The Blood Test – John Walters

The enigmatic woman in black showed up for the first time at one of my bookstore readings. She sat in the back and did not come forward for the signing. Instead, she stood far off across the room, apart from the crowd, watching me with an intense quizzical expression.

The rush of popular acclaim was still so new for me that I had not yet become jaded by success. I welcomed every person in the autograph line that stretched from my table in the lobby to the far wall and then wound around several aisles. Too recently I had been broke, struggling to pay my bills each month, wracked with despair, and convinced that nobody would ever recognize my efforts and buy my books.

So I greeted each one as they reached the table, autographed whatever they brought, and thanked them sincerely for coming – even when my fingers became cramped, my back ached, and my bladder emitted signals that it required emptying.

By the time the final customer had left and I had relieved myself and was exiting the building, employees were turning off the lights and locking up.

She waited for me on the steps.

She was in her mid-thirties, I guessed. Her long dark hair was so wavy it almost qualified as curly. She had a slim face with a sharp chin and the slender body of an athlete or dancer.

And something about her looked vaguely familiar.

“Excuse me,” she said. “I need to talk to you.”

I’d been accosted by attractive young fans before. Sometimes I’d even overridden my better judgment and had gone out with them, but it had not ended well. Thirty years ago I would have been better able to handle casual romance; now it ill suited me.

Still, I didn’t want to be impolite. “Did you miss the autograph session? I suppose I could spare a signature, if you’ve got something ready.”

“No, it’s not that. I really need a few minutes of your time.”

After the crowd scene, I wanted to do nothing else but get back to my hotel room, kick off my shoes, pour a drink, and watch a film. I was in no mood to play the seduction game.

And yet…

She didn’t come across as the average fan. In fact, she didn’t seem on the make at all. She displayed none of the intense eagerness of a fan approaching a celebrity. She was intense, yes, but it was a different sort of intensity.

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