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Short(?) Story - Third Date

His eyes locked, but not with hers.

Once set, his eyes began to track over her right shoulder to keep pace with their target.  The target passed behind the flowing locks that framed her cheeks, followed by his gaze. Off past the left shoulder of her simple white blouse, his eyes leapt out into open air until their target took a seat. Back turned to the watching eyes and small tiger tattoo clearly visible beneath his cropped hair, the sturdily built man began to converse with the others at his table. Midway across the restaurant, the watchers own conversation began.


“Same rules?”

His eyes snapped back to her as he took his seat, his features softening to match her pleasant smile. Her lip curled just a little higher on the left. He liked that.  “Of course,” He said. The couple raised their cell phones in tandem.

“First, no phones.” Hiromi cocked her head to the side as they pressed their power buttons in unison and waited until both phones powered down. Calvin returned the phone to his coat pocket as she picked up where he’d left off.

“Next, no arguing about the check.” She winked and darted her hand to her purse. Too slow! Crouched in the classic cowboys stance, his fingers had already drawn his leather billfold. The wallet hit the table with a muffled ‘thud’ by the time she’d unclasped the purse and retrieved her own. Calvin flashed a crooked smile.


“I’ve got it tonight.” He said, sliding the wallet off the table and re-holstering it in his back pocket. Hiromi nodded, pouting out one lip and feigning haughty superiority as she smoothed out her skirt beneath the table.

“That’ll go differently next time.” She huffed, nose pointed to the overhead lights and eyes closed daintily as she continued.

“I’ll be wearing something with pockets.” Hiromi broke her prim character as Calvin retook his seat and queried “Final rule?”

Both answered together, heads leaned toward the center of the table.

“Don’t tell me what you do for a living.” Hiromi smiled again, sat back up and lifted her menu.


“That’s still a fourth date secret” she said. Calvin shifted so the point of his badge would stop digging into his hip and straightened his tie, shoulder holster silently patting the soft joint of his vest.

“Agreed.” He replied audibly. Inaudibly he continued. I had enough time; I really could have left the gear behind. Yet his eyes shot back to the tiger tattoo across the room, his prior unease presenting its justification.

The waiter appeared tableside.

“Good evening” The young man said. Hiromi glanced up at him.


“Hi!” She chirped warmly. Calvin lifted his gaze to focus on the well-dressed teenager and noted the boy’s turban was hand wrapped in traditional Sihk fashion.  The waiter spoke again, the words dancing off his tongue in the drawn out rhythm of northern India.


“My name is Fahran, I’ll be your server tonight. Can I get you two anything to drink while you look things over?” Hiromi nodded.


“Um, yes. Could I get a glass of water and a small Mango Lassi?” She asked. Fahran nodded and flipped open his palm notebook.


“Of course, Miss.” He turned to Calvin.

“And for you, sir?”


Calvin cleared his throat. “Ah… a glass of Shikanje, please.” The thought of Lassi was tempting, but the yogurt drink had always struck him as too rich to accompany a meal. Fahran finished jotting down the orders. “Water, Lassi and a Shikanje... very well…” He smiled pleasantly and bowed slightly as he pocketed his notebook. “I’ll be back shortly.”

The young man turned away as the couple raised their menus. Calvin peered over his to survey the restaurant’s other patrons. A family, possibly celebrating, sat at a long table against the wall to his right.


Calvin raised his menu and asked, “How’s your Corgi’s recovery going?” Hiromi‘s fingers passed through her hair in his peripheral sight before she replied.

“Spike? He’s feeling a lot better. The vet still wants me to wrap the leg so he can’t get too crazy, but he seems content cuddling with his toys most of the day.”


“Good, good.” Calvin replied absently as his head turned just slightly to the left, senses continuing to dance around the room. He got a little lost in the spicy aromas drifting about, a glorious river of flavors, rich buttery ghee supporting sharp notes of coriander and the mellow pungency of slow cooked garlic, but as he exhaled he made it the edge of his view, where he picked out a few more people, a group of older ladies judging by the cane leaned on their table and the discussion of Betty Grable’s singing. Shouldn’t be too difficult to clear the civilians from room. Calvin thought, checking the exit ahead and to the left. Still clear Wait it out, see who’ll leave on their own. With any luck, I might not even need the fire alarm.


Again his gaze settled on the four imposing men dead ahead, mind echoing his briefing. The man sporting the tiger tattoo: Anderson Lewis. That was his name. Across from Lewis, an older man with a goatee so classically villainous it seemed lifted straight from the pages of a comic book. Identifiable markings: gunshot scar, left forearm. Tattoo of tiger, Approx. 3 inches long located on back of neck. Beside each of the two men sat a shaven headed muscleman who’d be hard pressed to find recognition as anything but bodyguards. Last seen escaping raid on the Roosevelt Private Airstrip three weeks ago. Calvin’s teeth set. Current location unknown.


Hiromi’s voice gently cut through his thoughts. “How about your niece? Were you able to make it to her presentation, Mr. Consultant?”

“Hm?” He hummed, processing the question before grinning, meeting Hiromi’s gaze and becoming aware that he had his menu upside down.


“Oh, Tessa!  Right!” Calvin laid the menu back on the table and prayed she hadn’t noticed. “Yep, I managed to get off the clock in time. Turns out she really was paying attention!” He already knew his order, but he heard a tiny amused breath... yup, busted. “She made it through Sybil Ludington’s ride, but the teacher shut down her down when she hit the twenty-minute mark, right after she introduced Knowlton’s Rangers.”

Hiromi nodded approvingly, folding her menu and sliding it on top of Calvin’s. “Good for her! What did her parents think?” Calvin shook his head and shrugged, bemusement in his voice.

“Ah, Sis and her hubby shot me a few dirty looks,” He said. “But I think they’re just glad her interest in the era has expanded beyond the scope of ‘Hamilton.’”


Calvin’s eyes darted over to check on the men in the booth ahead. They were receiving their drinks from a waitress. Another unbidden bit of intel drifted past his ear. Wanted for illicit arms trade and two counts of attempted homicide of a federal agent. The young lady seemed remarkably at ease with the hulking figures. Calvin’s eyebrows knit and relaxed, repressing business.


Hiromi’s eyes were twinkling above a knowing and infectious smile. Calvin tilted his head forward to invite her response. She obliged.

“I think that’s wonderful. A young lady’s enthusiasm for learning should get to run a bit rampant every now and then.” Calvin saw the sheen of a memory behind her eyes.

