A Mystery Novel
by Earl Staggs
“Adam Kingston! Get your skinny butt out of that bed.”
Her voice cut through his sleep and made him cringe. He pulled his face out of his pillow, forced one eye open, and turned his head far enough for a squinting glance around. Yes. He was in his own bedroom.
He opened the other eye and focused on the figure standing at the foot of his bed. Slim, well-dressed, skin the color of cocoa, arms folded across her chest, dark eyes boring into him. He plunged his face back into his pillow and mumbled, “Dammit, Ellie.”
“What time is it?”
“How much after?”
“A minute or two. Get up.”
“I can’t get up. I’m dead.”
“You can die later.”
Adam pulled the sheet over his head only to have it quickly jerked off him. He groped for it with no success. He rolled onto his back and checked to see if his skivvies were covering what they were supposed to cover, then looked up at Ellie. “Where’s Phil?”
“Home in bed.”
“How come Phil gets to sleep and I have to get up?”
“Today’s his day off.”
Adam groaned. “It’s my day off, too, dammit. Come on, Ellie—” He interrupted himself with a yawn that shivered all the way down to his toes. “I just got back from a trip and didn’t get to bed till after three. What the hell are you doing in my bedroom at this ungodly hour?”
“Junior’s in trouble, and I need you to do your thing.”
That did it. Adam sat up and swung his legs over the side of the bed, his feet landing on the rumpled slacks he’d peeled off only a few hours ago. Junior. Phil Russell Junior, his godson. Bright, responsible, levelheaded, top of his class in college, never been in trouble in his life. Adam glanced at Ellie as he pulled up his pants. “What kind of trouble?”
“He hasn’t called me for two days.”
Adam shot her a hard look. “That’s it? He hasn’t called?” He plopped onto the bed. “Jesus, Ellie. He’s nineteen years old, he’s in Daytona having a good time, he’s fine.”
“He always calls me every day, and he hasn’t called for two days. Something’s happened to him, and I want you to do that thing of yours and tell me what’s going on.”
She spun on her heels and marched toward the door. “Coffee’s on,” she tossed back over her shoulder. “Get dressed and get out here.”
Adam shook his head and watched the woman he’d known for more than twenty years leave the room. He and Phil Russell became best friends in high school in spite of their obvious differences. Adam, the tall, gangly white boy and Phil, the shorter, well-built black kid. Ellie was a nurse at the same hospital in Philadelphia where Phil did his residency. Adam and Caroline stood for them at their wedding, and the four of them had been like family through both the lean and good years.
Ellie was forty-three years old, a year younger than him and Phil, and the biggest worrier in the world when it came to the people she loved. She was also the most stubborn and hardheaded woman he’d ever met. If she was concerned enough to come to his apartment, use her key to get in and roust him out of bed to do his thing, he knew damn well he had no choice.
His thing was psychic ability. The experts had other names for it, but were never able to explain it. They didn’t understand it themselves. They couldn’t even tell him why it started twelve years ago, after the accident that nearly took his life. At first it terrified him. After two years of testing and probing, he overcame his fear of it, stopped trying to understand it, and told them to leave him alone. Since then he’d worked as a consultant to the FBI and other law enforcement agencies, occasionally taking on private clients. It helped that he’d been an FBI agent himself before the accident.
He looked for the shirt he took off and tossed before tossing himself in bed, found it, and headed for the bathroom.
Adam entered his kitchen a few minutes later to find his coffee poured and Ellie sitting at the dinette table, rubbing her temples over a cup of her own.
She looked up at him. “Sorry for dragging you out of bed, but you know how I am.”
He leaned across the table and kissed her cheek. “Yeah, I know. I’m sure Junior is okay.” He sat down and took a cautious sip from his steaming cup. Too hot. “I can’t promise you anything. You know it doesn’t always work.”
“But you’ll try?”
“I’ll try.” He rubbed his weary eyes and tried his coffee again. Still too hot. “What do you have?”
Ellie reached down to her lap. “Here’s the most recent picture of him.” She handed a snapshot across the table.
Adam remembered the picture. He’d taken it himself at Junior’s nineteenth birthday party a month ago. The handsome young man stood by himself, proudly showing the new wristwatch Adam gave him.
He laid the picture on the table and sighed to himself. Ellie didn’t fully understand what she was asking him to do. Remote viewing. The experts especially couldn’t explain that part of it. It meant sending his mind somewhere distant, not just having quick images flash across his mind when he touched an object or visited a crime scene.
Years ago, he’d spent a few weeks at a government facility where he and a group of others with psychic abilities were trained in remote viewing. They telepathically visited sites all over the world, looking for missile installations, hidden caches of arms, MIA’s, any number of things. Long distance spying. He hadn’t stayed with them long and, since then, avoided using it except when absolutely necessary. It wasn’t easy, often gave him a headache, and the voyeuristic aspects of it made him feel creepy.
And, as often as not, it didn’t work. The recent picture of Junior, his own connection to the watch, and his personal attachment to his godson might be enough to make it happen.
