|Wilderness of Mirrors
Author: Scarlett Burns PM
Sands must confront madness headon, and rediscover himself in the process, if he wishes to reclaim his life. But how does a blind man survive in a wilderness of mirrors? Sequel to Sands Through The Hourglass.Rated: Fiction M - English - Suspense/Mystery - Chapters: 11 - Words: 34,217 - Reviews: 65 - Favs: 18 - Follows: 24 - Updated: 12-26-09 - Published: 09-29-06 - id: 3175057
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
Wilderness of Mirrors
Sequel to Sands Through The Hourglass
By Scarlett Burns
Rated: M for adult language, violence and mild horror.
Disclaimer: Don't own it, folks!
Summary: Sands must confront madness head-on, and rediscover himself in the process, if he wishes to reclaim his life. But how does a blind man survive in a wilderness of mirrors?
Thanks: Huge thanks to my beta, Stella-Maria. Lots of love and thanks to everyone who read and/or reviewed STTHG!
Author's Notes: This is a sequel to Sands Through The Hourglass (STTHG). This story will not make any sense if you haven't read STTHG first. If you have read STTHG, then you know the drill! English translations, spook speak and slang definitions can be found at the end of each chapter. Feedback is savored like good slow-roasted pork. Enjoy!
Chapter 1 - Encounters
It's fascinating, how quickly a crowd disperses after a show. It was a perfect example of the oddities that existed in the human psyche. It took far longer for a theatre to fill, than it did for a theatre to empty.
Now, you'd think it would be the opposite; that pre-show excitement would cause a rush, and after the show, you'd want to take a moment to reflect and digest the entertainment.
This was not the case; an illustration of how the mind often did the unexpected, and even the illogical. This was one of the many difficulties he'd run into with the PANDORA project.
The sound of people hurrying past made him chuckle. It was practically a race to see who could get out of the theatre first, and the only prize available to the winner was getting stuck in D.C. traffic.
Waiting for the herd to exit, he was mildly surprised when someone moved against the stampede, and sat down in the empty seat to his left.
Their silence made it impossible for him to tell who it was. Regardless of the fact, he turned toward the mystery guest and flashed one of his trademark smirks. "Fancy meeting you here," he drawled, figuring his guest was probably someone he knew.
"Ever the people watcher, aren't you?"
Sands inhaled sharply; the sound of her voice startling him. It shouldn't have. After all, he'd heard it a lot lately, just not in person.
He hadn't expected the mystery person to be her.
She'd known him so well… and not at all. But he couldn't say that he really knew her either. Oh, he knew what made her tick all right, but he didn't know her.
"Can't unlock the door if you don't have the key," he said smoothly, covering his surprise. "Or another nifty tool of the trade. Speaking of keys, where did you find yours, Cecelia?"
If he'd kept tabs on her he'd have known that she'd been released from the sanitarium, but truth be told, he hadn't expected her to recover... especially after hearing the tape Martin had acquired.
"It was only a matter of time," she said, and her tone had an edge he'd never heard in her voice before. "You didn't plan on me recovering, did you?"
Sands heaved a tired sigh as he turned away from her, absentmindedly adjusting his sunglasses as he did so.
Could have prevented this... "I plan for everything, and everything includes everything," he answered offhandedly.
"It doesn't matter," Cecelia continued. It didn't sound like she was listening to him. "It's only a matter of time."
He turned to face her again. "Threatening me so soon?"
"I'm sure you're used to it by now," she purred dangerously, closer to him than she was before. "It's only a matter of time."
Quirking an eyebrow, he said, "I'll bite. Before what?"
He heard her chuckle softly as she shifted in her seat, then felt warm breath tickle his ear. "Before you join me," Cecelia whispered.
Caught off guard, he pulled away from her, quickly getting to his feet. He didn't understand what she meant by that. No. He didn't want to understand what she meant by that. There was a rustling noise, as if she was opening up a bag, then something was thrust into his hands.
