Existence Press at Smashwords
Copyright 2015 C.B.
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Kristina knew it was bad when she heard the knock at her door.
gotten into work early, even after a late night working at The
Velvet, so that she could sit with a fresh cup of coffee and collect
the results of her investigative efforts into a report. With the door
closed, people without urgent business wouldn’t come in to bother
her, and very few of the attorneys, secretaries, and paralegals at
Dunn-Brantley had seen her come in anyway. She kept the lights off,
as she often did, preferring either natural light or the hollow light
of screens, so a quick glance under her door still wouldn’t show
she was in. The small window out to the hall was left opaque. She
even kept the aero pharmaceuticals coming from the vent over the
window to their low, default level. She’d always preferred the
pick-me-up of natural caffeine in coffee anyway.
order to know she was in her office, someone would have to check the
building security for her ID, and that meant whatever they needed was
urgent. Urgent for an investigator meant a huge pain in the ass and
long hours because the alternative was shoddy work. She hated urgent.
a man’s voice came from behind the door. “I know you’re in
knew who that voice belonged to: Richard Brantley. She sighed and
unlocked the door from her tablet.
bald head shone under the fluorescence of the hallway, casting him in
a strange glow against the relative darkness of her office. There
wasn’t a wrinkle on his face or his head, causing an effect she
found disconcerting but he seemed to like. Today, however, his face
was redder than usual. That was bad.
did you lock your door?” he asked.
working.” she said, more coolly than she felt. “Old habit. Is
flared. People described the two name partners of Dunn-Brantley as
fire and ice. Brantley was the fire. “No, I sound all panicked
about finding you because everything is just as it should be. We have
a situation we need to get on top of. ASAP.”
“What is that
“Victoria is in my
office. Come now.”
Kristina checked her
coffee mug and found it was empty. “Let me just brew myself a cup
of coffee and I’ll be right there.”
“I already have you a
cup, and it’s getting cold.”
followed him down the hall to his corner office, passing paralegals
working quietly with what looked like plastic rings hanging from
their noses. Kristina thought they looked like septum piercings,
though they were called breathers and let someone add an extra pharm
to their mood while still being able to take it out whenever
necessary. It was a new technology, but a lot of firms covered it as
part of a benefits package. Anything for more productivity.
Kristina hated them.
When she stepped into
Brantley’s office, she found the firm’s other name partner,
Victoria Dunn, waiting patiently. Dunn had her trademark clear-framed
glasses off and resting on Brantley’s desk. She was rubbing her
eyes as Kristina entered, the lines around her eyes showing signs of
needing another Ambrosia treatment.
Kristina took a deep
breath. If Dunn was shaken up by this, it was definitely serious.
She the seat next to
Dunn, maneuvering the chair so she could see both Dunn and Brantley
at the same time. Brantley took his seat at the desk, opposite from
Kristina and Dunn.
said. “What happened?”
Silence hung in the
air. Both partners looked at each other, then back at Kristina. She
took a sip of coffee, which really wasn’t that bad, and waited.
Finally, Dunn cleared
her throat. “We received a call from Landon Tatum’s personal
assistant today. It appears Mr. Tatum is missing.”
opened wide and she set the mug down. That was serious. Landon
Tatum was Chicago’s youngest billionaire, the brightest star in the
Pharma Boom. He was also Dunn-Brantley’s biggest client.
She’d seen him last
said, her mind still catching up with her mouth. “That’s
Dunn’s thin brow
arched up. “Impossible?” She straightened up in her seat and put
her glasses back on. “Why do you say that?”
warmed as she remembered the previous night. She’d been undercover
at an event at a strip club. He’d been in attendance, shockingly.
Things had gotten a little...intimate for work conversation. She
looked between the two partners and took a deep breath.
“Last night I was
doing a surveillance op on Fordelli in regards to antitrust with the
city,” she said. “It was a birthday party at The Velvet. About an
hour in, Tatum showed up.”
The pair of them
exchanged a wide-eyed glance, then turned back to her in synchrony.
“Were you planning on
sharing this information?” Brantley snapped.
Her shoulders tensed.
“Yes,” she shot back. “I was planning to do so today, after I
had done some poking around this morning to see if I could figure out
why the hell Tatum would be hanging around there. Obviously, this
morning has already been different from what I had expected.”
A silence filled up the
space in the room. Heart pounding, Kristina pressed her lips together
and did her best to compose herself.
She’d never actually
lost it with Brantley before. Part of the training her brother had
given her when she was coming up in his security company as a private
investigator. Sometimes you had to deal with people who pissed you
off. Cost of doing business. She took another sip of his coffee.
“Thank you for
telling us now,” Dunn said finally. She would be the one to break
the silence. Brantley was still fuming, his face red. “Hopefully
that information will be useful in your search for him.”
It was all Kristina
could do to not spit the coffee out on the desk. She put the mug
down. “My search?”
Dunn put her glasses
back on. “Correct. You will be searching for him on behalf of
“Have the police been
notified of this disappearance?”
Dunn shook her head.
“No. The protocol we drafted for Tatum last month in case of his
disappearance states they not be contacted for at least forty-eight
Kristina sat up
straighter. “He had a protocol drafted last month and now he’s
missing?” She narrowed her eyes. “Sounds very lucky.”
“We admit the
coincidence,” Brantley said.
Dunn readjusted her
glasses. “That same protocol states that our firm should conduct
any searches internally,” she continued. “In fact, Tatum
specifically requested you lead the search.”
Kristina took a deep
breath. This was getting stranger by the second. She’d never even
met the man before last night...and that barely counted.
“Doesn’t he have a
security force?” she asked. “A man like that must.”
Dunn shook her head
again. “Not one he feels he can trust, in any case. He was adamant
it be an internal firm investigation and that you would lead it.”
