“Something wonderful is going to happen today.”
“Were you talking to me?” A fun-sized blonde deliverywoman, no one Ford had met before, juggled her armload of Flowers Fast! boxes to pop out her iPod earbuds.
Ford grinned up at her from where he'd crouched to study the sidewalk perpendicular to the museum service elevator he, and presumably she, was waiting on. “Sorry, no. I wasn't talking to you. Not that I wouldn't. Everyone I've ever known swears you can't shut me up for love or money. They're usually right.”
The deliverywoman looked like she couldn't decide between aww, cute
and running. “You're a little crazy, aren't you?”
“So I'm often told.” He'd bet this woman was one heck of a character herself. She'd made some, er, interesting
fashion choices involving calf-length striped tights and patchouli hair wax. “I'm Ford.” He offered her a hand from below. “Come down here and check this out.”
“This isn't some kind of cheesy pick-up line, is it? I'd be flattered, but...okay, wow. From the look on your face, I can answer that one myself. So
not a pick-up line. If you were any less into women, you'd be a gastropod.”
Ford laughed. “That's a new one on me.”
“If the shoe fits. I'm Kayla.”
“Like the truck?” The deliverywoman crouched beside him. Good. Ford liked her, and her coming along for the ride was an excellent sign. Something wonderful and
something unexpected were set to happen today. “You deliver for Rush Plus, right?”
“Packages where you want them to go as fast as you want 'em to get there. Or as fast as I can pedal.” Ford patted his heavy messenger bag.
“Pleased to meet you. I could use a pick-me-up. Delivering flowers is surprisingly thankless work. What's this good thing that's going to happen today?”
“I don't know yet.” Ford waved up from their spot on the sidewalk at the weird door to the external service elevator and the five floors of refurbished mill-cum-museum it had to sledge its way down at the speed of thick molasses. “It's complicated. If you're up for it, there's time for me to explain.”
“God, tell me about it.” Kayla scowled at the stubborn doors.
Ford had started to feel the burn of his crouch, the solid weight of his body not really best designed for sitting this way, but he could take it a little longer, and he had a good example right in front of him. A penny, less than a foot away on the sidewalk. “Do you believe in magic?”
“Wait, what? Do you mean stage magic? Illusions and that kind of thing?”
“Not exactly.” Ford nudged the penny with the tip of his finger and waggled his eyebrows at her. He liked playing over the top. Made people less nervous of the giant with his crazy talk.
“Ohh, I get it. See a penny, pick it up, and all day long you'll have good luck?”
“Exactly.” Ford levered the penny off the sidewalk.
“Hey, don't knock it just because it needs a little TLC.” Ford balanced the penny in his palm, where it looked lost and tiny in the breadth and width of his hand. Or, depending on your point of view, safe. Protected. “It's heads up, even. Extra good luck.”
“Yeah, but where's the proof?”
“You don't need proof if you believe. And I do. Because it's true. This penny means it's my lucky day.” Ford shifted and winced. His knees had had enough of bearing all his weight. Time to stand. “I need to stand up. Don't freak out, okay?”
“Why would that tweak me?”
“You'll see.” Ford stood slowly to give her time to adjust to his size. At six feet nine with a proportionate build that could only be described as solid
, he liked to make sure people knew in advance he wasn't a threat.
Kayla's eyes widened. She took a step back, then forward, her chin up. “Holy cow. Sorry, just...wow, man. You're huge
“And you're itty-bitty. I won't hurt you.”
“A gentle giant, huh?” Kayla studied him with her head tilted to one side. “Okay. I believe you.”
“You'd be surprised how many don't. Thank you. May I?” Ford took her hand to kiss the back of it.
“Touche, Mister.” Kayla fiddled with a strand of her spiky hair. “So you really, really believe in luck? What about omens and good signs and that kind of thing?”
“Yes, yes, yes, and all of the above, yes. And you don't, right?”
When Kayla shook her head, a ladder of silver rings running along the outer shells of her ears jingled. All positive signs that pointed toward good fortune. Better and better. “Don't shun me or anything. I've just never seen any proof that all those old wives' tales are more than just stories.”
Ford grinned broadly at her. He loved it when someone was willing to be convinced. “If it's proof you want, I can do proof. Prepare to be amazed.”
The way Gavin saw the world was this: not all shy men were loners, and not all loners were shy. Most shy men and loners weren't hermits, though he'd have bet more would be if they could get away with it. But a man did have to make a living, and museums needed secretaries and office managers just like every other business. Gavin did fast, efficient work, kept his head down, and spent all his lunch hours and breaks he had out here.
