Valley of Shadows-Chapter Thirty-Six

The next morning, Harriet was in the throes of a nightmare. Richard’s knocking on her bedroom door fell on deaf ears. Not sure if she was in her room, he opened the door.  His sister was tossing and turning in bed. Richard walked to Harriet’s bedside and said her name softly.

When that failed to rouse her, he reached down and gently shook her by the shoulder. Harriet’s eyes flew open. She reacted before coming fully awake, snatching his hand from her shoulder and twisting it. Caught off guard, Richard barely responded in time to stop her from spraining his thumb.

“Ouch, what the hell Harriet?”

“Since when do you walk into people’s rooms without knocking?”

“I did knock. You just didn’t hear me. Damn girl, you nearly broke my finger!”

“Oh, stop being so melodramatic. I’m sorry okay? I was having a bad dream and you startled me.”

“That must have been some nightmare. What was it about?”

“It’s not important,” Harriet said evasively.

“Oh so, now you won’t even tell me about your dreams? Don’t tell me you’re still mad at me. I apologized last night. What do you want me to do, get down on my knees and beg for your forgiveness? You do don’t you? I’m not even sure what I did wrong.”

“I heard you and Rachel making fun of me.”

“What are you talking about Harriet? We didn’t make fun of you. I would never do that. I know how sensitive you are.”

“I really wish you all would stop acting like you know anything about my feelings.”

‘What are you talking about? We grew up together. I know everything about you Harriet.”

“Wrong again, you know who I was when I first came here. Apparently, that’s the last time any of you paid any real attention to me.  I guess on some level I always knew that, but listening to you and Rachel laughing about me being some pathetic sad sack really drove it home.”

Realization dawned on Richard’s face. He shook his head and sat on the bed facing Harriet, patting her folded hands reassuringly.

“Is that what you’re upset about? You know how blunt your sister can be.”

“Rachel is always talking trash about people. What she said didn’t shock me, but hearing you agree really…”

“I didn’t mean anything by it.  I certainly never intended to hurt your feelings.”

“See, there you go again assuming you know how I feel. My feelings weren’t hurt. I was pissed off! Where the hell do the two of you get off calling me a gloomy Gus? Did you ever stop to consider that maybe the reason we discuss my problems so much is that the only time you pay attention to me is when I’m upset about something? It has been that way since you were in high school and spent every waking moment with your so-called friends.”

“That’s not how it was at all.  If you felt that way, then why didn’t you say something sooner?”

“And deny you the pleasure of swooping in and rescuing me?”

“Now I know you don’t think I enjoyed fighting your battles for you.”

“That’s exactly what I think. You’ve always enjoyed playing the hero. That way, you can play the martyr and call people ungrateful, whenever they don’t do what you want.”

Thomas glared at his sister.  Anger made his voice deepen, “When I came here, I was a kid myself, still trying to come to terms with being dumped into foster care and bouncing around from home to home. The last thing I wanted was to shoulder someone else’s  problems. You were always so damn needy, you would have fallen apart without me propping you up.”

Richard instantly regretted the harshness of his words. It didn’t take much to make Harriet cry. He braced himself for tears that never came. Richard did not know how to respond to Harriet’s bitter bark of laughter.

“Propping me up? Is that what you’ve been doing all these years? Well don’t worry, I won’t burden you with my problems anymore.”

“That came out wrong. I shouldn’t have said it like that,” he said placatingly.

“Why not?  If that’s the way you felt, then don’t sugar coat it for me.”

“I really do want to know what’s going on with you Harriet.”

“I wouldn’t want to burden you with my problems.  You must be exhausted from all those years of propping me up.”

“Fair enough, you’re understandably upset. We don’t have to talk about it right now.  It’s just that you haven’t been yourself lately and I…”

“Is that it, or are you finally beginning to realize that I’m not the scared little girl that you thought I still was?”

“To tell you the truth, I’m not sure about anything right now. What I do know, is that I’m sorry if you feel like I’ve been babying you.”

“It’s not entirely your fault.  Coming back home is like entering a time machine. I catch myself falling back into old ways of thinking and acting all the time. I’ve been so preoccupied with my problems that I forgot how much everyone else around here leans on you. What can I do to lighten your burden?”

“How about you get dressed and come have breakfast with us. We’re going to put our heads together and decide what to do about ma’s situation.”

Harriet wasn’t hungry, but Richard wouldn’t take no for an answer.  She reluctantly agreed to get dressed and join the rest of the family in the kitchen.  Thirty minutes later, Harriet strode into the kitchen and instantly regretted having allowed her brother to rope her into coming down for breakfast.  Any other time, her family’s scrutiny would make her wish the floor would open up and swallow her whole.  This morning, Harriet was past the point of caring about what anyone had to say.  She ignored Rachel’s jealous glare and brazenly met Reverend Mother’s penetrating stare.

“Don’t let me interrupt.  What were you all talking about?”

Reverend Mother handed her a plate.  Harriet filled it with small portions of scrambled eggs, hash browns and bacon, from platters in front of her on the table, while Richard brought her up to speed.  Harriet’s ears perked up when he mentioned the row of immunosuppressant medications at the warehouse.  She blurted out the names and quantities of the medications stolen from Stryker’s stash house and it was Richard’s turn to be surprised.

“How did you know what I saw?”

“Let’s just say a little bird told me that those medications were stolen.  Finish what you were saying,” replied Harriet cryptically.

“There’s not much more than that to tell.”

“Oh yeah?  What was so fascinating that you cut our conversation short last night?”

“Huh?  Oh that, Josh was able to do a quick title search and found out that Nicole actually owns that warehouse.”

Harriet looked at her brother so keenly that everyone leaned forward expectantly.

“What is it,” Richard asked.

“Nothing, I’m just listening,” Harriet said guardedly.

“Harriet you obviously know something.  If we’re going to get to the bottom of this, we’ve all got to do our part.  Any bit of information could help.”

Before she could respond, Rachel sniped, “What could Harriet possibly have to contribute?  While we’ve all been busting our asses to save momma, she has been off somewhere moping.  She’s just trying to make it seem like she knows something with that stupid little birdie nonsense.  I don’t know why you wanted to include her Richard.  We’ve been doing just fine without her.”

