Revenge is a dish best served cold. But for Mercy Pryce her revenge will scald one’s soul and leave behind a burnt-out husk if she has her way.
Mercy has returned to her hometown of Cartleigh, New York after twenty years. The lakeside community is the perfect location for Yakim Zeldovich, her Russian billionaire employer’s state of the art manufacturing facility. Acting as a consultant for Zeldovich, she’s on an undercover mission, not as an angel of mercy, but one of mischief, deceit and torture. Her ultimate goal is to ruin Cartleigh because of a horrible trauma she suffered in high school. The one responsible for her wrath is Colton Hahn, Cartleigh’s beloved mayor, and the object of her retaliation. The town’s golden boy, who she once adored as an impressionable teenager, brutally raped her and left her for dead at seventeen.
Consumed by years of grief and growing rage, she has targeted Colton, who may also be responsible for the death of her best friend, Marina, his fiancé. She will avenge Marina and finally take down the monster who tried to ruin her life.
Her success may come at a horrible price. But it will all be worth it if she can take away everything Colton holds dear, including him surrendering his heart and soul to her in the process.
About The Author
KT Grant is a self-proclaimed eccentric redhead who not only loves to read a wide variety of romances, but also loves writing it. Under her alter-ego, Katiebabs, she’s a former book blogger and entertainment columnist who still doesn’t shy away from voicing her opinion.
A proud native of New Jersey, KT is multi-published and writes Gay, Lesbian and Straight romance. KT has also been a top ten best-selling author at Amazon.
Following a global pandemic, which has either killed or weakened most of the male population, women now dominate all aspects of life.
Dr. Morgan Digby, married to a man rendered bedbound from his bout with manflu a decade prior, is working tirelessly on a vaccine, yet obstacles keep springing up in her path.
When she meets a handsome neighbor who has never been exposed to the deadly virus, things become…complicated. There’s something between them, but he can’t leave his home.
Morgan’s struggle to remain faithful to her ailing husband isn’t her only battle. Someone has been one step ahead of her, countering her every move. Will she find a vaccine before it’s too late to protect those she loves?
About the Author
Simone de Muñoz writes dystopian, or perhaps utopian, fiction, depending on your perspective, where women drive the story and sometimes even run the world. She holds a master’s degree in public policy from UC Berkeley and a bachelor’s degree in economics from MIT, which she uses in her day job as a data analyst at a nonprofit. Based in Silicon Valley, she lives with her patient husband, their two young sons, and a grumpy dog named Fish. Manflu is her debut novel.
Pierce Danser is on the hunt for his soon-to-be ex-wife, the actress Pauline Place, who’s disappeared from the Black Island film set in the heat swarmed waters off the Mexican coast. A wealthy “collector” with a black heart and dangerous, evil mind has kidnapped her, planning a forced marriage to complete his manage of twisted museum pieces.
As Pierce starts down the winding, dark, and deadly path in pursuit, his journey is a roller coaster through a horror show. No matter the grisly and dangerous obstacles, he is determined to rescue Pauline, even if it means the loss of his own life. The clock is ticking, his resources are slim and he’s up against a man of great means as well as a twisted, cruel vision.
THE COLLECTORS Chapter One
“Welcome to the film set, Mr. Kiharazaka. Please mind your step, we’re having a problem with vermin.”
The tall, thin man, fresh from Kyoto, adjusted his stride, placing each step of his spacesuit boots gingerly.
“I’m Rolf. Can I call you Zaka?” the assistant director went on.
“Please, no,” Mr. Kiharazaka replied demurely.
“Will we be going weightless? It was in the original scene.”
“We’re woking on that, yes.”
“A joke. Sort of.”
A few yards away, green gaffing tape marked the edge of the darkened film set. Rolf spoke into her headset and the lights came up, revealing the interior of the spacecraft: the complex helm and seating for the crew. The second set—the crew table and galley kitchen—was half-lit in the distance.
Mr. Kiharazaka stared with unreserved delight. The crew had accurately replicated the 1990s television series Tin Can’s two most famous locations.
Members of the film crew were already on the set, at their places among the equipment; lights, extended boom mics, and various cameras, some dollied and some shoulder-held. Mr. Kiharazaka had to rotate stiffly in his spacesuit, turning his helmet, visor up, to watch the young, professional film crew. He nodded to some and spoke to none. For the most part, these serious professionals looked right through him, focused on their craft.
“Please step in, Zaka. We’d like you to feel comfortable in both locations.”
“Where is the cast? The Robbins family?”
“Soon enough. Please.” Rolf extended her hand and Zaka crossed the green tape and stepped into the helm, noting that the flooring was white painted plywood. With the flight helmet on, the voices about the set were muted. Zaka stared at the helm, admiring, but not touching, the multiple displays. He stood back of Captain Robbins’s helm chair, taking in all the exacting details of the complex spacecraft controls. Easing between the captain and copilot chair, he turned to Rolf with his white gloved hand out to the second chair, asked, “May I?”
Rolf gave him her buttery professional smile.
“Captain, permission to man the helm?” Zaka asked.
Rolf rolled her eyes, up into the complex scaffolding above. The client was already in role, using the famous and familiar dialogue from the Tin Can series. Since none of the cast was yet on set, Rolf answered for Matt Stuck, the sod of an actor who played Captain Robbins.
