Sneak Peek

             “I’m going to kill that son-of-a-bitch!” Niki screamed.
            “You’re being a bit dramatic, don’t you think?”
            “No, I don’t. For months I showed that picky asshole house after house,” she explained, “and you’re telling me all I got from working with him was shingles?”
            “So he never bought a house?”
            “Not from me. He went to Vegas for a break and bought one while he was there—after one week!”
“That is unfortunate, Niki, but let it go. With your high blood pressure, you’ve got to be careful how you handle stress.” Dr. Branson put his clipboard down and began typing into the electronic tablet lying on the counter next to the sink. “You could die from a stroke,” he warned.
“Well if I do, I’m taking that asshole with me because my hands will be around his neck when I go.”
Niki saw an unmistakable look of concern on her doctor’s face. She had been taking blood pressure medication for over twenty years thanks to defective genes inherited from the paternal side of her family. Even on medication, her pressure registered high, so she took her doctor’s warning seriously—for two seconds—before slipping back into her murderous choking fantasy.
            As she took a deep breath to calm herself, Niki felt the painful, blistering skin rash stabbing her repeatedly right where her underwire met her ribs.
“So what exactly is shingles?” she asked. “Isn’t it like adult chicken pox?”
“It’s a form of herpes.”
“Lovely,” Niki said. “But I thought shingles only attacked old people,” she added. “Really old people. I’m only fifty.”
“It’s not that particular,” her doctor assured her. “Shingles can attack anyone. You just got lucky.”
“You’re a riot, doc,” she said. “That’s not exactly what I thought was meant by ‘getting lucky.’”
Niki was comfortable with Dr. Branson. She trusted his gentle look and his self-confident presence and as a result, had been his patient for over ten years. Although he was a large man with massive shoulders that squarely filled his doctor’s white coat, his kind, plump face softened his appearance. His dark hair, just graying at the temples, was still thick and full. Guessing him to be at least twelve years her senior, he was just old enough that she didn’t find it awkward seeing a male doctor.
Looking down at the clipboard in his hands and flipping the top paper up to look at the one underneath, Dr. Branson continued. “You’re not on any medications, and you don’t have a disease that might weaken your immune system, so it must be stress.” He stood up and kicked away the wheeled stool he’d been perched on. 
“No shit, Sherlock,” Niki mumbled under her breath. Then, speaking loudly and clearly, she continued. “I’m a real estate broker trying to survive one of the worst bubble bursts in thirty years and my last client just screwed me after months of kissing his ass. And if that weren’t bad enough, my house is under threat of foreclosure and my retirement holdings are now worthless.
“I’m sorry to hear that,” Dr. Branson replied.
Niki winced as she adjusted the cold compress he had given her to put on her rash and continued to fantasize about choking her client to death.
For the past thirteen years, Niki had worked as an independent owner/broker of Brooks Realty, specializing in luxury home sales working with rich buyers and rich sellers. Since commissions were based on a percentage of the selling price of the home, she knew it made good business sense to sell the more expensive homes. And it had been lucrative. Until now.
Niki reclined on the table to adjust the compress and took a deep breath to try to ease the pain. She put her hand inside the paper gown to put pressure on the compress as she imagined her hands wrapped tightly around The Asshole’s neck.
“You also need to know that shingles are contagious, Niki,” Dr. Branson informed her. “Has David or the girls had chickenpox?”
The word “contagious” caught Niki’s attention and her fantasy immediately shifted to how she might inflict the herpes virus upon The Asshole, instead of murdering him. She felt her lips turn upward into a smile as she began to imagine him writhing in pain as the tingling and burning sensation of the herpes virus took over his body.
Dr. Branson explained to her that the rash usually involves a narrow area from the spine around to the front of the belly area or chest, right where it attacked Niki. But wouldn’t it be wonderful to witness the small ulcers forming on The Asshole’s face, mouth, and ears for the world to see? Oh, sweet revenge, she thought.