Kristina nodded slowly,
at a loss for words. How were they being so cool about this? It was
Why would a man like
Tatum put an investigation like this in her hands when they hadn’t
even met at the time? It sounded like either a scheme or a weird case
“It goes without
saying that Tatum Pharmaceuticals is our biggest client,” Brantley
said, leaning forward with his forearms planted on the desk. He
looked toward Dunn briefly before turning his attention back to
Kristina. “If your search proves unsuccessful, that will be a big
problem for the firm.”
Kristina blinked. If
she lost her job at Dunn-Brantley, she would be back to square one
with her private investigation business. The world of freelance was a
hustle she’d been glad to leave behind.
“I understand,” she
said, keeping her voice steady. “Is there anything else?”
Both of them shook
“I’d better get to
work then. Please have a copy of that protocol sent to my mailbox
“Of course,” Dunn
said, standing up. Kristina and Brantley followed. “Is there
anything else you need from us?”
Kristina shook her
head. What the hell was going on?
Returning to her office
brought its own relief.
The space was small,
sparse, and highly functional: ivory-colored walls, pristine white
desk, and a black ergonomic chair was about as simple a color scheme
as she could manage. There were no decorations but a picture of her
with her two brothers and an antique mechanical clock. A lone guest
was stationed chair to her right side when she was seated at her
desk. She kept a small gunmetal safe behind her.
She cleaned it herself
regularly, on top of whatever the cleaning people did. It was
important to her to have a minimalist space to think. Cluttered
spaces made for cluttered minds, and most of what she dealt with was
messy enough as it was. The only items she kept on her desk were her
tablet, her coffee maker, and a mug for the coffee. She flicked the
hall window to transparent with a switch on the sill and brewed
Coffee had fallen out
of favor for a lot of people ever since companies had started pumping
in stimulant aero-pharms to improve workplace productivity, but
Kristina still preferred her morning jolt the old-fashioned way. Like
she’d done it growing up, before there were aeros everywhere you
It was one of her
favorite features of so many of the old, classic movies. People in
diners, drinking coffee. Taking coffee outside in the bitter cold and
sipping at it as its steam billowed out above. It looked so...quaint.
A different time.
Her lips tight, she
took her fresh mug back to her desk and swiped her tablet out of
sleep. The device flashed, and she navigated from her report on the
previous night to her mailbox.
The doc she’d
requested was already waiting. Tatum Disappearance Protocol, June
22 2045. She raised her brows. That was five weeks ago. This
thing was brand new.
Following her hunch
from earlier, she did a quick search through the database to see if
it was replacing an older version. The search came up empty. So he’d
had this done right before he disappeared. Almost like he knew he was
going to go. Either he was planning to do a runner, or his paranoia
had been vindicated.
Strange. She’d pegged
him for a bit eccentric, but not totally paranoid. Something seemed
She scanned the doc,
swiping down the pages quickly. Most of it was legalese, but on page
four she found her name. Such a search will be headed by Kristina
Andersen, Director of Investigations at Dunn-Brantley.
She sighed. This was
very, very strange. But the partners had been right, of course.
Whatever the reason, he’d wanted her.
A knock came at her
door. She looked up in time to see a bubbly mess of blonde curls pop
in. She must have forgotten to lock it.
“How was your night
as a stripper?” Anna asked.
Kristina rolled her
eyes. Anna was her closest friend at the firm by a long shot, but her
energy in the morning still could be a little much. She used her
ditzy demeanor to her advantage in negotiations, though. People
under-estimated her, which was a mistake. The woman went to
Georgetown and was sharper than most of the people she met across the
“Not a lot of
stripping,” Kristina said. “Shut the door.”
Anna’s brows shot up,
but she did as requested and sat down at the lone guest chair against
the wall. “Someone’s crabby,” she said, once she was situated.
Kristina chewed her
lip. “Partners got a call this morning. Landon Tatum is missing.”
Anna’s mouth dropped
open. “How long?”
“Since this morning.
Not at home. Comm’s off. According to the protocol I just started
reading, that counts as missing.”
“Jesus. Did they call
“Protocol says the
firm needs to look for him for a minimum of forty-eight hours before
the police are called. More specifically, I need to.”
Anna shook her head.
“What protocol is this, exactly? I haven’t heard anything at all
“Something the firm
drafted up for him a few weeks ago,” Kristina answered, taking a
deep breath. It felt even stranger to say it out loud. “Without my
knowledge, in fact. I think Dunn handled it herself.”
picked up her neglected mug of coffee and took a sip. “And here’s
the thing,” she said, once she was done. “I saw him last night at
Her friend’s jaw
dropped again. “Landon Tatum at a strip club? And The Velvet at
“Doesn’t seem like
his kind of place. What was he there for?”
“I was working a
party for Geno Totti. Fordelli was there along with some of the usual
types. Just charting some interactions and stuff. Not sure about
Tatum’s connection at all.”
“And now he’s
gone,” she said.
“That’s what they
“Wow. That’s bad.”
Anna leaned back.
Kristina could practically watch the wheels in her friend’s head
“So back to the
important stuff,” Anna said. “Did he check you out when you were
doing your undercover stripper stuff?”
Kristina shook her
head. Something passed across her vision.
She spun back and
looked out the hall window in time to see the tall, charcoal-suited
frame of Landon Tatum walking down the hallway.
Kristina shot out of
her seat, threw her door open, and peeked her head out in time to see
him disappear around the corner. She scurried out of her office and
down the hall. When she got to the corner she saw the men’s room
Was she seeing things?
She couldn’t just stalk the door awkwardly, could she? Footsteps
came from behind her and she spun around. It was Anna.
“What the hell was
that?” Anna asked. “Did you see a ghost?”
Kristina rubbed her
eyes again and then did her best to stare her friend down. Must be
lack of sleep. Nothing that couldn’t be fixed with some more
coffee. No way was he here. She was imagining it. Someone would have
said something to the partners, right?
