A Little Insomnia - Chapter 1

Midnight 1-I: First Show

Midnight 1-I: First Show

I am ready.

      “Ladies and Gentlemen, our final show for tonight!” A voice announces. “The act you’ve waited all night for! The wonderful, enchantingly powerful, Paz de la Marina!”

      The small crowd went wild as the vibrant spotlight shines on a young-looking woman with her eyes closed, three steps above on center stage. Her sparkly white halter-top did not hold much, but that did not stop her from showing off that mark across her chest. The single slit down her glistening long skirt was just as carefree, making it a surprise her arms were not as bare and instead covered by long gloves.

      If it was not obvious to the customers, it was jazz night at the Triangle Saloon. She wore a feather atop her hair bundled and reaching high to the quill’s tip except for the wavy, chestnut brown locks touching low to her shivering shoulders. She looks all dressed up, waiting to go, but her forsaken smile has left her long ago and yet to return. A faithful constant in her life is that birthmark under her left eye, always there. In spite of it all, there is still a heartbeat pumping blood throughout her body, giving that glow radiating a color of summer light through autumn leaves.

      The audience settles down as Paz’s rosy lips move away from each other. Hands grip the microphone tightly. The lighting loses its warmth at the start of her cold tune. The band plays their hallowed instruments as she sings wraithlike words that calm the small crowd.

      Her voice, although composed, is gently powerful.

Rain, rain rain, time to go away.

Hiding from that dreary ol’ gray?

Looking for something to keep you busy?

Spin yourself around ‘til you get dizzy.

Truth be told; to make time pass, all you need is a friend.

      After the first verse, her eyes open, revealing irises of a bright green sea. They are captivating enough that they— and they alone— can charm the devil himself. Perhaps, even soothe him?

      The words keep on flowing. Paz steps down three steps off the stage with the spotlight never leaving her. She strides toward a red-haired bartender who hands her a tray. On the tray, she balances a rosy colored drink with a cherry and triangle ice cubes inside a teardrop glass atop. Swaying away from the seated audience, she arrives to the other side of the room.

      She bows to a man in a dull orange fedora and a trench coat of the same color.

      He accepts the drink, without any sign of gratitude. She does not care, it was her pleasure anyway. She smiles, carrying the empty tray with her.

That is what you said to me.

You did not say that like the rain, they too would go away.

Telling me that it’s about what I can feel but can’t see.

When I stop feeling it all, what then will you say?

Say everything happens for a reason?

Life has no remorse in any place or season?

I say just live life; there’s nothing to care for in the end.

      The lighting steadily becomes warmer as Paz’s song rises in tempo. She twirls around and sends the tray flying as a discus thrown with Olympian strength. If she tried, it could have been impossible to stop it. The cowering bartender is fortunate enough to catch it before his collection of fine wine and imports shattered.

      She sings apologetically and seats herself near him, with an arm wrapped around his neck.

      He continues to polish a glass.

      Still bored, Paz slides across the counter between two sleeping gentlemen. They pay her no attention for the only right reason to her. They are asleep.

      She returns on stage with only a few lines left to finish. The instruments play her off.

If I knew what you were getting me into

And if there was any way you knew,

Then maybe you can reconsider it all,

Never answer that call?

But you couldn’t help it; let’s hope this song makes an amend.

The music begins to fade and the curtain closes slowly. She vanishes behind them.

      “Give it up for Paz de la Marina and our house band, The Blue Waves!” the announcer exclaimed! “And remember, you saw her here first!”

      The sound of a single person clapping filled the air. The rest of the room was lulled to sleep or barely hanging with their drowsiness. The bartender and the expressionless man in the trench coat with his untouched drink are the only two left standing with a clear conscious.

      The man in the trench coat approaches the bartender whose claps slowly come to a stop. After a brief exchange in whispers, the bartender points to the door.