A box. He ran his thumb experimentally along one of its edges; it felt as if it was made of wood, and it seemed to be ornately carved.
"Something to remember me by," she said, and the words made his skin crawl. Those innocent words turned terrifying by one special delivery. "I know how you love to open up Pandora's Box."
His grip tightened around the box. The world began to spin. The ground fell out from under his feet. The box disappeared. He was no longer standing.
Toto, I don't think we're in Kansas anymore.
It took him a good minute to comprehend where he was.
Bed. He was in bed.
He'd gone to bed after…
Sands bolted upright as the real world hit him with the force of a Mack truck. The answering machine beside his bed beeped obnoxiously as he fought an oncoming head-rush with a few deep breaths.
Yet another lovely dream to add to your collection.
He supposed that dreaming of Cecelia was better than dreaming about the Day of the Dead, but it was little consolation. Cecelia's scorn wasn't even the worst of the dream; the most disturbing thing was that he was starting to dream like a blind man.
Selfish? You bet! But it made him wonder… was his memory of sight already slipping away?
Thoroughly depressed, he swung his legs over the side of the bed, and with a single digit pressed the play button on the answering machine. He could care less about the waiting message… he just wanted the fucking thing to stop beeping.
"Mr. Sheldon Sands? This is Dr. Alex Beck, from the Windhill Sanitarium. You need to contact me right away…"
Sands cursed under his breath, dragging himself out of bed. How's that for premonition?
Fucktabulous; another shit-storm was brewing on the horizon and he hadn't even cleaned up the damage from the last one.
He checked his special watch; nine-thirty. He'd slept for, at the very least, fifteen hours straight, and hadn't even bothered to change out of what he was wearing yesterday.
You're really off-off-Broadway.
This day was already off to a bad start, and he hadn't even left his bedroom yet. Snatching up his sunglasses, he put them on and raked a hand through his bedraggled hair.
No sooner had he washed and changed than the doorbell rang. As much as he didn't want to deal with anyone right now, he was almost thankful; it meant he could put off dealing with what was in the sink for a little longer. Just… a little longer.
I wonder when I became such a fucking yellow-bellied coward.
Slowly making his way down the hall, and still retaining his orientation, he called out, "And what do we have behind door number one?"
He wasn't in the mood for surprises, and wanted a heads-up on who was waiting for him.
The response was delayed a beat. "Metro police."
Sands' hand froze on the knob. Police?
What the Beelzebub are the fuzz doing here?
Even if he had committed a crime – and he hadn't committed one in the States for quite some time – the Company would be more likely to handle him personally.
This could be a trick…
Not answering the door immediately, Sands opened the coat closet beside him and grabbed his 9mm subcompact pistol. As he tucked it into his pants, out of sight, he immediately felt more at ease.
A cop is always fun to play with.
Sands pulled open the door, the smile on his face so fake that it must have looked like it had been surgically applied.
"Are you Sheldon Sands?" a man asked, and Sands inwardly cringed at the way the officer had accented the 'e' in his first name.
"On a bad day,' Sands answered.
"Can I come in? I'd like to talk to you. Probably won't take long."
"All by yourself? Not sure that's a groovy notion. Don't you want some backup?"
"Do I need it?" the officer asked, unsure whether or not the man he was talking to was being sarcastic.
Yup, the officer had a hint of country southern in his accent. Probably West Virginia, or some hillbilly hole like that.
Sands smirked but made no move to let the man in. "Do theaters need a show to sell tickets?" He folded his arms across his chest, leaning against the doorframe. "Mind giving me the skinny on what's going down?"
"There's a warrant out for the arrest of Miss Ava Hunter."
Sands' eyebrows rose at the mention of Ava; he'd half expected this to be about Cecelia after the call from her shrink.
Funny; the police finally showed up at his door and it had nothing to do with him. He stepped aside, ushering the officer in with a free hand.
