"You weren't supposed to let me fall asleep!"
Carly woke up suddenly and looked around. She had no idea where she was, but she was indoors, and she was in a sleeping bag under an open window which admitted a little moonlight.
A plump blond woman was struggling into a pair of jeans. "Motherfucker," she yelled over her shoulder, "how could you let this happen? He's going to kill both of us!"
Carly leaned over to see around the large table in the center of the room and saw Pete, Kingdom Come's bass player, sitting on a mattress on the floor, rubbing his eyes. "I just–" he began.
Carly's movement caught the woman's eye and she glared, still wrestling with her zipper. "What the fuck are you looking at?" she demanded.
"Friends, all this uncouth behavior is interfering with my beauty sleep," drawled a voice from the other side of the room, and Carly looked over to see a lanky man with long red hair leaning in a doorway. He was totally naked, and she felt herself blushing, looking away quickly when he noticed her and winked.
"You can laugh," the woman snapped at the red-haired man as she got her jeans zipped and struggled into a sweatshirt, "but if Henshaw finds out–"
"If he finds out, I'm getting on the first train to Cucamonga. But I do think this whole business–"
"Gimme that!" the woman snapped as she grabbed the bra that Pete was holding out for her. "I'm taking your bicycle!" she snapped as she stormed out, stuffing the bra into her back pocket.
There was a moment of silence and then Pete struggled to his feet, pulling on an enormous, faded bathrobe, and padded over to close and lock the door.
The red-haired man, who Carly now recognized as Kingdom Come's drummer, walked to the table and sat down. "Son," he said to Pete as the other man belted his bathrobe closed more tightly and picked up a pack of cigarettes from the table, "I have only two questions. When are you going to figure out that this Jenny thing is a bad idea, and who is this young lady with the rather peculiar hairstyle?" He grinned at Carly as Pete lit a cigarette and sat down at the table.
"At the moment I agree wholeheartedly about Jenny," Pete said, yawning, "but I guess my rational mind isn't always in charge." Carly rubbed her head. She'd forgotten about her hair.
"Well, if you want to screw up your life, that's wholly your own business and I'll leave you to it," the red-haired man said to Pete. "But Mr. Henshaw isn't going to discriminate . . ." his voice trailed off and he turned to Carly. He leaned forward and stuck out his hand. "My name is Carl, miss. Not that I'm complaining, but how do you come to be sleeping on our floor?"
Carly leaned forward and shook his hand, wishing that she hadn't taken off her jeans when she'd gone to bed. Well, at least she'd kept her T-shirt on. "I'm Carly," she said. "Pete–
"Carly?" Carl asked, raising one eyebrow. "This is rather an odd coincidence, wouldn't you say? Carl and Carly. One might almost say that fate had stepped into our lives."
Carly found herself thinking that sleeping in yet another doorway might not be so bad after all. Pete obviously sensed her uneasiness and said, "I met Carly in Duffy's last night, and we went to the protest together. The protest that didn't happen. She didn't have a place to stay, so I said she could crash here for a day or two."
Carl nodded, smiling at her. "Well, I think that would probably be okay. Would you like to join us?" He gestured at the empty chair between the two men.
Carly was irritated with herself for being so nervous about this, and reminded herself how much skin she'd seen in college. In fact, she'd often laughed about how quickly her father would have yanked her out of school if he'd known what dorm life was like at a modern university. So, she climbed out of the sleeping bag (at least she had underwear on) and went to sit at the table.
She turned to Pete. "So, was that the woman you were waiting for last night?"
Pete nodded, taking a drag on his cigarette. "I'm afraid so. Her name is Jenny."
Carl yawned, stretching so far back in his chair that Carly was afraid he was going to fall over. "Her name is Jenny, and her disposition is sunny, and her only tiny downside is that she's living with our fearless leader, Philip Henshaw."
"He's the guy with the dark hair, or the guy with the light hair?" she asked, and she was surprised when Pete and Carl just looked at each other with rueful smiles. Pete closed his eyes and shook his head. "I'm afraid this is going to make you think badly of her–"
"Oh, Lord, we can't have that," Carl said. He scratched his stomach. "I'm going back to bed." He stood up, and then leaned over to whisper to Carly, "If you do end up do-si-do-ing with our friend Petronius here tonight, make sure he scrubs everything first."
He pecked her on the cheek, grinning at her attempt not to flinch, and went back into his bedroom, closing the door. Pete stubbed out the end of his cigarette and said, "I'm sorry you had to witness our little domestic melodrama here. Jenny . . ." He shook his head. "I'm too tired to get into it, and I'm sure you don't really want to know anyway, especially at this hour." He stood up. "I'll see you in the morning. I'm sorry about all this."
Pete went back to his mattress and crawled under the covers. He hadn't known that Jenny was going to come over, or he wouldn't have offered to put Carly up, since the apartment only had two rooms and he certainly wasn't going to suggest Carly sleep in Carl's room. So, he and Jenny had tried to be so quiet that they wouldn't wake Carly up.
