Seven o’clock and Kathleen Harrison was alone. She checked her hair in the mirror. It looked as good as it had ten minutes before. Sleet battered the roof. She shivered as the cold seeped through the window casing. Get a grip on yourself, you look fine. She pulled her cardigan closed, thankful she’d decided to dress casually for dinner tonight.
She flinched at the sudden ringing of the oven timer. Barefoot, she padded through the drab front entryway to the kitchen to check on dinner: roast pork with baby vegetables and potatoes. George often complained about never having a home-cooked meal; she was confident he would love the delicious simplicity of this one. She leaned against the counter and smiled, tingling with the audacity of having her lover spend the night while her husband was away. After tonight there would be no going back, no pretending her marriage could be salvaged. She and George would pack her belongings in the morning, and then she would call her attorney and have him begin the divorce proceedings, setting herself and Steve free to find the happiness they each deserved.
She walked through her home, seeing it as though for the first time. She didn’t like what she saw. The house was dark, an ugly combination of cherry furniture and gray-brown carpeting. Steve had chosen the colors to camouflage the inevitable dirt children brought into a house, but they’d had no children. She never felt the urge so many of her friends shared to bring children into the world. The strong colors had suited her when she thought she’d be spending her life with Steve, reflecting the strength of their future together. But now, trapped in a loveless marriage, the dark colors mirrored her despair. When she thought of George and their life together, she imagined bright whites and open windows. She couldn’t remember ever feeling that way with Steve.
The doorbell rang, and her heart skipped a beat. An entire night with him! She opened the door, and reality came crashing back down on her. Not this man. This one could ruin her whole night. “I thought we agreed to meet tomorrow.”
His smile was calm and reassuring. “This couldn’t wait. I’m sure we can work out our differences quickly.”
“I’m not available now. I’ll see you in the morning.”
She tried to slam the door shut, but he blocked it with his foot. “It will just take a minute. Please. Let me in.”
She sighed. Why did he have to choose tonight for their confrontation? Resigned, she grimaced. The sooner she let him in, the sooner he would leave and the sooner she and George could toast their new future. Looking at her watch, she said, “Five minutes.”
He closed the door behind him, and the smile on his face vanished. His usually genial eyes now flashed with anger. “Nice place you got here.” He knocked the crystal bowl that held her keys off the table and smiled as it shattered on the tile floor. “Your telepath’s money buys a lot of nice things,” he sneered. “I guess he’ll have to buy you another bowl.”
“What the hell do you think you’re doing? Get out of here.” She tried to push him back toward the door, but he grabbed her arm and held her in place. “Let go of me!” She pulled her arm out of his grip, painfully aware she was free only because he let her go.
She stepped back until her hip hit the handrail leading upstairs.
“I’m not going anywhere. You and I have a lot to talk about right now, Kathleen.”
Doing her best to keep her voice level, she said, “You’ll have to leave now. I’m expecting a guest. I’ll see you tomorrow, in my office, where we can both be reasonable and act like professionals.”
“You’re expecting someone?” Realization crossed his face. “But not your husband. You’re meeting him here, aren’t you, in the house you share with your husband?”
She tried to keep the fear out of her voice. “I don’t see that this is any of your business.”
He stepped forward, his face uncomfortably close to hers. “You filthy slut. You dirty, disgusting whore! It’s bad enough you accept a telepath as a client, but to invite him into your home …”
“My husband will be home any minute, so you should leave. Now.”
He laughed. “Not even a credible bluff. He’s in Texas all week.”
Color drained from her face. “How do you know that?”
“I’ve been keeping an eye on you. Rather, I’ve hired someone to keep an eye on you. Oh, yes, I get regular reports on all your activities, from the late-night home-shopping binges to the time you spend with your favorite client. And let me tell you, you look foolish, like his trained pet human, coming whenever he calls.”
She balled her hands into fists, hoping he wouldn’t notice them shaking. “Just tell me what you want and then get out of here.”
He smiled at her, once again becoming the genial man who had rung her doorbell. “Your work with telepaths has to stop. The telepathic scourge needs to be eliminated, permanently, for the good of humanity. Some people are calling for camps, but I say extermination if we can get away with it. Either way, they must be removed from society.”
“But they’re people,” she said, horrified by what she’d heard. “People with families, children, jobs, just like the rest of us.”
“No. They’re not Homo sapiens—not like us.” His eyes flashed, and he grabbed her arm again before she had time to move away. “And people like you—collaborators, dirty, filthy telepath lovers. Your minds have already been tainted by theirs. You’ve probably been scanned so many times by now that your thoughts aren’t your own any more. People like you are the first who need to go.”
He twisted her arm back, and she realized that if she wouldn’t agree with him, he would hurt her.
He stood between her and the alarm panel next to the front door. Her mind raced. What should I do? Damn you, George, for being late.
“You want to put us away in camps too?”
He smiled at her. “No. Anyone scanned by the telepaths will have to die. Once there’s no one left to stand up for the mind-stealers, the untainted humans will start seeing things my way. Once I get enough humans on my side, then we can demand what our society needs—to stem the anarchy telepaths are causing. By eliminating them.”
He stepped to the side and lowered himself to the bottom stair, pulling her down next to him. She flinched forward, away from him, but the stairs were too narrow for escape, and he pulled her back.
He’s crazy! All I can do is keep him talking until George gets here.
