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The Fifth Harmonic
By F. Paul Wilson
Hampton Roads Publishing Company, Inc.Copyright © 2003 F. Paul Wilson
All rights reserved.
Not much doing in this quaint little Westchester town on a hot Thursday afternoon, so Will felt free to crawl his Land Rover past the brick- and clapboard-fronted shops on the tree-lined main drag as he scanned their windows: a café, an optician, Hallmark cards, one-hour photo—
There. Black letters on a plate-glass window: HEALER. No wonder he'd missed them on his first pass; they couldn't be more than two inches tall, barely visible from the street.
He spotted an empty parking space right in front and eased into it. He turned off the engine but left the keys in the ignition. He still wasn't sure he could do this.
With the air conditioning off, the Rover's interior began to bake in the late August sun. Still he sat staring at the tiny storefront. Nothing terribly threatening about the exterior. In fact he couldn't imagine how it could be more low-keyed. A curtain of some sort of red-and-white embroidered fabric stretched across the lower three quarters of the window, high enough to keep all but the Patrick Ewings of the world from seeing inside. The word HEALER sat offcenter to the left, toward the solid white door with the dripping air conditioner in its transom.
And that was it. No come-ons, no promises. Just ... HEALER.
The only visible clue as to what the place might be about were the many-colored crystals hanging from threads above the curtain.
I must be crazy, he thought. How can I go in there?
He peered up and down the shady sidewalk, scanning for pedestrians. A young woman pushing a baby carriage off to his left, heading away, otherwise all quiet here on the fringe of a commercial district that looked frozen in 1947. Lunch time had passed, and it was way too hot to be out window shopping.
Good. Less chance of being spotted if he did decide to go in. Will lived over in Bedford and had his internal medicine practice there, but a fair number of his patients lived in Katonah. He didn't want any of them spotting him going into a place like this.
But then, why the hell should he care? Especially now that he didn't have a practice anymore.
Though the question was rhetorical, the answer flared in his mind: Because it went against everything he believed in, because he had nothing but contempt for these people, these so-called psychic healers, these phonies, these charlatans, these "new-age" leeches who attached themselves to sick, desperate people and sucked off their money with empty promises of miracle cures.
His knuckles whitened as his hands squeezed the leather-wrapped steering wheel. He forced himself to loosen his grip. Lighten up.
At least when I go in, he thought, it will be with my eyes open.
If I go in.
Do it, he told himself. What have you got to lose?
Nothing but my self-respect.
He sighed. Yeah ... his self-respect. And what would that mean three months from now?
As they say, desperate times called for desperate measures.
Will grabbed the baseball cap from where it lay on the passenger seat and jammed it onto his head. He checked in the mirror to make sure the turtleneck collar hid the angry red scar on his throat.
A turtleneck in August, he thought; she's going to think I need a shrink.
He caught a glimpse of his blue eyes and the new wrinkles around them ... worry lines, someone might call them. Well, that same someone could say he'd had some stress lately. And maybe that had shaken a little more salt into his predominately pepper-colored hair. He noticed that his normally full-cheeked face looked pale and drawn. For the first time in his forty-nine years, Will looked his age.
He pulled the hat brim low, yanked the keys from the ignition, and stepped out into the heat. Feeling like a fugitive, he glanced up and down the sidewalk again—empty. Six quick, long strides and three heartbeats later he'd reached the door and was stepping through into the cool interior.
A bell on the door jangled as he closed it behind him.
If she's psychic, why does she need a doorbell?
Then again, where does it say she's psychic?
He stared around, letting his eyes adjust to the lower light. A small, unadorned room, done in beige and brown, with minimal furnishings—a single desk, a table with some magazines atop and two chairs tucked against it—all of it looking secondhand. A beaded curtain hung across a doorway at the rear. Tiny open flames danced everywhere—candles of every size, shape, and shade sat on every available horizontal surface, glowed from multiple sconces on the walls.
The rest of the light came through the windows, filtered through crystals. Of course ... couldn't do the new age thing without crystals. They hung on threads inside the big front window, cluttered the sills of the small, high, side windows—amethysts, rose quartz, carnelians, aquamarines—throwing rainbows about the room.
Despite all his apprehensions, Will felt himself begin to relax. The candles and the crystalline light had a soothing, comforting effect.
Lulling was probably a more accurate description. He was sure the room hadn't been set up this way by chance.
And yet ... he sensed a sort of temporariness about the place, as if this were just one stop on a long journey, that everything here could be left behind at a moment's notice.
He heard noise at the rear, then a woman stepped through the beaded doorway. Will was immediately struck by her looks. Her long dark hair—black, really ... black as the deepest cellar of a cavern— was gathered behind her neck and held by an embroidered band. Smooth mocha skin stretched across a strong jaw and high cheekbones. But it was her eyes—the jade green of her irises stabbed out from her dark face and pinned him against the door.
She smiled without showing her teeth.
"Yes? Can I help you?"
He swallowed—where had all his saliva gone?—and removed his cap.
