“What’s happening, Max? Are you still there?” Gemma asks in a panic. Sitting at the bar, she pushes her drink away and heads for a corner table to avoid the curious stares of those around her. “It sounds like a tornado over there. Did something shatter? Come on, old man, and talk to me.”
With an old-fashioned click, the phone turns off and begins rapidly pinging as twenty photos arrive. Gemma cycles through the pictures that are mostly of a hazy figure standing amid a storm of blurred papers. One shows her the dress and tuxedo, which she thinks are hanging from a rack until she zooms in to their necklines. The clothing is hovering off the ground, each one having an arm around the waist of the other. Feeling sick and anxious, the pale detective swipes to the final picture. She nearly crushes the phone when she sees Max’s body in a pool of his own blood, a narrow slit across his neck. A serene smile is on his face, but the image remains agonizing to his partner.
“This is my fault,” Gemma whispers as her quivering hand puts the phone down. Grazing the screen, she moves to a picture with Dawn’s name and the string of numbers. “If I hadn’t kept pushing this case then you would still be alive. I should have stopped when things got weird or done the investigation myself. Probably can’t even call the precinct or your family to let them know without causing more trouble. The worst part is I’ve seen so much death and insanity lately that I can’t bring myself to cry. All I can think of doing is putting an end to this, but I don’t even know where to start. What did you find that got you killed?”
Scrolling through the pages, Gemma zooms in on the drawings to see if they have any common theme. She feels ridiculous analyzing the scribbles of a child, especially since they tell her nothing more than Corvus has been with Dawn for decades. It is not until she comes back to the notes and switches from one to the other. Squinting at the screen, she enlarges part of it to find that Max missed some pieces of the missing information. Gemma tries every filter she can find in the simple photo program until she catches a ghost of two letters. Seeing the ‘D’ and ‘O’ makes her take a shuddering breath and believe that her partner died getting her the last piece of information she needed to face her enemy. Staring at the image, she still struggles to come up with a theory that would explain everything.
“Date of birth for Dawn is 1980 and it’s 1981 for Corvus,” Gemma says, noticing that a waiter is bringing her a free drink. She turns off the phone to prevent the man from spying on her and pretends to take a sip of the rum. “What is so important about Dawn being older than her husband? It’s only by a year too. Not like she would be the first woman to marry a younger man. This has to mean something else.”
With a giggling ringtone, Gemma’s phone goes off and she looks to see that Dawn is trying to call her. Not wanting to lose her train of thought, she ignores the call and closes her eyes to concentrate. The first thing she imagines is Max dying on the floor, so snaps out of what was the beginning of a trance. Confused on how her mind drifted away so quickly, Gemma is about to stand when her phone goes off with a loud barking noise. Muttering a curse, she turns the device off and tries to figure out where she can go for privacy. There appears to be a lot more people in the hotel and she wonders if people have been drawn to the location because of all the murders and disappearances. For a moment, the detective considers that such an outcome was Dawn’s goal the entire time. Remembering how much the woman loves her game of murder, Gemma has her doubts about this being about money.
When the phone goes off a third time, the noise is a raging scream that sends a crack through the back of the protective case. Gemma jumps at the thrashing in her back pocket and struggles to get the device free. The machine is hot to the touch and threatens to melt her skin, but it cools once she answers. A calm sigh drifts from the other end of the phone and mixes with the rumble of distant thunder.
“I’m so sorry to hear about your partner,” Dawn says, pausing to let the sound of clinking glasses carry over the phone. She blows a kiss that leaves a faint spot of wetness on the red-haired woman’s cheek. “Anyway, now we have nobody else to get in our way. He made the mistake of talking to my mother and getting her opinion on me. Thought she would only mumble incoherently and not send him to a place that people should stay away from. Now about my next riddle.”
“Save your breath and leave me to do my job,” Gemma angrily snaps. She is about to hang up the phone, but her temper and stress gets the best of her. “You know what? To hell with your psychotic game. I’m coming up there right now, Dawn. Either I’m going to arrest you or shoot you in the head. My mood and interest in keeping my job will determine your fate. No amount of crazy crap is going to get in my way unless you strike me dead here. Then that ends even the remote chance of your sick fun continuing. So get your affairs in order and kiss that imaginary husband of yours good-bye.”
A growing light gives Gemma enough of a warning to toss the phone away, the device exploding and scaring everyone in the lobby. With a terrifying screech, the angel statue’s wings spin and the body gradually melts into molten metal. Several people standing too close are scalded and their screams cause people to rush the doors. All of the exits are locked and those who grab the handles for too are electrocuted. The shock is not enough to kill them, but they collapse in a twitching heap that makes escaping more difficult. Another chorus of shouting erupts from outside where the pool is boiling enough to fill the area in choking steam. Those unable to get out of the water fast enough are cooked, their bodies floating on the surface like disturbing buoys. Fear and panic is setting in as the guests swarm the stairs and elevators in the hopes of finding an upper window to jump from. Explosions from the restaurant sends food flying into the lobby while those in the bar are left to drown in a rising flood of alcohol. Through it all, the employees continue to do their jobs as if people are not dying around them.
Sprinting toward Dawn’s private elevator, Gemma is unnerved by how easy it is for her to get through the crowd. The doors open as she comes around the front desk, but a desperate couple rush on before the detective can get there. With a loud snap, the cables give way and the lift plummets into the depths of the building. Gemma can hear the guests’ screams echoing throughout the dark shaft as she comes to the edge. A ladder is on the far wall and she can see that her badge is hanging from one of the rungs. Taking the invitation, she leaps over the pit and begins the long climb toward her enemy.