On the third floor of the building, behind a heavy, scuffed, Masonite mahogany door, Carla Crowe removed her coat and threw it over the armrest of the love seat near the double hung windows in the living room. She could hear Alex cooking in the kitchen, smell the over-cook on the fore-rib, smell the mixture of sweat and perfume softly emanating from Alex’s scarf, cast aside on the back of a dining chair.
“Carla, is that you?”
“No, it’s a burglar come to kidnap you and force you to work in my salt-mine.”
“Good, because the beef’s hard again, and I’d very much like it if you could rid me the responsibility of consuming this garbage.”
Carla heard the click of the stove-knobs, the flutter of a gas fire quelled, and began salivating in spite of herself. Suppression of such primal responses had been a necessary adaptation for years, but the familiarity of home made her drop her guard. Alex entered the room, two plates in hand, and a glass of wine in the other.
“Go get your cutlery and a wine for yourself, you look like you’ve had a hell of a day.”
Carla did as she was told.
“What did you cook with?”
“I’ll bring the bottle.”
Carla scanned the kitchen. Nothing was out-of-place but for the few utensils and spices that Alex had used to prepare their dinner. When she re-entered the dining room, Alex had already begun eating, fork and knife scratching against the surface of the cheap ceramic tableware they’d inherited from the previous tenant and hadn’t gotten around to replacing.
“Sit down and eat. You look terrible.” She said through mouthfuls of rice and beef.
“Long day. I saw Ish at the pub.”
“Imperial? He’s always there. What were you doing at Imperial? It’s been ages since we’ve gone together. Did he tell you about Isan and Danielle? Damn it, I’m talking to much.” Alex shovelled another spoonful into her mouth and looked up at Carla, who still hadn’t taken a seat.
“Just killing time. We’re out of pinot, by the way.”
“Sit down and eat. Overcooked is one thing, but overcooked and cold would just be a waste of my efforts.”
Carla sat, pulled her plate over and poured a glass for herself.
“Is our guest still resting?” asked Alex, with manufactured disinterest.
“He woke up for a while, answered a few questions, then went right back to sleep. Found him passed out in the Jungle alleys. Oh, before I forget, Simon’s dropping by for breakfast tomorrow.”
“The more the merrier. I don’t expect that you’ll be there, though.”
“Gotta get up early, but Simon’s sure to be a right prince in the morning.”
“He always is. Anyways, our guest, is he here on official matters or personal?”
“Nothing that will affect you or your lifestyle, if that’s what you mean.”
“And what about you and yours? If this is a Mansion job then you should move him as soon as possible, but I very much doubt it is, given his continued lodging downstairs.”
“Don’t worry, Alex, he is nobody of importance. It’s business as usual, and, if you don’t mind, I’d like to keep my business to my self until I’ve got more of it figured out.”
“Alright, well don’t over sharpen your blade. You still need somewhere to hold onto.”
They finished the rest of their meal in silence, Carla ignoring the vibrations from her phone which Alex made a poor effort at pretending not to hear. They had few rules for each other in the house; if one cooks, the other cleans; no talk about family unless it’s an emergency; and don’t tell anyone anything about each other. They loved each other, and that’s all anyone else needed to know.
Alex finished her dish and brought it to the sink before pouring herself another glass of wine and settling at her desk which was covered in papers, half-marked and overdue. Carla chewed her beef until her jaw grew sore, watched her partner as she flipped through the stacks making ticks and notes on each page, her wine sitting where she’d left it, untouched.
“You’ve finished eating?” Alex asked without turning around, still marking the papers robotically.
“Yes, I suppose I’ve had my fill.”
“And our guest?”
“He’s not hungry.” Said Carla, picking up her dishes and heading past the swinging door to the kitchen.
The door to the dishwasher was still open, an old and broken Bosch turned drying rack after years of disuse. Carla piled her dishes into the sink, put on the pink latex gloves that hung over the edge, and began to scrub. In her pocket, she could still feel the harsh vibrations of incoming messages, busy for such an unimportant night, but those summons could wait. There was never anything more important than the task at hand, and at that particular moment that task was cutlery. It would only take a few minutes. All she needed was a few minutes.