The next two weeks proved difficult for Vince Raines; not only had he lost someone he deeply cared about in Lacy, she kept everything in order and running smoothly as his assistant. Between the lawyers calling, trying to arrange contracts with the network--after the successful run of talk shows he'd visited, several offers for his own show had finally come through--and arrangements for book signings and clients sobbing on the phone, desperate to hear from their long dead family members, Vince realized two things. One, his popularity had risen a lot in two years--as if the money didn't tell him that--and the work Lacy did for him was, literally, irreplaceable.
Now sitting in his ridiculously expensive leather chair behind his deliciously expensive ten thousand dollar mahogany desk, he sliced open letter after letter with a long golden letter opener. Most of it was fan mail that he tossed in the special storage bin designated specifically for these letters--the trash can.
Long gone were his childhood days of suffering through his mother's adulations for the psychics that milked her of every cent she couldn't afford to spend. He loved his mother dearly, and now could see how she was sucked into this irregular lifestyle, peddled useless "psychic paraphernalia" by ultra-charismatic salesmen without any qualms taking money from those that couldn't afford it. The cold cereal dinners, the scraping together of just barely enough money to afford a school lunch, the occasional theft from friends' parents--all of his troublesome worries were finally gone, replaced by the heaping mounds of cash he earned all by himself. If his mother were still alive today, she'd no doubt be proud of the man he'd become, all the while toting her "psychic" son as getting the "psychic gene" from her side of the family even though he took great strides in avoiding the word "psychic" like he avoided television shows with Anna Nicole Smith. What a sucker she'd been, the poor old woman.
After all the "psychic parties" she dragged him to, Vince developed more than a passing annoyance at how she was duped and that ultimately lead him toward researching just how they accomplished their petty parlor tricks. At first, he dreamed of exposing them all for the frauds and shysters they were, but the more deeply he delve into the world of "psychics," the more he realized just how much he could use this to his own advantage. Who'd have imagined he'd end up where he was today?
He kept busy with his clients while juggling everything else, not an easy task but one he managed. Now wouldn't be the best time to start alienating those that formed his primary source of income; he knew that and despite all his mental protesting, part of him got off on fooling those helpless saps.
Vince paused, eyeing the unopened envelope in his hand. There was no return address, no mailing address, no proper name, nothing. Just a single word printed in red block lettering: SPIRITSPEAKER. Freak-factor aside--mixed in with all his normal mail without a stamp or address meant someone walked up to his mailbox and stuffed it in--the idea of the letter disturbed him with its stalker vibe.
Curiosity was a dangerous thing when left unchecked. The power of curiosity egged you forward despite all the warnings in your head telling you not to look when looking meant locking the image in your mind forever. When Vince was a child, curiosity pushed him to gaze upon the body of a man after he was hit by a car and still today, all these years later, he sometimes closed his eyes and saw the mess of flesh and bone and blood that that car had transformed a once normal body.
Setting the letter opener aside--why he did, he didn't know--he ripped the envelope from the right corner down and then blew it open with a puff of air. Inside he found a single sheet of notebook paper, the edges frayed from the sender ripping it off the spiral. Nerves in his hand twitched as he unfolded the sheet to reveal the blatant, uncensored writing of a madman far too fond of his cheap red-ink pen that leaked, apparently, for there were several blotches all too reminiscent of blood. It read:
FRAUDS MUST PAY
Short and sweet but none too smart. Accusations of fraud were a dime a dozen. For everyone that believed in what he did, there was someone that didn't and that didn't bother him in the least. The theatrical letter, dripping with ink stains designed to look like blood made the whole thing even more ridiculous--not in the least creative, more than a little melodramatic.
Vince crumpled the letter and tossed it at the wastebasket; it hit the rim, bounced off and disappeared under the edge of the desk. Before he leaned down to pick it up, the phone rang, wad of paper soon forgotten.
Blues, greens, a few pinks and light browns splashed around the reading room; some shrink somewhere decided these colors had tranquil, calming effects on people. Shrinks in general, though, Vince held them at about the same level as "psychics." He went with the coloring scheme anyway--why not, no harm. The room itself, small and intimate, had some nature-like tapestries hanging on the wall, a couple of chairs with a simple table between them. On the table, various lengths of candles melted away to oblivion like the bank accounts of his marks. No windows--the light level remained on a low, dim setting.
He waited for the next client The Spiritspeaker Vince Raines parted the veil to the world of the dead for a low, low fee of one hundred and fifty dollars per session. When he first started out doing office parties, local gathers, and the like, he was very much a novelty act that most didn't take too seriously. Handfuls of people always freaked out at his uncanny "abilities" but, like most youth, he fumbled in his awkward deliveries and often times revealed just how of a fake he was. The experience led him away from the mistakes, though, and over time he developed a nice little following of people hiring him for repeat performances. Around that time, he developed his Spiritspeaker persona and struggled for the top by any means available to him.
