Chapter 4: Open House

The Day Before

The first two weeks of settling in went by quickly. The clinic employees were settling into a comfortable routine, and now they were on the eve of the big open house event for the official opening.

“I don’t really do parties,” said Tabby, grimacing as she straightened a stack of magazines in the waiting area.

“It’s not a party, exactly. Just an open house,” Thomas said reassuringly. “The Old Milk House Foundation said they’ll send over some cake and lemonade, maybe a few balloons. It will be fine.”

Tabby stopped and stared. “The what Foundation?” she echoed.

“The Old Milk House Foundation. Haven’t you heard of them?” Thomas looked at her disbelievingly, even though he had certainly never heard of them before their postcards started showing up at his apartment in New Pony. Exciting business opportunities for professionals like YOU! and so forth.

Tabby shook her head, looking extremely skeptical.

“They provide grants for new businesses in under-serviced areas,” he elaborated.

“Yeah, see, I’m pretty sure that’s not a thing,” she said.

“Well, this building and everything in it came from somewhere, whether you believe or not,” Thomas said, gesturing around. But he was slightly uneasy if the locals hadn’t heard of this organization. They had sounded nice over the phone.

“The Old Milk House Foundation… that’s a mouthful!” Tabby was still suspicious. “Maybe they go by their initials–T, O, M, H, F,” she worked out slowly. “Hey, that kind of spells your name.”

“Umm…” He considered it for a moment. “Kind… of.”

“Don’t you think that’s strange?” she pressed.

“I’m sure that’s merely coincidence,” he brushed it off.

“And who are these guys?” Tabby asked, gesturing emphatically at a pair of cloaked humans coming up the sidewalk to the clinic door. One of them held a toolbox.

“Well, speak of the…” Thomas trailed off.

“Hello, we’re with The Old Milk House Foundation,” said the spokesman of the pair, entering the building. “We’re here to do the finishing work on the grout.”

“Oh, of course. Go ahead.” Thomas waved them on. He went out of his way to act casual in front of Tabby as if this wasn’t very sketchy, because it was.

Tabby stared open-mouthed. “Why are you taking mysterious grant money from a cult? And more importantly, why are you letting them work on the grout?”

“They’re very hands-on, is all,” Thomas insisted. “They’re not a cult.”

“Well, what else do you call random humans dressed like that?” Tabby demanded.

“You can’t judge ponies–people–on appearance.”

“I think I can make an exception this time,” she said, brow creased in consternation. “We’re going to end up sacrificed in some arcane ritual, mark my words.”

“You can keep your conspiracy theories to yourself,” he admonished.

The Big Day

Morning came. Thomas heard a commotion outside and looked out the window of his apartment on the second floor of the clinic building. He was surprised to see a cavalcade of carts, wagons, and cloaked humans in a frantic scurry of activity.

He made his way downstairs, where the reception area had been transformed with crepe paper, balloons, and flowers. Many cloaked humans were underfoot, tweaking the placement of items.

“Throw it wherever!” shouted the human in charge, a tall woman with blue hair. “I’m a military strategist, not an interior decorator. All I know is that we need plenty of balloons if we’re going to make a go of this!”

“Ms. Ravenwood?” Thomas asked tentatively, having only spoken to the Foundation representative on the phone, but she had a distinctive accent.

“That’s Cap–” She whipped around and cut herself off. “Oh–it’s you. Yes. Hello, good morning,” she said stiffly.

“It’s very, um, colorful,” Thomas said, looking around.

“Do you really think so?” The woman looked doubtful. “Throwing parties isn’t really my thing. But my superiors said it was up to me to make this a success, so… here we are.”

The door opened and high-pitched chatter was heard. Tabby and Sugarberry had arrived.

“How festive!” trilled Sugarberry. “Thomas, you didn’t say it was going to be this fancy.”

“I heard there would be cake,” said Tabby, getting straight to the point.

“Here you go, my lady,” said one of the cloaked humans, solicitously handing her a plate with a generous helping of what appeared to be a mound of frosting.

“Ooh!” said Tabby, accepting it. “Thanks.”

“There are no appointments today, so we can all focus on visitors,” Thomas reminded the mares. “Tabby, you should be at the door handing out leaflets. Sugarberry can help when she’s not needed at the desk.”

Tabby made an indecipherable sound that boded ill for her cooperation. “Do you have any cake in chocolate?” she asked the cloak.

