Wolf by the Ears
When I read about Kremlin assassins operating in London, I knew I had to write a novel involving a Russian oligarch.
BLURB:Tyger Rebel Thomson works as a waitress and cleaner while studying in her spare time for the degree that will lead to a career in the City. The agency sends her to clean for a billionaire Russian oligarch, Grisha Markovic; a man with enemies, many of whom would like him dead. Grisha takes a fatherly interest in Tyger and makes her his personal assistant.
Tyger could be on her way to the life of her dreams – assuming, that is, she lives long enough to get there.
A sharp sting like a wasp’s woke him. Groggy with sleep and alcohol, he opened heavy eyelids to see the woman kneeling beside him put a syringe into a plastic box. She closed it with a click and got off the bed, the soft light gilding her nakedness, and dropped the box into her handbag.
A strange dull sensation spread from his groin with every heartbeat and he struggled to prop himself on his elbow. Now she was picking up her clothes from the floor, dressing. He fell back against the pillows. Terrible pain gripped his muscles; a more terrible understanding dawned in his mind. Breathing was becoming difficult. He tried to speak and only an inarticulate sound emerged. She glanced at him coolly. It was as if her former warmth and compliance existed only in his memory, as if the laughter and passion of the evening before had never happened. Briskly she pulled up and zipped her skirt, fastened her belt round that slender waist, and stepped into high heels as if heading for a day at the office.
She moved to the bedside table, lifted the champagne flute with lipstick on its edge, wiped it with tissues and replaced it. Her eyes scanned the room, then she picked up her handbag, switched off the bedside lamp and walked to the door. In the doorway, silhouetted against the glow from the hall she paused and turned. Her voice was low but every syllable was distinct.
“In Russia, we do not pardon treachery.”
The door closed and left him alone in the dark.
Monday started normally enough. My alarm rang at ten to six waking me from a deep sleep; the bar hadn’t closed till midnight, and after that we’d had to fetch bottles from the cellar, and tidy up before leaving. I lay for a moment watching a pigeon’s undercarriage as its pink feet tapped over the skylight. There isn’t a window, and on a cloudy day like this, even in June, my room is a bit dark. Some people would call it poky. It’s really meant to be a study. There’s just room for a single bed, a chair and a wardrobe; with my bike too it’s rather a squash.
I showered and dressed without seeing my flatmate, and lifted my bike carefully through the hall. Chrissie doesn’t like me keeping it in my room, in case it marks the carpets or the walls on its way in and out. But I’m not leaving it outside to rust and have bits stolen off it.
The wind was against me as I biked up Ladbroke Grove, the sky got darker and it began to rain. By the time I reached Hampstead at five past seven, my jeans were wet and my hair dripped. Grisha Markovic’s house is in Billionaires’ Row – once known as Millionaires’ Row, but times have moved on and the rich got richer. All the houses are huge, with big gardens and high walls, and the tree-lined roads are completely deserted at this hour. I got off my bike and put my finger in the fingerprint reader beside the smaller gate. I’ve got a proximity card too, which it won’t work without. Grisha’s paranoid about security, understandable because of a failed assassination attempt or two in his colourful Russian past (when the agency sent me here a few weeks ago I looked him up on the internet).
The gate swung open; I pushed my bike through and it clunked shut behind me. I headed across a wide paved area, the size of a couple of tennis courts, towards the garage where I leave my bike.
As I turned the corner, I saw a man wearing a black jacket bent over the access panel by the side door. He straightened at my approach. I hadn’t seen him before. Muscular, youngish, with hooded eyes, pale skin stretched over high cheekbones, and short fair hair beneath a black hood.
“You have entry card? Mine is not working.” He had a Russian accent.
“How did you get in the main gate?”
“The card work for that gate, I get to this one, it not work any more.”
“Are you new?”
He nodded. “I start today.”
I smiled apologetically. “I’m afraid I can’t let you in. Security rules, you know. I’ll tell them you’re here and someone will come and get you.”
He gave me a bleak stare. “I get wet.”
“Sorry. What’s your name?”
He put his hand inside his jacket. I thought he was going to show me his card and try to persuade me he was legit. He didn’t get out a card. He got out a small gun. He stepped towards me. “Open the door.”
