ANY GIVEN DOOMSDAY

The Phoenix Chronicles Book #1

 

   On the day my old life died, the air smelled of springtime—budding trees and just-born flowers, fresh grass and hope. I should have known right then that something was coming.

   I’ve always been psychic. I’ve never once been happy about it. In fact, I did everything I could to drown that gift, my curse, in the realities of a normal life.

   But normal went out the open doorway that morning in early May, and I never got it back again. I’m not sure I ever really had it in the first place.

   I went to work as always. I’m the first-shift bartender at Murphy’s, a cop bar on the east side of Milwaukee. Twenty-five and still a bartender. I’d be more concerned about my career arc if I hadn’t already tried being a cop—and failed.

   Cops and psychics don’t mix. Go figure.

   Not that I’d ever broadcast what I could do. I wasn’t a complete moron. However, sometimes those flashes were impossible to hide. Sometimes hiding what I knew would have been more criminal than what I’d seen in the first place.

   Of course I’d tried to downplay it; I’d tried to invent excuses for the information that came to me in a way I couldn’t explain. But what excuse is there for something like that? I was never able to come up with one that made any sense.

   The cops I worked with didn’t trust me because they didn’t understand me. They avoided me as much as they could, unless they needed my help. When they asked, I had little choice but to answer, if there was any answer to be had. Eventually my too accurate hunches had led to a disaster, and I’d had no choice but to leave the force.

   Thank God for Megan Murphy. Without her, I don’t know what I would have done.

   Luckily Megan had been in my situation before— without income, alone in the world, and desperate. Just because I was the reason she was a widow didn’t mean she wasn’t going to help me.

   A lot of cops become private detectives when they leave the force. I had the training; I even had a gun. All I would have had to do was get my license and hang up a sign.

   ELIZABETH PHOENIX —DICK FOR HIRE.

   Can you imagine the business I’d get just from the walk-ins?

   In the end, I’d taken the job at Murphy’s. I figured I owed Megan, and at the time I’d wanted nothing more than to be flogged daily for what I’d done. Becoming a bartender in a cop bar after getting my partner killed was a good place for that.

   That morning I had customers pounding on the door before eleven a.m. There’s a reason beer made Milwaukee famous. When the sun shines and the temperatures climb above freezing, people in my hometown make a beeline for the Miller Lite.

   I propped the front door wide open, all the windows, too, and watched the just-sprouted tree limbs waver, sending dappled shadows dancing across a sidewalk the shade of storm clouds. The spring wind stirred my hair, and goose bumps sprang up all over my body despite the uncommon heat of the day. I was possessed with a sudden and undeniable urge to—

   “Leave.”

   The five off-duty cops at the bar glanced up from their beers and sandwiches. They looked at each other, then back at me.

   “Not you,” I said.

   They returned to their meals, but not without a few eye rolls and one derisive snort.

   Why on earth had I said that out loud? No matter how hard I tried to be normal, the truth remained—I wasn’t.

   The lunch help hadn’t arrived yet, but that didn’t matter. Everyone at Murphy’s was a regular. Often, when Megan had a problem late at night with one of her kids, she’d toss the keys to the top cop in the place and go about her business.

   “Kenny.” The man looked up from his Reuben with a scowl. I was already headed around the end of the bar. “Got an emergency. I’ll be back as soon as I can. The lunch shift will be here in ten.”

   Kenny’s scowl of annoyance became a frown of confusion. “What emergency? You didn’t even get a call.”

   What else is new? I thought.

   I did use my cell phone once I got into the car, but Ruthie didn’t answer, which wasn’t surprising. Sometimes I wondered how she juggled all the responsibilities in her life without two extra sets of hands.

   Ruthie was an ancient black woman who ran a group home on the south side of Milwaukee amid an explosion of ranch houses built in the 1950s. Nice yards. Good schools. A lot of last names that ended in ski.

   Back in the old days, Ruthie had been the only African-American within thirty miles. She hadn’t cared. Amazingly, no one else had either. Ruthie was like that. People who would have walked across the street to avoid a . . . well, let’s not say the word, took to Ruthie like a long-lost auntie.

   Nowadays a few more colors had popped up amid the Caucasians, though the majority of the names still ended in ski.

   Twenty minutes later, I parked at the curb and contemplated the only two-story house on the block. Things appeared quiet. Why wouldn’t they? At this time of day, the kids were in school. Ruthie might not even be here. However, I’d learned over the years that whenever I felt the urge to see Ruthie there was always a damn good reason.    

   I got out of the car and headed up the walk.

   Ruthie was a no-nonsense throwback to a time when parents ruled with love and an iron fist. Once Ruthie took you in, she never gave you up. She understood that part of the problem for throwaway kids was the being thrown away. She was the only mother I’d ever known— or perhaps the only one I allowed myself to remember.

   I reached the porch before I saw it—that tiny sliver of shadow creeping onto the cement through the half-open door. My hand automatically went to my hip, but my gun hadn’t been there in months. I missed it then more than I ever had before.

   Though I knew better, I pushed open the door and began to call her name. “Ruth—”

   The scent and sight of blood caused the word to stick in my throat.

   I found her in the kitchen, lying in a puddle of sunshine and blood. She’d always loved the sun, really hated blood.

   I dropped to my knees. I wanted to check for a pulse but her throat... She didn’t have much of one left.

   “Lizbeth.” Her eyes opened. “I knew you’d come.”

   “Don’t try to talk.”

   How could she talk?

   “I’ll call—”

   “No.” She closed her eyes, and for an instant I thought she was gone. What would I do if I lost her? She was the only person who truly loved me on this earth.

   “Ruthie!”

   “Shh.” She patted my knee, leaving a bloody splotch. Strange, but her hand looked as if it had been bitten, mangled. For that matter, so did her—

   “I’ve been waitin’ for you to come around, but you haven’t.”

   I’d been working a lot of hours. What else did I have to do? Except visit the woman who’d taken me in off the streets.

   “I’ll come more often. I promise.”

   Her gaze suddenly bored into mine. “When I’m gone, it’s up to you.”

   “Ruthie, don’t—”

   “The final battle,” she managed, though her voice was fading, “begins now.”

   She grabbed my hand in a surprisingly strong grip for a dying old lady, then my skull erupted in agony and everything went black.

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