- 2014 Community Novel Project of the Topeka and Shawnee County Public Library
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Downloading Superimposed Chapter 11 by Sarah Langley
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Read Online: Superimposed Chapter 11 by Sarah Langley
First thought: Wow, he’s better-looking than George Clooney.
Second thought: Stop that, Holly! You’ve got to deal with this unknown caller. A caller asking for dinner, no less. A very handsome dinner-caller.
“Allow me to introduce myself,” he said, extending his arm and reaching for Holly’s hand in one smooth move. “My name is Pesha. I’m Mr. Grimaldi’s brother’s grandson. I understand he’s in ill health, and I have come to pay my respects on behalf of my family.” He had an accent that made each word sound alive.
“And just when I’d thought I’d met all the family,” Holly said, trying to appear calm while Mr. Suave was holding her hand.
“I’m from the lost Romanian branch,” Pesha said. Holly couldn’t read his smile. “We didn’t find out we were related until just recently. I only wish we had learned sooner. I know how hard this must be on the family – and you,” he added, settling his spicy green eyes on Holly’s. He was close enough for her to smell his cologne. The smell lit a fire of memories, but she wasn’t sure if they were happy or sad.
Holly suddenly realized her mouth must have been hanging unhinged. She shut it with a snap so quick that it jolted her teeth.
Just focus on your job, Holly. “But – I thought he was Italian,” Holly slipped her hand out of his grasp and wiped her hands on her pant legs. She hoped he hadn’t noticed that her hands were sweating.
“It’s a big family,” Pesha said. “The war spread us apart like gypsies.”
Victoria interrupted from behind them. “Of course you’re not too late for dinner, Pesha. You just come right in, and we’ll fix you something.”
Holly frowned. It was time to take charge again. “I don’t think Mr. Grimaldi was planning on having dinner guests tonight.” She kept her voice pointed. Handsome or not, she wasn’t about to put up with another possible gold-digger.
“No, no,” Pesha chuckled. “I’ll have food ordered in, of course. You’ve both been under a lot of stress, and serving an unexpected guest should be the last thing you have to worry about.” He pulled his phone from his pocket. “What’s your pick – Italian? Chinese?”
First impressions are lasting impressions. And Holly was liking this first impression. Finally, a member of this family who actually seemed to have sincere class – who even took her into consideration in this picture.
“Come this way.” Holly led him down the hall. “You can wait in the sitting room while I let Mr. Grimaldi know that you’re here. I’ll see if he is able to meet with you at this time.” She was surprised at how professional she sounded, while her mind was still hovering on Pesha’s cologne. She was trying to pinpoint the memories it had evoked.
“Take your time,” Pesha said. “I’ll be ordering our dinner.” Instead of sitting, he began admiring the photographs on the wall. “Of course I can always come back another time if he isn’t feeling well enough now.” Pesha took his gaze off the pictures and settled it on Holly again. “I think I have plenty of reason to come back.” Holly caught a wink and tried to resist a blush. It would be best if she took that as her cue to leave the room and go visit Mr. Grimaldi.
Holly ran her hands through her hair, combing out tangled thoughts. The last few guests had all given her a bad feeling. But whatever this feeling was she had now, she liked it even less. It just didn’t seem right to have a man make her feel so good when James was still missing.
“Joe?” Holly called softly, knocking just loudly enough to alert Mr. Grimaldi that she was entering the room. Even with all the new hospital equipment, the room smelled musty, like a stack of rotten cloths.
Joe beckoned with his hand.
“What is it?” she asked, kneeling beside his bed so they could be face to face. Holly noticed how mottled his skin had become in just the few minutes she’d been gone.
“Look at me,” Joe sighed. “Just look at all this stuff,” he tugged at his tubes and oxygen paraphernalia, then threw it back down in disgust. “The time really has come,” he said.
Holly put her hand on his and leaned her head against the bed. She could tell right now wasn’t the time to be asking about Pesha. Joe had something else on his mind.
“Things have gotten crazy,” Joe said. “All those relatives – nothing but money-grubbers. All just a bunch of women who never meant anything to me. And then their children have the chutzpah to call themselves worthy of being related to me.” He wrinkled his lips in disgust. “You know what they are, Holly? Treasure hunters. Just a bunch of money-grubbing treasure hunters.”
