Sunday, June 29, 2014

Occupational Hazard-Perfect Lies by Elizabeth Parker


“I’ve invited you here because you’ve indicated that at one point or another you wanted to change. Am I correct? Do you crave change in your life? Change your outlook? Your perception? Change your goals? How about this?” He watched as the crowd listened intently. “How about changing your future?”
The crowd applauded. Excitement evident in the air.
The speaker's voice got lower and his diction more carefully pronounced. His British accent enhancing his already charismatic appeal.
“With change, anything and everything is possible. Do you want to change the way you go about your day? Change those feelings of hopelessness and despair to those of hope and happiness? Change the opportunity for blinding success?”
“Let me ask you this…and this, my friends, is the question of the hour. Is it possible for you to embrace change?”
He glanced around the room, his eyes all knowing, predicting their reaction. His confidence evident, his posture erect. He got their attention. His penetrating stare suggested a hint of arrogance, and as he gazed around, his eyes seemingly locked with everyone. His voice lowered. He was empowered, and he knew it. He portrayed himself as a visionary, and everyone wanted to share that vision.
“If you want to change, then this workshop is for you. If not, please take a moment to gather your things, collect your refund at the door, and leave. I assure you; I won’t be the least bit insulted.”
Ellie Dawson had been watching his show for years. Though it was only televised once in a while, she never missed an episode. His words had motivated many. They had indeed changed lives. He not only had his own venue, but also spoke for schools, businesses, and even, at one point, religious groups. He was the guru of motivational speaking, the icon of inspiration. He grasped people’s attention from the moment they started watching, from the minute they began listening. Oddly enough, no one had ever taken his offer to leave—possibly because they believed in his words, possibly because they were too afraid.
Jeff was an intelligent man. He knew what he wanted and how to get it. He was financially set for life. His wife, Rose, and his children never wanted for anything. Rose was a staple to his image. She stood by his side in photographs with a wide smile etched on her face. He was a family man, a supportive listener. He made people laugh and always offered a smile. He provided a shoulder to cry on. People leaned on him.
He was also the type of person who listened carefully when people spoke, retained only the useful tidbits, processed it, and then recited it as his own. His sense of humor might’ve just been an image he wanted to reflect, a personality he had stolen and emulated as if it were his. He regurgitated stories told by people he’d met as if they had truly happened to him.
He seemed to be the most transparent person, but realistically, he was the least.
People trusted him and admired him. It is safe to say that some worshipped him.
He gave people a purpose for living. For some he took it away.
In the end Ellie didn’t know what made him call her. At least that was what she told people. Deep down, in a part of her that she feared, she knew exactly why he called her. For reasons unknown to her, he liked her. What scared her, though—what kept her up at night and tortured her—was that she liked him, too. Undeniably, there was a connection.
And at one point, she respected him. Greatly.
So when she agreed to answer his call, she appeared confused, though for whatever strange and chilling reason, she wasn’t. Her gut told her to pretend to be for one reason and one reason only.
After all, what would be said of her had she admitted that she expected that phone call and wasn’t surprised in the least upon receiving it?
She wished it hadn’t come to this. In her heart she believed she could’ve stopped it, prevented at least some of it. She wished she would’ve spoken up sooner.
Because deep down, she knew. When the news broadcasted and it hit every cover story, she knew. She felt it in the pit of her stomach. The realization caused her insides to wretch. She felt the blood rush to her face, like heat of blazing fire. Dozens of memories flooded back. A tidal wave crested with lies—meetings that were missed, inconsistencies that alone meant nothing but collectively were driving clues. Puzzle piece upon puzzle piece flowing together in a fluid-like motion, snapping into place with the force of a magnet. A thud only she could hear.
She couldn’t believe it to be true. Although it all made perfect sense. Now.

