Chapter 16

madeleine-ragsdale-691073-unsplashA wedge of light was visible on the other side of the partially open door to his apartment. Peering inside, Jeremy angled himself to see that the dining room, kitchen, and living room lights had all been turned on. A dense, cloying odor of something being burned hung in the air. The clatter of heeled footsteps moved around inside. Someone was inside, and it sounded as if they were walking around in the kitchen or dining room. Everything surrounding the lock and door frame was still intact. They picked the lock?

The footsteps were softer now – farther away. Whoever it was, it sounded as if they were moving down the hall. Seeing an opportunity and hoping there was only one person inside, he pressed his hand to the face of the door and pushed it slowly open. No one was in view, but every light was on. Every visible curtain, shade, and window had been drawn open. The place hadn’t been this brightly lit in a long time. The person had moved down the hall, and it sounded as if they were slowly pacing between the bedrooms and guest bathroom.

With the intruder at that side of his apartment, he knew he wouldn’t be able to make it to his gun. If he could just make it to the kitchen, he knew there was a knife out on the kitchen counter. He struggled to hear where the other person was as his heart hammered against his chest. His mouth was bone dry. It had to be someone connected to the asshole on the motorcycle who had tried to run him down.

Jeremy crept into the apartment, his eyes wide as he took in his surroundings. Even with the patio door wide open, the unusual stench in his apartment was nearly suffocating. Halfway to the kitchen counter, he was convinced there was only one person in the place with him. Each step he took across the open space was deliberate but urgent. He stared down the hall as he moved, mentally preparing himself for the coming confrontation.

Seconds later, the kitchen knife was in his hand. It was the only one that was not in a box or drawer – a six-inch chef’s knife. It would have to do. He stepped away from the kitchen counter, his hand wrapping around the synthetic, textured knife’s handle – his thumb braced over the spine of the blade. Thankfully, the intruder’s steps seemed to be louder than his own. It reeked as if something was on fire in his apartment, but there was no smoke, and the smoke detectors were still silent.

Was that humming he heard from down the hall? As he moved toward the hall, the sound carried from his bedroom, and a feeling of heavy dread washed over him. If the intruder didn’t already have a gun, he hoped they didn’t find his. Who the hell hums while they are breaking into someone’s house?

A shadow grew longer around the edge of the hall from his bedroom, accompanied by footsteps of the approaching intruder. They were coming back down the hall. With only a moment to react, he quickly shifted his footing and moved back along the wall of the dining room, which formed a corner with the main hall – concealing himself from the corridor. His movement was off-balance and perhaps due to lingering water on one of his shoes or due to sheer clumsiness – his last step ended in a high-pitched squeak. Shit!

The footsteps halted after turning down the hall. The humming stopped. There was only quiet now as if the whole thing had been in his imagination. His pulse thundered in his ears as he strained his hearing and waited along the edge of the wall – ready to attack. It wasn’t fear that held him in place – the anger and frustration that had been building inside him was primed to react. It was a voice other than his own that finally broke the silence.

“I know you’re there. Come on out.” The voice called from down the hall.

It was a woman’s voice – vaguely familiar with a thick southern accent. Unable to immediately place the voice, he held his position – waiting in silence.

“If you don’t put that damn knife down, I will shoot your Ethan Hawke-looking ass,” the woman warned in a low voice. “With your own gun.”

The threatening tone, the bold attitude, and the accent – he knew the woman and knew her well. Josie! The tension of his body lessened as he lowered the knife to his side and stepped out into the hall. As he set the knife back down on the kitchen counter, he met the fiery glare of a shapely ebony-skinned woman standing at the opposite end of the hall.

“Josie, what the hell are you doing here?” Jeremy asked. He glanced quickly at her hands and was happy to see she did not actually have his gun. She was holding something in one hand, though – a small wrapped bundle that was smoldering along its edges. Whatever it was, it was now clear it was the source of the smell that permeated his apartment.

“Hello to you too,” Josie said with a smile. She quickly walked up to him, her arms flung wide as she wrapped him up in a firm hug. Her jet-black dreadlocks were pulled back away from her face into a ponytail, and as Jeremy returned her embrace, he could feel her hair hanging down to her waist. As she let him go, she took a step back and was careful not to burn him with the item in her hand.

“Yeah, no. I’m sorry. It’s good to see you too.” Jeremy struggled to find the right words and his breath. He could see now that it was incense and herbs wrapped and bound together, and it smelled even worse up close. He held his breath for a second as he stepped backward from the acrid fumes. Josephine Broussard – Josie – was an old friend of Nicolette’s from long before he had ever met her. The two had been close and spent time together regularly until a year ago when Josie abruptly moved back to Louisiana. Nicolette had, on more than one occasion, likened her to a sister.

Josie moved around him and set the fuming herbs into the sink. She lifted the handle, and a stream of water caused a quick hiss as the burning array of herbs and incense were extinguished. She leaned back against the kitchen counter, and her foot tapped a crumpled piece of paper, sending it behind one of the still unmoved boxes.

“Please tell me you didn’t actually move my gun,” Jeremy began. “How did you know I had a knife?” So many questions floated around in his head.

“I know where it is, just like I knew you had the knife,” she replied. “Don’t worry, I didn’t touch it. I wouldn’t need it.” Her lips broke apart into a soft but confident smile.

“So, what? You came all the way from Louisiana to burn stuff in my apartment?” Jeremy nodded his head toward the sink.

“I’m not just burning stuff,” she said and raised her hands to her chest – feigning offense. “It’s a cleansing, Jeremy. This whole place has got darkness all over.” Her index fingers gestured in large circles while she spoke.

“A cleansing?” Jeremy asked. “Thanks. My apartment smells horrible.” He leaned against the kitchen counter and grabbed two clean glasses in one hand and a recently opened bottle of scotch in the other. He lifted both up as an offering to Josie.

“I don’t know what you’ve gotten yourself into, but you’ve left yourself wide open. This was to cleanse your home of evil.” She nodded that she would have a drink and moved over to the small table in the dining room and took a seat.

“Really, Josie? Right into the new-age shit?” Jeremy had always known she was a little strange, and more than once, he had overheard her talking to Nicolette about spirits and dreams.

“It’s not new-age anything,” she began. “I’m just trying to keep my promise.”

He already knew he was in danger and doubted someone would randomly try to run him down, but how did she know? He joined her at the table, moved all of the papers and drawings to one side in a pile, and poured them both two fingers of scotch. “What promise?”

“I promised Nic I would do what I could to look out for you.” Josie reached out and took the glass in her hand.

“It’s been six months since I’ve seen you. You don’t need to look out for me.” Jeremy almost laughed. What the hell is she talking about?

“That may be so, but Nicolette said you were in danger now. So I came here.” Josie tipped the glass up and gulped half of its amber contents down and put it back down on the table.

“What?” Jeremy blinked and leaned back in his chair slightly, his hands still resting on the bottle and his glass. “We already said goodbye. There’s nothing left to say after that. ”

“That doesn’t mean she can’t still reach out if she needed something bad enough,” Josie said as she looked down at her glass for a moment.

“That’s not funny,” Jeremy said as he poured her glass back up to two fingers and then set the bottle down. He pulled his glass up to his lips and poured the amber liquid down his throat. He could already tell he was going to want to keep drinking around Josie – her being here was bringing up old memories of Nicolette that he tried to avoid. “We both watched her get put in the ground.”

“Jeremy, I mean this in the nicest way,” Josie paused to take another drink. Tears began to well up in her eyes as she took one of Jeremy’s hands in her own. “You have no idea what that girl was truly capable of or what she gave up for you.”

Jeremy didn’t know how to react to that. He could feel furrows drawn across his brow as he stared at her – waiting and wanting to know more. He finished off his drink and poured himself another. “Tell me.”

“You’re going to have to be a lot more open-minded if we’re about to have this conversation,” Josie warned. “Hear me out, or else I will have to show you… and I don’t think you’re ready for that.”

