Martha C. Lawrence

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Contents © 1996 - 2015 by Martha C. Lawrence except where noted. All rights reserved. No part of the contents herein may be used or reproduced in any manner without written permission except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews. For information, address St. Martin's Press, 175 Fifth Avenue, New York, NY 10010.

From The Cold Heart of Capricorn

Chapter One

I take a lot of ribbing about being a witch, so it's no wonder that Halloween is not my favorite holiday.

And what a Halloween it was. An unseasonably wet and cold one, especially for Southern California. The rain had stopped shortly after nightfall, but the damp gusts rattling through the palm fronds outside threatened more showers to come. I'd had just two waves of weather hardy trick-or-treaters: a passel of five tiny dinosaurs, one grown-up human hovering behind their plush fabric tails and, much later, a seductively made-up group of post-pubescent Draculas looking like they were trolling more for action than candy. Other than that all had been quiet. I figured I'd give it until midnight and turned on the eleven o'clock news to pass the time.

The local news station was covering the Ken Theater's annual Hallow's Eve screening of The Rocky Horror Picture Show, an event that each year draws a lively gathering of leather enthusiasts and cross-dressers. A reporter stood before the bizarre crowd giving a tongue-in-cheek minidocumentary about the cult classic. In midsentence her mouth gaped open. A half-beat later she announced that the station would be cutting to the scene of a rape and attempted murder which had just occurred only blocks away. The video cut bumpily to the exterior of a private residence, where cops and paramedics had converged. The camera then panned around the broad back of a uniformed officer and focused on the doorway. Seconds later medics emerged carrying a stretcher and hurrying toward the ambulance.

I couldn't see her face. The victim's head had been covered with a nonstick surgical bandage, to put pressure on the wound and staunch the bleeding. Her long dark hair hung limply over side of the stretcher. One of the medics had wrapped a blanket around her shoulders, but it fell open as she was loaded into the ambulance. The camera took full advantage, zooming in on a white nightgown dramatically drenched in blood.

I stood before my television with my arms crossed over my chest. This wasn't the first incident. For the past eight months I'd been reading about a series of rapes--nearly a dozen now--under shocking page two headlines in the newspaper. The video feed from tonight's attack had been lurid enough to interrupt the eleven o'clock news. When the anchorwoman cut to a commercial I reached for the remote and turned off the set.

My feet remained planted in front of the television long after the screen went black. Something was bugging me, something besides the obvious heinousness of the crime. I stood very still, taking an inner inventory and trying to name the feeling. I had a sense of familiarity, as if this rape case had something to do with me. Creepy.

I did my best to dismiss the feeling. I buffered the hour between the newscast and bedtime by replacing the hinges on my sagging back door and watching late night comedy. This didn't work. The case resurfaced in my sleep. The dream began with a vacant-eyed goat, standing on a lawn in front of a house with three gables. A gated wood fence surrounded the property. I knew without question that a friend of mine lived in this three-gabled house. When I passed through the gate the dream was no longer just a dream--it was real. I could see through the darkness like a cat. I smelled the wet grass, felt the soles of my shoes sinking into the spongy lawn. I looked up into one of the windows and stopped short when I saw a man's dark form stealing into the bedroom. I knew he carried a knife. My friend screamed and I jerked awake.

For most psychics a vivid dream life just comes with the territory. Learning to sift the meaningful images from mere subconscious garbage becomes a survival skill. A precognitive dream--that glimpse into an actual future--has an entirely different flavor from a symbolic dream. It's charged with emotion, it's extraordinarily vivid. It has that feeling, a feeling that must be experienced and cannot be described. The dream I had Halloween night definitely had that feeling.

