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Dear Angel of Mercy,
I know your busy watching over all the children. But please can you help Mommy. She is sad all day. We are in a new place now and Daddy does not know where I am. But Mommy crys all day and says she cant stop. I want too cry to but dont becuase I know your watching and will help me soon.
I killed a guy last month.
A horn sounded behind me, and I jumped. A quick glance told me the light had turned green, so I shook myself out of my reverie and put my foot on the gas pedal. What passed for rush hour in Balboa, California, wasn't over yet, and I was interfering with the morning commute.
My office was only about two miles from my beachfront apartment, and the route had less than five traffic lights, so you'd think I'd be able to make it to work without getting sucked into a spiral of self-doubt and terror. I killed Dominic. Deliberately.
I wasn't afraid I'd be caught. I was pretty sure I had dodged that bullet. No, what woke me from a sound sleep almost every night was the cold dread that I would lose control again. Harm someone again. Put people I cared about in danger again. I have no business doing this. I've got to stop kidding myself. I've got to
Yet another horn blared, and I jumped. Geeze, two trances in two lights. A new record.
Waving apologetically at the driver of the BMW hugging my bumper, I put the Honda into gear and sped out of his way. I probably should have walked or ridden my bicycle to work, as long as the perfect Southern California fall weather was holding out. But walking gave me too much time to think, something I was lately trying to avoid. And my one attempt to ride the bicycle with Cupcake in tow had been a disaster.
To distract myself as I drove the last few blocks to where I rented a parking space from a boat builder on the Lido Peninsula, I pondered the problem of Cupcake, who was standing in the backseat with his face squeezed against the window's narrow opening. I had acquired him less than a month agoon the same day that I killed Dominic, actuallyand I had sort of a joint-ownership agreement with my office manager. My apartment was bigger and had a patio along the boardwalk and the beach, so at the moment the one-hundred-and-thirty-five-pound rottweiler was bunking with me.
Cupcake, formerly known as Cujo, had been previously owned by a sleazeball who had not only thought it would be a great idea to have him trained to attack, but to respond to obscure voice commands. Nothing obvious like "kill" or "dis-member," either. The two commands I had accidentally stumbled across so far were "nail file" and "bumblebee." Neither discovery had been made at a particularly convenient time, and I was living in fear that someone would say something like "hop-scotch" and the otherwise mild-mannered canine would tear some innocent bystander's throat out.
I pulled into the parking space a few minutes early, got out and opened the back door. Cupcake obediently waited for the leash to be snapped onto his collar before tugging me toward the stairs to my office. He knew what was waiting behind the door marked Mercedes Hollings, Hypnotherapy.
"Cupcake!" Sukey squealed as if she hadn't seen the mutt in months, when in fact she'd taken him for a run on the beach the previous evening. He put his big paws on her desk so that he looked more or less directly into her face. "How's my lover boy? Is he just the best boy in the whole wide world? Yes he is!" Her red curls jostled as she and Cupcake rubbed noses.
"Good morning, Mercy." Sukey managed to hand me a sheet of paper between sloppy dog kisses. I reviewed my day's appointments, noting an addition since the previous evening.
"Tiffany Wentworth. Did she say what she wants?"
"Nope. She said she'd rather talk to you about it. Cupcake!"
The enormous paws had knocked a book to the floor at my feet. I picked it up and read the cover. "The Exciting World of Private Investigation. When did you get this?"
"Last week." Sukey took the book out of my hands, her face coloring. She is sunshine to my darkness, in appearance as well as personality, and the flush of color on her freckled cheeks made her look like a naughty cherub.
"Since when are you interested in private investigation?" I tried to keep my amusement out of my voice.
Sukey shrugged, refusing to meet my gaze. "I thought it might come in handy."
"Handy how?" Needing caffeine, I went to the alcove and looked at the enormous coffee machine Sukey had purchased the previous week. It was made of chrome and had an assortment of unlabeled nozzles and levers. "Do you know how to work this thing?"
She came out from behind the desk and opened the cabinet door over the machine. "Sure." She took a bag of coffee beans from the cabinet and opened a hatch on top of the chrome monster. "I thought I might be able to help you find out about you know."
"About what?" But she was right. I knew.
About Dominic. She didn't say it aloud, but I heard her just the same. And about what you are.
"I wish you wouldn't do that." I tried not to sound angry, but I was annoyed, and she knew it.
"So you say. But we need to talk about it."
I sighed heavily. "What do you want to talk about, Sukey?"
"About Dominic. About this telepathy stuff. About that pressing thing you do with your clients. Everything." She punched a button, and the electric coffee grinder started turning, emitting a high-pitched whine that prevented conversation.
It didn't matter, however, if the grinding sound drowned out voices. I didn't need to be able to hear Sukey for her to talk to me.
