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Chapter 1

Winter stood in an all too familiar office. His last steady boss had died under suspicious circumstances and his less that pleasant brother had taken over the family business. Winter was just over six feet tall; broad shouldered and looked permanently grumpy. Underneath his round sunglasses were ice blue eyes, his hair was black and he looked like someone you wouldn’t want to annoy. Across a desk from him sat the arsehole brother of a man he’d once respected. His old boss Mr. Frank Keys was driven, determined, and operated under a certain code of ethics. Those ethics weren’t always in line with the law, but they were moral and he stuck to them. His younger brother however a Mr. Walter Keys was a shady slime dealer. Who cared for nothing other than his own personal gain and since taking over his brother’s business had that permanent look like he was being sucked off by an under age girl under the table. Winter’s voice was gravely and flat, he narrowed his eyes and said,

“You know, finding missing people isn’t usually what people hire me to do.”

Mr. Keys smiled and gesticulated like the self important tool that he was,

“This I know, if the rumours are true, normally you make people go missing, and you’re very good at it. This however is important and I figured since you used to look after the girl, maybe you’d have a better shot of finding her than anyone else. So will you make an exception, just this once?”

The office brought back a lot of strange memories. Memories that Winter, with the help of a few small white pills, had gotten good at suppressing. It turned out that the arsehole behind the desk’s blend of borderline sexually abusive creepy uncle, had caused Princess to fee her castle and no amount of threatening the police was making them find her any faster. Winter couldn’t really blame the girl, he thought if that creep was in his family he would have run away too, or shot him, probably shot him. Princess’s real name was Emily, after her father died and her uncle took over the business she quickly digressed from celebuton party girl to mild activist with hippie-ish tendencies. She quickly realised that all her ‘friends’ hadn’t taken the time to get to know her over the years and so couldn’t really be bothered to support her in crisis. In a moment of clarity she’d also realised that she hadn’t known them well enough to want them too. Her mother had a pretty face and she knew why she’d married Senior, she had never really taken an interesting in her children. The younger brother had all the signs of falling in line under her uncle influences. So Princess decided to try saving the world and maybe find people she could relate to in that community. Her uncle however, wasn’t a big fan of her sinking money into none profit anything, so did his best to restrict access to her trust fund. He also found her strangely attractive and after his near daily dose of too much alcohol, would become quiet affectionate. He never actually tried anything, but having his type of filth in the house always made her uncomfortable. Winter considered all of these things as he thought over the proposal of being hired to go find her.

“Sure, why not. Do you have any lead or am I starting from scratch?”

“Wonderful, I’ll have the current police files sent to you.”

Winter considered asking about how he got his hands on the police files, but in truth he knew. On everything had a price, and the police weren’t all that expensive. He didn’t worry about having to negotiate price, he knew Keys Jr. could afford it, and in turn Keys Jr. knew he knew, so trying to bluff him would be a waste of everyone’s time. Winter smiled and turned for the elevator, he didn’t like the man he was doing business with and didn’t want to spend a moment longer than he had to in his company. The office itself was your typical executive office, mostly windows, pointless and never read books lining the walls, single serves elevator straight to the office, mini bar that had grown notable since dickhead had taken over. All of which made him uncomfortable, which also meant it was time for his meds, but he didn’t like people watching when he took them. It often led to questions which he didn’t like to answer, which led to memories he didn’t like to think about. All in all, it just seemed simpler to wait the two minutes until he was alone in the elevator. Over the years Winter had gotten into the habit of taking two pills ever six or so hours. The doctor who had originally had to report to every two weeks after being released from hospital, now supplied him with a steady dose for a not so small fee. As the elevator descended Winter counted the pills left in the small bottle and added it to the amount he knew he had in storage and decided it was time to get more. Memories that he’d rather leave forgotten had started banging on the door to his mind while standing in Keys office. The regret on Keys Sr. face when he heard the news about Beloved, he was the only person who’s sentiment Winter appreciated. Now having those memories trying to flood back into his mind just made him uncomfortable. He dropped the pills into his mouth and swallowed, he knew there was probably a camera on him, but he was far enough away to not have to bother with questions. In retrospect while he walked out the building Winter thought, of everyone in the family Keys Jr. was probably the only person who wouldn’t ask questions. Well apart from maybe ‘could I have a couple?’ anyway. Useless arsehole that he was. Winters drove a black Mercedes C class, it had all the smart sporty futures but he’d had all the badges taken off so at a glance it seemed more standard that it was. He didn’t like being actively paranoid but he understood that for a man in his type of business there were something that just made sense. There were people actually out to get him, after all. Winter signed as the memories faded back into the drug induced darkness that was his mind and he drove himself home. He could phone his doctor later, after he read through the police files. That way he could get a better gauge on how long this should take and he’d know how much he’d need to ration out. Something about the familiarity of the people involved and his past and with the Keys family made Winter want to increase his dosage, but he’d talk to the doctor about that. As much as he didn’t want to feel he didn’t want to not be able to walk either. As was standard Winters bank account had grown by half his weekly rate by the time he’d reached his apartment, and the documents he wanted were sitting waiting in his e-mail inbox. As suspected they told him little more than nothing about the case. Princess had gone missing two weeks prior, she was last scene exiting a save the tree rally by a remaining nameless friend, and the police had no leads. being a man made structure, only had one tree right in the centre of the island. A giant Redwood named Jeff, which had the Syn Island University of Technology (SIUT) built around it. For students it was the most common site on campus to sit and read during sunny days. Winter didn’t give much of a shit about the tree, but he did find it interesting that it was The Keys Company that wanted it cut down. They apparently thought it would be a better idea to remove the tree and sell the university a giant umbrella that could be put up during the rainy season and closed up during summer. Knowing Keys Jr. it would probably also need regular expensive maintenance. Winter rolled his eyes and poured himself a shot of vodka over some ice with some lime. He never could stand whiskey and beer took to long. He wasn’t going to call his doctor today, he didn’t really want to do anything, in the distance of his mind he could still feel his past yelling out for attention and it exhausted him. Maybe it was a mistake to take the job, he’d never backed out of a contract before but hell, there was a first time for everything. He topped up his glass and leaned against a window to stare out at the city. an ex-prison, constricted for and by convicts that the 1st world didn’t want to deal with anymore. It was the size of only the entire island was one massive city, and existed as much below water as above it, with colossal anchors locking it into place above The Mid-Atlantic Ridge. It occurred to Winter that there was a strong possibility that Princess wasn’t missing, she was in fact hiding. A girl with her kind of access to money and knowledge of the city and its history could be anywhere. There were submarine sections of the island that roughly equalled the size of London and her father would have ensured she knew all about them, without a lead there was no way of finding her. The Keys family were first generation Syn-ners, descended from convicts and wardens respectively. Keys Sr. was very proud of this fact, Winter down what was left in his glass and filled it up for a third time. He needed to find somewhere to start looking, tomorrow. He downed his glass again and took another two pills before dropping onto his office chair with intention of blacking out. As the darkness started to leak in he could see in the distance the smiling face of his Beloved and it warmed his cold heart for a moment. But as he watched he saw her face slowly turning blue as the life leaked out of it, the same old nightmare, back to rock him gently to sleep.

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