Lani Patterson hit her thirties running, quite literally. Every morning before the sun even thought of peeking above the horizon Lani was out in the elements. So by her mid-forties the runs were so much a part of her day that she no longer moaned when her alarm went off. Rain or shine she was on the side of the roadways running with her dark hair flying straight behind her head even though it was bound up in a pony tail. The few neighbors who were out smiled and shook their heads at her dedication; she would wave to them and continue down the street.
It was fall and the winds already had a bit of a bite to them. The early morning chill promised that snow was just around the corner. To fight the chill in the air, Lani had just pushed with a final burst of energy when her side vibrated.
"Damn." She bounced to a stop and unzipped the cell phone shaking in her pocket. Still breathing heavily, Lani keyed her phone on.
"Yes?" She resumed a slower pace, trying to warm down while not sounding obscene on the call, still panting from the exercise.
"Lani, darling, did I interrupt you?" A droll chuckle greeted her. Elisa Wynn, her dearest and most annoying friend, could make anything sound suggestive -- much to Lani's discomfort as a rule. This morning was no different. Lani had to laugh. Elisa knew perfectly well she ran daily, something that Elisa thought was only useful if being chased by a gun-toting, deranged maniac. That having been said repeatedly, and having not seen any around, Elisa felt there was absolutely no need to take up jogging, much less running.
Slowing to a walk, Lani finally caught her breath and replied, "Just finishing up and now doing some stretches and deep breathing -- alone since you cannot be bothered to join me."
Elisa laughed and came back with, "Why would I ever want to ruin a perfectly good time with something as dreadful as solitary exercise -- outdoors no less?"
Lani knew she would never win this battle, "So why are you disturbing your beauty rest and calling me at dawn?"
"It's dawn already?" Elisa seemed to be surprised by that little obvious piece of information Lani thought.
"Nearly, I think the sun is appearing in the east as we speak," Laughing softly, Lani dropped to the lawn in front of her house and bent and stretched while leaning her head to hold the phone in between her face and shoulder. It was uncomfortable, but she did not need her legs locking up in pain later from not warming down properly.
"Well, I haven't been to sleep yet. I hadn't realized it was so late -- or rather so early." Her friend genuinely sounded puzzled.
"So what, then, you meant to call me in the middle of the night instead?" Lani smiled and asked.
"Why, yes," Elisa trailed off.
"Okay, what's wrong?" Her smile fell off her face at Elisa's tones. Elisa was silent for a beat while Lani arched and folded some more. The lawn prickled the back of her thighs stiffly and the fallen leaves crunched as she waited for a reply. As the silence stretched out Lani finally stopped and curled her legs up to her chest growing concerned by her normally noisy friend's lack of response.
"Elisa?" she ventured finally in to the phone, no longer propped against her face. The phone was cold in her right hand. Or she was cold by the unusual conversation they were having. This did not sound like Elisa in any way.
"Oh, nothing much, darling, I just am very surprised how the time flew by," her voice lacked the usual sarcastic and sardonic undertones. Lani was really worried now.
She waited again for Elisa to continue. For a minute she thought she had lost the call. A quick glance at her phone display showed it was still active and she had four bars. Elisa was way too quiet on the other end. Finally trying to flip around the mood, Lani quipped, "So you were just going to call me up in the middle of the night and see if I would answer?"
Elisa sighed with exasperation and replied, "Well, I knew you would answer."
Unfortunately her friend was too right. Lani always answered her calls. Such a pathetic life that she had lately, she could not remember the last time she had to check her voicemail or her answering machine. Shaking herself out of the direction of that train wreck of a thought, she replied, "Okay, I answered. So now what is up? You need something?"
Another interminably long silence then Elisa said, "Can you come over today after work?"
"Elisa Ann Wynn, you mean to say you called me in what you thought was the middle of the night to ask me to visit you?" Lani was floored.
"Yes, so can you come by around six or so?" Elisa's voice was serious. This was really why she called.
She sighed and said, "Sure. Whatever."
Lani was ready to hang up when Elisa said, "And bring something to wear out. We have this club to go to."
"Lani, it is Friday night. It's not like you have to work tomorrow, do you?" A bit of attitude was displayed.
"No, I don't. But Elisa, if this is some lame attempt at a hook-up I will kill you."
"It's nothing like that. Just humor me. Okay?"
"Sure," and with that Lani did end the call. Still somewhat puzzled, she finished up her exercise and went in to have her coffee and begin the day.
It was only when she was nearly out the front door to go to work that she recalled she'd promised Elisa she would go over to her house later.
Reluctantly Lani stuffed some clothes into a gym bag and tossed it in the back of her car. Grumbling at her nutty friend, she went in to work wondering what was really happening in Elisa's life to call so erratically. Not to mention so early.
Friday was filled with the usual chaotic mix of relief for everyone at being the end of the week and too many fires to put out before the day was done. She did not dwell on the strange call with Elisa, and the time flew fairly quickly. Exhausted by her long day, Lani finished up and was out the door. When she was in her car on her way home, her cell phone rang. Impatiently she reached into her purse and grabbed the noisy phone.
