The nightmares started soon after accepting a writing assignment with Newsweek. What started as some eagerly accepted freelance work seemed to be leading her down a path toward ultimate destruction. After years of battling the worst insomnia, sleep had become her enemy. She knew better than anyone what could happen when you slept. That’s why she sat now in Starbucks at 8:45 p.m., downing her last of several cups of coffee before they closed. For the past several weeks she had devised artful ways of avoiding what she initially thought was some sort of stalker, angered by the story she was doing. It wasn’t long before she discovered what plagued her was a great deal more than merely a stalker. She realized that her safety was short-lived and that, sooner or later, she would have to go home or, at the very least, she would have to tell someone what she had learned. But who on earth would ever believe what was happening to not only her, but countless others?
She watched him, just outside the windows, lurking in the shadows…waiting.
The words be careful what you wish for rang in her ears once again. For months she had wanted little more than to get some work, any work. So when Cameron, over at Newsweek, had contacted her with a dream writing assignment, she had jumped at the chance.
It was hard to imagine it was little more than three weeks ago when she got the phone call. In three short weeks, she had gone from worrying about paying her mortgage to wondering if she would even live long enough to see the next day.
Despite months of agonizing insomnia, Belinda was overjoyed to hear the phone ringing that morning; even at such an early hour. Since the downturn in the economy, work had diminished significantly for her. After years of working at jobs that had left her feeling mostly dissatisfied, she had built up a strong client base of magazines and newspapers that called on her often to write for their publications on a freelance basis. However, for the past year or so, it had been an uphill climb to stay ahead. Most companies were cutting back and it was becoming apparent that her life-long dream of vocational independence would once again have to be put on hold and she would have to join the ranks of working stiffs on the edge of quiet desperation. That was what kept her from sleeping most nights. Now, her problems were far greater than anything she could ever have imagined. For now all of that would have to wait. The phone was ringing and she could see from the caller id that it was her editor at Newsweek.
“Hey, Belinda, how’s it going?”
“It’s going. How are you?”
“I’m good. I’ve got an assignment for you.”
“I was hoping you’d call. Things have been a bit slow lately.”
“I’m sorry about that. But, things have been slow all over; what with all the cutbacks. Newsweek is feeling the crunch as well. However, I do have an assignment for you; a good one.”
“We want to do a story focusing on the number of people that go missing each year. You’d be perfect for this. According to FBI-NCIC statistics, there are over 100,000 missing persons listed in their system and over 6,000 unidentified persons. Washington, D.C. has more missing persons than any other city listed, but New York has the most unidentified. I’d like you to explore these statistics and dazzle us with a phenomenal story. Maybe you could use your New York contacts to find out more about the unidentified. It’s got a good angle. This one could help put you on the map.”
“Thanks, Cameron. You’re right; it’s a good story.”
“I thought you’d like it.”
“How much time do I have?”
“You’ve got some leeway; a couple of months, maybe. Keep me posted. Okay?”
For the first time in months, Belinda was hopeful. All it took was one really good story. She couldn’t wait to call her girls and tell them the news.
“Summer, guess what?”
“Hey you, you’re in better spirits than the last time I spoke with you. What’s goin’ on?”
“I’ve got a gig; a writing assignment. And, it’s a good one!”
“Good, good. Even though I still say you need to relax. Nobody ever went to their grave saying I wish I had worked more. You need to enjoy the fruits of your labor and stop stressing so damn much. That shit will kill you. You have to remember, everything in life is temporary; even the slow economy.”
“Yeah, yeah, I know. It’s hard to stop stressing when you can’t pay your damn rent, or in my case, my exorbitantly high mortgage.”
“Sell the condo, rent a modest apartment somewhere and live to fight another day.”
“I’ve considered that. But, I love my place; and not only that, this market sucks right now. I’ve put some feelers out and it’s getting close to impossible to sell right now.”
“You need to get out. You know what they say about all work and no play.”
“That’s one of the reasons I called. I thought maybe you, Diana and I could hit a club tonight and celebrate, maybe have some dinner.”
“Sounds good to me.”
“I’m gonna call Diana and then I want to get started on this story. I might call Aidan and see if he can help in any way.
“Aidan, huh? I thought you were weaning yourself off that one.”
“I am. This is business. He’s a detective. I’m doing a story about missing and unidentified people in New York. What better person to talk to?”
