From the author of "Now You See Her" comes a second compelling installment inthe new series featuring psychic-sleuth Regina Cutter.
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All in One Piece
By Cecelia Tishy
Mysterious PressCopyright © 2006 Cecelia Tichi
All right reserved.
Chapter OneI've never been a careless person. Crossing the street, I look both ways. Of course I do. My reflexes are razor sharp, and I'm a brisk walker. At the end of this city block, a small blue car is moving slowly up Barlow Square as I tug my dog's lead and step off the curb at a good clip.
The car speeds up, its squealing tires a signal that it's gaining on me. The dog trots ahead, but my gut radar says step it up. A power walker in slacks and a sweater, I clutch my purse and, stupidly, a hot latte in my right hand.
The car is racing. My left arm signals slow down. Instead, it speeds up. The dog tugs, and I grip the latte and break into a run. There's too much glare to see the driver. The sidewalk is just a few feet ahead. The dog springs to the curb. The car aims like a missile. I sprint.
Bang!-it clips me. I pitch forward. Knee and elbow strike the asphalt, and the latte arcs and splashes as I sprawl flat, my handbag flying as pain rockets to my shoulder. My cheek smacks into a pool of steaming coffee, and the car speeds off, the car that hit me. Spangles of light flash behind my eyes as the dog whines and everything goes black.
Do minutes pass? Seconds? I'm still here in the street, sipping air, too winded to move. I breathe a mix of coffee, tailpipe exhaust, andburning rubber. The pavement is cold, and my knee is on fire.
Footsteps. I hear footsteps.
"Are you all right?" A tenor voice at my ear says, "I saw you fall. Can you speak?"
My lips are gritty, my mouth full of sand and stones. My eyes water from the pain. Quietly I spit.
"Let's get you off the street. Don't worry, your dog is right here." Strong arms tug at my good arm. I see ruddy cheeks, chestnut hair, and soft gray eyes. He wears a bomber jacket like the one I sent my son, Jack, last winter. Confused, I murmur, "Jack-"
Steven, of course. It's Steven Damelin, my new upstairs tenant. He holds the dog's lead, and Biscuit stays close at my side as I limp a step or two. "My calf-" Pain scissors the back of my right leg where the bumper hit. There's no sign of the hit-and-run car. "Did you see the license plate?" My voice quavers.
"Here," he says, "sit down on the curb." The latte cup scuds away in a chill gust of October wind. Biscuit whines. No one else is on the sidewalk.
"It was blue." I shiver. "A small car, maybe Japanese."
"Maybe a BMW."
Nausea rolls in waves. My slacks are ripped at the knee. Blood seeps through. I wipe a sleeve across my wet cheek. "It's as though it aimed for me. It came right at me."
"You crossed at midblock." He gets my handbag from the street and holds it awkwardly. "Can you move your arms and legs? Try to move."
I do. Everything hurts. My best wool slacks, ruined. "Nothing seems broken." It takes great energy to say this. I'm winded, bruised, maybe sprained. Fracture? I look up at his kind face, a man in his early thirties. "That car came right at me."
"I saw you fall. I saw you from my window on the second floor. Let's get you inside."
Clutching his arm, I rise and smell his aftershave-tropical lime in humid midautumn Boston. The granite stoop is torture. These Victorian brick town houses all have high steps, a stretch even for a beagle. I take my bag and fumble for keys to the outside door, then to my vestibule entrance.
"Let me help you into your place, Ms. Cutter."
Cutter? Yes, it is my name, although I'm still getting used to it after twenty-five years as Mrs. Martin Baynes and as Gina, which was my ex's, Marty's, choice. But now it's back to Reggie, which was my childhood nickname here in this South End town house that I inherited from my late Aunt Jo.
"Step in, Ms. Cutter."
"Reggie," I say, then push my voice above the pain in my elbow and knee. "Call me Reggie."
He guides me to the love seat, settles me against the cushions, and unclips Biscuit's lead. She sits. I unzip my bag and grope for the phone. "I'm calling the police."
"Let me get you some ice. Try to relax."