“Aye, mate. Take thar helm,” she spoke the next well-known line with a grimace.
Zaka bowed to her voice and twisted around into the copilot’s chair.
She looked on as Zaka began the familiar series of taps and changes on the right side of the helm. She could hear him identifying each click and adjustment he made. He was doing a good job mimicking the terse, focused voice of copilot Sean Robbins, but his inflections were clearly Japanese.
The director, Rose Daiss, entered the soundstage, crossed to the set, and for once didn’t trip on the snakes of cables. She wobbled her large rear into the La-Z Boy with “Director” stenciled on the back. Her nickname was “Bottles” and never used in her presence—it was a reference to the many times she had washed up. Her pudgy face was nip-and-tuck stretched, her skin was rough, but rouged well. She did have good hair.
The director’s personal assistants entered the soundstage and roamed to their places just back of the cameras. They donned headsets and leisurely took up their positions, standing deferentially to Bottles’s side, their faces lit by the glow of their tablets.
Rolf shouted for status among the film’s crews, and they called back equally loud. Lighting, boom mics, and cameras leaned in on the set. Mr. Zaka climbed from the helm and walked back into the spacecraft along the equipment bays on the left wall—the right wall of equipment didn’t exist, providing the view for one of the many cameras. He tapped a brief series on the wall panel and the air lock door opened with a gasp. He stepped through, the door closing at his heels, and crossed the short area of soundstage to the side entrance of the crew and kitchen set. Zaka took in every detail of the reproduced Tin Can galley as he moved carefully through the room. He eased himself into his role and the chair assigned to Ruth Robbins, the flight crew’s matriarch.
The director shouted at her assistants, barking orders and questions, sounding semi-lucid. Rose’s drug-addled, fast-clipped voice received intimidated replies. She was enjoying their pale, cowering expressions while chasing two lines of thought, a mixture of movie-making aesthetics and redundant direction. Her face was beading with drug sweat on her upper lip and brow.
“Where’s my cast?” Rose bellowed, finishing the tirade. That done, she promptly nodded off, delighting Rolf, who then inherited the director’s role.
Zaka was exploring the many displays embedded in the galley table, trying to ignore the shouting.
“Heat it up,” Rolf instructed her underling
The assistant typed a series of brief commands on his tablet and the script dialogue for Ruth Robbins—whom Zaka had paid dearly to portray—appeared. The script was scroll ready and at an angle on the galley table that couldn’t be seen by the cameras.
Rolf heard the cast crossing to the set, a scuffing of moon boots and voices approaching from the soundstage. A sweeping flashlight beam guided their way. The cast moved into the back glow from the lights on the set. Rolf pressed the inside of her cheek between her teeth and bit down. Most of the original cast had been hired or persuaded to appear in the remake of the famous season seven-ending cat fight scene. The brawl between the Robbins’ daughters was nominally, impotently, refereed by the only member of the flight crew who was not a member of the family: the handsome, irreverent, and sociopathic engineer, Greer Nails.
Twenty-two years had been most unkind to the once-famous family members. Greer Nails appeared overinflated; the penchant for food and wine, and dessert, over the past years of dimming celebrity had taken their toll. His formerly idolized face was jowled, reddened, and fat. His spacesuit looked like a white dirigible.
The other cast members were naked save their space helmets. Time and gravity and overindulgence had also taken a toll on their bodies. Greer Nails was the lone holdout from nudity, and with obese good reason.
The scene that Zaka had chosen from the menu provided by the studio had cost him a breathless $3.7 million. An additional $1.3 million was invoiced when he selected the option off the Premiere menu for the cast to be nude except for space helmets. He had expressed his desire to be part of the famous scene’s reenactment, in the role of Ruth Robbins, the space family matriarch. Most of his role was to be aghast at the start of a violent family shouting match and brawl. Later, he would be able to view the vignette time and again, for all eternity, receiving sole ownership of the footage of this and the other short scene as part of the package he had paid for.
Zaka watched his castmates approach, trying to keep his eyes on their helmets, not their nakedness. He was delighted and light headed with his proximity to the famous—the real flesh instead of celluloid, but their memorized faces were distorted by their helmets.
Nods were used in lieu of greetings. They had met during rehearsal earlier in the day. Places were taken, and Rolf reviewed the lighting and camera placements.
The first scene was succinctly re-rehearsed. This was of little use to Zaka, who had the script committed to memory. But the rehearsal helped him dissolve some of his lighter-than-air headiness. The rest of the cast drolly joined the read and walk through, their acting marked by a blend of boredom, professionalism, and chemicals.
Zaka was delighted. Here he was, a real actor with an important part in the infamous scene’s reenactment. It was all he could to not giggle. He somehow found the ability to maintain Ruth Robbins’s dithering mothering role.
Julianne, the slutty smart sister, stepped past Greer and pantomimed the jerk-off gesture that would set off her sibling, “Cy,” as in Cyborg. In the television series, Cy had been Greer Nail’s budding romantic interest.
Zaka was enthralled, but also concerned. He had paid for Captain Robbins to sit at the head of the galley table, and he was nowhere to be seen.A booming, authoritative voice carried from the back of the soundstage.
“Welcome to Tin Can Two, Mr. Kiharazaka. You are certainly star material, mm-hmm!” Fatima Mosley called out.
