Tyler awoke to a drumming inside his head, skin stretched painfully tight over a pocket of blood on his scalp.
He was no longer inside the house, broad trees and tall grass suggesting a more distant location. Sitting up, he was overcome with a rush of vertigo.
“That didn’t go too well,” boomed a familiar baritone. Tyler turned to find Mad Dog seated nearby, his back turned.
“Where are we?” asked Tyler.
“You forget already?” said Mad Dog, clambering to his feet. “They must have worked you over pretty good.”
“And they locked you in a room, which is where you’re at, only you don’t have to stay there, do you?”
Mad Dog had peeled back the layers of time. How quickly Tyler forgot that movement wasn’t just a matter of geographic placement.
Tyler attempted to get to his feet, but Mad Dog’s hand to his shoulder urged caution. “You don’t have to go nowhere yet.”
“I thought you left?” asked Tyler.
“I didn’t bring you here for the likes of him. Whose gonna speak the good word about me and my services if all my customers get locked away?”
With a flash of memory, Tyler relived the confrontation with Mr. Murdoch, the unexpectedly forceful blow knocking him to the stairs.
“Thing about Mr. Murdoch,” intoned Mad Dog, holding the quartz stone aloft, “is he’s greedy son of a bitch and he keeps what he wants. And he knows about peeling time back to hide what he don’t want no one else to see, but he don’t understand how it works. And the way I see it, he’s just as much a prisoner here as anyone else.”
“I’m a prisoner?”
“You don’t listen, do you?” replied Mad Dog with a chuckle. “You just walk away,” he added, gesturing to the fields of green and the hills beyond.
“Remember,” intoned Tyler, recollecting the words inscribed over the doors in the house, and on the card he found on his pillow. And then he remembered Laurel. She was in Mr. Murdoch’s home, trapped not in a room but in a layer of time no one else could see.
“How did you find me?” asked Tyler, wishing he understood the art of filtering time.
“You found me,” explained Mad Dog. “You go where you please. You know that. But Mr. Murdoch. He doesn’t know that about you. So find this girl of yours and get outta there. But do it quick ‘cause he’ll know if you start rummaging about from one time to the next.”
Tyler turned to find himself in a windowless room, devoid of furnishings except for a bed and a door that opened to a small bathroom. A naked lightbulb swung from the ceiling. Nearby was his father’s suitcase and, on the wall, a mirror. Tyler approached the mirror, gazing at his reflection, the bump on his upper forehead hideously large.
Opening the suitcase, Tyler found a handwritten note that read: “Remember what you did.” Was it Mr. Murdoch’s hurried scrawl? Tossing aside the note, Tyler retrieved the watch as well as a set of keys. Removing the suit, he picked a casual shirt and slacks from the suitcase and put them on. In a pocket was a card. It was an old driver’s license, West’s image in the photo remarkably similar to his own, except for West’s receding hairline.
Tyler studied his father’s license. If West were still alive, he’d need it back, along with keys to a car and home somewhere in Two Cities.
Once Tyler confirmed the suitcase contained nothing else of value, he turned to the front door, imagining a time when it was open, light fading to reveal a fully furnished room, daylight outlining the front door. On the floor sat a man, dark hair and beard framing soft features and wide eyes, his hands and cheek to the door as if he were listening for something.
The clatter of heels echoed on the outer walkway. Someone was approaching.
The man with the beard did not appear to notice Tyler’s approach, his hand tapping against the door.
“I’m in here,” he pleaded, slamming the door. The footsteps stopped.
“Can you hear me?” howled the man, climbing to his feet. “I know you can hear me.”
As the footsteps receded hurriedly, the man grabbed the door knob, fiercely pulling at the door but unable to open it.
“Hello,” said Tyler, but the man took no notice as he slumped to the floor, his disheveled clothes hung loose from his body, a stained shirt drenched with what appeared to be sweat.
Holding his head to the door, the man listened again; and as if on cue, the clatter of heels returned, growing louder until the man tapped at the door.
“I’m in here,” he pleaded, the footsteps pausing outside the door before once again receding, the man climbing to his feet to pull at the door, but to no avail.
Tyler grabbed the man’s arm, but the man failed to notice as he slid to the ground, all hope lost until the footsteps returned. It was like some kind of time loop, but the man’s arm felt real enough.
