Tyler flinched as something pricked his arm.
“Steady,” said Faye, her hand holding his arm to the armrest of the sofa, a needle in her hand. She was injecting him with morphine.
He grabbed her hand before she could finish injecting him, pulling the needle from his arm as blood poured onto the floor. He grabbed the wound, holding it tight, as he stood up.
“You nuts?” asked Faye, scowling with disapproval. Nearby, Laurel slept soundly in Rodolfo’s arms.
“What did you do to her?” demanded Tyler.
“She’s happy now,” observed Faye, brushing the hair from Laurel’s eyes. “You could have been happy too,” she added.
“We don’t need to be happy here. We need to leave.”
Tyler sat next to Laurel, shaking her as if to rouse her from sleep.
“Why?” asked Tyler.
“She and I share the same dream. Taking her away won’t change that.”
“Why didn’t you tell her that?”
“I don’t have to say anything for her to understand,” explained Faye with a smile, a hand to his chest. “We know each other too well.”
“Will you help her leave?” asked Tyler.
“You can’t walk away from who you are,” she explained, pressing her body close to his, her face to his ear. He couldn’t trust her, and yet he wanted her, his hands to her arms as if to keep her close.
There were few similarities between Faye and Laurel. For one, Laurel’s features were more perfectly framed, classically beautiful from every angle. Where Laurel was fearful, Faye was daring. Where Laurel took uncertain steps, Faye walked boldly, sure of her purpose, although Tyler suspected she had no purpose but to act upon every passing whim.
To gaze into Faye’s eyes was to peer into Laurel’s, their eyes equally unfathomable. Tyler wondered if Laurel, in sleep, could see what Laurel saw, and feel what Laurel could feel. Might Laurel know his touch as his fingers grazed Faye’s arm?
As Faye pressed her mouth to his, he felt the same excitement he felt for Laurel, but was it the same? Or was kissing Faye a diminishing of all he felt for Laurel? He should have been at Laurel’s side, waking her and carrying her home, if need be.
Tyler pulled away from Faye, his gaze fixed on Laurel’s face, less perfect yet no less beautiful.
“She’s dreaming of us,” explained Faye, her hands drawn around his waist. “This is what she wants.”
“She wants to go home,” answered Tyler.
“To dream of this place again?” asked Faye, her face close to his. “This is what she always wanted.”
“But she’s sleeping through it,” observed Tyler. “If it’s a dream she wants, she can get that at home.”
“She’s happy, but she worries she might lose you.”
“How do you know?”
“Because we feel the same things,” answered Faye with the most beatific of smiles.
That was the reality of human feeling, the ecstatic moment feeling sadly perishable. Why couldn’t it be eternal?
“I can’t stay here,” he explained, suspecting that every moment he lingered would make his return home all the more impossible, assuming he could do it on his own.
“You’re safe here,” explained Faye, her hand to his arm, holding him tight. “As long as she and I are together, nothing happens unless we want it to happen.”
“Then she doesn’t need my help,” he concluded, realizing that exchanging words was not enough to get Laurel home, and that perhaps she’d found what she’d come for. She wanted the dream, and this was as much like a dream as anything he could imagine.
But Tyler wanted no dream. He wanted the truth, however painful; but how much pain would it take to ensure he forgot nothing? If he had a purpose, it was to remember his dreams, not lose himself in them.
He’d found his father, or some facsimile of him; and he saw his grandmother again, looking younger than he ever remembered. Wasn’t this more to the purpose than seeking out a woman he barely knew and who’d rather be sleeping when time was of the essence.
“If you’re here,” replied Faye, seating herself next to Laurel, “it’s not for her but for you. You wanted this and if you don’t want it you should go. I go where I please. You should do the same.”
Tyler hesitated before remembering an unanswered question.
“And I can leave this world if I want?” he asked.
Faye, eyes closed and her head resting against Laurel’s, smiled. “You know your intentions better than I do.”