      Backstage, a band member plays the trumpet in a corner, appropriately setting the ambience. The grumpy pianist scolded the saxophonist over their singer’s missing éclair, despite her not wanting it in the first place. In contrast, two members of the band approached Paz, with extended arms. Whether with treats or compliments, they always express their overwhelming affections.

      “Great show, me? Great show you guys. Not because of me.” Half a smile risen from Paz. “I only did one song tonight. All of you were the star performers tonight.”

      “You mean every night!?” the trumpeter, Sammy, tooted.

      “Our show would be nothing without her,” Carlie quickly threw that into the conversation.

      Amanda agreed, “We would need someone to groove to my bass.” She blushed, “It is as if it is doing a duet with you! What do you think?”

      “No!” Carlie’s bangs above her eyes shook with her head, “Our act is nothing to her! Yet, she still sings with us! We need her!”

      “Calm down, kiddo,” Paz played with the young girl’s hair.

      Deep down, Carlie knows that Paz knows her dependency on the beat of her drums. She watches every step she makes. When in rhythm, they are both in sync.

      The music has stopped. The others are too busy arguing to notice. Paz is paying more attention to the smaller details nowadays. Especially during weeks like these.

      “Paz!” Sammy has noticed the stranger creeping through the door. “You got a special guest!”

       She was not surprised. The man in the dull orange fedora was expected anytime now. He is a sturdy, bronzed man framed six inches higher than her and wide as his broad shoulders. The stubble of his beard barely hid the week-old cut under his chin.

      She immediately sensed the strength of a bruiser. Another old familiar sense she picked up on wreaked clearly: the stench of the law.

      “A Siren’s Kiss?” Paz looks up into his tired, brown eyes. “A fine beverage, would you be so bold to disagree, Love?”

      Paz on her tip-toes pushes herself against the gentlemen. Her arms are wrapped around him. As his head carries her resting shoulder, the aroma of the passion fruit flower is undeniably powerful. He smelled it at the bar, he smells it now.

      “How about we further this conversation in,” she whispers in his ear, “my private suite?”

      Before she could give the man a chance to react with a smile — not that he would have smiled — Paz has him by the hand. She takes off smoothly, gently leading him away backstage with her ring-bearing right hand.

      The others mockingly wish her to have fun tonight and to not roughhouse. Except Carlie and Sammy. She stares even after they have gone out the door. Still staring as the solo session continues jamming, the trumpeter confidently smiling.

      The couple of the night move past a large, abandoned dining room. They roam through the dusty halls of the lonesome hotel. Her movements continue their grace, more than what is expected at a rundown, dingy place once considered a palace. Every call to the elevator, where they stopped, brings her fingers to cross that only the elevator will answer.

      The cool, dark bar with neon lights are a sight for sore eyes compared to what they had to endure during the wait. There were no precious paintings to keep them entertained. The flowers drooping out the glass vases wilted a month ago. And the ripped thin red carpet covering the flood-stained wood floors are duller than the man’s hat.

      The elegant and royal hotel has seen better days.

      The elevator rings. The doors open for them. In no hurry at all, they enter one-by-one. Ladies first.

      There goes her hand. Toward the control panel it moves. Her finger starts at the first-floor button. Once the door closes, her finger ascends, one push after the other, until Paz’s ring-finger caresses the twelfth floor.

      Unbelievable. Just when the man could have gone the entire night without another face, he looks to her in disbelief.

      She does not notice him. Her chin is held high.

      Who in their right mind would do that while riding the elevator? A better question, who in their right minds continue riding the elevator while ignoring the awkward silence. He could have jumped out every time the elevator ringed, opening its door. Instead, he chose to keep her near, keeping his eyes on the control panel flickering off whenever reaching the new floor. To him, it was a better view than the smug mug keeping her chin high as if looking to a righteous light.

      A twelfth ring and a twelfth light flickers off. The door opens a twelfth time. The man steps out, Paz still holding his hand. She strays behind and presses all the floor buttons descending the control panel. Before the door can snap her hand in on the twelfth closing, she steps out to stroll him through the halls.

