After learning about the suicide of the boy he bullied relentlessly as a teenager, Neil is tormented by ghostly voices and apparitions. His shrewd mind, whose preeminence has been vital to his success, begins to crumble as the hauntings become more harrowing and deadly. Frantic, Neil descends into a frenzied search for answers, only to discover that things aren't always what they seem.
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|Publisher:||Chicago Review Press, Incorporated|
|Product dimensions:||5.00(w) x 8.20(h) x 0.70(d)|
About the Author
Before working in information technology, Michael spent eight years in radio broadcasting, working for stations in New Jersey and West Virginia, including the Marconi Award winning WVAQ in Morgantown. He has been “up and down the dial” working as on-air personality, promotions director, and even program director. This experience has provided a wealth of fond, enduring, and, sometimes, scandalous memories that he hopes to someday write about.
Among the writers in which he finds inspiration, Michael favors P.D. James, Raymond Chandler, Leslie Charteris, Simon Brett, Terry Pratchett, and Ian Fleming. He lives in Delaware with his wife, Diane, and their three furry four-legged “kids”, Simon, Brandy, and Preaya.
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In his twentieth-floor apartment, Neil Brewster was sweating. His disheveled chocolate-brown hair was matted with moisture. Beads of perspiration formed across his broad forehead, one dislodging and racing down the cheek of his tapered face to his chin. It hung for a moment, and then plummeted six feet, spattering upon impact with the black treadmill belt.
Through a nearby window, Neil watched the Monday morning sun breach the horizon, casting a faint orange kaleidoscope across the towering steel and glass forest of the Manhattan skyline. It'd be another hour before the streets began to swell with pedestrians. Even in his upscale part of Manhattan, the homeless wouldn't be far behind, sitting on street corners with their hands out. Just the thought disgusted Neil. They should just get a job like everyone else, he often thought.
As his gray running shoes pounded on the treadmill, Neil glanced at the display positioned above the forward hand grip. Forty-four minutes. One more to go. His chest heaved with each breath as he maintained a steady pace through the final stretch of his workout.
To the thirty-six-year-old defense attorney, these early morning moments of solitude were sacrosanct. No phone. No discussions. No interruptions. Neil considered it his Mecca, his quantum of solace. Even his fiancée knew better than to enter the room while he was working out. It had happened once. It never happened again.
The daily workout characterized the intensity with which he lived every day of his life. From eager Harvard Law School graduate to the most sought after defense attorney in New York, his forceful nature had helped accelerate his career, skyrocketing him to eminence among his fellow attorneys and making him the bane of every prosecutor in the city.
As the display passed forty-five minutes, the treadmill belt speed decreased, beginning its cool-down cycle. As his pace slowed from a full-on run to a fast jog, Neil permitted his mind to finally begin processing the day ahead of him and, most importantly, the case on which he was currently working.
He knew it'd be easy to sow doubt about the bloodied baseball in the minds of the jury. The police could only tie it back to his client, Rodney Sinclair, because it was found nearby when he was arrested. It was circumstantial at best. The two witnesses claiming to have seen the New York State Senator's son beat the homeless man to death should be easy to break during cross examination. Especially if his legal aides had been successful in digging up some dirt over the weekend. It was the eight ounces of cocaine found in the trunk of Sinclair's BMW that would be tricky. Neil hadn't quite determined his angle on that yet, but he knew he would. He always did.
When he crossed the hall from the exercise room to the bathroom, he paused for a moment to glance into his bedroom. Sheila was still asleep, laying huddled beneath the beige silk sheets, her long auburn hair flowing down the pillow onto the bed. He was tempted, for a moment, to slip beneath the sheets for an early morning grope, but decided against it. Smiling, he moved on toward the bathroom.
In the shower, Neil allowed the near-scalding water to flow over his trim physique. As he scrubbed his chest and arms with a washcloth, he continued to contemplate the details of the Sinclair case. Lost in his thoughts, he wasn't aware that Sheila had slipped in behind him until he felt her arms wrap around him and her breasts press into his back. Neil smiled. "You're awake."