Holly nodded. Can’t wait to see the fight over this estate when he dies.
“I’m not just talking about the estate,” Joe said. Funny how he knew what she was thinking. “There’s more. Much more. And somehow they all seem to know it. They don’t know where or how or why, but they know there’s a treasure out there.” Joe was rasping out the words, but didn’t seem to care. “You know, the job of a hospice worker is to prepare old people like me for death – to help them take care of whatever unfinished business they may have.” Holly could feel his hand growing slack under hers, melting limper from loss of energy, even as they were talking. She wanted to make him stop, to save his breath. But that wasn’t her job – she was here to help him in his last days, not stop them.
“I didn’t always pick the right people to allow into my life,” Joe said. “But I know I did right when I chose you. I picked you to finish up the one last matter in my life that’s got to be taken care of.”
“I’m here,” Holly said. Her throat hurt.
“I would worry about your safety in all this, but I know you’re a strong girl,” he said.
Safety. The word caught Holly like a fly in a spider’s web. Pesha’s cologne. It smelled like incense and ocean. The memories stopped her short, and for a moment she even forgot Joe. Dad and her at the beach house almost twenty years ago. Just the two of them on a vacation together, her head warm against her dad’s arm, just sitting on the porch facing the ocean, listening to the water, burning incense sticks into the night air. Just them. Before he’d left, before she’d found out he didn’t love her. Before she’d ever found out what it meant to lose someone. They were days of safety, where the unknown meant the absence of worry for future sorrows, where all future troubles were never thought of. For once, the unknown was good. She didn’t know where James was, if he was alive, or if he’d ever loved her. If Pesha were to be trusted, if life was fair. And that unknown was suddenly as delicious as the salty-smooth whiff she’d caught through Pesha’s cologne.
Joe grunted out a cough, and worry flooded back through Holly’s body. She hadn’t realized how dark and heavy she felt until she’d had that moment of relief.
“I don’t have much time,” Joe said. “You need to know. There’s a key. Library – first scrapbook, the trip to Mount Rushmore – you know the one. Tear open the spine – it’s in there.” Holly wondered if Joe had become senile. “That key goes to a safe deposit box in Istanbul. Garanti Bank, box number 1957. Now repeat that number to me, Holly.” His face was tense, and she knew he was serious.
She frowned. “What do you mean?”
“Just say it, Holly.” His voice was gruff. “Don’t write it down – just say it.”
“One-nine-five-seven” Holly whispered the words, too confused to speak loudly.
“Good girl,” he said. “Now remember it.”
“Nineteen fifty seven,” Holly whispered the numbers again. The year her father was born. Some things were too hard to forget.
“You’re going to leave this place, Holly. You’re going to get out and make something out of your life. That key – enough there to last a lifetime. You’ll find some money in my desk. Enough to take you to Istanbul.” He paused and dropped his voice. “You are going to have to guard that key with your life.”
Holly wasn’t sure if her brain was working. Was this real? Did Joe really expect her to just drop everything and pick up some treasure on another continent?
“I’m finished,” Joe said. “I have no other business to take care of.” Holly could feel his each breath shuddering through the mattress she leaned against.
Joe sighed, then set his face resolute. “I want you to lay me down now,” he said.
“But if I do, you may go into heart failure,” Holly said, “and then…”
“I said lay me down, Holly. I’m ready. I’m not going to just sit here like a scared rat, waiting for death to come to me. I’ll go now. I don’t care what I’ve been in the past. I’m a hero,” he said, his voice rising. “A hero, you hear me? A hero!” His eyes bulged from tense lids.
Holly shook her head. She wasn’t ready. Joe gripped her wrist as if he were clutching a knife. “Do it, Holly. Do it.” His face shook as his eyes penetrated hers.
Holly stood and lowered the front of his bed. Her heart clenched when she smelled it – that thick saccharine smell that inevitably emanates before a death.
“Good girl,” Joe whispered, then gurgled. Holly could see him trying to lift his hand to his heart, but his arm went limp as if it was made of soft cheese. Holly put her hand out to hold his and keep him still.
“Promise me you’ll go,” he said, the words coming out in a slur.
