“And, after all, what is a lie? ‘Tis but the truth in masquerade.”
– Lord Byron
Joey twitched when the phone rang. She answered it, but continued to watch Lenore while her boss argued with her about being out of town so long.
The blonde sat on the couch where she had spent the morning staring at Elliott’s photo. Kirsty had pulled her off to the guest bedroom to help her select an outfit for lunch, but she’d returned to her strange vigil after she changed.
“Yes, I will,” she spoke into the phone. “I’m meeting Mrs. Ramsay and her husband Tom for lunch, in just an hour or so. Thanks for getting me the contact info. I promise I’ll get on that homeless story right after I wrap this up. Okay?” Stifling a sigh, she hung up. “Don’t even bother with a Social Security card,” Joey said to Lenore. “It leads to employment, which leads to a need for Aerobic Scream Therapy.”
Kirsty entered the room on that comment. “She’d need a birth certificate first.” Sitting next to Lenore, she turned with her arm on the back of the couch to face Joey. “I think we should take her to a specialist here, get more tests run.”
“She’s fine. That physical in Boston was pretty complete.”
“Well, we should get going. I’m hoping we can talk Bobbi into letting us follow her home. I’d love to get a photo of the original Elysium plans.”
Kirsty rose, holding herself as if she were cold. “That wouldn’t be a good idea. Ask her to bring it or something.”
“She probably wouldn’t let us in her house, but there’s no harm in asking.”
“Yes, there is.” She took a deep breath. “This woman is the mother of Jack Merchant. Is she raising his son herself?”
Joey picked up her car keys. “Yes – his name is Louis.”
“And he’s what – two years old?”
“Good and helpless – and the last of the bloodline. I don’t think it’d be smart for any of us to know where that baby lives.” She studied Joey, expectant.
“You’re afraid the Cenobite could steal the knowledge from our dreams.”
“Aren’t you?” Kirsty gave Lenore a hand up and walked with her to the door. As they put on their coats, she smiled. “Let’s go. Your windmills are waiting.”
~ ~ ~
It was the same Chinese restaurant Kirsty had once gone to with her father when they’d first moved to New York City. She hadn’t said why she wanted to meet Merchant’s widow there and Joey hadn’t asked.
Maybe it was just a desire to see the place again? A brief twist of jealousy soured her thoughts. Her father had died before she was born; all she had to remember him by were medals and mementos from the war, and a few faded photographs. Kirsty had spent a big part of her life with Larry Cotton, from her birth until his death. She must have a wealth of memories attached to places, things – that could help her recall details of him in a hundred ways. Kirsty met her eyes and Joey tried to smile.
“There they are,” her friend said, and steered Lenore in the direction of a pale, thin woman with copper hair. Joey watched them a moment before following.
The man with Bobbi, her second husband, rose when they approached and shook hands as Kirsty made introductions. Tom Ramsay’s handshake was firm. Joey took the chair next to him and tried to reconcile him with her assumptions.
He had been a butcher at a small family-owned shop, but his brother managed the shop now, while Tom ran the business as it grew into a chain. Her background research had also revealed a strain on the marriage – Bobbi had been put in rehab twice for alcoholism since the loss of her daughter and son.
The man next to her didn’t look like a haggard ex-butcher. If she’d met him on the street she would have guessed he was a cop. His hair was cut short, but stubborn waves here and there implied it would grow out to a mop of thick gold curls if he let it. An even tan and heavy trim physique added to the image of a uniformed officer – yet instead, he wore a designer suit.
Kirsty was handling the initial small-talk as they all looked over their menus. Grateful for a chance to size them up, Joey turned to glance at Bobbi on Tom’s right.
She looked as tired as she’d sounded on the phone. She was still an attractive woman, but she had allowed her beauty to fade. Her make-up didn’t hide the dark circles under her eyes, and the dress showed that she had lost a lot of weight.
“You wouldn’t like that, hon,” Kirsty told Lenore. “That red symbol means it’s hot. Try that one.”
Tom asked what Bobbi wanted and told the waiter her order. Joey asked for a spicy dish and turned back to Tom. “Thank you for meeting with us, Mr. and Mrs. Ramsay.”
“Please call me Tom. Bobbi said you had something to show us.”
“The drawing from your first husband’s ancestor,” she said to Bobbi. “Kirsty and I came across an unusual representation of it.”
“You said you were bringing it?” he asked.
“We did.” Joey glanced at Lenore who was watching them quietly. “It’s tattooed on her back.”
~ ~ ~
“My God…” Bobbi sank into a chair in a corner of the ladies room. “How?”
