16. Violet Storm

Raging clouds, shoots of lavender undulate into the billowing sea of violets, crash onto the shores of horizons. Bits of red float like ash, melting onto the rocky, gray ground, blood oozing into the crevices. The quiet place with its deep purple sky and mottled ground of endless waste.

The ground seems to bend upward in every direction, scorching into the sky, hazy horizons waving like rising heat. But there is no warmth. No cold. Silence for the senses.

This is the shadows between worlds, the folds in time and space.

Steve glances around finding bits of pale white oozing out of the very air. Beneath him, a rectangular white shape melts out of the darkness. He lays on a bed. In a wave, hazy chunks fly up forming solid walls wrapping around into a room. A dresser, pale, rises like smoke. And he realizes, he reads the bits of reality forming a bedroom. A ghost-like nightstand lurks in the corner, tendrils of smoke solidify into a lamp with a frilly shade. Lipstick and other cosmetics occupy the dresser.

A wraith stands at the side of the bed. Smoke drifts off the dark creature like hair waving in the wind. Bending over, it brings its featureless face closer.

Glancing down, Steve finds his shirt torn open exposing a blood-soaked bandage over his gut. The gunshot wound, flesh ripped open while stumbling into the shadows between worlds.

Slender claws biting in, the wraith reaches into his gut. Ice prickles his flesh, and the wraith disappears in a puff of smoke.

“You need rest,” says Yasmine. Dressed in a long leather coat, she leans against the wall beside the open door.

“Kandy?”

Yasmine fades into a ghost frozen in the moment.

Rolling over, he steps through the ethereal bed and stands. He touches the bandage, bumps underneath. Stitches. It hurts like hell, and he lets out a silent grunt of displeasure. He could cry like a baby. No one would hear, or even remember while in between the folds in time.

He recalls Kandy, her flesh growing pale, her hair graying. Chills racing into his feet. She appears more like a corpse in his mind. Something stole the life from her.

His blood.

He looks down at the bandage. Bigger than his hand, it wraps around his side.

Looking up, he notices Yasmine’s ghost has moved. Her hand is higher, moving in slow motion. Everything moves. If he steps deeper into the shadows, increasing the difference in their respective motions, her ghost will disappear along with the room. Yasmine would continue raising her hand beyond his sight. From her perspective, did he just leap out of bed? Did he disappear? It depends on the timing. He memorizes the moment for his return.

Pain rises in his gut, and the world spins around him, storming clouds of violet. Walls rise out of the shadows, a ghost staircase tumbling down from above, under his feet, and into a hall behind him.

15. Shot in Silence

Steve glances in both directions. Closed doors line the hall, a corner in one direction and the beaded curtain to the exit in the other. Music thunders shaking the floor. Even the air seems to shimmer, and the walls ripple like waves of rising heat. The pounding grows in his head.

The quiet place. He needs the quiet place, away from music where he can think and slip away from whatever is about to happen. Who knows he is here? The exotic dancer knows. Yasmine knows. And Kandy. He barely understands where, or more precisely when, the Sanctuary of Sin is located. Somewhere, buried within the shadows of time.

Turning away from the beads, he glides down the hall. The thundering bass continues shaking the building. Recalling Kandy’s house, her cat, Lucifer, on the stairs, the ease of stepping into the shadows, he tries to relax, let his mind go.

The music pounds into his head.

Around the corner, he spots a glowing exit sign at the end of the hall. Quickly, he strides towards the sign passing more closed doors. Imagining Kandy holding his hand, he puts his mind in the same frame as when they glided down the stairs in the apartment building, two ghosts passing a person frozen in time. Instead of silence, he hears his heart thumping in his ears.

A door swings open on the side. Out of the shadows, a hand rises holding a gun.

Gazing into the room, he sees the outline of a slender man with shaggy hair. Two points of red, burning embers of an Itoril stare back at him. He watches the finger squeeze the trigger, the hammer flying, and a flicker of light. In the spark of the silent gunshot, he spots the shooter’s face. The lanky fellow from Torx’s apartment, Zee, the musician in Kandy’s band. The light fades leaving two glowing orbs.

The quiet place.