Sheila kissed his earlobe. "When I heard the water, I just couldn't resist." Even in the steamy shower, her breath against his skin was warm and arousing. Her hands reached up to caress his chest, causing him to draw in a deep breath.
He turned to face her, watching the water cascade through her hair, down her firm breasts, and over her smooth legs. With her eyes half-closed, her lips parted in anticipation. Wrapping his arms around her slim body, he gripped her buttocks in a tight grasp, pulling her toward him, and kissed her hard on the lips. Neil felt her lean backward into the cold tile wall, pulling him with her. As her nails raked down his back, he knew he'd have to disappoint her. When their lips parted, Sheila's mouth formed an exaggerated pout, as if she already knew what he was going to say.
Reaching up, Neil touched her cheek. "It's Monday morning. I don't have the time."
"You always say that."
"It happens to be true."
She smiled. "I'm beginning to wonder if you're just using me for weekend sex."
"Not just weekends."
Sheila laughed, and then leaned forward, giving him a brief kiss on the lips. "At least it's great sex."
Stepping out of the shower, she reached for a towel and began to dry herself. His eyes locked onto the curves of her sleek body, admiring its soft skin and shapely form. It hadn't been easy for him to turn her down moments before, but sex was just sex. He could get that anywhere if he wanted. It was his well-cultivated reputation as an attorney that made him who he was. Neil smiled as she leaned over to dry her legs, giving him pause at the sight of her voluptuous ass.
"I'm one goddamn lucky bastard."
"What was that?"
"I said I'm lucky."
Still bent over, she glanced back at him, smiling. "You could've been just now."
He laughed, grabbing the bottle of shampoo from the small shower shelf. He poured a generous amount into his hand and began to lather his hair.
"How's Rodney's case coming along?" she asked.
"Good so far, as long as he doesn't say something stupid."
"Rodney isn't the brightest of the Sinclair family."
He dipped his head under the shower head to rinse away the shampoo. "You know him?"
"Rodney's family has a summer home near ours in the Hamptons. Daddy's known the senator for years. Do you think he did it?"
Neil's mind harkened back to his first meeting with Rodney Sinclair. His pale complexion and the bags beneath his client's eyes had told him all he needed to know. Hearing his client's side of the story only solidified his opinion. Guilty as sin. But Neil didn't care. He wasn't being paid to care, only to get his client off. He turned the water off in the shower. "Of course he did it."
Stepping out of the shower, he grabbed a towel and began to dry his hair. Sheila slung her towel over her shoulder, gave him a teasing wiggle of her ass, and then left the room.
WHEN he crossed to the bedroom, Neil found Sheila curled up beneath the bed sheets once again. Crossing to the tall ebony dresser, he pulled gray bikini briefs from the top drawer. As he bent to pull them up his legs, a long sensual purr came from the bed.
He said, "No catcalls allowed."
"Oh, it's okay for you but not for me?"
Neil smiled. "Of course."
He crossed to the closet, pulling out a white silk shirt. As he worked the buttons up the front, he glanced at his fiancée. She was leaning on one elbow, watching him dress.
She said, "I'm going with Gina today to pick out the bridesmaids' dresses. Do you have any preferences?"
"Something with a low neckline."
"Jerk. You just want to see their cleavage."
"My dear, yours are the only tits I want to see from now on."
She flopped back into the pillows. "Liar."
His only response was a smile. Theirs had never been a relationship based on love. Neither of them had any expectation of that. A sense of mutual attraction and reciprocal benefit was the only thing that kept them together. He had never completely figured out what Sheila really got out of their relationship. He'd always assumed she was there for the sex. Neil, for his part, had his eye on the wedding gift promised by Sheila's father: a senior partnership in Waldstein, Conner, and Strauss.
