur had had an argument, and for once he’d decided to consider the possibility that he happened to be the one at fault, or that he at least shared some of it.
Actually, that was most likely it. Lancelot had limited mobility and was stuck at home with his favorite target after Guinevere—she was beginning to think ‘obsession’ might be a better word for his interest in Arthur—and it didn’t take him long to lose his patience under the best of conditions. Plus he never could keep his fretting to himself, but insisted on inflicting it on whoever was nearest, and polite Arthur would let him get out of hand instead of nipping things in the bud. Though from the sounds of things, they seemed to have reconciled…
Still, she’d call back in another fifteen minutes just to make sure. For all the show of integrity that Arthur put up, he had more than his share of underhanded reflexes. And if Guinevere was coming home to a sulking brat and a stonewalling epitome of maddening consideration, she wanted to know.
She propped her arm on the desk and rubbed at her temple. “I sound like I’m married with a teenager.”
Which was slightly unfair to Lancelot, but at the moment, Guinevere didn’t feel like being fair. The damned man would get himself sick leave, resulting in loads of unorganized reports landing on Guinevere’s desk, and then not even enjoy it. Sometimes he could be nearly as masochistic as Arthur, what with the way he just couldn’t keep from prodding the man. If he’d had any sense, he would’ve done his own quiet research and then tugged out Arthur’s version while Arthur was distracted with, say, copies of certain rare philosophical texts that were in private collections and therefore not routinely accessible to scholars. It took longer, but it meant less drama. And Guinevere disliked drama.
But when all was said and done, she supposed there was something to having distractions. Steady work was so tedious.
She sighed and picked up another forensic analysis.
* * *
1:30 P. M.
Two-thirds of everything done, and as she had her second meeting in a quarter-hour, it didn’t make sense to start on another file. After checking that the door-shade was down, Guinevere kicked off her heels, lounged in her non-standard leather swivel chair, and picked up the phone.
Arthur answered on the first ring. *Hello?*
“Where is he?” In retrospect, that was a bit abrupt of her. Apparently earlier had bothered her more than she’d realized.
*Sleeping on me,* Arthur replied, sounding both bemused and a little worried. From the few wary chats Guinevere had had with his secretary, she had the impression that he didn’t usually sound like that, but that tone was standard for her or Lancelot. *He decided I needed an at-shoulder critic of my writing style, then got tired of it. I didn’t move fast enough.*
Oh, he’d moved quite fast enough, Guinevere suspected. It took a good deal to wear out Lancelot, and the mere act of criticizing wasn’t one of them. Though it was taking him a while, Arthur was starting to get the hang of handling Lancelot. “So whatever happened earlier…”
Only Arthur could make an embarrassed stutter sexy enough for Guinevere to uncomfortably cross her legs. *Yes, well, I think we’ve come to an understanding regarding that. By the way, the…ah…I wiped down the kitchen tiles. They should be dry by the time you get home, but watch your step in case.*
“And what was ‘that’?” On Guinevere’s computer, a new-email bubble popped up. She put out a finger and clicked open her desktop mailbox, only to see it was another annoying reminder from Isolde about the annual July 4th picnic. “Do you need me to borrow any files?”
*What? Oh, no. No, I…you’re being very reasonable about this. You’re always very reasonable.* Strangely enough, Arthur didn’t sound approving of that. He didn’t sound ungrateful either, but rather…contemplative.
Guinevere deleted Isolde’s email and, on a whim, started to compose a nasty one to Lancelot. He wouldn’t check his inbox till late morning tomorrow, but that was perfect timing anyway. She’d be out in Brooklyn doing interviews and thus out of touch by then. “Thank you. I think. Are you sure?”
Arthur didn’t immediately answer, and when he finally spoke again, he prepped himself by taking a deep breath. In the background, Lancelot made a sleepy protest-noise, but Arthur didn’t seem to notice. *Old friend came to visit. I talked to her, agreed to an exchange of favors, and hopefully she’ll not be back again. When you get home, I’ll tell you more about it.*
Frowning, Guinevere sat straight up. “You’re in a confessional mood. Did you only just talk?”
