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RPG Put On Your Red Shoes and Dance [PG-LV]


Charles
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[B]If anyone is confused here, right now, this is a dual RP between Raiha and myself with possible cameos by others.[/B]

Ah, Otaku City.

Some say that that Otaku City is like an enchanting woman that embraces you one minute and leaves you with nothing but anxiety and a terrible sense of longing, the next. But, I knew her better than that; Otaku City was cold and selfish and she didn?t embrace anyone. In fact there was a time when she had almost destroyed me.

But, here I was, back again in her red-fingered clutches.

I rubbed the stubble that was quickly overtaking my face. I looked much older than I really was. Everything around me did too. Otaku City was aging with me, only she aged well. Age made her look dignified.

Yeah, there I was, my first week back on the job, back in the city; I had made no effort to look presentable. In fact, I had made no effort to do much of anything; I leaned back, thinking, thinking thinking--thinking the time away. I listened to the gentle hum of traffic below; it sounded like jazz. I found the rhythm and wistfully tapped my feet in time with the music. I gazed out the window and watched a sea bird glide by until it dissolved into the blue sky.

One could get lost so easily in Otaku City.

A large cardboard box rested on my desk, almost defiantly. The slit near its base made it look like it was grinning at me, as if to say ?welcome back.? The large size of the box was rather deceiving, for I did not save much. I didn?t have any family to photograph for display and I wasn?t clever enough to even attempt decorating. They say that people need personality in order to decorate and I didn?t have much of that lately.

I had worked for the Otaku Police Force for years now; it felt like centuries. I could call myself a grizzled veteran, one of the last remaining. My career had a promising start. I quickly rose through the ranks of the Otaku Police Force. Back in 2003 with a hand-picked group of special agents, I had infiltrated an underground demolitions plant called Anime Explosion, and taken it down along with the madman behind it. He ended up being one of our own. I made Captain for that one.

I should have been thrilled afterwards but instead I realized, there ain?t glitz and glamour involved with upholding the law. Every day it rained pitchforks and I was the one who got all wet. It was all about saying goodbye to old friends while accumulating a seemingly endless train of critics and enemies.

I had to get away.

So I did; it?s what I?m good at. I resigned and disappeared.

I swore I would never come back.

But of course I did, a favor for the chief. The kid reminded me of myself when I cared. So, I slipped back into the game like it was an old glove that fit perfectly. Just like the days of old, I worked my way through the ranks, earning accolade after accolade, wearing a false smile all the while. But, a toothy smile cannot hide a weary soul. Pretty soon, my smile became a snarl. I was an old dog and I didn?t need to be friendly anymore; I just had to get the job done. It didn?t matter who I lifted my leg on to do it; I even clashed with fellow officers. As time went on, I became more miserable but I went through the motions well enough to show glimmers of the promise I once had.

And then they put me behind a desk and I saw the perfect opportunity to vanish.

So I disappeared again. After all, that?s what I?m good at. I left my wife, my friends, my job. I don?t even remember where I went, but it was no place good.

Now people were dying and a face from the past came back to haunt me. I?m not sure how she did it, but she found me.

She found me in an alcoholic stupor, perfectly content to lie in a pool of my own waste. I would have stayed there too if it weren?t for the ghost she had brought back to haunt me. An old staff officer, an old friend, RicoTranzrig had been murdered. The weapon? An impossibly large blade. What kind of blade? The only kind that could bring me back--a masamune. A masamune through the chest had done Rico in. It was the signature weapon of my mentor. A man I hadn?t seen in years.

?You bastard,? I growled, almost inaudibly, ?I don?t care what you have to show me. Just leave me be.?

I couldn?t even look at her.

But she knew that I wouldn?t be able to let it go. She knew that it would haunt me, that it would echo in the very chamber of my soul until I pursued it, until I obtained the truth. She knew that I wouldn?t let my mentor hang if he were innocent. If he were guilty, she knew I would have no qualms with tightening the noose around yet another old friend?s neck.

Tranzrig had been her boyfriend and she wanted the killer badly.

Now I sat in my office, staring at the photograph for the first time since she brought it to me. I was transfixed. Poor Rico, he didn?t bother anyone. He was a quiet guy who had served his time on the force and retired in solitude. And yet, this crime was not arbitrarily committed, that much was apparent. Rico was not an easy man to find. It was as if that sword had been perpetually poised to strike all these years and its blade was far from dull yet.

So, there I was, taking Otaku City?s hand for the last time. We had already had the good times and I had little to gain from her, but she was cooing something in my ear that I couldn?t ignore. She always did know just what to say.

I was ready to put on my red shoes and dance once more time.
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[COLOR=DarkOrchid][font=times][i]I should've refused them, I should've said no, but what can I say? An oppertunity to carry my gun around again and flash it from the hip? Damnit. I'm hopeless aren't I?

They asked me to leave, and by asked, I know they were demanding I take myself out of the picture for more than just PR reasons. I think it was because I pistol whipped a confession out of a kidnapper/rapist. Honestly, we still got the confession, and the valuable information. But I guess I shouldn't have made him go permanently blind in one eye.

Oh yeah, Special Agent Lace Sonders at your service.

Anyway, where was I? Oh yes, I was walking towards Agent Charles's desk, the one wedged in the subterranean corner cubicle, files in hand, wondering if I shouldn't have worn the red thong today, but the jeans should've obscured the cut.[/i]

"Why are you wearing that thong again?"

"I knew I shouldn't have bothered with it in the first place."

"Nonsense, that would've been a violation of dress code."

[i]I slapped the files down on his hand, which was resting conveniently on the desktop. He recoiled quickly, but not quickly enough, and I chuckled.[/i]

"Nice to see you too Lace. I take it you're finished with these files."

"Yeah. And I am going to [i]crucify[/i] whoever did this to Rico."

[i]He raised an eyebrow and smiled halfheartedly.[/i]

"Remember the last time you went overboard?"

"The vacation did me good.[/font][/COLOR]
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I remember, even then, as relaxed as I appeared to be, a certain anxiousness rising up within me despite myself. The feeling was exhilerating at first until it became so strong that I almost felt numb. I was almost drunk on it. All the while she stood there silently, staring at me with her large, pacific eyes, compelling me to provide answers. She looked like a stone monument--only her eyes were truly alive--only her eyes appealed to me with any sense of expression, for her face was expressionless.

I was sweating profusely, so much so that my hair rested in black clumps, sharp wisps of it were plastered to my brow, as if painted on. I was wearing a formerly white cotton collared shirt that was yellowed by time and neglect. Beads of sweat, gathered like pools on my arms.

I listlessly leafed through the organized files she brought me before tossing them on my desk, almost as if I was repulsed by them. Her eyes moved to the disheveled paper work and back to me. There was a long silence; I don't know how long it lasted--it seemed like an eternity. We stood there, like two statues, two relics of the past who did not necessarily need to speak to understand one another. It was as if we were communicating on another plane, reading one another's thoughts.

Finally, I knit my brow and said, "Here is what I know."

I paused and licked my lips, the taste of salt was overwhelming. I wore it like a cologne.

"Sephiroth could not possibly be the killer. First of all, Sephiroth is a tall guy, much taller than Rico, in fact. And yet," I paused and stretched out my hand dramatically, "the sword impaled Rico from an upward angle."

"Perhaps he was in a crouching position," Sonders said, speaking for the first time, in a calculated, flat voice.

"I don't think so," I said, "You see, according to the autopsy report, there was [I]another[/I] stab wound, in which the sword did not completely impale the victim. Again, the gash was formed by the same position. I doubt that Sephiroth, crouching, would have stabbed Rico, withdrew the sword, and from the same position, stabbed him again.

Moreover, Sephiroth is a skilled swordsman and we can see by the photograph that the killer made it a point to completely impale Rico. It would not make sense for Sephiroth to do it from a crouching position because that is hardly conducive for providing the force necessary to deal such a blow. And also..."

I trailed off, as if lost in thought. I leaned forward, tracing my finger across the edge of my desk, back and forth, as if trying to connect the dots in my logic. I thought I heard Sonders let out a barely perceptible sigh, but I was not sure.

"And also," I said, "Neither of these blows actually came into contact with a vital organ. Rico died from a loss of blood, but he was not killed efficiently; this is not like Sephiroth. Sephiroth is graceful, see, he doesn't make sloppy mistakes. I think our killer got more than they bargained for when they assumed that murder was as easy and clean as picking up a large blade. And yet..."

