Authors: Rebecca York
His warnings that she was being controlled by the devil were so terrifying that she’d tried to draw back from what was happening. But she was no longer in control. She’d felt her mind opening up like a radio receiver scanning the airwaves and pulling in heretofore unimagined signals. She still remembered the day she’d chanced on a frightening channel that had riveted her attention. She’d wanted to turn it off, but the horrible images wouldn’t be banished. The nightmare hadn’t ended until one person was dead and the whole parish had turned against her, as if it had been her fault.
She’d always sensed that if she came back to live in New Orleans, her psychic ability would push its way out of the spongy loam of her mind like a stubborn weed that had been chopped off but refused to die. That’s why she’d stayed away.
But now with Aubrey in such a precarious condition, the talent that had been her undoing might be the only way to find out what had happened to him.
Suddenly the scene two days ago under the live oak tree at the university flooded back into her mind. She remembered the man she’d been talking to, the one with the corded muscles and hard-edged face who’d evoked such a strong response from her. Something had happened with him that had never happened before, even at the height of her fascination with psychic phenomena. For just a moment she’d felt her mind merge with his.
Jessica shivered. She didn’t even know his name. Yet for a few seconds she’d picked up a confusing image of a white dove from him.
The vision had taken her completely by surprise. Because she’d been alarmed, she’d tried to deny what had happened and fled. Now she could look at the experience more calmly and understand that the apprehension was simply a holdover from her past. What had happened at sixteen had been devastating. But she’d come through it a stronger person. She was no longer a frightened girl. She was a woman with the maturity to control the hidden forces that had once controlled her. And perhaps with maturity had come powers she hadn’t even dreamed of before.
She sat for a long time with her head cupped in her hands, weighing the risks versus the benefits and wondering if she were kidding herself. But in the end, there was no alternative. She had to explore the old abilities that she’d tried to deny for so long if she had any hope of helping her brother. The choice made, she felt a new sense of potency seeping into her body. It was as if she were absorbing energy from some hidden source.
The mood swing was almost giddy. Suddenly she felt her heart race with excitement. She’d been hitting dead ends for days. Now she could
she told herself.
Don’t let this run away with you.
Yet she knew she was experiencing a heightened state of psychic awareness in which almost anything could happen.
With a fresh sense of purpose, she squared her shoulders and looked around her brother’s apartment. The place to start was where she’d had success before. One thing she’d been able to do all those years ago was get impressions of people and places from holding their possessions. She’d been straightening and cleaning for days and hadn’t even felt a twinge of insight into which things of Aubrey’s might help her. But her mind had been numb with shock and pain, and she hadn’t let herself open to any psychic possibilities.
Perhaps the thing to do was start with something that wouldn’t be too threatening. Standing up, she crossed to the tall pine bookcase pushed against one wall and looked at the contents. Along with the hardback texts was an assortment of paperback novels. Aubrey’s taste ran to science fiction, she noticed, stroking her hand along the spines. One in particular drew her attention and she pulled the volume from the shelf. It was an old Robert Heinlein novel called
The Puppet Masters.
Holding it in her hand, Jessica closed her eyes and tried to make her mind blank. At first, nothing happened, and she realized that the vulnerable part of her was secretly relieved. Perhaps that was the reason she didn’t allow herself to give up. Her fingers pressed into the cover of the book. Her heart began to beat faster.
She wasn’t sure how long she waited before she realized something was happening. As if emerging from a pool of shimmering water, a picture began to solidify. At first there were ripples and waves in the image. But soon she was surprised and delighted to find herself looking at a cluttered but brightly lit room. Along three walls were ornate bookshelves reaching all the way to the high ceiling. Several sliding ladders gave access to the books on the top shelves.
The smell of old leather and mildewed paper made her nose wrinkle. As if she were standing in the center of the room, Jessica mentally turned to face a wide window that looked out on to a wrought-iron balcony. It was partially blocked by a counter and a cash register. To her right she could see a flight of narrow iron steps leading down to the sidewalk.