Holly opened her mouth, but her throat was too tight to make a sound. She wouldn’t cry in front of him, not when it was the last thing he’d see.
“Promise me.” Holly felt a faint clutch from his hand. Her eyes blurred, and she knew she shouldn’t talk. She nodded before thinking about it.
“Little Bambino,” Joe mouthed, lips ashy. Holly cried out as he slumped sideways onto her, his eyes locked on hers. Catching him with her body, she let him droop down upon her. Holly put her hand on his back and sobbed. She felt his gasp for air, then everything was still.
Another gasp, loud and frantic. Joe was unconscious, his frame pressed full against her so she could feel every breath, every silence. She tensed, unsure whether that last breath was the one to end them all.
Another gasp tore through the silence, and Holly startled. There was only one gasp that sounded like the one made before death, that fanatical clutch on just a few more minutes of life.
Holly strained under the dead weight in her arms and waited. Angry tears seeped into Joe’s robe. Why did he have to die? Was this all she did? Just wait until the next loss? Was this going to be her whole life – just waiting to lose someone else?
Maybe this was what she’d been waiting for. She had always told herself she’d never give up on James, never stop hoping he’d come back, never leave if he did return. But maybe all this loss was preparing her for today. The day she would lose something other than what she loved. The day she’d lose her old life and leave her sorrow.
Another breath. Did she really want to get the key?
A breath once more. Not a gulp, just a soft exhalation, an agonized sigh that turned Joe to dead weight. Holly knew she was done waiting.
She sobbed, squeezing her fingers into his back until it hurt. This was the last time she was going through this. Joe wanted his death to mean a new life for Holly. A possibility to start gaining instead of losing. To leave this continual cycle of attachment and loss. If he had to die, then this would too.
Holly folded Joe’s arms over his stomach, then picked up the phone to confirm the time of death.
Holly paused at the sound of a noise in the adjacent room. She lowered the receiver for a moment. Surely Pesha hadn’t left the sitting room to wander around the house. Holly punched in the number. He seemed trustworthy enough.
Holly decided she’d let hospice handle alerting the family members of Joe’s death. She’d call Victoria and Pesha to the room and use that as her opportunity to get the key, just after getting the cash from Joe’s desk as he had said.
Victoria had real tears, although Holly hardly had time to see them before the woman was running to the room. Pesha was genuinely sympathetic for Holly.
“I’ll give you both some time alone with Joe,” she said.
“I’ll take this to Miss Victoria.” Pesha pulled a silken handkerchief from his suit pocket.
The moment Holly heard the door click shut, she sprinted to the library and pulled out the scrapbook. She hated to tear it up, but saw no other option in her haste. She was surprised to see her hands shaking as she ripped the spine and seized the small silver key.
Holly smiled. No one would have ever found it there. Just like Joe to do something like that.
The key clinked to the floor as Holly whirled at the sound of a lady’s voice.
“Good day, Holly.” It was Clara, beautiful as a southern belle in a sweet ruffled blouse.
“What are you doing here?” Holly asked, her heart rattling inside her chest. Had Clara seen the key drop to the floor? “Who let you in?” Holly began to slowly slide her foot over to step on the key in what she hoped would be a smooth movement.
Clara laughed. “I’ve been in this house a hundred times. Apparently I know it better than you do.”
Holly’s foot fumbled over the floor, unable to find the key. “Clara, I have some bad news. Your uncle has just passed away.” There, found it. “I’ll lead you to his room so you can have a few last moments with him.” It’d be best to just get her away.
Clara dropped to the floor like a glass of spilt water.
Holly sighed. “It’ll be okay.”
Clara didn’t move, and Holly wondered if this time she really had fainted.
Holly picked up the key and shoved it in her pocket, then knelt down over Clara. She had to get her out of here.
Clara slowly opened her eyes, and Holly saw tears in them. “Is he really dead?” she whispered.
“I just never expected it to be this soon,” Clara said. Her eyes turned to worry. “Do the others know?”
“They will soon,” Holly said.
“Oh no,” Clara sighed. “You’ve got to help me.” Her Mississippi accent was coming out thick. “They’ll be angry at me. You know Joe left his fortune to me, and they want it. The minute they find that out, they’ll be all over me.”