But my cell phone is dead. I take out a Kleenex and daub my bloody knee, a city Purple Heart after years in the sanctuary of the suburbs, where the biggest kick is a double espresso at Starbucks.
Was the latte my undoing? Free of that cup, would I have beaten the bumper, or would the driver have chased me onto the sidewalk? What if the dog hadn't jumped in time?
Stop the mental replay, Reggie. Take comfort in your new home of these last months, surrounded by Aunt Jo's familiar old furniture, the bentwood rocker, kilim rugs, chenille throw, books crammed everywhere. A few of my own pieces are in place as well. As Marty's long-term corporate wife, I got my share of nicer things and brought a few of them when the divorce was finalized and I moved to Boston last winter. None of it comforts me now.
"Let's put these on your knee and elbow."
Steven offers two neat packets of cracked ice in Ziplocs wrapped in kitchen towels. I thank him. Would my own grown kids be this attentive? Jack would skip the towels. Molly would turn the ice pack into a funky art object. Or am I just feeling sorry for myself? "Look outside at the street," I say. "About ten feet up from my VW Beetle, see the coffee spill?"
"That's where the car hit me."
"You crossed at midblock."
"Do you think the driver was joyriding?"
"I doubt it."
"Or some kind of initiation rite?"
"Or somebody who's seen too many action movie car chases? Or plays video games? Because it aimed at me."
"I'm sure the driver didn't see you. It was an accident."
"Sped at me. Another second crossing that street, I'd be in ..." The word is "morgue," but I say, "ICU."
"Perhaps you're not quite used to the city."
"You think I was jaywalking?"
He points at my scuffed, dirty handbag. "A little saddle soap, it should clean up nicely."
"It was hit-and-run."
But his eyes do not meet mine.
"Hit-and-run," I repeat.
He gives me the same pitiful caregiver look that the hospital aides gave my aunt in her final days last winter.
"I'm calling the police right now."
"Why not give the ice a chance to work first?" He faces me in Jo's rocker, obviously at ease in my late aunt's home. Well, that's why I agreed to the six-month sublet-because Steven Damelin knew my late aunt. Otherwise I'd require the long-term tenant, a dentist, to meet his lease obligations while he tests experimental novocaine in developing countries, meaning the parts of the world that Marty called Emerging Markets, as if those places don't have actual names.
"Steven, please hand me the phone on that table. I want to call the police, actually a certain detective."
"Your Aunt Jo's favorite detective? Is he yours now?"
My favorite? I'd never call Homicide Detective Francis Devaney anybody's personal detective, not Jo's and certainly not my own. Is Steven Damelin being ironic? "The detective is an acquaintance," I say. "It's on a professional basis."
"So you work for cops too. Are you a psychic, like your aunt?"
What to say to this? Psychic, as you know, is a touchy topic. Skeptics sneer in disbelief, while true believers think you're an extraterrestrial. Both sides expect a Twilight Zone trick instantly.
"Your aunt told me psychic powers run in families."
"That's true. But abilities vary, Steven. It's not like the TV shows, instantly on and flowing like tap water. Jo was very advanced, probably because she embraced her sixth sense throughout her lifetime. The paranormal faculty needs, well, a certain cultivation. It's like, use it or lose it. For me, it's a relatively recent thing. Let's say that I'm playing catch-up with my psychic ability. I have a learner's permit."
"But you're the next generation of Cutter psychics. So let me tell you, that detective kept your Aunt Jo busy. Between Boston crime and the terrorism threats, you'll be in high demand."
Steven Damelin seems to think the first aid entitles him to full familiarity, but I'm finding this Boy Scout a bit too brash. "Jo took her psychic ability very seriously," I say. "She considered it a great responsibility. It was as serious as her teaching career."
"Oh yes, I know. You see that glass bottle there on the top bookshelf?"
I turn. "The pale green glass?"
"It's an old whiskey bottle handed down from my family. I gave it to Jo. That's when I found out she was psychic. She said when she held it, the bottle gave her a picture of people yelling and a skull cracked too."
