If she was trying to steal it by patting the window to death, this would be one for the guys down at the station. Lazily, Colton flipped on the sirens for a quick roll announcing he was here. While he slid out of his car, shined black shoes scuffing in the red dirt, the woman whipped her head over.
She didn’t run. Whether that was due to her being in trouble or a very stupid criminal was yet to be seen. Knocking a finger against his sternum instinctively, the body cam kicked on just as Colton spoke, “Excuse me, Ma’am.”
“Thank God,” she shouted, her hands pressed together to emphasize the prayer as she began to run towards him. Colton froze, grinding his back leg into the dirt. He didn’t reach for the pistol at his side, but he narrowed his eyes and placed a hand against the lawful blues circling his hip.
The civilian paused, her eyes darting towards the threatening movement a moment before she focused fully on him. Her face twisted not in fear, or concern of being caught, but a moment of reflection. She wasn’t tall, perhaps medium height, and he’d put her at medium build as well. Colton was no expert at women’s sizing but in that 8 to 10 dress size range, the weight carrying more in her upper body than lower. Brown hair, the crown hidden away by a knit cap of ivory. On the whole, she was as remarkable and memorable as a plate of rice…except for the eyes.
At this range, he couldn’t make out the color, but the clarity was evident. They glimmered with a certainty that caused the officer of the law to pause and glance around as if he was intruding upon her space. That’s…you’re overreacting. He shook off the momentary lapse and found nothing more than an average woman before him.
Taking a step towards her, Colton unearthed the terrifying pad from his front pocket. “I noticed you were…”
“Colton!” she shouted his name, snapping her fingers as if she just arrived at the answer to a puzzle.
He twisted in surprise, his eyes darting back and forth over the woman. From deep inside he ransacked his brain for how he could know her and vice versa. She was normal, as typical as any woman one would find at a local Zippy Foods on a Sunday afternoon, but there was no memory of him ever meeting her.
“Colton…Davies, right? Winterset High! We were in English together.”
Winterset. God, he hadn’t thought of his hometown in years. The officer blushed, becoming more and more blisteringly aware that he had no recollection of her. And she was staring in anticipation. Crap. “I…I’m sorry. It…”
“Was a long time ago,” she raced to fill in. “It’s me, Kristen. Kristen Trevelyan.” Her hand stuck out towards him while those certain eyes glimmered and a smile filled her round face. Colton raced to tuck away the pad in order to take it. Even still, he kept eyeing her, trying to trudge up a single memory of this girl.
“Look at you,” she whistled through her teeth, “haven’t changed a bit.” He frowned a moment, feeling far less gawky than his teenage self ever was. Her eyes darted up to his scalp and she tacked on, “Except for the hair.”
A small smile twinned with a blush erupted as he thumbed the waves where curls used to be. “Yes, I…I thought it best to look professional.”
“Looks good,” she muttered before casting her eyes down upon her own attire, “And I am a blighted mess. Isn’t that always the way? Blast from your past shows up out of the blue while you look like cat barf.”
“No,” he shook his head, feeling more and more off-kilter by the obvious faux pas of his forgetting a woman that seemed to know him, “You are…” The professional, calculating eye faded and for a brief glimmer, the long-buried red-blooded man arose to properly take her in. Her blouse’s top buttons were popped apart, revealing a curl of blue lace to try and camouflage her cleavage. It would probably work for most, but from his greater height, he was able to look directly down into the mysterious chasm, which was not what he should be doing.
“You’re fine,” he tried to whip away the gibbering adolescent giggling about breasts and return to a state of professionalism. “Miss Trevelyan…”
“Hm?” Her eyes softened to that of a cinnamon bun so hot from the oven the icing melted off the side. Blessed christ, get a grip upon yourself. Your behavior is abhorrent.
“What were you doing, precisely, with the vehicle?”
“Oh!” she slapped a hand on her forehead, “I locked my damn keys in the car. I read on the internet that if you hit the window in just the right spot you can fool it into rolling down.” Her eyes gazed past him back at his patrol car, “That…that probably looked rather suspicious, huh?”
“A bit,” he admitted with a sigh and bundled the pad up back into his front pocket. “May I…?” Colton asked while gesturing towards the car. It certainly wasn’t a junker like he’d expect to find rattling around down here, but it wasn’t high on the chop shop’s list of parts either. “A Dodge Charger?” he asked even while certain.