Fatima was the studio head, noticeably short and burdened by a massive chest that gave her stride a wobble. She was dressed in an elegant and trendy style, including a beret. She had a titanium leg, the original lost to disease. The metal ratcheted when her knee articulated.
“Zaka’s doing a great job.” Rolf called over, not turning from the rehearsal.
“Actually, it’s Ruth Robbins,” Fatima smiled, causing her cheeks to fill and her eyes to disappear.
Zaka flushed with pride at being addressed as Ruth.
“All is well, mm-hmm?” Fatima asked Zaka.
“Yes, yes. Might I ask? Is Captain Robbins ready? And son Sean Robbins?”
“Why, here’s Sean now,” Fatima answered, her crunched face dissolving downward, revealing her wise, ferret eyes. She didn’t explain Captain Robbins’s absence, and Zaka showed good manners by not repeating his question.
Sure enough, Sean Robbins, the Tin Can’s copilot appeared from the shadows of the soundstage, naked save his helmet and boots, looking slightly sedated—well, a lot sedated. His birdlike wrists hung limp.
There was a white worm of drool creeping from his face, now ravaged by years of amphetamine addiction. He was escorted by two of the bigger grips, who held his scarecrow thin arms and pulled him along, his moon boots sketching the soundstage flooring.
The sisters, Cy and Julianne, did not look pleased to be reanimating their once famous daughter roles, no matter the money. They were clearly drugged to an agitated condition and firing foul slurs, even before the shoot began. Julianne had a wrench tattoo on her naked, once-perfect boob. Cy’s sensual body was scarecrow thin, as though drawn of all blood.
The grips assisted Sean Robbins into the hot lights and seated him at the galley table. He opened one eye and panned it across the cameras and lights aimed on him, then barfed into his own lap.
“Unpleasant, mm-hmm,” Fatima observed.
Zaka did the brave thing—he stayed in role, putting on his best Mrs. Robbins bemused and maternal expression.
“Nice,” Rolf encouraged him.
One of the grips wiped up Sean’s vomit. The other cleaned off his chest. Sean stood up and looked on, patting one of the men on the top of the head.
Rolf called out, “I have the set!”
From the film crews came sharp, short calls, and the boom mics lowered overhead.
“Quiet, quiet!” Rolf delighted in her temporary directing role.
“Lock it up,” she hollered.
“Places,” she shouted to the cast.
A young woman appeared with an electric slate, shouted a brief stream of incomprehensible code, clacked the device, and disappeared.
Zaka did well, not looking to Captain Robbins’s empty seat at the head of the table.
Rolf yelled, “Action,” and the movie magic began.
For Zaka, there was a spiritual lift, even as he stayed in his rehearsed movements. He allowed himself to experience the elation, but stayed in the role of motherly concern.
Julianne entered the scene from the door to the helm. She moved behind Sean, who had a line of dialogue but missed. Staring at Cy, she stepped to Greer’s side and hefted the weight of his groin. Cy transitioned fast and smooth, from agog to madness. She fired forward and attacked, going for the smirk on her sister’s face with a clawed left hand and the space cup in the other.
As scripted, Mrs. Robbins took one step back from her end of the table, her expression alarmed and offended.
Greer was looking down at his groped crotch like he was just then realizing he had one. He leaned back as Cy collided with Julianne, and the brawl exploded with screams and nails and fists. The two careened off the galley counter and shelving, swinging and connecting blows.
If Captain Robbins had been at the head of the table, he would have moved fast to separate the two, looking sad and determined and disappointed. Instead, a bit of ad lib occurred, the two brawlers tumbling low in the shot, fists and knees swinging and pumping. Greer performed the ad lib, turning to the mayhem with a slack expression and barfing on himself again.
Mrs. Robbins went into action. She stomped manfully to her scuffling daughters, arms shooing, intending to break up the chaos on the spaceship floor. She was two strides away when Greer stepped out and pushed her back. Mrs. Robbins resisted, flailing her arms, eyes wide with alarm. Greer held her true. The fight continued, the sisters grunting and gasping. Hair was grabbed, a low fist was thrown. Julianne coughed in pain. Cy let out a cry, “You bitch!”
That was Zaka’s cue. He looked away, eyes upward and spoke the season-ending line, “My daughters. The sluts.”
“Cut. Cut. Cuu. Cuush . . .” Rose Daiss, the replaced director, called out in a trailing off slur. She was ignored.
The brawl continued. A mangy rat crossed the plywood set boards, scurrying away from the fisticuffs. The two beefy grips stepped to the edge of the set, poised to separate the sisters. The brawl looked real enough to them.
Rolf took the director’s prerogative, screaming at everyone.
About the Author
Greg Jolley earned a Master of Arts in Writing from the University of San Francisco and lives in the very small town of Ormond Beach, Florida. When not writing, he researches historical crime, primarily those of the 1800s. Or goes surfing.
Dr. Lauren Marsh, a pregnant vampire, seeks therapy to overcome a recent trauma, but is her creepy doctor interested in more than her well-being? Will evil intercede, dashing the promise of a Christmas baby?
“What is stirring in that conniving mind of yours?” Ras squinted at his assistant.
“Hmm. I’m thinkin’. Your life mate’s supposed to be a virgin.”
“True, but I gave up on that notion long ago. She is also supposed to be a born vampire, not made.”
