Russell Murdoch wore a neckerchief around his neck, graying hair belying the youthful blush to his freshly shaven face. Tyler could feel the bristles on his neck and face, suspecting he was beginning to look scruffy like Magus, his alter ego in Twin Towers; although it was said that he and Magus were one and the same.
“Tyler Hackett?” queried Mr. Murdoch, his voice affecting disinterest, and his features, by turns, youthful, aged and then youthful again. It was the interplay of shadow and light that dictated Tyler’s perspective.
“I can’t say I’ve ever heard your name,” continued Mr. Murdoch, gesturing Tyler up the front steps toward a double door flanked by glowering footmen of indeterminate age, garbed in frilly shirts, pantaloons and buckled shoes. “Although you look familiar. I apologize if I’ve been remiss in remembering you.”
“We’ve never met,” answered Tyler, setting foot inside the palatial home. “I’m not from here.”
There was too much of everything in Mr. Murdoch’s home, too many paintings competing for space on the walls, too many Grecian urns and too many replicas of Roman statuary.
Observing Tyler’s astonishment at the unabashed opulence, Mr. Murdoch beamed.
“I’m afraid I’ve never been able to say no to beautiful things,” he noted before scrutinizing Tyler’s face.
“I’m certain we’ve met before.”
“You may have met my father,” answered Tyler, approaching one of the paintings, a view of pristine landscape vivid enough to resemble a window to the past.
“Your father?” answered Mr. Murdoch with a smirk. “How old do you think I am?”
“I couldn’t say,” answered Tyler, turning to realize they were being followed by the men he saw at the gate, hands shoved deep into the pockets of their dark double-breasted suits, hats angled over their eyes.
“You can’t or you won’t?” asked Mr. Murdoch with an almost childish chuckle.
“I really don’t know,” replied Tyler, wondering how best to address the issue of releasing Laurel when there was no telling how Mr. Murdoch would react.
“But I know you,” said Mr. Murduch, his expression brightening as he appeared to remember something.
“Your name’s North or … don’t leave me dangling …”
“That’s it,” said Mr. Murdoch gleefully, like an old man finding joy in a youthful pastime. He gestured for Tyler to take a seat in an armchair in a study, filled like all rooms, with priceless artifacts hauled from distant travels. Books were arranged in rows behind ornate casements.
“Apparently my father looked just like me and others have mistaken him for me,” answered Tyler, falling back into an oversized chair as Mr. Murdoch sat on a small stool across from him.
“West McCauley,” mused Mr. Murdoch. “I never did like him. He couldn’t be trusted. Can you, I wonder?”
“Yes,” answered Tyler instinctively, wishing his father had left a better impression on those who knew him.
“Then tell me what brings you here.”
Mr. Murdoch was grinning. Tyler saw no option but to reveal his purpose. Then again, he couldn’t think up another excuse for wandering his estate.
“I lost someone,” explained Tyler.
“Oh,” replied Mr. Murdoch, his gaze downcast and sullen. “I’m sorry to hear that.”
“I didn’t know her that well, but it’s like I always did,” said Tyler, venturing to make sense of his visit to Two Cities. Did he feel anything for Laurel, or was it that he wished it all meant something?
“She vanished and I’ve been looking for her ever since,” finished Tyler.
Mr. Murdoch nodded pensively, suddenly grabbing Tyler by the knee before brightening. “Then we should help you find her. You came to the right place. Not many would understand, but I do.”
“I didn’t know where else to go,” said Tyler, relieved that his vague explanation proved sufficient; only, Mr. Murdoch’s hand rested too long on his knee for comfort. Mr. Murdoch turned, revealing an elderly visage and hunched physique before standing, youth once again surging through plump, unblemished hands, giving a youthful blush to his unshaven cheeks.
“Well, you knew well enough to come to me,” said Mr. Murdoch, smiling cheerfully as if he’d found a long-lost friend. “Come,” he said, standing and offering Tyler his hand.
Tyler accepted Mr. Murdoch’s hand and climbed to his feet.
“You can stay here until we find her,” said Mr. Murdoch, walking to the open door. “Do you prefer a view of Old City or the ocean? Ordinarily I don’t offer a choice, but seeing I currently have no company …”
“Old City …” suggested Tyler, realizing he was curious to see it from afar.
“Very well,” replied Mr. Murdoch, gesturing to a handsome young man in frilly shirt and pantaloons who backed into the shadows, which were plentiful amongst the indoor plants, imposing replicas of antique statuary and the unexpected alcoves arrayed around the central foyer. Mr. Murdoch gestured to a hallway behind the grand staircase, cathedral lighting revealing curiously decorated stain glass windows on the upper levels.
