Adam ran. The hands reached out for him. The voices caressed his ears in a way that made him mad with fever. The city was a wafer thin dream. He passed dogs and poets and drag queens and police officers. His skin was a map and he followed where it led. He had to get away from the noise and the eyes. The hands that reached for him every time he stopped running. His legs ached and his hand itched in its Indian basket a thousand miles away. He could get to it. He just had to keep moving. Every dream ran into a wall and broke into waking. This would be the same.
Screams called after him. Giant shrieking monsters passed by, blocking his progress toward solitude, toward solace, toward home. He turned, juked, ducked and jumped, making his way through the streets thick with eyes. Every quiet street whispered his name. He could make it home. The compass needle pointed vigorously toward his destination. He just had to decipher the needle’s key.
His footfalls made a rhythm. The rhythm became his mantra. It built on itself with the voices of the city. He was music. He was rhyme and timbre and melody. A chorus of voices inside of him broke forth. “Please. Please. Please. Please.”
He was aware of his mouth moving. He became aware of his feet slapping over the pavement. They were cold. Cold. He remembered being cold before. Being curled in a tiny cold ball. Moving warmed him. He had to stay warm. Why was it so hard to stay warm? His song continued to pour forth. “Please please please please please please” with every slap of skin on pavement.
He was headed somewhere. These streets seemed familiar. Instinct made him turn to follow the music down small streets and through yards, parks, and over a river. The voices behind him became the buzz of engines pushing him from inside toward his resting place. Through the membrane of the dream and into the waking paradise that he knew would surround him after this hideous nightmare had vanished.
Turning once more, a name crashed through him like a meteor. Petros. He tasted it on his lips. “Petros.”
He shouted it as he ran, one long cry like a train. “Peeeeeetroooooooooooooossss!”
Did he expect a response? The only response was the honking of passing cars as he passed them. Cars. He knew this street. This was Petros’s street. He was cold. The entrance to the flat was shut tight. He slapped a blind hand on the panel he knew would grant him access. The door buzzed, and he wrenched it open, falling into the lobby with a groan. Hands reached out to grab him. He recoiled into the dream ball and floated up the stairs to the door he recognized. The doorway was open. Yellow tape criss-crossed the entrance. He cried the name on his lips once again and snapped the tape with his body. It snarled around him, and he wriggled it off. There was a room. A room with a door. He slammed the door and locked it from the inside with the music of his mind. The refuge of a darkened room pushed against his body, wrapping him into a tiny ball in the corner. He could not resist.
Juliette and Gwynne arrived at Petros’s flat as the evening sky turned a brilliant mix of purple and orange. A woman in the lobby said something to Juliette that Gwynne didn’t understand.
“That was odd.” Juliette said when they were away from the woman.
“Oh, she just said some naked guy in a blanket tore through the lobby a few minutes ago.”
“We miss everything!” Gwynne said.
“Like hell we do. I’d pay to miss some things once in a while.”
They laughed. The relief of being indoors flooded them with a giddy feeling that almost let them forget their situation for a moment. At the top of the stairs, the turned to see the door to Petros’s apartment was knocked in.
“No one’s fixed this?” Juliette asked the hallway.
Gwynne stooped and picked up a scrap of police tape. “Maybe we shouldn’t stay here.”
Juliette barged in. “Nuts to that.”
Gwynne followed her. “But now we’re tampering with a crime scene. Isn’t that…you know…wrong?”
“We’ve been shot at. We’ve been chased. We’ve been kidnapped. We’ve been threatened. I don’t care what they want to do to us. Bring it on.” Juliette walked back to Petros’s room to see what was left.
Most of his furniture was still there. The majority of his decorations had either been taken as evidence or stolen. Gwynne opened the refrigerator. She was famished. The light wasn’t on, and everything inside was warm. She flipped a light switch on and off. “No electricity!” she called down the hallway to Juliette.
“Gwynne! I think you might want to see this.”
Gwynne hurried across the flat to where Juliette was standing, staring into a doorway. “What?”
Juliette pointed into the room, mouth open.
Gwynne looked into the room. “Adam!” He was lying in the corner in a ball, covered by a ratty, filthy blanket. Nothing else. “Where have you been?” He didn’t respond.
She approached him and got down on her knees. “I thought you were in the hospital with your head bashed in.”
She reached out a hand to adjust his head so she could check it for injury. When she touched him, he let out an inhuman shriek and recoiled from her. “What is wrong with you?!”
There was blood on the blanket underneath him. “Look. Adam. Can you understand me?”
He looked at her with wild eyes. What the hell had happened to him? “Adam?”
He focused on her face.
“I need to check you to make sure you’re not hurt.” She reached out a hand. He shuddered and pulled away. She persisted, pulling at the blanket. He let it go after a brief tug of war and curled into a naked little ball.
Juliette said, “I’ll be exploring,” and disappeared without a sound.
Gwynne checked Adam’s skin for abrasions, trying not to touch him. He had bruises all over his arms and chest and face, lacerations across his back and legs, but no head injuries that she could see. There was a smear of blood down the back of his exposed thigh. “What happened to you?”
She watched him with pity, covered him with the blanket, and sat near him silently for a few minutes. Juliette came back to check on them. “How is he?”
“I don’t know. It’s like he’s not even in there. Won’t let me touch him. Won’t respond to questions.”
“What they hell did they do to him?”
