While Laurel and Bandini kept pace with Mad Dog, Tyler lagged behind, distracted by the possibility of being shadowed by Murdoch. He was afraid of turning his back in any single direction for more than a few seconds.
Laurel neither saw Murdoch nor heard what he told Tyler. She was oblivious to the danger that plagued them.
“I know where you’re going,” whispered Murdoch’s voice.
Tyler turned, finding no one but suspecting that only a thin veil of time separated the two of them.
“I don’t belong here,” answered Tyler to his unseen assailant.
“And yet you cannot leave,” answered Murdoch. Tyler imagined him smiling.
“I choose what happens,” insisted Tyler.
“You don’t. I do. I choose what happens here. No one else understands the future as I do.”
This time, Murdoch appeared, his oversized tan suit limp over his bony shoulders, his hair dark brown and yet white, depending on the glare of the sunlight.
“No one understands this world as I do, no one, not the General, not the Grey Lady and not you.”
Tyler didn’t know anything about a Grey Lady or a General. All he knew was that he had no business here, now that he found Laurel.
“But they listen to me, which is all I ask from you.”
As Murdoch approached, Tyler retreated. He noted Laurel gazing back at him, some hundred yards ahead.
“I have no reason to be here, and they’ll imprison me.”
“They won’t do anything I don’t want them to do.
“Is this yours?” asked Tyler, gesturing to the sparsely populated valley.
“It might as well be for all I’ve done to ensure no one has to die, unless they deserve it. You don’t want to die, do you?”
“How will I die?” asked Tyler, not wanting an answer, yet wanting to understand Murdoch’s intentions.
“You don’t have to worry about that, not here with me. And you can have all you want. And I know how much you want Laurel. And you can have Faye too. I know where she is. Although if they’re not to your satisfaction, you need only tell me what is.”
“What do you want from me?” he asked, as Laurel beckoned him over.
“I want your happiness. You’ve always known this place, and you’ve always wanted to stay. And now you can.”
“You don’t need me.”
“I’ve worked hard to achieve a delicate balance. That’s begun to change since you arrived, but only because you aren’t prepared to surrender your feelings. Leave your pain with me and I’ll give you unmitigated joy.”
Tyler never believed promises of serenity and happiness. Only charlatans could promise what could never be given.
“Tyler,” shouted Laurel, her hands in the air. Tyler approached, turning his back to Murdoch as if to dismiss him from his mind.
“You would be wise to listen to the man they call Ozymandias,” announced Murdoch.
Tyler returned his gaze. Others had mentioned the name Ozymandias, suggesting that this demigod, or whatever he might be, would rise from the dead to right the wrongs. It was the usual promise of salvation for all, of how one man could do the impossible in defiance of suffering and pain; as if pain could be banished with good intentions.
“Who is Ozymandias?” asked Tyler.
“He who gives eternal life to all who seek it,” roared Murdoch, his face a blinding sun. Tyler covered his eyes. “And anguish to those fool enough to refuse.”
Laurel approached. “We’ve lost them now.”
Tyler turned to where he’d last seen Murdoch, surprised she didn’t notice. He felt Laurel’s hand clasping his.
“What are you looking for?” she asked.
“He’s following us,” answered Tyler.
“Of course he is. Come on.”
They broke into a jog as they crested a rise. Mad Dog and Bandini appeared to have vanished, however.
“I don’t see ‘em,” she announced flatly.
“They belong here,” replied Tyler. “We don’t. They can’t keep us here.”
“He can if he finds a place for us,” she answered, keeping a brisk pace as she and Tyler wading through the tall grass.
“There’s a place for everyone,” she said. “At least that’s what Faye told me. Someone else decides your routine. You do what you’re expected to do and you’re grateful for it. Some people don’t like what they’re given and they want more. And those with more want to keep it out of the hands of those who don’t. It’s the familiar story if you’ve read any history. No different here then back home, it seems.”
“I still don’t understand why you came here,” he remarked.
“I thought we covered that?” she asked, quickening her pace. “OK, I don’t see them at all. You’d better hope we can do this on our own.”
“How did Faye bring you here?” asked Tyler, recalling the laws against flatworlders.
“Russell was waiting for us,” she answered before Tyler caught glimpse of a small village where he expected to see downtown.
“He said he’s Ozymandias,” noted Tyler as he stepped to Laurel’s side, observing what downtown Los Angeles might have looked like a hundred and fifty years ago. He felt more secure in his ability to inhabit a prior layer of time, without layers shifting out of place. It would be wise to travel through the distant past until they were close enough to the speak-easy to avoid alerting the Blue Knights.
