Book 1 of the Angie Faust Series
Things changed the day I killed my boss. I was trying so hard not to.
He died quickly from cardiac arrest in front of a dozen witnesses in the glassed-in fishbowl of a conference room at Wolfe, Savage and Steele, the law firm where we worked. I never touched him physically. I didn't have to. His name was Carroll Caine.
The Office Manager's death interrupted an extended yelling session aimed at me. Caine was a short, square-built man with small bulging, blue eyes, a permanently red face and silver hair, cut brush short. For some reason, he had singled me out for verbal abuse almost from his first day on the job. He retired from the Navy as a Warrant Officer. Law firms like to hire former non-coms on the theory that they work well with a formal chain of command. But for Caine, taking orders from civilian lawyers he didn't respect chafed him like a sandpaper jockstrap.
He took it out on his subordinates. I was a favorite target.
Understanding why Caine attacked me so often didn't protect me when he did.
My other co-workers looked away in embarrassment or relief that, at least for the moment, Caine wasn't singling them out. Not Francine, the woman sitting next to me in the conference room. She was petite, blonde and eager to score points with Caine by digging up the slightest hint of an error on my part.
Caine picked a bad day to stand over me and settle in for an extended rant. My Aunt Bess had simply disappeared six months earlier and without her, I had no one. The pain of her loss had retreated to a dull ache most days, but sometimes it flared up into a sharp pain of grief and confusion.
I focused all my attention on breathing slowly and letting his word roll over me.
I huddled in my chair, trying to make myself invisible, staring down at the pad of paper in front of me, a pencil gripped in my hand.
Caine paused for breath as if savoring looking down at me. He leaned in close. "You'd already be out of here if I didn't suspect you might have a hidden disability and you'd sue all our asses. Is that it, Angie?"
"Look at me!"
I slowly looked up and met his eyes. Bad idea. The urge to let loose the anger that built in every cell of my body. I blinked when a cloud of black dots like a swarm of tiny insects filled my vision, swirling between Caine and Francine. I glanced around. Most people stared at the table or Caine. No one else gave any sign of seeing the whirling dots.
Great Angie, you're hallucinating, just what I need.
"Keeping something up your sleeve, Angie? Maybe you lied on your employment application?" His spit landed on my face. Droplets hit my glasses. I wanted to wipe them off, but I didn't move a muscle.
I could smell Caine's rage under the Bay Rum aftershave and lingering cigar smoke on his breath.
Something inside me settled. Everything seemed sharper, clearer and despite the black cloud of dots passing between Francine and Caine. It couldn't be real. A voice somewhere in the mists of early life echoed in my head.
Stop the heart.
Deadly calm washed over me. I felt myself starting to shake as if there was an earthquake. There was not. Yet an inner vibration shook me physically like the roars I heard when my aunt took me to the Lion House at the San Francisco Zoo at feeding time.
I focused on Caine. Not on his face, on his chest. Every sound in the room fell away. I found his heart. I raised my hand to point at him, still holding the pencil.
He straightened up. A slow smile on his face told me he was hoping he had made me mad enough to do something stupid. He had.
"Ya gonna hit me, Angie?" he asked.
"No." I couldn't remember ever feeling so calm.
I snapped my arm a few inches back as if I meant to throw the pencil at him. Caine instinctively rocked back on his heels, but there was no escape for him. Energy tore through me. My fingers tingled as I completed the short gesture toward his chest. I sensed the familiar but unknown force piercing him like a tool. It reached for his heart and grabbed it. And squeezed.
The pencil broke in half. The eraser end bounced off the table and fell on the rug. I lowered my arm, feeling his heart, frozen in a spasm as if my hand really was squeezing it. The inner shaking stopped and I took a deep breath, suddenly, oddly at peace.
Caine's knees gave way and he crumpled to the floor. He twitched a few times. I don't know how, but I could feel his life leave his body. He wasn't coming back.
I stood up and backed away as two co-workers rushed past me to attempt CPR. They knelt beside him, but I knew they wouldn't be able to revive him. I jammed my hands into my pockets and finally let go of the top half of the pencil. I kept my head down because I couldn't help myself from smiling. The roaring inside me was gone. The swarm of black particles was gone too.
I took my hands out of my pockets and saw a couple of wood slivers had pierced my skin. I was bleeding. It didn't even hurt. I didn't feel anything but relief at the sudden quiet when Caine shut up.
Then the fear hit.
Everything I learned growing up told me I should go home, grab my getaway pack and leave town. It would be hard to run without my aunt organizing our escape.
I didn't want to move again. I loved San Francisco. The rent-controlled apartment was my true refuge with my grandfather's books lining almost every wall.
Maybe I wouldn't have to run. Maybe no one noticed how Caine had died. People drew back to the edges of the room while efforts to revive him got more frantic. No one paid the slightest bit of attention to me. It wasn't as if I'd physically touched the old man. Maybe no one would blame me.