      Not that many doors but enough to fetch a decent price per room for the wealthy upper-class. Or so it seems. An average man, in a blue suit, fixing his unflattering orange tie was standing in front of one doorway. Another door up ahead framed a woman in an elegant robe drinking wine.

      The singer with the white feather and the man in the orange fedora hat approach the farthest door down the hall. It is the only door on that wall in the spacious hall. She now has a key in her ring-barren right hand.

      As she is unlocking the door, a condescending catcall is heard, “Paz! Finally earning your keep around here?”

      Paz sharply turned. Her neighbor, a woman in lingerie with a cigarette in her mouth smirked. Despite already being accustomed to the woman’s begrudging banter, Paz feels disturbed by that remark. She keeps any witty rebuttals to herself. Although, she turns back to open the door with one lasting comment.

      “Shut up, harlot.” Is all Paz could say.

      Vixen. Her name is Vixen. But they know that.

      The man could not keep his puzzling eyes off this woman named Vixen. There was something vaguely familiar about her which, of course, would not vote well with the missus. Fortunately for him, he is single and could stare all night until being dragged past into the room. He caught a glimpse of her smug lips before the door shut tight.

      Paz and the man climb up a metal staircase. Her chin is once again high and her eyes are fixated above, except this time, she looked upset. Staring at that woman outside made him unbearable to look at, perhaps? More or less than likely, it was his face is boring. With that blank face no one can really tell what it is fixated on. Any ordinary person would assume he is an empty slate, regardless if his objective was in sight. For a man of his profession, it is good to have that kind of poker face.

      “Welcome to my humble abode!” She let his hand go, spinning herself around. “Where all my sensually exciting fantasies come together for an incredible night!”

      An entire suite, brightly lit, for herself. The man broke his stoic demeanor once more, as expected by the lavished songstress. As she looked into his eyes, she felt guilty, suspecting he may not have a good home to live in. Judging his appearance since his reaction alone would not be enough to support this theory. In fact, as she considers the compact homes and the minimal space for housing regulated by the Grigori Empire, she realizes she forgotten her privilege. Her home housing many art pieces collected from her well-documented travels does not ease those feelings of guilt for having more than what others could dream of having.

      Contrary to what she is thinking, he is astonished. In this room, there are some marble busts sculpted in Renaissance Florence and French paintings surviving the Raid on Paris that should have been destroyed with the Palace of Versailles. A crystal mirror situated on a hand-crafted, wooden drawer cabinet fit for a Mademoiselle is planted against the wall between two arched doorways, no doubt leading to other rooms making their treasures feel at home. He imagines this room would be the foyer of a neat museum if racks of costumes and clothing and boxes and bins of props were not cluttering the floor.

      The man sniffs long and hard.

      “That smell is lavender. It goes perfect with the wall design,” Paz explains, sitting herself at the mirror. “Please, take a seat too. I need to freshen myself. I know you are dying to take a seat on that velvet couch. It is like floating on a cloud!”

      The only seat the man saw of that material was a bean bag couch. No matter what the material, he was above sitting that low on what might as well be a child’s pillow. Although he could have taken a seat on the green sofa that looks out of place, he decides to stand directly in her sights.

      She puts down the key and applies a brighter color to her lips. “So, the Siren’s Kiss? You see, there are only a few people in the world who know of that drink. When to order it. And who will serve it.”

      He is intrigued but not distracted. He silently watches her hands touch her hair.

      “As of late, two more have come to find knowledge of the Siren’s Kiss. And have tried to kill me.” Her hair clips and feathered head piece drop to the ground. Her hair unravels a long way down past her shoulders.

      “There is now a third.” Her hair is now tied in a ponytail together by ribbon with a black bow attached to it. She picks up a white rose where there was once a key, holding it to her breast. “Will you kill me?”

      The man is now cautious.

      “Or?” Her hands swiftly move away, turning to the shocked man. “Die like the other two?”

      Slowly and cautiously, he puts his hands in the air.

