The stale smell of dried blood and stomach acid stung Winter’s nostrils. His heart had slowed but the headache was still there, which meant either hell was just another hangover or he was still alive. Cautiously he opened one eye to help try figure out where he was. It didn’t take long to realise he was still on the floor, lying next to a dried stain of blood and vomit. With a grown and some effort he got to his feet and couldn’t help but think near death was really just a waste of time. He felt horrible, probably looked like death, but now he’d lost more time not looking for Princess. First things first though, he needed cold water with sugar and food. If he wasn’t going to die he needed to be alive enough to work, sitting at home thinking about things wasn’t going to help anyone. He grabbed a bottle of water from his fridge and sat down on his couch to figure out where to get good food easily. Only then did it hit him, how had he let himself reach this point. Thrilled to die in a pool of vomit, disappointed to be alive? He used to be a man with a goal, with purpose, dreams. Now he’s put so much effort into sleeping dreamlessly and feeling nothing that only his own death could bring a smile to his face. This time his mind didn’t go to a picture of his Beloved, but instead to the idea that if he had died the only person who would have looked for him was Keys Jr. wondering why he hadn’t turned up any result, and even that was only a maybe. He would have rotted into the carpet before someone would call the police complaining about the smell. There was no one left to care. If the same thought had happened the day before he might simply have shot himself right there, but now he felt compelled to do something about it. Perhaps finding Princess could help him redeem himself in his own eyes. He had always been a protector in one form or another and for the most part he liked it. He’d been a killer now for too long. Finding Princess was his new opportunity. He still needed food though, but the new sense of purpose clear away some of the pain and gave him enough strength to get up and shower, get new clothes on and head out with intention of finding this last girl. Winter finished the bottle of water and another two before leaving his flat. Because his work had always involved a certain level of violence he knew a cleaning company that dealt with bodily fluids, which he called from his car on the way to a small sushi restaurant. He decided it was the healthiest, cleanest food he could think of, also he rather enjoyed it. All the while his pills burnt a whole in his pocket and his mind, should he continue taking them? Will they kill him? What will his doctor do if he explains to him what’s been going on? He bribed him to ignore the facts and keep him doped up, what would he do if he thought Winter might actually die? Despite not being dead he still felt awful, he’d always been good with chopsticks but now found his hands were shacking so much that he could barely hold them. He ordered water and coffee with his food and decided to go slow about it, rather than try rush. It also gave him the time to prioritise matters in his head. He would go to the university next, but call his doctor on the way to talk about the best way to get off the drugs. He knew cold turkey was just going to cause all kinds of complications, and he’d rather avoid them if he could. But twice the recommended daily allowance ever day for years, it was always going to have its consequences. Winter had just always expected to die before having to deal with them, and it hadn’t crossed his mind that he might one day consider stopping taking them. Winter ate until he was full, unsure of how good an idea raw fish was, but happy to have some form of food in him. He paid and made his way to the university.
Across the city sitting in a small round table across from his wife sat Dr. Walter Gates. A nervous man who enjoyed a little too much wine a little too often, but a good man none the less, he’d only ever done one truly illegal thing in his whole life. He smiled at his wife and resisted the urge to order a second bottle of wine, then blushed as his phone started playing Winter by Tori Amos. It was a specifically assigned ring tone, so that he’d have enough time to excuse himself before answering. Dr. Gates smiled at his wife and apologised and he got to his feet and walked away from people to answer his phone.
“Hello Mr. Winter.”
“How could you have run out already? It’s only been two months that supply is supposed to last at least three.”
The Doctor put on his professional voice, but both men know that he was terrified of Winter, but it wouldn’t serve him to hurt his doctor so he let it happen. It made the doctor feel better and help him get his drugs, then all the better for him.
“It’s not that doc, I need to come see you, I want to… talk to you about something.”
Somewhere between Winter’s tone of voice and the actual words coming out of his mouth almost knocked Dr. Gates onto the floor. Not since his court appointed scheduled meetings had Winter wanted to see him, and even when he was there he didn’t want to talk about anything past bribery and the occasional threat.
“Uummm, yeah, ok, when?”
Winter hadn’t thought that far ahead but already he was regretting the idea. The reality of putting himself in a situation where he was going to open up to the man suddenly didn’t seem like such a great idea.
“Has to be this afternoon, two hours time at your office.”
“I’m not in right now, but yeah sure ok; I’ll clear my day and be there.”
