After some rather nervous consideration, I've decided to post the prologue to my completed novel, THE DEVIL YOU DON'T KNOW. Please remember this in an unedited rough draft. If you have comments or suggestions, please feel free to post away. Just be kind.
11:35 p.m. Friday
Michael Reed opened his eyes, gasping for air. He was in his bed, of course, his wife a snug warm little bump next to him. Outside his bedroom window, a chilly central Illinois wind rustled the dead leaves already blanketing the lawn. A low-pitched murmur coming from the foot of the bed was only the television, he realized. He’d fallen asleep with it on. That fragile, ethereal dream feeling clung to him like the chilled sweat of a fever. Both cats slept peacefully at his feet. The pale blue glow of his bedside clock told him it was 11:35 p.m.
The explosion came just as he turned to set the alarm. He held his breath and waited for another, but none came.
What the fuck?
He leaned over and looked at his wife, who dozed peacefully beside him. Kris Reed would snap awake if Connor coughed on the other side of the house, yet she slept through that? Even the cats were dead to the world.
At some point, still puzzled, he fell back into sleep.
* * * *
Less than two miles away, the Rev. Dave Douglas sat alone in the downstairs office of his country home just north of Peoria, dutifully working on Sunday’s sermon. He’d removed his reading glasses and was fastidiously wiping them clean with the soft flannel hem of his pajama top when the explosion nearly knocked him from his chair. He sat perfectly still, his heart racing.
Then he remembered Buddy.
The family’s five-year-old cocker spaniel had been curled up under his desk, snoozing as he always did when Reverend Dave worked at the computer. He pushed his chair back and glanced under the desk--and there was Buddy, sleeping soundly.
“Hey boy,” Dave whispered, and Buddy immediately raised his head, his tail thumping a beat on the floor. The spaniel stood up and stretched before licking his master’s outstretched hand.
* * * *
Bradley University theology professor Matthew Folds was still fuming from yet another argument with his life partner of forty years. It had ended like they all did, with Derrick stomping out and Matt alone at the kitchen table, a tall glass of bourbon and the Bible his only companions.
When the blast split the solitude of their tiny Peoria home, Matt spilled the bourbon all over his leather-bound King James Version Bible. Mercifully, he didn’t have time to ponder which loss bothered him most.
“Oh dear God,” he muttered, clutching his chest. And then he remembered Derrick, who’d stormed out just minutes earlier.
“Derrick!” Matt shouted, hurrying to the back door and throwing it open. Standing in the doorway, he heard only the sounds of a city at night--the sporadic hiss of tires on the street out front and a faraway, fading siren. He stood there for a full minute, his heartbeat slowing to normal. Mystified, he closed the door and padded back to the kitchen table, where he poured himself another drink, picked up his soggy Bible and waited for his lover’s return.
* * * *
Sixteen-year-old Samantha Cate flopped onto her bed and dialed Justin’s number. She’d just returned with some chips and a Mountain Dew looted from the spacious kitchen of the new house her big sister Bethany shared with live-in boyfriend Jed in Davenport, Iowa. Sam had moved in with them unannounced several weeks earlier after fleeing her parents’ farm in central Illinois. She intended to finish high school at Davenport Central. She also intended to become a doctor someday, like Bethany. Maybe a pediatrician.
She did not intend to go home.
“Hey babe,” Justin purred just as the blast rocked the house. Sam caught her breath and dropped the cell phone, covering her head with a pillow.
“Oh shit,” she screamed. “Oh God. What was that?”
“Sam? Sweetheart?” She could hear Justin’s voice, tinny and faraway, coming from her Verizon flip phone. “What’s wrong?” At some point, he muttered something unintelligible and hung up.
She eventually fell asleep, the pillow over her head and her cell phone still open beside her.
* * * *
In a downtown Peoria parking deck, attorney Zachary Fine gallantly opened the door of his Mercedes for the willowy young blonde, whose name he’d already forgotten. She’d latched onto him at the charity ball and he’d immediately found her thoroughly enchanting--not to mention hotter than a pistol at a shooting range.
They entered the Twin Towers elevator and rode in silence to the 23rd floor, where Zachary’s penthouse overlooked the widest, prettiest stretch of the otherwise insipid Illinois River.
“Wow,” the girl finally said, looking around with big, sleepy blue eyes. The little humpbacked lawyer removed her lacy shawl and dropped it onto his black leather sofa with a flourish.
“I guess we should talk money before we go any further,” she said, looking at him expectantly. At that moment, the crystal clock on the mahogany desk off to the side of the living room clicked to 11:35 p.m.
“Money?” Zachary said, feeling the bulge in his tuxedo trousers immediately deflate.
Her mouth moved to answer, but the explosion drowned out her words. He grabbed her and threw her onto the floor, flinging his tiny body over hers.
After a couple of seconds, he opened his eyes and looked around. Nothing. No debris, no smoke. Nothing.
“Are you okay?” he asked, sitting up and looking around.
“What the hell is wrong with you?” the girl said, grabbing her handbag and sliding into her heels.
“No. Wait. Please?”
The only response was the penthouse door slamming with almost as much deafening noise as the explosion.
Or whatever it was.
* * * *
Miriam Crane sat up in her bed, the latest dream still fresh in her mind. Her ears were ringing from the blast and her eyes were moist with tears of joy.
She got out of bed and trotted silently down the hall to Jordan’s bedroom door. Quietly, she pushed it open and looked in on her son. He was sleeping soundly, his room silent save for the soft ticking of his alarm clock on the bedside table. She smiled sweetly and went back to her bedroom.
It never occurred to her to be frightened or alarmed. No, this was the moment she had waited for. Fifteen years she had waited, silently and painfully.
And now, the moment had arrived.
She knelt beside her bed and prayed, fingering her rosary beads tightly, secure in the knowledge that she was the only person on the planet who knew the significance of what had happened on this night.
* * * *