Thursday, January 20, 2022
Releasing myself—even with the key in my possession—is easier said than done, because the shackle is holding my elbow up behind me, which forces me to contort my body in a strange acrobatic feat while dangling from the chain, in order to reach the key lock. But somehow, the urgent need to escape the blaze sends a charge of adrenaline through me. I twist around despite the spinal pain, catch the lock, and push the key into it.
And blocked by fire.
Until now, it’s been playful, flaring, leaping into a shower of sparks in the center of the room, where it’s consumed the heap of papers. Nothing remains of them but glittering ash. At this point, the flames blaze into a hungry inferno, chasing me as I leap out from under the closet rod and run around the room along the array of targets, all of which are riddled by bullet holes.
Through the gathering smoke, I hurl myself down the spiral staircase with a speed I never thought was in me. I slip down, swinging around the central industrial pole that holds the treads. It feels hot to the touch, but I ignore my scorched skin and pay little attention to the burnt smell of my hair.
I must act fast, or Timmy will not make it.
At the bottom step, I stumble over Mrs. Gore’s body. She is crumpled in a strange, unnatural position. No breath, no pulse. By the flicker of light, I see my cellphone lying next to her mangled legs. I’m not sure if it still works, after being banged, kicked about and thrown down here by my captor.
I grab it anyway and climb through the hole, out of the broken wall and into my living room. As I roll across the floor, trying to extinguish the fire that has caught my hair, I hear three things: my dog, barking in the backyard. Sirens, coming closer. And my cellphone, buzzing.
It’s the sheriff officer, Joe Miller. With shaking hands, I answer.
“Thank God,” he says. “Where were you? I’ve been calling—”
“Didn’t you get my distress call?” I ask, choked by the bitter smell of burnt things.
“Distress call?” he repeats, in astonishment. “No, never got it. Why, what happened?”
“What d’you mean? What about him?”
“Paul, he took Timmy,” I stammer, “and he’s heading to Clearwater High School, and he has a gun—”
“You sure?” says Joe. “I’m asking because—this is what I’ve been calling to tell you—we already have the school shooter in custody—”
“No!” I scream. “You don’t!”
“What d’you mean, I don’t?”
“Whoever you have in custody is a fake. Listen, listen to me! Paul is about to start another shooting spree if you don’t stop him. He’s just killed my landlady, too—”
“Okay,” says the officer. “Got it. We’re coming, right now.”
“And,” I stress, “Timmy is with him. So you be careful. You must make sure the child is not hurt, in any way—”
“Understood. It’s an emergency.”
“Yes, it is.”
“We’re on the way.”
Meanwhile, the sirens outside rise to an alarming peak. Through the window, I see the tires of three firetrucks grind to a halt near the curb. Within seconds, my entrance door pops open—but to get out, I’ll have to push my way through the firefighters, who are pouring into the place in helmets fitted with heat resistant eye-shields and goggles, extrication gloves, and boots.
They break open the entire wall, because the hole in it is too small for them. There, under the black puff of smoke, they discover Mrs. Gore’s body. By now, it is already charred. A couple of them load her remains on a stretcher, then carry it out. The rest start climbing up with thick hoses to douse the fire.
I don’t stay to watch it being extinguished, nor do I wait for first aid. I must get to school, must find the child, must save him.
Before it’s too late.
(Volume II of Ash Suspense Thrillers with a Dash of Romance)
A must for thriller fans.
Tuesday, January 18, 2022
A long time ago, I used to think that my youth was to blame for failing to understand my wives. No longer can I use that excuse, because I know all too well, there is no youth in me anymore. Which leaves me as baffled as ever, especially when it comes to the one woman I adore: Bathsheba.
When I catch her scent, or even when I imagine it, something in me turns to liquid. Then, trying to harden my heart and remove her from my mind I find myself confused, and the rage in me intensifies, perhaps because I cannot remember the last time I have seen her. Alas, the distance between us seems to expand in so many ways with each passing year.
So imagine my surprise this morning, when I wake up to the soft sound of her footfalls, which makes me turn my eyes to the wall to try, to catch sight of her reflection. There it is, moving fluidly across the blade, the wide, polished blade of Goliath’s sword which is hung in my chamber, right here over my head.
First Bathsheba throws open the window, letting in a cold morning breeze. As if to tell me that this is already autumn, a smell of dry leaves wafts in. The silk curtains start swishing as they sway, they billow wildly around her, blotting and redrawing the curves of her silhouette, which in a blink, brings back to me the fullness of her figure back then, when she was expecting our first child. I remember the way I held her in my arms that hot summer evening, right there by that window. Together, we looked out at the last glimmer of the sun, sinking.
Friday, January 14, 2022
Thursday, January 13, 2022
I wish I could lie here forever, by her side, but it’s time to get up. First I turn on the radio. A song is playing, and it is so beautiful, so poignant, such a fitting note to accentuate what I feel, to bring about a possible conclusion to the highs and lows of the music of us.
