All rights belong to the author: Stephanie Doyle.
This is a short fragment for review the book. The full version can be purchased in the store.

Stephanie Doyle
Possessed

© 2006


Dear Reader,

If you’ve ever seen John Edward’s show Crossing Over, then you know he can be frighteningly accurate. He’s a medium who claims to communicate with the dead, and passes their messages along to loved ones.

When he was tested by scientists they found his “hit” rate-the number of times he accurately stated something about a person he’d never met before-so high they concluded he had to be telepathic. Because, of course, being a medium was beyond the realm of science.

I loved the idea of scientists having to accept something outside the norm to explain something even further outside the norm. And so my heroine for this story, Cass, was born. Thinking about what it would mean to hear voices from the dead made me wonder…what if some of those voices weren’t so friendly? The next thing I knew I had the idea for her story. Cass may be small, she may be a loner, but her bravery comes from a very big heart.

Hope you enjoy this story. I adore hearing from readers. You can e-mail me via my Web site at www.stephaniedoyle.net.

Stephanie Doyle

For my editor, Wanda, because you get it, even when I don’t write it.

Thanks.


Chapter 1

The hiss of steam hitting milk inside a pitcher echoed. The smell of strong coffee permeated the air. Beyond the bar where Cassandra Allen worked creating espresso concoctions, she surveyed the coffeehouse. Overstuffed chairs. Coffee tables littered with books and magazines. A few straggler customers taking in that last bit of caffeine, hoping that it wouldn’t keep them up all night or maybe hoping that it would.

A tingle on the back of her neck told her it was coming. But from who? One of the customers? She turned to her colleague, who was wiping down the pastry counter in preparation for closing. The sensation grew stronger.

In her mind another familiar sight took shape. A square, white room. Empty except for her. She stood in the center, looking at a lone closed door.

The door opened and a rush of energy blew at her, causing her body to jolt. Cass smothered a gasp. A woman stood on the other side of the threshold. Her features were blurred by the hazy fog that enveloped her, but Cass could sense she was older, plump, and her hair was the color of faded brick. The woman’s voice was faint when she spoke, but her words were clear.

She has to talk to him. He’s so upset. She’s so angry. I can’t go until I know they’re okay.

The door closed suddenly, and, just as quickly as it had formed, the image of the white room was gone.

Her mind clear, Cass cursed as the hot froth foamed over the top of the pitcher and down her hand. Shutting off the steam, she set the heated milk aside and rinsed her hand under a stream of cold water in the sink. It helped to take the sting out of the burn, but the remnant pain of contact still lingered.

The song of a cell phone muffled by a large purse broke through the sound of running water.

Cass sighed, shut off the tap and did what she had to do. “That’s going to be your dad.”

Her fellow barista, Susie, continued to wipe down the counter and ignored the chirping phone under the counter. Her hair was a bright red, probably enhanced by chemicals, but the resemblance was there.

Cass shrugged at the nonresponse. She took the settled milk and poured it over two shots of black espresso into a massive mug, making sure to keep it light on the foam per the customer’s request, then called out, “Large latte, light foam.”

She placed the mug on the counter for the customer, who was on his second drink, to come and collect it. With a silent nod he took his order and returned to his table with his book.

“You’re going to have to talk to him eventually,” Cass said after the ringing stopped.

Susie stared at the purse under the cash register and scrunched her face in denial as she continued to wipe the now perfectly clean counter in front of her. “You don’t know who that was.”

“Call it a hunch,” Cass said.

Susie paused in her task and looked at Cass with a mix of skepticism, suspicion and maybe a hint of fear.

“You are so freakin’ weird,” she accused.

Cass shrugged. It wasn’t like Susie was wrong.

The girl let out a huff. “It doesn’t matter if it was him. I don’t want to talk to him.”

“It’s not about what you want. It’s about what your mother wants,” Cass said calmly.

Although the contact had been brief, the message had been plain. Cass was able to fill in the rest from what Susie had told her.

There had been an accident. Four months ago. Her dad was driving. Her mom didn’t make it, but he did. It was no one’s fault. Just a slick road and fate. Susie was having a hard time coping with the loss. What girl who had lost her mother wouldn’t? But Susie’s mom knew that the only thing that would help both her husband and her daughter was for Susie to find a way to forgive her father.

