Author: Ken McGorry
Genre: Paranormal Thriller
Lyle Hall is a new man since his car accident and spinal injury. The notoriously insensitive Bridgehampton lawyer is now afflicted with an odd sensitivity to other people's pain. Especially that of a mysterious young girl he encounters outside a long-abandoned Victorian house late one October night. “Jewel” looks about 12. But Lyle knows she’s been dead a hundred years. Jewel wants his help, but it’s unclear how. As if in return, she shows him an appalling vision—his own daughter's tombstone. If it’s to be believed, Georgie’s last day is four days away. Despite Lyle’s strained relations with his police detective daughter, he’s shocked out of complacent convalescence and back into action in the real world.
But the world now seems surreal to the formerly Scrooge-like real estate lawyer. Lyle’s motion in court enjoining the Town of Southampton from demolishing the old house goes viral because he leaked that it might be haunted. This unleashes a horde of ghost-loving demonstrators and triggers a national media frenzy. Through it all strides Lyle’s new nemesis in high heels: a beautiful, scheming TV reporter known as Silk.
Georgie Hall’s own troubles mount as a campaign of stationhouse pranks takes a disturbing sexual turn. Her very first case is underway and her main suspect is a wannabe drug lord. Meanwhile, Lyle must choose: Repair his relationship with Georgie or succumb to the devious Silk and her exclusive media contract. He tells himself seeing Georgie’s epitaph was just a hallucination. But a few miles away the would-be drug lord is loading his assault rifle. Berto needs to prove himself.
1. Rush Hour
It was the roadwork on Montauk Highway that made Lyle Hall get the electric chair.
Since last winter, he’d made do with the self-propelled kind—his daughter Georgie called it the “Mr. Potter model.” To Lyle, it said temporary. A new electric wheelchair with high-end options would say permanent.
At 55, Lyle was not ready to say that. He’d made good progress over the spring and summer, strength-training his upper body. A perky female physical therapist came to his house in Bridgehampton twice a week; a tattooed trainer guy beat him up on Fridays. Lyle had the stretchy resistance bands and a rack of light dumbbells in embarrassing lavender in the living room. Dangling in the dining room doorway was the “Torquemada”—a sling-like contraption he used to hoist himself up and perform certain torturous routines.
Any strain or discomfort he felt was north of his L4 vertebra. Lyle had no feeling from the lower back down, since killing Elsie Cronk with his stupid Hummer last October. Almost a year now.
Each week he journeyed to Southampton to the spinal-injury clinic where they worked miracles. Lyle fully expected them to make him their next miracle and the team there was so positive and effusive that they kept the dream alive. As professionals, they didn’t hold Elsie Cronk against him, but they knew. Everybody knew. Even though Lyle and Elsie and an old duffer walking his dog were the only witnesses, they knew.
With his SUV piled up on the War Memorial at Bridgehampton’s main intersection, windshield spider-webbed and red, the first-responders, busy trying to free the elderly lady from her big old Ford, initially pronounced him dead. Lyle had a bona fide near-death experience and was comatose for two weeks. But few really cared. Elsie was the tragedy. Elsie had been on her way to her son’s 50th birthday party. Lyle Hall lived.
Lyle’s weekly visits to Southampton included sessions with Dr. Susan Wayne, a therapist specializing in post-traumatic stress disorder. Her job was to stave off depression, incrementally step down his benzodiazepine dosage, and provide mechanisms to mitigate survivor guilt. Which Lyle had, though he didn’t admit to it.
It wasn’t his fault that Elsie blundered into his path, 85 years of age and blinded by the setting sun, cautiously making her overly wide right turn onto Montauk Highway— who can’t execute a simple right-on-red?—in her late husband’s aircraft-carrier-size Ford Futura. And everyone guns it a little, not just Lyle, when Bridgehampton’s last traffic light turns yellow. Another damning detail was his destination—a bar in Montauk. Practically everyone believed Lyle was drunk when he collided with Elsie. Incredible how easy it is to believe the worst about somebody. Yeah, he drank. But he wasn’t drunk when he hit the sweet old lady with the fresh-baked birthday cake on the seat beside her. He was on his way to get drunk. Huge difference.
Since last year, Lyle’s had scant contact with people other than medical professionals and service providers. He spends the most quality time with Fred, the MediCab driver who’s been getting him to his appointments since March.
Georgie’s also a professional. Just 30, she’s a newly promoted Southampton police detective. What she’d always wanted. Trouble is, now that she’s thrown herself into her new job, she has this albatross of a dad distracting her. He bluffs that he can do for himself, but that makes things worse. Her solution is surgical strikes—like dropping off prepared meals that Lyle can microwave. And she makes sure to nag him over the phone. Take your meds. Keep up your hygiene. Drink plenty of water. Do your exercises. Shave off that unbecoming beard. Get a damn electric wheelchair, for God’s sake.
Lyle has no one else. Certainly not Dar, his Floridian ex. Her role—play trophy wife to Lyle and wicked stepmother to Georgie during the crucial teenage years following her mom’s death—ended acrimoniously years ago.
So Lyle is Georgie’s cross to bear. And it was Lyle, before the accident, back when he was an important lawyer, who twisted a powerful arm to get her promoted to detective. She is abundantly qualified—a master’s in forensic psychology and all—but she was still considered a girl entering a man’s world. Now she’s in a position where the man who made her challenging job possible is also a big, daily pain in the ass.
Georgie’s nagging inspired Lyle’s spiteful solo excursion. To prove his mettle that day of the roadwork, he took the Long Island Railroad from Bridgehampton to Southampton. Fred merely dropped him at the station. Later, when Lyle returned on the “rush hour” train, one of a half dozen travelers disembarking at Bridgehampton, he was visibly exhausted from the day’s effort. Fred saw Lyle wheel out of the train car and quickly joined him on the platform to help negotiate the handicap-ramp switchbacks leading to the parking area.
The whole point had been to show Georgie that he could “do stuff” on his own, like propelling himself to his appointments in Southampton. The challenge proved otherwise, but Lyle would craftily use his physical meltdown as a cover for making his sudden about-face on the electric chair question. He could withhold the true reason for the new chair.
He’d be unable to withhold what was to follow. The detour took traffic slowly past the abandoned house.