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Police sergeant Carolyn Hamilton stared at her captain with utter disbelief. He was a large man with one of those Irish mugs that seemed to perpetually smile, even when it was totally inappropriate to. Like now. "I'm suspended?"
"Not suspended. Indefinite medical leave, Caro."
"I'm fine! There's nothing wrong with me."
"Except for seeing things that are impossible."
She glared at him, grinding her teeth. Captain Malloy was usually a good boss. Until today she had even liked him. "I saw what I saw."
"That's the problem, isn't it," he said kindly. "Men don't get lifted into the air and impaled on the horns of a stuffed elk head by invisible forces. Just doesn't happen."
"I saw it happen. You explain how he got there."
Malloy shook his head. "I'm sure we'll figure it out. In the meantime, you were involved in a shoot-out last week and that can have unpredictable effects. Delayed shock, that sort of thing."
But he shook his head sternly. "Take the time, Caro. I don't want anything to keep you from getting promoted to detective next month."
That effectively silenced her, although it didn't prevent her from grinding her teeth some more. She'd worked hard for that promotion. If he was going to hold that over her head, she'd better do as told.
But she didn't have to like it.
At least he didn't ask for her badge and her service pistol. She grabbed a few things from her desk, then headed over to Robbery-Homicide to talk to her friend and mentor, Detective Pat Matthews.
"I'm out of here," she told Pat, a striking woman in her forties with short, steely hair and equally steely eyes.
"Medical leave. Indefinite."
Pat waved a hand as if to reassure her. "After that shooting last week."
"Pat, I never even had to draw my gun."
"That's not the point. You go running around here talking about that guy being impaled, your credibility will be shot. Understand? So you're going to take this leave with all the grace you can muster, and you can probably come back in a week or so if you just don't talk about this anymore."
"I know what I saw."
Pat's eyes softened a shade. "I believe you. I believe that you saw it. I believe you didn't imagine it. But we're cops, Caro. We don't handle that kind of stuff, not as part of our jobs and not as part of our worldview. You need to stop talking about it."
"Great. I see a guy murdered and have to shut up about how it happened."
"Only around here," Pat said. She pulled open a desk drawer and hunted around a bit, then handed a business card to Caro.
"Messenger Investigations?" Caro asked.
"Jude Messenger handles the kinds of things we don't. The kinds of things we can't. He's on the weird side, evidently suffers from some medical problem that makes it impossible for him to tolerate daylight, but he's never let me down yet. You talk to him about this, Caro. He won't think you're crazy."
At that moment, Caro honestly didn't know if that was good or bad. She had to admit her story sounded nuts, but she had actually seen it happen. What would it mean about a guy who would believe it without seeing it?
"I'm serious," Pat said quietly. "This isn't cop stuff. This is Jude Messenger stuff. He's good, he's honest and you can trust him."
Caro wandered the streets for two hours after leaving the station. She was back in civvies, her pistol at her waist under her navy blue jacket in a belt case. Its weight seemed to be all she had left to remind her of who she was.
Worse, she continued to feel watched. It had started right at the moment she had witnessed that man's killing, and the feeling hadn't left her since. She was a little psychic but had always kept that to herself, knowing her grandmother's insistence that she was descended from a long line of witches wasn't any kind of proof that would hold water with her fellow policemen.
And she should have had the sense not to mention what she had seen in that house. What in the world had made her think it was her duty to relay a story no one would believe? Simple, stupid honesty, that's what. Because it was her job to help solve such crimes, not impede investigations by withholding information.
Now here she was, wandering the darkening streets alone, with neck-prickling certainty that whatever had killed that man was now keeping its eye on her. Who the hell would believe that?
But she couldn't ignore it any more than she could ignore what she had seen. Finally, not knowing what else to do, she caught a bus to go see Jude Messenger.
She found Messenger Investigations in one of the seedier parts of town. Not unusual for a P.I. who probably made less than the average cop. The office was just below street level, but there was a light on over the door, making it possible for her to see the steps.
At the bottom, facing the closed door, she hesitated. He wasn't going to believe her. She didn't know how much more of that she could take. Yet Pat had recommended him.
She scanned the signs beside the door, saw the agency kept night hours only, but Pat had warned her that Messenger was ill. She also saw a security camera and a button to push for entry.
It seemed like a lot of security for a small-time P.I. She pressed the button, though, and heard a voice say, "Can I help you?"
