“I’m looking for someone,” I said. “A girl.”
“Aren’t we all?” replied the punk. He took a drag from the cigarette stub pinched between his thumb and index finger, then exhaled dramatically. I watched as the large plume of smoke rose, flashing alternating colors in the club’s strobe lights. Red, blue, green, yellow and back to red.
“You got a name, description?” he asked finally.
I nodded. “Yeah,” I said over the music. We were tucked in a corner, the pulsing energy of the crowd at my back. “Used to go by the name Elmira.” He ground the cigarette out on the wall and took the photo I handed him. “Went missing in ’07. Fifteen years old, about five foot six, one hundred and thirty pounds at the time of her disappearance. Blonde hair. Most distinguishing feature is her eyes,” I said.
The punk held the creased headshot to one side, studying it intently. His spiked Mohawk cast triangular shadows across the photo.
“Hetechromia, right?” he said. “Two different colored eyes.”
“Yeah.” My heart banged in tempo with the heavy bass on stage. “One green and one blue.”
He passed the photo back to me and rubbed roughly at his own eyes, smearing dark liner down both cheeks.
“This is some bad shit, man,” the punk said. “How’re you involved? Someone hire you, or is it personal?”
“A little of both.”
Fear made the punk suddenly look small and owlish. He shot a look toward the exit, scanning the writhing crowd for an opening. I grabbed him by the metal chains looped around his neck, pulling his face to mine.
“Tell me what you know,” I said. “Or I’ll kill you right here.”
“Dead either way. If not you, they’ll know I talked and,” he ran his thumb across his jugular, “it’s nightie night.”
I tightened my hold on the chains, squeezing off his windpipe.
“Okay, okay!” he croaked.
“Then talk!” I demanded, loosening my grip ever so slightly.
“Goes by the name Coffin Dress Girl now. I’ve seen her hanging around the 24 Hour Cash for Gold shop downtown, under the bridge. She don’t look like no junkie, though,” the punk said. “One of Casper’s Dead Children, from what I heard.”
I let go of the chains and he collapsed against the wall, clutching his throat. Ugly purple bruises flashed beneath his Adam’s apple.
Red, blue, green, yellow and back to red.
“Fuck you,” replied the punk.
I left him there, pressed into the corner of the club, gasping for breath.
The crowd engulfed me, a tangle of arms, torsos and gaping mouths. For a moment, I let myself merge with the throng of crushing bodies. My skin was slick with the sweat of strangers. I was no longer Beckley, having merged with the collective consciousness of the crowd. We moved as one, herded by the music, swaying like a mass of underwater kelp.
I was spit out on the opposite side, near the exit sign the punk had eyed earlier. A large, hulking man emerged from the shadows, cannonball-sized fist swinging at my head.
One of Casper’s hired muscle.
Luckily, I was quicker. I dodged the blow, and his fist smashed into the cement pillar to my left. The goon howled in pain and rage as I rolled on the ground, kicking out with both feet and connecting squarely with his left knee.
The man went down hard, but before he could regain his bearings, I jabbed out with my right hand and nicked his jaw with the silver ring on my middle finger. The poison worked fast, green froth bubbling over the man’s thick lips.
I scrambled to my feet and out the exit.
The night was cold and silent. I pulled the cellphone out of my pocket and hit speed dial. “I need coordinates to the 24 Hour Cash for Gold,” I said. “The one downtown, under the bridge.”
Thirty minutes later, I stood partially hidden behind a cement pier column. I sensed her before I saw her, my skin prickling as I pulled up my coat collar. She stepped into the light of a flickering streetlamp outside the Cash for Gold shop. Her hair was streaked green and blue, and she wore a pale pink satin gown that reminded me of the inside of a coffin. Over the corset was a tattered black leather jacket.
Coffin Dress Girl.
“Elmira,” I whispered.
Removing a bag from one shoulder, she approached the shop window and dumped the contents, mostly jewelry, on the counter. I was too far away to hear her exchange with the clerk, but she looked nervous, glancing back toward the shadows she had materialized from.
Finally, I saw her nod and the clerk gathered the goods. While she waited for payment, I moved down the street and crossed, slipping between two empty buildings.
“See you tomorrow, Hank,” she said, stuffing the money into her bag. She tucked a loose strand of blue hair behind on ear and started walking in my direction. When her boot steps got close, I whirled out of the alleyway and clamped a hand over her mouth.
“Don’t scream,” I whispered into her ear.
Her body tensed, then relaxed. I removed my hand.
“Beckley?” she asked.
“Follow me,” I took her arm. “We don’t have much time.”
We ran down the alley and emerged on the other side, opposite the river. She stopped and grabbed my shoulder.
“I can’t go with you,” she said. “They’ll find me.”
Terror filled her eyes, one blue and one green, as she pulled up the sleeve of her jacket. A single handcuff flashed against her left wrist in the moonlight.
Without a word, I knelt down and removed the rubber aglet from the tip of my bootlace. Inside was a key, which I used to unlock the handcuff. It clanked to the ground between our feet.
“Let’s go,” I said, and we slipped away into the night.
Heather Santo is a development chemist living in Pittsburgh, Pa with her husband of three years. In addition to writing, she enjoys photography, painting and collecting skeleton keys. You can follow her on Twitter or Instagram @Heather52384.