Laurel breathed softly in her sleep, Faye and Rodolfo nestled against her; although it was easy to imagine them as lifeless as stone. The dream was a cage, and he would never be caged; although wasn’t Magus still caged somewhere? Even if he could leave Two Cities without his alter ego, wouldn’t that still leave him half a prisoner somewhere?
Tyler looked at the watch on his wrist. Was it his father who’d advised him to remember? And what was there to remember? He couldn’t recall.
Glancing back at Laurel, she couldn’t have appeared more content. He feared he might never see her again, but he could never enjoy her company if it wasn’t on his terms.
Tyler opened the door, refusing to look back while reminding himself to remember. There was no losing Laurel as long as he didn’t forget her.
He took the gravel path toward the central building, the driveway opening out to Sunset Blvd.
“You wised up,” said a familiar voice. He turned to find Lula smoking a cigarette near the lobby entrance.
“I’m leaving,” he announced.
“Seein’ how chummy you were all getting’, I didn’t think you’d ever leave.”
Lula took a drag from her cigarette before gazing at Tyler.
“What are you waiting for?” she asked.
Squinting, Lula noticed something near the main street. “Or it might be too late,” she muttered.
Tyler turned to find a slender man near the main road, his shadow cast across the driveway. Tyler approached. He wasn’t afraid of Murdoch, only it wasn’t Murdoch. It was his father, West.
But Tyler was barely six yards away when West turned and walked across the street, vintage Fords and Chevrolets swerving and honking.
“Dad?” he yelled as he gave chase, the street lamps as blinding as the headlamps that illuminated another misty night.
Across the street was a nondescript white-walled building with a familiar marquee: Schwab’s Pharmacy. West opened the front door and stepped inside, as several GIs in uniform clustered outside, chuckling at a hilariously inappropriate punchline.
Tyler waited for the traffic to thin before trying his luck, sprinting across the road, horns blaring a warning about courting danger.
The door opened with the jingle of an unseen bell, a store partially repurposed for comfort food and conversation, a counter stretching to the rear of the room, almost every stool claimed, the din of outspoken conversation echoing through a room that should have been twice the size to properly accommodate the crowd. But no one minded the cramped quarters, not even West who sat at one of two empty stools, gesturing to the middle-aged brunette behind the counter to place an order.
Tyler approached his father, taking the other unoccupied seat.
“Do you have an appetite yet?” asked West without gazing at his son.
“No,” answered Tyler, realizing he hadn’t eaten in days yet feeling no desire to consume anything.
“Eventually you will,” said West, turning to face Tyler, a hint of grey on his moustache. “If you stay long enough. You’ll live as everyone else does.”
The waitress set a cup of coffee in front of West.
“Thanks,” he answered.
“I’m going home,” Tyler told his father. “I shouldn’t have come here.”
“I told myself that every day until I realized I couldn’t leave.”
“Because your other self died?”
“My other self? There was no other. It was me. I died. At least, half of me did, and the rest of me didn’t know what to do with myself. You can’t go anywhere when you don’t know who you are and when there’s no knowing your true self because you’re half dead, just like everyone else.”
“Do I need Magus to go home?” Tyler asked West.
“My other self. The one in Twin Towers.”
“I never tried leaving until it was too late, so I don’t know.”
“So it’s possible.”
“I suppose. But you’re here now. If you leave, you’ll only have to come back again and that could be impossible.”
“Why would I need to come back?”
“So you won’t forget again,” answered his father before taking a sip of coffee.
“That you helped make this possible. All of this.”
“How is that?”
“We’re only here because people remember us.”
“But I don’t remember you. We never met.”
“You’ve forgotten so much, but no good comes of forgetting. And when you remember everything, eternity is yours. That’s what you believe in. Deny it if you want. But it’s eternity you want but you can’t have it without this place, and you certainly won’t have it if you find a way back home without your other self, as you call him, to make your complete.”
“Eternity at what price?” asked Tyler, turning to the window. Outside, there were angry shouts, although none of the diners appeared to notice, their conversation no less jovial than before.
