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The cold slab of marble slowly leeched warmth as his palm pressed against it. A shiver rose up his arm as a trickle of sweat beaded down to meet the sensation. Similar beads slithered down the curve of his back, and dripped from the fringes of his hair. His reflection was muddled to that of an eerie shape indistinct from the other forms behind him. Cabinets, hooks, doors, slats. All fogged, all dull, but he knew they were there. He knew they were there.

His only company was the soft trickle of a fountain. A thin sheet cascading down the convolutions in the adjacent wall. When he spit the chalky bolus of peppermint into the basin beneath him, it echoed only as far as the fountain allowed. In the distance, the spray of a shower drowned the rest of the rinsing, and his lids fell low...

The spa at the Ritz Carlton was designed to infect and overwhelm every sensation. Its success astounded. From the slice of a straight blade up his throat. To the cool envelope of a blackened pool. Dane disappeared, swallowed by the intrinsic trance of it all. It curled his blood from within. At first, a tickle, a tease. But soon, the sensations overwhelmed, and everywhere he looked, imagination filled what the acoustics in his head could not echo. The humidity choked. A knot twisted in his stomach. When distant shower fell quiet, and any drips following were drowned by the nearby fountain, his breath came swift, panting. Running.


There was a new shape in the mirror now. Another figure, muddled, foggy, standing behind him. He carefully placed his toothbrush back in the holder, wiped his palm on the towel around his waist, and turned. He smiled as a fat old man waddling to a sink. The barber's straight blade was suddenly in Dane's hand. His bare feet left wet prints on the floor as he moved. A trail of a hunter led to its next target.

He silently appeared next to the gentleman. "You need a shave."
A flick of the thumb and the razor popped open. He smiled and smiled. Smiled until it hurt. The fountain bubbled loud. The marble flooded hot....

But another distant sound pierced the peaceful trance. His smile wavered. He heard it again. And Dane realized it was the clearance of a throat and the sound of his name. "Mister Gregory,"
it said, and Dane's lids rose once more. Condensation had run rivulets of water down the mirror while he'd stood there. The streaks reflected the spa's butler posed behind him, presented in alternating stripes of clear and opaque forms. "It is time for your massage, sir."
He held a bathrobe open for Dane's use.

A gentle nod and Dane turned to slip his arms in the sleeves. Folds softer than the pillows of a woman's lips wrapped him in warmth. He knotted the belt and followed the butler from the club room. As he left, he passed the old Russian as the man crossed the locker room floor. Dane stretched an arm and pointed to the man's throat. "You should get a shave while here."
He smiled, just another guest being helpful. "The barber has steady hands."

You're welcome.

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