Kirsty helped Lenore refasten her bra. The girl tugged her sweater down again and turned. “She doesn’t remember anything about it,” Kirsty said.
Joey took a deep breath and plunged. “I can’t shake the idea that it’s a very important thing. This Elysium Configuration – it’s something John Merchant was developing, isn’t it?”
“He was doing a lot that he never told me about,” Bobbi replied. “There was a woman, too. Her name was Angelique.”
Lenore stared at her. “I know that name.”
“Not this one,” Bobbi said, and her expression twisted. It was hard to gauge if she was about to cry or be sick. “This woman was evil and she was with that demon. She tried to threaten Jack to make John operate his machine.”
“But the machine didn’t work?” Kirsty asked.
“No – I don’t know why – but the box did. I figured out how to make it send them back. After he – killed John … he took the woman with him and they disappeared.”
Joey touched her shoulder gently. “Does Tom know the whole story?”
“Yes.” She wiped at tears. “We should go back. He’ll want to know about this, if it could help find Renée. He still … thinks we might find her – but she was so little … so little.”
Tom watched them return, pulling out Bobbi’s chair for her and stroking her hair once. “Is it really like the drawing at the house?”
“Not like. It is.” She sipped her ice water and fell silent.
“It’s the same, but it’s different, too,” Joey told him. “There are changes, additions. I’m going to get photographs of it this afternoon.”
“You should come to our house, see the original?”
Joey and Kirsty looked at each other. “That might not be a good thing,” Kirsty said.
~ ~ ~
The clock chimed four times as Joey arrived home, camera in hand. The envelope with the color 8×10 photos of Lenore’s back was under her arm.
Tom was pacing in front of the windows. Kirsty sat on the couch with Bobbi where the framed eighteenth century sketch was propped between them. Lenore sat on a kitchen barstool, watched by Bobbi.
“Well, here goes,” Joey announced. Setting down the camera, she opened the envelope and stood the photos up against the glass over the sketch.
“Is it slightly stretched?” Tom asked.
“The doctor we took her to in Boston said the ink looked about a year old, but she could have grown in that time, distorting it a little.”
“A year old?” Bobbi whispered. “Tom … tell them.”
He ran his fingers through his hair nervously and faced them. “When we found where Jack had taken Renée… There were inks and tools for tattooing. They’re still held as evidence at the precinct. Jack’s fingerprints were on all of it.”
“No sign of either of your children?” Kirsty asked Bobbi.
The woman held herself and stared at the floor.
“There was,” Tom answered. “The detectives had someone bring in something that showed where blood had been, even if it’s cleaned up.” He moved to sit beside his wife. “It glowed all over the room, floor, and walls – even the ceiling.” Bobbi sobbed and he held her close. “They found evidence that proved both of them had been there. They couldn’t prove either of them ever left.”
The only sound in the condo was the ticking clock and Bobbi’s sobs. Lenore slipped off of her stool and fetched a glass of cold water for her. The woman touched her hands when she took it and smiled at her through her tears.
“I should take her home,” Tom muttered.
Joey nodded. “Can we call? Later?”
“Yes. I need to figure this out. I have friends on the police force and they keep the files open, but I know they think I should give up. They’ve pronounced Jack dead; we had a service last year, but… I can’t give up on my little girl. I won’t.”
~ ~ ~
“What do you think?” Kirsty asked after dinner.
“Bobbi said he knew the whole story. I think he only knows what she does, and might not believe half of it.” Joey sipped her wine. “It sounds crazy, if you haven’t seen it yourself. Knock it into sane terms and he’s probably thinking they were just criminals who walked in off the street to threaten her husband and son.”
“From what she said, she wouldn’t know about the Cenobites’ usual calling cards. All she saw the box do was send them back.”
“Jack opened one. He must have, heaven knows why. He tattooed his sister, and then got dragged into Hell.”
Kirsty glanced into the living room where Lenore was mesmerized by the television. “Are we going to sit here and pretend we don’t know what she is?”
“I was trying to.”
“No one left that rickety warehouse. Not the teen boy who decorated the room and not any little tattooed girls.”
“Lenore is the same age as Jack. Renée would be five now, not seventeen.”
“We’ve both seen some crazy things, but you never toured the Labyrinth. I saw the thing the Cenobites worship and I saw some of their – I guess you’d call it technology. They could have done something, changed her.”
Joey watched her in silence. She couldn’t feel surprise. It all made a sickening kind of insane sense – for everything but the reason why.
