The message drips in blood off of the wall, beginning a spiral of events that will take Chrispen and Alexis Brooks through the depths of hell and back, as they discover that some things in life are worth fighting for.
The dream started with a scream.
“He’s got that poor girl! Somebody stop him!”
I reached into my purse and hauled out a silenced pistol, running out into the street, taking as careful aim as I could manage under the circumstances.
Snick, snick–two silenced shots in quick successions.
“It’s just another day at the firing range,” I muttered to myself.
“–just another few targets down at the range–”
“–just a group of targets that happen to be spinning, and moving away from you, and in uncomfortably close proximity to people.” I lowered the pistol and wiped the sweat from my forehead.
Six shots fired, four tires blown out, no casualties. The car screeched and swerved to an undignified halt, sideways in the street like a toy car tossed aside by a giant child.
The back door flew open and a man came charging out, brandishing a weapon and cursing so quickly it was impossible to pick out individual words.
“You just cannot stop interfering, can you, woman? You could have left well enough alone and lived, but no–you keep making yourself a thorn in my side! No more, do you hear me? No more!”
He raised that big gun.
I was numb with fear, I couldn’t feel my hands or my feet–but I understood what I had to do. I pulled the pistol up and lined the sights up with that hateful, horrible man, squeezed the trigger–
–and heard the hollow click of an empty cartridge. I was out, and I was dead.
The first time I saw the Zwickauer Mulde, I wondered how it would feel to throw myself into a river like that one.
I suppose I should have accepted that as an omen, and demanded that we fly back to America that instant.
Instead I shrugged it off and turned away from the passenger-side window of the rented Mercedes. Jet lag could do strange things to a person. The midnight drive to the Dayton airport…the layover in Chicago…the seemingly endless flight to Leipzig…Alexis and I hadn’t slept properly for far too long.
He glanced at me, then back at the road. “Are you okay over there?”
I smiled, but it felt kind of weak. “Didn’t Robert Schumann throw himself into this river?”
“No. That was the Rhine. He was born in Zwickau, remember?”
I nodded. I really was jet-lagged if I had forgotten that. Schumann’s birth in 1810 in this town was the whole reason we were here, after all. One week from today–June eighth, Schumann’s birthday, and coincidentally our first wedding anniversary–the Philharmoniker Zwickauer would have a special concert. In celebration of the one-hundredth anniversary of the great composer’s birth, they had contracted Alexis to perform Schumann’s Violin Concerto in D minor with them. The concert had been sold out for weeks.
I was along for the ride, but I didn’t seem to be enjoying it very much. This was my very first trip outside the United States, and I had been impossible to live with for months, crazy with excitement.
And yet, since we had arrived in Germany, a pall had fallen over my mood. I was gripped by a peculiar melancholy, filled with an unspeakable dread. I wasn’t afraid that something bad was going to happen.
I was certain of it.
“You aren’t still thinking about that crazy phone call, are you?” Alexis’s tone was deliberately, falsely light.
I glanced at him, then quickly turned back to the window. “No. No, of course not.”
Of course I was, and he was, too, whether either of us would admit it or not.
“It didn’t mean anything, you know,” he said conversationally.
“It was just a prank, or she was a couple sandwiches short of a picnic.”
“I know,” I repeated.
She hadn’t sounded like a joker, though, and she hadn’t sounded crazy. She had sounded perfectly sincere, and she had begged us not to go to Germany. Alexis had answered the call, and what he’d heard upset him enough that he signaled me to pick up the extension.
“You could have your choice of venue, Mr. Brooks, any where in the world. Please, do not go to Germany. Not now. I beg this of you. Nothing good will come of this trip.”
The voice was utterly unfamiliar. The woman had given no name. Caller information had been blocked.
There was not a single rational reason to take her seriously, or to give any thought to anything she said. At least, that was what I kept telling myself, pushing aside the memory of that dream. I mean, it was just a crazy dream. Right?
And yet, I couldn’t seem to get that phone call out of my head.
Nothing good will come of this trip.
Maybe I could have better ignored it if I hadn’t secretly agreed.