“No, seriously. That’s the only reason I’m calling him.”
“I believe you. And even if you were calling him for other reasons, who am I to judge? That’s not my thing. Besides that motha fucka is fine!”
“Summer, you ain’t got no sense. I’ll call you later. I’ve got work to do; finally!”
Before calling either Diana or Aidan, Belinda decided to work up the main idea for her article, so that when she did get in touch with Aidan, she could cut to the chase and ask the right questions right off the bat. She sat in Starbucks, trying to focus. But, instead of the initial excitement she felt at getting the assignment, she found her thoughts were just as lost as she had been lately. She was once again distracted, edgy; and worst of all, she found she still couldn’t write. If she couldn’t write, she couldn’t pay her bills, and if she couldn’t pay her bills, she was decidedly screwed. Worse than that, she didn’t even have an excuse like the bad economy to fall back on. She had a primo story, yet she was still at odds. So, Belinda realized she had better get her act together and either figure out what the hell was going on with her state of upheaval or put it on a shelf somewhere until after she had written the article she promised.
For years, she had been successfully working as a freelance journalist, writing articles for both magazines and newspapers and had gotten to a place where she was able to make a substantial living at it. But lately, she had become disenchanted with her work. Even before the decline in the economy, her articles seemed somehow stale to her and she needed to write something she could feel proud of. That’s what made this opportunity all the more of a godsend. Slowly, ideas began to come to her. She made a note to research the statistics for missing African-Americans and other minorities. She was sure she had read somewhere that people of color made up a larger portion of missing victims than the media represents. She could be the person to bring things to light. There were so many possible angles to the story, she couldn’t help but get excited about it all over again. She also realized that this was something she had to write about.
Belinda decided she would call Aidan first and get started on her research before calling Diana. Her ideas were gaining momentum and she wanted to hold on to that while everything was fresh in her mind.
“May I speak to Detective Aidan Roberts, please?”
“Just a moment. May I say who’s calling?”
“Hey! You finally decided to return my calls, huh?”
“I’ve just been really busy,” she lied.
Aidan realized Belinda was conflicted. The fact that he had a wife and kids didn’t sit well with her. She never went into detail but, over time, their encounters had gotten less and less and eventually, she had stopped returning his calls.
“I was wondering if you were free for lunch?” she asked.
“For you, always.”
His attempts at flirtation were not unrecognized, however, Belinda decided from the moment she picked up the phone to call him that she would keep this purely professional and would not fall into any old patterns of play.
“I’m writing an article about missing and unidentified persons in New York…not just New York, but mostly New York; and I was hoping you could help me a bit.”
“No problem. Where are you now? I could come to you.”
“I’m on 75th and First. There’s a diner on 77th; Green Kitchen. You wanna meet me there?”
“I can be there in twenty minutes.”
She and Aiden had had an affair for almost a year. He was married and had a family, but she had grown up with him and had had a crush on him for as long as she could remember. One night, she was out at a club when she suddenly had the feeling that someone was staring at her. She turned to find Aidan looking directly at her. At first, she was put off by the blue contact lenses he was wearing, but eventually she got over it; especially since they seemed so natural. Belinda was in awe of his confidence. Even though the last time they had seen one another they had both been teens, she was impressed with how confident he appeared. Gone were all those years of awkwardness and insecurity. He was incredibly self-assured and she had to admit a certain curiosity about what had gotten him to this state of being. They talked and laughed all night and the inevitable happened. Breakfast after the club turned into a cup of coffee at her place and a night of the most incredible sex she had had in a really long time. That went on for about a year before her conscience and her emotions got the better of her. She never considered herself the sort of woman that would break up a family. Not only that, it was clear she was in a dead-end relationship.
Now, she sat in a diner waiting for him once again. This time she hoped she would keep her wits about her and stick to the matter at hand; writing a kick ass story, with Aidan’s help.
“Hey, baby. You look beautiful, as usual.”
He leaned in to kiss her and there was no mistaking how awkward the moment was.
“So, this sounds like some article you’re writing, and Newsweek no less. They’re big. I’m proud of you.”
And with those few words, Belinda’s cautious veneer melted away. The thought crossed her mind, that he really wasn’t a bad guy. He just wasn’t her guy and it would have to stay that way.
