Someone had won at cards it seemed; a boisterous laughter erupted from the next hall, brightly lighted and dimmed by cigarette smoke and alcohol fumes. I wasn’t any good at poker, the cards always mere pieces of paper in my unpolished/unskilled hand. My friend Amory however was a passionate player. He lingered his stare awhile longer at the closed door unamused by the win; he had taken the gentlemen’s money one too many times now. His voice broke me of my reverie.
‘Good God, that girl is practically staring at you.”
I followed his amused gaze. He was right, my companion. She was and her stare was not a casual one; it was curious, more even – lusting. I knew such things as I was partially their creator. But she, sweet, sweet Cara was seventeen and I, 46. This was not entirely Venice and we weren’t in the midst of death, though the comparison that came to mind of that Mann novelette was not far-fetched – she was something new, seemingly orchestrated by either Gods or demons as her skin was marble, her hair was silk, and her eyes were made of the brightest green glass, and I myself was death incarnate, an occult symbol coated in a suave skin.
“Your eyes are taking up a different shade my friend, one that would not suit the evening.”
Yet again my companion was right. I dabbed at my swollen, red irises with a handkerchief and glimpsed at my face in the provided small mirror seeking the light blue gaze of the man in me, the 46-year old whose throat was dry at the sight of her.
“My apologies,” I splashed tipping the remains of my glass in my burning throat.
“None needed. She is an example for higher praise.”
“I shall take her not. We are both here to conduct an investigation.”
My companion laughed.
“Is that said for my or your reassurance?”
I bowed my head to him and left him to drown his laughter in the wine. He was thinking our trip amusing; I would have too if it weren’t for our missing friend.
The luxurious complex we were residing at along with a dozen wealthy families, politicians and famed artists stood guardian to all land as ahead was the sea, dark in the moonlight, as dark as blood. It was a cold December, colder than any previous I remembered lacking the gracious fall of minuscule snowflakes and orchestrating brutal winds to howl between the waves and at our doorstep. But inside it was a little paradise.
A simple vacation it would have been– tea and games, newspaper articles and tobacco, walks on the beach and shopping, theatre and sleep, but for me and my friend it was to be different. For the two of us it was a case, a crime, a ponder. Aside for maintaining our charm and friendliness we were to discover what had happened to a dear friend of ours in this very hotel just a week ago.
Me and Amory took separate rooms and bid the front desk to dismiss maids from entering. The solid bills rolling between thumb and forefinger had made the boy at the desk shy with red but only for a shallow second before he took it and hid in the pocket of his well-ironed vest.
Whilst Amory indulged – he liked the harsher gambling that went on in the darker hours and the imported hashish (he called that divine) that some of the gentlemen smoked in between sips of scotch – I sat most often in my room studying the panel of scarce clues we had pieced together. I flattened the newspaper clippings we had collected in desperate search of some hint but the past week’s events from a stolen bicycle to a beached whale bore no signs of the occult. Home had not called upon Douglas itself.
At this point I had begun hoping he had drowned or fallen drunk off a cliff, but he remained an unknown man, not simply missing but non-existent. Over a week now he was neither to be summoned nor visualized at any plain. Had he been transcended? Was that possible? Such silly thoughts amused Amory who gave up on our task soon enough.
We sat on the terrace neither of us shivering like the rest of the early birds went out to enjoy the breeze and pale sun.
“Why do we even continue? I’ve never much liked Douglas anyways.”
I sighed and took a long swallow feeling the burn of the tea seep through my teeth. It was much too sweet.
“He is our brother before all else.”
“A poor pup always wailing for this and that. Nay, a mutt. We’re not like him, why should we care?”
Amory leaned towards me, his eyes the awful shade we tried to hide.
“Calm down, Amory. He may be a runt and yet again he is one of us. I simply want to know what happened to him. Aren’t you curious? This disappearance seems queer to me. No signs, no claims and yet…”
“Douglas is gone without a trace.” Amory finished for me. “Be it so. If he wishes to be gone let him be so. I say we enjoy this trip while it lasts. We’ve earned it.”
What if it hadn’t been his decision, I wanted to say but stood down. And soon apathy stood up and took over me. Staring at newspapers and photographs, searching for signs tired me. It was tedious and inane and after two weeks I took to Amory’s advice – I became native to the hotel and its inhabitants. I blended in to the point where I forgot why I was there, the task a peripheral activity that soon died away with the pull of the waves. And since Amory had gone too, I assumed adventuring far and wide before going home, I had no one to pull me away from my melancholy and assumed identity. No one except sweet Cara.