"So tell me about this thing," said Wolf, staring half in disbelief at the Jade Pagoda.
"Here's the museum plaque," said Mitch, gesturing at a plaque on the wall to the left of the exhibit case. "It explains a little bit about the history."
"I can't even express what this thing is," said Rose. "It's - an absolute." She was staring into the case, astonished once again to be alone in her own head.
Wolf read the plaque, slowly. "A hundred and fifty master jade carvers worked on this for ten years?" He stared at it. "I can't understand spending that much effort on just - a thing," he said. "Meaning no offense, of course. I respect the hell out of dedication and hard work and craftsmanship. But it's a thing, it's not people or a home or a family or... " He shook his head. "That's thirty or forty whole lifetimes' work."
Rose shrugged and shook her head. "You ever go to a garage sale or something, Wolf, and you see something that's just like all the other things there except that you had to have it?"
Wolf shook his head. "Never happened to me," he said sadly, "but it happened to Maria all the time. Weird little things she collected. And if I thought she liked something, I'd try to get her something like it, but the ones I got she never liked. Eventually I just gave it up." Whatever his gaze was focused on, it was a lot further away than anything in the room.
"Maria must have been a bit sensitive," said Rose. "There are lots of people, Wolf, not just a few freaks. People are mostly just a little bit psychic - not enough that they get tangled up in other people's heads, but enough that the sensitive ones somehow see or feel all the work that goes into something like this. It's the intention and the will and the desire and the dedication of the people who made it, and the wonder and the admiration of the people who've seen it. Even if they don't know exactly why, it touches those chords in them. It touches the part of themselves that's into all the craftsmanship and work and would have done it if they'd had the chance and the time and the skill. And it touches the part that's amazed and sees all the wonder of what they've created. Sensitive people feel all of that, whether or not they understand it, when they get close. They want to take the inspiration, that dedication, that creativity and desire, or even that sense of wonder, home with them. They want to keep it with them always."
Wolf didn't reply. There was a lump in his throat, and he was glad if this thing kept Rose from seeing into his head right now. He was having memories about Maria he didn't want to share with anybody.
Mitch nodded. "That's how we figured it out, eventually. All the people the Hook is going after had lots of thrift store and used bookstore purchases on their credit card records. I remembered seeing all the stuff in Rose's apartment and put it together. There had to be a connection."
"Okay, I guess I see that," said Wolf. "So I don't get these feelings from things. Does that make me a hard target for this guy?"
"A little, maybe," said Rose. "You're harder-headed than most people. And you know exactly who you are, which most people don't really. That makes you easier to read, but probably harder to control."
"What do you mean, probably?" Wolf said with a sharp look.
"I mean I don't know. I can't control people the way this guy does."
"Bullshit," Wolf said quietly. Mitch looked up, startled.
"No, really, Wolf, I can't do that!" she said.
"Guess again," Wolf said. "First time I met you, you were scared of me. Ten seconds later your boss came out of the back and offered to show me the door. And that was your doing."
Rose stared at the carpet. "I ... I was scared. I sort of decided to deal with it that way, and Jim just... Jim did too, didn't he? Still, I can't ... I couldn't ... I couldn't possibly command people to do the kind of ... " she trailed off, helplessly.
Wolf shook his head, grimly. "Don't give me this crap about not being able to control people, Rose. If you don't believe it, it's a lie, and if you do believe it, it's crap thinking. Maybe you've never pushed it as hard as he has, but you've done it." He stared intently into her eyes. She looked away and shuddered.
"I'm sorry, Rose." he said quietly. "I think you even did it to me, without realizing it. Three times on the car trip down here I was about to bring this up, but all three times I decided not to. Or maybe you decided not to for me. Now this is the fourth time, except now we're in front of this thing." he said, gesturing at the Jade Pagoda. "And when we're in front of this thing, you can't decide anything for me, right?"
Rose's shoulders were shaking, and there were tears on her face.
"Rose, this is important," Wolf continued. "We're playing a high-stakes game here. We can't afford crap thinking that says we never take an honest look at our cards. You may not like this, but this is something you can do, and something you have done."
"I don't ... I'm not... " Rose was having trouble talking.
Wolf placed a hand on her shoulder. "Rose. I can touch people, I can grab them and push, and I have. Hell, I pushed you today when that Indra lady lost it. That doesn't make me a monster. You can touch people a different way, push them a different way. That doesn't make you a monster either. What makes saints and monsters is what people choose, not what they are."
Rose turned away, her face bleak with dismay. "I used Jim, didn't I? I used him hard, I got out of danger by putting him into it."
"No, Rose, you didn't," Mitch said. "You were never in any danger from Wolf, and neither was Jim."
"But I didn't know that, and I chose to deal with it by putting someone else on the line," Rose said.
Wolf nodded. "Remember what you were saying in the car? If you get some kind of crap thinking going, you can wind up doing something you regret. And that gives this bastard a gap he can get his hooks into. So you had crap thinking that you couldn't control people, and you did something you regret with it. You were too busy pretending you couldn't do it to notice you were doing something bad with it."
Rose turned away, hanging her head. A long silence grew.
Finally, Mitch broke it. "Is this what that look was about, in the car?"
"No," Wolf said. "This ain't it." Then he decided, for Rose's sake, that it was time to change the subject for now. "So tell me about David," Wolf said. "What's he like?"
Mitch shrugged. "Smart, steady, and strong. A good cop. His dad's African-American and his mom's Jewish. Speaks five languages and he's good with computers. David's not very creative, but he's thorough, meticulous, has a great eye for detail, and absolutely works his butt off getting things done. He's fearless, or at least fear never slows him down. And he's my friend. Out of all the cops on the force, David is somebody I'd have trusted with my life."
"Okay," said Wolf. "You absolutely sure the Hook's got him?" He paused, watching as Mitch nodded. "All right then, we need to get him back. We've got a trump to play here because this sonofabitch is overconfident. He's looking for a way to hit us, but we get one free shot at him because he isn't going to be looking for us to find a way to hit back."
"Look, you two," said Rose. "I have to get to Sonia's place before I get tired, and we need to call her now, and get over there."
"There was a phone in the lobby," said Mitch.
YOU ARE READING
This is a story that tells, among other things, why it really sucks to be psychic, what people who endlessly collect art and trivia are really doing, and where Gods, Goddesses and Devils come from. Rose is a telepath - but it isn't really "readin...