*Yes. But…it’s a bit funny how my mouth seems to shut down around you or Lancelot. And unfair.*
Guilt-tripping himself, plain as anything in his voice. Less worried now, Guinevere leaned back. “It’s not even been four months, and that’s to six years or more of silence. I told you before and I’m telling you again, I’m willing to be patient. So don’t take offense at yourself on my account.”
*It’s hard not to when I realize that I’d never tell about anything if I wasn’t pushed to it,* Arthur snapped.
He startled Guinevere; she accidentally smacked her finger down on the mouse. Then she spent the next two seconds panicking before she realized she’d just trashcan’ed her email draft.
Even Arthur seemed surprised at himself. *I’m sorry. That didn’t come out like I wanted it to. What I meant was—I—well--*
“No, it’s fine,” Guinevere interrupted. Or she tried to interrupt, for she suddenly had an impending feeling of doom. And given how well-honed her instincts were after cohabiting with Lancelot for a few years, she knew better to disregard those. “Honestly, I want to ask a lot, but I’m never sure how far to push with you, so it seems more prudent to—”
*--I love you,* Arthur finished.
They breathed into opposite ends of the line for several seconds.
Arthur coughed. *Over the phone isn’t really the appropriate way to tell you, is it? I meant to wait till you’d gotten off work, but…*
Guinevere stared at the far frosted-glass wall and wondered what the hell Lancelot had been doing.
*…anyway, I do. And at the very least, that puts you at risks that I should be telling you about if I love you, and damn it, this is circular reasoning. Guinevere? Are you still there?*
Very faintly, she heard Lancelot mumble that Arthur just needed to wait a moment, wait till she remembered she was a cold hard bitch and then her mind would get back to him. Then she heard Arthur deliver a retort that started out scathing and ended basically as an endearment. Followed by scuffling noises.
*Sorry about the interruption,* Arthur said, a bit breathless. *I think he’ll be quiet now.*
Well, Lancelot was good for something. His sarcasm never failed to jolt her brain into gear. “Arthur? Did you shove him aside or down?”
*Down. Why? Is it about his ankaaaah—oh. No. I see—not now oh God—your point. Lancelot, don’t do thaaaah. Christ.* The rest of Arthur’s words degenerated into squeaking.
The clock called. And thankfully, Guinevere burst into a flurry of decisive motion: shutting down her computer, collecting her notes, checking that her make-up was still spotless. “Arthur, I’ve got a meeting and you’re…busy.”
*I’ll call back at four then?* Gasping as he was, Arthur still spoke firmly enough for Guinevere to understand he wanted to talk it out.
Great. Wonderful. And Guinevere still couldn’t figure out what was supposed to be on the blankness that was her initial reaction. “All right,” she said as normally as she could manage.
* * *
3:45 P. M.
That goddamned phone had the smuggest gleam Guinevere had ever seen. It even beat Lancelot’s smirk for sheer about-to-screw-you-over-and-you-can’t-do-a-thing jackass attitude.
Quarter till. The meeting had been mostly routine housekeeping, so Guinevere had been able to paste an attentive expression on her face and spend the entire time thinking about what Arthur’s motives were and what he expected, and then what she was going to do about it. She was vaguely aware that this wasn’t the correct reaction, but she didn’t care too much. That could be an issue once she’d just figured out what the hell was going on.
People like Arthur just did not go around declaring their love. Not personal love, anyway—Guinevere could and had seen him declaiming his adoration for various impersonal things ranging from Pelagian heresy to the Met’s recent exhibition on the armored horse in medieval Europe to certain liberal political movements. But that was very different. Those loves were cerebral, for one thing. While they still could hurt Arthur, they were an attack on his ideas and he could always fight back with reason. Whereas saying it to another person opened up a whole new can of worms.
“Goddamn it, couldn’t you have waited till I got home?” Guinevere dropped her head into her hands and raked her hair back from her forehead, hard.
What was she supposed to do? Say it back to him? Was it another intellectual issue—did he feel like he needed to say it? As if it were a requirement? Was it some stupid version of a pissing contest that Lancelot had provoked him into taking up?
Was he saying it because he really did mean it, and she was merely over-analyzing it?
