Merrick and Rosette were already waiting for me, seated at a table for three beneath a halo-like fluorescent light. Rosette was still wearing the white jumpsuit that hospital staff were required to wear, the medal representing a dove and a cross fashioned of pearl and branded with the insignia of District 24 of New Londinium glowing on her left shoulder. She must have asked for special leave from her night shift so that she could be with Merrick during our interview. It was touching that she would take the pay cut for his sake – and gratifying that she realized how serious the situation was.
They had never seen me before, but they still knew who I was or rather what I was. I wasn’t wearing my full uniform, only a plain black suit, but the insignia gleaming on my shoulder – a silver sword athwart a silver hand – was unmistakably that of a Court of Justice officer. The sword was meant to represent justice; the hand, mercy? I wasn’t sure.
As I approached, the couple stood and Merrick extended a hand, a nervous smile playing on his lips. “Officer?”
“That’s right,” I said, taking his hand and giving it a firm squeeze, my own hand still gloved in leather. “Officer Conway, at your service.” I had already made my mind up that the place Merrick had chosen for our meeting was unsuitable – too loud, too casual, too bright. It had been an amusing show of politeness to offer him the choice, but I had never really had any intention of taking his preference seriously anyway. As they watched, visibly tense, for my response, I shook my head. “Allow me to suggest another place, a little more suitable for our talk. If, of course, that’s fine with the both of you?”
The question was a mere formality; Merrick nodded and Rosette stooped to gather up her purse and umbrella. I told Merrick that he could drive and I would direct him. As we approached my car, I held the back door open for Rosette – the gesture was courteous, but my intentions were not: I didn’t want her to sit in the passenger seat beside Merrick. I wanted her beside me.
It was a hot, rainy evening – the water lashed against the windshield, distorting and softening the sharp glare of street lights and brightly-lit kiosks. High above the pavilion of food stalls and pubs, I saw the distant, glittering, cathedral-like spires of Fonthill Towers. Part state church, part courthouse, part gated community for the metropolis’s high-ranking politicians and the wealthy who could afford the steep prices, I had only been in those dark towers once, ten years ago, when I was newly-christened as a Court of Justice officer. Rosette sat beside the window opposite mine, but she gazed out my window at those towers as well, before stealing a curious glance in my direction, as though I were the human extension of their glittering strength. It was natural; these civilians hated the Court of Justice, but admired our efficiency as well. We protected and punished them – little wonder that, like children, they fawned over and feared us. But Rosette’s look was different. She was curious, but also wary – she wanted to know what my intentions were for her fiancée. She wondered what sort of man I was.
“Where are we going, Officer?” Merrick asked.
“Just another restaurant – but one where I can hear myself think.” That came out a little more harshly than I had meant and I saw Rosette’s eyes flicker with fear. “I mean, there is a certain protocol for where these sorts of meetings should be held. I should have scouted your choice before agreeing to it.”
“It was my idea to meet at the new club,” Rosette said. “I’m sorry, Officer Conway.”
I felt in my pocket and offered her one of those rose-flavored candies that they sell at obscene prices uptown and which I knew, from her file, she had an embarrassing weakness for. This gesture was performed so naturally that it caught her off guard and she smiled with relief and gratitude. Merrick, still driving, caught my eye in the rearview mirror. His expression was unreadable.
The Delphine Bar was quiet and dark, as always. There was music, but it was subtle and sonorous, the way I liked it, like the joyous grind of machinery in a factory or delicate insect wings vibrating in an evening field. Lamps were scarce: the tables were little islands of light in a sea of muted darkness. I led Merrick and Rosette to one such table and once we had each ordered a drink, I said to him: “Now: we’ll get to your, ah, mental breakdown but first, tell me a little about yourself and your job.”
He hesitated, watching me idly tap my long pen against my teeth, my notebook at the ready. “Officer Conway, how serious is this?”
I raised a brow, glancing from Merrick to Rosette. The suspense was delightful, but I suppose I had to be frank with him. “You’ve committed no infraction,” I said. “This is a mandatory check to make certain that you are still capable of fulfilling your office. You are a part of law enforcement yourself, you know. We can’t risk having a mentally unsound man on the job.”
He drew in a breath. “Of course. That makes sense. Where to begin…”
“Your job?” I tilted my head, gave him a sharp look. “I would like to hear you describe what you do in your own words and then tell me the events that led to your breakdown last Thursday.”
Merrick lit up an electronic cigarette made of cylindrical marble, blowing a plume of harmless, rose-scented air in my direction. Roses again. Given Rosette’s fondness for that flavor, I wonder if he smoked this scent because she enjoyed it. Or had he always smoked it and was her own love for rose-flavored candies tied to his habit – did they evoke him for her? I was lost in useless speculation and almost missed the first half of Merrick’s reply.
“…as you can imagine it can be draining, emotionally,” he finished. “Would you like a cigarette too, Officer Conway?”
“You monitor social media accounts, I know that much,” I said, taking the proffered cigarette, setting the marble to my lips, and pressing the little button at its filter, watching the end flare blue and then gold with synthetic light, its sweet vapor filling my mouth and throat. “And you get rid of the pornographic and violent content, right? Seems easy enough – just lean back, watch the images, and then void them forever.”
“You’re an officer – you’ve seen horrible things, haven’t you?” he said. His grey eyes met mine, waiting for an answer.
“Seen, yes.” I nodded.
“It must be hard.”
“You get used to it.”
“See, that’s what I hear from other officers like you. You get used to it.” He shook his head. “But it’s different – what we do. We just have to sit there and take it. Oh, sure, we report it to you guys so that you can try and hunt the perpetrator. Sure we take it down. But it’s not the same.”
“What do you mean, it’s not the same?” I leaned forward, genuinely curious. Evidently Merrick didn’t realize that I was in the surveillance division and did precious little arresting myself, but I was too intrigued by his haunted look to bother correcting him. “Forgive me, but you don’t seem like a prudish guy.” I coughed. “I’m sure there must be lovely, ah, visions that appear from time to time on your feed.”