Chapter 1

Ed and Ellie Dawson had been married for five years. Joined by family and friends, they celebrated their love in the typical Vegas fashion, including an Elvis impersonator singing “Love Me Tender” before and after they said the magical words I do.
Ed had captured her attention immediately when they first met at the library.  He just happened to be returning the very book she had been looking for and his rugged and well-toned physique caused her to do a double-take. His baby blue eyes dazzled her immediately and the small scar on his chin made him even more attractive.  After only speaking for a few minutes, they found they had a lot in common, including the same birthday month—four years apart with Ed being older— and they begun their courtship that weekend.
Though they were both level-headed and determined individuals, Ellie was more of the dreamer with a twist of creative flair. Both were intelligent go-getters and chased their dreams without hesitation.
While Ed worked in the financial industry, Ellie delved into a few different outlets, including computer science, artistry, and writing. Her most current—and most lucrative—love was advertising and marketing. While her passion was painting and writing, opportunity hadn’t yet come her way in those fields, so she had to seek a living elsewhere, knowing that one day, she would land the job of her dreams—an occupation that would twist all of her passions together.
At one time she had considered becoming a model. She had the looks of one with her deep brown eyes, long eye-lashes and porcelain skin.  Her silky dark brown hair reached the center of her back and whichever way it was styled, it always accentuated her soft features. She rarely wore makeup and when she did, it was only a dab of mascara and a light lip gloss to moisten her full lips.  She had one dimple high up in the center of her cheek, rather than on either side of her mouth— a unique but endearing quality.  Regardless of her good looks, becoming a model was not her true passion so she never pursued it further.
Ellie was born and raised in Las Vegas, Nevada, spending some time living in the quaint town of Boulder City before settling in Bullhorn County with her husband, Ed.
Although many Nevada natives dream of pursuing a life in other states, Ellie had always loved Vegas and its neighboring towns, with Bullhorn County being her favorite. She had no desire to leave. She loved that the skies were almost always a bright, cerulean blue—and when the sun retired for the evening and the skies darkened, a full constellation appeared, illuminating the city with dozens of stars for children to wish upon—hoping their dreams came true.
She grew accustomed to the neatly manicured sidewalks, parkways decorated with murals and statues, and the colorful array of desert flowers that were the staple to every community. Only in Vegas could tropical palm trees and pines be planted near each other to create the perfect aesthetically pleasing landscape. Eye candy for the soul, as she liked to call it.
Although many complained about the transient dwellers, she had become used to it and made a handful of relationships that stayed for the long haul, including her husband Ed.
Since growing up in Vegas, she had seen her share of celebrities—including the Elvis impersonators—on the Las Vegas strip as well as in normal commoner locations, such as grocery stores, banks, and gyms. Without all of their flashy costumes and makeup, they were just like everyone else. She had met and maintained normal conversations with many of them, which resulted in Ellie becoming immune to the term star struck. To her, celebrities were ordinary, only famously so.
Suffice it to say, the first time Ellie met Jeff Rourke, she wasn’t nervous, although others might not have shared the same sentiment. He was the most talked-about man in Las Vegas and perhaps the most prestigious. No doubt he was one of the most successful. His sector in the world of motivational speaking was well known, and his seminars were always sought after by those who lived locally and tourists alike. One would go as far to say that he was indeed a celebrity.
With his light-brown hair and eyes to match, he had the dashing looks of a movie star, and his dress code was impeccable—a fashionable suit always neatly pressed, his hair meticulously groomed, and his eye glasses the latest designer label. He was in his mid-forties when she met him. Ellie was a few years shy of thirty. To say she was in awe of him was an understatement. He’d become a millionaire by thirty-five and a multimillionaire by forty. How could one not be impressed?
He shared his life and his good fortune with his beautiful wife, Rose, and their two children in a luxurious home overlooking the city, complete with a well-tended garden and palm trees on the west side of Bullhorn County.
By financial standards Rose never had to work a day in her life, but she chose to do so three days a week at an elegant boutique less than a mile away. On the other two days, she catered to her children, Eric and Paul. Some tried to classify her as a pretentious type mother, as most were who resided in her neighborhood, but the truth was that she loved her children more than anything—including her husband—and didn’t follow the rules of high-class society. She was a woman who respected the law and obeyed within its boundaries.
When Ellie first met Jeff, he also came off as a down-to-earth, normal, but established man. An average guy who just happened to have an abundance of money.
Jeff's office clearly represented his exquisite taste. His executive U-shaped desk was of made of real cherry wood with a shiny black base. A matching hutch and file cabinets stood in the corner, directly under the expanded window. A subtle but rich-looking lamp hovered above, and his chair was top-grain leather with all of the ergonomics in place. There were two guest chairs in his spacious office as well, both sizable, leather, contemporary, comfortable looking, and inviting to any guest.
When she took a seat on one of the plush chairs in his office, he encouraged her to get comfortable, making the interview more of a conversation between friends rather than a formal inquisition.
He looked her straight in the eyes, treated her kindly, and poured her a cup of gourmet coffee from his single-serve maker.
As they spoke her cheeks hurt from smiling. The interview was a monumentally huge moment in Ellie’s life. The more he described the position, the more she realized that it was the perfect fit. This was a job she had only dreamed about. Working for Jeff Rourke would be the opportunity of a lifetime. While she remained on guard during the interview, his polished charm wasn’t lost on her. He was easy to talk to. He had to have known he was more established than Ellie and much more knowledgeable, yet he spoke to her without an ounce of condescension.
The interview lasted for over two hours. They not only discussed the job, but also talked in length about his family, her family, his previous dreams, how he got to where he was today, his goals and accomplishments, and Ellie’s future.
It seemed as though the sky was the limit. The doors of communication were wide open, and he had cordially invited her inside.
As a motivational speaker, he was accustomed to making it easy for people to talk to him.
Much to her own chagrin, she found herself divulging information about her family and previous relationships as well as her current relationship with her husband and how they met. She didn’t even know how they arrived at that point, but somehow, over two cups of coffee, he knew more about her personal life than some of her closest friends.
“It’s so nice, Ellie, to hear successful stories about a marriage like the one you and your husband have. At my age all you hear about is divorce...or about spouses dying, believe it or not.” He chuckled. “But in all seriousness, it's clear to see you’re a woman with a good head on your shoulders. You’re on the right track to achieving your goals.”
During their conversation he kept within his boundaries and not once did he step over the line. Not that she expected him to, but when she told friends and relatives where she was interviewing, rumor had it that someone as good-looking as Jeff Rourke simply had to be a womanizer. After meeting with him, Ellie felt nothing could be further from the truth. He more or less acted as a father figure would. Or at least a close uncle. He showed interest. And when the interview was over, he scribbled a few notes, shook her hand, thanked her for her time, and promised he’d be in touch.
When she left, she wanted the job more than anything. She had butterflies in her stomach, but not the kind that accompany a crush. Like a plant thirsty for water, she wanted to soak up the knowledge that made him who he was today. She wanted to be a part of something big. Something that would make a difference in this world.
And that something was Jeff Rourke and Associates—the associate being herself.