Holly frowned. “That wasn’t in the will.”
Clara continued, “I’m just a little thing – there’s no telling what somebody like Lorraine could do to me when she gets mad. Joe’s got a fortune hidden somewhere. He was supposed to give me the key when I came earlier, but somebody rushed us all out before I ever got a moment alone with him.” She looked pointedly at Holly. “And now, I’ll never get a chance to see him again.” Clara started sniveling again.
Holly waited for Clara to stop. “I’m just so scared,” she said, trembling. She raised her head off the floor a little to whisper to Holly. “But I can trust you. Here’s what I want you to do. You get that key for me, and I’ll take it and leave before they even see me. That way I’ll be safe.”
“I’ll let the lawyer take care of who gets what,” Holly said, starting to rise.
Clara clutched at her arm. “No, Holly! That will be too late.”
It was cold-shoulder time. Holly shook her head and started to stand. Clara’s grip got stronger, and Holly stumbled back down to her knees.
“Let me go.” Holly was stern. “I’ve got work to do.”
Holly shrieked as Clara yanked down on her arm, folding it in two. Her elbow rammed a dent into the floor. Clara’s knee jabbed into Holly’s ribs. Strong legs wrapped around her back, scissoring her down to the ground. Holly’s head banged the floor. Red pain flooded her vision. Hadn’t seen this one coming.
Clara’s hips slammed full mount onto Holly’s middle. All air shoved out. Holly tried to suck in a breath, not before Clara’s fingers shoved hard into her mouth.
“Scream, and I’ll kill you,” Clara hissed, accent gone. “I know you’ve got the key – I saw you with it. Where’d you put it?”
Holly snapped her teeth down hard on Clara’s fingers. Blood gurgled in her throat as Clara dug nails into her tongue. Holly’s mouth sprung open, and Clara yanked out her hand. A bloody hand cuffed across Holly’s face.
Shaking. I can’t do this. Adrenaline pedaled legs through free air. I don’t know how to fight. She squirmed, forced palms into Clara’s middle to shove her off. Clara drove down with her hips, pressing Holly’s key sharp into her thigh. Clara must have felt it too, her hands fast to Holly’s pocket.
Holly scrabbled to reach Clara’s hands. Fingers were hot as they struggled to open her hand and pry out the key.
“What’s it go to?” Clara hissed. She knew the key wasn’t enough.
“Answer me, Holly. What’s it go to?” Clara was almost yelling. If only they would hear it in the other room.
Hands shoved their way around Holly’s throat, the key pierced into the soft flesh of her neck. “Talk!” Clara’s face was so close to Holly’s that she could see the sweat on her nose hairs.
Clara was crushing her throat now. Holly dry-gasped. No air. She bucked hips, desperate to throw Clara off.
“Where at?” Clara eased up for a moment. Holly honked in air, but didn’t say anything.
“You’re not going to talk?” Clara squeezed back on Holly’s neck. The tip of the key was turning slick with blood. Was this how she’d die? Was this fortune really worth it?
You’re a strong woman, Joe’d said. Holly strained to pull Clara off. Her arms quivered with effort.
Suddenly Clara’s fingers slid away. Holly saw her mouth open as if she were going to scream. A slip of drool fell from her lips and hit Holly’s cheek.
Clara sunk sideways, slow off Holly. She saw Pesha’s frame above her and a knife hilt-deep in Clara’s back.
“Are you alright?” Pesha knelt by Holly’s side, lifting her head. His eyes fixed on Clara, and he pressed his fingers into the side of her neck to check for life.
For a minute Holly lay there, holding her throat. Staring at the beautiful woman slumped over her legs. She’d seen plenty of deaths, but this was the first killing she’d seen. Her throat tightened around rising bile. Holly kicked the corpse off of her legs. Clara dropped, head down on the carpet.
“You have a knife?” Holly choked out.
“I didn’t think about killing – ” Pesha started, covering his face with his hand. “All I meant to do was help you.” Holly could see his hand shaking. “You could have died – I only did what I thought…” he didn’t finish.
“What do we do now?” Holly stared at the blood seeping into the rug.
