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The question of whether Vance was dead or not became more than academic when he found himself in a bathtub up to his chin in ice water like some forgotten cocktail garnish, a demonic woman standing over him, and no memory of how he got there.
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ParaV:PVCACD Chapter 1 - Meeting Miss Doolittle

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“My name’s Vance Coreman and I see things that other people don’t.”
The question of whether Vance was dead or not became more than academic when he found himself in a bathtub up to his chin in ice water like some forgotten cocktail garnish, a demonic woman standing over him, and no memory of how he got there. But that question was one among legion, because what memories he did have were as comforting as a blackjack in the dark. So it wasn’t surprising when he found out that trouble was his business, and business was kicking his door down. (e)

Chapter 1 — Meeting Miss Doolittle

I fumbled to awareness shivering and floating in darkness. A ringing grew until I realized it was inside me.

I willed my eyes open. A red glare singed its way along my optic nerves like acid fire. I squeezed them shut. As if the red light had melted a layer of ice between my mind and body, sensation flooded in.

Something methodical in me sorted through and cataloged it all. The ache in my head and the ringing in my ears slowly diminished. Uncontrollable shivering shook my limbs, sending waves of pain up my back. I was fully clothed and floating face up in water to my chin. Ice cubes jostled my cheeks and lips. I drew in a lungful of moist air, pungent with a complex chemical reek. The clinical, cataloging part of my mind concluded it was a mixture of sulfur, ozone, and smoke.

I groped downward with fingers swollen and water logged. They encountered a chill ceramic surface. I traced it outward in both directions. Just at the limit of my outstretched arms it began to curve upward leading me to deduce that I was in a large tub or possibly a small pool.

A woman’s voice drifted down. It slipped through the ringing to insinuate itself into my awareness. “Are you going to laze around in there all day, Mr. Coreman?”

The voice sparked a sense of indignation that I wasn’t alone in this chill world. Then, like the melting of the barrier between mind and body, questions began to pour in. Who was she talking to? Was she talking to me? Was I this Mr. Coreman? I tried to remember my name, but nothing came to me. I pushed the boundaries of my memory trying to get past the cold water enveloping me, but there was only dark nothingness. I knew my past should be where I found only blank emptiness.

The sound of water pouring down onto a hard surface and the distant gurgling of a drain filled the space the woman’s voice had left. The sides of the tub began to press against my hands, and I realized that it was shrinking. The leaden fatigue filling my limbs extinguished the flame of curiosity the woman’s voice had originally sparked, even before my back settled onto the bottom and my knees breached the surface of the water. I was thankful when the splashing ceased, easing the pain of my throbbing headache.

The quiet stretched out for several long moments after the tub had stopped shrinking. I focused on the thudding of my heart. A calm detachment returned and the pain faded. I began to hope the irritating presence of the woman was gone.

I was disappointed when I heard an exasperated sound halfway between a sigh and a tsk. “Really, Mr. Coreman, I have been more than patient with you. There are things you need to do.”

I refused to open my eyes or acknowledge her presence. Despite my best effort to think of nothing, my mind once again began to grope. Like my fingers, swollen and clumsy from the pain, my mind tried to find the shape of who I was and how I had come to be there.

“Mr. Coreman,” she said, her voice clearer as the ringing continued to diminish. “This is beyond your usual games. Get out of that bathtub.”

I cracked my eyes open again. The pain in my skull only incrementally increased with the glare of red light. After a moment, I saw that, sure enough, I was laying fully clothed almost entirely submerged in a bathtub full of water. A slim layer of dying ice cubes jostled on the surface like the lonely remnants of a gin and tonic.

“Mrs. Grimnir is scheduled to arrive for a consultation at 3:30. That’s in thirty-eight minutes,” the woman said. “Which is sufficient time to get presentable, if you don’t waste it dawdling in the bath.”

My eyes focused on the figure seated on the edge of the tub near where my knees rose above the surface of the water. She was dressed in a black and white striped pant suit—at least I think it was black and white, as it was difficult to distinguish what the real colors were in the red light. Her jacket was tightly cinched at her waist by a black belt with a large, plain rectangular silver buckle. To top the ensemble off, perched on her head was a black and white striped hat shaped like a paper boat. It had a matching black band and silver buckle. The hair under the flaring hat was long, black, and wavy. Her face was pale in the red light, lips pursed in obvious frustration. I blinked to make sure, but yes, there seemed to be two small horns poking through the hair sweeping over her forehead.

“Are you talking to me?” I said, still hoping we were both mistaken. My voice was a barely intelligible croak.

She made the exasperated tsking sound again. I thought I saw something long and thin flick through the air behind her. Did she have a tail?

“Of course I’m talking to you, Mr. Coreman. Do you see anyone else in this shabby excuse for a bathroom?”

“Oh,” I said. The pain in my head seemed to be receding from jackhammer enthusiasm to a more manageable buzzing of a disturbed bee hive.

“‘Oh’?” she echoed. “I would ask you if you were feeling up to meeting with Mrs. Grimnir, but since you are already several months behind in your rent, not to mention my salary, I don’t think you have any choice in the matter.”

She seemed certain of my identity. “Fine,” I said, wishing I knew something, anything, that would help me argue her into allowing me a few more minutes of oblivion.

She uncrossed her legs and stood as I stirred, preparing myself for the effort of climbing out of the tub. A sudden irrational fear that she was going to leave seized me. “Wait,” I said, “Miss—?”

A look of mild puzzlement crossed her face. “Doolittle,” she said. “Audrey Doolittle.”

“Miss Doolittle,” I said, trying it out. “Audrey Doolittle.” There wasn’t a hint or echo in my mind to accompany the name.

“Yes, Mr. Coreman?”

“It’s nice to meet you,” I said. “I’m...” I trailed off, not knowing how to continue.

“Really, Mr. Coreman,” Miss Doolittle said. “Is this some sort of joke? I’ve been your secretary since you were discharged from the army, and while your sense of humor has been eccentric, you’ve never joked about something like this.”

“Well,” I said, wondering as I spoke why I was being so candid with this woman. “I hate to break it to you, Miss Audrey Doolittle, but I don’t remember being discharged from the army, or, for that matter—” With an effort, I waved at the tub and surrounding room, “—anything before waking up here.”


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Chapter 2 — Out of the Tub and Into...?

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