“So, if you could arrange for the mother to go into labor, we could disappear with her child. What’s time to you? The baby’d grow up soon enough. You’d have a virgin bride and a born vampire.”
Ras tapped an index finger to his lips. “Brilliant idea—so glad I thought of it.”
Teensy rolled her black eyes. “I’ll get to work. Let’s see, what prescriptions will we need? Pitocin to start her labor and morphine to knock her out? Of course, all this hinges on the child being a girl.”
“I’ll write the prescription for the meds.” Before Ras passed the smelling salts under Lauren’s nose, he eased his hand under her pink sweatshirt and placed his palm on her round belly. The baby pushed against his hand, and he closed his eyes, envisioning the tiny bundle in her mother’s womb. Ras smiled broadly. “She has violet eyes.”
About the Author
Inspired by her fascination with vampires, Susan Blexrud used her background in journalism and political speechwriting to pen a 5-book series on a pair of wedded vampires (she a dentist, he a lawyer) who have a penchant for getting into trouble. With their wacky sidekicks and a duo of best friends, they navigate the world as vigilantes while expanding their immediate family and maintaining a veneer of normal careers and PTA meetings.
A prequel in a trilogy of which The StarMind Alert is the second book, Eye of the Star is a story of the Cold War paranormal psychological warfare waged between the United States and the Soviet Union. It follows Detective Jim Sato, a dedicated cop, and Gilda Dobrowski, a small city psychic, in their attempt to find and destroy a super psychic KGB spy, Sergei Verenich, who has chosen Jim and Gilda to find him. He dares them to catch him. He treats them as playthings in a cat-and-mouse game, tantalizing them with clues calculated to confuse, entice and lead them on in a chase ending up in a hotel room in Washington, D.C. where Jim and Gilda find out what he meant by the Final Solution.
The phone rang in its cradle. Detective Jim Sato of the Franklin Police Department, leaning back in his chair, looked at it with a sense of irritation and hoped it was not something urgent that would take more than a few minutes of his time. He needed to go home to his beautiful wife–three years, and it was still a honeymoon–sluice off the sweat of the hot day in a cool shower and get ready to go out to their favorite Japanese restaurant.
He picked up the phone. “Yes,” he said in a voice laden with wet, late-afternoon weariness.
“This is Gilda Dobrowski.” Frantic and urgent. “I don’t know if you remember…of course you do. I’m the psychic you worked with on the Linden murder case. Remember? It was several years ago.”
The particularly brutal murder had shocked the small city of Franklin situated at the south end of Morgan Valley, two hours away from Portland, Oregon. The case never was solved. The limbs of the body of the young Caucasian woman had been hacked off; the corpse was stuffed in an abandoned Chevy Impala. In desperation Jim and his partner, Ted Wilson, had consulted the psychic. She was skilled enough to come up with a few leads, but they wound up at a dead end.
“I remember you well,” Jim said, picturing the gorgeous features of the young, blond psychic. “What seems to be the problem?”
“I need to talk to you. I’ve been getting these…impressions, these what you might call…messages. Just bits and pieces, now and then over the past few weeks, and I’m concerned.”
“Is it about the Linden case?”
“No. It’s not about that poor woman. It’s about a terrorist.”
Jim frowned with concern. They had been on the alert ever since the Algerian terrorist had been arrested in Washington State to their north. The police were especially worried about the I-5 corridor which would enable any terrorist to gain access to the entire West Coast. Franklin was just one city sitting in its path. Gilda was not one to push the panic button easily.
“You did the right thing calling me, Gilda. Tell you what. I’ll leave right now, since it’s almost quitting time and swing by your house. Okay by you?”
“The sooner the better, Jim. I’m really scared.”
“Be there in a jiffy.”
Ten, fifteen minutes took you anywhere you had to go in the city. It was compact, and a few more minutes landed you in the countryside–farms, seed crops and pastures dotted with sheep and cattle. Jim headed out toward the old Highway 99 and arrived at Gilda Dobrowski’s small but neat quarters in no time at all. When he entered, Gilda smoothed her long, silky, blond hair nervously and took Jim’s hand. She sat him on the sofa while she settled in an easy chair, one that was facing an old TV set in the corner. She made a living as a psychic consultant, but that was about it, a modest living with no frills. In a way, that was the way she was, Jim thought: a no-nonsense person who sought the pith of the matter.
“It seems he’s on the loose somewhere in the area,” Gilda said, her eyes wide with alarm. “And he’s trying to make some sort of announcement by tantalizing me with tidbits of information.”
“What’s he say? This psychic entity,” Jim asked, flipping open his notebook with his pen poised. He had learned to take her seriously ever since working together on the murder case.
“I can’t make it out clearly, because he speaks in fragments, and it comes out in bits and pieces, but it’s always something about microbes, poisoning our water supply, blowing up the courthouse, disrupting air traffic. And he signs off by saying, ‘Beware the Final Solution.’”
“You sure this isn’t just…? Something you imagined, something floating around in the air because of the recent scare?” Jim doubted his own suspicions, because he was sure of Gilda’s capabilities. But he had to ask anyway.
“No, it’s all so real. And the message keeps repeating itself over and over again.”
“You try to find out who it is?” Jim said, taking notes.
“I’m a good receiver, but not a good transmitter, so I’m afraid my questions will get all muddled up and maybe make things even more dangerous.”
