Excerpt for Everywhere It's You (Pharma Series Book One) by , available in its entirety at Smashwords

EVERYWHERE IT’S YOU

C.B. Salem

Everywhere It’s You

Published by Existence Press at Smashwords

Copyright 2015 C.B. Salem

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CHAPTER ONE

The red urgency beacon that lit up over her soundproof door told Kristina that this would be bad.

She’d gotten into work early, even after a late night working at The Velvet, so 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, 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 glow 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.

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. Using the beacon made it even worse. Urgent for an investigator meant a huge pain in the ass and long hours because the alternative was shoddy work. She hated urgent.

She sighed and checked her tablet to see who had initiated the signal. It was Richard Brantley. Equal parts annoyed and concerned, she unlocked the door from her tablet.

His bald head shone under the fluorescence of the hallway, casting him in an eerie 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. The black collar on his starched up suit came up to his chin, the rest of it a sheer, uninterrupted line to the waist.

“Why did you lock your door?” he asked.

“I’m working.” she said, more coolly than she felt. “Old habit. Is everything okay?”

Brantley’s nostrils flared. People described the two name partners of Dunn-Brantley as fire and ice. Brantley was the fire. “No, I personally came to find you because everything is just as it should be. We have a situation we need to get on top of. ASAP.”

“What is that situation?”

“Victoria is in my office. Come now.”

Kristina checked her coffee mug and found it was empty. “Let me brew myself a cup of coffee and I’ll be right there.”

“I already made you a cup, and it’s getting cold.”

Resigned, Kristina followed him down the hall to his corner office, passing paralegals working quietly with what looked like plastic rings hanging from their noses. She 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.

She hated them. She hated most of the things about this place, except for the steady money. Steady money was good.

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 serious.

She took the seat next to Dunn, maneuvering the chair so she could see both partners at the same time. Brantley took his seat at the desk, opposite from Kristina and Dunn.

“So,” Kristina 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 wasn’t that bad, and waited.

Finally, Dunn cleared her throat. “We received a communication from Tatum Pharmaceuticals today. A call, in fact. It appears Mr. Tatum is missing.”

Kristina’s eyes 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. His company was Dunn-Brantley’s biggest client.

She’d seen him last night.

“Missing?” she said, her mind still catching up with her mouth. “That’s impossible!”

One of Dunn’s thin brows arched up. “Impossible?” She straightened up in her seat and put her glasses back on. “Why do you say that?”

Kristina’s cheeks 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 regarding 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 hang around there. Obviously, this morning has already been different from what I expected.”

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 sworn in front of 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 search for him on behalf of Dunn-Brantley.”

“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 hours.”

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 nuts!

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 of paranoia.

“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 their head.

“I’d better get to work then. Please have a copy of that protocol sent ASAP.”

“It’s already there,” 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 another cup.

Coffee had fallen out of favor for many 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 went.

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, just as Dunn had promised. Tatum Disappearance Protocol, June 22 2046. 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 would 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 paranoid. Something seemed off.

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. Whatever the reason, he’d wanted her.  

The beacon over her door shone, but as it wasn’t locked it opened a moment later. She looked up in time to see a bubbly mess of blonde curls pop in.

“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 table.

“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 the police?”

“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 about it.”

“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.”

“Sounds fishy.”

“Right.” Kristina 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 the party.”

Her friend’s jaw dropped again. “Landon Tatum at a strip club? And The Velvet at that?”

“Correct.”

“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 said.”

“Wow. That’s bad.”

Anna leaned back. Kristina could practically watch the wheels in her friend’s head turning.

“So back to the important stuff,” Anna said. “Did he check you out when you were doing your undercover stripper moves?”

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 door close.

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 she couldn't fix with 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 step?”

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.”

CHAPTER TWO

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 Recall.

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 on false-positive identifications along with convictions.

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 second ring.

“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 attention.

“A favor,” she said. “Set up a Recall for last night between the hours of one and three a.m.”

A pause on the other line. “Another private use of City resources?”

She rolled her eyes.

“If you’re not too busy,” she said. “It’s for an investigation. I’ll share whatever I find out with any CPD investigations.”

“What investigation would that be?”

She knew Tom probably didn’t care what this was 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.”

“Why?”

“Atlas 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 will put a bull’s eye on my ass 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?”

“Yeah. 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 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 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 Pharmaceuticals products.

“Erase Wrinkles From Within”

“Theia: For Your Career. For Your Life.”

“20/20 Vision in 20 minutes!”

All of them with TATUM written in a big, block font. The man loved his name, that was for sure.

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 unenforceable.

Foot traffic was light for downtown at this hour. Buttoned up professionals in black and gray littered the sidewalk, clashing with students and tourists in neon yellows and greens. She passed a few hackpunks who used an interface that projected a hologram screen inches from their eyes at all times, but they were few and far in between. It was a new technology, and something she didn’t care for. Made her nauseous, blending her worlds to that degree.   

After swiping her comm for entry and going down to the tracks, she got old workhorse of a train and had a quick, uneventful ride. The trains were 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 band of kids in bright sarongs playing old-fashioned Indian music and dancing Bollywood style, 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. 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 metallic. Shining, lacquered navy floor. Dead silence, save for the echoes of her footsteps. It was like a museum.

Kristina walked up to the front desk. When she was a foot away, a metallic woman’s kicked in.

“Welcome to the Chicago Police Department. Please state your business.”

This was the greeting system, creepy as she found it.

“Visiting Dr. Thomas Andersen in Pharmaceuticals.”

“Is Dr. Andersen expecting you?”

“Yes.”

“Please swipe your communications device for identification.”

Kristina did so, waving her comm over the black box on top of the desk.

“Please hold. Paging Dr. Andersen now.”

