HITTING SHELVES IN 2019
Rick Philips survived high school. He drinks away his feelings of guilt produced from profits of his best selling book about the school shooting deaths of his classmates. As a guest speaker at a writers conference, he meets Harriet Bristol Wheeler who takes him back to her room for a wild night. In his arms the next morning, she confesses her tantalizing secret, she is a serial killer. She is desperate for Rick to tell her story.
All the profits from his book are gone after his second failed marriage. Rick even admits he misses spotlight. He needs another best seller. Is Harriet the answer? If she is lying, why would she claim to be a killer? If she isn't, is Rick her next victim?
FIRST TWO CHAPTERS FREE PREVIEW
I’m not that good at a lot of stuff. Especially, thinking things through. Bad choices are something familiar to me. Something I tend to fumble through. A fortunate fool? Maybe. I like to think of myself as resilient, a survivor.
Her hotel room is a hot mess. The mattress hangs over the box spring. Empty glasses lay on their side on the dresser. The flat screen television has an odd tilt. A wet towel sits soiled on the carpeted floor. There is biting tang in the air both sour and acid from sex.
“Thank god I don’t have to clean this place,” she says.
Catching my breath in long and deep draws I notice that the window shades are open. They have been the entire night. Early light fills the hotel courtyard.
“Whoever is across from us must have gotten a good show,” I say.
She teases, “I like to put on a show once in a while.”
Rolling on my side, I reach out to her. Her putty color skin showing the redness around the waist where my hands had grabbed tightly. Matching red blossoms go up to her side and back. Her shoulders have already begun to bruise in the shape of my palm.
“That was really something,” I say. “I’ve never been that rough with someone.”
“That was nothing,” she says. “Don’t worry yourself, a young man like you will get more experience. Besides, I asked for it.”
Sitting up, looking over the wreckage of the room, I understand why housekeeping was appreciated. Nothing is broken, but everything needs to be put back in place or cleaned. “Maybe that chair should be thrown out after what happened on it.”
She is quick to quip, “You loved it. You know it.”
Looking for my pants, I can see out the window, across the courtyard, into a row of rooms. They would have had a front row seat to last night. Three guys standing on the balcony across from ours, each with a Miller High Life in hand, are not fooling anyone. They were here for the show. They had watched. I yank the curtains shut and swear. Scattered applause on the other side of the window clap out.
“You’re leaving?” she asks.
“Yeah, I should get dressed, go back to my room, try and get a few hours’ sleep. It’s a long drive back to Dupont’s campus, and I have class tomorrow.”
“No more conference sessions?”
“Yesterday was the last one. My track started Thursday, so...”
“I see. You’re a love ‘em and leave ’em kind of guy,” she says.
“I don’t know if there’s enough love left for you, honey.”
“Harriet,” she says. “Harriet Bristol Wheeler. It’s okay if you forgot my name. I’m not the type of woman who cares. Besides, we only met a few hours ago.”
“I don’t know if there’s enough left for you, Harriet.”
My underwear and socks on, one leg into pants, and she grabs me back to the mattress. With the speed of a high school wrestler, she has me down and arms pinned behind my head. She straddles my torso, breasts nearly in my face, long red hair draped over my head, crotch on the chest, and she places one of her knees on each of my elbows.
“You didn’t think I’d let you leave without telling you my secret? Did you?”
Laughter, a little from fear, partly from her playfulness, “I thought you were sharing your secret with me all night.”
“Rough sex? That’s no secret. Most people at this conference know that from our exhibition,” she turns her head to the window and back. “These people like to tell stories. The rest will know it by lunch. That’s not my secret.”
I chuckle nervously. Was leaving the curtain open part of a plan? “Okay, you have me. Literally, you have me. What’s your secret?”
Her posture changes, she sits up straight, removes her knees and slowly moves to my right arm and wrapping herself around it.
“What’s your real secret?”
“You thought it was silly when mentioned it last night during drinks last night,” she taunts.
“You did, but I was serious, so don’t laugh this time.”
“All right tell me. I won’t laugh.”
Her head cranes, red hair shifts, looking me right in the eyes, “I am a serial killer.”
“Oh,” I say quickly. It is a flat and forced response. It is intended. I would have said that no matter what the secret. It is sheer willpower preventing a laugh as promised.
“Did you hear me?”
“I did.” I take a moment to process. It is either true, or she believes it to be true. She is not an ordinary person. The evidence of that is all over the room. She is serious. Somewhere in the haze of last night was when she’d said it the first time. It is clear that, if nothing else, Harriet Bristol Wheeler is off balance from the rest of the world.