He replied to my winking suggestion with a laugh. “Oh sure, the porn doesn’t bother me. They’re just harmless exhibitionists.” He dragged on his cigarette, expelled a cloud of smoke. The music filled the silence like a reverie. “But that’s not what I’m talking about.” Rosette put her arm on his shoulder and I saw that he was shuddering ever so slightly. “I mean the looped videos of a puppy strangled by its owner. The pictures of some unknown kid getting knifed by a bunch of thugs. The footage pulled from security cameras of freak accidents that end with a decapitation. Someone setting fire to some blindfolded guy while he’s tied to—”
“That’s enough,” Rosette said. “I think Officer Conway understands.” She glanced at me, offered me a faint smile. I realized that she was trying to reassure me that her fiancée was fine, but I could not help but enjoy the faint recognition of my dominance that her gesture implicitly recognized. I gave her a faint nod, my eyes holding her as I drew on the cold marble, tasting sweet air.
“You can do something about what you see,” Merrick said, his own gaze on me, as though he saw in me some simulacrum of inaccessible power. “You can’t understand the frustration and rage that builds in you – to see that ugliness and not possess any direct, physical counter to it.”
“Perhaps I’ve never experienced it, but it’s not unheard of,” I said. “There have been studies that have documented breakdowns such as your own. I believe a brilliant mind at Cambridge recently dubbed it The Sin-Eater Syndrome. In passively taking on the ugliness of society, you simultaneously save society and are destroyed by it.” I paused. “So my question to you is this: are you still able to work? Or do we need to set you to work elsewhere? There’s a bookkeeping position down in District Seven that I think you would be suited to.”
Merrick visibly cringed. He knew that there would be a substantial pay cut if he chose this option. Few wished to enter his line of work, but the monetary benefits were substantial. And, if the man was truly serious about marrying Rosette, he could hardly afford to lose his position – or so I guessed. I was surprised, then, when Rosette herself suddenly spoke up and said to him, “Darling, that sounds like a lovely offer.” She glanced at me, adding, “I was afraid that there were no positions open for the next cycle, but if there is an opening, that’s wonderful news.”
Merrick was shaking his head though. “It will not happen again,” he said firmly. “I’ve been seeing a therapist, a marvelous doctor downtown, and he’s done wonders for my peace of mind. No, truly, Officer Conway – you have nothing to worry about. I’m still the man for the job.”
“What’s the name of this doctor?” I asked.
I jotted the name down, sucking in the last of the rose-scented smoke. I then pressed a small button on the side of the cigarette, dissolving it to powder in my cupped hand, and blowing the dust into the air.
“Okay, Merrick.” I closed my notebook. “I’ll write up my report and send it to my superiors. Thank you for your forthrightness.” I rose, shaking his hand and then Rosette’s. As our fingers met, I saw her meet my eyes and shake her head slightly. She was still upset, I realized, that Merrick had not taken me up on my job offer.
“Merrick, could you go ahead and call us a cab?” she asked. “I’ll be right out in a second.”
Her auburn hair shone violet under the lights of The Delphine Club as she watched Merrick go before turning to me again. I saw her eyes change from tender watchfulness to a more guarded, formal look and I felt my insides twist at that alteration. What I would have given for it to be the reverse and for her to look at that weakling as she now looked at me. But at least I knew that she recognized my strength, my authority. She was looking to me now for guidance and hope.
“Can you give him a week or so before dropping your offer?” she asked. “I’m not certain whether he has made the…wisest decision.”
“Perhaps,” I said. “I would suggest that you come by the Precinct yourself. There are some things that I would like to question you about privately.”
She let me help her slip her coat on, let me press her shoulders, and said with a sigh, “I’ll see if I can get off work and…and see you.”
Her reply was as good as a no. Then she slipped away from me into the rain.
I lingered a bit longer, smoking another cigarette that I bummed from the bartender, listening to the soft drone of music, before returning to my place. Once I was there, I slipped into bed, turned down the lights, and settled the clear webbing of neurological implants about my head. Their vibrating pressure against my forehead sent me into a deep sleep – and, according to the dream parameters that I had programmed beforehand, the device began to flood my dreams with the sensory input that I had wished for, that I had specified. I felt Rosette pressed breathlessly against me, watched her fumble with her buttons and hooks, and as I took her, I felt Merrick’s tortured eyes upon us. That last element was necessary for my pleasure: I needed to imagine him feeling the torment of watching and not having before I could feel released from my own torment.
And when at last I was, I fell asleep with the dreamweb still vibrating and humming against my brow, feeling only a slight pang of what I had felt hours ago in The Delphine Bar when I had felt so strong and yet so horribly powerless.
A week went by and then another and Rosette did not drop by the Precinct to see me. Did she take my lenience for granted? During breaks from my regular routine work, I thumbed through my notebook, running my eye over the scattered notes that I had taken during my talk with Merrick. A nervous breakdown…the trauma of seeing images of violence without possessing the ability to physically respond…a new therapist named Benway…I felt like a bird circling a field for the shadow of my prey.
And I was disappointed. Where I’d hoped to see a man unable to cope any longer with the pressures of his job, I saw a shaken but firm resolve. It didn’t make sense; it didn’t jive with what I’d read of Merrick in his file. I stayed late, far too late into the night in my office, drinking cup after cup of stale coffee until my mouth and throat took on a bitter, acrid flavor, scanning his file with jittery fingers for some clue, but I consistently came up dry. I pored over patterns in his social media profile, conversations picked up over security feeds, pictures of him as a nervous, handsome intern, a shy smile playing on his lips. The profile drawn up for him by a state physician had emphasized his propensity for guilt and a conscientious dutifulness. He was recommended for a job in security and there he was.
Outside my office, the Precinct was lonely and dark, with a few guys operating the nightshift at their desks, faces illumined from below by silver desk screens. Walls of text scrolled down the screens, informing them of various activities in different districts of New Londinium: a knifing on Liles Street, a guy bludgeoning his mom to death with a Norwegian sex doll in a penthouse on 40th – the kind of stuff that Merrick had to watch and do nothing about. I imagined him watching and listening to the little cries and sobs, his brain firing, charging, and impotent.
My overcoat couldn’t keep the rain at bay, but I didn’t mind the wetness, turning my steps away from the Precinct and towards Trammell Street, where Merrick lived. The streetlights glittered above like floating halos without an angel’s head to touch them. I licked my lips and tasted rose smoke on my tongue. Was Rosette up there with him? Half of me hoped not, hoped that she was running some evening errand – I wanted to watch the man by himself and see what I could discover – and part of me hoped so, though I knew that what I saw would make me twist even more. Funny – when I had been up for promotion and had lost my chance to a colleague with more luck than me, I had at first loathed the idea that I would have to spend another two years tapping a piece in my ear and listening to the same voices, the same human detritus, week after week until something was said that would confirm or utterly deny some suspicion and put a case file at last to rest. I still loathed the work, but not for its dull routine. Now I loathed it for the occasional music that I had learned to hear in those crackling voices.
