"Tofu is harmless, not painful, and I am not a freak for making either of you eat it, so turn off the music and put on your Speedos. Now."
Let's back up a bit…
All I'd wanted was a quiet Fourth of July. No fireworks, no parties, just me and Nik, watching Charlie's Angels and drinking beer. No Robin, no Promise, no work. Unfortunately, all of those things seem to follow us around. It was that morning, before Niko had to go teach some karate kids about the art of making tea or whatever, when I got a call from Promise. Let me inflect—when I got a call from Promise. Not when Niko got a call from Promise, when I got a call fromPromise.
"Cal, if you're with Niko, go into another room. I don't want him to know that I called you."
"Uh…" I glanced up at my brother, who was only a few feet away from me, scrambling eggs and sipping wheatgrass slime. "Hang on." I got up from the table and made my way to the door, careful not to look back to see Niko's questioning eyes following me. Once I was in the hall I said, "Okay, I'm alone. What's going on, Promise?"
"I have a problem. Of a rather sensitive nature. Can you meet me?" Her voice sounded strained, which wasn't common for my brother's blood-sucking lover.
"I guess, but, Promise, why didn't you call Niko?"
"Because I have a problem of a rather sensitive nature. This is something that I'd like to keep between you and me. Could you just meet me at the coffee shop on Eighth in half an hour? Please," she added, and I sighed.
"Niko's gonna want to know where I'm going," I said.
"I know, and I would never ask you to lie to him, except that discretion is of the utmost importance right now. I'll explain everything in person."'
My stomach twisted. Niko and I didn't lie to each other, and we didn't keep secrets, either. But I knew that Promise wouldn't ask for anything if it wasn't her last resort. "Fine," I said. "But he's going to know that something's up."
"Tell him that there is a bat in Delilah's apartment and that she needs you to catch it. I'll see you in thirty minutes."
"Promise, he's going to know that that's not true. Delilah would just eat the bat, I'm pretty sure."
"Of course he'll know you're lying, but he'll think it's so you can go have sex," she snapped. "Twenty-nine minutes, Cal."
She hung up, and I slid my phone into my pocket. This would be interesting.
When I got to the kitchen, Niko was pouring a second glass of wheatgrass juice and putting it by my plate.
"There's no way I'm drinking that, Cyrano," I said, sitting down.
"It's nutritious and delicious," he said.
I raised an eyebrow. "Well, you're half right, anyway."
"It'll grow hair on your chest," he said, inching the glass a little closer to me.
"I'm good, thanks," I said, pushing it back.
He let it go, which surprised me until I noticed the tofausage on my plate and saw that he had bigger fish to fry. "You've outdone yourself," I said, poking at it with my fork.
"Who was on the phone?" he asked, taking a disturbingly big bite of imitation meat.
"Delilah," I lied, hating myself. "Apparently there's a bat in her bathroom, and she wanted me to…go catch it."
"Catch it?" Niko's lips twitched.
"Yes." I took a bit of tofausage so that I could look away. It crumbled in my mouth and tasted like feet. I put down my fork. "And as tasty as this is, I should probably head over there."
"One more bite," he said, just to patronize me, but I humored him because I felt guilty. I even washed it down with pureed wheatgrass.
I made a face and started for the door.
"Wait," he said and I froze. He knew I was lying.
Slowly, I turned to face him. "What?"
"Do you…have everything you need? To catch a bat?"
I scratched the back of my neck and went with Promise's sex story. "Niko, you do know that there's not actually a bat, right?"
Niko rolled his eyes. "Cal. Do you have everything you need to catch a bat?"
I cocked my head to one side, not understanding. Niko sighed and went into his bedroom. Maybe he had a polygraph test in there.
When he reappeared, it was not a polygraph test that he was shoving into my hands. It was a condom.
"Oh…" I said, tucking it into my pocket. And then, "Ow!" I rubbed the back of my head.
"Cal, you know better. You cannot afford to be careless in this area, by any means. I know that Delilah says she isn't able to bear children, but you can never be too cautious. I thought we'd covered this."
"Yeah, no, we have. Extensively. Thanks. See ya," I turned to try to go again before he found a banana, but was stopped by a hand on my sleeve.
"Maybe we'll have a quick recap," he said.
"No, Niko, I'm sorry. I had one in my wallet the whole time, I just didn't know what you were talking about. Honest." That was true, but the notion that I had had any intention of using said condom today was not.
He let me go. "Be safe," he said firmly.
"I will be," I promised, and walked out the door before anything else could happen.
I arrived at the coffee shop fifteen minutes later to find Promise and a cup of coffee already waiting for me at a secluded table in the corner. "You owe me for one near safe sex lecture," I said in way of greeting.
"I will owe you for much more than that by the time this is over. Sit."
"Wow, you look…kind of awful." She did. There were bags under her bloodshot eyes, her clothes were wrinkled, and her usually immaculate hair was down and unbrushed. "What's going on?"
"Three days ago was the anniversary of the death of my last husband," she said, sweeping a crumb from the tablecloth. "And I went to pay my respects at his grave. This isn't something I do often, but I was very fond of this man, and I wanted to be sure that the grounds were well taken care of."
That was the first time I'd heard Promise speak of any of her many ex-husbands, but I wasn't surprised that she visited his grave. Promise cared for people much more than she appeared to sometimes, and I knew that that was one of the reasons Niko liked her. "Okay…" I said.
"He was there."
"Vincent. My ex-husband. He was leaning against the tombstone, waiting for me."
I stared at her. "Am I missing something?"
"It was a ghost, Cal. He looked real, but I knew what it was. And what it wants."
"What does it want?"
She looked down. "To…defend my honor."
I raised my eyebrows. "And what does that mean?"
"He wants to kill Niko."