"So," Sands began after the officer entered, closing the door. "Has she done something naughty?"
"You might say that," the officer said, stopping in the living room as Sands joined him. "I'm Officer Weldon, by the way."
"What's this have to do with me, Kojak?" Sands asked, getting straight to the point. He had the feeling that Weldon was waiting to shake hands, but wasn't about to guess wrong and show his Achilles' heel.
There was a short pause, then, "You know her?"
"You wouldn't be here if I didn't," Sands said matter-of-factly, plopping down on his couch.
"Have you seen her around lately?"
Sands chuckled and propped his feet up on the table in front of him. He wasn't about to make it easy for Weldon; in fact he was about to do the opposite. Really, it was just too much fun. "Can't say that I've ever seen Ava. Sorry, I hate to disappoint."
"You want me to swallow that you know her, but haven't met her?" Weldon asked outright. Well, he wasn't one to beat about the bush.
"I'm no jive turkey, Barney. I haven't seen the dame; but there's a big difference between seeing and meeting."
"Then you've met Ava?"
"Bingo. You're as sharp as a sack of wet mice, but believe it or not that's a compliment to anyone working for the fuzz."
If Weldon was getting irritated, he kept it under control for the time being. However, he did snort at the remark. "How d'you meet her?" he asked, attempting to stay on topic.
"How do you know that I did?" Sands asked, fishing in his pocket for a half-empty carton of cigarettes. "We didn't exactly advertise in the local paper, Barney. For all you know, we're just pen pals or email buddies."
"We're with the Feds on this one. They didn't go about tellin' us much, just that you might be able to tell us somethin'."
"Well, the Feds giving you squat is better than zip, but it still leaves you with just squat, you dig?" he asked, lighting up. He was being easier on the guy than he'd originally intended, but it was beneficial to get your information before you burned the bridge out from under someone.
Barney's arrival was something completely unforeseen, and the more he knew about it the better off he'd be.
"Not really, Mr. Sands."
"They give you the 411 on me?" he asked. "Because, Barney, my Cousins just shoved you into a hornet's nest. I admit that I sting. Hope you're not allergic."
"Uh… not much. Being's the only thing they told us was that you worked a job with her."
Poor hillbilly was having a hard time keeping up. "I'm just trying to figure out why the Feds are reeling Metro into national security issues."
"Like I said, there's a warrant out for her arrest…"
Fishy, very fishy. Week old fishy. The Feds should be handling him themselves; it was unheard of for the Feds to send the fuzz in their place. "What exactly has Ava done to get the Feds and the Po-lice chasing her cute little tail?"
"I thought you'd never seen her, Mr. Sands."
Sands smiled slyly, taking another drag. "Clever, but you're still only as sharp as a bag of marbles. You've got your synapses hot-wired for the hunt though. I'll give you that much." He exhaled cigarette smoke slowly. "But, Barney-Boy, you're still barking up the wrong tree." Leaning forward, he tapped ash into the ashtray. He was thankful this was taking place in his apartment; he knew where everything was.
"So, you were workin' for her?" he asked, and he didn't sound cheerful about it. Probably because it made Sands a suspect as well.
Sands laughed outright at that, not answering right away. The thought that he was working for her was pretty damn amusing.
Standing, he walked over to the living room window and slid it open to let out the smoke. Latching the top to keep the window open, he turned back to the local fuzz, taking another puff of his fag.
"Three strikes and you'll be out, Barney."
"Can you explain how I'm wrong, then?" Weldon asked, making his way around the room.
"Simple. You reflect that far-out little assumption of yours in a gilded mirror and you'll see reality." He wanted to appear as if he were cooperating; as if he didn't suspect a damn thing.
Weldon will likely get sloppy if he thinks I'm easy.
"Simple," Weldon deadpanned, clearly getting fed up with the doubletalk.
"Simple. Wrap it around your noggin. I'm sure it'll come to you."
"Always hated those riddles on tests," Weldon muttered, almost to himself.