A streak extends from the barrel, the bullet slowing, losing substance. And he realizes his mistake. His step carries him into the line of fire, the streak piercing his gut. Instead of a quick sting, he feels the bullet ripping through his flesh, burning hot. A heartbeat pounds his head. Flesh splits open, slowly, but he keeps going deeper into the quiet place.

Concentrating on Kandy’s home, outside the empty bedroom, he reaches out for the ghostly hall. Sabrina sleeps in her bedroom, and Kandy relaxes on the sofa in her basement. There in the hall, Lucifer watches the stairs.

The bullet lets go, and he tumbles over landing on carpet.

Steve cries out hearing his voice. His gut fills with pain, and his heart thumps in his head. Rolling over, he grabs the side of his stomach feeling warm blood soaking his shirt. He cries out again.

The floor bounces. Voices.

He opens his eyes finding movement in the dark hall. Blinking clears his vision. Horror covers Sabrina’s face, and confusing fills Kandy’s eyes. Gut crying out, he squeezes feeling blood flowing over his hand.

“Dammit Steve!” Kandy pulls at his hand. “What the hell happened?”

He takes in a breath, lungs burning, and he grimaces. “My timing was off.”

“Sabrina!” Kandy snaps her fingers. “First aid kit from the bathroom.”

Sabrina frowns and slips away, floor shaking.

“Steve, what the hell?”

“Like I said.” Sharp pain rumbles up into his chest. The Sanctuary of Sin is more than a memory lost in time. The pain, the torn flesh. The quiet place is a conduit through the shadows connecting two strands of memories within the fabric of the universe. Here he is back at the top of the stairs where he briefly left the cat, but now with a hole in his gut. A giggle rises, but the pain cuts it off. He gazes down finding Kandy ripping the buttons on his expensive shirt soaked in blood. His side is a mess of torn flesh.

Kandy sours her face.

The floor shudders. A metal box squeaks open.

Grabbing white pads, Kandy dabs the blood. She glances back. “Now, go to your room.” Sabrina stomps away and slams her door closed.

“Looks like it didn’t make it through.” Dropping the pad, she grabs another and holds it to his chest. “Bleeding like a bitch, though.”

Heart settles down, and he takes a deep breath. “The Sanctuary of Sin.”

“What about it?”

“That’s where he shot me.”

14. Sin

Consuming most of the dimly lit room, a semicircle stage extends from the back wall. Polished black bars keep visitors off the stage, or hold the performer prisoner inside. Hanging on the wall false candles with red bulbs bathe two Itoril men dressed in expensive suits sitting on leather sofas in the corner facing the stage. Their eyes simmer like coals. On the other side, a female in a business suit flips the pages of a book. Even fully dressed and golden hair pulled back in a tight bun, the woman is unmistakable, Yasmine from Necropolis.

Steve sits beside Yasmine. Glancing over, she smiles and returns to her book writing notes.

Slipping out, Kandy closes the door.

Deep percussions shake the room. The bars around the cage vibrate. The sofa shudders. Even the air seems to shimmer. Or the light. The false candles flicker along the line of perception sending waves rolling through the wood-paneled walls. The angelic vocalists enter a hymn, a tragic lullaby filling the belly of the beast.

Oddly enough, the combination of light and sound seems relaxing. Easing back into the leather, Steve soaks in the rumbling beast.

At the back of a stage, a red velvet curtain slides open. Slipping onto the stage, a woman struts, her tall boots tapping the mirrored floor, her breasts bouncing in a shiny pink bra. She twirls around throwing her dark hair out, her skirt of meshed silver chain rises above her thighs.

The two men lean closer, their noses nearly touching the bars.

Black glove grabbing brass pole, the dancer swings her body around, free arm flying out. She drops throwing her hair over covering her face, hands on the mirrored floor.

The music fades, and the walls cease rippling.

Setting her book aside, Yasmine leans closer and grips the edge of the sofa. She glances over, smiling. Hunger fills her blue eyes. She looks as if about to speak, but seals her lips.

He offers his hand. “Steve Reynolds.”

