Protector is the debut paranormal, crime thriller from Laurel Dewey. Hardened Denver Homicide Detective Jane Perry is hired to protect a nine-year-old girl who witnessed the brutal slaying of her parents. But Jane Perry is plagued by odd, disconnected images that seem to predict a tragic end to the child's life. This character-driven thriller is a page turner with a strong emotional core.
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CHAPTER 1 The stars were not particularly bright on that May evening. Emily Lawrence craned her neck as she looked outside her open upstairs bedroom window, hoping she could see a pinpoint glimmer of Pluto in the stark night sky. Unfortunately, the large sycamore tree just outside the window prevented a clear view. Discouraged, she pulled herself back into the house and slid down onto the ever-so-pink carpeting that almost matched her nightgown. Emily took another look at the star chart that plotted the constellations and diagramed the location of her favorite stellar objects. Satisfied, she flicked off the bedroom light and clicked on the overhead Starlight Starbright projector she received on her ninth birthday, six months before. It was the only gift she wanted and once it was hers, it became her constant companion. She would lie on her bed at night after the house was quiet, her shoulder-length brown hair curled around her pillow, and stare in wonder at the myriad twinkling stars and constellations that projected across her bedroom ceiling and walls. By turning one knob, the constellations slowly moved clockwise around the room, melting into the carpeting and resurfacing on the opposite wall. With the turn of another knob, the room filled with the hushed sounds of soft wind and the distant euphony of Puccini’s Nessun Dorma. She stared transfixed by this celestial ballet, engulfed in its embrace, and felt safe. Outside, a soft whisper of wind rustled the sycamore leaves. Emily felt herself drifting off to sleep when she was jolted awake by the sound of her mother’s angry voice downstairs. Her body tightened as she tried to ignore the escalating volume. Her parents’ arguments had grown in intensity over the past few weeks. What began as a disagreement in the kitchen would spread into the living room and then the hallway where the nearby staircase led a straight path to Emily’s bedroom door. The only respite Emily had from her parents’ constant discord was a peaceful nine-day camping trip in Moab, Utah with her mother. They’d returned the night before, but it didn’t take long for her parents to resume their loud disputes. However, on this night, the combative sounds from downstairs were the worst ever. The anger in her mother’s voice was now etched with fear. Emily resisted, then gave in and walked toward her bedroom door. She turned the knob, inching the door open. The upstairs hallway was dark as was the downstairs entry hall near the front door. Emily and her mother’s sleeping bags from their camping trip were still stacked at the bottom of the stairs. The child peeked through the opening of her bedroom door and watched as her mother, Patricia, paced back and forth. Out of Emily’s view, her father, David, sat on the living room couch, his hand cupped tightly against his forehead. His terrified eyes focused intently on the circular patterns of the living room carpeting. Patricia clutched a sheet of notepaper. She looked at it, silently read it and then flared into another tirade. “Exactly when were you going to tell me about this, David?” Patricia Lawrence screamed at her husband, jerking the paper toward him. “I…I didn’t know how to tell you,” David responded, his voice shaking. “Look at me!” She moved her slender body close to David. David buried his face in both hands. “I’m sorry,” he uttered. “The hell you’re sorry!” Patricia yelled. “How could you keep this letter from me? Goddamnit, didn’t you think I would eventually find out? All those nights…All those goddamn nights of you calling me and telling me you had to work late…” “I was working,” David weakly interjected. “I don’t think they call it ‘work’ after the second or third cocktail!” David pulled his hands from his flushed face. “Patty, please! We’ve got to talk about this rationally.” “Rationally? Oh, that’s rich! Suddenly you want to be rational? Why wasn’t that thought going through your head when the relationship became clear? Why didn’t you just walk away?” “I don’t know—“ “You don’t know?” Patricia’s voice was quickly becoming hysterical. “You know what your problem is? You’re weak! Ever since you were young, you always wanted to play with the big boys, but you never fit in.” “No. That’s not true,” David responded unconvincingly. “It is true! You fantasized about what it would feel like to be accepted by people who lived on the edge. You got off on that fantasy. And then, that fantasy became real.” David covered his face again. “Maybe. Maybe I did.” “Well, you picked a helluva time to live out your fantasy!” Patricia lunged toward her husband, leaned down and forcefully pulled his hands away from his face. “When the connection was made,” she continued with a slow, angry cadence, “between the two of you and they saw the kind of close relationship you had, did you ever once consider the implications of what could happen? How it would affect us? Or Emily?” At the sound of her name, Emily crawled onto the stairway landing, staying in the darkness so her parents could not see her. Patricia spoke quietly, but there was a penetrating punctuation to each syllable. “The minute you found out what was going on, you should have walked away.” “I know…” David replied in a weak voice. “But, I couldn’t.” “Jesus!” Patricia pulled away from her husband, “How fucked up were you?” “Oh, shit, Patty!” David’s voice raised several octaves as he nervously got up and walked across the room. “I may have been a little drunk, but I wasn’t fucked up!” David brushed back his thick brown hair with his hand. It was then that he realized his hand was shaking. His eyes fell to the floor and he spoke in a hushed voice, holding back tears. “Things were said and the more we talked, the more the trust began to build between the two of us. And then...I just wanted to help.” “David, how could you throw everything away that you know is right and true and