It wouldn’t have been any easier to react to if she had been home, probably, but at least then she would have had a visual cue. And she could corner Lancelot and find out what hand he’d had in this new…new…
She wanted to call it a mess, kept hearing ‘twist’ in her head, and deep down, the word ‘joy’ insisted on curling around her gut and making it warm. Which in turn made Guinevere want to wrap her arms around herself and…do something stupid like wriggle in place.
Guinevere knotted her fingers in her hair again and stared at the phone. Only Arthur could send her this off-kilter and still make her wish he was right there so she could…
…do something to ignore the fact that she was terrified, and not quite sure why.
* * *
3:50 P. M.
The knock at the door nearly startled Guinevere off her chair. She caught herself on the edge of her desk with a gasp and righted herself just as Pellew walked in. He paused, then did the sensible thing and pretended along with her that nothing was out of the ordinary.
“Sorry to drop this on you this late, but they just came in and I won’t be around for the rest of the afternoon.” He produced a thin folder which, when opened, held a set of crime-scene photos. “They’re for the Luzhin case that Lancelot’s handling. I trust you can pass them along and…see that he has something to keep him busy during his enforced exile?”
They both hid grins from each other; Guinevere appreciated Pellew’s dry sense of humor and though he never missed an opportunity to scold them, he knew when to give his agents a free rein. She took the folder and tucked it into her briefcase. “Certainly. I’ve on good authority that he’s terribly in need to something to do.”
“I’m sure.” Pellew about-faced as if he was still in the Navy, then thought of something and turned back. But now he was pulling his chin into his chest and looking uncomfortable, which only happened around a specific set of subjects. “And how is he? Recovering well? Not too much of a burden on the…ah…household?”
It was an open secret around the office that Lancelot and Guinevere were involved in some sordid threesome. Long before Arthur had come along, people were already used to the idea of the two of them being wildly unorthodox--and being ready to rip into anyone that called them on it. Anyway, Pellew only kept on efficient agents. And efficient agents didn’t have much time to bother themselves about personal lives as long as it didn’t infringe on their territory. But there were a few sticklers for traditional morality floating about—who made good scratching posts for whenever Guinevere needed to work off some frustration. Pellew wasn’t exactly one of them, but he had a strict sense of what was appropriate office-talk, and sexual relations wasn’t included unless it bore directly on a case’s outcome. Shame for him that some small talk was necessary to maintain good superior-subordinate relations.
“He’s actually getting along quite well. Arthur’s researching at home for the day, so Lancelot doesn’t lack for attention. Not that he ever lets himself be,” Guinevere answered, enjoying herself. It wasn’t often that she got to see Pellew embarrassed.
“Yes. Arthur is exceptionally considerate. I still think it’s a pity we couldn’t get him to take a more active interest in our branch.” The way Pellew said that momentarily pricked at Guinevere, for he almost seemed to be winking at her. As if he knew about the occasional help Arthur offered on the sly. “Give him my regards, would you?”
Guinevere noted her suspicion and filed it away for further contemplation. “Of course.”
Once again Pellew started to go, and this time he got all the way to the door before pausing. “You know, I was beginning to worry about you,” he thoughtfully said. “I don’t mean to cast any aspersions on your abilities, because I trust in them implicitly, but I did wonder if you were ever going to let yourself have your due. Lancelot alone isn’t healthy for either of you. Arthur’s a good man, and well-suited to you.”
He shut the door before she could comment, so all a shocked Guinevere could do was fall back in her chair and think absently that it was a damned good thing the glass walls were thickly frosted so no one could see her gaping mouth. Damn it, but Pellew would act stuffy till everyone expected nothing else and then turn around to deliver something like that.
She let her hands hang limply over the chair arms and gazed aimlessly around the room, wondering since when she’d become so transparent. She was happy. Very much so. And very determined to hang onto it, so spreading the news seemed to be a surefire way of inviting disaster.
Guinevere caught sight of the clock, then thumped her head against the back of her chair and moaned a little. Five minutes till four.
* * *
4:05 P. M.
The phone wasn’t ringing. Guinevere had abandoned all thought of getting the last few reports processed—which she knew was going to bite her in the arse, and didn’t that improve her mood—and now had her head down on her desk, glaring at the goddamned phone. Which wasn’t ringing. When it was five minutes past the hour, and Arthur was meticulously punctual. Maybe that damned curly-headed idiot had—
--“Apologies for the lateness,” Arthur said, sticking his head around the door.