“Is there a story there?” He probed. She tilted her head and shrugged, eyes shifting to her left at the clicking of dress shoes on tile.


“Yes, but one that has to wait a moment.” Hiromi said softly as the clicking of dress shoes brought Fahran back to their table with a few glasses balanced on a serving tray.

“Mango Lassi and Shikanje, here you go…” The waiter said, setting the drinks before the couple. He pulled back, slipped the tray under his arm and flipped open his notebook. His pen clicked to readiness as he glanced between Calvin and Hiromi.


“Are we ready to order?”

Hiromi’s eyes met with Calvin’s. He blinked and tilted his head forward, checking for a go-no-go with a hand turning slightly toward Fahran Hiromi nodded and turned to address the waiter.

“Yes, I think we are!” As Hiromi spoke, Calvin took the chance to shift his field of focus back to the booth in the corner ahead. The two smooth heads of the muscle men were swiveling to take in the restaurant.


“Garam Masala with Rice, please.” Hiromi’s voice kept Calvin grounded as he watched the man with the tiger tattoo gesturing to the older goateed man. The way the tattooed man’s hand swayed, it seemed like a sales pitch delivered in hand motions and hushed tones. Fahran was asking about chicken now. Calvin’s attention slipped away to the details from the briefing dossier once more floating up from somewhere behind his right ear. He needed a plan. Calvin’s jaw clenched again. Almost a month in a van, and the second I’m off the clock, Lewis just shows up? That Tiger-obsessed punk! Is he trying to lure out the team? Calvin adjusted his jacket, felt the weight of his useless phone swing gently as he prepared to check back in on his own table. No, if he had names and faces, they’d have made me by now.


“Will that be everything?” Fahran's voice jammed Calvin’s thoughts. “Sir?”


“Ah, Food! Rrrrrright.” Calvin rolled out the sound as his brain popped the clutch and jammed back into gear. “Could I get an order of the Saag Paneer with a side of buttermilk and an order of Wheat Roti, please?”


“Saag Paneer, Wheat Roti and Buttermilk.” Fahran repeated, glancing up at Calvin and asking for confirmation with his eyebrow as he finished writing. Calvin nodded with an assuring grunt.

“Excellent choice, a favorite of my Grandfather.” Fahran mused before turning to Hiromi. “Will there be anything else?”


The couple shared a glance and a couple of head shakes before Hiromi spoke.

“No, I think that’ll be all. Thank you so much!” she said. Calvin nodded his agreement, releasing the tension in his face. Fahran bowed slightly, turned back to the kitchen and walked towards it. Hiromi’s gaze followed Calvin’s fingertip as it rubbed a tight circle over his right temple, trying to sweep away his thoughts. One echoed stubbornly. Assume to be armed and dangerous at all times. Do not engage alone. Signed, Dep. H. Nakamura. He cleared his throat.


“So… story time?” Calvin asked as he brought out a smile and set his hands on the table. “Are you a hobby historian too?”

Hiromi mirrored him, folding her hands in front of her.  When her palms touched down, her eyes rolled up and left, her smile giving way to a deep breath.

Calvin lifted an eyebrow.


She spoke, once more meeting his gaze. “Oh yes. Nothing as impressive as being an encyclopedia Americana at seven, but between high school and college, I used to get routinely dismissed from class for being too long winded in history or philosophy presentations.”

Calvin’s eyes grew round. “You got thrown out for working too hard?” Hiromi nodded and sipped her Lassi before replying. “Yes I did… no less than twelve times in six years.” A sarcastic smirk crossed her brow before dropping into her voice. “Didn’t everyone?”


Her date shook his head. “I got tossed out once when I wrote a 15 page smart-alec report on how ‘A Christmas Carol’ is secretly about the European opium epidemic, but that… that’s not really the same.”  


Hiromi giggled. The sound played musically in Calvin’s ears before being cut short by a sneeze. He leaned forward as she blinked rapidly, eyes growing slightly wet.

“You okay?” Calvin asked. Hiromi stifled another cough, nodded and took a sip of water before replying.


“I’m fine, I think my allergy meds have worn off.” She dabbed a tear from the corner of her eye and picked up her purse. “Either that or someone in here has a cat. I hope you don’t mind, I need to go take care of this, get some eye drops in.” Hiromi stood and stepped off to the left. “Of course!” Calvin raised his palms. “I’ll be here.”

“I sure hope so!” Hiromi gave a half smile as her eye winked several times mostly to clear whatever particulate had brought on her distress, but somehow with a flirtatious hint.  Calvin’s heartbeat quickened as she vanished into the restroom; something about the way Hiromi’s eyelashes shuttered over deep hazel irises sent an electric tingle up his spine.

Allergies really shouldn’t be that… cute.


“Happy Birthday to you, Happy Birthday to you!”

Calvin’s head whipped right to look at the kitchen staff gathered around the table of the family next to the kitchen’s entrance. They sang in unison, joined by most of the wait staff. Lewis and his crew were likewise fixated on the festivity, frozen in the tense and startled moment. A piece of paper, folded in half was held aloft by the goateed man frozen in time by the suddenness of the song. They’re wrapping up. The song carried on, each word reaching Calvin’s ears with an increasing sense of urgency. Calvin reached into his coat pocket and absently rubbed the corner of his phone. How long would it take to put eye drops in? He tossed a furtive glance at the closed restroom door. The help he needed was a text away. Could he get it sent fast enough?


The kitchen door swung open. Fahran approached, smiling back over his shoulder at beaming little girl at the center of the crowd as the staff launched into a jovial second verse. The waiter turned back to Calvin as he reached the table.


“Here you are, Sir.” Fahran said. Calvin’s hand released a fist he hadn’t realized had formed and pulled away from his phone. He sat up a bit straighter to keep out of the waiter’s way. So much for protocol. Fahran set about arranging the fragrant dishes around the table, buttermilk and a basket of roti set at center.

 

“Thanks, Fah-ran.” Calvin stumbled over the name as he caught a glimpse of the young man’s wrists. Specifically the mismatched cufflinks; one plain brass square with a red enamel inlay on his right, the left adorned by a dual ‘A’ parachute emblem.

Calvin’s eyes rocketed up to Fahran’s, a thread of urgency pulling his voice low and sharp.


“82nd Airborne.  Who served, son? What’s their specialty?”

Fahran blinked and stammered his reply.

“M-my cousin, sir. Paratrooper medic. Why?”


