I so rarely dream that when it happens I presume I’ve died and don’t expect to wake up, now more than usual, her name is like music, her face like a poem and I stand like a black blank spot on the canvas of my mind, eyes shut ears closed desperately wishing away the beauty, because I know that what follows is infinite pain. Not just the usual nightmare.
Winter opened his eyes and stared at the ceiling until the pictures and feeling from his dreams faded, haunted him like ghosts leaving the room now that he’s awake. Not quiet able to be seen but somehow still felt. The dull grey light in the room told him the sun hadn’t fully risen yet. He rubbed his face and checked his phone to clarify the time. He only had to be back at the university at nine and it was only . He felt weak and tired, better than the day before but still side effects of the heart attack. He reached for his pills and took two, telling himself that he needed more in the morning to compensate for not taking any during the night and he could cut down through the day. He checked out of the motel and found a coffee shop for breakfast where he started to mentally assign blame to Princess for his current state. If she hadn’t gone missing, he wouldn’t have had to try harder to push back his feelings and wouldn’t have had the heart attack. He knew it was a lie but it made him feel better to blame her rather than himself. He ordered a few more cups of coffee and made the decision to pull himself together. He’d spent two nights and a day feeling sorry for himself, and that’s all his patience could take. He’d lived through worse. As it drew nearer to nine he ran through his experiences of the day before, to remember the name of the young girl he’d spoken too. Despite all his effort to forget the past he was normally very good at remembering useful information. Part of his personal training when he decided to kill people for a living was to study the human mind and learn how to suppress specific memories and hold on to others. The medications help and hindered both endeavours. It both made it harder to remember some things and removed inhibitions about things he wanted to forget, but in time he found a balance he was fairly comfortable with. When the name did pop into his head he had to stop himself for saying it out loud.
Not long later Winter found himself once again walking through the university only today he had a slightly clearer head, a better idea of where he was going and a fully loaded gun. Only one actually made him feel better and it wasn’t clarity of thought. He knew he wouldn’t need the gun, he might be feeling weak but he was still sure he could take at least seven or eight of these fashion victims in a fight. Plus ‘Tree’ seemed like it would be a collection of free love, vegan tree huggers, people not known for their prowess towards violence. Looking for people as a detective with an aim to help them, instead of kill them, felt strange to Winter. His natural instinct was to be either very quiet about it, or very loud. Either slip through the shadows at night gathering information or find a room full of people and hurt them until he got what he needed. Simply arriving in the day and asking questions felt like cheating, too easy and therefore too risky. It also meant that he had to try and be nice, something he hadn’t really had to do for any length of time for years. A faint, almost malicious smile spread across Winter’s face when he saw Rebecca standing in a small crowd of students. She was his in, he could capitalise on her good manners and nervous nature to find out who he needed to talk to. She didn’t notice him at first but when she did spot him walking towards her, her skin paled a few shades.
“Good morning Rebecca.”
He maintained his smile as he walked towards her, she searched her mind for his name and remembered just as he stepped into the circle of people that he hadn’t mentioned it.
“H-hello sir, glad you could make it.”
Winter was tempted to say something like ‘no you’re not.’ But decided that he was there trying to help someone, and didn’t need to torment the poor girl. His silence brought an awkward silence onto the crowd she had been standing in. Winter thought about waiting until it got so bad that everyone else left but Rebecca saved herself by pointing to a young man with long curly brown hair and thin framed glasses.
“That’s Joshua the man you were asking about yesterday. We’re about to sit down for our weekly meeting but I’m sure if you’re quick he can ask him some questions first.”
Winter’s smile turned for arrogant to appreciative, he’d all but written Rebecca off as a silly girl, but she had just, in her own way, stood up to his bullying nature. She’d removed all reason for him to continue trying to intimidate her. His head nodded along with his smile causing Rebecca to ever so slightly blush, at which point Winter thanked her, and headed towards the unsuspecting man. Joshua was tall and thin with dark framed glasses, messy brown hair, a scarf and a ‘man bag’, all of which annoyed Winter. Joshua looked up at the last moment to see Winter’s approach. He was a smart guy and instantly knew what it was going to be about. To him Winter reeked of corporate bullying, trying to intimidate the righteous out of the way. Josh didn’t want to admit it but if he were alone with Winter it would work, but he needed to be strong, chances are as long as there were other people around he’d be fine. Winter stopped in front of him and in an attempt to hide his annoyance simply said,
“Can we talk?”