He imagined a time when the door was open, and then it was, the walls of the room freshly painted, a can of white paint resting near the wall where the bed once stood.
The man pulled free of Tyler, stumbling back, a hand protecting his eyes from the unexpected glare of daylight.
“Who in the hell are you?” growled the man.
“I was trapped in here, like you,” explained Tyler.
The man stepped to the door, listening for footsteps that didn’t return.
“What did you do?” he roared.
“You can leave,” explained Tyler. “The door’s open.”
“You sent her away,” answered the man, more aggrieved than hostile. “He promised she’d always be close.”
“Bring her back,” insisted the man, slamming the door closed before grabbing Tyler by his shirt. “Bring her back,” he yelled, grasping at Tyler as Tyler attempted to extricate himself from the man.
“She’s outside,” explained Tyler.
The man shook his head. “Not if I open the door. You scared her away, that’s what you did.”
The man fell to the floor, pressing his head to the closed door.
“She’ll open the door when she’s ready,” explained the man, his breathing heavy in the silence. “And when she does, we leave, just like he promised.”
The man’s hands clenched tight as the silence wore on. Suddenly, he slammed his hand to the door. “Faye,” he howled.”
“Faye?” asked Tyler, the word reminding him he’d never find Laurel locked in an unlit room with a madman. “Faye Rand?” he asked the man.
The man leaped to his feet, glaring with renewed hostility. “Where is she?”
“I don’t know,” answered Tyler, “but I need to find her too.”
“She doesn’t belong to you, and she doesn’t belong to Mr. Murdoch. He has no business keeping her here.”
“I’m as much a prisoner here as you,” explained Tyler. “But we don’t have to stay.”
“I’m not leaving without her,” insisted the man, scrutinizing Tyler’s face.
The man was beginning to prove himself less of a madman and more of a confederate; at least that was the hope.
“I’m looking for a friend of hers, a woman by the name of Laurel Harrington. Maybe you’ve heard of her.”
The man’s demeanor softened, his shoulders limp. “Faye has no friends,” he murmured, “no one but me. I tried to help her but there’s no telling what she’ll do. Why she came back here, I’ll never understand. But I’m not leaving without her.”
The man’s tenacity was reassuring.
“My name’s Tyler,” said Tyler.
“Joe,” answered the man, “but everyone calls me Bandini. So what’s your beef with Mr. M?”
“He’s mistaken me for someone else.”
“He doesn’t make mistakes and he doesn’t ask a question he can’t already answer himself. Did he admit this woman of yours was here?”
“I told him I was looking for someone,” answered Tyler. “I never told him her name.”
“He was probably expecting you just like he was expecting me.”
Tyler grabbed the door, Bandini leaning back as Tyler opened it. There was no one outside.
“He said I’d never see her again,” said Bandini, following Tyler from the room, a hand shielding his eyes from the light through the windows.
Tyler imagined a time when the door was locked and when Bandini was trapped inside.
He could hear tapping from inside the room, but Bandini was standing next to him. Layers of time were fusing into one.
“Is that me in there?” asked Bandini, puzzled as he reached for the door knob, but it was locked on the outside too. Faye would never have been able to open it.
And then she appeared just as Tyler remembered her, long rivulets of hair falling over her shoulders, a close fitting jacket and skirt highlighting her curves, and a pair of glasses doing little to undermine the beauty of her face. She paid the men no heed as she approached the door in her heels, pausing to listen to muffled cries from inside the room.
“I’m in here,” wailed Bandini’s muted voice. There were two Bandini’s, one trapped and the other puzzling over Faye’s disregard for her surroundings.
“Faye?” asked Bandini, his hand to her shoulder. Faye flinched at the contact, running off as if startled by something, the rapid clicking of her heels growing silent as she ran through an open door at the far end of the hallway.
Bandini turned to follow her, but Tyler blocked him. They had only to wait a few moments for her to return, entering the hallway from the same door.
“It’s her,” growled Bandini angrily, pushing Tyler away and breaking into a run. But Faye had already reappeared at the other end of the hallway. Bandini turned.
Faye approached, pausing at the door as a voice called out to her from within. Startled, she hurried past Tyler and then past Bandini as she raced toward the far door.
“What’s going on?” asked a bewildered Bandini.
“You were stuck in a loop,” answered Tyler, surprised that he was providing some answers for a change; although he had no idea what was happening. “So is she, I think.”