The next morning I stepped into the shower feeling spooked by what I'd seen. It even crossed my mind to contact the San Diego Police Department. No way, I decided. Unless it's a sure case of impending life or death I don't stick my nose into police business. I've never needed to solicit work, thanks to a continuing stream of enthusiastic referrals. My current caseload was typical. I was dividing my time between investigating an arson case for one of the local deputy DAs and helping a computer software firm locate their one-time brightest star, Gary Warren Neibuhr, a genius who morphed from supernova to black hole overnight, sucking sixteen million dollars into the void. The last thing I needed at the moment was another job.

I turned off the water and stepped out of the shower. As I was toweling off I remembered that the woman in my dream had been a friend.

Not only was I working two time-consuming cases, but I'd just promised my mom I'd help organize an AIDS fund-raiser coming up in January. Taking on something like this rape case would be idiotic time management.

A friend.

I put on my robe and went to the phone. You're just passing along a tip, I told myself as I dialed the SDPD. I presented myself as a licensed P.I. with inside information that could lead to a break in the rape case. After all, if psychic insight doesn't qualify as inside information, what does? Not that I mentioned it to the personable desk sergeant who answered the phone. "Leiutenant Douglas Marcone's in charge of that investigation," he said. "I can put you through."

I thought the better of it. I could hardly expect a psychic tip to be taken seriously over the phone. Within the hour I was walking down the sixth floor hall of the police department, approaching Marcone's open office door. An imposing figure even when seated, the lieutenant was on the phone. When he saw me he hung up and waved me in. "You're the PI?"

I nodded.

"What have you got?"

The lieutenant's question flew past me like a killer serve ball. His expression was polite but unsmiling.

I felt my mouth gape open. "Ah--" An intelligent opener. "I had a dream." Great follow up.

Marcone's stony face and unbending posture were unnerving me. I took a moment to breathe before continuing. "Let me back up a minute. You must know Dave Franks."

"Dave Franks over in Robbery?"

I nodded while I searched my purse for a card. "Yeah. I helped him close that La Jolla case recently. My name's Elizabeth Chase." I handed him my business card, the one that read Dr. Elizabeth Chase, Psychic Investigator.

Marcone gingerly took the card, glanced at it and raised an eyebrow. "So you had a dream."

"Yes. I saw another rape. It's going to happen in a house with three gables."

His world-weary eyes didn't leave my face. He sat silently, waiting for more.

"There was a lawn, and a fence around the house, and a gate in the fence." I didn't mention the part about the goat. It would have sounded too weird. I was sounding weird enough as it was.

"Do you know where this house is?"


"Can you give a description of the rapist?"

I shook my head.

"Could you identify the victim?"

No, but I know she's a friend of mine. "No."

"Do you know when this is supposed to happen?"

Again I shook my head.

Marcone continued to sit ramrod straight. "So you're warning us that an unknown perp is going to rape an unknown victim in an unknown neighborhood in a house with three gables."

Put that way, it did sound pretty silly. "With a lawn and a fence with a gate," I added. "Gabled houses aren't all that common in San Diego. I know it's not much, but maybe it's better than nothing."

He looked down and fingered the edges of my stiff blue business card. His eyes came back up. "Thank you, Dr. Chase."

I moved to toward the door, assuming my card would hit the trash can the moment I was out of sight. "Thanks for your time, Lieutenant. Hope you catch him soon. Let me know if I can help."

My visit with Marcone met with a resounding two-month silence. I wondered about the case a lot at first, but less and less as I was pulled into my work and the distractions of the holiday season. Then, at three-thirty on a cold rainy morning in January, I was awakened by the shrill electronic scream of my cordless phone. I put the receiver to my ear and mumbled hello.

"Dr. Chase, this is Doug Marcone, San Diego Police Department. Sorry to call so early."

I scrutinized the glowing digits of my alarm clock radio. "It's not early, Lieutenant. It's the middle of the night." I was half-asleep and my words were coming slowly. "What--"

"Listen. We found your three-gabled house. It's at 3323 Montezuma, near the university. I'd appreciate it if you'd come down here. Right away if you can."