I gulped loudly disturbing the silence I had left when I trailed off yet again. I was in my zone and she knew it, so she was willing to pardon me for my pauses. I only glanced up at Sonders, but even in that brief instant I could see that she did not look as she did before. Her eyes were covered with a mist, almost; they were cloudy. She bit her bottom lip and leaned forward against her will to meet the importance of what I had to say next.

"Rico knew the killer," I said.

The words were like a gunshot in the air.

"There were no signs of forced entry," I said, "And Rico would not allow just anyone to enter his home unannounced. He was a private man and he was no fool. He wouldn't just let anyone waltz in carrying a weapon like that, if he did not trust them. And worst of all, the card that was left behind--I have no idea what it means."

"Put on your red shoes and dance," she said, almost as if playing a recording, as if in a trance.

"Yes," I said, "Put on your red shoes and dance. Is it a challenge? Is it a clue? A riddle? I don't know," I said.

She turned her back to me, her shoulders bent, almost as if she were lost in some deep, some dark, brooding thought. Finally, in one quick, easy motion she snatched my coat from the rack and tossed it onto my lap.

"I think it's time to pay an old friend a visit," she said. "It's time to go to the detention center and see if Sephiroth can give us the answers we need."
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[COLOR=DarkOrchid][font=times][i]My eyes flickered once, I'm sure of it. A flash of red gold on normally amber eyes. I'd crossed Sephiroth once or twice. And since his incarceration at my hands, and, well, Agent Charles' too, he'd probably not be that cooperative.[/i]

"He probably won't be that cooperative."

[i]Charles was giving me the eye that usually meant I'd had said something moderately foolish. After all, Charles had once nearly gotten his shoulder sliced off by Sephiroth. I had a pretty cut down my back, and he'd taken out more than one of our friends in the struggle. Of course, I'm the one that shot him in the kneecap. I suppose I could always do it again. Wait. ....that kind of thinking got me in trouble the last time.[/i]

"Too bad for him then. I'll just see what he'll say to enticement."

"You aren't going to get naked again are you?"

[i]My partner gave me one of those looks. The look of a man who has heard it all, seen it all, and sometimes thinks he knows it all. I gave him what I hoped was a properly withering look.[/i]

"Oh get bent."

[i]Without another word, I turned and flounced towards the exit, swearing in several different languages in my head. We drove at a moderate speed, then again, since when has a pre Nixon administration Buick ever managed to go anything past a moderate speed? Either way, we made it to the Otaku Detention Center for the Criminally Insane in good time, and breezed past the guards without so much as a by-your-leave. I followed behind Agent Charles to the point where an unsuspecting person would think he was alone. Hopefully, Sephiroth would think only one person had come to visit. Then again, he had never been stupid.

Sephiroth was sitting alone in the darkened cell, dressed in white, with his back to us. Agent Charles went in first, sitting down across from Sephiroth, hand resting casually on his gun. I waited patiently behind the door, letting the man do his own work before I took over.

While I waited, barely registering their voices, I studied him. Long hair, neatly trimmed, and the same features as before. It looked like he hadn't aged. Except for the way his eyes had clouded slightly, he was virtually unchanged. The long wait clearly hadn't done anything to him physically. I suspect he was allowed to exercise regularly. ...the others weren't sane enough to remember what they were doing in any exercise room.

I suppose his lawyer was preening over how he'd managed to get Sephiroth here and not some place where he'd be getting shanked by someone named "Buck." Either way, he was off the streets. He couldn't get near anything that could possibly be used as a weapon. That was good enough for me. It would have to be good enough for me.[/i][/font][/COLOR]
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It seemed that the facts of reality had vanished up this point, as if they had been suddenly subtracted from the years that had passed since I had last spoken with Sephiroth, a man who had been my mentor. I paused before the window, with my arms held akimbo. I took in a deep breath of the damp air and stared into Agent Sonder's large, liquid eyes before collapsing heavily into my seat. I felt uneasy as Sonders crept behind me. Although her features had been blank, her eyes gleamed as she stared at the man before us. He had not been entirely acquitted in her mind yet, despite my reasoning and logic.

I don't know how I can describe what I was seeing as my eyes passed over Sephiroth and met his stare. It was as if the pane of glass that was separating us was a portal into the distant past. I felt as if I were in a dream, a dream that was wrapping itself around me tighter by the minute, refusing to let me go.

Time had changed Sephiroth little; he seemed aloof. His face was as tranquil as I remembered it. He sat watching, waiting, his eyes visible through a shimmering shock of silver hair; those eyes reflected on me without a care as he spoke.

"Well, what a pair of visitors we have here tonight," he said, "How long has it been, Charles?"

"Under the circumstances," I said, "Not long enough."

My mouth barely moved as I said the words. He thew back his head and let out a light laugh, as if we were meeting for lunch to exchange frivolous banter.

I began to explain to him why we were there, as if he did not already know. I imagined Sonders watching us intently, as if she were a phantom there to haunt the room with her damning conviction.

Sephiroth did not reproach me as I carefully explained my theories, theories which sounded like mere common sense as I gave them words. My voice sounded foreign and distant to me and I thought I seemed to bore him as I shared what I knew. But, he did not start forward to seize on the slightest opportunity when I paused, or to assert an understanding of what it was that brought us back together in that dimly-lit purgatory. He merely nodded, as if to show he was still paying attention to me as I told him what I thought.

When I finished, he bowed his head as if to absorb everything I had just said so that he could give it considerable thought.

It was strange, that moment, because for all of my conjecturing, I could have never predicted the feelings he would have conjured in me with his next words.

"I have always been proud of you two," he said, "And the loyalty and creativity you put into making me an innocent man, only deepens my respect for you. However, I think you should know, I have confessed to the crime and my attorney will be rendering a guilty plea."

A violent frustration took rent of me; all of the blood rushed out of my face and I found myself standing up.

"What!" I demanded.

"There is nothing more to it than that," Sephiroth said, "I have confessed to a crime which I have committed and I am prepared to face the consequences that I deserve."

Horror seemed to rise around me; it would be futile to describe exactly what I was thinking. The room was now spinning.

I could only manage to gasp, "But if you do this, there will be no turning back! We will not be able to help you!"

I was surprised when Sonders put her hand on my shoulder, as if to intervene and save me from my spiraling sanity. She flicked the card that was left at the crime scene down before Sephiroth, as if it were a discarded cigarette butt.

"Then do you know the meaning of this," she said, her voice measured, as if trying to hide the rage that had been rising within her steadily since we entered the room.

"Of course I do," he said smiling. He did not even make the slightest movement, "I will not tell you exactly what it is, but you are more than capable of discovering it for yourselves, although I would urge you not to. As I said, this case is closed. It was good seeing you both again."

I watched him harder, as if convinced I could shatter what I felt was an illusion of his weaving, but I found it impenetrable. He rose to leave. I found myself with my hand outstretched, desperately touching the glass. I wanted to reach out to him, to violently shake him, to urge him to reason-- but he was miles away from me.

Far away in the night, a bell chimed, its sound punctuated the insanity that I had just witnessed, the unexplainable confession of a man who I knew to be innocent. His words reverberated over and over again in my mind with the dull chiming of the bell.

I told Sonders to drop me off at my home, for as tired as I had been for all these years, I finally felt myself yielding to fatigue.
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[COLOR=DarkOrchid][font=times][i]Poor Sephiroth. Suffering alone, not even showing that he was suffering.

Wait, what was I thinking? Bad guy. He was a bad guy. Then again, I don't think I should be classifying him as either good or bad anymore. Confessing is one thing, he never had done that before. Perhaps he was protecting someone.

Just as I was opening my mouth to voice this opinion to my partner, I looked over and noticed he was fast asleep, leaning back with his mouth open, drooling slightly. If only his wife could see him now. I shouldn't be thinking of that should I? And waking him up when we were five minutes from my condo? Of course, muscling him into the elevator and unlocking the door with him hanging over my shoulder... ....just because I can carry a 200lb. man two miles doesn't mean I want to. I dropped him off at his rental, half dragging him to the door and propping him up against the frame while I fished in his pockets for the keys.[/i]

"Thanks Sonders."

"Welcome. Just don't drool on my shoulder the next time I try shaking you awake."

"How bad was it?"

"Like Hoover dam."

[i]He rolled his eyes; or at least half rolled them. It's hard to when you're so tired you're weaving back and forth like a metronome.[/i]

"I'll pick you up around lunch time. Don't forget."

"I wouldn't."

[i]He tripped into the door and as far as I can see went up the stairs on all fours.

Inelegant. Oh well.

It was time to go home, reunite myself with my dog...not think about anything for the next 12 hours. Probably take a bath with lavender scent, drink several alcoholic beverages, do a little paperwork mindlessly and then pass out on the couch with a warm furry beast.[/i]

"Down boy."

