: Norman In Charge by Showboat
"The door was closed!" Norman rubbed his hands in glee, laughing in delight. "They couldn't stop me, no one can. It was closed, but I got it open anyway. Now I'm gonna close it permanently." He shut his eyes and leaned against the railing, trying to maintain control. He felt the alters raging inside, felt them rallying, trying to reopen the portal.
'Breathe in, deep steady puffs, hold a moment and exhale. Calm, calm, keep the door closed. Concentrate, that's it, deep, steady breaths. No more Nathan.'
Norman opened his eyes and glanced around, not wanting to draw any unnecessary attention. He needed to get back in the ballroom and see what Cathy and her friends were up to.
The waiters cleared the tables, ready to serve the main course. He had at least half an hour before dessert and coffee and perhaps another thirty minutes of speeches. He needed some time to put together a workable plan and he needed peace and quiet to do it.
Norman fished around in his trouser pocket and pulled out the key card. No room number. 'Damn. Now what? The hotel has hundreds of rooms. I've got to find out what room I'm in. Who would know?'
His heart began to pound, sending shoots of what felt like electricity up his arms. 'Okay, just relax now and think. I have plenty of time. No rush. Who would know the number?'
He glanced around the terrace and the ballroom in front of him, taking in the hotel for the first time. 'Where the hell is the front desk? They'd know what room he had -- I have. Absolutely. Besides, I can't go anywhere without the car keys and I need to make a plan, cover all the contingencies.'
Eyes down, he entered the elevator, barely glancing at the others in the car with him. The lobby button glowed orange in the panel. He moved to the back, making room as others sought ingress.
The young woman behind the desk greeted Norman with a grin as he approached her counter. She returned his nod with one of her own.
"Are you having a good time, Mr. Stanley? Getting lots of cool pictures?" A light flush turned her cheeks pink when he winked at her and chuckled.
"I'm having a great time, but I have to ask. Are you good at keeping secrets?"
Eyebrows elevated, she leaned against the counter and lowered her voice to match his. "So I've been told. Certainly in a professional sense, y'know, here at work. Why?"
"Well, this is a bit embarrassing, and I wouldn't want anyone else to ever know." He reached into his pocket and laid the room key on the counter. Tone both conspiratorial and inclusive, he whispered, "How many people forget their room number?"
She made a small, tittering sound in her throat, quickly extinguishing it. Voice a bit higher than before, she took the card and inserted it into the reader. "Room 204. And I promise I'll keep your secret." She placed an index finger to her lips and smiled.
"Thank you so much. I'm entirely too busy, aren't I? I need a vacation. Thanks again." Nodding, he turned and crossed the lobby to the bank of elevators.
He shoved the card in the slot, pushed down on the handle and entered the room. The mini-bar offered several individual serving selections of wine and top-shelf alcohol. Norman opened a bottle of Crown Royal, filled his glass with ice and poured. The whiskey rolled on his tongue, soft and vaguely sweet.
'Alright, now. First things first. Where the hell are the car keys?'
He searched in every logical location and some that were not, including the jacket hanging in the closet and the shaving kit in the bathroom. Five minutes later, he came to the only possible conclusion ... the valet had them.
Norman relaxed as the liquor calmed his nerves. He opened another bottle and refreshed his glass.
'I can't do anything here, that's obvious. I have to follow her home. But what if she's staying over at the hotel?' He shrugged and began to pace. 'Then I'll have to wait until tomorrow. Of course, they could be driving back to Del Mar tonight. It isn't impossible, but I have to know one way or the other and be ready.' He drained his glass and walked out of the room.
The guys at the valet station enjoyed the calm before the storm as all three gathered around a tiny TV, relaxing and watching films of today's tournament opener. A young man in his late teens saw Norman approach the kiosk. He rose, a wide smile pasted across his tanned face. "Hello, Mr. Stanley. Do you want your car?"