“I will see to it,” he said with equanimity. He gestured, and an assistant guided Tabby to the cake table in back.

“That’s not necessary,” Thomas protested. “You don’t have to do everything she says.”

“A corner piece! Lots of roses!” Tabby was demanding of the cake table attendant.

“It’s no trouble,” the cloak said.

“Even so, she’s taking advantage–”

“We are here to serve you.” His voice brooked no argument.

“I like the Foundation,” said Tabby, re-joining them with an additional piece of cake.

“What happened to them being a creepy cult?” Thomas asked.

“They have cake!” she said. “So, what will you be doing today?”

“I will be mingling,” he said with an air of authority. “It’s a very important job.”

“Sure, whatever.” She rolled her eyes and wandered off in Sugarberry’s direction.

The ponies of Dream Valley liked a good party, and there was a distinct lack of anything else happening in town, so the open house made no small stir in local society. The crowd grew as word spread that there was free cake and lemonade.

Sugarberry was kept busy at her desk, answering phone calls and printing receipts for purchases from the retail area. Tabby was left to distribute informative leaflets, coupons, and business cards. Thomas mingled, making small talk and charming the townsponies.

Frilly Frocks

An older mare who Tabby recognized from church approached her. “The doctor is so dreamy,” fawned Frilly Frocks. “Is he married?”

“No, of course not,” snapped Tabby, not sure why she was so emphatic when she really knew nothing about his personal life.

“A girlfriend, then? There must be a girlfriend,” Frilly determined, being none-too-subtle in eyeing him up and down from across the room. “Even so, I would throw my hat in the ring if I was ten years younger.” She gave Tabby a conspiratorial nudge.

“Run along,” said Tabby, her voice flat as she dumped another empty cake plate in a nearby trash can. Honestly, you would think there were no other stallions around for miles. But this one had town polish, she supposed, which was a novelty.

But the thought bothered her–DID Thomas have a girlfriend? He had never mentioned one. But he hadn’t said he wasn’t attached. Maybe there was a mare back in New Pony. Maybe she’d be moving here. Maybe–well, it didn’t matter one way or the other. She was merely curious and thinking idle thoughts, Tabby told herself. It wasn’t the kind of personal information she would ordinarily ask out-right… but… customer service and all that.

Tabby approached Thomas. “Do you have a girlfriend? I’m asking for a client,” she quickly clarified, gesturing at Frilly Frocks across the room who smiled and waved back.

Thomas turned to look at her, bemused. “I’m glad you’re taking customer service so seriously.”

“I need to be able to answer the critical questions that ponies have,” she snapped. “So? Girlfriend or no?”

“No,” he said at length, carefully studying the play of emotions on her face. Not that she was experiencing any emotions for him to see, she assured herself.

“Fine,” she said briskly, turning to take her leave. “I need more cake.”

“It’s for the visitors, you know,” he called after her retreating form. She lifted a hoof in dismissal.

Dusty Rose

A mare, some shade of pink, approached Thomas. “Hi,” she said, extending her hoof. “I’m Dusty Rose, with Sunset, Daisy, and Brambleburr Law Office.” She must have seen some wariness in his expression, and she laughed melodically. “No, I’m not here on official business. Just checking out the open house. My office is across the street.”

They exchanged pleasantries, and he answered some questions about cat behavior. Ms. Rose was poised, professional, and sure of herself; he had dated countless mares like her. “Maybe we can grab coffee sometime,” she suggested.

“My schedule is very full,” Thomas said, depressing her pretensions. “Since I’m the only doctor at the clinic.”

“Of course,” she said coyly. “But you never know. I’ll be in touch.” With a final lingering look, she took herself off and quickly found another conversation to insert herself into.

Thomas had lost track of all the similar lures tossed his way that day; the attention was gratifying. His younger self would have been in over his head, but now he was prepared with noncommittal responses. Best to keep a clear head while still adjusting to his new situation in life.

Pork Chop

Tabby’s mind wandered as she absentmindedly greeted ponies at the door. The chocolate raspberry was good, she considered, but it might be time to switch it up with vanilla lemon when she went back for her next cake slice.

A beige, rather nondescript, stallion started upon seeing her.

“Hey! Tabby!” he greeted her heartily. “Remember me? Pork Chop? We were in General Cooking 101 at Greener Pastures.”

