Friday, March 10, 2017

Demonspell 3


Several readers thanked me for supplying chapters they have missed. So I may go ahead a do that, supply the previous chapter each week. Anyway, here is last week's chapter.  

 CHAPTER 3    
   The knob turned slow motion, the way they do in horror films. Or I was trying to think in fast motion. My hand tightened around my coffee mug, probably not a deadly weapon even if aimed precisely.
   The door should push inward on creaking hinges, widening by inches, until it finally opened to reveal a monster.
   It opened according to script except that instead of a hairy beast, a woman stood in the open doorway, her hand on the knob, her face mirroring my shocked expression. She clutched her throat as though breathless with terror, but she had no trouble saying, “I am so sorry!  Mr. Hadley assured me the house was vacant. He gave me a key.”
   She wore a gray suit, a ruffley pink blouse, such heavy make-up that I had no idea what she actually looked like, and sprayed-stiff blond hair that could have been a wig except that it was pulled up and back from her face in a high wave that clearly showed where the roots left her scalp.
   What frightened me was the briefcase clutched tightly in one hand, her white-knuckled fingers gripping the handle. I didn’t reply. I sat perfectly still.
   There was a slight rustling from under the table and I felt way too much warm flesh brush my hand as Charley crawled past my legs.
   Why would anyone walk into someone else’s house without knocking or ringing the bell?  Why talk about keys when she had not used one?  And why had I not heard the screen door? 
   To open it silently must have required concentrated effort. I let those obvious questions hang between us. I didn’t have to say them.
   I won the wait-out. She said, “This is the Royal house, isn’t it?  Are you Mrs. Royal?”
   “You’re the intruder. Who are you?” I said and tried to keep my voice steady.
   “I am so sorry. I feel terrible, Mrs. Royal. I had no idea, that is, he said, he mentioned that the kitchen door might be open and so I thought I’d take a quick look around, do you mind?”
   Okay, that steadied me. “You bet I mind, whoever you are.”
   She didn’t flush or sweat or any of those things people do when nervous, although there was a lot of actress-type hand-fluttering.
   “This is awful. I am so embarrassed. My name is Simone Marsh and I’m with Home Realty and I wanted to do a look-through before I brought my client around.”  She glanced around the kitchen, then out the windows. “I think if you trimmed those rhododendrons down, you’d have a wonderful view. Really ups the price.”
   I stood slowly, clutching my half-empty coffee mug, and said, “Sorry, too late, the place is sold.”
   “What?  But Mr. Hadley --”
   “Mr. Hadley is an idiot,” I said.
   She frowned down at her briefcase and I was ready to pick up a chair and swing it if she touched the clasp. All I knew about guns was that Paul had seen one in the briefcase of a snoop in a suit.
   “I really must apologize,” she said again in a sticky sweet voice. “This is such a lovely house, perfect for a large family. How many people live here?”
   “Just me.”
   “Are you sure?” she said, which was such an odd question, it cut way past idle curiosity. From across the room I could smell her strong perfume. Had she been with yesterday’s trespassers?    
   Everything about this woman was wrong and if I’d had half a brain, I’d have grabbed the chair and held it in front of me, lion-tamer style. Instead I foolishly remained coldly polite.
   “I am sure you should leave,” I said.
   “I don’t think so,” she said, and I stood there openmouthed as she dove at me and swung her briefcase in a wide half circle.
   It was stiff leather with metal corners. It hit me square in the face. I stumbled back, crashing to my knees on the linoleum. A hand caught my arm and tried to steady me. I blinked in disbelief at the sudden pain, my eyes filling with tears.
   Something sticky and hot ran out of my nose. By my ear I heard another crack of noise. I flinched and turned my face toward the cupboards. Her footsteps clicked across the tiles, through the dining room and across the hall.
   “Stay down, I’ll be back,” Charley whispered.
   I couldn’t hear him move away from me, he did it so quietly, but I could feel a draft that he had blocked. When I tried to open my eyes, I could only manage a narrow slit. A roar circled inside my head and tweaked raw nerves.
   If I tried to stand, I would collapse, I knew that, so I stayed put and listened, really listened, thought about it, shut out all the normal sounds of street traffic and neighbor dogs and the refrigerator motor.
   The woman ran across the living room. Stopped. The sound died and then there was the scraping of things being moved, furniture being dragged aside. What did she think we hid under the end tables? 