“Because I need to trust you, and I need you to trust me.” Calvin stared down the stunned young man.  “Relax. Stay casual, Fahran. Don’t be scared.” Fahran swallowed nervously and nodded once as Calvin tugged his suit coat aside to reveal the shield-and-eagle badge clipped to his belt.


“Special Agent Calvin Laurens, FBI.”

The young man’s eyes bulged in surprise, narrowed in disbelief, relaxed conclusively and set firmly to attention. Fahran busied himself re-arranging the dishes on the table and lowered his tone of voice to match Calvin’s.

“What do you need, sir?”

Calvin refastened his coat and procured a pen and sketchbook from a pocket and began to scribble out a phone number and a few phrases. “There is a very dangerous man here, the perp from my investigation. I need you to call out for backup so I can arrest him safely.”

 

He tore the page from his book and gave it to Fahran. A round of applause rose from the kitchen staff as the singing finished and an ecstatic little girl blew out the candle in her mango ice cream. Fahran looked down at the page.

Calvin continued. “Call the number, it’ll be my boss who answers. Tell him ‘A Little Tiger is here,’ he’ll know what it means. Give him the address here. The next line is my ID code phrase, read it off when they ask for it. They’ll probably come with the local police. Make sure you tell them to keep their sirens off, got it?”


Fahran’s head wobbled side to side in nervous excitement. Calvin raised an eyebrow, trying not to dwell on the stereotype. “Got it, Fahran?”


The restroom door's latch clicked as Hiromi emerged. Fahran looked at her and smiled down at Calvin as he folded the small paper and slipped it into his apron pocket.

“Tiger here, ID code, backup, no sirens. Yes sir, Mr. Calvin.” The waiter wiped away a bead of sweat.

Together the two raised masks of small talk to greet Hiromi as she retook her seat. Her gaze danced between the two smiles.


“Did I miss something, boys? Looks like you made fast friends.” Hiromi said. Fahran looked over at Calvin, who cleared his throat before speaking.

“Ah, Fahran here was just telling me a little more about his grandfather back in, uh…” Calvin trailed off as Fahran picked up the slack.

“Dhudike, sir.”


“Right, Dhudike!” Calvin grinned, turning back to Fahran and tilting his head in apology. “So sorry son, I’m terrible with names.”

Hiromi laughed and patted Fahran’s arm. “Well thank you for keeping him here. I was so busy fumbling with my contact I worried he thought I’d ditched him!” The waiter bowed.


“No trouble at all, Ma’am. I trust you’ll have a pleasant evening. I’ll be back around if you need anything else.” Fahran’s eyes disappeared into his smile as he hurried back to the kitchen. Calvin stole a look over at Lewis the tiger tattooed and company. The four imposing men seemed at ease. Business was over, just four men enjoying a meal.


Hiromi’s voice pulled Calvin back, followed by the rustle of her adjusting her skirt.

“Soooo…” She crooned from a high note down to her speaking register. “Son? Is there something you’re hiding from me?” She asked with a lighthearted smile.

Calvin’s half grin reappeared as he rubbed his forehead with his palm and looked her in the eye.


“Just that I guess I’m about 60 years behind the times.” Calvin chuckled. He looked down to contemplate the meal before them and paused, finding himself at a complete loss for additional words. Instead he tore off a bit of roti, folded it and dipped it into the Saag.

“In any case, everything smells wonderful.” Hiromi commented as she lifted her spoon tucked into her meal. “Good thing too, I’m famished.”


Calvin smiled, nodded in agreement with a brief “Mhm!” and took his first bite. Though richly aromatic and perfectly seasoned, the roti-wrapped morsel didn’t even register on his tongue. He chewed it mechanically, swallowed it. Prepared another bite. A long moment passed as the couple ate in silence.


Calvin lifted his eyes to look at Hiromi. Her attention was off to the side, taking in the mural artwork along the wall near the kitchen door. Her eyes were focused, her lips pushed out ever so slightly in thought. A hint of warmth started to emerge as his gaze traced the profile of her cheeks, but tore away when Lewis the arms dealer stretched, bringing that tiny tiger back into view just behind Hiromi’s shoulder.  Calvin’s eyes narrowed. The way the tiger tattoo flexed with Lewis’ neck felt menacing, like the beast was on guard even as the man it sat upon raised a glass to… something. Calvin darted his eyes around to the few other patrons of the restaurant, counted potential collateral. Should he start finding an excuse to clear out the building?


Hey, aren’t you on a date?

Calvin nodded to himself even as he checked the door to verify a clear exit route.

Say something.

Calvin scrambled to find a thought worth presenting as he forced his attention back where it belonged. Maybe ask about her dogs’ names? I mean Ed I get, but Spike? Maybe it’s-


“What do you think about tigers?”

Hiromi was still staring over at the wall as she asked her question. Calvin blanched at the subject and the suddenness.

“What? Tigers?” He asked.

Hiromi’s eyes met his. “Yup, Tigers! Do you like them?”


“Uh… nope, not a fan.” The words came out a half-octave too high, slightly choked. He cleared his throat, tried to relax his tone. “Are you?”


Hiromi shook her head. Her gaze dropped as she looked back over at the wall, and her face grew dark and almost somber. Maybe it was just the way her hair had shifted; one lock was casting a long shadow over her eyes.

“Not lately.” She flipped the rogue hair back into place, brightening back up with a wink and pointing  toward the mural. “Though they can have their moments.”


Calvin’s brow raised and he looked where she’d pointed. In the midst of the elaborately painted scenes of Indian mythology and tucked below a portrait of the monkey king Hanuman was a roughly rendered tiger cub sporting an ear-to-ear, toothy grin of childish wonder in what was otherwise a field of serenity. Something about it broke his air of macabre as Calvin let out an unintended “Awwwwwwwww.”


Hiromi snickered, hinting mischief.

“You know, there’s a signature down there, too.”


Calvin squinted, but it wasn’t hard to find. A large orange ‘F’ preceded a bit of jumbled lettering with a distinct ‘h’ in the middle and either an ‘m’ or ‘n’ finishing it off.

“You’re kidding.” Calvin said. A smile did its best to sneak over his lips.


“I’ll bet it’s a family-owned restaurant.” Hiromi said. “We should ask him about it next time he comes around. Maybe his parents or siblings are working the kitchen!” She began to munch another bite behind a tiny smirk.


The kitchen.

Calvin felt his eyes drawn to the kitchen door and knew that his demeanor was slipping. How many more people are back there?


