Fat, white flakes drifted down from the leaden sky to join their brethren already blanketing the ground. Rollie gazed out at the snow, his mind not really on the weather. It was hard to believe that December was already half over. Soon, it would be Christmas. It was the fast approaching holiday that was on the Aussie’s mind. He and Angie had been invited to not one, not two, but three Christmas parties, one invitation from a longtime movie friend, one from the crew of the movie they were presently working on, and one from Frank and Sarah Gatti, who invited them every year. The three parties were all going to be this weekend, the weekend before Christmas. They obviously couldn’t go to all three. But that wasn’t what was bothering the Aussie. The problem was that he wasn’t sure he could go to any of them, and not because of lack of time. He was afraid of what would happen if he went, what would happen in an environment where he could not possibly avoid touching objects that had been handled by other people.
With a sigh, Rollie turned away from the window and went back to his workstation. The past six weeks had not been easy for him. Everything he came in contact with brought images to his mind of the people that had touched it before, the events that had transpired around it. Sometimes, the images were no more than brief flashes, other times they were almost overpowering. Thankfully, it seemed to finally be getting a little better. Rollie found that he was able to block things out more. He’d almost reached the point where he could touch the door handle of a public building without being inundated with dozens of images of the people who had gone through the door before. But it was still affecting him enough that he avoided touching things whenever possible. The biggest problem was at work. There was no way that he could avoid handling equipment, props, riggings, and other things while setting up for a gag. His first day on a set after the awakening of his abilities had been so overwhelming that he’d had to escape for an hour to compose himself and recover from the headache that the barrage of images and sensations had caused.
Rollie had been tempted several times to go back to Belilac and ask if there was something she could do to help, but he had a feeling that it would be fruitless. He would just have to try getting through it on his own and hope that, eventually, it got to the point where he could control it.
The sound of Bluey barking roused Rollie from his thoughts. “What is it, Blue?” he asked. A knock on the door answered his question. The Aussie had Bluey turn on the camera over the front door and saw Mira and Frank. He smiled faintly. Before Rollie and Angie became romantically involved, the two cops had a tendency to come walking into the loft without knocking, just as Leo had in years past. That practice came to an abrupt halt after the day they walked in on Rollie and Angie making out on the couch. Fortunately, both of the F/X artists still had all their clothes on, so it hadn’t been too terribly embarrassing, though Frank’s face had turned a shade of red Rollie couldn’t remember ever seeing before.
“Open the door, Blue,” the Aussie commanded. The lock disengaged, and the door came open a crack. Frank pushed the door open the rest of the way, and the two cops came in.
“Hey, Rollie,” Frank greeted with a smile.
“Hi, Frank, Mira.” A noise made Rollie look up to see Angie coming out of the cleanroom, apparently having heard the sounds coming from below. She descended the stairs and came up beside her husband.
“So, what brings you out here today?” the Aussie asked the two cops.
“We were hoping you could help us with something,” Mira replied. She held up an evidence bag. “This is a piece from a bomb that was detonated in a restaurant yesterday. It killed four people and injured three others, two of them critically. The forensics people are swamped with other cases right now and won’t be able to examine it until tonight. The problem is that, if the bomber is the guy we think it is, there’s a good chance that he may strike again tonight, and we don’t have enough evidence to hold him. Do you have the tools to bring up any serial numbers and other identifying marks?”
“Um . . . yeah, we do,” Rollie said, staring at the piece of circuit board nervously. There was no way he could touch it. He knew what would happen if he did.
Angie, seeing the look on his face and understanding immediately what the problem was, took the bag. “No problem,” she said, taking the bomb fragment over to the workbench.
Mira and Frank looked at Rollie in puzzlement for a moment, then went to watch Angie work. After a brief pause, the Aussie joined them.
A few minutes later, Angie announced that she could find no identifying marks on the section of circuit board. There was no way to tell who the manufacturer was or where it had been purchased.
“Damn!” Mira cursed. “That’s the only evidence we have.”
Rollie stared down at the bomb fragment. One touch and he would be able to tell them who made the bomb. That’s all it would take, just one touch. He also knew that, if he touched it, he’d see things that he didn’t want to see, terrible things. But could he stand by and do nothing when he could possibly help catch a murderer? That question was answered even before it was asked.
“I can help,” he said quietly.
Angie turned and looked at him, guessing by the expression on his face what he was planning. “No, Rollie. You know what that would do to you.”
Her husband’s eyes met hers. “I have to, Ange. You know I can help.”
“What are you two talking about?” Mira asked, bewildered.
Not answering her, Rollie reached out and touched the bomb fragment. A violent deluge of images flooded his mind. A man, his heart twisted in hatred, building a device to maim and kill, seeking revenge against the person he believed responsible for the death of his son. A cabinet filled with dishes and a box of death. Then fire, heat, screams, blood, burning flesh, pain, death. . . .
Rollie cried out and dropped the circuit board. He stumbled away from the workbench, taking huge gulps of air to avoid being sick all over the floor. Angie was instantly beside him, grasping him firmly.
“It’s okay, Rol. Take it easy.” She rubbed her hand up and down his back. “Just relax.”
“Rollie, what happened? What’s going on?” Frank asked, staring in concern at his friend’s pale face and trembling body.
Rollie closed his eyes as a final shudder passed through him. Then he lifted his head and looked at the cops.