“Whatever.” A typical response from an eighteen-year-old.

Cass decided she couldn’t, wouldn’t, push it. After all, it really wasn’t her business. It never was.

Rubbing a hand over her face, she suddenly realized how tired she was. It was almost ten-closing time. They still had a couple milling over cappuccinos in one corner, and the man with his recently poured latte and a thick book in another. Cass hated to shoo people out of the establishment. Shooing, in her opinion, was not good for business. But the manager of the coffeehouse had strict rules about keeping the place open beyond operating hours and, besides that, she needed to get home. At this hour, her neighborhood in Philadelphia became slightly more threatening as the denizens of the night came out to do business.

Then the cell phone started singing again.

Okay, so maybe it wasn’t any of Cass’s business, but the high-pitched digital song was starting to give her a headache. “Really, Susie, he’s not going to stop until you pick up the phone.”

“Stop saying that. You don’t even know if it’s him,” she snapped.

“Yes, I do,” Cass said simply.

As if she were hoping to prove Cass wrong, Susie reached into her bag and extracted the phone. Her face gave away everything when she spotted the incoming number. With a muttered “Hello,” she waited for the other person to speak.

“No, I’m not coming home tonight, Dad…I’m staying with Peter.”

Trying to give the girl some privacy, Cass turned her back on the conversation. She knew Susie’s father didn’t like her choice of boyfriend. Susie had said as much. Staying with him certainly wasn’t going to help the situation between her and her father.

Again, none of her business. It was just an unfortunate side effect of her unique gift that made her privy to people’s secrets.

Struggling against the physical weariness that seemed to flood her system, Cass rubbed her jaw, twisting it gently from side to side. Her back ached, and her feet, despite being encased in very practical black sneakers, started to communicate to her how long she’d been on them.

The jingle of the bell over the front door chimed and captured her attention. Glancing down at her watch, she saw that there were only ten minutes to closing. Yeah, she was going to have to make sure this coffee was to go. Good business habits or not, she was ready to call it a night.

“You! Are you her?”

Cass lifted her head at the sudden barking. The first thing that registered was the man’s wild, red-rimmed eyes. The second was the gun in his hand.

“Oh, my God! He’s got a gun!” This from one of the lovebirds in the corner.

“Shut up! Shut up, all of you. I just want her.”

Cass had no doubt who he was referring to. She heard Susie drop the phone on the floor. She saw the man in the chair who had been reading his book preparing to stand, and she immediately held up her hands to prevent anyone from doing anything rash.

“I’m right here.”

“I have to talk to you,” he said, the gun shaking in his unsteady hand. He wore a pair of jeans topped with a white, long-sleeved shirt and nothing else, but she doubted he felt the late October freeze that had recently descended upon the city.

“Okay,” Cass said calmly. “We can talk.”

Susie burst into tears, but everyone else in the coffeeshop was deathly silent.

“You have to tell her how much I miss her. I know you can do that. I heard from someone…about you. About what you do. I need you to talk to her.”

Surreptitiously, Cass reached under the coffee bar for her oversize handbag even as she answered him. “Yes, I can tell her.”

“Prove it!” He moved closer to her, the gun in line with her face.

“I’m just going to come out from around the bar.”

Adjusting her apron carefully over her black trousers and black sweater, Cass emerged from behind the bar, ducking under the opening rather than lifting the partition. She moved slowly so as not to alarm him until she was standing directly in front of him.

“How do you want me to prove it?”

“Tell me her name.”

“I don’t know her name.”

“You’re supposed to. You’re supposed to know her name or the first letter or something. Like they do on TV.”

Cass shook her head. “Maybe if you put the gun down. You’re scaring these people.”

“I don’t care,” he whispered. He ran his free hand over his scruffy face, then rubbed one of his eyes with his fist. “I need to talk to her, and he told me that you could make that happen, but I want proof.”