Jeremy began working on his second drink as Josie spoke.

“Have you had any dreams of Nicolette recently? It would be something vivid and strange to you.”

Jeremy stopped and set his drink down on the table. His mouth was half-open, and he started to respond but didn’t know how to explain his recent dream about Nicolette mouthing words to him and crying. He managed to nod.

“You didn’t get the message, did you?” Josie squeezed his hand gently – reassuringly.

He took a minute to compose himself as he struggled not to break down while thinking about the dream. “It was a couple nights ago. She was talking to me, but I couldn’t hear her.”

“Listen to me,” Josie replied. “Nicolette was strong, and she foresaw something horrible happen to you. She gave up a part of herself so that it wouldn’t come to pass. My only guess is that you’re still in danger, and she is trying to warn us from the other side.”

“It was just a dream, Josie,” Jeremy began.

“No. It wasn’t.” Josie interrupted. “You may not believe much in this world, but believe and remember my words. Nicolette was a witch… like me. Not the ugly, horrible, and evil type from movies, but she was a genuine, magically-gifted woman.”

“Stop, Josie. You have clearly lost your damn mind.” Jeremy began to sit up straight to end this conversation and stand away from the table. He didn’t know what sick game Josie was playing, but it wasn’t funny. He was done listening.

“We don’t have time for this,” Josie said as she quickly moved back from the table and stood up. She picked up her glass and gulped down what liquor remained. A fleeting grimace crossed her face right before she slammed the glass back down onto the wooden table. She began to utter words – reciting something in a language that Jeremy could neither understand nor recognize. Her arms stretched out toward him and her hands flattened with the palms facing each other.

“What the hell are you doing?” he spoke louder this time with growing irritation. He struggled to think back to languages he had studied in high school and college but failed to recall anything of substance. Was that Latin?

“Hold onto the bottle,” she added as her words echoed softly throughout the space of the apartment.

Instinctively, Jeremy reached out and grabbed the bottle in one hand. The intensity of the lights wavered, flickering for an instant as a low vibration in the air began to grow in volume. The soft wavering sound shifted to a hum and then a deep, discordant pulse. Jeremy couldn’t tell if the sound was coming from the woman before him or some other unseen source, but it made every hair on the back of his neck stand on end. He moved his chair back from the table.

Josie motioned her hands slowly to the left, a single gesture, and the deep pulsing sound staggered and was gone. Everything in front of her in the dining room began to drift from where it was positioned. The dining table and chairs – including the one Jeremy sat in, began to move. An unperceived force, slid the furniture slowly across the floor until it all rested along the wall of the room.

Somewhere deep in Jeremy’s mind there was a dull, jabbing discomfort as if a worse headache were on its way. He didn’t fully understand what had just occurred or how, but his dining room furniture had just shifted several feet sideways. Dozens of questions began to spring into his mind as he stood up from the table and backed away from Josie.

“Calm down, I won’t hurt you,” Josie began as she held her hands out to her sides as a sign of peaceful intentions. “That ache in your mind will go away. I just had to cut through everything and show you. What you know about the world is not everything. Magic exists along with far darker things to be concerned about.”

Jeremy stood rigid, staring at her with wide-eyes and his arms out to his sides as if he could fall over at any moment. No words came from his gaping mouth. What he had witnessed was impossible. The questions continued to spring into his mind and tumble about, but each time he tried, he found himself unable to decide which to ask first. He needed a minute and another drink.

“Nicolette was stronger than most witches I have known, but it came at a cost. She was cursed to dream about the fates of her loved ones – including you and me.”

Jeremy’s stance softened, and a shakiness washed over his mind as if he were standing on a boat at sea. He did the most natural thing he could think of to balance himself and sat back down at the table. This has to be a bad dream.

Josie remained standing but gave Jeremy time to pour himself another drink before she continued. “She couldn’t see everything, but she saw her loved ones die before it ever happened. To Nicolette, it was never a gift. She told me that one day if I stayed in this city, I would die. It hurt her to glimpse, but she told me what she saw happen to you was worse. It haunted her.”

“This is real?” Jeremy called out as he glanced around in disbelief. He was aware now that he wasn’t dreaming. It was an alarming experience, but he was awake and he knew it.

“Yeah, honey. I’m sorry, but it is.” Josie replied glumly.

“Did what she saw come true?”

“Every time, unless the person made a drastic change,” Josie answered.

“How do I die?” Jeremy asked. His voice was a dry, raspy whisper as he lifted his drink up to his lips and took a small sip. Had Nicolette known what would happen – that Jeremy would kill himself? The sensation of waves rolling around in his mind slowly subsided as he stared blankly at the wall.

Josie walked over to the table and held onto the back of her chair with both hands. Her chocolate brown eyes still held back tears as she studied his face. “Are you sure you want to know?” she asked. 

Jeremy looked up at her and slowly nodded before gesturing for her to sit once more. What was real had changed for him, and he was still trying to wrap his mind around what he had just seen. There was so much more he wanted to know – so much he needed to know.



Photo by madeleine ragsdale on Unsplash

Chapter 15

madeleine-ragsdale-691073-unsplashResting on her side, Katherine faced the rest of the room from the sitting area opposite the bar. She was lying down on a red velvet chaise lounge in the upstairs area of her club that served as the private area for others of her kind within the city. Not every vampire within the city spent time here, but it was a sanctuary for those who did. The room was filled with a dozen club members lounging and conversing – some came for accessible sustenance, others spoke about power and position. No longer did they compete for food or worry about being hunted.

Most came to prey on the humans that frequented the club. It was a delicate game they played, hiding just behind the shroud of what humans perceived and understood. In the privacy of this room, they could bring clubgoers up from downstairs. Half of the vampires in the room were lounging about – casually feeding on humans who would do nothing to protect themselves. Mortals had no chance of free will here, and aside from feeling weak, none of them would remember anything from this night except a good time at the club.

It was one of the rules she strictly enforced – their existence had to remain a secret. All within the city obeyed or faced the consequences. Katherine ensured everyone knew her stance on the matter, and none directly risked her wrath. Others in the room spoke of their power and experience, but she was the real ruler here. Those who were new to this life and her city would have to acclimate to her expectations – like Shyanne.

Katherine studied the man and woman on the couch across from her. The man, a visitor to the club, was moaning softly as the woman straddling him held him close, her face buried into his neck. Katherine strained her ears to hear the man’s excited heart pounding over the music playing softly through speakers around the room. His heartbeat was slowing, and she worried that Shyanne would take too much blood from the man, leaving him too weak or worse. Shyanne was new to their world and still adjusting – learning to control her urges.

“Shyanne,” Katherine warned softly.

Shyanne leaned back away from the man, still straddling him. She sighed warmly and rotated herself – rolling off the man and sitting beside him. Her meal was young and clad in close-fitting black clothes, like most of the club’s patrons. He was dazed, and his mouth was partially agape as if he was still settling from the ecstasy of her kiss. Shyanne’s face flushed with color as she swept her purple mane of hair over to one side – lifeblood working through her body. The color receded slightly as she wiped her scarlet lips clean with a single finger and sucked it clean.

Katherine nodded her head subtly in approval and watched as the man half-awakened from his stupor and smiled. He was still under the effects of Shyanne’s allure, unaware of his vulnerability. He lifted his arm up and slid it over Shyanne, pulling himself closer to her. The two shared a grin as they stared into each other’s eyes.

“You should rest,” Shyanne whispered as she leaned the man away from her to the other side of the couch. The man’s grin faded to a smile as he reclined, and his eyes fluttered slowly. Within seconds he was on his way to restful sleep, oblivious of his surroundings. Shyanne stood and left the man resting on the couch, excusing herself to check on how business with the bar and club below was going. 