“The name of the man you want is Edward Manfred,” he told them. “His son died from an allergic reaction to the food he was served at Radcliffe’s. Manfred blamed the restaurant owner because the menu hadn’t mentioned that peanut oil was used in the dish his son ordered.”
Mira and Frank stared at Rollie as if he’d grown a third eye. “How could you possibly know that?” Mira asked. “None of that information has been in the news.”
Rollie sat down wearily. “Something happened on our trip to Oklahoma in October, something that . . . changed me.”
“Changed you? Changed you how?” Frank asked.
“I guess changed isn’t really the right word. This is something that’s always been there. I just didn’t know it.” The Aussie looked at the baffled expression on the cops’ faces. “When I touch things, I can see images of those who touched them before, events surrounding the objects.”
“Rollie, are you saying that you’re psychic?” Frank asked, his eyes widening.
The Aussie scrubbed his face with his hands. “Yeah, I guess I am,” he sighed.
A look of scepticism twisted Mira’s features. “Rollie--”
“It’s true, Mira,” Angie interrupted, not wanting to hear the cop express her doubts about the validity of Rollie’s claim. “I’ve seen what this can do to him. The house we went to Oklahoma to take a look at was the site of a multiple murder/suicide seventy years ago. Rollie relived it all. It was so bad, it almost killed him.”
“Is that true, Rollie?” Frank asked, his voice hushed.
“Yeah. It was . . . not fun. I relived everything that happened in the house, experienced everything that the people who were murdered thought and felt, as well as . . . as the man who killed them.” He wasn’t going to tell them the rest of the story, how the personalities of those dead people had taken control of him, how he had almost killed Angie and himself.
“All right, let’s say this is true,” Mira said, her voice still tinged with doubt. “What else did you see when you touched that bomb fragment?”
“Manfred hid the bomb in a dish cabinet in the kitchen. He knew that the restaurant owner often oversaw the cooking of the lunch and dinner meals. The bomb was on a timer, set to go off at 6:30. But it failed to kill the man Manfred wanted it to. The owner, Paul Radcliffe, wasn’t in the kitchen when the bomb went off. Two cooks, a waiter, and a busboy were killed, and everyone else in the kitchen was badly injured. A customer passing by the kitchen door was also injured, though not as badly.”
“Some of this information was in the papers, but not the detail of where the bomb was placed and who the casualties were,” Mira said, staring in disbelief at Rollie. “I don’t understand how you could know these things.”
“Mira, why are you having such a problem believing this?” Angie asked. “You heard Mangela talk about the vision Rollie had as a child. You seemed to believe that.”
“I don’t know what I believed then. I was just going along with what Mangela said. Besides, this is a lot more than some strange dream about birds stealing stones.”
“You can choose to believe me or not, Mira,” Rollie said. “But, either way, you need to get over to Manfred’s house right away. He had a backup plan in case Paul Radcliffe wasn’t killed in the restaurant. There’s another bomb. He’s going to put it in Radcliffe’s house. The bomb is hidden behind some loose bricks in the basement wall. I think it’s the wall on the left as you come down the stairs.”
“I’ll get another warrant to search Manfred’s house,” Frank said, pulling out his cell phone and walking a few paces away.
“Rollie, if what you’re saying is true, this . . . gift of yours could be invaluable to the department,” Mira said.
“No. Absolutely not,” Angie stated emphatically. “You saw what it did to him when he touched that bomb fragment. I’m not going to let you exploit him like that.”
“But he could solve crimes that we have no leads on, put away criminals that might strike again.”
“I said no, Mira!” Angie exclaimed, her anger rising. “I want you to leave him alone!”
Her brow lowering, Mira opened her mouth to say something else, but didn’t get the chance.
“Ladies, ladies,” Rollie quickly said, holding up his hands in a calming gesture. “I think that I can speak for myself.” He looked at the policewoman. “I can understand what you’re saying, Mira, but you have to understand what this is like for me. When I touched that bomb fragment, I saw what the bomb did when it exploded. I saw the people in that kitchen, their . . . their bodies burned and mangled. I felt their pain and terror, and . . . their deaths. It was like I was them.” The Aussie closed his eyes and swallowed thickly.
Mira gazed at the F/X artist, finally understanding the depth of what he experienced. “I’m sorry, Rollie. I didn’t realize it was like that. You have no control over what you see and feel?”
The Aussie shook his head. “Not much, at least not yet. I’ve gained some measure of control these past few weeks, but not nearly enough.”
“Is there anybody who could help you?” Frank asked. He had finished his call and heard most of what Rollie had told Mira.
“Well, there is one person who might be able to help, but I have no way of contacting him.”
“Mangela?” Angie asked.
“Maybe you could leave a message for him in Docker River. He goes there once in a while, doesn’t he?”
“Yeah, maybe once a month, or at least he used to. I guess it’s worth a try.”
“We need to go get that warrant,” Frank said. “We’ll call you later to let you know how things went, Rollie.”
As the door closed behind the two detectives, Angie turned to her husband. “I’m glad you told Mira you couldn’t help in that way, Rol. I’d have brained you if you said anything different.”
The Aussie chuckled. “I didn’t really say no, Ange. If I can ever get this thing under control, I’d like to use it to help in some way. At least then it would be good for something.”