You promised me we would try to find out more about it. I heard her loud and clear, even the slightly petulant attitude.
I had only just discovered I was telepathic, so I wasn't sure whether Sukey's communications actually sounded the same as her voice, or if I unconsciously translated them into the tones I was accustomed to hearing. Dominic's messages had come through in his real voice, too. So far, I hadn't heard thoughts from anyone else. I guessed they would have to come from a stranger for me to find out about the voice thing.
The coffee grinder stopped whining, and the water began to trickle, sending up a fragrance that almost made me moan. Sukey got down two mugs, along with a heavy bowl that had Love Puppy painted on the side in bone-shaped letters.
She set the two mugs under the nozzles and pushed a button. Fresh coffee streamed, and I salivated like one of Pavlov's dogs. She filled Cupcake's bowl with water from the small sink next to the coffeemaker.
With a pointed expression on her face, she handed me the mug. I sighed again. She was rightI had promised. And there was no avoiding her, since I'd made her my office manager. I saw her every day, and now we had this crazy psychic connection. In fact, it was getting steadily stronger, had been since the day I'd saved her life. By killing Dominic. Who, incidentally, had been the one to show me I was telepathic in the first place. Unfortunately, that was achieved by putting some really nasty images in my head.
Sukey thought it was the coolest thing in the world. I wasn't nearly as enthusiastic, although it had saved me from having to invest in an intercom system for the office.
"Okay. After my last appointment this afternoon, maybe we can spend a little time working on it."
Sukey grinned like a happy six-year-old. "Can we do an experiment? I have some ideas."
I'd bet she had. "We'll see." She hummed to herself as she took one of the coffees back to her desk. We both knew she would talk me into whatever mad idea she had dreamed up.
And I'm the one who's supposed to be able to get anyone to do anything.
The door behind me opened, and I turned, expecting to see my first client of the day. A vaguely familiar man was standing in the doorway. He nodded at me, but his eyes moved toward the desk, lighting up when they found their target.
"Hi, Sukey. I got your note."
Sukey came around the desk. "Mercy, you know Carl, don't you? From downstairs?"
He held out a hand and, shaking it, I remembered where I'd met him: last month's opening reception for my hypnotherapy office. He worked for the graphic design firm in the large suite below ours.
"I asked Carl if he could help me with some Internet search stuff." She held up the private investigation book. "I'm on chapter four'Your Computer is Your Sidekick.'"
A frisson of alarm almost soured my coffee. Sukey was the only person in the entire world who knew my secret, and I intended to keep it that way for as long as possible. I didn't like the idea of anyone looking over her shoulder.
Before I could think of a way to avert this potential disaster, the door opened again. This time it was my client. I ushered him into the therapy room, giving Sukey what I hoped was a significant look before closing the door. I shouldn't have bothered. She was already pulling the client chair around the desk so she and Carl could sit together, and she wasn't paying the least bit of attention to me.
What I do requires concentration. The sign on the door says Hypnotherapy, and my goals for each session are probably consistent with what I advertise. But I had an advantage my fellow graduates of the West Coast Institute for Healing Arts and Sciences did not. I called it pressing.
I asked enough questions to determine what the person really wanted to dostop smoking, eat better, be patient with their teenaged kidand instructed them to do it, but with an extra mental shove behind the words. When Sukey had asked me what it felt like, I told her it was like when a door sticks and you have to lean against it a little to get it open. Not very hardjust enough to overcome resistance.
My clients did what I told them to do. Exactly as they understood it. Without exception.
Which meant getting it wrong could be disastrous. Which was one of the reasons I was currently walking around with a cold piece of lead the size of a basketball in my stomach.
Happily, this morning's client was a slam dunk. I'm not sure I could have handled anything more complex. Ken was a fifty-year-old businessman recovering from his first heart attack, and he was having trouble sticking with the health regimen his cardiologist had prescribed. Guys like this were the reason I had opened my office. He needed help. I could help him. He got healthy. I got paid. No one got hurt.
Actually, getting paid hadn't been that much of a factor, although I did have an extortionate lease payment that was a big part of my monthly reality. I had been seeking a way to prove I wasn't fundamentally evil.
Killing Dominic hadn't helped.
After ending Ken's session with a reminder to renew his gym membership, I emerged from the therapy room to see if my newly added client had arrived. She hadn't.
Sukey excused herself from the lesson long enough to collect a payment, but Carl showed no sign of leaving and was making friends with Cupcake.
"So, what have you two been working on?"
Carl looked up while rubbing the wide plane that stretched between the silky ears. Cupcake moaned in appreciation.
"I've been showing her how to use site indexes. She's catching on really fast."
"For what sites?" I kept my tone neutral, not wanting to betray any motive other than idle curiosity.