My name is Aaron Pace, and I’m writing this by hand in a spiral-bound, college-ruled notebook that I found in a student’s backpack inside of an abandoned school bus. All three—the notebook, the backpack, and the school bus—have seen better days. For that matter, so have I.
Emily stood in the doorway to the Rio Cafe and looked around, half–convinced she had the wrong place. The word “cabaret” had conjured up visions of illicit underground doings populated by white–faced pianists in dark, shabby suits, coaxing notes of tragic joy from their instruments. But this was just a really nice pub, full of comfortable, brightly coloured wooden booths perpendicular to a long bar. There were some smaller tables and chairs to the right and back of it, blackboards with specials written on them, and nothing that looked like it could be turned into a stage.

The cocktails there had always been dangerous, but now they were poison. We got the call in at the precinct, and none of us were surprised. We all knew the place was no good, never mind that we’d also all spent some time there. These days we stayed away, or not, depending on how our marriages were going, and how much cash we had in the glove box. There were no trains nearby, and if you ended up out too long, you were staying out. The suburbs were a dream, and you weren’t sleeping.

Bright blue light obliterated everything. She jumped back, falling on her ass, scrambling backwards like a crab, one hand clamped over her eyes. A piercing noise filled the air around her. Stein opened her eyes a fraction. The blue light was still there, still blinding. Blinking, she could see the negative afterimage, a bright slash of orange imprinted on her retinas. Strange black images danced in her vision. Keeping her eyes shut, she clamped her hands over them, squeezing. The images floating on the bright sea of orange coalesced into distinct shapes. They almost looked like letters.