“Who’s that?” asked Laurel.
“I don’t know. Something that mattered once, I guess.”
“I hope you know where we are,” said Laurel, turning to him.
“We stay on the hills,” he answered.
“They couldn’t have gone far,” she said, as she scanned the hills below.
“We don’t need them,” he answered, surprised by his self-assurance. Others were bound to lead them astray. It was best to go it alone, or with no one but Laurel.
“You seem to know your way around,” she said with a faint smile.
Laurel took his hand in hers.
“I never thanked you. I hated you for waking me up, but, then again, I never wanted to sleep. I came here so I’d understand and never forget. So thank you for that.”
Tyler wasn’t expecting her appreciation and was at a loss for words.
“You think we’re awake?” he asked her as they navigated the slopes toward a broad ledge.
“Never more so,” she answered with a widening smile as she lead Tyler forward. “Do you think they’re looking for us back home?”
“Maybe,” answered Tyler, suspecting no one had noticed his sudden absence; although he couldn’t be sure how long it had been. There was no division of days in Two Cities but, rather, a flow of hours, some lit by the sun and others under shadow of moonlight.
“I didn’t have many clients yet,” she admitted. “And what family I still have is back east. I’m the perfect woman for an abduction. It’ll take days before anyone’ll realize something’s up. You missing anyone back home?”
“Not really,” he answered, wondering why he was in such a hurry to go home when he hated his life. Granted, there was the graphic novel to finish, but it was only the work he missed. He wished he could still feel the kind of love that Laurel remembered dreaming about, but love implied trust and Tyler trusted no one.
“They won’t miss us until the rent comes due,” said Laurel merrily, as if she hadn’t a care in the world; either that or she forgot the dangers they had to elude.
“You think you dreamt about this?” she asked.
“I’ve never been here before.”
“I don’t know if I want to go back, do you?” she asked.
“They don’t want us here,” he explained. “You do realize that, don’t you? They’ll put us in Twin Towers.”
“I thought you said they want us here?”
“I don’t want to be any place I can’t leave,” explained Tyler. He came by choice and he would stay by choice.
“But it’s so beautiful,” she declared, pausing to admire her surroundings, a landscape still relatively unscathed by human tools; but how soon it would change.
Laurel was the picture of contentment, despite their precarious situation. Tyler hoped there was no need for Mad Dog.
“It’s like I’ve already been here, perhaps since I was a girl,” she remarked. “Do you think we knew each other here? Perhaps we lived the same dream?”
“Maybe,” answered Tyler, remembering nothing of his dreams. But what did his dreams matter if this wasn’t a dream?
“And maybe you knew me,” she suggested, “and maybe that’s why you came to find me.”
Did he know her? It was possible, assuming Laurel experienced this world as Faye experienced it, and if Faye knew Magus.
“Or maybe we barely know each other at all,” she added. “And here we are, trying to make sense of it all.”
Tyler didn’t know what to think. He didn’t want to go home and yet he didn’t want to stay in Two Cities, the prospect of indefinite prison time still looming.
“We’d best go,” he advised, walking away. But Laurel didn’t follow, her gaze still leveled at the Los Angeles basin, or what the Los Angeles basis might have looked like when there were only a few dirt roads, before there was even one city let alone two.
Laurel nodded her agreement before catching up with him.
“No one will believe us,” she noted. This was assuming they’d even leave this place, thought Tyler.
“They don’t listen anyway,” mumbled Tyler to himself.
For half an hour, Tyler and Laurel walked in silence, woodland cover providing some assurance they might elude detection.
Tyler wasn’t expecting Laurel to stop, turn and scramble down the hillside.
“Where you going?” he howled.
“She’s nearby,” she yelled. Tyler gave chase, losing his footing as he almost tripped, his clear thoughts overcome by memories of the buildings and the cars. It was his past, and Two Cities’ future.
“Wait,” he yelled again, losing sight of her. How quickly he might find himself back where he started, only this time without the guidance of Magus.
She was passing through a tree-lined pathway, opening out onto a paved road flanked by buildings of translucent masonry and brick. He wasn’t imagining a highly developed future and, yet, here it was, the road stretching in either direction as Laurel ran left toward a drooping elm surrounded by transplanted palms, a green sign reading “Garden of Allah Villas.”
Tyler turned a corner, gazing toward an imposing home designed in Spanish colonial, red tile roofs suggesting nearby villas nestled behind lush landscaping.
