He was nine at the time. Thomas was thirteen. Deke had wanted to cry. But Thomas wasn’t crying, so he couldn’t allow himself to give in to the tears.
“I think they’re going to get a divorce, Deke. I heard Dad say something about seeing a lawyer.”
“You mean like Jason’s folks?”
“Yeah. Dad will probably move out. That’s what usually happens, Mark told me.”
“Dad’s got a girlfriend, doesn’t he?”
“That’s what Mom says.”
“Think Mom will get a boyfriend after Dad moves out?” Deke asked.
“Jason says he only sees his dad once a week now. He doesn’t like the woman his dad married. He says she’s a bimbo. But he really hates the jerk his mother is dating. The guy sleeps in his mom’s bedroom when he stays over and he hogs the remote.”
They listened to the muffled yelling in the kitchen for a while. Deke hugged the pillow he was holding and fought the tears.
“I’ll tell you one thing, Deke, I don’t think I’ll ever get married. But if I do, I’m sure not gonna have any kids. I’d never do this to my own kids.”
“Me, either,” Deke said.
“No matter what happens,” Thomas said, “you and me, we stick together.”
“Okay,” Deke said.
“The formula is tailored to your body’s needs,” Alex said. “No two clients get the exact same version of the product. That is because no two people are exactly the same.”
“I understand,” Elissa said.
He opened a cupboard and selected one of the small blue bottles inside. “Also, the formula must be taken under supervision. Close monitoring is essential. That’s why I insist that clients return at least once a week for their supplies.”
She looked at the blue bottle in his hand. “What’s in it?”
“Basically it’s a complex mix of ingredients extracted from several species of seaweed.” He closed the cupboard. “My research shows that most people lack the essential nutrients that are found only in the sea. Remember, our blood is very close to seawater, chemically speaking. Here on land we are often deprived of several substances that are common in the saltwater environments. As a result, we frequently function in a chronic state of chemically induced stress. Over the years, it takes a toll.”
“My therapy is based upon the principle of restoring the proper levels of certain nutrients and enzymes to the system. Once your body chemistry is back in balance, you will be able to deal with stress much more efficiently.”
“That would be wonderful.” Elissa gripped her purse. “I’m certainly not doing very well as it is.”
Alex walked toward her, blue bottle in hand. “In my professional opinion, it is best to take a two-pronged approach to the problem. In addition to using my formula, I strongly recommend counseling.”
Elissa stiffened. “I really don’t want to talk about my personal life. I can’t discuss it with anyone. I just made this appointment so that I could try your formula.”
“Don’t worry,” he said soothingly. “I don’t insist on the counseling. But it would be unethical of me not to mention the additional beneficial effects. I use a very unique therapeutic style. I call it mirroring. It’s a form of past-life regression therapy. I’ve had amazing results with it.”
He hadn’t changed the basic scam much over the years but he routinely gave it a new name every time he set up shop. He was pleased with the term mirroring. He had invented it shortly after arriving in Wing Cove. This town and that architectural monstrosity, Mirror House, had proven to be downright inspirational in many respects. Mostly financial.
“I don’t believe in past lives,” Elissa said uneasily.
“Many people don’t believe in them. Until they start to do the personal research, that is. Events and traumas in our previous lives often induce stress in this life, you see. By exploring your past lives and dealing with the tensions in them you can reduce your current stress levels.”
“Maybe I’ll try it. Someday. May I just have the formula for now, please?”
“Yes. But if you ever feel the need to go deeper, please contact me. I am a trained professional and you can trust me completely to keep anything said between us strictly confidential.”
He gave her his reassuring smile, the one that always made the client trust him, and handed her the bottle. He didn’t really care if she eventually opted for the mirroring treatments. Elissa Kern was too rigid and uptight for his taste. He had no interest in getting her into bed.
“I think you’ll find that you will start to notice some of the beneficial effects almost immediately after the first dose,” he said.
“I hope so.”
“This feels very bizarre.” Leonora raised the binoculars to her eyes and peered through the lenses. “I’ve never actually spied on anyone before.”
Thomas kept his set of compact, high-powered binoculars trained on the front door of Alex Rhodes’s rented house. The cottage was old and weather-beaten. It was located in an isolated stand of trees nearly a mile from the center of Wing Cove. Rhodes apparently liked his privacy.
“Obviously you’ve led a sheltered life,” Thomas said.
“Obviously.” She swiveled the binoculars. “I assume the big black SUV is Alex’s?”
“Yeah. The guy has a thing for black.”
“What about the little tan compact?”
“Probably belongs to his client,” Thomas said.
“No. Be interesting to see who gets into it, though.”
“I wonder if we could get arrested for this,” Leonora said.
“Watching Rhodes’s house? Doubt it.”
“If we do get picked up, I want you to remember that this was your idea.”
“You were pretty eager to come along, as I recall.”
“Okay, I’ll admit that the way Alex approached me this afternoon was very suspicious. And I certainly didn’t want you coming out here without me. But I don’t see what we’re going to learn by watching his clients come and go.”
“You’re bored, aren’t you?”
“A little,” she admitted. “I’m also cold. This fog is getting thicker by the minute.”
“I warned you this might take some patience.”