An excerpt from the short story by Josh Lanyon
January 1st, 2000
The world did not end.
Given his hangover, maybe it should have. Noel stared up at the tiny red eye of the hotel room smoke detector. A little late for red lights, considering the warm weight lying against him, the muscular hairy leg tangled with his own, the big hand resting possessively on his groin.
Talk about having him by the balls.
He smiled faintly, turned his head on the fine linen pillowcase to study his bedmate. Tumbled black curls, a strong nose, a thin, ironic mouth. Not a handsome face, exactly, but undeniably attractive in a craggy, tough guy way.
So this was FBI Special Agent Robert Cuffe.
Noel’s lips twitched with self-mockery. Well, that answered one question.
He resisted the temptation to touch his mouth to the surprisingly soft lips a few inches from his own. As dearly as he’d love to wake Cuffe up for another round of fun and games, play time was over. He could see the watery frame of light around the top of the long ivory draperies. It must be five-thirty or so. Longer than he’d intended to stay.
Cuffe muttered in his sleep, a gust of alcohol-scented breath warming Noel’s ear. Noel’s mouth curved again. Cuffe was a big guy and he could hold his drink all right, but Noel knew a trick or two to even the odds. Even so, there was no pretending he too hadn’t been drunk off his ass last night. To take that kind of a chance?
Definitely the worse for drink.
But it had been worth it.
From his standpoint anyway. Cuffe might feel differently once he figured out who had actually been seducing whom. Not much of a sense of humor, Special Agent Cuffe. Took himself and his mission very seriously. And his mission last night had been to try and get the goods on diamond thief Noel Snow.
And he’d been close. Not as close as he thought, but close enough. Closer than anyone else had come in the three years Noel had been in business. In fact, Noel had begun to take a friendly interest in Cuffeeven before last night.
He stretched cautiously, respectful of his aching head and the tiny, mostly pleasurable pangs of a body well used. Cuffe’s hand flexed in a responsive, an unconscious caress, and Noel’s cock came instantly awake. He mentally shook his head. at himself.
But God, it had been good. What he wouldn’t give to lie curled against Cuffe’s long, strong body for a couple more hours. When Cuffe woke they could have a nice leisurely fuck, shower together, perhaps order room service. The Michelangelo had the best coffee and hot croissants outside of Paris.
But no. Cuffe would probably resemble a bear with a hangover. He was too smart not to start questioning his good luck the night before, and before long he’d put two and two together and Noel would be in braceletsthe stainless steel kind. After that, it would only be a matter of time before Cuffe figured out exactly where Dahlia Boaz’s 33-carat diamond ring had been stashed.
Speaking of which, Noel needed to get downstairs before the cleaning crew got rolling.
He threw his bedmate a final cautious look. Cuffe continued to sleep the sleep of the just. The just fucked. His face was hard even in his dreams, softened only by ridiculous eyelashesas thick and dark as a doll’s.
Keeping his breaths even and slow, his movements minimal, Noel inched out from beneath Cuffe’s arm and slid to the edge of the bed. He rose, careful not to bounce the mattress, and stood for a moment watching Cuffe in the gloom.
Was he faking?
Not much for subterfuge, Cuffe, regardless of what he believed. For nearly two years they’d been playing cat and mouse, and all this time Cuffe had imagined he was the cat. Noel had become quite fond of his endearingly single-minded nemesis. He always made sure to leave a few promising clues for him, enough to guarantee Cuffe remained point man on his case.
Of course after last night... well, Noel had his own problems to deal with after last night.
It took him less than three minutes to pack his remaining belongings. He never really unpacked. He’d enjoyed watching Cuffe painstakinglyconsidering how smashed he wasrifle through his suitcase last night while Noel feigned sleep.
Easing open the hotel door, he hung out the Do Not Disturb sign, slipped into the hall and soundlessly closed the door behind him.
At this time of the morning it only took a couple of seconds to catch an elevator to the main lobby, chill and pristine as a marble tomb following the revelries of the night before. A hint of antiseptic hung in the air. Noel could hear the distant howl of a vacuum. Through artful arrangements of creamy orchids and gilt Italian vases he spotted household staff going about their duties.
There was no sign of surveillance. No sign that anyone was paying him any attention at all. Why would they? Everyone in the city was probably recovering from the night before and the blow out New Year’s Eve party in Times Square.
Noel checked out without incident, and headed straight to the downstairs lavatory. Using the small, universal key on his fob, he opened the door of the metal trash container, moved the basket out of the way, and retrieved the plastic wrapped ring he had left tucked in the back of the metal compartment. He unzipped the lining of his London Fog trench coat, dropped the ring in and rezipped.
There was no real reason for the sick thud of his heart, the uncharacteristic tremor in his hands. He felt as nervous as when he’d pulled his first job. Why? It was going like clockwork. Hangover. That’s all this was. He needed a couple of Alka-Seltzer and sleep. He could have both on the flight to Amsterdam.
A moment later he pushed out of the restroom, strolled through the main lobby and walked out through the entrance of The Michelangelo.
Yellow dawn cast baked watercolor light across the tall buildings and shady streets. No planes fell from the sky. The computers of the world had not ground to a halt. The traffic signals continued to blink their messages to the eerily quiet streets.
Noel raised his arm to flag down a cab, and moments later one pulled to the curb, exhaust warming the cold air. From behind smudgy windows, he could hear the muffled blast of Simon and Garfunkel’s “The Only Living Boy in New York.”
He drew a deep breath of cold, dry air scented of exhaust and the salt and chemicals they used to keep the streets ice freeand something uncannily like expensive urine. The Manhattan cocktail. There was no place on earth that smelled like New York City.
Noel tossed his bags in the cab. No one tried to stop him. No one noticed him at all. It was the first day of the New Year. The first day of the new Millennium.
A new beginning.
So why did it feel like something was ending?
Copyright 2000-17, Josh Lanyon.
All rights reserved.