Fate smiled upon me: the bus was preparing to pull out and I caught it just in time. Even then I was soaked to the skin from the downpour. The weather fit my mood perfectly as I took a seat in the back to wait for my stop and attempt to sort out what had just happened. I wanted to believe I had not seen what I had in William’s eyes, but I am far, far too old to deliberately deceive myself.

Throughout the ride I went over the events in the restaurant, assessing what problems I could expect, drawing out every shred of information I could recall. Part of me was screaming to drop everything, take the thousand dollars in my purse, get out of town and never look back. This was actually the most reasonable part of me. The colder, more calculating, more selfish part of me wanted to stay and tackle this head-on. That part of me could be quite dangerous and had to be held in check.

I do not remember getting off the bus. I became aware that I was standing in my apartment, staring out the front window with the lights off. The air conditioner was running and my clothes were becoming clammy from the chill. I undressed in the bathroom and turned on the shower as hot as it would go, but before stepping in I went to my bedroom and took my pistol from its drawer. Nothing fancy: a model 1911 Colt .45. Large, unlovely and utterly reliable it had been my companion on and off for over eighty years. I loaded it, chambered a round, verified the safety was on, and set it on the vanity in the bathroom.

The scalding spray cut in to my skin, shocking, invigorating… cleansing. I flipped the control over from full hot to full cold, turning as liquid ice coursed down my back, then over my shoulders, across my breasts, down my belly. It centered me, driving away the uncertainty as I let it cool my scalp and my face. Five minutes was all it took, five minutes to bring logic and order to the chaos that had forced its way into my life unbidden. Even then, it was too long.

I slipped into my bathrobe and took up the pistol. I felt silly now for taking it out- by any objective measure I had little to fear tonight. I secured it and slipped it back in to its holster, but I did not put it away. I had to consider- instinct made me take it out. Instinct told me to run in the restaurant, I ignored it, and that turned out quite badly. I am no huge fan of guns, instead I accept the basic truth about them: when you need one nothing else will really do.

What course to take? The encounter in the restaurant could conceivably turn in to nothing, depending on who and what William was today. Both the hostess and the manager of the restaurant had recognized him and from their reaction I knew he was more than just a regular customer. As chaotic as things had been that still came through unmistakably. I went to my computer and called up a search on the mall- I did not dare to search for his name, but instead began methodically browsing through the information on the web site. I found it almost frighteningly fast.

General Manager: William Travis

I began a mental inventory of my visits to that particular mall; when, what stores, what purchases. I always pay cash so there was no easy way for anyone to come up with my name… I nearly laughed when I realized my largest problem was sitting directly in front of me: the cherry wood computer desk. Paid for with cash, of course, but delivered and assembled in my apartment only a week after I returned from Colorado. The panicked voice that wanted to run began piping up again, and this time I listened a little closer, but still…

Running posed a problem, just as it had in the restaurant. If William did search for me my disappearance would make the mystery more intriguing. Furthermore it would mean leaving the country, for I currently have no new identity prepared that would allow me any degree of security. I do have an escape route prepared against need, but… I do not want to go.

With that decision made I began to prepare for a confrontation, should it come to that. The story regarding “Claire” was verifiable- it was how I had transitioned from that identity to the one I currently wear. The best lies are always spun about a framework of truth, after all. I could produce everything short of a grave to prove that Claire had lived and died in Guatemala and that I was her daughter. My financial records would hold up to an audit, but not a criminal investigation, at least not a determined one.

The time I spent in Colorado could be problematic, but a phone call or two would help to close any holes in the time line. Once again I was forced to confront my foolishness: what had ever possessed me to go skiing? It had not been a bad fall, but I fractured my left leg in three places. I can only imagine the perplexity of the doctors when I failed to follow up with them or anyone else- hopefully they were used to injured vacationers going home to their own doctors. Perhaps those doctors sometimes failed to request records and X-rays. It was plausible, but I should have been more diligent.

Of course the problem was more complex than that: the injury had healed rapidly, but I had also dropped a number of years in appearance as well. It happens and I have no control over it. While my birth certificate and driver’s license said I was twenty-four, without make-up and a conscious effort I looked all of eighteen. Not a huge difference, but enough that the last time I presented an ID to someone he had looked twice.

Despite the cumulative effect of these issues, I felt I had a very good chance of defusing this if I held my ground. Most in my favor was that no reasonable person could seriously entertain the idea that I was over sixty years old. Most likely William would wake up in the morning feeling foolish for having accosted that girl in the restaurant, for thinking even for a moment that she might be other than she claimed.

It made sense. All I had to do was sit tight and most likely this would pass.

Still, I slept with the .45 under my pillow.

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