A noise, like the sound of a car pulling into the front drive. She clenched Pesha’s arm. “Did you hear that? It’s the family!” Holly pulled herself up. What were they going to think when they found Clara’s dead body? The security guards, the family, then the police. Holly’s hand went to her back pocket, fat with the cash from Joe’s desk, his key in her other hand. Who’d believe this was self-defense? “I’ve got to get out of here,” she said.
Pesha grabbed her hand, the key still in it. “What’s the best way out?” he asked.
Holly tried to yank her hand away. There was no way she was letting someone else get this key. But Pesha held her firm.
They could hear the front door opening. Pesha swung Holly into a corner.
“You have to trust me,” he whispered.
Trust? Holly swallowed. She caught a tinge of incense and ocean.
Chapter 12 will be published next week at https://www.tscpl.org/novel
About Sarah Langley
Sarah Langley, life-long lover of words, grew up finding rhyming words for every object she saw. She wrote numerous short stories, all of which were silly, but her young eyes saw them as masterpieces. Now she writes both poetry and novels because she loves the feel of a pen in her hand, the way a nib sinks into handmade paper, and because words (whether rhyming or not) are always stuck in her head like a favorite song. But most importantly, Sarah wants her writing to simplify the ideas of life and thereby inspire her readers to search out all the marvelous complexities and connections in life for themselves.
When not writing, Sarah dons her clown outfit and twists balloons so she can make children smile. She started her balloon-twisting business over four years ago. But whether twisting balloons, helping children, or just living life, Sarah is always searching for inspiration to put those words in her head onto paper.
An Interview with Sarah Langley
What is your writing background? What sort of work do you usually write? (Fiction, Poetry, Nonfiction, Genre?)
I’ve been a writer all my life. I frequently find old papers with things I’ve written down throughout my short life… church sermon notes that were more like narratives, school notes that were more like inspirational quotes, and hundreds of poetry ideas. Writing poetry is one of my main hobbies, but I also love to write hand-written letters and journals (so far I’ve written almost forty diaries!)
Why did you want to participate in the Community Novel Project?
Writing is a marvelous pursuit. And any opportunity for publishing is exciting! Having my writing on the library’s shelf is truly my dream come true.
Have you ever written fiction in collaboration with other authors before?
This is my third year to be privileged to take part in Topeka’s Community Novel project.
Do you usually write in a burst of inspiration, or is your work carefully outlined? Did writing for the community novel differ from the norm?
I love having friends help me to know just what to do in the situations life brings. Writing is no different for me – I crave outlines and assistance. My two author friends, Dennis Smirl and Brian Allen, laid out the outline for this chapter, helped me mull through all my plotting problems, and gave me heaps of ideas. Lissa Staley could not be a better librarian – she not only made time to help with the storyline, but she was also very supportive and reassuring. My friends of the Write Stuff writers’ group and my mother (Gale Langley) provided critique. Jennifer Herman was amazing – I called up Grace Hospice to get information on hospice care, and Ms. Herman gave me all sorts of real-life details to use in my novel right there over the phone. Perhaps most fun was calling my karate teacher, Sensei Kevin Wilson. “Sensei,” I said over the phone, “I’m writing a novel where the antagonist is on the ground and the protagonist is kneeling next to her. I need the antagonist to get in a grappling position on the antagonist.” That was all he needed to give me the details for a seamless karate move. It is an honor to have such knowledgeable friends that are willing to help me!
What was your first reaction when you saw the chapter before yours?
What do you like most about the chapter that you contributed to the 2014 Community Novel?
Giving Holly depth and a mission. Adding action to the present-day storyline. Relishing in the scents that played a part in the chapter.
What sort of writing can we expect from you in future? Are you currently at work on any writing projects?
Poetry! Someday I hope to publish a book of my writing. I also consider life, time, and all that comes with it by filling out a Keel’s Simple Diary. I would encourage any writer to buy a copy to write in – Keel’s helps you think about your day in metaphor format, instantly stimulating you to write with inspiration. Another one of my favorite projects is my Gratitude Journal, in which I write five or more things I’m thankful for at the end of each day. I hope one of the readers of this interview will try keeping a Gratitude Journal – it’s even better than I could describe. As is true with any writing.