Chapter 2

Traffic had prevented Ellie from arriving home as quickly as she would’ve liked. A three-car pileup on Interstate 215 caused a jam for at least two miles. Too excited to wait any longer, she called her husband from her hands-free phone, admiring the colorful murals that had been painted on the dividing walls on the belt. It was the one thing that kept her mind off of the congestion.
Though the job hadn’t yet been offered, in her mind it was all hers. The rapport had been wonderful, the location was convenient, and the description could’ve been written specifically for Ellie. There couldn’t have been a more perfect fit.
“He was amazing, honey. We really hit it off from the moment we met. And just in case you were worried, he’s not a womanizer like everyone thought he was. He’s pragmatic, very sociable. He showed the utmost respect for me. Would you believe he even made me a cup of coffee?”
“OK, well, calm down for a minute. Don’t worry so much about making the coffee. Wait until he at least makes you an offer. And I wasn’t worried about him being a womanizer, but now perhaps I should be,” he joked.
Choosing to ignore his last comment, she rambled on. Jealousy wasn’t something that consumed their relationship. “He will call. Seriously, I’ve never been so sure of anything in my life. And the job description could have been tailor-made for me. He’s been in the business of motivational speaking for over ten years, but he wants to expand. He needs some creative talent to do the marketing, take photographs, create business cards and manuals, and help during the seminars. Who better to do all of that than yours truly?”
“Well, I have to admit, it sounds fitting. Come home, and we’ll go have lunch, but not to celebrate…yet. Let’s not get your hopes up until it’s final.”
Reluctantly, Ellie took his advice. It was a Thursday afternoon, and her husband was off from work.
They enjoyed lunch on the patio of a popular café that specialized in a unique variety of delectable crepes. It was located in the heart of town and surrounded by expensive boutiques; they expected to have to wait to get a seat, but since it was the middle of the day on a weekday, there were some empty tables available.
Ed was always Ellie’s most reliable support system. He was happy to celebrate the good times, be there for her in the bad times, and rein her in before she got too excited about something that hadn’t yet happened. A few years older, he had more experience in the job-hunting world, so he rarely got his hopes up until he had an offer letter in his hands, and even then, he still reserved his excitement until he was sitting at his new desk.
He conveyed that same thought process to his overzealous wife during lunch and tried to bring her back down to earth. Though his attempts were futile, she had understood his point.
Eventually, it had sunken in, and so had reality.
Jeff Rourke promised he’d call by Friday, but Friday came and went, leaving the weekend without promise and a diminishing glimmer of hope. Perhaps the interview didn’t go as well as she had thought. It was possible she had misinterpreted their rapport for nothing more than amiability. It hadn’t been the first time she was wrong about someone she first met. As a matter of fact, she rarely erred on the side of caution. It wasn’t part of her naturally optimistic personality.
But perhaps he already had someone else in mind—a better candidate to suit his needs. It wasn’t the outcome she had planned for, but it was conceivable and something she had to consider.