Oh God, oh God. He moved closer, pushing the gun against my ribs. I imagined a bullet ripping through me, smashing bone and shredding flesh; I imagined dying or being in a wheelchair for life. My heart pounded and sweat prickled my armpits.
“You do what I say, I do not hurt you.”
Though he was outwardly calm, his face was shiny, and now he was only inches away I could smell a pungent mix of fresh sweat and aftershave. I moved slowly so he wouldn’t get jumpy and fire the gun by mistake. I leant the bike against the wall and extended my trembling index finger towards the fingerprint reader. I needed to get this right. At the last moment I switched to my middle finger. The man grabbed my arm before the finger made contact and shook his head. He bared his teeth contemptuously in the semblance of a smile.
“Not duress code. You do not play tricks with me. Your index finger, please, or I shoot you.”
I placed my index finger on the pad and the lock buzzed and clicked. He pushed the door open and I started to walk through. He stopped me.
“You put bicycle away as normal.”
I pushed my bike inside and leant it against the nearest wall. The lights came on automatically; armoured saloons and SUVs and sports cars with improbable contours gleamed. The man left the door ajar, shoving the doorstop against it with his foot. He kept close to me as I went through the internal garage door, watched intently while I used the fingerprint reader, then propped that door open, too. It was quiet on the staff staircase landing, just the faint sound of blustery wind spattering the rain on the double glazing. No one was ever up before eight. The security guards on duty would be in their office.
“You walk ahead of me to Grisha Markovic’s bedroom. Make no noise.”
He was here to kill Grisha. If he did, then perhaps he would kill me too because I knew what he looked like. I stopped walking and turned to face him. “I don’t know which one it is.”
“You know. You work here as cleaner for three weeks.” He scowled. “Do not lie to me, that is very dangerous for you.”
“Are you a hitman?” My voice sounded weirdly normal and conversational.
“We do not talk about me. We do not talk.” He jerked his head. “Move.”
I led him through to the breakfast room rather than up the back stairs, instinctively feeling I’d prefer to be with a potential killer in a big space than a confined one. From there we entered the vast double-height reception hall, our trainers silent on the marble floor. I headed slowly towards the staircase that curved upwards from the right of the front door. Above was the U-shaped mezzanine which led to the bedroom suite at the back of the building on the first floor where Grisha lay sleeping.
The gun nudged my back. “Faster.”
A noise made us both turn. Fifty feet behind and above us, three bodyguards burst out of the staff door on the mezzanine, attired in a mixture of uniform and casual clothes grabbed in a hurry. They spread out along the balcony rail in front of the master bedroom suite. The man had leaped behind me so I was between him and the guards. He gripped me round the waist and pointed the gun in their direction, breathing fast; I felt his ribs moving, the edge of his hood against my hair, his breath hot on my neck. Iain Straker, the deputy chief bodyguard, strolled out and joined the others. He wore only baggy brilliantly-patterned Hawaiian shorts. He stepped forward and put both hands on the balustrade, eyes flicking around the room, making no move to come downstairs.
“Hold it right there. Let the girl go.”
“You do not tell me what to do. You do not have gun. I have gun.”
Iain’s voice was cool and reasonable. He spoke clearly and slowly. “Yes, but you’re not going to shoot five people as well as the target, are you? British nationals too, not just another Russian oligarch. Your bosses wouldn’t like that. Cause far too much fuss. Besides, the police are on their way. An ARV unit. Armed Response.” Behind me, the man said nothing. I could almost hear his brain clicking through the options available to him. Iain was still talking. “It’s not going to work. Every minute you stay here you’re more likely to get caught. Best to go now.”
The man began to edge sideways towards the door we’d come through, keeping me in front of him. Alarm fizzed through me. Was he going to make me go with him as a hostage? Iain raised his voice. “Leave the girl. You don’t need her. We’re not armed.”
We’d reached the door. The man released me, slipped through and banged it shut. I went and sank into one of a pair of huge plush chairs by the massive fireplace and breathed deeply, shaking and light-headed with relief. The whole incident had only taken a few minutes, but had seemed much, much longer.
Up above, his laid-back pose abandoned, Iain was giving rapid instructions. He sent one man to try to track the assassin’s whereabouts on the monitors, another to wake Grisha, posted someone by the door to let the police in, then ran down the stairs to me.
“You okay? Did he say anything about who he was?”