Winter hung up and grimaced, one near death experience and suddenly he was trying to be a different person? He flashed with embarrassed anger, what was he doing? The whole idea seemed more stupid the more he thought about it, wasn’t even sure what he was going to say. He growled and started driving fast than he should to get to the university, hoping that he’d find something to take his mind off of the whole thing. Winter pulled his car into a parking space at the university and stepped out onto a campus he’d not seen in years. Despite what most people thought of him from first appearance he had a degree in sociology and psychology with a minor in history. As a younger man he’d been fascinated by people. He wasn’t very good at interacting with them so he decided to study them and try learn how to be a people person. Ultimately he learnt how to best read people, how to tell if they were lying or not, how someone’s facial expression can tell you which way they’re going to move in a fight and how best to get someone to back down. In the end he still didn’t like people but he found them much easier to… manage. In jeans, boots, a black t-shirt and round sunglasses Winter felt very under dressed compared to the clicks he walked past. To him the youth of the day seemed insane, boys wearing night shirts and ties with skinny jeans and winkle pickers and girls barely wearing anything at all. To them his round sunglasses was a step to far in the wrong direction. In their minds he clearly needed to lighten up and put on some respectable clothes, where as he wondered how they could breathe in trousers that tight. But he wasn’t there to judge and he didn’t really care what they thought of him. He stood staring at the building for a few minutes trying to remember where everything was, and eventually decided that he’d just look for a sign the said reception and follow them. The last thing he wanted to do was ask someone for direction. It was now raining which seemed the only thing that help Winter with what he could only describe as ten of the worst hangovers he’d ever had. Still though, he fought off the urge to take something for the pain. He passed scores of people on his way to the reception office, all huddling in groups smoking in the rain, all giving him the same look like he was the strange one. His comfort in the cold made him think that he was probably developing a fever and considering everyone he’d seen seemed to be wearing the same clothes and he was actually there to find and talk to one of them, painkillers suddenly didn’t seem like such a bad idea. He could reform later, or slowly, he didn’t need to do it all in one day. He pulled out his normal pills and a bottle of painkillers and took one of each. He stood in a rain a moment to let the pills sink in, then he spotted the building he was looking for and headed inside. He was greeted by a smiley teenage girl who looked slightly bored but at the same time excited to be there. Winter decided that she must be a first year doing some work for the university to lower her fees. She looked sweetish, at least she had to wear different cloths to the others.
“Hello sir, come on in out of the horrible rain, what a dreadful day.”
Winter tried to force a smile but gave up half way through. He could only be so nice at any given time, no point using it all up on fake smiles.
He voice was huskier than usual and carried with it the burden of honesty, which took the young girl by surprise, she smiled a little broader and in a slightly nervous voice managed,
“Oh, sorry to hear that sir, uummm, how may I help you then?”
Hunting people you planned on killing had to be done quietly and with as little involvement from other people as possible. The fewer people knew the smaller than chance of being found. Trying to find someone that you weren’t going to kill was a different problem, if they were hiding you still couldn’t be totally open about it, but if you didn’t commune with others your chance of finding that person decreased, but how honest were you supposed to be? Winter tried looking through his mind for an answer he could make sense out of, but was also aware that he was standing silently in front of an ever increasingly nervous young girl. Honesty at a need to know basis seemed the best way forward.
“I’ve been hired by the family to find Princess Keys, and her last known location involved this university and the Tree group. If you could be so kind as to point me in Tree’s direction, please.”
Winter ran over his words again in his mind and wondered if they made sense, but wasn’t going to correct himself so stood silently staring at the girl waiting for an answer. The young girl stared up at him but could only see her reflection in his glasses and suddenly found it hard to concentrate, then realised she’d missed everything he said and with no idea what to do or say, so blushed crimson.
Between the blush and the stutter Winter decided that this poor girl had never dealt with a man like him before and was slipping away from professional. This endeared her to him in a way he wasn’t totally expecting, but was also one of his favourite ways to get information from people. Knock them off balance with a blank and or unexpected comment, and then lean on them to watch them fall. With that in mind Winter took of his sunglasses to reveal his sharp piercing husky blue eyes, leaned forward on the desk towards the girl so he could see her eye to eye and said, quiet calmly.
“I’m looking for the student group Tree, please point me in the right direction.”
The young girl’s mouth opened letting all thoughts escape silently into the world, leaving her mind a total blank. She simply stared back at him unsure of what to do or how to do it or once again, what he’d said. Winter knew this and after a minute or so he smiled. He quickly straightened up and put his glasses back on. The girl followed his gaze until his glasses were on and then somehow the spell was broken and all words seemed to come at once.
“Tree? Tree! Oh yes, I’m part of Tree actually, uummm Princess helped set it up along with Joshua Thomas, but he’s not here right now, but we have another meeting tomorrow morning. Did you say you were interested in joining? Only student can join? Oh no, if you’re looking for Princess then well, she’s missing.”
“Yes, I’ve been hired to find her.”
As he said it, she remembered that he’d already said that, and blushed again.
“What time is this meeting tomorrow and where?”
“Oh, uummm, Galaxy building? It’s that one over there.”
She pointed an embarrassed finger out the window towards a large grey building with a glass dome on top.
“And what time?”
“Uummm, in the morning yeah, AM.”
“Wonderful, will you be there?”
“Thank you, and I shell see you tomorrow morning.”
