It was the oddest sensation.
I could feel my heart bursting out of my chest, and at the same time, I felt nothing. My head was clear. My breathing felt normal. I looked down at my hands; they were not shaking. I tried out my voice.
"Missing? Are you sure?" My voice was calm, collected. I felt a spike of self-loathing deep in my belly.
The police officer, on the other hand, seemed relieved not to have a hysterical mother on his hands.
"We're sure, ma'am. The private school she was enrolled in? Christina Gur- Gruth-Guth-"
"Christina Guruthward." I said automatically. "What about it?"
"Yes. The—school. They've just reported that she's missing since this morning. Apparently, the windows in her dorm room were open, so we assume she left sometime during the night."
"Left? On her own free will? How do you know that?"
"There was only one set of footsteps in the vicinity. The ground was extremely muddy, if someone had kidnapped her, they would have left tracks."
"Oh." I feel befuddled, as if someone had put me under hypnosis. I feel frustrated, because this news could not have come at a worse time. And I feel angry, because no one takes something of mine without my say-so.
I consider what to say for a moment.
The policeman mistook my silence for grief.
"Don't be worried, ma'am," he soothed. "I'm sure she'll turn up sooner or later. They usually do, you know. And we've got quite a few leads already so—"
"What are they?" I snap, suddenly jolted into motion again.
"Excuse me?" said the startled policeman. "What are what, exactly, ma—"
"Leads. What leads do you have?" I gesture impatiently, even though he can't see me. My aides eye me warily; they know this can't be good news.
I can hear his Adam's Apple going up and down on the other end of the line. Maybe he's realizing the hole he's dug himself into. I can imagine his eyes bugging out a deep-sea fish, suddenly brought up to the surface, and I try not to clench my fists.
I suddenly cannot stand staying here, away from my city and my daughter, any longer. My skin itches with the urge to flee, my legs ache with a need to seek what has been taken from me, and my heart feels, unexpectedly and unwantedly, as though it had been torn into little paper pieces.
I hang up on the silent officer and run—run, out of the building, out of my ambitions, out of everything I thought I had wanted, to seek what I had lost, and, in some way, had never found.
I am coming, my daughter.
Maybe it was my dream, or maybe it was just recent events catching up to me, but I've found myself thinking about Sarase lately. My old lover, and my old enemy.
I met her on a terrible night in Baltimore, coming back from an exhausting conference. This was when I was still a young man, not yet tutored in the ways of business, not yet successful, just another college grad with a burning desire to make something powerful and ruthless out of himself.
It was a cheap hotel that I came back to, all peeling wallpaper and hateful clerks. I despised it. It represented everything I was at that moment, everything I was trying to pull myself from. It was so desperately lower class: And I was set upon other things, things that looked, from my perspective at the time, impossible.
I stopped by my room to drop off my briefcase. It was, as I had said, a terrible night, and I was in a vicious mood. I wanted to sleep, or beat someone up in a nameless alley, or go whoring, or all three. When I walked out of that room, looking for trouble, I heard voices.
They were coming from the conference room down the hall, the room that I could not remember being used in my months living there. Curious, I walked down and listened at the door.
It was a feminists' conference, and the current speaker had a remarkable speech-making capability. I had never had any talent at that sort of thing, and I marveled at this nameless woman's flair for words.
The conference soon ended, and the women walked out, most looking suspicious at finding me at the door. But the woman I was looking for was still in the dingy room, shuffling up her notes.
I walked in.
"That was quite an extraordinary speech," I said, trying to put the same flourish into my words. I found myself wanting to impress this woman; it was an unfamiliar feeling, but not a wholly unwelcome one.
She raised her brows.
"You were listening?"
"But only for the last three minutes," I said, as if that made it less like eavesdropping.
"I see." She snapped the clasps on her bag shut, and swung it upon her shoulder. "Well, I'm glad you liked it, Mister..."
"Jude. Jude Thunderbolt. But I'm having it changed to just Bolt."
Her brows crinkled, and her lips curled into a small amused smile. "Thunderbolt?"
"I'm an orphan," I hastened to add. "I was named for the statue I was found under."
"Uh-huh," she said, her smile getting larger. "A statue. I suppose that must account for it."
I realized then that she was laughing at me, and when she laughed, her eyes sparkled, her face lit up, and my stomach felt like I had taken a blow.
"It could have been worse," I answered, unable to help it. "The statue was called 'God With a Thunderbolt in His Hand Passing Judgment upon the World.'"
Our shared laughter echoed through the halls of that dingy, moth-eaten hotel.
"So, Sir Statue," she said. "What brought you to the door of a little insignificant femme-group like us?"
"It won't be little nor insignificant for long with a speechmaker like you," I told her. She smiled at the flattery, but she didn't blush. I liked that about her.
"Actually," I continued, "I live down the hall from here. Just for the time being, you understand. In room 109." I said it importantly, although I could feel myself acting the fool. She raised her brows in half-condescending way and gave me a coy look.
Was she flirting with me?
...I hoped so.
When we finished talking, it had been well past an hour. She had made some vague comments on speaking at the hotel again; I had said something ambiguous about having a lot of free time at the hotel. We grinned at each other, delighted by our double-speak, and she walked off, never having told me her name or where I could find her. But Sarase was like that, and always has been.
As for me, I went back to my room, and I stayed there, watching the digital numbers on the clock change, hoping she would knock on the door even though I knew she wouldn't.
The ride to Baltimore was excruciatingly long, even though it was barely three hours. My fists kept clenching my skirt, even though I took pains not to. I stared out the window, not speaking, not doing anything, and willed the traffic to pass by faster.
Like everything else, it refused to obey.
I was out the door of the car before it had fully pulled up in front of the Baltimore police station. I took, unsuccessfully, a moment to calm myself, and walk in, not quite composed.