Thomas shot Harriet a worried look, ready to step in and protect her from Rachel.  Rather than her usual wounded expression, Harriet glared at her sister.  He held his tongue and waited to see what she would say.  Harriet laughed.

“You stay sober for one night and all of a sudden, you think you’re onto something.  Don’t speak on what you don’t know Rachel.  You have no idea what I’ve been up to while you’ve been tagging along with Richard.”

“Listen to miss thing over here.  Well, enlighten us Harriet.  What have you been up to?”

“That’s none of your business…”

“Like I said, she doesn’t know anything,” crowed Rachel.

“I happen to know that those medications that Richard saw in Nicole’s warehouse were stolen from a stash house, by a dealer who destroyed his kidneys abusing the drugs he sells.”

“What does that have to do with our investigation?”

“If you stopped interrupting me, I could get to the point faster.  The man was not going through legal channels for the kidney transplant.  He is a member of the Santa Muerte cult and so is Nicole.”

“Are you saying that some cult is trafficking in illegal internal organs,” asked Joshua incredulously.

“I am simply repeating what I was told.”

“Some stranger volunteered that information?  How do you know he wasn’t just screwing with you?  I don’t believe it.”

“I don’t either,” snapped Rachel.

Richard remained silent, but his expression made it clear that he was having trouble believing Harriet.  The previous night had been traumatic for her.  She was still having flashbacks of what those thugs had done to the dealer, in order to extract the information she had just shared.  It would take a long time for her to come to terms with the guilt she felt for the part she had played in that incident.  The last thing she needed was her own family accusing her of being a liar.  Harriet stood angrily, prepared to storm out of the kitchen and pack her bags.  Reverend Mother spoke up.

“I believe her.”











The Doorkeepers-Chapter Thirty-Six

Dorian moved Ethan onto his back, forcing himself not to look at the blood trailing from his injured head.  His friend didn’t look good.  Ethan was ghostly pale and didn’t appear to be breathing.  Dorian nervously checked Ethan’s neck for a pulse.  He had to hold his breath and remain motionless for several moments, in order to feel the thready pulse.   Dorian kept his hand in place, afraid that he wouldn’t be able to find the faint heartbeat again. If Ethan died, then Dorian would be all alone with Enmerkar.

He whispered urgently to his friend, begging him not to leave him.  A moment later, Ethan’s pulse seemed to grow stronger.  Dorian let out a sigh of relief.  Maybe his friend was responding to the sound of his voice.  He kept talking and the vibrations in Ethan’s neck became more pronounced.  Dorian suddenly realized that Ethan’s entire body was vibrating.   Intensifying heat emanating from him made Dorian move back.  What was happening?  Dorian called out fearfully.

“Enmerkar, something’s happening to Ethan.”

“I just told you, he is sleeping,” came his bored response.

“No, something else is going on.  His body is vibrating and getting hot.”

Enmerkar was by Dorian’s side in a flash.  In the next moment, Ethan’s eyelids fluttered and snapped open.  Enmerkar jumped back and Dorian tumbled backwards from his knees to his bottom, pushing away with his legs at the sight of Ethan’s glowing eyes.  The ember-like glow also pulsed beneath his skin.  He levitated his feet and flew in their direction.  Dorian reflexively shielded his own face with an arm and drew his knees protectively up to his chest.

When no attack came, Dorian cautiously lowered his arm.  Ethan had a grip on Nadya’s head.  For a moment, he appeared to be crushing it.  Dorian spent a terrified moment, wondering how he could intervene and manage to survive.  Then Ethan pulled what appeared to be a strand of light from the top of Nadya’s head.  The strip broadened until Dorian recognized the struggling form of a man.    Ethan strode to the bathroom and flung the figure into the mirror.

Dorian glanced over at Nadya and leapt to his feet, catching her as she began to faint.  Their abrupt contact seemed to rouse her.  Nadya looked up into Dorian’s face, her eyes momentarily clouded by confusion.  She slowly regained her senses.

“What just happened Dorian?”

“I thought you could see everything that Enmerkar saw.”

“That was before he started blocking me out.  I haven’t been able to see or hear anything for several days.”

“Oh well, I’m not sure what exactly happened just now.  I think Ethan just exorcised Enmerkar from your body.”

Nadya fell silent.  Dorian watched as her gaze turned inward.  She appeared to be taking a personal inventory.  Her eyes widened with surprise.

“Hey, you’re right.  I can’t sense him at all.  But how could Ethan…”

“Everything happened so fast, the only thing I can say for sure is that he somehow opened a portal in one of the rooms.  Enmerkar had to close the portal and blocked him inside of a pentagram with runes to keep anything from coming through Ethan.  He got so angry that he nearly killed Ethan.  The man was in a coma.  I kid you not, he barely had a pulse.  Then all of a sudden, there were these vibrations and Ethan was as hot as an oven and he just sort of yanked Enmerkar out of your body.  Do you think something is possessing Ethan?”

“Where did Enmerkar  cast the spell on Ethan?”

“In the bathroom over there.”

“Is there a mirror in that bathroom?”

“Yeah, it takes up most of one wall.”

“At any point, did you see something come through the mirror?”

“To tell you the truth, most of my attention was focused on them.  I guess I still would have noticed if some spirit or creature came through the mirror though.”

“Then, it doesn’t sound like anything took possession of Ethan.  More than likely, he has become some sort of conduit.”

“What does that mean?”

“He’s connected to some sort of entity who is using him as a channel into this plane of existence.”

“I have no idea what you’re talking about Nadya.”

“I think there was more than one portal.  The second one was in the mirror.  Ethan is connected to some being in another realm who is acting upon this world through him.”

“Oh…that doesn’t sound good.”

“It depends on who is in control.  Where is Ethan now?”

“He’s still in the bathroom.  I can hear him talking.”

“Who is he talking to?  I thought you said he banished Enmerkar.”

“That’s a good question.  Hold on, I’ll go see.”

Dorian released his hold on Nadya and waited until he was sure that she was steady enough to stand without his support.  He made his way over to the bathroom and cautiously peered around the door jamb.  Ethan was gazing into the mirror and having what appeared to be a one-sided conversation with his reflection.   Dorian was relieved to see that the red glow was gone from his eyes.  Ethan’s skin color had returned to its previous pallor.  Dorian was studying his friend so intently, that he forgot to remain concealed.