“Rollie, you already give too much of your life to helping the cops. What’s it going to be like when they know that they can come to you and find out who committed the crimes and where all the dead bodies are buried in a matter of minutes? You’ll never be able to live your own life. And what about our son? How much time will be taken away from our family?”
“Angie, I don’t think that Mira and Frank are going to come running to me on every case. Beside, no jury is going to convict someone on only the testimony of a professed psychic. The cops would still have to a build case against the suspect. But if there’s ever a case that they can’t solve on their own, then I want to help, just like I always have.”
Angie sighed. “I just don’t want you to be hurt, Rol.”
The Aussie took hold of her hands and drew her into his embrace. He kissed her softly. “I know, Ange. I am going to do all I can to see that doesn’t happen. I’ve finally got what I wanted more than anything in the world: you. There’s no way I’m going to screw things up now.” He nuzzled his face into the curve of her neck, placing kisses on the soft skin.
Angie closed her eyes with pleasure. “Mmm. Don’t think you’re going to distract me, Rollie Tyler. This conversation is not over.”
“Wouldn’t dream of it,” Rollie murmured. He ran his tongue up her neck to a spot behind her ear that he knew drove her wild. He was rewarded with a deep moan. Suppressing a smile, he began sucking and nipping at her earlobe.
“You’re not playing fair,” Angie whispered huskily.
Rollie lifted his head and looked into her eyes. “You want me to stop?” he asked in a deep, desire-filled voice.
“Not on your life!” Angie replied, yanking his mouth down to hers in a blazing kiss.
With a groan, Rollie lifted Angie off the floor, her legs wrapping around his waist, and carried her up the stairs, all thoughts of work and their conversation forgotten.
Rollie nuzzled his face into Angie’s hair, sighing contentedly. His wife lips curved upwards in a smile, not rousing from the half-dose she was in. The Aussie knew that they should get up and get back to work, but he just didn’t have the will to do so. At moments like this, when the joy of being with Angie was so complete, all his worries about other things seemed unimportant, especially when he thought about what their love had created.
Rollie’s eyes slid down to where his hand lay on Angie’s naked belly. Their son was in there. Sometimes, it seemed almost unreal. In seven and a half months, they were going to be parents. They’d already started talking about the changes that would have to be made in the loft. They were going to turn the room that used to be Angie’s bedroom into a nursery. They’d also talked about the fact that they would need a real kitchen. The loft was going to be undergoing some serious renovations.
The Aussie was startled by the ringing of the phone, which also fully woke Angie. With a sigh, he sat up and picked up the handset.
“Rollie, it’s Mira. You were right on the money. There was a second bomb hidden in Manfred’s basement, right where you said it was. Manfred is under arrest. He’s confessed to everything. We’re going to get him on five counts of murder.”
“One of the people injured in the blast died an hour ago, a waitress. There would have been a lot more deaths if it hadn’t been for you. The bomb we retrieved was big enough to level Radcliffe’s house. If Manfred had succeeded, Radcliffe and his entire family would have been killed. He has three children.”
Rollie closed his eyes for a moment, thinking about what could have happened. For the first time since the awakening of his abilities, he was glad he had them.
“Thanks for letting me know, Mira.”
“Captain VanDuran wanted to know how we knew about the second bomb. I told him that we got a tip from a reliable source. He wasn’t happy with that explanation, but I don’t think he’s going to push it. Catching Manfred looks good for him and the department.”
“Thank you for not telling him the truth. I don’t want people to know about this.”
There was a brief silence. “I’m sorry about earlier, Rollie, about not believing you,” the policewoman said quietly.
“It’s okay, Mira. Two months ago, I would have had a hard time believing it too. It’s funny how your life and beliefs can be so dramatically altered in such a short time.”
“So, what are you going to do, I mean about this, um, ability of yours?”
“I honestly don’t know. Right now, I’m just trying to live with it. Until I can find a way to do that, I can’t really decide anything else.” Rollie looked down at Angie, who was watching him closely. “I just know that I don’t want this thing to harm my family in any way. They’re what’s important.”
“Yes, they are. Well, I’ve got to get going. The press is due here at any moment. I’ll talk to you later.”
Rollie said goodbye and hung up.
“Did they get him?” Angie asked.
“Yeah. It was just like I saw. There was another bomb.”
Angie sat up and kissed him. “You did good, Rol. I may not like the fact that you help the police like you do, putting yourself at risk, but you’ve helped a lot of people, saved a lot of lives. I’m proud of you for that.”
Rollie gazed at Angie in surprise. “You are?”
“Yeah, Rol, I am. I’m so sorry that I never told you that before. You are the bravest, most compassionate person I’ve ever known.”
Rollie blinked back tears. “You have no idea what it means to me to hear you say that, Angie. I want you to know that I feel the same way about you. You are the bravest person I’ve ever known, not to mention the smartest and most wonderful. I don’t know how I ever got lucky enough to have you.”
“And I don’t know how I got lucky enough to have you.”
They came together in a long kiss. Rollie lowered Angie to the bed, his hands sliding caressingly over her body. As the kiss grew more heated, he let his mind go free, immersing himself in the sensations.
Suddenly, an image flashed into his mind of an embryo floating in a sea of amniotic fluid, its life force beating strongly. Then the image shifted and he saw a fetus, a tiny, perfectly formed human being, safe within its mother’s womb. The baby’s eyes opened and looked straight into his. ‘Daddy,’ murmured a small voice in his mind.