      There is not much else he could do when a madman with a shotgun aimed to his gut except wait for the silent stare. He knows that stare, since having been threatened like that many times over his long lifetime. Once the stare is exchanged, he could hope that the madman does not fire on the next syllable coming from his lips. Fortunately, to his benefit, he was sure she is no madman.

Midnight 1-II: Living in the Past

      “I’m not here to kill you,” he is calm as he speaks.

      She takes a step back into the dresser, still holding the shotgun. “Then why are you here?”

      “I am here on a case. I only have a few questions to ask. I will not harm you.”

      “Why should I trust you?”

      “My hands are in the air and you’re holding the gun.”

      “Is that so?” Paz motions her fingers, “Turn around. Slowly.”

      He follows her instructions, hands still in the air. With a sharp, jagged rose stem now in her hand, she pats his body down for any concealed weapons. She starts from his shoulders and arms, working her way down to his back and legs.

      “Were the others as lucky as me to be alive during their inspection?” He asks.

      “No. Now turn around. And do not pull a fast one. Forget who you are dealing with and you might lose a finger or something.”

      “Who would forget who you are? No one could forget.”

      He does as she asks again. She continues the pat down from the front of his legs and works her way up. This was unpleasant for the both of them.

      “I was lucky enough to have made it to the mirror without being threatened,” she is patting down his abdomen and arms. She saves his chest for last, while looking him in the eyes. “You are pretty stupid to not carry a weapon. Especially during an age like this.”

      He replies, “Age like this? We aren’t that old. And things have been pretty calm in parts like these since the Wall came tumbling down.”

      She grabs his hat from his head and checks it thoroughly.

      He adds, “Besides, I do not need a weapon to see an old friend.”

      “An old friend?”

      “Yes, we went to high school together. Remember the one-of-a-kind mug, like this?”

      “How could I forget? You were only the condescending jerk in the back of biology class. I fail to see how that make us friends.”

      “I had your back!” He grabbed his hat back quickly, he could not let his bare head be without the hat for longer than she had it. “Have you really forgotten the good times in West Coast High? You probably have. It has been a while. Do you still remember the old crew you hung out with? Do you still remember l—”

      “Hush!” She held one hand to him and another to hide her vulnerable face. “Just stop there. Do not say any of their names to me! Never say his name.”

      “I’m not allowed to say their names?”

      She calmed herself down with a few deep breaths. “Just follow me.”

      They walk under the arch left of the mirror into the dining room. No specific theme in this room. Under a German clock, there is a small table holding miniature statues of animals and people in white cloths embellished in paints of red and green. Not looking so out of place, the paintings of food complement the wallpaper of many shades of red. The color red is said to make people hungry, as he is or any other person who dines on that onyx table hungry for second helpings. Then there is the painting of a bison rancher with a skirted woman holding each other in front of the backdrop of a dusty red landscape. It was reminiscent of the old days, south of the country, unintentionally stirring an unusual appetite for buffalo meat.

      “I need to verify the validity of your identity.” She asked, conveniently filling the silence between one end of the table to the next. “What are our full names?”

      “I am Martin Jones. Detective Martin Jones. And you are Serena, Paz de la Marina.”

      “But you can call me Paz. What and where was that high school you mentioned?”

      “West Coast High School. It was on Golden State Avenue, on the West side of Seattle. Not directly on the West Coast, but we sure did have good times. At least, for being the condescending jerk in the back of biology class, looking at you now it sure seems like you had the best of times there.”

      They are now in a living room. There is an entertainment center with a flat screen television unplugged and unused since the last time a good television program aired. Across from that there is one more than enough couches and chairs to seat her band for a performance using the antique piano centered. There is a drum set in the corner, out of the way as to make way for guests maneuvering between the many displays, such as ceremonial masks and spears belonging to the Zulu tribe. Despite the accommodation, it still did not make a guest feel less clustered. The historically prominent photographs of people and original artwork— or talented forgeries — hung close together reminding onlookers that they are never alone.

