She sighed.

"You were right," I told her. "About him running off, about getting away free and leaving everybody else with the mess. You were right all along."

"Big comfort."

She turned and threw the backpack in the shotgun window.

"Besides," I said, "it was twentyfive thousand."

She frowned. "What?"

"The amount—I was going to give you twentyfive thousand dollars. I scammed seven hundred. You can blame me for that."

She stared at me.

I pointed my toe in the air. "Reimbursed myself for these here boots. Paid my rent.

They cost about the same amount."

Allison cracked a smile. "I've seen your apartment. The boots were a better deal."

Then she came up and put her arms around me. Her fingers traced my skin, remembering exactly where the sword tip scar was, circling around it. She kissed me long enough for Gary Hales to water the tree, the street, the front bumper on my VW.

Long enough for me to forget how to breathe.

Then she pushed lightly away, bumped my forehead with hers.

"Come down to Falfurrias sometime," she said.

"And you'll introduce me to your four brothers?" I managed to say.

She grinned. She tweaked my ear with her fingers and it stung.

"Them you could handle, sweetie."

After the red Miata drove away I stood in the middle of Queen Anne Street until a family Land Rover drove up and tapped its horn. Excuse us.

I moved to the front yard, looked at Gary Hales.

"That one's gone," I told him.

"Yeuh," Gary agreed. Disappointed.

Fortunately I'd paid my rent. That gave me thirty days to find either more money or more blondes. I figured the odds were about even.

I went inside to see about some cake.