Reaching back into the closet, Neil pulled out the black slacks of an Armani suit. Sliding his legs into the trousers elicited a whistle from Sheila. After fixing a half-Windsor knot in his silk tie, Neil crossed to the bed and, leaning close to his fiancée, kissed her hard and long on the lips. He felt her hand touch his shoulder and glide down the front of his shirt, making Neil wish even more that he didn't have to leave. When their lips parted, he reached for his suit coat.
"Sorry. I've got to go."
As he stepped out of the bedroom, he heard, "Tell Daddy I said hello."
IN the kitchen, Neil placed a K-Cup — Caramel Vanilla Cream — into the Keurig and slid a mug underneath. As he waited for his coffee in silence, his eyes traced the random design in the gray granite countertop. He'd handpicked the granite slab himself three years prior when he was preparing to move in. It was a nice complement to the restaurant-grade, stainless-steel appliances and handmade walnut cabinets he'd specially ordered from an Amish furniture maker. Running his finger along the edge of one of the cabinet doors, he found a faint layer of dust on the tip. He'd have to reiterate to Maria what he meant when he said everything must be spotless. He paid his maid well and expected far better from her. Maybe he'd threaten again to report her to Immigration. That always made her shape up.
With his mug in hand, he leaned against the sink, enjoying the morning's first sip of coffee. His eyes roamed the kitchen, falling upon the French-door refrigerator, and more specifically, a folded card hanging on the door from a red magnetic clip. The invitation had arrived ten days earlier in the mail, and it had intrigued him ever since. From across the room, he read the embossed words "You're Invited." The fancy silver script stood in contrast to the black front flap of the card.
When the invitation had arrived, it brought with it a flood of memories from Neil's childhood, many of which made him smile. The names listed within the card were ones that he hadn't heard in over eighteen years. Despite the fond memories, Sheila had seemed more excited about the card's arrival than he had.
"It sounds like fun," she had said, reading the card over breakfast. "You gonna go?"
Without looking up from the New York Times financial section, Neil shook his head. "I don't do reunions."
"Why not? They're your friends."
"Were. They were my friends. I haven't spoken to any of them in ..." He paused to do a calculation in his head, "At least eighteen years."
"This would be a good time to get reacquainted."
The newspaper crinkled louder than it should when he turned the page. His patience was thinning. "Sheila, I've no interest in getting reacquainted. No need to look back on the wistful days of my youth."
"Don't you ever wonder what everyone's up to?"
"No. Not in the least. I couldn't care less what my friends are doing right now." Sighing, he set the newspaper down, peering across the table at her. "I've got better things to do with my time than watch a bunch of sad losers try to reclaim the glories of their youth." He'd tried to keep the irritation out of his voice, but no such luck.
Sheila huffed in frustration. "Sometimes you can be such a prick."
Her words still echoed in his mind as he sipped his coffee. Despite his remarks to Sheila two weeks prior, Neil had held onto the invitation, leaving it hanging on the refrigerator where he saw it every morning. Although he had no intention of going, the invitation intrigued him, almost haunting him. The very idea of a reunion with old friends flew in the face of every philosophy he had ever lived by. He never looked back at his past and never kept in touch with anyone who could no longer provide value. Casting off irrelevant acquaintances had become routine, and his life was littered with the discarded relationships of friends, allies, and even enemies.
The invitation should have gone in the trash the day it arrived, but something had held him back. Taking another sip from his mug, Neil tracked the silver lettering with his eyes, wondering what hold it had on him, wondering why he couldn't let it go.
Standing in his Manhattan corner office, Neil gazed out of the floor-to-ceiling window upon the cityscape thirty floors below him. His hands were buried deep in the pockets of his trousers as he rocked back and forth on the heels of his patent leather shoes. His eyes scanned the skyline, inspecting the windows of the buildings within his immediate view. He caught sight of an overweight man two floors down in a window of the building across the street. The man's shirt sleeves were rolled up and his hair slicked back over a balding head. Like Neil, the man appeared to be admiring the scenery beyond his own window. When their eyes met, the man across the way smiled, giving Neil a quick wave of his hand. Neil, in response, returned a cynical smile, and then gave him the finger.