“Are you a collector, Mr. … what is it again?”
“Hackett,” answered Tyler, thinking of his father. Mr. Murdoch didn’t speak well of him, but at least he could be relied upon for an objective evaluation.
“How did you know my father?” asked Tyler.
“He helped me on occasion, or that’s to say he offered his help while doing the opposite. I suspected he was a flatworlder because he had no real purpose here, claiming many skills but proving useless.”
Tyler was disappointed by Mr. Murdoch’s contempt for West. He would have preferred his father a scoundrel than a deadbeat; although perhaps there was more to Mr. Murdoch’s disapproval.
Tyler glanced back to find he was no longer being followed by the men in suits; that, or they were still lurking in the shadows that appeared to shroud ever hollow and every turn in what was proving to be something of a labyrinth, padlocked doors lining hallways that forked into other hallways.
“Where are we going?” asked Tyler.
“You’re not from here, are you?” asked Mr. Murdoch, stopping and turning, his eyes narrowed as he studied Tyler. “It’s alright. You can tell me. I know this world better than most and I know when someone doesn’t belong here.”
“I’m not from here,” admitted Tyler, wondering what his admission might portend.
“And when one of you loses something, you come here to find it because this is where lost things go, after all?”
Mr. Murdoch neglected to answer Tyler as he walked to a door and opened it.
“I remember where everyone stayed. Your father stayed here when he was on my staff, but that was only for a month.”
Tyler approached the entrance to the room, a sliver of light through a window revealing a dusty room, a mattress at one end and an antique cabinet on the other. A faded black suitcase rested against a bed post.
“His replacement was given a different room,” continued Mr.Murdoch. “I expected West to claim his belongings, but he never did. He disappeared.”
Tyler approached the suitcase, lifting it to the bed. It wasn’t heavy.
“What isn’t in the case is hanging in the closet,” noted Mr. Murdoch, his finger grazing a cabinet surface to reveal a filthy finger.
“It’s not locked. And you can return everything to him; although I don’t know why he sent you when he could have retrieved it himself.”
“I didn’t come for this,” explained Tyler.
“It doesn’t matter. It’s yours. In return, I’ll ask you to indulge me in one thing. I’d like you to wear his clothes, until tomorrow.”
Tyler wasn’t expecting the request and didn’t know whether to chalk it up to a wealthy man’s eccentricity or to be alarmed.
“There was some unfinished business between us,” added Mr. Murdoch with a less-than-reassuring smile. “But I must put old thoughts to rest; curious that you of all people should come to my door.”
“You’d like me to wear his clothes?” asked Tyler for confirmation, the suitcase opening to reveal a selection of Lacoste shirts, slacks, boxers and dress socks. Everything seemed neatly pressed and washed. There was also a comb, a box containing cufflinks and a watch with a leather strap. What could have compelled his father to leave in such a hurry?
Mr. Murdoch produced a suit from the closet and laid it on the bed.
“They’re yours now. Wear what you wish. Leave your clothes out and my staff will wash them for you. I hazard to guess you haven’t changed them in days.”
Tyler suspected he smelled, so there was something to be said for freshly laundered clothes. He wasn’t his intention to spend the night, although he was willing to accept Mr. Murdoch’s hospitality on the off-chance Mr. Murdoch could help locate Laurel.
“Thank you,” said Tyler, examining his father’s suit on the bed. It was finely made. He imagined his father cut a very elegant figure.
“Dinner is at five,” continued Mr. Murdoch, “Which should give you plenty of time to freshen up. I trust you’ll find the bathroom facilities satisfactory.”
Tyler turned to ask the way back, only to find himself alone in the room, the front door slightly ajar.
He didn’t feel comfortable wearing his father’s clothes. It smacked of pretense and Tyler wanted to be acknowledged on his terms, not as a reflection of someone else. But it was a shower he needed, and the bathroom, although cramped, was everything he needed, old-fashioned lotions, pomades, ointments and shaving equipment prepared as if he’d been expected. Or had Mr. Murdoch been expecting West’s return all this time?
Mr. Murdoch appeared no older than thirty and yet he’d known Tyler’s father. Why did nothing appear as he expected it should?
The water in the shower came as a relief, the aromas of the soaps and lotions making every breath feel like a luxury. Was it Mr. Murdoch’s purpose to ensure the sweetest-smelling guests and staff?