“You got to try to find out who this guy is,” Jim said, running his pen along the spiral binder. “If he wants to make some sort of statement, he might even identify himself, if you can get through to him. You know, flush him out and even find out where he’s hiding.”
“You know something about psychics, so you must know that some of us are better than others at doing things, especially receiving and transmitting. I want the police involved.”
“But we have nothing to go on, Gilda. No name, place, face. Nothing.” The young psychic sounded desperate, but Jim couldn’t offer more encouragement.
“We have to do something. Thousands of lives are involved, and it may not be only our area. Millions of people might die. I can hardly bring myself to think of what might happen.”
Jim knew Gilda to be a level-headed person, not one easily panic. “I’ll try to think of something,” he said, checking his watch and getting up. He needed more information to act. He had nothing yet to involve law enforcement. “In the meantime, jot down everything you receive. I’ll need specifics, if we’re going to get involved…you know, a place, a name, anything.”
Jim left the tidy cottage and made his way home which was in a middle-class neighborhood in the north of Franklin. A glow of crimson tinted the clouds hanging over the coastal range of mountains to the west. The sky overhead was clear, and the Kaskin Hills to the east stretched out hazily in the inversion layer that sometimes accumulated at the end of the valley. Everything appeared as it usually had, but his senses were sharpened and the feeling that settled in his chest was oppressive. He entered his home, his thoughts heavy with preoccupation.
“What? Not even a ‘hello’?” Judy said, throwing her arms around his neck. Her bright smile lit her beauteous oval face. Her features were perfect, and her crimson lips were parted in a natural, sensual smile. Everything about his wife exuded sensuality, from her expressive Asian eyes to the way she walked.
“Hi, honey,” Jim said, as if awakening from a trance, and kissed her. “Sorry I’m a little late.”
“Last minute detail?”
“Something like that.” Jim was reluctant to elaborate. Premonition aside, he felt that perhaps somebody was trying to pull off a mind-to-mind hoax, and Gilda, a popular and gifted psychic, was the bait.
“I’m ready as soon as you are, dear,” Judy said, smoothing her clinging, red dress.
“I’m going to jump into a shower real fast and wash the hot day’s work off,” Jim said, loosening his tie and unbuttoning his damp shirt. Franklin was not known to be as hot as some of the other cities in the southern part of the state, but the temperatures could soar above the 100’s in the middle of summer.
“You sound as though you were out in the hot sun digging ditches instead of sitting in an air-conditioned office,” Judy called as he headed toward the bathroom.
Jim wanted to say that what had come up at the last moment made him sweat–a cold sweat. But he said nothing. Stepping into the shower, he let the water wash away his concerns for the moment. When he was finished, he wiped himself off with brisk strokes of the towel and splashed an ample amount of cologne on his muscular body. Going out with his beautiful wife, coveted by so many other men, was a pleasurable experience for him.
The drive to Mikasa was short with the traffic flowing smoothly. Upon entering the Japanese decor of the restaurant, Jim was struck with a momentary feeling of his own Japaneseness which took him back to the times when he heard stories of his great grandfather coming to America at the turn of the Twentieth Century. It seemed like ancient history. But the smell of the food and studying the kimonos the waitresses wore reminded him of his unique heritage that he always meant to study more, at least back to the Second World War when his grandfather, Hank Sato, fought in Europe. He needed to explore his more recent moorings.
Seated on the floor of a tatami room, Jim and Judy faced each other at a low table and chatted about the events of the day while the waitress busied herself setting up a butane stove and a deep pan. Judy worked in Records in the department and related the latest ongoing saga between a co-worker and a musician of a popular rock band in town. Most of the bets were on their finally getting together in the on-again, off-again relationship, marrying and staying in Franklin to raise a family. Her only event of the day was a paper cut. She produced the offended finger wrapped in a flesh-tone bandaid.
Jim took her hand and kissed the finger. His wife laughed at his antics. Though they had been married for three years already, they still acted like newly weds. For his part, Jim said little of his work at the office except that it was his day to catch up on paperwork. He did not mention his visit to see Gilda Dobrowski.
With the sukiyaki pan simmering on the hot plate in the center of the table, Jim piled on the thin slices of marbled beef, leafy spinach, green onions, mushrooms and tofu and added more shoyu and sugar to the beef-laden broth. A beaten raw egg in a bowl accompanied the rice. Whenever they ate soul food, they used chopsticks. At the restaurant, it was, of course, a must. Jim felt a little ashamed that he was awkward at using chopsticks. Otherwise, it was the usual fork, knives and spoons with the pot roasts, stew, spaghetti that interspersed their diet. Jim ate hungrily and for the moment put Gilda’s suspicions or messages out of his mind. But they kept returning like annoying insects.
After dinner he and Judy lingered over a dish of green-tea ice cream. Jim’s mind was already a thousand miles away, and he barely listened to his wife’s happy chatter, though he interjected an appropriate grunt now and then so as not to offend her. Normally he would listen to her, gazing into her eyes, content to be with her.
Back at home they sat in front of TV watching one of their favorite programs. But Jim stared at the set unseeing and only half listening to the dialogue. He knew he had to act on Gilda’s concerns and not just dismiss them as a form of hysteria. He knew her to be basically imperturbable and perceptive. And her fears alarmed him. He wanted very much to discuss the matter with his wife, to get another woman’s point of view of female premonitions, but he dare not for fear of frightening her. That went for anybody, as far as he was concerned. He had to have more to go on, and still it would all remain problematic. Who would believe a wild story pulled out of the ether? They would be tagged as mental cases. And yet the police were not entirely hostile to the idea of applying the talents of psychics to solve crimes, although there existed a cadre of die-hards who saw the practice as unprofessional.