“Society is falling apart. There’s no trust. No one knows who is in their brain and what they’ll do with the information they steal from us. We have no reliable means of detect a telepathic intrusion. The Telepathic Corps is laughable at best. They have a terrible recovery rate, probably because they’re telepaths and therefore can’t be trusted. With no reliable human way to test for telepaths, we’re at their mercy.”
“I … I think I see your point.” She took a chance, hoping to bring him back to some degree of sanity. “And that’s where I come in. I am working to build trust, and once we have trust, we can start to institute safeguards to keep us from their prying minds.”
“You!” he laughed. “You’re a collaborator. You want us all to live together in peace and harmony, oblivious to their master plan.”
“I don’t think they have a master plan. I think they just want to live like everyone else, with simple human dignity.”
“And there’s your problem.” He leaned over and whispered in her ear. “They’re not human.” He straightened and continued. “Do you know, do you even care, what they are doing to us?”
“What do you mean?”
He stood up and began pacing the seven steps between the staircase and the front door. “They plan to drive this country to its knees! Now that the world knows telepaths aren’t welcome in the United States, the United Nations is preparing sanctions. No one buys American products anymore, and foreign tourism has ground to a halt. We’re pariahs now when we have always been leaders.”
Hardly able to comprehend this rant, she frowned and blinked. “Tourism is down because of our human rights abuses of our own people. No one wants to come here and risk being labeled as a telepath. It’s too dangerous. The global boycott of American products is because of people like you, not because of the telepaths. People like you who want to kill telepaths – you’re …” She jumped up to face him. “You’re nothing but terrorists.”
He punched her in the jaw. “Bitch! Terrorists rule through fear. That’s not what I want at all. I’m trying to save humanity from these freaks of nature.”
She crumpled and fell against the banister, covering her head with her arms. Not again. She had sworn she would never accept another beating from any man. She turned to him, forcing her shaking arms down to her sides, and stared defiantly at him. “No. You want to kill humans who are different from you. You are nothing but another Nazi incarnation.”
She shrank away from the rage erupting across his face. Her momentary strength crumbled in his harsh glare. Desperate, she began to plead. “Please don’t hurt me. I’m sure we can work this out. Just tell me what you want me to do.”
“I came here to talk you into seeing reason, but I can see you aren’t going to be persuaded. They must have already reprogrammed your mind. I can’t save a woman who would willingly choose one of these mind-stealers over her human husband. You’ve already betrayed your people.” He shook his head. “I suppose there isn’t anything else to be done.” He drew a gun from the back of his waistband. “I wish it didn’t have to be this way, but you’ve left me no other choice.”
Adrenaline surged through her. She sprinted up the stairs, barely evading his grasp, and slammed the door to the master bedroom behind her. Her fingers fumbled with the lock, but she managed to turn it before he made it up the stairs. She had laughed when her husband insisted they have a separate upstairs alarm, but now she praised his paranoia. She slapped her hand against the numbers, knowing any wrong code would prompt a call and a visit when she didn’t answer the phone.
She heard his feet pound up the stairs after her. His voice was muffled by the locked door between them. “Now why’d you have to go and do that? There’s no escape.”
She shrank back from the door, fear churning her stomach and doubt creeping into her mind. Then she scrambled into the master bathroom. Locking the door behind her, she climbed into the tub, hoping the old-fashioned claw-foot beauty would protect her for a few more moments, until someone came to rescue her. The bedroom door lock was a flimsy thing and she knew he only had to push against the door for it to release. She had moved a bedside table in front of the door, hoping to slow him down.
“You don’t want to do that. Come on out here so I won’t have to break down this door.”
She heard him kick the door open and cringed. She heard the table crash to the floor. If she had never taken George as a client, none of this would be happening now. If she had listened to Steve, she could have been happy enough with him, made their marriage work.
She pushed that thought away. She could never be happy with Steve again, not after the night he hit her. She was right to choose George.
She looked at her watch. It was 7:05. He should be here by now. Would he walk in on this maniac and be killed, too?
She heard the phone in the bedroom ringing. The security company is checking up on me. It would take them a few minutes to call the police to investigate. She sobbed; she knew she didn’t have even a couple of minutes left. So much time wasted with Steve, so many regrets.
He broke a hole through the cheap bathroom door and continued to batter it with the pistol, the sound of splintering wood sending new panic into her heart. When the hole was large enough, their eyes met. “There you are. Nice and neat, so your grieving husband won’t have to clean up much. Very thoughtful of you.”
Desperate, she climbed from the tub and looked for something she could use to defend herself. She grabbed a can of hairspray, held it to the hole in the door, and pressed the button. If I still smoked, I’d take my lighter and turn this can into a flamethrower.
He backed away from the door, sputtering. “Now why do you want to make me angry?” He choked once, caught his breath, and aimed the gun through the hole.
“Please, no …” she whispered. “I can drop him as a client. I’ll never see him again.”
As he reached through the hole and unlocked the door she backed up and fell into the tub, thumping her head against the side. She gasped. As she opened her eyes, she saw him sitting on the edge of the tub, penning her in. She sat up and tried to speak, but he cut her off as soon as she opened her mouth.
“I tried. I was reasonable with you. You’re trying to lie to me again. You don’t see the error of your ways, and so you need to be put down.”
He stood, walked backward to the bathroom door, and shot her between the eyes.
Wow! Now what? You can continue on to Chapter Two
or you can purchase the book here:
and the iTunes Bookstore