Kristina rubbed her
eyes. “I really need to get to work,” she said. “Dunn told me
it was either find Tatum or lose my job. Never mind a bunch of other
people here getting laid off.”
Anna studied her for a
minute, decided to let the issue drop. “Jesus. What’s your first
She took a deep breath,
trying to get on top of her spinning mind. There were so many things
to follow up on. The most important was taking another look at the
party from last night. If there was a connection, that was a big step
to figuring out what had happened. If not, then she was no worse off.
“I think I need to
call my brother Tom,” she said. “Set up a Recall.”
Tom worked in the
Pharmaceuticals unit of the Chicago Police Department Crime Lab. That
meant he had access to all kinds of pharmaceutical aids not available
to the public. One of those—the most common—was a pharm called
It allowed someone to
relive a memory, as if it were a video from their own eyes. By
reliving the memory, a subject could more easily recall details, give
more accurate descriptions, and otherwise contribute to an
investigation. It had cut down tremendously on false-positive
identifications, among other things.
A false-positive wasn’t
what she was worried about, though. She’d missed something at the
party, she knew it. Tatum must have done something or interacted with
someone that could give her a clue about where he’d gone. If she
could have Tom arrange a Recall for her, she would have another
chance at what that would be.
He picked up before the
“What do you need?”
he answered breathlessly.
Kristina pictured her
overweight brother hurrying across the room to answer his comm. He
hated any sound that signaled a machine was trying to get his
“A favor,” she
said. “Set up a Recall for last night between the hours of one and
A pause on the other
line. “Another private use of City resources?”
She rolled her eyes.
They both knew he was going to give her what she needed, but some
part of his brain always wanted to guilt her first.
“If you’re not too
busy,” she said. “It’s for an investigation. I’ll share
whatever I find out with any CPD investigations.”
would that be?”
She knew Tom probably
didn’t particularly care what this was really about, but he also
had to cover his own ass. “Put down that I’m investigating some
improper financial dealings by Ricardo Fordelli.”
Tom grunted. “Try
again. That will get flagged from here to the mayor’s office.”
Pharmaceuticals has had the pharms contract for the department since
the start of the year. Plus a whole bunch of other shit that means he
has connections from the police chief to the mayor’s office. Any
investigation into him is going to put a bull’s eye on my ass that
I don’t need. You have anyone else?”
Kristina tucked this
new information away in her memory bank. “How about Geno Totti?”
she tried. “General surveillance in connection with organized crime
in the city.”
A sigh on the other
end. “It’s lame, but so long as it’s not Fordelli I’m good.”
“So you can do it?”
He paused, seemingly
dragging this out just a little longer.
“Yeah,” he said
finally. “Drop by the lab at one.”
He hung up before she
could even thank him.
Despite that, she
smiled. Even though she hated doing Recalls, or anything that
involved heavy pharms, it was an important step to getting somewhere
on this search. After another sip of coffee, she got back to work on
her tablet. The mechanical clock on the wall continued to tick away
the time. There was a lot to do before lunch.
She spent the rest of
the morning reading through the protocol Dunn-Brantley had drawn up
in her office and drinking enough coffee for an average week. Much of
the protocol dealt with financial information and had
cross-references to his will, which made for even more reading. By
the time lunch rolled around, she was left mostly where she’d
started: this was her mess to clean up and none of the factors
surrounding Tatum’s disappearance made any damn sense at all.
At twelve-thirty, she
realized she would need to delay lunch and headed out for the CPD
Crime Lab at Dearborn and Van Buren. On a normal summer day, she
would have walked and enjoyed the weather, but this was anything but
a normal day. As such, she decided to take the subway.
She walked up to the
familiar sign for the Red Line and descended the steps. The familiar
bombardment of glowing advertisements hit her as she went down into
the station. Every single one was for pharms, many for Tatum
“Erase Wrinkles From
“Clare-Tee: For Your
Career. For Your Life.”
“20/20 Vision in 20
Each sign had a
localized aero hovering around, giving a sense of calm satisfaction.
Homeless people would sometimes sleep under the ads at night for the
sense of well-being they provided. Even during the day, sometimes
they would stare into them for hours, having nothing to do and
nowhere to be. Legislation had been passed to counteract this,
calling it blight, but so far the law had proven largely
After swiping her pass
and going down to the tracks, she got on the train and had a quick,
uneventful ride. The trains were pretty light traffic-wise this time
of day. When the train got down to Jackson, she got off, went through
the underground tunnel and past a street band playing old-fashioned
rock music, and came up at the Blue Line station.
From there it was brief
walk from the station to the lab’s tall, menacing building. It was
shaped as a triangular prism, with modernist slits for windows in
light brown stone. In truth, it looked more like a fortress than
anything else. Probably because it had originally been designed as a
prison, nearly a hundred years before.
She walked in the
hulking door nearest the street, past the security body scanners, and
up to the front desk. The prison was even more minimalist than her
office. Stark, smooth gray walls that looked nearly metallic.
Shining, perfectly lacquered navy floor. Dead silence, save for the
echoes of her footsteps. It was like a museum.
A blonde woman at the
front desk—who appeared to be working on her candidacy for the
title of Most Bored Person in the World—looked up from her tablet
briefly before returning her eyes to the screen. She had headphones
in and wore a perfectly wrinkle free white blouse.
“Can I help you?”
she asked, removing a wireless bud from one ear.
“Yes. I’m here to
see Dr. Thomas Andersen in Pharm.”
She sighed and tapped
at her tablet. “Is he expecting you?”
The woman sighed again
and then continued to work at her screen. A moment later Kristina saw
her brother’s round face pop up on the large screen behind the
woman’s head. His glasses were slightly askew, and his chest seemed
to be heaving slightly. Out of breath again, apparently.
“Someone here to see
you Dr. Andersen,” the receptionist said.
Tom answered. He immediately switched off.
