Authors: Merry Jones
Tags: #Mystery: Thriller - Paranormal - Mexico
|Merry Jones - Elle Harrison 02 - Elective Procedures|
|Elle Harrison |
|Oceanview Publishing (2014)|
|Tags:||Mystery: Thriller - Paranormal - Mexico|
The Trouble with Charlie
Behind the Walls
The Borrowed and Blue Murders
The Deadly Neighbors
The River Killings
The Nanny Murders
America’s Dumbest Dates
If She Weren’t My Best Friend, I’d Kill Her
Please Don’t Kiss Me at the Bus Stop
I Love Her, But …
I Love Him, But …
Women Who Relinquished Babies for Adoption Tell Their Stories
Keeping It Together with Your Husband and His Kids
Copyright © 2014 by Merry Jones
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including information storage and retrieval systems, without permission in writing from the publisher, except by a reviewer who may quote brief passages in a review.
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, organizations, places, and incidents either are the products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, businesses, locales, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
Published in the United States of America by Oceanview Publishing, Longboat Key, Florida
10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1
PRINTED IN THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
To Robin, Baille, and Neely
Thanks to my excellent agent, Rebecca Strauss at DeFiore and Company; amazing editor Patricia Gussin at Oceanview Publishing; the terrific team at Oceanview: Bob Gussin, David Ivester, Frank Troncale, George Foster, Susan Hayes, and Emily Baar; fellow Philadelphia Liars Club members: Jonathan Maberry, Gregory Frost, Don Lafferty, Jon McGoran, Kelly Simmons, Marie Lamba, Keith Strunk, Solomon Jones, Dennis Tafoya, Keith DeCandido, Stephen Susco, Chuck Wendig, Cordelia Frances Biddle, Janice Bashman, Kathryn Craft, Karen Quinones Miller; Mexico travel mates Nancy and Dennis Delman and Robin Jones; first reader and best husband ever, Robin, and encouraging friends and family, especially Baille and Neely.
December 6, Nuevo Vallarta, Mexico
Don’t look down. Don’t look down.
I kept repeating those three words, a singsong mantra to steady myself and get through time, pushing through seconds and minutes until it would be afterward and this nightmare would be over.
Don’t look down.
But I didn’t have to look; I knew what was beneath me. I could picture what was lying six stories down on the concrete beside the kidney-shaped swimming pool, near the mouth of the alligator waterslide. Under the glowing light of sunrise, I imagined a widening crimson puddle. A clump of arms and legs. A shattered bone protruding through flesh. Tangled hair matted into a cracked skull.
Don’t look down, I said again, and I didn’t. Instead, I aimed my eyes straight ahead, focusing not on the brick wall in front of me, but on the air surrounding my head. I stared into it, straining to see my aura, looking for stains, for splotches of darkness. Was it possible to see your own aura? Was there even such a thing? If there was, I couldn’t see it, saw only inches of emptiness between me and the bricks, and, at the periphery of my vision, the railing. For the briefest moment I had a lapse. I almost turned my head, almost looked down at my hand. Don’t look, I chanted. Don’t look. Looking would mean moving my head. And if I moved it—if I moved anything at all, I’d disrupt my balance and slip, and then, with a thud, there would be two blobs of bones planted beside the pool.
A pelican dive-bombed past me, the rush of air nearly knocking me over. I held my breath, holding steady. I called out
again, hoping someone would wake up, but no one came. So I told myself to stay steady and think of other things. Other times. I stared at the wall and repeated: Don’t look down don’t look down don’t look down.
Girls’ night was always on Thursday. So that meant it had to have been a Thursday, what, sixteen days ago? A soiled paper napkin had been fluttering along the sidewalk alongside us, dropping to the concrete and lifting off again, escorting Becky and me down South Street on a blustery November evening. I smelled onions frying at Jim’s Steaks and the rawness of oncoming night.
Of course, I didn’t dare shiver now. Didn’t dare move. I kept still, muscles aching and taut as I concentrated on keeping balanced. Balanced. It sounded like eating a diet of yogurt, vegetables, and whole grains. Maybe if I’d eaten more granola, I’d be better balanced now. Maybe. Or maybe being balanced meant measuring out equal parts and counterparts—like impulsiveness and self-restraint. Sanity and craziness. Working and playing. Sleeping and being awake. Rising and falling. Stop, I scolded myself. Don’t think about falling. Just balance.
I hung on, and there was the paper napkin again, floating beside Becky and me on South Street. Two weeks and two days ago. We were in no hurry. We passed tattoo parlors, coffee shops, pizza places, shoe boutiques, and then Becky stopped beside an orange neon sign: READINGS $10. She peered through the storefront window, then turned to me with an impish smirk.