      “Name at least one teacher we shared,” she asked her third question.

      “Damn, that would be tough, de la Marina,” he flexed his hands, “if only the name Maria Hernandez did not make figuring out that answer a cinch.”

      “You are right, that was too easy. Yet, you have not answered it.”

      “Now wait a minute!”

      “New question.” She stops at a locked door. “Retell at least one conversation we had.”

      He rubs his chin. “A challenge.”

      “Well? We do not have all night.”

      “One time,” he snaps his finger, “A friend and I were arguing about which two pistols looked cooler. You showed us up by telling us how the Colt is better because its ammunition price rage is less expensive and the gun has less recoil than the Desert Eagle. You then stuck your nose in the air, like you always do, and continued walking down the stairs. Surprise you did not stumble over your ego.”

      “Jealous a girl is more gun savvy than you?” She smiles, “Typical Jones.”

      The white rose in her hand transforms into a key again. He was aware of the magic tricks earlier. Seeing it transforming before his eyes without her trying to conceal the act intrigued his interest.

      “Where does someone find a Swiss Army Knife like that?” He asked.

      “At a yard sale,” she responds sarcastically while unlocking the door. “Colt 1911. You were off by one word. I may not have photo-reflexive memory like— some people do. But I would have said it any other way if I was really trying to show you off.”

      “So. Are we going in now?”

      “Sure. Only because of my generous hospitality.”

      The lighting in the red-carpeted bedroom is noticeably dimmer. The same lighting in every other room could shine like a spotlight every night on the singer. If only it was any less claustrophobic inducing than the last two rooms. Bookshelves leave space for a window aligned against one side of the wall. On the other, drapes hang over a round queen-size bed by another window hovering over a dresser. The closet extending from one end of the wall to a few feet away from the door was opposite of the largest window across the room hanging over a bench.

      “Excuse me.” The songstress sways toward a Japanese privacy screen. “I have to change into something more— relaxing.”

      She offered the waiting detective a seat by her desk in the center of the room. He eventually sat, but first hovered over the desk to observe what she could be working on.

      The globe of Earth with red, violet, and green pins were irrelevant to his case. There are three music sheets with lyrics attached to a paper clip and a separate, untitled ballad, also irrelevant. A grocery list and a basket are also unimportant to him.

      The detective got nothing.

      “Why would an innocent girl like you want to own an entire floor of a corrupted place such as this?” He glances at the portraits on the walls, one of them bearing an obvious resemblance to her. “I’m sure there are better, less objectionable, places to live.”

      “Were you expecting a mansion all to my lonesome self?” Her silhouette strips out of a dress. “You think anything my Mamá left behind would have helped with that? It did not. When the American Dream fell apart, her money became as worthless as the paper it’s printed on. Now I use my voice to get what I can afford.”

      “You used your voice alright. Lull people to sleep while the crooks you’re working with rob them of their hard-earned money. Or maybe you hypnotize them to give you whatever is in their wallet. Isn’t that what the legends say?”

      She takes off her gloves without care. “That is the truth. Thousands come to hear the legendary Siren sing! But the boys selling the tee-shirts and pins usually targeted the major cities and ports. Heaven knows the poor we gave back to could only afford a good song. We stole from the corrupt and, in exchange, gave hope to the helpless.” She laughed. “And hypnotized? Please! They were in love with me at their own discretion.”

      “I remember those stories. Stories exchanged by lucky sailors and stupid pilots at busy ports after civilization’s downfall. Myths and truths exchanged with the world. But I’m talking about the stories after the Grigori shut down those ports. You travelled with another crew that kept more than their fair share of loot and robbed ordinary folks.”

      “How could you hear those stories, if the ports were closed down?” Paz is still holding the stockings she taken off seconds ago.

      “Ten years ago. From Los Angeles, word spread that you boarded an airship belonging to the War Lords, the enemies you once fought against. It then returned less than a year later to New York City, flying past a port to be closed within a week. Other reports say you were with them until you found your new band in Seattle.”