Kristen bobbed her head while waving towards the blue sedan. “Got it second hand…fairly recently too. Didn’t need one when I lived back west in DC.”
There was no denying how his face scrunched up at the mention of the city of backstabbing, “What in God’s name were you doing there?”
“I wonder that every night,” she whispered to herself while shaking her head. It brought a small smile to Colton’s lips to find a shared sentiment. Not a surprise, if she was from Winterset she grew up with farms and gravel roads, not overpasses and crammed-in apartments. Then again, most would probably wonder what someone like Colton was doing in a city of three million himself. God knows he did.
Kristen knocked her knuckles against the driver’s side window, “See, right there on my seat…visible but out of reach.” She jabbed towards her keys, the ring only holding four along with a fluffy plush griffin. “I am putting you on a bungee cord, keys!” Kristen added at the pile of metal before running a hand over her weary forehead.
How long had she been stuck here before anyone thought to pull over and help? Then again, given this neighborhood perhaps it was best no one wanted to bother. “Seems you weren’t planning on carjacking,” Colton admitted, “but that window rumor isn’t true.”
“Damn,” she sighed, tipping her head to the side in exhaustion. “Guess you can’t trust everything you read.”
He snorted at the thought. “Next time just call for a locksmith.”
“Yeah, about that…” with her bent finger, she jabbed towards the passenger side seat where her tan leather purse sat. “Phone’s inside,” Kristen said with a half-hearted smile. She shrugged, but her lips began to crumple into what looked like tears. “Th…thanks for the advice, about the window. I’ll, uh…”
He flinched, his own spine burning at the clear frustration and exhaustion in her voice. Perhaps he could call a locksmith for her, or… “Do you have a spare key for this vehicle?”
Her eyes lit up a moment and she nodded her head as if she hadn’t thought of it, “Yes, back at my apartment. Which is…” For a moment she jabbed into the air, trying to trace the line of crumbling multi-story buildings. “Somewhere out there. Can you tell I haven’t been here long?”
Wrapping her hands against her forehead, she hid her eyes away from him while she tried to burn all her frustration into the ground. “I really hate cities. There’s too much at once, and you have to try and remember it and…whatever happened to navigating by landmarks.”
Colton smiled a moment, “Mrs. Odell’s fat bull.” That thing would stand in the middle of her field day or night, barely moving save to twitch its tail. Everyone knew that the turn onto the highway was right past it.
“Or the inverted church,” Kristen laughed to herself, the tears seeming to have slowed as she thought back to their home.
He nodded at the memory of the church whose steeple one stormy day pitched off the roof and impaled into the pub next door. Not having the money to repair either, in the pub it became a good luck charm while the church refused to speak of it. They said that if you touched the very tip of the impaled steeple you would get laid that very night. Damn near every boy would sneak into the pub’s basement to try and find the thing.
His guilty eyes darted over to Kristen and he snapped at himself. Why did you think of that old folktale now?
“Well,” she swiped at her eyes, “it was good seeing you again.”
“I could call someone for you, someone to pick up your keys,” he threw out quickly, worried about leaving her alone with no recourse and no easy way to get back home.
She shrugged and bit her lip, “I’m afraid I don’t know anyone. Except for my landlord, who I would rather not impress upon. I think he’s from Par Vollen judging by the accent and tendency to throw things.”
A wren — with her piles of brunette hair tucked under the cap, moon face, and glittering eyes she reminded him of those impish songbirds. At some point, a mother built a nest on a little outcropping beside the fire escape outside his bedroom window. He’d wake to hear the cheeps and chirps begging for food, tiny bodies clinging together when their mother was away. During a bad storm, Colton once draped one of his old coats above the nest to give them shelter. Foolish, nature wasn’t kind, but it stung him with a bittersweet pride to watch when all the babies took flight.
“What if I take you to your apartment?” he said, incapable of not helping even if it wasn’t his job.
Her lips dropped a moment and she glanced around. “That’s so sweet, but I’m sure you’re busy with bank robbers to catch and evil senators to expose…”
Colton smiled, “My life is less exciting than tv makes it out to be.” Those big, brown eyes darted from her locked off, unreachable car, back to his. When a smile flitted around her lips, so did one on his.