He got to see Guinevere twitch right off her chair. This time, she didn’t quite manage to save herself.
“And sorry for not knocking or sending prior notice.” Arthur gave her a hand up, then stood back. He looked nervous beneath that thick layer of manners. “I had to step out and mail something, and then I thought I might pick you up for an early dinner while I was out. It’s spur of the moment, but…”
Very much so. But once Guinevere got over her shock, and then her humiliation at flopping over like that, she thought it was an excellent idea. It was clear she wasn’t going to get any more work done in the office, and if Arthur was that determined to have a discussion…best do it on neutral ground. “Lancelot?”
“Sleeping again. He said he’d had his fill and so he was skipping dinner.” Exasperation faintly touched Arthur’s flustered face. “Occasionally I wish he wasn’t so quick to recover.”
“I think everyone does who spends more than five minutes with him. Let me just get my purse and close up shop here…”
They were speaking so very casually, so easily, and all the while Guinevere could hear the tension humming between them. But it seemed as if Arthur had similar plans, so neither of them broke the ice till they were safely ensconced in an isolated nook in a nearby Caribbean-themed café.
“Thank you,” Arthur told the waiter as he handed over their menus. Then he turned to Guinevere. The lines of his face and the set of his shoulders subtly changed, becoming less unassuming, and his voice turned crisp, matter-of-fact. Though that still didn’t hide the fact that he was very uncertain of himself. “One of my old colleagues was in town, briefly. Sofia Romanovna Petrovich. You should have heard of her.”
“Haven’t I.” Well, well, that could have interesting implications. One of the few women to make it as an equal in the Russian mafia, Sofia had started as a mistress and fuck-killed her way up the food chain. And there’d always been rumors that she had really been a KGB plant—which Arthur’s knowing her probably confirmed. “All right. So what needs to be done?”
Arthur shrugged. “Nothing.” He had to pause because the waiter was back with their drinks, but fortunately, their server wasn’t a lingering sort. “Tristan gave me a heads-up and I had a short talk with her, at the end of which I agreed to share some information on a mutual enemy and she agreed to blank out my name from some Russian intelligence files. She’s probably flying over an ocean by now.”
Guinevere fiddled with her straw. That squelching feeling of imminent danger was starting up again. “If it’s already handled, then why bring it up?”
“Because she knows where I live and she saw Lancelot, and she’s too smart not to find out about you. It could be a worry—it is a worry, because I love you, and I thought you needed to know.” He said it in a rush, hands pressed against the table as if he was trying to keep from doing something. Grabbing her, maybe. Or strangling an unseen presence. His eyes were brilliant and entirely focused on her. “Because I hate the feeling that I can’t trust anyone, but I’m not used to telling people things. Because I love you.”
“You said that twice—no, three times,” Guinevere weakly replied. She noticed she was jabbing her heels at the floor and made herself stop. They were cute shoes and had cost a fortune, so she’d better not ruin them. And she was stalling.
After a moment, Arthur leaned back and took a deep breath. He squeezed a lemon slice over his water, then sipped at it. “I’m not pushing you, Guinevere. But I do want you to know that.”
“Did Lancelot have anything to do with this?” Yes, make it more familiar, please. Because if Arthur was uncertain, Guinevere was in bloody freefall.
Arthur opened his mouth, then closed it. He looked irritated. “Yes, he did, but I’m not saying this to you merely because I’m trying to even a score. This isn’t about—whatever you two are really arguing over when you use me as an excuse.”
“We don’t use you as an excuse. And what did he say? Was he nagging at you to explain things again?” Guinevere’s voice was rising and she could hear it, but she couldn’t seem to drag it back down to discreet levels. It was a good thing the restaurant was still mostly empty. “Because I told you—”
“I know, and I respect that. I appreciate it,” Arthur snapped. He exhaled sharply and stared at his fingers for a few moments, then abruptly withdrew his hands. His shoulders went down, and when he looked up again, he did so as if it pained him, though his sincerity pained Guinevere with its strength. “I do. I understand your position better than you probably realize.”
What position? “Why do I have the feeling that this isn’t how your talk with Lancelot went?”