The next morning he swung over to Gilda’s neat little cottage and confronted her with an idea that he had worked out during the sleepless night. A new kind of terrorist on the loose. A figment of Gilda’s imagination? Hardly. Jim had worked with her long enough to know her reliability, and he leaned toward supporting her suspicions. At least he was willing to humor her and even nurture her intuitions lest he overlook a lead.
“You say you’re not a good transmitter,” Jim began as soon as he entered her house. “Maybe you are and maybe you aren’t, and it could be that you’re afraid to try to contact this entity. What if you used me as a medium, as some sort of channel? Could that be done?”
“Yes,” Gilda said, “I’ve heard of work that’s been done through channeling.”
“That way I would be in direct contact with whoever has been accessing you and find out more about him and what’s going on, that is, if you’re right about him wanting to talk.”
“I’m sure that he wants to communicate something, something terrible. There’s such a sinister tone to his voice.”
“I have to ask this, Gilda, before we go any further,” Jim said, “and I hope you don’t take offense.”
“Go ahead. We’ve known each other long enough.”
“Have you been under any unusual stress or been bothered by something personal or had something happen to–”
“Not at all. Everything is normal, everyday is the same and I go about my business and all of a sudden I get these throbbing pulses of pain in my head and then the messages follow. He’s trying to get my attention. I’m sure of it, and it’s so frightening. I’ve never had this happen before.”
“All right,” Jim said, sitting on the edge of the sofa. “Here’s what we do. You put me in a trance or whatever you do to get a person ready to make psychic contact with another entity.”
“I don’t know, Jim, it could be dangerous, to make contact with another source of bioenergetic force. It’s like reaching out into the empty ether and colliding with a mysterious form of life.” She spoke with real fear quavering in her voice.
“Do you think we have any choice?”
“No… I don’t think we do, not if we want to save lives, and that’s what concerns me, because the voice sounds so dead serious. It wants to be heard, to make some kind of point.”
“Then let’s do it.” Jim shrugged out of his coat.
“All right, then stretch out on the sofa, and I’ll get you ready.”
Jim untied his shoes and kicked them off and loosened his tie to make himself as comfortable as possible. He didn’t know much about Gilda’s work, but at least he knew that he was going to have to loosen every muscle in his body and let his mind take over without any distractions or annoying sensations. He prepared himself as though he were a tool, figuring that a medium was nothing more than a conduit from what he had read so far.
Gilda put on a tape of the seashore: the rolling surf punctuated the muffled cries of the gulls. The sounds of the waves were soughing whispers of sighs that nature often offers up when rushing water rolls pebbles and the wind fingers through the branches of the trees.
“I want you to relax totally.”
“And concentrate on what you think of as the mind of a terrorist, sinister, hidden, hard, trained and evil. You have to tell yourself we’re dealing with a form of evil.”
“I can try. I’ll give it my best shot.”
“No, no, that’s not the idea. The idea is to relax and focus at the same time to make the contact as effortless and natural as possible. I want you to slide right into him. I’ll call to him and you just let the words filter through your consciousness by repeating them softly in your mind. It’ll take a few minutes before you’re ready.”
“Will you know when?”
“Yes, I will. I’ll keep an eye on your breathing while I guide you. Just listen to my voice. But I want you to be careful…not careful, I mean, too careful as though you were afraid to approach him…I personally would be. But I want you to be natural.”
The tape repeated itself over and over again, and Jim felt himself slipping into a nether world that was half way between being awake and asleep. He became aware of Gilda’s nearness to him. The side of his face picked up the warmth of her body. He was determined to remain focused.
“You are floating in the warm sea,” she intoned. “The water is caressing your body and the slow, rolling motion is putting you in a wakeful trance. You can see the deep blue of the sky. It is endless and the more you gaze at it the more it deepens and draws you into the universe of the void, deeper and deeper into the emptiness of the ether.”
There was a pause. Gilda’s voice whispered into his ear: “Are you in the void?”
“Yes,” Jim answered in a voice that did not seem like his own. He felt as if he were out of his body, floating freely in an unfamiliar medium. He quelled a momentary pang of fear and willed himself to relax and give free rein to the new sensation.
“Good,” Gilda said softly. “Now concentrate on my words: The terrorist who seeks to speak to me, tell me what you intend to do. Who are you? What are you known by, what is your name, where do you come from? Why do you want to harm us? Why do you hate us? You speak of germs and explosions and wreaking havoc…why? We are a small city…why did you pick us…why are we so important to you? Please answer me, please speak to me. I need to know more about you, since you seem to want to talk to me.”
Jim concentrated on the words whispered in his ear, softly, gently, smoothly, designed as they were to lure out a specter from its hiding place. Minutes passed. Gilda kept talking, calling coaxingly into the spaceless ether, repeating her words over and over again.
Then, suddenly, a voice spoke. From Jim’s lips it spilled forth in a thick, guttural accent.
“So you have found a way to contact me, my dear.”
“You know who I am,” Gilda said, “so please talk to me. Who are you? What is your name?”