“All right,” Kristen nodded. “I’d be grateful for a trip to my place.”
“I assume you know the address at least?” he asked while walking her to his patrol car.
“Yep,” she nodded, repeating the address to him as if she’d had it memorized before setting off on a grand adventure. Too bad those rarely included having your white steed locked up and you missing the key.
Colton cracked open the driver’s side door and began to slide in while she bobbed back and forth from the back to the front. “Um,” Kristen waffled, “should I get in the back?”
His eyes darted towards the cordoned bench without door handles and hidden behind a thick screen to protect him. That was where he kept criminals, not tiny wrens. “No,” he shook his head before reaching over to crack open the passenger side. “Sit up here, by me. I might need a bit of assistance with the directions.”
“Okay,” she chuckled while sliding in beside him, “but I don’t know how much I can give. Holy crap, those are a lot of buttons,” she whistled to herself while eyeing up the computer display. He twisted it back to give her more room. “Like a fancy spaceship from those old Wyndham movies.”
“I haven’t seen them,” Colton mumbled while inputting her address. He had no idea where it was, but that was what GPS was for. This city was too God damn big.
“Really? Not even the one with the big blue guy and the little yellow one who have to fight against a green woman from a galaxy far far…” she paused in her thoughts to tap a finger to her chin, “Now that I say it aloud, it sounds like an artist’s color wheel.”
Colton flexed his hands against the steering wheel after checking his mirrors and honestly signaling to pull out. He even kept to the speed limit, much to the consternation of all the traffic around him who, at the sight of a cop car, dropped five or more under. Maintaining law was paramount for all, not just those who arbitrarily pick and choose what to follow. Which is why you let a civilian… He needed to stop thinking in those terms. A not-cop into your front seat.
She wasn’t touching anything she shouldn’t. Her hands were both buried under her thighs as if Kristen was concerned about bumping something vital. It raised up her knees, causing the ruffled skirt to reveal more than a sliver of her pale skin above knee-high socks. Watch the road, not your passenger.
“I don’t see many movies,” Colton coughed out. “None too recent. But I did catch the talking tree one.”
“Entirely in rhyme,” she whistled, “had to be hell on the writers.”
“So…” God’s breath, why was he terrible at this? It should be simple, speak a few words while driving, inquire about the weather or the news, yet his tongue was tacking to the roof of his mouth. Words tripped back and forth forming sentences that were pleasant and easy enough, but upon perusal, he deemed them all too insipid or bland to voice. “What do you do?”
Kristen cracked an eyebrow up and shifted in her seat towards him. The movement tugged upon the locked in seat belt, which was digging into that lace cleavage shroud. Good thing Colton was stopped at a red light, or he might have slammed the brakes in surprise at how her chest was framed. Seeming to be unaware of the slight panic in his brain, she sighed, “Government, boring stuff mostly. Paper pushing from here to there.”
“Explains being in DC,” he whispered to himself while turning the car to the right. “That place seeps bureaucracy from its very pores.”
“Like grave wax,” she whispered to herself before her eyes darted over. “Which is…uh…”
“A waxy buildup upon dead bodies from the fat breaking down,” Colton answered. His voice was neutral, but as her mouth dropped open in surprise he smiled, “Sometimes even flat foots watch the Knowledge Channel.”
“That’s…here I thought I was the only macabre one who didn’t wear all black and call myself DeathMistress Nightmoon.”
“As far as you know,” he shrugged. Bloody hell, did you just imply to a woman that you are a secret goth vampire? She’s liable to leap from the window even with the car in motion.
Kristen tipped her head down, but her apple cheeks were besotted in a blush, “Were you always this funny? I swear in high school it was all…”
He didn’t answer, both hands rending the leather of the steering wheel too and fro until it cracked. High school, when he had a plan. A foolish one built on dreams they sold to boys without the brainstems to understand what they signed up for. “I’m afraid I’m as serious as a heart attack, same as back then. What…what about you? Have you changed…?” He asked to switch the subject before realizing he was more or less asking her to explain who she was.
Shifting again in the seat, Kristen glanced over at him, “Can’t remember me, can you?”
Mortification paled his cheeks and he scrunched into the neck of his uniform. After a moment of swallowing, he admitted, “No, I’m afraid not.”
