Coral Springs, Florida
He woke at 3:17 in the morning with the covers twisted around him like a burial shroud, but he didn't really notice.
When he had untangled himself part way, he rolled out of bed and hit the floor with a loud thud. Normally this would have fazed him, but a single thought had filled Matthew Hart's mind seconds before he had awoken, and it filled his mind now. It left no room for reason or logic, and it drove him to stagger across his bedroom to the closet and begin searching for a suitcase.
I need to find my father.
He could not recall any dreams that might have given him the drive to find his father, nor could he remember any movies that might have affected his subconscious, nor did he care. The impulse was so strong and the intention so driving that he could not think; only do.
His fingers, questing blindly in the dark, found a valise. It was the old, hard, leather one that his mother had given him after she'd moved to West Virginia, and he fumbled for the latches.
After he'd managed to flip them open, he tossed the heavy suitcase into the middle of the room where it bounced open with a single thump and then lay quietly.
He then stumbled to the back of the closet, where he proceeded to rip shirts off hangers and throw them into the dark blindly, aiming for the square shape of the bed. Jeans and the few long-sleeved shirts that weren't in storage landed on the bed like dying birds, and underwear, socks and undershirts followed them in a second wave once he reached the oak dresser on the wall next to the door.
The fact that he could barely see didn't encourage him to find the light switch, and he continued throwing clothes haphazardly into the large travel case, ignoring the fact that everything that went in was going to wind up wrinkled when he eventually took it out. A few pairs of shoes followed the flight pattern of the shirts, and on instinct, he pitched in a few wads of hundred and fifty-dollar bills that had previously been hidden under a loose floorboard in the back of the closet.
He snatched up some unthrown clothing and stumbled across the unlit hallway to the bathroom and switched the light on.
The man in the mirror didn't even blink at his bleary appearance as Matt grabbed the toothbrush, added toothpaste, and shoved the brush into his mouth. After brushing his teeth as fast as humanly possible, and the toothbrush was rinsed, the water in the sink was pink, but he ignored it and dropped the still-wet brush into the bag. He ran a brush through his caramel hair, then dropped that into the bag, too.
He shaved and then added the can of shaving cream and the dripping razor to the bag. Then he toweled his face dry, threw some old, mostly unused bottles of pain medication and Zoloft into the battered blue bag and zipped it up. Off went his black pajama gi pants, and he pulled on a pair of grey jeans and a blue button-up shirt. Socks went on last, as did deodorant. He didn't bother with cologne. He shoved the bad under his arm and hurried back into the bedroom, hitting the bathroom light on the way out.
He shoved all the clothes that had landed on the bed into the suitcase on the floor. When it became obvious that the valise had been filled to capacity, he slammed it shut, latching and locking it securely.
With a grunt, Matt picked it up in the hand that had the hygiene bag wedged up under the arm and then took one last look around his bedroom. Everything was quiet.
A lone streetlight outside shone through the blinds and dimly illuminated the small room, casting a yellow glow across the tangled sheets on the bed. The clothes that had missed the suitcase formed varied levels of geography on the otherwise smooth wooden floor.
He turned and walked out of the room and into the kitchen, pausing only to grab his wallet and car keys, and then again in the kitchen to throw some cereal and beer into a plastic Publix bag.
At the door, he shoved his feet into a pair of Doc Martens, and then left his apartment.
He locked the door of the one-bedroom behind him, and forewent the painfully slow elevator to run down the stairs to the parking lot, suitcase thumping painfully against his calf. Upon reaching the fifteen-foot distance from his old 4WD Toyota Tacoma, he thumbed the Unlock button on the remote, hastening his pace as he heard the click as the doors unlocked. He wrenched the driver's side door open and threw the suitcases into the passenger seat.
The engine turned over on the first try, and it wasn't until he was on the Sawgrass Expressway, speeding for I-95 and Boca Raton Airport that the unrelenting pressure of I need to find my father eased off a little, and he wondered what he was doing. He also realized that his speedometer showed that he was doing nearly a hundred, and that he wasn't on Cruise Control.
He quickly tapped the brakes and eased off the gas pedal; he drove with both feet, and slowed to about seventy. The speed limit may have been sixty-five, but it was only the fifth of May, and five miles over wasn't going to get him a state trooper on his ass at this time of the month. He turned CC on and kept his hands lightly on the wheel. There weren't many cars on the road at this time of the morning, and it gave him time to think.