With a gasp, Rollie jerked back. “Oh my God,” he whispered.
“What’s wrong?” Angie asked anxiously.
“I . . . I . . . I think I just saw Benarin,” the Aussie said in a shaking voice.
“You saw him?”
“I saw an image of him inside your womb. It was like before, when I realized that you were pregnant. Only . . . only, this time, I saw something else.”
“I saw him months from now, as a fetus. He was completely formed, perfect. He looked at me and called me Daddy.”
“Rollie, are you saying that you saw an image of the future?”
“I don’t know. Belilac told me that I could see the future if I only wanted to. I never wanted to, not after what happened with Luther Cale, and my mum, and everything else.”
“But you saw our baby, Rollie.” Angie smiled eagerly. “What did he look like?”
“He was beautiful, Ange. He was so beautiful.” He pulled his wife into his arms and hugged her tightly.
“I can’t ever remember being this happy,” Angie murmured.
As they drew apart, Angie gave a sigh. “We really should get back to work,” she said regretfully.
“Yeah, we should. If I had my way, I’d just stay with you like this forever.”
“Me too, but that wouldn’t bring the money in, and we’re a growing family. As much as we may hate it, we do need to act responsibly.”
Rollie gave a mock shudder. “What a horrid thought,” he said, then grinned. “Come on, Mrs. Responsible Mommy-to-be. Let’s go take a shower and get back to work.”
“Ooh, a shower, eh? Well, maybe the hanky panky isn’t over for the afternoon after all.”
Rollie’s grin grew to encompass his face. “Now, that’s what I like to hear, woman.”
With a laugh, husband and wife headed off to the bathroom, hand in hand.
“Rollie, we really don’t have to go to any of the parties,” Angie told her husband. “I don’t want you to go through that.”
“Yeah, but this is our first Christmas together as husband and wife. I want it to be special,” the Aussie responded.
“It is special, Rol. Just the fact that we’re finally together makes it the most special Christmas I’ve had in a long, long time, since the very first Christmas we spent together. Going to a party isn’t important.”
Rollie gave a sigh. “I’m just tired of this thing controlling my life. I’m tired of having to worry every time I go out into public, wondering if I’ll be able to make it through the day without losing it. Every time I go to open a door, or start to pick up something in a store, or walk into a restaurant, I worry about what is going to happen. What am I going to see and feel? What images and emotions are going to bombard my mind?” He rested his face in his hands. “I just want it to be like it was before.”
Angie sat beside him, wrapping an arm around his shoulders. “I wish I could do something to help, Rollie. Maybe Mangela will get your message soon and can help in some way.”
“I hope so, because I can’t keep living like this. When I went to the hardware store this morning, I took a look at a toolbox. When I touched it, I saw. . . . The man who held it before was a wife beater. He’s been abusing his wife for years. The things I saw him do to her. . . .” Rollie swallowed deeply. “It made me sick. I wanted to go over to his house and beat the guy to a pulp, do to him what he’s been doing to his wife.”
Angie’s arm tightened around him. “What did you do?”
“What could I do? I called Mira and told her what I’d seen. She said that she’d look into it, but there isn’t much the cops can do unless they catch the guy in the act or the wife files a complaint. Those images are still burned into my mind. It was made all the worse because the guy was doing it to someone he’s supposed to love and be taking care of. It made me think about . . . about Robert Powell killing his wife and children. What if, someday, this guy does the same thing? And there’s nothing I can do to stop it.”
Angie was silent for a moment. “Maybe there is something you can do.”
“Well, we could talk to the wife, try to convince her to leave her husband. If she’s afraid, we could get her into one of those safe houses for battered wives. You know what she’s been going though, Rol. You might be the only person who could convince her to get away.”
Rollie got up and walked away a couple of paces. “Maybe you’re right. Maybe we could convince her to leave him.” He turned back around, and there was now a look of determination on his face.
“Do you know where they live?” Angie asked.
“No. I didn’t see that much, but I know the guy’s name. We can look in the phone book, and if he’s not there, you can hack into the DMV’s records and find out where he lives.”
It turned out that the man wasn’t listed, so Angie got into the DMV records and, through them, tracked the guy down.
“Is he going to be at work now?” she asked.
“Yes, I think so. He works at a factory.”
“Then let’s go.”
Address in hand, husband and wife headed out. A while later, they were pulling up in front of the house belonging to Mister and Mrs. Earl Royce. Their knock was answered by a petite woman in her mid to late thirties. A dark bruise marred her left cheek. Seeing the bruise, both Rollie and Angie clenched their fists, knowing how that bruise got there.
“Mrs. Royce?” the Aussie inquired gently.
“My name is Rollie Tyler. This is my wife, Angie. We’d like to talk to you for a moment. It’s about your husband.”
“Is there something wrong?”
“Not in the way you think. He’s not hurt or anything like that.”
“Then what do you want to talk to me about?” Mrs. Royce asked a bit nervously.
“It’s . . . it’s about what he’s been doing to you,” Rollie said as softly as he could.
“Me?” The woman shook her head, her nervousness increasing. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“Mrs. Royce . . . Helen, I know what he’s been doing. I know that he’s been hurting you for years. That bruise on your cheek. He gave it to you yesterday because you failed to get a spot out of his favorite shirt. There are bruises on your shoulders and back that you got from him the day before when you accidentally spilled coffee on the morning paper.”