Instead of huffing or crossing her arms, she smiled, “That’s normal. I was quiet, forgettable really. Not that much has changed since then. Boring girl in a boring job with a boring life.”
“You…” It was hard to consider her boring, or even average, but she appeared to be your typical paper-pushing assistant out of DC scrabbling under a dozen different reps to shift one form to another. He’d have gone along with her assessment, maybe even agreed to make himself look better for failing to remember, but her eyes kept sticking with him. It was foolish how he wanted her to look at him again.
Turning to focus on the road and not the woman he picked up…God’s breath no, not that. He was assisting. Colton said, “Your job send you here or…?”
“No. Quit. Well, they reshuffled things internally which meant I was doing two people’s work for one person’s salary. So I walked out. Set out for anywhere that didn’t have drink specials that daily switched to whatever headline was rocking Court-SPAN.”
Colton snorted at that. “A couple of country bumpkins wind up in the big city.”
“A true mystery of God. How about you?” she turned to him, those gimlet eyes honed to the side of his face. Perhaps she was looking at the scar, people were often staring while working up the courage to ask about it. “How’d you stick here of all places? Weren’t you…?”
Off to fight. Damn near everyone in school knew it. Shit, the town. That was how small towns worked. They put it in the little bulletins for graduation — everyone’s plans after. Probably on the bulletin board too since everyone attended the church as well. He was so damn proud to put on a uniform, to serve the cause. To become one of many. To get help with his future that a large farming family could never provide.
“Yeah,” he sputtered, “joined the marines. For a time.” Too long of a time.
Kristen didn’t ask another question, just turned to gaze out at the world passing by. “Oh!” she cried, jabbing towards an apartment complex, “that’s it.”
“I hoped,” Colton muttered, “as that’s where the GPS is pointing.”
“Right, right. I should probably get one of those, at least until I learn the city.” He glanced over again at her, confused beyond measure. She didn’t look like some old biddy, but the way she reared back from technology was almost comical. At most, she looked, well, his age. Probably a few years younger as he’d ridden his 30 plus years hard.
As Colton pulled into a parking spot, she cracked open the door and was about to rush out. “Do you want to come up or…?”
“No,” he blanched, “you can retrieve your spare set. I’ll remain here.” Make certain no one tries to steal the rims off the car as I do so. The poor wren waved and dashed off to the door. It didn’t even require her to enter in a code to yank open the front door to the lobby. Very dangerous, especially in this day and age. Colton shifted, feeling eyes from everywhere upon him.
He stuck his tongue in between the canine and molar while checking each mirror thrice. Still, the erratic beat in his heart wouldn’t stop. He had to make certain his six was clear. Even waking up the rearview cam didn’t calm him. No one was there. No one was anywhere save the rush of traffic in the background. He knew it was fine. But his lying brain said otherwise.
“Here they are,” the passenger door cracked open and Kristen plopped in beside him. She jangled her stripped down keys with little more than a fob to warm them and smiled wide. “Good thing I remembered to unpack those otherwise… You okay?”
“Yes,” Colton glared at his rearview mirror which he’d twisted so much in his panic that it was focused on the roof. Getting it into place, he began to back out to return her. “Merely wondering how you got into your apartment.”
“Oh,” she rolled her eyes and sighed. “Landlord was outside banging on a neighbor’s door for some matter and let me in quick. I got lucky. Ignoring the fact I had to be rescued in the first place, I mean.”
It was rather cute how she fiddled with the hem of her skirt as her sentence trailed off to nothing. She seemed as uncertain about this small talk issue as he did. In bouncing her knees back and forth, the hard fought for keys fell right in between her thighs. Which is not what you should be looking at, officer.
“How…” Colton sputtered, “how did you wind up on the side of the road with your keys locked inside in the first place?”
“God’s sake, this is…you’re going to laugh at me. Because it’s, I swear I lived for three years in DC, but you wouldn’t know it from the way I acted.” Her babble faded as if she had no intentions of telling him, but Colton was more than curious now. His suspicions rose at her dodging and he glared over at her.
Kristen was wiping a hand against the back of her neck and staring out the window on the way back to her abandoned car. “I saw a dog. Skinny thing, scared. It scampered across the street and I thought…well, I thought I might be able to catch it.”
“Take it to the pound, or whatever they have here. But I guess it wasn’t used to people and dug down under the fence to dash off along the viaduct,” she shrugged but her cheeks were bright red at the confession. “Which is when I realized that I slammed my car door with my purse and everything else still inside.”
