From the author: Campaign manager Molly Martinez has a bigger problem than she anticipated when her friend Reed McAllen, the manager for the candidate in the next Congressional district, disappears. Things are not what they seem to be....
Molly Martinez’s cell buzzed as she pulled up in front of Fellini’s campaign office. She sighed as the caller ID came up. Reed McAllen. Former ally, sometimes lover, and the best damn campaign organizer in Woodville after herself. Why was he calling her first thing in the morning? Must be some juicy political gossip or he needed to vent. His candidate in the Congressional district next to Fellini’s, Elena Karsten, was rich but a handful. Thank God Fellini hired me before she got around to making me an offer.
She tapped her earbud to connect.
“Hey Molly.” Reed’s voice was tight and nervous, not normal for him. “I’ve got a problem with Karsten. You’re not gonna believe it. She changes shapes.”
“What, so she’s like a werewolf or something? Dude, you’ve gotta stop watching that scifi TV stuff. Rots your brain.”
“Molly, I’m not kidding.”
Molly sighed. “Reed, I don’t have time for this.”
“Molly, I'm worried. Really worried.”
“It could just be your election nerves.” Molly rolled down her window as a volunteer scurried toward her. “Tell Bob I'll be right in,” she called. “Sorry,” she said to Reed. “I'm getting swarmed.”
“Me, too. Listen. This isn't election nerves. Molly, I saw the woman change shape. Literally. I swear.”
She decided to play along. “How are you gonna keep this one from the media?”
“I'm—not worried about the media, Molly.
“Then what are you worried about?”
“You're gonna think I'm crazy.”
“No more than usual.”
Reed snorted. “Okay,” he said. “Karsten looks just like a big spider when she changes. I'm afraid she's eaten a couple of people. Volunteers are missing—and from what I saw before the last one disappeared—from our headquarters—I'm scared. For myself. And I can't afford to drop her as a client. Child support. I need you to come see this. Her. I know we've only got three weeks left until the general, but—”
“I can't. If my candidate was sitting better in the polls, I could come on down. But Bob has his big City Club debate tomorrow, and if I'm not here to hold his hand—well, that's what he's paying me the big bucks for.”
“I understand,” Reed said.
“God, Reed, you know I'd do it if I could.”
“I know.” His voice went flat. “Sorry to bother you, Molly.”
“Reed, it's not an issue of bother—”
“Later, Molly.” He hung up.
“Damn it, Reed—” Molly glowered at her phone. The volunteer knocked on her car window again.
“Molly, Mr. Fellini's got a question for you about mass transit.”
Molly sighed and slipped the cell phone into her pocket.
“Tell Bob everything he needs to know is in the white binder marked TRANSIT in the middle of his desk. I'll be right in.”
I'll call Reed tonight, she decided.
“Ms. Martinez?” The voice on Molly's cell that afternoon oozed a rich warmth that wanted to curl up around her ear and flow down her neck.
“Yes?” Molly bit back her surprise. The caller ID had shown Reed's number. “To whom am I speaking?”
“Karsten. Elena Karsten. You're an acquaintance of Reed McAllen.”
“And you're his client. Ms. Karsten, what are you doing calling me from Reed's phone?”
“I have a problem,” Elena Karsten said. “It seems Reed has gone missing.”
Molly swallowed. “And you're calling me because—?”
“It's an inconvenient time to be without a campaign manager. I'm down by five in our last poll, and I need someone to take Mr. McAllen's place.”
“Ms. Karsten, I'm contracted to manage Robert Fellini's campaign for Congress. I can't just jump from his Congressional campaign to yours.”
“I think you'll find that Mr. Fellini will be very—cooperative—when you ask him to loan you to me.”
“Ms. Karsten, I just can't—”
“You will. Talk to Bob.”
The phone clicked off. Molly redialed, but it clicked straight through to Reed's voice mail. A text chimed on her phone.
Fellini releases you, it read. See you tonight.
Molly growled and paced through the office to look for Fellini.
Reed, what kind of mess have you gotten me into now?
Molly scowled as she squinted at the faded numbers above the storefronts, looking for Karsten's office. She spotted it at last, more decrepit and faded-looking than she would have expected from one of Reed's campaign offices. Even the lawn signs in the window looked faded and cobwebby.
“Molly Martinez,” she said to the staffer at the front desk.
“Ms. Karsten is waiting for you.” The staffer pointed toward the back. “Third door on the right.”
Molly glanced around as she walked toward Karsten's office, but saw nothing to give her any hint about what might have happened to Reed. She knocked on the third door.
“Ms. Martinez. How nice to see you,” Elena Karsten eased the door open.
“Yeah, well, let's hope this isn't a loss for my former client,” Molly muttered. “I know Reed usually leaves pretty detailed notes about what he's been doing—updates his laptop just about hourly.”
“He left his laptop here. I've got his passwords so I'll get it up and running for you.”
That's not right, Molly thought. Reed never goes anywhere without his laptop, and he never gives his passwords to a client.
As she walked to Karsten's desk, she noticed the gargoyles posed along its edge.
“That's interesting,” she said, picking one of them up. The face was almost life-like.
“Please don't touch those,” Karsten snapped, looking over the top of her half-frame glasses.
Molly replaced it. She was about to turn to the laptop when she noticed the expression on the end one.
Reed's eyes moved as she looked at him.
“What the—” Molly leaned closer to study the Reed figure.
She startled back as Karsten changed form.
Reed was wrong, she had just enough time to think as she shrank, transforming into stone. Medusa, not spider.