   The door to the TV room had its own familiar squeak, followed by a short silence while she searched that room. Surely a glance would show her that we did indeed own a TV. Or was she checking the seating, trying to calculate how many people lived in a house that included a couch and three chairs facing the TV?
   Next recognizable noise was the door to the library, and I suspected Charley was at her heels. There was nothing there worth concealing. In fact, the only thing worth concealing was Charley himself.
   The woman stayed in the library long enough to circle past the built-in bookcases and pull out the file cabinet drawers and finger-walk the file folders in them.
   Must have been a big disappointment if she expected to find anything. Nothing there except annual reports from equities in the family trust and also insurance policies, equally exciting reading, and maybe the utility bills, because for some reason Edith likes to keep them for a year. I think Edith compares them to last year’s totals and why was I worrying about that when an intruder had probably broken my nose and was now invading my house?
   Next the Simone person went up the stairs, hurrying. Did she think I would pursue?  Hah, I haven’t been upstairs in twenty years.
   Her steps thumped overhead to the front bathroom, then out to the hall, and turned into Paul and Gizelle’s rooms. She ran in and out of Charley’s room before  crossing the hall to check the back bath. I heard a sharp click-click on the tile floor. Was she wearing heels?   I hadn’t noticed. Sounded that way.
   The door opened and closed to Walter’s room. She rushed back toward the front of the house, her footsteps circling Edith’s rooms before she banged her way to the head of the stairs and thumped down.
   The woman looked thin but sounded like an elephant as she raced out the front door.
   It slammed behind her and that door does not slam on its own. She must have been furious about something. I couldn’t guess what. I was the one with the aching face.
   I slumped back against the kitchen cabinets, resting my head on the wood, and tried not to faint. Until then I hadn’t realized that I had been sitting stiffly straight on the floor, every muscle tense.
   A wet washcloth gently moved across my face and a hand steadied my head.
   “What the hell was that?” I whispered.
   “A whatever from hell,” Charley said as he dabbed at my nose.
   “Ow. I heard her search the living room and dining room. Did she go in my bedroom or my office?”
   “No. She probably knows what’s there from spying through the windows.”
   I opened my eyes to an empty room and was relieved that my eyes still opened and worked. My throbbing nose was another matter.
   “Is my nose broken?”
   “Bloody. But I don’t think it’s broken.”
   “It feels horrible.”
   “Want to try to stand up?”
   I didn’t reach for Charley because I could picture what I couldn’t see but not well enough to know where not to put my hands.
   He caught my elbows, hoisted me up and guided me to a chair. Then I watched the bolt slide closed on the back door. With my elbows on the kitchen table, I propped up my head, my eyes closed against the dizziness, until I heard them all come down the stairs to surround me.
   A see-through fluttery dressing gown stood close to silk pajama bottoms. Wool slippers beneath cotton pajama pants and a neatly belted flannel robe shuffled slowly toward me. Last was a wraparound Diane von Furstenberg dress, the ties carefully bowed. Charley’s jeans were still in a lump under the table but his hand was firmly on my shoulder.
   “What was all that?” I asked.
   “She went through all our rooms,” Edith said.
   “Most uncalled for,” Walter said.
   “Damned rude,” the silk pajama bottoms said and the transparent dressing gown giggled.
   “Where did you all go?” I asked.
   “We didn’t go anywhere, dear,” Edith said. “Charley warned us and I took off my dress and draped it on the chair and then stood in front of the window. She came far enough into my bedroom to look under the bed and open the closet door, that’s all.”
   When von Furstenberg designed the wraparound dress, had she ever dreamed it would be used to aid someone with an invisibility problem? Knowing Edith, I knew she’d not only tied a perfect bow before coming downstairs, she had undoubtedly also combed her white hair, even though no one could see it.
   Gizelle said, “We went out on the back porch.”  She didn’t explain what they did with their clothing. Just as well.
   I could smell the cigar smoke on Walter. Wherever he had chosen to hide, it was a good thing that the realtor traveled in her bubble of heavy perfume and hairspray. She probably could not smell past herself.
   “Uh, Walter, where’s your cigar?” I’d learned years ago to automatically ask Walter where he’d set down his last smoking object, whether it was a cigar or a pipe.
   “It’s in his ashtray,” Edith said. “I checked.”
   Charley had warned all of them and they had all done their own version of a disappearing act, practiced over the centuries until it was second nature to them. So there had been no lumps under the covers, only empty rooms.
