I was watching Judge Judy...and wishing I was her.
I didn’t wish I was very many people—in fact, very few—but she was one of the few. No, I didn’t want to be on TV (that was, if I could even show up on TV, which I didn’t think I could without copious amounts of makeup), nor did I want to deal with the steady stream of derelicts who filled her courtroom.
I wanted to be confident like her. Fearless like her. Smart like her. Hell, I wanted to talk like her, too.
I checked the time on my cell phone. It would probably have been easier to check the time on my watch, had I owned a watch. The last one I’d owned had gotten destroyed on a case. Now, I had my eye out for a shock-resistant, werewolf-resistant and demon-resistant watch. Maybe Timex made one.
My client was late, which I hated. But that gave me more time with Judge Judy, whom I loved. It also gave me more time to finish sewing up Anthony’s boxer shorts. These were the third pair of shorts I had mended today. I’d seen enough skid marks to last a lifetime. Hell, this last pair looked like an aerial shot of a drag strip starting gate.
But, new boxer shorts cost money, and sewing the old ones was mostly free. And so, like the good mother I was, I powered through Anthony’s homage to Jackson Pollack, and sewed the gaping tear in the crotch area. I sewed quickly, deftly, never even poking my finger. The vampire in me heightened all my physical senses, even during the day, but more so at night. Now, something as mundane as sewing was almost fun. I still got a kick out of what I could do. I was learning to appreciate who I was, or what I was.
I didn’t have much choice, of course.
I either appreciated my current condition, or I went mad. I hadn’t entirely ruled out the latter. I was only ninety-eight percent sure that I wasn’t in a padded cell somewhere, wearing a straitjacket, rocking absently, and drooling—looking, on second thought, a lot like Anthony when he played some of his video games.
As I finished sewing the shorts, I heard a car door slam in my driveway. Synchronicity at its best.
I quickly snipped off the thread with my weirdly sharp fingernails—nails that could never, ever be filed down, damn them—and hurriedly tossed the shorts in Anthony’s room, just as the doorbell rang. More good timing, as Judge Judy had just pronounced her latest verdict, a verdict I couldn’t have agreed with more.
I smiled, turned off the TV, and headed for the door.
I’d like to meet Judge Judy someday.
My client’s name was Henry Gleason.
He didn’t look like a Henry Gleason. To me, a Henry Gleason should be a big, chubby guy with a cherubic face who gesticulated a lot, and made “to the moon” comments.
This Henry didn’t gesticulate. He sat dourly in front of me. His aura was dour, too. Yes, I can see auras. I’m a freak like that. His aura suggested that someone had run over his cat.
“How can I help you, Mr. Gleason?”
I sensed, right off the bat, that there was something drastically wrong. Not even sort of wrong, but chaotically wrong. His aura was literally spitting fire, snapping around him like solar flares, or so many dragons breathing fire. I kept seeing the image of a small, pleasant-looking woman. These days, I got psychic hits with the best of them. I could also catch fleeting thoughts...words and images. But only those who were tuned into me could catch my own thoughts. This man, this stranger who was about to become anything but a stranger, was not privy to my thoughts. He also wasn’t privy to what I was. Or, rather, what I really was.
Judging by his mental condition—or lack thereof, as he appeared to have hit some sort of rock bottom—I doubted he would care what I was. Mr. Gleason needed help, and he would have taken it from the devil himself. Little did Henry Gleason know how close he really was to that.
“My wife is missing,” he began...and that was about as far as he got for the next few minutes. He broke down completely, and his aura snapped and flared and shrank in on him. That Henry was a total mess, I had no doubt. Ever the good hostess, I pushed a box of Kleenex his way, although he didn’t see it at first.
I waited as he struggled to get hold of himself. I got this sometimes: clients who came into my office and lost it. Generally, it was because a loved one was cheating on them. I didn’t always take the cheating spouse cases. The truth was, I wouldn’t take any of them if I didn’t have to. However, I had something called a mortgage to deal with. And a car note and bills and two kids.
