The next morning I go through Starbuck's drive thru, order up a Venti Mocha with a double shot of espresso and then drive like a wild woman to try and get to work on time. The bitter-sweet coffee burns my tongue as it enters my mouth and travels down my throat.
I slip out of my safety belt and hop out of the car with an energetic bounce to my step. The caffeine seems to be kicking in already. Grace is just a few steps ahead of me and I call out for her to wait. She gives me a friendly smile and we walk into work side-by-side.
After doing hours of research on Richard, and after multiple encounters with Grace thereafter, I am fully confident that she is oblivious to both Richard's true intentions and true identity. A piece of me feels it's my duty to warn her. And yet I have remained silent.
"You have a good night last night?" Grace asks as we step onto the elevator.
"It was alright. Nothing exciting."
Actually, it was. My angel eyes are back…
Grace shakes her head, giving me a perplexed look.
"Stella, you're an obvious knock out, you're brilliant, sweet and funny….how on earth can you still be single?"
Grace seems to feel the need to bring up my 'single status' at least once a day. And I truly believe a fraction of her concern is directed towards me. But the main reason she brings this up is to find a way to drag Richard into the conversation.
"I'm just not really looking, I guess…"
"Well, you know Richard and I were talking the other night and he suggested online dating. Have you ever thought about that?"
Oh here we go again…
I shake my head as the elevator doors ding open. I move toward my office and give Grace a parting wave. She gives me a worried look, but eventually returns my wave before going into her own office and shutting the door.
I flick on my office lights and boot-up my computer. It beeps and buzzes to life and when the main screen comes on, all my previous day's research comes popping up. I unlock my top desk drawer and take out my small notebook, which I have now named my "Richard Notebook."
I still don't have all the information I need on him. And admittedly, what I have found on him is helping me very little. But I keep trying. I flip open my notebook to my most recent entry and re-read my latest notes.
- Richard Bartock - lived in Indiana for ten years prior to moving.
- Worked as a hotel manager of Western Inn.
- Graduated from ISU in 1986 with Bachelor's in finance and hospitality.
- Never been married.
- No children.
I feel like the answer should be screaming back at me and yet all of Richard's information seems to check out. Car, plates, family, schooling, job, past, everything. So how did he start his demon hunting?
And how on earth did he find out about me?!
I sigh and read though my list again, imagining Richard's life on a time line.
My head snaps up and I see Todd poking his head through my door. I glance down at my clock's computer and see he is half an hour early. I close my notebook and put it safely back in its drawer.
When I have it locked up, I usher Todd into the room, telling him to close the door behind him.
"Todd, this is an unexpected surprise. You're never early. Is everything alright?"
Todd gingerly sits down in 'his' seat and squirts a few globs of Germ-X onto his hands.
"I know I'm early doc and I'm sorry for that. But I think I need some medication."
His eagerness surprises me and I grab for his file folder. Todd usually isn't too keen on taking medication. Upping his dosage is something I was sure he'd never agree to. I give him a thoughtful look and notice that he's lost weight over the last few weeks. His cheek bones are hollowed out and his face looks so thin and gaunt.
The more I observe him the more odd he seems to look. Usually dressed and well kept, Todd's appearance today is quite disorderly. His hair is tousled, his shirt casual and wrinkled. His normal khaki pants have been substituted for ripped jeans. His left foot bounces up and down with a rhythm so fast it's making me nervous.
"Todd, what seems to be bothering you?"
Todd gives a nervous glance over his shoulder and then leans toward me, his eyes grave and serious. "I had another dream, Stella. It was about you."