Snickering, Sands took one last drag, his cigarette cashed. "Sure you don't need to radio for backup?"
"Hold up – you sayin' she was workin' for you?"
Ah, putting two and two together.
"Oh, I'm proud of you, Barney. Truly," Sands said, not without a heavy dose of sarcasm. "But don't let those horses loose from the stable; I didn't know who I was getting until I got her." Come to think of it, even then I didn't know what I'd gotten.
"Who do you work for?" Weldon asked suddenly, and the thought that this might be a trick once again popped into Sands' mind. Was it conceivable that a cop would know to come to him for questions, but not know who he really was? He didn't think that even the fuzz was that inept.
He couldn't see a badge, even if the cop showed it to him, and he also couldn't see if the cop just happened to slip a bug under his couch cushions either. Hell, the guy didn't even have to be wearing a uniform to pass as a 5-O.
He really hated that it would be so easy. So easy for them to pretend to be whoever they needed to be, without even investing in a costume. So easy to slip a bug without him ever noticing.
Worse of all, there was nothing he could do about it.
Zip. Zero. Zilch. I can only hear so much, feel so much… there are some things only sight can give me, and that cow really has gone out to pasture.
Fuck, he didn't know if he should be annoyed, mad, depressed or a combination of all three.
Sands didn't let his suspicions – or dismal thoughts – show. "You're really not up to speed, are you?" he asked, then 'looked' down at his watch. "Wowza! It only took you fifteen minutes to ask me that itty-bitty detail."
"Couldn't find your employer in your file."
"That's a shocker." Sands flicked his spent cigarette out the window. He didn't believe Barney for a moment. If the FBI really was in on this they would have told the fuzz who he worked for. But if the officer wanted to play him… well, it would be rude if he didn't play back. "Cousins In Action, Kojak." When he was met with silence, he clarified, "CIA. Heard of it?"
Another long pause. "Have you heard from Ava Hunter?"
"Ah, now you're getting it. Haven't really stayed in touch since we beat cheeks out of Mexico a week ago." Sands smiled shrewdly, and in a way that would inspire anything but trust. "But I'll be sure to give you a jingle if she decides to catch up on old times. Groovy?"
"What do you do for the CIA?"
"Sorry. Can't shoot the breeze about work. If I did, I'd have to shoot more than the breeze."
"This is serious business. She's wanted for money laundering and suspicion of treason."
"Why does that sound so familiar?" Sands drawled, striking a thoughtful pose to accentuate the sarcasm. Something big was going down in the Company. He really wished that he knew what it was.
"Treason, Mr. Sands. These days it ain't taken lightly."
"Was it ever, Barney?" Sands was outwardly indifferent, but inwardly he'd been unprepared for the accusations against Ava. She didn't seem to be the traitorous type, but then again her assistance to him in Mexico could have been enough for the Company to turn on her. He didn't think the Company was aware of the two of them being in cahoots, but it was impossible to know for sure.
The whole situation was a fucking wilderness of mirrors; he suspected no one knew what the hell was going on, but everyone had a little piece of the jigsaw puzzle.
Sure, he lived for a challenging puzzle – it was what his job was all about – but hot damn, if this wasn't the most fucked up government situation he'd ever heard of in the history of fucked up situations… and that was saying something.
"This is serious," Weldon reiterated, starting to sound a little like a broken record.
"What? You mean they actually take all these spy games seriously? I would never have thought it!"
"This isn't anything to laugh about!" Infuriated, Weldon began to approach Sands.
Sands had his hands clasped in front of him as he listened to Weldon drew near. His senses were on high alert, but he had the feeling that Weldon wasn't going to get violent. If he was a phony, he was a covert and subtle one.
His voice was ice as he responded to Weldon's rebuke. "I'm not laughing, Mr. Weldon. However, you are laughable. If I were in a better mood I'd express that salient point more thoroughly."
"You're walkin' on thin ice, pal."
