The Joining: Ainsworth Chronicles Book One

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Chapter thirteen

Chapter Twelve

A

alone in the solitude of her office; a quiet fifteen minutes with a few hours later, after her too-short visit with Barb, Carol lunched

ham-and-swiss suited her just fine for a change. She’d read the

headlines earlier. Two more boys had disappeared or been abducted.

Crap and still no leads on Nathan.

A knock at her door signaled the end of her quiet time. Not sure what to expect she opened the door only to come face-to-face with two vases of red roses; two dozen it looked like. Their fragrance filled the small office as he placed them on the table and passed her the card, which read simply, To my wild Canadian Bellissimo.

Christ, I could really get to like this guy. Why does he have to be the enemy? The card read,

‘this gentleman would be honored if you could show him the wilds of Victoria and Vancouver Island. Leave me a message on my door.’ She knew Jake wanted to take her out tonight and responded with a message on the back of her business card. ‘I have a business meeting I can’t cancel tonight, will see about tomorrow or the next day. I can get Wednesday off and take you on a trip up Vancouver Island.’ Unfortunately keeping tabs on the Italians was more important at the moment that being there just to hold Barb’s hand. Would be a different matter if there was anything that could actually be done, and she knew Barb understood.

He responded with another card before lunch, ‘That would be great. I shall make my day free.’

* * *

Carol strolled over to the Royal Columbian Museum, which was across the street from the

Empress. She sat in the back area surrounded by the totems set up. “Man, I’m not anywhere near

Charlie and wish he knew how to text. Who am I kidding, he doesn’t even have a cell phone.”

She lit her cigarette, wishing he’d do one of his magical appearing acts.

Man, could use someone to talk to right about now. Carol closed her eyes as she exhaled.

A blue light travelled up one of the totems.

She calls us.

It stared through the blue eyes of the totem.

We haven’t much time here.

She is like us. A joining of two inside.

Yes, the familiarity speaks to me as well.

This concrete is unsettlingly. And so close to our former village. We cannot stay long.

It breathed deeply.

She is a justifier. She can set matters straight.

Agreed.

We shall seek her out, another time. Not here the pain is great.

Agreed.

The being retreated as pain wracked its body.

Carol turned and stared at the totem behind her with its large ovoid eyes as several blue tinged butterflies lifted free and flew away.

How bizarre is that and why do I get the feeling I’m being watched?

* * *

“I have never been amongst such wild splendor. It is amazing to think most of this coastline is nearly untouched and the trees; massiccio. Massive,” Tony said in complete amazement as they got out of the SUV that Carol had rented.

The road was mostly paved, but the few gravel sections had made her glad she’d rented a more suitable vehicle. They’d spent nearly two hours driving out along Vancouver’s West Coast to Port Renfrew in order to reach Avatar Grove, only stopping at what she called some local chew ‘n’ choke diner for lunch, where Carol insisted on ordering Poutine for the two of them to share. Tony loved it and there was something very romantic in looking into his dark eyes as she fed him fries dripping in gravy and he did the same to her. It was even funnier to watch this chic, high bred Mafia man, so haute couture and PC correct, eating with gravy dripping off his fingers. She was pretty sure he’d never done before. While there were other large trees in the area, including the world’s largest Red Douglas Fir and Sitka Spruce, Carol simply wanted to show him this new trail, as she’d not seen it either. Although being in the ancient forest brought back some haunting memories due to her recent dealings with Charlie Stillwaters and the pesky forest spirit, Gyhldeptis.

“This is Avatar Grove, a newly built boardwalk trail allows us safe access to some of the largest uncut trees on the island.”

Carol put on her small backpack and waited while he slipped off his expensive leather shoes and put on the runners she had brought for him. She asked for his shoe size yesterday when she confirmed where she wanted to take him. Lunch had been the most fun she had on a date in years. Carol watched the flex of his legs and rear as he bent over to put the runners on.

Stop it, you can’t fall for this guy, he’s the suspect. The man I may have to throw in jail.

“It has been a long time since I’ve worn runners. I think the last time I trained with Athletico Madrid.”

Carol was taken aback. “Yes, you said you were a professional soccer player?”