Kristina waited while the system confirmed her visit with her brother. It was strange, talking to a system without even a fake body or face to address. She just spoke to an empty desk in a place where a human receptionist doubtless used to be, like there was a ghost or something.

“Your visit has been confirmed,” the voice said. “Please consult your communications device for directions to Dr. Andersen’s office. Be advised, if you—“

“If I stray from my authorized areas I could be subject to arrest,” Kristina finished for the device. “I know.”

She walked away before she received any more lectures from the AI.

***

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. 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, but especially cleanliness.  

“Just getting your Recall set up,” he said. “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 Recall?”

She blinked. It was strange for Tom to be asking details about something like this. He wasn’t 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. 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 all shared.

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.”

“I know.”

They both sat there for a minute before Tom remembered himself and went back to his keyboard. He tapped the keys, 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.

“Alright,” Tom 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 up.”

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 fine-tune 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 the IV.”

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 found a vein in Kristina’s left arm. A small pinch, and then he backed away. She kept her eyes closed.

“Alright,” Tom 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.


CHAPTER THREE

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 perfectly.

As she took in what was happening a bout of nausea rose 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 tried to watch a movie slowed down just a little bit. The movie was her memories. 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.

She wasn’t 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.

Above it all, the pounding bass of something half-industrial, half New Organic Synth music. She didn’t like it.

Her last-night’s-self 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 boy.

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 going crazy.

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 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 to.

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 would make the best of it.

When she looked harder, 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 her head.

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 frustration 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 to deal.

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 condo. The shirt was paired with tailored midnight blue slacks that accentuated his long, thick legs.

When had he gotten that muscular? Had she not paid attention before? She preferred 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. 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 vision.

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. The industrial, grungy music continued around her.

Soon, 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.

Kristina’s breathing 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 circled 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. Two 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 before?”

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 until they cried. Hell, Anna would have laughed in her face.

“You know my name.” It was a statement, not a question.

Her last-night’s-self licked her lips and shrugged. “I suppose so.”

“That seems unfair.” He leaned forward almost imperceptibly, closing the gap between them so she caught the briefest trance of his scent. She was more into this than she wanted to admit. “What’s your name?”

And here—thankfully­—she’d loosened up. 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 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 shows?”

She bit her lip. “I do a lot of things, depending on how badly a man wants it.”

Good lord, 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,” she said.

He turned away and was gone.

She breathed in and out deeply, resetting her equilibrium. 

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 moved.

Kristina’s heart 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.

CHAPTER FOUR

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.

The sterile, 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 chest.

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?”

Tom/Tatum nodded 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, ‘they?’”

“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 it.

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 lunch.”

“I haven’t had lunch.”

“Breakfast then.”

“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 about Totti.”

He blinked and nodded solemnly. “Of course.”

CHAPTER FIVE

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 than 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 was overwhelming.

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: HITACHI. SAMSUNG. BAYER. TATUM. FORD. APPLE. BEETEL.

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 would be distracting.

A fresh wave of sickness crashed over her body and she looked down at her black shoes. Tom had been right. She absolutely 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 down.

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 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 worked for him full-time after she graduated, until she’d landed 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.”

“I’m listening.”

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 strapped arms he had. Good lord.

“I need to know if anyone else worked 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, plugging her other ear. “Particularly a tall brunette. Something 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 can do.”

“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 want.”

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 faded 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 she recognized.

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. Everywhere.

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 overwhelming.

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 thinking you would never come back from lunch,” she said, her voice high like a tinkling bell.

Kristina gathered 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 certain she was portraying herself as well as possible. “Hello Ms. Bruman. The partners told me about your call. What brings you here?”

“Desperation,” she said, uncrossing and recrossing her legs. “I am shocked you haven’t contacted me yet.”

Kristina took a deep breath to tamp down her annoyance. “I’ve been following other leads.”

“Oh?” Her 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 wasn’t her business. “Do you have some questions as to my capability?”

The assistant’s eyes flashed. “Of course not,” she said slowly.

“Good,” Kristina said, blowing by the insinuation. “Now do you have anything else for me?”

Bruman locked eyes with Kristina again before reaching into the huge purse at her feet and removing a crisp manila envelope. “This was part of the protocol Mr. Tatum established in the event of his disappearance,” she said crisply. “It was to be done personally, because I have Mr. Tatum’s utmost confidence.”

She held the envelope out to Kristina, who stepped forward, took it, and set it on her desk. “Thank you.”

Ms. Bruman waited with her hands folded in front of her. “Well? Aren’t you going to open it?”

“When I’m alone.” Kristina cocked her head and smiled. “Client confidence, of course. If anything contained in the envelope requires further assistance from you, I’ll be in touch as soon as necessary.”

Her green eyes narrowed, and Kristina braced herself for a confrontation.  Thankfully, before she could open her mouth further, Kristina’s door eased open.

It was Anna, and she was carrying two white paper bags of what Kristina guessed was lunch. Her stomach growled.

“Oh, am I interrupting?” Anna asked. She glanced quickly at Kristina, making eye contact for a second before looking back at Ms. Bruman. “I’m so sorry. I can come back.”

Kristina silently thanked whoever was up there for her friend’s interruption. “I believe Ms. Bruman was just leaving.”

Ms. Bruman stared daggers into her, but stood up from Kristina’s chair and took her purse in her hands. “Indeed I am.” She pursed her lips again. “Please don’t make me come here again, Ms. Andersen. I expect an update as soon as possible. You must know people are already growing suspicious.”

Kristina stood aside to let her through. “Of course,” she said, motioning toward the door. “I will stay in touch.”

With one last icy look, she walked through and was gone. It was like a cold chill had left the room, and the sun had begun shining down.


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