Proceed with caution

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yellow caution tape

Quentin pounded the steering wheel, rocking his car with the intensity of his anger. Abigail was gone, and he needed to find out what happened to her.

His phone chirped, notifying him of an incoming text from Kathy.

“Cop n ur office. Stall? Ditch?”

He didn’t want to talk to the police, but knew if he didn’t the detective wouldn’t leave him alone. He had other matters to worry about. Quentin thumbed in a reply. “Stall BBS.”

Quentin’s mind raced as he drove back to the hospital. He was sure Abigail was dead when he left her in the crypt. No one could survive losing their life force, but where was her body. He tried to concoct a reason to ask the detective about whether anyone reported finding a suspicious body in the cemetery, but that would look suspicious while under investigation for the Dolan problem. He didn’t need two corpses linked to him.

He had to make this go away.

###

Barlowe paced around the doctor’s office, rewinding what Abigail told him about the entity occupying Payne’s body and mind. He questioned his own sanity again. Checking his watch, he was about to leave, when Quentin burst through the door.

“Dr. Payne, Jack Barlowe,” the detective recovered quickly from the sudden entry, holding out his hand to Quentin. “Sorry to bother you at the hospital, I just have a few questions, then I’ll get out of your hair.”

Still unsettled from his discovery at the cemetery, Quentin almost forgot to stay in character. Accepting the handshake offered, he calmed down enough to get a good look at the young detective. He had the same reaction that Abigail did. Barlowe was an attractive man, with a disarming smile. Quentin couldn’t stop staring at his mouth.

He heard the other man talking, something about corroborating witness statements, and the coroner’s report was nothing to worry about. All he saw was his next host. Stronger, younger and more useful than the body he was presently occupying.

Holding onto Barlowe’s hand a moment too long, Quentin tried to recover and said something noncommittal. He couldn’t let this opportunity slip by.

“I apologize for my distraction,” Quentin said, rubbing his thumb over the back of Barlowe’s hand before letting it go. “It’s been an unsettling morning. I’d be happy to talk with you further, maybe go over my surgery notes with you. I’d like some closure on this incident.”

Abigail had warned Barlowe that if Quentin took interest in taking him as a new host, he would be overly attentive. It would be akin to a sexual attraction. She cautioned that he would make excuses to see him again. Barlowe, sickened by Quentin’s salacious sneer, wondered if his unease was what a woman felt when dodging the advances of an overly amorous jerk.

Barlowe made tentative plans to talk with Quentin in a few days. He couldn’t get out of the hospital fast enough, then headed directly for Abigail’s apartment.

Quentin stared at the office door after Barlowe left. If he could assume control of the cop, he could orchestrate any further investigation, effectively burying the doctor in accusations. Excited by all the possibilities, he liked the added benefit of carrying a gun, killing almost at will, all under the auspices of the police department.

###

Abigail jumped at the sound of a knock at her door. Only home a short while, she had just shifted back into her natural form. She was wrapped in a thick, ferry robe when she peered through the peephole, panicking a little when she saw Barlowe outside her apartment.

Trying to still her pounding heart she greeted Barlowe as her true self.

“Oh, I’m sorry, I was looking for Abigail Merrick,” Barlowe stammered, faced with a seemingly complete stranger. He turned slightly, ready to leave in a hurry.

“You’re not in the wrong place. “ Abigail stayed him, laying her hand gently on his arm, pulling him through the door.

“You must be Jack, Abby told me about you,” she said, clutching the front of her robe with her other hand. “She’s getting dressed. Wait here, I’ll get her.”

Barlowe followed Abigail with his eyes as she left the room, the feeling of déjà vu almost overwhelming.

Closing the door behind her, Abigail let her robe drop to the floor. By the time she reached her closet on the other side of the room, she had shifted into her Iona shape. The transformations were coming effortlessly now.

Quickly pulling on a pair of jeans and a sweater, she went to face Barlowe once again in the guise of Iona.

“I was going to ask you how you found where I live,” Abigail raked her fingers through her long hair, pulling it out of the collar of her top. “But, you’re a detective, it probably wasn’t difficult.”

Barlowe was wise to smile.

“I didn’t know you had a roommate,” he nodded towards the bedroom.

“No, that was…” Abigail struggled to make up a name. “That was Kate, my old college roommate. She’s just visiting.”

“You were right,” Barlowe sat down in an oversized chair. “Payne, or Quentin, was very… umm… friendly.”

“Don’t worry, Jack. I can guide you through this,” Abigail sat down on the couch across from him. “When do you meet with him again?”

“In two days,” Barlowe said. “Could you be there too?”

“You won’t need me there,” Abigail reached to touch Barlowe’s hand. “Do you want to get out of here, maybe get something to eat?”

Barlowe tried to sound unaffected. “Did you want to ask Kate to join us.”

“Oh, Kate is leaving,” Abigail got up quickly to grab her purse. “She won’t be staying after tonight.”

As he followed Abigail out of the apartment, he hoped she’d let him stay.

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Inspiration: Withering Smile

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