“Ah, you North Americans and your soccer. It is football, not like you play football over here. Although your game is very macho, we actually play the ball with our feet. But yes, I did play on the team for two years as a fullback before an injury ended my career.”

Well, that explained the size of those massive thighs of his, as Agnes so aptly pointed out. “I haven’t been on this one yet, up the island there are more with massive trees as well. But this is fairly close, so I thought we’d enjoy it fresh together.”

“Ah, like vergine; virgins. I like it.”

Carol smiled, his innocent humor was infectious, and he’d also been trying to teach her words in Italian. Yet, being part of the mob, as sweet as he seemed, she knew he’d been involved in many underhanded dealings and most likely a few murders as well. Was there such a thing as a sincere, gorgeous killer? “Okay two vergines exploring the woods on our own.”

She breathed in the clean fresh West Coast air, chilled with mists and salt water. Tony had already thumped his feet down on the wooden boardwalk. A trail of wet slime from large sixinch slugs littered the surface. Dew dripped off the trees, several draped in moss hanging from boughs and branches like an old man’s beard.

“Well, am I going alone?” He held out his hand and Carol folded hers into the strong warmth of his. They trundled off along the newly formed upper section of the board trail. Minutes later they both stood below the twisted boles of the tree labeled Canada’s Gnarliest Tree, and that it was. For about twenty or so feet up the limbs twisted about each other, like tied pretzels and at the top were several large boles that reminded Carol of the trapped witch in Stanley Park. The one that Charlie helped trap, that nearly killed her.

“It is amazing. I see faces twisted into the wood.” He tilted his head one way and then the other. “You have given me something I never imagined I’d ever see. It is magnifico. How old is this tree?”

“It is estimated to be several hundred, maybe a thousand years old. The lower limbs have formed as the tree tries to survive and find sustenance due to the fungal bole that is living off its bark.” She pointed to the large knobby protuberance sticking out of the tree and reached forward to touch the ancient living being. As she did voices rang out from the forest. Carol closed her eyes. Visions of ghostly natives flooded her mind and animals, all long dead and gone. Crap. She opened her eyes. Agnes was right I can see ghosts on occasion, only how do I stop this?

“You okay? You look a bit how I say pallido. Pale.”

“Yeah, just beat from the drive, and hungry. I may have picked up a chill or cold in this clammy climate over the last couple of days.” She lied as she sniffled lightly. Actually, it was from the long drawn out night floundering in the cold ocean with one rude FBI man, Carol really wanted to say, and discovering something about myself I didn’t ever want to know.

“Ah, then don’t worry, I let you take me here to this splendor, that reminds me of my old grandmother, she looked nearly as twisted and gnarled as this tree.”

Carol stopped as she walked along with Tony trying to measure the incredible girth of this tree. A little shadowy creature with elfish features and blue flaming hair popped its head up from a rock and stuck its tongue rudely out at her.

“Did you see that?” She tapped Tony on the shoulder and pointed back to the rock.

Tony stared at the rock she was pointing at. “I see beauty and a rock. But the beauty is beside me as well.” He hugged her to him. Man, I could get really used to this guy.

“Man, you are something. There was this small foresty fern covered

critter. Just there.”

He squinted. “No, nothing, you no smoke some of that green stuff or nibble on the famous fongo, mushrooms out here.” He squeezed her hand as the creature gave her a look of distain, stuck its tongue out and vanished.

“No, I stick to cigarettes and alcohol as my poisons. Yeah, must be my mind playing tricks on me.” His hand was warm in hers, tugging at her senses. I gotta ask Agnes about this, seeing ghosts or sensing them is one thing, but mythical forest creatures is another.

“Too much late nights and coffee,” he whispered into her ear.

Or not enough late nights,” she whispered back. Don’t do this Carol, you can’t fall in love with this guy. Somewhere inside her head a little creature like the one she just saw waved its hand and set a little clock before itself and pressed a button to make it count down. Yeah, I know a matter of time. What is it all those romance books say, ‘you just know when the right one comes along.’ Fuck!

“Now, you need to do this, it’s a tradition out here that you hug a tree. Especially great trees like this one.” Carol walked up to the tree and opened her arms wide. She put her palms to the gnarled surface. He looked at her like she was insane.