A small brown button
popped up just in front of the tablet the receptionist had been
working at. She took it and handed it to Kristen, who pocketed it in
for the crime lab,” the receptionist said. “Follow the signs. If
you go off course, security will be alerted and—”
“I know,” Kristina
interrupted. “Been here before.”
blonde brows shot up. “Witness a lot of crimes?” she asked
Kristina tightened her
fist around the button in her jacket pocket, trying to stay calm.
“Something like that,” she said. She turned to leave.
“What case are you
here for, exactly?” the receptionist asked.
Kristina spun back
around to face her and saw her narrowed eyes. Shit. She’d
managed to wake the beast.
“I have to log it, is
all,” the receptionist continued, by way of explanation.
The blonde woman
fluttered her eyes. “It’s at my discretion. The case, please?”
Kristina took a deep
breath and grit her teeth. “Investigation of Geno Totti. Can I go?”
The receptionist looked
down at her tablet briefly, then nodded. Kristina wasn’t sure, but
she thought she saw a small smile on the receptionist’s face.
Without another word, and kicking herself for getting sloppy and
being forced to double-down on the Totti lie, Kristina was on her
The CPD’s sterile
white walls made everything look the same, but she knew her way
around from previous visits, just as she’d said, and soon she
walked into a door marked Crime Lab: Pharmaceuticals Section.
Under that, it read Dr. Thomas Andersen, Assistant Director.
She knocked once and
walked in, still angry she’d had to log the case with the
receptionist. Hopefully it wouldn’t amount to anything. It was the
kind of sloppy mistake that drove her crazy.
As she came into the
room, Tom’s ruddy face was buried behind a host of screens, his tie
knot loosened under his white coat as he typed at a keyboard. His
office, while still having the feel of sterility that pervaded the
place, was messy, with devices and papers scattered across various
surfaces, each alternately covering the other. It was a miracle he
ever found anything in here. Just being around this mess for a few
minutes made her chest tight with anxiety.
Somehow he and Kristina
had inherited different genes when it came to their preferred
environment. And a million other things, really. But especially
“Just getting your
Recall set up,” he said quickly. “Almost done.”
“Hi to you too,”
Kristina said. She sat down on what looked like it would be a
doctor’s table were it not in black leather. At least this looked
clean. “Thanks for getting me in.”
Tom waved his hand
absently. “No problem. Mind if I ask the actual reason for the
She blinked. It was
strange for Tom to be asking details about something like this. He
wasn’t normally one for small-talk.
“Any reason you want
to know?” she asked.
Her brother froze and
looked at her, eyes wide behind his glasses. “Any reason for the
hostility? I’m helping you out here, you know.”
She blew out a long
breath. “No, just seems like people here are a little jumpy.
Receptionist gave me some crap about what I was doing here. Asked to
log the investigation.”
Tom’s eyes narrowed.
“Really? And you told her it was for Totti?”
“Better make sure to
get something on record then.” He went back to work at the
“I’m sure I’ll
get you something,” she said. “Anyway, this is all coming from a
surveillance op last night. Birthday party for Geno Totti at The
Velvet. Bunch of mobster types there. Should have been watching
someone else, though.”
“And this is the part
where you tell me who.”
“Landon Tatum. Guy
freaking walked in like it was natural and he was there to have a
hell of a time.”
“Holy shit.” He
stopped typing again. “That’s a rough spot for a guy like him.
Think he was slumming?”
She shrugged. “Maybe.
Big issue is now he’s missing. Cops don’t know yet. Document my
firm drafted says I have forty-eight hours to find him before the
police are notified.”
“Other than me,” he
said with a smirk.
Tom had always loved a
good secret. Even if his line of work had been different than Kevin
and Kristina—especially Kevin—that, at least, was a weakness they
She locked eyes with
her baby brother. “I don’t need to say—”
“You don’t,” he
said, shaking his head slowly. “Lips are sealed on this end.”
“I mean it.”
They both sat there for
a minute before Tom remembered himself and went back to his keyboard.
He tapped the keys quickly, programming the pharm that was about to
go into her arm.
It had been the big
breakthrough in pharmaceuticals, twenty years ago. The ability to use
nano-chips to synthesize pharmaceuticals on a molecular level.
Combined with concurrent advances in scientists’ understanding of
the brain, the result was the ability to create finely-graded effects
on people’s minds through the magic of chemistry.
said, after another few moments. He moved away from the keyboard and
over to a shelf against the wall. “Just going to need to get the
CAP on you for a minute and then we’ll stick an IV and have you set
She settled back on the
doctor’s table. Tom came over with what looked like a winter hat
and put it on her. The CAP, or Cerebral Activity Placement device,
contained a bunch of little sensors stitched into the fabric of a
garment people could wear comfortably on their head. It let the
operator do some fine-tuning on a pharm before injecting.
Tom returned to his
desk. After a few more key strokes, she heard a humming from a
machine behind her that signaled the pharm was being synthesized. Her
brother stood up again.
“Alright,” he said,
walking over. “Hold your arm out and we’ll get you set up with
She did as he asked. “I
don’t understand why you can’t put this thing in a pill or
something,” she muttered, as he readied the line. “You would
think by now we would be over needles.
“Too hard to control
intake level,” Tom said. “And frankly not worth it.”
She closed her eyes as
he expertly found a vein in Kristina’s left arm. A small pinch, and
then he backed away. She kept her eyes closed.
said, as he headed back to his desk. “You’re going under in five.
I’ll keep an eye on your vitals.”
She took a deep breath.
She exhaled after a few
seconds and opened her eyes. A gauzy, low-lit room surrounded her.
Brushed metal lockers dotted bubble-pink walls, with a few black
chairs scattered around. She was in the dressing room. A digital
clock projected on the wall read 1:00 in icy blue digits.
Tom had dropped her in
As she took in what was
happening a bout of nausea rose up in her stomach, then into her
throat. This was Recall.
