The Den

Stepney made his way cautiously through the den, taking care to avoid stepping on any of the men and women laid about him in various states of intoxication. Music streamed in from an unseen source, gentle notes from some far off land soothing the hearts of those who had come here to unwind, to release, to learn.

To forget.

He spied Harlow and made his way over. Young women – perhaps nineteen or twenty – strode through the den, taking orders and checking on patrons who seemed a little too far gone even for this establishment. Stepney found himself oddly amused: We’ve got your poison right here, just be sure to make your way home before you kick the bucket.

He took a seat. Harlow stared at him with a fierce intensity, stared into him, his eyes boring a hole into a point above and directly between his own.

“Stepney,” he said by way of greeting, more an epithet than a title. “What a pleasant surprise.”

“This is no surprise, as well you know.”

“The girls.”

“Another this week, two the week before.” Stepney reached into his pocket and withdrew a notebook. “Ten so far.”

“That you know of.” Harlow said it without malice or judgement: it was a statement of fact and nothing more. He gestured and Stepney passed him the notebook.

“So far we’ve found nothing. No common friends, no common interests, schools, problems at home. Even birthdays, favourite music. Nothing. All they have in common is that they all have nothing in common.”

“And their fate.”

“Of course.” Stepney cleared his throat. “Always the same, simply disappearing out of the blue. Same note, same actions. And so quick. One girl left while her parents were at temple. No food, clothes, nothing. Just up and left.”

“I see.” Harlow perused the notebook, pausing from time to time to study one page or another. Eventually he set it aside and regarded Stepney with the same piercing gaze. “What would you have me do?”

“Apply your talent. Use your gift. You are the best.”

“Do you have a picture?”

Stepney reached into his pocket again and withdrew an image. He passed it to Harlow. “Jennifer. The most recent. Yesterday.”

Harlow stared into the picture. A girl stared back at him, scarcely more than a child, her blue eyes wide and filled with hope. He closed his own for a moment, as if saving his image for some future occasion. His fingers ran over the image absently.

“Leave what you have with me. I will do what I can.”

Published in: on March 2, 2009 at 10:17 am  Leave a Comment  
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