In the countdown to releasing on amazon, I thought I would leak a chapter once a week.  This should help me get my butt in gear to get the final typos fixed and post it up on amazon before the entire thing is up on my blog.  Anyway, here it goes.  Enjoy, leave feedback, point out a typo or two I may have missed.

*There is bad language in this book, in case you need a heads up on that sort of thing.

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Chapter 1

It must have been one hell of a party. Michael James had no idea where he was or how he had gotten there. He stood on the front porch of a dark house. The wooden planks creaked under his black leather boots. Finding himself in an unfamiliar place was not completely unusual; everything would come back to him in time. His bright blue eyes slowly acclimated to the pitch around him, but there was only black past the porch. He quickly blinked trying to focus in the darkness. A dim porch light offered no help. Michael could just make out the sign over the door – “Theo’s House”. A deep sigh escaped his lips as he rested his head on the door jam. “Not this again.”

The old door creaked open from inside. Had he already knocked? He couldn’t remember.

A slight, elderly woman wearing a blue knit cardigan appeared before him, her steel grey hair tied up in a neat bun. “Mr. Levitsky, we have been expecting you.”

Michael sighed. How many times was he going to be shipped off to a place like this before someone realized it wasn’t going to change him? He made a mental note to fire his agent or publicist or whoever it was that sent him here when he got home. They were all too meddling. “It’s James, Mike James.”

“Please come in Mr. Levitsky. We have a room reserved just for you.” The woman moved out of the way and extended her arm, inviting him through the doorway.

Michael begrudgingly obeyed. He stepped into what resembled a doctor’s waiting room, shielding his eyes from the bright fluorescent lighting. There were a dozen or so vinyl chairs, upholstered in a dated shade of avocado green. In between were a few tables with old magazines neatly arranged across them. A simple wooden desk sat on the far side of the room.   The only thing on it was an old rotary phone. Michael remembered his parents having one when he was a kid, but it had been some time since he had seen one in working order. The dated technology seemed fitting. Everything looked old, very old. He couldn’t believe the condition of this cut-rate facility he had been sent to.

“Would you care to hang up your coat?” The woman pointed to a wooden coat rack, mostly empty aside from a few terrycloth bathrobes.

Michael looked down at his custom leather jacket. It hugged his frame perfectly, showing off his well-toned physique and cost more than what most people earn in a month. Easy enough for him to buy a new one if it was stolen, but the leather was already broken in and it fit him well. “I think I’ll hang on to it.”

“In that case, if you would please follow me.” The smiling woman started walking. “This way. Please don’t dawdle.”

Michael followed her past the desk into a wide hallway. An old dog, a German Shepherd mix based on his colorings, lay at the threshold of the first room. The woman ignored the mutt, stepping over him to enter, and beckoning Michael to follow. The dog didn’t move, even as Michael almost tripped over him, catching himself and falling into a chair in front of the desk. He pushed his dark hair out of his eyes and stared at her, still wondering how he had gotten here. Had there been an intervention? He had no memory of it. The woman had picked up a clipboard and was flipping through the attached papers.

“Well this place is state of the art. Don’t you have a computer for this stuff?”

“We make do just fine.” She didn’t look up as she continued searching through the pages. “Ah, here we are.” The woman got up and pulled open a drawer from the file cabinet. As she rifled through the drawer, Michael tried to put the pieces together on how he ended up in this spot.

“So, did my agent send me here? I’m a little fuzzy on the details.”

The woman smiled but offered no answers to his questions. Finally she sat back down with a folder stuffed with a large stack of papers.

“Now, lets see what we have here, Mr. Levitsky.”

“How many times do I have to tell you? It’s James.”

“Mr. Levitsky, there are no secrets here. All who walk through that doorway enter as who they are, with no pretenses. You were born Michael James Levitsky, correct?”

He heaved a loud sigh and nodded. Not many people spoke to him like this.

“Then that is what I shall call you.”

“What do I call you?”

“Oh my, please forgive my rudeness.” The woman seemed only a bit embarrassed. “I am Mrs. Peters. I am in charge.” She reached out to shake his hand, which Michael just stared at as he buffed his fingernails on his jacket.

“So, how long am I here for?”

Mrs. Peters retracted her hand went back to her papers. “You will leave when you are ready.”

“Well, actually, I’m ready now.”

Mrs. Peters ignored the remark and flipped open the folder on the top of the stack and slipped on a pair of bifocals that had been hanging around her neck. “Michael James Levitsky, also known as Michael James. Age 37. Son of Anne Marie and Joseph Levitsky of Beacon, NY, USA.” She looked up from the folder. “Is that correct?”

He mumbled a yes.

“Youngest of five brothers, Aaron, Matthew, Paul, Peter all living. One younger sister, Christina, deceased.”

His posture stiffened and he turned away at the mention of his sister.

Mrs. Peters’s eyes peered at him over her glasses for a moment but continued.

“Occupation, Actor?”

“You haven’t heard of me?”

She just looked at him blankly.

“Seriously? I don’t know how that is possible. You must not get out much.”

The woman went back to her paper, without comment. “Living in Los Angeles, California, USA.”