Cass closed her eyes and tried to concentrate. The white room started to take shape in her mind, and as soon as it did, the door flew open, slamming back against the white wall. A stinging sensation lanced her brain as the rush of energy hit her. When she opened her eyes, a woman stood on the other side of the door. She was younger. Dark and pretty and dressed in a silk purple teddy. She cried as she spoke.

Cass focused her attention on the desperate man in front of her as she listened to the voice in her head.

“She bought a purple teddy,” Cass relayed. “Your birthday was last month, wasn’t it? The tenth?”

His hand clenched more tightly around the gun and he wet his lips. He nodded. “Yes. It was a Monday.”

“She wanted to surprise you. Shock you a little, I think. But every time she put it on, she always took it off right after. She thought it made her hips look fat. She was very self-conscious.”

His lips wobbled into a distracted smile. “She hated her hips.”

“I know,” Cass said gently. “She wants you to put the gun down, Jess.”

“How do you know my name?”

“She told me.”

“She can’t,” he whimpered. “She can’t talk anymore.”

“Yes, she can,” Cass countered softly as she moved a step closer toward him. The gun practically touched her nose. “And she wants you to give me the gun. She says it’s for the best.”

“Don’t…” Jess muttered.

The man in the chair started to move again, and his actions startled Jess. Predictably, Jess panicked at the sudden movement and in retaliation pushed the end of the revolver against the center of Cass’s forehead.

“Don’t move, man-I’ll kill her. You don’t know. I’ll do it. I have nothing to live for. Nothing.”

Cass shuddered at the feel of the cold steel pressed between her eyes. Trembling slightly, she still managed to lift her hand to signal to Large Latte Light Foam to stay back.

“It’s okay. Sit down.” She turned her head and felt the tip of the gun graze her brow as she made eye contact with the wannabe hero. He was shaking, and she could see that he wanted to act. Not that it would have been an easy task considering he still held a book in one hand and a coffee mug in the other.

Mentally, she commended him for the effort. However, if he moved, she had no doubt she would be dead before he overtook Jess. Cass wasn’t overly concerned about the prospect, but she knew it didn’t have to end this way.

“You’re not going to kill me, Jess,” she told him, turning back slowly so that she once again made eye contact. “You’re going to give me the gun. She wants me to remind you about what you said on your wedding day. You said you would never hurt her. You said you wouldn’t hurt a bug if that’s what she wanted. That’s how much you loved her. She doesn’t want you to hurt me.”

With that, he dropped his head and wept deep, gut-wrenching sobs. His arms fell to his side, and the.38 revolver hung loosely in his hand. She reached out and took it. He didn’t seem to notice.

“I need to talk to her,” he gasped. “I have to let her know I’m sorry.”

“She knows.”

“I thought the purple teddy was for…”

“It wasn’t, Jess. It was for you.”

“I know that now,” he snapped. “I read it in her diary.”

Once again she met his wide, wild eyes, and her body tightened in reaction. She placed the gun on the counter behind her, then slowly reached inside the useful pocket in the front of her apron where she typically kept squeeze bottles filled with caramel.

Before she could get her hand free of the pocket, he grabbed her. His fingers wrapped around her upper arms, squeezing them painfully. “You have to tell her something for me. You have to tell her I didn’t mean it.”

“You can tell her yourself,” she replied calmly, tugging gently to extract her hand from the apron. “You’ve always had the ability. Now, I have to make some calls. I’m very sorry. This isn’t going to hurt. Much.”

His body jerked abruptly and for a second the grip on her arms tightened even more, causing her to wince. Then he fell lifelessly to the ground.

Large Latte Light Foam moved to stand over the prostrate man. “What did you do to him?”

Cass held up a strange-looking weapon. “It’s a stun gun. It gave him a jolt, that’s all. Susie, call 911.”

“You’re hurt,” the man said, raising his hand with the book in it, probably for the first time realizing he still held it, and pointing at her nose.

Cass reached for her face, and when she pulled her hand back she saw the blood on her fingers. Inwardly, she cursed. A result of the connection. Jess’s wife had been more intense than Susie’s mom. She dug out a tissue from her apron pocket and held it against her nostrils to stem the flow.

“It’s just a bloody nose. I get them.”