I found his block – a row of tenements fashioned in that ugly brick and stone style that was so popular in this district – and found shelter behind a kiosk, trying to ignore the chatter of a watchmaker as he enthusiastically described his shining wares to a customer. I raised my wrist, pressing the dial on my wristband while touching my hidden earpiece. Like an invisible falcon, my device sent its message to the wire that I had planted in Merrick’s apartment and, after a crackling interference, I heard the sounds within. There were footsteps, the hum of an air conditioner. No voices, nothing. He was alone.
I was so intent on listening to Merrick’s private movements that it was only when she had brushed against me accidentally, trying to pass me on the narrow sidewalk, that I recognized Rosette. I could imagine myself taking her in my arms, forcing her to recognize me, but it was myself that I forced when I stood steadfastly silent after that momentary brush, watching her walk through the rain away from me. She must have only just left his apartment, then. I had been so unmemorable to her, I realized, that her glancing sweep of me had not been enough to remind her of who I was. She still had him in her heart.
“Hey, mister,” the watchmaker peered at me intently, rain dripping from the long brim of his cap. “You interested in any of this?”
“Nothing you can give me.” I opened the top button of my overcoat, flashing the silver insignia of sword and hand on my breast, and he backed away quickly, murmuring apologies.
My wire in Merrick’s apartment had suddenly gone silent. I tapped my earpiece but heard nothing. For a moment, I panicked and thought that he had found my wire but then I saw the reason for the unexpected silence. Merrick was standing on the doorstep of his apartment, toying with a cigarette, his gaze idle and distant. His casual look infuriated me, but I forced myself to look away, afraid that he would recognize me. When I hazarded another glance at him, I saw that he was walking down the street towards the north end of the city and, of course, I began to follow him.
He took me deep into that district where all the factories and strip clubs seemed to cluster – the guts and slimy sinews of the city that I rarely saw on my off hours. One of the many vows that I had been obliged to take before becoming an officer of the law had been a forswearing of all these pleasures. Not that I had minded too much in the past – cocaine and courtesans are overrated luxuries anyway. I never even felt the slightest twinge for erotic kicks until I’d seen Rosette’s face in that file. Now, as I followed Merrick past the grinding factories and the driving, incessant music that seemed to emerge like a full-throated roar from the clubs that I passed, I wondered what else I was missing, what other tastes I had that lay dormant.
Another thought occurred to me as I followed Merrick, as we walked together beneath neon light and intervening shadow: he was an officer of the law like me, albeit standing less tall on the pecking order. And, like me, if he entered any of these clubs with the purpose of doing anything more than watch, he was liable not only to lose his job but to face severe punishment. What was it now? A minimum of five years’ incarceration with mandatory sensory training. They hook you up to a machine and fill you with endorphins while showing you videos of the Court of Justice pronouncing some edict or a rocket ejecting from a launcher. One guy spent ten years in this condition; I heard that every time he caught a transmission of the prime minister delivering a speech, he began blushing furiously like a schoolgirl and had to excuse himself. A really lovely way to live.
Look, don’t touch. Those were the rules. Oh, I was perfectly fine with this, I suppose, but perhaps Merrick wasn’t. Perhaps this was how he worked off his excess energy after a day of watching pornography and homemade murder movies. I wasn’t even thinking of what his superiors would think if they caught a whiff of this. I was thinking of how Rosette would react – and I have to own, I was smiling.
But Merrick passed every one of them – the leather bars, the dance clubs, the brothels that fronted as used record stores – and I, following in his shadow, began to wonder what he was looking for. Was it something in the crowd? But the women in the plastic raincoats and tight skirts who leaned in to whisper something to him were met with less attention from him than from me, as I was too inexperienced to know how to rebuff them without tempting them. I met the gaze of one of them: one eye was dark, the other a startling green. It gave her an air of unreality.
“Come with me?” She said it like a question. I noticed that in spite of her alien gaze, she was beautiful.
Once I had shaken them off me, I realized that I had lost him.
I returned to my apartment, shivering in the air-conditioning as I unbuttoned the damp clothes from my body. A shower relaxed me somewhat, but I still flinched when the memory of those fingers in the crowd, reaching out and touching me, returned. And the memory of how Merrick had so effortlessly lost me.
I ran a hand over my cheeks – a week’s growth of stubble. I had really let myself go this last week in my white-hot need to find something on Merrick. I had to get a grip – had to return to what I used to be. This was madness.
Barely bothering to towel myself dry, I opened the drawer in the nightstand by my bed and took out the floppy plastic of the dreamweb, shakily settling it against my forehead and over the crown of my skull. With trembling fingers, I began to program a different fantasy, one that I had never indulged in before. When I closed my eyes, I saw myself walking down those streets again, Merrick ahead of me. I saw him pause and approach one of the painted women who had pawed at me earlier; saw him reach into his pocket, I suppose for a credit. But when he withdrew his hand, I saw a gun and he turned it on me, his face a leer of brutality.
With lightning speed, I felt myself pull my own gun from its holster, while with my other hand I struck the weapon from his hand. Instantly, his leer crumpled. Like a child he began to sob, stricken, while Rosette (who had suddenly emerged from the crowd), came to my side, utterly shocked by his dissolution. The dream ended as I embraced her – I was too shaken to program a more elaborate fantasy – and I came awake, shuddering and damp.
I think I had fallen asleep for a good hour or so before I suddenly started awake, my heart racing with a sudden, cold suspicion. Merrick said that he was going to a therapist – a Dr. Benway. I threw my bedclothes aside and, hunched over the glaring light of my computer screen, ran a few searches but I couldn’t find a single Benway in our database of authorized therapists. That name, though…there was some memory in me that it jogged. I entered it into a broader database, one that included the names of local shops, streets, and any other items of note in the district of New Londinium. When I saw the results, I realized that I had been a fool not to think of it before – there was only one place Merrick could have gone that would effectively evade street cameras and human eyewitnesses.
The abandoned Dawson Corporation factory. Its address: 1583 Benway Street.