Katherine watched as Shyanne walked down the spiral staircase to the club beneath. Katherine had to learn to adapt to the changing times. Shyanne was part of that plan and youthful in the sense of being a vampire. In comparison to Katherine and most of the other vampires in the room, Shyanne had only experienced a blink of an eye in her potential new life. She understood many things, much better than Katherine likely ever would. Society and technology would continue to change, as it had for hundreds of years. Shyanne, for the time being, provided her insight to the newest generations of humanity, allowing her to compensate for her lack of knowledge with technology and societal trends. In effect, she was an aid for her to obscure herself within the mortal world and decrease complications within her club.

The club itself was a recent effort to provide sufficient hunting grounds, without the need to actually chase after humans in the streets or their homes. Here, she and the club’s exclusive members had a captive pool of unconcerned human-sheep from which to choose. Some vampires within the city still stalked and hunted for their sustenance, and Katherine allowed them that – as long as they followed her rules.

Indeed, the world had continued to progress. Katherine remembered the years when the Great Pestilence had spread to England – when the nation was home to her. She recalled the sickness cast far and wide and the mistakes that she had made in failing to avoid the ill and dying. At the time, she was moving frantically between abandoned villages, half-burnt settlements, and cities choking on the stench of death to survive and find safety. The foul-tasting farmer’s blood had left her nauseated and incapacitated for days until it was out of her system. Now, she realized her kind could still be afflicted by the diseases from whom they drank, but a cautious and discerning vampire could taste illness in that putrid first drop of blood.

“Perhaps one day, the young girl will do as you ask without you having to remind her.” A soft, smoky voice spoke the words with a lingering Spanish accent that immediately brought Katherine back before she could trail off to memories of centuries past.

Katherine turned her head slightly to face the source of the voice. An almond-skinned woman in a body-hugging crimson strap dress sat on a nearby couch, surrounded by a small entourage of sycophants. The group smiled and laughed softly, fawning over the woman’s every word.

“Good evening, Victoria. Thank you for gracing us with your presence.” Katherine forced a smile as she straightened up in her seat and nodded a greeting. “It is beneficial for her to learn our ways, just like everyone else.”

“From what I understand, it seems someone is intent on not adhering to your rules. I would very much like to hear your intentions for resolving such misconduct.” Victoria replied. Those seated in the circle of couches and chairs around Victoria smirked – some covered their smiles with their hands. Victoria sat smiling at Katherine – her wavy dark, chestnut hair framing her flawless, diamond-shaped face.

Katherine knew Victoria was testing her boundaries. The words were shrewd and meant to cut. She had always been open about her disapproval of Katherine being named to lead the city. Still, Katherine had brought the city’s different individuals under control with some semblance of peace. Centuries ago, Katherine would have cleaved the Spaniard woman in half with the sword she now kept in her office. To maintain her authority now, though, she had to show decorum – especially toward those with differing opinions. It was a political game of fanged cat and fanged mouse, and Victoria seemed intent on eroding all she had built or perhaps trying to claim it for herself.

Before Katherine could get a response out, the elevator dinged, and most of the members in the room at least casually turned to see who was joining them. Several of those seated immediately averted their eyes or became visibly unsettled – Victoria included. Katherine stood from her chaise lounge to see who had arrived.

Christian was walking toward her with a mortal man in tow. The accompanying human looked neither left nor right – his eyes were dull and fixated on Christian as he followed. Katherine recognized the man as William – the person hired to set up and maintain the club’s security system. William was a delicate-looking and unassuming young man who was quickly out of place on either floor of Eternity. 

Katherine held her composure as Christian approached, but was pleased to see Victoria and her group remain silent as Christian passed. No vampire in the city sought to cross him, and all knew he stood with Katherine when it came to the city. Katherine smiled as Christian approached, even though she knew something was amiss – William would not be upstairs otherwise.

“Good evening,” Katherine greeted both Christian and William.

“He needs to update the security system if you have a minute,” Christian said as he gestured back toward William.

“Of course,” Katherine nodded and let the two men pass, joining them as they walked the path to her office.

Christian pushed the heavy wooden door to Katherine’s office open and led William inside. Katherine caught up to them and turned back as she closed the door from inside her office. Out in the seating area, Victoria laughed and feigned engagement in a conversation, her gaze fixed on Katherine all the while.

~

Inside her office, Christian dropped his calm facade. His expression was grave as he waved his hand over the control panel that managed lighting and the sound system on the second floor. Christian pressed a button on the panel, and a steady whoosh sound poured through a speaker in the office. The sound would be moving through several other speakers throughout the upstairs area of the club, layering with the music.

Professional sound masking was a recent, but welcome addition to the upstairs lounge and office – one that allowed Katherine to have conversations without intrusive listeners. The sound wasn’t so obtrusive to interrupt conversations with those nearby, but even for the heightened senses she and her kind possessed – it was enough to prevent eavesdropping.

“Log in. You need to see this.” Christian said as he pointed at the computer.

William was standing idly, with his hands tucked into the pockets of his khaki slacks, and Katherine was unable to tell if Christian was still influencing his actions.

“I take it you have found something,” Katherine said, matching his tone as she moved around both men to get to her desk. She leaned down and quickly tapped her password into the keyboard on her desk. The screen blinked on to the operating system, and fans whirred from the machine.

“Show her,” Christian said in a hushed tone and snapped his fingers at William.

The unassuming man blinked as if waking from a daydream and nodded at Christian. He moved around and squeezed past Katherine, who stepped back to watch. William’s hands moved the mouse and began clicking on icons and folders. His fingers skillfully clacked at the keys of the keyboard as he brought up a small series of video windows onto the monitor. Security cameras were installed on the exterior of the building and critical points of the interior’s first floor. Only one camera provided a view of the second floor, and it only showed who came up the stairs or exited the elevator. Christian patted his hand on William’s shoulder, and the man paused.

“We reviewed footage from the past month. You will not like it.” Christian leaned half-sitting against the desk and folded his arms, watching Katherine’s reaction instead of the screen.

Katherine stood behind William, looking over his shoulder as he pressed play on one of the videos and clicked pause. The footage was dated from three weeks ago and showed the club packed as usual. The angle was of a seating area near the dance floor.

William clicked and zoomed in on a booth in the camera’s frame. The booth was in the background but showed a young woman laughing and drinking while seated. The woman was engrossed in conversation and seemingly fascinated with the person sitting across from her – except she appeared to be sitting alone. 

Katherine glanced down at the photograph on her desk of the missing woman and compared the two faces. The name Andrea Wynn was scribbled alongside the image.

William pulled up another angle of the room – this time focused on the bar. The same woman at the same booth was also visible at the border of the screen. There was no one apparent across from her. As the footage played, a server dropped off two drinks at the table and took away two empty glasses. The server smiled and nodded, engaging with Andrea and someone who seemed to be seated across from her. After a few seconds, the server turned back to the bar.

Katherine felt the muscles in her neck and jaw tighten in her frustration. For one brief moment, she felt the urge to crash her fists down onto the desk. Stifling her anger, she shifted and rested her back against the cold glass of the window behind her.

“William, would you please excuse us?” she suggested in an unenthusiastic tone. It was not a question, but she felt no need to order him around.

William turned in the chair and looked at Christian as if awaiting permission.

Christian met William’s gaze and gestured to the door. “Go wait by the door.”

William nodded and moved away from the desk. He circled back to the front of the desk and moved to stand next to the office door.

“That is her – Andrea Wynn?” Katherine asked. She already knew the answer and was now beginning to understand the complexity of the situation.

“I double-checked,” Christian began with a nod. “That is the last time she was here from what we could tell. According to the cops, that is also the last day anyone saw her.”

Katherine stared at the screen intently, wondering who could be responsible. Was it someone new or someone acting out against her?

“I went to her apartment building. The security guard there was … useful.” Christian continued.

“Then this is the night she was taken,” Katherine said acceptingly. She moved forward and sank down into the chair at her desk before swiveling and looking back up to Christian.