“Oh… yes,” said Tabby distantly. He did look vaguely familiar, but she had tried to put that year of school out of her mind. It had been one of her more ill-advised ventures.

“You made the best deep fried potato skins!” Pork Chop enthused, standing a little too close for comfort. 

Tabby looked at him incredulously. “They were rotten and covered in dirt.”

“Well, whatever you did, they were amazing!” He winked. “My offer of marriage still stands.”

“Uh, I’m good, thanks,” said Tabby. “The cake’s over there.” She waved a hoof in that direction, and turned her attention to the next pony entering the building.

Tabby never knew what to say in conversations like that. To what extent was he serious? She had no head for flirting, and had learned to cope by avoiding it all costs. Not that Pork Chop was even her type. And not that she even knew what her type was.  It might be nice to be appreciated for more than deep fried food of questionable quality. If Thomas thought half as much about her skills with animals as Pork Chop thought of her cooking, well… she didn’t know what that would mean, but she thought she would like it.

As it was, she hadn’t been fired yet, which was something. But Thomas was always critiquing her methods–the x-rays were over- or under-exposed, or she was too forthright with customers–and she wasn’t convinced that he hadn’t regretted choosing her for the job.

At least there was cake.

Trudy

“You hired HER?” One of the mares who had been interviewed for the assistant position, fresh out of high school, seized Thomas’ foreleg. “She’s a trainwreck!”

“Oh… Trudy,” he fished his memory for her name. “Well, Tabby’s experience may be unorthodox, but she… has a lot of raw material,” he defended his choice. It was difficult to explain exactly what he saw in her. She tried very hard, and there were some shortcomings stemming from her lack of experience in a clinic setting, but she never made the same mistake twice. He could see that she had potential, and he intended to help her get there.

“She makes these weird magic potions out in the woods.” Trudy shuddered. “Probably in a cauldron. I don’t trust her.”

“I think she’s cool,” piped-up the colt at her side. They had similar colorations and appeared to be siblings. “I heard she wrestles hodags! Does she have a boyfriend?” He looked hopeful.

“Little bro, don’t be stupid,” Trudy admonished.

“You’re just jealous, Gertrude! She has a personality,” observed her brother.

“UGH! Why did you have to tag along with me!” Trudy grabbed his foreleg and dragged him away.

The siblings walked out of earshot, and Thomas made his way over to Tabby.

“Do you have a boyfriend?” he asked with a wicked grin. “Asking for a client.” He gestured at the gangly youth.

“Oh my gosh.” Tabby threw up her hooves in exasperation. “Do you have any idea how many marriage proposals I’ve fielded already today?” There was a wild gleam in her eyes, and the pitch of her voice was increasing. Even with the short duration of their acquaintanceship, Thomas knew that these were not good signs. She was losing it.

“Why don’t you take a break?” Thomas led her to a chair and got her some lemonade, though she probably had enough sugar, since she always had cake in hoof throughout the day.

He hadn’t really gotten an answer to his query, and he wasn’t going to pester her now, but it was nagging at the back of his head. He racked his brain trying to recall if she had said anything; but no, she had largely avoided mentioning her personal life. What would her type even be, though? Who would put up with her outbursts, meltdowns, mood swings?

But, he thought, a little wistfully, it was hard not to get caught up in those amethyst eyes.

Between their divergent opinions on certain procedures and his lack of magic, he was certain he would not make the cut. They did, however, seem to be figuring out how to work together despite their differences. Well, the future would bring what it would, and for now he would make the most of the working relationship they had.

Vanguard

“Sugarberry, do you have a boyfriend?” Tabby asked, approaching her friend, who looked puzzled. “Sorry, it’s just the question of the day. I feel like I have to ask.”

“Sugarberry! Sorry I’m late.” A blue stallion with seafoam green hair approached the desk and gave Sugarberry a quick kiss.

“Well, speak of the devil,” said Tabby, rolling her eyes. It was that math teacher beau of Sugarberry’s. Tabby still hadn’t taken to him, mainly because he occasionally pulled Sugarberry away from ice cream gatherings and garage sale expeditions, and that offended her.

“Can you take a break?” Vanguard asked Sugarberry, regarding her warmly.

“Tabby, could you handle the desk for a little bit?” Sugarberry asked. There was a lull in activity right then, and the prospect wasn’t too intimidating, so Tabby shooed them away. These two were so lovey-dovey and it was a little annoying.