[i]My beloved pet, Kiff, a huge white Dane leapt up and slathered my face in saliva. He seemed overexcited, and I followed him to my miniscule kitchen and downed a beer while giving another to Kiff. It wasn't until I turned my eyes down to the table and noticed a card propped against my fruit bowl. ...How had someone managed to come into my apartment....without getting eviscerated by a dog that weighed nearly as much as me?[/i]

"What the f-?"

[i]I waited for a moment and whipped out my gun, side stepping across the ground to my bathroom, the bedroom, the adjacent living room, the spare, nothing. Kiff followed me, sniffing enthusiastically, and weaving through my legs like he was still a puppy.[/i][/font][/COLOR]
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Agent Sonders had a way of exaggerating the truth. Often. I liked to call her a "junkfood gossip" because she would often coat the truth with a thick layer of syruppy exaggeration and snack on it greedily, as if the mere nourishment of the truth was not enough to satisfy her insatiable craving for drama. She liked to scandalize everything. Even now, when we look back upon that fateful night, she teases me as if I had been a slobbering invalid. This, of course, is far from the truth.

Granted, the blow Sephiroth had dealt me had jarred me from my senses. I had stopped in the doorway of the detention center with my hands over my ears, as if to shield myself from my friend's confession that kept playing over-and-over again in my mind. I knew that I would need time to awaken from my stupor, so I told Sonders to take me home, my voice thin and strained.

I pretended to sleep the entire way home, but in reality, I simply did not wish to speak. Instead, I stared into the obsidian darkness provided by my eyelids, listened to the whoosh of the tires and lapsed into thought. When we arrived at my home, I slid out of the vehicle, mumbled my farewell to Sonders and followed the colonnade along my driveway, into what was once my home.

When I entered, pools of moonlight painted the rooms with an eerie luminescence. At first the effect was intoxicating--that is, until I followed the pale blue rays to their destination on the wall, where they converged into a large circle, like a spotlight, that revealed one of my wife's Japanese paintings. The ink strokes were simple and pure, much like she was when I first met her. I was suddenly at a loss, I felt the gulf between us as painfully as ever.

"You're home," she said, peering around the stairwell. "I heard you drive up," she said.

"Hello Laura," I said flatly.

Our marriage was doomed from the start. My wife was born into a very strict, Catholic family. I met her by chance at a mutual friend's holiday party. Initially, I suspected that she had fallen in love with the idea of dating a young police officer who led an adventurous life, while I was enamored with the idea of corrupting a naivety that was due, in part, to her religious upbringing. Ultimately she became pregnant--she confessed her condition to me in a hysterical fit. Through a cascade of tears, she told me of how she would be dressed in disgrace. Her parents would banish her to the streets and she would be ostracized from her social circle completely. I realized that through my carelessness I had sentenced her to certain death. I took her to a doctor, who confirmed that she was pregnant and I agreed to do the honorable thing and marry her. This, of course, is when life played its cruelest joke on me--she lost the child.

It was all for nothing, all for nothing.

Now as I gazed upon her angular profile, she looked different than the Laura I had left behind when I had vanished from Otaku City without a word. She was rigid, hard. She looked like a marble statue in the moonlight. Sometimes I think that my leaving isn't what had hurt her irreparably--husbands leave their wives all the time. It's when I shuffled back through the front door, as if nothing had happened, that did the damage. For, it was plain at that very moment, even through her unfailing optimism, that I did not have any consideration for her as a human being whatsoever because if I had, I would have been too ashamed to ever look upon her again.

That is why, I gathered, she greeted me with the same line, every night. "You're home," she would say, not reproachfully, not accusingly, but as if she were surprised that I had even bothered to return at all. However, my coming and going was a matter of habit and guilt, a concoction of vanity which animated me like a sad marionette. She accepted my presence with indifference. She regarded me with neither love nor hate. I suspected that I no longer had a real place in her life, I was just a natural phenomenon that she did not identify with herself.

"You look tired," she said, her eyes half-closed, a wet smile on her lips. She stood stark-still in the shadows, her eyes gathering the light.

It was a moment so elastic and painful as to be unbearable.

"I'm sorry I woke you," I said.

"I wasn't asleep," she said, "I've grown used to your habits. Come to bed."

I began to speak, but she raised her hand now to hush me and I followed her upstairs, joining her so that we became two shadows that dissolved in the light. We had no use for further words.

Little did I know that a phone call would make short my night's restless sleep, a phone call from Sonders, whose panicked voice alluded to a terrible gift she had received in the night, a porcelain doll--of a one-winged angel.
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[COLOR=DarkOrchid][font=times][i]The sight of such a simple doll, sitting on my table, with Kiff sniffing it once before I grabbed his leather collar and jerked him back, nearly paralyzed me. I stepped over his back and jerked my legs together so he couldn't give it the same treatment I received every night, then, with my free hand, I opened my cell phone and hit speed dial #9.[/i]

"Charles...I know it's late, but I think that you coming to my condo would be the best move. In the meantime, I'll be calling the office. ...I think someone dusting for fingerprints might be a good move, before Kiff manages to destroy the rest of the forensic evidence."

[i]My partner sounded stressed, and to be honest, if I were him, I'd be stressed too. Laura wasn't my favorite person, but I was morally obliged to be polite to her in every way possible. I'm almost positive she hated me too. But how could I blame her? I spent more time working with her husband then she had ever spent sharing a bed with him. I didn't want to hog him, or make her feel like that, but what could I do?[/i]

"This isn't funny."

"I am NOT exaggerating this time."

[i]Somehow, he believed me. ...somehow he didn't accuse me of stretching the truth. I never wanted to really sound panicked, or let anyone know I was completely terrified, but the idea of someone making it into my room was terrifying. The forensic team made it before Charles, and I managed to guide them through the apartment just to have them tell me what I already knew.

I hadn't left the door unlocked, or the window, or the balcony. Kiff hadn't been drugged or tampered with, and there were no new fingerprints. Charles arrived in time to hear the exact same thing, before looking at the doll, which had been released back to me at my insistence.[/i]

"Looks like Sephiroth to me."

"...it looks like my death staring me in the face."

[i]I sighed to myself, and looked at it again, trying not to flinch. It held a masamune, a complete replica of the weapon that struck down my dearest friend. Its wing stretched out like it was in flight, and the same silver hair and eyes. It seemed to be moving, until I shook my head and Kiff barked at me once. I gave him the "shut up" nonverbal signal and he whined once and walked to his water bowl.[/i]

"I'm going to beat myself up until we figure out this stupid case."

[i]Charles sighed too, then gave me one of those looks.[/i][/font][/COLOR]
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[color=indigo][font=arial][size=1]Jesus Christ, why me.

Charles and Sonders were standing before my desk, holding a doll that looked like someone I'd seen a thousand times before, but in another time. Sephiroth, the man these very two had put away. I sighed and reached for a cigarette, lighting it up while they looked at me apprehensively.

"Well?" Sonders said finally as I watched the blue smoke twist and turn as it floated to the ceiling. I raised an eyebrow.

"Well what?"

"Well what are you going to do about this? [i]Someone broke into my Goddamn house[/i]." I sighed.

"Yes, it's one of the perils of being a detective Sonders. Sometimes your work comes home with you." She slammed her fist on my desk and I looked at her. Her face was a picture of frustration, but Charles seemed oddly detached.

"That's not a course of action, that's an excuse! What are you going to do?!" I scowled. Insolent witch, she'd forced me to put her on this case to begin with, and when shit starts to get messy, she blames me. Well fuck her.

Leaning over the table, I stared into her eyes and almost hissed, "Don't push me Sonders. This is not a situation that calls for rash actions." She gripped her head and uttered a mangled cry before slumping down in a chair on the far side of the room. I leaned back and motioned to Charles.

"What's your take on this?" I asked, ashing the cigarette. He shrugged.

"Sephiroth is still in prison, so it couldn't have been him. I would hazard a guess that it's just someone trying to scare us off the case." I nodded. That's what I was thinking too, Charles and I usually shared opinions on such matters. I motioned for him to come closer and asked him, in hushed tones,

"Do you think she should stay on?" He threw a glance over his shoulder at the fuming Sonders then looked back.

"She's heavily invested in it, sir, but I feel I'm not in any position to advise you in this." How diplomatic, avoiding the point. He obviously wanted her kept on, but was concerned for her welfare regardless. I sighed and leaned back, considering my options with eyes closed.

