By Steven Gould and Rory Harper
Presented by RevolutionSF
Leaves of a dozen vivid colors swept across the road, eagerly crunching under the tires of the dove-gray Mercedes that Mark piloted through the crisp Massachusetts afternoon.
The patched blacktop meandered through sunlight and gradually deepening shadow, occasional tributaries vanishing into the deep woods on each side. Every half mile or so, the car passed well-kept houses set decorously back from the roadway, semi-hidden behind sugar maple and American elm.
Mark drove with one hand, the other resting casually on Vicki's bare knee. She turned the page of the text on modern sculpture that rested in her lap, then returned her hand to cover his. Her short, square-cut fingernails lightly scratched his wrist.
Mark shivered in pleasure and hoped desperately that she liked the house.
They came to it, not much different from the others, a white brick bungalow with a sweeping driveway connected to the front door by a granite walkway. As he turned off the main road she closed the book and looked around her for the first time in an hour.
"Oh, Mark! This is scrumptious!" She brought his hand to her mouth and absentmindedly took his thumb in her mouth and sucked on it while she surveyed the scene. She nibbled delicately. Mark shivered again.
Water reflected the sun in ivory and saffron through the trees behind the house.
She put his hand back on her knee. "It's on the lake. Wonderful!"
"There's a private pier, even, if we want to get a boat. The season is almost over," he said. "We can get it for an extra week or two if we want."
"It's just perfect. Better than I imagined."
She kissed him on the back of the neck while he was struggling to get the suitcases out of the trunk. She picked up a couple of the smaller pieces and led the way up the sidewalk.
Halfway to the door, she looked away from the woods and scrutinized the house for the first time since they'd entered the private driveway. She crowed with delight and dropped her luggage.
"Oh, this is wonderful!" she cried. She departed from the walkway and streaked toward one of the windows. She forced her way between the bushes that concealed the lower half of the house.
"Burglar bars! Wow!"
Mark smiled fatuously. "Uh-huh. The rental man was real proud of them. Got 'em on every single window. Even the bathroom window."
Vikki grasped one of the wrought-iron bars covering the window and yanked on it. It stayed resolutely in place. She laughed again.
"Look at this!" Mark said. He strode to the front door, put down the luggage, and rapped sharply on the front door. "Solid core front and back doors. Oak."
He held up a keychain with a paper tag hanging from it. He opened the front door, using two keys. "Doorknob lock and stainless steel deadbolt. Both with Wilson Special mechanisms." He looked at Vicki, completely deadpan. "He assured me the house is absolutely burglar-proof."
Vikki managed to master her amusement. "Yes. I imagine it would keep out the most determined felons."
"It certainly would. It's a regular fortress."
They broke out laughing again and entered the summer-house.
A hunter's moon rose over the far side of the lake. Mark and Vikki lounged in wicker chairs on the end of the pier, watching the water ripple erratically on the lake. A boom box behind them played mellow rock. Each held a wineglass. In front of them Mark had set up a small table that now held a half-empty bottle of wine and a tray covered with miscellaneous nibbled-upon snacks. Mark bent forward lazily and cut himself a slice of cheese on the tray. They had napped away the early part of the evening. For the past hour, they had idled silently together in their chairs, listening to the insects and frogs sing of love, watching the vee formations cross the sky as the Canadian mallards began the first stage of their invasion.
Mark smiled as she looked at her watch. Without touching her, he had been able to sense a few minutes ago when her motor began to rev up.
She looked up to see him watching her and grinned. "Two o'clock. It's showtime, pardner!" She jumped up and did a little softshoe. Slowly, Mark stood. She bounced into his arms, pulled his head down into the valley between her breasts.
"Ummm, good," she sighed. His pulse began to accelerate until it thrummed in time with hers. She urged his head upward again until it was placed so that she could nip his earlobe. Then she was gone, racing through the woods to the house.
He gathered up the wine bottle and the snack tray.
As he cleaned up in the kitchen, Vicki called to him from the bedroom. "What do you think we should wear tonight, dear?"
"Oh, something black, I suppose."
When he finished, he joined her. She smiled as she laid their outfits on the bed. He went to the closet, dragged out the most special suitcase, laid it on the bed beside her, and popped the lid.
She reached inside, pulled forth a canvas bundle, and unrolled it on the bed. It held an extensive array of matte black tools, including several sophisticated electronic devices and one very basic-looking pry-bar.
"I hope this one isn't a washout," she said. "Like the last one Frankie lined us up for."
The moon had set now, and the only light in the woods was thrown in front of the car by its twin mercury lamps. "No way. He has it on very good authority."
"He did last time, too."
Mark sighed. When he'd teamed with her a year and a half ago, she had been much less critical. But the new had worn off. It worried him.
"Cowden's last piece went for eighteen thousand at Sotheby's. He kicks out a couple of pieces a month. And Tang dynasty jade turns him on. Frankie says he can handle all the jade we get. Matter of fact, he says he'd like some of Cowden's sculpture, too. We can't miss."
Vikki snuggled up to him and batted her eyes coquettishly.
"Whatever you say, dear. You're the man."
"Oh. Right. I forget sometimes."
She dug her fingernails into his bicep.