The waiter held up the wine bottle and angled it towards the table. “This our finest red from Virginia, a cool, yet crisp concoction of red and white grape, aged to perfection, with a slight pucker.” He filled the four glasses with a thimbleful of wine, set the bottle down, and stepped back from the table. Four hands touched the stems and lifted them delicately, swirling the lush burgundy liquid within the glass gently.
“Mmm,” Odessa closed her eyes. “Excellent taste, Sabine. I had no idea you liked wine, let alone Italian.”
“I don’t, but tonight is about you. Vince sends his congratulations, by the way.”
“Where is he?”
“A late meeting. ‘A publisher’s work is never done,’ he claims. There’s always another author waiting for a response.”
Odessa patted Sabine’s arm in sympathy. “You’re all he talks about. He won’t let anyone peek at the book he’s writing, but I suspect it’s all about you.”
“Well, it’s your night, so let’s talk about you and A Night to Remember. So many thought you’d never do it, and here you are, a published author.” Sabine poured refills and raised her glass. The others joined her in the toast. “To Odessa Starr, soon to be best-selling author. May this be the first of many celebrations on your way to number 1.”
Odessa blushed and emptied her glass in one swallow. “Thank you.” Before she could say more, her cellphone lit up. She flipped it over. No name, but a local number appeared underneath it. “Hello?”
A man’s voice buzzed from the phone. The guests silenced.
“Who is this?” Distress cracked Odessa’s voice. The buzzing ended quickly. “Who? I don’t know an Asher Carrington.” Angry buzzing returned. “No, I don’t, sorry. You have the wrong number.”
Odessa ended the call and dropped the phone. Her hand shook as she picked up her glass and sipped, forgetting it was empty. Someone refilled her glass, and she drank, a thin line of blood red dribbling down her chin.
“Who got you so upset?”
“A man named Asher Carrington.”
“It’s just a name. I still don’t understand why you are upset.”
“Have any of you read the book, yet?” None of them had. Odessa held her glass out for more. Filled, she continued, “Asher Carrington is a fictional character in my story. A very evil and very dead character.”
Odessa had calmed her nerves and determinedly continued the celebration. By the time everyone said their goodbyes, only Odessa still remembered the mysterious phone call.
Breathing a sigh of relief as she exited the restaurant, Odessa handed her ticket to the valet. As he left to retrieve her cranberry red Porsche a shiver rippled up her back. A quick glance over one shoulder gave reassurance there was no one behind her. Still she couldn’t shake the uneasiness that had been simmering ever since the call.
The young man delivered her car moments later and she was glad to jump on a pull away. She concentrated on the half hour drive to her apartment. When she was finally caught by an out of sync traffic signal, she spied a piece of paper tucked beneath the sun visor. Curious, she pulled it out. In the dim interior of the car she made out the words:
Her hands trembled afresh as she stared at the compact script. She was startled by the blare of a horn behind her. The irritated driver impatiently drove around mouthing vulgarities as he passed her motionless vehicle. Odessa dropped the page on the passenger seat as she jammed the gas and raced through the light just before it returned to red.
Odessa sped through the remainder of the drive as she tried to place the voice on the phone and distinctive writing on the page next to her. Something hovered in the fringes of her mind, something she should remember.
When she finally reached her space in the parking garage she sat shaking inside her locked car for several minute. It was only fifteen feet to the elevator and Odessa ran the short way, the tap of her heels echoing loudly. Thankfully the elevator box was empty, punching ten for her floor she prayed it wouldn’t stop along the way.
The doors opened with barely a sound, Odessa cautiously peered up and down the hall before scurrying along the plush carpet. At her apartment she fumbled a moment to insert the key, whimpering with relief when her efforts succeeded in unlocking the door. Once inside, Odessa slammed it shut, locking the knob and swiftly engaging the deadbolt. Once she’d slid the often unused chain lock into place her shoulders finally relaxed as she leaned back against the door.
She nearly screamed when the land line rang.
Fumbling with the phone, Odessa choked on the knot in her throat as she tried to answer.
