Tyler awoke on the floor of the church, the altar near his head and his arms extended out. Laurel leaned over, a hand to his face and her other hand still bound to his.
“Tyler?” she asked, visibly agitated. “You’re OK.” Other faces peered down at him, faces belonging to men in molasses black fatigues and army caps, a small yellow-fringed panther figure stitched on the front of every cap. They were African-American men, cheerful men with eyes Tyler could see.
“He’s not dead?” asked one of the men in black caps..
“What do you think, genius?” remarked another man.
“I thought he wasn’t breathing?” remarked a third man as Tyler sat himself up.
“We should go,” Laurel told Tyler.
“You go when we say you go,” declared a man with enough pins and ribbons on his chest to prove his rank as a high-level officer. A name tag read: Captain Reginald Kane.
“You prayin’ on your back?” remarked one of the men, to the amusement of the others.
“Talking to la Reina in his sleep,” remarked someone else.
“Maybe you can pray for us,” said one of the soldiers.
“We don’t need no prayers,” replied someone else. “It’s them Blue Knights that need to pray, ‘cause the Black Knights are having their way.
“’bout time,” yelled someone, as others cheered.
“Blue knight can try to kill us all but dog will have his day,” continued the other man, his words like a song.
“We’re no dogs,” intoned another voice. “We’re panthers.”
Tyler clambered to his feet, Laurel propping him up. He remembered Mad Dog. Was this the fight he’d spoken of?
“What’s happening out there?’ asked Tyler as Captain Kane guided them around a corner, a window revealing other black men in fatigues wiping rifles and loading cartridges, a burst of laughter suggesting that nothing was amiss. How could this be war?
“I’ll ask the questions. Last I heard there were curfews. But it seems no one’s paying attention anymore. Seemed like a good night to show ‘em we don’t need curfews neither. We want what’s fair, is all.”
“We’re trying to get home,” answered Tyler, wondering what happened to Magus. He’d have to find him again if he wanted to go home.
“And where’s that?”
“King Eddy’s Saloon,” replied Tyler.
“Seems you folk get all the liquor you want, though maybe that’s what’s wrong with you lot tonight. The Black Knights keep our heads on straight ‘cause tonight it’s justice and they’re not making fools of us anymore.”
“We don’t mean any harm,” said Laurel, her wrist still bound to Tyler’s.
“I don’t know what you mean, but we mean to dig in our heels until we get word to move west. And seein’ I don’t know if you’re spies or not …”
“Is Mad Dog here?” asked Tyler, interrupting Captain Kane.
“Mad Dog?” asked the Captain, his surprise obvious. “You know that son of a bitch?”
“Is he here?”” asked Tyler.
“If you mean Hugo Pickens, and I think that’s his name, though I wouldn’t know when that fool means what he says, then I don’t have a clue. He said he’s keepin’ Bunker Hill safe, though, last I checked, that’s what we’re doin’, but you’d best join him ‘cause you look more like a Blue Knight and are likely to get yourself killed out here an’ I can’t vouch for your safety, nor is it my job. So you better go hide yourselves while we take the city and make it ours.”
“Like I said, we’re going home.”
Captain Kane scrutinized Tyler before turning and walking away.
“Where are we going?”
“Bunker Hill,” he answered before realizing what he’d decided. Perhaps Grandma Vi would know what to do.
Tyler was seeking the future as if it were the past. If he never left Two Cities, that future wouldn’t exist. If he did leave, then he’d find his future eventually.
“I wish I remembered how I got here,” mused Laurel.
Tyler wished the same thing. He thought he’d remembered, but was his memory faulted?
Out front, there were shouts. If this were the front lines, then it wouldn’t be long before gun shots were fired. But the shouting merely grew louder, until Tyler realized it was his own voice he heard.
“Show me Ozymandias,” yelled Magus; at least Tyler assumed it was Magus.
Tyler stepped inside the main chapel and turned as Magus entered through the main doorway.