"Sonders, come here." The heavily clip clop of her shoes sounded like war drums as she approached my desk.

"What?" Without looking, I gave my verdict.

"You're off the case. I heavily advise you to see the staff head doctor, then get out of town for a few weeks." Finally I looked at her. "Is this understood?" Her face was a picture of rage.

"What? This is bullshit! I am not off this case, this is too important to me!"

"Exactly, Sonders, you've become too involved," I said softly, trying to keep my temper.

"You can't do this!" I couldn't keep my temper.

"Look, you wanted onto this fucking thing, and you got on, and now you seem to be a fucking target. What part of you hates yourself so much that you would continue on this fool's errand in the face of a murderer AND against the orders of your superior officer?" I stood and pointed at the door. "You're off the fucking case, get out of my goddamn office."

She glared at me for a few tense minutes before storming off and slamming the door, leaving me and Charles in the room alone. He looked at me for a moment before uttering a single word.

"Thanks."

"No problem," I muttered reaching for another cigarette.

Why fucking me.[/size][/font][/color]
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[COLOR=darkorchid][font=times][i]I felt like something had exploded in my head. The entire time he was talking, it was like I was far away, hearing his words through a very long tunnel. Only instead of hearing them less, it was as if they were magnified like he was Zeus roaring on Mt. Olympus. And the bolt of lightning had struck. It was like a tiny condominium built by dwarves had suddenly been nuked in my frontal lobe. I blazed through the office, knocking over a chair, nearly sending an intern flying into the photocopy machine, grabbed my effects, and slammed the door on my way out.

The man at the front desk didn't give me a look, instead he hunkered down behind his desk as if to say "I just work here, please don't kill me." I managed to ignore him, and headed for the basement. If I didn't let off a little steam, I would end up beating someone senseless, and I'd just as soon not get another demerit. I knew it wasn't Charles. He wanted me safe. And I didn't want to have to rip his life apart any more. His wife had gotten enough of that over the years. But the attitude of the captain. I could see how he really thought of me in his eyes, in the sneer in his mouth, the cocky sound of his voice. He was happy to kick me out of his office for the second time. I don't know why I kept going back. Maybe he was right.[/i]

"I do hate myself. I've hated myself ever since I lost Rico."

[i]My voice sounded very still in the empty concrete corridor.

Several minutes later I was in the subterranean shooting range, loading my guns, and watching as the automatic targets began to move in and out of my vision. I flipped on my safety glasses and began pounding away. Several minutes in, I switched out for something a little more powerful. The Wather P-99 always managed to make me feel better. Of course what it did to my hands and wrists I always regretted the next morning. Five minutes in, I felt my anger exploding, and in the middle of me destroying a perfectly harmless dummy, I screamed.[/i]

"Kick me off the case will you, you self righteous ass covering son of a bitch!"

[i]An hour later I set down the weapon, the barrel warm enough to steam rice on, a small pool of shells surrounding my feet. I sighed and stripped off my gear, staggering towards the lounge only to collapse onto the sofa. I knew my own gun was still loaded and nearby, so I closed my eyes for a moment, arm flopped over my hair with my wrist resting on my forehead. The case jangled like an annoying alarm clock in the back of my mind. I felt drained, raw, exposed.

Shrugging it off with a near superhuman wrench of will, I walked to my car, started the engine, noted that it hadn't exploded, and drove home. There was a message on my answering machine, but I didn't play it. The last thing I wanted to hear was any sound outside of death metal, or Kiff's joyful bark. At the end of the day, my dog still loved me. He nuzzled my feet, bathing them enthusiastically. I told myself it was because he knew how much I wanted attention, when I knew it was because he, like all animals, loved the salt flavoring.[/i]

"Ah good boy. I know you'll always love me. Even if they fired me so to speak. Hows about we take a trip upstate for awhile? See Anne and Vicky for awhile?"

[i]At the word "trip," Kiff's ears perked up and he dashed around the condo like a puppy. I sighed and looked up at the stark white ceiling. I should probably tell them I'm visiting. All I wanted to do was get Rico back too. Go back. Line up the pieces. But they wouldn't stack up. They wouldn't fall into place. And so it went. And I was gone.[/i][/font][/COLOR]
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It was very late. I can remember it as if it were yesterday.

It was just like the old days, all right.

I sighed and leaned back against the chair and looked at the wall as if my next move should be plotted on it. I was losing my mind. A creased train schedule rested in my pocket and my thoughts returned to it over and over again, almost on impulse. The thought of disappearing taunted me like a carrot on a rope.

I closed my eyes and saw the cherub porcelain face that Sonders had found staring at her through the night. Its eyes were wide and it had a small, almost imperceptible smile on it, as if it was laughing at an inside joke that it wouldn?t let us in on. I smiled when I first gazed upon it and she looked at me like I was crazy. That's what inspired my next move. That's what brought me to this place, in particular. I needed guidance from a mind very much like my own, but far removed from the complexities of a sanity that now clouded my thoughts. I needed to descened into madness to clear my head, to find the answers I needed.

I was out drinking all the time and was home as little as possible; I lived like a man who was ready to die. I thought of Sonders? gift and wished that I was the one who had received it, for I truly wished to be murdered. All these were mad thoughts, but I relished in them because they were like morphine to me. My main thought was this: As long as I concentrated on a case that for all intents and purposes should have been closed just hours ago, the pain of living with myself would be dulled for the time being.

So, I relished in my drunkenness, I relished in my madness, for it was when I was at my most clairvoyant.

?Check. It?s your move,? a voice said.

I smiled again, at the thought of Sonders being the one who was told to see the department psychologist.

Slowly, I raised my head.

?I said, it?s your move,? the voice repeated.

Alex leaned forward so that his face was illuminated by the lamplight, his gray eyes burned with suffering. One could plainly see that he was no ordinary man at all.

?I see,? I said, ?I must have been daydreaming.?

I rubbed a rook in-between my thumb and pointer finger meditatively.

?Film student here, ?Alex said, ?It?s stupid and nonsensical to continue this performance of yours.?

?Am I that transparent?? I said.

?Well,? Alex said, ?let?s just say it?s a good thing we?re not playing cards with that poker face of yours--or lack thereof. How is the case going??

Alex had been my friend for years. He was now doing time in Otaku City?s maximum security asylum. He had a certain brilliance to him, but it was enclosed with madness that made the value of human life as evident to him as a piece of perfectly clear glass--it was there, but he often looked right past it in the selfish pursuit of his goals. He was once a prominant politician, but years of scandal and physical intimidation brought his career and his freedom to an abrupt end. Because of my presence on the Otaku Police Force, his reckless behavior was often overlooked--but when he bludgeoned a man to the brink of death over a simple disagreement, his fate was out of my hands.

"It took commissioner Burns himself to get me," Alex would boast proudly, "Commissioner Burns and fifteen officers."

I tried to mask my true reason for visiting Alex, on that night, yet I knew his discovery of my thinly veiled intentions was inevitable from the moment I stepped into that room.

?How do you know about my case,? I asked.

?Some things are so big that the walls can?t even hide them,? he said simply.

Two security guards looked on mundanely as I clicked my piece down on the board, completing my move. One of them casually placed a hand on Alex's shoulder, to signal him that our time was almost up.

?Put on your red shoes and dance,? I said to myself.

Alex?s face was suddenly tense with a mixture of confusion and excitement.

?You?ve been there?? he said. ?It?s what I miss most about my freedom.?

I was struck suddenly with the urge to question him, but before I could speak he went on .

?I usually don?t frequent strip joints, but that one--that one is [i]glorious.[/i]?

?What are you talking about?? I said.

He looked at me as if I were joking. When he saw that I was not he frowned and his brows drew together.

?You just brought it up?? he said. ?That strip club on the outskirts of town--Put On Your Red Shoes and Dance??

I stared at the table now, not entirely satisfied with what I had just heard. Was he making a joke out of me? I felt a wave of distress at the thought that he might be serious. I shifted and leaned forward in my chair, and found myself again looking into Alex?s eyes and then I was incredulous. The one clue that had made me consider securing a private apartment in this very asylum could have been easily found in a simple phone book. The empty ticking of the clock puncuated my thoughts and I began to laugh softly at how hilarious life could be. Alex began to laugh also. The only difference between us and the sane was that we were able to look at life in a different sort of way--we were in on the joke.

He reached across the board now and gently tapped my King over.

?Check mate,? Alex said. ?Chess never really has been your game, has it??
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[COLOR=DarkOrchid][font=times][i]Anne and Vicky, room mates, sirens of the streets, were only too happy to see me. Especially Kiff. Then again, most girls I knew were suckers for big happy Great Danes, even if he came up to Vicky's shoulders. I set my things down in Anne's room, she had the biggest bed after all, and we settled down after eating good old fashioned Chinese Take out from our favorite establishment, Panda's Palace.