The Dawson Corporation was – technically still is – a generally well-regarded company. Purveyors of artificial intelligence in all its forms, they were the company who first perfected (back in 2060, I think it was) the first AI with a distinct personality, one that could innovate intelligently upon a user’s request. I still remember when I was a kid how everyone wanted to have their own ‘Dawson Buddy’, an AI who would actually carry on an intelligent conversation with you, make you feel like you were talking to a human who cared. I actually wasn’t a huge fan of the things: it was bad enough to get beaten regularly at chess by an emotionless machine. If I wanted to get beaten by something that could tease me, I’d just go ahead and play with a fucking human. But I was in the minority – most children loved them to pieces. Dawson catapulted to corporate fame not just because of their technical genius but because of a brilliant campaign that linked robotic intelligence with children’s development. Create the perfect companion for your children, one who fostered their social skills while meeting your approval. What more could a helicopter parent ask for? Guess I was lucky I was an orphan.
It was when they started expanding to more adult pleasures that things began to take a more peculiar turn. In keeping with their earlier models for children, Dawson Corporation marketed their erotic robots with a savvy aggression and a simple concept: the thinking man’s sex doll. Their “geisha models” came in varying ethnicities and body types and could hold in-depth conversations about Blade Runner, Frederic Jameson, and commodity fetishism. Hell, the company even acknowledged the tastelessness of the term “geisha,” incorporating self-deprecating jokes on orientalism in their commercials, all of which seemed to satisfy the consciences of their target consumers: a mix of young middle class professionals and wealthy dilettantes.
The root of the problem with the geishas was in what the Dawson Corporation marketed as the Soulmate Algorithm. It was supposed to be an asset – you didn’t have to program your own fantasy into the android, the way I had to with the dreamweb. Instead, the geisha was supposed to discern your fantasies from the data that it picked up in its interactions with you, what you said or hinted at in conversation, even subtle physical cues. And for most people, this was fine – their hidden kinks, mildly disgusting or not, were satisfied and no harm done. But some of the surprises that the Soulmate Algorithm had in store for its users were not so harmless.
Mind you, there couldn’t have been any malicious intent on the part of the AI – the algorithm was simply interpreting the data that it was given. There was something, the technicians insisted, that made the geisha models do what they did; but whatever it was, they couldn’t discern. A week after the models were released, the police broke down the door of a man’s apartment after his neighbors complained of an appalling stench and found a smiling blonde geisha doll holding a nail gun in her stiff arms, the corpse of her owner covered from head to toe in silver, bristling nails.
Of course, the models were hastily recalled. No exceptions, the Court of Justice declared. No one understood what had gone wrong with the Soulmate Algorithm and by the time the story of the Geisha model and the nailgun hit the presses, no one wanted one of the things, never mind the legality. So the Dawson Corporation went back to making wholesome AI’s for child-rearing and the factory where they built the Geisha models was dismantled and abandoned. It had been scheduled for demolition, but it still had a few months of life left. So it remained on the edge of the city – a decrepit lifeless factory of steel, plastic, and motionless, monstrous machinery. And it was also the one place within the walls of New Londinium that did not have operative security cameras – hence my suspicion that Merrick might have chosen it as his rendezvous point for whatever clandestine mission had called him away at this late hour.
As I drove in the direction of the abandoned Dawson factory, I found myself thinking about the Geisha models and the Soulmate Algorithm. What had those dolls made of synthetic skin seen in us that made them think that we wanted that? Had they malfunctioned or had they seen something too well? I thought of the crime scene photos, the dead man’s wrists bristling with shining nails, and felt my palms itch.
The Dawson Factory was surrounded by chain-link fences mounted with barbed wire; beyond these artificial thorns, I saw its grey towers rise, framed by mist and starlight. Hefting a pistol and a flashlight, I approached, and – after several minutes of cursory inspection – found what I had expected: a patch of the fence that had been savaged by pliers, leaving a dark, ragged opening. It was when I was about to crawl through, into the darkness of the factory yard, that I felt the cold press of something long and hard at the back of my head.
“Drop the gun and the flashlight,” Merrick whispered. “Now.”
His voice was low and breathless; different from the way he had sounded in The Delphine Bar. It unnerved me and so I obeyed him.
“On your feet.” He gave my head a dizzying cuff. “How stupid do you think I am, Officer Conway? You didn’t think I knew you were following me? That you’ve been following me for days?”
I slowly stood, still facing the gap in the chainlink fence. After a moment’s hesitation, I spoke, trying to deepen my voice – give it an air of the authority that I now felt so nakedly lacking. “Merrick…” I cautioned, soft and earnest. “You could get in a lot of trouble for this. Now, give me the gun. I know this isn’t personal.”
He laughed then and I was alarmed to find that he didn’t sound crazy in the slightest. “Of course not. But I can’t let you go until I’ve convinced you that there’s nothing worth being alarmed over.” He gestured with his pistol towards the ragged gap in the fence.
“What do you want from me?” I asked.
“I want you to see what I’ve been doing. Isn’t that what you’ve been wanting too? To learn my great secret?”
I steeled my nerves – a bit shaken, I’ll admit, by this unexpected turn and Merrick’s peculiar mood – and forced myself to consider the situation calmly, to remember my training. I ignored the feel of the fence cutting and ripping into my coat and the probe of Merrick’s gun at my back and thought of my advantages. I wasn’t handcuffed; I wasn’t injured; I certainly wasn’t dead. Merrick was a mousy man with an emotionally-taxing desk job, suffering from PTSD; I was a trained officer. If I’d felt that he intended to shoot me in the factory yard, I could have risked retrieving my gun and made an end of the charade.
The truth was that in spite of my shock and reservation, I also felt a sharp dig of curiosity. Merrick wanted to show me something in that darkness, perhaps the thing that had at last quieted his fears. Who was I to stop him?
As we passed beneath the shadow of the tower and reached the tall door leading to the factory warehouse, Merrick said, and I could hear the smile behind his words, “Funny, isn’t it? Ordinarily you would expect me to be leading you to something horrific – but I’m actually going to show you what I’ve managed to find to compose my fears. To relieve them. Does that strike you as anti-climactic, officer?”
“It depends,” I replied. “On whether your relief is obtained through legal means.”
“Right.” He chuckled. “Relief isn’t just relief, is it?”
The first thing that struck me as we entered the musty confines of the factory was how thick and cloying the smell of plastic was. The door had opened onto a narrow, windowless stairwell and as I blinked, my vision adjusting to the dim light that Merrick’s flashlight provided, I saw the sprawled forms of several geishas, glassy eyes motionless and staring. They were as harmless as mannequins without their energy packs, but I still instinctively recoiled from them. They were too life-like to be mistaken for dolls; they were like still-living humans, inhumanly motionless, frozen in time and space. Couldn’t the company have cleaned the place up before clearing out and torched these human simulacra, these changelings, to ashes?
