Kandy-4-Peter 6. Haunted Twilight

"Letter to Peter"

Sitting on a stool at the bar, Nine examined the handwritten letter from Steve Reynolds while Peter stood beside her leaning on the end of the bar. He watched her brow furrow, the way her nose scrunched when she concentrated. Cute. Her eyes shot back to the top of the page, and she read the message again.

Peter grabbed the bottle of wine, and refilled their glasses. The wine wasn’t from his sister’s vineyard, a cheaper brand from the warmer end of the valley, but it tasted fine.

Nine stayed late nearly every night to clean up and keep him company. He appreciated her help, but more than anything he enjoyed being near her. And the kiss the other night. A quick peck, but he couldn’t stop thinking about it.

“This Reynolds guy seems like a slippery one,” said Nine. She set the letter down, and gazed at Peter. “So the coffin, the guns, the packs of blood, it all belongs to this Kandy Knight. And you’re supposed to find her and help her. Is that it?”

Peter shrugged, and then nodded.

“And what about that powder we inhaled? This letter doesn’t mention it.”

“That’s what bothers me, too. It’s almost as if the coffin was rigged to release the powder so that the person opening it would breathe it in.”

“You, Peter,” said Nine. She held her head in her hands. “Reynolds wanted you to inhale that shit. Do you suppose that’s what he meant about a cure? Are we supposed to take that serum to cure whatever that powder infected us with?”

Slipping off the stool, Nine wrapped her arms around Peter and hugged him tight.

“We both feel fine,” said Peter. Squeezing her felt like sunshine melting frost. “Shouldn’t we feel sick if he wanted to encourage us to take his cure? We could just ignore it all.”

“But we can’t,” said Nine. She looked up him, her eyes intense. “You’re in his debt now for the expensive sword and the car, even. We should try to find Kandy Knight. Maybe she’s the only one that needs the serum.”

Peter kissed Nine. He hadn’t intended to; it just happened. On the corner of her mouth, his smooch was practically a friendly gesture. Although her body pressing close felt dangerous, and she kissed him back, full on. Gaze locked on hers, unspoken word passed between them. Upstairs?

Peter released Nine and took a big gulp of wine, the sharp scent filling his nose.

“It’s getting late,” said Nine.

“What about the serum? Do you think we should take it just in case?”

Nine shook her head. “The letter doesn’t give us a timeline. I think we should find Kandy first and work this out with her.”

Time Wraith 4. Shades of Roseland

"Roseland"

Strolling on the sidewalk through the Park Blocks near the university, I watched college students heading home from the bars. I wore plastic sunglasses protecting my vision from the street lamps, but the shades also made it more difficult to see anyone possibly hiding within the trees. I doubted anyone would follow me, but I still couldn’t shake the strange feeling of someone tailing me.

Grabbing my attention the most, though, were all the tents pitched in the grass, some with bicycles connected to trailers parked beside them. Roseland had always been a popular home for vagrants due to moderate temperatures and supportive residents, but most of the homeless had always spent the night at shelters or under bridges. It felt strange walking among so many vagrants, and the smell of vomit and piss pushed me back onto the streets.

Heading north, I skirted around the center of town reducing my chances of bumping into the Itoril elite. I passed two Itoril boys. They didn’t show me their fangs, and I didn’t need to see them. Their scent alone told me they were thin on Ithuriel’s blood, practically human.

More bums. I smelled alcohol and feces before I spotted them. Within a stoop, two vagrants huddled under blankets.

Taking advantage of a street crossing, I checked behind me. Nothing followed.

Street crossings also provided ample views of the tall glass tower, Stratton Enterprises, rising above the other buildings. The top of the tower was home for the local magistrate, and I wondered whom currently held the position. While fighting a memory-eating vampire-wraith, I had accidentally murdered the magistrate, my former employer, Stratton. It seemed likely that whomever had risen to position of Magistrate of Roseland also took over as CEO of Stratton Enterprises. The company and Itoril politics were inexorably intertwined.

Itoril law required me to report to the magistrate about my return and operation within the city, but hell with that. I was supposed to be dead, and a phantom I would be.

Even with more litter, more bums, more broken streetlamps, Roseland still felt like home. I knew her curving form embracing the snaking Willamette River, the scent of her evergreen perfume, and more importantly I knew her ghosts.