An old terrace whose bricks still smelled of smoke after years of mill management sneaking one in where they could. A freak of architecture had left it stuck on after the remodeling of the place from mill to a museum of the strange, the unusual, and the old. No one ever went out there but Gavin. Ever.
He liked the stillness that came with being alone. Better still, the warmth of the sun streaming down and the brightness of the horizon through the city skyline. Peaceful. Quiet. Solitary.
Voices carried more clearly to the old smokers' terrace than one would think. With fifteen minutes of his lunch break left on the clock, Gavin had two choices: leave or listen to those two below keep chattering like magpies.
Idle curiosity compelled. What could possibly be so interesting as to keep this pair rambling on at top volume for almost ten minutes? Gavin straddled the protective stone wall that fenced in the old terrace, braced himself on one hand, and craned his neck to look down.
He scanned and passed over the plump little blonde. Strange, enthusiastic little birds like her flew by the flock in artsy towns. But the man... Gavin leaned almost too far forward and caught himself just before he risked falling.
There was so much of this man to see. Tall, looming high above the blonde. The height and breadth of shoulders were matched by powerful legs, massive feet, and hands large enough that Gavin would bet they could fit fully around his own waist.
If he were to be honest with himself, the man's exuberance was only part of what caught Gavin and held him in thrall. Thick black hair too wild to be contained slipping free, strand by strand, from the rubber band that strained to keep it in check. His sweater, as blue as the night sky, rode up at the waist to bare a strip of skin when he whooped in excitement over...something...and punched the air.
Not just a man. A man
. He could have stepped off the pages of a history book, larger-than-life and twice as vivid. More man than most could handle. Definitely too much for Gavin.
He looked a lot like--
Be damned if Gavin couldn't look away. In fact, Gavin leaned farther forward still, trying to catch every word. What are they doing now?
Ford clapped his hands together and rubbed them briskly. “Okay. See this elevator?”
“Only in my dreams, when I wait hours for it and it never shows.”
The more they chatted, the more Ford liked Kayla. If he'd gone for women at all, she'd have been exactly his type with her zest for life and her obvious enjoyment of eccentricities. Two too many breasts and a sad lack of a penis were kind of deal breakers for him.
But she could be a friend.
Ford took Kayla by the hand and guided her closer to the stubbornly sealed elevator doors so she could trace for herself the deep gouge in the painted metal. “Feel this. What does the mark tell you?”
“That someone got fed up waiting and keyed it?”
“Maybe, but try to look beyond that.” Ford guided her forefinger in a trace through the Y-shaped groove. “See how it forks? Any ride taken on this elevator is going to be one that changes your life. You step on or off with one destination in your mind, but really, it's two. You'll have a choice when you step off, and whichever path you choose will change your life.”
“Uh-huh.” Kayla's lips twitched, and her eyes danced with barely concealed amusement. She whistled the Twilight Zone
Ford feigned a playful swat at her. Another thing he'd had to learn in the large life was to pull any physical punches. Yet another reason, though admittedly not the biggest one, why Ford didn't go for women. He'd squash them.
Kayla planted her hands on her hips. “C'mon, magic man. Is that all you've got?”
“No way. Anywhere you look, there's some kind of sign to be read.” Ford wheeled about to face the lunchtime rush on the neighborhood streets. He scanned about, searching, searching--Ah
! “Look,” he told Kayla, pointing up at the sky and the crows flying past.
“All I'm seeing is birds.”
“They aren't just birds. They're omens.” Ford counted them. “Four ravens. One for sorrow, two for mirth, three for a wedding, and four for a birth. Four.” He laughed at Kayla's abruptly white face and panicky retreat. “No one's going to go into labor out here. I'd see other signs for that. But look there...”
The four birds flew low and swift over a taxicab pulling up to the curb. Out of that taxi stepped a tired-looking brunette. Not the soul-weary exhaustion of a third-shift worker, but one who glowed with a sort of radiant happiness. From the backseat, she collected an infant carrier and bent to kiss the top of a tiny newborn's head.
“Gotcha,” Ford exulted. Quietly, so he didn't wake the baby. When he turned to Kayla for her reaction, he liked what he saw. Maybe still a teeny bit of dubiousness, but mostly growing delight. “So what do you think? Still freaked-out?”
Kayla bounced on her heels. “Are you kidding? That...was...awesome
. Can you do it again?”
“I should be able to. Though...I have to warn you we got lucky that time. In Chinese, the word for 'four' means two things, depending on how you say it.”