A half hour passed in which he traveled to the end of the Sawgrass and turned north onto Interstate 95, tried multiple times to remove his hands from the steering wheel with little success, and decided to attempt to analyze his dreams to discover what was driving him to travel in search of his father.
Nothing occurred to him.
Matt liked to consider himself a creative man, and his job as a freelance painter showed it; that and his originality. Abstract scenes of icy landscapes and creatures not even imagined in legend abounded in his portfolio, and he was slowly gaining a reputation in art circles outside of Florida.
However, even his overproductive imagination couldn't think of any scenario that might involve him going crazy and feeling like he had only one purpose. He'd once done a series of paintings called "Dis0rd3rz," in which he would spend a week with people with a certain personality or mental disorder and then paint everything that he thought the disorder was, but none of those disorders, nor several others that he could name, would ever involve a singularly-driven, mono-purposed individual. Sure, there was OCD, and someone could just do the same thing, over and over again for years because of an inner driving force, but that and his were almost nothing alike. So what was this?
He was also a logical man; patience and being analytical were two of his foremost characteristics, but neither of those were getting him any answers at the moment, and under the monotonous presence of The Thought, it was beginning to irk him.
As he approached the exit to the airport, the unrelenting pressure filled his mind again, and suddenly found himself wondering if there were any early flights to--New York? Why New York?
But instead of turning off at Exit 45, he passed it and continued heading North on I-95.
After he passed three exits, the thought retreated more than it had before, leaving him free to speculate about where he was going, since he still couldn't remove his hands from the wheel.
What was happening? Why couldn't he remove his hands from the wheel? And what was with the sudden urge to find his father?
Frank Niveus had disappeared more than thirty years ago, before Matt had been born.
He'd appeared during an early snowstorm three days after Thanksgiving on recently-widowed Melissa Hart's doorstep with no explanation, claiming to need a place to sleep for the night before he called a taxi. She had reluctantly agreed, but her initial hostility had collapsed beneath the gentle onslaught of Frank's charm, and she'd come to love him within the space of a week.
And he'd loved her just as much, if not more.
He'd also come to love her two-year old son, Ethan. By the middle of December, the three had become very close, even though Danny, Melissa's first husband and Ethan's father, had died in a plane crash barely a year before.
But then, at the first signs of spring, Frank had left in the middle of the night, leaving only a kiss on the sleeping Melissa's lips, and a hug for a mostly-unconscious Ethan, who had been found sobbing under the Christmas tree the next morning, crying for the second father he'd lost. A pendant that had appeared under the tree on Christmas morning was revealed to have a hidden compartment, inside of which was a long, folded scroll of frighteningly delicate paper. Written upon it were the words, I love you, and the bank numbers, codes, and passwords to access Swiss safe deposit boxes in his name. The boxes had been filled with diamonds, sapphires, and the purest silver ingots that Melissa's jeweler had ever seen.
None were equal to the worth of the jewel in her pendant, however, a peculiar tear-shaped tanzanite that matched the color of Frank's eyes with a peculiar Hungarian folk legend surrounding it. Those particular gems can only be obtained by making an angel weep. Only a month later, Melissa had been overjoyed to discover that she was pregnant with Matt, her only remnant of Frank other than fond memories and a jewel. A son, whose father was not to be found.
Ethan had claimed to have watched Frank disappear into a swirl of snow, tears falling silently down his face, and continued to claim it to the last time Matt had called him on it; a year and six months ago.
So why the sudden urge to find his father now?
He passed four more exits before it occurred to him to worry about his mother. What would she think of him disappearing like this? He automatically reached for his cell phone to call her--surely she wouldn't be up at this hour, but he could at least leave a message--only to find that it was not on his customary position on his belt. Then he cursed. In that--fugue--or whatever it was, he obviously hadn't grabbed his phone. He'd have to call his mother whenever he reached a truck stop--or whenever the thing let him stop. He would also have to call Jill, the landlord, and ask her to put a heavy-duty lock on his door until he could get someone to take everything out. He didn't think he'd be coming back for a while.