“It would seem so,” Christian added. “I looked at their footage – only one lobby camera, but she did not go home. There is a clip like this on their system as well.”

“How so?” Katherine asked.

“It is the same thing – before she went to the club, she met someone down in the lobby of her apartment. They do not show on the camera, and there is no reflection from any surfaces that I was able to see.”

“So, either the poor girl is insane…” Katherine’s voice trailed off as she moved the mouse to close the video windows.

“She was the next one to be taken,” Christian said flatly. He shifted and stood back from the desk.

“Do you think it could be one of us?”

“It is not one of the wolves,” Christian shrugged and unfolded his arms as he paced a few steps to stand in front of her desk. “They will not come this deep into the city anymore.”

“It is strange,” Katherine began. “I have never seen this before. Sneaking up on someone because you don’t have a reflection is one thing. I have never heard of one of us that could disappear like this on cameras.”

“Neither have I. What do you want to do?”

“Reach out to everyone. We will be having a meeting here in two nights.” Katherine paused for a moment. “Better yet, have Shyanne get in touch with them all. She needs some purpose. In the meantime, keep looking into this. I want to know everything before Victoria does. The last thing I need is her trying to bring this up to sway the others.”

Christian nodded silently, holding his place in front of Katherine’s desk. He turned to look at her. It was apparent he had something else to say.

“What?” Katherine asked as she shifted and crossed her right leg over the left.

“The human.”

“Could you be more specific?” Katherine gestured at William for emphasis. The man was still standing motionless in front of the door with his back to the two of them.

“The one who was here asking Shyanne questions.”

“Yes. Jeremy LeBlanc. What about him?” Katherine sighed.

“He used to be a cop.”

The words added to the anger and frustration tucked away at the back of her mind.

“How did you learn that?”

“When I was at her apartment,” Christian began. “I saw him on the security footage. According to their security guy – he lives next door to the missing girl and was a cop until recently.”

“Is he a threat?”

“No. Not yet anyway. The guy is a walking cliche – an ex-cop with an alcohol problem.” Christian sat on the edge of Katherine’s desk as he reached inside his jacket and retrieved a folded collection of papers. He dropped the papers onto her desk. “Some light reading about him from the PD.”

“It is likely he still has friends in the police department,” Katherine said. “I will speak to the mayor again to let him know the police are not meeting my expectations at leaving this alone. For now, please observe and keep him from getting too close to pulling back the curtain.

“As you wish,” Christian stood and bowed his head. He walked back over to William and turned the man to face him – looking him in the eyes as he spoke. “William, you will not remember anything about this night except that you came here to update the security system. It was a simple fix. She was very thankful.”

Christian reached behind William and pressed a button on the panel, turning off the sound masking throughout the second floor. He opened the door for William, allowing him to leave first.

William cracked a smile and waved back at Katherine, oblivious of his mind being manipulated. “Have a good night, Ms. Nilsson. Let me know if you need anything else with the system.”

Katherine watched as Christian led William out of the member’s area and past a room full of sights he would not recall when he woke up. As the door to her office slowly closed, she leaned back into her chair and turned to look at the folded papers on her desk. Now, she had one more thing to worry about.

Was Jeremy LeBlanc going to be a problem?


Photo by madeleine ragsdale on Unsplash

Chapter 14

madeleine-ragsdale-691073-unsplash

Jeremy had woken up exhausted from a night that had been a lot longer than he had anticipated after Sarah’s visit. He had worked for two hours to compile the images and notes from Andrea’s newly discovered sketchbook into what he believed helped strengthen the importance of finding Andrea. He had spent most of the time tracing the final image of the unknown man’s face and put it on top of the stack of papers before shoving it all into a full-sized envelope. At the end of the night, and with Sarah’s help, he had two copies of everything – one of which was for him to make notes on. The other was to pass off to Dillon – if Dillon was even able to work on the case.

The scent and feel of the night’s cold air were refreshing to Jeremy as he stood on the sidewalk outside of his apartment building. His breath wisped away from him and hung in the air for a few seconds. After sleeping most of the day, he had woken up to a cold, rainy night and a bunch of missed calls from an area code he didn’t recognize. He had ignored the calls, but several text messages from Dillon confirmed they were on to meet at Eddie’s Bar. The most recent message told Jeremy that Dillon was already there and waiting.

Standing out in the light rain that fell, Jeremy pulled his pea coat tighter around him. He breathed a sigh of relief to see that the rain hadn’t picked back up too much. The last thing he needed was all the documents he had spent his time working on and copying, getting soaked right before he passed them off to Dillon.

Street traffic was light, and after waiting for cars to pass by, Jeremy walked out into the street, careful in his steps to avoid the potholes he knew hid the deep puddles. Dillon’s car was parked a couple spaces down from the bar’s front entrance. A big group of people walked around him as he stepped onto the sidewalk in front of Eddie’s Bar across the street from his apartment building. They yelled and cheered drunkenly as they continued on down the path, and Jeremy watched them. Ignorance of the terrible things going on in the city seemed pretty blissful.

As Jeremy watched them continue on and turn onto a different street, he caught the movement of a helmeted figure straddling a motorcycle parked on the far side of the road. The figure, clad in dark clothes, straightened up to their full seated height as Jeremy glanced over. He couldn’t make out any distinguishing features of the motorcycle or the rider, but he was almost sure the figure was a man and that the engine was turned off. In the light rain, Jeremy stared at the rider, and the rider seemed to stare back without moving.

It seemed strange to see someone out riding on a rainy day, but Jeremy shook his head slightly and brushed the beading rain off his pea coat. His hand grasped the cold metal handle to the door to Eddie’s Bar and swung the door wide open, walking inside from the cold. He didn’t want to keep Dillon waiting, especially with how unlikely it seemed Dillon would be to do any work on Andrea’s case.

Dillon was inside, waiting at their usual booth at the back of the bar. Eddie’s bar was as busy as Jeremy had ever seen it with close to thirty people crammed into the front tables and the bar area. Jeremy nodded to Eddie and an older woman helping behind the bar. Eddie beamed a smile at Jeremy as he gestured his arms wide at the number of patrons in his bar. Jeremy moved past the small crowd huddled near the front, all of whom were looking at the television mounted above the bar.

Joining Dillon at the booth, Jeremy opened his jacket to pull out the envelope filled with Andrea’s most recent images and notes. The legal envelope thudded on the table as Jeremy dropped it flatly in front of Dillon and sat across from him. Dillon looked up with unamused eyes under his furrowed brow.

“That better not be what I think it is,” Dillon said flatly as he lifted the envelope and opened it at the end. He glanced inside and immediately pushed it away from him.

“It’s more info on Andrea Wynn’s case,” Jeremy replied. He had yet to determine whether he would be able to talk Dillon into pressing forward in the case.

“Jesus, man. What part of I will lose my job did you not understand?” Dillon grumbled.

Even as Dillon objected, Jeremy was surprised to see him pull the stack of papers out of the envelope and begin thumbing through them. Jeremy gave the other man a few moments to glance over the documents and images.

“I got the most recent credit card statement from her roommate, Sarah Mullins. I’ve already checked out the last few places she visited and got a couple hits at this club.” Jeremy reached his hand over and tapped the word “Eternity” next to a charge on the statement.

“A waitress at Eternity said she saw Andrea sitting with and then leaving with a man, and no one has seen Andrea since.” Jeremy began. “The drawings are from a sketchbook her roommate just found. I’m thinking that her asking for help and the notes she left are big signs something was wrong.”

“Is this the goth club you met that hot bartender at?” Dillon asked.

“Yeah,” Jeremy replied.

“So you did all this in two days? Man, you need to get laid by that goth chick again.” Dillon teased with a smirk on his face.

“Actually…” Jeremy began and paused for a drink from his beer before continuing. “Actually, I’m kind of leaning toward she drugged me and stole my cologne at the very least.”