Bandini walked toward Tyler, in anticipation of Faye’s return.
“Whatever you did for me, do it for her,” insisted Bandini. But as Faye entered the hallway again, Bandini ran to her, grabbing her by the arms; although it did little to deter her from marching to the door and listening to the muffled voice within.
“That’s not me,” insisted Bandini, a hand to her arm. “This is me.”
Faye recoiled and darted off.
“You hear him but not me?” yelled Bandini as Faye disappeared through a door.
Tyler realized he’d have to shift time, but he’d have to take both of them with him. But before Faye reappeared, a banging noise from inside the room prompted Bandini to kick at the door knob.
“Shut up,” yelled Bandini. “You’re not me.”
A furious kicked snapped the lock and the door squeaked open, Bandini stumbling back as the Bandini inside the room gazed up from the floor, a hand over his face.
Tyler turned to find the other Bandini had vanished, the two men becoming one again.
Faye reappeared and approached the door, only this time she gazed down at Bandini, surprised to find him sitting on the floor.
“Faye?” asked Bandini as he got to his feet, his hand over her arm as if to keep her from running away.
Faye turned, puzzled even more by Tyler’s appearance. She scrutinized Tyler’s face as if trying to remember something.
“It’s alright,” assured Bandini, smiling for the first time. “We can leave.”
Faye shook her head. “Why do you follow me?” she asked Bandini before turning to Tyler. “And you. I’ve seen you before.”
“Yes. You know Laurel Harrington.”
Faye mouthed the name but registered no acknowledgement.
“I told you to leave me alone,” she said, turning to Bandini with a hand to her hip.
“You don’t want this,” said Bandini, reaching for Faye, but Faye recoiled at his touch.
“I’ve always taken care of myself,” she declared, turning on her heels. “Besides, you smell awful.”
“Do you belong to him?” asked Bandini, incensed by Faye’s defiance.
“Who?” asked Faye, stopping to level her gaze at Tyler. Something provoked a smile, and then she broke into laughter.
“You boys don’t know what you’re doing, do you?”
“Murdoch’s keeping you here,” explained Bandini, smoothing his unkept hair as if to look more presentable to Faye. “Hate me if you like but this isn’t what you want.”
“You know what I want?” replied Faye, grinning. “I want you gone. Can you do that? Can you make like a leaf and blow away?”
“Maybe you deserve this place,’ answered Bandini, sullen.
“I’ll decide what I deserve,” she answered, taking a hand to Bandini’s face. “Though I always find generous men deserving.”
She lingered, as if expecting Bandini to pull out a wallet. With a shrug, she turned and walked away.
“You’re not safe here,” said Tyler, his voice raised.
Faye turned, scrutinizing Tyler before approaching. “I remember you. You’ve been following me too. A bit far from home, aren’t you? If anyone’s not safe, it’s you. Fortunately, I can show you the way out.”
Faye turned to Bandini. “Both of you.”
“You know Laurel?” asked Tyler. The time for truth was at hand, or so he hoped. “You walked to her door.”
“You lose someone?” asked Faye, her voice lowered, as she approached Tyler with steady, seductive steps. His skin prickled as her fingers grazed his bare arm.
“I can be your Laurel if you’re feeling generous. And Mr. Murdoch doesn’t have to know. He’s always poking his nose where it doesn’t belong and he promised I could do as I pleased because pleasure is everything.”
As Faye’s other hand grazed Tyler’s outer thigh, Bandini slammed his hands against the nearest door and stormed off, exiting the hallway.
“He thinks I belong to him,” noted Faye, her hand still against Tyler’s hip. “But I can belong to you,” she added, her face close to his and her warm breath on his cheek. Noticing the bump on his head, she touched it and Tyler flinched. “What happened to you?” she asked.
Footsteps approached from the other side of the hallway. It was Bandini, seething as he muttered to himself; but seeing Laurel and Tyler gave him pause. It wasn’t their intimacy that startled Bandini, so much as their appearance.
“How did you do that?” asked Bandini.
“Do what?” queried Faye, pulling away from Tyler.
“I walked out the door and there you were,” said Bandini, glancing back.
The time loop was also a physical one, realized Tyler. To exit the hallway was to reenter it. There was no leaving it.
To test his theory, Tyler walked out just as Bandini did, turning the corner, only to return to the hallway from the other side.