Susie was still staring at the body. “Oh, my God, that was so scary and weird and…”

“911, now!” Cass barked. She didn’t have time for hysterics. There was no way of knowing how long the man would stay down.

“And tell the dispatcher he’ll need to call Homicide,” she instructed. “There’s been a murder.”

The couple from the back had joined the group. The girl clung to her boyfriend as they both stared down at Jess, whose right leg twitched uncontrollably.

“I don’t get it,” the boyfriend said. “What was that all about? What did he want? Who are you?

“I work here,” Cass said.

Large Latte Light Foam snorted. “Why did you want her to tell the cops that we needed a homicide detective if he’s not dead?”

“Because he killed his wife.”

“You can’t know that,” the girlfriend said, muffled against her boyfriend’s chest. “Right? She’s freaking me out, Ted.”

“Sorry,” Cass apologized to the girl. But it wasn’t as if she could help it, and she wasn’t one to hold back the truth, no matter how bizarre it was.

“How?” Large Latte Light Foam wanted to know, his tone clipped, his face a picture of suspicion. It was an expression Cass was used to. “How do you know he did it? He didn’t say he did it.”

“No, he didn’t,” Cass agreed calmly. “But she did.”

Chapter 2

“Cass!”

Cass glanced up at the sound of her name and scowled.

“Dougie, you better have a really good reason for this,” she warned.

She’d been summoned down to police headquarters, located in Center City, Philadelphia, about a half hour ago. It was past one in the morning, and after the night she’d already had she was beyond exhausted.

And the lobby’s hardwood bench was killing her ass.

But Dougie never called unless it was important. When she’d walked into her apartment, the phone in the kitchen had been ringing. Despite the strangeness of the hour, and the likelihood that the call was important, she’d let the machine pick it up. When she’d heard Dougie’s plaintive voice calling to her from the machine, she’d groaned, knowing she wouldn’t be able to resist him.

Once, she’d thought it was his big brown eyes that were irresistible, but now she knew it was his voice. Half man’s, half boy’s, his voice compelled every woman within earshot to want to either save him or cook for him.

Since she’d been pumped up from the adrenaline rush of almost being shot, and since the possibility of falling asleep had seemed remote, Cass had buckled and returned his call.

Now her butt was numb, the adrenaline high was completely over, and all she could think about was how she would have absolutely no problem getting to sleep. Instead, she was at police headquarters, a place, she had learned from experience, where nothing good ever happened.

Detective Doug Brody stopped and checked over his shoulder for any other cops who might be lingering in the area, then shook his finger at her, accompanied by a stern look. “How many times have I told you not to call me Dougie?”

“I can’t help it. It’s your name.”

Doug. Doug is my name. Dougie is what my mother calls me.”

Cass smiled, knowing he truly didn’t mind because Dougie was also what his wife used to call him. Then she turned her smile into a grimace.

“Don’t mess with me tonight, Detective. I’m crabby and tired. Did you hear about what happened at the coffeehouse?”

“Yep.”

“Then you know we were all stuck there for almost two hours giving our statements.”

“Yep.”

“I had just gotten home when the phone rang,” she elaborated. Dougie should understand the nuances of a guilt trip when it was being given. His mother was a professional at it.

“I know that, too,” he said.

“What are you? Psychic?”

“Cute.” He smirked. “Real cute. No, I heard about the husband and what happened, which was what made me think of you for this in the first place. I called one of the officers, hoping he would bring you here directly, but you had already left.”

“Did he make a statement?” Cass wanted to know. “Jess. Did he tell you where he…put her?”

“Yeah. I wasn’t in the room, but I got it from Steve. He broke down and confessed to the whole thing before Steve even started questioning him. They sent a team out to the house. Turns out he buried her in the basement.”

Cass wrapped her hands around either arm. How sad for both of them. Maggie-that had been her name-had loved her husband. But he’d been too wrapped up in jealousy, pride and ego. He claimed he’d come to Cass for help, but she believed he wanted to be caught. Maggie’s message had been very clear about stopping him, and the dead didn’t lie in her room.

The room itself was nothing more than a mental image she constructed and projected to help her deal with her gift.

As a child Cass had been assaulted by images and voices that accompanied a strange burst of pain that she couldn’t predict. The inability at first to understand what was happening to her, then to control it, had nearly driven her mad.