As Niki started to fall deeper into her satisfying daydream, her physician’s voice pleading for attention brought her back to reality. “Niki?” he asked. “Are you still with me, or has the pain made you delirious?”
Niki shot upright and opened her eyes.
“Sorry,” Niki said, shaking her head to return to reality. “I was still fantasizing about taking my client with me if I died, but rationally, committing murder by choking him to death is not my best option for revenge. It would be much more satisfying—and would not be considered a felony—to watch him suffer from the same pain he has caused me. So I’m now fantasizing that he looks like a two-year-old with chickenpox all over his face,” she explained. “Painful chickenpox.”
But as she heard herself speak the vindictive words out loud, Niki realized she was not that person. She was a kind, loving, and nurturing soul. Not a vindictive bitch. But that’s where her profession had been leading her lately. And she didn’t like it. Not only had the market made her physically sick, it was turning her into someone she did not want to become.
“I think that’s a wise choice,” Dr. Branson responded. “Murder for revenge is never a good idea.” He paused for a moment and then continued. “I’m going to give you a prescription and you need to . . .”
Niki tried to focus on her doctor’s words, but it sounded like he was speaking to her from under water. She couldn’t control the flush of heat rising from her core as she contemplated the impending doomsday of her career—thanks in part to her latest lost commission. The Asshole had cost her sixty thousand dollars which would have been her first commission in nearly ten months. There weren’t many multimillion-dollar buyers in the market these days, and she’d just lost the one she had.
Niki was now feeling nauseous in addition to the pain of the shingles. Maybe her queasiness was due to the mixed aroma of disinfectant in the room and the cheap drug store cologne apparently worn by the previous patient. Or maybe the thought of her world collapsing was enough to make her nauseous.
The real estate market—especially in the Phoenix area—always seemed to be either way up or way down, but real estate was all she knew. It was all she’d ever done. Through the years, she and David had purchased rental properties as their retirement plan, but due to the current state of the economy, their real estate holdings were basically worthless since they owed more on the mortgages than the houses were now worth. Her personal real estate empire, as well as her real estate career, was crumbling beneath her Manolo-clad feet.
Now, in the middle of the worst economic meltdown since the Great Depression, closing a real estate deal practically required an act of God. And Niki was not that spiritual. As a result of losing out on her last potential commission, she finally had to face the fact that she must find another way to make a living or she and her family would soon be living in her Escalade.         
“Dr. Branson, am I going to die?” Niki asked as he handed her a sample tube of cream for her rash. She inhaled a long breath and prepared herself for bad news.
“Well, now you’re being a bit melodramatic,” he replied, giving her a half smile. “But I would avoid clients you want to murder.” He made a final note on his tablet before handing her the prescription and leaving the room.
Niki changed from the one-size-fits-no-one paper gown back into her street clothes. Because she couldn’t wear a bra due to the location of her shingles, she’d chosen to wear flip-flops, white capris and a loose-fitting striped pullover to the appointment. Not her typical business suit and pumps. Today it was about being pain-free, not dressing for success.
As she moved toward the door, she tried to avoid her own image in the mirror above the sink knowing it would not be a pretty sight. She hated her natural curls, but had not had the energy or the desire to straighten them today. She had not taken the time to apply much makeup that morning either and she could feel the wrinkles between her brows deepening with every negative thought.
So without looking into the mirror, she fluffed her cinnamon curls, took a quick swipe at her lips with a coral lipstick her younger daughter had chosen for her, and headed out the door.
After paying a seventy-nine dollar office fee she couldn’t afford, Niki headed back to her car. It was a beautiful spring day in the desert, so she tried to focus her attention on appreciating the weather. Niki loved living in Phoenix, believing a few months of excruciating heat in the summer was worth the trade-off of several months of near-perfect weather. She had been born and raised in the tundra—actually in South Dakota—and did not miss the piercing cold that was so common there. After graduating from high school, Niki moved south to Omaha to attend college but soon learned that Omaha was not far enough south to avoid the frigid winters.