By this point Winter’s smile had faded and he’d returned to his usual dead pan expression. The girl forced a smile, not sure how happy she was about having to see this man again, or if she should have given out that much information, in a final attempt to be pleasant she thought she’d introduce herself, that way if anything was wrong she’d have his name and could report him.
“It’s a pleasure? Oh and my name’s Rebecca.”
She held out her slightly shaky hand, Winter clenched his jaw and tried not to sneer.
“Nice to meet you Rebecca.”
They were both aware that he’d not said his name, and that it wasn’t going to be said. Winter shook her hand and left. It was much quicker getting back to his car than it had been finding the reception building. He was slightly disappointed that he wouldn’t be able to solve his case in a day but it did give him more than enough time to get to his doctors office, and by the time the doctor arrived the painkillers had well and truly kicked in, making Winter less keen on talking that before. But they were both there and he knew he needed to do something. The doctor led him into his office and the two men sat opposite each other. Although they spoke semi-regularly it was the first time they’d sat down to talk in a very long time. The office itself was all dark stained wood panels with degrees on the walls and clever look books in the shelves. A common shrink trick to make themselves seem more official by appearing well educated and well read. For all anyone knew he’d gotten the bottom grade at school and had never once opened any of the books, but it didn’t matter because people who were there were there for a reason and it comforted them that he appeared to be what he clamed he was. After a few minutes of silence the Dr. Gates cleared his through and said in a faint voice,
Winter’s voice was harder and still a little gravely after all the vomiting.
The doctor picked up his phone and instructed his assistant to bring in two coffees, and then the room returned to silence. Eventually once the coffee had arrived and the assistant left Winter gritted his teeth and force himself.
“How, no… I’ve been thinking of, lowering my intake of the drug. How would that affect me?”
For the second time that day Winter had left the doctor speechless.
“What, what brought this on?”
Winter wanted to lie, but at the same time was getting angry and frustrated about being there. He wasn’t sure how well he could pull it off. A version of the truth seemed best,
“I’ve taken a job to find a missing girl and I need to be a little bit more awake than usual, I just want to know about side effects.”
Winter’s jaw tightened with annoyance, the further away he got from his heart episode the less he wanted to keep this plan going, it just pissed him off and Dr. Gates knew it, he could see the rising anger in Winter.
“Well, if you go cold turkey you will hit DTs which will make you totally useless to everyone and possibly kill or permanently brain damage you, as your body is suddenly robbed of a chemical it’s used to and fails to make itself, now that it’s used to the substitute. So if you want to cut down, do it slowly, not all at once. As always I leave this in your capable hands, but if you haven’t taken any today, take some now.”
Winter eyed up the doctor for a moment, digesting what he’d just heard, then reached into his pocket for the pills, tapped out just one pill and took it. He stared at the pill bottle in his hand for a moment then looked back at Dr. Gates
“When you say DTs, what exactly would I have to look forward to?”
The doctor sighed and thought for a moment.
“Well, there will be pockets of the chemical stored up in your cells so as it runs out of it’s steady supply it’ll start drawing on those, which means wild possibly violent mood swings from suicidal to furious. Your internal temperature gauge will go next so you’ll either be boiling or freezing, which is where the possible brain damage will come in. This will also send you immune system into overload trying to fight infection where there aren’t any. This could result in massive damage to your internal organs specifically you kidneys and liver and heart. There is also risk of massive drops in red blood cells so in the end you might just suffocate as there is not enough blood taking oxygen to your organs.”
“How long would that take?”
For the first time since they’d met, Winter appeared genuinely concerned to Dr. Gates. Although he also thought Winter could just be looking interested.
“If you’ve been honest with me about how much you take, you’ll start to feel a few days, you’ll really notice there’s a problem after 4 maybe 5 days, by the end of a week you’ll be next to useless if not already dead from a heart attack, stroke and or brain aneurism.”
“Great, well I’m probably still going to need some more then, and some more of those painkillers you get me.”
Winter stood and clicked his neck, then looked at Gates curiously,
“Do you proscribe this stuff to other people?”
“Knowing it can kill them?”
“Not right away it can’t, this drug was never meant to be used for an extended time. I tried to explain that to you once, but you didn’t seem to care, you seemed in so much pain and if I’m perfectly honest, I thought you might kill yourself before the drugs had time to do any serious damage. I’m, I’m sorry.”
Winter turned on his heels and walked out, Gates’ sentiment seemed heartfelt and he hated that, it made him feel weak and he hated that, it reminded him of the things he wanted to forget and had been failing to recently and he hated that more. He walked straight to his car and drove off, he needed to be far away from anything familiar, he’d had too many reminded for one day. It also annoyed him that he was going to have to get up early to go talk to some half wit hippie in the hope he might have a lead on Princess. Winter headed to a small motel near the university district, far from reminders but close to where he needed to be. At five he ordered room serves and by six he was asleep. Deciding that given his bodies current state and his need to get up early, more sleep was probably better than less.