I sat on Anne's couch, holding a beer in one hand and shaking my head at the same time. Vicky was sprawled on the carpet in front of the fire with Kiff, and Anne was sitting next to me, holding my free hand. In a few minutes, both of them were up to speed. Vicky propped herself up on her elbows, and I turned to look at Anne. She knitted her brows together in thought, then looked up from the ever flickering fire.[/i]

"So you're off the case, but you still want to find the dollmaster?"

"Who wouldn't want to?"

"Well you're the most vengeful of the three of us."

[i]I shot a look at Vicky and she smirked, burying her face, smart mouth and all, in the scruff of Kiff's neck. Anne kissed my cheek chastely and looked at the beer in my hands and plucked it out. I sighed and flopped back on the couch, enjoying the squishiness of the multiple throw pillows, the warmth of the handmade quilts at my waist. I groped at the table for a clove cigarette and Anne flicked out her silver zippo. Two death sticks later, we were all feeling better.[/i]

"Well you know we're with you all the way. Blood sisters and all that. Besides. I liked Rico too."

"Everyone did. He was a good man and a fine agent."

"Fine fine, we'll go out tomorrow night, definitely not tonight. I'm too tired to run around after today"

[i]I stood up, stretching extravagantly, and we all went to bed. With Anne snuggled to my chest, I leaned back against the softness of the pillows and thought quietly to myself about the multiple facets of the case, then shook it off and closed my eyes. It was always easier to sleep when I was with her.[/i][/font][/COLOR]
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My car choked and backfired down empty streets, toward the general area where [I]Put On Your Red Shoes And Dance[/I] was supposed to be. The vehicle's offensive outbursts crackled like thunder; little did I know that I was heading into the eye of a storm I would never forget. The mask of night would have made it impossible to spot the black wisps of smoke ascending in bands toward the sky, had the burned-out strip club not become a tragic candle in the night.

Yes, I remember the night sky glowed orange, an artificial dawn that foreshadowed disaster instead of the start of a new day. Local apocalypse. News at Eleven.

I approached the scene slowly, allowing myself to absorb the spinning red lights of fire engines that glared like red demons in the streaked and greasy windshield of my ancient set of wheels.

I sucked my teeth at the gutted structure that fell apart like paper.

"I never was any good at Chess," I said to myself.

Crowds had already formed, people lured out into the night by the powerful pull of the disaster. The onlookers smacked their lips as news reporters scratched into their notepads whatever they had to say.

Just as I was waved past the police barrier and parked my car, my cell phone rang, the most modern thing I owned. The cell phone was six years old and the size of a brick. No caller ID either. Piece of shit.

?Must be one of my ex-wives,? I said to a nearby officer. The guy?s bleak visage softened and he smiled.

Before I could take the call, I heard my name.

?Special Agent Charles,? someone said.

It was one of the firefighters standing in front of a strip club that had seen better days. Looking over the destruction, I knew that whatever hit it was big. The building was gutted like a skeleton, half of the walls were blown out leaving behind what looked like a gunshot wound.

?Yeah, that?s me,? I said, ?But why don?t you call me Charles instead??

The young firefighter led me into the building. While he had his heavy burn-resistant coat to protect him, I had no such luxury--only my leather jacket shielded me from the water that dripped down from the upper tiers of the wreckage like a black rain.

The soot mixed with the water and the scenery formed a portrait of what I suspected the fifth level of hell must look like. All around us there was nothing but ash and decay. There was no hope of rebuilding from what remained. I knew they were going to knock it down, leaving behind nothing but an empty lot, a the stray pile of rubble here and there to add to the flavor of urban decay.

As I remember it, the building was collapsing much like my confidence as a detective. But like a clam I was a bivalve animal with a shell of two parts. I was good at hiding things.

I scanned the place for anything that could have been a trigger while my nose took in the scents lingering in the air.

The hickory scent of burnt wood.

The sick medicinal scent of melted plastic.

The thick, ugly scent of immolated cloth.

Among the swirling scents of fire and destruction I caught what I was looking for--the sharp, stinging scent of gas. Of course the firebug who did this didn?t want it to be confused with an accident. He was sending a message. Was it the same person responsible for Rico's murder? Fuck if I knew, but I was going to get to the bottom of it. I was an investigator.

? No timer,? I said, ?It means our bug lit this by hand and ran like hell once it got nice and toasty. Look--there. Grab that.?

I pointed to an object sitting on a blacked piece of wood floor. The rookie fireman got it for me and handed it to me.

It was a single, flawless crimson high heel shoe that appeared to have taken no damage in the fire; its sheen was out of place among the destruction. It was the color of blood, it was--haunting.

I was surprised to find a piece of neatly folded paper tucked inside the shoe. I took out my tweezers and an evidence bag. I slowly removed the letter. There could have been fingerprints on it but I doubted it. This was done by someone who knew what they were doing. Still, I could have been busted down for contaminating evidence if I didn?t put it in its plastic bag.

I folded the paper open and read it before putting it in the bag and sealing the Ziplock. I quickly tucked the baggie inside my coat pocket.

Carefully, I moved through the piles of rubble and the wet pools of sludge that formed from high pressure water being used to put the place out. I finally made it to the wet asphalt as the crews slowly went about cleaning up and packing all their stuff away.

I got into my car and sat silently with my head bowed for several minutes. My hands grasped the steering wheel so tightly that they turned white before I finally drove off.

The letter I had found and stolen at the crime scene was actually a flier dated eight months back; it was a photograph of my wife outfitted in a revealing silk red dress. "Come and see our newest sensation, the sensual Japan 69, put on her red shoes and dance--live!"
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[COLOR=DarkOrchid][font=times][i]When the next day had reached the halfway point, I had already tracked down the doll master, even if he was no use. Apparently he received the commission and mailed the package once complete to a P.O. Box, so hell with that. I didn't have the authority to track who ordered it or anything else of that nature. I shouldn't even have been thinking about it, but what was I going to do?

I dropped Anne and Vicky off at a club and made a beeline through heavy traffic for the Detention Center. Sephiroth would like to know who was making dolls in his image, I was sure. I made it there around 4 in the afternoon, the sun beginning its slow descent into oblivion, me with a badge out and ready to smash into the face of the person nearest to me who stood in my way. But luck as it seems, was with me. At least at that point.[/i]

"I need to speak with Sephiroth."

"Your timing is impeccable."

"...and why is that?"

"Since last afternoon, he's been demanding to speak with you and you alone."

"Not Agent Charles?"

[i]He shrugged and led me to Sephiroth's familiar cell. The guards relaxed at my presence and slunk off to go do paperwork most likely. I pulled up a stool and sat face to face with the man I still didn't trust. He regarded me impartially, and I regarded him with an equivalent stare, or so I hoped.[/i]

"I'm glad you've decided to come down. They haven't stopped questioning me since you've been thrown off the case."

"It wasn't my idea, believe me. I've had my hands full keeping my own temper under control."

"That always was your problem wasn't it?"

[i]I shrugged and flicked a photo of the doll out and slapped it up against the plexi-glass shield. Sephiroth narrowed his eyes for a moment, then relaxed them again. A faint smile played around his lips?[/i]

"It's almost cute. It appears to have captured the real me. Can I keep this?"

[i]I flipped it through the food slot and he picked it up and stared at it intently once more. Slightly perturbed, I pressed on.[/i]

"Someone managed to break into my apartment and put it on my fruit bowl. Kiff wasn't disturbed, and there was nothing at the scene implicating anyone."

"I take it you found the doll master."

"He was useless as you might expect. This killer is far less careless than I'd like."

"The killer isn't who you might've first suspected. For one thing, the killer is a woman. I ran into her at "Put Your Red Shoes On And Dance. " Even got her out of a little trouble once. And for another, she's married to your partner."

"Oh god, it was Laura."

"Yes, and she'll kill you all. Charles for being a neglectful husband, and you for taking him away from her."

[i]I vaguely registered him yelling those final words at me as I jerked my cell phone out of my purse and race down the hall, barreling through the reception area and using the crash bar at the entrance like God had intended. Frantically, I dialed his number, praying that geriatric cinder block of a phone wasn't broken again. One ring. Two. Five later I was ready to heave my phone into the nearest dumpster, but instead I decided to leave a message and scream at the same time.[/i]

"Charles! I know I'm off the case but we have to talk. Your wife is the killer, and I'm not the only one she's going to murder. Call me back or I'll kill you myself!"[/font][/COLOR]
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[COLOR=DarkSlateGray][FONT=Lucida Console]Rico Tranzrig stood at the double sliding doors of the train's cab. He shouldered a slim leather bag along his back, nearly six feet long. The others kept their distance behind him.