Adam raised his cup, blew into it, and took a swallow. Still hot, but drinkable. He looked across the table into Ellie’s face, saw her impatience growing, and put his cup down.
With his fingertips lightly touching the snapshot, Adam closed his eyes and relaxed his mind and body. After a few moments, the sensations began.
The feeling of being in a dark elevator, rapidly accelerating upward, then traveling at incredible speed through a spiraling tunnel. Gradually the speed decreased and colors drifted into his subconscious. Green. Brown. Gold. Slowing even more. Stopping. A strange room.
. . . bright light from the left – sunlight through a window . . . clothes and shoes scattered on the floor . . . a bed, sheets hanging over the sides . . . two figures sprawled on the bed . . . Junior and a girl, both nude, sleeping peacefully . . . a sudden burst of blinding light . . . the feeling of movement again . . . stopping . . . somewhere else now . . . outside, in bright sunlight . . . a man walking toward him . . . scruffy clothes, long hair, thick beard . . . feelings of desperation, exhaustion . . .
The images faded, and Adam felt himself returning at rapid speed through the bright tunnel, then descending into darkness and slowing. The familiar dizziness that always followed a remote journey washed over him.
He kept his eyes closed and thought about what he’d seen. The scene of Junior and the girl had been one of contentment, two people sleeping, no danger or alarm. The images that followed were totally different and had no connection to Junior and the girl. A man he couldn’t identify coming toward him. He had gotten a completely different feeling from those images. A dark feeling that sent a chill down his spine.
It had happened before. At crime scenes or when he touched objects, he often received confusing images unrelated to the case he was working at the time. Maverick images, he called them. Sometimes they became clear to him days or weeks afterward. Sometimes never.
Ellie’s voice brought him all the way back. “Well?”
Adam looked across the table. Ellie’s eyes searched his face.
“Ellie, you have nothing to worry about. Your little boy is fine. He’s done some partying and is sleeping it off peacefully. Relax. He’ll call.” He saw no reason to mention the maverick image.
Her eyebrows raised. “Partying? What kind of partying?”
Adam grinned. “The kind of partying college students on a break are supposed to do. It’s a law.” He raised his own eyebrows and leaned toward her. “Surely you remember those days.”
She studied him for a moment, then her features softened. “Oh, I remember very well. Too well. Are you sure he’s all right?
“I’m positive.” He also saw no reason to mention the girl. He knew Phil Senior would be pleased about that part though. “By the way, do you know all the kids Junior went to Daytona with?”
“Yes, of course I do. Why?”
“Was one of them older than the others, long hair, full beard, kind of scraggly looking?”
She shook her head. “No. Why? Is something wrong?”
He reached across the table and patted her hand. “No, nothing’s wrong. Junior’s fine, I’m fine, you’re fine, the whole world’s fine. Now go home and get that lazy husband of yours out of bed.”
Ellie took a small sip of her coffee, then stood. “You men! All you ever want to do is sleep.”
Adam followed her out of the kitchen into the large area that served as a living room at one end, a dining area at the other. He and Caroline strained their budget years ago for a sixth floor condo in the Colonial Towers on the Boardwalk at 34th Street. They loved the panoramic view of the Atlantic Ocean and Ocean City’s endless white sand beach. Before her death, they lived in Baltimore and came here to the Maryland seashore for vacations and weekends. Now that he lived alone, it was his permanent home.
Ellie stopped in the living room. “When are you going to do something with this place?”
“What’s that supposed to mean?” Adam felt a lecture coming on, hoping nothing was out of place. He kept his clutter in the extra bedroom he’d made into a den. His bookshelves were in there, his desk, a computer he never used, a TV he seldom used, and the treadmill he’d bought two years ago on express orders from Phil, the health fanatic doctor. “Don’t start on me,” he said. “There’s nothing wrong with this place.”
“Oh, nothing a little redecorating wouldn’t cure.”
Ellie walked to a picture-covered living room wall. Adam had hung the pictures himself, in every conceivable size and color of frame, the entire wall, floor to ceiling. He and Caroline in the early years of dating, their wedding, and nearly every event remotely worthy of capturing on film during their time together. While the arrangement pleased him, he knew a decorator would run from the room in tears.
“It looks like a museum,” Ellie said with a broad wave of her arm. “Take down those pictures, get some new furniture, something modern, get some bright colors on the walls.”
Adam rolled his eyes. They’d had this conversation before. He and Caroline picked out the furniture and decorated the apartment together, and he didn’t want to change anything. He still felt her presence here. It was home, and he liked it just the way it was. He threw up his arms and let them slap against his thighs. “That’s it, lady. You’re outta here. First you drag me out of bed, then you criticize my home. Go home and nag your husband.”
Ellie wagged her head in exaggerated disgust. “You’re hopeless. At least put some life in here. Get yourself a pet.” She walked toward the door.
Adam followed. “Yeah, right. A dog, maybe, to chew up the furniture and crap all over the floor. Or a cat to leave hair all over everything. And who’d clean up after them when I go away for weeks at a time? You?”
“Not on your life, bud. So get some goldfish or birds or something. Anything to liven the place up some.”