The rest of lunch progressed with ease and Belinda was happy she had called. She was surprised to find that he actually had more information to offer than had even occurred to her. Not only that, there was certain information that she was sure he was offering to provide that he probably was not supposed to make available to the public.
After leaving the restaurant, they stood lingering outside, well aware that another awkward moment had arrived.
“I’ll email you what I find when I get back to the station and I’ll keep it coming until you say when. Okay, baby?”
She hated her reaction to him whenever he called her baby. It was her last weakness with him. She could stop returning his calls, stop sleeping with him. But, those lips that had once given her such immeasurable pleasure mouthing the word “baby” were more than she could stand. Still, she understood that she would have to be strong. All it took was one good fuck and she’d be right back to where she started.
“Thanks, Aidan. I appreciate this very much.”
This time, when he leaned in to kiss her goodbye, she didn’t move away or turn her face. She was too distracted by an odd sense of deja vu. He suddenly reminded her of someone else. Even his scent seemed vaguely familiar; not his own scent but someone else’s. She just wasn’t sure who. He kissed her lightly on the forehead and whispered, I understand. It was touching and seemed heartfelt and the two went their separate ways.
Belinda dialed Diana’s office. Although it was regular office hours, the phone rang and rang. No receptionist answered; no service. It was odd. What if she were a patient? Next, she tried Diana’s cell with the same result. Diana was a doctor and was very committed to her practice and always busy, but it seemed as though she was always impossible to get a hold of.
Belinda called Summer back before heading home.
“Yo, girl, what’s up?”
“I really need to get out tonight. I saw Aidan and I swear, I wanted to fuck him right on the sidewalk outside of Green Kitchen. Not only that, I’m scared to death that if I don’t ace this story, my career is going to be in the toilet. I haven’t had a real date in God only knows how long and quite frankly, I need a drink; actually, I need several drinks.”
“Damn, girl, you’re only thirty-eight. Are you going through a midlife crisis already? Your career is fine. You got that bad ass condo on the Upper East and as far as a date, you date as much as you want to. I read something once that said each of us is in exactly the kind of relationship we want to be in. That includes you.”
“Look who’s sounding like the voice of reason.”
“What? Like I don’t offer up some pearls of wisdom every now and then. Don’t let the spandex fool you. I know some shit.”
“Summer, stop making me laugh; this is serious.”
“That’s the problem with you, Belinda. You take life too seriously. You’re right. You need to get out and have some damn fun. Redemption it is.”
“I’ve been trying to call Diana but I get no answer. I even tried calling her office. There’s no answer there either.”
“Now why you gonna go and ruin our good time? The whole point is for you to unwind. How you gonna unwind with Miss Uptight there?”
“Come on, Summer. Diana’s not that bad.”
“So you say. Not only is she that bad; I personally think she’s running game. That girl got some brontosaurus skeletons in her damn closet.”
“You’re so crazy. Why is everything a conspiracy theory with you?”
“’Cause that’s what life is baby; a series of conspiracies. The difference between you and me is I’ve embraced that fact. You investigate it, and still haven’t embraced the reality. I don’t get that.”
“Maybe I want to remain my old naïve self. You ever think about that?”
“Even a little bitty baby isn’t completely naïve. Reality has a way of seeping in, whether we like it or not.”
“I’m still calling Diana.”
“Go ahead and call Her Highness.”
“Summer, are you gonna behave or what?”
“I always behave.”
“Alright, alright, I’ll cut her some slack. But if she tries that condescending shit she does with me, it’s on.”
Belinda tried Diana’s cell and office number once more, but there was still no answer. This time she left a message.
“Hey, sweet pea! Tonight is party night, so don’t even think about telling me that you can’t make it. Call me. We’re gonna hit Redemptions and wear something sexy!”
Rather than wait for Diana to call her back, she decided to make an impromptu visit to her office.
© 2011 Michelle Janine Robinson
More Than Meets the Eye
When journalist Belinda Wilson awakens one morning covered in scratches and bruises, she knows the stress and insomnia she’s been experiencing are more than just tricks of the mind. There is a very real threat lurking in the streets of New York City, and Belinda is determined to find it. What she uncovers is a community of demons hidden in plain sight. Even her best friend is one of them. Some seek only survival, living among humans without causing harm. Others play an evil, twisted game of sexual depravity that leaves mortals painfully ill and often dead. Can anyone stop them?