Pal? Oh, it's on now.
"It's the only place I'm comfortable, Chief."
The officer kept a little distance between them, and muttered under his breath, "No wonder…"
It was so quiet, Sands could barely make it out… but there it was.No wonder.
That phrase could be taken a number of different ways. It could have been a direct response to his comment, but no, he didn't think so. Not the way Weldon had uttered it.
No wonder… you were set up for the fall.
No wonder… the CIA wants your hide.
No wonder… they humiliated you.
No wonder… you're disfigured… and blind.
It was enough to give him a headache; a piercing stab of pain behind the right eye socket. He resisted the urge to massage his forehead, and continued on as if he hadn't heard Weldon's whispered words.
"But you're forgetting one tiny detail; if I'm walking on thin ice, then so are you." He gestured towards Weldon before continuing. "Because you're right next to me, and there ain't no land for miles"
"You wouldn't be the one responsible for all this, would you now?" Weldon asked suspiciously.
Sands kept his face absolutely neutral. "Can I call a time out? Groovy. What are you accusing me of? I'm not unaccustomed to being blamed for odd goings on, but it's always nice to know what I've been up to. Apparently I'm out of the loop."
"Are you?" Weldon scoffed. "Is that possible for a man like you? What were you in on? Selling secrets? Or just the money laundering?"
Now he knew this guy was a fraud, or at the very least, a turncoat in the fuzz. How else would Weldon know what kind of man he was? How far up and down the totem pole did this conspiracy go?
"Damn, I think I might have left five dollars in the pocket of one of my pants when I sent it to the cleaners yesterday," Sands quipped, moving past Weldon and returning to the couch before going on. "The answer to your question would be a negative, Little Buddy."
"And I'm sure you'd go about tellin' me if it were true," Weldon said, following him to the couch, but opting not to sit down and get warm and cozy.
"You know," Sands began, focusing his attention on Weldon's movements. "I probably would."
The sound of Weldon's rude snort made him smirk.
"Why don't we cool it, Kojak? No need for you to out-psych the un-out-psychable. We're on the same side of the fence, aren't we?" he asked, finishing off the sentence in his best 'shrink' tone of voice; he hadn't used it in some time.
Well, no time like the present to brush up. Might come in handy for PANDORA.
"Are we?" Weldon asked skeptically, but the tone was more civil than before.
After hearing Weldon's under-the-breath comment, he was convinced that Barney wasn't what he seemed. He'd have to get the apartment swept for bugs later, 'cause who knew what kind of infestation he might have after the so-called-fuzz left. Come to think of it, he might have had one long before.
My brain really must be on an extended vacation. It was all he could do not to smack himself in the head right then and there.
Sands settled back into the couch, folding his hands in his lap. "Miss Hunter ran intel for me; period. Convenient job for a traitor to have, isn't it? Now I can't help but wonder if the information ever made it to the appropriate agency."
"Well, I guess I have to take what you give me," Weldon said, and he didn't sound too happy about it. "Mind if I take a look around?"
"Of course I mind. I didn't clean for company." Sands smirked and stood again, with every intention of showing the cop out.
Weldon completely disregarded his remark, his footsteps retreating down the hall.
Well at least he didn't go straight into the kitchen.
Sands' smirk immediately faded. Weldon had just crossed a very thin line. No one just helped themselves to his apartment.
Weldon had nerve… well, that nerve could easily be severed.
Dropping to his knees, he reached under his couch and gripped a favorite piece of hardware hidden underneath. The subcompact was a nifty surprise, but the 10mm Colt Delta Elite was much more impressive.
Tucking it in the back of his pants, he followed after Weldon, and found him in his bedroom. No doubt he was probably planting another bug; the man was just too brazen for his own safety.
"Messages, Mr. Sands?" Weldon asked when he heard Sands approach.
Sands leaned casually in the doorframe as Weldon hit the play button. He could only hope that Weldon had never heard Ava's voice. The first message that played was from Cam.
