Human Kindness

by Linda Cornett

(Appeared in Eyes Only #5)

To his surprise, the whore fell asleep afterward. She was curled up warmly beside him now, her breath sighing out in slow, contented gusts, the chipped nails of one hand pressed against a plump cheek.

He pulled himself up to lean against the headboard and frowned at her. As long as she was here, he couldn't sleep, and sleep had been the main reason he had hired her In the first place. He had hoped that the sweet post-coital lassitude would allow him to slip into an easy unconsciousness, quiet the voices and mute the images from this latest mission and the several bloody, terrifying, exhausting missions that had preceded ft.

"Burnout," the smug voice of the staff psychiatrist announced in his head. "Molchitye," he told it, with small satisfaction. All he needed was some sleep, just a good sleep before he caught a plane back to New York tomorrow.

But first, the woman would have to go. He grasped the warm skin of her shoulder and gave a shake. She murmured something in a crooning voice, turned in the bed and patted his thigh gently, all without opening her eyes. He sighed in frustration; a little more force, a few words barked out loudly enough, and she would wake. But with the warmth of that comforting pat still on his skin, he found he did not have the will to disturb her.

He studied her thoughtfully. This certainly was peculiar behavior, wasn't ft? His experience with prostitutes was not vast, but surely they had almost as much cause for caution as spies. Besides, while she slept here, other johns with thick wallets were shopping the streets. Shouldn't she be eager to rejoin the competition? The others he had been with had wasted little time on cuddling, either before or after, and they certainly had showed no signs of sleepiness. They had determined his desires, the price to be paid, collected the cash, done the job, straightened themselves and left. All very efficient, impersonal, professional. The way he approached his job.

But this – he stared down at the smooth face, the slightly parted lips, the flutter of a dream behind the soft eyelids – this somnambulist seemed to have forgotten the clinical relationship that had brought them together.

He had returned just hours earlier from the mission, his back itching with drying sweat and aching from the long tension, his hearing still muffled from the bursts of gunfire around him, his shirt cuffs still wet from the mountain stream where he had washed the blood from his hands. It was not a mission he would want to remember, although he had done only what had to be done.

He had come back here to the hotel where he had rented a room two days earlier. As he picked up his room key from the friendly desk clerk he turned his face away, certain the activities of the past two days must be written there.

He had showered thoroughly, wincing as the hot water pounded against bruises, scraped knees and a superficial cut on his back, and pulled on clean linen slacks and a crisp shirt. He ordered a room service meal and tried to settle down with the technical journal he had brought along. Within minutes, he was up and pacing, strung as tight as... He knew how the cliche was supposed to end, as tight as piano wire. But the word and the image that came to mind was garrote.

Slamming the journal down on the bed, he hurried out of the hotel and set out walking, needing to be moving, needing to be somewhere, anywhere, else. He found himself pushing impatiently through the sauntering crowds of tourists and locals out for a stroll in the cool of evening. That got him some stares. No one hurried here; what was the point? But here was this pale-eyed, light-haired gringo in a shirt now wilted and damp with sweat, hurrying along as though he were already back in New York City.

Consciously slowing his steps, he continued on down brightly lit thoroughfares filled with the smells of auto exhaust and roasted chilies and warm bodies, the blare of horns, the smooth liquid flow of spoken Spanish and the halting staccato of tourists trying to make themselves understood.

The side streets were inviting and he selected one at random. The light and blare faded quickly behind him and he was stumbling on uneven pavement down a barely lit residential street. The darkness made him uneasy, revived the body-memory, still fresh, of one of his prey who had turned hunter and suddenly, silently, been at his back. He forced himself to relax, to concentrate on his surroundings.