Ethan stopped talking and leaned in, as though listening to someone.  He suddenly spied Dorian and turned to face him.

“Who were you talking to Ethan?”

“Huh?  Oh, you just caught me talking to myself.”

The explanation was plausible, but for some reason Dorian got the impression that Ethan was lying.   He had just watched him pausing and gazing intently into the mirror, as though listening to someone’s responses.  He looked guilty when he said he was talking to himself.  Would Ethan lie to him?  Why was he being secretive?  First, he snuck off and opened a portal without telling Dorian.  Now, it seemed as though he was up to something again, which he was also keeping from him.  In light of the fact that Dorian always seemed to suffer the repercussions of his friends actions, Ethan’s secretiveness was troubling.

“Why do I get the feeling that you’re not being honest with me Ethan?”

“Are you calling me a liar,” Ethan snapped.

“Calm down dude, I’m just saying that it seems like there’s something you’re not telling me.  After all we’ve been through together, it bothers me that you feel like you shouldn’t share things with me.  We have to work together, if we’re going’ to put an end to this whole fiasco.”

“You didn’t have my back when Enmerkar was here.  Why the hell should I trust you now?”

“What are you talking about?  I was always trying to warn you, when you were about to do something to incur his wrath.”

“You sucked up to him so bloody hard, I was beginning to think you had a thing for him.  Seemed like you would have snitched on me in a heartbeat, to stay in his good graces.”

“You wouldn’t even have that damn grimoire, if it weren’t for me.”

“Yeah, and I stopped you from turning into a zombie, so I figure we’re even.”

“Enmerkar did that, not you.”

“Who brought him to you Dorian?  I came back for you, even though I didn’t have to, because I have always had your back.”

“Just because I was…obedient to Enmerkar, didn’t mean that I don’t have yours.”

“That remains to be seen.”




Crime Diary-Chapter Thirty-Six

Hope surged up inside of me so strongly that I felt downright giddy.  Plum suddenly didn’t seem so big and bad.  For once in my life, having an overactive imagination was actually going to be an advantage.  I didn’t realize how tense I had become, until a wave of relief made me weak in the knees.  I moved to sit on my couch and stumbled, abruptly finding myself in the middle of a crowded nightclub.  Shock left me momentarily immobilized.

Having the rug literally yanked out from under me was disconcerting.  I was supposed to be in control of my dream.  The need to sit down before my quaking legs gave out propelled me towards the stools at the bar.  I sat down, staring quizzically for a few moments at the strangers milling around me, before swiveling the stool around and facing the bar.  Plum’s reflection smirked at me from a long mirror behind the bar.  Her lips moved and I heard her voice inside my head.

“Did you actually think that you were in control?”

All of my hard-won self-assurance began draining away. If Plum could move me around against my will, then she would always have the upper hand.  A moment ago, everything appeared to line up. Now nothing made sense.  In the midst of my musing, Plum approached the bar and took a seat beside me. I tensed up, steeling myself for an attack.  She chattered away, seemingly unaware of my horror.

When she didn’t attack, I began to calm down. My heart stopped pounding in my ears and I realized that Plum was saying the same things she said the night we were in the same club and I stole her cell phone. She was even wearing the same outfit.  Looking around, I realized that my mind was replaying that night.  The real Plum was still glaring at me from inside the mirror behind the bar.

Her cellphone was in the same spot on the counter. I still felt guilty about taking it, which made me assume that this part of the dream was nothing more than my mind grappling with that feeling. I sat there and allowed events to unfold, uncertain of whether to let things play out or do something differently. It gradually dawned on me that some things in the dream were different from reality.

Plum’s favorite color was purple. Almost everything she owned was purple, including her cell phone. It was red in the dream and so were her clothes. That was perplexing.  I was mulling over possible explanations, when my grandmother suddenly came to mind. She was superstitious, always talking about symbols in dreams serving as signs. That memory sparked the idea that the red in my dream was symbolic in some way.

The red was so bright that it glowed in the dark club. Could it be my mind’s way of calling attention to something? One glance at Plum in the mirror confirmed that I was onto something. Fear was etched into her features. I blocked out the sound of her voice in my head. She had almost fooled me once. I wasn’t going to give her the opportunity to confuse me again.

The cellphone on the counter began ringing.  It hadn’t done that last time. I wondered if it could be an important message.  Anything was possible in a dream.   A strong urge to pick it up came over me. The dream version of Plum was making her way to the dance floor. I was reaching for the phone, when the memory of Plum’s hypnotic chant over the phone, the night I answered her phone in that motel room, made me shrink back.  She was obviously trying to distract me.

I turned my attention to the dream version of Plum. Everything was as I recalled it. She was dancing seductively with a partner while brazenly flirting.  Catching looks from men dancing with women around her, enticing them away from their partners one by one. Nothing new there.  She was always going after other people’s boyfriends and husbands.  Plum loved the competition and challenge. Halfway through the song, she had four men dancing around her.

Suddenly bored, I was on the verge of turning away, when Plum’s smug expression faltered. The night that it actually happened, I thought that she was just a little uncomfortable suddenly being surrounded by so many men all at once. In the dream, I wasn’t distracted with seeking an opportunity to nab her phone.  That freedom enabled me to see things in a different light. Plum loved being the center of attention. Those men weren’t grabbing or groping her. As a matter of fact, they were all staying an equal distance away from her.

I stood up slowly, leaning forward for a closer look. Their feet weren’t moving. At a distance, the people dancing energetically around them had created the illusion that the men were dancing because their arms were moving. Focusing on them, it quickly became apparent that they were moving their arms in the same sequence. Plum was beginning to look alarmed.

An overly enthusiastic dancer suddenly collided with one of the men, breaking their circle.  Plum surged away from them through the crowd and came towards me at the bar. She was unsteady on her feet and she appeared to be confused.  Looking back on my memory of it, I had previously thought that she was drunk. Reliving that moment in the dream made me realize that something else was going on.