“What the f…?” Dillon blurted out before being interrupted by Jeremy.

“I’ll deal with that a different day. For now, Dillon, I need you focused on this. We may only have two weeks left.”

“You’re serious?” Dillon asked. His eyebrows raised up as he leaned forward.

Jeremy nodded silently and took another drink from his beer.

“Well, I was serious too, Jer,” Dillon continued in a lower tone. He glanced around the bar instinctively before he continued. “No one and I mean no one is talking openly about these cases at work. I’m pretty sure someone is getting paid a lot of money to keep this under wraps, and whoever it is, they are much higher than my paygrade.”

“Look, I’m taking it easy, but I’m also trying to do right by this girl while also keeping her friend Sarah out of the mix. She’s stubborn.” Jeremy warned.

“Yeah, I know she’s stubborn. She won’t stop calling me with the tiniest updates or leaving messages with others for me. It’s gotten to the point that I’m getting looked at every time my phone rings. Now, I have to make up shit to get off the phone quickly or say I can’t talk.” Dillon grumbled.

“Great job protecting and serving. Sarah called you a dick, by the way.” Jeremy smirked and finished off his beer.

“Fair enough, but look…” Dillon hesitated as he finished his drink off as well and slid the bottle to the center of the table. “I want to help, and I will. If someone’s really covering it up, though, that means they’re taking money or involved. I’m not trying to be unemployed or dead.”

“So take care of yourself and keep this quiet until you know who you can trust. See if you can get an artist to work on this quietly and run the image through the databases.” Jeremy tapped the page with the drawing of the unknown man’s face. “Text me any details, and I’ll do the leg work.”

“In the meantime, don’t call me at work.” Dillon shrugged as he sorted and stacked the papers again and slid them back into the envelope.

“No offense.” Dillon paused and raised a hand up passively. “I get it, you’ve been through hell, but a lot of people are still pissed about what you did. It put a lot of negative press on the department.”

Jeremy sat in silence, but he could almost remember the rage he felt just over six months ago. He knew Dillon was talking about the night Nicolette was killed in a car accident. He had shown up at the crash to find his fiance’s lifeless body covered in a sheet, while the drunk driver who sent her car off the road was tended to by paramedics. The love of his life was dead, but the intoxicated man who had snuffed out her life was fine, aside from a concussion and minor scrapes and bruises. He refused to acknowledge Dillon’s comment.

Dillon continued, “I can’t imagine what you went through and how it felt, but you put a guy in the hospital. Christ, man, you almost killed him, and you did it all with a news crew reporting the accident.”

“I know what I did, and it cost me my career. He’s still alive, and he took everything.” Jeremy snapped as he felt tears welling up in his eyes. “She’s gone. He fucking took her from me, and I’m left here with an apartment full of memories of how happy she was. He’ll serve less than ten years in prison.”

Several nearby patrons in the bar turned to look toward the source of raised voices at the booth.

Dillon leaned toward the nearest table and pointed at the people looking toward him and Jeremy. “What the fuck are you looking at? Mind your business.”

The trio at the table immediately faced away and mumbled amongst themselves. Dillon turned back to Jeremy and continued. “Calm down, man. You lost a lot that day, but you’re still here, and that means something. I’m just saying it put the PD in a bad light, and we’re struggling as a whole. Honestly, it says a lot that people went to bat for you, and the worst that happened was you lost your badge – so maybe don’t push your luck.”

“Are you going to help me with this or not?” Jeremy sighed and wiped his hand at his eyes before the tears streamed down his face.

“Yes, damn it,” Dillon’s voice rose to a booming volume before he caught himself and regained his composure. “I already said I would.”

“Thank you,” Jeremy replied.

“You want to change the subject on me, then I’ll change it on you too. What the hell are you doing, brother? How are you doing on money?” Dillon asked.

“What?” Jeremy asked, blankly.

“You’re not a cop anymore,” Dillon said. “The last I checked, you didn’t have a job.”

“Oh,” Jeremy said absently. “Between the insurance and severance and barely living, I’m okay for now.”

“Well if you’re going to keep doing this PI shit on the side – next time, get paid,” Dillon said as he reached into his pocket and threw several bills into the middle of the table to cover their bill.

“We’ll see,” Jeremy replied. He didn’t have the time or heart to tell Dillon that two weeks ago, he was ready to eat a bullet.

“You’ll see,” Dillon warned. “You need to get off your ass and start doing something before you’re broke and kicked out of that swanky building. You’re not coming to live with me.” Dillon stood to leave.

Jeremy rose with him and reached down to pick up the cash Dillon had put on the table. “Keep those documents and your money. I’ve got the drinks this time, you bill-sneaking asshole.”

Dillon laughed and nodded. “Go home and get some more sleep Jer. You look like shit.”

Jeremy moved up to the bar to pay the tab and watched as Dillon walked out to his car.

~

After settling the bar tab with Eddie, Jeremy stepped out of the bar and breathed in the chilled night air. It was raining more steadily than when he had gone into the bar, but Jeremy loved the rain. He’d go home, take a shower, and fall asleep on the couch or in his bed – it didn’t matter to him. Dillon’s car was nowhere to be seen. Jeremy ran his hand through his hair, sweeping it away from his eyes as he waited for the only moving vehicle on the road to roll by.

Before Jeremy could cross the street to his apartment, the rumble of a motorcycle engine started up down the road. Jeremy turned his head toward the sound. The motorcycle and rider he had seen on his way into the bar were in the same spot. The rider revved the throttle on the bike several times until its sound became a high-pitched roar, and for a few seconds, Jeremy watched the rider.

Finally, Jeremy decided to cross the street – waiting for cars to pass from each direction before he moved. As he got to the middle of the road, the high pitched scream of the motorcycle echoed between the buildings, and Jeremy knew the vehicle was coming closer to him. He glanced out of the corner of his vision and saw the blinding light of the headlight coming directly at him. He sped up his walk and began running to the safety of the sidewalk only to turn and see the rider had used a slope from the curb to come up onto the sidewalk. The motorcycle and rider were coming right at him.

Jeremy could hear the blood pumping in his head as his heart raced. The motorcycle accelerated toward him as the rider pushed the high-revving engine. Jeremy jumped forward between two cars parked in front of his building, narrowly avoiding being struck by the motorcycle as it screamed past him on the sidewalk. Jeremy rolled to his side, between the cars, as he reflexively reached to retrieve his gun from his concealed carry holster, only to realize he didn’t have it or his gun on his person.

Still ducking, Jeremy peeked out from the cars in the direction of the motorcycle. The rider had moved back into the street and was continuing on away from him. Several people farther down the sidewalk shouted obscenities at the rider before continuing on the way they were headed.

It was too late to get the license plate, so he just watched to make sure the rider wasn’t turning around. He was out of breath and panting, and he could feel his hands trembling as he watched the rider turn off the street and disappear.

Black clothes and black motorcycle. That was the only description Jeremy had to go by. The bike didn’t sound like a chopper, but it didn’t sound like a sports bike either. He’d have to tell Dillon that someone had been watching them and tried to run him down, even though he was convinced the rider was trying to scare him more than anything. It worked, and Jeremy cursed at himself for leaving his place unarmed.

He stood up and absent-mindedly brushed his wet hands off on his jeans. His clothes were soaked from diving prone into the street. Shaking his head, he went inside his apartment building, his shoes squeaking as he moved across the marble floor to the elevator. On the elevator ride to his level, he wondered who the rider was and if they were connected to the disappearances. Whether they were or not, he didn’t intend to step out of his apartment without protection again.

The elevator dinged, and the doors slid quietly open. Jeremy made his way down the hallway, the wet soles of his shoes still squeaking softly with each step. He reached down into his pocket to retrieve his door key and stopped ten paces short of his apartment door. The door was cracked open, and he could see the light on inside. He knew he had locked the door and turned the lights off when he left. He reached into his pocket for his cellphone as he quietly slid against the wall next to his door. He glanced down at his phone to see a series of cracks and the flickering light of his phone’s screen, failing to render anything intelligible.

