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Authors: Leslie Parrish

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probably. Judging by the size of the skeleton, I’d say he was around ten,

maybe twelve when he died. Somewhere in that range.”

Gabe steeled himself against the instinctive mental rebel ion that went with

the idea of a little kid being murdered and stuffed into a wal and focused on

doing his job: finding out who’d done it. “Male?”

“Pretty sure, not one hundred percent yet because of the soot and the

melted plastic, but it looks that way. Coroner’l be able to confirm it.”

“Any sign of trauma?”

Wright shrugged. “Like I said, I can’t see much yet. The skul is intact; so’s

the rib cage. If there was any remaining flesh or organ matter, the fire burned it

away, along with whatever clothes he’d been wearing.” He shrugged. “Just

have to wait and see what the coroner can find regarding cause of death. I

sure hope he can find something.”

“You’n me both,” said Gabe, preparing mental y to walk into the ruins to see

the crime scene for himself. In any old murder case, finding evidence after a

number of years was tough. But after a fire? Talk about finding your needle in

a stack’a needles.

Whether the bar had actual y been the place of the murder was stil very

much in question, though he tended to doubt it. What would a young kid be

doing inside a rowdy hangout? More likely the boy had run afoul of somebody

connected with the place, somebody who’d done a little creative construction

work to hide evidence of his crime.

He glanced across the parking lot toward the owner, noting Ty was doing

the same thing.

“Think we’re gonna need to talk to him,” Gabe murmured.

“Uh-huh.” Ty frowned, any evidence of earlier humor having evaporated with

the knowledge that they were dealing with the murder of a child, the worst-

case scenario for any cop, as far as Gabe was concerned. Though he’d worn

the uniform for a few years in Florida, Ty’s detective badge was pretty new, so

this could very wel be his first case involving a kid. Sucked to be him today.

And even though he’d been on the job long enough to have seen a few cases

he’d rather never have known about, frankly, it sucked to be Gabe today, too.

Since her own murder, at the age of fifteen, Olivia Wainwright had

experienced more deaths than she could ever remember. Not that she tried to

remember. Why would anyone choose to? Bad enough that she did what she

did, that her own brush with death seemed to have opened some portal into a

darkness she had never ful y understood, even if she had final y accepted it.

But some experiences never left. Some sensations seemed to have been

forever imprinted onto her cerebral cortex. Sense memories clawed at her

brain even in her sleep, often causing her to wake up in terror, sure she was

being shot or choked or beaten—murdered.

Because she had been. Not once, but many times.

She’d felt the agony of a bul et tearing into flesh, the pressure of hands

wrapped around her throat, the thud of fists battering her body. Then there

were the accidental deaths—sometimes those had to be investigated, too. So

she knew the crushing sensation of a human form being twisted around the

steering column of a smal car, and sometimes stil tasted the vile black

smoke inhaled by a man trapped in a burning building.

Not once, but many times.

Although the horrific deaths she experienced now weren’t her own, it never

got any easier. In fact, each time was just a little worse than the last, each

connection just a hint more terrifying to make. Because she’d been brought

back. Saved. Those other victims hadn’t.

It always took a while to move past one of her shared-death experiences

and required a great deal of determination and mental wil . Until she did move

past it, she never got much peace or rest.

Lying alone in her bed just after dawn on Monday, Olivia tried to even her

breathing and stil her racing heart. She had jerked out of sleep, the

overwhelming sensation of fal ing making her reach out and grab for

something—anything—to prevent her from splattering on the hard ground.

Dreams of fal ing weren’t uncommon for anyone. But they probably didn’t hold

the clarity that Olivia’s night terror just had. It had been so real, so incredibly

real.

“Because of Bernie Ratzinger,” she whispered, hearing the quaver in her

own voice.

Beside her, Poindexter, her cat, lifted his head and opened one sleepy

green eye. She reached for him, sinking her fingers into his fur, stroking him

back to sleep, though she knew slumber would elude her until she rid herself

of the sad final minutes of Bernie Ratzinger’s life.

Bernie had been a banker with a serious gambling habit who’d been

playing a risky game with his employer’s money. When that game had ended

with a Go-Directly-to-Jail card, he’d taken another way out—off the top of a

fifteen-story high-rise on Bryan Street.

His wife hadn’t believed it was suicide. She’d been sure Bernie had been

murdered by someone who’d been even more deeply involved in the

embezzling scandal. She’d come to eXtreme Investigations—the paranormal

detective agency Olivia worked for—and asked them to prove it.

Olivia’s boss, Julia, knew the widow personal y and had wanted to help her

out. The husband’s life insurance policy wouldn’t pay off in the case of suicide.

If Olivia had been able to find any evidence that Ratzinger had been pushed

off that building, evidence that could be corroborated by the rest of the team,

the widow and her children would be much better off. So Olivia had agreed to

do it.

She’d known the moment she touched his corpse that it had, indeed, been

suicide.

Olivia had connected with him, almost
become
him, during the final two

minutes and ten seconds of his life. And, like always, once that connection

had been made, she couldn’t break it until the very end. So she’d been with

Bernie for every one of those awful final seconds.

She’d looked down at feet pacing that roof as if they were her own. Had

heard his words as he talked to himself, working up his nerve to jump. No one

else had been there. Not another person’s voice, not a footstep, not a hand in

the dark—neither a helpful nor a murderous one. Just Bernie and his rantings

about his fear of prison and his anger at being so stupid and his sadness at

what he’d done to his family.