Norman reached for the man's hand, pressing several twenties into his palm. "I have a favor to ask. I need to have my car ready at a moment's notice. There are a couple of things cooking and I don't want to miss a great photo op. Is there somewhere you can park it right close by?"
"Yes, sir. I'll bring it around and park it over there." He gestured at a roped-off holding area to the side of the valet space and nodded. "Will that work out for you?"
"Excellent, and thank you. Be sure to leave the keys in it. I know toward the end of the night when the gala ends, you guys will be flying around and I don't want to have to wait. Put them in the console under the maps."
"Consider it done, sir," he said, pocketing the money and plucking the keys off the board. "I'll go get her right now. Ready when you are."
* * *
Norman walked back across the driveway and entered the hotel lobby. He made his way to the ballroom, eyes down, willing himself to melt into the background as the rich and famous wandered around. He did not want to be recognized.
Nathan wasn't particularly well-known, and he worked hard at keeping a low profile, but he had many acquaintances Norman did not know. This was not the time to get into a sticky situation that would surely occur if someone unknown recognized him and decided to strike up a conversation.
Resuming his place by the palm tree, he feasted his eyes on Cathy. Beautiful beyond words, she smiled at her companion, sending daggers of jealousy through Norman's heart as she kissed his rival's lips. The thought of them in bed together drove him nearly to frenzy and for a moment, he almost lost it.
'What are you doing, Cathy? It's me you love, not him. Once this night is over, you'll look at me that way. I'll be your love. I'll kill him, make him disappear once and for all. Then you'll be mine.'
Ella glanced at Jim and yawned. "I'm about ready to cash it in. What time is it anyway?"
"Almost nine, hon. I'm ready to go, too. It's been a long day." Jim leaned forward, nodding at Lenny and Rudy. "We're ready to take off. If you guys want to stay and dance some more, we're fine alone."
"I'm ready. Let's call it a night." Terry leaned into Lenny. "How about you?"
"I can't wait to get out of this monkey suit."
Ella picked up her scroll menu and tucked it into her purse. "The next banquet or wedding reception we book, let's do something like this. Very clever."
"Very." Terry chuckled at her twin. "We have to figure out a logo or something."
Norman watched Cathy's face as Rudy took her arm. She turned to him, as though looking at him, and laid a gentle hand on his cheek. He pressed it close and then kissed her fingertips.
Fury swept over him with such intensity he almost screamed. Unable to bear witness to another man touching her like that, he dropped his gaze and shuddered. He felt more than saw them head across the ballroom and into the lobby. He followed them out to the valet station, hiding in the shadows until their cars came around.
The valet arrived with the Mustang first, then the Jag, with Ella's BMW last.
Norman darted out of the shadows, opened the door to his car and slid behind the wheel. No one saw him, at least, no one who mattered.
Rudy settled Cathy in the passenger seat and walked to the driver's side, hand extended to the valet who held the door. He gave him the tip and smiled. "Thanks."
"Thank you, sir. Drive safely."
Rudy pulled away from the curb and started down the driveway, oblivious to everything but Cathy. "You were the bell of the ball tonight, sweetheart. Great dress and I love the new glasses. They're really nice."
She sighed. Her left hand reached for him, resting lightly on his knee. "I'm glad you like them. Terry saw them first, told me to try them on for fit. They're so comfortable, not heavy like the others. Ella says Gucci made them special, just for me; an early birthday present." She chuckled, paused a moment and tapped him. "I had lots of fun tonight. That's the first time I've danced since I lost my sight. It was wonderful. Funny how you never realize how much you miss something until you do it again after a long absence."
"Tonight is just the beginning. I love to dance, actually. We'll do it again real soon."
They continued to chat, engrossed in each other and the love they shared, unaware of the Lexus following them.
Norman moved over to the center lane as they approached the freeway exit for Dana Point. He expected Rudy to ease over as well and continue on the freeway south toward Del Mar. Instead, Rudy remained in the right lane, blinker indicating he intended to turn.