The train halted to a stop in an underground station. Through the window, he saw several kids eagerly waiting to get inside. Once the doors opened, he rushed out with the wind. The kids jumped back, some falling over as he continued up the staircase, now slowing his steps.

"Ten cents for my wife's ransom," one of the panhandlers said as Rico took the last step up onto the cool city streets, overcast as always.

Rico coasted right past him, but he recognized those words. This same particular individual used exactly the same excuse to beg quite a while ago. Back then, Rico still had nearly jet-black hair and was a bit louder than the silent dark figure that he was now. Instead of walking alone, he always had Lace walking happily alongside him, his beloved.

They toured around the whole city together, finding all the sweet, secret spots in which they could go mad with passion. Or they could use it to hide when they could no longer fight back. He could remember all the abandoned complexes they would escape to and make love. All the roads they drove around carried a different conversation, hands held interlaced.

But that was all done with. Battles fought, lessons learned, countless pleasures had. Yet, has he continued to walk and look around, he muttered, laughing, "Nothing's changed." He stopped for a light.

Stowed safely away in that long bag was a Gift for an old friend, one promised long ago. The Gift had seen nearly as many battles as him and claimed much more lives. During Rico's long hiatus, he cast aside his past life and set off on a new direction focused on cleansing people, objects that have seen battle way too often. That included the blade that he restored and sheathed behind him, now more tempered and sharper than ever before. He spent countless hours staring at it, taking his time with each millimeter of the blade so as not to tarnish something only a deity could have originally crafted.

He resumed his unending walk towards the house of an old friend. Laura was the one who gave the massive blade to him, to tell him to clean it and restore it to its former innocence. Rico agreed to do the project because Charlie and him believed that times were changing, that that would be in a much safer place now and the weapons that they mastered how to use were now relics that belonged in a museum. That's all Rico did during his retirement, honing his skills on lesser swords only to use that experience to restore the most dangerous sword used by the most dangerous man. That man, much like Rico, had been long gone from battle.

The crowds began to form up around him, and he disappeared into the city for the final time.

The blade pierced the center of his chest. Rico Tranzrig fell to the floor of his shop, blood quickly spreading from his body.[/FONT][/COLOR]
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[b]Sorry if this is kind of long.[/b]

I?ll never forget how I felt when I first gazed upon that flier and yet I?ll also never be able to explain it. A thick wave of feelings rushed through me, shook me to the bone. I felt as if I had been hit by a truck. As I sped down the streets, I frantically tried to contact Laura to no avail; the only answer I received was the echo of the hollow ring in my ear, desperately calling out over and over again to the seemingly dear ears of the night. I needed some sign of safety, just something to set my nerves at ease.

?Pick up, pick up,? I growled into my phone, ?God damn it, babe, pick up the phone. Jesus Christ.?

I slammed my fist down onto the wheel and cussed under my breath. I must have used God?s name in vain enough times to condemn me to the fiery boroughs of hell ten times over. But, none of that mattered. Every time my heart beat it sounded like thunder in my eardrums; I felt like I was being punched in the chest. All at once, I knew how Sonders had felt that fateful night when she entered her home and found that sick calling card.

This was my One-Winged Angel, winking with its insidious intent.

I did not bother parking when I reached my house; half of my car stuck vulnerably out into the vacant streets. I withdrew my gun and began to stalk toward the door. It felt as if I was moving through a painting, everything was so still. ?My Life? by Charles--a somber piece about a man who was tragically a stranger even unto himself.

The only movement I detected was the quivering of the plastic azaleas that adorned our doorstep. I hung my head and looked at the ground. I rubbed my eyes and moved along, crouching in the shadows, doing my best to remain silent. However, the thunderstorm in my chest continued to rage on, as if my heartbeat were mocking me. I figured the killer could hear me approaching, my heartbeat growing ever so loud, like a drum beat building up to the dramatic confrontation about to take place.

Slowly, carefully, I eased open the door; its barely audible creak sounded like a siren in the stillness. I crept across the floor as if it were a tight rope, carefully considering each crucial step. My eyes darted back and forth trying to adjust to what was seemingly impenetrable darkness. I slipped through rooms that followed like a tedious argument. I heard a faint rustling sound to my left. I raised my gun, only to find it pointed at Laura. A faint sliver of moonlight shivered on her figure.

I gasped as if I had been holding my breath for the last several minutes. I lowered my piece and approached her wearily.

?Christ, Laura,? I said, ?I thought you were a goner.?

?What are you talking about?? she said.

?Why was the door left unlocked?? I demanded, ?Anyone could have just walked in on you.?

?I?m not afraid of intruders,? she said.

It occurred to me that she essentially shared her bed with an intruder every night, so why should she be afraid?

?Well, you ought to be,? I said.

I flicked on a small lamp and produced the flier. I handed it to her and she merely glanced at it, her face completely free of expression.

?I found this at an arson job,? I said, ?I think it?s related to Rico?s murder and I think you?re in danger. The killer is sending us a message, he's trying to intimidate me.?

I paused to allow the words to take affect, however she showed no visible signs of registering what I had just said, for she continued to hold the flier limply at her side while her expressionless gaze seemed to be aimed through me rather than on me.

?Look,? I said, ?I have a lot of questions right now. 'Why' and 'when' are two, but we don?t have time for that right now. Right now I need to know--did you meet anyone at this club that could possibly be the suspect??

She did not answer.

?Listen honey,? I said, ?This is important. Think. Anyone at all.?

Somewhere nearby a dog was howling hopelessly into the corners of the evening. I burned with the physical need to hear her speak, to say anything at all. I drew close to the wall, trying in my habitual detachment only to understand the nature of her silence. I was weary and aching and felt utterly alone.

?The things that are important to me,? she said suddenly, ?Are very simple. Honesty. Trust. Dignity. Love.?

How soft and beautiful her face was; it was as if the anger welling up inside her gave her a radiance that was previously non-existant in her. Her large, sorrowful eyes seemed locked on me now, with the emotion, the shock that I couldn?t conceal. I staggered toward the window and gazed through the smoke rising through the sewers. The first embers of daylight were showing. A soft light came from behind the purple sky. I half closed my eyes.

?We don?t have time for this now,? I said, ?I know I screwed up but we-?

?You owe me more time than you?re worth,? she said. She said, ?Put on your red shoes and dance.[I]Put-on-your-red shoes-and-dance[/I].?

She stared at me, penetrating me with her hatred, her eyelids quivered. The flier became a ball in her hands and fell to the floor. There was a slight calculation in her voice; each word began to rise in inflection. I could no longer bear to look at her at all.

?Put on your red shoes and dance,? she said. I heard the shatter of glass behind me as she brushed a vase off of the living room table and sent it crashing onto the floor with a thousand indecisions.

?Those words mock me every waking moment of my life,? she said. ?I was so happy, so happy. I met a man who promised to love me, who promised to always be there for me, who just as quickly vaporized like a warm rain. You left me, so suddenly, what could I have done??

?I-Look..,? I said.

I glanced back at her, her face was contorted with hatred. Her eyes shown like two dark flames and she shook her head.

?Don?t you say a word,? she said, ?I?m not finished.

Again, she was looking through me at the smoky, starless sky that was still taking on a captivating glow. Only the clouds blowing in the direction of our home, disturbed the stillness.

?I couldn?t find a job anywhere,? she said, ?Oh, I tried. After the shock of your desertion finally set in, after I accepted that you had abandoned me and that I needed to eat, I tried. That?s when I found that club. I was so ashamed, I never imagined it would come to that. I compromised myself, betrayed myself so that I could eat, so that I could continue to have a place to live. I thought it was the ultimate humiliation. Greasy hands pawed at me, hungry eyes devoured me, as I danced to blaring techno music. And there, suddenly, I saw something which startled me gathering out of the gloom first as an apparition, then as a reality--him. Sephiroth."

"Up to that point, I had danced for strangers; no familiar faces had witnessed my humiliation. And then he saw me and I saw the look of pity in his eyes and at that point, I knew I hated you, Charlie. After that, he never entered the club. He would wait outside for me, walk me to my car, make sure that I wasn't bothered. Ask me to reconsider what I was doing. At first I regarded him as the friend we always knew, but I began to see more and more of you in him. His walk, his manners, the way he would open the car door for me. I could feel hatred and bitterness building up in me just as old people feel the weather in their bones. My hatred for you began to consume me; it was because of you that I was having my dignity insulted night after night.?