A young woman's voice that sounded just a little suspicious. Cataloging impressions was second nature for Caro after eight years as a cop. Why would the woman be suspicious?
She shrugged the thought away. "I'd like to see Mr. Messenger. Detective Pat Matthews sent me."
The magic words worked, because she heard a buzzer and was able to open the door.
She stepped into a dark hallway that put her immediately on high alert. Light spilled from an open doorway. She headed for it and stepped into an ordinary-looking office furnished with a desk, two computers, three chairs and a sofa.
What wasn't ordinary was the young woman who greeted her. Enough black eye makeup to keep a cosmetic company in business. Spiky dyed-black hair, scarlet lipstick, and a combination of black leather and lace clothing that straddled the border somewhere between punk and stripper. Not your typical receptionist. Who was this Messenger guy?
"Have a seat," the woman said, indicating a chair near her desk. "I'm Chloe Crandall, Jude's assistant."
This day was just getting better and better, Caro thought as she sat in the metal chair with a padded leather seat. Who had a receptionist who dressed like this? A lunatic?
"So Pat Matthews sent you," Chloe continued cheerfully. "You work with her?"
"I'm a cop, yes."
"Cool. Pat's a great lady. What can we do for you?"
Caro's mouth locked closed. Absolutely nothing about Chloe inspired her to tell her story. "I need to talk with Mr. Messenger."
"Most people do," Chloe answered perkily enough. "That's why they come here." At least she didn't seem offended by Caro's reluctance to talk to her. Instead she leaned over and pressed a button on the desk phone. "Boss? Pat sent someone over to see you."
Less than a minute later, a door to Caro's left swung open. A dapper man, all in black, stood there smiling at her. For an instant, though, she didn't notice anything except how strange his aura was.
Seeing auras was part of life for Caro. Most everybody walked around surrounded by glowing rainbow colors that could give her clues to their moods or their states of health if she chose to pay attention.
But never had she seen an aura like this: all one color, a deep wine-red that hugged his body more closely than usual. She blinked, tamping down her awareness, telling herself it must be his illness. Yes, it had to be.
She rose. "Mr. Messenger, I'm Caro Hamilton. Sergeant Caro Hamilton. Pat Matthews tells me you might be able to help me."
He nodded slowly, still smiling. "Please, come in. My colleague is in my office, as well. That won't be a problem, will it? You may need his help, too."
Caro shook her head, although the idea of telling her story to two strangers was enough to make her reluctance grow to near dread. Then she reminded herself the worst had already happened: she was considered nuts and had been put on medical leave. The worst these people could do to her was laugh her out of this office.
Inside Jude Messenger's windowless office she noted nothing unusual except what appeared to be an old cavalry saber on the wall. The room was heavily paneled, lit only by a couple of desk lamps. Two leather wingback chairs faced a large walnut desk, the kinds of chairs she was used to seeing in a lawyer's office. Upscale for this part of town, certainly.
Rising from one of them was a man who nearly took her breath away. He was only a few inches taller than average, like Jude, but he literally resembled one of the effigies of Teutonic knights she had seen in Templar churches in Europe years ago. She hadn't realized a face like that could be real, but she was looking at one, with the prominent jaw, the blade of a nose and pronounced cheekbones. She had thought carving a face into stone had simply been difficult, but here she was looking at just such a rigid and sharp face. He smiled faintly, softening his harsh features, and tossed his head a bit to throw raven-black locks back from his face.
"Damien Keller," Jude introduced him. "He hails from northern Germany. Damien, this is Sergeant Hamilton."
Damien stuck out his hand and Caro automatically shook it, but as her surprise at his appearance faded, she noticed something else: he had the same odd aura as Jude. What was going on here? Did he have the same illness? His skin did feel just a bit cool.
Unfortunately, she couldn't ask. So she settled in one of the offered chairs and tried to focus instead on what she needed to say. Amazing how difficult this felt when she'd managed to get in trouble at work by refusing not to talk about it.
"What can we do for you?" Jude asked.
She met his oddly golden eyes and felt as if concern poured out of them. A glance at Damien gave her the same feeling.
Then her heart skittered. They both had golden eyes? She shook her head a little. Maybe they were related. They had to be related, given their auras and their eyes.
"Sergeant?" Jude prompted.
She dragged her gaze back to him. "Just call me Caro. I don't know where to begin."
