Screeching vocals radiated off the walls, swirling around Keenan Archer in his booth near the club’s entrance. He could feel the bass rippling up his spine, punching through his gut. Archer had been hitting up clubs across the city for weeks hunting for the Kaczmerak girl. He’d found little to help so far.
Keenan swirled the ice cubes in his glass, took another drink. The barkeep claimed it was bourbon, but Keenan found that claim dubious. At least it wasn’t as watered as other places.
It took a moment for the detective to recognize the buzzing in his pocket wasn’t coming from the stage. Reaching up, Archer tapped the earpiece once and spoke: “Take a message.”
Lifting his glass again, Keenan knocked back the last of his drink. Sliding the empty glass to the edge of his table, Archer made eye contact with the woman singing on stage. She held his gaze for a few seconds and then smiled before dancing away to the opposite side.
Archer smiled too. He wouldn’t be spending the night alone.
The waitress came over to retrieve his glass. “The same?” She thrust her hips forward as she spoke. Whether working for a tip or something more Keenan couldn’t say. He considered breaking the news that her efforts were a waste of time – skin taut over wasted bones, sunken eyes falling into shadow, devoid of the forced smile in her voice. It all said junkie, and in a better light, Keenan imagined her track marks would be visible. He didn’t look at her as he replied, “sure” and returned his gaze to the stage.
As the girl pranced off, Keenan’s pocket began to vibrate again. He reached to his ear, but this time as he tapped an angry voice shot through.
“Archer! What the fuck are you doing?”
Keenan fell back in his seat as if punched in the chest, eyes wide and unfocused. “Who are you? And how did you override my phone?”
“I’m your employer, you fuck! Now answer my question!”
The detective paused. “Mr. Kaczmerak?”
“Well. You do have some detecting skills after all.”
“I didn’t recognize your voice, sir.”
“I don’t care! Excuses aren’t worth my time, Mr. Archer,” the old man continued.
“Yes, sir,” said Archer, sitting up.
“Where is my daughter?” asked Elijah.
“I don’t know,” Archer yelled, barely audible in the club. “I have some leads I’m following right now. But it’s going to take some time.”
“A month. Which is more than you deserve. Have something by then Mr. Archer,” spat Kaczmerak.
“Yes, sir,” but as Keenan uttered “sir,” the line went dead.
Sylindra walked through the foyer to the library, stopping just at the doorway. Across the room, sitting in a chair with his back to the doctor, Elijah Kaczmerak stared out the window. Beyond the deep green of the pines and firs bordering the grounds, a blank slate rose above everything daring Kaczmerak to come outside and mar its serene countenance. Winter was coming fast, and the skies were dressed accordingly.
Dr. Ziantara cleared her throat, but the old man gave no indication he’d heard anything. Sylindra knew better, but said nothing, preferring to wait him out.
A minute passed.
Dr. Z shifted her feet, relieving the pressure settling in her heels.
Another minute passed, the steady ticking of the mantel clock – a family heirloom – calling out the seconds that Sylindra now counted silently.
Four hundred forty-two seconds. Over seven minutes. That’s when Elijah finally spoke.
“Yes, doctor.” The wheezing was gone, replaced by a soft baritone Elijah and his physician had not heard for some time.
“I just came to check on you. How are you feeling?” asked the doctor, still standing just beyond the threshold of the library.
“Unsatisfied,” he said. “I do not care much for your prognosis.”
“Well, I’m not sure what I can do about that, Elijah. Would you rather I lie about the time you have before we need to take more serious action?”
“What I would rather, doctor,” said Elijah as he lifted from the chair turning to face her, “is that you would do your job. I expect results Ms. Ziantara. Failure is not a concept with which I am overly familiar.” The lines were gone from his face, the stoop with which he’d walked (when he was able) a memory, and the fire in his eyes burned brighter than it had in years. The stem cell therapy had worked, stimulated by the steroids added to this new cocktail. But it was only temporary.
“If you hadn’t been so reckless with your body, we wouldn’t be in this predicament. You understood going in that this probably wouldn’t be a permanent solution, but at least it could be a stop-gap while we searched for something else.” Dr. Ziantara had her hands out, palms up, sick inside about the deficiencies of her science.
“It’s like a virus,” she continued. “Becoming stronger, mutating and evolving to counteract the old remedies so that we have to come up with new ones. Your body has become accustomed to the therapies we used before. It recognizes them and burns them out faster now.
“You did this to yourself, Elijah!” Dr. Z’s voice was even as she thrust her finger at her employer, her patient.
“Your job is to cure me, doctor, not render judgment upon my lifestyle. That will come later from someone far more qualified than yourself.”
Elijah stepped around the chair and moved toward the foyer, stopping at the doctor’s shoulder as he reached the doorway.
“You have managed to forestall your dismissal for a while longer. But do not fail to understand that your time with us is limited. So long as you are useful you have a place here. But otherwise . . .”
The old man walked off as Sylindra watched him go.