“The place is just fine, thank you very much. Now get out of here before my neighbors start gossiping about me having an affair with my best friend’s wife.”
Ellie snorted. “You should be so lucky.”
At the door, she turned and gave him a hug. “Thanks for checking up on Junior.”
He kissed her on the forehead. “Anytime.”
Ellie opened the door and stepped out. As she walked down the corridor toward the elevator, she called back, “By the way, your underwear is worn thin. I’m going shopping today. I’ll pick some up for you.”
Adam closed the door, leaned back against it, and let another yawn work its way over him. The remote viewing trip had produced only a mild headache, and it was nearly gone. He thought about going back to bed, but knew he wouldn’t be able to sleep now. He gave another passing thought to the strange man he’d seen after spying on Junior, then pushed it aside. If it meant anything, he’d know soon enough. If it was only another meaningless glitch, nothing would come of it. He headed for his den.
The treadmill seemed to smile as soon as he entered the room as if to say, “Come on, old man, get your punishment.” Adam groaned, pulled a sweat suit from a hook on the back of the door, changed into it, and mounted the monster.
And quickly stepped off again. He was too tired, he hadn’t had enough sleep, and he needed more coffee. He went into the kitchen, poured a fresh cup, carried it into the dining room, opened a sliding glass door, and stepped out onto his patio.
The green-carpeted patio ran the full width of the apartment and extended out twenty feet. Adam stood at the concrete retaining wall and looked toward the Atlantic Ocean. From the horizon to the surf, the morning sun spread its glaring reflection in a jagged golden path across gently tumbling waves. On the wide beach between the surf and the Boardwalk, seagulls and sandpipers scurried over freshly combed sand, searching for crumbs of food missed by giant cleaning machines.
As far as he could see in either direction, hundreds of sea birds floated above the surf, diving and snatching when they spotted a morsel behind a receding wave. Their frenzied squeals punctuated the constant rush and slide of water against sand to complete the familiar symphony of a seashore morning.
On the Boardwalk, six floors straight down, he watched a pair of cyclers in matching yellow outfits weave gracefully and silently through a quartet of joggers. Soon the Boardwalk and beach would fill with vacationing families. His thoughts drifted back to days when he swam in the surf while Caroline sat on the beach reading a book, looking up to see him get bowled over by a wave and come up laughing, laying her book aside, running to join him.
A long deep breath filled his lungs with salty air. It also brought a strong reminder that he needed a shower. Badly. He raised his cup, drained it in a gulp, and went inside. He would shower and dress and head out to the library. With all his recent traveling, he’d missed a few best sellers this year and wanted to catch up. His calendar was empty, and he could afford to be lazy for awhile. The Bureau paid handsomely for his services, but he hoped they wouldn’t call on him again for at least a couple of weeks. He needed a rest.
After a long, lazy shower, Adam turned off the water in time to hear the buzz of his intercom. He sloshed to the foyer on wet feet, wrapping a towel around him as he went. He recognized the voice of the dayshift doorman from the lobby.
“Hey, Henry. Good morning to you. Need a cup of coffee?”
“No, sir, not today. Thanks, but there’s a, uh, man down here. Says he wants to come up. You expecting anyone?”
Adam smiled. A retired postal worker, Henry’s purpose in life now was to protect residents of the condo building by screening all non-residents who entered. He took great pride in his vigilance. “No, I’m not expecting anyone. Who is it?”
Adam waited through a moment of muffled voices before Henry spoke again.
“He says his name is Weathers. Says it’s important, and he wants to talk to you. Mr. Kingston, I, uh, I . . .”
“What is it?”
Henry’s voice dropped to a whisper. “I think I should send him away. I mean, he’s not wearing a suit or anything like those FBI guys. He’s, well, more like one of those street people. You know, the kind that hits on you for a handout? Maybe I should get rid of him.”
Adam’s curiosity kept him from telling Henry to send the man on his way. He could go to the lobby and meet him, but he had things to do first. Like drying off, getting dressed, having breakfast.
“Tell you what. Ask him to come back in an hour. Tell him I’m in the shower.”
“In the shower. Right, Mr. Kingston. Will do.”
Adam thanked Henry and headed for the bedroom, toweling as he walked. He had one leg in a pair of slacks when he heard the intercom buzzer again. He jabbed the other leg in and hurried to the foyer.
“What is it, Henry?”
“Mr. Kingston? He, uh, says he’ll wait for you, if you can come down after your shower.”
“Well then, if he insists on waiting, tell him I’ll be there in half an hour.” The man could wait until he finished dressing.
“But, uh, Mr. Kingston?”
“I don’t know, I mean, him hanging around the lobby, looking like he does. I don’t know about that.”
Something clicked in Adam’s mind. “Does this man have long hair and a beard, dressed kind of scruffy?”
“Yes, sir. That’s why I don’t think he should—”
“Send him up.”
MEMORY OF A MURDER is available through most bookstores and from Amazon and Barnes & Noble online. If you’d like a signed copy, write me at firstname.lastname@example.org