The houses were small, lined up one after the other on the small bits of grass and dirt that passed for lawns. With windows and doors thrown open to the night breeze, each house became a shadowbox of life and activity. Here, a man and woman and two girls ate a late supper around a Formica table, the deep rumble of the father's voice interrupted by the excited piping of the girls. Next door, a woman tidying up her kitchen sang salsa along with the radio, stopping to swing her hips seductively, while a man in shirtsleeves and suit pants sat in the living room frowning at his newspaper. The soft glow from a bedside light silhouetted an elderly man standing at the window of the next house, the silver hair on his chest and head catching the faint light from a streetlamp. His shadowed face was turned toward Kuryakin and the agent tensed. In the bedroom behind the old man, a plump woman, her sagging breasts and belly outlined beneath a light cotton nightgown, unfastened her gray hair from its severe bun and shook it out around her shoulders. “Vengas aqui," she called throatily, patting the bed, and the man's teeth flickered in a smile before he turned into the room.

Moving on through the darkness, silent as his training and experience had made him, Kuryakin felt no more substantial than one of the spirits these people celebrated on El Dia de los Muertos, an observer but not a participant in life. Rather, a destroyer of life, he added grimly.

He recognized one of his black moods coming on and wished for Napoleon's presence to amuse or irritate him out of it. But, Napoleon was far away. The thread of this latest affair had taken him north, into Canada, where he was no doubt entertaining une femme Québécois. Kuryakin smiled slightly at the image of Napoleon employing his truly awful French to seduce the lady.

Ahead, increasing lights and noise signaled the beginning of another commercial area. Selecting a café on the edge of the businesses, he picked up a cold cerveza from the bar and settled at a small table set out on the sidewalk.

Across the street was a small mercado, next to a shop that seemed to sell a bit of everything, from tourist T-shirts to frying pans to dolls. Further down was a row of bars and more restaurants, a farmacia. Somewhere nearby, he predicted, there would be a low-end tourist hotel, perhaps more than one.

And in some of the bars the inevitable detritus of the tourist trade – men hawking cheap jewelry from folding trays or sweating under piles of hand-knit woolen sweaters, children offering individual pieces of chewing gum or bottles of turtle oil to soothe burned gringo skin. And moving among them, the women in their tight skirts and shoulder-baring blouses, smiling and preening and staring with manufactured lust at the men passing by.

Watching them with academic interest, Kuryakin raised the bottle to his lips and drank deeply. The beer was cold and bitter in his throat, for the moment intensely satisfying. This was what he had longed for as he crouched, sweating, watching the men he would kill as they shared beers and tortillas and exchanged impossibly, unacceptably dangerous information for bundles of money. He had killed the first one as the man raised his bottle of beer just like this, baring his throat.

Kuryakin jerked his chin down, setting the bottle abruptly on the table. He turned his eyes back to the activity down the street, drinking in the images of life.

One of the prostitutes stared back with calculating black eyes, showing him her hard white teeth and lifting her firm little breasts with a practiced shift of posture. Deliberately, he looked away to watch others in the shifting group of women. They were like exotic birds grown dusty and matted through captivity. Another woman was looking at him now, holding him with large, liquid eyes as she ran her pink tongue with exaggerated care along her painted lips.

What would that tongue feel like on his skin? He felt his cock stir at the thought. The woman curved her fingers, beckoning, and he could almost feel the slow rake of her long red nails. Another of the prostitutes, aware of the by-play, slid in front of her sister, casually lifting her dress to display strong thighs and just a shadow of pubic hair. His breath rumbled low in his throat. It had been a long time.

He thought of the alternatives – pacing the sweaty streets all night, or returning undistracted to the quiet of his hotel room. Impossible.

Tossing unseen coins on the table, he pushed his way out of the café and walked slowly across the street. The women clustered now, offering themselves with murmured promises. He pushed through, feeling their soft flesh against his, jerking free with a flash of panic when one of them clasped his arm. He selected a woman from the back of the group, young and plump with a wide mouth and gleaming long hair. She smiled guilelessly, displaying a silver-capped tooth, and took his hand in a familiar, warm grasp.

As though he had become suddenly invisible, the other women turned away, their eyes already searching for opportunity elsewhere.

He waved down a taxisto and guided the woman into the back seat. She glanced around the shabby interior with appreciation and smiled at him again.

