PROLOGUE (chapter 25 of Senses)
George Tomlinson had led a charmed life.
At the age of 42 he was a multimillionaire, being the chief executive officer for Purhelli-Jacobson-Calgert, the stock options firm. He held controlling interests in several smaller companies, and quietly held four apartment buildings in New York City and San Francisco.
He was considered the best and the worst about capitalism, depending upon your point of view. He was ruthless in business, but had enough admirers so that he remained alive in business circles. He had friends, he had enemies.
He was liberal in his charitable donations because they looked good on his taxes. He was a respected civic leader, attending and mixing in all the right events, and being politically in tune with his times.
In short, after 21 years in business he was in position to have anything, be anything, and say anything.
At the moment however, none of that mattered to George Tomlinson. His charm was running out.
George Tomlinson was busy trying to hide in a utility closet. He hoped it would keep himself alive.
The day had begun simply enough. There had been a director's meeting at 9 a.m. The future looked rosy, as business was up 16% for the previous year despite the recession, 6% better than the previous quarter. Tomlinson thanked everyone for their reports and granted bonuses to all the directors.
At eleven the world ended.
A man walked into his office that he didn't recognize, with no warning. This upset George Tomlinson greatly, as usually his secretary was very good at not letting anyone by who didn't have an appointment.
He reached for the intercom on his desk. "Caroline," he called.
"She won't hear you," the stranger replied.
When no answer came Tomlinson glared up. "Who the hell are you?" he asked. "And what have you done with my secretary?"
"My name," the stranger said, "does not matter. And I have done nothing with your secretary. What I have done I have done with you."
As Tomlinson watched, the stranger reached into his shirt and pulled out a medallion, handing it to the stunned executive.
"You recognize it, I see," the stranger noted.
Tomlinson dropped the medallion on the table. "Shit!" escaped his lips in a whisper. "What do you want?"
"We want you gone."
Tomlinson laughed in surprise. "Kill me?" he asked. "How do you propose to get away with that?"
"Murder," the stranger calmly replied, "is not something you necessarily get away with. That is an eventuality for which I am prepared. Besides, you've already touched the medallion."
Fear touched Tomlinson then, as memory flowed into him. "You're black," he said.
"Very astute," the stranger replied.
"Running won't do any good," the stranger said.
"Mind if I at least try?" Tomlinson replied.
"Not really, no. I'd be disappointed if you didn't."
Tomlinson left his office unpursued and abruptly received a shock. There was his loyal secretary, Caroline, frozen in place.
"You see," the stranger called out from the inside office, "I have stopped time. Only you and I mark it's passage. You are at my leisure to die."
George Tomlinson faced his office to see the stranger standing in the doorway.
"Time to pay the piper, Mr. Tomlinson," the stranger stated.
The stranger didn't follow, so Tomlinson was away quickly. He hid in a utility closet to sort out his plan of action.
Think man, think! He told himself. How do I get out of here? Elevator? No. Easy pickings. Stairs! No. Not as bad, but not good.
He forced himself to calm down.
Do I need to leave here at all? The last place this asshole will look is right here. Eventually the time spell will collapse, and all will be well. Besides, he gave me enough of a head start to get out of the building.
Why did he do that?
Death came quickly and painfully to George Tomlinson. The time spell broke in time for his secretary and several others to hear the scream. Tomlinson was found battered and bloody in the utility closet.
The stranger was found in a similar condition in front of the building, having jumped from George Tomlinson's 38th floor office mere seconds before Tomlinson died.
10 of Swords.
When Paula Kellerman opened her eyes she experienced a moment of disorientation. Her white walls were replaced with wood paneling, and the blue readout of her alarm clock was now red. Where am I? she asked herself.
"Paula?" came a voice from the next room. "You awake honey?"
Oh yeah, I'm at Brian's place.
She reflected on the evening that brought her here; a simple dinner with her long time friend Brian Goswell, with the customary platonic good night kiss that suddenly turned into a moment of passion and then lust as they made love.
She sat up and let the covers fall away to expose her naked body. Well, she thought, it's not like I've got anything to hide anymore.
Brian came into the bedroom, dripping wet from the shower he had just stepped out of. "God you look great," he said.
"You just like naked women," Paula countered.
"Lots of guys do." Brian dropped his towel. "You like naked men?"
"I most certainly do!"
Brian jumped into the bed and cuddled up to Paula. "Glad to hear it," he said, caressing Paula's breasts, "because I plan to be naked for a while."
Paula laughed and let herself enjoy the fondling. After a moment though, she became serious. "How long has this been going on?" she asked.
"A long time," Brian responded. "Long time. I'm in love with you darlin'."
Paula caught her breath. This she had not expected. Was she ready for this?
She wasn't sure, but either way she owed her friend Julie a buck.
"I am sorry sir. Would you care to bet again?"
Vance McLurgh shook his head. After several hundred dollars in losses he had finally decided he had had enough. It had been a fool thing anyway, and he had fallen for it hook, line and sinker. One every minute, right?
He walked away from the roulette wheel vowing never to play again. Over the course of the past year he had gambled several thousand dollars away. Maybe it's time to call gambler's anonymous, he mused to himself.
On his way out the door he pulled out his last remaining silver dollar. He picked the nearest slot machine and put it in, saying that he would make a clean break. He pulled the handle.
The jackpot was worth $2,550,000.
Wheel of Fortune.