Josh resisted the urge to start scratching his head,
“Of course, how can I help you?”
“Oh, well I have nothing to hide from my fellow students; I think we can talk here.”
Winter frowned, he knew he didn’t have to hide what he was doing from the world, but couldn’t help but think that one of the other members of this little tribe of wannabe rescue rangers would know Princess, and tip her off that she was being looked for. Winter was still banking on the idea that she ran away more than she was kidnapped. Then an idea occurred to Winter.
“Alright then, I’ve been sent out by Syn General to inform you that you have gonorrhoea, it’s advisable that you inform any sexual partners you’ve had over the last few weeks to come in for a check up, both normal and oral, as you can have gonorrhoea of the throat too.”
The blood drained from Joshua’s face and a slight panic took over. He knew that Winter was lying but he also knew that if people started asking questions publicly there was more than one girl within ear she that he’d slept with in the last few weeks. Winter smiled,
“Now is there somewhere private we can talk?”
Joshua stuttered a moment then gestured for Winter to follow him. Joshua led Winter into a small study hall. Tree banners littered the walls and there was a small temporary podium at the one end. Clearly Joshua enjoyed standing and giving speeches while people sat in front of him. Once the door was closed Joshua decided he’d take a bold approach in the hopes that bullies really did back down at the first sign of conflict.
“So let me guess, you’re here to make me stop the protest before it starts. Well it’s not going to work; Tree is more than just a bunch of students making a noise. Our message will not be silenced by the likes of you.”
Winter smiled again and almost laughed, which sent a cold shiver down Joshua’s spine.
“Firstly, if I was here to ‘silence’ you, I could. The people outside are board students getting a few extra credits by taking up after school groups, and the people in side, well that’s just one man who thinks if he puffs his chest out far enough it might be mistaken for actual guts and muscle. But we both know better don’t we? You’re not here to save the plant; you’re here to meet women. Which is precisely why I’m here, one very specific woman in fact, and you know where she is, don’t you.”
It suddenly dawned on Joshua the real reason Winter was there and it did nothing to help his growing sense of dread.
“I… I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
Joshua’s persistence was wearing Winter’s alright tried patents thin. His smile faded and he took a few steps towards the young man. Joshua paled noticeably. Winter reached out and arm and rested his hand on Joshua’s shoulder, then lowered his sunglasses and locked eyes with him.
“I have no reason to do this the nice way, this is me hesitating, do not make the mistake of presuming that you are safe. Where is Princess Keys?”
Joshua’s blood ran ice cold, his eyes widened and a scream of terror started bouncing around in his head looking for a way out. His breaths grew short and sharp and every moment he failed to speak he felt himself getting closer to death.
“I… I… d,dropped her off at…”
tears started rolling down the young man’s face,
“Charcoal night club, two weeks ago. She said she knew people there who would help her.”
“Who did she know there and help her do what?”
Joshua tried desperately to find some liquid in his mouth to aid in talking but terror prevented it.
“She didn’t want to tell me names in case, well… umm this happened. All I know is she’s hiding from her uncle, she wouldn’t say why, that’s all I know I promise.”
“Now you’re not going to tell anyone about this little chat of ours are you? Because you wouldn’t want me coming back looking for you, would you?”
Joshua finally broke down into a whimper,
It was just as Winter had suspected, it instantly sparked up new questions in his mind about reasons for his employment, but he was being paid to find the girl and the girl he would find. Also now that his curiosity had been peeked he wanted to see it through. Winter never liked leaving a job half done. As He headed back to his car he though about feeling bad for Joshua, but then by reflex popped another pill in his mouth and decided not to.