As she strolled through the parking lot appreciating the spring weather, she rooted in her Michael Kors handbag for her car keys. She found a squashed meal-replacement bar left over from her latest diet, three individual sticks of gum—one unwrapped, a broken emery board, and a bottle of Ibuprofen before hearing the familiar jingle of her key ring.
As she pulled her keys from her handbag, she heard the faint sound of Stevie Wonder singing “Isn’t She Lovely?” David was calling. She grabbed her phone from the front pocket just in time to catch his call. 
“Well, what’s the prognosis?” her husband asked. “Are you going to live?”
“That’s exactly what I asked Dr. Branson,” she said. “He said yes, and I’m almost disappointed.”
Unable to juggle too many things in her hands, Niki set her purse on the ground to open the car door while holding her phone to her ear with one hand and her sample cream, key and paperwork in the other.
“I’ve got shingles.”
“Ouch!” David groaned.
“Yeah. Turns out from stress.”  
Niki knew her husband would not be surprised to hear that her affliction was stress-related. She hadn’t slept well in years and was now on the verge of tears most days. David had bought Niki an over-the-counter PMS remedy a year earlier, convinced her depression and mood swings were due to “the change.” He was wrong. Niki didn’t understand how it was that he wasn’t on the verge of tears every day too. His mortgage business had not been faring any better in the current market. Together they had racked their brains trying to find alternate ways to make a living in the real estate industry, but nothing they had come up with was acceptable. Loan modifications never really took off, credit repair was too much work for too little money and construction lending was about to become the next big bust.
Niki pushed the “unlock” button on the key fob, opened the door, and pulled herself into the driver’s seat. She threw her paperwork and cream sample onto the passenger seat, and turned the key in the ignition.
“When I get home, we need to talk,” she said to David, taking a deep breath and exhaling as she sat still in her vehicle. “I’m tired of feeling anxious every day about this damn real estate market. I can’t do it anymore. We have to find something else to do that is recession-proof. Maybe I will start a call girl agency. Selling fornication instead of foreclosures must be more lucrative.”
“Yes, you’ve teased about that enough. But joking about becoming a madam is funny,” David responded. “Doing time for it is not.” His voice was resigned.
“David, you saw the same 60 Minutes special I did,” Niki reminded him. “That madam ran her service for six years before getting caught, and then she only did a few months in a country club jail. I could handle that, especially knowing that I’ve already socked away tax-free millions in some obscure overseas bank account.”
“You can’t be serious,” David said. “You are not the type of person to break the law. You barely drive the speed limit, you never litter, you won’t even drive in the HOV lane alone when it’s allowed. And what do you know about running a prostitution business?”
“Seriously?” she asked. “I am one. Call girl, hooker, escort, real estate agent—we’re all the same,” Niki said to her husband. “As real estate agents, we’ll prostitute ourselves to do anything short of an illegal act in order to get paid. And these days some of us may not stop there.” 
“I doubt it’s as easy as you think, Nik,” David’s voice increased in volume. “And if you got caught, you would lose your license.”
“What good is it doing me now?” Niki didn’t wait for a reply. “I want to talk about this more when I get home. I’m done teasing about my plan. I think I’ve just decided how our lives are about to change.”
Niki disconnected her call to David and put her phone in the cup holder of the console. Once I’ve gotten our family out of our financial crisis, David will thank me, she thought.
She put the vehicle in reverse, feeling good about her new on-the-spot decision. She was going to take control of her future and get her family out of their financial doom, something she felt she could no longer do selling real estate. 
“It’s time to put these stressful days behind me,” she said to herself, looking over her right shoulder as she backed up. She had moved less than two feet when she heard a loud crunch. She shoved the gear shift back into “Park” and jumped out of the vehicle.
“Or not,” she sighed, looking down to see her four hundred dollar handbag, flat as a pancake, peeking out from beneath the front tire.




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