Merrick prodded me in the back with his pistol and I tore my gaze away from those smiling, painted lips and began to climb the stairs leading higher into the darkness of the factory tower. Our ascension was silent; I didn’t feel that it would be prudent to question him in that pressing stillness with his gun at my back, and he kept his own peculiar peace. By the time we reached the topmost floor, we had climbed a good ten stories and I was breathless, panting in the concrete gloom.
“Don’t worry,” he said. “It’s cooler up here. You’ll see.”
He opened the door that led to the tenth floor and I felt a rush of air against my face, like a breeze from the sea. But it wasn’t the sea. My voice echoed like the cry of a lost bird: “Jesus Christ, what are you doing up here, Merrick?”
“I told you. You’ll see. I’ll give you a demonstration.”
I was only half-listening to him, my gaze taking in the utter strangeness of the tenth floor of the factory tower. It was a spacious single room, large as a stadium, made of black, cream, and crimson-colored marble from floor to ceiling. Except for the perimeter of the room which formed a sort of slippery walkway, the room was an immense indoor pool, the waters reflecting the colored marble.
In the shallow center of that shadowy, tranquil pool, I saw a chair. There were various wires attached to it, long and black like highway power lines, extending from the high ceiling to a web-like cap at its back. There was something that that plastic webbing reminded me of and I stepped forward, wanting a better look, but Merrick held me back with a hiss. I felt him fumbling around my belt then, unclipping my handcuffs and then clumsily cuffing me to the iron railing that overlooked the pool. My temples throbbed with a dull, frustrated tension; when I caught a glimpse of one of those geishas a few yards away, leaning against the marble wall, smiling emptily at me, I started.
“What is that thing doing here?” I demanded, hoping to God my voice wasn’t shaking.
“They’re scattered all over the place,” Merrick gave a faint laugh. “I guess the Dawson Corporation didn’t bother cleaning up, since they knew the whole building would be demolished eventually anyway. Can you believe it, they actually constructed this entire pool area for the geishas to exercise their artificial muscles and to demonstrate that they were waterproof? Pretty wild, huh?” He rubbed my shoulders then, the creep, as though I were some skittish colt, setting my nerves on edge all the more. “Calm down, officer. There’s nothing to be afraid of. In fact, you may learn to enjoy this too, before the evening’s out.”
It’s strange how one peculiar choice in wording can have the effect of coloring an entire sentiment. Merrick’s insipid reassurances would have been merely cloying had he not dropped that strange word – enjoy. And even worse, the idea that I would share in whatever his enjoyments were. I swallowed the loathing that I felt, returning: “You seem fairly confident that I won’t take action against you after tonight.”
“Oh, I am confident. Didn’t I tell you that you’d enjoy yourself too?”
He was facing me now and I thought I caught the faintest glint of grim relish in his eyes. The cunning wretch had caught my instinctive flinching at that word and was now deliberately repeating it to prod the same response out of me again. I simply returned his amused look with a stony one of my own, saying, “Why don’t you show me what you’re up to, Merrick, before I die of old age? Unless that’s your plan?”
“Not likely. Did you know that statistically, in your line of work, you have a 30% chance of dying from a bullet or knife wound?”
I shrugged, unimpressed.
“Here’s another statistic that I bet you didn’t know. Did you know that the chance of contracting a stress-related illness in my line of work is 60%? And there’s an 8% chance that said illness will be directly linked to mortality?”
“You’ve been listening to too many morning talk show reruns,” I said.
He was shivering a little; there was now a mournful color to his look of giddy joy. His voice was still steady, sane – but I was growing more and more convinced that the man before me was utterly insane. Did Rosette know, I wondered? Was that why she had earnestly pleaded with him to consider my offer of a job transfer?
Merrick had left me handcuffed to the railing. He was now wading into the shallows of the pool, the water soaking and darkening his pants up to the thighs, dragging his coat with its inexorable weight. As I watched him heave himself deeper into the pool and felt the glowing eyes of the geishas, their plastic legs dangling into the pool as they sat on their marble ledges, I felt the first pang of true panic. Convulsively struggling against the cuffs, I cried, “Oh, for God’s sake, Merrick, you’re not going to kill yourself right now and leave me like this, are you?”
He turned back to look at me. His eyes were still gleaming with that uncanny and yet oddly sober light. “Of course not,” he said, a little surprised. “I told you. I found the solution to my problem. I’m about to show it to you.”
He was chest-deep in the water by the time he reached the chair in the center of the pool. “A lifeguard lookout,” he panted. “Imagine, guarding the lives of things that aren’t even alive. Tell me, have you heard of survivor’s guilt, officer?”
I twisted a little against the railing, trying to reduce the biting cut of the handcuffs.
“Sure, of course. It’s the guilt felt by victims of a trauma who survive but know that others didn’t share their luck.”
“Right.” He was hoisting himself up on the concrete lifeguard platform. “I used to wonder how anyone could feel guilt for their own survival. Now I know.” He was panting, dripping at the foot of the chair, his eyes bright as he rested his head close to the coiled wires that dangled from the chair like willowy tentacles.
“What do you think you know, Merrick?” I asked. I had managed to ease the cold bite of the cuffs and was now gingerly testing them to see how tight their grip on my wrists truly was. Ordinarily it would have been impossible to escape them, but the chill perspiration that had covered me when I had thought – for a brief, awful moment – that Merrick was going to off himself and leave me in that wet, marble tomb had given my wrists the slick freedom to begin worming agonizingly loose. My hope was that Merrick’s crazy talk would distract him from my attempt.
“It’s not surviving the horror that really torments me,” he said. “It’s the feeling of powerless…ignorance. Of not fully understanding what I’m seeing much less preventing it from happening. Don’t you get it?”
His intense eyes now fixed on me as he stood by the chair. I paused in my attempt to extricate myself.
“No,” I said. “I don’t get it. By watching those videos – the murders, the abuse – you report it to people like me and you help us catch the felons. You don’t think that means something? You don’t think that’s power?”
“A kind of power, sure. A kind that’s powerless, however, to ease my special brand of torment. Do you know what I think every time I watch those videos, officer?”
