Authors: Chris Grams
Copyright © 2016 Chris Grams
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This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locations is entirely coincidental.
All rights reserved. Except as permitted under the U.S. Copyright Act of 1976, no part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, or stored in a database or retrieval system, without the prior express, written consent of the author.
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Please be advised: Due to strong language and mature situations, the content of this book is not suitable for younger readers.
This book is dedicated to Janice Jefferson Farmer. Cousins by birth, sisters by choice, friends forever. I cherish the memories of those super wild days we spent doing super wild things. Still surprised we made it this far without major injury. We may have been caught, but we’ll never be neutralized! Love ya, pretty lady.
“I’m going to bend you over that counter, pull your panties to the side, and…” Dr. Mark Carter wiggled his brows, leaving the sentence unfinished.
His young wife smirked and handed him a glass of bourbon. Ice clinked against the side. She turned raising her skirt, briefly showing firm buttocks encased in black lace. “And what?” She turned back winking with a playful pucker.
“You know what.” His signature smile beamed, teeth brilliant against dark skin, and a glow flickering from sapphire eyes. “It’s Friday night. Let’s get crazy.”
Angie downed her glass of amber liquid. “I can’t. There’s a work conference this evening. I’m assisting the key speaker. I don’t want to go in smelling like stale sex.”
Mark tossed his keys in the usual basket, his smile fading. He checked his watch. “At this hour? It’s almost eight. I just got home.”
She turned back to the bar and poured another serving. “I shouldn’t be more than a couple of hours,” she explained more to her drink than to him.
Mark wrapped his arms around her, blonde silk tickling his nose. “You must be rockin’ the coffee world, excelling in your position at the speed of light. That’s wonderful, sweetheart. I’m so proud of you.” He kissed the back of her head. “I’ll be here working on reports. Ran into a damn glitch today with the Rhesus Monkey cell testing. Nothing to worry about, but every genetic hiccup requires a report.” He took in the scent of her hair. “Good luck on the presentation. Not that you’ll need it.”
After kissing her head again, Mark started the trek upstairs with Rubix the one-eyed cat on his heels. Before making it to the top, he heard the front door slam shut.
Mark sensed for the first time in their marriage that Angie was having an affair.
Sitting in bed propped against pillows, he’d fallen asleep. The sound of his own snoring woke him just after 2 a.m. Angie still wasn’t home.
Rubix lay curled up on her pillow, one yellow eye barely open and tail swishing. Gray hair sprinkled evenly over pale-colored sheets as though Rubix had placed each one on Angie’s side to remind her of his disapproval of her absence.
A twinge of what Angie was probably doing cut through Mark.
He closed the laptop still resting on his legs. He’d finished writing the failed test report before falling asleep, but it wasn’t like him to pass out. Although he didn’t feel particularly stressed, maybe his age and career were finally catching up. But, he didn’t feel that old and work didn’t seem so bad.
In fact, he loved his job and failure was a large piece of that pie. To him, the failed tests weren’t so much failures as steps closer to success. As much as he hated writing them, failed attempts had to be documented so as not to be repeated. And, he was so close to a breakthrough. So very close.
With regards to his marriage, Mark was close to something else. He wasn’t sure, not absolutely positive of what Angie was up to. Didn’t have
of anything scandalous, but still…she’d been going out for work a hell of a lot lately.
She’s just a secretary for fuck’s sake!
He wondered if being worried about Angie could be the cause of his fatigue.
Mark hoped his suspicion was just a fleeting moment of insecurity, something he could push past. He’d put off checking into her time away a little longer. With all the time he’s been putting in at work, there wasn’t time to do anything about it now anyway.
He damn sure wasn’t going to hire a private detective. Absolutely no way he’d pay some stranger to go poking around his personal business. Screw that. Once the pressures at work calmed down, he decided to take a few days off to do some private detecting of his own.
Turning off the lamp, Mark lay thinking as he drifted away.
His cell phone rang just as he settled into a dream about being a scientific superhero finding a genetic cure for aging. Picking up the phone, he glanced at the screen: No Caller ID. Normally, he’d ignore such calls, but Angie wasn’t home.
