by Kay Hooper
They had learned the effectiveness of such glimpses, and just how to build on them, just how to elicit the fear and even panic that served them so well.
First only a glimpse, barely noticed, easily dismissed. Nothing identifiable except that black leather jacket, a subliminal trigger of uneasiness for so many people in this culture, a hint of danger. Then a glimpse elsewhere, here and there along the regular routine, and so the almost wordless suspicion of being followed.
A glimpse just before darkness. Slipping away, too far to identify except by that jacket. A glimpse in the neighborhood, outside a store, a theater, a church. At the bank, the dry cleaners, the local coffee shop, a favorite restaurant. A lurking presence that could not be innocent and so had to be potentially dangerous.
He was watching. Was he following? What did he want?
A glimpse outside, across the street, the automatic checking that doors and windows were safely locked for the night interrupted by uneasiness. Locks checked again. Security systems tested and set. Because everyone knew stalkers weren’t just after celebrities, not anymore.
So . . . possible. Maybe. A faceless enemy.
Somebody watching? Somebody waiting for a chance, the right moment in which to act . . .
Shattering the illusion of safety.
They had learned well how to unsettle, to worry, to panic.
People who panicked made things so much easier.
People who panicked made mistakes.
Grace Seymore woke to darkness, and for a long and panicked minute or two she thought she was blind. But then she realized she could see dim shapes around her. People moving—but with an eerie silence.
She wanted to speak, to call out a question and demand someone tell her what the hell was going on, but for some reason she was unable to make a sound. And her memory was . . . fuzzy. She thought she had been at home, taking advantage of the waning winter sunlight to do a little yard work. Not that she could do much except weed this time of year, but that was enough, that was necessary, and it kept her from thinking very much.
Her second marriage had just crumbled around her, and Grace felt nothing but bitterness about that. It wasn’t her fault, after all, that she’d been born with the family curse. She’d been raised to hide it, naturally, since it totally creeped people out if she reached for a phone before it began to ring, or knew things about people she shouldn’t have known.
It wasn’t her fault her abilities had grown stronger over the years.
That they’d grown more and more difficult to hide.
As for the two men she had loved and married, she honestly couldn’t decide if she was a bad judge of character or if both husbands had simply been unable to live with a woman who too often knew exactly whom they’d had lunch with that day.
Or that they’d spent that lunch in a motel room.
Grace pushed that out of her mind and tried to remember today. She had been on her knees wrestling with a stubborn weed and then . . . nothing. A moment of icy coldness that had made her wonder idly if a rare winter storm was heading for Charleston—and then blackness.
Now, she was . . . here. Wherever here was. Lying on something hard, in darkness, unable to speak. And—when she tried—unable to move.
She was strapped down.
Hard as she tried, no sound escaped her. Fear became terror, roiling around in her mind and body, leaving her even colder than she had been in this cold place. In desperation, she reached out with that other sense, that curse she’d been born with.
Shadows. Misshapen, distorted, blacker than black. Sliding away when she tried to focus on them, uttering low sounds that made the hair rise on the nape of her neck in a primitive response.
Bad. Very bad. Evil. Not . . . human. And they want . . . they want me . . . they . . . No. Oh, please, no! Don’t make me . . .
But she couldn’t protest out loud. Couldn’t cry out against the prick of a needle that made the fear recede, made her feel as though she were floating on a peaceful sea. For a moment. And then she became aware that they were moving her body, spreading her legs, raising her knees.
Oh, God, no!
Their hands on her were cold, so cold, and she could feel breathing, even colder than the touch, cold and reeking of something that smelled old, older than the earth, older than time. She wanted to cry out, to scream a protest, but she could make no sound.
No sound when she felt them penetrating her body. No sound when she understood what it was they were doing to her.
Grace Seymore could do nothing except lie naked and exposed on a cold table in a cold, dark room, while the monsters changed her life forever.
John Brodie was always cautious; it was his nature as well as his job. But he was more cautious than usual about this particular meeting because even the idea of it made him profoundly uneasy.
There were so few in law enforcement they could trust.
A precious few, as he had been reminded.
“He can help us, John.”
“From all accounts, he has his hands full with that unit of his.”
“All the better for us. Despite their efforts to remain low-key in the public eye, the truth is that the Special Crimes Unit is the most safely visible group of psychics we know of—and they’re within law enforcement. We haven’t been able to find a reliable, trustworthy source inside law enforcement; to have someone like Bishop on our side can give us an enormous edge.”
“I don’t know about that, boss. We don’t know who Duran has on his payroll. It seems every time we turn around, we stumble over another dirty cop or fed working for his side.” Brodie found that knowledge very grim, and it showed.