      “All that from within the country?” She says, grasping onto the stockings.

      “Sure. But the Grigori propaganda was beneficial for the stories’ circulation. They were clever. Marking you both a traitor to your kind and a menace to their people. No one remembers the good you have done since you gave up on being their Guardian. And all for what? A free round trip around the globe’s pocket?”

      “No! I did not take any money from that trip! I had my own reasons for leaving the Guardians!” She throws one stocking to the nightstand, knocking down the picture frame. “I had my own reason to join the War Lords!” She throws the other onto the picture frame on top of the dresser, knocking it down as well.

      Martin had to quickly interrupt with an apology, something he rarely does. For an honest reason too. She nearly taken a step out of the privacy screen. Realizing what was missing, she took a step back to bury her face in her hands from embarrassment and grief.

      “I didn’t mean to upset you.”

      “I am not upset.” She starts to relax. “Why do you care what I did in my past?”

      “You are of interest. There are still people who look up to you here in Washington. Those people still need you.” He watches her silhouette put on a robe. “I believe the entire Resistance is founded upon you. They are dedicated to liberating themselves for the same long time as the Guardians been protecting people.”

      “Do you believe I do not know that!?” Paz brings herself out into clear sight. “What is the point? Those cities and countries we liberated fell back into enemy hands. We were first cornered back into the West Coast, lost that, and then roamed Earth while living on the run. We spent half a century trying to free the world. What is the point?”

      Martin Jones answers, “Try putting yourself in their shoes. The Seattleites. They spent a century in hell. They are tired of it and want to rise up and challenge the oppression. They want the chance you had.”

      “How do you live with yourself?” She wonders, “Living with yourself for that long?”

      “Honestly? I live it in good company. At least, the best company ten bucks an hour times two can afford. It doesn’t hurt to take it one day at a time.”

      “Is that supposed to be a joke?”

      “I wish it were. I can only afford my career these days. Friends are costly. Employees? Not so much.”

      Paz pulls the velvet drapes and sits comfortably on her silky bed. She stares at the picture frame. The detective stares as well but she does not notice him. She sees nothing until knocking off the stocking. Now she sees a memory.

      “You have tremendous power,” Jones reminds her. “Stories say you are bulletproof. You could end all this pain and suffering by taking down the Grigori. Why do you instead wait it out here rotting with everyone else?”

      “Contrary to popular belief, we are not bulletproof. We have tried to do what we can for the people, and the world, but— Hey! Get out of there!”

       Martin closed her closet door. “What’s wrong?”

      “What is wrong?! You should get permission to snoop through someone’s room! Especially when the owner is present!”

      “May I look through your room?”

      “Go ahead. I have nothing to hide. And if it is anything of monetary value you are after, I have some money in the living room. Take as much as you like.”

      Martin opens the closet door again. He stares silently, unable to look into its dark depths. Paz does not want to figure out what he is thinking. She wants to gaze away from it all.

      “Only things in this room are of sentimental value,” she hesitantly reached for the picture frame, now in her hand. “Articles from the past. Memories of days that are long gone from now.”

      Detective Martin Jones had his sights on the bookshelves. There are a lot of worn classics waiting to be browsed again. There are some titles in Spanish and other international languages. Comic-books are lined up together in order. An entire cabinet is dedicated to books on music, notably jazz occupying a complete shelf. There were technical texts as well, some organized between two sturdy book holders. This collection featured a geography book, a mechanic’s manual, a grimoire, a military almanac, a medical procedure guide, and a writer’s anthology, there is an empty space barely collecting dust.

      “Your voice,” he asks, “is it really true you can control people with it?”

      “You tell me,” she almost did not answer. “Did it work on you?”

      He ignored the question disguised as an answer. It was a crapshoot for her to respond with a no, anyway. Jones has his sights set on a new target: the picture frame knocked down by the first stocking atop the bookshelf.

      “Did your voice kill those people in the bar?” he provokes.

