The phone was onto its third obstinate chime before she snatched it up in her immaculate black satin trimmed hand.
"Ms. Grenadine, there's a man in the lobby wants to have a word with you."
"What's his name?"
"Hm, don't recall him. Tell him I'll be down in a minute, will you." Her head tilted to the left as it was keen to do when she was in thought.
"Of course, Ms. Grenadine."
She bandied the phone a moment before hurling it at the receiver, then whisked out a tube of burgundy lipstick and applied it in a slender swishing movement.
She raised a fine eyebrow as she did. Her appearance would conjure up the phrase "femme fatale" in the minds of all who saw her.
She noticed a cocktail napkin beneath her door with red writing that read, 'mind the red herring'. She brushed it off, turned to the door ,and stepped into the long mother of pearl hallway. The elevator pinged and landed on 24, the very top floor, and stayed there some time before falling to her floor.
Her stilettos sliced their way through the outpouring of leather shoes. Her blood red nails grazed the little 1 with a star, and the art deco doors sluiced over her. There were mirrors on either side, each etched with a pattern like Daedalus's labyrinth overlaid with a floor plan for the Winchester house.
There were a thousand slender black clad women to her right and left, which had the effect of making her feel exposed.
The elevator slammed to a stop and pinged amiably as she turned away from the looking glass facsimiles.
"Mind the red herring", hissed the elevator and shut behind her.
The lobby was empty except for a man in a grey suit twirling an umbrella.
She clicked her way to him, maintaining her distance as she approached him with her hand on her Colt revolver.
Don't tell him your name. The words were scrawled across the man's face in a bleeding chicken scratch and then disappeared.
"There's the tall drink I ordered,'' he said, reclining on the lobby chair.
"What do you want?"
"I," he said, "came to relay a message. The praying mantis is in 211."
"Right. I'll take care of it." she said, pivoting back to the door.
"Mind the red herring!" he called after her.
She turned her head once and then receded once more into the elevator. In the distance he spun his umbrella round and round.
She pressed the number 2.
There was a cold savor of gin and cherry brandy on her tongue. Then a sudden sensation as if she was being hit in the right calf and she faltered as her reflections did the same.
She pulled out a napkin to spit in it but the taste lingered, and she had more pressing matters to attend to.
And then, out of the corner of her eye, she saw a man in a gas mask and pale green lab coat bound at the wrists and ankles and lying on a bed in the middle of the hallway.
She took a step towards it and reached out to him, but then the bed and man evaporated like a dream.
She started back and then broke out in a sprint for the room before forgetting a moment where she was. The labyrinthine halls seemed to be closing in before at last, she noted the number 211.
From the knob was swinging a do not disturb tag. She made a rush at it and to her surprise, found it unlocked.
The door swung open to a large suite with black and white checkered carpet and drawn sable curtains. The room was empty although she noted a copy of Grey's Anatomy and On Aphasia, situated beneath an auburn medical case, in which was only a small handgun. She examined the bed and bathroom, but there were no other clues to be found in the dim room and went back to her room to call her employer.
Suddenly a pain like an ice pick set into her right leg and she gasped out in rage and grappled her way back to her room with a limp, profering her key.
However, there had been no need for a keycard. The red door looked as though it had been forced in and she held out her revolver before she turned the knob and kicked the door in.
She surveyed the scene and heard the clattering of glass and spun to face a woman in a green dress through the adjoining door, which she had made sure was locked upon her arrival at the hotel.
"What are you doing in my room?" she demanded, attempting to hide the limp.
The woman in green was sitting massaging her right leg and drinking from a cocktail glass.
She inched her way towards the turned away woman, taking care not to further injure her leg.
The woman took one last swig and laughed outright at seeing her. She couldn't make out her face in the darkness of the room.
Ms. Grenadine now stood in the slim doorway connecting the rooms, and her expression betrayed her bewilderment at this woman in green.