Oh God, what if something’s happened?
“Dr. Carter.” He sat up, voice thick with sleep.
Static filled his ear, loud and piercing. Mark pulled the phone away listening at a distance.
“Hello? This is Dr. Mark Carter.” More static. “Hello? We have a bad connection.”
He almost disconnected when the static was interrupted. A deep, low voice filled the lines, “Catch and neutralize.”
Fine hairs covering Mark’s body stood on end. His scalp tightened.
He had no idea what, but something was wrong.
The voice repeated, “Catch and neutralize,” at three second intervals.
Mark knew what was happening, almost totally sure of it. Angie was off doing the bedtime boogie with someone else. Unexplainable, ridiculous even, but he
Suspicion transformed to fact. Rage sped through his veins. Violence filled his mind. The instructions ordered him to
her affair. There could be no other explanation.
The voice stopped and static returned. The call disconnected with Mark’s heart pounding twice its normal rate. Brow furrowing, he stared down at the phone as if it were a messenger from outer space or someplace far below and much hotter.
“What the hell was that?” He asked the phone before setting it back on the nightstand. “Never mind. Don’t answer that.” He expelled a nervous laugh.
“I need a vacation, Rubix.” Mark ran a hand down the cat’s back, felt the vibrations of deep purring. “Been working too hard and worrying too much about Angie. It’s starting to get to me.”
He’d checked the time before answering as well as after the call, a habit he’d picked up working at a call center during his undergraduate years. Mark’s brow wrinkled. This phone call had lasted eleven minutes. He rubbed his forehead and looked at the cat.
“That’s a good boy, Rubix.” He slid his hand over soft fur. “Whatever’s going on, we’re going to figure it out. Aren’t we, boy?”
Rubix stood, yawned, and stretched lazily before circling and lying down closer to Mark. He stretched an arm and yawned again, resting a paw on Mark’s cheek.
Before going back to sleep, Mark reached over and clicked on the bedside lamp. The house felt too big, too dark, and too cold. He took comfort seeing his furry companion, ever faithful and always on his side.
Mark awoke to a sunny bedroom and sounds of birds chirping, Angie’s side of the bed empty. He checked his phone for the time: 10:27 a.m. He hadn’t slept this late since pulling college all-nighters and that was nearly twenty years ago. Mark sighed rubbing the stubble covering his chin.
The cell rang in his hand. Angie.
“Yeah?” Mark’s annoyance poured through.
“Hi, honey!” Angie’s voice had the chipper quality of a high school cheerleader. Car driving noises echoed in the background. “Sorry I didn’t make it back last night. Sheila’s presentation won Hollite Coffee the Sparkwell contract. You know Sparkwell, that cake business Hollite’s been trying to buyout for the past two years? I helped Sheila with that presentation, practically wrote the whole thing myself.”
Angie paused; Mark said nothing.
“The company bigwigs are ecstatic, already referring to Hollite as
Hollite Coffee and Cakes
. Anyway, we all went out afterward to celebrate. I got a little too tipsy to drive, so I stayed with Sheila. She lives within walking distance of both the office and the bar.”
“That’s great, Angie. Tell Sheila congratulations.” Mark’s voice sounded as flat as he felt. He figured she was lying about who she stayed with. “Next time, give me a call before I start thinking you’re dead somewhere.”
“Of course, Mark. I would’ve called, but I actually passed out. I guess
wasn’t the right word. It won’t happen again.” She exhaled noisily, and Mark envisioned her eye roll. “We’re good right?”
“Yeah, we’re good,” Mark said. “I’m heading to the lab in a few. See you when I see you.” He disconnected without waiting for a response.
Rubix meowed impatiently from the floor, way past his breakfast time.
“I know, ol’ boy.” Mark bent and stroked the cat’s bushy head, rubbed an ear. “Let’s feed you something extra delicious, a treat for letting me sleep in.”
After serving Rubix half a can of organic tuna and collecting his laptop, Mark left for Albuquerque Laboratory of Genetic Sciences (ALGS). He wasn’t kidding when he told Angie where he’d be. Unlike her, Mark wasn’t prone to lying to his spouse.