"Hello!" She saw by the display it was Elisa.
"Are you on your way over yet?" Elisa was speaking quickly and softly. Lani could barely hear her. She asked her to repeat herself. Elisa did a bit louder, but still pretty quie,t like she was sneaking a call in at work.
Distractedly Lani recalled she was supposed be going right over to Elisa's. She put her turn indicator on and turned around at the first intersection she saw. She did not admit to forgetting the plans.
"Of course, I am." Now, she mentally added.
"Good. Did you bring something nice to wear?"
Lani never remembered Elisa nagging her so much over a simple night out. She bit back a smart reply and said, "Yes, I did. I should be there in twenty minutes. Do you need me to pick up anything?"
Laughter greeted that question and Elisa sounded like her old self, "No, just yourself."
A few more comments and she disconnected the call and concentrated on her driving. This was shaping up to be a real mystery. With a mental shrug, Lani headed for the house Elisa rented. As she drove towards her friend's place she noticed there was a large black panel van parked in Elisa's driveway. Nowhere did she see Elisa's expensive little sports car. She did not remember Elisa saying she had dropped it off to be serviced or anything. Grabbing up her gym bag, she locked up her car and headed to the door. Before she reached the bottom of the walkway Elisa was out and greeting her.
"Great, you made it!"
Lani saw with total shock that Elisa had absolutely no make up on. In the ten years plus they had been friends, she had never seen Elisa leave the front door without her eyes done and her hair beautifully styled. Then she noticed that Elisa was wearing a mismatched set of sweats.
"What's wrong?" Lani could not help but ask.
"Nothing is wrong. You are finally here. So it is all fine -- perfect." False gaiety laced in Elisa's voice sent chills down Lani's spine. Then Elisa linked her arm through Lani's, practically dragged her up the walkway. Lani saw then that Elisa was wearing bedroom slippers on her feet.
"Did you even go into work today?" She asked.
"No, I called in sick. It's Friday after all and so there wasn't much happening." Elisa replied nonchalantly.
Lani seriously doubted her boss felt the same, as Elisa worked in a major bank and had often complained at how busy Fridays always were. She kept her thoughts to herself and allowed her friend to lead her inside. The entryway was darker than usual and Lani noticed that the light was off in the living room too. Nothing was making her feel any better. Maybe Elisa was seriously ill.
"Are you sure you are up to going out tonight? Why don't we just call for a fully loaded pizza and watch some old movies?" Lani asked. Something they had done more than once when one of them had a problem.
Elisa stopped abruptly and said, "No, you have to see this club. It is amazing. The people are the best and I know you will enjoy yourself."
"But, Elisa," here she paused and tried to think how best to word her reply, "If you called off sick and aren't even dressed yet, do you really think another late night out is a good idea?"
Elisa exhaled softly. Just then there was a creaking sound of the floor board above their heads. Shocked Lani asked, "Elisa, is there someone else here?"
She felt awkward and watched her friend dip her head in a coy manner.
"Oh, yes, I am sorry I forgot to mention it." She didn't sound very remorseful to Lani. She sounded sneaky, like she had been caught out in a lie or something.
Footsteps continued above and then black dress shoes and a black-attired man came into view on the stairs to the left of the entry way. Lani regarded the man. His features were sharp and his light brown hair was to his shoulders. He could be a model, she thought. Pale with just enough warmth to his cheeks, dark eyes glanced at her with nearly the same measure she was giving him.
"Oh, my Elisa, what have we here?" The man's tone was mocking and Elisa ran up the stairs to simper. There was no other word Lani could come up with; her friend was simpering. Dropping her purse and gym bag in the entry hall, she waited for the two to descend. This was Elisa's guest and she had no intention of saying much. He arched an eyebrow to Lani over Elisa's head as he wrapped her friend in a half-hearted embrace. While Elisa appeared underdressed and definitely unmade-up, the man was wearing expensive clothing and what appeared to be eyeliner? His fingernails were definitely manicured and longer than most men kept them. Maybe the guess of model was correct; nevertheless Lani waited patiently.
"Oh, Greg, this is my best friend Lani I was telling you would be over tonight." Apparently Greg did not have a last name and hopefully she had not told him hers. Elisa sketched a hand sweepingly towards Lani as if offering her up as a gift to be devoured. Lani shuddered at the gesture and stood silent.
Shadows flitted across Greg's features as he unhooked Elisa from his side and went to greet Lani. Elisa remained on the steps where he had abandoned her so casually. Elisa clenched her hands together while Greg floated down the remaining steps. Lani watched the byplay with misgivings. She had figured out who owned the van out front. It was pretty obvious that Greg had brought Elisa home late last night. From the looks of things, Greg was already very comfortable here.
To be continued...
The "Dark Whispers" story lines originally appeared beginning in November of 2004. The Piker Press is pleased to be able to run them again fourteen years later.