She stopped to rescue a stray? That seemed…
Her burning brown eyes darted over to him and she gulped, “Like I said, idiotic. Country rube.”
Colton snickered a moment before pointing at himself, “Country rube.” Signaling to the side of the road, despite the fact traffic was moving at a snail’s pace with a cop around, Colton drove right back to where he left off.
He moved to turn off the car and unlock it, when she said, “Thank you so much for this. I don’t know what I would have done…”
“It’s not a problem, Ma’am.”
He blushed a moment before nodding, “Kristen. Though, you should be more careful when chasing after stray dogs. This area is not safe.”
“Noted. I wish I knew what was safe around here. In DC it was follow the suits, though there you’ll get robbed blind behind your back instead of to your face.”
“You, um…” he twisted in his seat, an idea bubbling in his brain. Offer to show her around. Invite her out. Get to know her better. Have her laugh at the thought, skitter away in terror. Pinch her face up in disgust and try to politely turn you down. “You go and get into your car. To make certain it still works. So the battery didn’t drain. I’ll follow, back to the apartment. To make certain you can get home safe.”
God’s sake, what are you doing?
He braced for a grimace but she smiled bright, “Okay.” Dashing towards her abandoned charger, when she put the key into the lock and turned it, Kristen turned and gave a huge thumbs up sign to him. Colton smiled at her exuberance as the woman climbed into her driver’s seat. No doubt well aware that a cop would be trailing her, she took her time following all the rules of the road to pull out and onto the highway back where they came.
Colton followed suit, doing his best to rip his tattered self-esteem to tiny pieces. Idiotic. What were you thinking? Were you ever thinking? Why even bother? For all you know she moved here to be with a boyfriend or…perhaps a girlfriend. She remembers you from high school, nothing more. Quick, pin all your romantic interests upon a woman from your past you stumbled upon for five minutes. That’s healthy.
By the time he watched her swing around the building to pull into her designated spot, Colton was snarling at himself for daring to let his hope out of the basement. The dark was where it belonged as it had for the past year. He expected the woman to wave a goodbye, but she hopped out of her car and dashed towards him.
Slipping into park, he unrolled his window and turned to her. A great smile stretched her cheeks as she asked, “Do you have a pen?”
Colton blinked madly at that before fishing around in the console. One of the station’s cheap ones to promote a safety day for children rattled in his fingers before he managed to pass it over. She flattened a sheet of paper to the hood of his car and began to write. “If you ever want to catch up about the good ol’ days, or need to spend time with another country rube.”
He shifted higher in his seat when Kristen passed him a receipt from a gas station thirty miles out of town. Written on the back was a phone number. Her phone number. She gave him her phone number. Clicking the pen closed, she smiled, “Thanks again. It was so sweet what you did for me.”
“No problem, Ma…Kristen.”
Her teeth flashed as she bit her bottom lip, “Oh, that’s my cell which you can call whenever, or text, or… You know how phones work. Do you want the pen back too?”
Folding the receipt up tight and sliding it into the pocket with his wallet, Colton waved a hand to her, “No, you can keep it.”
“A souvenir of the time I locked myself out of my own car,” she pronounced with a smile.
His radio kicked on, the dispatcher asking cars to converge on the south side of the district. Colton eyed it up before sighing, “I have to go.”
“Duty and all that,” Kristen smiled wide before stepping back to give Colton room to pull out.
With the borrowed pen clutched tight in her fingers, she stood up on the sidewalk, those glimmering eyes trailing him. Colton leaned out his still down window. He opened his mouth to tell her he’d for sure call her, when doubt bit deep into the meat. Realizing he was looking like an idiot with his jaw hanging wide open and nothing coming out, he shouted instead, “You’re welcome,” before driving out of sight.
You’re welcome. Blighted brilliant. That will go over well, I’m certain. Nothing more romantic than a jolly good ‘you’re welcome.’ Even as he grumbled to himself, his eyes kept drifting up to the rearview mirror where the wren remained perched on the sidewalk trailing him with her determined eyes.
