By Susan Lyttek
I laid the photos out on the little café table in front of Marianne. “Can you tell me anything about any of these people?”
She ran her fingers over the faces. “They all look familiar, but I can’t say I actually know any of them.” She peered up at me. Her eyes softened and her lips curved just a bit to show her perfect teeth. “Sorry.”
A pretty woman hadn’t smiled in my direction since the day my ex and I married. “But you’ve seen them?”
She nodded. “I think they were regulars here. This café does have the best coffee. And ambiance.” She waved a hand at the assorted outside tables and the view of the river.
Marianne averted her eyes from mine and fidgeted with her fork. She was lying about something. But the food was good, the coffee better, and the company the best. I patted her free hand. “When you think of a detail, any detail, contact me. All these disappearances have the mayor jumpy.”
She took a bite of her quiche. “I will. I promise.”
The opening chords of an old song played in the distance, and my companion bolted from her chair.
When I grabbed her hand, she protested, “I have to take this call, Brian. I’ll be right back.” Marianne left our table and practically skipped down the street.
Why did she have to go that far for her phone?
As she disappeared around the corner of the café, the music stopped on the very beat of her last step. I blinked. It seemed like one moment she was there. The next, she wasn’t.
Maybe it was all my imagination after a long stakeout the night before, but things didn’t feel normal. I waited at the sidewalk table for about ten minutes, but when she didn’t return, I paid the tab for both of us and walked down the street, tracing her steps.
The alley where I’d last seen her was littered with trash cans, a dumpster, and one set of fire escape stairs leading to a metal landing. It could be anywhere in this dive of a city. An urban dead end.
Except it felt more like a crypt than an alley. I shivered and looked up. It was still morning, but the sun had disappeared from a cloudless sky. It was just gone.
I snapped a couple of pictures with my cell in case this odd place fit in with the missing persons case somehow. Then suddenly, the music started again. Closer. The beat of it wove into me. I could feel my heart changing its rhythm to match the song. The strum of a chord poured through me, causing my very molecules to pling with joy. I couldn’t remember feeling so content. I closed my eyes…
And opened them to a field of flowers. In their midst, Marianne danced to an echo of the song that filled me—filled the space. A resounding crescendo pulsed through the world about me. I breathed it in.
“Where am I?” My words interrupted the balance of the notes and fractured the beauty around me. Like ice, the music shattered.
Seconds later, I was back in the alley.
Marianne stood with me, her hands on her hips. “Why’d you go and do that? Do you know how long I waited at the café, hoping to hear that music again?”
And here I thought she just enjoyed talking to me. “Hours?”
She shook her head so hard her curls bounced. “Days. Maybe weeks.”
“Why didn’t you just stay? What brought you back?”
She leaned against the brick wall that lined the alley, then sighed. “The first time, I tried to sing with the music.”
“It sent me away.” She stared at me with an intensity that made me look away. “You’ve gotta wait and find out what it wants. That’s what I did this time. It needed the dance. As much as I need it.”
Hackles formed on the back of my neck. “Need?”
“Once it weaves the song into you, you have to go back.”
No. Absurd. I had a job. I had things to do here. A boss to impress. I said as much.
“You’ll see,” she said.
I followed her back to the café. After all, I still had a case to solve. Our places hadn’t been cleared nor the tab picked up, so we sat at the same little table for two.
“And the photos?” I asked.
“I think you know.”
I did. The missing people had followed the music. But I couldn’t tell the captain that. My boss would think I was nuts. So instead, I sat and talked with a very pretty woman.
Until the song played again.
She leaned over and brushed a kiss against my cheek. I savored the feather-light touch of her lips as she slipped away.
I held onto the side of the table with both hands to fight the desire to follow her, to give in to the music.
When silence reigned, I let go and walked to my car.