“This is pazzo, how you say crazy. But I follow your lead.” He too put his hands around a small portion of the base next to her. It would take at least ten more people to complete the perimeter in people hugging it.

“Now, shush, no words. You just hug this ancient living being and give it thanks.” Carol closed her eyes, the coolness of the bark pulled at her palms.

We are called, we come. Rang out from the interior of the tree.

Carol opened her eyes wide. What the…

Tony’s hand grazing hers pulled her away with his warmth. He smiled at her, “I thanked this world and this forest for sending me this Canadian Bella Donna.”

“You are the most romantic man that I have ever met.”

“I am not always like this. It is being with you, that brings these feelings out of me.” He grabbed her and at the base of the tree, kissed her deeply. Shit, that creature’s clock just clicked several tocks closer to the hour hand. Carol didn’t resist, letting his lips crush against hers. His tongue penetrated her mouth. She fought hard to restrain herself, but couldn’t.

When they broke apart his smile, his sheer loving presence was intoxicating. She wanted to have him kiss her again and again. God, someone just pushed me from the cliff of reason and understanding. This isn’t good.

He pulled back. “You say nothing, but the look in your eyes gives you away.”

“Thanks, I guess I just didn’t want to say anything that might spoil this moment.” Her heart thumped wildly and her legs shook as she pulled away and began to walk down the boarded trail.

He wrapped his arm around her as they walked. The sheer touch of his body, exhilarating. “I think the blood has left your extremities. I shall hold you up. Ah, my Bella Donna, nothing can spoil these moments.” Yes, I am in major trouble.

She has called the others.

We must go.

They can’t find us either.

And the pain begins. It screamed in agony.

The others are coming, we must go. They can not detect us.

We must find the release from this curse. As the others want to, as well.

They know.

She is the one to release us.

We know.

The blue fairy pulled itself into the bowels of the earth.

They walked both sections of the trail, for the most part quiet as he took in the wonder of a West Coast rain forest. The lichens hanging like a woman’s hair, different colored fungus’ that grew out of living and dead trees. Ferns that sprouted everywhere as if planted by a drunken mad gardener.

When they got back to the trail head, Tony excused himself to go to the outdoor washroom. Carol walked several feet away. Something in the darkness of the brush next to her. A glimmer of yellow, burning a second then gone. Flutters of winds on trees and shapes crawling in the dark, flooded into her head. She moved closer, chillness swung over her and a native being decked in ferns and animal skins edged from the mists. You called earlier.

Carol had forgotten. I called who? What?

I am a shaman of the Songhees. We come, because of him and who he brings and what he has done. Disturbs the past. He spoke directly into her mind as he began to waver as if unable to focus on keeping himself present.

Carol closed her eyes a moment, the Songhees shaman that Begbie defended. “You are not so strong here. Why? Is it from his kind?”

Run to the wall and wonder. Seek why it is so? There I can talk with power.

Carol heard the outdoor toilet door open and the being vanished. Well that made less than sense.

With that the coolness evaporated as Tony came out of the wooden outdoor toilet.

“I guess it is time to head back to the hotel.” He glanced at his watch.

“Agreed, I have to be back on duty in three hours, shame” she replied.

“I could ask you out for dinner and perhaps up to my room tomorrow.” She knew what the trip to his room meant. Trouble, big fricking trouble.

“I’ll check my schedule and if I’m booked, see if I could get free.”

He smiled back at her. “Yes, perfecto.”

That was the problem, she would love it. I need to talk to the only girl friend I got here,

Agnes. The minute hand clicked one closer. I know I can’t resist him, he is too much.

** *

The next day back at work she had to dodge around the dozens of roses that littered her office and a card that simply said, ‘To my Canadian love, thanks for the wonderful day.’ She stared at the word, love. Shit, this has gone too deep. I can’t let this continue. Damn, why him? Somehow, I’ve got to tell him. Carol fought back the tears. Shit, because I know it’s too late for me. She checked her watch, the High Tea was to begin within the hour, Agnes said she’d talk to her.