Over time, with the help of others who understood her mental anguish, she learned to recognize the precursors of contact: the tingling sensation on the back of her neck, sometimes a subtle change in the feel of the air around her. Once Cass was able to determine when contact was about to happen, she could set the imaginary room as a stage for the dead, with them on one side of the door and her on the other as a way to keep herself separate. When the door opened, she knew to brace herself for the searing burst of energy that always followed.

Crossing the barrier between the living and the dead was never a gentle moment.

For her the gift wasn’t like what was described in movies or on TV talk shows. It wasn’t letters of the alphabet, dates and different-colored flowers and serene images of a heavenly place. It was real images and actual voices. It didn’t mean those TV people were frauds: only that for her the gift was different.

Cass likened it to talent. Some people had musical talent or athletic talent or artistic talent. And even within a type of talent there were different strengths. Some artists used watercolors, others oil, still others used metal.

A gift, like a talent, was unique to the individual.

Hers just happened to hurt, which is why she did everything she could to prepare herself for the impact. Conjuring the door to ready her body and mind for what was coming was one way of dealing with it, and using yoga and Pilates to strengthen her body physically so that she was better able to handle the impact was another.

“Are you okay?” He had covered her hands with his and was rubbing strongly to warm her up as well as offer support. “You look a little pale.”

She glanced up into his narrow face and brown eyes. He was smiling gently, caringly. She might have wondered how he managed to stay untouched by the ugliness and despair that surrounded murder and in turn surrounded him. The answer was obvious.

Because he was a good man. Just not her man.

Deliberately, Cass backed away from his touch. “I’m good now.”

He sighed but took a step back as well. Then he crossed his arms over his chest and looked away. “Apparently, he was saying a lot of stuff in the conference room.” Conference room being a euphemism for interrogation room.

“You said it was Steve interrogating him?”

He nodded. “We both switched to the late shift.”

“Steve thinks I’m a wacko,” Cass said. “I can’t do anything about that.”

“Fortunately, with the confession, you shouldn’t need to get involved. Once the uniforms dig up the body, it will be a slam dunk.”

Cass turned to reach for her purse, which she’d set on the evil wooden bench. “You know, it wouldn’t kill you guys to spruce up the waiting area a little. Some cushions. Maybe a chair pillow or two.”

“Police stations aren’t designed for making people comfortable,” he returned. “I know it’s been a long night for you, and I wouldn’t have called you down here after all that, but I need your help with something.”

“What is it?”

“A case. A girl, about twenty, stabbed yesterday, not too far from where you live. I’ve got her brother, a man named Malcolm McDonough, in for questioning. The name ring a bell?”

“Should it?”

Dougie shrugged. “I guess not.”

“You think he did it?”

“I don’t know. This guy is a city bigwig. Construction, money, politics and all that shit. He’s got the mayor in his back pocket, and if I push too hard and he’s innocent, it’s going to be my neck on the line. I’ve been pressing him for hours, but I can’t get a read on him. He’s ice. Some people, that’s how they react when someone close to them dies. But it’s also how someone acts if he’s a sociopath. I need a feel one way or the other.”

She knew exactly what he meant. It wasn’t the first time she’d worked with the police. After she and Dougie had met, he’d come to respect her in ways that few people ever had. He saw her talent as something that could be helpful, not hurtful, and periodically, usually over the grumbles and jests of his colleagues and superiors, he was given the authority to hire her as a consultant. While she didn’t possess the more common psychic gifts used by other law enforcement agencies, in certain circumstances she could be useful.

Like in determining a suspect’s innocence or guilt.

“We can’t hold him much longer. He’s been in since this afternoon. He hasn’t lawyered up yet, but he’s getting impatient. It’s just a matter of time.”

“Your captain knows I’m here?”

“He knows that a friend of mine might be stopping by this evening.”

“A friend?”

“Whose consulting services will be well compensated for.”

Cass smiled. Unlike Steve, the captain didn’t believe she was a wacko. However, he also couldn’t reconcile the fact that she was what she was. His skepticism had been obvious the second they’d met. But a wise man didn’t look a gift horse in the mouth, and the captain was a pretty smart guy. The fact that in all the time she’d been doing this she’d never once been wrong didn’t hurt, either. And the extra cash always came in handy.