'What the hell?' Norman moved back into the right lane, now three cars behind Rudy. 'They must have rented a house down here.'
They accessed the coastal highway, heading into town. The Mustang signaled for an upcoming left and turned down a short lane fronting the beach. A sign at the bottom of the road said 'Not a Through Street' so Norman pulled the Lexus to the curb, partially shielded by a row of oleanders. He got out of the car, locked the door and hurried down the sidewalk. Concealed in the bushes, he saw the Mustang pull into the last driveway at the bottom of the cul-de-sac. The garage door opened, light flooding the front yard.
Moments later, the Jag passed Norman, followed by the BMW. They pulled into the garage and the door closed behind them.
'What should I do now? They're here for the night, probably for the rest of the weekend.'
The city strictly prohibited overnight street parking. Signs on both sides of the road warned that offenders would be towed and the fine would hurt. A wave of anger swept over him, making him sweat.
'How can I get to Cathy with all these people around?'
Norman climbed back in his car, his heart hammering, his breath coming in short, hoarse gasps. 'I have to kill him. I'll kill them all if that's what it takes.'
He saw the patrol car turn the corner and head down the street. Norman turned the key in the ignition and put on his lights and blinker, indicating he wanted to make a U-turn. The cop passed him and continued down the road to the end, stopping by the barrier that separated the beach from the street. He parked under a sign that read 'No Parking Any Time' and turned his lights and engine off.
Norman made the tight turn and decided to check out the neighborhood, get the lay of the land. He drove up a block and pulled into the parking lot of a strip mall. The lot was safe from any interference by the parking cops until the last store, in this instance a bar and grill, closed for the night.
Restless, he sat there tapping the steering wheel and coming to a decision. He wrenched the door open and turned toward the ocean.
'I gotta check it out. The car's fine here for several more hours. The bar won't close until three and I'll be back long before that.'
Keeping close to the shrubbery, he passed one dark residence after another, cutting across unfenced yards and beach walkways. Soon he lurked in the shadows at the top of the cul-de-sac, no more than fifty feet from Cathy's house. Dark like the surrounding homes, no yard lights would blow his cover this time.
He hurried across the sandy lawn, back now pressed against the side of the house. Flickering lights on the lanai indicated the possibility of people as did one dim light on the second floor. Other than that, the house was dark.
Over the pounding surf he heard low, subtle sounds, voices coming from the back of the house and maybe from inside his head, but more than just voices. The sounds, at once common and alien, washed over him. An immediate atavistic response raised the hairs on the back of his neck while his mind whirled, trying to pin down the sound, the feeling, and where it came from.
He crept along the edge of the house, noting hurricane lamps on a lanai facing the sea. The volume of the sounds increased and his heart stopped. 'What the hell is that sound?'
Finally, Norman glanced up at the large expanse of lanai and blinked. Not ten feet above his head crouched a dog so black it blended into the shadows. Only its outline, bared teeth and menacing snarls made it real. It was surely a demon, some fiend that had followed him from the pit, hell-bent on thwarting his plans with Cathy.
Kip growled deep in her throat, ears laced tight to her skull, every tooth in her head visible.
Norman blinked, an ugly grimace twisting his mouth. "I remember you! Oh, you bet I do, you bitch." His gun, safely stowed away in the trunk of his car, was no help now. He looked around on the ground for some kind of weapon, something to defend himself with should she decide to jump off the lanai.
Kip continued to stalk him, creeping across the top of the lanai as he inched toward the back of the house.
The sounds of a sliding door, just audible to Norman, caught his attention, followed by the musical notes of Cathy's voice, calling for Kip.
The dog whined once, snapping her teeth at Norman. She disappeared into the darkness. The door closed and the last light in the house went out.
Norman was alone and he knew just what to do. He started for the steps.
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