** *

Carol strolled up to Agnes in the tea room. Oddly enough, she caught Jake sitting beside her. Jake was dressed in casual suit and tie, very distinguished looking. Agnes in a long flowing dress done in frills and lace.

Bastard, with that smug face, I’d love to put a bullet through it. “Ah glad you could join.” Agnes smiled, “I had just sat down and was admiring the beauty of this room and its tasteful appointments when this handsome man walked by and, quite out of my nature, I asked him if he was Ms. Moore’s bathrobe man?’” She giggled. “And I told her, you must be Ms. Teak. I was told you were staying here. I caught your show in Vegas quite a few years ago,” Jake supplied his reply.

“So, I invited him to join me for tea. Gets a bit lonely sometimes not having any adoring fans to chat with.”

Jake turned back to Agnes. “Of course, there are ways and means of making these things appears real. I thought it might be props and people planted in the crowd. I dare you, read my mind and I’ll buy this tea. Go ahead, prove me wrong,” he growled, with that male confident stare Carol remembered from their first meeting.

Agnes’ eyes flashed. Carol had seen her get upset before, but to be called a charlatan definitely stirred the old girl’s dander.

Agnes clanked her cup down hard. “Close your eyes and just try to blank your mind.”

Jake did, putting his hands on his lap. Carol was surprised that Agnes didn’t want to hold one of his in order to read him better.

“You are very good at clearing your mind.” She frowned as if pretending to have a hard time. Then she opened one eye and winked at Carol.

“I’m well trained in doing that, makes for greater focus in my job.”

“Ah, important, for an agent.”

His eyes shot open. “You tell her anything?”

“Don’t need to, she reads mine like an open book.”

“And this.” Agnes made the sound of a sharp crack noise of a whip flicking as she imitated someone wielding one with her hand. Jake turned beet red. “An admirer and practitioner of the fifty shades book series then.”

Jake rose and waved the waitress over growling, “Put this on my room tab. I’m outta here before they get my bank account numbers and drain them.”

He left the room as the two ladies giggled. “Remind me never to tee you off.” Carol smirked.

“He looks rather good with his tail between his legs. I do so hate been called a charlatan. Rather raises my blood pressure that does. Now back to a relaxing tea, scone and those terrific lemon cheesecakes which are to die for. Although,” she watched the hard confines of his rear as he walked away, “He is very delicious, shame his inside doesn’t match his outside. Anyway, let’s forget about him. I get you have a much bigger problem with an even more handsome fellow.”

Carol closed her eyes, tears welled up and she unloaded everything that happened with her and Tony.

“Oh dear, how distressing for you. I warned you to stay away from though him, didn’t I? I saw this coming. You’ve fallen in love with the enemy and I think he has as well. You’ve bewitched him, Canadian Bella Donna.”

Carol screwed up her face. “Man, I hate that you can read me like a book.”

“Then in order to avoid possible bloodshed and respect both your integrities you must tell him and break it off. As soon as possible! As you know they have this code of honor.” Agnes raised her voice at the end.

Omerta, yes I know about it.”

“Then as you know with the Cosa Nostra; they are sworn to have no involvement with any police or justice system what so ever, no confiding or cooperation. He will be very upset, but potentially in danger if they find out. If others find out about you, there may be a hit put out on you and him possibly as well.”

“That’s kinda what I thought. Damn, I easily could have married that man. He is incredible.” “So, I’ve heard.”

“Don’t you mean read?” They both laughed as Carol told her about her hike which she knew Agnes had already picked out of her head, but it lightened the mood and somehow it was good to share details with another woman. After all her mom had passed away a few years ago and other than her sister, didn’t really keep any close female friends.

Agnes rearranged her hat, the signal she was done, she reached over and touched Carol’s hand, “Thanks for sharing. But you must tell him quickly or I sense there could be big trouble. Oh, and come see me for a séance tonight. I may be able to help you find Nathan.”

“A séance? Really? You know something about my nephew?”

“Have I steered you wrong before? I need to get inside your head to find out something I’m missing and again can’t say much more than that, here.” Agnes strode slowly from the room with the grace of the Queen. She nodded with a tip of her hat to the shimmering image Carol got of poor Margaret, waiting at her table. Waiting for her man.

Now the hard part. But first I need to talk to Big Dan and let him know what’s going on.