“There he is,” shouted Magus. Black Knights chuckled at the unexpected spectacle. “You see why everything’s possible.”
Embarrassed, Tyler stepped back.
“Do we need this?” asked Laurel, raising their conjoined arms.
“He’s why you’re here and not where they put you,” howled Magus. “He’s why you stopped waiting for something to happen.”
“Is this somethin’ to do with you?” asked Captain Kane, reappearing at the entrance to the main chapel, moments before Magus turned the corner.
“I’m leaving,” answered Tyler.
“They didn’t want us back,” said Magus, “but we don’t listen to no one, do we?”
“Ozymandias risen from the dead,” shouted a voice from inside the chamber, earning raucous laughter from the others. “Quiet” yelled Captain Kane to his company.
“I’m not Ozymandias,” insisted Tyler before turning and stepping into the courtyard, stumbling over men reclining on a side path.
“Watch it, white boy,” snarled a wiry young man with a shimmering rifle.
“Ozymandias,” shouted Magus as he followed. “It’s not gonna be easy fixin’ everything.”
Armed men either grinned with amusement or glowered at the uninvited intrusion, as Tyler and Laurel leaped over legs and side-stepped Black Knights in their hurry to find an exit, another pathway leading them out to an open square, black men in fatigues and caps milling about, some arguing and other sharing jokes as they turned to watch Laurel and Tyler emerge from the church complex.
“And when we fix it, this’ll be the place they of dreamed of,” shouted Magus from behind.
Soldiers pointed and chuckled, but there was no purpose to enduring the humiliating seconds when he could envision another leap in the direction of the future, a future that would take him back to Bunker Hill and Grandma Vi.
No sooner did he try to remember his grandmother’s home on Bunker Hill Avenue than he and Laurel stood before the creaky porch, Magus nowhere to be seen or heard. He didn’t mean to leave Magus behind, but Magus was convinced Tyler was someone he wasn’t and it was a distraction from the business of going home.
At least Granma Vi would remember him for what he really was, although she couldn’t have been expecting him before she wasn’t on the porch. The other homes appeared to have been abandoned, broken windows left unrepaired, that is when they weren’t boarded up. There were a few parked cars on the street, including a limo that looked too unblemished to have been abandoned.
“Grandma,” he shouted through the front door, breaking the silence. Laurel was attempting to unwind the rope from their wrists.
“I can’t keep doing this.”
“I’ll get us home,” assured Tyler.
“Maybe we weren’t meant to go anywhere.”
Tyler shook his head, guiding Laurel in through the open door to the foyer, broken antiques making the large room feel cramped.
“Grandma?” he shouted.
The release lock of a revolver clicked in his ear. It was Rex’ thug, Joe, his gun leveled at Tyler’s head. But Laurel panicked, racing into the nearest room which was occupied by Rex, Lula, Faye and Bandini, all seated on chairs in need of upholstering, Rex seated in a rocking chair, his feet dangling just over the Persian rug.
Joe followed, his revolver raised.
“They broke you lot out o’ Twin Towers, didn’t they?” remarked Rex with a smirk. “You can put the gun down, Joe.” Joe reluctantly lowered his arm.
“You look terrible,” announced Lula as she leaped to her feet, reaching for Tyler’s face. “I told you what they’d do,” she shrieked at Rex.
Laurel fixed her gaze upon Faye, but Faye didn’t seem to notice or care. “He won’t let us leave,” she whispered to Tyler.
Faye stood and approached her reflection in the window. Bandini sat quietly, following her with his eyes.
Tyler winced as Lula touched his arm and head. “They beat you real bad, didn’t they, baby.”
“He’s a grown man,” growled Rex. Tyler noticed Rex’s face was bruised.
“You jealous?” asked Lula, adjusting her hair as she caressed Tyler’s shoulder. She turned to Laurel. “And don’t worry, honey, I ain’t takin’ him from you unless that’s what you want.”
“I’m not going back with you,” declared Laurel.