Gripping his palm, Yasmine squeezes tight. Authority beams from her smile, and her suit completes the image of power. Snug against her bare neck, the black tie disappears between her breasts squeezed together by a velvet corset beneath her black jacket hanging open.

“Of course,” says Yasmine. Dropping her hand, she grips leather cushion.”Steve, you look absolutely delicious.” She licks her fangs.

Music rises from the depths, chimes and a thumping drum, a heartbeat growing closer. With each pulse, the dancer bounces, head bobbing. A hush, and smoke floods the stage engulfing the dancer.

Steve glances around. The Itoril men watch the stage with hungry eyes. The same look floods Yasmine’s face, maybe with more lust. A crash of drums, and an eruption of guitars sends the room rippling. Light blasts up from the stage shooting through white smoke. Dark fan spins up blowing smoke; the dancer flips her head back. On hands and knees, she crawls pushing through the smoke approaching the bars nearest the two men. It seems like a normal strip club. Is this supposed to be his sin? He imagines other sins behind other doors: blood drinking, torture, illegal gambling.

“Do they let anyone with enough cash in here?”

“What?” Yasmine shakes her head. “Exclusive. Itoril of a certain stature. And.” She winks. “You, my sweet.”

Gripping the bars, the dancer swoons rising out of the smoke. One of the men reaches out, two fingers holding dollar bills, slipping between bars. He lets the cash drop into the smoke and leans back on the sofa. The woman dances in a circle pressing her body against the cage.

The music falls into a groove, and the heartbeat returns. The dancer moves with the pulse, pressing her breasts against the cage. Her stage name might be exotic or flowery, but standing above the others is the perfect name, Sin.

Twirling around, Sin cups her breasts and squeezes for the audience.

“City leaders,” says Yasmine. She rolls her eyes. “Itoril council members. They want to shut this place down.”

“Attracts curious eyes.”

“Right.” Leaning over, Yasmine pushes several bills between the bars. “That and some of the weird shit that goes on in here.” Reaching into her jacket, she produces more cash, pushing the bills onto the stage before Steve.

The dancer struts over, smoke swirling around her legs. Reaching to her shoulders, she pulls the pink straps down her arms flipping the bra over, breasts bouncing free. Gripping the bars, she dances, her hips moving to the heartbeat of the beast. Smoke slithers up her bare thighs, wispy fingers snatching at her glistening skirt.

Yasmine leans closer touching shoulders, and releases a pleasurable gasp. “I’m planning on opening my own club. For lovelies like her.”

“Humans you mean.”

“Right.” She laughs sounding wicked. “Thursdays could be Itoril night.”

He recalls the other evening, the memory in some other corner of the universe, the Itoril woman wearing the chain mail dress and explaining her plan to make vampires cool. In that other memory, the sanctuary offers food and shelter to those in need. Here, sin for the elite.

Spinning around, Sin leans over, meshed chain sliding up offering a tempting view. Steve lowers his gaze finding the dancer’s face looking back through the smoke. She smiles.

Yasmine holds out a twenty. “A little more sweetness for you, Steve?”

He pushes her hand away and shakes his head. “I’m good. Thanks.”

“Don’t mind me then.” She drops the twenty before her.

The dancer spins around, swaying her hips. Guitars fade giving way to the thundering heartbeat. Body bouncing, the dancer locks her gaze with Yasmine. Hands on her hips, she slides knives from the mesh skirt. Curved blades like slender talons held in hands, she twirls around and slashes at the smoke.

Yasmine scoots the edge of the sofa and gazes up at the dancer.

Holding blades to cheeks, the dancer licks her lips, circling around and touches tongue to nose. Hips rotating, shoulders dipping, she moves to the heartbeat. Red oozes along the blades, clings to the surface. Red tears slide down her cheeks.

Music explodes, and Sin dances waving the blades around stirring up smoke. She strikes the bars, chiming to the music. She slices over collar bones. Crimson tears slide down onto her breasts, one off to the side, the other pooling over her nipple, separating, and two drops fall splattering thigh. Crimson tears spread in three directions. White smoke licks thighs.