“I think she’s got some sort of amnesia,” Kirsty continued, “and touching a puzzle box could help her remember everything.”
Joey slowly set down her glass and rose to her feet. “Even if you’re right – maybe we don’t want to do that.”
Kirsty looked up at her with a strange smile on her lips. “Precisely.”
~ ~ ~
Joey lay awake in her loft bedroom, staring into the dark. The condo was quiet. Kirsty had traded Lenore the guest bedroom for the couch, and then finally convinced the girl to turn off the television and go to sleep.
She wished she could do the same, but Kirsty’s theory was a frightening prospect and the whole problem kept turning over and over in her mind. Kirsty herself was beginning to worry her, too.
It was the old dream of her father’s death in Vietnam that claimed her when she finally fell asleep. She walked through it now as if it were a familiar play. When the helicopter wouldn’t return for her wounded father, she screamed at it and pleaded with it as always.
Stop! Come back! My daddy’s still alive! You have to save my daddy!
Behind her, a familiar voice had spoken her name with a British accent. Was it really him? She turned, her long white baby doll nightgown blowing against her ankles in the wind of the helicopter blades.
Elliott? The uniform, the eyes – it was him. Thank God. I’ve wanted so much to talk to you! I think we’re all headed for trouble. As he opened his mouth to speak, he began to fade. Elliott!
A flicker, and then he was more solid again, but he still looked like a ghost – translucent and half-formed. I’m weak, barely able to reach you – and there’s no time to waste.
Joey ran to him. She tried to touch his shoulder, but her hand passed through it. She gasped. You were bound to him again. Elliott, please – he’s not here somehow with you? She took a step back.
He is in this plane of existence, yes. Troubling someone else’s dreams, or I couldn’t be here. Joey, listen to me. He still wants the barriers between Hell and Earth broken – and he wants to force the heir of the Lemarchand bloodline to complete the family design for his war.
That’s impossible. The heir is –
Don’t! He held up his hand. It may not be safe for me to know about him. If the heir cannot turn the design into the breach he wants, he will kill him to end the bloodline. You must protect him at all costs.
Yes. Kirsty said we shouldn’t even know where he lives. We’ve spoken with his family. Bobbi is a mess, but her new husband wants to know more.
Beware of Kirsty Cotton.
Why? Elliott, please help me to understand. Have you tried to reach her?
I haven’t been successful. He watches her, wants her – and her will is crumbling over time.
I cannot. My influence only strengthens his. It was through me that he gained a foothold in her mind – but she is strong. I only hope that she can keep him at a stalemate.
I don’t understand. You could talk to her, tell her she’s in danger.
She knows that, all too well. She fights him – but he has appeared to her as me and she may not trust me now. His expression was sad. There’s more. I have to ask you this, but it could be very dangerous.
Lenore. Help her to be simply human. She cannot be allowed near the Merchant heir. I had made her promise to seek out her human family again, but now that the demon’s plans are clear, it is too great a risk. He would use her to get to the heir, and to make Kirsty fall.
Then it’s true … Kirsty’s right. Lenore is Renée. How?
That doesn’t matter now – time is short. She was sent into the world to learn about human sensation, pain and pleasure. She is learning more about pleasure now.
How is she a danger to Kirsty?
She is a danger to you all, unless she gives up the desire to become a servant of the Labyrinth. If she remembers her love for the Cenobite, she will try to bring him into the world again, to claim her. And she will do anything that he asks.
Oh my God. Joey’s fingers rose to her lips. The meadow at the edge of the woodland grew dark as the sun shot across the sky in seconds, turning her dream into empty night.
He is coming. There is good in her, Joey. Teach her to want a human life.
Wait – Elliott, wait!
He was fading into the rising shadows. Wake up, Joey. Wake up!
Blackness covered her. She felt a chill. He was coming – the Cenobite. Joey held herself tightly and screamed.
~ ~ ~
It was still dark when she woke in a panic. Breathless, she checked the clock by her bed. Four o’clock, nearly dawn. Joey got out of bed and went downstairs silently. She didn’t want to wake Lenore, but Kirsty should be told about the dream.
They were in this together, depending on each other. She believed Elliott’s warnings, but she couldn’t believe Kirsty might hurt her. They had shared everything and become friends through adversity. There shouldn’t be secrets between them.
She reached the guest room and turned the knob. It was locked. Then she heard Lenore’s voice behind the door. Her words weren’t clear but the sudden sounds of excited pleasure the girl made were unmistakable.
Joey sank down against the door. Her body felt numb. She sat there as the sun rose but it couldn’t warm the ice in her veins.