Albert was leading everyone down the alley, under dripping fire escapes, hugging walls, trying to avoid the water clinging to the gutter down the center of the corridor. Eric, trying to get his attention, finally snagged Albert’s coat at the elbow. Loo, who was behind Albert, hopped out of the way, nearly stomping in a puddle. She watched the two carefully, dissecting every steam of breath. How could Eric walk around in a t-shirt? Why was he so impatient as to grab Albert so harshly? She wanted to butt in, tell them to shut up and keep moving. She wanted to get inside somewhere else, a bar, anything to escape the cold. Eric should know by now how Albert acted with this whole disappearance as well as the way he gathered every scrap of information he could find about Cowell Towers and the Geheimnisse. Eric should know to give Albert time to think.
"What did you slip in your pocket back there?” Eric asked.
Albert didn’t try to pull his arm away. He had his head down as if reflections were more important than voices. “Nothing,” he said.
“That wasn’t nothing.”
Albert looked up and changed the subject. “Let’s get something to eat. Can we go to Chinatown or something? How about the Z & Y?”
"That’s all the way across the bay,” Loo said, hugging herself.
Albert shook his head at her. “Are you even hungry?”
“I ate at home. Dad cooked.”
"Then you don’t get a vote.”
"Why am I feeling sorry for you then?” she said.
“I’m sorry. I’m just thinking.”
Eric wasn’t about to give up. “I’m down for Z & Y soon as you tell me what that was all about back there.”
“It’s a note.”
“I can see that. From who?”
"Let’s get to the BART,” Loo said. “I’m freezing.”
“No, let’s talk now,” Eric said.
“I don’t want to talk.” Albert paced around avoiding puddles, holding tight to his book.
“How did you know that paper or whatever it is was going to be in the moose?”
Loo leaned against a brick wall. Using a felt pen she kept in her purse, she started sketching Albert and Eric, their silhouettes in the alley, faces half lit, long puddles stretching around their feet into blackness. Brick walls off the page. She paid close attention to Albert’s hunched shoulders. She drew a line of continuation up to the corner of a fire escape where plants dripped water from the recent rain, and then followed the line down to reflections of walls, windows and neon, blurred in the thin layer of oily water. She drew other objects that lined up with Eric pointing. A trash bin down the alley, a sheet hanging wet from rain.
“I got an email,” Albert said. “From someone.”
“From someone who knows too much?”
“Here we go again.”
“The guy sent me an email. So what?”
“Just out of the blue someone just sent you an email. Someone who doesn’t even know you.”
“It’s not like that.”
“What’s he talking about, Loo?”
The drawing was coming together. Details in the bricks. Water stains. Red clay stains on calcified mortar. Graffiti markings on the wall DON’T BE LATE FOR HELL, KULTURKAMF and PARADISE NOW.
“Tell Eric about the Horror Fest,” she said.
Eric turned to her.
“You know about this?”
“I don’t know a lot.” Loo was considering adding color to the sketch. She imagined a dragon in the alley. The same one from her dreams, pulsating as if lit from inside, a giant red lantern of scales. Would the three of them ignore imminent destruction? Would they continue with their foolish conversation? She considered going back home. Her father was insistent that she didn’t leave. He wanted to talk about the letter but she told him she wasn’t going to open it, that she might never if he didn’t tell her more about it. He was so cold all of a sudden. Walking into the living room where Angela was flipping through reality television shows as if someone else’s escape was enough for her. She lay there, watching desperation unfold on the flatscreen as if connected by tubes to some physician-assisted suicide, as if this mold of fantasy reality were the parting pill of euthanasia. If Angela was just going to lie there and he wasn’t ready to talk then why should Loo open a letter that she was just going to cry over? She’d be on the hunt like Albert and Eric, searching for the face behind the words. Her Joanna. She wasn’t ready to confront the ink on the page, or pencil, or blood, whatever the letter was written in.
“I told you,” Loo said. “I’m chronicling your mystery.”
“We don’t want a chronicler,” Eric said. “We need another mind.”
Loo’s face was expressionless, like some kind of store mannequin. Eric’s words were just another set of abstractions she could cast into her drawings. Body position. Hand gesture. Condescension. Stupid. Stance symbolic of language. She was teetering on turning him into a demon in all of her drawings. Why not? His tattoos made his skin look blue, disfigured. His narrow head, when she imagined him hairless, was no more than the oblong shape of a goat-eyed whisperer of the dark. She could draw that. His teeth broken daggers.
“You’re wasting your time trying to make her do anything,” Albert said. “I emailed a guy, alright?”
“I’m right here,” Loo said. “You can address me to my face."
"How’d you get his email?” Eric asked, ignoring Loo.
Albert motioned to the wall. “I heard a discussion about the Geheimnisse. They’re launching a campaign against intellectuals in the city. There was a documentary. Professor Rudolf Piot was interviewed in it. It was only about ten minutes long. Anyway, I also heard talk about an email snuck into the end of a zombie short film’s credits, that if anyone sent a message to that email, something about Joanna would be revealed.”
“People are just buying in to the hype.”
“It’s not like that. I heard the director of the zombie film pissed off in the lobby that some dumbass email was on his film that he didn’t put there. He was arguing with the editor. The editor said he worked on the film in one of those artist collectives you pay thirty bucks a month to join. He said any asshole could have jumped onto his editing bay while he was taking a piss. Anyway, the email was being removed from all future copies of the film. There were only about fifty of us in the theater.”
Loo closed her sketchbook and started walking away. “I’m going to the bay without you.”
“No, wait,” Albert said. “We’re coming.” He pulled out the note and hurried after Loo. Eric followed. “It says TEA GARDENS 6 and to be there next Tuesday.”