Odessa laughed and cried as she slid down the wall. It didn’t matter that her dress was wrinkling or that she looked so completely undignified.
“What’s going on? You don’t sound like you’re okay.”
“Thank God it’s you, James! You’re never going to believe this!”
“What? You’re flipping out.”
Silence twisted between them.
“James, tell me you’re still there.”
“I’m here. What are you going to do?”
“Me! You’re in on this, too!”
“I did not put us in to this situation. You called me and drug me into it.”
“But you came.”
Silence filled the space again.
Odessa looked to make sure the phone was still on. It was.
Not a sound.
She dropped the phone.
“What am I going to do? This wasn’t suppose to happen.”
Odessa knew she should call the police. Something happened to James. She was sure of it. But, if the police got involved, they might find out what happened. Odessa picked up the phone again, not certain what she was going to do or who she was going to call.
Then, the silence struck her. She’d never hung up the phone. The dial tone eluded her, as did the annoying beeping reminding her to hang up the phone when she occasionally forgot to do so. That knot came back, threatening to choke her as she struggled to remember how to breathe.
Odessa panicked when she realized it was her phone that had gone dead. She rushed to her bedroom closet and reached for the handgun stashed on the shelf. A new tremor of fear raced through her spine when she couldn’t find it.
Heart racing, Odessa grabbed her keys and ran for the door. She had to get out, find James, then the two of them could run away. James would know what to do. As she reached the door, she stopped at the sight of the knob jiggling.
She backed away, her escape cut off, she retreated to the kitchen. Still clutching her keys, she yanked a drawer open and pulled the first knife she touched.
The rattling of the doorknob was joined by furious pounding. Odessa stood in her kitchen, black trails of mascara framing her face, as she waited for the door to crash open.
She worked to subdue the sobs shaking her body as her thoughts ran wildly.
Fire escape! Odessa tightened her grip on the knife as she retraced her steps. She kept her eyes on the door as she scuttled to the sliding glass doors that opened on the balcony.
The knife fell as she shrieked at the shadowy figure on the other side.
Odessa gasped as she back pedaled. The shadow on the balcony moved at the same time, bursting through the plate glass door. Marbles of safety glass scattered under his feet. Odessa used his momentary imbalance to race for the door. She skidded to a stop at the sight of the knob still rattling, someone on the other side still pounding.
She hesitated too long, the intruder from the balcony regained his footing and rushed her. She screamed as she dodged his grasp. The pounding intensified and a voice bellowed from the outer hall, “Odessa! Open the door, Odessa!”
The intruder blocked her path, he was dressed in faded jeans and black hoodie. His breath came in pants as the pounding stopped.
“Odessa, wait,” the figure whispered.
Odessa’s mouth dropped in recognition, “James! Why…?
Before he could answer the door burst open. A tall man dressed in business gray filled the door frame. James turned in surprise.
“Hello James. I gather you weren’t expecting to see me.”
“Ash.” James spit the name.
Odessa’s head swiveled back and forth between the two men. “Ash? Asher Carrington? But…but you aren’t real! I made you up!”
“Really, my dear, you’re going to continue this charade?” Asher shook his head, “If you had just walked away and kept your nose out of my business.”
James looked at Odessa in confusion, “What’s he talking about, O’?”
She glared at Asher, “Don’t listen to him James. He’s a liar.”
“Me? Asher laughed, “I’m not nearly the liar you are, that was quite the tale you crafted. You used poor James to fill in enough truth to ruin my career. Except you forgot the part about the angry lover.”
“We were never lovers Asher!” she hissed.
James pulled her missing gun from the pocket of the hoodie and pointed it at her, “No, O’, you weren’t his lover.” He turned to Carrington, “I’m so sorry Ash, I didn’t know she was going to trash you like that. I’d never have gone along with it no matter how mad I was at you.”
Afteword: This story is the property of the authors listed above. I made some formatting changes and typo corrections. Thanks to everyone who participated in the contest – looking forward to future stories! Be sure to tell the authors they’re awesome and keep a look-out for future prompts.
As always, think happy thoughts!