At the location of my old record store, I stopped to look the building over. I could still see its ghost, clean mortar walls and a wood sign over the door with large letters proclaiming, Kandy Fangs. The name had been Zee’s idea, a joke at first, but the name had caught on. Now, walls darkened by neglect, Roseland Sisters of Sorrows Sanctuary appeared overrun by vagrants flowing onto the street munching on leftover turkey and potatoes.

As I approached a nightclub, I began bouncing to the muffled beat razoring up a steel fire escape, the club losing part of its soul to the building.

Kandy-4-Peter 5. Guns! Guns! Girls!

The thundering engine grew louder between the walls as Peter backed the sixty-seven Fairlane into the drive beside the restaurant. Stopping near the loading dock, he spotted Crank standing near the open door to the kitchen. He cut the engine and doused the lights. The car smelled like leather-care moisturizer mixed with lavender. Old cars came with baggage, the spirits of former owners and all the love or hate that went into the vehicle. This car felt loved.

The background noise of the city crept inside.

Popping open the glove box, he found a pocket-sized pad of paper and two keys on a ring. Ripped edges marked missing pages from the pad. One of the keys was a spare for the car, and the smaller one appeared like a luggage key. He pushed the keys into his pocket and returned the pad to the glove box.

He grabbed the sack holding the framed company picture from the front seat, and climbed out of the car.

“Cool car,” said Crank. He wiggled his cigarette at the Fairlane. “Did you jack it?”

Watching Crank jump back against the wall, Peter realized he glared at the young man. Before making things worse, he hurried inside. The kitchen buzzed with noises as Boris prepared dinner plates full of steamed vegetables and chicken. Avoiding the chef, Peter wound around the back of shelves and out into the dining area heading to the podium where Nine stood explaining the organic selections to a couple.

Slipping the frame out of the sack, Peter hung the photograph on the waiting hook. He looked at the picture of the entire crew noticing how exhausted everyone appeared. Only two smiles, and Nine grinning at Peter instead of the camera.

Nine put a hand on his arm, and looked at the photograph.

“You can barely tell there’s a coffin in the background,” said Nine. She released his arm and turned around giving the restaurant a look over. “Laura is having a bad day. You should talk to her.”

Peter found Laura clearing a table on the second floor, and asked her up to the office. She appeared exhausted with puffy eyes. Her white shirt in disarray, necktie stuffed crookedly between buttons, she looked a mess. As she slumped into the chair, tears flooded her eyes.

“Peter, I can’t do this,” said Laura. She wiped her nose. “I’m really trying, but I’m sorry I don’t think I can do this anymore.”

“Take your time, Laura,” said Peter. He knelt beside her. “It’s Friday night which means you can sleep in tomorrow. Next week I’ll have another waitress hired, and you’ll be working your regular hours.”

Time Wraith 3. Time for Kandy

The misting threatened rain, but lapsed into its usual Roseland sputter. Two blocks away, music pumped out of the open door of a club, Red’s, according to the glowing sign. Pink neon promised, Girls! Girls! Girls! like a dinner bell ringing in my mind. Neighbors open late improved my chances of remaining unnoticed by familiar eyes within the aristocracy of my kind. The high-and-mighty didn’t frequent this rundown part of town, either. The neighborhood wasn’t as bad as Old Town, but it appeared to be heading in that direction, more grunge and broken streetlamps than I recalled. The gloom didn’t stop the handful of patrons heading in and out of Red’s, but the promise of nude women never did.

The joy of being home again met the disquiet of changes to my city: the grunge, unfamiliar car designs, an oversized phone with a blazingly bright screen a man carried, and the illuminated glasses his buddy wore on his nose. It only seemed like minutes for me, but on the other side of the shadows, time worked differently. I imagined I had been away from this side of the veil a few years, maybe more.

A tag dangled from the key, and I read the security code on it making sure I had it right before opening the door. There were two locks, one on the glass door and another on the sliding security cage, which squealed terribly.

Autumn Twilight Restaurant smelled like stale peanuts, moth balls, and spilled beer hiding somewhere near the stage. It needed a sweeping, too. Even with only the green glow of the exit sign, the layer of dust on the floor was visible revealing a number of shoe-prints.