“I am pleased to have this conversation,” the voice said. A smile appeared on Jim’s lips. It was the entity’s. “My name is Sergei Verenich.”
“Where do you come from?”
“I entered your country from Russia, but all that in good time, my dear. I know you are a beautiful woman and a gifted psychic. Why haven’t you contacted me directly?”
“I’m not a good transmitter and–”
“Nonsense. You cannot lie to me. You are afraid. I have been studying many of your kind throughout the country, and you are one of the best in the many places we have targeted.”
“Targeted? I’m afraid of what you are up to.”
“You should be.” A long pause, then: “Sergei is going to destroy the country!”
A catch of breath and a pause. “But why us? Why Franklin? We’re not a strategic city.”
“You have been chosen because of your rivers, mountains and coastline.”
“Who is behind all of this?”
“Ah, you want to know everything. I desire that you should know everything. I am the protégé of Vladimir Kuzmich, head of the former Soviet Psychic Investigation Unit under KGB. He is a very powerful man. He and I are going to get even with America. We are going to get our revenge for your having spread confusion, fear and panic in epidemic proportions through remote-viewing, telekinesis and telepathy that brought about the collapse of the Soviet Union. The Central Intelligence Agency worked with President Reagan to ruin our country and people and now we will destroy you and enact the Final Solution. You will no longer own your country. It will collapse. Transportation, communication, commerce, trade, banking, defense, medical facilities will all be thrown into chaos, and you will be busy for a millennium just sorting through the pieces.”
“But you will be killing millions of innocent people.”
“That is why you must find me.”
“Find you? A needle in a haystack…is that why…you are using us as a plaything?”
“Hah! After what you have done to my country, you think I’m not going to indulge in a little fun? Hah, hah, hah.”
“It is up to you two to save your beloved country. Sergei has chosen you. You are the anointed ones, and I know you love your country and the people so much that you will dedicate yourselves and even die for your beliefs.”
“How do we find you?”
“I will give you clues to see if you are smart enough to figure them out. You will then report everything you know to the authorities…FBI, CIA, DIA, NSA, all the intelligence agencies and police departments in the country. Everybody you can think of.”
“They may not believe us, they may merely call us mental cases.”
“Ah, how do you say…truly a ‘Catch-22′. You will have to try to convince them.”
“If they will listen, maybe we will convince them.”
“And maybe, my dear, you will go crazy trying. Hah, hah, hah.”
“I will get other psychics to help me…we will organize ourselves into a force…Ow!”
Jim jerked his whole body involuntarily but remained in a deep trance.
“You see,” Sergei said. “A throbbing pulse of pain to the head. That is my calling card, my gentlest touch to get your attention. I could do far more harm if I wanted to but you are my conduit and I wouldn’t want to hurt you permanently. You can forget about organizing other psychics. I know they will be too afraid to take me on, just as you were afraid to contact me on your own. You have no idea how well trained I’ve been over all these years. Vladimir Kuzmich is a modern-day reincarnation of the famous Rasputin. He can even bend forks with the power of his mind, and you have no idea how powerful he is when he is hooked up to his psychotronic enhancers. I could crush your skull, my beauty, with his concentrated bioenergy focused through me but, of course, I would never do such a thing to you, Gilda Dobrowski, my chosen messenger. I would miss looking into your green eyes.”
“You can see me?”
“Yes, of course. We have also perfected remote-viewing, and I know what you look like, even what you smell like when you step out of a shower, and I know what your house looks like and how much you like your friend, Jim Sato. Let’s see if the two of you can figure out how to catch me before the FINAL SOLUTION.”
“What do you mean by the Final Solution?” her voice quavering in Jim’s consciousness.
“That is for you to find out and perhaps even witness.”
“Give us one of your clues. You promised to give us a clue.”
“In time. All in good time. First, the water supply of Franklin is the Titus River, is it not?”
“Oh, my God! You’re going to wipe out the entire city! But why us?”
“You’ve been selected as a demo…isn’t that what you call it?”
“A demonstration, an example…of what I can do with Vladimir at the controls. For us it will be…how do you say…’a walk in the park’. You are totally unprotected and unprepared. Your coastline, for instance, is totally unguarded.”
“Where are you going to strike first?”
“That is for you to guess. It could be the Titus River or the bridges or even your federal courthouse. I could instigate your local disaffected radicals and have them disrupt traffic in your city. Guess, my dear. The fate of Franklin lies in your hands…the fate of the country will lie in both of your hands. Find me, Gilda dear. Now I have told you all you need to know. I will now terminate transmission.”
Jim felt a form of energy slowly withdraw from his body and mind, and he opened his eyes to gaze at the ceiling where he could almost make out an outline of a face as he blinked his eyes against the whiteness.
“Did you see what he looked like?” he asked Gilda immediately.
“No, I couldn’t. I kept trying to image him, but he threw up a barrier, and all I could see was a fuzzy face with a mustache and full beard.”
“He can disguise himself like that?”
“I think he is trained to do anything.” But Jim didn’t think the facial hair was fake.
“You think Sergei Verenich is his real name?”
“That much I think is true,” Jim said with instinctive certainty. “He wants us to find him, but he’s going to play with us first. We have to report what we know. The chief or maybe Frank Flanagan of the FBI. Somebody higher up. FBI headquarters, CIA.”