* * *

Carol sat Tony down in her office. “Tony, I have to tell you something before I continue this,” she touched her chest and pointed to his, “with us.”

He quietly settled into his chair, not the confident full-of-Italian-bravado man she fell in love with. “My bella donna, you are going to tell me you have another? Or that you will lie to me and tell me you are not, innamorato, in love with me, because I see it in your eyes, as I am. If you need time I understand, this is a place to be scared of, we are from different lands and cultures.”

Carol held her hand up. “Stop, you are making this hard. First, I have to say that I have never met a man like you. I never believed I could fall this deep, this fast.” He began to rise, and she waved him down. “No, sit I have to finish this. More than anything I want to continue, but I can’t.” She fought back the tears and emotion welling inside. Her hands shook. Christ this is the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do. Mom, grant me the strength to continue.

Carol shook and took a deep breath. She was also prepared if this went bad and he reacted negatively. Yet somehow Carol knew he wouldn’t. “I did not intend this to become what it is, and for that I am sorry.”

It was awful to watch such a vibrant grown macho man crumble “I-I my love, am crushed.”

“This is the hardest thing I have ever had to do, but I have to honor myself and you.”

He stared. “I don’t understand.”

“There are times when two worlds must not, and cannot, nor will ever be allowed to cross. I have read and understand the Cosa Nostra code of ethics. So, I cannot betray the man I am falling in love with. Because,” she choked back her emotions. “I’m involved with the Canadian police. I’m here to watch over the wedding.” The explanation was all she was allowed to say, direct orders from Big Dan.

His mouth fell. He stared, anger flashed across his eyes as she knew it might. Then he dropped his head. “As you know, my code of honour as Cosa Nostra forbade this, forbade you.” He crossed his hands in front of him in the sign of the cross and slammed his fist into the wood arm of the chair. He closed his eyes, for a moment the man she knew was gone and only a boy remained. A small frightened lad.

“Yes, I know. Mine as well. I will not go to the wedding with you. Nor can I allow this to proceed. I know your code and I cannot deceive you any longer. I trust that you will tell no one of my background. I need to end this now, while my own heart remains.”

“You have broken my heart and that has never been done before.” He took a deep breath.

“As have you.”

She half expected him to go into some kind of rage, was ready to defend herself if need-be. To her surprise he remained calm. “My lips will be sealed about anything to do with you, with us. On that you have my word.”

He took another deep breath. “As are mine with you.” He stepped forward. “One final kiss.” Tony Belletti waved her arms away and pulled Carol to him. They kissed for several long moments.

The hunger inside threatened to possess them Carol felt her will washing away, in that moment she knew that what she thought she felt was real.

He pulled away, his eyes had gone a deep dark black. “Goodbye my Canadian Bella Donna. I shall always remember you.” Tony Belletti walked from her life and the room, closing the door behind him without looking back.

Carol crumpled to her desk and held back the sobs.

As shall I my Italian passionate man.

My Uomo Apassionato. As shall I.

Then a flood of uncontrollable tears exploded from within.

* * *

Agnes walked just ahead of Carol in the fairly narrow passageway, she’d asked Carol along to recheck something in Fan Tan Alley. “My senses tell me a clue to our cases dwells here.”

As she said that a hand from the shadows just past the corner of a building, holding a large pipe, slammed the back of her head as the elder walked past. Agnes fell in a heap. A knife snicked from its sheath, shiny silver glinted in the moonlight. Carol ran forward and kicked the knife free but the assailant slammed the pipe into the back of her leg and she too crumpled in a daze. Agnes moaned as what looked like an older woman raised her hand to administer a crushing blow to her head. Around her neck dangled a five-sided pendant.

Carol pulled her gun free from its hidden ankle holster. Agnes saw her in a haze and threw her arm up, knocking Carol’s arm. The explosion deafened them as a bullet ricocheted down the alley, missing her target. Carol fired again. Sparks and blood flew as the hand holding the pipe swung towards her instead of Agnes’ head. It hit Carol’s hand in a bloody smear. Her gun spun away, and the pipe clanked to the ground bouncing into Carol’s foot. Both Carol and the assailant cried out in agony.