Red light blinking in time to beeping, the security panel in the side hall beside the stairs called me. I hurried over and punched in the code. Satisfied with my numbers, the blinking red light turned a solid green.

Formerly a hotel with a lobby and dining room on the bottom floor, the wall between the two rooms had been replaced by a row of pillars opening the floor up. I recalled watching a jazz band jam away on that stage back when jazz was still cool. The second floor had been turned into a balcony floor overlooking the stage, a brilliant idea. It made the restaurant feel warmer and more inviting.

Self-conscious of intruding ears, I padded quietly up the stairs across the second floor landing, and up to the third floor. The hallway still appeared like an old hotel, but the small service doors had been boarded up in an attempt to look more like part of the wall. They didn’t really. They appeared more like cupboard doors without handles. The doorway on the left opened to a room with a desk bathed in the glow of the computer monitor; the office. On the right, the first room down the hall was the break room complete with humming refrigerator, sofa, coffee maker beneath cupboards, table, and chairs. No window, glowing numbers on the microwave oven cast a blue glow. The next room was empty, and the one after actually had a bed and table. And garbage. Someone had left a pile of paper food containers and on the bed table and floor along with a few plastic bottles. I frowned at all the cleaning the place needed. The fourth room brought my feet to a halt.

The green glow from the exit sign in the hall crept into the windowless room revealing a coffin against the wall. Leaning into the shadows between worlds, I peeked at the pale form of the coffin rising out of the darkness. An old hotel room seemed like an odd place for a coffin. At my former residence, I had kept a coffin in a basement. Reinforced with steel and welded shut, I had used the box as a safe to hide documents and my expensive sword. This coffin resembled mine, and for a moment, I thought it was mine, but even in the pale ghost-light I could see it was all wood. Stepping back into the world, I approached the box.

My Itoril eyes could make out the shape, but the ambient light wasn’t enough to read details. I closed my eyes and flipped the light on. Waiting for my vision to adjust, sneaking peeks, I heard the floor groan beneath my feet and the walls answer with crackles.

A bed table stood beside the coffin, and on it a metronome. I started the pendulum swinging, imagining the device left behind by a jazz man, and listened to the tock sounds.

Kandy-4-Peter 4. No Return Policy

After a busy day of going through résumés, printing the company photograph, and picking out flowers—regretting not bringing someone along with more floral knowledge—Peter was running late. Boris had the fort under control, but having a small staff worried him. More concerning, the coffin and its contents demanded explanation.

It was already dark out, nearly quitting time for most office slaves, and it appeared dark inside the building. The glass door provided a view of a hallway leading to one side, and somewhere around the corner a dim light splashed the white tile. Passing headlights cast sweeping shadows of the pedestrians hurrying along the sidewalk, day workers heading home or to happy hour. Glancing up at the street number over the door, he checked the address against the note on his phone.

He had tried the office several times on the phone with no answer, and seeing the dim light left a sinking feeling in his gut. Maybe the information was bogus, or the sender had bailed.

Tentatively, he grasped the door handle assuming it wasn’t going to open, but it did. He hefted his shopping bag under arm and slipped inside.

The short hall led to a nearly empty room, spacious for what appeared to be a reception area. Three closed doors lined the back, and one glass door provided a view of a room half-lit by a window looking out on the street on the opposite side of the building. The front desk, white like everything else, stood against the near wall beneath silver lettering spelling out the name of the owner, Steve Reynolds. Nearly hidden behind the high counter around the desk, a lamp on a craned neck provided the only illumination.

“Hello?”

No answer, but Peter thought he could hear the dull drumming of music. Growing louder, it became the unmistakable sound of half-music squeaking from headphones. Approaching the counter, he spotted the top of a brunette bobbing in time to the music.

Reading something on her desk, the woman appeared relaxed nodding to her music coming from her white earbuds. Suddenly, her gaze shot up and she yelped, covering her mouth with one hand.

“Excuse me,” said Peter.

Glaring at him, she pulled on the wires popping her earbuds out. “How did you get in here?” she asked.

“Door’s open.”

Heat escaping her face, she dropped her head into hands, her straight hair falling over her hands. In a muffled voice, she cursed herself for not locking the front door. Head flipping up, hair landing on her bare shoulders, she gazed up at him and apologized.