. It can just mean 'four,' or it can mean 'death.'” Ford had learned to read the signs while sitting at the feet of his half-Irish, half-Chinese grandfather. If Ford ever missed a sign or read one wrong, Grandpa Xiao O'Shea would whack him over the head with whatever he had handy, hard enough to make sure he'd see things for hours. Such as exploding stars and little birdies.
Grandpa never had liked Ford's name. “Too close to
four for comfort
,” he'd claimed. “You'll ride close to the wire when you least want to
Kayla crept closer to him. “Jesus.”
“It's okay. This time, just four and nothing to be scared of.”
“So it's not all sunshine and roses.”
“Not always.” Ford shook off a brief chill. “Anyway, don't sweat it. You wanted me to go again?”
Kayla crowded in close, shading her eyes to search. Ford still spotted one first. “Look over there, across the street. See that guy in the sharp suit, the one with the briefcase?” Weasel faced and impatient, the man seethed behind a slow-moving crowd of elderly female window-shoppers who blocked the sidewalk.
“I think I've got the hang of it. Signs indicate he's a total douche.”
Ford stifled a laugh. No getting distracted now. “You're probably right. But watch. He's going to... Yes...see? He's skipping around the bottleneck and underneath that scaffolding, which is so incredibly stupid in the first place.”
“Walking under a ladder is bad.” Kayla nodded. “I really think I am getting the hang of this. What's going to happen to him? It doesn't always work right away, does it?”
“Not always, but right now? Wait for it... Wait for it...”
Impatient Tool strode past the shoppers. When he turned back to sneer at them, not watching his step--Whammo
! Gopher holed in a patch of sidewalk that'd been jackhammered up to plant a tree.
“Oh my God.” Kayla might have a brighter grin than Ford in finest form. “This is better than going to see the wizard. Do it again?”
“How could I say no to that face?” He hmm'd and searched the area. As he did so, a gust of rogue wind almost whipped off Kayla's jangly necklace.
“May I?” Ford lifted the center pendant. Aha
. A rough circle of green glass edged in gold. He took a quick, thorough scan of Kayla and saw the sign he'd known would be there. “Check your boot.”
“My what?” Kayla pulled a face.
Ford tested the weight of the pendant. It had a definite list, and a rough bubble on the right. “Your right boot. Have you been thinking you've got a pebble wedged in there or something?”
“Actually, yeah. For a block or so now.” Kayla tried to kick the boot off. She stumbled when she succeeded and hopped gracelessly on one striped-tights-clad foot, the boot in her hand flailing about.
. A coin wedged into one of the decorative open chunks of her heavy boots shook free and rolled away. Ford caught the tarnished silver and handed it to her. “There. Good fortune blew your way.”
“A silver dollar? I've got to say it beats a lucky penny.” Kayla didn't protest the dirtiness of this
money. She buffed it with her sleeve and squinted at the date. “Holy crap.” She squeaked like a mouse that'd gotten into the sugar. “Ford, my God, this is a 1928 silver dollar. This has got to be worth more than one hundred pennies.”
“And it's yours,” Ford said. He took a moment to enjoy the warm glow of a good job well done. “Now do you believe me?”
“When faced with the improbable, the impossible is your only choice.” Kayla tucked the coin in her pocket and, before Ford could take adequate warning from the abrupt impish sparkle in her eye, turned on him. “Now you. Fair's fair. Dig up some omens and tell your own fortune. If you can.”
Gavin knew he should have been back inside by now--five minutes ago, no less--ensconced behind his desk, working on updating archive databases.
Where was he, though? Still perched on the railing, straddled between one world and the next. Though not a man given to superstition--ever--Gavin had the strangest feeling that long after the messenger had carried out his business and ridden away, the sight of his wet-dream body and the sound of his rumbling, barrel-deep voice would echo within his memory for days to come.
The thought didn't make him happy.
Enough. He had to get rid of them. He'd go down himself and collect their packages. As wound up in talking as they were, the elevator might have crawled up and down twice, and neither would have noticed.
Gavin was inside the elevator, prompt for once, and the doors were sliding shut before it occurred to him to second-guess and wonder why he hadn't just gone back inside to shut the two out. And why he hadn't taken the stairs like a sensible man.
Bah. At least it'd get the job done, get this far-too-compelling stranger on his way, and things could go back to how they should be. Quiet.
Hard hearts were safe hearts. Gavin hadn't spent this many years alone and on his guard just to throw all the effort away now, no matter how tempting...