“Because Lancelot’s very different from you, and I’m not really sure how much I understand him.” Their food arrived, which kept Arthur from talking for a few moments.
While Guinevere wished she could say it was a welcome breather, it wasn’t, really. It did give her space, but she still wasn’t sure what to do with it. “And you understand me, as you keep saying.”
“Yes…I think.” Well, it was nice to see Arthur still couldn’t help tacking on qualifiers. But his gaze wasn’t wavering, and that made Guinevere worry. He shrugged and picked up a shrimp, then paused to let the excess sauce dip off. “I…Guinevere, I spent the better part of six years trying not to get attached to people. There were valid issues about my bringing harm with them, but if I’m honest, I’d say those largely disappeared after I settled here. After that, it was more about avoiding harm to myself.”
And now she was beginning to see the thrust of his meaning. She supposed it couldn’t quite be called a confessional mood, for even though Arthur was revealing a good deal more than he ever had previously, he still wasn’t doing it in a straightforward fashion. Habits died hard. Jealousy died harder. “Am I your sounding board?”
Arthur had a shrimp in his mouth so he could only indicate his confusion with eyebrows and eyes.
“I can see where the mild-mannered act must come in handy,” Guinevere muttered. She was getting increasingly annoyed, and since that was a deviation from the norm, she was analyzing it. Which in turn annoyed her even more, because at the moment she didn’t need to be picking at herself. Neuroticism didn’t suit her, and goddamn it, why couldn’t she shut off the dissecting part of her mind? Right now it was distracting. “You never talk like this with Lancelot. You’d get about two sentences in before someone lost their temper, and it’d all end in a great conflagration of mad passion.”
That resulted in a hit, but Arthur managed to remain level. “Would you want me to act like that with you?”
Guinevere opened her mouth, then closed it once she realized what her tongue was actually going to say.
“All right, I am pushing you,” Arthur said. His voice finally betrayed frustration, and the stabbing motions he made at his salad betrayed even more. “But not much—not nearly as much as I find myself wanting to sometimes, and I don’t expect you to push back. But I’d want you—in the future I’d like—goddamn it. Guinevere, just because I understand someone doesn’t mean I know how to handle them. Lancelot acts the way he wants others to act. I may not know why he wants it, but I’ll know what he wants. I can’t tell with you. You let me think nearly anything will go—it’s as much a mild-mannered act as mine is, for all that your tongue is far sharper.”
After that, a silence fell. Arthur seemed shocked that he’d had it in him, and frankly, Guinevere was as well. She stared at her food, which she’d barely touched, and suddenly realized that she didn’t have a countering argument. He was right. He did understand her.
It made her a bit queasy. For a moment, she thought about making a run to the bathroom, but that was just too defeatist for her to stomach. Besides, no matter how much make-up she had in her purse, she’d eventually run out of things to touch up and she’d have to come back out again.
“It’s very difficult for a woman to make a career in law enforcement. Modern ideas about equality aside, there’s still some things men can get away with that women can’t seem to afford to,” she finally said. “You end up thinking you’ve got to sacrifice things.”
“And it’s very difficult to realize that you’re thirty-six and all the previous passions of your life were complete illusions. Were more or less nothing compared to the truth.” His eyes were bright as stars. Thankfully, he dropped them to his plate before he completely blinded Guinevere, or caused her to do something like crawl over the table and just…have him. Apparently his appetite was gone as well, for he merely nibbled at a shrimp before pushing his food from him. “I was thinking in the car about taking you in the backseat and…” slight flush “…but I spent a few years teaching myself how to think that sort of thing and not show it. Not an easy lesson to unlearn.”
Guinevere had to laugh. “I thought Lancelot would have helped with that.”
“He does—but why do you always bring the conversation back to him?” Arthur signaled for the check. “I thought you two liked each other beneath all the…ah…”
“Violent foreplay?” she suggested. Her comment garnered her one of Arthur’s rare but infectious full smiles. “We do. Reluctantly. But he just…I don’t understand how he breezes in and manages to do what he does. He’s too damn lucky. He’s…he said it back to you, didn’t he.”
“I’m not turning this into a competition,” Arthur told her. Firmly, seriously, and yet that wasn’t enough to hide the flash of bliss that went through his eyes. It really had shaken him, and deep down he adored Lancelot for it.