Helen Royce’s went white. “How . . . how could you possibly know?” she whispered. “Are you some kind of cop?”
“No, I’m not with the police, though I do have friends in the department. I know because . . . because I saw it happen.”
The woman took a hasty step away from them. “Have you been spying on us?” Her nervousness had turned to fear.
“No. We haven’t been spying on you. Until this morning, I’d never even heard of you. Please, Mrs. Royce. We’re not here to harm you in any way. Just the opposite, in fact. May we please talk to you?”
The woman looked back and forth between Rollie and Angie, her eyes finally focusing directly upon the Aussie’s eyes. Apparently, something she saw there convinced her to let them in. Standing aside, she allowed them to pass, then closed the door behind them.
Rollie’s gaze immediately went to the fireplace mantle. Several pictures adorned it. One in particular caught his eye. He went over and picked it up. A flood of emotions washed through him, making his throat tighten.
“This is your son,” he murmured.
“He died shortly after this picture was taken, didn’t he.”
Mrs. Royce’s face paled again. “Yes, but how did you know?”
Rollie closed his eyes, clutching the picture frame. “I’m so sorry,” he whispered. “He drowned. Your son drowned, and Earl blamed you for it. That’s why you’ve never left him, because you blame yourself too. You think this is your punishment for the death of your son.”
Mrs. Royce gasped, the last of the color draining out of her face. Tears filled her eyes. “How could you know? How could you possibly know that? Nobody knows. No one.”
“It wasn’t your fault, Helen,” the Aussie told her, not answering her question. “You didn’t leave the gate to the pool unlatched, Earl did.”
Helen started sobbing. “I thought it was me because I couldn’t remember if I’d locked it or not. He didn’t tell me anything different.”
“Earl wanted someone to blame. He refused to accept that he was in any way responsible. He believed that, because you were home, you should have been watching Tommy every minute, every second. But you couldn’t. No one could. You went to the bathroom. Tommy was playing with his toys in the living room, and you thought he would be okay. You had no reason to think he wouldn’t be. But, while you were gone, Tommy got out of the house and went to the pool. By the time you found him, it was too late.”
Helen was sobbing deeply now, huddled on the couch. Angie went to her and put an arm around her shoulders.
“I thought it was all my fault,” Helen choked out.
Rollie put the picture back on the mantle and knelt before the distraught woman. “It’s time to stop punishing yourself for what happened. It’s time to stop letting your husband punish you. We can take you someplace safe, away from him.”
Helen’s eyes lifted to his. “Who are you? How do you know these things? Why are you doing this?”
“I’m who I said I was, and I’m doing this because I want to help. As for how I know. . . .” Rollie paused. “I have what some people would call a gift. It allows me to . . . see things. I knew what was happening here, and I had to try to stop it.” He took her hand. “Please let us help you.”
Helen searched his eyes deeply. After a moment, she nodded. The Aussie stood up.
“Angie, help her pack. We need to hurry.”
The next fifteen minutes were a flurry of activity as Angie helped Helen throw clothes and some other personal items into a couple of suitcases. Knowing that the woman would want them, Rollie gathered several of the photos from the mantle and added them to the pile.
They were taking the suitcases out to Rollie’s car when he saw a truck heading toward them. With a sinking feeling, he realized that it was Earl Royce.
“Angie, call Mira. Get her over here right away. There’s going to be trouble.”
Seeing the truck, Angie quickly got out her cell phone and dialed Mira’s number. The policewoman answered the phone at the same time as Mister Royce screeched to a halt in front of Rollie’s car. He got out, his face already dark with anger.
“What the hell’s going on here? Helen, who are these people, and why are you with them?”
His wife shrank away from him, her body trembling.
“We’re taking your wife out of here, away from you, Mister Royce,” Rollie told him. “You’re not going to hurt her anymore.”
The man strode toward the Aussie. Though shorter, he outweighed Rollie by at least thirty pounds. “And who the hell do you think you are?” he snarled.
“I’m someone who knows that you’ve been beating your wife for the past eight years. It’s going to stop,” Rollie replied, standing his ground.
“Helen, get back in the house now!” Earl yelled. “I’ll talk to you later.” He swivelled his gaze back to the Aussie. “You think you have the right to come in here and tell me how to run my household? Get the hell out of here before I break your face!”
“Go ahead and try, Royce. I’m not a hundred pound woman who can’t defend herself.”
With a roar, Royce came at him. Rollie dodged his blow and managed to land a punch to the man’s stomach. Royce grunted in pain, then attacked again, this time catching Rollie a glancing blow on the cheek. The Aussie spun around and smashed his fist into Royce’s nose. The man bellowed in pain as blood exploded from it. He tackled Rollie and bore him to the snow-covered ground.
Afraid that Rollie was going to be seriously hurt, Angie ran forward and kicked Royce in the ribs. He yelled and struck out at her legs, almost tripping her.
It was in that moment, when Royce was distracted, that Rollie made his move. His hand darted out and clamped down hard on the nerves and muscles between Royce’s right shoulder and neck. The man let out a shriek of agony. Rollie clambered out from under him, keeping hold of the spot.
