Celeste turned the handle on the door, slowly pushing it open, afraid that Larry might be on the other side, about to rush out to chase after Adam. The waiting room was empty. It looked the same as when she’d left it just a couple of hours before, not a doily or a single pillow disturbed. The air, though, seemed charged with tension and hinted of something sweet and flowery. Leaving the front door wide open in case Pete wanted back in, she tiptoed to the inner half-open office door. “Larry?”
At first she didn’t understand what she was seeing. There, on the floor, his big belly spilling out between his jeans and his flowered shirt, lay Larry, his face ashen, pale as his hair and stubbly beard. Had she really given him a heart attack? Or a stroke?
Then she saw the blood. It pooled beneath his head, soaking into the beige carpet. Celeste grabbed onto the door frame. She tried to keep herself upright, but her legs felt like waterlogged sponges. Just the mention of blood had always made her woozy, but now the actual sight of it, and the raw, metallic smell forced her, gagging, to her knees.
Run, she told herself, get help! But, as Larry had so often reminded her, she rarely followed her own best instincts. Instead of running away, she found herself crawling over the threshold, inching closer to the first dead body she’d ever seen. At least he looked dead. He didn’t seem to be moving. The crystal she’d been holding just two hours earlier lay in the sticky puddle of blood, its sharp gray edges smeared with red. The gore sent another wave of nausea rushing into her throat.
Celeste swallowed hard. She’d gotten close enough to touch him. She felt blood wicking into the knees of her corduroy pants, growing damp and sticky against her skin. Daring herself, she reached out, trying to steady her hand, to push it just that much fur- ther across the small space separating her from Larry’s body. Suddenly, Larry’s head rolled to the side. Her hand snapped back straight to her mouth, muffling a scream. At the strangled sound, Larry’s eyelids twitched open, and she found herself looking straight into his unfocused blue eyes.
“Not you,” he managed to hiss before his eyelids dropped again.
“Larry! Oh my God, Larry! What did that guy do to you?”
A blue tinge was spreading around his lips and he gasped and gurgled with each shallow intake of breath. What was she supposed to do? She knew CPR, part of her restaurant training, but she’d never had to use it. Besides, the thought of putting her lips on Larry’s was repugnant, even if he was dying right here in front of her. No, she needed to get help. Testing her legs, she slowly stood up and stepped over Larry’s protruding stomach, her boot landing in a bloody patch of carpet. She stumbled for the phone on the desk and dialed 911.
It rang once and a woman answered. “What is the nature of your emergency?”
Celeste clutched the phone as if she were clinging to a real person. “Someone’s tried to kill Larry. Hurry! Please!”
“Larry Blatsky?” The voice was still calm. Celeste was glad someone was keeping her head.
“Yes, you know him?”
“Honey, everyone knows Larry. “