“Is this for insurance or something? Because I’m sure someone usually just writes a check. Or is this for the film studio?”

“Just wanting to make sure my file is correct.” She leaned her elbows on the desk, lacing her fingers together, and looked him directly in the eye. “Everything seems to be in order. I just have one final question.”

Michael tapped his fingers on the arm of the chair. ‘Here it comes.’ He was used to a full interrogation on his habits. One question seemed a bit light.

“Under what circumstances did you arrive on our doorstep?” Mrs. Peters asked.

Whatever game this was, masked as therapy, Michael wasn’t playing. “That’s it? That is all you’re gonna ask me?” This intake was a breeze. The answer to her question was easy.   “I don’t have a fucking clue. I’m sure my agent has all of the details, I can write down his phone number if you…”

His sentence was cut off by the folder in front of him being slapped shut.

“No, that will not be necessary. As I said before, you are here until you are ready to leave. Until that time, we do have a few rules that will be followed.”

Michael leaned back in the chair, balancing on its two back legs, and stared up at the ceiling.

“There is no going outside. When another guest leaves, do not try to follow them. No opening the curtains. No going in the basement. Most importantly, do not try to leave before it is time. Do you understand so far?”

Michael stared unblinking at her, a slight smirk on his face.

“I will take that as a yes. You will also attend our group meetings when we gather – every time we gather. Finally, and this one isn’t part of the rules, but more of a preference on my behalf; no foul language, it puts some of our guests on edge.”

Michael patted his jacket, searching for a pack of cigarettes. It was a terrible habit, one he had started in his youth. Finding nothing, he searched around at the floor. He could have sworn he had some in his pocket earlier in the day, but it was such a blur.

“Do you understand all that I have said?”

Michael leaned forward slamming the chair legs back on the floor. “I got it. Stay inside, don’t go in the basement, don’t follow people out the door, go to group.”

“And?”

“No fucking swearing,” he let his smile grow a bit wider.

She was not amused. “Am I clear?”

“Crystal.”

Mrs. Peters rose from the desk. “Now, if you will follow me please, I will show you to your room.”

“Can’t wait.” Michael pulled himself up from the chair and checked for a suitcase. It did not seem that his belongings had been sent with him.

“This way please.”

The old dog hadn’t moved at all since he arrived and Michael made sure to watch his step as he followed Mrs. Peters out of the office.

Down the hallway, they passed a large, wood-paneled sitting room. A few people were scattered around sitting silently, each one watching them as they walked by. The room was dark, which was not helped by the heavy curtains covering the windows, their vibrant color long faded. The furniture was antique or a convincing reproduction, with overstuffed high backed chairs and Chippendale tables. They must have been quite nice when originally purchased. Now however, they were threadbare and worn. To top it off, everything was coated in a thick layer of dust that was noticeable even in the shadowy room. The large Persian floor rugs were in desperate need of a good vacuuming. It must be the cleaning lady’s year off. When they walked towards the staircase, a haggard old woman wearing a pair of tattered overalls was bent over scrubbing the floors. Her salt and pepper hair stuck out from underneath a kerchief. If this was the cleaning lady, he hoped the room they just passed was next on her list. Michael found it hard not to stare. Her face was old and unsightly, lined with wrinkles and dotted with liver spots. He looked away but felt like he was still being watched. When he glanced back, her eyes were on him. She and her bucket blocked their way up. As they approached, she slid her wooden bucket quickly out of the way. The rest of her moved slower. All the while her gnarled hands continued their scrubbing.

Mrs. Peters stood impatiently with arms crossed. “Agnes, anytime now.” When the scrubber woman had finally moved enough of out of the way for them to pass, the two continued on up the staircase.

Michael grabbed the worn banister, which wobbled under his grip.

“You ought to get this fixed. Someone is going to get themself killed.”

Mrs. Peters chortled at the remark. “No one has died in here yet.”

He let go of the rickety banister and followed her up the steps to the second floor. The stairs continued up, how many floors he couldn’t say. At least he would only have the one to climb. He doubted there was an elevator.

The second floor was made up of a long hallway with a half dozen doors on both sides. The wall sconces barely lit the way, but it was bright enough for Michael to see an old runner that ran down the center. At the third door on the right, Mrs. Peters stopped and pulled out a large metal ring, filled with keys of all shapes and sizes. She sorted through them and, after finding the right one, jiggled it into the lock. “Here we are.”

Mrs. Peters flicked a switch and single bulb hung from the ceiling slowly illuminated the room. Michael strained his eyes to see inside before stepping through the threshold. The room was simple and sparsely furnished, just a bed and small dresser. The windows were covered in same worn drapes as in the sitting room. He walked over to the bed and flopped down. The springs squeaked and bounced under his weight. “Cozy.” he remarked, placing his hands under his head.

Mrs. Peters held up a tarnished brass key. It was something from one of those old Victorian houses where one key fit every lock. “This is for you. Do not lose it.” Michael made no attempt to move from the bed. Mrs. Peters held it out a moment longer before placing it atop the dresser.

“Well, I will leave you for now. We will be meeting in the main sitting room shortly for a chat. Please plan on joining us.”

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