      “What?!” Paz briefly looks away from the photograph in her hand. “They are asleep! The poor men and ladies stay the night for a little relaxation. My voice soothes their souls so they can forget their burdens. Even if it is just for a minute.”

      The picture in Martin’s hand is a badly photographed panorama of many persons of interest. Although some were masked, they were not at a masquerade ball. Their location could not be discernible, unlike the subjects which were clear as individual portraits. The most important thing he notes: they are happy.

      “The Guardian Vigilantes?” Martin sounds reminiscent. “Before they became just The Guardians. Looks like all your old crew is here. The cold-blooded mercenary. The two pilots. Faris Nejem. The Lynx. That robot and its two maintenance workers. That kid called Bounce. Wanda. Rocketblades. The artificial intelligence hologram thing. The crazy ninja. And a whole bunch of masks. But two are missing. Someone tore them off this picture.”

      “Oh yeah?” She has not heard a word since before she last spoke.

      “Someone tore off the one with the enchanting voice that saved the world. The Siren.” He spins the model on her desk, “And the one with the weight of the world on his shoulders. Someone tore him off too.” Hearing no response, he approaches her. “Perhaps it is closer than I think.”

      A shadow looming over her reaches out. She withdraws the picture frame, securing it between her crossed arms and her heart. Looking at the frame in his hands, Paz pieces the puzzle for him.

      “Is it true?” the detective asks just to be sure.

      “Sure,” she said. Unsure of what he wanted to hear, she asks, “Your deduction?”

      “Yes.”

      “That is none of your concern.” She closes the conversation as well by sitting on her picture frame. “You are pushing your luck.”

      “Am I?”

      “I feel it is time we wrapped things up.” Her glare sharpens. “I hope you enjoyed your tour of Casa de la Marina, but we are currently not offering bed and breakfast. So, go on your way. Or. Tell me. Why did you come here?”

      “I told you why.” He grinned. “I wanted to catch up with an old friend.”

      “Acquaintances, maybe? I would not consider us friends.”

      “Fair enough. I am working a missing persons case. I would appreciate your cooperation, since my trustworthy sources are running dry.”

      Paz reminds him there is no luck of him finding a trustworthy source at the Triangle Saloon. She would know. She has worked here for the past ten years. That is where she was on the nights the two men went missing. There are witnesses that will definitely object to any one of those men attending her late-night performances.

      Although he wants to believe her story, unfortunately her ambiguous alibi puts her in further suspicion.

      “Do you know where the two men left after you lulled the crowd to sleep?”

      “Oh, yes!” She nodded with enthusiasm. “I do know!”

      “Well?”

      “I am not telling you that? But if I did the job right, they should already be compacted with yesterday’s garbage.”

      “What is that supposed to mean?”

      “Do I have to spell it out for you? I K-I-L-L-E-D them. I am sorry. Maybe you do not know how to spell. Then here it is! Headlines! I killed them.”

      Detective Martin Jones does not believe her. He has reason to believe she does not kill and is hiding them. She disagrees, there are many people she killed on her adventures. Usually, the innocent ones. Unlike those times, the ones he is looking for are guilty.

      “You see, detective, they tried to kill me first!”

      “I do not believe that either.”

      “Believe what you want to believe. You heard the propaganda before and I should not have to remind you what I can do. You saw firsthand how instant your death could have come by my quick reflexes. And a shotgun. That was not thunder you heard these past nights. That was their death by the end of the barrel.”

      “It has not thundered yet,” he argues, “And I heard no blast coming from this place. You’re just an actress living out the roles she never got to play. Ever since you took one drama class at West Coast High. Tell me where they are.”

      “Do you believe in heaven, Mister Jones?”

      “Not any more than you do, de la Marina.”

      He tries another strategy. She is the only suspect who confessed to their disappearance. What she did not know is they are hard working men from the Resistance. All she recalls is the bloodthirsty consequences of their actions. If that is what the Resistance is about, she is glad to have not received an invitation.

