I didn’t want to see the poor kid. I didn’t want to see any of them anymore.
I clutched my head and yelled, trying to wash my brain clean of the bloody images. I pitied my neighbors on nights like these. My shirt was soaked with sweat, and my stomach churned as I forced myself out of the vision. I panted and clutched the sheet to my chin, my heart racing like a freight train toward a wall. My mouth was as dry as sand, my eyes blurry.
Sitting up, I threw my legs over the edge of the bed, pushing down the bile in my throat. Once my breathing steadied, I flicked on a lamp and sipped the stale water on the nightstand. It tasted like crap. My gaze wandered to the empty side of the bed. Even after nine months I always checked for William. Of course he wasn’t there. He wasn’t anywhere anymore, and the sooner I accepted that, the better off I’d be.
At times like these I wished I believed in God. Would it comfort me to think I’d see William again someday, or would it simply make the wait for the end even more tedious? I glanced at my wrists and the puckered red scars that paralleled my veins, standing stark against my pale skin. What if I’d succeeded? If there was a heaven, then I guess there’d have to be a hell. It was hard to imagine Saint Peter welcoming me at the gates of Heaven. More likely he’d have told me to take a hike. William would have been welcomed though. He’d been a good soul.
My cell startled me when it rang, and I pressed my palm to my pounding chest and answered. “Yes?”
“Liam?” Detective Thompson’s tense voice came over the line. “Did I wake you?”
“Another one.” It wasn’t a question. I knew what a call at two in the morning meant. It was never good news. Never.
“I’m afraid so. Did you already see something?”
“I always see something.” My voice was monotone, flat. Had I ever been any different? I must have been or William wouldn’t have loved me.
“I’ll pick you up in an hour.”
I wasn’t up to it. I should tell him I couldn’t handle it tonight. I had the right to be sick just like anyone else, didn’t I? I swallowed and tried to say the words. I’m not coming. I won’t help you. Find another psychic, why don’t you?
“Same M.O.?” I asked instead.
“Take a guess.” He sighed and then hung up.
Why wait for my response? He knew I’d come. I couldn’t say no. If I tried, the visions just got worse and worse. Murdered souls didn’t like to be ignored. In fact, they got pretty pissed off when you tried to pretend they weren’t talking to you.
I showered and brushed my teeth. Then I pulled on some jeans and a flannel shirt that still had William’s scent on it. I buried my nose in the soft cotton and pretended he was holding me, stroking my hair and telling me to calm down. Why couldn’t I hear him? Why could I intercept every other soul in the world but not William’s?
There was a knock on the door and I opened it to find Detective Thompson rumpled and tense on the front stoop. He tossed down his cigarette, and I followed him to his car. “Same as before. No letter, just a pink feather in an envelope with a number five written on it.”
No hello, how are you? What would be the point of that?
I grunted as I slid onto the passenger seat. He passed his phone with a picture of the feather and envelope illuminated. “I can’t sense anything from a cell phone photo,” I grumbled.
“I know that. I wanted you to see the envelope in case something struck you that didn’t occur to me.” Thompson started the car and pulled onto the dark road carefully.
Thompson was a strange bird. I didn’t know much about him. I had a sense of him of course. It was surprisingly pleasant, considering his line of work and his ragged appearance. He had a predominantly orange aura, which would usually mean a person who was good-hearted and kind. I’d actually experienced kindness from Thompson if I thought about it. It was the night William died. Thompson had come by the house to check on me. I’d been distraught when I left the hospital, and he must have had a feeling I would try something. He’d found me in my tub trying to bleed to death. I’d had a vague impression that night of him being panicked as he’d held me. I’d even imagined his warm lips brushing my forehead. Of course, that had to be a hallucination because Detective Thompson was all man, muscle, and hard edges. Those kinds of men didn’t kiss you and try to make it better.
“Prostitute again?” I asked, staring out into the dark night. I didn’t want to think about how kind Thompson may or may not be. My reflection in the window from the dash lights looked gaunt. Haunted. I looked away quickly.
“Yes.” Thompson glanced over. “Are you eating?”
I laughed. Not a joyous sound by any means. “That’s an odd question.”