“That’s a good idea! I definitely saw some resemblance when the staff came out to sing.” Calvin replied. He’d counted four people, excepting Fahran, singing earlier. Enough to keep even a small operation like this running smoothly. Seemed like a safe estimate.

The door swung wide, the waitress from Lewis’ table stepped out carrying a tray of desserts. She didn’t bear much resemblance to Fahran; not with those green eyes and the shock of red hair pulled up into a loose bun.


Hiromi swallowed. Calvin’s internal joke slipped out. “Of course, I might just be profiling.” Hiromi said nothing, just looked away for a moment as if lost in thought. Over her shoulder Calvin watched Lewis’ waitress set down the tray and take a piece of paper from the Goateed man. It didn’t look like the check or a receipt, and suddenly that waitress seemed very out of place.


He took a sip of his drink. By his estimate, they had less than five minutes before the fourth date secret reared its ugly head. Now… where do I go from here?


His nose itched. He scratched it. Across the small table Hiromi’s lips parted. Her thumb brushed over her ear as if combing a hiding spot for words. Finding none, the thumb proceeded to press to her lips as they pursed back together. Calvin’s eyes flicked to the right, following the joyous, birthday-celebrating family as they exited, chattering amongst themselves in politely hushed voices. With a near imperceptible sigh of relief Calvin brought his eyes back to center. They came to rest on the hesitant look behind Hiromi’s thumb. He swallowed.  Tried again to sell his excitement. She didn’t buy it.


“Calvin, what’s going on?” She posed the question simply. He blinked.


“What do you mean?” He asked, dead man’s courage lifting a half smile with the wrong side of his mouth.

Hiromi’s chest rose as breath rushed into her. Her hand fell away from her pursed lips as her eyes closed. When they reopened, a spark of displeasure glowed in her irises.  Calvin’s heart sank low and began to pound.


“You’ve been on edge all night. Glancing around, sizing up the other customers. You’ve barely even looked at me, and I know you try to meet peoples' eyes during conversations. It’s like you’re in another world.” Calvin opened his mouth and grasped for words. She didn’t give an opening to find them. “I need you to be straight with me, Calvin. What’s wrong?”


“I’m just having a very, very off day.” He said, trying to force the sincerity in his smile to override the growing panic within. Hiromi reached across the table and set her fingertips on Calvin’s. As soon as they made contact, his hand tensed into a tight fist capped with a boxer’s thumb. He didn’t look down, keeping his gaze fixed on her face, brutally aware his jaw had set and locked again.


“See that?” She said tersely. “What has you wound so tight that you can’t even be touched? That takes more than an ‘off’ day.”

With conscious effort Calvin released his gritted teeth and forced his hand to open and turn over under her palm. His cheeks twitched as he tried to loosen his stern brow. It didn’t budge.


“It’s a work thing. I’m trying not to think about it, but it’s really eating at me.” Calvin stated in an even, measured voice, eyes unwaveringly set on Hiromi’s face. The ember of anger in her eyes seemed to have burned out. She sighed.

“I know how it is, my work’s demanding too.” Vibrato filled her voice, the flurry of emotion subsiding as she relaxed. “But you’ve kind of been scaring me.”


Calvin wrapped his fingers around Hiromi’s palm and squeezed momentarily.

“I’m sorry.” He said. A distant police siren wailed, followed immediately by another. The gentle squeeze became tight. One. Simple. Instruction. You’re killing me, guys! Calvin let go of her hand altogether and shot a glance at the door, gulping in a breath he’d been putting off for a few seconds. His reaction wasn’t unnoticed.


“Wait, are you in some kind of trouble?” Hiromi’s voice dropped to a whisper, her expression tightening to suspicious concern.

Calvin grimaced, checking the four men in the booth ahead. They all stared intently at the door, listening to the siren sing out again. His voice rumbled low as he shifted in his seat.


“No, not exactly, but I really think I should get you home.” Calvin stood up, offering his hand again. Hiromi ignored it as she rose to her feet.

“Maybe we can reschedule after you get this work… thing resolved?” Hiromi asked, raising a small smile under eyes which still held onto concern. The waver in her voice made Calvin wonder if she was just being polite.


“I’d love that. More than anything, but for right now do you mind if I get you a taxi? I’m afraid I’m going to need to stay here.”

Hiromi’s eyes narrowed with curiosity and a question rose to her lips. One she didn’t get to ask thanks to the reappearance of Fahran beside their table.


“Mr. Calvin?” The young man said with a wholly unconvincing smile. Calvin glanced at Hiromi before replying.

“Yes?”

Fahran stumbled through his thoughts. “There was… um, a call for you. A friend of yours? They wanted me to tell you ‘Eenie-meenie-minie moe.’ I think it was a joke, but he said you’d know what he meant.”


Calvin nodded and pushed his cheeks up into an overambitious grin.

“Yeah, I know what he means. Thanks for letting me know!” Fahran relaxed.

“We’re just finishing up. Could you bring the check please? I need to step out for just a moment, get Miss Hiromi here a cab. I’ll take care of it when I come back for these.”

Calvin pulled out his keys and set them on the table. The waiter bowed slightly and started to turn away. Calvin caught his arm and stared Fahran dead in the eye.


“Take your time, it might be a minute.” He said. Back to Hiromi, Calvin continued to mouth words at the young man even after his voice had stopped.

Stay in the kitchen. Don’t let anyone through the front.

Calvin let go of Fahran’s arm. The waiter nodded. “Of course, sir. I’ll just place it under your keys.”


The police siren wailed again, closer but still echoing through the city streets.  Hiromi pulled the strap of her purse over her shoulder, now very clearly displeased. Calvin put on a smile.

“Shall we go?” he asked.

She shook her head. “No. I’ll go. I think I’ve got a handle on what’s happening here.”


Calvin’s brow knit inquisitively. “You do?”

Hiromi’s head tilted aside and she spoke in a low, hushed almost-whisper. “You’re ICE, right? Immigration and customs, sizing this place up for a raid?”

“Uhhhh….”

“The signs are all here. Choosing this place out of the blue, constantly looking around, asking about the waiter’s family, waiting for other patrons to leave. Trying to keep an eye on the staff, little codewords. It all fits.”

“No, that’s not it,” Calvin started, even as he reached out to take her hand. “Let’s go outside, I can explain-“


“Don’t.” Hiromi raised both of her hands, pulling away and closing her eyes. When they reopened, frustration clouded her bright visage.