As I surreptitiously dabbed Caine's saliva off my face and glasses with the cuff of my long-sleeved blouse, I raised my head and looked straight into the eyes of the most gorgeous man I'd ever seen. He twirled a pair of sunglasses in his hand and continued to stare right at me.
He had a tousled mop of sun-streaked light brown hair. He wore a tan suit about the same shade as his hair and a light blue shirt and gold and darker blue striped tie. His angelic face, even features and sensual lips seemed familiar. Maybe I'd seen him in one of those semi-porn underwear ads—the kind where you don't look closely at the model's face because you're too busy checking out that impossibly lithe and muscular body. He leaned against the receptionist's desk as if he owned it, as if he owned any place he stood simply by standing there.
He stowed his glasses in his jacket pocket and raised a blond eyebrow at me as if asking a question with luminous blue eyes.
The receptionist, a sixty-something retired airline stewardess with a British accent, had already called 911. Now she leaned over her counter at the perfect angle to check out Underwear Model Man's ass at the same time that she watched the drama around our co-workers struggling to revive Caine.
Underwear Model Man held my gaze and nodded at me. I flinched in surprise. He didn't quite smile, but his eyes crinkled as if we had a secret understanding. A deep feeling of dread settled like lead in my gut. This couldn't be good.
I made it past the reception desk and nearly to the elevator when Underwear Model Man fell into step beside me. He was taller than me. I'm five ten, he must have been around six feet.
"Meet me for coffee after work," he whispered, leaning close. He smelled of Irish Spring soap. "There's someone you need to talk to. Someone you have a lot in common with. You won't regret it."
I kept moving without answering. Every woman in the place stared at this guy. He was that magnetic. The last thing I wanted at this particular moment was anyone paying attention to me.
But the stranger followed me and held the elevator door while I got in. "Seriously, you owe it to yourself to listen to an offer that would get you out of this...place." He didn't have to say "This hellhole," it was implicit in his tone. I couldn't disagree with him. The only thing I liked about Wolfe, Savage and Steele was the paycheck.
"An offer I can't refuse, huh?" I snapped at him. "That turned out so well for the guy who found the horse's head in his bed."
The man chuckled. "No dead horses, I promise. But your skills deserve better."
"You know nothing about my skills," I kept my voice low.
Francine and three other women slipped past Underwear Model Man into the elevator with me. They all stared at and me, then back at him again.
He let go of the door and it closed before I could say another word.
An older woman whose name I didn't know commented on how fine that young man was. Then the elevator bell dinged for our floor and we all filed out in silence. No one mentioned Caine.
Underwear Model Man was leaning against the building waiting for me when I went out the front door. He'd taken off his tie and it was hard not to look at the tanned skin and a curl of golden chest hair showing where the top button of his shirt was open.
"Hi, I'm Chad Falconer."
At least I didn't have to keep calling him Underwear Model Man. Automatically, I responded, "Angie Faust." I instantly regretted that. Now he knew my name.
I needed to get away fast. Men like him don't follow women like me home from work without some agenda. Whatever his reason it didn't involve flowers, dinner dates and happy endings. Maybe he sensed how desperately I missed my aunt. Predators can read body language and track wounded animals.
"Whatever it is you're selling, I can't afford it."
He grinned as if I'd said something terribly witty. "Fair enough," he said, falling into an easy pace beside me. Chad persisted, walking closer and tilting his head down to get my attention.
"Whoever you are and whatever you want, I don't trust you," I said.
"The only reason you should listen to me at all is that you and I seem to be the only two people who understood what was going on this morning."
I stopped so fast he almost ran into me.
"My boss had a stroke or heart attack while he was yelling at me. He was an old man. He had a strenuous day of verbally abusing people. His heart just gave out."
"It doesn't usually happen that way though, does it?" Chad said. "I don't know about you, but the people I want to see die usually go on to live a disgustingly healthy life of making everyone miserable and die peacefully in bed at 95."
"You can't blame me for what happened," I concluded, my voice wavering a little.
He seemed to understand because he stepped away a foot or so. "Believe me, Angie, blame is the last word I would use to describe you or anything you do." He stepped in front of me to stop for a moment but he held out his hands out with palms up. "Would you do me a favor?"
"Maybe. Will you let me alone if I do?"
"Absolutely. The only thing I ask is that you come with me to a coffee shop and meet someone who understands your great gift."
"Gift?" I snorted a small burst of laughter at that thought.
"Seriously, it's a public place, a café not far from here. No pressure."
I stared at him. I never admitted that I was responsible for the violent things that happened around me. My aunt and I rarely spoke about it. "Where is this place?"
"It's an easy walk. Come on, it will only take half an hour of your time."
I admit I was curious and absurdly relieved that he didn't seem to be selling anything or whipping out a chloroformed rag and forcing me into a car. But mainly I agreed because of a vain hope that there might actually be a way to cope with whatever the hell it was that I had been fighting my whole life.
© Lynne Murray