“You look even thinner than usual, and that’s saying something.” He switched the stereo on and the soothing sounds of Enya came through the speakers. My muscles relaxed slightly.
“I’m eating.” When I remember.
He stuck his arm into the back and riffled through some files, grabbing one and tossing it onto my lap. I clutched it before it slid to the carpet. “Samuel Godde. Age seventeen. Runaway. No big surprise there.”
“Don’t these kids get it yet? There’s nowhere to run to.” I turned on the overhead dome light and pulled out a picture of the victim. Nice-looking kid. Good bones. I read the fine print and discovered his parents were Sam and Jean Godde of the Godde Winery. Filthy rich and still this kind of shit could happen to your kid. “Why would this boy turn to prostitution? Mommy and Daddy have plenty of dough.”
“I kind of get the feeling they weren’t on good terms.”
“Have you guys questioned the parents?” I slid the photo back into the folder.
“Not yet. We just found the body three hours ago, and he didn’t have any ID on him.” The acceleration of the car pressed me against the seat as Thompson passed a slow-moving truck ahead of us and slipped safely back into the lane in plenty of time to avoid oncoming traffic. “One of his buddies gave us his name.”
“You mean coworker?”
“Yeah. The kid’s pretty shaken up. Says he almost took this john, but the guy wanted Samuel instead.”
“Lucky kid.” I cleared my throat. “Well, not Samuel.”
Thompson smiled wryly. He had a nice smile. There again another surprise. His teeth were white and amazingly straight considering Thompson looked like a guy who would rather have his eyes poked out than spend time in a dentist chair.
“How are the headaches?” he asked quietly.
I touched my temple and shrugged. “Better.” Liar. But what did Thompson need to know that for? Short answer: he didn’t. I’d always had chronic headaches and probably always would. That was just one more lovely perk of my “gift.”
He tapped his slender fingers on the steering wheel in time to the music. “You need to drink more water. It’s good for your electrolytes.”
“Jesus. You’re worse than having my grandmother along.” I shifted in my seat to face him. “You don’t need to worry about me. I can feel how concerned you are, and it’s not healthy for you.”
He shrugged. “Worrying about others keeps me from worrying about me.”
“I’m flattered that you care, but, well, I’m not looking for a babysitter.”
He didn’t respond. I couldn’t tell if he respected me or not. I knew he hadn’t when we first met. William had talked him into using me. William had been good at convincing people to do things they didn’t really want to do. My partnership with Thompson was a prime example of those people skills. He’d felt I’d be a help to his buddy Thompson, and I’d given in to please William.
We’d left the lights of Los Angeles behind, and it was pitch-black outside now. Off in the distance there were some red flashing lights. I guess some other unfortunate soul had run into trouble tonight.
“That’s three kids in three weeks.” Thompson ran a hand through his shaggy black hair. “Any feelings yet what the hell the pink feathers mean?”
“No. Maybe it has something to do with the victims all being gay?”
“God. That seems so cliché, don’t you think?” He sighed. “And why the number five? I don’t get the message he’s trying to send.”
“Five. Five. Why the number five?” I sighed. “Five is the symbol of human microcosm. We have five senses. Umm… there are five crocodiles of the Nile.”
“Fuck. We really have nothing.”
“Maybe forensics will find something this time.” My gut said no, but I didn’t want to disappoint Thompson. Yet.
“I doubt it.” He exhaled roughly and the faint scent of tobacco and mint wafted toward me. “What uh, what did you see tonight?”
I frowned and my throat was tight against the memories that assaulted me. “Of course, until I see the body I won’t know if it’s Samuel or not in my vision.”
He snorted. “It’s him.”
“I’m glad you have such faith in me.”
“What’d you see?” He repeated his question from earlier.
I squeezed the skin between my eyes. “I saw a pink palm tree.” My stomach rolled. “The kid was crying, and I saw a slit throat and a fuck load of blood.” I wiped my sweaty hands on my thighs and leaned my forehead against the cool glass of the window, trying to drive away the nausea.
I swallowed. “Yeah.” I pressed my lips together. No. You will not throw up in Thompson’s car.
“I’m awesome.” The kid’s crying was ringing in my ears, and I wanted to yell just to drown it out. When Thompson put his hand on my arm, I jerked away instinctively.
