I looked around the crowded mall, scanning every nook and cranny with both my eyes and my far more sensitive Psionic senses. The bastard was here somewhere and he wasnotgetting away from me again.
Me? I’m Christina Amies, and I’m a Psionic Finder.
Let me emphasize, I’m not a private investigator or bounty hunter, I’m afinder. I am most definitely not a psychic. A psychic is a person who claims to find stuff that normal senses can’t detect. A Psionic actuallyhasextra senses, beyond the usual five. So while I see and hear, touch, taste, and smell, with the best of them, I can also see around corners, read surface thoughts and emotions, even move things without physically touching them … and as a finder, I find things —realthings — with the power of my mind.
Yes, I can even bend a spoon with my thoughts. Didn’t believe that one myself until I bent my first spoon.
I used to think I was the only person in the world with Psionic abilities. A year ago I learned the hard way that there are a lot more people like me, hiding in plain sight just like I do — a much bigger story that I’ll get to in a bit. For now, in my little corner of the world, I’m still the only practicing Psionic that I know of ... and I am, bar none, the best Psionicfinderof all. Anywhere.
Which wasn’t much comfort right then, because the particular piece of scum in question was a kidnapper I’d contracted with the cops to track down. I'd located him, just as I was contracted to do, but when the police had closed in on the place, the bastard had stabbed the boy he’d kidnapped and taken off. The kid clung to life in the hospital; I was severely pissed off and more determined than ever to nail the S.O.B.
For two days I’d been close, but not close enough, and I was fed up. He was going downnow.
A flicker of movement in the aether caught my attention. In an instant I had my Psionic senses focused on the corresponding physical point … and there he was.
Almost as though he’d felt my probe, the guy bolted, heading for a bank of escalators in the middle of the fourth-floor concourse, shoving a couple of bystanders out of the way and loping down toward the third floor. Now that I’d spotted him, though, I was able to glean his surface thoughts — he was heading for the underground parking garage, five floors down.
I don’t like malls at the best of times. So many people crowded together sorely test my mental shielding — those barriers I have to erect and maintain when I’m around other people so I’m not overwhelmed by their leaked thoughts and emotions. Peoples’ mental meanderings are always in the aether around me, constantly pummeling at my senses. It takes a conscious effort for me to block them out. In small gatherings it’s not a problem; in a mall — especially one as big and crowded as this one — it could seem like wading through sticky mental syrup with every step, every breath.
That my quarry had come here had been, for him, a supremely smart move. In malls, I have to concentrate so much on keeping stuffoutthat I have a lot less resources left to bring thingsin. The mental noise created by hundreds of milling shoppers severely crimps my searching; I’m essentially restricted to the area immediately around me.
Wah, wah, enough self-pity. I’d found him despite the inconvenience — and now he was moving to a parking garage where there was sure to be a lot less Psionic noise and a lot less shoppers to observe me take him down. The headache that had been growing since I arrived at Shopper’s Nirvana was about to be history.
I watched for a moment as the scumbag disappeared down the moving stairs, then smiled to myself and headed to where I’d earlier noticed an elevator. I’d had the guy in my sights and senses long enough to tag him with a Psionic tether — that’s like a string through the aether. Once I have one of those tacked in my brain I can follow it to find who- or whatever is on the other end, no matter where it goes, no matter where I am. Even though the perp would get to the garage level before I did, I had him dead to rights — no need to keep the asshole in sight, no need to scramble down multiple escalators.
The thing is, escalators and stairs creep me out. It’s not a phobia — honest! — but I avoid them whenever I can. Elevators are myfriends.
As the elevator opened on level P1 I heard an engine roar to life. I stepped out of my transport and let my senses soar across the sea of metal steeds, following my Psionic thread to the car that had just been started. There it was ... and guess who was at the wheel. The creep had played right into my hands: he’d snagged a primo ride, replete with all of the fancy electronic bells and whistles like power mirrors, power locks, power seats … not to mention all the nifty security tricks that trap a felon inside until the police can arrive. It even sends a 911 call for help when something goes wrong.
I was about to make something go seriously wrong.
I heard the car wheels squeal as the creep attempted to burn rubber toward the exit, but speed would not help him today. As he started to accelerate down the aisle with only one turn left between him and the great outdoors, I envisioned grabbing hold of the car’s front end with a telekinetic lasso. I set myself, grit my teeth ... andpulled.
There was a time in my life when that maneuver would have been like trying to grab a bucking bronco with a piece of spaghetti. Today, my telekinetic grip is like iron: Nothing is too heavy for me to lift — and believe me, I’ve tested myself on a laundry list of heavy stuff: Steam shovels. Eighteen wheelers. An entire small building.
A year ago — at the same time I’d learned that hard lesson about not being the only Psionic in the world — I’d gotten my hands on an ancient relic called The Stone of Ages. As well as giving me an incredible head trip and a splitting headache, touching The Stone had seemed to somehow boost my Psionic power. The effect has gotten more pronounced as I’ve gained practice.
Stopping a car nowadays is kid stuff.
Anyway, I didn’t immediately halt the scumbag’s forward progress; instead, I slowed the car until its tires squealed ever more loudly against the concrete floor. My quarry’s emotions showed puzzlement, then desperation; he stomped harder on the gas, revving the engine, causing the wheels to spin even faster, the tires to smoke, and my ears to hurt.
Enough.I tightened my telekinetic grip on the vehicle, bringing it to a full stop, then quickly probed at the electronics under the hood.
There.I tripped the engine kill switch; immediately, fuel flow to the injectors was cut off. A moment later the engine began sputter. Another moment and I’d engaged the car’s power locks and activated the theft alarm, which disabled the lock release and the door handles.
The wild animal was caged.
Finally, just because he deserved it, I turned the power seat warmers on full and used the power seat adjustment to jam the driver’s seat as close to the steering wheel as it would go. He was not only trapped, he would very shortly be as miserable as I could make him.
The hard part of the capture taken care of, I activated the call for help circuit; then, as a cherry on top, I set off the car’s audible alarm. A quick brush of the scumbag’s emotions almost made me laugh; he was completely flummoxed as to why the car had turned on him and was beginning to cry for help as I pulled my senses away from him.
I turned my attention to notifying the cops so I could get paid.
I had just grabbed my cell phone when it rang in my hand. A glance at the Blackberry’s screen showed me the main number at my office — our receptionist, Annie, calling to check up on me. I clicked the greenacceptbutton.
“I’ve only got a minute, Annie,” I said over the reverberating racket of the ongoing car alarm. “I’ve got to call the cops to secure this kidnapper.”
There was a moment’s silence before I heard a worried voice through the phone’s earpiece. “What’s that noise, Christina? Are you all right?”
I chuckled. “Yeah, I’m fine — that noise is just ‘music’ to keep the bad guy company while he waits for his police escort. What’s up?”
“There’s been a lawyer bugging me all day to make an appointment with you,” Annie told me, accepting my explanation but speaking rapidly. “He says he needs you to find the lost heir to an estate. I wanted to be sure you were OK with taking on another missing person before I gave him an answer.”
I smiled — Annie was always looking out for me, as though she was my real sister rather than the “little sister” I was mentoring.
“Sure, why not?” I was riding the flush of success and ready to take on the world. “Sounds like it could be boring. I could use a bit of boring right now. Go ahead and set up an interview. I should be in tomorrow.”
“Will do,” Annie said, her usual cheer reasserting itself. “You be careful, Christina.”
“Always, Little Sister. I’ll see you in the morning. Say hi to Bill for me.” I clicked the Blackberry’s red button to end the call, then speed-dialed the lead detective on the kidnapping case.
“Detective Boggs,” he answered a moment later, then immediately asked, “hello? Is that a car alarm? Are you all right?”
“I’m fine, Sam,” I told him. “It’s Christina Amies. That car alarm is the gift wrapping on Jack Skanski.”
“Skanski? You’ve found him?”
“Found him and detained him—”Oops. Can’t tell him that, now, can I?“Well, detained him after a fashion, in the mall parking garage. He’s trapped in a car he tried to steal — one of those newish ones with the built-in theft protection, you know?”
Boggs laughed for a moment. “You’re kidding me. After that slick escape he pulled the other day he’s trapped himself by being stupid?”
“No joke, detective, the alarm is proof. Speaking of which, I hope you can get someone here pretty quick to turn the damn alarm off. It’s giving me a headache.” The alarm was starting to hurt my ears and I couldn’t leave until the police showed up to take Skanski into custody and sign off on my finder’s claim.
“I’ve got dispatch checking on it right now, Christina, and — hold on.” He was gone a moment, then came back. “Apparently the car put out a 911. A unit is on its way. I’m having the responders updated on what to expect, and I’ll head that way in a minute as well. Will you still be there?”
“Not if the patrol car gets here first,” I told him, even as a police car with its lights already flashing pulled into the garage. “And what do you know, there they are. I’ll introduce myself to the officers and then I’ve got to be on my way.”
“I understand,” Boggs chuckled. “Well, thanks for the good work, Christina. As usual, we owe you.”
“And also as usual, all you have to do is make sure my bill gets paid and we’re even.”
I like Sam Boggs; he’s a good guy and does solid detective work, but he still can’t get past thinking I do this as a public service. If I’ve told him once, I’ve told him a hundred times: Finding is myjob,just like it’s his job to lock the guy up. Gratitude is fine, but he doesn’t owe me one. Make sure that the check gets cut and we’re good.
“Yeah, yeah, I know,” he said, still sounding good-natured. “I’m too old a dog to get that trick straight in my head. Still, I’m really glad you’re on our side.”
“Yeah, well I don’t see how anyone could be on Skanski’s side.” My throat filled with bile at the thought. “Any news about the kidnapped boy?”
“Docs are now saying that he’s going to pull through,” Boggs reported. “We got to him in time, thanks to you.”
I heaved a small sigh of relief. “Well, that’s something, anyway. Gotta go now, Sam, the officers have arrived.”
It took me a couple of minutes to work my way across the garage to the hobbled car. The alarm stopped just as I arrived; apparently the cops had contacted the monitoring company with the car’s information. In blissful silence, I was able to hail one of the officers so I could get a signature on my claim card.
I’ve been doing this long enough that most cops within a hundred miles of my office know about me. Even if they haven’t met me, they appreciate what I do to assist their efforts. I’d met this particular officer before; Sgt. Dormeier gave me a huge grin for the situation our trapped felon was in, and happily autographed the document that acted as proof that my end of a contract was fulfilled.
“It’s always a pleasure when you find the doer for us, Ms. Amies,” Dormeier said through the grin, then glanced once more at the car. “This one’s almost gift wrapped, and — hey, what the heck?”
I followed the sergeant’s eyes to the front end of the vehicle, and felt a chill run through me at the sight. There was a clearly visible circle of crumpled metal crossing the car’s hood and down the side at exactly the spot where I’d envisioned telekinetically lassoing the fleeing metal beast. Apparently I’d grabbed just a bit too hard.
While I stared at my gaffe, struggling to keep my jaw from dropping, Sgt. Dormeier had taken a step over to the front of the car and was gently touching the damage.
“What in the world could have done this,” he wondered aloud, a look of perplexity fixed on his face. He glanced at me for a moment, then back to the car. “I’ve never seen anything like it.”
I took a quick breath to be sure my voice wouldn’t squeak, then worked as hard as I could to keep my tone level.
“I haven’t a clue, Sergeant,” I told him, even as I felt my heart pound in my chest. “It’s a new one on me, too.” Well, it was new, even if I did have a bit more than a clue what had caused it.
Dormeier took a step back and shook his head. “You’d think a guy trying to steal a car would at least pick one in good condition,” he said, clearly unimpressed with Skanski’s abilities as a thief. “But then, someone who’s almost killed a young boy clearly ain’t that bright to start with.”
I decided the smartest thing for me to do was keep my mouth shut. Apparently Dormeier was done wondering about the matter, anyway, as he called over to his partner, “OK, Hank, cover him. It’s time to have the alarm people pop the doors for us.” Then he turned to look at me for a brief moment.
“Thanks again, Ms. Amies, but you’d better clear out of here. Don’t want you in the line of fire while we hogtie the perp.”
“On my way, Sergeant,” I told him, then fled as quickly as I could to locate my own car and celebrate having found one more creep.
On the way, I made a mental note to work some more on that whole lasso thing.