“Nothing at all. He just told me to take him to Grisha’s bedroom.” As I spoke, part of my mind was registering what a well-built body he had.
He nodded, made to go then turned back. “That thing with the duress finger worked, then.”
“Like a charm.”
When I arrived three weeks before, Iain had logged my fingerprints for the access system, and made me use my middle finger. He’d said, Your index finger is the natural choice, so keep that for duress.
He smiled and ran upstairs.
* * *
I didn’t get any cleaning done that day. The place was overrun with police. A forensics man dusted for fingerprints and collected elimination prints from everyone. This was unexpectedly low-tech, with ink and a roller, and they made palm prints as well. They took photographs, examined the CCTV footage and tramped through the grounds. I was questioned for ages by three different officers, and then someone who I gathered was from MI5 or MI6, though he didn’t actually say. They wrote down all my details and said they might need to contact me later. A specialist got me to make an E-FIT image of the would-be assassin, which took a lot of time and was surprisingly difficult to get right, even though I had a vivid recall of his face.
They didn’t catch the man. All the houses here are surrounded by mature trees which give good cover. He’d made his escape over the wall to the unoccupied property next door, which had builders in, no gate, and no functioning CCTV. He left the ladder he’d used behind. The police believed he’d had a car parked in the drive. The monitor images didn’t show his face clearly because of the hood he was wearing. He hadn’t left any fingerprints, either.
When the police had finished with me, Iain caught my eye and said he wanted a word. He’d changed out of the garish shorts into dark trousers and a white shirt. He took me downstairs to the swimming pool to be out of the way of the police, striding ahead of me alert but relaxed, hands in pockets. The limpid water, blue from the mosaic tiles, made me want to dive in and make ripples on the perfect still surface. Iain led me through the big windows at one end to the sunken garden, and we sat side by side on a limestone slab. The rain had stopped, and a watery sun shone.
“Tyger –” He paused and his dark eyebrows drew together. “How did you come to be called Tyger?”
I sighed. “My parents are New Age travellers. I suppose it could have been worse; my sister’s called Fairy. Mark you, she likes it. I’m the odd one out.”
I wasn’t going to tell him my middle name: Rebel. Calling a baby Tyger Rebel Thomson amounts to child cruelty. At every new school I went to – and there were many because of us moving around – I dreaded the stir among my new class as the teacher introduced me, the stares, nudges and sniggers. One particular geography teacher always called me the full ‘Tyger Rebel’ during lessons, pronouncing the name as if holding it at the end of tongs like a dead rat. It was better when my parents didn’t make me go, which they often didn’t. There wasn’t much point when we were abroad, as I’d just be picking up the language and we’d be on the move again. I remember idyllic long summers running around barefoot on beaches as a child, and less idyllic ones as a teenager, fretting because I was missing out on an education. At eighteen, I hadn’t got a single GCSE or A level to my name. (I’ve picked up a few since.) “Tyger,” my father would say, gesturing at the sun setting over a lapping sea, “this is your education. Real life, seeing the world, untrammelled by convention. Freedom.” It was all right for him, he’d been to Cambridge before dropping out. He’d had a choice. I hadn’t.
“You must have had an interesting childhood.”
Not something I was eager to discuss with a stranger. I said, “Is that what you wanted to talk to me about?”
“No, I was suddenly curious, that’s all. You don’t meet many people called Tyger. That man today, what do you think he wanted?”
I wasn’t sure why he was asking – it seemed obvious. “To assassinate Grisha. He told me to take him to his bedroom, and he had a gun.”
“D’you think the gun was real?”
I stared at him. It hadn’t occurred to me it might not be. I’d been so scared, when perhaps there had been no danger at all. “I’ve no idea. I’ve never been close to a real gun. Why would he have a fake one?”
“They’re easier to get hold of than the real thing.” He smiled wryly. “And work just as well to make people do stuff. Even some plastic toy guns can be very convincing, if you don’t pick them up. Did he handle it as if it was heavy?”
I cast my mind back to those frightening five or ten minutes. “I didn’t notice.”
“You see, it seems to me there are two possibilities. Either like you said, he had a real gun and was going to shoot Grisha. Which would bring the whole household running.”
“He might have had a silencer.”
“There wasn’t one on the gun. Okay, he could have put it on later. But even with a suppressor, this being real life not Hollywood, the shot wouldn’t be silent. We’d have heard it.”