They all heard the sound of sirens approaching. Rollie released the man and got to his feet, stepping away a few paces. Royce did not get up. He lay where he had fallen, clutching his shoulder and whimpering.
Two police cars skidded to a halt from opposite directions, one a squad car, the other Mira’s car. Two cops leapt out of the squad car and pulled their guns, leveling them at Rollie.
“Hold it right there!” one of them yelled.
Mira quickly came forward, flashing her badge at the uniformed cops. “Palmira Sanchez, Midtown South. You’re pointing your guns at the wrong man, gentlemen.”
“We got a call about a domestic disturbance,” one of the cops explained, not putting his weapon down. “From what we see here, this man,” he indicated Rollie, “has assaulted this other man.”
“Officers? I can explain what happened,” Helen said timidly, stepping forward.
“Helen, shut up,” Royce growled.
The woman looked down at her husband, and a transformation suddenly came over her. She straightened her shoulders and lifted her head higher. “No, Earl. I’m not going to stay quiet any longer. I know the truth now. I won’t let you hurt me ever again.” She turned back to the police. “That’s my husband. He’s been abusing me for years. Mister Tyler found out and came to help me. He and his wife were trying to get me away when Earl came home. Earl was the one who started the fight. Mister Tyler was just defending himself.”
The cops stared at her for a moment, then reholstered their weapons. One of them came forward and handcuffed Royce, reading him his rights.
“Are you willing to press charges?” the other one asked Helen.
“Yes, I am.”
The cop looked at Rollie. “And what about you, sir?”
“Yes, I’ll press charges as well.”
The cop nodded. “You’ll both have to come down to the station to fill out some forms.” He saw the bruise that was beginning to color Rollie’s cheekbone. “Do you need any medical attention?”
“No, for once, I’m actually fine, which is bloody amazing.”
Angie let out a snort of laughter. “You got that right, Rol.”
The Aussie looked at Mira, who was just standing there, looking both amused and exasperated.
“I should have known you wouldn’t stay out of this when you called me this morning,” she said, shaking her head.
Rollie shrugged and grinned, wincing at the pain the smile brought to his bruised cheek. “I guess I can’t stop myself from looking for more trouble than what manages to find me all on its own.”
Everyone went down to the police station. It wasn’t the Midtown South, so Rollie only recognized a few faces there. Those whom he did recognize remembered him as well and shook his hand.
“What are you into this time, Rollie?” a young cop named Sal Hutton asked.
“The usual stuff, Sal. Nothing much changes.”
The cop chuckled. His eyes went to Angie admiringly. “Sal Hutton, ma’am. Are you with Rollie here?”
“Yes, she is, Sal. She’s my wife, so put your tongue back in your head,” the Aussie replied good-naturedly.
“I didn’t know you were married.”
“It’s a recent occurrence.”
“Well, congratulations, both of you.”
“Thanks,” husband and wife responded simultaneously.
“So, you’re Rollie Tyler, huh?” one of the cops who had arrested Royce said. “We’ve heard quite a lot about you.”
“Uh oh. Don’t believe everything you hear.”
The cop smiled. “Well, what’s I’ve heard was pretty good.”
“Oh. Well, in that case, feel free to believe it.”
The cop laughed. He then sobered. His head jerked in the direction of Earl Royce, who was being fingerprinted and photographed. “I can’t abide wife beaters. So few of them get what’s coming to them. You did a good thing taking that one down.”
“Thanks, but I just did what I could.”
“Which is a lot more than many neighbors do. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen supposedly good people turn a blind eye to domestic violence. If more people would just step forward and report it, maybe less women and children would end up in the hospital or dead at the hands of family members.”
A few minutes later, Rollie was sitting before a desk as the cop filled out the paperwork.
“How did you come to be at the Royce residence?” the officer asked him.
“I found out that Earl Royce was abusing his wife, Helen. I called Palmira Sanchez of the Midtown South precinct and told her what I knew, but she informed me that, without a formal complaint from the wife or catching Royce in the act, there was not much that the police could do. Angie and I decided to go talk to Helen Royce and try to convince her to leave her husband and go with us to someplace safe.”
“How did you find out about the abuse?”
The Aussie paused a long moment. “I, um, can’t tell you.”
The cop looked up at him. “Can’t or won’t?”
The Aussie shifted in his seat. “Both. I can’t tell you because it would cause a lot of problems. I won’t tell you for the same reason.”
The cop leaned back in his chair. “Did you get this information from a third party, one that you don’t want to reveal the identity of?”
Rollie remained silent. He didn’t want to lie, but he was not about to tell this cop that he’d had a psychic vision.
Fortunately, Mira chose that moment to rescue him. “You don’t really need to know how Rollie obtained the information, Officer Creighton. You’ve already got the sworn statement of Mrs. Royce about the abuse, as well as the physical evidence you’ll no doubt find on her body. We all saw that bruise on her face. How Rollie found out about the abuse is not important.”
“It is if he was an eye witness to an act of violence on the part of Mister Royce.”
“I can tell you that I did not personally witness, with my eyes, Earl Royce harming his wife,” Rollie stated. It was the truth, more or less. He hadn’t seen the abuse with his eyes.
Officer Creighton nodded. “All right, we’ll leave it at that, then.”
A while later, Rollie, Angie, and Mira walked out of the station.