Plum’s cell phone began ringing again, interrupting my train of thought. I tried to ignore it, certain that I was about to come to a very important realization.  It was slowly coming to me.  The ringing was so loud and insistent that it derailed my train of thought.  In another moment, I was jolted awake and realized that the ringing was actually an alarm clock.  Still bleary eyed and groggy from my drugged sleep, I couldn’t figure out how to turn off the alarm.  Out of frustration, I covered my head with the pillow.  Closing my eyes did nothing to help me fall back asleep or focus.  The details of the dream were already beginning to fade.

Delilah bustled into the bedroom and shut off the alarm. As she turned to leave, I grabbed her arm.  As soon as I began recounting the dream, a searing pain in my head made me cry out. Plum was trying to stop me. Delilah sat on the bed and waited patiently, as I slowly and described the dream to her, afraid that I would forget if I didn’t get it all out. Delilah’s face began to light up.  She made me repeat everything, her growing excitement fueling mine.

“You know what that part of the dream in the nightclub means don’t you?”

“Enlighten me.”

“Without realizing it, you witnessed the lesser banishing ritual of the pentagram being performed on Plum by those four men standing around her. Sounds like they almost succeeded in exorcising her or at least temporarily weakening her possession of the body she occupied. That’s why she was unsteady and confused. No wonder Plum didn’t notice that you had taken her cell phone.”

“What was with all the gesturing those men were doing?”

“It was part of the ritual. They were tracing pentagrams into the air, boxing her in and riveting her to one spot. Good going girl, you’ve given me an idea of how to defend us against Plum when we get to the coven!  Get dressed. We need to hit the road soon.”

Valley of Shadows- Chapter Thirty-Five

Joshua was in the kitchen making himself a grilled cheese sandwich when Richard and Rachel walked in. They took a seat at the table and accepted sandwiches from him. Joshua poured drinks and joined them at the table. The trio ate in preoccupied silence for a few moments.  Richard spoke first.

“Where’s ma?”

“I put her to bed. She’s not doing so well.”

“What do you mean?”

“Did you know that she has wound that’s not healing?”

“No, of course not. Where is it?”

“It’s across her stomach. I’m going with her to the next doctor’s visit. Don’t worry I’ll find out what’s going on. As nasty as that wound looked though, that’s not what’s bothering me. Her mental state seems a little…fragile.”

Rachel leaned forward, “what do you mean?”

“Mom has been hearing voices.”

Rachel looked as though she thought Joshua was joking. Seeing that he was serious, she slowly asked, “She told you that?”

“Yes, mom and Thomas both seem to think that Nicole has it out for them and is using some sort of supernatural powers to torment them.”

“Why didn’t you tell us about this sooner?”

“I just found out.  You know, I’ve never believed in that mumbo jumbo.  If only one of them was saying it, I wouldn’t take it seriously. How is it possible that without discussing it with each other, mom and Thomas are basically saying the same thing? They’re not prone to overreacting.  In fact, they’re two of the strongest people I know.”

“You’re starting to scare me Joshua! Now, I’m wondering what Nicole did with that blood she took from me,” blurted Rachel.

“I don’t know about Nicole being into voodoo, but something weird is going on with her. What did you two find out when you followed her the other night?”

Rachel spoke before Richard could answer, “We saw her go into a warehouse wearing scrubs and carrying what looked like a medical bag. It couldn’t have been more than twenty minutes later that a van pulled up, two men carried a body out of the building and loaded it into the back.”

“Let’s not jump to conclusions Rachel.  We don’t know whether or not it was a body,” Richard cautioned.

“Yeah right, why else would those men chase you and shoot Carl?”

Joshua interrupted, before the two could argue, “Wait a minute, what is she talking about Richard? Some men chased you? What does that have to do with Carl getting shot?”

“It’s a long story. Let’s not get off topic here. When I went back to that warehouse alone, I got there just as everything was getting loaded up and had a quick look around inside the warehouse.”

“Looking around in there was my idea.  You should have taken me with you,” pouted Rachel.

Richard ignored her and continued, “The room I went into was set up like some sort of operating room. There was a big metal table, big glass-fronted cabinets full of medication, and there was a big smear of blood on the floor.”

“Then they were loading a dead body into that van. I knew it,” crowed Rachel.

Richard shot her an irritated glance and Joshua distracted him from replying by asking, “do you remember anything else?”

“I used my phone to snap a picture of some of the labels on the medications in the cabinet. There were some pain meds but most were immunosuppressant meds used to prevent the body from rejecting transplanted organs.”

Joshua stroked the stubble on his chin thoughtfully, “I wonder what it all means.”
Richard shrugged, “I don’t know. Nicole seems to be the common denominator here. We need to figure out what she’s up to. I suspect that the answer is criminal though and not supernatural.”

Joshua was starting to feel frustrated and helpless again. His life had been turned upside down and inside out. For the first time in his life, he was confronted with the prospect of losing his mother and his best friend. He would be all alone, if they both died.  His brother and sisters would be supportive, but they’d eventually have to return to their lives. Joshua was haunted by visions of the remainder of his life being an endless succession of lonely days and nights in an empty house. He tried to keep the alarm out of his voice.

“What are we going to do Richard? I couldn’t handle…I don’t want to lose mom and Thomas.”

“And you won’t Josh. For one thing, it doesn’t seem like this wound ma has is life threatening. You already said that you were going to talk to her doctor. If you don’t feel up to it, I’ll do it.”

“Um Hello, am I suddenly invisible? I’m not helpless. I can talk to mama’s doctor,” Rachel protested.

Joshua and Richard exchanged dubious looks, which annoyed their sister.  Rachel opened her mouth to give them a piece of her mind. Richard quickly held up a restraining hand, “Yes, well we’ll see. My point is that we can easily get to the bottom of what’s going on with ma’s health. As for the question of what to do about Nicole, we’ll have to a little digging. Josh, I was thinking that you could use your investigative journalist skills and find out who owns that warehouse and whether or not they’re renting it out to someone. That ought to help us figure out who was behind all of that shady business over there the other night.”

“Ok, I can do that. Maybe you could ask your old partner on the force to run the plates on that van.”

Richard and Rachel exchanged cautious looks. Joshua watched them curiously.