As he drove, Mark’s thoughts sped backward through time. Before Angie, he’d been married to Cheryl Bethany Keating, his college sweetheart. She’d been fun and interesting, often dancing around his dorm room in bra and panties giggling, nearly making him explode with desire. Together four years and she turned up pregnant. No big shocker there. Mark did the right thing, or so he thought, by marrying her.
Everything seemed fine until their daughter, Tia, came into the world. Cheryl became cold and distant after the birth. Mark passed it off as post-partum depression. As years went by, Cheryl’s personality got worse, more aggressive. Her comments became condescending and embarrassing, one personal insult after another. It got so bad that Mark could no longer bring her to work functions or parties. He didn’t like being around her and didn’t want to pull others through her rude, obnoxious bullshit.
Cheryl’s mental and emotional states spun out of control. She lost her job as a pediatric nurse for reasons she’d never discuss. Getting fired made things worse. She started packing on the pounds. Not ten, twenty, or even thirty… Cheryl gained almost a hundred pounds within a year. Mark no longer recognized his wife. Her personality changed so much. It was like being married to a stranger. The way she’d changed physically was just snow on the mountaintops. And yet, he stayed encouraging her to get help. Each time, she refused.
She stopped doing usual things like bathing daily and taking care of little Tia. Mark was forced to hire a nanny and a housekeeper. He’d tried talking to Cheryl about it many times, told her he’d pay for any help she wanted. He encouraged her to join a gym, offered to pay for a personal trainer to come to the house. If she was depressed and wanted to talk to a therapist, he was all for it. Anything Cheryl wanted, anything to help her through.
Mark’s mind slid through Cheryl’s attacking comments and sarcastic remarks. He didn’t want to be around Cheryl at all. He moved into one of the guest bedrooms and started working later, anything to avoid confrontation. As many times as he’d considered it, Mark had never taken up with another woman. He simply couldn’t.
There was Tia to think about, his sweet baby girl, his lucky charm. He didn’t want to hurt his daughter, didn’t want to leave her with Sofa Mommy Zombie (this is what Tia took to calling Cheryl). So, he waited. Waited forever it seemed. It took all he had not to divorce Cheryl while waiting until Tia got through kindergarten, twelve years of school, and finally started college.
Those years felt like being surgically conjoined with his worst enemy. Cheryl was endlessly hateful and angry, a burden Mark could hardly wait to free from himself.
Now, the irritation of his past relationship mixed with current wife frustrations caused a throbbing in Mark’s temples. Pulling into the ALGS parking garage, Mark felt comforted by the dim enclosure. As with his previous marriage, Mark’s workplace was becoming a refuge from home life.
Centering his ride between painted lines, he wondered about Cheryl, hoped she was content and getting along well. More than that, Mark missed Tia. Although he paid for college and living expenses, was happy to do so, his only daughter hadn’t spoken to him since he married Angie.
And that woman, his current wife, was bringing him an entirely different set of problems.
I am not going to allow Angie to shit all over me.
Not her and not again.
With laptop tucked under an arm, Mark headed to the stairwell. He looked down to verify he’d remembered his badge. It hung clipped to his shirt pocket. He looked back up and collided into an attractive woman that seemed to also not have been paying attention.
A folder of papers she’d been holding burst from her hands and feathered around their feet. Mark stooped, helping collect the papers. They appeared to be diagrams of face masks and costumes. He picked one up, impressed by the drawing of scars and lopsided features. Notes about color configurations were written in the margins with arrows indicating placement.
He stood handing the papers to the woman. “Sorry, miss. I need to watch where I’m going.”
“Me too. Thank you.” She smiled and took the papers, stuffing them back into the folder. She looked at Mark again, her eyes almost inspecting him. She then averted her gaze and headed past as though in a hurry. Her chestnut hair, pulled back into a ponytail, swayed with the movement.
Mark watched the woman disappear around a corner, her steps echoing softly like distant thunder.
He took the stairs to the fifteenth-floor lab, a habit established back in Florida when the crap-fest with Cheryl started. Uphill hikes cleared his head, and he enjoyed the deep burn in his legs. Staying in shape was a bonus.