At the hotel, the friendly clerk frowned from behind the desk, but Kuryakin glared at him and escorted the woman firmly toward the stairs and they were not stopped.

The woman inspected his room, cooing with delight at the color television, the deep tub. She sat on the edge of the bed and bounced experimentally and apparently found that, too, pleasing.

Then she was walking toward him. Kuryakin resisted the urge to back away.

He stood quite still as the woman carefully unbuttoned his shirt, smoothing the cloth with her hands and then sliding them inside to smooth the suddenly sensitive skin of his chest and stomach. She worked her arms around him inside the shirt, pressing her full breasts against him, the soft mound of her belly against his.

He should touch her, he thought and almost mechanically wrapped his arms around her shoulders and waist, pressed his face into her soft hair. She laughed and murmured something against his chest and he realized he was squeezing her fiercely.

With a murmured apology, he released her. This was not going to work. But when he opened his lips to tell her so, she was there again, covering his mouth with her own, teasing his tongue with hers, drawing away his breath and replacing it with her own.

His hands were on her shoulders, pushing aside the material of her blouse, sliding down her arms, finding her breasts. No bra. None of the ridiculous, distracting, discouraging contraptions New York women wore. Just her soft, heavy breasts and the crinkled circle of her nipples. She made a noise, or he did, as the nipples hardened against his palms.

She broke the kiss, licked along the side of his neck, dipped her tongue into the hollow at the base of his throat. Her hands slid down, cupped his buttocks firmly, rubbing the hard little mound of her pubis against his swelling cock.

He shoved impatiently at her dress. Where was the damn zipper? No zipper, no buttons, just accommodating, yielding elastic. She kicked out of the cloth and his hands were on her hips, full hips, with muscle and fat and soft skin, not the hard flesh stretched taut over bone that seemed to be the fashion.

He sighed with satisfaction and ran his hands over her. She giggled and squirmed away when he touched beneath her arms.

She was tugging at his belt buckle and he chilled when he remembered what the little square of metal was capable of, but she had it unfastened before he could react and the button and zipper of his pants were opened and her clever fingers were inside against his skin.

He sucked in a breath at that first touch, as she coaxed his cock free of the cloth and with one hand squeezed it gently and then pressed it firmly against his belly. Her other hand, with casual intimacy, slid over his hip, easing down trousers and shorts until they fell around his ankles. She started to bend, to help him remove them, but he stopped her with a hand and motioned to the bed. It wouldn't do for her to find the ankle holster and small gun hidden there. He slipped It off with the last of his clothes and tossed them on a chair.

She had turned down the covers like a careful housewife and was lying on her side on the clean sheets, unconsciously mimicking the lush subject of a Rubens painting. Her eyes moved slowly over him and he felt suddenly awkward, exposed. Then she was smiling again and gesturing for him to come close and he was reminded of the old man at the window, smiling into the night.

As he stood beside the bed, the woman laid her palm warmly against his belly, then slid it down to clasp his cock. Tugging gently, she drew him closer and suddenly enclosed him in her hot mouth. That was ... oh. His legs trembled and he steadied himself with a hand on her sleek head as she suckled expertly. It would have been so easy to let it finish there, but he wanted something more, some more elaborate resolution.

He pulled away gently and pushed her onto her back. She sprawled easily, her legs falling open. He slid onto the bed, resting his body on hers for just a minute before drawing himself back to kneel between her legs. She was wet already, her pubic hair glistening with moisture and he was seeing again the man he knew as Javier Ramone, his face half-gone and his black hair glistening with blood.

With a moan Kuryakin thrust his face between her legs, nuzzling desperately at the crisp hair, his tongue touching the wet, slick flesh. He found the small, puckered nub and licked at it, feeling it swell and soften. The woman moved, arching her back to open herself to him. He pressed on the soft flesh of her inner thighs and the petals of her labia spread. He kissed her there gently, then replaced his mouth with his fingers as he kissed and licked his way across her belly. He looked up, wanting to see her face, and found her staring at him with a mixture of pleasure and amazement. Of course. He was acting more like her lover than a john.