“I don’t think that would be such a good idea. I’ve more or less been…discouraged from nosing around. I get the feeling that Darryl is somehow involved in whatever is going on. At the very least, he hasn’t told me everything he knows.”

“What makes you say that,” asked Joshua.

Richard filled his brother in on the state of things with his old partner. Joshua sat back in stunned silence. What was going on? No one was who they seemed to be. How could the three of them make any headway, if no one outside of their small circle could be trusted? Joshua was starting to feel hopeless again.

He needed to busy himself with something, before his depressed mood robbed him of the will to do anything. Richard needed him to do a little research. There was no time like the present. Joshua retrieved his laptop, set it up at the kitchen table, and turned it on. Rachel and Richard moved to sit on either side of him, waiting for it to boot up.
They heard the front door open and close. Harriet was home. They waited, but she didn’t enter the kitchen. Joshua thought he should to check on her. She was halfway up the stairs when he stopped her.

“Hey Harriet, wait up. Why don’t you join us in the kitchen? Joshua will fix you a grilled cheese sandwich and we can finish our conversation. Just because I’ve been hanging out with Rachel doesn’t mean I forgot about you.”

“Oh hey, no problem. The squeaky wheel gets the oil right? Apparently, Rachel needs you more than I do.”

“That’s not fair Harriet. Rachel’s marriage is falling apart and she might lose custody of her daughter. Her friend Carl is in the hospital fighting for his life. Plus, she’s struggling to stay sober. Don’t you think she deserves a little support?”

“You know what Richard? You’re absolutely right. It’s not like Rachel brought any of that on herself by treating her family like dirt and blowing all of their money on drugs. Stop looking at me like that Richard. Don’t act like she’s an innocent victim. Once that wedding ring of hers granted access to hubby’s money, Rachel wouldn’t give him the time of day. She only had a child to shut him up, because she knew how badly he wanted to start a family. She always acted like her daughter was a burden.”

Richard took a step back, stunned by Harriet’s venomous words. This wasn’t like her at all. Where had his kind-hearted, mild-mannered sister gone? Richard didn’t recognize the person standing in front of him. Where had all this anger come from? She didn’t even look like herself. He took in her disheveled appearance.

“Is that blood on your shirt?”

“Oh, I get it.  You’d rather change the subject than admit that I’m right. What’s the matter?  You afraid she might hear you?  Stop staring at my shirt.  It’s not my blood.”

“You never told me what happened to your face.”

“There are a lot of things that I never told you Richard.”

“What does that mean? Hey, where are you going?”

“Up to my room, not that it’s any of your business.”

“Don’t you want to talk?”

“I wouldn’t want to bore you with my problems. It wouldn’t do any good. Apparently, I’ve always been a gloomy Gus. I guess I just enjoy feeling sorry for myself.”

Richard gave her such a blank look that Harriet realized he had completely forgotten what Rachel had said about her earlier. That was how little Harriet meant to him. How had she not seen it sooner? Harriet turned to continue up the steps and Richard grabbed her hand.

“I know you don’t mean any of the things you just said. You’re just upset, and you have every right to be mad. I’ve been neglecting you and I’m sorry. It’s just that I’ve been a little distracted with trying to straighten out this mess ma has gotten herself into. Come down to the kitchen and have something to eat. We’re all worried about you.”

Harriet searched his face and saw the concern in his eyes. Her resolve began to falter. It had been a long night. Witnessing the brutal way that Stryker’s people had ripped into that man had her a little freaked out. Maybe talking to Richard would help take her mind off of it. Harriet had started to accept his invitation when Rachel called out from the kitchen.

“Richard, get your ass in here! You have got to see this.”

Her brother unceremoniously dropped her hand and rushed off, leaving her alone on the steps. A moment later, she could hear the muffled sound of their excited voices. Harriet turned and slowly made her way up to her room.



Crime Diary- Chapter Thirty-Five

The powerful herbs in Delilah’s tea made me lose consciousness quickly.  My mind’s eye opened.  I found myself staring at a dingy ceiling for several moments.  The water stain running across it looked familiar.    I shifted and an errant spring in the mattress upon which I lay dug into my side.  That settled it for me.  I knew then that I lay in the narrow bed in my apartment.  Looking at the shabby walls around me was reassuring.

I laughed out loud.  Maybe the whole nightmare with Plum had been a bad dream.  For the first time in my life, the prospect of getting up and going to work made me happy.  The idea of returning to my routine of sleep, work, sleep made me positively giddy.  Life before Plum may have been dull, but it was safe.  If I needed to get a second job to make ends meet, then that’s just what I’d do.  No more looking to make easy money.

My alarm clock went off and I went into autopilot, going to the kitchen and turning on the coffeemaker before going to the bathroom for a quick shower.  I switched on the light and a gleam caught my eye as I walked past the mirror.  Something about it was disquieting.  I didn’t want to look in the mirror.  Dread rose up in me so quickly that I held my breath.  I wanted to get in the shower, but something compelled me to turn towards the mirror.

My eyes went to the choker around my neck.  I leaned in, trying to figure out why it looked different.  It slowly dawned on me that the symbols on it were backwards.  I looked up and was stunned to see Plum’s face reflected back at me.  Shock made my mind go blank.  The next thing I knew, Plum was reaching through the mirror.  I looked down at the sharp fingernails with the deep purple manicure, reaching for me.  My mind told me to move, but I was transfixed by the unreality of it.

The memory of Delilah drugging me flooded back.  Having a bad dream wasn’t so bad.  At least, Plum couldn’t harm me in my dreams.  Her laughter was sinister.

“That’s where you’re wrong Patricia.  Didn’t anyone ever tell you, if you die in your dreams you die in real life?”

“What do you mean?”

“When I kill you, your soul will leave your body.”

The thought of being evicted from my body and Plum’s life force taking up residence in it, got me moving.  Plum was faster.  Her hands closed around my throat.  Their strength was shocking.  The fingers felt like bands of steel.  My breath was abruptly cut off.  I tried not to panic over the fact that my strength was ebbing away.  Clawing feebly at her hands did nothing to relieve the crushing pressure on my throat.  As my vision dimmed, I groped blindly for anything that could be used as a makeshift weapon.