She’d always hated
the dissociated sensation of the pharm, ever since she’d had to
take it for her first case when she was eighteen. Her head felt like
she’d dunked it underwater and then started trying to watch a movie
slowed down just a little bit. The movie was actually her memories.
Very specific memories. All kinds of déjà vu.
She pushed her stray
thoughts away and tried to focus. Her last-night’s-self was
checking out her look for the night. Red wig, epic amounts of
makeup, and a skimpy black dress provided by the club—all straps
and sequins, coming down to just a couple inches below her butt.
Jeez, her thighs
were...maybe a little too much muscle? Maybe it was the lights. The
pushup bra she’d been wearing made her boobs look pretty great, at
least. Guess that was the idea.
She exited the dressing
room a moment later.
technically stripping, just handing out drinks. Teddy—the manager
of the place who was helping her out thanks to a favor he owed from
back when she worked for her brother Kevin’s security company—had
helpfully called the job “drink wench work.” In case she got any
crazy ideas about this being something respectable.
It was crazy how men
found ways to be shitty sometimes. People in general, really, but
especially men. Or at least strip club owners.
From the dressing room
she made her way to the bar to pick up a tray of drinks and from
there out to the private lounge. The room was still empty, just as
she’d remembered. She circled around, hugging the wall.
The grungy decor lent a
dark, dated look. Velvet curtains hung down from exposed steel beams,
with the walls behind a treated aluminum that maintained a good sound
while looking like the inside of a shipping container. The tables
were lacquered black wood, each of them containing an inset that
popped up with recreational pharms of both the stim and X variety. To
one side of the room, there was an area for the guest of honor
complete with three red leather arm chairs and a crystal tumbler of
cognac. The leather even looked real.
walked to the front of the room, balancing gracefully on very high
heels as the first guest arrived. Then another bout of nausea washed
over her, fogging her mind. Her eyes had to be lying.
Landon Tatum had just
entered the room.
This was wrong. He’d
come in later, she knew it. Fifteen minutes before the birthday boy,
maybe twenty. There had been more than a dozen people there. Even
Fordelli, the man she had come to watch, had arrived first. She’d
been watching very carefully and this wasn’t the kind of thing
she’d forget. It was impossible.
He wore a black suit,
black shirt and a silver tie. That wasn’t right either. But the
clean-cut, brown hair, the thin-lipped mouth, the dark eyes, they
were as she’d remembered. He had sharp cheek bones with a slightly
crooked nose that looked like it had been broken in a fight once and
never fixed. It was strange for a scientist to not also be a pretty
She breathed shallowly.
This was wrong.
She watched herself
approach to offer him a drink. Then the next guest came in, to the
right of where her eyes had been focused.
Tatum again. Sharp
cheeks. Slightly crooked nose. Dark, perceptive eyes.
Another black suit,
black shirt, but this time a blue tie. She flicked her eyes between
the two of them. They were both there. She was seeing two of him.
Her stomach dropped.
Something had happened. Her Recall was wrong.
What the hell was going
on? Even for Recall, she felt terrible. Had Tom messed up somehow?
Was she hallucinating? Too much stress and not enough sleep? How did
she abort a Recall, anyhow? She’d never needed to before, but if
there was ever a time this was it. Tom had to see her vitals were
Like being stuck in a
bad dream, she continued to watch her previous night. They came in
packs. Some black suits, some with pinstripes, some with colorful
ties, but all versions of the same man. A clone army of
model-handsome billionaire descending on her. She wished again she
could wake up.
How was she going to
learn anything when everyone looked like him? Especially when it was,
of all people, someone she was finding herself strangely attracted
Reeling, she surveyed
the scene again, trying to keep her mind clear. No sense in feeling
sorry for herself. If she was stuck here she was going to make the
best of it.
When she looked more
closely, there were differences. The skin, the face, the
outfit, those were all the same, but the builds—weight, height,
posture—were slightly different. They weren’t quite clones. More
like a blend between Landon’s build and that of the original body.
Or rather, a whole bunch of different bodies.
The postures in
particular were different. She had noticed this before, but it had
never stood out so much as when everything else looked almost exactly
the same. The arch of the back, the weight on one foot or the other,
the lean. There was information there, if she could just remember who
it was attached to and keep all the people at the party straight in
She was just there
waiting for one man. If she could identify and keep track of him, she
could deal with the hallucinations when she came out of Recall.
The next ten minutes
was more of the same. Guests continued to filter in, all very
slightly misshapen versions of the same. Eventually, a larger, more
portly version came into the room, wearing a silver suit with a black
bow tie. That would be Fordelli, the man she had attended the party
to watch. He was immediately preyed upon by a very aggressive, very
tall brunette stripper. So aggressive, she wondered if she shouldn’t
look into the woman a little more.
Because Fordelli had
been her intended focus on the night, it was where her eyes had been
focused. Meaning the room around was slightly blurry. It was one of
the frustrations with Recall: you could only work with the sensory
detail available to your brain. If your eyes hadn’t focused on
something before, you couldn’t reverse that in Recall. You just had
Because of this, people
who knew they were going to have to do a Recall after an event
trained themselves to shift their focus around frequently, but she’d
yet to become very proficient at that trick. She would have to work
on that in the future.
A few minutes later,
everyone in the room had their attention shift at once, including her
last-night’s-self, as if they were following a stage direction.
Then she saw him.
Landon Tatum entered
the room wearing no coat, and the sleeves of his white shirt were
rolled up to reveal a watch that probably cost as much as her
apartment. The shirt was paired with closely tailored midnight blue
slacks that accentuated his long, thick legs.
When had he gotten that
muscular? Had she just not paid attention before? She tended to
prefer muscular, working class guys she met at the gym when she let
herself think about guys at all. Here was this guy who worked in an
office all day and he had a serious ass on him.