“Granted. Which makes it vital for us to have a well-placed source of our own. Someone with high-level access to information and the authority to act with virtual autonomy. Someone who knows the value of discretion. Someone who knows about psychics and psychic abilities, quite likely more than we know. But aside from all that, just to have a unit chief inside the FBI . . . You know what that could be worth, potentially, John.”
“He has as many political enemies as he does allies.”
“Arguable, I suppose.”
“Do we really want to catch the attention of either?”
“I don’t believe we will. Not through Bishop. No one else on his team, other than his wife, knows about us. He says he doesn’t plan on sharing with his team, unless and until we okay it, and I believe him.”
“Yeah, maybe, but isn’t his team largely made up of telepaths? I’m guessing it’s hard to keep a secret in that group. And even if he manages that, odds are that sooner or later one of his people is going to have a close encounter with either one of our psychics or else with somebody on the other side, and if he or she is as powerful as Bishop’s people are supposed to be, then we’ve got even bigger trouble than we have now.”
She was thoughtful. “Maybe not. The one thing most of Bishop’s people have that ours tend to lack is consistent experience in using their abilities, and much stronger shielding to close out the minutiae of everyday life, the background chatter that tends to bombard most telepaths and clairvoyants. With only a few exceptions our psychics are rarely able to shield effectively and are understandably wary of exploring the limits of their abilities. And rightly so, since we know it draws all the wrong kind of attention to them. So even those who use their abilities do so defensively, not as weapons or even tools.
“But Bishop’s agents use their abilities as investigative tools, often openly and virtually always under the intense pressure of deadly conditions, and under law enforcement and media scrutiny.”
“Okay, but I don’t see how that helps us.”
“I don’t know that it will, except in the sense of keeping them too well known to be co
nsidered viable targets; having a team of powerful psychics beyond the reach of the other side could be an ace in our pocket. And maybe there’s a lot we can learn from Bishop in the meantime. As a good-faith gesture, he’s provided us with an extensive file containing information on several of their more complex investigations, cases where psychic abilities made the difference between success and failure.”
“Names redacted, I assume,” Brodie offered dryly.
“Of course. As well as some of the details on nonpsychic aspects of the cases. Which is understandable, given his position. I’d be less trusting if he seemed willing to share everything.”
“True enough. Is any of the info helpful?”
“Maybe. Some of his people have displayed some pretty remarkable abilities, which at the very least makes room for possibilities with our own psychics. Those willing might be able to learn how to make better use of their abilities and even shift the balance in this struggle. We have people going through the file.”
“Well, let me know what they find if there’s anything useful to us. I, for one, really am getting tired of mostly fighting a holding action. In the meantime, what I want to know is how Bishop found out about us. None of us approached him, right?”
“Certainly not officially, though as you said, it was bound to happen that he or one of his team would encounter one of us. That’s what happened, and why he asked for a meet.”
“Who did he cross paths with?”
Brodie sighed. “And you’re not going to tell me.”
“It isn’t necessary for you to know, not just now. All you need to know is that he was already aware there was a . . . situation. And that his awareness makes sense. He’s spent years searching for and tracking psychics, for the SCU and for that civilian investigative organization he co-founded, Haven. He’s apparently crossed paths with a number of us at various times, and even interviewed a few psychics who weren’t suitable for law enforcement work but who later joined us. Since he’s far from being stupid, he realized—a long time ago, I think—that something was going on. He began to notice patterns, the same sort of patterns that alerted so many of us. Psychics he met there one day and gone the next. Too many convenient accidents involving psychics to be coincidence. Too many reported deaths with no bodies recovered, or bodies too damaged to be identified by more than dental records or DNA—both of which we know the other side can and does plant or fake.
“The other side has taken extreme forensic countermeasures, including spreading out their activities so that no one law enforcement agency would be able to connect even two events, given differing jurisdictions and the reluctance of most agencies to share information. There was no notice on a national scale or by any federal organization, no awareness that something was happening. Until Bishop saw it.”
“I’m surprised he didn’t launch an investigation,” Brodie said.
“I’m not. He was building his unit and forging as many potentially useful connections as he could find, both inside the FBI, other areas of law enforcement, and in the private sector, all the while working to make sure psychic abilities as investigative tools would be taken seriously within the FBI and other law enforcement. Everything grounded and reasonable, not fanciful or outlandish. Abilities based at least on scientific possibilities, nothing mystical or magical, no mystery about it, nothing that isn’t entirely human and even remarkably commonplace. If he had gone out publicly or even within the FBI and declared there was a conspiracy to abduct or kill psychics, reasons unknown but mysterious, how long do you think he would have lasted, let alone his unit?”
“True,” Brodie admitted grudgingly. “He wouldn’t have been taken seriously at all, and that had to be the last thing he wanted. Bad for his purposes and work, but best for ours. It’s what’s kept our problems on a par with Bigfoot and alien abductions as far as the media is concerned. On the rare occasions when something is noticed, at best we’re conspiracy nuts and at worst deluded people imagining some faceless enemy around every corner. Not fun to be considered crazy, but we’d never be able to operate as quietly as we do otherwise.”