My hands closed around thin air.  In desperation, I balled up my fists and hit her wherever I could.  Plum leaned back into the mirror so that only her arms protruded and my fists were battering the mirror.  I heard a loud crack and the mirror shattered.  All at once, the pressure on my neck was gone, I fell to the floor gasping, too weak to lift my arms and shield my face from the falling shards of glass.

My brain was shouting, “Get up!  Get up, before she attacks you again!”  Fighting back waves of nausea and light-headedness, I struggled to my feet and barely made it back over to my bed before my shaky legs gave out.  The apartment was so small that from where I sat, I saw that Plum was gone.  My fear slowly eased.  I let out a shaky breath and lay back on the bed with my eyes closed.

The suddenness and strength of her attack had rattled me.  I felt powerless.  The urge to hide out in my cramped apartment was overwhelming.  But then again, it wasn’t really my apartment.  I was dreaming.  My experience with dreams was that anything could happen at any given moment.  Some people claimed that they could control what happened in their dreams.  I never learned how that worked.

The thought of Plum attacking me in my weakened state frightened me.  I felt like a sitting duck.  Panic began welling up inside me again.  I had the presence of mind to realize that giving in to fear wasn’t going to do me any good.  What had Delilah said about dreams?  I had drifted off while she explained things to me. She had something about the imagination being just as strong as any spell Plum could cast.  According to Delilah, the key was to remain focused on what I desired and repeat my intentions.  Thoughts were generated by energy, just as magic was generated by energy.

Those ideas made me feel a little less helpless, but I still had no idea where to go or what to do next.  Until I learned how to translate the words into actions, I’d continue to be at Plum’s mercy.  She had just shown me, she was merciless.  So, why didn’t I put Delilah’s assertions to the test?  My eyes flew open and I sat bolt upright, feeling encouraged.  Figuring out how to manifest something then and there might give me a fighting chance at staying alive.  So, what would make me feel safe?  I opened my hand and closed my eyes, focusing on an image until I felt something solid in my palm.

A gun had materialized in my hand.  I sat staring at it in disbelief.  It had a solid, reassuring weight to it.  Was it loaded, or did I have to dream up bullets for it?  Only one way to find out.  I aimed the gun at a picture on the opposite wall and pulled the trigger.  There was a loud report and a small hole appeared in the middle of the picture, causing a web of cracks to appear in the glass around it.

I squinted at the picture.  Was that how a bullet impacted glass or should the glass have shattered completely?  My mind automatically conjured up an image of a bigger hole in the picture with the glass completely shattered out of the frame.  In the next moment, the picture in front of me suddenly had a bigger hole and the glass fell at my feet.  I realized that I didn’t even need the gun!





The Doorkeepers-Chapter-Thirty Five

Andrea found the nearest hotel and they checked into a room with two beds.  It was Marko’s idea that they should stay together for protection.  Andrea eyed him doubtfully. The strain of his health scare had taken a lot out of him.  He looked much too weak to be any sort of help, if anything were to go down.  Right now, he needed more looking after then they did.

The trio trooped up to the room and Marko sat on the bed closest to the door, while the sisters were inspecting the bathroom.  They came out to find he had fallen into a deep, exhausted sleep.  Not wanting to wake him, they scribbled a quick note and left it by the phone on the nightstand, before venturing out in search of the nearest fast food joint. The hotel was in a sketchy part of town, but that couldn’t be helped.  They had to be frugal with their dwindling cash reserves.  Andrea was so intent on what she was saying to her sister that she had taken several steps before realizing that Janet was no longer beside her.

Andrea experienced a moment of panic, when she turned around on the busy sidewalk and didn’t see her sister.  Had someone or something snatched her?  Andrea retraced her steps, looking around wildly.  She called out and no answer came.  Normally, Andrea’s first reaction would be anger.  The shadow cat had depleted her stores of pent-up rage.  Instead, she felt anxiety prodding at her stomach.

People continued to walk around her, unconcerned about her frantic efforts to locate Janet.  Frustration only intensified the growing sense of anxiousness that Andrea felt.  In desperation, she began looking in storefront windows and was relieved to see her sister through the dusty window of a rundown palmistry shop.  Andrea rushed inside.

“What is wrong with you Janet?  One minute I was talking to you and the next thing I know, you’ve disappeared!  Why didn’t you say something?”

“Huh?  Oh, sorry Andrea.  I saw this place and I just had to come in.  I’m going to have my palm read.  Don’t look at me like that Andrea.  With all the craziness that we’ve been through recently, I just want a little reassurance.”

“You are not wasting any money on this nonsense.  We’re barely scraping by as it is.  Pretty soon, we’ll have to start doing odd jobs for cash.”

“Don’t worry, the first reading is free.  You should get your palm read too.”

“You’re joking right?  Janet, these phony baloney places just feed you a bunch of double talk so they can drain your pocketbook.  They probably tell everybody the same thing.  It’s like fortune cookies.  Come on, let’s get something to eat and go back to the hotel.”

“No Andrea, I’m getting my palm read.  I have a strong feeling about this place.  Go on and order the food without me.  By the time you get it, I will have gotten my palm read.”

Andrea fought the urge to continue arguing.  She could tell by the determined look on her sister’s face that it would be pointless.  Andrea let out a frustrated sigh and left, muttering under her breath.  Janet made a face at her sister’s retreating back.  Andrea always had a negative opinion about anything that wasn’t her idea.  Janet closed her eyes and took a deep breath.  They had grown up together.  She had no idea why Andrea’s lack of consideration for her feelings was still so upsetting.

Logically, Janet knew that some palm reader in a hole in the wall shop wasn’t going to predict her future.  In all likelihood, the reading would be completely bogus.  That wasn’t the point.  Janet felt unsettled and just wanted someone, anyone to tell her that nothing catastrophic was looming on the horizon.  It didn’t matter if it was true or not.  She just needed some reassurance.  Marko had enough on his plate keeping them alive without her heaping on her worries.  Andrea had never been good at talking about feelings.  She tended to just roll her eyes and tell Janet to get over herself.