She caught her breath
in Recall. Focus.
Even when everyone else
in the room looked like some version of him, he stood out easily. His
posture signaled ease with the world around him, as if it only
existed with his permission. Vivid, controlled expressions met
everything he took in.
His smile lit up as he
entered the room and was approached by a pair of party guests, both
of them eager to please. Near-clones or not, nobody else in the room
had anywhere near his gravity.
A moment later her
last-night’s-self had been back to focusing on Fordelli and the
brunette stripper. Tatum became a blur at the periphery of her
She kept an eye on that
blur, though, as the night progressed. Watched him move from
near-clone-guest to near-clone-guest, politely turning down multiple
strippers’ attempts to get him into a private booth. A skeptical
smile, those dark slashes of brows arching up, and they would leave.
It was like telepathy.
The party shifted
again. She wracked her brain; this had been when Totti had arrived.
Guests came over to greet him; performers came over to have the first
crack at giving him a lap dance. As she drifted over with her drink
tray, she tried to keep her eye on the blur of the real Tatum.
A stripper in a pink
wig approached him and said something to him at the group’s
periphery. His brows arched and he gave her a quick nod. Then she was
gone like the others.
became shallow, each breath ending high in her chest. That had been
different. She cursed silently—that is, she thought of a curse—as
she watched herself run out of drinks and go back to the bar for
more. What had that been between Tatum and Ms. Pink? She would need
to keep an eye on her as well.
When she came back from
the bar and began circling the room again, everyone had shifted into
a new configuration. The brunette stripper was still in the corner
with Fordelli, who seemed to have not moved even when Totti the
birthday boy came into the room. But other than that, everything had
changed. Three men occupied the leather chairs in the guest of honor
area, with one man—she presumed it was Totti—getting a two girl
lap dance right there in front of everyone. A couple of men in the
area laughed. Someone in the corner lit up a cigar—something
technically illegal. Nobody batted an eye as the pungent scent of the
old world filtered around the room.
Tatum approached in the
maelstrom of the party and came to a stop in front of her. She winced
inwardly as she remembered what was about to happen.
“Can I offer you a
drink?” she asked, raising her tray up to him.
His brows shot up, and
she got lost in his dark, searing eyes. Eyes like black holes, with a
source so hot the heat still, somehow, escaped.
He cracked a small
smile. “You can, thank you.” And he took one from her, but did
not turn away. Nor did she. She couldn’t. Last night or now.
Keeping his eyes on
hers, he took a brief sip of the champagne. “Have I seen you
She shook her head. “I
don’t believe so, Mr. Tatum.”
Even knowing it was
coming, her breath caught in her throat. Listen to that. Mr.
Tatum. Like she was a nervous English servant. What was the
matter with her? Her brothers would have laughed up until they cried.
Hell, Anna would have laughed in her face.
“You know my name.”
It was a statement, not a question.
licked her lips and shrugged. “I suppose so.”
“That seems a bit
unfair.” He leaned forward almost imperceptibly, closing the gap
between them so that she caught the briefest trance of his scent. She
was more into this than she wanted to admit. “What’s your name?”
here—thankfully—she’d loosened up a bit. She said
the words in her head as she heard them aloud. “Do you want my
stage name or my real one?”
That wasn’t a bad
line. She’d snapped out of it quickly enough, anyway. Tatum smiled
full-on now, and the effect was half charming, half-titillating. “I
didn’t realize the women wearing your outfit got on stage.”
“Not tonight,” she
bluffed, her voice low and throaty. She’d really been getting into
it, hadn’t she? More people needed to watch themselves flirt in
Recall to see how ridiculous they were. “But maybe if you come back
another night you can see me up there.”
“Is that so? You
know, I don’t make my way to this club often. Do you do private
She bit her lip. “I
do a lot of things, depending on how badly a man wants it.”
Kristina thought. She hoped Tatum didn’t recognize her from this
night whenever they met again. If they met again.
His eyes narrowed as
the corners of his mouth turned up. Then they left to look at
something over her shoulder. It was only an instant, but something
shifted in him. She saw it even more this time.
“We’ll see how
badly I want it later,” he said, raising his glass. “For now,
maybe I’ll see you in a little while for another drink. At the very
least. In the meantime you can decide which name to give me.”
“I’ll do that,”
He turned away and was
She breathed in and out
Her eyes had focused on
Fordelli again at the time, but she paid attention to Tatum in the
Recall as best she could. He popped in and out of the edge of her
vision, but even when he was mostly a blur she was able to keep track
of him pretty well.
After another few
minutes, Ms. Pink approached him, her hands by her side. Their bodies
brushed together, with Ms. Pink’s hand right at pocket level. It
rose. It was out of focus, but that had looked like a handoff.
Tatum walked away and
patted his pocket once. Kristina smiled inwardly. He may be the
richest man in Chicago, but he wasn’t the smoothest operator when
it came to street moves. At least, not for someone who knew what to
look for. Someone trained. Come to think of it, anyone else in the
room who had been watching probably noticed the same thing. She
scanned her vision quickly to see if it looked like anyone was paying
particular attention to Tatum, but nothing jumped out.
A little while later,
Fordelli left, and Kristina followed. She felt a tug at her shoulders
as she was following. She was slipping out of Recall.
As she came out, she
had one thought on her mind. She needed to talk to Ms. Pink as soon
as possible. This was the kind of lead she’d been looking for.
She opened her eyes and
stared at the ceiling, the disorientation of coming out of Recall
swirling in her head. Whatever had happened in there with her
hallucinations, it hadn’t stopped her from doing her job. She’d
found the drop: Ms. Pink. This was it.
over-bright lights of Tom’s office caused her eyes to water. She
rubbed them and sat up, trying to adjust. The IV from her Recall was
still in her arm, the CAP still on her head. The spot where the
needle went into her arm felt tender and sore. It would probably be
sore the rest of the day.