"Yes," he managed. "I want ... do you do consultations?"
"About your health? Yes, if you wish," her voice rich and throaty, with a strange accent, as if she'd learned English in Seville ... from a Parisian.
Her eyes released him as she moved toward the desk, and Will saw that she was barefoot. He took in the rest of her. Five-five, five-six, maybe, wearing a loose white blouse and khaki slacks. Her broad shoulders and straight-backed, almost military posture gave her body an angular look. He liked her looks, her understated clothes. Under different circumstances he might be thinking of ways to get to know her.
From the street he'd spotted what looked like an apartment on the second floor. He wondered if she lived there.
She opened a desk drawer, pulled out an index card, and slid it across to him. He noticed that her fingers were long and her nails were short, unnibbled, and unpainted. How many sets of unpainted fingernails in Westchester County, he wondered.
"Please write your name and address for me."
Will moved away from the door and took the chair on the near side of the desk. He pulled out a pen ... and hesitated. How much should he give away?
As little as possible.
But he wouldn't lie. He wrote "W. C. Burleigh" but left off the M.D., and gave the address of his now empty office. He glanced up at her.
"Do–don't you want any past medical history?"
"I will get to that. I have my own way of taking one." Her green eyes narrowed, concentrating their agate light until it seemed to pierce his skin and look right through him. "You seem very tense."
Oh, there's a real diagnostic coup, he thought. A kindergartner could see I'm just about ready to jump out of my skin.
Yet he had to admit that this was a woman with extraordinary presence. She seemed to fill the room. Which was certainly an asset in the charlatan trade.
"I am," he said. Might as well get it out in the open. "You can't imagine how uncomfortable I am being here."
"Because I don't believe in any of this ..." He'd almost said "shit" but bit it back and let the sentence hang.
She surprised him by smiling, showing white, even teeth this time. Close up now he noticed how her smile created little dimplelike creases around the corners of her mouth.
"I have wondered why I was sent to Westchester County. Sometimes I think it was to make believers out of people like you."
"Perhaps 'sent' is too strong. Guided."
"Just ... guided. But if you 'don't believe in any of this,' and being here makes you so uncomfortable, why did you come?"
"Because I'm sick."
Her smile faded. "I know."
Did she? Did she really? Or was that simply a logical conclusion about a man in a place with "HEALER" on the front window?
No way she could know how sick.
"Tell me about it," she said.
"I'd rather you tell me. About it, that is."
"You have already seen your regular doctor, I assume?"
"Yes. A number of them."
"They tell me I'm sick."
Will spoke the words softly, struggling to keep his tone neutral. He didn't want to sound belligerent, but he wanted to give away as little as possible. He'd read about psychics and palm readers and such, and how they were adept at wheedling information out of unsuspecting marks. She wasn't getting any freebies from him.
"And now you come to me. To ... what? Test me?"
Was that amusement or annoyance in her eyes? He couldn't be sure. Either way, it unsettled him.
"No ... I don't know. I spoke to Savanna Walters."
A smile again, warm this time. "Ah, Savanna. A sweet woman."
* * *
Yes, Savanna was that—in spades. An independent, delightfully witty spinster who had been one of Will's first patients when he'd hung out his Internal Medicine shingle nearly two decades ago. He'd guided her through a number of minor illnesses and one serious, stubborn case of pneumonia. But when he'd investigated some abnormalities in her blood count last year, and a bone marrow aspiration confirmed the diagnosis of acute lymphocytic leukemia, he knew he was out of his depth. He'd sent her to an oncologisthematologist, and figured he'd never see Savanna again: the prognosis for ALL in her age group was extremely grim.
Then last week, on his next-to-last day in the office, she'd shocked him by showing up looking fit and healthy. She said she'd heard he was sick and closing his practice. Actually he'd sold the practice to the local hospital; they'd made a preemptive offer of half a million to cut out the Manhattan medical centers that had been gobbling up private practices all over Westchester County. The hospital had two young doctors lined up to take over—two men to handle what he'd been doing solo.
Leaving the practice was the hardest thing he'd ever done in his life. The breakup of his marriage couldn't hold a candle to the pain he'd felt when he closed the door behind him that last day.
"Savanna," he said. "You're ..."
"Alive?" she said, eyes twinkling. "Yes. I'm cured."
"That's wonderful! But Dr. Singh told me you'd stopped treatment."
"Only with him. After one chemotherapy session, I knew it wasn't for me. So I found somebody else."
"He must be a miracle worker."
"Yes. She is." Savanna reached into her purse and pulled out a slip of paper. She pressed it into his hand. "This is her address. See her. Please. She helped cure me. She can do the same for you."
"Cured your leukemia?" Will said, baffled. "How?"
"She worked with me and together we killed it."
What a strange way to put it. We killed it—not cured it ... killed it.
"She can help you kill yours. She has ways," Savanna said, as if that explained it all.
"Oh, well," he said, not knowing quite how to respond. He supposed word had got out about his malignancy, but it seemed so bizarre to have a patient refer him for treatment. "I don't think ..."
