TWICE: the serial
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“I’d better go.” Dusty dropped a twenty on their check.

“Already?” Colleen gave him a pretty pout. “Your class isn’t ’til two.”

He smiled apologetically, and stood. “I have to stop and get a card for Thom and Anna on my way. It’s their fifth anniversary tomorrow. And I’ve still got reading to finish before class.” Colleen sighed, and stood as well. He leaned across the small café table to peck her on the cheek. “Want anything for tonight while I’m at the market? ...Wine?”

She shook her head, honey-colored curls swaying in the dim light. “We’ll just finish that open Chardonnay from last time.”

“With steak?”

“You’re a wine snob now?”

He grinned. “I’ll get a bottle of Syrah. We can finish your Chardonnay while the meat’s cooking.”

After a second, less perfunctory kiss, Dusty squeezed her hand and headed for the door, forcing his umbrella open against the wind and rain outside.

Ten minutes later he stood dripping in aisle 8 of Ricky’s Market, scowling at their dull selection of saccharine anniversary cards. How could a store two blocks from campus carry nothing suitable for couples under sixty-five?

“You’d be Dustin? Dustin Bennett?”

Dusty turned to find an unfamiliar, dark-haired youth with startling, almost violet eyes gazing at him from just down the aisle with a sly half smile. Dusty’s ‘creep radar’ started beeping as he realized the guy was less young than just oddly pretty—in a disturbing, theatrical way. Dusty’s last name had been Bennett once, before Anna and Thom had adopted him, but he was not about to explain that to this vaguely oily stranger. “Who’s asking?”

“An old friend of Matthew Rhymer’s.” Dusty’s eyes widened. “Would you know where he might be looked for these days?”

“No,” Dusty said brusquely. “I haven’t even heard from him since—for almost seven years now.” Memories of that awful night punched through him like gun shots. “What do you want?”

“Only to get this to him,” said the man, extending a cream-colored envelope.

Dusty’s first thought was ‘subpoena,’ but it looked more like a greeting card pulled off the racks beside them. Weirder and weirder. He could see Matt’s name written in flowing green calligraphy across the envelope.

“I have no idea where he is,” said Dusty, stiffly. “Sorry.” He turned to walk away, though putting his back to this guy made his skin crawl. Old instincts, so quickly resurrected. The street never really left you, he supposed unhappily.

“If you care for him at all, or for any of your kind, at least take this letter with you,” said the man behind him. “In case he should cross your path again.”

“My kind?” Dusty asked, tensing as he’d used to do before a fight. He turned back despite himself. “What’s that supposed to mean?”

“If we don’t find your old friend, and quickly,” the man said softly, “it will matter to a great many people in this city.”

Incredulous, Dusty thrust his chin at the proffered envelope. “What’s in it?”

“Just a note. From another of Matt’s old friends. A very good friend…who needs him. Badly,” the man added as if it cost him to admit it. “Please,” he said, straightening his arm to emphasize the urgency. “If Matt’s to be found, you’d know better than most where to look, would you not?”

“How would you know that?” Dusty demanded. “What’s this about?”

“Justice,” said the man. “For one who helped him beyond any call to do so. And about the fate of…much that you and I both care for in the world.”

“Like you’d know what I care about?” Dusty had begun to back away, wondering if it weren’t past time the police were called. And wouldn’t Matt have laughed to hear that thought cross his mind. Then again, what about Dusty’s life these days would not have made Matt laugh?

“I’ll just leave it here then, shall I?” The man set his envelope carefully on the floor between them, eyes trained uncertainly on Dusty. “Do as you see fit, Dustin Bennett. But if he learns you could have gotten this to him, and did not try, he may not thank you for it. Not if he is the man I pray he is.” The guy’s initially provocative demeanor was gone. Now he backed down the aisle, as if cautious of Dusty. “I didn’t mean to frighten you, lad. I’ll not bother you again, whatever comes to pass.”

Whatever comes to pass? What the hell? Dusty gazed down at the envelope in escalating turmoil. “I just told you. I have no idea where—” He looked up again, and found no one there. Only the stranger’s letter, lying at his feet—like a threat. Or, perhaps, an accusation.

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