She hadn’t been inside his head. That never happened, so she couldn’t

read anybody’s last thoughts. She could only experience what they

experienced through their own sensory input: what they saw, heard, tasted,

smel ed. And felt—physical y, not emotional y.

Honestly, she wouldn’t have needed to share his thoughts to understand

what Bernie was feeling and thinking during those final minutes. Nor did she

real y have to hear his words. The man’s condition had been made clear by

the sick clenching in his stomach, the tightness of every muscle, the sobs, the

sting of tears in his eyes. The way his arms shook and his hands trembled as

he prepared to hoist himself out onto the ledge.

Shivering lightly, she let the rest of the memories in, little by little. Though the

temperature in her bedroom was comfortable, she easily recal ed the

sensation of hot night air stabbing at her face as she hurtled off the roof. The

trip down had been an incredibly fast one, the ground looming ever larger with

each foot she and Bernie fel out of the sky. His long scream of remorse as the

human survival instinct kicked in suggested that in the last seconds of his life,

he had wished he could turn back the clock so he could take it back, not make

that fearful leap.

He had died almost instantly, so there had been very little pain. Just that

fear, that awful, bone-deep terror during the short but stil interminably long

descent.

Not his terror. Hers. He’d been her first jumper. That was the problem. It

wasn’t as easy to get past this one because she was dealing with something

new.

“Time to let it go, Liv,” she reminded herself.

Breathing deeply, she utilized a few relaxation techniques she’d acquired

over the years. Aidan McConnel , a psychic she worked with at eXtreme

Investigations, had once told her he tried to visualize building an enormous

cement block wal to serve as a barrier between him and any invasion into his

psyche. Olivia didn’t require a barrier, however. She didn’t have to keep

anything from coming in. She just needed a way to get it out.

Relaxed, she visualized gently fal ing rain, a slow, soft shower. Only when

she could almost feel it against her skin did she al ow herself to ful y

acknowledge the fear, remember the pain. She let it take her for a second.

When she’d ful y embraced it, come to terms with the horror, Olivia let the rain

pour in, let it flow over her, seep into her pores to carry away al that was dark,

grimy and awful. She focused on being washed clean, on the reality that she

was fine and safe and not at al frightened. Slowly, each of those dark feelings

began to float away with the water, long rivulets escaping her subconscious to

evaporate in the daylight of reality.

Eventual y, she began to feel back in control, normal—or her version of it,

anyway.

“Oh, great,” she said with a weary sigh, glancing at the gleaming green

numbers on her bedside clock. She wondered if there was any point in even

trying to go back to sleep for the fifteen minutes she had left before the alarm

went off.

Outside, a motor suddenly whirred and whined. The landscaping guy who

cut almost every lawn in the neighborhood was starting super early these days

to beat the heat, noise ordinances be damned. And oh, what a noise it was.

Now she
knew
there was no point trying to go back to sleep.

Slipping out of bed, she beelined for the shower. A real one was now just as

necessary as her mental one had been. Her memories had been washed

clean; it was time to finish the job with real water on the rest of her body.

Water
. Funny that it was her coping mechanism now, considering it was

also her number one terror. Not warm showers, of course, but cold, black,

fathomless pools. Once upon a time, when she had been young and normal, it

had been the swipe of a sharp blade across her skin that had instil ed the

most terror in her. Now, it was water.

“Not gonna think about that,” she mumbled as she turned on the shower,

then got right in, not even waiting for it to get hot. It was going to be another

scorcher outside, and being pelted with cool liquid seemed the wisest way to

start the day.

Afterward, while she got ready for work, Olivia turned on the radio, wanting

to catch the weather forecast. It was masochistic, she knew, but hey, a high of

97 beat one of 102 any day. And, despite the fact that a lot of people probably

considered her a ghoul, she was an optimist—or at least a realist with

optimistic leanings.

“And now for the local news, here’s an update on our top story: an overnight

fire at a bar near the Laurel Grove Cemetery.”

Olivia stiffened, dropping the towel she’d been using on her hair. Her mouth

went dry; her pulse sped up. The visceral reactions were familiar, occurring

whenever she heard anything to do with Laurel Grove. The very name conjured

up a litany of dark images, unearthing memories she would much prefer to

keep buried.

Black night, creaking, rusty gates, tiny bugs and creatures skittering

across her bare, ragged feet. Struggling to breathe—trying to remind her

body how it was done—with air so humid it was like inhaling through a

blanket made of wool and soaked in syrup. The uneven ground, the twisted

trees and tangled Spanish moss sending strange shadows in every

direction.

The graves. Oh, God, the graves. Every one seemed to bear her name;

each crypt had invited her to enter and lie down there with the cold dead,

since that was where she rightfully belonged. And so she’d. . . .

She shook her head hard, struggling to focus on the bright and sunny now,

not the dark and bleak then. Escaping the mental effects of that horrific night

had taken a lot of time and effort, not to mention therapy. While her friends in

high school had been staying after school for cheerleading practice, she’d

been heading to a shrink’s couch. It had taken sacrifice and grit, but she’d

survived. So she refused to give those memories any power over her now.

Yet the dark thoughts persisted.

“As reported earlier, fire crews responded at about three a.m. to this two-

alarm fire which destroyed a popular hangout on North Ogeechee Road.

BOOK: Cold Touch
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