Pine Knot, Kentucky
Lisa Grant swept the heavy fall of her ash-blonde hair out of her eyes and suppressed a yawn as she tried to look interested at the story that Ruth Liebowitz was trying to tell in halting Polish. Fortunately, Lisa didn't know Polish from Portuguese, so she just waited for Mike to translate each sentence, and then she would write it down. Easy, really.
She didn't think she'd be saying that in a few months, though. She'd be too busy trying to change the world with her stunning news articles instead of ones like these that would be lining the cat-box. This was only her third out-of-town assignment that she'd been hired for, but she was sure that Reader's Digest would hire her after she made Ruth's husband's story into a heartbreaking tale of self-sacrifice. Then she would slowly climb her way to the top, writing hit articles along the way that changed people's views so that they would help each other and make the world a better place. All that after she finished this assignment, of course.
"Oh, yes, we tried to have children. The Lord Himself knows we tried," Mike translated quickly. "When Johnny was stillborn in nineteen fifty-five, he stayed by me. Even after the doctors told us that every little boy or little girl we could make would be stillborn, we kept trying."
Ruth's gray eyes filled with tears. "We kept trying up until the nineteenth of February."
"And then?" Lisa asked, trying to sound concerned. She needed this story if she wanted to keep her job, even though the foremost thing on her mind was the thought of, Ew, old people sex.
Mike translated, "He had a heart attack in the middle of traffic. Peter didn't care about himself, though. In a second, he veered out of the lane and hit a post. He died instantly when the windshield impacted, but he didn't die in vain. So many lives were saved when he drove off the road, and he's a hero."
Oh, boy, Lisa thought. That's what I came here to listen to? She eyed the tape recorder sitting on the plastic table.
In likely reality, the old man had probably lost control of the wheel when the heart attack had occurred, and the van had just drifted off the road instead of into other cars. The subscribers of Reader's Digest would still eat it up and label Peter Liebowitz a hero in their minds. After she embellished it and made the old man more worship-worthy, of course.
Not even the greatest sympathizer of human empathy would ever label the old German a hero, even if he had sheltered the Jewish woman who would later become his wife in Nazi-invaded Poland.
The interview slowly drew to a close, with Ruth conveying her heartfelt Polish thanks to Lisa. The journalist thought that she took it rather well, considering the amount of spitting coming from Ruth.
Finally (finally!) the interview was over, and Ruth's grandson wheeled her over to his car with a Brooklyn-accented "Thanks," to Mike and Lisa. Once they were out of earshot, Lisa grinned at Mike as he ejected the tape from the recorder and inserted a new one. "Glad that's over, eh?"
Mike shrugged. "I thought it was very touching."
"You would," she teased him.
"I did!" he declared. "Remember, I'm Jewish, and even though she was supposed to be telling her husband's story, her own was just as good."
Lisa rolled her eyes. "Whatever you say, Mike."
"Whatever I say, hmm?" he smiled appealingly. "Would you like to have dinner with me tonight, then?"
"Wh-what?" she asked, caught off guard.
"Would you like to have dinner with me tonight?" he repeated. "The hotel T.V. said that there was a nice restaurant down on University. And I clearly heard you say, 'whatever you say, Mike.'" As if to prove his point, he triggered the tape recorder.
Her own voice echoed back at her. "Whatever you say, Mike."
Despite herself, she smiled. "How clever."
"I try to be. So will you go out with me?" he asked, almost hopefully.
"Hmm," she said playfully. "Spend three hours on the road until I get home, then stay there and watch T.V. with my cat, or go out to dinner with the translator that my boss sends me, and who I've known for less than four hours. Choices, choices." She eyed the good-looking translator, then eyed his left hand.
She paused and tried to look thoughtful until Mike was obviously worried. Then she laughed and poked him in the shoulder with the end of her pen. "As much as I like my cat, I think I'll have to go out with you."
He looked relieved. "Does sushi sound good?"
"Sushi?" she wrinkled her nose. "I'm not really a fan of raw fish..."
"That's just it. Sushi isn't always raw fish. It can be cooked and it can be beef or vegetables. The word sushi basically refers to the vinegared rice that's paired with other ingredients. Sashimi is the raw fish part, and that can be served by itself, and often is."
