Read Angels Mark (The Serena Wilcox Mysteries Dystopian Thriller Trilogy) Online
Authors: Natalie Buske Thomas
This book is a work of fiction. All events and dialog are for entertainment purposes only and do not necessarily
represent the author’s views.
Copyright © 201
3 Natalie Buske Thomas
Independent Spirit Publishing
All rights reserved. Do not copy.
The Serena Wilcox Mysteries: Dystopian Thriller Trilogy:
The Serena Wilcox Mysteries: Books 1, 2 & 3:
The Miracle Dulcimer
The Magic Camera
Fred Born Gifted
Free to enjoy online:
Serena Wilcox Choose Your Own Mystery Game
For a complete list of Natalie Buske Thomas’ works, including her oil paintings, please visit her website.
She made X’s in her mashed potatoes with her fork, staring at her plate without really seeing the food. All around her was the clatter and the chatter of people dining in groups large and small, huddled under the stained glass domed lights that adorned the ceiling above each cozy table. She was conspicuously alone in a large mid-priced chain restaurant in a suburb just outside of Minneapolis.
Parents donned bibs on hungry toddler
s. Some fawned all over Baby, some were embarrassed by Baby’s noisy demands, and the rest ignored Baby, despite glaring looks from nearby tables. Friends shared deep-fried appetizer platters, each group with an obvious identity: co-workers blowing off steam, girls’ night out, birthday party. Couples clicked sparkling wine glasses; most pretended to share intimacy while distracted by other things. A few couples shared a real moment, with some moments more fleeting than others. Children bounced through the aisles on their way to and from the restrooms, occasionally led by a parent.
Tables with booth seating, running along every wall and tucked into every corner, were fully occupied by smiling people. The remaining tables, with traditional seating, were scattered throughout the middle of the restaurant and wedged in wall spaces too small for the booths. That was where she was sitting, the third table from the kitchen doors, hugging the wall.
“May I get you something?” said Bryce, a local college student who had recently taken this job waiting tables three nights a week. His tuition was paid for by his parents, books were covered by paternal grandparents, and clothes were gifted by his maternal grandparents. Aunts and uncles pitched in dorm and food costs. He worked solely to sustain his partying habits, which were substantial.
Seemingly never hung-over, over-stressed, or fatigued, his ever-present smile showed a history of good orthodontics and tooth whitening. Bryce’s fresh good looks, topped with thick sandy locks, often netted him big tips from female diners -- but not from this one. This one didn’t even look at him.
“Oh, no thanks,” she said. “Wait, actually, yes. I’d like the hot fudge sundae cake. With whipped cream, but no nuts, please.” She raised the glossy dessert menu and tapped her finger on the picture of the “Chocolate Lover’s Deluxe Fudge Sundae Cake” special, complete with red cherry on top. The price was not special, but she wasn’t thinking about cost.
“Sure,” he said, his smile cranked up to full wattage. He turned away from her table quickly and merged into the swarm of patrons coming down the long carpeted aisle, his checkerboard-patterned shirt still visible until he reached the swinging kitchen doors. He should have collided with a female server, but somehow gracefully skated around her at the last possible second. The trays full of Buffalo wings she was balancing survived in defiance of all the laws of physics.
I probably made him feel uncomfortable
a woman sitting alone at a table large enough for six people. What on earth am I doing here?
She sipped her soft drink slowly. How long could she make this evening stretch out? Eventually she would run out of room in her stomach. Then she would have to leave the warm restaurant with its pizzeria-like scent of garlic, and its competing craving-inducing smell of frying oil, its too-early Christmas music soundtrack competing cheerfully with the din, and its staff of people paid to be friendly. She would have to go home, except there wasn’t a home to go to.
She had taken care of that late last night when she lit a red glitter taper candle and then deliberately tipped it onto a stack of piano sheet music – a gentle tap of the candlestick holder and down it went, candle and all. The paper caught fire within seconds and she watched the edges of each page from the recital version of “Let it
Be” curl, blacken, and smolder before crumpling and disappearing into the fire. Soon everything else on the coffee table was ablaze.
