The Silver Year: Chapter 22

Chapter 22

Death Should Always Be Played Loudly​​ ​​ 

 

 

Late-afternoon light poured in from the tall windows of Amsterdam Centraal Station’s main hall, buzzing like a beehive in the busy rush hour traffic. Penetrating the din, however, was Chopin’s​​ Prelude Op. 28, No. 4. Walter only knew that prelude by name because he had borrowed from it to create his prelude for “Bowie’s Nocturne”, the last song he​​ ever​​ performed onstage.

 He followed the playing to a black grand piano tucked into a back corner of the hall with the words​​ BESPEEL MIJ - PLAY ME​​ stickered on it. Behind it was a short-haired brunette in a black formal dress, whacking into the keys. As she neared the end of the short piece, as if to spite the clatter of rolling suitcase wheels and indeterminate chatter droning past her, unlike any other interpretation he had heard, she insolently increased the intensity beyond even the volume of the climax, punching the final chord in so hard it brought her to her feet.

Her head stayed bowed after while fine plumes of dust her performance disturbed spangled in the golden-hour sunlight as they fell back to Earth. She then brought her face up to Walter’s eyes as only he was​​ applauding. It was a face he’d seen before, the foxlike face of the hostess from​​ La Lune Rouge. As he drew closer to leave a tip on the hood of the piano, however, although similar and again of about the same age, the face changed into a stranger.

Dank u,” she said.

Mooi... uh,​​ bespeel mij,” Walter said reading the Dutch on the piano. He had learned the word for beautiful from Shiva after she had complimented his “mooi dansen”.

The girl laughed. “Mijn excuses meneer Chopin. Ik hou er niet van om de dood mooi te spelen.

“I’m sorry, what? That’s the only Dutch I know.”

She laughed again. “Yes,​​ that is very obvious,” she said in a strong accent,​​ but​​ not a Dutch accent,​​ something​​ more​​ Eastern European.​​ “You say ‘play me beautifully’, so I say, ‘I don’t like to play you beautifully Mister Chopin.’”

“Oh.​​ But actually,​​ I thought​​ your un-beautiful playing​​ was​​ the most​​ beautiful​​ I’ve​​ ever​​ heard. It’s like you opened up a new dimension of the song I didn’t know was there.”

“Dimension?​​ What​​ is that?”

“Um… it’s like you found a new meaning to the song, a new world no one knew was there. And it’s beautiful. I almost can’t imagine the​​ song or the world any other way now.​​ I guess you could say your performance was life changing.”

She smiled bashfully.​​ Dank u,” she said again. “You are very kind. Not many people like​​ how​​ I play your death. But Im​​ glad you​​ like your death​​ played loudly.”

“My death?”

She laughed again. “This​​ song​​ played at your funeral,​​ Mister Chopin.”

“Oh, that’s right.”​​ Walter​​ had forgotten that fact.​​ “And yes, death should always be played loudly.”​​ 

 

Outside the train station​​ in the brick-faced canyons of Amsterdam’s downtown area,​​ bike paths crisscrossed the city like tracks​​ on a circuit board, encircling Walter’s ears with​​ trickling bicycle​​ gears​​ and​​ bells.​​ Everyone from businessmen with briefcases to mothers with children rode about in a more tranquil demeanor when compared to car commuters​​ back home.​​ 

After​​ consuming a quick dinner from FEBO, a Dutch fast food chain made entirely of self-serve vending machines with the exception of the beverages ironically, he found a cheap hostel for the​​ night​​ that had two guest​​ computers in the lobby. Using one of them, he looked up directions to the nearest police station and Maloe Melo, but had no luck finding anything for “La Lune Rouge​​ Amsterdam”, “Dug DeMargo Amsterdam”, or “Kali and The Easy Wind Grateful Dead Tribute Amsterdam”.​​ He then tried​​ Lady Duc de Glace dominatrix Amsterdam”,​​ and at last found something,​​ a personal website advertising her services.

After checking over his shoulder to make sure no one was looking and clicking the agreement he was over eighteen, he was taken to a homepage with an image of the Golden Ass he’d heard so much about, and no doubt, it was the best ass he’d ever seen, forming a perfect heart in the center of​​ his​​ screen as its owner was fully bent over, bound in rich olive skin and black sheer lingerie, supported by two long, muscular legs on a base of double platform fuck-me pumps.​​ ENTER​​ was written across the heart.​​ 

He​​ clicked and was taken to another page with a black and white side profile of a naked man on his knees in a latex gimp mask and a spiked leather dog collar attached to a leash held by a woman who towered over him​​ with short, black, swooped-back hair in fishnet pantyhose wearing a white business shirt and a​​ black​​ fitted​​ vest. In her other hand​​ was​​ a metallic device that​​ made Walter’s rectum pulse​​ with​​ phantom pangs.​​ It​​ looked like a C-clamp with a surgical rib spreader attached to the opening end, the prongs dripping​​ in​​ a translucent viscous fluid.​​ Over the device was written​​ EET FUK.

He​​ clicked and was taken to a calendar which was booked solidly until the fall. Other than an inquiry form to make a reservation, which required a fifty-euro deposit, there was no other contact information, and nothing else to click except for a photo gallery. After looking over his shoulder again,​​ Walter​​ clicked.​​ 

Scrolling through, although her face was partially obscured in every photo either by angle or mask, his mind was able to cobble together a face of extraordinary splendor, and not a sweet splendor, but​​ a splendor that left him in throbbing knots because the fantasy of fucking her with the ferocity of mating baboons refused to leave his head. No wonder​​ there was a long waiting list​​ to be brutalized by her. Even​​ he​​ felt himself​​ tempted​​ as blood began swelling​​ into his​​ bellbottoms.

Reaching the end of the gallery, he was again treated to her rear-end, a gif this time that made the Golden Ass shake to and fro. It lulled him into a tonic state by its perfect applebottomness. All he wanted was to grasp at it and could think of nothing else.

Two teenage girls then entered the lobby and sat down at the computer beside him before he had time to hide the Golden Ass. They giggled as he quickly closed the page, then giggled even harder when he stood up. ​​ 

 

Going first to the police station, he found no one under the name Shiva (Walter never did get her last name or verify if Shiva was indeed her real first name) had been booked in the last week. He tried describing her, but the receptionist could offer no further help as she had a line of people behind him to deal with.

At Maloe Melo, Shiva’s amps and cabs she had stored there were gone, but the staff, who only spoke broken English, seemed to have no clue who he was talking about, and they said Patrick​​ retired a year earlier. However, since he was the former owner, he did come in on special occasions to work, so maybe Walter wasn’t completely crazy. But when​​ he​​ asked if they could tell him where Patrick lived, they then thought he was and politely asked him to leave.