“If he wasn’t going to shoot him, then why…”
“I didn’t say that. Maybe he wasn’t unduly concerned with the consequences to himself. I did wonder briefly whether he intended to kill Grisha by other means and make it look like a heart attack, or suicide. Quite a few Russians in London have died unexplained deaths over the last few years, ostensibly of natural causes. They’d all pissed off the Kremlin at some stage in their pasts. Like Grisha had.”
“But that couldn’t be what was planned here, because I’d seen the man.”
“Yes, and though he could have made you disappear, bundled your body and bike into a van, he must have known there’d be CCTV, so we can cross that off.”
I dwelt for a moment on the disagreeable idea of being made to disappear. “So what’s the other possibility?”
“That it was a planned burglary. Grisha has a safe in his room where he keeps considerable amounts of cash. Maybe the man heard about it.”
“Do you think that’s likely?”
“Not really. He was Russian. Grisha’s got enemies. I think the man was one of them.”
“Do you think he’ll try again?”
Iain must have noticed I didn’t look too happy. He said, “Don’t worry about it. If he does have another go it’ll be something else. Grisha’s thinking of getting two more bodyguards. I said he should get some dogs. It’s a pity Bob’s away.” Bob was the chief of security, currently on holiday in Florida.
We walked back to the reception hall where the police had set up their temporary centre of operations. Grisha was gesticulating, loudly telling a police officer that it was completely ridiculous that UK bodyguards were not allowed to be armed, that he was entitled to protect himself, when he saw us, broke off and beckoned me over. His dark eyes sparkled with the joie de vivre of a person who has that day escaped violent death. He put a bottle of Moët & Chandon into my hands and told me to go home early, clapping me on the shoulder. “Drink to my health,” he said. This was great – there’d be time to finish my homework assignment early – or, tempting thought, have a nap before going to work at the bar.
Iain walked with me to the garage. “D’you fancy having a drink one evening?”
I stared at him. I’d never thought of him that way. We’d hardly spoken before today. “Thank you, I would but I don’t have time.” I took hold of my bike’s handlebars and wheeled it round.
He raised his eyebrows; smiling, but I could see him trying to work out why I was turning him down. Maybe it hadn’t happened to him before. He’s attractive, though he must be nearly ten years older than I am. All the female staff think he’s hot. “What, never? Not just for an hour or two after work?”
“I have a bar job evenings and weekends, and I’m doing a degree with the Open University. I don’t get enough sleep as it is.” I moved towards the garage door, and he opened it for me. Six police vehicles of varying kinds were parked at hasty angles in front of the house. The sun shone and a blackbird was singing. I pushed the bike through the doorway, stepped astride and put one foot on the pedal. I felt suddenly weary, with barely enough energy to cycle home. I’d be okay once I got going. At least it was downhill.
“Is this a brush off?”
“No, really. Nothing personal.” I tried to explain as best I could without telling him the story of my life. “I need qualifications to get a proper job. I don’t want to clean and work in a bar forever. I’m saving for a deposit for a flat. I don’t have a boyfriend because if I did, he’d take time I can’t afford and slow me down. I’ll get a boyfriend once I’ve got a decent job and a flat of my own.”
“So meanwhile you’re living like a nun? Seems a shame. Which bar d’you work in?”
I wasn’t going to tell him. He might turn up and sit over a drink, watching me and trying to talk. I’d had guys do that, even though when working at the bar I deliberately wore no make-up and my hair tied back in an effort not to attract tiresome admirers. “Not one you go to.”
“How do you know?”
“I’d have seen you there.”
“When does your course finish?”
He flicked his hand in farewell and turned back to the house. I pedalled across the courtyard, the champagne heavy in my backpack, my thoughts alternating between imagining the assassin hunting me down and surprise at Iain’s invitation.
Rose and Izzie
Since I was home early, I called in on Rose. She lives round the corner from me, in a basement flat. I picked my way past overflowing black bin bags and shoulder-high stacks of crates, furniture and household cast-offs and rang her bell. After a minute I could see her approach through the patterned glass.
“It’s only me, Rose.” She’s careful who she answers the door to, because she lives in fear of the council. Rose is a hoarder. Her small flat is packed to the ceiling with junk, leaving shoulder-width passages from the entrance to her kitchen, bathroom and living room. The bedroom is unusable, its entire space crammed with her belongings, and she sleeps on the sofa. Neighbours complained about the rubbish piled outside being an eyesore, and the council got involved.