“And we wouldn’t want you,” answered Lula. “Right, Rex? We don’t need no more girls. And Faye, you can keep.”
“We’re not going anywhere,” insisted Tyler.
Faye turned to Rex. “The moment you walk out, I’m gone.”
“And walk right back to Murdoch,” answered Rex through his teeth. “See if I care.”
Rex found his feet with a groan, a hand to his side as if nursing an injury. Approaching Faye, he grabbed her chin in his hand. “You’re not worth the trouble,” he insisted.
Bandini turned, surprised to see Tyler and Laurel.
Lula held a hand to Tyler’s chest. “And don’t even think of coming back,” she said with a grin.
“She never will,” said Bandini on her behalf.
“Don’t speak for me,” seethed Faye, before noticing Laurel’s gaze. Laurel turned away.
“They worked you over pretty good,” said Rex, standing before Tyler, a hand to Tyler’s shoulder. “No hard feelings, huh? Good to see you didn’t have to do no time. I got my own reasons to hate every last goddamn one of ‘em, but business is business.”
“They beat him too,” explained Lula.
“Shut up,” roared Rex.
“Well, it’s true,” said Lula. “They had no right, six of ‘em, kicking at my poor Rex like he was some colored boy nosing around the wrong neighborhood, and it was his joint, and he did nothin’ wrong. I told them they had no right.”
“I said shut up,” demanded Rex, slapping Lula’s face. Startled, Lula, turned and found a seat, the physical hurt nothing compared to the emotional betrayal.
“I take my chances, same as any man,” said Rex, turning to Laurel. “And they had no right to take you. And you know I wouldn’t make you do nothin’ you didn’t wanna do. My door’s still open.”
Laurel shook her head and turned.
“You leave her alone,” warned Faye. “You know the life you’d give her. The same you gave me, which was a heap of baloney. Always was.”
“I never had to give you up,” seethed Rex, ready to take his fist to someone’s face.
“So they roughed him up,” Faye told Tyler. “Can’t say he didn’t deserve it. And he’s only keeping me from Murdoch ‘cause he still wants me to himself and he figures he can still see me again this way.”
Faye turned to Rex, taking delight in the blow she was about to deliver. “But I want nothing to do with you. And when you touched me, it made me nauseous.”
“How ‘bout I hand deliver you to him?” asked Rex with a forced grin, his fists itching to hurt someone.”
“You want me to take her?” asked Joe.
“No. I’m just sayin’ I could. If I wanted, but I don’t ‘cause I don’t care what you do.”
Rex turned his back on Faye.
“We should go,” Bandini told Faye.
“We’re the ones going,” answered Rex, gesturing for Lula to stand and follow. turning to Tyler, he jabbed a finger to his sternum. “I expect you to keep her safe.”
“She does what she wants.”
“You want her back with him? He takes all my girls, except for that one,” said Rex, nodding in Lula’s direction.
“How’d you know about my grandmother?”
“Small world,” answered Rex. “I told Faye to show me where she’d be safe and she took me here.” He turned to Faye. “Did you know he’d be here?”
“All I know is he’s been following me” answered Faye.
Rex chuckled. “That makes two of you,” he remarked, gesturing to Bandini. “But count me out,” he added before turning to Tyler. “Who are you anyway?”
“You think you’re a big shot? Prove it. Don’t let her out of your sight.”
Tyler said nothing as Rex and Joe stepped out. Lula followed, her eyes glazed with tears that wouldn’t come. Her hand grazed his and then she was gone. Five seconds later, the front door slammed closed.
“That’ll do it for me too,” announced Faye.
“No,” exclaimed Bandini, surprising himself by the sudden word. “I mean I’d deny you nothing, but this isn’t the night to go out.”
“You gonna stop me?” asked Faye with a half grin that dared someone to step in her way.
It was Laurel who grabbed Faye by the arm.
“Why are you doing this?” demanded Laurel.
“What do you want?” asked Faye, pulling free.
“You brought me here.”