"You can stop with the limp, darling," she said.
"What did you say?"
"You didn't hurt your leg, it was me."
She ignored the banter and put her other hand up to aim the gun.
"Why have you gone through my room?" she asked, "What do you want?"
"I needed to be sure. And I also came to ask a favor of you."
"I don't do favors," she said tartly.
"No, I supposed you wouldn't do anything for free. I know I wouldn't." She propped her leg up on a nearby chair.
There a was a tap at Ms. Grenadine's heel and she looked at it and saw nothing.
The mystery woman was once more amused.
She beckoned to her with her moonglow white gloves, which seemed to reach out of the darkness like disembodied ghosts.
Upon entering the room she perceived the man in a gas mask upon the bed and dropped the gun at her side, bemused and mouth agape
"Who the hell is that? Is he alive?" she said turning to the woman
The shadowed face nodded.
"My friend is out for the moment. But he concerns our affairs. Please. Sit down and let me elucidate."
The figure stood up and was nearly the same height as her. The ghoulish hand reached for the light switch and flicked it on.
She was struck with familiarity and recognized the face, though it took a moment for her to place it. In fact, the face was very nearly the same as the ones she saw in the mirrored elevator.
"You better explain this fast."
Her gun was again directed at the woman
The woman in green put her finger to her pursed lips.
"I'll explain it all. Let me just order some drinks first."
She picked up the phone on the bed stand and dialed the room service number with an impenetrable languor.
"Hello…yes, I'd like to order a couple shots for the room…"
She looked over to Grenadine and twitched the corner of her mouth wryly.
"Two brain hemorrhages...yes just that. And leave it outside the door please. Thank you."
And she dropped the phone on the receiver with a satisfying plunk.
Grenadine eyed her suspiciously.
The woman in emerald held out her hand.
"We haven't been introduced. Ms. Wormwood."
The hand remained ungraced by the handshake of the burgundy lipped woman
"Suits you." she said.
Ms. Wormwood sat down across from her.
"So, where to start…well let me put this way what's the first memory you have?"
"Why should I tell you?"
"Come on, just play the game."
She leaned back.
"I don't have any memories until about seven."
"And why is that?"
"I just don't. I don't see how this is relevant."
There was a rap at the door. Wormwood arched her back and gracefully drifted to the door where she found a serviette with two bloody looking things artfully placed.
She lifted them off and set them next to each other on the table.
"Couldn't be more obvious with the Grenadine."
"Mmm and that's not even the obvious part..."
She revolved the glasses in her hand while she continued her little game.
"You are, there's no memories from that time for a very specific reason. Why you can't string the evidence together or make it into a logical narrative. That reason being that you had a surgery which compromised not only the left hemisphere of your brain, but also caused a coma for two years of your life."
"What? No, there was no surgery."
"And what about that scar in your hairline there?" she said, "I have one too."
She brushed the black bangs on the right side of her face back and there was a clear scar that extended almost to her eyebrow.
She dropped her hair and began playing with the shot glasses again and placed them rim to rim before taking a glass from the desk and overturning the contents of both into it. There was the muddle of cream and red.
"You see now. We start off as two minds, fused to one another through a thalamic bridge. A few years go by and our parents decide to have us separated…they call up a doctor who specializes in this. They know the risks involved and they go through with it anyways."
She swirled the glass in her hand, looking into the tempest. Then poured the alcohol back into the shot glasses carefully so that two malformed images appeared.
"I was robbed of certain acumen. I had to take pills to regulate the anger and hallucinations. Perhaps you've noticed I struggle with reading emotional cues."
The other woman just stared through her.