“Do you think, Jim, that we can go waltzing in and tell them what we found out and have them listen to us?” Gilda was being the even-keeled one now.
“What choice do we have?” Jim said. “We have to alert the police department of Franklin, at least, at the very least, to start looking for–”
“Where and who? All we have is his name. For all we know, he might be transmitting from the East Coast.”
“We have to chance it.” Jim’s first experience in the ether was unnerving, and the effects of the eerie encounter caught up with him.
“Of being ridiculed, put down and dismissed?”
“Yes. The Chief of Police, Daniel Starkey, is a fair-minded man. I’m sure he’ll listen.” A frenetic quality, rare for Jim, crept into his voice.
“But not do anything.”
“I don’t know, but we’ve got to try to mobilize what resources we have.” Jim was feeling all the more frantic, a sense of urgency knotted in his stomach.
“That much I agree to, but I have my status to think of, too,” Gilda said with a note of caution creeping into her voice. “I don’t want to be laughed out of town. That sounds selfish, I know…and I’m very concerned at the same time. This Sergei Verenich means business, there’s no mistaking the tone of his voice. So I guess it’s up to us to stop him. We don’t have much of a choice.”
Buttoning his shirt and cinching his tie, Jim said, “I’ll set up a meeting with the chief right away. I know he’s a sympathetic man, that is, I know he’s always willing to listen to his men and their complaints or opinions, and this one has got to be brought to his attention.”
“I want to be on hand to back up everything you say.”
“Of course. I would want you to be. I’d be helpless without you.”
“Do you remember everything Sergei said?”
“Yes, I do. It’s burned into my memory…the fact that he wants to play with us first.”
Jim Sato left Gilda’s shaken by his experience serving as a medium. He felt weak throughout his body, and his mind was filled with the exchange between the two psychics, a conversation that took place in the nowhere. As soon as he arrived at the office, he trooped into Daniel Starkey’s office, arranged a meeting for the next morning without revealing the contents. He only said it was about apprehending a dangerous criminal on the loose after consulting Gilda and confronting her suspicions and spent the rest of the day taking phone calls, finishing reports and forcing himself to think of a way to persuade the Chief of Police to commit their resources to tracking down Sergei. Jim wasn’t even sure if he could convince him that the contact had been genuine, to begin with. His partner, Ted Wilson, sitting opposite him, commented on his preoccupation, but he did not tell him what was on his mind.
He left the office early. He was anxious to get away and be by himself to organize his thoughts. He desperately wanted to confide in his wife, both to tell her what he was getting into (he knew it was going to be a total commitment) and get her read on the psychic business of communicating with a menacing entity. But he knew he could not. It was as top secret as any classified information meant for only certain eyes and ears. He was alone. He and Gilda were thrown together by the circumstances created by Sergei Verenich and the master psychic, Vladimir Kuzmich.
When Judy walked in through the front door after returning from work, Jim took her in his arms longingly, as though holding his beloved wife was the only real thing he could embrace at the moment.
“You’re home early,” Judy said.
“Had some thinking to do and needed to be alone,” Jim said, almost letting slip Sergei’s name and knowing that if he did, he would have to explain prematurely the whole business to his wife.
“You seem to be working on something important. Another murder case?”
“Not this one.” Jim did not trust himself and immediately changed the subject. “Why don’t you let me make dinner, darling. You must be exhausted, and I’ve sitting around doing nothing. How’s my brand of spaghetti and meatballs sound, with lots of seasoning?”
“You must have been a bad boy today,” Judy joked, “and have to make up for something.”
“If my being wicked makes me more attractive to you, then I’ll let you think so, but I just want to treat my wife well. Is that such a crime?”
“No, Detective Sato. I think your idea of cooking dinner is just fine.”
After dinner Jim helped with the dishes, driven by a desire to be helpful–also by a tinge of guilt–and forced himself to be interested in TV with his arm around Judy’s shoulders. He killed an urge to surf the Internet to locate organizations and institutes that could possibly help him in tackling Sergei Verenich. He would just be scattering his shots, like firing into the dark. And if he made the wrong move, he might provoke Sergei. For all he knew maybe Sergei was sinking his eyes into his mind even as he was thinking about him. A gut-twisting, unsettling feeling, being watched by a trained psychic entity. He pulled Judy closer to him.
That night they made leisurely love. Her body was supple and smooth, and he loved to gaze upon her perfect breasts. When they were bound together, seeking each other, his mind was lost in the moment, and the millions of dead that he saw floating in the rivers vanished into a corner of his consciousness where the nightmares were hidden.
About the Author
Born in 1932, R. H. Kohno grew up in LA and its environs until the outbreak of WWii when his mother and he were evacuated to the concentration camps. His father was arrested by the FBI for possessing a fishing boat–he was suspected of contacting enemy submarines–and put into separated detention centers. After the war, they repatriated to war-torn Japan, Kohno as a shunned American lookalike, and he managed to return to America in 1959. He got married and went to college where he excelled, earning a spot on the honor roll and being elected to Phi Beta Kappa. He was editor-in-chief of the campus literary magazine at the University of Washington and taught briefly at the college level. He is the author of a number of works, the most recent of which include Westward Lies The Sun, written under his real name–Robert H. Kono–and Eye of the Star and The StarMind Alert, written under his pen name, R. H. Kohno. His website is http://www.rhkohno.com/.