Wednesday May 12th
When the same nightmare awakens her, she sits bolt upright in the middle of the
Where am I? she thinks.
And blinks at the bedside clock.
She is instantly wide awake.
"Kids!" she yells. "Jamie! Ashley! Up! We're late! Up, guys!"
She hears grumbling down the hall. Ashley's voice. Jamie hasn't spoken for almost eight months now.
"Guys, are you up?" she shouts.
"Yes, Mom!" Ashley calls.
Ten years old, the elder of the two. Her eyes and her hair brown, like Alice's. Eight-year-old Jamie favors his father. Blond hair and blue eyes. She can never look into those eyes without recalling that terrible day.
She shakes off the nightmare and gets out of bed.
In the shower, she realizes she set the alarm's wakeup time, but neglected to slide the on-off switch to the right. Hurrying to lather, she drops the soap, the heavy bar falling onto the little toe of her left foot. Yelping in pain -- it feels as if someone has hit her with a hammer -- she yells, "Damn it to hell!" and bends down to recover the slippery bar. Her butt hits the hot-cold lever on the tiled wall. The water turns instantly ice cold. She straightens in surprise, drops the soap again, missing her foot this time, and backs away from the icy stream, thinking None of this would be happening if Eddie were still alive.
But Eddie is not still alive, she thinks, Eddie is dead -- and almost bursts into tears.
She reaches through the slanting curtain of frigid water, and turns off the shower.
The kids are supposed to be at school at eight-fifteen. She is twenty minutes late getting them there. Jamie has forgotten his lucky red cap, so she has to drive all the way back to the house for it, the traffic on U.S. 41 impossible even now in the off-season. By the time she brings the cap to him at school, and then drives to the office on The Ring, it is almost 9:30. Her appointment with Reginald Webster is at ten. She barely has time to check her e-mail, go over the new listings that Aggie has placed on her desk, put on some lipstick, which she didn't have time to do before they left the house, visit the ladies' room one last time, and here he is!
Forty-three years old perhaps, tall and somewhat good-looking in a dissipated way, suntanned from hours spent aboard his thirty-foot Catalina. He is looking for a house on deep sailboat water.
"People call me Webb," he says. "Better than Reggie, don't you think?" Holding her hand. "Anything's better than Reggie. Have you found some good houses for me?"
"I think so," she says, and withdraws her hand. "Would you care for some coffee, or should we just get started?"
"I wouldn't mind a cup, if it's already made," he says.
She buzzes for Aggie and asks her to bring in two cups of coffee. While they are waiting, she shows Webb pictures of the dozen or so houses she's pulled from the internet. He seems interested in two of them on Willard, and another one out on Tall Grass. The two keys are at opposite ends of Cape October. It is going to be a long day.
Aggie comes in carrying a tray with two coffee cups, a creamer, and a sugar bowl on it. As she is placing the creamer and sugar bowl on the desk, she accidentally knocks over Webb's cup, spilling the contents onto his left trouser leg. He jumps up, bellowing in surprise, and then immediately recovers his cool.
"That's okay," he says, and laughs. "I'm about coffeed out, anyway."
She is starting to tell Reginald Webster how Cape October got its name. They have already seen the two houses on Willard Key, and are driving out to Tall Grass.
"Because that's when the first tourists come down," Webb says. "October."
From Alice in Jeopardy, chapter 1, pages 3-23. Copyright © 2005 by Hui Corp. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt maybe reproduced without written permission from the publisher.
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