In times of sorrow, when you sigh
When tears well in your eyes
I will kiss them dry
I’m on your side
You’re not alone, no need to cry
Between us there is no divide
If you’re in trouble, if you stumble and fall
I will help you rise
If you happen to falter, if you crawl
I will help you rise
I put my pants on, go to the kitchen, fill a small pot with water and bring it to a boil for the eggs. Meanwhile I squeeze grapefruit juice into two glasses and wait for the two slices of bread to pop out of the toaster. I set two plates on the table, one on each side of the crystal vase. It is the same vase her Pa bought for her Mama to mark their anniversary a generation ago.
I had been too drained to think about it until last night, when on a whim I bought a bouquet of fresh flowers in lovely hues of white, pink, and purple. Why did I do it? Perhaps for old times’ sake. By now I have stopped hoping to surprise my wife with such frivolities, because she pays little attention, lately, to the things I do. So for no one in particular I stand over the thing, rearranging the orchids, spray roses, and Asiatic lilies as best I can, to create an overall shape of a dome.
And then—then, in a blink—I find myself startled by a footfall behind me. A heartbeat later I hear her voice, saying, “Lenny?”
I turn around to meet her eyes. My God, this morning they are not only lucid but also shining with joy.
In a gruff voice, choked, suddenly, with tears, I ask her, “What is it, dear?”
And she says, “Don’t forget.”
“I love you.”
Spreading my arms open I stand there, speechless for a moment. Without a word she steps into them. We snuggle, my chin over her head. She presses it to my bare chest. I comb through her hair with my fingers. And once again, we are one.
Then she points at the vase.
“For you,” I say. “Looks like some old painting, doesn’t it?”
“Still life,” she whispers. “With memories.”
Then Natasha lifts her eyes, hanging them on my lips as if to demand something of me, something that has been on her mind for quite a while. Somehow I can guess it. She is anticipating an answer, which I cannot give.
Instead I kiss her. She embraces me but her eyes are troubled, and the question remains.
“Without the memories,” she asks, “is it still life?”
The atmosphere of the 1940s is beautifully portrayed, and on a secondary level only to the (mostly) unrequited love story, it was my next treasured experience while reading this book. I loved the sounds and sights of the era, the music, the cars, and the lifestyles so well depicted. It was a fascinating dip into the life of those dynamic times.
Wednesday, January 12, 2022
Monday, January 10, 2022
Kabir casts a sly look at me. His lips curl, as if he’s about to tell some joke. “This is the single most prescribed psychiatric medication in the U.S. I ought to know, not only because I am a medical professional and not only because I married into a family that owns a pharmaceutical company but also because of my wife. She passed away because of it. Overdose, you know.”
Kabir takes a pause, perhaps to see if I would ask anything about her death. I don’t. Why upset him? What’s at risk at this point is my own life!
A moment later, he pivots to an entirely different subject. In his professional tone, he asks, “Are you pregnant, or plan to become pregnant?”
“Not anytime soon!” I gasp, somewhat in shock. “Why?”
“Because.” He shakes the bottle to a loud rattle. “Your pills are about to run out.”
“Pills? What pills?”
He steps closer to me and raises the bottle to my unbelieving eyes. The name, printed on the label in bold letters, is mine.
“What? That can’t be!” I cry. “I’m not on any medication, let alone this—”
“You’ve been taking it for months, to treat your anxiety.”
“Oh no, I haven’t—”
“Why try to deny it?” Kabir laughs in my face. “You seem to be in panic, even now!”
About that, he’s right. But the only cure for my dread is for him to let me go, which is doubtful, or for me to find a way around him, which is far-fetched.
Kabir crushes a bunch of pills into a small heap of powder, transfers it to a glass, and pours some wine into it, all in plain view, as if wanting to show me the method of my own demise.
I can’t afford to give him what he seems to want: the pleasure of seeing how scared I am.
He swirls the wine about, then raises it to my nose, so I may smell its aroma. “I’m happy to hear you’re not expecting a baby.” His tone is loaded with sarcasm. “I wouldn’t want it to suffer any ill-effects, once you have your little drink.”
I brace myself into being stubborn. “You can’t force me.”
“You know I can.” He coughs up a sharp laugh. “And then, there would be no more need to have this prescription renewed.”
What I want—even more than a chance to save myself—is to give the doctor a taste of his own medicine.
In a heartbeat, my hands turn clammy. “I don’t know what I did to deserve this.”
He growls, “Sure you do! You’ve been asking too many questions about me, about my trip to India years ago, and about the woman I married there. No one gets to do all that and live to tell the tale.”
I hesitate to ask, “Not even your wife?”
“Especially not her.”
“What about me?” I ask, already knowing the answer. “Am I going to survive the night?”
“Trust me, it is with a heavy heart that I must kill you.” Kabir comes closer, strokes my chin. “Such a beauty.” For a second, his eyes seem sad, almost. “Such a waste.”
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