    Whatever the woman’s reason for snooping, all she saw was that the upstairs rooms were used but unoccupied at the moment.
   “Find my phone and that realtor’s card on my desk,” I said to whoever wanted to do that.
   A minute later my cell phone appeared and a card settled onto the table in front of me. I squinted past the throbbing in my head and hit the buttons.
   When he picked up, I said, “Elaine Royal here, you bastard, some woman said you told her she could come in and she did and she attacked me and I am about to phone my lawyer and sue you cross-eyed.”
   Hadley sounded genuinely shocked. “Miss Royal?  What happened?  What woman?  Should I come over?”
   “Sure, come over. I’ll have the cops waiting.”
   “I don’t know what you’re talking about. I didn’t send anyone to your house.”
   “Did you give directions to a Simone Marsh from Home Realty, give her a key or tell her the back door was unlocked?”
   “The back door?  At your place?  Of course not. I don’t have keys to your house. And if I did, I wouldn’t hand them out. We always use lockboxes. When there is no lockbox, a realtor is required to ring the bell and receive permission to enter.”  This all came out like a memorized speech, an explanation given to every client. Then he slowed, sounded confused. “I don’t know, wait, let me enter that, Simone Marsh. No, don’t see that name with any King County realtors.”
   For some awful reason, I was beginning to believe him. The rest sounded even less plausible, too simple, not a person’s name, not one of the chains. “Home Realty?”
   “That’s a common phrase. Several offices use it combined with other words. My computer doesn’t show anything for a Home Realty with nothing else added to the name. Miss Royal, what did this person want?”
   “To search my house. She hit me with a briefcase, believe it, I have a bloody nose to prove it, and then she ran upstairs and looked in all the rooms.”
   “My God. That’s terrible.”  Unlike Simone Marsh, Hadley sounded sincere and also very upset.
   “Yes, it is. I’ve had house guests and they left their stuff in the rooms and if anything is missing --.”  My voice trailed off.
   He repeated apologies and assurances that he knew nothing of a Simone Marsh while I considered the emptiness of my threats. I hung up.
   What could I do, report a break-in to police and then try to explain that the clothes in the closets belonged to guests but that I could not give out their names and addresses? 
   “I hate my life.”
   They made sympathy noises around me. I felt Edith’s hand on my shoulder, heard her murmur, “Poor child. You should put cold water on your face, dear, it might help keep the swelling down. I have some sleeping pills if you’d like.”
   A wine bottle came out of the refrigerator. A full glass appeared in front of me. And then four wine glasses floated through the air, were filled and floated slowly away in front of the assorted clothing. Later they would discuss this with me, but now they knew I needed to think about it by myself.
   Only Charley remained, bending over me and pulling me backwards into a hug. He leaned his face on the top of my head. “I tried to get between your nose and that briefcase. Did the second time. She moved fast. Sweetie, you go wash and lie down. I’ll lock up everywhere with chains and bolts and I’ll hang around down here. Don’t turn around, I know you hate it when you can’t see us, even if you don’t say so. Go on.” 
   He helped me up from my chair, as though he thought a smashed nose disabled my legs, and gave me a gentle push toward the hall door. I stumbled down to my room, went into my bathroom, touched my rapidly discoloring nose. It was swelling its way toward being a big ugly lump. The rest of my tear-streaked face looked smaller behind it. Even my hair looked limp and dull and in desperate need of a touchup.
   The noise I’d heard after she hit me was a second swing. Charley must have stopped it with his hand, and close enough to me that she thought she’d got me a second time.
   He could have broken a finger. Maybe he did. Unlike me, he healed quickly. Holding a cold wet washcloth against my face, I did what he’d said, lay down on my bed while the room spun and faded around me.
   Was Hadley lying?  Not likely. If there was a realtor by that name, he knew I would find out so why shoot down his credibility with me? 
   I reached in my pocket, dug out my phone and did the thumb dance with Sam’s number.
  
Next week:   CHAPTER 5




Sunspinners 3, 4 is the newest LostLoves BookClub boxed set, released March 15. It will be on  its release date sale for $3.99 until March 30. After that its regular price will be $4.99.




2 comments:

  1. I am loving this. Can't wait to find out what's going on. Well done

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  2. Forgot to check the notify me box. Lol

    ReplyDelete