She stood there watching the flames for what felt like hours. After the fire consumed the sheet music, an
L.L.Bean catalog, an old electric bill and most of a Grisham novel, it licked at the wood of the coffee table. She worried that the fire would exhaust itself before catching on to the table, but the flames eventually took root in its mahogany frame. From then on, the fire progressed slowly.
As hard as it was to be patient, she couldn’t hurry it along. She could only stand by helplessly, hoping that it would pick up power and speed, spreading itself until the whole room was engulfed. She waited; her feet hurting from standing so long, her bladder full, and her throat dry.
When the room finally began to fill with smoke, she went downstairs where her bags were packed and ready for her on her favorite chair. She slung the oversized backpack over her right shoulder, grabbed one bag with her left hand, and wheeled the third bag with her right hand. She waited a few more minutes, making sure the fire was spreading throughout the house.
She heard the thud of something falling in the kitchen and felt certain that the rest of the house would be gone within the next hour or so. She took one last look around, at the picture frames on the mantel: her daughters, her son, her husband. She set her bags down and opened one of the glass walk-out patio doors. She put a coat on, but didn’t take the time to zip the front. Then she grabbed her bags and left the house for the last time.
“Would you like a refill?” Bryce set the dessert in front of her and reached for her glass. The trapped body heat in the restaurant had already melted the leftover ice cubes in her nearly empty beverage.
“Yes, please,” she said. Why not?
She had nowhere to go. She was amazed that she could have any appetite at all, but she
gone for almost 48 hours without much to eat or drink. She craved comfort foods and sugar.
“I’ll be right back,” he said, disappearing again into the steady stream of Friday night diners, many of whom were now waiting in line to be seated. Dirty slush had been tracked in from their feet,
puddling into a gray sludge on the carpet. The crowd was thickening now, and the empty chairs around her table had been added to adjoining tables after the perfunctory polite inquiry, “Is this seat taken?” She shook her head no after each request. Five requests later, she was sitting in the only chair left at the table.
She ate her dessert methodically. She removed the cherry and ate that first, returning the stem to her plate. Then she moved on to the sides and bottom. When the cake was nearly gone, she saved the biggest dollop of whipped cream to go down with the last bite of chocolate. She spent the next two minutes people-watching while draining the rest of her second soda.
When Bryce returned, she asked for coffee. He didn’t express any surprise, but surely by now he was starting to wonder when she would ever leave the restaurant, especially with tables in high demand. His restraint was motivated by pity, great customer service, or apathy – she didn’t know, but she felt blessed that he didn’t try to hurry her along on this starry Minnesota night.
She altered her coffee with two creams and five sugar packets, stirring the sweet slurry until it became the caramel color she was looking for. She held the orange cup with both of her cool hands wrapped around it and lifted the coffee to her face, letting the aromatic steam warm her. Nursing the coffee confection for ten minutes, she breathed in the comforting smell and allowed herself to remember a cup of coffee she had five years ago.
Tom had been grinding coffee beans. The shrill whine from the high-decibel grinder masked all other sounds. After he shut the grinder off both of them were startled by the new sound breaking the silence: the phone was ringing, and was probably on its third or fourth ring. He glanced at the caller-ID screen and said, “Ball State.”
“Again?” she shrugged. Every weekend Ball State had been calling their alumni, presumably to raise funds for the university. She was relieved that the call was not one they needed to answer. She considered turning the phone’s ringer off, but focused her sleepy mind back on to coffee. Normally she didn’t have a cup of coffee so late in the day, but life was changing fast and a lot of things were going to be different.
Tom pushed the powdered creamer in her direction. She reached beyond him to open the silverware drawer and pulled out a spoon. She scooped sugar out of the counter canister, spilling some granules on the counter, adding more sugar to the crystallized ring around the canister. A few seconds later, she was sipping coffee that was brewed too strong for her. She added a spray of canned whipped cream. Tom took the whipped cream and added some to his coffee too.
