“You’ve been makingremarkable progress, Delphine,” Alicia Keeney says. She studies me from where she sits poised in her lounge chair, her legs crossed at the ankles. The late-afternoon sunlight lances through the blinds and makes her bright eyes more crystalline. More piercing.
I aim a gracious smile at the therapist. “Thank you. These sessions have been an enormous help. For the first time in a while, I feel hopeful for the future.”
“That’s always encouraging to hear. Have you been writing in your dream journal? Even the bad ones?”
My smile falters for the briefest second before I blink and catch myself. “Yes, every morning. No bad ones in recent weeks.”
“Good, good. You’re making strides toward healing. Though you should remember, we all have a misstep or two along the way. No survivor’s journey is a straight line. How about we pick up where we’re leaving off next Wednesday? Same time?”
I leave Alicia Keeney’s office without looking back. The early evening rush has started—cars clog up the streets and people beeline for the subway. Potent smells like garlic and pepper waft out of apartment windows as dinner is cooked and served. Above distant skyscrapers, the sky tinges gold and the sun sets. My favorite time of the day.
Next to nighttime.
I can be alone—I can be whoever I want. I leave the narrow street Doctor Keeney’s office is located on and move toward the subway. In the past I would’ve been headed home to Salt and Pepa and my new apartment in Centennial Village.
Lately, I’ve picked up a new hobby. I grab the subway on the next street over and settle into a seat in the corner of my car. I’ll be riding it a while. Right out of Northam and into a neighboring city. Tonight, I’ve chosen Easton.
By the time I return home, it’ll be past midnight. Possibly a couple hours later than that. Most of the city will be asleep. Except those out for a good time... or a bad time.
I should know. I’m one of them.
* * *
The stop I get off on is called Shadwell. It’s not a particularly safe part of the city. As I depart the subway car and step onto the platform, a man in tattered clothes lurches by with dark circles and vacant eyes. He’s high out of his mind as he wanders the station.
I pull my blazer tighter and stride forward, ignoring the open leers from a few constructor workers nearby. I nab the first taxi available on the street outside. My driver nods at the address I show him on my phone and then cranks up the radio on the dash.
Easton is a lot like Northam in several ways—big buildings, headache-inducing smog, crowded streets, and no sign of a leafy tree or plant life for miles.
My driver drops me off outside the address I’ve requested and then speeds off once I’ve sent the payment through. I check the time.
Surprisingly, I’m early.
Over the next hour, I head up to the studio apartment, set down my briefcase from my long day at city hall, and shed the layers of my ADA costume—my silky blouse, tailored blazer, and sleek pencil skirt are hung up. I shower and put on a very different kind of costume. Whereas my daytime attire was professional and designer, the slinky dress I put on cost about twenty dollars at some fashion boutique in the mall.
A smokey eye, red lip, and spritz of perfume later, I’m almost ready to go. The last touch is the wig I’m wearing tonight, a dark and blunt-cut bob. I leave the closet-sized studio apartment without any idea when I’ll come back; I’m only ever on-the-go when I stop by and use the space for some quick privacy.
I take the subway a second time, riding deeper into the city. Another thing Easton has in common with Northam. The later in the night you travel on the subway, the stranger the people around you become. I ignore a couple groping each other in the seats next to mine, my attention focused on my phone.
I’m staring at a live map of the city on an app that’s proven to be handy. It’s divided up into a grid, labels for everything from what building is where to what street they’re located on. My only interest is in a blinking red dot that’s on the move.
Friday night by ten p.m., like clockwork. He never fails.
I get off at the next stop and walk to the same street as the blinking red dot. Vale Street is a narrow strip of seedy bars and clubs where many in Easton go for a night of excess. No limits. No boundaries. No care in the world.
Some say Vale Street is an even better party scene than Club Nirvana in Northam.
I check the tracking app on my phone. The Red Dot has gone inside Two-Twelve, an underground dance club known for its drug activities. He’s predictable enough that I’ve figured out his pattern. He likes Two-Twelve on Friday nights because it’s when most female college students from Easton University go clubbing.
The underground club is crowded, hot, and loud. I squeeze myself between strangers and search the many faces around me. Because Two-Twelve is underground, the service on my iPhone drops off. The app freezes, no longer providing any updated movements of the Red Dot. I slide my phone into my wristlet and focus on observing my surroundings.
The dance floor takes up the most room, bright strobe lights passing over every few seconds. A turntable sits several feet above, where the DJs for the night hype up the crowd and mix the party music being played. Go-go dancers whip their hair and gyrate nearby in platformed cages, their sparkly bralette tops and thigh high boots their uniform. Together, the crowd and the music are loud enough to bust eardrums.
I scan the dance floor and then move on to other parts of the dark club.
At last, I spot him. The Red Dot I’ve been staring at all evening. Predictably, he’s by the bar counter, chatting up a redhead whose face I can’t see. I should’ve known he’d fish around the bar first before trying his luck on the dance floor. It’s his MO.