Outside the open apartment gate, a small pack of children threw rocks at passing cars. The rules of the game were simple enough to take in at a glance: choose a stone, hit hard enough to make noise, scatter if the window shatters. One little boy crouched by the wall, guilty of hitting glass earlier in the day, and the others flashed him grins. Because he had gotten them in trouble, made the man with the mustache like a caterpillar chase them around the neighborhood, made them all hide with their lungs bursting from running and laughing. Because he had made the best noise.
Tanya watched them from a bench on the little manicured lawn that belonged to no one in particular and everyone in general. She was too far away for any of the four-foot delinquents to care that she was clearly an adult. One leg crossed over the other, phone propped against her knee, she just sat, invisible, wrapped in the clatter and the sunshine.
Until Kovalsky sat down beside her.
He leaned back against the bench the same way she did. He pulled one ankle up over his knee, checked his phone, tapped his fingers against his shoe. Every motion was as boring as a vacant breath, and she still watched them like movements on a stage. He should have been as invisible as she was, but it was the cars and stones, children and walls, and sky that seemed suddenly not to exist.
Kovalsky tugged on his knotted shoelaces as if they had pinched for a moment. Then he forgot about it.
“I didn’t expect to hear from you,” he murmured.
Tanya didn’t look at him. But she smiled. “I didn’t really expect to call.”
“Are you going to say good-bye to everyone like this?”
“Can’t exactly throw a party…”
Kovalsky laughed. “Can’t? That’s rich, considering…”
Tanya pretended to brush an itch off the side of her nose with her thumb, carefully hiding her pleasure. “Considering, what?” she asked, and didn’t care that her tone betrayed her.
He paused. “Considering you somehow managed to get me here without the handlers hearing about the invitation.”
“Yeah…” Tanya glanced down at her phone. “I figure I have about… seven years?” She glanced at him. “Before Hendricks retires? Someone new comes in, figures out the dangerous thing that they just let walk away…”
Kovalsky raised his eyebrows slowly. “Is this not just a good-bye?”
She shook her head. “I don’t need anything from you. There’s you could tell me about what it means to be dropped like this that I couldn’t work out for myself.”
“Sure,” Kovalsky said.
“Sure,” she agreed.
A car came down the road. They heard the engine, and the sharp thunk, and the children whooping like they had landed a shot on the moon, not a blue four-door with a paw-print bumper sticker.
Kovalsky smiled at Tanya. “I can’t stay any longer,” he said.
She nodded. “Get going then.”
He gathered himself off the bench, set his hands in his pockets as if he were locating his car keys. And he didn’t loose his smile, meeting her eye. “We know what you did,” he murmured.
She didn’t move.
He started to grin. “Gonna miss you.”
“You too,” Tanya said.
He turned away before she could see the full stretch of his smile, and stepped down into the parking lot.
She leaned forward, hesitating. Then she lifted her chin. “Don’t be the one to hunt me down!”
Kovalsky didn’t miss a stride, just tossed over his shoulder, “I’m retiring with Hendricks!”