Читать онлайн "Pandora's Closet" автора Zahn Timothy - RuLit - Страница 61


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“Ah, yes, well, you see, I can, er, that is to say, I-”

Torin grabbed Forak’s arms. “I would reserve comment until you’ve seen the magistrate.”

Puffing himself up, Forak said, “Hang on, you can’t arrest me! I’ve done nothing wrong!”

Danthres snarled. “You’ve done quite a bit wrong, Mr. Forak. Fraud, for one thing.”

“I didn’t defraud no one, I didn’t! I said I’d clean your place, and I did!

Torin glanced at Danthres. “He has a point.”

“True. But there’s also littering. And vandalism to the Jaros house.” She smiled a most unpleasant smile, then. “And, of course, there’s the Brotherhood.”

Forak went white. “Th-the Brotherhood? You mean, that is to say-of Wizards?”

“Yes, that Brotherhood. They don’t take kindly to people using unlicensed magic.”

That deflated him, and he took Torin’s advice and refrained from further comment. They led him out the door and handed him off to one of the four guards from Dragon they had left waiting outside. That guard would take him to the castle for imprisonment until the magistrate-and the Brotherhood-could deal with him. Torin instructed the other three to escort Emanuela to Dragon for questioning and to close up the offices of Forak’s Perfect Clean.

Danthres looked up at the sky, seeing the sun starting to set into the horizon, and she realized that she was in a good mood. Justice had been done, she’d found her cloak, and she didn’t even have to deal directly with the Brotherhood.

Then Torin said, “You realize that when this is all over, he’s going to have to reverse the spell in order to salvage the Jaros house. That means all the dirt will probably have to go back.”

“Actually, I hadn’t realized it.” Danthres snarled, her foul mood back full force.

“Yes,” Torin said with a smile. “You’ve been left with quite a mess.”

Somehow, Danthres managed not to kill him.

OFF THE RACK by Elizabeth A. Vaughan

Sarah yanked the offending strip of paper from the calculator, crumpled it, and threw it at the basket. It bounced off the rim, hit the wall, and fell to the floor.

With a curse, she jerked out of her chair to retrieve it. The chair obeyed the law of physics and thumped back against the wall. Sarah cursed again, this at the black mark it left on the wall.

Pam stuck her head into the tiny closet Sarah called her office. “Problem?”

“No.” Sarah kept her face down as she picked up the crumpled wad and dropped it in the trash. She wasn’t going to tell her only employee about the red ink on that slip of paper. “Just got up too fast.”

Pam accepted that, as she accepted the meager paycheck each week, with a shrug. “Listen, can I leave early? There’s no customers, and I gotta-”

“Sure.” Sarah didn’t really want to hear it. “Go. I’ll lock up.”

The door was swinging shut before the words were out of Sarah’s mouth. She heard the door chimes marking Pam’s exit even as she turned off the calculator. She paused long enough to watch the negative number fade as the display went dim.

Sarah sighed and stepped out into her store, to watch as the last few moments before closing ticked off. She stepped to the counter and started to clear away the clutter.

Outside, through the glass windows of the store front, soft white flakes of snow started to fill Pam’s tire treads. Painted on the window, backward from this angle, was “Sarah’s Closet,” the gold and cream lettering still as bright and promising as it had been a year ago on opening day.

Sarah looked away from the bright promise and cleared the counter, straightening pens, dusting the unused credit card machine and the register.

Opening day of her consignment shop had been just as bright and promising as the window. She’d spent a year researching, planning, taking out the loan, making the business plan. She’d collected the clothes for a year, searching garage sales and auctions, talking to friends of friends to build her inventory.

But consignment needs more consignments to survive, and as the months wore on, there’d been few visitors who had brought in things. She’d found it hard to replace the stock and watch the store at the same time, forcing her to hire help. A cost she’d left out of her detailed and perfect business plan.

Sarah sighed again. There’d been traffic, sure, but somehow people didn’t find what they were looking for, or it was not the right size, or it was the wrong color. Why go to her store, when they could go the big discounters?

She glanced at the clock. Another three minutes and she could go home and lose herself in a bubble bath, a favorite romance novel, and ramen noodles. Time enough tomorrow to think about negative numbers and looming bills.

Movement drew her gaze back to the window. Someone was trying to wrestle an old shopping cart up on the sidewalk in front of the shop. A shopping cart piled high with bags and cans, and with more plastic bags tied to the sides, all filled with questionable items.

Sarah frowned. She’d picked this location because of its higher-end clientele, and she’d never seen a street person here before. Dressed in a thin, stained sweat shirt, with old jeans almost falling off his hips. His, it had to be, she caught a glimpse of a ratty beard when his head turned. One of the legs of the jeans was pulled up over his knee, displaying a naked leg covered in scabs and sores. A thin ankle, covered in an old cotton sock, pushed into even older tennis shoes. No hat. No gloves. Sarah shivered at the thought.

The man was pulling at the cart, trying to get the wheels over the curb. She could hear it rattling and squeaking as he tugged. He got the back wheels over the curb and pulled until the front wheels clanged into the obstacle. He kept pulling, as if it never occurred to him to go to the front and lift it up.

Or maybe he couldn’t.

The snow that had fallen in his hair was melting, and water drops glistened in the scraggly depths. There were damp patches on his shoulders where his muscles moved underneath. Sarah looked at him with an expert eye, sizing him up without really thinking about it. A medium, easily.

There was a coat on the men’s rack, a high-end winter coat that would fit him. And a warm woolen hat in the bin. Gloves too.

She hesitated, surprised by her impulse. Generosity wouldn’t put food on the table. But the loss wouldn’t make any real difference. And it was closing time. And he was in front of the door.

Without another thought, she gathered up the coat, stuffed the hat and gloves in the pockets and stepped outside.

The snow was a swirl now, the wind making patterns in the light of the parking lot lamps. Sarah took in a breath of cold air, faintly scented by the Chinese restaurant next door. The man was still tugging on the cart, and in frustration, Sarah stepped around him and lifted up the end to clang on the sidewalk.

He looked at her, startled, with pale gray eyes.

Sarah didn’t bother to say anything, just held out the coat.

His eyes flicked to it, then back to her face. His beard and mustache covered his face, leaving no hints to his reaction.

Sarah shivered in the cold. “Take it.” She held it out again. “Put it on.”

He reached for the coat with a filthy hand. Sarah watched as he eased it over his shoulders, moving carefully as if it would break. She swallowed hard, afraid to look too close at his leg, or take too deep a breath.

The man pulled out the knit hat from one pocket, and pulled it over his matted hair. He looked at her with those washed-out eyes and said nothing.

Sarah hadn’t really expected much else. Her impulse of generosity had left, leaving her only a desire to close up and get home. But as she turned to go, the man mumbled something and started digging in the cart.



2011 - 2018