The image tapped a buried memory cell. She knew this place! It was a used bookstore called the Book Attic down in the French Quarter. She’d spent many Saturday afternoons there in the parapsychology section. Had Aubrey also gone there?
As she stopped concentrating on the image, it wavered. Too late, she tried to bring it back into focus, but it was gone.
Feeling disoriented, Jessica sank into a chair and sat with her eyes closed. The image of the bookstore had been very real, but it proved nothing since she’d been to the place herself and could have summoned it from her own mind.
There was a way, however, to find out whether she was fooling herself. Setting the book on the floor, she crossed to Aubrey’s desk and began to investigate the cubbyholes at the back. She doubted she’d get any vibrations from the assortment of pens, rubber bands and paper clips she found. But stuffed into the compartment on the extreme left was a crumpled paper napkin. The minute Jessica’s fingers came in contact with the crinkly paper, they began to tingle.
The old fear leaped in her breast, and she snatched her hand back. For several seconds she sat staring at the napkin. This was it. Either she went on with the experiment or she backed off.
Teeth clamped together, she drew the napkin out of the cubbyhole. In the center was an inch-high letter “H.” In the upper left corner Aubrey had scribbled four digits—3489. Part of a phone number? She looked for more clues. At the bottom he’d doodled a series of straight lines and filled them with circles and triangles. Her eyes were drawn to the patterns. They seemed to have some sort of pull on her, and she had the strange sensation that she was being physically tugged forward. Alarmed, she tried to look away. But she had lost the power to make a choice.
The pool she’d seen before began to shimmer again. Only this time, she was in the middle of it. Drowning.
“No.” The syllable was a gasp on her lips.
Her senses spun, and vague shapes wavered around her. She grabbed for something solid, and felt as if her fingers were closing around wood. A doorframe.
She seemed to be standing in a doorway looking into a room. She gasped again when she saw her brother lounging in a scarred wooden booth in a dimly lit bar. The image was so real, that she expected him to look up at her, but he went on sipping his beer. Putting down the glass he began to doodle on the napkin in front of him. The very napkin she now held in her hand!
Another man was sitting across from him in the booth, bare elbows resting on the wood table. His T-shirt was torn at the neck. His dark eyes were red-rimmed; his thin, almost colorless lips slack; his long hair uncombed across his high forehead. On his cheek was a wicked, star-shaped scar. The beer glass in front of him was almost empty.
Jessica shivered. She could smell alcohol and cigarette smoke and sweaty bodies. The air around her felt hot and oppressive. In her ears she heard a dozen low, jumbled conversations pitched above an acid rock tune blaring from the lighted jukebox in the corner.
This wasn’t like the bookstore. She had never been to that place before, of that she was absolutely certain. But she felt as if she were there now. And she was totally caught up in the experience. Her fingers tightened around the napkin as if trying to squeeze its secrets from it.
In her mental picture, her eyes scanned around the room and its rather unkempt patrons, looking for some clue to the bar’s location. The glass window at the front was grimy, but she could make out red letters painted on the outside of the panes. From her vantage point inside the bar, Jessica could read four letters: H-A-R-L. The rest were blocked by the wooden booths.
For a moment longer she strained to complete the name. But as she did, the image began to waver. Though she tried to hold it together, it was like trying to put substance to mist. The picture disintegrated, and she was left blinking and a bit disoriented.
Her first feeling was of relief that she was back in control. It was replaced by disappointment at not being able to complete the task.
Then she reflected with a sense of wonder on what she’d done. She’d actually taken herself mentally to a place where Aubrey had been by holding an object that had been there with him.
The realization brought a mixture of emotions. She had used the powers she’d repressed for so long. Or had they used her?