“Well, I give Bishop credit for not only noticing, but finding the time and energy to put enough disparate pieces together to realize something was going on. Not his line, not serial killers or other murderous psychopaths, not crimes the FBI could or would legitimately investigate. But something involving psychics, and if there’s one thing I’m certain of, it’s that he knows and values psychics.”
“True he’s one himself?”
“A touch-telepath, very powerful. He also has an ability to focus his normal senses in a hyperacute way his team informally refers to as spider senses.”
“Comic book terms?”
“Well, informally. But it’s something that allows him—and some members of his team—to see and hear things normally beyond the limits of those senses.”
Brodie eyed her. “He’s seen them?”
“I’m not sure it’s that definite. All I can tell you is that he knows about the shadows. Calls them that, a term he was not given by any of us. And says they’re something he’s never sensed even in the worst cases the SCU has investigated.”
“Comforting,” Brodie said sardonically. “I’m assuming he’d have to touch one to know for sure?”
“I assume the same thing. Though even if he did touch one of them, there’s at least a twenty-five to thirty percent chance he wouldn’t read anything from them, assuming they can be read. Bishop says his solid range tends to be about seventy-five percent of the people he meets; those he can read. Others are apparently not on his . . . frequency.”
“What happens if he touches somebody like me, somebody on our side without much of a shield who knows maybe too many of our secrets? Do I shake hands with the man and give up more information than I want?”
“Brodie, he’s perfectly aware of his own abilities, and despite having his shields raised—which he promised to do—I’m betting he’ll take care not to touch you at all. He wants to help and protect psychics, and that means he wants our trust. Being suddenly in possession of too many of our secrets without our permission wouldn’t exactly be a good first step.”
“Okay. But, so far, I’m not seeing much benefit for us in taking him into our confidence.”
“John, he can get us access to the kind of information we could never get on our own even with all the sources we do have, and he can do it quickly.”
“Without attracting official notice?”
“If anyone can, it’s Bishop. Plus, I’m betting he knows the whereabouts of a lot more psychics than we do, and the word I got was that he monitors those he’s met—and a few he hasn’t. He keeps eyes on them, or has a different way to monitor them, but however he does it, he knows what’s going on with them. Maybe even in time to save some of them. And from a purely practical point of view, just because he knows they aren’t suitable for the FBI or investigative work when he encounters them doesn’t mean he believes that’s always going to be true, or isn’t aware they might someday need his help or protection.”
After a moment, Brodie shook his head. “Mine not to reason why, I guess.”
“You know better than that. And you also know that if you aren’t convinced Bishop can be trusted and can help us once you’ve met him, that’s it. He won’t be brought into any of the cells or used as a resource.”
“But he’ll still be aware of us, boss.”
“We can’t stop that. Also can’t stop him trying to put the puzzle pieces together on his own, something I doubt very much we want to happen.” She paused, then added, “He kept an eye on the situation with Sarah and Tucker. In fact, I’m reasonably sure he was present more than once while they were trying to get to safety, remaining in the background observing unobtrusively.”
Brodie opened his mouth and then closed it, frowning.
ed. “Yeah, there was no way he could step in to help, not when he wasn’t sure what was going on. He likely would have made bad worse, and I give him credit for recognizing that.”
“Okay, that makes a certain amount of sense. Anything else I should know about him?”
“He shares his wife’s precognitive abilities. Extremely powerful precognitive abilities.”
Brodie frowned. “Have they seen a future in this?”
“If so, Bishop didn’t say. Why don’t you ask him?”
“Maybe I will. Because if he has that answer . . .”
“Then he could be a lot more to us than merely another useful resource, another ace in the hole. He could be a game changer.”
Moving had seemed like a very good idea.
Tasha Solomon had, around six months before, sold the Atlanta house her parents had left her and bought a condo in the downtown area of Charleston. It had cost her a pang to give up the house, but since her parents had shared a nomadic nature as well as jobs that allowed them to settle in different parts of the country for a few years at a time, they had lived in the house for less than a decade before their deaths in a car accident.
And since Tasha had been in college for part of that time, she really didn’t have all that many family memories associated with the house. But it was the last place she had shared with her parents, and clearing it out to put it on the market, boxing up memories to put into storage, had been unexpectedly painful.
She might have kept the house, except that the vague uneasiness that had plagued her since shortly after her parents’ death had grown stronger in the year afterward.
She did not like being alone.
There was something . . . vulnerable about it.
It hadn’t helped that the house was a solid one with good locks on the doors and windows and a dandy security system she’d updated herself. It hadn’t helped that neighbors were friendly and helpful, and that the house was, really, in a very good, historically safe neighborhood where little was really required for security except a deadbolt.