The door opened halfway, which is as far as it can get, and bright eyes looked up at me.
“Hello love, come in and I’ll put the kettle on. They’ve sent me another letter.”
“Oh dear.” The last letter told Rose she had to clear the accumulated rubbish from outside her flat, as it was a health hazard. I’d offered to help her, but she said she needed everything out there.
I followed Rose’s tiny upright figure between walls of bulging plastic bags. I had a nasty vision of them toppling and burying her alive. There’s a pervasive sour smell of old clothes and mice, though Rose does her best to keep the place clean and her cat does his best with the mice. The state of her flat distresses me, although it’s none of my business. I like things crisp and sharp, with a purpose; I like order. I do not like mess. When I first knew Rose, I thought I might be able to encourage her to sort out her flat – it seemed so obvious her life would be easier in a tidy home. Maybe all she needed was a helping hand. But she resisted my persuasion. In the end I concluded her hoarding is an effort to fill an unfillable void in her psyche, which there was nothing I could do about. Rose likes my visits, and if I go for more than a few days without calling round she worries.
She passed me the letter while she made the tea in the still-functional part of her kitchen, about four square feet. I tried not to get in her way. Billy the cat joined us, purring and wanting attention, making even less space. I got the letter out of its envelope and unfolded it. The council had decided the accumulated rubbish outside Rose’s basement adversely affected the amenity of the area and constituted a Statutory Nuisance, and had served a Notice. This gave her fourteen days to either clear the rubbish or let them know what action was intended, and when it would happen.
“We’ll have to do it, Rose. It says if you don’t, they will, and then charge you for costs and administration.” Rose has only got her old age pension.
“I could bring it in here.” She looked around her as if planning where to put it all.
“You haven’t got the space. You wouldn’t be able to move.”
She handed me a mug of tea. “I suppose I could sort through it, pick out what I really need and get rid of the rest.”
This was a major concession on Rose’s part – as long as she could bring herself to be ruthless. Best to strike while the iron was hot. “Shall we have a go now? I’ve got a couple of hours before I leave for the bar.”
“Drink your tea first, dear. Would you like a biscuit?”
Once we were sitting on the sofa I told her about the sensational events of the morning. Rose listened attentively, tutting now and then, forgetting to drink her tea, bright-eyed as a bird. When I’d finished she shook her head and said I should get the agency to send me somewhere else, it wasn’t safe. “You’re lucky to be alive. Whatever they pay you isn’t enough to risk life and limb, dear. You tell them.”
Maybe she was right.
* * *
By the time I had to go, though there was still stuff outside it was much reduced. We’d filled five black bags with rubbish. Everything was wet from the morning’s rain and not looking its best, which helped. Even Rose couldn’t claim she had a use for a sodden cardboard box full of ancient copies of the BBC Wildlife Magazine, a broken rusty clothes airer, or a dripping video player. She got better at parting with things as we went along; a pity I had to leave. I moved the sacks we were dumping away from the other stuff.
“I’ll come back tomorrow night and put them out for the dustmen.” I’d sneak out after dark, and spread them around among her neighbours’ bins. Without a car to take them to the dump, that was the best I could do. “That’s a really good start, Rose.” I glanced at my watch. “Got to dash, I’ll be late at the bar.”
She nodded, suddenly dubious, darting glances at the five bags. “Thank you, Tyger.”
I waved and left, hoping she wouldn’t have second thoughts in the next thirty-six hours and find herself unable to part with them after all.
* * *
Back at the flat, there was something pink stuck to my door. Oh God, another note from Chrissie. Balancing my bike on one hip, I peeled the missive off without enthusiasm. It was the familiar flowered note paper, the handwriting big and looped.
Did you change the settings on the toaster? Can you not do this please as it’s really difficult to re-adjust.
Also, could you possibly shower at night instead of in the morning? I can hear it from my bedroom and I don’t have to get up till later.
I rolled up the Blu-tack to add to my collection, sighed and carried my bike inside. Sometimes I wonder why I don’t move, what with the titchy size of my room, no window and Chrissie being a bit of a pain. But the flat is a nice one near Kensington Olympia station, and if the space was any bigger I wouldn’t be able to afford the rent. It doesn’t matter. One day I will have the flat of my dreams.