“Ten minutes,” Dougie said, urging her along. “Talk to him. Do your thing and then I’ll take you home.”

“I have my bike.”

“You mean your scooter?”

“Scooter, motorcycle, whatever.”

“Calling a scooter a motorcycle is like calling a go-cart a car,” he pointed out. “I’m not letting you go home on your own at two in the morning. The damn thing will fit in the back of my Cherokee.”

She was about to point out that she managed to make her way home every other night on her own, but she knew it was useless to resist. Still, pride had her making an effort. “You’re being ridiculous.”

“Please. Let me be chivalrous.”

She smiled indulgently. Chivalrous was the only way he knew how to be. Plus, he was looking at her with his warm, puppy dog eyes. Between them and the voice, she knew she wouldn’t be able to deny him anything.

“Have you ever not gotten what you wanted?”

Suddenly, the intentional puppy dog expression was gone, replaced by something much more sorrowful. “Yeah.”

“I’m sorry, Dougie. I didn’t mean to bring up Claire…”

“I know. Forget it. Just come and talk to this guy, okay?”

“Okay.”

She tried to brush her short, dark hair into place over what she was sure was an unnaturally wide forehead. The rest of it she just made sure was flat. It was so short it didn’t really have anywhere to go, but if she was consulting on a case, she imagined she should look somewhat respectable.

Although that probably wasn’t going to happen tonight, neat hair or not. She’d removed the work apron, but she was still dressed in her all-black uniform. An old but serviceable green trench coat covered the simple ensemble and kept her warm on the trip over. Added to that she’d tossed a purple wool scarf around her neck for more warmth and at least a pretense of fashion. Her practical sneakers squeaked against the linoleum as she and Doug made their way through a series of hallways.

She didn’t need a mirror to know she didn’t look like a cop or a lawyer. Which left either victim or criminal as a reasonable guess. Pride had her wishing it were the latter, but a hunch told her it was the former, and once more she tried to straighten her hair. Then she removed the green coat and slung it over her arm, hoping that the bulk of it would cover the milk stains on her clothes.

A few right turns past some doors into different hallways and she found herself in the homicide wing. Precincts with detectives assigned to them were scattered about the city, but all the homicide cops worked out of central. Dougie had started as a beat cop, earned his shield and worked the south division for a while, before moving to Homicide.

The move hadn’t been a promotion, though, so much as it was a calling. Death had touched him, and because it had, he needed to touch it back. Cass had been one of his few friends at the time to actually support the switch. Despite the ugliness of it, contrasting with his inherently good nature, he was a great champion for the dead and for the living who suffered as a result of death.

“Over there.”

The room was open and broken up into two sides with several desks making up each row. There was a smattering of detectives sitting around, some on the phone, others standing together talking about the Eagles’ shot at the Super Bowl this year. The mood was casual, as the graveyard shift sometimes could be, depending on what the night brought.

Cass was convinced it took a certain kind of person to work the hours from midnight to eight when everything was dark and quiet and most people slept. Sure, the night could be peaceful. But it could also be a time when even the most innocuous things turned sinister. When a bush outside a window transforms itself into a monster in front of a scared child’s eyes.

Or when a man who loves his wife suddenly becomes her murderer.

The night shift, like Homicide, didn’t really fit Dougie’s personality. He was an optimist. Nights at a police station rarely fostered optimism. But she imagined there was some reason he had made the switch.

A tingle at the back of her neck intercepted her thoughts. The room in her mind formed quickly, and the face beyond the door was familiar to her.

“Ow,” she blurted as she reached for her ribs.

“You okay?” Dougie asked, his hand at her back guiding her forward.

“Yes, just a hitch in my side,” she told him. She turned to study him and noticed the dark circles under his eyes that hadn’t registered before the visitor in her head pointed them out. “You’re looking tired, Dougie. Are you getting any sleep?”

“I sleep,” he replied enigmatically.

“Enough?”

“I sleep,” he snapped. “Jeez, you sound like my mother.”