He pulled back and laughed dryly. “Sorry. I forgot you don’t like to be touched.”
My laugh was more of a croak. “Just one more thing that makes me super normal.” I huddled down in my seat, crossing my arms across my chest. It wasn’t that I didn’t ever like to be touched. I’d loved it when William had put his hands or lips on me. He’d been able to quiet my mind with just a caress of his fingers.
“What the fuck is normal anyway?” His tone was gentle. He glanced over at me. “You should sleep. It’s going to be a long night.”
I winced. “Oh, God no. I don’t want to sleep.” Not with a case this hot. The visions would be endless and violent. No, much better to stay up at least twelve hours after the murder, when the assault would have faded a little. By then the kid’s voice would be dimmed, and maybe I really would be able to rest.
He cleared his throat. “Have you ever tried any sort of medication?”
“Sometimes.” I took Dramamine if I was desperate. But I didn’t want to go get a prescription for anything stronger. The urge to swallow them all at once might be too great.
“I would think it would dull the dreams and you could sleep.”
He really wanted me to sleep, didn’t he? “Technically they’re not dreams, and I would think you’d want me in my most alert condition?”
“I mean after. After you see the scene couldn’t you rest then?” He sounded sincerely concerned. Maybe he really did deserve his orange aura.
“Well, I don’t want to miss any new stuff that comes through.”
He ran his gaze over my thin frame. “I just worry it’s too much for any one person.”
“Have I complained?” Out loud. I mean, yeah, I complained to the walls nonstop when I was at home.
“No. But like I said, you’re wasting away right in front of my eyes, and it seems like you might need to take steps to protect yourself. The department will use you up and spit you out if you’re not careful.”
“I’m fine.” I hoped I didn’t come off as curt as it sounded in my head. I didn’t mean it like that. But I had no life of my own anymore, so I might as well spend my time solving stubborn cases like these.
“Hey, I’m no psychic, but even I know that’s bullshit.”
“Downtime isn’t pleasant. I prefer to work.”
“Maybe someday I’ll figure out a way to shut off the information that comes in and I’ll actually take a vacation. I’ll lie on a beach sipping a blue drink with an umbrella stuck in it or something.” I tapped my head. “But until then, time off just equals a train station of visions in my head.”
“What do you do about all the other things you see?”
“I politely ask them to shut the fuck up and wait their turn.” I laughed gruffly.
“It must get exhausting.”
I slid my curious glance toward him. He seemed unusually interested in me and my abilities tonight. He didn’t tend to ask me personal questions. He mostly stuck to the case and just the case. “Dramamine helps dull some of the images. Briefly.”
I nodded. “A couple of pills and it’s like everyone in my head takes a short nap.” The effects only lasted about thirty minutes, but it was a nice half hour.
His chuckle was husky, and I had an odd tugging at my stomach at the sound of it. Had he never laughed around me before? Of course he must have. What was different about today? Maybe because he’d touched my arm? Yes, that was probably it. I’d gotten a tiny connection with him because he’d touched me.
He touched you that night you tried to kill yourself.
I jerked my head. “It’s different.” When he looked at me curiously I realized I’d spoken aloud.
I frowned. “Nothing. Just something in my head.”
We were silent for the rest of the trip. After about an hour and a half, he pulled off the main highway and started down a bumpy dirt road toward some bright lights. The police had a forensic tent set up, and the place was crawling with cops. We got out of the car and dipped under the yellow crime-scene tape.
A skinny redhead with a goatee walked over and handed Thompson a plastic evidence bag with the feather and envelope inside. “Same as the other two.” He shot me a look. “Hey, Liam.”
“Tim.” I stood behind Thompson a foot or so, using him as a sort of human shield to block some of the sensory explosions coming at me.
“Where’s the body?” Thompson asked, handing me the plastic bag.
“Over there behind the yucca.” Tim pointed and then continued toward wherever he’d been going when we stopped him.
The kid was lying faceup at the base of the spiky cactus. His pants were missing, and his body was covered with cuts and bruises as if there had been a struggle. He was wearing a bright yellow T-shirt with a pink palm tree appliqué on the front.
“Pink palm tree.” Thompson gestured with his flashlight at the body. “You were right again.”
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