The figure began to pull back into the darkness. Carol dove for her and only got one foot as she receded into the dark. The woman shoved hard against the detective with a surprizing amount of strength, her foot catching Carol just under the throat as she vanished into the darkness.

Coughing, Carol rolled, miraculously finding her gun. She stared at the dark area. Nothing moved. Keeping her eyesight trained, she grabbed the small flashlight she always kept on herself. Expecting a corridor or an alcove only brick wall stared back. “What?”

There was no possible place to hide a mouse let along a human. She shined the light upwards, half expecting the person to pull some kind of Spiderman stunt. Only more brick work shone back.

Agnes rose to her feet and grabbed her hat, stumbling slightly.

“What the hell just happened?” Carol shone the light all around them, with her gun following.

“Didn’t expect that. Mugger, I guess,” the old gal said as she hauled herself up and began to walk slowly away from the scene.

“Mugger? Wait a frigging minute. There’s not only no one here besides us. She’s vanished into the brick work. You can’t hide in two inches thick of shadow.”

Agnes kept walking until she got into the street lights gleam. Carol rushed up behind her.

“Stop. Mrs. Van Lunt what are you not telling me?”

Agnes breathed a deep breath. “Didn’t expect that. Let’s just say I’ve got enemies.” She shook her head and took a long drink from her flask. “Enemies that are not only after me, which alone is cause for alarm, but can pull off shit without my sensing she was there and deceived me into coming here.”

A psychic that couldn’t read her attackers mind nor sense her presence. This makes even less sense. “You ain’t moving until you tell me what the hell just happened.”

“I can’t tell you.”

“I need to know more than that.”

“I can’t. If I tell you several people including yourself and Nathan will die. That is all.” Agnes moved to go around her.

Carol blocked her way. “Nathan? Damn it, woman. Why aren’t you telling me what in fuck just happened? Because I know what I just saw, a woman armed with a pipe and knife emerged from shadows only a couple of inches thick and whacked you upside the head. Then you stopped me from putting a bullet through her.”

“I can’t. Didn’t know she could do that. She fooled me into coming here. If not for you, I’d be dead. People will die, myself included.”

“Bull crap. You read minds, a psychic. You probably already knew this was going to happen. You can’t get BS past this detective.”

“I know.” Agnes thought a moment, glancing at her watch and closed her eyes. “The vortex has just collapsed, she’s gone and can’t return for now. We have maybe a minute in what I call the null zone before another can start. All I can tell you is that she’s taken your nephew as insurance against me and you. If you would have killed her just then, we’d never find him.” “He’s missing because of you? How…” Carol was stunned.

“I think so. She can’t take me out, I thought, but apparently not so. She’s marked me and I’m not safe, only I can’t take her out. Neither can you now, she has Nathan.”

“You’re not telling me who she is?”

“I can’t.”

“His abduction was days ago. He was abducted before I met you.”

“Yup, vortex manipulation. You saved my life. She insures you don’t go after her. So, I can’t tell you and that’s it.”

“Her pendant. The story you told me about the devil worshippers and the band.”

“Just that. I was afraid something like this could happen. She is probably watching us, much in the same way as I do through Cider. Maybe she can read your thoughts as well, not sure.”

Carol’s head was spinning, trying to put everything together in some coherent order. Mere seconds remained. “You can’t tell me anything? I caught the pendant around her neck. She has someone on her side you can’t beat.”

“Yes, she has access to the vortex in this area, can shift through time and uses it at will.”

“That’s completely fucked up. So what do we do about it?”

“See me tomorrow for the séance.” Agnes glanced at her watch. “Time’s up.” She began to walk up the street.

Carol stared at her retreating figure as Agnes took a good long pull at her flask and continued walking. Glancing back and forth at each shadow she crossed.

Agnes had managed to get herself in some kind of deep dark trouble.

* * *

Pure beeswax candles shed a dim light as three incense sticks filled the air of Agnes’ room with a serene grounding aroma. The lights in the room were turned off as Carol walked in. “If you’re wondering, the electrics interfere with the process.”