"But she accepted the gift because she also felt strong currents of hope. She said teaching high school was an act of hope too." He shrugs. "I mean, whatever. I'm from an old mill town north of Boston, and it was just a bottle around the house when I was a kid. I thought your aunt would like it. She liked old stuff. The psychic reaction, it was like an allergy."
He sounds too flip. "Jo Cutter never trifled with her psychic power," I say. "Until her final days, she used her sixth sense for the cause of criminal justice and was equally committed to social justice. To her, the two were entwined, and her community activism was legendary. That's how you met her, right, Steven?" This is a prompt. I want to hear him recite what I already know from my Realtor friend's background check on this man, who is a financial analyst needing a place for a few months while his new condo is renovated.
Steven pushes back his thick chestnut hair. His face is open and eager. "That's right. I met Jo through the Big Buddies mentoring program. She's the reason I got linked up with Luis. We go to movies, shoot pool, sit together in the bleachers at Sox games. His mother works two jobs, no dad in the picture. How's that elbow-?"
"The cold feels good."
"Okay. Anyway, I try to keep Luis in school, help him with homework projects. He's already taller than me. Fifteen years old, and he's pushing six feet. I'm starting to talk to him about college. But yeah, your Aunt Jo got the program organized. What a dynamo. It seems like she was in every good cause in the South End, maybe the whole city. Retirement didn't slow her down one bit. She had a gang of us here for chowder once. I remember this cute dog." He reaches down to scratch Biscuit's rump and admires her markings. "This was Jo's dog, wasn't it? I guess she's yours now."
"Yes, you could say Biscuit's mine." In fact, she's half mine. Jo willed her equally to two owners. Don't ask me why.
"This dog's a chowder hound ... Jo made the best chowder in New England."
"Steven, I ate it as a child in this very house."
"You must have your aunt's recipe."
But I don't. To Marty, shellfish are the filth of the sea. He likes Omaha steaks. I could run the grill at Morton's or the Palm or Ruth's Chris. "The chowder," I say, "Jo made it by ... by heart." The moment sags. Biscuit lies down. I shift the ice packs.
Steven says, "Reggie, you're perfectly free to call the police, but do you really want the aggravation?"
"Someone hit me. I'm a citizen. I have a duty."
"First duty to yourself. You're upset. You need to rest for a while."
"Resting isn't my style. The police need to know about the hit-and- ..." But I realize Steven won't corroborate my story. He'll call it an accident and say I was jaywalking, in effect discredit me. "Steven, you've been wonderful, but I must let you get back upstairs to work. I have some things to do." Reggie, I tell myself, assert your authority as landlady. "Is everything okay upstairs? Are you getting enough heat?"
"It's toasty, everything's great. Let me see your eyes ... checking for dilation."
But he plants himself in the rocker. "So here's something to think about, Reggie. You could use some good cheer today. Here's an opportunity." Suddenly the medic sounds like a telemarketer. One way or another, I want him out. Every joint and muscle cries its protest as I swing my legs down and sit straight, inching forward to signal enough.
"Your Aunt Jo and I got close over the last year before she got sick, Reggie. There was a deal we were working on together. We kept it confidential. Something good for both of us. I'd like to tell you about it as soon as you feel better. Maybe you'd be interested."
"Maybe some other time." "Deal" was Marty's mantra, a word I can't stand.
"A very favorable investment. As conservative as your aunt was about money, she saw the wisdom of this deal."
"Steven, from now on, I'm a woman of modest means."
His smile broadens. "No problem. There are ways."
"Maybe we can talk about it in a week or so."
And that ends it for now. The light is fading, but Steven's smile is a halogen lamp. The youngish man silhouetted in my door frame-that's the parting image. Sometimes I think back and wish it was just that innocent, a moment when time hung still-just before events again shoved me from behind, shoved me with a force of flesh and bone smashed against cold rock. Shoved me so hard that today's hit-and-run was just a teaser.
Excerpted from All in One Piece by Cecelia Tishy Copyright © 2006 by Cecelia Tichi. Excerpted by permission.
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