After a few seconds her
sense of reality came back and she turned toward Tom’s desk to ask
him if he could take it out.
Sitting where Tom had
just been was Tatum. Again. But wearing the white lab coat that Tom
had just been wearing moments ago. It even still had Tom’s nametag
at the breast pocket.
A cold dread crept
through her stomach. She gasped. It was still happening.
“What the hell is
going on?” she cried. Her heart was absolutely throbbing in her
Tatum shot up out of
his seat, his eyes opened wide with panic. “Jesus, Kris, keep it
down. What’s the matter?”
Her breath came in
short bursts. Her mind was on a runaway treadmill, running through
one thought again and again and again: it was happening outside of
Recall. Whatever had happened hadn’t worn off when she woke up.
“Tom,” she gasped.
“It’s Tom, right?”
nervously, his face white as if he’d seen a ghost. It felt like she
was watching herself watch him. Even worse than the effects of the
Recall pharm on a Recall newbie. Her heartbeat pounded in her ears
like soldiers marching in step, its reverberations coursing from her
chest to her throat to her temple.
She took a deep breath,
trying to get a grip. “I think I’m hallucinating, Tom.”
Her voice was unsteady,
and she wasn’t even sure if she’d actually said the words or just
imagined she said them.
It was a relief when
she got a response. “What do you mean?”
She looked around her
brother’s office, saw all the equipment. The IVs. The pharms in
their bags and metal canisters. Everything so sterile. Messy, but
just as Tom had left it. This was real. She wasn’t dreaming all
this, as much as she wished she could feel a tug at her shoulders and
wake up. This was something she would have to deal with.
“In the Recall,”
she said breathlessly. “They all looked like Tatum.”
“What do you mean,
“The men,” she said
impatiently. She caught herself and reigned in her tone. Good lord,
she was wound tight. “At the party. Strip club. They all looked
like Landon Tatum.”
He ran his hand across
his face, a gesture characteristic of her brother that looked strange
when it was Tatum. ”Shit.”
She stared at him,
trying very hard not to panic.
His eyes flew around
his office quickly, seemingly searching for what tool to use next. He
settled on his tablet and took a deep breath.
“Okay,” he said.
“When did this start?”
She closed her eyes
again and tried to steady herself against the dizziness that was
starting to settle in. “Maybe this morning?”
Her voice sounded
distant to her even coming from her own mouth. Still, she pressed on.
“I thought I was just
imagining things,” she continued. “It came in full force during
the Recall, though. For sure. I don’t know why.”
He went to his tablet
and began tapping and swiping silently. She opened her eyes and
watched, trying to come to terms with what was happening. Something
had gone terribly wrong somewhere, and she had gotten caught up in
Tom cleared his throat,
stirring her from her thoughts. She blinked and turned toward him.
“You said there were
a bunch of mobster types there, right?” he asked.
She nodded. “Yes.”
Another deep breath.
“Okay,” he said. “Might be a street pharm. Might be an implant
they hit you with without you knowing. I’m going to need to take a
vial of blood from you and then get it analyzed. Could be a while
before I’m done. There’s definitely been some run with some
illegal pharms lately that exhibit characteristics similar to what
you’re describing to me now.”
Kristina closed her
eyes briefly, trying to come to grips with Tom’s words. It wasn’t
just an after-effect from the Recall. Tom’s computers hummed as she
thought. The ventilation fans turned on, choking to life. She
wondered what kind of aeros the management ran in a police department
building. Maybe nothing.
She’d been drugged or
implanted, as unlikely as that seemed. Now she was talking to her
brother in Landon Tatum’s skin, when she was supposed to be
searching for Landon Tatum. If she didn’t find Tatum, she was going
to lose her job.
Someone was seriously
messing with her and making it personal. Her jaw hardened. That
wasn’t something she appreciated.
With a deep breath, she
opened her eyes saw her brother was in front of her. She gave him a
short nod and held her arm out. Tom, in Tatum’s skin but with her
brother’s characteristic careful, quick motions, took a few drops
of blood from her other arm in seconds. She barely registered any
feeling at all.
“Did you find
anything in the Recall?” he asked, as he took the vial away.
“Anything that will help, even with this...handicap?”
“Kind of.” She bit
her lip. “I need to go back and talk to one of the performers.”
“Stripper, you mean?”
She glared at him.
“Yeah. Or maybe drink girl, I’m not sure. Does that bother you?”
“Just curious.” He
shifted on his feet. “Well, let me just recommend driving and
staying away from crowds if you can. If it’s the kind of pharm I’m
thinking it is, the disorientation can get nasty. Might lose your
“I haven’t had
“I’ll do my best,”
she said, already contemplating the train ride she was going to have
to take. Hopefully it wouldn’t be as bad as he said. “Just let me
know when you have more info, okay? And come up with something good
He blinked and nodded
solemnly. “Of course.”
They were everywhere.
She looked around the
train from where she stood, near the doors, and gripped the vertical
pole running from floor to ceiling tighter. The world went
topsy-turvy. Nausea washed over her, stronger even that it had been
in the lab. It was all she could do not to throw up.
So many versions of
Landon Tatum. All around her. Sometimes, it felt like he was closing
in. She’d never felt claustrophobic before this moment, but now it
It was worse than it
had been in Recall. She’d never had to think about the gender split
on the average Red Line train in Chicago before, but here it was
presented starkly. So many men. In clumps, it seemed. Dressed in
monochrome suits or brashly colored street clothes. Reds, yellows,
greens and blues. Strong, primary colors, garish patterns. Too many
logos for her to deal with in that moment.
A man by the other
train car door wore a white tank top and green shorts that showed off
the lean muscle of Tatum’s legs. It felt like a violation to see
his body like that without his permission. This was going to be
A fresh wave of
sickness crashed over her body and she looked down at her black
shoes. Tom had been right. She absolutely, positively should have
taken a cab.