“I did nothing you didn’t want.”
“You brought me here knowing I couldn’t leave.”
“You’d rather mouth off to me than hightail it outta here?”
“I just want to know why you did it?”
“You wanted to come back, just like all of them.”
“Where are the others?” asked Tyler.
“I got nothing to do with this,” insisted Faye.
“Leave her alone, alright?” asked Bandini, his hand outstretched.
“So I can leave?” asked Laurel.
“Sure, but you’ll be back with him. And so will I.”
“No,” contended Bandini. “I won’t let that happen.”
“You don’t get to say what happens,” Faye told Bandini. “You’re no one.”
“I wish you were no one too,” replied Bandini. “And he’d never find you.” Bandini turned to Tyler. “Your grandmother said she’d be safe here, but they’re tearing this place down before long.”
“Where’s my grandmother?”
“She left when Rex got here,” answered Bandini. “Took Mad Dog with her.” Bandini gestured to Faye. “To think, she found us. We never found her. Mad Dog brought be here and there they were in the car. He says there’s a war brewing.”
“I think it’s already begun,” replied Tyler, observing Fay and wondering if she would run from the house. But what if Laurel needed Faye to leave?
“But we’re leaving, Faye,” said Tyler, “and you can help us.”
“What am I supposed to do?” demanded Faye.
“You know about coming and going. Show us how to do the same.”
“When you’re done with this place, you’ll find a way out.”
“I’m done,” answered Laurel. Tyler wondered how much Laurel remembered of Los Angeles, because his memories were still indistinct, as if his life before Two Cities was merely the stuff of dreams.
“So am I,” added Tyler.
“I figured as much,” answered Faye with a grin, pointing to the rope binding Laurel’s wrist to Tyler’s. “Seeing what lovebirds you are. Can’t bear to be apart?”
“Don’t they need you here?” asked Laurel of Tyler.
Tyler shook his head. “No.”
“The lady in the church said something about you putting things to right.”
“What lady?” asked Tyler.
“You were talking to her,” replied Laurel. “She had black hair. A white dress. And she held you. Nuestra Senora. She said everything would be alright.”
“You saw her?” asked Bandini, his face brightening at the news. “La Reina spoke to you?”
“I spoke to no one,” answered Tyler.
“She said none of us were meant to be here, and that the balance was broken, the demands of another world blinding the people here, turning their thoughts elsewhere. And something about one world crushing the other as if it never existed; but that if one man could destroy it, one could save it.”
“Save it?” asked Tyler. “How? And who is this woman?”
“La Reina,” answered Bandini, making the sign of the cross upon his chest. “Some have been blessed to see her. Was she beautiful?”
“She was like …” began Laurel, fishing for the right words, “a reflection in a lake.”
“Can I use that?” asked Bandini, retrieving a notepad and pen from inside his jacket pocket, and scribbling a few notes. “I’ve been wasting my time on short stories when I’ve been a poet all along. And you must be a poet too?”
“What poetry?” asked Faye, chuckling almost maliciously.
“There will be,” answered Bandini, returning the notepad to his pocket.
“I remember nothing,” he said, gazing at the watch on Laurel’s wrist and wondering if it would have been different if he were still wearing it; though he remembered a dream of boyhood and of abandoning Magus, or Monroe, or whatever his alter ego called himself.
There were footsteps on the front porch. Had Rex returned?
Bandini left the room to answer the door, and Faye would have followed if Laurel hadn’t grabbed her arm again.
“Just help me leave before you disappear again.”
Loud footsteps approached, voices growing in volume until Mad Dog stood at the open door, Grandma Vi and Magus at his side. Vi turned to Tyler and smiled beautifully. She looked no older than 35, a young woman by all accounts. Was this what it meant to be a master of time: never growing old. What was Vi’s power?
“Tyler,” she said. “Aren’t you going to give me a hug?”
Tyler reached for her, holding her tight. Was this what he wanted all along? Was this his purpose, to never again lose the people he’d loved most?