Shortly after, a different blue stallion approached Tabby at the desk.

“Hey,” Quarterback said brusquely, “I thought the cake was free; why do I gotta look at all this advertising?”

“That IS the cost of free cake!” Tabby said impatiently. “Nothing is free! Don’t be a moron.” Their acquaintanceship dated back to grade school; and though their interests ran in different directions, their relationship could hold up under sharp reports like this.

“False advertising.” Quarterback shrugged. “Hey, did you see the Hodags game last night?”

“Quarterback, what are you doing here?” Tabby sighed. “I don’t talk sports, and you don’t have a pet.” She followed his gaze to where Vanguard and Sugarberry were sitting down with their cake and lemonade. “Ahhh. Stalking.”

“He cut me out at the spring festival, you know,” Quarterback said, leaning in conspiratorially. “She didn’t enter the fishing contest with me.”

“Oh, and Sugarberry, um… loves fishing,” Tabby fibbed. “Well, all I know is that she cancelled our shopping plans next weekend on account of going to visit his parents.” Whatever his flaws, at least Quarterback had been less of a draw on Sugarberry’s time.

“His parents?” Quarterback was incredulous. “How long have they been dating?” 

“Quarterback, I’m very busy. I have work to do,” Tabby said, writing down random numbers on a piece of paper.

“Well, thanks for the cake.” Quarterback meandered off. “Hey, professor; hey, Sugarberry,” he was heard to remark laconically as he passed by the couple.

Tabby shrugged. Vanguard was a sensitive topic and one that Tabby didn’t wish to elaborate on with Quarterback, of all ponies. He could fight his own battle.

Tex/Butch

A yellow stallion with a distinctive aqua cowboy hat strode over and gave Thomas a hearty hoofshake. “Howdy, pardner!” he drawled. “Welcome to town. I run the Salsa Shop on Main Street. Stop in some time for good food and good company. If you have any musical inclinations, we have open mic night on Saturdays!” 

“Oh, um… thanks,” said Thomas, processing the deluge of information. “I’ll keep that in mind.”

“You’re not from these parts, are you?” Tex continued without a sign of abatement. “Neither am I; my family moved up here from Leadbend when I was ten. Nice place, though. Folks are real friendly.”

“Yes, I have gotten that impression,” said Thomas.

“I have a tarantula. Is that a kind of critter you’ll see?”

“I have some experience with arthropods,” he admitted. “Is it a rose hair or murelican?”

“Rose hair. The little fella is always getting into some sort of mischief.” Tex shook his head. “Like last month, there was the mosh pit incident.”

“What?” Thomas asked, frowning. The pets hereabouts, and their owners, got into the most improbable situations. He steeled himself for an explanation likely to be head-scratching.

“Yeah, at the Thick and Gritty concert,” Tex said, naming what Thomas assumed was a country band. 

“That may not be the safest environment for a tarantula,” Thomas cautioned.

“Oh, but he’s their biggest fan,” Tex insisted. ”He got autographs from all the band members. Anyway, he was all right in the end. But nice to know there’s somewhere to take him if things go wrong…” Another stallion sidled up to them, and Tex’s tone cooled considerably. “Butch! What are you doing here?”

“Same as you, I reckon,” the newcomer, blue with white hair, retorted. “I heard there were free drinks. You got anything stronger than lemonade?” He shook Thomas’ hoof. “Hah hah, that’s okay, I’m kidding. Well, unless you do have something held back–” he gave a knowing glance “–then I wouldn’t be adverse to imbibing.”

“Doc, this is a wily one; you’ll want to watch him,” Tex warned with a stern glance.

“Got a pet duck, you know,” Butch said with a sidelong look at Tex, “and I ‘spose that gives me about as much right as anyone to be here. Ducks don’t need any shots, do they?”

“Not usually,” Thomas said. “But you’re welcome to bring him in for an exam if you have any concerns.”

“Well then, I guess I’ll just be gettin’ some of that there lemonade now,” Butch said, tipping his hat before sauntering off. 

“I’m going to make sure he doesn’t spike the lemonade,” Tex excused himself.

Police Station

Kyrene, reporter for the local events section of the Dream Valley Gazette, strode into the police station. She was a regular enough fixture there, and her presence didn’t cause any stir. Her work didn’t require much coordination with the police department, but she was always trying to up her game with coverage of higher-caliber happenings. Fortunately, she knew someone on the inside. 

