Sonia was already there when they got back. She opened the door for them one second after Wolf knocked.
Rose walked into the place like a woman glad to be there, but after about three shaky steps, she slowly sank into a chair, holding her head. "Ugh," she said. "I hurt."
Wolf stepped in behind her and set the box of watches down, then he knelt beside her, looking up at Sonia. "You know anything about this?" he said. "She got this way at the Jade Pagoda too."
Sonia shook her head, staring in some alarm at Rose.
Mitch and David came in together, after a long look up and down the hallway. "Withdrawal symptoms, I think," Mitch said.
Wolf checked Rose's pulse, which was too fast and too weak, then held her hand and tried to be reassuring. But he didn't really know how to be reassuring, so he was first annoyed with himself for not knowing how, and then he was amused at himself for trying so hard. And then he realized that it was really Rose who was amused at him when he started to feel a headache and a dry chuckle escaped her lips between labored breaths.
"Thanks for trying, Wolf," she said. "I do appreciate it. Sorry about giving you a taste of my headache though. That was an accident."
"I can live with it, Rose," he said. "If it helps, I don't even mind. I trust you."
Rose stared at him, all traces of amusement suddenly gone. "Trust me? Goddess, Wolf, why?" She looked away with a bitter expression on her face and pulled away her hand. Abruptly, his headache vanished. "Just leave me alone for an hour or so," she said. "I'll be okay."
"Uh ... Wolf," Sonia said, pointing at his chest. "What the hell is that?"
Wolf stood up and took the string he'd been collecting the rings on from around his neck and showed it to her; she squeaked and shrank away from him. "Oh, jeez," she said. "That's ... uh ... Those are icky."
"Yeah," said Wolf. "I kind of thought they were. And so has every person we've shown them to who's even a little bit sensitive to this stuff. But I want to know; are these ... shelter? The way you guys need shelter?"
"They are," Sonia said, "But they're nasty. I wouldn't want them around."
Wolf looked at the rings speculatively, then at Rose. "Rose? I know you don't like these, but I want to see something. Can I put this around your neck for a minute?" He held out the string with the rings dangling from it. Rose didn't move as he slowly lowered it over her head.
She blinked, then looked up, startled. "The headache's gone," she said. But then her face crumpled and she started to cry. "I'm just like him, aren't I?" she said. "I'm a junkie and this horrible stuff is my fix, isn't it?"
Wolf put a hand on her shoulder, but he couldn't think of a damn thing to say that would be comforting.
She pulled away from him, jerking the string off her neck and thrusting it back at him. "Take the damn thing away!" she said. "No matter how much it hurts it's better than needing this!"
Wolf took it back, but he saw how her muscles stretched tight as fiddle-strings against the pain, and he heard the grinding of her teeth. "I'm sorry, Rose," he said. She just glared at him. Tears were running down her cheeks.
Mitch arched an eyebrow. "I think we just found out something important about how this works. This may be the key to the whole business," said Mitch, picking up the rings. "These aren't just because he has to sleep and needs a lieutenant to run things for him
sometimes. This is his protection, too, and his way of getting them to do things when he's not in their heads the whole time. If he just convinces them that they have to obey whoever has the ring, they do the voodoo on themselves."
Wolf nodded. "Using their own crap thinking against them."
Mitch was pacing now, gesturing. "So our perp has some shelter he can use, lieutenants to run his show for him while he's asleep, and he can walk past other kinds of shelter without keeling over. Right? Rose, you've been in people's heads pretty constantly today; and when we hit any serious shelter stuff, you had trouble."
She shook her head. "No. Indra's studio was serious shelter, too. But it didn't hurt. And those rings."
"Okay, what have the rings and the stuff in Indra's studio got in common?" Mitch asked. "You don't like 'em because all the attention that's been paid to them is nasty and moody and vicious, right?
"I'm betting," Mitch said, "that that's what our perp likes about 'em. Different kind of vibe, not as big a contrast with what he does, right? And he doesn't wind up going through withdrawal."
Wolf pulled his notebook out of his pocket and flipped it open. "Shelter," he said. "I'd been wondering what the bastard uses for shelter. You got a pencil?"
"You're keeping a notebook?" Mitch asked. "Good. I want to look at that. Wish to God I still had the files on this case."
David made an irritated sound. "I got 'em, Mitch. Every last word of it. I can read every goddamn page of it and tell you the exact location of every rip, wrinkle, staple, and coffee stain on every one of our original reports."
"Are you serious?" Mitch breathed.
"Wish I wasn't," David replied. "I can see every photo, too." He paused while they considered that, then continued. "I've always had it a little bit. Sometimes I remember, you know, the actual sounds or the images instead of words or what I saw. Usually for the next ten or fifteen seconds, I can look at something again in my head to read it, or listen again to pick out words from the noise. It's handy, but it's just ten or fifteen seconds, not really what you'd call perfect recall. Or at least it wasn't until that bastard started asking me questions."
"You saw him, didn't you." Rose said. It wasn't a question.
David nodded slowly. "I did."
"Okay," Mitch said. "Who can draw?"
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...