I knew that smirk, had seen it before. It had led to singles bars and spa days. All-night department store sales. Weekend cruises, online dating sites. Casinos and Zumba lessons. The smirk was like a neon sign warning: brace yourself.
“Elle, you up for this?”
No way. I was barely up for dinner, had come out only under duress. In the months since Charlie’s death, I hadn’t been doing much of anything. For a few months, I’d dragged myself to
work and managed to feign energetic cheeriness for my class of second graders, but by the end of each school day, my face had ached from smiling and my body from pretending. I’d come home content to wallow quietly within the walls of my Fair-mount townhouse until, finally, I’d taken a leave of absence so I could spend my days staring at
Law and Order
reruns. My friends, however, had been relentless. They didn’t understand that losing a husband, even a lying-cheating-inheritance-stealing one whom I’d been about to divorce, had taken its toll. They didn’t comprehend the grieving process or how long it might take, and Jen had endearingly begun to call me DD, short for Debbie Downer. They insisted that I “move on,” which included, but was not limited to, going out with them weekly for “girls’ night” dinners.
That Thursday evening, Becky and I were on the way to one such girls’ night with half an hour to spare. When she asked about the fortune-teller, I thought she was joking. The place looked sleazy and dark, and everyone knew that fortune-telling was a scam. But Becky started for the door.
“I’ve never had my fortune told, have you?”
I hadn’t, no. And I wasn’t about to. I was having enough trouble with the past and present, didn’t need to take on the future. I hung back, but she tugged at my sleeve.
“Come on, Elle. What’s the harm? It’s only ten bucks. I’ll treat—maybe she’ll tell me if I’ll meet a guy.”
“Really?” Meeting guys had never been a problem for Becky. She was curvy, spunky, short, and soft, and men were drawn to her like sleepyheads to pillows. If anything, she needed help keeping men away.
“You know what I mean. Not just any guy. The Guy. A keeper. Come on. It’ll be fun.”
And so, reluctantly, I’d let Becky drag me through a small entryway into an overheated, dimly lit sitting area separated from the rest of a large rose-colored room by a pair of drooping crimson curtains. Crosses and images of Jesus hung on the walls.
A couple of upholstered chairs with flattened-out cushions backed against the window. Beyond them two folding chairs faced a small cloth-covered card table. The place smelled of roasting meat. Somewhere behind the curtains, a baby cried. I couldn’t breathe.
I looked at Becky and stepped back toward the door. “Let’s go.”
But a young woman rushed through the curtains, wiping her hands on a dishtowel, yapping at someone over her shoulder in a language I couldn’t understand.
“Welcome, ladies. I am Madam Therese. You’d like readings?” She smiled, glancing from Becky to me. “What kind? Tea leaves? Tarot?”
Becky shrugged. “I don’t know—”
“It’s okay. No problem. I can offer you choices. The cards are twenty dollars. Tea is twenty-five.”
Becky pointed to the window. “But the sign says ten dollars.”
Madam Therese hesitated, shoved her hair off her face with the back of her hand. “Okay, yes. The sign is for short readings. Palms. We can start with it, and then we’ll see. You can upgrade. You understand? Who will be first?” She’d held her hand out for Becky’s money.
Becky handed her a twenty.
“Good, this is for two.”
“No—not me.” I shook my head, but Madam Therese whisked the cash into her skirt pocket and disappeared behind the curtains.
“Becky, I’m not doing this—”
“Relax. It’s no big deal.”
“Get your change. She owes you ten dollars.”
Becky put up a hand, refusing to hear more. Behind the curtains, Madam Therese spoke to someone unseen in her foreign tongue. A man grumbled and the baby’s wails faded. In a moment, she returned, her hair tied back, revealing dramatic cheekbones and large bangle earrings. The bracelets on her arms
jingled when she moved. The scent of jasmine mixed with that of meat.
“For ten dollars, you get a five-minute reading. After, if you want more, we’ll keep going. You pay just a little more, you understand?” Madam Therese smiled and lit a candle, made the sign of the cross. She took a seat, motioned for Becky to sit across from her, reached for her hand.
I didn’t know what to do, so I sat on one of the cushioned chairs, watching the woman study Becky’s palm. I felt uneasy, as if I shouldn’t be there.
“You will have three children close together, but not for a while yet,” Madam Therese smiled. “At least one boy. I see him shining in your aura.” She looked at Becky. “Your lifeline is long, healthy. And your love line is long, also. But so far, you haven’t been lucky, I am right?”
Becky glanced at me, gave an embarrassed giggle.
“But see, the line gets wider here. More steady. So, not long from now, you will meet a man and fall in love. Not just in love. Deeply in love, you understand me?”