“I’ll call you later, we can talk about it then.” She said. “Right now, whatever’s going on here, I don’t want to know about it, okay?” She rolled her next words around in her cheek before letting them out. “I just hope you know Fahran’s wearing an 82nd Airborne cufflink. I doubt he’s here under the radar.”


Again the shrill whine of the siren filled Calvin with anxious despair. Not enough time to set things straight anyway.

“Okay.” He said with a resigned sigh. “We’ll talk later.”

Calvin felt his panic settle, the weight of social expectation stepping back along with Hiromi. He nodded.  Tried to center himself, refocus on the task at hand. Hiromi picked up her jacket and was folding it over her arm when a loud voice intruded.


“Aaand strikeout! Looks like Lover-boy’s out, huh? Too bad!” Anderson Lewis stood facing Calvin, the little tiger out of view for the first time all evening. His arrogant grin sat between arms outstretched in the posture of a man used to getting his way. Hiromi clenched a fist, eyes closed as she tried to contain herself.  Lewis wasn’t done.

“The boys and I were just about to head out for Karaoke. Want to come with? Seems like your kind of fun”

“Excuse me?” Hiromi whipped way from Calvin to face the heckler. Her eyes locked, but not with his.

Hiromi stood frozen, staring at the arms dealer. The man’s cocksure expression distorted into disbelief as Calvin looked on in bewilderment.


He knows her face.

Calvin saw the pistols first, four of them drawn from pockets and waistbands as Lewis’ eyes narrowed. Hiromi’s fingertips reached the clasp of her purse. Calvin’s foot left the floor. Hiromi’s voice rang out, pained tremors of emotion replaced with fierce, commanding power. His foot set down again. Pivoted sharply.

“FE-“ Hiromi’s syllable cut short as Calvin’s shoulder hit hers. His arms clamped tight around her. Bullets drummed a staccato beat on his back, followed by the cracking sound of the gunfire and the subdued thudding of missed shots punching through the far wall. The couple hit the floor sideways. Calvin’s head bounced an inch off the tile; his arms released. His world turned red from the searing pain in his left shoulder before fading out to black.


Hiromi felt him go limp and heavy, rolling almost on top of her. Her head span and the distant siren became piercing. Her face was buried in Calvin’s shoulder; she could feel the stiff kevlar of body armor through his thin suitcoat. Questions raced through her mind as she wiggled her body under Calvin’s limp arm, checking herself for injuries. She couldn’t tell if he was breathing, but the butt of a handgun was sitting on her rib, slung from the holster peeking out of his jacket. She drew the weapon, slipped her hips away from Calvin and created a little space by pulling her core back level to her hips.


“Fed’s must’ve gotten a look at my plates. Time to go.”

Hiromi could hear the heckler’s voice again. That was Anderson ‘Little Tiger’ Lewis, the arms dealer. How was he here? Why?  Didn’t matter: Stop the threat, get help. That took priority. Raising her head a couple inches, she could see the two bodyguards stepped toward the door as the buyer hurried to gather their documents. Lewis grabbed his ledger and had just begun to tuck it into his pocket. Hiromi bit her lip. He’d be the best disruption. She stood up and flicked the safety off of the firearm in her hand in a fluid motion. Training finally started to kick in: level barrel square to the body. Bring the sight lines up to eye level and put the target between the rear posts, the front sight covering center mass. Extend to firing position from the shoulder, not the elbow.

Exhale. Squeeze; don’t pull. Lewis wasn’t looking when fire tore through his right hip. He keeled over sideways, catching himself on the table and turning back toward the gunshot’s sound. Hiromi kept her finger on the trigger, Lewis framed in the sights of what Hiromi could now recognize as a smoking Jericho 941. Nothing was making sense, and all semblance of normalcy had vanished.


Hiromi roared.


“FEDERAL MARSHAL! Anderson Lewis, I’m serving a warrant for your arrest!”

Hiromi’s face was drawn in an authoritative scowl, fire raging in her eyes. Lewis didn’t speak. Didn’t have to, bullet impacts from three other pistols chased the woman as she dove behind the cover of a low wall next to the door. A large wooden pillar at the end of the wall nearest the room’s center made a frame on which were perched a few plants and an elephant statue. Decorative tile exploded as the bodyguards poured fire into Hiromi’s cover. Lewis yanked his pistol from his belt and thrust it out toward the battered wall as he struggled to stand.


Hiromi slid into the corner, kipping from her elbows and stomach up onto one knee behind the low wall. Behind her shattered glass and wooden splinters rained down on Calvin. He didn’t move. A heavy thud of wood on tile clued her in to Lewis’ men overturning their table, an impromptu barricade. The sharp tattoo of bullets hitting the other side of the wall subsided, Lewis and his goons scrambling and grunting incoherently. Two more thuds marked the creation of a little fort. She stole a glance at Calvin and regretted it.

Blood streamed out of the crumpled man from high on his left shoulder, a darkness spreading through his suit coat and glossing a small patch of the floor a bright crimson. She hoped that meant a heartbeat, but an overwhelming nausea whipped the question out of her mind. It wouldn’t matter if another stray round caught him in the wrong place.


She released the magazine catch, counted the rounds. Fourteen, plus one in the chamber. She rammed the magazine home. The Jericho’s heft felt was a hair lighter than her service Glock, but the balance point sat further forward and there’d been a longer trigger draw. No wonder she’d hit low.

Hiromi raised the pistol over her head and fired twice over the short wall, blindly aiming for the uninhabited corner nearest the door. Another volley of fire soared overhead as Hiromi shouted

“Throw down your weapons! You’re all under arrest!”

She pushed forward to the end of the short wall and looked out at the two musclemen looming over their upturned tables. Neither Lewis nor his Goateed accomplice were visible. Of course they’d be hidden away as hired guns did the dirty work.

Hiromi took aim and put a hole through one of the thugs’ shoulder. Still a little off, she’d hit the wrong arm. Still, the man howled. Hiromi pulled turtlelike back into safety as a few more shots ricocheted off the floor just past where her head had been.


A moment of quiet, the sirens drew nearer. How far out? Assuming someone nearby reported the sound of shots, two, three minutes? Hiromi wiped her forehead. An eternity. A footstep grabbed her ear. She raised her head, just between the walls end pillar and a miraculously unharmed potted fern. She saw the injured thug standing beside the table, gun outstretched and tracing a line back and forth across the corner of her cover wall and the exit.