Still too restless to call it a​​ day, he continued searching into evening, walking down streets at random, hoping to find something that could help him, and​​ eventually that something​​ came:​​ his urinal. From there, he found​​ Dug’s apartment complex rather easily, and at the entrance was a callbox with a directory, and listed in apartment 622 sure enough was Dug DeMargo.

Walter jabbed the digits, but it only rang endlessly, then cut off after a minute. He tried again, and again, but nothing. After loitering around the entrance for twenty minutes, finding no one who would let him in, he then began calling again, and on the third attempt, finally the call was picked up.​​ 

“Fuck off ya cunt!” the callbox shouted then clicked off. Walter dialed again. “Listen, if you don’t leave—”

“Dug it’s Walter. Don’t hang up.”

“What? Walty? What the fuck do you want?”

“It’s a long story, but I need your help.​​ Please.”

“Sorry mate, but can’t help ya. Got me own hands full right now.”

“Can I help​​ you​​ then?”

“Fuck off. I know​​ who​​ you are.”

“Quinn Quark?”

“Who’s that? Your other fake cop name?​​ By the way, Walter Huxley, terrible​​ fake name​​ mate.”

“You think I’m​​ a​​ cop?”

“That’s the only explanation.​​ Where​​ else would​​ you​​ have gotten​​ that shirt? No way you could’ve found it​​ in​​ that box because I burned them all. I​​ destroyed everything luna hunny.​​ And if there was anything left, it would’ve only been from what was confiscated by the cops in Paris. What, was that your way of trying to intimidate me, to let me know you were onto me? Then... then that whole act in front of Maloe Melo, what was that​​ about? That’s when I​​ realized​​ you must be some batshit crazy undercover motherfucker.”​​ 

“Dug, I’m not a cop.”

“You can stop bullshitting me​​ Walter. You got a fake-sounding name. You wouldn’t do coke with me. You can’t handle your weed.​​ You​​ also just​​ look like a cop. You’re a fucking cop!”

“Look up​​ Walter Huxley or​​ Quinn Quark on your phone and tell me​​ after​​ if you still think I’m a cop. If you’re going to pretend to own a music label, maybe you should pay attention more to what’s happening in music.​​ Also, maybe take it easy on the coke.​​ It’s making you paranoid​​ and​​ sloppy.

The callbox groaned, followed by a long pause. “No shit​​ mate,”​​ Dug then said after presumably taking out his phone.​​ “Why didn’t you tell me? But if you’re not a cop, then... then... No. You have to be​​ a​​ cop. The shirt, the bar.​​ There’s no way.”​​ 

“Dug, for the last time,​​ I​​ am​​ not a cop! How I ended up in that bar with that shirt​​ on​​ on​​ that​​ particular​​ night​​ is just as much a mysterious coincidence to me, and it was just the beginning​​ of a long strange trip since that I will​​ explain once I’m up there. But right now I need your help and my trip is telling me you’re the only person who can help me, just like before when you found me​​ in​​ the urinal. How could I be a cop conning you when you were the person who found me? Don’t you remember?”

You’re still tripping?” Dug said.​​ And no, not until you​​ just​​ told me.​​ I was​​ facking​​ hammered when I found you, remember? I forgot that’s how we met . . .​​ Maybe I have been doing too much coke​​ lately.​​ Ugh,​​ just​​ did two big rippers before you rang, but​​ it​​ doesn’t seem to be stopping this heroin any. This is some nasty shit mate.”

“Heroin?”

“Yeah... Ugh.​​ Fack​​ mate.​​ I’m really tweaked. I’m really freaked too. I don’t want her to die. I hate her, but I​​ also​​ love her. I’ll never find another like her. She’s my kind of woman for a man who has no kind.​​ Don’t​​ let​​ her die...”

“Who?”

Dug made a series of garbles before answering.​​ Um… never mind.​​ But​​ fack. I do need your help—we need your help. But you gotta promise to keep it to yourself if you value your life, and I sincerely mean that. I’m not somebody to fuck with. And you better not be a coppa.”​​ 

“Dug, I swear if I have to tell you one more time—”

The callbox clicked off and the front door buzzed open.

 

“Come in. It’s​​ unlocked,” Dug said from the other side of his apartment door after Walter knocked. He pushed it open and found her, lying on the floor with her head propped on pillows propped on Dug’s lap.​​ Her eyes were closed and she was a pale shadow of her former self, looking at least fifteen pounds lighter. Her skin had lost all color except for isolated pools of sickly yellow and brown up and down her arms and legs. Walter had seen the same rotted banana peel stains on Squids’s corpse.

“Mags?”​​ Walter​​ gasped.

“You two know each other?” Dug said without looking in his direction. He was​​ running a wet rag up and down​​ Mags’s​​ naked body. He was​​ also​​ naked and​​ also​​ had​​ stains.​​ “Nobody calls her Mags unless they know her personally.”

“Not exactly,” Walter said.​​ “But I’ve gotten to know Shiva personally, and something tells me you know where I can find her.”

Dug sluggishly pushed aside one of the pillows and in his hand was​​ a​​ nine millimeter​​ handgun.​​ With much effort,​​ he​​ then​​ lifted it and pointed to where Walter had been standing, but at that point​​ Walter​​ had ducked behind Dug’s​​ kitchen​​ island counter.

“What the fuck Dug?!” Walter shouted.

“Fuggin coppa!” Dug shouted back. “I​​ fuggin​​ knew it.”

“I’m not​​ a fucking​​ cop! What else do I have to do to prove it?”

“Then... then... who are​​ you​​ working for​​ if you’re not a cop? How do you know Shiva? From back in the States?”

“I met her at Maloe Melo right after I left you.”

Dug gave a weak chuckle. “Sure you did. Well, got news for ya mate. She’s gone. Left Amsterdam long before you got here.”

“Where’d she go?”

“Fuck you.”

“Dug, I know about the cocaine operation. I know the label is just a front for it. I know you ripped off Shiva.​​ And​​ I know you and Mags were together before Shiva. But I don’t care. I only came back to Amsterdam from Switzerland today to find Shiva, because truthfully, I’m in love with her. But also, I think she might be in trouble. I’ve gone to Maloe Melo, the police, but I can’t find her.”

“You really are a nutcase, aren’t you? I told you, she’s gone.”

“What do you mean?”

“No, no. You want my help, you gotta help me first. Go get Mags’s Suboxone, then we’ll talk.”

“Her what?”