“Mister Tyler!” called a voice behind them. They turned to see Helen Royce hurrying toward them. She came to a stop before the Aussie. “They’re going to take me to the hospital for treatment and to take photos of my bruises, but I couldn’t let you go without thanking you. I don’t understand how you could have known all the things you did, but I am so grateful to you for coming to me and showing me the truth. For the first time in eight years I finally feel free, like I can start my life over.” She reached up on tippy toe and kissed Rollie’s cheek. “Words just aren’t enough to thank you. I think that you might have saved my life.”
“I’m glad that I could help, Helen. You don’t need to thank me.”
The woman looked between Rollie and Angie. “I heard you tell that officer that you’re newlyweds.”
“Yeah, that’s right,” Angie said.
“Do you plan on having children?”
Husband and wife laughed. “Angie’s pregnant with our first,” Rollie told her.
“How wonderful. I hope you have lots of happy, healthy kids. It is clear to me that you will make very loving parents. I was a registered nurse before I married Earl. I think that I’m going to go back to it. So, if there’s ever anything that I can do for you, like helping Angie through her pregnancy, giving her advice and tips, please do call me.”
“Thank you, Helen. We will,” Rollie said. “We’re both brand new to this, so there’s a lot we don’t know.”
“Well, it’s the very least I can do to thank you.” She hugged Angie, then Rollie. “God bless you both.” She then turned and went back inside.
Angie gave Rollie a kiss and hugged him. “You did good, Rol. You did really good,” she said, looking up at him proudly.
The Aussie smiled down at her. “Thanks, sweetie.”
“There is one thing I want to know, though.”
“We all know that, when it comes to fist fighting, you usually end up on the losing side, yet you took that guy down like a professional.”
“Yeah, I was wondering about that too,” Mira said.
“Well, I guess I found another way in which this . . . talent of mine can be a benefit. I learned that Royce suffered some nerve damage above his right shoulder a couple of years ago, and it’s still painful. When I applied pressure to that spot, it was like a knife through his body. That’s all it took. Also, because of the nerve damage, he couldn’t swing with that arm as well, which helped me too since he was forced to use mostly his left hand for punches.”
“So, let me get this straight,” Mira said. “You can tell going into a fight what your opponent’s weaknesses are?”
“Only if I come in contact with something of his beforehand and the weaknesses are significant enough that he thinks about them. I got lucky with Royce. If it hadn’t been for the nerve damage, I’d probably have been hamburger.”
The two women laughed. “Well, let’s hope that all the guys who decide to bash your brains in from now on also have debilitating physical conditions,” Angie said, snickering.
“Ha ha ha, Angela. You’re a riot,” Rollie responded sarcastically.
Angie put her arm in his. “Come on, hero. Let’s get you home and put some ice on that war wound.”
The Aussie leaned down. “Are you then going to kiss it and make it better?” he murmured in her ear.
“If you play your cards right,” Angie replied.
“Then lead on, Florence Nightingale.”
Rollie approached the Gatti house nervously. He could hear the sound of Christmas music and laughter coming from inside. Yesterday, he had decided to go to Frank and Sarah’s party. They had chosen to go to the Gattis’ party because Frank and Sarah were both aware of his problem and had promised to help however they could.
“You ready?” Angie asked, holding onto his hand.
“As ready as I’ll ever be.”
Angie knocked on the door. It was opened a few seconds later by one of Frank and Sarah’s daughters.
“Uncle Rollie!” eight-year-old Jessica cried happily. She launched herself at the Aussie. He swung her up high into his arms.
“Hey, munchkin. Where are your sisters?” he asked. An instant later, his question was answered by a duo of little voices calling his name. Natalie and Bethany ran for him. Rollie scooped up the youngest one, Bethany, the seven-year-old giggling in delight. Rollie then put the two girls down and gave a hug to the eldest daughter, Natalie.
“Hey, girls. Why don’t you let Rollie and Angie get all the way in the house. It’s cold outside,” Frank suggested with a smile.
The F/X artists came the rest of the way into the house and shut the door.
“How are you doing, Rollie?” Frank asked.
“Are, um, you sure you’re going to be all right here?”
“I’ll handle it.”
Rollie felt a tugging on his coat. He looked down at Bethany. “Mommy said that you and Angie are gonna have a baby.”
“She’s right, sweetie.” He pointed to Angie’s stomach. “There’s a baby right inside there.”
“But her tummy isn’t all big and fat like Mommy’s is.”
Rollie, Angie, and Frank laughed. They saw Sarah approaching, her belly heavy with the Gattis’ fourth child.
“That’s because my baby only just started growing, Beth,” Angie explained. “In a few months, my tummy will be just as big as your mommy’s.”
A few minutes later, the Tylers were in the heart of the party, laughing and chatting with the other guests, most of whom they knew either from the precinct or from previous parties at the Gattis’. Several times, Rollie had been offered drinks by people but had refused, not wanting to touch a can or glass handled by any of the guests.
“Rollie, would you like me to get you a beer from the kitchen?” Angie asked him.
The Aussie gave her a grateful smile. “That would be great, Ange. Thanks.”
Angie went into the kitchen and found Sarah there.
“Hi. Do you have any beers in here that haven’t circulated out there yet? It’s for Rollie.”
“Sure. There’s three six-packs chilling in the refrigerator.” The woman watched Angie get one. “Frank told me about Rollie, about this, um, new ability of his. Is it really like he said?”