“I think we got her.” He grumbled. Muffled shrieks emanated from the kitchen, a woman’s voice shouting. From the table, more shuffling and a grunt of pain. Hiromi sprang up and zeroed in on the standing figures. Lewis was held by his shoulders between the goateed man and the uninjured thug.


“STAND DOWN OR I WILL SHOOT!” Hiromi yelled. The injured man whipped his pistol back to her. She squeezed the trigger rapidly, spent casings arcing through the air as the injured goon took three more rounds to his lower abdomen and dropped out of sight. The next two rounds sailed high of their mark. The three men vanished behind the table before the next peppering of munitions sailed blindly into the far wall.


A pounding sound to the right; Hiromi snapped her head toward the sound to catch the second door to the kitchen bursting open to reveal a waitress armed with some sort of submachine gun. The two women leveled their barrels and opened fire. Hiromi flattened on the ground and emptied her magazine. The air filled with gunshots and plaster. The waitress keeled back, bullets riddling the ceiling as she cried out and fell against the wall.


Hiromi retook her knee, glancing down at the Jericho in her trembling hands. It had jammed, a spent casing held the slide open. She coughed, sucked air in desperately to fight back the blackness creeping into the edges of her vision. Pulled back the slide, allowing one last live round to pop the spent casing loose and slip into the firing chamber. Hiromi cursed under her breath and looked over at the waitress across the room, whose weapon was discarded, out of reach, and presumably empty. The woman’s pained whimpers couldn’t make it through the ringing in Hiromi’s ears, but the heaves in the woman’s chest got the point across. Hiromi squinted at the waitress’s hands; they were pressed on heavily bleeding leg wound. Their eyes met. Hiromi waggled her gun toward the wall beside her. The woman looked over and snatched a towel hanging from the service station. Voices started to mumble from behind the overturned table. Hiromi pantomimed tying the towel as a bandage as the waitress followed along, their conversation held between frantic nods, waving hands and blinking eyes.


On the floor between, Calvin coughed.

The universe swirled into existence around him, slowed to a manageable pace by the smell of gunpowder, stewed chicken and the cool tile under his shoulder. Through his own deafening heartbeat, voices rose behind him.


“She’s gotta be out. Jericho holds what, 15? 16 shots?”

“I don’t know, I never touch that Isreali shit!”

“Siren’s getting closer. We gotta get out of here.”

“Rick, go on, finish her off so we can move. If Lucy’s still alive, grab her and get to the van!”


Calvin blinked. A lot had happened since he’d hit the ground. Hiromi wasn’t next to him. He hoped that was a good sign. A smooth, sturdy object was supporting his left knee. He glanced down to see Hiromi’s leather purse unclasped and peeking out from under his leg. His left arm wouldn’t move, there was a dull aching in his left shoulder and the entire limb felt very, very cold. His right side seemed fine except for a little burning above his hip.


Hostiles are still in play. Calvin went for his holster and found it empty.  Spare magazine was still in place. He tugged it out and swept his eyes over the floor, hunting for the fallen pistol. Up? Sideways? Hiromi knelt, not ten feet away, in whatever direction was in line with his eyebrows, clutching his Jericho. The shattered tile and littered casings beside her clued him in.

Gutsy! He blinked disbelief from his eyes and found a smile in his wince as he took in the complete focus on her face. The familiarity of a name clicked into place. H. Nakamura. There was shuffling behind him now, the sound of people getting ready to stand. The scrape of a magazine dropping. No time to enjoy the unraveled mysteries of the evening; that was the clack of fresh ammo being rammed home. He tossed the full magazine from his hand past his head, careful to flick it from the wrist. The unseen enemy’s slide pushed forward with a click.


Hiromi’s breathing had just started to steady when the magazine skittered across the tile to bump her foot. Quizzically she looked over at the waitress now pressing a wine cooler to her bandaged leg. Movement caught Hiromi’s eye below her line of focus. Calvin’s hand was snaking down toward her open purse, caught under his leg. Her heart leapt, only to settle back as heavy footfalls reminded her they weren’t out of the woods. She dropped the empty magazine into her palm and silently laid it on her skirt before loading in Calvin’s little gift.

The tromp of boots drew closer. She tracked it in her mind. Ten meters… nine… eight…


From his position on the floor Calvin likewise ticked away distance in his head.

Seven yards. His fingers fished in the purse till they wrapped around the handle of a compact semiautomatic pistol. Very Compact. Smooth construction. He wasn’t quite sure, but it felt like the safety was above his thumb.

Six yards. He flicked the lever he assumed was the safety down to what he hoped was the firing position.

Five. An imperceptible click as he cocked the hammer.

Four. The man paused. Calvin held his breath. The footsteps resumed.

Three. Hiromi inhaled deep and slow, standing up beside the pillar and angling her weapon down from her shoulder to tuck it next to her ribs.

Two. The couple’s fingers dropped from slides to triggers.

One yard. The unseen foe stepped wide round the pillar, bringing his weapon out to readiness. A grunting blur of motion at his feet accompanied rustle of fabric and a prod in a very sensitive area.

Zero. Calvin victoriously smirked up at the shocked and shaven man from beneath the Sig Saur P232 he held to the man’s groin.


“Hey.” Calvin said through gritted teeth as the pain of moving his left shoulder began to set in.

The man’s lip curled in fury. His finger remained on the trigger and he lowered his weapon to bear directly down on Calvin’s head.

“Not a fatal shot, pal.” The thug snarled. Calvin raised an eyebrow.

“Are you sure?” Hiromi’s voice had softened, yet held a lethal edge. She extended her arms to squarely aim the Jericho at the base of the man’s neck, just out of arms reach. She continued. “Set the gun down and slide it to me. Then take two steps back and lay flat on your stomach.”

The man shot death glares but complied. Calvin kept the Sig trained on him as the surrendered weapon slid to Hiromi’s foot. Calvin checked the glass entry door and wondered when the sirens had stopped. SWAT should be swarming the place now that police vehicle lights were very clearly coming from somewhere on the street outside. “Now spread your arms and cross your legs. Turn your palms up.” Hiromi commanded as she secured both pistols in her waistband and knelt behind Calvin to pop the handcuffs from his belt carrier. She allowed herself a small smile as she caught a glimpse of his badge.

“FBI, huh? I owe you an apology.”

Calvin didn’t respond, just turned his weapon toward the kitchen door as Hiromi stepped over him and twisted the prone man’s fingertips up into a painful wrist-lock to cuff him.

“Any nasty surprises for me?” She asked, patting down the man’s waistband and ratcheting the second cuff closed. The man grunted no.