“Suboxone. She was clean​​ from heroin​​ for over two years before this and has a prescription at her place. It will reverse the effects. Maybe save her. I think she’s​​ OD-ing. She showed​​ up​​ high about a​​ week ago and sucked me right back in. Smack and sex were all we used to do back in Paris. But​​ faaaack. This smack is something else.”

Walter then heard a thud. He peaked from behind the island and noticed Dug had fallen over beside Mags. Stuck in his ass was the device​​ he’d seen earlier online. Walter gagged.

“Dug,” he said, “I’m going to stand up. Please don’t shoot me.”

“Ugh...” was Dug’s reply.

Walter stood cautiously, then went over to him.​​ His​​ eyes were glazed, pupils constricted and circling in his sunken sockets.

“Should I call the actual police?” Walter asked. “You both should probably go to a hospital.”

“Fuck the police if you ain’t them. Just go get the Suboxone at her place.”

“Where’s her place?”

Dug hesitated. “If you know Shiva,” he said,​​ “you​​ should​​ know.”

La Lune Rouge?” Walter said.​​ 

Dug closed his eyes and shook his head​​ yes. “But us locals just call it Hell. It’s not far from here, but you’ll have to take the bike.​​ He​​ reached into his pocket,​​ pulled out a key fob, and tossed it to Walter.​​ “Here’s my fob to get the bike out of the garage. It will also get you in and out of the building.”​​ Dug​​ then crawled to a purse near Mags and began rummaging through it. “Here,” he said extracting another key fob and tossing it to Walter. “Tell them​​ EET FUK​​ at the door and when they ask for your name, tell them Vernon. They’ll​​ then​​ take you to a special elevator that will take you to the top floor, and that fob​​ will​​ get​​ you the rest of the way. Not sure where she keeps​​ it, but the loo would​​ be​​ my guess. Do that for me​​ and…​​ and then we’ll talk about Shiva. But first I got​​ to​​ get me head straight.​​ And​​ I swear to God, if you ain’t a cop,​​ then​​ you must be His reckoning.”

 

Dug only managed to slur out half the​​ directions​​ to “Hell”​​ before the coke wore off and the heroin took over, making him completely intelligible before eventually very sleepy.​​ Remembering how Amber first died, Walter rolled Dug and Mags on​​ their sides before leaving.

Although​​ nearby by bike, left to rely​​ on memory and clues from the locals,​​ all of​​ whom​​ were timid about giving​​ out​​ its exact location, finding Hell wasn’t easy.​​ “If you don’t know where ‘Hell’ is,” one local warned him, “you​​ probably don’t belong there.​​ But finally after passing down an alley he​​ thought he’d been down three times before, he​​ located​​ the​​ nondescript​​ red​​ door, and​​ rang​​ the bell fleshed into the doorframe.​​ Two minutes later the foxlike face of the piano player from earlier greeted him.

“Hello again,​​ Mister Chopin,” she said. “I was not​​ expecting you tonight.”

“Neither was I—well, not exactly.​​ Do you have a sister that works here​​ also?”

The hostess sighed. “I did.​​ Did you know her?”

“No. But I saw her here last week.”

“Well, I’m sorry to tell you,​​ but that​​ is not​​ possible. I was only person​​ here last week. My sister died​​ almost​​ one​​ year ago.”

“Oh,” he said. “I’m sorry, I must’ve been confused.​​ Do you remember me​​ then? I came here with Shiva.”

“With who? And no.​​ I see hundreds of people every week.”

“But you—or whoever was here last week—seemed to know her. Tall, redhead. Plays in a Grateful Dead tribute.”

“I’m sorry, but I don’t know who you are talking about.”

“Am I at the right place?”​​ he​​ said checking his surroundings.

“I don’t know,” the hostess said, “but if you came here on that bicycle​​ behind you, you came at right time. The Lady always gets her delivery at eleven.”

“Her delivery?”

“You must be new. Yes. The one inside​​ the​​ basket. The Lady will be very hungry. It’s been​​ long time​​ since I​​ have​​ seen​​ this bicycle.”

Walter​​ went to the bicycle and​​ opened a compartment hidden in the basket stereo and found a paper bag filled with filled coke vials rubber-banded into bunches like packs of pre-rolled joints.

“Yes, that one,” the hostess said. “Let’s​​ not keep the Lady waiting.​​ Password?”

EET FUK.”

“Name?”

“Vernon.”

The hostess smiled.​​ “I was expecting you to say Frédéric.​​ Yes,​​ Mister Smith. Right on time. Follow me. The Lady will​​ EET​​ you now.”

 

She opened a door to her right​​ and​​ Walter​​ followed her into a small corridor with another door with a keypad and phone next to it. She picked up the phone​​ and​​ pressed in a passcode, then hung up. Soon after from above,​​ he​​ heard a loud clunk then the whirling of moving chains. About forty-five seconds later he heard another clunk behind the door followed by a loud buzz. The hostess then opened the door and pulled apart manual, antique, elevator doors. Blood-red light came pouring out along with “Station to Station” by David Bowie from a coffin-box-sized lift.​​ 

“Your elevator to Hell,​​ Mister Smith,” the hostess said.

“Shouldn’t I be going the other direction?” Walter​​ said​​ as he loaded himself into the tiny cage which felt and looked more like an old carnival ride than an elevator.

“Like I haven’t heard that one before,” she said and shut him in.

She closed the door and soon the machinery whirled up again,​​ and after a jerky ride to the top, the elevator opened onto a red-flushed foyer where the music was playing louder. In the foyer were two plush leather armchairs and a couch with a table, and directly across from the elevator, two double doors with a fob sensor next to them.​​ He​​ waved​​ the fob Dug had given him​​ over the sensor, and​​ hearing the lock unlatch, he pushed the doors open.

On the other side was​​ a​​ spacious and octagonal bedroom​​ cascaded​​ in gentle blue light with black​​ crush velvet walls.​​ On the walls​​ were a myriad of mirrors, each getting a different angle of​​ the oversized bed dead center of​​ the room on​​ an​​ elevated stage.​​ On one side of the room​​ stood​​ a liquor cabinet with two backed barstool chairs and on the other side,​​ a half-open wardrobe closet, exhibiting presumably Mags’s tools of the trade: whips, paddles, leather masks, and an assortment of​​ other​​ stainless steel devices similar to the one​​ in​​ Dug’s ass.​​ Closing the doors behind him,​​ Walter​​ found they sealed tightly and the room became dead silent.

“Hello?” he said just to affirm he was alone. The velvet walls sopped up his voice. “Hello!” he said louder, but​​ it made no difference.