Gwynne looked him over again. He certainly hadn’t been treated gently. “We’ve got to get him some help.”
She put a hand on his shoulder. He pulled away. Gwynne looked at Juliette, who just shook her head. After Juliette left the doorway, Gwynne lay down next to Adam, facing him. His eyes were screwed shut. “Adam.”
“Adam, if you can hear me in there, I need you to come back. I don’t know what they did to you back there, but I’m not going to hurt you.” She reached out a hand and stroked his hair.
He didn’t immediately recoil.
She persisted, petting him like an abused puppy until he relaxed. “Adam? What did they do to you back there?”
He winced and pulled the blanket tighter around himself. She just kept one hand on him at all times. She talked to him quietly about what she and Juliette had been through, about memories of home, and about anything else she could to try to get his body to relax and his mind to come back. After several minutes, his body unwound and he lay still on the carpet. His breathing slowed, and he slept. Gwynne stayed near him, listening to him breathe and thinking about all that had brought them to this ransacked room in this beautiful and terrible city under such an uncaring sky.
She slept. She didn’t know how long. When she awoke, the windows were dark. Some pillar candles had been lit and placed in the room to replace the electric lights. Juliette had also thrown a blanket over Gwynne and another over Adam. She looked at Adam. He was still asleep, no longer a bundle of frayed nerves and fear. She took his hand in hers. He didn’t pull away. When she squeezed, he tightened his grip around her hand. She smiled and lay her head back. If nothing else came of this trip, at least she would have some amazing stories to tell.
Petros awoke to bright lights and voices. He tried to sit up. The pain pushed him back down and sat on his chest.
“Oh, stay still, Mr. Tsoukalos,” a voice admonished.
He lay back down, eased his eyes open. They adjusted slowly, like they’d been closed for days. The hospital. There was a nurse and a police officer in his room.
“When can we take custody of Mr. Tsoukalos?” the officer asked. She looked at Petros like he might run away at any minute.
The nurse frowned, scratched his goatee, and said, “It’s not like he’s going to be running away. With a wound like that, it could take weeks for him to recover enough to get around on his own.”
Petros smiled at the nurse. He had a soft spot for men in uniform. The nurse smiled back and said, “You’re lucky to be alive.”
The cop shook her head. “We’ll see about that.”
“What happened?” Petros asked. He remembered being shot. He had come to terms with dying there in that cell. He had only hoped Adam and his friends were alright.
“You were shot through the stomach. We got to you just in time, though. It took a lot of blood and a very knowledgeable surgeon to get you to where you are.”
“How did you—“
The police officer turned, “As I understand it, some long-held evidence came to light about your boss.”
“Mozer is not my boss.”
“Well, be that as it may, it gave us justifiable cause to search his mansion, and what we found could put Mr. Mozer away for many, many years.”
“Good. Add attempted manslaughter to that.”
“We will. That is…when we find him.”
Petros shot up, sending a blazing pain through his midsection. The nurse coaxed him back down and checked his wound. “Be careful, Mr. Tsoukalos. Sudden torso movements like that could set you back days, weeks.”
He lay back. “So he’s still out there?”
The officer nodded. “When we got inside, he was already gone.”
“Adam Hudson. He had been taken hostage. That’s why I was there! What happened to him?”
“Oh! The American. We had him in custody, but he was in a bad way. It seems that between the ambulance and the hospital staff, he seems to have vanished.”
Petros sighed, and even that hurt. “Is anyone looking for him?”
“We’ve had several reports all over the city of a naked man running around with a blanket. The last of which was near your neighborhood. There are patrols looking for him, but he has eluded us so far.”
“So my friend is injured, running around the city, and Mozer is out there somewhere, too? What are you guys good at, because apparently police work isn’t your forte.”
The officer just looked at him.
“I’m sorry. I’m just…it’s been a long day. Hell, I don’t even know if it’s been a day at all.”
“I guess technically it is the morning after you were shot,” said the nurse.
“And has anyone come to see me?”
The nurse shrugged. “We haven’t let anyone in.”
“Has anyone tried?!” Petros was exhausted already, and he’d only been awake for a few minutes.
“There was a girl here looking for you earlier. She left after the front desk people told her she couldn’t have any information.”
“Oh great. And why is that?”
“She’s not family. She has no legal right to information, so we can’t tell her anything.”
Petros put a hand on his head. “Look. I have no family. My friends are my family. If they come back, let them know I’m here, and, for the love of God, show them up. And you,” he pointed at the officer, “I’m willing to testify against Mozer at any time, especially if it will lessen any of the charges against me. I’ll squeal like a pig for the right reward.”
With those last words, he looked at the nurse, who smirked and left the room, saying, “Just call if you need anything.”
The officer turned to him. “Are you fit to answer some questions?”
“I think so.”
She asked him about his ties to Mozer, his background in the city, and what exactly had transpired at the mansion after he got there. He didn’t tell her everything, and she knew it. She pressed him for information, but he held back. “I would like a lawyer to be present if we’re going to really talk.”
“That’s fair. I’ll come back when you’ve found someone to represent you. In the meantime, rest up. I’m going to need you to be in good health if we’re going to trial on this.”
“Thank you. And officer?”
“Yes, Mr. Tsoukalos?”
“Catch that bastard soon, please.”
“We’re working on it.”
The officer turned to leave and Petros pressed his nurse’s call button. When he appeared at the door, Petros just smiled. “Nurse, I think I’m in need of a sponge bath.”