Calvin saw the kitchen door crack open and blasted three holes through the table in front of it. A man yelped. “ENOUGH, ENOUGH ALREADY!” Two handguns flew over the table, clattering to the ground. One discharged a round through the glass of the restaurant’s street facing window.


Hiromi stood up and away from the cuffed man, drawing both weapons from her skirt and training them on the Lewis and his Goateed associate. A team of men in full black tactical carriers burst through the door, streaming in and fanning around Hiromi and Calvin.  Satisfied that the carnage had subsided, a chorus of “Clear!” went through the ranks of black clad men. The Sergeant leading the charge disarmed Hiromi. “Thank you ma’am, we’ll take it from here.”

Three more men set about zip tying the wrists of the other criminals. The remaining two pushed on into the kitchen and confirmed the danger had subsided.


Calvin groaned, laying his head and Hiromi’s gun back on the tile. “What… in THE HELL took you guys so long?” He grumbled. The sergeant knelt beside Calvin, tugging the balaclava from his face. “We were waiting for your go ahead, Sir. You okay?” Calvin’s eyes tightened as he dropped the gun and gripped the Sergeant’s collar. “I had to have a KID call in and you waited for ME to give the go ahead?” He hissed. “Are you an idiot, Stevens?”


Hiromi batted away the hand of one of the other SWAT members. “Hey!” She said, pulling back from his cuffs. “What do you think you’re doing?”

Calvin raised his head.


“Stevens, have your man stand down.” Sgt. Stevens nodded, turning back and waving off the offending officer.

The man stepped back, but sallied forth a question. “Sir, the civilian was armed. Shouldn’t we be taking her in for questioning?”


Hiromi turned to the man and glared at him. “I’m not a civilian! I’m with the Marshals service. My credentials are in my purse. Calvin, do you mind?”

Calvin hurled Hiromi’s purse at the officer, who caught it and stood uncertain what to do as Hiromi plunged her hand into the front pocket and retrieved a leather carrier. She flipped open the wallet to show him her ID and the Silver Circle-Star-and-Eagle badge of a Deputy Marshal.


“United States Deputy Marshal H-“

“Hiromi Nakamura.” Calvin chimed in. “Leader of the US Marshals Special Operations Group Virginia. Assigned to the capture of Anderson Lewis and all his known associates pursuant to joint operation Tiger Tail.” His eyes closed in a grimace. “Personally led the raid on the Roosevelt Private Airstrip three weeks ago, during which she received a shallow bullet wound to her right thigh and had her medic hospitalized for critical injuries.” Hiromi’s hand wrapped over her leg, pressing the skirt firmly on the hidden bandage. Her lips parted. Calvin wasn’t finished.


“I’m hurt, so as of now, Deputy Nakamura is Incident Commander. You will address her as ‘Sir,” ‘Ma’am’ or ‘Deputy.’ Is that understood, officer?” The overwhelmed officer nodded and choked out a “Yessir!”

Calvin winced and mumbled “Good, ‘cause I’ve got a headache like none other.” His breath hissed away as once more he sank into unconsciousness. The last thought to enter his mind was the sight of a foreign inscription running down the grip of Hiromi’s little Sig.


 


He awoke disoriented and seemingly bumping and bouncing in a well-lit space. Blurred figures slowly came into focus as Calvin became aware of a tingly, warm sensation circulating his body. Two figures loomed above. One was a paramedic; the other pushed flowing locks out of her face. He smiled, or thought he did at least.


“Hey.” Hiromi’s voice soothed the ringing in his ears.

“Mornin’.” Calvin murmured. He tried to blink away the grogginess and sit up. He slid his right elbow back to prop himself up, but his left arm was unresponsive. The clasp of a strap around his ribs clicked tight and another source of pressure pushed firmly on his upper chest.

“Don’t- don’t try to move.” Hiromi’s face came into focus, flushed slightly pink and deeply shadowed with exhaustion. His view followed her arm as it led down past his chin to her hand pressing on his chest.

His very bare chest, Calvin observed. Muscles he’d never been confident exposing outside of locker rooms were on full display as they strained against the straps of a gurney. A hot wave of abashed self-consciousness rushed through when he zipped his gaze up to Hiromi’s eyes and found them no longer positioned to meet his. Her lips pursed slightly with an intake of breath before the gentle pressure on his sternum coaxed Calvin to lie back on the pillow.

He took the opportunity to further survey his position. A large bandage was taped to his lower right abdomen. The pleasant tingling lazily flowing through his veins seemed to be coming from a small IV drip-feeding into his right forearm. At the foot of the gurney he could see the shredded remains of his suit stuffed into a bag, above which the distorted reflection of his surroundings shone in two small windows. Ambulance. That explains a lot. Calvin mused. Hiromi was holding his left hand. Calvin could see that, but unlike the smooth and slender fingers patting his sternum, he couldn’t feel it.


“Whasswrong with my arm?” Calvin asked, struggling not to slur through the anesthetic. His brow tightened in concern. Hiromi looked over at the paramedic, who lifted Calvin’s bloodstained ballistic vest into view. The Kevlar puffed in several places along the back where the vest had intercepted bullets. Calvin counted five, plus one in the upper left and another in the lower right where clean holes had been punched through the material.


“If I had to take a wild guess, I’d say you got yourself shot, chief.” The paramedic drawled, reminiscent of John Wayne.


“Don’t worry, we’re taking you straight to the operating room. You’re not gonna die, but I wouldn’t count on using that arm anytime soon.” The paramedic patted Calvin’s foot, dropped the vest and slid past the gurney. As he passed Hiromi, the medic gave her a wink and advised her to “Take a picture… it’ll last longer.”  


Hiromi’s cheeks burned scarlet and her hand retracted from Calvin’s chest at high velocity. The medic chuckled as he slid into the passenger’s seat of the cab. Calvin couldn’t help but notice how Hiromi tucked her hand into her lap as a tight fist, one completely unsuitable for fighting. Memories of the last hours started to trickle in. He tried to close his fingers around hers. They obliged only slightly.


“Um… are you living up to your namesake, Agent Laurens?” Hiromi queried. She leaned over him, face angelically eclipsing the ceiling light.

Calvin blinked rapidly for a moment, just taking in the calming sight of her tension melting away. “Nah…” He grunted. “Not dead yet.”  He said. The more he worked it, the less his tongue felt disconnected from him. “Sorry I left you to clean up the mess.”