“What?” I asked, tense and therefore somewhat brusque. It wasn’t just Merrick’s pale-eyed stare that was unnerving me. It was something deep inside me, some grim intuition, that told me that I did not want to hear his answer – did not want to understand his wisdom or what it was that had compelled him, like some tormented lemming, to this echoing place.
But he was talking, his words could not be prevented, nor the haunted obsession from which they welled. He was sitting in the chair now, his face in profile, turned askance from me.
“I wonder—what does it feel like? What is that ineffable experience – of having a face, my face, caved in by a lead pipe? Of being beaten, dismembered while still breathing with a camera catching your every last breath?” He leaned back against the chair, against the birds-nest coil of wires at his head. “What does it feel like to have a thousand nails driven into your arm?”
Something in his last remark triggered a memory in me of some familiar atrocity and a revelation came to me then.
“The video you saw, the one that finally broke you,” I said. “It had to do with one of those geishas, didn’t it? That’s what brought you here—here of all places.”
Merrick’s laugh sounded like an awful, choking gasp. “You could say that. They were imaginative creatures, weren’t they? They knew us.”
“The Soulmate Algorithm,” I said steadily. “Was simply a gruesome technological malfunction. They didn’t know anything. They had no imagination. They were circuits and wires that came in the shape of a human.”
“You’re right. They didn’t have any imagination or knowledge. We gave them that. Anyway, you came here to see how I manage to – ah – relieve my tension. Let me show you how.”
It was when he began pulling the webbing of wires down upon his head that I realized what he had hooked up to the lifeguard’s chair and why it had seemed so horribly familiar. It was the same sort of dreamweb headset that I used every night, that gave me such visions. I finally noticed the little black box at the foot of the chair: the one with the screens and knobs, identical to the one I had in which, every night, I would program my latest, cherished reverie. Usually of Rosette. But Merrick had Rosette, damn him. Then what was he using the dreamweb for?
“I know what it’s like now, officer,” he said dreamily. “And it’s not so bad. Not so bad at all. It’s not as bad as I imagined it – or as you, perhaps imagine it. I thought it would be like the tortures of the damned, but the adrenaline sharpens and then numbs you, anesthetizes your senses. He never really suffered.”
“Who?” I asked, baffled.
“The man whose wrists and arms were nailed to the kitchen floor by his geisha. You didn’t know? The creature – the robot – uploaded the whole thing online. It was viral for a full hour before I saw it and took it down. I think…I think it thought that we would want to watch.
“I thought I couldn’t imagine that kind of pain. The idea gnawed at me, made me feel this weird helpless guilt. Oh, officer, you would laugh at me if you knew how much I built up every crime, every atrocity that I witnessed. But now I know what they’re like; they’re like nothing. Did you know that most victims of stabbing don’t even realize that they’ve been stabbed? It feels like a gut-punch, like a blow from a bully in a playground, and then nothing. So they die – well, brother, we are all going to die.”
I had worked one of my hands free just as Merrick began to bring the dream-webbing over his head, the clear implodes adhering to his skull and face like clammy, circular fingertips. As he pressed the button that turned the dreamweb on, the clear, creamy implants began to glow a bluish color: the phosphorous light of a deep sea predator. His lips drew back from his teeth in an unconscious rictus of anticipation, though whether his grimace was one of ecstasy or horror I could not tell.
Nor did I really care. I was working to free my other hand and I was doing so with such panicked intent that it was only after a few minutes that I noticed something peculiar about Merrick.
He wasn’t just attached to the dreamweb through the implants at his forehead. He had actually attached other implants to his forearms and throat – intravenous implants from which trickles of blood had started to flow and his skin to flush. What the hell was he doing? Whatever it was, it had a marked physical effect on him; he seemed like a man in the throes of a violent dream, his lips now tightening and compressing. I could not tell if it was the shadows of that marbled room or the water that surrounded him, but I thought that I saw red welts rise along his arms and his blood swell as though something invisible had breached his flesh and his blood was flowing sympathetically to that breach.
The cuff at my other wrist was beginning to loosen. Clenching my teeth, I worked, trying to fight past the pain of the effort. I felt that I nearly had it. And oh, how Merrick would pay for this indignity when I had freed myself. I had had little love for him before – now my aversion to him had deepened to contempt. My jealousy at his having Rosette had caused me to feel something close to a grudging respect for his success; now that I saw him in that chair, sweating and flushing, I saw him now as nothing more than an abject sensualist.
I had to half turn away from him to get in the proper angle to work myself free. Just as I felt the cold metal blessedly slip away from my wrist, Merrick’s voice called me back to him and I turned, trying to conceal my freedom by keeping my hands against the railing. He was pulling away the implants at his forehead; when he pulled those other strange implants from his forearms and throat, I saw trickling blood left in the wake of their kisses. Holding the gun that he had taken from me, he began wading towards me and, as he did, I thought that I saw his arms and hands covered with the welts of many wounds, as though the suffering that had entered his eyes had surfaced on his flesh. There was something terrifying about that sight. It made no sense – I couldn’t comprehend it. What kind of technology had allowed him to actually feel what was in his imagination?
“I can feed your body adrenaline and electricity too,” he panted and as he drew nearer, I saw that the shadows had played tricks on my mind – his skin was only faintly marbled with a few hectic flushes of color. “I want you to feel what I feel.”
“Not a chance,” I said, flinching at the pistol pressed against me, but he was already fumbling behind my back for my wrists, and discovering that I had unlocked myself.
“A little too late for your escape, I’m afraid,” he said. “You’ll have to have a taste after all.”
I wrenched free from him and hit him in the face. It was a good solid blow and hard – hard enough to surprise him into dropping the pistol. I felt my spirits rise as I heard it clatter heavily to the concrete and saw the thick blood pouring from his nose.
My mistake was in stooping to retrieve the pistol. Merrick was not as stunned by my retaliation as I had assumed and a vicious reflex caused him to kick out at me. Unbalanced, I was thrown backward and fell into the pool, managing to have the sense to cling to the marble, keeping my head above the water. I caught Merrick by the boot, tripping him, but he was already fumbling for the pistol and caught me by the hair, dragging me dripping out of the pool before thrashing me with the butt of the pistol, again and again, across the face. I tried to escape the pain, to shake his clenched grip, but I was helpless, half-submerged in the pool, and when he gave me a particularly brutal blow to the chin, I felt all the strength and will in me leave with a frightening suddenness.