“Great, no phone and no gun,” he muttered to himself. “Fuck this night.”


Photo by madeleine ragsdale on Unsplash

Chapter 13

madeleine-ragsdale-691073-unsplashIt was Sarah’s second time running to Jeremy’s door that evening. She had stopped herself right before knocking the first time and decided that she needed to make copies of the sketchbook. The last half-hour, she had hovered between her laptop and scanner, nibbling the edge of a fingernail as she impatiently ensured each page scanned and copied onto her computer. Now, all of the strange sketches and notes were saved. Her bare feet slapped softly against the marble floor of the apartment hallway as she made her way to her neighbor’s door.

The rapping sound of the knuckles of her thin hand against the heavy door to Jeremy’s apartment carried a subdued echo through the hall. The knock continued, frantically, until the door finally opened. Met with little resistance as she began to push the door open, she stepped in from the hall and into Jeremy’s apartment. She brushed past him, clutching the newly found sketch pad in her hand as she began to speak before Jeremy could sufficiently react.

“I found something, and it’s crazy because Andrea was definitely acting weird before she disappeared. I just didn’t notice it all – there are all of these strange drawings.”

The door swung closed behind her, and she turned back to look at Jeremy. He did not respond and instead shuffled over to his coffee table and stopped to let out a long yawn. He stood with both hands on his hips, and in the bright yellow lights of the living room, Sarah could make out his unkempt hair and the dark bags under his eyes. Beyond his weary eyes, there was something about his posture and the way he looked down at the papers spread across the coffee table. He looked as if he hadn’t slept all day, but more than that – she could sense the frustration seething from him.

“Yeah,” Jeremy said flatly.

Sarah followed him over, and her eyes scanned the living room and kitchen. There were several more boxes opened up as well as pencils and a dozen pieces of paper that had been balled up and tossed around the living room. On top of the coffee table, Jeremy had taken drawings from Andrea’s other sketch pads, each image similar to those she had found in the newest book, and laid them out to approximate the layout of a face. Somehow, he had figured it out before she had, and as she looked at some of the other pieces of paper that hadn’t been wholly crumpled into balls – she saw he had also started sketches of his own.

“They’re all parts of the same face,” Jeremy began as he picked up a sheet of paper with a fresh drawing on it and crumpled it up. “I just can’t get the proportions right to make it all look like pieces that go together.”

“That’s what I found!” Sarah exclaimed.

Sarah settled down onto the couch and pulled her feet up beside her. Opening the book she had been clutching, she gestured for Jeremy to join her. Jeremy sat next to her, and for a brief moment – they both stared at the book. As Sarah began speaking, she tapped the book with the palm of her open hand and recounted how and where she had discovered it.

After she had told the story of how she found the book, she handed it to Jeremy and let him flip through the pages – supplementing information as they both studied the pages. Each page came with a short description, with Sarah adding brief comments until Jeremy arrived at the pages that seemed intensely out of character for Andrea.

Sarah explained it all, including the arrow signs that she and Andrea usually left on notes for each other. The content of the pages was dark, especially for Andrea. It was unlike anything Sarah had ever seen from her friend and roommate. Andrea, Sarah explained multiple times, was clearly not herself. Andrea doesn’t fixate on things like the notes in the book would suggest, and she rarely leaves a piece of art unfinished when she puts her mind to it.

Jeremy listened intently. Several times, his gaze locked on an image on one of the pages, and then he would glance to one of the pages on his coffee table. He compared the drawings and asked questions about the notes scrawled on the edges of the pages – to which Sarah seldom had a solid answer. After Jeremy arrived at the final pages and scribblings, it was evident that something was wrong with Andrea.

“Do you think she could have gotten involved with drugs?” Jeremy asked.

“She drank when she went out, sure, but I don’t think Andrea would ever get into drugs,” Sarah replied. “I just can’t imagine that’s what this is.”

Jeremy nodded and finally flipped to the final page – the note directly addressed to Sarah.

“I have to go see him. God, help me. I can’t stop myself.” Jeremy read the page aloud and looked up at Sarah with wide, questioning eyes. 

“I don’t know, I just know I was meant to find this,” Sarah replied with a shrug. She had no answers for him beyond the book he held in his hands.

“This is a big break,” Jeremy said as he flipped through the last several pages once more. “Sarah, we need to get this to the police. This is very important, do you mind if I give it to my friend?”

“If it helps, they can have it,” Sarah replied. “I made copies of it all. Do you think that’s the guy?”

“I think it will make a difference,” Jeremy began. “I’m going to try to put all of these features on one page, so we can have an idea of what this guy looks like. He’s definitely important.”

“Well, maybe you guys can find him and find out where the hell she is,” Sarah said with a hint of hope in her voice.

“We’ll see. Even if this guy’s not responsible, all of this shows he’s at least connected to her. I can’t make a promise, but I’m going to try to have coffee with my friend tomorrow to help push the case.”

“You’re not making it, are you?” Sarah asked.

“The coffee? No, actually, I thought we could stop by your work and grab drinks. It’s the same guy you’ve talked to.”

“Oh. I’m off tomorrow and no offense, your friend … he’s always a dick when I call. Every time.”

“Yeah. Like I said, though, there’s a lot of strange shit going on around Andrea’s case.” Jeremy replied. “Hopefully, this can help us cut through that and help the police put more focus on her. He closed the sketchbook and began cleaning the books off of the coffee table.

“I won’t be there, but if you need anything – please get in touch,” Sarah said as she stood and straightened the bottom of her shirt. Jeremy was quiet most of the time, but he seemed a genuinely nice guy – especially after everything he had been through. She didn’t have much hope to hold onto, but talking to Jeremy usually gave her more than she started her day off with.

“I can’t thank you enough, Jeremy,” Sarah said as Jeremy stood up from the couch.

She leaned forward and wrapped her arms around him. She dipped her head against his chest and held him tight. A few seconds went by before she felt his arms finally return the hug. She closed her eyes and allowed herself to relax for a moment. In her time of need, he had been there and helped her weather so much. Now, she wished she had been there more for him when he had lost the woman he loved.

Maybe it wasn’t too late to reach out to help him, as well.


Photo by madeleine ragsdale on Unsplash

Chapter 12

madeleine-ragsdale-691073-unsplashMusic echoed softly from the living room as Sarah stood in silence – staring into the bedroom of her missing roommate, Andrea. The sound was intended to help Sarah not feel so alone in the apartment. In the end, she was uncertain if it helped or hurt. Her eyes scanned the self-portraits and photos of Andrea that decorated the room and somewhere deep in her chest, she ached. The sun was setting, and the room’s overhead light cast a soft warmth over everything – replacing the day’s light.

Did I miss some sign that Andrea was in trouble?

What could I have done differently?

Earlier, Sarah had spent part of her day with Jeremy searching through sketchbooks. The last few hours, she had helped cover a shift at the coffee house for someone who was sick. Working her regular hours wasn’t enough, and it had become necessary to start picking up extra shifts as the bills continued to pile up. Now, though, she was all alone in her apartment again. She wanted nothing more than to have Andrea back and safe, but, here and now she would settle for just the knowledge of what had happened to her.

The easel stood at the foot of the bed with its unfinished painting as Sarah walked in and moved the sheet and cover back to make up the side of the bed on which Andrea usually slept. The outfits that had been left out on the bed were still there. She had been unable to bring herself to move anything in Andrea’s room until now and worried she would have to pack everything up for someone who would not return.

Somewhere under her, a spring half-squeaked as she turned and sat down on the edge of Andrea’s bed. There was no one now – no one with whom she was genuinely close. Slowly the reality of it all was setting in and becoming too much. Her best friend was missing. It was a struggle to make ends meet. Other than her neighbor and coworkers, there was no one close for support. Family members were a phone call away, but it wasn’t enough – not now. In this big city, the realization of isolation and seclusion was overpowering her.