He then went to the bedroom’s​​ bathroom, combing every corner and drawer for Mags’s prescription, but only found condoms and lubes along with what looked to be toiletry supplies for one female person. The only other door in the bedroom went into a large, walk-in closet. Turning on the light and walking inside, he picked up the faint scent of Shiva, and found the source to be a white nightgown. He took it off its hanger and clutched it to his face. A thousand excited memories lit up behind his eyes.

“Where are you?!” he screamed into it.

He then hung the gown back up,​​ but​​ as he did, something fell out of its pocket. He knelt down and found an Ace of Cups tarot card, and after checking his wallet, he realized it was the same tarot card Shiva had given​​ him, or it must’ve been because the Ace of Cups that was in his wallet was now missing.

Adding​​ it to the growing list of strange and unexplainable things​​ recently,​​ he​​ put​​ the card​​ in​​ his wallet, then returned his attention​​ to a​​ minor separation he noticed at​​ the​​ back of the closet​​ when he was kneeling.​​ Upon further investigation, he discovered​​ the separation​​ to be part of​​ a crude door cut into the drywall. He pressed it open, but only​​ found an empty crawlspace, the walls of which were riddled with pinholes from décor that must’ve once been tacked to them.​​ Crawling into the crawlspace,​​ her​​ scent became​​ much​​ stronger. Shiva must’ve been​​ in​​ here at one time.

Continuing​​ on in his​​ search​​ for​​ the​​ Suboxone, he at last found​​ it​​ in​​ a drawer of the liquor cabinet​​ along with several empty coke vials. Seeing as he was there to deliver them anyway, he restocked the drawer, emptying the entire paper bag.

“Good,” a voice then said from across the room.​​ Walter looked up frightened, but it was just the hostess.

“Oh, it’s just you,” he said. “How’d you get in here?​​ I didn’t hear the elevator.”

Nothing can be heard from​​ outside this room,” she said,​​ and nothing inside this room can be heard​​ from​​ outside.​​ But also,​​ there​​ is​​ secret stair​​ behind fetish cabinet​​ to cabaret backstage.​​ Not many people know, but I do.​​ It was​​ sealed​​ in walls​​ when they put​​ garbage shoot in​​ . . .​​ I want you to follow me downstairs, then I want you to​​ go​​ out backstage exit.​​ Leave bike here.”

“Dug would kill me. And I didn’t come here just to make a delivery. I also had a pickup.”

“They are already dead. The​​ Suboxone won’t help them now.”

“W-what? How did you know—how do you know?”

“Believe me, I know dead.”

The hostess stepped forward from her shadowy corner, but as​​ she came closer,​​ he​​ began to see it wasn’t her. It was the hostess he saw last week, her supposedly dead sister.

“Okay, what​​ the fuck​​ is​​ going on?”​​ Walter​​ said​​ panting. “Is someone fucking with me? Seriously, what is this? This isn’t funny anymore.”

“Calm down,” she said. “I​​ am​​ not first dead person you​​ have​​ seen, not by far. But that doesn’t matter right now.​​ You need to leave for Paris as soon as possible.”

“Paris?”

“Yes. That is where you told Shiva to meet you.”

“Yes of course. Why didn’t I think of that?”

“Because I needed​​ you here first. But go​​ now. You don’t want​​ to​​ be tangled up in​​ what​​ will follow.”

“What will follow?”

“Right now,​​ you. You will follow me downstairs and get hell out of Hell. After that, it​​ is​​ Fate’s decision.”

“You mean Beatrice?”​​ he said.

The ghost hostess smirked. “Who​​ is​​ Beatrice?” she said still smiling.

“I don’t know.​​ Are you?”

“My name is Maria. But if you really want to know who I am, look behind you.”​​ 

He​​ turned around, but​​ only​​ found​​ himself reflected​​ in a​​ large mirror.

 

Walter​​ followed​​ her​​ behind the fetish cabinet into​​ a​​ secret door​​ which​​ led to a​​ spiraled​​ stairwell​​ drilled through eight floors of darkness.​​ Fortunately, however,​​ her voice and a handrail were​​ there to guide him​​ down, and the deeper they went, the louder the stage music grew​​ from below, a strange, organ-grinder-like tune​​ Maria​​ began singing along to.

Welcome my friend to a place with no life

Where time flays itself out in such vibrant rhyme

The music you hear is your helping guide

Sundered seconds so hard to define

Not of birth or death but of some grand unfolding of time

Hold onto that tether, you don’t want to lose your mind

Scripture becomes​​ universal truth

Perverted and diluted as it flows through the mazes of you

Carving out canyons now crystallized in time

Hold on baby, hold onto that mind

 

The music then passed overhead​​ right before they hit bottom. It was then​​ Walter​​ realized​​ he wasn’t​​ backstage, but​​ below​​ stage, and Maria was no longer with him.

Feeling his way along the wall​​ for a light switch, he​​ came​​ across​​ a​​ set​​ of​​ double​​ doors instead.​​ Opening one, he found a ramp which lead into an alley with​​ two dumpsters.​​ Looking inside the dumpsters, he found them empty.​​ Coming​​ out of​​ the alley​​ and into the street,​​ he found his​​ urinal.

From his urinal Walter then​​ headed to Dug’s, Suboxone still in his pocket just in case Maria was lying. But when​​ he​​ arrived at​​ the​​ apartment complex,​​ it was surrounded​​ by police​​ tape​​ and onlookers.

“What happened?” Walter asked one of them.

“A couple​​ running a drug operation were found dead. The​​ man​​ choked after a heroin overdose, and the​​ woman​​ shot herself. The gunshot was what made the neighbors call the police.​​ Crazy world, huh?”

“Yes, crazy world.”

 

 

 

The Silver Year: Chapter 15/16

Chapter 15

The Happy Banshee

 

 

As Walter approached the captivating music, it fell into a meandering instrumental. The bar from which it was emanating was just one small door among many that lined the bottom of a four-story,​​ dilapidated and faded, redbrick building. There was a sign above the entrance, dimly lit by a yellowed light and spotted with graffiti. Its edges were wrapped in years of rust. The weathered words on it read:​​ Maloe Melo- Home of The Blues.