* * *
The Carp & Stickleback in Fulham is the bar I work at. A public house designed in Victorian times with marble pillars, arches, mahogany, gold leaf, decorative glass and brass, it’s a secular cathedral. It’s now part of a chain with an overlay of trendiness – but unfortunately is still more pub than bar, which is reflected in the low level of tips. I really ought to find a job in a proper bar which does food rather than bar snacks and where people expect to tip the waitress. Izzie is my main reason for staying. She’s doing bar work while waiting to be discovered as an actress, something she is confident will happen at any moment. She’s a lot of fun.
When I walked in ten minutes late, Izzie was flirting with a couple of men as she handed them their drinks, fixing her big brown eyes on the better-looking of them as if playing Miranda in The Tempest seeing Ferdinand for the first time: I might call him a thing divine, for nothing natural I ever saw so noble…
“Have one yourself,” the man said, eyeing her cleavage.
“Thank you!” She dimpled beguilingly as she took his money and gave him change. “I’ll have it later when we’re not so busy.”
Actually we’re not allowed to drink during our shifts, and being a Monday the place was nearly empty; only five customers dotted around. The men didn’t seem to notice; they went off to their table and Izzie put the coins in her tip jar, assessing its level with a practised eye.
“I’ve set myself a target of making more each week than the one before,” she said to me sotto voce. “You should try fluttering your eyelashes for profit too, then we could have a competition.” She gave me a critical glance. “Perhaps put mascara on them first.”
“More trouble than it’s worth. And I don’t have your acting ability.”
“You’re wasting your opportunities, Tyger,” she said earnestly. “Think of your deposit.”
I’d confided my flat-owning dream to Izzie late one night while we restocked. Ever since she’d teased me whenever she caught me reading estate agents’ glossy magazines; property porn, she called it. (I don’t know why I read this stuff; I always look for the cheapest flat, and it’s always more than I can imagine ever being able to afford.) I considered. Izzie invariably earned more tips than I did, though I was just as polite and efficient as her. I imagined turning a key in my own front door and letting myself into my very own tiny but perfect studio flat…I could live with the odd guy hitting on me.
“Okay. You’ve persuaded me.”
“Go for it.” She dug under the counter for the backpack she uses as a handbag, rummaged and handed me her make-up purse. “No time like the present. Slap it on. I can manage on my own for ten more minutes.” She gave me a mock-reproving stare. “You’re late.”
“Sorry. It wasn’t the assassin threatening me with a gun this morning, I helped Rose chuck out some stuff this afternoon and got carried away.”
Izzie’s eyes widened. “An assassin with a gun? Tell me.”
I told her. Izzie is good to tell things to, as she listens properly and makes funny comments. She’s quite shrewd, too. At the end she said with uncharacteristic seriousness, “Suppose he has another go?”
“They’re going to step up security.”
“You’re the only one who got a good look at him. He might want to get rid of you. You ought to have witness protection.”
I said uneasily, “The police didn’t seem to think I was in danger.”
“They might be wrong, and then you’d be dead. Honestly, Tyger, don’t go back there.”
“That’s what Rose said.”
“She’s right. The agency’ll understand. Tell them you’d prefer to work for someone not on the Russian Mafia’s hit list. That’s not a lot to ask.”
“Iain – he’s a security guy – thought it was the Kremlin after Grisha.”
“Whoever it is, there’s no reason for you to get caught up in the crossfire. They don’t pay you enough.”
“That’s exactly what Rose said!”
“It’s what anyone with a couple of brain cells to rub together would say.”
I went to the Ladies and applied Izzie’s make-up, then undid my hair and shook it out. My hotness rating had gone up by about 40%, I reckoned. On my return we examined ourselves in the mirror behind the bar, peering between bottles. Izzie is short, dark and curvy while I’m blonde and willowy.
“We’re a killer team,” she said. “All tastes catered for. Anyone who doesn’t fancy me would go for you.”
“Izzie, we work in a bar, not a brothel.”
“Same principle. We’ll take the money out of our tip jars and start even.” The door opened and three young men walked in. Izzie dug me in the ribs. “Atta girl.”
I gave them a brilliant smile that stopped them in their tracks.
“On the other hand, don’t overdo it,” Izzie murmured.