Unable to take the pain of loss and solitude any longer, she felt flood gates open behind her eyes as tears began to stream down her face. Uncontrollable sobs accompanied her tears as she glanced around the room. There was so much happiness that Andrea had created through her art and photos. Every smiling picture or brightly colored painting caused Sarah to slip further away. She wiped away tears only to have them replaced.

Giving in, she shifted her weight to lay down on Andrea’s bed. Thoughts became blurred as she lost focus of any way to reason through her emotions. She pulled her bare feet up off the floor, resting her body in the same spot where Andrea had slept. She wished she could go to sleep and wake to find it all a horrible dream – that she would hear her friend’s voice waking her up. It never happened. She would never get to say goodbye. Instead, she continued to lie there – drifting in and out of fits of crying and sniveling. 

Reaching under the pillows on the bed to adjust them as she rolled flat onto her stomach, she buried her face into the coolness of the pillow. Her long blonde hair was down out of its bun, and she could feel strands of her hair matting to the sides of her face. Shifting the weight of her small frame to brush the hair away from her face, she heard something clatter against the floor and wall near her.

Lifting her head, she looked around, almost sure that a painting or photo had fallen. As she moved her hair back away from her eyes, there was nothing on the walls was out of place or missing. Convinced she had heard something fall near her, she wondered if she knocked something off of the bed.

In her confusion, the sobbing subsided. She rolled over the side of the bed and stood again, searching the floor around her feet. Seeing nothing, she moved back and leaned down to look underneath Andrea’s bed. The light barely illuminated under the bed, but Sarah could still see something on the floor, leaning against the wall. Climbing down onto her hands and knees, she slid partially under the wooden frame of the bed. She stretched her arm out as far as she could without moving further underneath the bed, and her fingertips brushed against the object and grasped it.

Sarah shimmied back away from the bed, bringing the object in her hand back as well. Resting on her knees, she turned it over to look at the cover. It was one of Andrea’s sketchbooks – a smaller sketch pad than her normal ones, but the same brand that Andrea had sworn by. Unable to control her curiosity, she flipped open the sketch pad and began to turn through its pages.

Still kneeling on the floor next to Andrea’s bed, Sarah turned over each of the pages slowly. Other than the size, initially, the book seemed just like any other sketchbook to her. As she continued to turn through the usual sketches and notes that Andrea left in her books, it became apparent it was not a typical sketchbook. The expected drawings and comments the artist wrote to herself were slowly replaced by the same partial images that Sarah and Jeremy had found earlier in the day.

Andrea had drawn features of a face independently on separate pages. A chiseled and masculine jawline, a featureless head, piercing eyes, smirking lips – all alone on each page and each incomplete. Some of the pages that followed began to have quickly scrawled notes accompanying them.

A drawing of the penetrating eyes bore the words “He draws me to him.”

Another image of a mouth and part of the face showed a confident smirk and the words “More and more, I want to be with him.”

One page was blank save for the words “His eyes pull me in.”

The pages continued throughout the last half of the sketch pad’s pages. Sarah continued. It was like getting a glimpse into Andrea’s mind as she worked. The quality of the drawings and notes began to deteriorate and grow more frustrated. Andrea would start something only to scribble through the illustration roughly.

The notes along the sides of the pages began to change to questions.

“Why?”

“Why can’t I draw or paint him?”

“Why can’t I picture him fully?”

The pencil work in the drawings became more defined, and some of the images began to take up the whole page. Sarah flipped through several sketches of solitary eyes that took up the entire page to stare back at her. Finally, she reached a page that was torn through by how heavily the lead had run over it. The sheet underneath was blank save for the unintended markings. Sarah took a moment as she thought about Andrea’s state as she had been drawing and writing in the book. Andrea must have been breaking down, and Sarah had never even noticed.

Andrea had seemed so happy. She’d finally met someone, and he was amazing and dreamy. That was all Andrea would say about the man she had joked about keeping as her secret. Sarah had demanded details, but her roommate would only smile and say that she wasn’t allowed to tell. Andrea had struggled to draw him as well, while her sketches and notes had become bleak. Something was wrong.

Sarah flipped to the next sheet and found a single, clearly written note across it. “I can’t finish the painting of him, no matter how hard I try.”

At the bottom right of the page, there was a small arrow drawn in the corner – guiding Sarah to turn to the next page. It was a little thing they had started doing in their class notes, and notes left for each other around the apartment. It was something the two women did when they left a message for each other on the reverse of a piece of paper.

Instinctively, Sarah turned the page once more and found the clear and carefully drawn outline of the smirking mouth she had seen in other drawings. An arrow was drawn in the corner of the page again. Was this a note for Sarah? Had Andrea known that Sarah would eventually find this sketchpad?

The next page featured a wave of thick hair and sideburns on an otherwise blank page. Another arrow directed her to flip the page. This time, eyes were drawn on the page – the same piercing eyes that Andrea had sketched so many times before. Another arrow. Sarah turned the page yet again.

Several more pages and several more arrows and all of the features were there. Andrea, for whatever reason, had been unable to draw the man she had become obsessed with all at once. Instead, she had put down each of his features on separate pages, but the lines were substantial enough to allow Sarah to see the page immediately underneath. Had this been Andrea’s final message to Sarah?

The final arrow turned to a page with a note, addressed to her and confirming what she had suspected. “Sarah, I have to go see him. God help me. I can’t stop myself.”

Maybe this sketchbook was it. Maybe the sketchbook and the note were the clues that Andrea’s case needed. Sarah sprung to her feet and ran barefoot from her apartment and into the hallway.

Sarah had to show Jeremy what she had found.


Photo by madeleine ragsdale on Unsplash

Chapter 11

madeleine-ragsdale-691073-unsplashIt was later in the morning, and it should have been brighter inside the apartment. Instead, the curtains were drawn fully over all of the windows, leaving a single lamp on the end table to cast its yellow glow across the living room. Sketchbooks were scattered and stacked across the surface of the black coffee table, some of them flipped open – others closed.

Jeremy had not received a response from Shy all morning. It was nearing noon, and he hoped she was resting and hadn’t heard her phone as opposed to the idea she might be avoiding him. He still hadn’t been able to remember everything from the previous night, and he was far from comfortable with that fact. For now, there was only the patience he had no choice but to muster, his mind which wouldn’t stop racing over the facts about Andrea’s case, and the sensation that at any moment he may vomit or pass out. He had felt weak since waking up, but his strength was slowly coming back to him – he hoped.

A dwindling bottle of ibuprofen and several glasses of water had helped, but not nearly as much as the coffee and muffin that Sarah had brought over shortly after he had started going through the sketchbooks that Sarah had left in his apartment. He felt as if he hadn’t eaten or drank anything for days. It was different from any hangover Jeremy had ever experienced. Now, he and Sarah sat in near silence in his living room – the only constant sound being the shuffling of papers as they flipped through each of the sketchbooks page-by-page. Jeremy was convinced there must be something in one of them – some clue as to who Andrea had been seeing when she disappeared.

So far, there had been nothing except one example after another of Andrea’s talent as an artist. Jeremy flipped closed another sketchbook and leaned forward on his couch to stack it with the others he had gone through. As he reached to grab the next book, he glanced over and saw Sarah staring at him. Her eyebrows arched over the soft expression of concern on her face.

“What?” Jeremy asked as he pulled the next sketchbook into his lap and flipped it open.

“Are you okay?” Sarah asked softly from her seat at the opposite end of the couch.

“What do you mean?” Jeremy asked without lifting his eyes to meet hers. He continued to scan through the drawings and notes of the book.

“No offense, but you look like shit,” she said flatly.

Jeremy lifted his gaze to meet hers. “I don’t look like shit.”

