Martha C. Lawrence

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From Murder In Scorpio

Chapter One

Sergeant Thomas McGowan was hardly the type of guy you'd expect to be consulting a psychic. Police officers generally can be divided into two groups: those who are willing to explore intuitive methods in the line of duty (an infinitesimal few), and those who think intuition is a crock (the vast majority). From his looks and reputation, anyone would figure McGowan for a member of the latter. Yet here he was, right on time for his two o'clock appointment. Standing at least six and a half feet tall, weighing at least double my one hundred twenty-five pounds, he virtually filled the doorway to my office. He radiated tremendous strength--and skepticism.

"Dr. Chase?" he asked.

"Please call me Elizabeth," I answered.

As if his gigantic stature weren't enough, he wore intimidating cop attire: a no-nonsense navy blue uniform, polished black oxfords, inscrutable mirrored shades. The gold badge pinned to his shirt gleamed white in the Southern California sun. Despite the sunglasses I could feel his eyes boring dubiously into me.

"Oh," he said, hesitating for a moment. "I was expecting someone older--"

"And shorter and fatter, wearing a multicolored muumuu and dangling earrings. Maybe even a turban?" I suggested.

"Yeah, something like that."

At least he admitted it. Psychics have it as bad as any minority in the prejudice department. You get pigeonholed into degrading physical and personality stereotypes, and people pretty much assume you intend to rip them off.

Considering it was Sunday, I thought I looked downright respectable. My khaki shorts were brand-new, and I'd even ironed a shirt for the occasion. It's true I was barefoot, but that's because the Hawaiian tradition of honoring the home by removing the shoes greatly appeals to me. I never wear shoes in the house, and I encourage visitors to leave their soles at the door as well. Staring up at McGowan's stony expression, though, I decided to let the shoe thing slide.

I motioned him through the door with a wave of my hand. "Step right in and make yourself comfortable. Would you like something to drink? Coffee or cappuccino?"

He took off his shades and lowered himself onto one of my overstuffed white sofas. "You tell me," he baited.

"Okay. Cappuccino."

I'd already prepared a couple of cups before his arrival. I now set them on the coffee table, smiled brightly at McGowan, and took a seat on the matching sofa to his right.

He stared at the steaming cups before us, then at me. His earnest brown eyes searched my face as if looking for suspects. "How'd you know?"

I took a sip from my own cup and shrugged. "I figured you'd want one. Inductive reasoning, basically. Most people will take cappuccino over coffee any day."

He nodded and frowned. So far he didn't seem to be having a very good time. From the look on his face you'd think I was about to sell him a time-share. "Can you read my mind?" he asked guardedly.

"Not at all," I assured him.


He chuckled softly. I wasn't in on the joke, but he thought it was funny. He reached into the inside pocket of his jacket and handed me a picture that looked as if it had been torn from a senior yearbook. A gorgeous young woman with a mane of thick blond hair and a wide, welcoming smile stared out at me from the black-and-white halftone photograph. I felt a palpable thunk in my stomach and knew at once she was dead. The light shining from the girl's eyes reflected something deeper than her obvious surface beauty. The word "tragic" crossed my mind, and a wave of sadness washed over me. I swallowed, then took a deep breath. Sergeant McGowan was watching my face with a blank expression.

"She's gone," I said as levelly as possible.

"He narrowed his gaze. "Missing since last Friday."

"No, Sergeant. Gone. No longer in body."

At that the walls around McGowan came tumbling down. The intense brown eyes softened and the huge, muscular body relaxed. He now appeared to be what he really was--a human being inside a macho cop uniform. He blinked thoughtfully. "I tried to fool you," he said.

"It's okay, I'm used to it. Do you want to tell me what this is all about?"

He stared, spellbound, into the cinnamony froth in his cup. "Lieutenant Gresham--that's my boss--thinks I'm going overboard on this case," he began. "Basically the consensus in the department is that it's your basic eleven-forty-four--fatality accident."

"And you don't think so."

"Well, no." He returned his cup to the table. "On the surface all appears kosher. Her name's Janice Freeman. She died last Friday in an accident out on Del Dios Drive--"

A road notorious for its eight-hundred-foot plunges, I thought silently.

"--and like I say, on the surface it appeared to be just another Del Dios dive." He looked at me sheepishly. "That's what the paramedics call 'em," he explained. "Anyway, an oncoming car crossed over the center line. She veered to avoid him and took the plunge."



"What happened to the other guy?"

"His car rolled and he went down, too. Pronounced dead at the scene. Based on his blood alcohol, he never felt a thing."

Dappled sunlight danced across the coffee table. I turned to watch the breeze rushing through the sycamore just outside my office window. A heavy feeling had settled on my chest from the moment I'd held the girl's picture. I tried to send it away now, on the wind.

"It does appear rather open-and-shut," I said, turning back to McGowan. "Are you saying there's evidence to suggest she was murdered?"

"Evidence? No. Not yet." McGowan's eyes--objective, businesslike--met mine.

"But you have reason to believe it was murder."

A single frame of unmistakable pain crossed his otherwise impassive stare.

"Oh, I get it," I said softly.

"You get what?"

"You knew her."

He averted his gaze, found the window, and for a moment he too seemed to get carried away on the breeze. "We went to high school together," he began. His large irises flickered back and forth, as if he were watching a movie.

"I was a senior and she was a sophomore. By the end of the year we were pretty good friends. In my daydreams we were more than that, but--" He let the sentence drift off.

"But what?"

"Oh, you know. Her family was rich; mine was just working class. She spent her weekends at horse shows and yacht clubs. I spent mine delivering pizzas. So what, right? Doesn't mean you don't belong together. But by the time I figured that out I was off to college, so--"

I looked again at the sparkling eyes in the girl's picture. I wanted to tell him that Janice Freeman had possessed a beautiful spirit, but it sounded like the kind of thing you'd hear from a turban-wearer. So I translated. "She was a beautiful young woman," I said.

"Her looks weren't even the half of it," he answered. "She was a good person, a really good person, you know? You only meet a few of those people in your life. She was one of those." He pulled his eyes away from the window, over to me.

"Had the two of you stayed in touch?"

"No." A small syllable, full of regret.

I rephrased my earlier question. "But you have some reason to believe she was murdered."

He didn't respond. Instead, he studied the sunglasses in his hands, then began to fidget, opening and closing the stems.

"Something's got you spooked, hasn't it?" I asked.

He nodded.


He released a long, heavy sigh. "Look, not to hurt your feelings, but I don't put a lot of stake in psychics. I feel kind of crazy even talking to you."

"I understand. That's a common reaction."

"You want to know what's got me really scared?"


"I'm afraid when I tell you why I'm here, you're going to think I'm crazy. Then what am I gonna do, when a bona fide nut thinks I'm nuts?"