“Laurel,” he yelled again, but she disappeared inside the front door. Tyler followed her inside.
The interior was dark, although a man with pomaded hair smiled at him from behind a counter. There was music from an adjoining room, the haunting chords of an organ playing something by Cab Calloway. Stepping through an arched doorway, he saw Laurel seating herself at a bar not two seats away from Faye, legs crossed and her gaze distant, just like the first night he saw her. But that was a distant memory from another world, another lifetime even.
Faye nonchalantly blew smoke circles, smoke from her cigarette billowing up to a layer of fumes that almost disguised the cramped dimensions of the room. A pug-nosed bartender made casual conversation with a heavy-set man in wrinkled suit while a musician hummed to the jarring keys on the Wurlitzer.
“I thought you disappeared,” Laurel told Faye. Tyler was impressed that Laurel found Faye so easily. Perhaps he was as adept at finding people, he wondered.
“And what did you expect me to do without the comfort of civilization, honey,” said Faye, affecting boredom as only she could, a hand smoothing her hair as she shook it loose. Noticing Tyler, she offered him an alluring gaze, a half smile inviting him to plumb the perilous depths of timeless mysteries, a siren calling an ancient mariner to his doom.
“Is this your sweetheart,” asked Faye of Tyler, “or are you looking for one?” Faye was stunning in her blouse and skirt, her hair catching what little light filtered through the blinds across the room.
Tyler turned to Laurel but Laurel’s eyes were fixed on Faye, as were all eyes in the room.
“You remember us?” asked Tyler.
Faye scrutinized him before shifting her gaze toward Laurel. “Should I know you?” asked Faye with an arched eyebrow.
“Russell Murdoch had you running in circles until an hour ago,” said Tyler, claiming the stool between Fay and Laurel.
“Are you questioning my whereabouts?” she asked with a smirk. “If you’re a knight in plain clothes, please do me the courtesy of letting me know. You want a story, I expect quid pro quo.”
“You don’t remember me? You Remember Bandini. About your height, stocky build.”
“His politics is none of my concern, nor is he. Though, frankly, I don’t see the purpose of these questions. Are you suggesting I’m in cahoots?”
“I’m not a Blue Knight,” protested Tyler. “We’re trying to get home and we might need your help.”
Laurel was standing next to Faye, a hand to Faye’s arm.
“You know me,” said Laurel softly.
Faye studied Laurel before a grin brightened her face. “Did Lula send you?” she asked. “I told her I was here before her and I’ll leave when the mood takes me.” Turning to Tyler, she whispered. “A gallant gentleman might have enticed me elsewhere. A pity.”
“You took me to Russell and left me there,” accused Laurel through her teeth.
“Better you than me,” answered Faye with a shrug before shifting her gaze to the hallway. “I don’t know what’s keeping her, but you can ask Lula when she gets back.”
“Lula?” asked Tyler, not expecting to hear the name.
“Though I’m warning you. She’s not exactly miss manners and there’s gonna be fireworks because she knows I’m standing my ground and she has no business casting me out when I was here first. Though this place is dead, so I can’t understand the fuss. A girl just needs a little peace of mind, but there’s no peace of mind with that fool still in shouting distance.”
Tyler felt Faye’s hand on his knee.
“If she warms to you,” she said sotto voce, “you can tell her you’re with me and she’ll go through the roof.”
“You remember me, right?” asked Faye.
“You should ask Lula,” answered Faye, turning her back. “She knows everyone’s business.”
“What’s your poison?” asked the bartender of Tyler.
“Scotch,” he answered before remembering he had no cash. He turned to Laurel, gesturing for her to following him.
“We can’t trust these people,” he whispered, once out of earshot of Faye.
“I can’t leave her,” said Laurel.
“Either she doesn’t remember you or she’s lying. In either case, it does you no good. But we don’t need them.”
Laurel shook her head, her gaze turned to Faye.
“She told me,” she murmured to herself.
Tyler considered the possibility that this version of Faye predated the version that lured Laurel to Two Cities, time layers offering multiple versions of everyone. But rather than give credence to a theory, it was better to leave.
“We should hurry,” he said, gesturing to the lobby. Grabbing her arm, he pulled her close, but she yanked free, angrily returning to Faye to vent her mounting rage.
“You?” shrieked Lula, arms at her hips as she stepped from the shadows. He would have walked out the door if only it didn’t mean abandoning Laurel to the lies of a world that didn’t know itself.