To Nicholas Plato, it had been an eternity since he had seen Gabriella Adams Leland, and in the dark hours, as sleep approached, when time grew sluggish, then paused to peek over its shoulder for one last look, it was she who too often haunted him, that one who was haunted then, perhaps was haunted still. Their ending really began that first day -- or evening, actually -- of the second August following the last millennium year. He and his twin brother, Tobias, "Nicky" and "Toby," she called them, watched over her then, as she had hired them to do. They would have done so, no matter the circumstances, as one would any such compelling force of nature.
Two years duration had only heightened her nearly peerless experience, etched in the drawn corner of her mouth, the sleepy eye, the narrowed nostril on the left side of her face, the features slightly askew as if imperfectly recovered from some condition of palsy there. The incongruity rendered her all the more beautiful, intriguing, its source rather than palsy: murder, betrayal, loss, disillusionment, guilt. As was she, the jury of John Q. Public was still out regarding her culpability in the matter.
Still there was an incompleteness about her; still quite resiliently young, awareness still forming her, a soul not yet surrendered, evident in the backward thrust of shoulders, a chin tilted higher than both would be if her luck ran out, if time reconciled her, reconciliation by no means having yet evolved in her to an article of faith. Despite her apparent pluck, there was no guarantee that the best self would win, only that it would fight to win -- against formidable odds in herself, as well as in the city of her residence, that sin-filled city, the city where the odds always were stacked to favor the house rather than the individual. Las Vegas mimicked life in that way.
On the other hand, the battle fought nobly, although ultimately resulting in failure, might be scored as a victory of another kind. Was it a cliche to expect her to lose the battle at hand, yet win the war? Perhaps only she would ever know, robbing the masses of their smug self-righteousness in the witnessing of it all unfold as they had predicted. For that reason, she had courted obscurity, but yet had failed to succumb to its lure, too addicted was she still to the limelight, to the game, lusting after the game within the game. The razor's edge dividing safety and danger always had appealed to her. Would maturity, or the lack of it, or some fateful substitute, tip her one way or the other?
Something was building in the atmosphere, something of moment, some deciding factor, or some extraordinary event about to be set in motion. You could feel it, like air pressure rising, clouds banking, seas roiling in advance of a menacing storm. That Gabriella was to be the central figure was a given; that Nicholas and Tobias were cast in supporting roles had long been decided; only the remaining characters were yet to appear: