Leaping from one memory to another, Steve glides through a storm of shadows eating away at the buildings, the streets, ghosts of pedestrians fading out and back in. Violet clouds give way to blue skies as he steps back into the world, city traffic greeting his ears.
He spots the bicycle messenger and waves his hand. Brakes squeal, and she stops. Each time, a different greeting. This time, she asks for his name. Backwards. That’s what Kandy said. Sometimes it seems the world is all backwards.
Twenty thousand dollars minus the change already spent. He buys another suit, top of the line, from the same tailor. Concentrating on the bike messenger, he searches for another memory, her memory. It’s beginning to feel as if he has no memories of his own, or that his memories blossom from the memories of others. Three trips through the shadows beneath the violet sky, four counting the walk downtown, leaves him exhausted. He enters the quiet place like stepping home, but finding his way back out requires concentration. He searches until his temples hurt, but there is no other meeting with the bike messenger. His employment with Yasmine lasts four weeks.
Returning to the world, traffic noises and laughter filling his ears, he stops beside a lamppost. People pass him without a glance. Nobody seems to notice his return. And who would remember a ghost? Only those paying close attention, catching a glimmer of his movement out of the shadows.
Opening his pocket pad, he jots down a note about the payments. Success or failure, his job searching for the source of venom distribution requires four weeks. A month in their time, but how long in his? Days? Does it even matter? Flipping back through the pages, he reviews his notes. Yasmine suspects someone important. Why would an Itoril distribute venom? Status, that’s what Yasmine said back in the Sanctuary of Sin. Maybe an Itoril kills his own kind, takes the venom trying to level the field. It would have to be someone near the top. Those with venom kick ass.
Beside the note about the Sanctuary of Sin, he jots down a question about the record store. With an uncertain history, the notepad does more than keep memories straight. It helps him keep the world in order. The record store, the Sanctuary, and the shooter must wait.
Torx is his only link to the venom.
Polished leather shoes meeting old worn carpet, he climbs the stairs finding the door to Torx’s unit right where he remembers losing Kandy. What was she doing here? He considers knocking, but instead steps into the quiet place passing through the door like a ghost into a dimly lit room.
A pizza box sits on the table where the beer bottles once stood. Clothes lay strewn on the floor. Torx sits on the sofa, his eyes focused on nothing. In his open palm, he holds a syringe.
Standing beside the sofa, Steve gazes at the barely conscious young man. The unit is nearly dark, only the red glow of the television indicator and the green glow from the clock above the stove in the kitchen provide illumination. A step inside the quiet place, he finds more. He reads the bits of information forming the walls, the dark lamp with clothing draped over the shade, and he sees the milky puddle left inside the syringe.
Enough venom erases recent memories.
Settling into the darkness of the room, Steve hears music thumping from somewhere within the building. Shouts beat into the floor, a couple arguing in the unit below.
The young man drops his lazy gaze to the syringe in his hand. Or his arm. He seems to study the wad of gauze taped over the bulge on his muscle. A trail of dried blood leads from the dressing to the crook in his elbow.
Taking a deep breath, Steve clears his mind. Reaching out with his thoughts, he concentrates on Torx. Warmth rises from within, and a calm wave splashes over. A torrent of sights, smells, sounds gurgle up from the depths. The buzz of alcohol, the taste of pizza, thumping music, and the touch of a woman’s breast, sensations rise like a storm.
Julio. The venom supplier, a lump of a man with a mess of curly dark hair. He sits on a stool surrounded by comics. Brightly colored graphic novels line the walls. Books pile up on tables. Plastic figurines stand at attention inside glass prisons.
Julio delivers. That’s what Torx says.
Taking a giant step, darkness crackling underfoot, Steve glides into the shadows between worlds into the violet storm. Spotting the comic book store, an ethereal skeleton of a building rising from the wasteland, he walks to the front door stepping back into the world.
Traffic sounds attack his ears, and he grimaces. Pulling the glass door open, he walks into a stench cloud, old paper, carpet cleaner, and a touch of something musty.
“What can I help you with?” says Julio, rising from his stool. “Collectables, latest graphic novels, imports. If I don’t have it, I find it.”
Steve glances around noting the closed door in the corner, lack of security cameras roosting near the ceiling. Barely any light makes it in through the front door leaving the back looking bleak under two yellow lights. He straightens his tie and clears his throat.
“I’m told Julio delivers.”
“That’s right, man. Whatever it is, I find it.” Julio nods and sets his hands on the glass counter. Inside the display case, rows of comic books held snug by plastic protective covers rest on blue velvet. “What you looking for?”
Reaching inside his coat, he spots Julio’s eyes snap open. The peddler appears on edge. He holds up the pocket pad, and the man relaxes.
He flips open to his most recent notes and reads the last entry. “Julio delivers.”
Julio folds his arms, and glares back through slanted eyes. “You a cop?”
“You look like a fed.”
Waiting for a response, Steve watches the man. Like a staring contest, their eyes remain locked, unblinking. With plenty of patience, time on his side, this is the sort of trial he excels at. After seeing wraiths, gazing into the eyes of a killer, and watching Kandy consume blood from his gut, there is nothing intimidating about a book peddler, including one that may move a rare drug that could anger an army of pissed-off Itoril.
Julio lowers his gaze, and scratches his chin. “Who sent you?”
“Do you get around Necropolis?”
“Not anymore. Not after last week.”
“What about last week?”
