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The gutters on GÃ¥sgrÃ¤nd were overflowing again. Ranulf stepped over the brimming cobblestone-rut with a silent blessing; February rain draped the alley in drizzling shadows. Late day might as well have been twilight, given four stories of medieval townhouses looming overhead, and Ranulf kept his pace slow. He wasn’t one for watching his feet in a literal sense, but neither had he ever been one for falling flat on his ass from an imbalanced step on a slick cobblestone. Besides, good coffee deserved to be sipped, not splattered on him and the street.
He came up short at his building’s doorway. A young man huddled in the narrow sheltered archway, dark hair slicked back. A thick tail of hair rested on his shoulder, bound or braided in some manner, the tail-end of a comma to punctuate the long pale face, high brow with a widow’s peak, straight nose, firm jaw. He brought to Ranulf’s mind the silent watching saints frozen in cathedral windows.
The resemblance stopped there, though; the young man’s arms were folded, long fingers gripped his elbows, and the outer-facing side of his jeans jacket was soaked dark-blue from the incessant rain. Ranulf stared, wondering if this were a questionable type like those of his landlady’s frequent complaints. The stoic profile was imperfect: a slight movement of the eyebrows, a tightening in the mouth. The kid had his head down and one ankle hooked over the other in a defiant pose, but if he meant for casual, he was failing miserably. Shivering, every muscle tensed, he was clearly watching Ranulf as closely as Ranulf was in return.
Ice-cold rain hit the back of Ranulf’s neck; that was enough of that. He had better things to do than ogle street kids, medieval glassworks complexion notwithstanding. He perched the coffee cup-holder on the dinner boxes to free a hand for pocket-searching, and the kid finally spoke.
“You SÃ¸rensson?” Rough, low, one of those whiskey-and-cigarette voices. The kid sneezed. An oncoming cold, instead, then.
“Who-’” Ranulf started when the kid swiped the cup-holder. “Hey-’”
“You were about to spill it.” The young man held it out, like he had no interest in it, but two fingers reached over the edge of the holder to curl closely around one of the cups. His other hand clenched, fisted; at the unintentional twitch of Ranulf’s brow, the kid’s chin jutted, and he shoved his free hand deep in a pocket, mouth in a flat line. The overhead lamp cast peculiar shadows, hooding his eyes and hollowing his cheeks.
Ranulf shrugged mentally, if with some amusement at the prickly reactions. He unlocked the door and motioned the kid to proceed. Once inside, he took the coffees back without a word, busy recalling the outstanding contracts. What other deliveries were due?
The young man shifted from one foot to another, gaze darting around the small breezeway, studying the metal gate that blocked the entrance to the courtyard; that original impression of a rain-soaked saint was fast fading into something more akin a filthy stray. Finally he squared his shoulders -’ sneezed with unexpected force, sniffled, scowled at Ranulf as though this were all Ranulf’s fault, and attempted to settle himself enough to look intimidating again.