No one paid Kyrene any heed as she sat on her sister’s desk, with the nameplate DETECTIVE GRACIE, and studied her hoofnail irreverently.

“Ky!” squealed a pale gray unicorn, approaching the desk and hugging the younger mare. 

“Hey, sis!” Kyrene said. “I’m heading over to the open house shindig at the new vet clinic. Wanna come? There’s cake.”

“Cake?” Gracie echoed. “All right! Hey, CC!” She whistled and waved someone over. It was her partner, Detective Candy Cane, who hated his name. “There’s something going on down at the vet clinic,” she told him. “We’d better go check it out.”

“What’s the issue? Robbery? Loitering? Crowd control?” CC demanded.

“Better!” Gracie beamed. “Free cake!” 

“Free cake? Really?” CC’s interest was piqued, but then he remembered himself. “I mean–that’s not really a productive use of the force’s time,” he protested.

“Nonsense!” Chief Tawny was just then strolling by with a donut in hoof. “Go ahead, get your cake! They had chocolate with raspberry filling when I was there.”

“I love raspberry filling!” said Gracie.

“I gotta get out of this town,” said CC, shaking his head as he fell in behind the two giggling mares.

Kyrene

“Thomas, the reporter from the Gazette is here!” Sugarberry interrupted his conversation with–well, it was either a banker’s wife or the niece of the mayor. Thomas had lost track.

“Hi! I’m Kyrene,” said the slim aqua unicorn, shaking his hoof. “Dream Valley Gazette. Do you have time for a few questions?” She flipped open a small notebook and held her pen poised to write.

“Sure, go ahead,” Thomas said.

“What’s the occupancy limit here?” asked a nearby stallion, frowning. The gray mare at his side shushed him and pulled him away to the cake table.

“You’ve lived your whole life in New Pony,” Kyrene said. “What drew you to Dream Valley?”

“I wanted to work somewhere truly in need of services, and this was identified as a viable market.”

“What made you decide to become a veterinarian?”

“My mom was on staff at the neighborhood humane society, and I pretty much grew up there. My sister and I spent as much of our free time there as we could. I always knew I wanted to be an animal doctor, just like I saw in action saving lives every day.”

“That’s nice,” said Kyrene, but she sounded distant as if this conversation wasn’t of interest to her. She looked at some notes on her pad, tilted her head side-to-side as if weighing a decision in her head, and then looked back up at him with a more determined stare. “Your previous work was under Dr. Steuben Wexford in New Pony, is that correct?”

“Er… yes,” said Thomas, not pleased with the mention of his old boss.

“The same Dr. Wexford who is now facing multiple workplace harassment lawsuits,” Kyrene stated confidently. “Were you aware of his conduct?”

Thomas hadn’t prepared himself for that line of questioning. “At this point they are just allegations for the courts to decide, and I’ve been asked not to comment,” he said, feeling distinctly uncomfortable.

“Have you been called to testify?” Kyrene demanded.

“No,” he said carefully. Not yet, anyway. “But maybe we could focus on my life in Dream Valley for this interview.”

What are you hiding?”

“These are terrible interview questions. Are you sure you’re a reporter?” Thomas asked skeptically. His father, a crime reporter, would have had more integrity; but Dietrich Fairfax had held high standards. Who knew how the kids were being trained these days?

“Is she making you uncomfortable?” The gray mare returned to Kyrene’s side. “My sister is very intense,” she said apologetically to Thomas. “Dial it back a notch, Ky,” she said with the superior air of an older sibling.

“Oh my gosh, Gracie! Don’t tell me how to do my job!” Kyrene huffed. Still, the admonishment seemed to have an effect on her. She sighed, closed her eyes, and took a deep breath. 

“Sorry about my sister. She gets like that,” said Gracie. “Hi, by the way. I’m Detective Gracie. How are you? This is such a nice open house! I love the glass block transom window,” she prattled on.

Thomas wasn’t sure if either sister was in a suitable career.

Kyrene pasted a smile on her face and turned back to Thomas. “Well, thank you for your time, Dr. Fairfax.” She flipped her notepad shut and made as if to leave.

“Oh. Is that all?” He didn’t know if he should be relieved that she was leaving, or worried about the slant of her article.

Kyrene shrugged. “It’s enough. I just needed a little filler for my piece on the Wexford allegations.” Then she was off.