Both stood in the kitchen, leaning into the cluttered and crumb-littered island counter, silently sipping coffee. The quiet was unnerving. Each of them expected the silence to be shattered at any moment, but the phone did not ring again.
The frigid air outside froze sound itself. Nothing was stirring. They looked at each other at the same time, and laughed softly, a laugh devoid of mirth. Laughter was nothing more to them at that moment than a nervous tic.
Tom drained the rest of his coffee and added his “Real Men Do Diapers” mug, a leftover from when they’d had babies in the house, to the dirty dishes in the dishwasher. He walked behind her and put his arms around her. She rested the back of her head on his shoulder. Her dark hair, naturally a “nutmeg” shade according to color charts, looked even darker next to Tom’s short blonde locks.
They were physical opposites in other ways too. He was long in the torso, short on legs. Serena was short in the torso, long on legs. Both were on the short end of the height scale though, and fit together as a cute couple, friendly and wholesome. Nice. Sexy and powerful were not adjectives assigned to the pair of them, but they felt that way when they were alone together, especially when life had them feeling on edge, either because little things were not going their way, or, like now, because things were completely unsettled.
Serena drank in Tom’s cologne and tried to quiet her energy, but she quickly grew restless with the embrace. Her back hurt from the slight pressure of Tom leaning on her. The feeling was mutual: Tom was antsy to pull away so that he could pace the kitchen. Each waited a polite moment before pulling away from each other simultaneously. This was how they were; married long enough to finish each other’s thoughts and move in synchronized steps without any words at all.
“They’re saying something,” said Tom. He ran into the living room, grabbed the remote and turned up the volume. They planted their stance a few feet away from the large TV. They were too keyed up to sit or move, their bodies trembling and their stomachs in knots. Blinking their eyes felt foreign, swallowing saliva was difficult over their thick dry throats, and their every breath felt labored.
They felt united with all of America, and with people from all over the world, as they all watched the events unfold on live television together – the shared passive observance of tragedy that would bind them all together forever, and would alter future generations with every passing second. This was that moment in time that they had all dreaded, that time in history that populations had feared for decades. It had arrived, and it was every bit as monumental as every clichéd movie Serena had ever seen, and it was punctuated by live reporting on television.
The news anchors’ faces would be etched in their collective brains as the faces everyone turned to for reassurance and information. New stars were born, as lesser-known reporters stepped up in stations outside of New York. The current face on the screen belonged to Brandon Swenson of Minneapolis.
We are hearing reports of a single blast from what we now know is a nuclear bomb that was a direct hit to New York City and we are just now, we are just now hearing, we are hearing that Washington D.C. has also been hit. The President is in an undisclosed location. The President has been confirmed to be safe. I repeat that, at this time, there has been no threat to the President.
We are now learning of another blast. There is another blast on Philadelphia. Yes, we are just now learning of another hit. The affected cities are now L.A., New York, Washington, D.C., and this just in, Philadelphia. We have yet to learn who is taking responsibility for these attacks. Where will it all end, America?
We are reporting live from our sister stations in Minneapolis and Chicago. I regret that many of our colleagues were in the affected cities at the time of the blast. This is a dark day for America, a very dark day.
Tom turned the closed captioning on and muted the sound. The reporters, and guest experts, were saying the same information in a desperate loop of nothing-new-to-report during the climax of the world’s worst crisis.
He turned the sound back on when the footage cut back to Brandon Swenson. Brandon looked way too young and inexperienced to handle this moment in history. The baby-faced reporter read frantically from the teleprompter, not bothering to conceal the emotion from his voice.
We are now expecting to hear from the President. He will be speaking from the James R. Thompson center in Chicago within the hour, where people are already gathering in the streets in unprecedented numbers. A strong police presence and secret service detail is already in place, and the Army National Guard has also been called in.
The President is requesting that Americans not panic. He is asking that people stay by their televisions and radios and wait for information. He is expected to announce a national registry to locate missing persons, and to reassure the American people that the United States of America is containing this crisis and will make our country safe again.