"You, on the other hand," she said, meeting the cold stare and holding the glass on the right out like a bastion, "there was hemorrhaging and the blood loss and brain damage put you into a coma for two years." she said with a look of pity
"Now the surgeon had done several small experiments on us as kids and determined that we could share sensations, see or hear what the other was perceiving. Of course no one expected that after the surgery there was still a connection. At least a proximal one. Your brain would have activity in the occipital lobe that corresponded with a series of flashes he would show me. I would see all sorts of strange hallucinations, of animals, fish, people I, we, used to know like dreams which I instinctively knew to be your dreams. Of course they couldn't prove it and doses me up with antipsychotics. It was all tentative research then, but if it was true, the breakthroughs would have created a whole new branch of study."
She shook her head and positioned one shot glass in front of her and the other in front of the red woman.
"Well, the government shut it down because the next set of experiments were to involve electrodes and all manner of invasive technology. I was sent away to a boarding school while you were still in a coma. I always thought of you then. A part of me was missing and I had a horrible time of dealing with my own mental struggles. Our parents on the other hand, were told we had both died in a botched surgery so the researchers could keep track of us."
"And why should I believe any of this? You're just one of them planting this in my mind. They keep telling me there's a red herring. The elevator, the man, the cocktail napkin."
Wormwood shook her head. No, those were for me. Red Herring is the project my employers are pursuing. It's a continuation
of Dr. Mantis's studies on us as kids."
"So he's the praying mantis?"
"Yes. See, he now works on my side for this organization that is trying to distill and commoditize our psychic connection into a product, a potion of sorts. They're a bunch of bootleggers."
"They have me, but without you, they'll never be able to commence the study. The same with your side. They only kept us on as hitwomen to hide that they wanted to use us for their scientific pursuits."
"The call I told them to redirect to you so Mr. Sobriquet would be occupied while I took out the doctor and so I could make use of your bed. The man thought you were me. I planted that thought to not tell him your name.``
She held up a small handwritten note.
"I needed your bed to put the doctor in because if I kill him they'll know I've figured it out. I was sent here to meet with him in 211 and then try to win you over. You were the perfect alibi, I must say though."
She picked up the shot and threw her head back like a stallion. The taste of peach schnapps was as clear as a bee sting.
"What, so I'm supposed to believe this insane story that you're my sister and we shared a brain or something?" the black clad woman yelled with something behind her voice like creaking floorboards.
"Our brains were linked, not the same mind."
"Stop it. You're just one of them, planting a thought in my head! Trying to drive me insane."
She slammed her hand down on the table and stood up like a petulant child.
Wormwood had gotten up with a limp and was now looking down at the man with a gas mask.
Grenadine retracted and aimed her gun just as Wormwood did in the same moment and manner behind her back. She turned her head and smirked at her.
"My darling sister, that isn't going to work on me. I could feel the gun in your hand."
Grenadine fell back. There was no doubt now and she stifled a sob, covering her mouth with the hand which still clung to the gun. The shot glass stared at her.
Her sister came over to her and put her hands on her shoulders.
"Shh shh…we're going to make this right, now we've got the doctor. Grenadine looked up.
"Put arsenic in his grasshopper cocktail."
The glasses they already removed. It has to look like it was you and not me. Sprained my leg getting him onto your bed," she guffawed "but you already knew that."
They looked at each other and recognized something in each other. Grenadine could almost palpate the inkling of a memory of her sister, but then it was gone again and she shook her head.
"I still haven't found the man I was sent to kill. Mr. Deplume. They only told me he would be carrying a purple briefcase and wearing a hat over his eyes."
"Yes I know him, he's one of the men who initialized the plans for Red Herring. He's meant to be coming to my room in ten minutes and Ms. Cicada, one of your agents, who also was a former nurse of our doctor friend here, I phoned to come to your room in fifteen minutes"
"They'll know we killed our own people."
"Not if we switch guns and then put the bodies in the right room." said Wormwood who seemed to be enjoying herself.
Grenadine rubbed her forehead and then gulped down the shot sitting on the table. "What are we waiting for then?"
At midnight two strangers came five minutes apart to rooms 534 and 535. At the same exact time, two shots rang out.
And then two thuds.