"She cured me, Dr. Burleigh. Maybe she can cure you." Her bright blue eyes begged him. "Please go see her. Please."
After Savanna left, Will called her oncologist who was flabbergasted that Savanna was still alive. Singh confirmed that she'd had her first dose of chemotherapy and never returned for the rest, never returned his staff's repeated calls to her home.
The oncologist guessed that Savanna had had a spontaneous remission—extremely rare in ALL, but it happened. Will agreed. A spontaneous remission. What else could it be?
But over the next few days Savanna's words haunted him: She cured me, Dr. Burleigh. Maybe she can cure you. Please go see her. Please.
And now, against all reason, against all common sense, here he was.
* * *
"How is Savanna?" she said.
"Fine, as far as I can tell. She told me you cured her leukemia."
"I am glad she's doing well."
That wasn't what he was looking for. "Did you?" he said. "Cure her?"
Her answer startled him. Here was a perfect opportunity to take credit for Savanna's spontaneous remission—he'd handed it to her on the proverbial silver platter—and she was denying it.
"But she says you did."
"That is very generous of Savanna, but I merely helped her toward a cure."
This wasn't going the way Will had expected. Why was she dodging credit? Why so evasive? Does she think I'm with the Department of Health or Consumer Affairs?
Or is she mimicking me?
Either way, he wanted to bring this to a head.
"All right then: Can you help me the same way?"
"I can try."
Frustration nibbled at him. She wasn't following his imagined script: No promises of a cure, and she hadn't even mentioned money. She was acting very professional. And that bothered him.
"And the cost?"
He had expected nothing from this encounter beyond satisfying his curiosity, and was willing to pay for that—up to a point. But he didn't want to be ripped off for some ungodly sum.
"Let us first see if I can help you. Come this way."
No money down. All right, so maybe she wasn't a bunco artist. Maybe she was just another delusional character who thought she had a direct line to the secrets of the universe. Her kind, despite their sincerity, were still almost as dangerous as the larcenous phony if they kept sick people away from proven therapy.
Then why the hell am I here?
Because you're a coward, he heard a voice say in his head. Because you can't face the proven therapy for what you've got.
She stepped through the beaded curtain and held it aside for him. He followed her through the doorway and down a narrow, curved set of stairs to another candlelit room in the basement. No windows here, however, and hence no rainbows dancing around the room. A pair of oak chairs and a small oak table, similar in provenance to the ones upstairs, were the only furniture. On the table, four oddly shaped metal objects, each a different color, were arranged on a white cloth. But the feature that grabbed Will's attention was the large rectangular opening cut into the concrete slab of the basement floor. It looked to be about four by eight feet, and was filled with sand.
Westchester County seemed light years away.
"Remove your shoes and lie down, please," she said, pointing to the opening.
"Yes. On the sand."
"Because I wish you to be in contact with the earth."
Curiouser and curiouser, he thought as he sat on one of the chairs and pulled off his loafers and socks. I must be more desperate than I imagined.
He padded across the cool concrete of the floor to the makeshift sandbox, but paused on the edge like a hesitant swimmer contemplating a cold pool. Did she really mean for him to ...?
"You did say to lie down."
"Yes, I did."
She didn't look at him; she was intent on her metal things, handling them one at a time. Each ran about eight inches long, slim and cylindrical at one end, flaring and flattening to a rough, wavy triangular shape at the other.
"Flat on your back, please. Don't worry. It's dry. You won't catch a cold."
A cold is the least of my worries, he thought.
Feeling slightly ridiculous, he stepped onto the cool granular bed and stretched out. As the back of his head came to rest on the sand, he realized he'd reap an extra benefit from the turtleneck shirt: no sand down his collar.
"How does it feel?" she said, stepping closer and looking down at him.
A flicker of a smile, and he realized he was pleased he could make her smile. He wanted to dislike her, distrust her—bunco or bonkers, either way she could cause harm to the wrong person—but found himself responding to, and envying, her aura of serenity.
Aura ... listen to me. Been here ten minutes and already I'm starting to sound new-agey myself.
"Press your heels and your palms into the sand. That's your Mother you're feeling."
"My mother died five years ago."
"No, I mean the Mother of us all. The earth."
Oh, boy, he thought. Here it comes.
"It is one of the tragedies of modern living that we never touch her. Industrial society has cut off its inhabitants from the living world. You live and work in structures made of dead material, travel enclosed in rubber and steel, and even when you stroll through the pockets of living things you call 'parks,' it is with your feet encased in rubber sneakers treading macadam paths. Think: when was the last time your body was in contact with the earth—when was the last time even the soles of your shoes touched her soil? Why do you see people lined up in their cars like steel lemmings heading for the beaches? It is the only time all year they actually touch their Mother. They come away feeling renewed after merely brushing her hem."
Excerpted from The Fifth Harmonic by F. Paul Wilson. Copyright © 2003 F. Paul Wilson. Excerpted by permission of Hampton Roads Publishing Company, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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