I would have drowned, but Merrick held me above the water, my cheek grazing its surface, one arm brutishly wrapped around my chest, the other still clenched tightly in my hair.
“All thought is feeling and all feeling…thought,” he whispered. “‘Oh, I understand, oh I empathize with your pain, oh, I’m sorry for your loss.’ Meaningless, meaningless. Feel what I feel, Officer, and in feeling – know me. You aren’t my first choice for a companion – but a man in my condition can’t be choosy, can he?”
I saw the blood from my face fall like dark tears into the water as I was dragged to the chair, too broken still to resist. He lifted himself up, dragging me thrashing along with him, setting me upright against its black upholstery.
“You don’t have to do this,” I said softly, my forehead slippery with blood as he set the dream-webbing against my temples like a ghastly coronet.
“Oh yes, yes I do,” he said, holding the long implants like a snake handler, with their silver, glistening needles attached, and carefully driving them into my unguarded flesh. I was lost in a haze of suffering and violation; I do not believe that I ever hated so deeply as I hated Merrick at that moment. He saw the hatred in my eyes and shook his head; he was still convinced that in mere moments, we would be the same, he and I: one thought, one feeling. That confidence in him I hated most of all.
“You will thank me, Officer,” he said, kneeling at my feet to adjust the control box. I noticed, for the first time, that the black cables that ran from the chair were connected to the geishas that sat upon the edge of the pool, their long legs dangling. That was how he was powering the dreamweb – with their reserved energy, stored in batteries and chips located in their plastic tendons, their hollow hearts, and their metal brains. What other energy in them, though, had he wittingly or unwittingly drawn upon?
Merrick looked me in the eyes, almost tenderly, his pistol held against my breast. “Say farewell to terror,” he said.
And as he flicked the switch, I saw their eyelashes flutter and their dolls’ eyes flicker and glow with liveliness and my own body arched and convulsed, and I went under, into a profounder lucid dreaming than any I had ever known.
In terms of sheer feeling, it was much like the sensation of unreality that I had when I indulged in my own dreamweb fantasies: that eerie knowledge of dreaming with all the sensual sensitivity of wakefulness. I felt the sensations of two separate worlds: there was the aching throb of the intravenous implants at my throat and arms as they began to send what felt like short electrical shocks through me; there was my own cooling blood on my face. And then there were the dreamweb sensations: the feeling that I was walking into a living room, that it was nearly nightfall but that the last rays of the evening illumined the world with crimson-gold, and that I was waiting for something or someone.
Then I saw her: the cropped blonde hair, the violet eyes, the thin smile. I thought at first that it was the murderous geisha from the crime files – the one whose Soulmate Algorithm had given her that monstrous intuition. Then I realized my mistake. The hair and color of the eyes were the same, but the smile and the shape of the eyes themselves were Rosette’s. She was holding the nailgun at the level of her thigh, the way you might hold a heavy bouquet in the act of offering it. And her smile, Rosette’s smile, was an awful echo of Merrick’s in its inexorable eagerness to please me.
“No.” I backed away in the dream. I wasn’t afraid of death – of course, how could I be? – but I was desperately afraid of the pain. I knew, after all, what was coming. With all my heart, I cursed Merrick, but my hatred was embittered and useless, hooked as I was to the batteries of the geisha dolls, feeling the pulsing shock of electricity in my blood. What was the meaning of that energy that he was channeling into me, through them?
I had no time to think, for the dream girl was using the nailgun to push me roughly against the wall. It was eerie, how the dreamweb manipulated the memories in my nerves, making every sensation feel so real. As she drew closer, I could feel everything with the breathtaking vividness of reality: the gun pressing against the pit of my stomach like a cold erection, the brush of her synthetic breath against my cheek (it smelled of oiled metal and roses), the kiss that she placed on my lips, more tender than erotic, almost sisterly. And I knew, as I tried to push her away and she caught me by the wrist, pushing my arm back against the wall – I knew as the nailgun suddenly rose, leveling with my wrist, helpless in her hand – that I would feel this living death as reality too.
“Make it stop, Merrick,” I hissed, through clenched teeth. And then shouted: “For God’s sake, make it stop!”
The soft clicks of the trigger, the sudden incessant driving of nails, metal clustering in my flesh, breaking the small bones at my wrist and opening up the ropy blue arteries, all building to a maddening pain that demanded an escape where there was none. Oh, and the most sickening sound of all: the warm flood of blood that began to fall in thick spurts to the floor, like the slippery spilling in a charnel-house.
I could feel the electrical, intravenous implants at my throat and my wrist – my other reality. Was it my imagination or had the shock impulses there quickened, as though to match the rush of adrenaline that was flowing through me in response to my nightmare? What energy was Merrick pouring into me? The sudden rush of adrenaline in my body was beginning to dull the pain, but the little shocks seemed to stimulate my nerves again. The dream-geisha tilted her head, beautifully curious; Merrick watched me, standing somewhere above me; and I felt a dizzying wave of agony again as the electrical impulses forced my nerves to attention again. But just as the agony became too unbearable, I felt a hot wave of numbing adrenaline flow through me again, not just in response to my body’s belief that it was dying, but stronger to counteract the shocks of electric torment. I felt my face flush for the first time with a discomfiting warmth; the first hint that my body had been tipped towards an endorphin rush. Oh, Merrick– what have you done to yourself? What are you doing to me?
I endured the geisha’s nailing for as long as her original victim had suffered (as it turns out, four long hours). By the time I died in the dream, I was hurried on to another dream, another atrocity of Merrick’s making or memory. Here, I had to endure a fairly provincial murder: I was gutted against a brick wall. A part of my brain could imagine the case file report: defensive wounds from when he put his hand out to push away his murderer’s face only to have his fingers slashed at; a scuff from where the victim began to slip and falter in his own blood; the precise moment when he began to go into shock and bleed to death.
Yet, even more horribly, those awful electric impulses continued to pour their devilish energy in me. I hated the sharp thrill of adrenaline and the numbing warmth that followed it, and I hated that my body seemed to enjoy it, for I knew that these were the pleasures that Merrick had created for himself and that had clearly driven him utterly mad. I wanted no part in this debauched sympathy. The body’s nerves were never meant to feel this special spill of adrenaline, this chemical reaction in response to its own imagined death, again and again and again. It was utterly ghoulish. In his morbid desire to understand the atrocities that he had witnessed, Merrick had discovered how to recreate the flesh’s chemical responses to imminent, violent death and heightened them tenfold. The poor sick bastard had turned himself into a death-throe junkie. I would have laughed aloud, had I not been a little distracted from being beaten to death on a wharf.