"At the beginning is usually a good place," Jude said. His voice was pitched soothingly, filled with calm and patience. Damn, he was good.
"You're going to think I'm crazy," she said, "but here goes. Three nights ago we received an emergency dispatch.
A man, Andrew Pritchett, had called saying his family was being murdered."
Jude's nod encouraged her.
"Anyway, six of us responded. We had to break in the front door, and we split up. One went to the back of the house, four went upstairs. And I I went into a closed room off the main foyer. I opened the door with my gun drawn, and there was a guy standing there, looking for all the world as if he were going out of his mind with terror. My first thought was that someone was in that room with him. I keyed my radio, calling for backup, but before anyone could get there."
She stopped, looking down, swallowing hard. The memory was etched vividly in her mind, rising up now as if it were happening this very moment. No one pressed her.
At last she drew a deep breath. "This is where it gets crazy. I saw that manI saw himlift up straight off the floor. He levitated at least six feet right in front of my eyes. I tried to move, but I couldn't figure out what was going on, and then before I could do a thing he flew hard across the room. The next thing I knew he was impaled on the horns of a stuffed elk's head about eight feet above the floor."
"Good God," Messenger said. Damien uttered something that sounded about the same in German.
"Yeah." She drew another breath, this time a shaky one. "My backup came piling in then, but it was too late. In less than a minute the guy was dead. He was later identified as the caller, Andrew Pritchett. But there was no one else in that room. No one."
She fell silent, awaiting judgment.
"I believe you," Jude said.
"As do I," Damien added. "I've seen many strange things over the years. Such a thing is possible."
She jerked her head up then, looking at them both. "You have?"
"Most definitely," Jude said. "Which is why Pat sent you to us. But what do you want us to do about it?"
"I'd like to catch the killer," Caro said hotly. "Of course. But " Again she hesitated, because this was probably the hardest thing of all to believe.
"Yes?" The prompt was quiet.
In for a penny, in for a pound, she told herself. Just spit it all out. "There was no one in that room. No one. No mechanical means were used to kill that man either. But I. felt something. Something I can't describe. Something that saw me. Something that's been watching me ever since."
The expected dismissal didn't come. Jude's expression turned grave. She looked at Damien Keller, and then wished she hadn't, because his golden eyes were drinking her in as if he wanted to devour her.
Suddenly uncomfortable for an entirely different reason, she crossed her legs and folded her arms, something she rarely felt the need to do. She hated it even more when she realized she was responding to that intensely male look. Ordinarily she reacted negatively to such looks from men, but this time it was as if someone had poured heat through her veins and it was pooling between her thighs.
She looked away, then glanced at him again. His expression had changed, appearing merely interested. Had she imagined that lustful look?
Cripes, maybe the department was right. Maybe she was losing her mind.
"All right," Jude said. "We need background on this. Can you give me the incident address?"
She reeled it off. "There's not much in the newspaper about it yet, except for a family of five having been killed.
They'd been thrown around like rag dolls and died from trauma, according to the medical examiner."
"I won't be looking in newspapers." Jude punched the intercom button on his phone. "Chloe, get me Garner. And then find me everything you can on the murders over on Duchesne Street and the victims."
Chloe's voice responded sarcastically. "Sure, boss. Will next week do?"
Jude punched off the intercom without responding. Apparently he was used to attitude from his assistant. He returned his attention to Caro.
"This thing you feel. Is it threatening? Is it getting stronger?"
"It's certainly not fading," she said finally. "I've been trying to ignore it, but I'm not succeeding."
"And you first noticed it when you saw the man killed?"
She nodded. "It was almost as if some invisible eyes suddenly settled on me. Like a shift in the atmosphere. And once it fixed on me, it hasn't gone away." She sighed. "This is so hard to explain!"
"You're doing just fine," Jude said. "But you're not sure it's getting stronger?"
"It's strong enough," she retorted tartly. "Maybe it is intensifying. Thickening would be a good word. But I'm not really certain. Maybe it's just eating away at me, this feeling of being watched all the time."
"All right. I'd like you to stay here for a while if you can. I have someone coming who can sense this thing, for lack of a better word. He might be able to tell us something."
Considering her own psychic abilities, she had no trouble swallowing that line. But she was beginning to feel a bit amazed to have fallen in with people who seemed to accept these things.
How rare was that?