She shrugged and sat back on the bench seat. “Seemed like you needed the rest. All four of the perps are alive, only one’s in critical condition. Civilians are all fine except Fahran, who got a nasty bruise from our friend the waitress.” Calvin’s face scrunched as he struggled to recall. Hiromi flicked her finger forward. “Right, you missed that part.”


Her eyes flicked to the rear window of the ambulance. “Everyone needs treatment though. We’ve got a little caravan going behind us.” She stared off for a few seconds before offering her next question.

“How do you know about me?”


Calvin raised his right shoulder in a lopsided shrug and took a deep breath. “I read your report. Been sitting on Lewis’ safe house since the raid.” He said. Hiromi’s stare dropped down to him, brow line taut.  He glanced over at her. “Don’t worry, I didn’t make the connection till you took my gun. Not a stalker or anything.”


Hiromi nodded slowly. “So you’re with the surveillance team. They didn’t give us names.” She stated, her concern dissipated just enough to allow a glimmer of embarrassed mirth to warm her cheeks. “Sorry I called you ICE.”


Calvin groaned as the ambulance jostled over a rough patch of road and made a turn. “Aaah, I was gonna correct you, but I didn’t want to ruin a fourth date secret.”

Hiromi’s left cheek pulled back in a sardonic grin and she let her eyes roll. “What, you don’t count gunplay as a twofer?” She asked, sitting back on the bench and turning her head away in a dramatic huff. “Jerk!” She dropped the act as quickly as it had been raised.


“Besides,” Calvin reopened, shaking off his bemused smirk to consider more serious things. “I get the impression you’re not a fan of our customs enforcement brethren.”

Hiromi cocked her head aside dismissively. Calvin hesitated, wondering if his next thought was worth pursuing. He found he couldn’t resist.

“The inscription on your weapon. It’s ‘Aku Soku Zan,’ right? ‘Swift death to evil?’”

Hiromi covered her eyes with her free hand and grimaced. “You noticed that?” She asked.

Calvin bit his lip and nodded before sallying into the unknown. “Some might think that’s a bit of a radical statement.”


A flat smile peeked out from the shadow of Hiromi’s palm. Her hand pushed upwards, smoothing out her bangs. Calvin looked up at her, anxiously awaiting a response.

Hiromi took a deep breath and let her reply wander out through a long dry sigh.

“Yes. I didn’t really think about appearances when I had the engraving done. It gave me a reputation as being kind of an extremist… it followed me from highway patrol to FLET-C.” She pulled the left of her lower lip under her teeth and let it slide back out before continuing.

 

“Half of my training class through FLET-C was going into ICE. You know how it is, rumors tend to get out and spread like wildfire… The others weren’t too keen on ‘Little Miss Japan’ and her ‘mantra of murder.’” Hiromi blinked, old frustrations in her eyes. “They weren’t at all afraid to tell me what they thought of me around the dorms. Or on the sparring mats.” Her hand squeezed her knee at the recollection. “The whole thing left a bit of a bad taste in my mouth.” Calvin let his head roll back to the center of the gurney and stared up at the ceiling.


“Wow, that’s… rough. And personal.” He said. That came out wrong. He cleared his throat and refocused on her face. “What’s the real story then? Why Aku-Soku-Zan?”


“It’s for my uncle. Something he always said.” Hiromi’s words came with a gentle squeeze of the hand and a new sincerity in her eyes. “He was always going on about ideals.” Her face drew stern and she deepened her voice to mimic the memory of his accent.

“’Rid yourself of evil! Then you can really make a difference! Help others however you can.’ That sort of thing.” Calvin could have sworn Hiromi’s dark eyes started to sparkle as she went on.  


“When my father’s job brought us to America, my uncle was denied a long-term visa for being in Japan’s army reserves. But we kept in touch. He always ended his letters with that same ‘Swift death to evil!’ As a kid I thought it was the coolest quote of all time. Even more so when we heard he’d become a policeman in Kyoto.” Calvin kept his eyes fast on her, the throbbing in his side held back by intrigue and morphine.

“It was practically scripture to me when I got word he’d been killed on duty.” Hiromi laughed softly to chase the melancholy from her visage.

“Turns out he got it from a comic book.”


Calvin’s question gushed out of him, freed by opiates and riding high on relief.  “Is your uncle’s name Saito?”


Hiromi exhaled with a bemused puff. “You’ve read it too?” she asked. Calvin nodded. “Oh gosh, you’re a nerd, aren’t you!?” She followed up, splitting into a full-cheeked smile. Calvin turned his head to beam over at her. “Are you kidding?” He laughed.

“I spent a day doing paperwork for requisitions so I could carry a Jericho on duty because it’s the gun from-” Hiromi finished the sentence with him. “Cowboy Bebop!”


The ambulance began to slow. The paramedic riding shotgun turned back to check on the couple. “We’re here. I need to get the check-in started, get ready to move.”

Hiromi’s face turned grim. She nodded and set Calvin’s hand back on the gurney as the ambulance’s brakes hissed the vehicle to a complete stop. The paramedics climbed out and shut the cab doors. Calvin shook his head once, trying not to think about the impending surgery.


“Y’know, when you told me about your dogs, I wondered.” He muttered. Hiromi’s smile returned, not nearly as energetic as before.

“Why else would I name a Corgi ‘Spike?’ Hiromi asked as the rear doors of the ambulance swung wide, framing a medical team in front of the hospital and a gorgeously inky, star-filled sky. The paramedics grabbed the end of the gurney and unhooked the tethers.

 

Calvin watched, struggling to keep the anxiety out of his voice. “Hey, Hiromi? Have you got plans for tomorrow? I feel like I owe you a do-over for tonight.”

Hiromi shook her head and answered. “No, just writing the ‘why I shot people’ reports.”


“Yay!” Calvin exclaimed victoriously as the paramedics pulled his gurney halfway out of the vehicle. The first set of wheels dropped to the ground with a clack. Trembling panic now openly filled Calvin’s voice. “My place, anytime after work?  I’ll text you the room number.” Another tug, the metallic snap of the gurneys other wheels.

“Okay, I’ll be there!” Hiromi laughed out as the team started to move.

“Cafeteria Jell-O’s on me!!” Calvin shouted over the clattering of the gurney and the clamor of the medical team discussing their destination as they raced to the hospital doors. “Dress casual, I don’t think they’ll let me wear a tie over one of those goofy gowns!”


Hiromi kept laughing at the sight of the ridiculous man she’d spent an evening with making plans as he was wheeled away.

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