Looking inside the open door, Walter saw nothing but a sea of dancing tie-dye. Outside, as expected, were some old men, also dressed in tie-dye, smoking and conversing. A playbill was posted to the left of the door under a sign saying: TONIGHT LIVE!/ OPTREDEN VANAVOND! On​​ the playbill was a portrait of a young woman with bright gray eyes and flowers weaved into her wavy vermillion hair. A wry smirk played across her pink cheeks as she mimed playing an invisible guitar.​​ 

Kali & The Easy Wind: A Tribute to The Grateful Dead,​​ Walter read above her image. So that’s what this mysterious sound was. He knew of the Grateful Dead because they influenced much of the music he listened to, but remarkably, he had never listened to them himself. ​​ 

The old men smiled as he walked toward the entrance. One of them gave him a peace sign. “Have a grateful time!” he said.

 

On the other side, the place was perhaps slightly larger than a one-bedroom apartment with a bar running nearly the entire left-hand side length. The narrow corridors were wallpapered with American and European blues festival flyers and an assortment of collected oddities typical of any dive bar. Wall to wall, beneath colorfully backlit mists of swirling marijuana smoke, men and women of all ages danced, many of them in tie-dyed, bohemian attire. There were no subdivisions in the crowd, just a giant mass of varied personalities and energies stitched together by the hand of communal soundwaves. It was as if Walter had stepped through a time portal into the Summer of Love.

On a​​ corner stage, a young and statuesque female drummer tapped along with an energetic female bassist in baggy overalls and pigtails. To their left, a lizard-looking guitarist was whipping his long​​ hair and tongue about manically, while a middle-aged and balding, mad-scientist of a man fingered a stack of keyboards. However, where or whom the singer was, was still a mystery.

But as Walter’s eyes adjusted, he saw her at last, the redhead from the playbill, in the crowd, dancing in the whirlpools of tie-dye. She​​ was dressed in a white summer dress and had white fringed and fingerless gloves that went to her bicep. Her long and balletic body was spinning wildly while people poured around her like prairie grass.​​ 

Turning his way, her spinning stopped. Smiling, she then pulled back her wet hair and splayed her elbows like the cape of a cobra as an upsurge of music filled the room. She then threw her arms down in a dramatic arc timed with a disco-tinged synth chord struck by the mad-scientist. The crowd went into a frenzy of​​ ahs​​ as everyone seemed to be anticipating something only unknown to Walter.

The redhead then hopped on stage and picked up a well-used, black Gibson S-1 and began playing it, bopping along to the music with a shit-eating grin. “You tell me this town​​ ain't got no heart…” she sang like a happy banshee.

​​ “Well, well, well, you can never tell…” the crowd chanted back, dancing as if they were alone at home in their underwear.

The sudden jostling of feet pushed Walter to the center of the room and his arms​​ and legs began wagging unconsciously like the others around him.​​ WOO!​​ everyone then yelled as they jumped into the air and landed on a springy chorus about a place called “Shakedown Street”.​​ 

Like the first, this song too eventually went into another long​​ and meandering jam, during which Walter was passed several joints and handshakes from the people around him. The jam then tumbled into another bouncy tune, but this one more reggae-rooted, but not exactly reggae. The change inspired another flurry of excitement from the crowd.

“Shakedown to Scarlet—that’s unheard of!” someone yelled nearby, while everyone shook their heads and bodies in agreement that they were indeed sharing in on something special.​​ 

As the song played and the happy banshee sang,​​ phrases of verse caught Walter’s ear, each one more relatable, until it seemed his thoughts were being sung into lyrics, lyrics he had just heard earlier that night.

Once in a while you get shown the light in the strangest of places if you look at it right...”

The phrase stunned Walter into stasis. Apparently the therapist in his head was a Deadhead.

To his surprise, the banshee also appeared to have been shot by the same sensation. Fingers frozen over her fretboard, she was now dumbstruck by Walter, glaring him down with bewildered ferocity, making her miss the cue for the next verse. She shook her head, then signaled to her confused bandmates to play another measure, after which she finished the song, opting out of the typical extended jam.

“Thank you.​​ Dank je,” she told the applauding audience in what Walter assessed to be an American accent. “We’re going to take a very short intermission now, but we’ll be back soon.” Unlike her singing, her speaking voice had the tranquil nature of a folk song, the banshee all but dispelled—that is until she advanced on him.

 “Where did you get that shirt?” she demanded. Walter, in disbelief she was actually speaking to him, could say nothing. “Spreekt u Engels?”

“What?” he said.

“English. Do you speak English?​​ Where did you get that shirt?”

“Oh…” he looked down at his shirt. “I-I borrowed it from a friend after I made a mess out of my other one.”

“Who’s your friend?”

“Um, I’m not so sure I should tell you by the way you’re looking at me . . . Why? What is this​​ shirt to you?”

She pulled back her emotions a bit before answering. “It’s a lot of things to me,” she said, “but luna hunny is me.”

Walter shook his head, thinking his brain was playing tricks on him again. “Did you just say you’re luna hunny?” he asked. “You’re the artist on my shirt?”

“I was,” she replied, “but I haven’t been for over two years now.”

“There’s no way . . . Well, if you really are, I have some questions for you then.”

“And so do I, and you’re going to answer them first. Like, who’s your​​ friend and where did he get the shirt?”

“My friend…” Walter hesitated, not sure what he should reveal. “My friend, well, I only met him tonight, so can’t say he’s a close friend. I’m just visiting from California. This is my first and only night in Amsterdam.”

“California?” she said. “I’m from San Fran myself. Where are you from?”

“Orange County and L.A. I’m kind of in between right now. How’d you end up in Amsterdam?”

“Funny you should ask because it has a lot to do with that shirt. I moved to Amsterdam on a student visa thinking luna hunny had a larger fanbase here than in the States. However, come to find out later after I was out ten thousand dollars for a new inventory buy and design costs, the European label I thought was selling so much merchandise and records for me was nothing but a laundering front for a cocaine operation. In reality, I had no fans in Europe at all. Now spill it. Who’s your friend?”

Inside, Walter began freaking out. No wonder Dug was so against this bar. He must’ve known she would be here. But having just met this girl, Walter was unsure where his allegiance stood, however, he also was never good at lying under pressure.

“Dug,” he answered. “His name was Dug.”

“Doug?” she said.

 “Yeah, spelt​​ D-U-G​​ though.” Her face told him this was not a name familiar to her.

“Where does​​ Dug​​ live?” she asked.

“God if I know. Some apartment on some canal. He found me in the streets pretty fucked earlier up after I lost my friends and let me clean up at his house, even though I was a stranger. He also gave me new clothes because I had ruined mine, and that’s how I got this shirt. He really seemed like a good guy, however, we didn’t part on the greatest terms.”

“Why’s that?” she asked.

“I wrecked his expensive tandem bicycle we were riding on​​ purpose.”

“Why’d you do that?”