Steve gazes at the smoke, bright red on flesh, and dark hair sashing around. Beautiful. Spotting Yasmine gripping leather, he suspects the Itoril woman sees something else. A tease of blood, her senses on fire sending her body shuddering into an a near orgasmic-like state. The pleasure filling her face is priceless.

Watching Sin dance, working the blades like paintbrushes spreading crimson streaks over the canvas of her flesh, he feels warmth build inside. The grim art sends tingles into the back of his head, and he shudders realizing this is his sin. Or close to it. Maybe due to the performance, the naked flesh, or just the color. Red is sensual.

He watches Sin bleed.

As the performer dances on the other side for the gawking gentlemen, Steve notices Yasmine watching him. He nods.

“Delicious, isn’t she?”

“How long have we known each other?”

“Long time.” Licking her lips, Yasmine glances at Sin and drags her gaze back. “I was just a girl then.”

Hard to tell, but Yasmine appears young for an Itoril. Her youth might have been decades ago.

She scoots closer bumping shoulders. “Are you doing anything these days?”

“What do you know about Kandy?” Looking at the blank expression, he thumbs over his shoulder at the door. “Our hostess.”

“She dances like a storm.”

One of the men bangs on the bars and reaches into the cage. Spinning away, Sin grasps the poll and twirls around. The man hammers on the bars with his fist while the other tugs at his coat trying to pull him away.

Yasmine laughs. “Blood sometimes gets the best of them.”

Leaping, Sin grabs the poll and twirls upside-down climbing higher. Ankles gripping poll, she spins holding her arms out. Blood droplets drain from the slashes above her knees, into the groove between her clenched thighs.

Grabbing the bars, the enraged Itoril tugs rattling the cage. Arms bulge within the suit, and cracking sounds circle the stage with each mighty jerk. He snarls exposing his four terrible fangs, two on top surrounding the two smaller ones on the bottom.

As Sin swings around, she throws her hand out. A blade spins through the bars striking the raging Itoril in the chest. Stumbling back, the man pulls the blade out and throws it to the ground. Madness fills his eyes and he leaps at the cage, toes shoved between bars. Leaning back, he tugs wrenching the cage. More creaking, and several of the lights in the stage floor flicker out.

Palms on the glass floor, the dancer dives into a roll, flips over and throws her arm out, blade twirls between bars piercing into the Itoril’s chest. Pushing away, she rolls back over and onto her feet.

Shock consumes the man’s face as he gazes down at the blade stuck deep into his chest, blood draining down his shirt. He reaches for the blade, but slips tumbling onto the sofa.

The other business man falls at his side, yelling obscenities.

Yasmine claps her hands delicately. “I’m hiring her.”

“Is he okay?”

“He’ll be fine.” She laughs. “Except for his pride.”

Sin resumes dancing with a smirk on her face.

Returning to his thoughts, Steve searches for his next topic. “Venom. Is it true that it causes memory loss?”

Yasmine’s face turns serious. Looking at him, she seems to consider the question. Or him. Itoril keep secrets for their survival. She leans closer brushing her cheek against his and speaks into his ear.

“Venomous Itoril are rare creatures. Elders. Mostly.”

Nodding, he watches the two business men exit the room closing the door behind them.

“Memory loss is often temporary,” says Yasmine. She takes in a breath and presses closer.

It feels uncomfortable, fangs so close, but he trusts Yasmine. They have a history going back to her youth. Is Kandy involved? So many questions that must wait. Of course, Yasmine is the same woman that owns Necropolis where they follow the letter of the law and sweep crime under the carpet. He watches Sin holding the bars and writhing. She grins at him, and he returns the smile.

“Itoril venom eases the pain,” says Yasmine, her lips brushing his ear. “Addictive as hell.”

“Can it be bottled?”

Yasmine growls. “Venom is stature. More than blood. Those with it hold it over everyone else. Nobody messes with them.”

Pulling out a twenty, he reaches out and drops the tip onto the stage. Falling back, he feels the woman press in beside him. The Itoril is far from warm, not exactly reassuring, but she feels safe. She is young. With the scent of blood in the air, crimson painted on Sin, Yasmine is in control.

“I could use a guy like you.”