      “How does a living Guardian down the street not receive an invitation to the Resistance?”

      “I do not know, detective. I am getting old. You know what they say. Changing of the Guardians. Out with the old, in with the new.”

      “You don’t look a day over twenty-four. Know what I think? I think you declined the invitation. They could have really used you in the fight. You can change everyone’s lives for the better, but you choose—”

      “To have a normal life?!” She rises from the bed, leaving the photograph down and faced up. “I have risked my life over and over to give you and the world a second chance to fight for your freedom.”

      Memories flash before her eyes.

      “We risked a lot trying to keep a home here.” He says. “Without any god-given super powers like those mages, monsters, and you guys. We lost loved ones too.”

      “So what?!” Her eyes widen as she involuntarily extends her hands to reach for nothing. “You think I have not lost loved ones? People I loved more than Earth and everything on it?!”

      “It’s a thankless job, I bet.” He looks past her towards the bed. “That’s no different than what everyone else feels here. What makes your pain greater than theirs?”

      “Normal people, like you, do not have the entire world to worry about. Just yourself.” A thorny branch starting from her index finger wraps like a vine around her arm. “When you get tired of yourself, you sell your eternal life to the people. And for what? So that they can harvest your soul and dispose of your body like rotten husks?”

      “Hey. I never done that. Neither anyone from the Resistance.”

      “What is the difference?!” she says. “Sooner or later, it all ends the same. Always.”

      Serena Paz points that index finger tipped with a white bud to his face. “What is one person?!” She closes that hand and reveals a white rose. “Or a resistance?!” The thorny branch is wrapped around both extended arms. The tiny buds planted out of nowhere blossom into luscious white roses. “Or the entire world?!"

      The dreaded memories have not stopped flashing. Unable to stop them, she clenches her face.

      “You read the news!” Red trickles off her round cheeks. “Humanity is learning to live with the world Grigori created. The assimilation of our own identities and history to adapt to their uniform. Our deaths are the results of their demand for perfection. Our pains are their pleasures. Our tortured lives are their research.”

      “That’s all propaganda, de la Marina!” He wants to physically stop her, but knows that is the wrong move. He continues on with his words, “It always has been! Don’t believe what they are saying, not for a minute!”

      “No. It is true. I have seen it firsthand. If you cannot see it in Seattle, then you are just as blind an assimilated as the rest. Who are you, Martin Jones?!”

      He ponders that silently.

      Serena Paz collapses to her knees in a puddle. Seeing what she has done, she quickly removes her fingers from her face. The thorny branch retracts back into a white rose in her hand.

      “The blood of fear dries to a stop.” She inhales hard, her dry eyes wide open. “But the tears of sorrow are always flowing.”

      They could see the raindrops streaming onto the windows if they cared to look. Serena Paz buries her face in her hands. Martin Jones extends his hand to her shoulder. She warns him that she is on the floor and it is raining. He should leave before it gets worse.

      “Why did you let me into your past?” He asks. “You could have stopped me provoking.”

      She looks into his eyes with the answer. “Like everyone else, you too are blind from realizing a guardian has vulnerabilities. Until humanity as a whole learns to reclaim itself, they cannot expect one human like me to do it for them.”

      She personally escorts him out of her room then out of the other rooms. With her head held high, unable to look at him, she follows him down the staircase. At the penthouse entrance, he gives her his business card.                                         

      “Goodnight Detective Jones.” She shuts the door on him.

      Vixen, the woman in lingerie, beckons to Martin. Paz is in her bedroom with her hand in her hair. He does not question how long she was standing there, leaving Vixen behind with her contempt. Paz’s robe is loose, her shoulders are bare, and her head moves toward the open closet. Martin is in the rain away from the Triangle Saloon.  Paz’s robe leaves her vulnerable to face the heroic doppelganger on her own.

      Both hear the pitter-patter of rain. One sees a guardian forsaken the world. One unable to forget the Guardian of the world is always watching her.