“I’m still not exactly sure, because it kind of was an asshole move. However, I heard your music coming from the bar and I wanted to stop and listen, but he didn’t, and he wouldn’t stop to let me off, so I crashed the bicycle.”​​ 

 She snickered. “Hm,” she said. “That’s interesting. Where is he now?”​​ 

“I’m not sure. And I have no way of contacting him.” Walter showed her his obliterated cellphone.

“What happened to your phone?” she asked.

“I was having a bad trip on edibles​​ and thought light monsters were coming out of it so I threw it. Like I said, I was pretty fucked up earlier.”

She let out a guffaw. “Making the most of your night in Amsterdam I see,” she said. “Do know how to get back to his apartment?”

“We took a secret​​ bicycle route only he knew and I was on the back not paying attention. We went over some canals and through some neighborhoods, that’s all I can tell you.”

Shiva scanned Walter over for any hint of fabrication, which none of it was. He just omitted a few damning details.

“Can I ask you something now?” he said.

“What?” she asked.

“What’s the phrase on my shirt mean?”

“I think the meaning is pretty straightforward,​​ to say life has no meaning is not to say it has no value. It’s a lyric from one of my​​ songs.”

“Yes, I figured that. But was there an inspiration behind the lyric?”

“Yes, and probably more so than any other lyric I’ve written. It was inspired by a birthday I spent alone in a place called Pacific Grove in northern California. Every year, monarch butterflies gather in trees​​ there during their annual migration over thousands of miles, a journey none of them would live long enough to see completed. So as I watched them take off from the trees, I thought how meaningless their lives were to themselves, but everything to the species. But our lives are no different; just pieces of a journey we’ll never see completed unless we somehow find ourselves at its end, which for us and butterflies could be soon if we don’t start caring more about the journey and less about ourselves . . . Are you tearing up?”

“Sorry,” Walter said wiping his eyes. “You’re just—I mean that was just so beautiful, and beautifully said. Also, I find myself crying easily nowadays. For the longest time I never did, but I’ve sure made​​ up for it in the last year.”

She smiled and took his hands away from his cheeks. “Don’t apologize,” she said. “There’s never a reason to hide your tears. I also never used to cry, but now I find myself needing to just to feel balanced sometimes.”

“God, me​​ too,” Walter said. “So, is the image yours too?”

“No, the label provided it. I had my own artwork, but when they sent me that, I couldn’t refuse. It was perfect. I never did find out who made it though.”

“Is there anywhere I can hear this song?” he asked.

“Nope. I wiped luna hunny from the earth and the internet because it became nothing but a painful humiliation for me. I know it sounds melodramatic, but the whole experience gave me a breakdown I almost didn’t recover from.”

“No...” Walter smirked. “I actually understand completely.”

They were then interrupted by her lizard-looking guitarist. “Hey Shiva, you okay to go back up yet?” he asked in an Australian accent. Aussies just seemed to be everywhere in Europe. “The crowd’s getting antsy since we cut the​​ first set so short. But also, I was hoping we’d have time to play ‘Cobrasnake’ again tonight.”

Shiva, Walter thought.​​ Her name is Shiva.

“No Lou,” Shiva said. “If I let you play your song again, then Cage will want to play his stupid song about his cat again. I only let you guys do them that one time because I was drunk. This is a​​ Grateful Dead​​ tribute, not your own band. Ashlyn and Jayleen never ask me to play their own songs. I’ll go up when I’m ready.” She signaled him away.

Men,” Shiva said after her guitarist left. “Why do they always have to stick their ego in everything? But he’s right. I should get back up. You a fan of the Dead?”

“I think I will be after tonight,” Walter said. “This is my first time hearing their music—or I think it is. I keep​​ having this feeling like I’ve been here before.”

She smiled. “Your first show, I’m honored. And the Dead’s music can have that effect on you. It just means the magic’s working. But just wait until second set. That’s when it really starts flowing.”

“What do​​ you mean?” he asked.

“Well, let’s just say anything can happen during the second set of a Dead show—even if it is just a tribute show.” Shiva then eyed his hat. “I like your hat. Mind if I wear it for second set? I promise to give it back after.”

“Okay,”​​ Walter said with no objection.

She leaned in as if going for a kiss, but at the last moment maneuvered up and lifted the hat away. She put it on and tilted it back so that the brim formed a bright orange halo behind her head.

“How do I look?” she asked.​​ 

“Like a psychedelic Virgin Mary,” he replied. She seemed very content with that.

 

In her long and breezy dress, Shiva appeared to fly back onstage. She then picked up her guitar and romanced from it an icy blues riff, and like well-drilled soldiers, her band fell in step as the house lights drenched the room in a bottomless blue while a tune crooned like cancer slowly squeezing life from its victim like toothpaste from a tube.

Y'know death don't have no mercy in this land…” Shiva cut the air like a preacher​​ from a pulpit. In contrast to their earlier playful manner, the crowd fell silent, drifting away behind their eyelids as they rocked to the funeral march rhythm. A Dead show wasn’t just flowers and sunshine Walter was seeing, but more so a journey which mirrored the perverted path and beat of life.​​ 

After the song burned itself out, from it arose a new one, fluttering off of Shiva’s fingers like the first flaps of freshly-budded butterfly wings. The crowd then rejoiced as the house lights warmed the scene​​ with rays of orange, red, and yellow. She then went to the mic, her gray eyes glowing in Walter’s direction.

My favorite, she mouthed to him, then told the epic of “Terrapin Station”, a story which again seemed to strum upon every part of him.

The rest of​​ the second set was as tumultuous as promised. At one moment exultant and droll, the next forlorn and frightening; at one​​ moment psychedelic, the next country, jazz, then who knows what to call it. For fifteen minutes, the music just hung in an ambient space of hallucinogenic soundscapes and drums, while everyone including the band took turns going to the bathroom. Then like a tiny crack, a spidery preamble crawled into the suspended air and shattered it with the tale of someone named “St. Stephen”. Then someone named “Bertha”, someone named “Althea”, then a song about women being smarter, then an acoustic and palliative encore about a place called “Brokedown Palace” just to send everyone off equalized.​​ 

After, Shiva took a humble bow in front of the small sea of roaring adulation, of which Walter was ardently a part of, clapping his hands until they hurt. After some schmoozing and tidying away of her things onstage, she soon floated back to him.

“Here,” she said lifting his hat from her head. “See, I​​ promised I’d return it.”

She came in close to crown him with it. He could feel the heat of the performance still radiating from her body. She fussed with the hat for longer than seemed necessary until it was seated just to her liking.

“There, perfect,” she​​ said taking her hands away.