She shivered. Once she’d taken the napkin in her hand, she’d been helpless to control her reaction. It was almost as if some power outside herself was exerting an influence she couldn’t block. But it had stopped short of letting her find out exactly where Aubrey had been. Well, there were no rules that said she had to solve this problem completely with psychic powers. Maybe if she got out the phone book and went down the list of bars, she could fill in the rest of the name.
As it turned out, there were only two establishments whose names began with that letter combination. One was an uptown watering place called Harlow’s. The other was a bar called Harley’s Pub. Near the docks, it was far and away the more likely choice.
After writing down the address, Jessica was about to grab her purse and open the front door when she happened to glance down at her streaked shirt. She was still wearing the “charwoman” outfit Simone had remarked upon. While she suspected that the clientele at Harley’s wouldn’t notice, she’d feel more confident if she were cleaned up a bit.
Half an hour later, wearing a blue denim skirt and a yellow camp shirt, she glanced at her watch. Lunch had been a carton of blueberry yogurt and it was now almost dinnertime. Getting a bite to eat at the pub would give her an excuse for hanging around.
Down on Jefferson Boulevard she hailed a taxi.
“Lady, it’ll be dark soon. You sure you want to go to that part of town alone?” the cabbie questioned.
“Well, at least drive me by this address, and I’ll let you know if I want to get out.”
The man gave her a strange look and shrugged. “It’s your nickel, lady.”
Fifteen minutes later they pulled up across the street from Harley’s Pub. Jessica peered out the window of the cab. There weren’t a lot of people on the streets, but up the block she could see several men gathered beside a lamppost drinking from paper bags. Not the best neighborhood, she thought.
“Want me to wait for you?” the cabbie asked as she fumbled in her purse for money.
The offer made her feel more confident. “Please. But I may not be right back.”
“Take your time. The meter’s running. Just give me ten dollars on account.”
After paying the man, Jessica stepped out on the paper-littered street. Was this really a good idea? But the more steps she took toward the bar, the more certain she was that this was where she had seen Aubrey in her vision.
Glancing back over her shoulder, she was reassured to see that the cab driver had slumped down in the seat and leaned his head back as if he were prepared to wait indefinitely.
Once inside the bar, Jessica stood for a few moments allowing her eyes to adjust to the dim lighting. It was a shock to see that the interior matched her mental picture almost exactly—right down to the scarred wood furniture. She could even locate the booth where Aubrey had been sitting.
At this hour there were only about a dozen patrons. Most were rough-looking men garbed in jeans and T-shirts gathered around the far end of the bar. They might well have been dock workers.
Several gave her appraising glances as she crossed quickly to the booth her brother had occupied and sat down. She was careful not to make eye contact with anybody, lest they think she wanted company. Instead she reached for the plastic-encased menu stuck between a half-full catsup bottle and a heavy glass sugar dispenser.
After a few minutes a stoop-shouldered, apron-clad man appeared and swiped a gray cloth over the Formica tabletop.
“You want to order something, sweetheart, for here or to go?” he asked, glancing out the window at the waiting cab.
“A burger and fries.” That was probably safest. At least they’d be cooked fresh.
“We have Jax and Miller Light on draft.”
“I’ll have a Coke.”
The man grunted and shuffled away.
While she waited for the food, several customers left. Maybe this would be a good time to approach the bartender. Sliding out of her seat, she moved into his line of vision, not speaking until she caught his eye.
“What can I get you?” he finally asked.
“I’m looking for a friend who used to come here.” Quickly she described her brother.
The balding man shook his head. “Don’t remember him. But we get a lot of kids down here looking for excitement or trouble on Saturday nights.”
Jessica found she was drawing attention from the few patrons who remained. For a moment she considered trying her question on them. Instead she returned to the booth to find that her Coke but not the food had arrived. It was sitting on a napkin identical to the one she’d found in the apartment, except that the doodling and numbers were missing. Picking up the napkin, she smoothed it with her fingers, feeling nothing in particular.
It was funny, she thought. Now that she was physically at Harley’s, she had less sense of the place than when she’d seen it in her mind.