By Gregory Lamberson
Medallion Press, Inc. Copyright © 2013 Gregory Lamberson
All rights reserved.
Laurel Doniger awoke alone in her windowless bedroom. Except for one night spent in the arms of Jake Helman, she had lived in seclusion for three years. She met with clients, of course, and Jackie Krebbs, the building's engineer, saw to her needs as far as food deliveries went, but otherwise she experienced no human contact. Worse, she had not set foot outside the storefront property, which served as her home and business, during all that time. But at least she was alive.
In the kitchen, she turned on the radio and the television. She had no difficulty processing the separate streams of information. The weatherman on The Today Show predicted clear skies and a beautiful day in New York City, while on the local radio news station a commercial for therapeutic cloning ended.
Lying on a mat on the floor, Laurel stretched and performed forty-five minutes of calisthenics, including jumping jacks, squats, crunches, sit-ups, push-ups, calf raises, lunges, and running in place. She followed this routine every day; confined to her apartment, she got no other exercise.
With a sheen of sweat clinging to her body, she showered, dressed in a simple green summer dress, and prepared egg whites and a fruit salad. After breakfast she swallowed numerous vitamins, a necessity because sunlight no longer touched her skin.
At 9:00 a.m., her front door buzzed, another routine. Laurel slipped on some comfortable shoes—she only wore them when she had visitors—and crossed the sunken parlor. The five-inch monitor mounted next to the door displayed a short, wiry man with a full head of bushy white hair and a mustache that hid his upper lip. He looked like a character in a Dr. Seuss book. Using the keypad, she shut off the alarm system and twisted the four locks on the door. She stepped back as Jackie entered.
"Good morning," he said.
"Do you need anything?"
"No, thanks. I'm all set."
"It's going to be a beautiful day."
"That's what I hear."
"Jake still isn't back."
Laurel already knew. She would have sensed Jake's vibrations in the building if he had returned. "Maybe today."
"I hope he's all right."
So do I.
"Holler if you need me."
Jackie stepped out into the sunlight, and Laurel closed the door, relocked it, and reset the alarm. She knew Jackie had a crush on her, so she was careful not to encourage him in that respect, but she depended on him for too much.
Stepping down into the sunken parlor, she passed the only furniture in the room: a round table covered with a red cloth and two chairs. She never saw more than one client at a time.
One hour later, Laurel studied the pretty brunette in the monitor. The woman had introduced herself as Janet Rogers over the telephone. Laurel unlocked the door and stepped back, then pressed the intercom button. "Please come in."
Janet opened the door, allowing sunlight to flood the inside of the parlor. Laurel remained in the shadows as the woman entered. Janet appeared as a silhouette until the door closed, shutting out the light. "Miss Laurel?"
"Yes." Laurel locked the door and gestured to the table. "This way."
Laurel stepped down into the sunken room and sat on the far side of the table, and Janet sat opposite her.
"Have you had a reading before?" Laurel said.
"How can I help you?"
"My husband, Alex, is missing. He works in Manhattan and commutes from Long Island every day. We've been married for six years. The only thing we don't have is a child. Last year I learned I can't conceive. He's been drinking a lot since then—I guess we both have—and we've been arguing."
Laurel didn't want to think about Long Island. "Couldn't you find a psychic out there?"
"I wanted to go somewhere I wouldn't be recognized."
"I told you my fee over the phone."
Janet reached inside her purse and took out some folded money. "It's all there. Y ou can count it if you want."
Laurel closed her fingers around the money and felt Janet's vibrations strengthened through the twenty-dollar bills. She saw the woman counting out three hundred dollars and sticking the money into her purse several hours earlier. "That isn't necessary." She set the money on the table.
"I'll need a receipt."
"When we're done. You'd like me to tell you where your husband is?"
Janet offered a weak smile. "You read my mind."
Laurel rested the back of her hand against the table's surface between them. "Take my hand."
Janet slid one hand over Laurel's, and Laurel closed her other hand over it. A low electric current passed through Laurel, who tried to show no reaction. A barrage of images assaulted her at blinding speed, and conversations Janet had engaged in echoed in a cacophony. Years earlier, Laurel would have found it difficult to sort through the visual and audio data, but now she did so with ease while Janet gazed at her with curiosity. Light blossomed through pleasant moments and darkened over unhappy experiences.
Laurel pushed the light aside and traveled through the darkness. A ticking grandfather clock loomed before her, showing 1:00 a.m. Janet's Suburban occupied the driveway of her Long Island home. The clock struck 2:00 a.m. A man's face filled her vision as he called Janet crazy. In the garage a shovel struck the back of his head with skull-rattling force.
Flinching, Laurel looked down as she pulled her hands away from Janet's. "I can't help you."
Laurel looked into Janet's eyes. "I just choose not to."
"That's it? What about my money?"
Laurel slid the money across the table and left it there. She did not want to reengage her connection with this woman.
"I came a long way to get here. I don't want my money back; I want my reading."
Laurel's jaw tightened. "And you want a receipt?"
"I want to know where my husband is."
"You already know where he is: four feet underground in woods a quarter of a mile from your house. You put him there after you buried a shovel in his skull."
The color drained from Janet's face.
"He was leaving you for another woman, so you killed him. You're a suspect in the case, but the police haven't found any evidence yet. You only came here today for the receipt for my services, so you can claim you're doing everything you can to find him."
Janet leapt to her feet, almost knocking the chair over. "You're a freak."
Laurel watched her scramble out of the sunken room. "The police will find Alex's body eventually. Things will go better for you if you turn yourself in now."
Janet twisted the doorknob, and when the door wouldn't budge she fumbled with the locks. Then she jerked the door open and fled into the bright sunlight.
As soon as the door closed Laurel turned the locks and reset the alarm. She didn't cry, which was something at least. Janet had only left her feeling nauseous. Laurel had no idea if the police would find Alex Rogers's body; she did not see into the future. She could only hope her bluff would shake Janet enough to drive her to confess her crime. Sadness for Alex crept over Laurel, who dared not call the police.
As she crossed the parlor an explosion caused her to jump. Spinning, she gazed at the curtained front window. Seconds passed, and then light flickered through the fabric, followed by a second explosion, this one closer to the building.
Thunder and lightning, she thought. But that was impossible. She had just seen sunshine outside, and the weatherman had predicted clear skies. She ran to the door and switched off the alarm, then reached for the top lock.
She froze, rigid with fear.
Then she reactivated the alarm and hurried across the parlor. She reached as far as the table when thunder exploded again, producing a boom that reverberated through the walls. Laurel lost her balance and fell to the floor. She wanted to curse herself. How had she been so clumsy?
The whole building shook. Grasping the table's edge, she climbed to her feet.
Thunder roared again, so loud it sounded as if it had originated inside the parlor. The lights blinked and went out.
Standing in the dark, Laurel glanced at the keypad on the far wall. Its power light had gone off as well. She knew the emergency generator would kick on in less than one minute.
Lightning flashed outside, briefly illuminating the parlor, and when the thunder followed Laurel knew she was no longer alone.
Excerpted from Storm Demon by Gregory Lamberson. Copyright © 2013 Gregory Lamberson. Excerpted by permission of Medallion Press, Inc..
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