Paranormal Crime Unit: The Touch
By Arvel Amaya
It was never good when witches came into my shop. Most of them didn't like me, at least the ones with power. The woman sitting on the battered wooden bench was very powerful. She had long, curly red hair and wore a black power suit with a powder blue blouse that made her look as if she would fit better in a business meeting than in a new age bookstore. She looked up at me with mismatched eyes - one brown, one a pale blue that matched her shirt - that were hidden behind black-framed glasses. She smiled at me. I paled.
"Henri, are you okay?"
I tore my gaze away to look at my part-timer, Allison. She was giving me one of those worried looks she reserved for when she thought I was overworking myself.
I nodded and immediately turned to look back at the witch. My time working at PCU had me quite aware of exactly who the woman was. I had seen glimpses of her in photos and on scenes, though this was the first time I would actually meet her. What was she doing in my shop?
Allison sighed. "Well, that's your next customer. She didn't have an appointment, but insisted you would be willing to see her."
"I don't think I really have a choice in the matter," I mumbled.
I could almost feel Allison frowning at me. I waved her off and made my way to the woman. As soon as I approached, she closed her book, adjusted the bag on her shoulder, and stood, holding out her hand.
"Henri Abbey? I'm glad you were willing to see me."
For a second, I looked at her hand, hesitant to take it. I wondered if this was some sort of test, and then dismissed the thought as paranoid. Besides, I had my gloves on. I reached out and took her hand, shaking it. Nothing, not even a twinge. The gloves had never failed me before. I didn't know why I thought this time it would be different.
"You're Virva Balmont."
A pleased smile curled her lips and she let go of my hand, never commenting on why I was wearing gloves in Orlando's summer heat. "I wasn't sure if you would recognize me."
"I've seen you before. You're pretty famous."
She arched an eyebrow. "Famous or infamous? I think in your circles it would be the latter."
I knew she was talking about my time in the Paranormal Crimes Unit. Virva Balmont was one of those people who always managed to stay just on the edge of legal or at least managed not to get caught on the wrong side. "I'm retired." It felt strange to say that. I was only thirty-four.
"That's not what I heard," she said.
I didn't comment on that. I wasn't planning to divulge any information that I didn't have to. "So what can I help you with?"
"Straight to business, I see." She smiled, obviously not put off. "I need some help finding something I've lost."
I wasn't sure if I wanted to get involved in whatever Virva might be looking for, but I didn't want to piss off one of the most powerful witches in the States. I would simply have to make sure to tread carefully.
"Let's go to the back room." I turned and began leading the way. We stepped into a narrow hall, which had three rooms. I walked past the stock room and my office to the one closest to the back entrance. I opened the door and walked in. Virva looked around her in surprise.
I shrugged. I didn't have the glitzy hangings that most people expected when they walked in to see a fortuneteller, but then again, I didn't consider myself a fortuneteller. The only thing that was in the room was a table, a few chairs, and four miniature iron statues that sat in each corner of the room. Virva glanced at them with interest.
"I didn't realized you dabbled," Virva said.
"Protection is protection."
Virva laughed and then sat down at the table. I sat across from her. She tucked her hands under her chin and smiled at me. I frowned. This wasn't exactly how these sessions of mine worked.
"Want to explain to me what it is you're searching for?"
"My assistant. It looks like he's gone missing. I would like to find him."
I frowned. "Missing or on the run?"
"Missing," Virva said. "He has no reason to run from me. I can assure you his loyalty has never been a question."
I squinted at her, not sure if I trusted her. I didn't want to be used to hunt someone who would rather not be found. "Why can't you find him yourself?"
She frowned. "I've tried, but my assistant has a...condition, that makes it hard for my brand of magic to stick."
My brow furrowed. "And mine will?"
She shrugged. "That's yet to be seen, but the cards seem to think so."
"Cards?" I blinked. "You did a reading?"
"Three, and in each one you showed up, so here I am."