I lost track of how many times I was murdered. It was always a violent death – it had to be violent, you see, not only to appease Merrick’s conscience, but also to stimulate the death-throe adrenaline. I had begun to lose all sense of reality, my body burning and flushed, simply a locus of eternal sensation. When Merrick at last withdrew the intravenous implants from me and removed the dreamweb, I was so overwhelmed by the deprivation that I thought I had truly died. He splashed my face with water, forcing me to come to, and bent closer, whispering, “How do you feel?”
I tried to reply, but I was shuddering so violently that I could barely speak. “What…did you do to me?” I gasped.
“Now you know what it’s like,” he said. He was watching me, his face alight with all the eagerness of a child. I saw the blood trailing down my arm, felt it trickle warmly down my throat. “It’s really not so bad, is it? Murder, I mean?”
“No…” I lied, softly. Now that the high was wearing off, I felt the tears begin to fall helplessly down my cheeks.
“I wept too, the first time,” he said. “And then I had to do it again. You understand, of course, now that you’ve felt it.”
“You think I felt what you felt?”
“Of course you did. I saw you, didn’t I?” I hated him for that little smile as he voiced that last remark.
I struggled to stand, but I felt a sudden dizziness and I faltered. Merrick caught me eagerly – he already thought of me as his companion now; he no longer saw in me an officer of the law. There was nothing that he feared from me anymore, now that I had tasted his joys. In his eyes, I had lost all power: I shared his state. I pulled back and looked into his eyes; there was something there of the haunted, stricken grief that I had seen during our first meeting at the Delphine Club, but there was also that nauseating eagerness. How much time had he spent in the company of these plastic geishas, I wondered, as he tinkered with their batteries and the dreamweb, creating this perfect simulacrum of murder?
“I couldn’t tell Rosette – it would be too dangerous. That’s why I needed you, Conway. You see, if she knew, if she even sensed what I’ve done and that I need this, she would – ”
The loud report of the gun put a stop to all his speculations. He looked down at the blood that began to spurt thickly from the wound now gaping in his stomach, then at me and the gun – my gun – that I had lifted from his belt while he held me.
“How does it feel now, Merrick? Enjoying yourself?”
He tried to catch me by the throat, but I shoved him violently away, causing him to stumble and fall. As much as I loathed him, I did not watch as he bled out in the swimming pool. I listened to the water thrash and churn for a time, watched the widening spill of crimson; and then there was only silence and the faint hum of electricity.
When I turned around, I had my last and final shock: Merrick, floating face up, a contorted grin on his face. His eyes were bright but glazed, staring sightlessly towards the marble ceiling. I guess I had a pretty good idea of what he had felt towards the end.
I hurled everything into the water – the dreamweb, the intravenous electrical implants, all of it – listening to it spark, sizzle, and die. It would have been inconceivable to Merrick that someone who had tasted in equal measure the unholy pleasures that he had tasted would not wish to revisit them. That was Merrick’s mistake, you see: he believed that feeling was thought, and thought feeling. He believed that if he felt what these murder victims felt, that he could diminish the atrocity by understanding it; and he believed that if he made me feel what he felt, that we would essentially share the same thought. He was too supremely naïve to realize the subtleties of individual experience: to realize that I – I – could at once experience the pleasures that he felt and feel hatred and disgust for them. He was, as I had long suspected, childishly weak at heart. That sensual leer on his face was nature’s fitting deathmask for him.
I made certain that I left no trace of myself in that wretched place. It would be better if Merrick’s death was seen as a violent, nameless crime; better if my name was not connected with it, even if I had a decent chance of clearing my name and proving that his death was an act of self-defense. I’d found that the Court of Justice, so-called, could be a little sloppy.
The night was still clear and, surprisingly, still young. Though it had felt as though I had lived the whole night in the dreamweb, in reality only two hours had passed. The stars were clear and bright in the firmament; they caught and dazzled the silver of the Court of Justice insignia at my breast. The reflected light filled me with a sharp longing, the memory of something that I meant to claim now.
I did not, as a result, drive to my apartment but instead pulled in front of Merrick’s apartment. I knew she would be there; the light was still on in the third story apartment. She had waited up for him, I realized.
When she answered the door and saw that it was me instead of Merrick, her look of expectation turned to blank surprise. “Officer Conway,” she said and then hesitated as I entered, seeing my face. “It’s – about Merrick, isn’t it?”
“He was a sick man,” I said softly. “He was fascinated with death, you see. I couldn’t keep him from it.”
“In a way, yes. He attacked me and I was forced to defend myself.”
Her lip trembled. “Have you reported it?”
“No. And if I were you, I would say very little as well. You know how these investigations – particularly if they involve the death of a Court of Justice agent – can become messy. Tomorrow morning, I’ll report that my gun was stolen and they’ll assume that it was a suicide. In a way, it was.”
“Of course.” I felt her relax as I took her by the shoulders, felt her lean against me, her breath catching. It was so uncannily similar to the moments with her that I had imagined in the dreamweb – the same breathless press against me, the same timid kiss against my throat – that it left me with a peculiar sense of déjà vu as well as pleasure. “Thank you for coming here and – and telling me in person. I know that you did all you could to help him.” She drew in another shuddering breath.
As my fingers relaxed upon her shoulder, she suddenly lifted her face and kissed me full on the mouth. The press was light but unmistakably sensual – it could not be mistaken as an invitation for mere companionship.
“I’m sorry,” she whispered, sensing the surprise in my silence. “It’s just that with Merrick gone so many nights…” She hesitated, then said, “Your heart is beating so fast.”
My senses had not yet recovered from Merrick’s murderous dreamweb visions, but of course there was no reason to tell her that. I leaned down, returning her kiss, feeling her clench her fingers about my collar. The streetlights shone into the darkened apartment, illuminating her eyes as she drew back. Her eyes gleamed with a golden, glassy, feral look. For a moment, the briefest moment, it was very like the look that I had seen in the eyes of those life-like things in Merrick’s dark, marble tomb miles away in the Dawson Factory. I remembered his last words: “I couldn’t tell Rosette. It would be too dangerous.” The next moment, she blinked and it was gone, her eyes soft and hazel, and I shivered at my own whispering fancy.
“Don’t worry, officer,” she smiled, kissing my cheek, “I think I know exactly what you want.”