He sounds like he's trying to advertise, and he's using too much technical information, she thought. "But it's still raw fish..."
"Have you ever tried oshi zushi?" he demanded. "It's a square of pressed rice topped with a piece of cooked sushi. And sushi isn't always that bad; maybe you just got some that didn't agree with your sensitive palate." He said it with an accent on 'palate,' making it sound French and making her smile.
"Well, no, I've only tried a piece of it," she admitted, "but it was disgusting, and I'm pretty sure that sushi is sushi, even if what I ate was Korean."
"Japanese sushi is very different from Korean sushi," he admonished her. "Korean food is usually a lot spicier than Japanese or Chinese food."
A bit unsure, especially when she remembered what happened last time she had sushi, she nodded. "Okay, but-" she stopped, unsure of what she had intended to say.
"But what?" he asked, smiling disarmingly again and showing overly white teeth.
"N-nothing," she stuttered, confused.
"Well, then," he said, dropping the recorder and the now-cased tape into a fanny pack straddling the side of his trim waist. "Shall we leave, then?"
She smiled at him. "Sure."
"I'll have a rum and Coke, and she'll have a--"
"A martini," Lisa finished for him.
"Coming right away," the waitress said, winking at Mike as she strutted away.
The translator rolled his eyes at her back and smiled at Lisa. "So was the sushi really that bad?" he teased, bringing a blush to Lisa's cheeks. At Tokyo Tower, she'd bitten into a squishy "this is negitoro-maki," that Mike had handed her without telling her what it was, and then discovered the contents after swallowing it. Tuna and scallions. She hadn't known that you could put scallions in sushi.
Unfortunately for the other patrons of the restaurant, and for Mike, Lisa was allergic to shellfish. Severely allergic to shellfish. Once Mike had identified the contents of the delicious roll for her, she'd turned whiter than the Virgin Mary and bolted for the restaurant's bathroom to induce vomiting. She'd managed to get the unfortunate piece of sushi out of her system, much to Mike's amusement and the other women in the bathroom's dismay.
Now they were at a local bar, and Lisa felt like she'd known Mike her whole life. And like crap, because her stomach was still roiling from the small amount of scallion that had managed to stay in her system. "Yes it was," she retorted good-naturedly. "I'm sorry I didn't tell you that I'm allergic to shellfish, but you need to tell people what they're eating before giving them the food, especially since my allergy is a very common one."
He just grinned at her, and "Me and My Shadow," sounded through the large room as the piano man started playing.
Two hours later, they were both slightly tipsy, and were engaged in giggling over the haircut of a butch woman at the bar.
Mike swept his blonde hair out of his eyes and snickered. "It's so poofy!" he exclaimed in a not-so-quiet whisper.
She hit him on the arm. "Not nice!"
The translator giggled.
The man at the piano stood up. "Requests?" he called loudly.
Mike lurched to his feet. "Play us a song, you're the piano man!" he sang enthusiastically but off-key.
The pianist glared at him, but sat back on his stool and played the opening notes to "Piano Man."
"It's nine-o-clock on a Saturday,
and the regular crowd shuffles in,
There's an old man sitting next to me
Makin' love to his tonic and gin."
A waitress shuffled over. She was blonde and dumpy, and looked at Mike anxiously.
"Umm, are you Mister Chavez?" she asked in a surprisingly sweet voice.
"Yes..." Mike said uncertainly.
The waitress's face cleared. "You have a call waiting at the bar. Would you like to take it?"
The translator frowned. "Who could that be?" he muttered, then looked at Lisa. "I'll be right back," he said apologetically. Then he dragged himself off after the waitress, muttering, "Sound sober, sound sober," under his breath.
Literally thirty seconds after he'd left, someone tapped her on the shoulder. She turned and was confronted by the smiling countenance of a young man. "Mind if I have a drink with you, pretty lady?" he asked. She eyed him carefully. He was clean-shaven, with a buzz-cut and innocent-looking brown eyes that blinked nervously at her.
"Sure," she said cautiously. He looked kind of lonely, now that she thought about it.
"Thanks." He pulled out Mike's chair and slumped into it. "I've never seen you here before. Did you just move into the city?"
"No." Something was telling her to trust this young man. "I'm just passing through; I was doing an interview for a magazine earlier today, and I'm going home later tonight."
