With No One As Witness



KIMMO THORNE LIKED DIETRICH BEST OF ALL: THE HAIR, the legs, the cigarette holder, the top hat and tails. She was what he called the Whole Blooming Package, and as far as he was concerned, she was second to none. Oh, he could do Garland if pressed. Minnelli was simple, and he was definitely getting better with Streisand. But given his choice-and he was generally given it, wasn't he?-he went with Dietrich. Sultry Marlene. His number one girl. She could sing the crumbs out of a toaster, could Marlene, make no bloody mistake about it.

So he held the pose at the end of the song not because it was necessary to the act but because he loved the look of the thing. The finale to "Falling in Love Again" faded and he just kept standing there like a Marlene statue with one high-heeled foot on the seat of the chair and his cigarette holder between his fingers. The last note disappeared into silence and he remained for a five count-exulting in Marlene and in himself because she was good and he was good, he was damn damn good when it came down to it-before he altered his position. He switched off the karaoke machine then. He doffed his top hat and fluttered his tails. He bowed deeply to his audience of two. And Aunt Sal and Gran-ever loyal, they were-reacted appropriately, as he'd known they would. Aunt Sally cried, "Brilliant! Brilliant, lad!" Gran said, "Tha's our boy all over. A hunnert percent talent, our Kimmo. Wait'll I send some snaps to your mum and dad."

That would certainly bring them running, Kimmo thought sardonically. But he put his high-heeled foot on the chair once more, knowing Gran meant well, even if she was something of a dim bulb when it came to what she believed about his parents.

Gran directed Aunt Sally to "Move to the right. Get the boy's best side," and in a few minutes the pictures had been taken and the show was over for the evening.

"Where you off to tonight?" Aunt Sally asked as Kimmo headed for his bedroom. "You seein' anyone special, our Kim?"

He wasn't, but she needn't know that. "The Blink," he told her blithely.

"Well, you lads keep yourselfs out of trouble, then."

He winked at her and ducked into his doorway. "Always, always, Auntie," he lied. He eased the door shut behind him then and flicked its lock into place.

The care of the Marlene togs came first. Kimmo took them off and hung them up before turning to his dressing table. There, he examined his face and for a moment considered removing some of the makeup. But he finally shrugged the idea aside and rustled through the clothes cupboard for a change that would do. He chose a hooded sweatshirt, the leggings he liked, and his flat-soled, suede, ankle-high boots. He enjoyed the ambiguity of the ensemble. Male or female? an observer might ask. But only if Kimmo spoke would it actually show. For his voice had finally broken and when he opened his mouth now, the jig was up.

He drew the sweatshirt hood over his head and sauntered down the stairs. "I'm off, then," he called to his gran and his aunt as he grabbed his jacket from a hook near the door.

"'Bye, darlin' boy," Gran replied.

"Keep yourself yourself, luv," Aunt Sally added.

He kissed the air at them. They kissed the air in turn. "Love you," everyone said at once.

Outside, he zipped his jacket and unlocked his bicycle from the railing. He rolled it along to the lift and pressed the button there, and as he waited, he checked the bike's saddlebags to make sure that he had everything he'd need. He maintained a mental checklist on which he ticked items off: emergency hammer, gloves, screwdriver, jemmy, pocket torch, pillowcase, one red rose. This last he liked to leave as his calling card. One really oughtn't to take without giving as well.

It was a cold night outside in the street, and Kimmo didn't look forward to the ride. He hated having to go by bike, and he hated biking even more when the temperature hovered so close to freezing. But as neither Gran nor Aunt Sally had a car, and as he himself had no driving licence to flash at a copper, along with his most appealing smile if he was stopped, he had no other choice but to pedal it. Going by bus was more or less out of the question.

His route took him

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