A young girl no more than fifteen, maybe sixteen years old entered the reading room for her session. A mop of startling bright red hair that was so perfectly tousled it had to be by design surrounded the girl's soft-featured face. In the dim lighting, it took Vince a moment to notice the streaking; several thick streaks of brightly dyed yellow swooshed through her hair, overrunning half the length of red they possessed. Even stranger, those yellow streaks were streaked again at the roots, half the yellow overtaken by a bright blue. Her hair rustled back and forth, waving like the flame of a candle it aspired to copy as she took a seat in the chair across from him. Her rock-hard body, scarcely covered by a blood-red tank top and shorts, caused a bit of light-headedness with all the blood draining from his head. When his eyes managed to tear away from her body, they met with a set of eyes much older than he'd anticipated. The otherwise flawless features of the face gave way to the wrinkling at the edges of her eyes. Abnormally green eyes burned with her dying admiration for a man such as himself. Ah, one of the best things about being a celebrity, all the hot young p--
"Spiritspeaker?" the girl whispered.
After swallowing hard, Vince flashed his cheesiest smile. "Yes..." His eyes shifted to the small index card that listed his clients, each one marked off as soon as they left. Next on the list was... "Jessica. Welcome. Hopefully, together, we can reach--"
"My name's not Jessica."
Vince frowned, only for a moment, then smiled once more. He needed Lacy back, this was not a one-person job. His eyes went to the next name on the list. "Just relax; breathe deeply. Already I can sense dozens of loved ones waiting to relay messages to you, Sarah."
"Looks like they took a wrong turn. I'm not Sarah either, Bob."
Suppressing a reaction--he had to bite his tongue hard enough to get a bitter, metallic taste of blood--Vince stared at the girl across from him, no longer the least bit infatuated with her. Odds were she was a reporter, plan and simple. Convincing a reporter hell-bent on finding him a fraud was like trying to convince someone Bill Clinton was a virgin.
Finally, he said, "Just go. Your money will be refunded."
"Can't do that."
"I don't give interviews. So, please stop wasting my time and leave."
"Not a reporter, Bob."
"Stop calling me that!" Vince snapped. "If you're not a reporter, what do you want?"
The girl's eyes rolled up in thought. "World peace, to see that nobody starves--what other cliches are there? Oh, right, to see frauds pay."
His uncontrolled expression must have been what she was looking for. At Vince's slack-jawed startled gaze, the girl flashed a beautiful smile filled with perfect white teeth. "Got my letter, huh?" she said cheerfully.
This girl--no, she was a woman, hidden in the body a girl--this woman had sent him that creepy letter in with the blood-inspired red ink. Psycho stalkers were new to him; his celebrity had not yet reached a high enough status to warrant one--until now. The first thought to flitter through his mind was that he'd official made it to the big times. A stalker signified your arrival in the world of celebrity; only the greats had them and now here he was with one of his very own.
"Who--what do you want?" Vince demanded.
"Pretty sure I made that clear already."
"What? Oh, frauds must pay." Vince's heart hammered at his chest--two parts thrilled, one part scared. It wasn't so much that he feared for himself, the girl seemed harmless enough if you looked past that hideous hair coloring. Guns were an issue, though, guns that shouldn't have made it past the front door. Control needed to be established and right now. "Let's not get--"
Vince teetered in his chair, stunned by the resounding slap that stung his cheek and forced his chair perilously close to toppling backward. Heat welled up in the welt that formed in the rough shape of this small, fragile girl's hand. Any words he may have had where gone, slapped away by the sheer force of the blow.
Before the front legs of his chair returned to the ground, the girl dove over the table, tackling Vince and chair to the floor with a thud; his head ricocheted off the muted blue tiling. Stars twinkled merrily before his eyes, between him and the visage of hatred that straddled his chest, pinning his arms to the ground.
"You've been found guilty in a court of humanity, Robert Johnson. Your sentence is to live with a burden only you can truly comprehend do to your choices in life and your abuse of the human condition. Do you have anything to say for yourself? No? Good."
He actually had a lot to say for himself, or, to be precise, he had a lot to say about this psycho on his chest. Before he could get a word out, however, the girl's lips pressed against his; her tongue forced his lips to part in what otherwise would have been a grand time. This was no throb-worthy encounter, though. As soon as his lips parted, the girl inhaled with such fierce determination that all the air sucked from Vince's lungs. A boiling fire rolled through his chest, unable to breath. Then the black. The glorious black free of pain and troubled mind encompassed Vince Raines, Spiritspeaker extraordinaire.
Death was preferred to the fate he soon faced.To be continued...