"Oh... well, let me buy you a drink anyway?" he begged.
Lisa glanced up at the bar. Mike was still on the phone, gesturing wildly at the receiver, which was still on the bar--and she guessed that he was going to be there for a while. "Okay. What's your name, by the way?"
"Rory," he answered with a smile that could melt metal. He summoned one of the waitresses over and asked for two Cosmopolitans. The brunette vanished and then returned quickly, bearing the two drinks on a tray.
Rory slipped his hand out of his pocket and took the drinks by the tops from the tray, and handed Lisa hers. He fished some money out of his other pocket and slipped the waitress a twenty. "Keep the change," he advised with a wink. The exhausted-looking waitress suddenly looked a bit more awake, thanked him profusely, then vanished, only to reappear behind the bar.
"Cheers," Rory said, knocking her glass with his own. He proceeded to drink from his own glass, and motioned for her to do the same. She cautiously sipped at the drink; she'd never tried a Cosmopolitan before, and it tasted kind of salty; not at all to her tastes, but he had paid for it, and she was pretty thirsty...
She drank half of the glass in one gulp, hoping that Mike would come back before she had to drink the rest of it.
"Did you like it?" Rory asked, eyes glittering.
Lisa nodded and placed the glass on the table.
She had no idea how long it took before everything was blurry and awash with neon. Mike hadn't come back and Rory was helping her stand up.
They stumbled out of the piano bar and into the street where he veered them off down the sidewalk. It took her a minute to notice the hard rain and another to realize that it was cold. She groaned and pressed against Rory, seeking warmth. The man looked pleased and pulled her into the space between two buildings. He pushed his way between boxes into a deep doorway under a precarious-looking overhang and leaned her against a wall. In the next three seconds he was all over her and everything was going gray, and she didn't care.
She gasped and blinked. Her entire body felt lethargic and weak and she couldn't see much from where she was sitting against a trash can, head turned away and cheek pressed against the filthy plastic. She couldn't remember anything of the last--whatever. Everything about her felt like it was moving in a rush, and she shifted her eyes over to the two men arguing in the middle of the alley. Well--one was arguing. The other was just standing there and looking at Rory in a way that made her head hurt.
When she blinked, Rory was nowhere to be seen and the new man was crouched in front of her.
He was middle-aged and his indigo eyes seemed kind though neutral, and a cool hand pressed against her forehead before she blinked again. He was still there, and now his eyes were sad and tired. She felt a little less lethargic, enough to open her mouth and whisper, "Who are you?"
But the man simply smiled sorrowfully and looked up. She followed his gaze to the dark, snowing sky, and when she looked down again, he was gone. Snow was blowing gently into the alley and she was left with only seven words tickling her ears: "Find the son of the snow angel."
Then light filled the alley along with Mike, and the strange man seemed unimportant.
"Mike," she whispered. "Rory was--"
His eyes were flint-hard, but they filled with horror and remorse at her next words, forced out of a mouth that slurred half of them.
"I think I was drugged. He just tried to rape me."
The day she got the gun was the day it started. The paranoia. The constant feeling that someone was watching her. A man. She knew the eyes of women and men, but the prickling feeling between her shoulders never stopped.
She didn't like men and cut her hair short and attempted to be butch because she wanted to be the one in charge, but women didn't do anything for her. She'd had a brief fling with an older woman named Adrienne before she decided that women weren't for her.
The one looking at her now was eyeing her like a wolf eyed a lamb. Lisa flashed the gun at her and the woman quit looking. In this tiny border town--barely even a truck stop--Lisa wasn't going to get caught in any red tape for showing the gun. She didn't even know which side of the border she was on anymore.
The little bar was dirty and half-full, and someone was singing karaoke in the corner. A few strains of Over the Rainbow floated on cigarette smoke towards her, but she wasn't in the mood to listen. She called for another bottle of beer in the hopes that it would numb the spot between her shoulders and make her forget the miserable night waiting outside.
Reader's Digest should have never sent her up here. Writing a travel article without adding in a few choice bits about the locale was going to be difficult, to say the least. South Canada and the Northwestern United States was not a place to be in winter when the snow fell, piled up and then hardened under its own weight, making travel almost impossible. The sleet pounding on the roof grew thicker, if that was possible, as the bartender slid the bottle towards her. She downed the bottle and watched the flickering TV in the corner as a rerun of Gilmore Girls played on mute and the typo-riddled captions scrolled up too fast to watch.