"Jackass," he said.
Where many might find his office view to be awe-inspiring, Neil found it to be empowering. Looking down on people from such a lofty height wasn't just a metaphor. Standing before his window, he was a potentate surveying his kingdom from a high tower. Somewhere amidst that forest of glass, steel, and concrete were millions of lowly citizens working to support that kingdom, keeping the potentates like himself fat, happy, and rich.
"There's three kinds of people in this city," he'd once said to a reporter from the New York Times. "The filthy rich, who won't give you the time of day unless your net worth is followed by at least eight zeros. There's those of a similar intellectual and financial status as myself. Not too many of them around. And finally, there's everyone else. The riff-raff. The laborers. The middle class and below."
When the reporter seemed to be at a loss for words, Neil added, "In case you're wondering, you're in that last group."
The law offices of Waldstein, Conner, and Strauss occupied five floors of the office building, twenty-six through thirty. Neil's office was the most spacious, save those occupied by the firm's three senior partners. Two of the four walls were glass, providing him with an unobstructed view of Central Park and Manhattan's Upper East Side. Floor-to-ceiling bookshelves along the opposite wall were overrun with heavy bound volumes of legal reference books. His own expensive tastes were evident in the small Jackson Pollock hanging from the wall. It was one of the artist's lesser known pieces, but Neil had still paid a small fortune for it.
At the faint rap on his office door, he gave a slight turn of his head, saying, "Come."
Hearing the door open, Neil returned his gaze to the view beyond his window. A sweet fragrance wafted into the office with its wearer, telling him all he needed to know. Chanel No. 5. He knew without looking who had just entered. Closing his eyes, Neil inhaled deeply, allowing the floral bouquet to invade his olfactory senses and elicit the hidden desires he harbored for the new arrival.
Dressed in a navy business suit, Jenni crossed the office with the grace of royalty. With her flowing blonde hair falling carelessly onto her shoulders, the twenty-six-year-old secretary flashed him a broad smile. She set a steaming mug on his mahogany desk. "Your coffee, Mr. Brewster."
His eyes traced the curves of her hips, then roamed up her body. "Ah, my morning vision of loveliness."
"Two sugars and two creams. Just as you like."
"Jenni, are you sure I can't persuade you to run off to the tropics with me?" He smiled. "We could make love on the beach every night."
Jenni tilted her head to the side, feigning embarrassment. "Now, Mr. Brewster. What would Miss Waldstein say?"
"Nothing. She'd never know."
Neil crossed to the desk, picked up his coffee, and took a slow long sip. Watching her over the edge of the mug, he admired the blazing blue irises of her eyes. He was certain she must wear colored contacts. No one could have eyes that blue. The color reminded him of his birthstone, sapphire. Sheila had gifted him a pair of cufflinks with brilliant sapphires embedded in gold for his last birthday, but Jenni's eyes put those to shame. Setting the mug back down, he leaned against the desk, folding his arms.
"Just between us, Jenni. If I'd met you first ..."
"You'd still have chosen Ms. Waldstein."
Neil laughed. "Perhaps you're right." He tapped the desk with his finger. "If you won't run away with me, how about a quickie here on the desk?"
Some would call his comments sexual harassment, but he knew Jenni would never complain. She was paid well enough to tolerate his occasional inappropriate behavior. She'd be hard pressed to find an equivalent salary anywhere else. Besides, she seemed to enjoy their little tete-a-tetes. And who knew? Maybe one day she'd give in to his advances.
As she touched his shoulder, Jenni gave him a mischievous grin. "You're a naughty boy, Mr. Brewster."
"You can call me Neil, you know."
She turned toward the door. "I know, Mr. Brewster."
Excerpted from "Follow You Down"
Copyright © 2018 Michael Bradley.
Excerpted by permission of Amberjack Publishing.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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