That part had been fun, actually, like being back in high school. One thing you usually lose when you become a grownup was the fun of secretive sex. And they had succeeded in being quiet, in fact they'd succeeded so well that they'd both fallen asleep, going far past the deadline when Jenny had said Henshaw would be home.
Pete clasped his hands behind his head as he heard Carly climb back into the sleeping bag. It was the first rule of infidelity, as he and Jenny had codified it: Both people can never be asleep at the same time (Pete didn't own an alarm clock). And this was certainly an excellent illustration of why it was a good rule.
He began to think about Carly, mostly in order to avoid thinking about what would happen if Philip Henshaw did figure out that his girlfriend was having an affair with his bass player. Carl's joke hadn't planted the idea in Pete's head, it had been there all day. So, to drown it out, he wondered if there was any possibility of something happening with Carly.
Of course, there were many things against it. For one thing, he thought ruefully, Carly hadn't given even the slightest indication that she was interested in him. Also, she was at least seven or eight years younger than he was, probably only eighteen or so. And, of course, she was actually Uncle Mike Sheldon's daughter, in town under an assumed name for some reason, and that sounded like the kind of trouble Pete didn't need in his life.
But, of course, none of these arguments stopped his mind from wandering in that direction.
Carly wouldn't have minded finding her way back into the dream of the night she and Danny had met, the night they had seen Kingdom Come play at the Quarter, but as she lay quietly in the sleeping bag, she didn't feel tired at all.
She turned over on her side, squirming around so the sleeping bag didn't get all twisted. She held her breath for a moment, trying to hear if Pete was asleep, but she couldn't tell. With everything she'd been through, she thought she should be exhausted, but she felt fine. She rolled onto her back again, clasping her hands behind her head.
What she really needed, she realized, was somebody to talk to, somebody who might actually understand what she was in the middle of. She was finding it impossible to figure out what she wanted to do next, and she knew she wasn't going to figure it out just running it over and over in her head.
She'd gone back and forth, trying to decide if Pete was the one. Could she trust him? She thought so, but she knew she might just be reacting to how inoffensive he looked. She'd wanted to really talk things over with Susan, her father's secretary. Susan was the one person she could talk to who actually knew her father.
But, Susan's protests aside, Carly knew how things stood. Susan was in love with Mike Sheldon, and that meant she wasn't going to think about him objectively, and she'd never take his daughter's side against him. But Carly really did need somebody to talk to.
She realized that for the last few minutes she'd been looking at the wall of the apartment next to the refrigerator, and there seemed to be some sort of decoration there. The apartment had no electricity, and it had been very dark when she and Pete had come in after dinner. But now the moon outside was nearly full, and it cast a ghostly light over the rather odd-looking wall. She climbed out of the sleeping bag and got into her pants.
When she'd sat at the table with Carl and Pete, she wasn't sure which of the men had made her more uncomfortable. Carl had frankly leered at her utilitarian underwear, though she had the feeling that it had been reflex more than anything. But Pete had made a real effort not to look at anything below her neck, and that had been even creepier. So, she'd decided to be careful how she was dressed whenever she was in the apartment, no matter who else was there.
She went over to the wall and looked at it. The strange design she had noticed turned out to be newspaper and magazine clippings, glued to the wall as if they were being used as wallpaper. As she looked more closely, however, it was obvious that the articles had been very carefully chosen and arranged. She went to the large table in the center of the room and used Pete's matches to light the candle there.
The two biggest items on the wall were in the center, side by side. On the left was a large black and white photograph of the band Kingdom Come. It was a 20x24 print, and Carly, who had dabbled with photography in college, wished she could see it in better light.
The band looked pretty much as they had when she'd seen them her first night in town, in fact the picture could easily have been taken that night. Philip Henshaw was in the center, one hand gripping the microphone and the other on the neck of his guitar. he seemed to be looking directly at the camera, his brow furrowed over his fierce eyes. Pete was on the right, his hair and his T-shirt both hanging limp with sweat. His expression was a bit vacant, and Carly wondered why he didn't wear his glasses on stage.
Tom was on the left, facing the rest of the band rather than the audience. He looked like he was concentrating really hard. He didn't seem to be sweating. Carl was visible between Henshaw and Pete, and his torso was bare, his muscular arms raised over his head, his long hair plastered to his head.
Next to the photograph of the band was a color poster of starling, the lunatic killer who, as far as Carly knew, still hadn't been stopped. Carly found herself thinking that it was pretty stupid to make a pop icon out of a woman who had murdered over fifty people, but then she could hear her father saying something very similar, and she decided to suspend judgment for the moment.
starling stood in three-quarter view, as if shooting at someone about ten feet to Carly's right. There was an overturned armchair and a big sofa behind her. It looked like the lobby of a hotel. She wore fatigue pants tucked into army boots, with a big coat over a ragged T-shirt, Her coat was open, showing the gunbelt across her narrow hips. Her mirror sunglasses concealed most of her face except for the thin line of her mouth. Her dirty blond hair fell around her face, further hiding her expression, if she had one.