And food...oh, God, the food. Who knew twelve-year-old girls could eat so much? Anthony I was prepared for. But not Tammy.
Anyway, I mostly took the jobs that came my way. Mostly. Some cases, I turned down. Some prospective clients, however, I never heard from again. It sometimes turned out that they just needed a shoulder to cry on, but then, they didn’t hire me. So, the sympathy seekers who came to my home office and cried and got it out of their systems, well, I never saw them again.
I didn’t make a dime off them, either.
You win some, you lose some.
But Henry Gleason wasn’t airing his marriage’s dirty laundry. He wasn’t walking me through, step by step, his wife’s sordid affairs or the intricacies of her deception. No, he was weeping for one of two reasons: he truly missed his wife, or he was putting on a show.
I would know soon enough which it was.
No, I didn’t know all. I wasn’t God. In fact, I was about as far from God as one could get. But these days, I could tell if someone was lying to me. It wasn’t very hard for me to learn their secrets. What exactly was going on here, I didn’t know. But one thing was obvious: Henry Gleason wasn’t putting on a show. His pain was real.
So, I waited. As I waited, I sent him a mental nudge to reach for the box of tissues which, after pausing briefly and cocking his head slightly, he did. He hadn’t known I had given him a mental nudge. It was probably better that he didn’t.
He blew his nose, gathered himself, and said, “I’m a total and complete mess. I’m sorry.”
“I hadn’t noticed.”
He tried to smile, failed miserably, and gave up. I noted his shaking hands, and his darting eyes that never seemed to settle on anything longer than a few seconds, if that.
I decided to kick things off.
“What happened to your wife, Henry?” I asked.
“I don’t know. How did you know?”
“Never mind that,” I said, and gave him another mental nudge to drop it. I asked, “Did you hurt her?”
He looked at me sharply. “No. Never.”
I used my demon-given gifts to dip into his thoughts, and slip just inside his aura. Yes, I was cheating. Then again, the sun was also stolen from me, along with Oreos and cheesecakes, fettuccine alfredo and mango margaritas. Or mangoritas, which just so happened to be Allison’s favorite drink these days. So, if the demon inside me—the thing that fueled this supernatural body of mine—could actually give me something back, could actually add value to my life, rather than steal from it, then I would take it gladly. Lord knows enough had been taken from me.
“Cry me a river, Mom,” as Anthony would tell me these days. Kids, they grew up so fast.
Anyway, the ability to read thoughts was a decent trade-off for having to give up dinner at The Cheesecake Factory, not to mention, the ability to quickly discern truth from lies was invaluable to my profession. Now, I no longer had to guess if someone was jerking my chain or not.
Now, as I psychically slipped inside his personal space, without him knowing it, of course, I dipped into his thoughts, which turned out not to be an entirely good idea. The guy was borderline losing it. No, correction, he had lost it. Weeks ago. He’d lost it when his wife had seemingly disappeared at a Starbucks just outside of Orange County, which I had pieced together from his own chaotic memories.
No, not quite chaotic. His mind, I quickly realized, was continuously looping the crime scene. Over and over, even for the few minutes I was inside his mind, he relived his last moments with her.
Sit back, I commanded, relax.
Henry Gleason looked at me, blinked, and then sat back in my client chair. His thoughts calmed a little, and I was able to piece together what I saw. It wasn’t a pretty picture.
“Tell me what happened, Henry,” I said, and as he spoke, I relived the scene in his thoughts.
* * *
Henry is waiting impatiently, drumming his fingers on the steering wheel...
His wife has gone inside the Starbucks to grab them some iced mochas. Henry doesn’t even like iced mochas. His wife doesn’t either. What the fuck is an iced mocha, anyway? And why had she insisted they stop here, dammit? Lucy is acting weird today, he thinks. So weird.
He waits in the heat. His window is down. Hot wind blows through the open window. He checks the time on his cell phone.
I hear him say, “C’mon, babe, where are you?”
More drumming. More hot wind.
He turns around, scans through the back window of a truck toward the busy Starbucks. Nothing. No wife. No damn mochas.