“Pardon?” Turning his head, he gazes into her deep blue orbs. Within the dark centers, embers burn.

“The world might be moving on, but for Itoril, it’s still very much a man’s world.” She licks her lips. “If I want to climb the corporate ladder, I need help. And who better to help me than an outsider? A ghost.”

Looking back at the cage, he finds Sin watching him. Squatting, her bottom nearly lost in smoke, she reaches through the bars and curls her finger in a come-hither motion.

“Think about it, Steve.”

He stands before the cage.

Sin reaches through and tugs his belt. The bars press against him, and her breasts.

Rising on toes, she presses her cheek against the cage near his ear.

“I have a message from you,” says Sin, whispering above the music. “Time to go.”

“Excuse me?”

“Get the hell out of here.”

Pulling back, he gazes at Sin. The determination in her copper eyes tells him she speaks the truth. A message from him must be important. Something bad approaches. Whatever it is, he must have thought better not to pass along the nature of the warning. Or he didn’t know the details.

Nodding, he steps back bumping into Yasmine.

Sin dances away and grabs the poll spinning around, hair flowing.

“She’s a sweetie, isn’t she?” Yasmine laughs.

Tearing his eyes from Sin, he strides for the exit and throws the door open.

13. Welcome to Sin

As the tailor finishes the suit, Steve Reynolds reviews his notes in the pocket pad. Five thousand dollars, a payment or bribe for some unknown service. Delivery by bike messenger increases the difficulty in tracing the money to the source. Sabrina has never been to Torx’s apartment, but he clearly remembers her there along with the broken glass surrounding the beer bottles. Drugs. Itoril venom is a drug, and Sabrina is an addict. Yasmine owns Necropolis. They play by the book. Good at covering secrets such as an unsolved murder, missing a body, and his strange appearance after forensics finished their initial job. It all seems like it starts at Torx’s apartment, his first memory.

The apparent loss of time between Torx’s apartment, where he lost Sabrina, and Necropolis could mean something besides a hangover. The apparent time travel from The Sisters of Sorrows Sanctuary to The Sanctuary of Sin, and again at Necropolis where he met Yasmine soon after she bought the club. How long ago was that? Doesn’t matter. It all could mean his memories are not in order, and it all starts at Necropolis where they found his unconscious body. Besides, his very first memory involves Kandy pointing the gun at him.

It begins with Kandy.

He recalls the dance floor where Kandy swoons to the music. There lost in the shadows of time, she tells him her name. Kandy Fangs. Necropolis, the city of the dead. That is where Kandy, her killer eyes blazing, aims a gun at him, at the beginning, in the end. Somewhere within the murky darkness of time memories hide.

Steve checks the mirror. The charcoal suit appears neat. Like a federal agent. He tips the tailor a hundred and exits leaving his old clothes behind.

The evening air chills his brow. Traffic hums in is ears. He considers going back to Kandy’s place and demanding answers. If not for the memory of her threatening him, he would. Killers keep secrets. Glancing around at the stone buildings, he finds his bearings. The Sanctuary of Sin should be around the corner. Behind him, melting between two pedestrians, a shadow follows.

Focusing on the sidewalk ahead, Steve continues striding between two flows of pedestrians coming towards him. He feels like he paddles up river with the shadow creature floating closer. Much like the thing at Kandy’s place, this creature appears like a dark ghost pulling a trail of wispy shadows burning off like smoke. A wraith. Not like the memory ghosts. It could be something else, a distant cousin to the Itoril. The shadow might even be his absent hunger.

When was the last meal?

Except for the coffee earlier this afternoon, and the drink at Midnight Dream, he has no memory of a meal. If coffee or wine can be considered meals.

Turning the corner, he glances over his shoulder spotting the wraith, closer now, gliding along the sidewalk passing through people. Continuing into the darkness, he realizes the sound has slipped away. His shoes no longer tap the cement. The sounds of traffic is a memory fading in his ears. Even the cold air has abandoned him. And the darkness is a shroud dimming the street lamps beneath a raging sky of violet clouds.

