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TIM WAGONNER Your Turn to Suffer

FLAME TREE PRESS

London & New York

*

This one’s for David Lynch, dreamer of the dark and wondrous.

Prologue

“Can I ask you a question?”

Lorelai Palumbo – who preferred to be called Lori – didn’t register the man at first. She’d just left work, and her mind was on the last client she’d had, a twelve-year-old boy named Stevie. He’d been struck by a hit-and- run driver, after running into the street in an attempt to catch his new chiweenie puppy, which had made a mad dash for freedom when he’d opened the front door to go out to play. The dog had escaped being hit, but Stevie hadn’t been so lucky. He’d needed multiple surgeries, and the bones of his right arm and left leg were held together by so much metal he joked that he qualified to be called a cyborg now. Today hadn’t been his first physical therapy session, but it had still hurt like hell, so much so that he was in tears by the end of it, and she felt as if she’d been torturing the poor boy. But Stevie wasn’t the only thing occupying her thoughts. After Stevie and his mom left, her supervisor, Melinda Dixon, had gotten on her ass about taking it too easy on the boy toward the end of his session.

We have to help them fight through the pain, Melinda had said. Help them not be afraid of it. But in order for that to happen, we first have to let them feel it. All of it.

Melinda’s words had infuriated her, especially because she feared the woman was right. She hadn’t intentionally gone easy on Stevie, but seeing him cry like that had torn at her heart, so she wouldn’t have been surprised if she’d subconsciously backed off and not made him work as hard as she should’ve.

And if all that wasn’t enough, she was also thinking about last night’s phone conversation with Justin.

Just because I’m not comfortable with your ex-boyfriend staying at your place until he ‘gets on his feet,’ doesn’t mean I’m insecure. I think my reaction is perfectly reasonable, given the circumstances.

The accumulated stress had given her a headache, a bad one. Her head pounded like hell, and she was beginning to see flashes of light in the corners of her vision. She was on the verge of triggering a stress-induced migraine, and if she didn’t want to lie in a dark room for the next three days feeling as if her head was going to explode any second, she needed to take some Fiorinal – and fast. She’d been meaning to get her prescription refilled, had even called it in, but with one thing and another, she hadn’t stopped by the pharmacy to pick it up yet.

Stupid, stupid, stupid!

Luckily, the pharmacy was only a couple of blocks from where she worked. She’d decided to walk instead of drive. She knew from experience that her headache would worsen faster if she tried to drive, so she wasn’t going to get behind the wheel of her car until she got some Fiorinal into her system. The medicine made some people drowsy, but she’d been taking it so long that it didn’t affect her that strongly. Still, she might call Justin and ask him to drive her home – assuming he still wasn’t too pissed off at her. Screw it. She didn’t feel like dealing with him right now. She’d call an Uber instead.

So, with Stevie, Melinda, Justin, and her raging headache on her mind, if the man hadn’t stepped in front of her and repeated his question, she most likely would’ve continued walking down the sidewalk, passing him by without ever noticing him. But she definitely noticed him now – had to stop abruptly to avoid colliding with him, in fact.

He was in his sixties, maybe seventies. He had a neatly trimmed white mustache and wore a brown suit with a garish yellow tie. He wore a fedora, and she couldn’t tell if his hair was as white as his mustache or if he was bald. There was nothing particularly remarkable about him, nothing concerning. At least at first glance. But then she saw the haunted look in his eyes, and a chill rippled down her spine. He looked as if he’d seen something awful, and her first thought was that the man was in shock. That, or he was insane.

He smelled of a cologne she didn’t recognize, as well as the lingering scent of tobacco. He was a smoker. The combined smells turned her stomach, and caused her head to pound even harder. The pain was so intense that for a moment she thought she might throw up on the man. She didn’t, but it was close.

She saw something move in the man’s eyes then, dark threads that passed across the whites like fast-moving storm clouds. Then they were gone. She put them down to a visual hallucination caused by her migraine, and she forgot about them.

His words registered on her consciousness then – Can I ask you a question? – and without thinking about it, she said, “No.” She quickly stepped around him and continued down the sidewalk, moving at a faster pace than she had before.

Her reaction to the man had been an instinctive one, without thought or consideration. Her head felt as if it was going to split open any second, and that look in his eyes, as if whatever he had seen that had bothered him so was playing on an endless loop in his mind, had warned her not to talk to him.

She couldn’t stop herself from glancing back over her shoulder at the man, even though she knew that by doing so she might encourage him to approach her again. He stood on the sidewalk looking at her, a sad expression on his face, but he made no move to come after her.

She looked forward once more.

You need to get your medicine, she reminded herself. Besides, he was probably going to

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