Finally, the train came
to her stop and she hurried off. The station wasn’t much better. A
big crowd surging for the exit. She stopped to look at a Tatum
Pharmaceuticals ad and breathe in the calming aeros, just for a
minute while the crowd thinned out a little bit. The ad was for
headache relief. Sounded pretty good right about now. She wished her
situation could be fixed by just taking a pill. For all she knew,
maybe Tom would tell her it could. She didn’t know how long she
could put up with these hallucinations.
Once her stomach had
settled and the crowd wasn’t quite as overwhelming, she left the
soothing pharms of the ad and exited the station. As she popped up
into the relatively fresh air at street level, she looked up at
Chicago’s strong, powerfully designed buildings and began to settle
Cars flew by almost
silently, both those driven by humans and the automated cabs that had
been introduced a few years ago. A wave of some enticing aeros wafted
her way from a bakery door, promising her fulfillment if she would
just come in and have a croissant. Maybe she just smelled the
croissant and attached that feeling to the aero. It was hard to
separate sometimes. Either way, she could practically feel its flaky,
buttery goodness in her mouth.
She hurried away and
the feeling was gone. As she walked, she dug her comm device out of
her pocket and called her brother Kevin.
Kevin had come back
from the marines when she was fifteen after leaving six years
earlier. He was nine years older than her, the lone offspring of her
dad’s previous marriage. Technically that made them half-siblings,
but Kevin was the closest thing to a role model she’d ever had in
her life. Without him, she would have been even more lost than she
ended up being.
When she graduated high
school, she began working for him as a private investigator while she
went to community college to take classes toward her degree in
criminal justice. She’d begun working for him full-time after she
graduated, until she’d managed to land the job at Dunn-Brantley.
That had been five years ago, to the month.
He picked up within
seconds. “My favorite sister,” he said, though she could hear the
tension in his face. “Everything alright?”
“Not really. I was
hoping you could look into something for me.”
She licked her lips and
watched another version of Tatum walk by, this one wearing a bright
red tank top with bright white piping and navy blue, mesh athletic
shorts. Those were some seriously strapped arms he had. Good lord.
“I need to know if
anyone else was working that party I did last night,” she said,
turning away from the eye candy walking by. “Undercover, I mean.”
“At The Velvet?”
The screaming siren of
an ambulance approached as she came to the street corner opposite her
office. “Yeah,” she said loudly, plugging her other ear.
“Particularly a tall brunette. Something really weird is going on
and I’m trying to get an idea of what it is before it gets too good
an idea of me.”
“I’ll see what I
“Just keep it quiet.
I’m going to talk to Teddy in a little while.”
There was a pause on
the other end. “This too sensitive for me to drop a line to him? I
know him better. Might be a little easier for me to get what you
She considered his
proposition. He had a good point. The walk sign lit up and she
stepped off the curb and crossed the street. The screaming ambulance
and gradually the noise level returned to its previous level. “Yeah,
try that. Just keep it vague, okay?”
“Won’t be hard with
what you’ve given me. I’ll be in touch.”
The call over, she
continued her walk back to the office, doing her best not to look at
people’s faces. It was hard, though, when she saw so many of a face
The city she’d lived
in her whole life felt like a different place. A different world,
even. The residue of her time in Recall wouldn’t quite leave her,
coloring everything she looked at. Even when she wasn’t seeing
near-clones of him, he seemed to be there. When she looked at a green
street sign hanging over a traffic light, or even down at her comm.
By the time she walked
into her building, past a variety of Tatums in business professional
mingling with female colleagues who looked just like they would any
other day, she was ready to spend some alone time with her tablet and
some legalese. Anything for a distraction. It had just become too
She entered her
sterile, orderly office and froze. Her entire body clenched up,
practically shriveled up from the inside. There was someone sitting
in her chair.
She was blonde, much
like Kristina, but with her hair in a short bob as opposed to
Kristina’s long waves. Her eyes were an almost impossibly bright
green, and she looked to be around sixty, though it was hard to tell
with the pharms people took these days. She sat, legs crossed,
wearing a cream business suit that stood out among the charcoals and
grays at the firm. It looked very, very expensive. Her twisted mouth
betrayed an almost comical level of exasperation.
“I was beginning to
think you would never come back from lunch,” she said, her voice
high like a tinkling bell.
herself, trying not to show her annoyance just yet. Suits that
expensive usually expected to get away with things like this. “You
must have some good reason for being in my chair. Can I help you?”
“I’m beginning to
doubt it, but you might.”
Kristina bit her tongue
and composed herself. “How about you try me?”
“My name is Jenna
Bruman,” she said, blinking so quickly she was practically
fluttering her eyes. “I’m Landon Tatum’s executive assistant,
and I called earlier today about his disappearance.”
Kristina shut the door
and rechecked her demeanor, trying to be absolutely certain she was
portraying herself as well as possible. “Hello Ms. Bruman. The
partners told me about your call. What brings you here?”
said, uncrossing and recrossing her legs. “I am absolutely shocked
you haven’t contacted me yet.”
Kristina took a deep
breath to tamp down her annoyance. “I’ve been following other
“Oh?” Her finely
plucked brows arched up. “Have they led to anything?”
Kristina held the
assistant’s gaze. “We’ll see. These things take time. Do you
have information pertinent to the investigation beyond what you gave
the partners this morning?”
Ms. Bruman pursed her
lips and ran a long blue nail on Kristina’s desk. “How long have
you been doing this, Ms. Andersen?”
“Doing what, Ms.
Bruman? Working at Dunn-Brantley?”
She waved her hand
absently, then looked away. “Investigating.”
Kristina bit her bottom
lip and tried to keep herself under control. It had been nine years,
but that really wasn’t her business. “Do you have some questions
as to my capability?”
The assistant’s eyes
flashed. “Of course not,” she said slowly.