“I’ve met your mother. She’s a smart woman and she worries about her son.” He stopped walking, so she did, too. “I take it that’s him?”

There was only one man in the room who appeared to be a civilian. Dressed in a dark gray suit that screamed quality from a hundred feet away, he sat stiffly in a hard-backed chair. His eyes stared out the window to his right as if he were in a trance, but Cass could see even from this distance that his jaw was tightly clenched.

“Mr. McDonough,” Dougie called to him as they approached the desk.

The man turned, and his steel-blue gaze landed first on Dougie, then switched to her and he came to his feet. Once more, she reached up to brush her bangs down over her forehead.

“This is Cass Allen,” Dougie introduced her. “She works for us from time to time on a consulting basis. I wondered if you wouldn’t mind taking a few minutes to speak with her.”

“I do mind.” His words were clipped. Although his tone was seemingly neutral, Cass could feel the heat of anger in the air. “Am I under suspicion? I came here after hearing about…after seeing what he did to her…to answer any questions that might help you in your investigation. That was over ten hours ago. I wanted to avoid calling my lawyer, but if this is going to go on…”

“I told you we just wanted to talk to you,” Dougie assured him. “There is no reason to call your lawyer. Unless of course you think you need counsel, then by all means…”

The muscles around his jaw flexed. “I don’t.”

“A few more minutes,” Dougie said.

“A few more minutes,” he repeated softly. “That’s a few more minutes that you’re not out there looking for my sister’s murderer.”

“Looking for someone, until we know everything there is to know about Lauren, her habits, her friends, her routine, would be a waste of time. Let us do our job. Talk to Cass. She’s going to ask you some questions.”

Cass’s eyebrow shot up, but she resisted the urge to shoot Dougie an uncertain glance. She didn’t have any questions. She just needed to spend time with McDonough to see if anything happened. Dougie was counting on the fact that something would, but nothing was ever certain. There was never any way of controlling it. Some people she connected with and others she didn’t. She used to question it, but it became pointless when she learned she was never going to find an answer.

As the tingle started she acknowledged this was one she connected with, and she focused on forming the room in her mind. The familiar door opened slowly, almost cautiously, and Cass waited for impact.

A powerful blow shot to her midsection, causing a whoosh of air to escape. She could sense both men looking at her, but she straightened slowly and ignored their curiosity. Instead she smiled and concentrated on breathing.

A serene face greeted her on the other side of the door. Beautiful. Blond.

Lauren.

“So, you’re Malcolm McDonough? And your sister was Lauren,” Cass stated.

He merely stared at her, his eyes moving up and down, taking in first her sneakers, then the rest of her apparel, with a slight sneer.

“You don’t look like a consultant.”

“I got her out of bed,” Dougie told him. “Can’t really expect her to be at her best at this hour.”

“I suppose.”

“I think I need some coffee,” she said.

Dougie hesitated for a moment, but then nodded. He walked off, his agile gait eating up the distance between the desk and the coffee machine.

Carefully, the man in front of her took his seat again.

You have to help him. He won’t know what to do. How to handle this.

Cass felt the words inside her head and tried to make sense of them even as she focused on the seated man. It was sort of like trying to have a conversation with someone while listening to someone else speak into her ear. Like people tried to do with their hands-free cell phone units and usually failed. However, for Cass, keeping the two conversations distinct while acting normally had become an art form. While dramatic pauses made for great television for TV psychics, in real life they tended to make people uncomfortable.

The space between the desks was tight, and she found herself having to step over McDonough’s feet in order to get to the chair that was across from Dougie’s desk. Turning the chair a little, so she could face him, Cass struggled with what to ask him.

“Long day?”

His face hardened noticeably. “Yes.”

He’s so hurt. I can’t leave until I know he’s going to be all right. Make him talk to you.

“What’s the matter with your eye?”

“I’m sorry?” Cass looked up and met his gaze.

“It’s bruised. Did someone hit you?”

“Uh…no…uh, I’m clumsy and I bent down and you know…bang.”

He said nothing.

“I know that Lauren lived on Addison. I live on Addison. It’s a nice neighborhood, but it’s going downhill a little. I just moved a couple of blocks down the street to avoid the danger zone.”