“Okay, then why are we sitting in here with only one light on and the curtains closed?” she asked as she set the book she was currently looking through down in her lap.

“I have a headache,” he replied. It was short, but he didn’t feel like explaining that he didn’t know why he was exhausted or that he was becoming increasingly frustrated with everything going on in his life.

“Yeah and you’re like two shades lighter than normal,” Sarah added.

“It was a rough night.” Jeremy could feel frustration building inside him with each comment.

“Yeah, you look like you almost drank yourself into a coma. I’m surprised you’re awake and moving around.”

“Look, I didn’t drink that much. I just don’t feel well.” Jeremy replied.

“Hence, you look like shit,” Sarah responded. She continued to stare at him, accusingly. “Were you drinking alone again?”

“No.”

Sarah continued to stare at him, disbelief evident in her eyes.

“I was catching up with someone I used to work with,” Jeremy replied.

“Someone from the police department?” Sarah asked. Her expression softened at this.

“Yeah.” Jeremy nodded. He looked back down to the book in his hand and began to flip back through it – surveying page after page of drawings and sketches. It was a much more recent sketchbook.

“Were you talking about Andrea’s case?” Sarah asked.

“A little bit. There wasn’t much to be said,” Jeremy replied and looked back up to meet Sarah’s eyes.

Sarah’s expression became more distraught in response, and she finally looked back down at the book in her lap. “I was thinking of checking into the last couple of places that Andrea went,” she added.

“I don’t think that’s a good idea, Sarah,” he warned. There was much more to the case than she should know and he didn’t want to say anything too detailed to worry her. As he flipped through the pages, he noted that several of them had been incomplete sketches of facial features – individual eyes, lips, and a nose. It was beginning to look like Andrea had given up drawing completed images of her subjects, or maybe she was just practicing.

“Why not?” she asked.

“Even if there isn’t much of an update to Andrea’s case, I think there’s still something off about it,” Jeremy said as he shifted in his seat to angle more toward Sarah.

“What does that even mean?”

“I’d just prefer if you didn’t go looking into this any more than you already have. There’s something strange about Andrea’s disappearance, and I don’t want you getting wrapped up in it.” There was another one – a realistic sketch of a single eye, open with a dilated pupil.

A few moments of silence filled the space between them as Jeremy finished reviewing his current sketchbook. He set the book on the coffee table by itself and pulled a new one back into his lap.

“Do you think we’ll find her and she’ll be okay?” Sarah’s voice wavered.

“I hope so,” he replied. He didn’t want to give Sarah false hope, but he also didn’t know what else to say.

Sarah went silent for a few moments, before muttering something Jeremy couldn’t quite make out.

“What?” he asked.

“She didn’t look much like a cop to me,” Sarah repeated herself.

“Who?” Jeremy asked.

“Your friend. The woman in all the leather,” she replied.

It took him a few seconds to realize Sarah was most likely talking about Shy. “Oh no, that wasn’t my friend.”

Sarah’s confused expression was quickly replaced with a smile. “Ohhh,” she said with a nod. “Must have been a very rough night.”

“No, it’s not like that. I don’t think…” Jeremy let his thought trail off, uncertain as to whether he wanted to bring up the previous night. “When did you even see her?”

“I saw her as I was coming back from hanging out with friends. It’s okay to move on. I’m happy for you if that’s what you’re into.” Sarah teased.

“What time was that at?” Jeremy asked.

“It must have been around 3:30 this morning,” Sarah replied. “You don’t remember her leaving?”

Jeremy sat on the couch, with Sarah looking at him expectantly – as if she wanted to know more. Finally, he decided to just tell most of what had happened.

Jeremy spent the next few minutes going over how he had met Shy at a club and recounted how he remembered meeting with her the night before. He told Sarah how the two of them had spent time together at the bar and how she’d helped him to his apartment as the night started to become a blur for him. He told her about how he had woken up confused and disoriented, feeling ill, and unable to remember part of the night. He felt uncomfortable telling someone else that he didn’t remember what happened after he got back to his apartment, and even more so because he was uncertain if something had happened with Shy. He did not mention Shy working at a club that Andrea had been to.

Sarah sat on the far end of the couch with a small pile of Andrea’s sketchbooks between them, and Jeremy found himself unable to tell what she might be thinking. She pulled her legs up onto the couch and shifted her position to sit with one leg under her. Something about what he had said bothered her.

“Jeremy,” she began. “I don’t think you drank too much.”

“I didn’t either, but something definitely didn’t agree with me,” he nodded his head in agreement with her.

“Yeah. Hear me out,” she paused. “I think you were drugged.” Sarah’s voice and tone were sincere, and her eyes were focused squarely on him. 

“Oh haha,” Jeremy mocked a short laugh.

“I’m not kidding,” she began. Her voice was energetic and determined as she continued. “Think about it. She made you a drink, and shortly afterward, you started to feel different. You don’t remember a significant part of your night and for all intents and purposes – let’s go ahead and call you an alcoholic. You even said it didn’t feel the same. A lot of what you said sounds like you were drugged.”

“I doubt it, I think I must’ve just gotten sick. Do I want to know how you know about all that?”

“My freshman year of college I took a class, and they talked about preventative measures that women can take like not accepting drinks from strangers,” she said sarcastically as she glanced at her phone and started to rise from the couch. “Listen, I have to head into work for a bit, but I’m serious. You should go talk to a doctor or something. At the very least, look around your place – she probably stole something.”

Jeremy nodded in silent agreement, while the thought stirred in his mind. Had he been drugged? If Shy had drugged him – why? Had she taken something from his wallet … or worse? It was something brand new for him to be concerned about and try to figure out. Maybe nothing had happened, and he had just gotten sick?

“It shouldn’t be too hard to get the big picture of what is missing since most of your stuff is still packed up.” Sarah joked. “If you need to talk – I can call into work, or we can talk later.”

“Not necessary,” he dismissed the idea as he walked Sarah over to the door and opened it for her. Something she had said had started to push his concern of being drugged out of his mind. He needed to see the big picture of things. “Just be careful at work and don’t go looking into anything without me.”

As Sarah stepped through the doorway and left for her apartment next door, Jeremy shut the door and walked back to the coffee table. He began moving all of the stacks of sketchbooks off the table and quickly flipped through a couple others. After a few minutes, he was confident that the individual facial features that Andrea had been drawing were all of the same individual. Every nose, ear, eye, or lip looked too similar to not be of the same person. 

Standing at one end of the coffee table, he now had sketchbooks sorted out on it and turned to a page with a single facial feature. Each of the sketches worked together to create an approximation of a face. Even pages with stray lines seemingly combined with all of the other drawings to give an impression of a chiseled, angular jawline. If Jeremy was right, it was clearly a man’s face. He stood and wondered if the features he was looking down on could be the person responsible for the disappearance of Andrea and the other women. It was one more thing to go on.

Jeremy needed to figure out what to do with the drawings but resolved to take a quick shower and get cleaned up. After his shower, while drying off, he noticed Sarah was not understating his pallid appearance. He wrapped the bath towel around his waist and glanced over the stubble of his unshaven face. He didn’t have the energy today – he would shave tomorrow. He quickly brushed his teeth, put on deodorant, and out of habit reached for his cologne. After a minute of searching, Jeremy realized the bottle was nowhere to be found.

“Son of a bitch…”


Photo by madeleine ragsdale on Unsplash

Library of Memories

Walking through my mind

I have relinquished the real

Thoughts flicker like snow

I forget how to feel

Flashes bring back to life

Ghosts of those I have lost

They whisper to me

From pages of frost

Regret is the lock

That traps me in my mind

Yearning for something

I can never find

I search icy shelves

Finding souls from my past

All stuck within tomes

Each heavier than the last

Set aside in my library

Past and present unfold

In an archive of memories

Fading into the cold

All spirits here

Including mine are lost

The truth is loneliness

No matter the cost