I looked down at the table, trying to hide just how much that disturbed me. I didn't like the idea of coming up in any witch's reading. Not all witches were bad, I knew that, but that didn't make me trust them. Eleven years in PCU tended to make trusting anything paranormal hard to do. It was sort of ironic since I was a psychic, but then again maybe that was why I felt that way.
"So what did you bring me to read?"
"You seem to accept things very easily."
I looked at her, hard. "Does it seem that way?"
She looked at me, startled, and then laughed. She slid her purse from her shoulder and placed it on the table. She reached inside and immediately I tensed. My hand slid under the table, reaching for the gun strapped there. Guns were a lot more effective than people gave them credit for. Sure, they wouldn't kill many of the magical creatures on their own, but when you carved glyphs on them, they worked a whole of a hell lot better.
Virva stopped. "You really don't trust me, do you?"
I gave her a strained smile. "I didn't know I was supposed to."
She shrugged and pulled out a long glass bottle and then closed her purse. She slid her purse to the side. I let go of my gun and straightened up. "What's that?"
"It's a static bottle. It keeps thing froze in time."
I studied it. "I hope you don't think I plan on opening it."
She sighed. "Fine, I'll open it, but you'll want to be ready. I don't know how long his essence will stick."
"What do you mean?"
"You'll see. You might want to take your gloves off."
I admit, I was curious. My curiosity had gotten me into trouble over and over again, but I had yet to learn my lesson. I tugged one of my gloves off. Virva gave me a toothy smile and then unsealed the bottle.
A wisp of frost seeped from the bottle. Virva turned the bottle upside down, shaking it. A small roll of paper slipped from the bottle and onto the table. I braced myself and reached for it.
For a moment, nothing happened. I frowned. I could feel something there, but every time I tried to reach for it, it would slip away. That was odd. Usually, everything was clamoring for my attention. I looked at Virva and she shrugged.
"I told you his essence tends not to stick."
"How long ago since he touched this?"
"A day and a half is my estimate, though I put it in the static bottle as soon as I found it."
I raised my eyebrow. "It sounds like you thought something might happen to him."
"No, but it was unusual for my assistant to go off for hours without contacting me. Besides, I had a feeling."
"A feeling?" I asked, skeptically.
"I'm a witch. I've learned to trust my feelings." She leaned towards him. "Now, Mr. Abbey, if you're done interrogating me, I hope you will continue with your little psychic trick before there's nothing to look for."
I glared at her and then nodded. I closed my eyes and wondered just what this guy was. Everyone, even paranormals, left a bit of his essence behind, but Virva was right. The longer I tried to touch the essence the more it began to fade. I pushed harder, but it just pulled away faster. I let out a grunt of frustration. Trying to catch it wasn't working and neither was just the usual "here I am." Maybe it needed a bit more coaxing.
It probably wasn't a smart idea, but I never could back down from a challenge. The best way to draw out anything supernatural was to make myself more appetizing. Power was always appetizing. Even regular old humans couldn't manage to stay away. The problem with being a powerful psychic though, was that there were a lot of things that wanted to eat me. That's why I tended to tone it down as a general principle.
I concentrated on letting my power out a little more, not to chase, but as a big glowing ball of power. In front of me I heard Virva gasp. Psychic trick, my ass.
Virva, though, wasn't my concern. It was the little bit of essence still hanging on to the paper. I could feel it hesitate and then suddenly it was scurrying forward. Gotcha! I started to smirk when everything suddenly changed and it wasn't me that held it, but it holding me. I felt like someone had reached out and grabbed me and suddenly I was tossed into a vision.
I was standing in a shop, one of those expensive ones where there were no products on display, just a richly furnished lobby with a ledger sitting on the counter. A tall man, who had to be at least 6'5" with broad shoulders, stood with his back to me. He had a tight body of coiled muscle that reminded me of a panther. He was talking to someone on the phone. It was strange. Most of the time, when I was in a memory, I was looking through the eyes of the person whose memory it was and had to step out of it. Being already outside the viewer's eyes was rare.