The police give me nothing but empty promises, stale coffee, and old information. I am out of patience and out the door as quickly as I came.
Outside, I suck at the air desperately, like a smoker needing a hit. The air is cold and tastes foul. I contemplate the sky, standing outside my car. Gray as always, polluted and overcast. It seems like years since I have last seen it clear.
I remember this city, as it used to be. Or at least, how I used to know it. It held everything I could want in the world.
Now it offers me nothing.
As I get into the car, as bitter as the air in this foul place, I think of one person who ought to know about Korianne. Or should he? It had been years, after all, since I had seen him, much less spoken to him. He did not even know our daughter.
Does not, I remind myself. Does not.
But there is little else to do, and I bark sharp orders to the chauffer and wait to arrive at my destination.
And I breathe, in and out, of forgotten, elegiac memories.
I am not entirely surprised when Sarase walked in through the supposedly locked door, her face unchanged from the one I remember from many years ago.
Make that a lie. I am utterly surprised when she walked in, her confident, slightly arrogant features molding into recognition at the sight of me. I am speechless.
She is not. She never is.
"Hello, Jude," she says, very formally. "Please go send your secretary to make me a cup of coffee. It has been a long car ride from the District."
The secretary, standing warily at the door, immediately departs. I get the feeling she won't be back for a while. I hired her for her brains, you see.
Wish I could do the same. But it's time to face the fire, perhaps a little earlier than I had intended.
"Jude," she says. "You remember we have a daughter, do you not?"
Good old Sara. I might as well be a sperm donor. She clears her throat.
"Well, I received some unfortunate news today..."
I try my best to look both taken aback and concerned. Trying to bluff Sarase is as likely as riding bareback on a torpedo and about as dangerous.
"She—That is, Korianne—She—She's missing, Jude." Her voice cracks. Her fists clench. For a moment, and perhaps longer, her mask slips.
The bitterness, the helplessness in her, frightens me. She is, for the first time I have known her, in circumstances beyond her control.
I get off on it. It is so satisfying; to have finally wrought revenge on the one woman I could not hurt.
It must have shown. She looks up, and I can see it in her eyes—She knows.
"You," I breathe. "You!"
We both jump to our feet at the same time, but Jude is wholly unprepared when I leap across the desk at him, lunging for his throat with a strength I did not know I had. Jude falls back, clutching at my hands. We tumble, locked together, over the desk, knocking papers and pens flying. A folder opens as it falls, scattering files all across the hardwood floor. A heavy paperweight smashes into the floor a foot from Jude's head. The glass splinters and breaks, flying in glittering pieces in all directions. One lodges in Jude's cheek, drawing a thin line of blood. Others glance across my hands and wrists, but my grip holds strong.
"Where is my daughter? What did you do to her!"
And Jude, that bastard, that total, inconceivably, unutterably evil bastard, looked at me with those smoky blue eyes and said:
"I think you know, Sarase."
And I shrieked, driven to new levels of hatred. The part of me that was coolly aloof—and taking notes should I need them later—was surprised. When was the last time I had lost control? Years ago, I'm sure. Yet here I was, screaming like a mad thing.
No longer faced with the element of surprise, Jude gripped both my wrists, pushing me away with his superior strength. Now we were standing inches apart, close enough to feel the other's hot breath caress our faces.
When my breathing is back under control, I speak. Jude has not said a word, only watched me with that unfathomable expression.
"What have you done. Tell me everything."
Self-control is key. If you do not have power over yourself, then you have nothing. I will contain my anger and my sorrow—until the time is right.
"I have sold her. You do not know his name; it is enough to know that nothing happens in this city that he does not know about. He owes allegiance to nobody, which is a rare enough thing that it is power in its own right."
"The mobsters?" I ask, watching his eyes. Small things anger him, but big things send him cold. His gaze flickered before he answered. Ah.
"Not any of the families."
Which could mean anything. But his eyes give him away.
"Where is she?"
"She could be anywhere, I'm afraid. He has access to everywhere in the city." Again, that flicker.
"Still in the city, then?"
"He would never leave the city."
"Then neither shall I." I pause, thinking through my options. There were so many things to consider and so few clues.
"Let me make this clear," I tell him calmly. "I will not leave until I find my daughter. Our daughter," and enjoyed watching him flinch. "You can help me, or you can not. You don't have any political career, obviously, but I know enough to sully your company's name with Washington for a very long time. But, you being you, I'm sure you'll ferret your way to more easy money soon enough. So I'm going to say this, and then I'm going to give you a last chance to help me."
I lean in close enough to kiss him. That was years ago, of course.
"You don't like this any more than I do. Your eyes give you away. It must have been something terrible you've done for the guilt to show on your face, Jude. I know it's not a feeling accustomed to you," I say, keeping emotion strictly out of my voice.
He can't hold my gaze.
"I'm sorry," he says. "I can't help you." And he turns away.
I leave, a tightly controlled fury roaring behind my eyes.
Going out the building, a gentleman was kind enough to hold open the door for me whilst on the way in. He was also careless enough to drop a tightly folded piece of paper into my purse.
Behind the tinted windows of my Bentley, I unfold the note.
Club Charon at midnight. Ask for Lorraine.
A simple message, but the best I have.
I look up through the car's windows. There, at the corner office on the fifteenth floor—the indistinct figure of man looking down as if trapped by a glass-and-steel prison. How I hated him for what he had done—Sold her? Sold her? As if he had a right—But I think I understand, a little.
Giving the chauffer instructions, I prepare for midnight.
AN: This is to tell you that I will try to update this story, but I sincerely doubt that'll happen. Other fandoms have caught my eye, I'm afraid.
Also, it's very likely that my pen name will change soon. Just a heads-up.