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TITLE: A Snake Among the Roses
GENRE: mystery, occult
WORD COUNT: 50,892
SUMMARY: Two detectives get hired to find out the truth behind a house haunting. But the answers involve something larger than a mere ghost.
Once again, Adrian was leering down the secretary’s low necked blouse.
Simone sighed and ducked her head, letting the edge of her short black hair brush past her chin to shield her face. Really, especially more often of late, it seemed as if she was the brains driving the outfit of the whole business. Whereas he was busy pursuing other things that were more testosterone driven. Like pursuing Danny the secretary who probably had her body edited more times by a plastic surgeon then she had edited the paperwork that Dubois and Sung occassionally generated.
She quickly stepped into her office and shut the door. It was oak and no sound carried through it. She strode to the chair at her desk and sank into the chair. There was nothing like barking dogs at four am to disturb the sleep of any sane person. Simone considered herself rather average although on the short side; it was quite annoying though when she had to talk down to Adrian, he was at least a head and a half taller than she. Her eyes were warm brown cognac, tilted slightly in an asian slant which she thought quite frequently gave her a disadvantage. People tended to defer to Adrian although she was a full partner. She tapped a pen idly and opened a manila folder. Bland government paperwork. She stared for a moment out the window.
The view was from the second story of a recently restored building. In fact, the whole neighborhood had been recently restored. Many new businesses had moved into the area in the past year causing the area of Elanne to experience growth in the sector. Most of the buildings were red bricked and white trimmed blanketing the whole area in a colonial feel. Across the street on the second floor was an accounting firm. Below it, a flourist. She absently wondered when Danny would see a dozen roses from Adrian. Perhaps when he tired of her. There was just something about surgically altered barbie blondes that made her think of the word ‘disposable’.
The phone rang, jarring her from her reverie. Grabbing the reciever, she said, “Yes?”
“Ms. Sung? Your mother is on line one.” Danny’s bubbly voice rang out hitting a few of the shrill frequencies. Simone winced, her sleep-aching mind ringing.
“What? Oh fine, I’ll talk to her.” She jabbed a button to cut any extraneous remark the secretary might have deemed necessary to insert. “Mom?”
There seemed to be a flurry of Chinese before her mother’s girlish voice came through clearly. “Simone? You’re finally at work? I’ve been trying to reach you all day.”
She frowned. “You know I don’t get to work until ten.”
“Your sister gets to work at seven-thirty. Every morning.”
She hated being compared to her sister Evelyne. Never good enough. She should have become a famous painter or an archetict. She should have married a doctor or lawyer and produced a couple of kids. Should have, should have, should have. She was sick of it. She was a private investigator, but that wasn’t good enough. It didn’t have the same ring as professional chess master.
“For Christ’s sake, Mom, I own a business. I set my own hours.”
Her mother made some sort of sound that resembled the croaking of a frog and the belching of a hippo. “Actually, I wanted to confirm that you’ll be coming to the party this Saturday.”
“Of course I’m coming. I’m not going to miss Caroline’s birthday.” Caroline was Evelyne’s second child. Simone hated parties, but that was a petty excuse for neglecting one’s niece.
“Is Adrian coming?”
“I haven’t asked him. Most likely he will if we don’t have a case then.”
That sounded suspicious. “What are you up to this time, Mom?”
“Caroline is fond of Adrian.”
“Yeah. It’s kind of strange. Adrian is usually doesn’t think much of children.”
“Huh. Look, dress nicely will you? No jeans. I’m also inviting some friends of mine...”
Simone mentally groaned. Her mother was trying to set her up. Again. “It won’t work.”
“What do you mean?”
“You know exactly what I mean.”
“Good-bye Mom. I believe I have an appointment I have to see,” she lied.
She placed the reciever back with a little more force than necessary and immediately rubbed her temples. This day was not working.
That morning, she awoke to the thin shrieking howls of a couple of neighborhood dogs who had suddenly developed a hankering for a walk outside. And it had kept her up for the rest of the time. She had lain in her bed for a few more hours before becoming fed up and later had attempted to go on her day. The strange thing was, it was not the dog howling itself that had kept her awake. It was the lack of her usual dreams. Instead of the nightmarish flicker of swords, pain, and blood, her unconscious mind was treated to an innocuous conversation with owner of the deli down the street. Perhaps she was suffering from some sort of depression or withdrawal from her deprivation of the daily dose of violence.
She glanced again at the forms in the folder and quickly filled it out. Bueraucratic work was a mind numbing drug. Time seemed to fly away and when she looked at her watch, she found that it was already a couple minutes past noon. She stretched her legs under the table and kicked off her shoes before standing up to stare out the window. The accounting firm had their blinds drawn. The whole office was probably out to lunch. Her stomach suddenly protested and reluctantly, she turned away from the view to put her shoes back on.
Out in the reception area, it was empty except for Danny who was slurping a chocolate slim-fast shake.
“Is that all you have for lunch?” Simone had once asked her.
“And a protein bar.”
“That’s hardly enough for a bird.”
Danny had laughed. “Well, look who’s talking. Not everyone is like you. We can’t just eat whatever we like and keep our figure.”
What about plastic surgery? She had mentally sneered. Danny was a walking dream for plastic surgeons. Gifts from rich ex-boyfriends, no doubt. Instead she had said, “But I’m not tall like you. I’m short. Very short.”
“Petite. But don’t worry about me, Ms. Sung. This is more than enough to fill me.”
Simone just shook her head. If people insisted on abusing themselves, who was she to stop them? Perhaps after all this time, she had become dull, desensitized, uncaring. A gray blot on an otherwise colored world.
“Danny, I’m going to Willard’s. Do you want me to get you anything?”
The secretary waved an absent minded hand that was crowned with bright red nails. Her puffy frosted blonde head bobbed a little. Her eyes were glued to the computer, no doubt surfing some rather cheesy singles sites. “That’s all right, Ms. Sung. You just go on ahead.”
She slightly shrugged. “Okay. I’ll be back in an hour.”
The secretary nodded again.
Simone turned and tugged at the handle to the door out of the office. Behind her, she heard a door slam.
“Wait a sec. You are going to Willard’s?”
She turned her head a little to see Adrian stroll towards her. He was wearing his jacket and his tie was still neatly in place around his neck. A record, if she ever saw one. Usually before an hour passed at work and his jacket would be slung over a chair, the collar unbuttoned, and the sleeves rolled up. What was the occassion? He had longish dark hair which he tied back at the nape of his neck. Dark free strands caressed his forehead. There was a strange bright glint in his gray eyes. Simone narrowed her own eyes in response.
“What do you mean? What’s going on here?”
His eyes briefly flickered to Danny who did not seem to be paying them any attention. “You are going to Willard’s?” he repeated.
She took the hint. “Yeah,” she replied. She turned to walk out the door, without bothering to see if he was following.