HOW SWEETLY the hands of the clock grasp at time. Young again, dazzling, his eyes glinting with untold delights, the colonel drops his gaze to a woman facing the dancefloor and she gives him the nod. He extends his hand, and there she is, flushed, expectant, lured into a phantom embrace which, booted heels swivelling, he exits so she is clasped now from behind. There is a little shiver as she pivots within the abrazo of his arms. The orchestra starts up a tune, the old notation of heartbreak. The colonel slides to the left and leads his partner, five steps traced over eight beats. His shoulders cut through the air as he propels her across the floor in a figure of eight walk, his feet a blur of movement as he changes orientation from parallel to crossed, back to parallel again. He lunges, he spins, bounces, flicks, inventing new patterns from the repertoire of steps.

The dance ended, the colonel finds his desire still unsatisfied. He must take another partner, and another. He cannot stop dancing. His body is held tight, programmed. Left foot forward, right foot forward, left foot forward, right foot to the side, left toe closing to the right foot. He repeats the steps endlessly. Gliding, tapping, keeping time, sliding, turning on the blades of his heels, his toes, returning, the measured pathways. There is no escape.

And now every lost love, every drop of blood spilled, leads to this one moment, caught by the thousand shards of the mirrorball. Head tilted back. Mask set in place. The broad flat nose. The sultry lips. The killer eyes.

The colonel dances.

Zigzagging around the lonely floor, he has exhausted all partners save one. He cannot shake her off, this old, old woman with the face of bone, the smell of decay. She leads him, pushing him backwards, taking control of the dance. Everything changes. The colonel's skin is covered in sweat and he slows down now, in fear. There is a pain, a deep sharp sudden pain in his stomach. Something stirs. Is this where it ends, finally? His long, shameful life…

The colonel drops to his knees. Under the hot lights of the dancehall, alone now, he brings his manicured hands up to his face. Green silk flutters. A young woman advances slowly over the dance floor, towards him.

'No.No more…'

'Who gave this to you?' The woman holds the velvet scorpion by the tail, its legs and claws unmoving.

'No more. Please…'

Aura pulls the gun. Some distant mechanism is at work, clicking through dark algorithms. 'Tell me,' she says. 'Tell me.'

The colonel is curled up on the floor, his hands barely moving through the old gestures. The orchestra has long since stopped playing, but still, a soft trace of music can be heard. People stand around, anxious. The room is flickering, lit only in sepia tones. The colonel's right leg spasms. One last sacada

The special agent feels a sudden compassion, against her training.

Above them, the mirrorball slowly turns.



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