There was an unreachable detachment in her voice.

?Something in me,? she said, ?was conscious of an enormous gulf of darkness that was building up within. Yet, I felt I owed him my gratitude, because I was not yet completely dead inside and it felt reassuring just to have someone treat me like I was worthwhile. So, I insisted on having one of his blades restored. I remembered how valuable those blades were to him, from when we used to visit him years back. At first he refused, the emotion in his narrow, compassionate face disturbed me; his eyes welled with a pity that he could not hope to mask. He insisted that he protected me out of respect, out of honor. But, eventually he gave into my persistance, gave me the blade--and that?s when I paid a visit to Rico. You and I hadn?t seen him in years; You must understand, I never intended to kill him.?

Her voice was losing its composure, it began to quiver. I had ignored the signs in her and now I clung desperately to the wall trying to believe that this was all a bad dream.

"Laura," I said, "You didn't. Not you.'

?I never intended to kill him,? she repeated, ?But all he could talk about was [I]you[/I]. You, you [I]you[/I]. He was so glad to see me; he kept asking me how you were, how we were getting along together. Of course, in reality there was no "we" anymore so I lied and said that everything was fine."

"He began to insist on visiting us. He was very persistent. He said that retirement could be lonely without old friends. He sat against the velvet arm of his couch, his long legs stretched out. He looked so wistful talking about your time on the force together. I felt my hand tightening on the hilt of the blade, never considering for a second what I was about to do. I stood there, staring mutely, a great cloud of rage growing before me, hearing about how great of a man my husband was. I felt myself slipping, moving away towards a sublime and doomed instinct.?

I felt her eyes move over me as her voice trailed off and then softly she added, ?I never planned on it.?

?Enough,? I said.

?Of course, I was panicked,? she said, ?I?m not a murderer. I was going to tell Sephiroth what I had done. But, at that moment, holding that sword in my hand, feeling the power of it, of taking charge of my own life, I did a strange thing. Suddenly, I wanted to kill anything that was a part of you.?

Her lips formed the faintest smile, it was thin and bitter.

?I covered it up,? she said, ?without even thinking about what I was doing. I was operating on pure instinct at that point. I cleaned up the scene as best I could and beat up my face just enough to raise some swelling and leave some bruises. I would convince Sephiroth that I had slain Rico in self-defense. He appeared to be awestruck at the idea of Rico imposing himself on me--quiet, innocent Rico. But as the silence lengthened after my 'confession', I began to weep hysterically, about how my own husband had abandoned me, how Rico, an old friend had betrayed me in the most intimate way, about how I had no one left and nothing to live for, about how no one would believe a stripper over the corpse of a well-respected former lieutenant."

"I knew you would come back to Otaku City, because of this Charlie, but I never expected you to be low enough to just walk back in here. I thought I would have to track you down. I also did not expect Sephiroth would take the blame for what I had done in order to protect your feelings of all things. Perhaps he was trying to buy me some time or perhaps he knew that no one would possibly believe that Rico would attempt to rape someone. I could not understand him. At any rate, I just expected him to get my sentence reduced. His unwavering loyalty to you make it easier for me to sleep at night.?

?No!" I cried.

I spun around to meet her and instead met a knife through the right side of my chest. Suddenly, everything was quiet. She released me and I fell back against the wall, my eyes wide with fear and confusion. And out of the dark nightmarish landscape of my memory I saw her gazing at me with desperation. I stumbled forward and she supported my weight, as I leaned into her arms.

Suddenly, it was Spring and two young lovers were getting married to a chorus of well-wishes, enveloped in the optimism of tomorrow. The wife wore a flowing white gown that seemed to go on forever and the groom?s eyes shone with ambition. It was spring and a happy life presented itself for two lucky people and a new life was on the way.

It was summer, and the husband was doing his job and doing it well. Only, a gulf was growing between himself and everything he cared about, his job, his wife. It was summer and although their home was now more quiet than it once was, no longer with the promise of a child hanging over it, it was still a happy place.

It was fall, and the husband began to stare at passing by trains enviously. It was fall and as he turned to go, a voice in his mind cried out for him to wait, but he ignored it. Suddenly the love, the promise of their marriage never existed and they ceased to whispier intimacies to one another in bed, or hold one another when the fears of life rattled their courage.

It was winter and an old friend was dead, another accused of the murder. An angry woman clenched her fists with an absolute resolve to find the killer. The husband bowed his head and returned, filled with shame. It was winter, and now in the darkness of the early morning, two silhouettes leaned together as if in an embrace.

I gazed down at the knife in the right portion of my chest and sighed deeply.

?Japan, oh Japan,? I said, ?There?s the difference between us. I?ve always gone for the heart.?

Suddenly, her face turned into a mass of lumps and tears streamed down her cheeks as she let out a strangely beautiful cry in the night.

?Shut up,? she said, ?Just shut up.?

?I guess, I won?t be winning any husband-of-the-year awards anytime soon, will I?? I said.

?Probably not,? she said.

?We?re a mess, aren?t we?? I said.

?Yeah,? she said, "we are."

Suddenly a thunderous explosion rang out, shattering the peace. A chill rose over me as I held fast to Laura?s shoulder. As we sank to the floor, the moon revealed for an instant, the pale outline of agent Sonders with her hands outstretched, holding a pistol. The deadly report of the gun rung in my ears. A stream of smoke rose from the barrel of the gun and curled around her figure. I detected not so much a faint smile on Sonders' face, but rather a look of quiet satisfaction.

As Laura and I lay on the floor together, I stared into her misty eyes. They were becoming increasingly cloudy as her life bled out onto the carpet underneath us. I tried desperately to mouth an apology and I fumbled around until I found her hand. I squeezed it tightly, but her own grip was weak, barely perceptible.

Suddenly the world began to spin and a flood of red and blue sirens filled the room. I heard Sonders calling my name somewhere in the distance but I paid it no mind. It felt as if Laura and I were weightless and with the room spinning, and the lights circulating around us like they were--it felt like we were dancing together in the air.

As I began to lose consciousness, as everything turned dark, I could see Laura dancing in the night, only she wasn?t encumbered by the bitterness I had burdened her with. She looked as she did when I had first met her, a lifetime ago.
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[COLOR=DarkOrchid][font=times][i]I crouched next to the man that had always treated me well, and called 911 at the same time. He was fading, I could tell, but even if that crazy bitch got him, she didn't get him that good. I leaned over his still form, all but slamming my hand against his wound. Not pulling it out, that'd just be stupid; but applying steady pressure, all the while cursing myself for not killing Laura outright.[/i]

"Come on Charles. Keep it together."

[i]An eye opened, focused on me, or rather tried to focus.[/i]

"Sonders? What are you doing?"

"I called you again and again. Promise me we'll get you a better cell phone after this is finished."

[i]I doubt he heard me. I rode with him to the hospital. I even gave him some of my blood. Helps to know that your partner and you are compatible in at least one way. I sat by his side for what felt like hours, but after the good warm numbing shock set in, I just drifted from room to room, cursing the staff for placing Laura's room across from his. They told me she'd never wake up, that she'd be a total vegetable for the rest of her unnatural life. I wasn't satisfied, but then again, I could never let well enough alone. That's why I was here. That's why Charles wasn't bleeding to death in his house like Rico did.

I should've shot her in the throat.[/i]

"I should've shot her in the throat."

[i]To my surprise, I'd spoken those words aloud, as I stood in her room, over her bed, my hands motionless at my sides. At that point, I realized that I wasn't the only person standing in Room 134, staring at the hospital's newest coma patient. The One-Winged Angel was there too.[/i]

"She was already dead, long before she got to Charles. Before she sent you that doll."

[i]He turned his focus from Laura's still form to my face. I'll imagine I was probably a horrific mess. My hair was most likely sticking up in several directions. Dirt still on my hands and cheeks. But I didn't care like I would have normally. Rico was gone. Charles was nearly dead by her, and my fingers were itching to rip out the ventilator, the IV lines, the peaceful smile on her face. My eyes must have been burning, because Sephiroth placed a hand on my shoulder. His eyes were the same placid pools of silence they'd always been.

My fingers stopped itching, and the anger left me. I turned away so he wouldn't see the way my mouth quivers when I'm about to cry. It'd been years. I don't think I shed a single tear at Rico's funeral. I just stood there like I was at anyone's funeral. Probably...the last time I had cried was when he and I parted ways. I put a hand to my eyes, and hoped he wasn't staring. Instead I stumbled out of the room and back to Charles's, throwing myself in the chair someone had put next to his bed.[/i]

"What happened to Laura?"

[i]I raised my head from my hands and looked over. Charles had turned his head towards me and I realized that it'd probably been 15 hours since he'd been admitted. I hastily grabbed a tissue and wiped my face clean.[/i]

"She's in a coma. I missed."

"It's my fault she became what she became. My fault she killed Rico."

"If it has to be someone's fault, at least blame Catholicism."

[i]He didn't notice my vain attempt at humor and I let it drop. I could think of dozens of reasons why she'd flipped her lid and punched out of reality, but they were all going to fall on deaf ears. Far be it from me to tell him otherwise. Instead I leaned back and rested a hand on my hip, the other, the bandaged one patting his hand once. Just once.[/i][/font][/COLOR]
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[COLOR=DarkRed]A small dark green car pulls up to the driveway to a nice looking house in Otaku city. With the excitement of newlyweds in the air, Laura smiled sweetly at her husband. Charles smiled back. Putting the car in park, left the car and opened the door on the other side for Laura. As soon as she shut the door, Charles picked her up and ran to the door.

"You idiot! What do you think you are doing?"

Charles gave a hearty laugh and grinned playfully at her. After entering the house, he laid her gently on the black leather sofa. Laura laughed and sighed as Charles tried to catch his breath. Laura teased, "Looks like someone needs to stop eating out."

"Shush, hun. It's not my fault that you're pregnant."

With that, Laura stuck her tongue out at him. Charles quickly sat beside her, his head hovering above hers, and kissed her deeply. Laura moaned, enjoying it.

Charles pulled away after what seemed like only a moment. Laura crossed her arms and pouted as Charles got up left to the other room. A finger draped over Laura's shoulder. Laura jumped from the touch.

"You bastard!" Laura yelled.

Charles laughed and tossed a silk black rose into her lap. Laura looked at the rose and then at Charles questionly.

"You always liked them, babe."

"Thanks love." she yawned, "Let's go change into something cooler. I am starting to feel really hot. Too much lace!"

As Laura got up, she immediately stumbled and fell back onto the sofa. Pain was visable on her face as she was clutching her stomach.

"Babe?" Charles asked with concern, "Are you ok?"

Laura shook her head slowly, tears welling in her eyes.

"I am taking you to the ER. But first, let's get you out of that dress."

With that, they changed and rushed to the hospital.

[CENTER]************************************[/CENTER]

"Mr. Charles?"

"Yes, Doctor?"

"I'm afraid that I have some troubling news."

"Huh?"

" Your wife lost your baby. She had a miscarriage."

Charles looked like several people just shot him then and there. "May I see her?" He said at last.

The doctor nodded and pointed to the room as if to show him in.

Charles rushed in to see a distraught wife.

"Hun?"

Laura looked like she was about to cry again. "I...I'm okay but...but the..." She couldn't finish the sentence because by now tears were flowing like streams down her cheeks.

She sat straight up but fell to the side of hospital bed from being weak.

"Laura don't push yourself. At least I still have you. That's all that matters!"

"No, that's not what matters. The baby...the baby!"

Charles sat on the edge of the bed and cradled his beloved wife till she fell asleep.

[CENTER]*******************************[/CENTER]

Everything went dark. When the light came back, the setting changed. It was now Charles and Laura's kitchen. The lights were off and have not been on for days. It was also dark outside, since the rain clouds were hiding the sun. The rain was pounding hard against the roof outside. Laura was sitting on the couch, her mascara running in violent lines down her cheeks from weeks of crying. The weather matched the mood that Laura felt deep within her heart. Oh how it ached!

[I]How can that bastard leave me?![/I], she thought to herself.

She pulled her knees closer to her chest and shivered.

"Charlie, Charlie! Where did you go, Charlie? Charlie baby, WHY DID YOU LEAVE ME!?!"

At that moment, the phone rang. Laura just let it ring. She didn't feel like answering it. In fact, she didn't like answering it for days.

[CENTER]***********************[/CENTER]

Everything then faded.

The underglow from the hospital's nightlights luminated the room. Laura was still in coma. No one was in the room either. Agent Sonders could care less about Laura. Sonders was still sitting beside Charles, awaiting for him to get better. [/COLOR]
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[I]Note: Sephiroth might add an epilogue after this.[/I]


And that's the end of it.

As soon as I was able to, I sat still, like a statue, over Laura's hospital bed, day after day, thinking about what would happen if she ever woke up. Days lapsed into nights. Nights into weeks. I sat mute, staring at her, as if willing myself to finally face the cold, motionless consequences of my actions.

A man had died because of me.

My eyes moved away from Laura towards the window, towards the dark, gray sky. Sometimes I stared at the silver bracelet that anchored her to her bed. Even if she did recover from her peaceful, unconscious incarceration, she would be immediately imprisoned. I stared at the machines keeping her alive and a thin, bitter smile spread across my lips. The irony of it all.

Ah, Otaku City.

Some say that when Otaku City loves you, she loves you like no other, but she never loves anyone for very long. Each lover she takes on, she ultimately rejects just as passionately as she brought them to her bosom. I thought about everything that had transpired since I had returned to her arms, her arms that folded around me and ensnared me like a serpent, affectionately hugging its pray before squeezing the very life out of it.

I barely recognized myself anymore; I had the gaunt face of a tortured man.

Otaku City--the only place where a man can leave a wife he never truly loved, force her into madness, and come out of the situation a hero, while she faced imprisonment. The irony of the situation made me consider what true murder really was and whether or not there really were "good guys" in the world at all.

"It didn't have to end like that!" I said, leaning forward.

I heard a short, dry laugh behind me.

"You have got to let go of this," Sonders said.

"Stop!" I said abruptly lifting my left hand, "I tried 'letting go' before and look where it got me. Look where it got Rico. Look where it got Laura."

My eyes shifted to a train ticket almost mechanically, a train ticket that I had purchased two days ago. As I stared at it, I sat so still that only the life in my eyes distinguished me from a sculpture.

"So that's it then," Sonders said, and she folded her arms across her chest, shaking her head emphatically. "You're just going to run away again? Is it that simple? "

She stared at me, awaiting an answer, her face had a long drawn expression of both outrage and bitter amusement.

"What you did was wrong," Sonders said, "And you deserve to feel guilty about it. But, you didn't make her kill Rico. She was sick, Charles. She was sick and that had nothing to do with you."

"It had everything to do with me," I said softly.

"People leave one another and cause one another misery every day," Sonders said, "But that doesn't give anyone an excuse to rob an innocent person of their life and allow another to take the blame for them."

Sonders placed her hand on my shoulder, bent down and whispered into my ear, "It's not your fault."

I turned to her, my face still contorted with pain. And then my eyelids came down slowly over my eyes and my lips gradually lengthened into a smile.

Suddenly a familiar voice broke the silence.

"There's something I think you should see," he said, his voice low, almost strained.

I attempted to greet him, to try to find whatever words are appropriate for showing gratitude to a man who was willing to throw his life away to protect my family, but the whatever I was going to say died in my throat as he handed me a newspaper.

When I was done reading the article he directed me to, with an expressionless open-mouth gaze, I limply dropped the paper onto my lap, reached out, and ripped up the train ticket.

"What is it?" Sonders said, leaning forward.

The article on the front page read as follows:

[FONT=Courier New][B][U]Hollywood Mega Star Seized on Suspicion of Brutal Slaying[/U][/B]

[B]Hollywood, California[/B]--Hollywood Star Drake Desbreko has been taken into custody for the murder of an unidentified female escort. Desbreko willingly gave himself over to police yesterday while on the set of the upcoming live-action film adaptation of [i]The Legend of Zelda[/i] video game series, after the woman was found dead at his manor in Los Angeles.

The victim was found with a replica sword from the film impaled through her stomach. There were two stab wounds in her abdomen, approximately three inches apart from one another. Police say that an autopsy is pending.

Drake Desbreko originally gained notoriety as a child star when he appeared in the film [i]Kill Adam[/i] at the young age of fourteen. Desbreko has no criminal history and up until now, his reputation has been spotless. However, with the murder of this unidentified woman, reports are starting to surface, tying the young star to a prostitution ring and drug rehabilitation clinics. Desbreko could not be reached for comment, however a spokesman has firmly denied these allegations.

Desbreko is being transported to his native home of Otaku City for trial, where he still holds legal residency.[/FONT]



[SIZE=3][CENTER][B]The End.[/B][/CENTER][/SIZE]
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