“You’re unlike any performer—or really any person I’ve ever met before,” Walter said.

“Thank you, but you hardly know me. But let’s change that. Come with me to the bar.”​​ 

 

 

Chapter 16

The Tower

 

 

Taking a seat at the now​​ mostly empty bar, Shiva hailed an older gentlemen behind it with a mustache, smoking a cigar. “Patrick, can you get me an Amstel with a shot of Jack and my friend here a...” she eyed Walter to finish the order.​​ 

“Make it two of that.”

“You got it my dear,”​​ Patrick replied in a Dutch accent and got their drinks.

Sante,” Shiva said holding up her shot to Walter.

Sante,” he replied. “Et merci pour les boissons.”

Tu parles français?”​​ 

Oui, mais juste un peu.​​ J'aime beaucoup de philosophes français. ‘Je pense, donc je suis.’”

She laughed. “D’accord​​ Monsieur Descartes,” she said. “Et j'aime beaucoup de poètes français. ‘Il pleure dans mon cœur comme il pleut sur la ville.’”

“You lost me on that one,” he said. “Also, I don’t know a lot of French poetry.”

“Verlaine, but that’s okay. Also you’re​​ welcome for the drinks, but thank him.” Shiva nodded to Patrick. “They’re on the house, but that doesn’t mean you can’t tip the man…” Her eyes and smile insinuated he should. Walter took a few Euro coins from his​​ pocket and splashed them on the bar.

“No,” Patrick said pushing them back, “but thank you. This young lady brings me so much business I feel guilty she doesn’t ask for more.”

“You perform just for drinks?” Walter asked Shiva.

“Of course not,” she said.

“Yes she does,” Patrick insisted. “All she asks for is free drinks and joints. The rest goes to her charity, half the cost of every drink and joint sold here tonight.”

“You run a charity?” Walter asked.

Shiva looked at Patrick annoyed. “Yes,” she said. “Technically it’s run under my roommate’s name though since I’m not living here legally. She’s actually the ‘Kali’ in Kali & The Easy Wind, the name of the band and the charity. But Kali’s just her legal name. She’s ‘Mags’ to me and everyone who knows her. We started the charity together, but it’s really just been me for a while now.”

“What’s the charity for?” Walter asked.​​ 

“Helping human trafficking victims in Amsterdam. Although prostitution’s legal, a lot of girls are still trafficked here when they’re young​​ and brainwashed by pimps who pretend to be their boyfriends, or what’s called a ‘loverboy’. Mags, who’s an independent prostitute, introduced me to this uglier side of the sex trade. Originally we planned a charity cabaret show based on David Bowie’s​​ Diamond Dogs, but then her ‘career’ started taking off. So, since I grew up listening and playing them all my life, I started a Grateful Dead tribute with some musicians I knew in town instead.” ​​ 

“Yeah, but that​​ Diamond Dogs​​ cabaret show would’ve still been awesome to see,” Walter said. “David Bowie is my favorite artist.”

“Funny. Bowie is Mags’s favorite too,” Shiva said.

“So were your parents Deadheads?” he asked.

“Yes, but more so my dad than my mom. She always liked Neil Young more, which I can’t fault her.​​ I love Neil just as much as the Dead.”

“Funny. Neil Young was a favorite of a friend of mine who recently passed away.”

“I’m sorry to hear. How’d they pass?”

He cleared his throat, then took a drink. “You don’t want to hear it,” he said. “It’s not a fun conversation.”

“My mother died when I was six. Does that bring the mood down enough for you?”

He stared at her in awe. “Um,” he began blinking rapidly, “she... she killed herself. And she wasn’t just my friend, she was my ex—I mean, she was my girlfriend.”​​ 

Shiva’s jaw dropped. “I’m sorry I pressured you,” she said, followed by a brief silence. “My mother also killed herself,” she then said quietly. “Is it me, or is there a lot of alignment between us?”

“If you mean coincidences,” Walter said, “yes, I’ve​​ taken notice of that too—even more than you know. My mother also died when I was young. She died giving birth to me. I also have a ‘musical identity’ back home you could say I’m trying to run away from. And funny​​ enough, I also used to be in a tribute band, but Guns N’ Roses though. However, I don’t really believe in ‘alignment’, otherwise I might have to start believing in astrology and every other pseudoscientific or religious system of divination.”

“So what system do you believe in then?” she asked.

“Reason. And reason says alignment is nothing more than our exceptional pattern recognition skills stringing together anomalous coincidences into meaning something more; our own evolution playing tricks on us essentially.”

Shiva burst into laughter. “So you’re​​ basically saying alignment is only acceptable when it can undoubtably be proven not to be alignment?” she said. “See, that’s the paradox about you ‘reason’ types. On one hand you’re trying to disprove God, yet on the other you want to prove the universe has some predictable course so long as it’s under your control. But if it’s not ‘anomalous coincidences’ guiding our lives, then what is? Do you think the monarch butterfly knows why it flies to places it’s never been yet somehow knows how to find?”

“So what?” Walter said. “You’re saying some greater power brought us together?”

“I don’t know and I don’t care, but I won’t ignore the signs. It’s not every day the universe sends me someone wearing my past on their shirt.”

Shiva then reached into her handbag and​​ pulled out a well-worn hemp case containing a deck of cards.

“What are those?” Walter asked.

“Tarot cards. You mind if I do a reading for us? I’m sure ‘reason’ says you have nothing to be afraid of.”

He looked at the cards nervously. “No,” he said. “I suppose it should be fun if anything.”

Shiva began shuffling the deck, then dealt out four cards in a cross formation on the bar.

“We’ll keep this simple,” she said. “The card on the left will represent you, the card on the right will represent me, the card on the bottom will represent what brings us together, and the card on top will represent our future. You first.”

Walter flipped his card over.

“The Fool,” Shiva said. “The Fool is number zero in the Major Arcana deck and therefore can be placed at the beginning or end of it. Because of this, the Major Arcana is often considered the Fool’s​​ journey. And as you can see on the card, the Fool is setting out on a journey with nothing but a knapsack, gazing up into the sky unaware he’s about to walk off a cliff into the unknown. But by his side is a small white dog, there to protect, guide, and motivate him through the lessons he came on this journey to learn . . . Sound like someone you know?”

​​ “I’ll admit,” Walter said, “the Fool and I have some uncanny similarities. But I’m sure I’d find similarities with any card you could have pulled. Anyway, you now.”

Shiva turned over her card. “The Tower,” she said.

“What’s the Tower mean?” he asked.

“Upheaval, destruction, chaos.”

“That doesn’t sound good.”