“Am I going to be one of your victims?”
“No. See, that’s the thing.” She makes this point very clear. “I was protecting myself, sometimes protecting others. But it has happened so many times now.”
“Last night you said you were divorced. Your first husband?”
“Hit by a train.”
“And the second?”
“A scuba accident, eaten by a shark.”
“Just like it sounds,” she says. “We went diving, he was eaten by a shark. I had nothing to do with it.”
“And the third one died of a heart attack?”
She has a judgmental tone in her voice, “Well if you’re going to have that lifestyle, fried foods, little exercise, cigars, it’s inevitable.”
“Those three events don’t really make you a serial killer.”
“Those weren’t the people who died at my hand,” she explains. “They just happened to die around me.”
I stand and take care in extricating her arm. Pants going on all the way on this time. Shirt in the corner now hangs by one sleeve scanning the floor for shoes. Do I really need shoes? How fast can I get away?
“Harriet, what do you need me for? Why would you come to find me at this conference and tell me about this?”
She grabs a pillow in a moment of modesty wrapping her arms and legs around it. It hides most of her body from view.
“I want to tell my story. I need a good storyteller to share that story with the world.”
I shake my head without realizing it, “Ugh, you too?”
“You are going to write my story, Rick Philips. You are going to write my story, and we are going to split the money from the book,” she says as a matter of fact.
“There’s little money in this business, practically none.”
“What about your first book?”
“Shelter in Place?”
“You became rich off that. It was a best seller. You did all those interviews on TV. You still do interviews when shootings happen.”
“I have no money, there is no money.”
“But this story, my story, is going to make us both very rich.” Her eyes grow large at the thought. “This is a story you can’t turn down.”
“Money?” I pick up the desk chair, resettle it, and sit to put on my shoes.
“Forget the money for a moment. I need to tell my story, Rick. You can help do that. Shelter in Place is an amazing story of survival. About life and death. Your book meant something to me. It’s a great book. I love that book. Now you need to tell my story.”
Runners laced tight, it feels like I can get away.
“Is there anything else?”
She is silent as her face starts to tighten, and the first tear rolls, “The money isn’t for me.”
“No. The money is for my daughter.”
“You have a daughter?”
“I had a child. She was taken from me.” She begins to cry. Large tears roll down her face. “I’m the victim here; my child was taken away from me, and no one was left to love me. I need to tell my story. Tell it before it’s too late. I want her to live a good life. A life I could never provide.”
Her tears seem real. Her face red, scrunched in emotion. My instinct is to help her. Naturally, I wanted to take her in my arms, hold her, reassure her. She is in so much need of help, and it is in man’s nature to solve problems. I try to resist these feelings.
“All right,” I say. “Come here.”
She stands, dropping the pillow, exposing her skin covered in red splotches and bruises. Her wrist, hot and pulsing, I have her sit on my knee.
“You’re going to write down your phone number. You have a phone, right?”
She nods her head and wipes away tears.
“Write down your number,” grabbing the complimentary pen and stationary on the hotel desk. “I’m going to go back to my room, get some sleep, then drive home. I’m going to think about what we talked about, and if I think there’s a story here, if there is something I can do to help, I’ll call you.”
She looks like an obedient child, nodding, and writes down a number on the pad.
“All right, Harriet. Thank you for a most memorable night,” I say in the best way possible.
Walking to the door, her steps are right behind me. At the door, hand on the knob, moments from escape, she tugs on my sleeve. Standing on tip-toes. Harriet pulls me in close and kisses me on the lips.
“Thank you for listening to my secret without laughing.”
“You are welcome,” I say. I lean in and kiss her one more time, then turn to the door, open it, and step out into the hall, into freedom, walking away from a creepy situation.
My shoelace is not tightly tied. It feels like a bad tire working its way off the rim. I keep going forward. There was no sound of a door closing. Turning the corner to the elevator, I look back down the hall. There she is, naked, standing in the middle of the corridor watching me. Goosebumps work up my back and arms from that look. It haunts me.
The elevator takes me down to the lobby, and I feel the eyes of other authors and attendees of the writers’ conference on me. It is a walk of shame to the other hotel tower. Who was a witness? Who had heard the rumors? Why were so many people up this early in the morning?
Up the elevator, down the hall, and I fumble with the plastic key card on my door. After three flashes of the red light and buzz on the door handle, I am finally inside, safe. Safe?