Read the previous chapter, Chapter 6, here first.
Chapter 7 of Desecration, London Psychic #1. Click here for buy links to the full book.
Blake Daniel bought a venti double shot latte with vanilla syrup and added more sugar before sipping the hot liquid and crossing the road back into the grounds of the British Museum. It had already been a difficult day, and he was severely behind on his workload. A pulsing hangover had kept him on the edge of nausea most of the afternoon, finally easing to a dull ache. The sugar was helping though, and when his stomach calmed, he would go to the greasy spoon down the road for a late bacon sandwich.
He rubbed his gloved hand over the rough stubble on his jaw and chin. It was thicker than he usually let it grow, almost at the point of softness now. Perhaps it was time to let it grow into a proper beard. He knew it made him look more like a serious academic and less like the lead singer of a boy band. His hair needed a cut too. He kept it at a number one buzz-cut: any longer and it tended towards the tight curls of the Nigerian heritage on his mother’s side, incongruous with the piercing blue eyes that he had inherited from his Swedish father.
Last night was a blank, yet again, but the girl he woke up with hadn’t seemed to mind much when he had politely asked her to leave. No regrets, he thought, holding onto a mantra that sounded more hollow each week. The London casual scene would continue to provide escape for as long as he needed it. He took a sip of the coffee and acknowledged that he did still need it. His nights were another life, far removed from his days shut in the bowels of the Museum, examining ancient objects and creating a past for them from painstaking research, augmented with his own special brand of insight. Right now, he was working on a series of ivory netsuke, miniature carved works of art that used to hang from the kimono sashes of traditional Japanese men. He found himself lost in each one, marveling at their intricacies and the echoes of past lives behind them. For Blake read the emotion in objects, and these were steeped in layers of its rich tapestry.
Blake walked through the museum, past the crowds of tourists. Although generally immune to the classical facade of the grand entrance, the glass-ceilinged Great Hall always lifted his spirits, although today even the weak sun hurt his fragile eyes. Finally sitting back down at his desk, Blake pushed some papers around while he drank his coffee, waiting for the kick of sugar and caffeine to give him enough of a boost to at least write a paragraph on the netsuke. The grant he was working under would only last a few more months, so he needed to produce something of worth to get it renewed.
He felt the sensation of being watched and looked up to see his boss Margaret leading someone towards his desk. Oh hell, Blake thought, what can she possibly want right now? Then he caught a glimpse of the woman behind. Her hair was jet-black, tied in a tight bun and she wore an unremarkable black trouser suit. But her face was alive with expression, her hazel eyes piercing with intelligence and she walked with an assurance he rarely saw in this academic environment. She was petite, her slim figure tightly compact, but Blake could see an inner strength and knew that this woman should not be underestimated.
“Blake, sorry to disturb you.” Margaret ruffled with importance. “This is Detective Sergeant Jamie Brooke from the Metropolitan Police.”
“Detective, good to meet you.” Blake held out his gloved hand.
Jamie held his eyes, assessing him and Blake felt an inexplicable wave of guilt, perhaps something everyone feels in the presence of the police. What did I do last night, he thought.
She shook his hand, glancing down at the gloves. “Perhaps we could go somewhere to talk confidentially?”
Margaret looked at Blake with suspicion but accompanied them through to one of the private meeting rooms, shutting the door behind her as she left.
“Call me Blake, please,” he said, sitting down at the wide desk, aware of the gossip that would now be exploding back in the main office about his possible misdemeanors.
“Of course.” Jamie sat down opposite him. Blake was reminded of all those TV shows people watched, and wondered what was coming next. “I’ve been told you may be able to help with a special investigation.”
Blake raised an eyebrow. “It depends what it is, of course, and who told you.”
“Max Nester recommended you.” That old queen, Blake thought as Jamie pulled a package, wrapped in cloth and plastic from her messenger bag. “This is evidence, but it’s been processed and we can’t pull anything from it. We’re trying to determine how it relates to a particular crime scene.”
“And how do you think I can help?” Blake asked.
“Your specialization here at the museum is ivory carving?”
Blake nodded. “I’ve been working on a series of netsuke, Japanese miniature sculptures used as fasteners for pouches and external pockets for carrying personal items. The man bag of seventeenth century Japan.”
His witticism didn’t raise even a hint of a smile from Jamie.
“Max told me that you’ve helped the police with investigations before and he mentioned your – special talents – I wondered if you might consider examining this piece.”
Blake cursed Max and his own big mouth. Six months ago, he’d helped with a minor investigation into stolen property and then he’d gotten drunk. Tequila was an evil mistress, and he couldn’t seem to escape her addiction. Blake wanted to deny everything, wanted to shy away from helping, but something in Jamie’s eyes made him nod. “I can give it a go at least, but I can’t promise anything.”
Jamie was suddenly hesitant. “So how does this work?”
“If you could just unwrap the object and lay it on the table. Then I’ll see what I can feel.”
Blake wondered if he would be able to feel anything through the last vestiges of the hangover. Part of the reason that he drank was to deaden the visions, but as Jamie unwrapped a tiny figurine, only four inches tall, he became intrigued. It was a naked woman carved of ivory, but instead of the smooth skin of her beautiful body, the flesh was open to reveal the internal organs. The woman’s eyes were open, her face impassive despite the mutilation of her body. Blake had studied Anatomical Venus figures before but this was a gorgeous specimen.
“Do I need to tell you anything about the situation?” Jamie said.
Blake shook his head. “Best not to. Just put it on the table.”
