The sun is firmly in the sky as I sit in my office to sort out what to do next. Three types of professionals arrived after my house blew up six weeks earlier: firefighters, police officers, and paramedics. Ray told me this. They didn't talk to Ray, who had dragged me out of sight into the woods, but I contacted them later once I had regained consciousness. I pleaded innocent to any knowledge of the explosion: its cause or the reason it was rigged. At that time they didn't tell me of any human remains found in the vicinity. That, of course, doesn't mean a body wasn't found. The police could have withheld that information from me. For all I know I am still under investigation for the explosion and whatever was discovered in the area.
I need a contact with the local police and I need it immediately. The paramedics and the hospital would have the remains of Yaksha, but if I do not go through the proper channels and authorities, they will show me nothing. With my extensive contacts and wealth, I can develop a contact, but it will take time. As I sit at my desk, thinking, a light on my phone begins to blink. It is an out-of-state call. I pick it up.
"Yes?" I say.
"Yes. Agent Joel Drake-how nice of you to call." I make a decision immediately, figuring it is a sign from Krishna that the FBI man has phoned at this precise instant. Of course, I do not believe in signs, I am just desperate. I add, "I've been meaning to call you. There are some things we should discuss that I failed to bring up last night."
He is interested. "Such as?"
"I have a lead on who is behind the murders."
He takes a moment. "Are you serious?"
"Yes. I have a very good lead."
"What is it?"
"I will only tell you in person. Fly into Portland this afternoon and I'll pick you up at the airport. I guarantee you'll be glad you came."
"I thought you said you wouldn't be leaving town for a few days?"
"I lied. Call the airlines. Book your flight."
He chuckles. "Hold on a second. I can't fly up to Oregon in the middle of an investigation. Tell me what you know and then we can talk."
"No," I say firmly. "You must come here."
"The murderer is from here."
"How do you know that?"
I pitch my voice in my most beguiling manner. "I know many things, Agent Drake. That one of the guys you found in the coliseum had a javelin through his chest, the other had his skull stabbed open, and every bone in the neck of the third was shattered. Don't ask me how I know these things and don't tell your FBI pals about me. Not if you want to solve this case and get all the credit. Think about it, Joel, you can be the big hero."
My knowledge stuns him. He considers. "You mis?understand me, Alisa. I don't need to be a hero. I just want to stop the killing."
He is being sincere. I like that.
"It will stop if you come here," I say softly.
He closes his eyes; I hear them close. My voice will not leave his mind. He wonders if I am some kind of witch. "Who are you?" he asks.
"It doesn't matter. I will hold while you book your flight. Take the earliest one."
"I will have to tell my partners where I'm going."
"No. Just the two of us are going to work on this. That's my condition."
He chuckles again, this time without mirth. "You're pretty gutsy for a young woman."
I think of the knife that stabbed me in the belly less than twelve hours ago. "I have strong guts," I agree.
Joel puts me on hold. A few minutes later he returns. His plane will land in three hours. I agree to meet him at the gate. After setting down the phone, I leave my office and crawl into bed beside Ray. He stirs and turns his back to me but doesn't wake. Portland is an hour and a half away. I have only ninety minutes to rest before I must take on the enemy.
Joel looks tired when I pick him up at the airport. I don't imagine he got much sleep the previous night He immediately starts with his questions, but I ask him to wait until we are in my car. Once inside I put on music, a tape of my playing the piano. We drive toward Mayfair. I am still thinking how I should approach this matter. Since we are dealing with evi?dence that points toward a mysterious agency, I am not worried about staying conservative.
"Who is the pianist?" he asks finally.
"Do you like it?"
"The music is haunting, and the pianist is wonder?ful."
An appropriate choice of words. "It's me."
"Are you serious?"
"You have asked me that twice today. I am always serious, Agent Drake."
"Joel, please. Is Alisa your real name?"
"Why? Have you been researching me?"
"A bit I haven't turned up much."
"You mean, you haven't turned up an Alisa Perne in your computers?"
"That's correct. What's your real name and who taught you to play such exquisite piano?"
"I am self-taught. And I like to be called Alisa."
"You haven't answered my question."
"I answered one of them."
He stares at me. For a few sentences I forgot to be careful how I pitched my voice, and the echo of my age creeps into it. My words and voice, I know, can throb like living ghosts. My music is not the only thing that is haunting.
"How old did you say you were?" he asks.
"Older than I look. You want to know how I know about the murders."
"Among other things. You lied to me last night when you said you had not been in the Coliseum."
"That is correct. I was there. I saw the three young men in the field killed."
"Did you get a good look at the killer?"
He pauses. "Do you know him?"
"No. But he is associated with a man I once knew. That man died in an explosion at my house six weeks ago. The reason I have brought you here is to help me trace the remains of that man. We are driving to the Mayfair Police Station now. I want you to ask them to open their files to you."
He shakes his head. "No way. You're going to answer my questions before I do anything to help you."
"Or you will arrest me?"
I smile thinly. "That will not happen. And I am not going to answer all your questions, just the ones I choose to answer. You have no choice but to cooperate with me. Like you said last night-you have no leads. And you are more in the dark than you admit. You have several people who seem to have been killed by a person of extraordinary strength. A person so strong, in fact, that he seems superhuman."
"I wouldn't go that far."
I snort softly. "It takes a great deal of strength to snap every cervical in a man's neck. Isn't that what the autopsy showed?"
Joel shifts uneasily, but I have his full attention. "The autopsy isn't complete on any of the victims."
"But the LAPD medical examiner has told you about the guy's neck. It makes you wonder, doesn't it?"
He speaks carefully. "Yes. It makes me wonder how you know these things."
I reach over and touch his leg. I have a very sensual touch, when I wish to flaunt it, and I must admit I find myself attracted to Joel. Not that I love him as I do Ray, but I wouldn't mind seducing him, as long as Ray wouldn't know. Having had ten thousand lovers, I don't share most mortals' illusions of the sacredness of fidelity. Yet I will not risk hurting Ray for sex, and I will not lie to him anymore. Joel feels the electricity of my fingers and shifts all the more. I like my boys fidgety.
"You want to say something?" I ask, my hand still on his thigh.
He clears his throat. "You are very alluring, Alisa. Particularly when you are being vague, or trying to be persuasive." He stares down at my hand as if trying to decide whether it is a priceless jewel or a spider that has crawled into his lap. "But I am beginning to see through your facade." I remove my hand, not insulted.
"Is that all it is? A facade?"
He shakes his head. "Where did you grow up?"
I burst out laughing. "In the jungle! A place not unlike where these murders are happening. I watched as that young man's neck was snapped. A normal person couldn't do that. The person you are looking for is not normal. Nor was my friend who died when my house blew up. If we can find what became of him, his remains, then we can find your murderer-I hope. But don't ask me how these people are not normal, how they have such strength, or even why my house was blown up. I won't tell you."
He keeps looking at me. "Are you normal, Alisa?" he asks.
"What do you think?"
I pat his leg. "It's all right. You go on thinking that way."
Yet, I think, he knows too much about me already.
When all this is over, I am going to have to kill Joel Drake.
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