Her stomach hurt again.
* * *
5:42 P. M.
The problem was she probably did love him, Guinevere decided. But knowing that and figuring out how to live with it were two different things, and until she knew how to do the second, she was better off keeping her mouth shut. What she already had was good, and…God, how did Lancelot live the way he did? Throwing everything out there and without even checking whether it knew how to swim?
She was letting Arthur drive, on his insistence because he hadn’t yet heard whether Sofia had left town. And, she thought, in the future that would be the only kind of reason she’d let him, because he didn’t own a car and it showed. Put him in a threatening situation and he was a fantastic driver, but apparently regular NYC traffic didn’t count as such and so at the moment she sympathized with the people that had honked them mercilessly back into their neighborhood. “Arthur?”
“Hmm?” He seemed to be used to that type of treatment, for he pulled into the garage as coolly as he’d pulled out of the parking lot.
“Do you avoid cars just because you’re a dedicated environmentalist, or because they’re likely assassination locales?” It was a stupid question, and she’d asked it mostly because she still felt as if she needed to say something. Though what there was left after their dinner was beyond her. Between the two of them, they’d reasoned it all out. Nothing left for reason.
She snapped, much to her surprise.
Arthur turned to her, juggling an answer, and ended up muffling a surprised gasp in her mouth. She wriggled further onto him till she wasn’t about to slide into the gearshift, holding his face with both hands and kissing him as hard and as deep as she could. After a second, his hands came up to her shoulders. They rested there for a second, which was the only second of stillness. Then they were moving ravenously over her, tracing the shape of her hips, pushing the silk off her breasts, running up beneath her skirt. And he was lunging back at her, mouth hot and hungry, till he had shaken off her hands to bury his face in between her breasts. She could feel his tongue reveling around their curves and it made her shaky, breathless.
Guinevere clutched at his head and tried to climb up, push him closer and deeper. Arched against the wheel, which was digging into her back. Got a heel caught somewhere and just wrenched her foot out of it so she could claw at his collar and lick along his neck. His hands went further up her skirt, teasing down hose and pants just as his lips were the edges of her bra. Then his fingers were in her and skillfully manipulating so her knees weakened, her muscles seemed like unstrung wires. Her nails left red scores in the skin around his collarbone; she pulled at his tie and collar till she could press her mouth to them. He ground his thumb-knuckle up against her clit, pressing and rubbing till her mouth was dry with panting, her vision blurry, her flesh melted. And he kept working her, fucking her with his hand and twisting her body around that tight knot between her legs till the bubble burst and all the filminess spectacularly evaporated.
It left behind two breathless, rumpled people who stared at each other with slightly silly expressions. “Not quite the backseat,” Guinevere gasped.
“No, that would’ve have more room.” Arthur slid his fingers out of her and almost prodded at his head—which she’d apparently smacked against the headrest a few times—before he remembered. He gazed bemusedly at his sticky fingers. “God. I don’t think I’ve done it in a car since Oxford.”
“Would you like to move it to the backseat?” Guinevere writhed about till she could get a hand down. She raised an eyebrow. “Slower than usual.”
He started to be embarrassed, then gave in to his sense of humor. “For God’s sake, I was at home with Lancelot for half the day. The rest of the week I’m going in to the office so I can actually get something done.”
“That wasn’t exactly a no,” she purred. And kept her hand down so she could encourage matters.
Arthur flopped back and just looked at her. His collar was a mess and his cheeks still red from their earlier frenzy, and he was so utterly open to her in that moment that Guinevere almost said something. But he must have seen it coming, for he wrapped a hand around her neck and drew her down for a kiss.
When they came up for air, Guinevere was fighting the urge to be maudlin. “Thank you.” She inhaled sharply, and told herself there’d be time and more chances to meet his push. “Now heave me into the back. Someone’s going to make up Lancelot’s phonecall to me, and I wouldn’t want to disturb his little nap—Christ!”
“Didn’t you want that?” Arthur asked, awkwardly clambering after her. With his eyes glittering like that, he looked much like a naïve young university student. But he wasn’t, and so it meant that much more.
“With you I always want it,” Guinevere softly told him. Then she dragged him down before they could talk any more.