He shrugged and pulled his fingers away and slid up her body, fitting into her easily, as though they had been doing this as long as that elderly couple. As snugly as a clip sliding into a chamber. As smoothly as a knife into muscle. What pitiful, deadly metaphors defined his life, he thought, and moved deliberately, erasing the thought.

Her legs gripped his hips firmly, pulling him closer. Her arms were around him, one hand on the back of his head guiding his mouth to hers. For a moment they rocked that way, gently, sharing the same breath, feeling each other's heartbeats. Gradually the tempo increased, the strokes longer. He pulled his mouth away to gasp for air. Her body clutched at him, convulsing. He hid his face in the sweat-slick curve of her neck and came and came.

The taut threads of his muscles fell slack, his mind washed clean and empty for the moment. He was aware of her unsteady breath, slowing, and the soft pressure of her breasts crushed beneath his chest. Slowly, he drew away, separating from her, and stretched out beside her. He drew the covers up over them arid, to his surprise, she snuggled close, resting her cheek against his shoulder.

And here she was asleep, one arm thrown over him.

He studied her face for a moment and bent to kiss her mouth. Perhaps he could seduce her to wakefulness. She responded, sighing and opening her lips and her eyes. “Mas?” she asked with amusement. “Tan rapidamente!"

He felt himself flush, and shook his head. "No mas," he said with mock exhaustion, laying his hand over his heart. She giggled. And pulled him into another kiss and placed his hand on her breast. The nipple was moist against his palm.

He drew away from her and looked at his hand. Milk? "Tienes un bebe?"

"Una nina,' she corrected. "Tienen dos anos."

So, she had a two-year-old daughter, and still indulged the child with occasional nursing. He had the sudden image of the father, standing in the doorway of one of those tiny houses, holding a sleepy, glossy-haired child and waving as she set out for the night's work.

"Quieres sabor?" she asked, cupping the bottom of her breast.

Did he want to taste? What a ridiculous ... and yet...

The woman shifted on the bed and opened her arms. He found himself settling against her, his cheek pillowed by her well-padded ribs. She brushed the crinkled nipple against his lips teasingly and he opened them and felt it against his tongue. "Mamas," she directed softly, and he sucked. The milk was warm and sweet and flowed silkily onto the back of his tongue. It stirred a memory somewhere, beyond all the years of danger, beneath all the training and learning, back past conscious thought. He clung to the memory as he released the nipple and closed his eyes and drifted into a safe darkness.

Maria stroked the gringo’s cool, pale hair and watched as he slipped deeper into sleep. She nodded with satisfaction. This one had had some serious worry, stretched tight and tense. She had seen it in the way he carried his body as he crossed the street back in the barrio and here when she first reached to touch him. And now look at him, a face like a child. What strange creatures men were, full of self-importance and responsibility and cares, bashing their way through life, believing if they struggled hard enough they could bend the world to their will. She shook her head indulgently. It was women who understood the truth, that they had power only over the day-to-day things – preparing food, settling children’s squabbles, cooling a fever, smoothing a brow. Beyond that, forces too large to be managed held sway and one could only trust to Dios to make things come out well.

She tilted her head to read the watch on the gringo’s wrist. She would need to go soon. Javier would be home from his mysterious business in the mountains. He had something valuable to sell, his pockets would be filled with money, he had promised, enough to begin their life together. Maria closed her eyes, picturing it, herself in a beautiful dress with many ruffles and lace and Javier in a black suit, his white teeth exposed by a wide smile, his black hair glistening. Then she would be a wife, safe in a small house all her own with a yard and a fence to keep Juana secure as she played. And a new name. Maria Garcia-Ramone, she thought. Senora Javier Ramone. What a future of possibilities rested in that new name.

But, she would stay here a while. The gringo seemed like a gentleman; perhaps when he woke he would send her home in a taxi. She shifted carefully into a more comfortable position and drew the sleeping man closer to her generous breasts.

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