Carol inhaled deeply, the incense having the desired effect, she sipped at the tea made from lemongrass that Agnes already had waiting for her. Helps clear the mind, Agnes had said. She felt everything with Tony slip away. “I told him, he took it better than I thought. It was harder for me, I think. I knew he was the enemy, but there was something about him that tore at my heart.”

“Maybe because he was the enemy and you knew you couldn’t have him. I just saw him down in the lobby, on the phone. Sounded like he was booking a flight home. Put me in mind of a love-struck puppy.” Agnes said as she watched Carol’s shoulders sink. “Once the grief has left you, you’ll feel better and so will he.” Her flowing cotton gown was woven with glistening colors of green, blue and bright yellows. Tassels adorned the sleeves and hem. A purple silk belt was wrapped around her waist in offset the pale pink and green mottled tie-dyed figures running through the gown, like an old Dagoli print. “I don’t get to do this much anymore. Although there are still a few very rich people that I see as clients, they pay extremely well for what you get today for free, so no judgement and let’s get on with the show. Besides old habits die hard and,” she covered over where the ears should have been on the skull, “Cider here is after all a crystalized rock. A rock yes, but much more. The properties of the crystal conduct vibrational energies, as they are not only connected to the earth, but they are of the earth. Now before we begin, there’s something you need to say to Cider first.” She removed her hands and gave Carol that condescending parental look.

“Say what?” Carol stared at the hollow crystal sunken eyes and at Agnes. “You are kidding me?”

“From a place of honesty as well. You know I can smell BS a mile away. Or she won’t help you, bad time of the month and all. A bit sensitive the old gal, so not my call.”

Carol gritted her teeth, fighting off the desire to scream out several profanities. Finding out if Nathan was still alive and saving him was what really mattered. God, she tries my patience. “Okay. I’m sorry about that crack earlier. I think it was some of my broken heart lashing out. Sorry. I didn’t really mean it and you probably know that, I’ve already done some wild bizarre things in my time, including travelling through the earth on some odd vibrational plane with a freaky little forest nymph and I know you’re more connected to stuff of the psychic world than I am. I trust Agnes and she believes in you. That is enough for me. Again, I am truly sorry.”

A low sigh filled the air. Carol’s eyes opened, “Did she…?”

“Yeah, just me.” She laughed. “I learned ventriloquism a long time ago.”

“You are such a bag.”

“Had you fooled, didn’t I?”

“Yup, and isn’t easy to fool a cop.”

“Been doing this for a few decades. But man, you have seen your face!

Priceless. Okay give me your hands and close your eyes.”

“Can I ask about what happened last night in the alley? You got enemies?”

“I can’t say much, she might be watching or listening. It has something to do with Nathan, not sure what. But we need to continue and quickly.” Agnes held her hands a moment, whispered some words, breathed over Carol’s hands and rubbed hers slowly over them. Shivers ran down her arms. She placed Carol’s hands over top of the skull and her hands over Carol’s. “Now breathe deeply and relax, let your mind clear. If at any time it becomes too much, and you can’t take it, pull away. This is going to be quite a journey.”

“What do you mean quite a journey? This is crazy.”

“You want to find the kid or not?” Carol nodded.

Agnes grabbed a wooden match and lit it. She started burning something in a bowl. Soon smoldering scents filled the air. She placed this before Carol and told her to inhale deeply.

“Then shut up and don’t ask. Let go of all your disbeliefs, inhale deep-

ly, this will relax your mind and allow you to open your subconscious where Cider can connect with you. Oh, and as another young girl once said, we’re off to see the wizard, the wonderful wizard in the Woo-woo lands that live beyond this realm. Now this will probably take awhile. So, enjoy the ride.”

Carol felt herself quickly enter an altered state of consciousness as something washed over her. What is happening, is she drugging me, was there something in that tea? The smell of incense and peyote faded to be replaced with the slow measured tick of a large wall clock. Ticks that began to speed up until the hands just blurred and Carol fell deeper in the trance.

It really isn’t acceptable to go drugging a friend is it? Agnes walked over to the bathroom sink, flushed the tea down the drain and washed her hands. But in this case, I need answers before that Satan possessed woman finds me. Answers I ain’t got and can’t get, no matter how many times I try.

If Carol has to pay for it, so be it.

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