Her feet were planted wide apart. She had a gun in each hand, and she was obviously firing both of them. Carly's father had always boasted that starling wouldn't dare come to his town, but as far as Carly knew she was so crazy she probably didn't know where she was anyway. Besides, Mike Sheldon would have loved to have been to the one responsible for stopping her. He was just mad that he probably wouldn't get a chance.
Carly started to look at the smaller photographs, newspaper articles, posters and cartoons which decorated the wall. She didn't realize Carl was standing behind her until his big, freckled hands came around and cupped her breasts.
Pete woke up to the muffled sound of a struggle. "Let go of me!" a voice demanded. It was a soundtrack Pete was familiar with. He didn't even have to roll over to see what was going on. Carl was attacking, Carly was resisting, Carl was pressing his point, and laughing.
"I figured I'd give Pete a clear field," Pete heard Carl murmur over the sound of bare feet scuffling on the wood floor. "But I guess Jennikins was enough for him, at least for tonight. Pete–"
"Stop it!" Carly snapped, and the scuffling feet fell silent for a moment. "Carl, if this is the price I have to pay to stay here. I'd rather go back to sleeping in doorways."
Carl laughed. "What a thing to say. There's no rent to stay here, we don't pay any rent." Pete could tell from the gradual drop in Carl's voice that he was gliding closer to her. "I'm just thinking that you've seemed a little bit tense ever since you came into our lives, Princess. Sometimes, you know, a good romp–"
"The answer is no," she said quietly, and Pete thought he heard her step away. "Thanks so much for your concern, but I guess I'll have to stay tense. In fact, I'd relax a lot right now if you'd stop edging toward me."
Carl laughed. "Well, I don't think I'm the reason you're all tight as a snare drum. After all–"
"Enough!" Carly snapped. "I'm leaving."
Pete had considered making it clear that he was awake and listening to all this, but he'd decided not to. For one thing, it certainly wouldn't have stopped Carl. In fact, Pete sometimes had the feeling that Carl staged these scenes at least partially for his entertainment. So, if he was really going to cool Carl off and keep Carly from sleeping in some alley somewhere, he would have to intercede on her behalf, probably physically.
He considered this, but after all Carly was an adult, she could take care of herself. And Carl wasn't actually dangerous, he was just enthusiastic and persistent. Besides, he was really just playing with her, seeing how she'd react. Not that he didn't want to have sex with her, of course. If she'd have said yes, he'd have fucked her on the nearest available horizontal surface. But if she continued to say no, he'd just have a good laugh and go on to the next one. Of course, the process of convincing Carl that she was serious could take a while.
It was too bad she was giving up, he thought. If she persisted and established some definite ground rules with Carl, he'd behave, at least most of the time. But she was obviously not going to put in the effort. Pete had sort of been looking forward to having her stay there for a while. For one thing, he was very curious to find out her story, how Uncle Mike's daughter had ended up in this situation.
But if Carly wouldn't stand up to Carl, what could Pete do? He was Carl's roommate, but he wasn't responsible for Carl's behavior.
Pete had tuned out the specifics of the continuing conversation between Carl and Carly, except for general sense that she was getting ready to go, and that Carl was biding his time but hadn't given up. But he started paying attention again when she heard his name. "Sorry to see you go, princess," Carl drawled. "Aren't you at least going to say goodbye to Pete?"
"Yeah," she said after a pause. "I certainly can't go without saying goodbye to Pete." He heard her voice coming closer. "After all he's done for me, that would be pretty fucking Rude!"
Pete was starting to roll over, but with her final word he felt a sharp blow to the small of his back, hard enough to make him cry out.
His eyes filled with sudden tears of pain. He tried to sit up, his back throbbing. She had kicked him so hard that he was having trouble catching his breath.
Wiping his eyes with the sleeve of his shirt, he saw Carly turn from the door as Carl caught her wrist. She twisted around, broke free and swung, hitting Carl on the chin.
As the door slammed, Pete struggled clumsily to his feet, the tears flowing again as his back protested. He stumbled around the table only to see Carl, lying propped up on one elbow. He wiped his long, red hair out of his eyes and grinned.
"That girl is a pistol, isn't she? Whoooo!"
He bounded to his feet. "Hey, you look like shit, son. Come on." He helped Pete to the table where he sat down very gingerly.
As Carl bustled about making coffee, Pete leaned forward and grabbed his cigarettes. Somehow it didn't surprise him in the least how things had turned out.
Carl turned from the stove and winked. "The whole business doesn't actually seem completely fair, does it?"
Pete shook his head, squirming around as he tried to find a less painful way to sit. "No, it sure doesn't," he said. "You misbehave and I get crippled for life. You have all the fun, I don't do a thing, and I'm the one who can't stand up straight."
He lit the cigarette and drew smoke deep into his lungs, which made everything hurt even more.