Finally, he gets out and pads across the shimmering asphalt. I can feel the heat. I can also feel the panic rising in him. I know from his thoughts that he has waited about fifteen minutes for her. He thinks she’s in the bathroom. Maybe she’s sick. If that bitch is in there talking to someone—especially some guy—he was going to go off on her. Off. Maybe even slap her around a little. Maybe.
As he heads toward Starbucks, alternately fuming and worried, he tries to remember if she had shown signs of being sick. They had eaten tacos earlier. Yes, the tacos. He is sure of it. They had tasted funny to him.
Now, he’s inside the Starbucks. Cool air. People were everywhere. They were as busy as hell.
He heads immediately to the bathrooms. His mouth literally drops open when he sees a girl exit the bathroom because it’s not his wife. The girl avoids eye contact with him and hurries past. He glances inside the open door. It’s empty. He checks the men’s restroom. Empty, too.
I feel his panic. Full-on panic. He dashes out to the lobby, searching, searching. She is nowhere to be found. What the fuck? What the fuck?
Now, he’s asking employees if they have seen his wife. It’s a busy Starbucks. People are coming and going. Workers are making drinks fast, taking orders. Everything is mechanical, rote, all done a hundred times a day, a thousand times a day.
I hear him describe his wife to anyone who will listen. No one remembers seeing her. Wait, one worker does, but she isn’t very forthcoming. No, that’s not it. She just doesn’t remember too much. Yes, she took an order from her. Water only. ‘Water?’ he asks. ‘Are you sure?’ ‘Yes, sir. Just water. Then she went in there.’ She points to the bathrooms.
Henry rushes back to the bathroom. Maybe he missed her. Maybe she is behind the door, or in a stall. Dammit, no stalls. Not behind the damn door. He checks the guys’ bathroom again, too. Nothing. Nothing. Nothing.
Now, Henry is outside, rushing back to his truck, in case she has come back, in case he has somehow missed her. But she’s not there. Now, he’s running around the building, running and running, looking for her. Maybe she had wanted to throw up in an alley? But there’s no alley here. Just a big, hot shopping center sitting on the edge of the desert. He stands on a parking lot curb, shielding his eyes from the sun’s glare. Nothing. Then stands on his truck’s bed, searching.
Now, he’s on his cell phone calling the police, weeping, fearing the worst. He’s nearly incoherent as he reports her missing.
And then the thoughts repeat.
Over and over.
“She disappeared,” said Henry, speaking into his hands, his voice barely audible, his voice barely human. He was unaware that I had just seen the entire scene in his thoughts. “She just disappeared. And I have no idea where she went or what happened.”
I didn’t know either, of course. I didn’t know all or see all. I was just a woman. Just a mom. Granted, a very freaky woman; and, if you asked my kids, I was a very freaky mom, too.
I said, “You watched her walk into Starbucks?”
He nodded. He held a tissue tightly in his hand. The tissue might have been torn to shreds. “Yes. I watched her in the rearview mirror.”
I could have confirmed this by dipping into his thoughts, but I thought I’d had enough of Henry Gleason’s thoughts for one day. Hell, for a lifetime. I said, “And you watched her enter?”
“Did you see where she went from there?”
“No. She just, you know, blended with the crowd and I started playing with my phone. You know, wasting time, looking at texts and scores and news and weather.”
He gave me a weak grin. “That, too.”
“An employee at Starbucks saw her?”
“Yes. She spoke to the police, but she really doesn’t remember much.”
“Do you have her name?”
He shook his head. “The police will have it, but I can’t imagine there are too many Jasmines working at that Starbucks.”
I nodded. They would. “Anyone else at Starbucks see your wife?”
“What about customers?”
He shook his head. “By the time I went looking for her, anyone who might have seen her was long gone.”
“Did you ask around?”
“I did. Like a crazy man. No one had seen her. This isn’t your typical Starbucks, you know. People were coming and going, not staying long. There weren’t, you know, those hipster geeks in there with their laptops. This Starbucks straddles Corona with Yorba Linda.”