Tyler stood up.
“You should stay here, Tyler,” warned his father. “Tonight’s not the night to lose your way.”
“I won’t,” answered Tyler, his father’s hand to his shoulder.
“The less they see of you the better,” suggested his father, who must have survived by keeping a low profile these many years; so it was possible for a flatworlders to elude those who considered him a threat.
Tyler walked to the front door and opened it. A hobo, guitar case in hand, dropped a satchel on the ground. Another homeless man in torn, doughboy uniform, was laying out a bedroll on the pavement.
“The future is now,” shouted the homeless man. “Ozymandias has come.”
Taking a seat, the hobo removed a guitar from the case and began to tune it. Nearby, the GIs chuckled at the unexpected spectacle.
“All is possible,” shouted the homeless man before fixing his gaze upon Tyler. “Or don’t you believe that?”
Tuner nodded as the hobo began strumming a few lonesome chords.
“Ozymandias has come,” shouted a bearded homeless man from across the street.
Tyler turned to step back inside when several black Cadillac limos pulled into the driveway at the Garden of Allah.
“Are you ready for a new future?” howled the homeless man who was still addressing Tyler. If Ozymandias was indeed Murdoch, what could this future portend? There would be nothing liberating about it, not with everyone in their place. But the homeless had left the confines of the Nickel, which suggesting a future without the customary rules.
Tyler suspected something untoward, the limos too similar to hearses to imagine a more wholesome outcome. He walked along the sidewalk until the Garden of Allah driveway was in full view, men in suits and hats emerging from the vehicles as Lula appeared to direct them to the villa where Laurel and the others slept. Was it Rex and his men come to reclaim Faye? Although wouldn’t that put them at odds with Murdoch who also sought to reclaim her? And what of Laurel? What would become of her if Faye was taken away, or would Rex claim Laurel to pimp out as he apparently pimped out the others?
“The future’s coming,” said the homeless man who’d followed him. “And when it does, it won’t matter what the hell happened no more. And there’ll be no forgettin’ ‘cause there’ll be nothing worth remembrin’.”
Tyler nodded his understanding before turning to Schwab’s, his father standing out front, their eyes meeting. West advised him of the importance of memory, but Tyler wanted more than memories. He wanted connection; however, men in suits had come to remove those connection, which meant forgetting everything that mattered. To do nothing was to consign memory to oblivion.
He raced across the street, wanting to see Laurel before they took her away, hoping they might leave her behind.
Lula angrily waved him away as he approached the main house.
“What are they gonna do?” he asked her.
“Take her back,” answered Lula. “Though I told Rex she outta be out on her ear.”
“I meant Laurel,” he said, turning to the villa.
“Hey you,” said a fleshy-faced man leaning against one of the cars. His face was familiar. “Beat it.”
Tyler turned from the man before entering the front house, walking through the foyer and down a hallway toward a door he assumed was an exit. He stepped outside to find a swimming pool surrounded by ferns. There was a commotion to his right, men as black as shadows hauling Faye, Laurel and Rodolfo from the front door of a nearby villa, dropping Rodolfo to the ground before attacking him with a volley of kicks while Laurel and Faye screamed at them to stop. It would have been him writing on the ground, had he not given up on Laurel and walked out.
Two men appeared from the shadow of an elm tree.
“What you gawkin’ at?” said the man Tyler saw near the car. It was one of the goons from the Cocoanut Grove. “I thought I told you to beat it.” “Do I know you?” asked the man.
Tyler shook his head, turning to step back inside the house, but the door had already locked closed on him.
Something metallic pressed against his back. He didn’t have to turn to realize it was the business end of a rifle.
“Step over to the light,” ordered the goon. Tyler complied, raising his arms as the second man held him at gunpoint. The light from a lamp revealed the goon’s misshapen features.
“You recognize him?” asked the man behind Tyler.
The goon approached Tyler, sizing him up before punching him square in the face.