Chapter 3

On the east side of the vacant street, the couple pulled up to the gas station early Friday morning, and the man stepped out of the car, stretched his long legs, and walked over to remove the gas cap.
They had gotten an early start and wanted to get to the cabin as soon as possible. The sun hadn’t yet risen, and it seemed as though their neighborhood had turned into a deserted ghost town. Only one other car pulled up behind them—a shiny black sedan that looked like it had just left the showroom.
Frankie watched as the man exited the car. He was tall and built, possessing an air of arrogance as he strolled right past Frankie. He turned toward Frankie's direction, but seemed to look right through him, as if Frankie didn’t even exist.
As Frankie got a closer look, he noted a simple decal on the front of the man’s shirt and his muscular calves, black socks, and white sneakers. He looked at the man's face but didn't look him in the eyes.
He couldn’t.
He wondered if it was fear that prevented him from locking eyes with him. But fear of what?
Frankie watched him walk into the mini mart. His stride was slow, seemingly calculated. Frankie removed the gas nozzle and let it hang from the tether while keeping his eyes fixated on the strangely interesting man.
Frankie pumped his gas, replaced his gas cap, and tilted his head. He looked inside the store and then swung his head to take notice of his beautiful wife sitting in the passenger seat, her head resting comfortably on the headrest with her blond hair cascading over the edge. Without a logical reason, he rushed to get inside the car before slamming the door behind him.
From where he sat, he had a perfect view. Within seconds, it all made sense. Inside the mini mart, he could see the man’s shoulders rise and his elbows lock. He rested an object on the palm of his left hand. Frankie squinted to get a better look as his wife also caught a glimpse.
Reality hit just as the bullet did. Ribbons of red splattered the glass door of the mini mart.
Just as Frankie’s foot pushed on the gas pedal, the man strolled out, smiling. The decal on his shirt now speckled with blood. He was crazy enough to wave to the couple as they sped past. Frankie watched in his rearview mirror as the man strolled to his car slowly, as if he were on a sightseeing tour. As if he hadn’t just killed a man.
Frankie stopped long enough to see a figure. After his eyes focused, he realized it was a woman. She rose up from the backseat, What he couldn't possibly hear, were her desperate screams blaring and no longer muffled from the gag she tore loose.
Frankie Spencer and his wife, Kayla, sped off and called the police station, hoping to God that the killer didn’t take notice of their license plate number or catch a good glimpse of them.
Once they reported the killer and the woman in the backseat, they sat in silence as Frankie concentrated on the road, his knuckles white as they clutched the steering wheel. The only noise was the sound of their tires running over the grooved pavement. The silence more deafening than the gun blast.
He wanted nothing more than to turn around and help the woman in the backseat, providing she wasn't there voluntarily, but the killer was clearly armed and dangerous. By going back, he’d be putting his and his wife’s lives in jeopardy. It was best that the police handle it. After all, they were better equipped and more adequately prepared. Even though logic prevailed, he still felt like a coward and a helpless one at that. A lump had taken residence in his throat, the horrid scene playing repetitively in his mind.
Only six months prior, Frankie had read about a situation that went bad when a domestic dispute got out of control and a neighbor tried to break up the fight. He got in the middle of the husband and wife’s argument and consequently was killed. So was the wife. Frankie thought if he was ever in that situation, he would’ve done the same thing, but now he thought differently. In this situation he knew he’d wind up dead.
Once he and his wife felt they were out of any immediate danger, Frankie parked on the side of the road in a feeble attempt to calm their nerves while keeping an eye out for any signs of the police.
Within seconds a parade of cop cars flew by, their sirens on full blast, heading toward the very gas station, on the lookout for the killer.
There was nothing more that Frankie and Kayla could do. They had given the police all of the information that they could offer and, against Kayla’s wishes, their contact information. For now it was time they moved on. They pulled out onto the open road and continued with their original plan.
It might’ve been an hour before either of them spoke. Streams of images clouded their minds, the sounds of gunshots replaying over and over on a painful, continuous loop.

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