She watched him pull away, her head lifting higher to spy the car merge into traffic and vanish. The pictures didn’t do him justice, though the images themselves were certainly accurate — blonde hair, a proud jaw and strong chin that would remain handsome even as the flesh wore harder than it should at his age. But there was so much more underneath. He reminded her of a lake, still as a winter freeze, but lurking below with just the smallest hint of provocation was a fire that could consume them all. It surprised her.
And it was nice to be surprised for once.
Dropping her hand into her pocket, Kristen flicked at the pen savoring the click and clack as she walked back to her abandoned car. She really should get some more life into the thing, and a bit of dirt to cut down on the shine. It was far too clean both inside and out to blend in. Maybe stop at a fast food place and toss the bag behind her seat?
She reached for the door handle when an arm lashed around her throat. Her eyes flew open wide when putrid breath ransacked her ear, “Gimme your purse.”
By the reflection off the car’s roof, she could see the man attempting to rob her. Five foot eight, trying to disguise his pasty skin, too small of features on a ham-sized face, and jagged sideburns under a pulled hood. She shifted, turning her head backward, when something round and metallic jabbed right into her spine.
“I wasn’t planning on asking again,” he hissed. “Money. Now!”
Did Colton spot this? Was he still in the area or had he fully moved on? She tensed up, trying to look to the sides of her vision. The burglar was getting testy, and rather antsy about how long she was taking.
“I’ll fucking shoot you, lady!” he hissed.
No one in the back alley parking lot. No one stomping out to their car or back to their apartment. No one would see her.
With a slow hand, she reached inside her pocket, jangling the spare set of keys to draw the man’s attention. The arm around her neck tightened a bit, but the gun barrel slipped to the side. Increasing the trembling, she unearthed the keys and then…Oh no! Dropped them on the pavement.
“For fuck’s…” The burglar hissed to himself. Instinctively, he leaned over to fish them up. When the barrel slipped away from her back, Kristen whipped her hand up. Fingers locked in tight, she drove the pen deep into the asshole’s neck.
His scream erupted out of both the mouth and his new hole, followed by the sucking sound of warm blood bubbling into the trachea. Rather than let him fall back from her, she grabbed onto his hand and ripped the gun free. Piece of shit .22, no doubt bought off the back of a truck.
“Ffuuck!” he tried to scream at her, a fist moving to swat at the woman while his fingers cradled the wound with a pen still jammed inside.
“I’d save your remaining breath if I were you,” she sighed while eyeing up the gun. No serial numbers, shock of shocks there. Still. “I do not need this today.”
His eyes crossed in terror as she drew the barrel right in the middle of his temple. “Pppp…” he was trying to beg, as if he wasn’t about to shoot a random woman in the kidneys and leave her for dead for a few credit cards.
“Do you have any idea how loud a gun is?” she sighed. “How it’d send everyone running here?” With the barrel ready to deliver a death shot through his brains, she grabbed onto the pen and yanked it out. Blood erupted out of his neck, most of it sloshing off the side and pooling on the filthy pavement. The robber’s eyes rolled back, his knees buckling as far too much of that rather important juice of life washed down his pants.
Kicking a foot into his body, she sighed, “Great, now I have a mess to clean up.” Hurling the stolen gun into the car, she grabbed onto her phone and quickly scrolled through the contact list.
It took a few rings, the other end always too busy to bother answering. In the meantime, she cranked open the trunk of the car and snatched up a gallon of water and bleach. Dousing the pavement as best she could, when the jolly voice on the other end answered, Kristen sighed.
“Yeah, Boddie? I need to bring in a bag of scrap for disposal. How big?” she glanced down at the body crumpled in on itself. “Give me a minute.”
Pocketing her phone, she bent over and hefted the dead weight across her shoulders. Without pause, she hurled it into the trunk of the car conveniently covered in black trash bags. It’s best to be prepared.
Kristen moved to reach for her phone when she spotted blood clinging to her hands. After wiping it against the dead man’s pants, she fished out her phone, “About two hundred and twenty pounds.”
Barely glancing at the man who thought she’d be easy prey, she plopped the puny gun on top of him and slammed the lid of the trunk. “Yeah, yeah, I’ll need that too,” she agreed with the usual retinue of clean up before glancing in the mirror. Blood streaked down the side of the blouse she specifically bought because it was just dowdy enough to be approachable but with a few missing top buttons to invite attention. Sighing at the loss, she added, “And tell me you have a change of clothes on scene.”