Jamie placed the figurine down on the white tabletop as Blake pulled the glove from his right hand, revealing criss-crossed white scars on his cinnamon skin. He felt her eyes examining them, her questions unspoken. The thin canvas gloves he habitually wore prevented the casual visions that could intrude, but now he laid his bare fingertips upon the figurine.
Sometimes the visions were hazy and he expected to ease slowly into this one but immediately he saw the body of a young woman. Her lower abdomen was cut open, her organs on display like the figurine and her body was pooled in scarlet. He snatched his hand away and the vision faded as he stood, slamming the chair back and stepping away fast. He had been unprepared for such violence, expecting something like the art theft he’d worked on with the police before. He felt a wave of nausea return and cursed his hangover.
“This is from a murder victim,” he said, his voice shaky. “Her body was cut open like this one.”
He saw the surprise in Jamie’s eyes, and understood that she had doubted his abilities. The look she gave him was one of respect tinged perhaps with a little fear, and her reaction was exactly why he didn’t broadcast his peculiar sensitivities. In fact, he did everything he could to hide them.
She nodded slowly, the barest acknowledgment that he had seen the truth.
“Can you read anything else?”
Blake felt truly sick now but he braced for a longer look. His ability to see was always tied to an object, and it was more a collection of sensations than a strictly physical viewing. It wasn’t as if he could psychically spin round in a room and see everything in detail, but he could pick up feelings and particularly heightened emotions that seemed to imprint a person’s experience onto the object. He felt a little uncomfortable reading in front of Jamie, but he sat down and laid his hand on the object again, breathing deeply as he closed his eyes. He felt the rush of the images and the sensations that accompanied them.
“There’s anger and hatred surrounding the figure, from both the girl and another. This wasn’t premeditated murder, but there was logic in the death, and emotional connection between the people involved.” He paused. “The dissection was deliberate.”
Blake relaxed into the vision now, feeling sensation pulse through him. The experience itself wasn’t unpleasant, but it was his own reaction to it that he feared. Occasionally he could be overwhelmed, unable to keep the visions from smothering him. It was the reason why he drowned his curse in tequila most nights, losing himself in physical oblivion.
“The figurine is from a collection,” he continued, deeply focused. “And the woman’s body lies in some kind of museum. Her imprint feels out of place as if she was interrupted in some kind of quest. She carried the figurine with her. It was evidence of something.” Blake opened his eyes and shook his head to clear it. “I’m sorry, this doesn’t seem like very useful information.”
Jamie tilted her head to one side. “What’s it like?” she asked, curiosity clearly overtaking her professionalism. “How does it feel?”
Blake slipped his glove back on, covering his scars. He was wary about explaining but somehow wanted her to understand. He could sense a deep pain in her and recognized a spirit on the edge of breaking.
“It’s a sensation of another place, and sometimes another time. I have an impression of what has happened to the object and the emotions surrounding it. Of course, objects don’t have feelings, they can’t see, so it’s only a projection based on the people who owned them or interacted with them. If they lie in one place for a long time, I get a much clearer idea of where they have been physically. For this figurine, I sense it is missing from a larger collection of macabre items, but then these miniatures were for teaching anatomy, so that makes sense.” He paused, his eyes meeting Jamie’s. “There’s something else.”
She nodded for him to continue.
“The girl,” he said. “She was pregnant, wasn’t she?”
Jamie nodded slowly, then stood and paced the tiny room. Blake felt his headache returning as the hangover beat his body with a vengeance. In contrast, Jamie was a bundle of energy and he could feel her vibrations across the space. He closed his eyes, trying to block it all out and return to his own equilibrium. The problem with reading was that it opened him up, and suddenly there was an overwhelming sensation of too much, color, sound, energy. The world was abuzz, and tuning it out was a huge effort once he had become sensitized. But he wanted to know more about Detective Jamie Brooke and, for some strange reason, he wanted her to trust him.
“I don’t think you’re entirely confident in my abilities, Detective.”
He challenged her with a direct stare and she met his eyes, without flinching. Putting her hands to the back of her head, she pulled a comb from her bun. It was a simple thing, decorated with shells and looked hand made. Jamie laid it carefully on the table.
“What does this say about me?” she asked.
Blake pulled off his glove again and closed his eyes, letting his hand rest gently on the comb. He saw dancers in a tango club, the atmosphere heavy with smoke and the extreme eroticism of close embrace. He felt a maelstrom of emotion, grief and a silent strength honed over years that had now become a cage. He glimpsed Jamie, transformed, her long hair down in waves, wearing a tight silver dress that accentuated her curves and dramatic makeup. She was stunning and as she moved, he felt her sexuality, languid but restrained, held in check by fear and grief. He felt her love for a daughter that consumed her to the extent of everything else in her life. Blake was breathless at the vision, so different from the woman in front of him.
“You’re a dancer,” he said, opening his eyes. “Tango. You wear your hair down with your fringe held back by this comb. Silver dress. Smoky makeup. It’s a good look on you, Detective.”
Jamie visibly blanched and then her face flushed. He realized that this was a part of her life that she kept hidden and he had breached a forbidden barrier. Clearly she hadn’t believed that he could truly read or she wouldn’t have given him something so intimate.
“Is that all?” she asked, her voice almost breaking.
“It was made by your daughter,” Blake watched Jamie’s eyes as the shadows descended. “She’s very sick.”
Jamie whirled around, yanked open the door and strode out, slamming it behind her as she left. Blake looked at the figurine on the table, wondering if she would return. He sat silently and waited.