Andrea had decided to leave home as a teenager and brought hardships on herself.  Yet, whenever Janet tried to discuss any personal problems, she got a lecture from her sister about choosing to be a victim.  Andrea loved to grind on about having to survive on the streets with no one but herself to rely on, neglecting to mention the string of men off of whom she sponged.  Just thinking about it made Janet angry.  So, there she was waiting to talk to a stranger about her fears.

The trick here was figuring out how to get things off of her chest without sounding like a fruitcake.  Then again, if you couldn’t talk about spirits and demons with a fortune-teller who could you discuss it with?   The good thing about talking to a stranger about off-the-wall things was that Janet never had to see her again.

She had just managed to calm her nerves when the proprietor of the palmistry shop came sweeping out from behind the beaded curtain.  Janet was surprised to see the woman was relatively young and quiet attractive with long black hair and smoldering, dark eyes.  Suddenly, she felt shy and self-conscious.  Maybe pouring her heart out to a stranger wasn’t such a good idea.

The woman appeared to sense Janet’s uneasiness.  Her red lips parted into a smile and she placed an arm around Janet’s shoulders, gently urging her past the beaded curtains.  The air back there was thick with the smell of incense.  Janet sat down at the table and the woman moved to sit across from her.

“Come and talk to Esmeralda.  Your sister has upset you yes?”

“I…yes, that’s right…”

“Because she does not believe in things like this.  She is not very supportive.”

“No, how did you…Andrea has never been on my side.  In the past, I had friends that I could turn to for support.  But since this business with the talisman…”

Janet knew the moment she said it that she had volunteered too much information.  Esmeralda’s eyes narrowed momentarily and then the solicitous expression returned.  Janet did not like the calculating way the woman had looked at the mention of her talisman.  Esmeralda smiled so engagingly that Janet began to think that she had imagined the appraising look.  Before long, they were chatting like good friends.

The bell over the front door tinkled and in walked Andrea.  How long had they been talking?  Esmeralda hadn’t gotten around to reading her palm.  Rather than keeping Andrea waiting, Esmeralda invited Janet to return alone for her free palm reading.  Andrea rolled her eyes and unceremoniously dropped one of the bags of food in Janet’s lap.

“Come on, let’s get back to the hotel before our food gets cold.”

Esmeralda gave Janet a sympathetic look as she took her leave of the palmistry shop.  Andrea had turned and left without waiting for her sister.  She was several yards away, before Janet got outside.  Being treated like a hardheaded child made her anger boil over.  Janet caught up to her sister and shouted her displeasure.

“Hey, don’t you walk away from me like that!  You embarrassed me back there!”

“And you’re embarrassing me now, shouting like a madwoman.  Lower your voice Janet.  People are staring at us.”

“If you want me to lower my voice, then stop walking away from me.  I’m trying to talk to you.”

“About what Janet?  Don’t tell me your feathers are still ruffled because I didn’t get all excited about you getting your palm read.  Get over yourself.”

“And there it is ladies and gentleman.”

“There what is?  Stop talking to these people.  They’re already staring at us.”

“Would you shut up about these morons?  They don’t know us and we don’t know them.  Who cares if some of them are being nosy?  Worry about me for a change.  I don’t understand why you won’t support me.”

“About getting your palm read?”

“This is not about that, I’m talking in general terms.  Whenever you don’t agree with the way I feel or something I want to do, you try to make me feel ridiculous.”

“That’s because I’m trying to get you to see how silly you’re being.”

“There it is again!”

“There what is?”

“You passing judgement on me.  How would you like it if I did that to you?  Lord knows, you’ve done more than your share of stupid things.”

“Like what Janet?”

“How about the lowlifes you associate with or the decisions you made that landed us in this mess?  Look, I’m not going to stand here and give you an itemized list.  The point is, I’m fed up with not being able to talk to you about things that are important to me.”

“Now, you’re being ridiculous again.  You are such a drama queen Janet!  I am always there for you.  Having your back doesn’t mean I have to let you wallow in self-pity.  As your older sister, it’s my job to…”

“I don’t believe this!  You were gone for most of my teenage years and I’ve been bailing you out of jams for all of my adult years.  Where do you get off trying to play the big sister card?”

Andrea shut down and they walked back to the hotel in stony silence.  The tension was palpable in the hotel room.  Marko sensed that something had gone down between the sisters and wisely decided to stay out of it.  He wolfed down his burger and fries before jumping into the shower.  The sisters each took their turn in the bathroom and then, it was lights out.

Marko immediately sank into a dreamless sleep.  When the scream sounded, it jarred him into a confused state of wakefulness. He sat up in bed and turned on the bedside lamp.  Andrea lay motionless in the other bed.  Marko sighed, thinking that it had been a dream, when his eyes fell on the empty space beside her.  He eased out of bed and staggered over to the bathroom.  It was empty.  Marko went and shook Andrea awake.

“Where is Janet?”




Valley of Shadows-Chapter Thirty-Four

Richard eased his car onto the shoulder of the highway and cut the engine.  Rachel watched him reach into the back seat and retrieve a pair of binoculars.  She waited, but no explanation was forthcoming.  He set about adjusting the binoculars.

“Are you going to tell me where we’re going,” she finally asked.

“This is where we were going.”

“I don’t get it.  You said we were doing some surveillance tonight.”

“That’s exactly what we’re about to do.  Here take a look down there.”

Richard handed his sister the binoculars and directed her attention to the street below them.  Rachel immediately recognized the warehouse that they had visited together.

“We’ve already checked that place out.  Why are we watching it again?”

“I’m testing out a little theory of mine.  My old partner Darryl was a little too interested in what I’ve been up to lately.  I’m not sure that I can trust him, so I decided to conduct a little test.  I told him that I would be breaking into that warehouse tonight and having a look around.”

“Oh, I get it.  You want to see if he’s going to show up.  But what is that going to prove?”

“Well, for one Darryl didn’t tell me he was coming.  If he shows up with his gun drawn…”

“He might just be trying to look out for you.  That warehouse isn’t exactly in the safest neighborhood.”

“You don’t know that man like I do.  If he shows up, it won’t be because he’s trying to watch my back.  He’ll be trying to stick a knife into it.  He hasn’t shown any concern for my well-being, since I left the force.”

“Did you tell him you wanted to keep in touch?  Give him your phone number?”