I stepped in closer, trying to get an idea of who he was talking to. I could hear a voice, someone screaming. They didn't sound angry, more as if they were scared. I tried to make out the words, but they kept slipping away. Even now, the memory was fading. I walked through the counter, cringing a little. I didn't like walking through objects in memories. It made me feel like a ghost. I stepped closer, hoping to hear some clue or at least read his lips.
As soon as I reached his side, the man stiffened. I was wondering what had been said to cause it, when he turned and looked straight at me. I sucked in a breath. Bright gold eyes looked straight into mine. It was impossible. It was a memory after all. There had to be someone behind me. I started to turn to see when he spoke.
"I know you." His voice was like deep velvet and sent a shock of electricity through my entire body.
And then everything stopped, as if the entire world was holding its breath. I could only stare at him. He had a square jaw and soft pink lips. His skin was a warm gold. Dark lashes surrounded his eyes, making his gold eyes seem even brighter. Silky brown hair fell across his forehead.
It was true. There was something about him that was familiar. Familiar in a way that I only read about in fairy tales and seen in chick flicks. "This can't be happening," I whispered.
Then suddenly everything started again and he wasn't looking at me. He was talking on the phone. He said something in a different language. I was still trying to wrap my head around what had happened when he hung up the phone and tore a piece of paper from the ledger. He scribbled on it and then hurried out of the shop.
The memory ended and I opened my eyes. I looked down at the paper. It was completely dead, nothing else left in it. I never seen anything like it, but nothing about this whole thing was normal. I reached down, picked up my glove, and slid it on with a shiver.
"Any time you would like to share, I would very much appreciate it," Virva said, her words cutting through the fog around my mind.
"Just give me a second," I said, rubbing my forehead. I hated having her see me like this, but I was shaken up badly. I straightened up and took a deep breath, my eyes scanning over the paper.
I'll be back in an hour.
A man of few words. I realized then that Virva had never told me her assistant's name. I wondered if that was on purpose or not. Virva shifted in her chair, crossing her legs. She wasn't a woman who was used to being kept waiting.
"He left in a rush. He was talking to someone on the phone. It sounded like they were scared. I think he went to help."
She frowned. "Who?"
I shook me head. "I couldn't make out most of the words. But, he said something, in a different language. "Dua puluh menit."
She nodded, but didn't look completely satisfied. "Anything else?"
I shook me head. "That's all I got."
She sighed. "Not what I expected, but I supposed that's how these things work."
I felt a sliver of irritation go through me. I stood up, and she followed suit. I walked her to the front where she gave her credit card to Allison.
"Still, it wasn't a complete loss. I've been wanting to meet you for some time, Henri."
I didn't feel the same. I just nodded.
Allison handed her back her credit card and she stuffed her pocketbook back into her purse. She waved her hand. "I'll be seeing you soon, Henri."
"I doubt that," I couldn't help saying.
She laughed as she strode out of the shop. "The cards never lie."
There was the sharp jingle of the bell and then she was gone. Allison whistled. "That woman is too hot to handle."
I looked at Allison. "Were you checking her out?"
She gave me an impish grin. "Maybe."
I shook my head. "That one you want to stay away from, believe me."
"If I didn't know you were gay, I would think you were jealous."
I snorted. I rubbed my head. I felt a headache coming on. That was one of the drawbacks of the whole deal. Feedback. There was only so much a psychic could take in before it tried to pour back out. That little note had taken a lot more out of me than I thought. "Allison, cancel all my appointments, will ya?"
She gave me a quizzical look and nodded. I took a step towards my office when suddenly my pocket started to vibrate. "Shit." I reached into my pocket and pulled out my phone. Not many people had my cell number and most of the people who did never called me just to chitchat.
"Henri, we need you at a scene," Jarrod Warner's crisp voice said.
"No 'How it's going?' Or 'Did you catch that Miami game?'"
"They're better than the Lions."
"Hey, the Lions are getting better."
I grinned. "If you say so."
There was a pause. "We really need you on this one."
I frowned. If Jarrod was saying that I knew that whatever they had for me was going to drain me, but that was the thing with me. I had never been able to say no to a case. It's why I was working as a consultant instead of recovering from what my shrink labeled as PTSD. "All right. Give me the address."