He continued to say nothing.

“Did she have any friends that lived nearby?”

“Of course she had friends. She was a very sweet girl.”

“Anyone you know?” When he remained silent, she pushed. “Were you two close?”

“No.”

“Oh.” She waited for him to say something else, but she was getting the impression that he wasn’t the type to volunteer information, so she had to ask the obvious. “Why not?”

His jaw clenched. “There were several reasons. She is…was…my half sister. There were many years between us. And we were very different.”

We were close. As close as he would let anyone. He loved me. He wouldn’t hurt me. Remind him…about the nurse.

“I think you loved her. I think you’re putting on a pretty good facade right now, but inside you’re hurting.” Cass gulped when his face remained impassive. “You strike me as someone who needs to be in control. I hear you’re somewhat of a big shot. You have your own business. Something like this happens, and all of a sudden nothing is in your power. Nothing that you can change. I imagine it’s extremely difficult to accept that. But you have to know that Dougie, Doug, will find whoever did this.”

“Who are you?”

Cass avoided the question and instead turned her head, searching for Dougie. He was still on the other side of the room with two cups of coffee in his hands, waylaid by one of the other detectives.

“I’m…a consultant,” she answered pathetically.

“I see. What kind?”

“I’m not sure that matters.”

“Oh it absolutely matters,” he told her, his voice colder than it had been when speaking to Dougie. “You suggested that this was difficult for me? This afternoon at my office two police officers came to inform me that my sister was dead. That she was slain in her apartment, murdered in cold blood, stabbed several times and, for the final injustice, had her tongue removed with a knife. The blood that poured out of her mouth seeped into the floor so that eventually it could be seen by the people who lived in the apartment below her. That’s how they discovered she was dead. I demanded to be taken to her apartment to see what had happened, and now that image will forever be burned into my memory.

“Since then I’ve been made to sit here for hours while I’ve been asked and have answered the same questions over and over again, including those about my whereabouts during the time in which she was murdered. All this while my sister’s killer continues to walk free. And then the detective gives me you. You with a coat that I wouldn’t give to the Salvation Army. You, who, if I had to guess, is barely over the legal age limit. You, who has absolutely no idea what you’re doing. So I’ll ask again. Who are you?”

Tell him about the nurse.

The door to her room closed, and Cass now focused all her attention on Lauren’s brother. Who was innocent of his sister’s murder.

“My name is Cassandra Allen, and Dougie wanted me to talk to you.”

“Detective Brody wanted you to talk to me?”

“Yes.”

“Why?”

Cass shrugged. There was no point in lying to the man. She’d stopped hiding who and what she was years ago. But somehow she suspected that what she had to tell him was not going to go over all that well.

“He’s hoping I’ll be able to determine if you killed your sister.”

He breathed audibly. “And how exactly will you be able to determine that?”

“Actually, he was hoping Lauren would tell me.”

“Is this some kind of joke?”

“No, sir. You see, sometimes…the dead…they speak to me.”

His jaw dropped slightly, then his eyes narrowed. “You’re a psychic.”

Although the way he said the word, it sounded more like “fake.”

“I have a gift.”

“You see things?”

“No. I’m not clairvoyant.”

“Feel things then. Isn’t that how it’s done?”

“That’s clairsentience. And I don’t have that gift either. I can’t read your mind or see the future. I’m a medium, Mr. McDonough. I make contact with those who have passed through their loved ones. That’s all.”

“That’s all,” he repeated, his voice calm and moderated but as sharp as glass. “You disgust me. People like you who prey on the innocent and trusting. The grieving. A gift? More like a sham. You are the worst sort of con artist. How do you live with yourself?”

“I’m sorry you don’t believe me.”

“Don’t apologize. Detective!” He stood then and raised his voice enough so that Dougie turned and came rushing back to the desk. “Are you part of this ridiculous scam?”

Dougie looked at Cass, and she merely shrugged in defense. “Mr. McDonough, Miss Allen has been a consultant for the PPD now for some time and…” ...

All rights belong to the author: Stephanie Doyle.
This is a short fragment for review the book. The full version can be purchased in the store.