He passes ghosts, memories frozen in time, and hurries nearly jogging for the corner. He glances back at the wraith. Instead of a hazy shape, he finds a dark figure wearing a long skirt marching on the sidewalk. The face is still featureless, but he feels the eyes eating into him. Passing the corner, he races onto the empty street.

Sound crashes down; engines, tires screeching. Light blazes. Leaping, Steve dodges the car and runs onto the sidewalk. He takes in a deep breath and looks around. A car honks at the stalled car, and both continue moving again. A handful of pedestrians stroll along the walks.

He searches the street. The wraith is gone.

Red showers down on the glistening moist pavement. Gazing up, he finds a blazing sign bleeding above the door. The Sanctuary of Sin. He looks the building over. Sure enough, it is the same as before except for the sign. Instead of the old sign for The Sisters of Sorrows Sanctuary beside the door, a man in a dark suit stands in front of bare stone.

Removing the pad from his pocket, Steve scribbles a note about the building, the red sign. Notes help keep the memories straight. He slips the doorman a hundred and steps into sin.

Music thunders from deeper within pounding the checkerboard floor with a chilling beat. The black queen, Kandy dressed in a short skirt, slinks over. Sin fills her smile, glossy red lips pressed together and eyes blazing with confidence. Behind the counter, a woman in a tuxedo flashes a smile then turns to something on the countertop. The clock on the wall claims midnight approaches.

Kandy waves behind her. “What’s your pleasure?”

Steve glances to the back at the beaded curtains hanging in the doorways, one on each side of the corner.

“Perhaps you’d like to start with a drink?” Kandy waves at the counter.

“Kandy.”

Meeting his gaze, her smile fades as she seems to study him. Her face brightens again. “Yes, Mister Reynolds.”

“How long have you worked here?”

“Since opening. Nearly a decade, isn’t it?” Linking arms, she tugs him in the direction of the counter. “How about a drink?”

The bartender tips a bottle pouring a deep red liquid into a wine goblet.

He recognizes the scent. A rare brandy.

“Drink up, Mister Reynolds.”

He tips the glass back, drinking down the warm, invigorating contents down. Looking him over, Kandy studies him, her eyes lingering on the silk tie, the expensive shirt, the leather belt. Calculating. Rising, her eyes blaze with warmth. The room is nearly dim enough, and he finds the spark of the Itoril embers burning within.

“I know what you need,” says Kandy.

Some food, perhaps. A roast might go with the brandy, or chocolate might be better. Still no hunger pains. Maybe food comes between memories, meals cast aside as meaningless information.

“Follow me.”

Watching her hips in the tight dress, he can’t imagine anyone disobeying her command. Even knowledge of her nature is barely enough to discourage his feet from falling in place. Shoes tap the chess board. Her hair smells like cinnamon reminding him of riding in her car after she killed the man. No, not a man, an Itoril. Kandy is an executioner. Or will be. It doesn’t matter. Time is relative, and Kandy is always a killer.

Slipping through the beaded curtain, into a hall, the music grows louder. The deep percussions move the floor, each thundering heartbeat shakes the foundation, rattling the closed doors. Deeper within the beast, the chorus awakens, fallen angels crying their hymn of death, despair, and their allegiance to darkness.

Chills spill down his backside.

Selecting a door, Kandy touches the knob and spins around. The grin on her face could melt a man.

He wants to ask questions about this place, their history, but his fractured memories leave him lost. One thing is certain. This memory comes before Necropolis.

“Welcome to your sin.” Kandy opens the door.

12. Payment

At the police station, Steve Reynolds signs for his temporary identification card. Along with his portrait and physical attributes, it has Kandy’s address on it. Strange how everything he knows can be summed up on a card.

“I tried you at the Sisters of Sorrows Sanctuary,” says Detective Silver. He pulls open the glass door.

Steve steps outside into the afternoon sunshine as he recalls the two queens on the checkered floor. The Sanctuary of Sin must be an old memory, but it feels like yesterday. “Too many ghosts.”

“Well, I’m glad you found a place.” Silver huffs and looks at the street full of cars. “But, I’m sorry we haven’t found anything yet. I’m checking with someone from the military. Sometimes fingerprints have a way of slipping out of the system.”