"I thought only the CIA played things off the cuff. Chalk one up for the Company; they're only keeping up with the times after all," Sands drawled. Of course, he was referring to the fact that Weldon didn't seem to have a warrant to search his apartment.
It didn't really matter. He'd be an idiot to keep incriminating evidence in such an easy to find place as his apartment.
As Ava's message came on, Weldon immediately asked, "Who's this?"
"My darling sister-in-law, Linda," Sands answered smoothly, not missing a beat.
"Seems a bit worried for a sister-in-law. What'd she say at the end?"
"Not overeducated? The pearl of wisdom she left for me was, 'I care for the future'." Sands nodded at the message machine as Doctor Beck's message played. "That would be the reason for Linda's worry - her sister - but then dear Linda always was a worrywart in the worst way."
When the tape stopped, Weldon continued his snooping. "Well, what do we have here?"
Sands only quirked an eyebrow in response, since he wasn't sure what Weldon had found. He moved his right hand so that it rested on his hip.
"Government issue?" he asked, and Sands now knew what he'd found. The gun he had between the mattress and the box spring.
"Impressive," Weldon said, and it sounded as if he was returning it to its hiding place.
To do that, Weldon had to have his back to him. Sands took the opportunity to bring the Delta out into clear view. "Isn't it?" Sands asked conversationally. "But I kinda dig this one more."
Weldon went extremely still when he caught sight of the pistol. "What do you think you're doing?"
"Absit invidia, Barney, but you better bug out," Sands said dangerously, sure the look on Weldon's face was priceless. Weldon was a flea's jump away from receiving a serious lesson.
"Bug out. Scram. High tail it. Scat. Get the fuck out before I shoot you."
"You have to be kidding," Weldon said in that odd half laugh, half disbelieving tone that you hear when people are scared shitless.
"I've had a hell of a week Barney, and you've done little to jolly me into good spirits." He had the gun pointed towards the ceiling, but pulled back the hammer just for fun.
He had no intention of shooting the rat; this wasn't Mexico, and he wasn't stupid. There was enough bad shit raining down as it was.
But enough was fucking enough. Weldon had to leave before he really did lose control of his infamously itchy trigger finger.
"Sweet piece, isn't it? It's worth over eight hundred dollars." Sands pretended to shift his attention from Weldon to the gun. He knew he was playing a dangerous game, especially if Weldon was prepared to use his own hardware. But this was a calculated risk. He was willing to bet that Weldon wasn't going to use his weapon.
Sands was needed alive. If he was dead, it would be hard to set him up for the current shit going down in the Company. Wasn't he the lucky one? "It's a classic. I'd never exchange a classic for something new and shiny, because this baby's been tested in the field – it's been used, misused, and abused – but it's always performed."
Sands shifted his focus back to Weldon, making it crystal clear that this wasn't about the gun; the gun was only his point of illustration.
Weldon was deathly silent, and that made Sands smile. Lowering the weapon, he stepped out into the hall and motioned for Weldon to get the fuck out.
Waiting, Sands heard Weldon let out the breath he'd been holding and move into the doorway. As he passed and went down the hall, Sands followed.
He couldn't help but needle the man a little more. "Maybe next time we'll get in a little target practice; you'd be amazed by this classic's accuracy."
"I'll… call you if I need anything else."
"If you dare," Sands drawled.
Weldon opened the door, and was out of the apartment before Sands could say 'adieu'. Shutting the door, he couldn't suppress a chuckle.
Making his way back to the couch, he relieved himself of his pistol and put it back in its designated spot.
He had to admit, he'd never expected a turn of events quite like this.
It was time for him to start fitting all the little jigsaw pieces together.
Absit invidia – No offence intended.Spook Speak
Wilderness of Mirrors - a spy operation so complicated that it is no longer possible to separate truth and untruth.
Cousins – Slang for the FBI. Also slang for the CIA, depending on which agency you work for.