By Sidney Williams
This is part four of a four-part serial published July 10-31 2014. The rest of the story can be found here.
Renalda and her friends on the message board had to be deluded, and footage could have been faked in the fifties as well as now. The presence of Baraz and Hadia suggested a more recent effort and that coordinated steps were being taken. She didn’t want to think of what it might mean to have them present in footage that really came from decades ago.
Getting Delilah back, trying at least, was more important than any bizarre hoax, and she let her daughter’s face fill her thoughts as she sat on a bus. Ship ahoy. Successful completion of the gig was a step toward fighting Jody. That was her real battle.
In front of a massive terracotta hotel in Bloomsbury, her cell sounded.
“Have you had much more luck?” came the aging voice.
Richard Lambeth, the old stage manager. She’d left him her number just in case.
“Some, still looking.”
“I was chatting with an old friend last night, hoistin’ a pint, you know? Just ‘appened to run into him. ‘e might be persuaded to provide somethin’ interesting to you. For the right incentive. Somethin’ he’s been sittin’ on.”
He named a price higher than a feather boa’s.
“I think we might be able to arrange that, Mr. Lambeth.”
On the bus ride to nab cash, she pulled out her wallet and looked at a photo of Delilah taken more than a year ago. She’d be taller now. By inches? The ache of the lost time and the moments she’d never see roiled her stomach.
The clock was ticking. Whatever insanity Renalda and the Takis were spouting, whatever the legends of secret orders and forbidden knowledge and whatever that vision or thing had been in the air, she needed to think about her own life and opening a gateway back into her daughter’s world.
With money wired from Amil, Aubrey flagged a black cab to the Soho pub where her meeting had been arranged. Lambeth waited with his friend at a table near the dark wooden bar where tap handles promised Guiness, London Pride, Carcosa and a host of others.
“Would you like something?” Lambeth asked as his companion stared at the backs of his hands. He was a bigger man in an elegant suit that had only hints of wear. He seemed a bit nervous, but he forced a smile.
“Scotch with ice.”
She nodded at empty glasses in front of the men.
“And these are on me. More?”
Three fingers later she’d exchanged a cash envelope for a larger brown one. She’d donned glasses and scrutinized the pages. It complemented the existing sheet, a complete outside wraparound with cover art, a cartoonish genie hovering over the story’s heroine.
She was walking toward the corner when Takis stepped out of a doorway.
“You have it, don’t you?”
“Are you following me?”
She jerked her arm just out of his grasp as he reached for her.
“Please, you don’t know what you have there. I’ll pay you more. I’ll get more.”
“I talked to your friend, Renalda. That’s what you wanted isn’t it? You nudged me toward that message board so I’d find my way to her?”
“I’m glad you spoke, but we’re not together. She also understands… If you want your daughter back, this is not the way.”
She froze at the street corner and stared back at him.
“What kind of digging into my life are you people doing?”
“Trying to find a way to reason with you.”
“How do I know this isn’t an elaborate scheme to get the music for another collector. My boss has run into all kinds of mind games.”
“This is bigger than the possession of the music. In the wrong hands… Do you realize how hard we’ve worked to eradicate all traces…”
“I have to be going.”
Her arm was raised for another cab when the barking began. Dogs seemed to be somewhere far in the distance at first, but in just a few seconds the snarls were closer. Takis cried out.
When Aubrey spun, a black dog the size of a small deer had jaws clamped on a forearm. Another reared behind Takis, paws folding over one shoulder.
Aubrey echoed his cry, and others on the street turned to look but froze. Growls and sounds from deep in throats drowned Takis’s voice as the dogs dragged him to the pavement.
Aubrey turned, ran, wincing at the cries but compelled to move.
She thundered a block, rounded a corner, traversed more ground and then leaned against a building, panting, allowing herself to look back, expecting to see the creatures loping after her with bloodied jaws ready.
Her cell rang as she walked through the hotel lobby.
“Mrs. Slater, we must talk.”
Renalda. How had she…?
“I’m sorry. I have business to attend to.”
She was nearing the front desk.
“Please, you must…”
She clicked off and smiled at the clerk.
“I’m going to need to send a package later, and I may need to fax something.”
“Of course, Madam.”
Her phone rang again in the elevator. Amil’s ringtone.
“I got it. Breathe easy.”
“The gentleman’s going to want a look at it.”
“I have ‘em warming up the fax machine.”
After she shrugged her coat off, she poured whiskey neat and put the envelope on the bed. Several swallows downed, she sat her glass on a table and walked to the bed, sliding the envelope away.
As the music pages lay atop the dull, neutral gold pattern on the comforter, she stared down at the notes on the browning paper. Which scale was it? Which one mattered? Or was it just the fervor over ownership of something rare for Amil’s client, Ulrich or otherwise?
Whatever the answer, there’d be money coming. What would the world be if the film footage was not a hoax and what lay before her was the instrument of its re-creation?
One result could give Jody problems. The other. Maybe she’d never see her daughter again if she let the fax go. Or maybe…
“How is your day going?”
In the bathroom doorway, Hadia toweled damp hair.
“By most accounts it’s going pretty well,” Aubrey said, lifting her glass. “Unless.”
She downed a hefty swallow.
“Unless some crackpots I met are right. Unless you and Baraz aren’t what you seem.”
“What would we be but friends?” Baraz asked, stepping through the doorway behind Hadia. He was wrapped in a towel, using another to dry a forearm.
“I don’t know all the names.”
Baraz laughed. “Perhaps you’ve been talking too much to crackpots.”
He took Aubrey’s free hand, caressing gently.
“You have any objections to me burning those music sheets on the bed?” Aubrey asked.
“That would be foolish. They’re what you’ve worked for.”
He tugged her to her feet then slid behind her to knead the muscles along her shoulders.
“Why don’t we get those pages sent off where they need to be? Then we can all relax.”
Hadia walked slowly forward, her gaze locked on Aubrey’s.
“You deserve to kick back a while don’t you?”
Aubrey looked to the bed, to the music, picturing the notes and their tones in her head. Then, as Baraz continued the gentle movement of his fingers, her eyes closed. The feelings triggered as the muscles relaxed were more intoxicating than the alcohol.
But a few notes of music couldn’t be that threatening.
If they were, maybe the new powers that be really could grant wishes.
It could be so easy to get lost.
Sidney Williams (@Sidney_Williams) is a creative writing instructor and the author of several paperback horror thrillers, graphic novels, and comic book mini-series. His latest novel is Midnight Eyes from Crossroad Press, and he is finishing a book called Dark Hours also to be published by Crossroad Press. His short fiction has appeared in numerous magazines and anthologies including Cemetery Dance, Under the Fang and Hot Blood: Deadly After Dark, and he has written young adult thrillers under the name Michael August. He can be found on the web at Sid is Alive.