“You read the news? Someone died, man!” Julio coughs into his elbow. “Christ! From out of nowhere, blood sprayed me, man! Crazy shit.”
Detective Silver’s crime scene with the missing victim.
“Then nothing,” says Julio, shaking his head “No body, no victim. Just blood.”
“There was a lot of confusion.”
“That’s what the cops said, and they didn’t believe us, either.” Julio’s eyes grow big. “Like ghosts, man. Both of them just disappeared.”
“Did you get a look at them?”
“Ghosts, man. They looked like dark ghosts. Spooky as hell.”
Nodding, Steve marks a note in his pad about two individuals slipping into the shadows between worlds. It could be Kandy. Would she do a hit at the club? Likely, given the noise at the apartment where she shot the head off that Itoril. But a Kandy hit means there should be a body.
Julio glances around the shop. “So, where’s the red-head?”
“You know. From the show.” Julio laughs. “Just messing with you, man. Looking like a fed and asking questions about spooky shit.”
“I’m not a fed.” Steve slips the pad into his pocket. “But I am interested in your product.”
“So, who sent you?”
Offering Torx is a bad idea. Torx is sleaze, and nobody squeals about something as dangerous as Itoril venom. Torx’s demise would mean one less witness. Better to get a reaction. Drop a big name.
Julio stares back with a blank face. After what seems like a minute, he walks to the front and locks the door. He flips the open sign over. Strolling back, he shakes his head. A look of disgust slips onto his face and washes away.
“I had a feeling,” says Julio. Leaning against the back door, he turns the knob and pushes it open. “Your suit is too high class. No fed can afford that.”
A bank of fluorescent lamps flicker on, a storm zipping from front to back, and wash the room in blue. A cloud of dust hangs over the shelves holding cardboard boxes. A coffee maker caked in grime sits atop a mini-fridge in the corner.
Julio lumbers to the back and kneels before an old luggage trunk. He inserts a key and pops the lock open, and a brass lever springs up clapping against steel. He pulls the lid open. Reaching inside, he removes a black cloth laying it in his lap. Looking back, he waits.
Steve gives the room another glance. Dust everywhere, and it smells like something died. Slowly, he steps into the room and peers into the trunk.
Shiny handguns of all sizes, from tiny concealable guns to a heavy forty-five, rest snug in black foam. He recognizes a nine-millimeter, the kind police use, more information he knows without knowing why.
“Here,” says Julio. He removes the police gun and holds it out. “This looks you.”
Taking the gun, Steve checks the chamber finding it empty. The clip is empty as well. The weapon looks as if it might have just come straight from the manufacturer. He sets the gun into its cozy home and gazes at the others. He needs something that can hit a fast moving Itoril, maybe even someone as skilled as Kandy. His knowledge of guns comes short of details like muzzle velocity and stopping power.
“Do you have a sound suppressor?”
“You don’t want a silencer, man. You want bang.”
“How about high velocity and decent stopping power?”
Eyes narrowing, Julio looks down at the chest and back up again. “Yasmine sent you?”
Julio wrinkles his brow. “Some of those vamps shoot each other for fun. You want to hunt one of them freaks, man, it’s all about stopping power.”
“I got what you need.” Julio lifts the foam revealing more guns and plastic boxes. He pulls out a box, contents jingling. “Hollow point.”
Taking the box, Steve slides the cover back. Resting in a plastic grid, the medium caliber shells appear normal except for a divot in the head of each bullet.
“Man, you shoot a vamp with hollow point and he won’t be giggling.” Julio reaches into the chest and selects a handgun. “He’ll be one pissed-off freak of nature.”
Steve examines the gun. Like the other, it appears new and missing its clip.
“And after he’s good and upset and all,” says Julio, his eyes growing large. “Shoot that freak with a shotgun. And not with birdshot, man. You need effin’ slugs from hell. Carbine full-auto-army-class-door-busting-mean-ass shotgun with serious balls. Be nothing left but bloody pieces.”
Steve glances in the chest. No shotguns.
“Nah, man.” Julio shakes his head. “They won’t let me carry nothing like that.”
“You only deal weapons?”
“Besides comics?” Julio chuckles. “That’s it, man. Guns for the boss.”
It fits Detective Silver’s brief description. Yasmine runs business by the book keeping her criminal dealings hidden. It seems unlikely that Julio deals venom risking his employment. Torx’s memory leads here, but his version of reality is in question. Taking venom erases recent memories. Julio works here, but anyone could have sold the venom.
Steve flips a page in his pad. “Have you heard anyone asking about venom?”
“Is that some new nickname?”
“No, it isn’t. Perhaps they use a nickname, but I’m not familiar.”
“Wait.” Julio’s eyes grow huge, and his jaw drops. “It’s not a rumor? Those freaks are venomous?”
“Not all of them.”
“Holy shit.” Julio shakes his head and grits his teeth. “That would be like taking a man’s balls! What kind of fang-freak would take another vamp’s fangs?”
“Has anyone mentioned it here? Or maybe nearby?”
Julio nods. “Some girls were asking about vampire acid. Over at Necropolis. Man, I thought they were talking about booze.”
“That’s right. Two pretty young things. They could dance like a dream.”
“Thanks for the tip.” Steve shoves the pad into his pocket. “How much for the gun and ammunition?”
“Three clips, twenty boxes of ammo, and the gun. Four thousand.”
Steve counts the hundred dollar bills realizing that most of the money will end up back in Yasmine’s pocket.