“Doesn’t matter, he knows where ma lives.  If he really wanted to get in touch with me, then he could have gotten my number from her.”

“Maybe he got the feeling that you didn’t want to keep in touch.”

“What is this?  You in love with the guy or something?”

“Of course not, I couldn’t stand the man.  He was always hitting on me.  I just don’t want you to jump to the wrong conclusions.  The last thing you want to do is to get on the wrong side of a cop.”

“Too late for that, Officer Foster already has it out for me.  Of course, that’s nothing new.  He couldn’t stand me, when I was on the force.”

“Why is that?”

“Other than the color of my skin, he seemed to think I was some sort of goody two shoes and it rankled him.”

“Oh…I could see that.”

“What does that mean?”

“Let’s face it Richard, you always have been a kind of Dudley-do-right.”

“All the trouble I got into growing up and you…”

“Are surprised that you grew into a boring adult.  Of course, I should have seen that coming.  Even when you hung out with the rougher crowd, you always stood up for weak kids whenever somebody started picking on them.  I lost track of how many pathetic wretches you rescued when we were growing up.  Hell, you’re still coming to Harriet’s rescue.”

“What have you got against her?  She had a rough childhood.”

“I know, I know, please don’t go into that old song and dance again.  We’re all adults now.  How long does she get pity for her past?  I’ve struggled too. Where’s my sympathy?”

“Nice try sis.  You created your own problems by constantly rushing headlong into trouble.  No matter how many times you get burned, you still enjoy playing with fire.”

“So, I get bored easily.  I guess to a stick-in-the mud like you, seeking out a little excitement would seem dangerous.  Hey, a police car just pulled up down there.  The door is opening, but the dome light didn’t come on.  I can’t tell how many people are in the car.”

“Give me the binoculars.”

Richard held them up to his eyes and leaned forward eagerly, zooming in on the vehicle.  One person got out.  Richard studied the silhouette.  It was clearly a man. He couldn’t make out anything else.

The figure stepped into the light cast by a street light and Richard was startled to discover that it was Officer Foster.  He cursed under his breath.  Rachel grabbed at the binoculars.  Richard moved back out of her reach.

“What is it Richard?  Is it your old partner?”

“No, it’s that Foster bastard!”

“What a coincidence.”

“It’s not a coincidence.  Don’t you see?  My old partner told him that I’d be there.”

“Oh come on Richard.  That’s a stretch.  Why would he do something like that?  Didn’t you just say Foster is racist?  Well there you go, I can’t Darryl telling Foster anything.”

Richard didn’t respond.  He watched Foster draw his gun and approach the warehouse, find the door locked, make his way along the side of the building, and disappear behind it.  Rachel was still talking but Richard didn’t hear her.  His mind was racing.

Foster walked back around to the front of the building and holstered his gun.  Richard watched him take out his cell phone and make a call.  A moment later, Richard’s cell phone rang.  He looked at the screen.  It was Darryl. Richard shot his sister a triumphant look and took the call, activating the speaker phone.


“Hey man, it’s Darryl.”

“What’s up?”

“Nothing, just thought I’d see what you got going on tonight.”

“Is that right?”

“Yeah man, if you don’t have any plans…hey wait a minute. I just remembered that you said you were gonna check out that warehouse. You still doing that?”

Rachel interjected before Richard could respond, “You sleazy sonuvabitch! We know you set Richard up.”

Richard waved furiously for her to be quiet and disengaged the speakerphone. He pressed the phone to his ear and for a few moments, all he could hear was his own breathing. Darryl sounded surprised.

“You had me on speakerphone? What’s your sister talking about?”

“Cut the bullshit Darryl. You never were a convincing actor. I can’t believe you would do something like this to me!”

“You got a lot of nerve passing judgement on me. Did you ever stop and think about what happened to me when you left the force?”

“What do you mean? You were friends with half the guys on the force. I knew you’d be fine.”

“Wrong, we hung out but those dudes weren’t my friends. There’s a big difference.”

“You lost me.”

“Just ’cause I watched the game and drank a few beers with them doesn’t mean they could be trusted. Do you know what it’s like to be surrounded by backstabbers and liars?”

“As a matter-of-fact I do. Why do you think I left the force Darryl? It became impossible to tell the good guys apart from the bad guys.”

“That’s the way life is man. Ain’t nothing completely black and white. There’s always gonna be gray areas. But at least when we were partners, we watched each other’s back.”

“See that’s just it Darryl. I started feeling like I was on my own.”

“That’s cold man. How could you say something like that? I’ve always had your back, even when the others tried to talk me out of it.”

“Are you….okay, just for the sake of argument let’s say that’s true. Why stab me in the back tonight?”

“Remember what I said about gray areas? A lot has gone down since you left the force. I got in a jam and Foster helped me out. I owed him.”

“So you were willing to let him shoot me to pay down your debt?”

“What? That wasn’t the agreement. He was just going to confront you. Maybe scare you…”

“Throw me in jail, and make sure I have a record.”

“No man, he wouldn’t…”

“You can’t be that naive! Do you really think that asshole would let me off for breaking and entering with a slap on the wrist and a stern lecture? That’s just insulting!”

Richard abruptly ended the call, not wanting to hear anymore of Darryl’s excuses. He snatched up the binoculars and waited for Foster’s cellphone to ring. The call came and it felt good to see Foster’s consternation as Darryl broke the news. Richard laughed, despite his own irritation.

“What is it Richard?”

“Foster is pissed off. He’s just found out that I won’t be coming out to play tonight. But as enjoyable as it is to disappoint him, it’s a little disturbing that the man is so determined to bring me down.”

“That part makes no sense to me. If Foster hates you so much, why would he wait all these years to come after you?”

“Who knows why hate filled people do anything?”

“No, really Richard. Think about it. You didn’t start having problems with Foster until you started nosing around that warehouse.”

“You may have something there. Foster has always been a little crooked. Maybe someone is paying him to run me off.”

“Exactly…so what’s our next move?”

“Well, since all my troubles started with that warehouse, I say we track down the owner and look into the business that was operating out of that place.”

“How do we do that? You’re not a cop anymore.”

“No, but our brother is an investigative journalist.”