“Yes, but in​​ the end, it’s for the highest good. As seen on the card, a tower has been built upon a shaky foundation. A lightning bolt from the universe of sudden clarity and insight then strikes it down along with a crown which once stood atop the tower. From the tower’s windows, two people are leaping into the unknown. However, around them are twenty-two flames, representing the twelve signs of the​​ zodiac and the ten points of the Tree of Life, reminding them divine intervention is always there.”

“So, are you the Tower?” Walter asked.

“I did come to Europe on a ‘tower’ of false premises,” Shiva said. “And I’m still living in its ruins you could say. I just can’t decide whether to start all over or rebuild from the rubble, and it’s been that way for a while now . . . Maybe my answer has to do with whatever’s brought us together.”

Shiva turned the card, a skeleton in black armor riding a white horse: Death. They stared at it in silence for several seconds.

“I guess that card needs no explaining,” Walter said.

“Yes, but Death’s not always a bad thing. It’s also symbolic of letting go of something that’s no longer serving you. However, in our case, I think Death might be more literal than symbolic.”

“Yes,” Walter said taking a deep breath, “but I’m finding it highly symbolic​​ too . . . Do you have a phone with internet access? I need you to read something, then there’s something I want to show you after. If anyone can make sense of it, it’s going to be you.”

“Okay...” she said looking slightly afraid, then handed him her phone. He brought up the Rolling Stone interview, then handed it back.

“There,” he said. “Read.”

He then watched fretfully as she learned his most intimate secrets. Every so often she’d stop and look up at him as if to reassure herself he was indeed the​​ same hideous creature on the screen. At last, she then set down the phone.

“Your name is​​ Walter Huxley?” Shiva asked furrowing her eyebrows.

“Yes,” he said. “I guess we forgot to exchange names. Yours is Shiva—or at least that’s what everyone calls you around here.”

“You know,” she smiled unexpectedly, “your name sounds like a bad penname. And your stage name isn’t much better. No wonder you said you had a musical identity back home you were running away from. I would too if my name was Quinn Quark. However, I was totally oblivious anything was still happening in rock back in The States. But uh... Amber, your girlfriend. I thought you said she killed herself?”

Walter then explained every gruesome detail.

“Wow,” Shiva said after. “That’s... that’s really heavy. I’m so sorry.”

“So does it change your opinion about me?” he asked.

“I don’t know. I’ve hardly known you long enough to form an opinion, and I’m not going to let a magazine article make it. Everyone has at least one secret they don’t want anyone to know. Yours, unfortunately, was just put in Rolling Stone. However, if you want to hear my secret, it might definitely change your opinion on me.”

“All right,” Walter said. “Let’s hear it.”

Shiva took a deep breath, then began. “Before my charity was a charity​​ for human trafficking victims,” she said, “it was really just robbery for human trafficking victims so they could buy themselves out of it. Mags, myself, and some other friends—some formerly trafficked themselves—would prowl the swankier places in town to​​ find rich, gullible tourists who were too drunk or too high to know what they were spending and sell them on a girl we knew was under the control of a loverboy. We’d then deliver the sucker to her personally, but not before taking a finder’s fee, which usually doubled the price, but always went to the girl, that way she made just as much as her loverboy. However, after someone complained about me to a loverboy because I got a bit testy with him after he grabbed my ass, the loverboy became wise to our scheme. But instead of taking it out on me, he took it out on the girl. She was in a coma for two weeks before she died of brain injuries.​​ Her name was Maria, and only one person outside of you knows about her.”

“Wow,” Walter said agape. “I guess we’re connected by Death in many ways on many dimensions. Outside of, well, Amber’s mother, I didn’t think I could share that kind of guilt with anyone. It was just too heavy.”

“So does it change your opinion about me?” she asked.

“Yes,” he smiled timidly, “but only in​​ a good way. It’s nice to know you’re not perfect.”

“I’m glad you think that,” she said smiling back. “Because after reading that article I felt the same way about you . . . So, what was it you wanted to show me now?”

“Right, I almost forgot,” Walter said then reached into his wallet and removed a small plastic bag with Amber’s suicide note inside. “It’s actually a connection I’ve been trying to rationalize all night before I even met you, but alignment keeps working against me. Honestly, I’m expecting to wake up anytime now. Something about this night doesn’t seem real. I think I’m dreaming.”

Shiva took his hand and pressed​​ it​​ near her sternum. “You feel that beating?” she said. “I can assure you, you are not in a dream.”

“We’ll see how you feel after this,” he​​ said taking the note out of the bag and unfolding it. “You only need to read as far as the first sentence of the second paragraph to understand what I mean,” he said giving it to her.

She read then gasped, unable to take her eyes from it. “What value does​​ a life have without meaning?”​​ she said. “To say life has no meaning is not to say it has no value.”

“Sounds like something from the​​ Tao Te Ching, right?” Walter said. “So do you think there’s a connection? Maybe it has something to do with your​​ mother’s suicide.”

“No,” Shiva said defensively. “I assure you my mother’s suicide has no relevance.”

“Why? How did she...”

“Did she do it? She overdosed on pain pills. Why she did it, that’s a secret only my mom and I share. I’m sorry. And honestly, I don’t know if there’s a connection. I think we might be stringing together coincidences now.”

“Listen to you,” Walter said.

“Listen to you,” she replied.

“Maybe our future card might have an answer then,” he said and turned it.

“Oh my God,” Shiva said under her breath. She then brought her hands to her face and sighed.

“What?” Walter asked.​​ 

“The Ace of Cups. Okay, maybe my mother might be involved. But never mind that for now. Um, as you can see a chalice, symbolic of the universe’s invitation for​​ divine love, is overflowing onto a sea of lotus blossoms, representing a coming awakening of the human spirit, but only if one is willing to accept the universe’s invitation for divine love first. However, few ever do. Divine love always looks like certain​​ madness in the beginning, but peace isn’t sewn without passing through the eye of insanity first.”

She then picked up the card and handed it to him. “I never thought I’d ever give this card away,” she said, “but it’s what alignment is telling me to do.”

“I don’t understand,” he said.

“Neither do I completely. But just keep it as a reminder of the chalice waiting to be filled in you. That’s all I can say . . . How about a​​ change of atmosphere?” Shiva said standing up and putting away the cards. “Patrick’s closing soon anyway.”

“What about your gear?” Walter asked.

“I keep it here.”

“All right. Where to then?”

“The only place I know to go this late at night; a place where we can practice our French, dance to some music, and see some titties:​​ La Lune Rouge. I​​ guarantee you won’t find any other place like it in Amsterdam.”