Tyler might have forgotten he was dressing himself in his father’s clothes if he hadn’t caught his reflection in the bathroom mirror. He barely recognized himself with his hair molded tight to his scalp and his face freshly shaven. There was something timeless about the casual suit, a classic cut that could have suited just about any year of the twentieth-century.
Tyler couldn’t remember taking such pride in his appearance; and now he appeared to be a man of singular purpose. Was this what it felt to be his father, gazing at his own reflection? Was this what it felt to be a man of ordinary features believing himself strikingly handsome?
There was a knock at the door. Tyler opened it to find a young man in livery.
“I’ve come for your clothes,” replied the footman who entered the room without invitation and began collecting Tyler’s discarded clothing.
“When will I get those back?” asked Tyler.
“Before morning, I expect,” answered the footman, his gaze direct but expressionless. “Welcome back Mr. McCauley.”
“I’m not …” began Tyler, but there was no purpose to correcting the footman who’d already turned on his heels and stepped outside.
Tyler turned back to the room. There was a small card on the pillow. Retrieving it, he held it to his face. A handwritten message read: “Remember.”
Remember what? There was nothing on the other side of the card. He considered the possibility that Laurel left him the card, but, then again, how could she have expected him in this room; and wasn’t his grandmother allegedly responsible for the notes on the map that guided him to Two Cities in the first place?
Tyler realized that words were of little use, when all that mattered was finding Laurel. He resolved to make his intentions clear, that Laurel would return home with him and that there could be no talking of keeping her against his will, if the accusations about Mr. Murdoch were even true. Maybe Mr. Murdoch was seeking Laurel just as he was, and maybe they could pool their efforts.
Tyler ventured out of the room, struggling to find his way back to the central foyer, or to find one of Mr. Murdoch’s staff to provide directions. The place seemed uninhabited, and its doors securely locked. Tyler suspected he was walking in circles, each hallway appearing the same as the last.
An open door brought him back to his room. Just above the doorframe was inscribed the word “Remember.” Approaching another door, the same word appeared above it. It was as if every room were housed with memories Mr. Murdoch refused to forget. But what was it about West that Mr. Murdoch couldn’t dismiss from his mind?
“It’s time to speak plain, isn’t it?” said Mr. Murdoch.
“Of course,” answered Tyler, unnerved yet relieved by Mr. Murdoch’s sudden appearance.
“There’s no need to pretend we’re other than we truly are.”
“I agree,” answered Tyler.
“I don’t expect you to bring Carmen back, nor do I want her back, Mr. McCauley. I have better companions, more faithful ones. And I would have remained deceived by her to this day if it weren’t for you, and for that I owe you my thanks.”
Mr. Murdoch turned to a door at the far end of the hallway, beckoning Tyler to follow. Was it better to play out the lie or to attempt a correction? Tyler was unsure what to say.
“I’d almost forgotten you,” said Mr. Murdoch, turning as Tyler approached. “But no memory is every lost for good, which is why you’re here. You were always destined to return. And so is Carmen. All in good time.”
Mr. Murdoch opened a door to a circular stairwell, his footsteps echoing as he guided Tyler down two flights to an open doorway. A hallway opened out to the landing atop the grand staircase.
“I’d forgotten you when I first saw you outside. But by the time you joined me in the library I remembered who you were and what you’d done, taking what was never yours because you’d believed yourself entitled to it. But you were nothing, pretending to be something, entering this home as my equal only to prove yourself unworthy of me in every way. And yet you took her away.”
“It wasn’t me,” insisted Tyler, noticing three men at the foot of the stairs, their eyes concealed by hats.
“Memories don’t change,” said Mr. Murdoch with a grin. “Nor should people. And I can’t trust people who pretend to be what they’re not.”
“I’m not my father,” insisted Tyler. No two individuals were ever alike, no matter how much they may have looked alike.
“Nor am I, thank God, but that doesn’t keep me from speaking plain. And in the plainest of words, I must tell you I still hate you.”
“Whatever my father did, I’m sorry.”
“It’s not an apology I want,” said Mr. Murdoch. “What I want is for you to admit you were never my equal and that you have every reason to be grateful for what I gave you, and still you took from me.”
“I apologize for him, but I never knew him,” said Tyler before remembering his purpose.
“I came to find someone,” added Tyler. “Not my father. A woman. Her name is Laurel.”
Mr. Murdoch’s smile vanished. Reaching under his jacket, he produced a pistol, leveling it at Tyler. But before Tyler could plead for clemency, Mr. Murdoch slammed the weapon against Tyler’s face, knocking him against the wall, a foot slipping to a lower step, his balance off-center as one misstep after another sent him stumbling until his head hit the banister, then a step, and everything went dark.