Steve nods and follows the detective to the sidewalk where they join a crowd of pedestrians. He feels bad about leading the detective astray. Not a lie, but more of letting the detective assume Kandy is someone he only recently met. It is the truth. He knows very little about her, not even her last name. Kandy Fangs. Where does that come from? Her stage name perhaps. But Kandy is not human. He assumes she appreciates privacy.

“How about your memories? Anything coming back?”

Nothing of his history has made any appearance, unless he counts the scene within the Sanctuary of Sin. Considering the disconnected experiences, jumping from night to day at Kandy’s or the seeming time travel through Necropolis, he wonders if his experiences are his memories coming back. What if everything is a memory? It explains Kandy’s denial of threatening him with a gun and Sabrina’s response about never visiting Torx’s apartment. Time is relative. Perhaps his memories cross with theirs at odd angles.

“No,” he says. He digs his hands into his pockets finding the identification card, the pocket notepad, and the pen. All his possessions fit in his pockets with room to spare. “Nothing.”

“They say sometimes amnesia is a way of blocking out something terrible, something worth forgetting.” Silver wiggles his eyebrows. “Or so they say.”

What could be so terrible? In the last day he has witnessed a man’s head blown off by a shotgun, ghosts, shadows of time, Kandy consuming blood from two women, and Sabrina passed out in her own vomit in the aftermath of a drug party. Not even a queasy stomach. Is there anything so terrible that it erases a lifetime of memories? Seems unlikely.

Steve shakes his head. “They also say at death a person’s life flashes before their eyes. What if that’s all life really is? Memories crashing towards death.”

Detective Silver stops at a coffee stand on the corner and orders two cups. He hands one to Steve and takes a long drink from the other.

“At the crime scene where they found me.”

Silver lowers the cup. “Necropolis.”

“Was I at the back or the front?”

“Front.” Silver waves his cup at the air. “Like I told you before. It doesn’t make sense. Everybody would have been tripping over you at the stairs. I asked Gunnar twice, and he verified you were leaning against the wall between the stairs and the mess.”

“What about the body? Do you have a photograph I could look at?”

“No body.” Smashing eyebrows together, Silver gazes down at his cup. “Enough blood. There should be a body, but no body.”

“One body missing. One body found.”

“What you have to understand, Mister Reynolds, is that Necropolis is run by a very smart business woman. They follow every regulation to the letter. Paperwork always in order. Everything by the book. Perfect.” Silver shakes his head. “Too perfect.”

“You’re saying they’re good at covering up.”

“I’m saying I think my best bet on solving my primary case is finding your identity.”

“But you don’t think someone is trying to set me up?”

“The evidence says otherwise.” Silver shrugs. “If only you could remember the events leading up to that night.”

He recalls entering Necropolis after leaving Torx’s apartment. Somewhere between he lost a barely conscious Sabrina to the time-sucking shadows.

Glancing at his watch, Detective Silver says something about the time and scurries away, coat flapping like a cape.

A bicycle rolls to a stop, the brake releasing a high-pitched cry.

Steel rings pierce the young woman’s ears, her nose, and even her eyebrows. Most of them are simple silver rings, but some hold tiny colored glass. Her ratty hair seems to flow all over the place, tendrils dancing, almost as if defying the breeze.

“Hey, Mister Reynolds.” The bicyclist slips a bag off her shoulder and opens the flap.

Opening his mouth, Steve starts to ask about her, but clamps shut. He looks at her torn clothes full of holes. She appears like a vagrant on a bicycle. Or a drug addict. Maybe she just doesn’t want to get her nice clothes dirty.

Holding up a fat yellow envelope, the bicyclist smashes her face together slinging metal around. “I like you better in a suit.”

“Yes, a suit.” Taking the envelope, he searches for the words. He wants to ask about how long she has known him. How did she know to find him here? Nothing comes out. Maybe it’s her sudden appearance, or her disheveled look. Her hair. The way the strands shift about.

Steve watches the woman speed away, bicycle carving between lanes of traffic around cars onto the opposite side, and around the corner. Ripping open the envelope, he looks inside.

Dollar bills, a stack of them. He flips through the bills. All hundreds.