A crash in the corner called her attention, but it was just someone knocking an empty pitcher to the floor.
Swears sounded and she turned back to Gilmore Girls and her beer.
Three beers later she'd moved to a table closer to the TV, the bar had emptied a little, and Smallville was on.
She craned her head to survey the bar; the prickle was back out of the black, and no matter how fast she downed the beer, it wouldn't go away. The sleet had stopped some time ago and now the bar seemed eerily quiet without the faint pounding in the background.
A table in the corner drew her eye, and the person sitting at it caught her attention immediately.
A cloak. Is this guy for real?
She turned back to her table and nearly shrieked to realize that the guy was sitting at her table. Her head spun back towards his now-empty table before she realized the prickle was gone.
The cloak was pulled far down over his--her?--head and the sudden dimness of the bar added to the effect.
Or maybe it's the beer, she thought.
The figure didn't say anything, and she stared at him.
"Nice cloak," she finally managed somewhat sarcastically, and he nodded.
"You look well," the figure intoned, making her jump. That voice was deep liquid smooth and froze the blood in her veins like ice.
"As opposed to…"
"Two years ago in the alley," he said after a pause.
Two years ago in the--oh my god.
"R-Rory," she stuttered, jerkily going for the gun at her shoulder, "how nice to see you--"
"I am not Rory."
Not--then this guy must be--
"You're the guy who sent Rory packing," she breathed. "My god, I never got to thank you. You saved my--"
Not her virginity, for that had been lost before college. Certainly her dignity, her sanity, her…
"My life," she finished with a hitch. "You saved my life."
"I only wish I had come sooner," he said, and his voice changed to cold, gentle breeze in her ears.
"Thank you so much," she whispered. "Is there anything I can do to thank you Mr.--"
"Frank." Deep violet eyes suddenly became visible in the depths of the cowl. "Actually, there is something you can do for me."
Not expecting him to actually want anything since he'd walked away after saving her, she tensed, expecting something of a sexual nature. "And that would be…"
"Find the son of the snow angel," whispered in her ears, bringing her back to two years ago in the alley with the cold brick walls and the filthy trash can and Rory--
"Find the son of the snow angel," said Frank, and the alley vanished into the hallways of her mind.
"I want you to find the son of the snow angel," he repeated calmly, not showing even a hint of impatience.
"You said that," she said. "What the hell does that mean?"
"Exactly what it sounds like," he said, standing up.
"Wait, when do you want this done by?" she asked frantically, feeling a sense of dread come upon her.
"You'll know," he said enigmatically.
She grabbed hold of a fold of the cloak and asked, "What do I do with him? Who is this kid?"
He said again, "You'll know."
"Where is he?"
"Why?" she burst out. "Why me, why do you need him? How do I reach you?"
"You'll know," whispered in her ears. "I'll call you."
As she sat pondering over the words of his, which suddenly seemed to hold the greatest importance, he turned and walked out the door into the snow.
The second he left the bar she was left with the feeling that his words still had the importance of a few minutes ago, but they weren't the focus of an obsessive mind anymore. She shot up, knocking her chair over and dove out of the bar after him.
The street outside the bar was empty save for a few wet cars dusted in white and the faint pink snow outside the bar that was lit by the red neon in the window.
A snowflake landed on her cheek and she looked up. The sleet had stopped some time ago--she didn't know when, exactly--and now all that was falling from the sky was light snow that seemed to grow heavier the longer she looked at it.
"Where'd you go?" she muttered under her breath, nervously fingering the gun. She'd never had to use the Colt before except at the firing range; would she now?
A crash in the building next to the bar made her spin and half slide the Colt out of its sheath.
Why am I so jumpy?
A cat came slinking cautiously out of a hole in the panels covering the windows and she relaxed a hair. She shoved the Colt back in with shaking hands and snapped the button flap back around it then shrugged, letting her jacket fall naturally over the gun.
The cloaked man--What was his name?--had all but vanished into thin air and she went back into the bar.After all, she had a bill to pay.