“It was nice talking to you,” Thomas said, admittedly a bit  insincerely, to her retreating form. She was in so much of a hurry that she nearly stepped on the foot of one of the cloaked humans, a few of whom were hanging around to keep an eye on refreshment levels.

The encounter had shaken Thomas more than he liked to admit, so he snuck away to his office for a short break to clear his mind.

He didn’t sense any real animosity from Kyrene, just the keen desire to tell a juicy story. He recognized the gleam in her eyes from how his father had looked when he was working on a particularly stand-out case. Still, it caused the uneasy feeling that Thomas was on borrowed time. He didn’t know what effect it would have in this small town to have his past connection, and everything attached to that, made known.

The Cloaks

The human who Kyrene had come so close to stepping on in her quick departure, soon found his way to Captain Ravenwood to report what he had overheard.

“Well, if that just doesn’t beat all,” she said impatiently, tapping her foot on the ground. “That article can’t be published. One way or another, it will be buried.”

Candy Cane

“There’s two unicorns at that clinic,” CC complained to his partner on the way back to the station. “They have no magic license, but you can’t tell me that at least one of them isn’t using magic on the job.”

Gracie shrugged. “Tabby’s the only one with magic,” she said. “I didn’t sense any on the doctor.”

“Well, Tabby’s the one I don’t trust,” CC grumbled.

“What’s the big deal?” Gracie asked.

“It’s the law that we have sworn to uphold!” he reminded her.

“Well, no need to go looking for trouble, and we don’t have any evidence,” Gracie said in a patient, patronizing tone. “Anyway, we have plenty of real work to do. That little foal at the playground is really distressed about his lost teddy bear! We need to get on it!”

“This is the kind of action I joined the force for,” said CC. He could only hope and pray that his most recent transfer request to Hayton would be approved. This town was the most absurdly tame place in the world.

Closing

Back at the clinic, five o’ clock rolled around. The doors were locked, and the cloaked helpers efficiently picked up the decorations, collected garbage, and whisked away all signs that there had ever been an event.

“Good job today, you two,” Thomas said to the two mares. “But, be ready for another busy day tomorrow. We have a full roster of appointments.” He looked at Tabby slyly. “Do you want to take home the leftover cake, Tabby?” He pointed at the white bakery box, the only evidence left of the day’s celebration.

“I’m never eating cake again. I feel soooo sick,” Tabby groaned.

“Poor Tabby,” said Sugarberry.

“I’m going to die,” she mumbled, face down on Sugarberry’s desk.

“I told you that you were overindulging,” Thomas admonished.

“Vanguard’s coming to pick me up for dinner, but we’ll walk you home first,” Sugarberry said, patting Tabby’s hoof sympathetically.

“Go on, Sugarberry. I’ll see that she makes it home,” Thomas offered absentmindedly.

“Would you?” Sugarberry shot her boss a grateful look as she went to the door to meet Vanguard. “Get some rest, Tabby.”

“I don’t need any help,” Tabby said faintly, lifting her head.

“No, of course not,” Thomas agreed. “But I promised Sugarberry.”

Deadline

“Kyrene, I’m not printing this!” Deadline, the newspaper editor, protested. “All I wanted was a fluff piece on the new veterinarian, not a scathing review of his former employer’s treatment of female employees!”

“The ponies have a right to know!” Kyrene stood on the opposite side of the desk, ready to put up a fight.

“Dr. Fairfax isn’t even involved in the allegations,” Deadline pointed out. 

“Not yet, anyway,” Kyrene grumbled.

“I’m sorry, but no. Absolutely not.” Deadline shook his head. “Give me a real interview appropriate for the local interest section.”

“Oh, you stallions always side with each other!” Kyrene snapped. 

“Don’t turn this into a gender relations issue,” Deadline said wearily. “Not again.”

“Well, isn’t it?” Kyrene demanded with a piercing glare. “I’m going to keep an eye on what develops. Mark my words, he is involved.” She stormed out of the office and slammed the door behind her.

Deadline sighed and sank back in his chair. 

Out of the shadows on the other side of the room stepped a human form. “That was very good,” came the woman’s voice. “That’s all you have to do. Otherwise, dear, sweet Niobe…” She made an unmistakable gesture across her throat.

“You can go to…” Deadline growled, but his statement was drowned out by the rustle of fabric. And then he was alone.

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