decent for a relationship that could destroy us?” “I would never consciously do anything to hurt you or Emily!” “You don’t think you hurt us when drink a fifth and have to stay in bed all day because you can’t cope? Because you can’t be the man you’re supposed to be?” “That’s a low blow, Patty.” “No, David. That’s the truth,” Patricia said tersely. David searched for the right words. “We’re going to be okay—” “Are you crazy?” Patricia exploded. “Didn’t you read this?” She shoved the letter in David’s face. David slid away toward the staircase. “I don’t want to read it again!” “No, you don’t want to see what you’ve done to us! Let’s pretend it doesn’t exist and maybe it’ll go away! Well, this is not going to go away! But I am and I’m taking Emily with me!” Emily’s throat tightened. She watched her mother angrily shove the letter into an open wooden slot that protruded from the rear of the hallway desk. Patricia slammed the slot shut, leaving a slim corner of the notepaper exposed. “Oh, Jesus, Patty,” David begged, “Don’t do this.” “No more, David! Emily and I should have never come back from Moab! I should have kept driving and put as much distance between us as possible! I will not put my daughter through hell because you wanted your fifteen minutes of fame! I’m packing our bags and taking Emily to my sister in Cheyenne.” “You can’t take her away from me! She’s my daughter, too! I love her!” “Maybe you should have thought about that months ago.” “For God’s sake—” David stopped in his tracks as he looked up the staircase and saw Emily hiding in the shadows. “Oh, God, sweetheart. Go back to bed.” Emily stepped from the shadows. “Why are we going away again, Mommy?” Patricia moved toward the staircase. “Emily, go back to your bedroom.” Her tone was precise and laced with agitation. “I’ll be up to talk to you.” Emily started to turn when she stopped and looked down at her parents. “I love you, Mommy.” “I love you, too. Go on!” Patricia said. Emily looked at her father’s eyes; they were sad and pitiful. It was the same look she saw when he drank himself into a stupor and stared into nothingness. A sense of helplessness welled up inside the child. “I love you, daddy,” she whispered. David put his fingers to his lips, kissed them and blew the kiss toward Emily. “I love you too, sweet pea.” Emily paused, freezing the moment in her memory, then walked back into her bedroom, closing the door behind her. The sound of her parents’ voices were muffled, but still peppered with rage. Her head was filled with the dreaded thought of leaving the only home she had ever known. She nervously paced around her room as the Starlight Starbright projector light cast celestial shapes across her face and body. Emily wanted desperately to feel safe from the world and all the awful possibilities. She quickly grabbed the projector along with the navy blue vinyl carrying case and toted it into her tiny bedroom closet. Closing the door, she situated herself on the floor of the closet, partially covered by the hanging clothes. She tried to get comfortable, and then remembered the mass of oversized pillows on her bed. Wriggling out from under the clothing, she opened the door and made her way in the semi-darkness. Emily dragged two large pillows off the bed and started back when she heard the front doorbell ring. A glance at her bedside clock glowed 10:00 PM in bright red neon. Pressing her ear to her bedroom door, she heard the sound of another male voice—a voice she didn’t recognize. Although she couldn’t make out any specific words, the tone sounded like a friendly conversation between her mother and father and the unknown voice. Emily thought she heard the word “accident,” coming from the mysterious guest. She hadn’t heard any crash of metal echoing from Franklin Street. But then again, her parents’ fervent voices could have drowned out the collision. For a brief second, she wondered if it was A.J.’s dad. Ten long days ago, A.J. had suddenly moved away with her parents with no warning. The only explanation her mother offered was that A.J.’s father got a job offer in California and had to leave quickly or he would lose the opportunity. As her mother told her this story, Emily could tell it was a lie and wondered to herself why A.J. didn’t want to be her friend anymore. It seemed odd to her; less than one month before, the two families enjoyed a Sunday picnic in Washington Park. One of the photos from that day of Emily and her parents was proudly propped up against her clock. It was a beaming portrait of family bliss that belied the truth. The conversation downstairs sputtered out as Emily plotted the sound of single footsteps walking across the living room floor, heading toward the kitchen. She heard the kitchen door close—a familiar reverberation that always echoed up into her bedroom. She waited, hugging the two large pillows close to her chest. Less than a minute later, Emily heard the sound of the kitchen door opening and an abrupt raised pitch of voices. If that was A.J.’s father, he suddenly didn’t sound very happy. Emily pulled away from the door. She figured that whatever was happening downstairs was better left to her parents and that her mother would tell her a dressed up version of the truth the next morning. She plopped the oversized pillows on the closet floor, closed the door and buried her body under the cushioned mass. It was like a soft cocoon that cradled and hid her from the outside world. She turned on the Starlight Starbright projector and the glimmering stars began their orbital ballet. Every crevice of her closet was painted with twinkling lights and murky galaxies. Emily peered out from between the pillows, captivated by the celestial dance. With another flick of a switch, the soft, melodic tones of Nessun Dorma, interwoven with the sounds of crashing waves and a gentle wind, drifted into the air. The voices downstairs became louder. But Emily stayed focused on the brilliant constellations that rotated across the closet walls and ceiling. She could feel her heart pounding harder and harder. That’s the last thing Emily remembered.
"We cannot live only for ourselves.
A thousand fibers connect us with ?our fellow men; and among those fibers, as sympathetic threads, our actions run as causes, and they come back to us as effects."