“I don’t know what Frank told you, but if he mentioned what happened with that bomber, then you’ve probably got a pretty good idea what’s going on.”
“So, Rollie can see all these things about people when he touches stuff they’ve handled?”
“Among other things. Did Frank tell you that Rollie sensed I was pregnant just a few days after I conceived? He also knew it was going to be a boy.”
Sarah nodded. “This is so incredible. Frank is in awe of the whole thing. He’s admired and respected Rollie ever since they worked on their first case together with Leo. Now, he’s even more amazed by your husband.”
Angie laughed. “Well, Rollie is an amazing kind of guy.”
“You two look very happy together.”
“We are. I’ve loved him for so long it seems like there never was a time when I didn’t. Now, we’re finally together the way I dreamed, and I keep pinching myself to see if I’m really awake.”
“Frank and I are so happy for you. We’ve wanted to see you get together for years.”
“You should have bopped us over the head and woke us up.”
Sarah laughed. “Well, we were tempted a few times.”
Angie went back out into the living room. She found Rollie alone in a corner of the room. She gave him the beer.
“Thanks, Ange,” he said, popping the can open and taking a long drink.
Angie studied his face, seeing lines of strain that hadn’t been there before. “What’s wrong?”
“It’s, uh, starting to get a little rough. I’ve avoided touching glasses and the trays of hors d’oeuvres, but I can’t prevent myself from touching people’s clothes, not when there’s this big a crowd.”
“It happens with clothing too?”
“Actually, it’s one of the worse things since clothing is in constant contact with the people wearing it.”
“Do you want to leave?”
“No. We only just got here. I’ll deal with it, Ange.”
His wife frowned, then nodded. “Okay, but if it gets to be too hard, you tell me. I mean it, Rol.”
“I will. I promise.”
A half-hour passed with Rollie and Angie staying on the fringes of the crowd, trying to avoid coming in contact with anyone. Angie kept a close eye on the Aussie, watching for signs that he’d had enough. She was considering telling Rollie it was time to leave when what they had both been afraid of happened. A small group of people abruptly congregated around them.
“Sarah just told us that you two are expecting a baby,” one woman said.
“Yes, that’s right, in less than seven and a half months,” Angie replied.
“Well, congratulations, you two,” the woman’s husband said.
And that’s when disaster struck. All three women hugged Angie, then Rollie, and the men shook the Aussie’s hand and patted him on the back. Angie watched her husband’s face pale.
“Rollie, what’s wrong?” one of the women asked. “You look ill.”
“I, uh . . . yeah, I’m suddenly not feeling so well,” he said shakily. “I need to go get some air. Please excuse me.”
Rollie quickly turned and escaped outside. He leaned on the porch railing, drawing in deep breaths of the icy air. He felt Angie come up behind him and lay her hand on his back.
“Okay, I’m taking you home,” she said firmly. “We should never have come here in the first place.”
The Aussie sat on the porch steps, resting is forehead on his crossed arms. “I’m sorry for spoiling your evening, Angie. Maybe you should have just come here by yourself.”
“Don’t talk stupid, Rollie. There’s no way that I would have left you at home alone. And you didn’t ruin my evening.”
The door opened and Frank came out. “Rollie, are you all right?” he asked in concern.
The Aussie looked up at his friend. “I will be, but I think I need to get out of here.”
“Of course. Let me get yours and Angie’s coats. Oh, and, if you feel up to it, the kids would probably like to say goodbye.”
“Sure. We’ll come back inside for a minute.”
They went back in, staying near the door and away from the crowd. Sarah came up with the three kids.
“You sick, Uncle Rollie?” Bethany asked, looking up at him with her big blue eyes.
“Yeah, I am, sweetheart. Aunt Angie and I are going to go home so I can feel better.” He knelt before her. “Come give me a hug and kiss goodbye.”
The little girl’s arms wrapped around his neck, and she planted a big kiss on his cheek. Jessica then did the same, followed by Natalie.
“I hope you feel better, Uncle Rollie,” the oldest girl said, looking at him in concern.
“I will. I feel better already.”
The Aussie rose and took his coat from Frank.
“We’re sorry about this, Rollie,” the cop said.
“It’s not your fault, Frank. I’ll be okay.”
“You take good care of yourself,” Sarah said. “Frank and I were going to invite you to Christmas dinner with the family, but, um, I guess that wouldn’t work out, would it.”
“Thanks, Sarah, but I think it would be best if Angie and I just had a quiet Christmas at home.”
“Say goodbye to everyone for us,” Angie told the Gattis.
Angie drove the car home, glancing at her husband’s profile from time to time. His eyes were closed, and he was resting his head on the door window. As they entered the loft, he went straight up to their bedroom and sat down on the bed. Angie quietly followed him and sat beside him.
“God, I hate this, Angie,” he said. “I can’t live like this.”
“Rollie, it’s going to get better. I’m sure that, even if Mangela can’t help you, you’ll learn to control this thing on your own, in time.”
“But how long is that going to take? How long am I going to have to virtually put my life on hold?”
Angie didn’t answer, not knowing what to say.
The Aussie sighed. “I’m going to go on to bed. My head doesn’t feel so good.” He wearily stripped off his clothes and climbed under the covers. Angie sat beside him, stroking his hair until the pitch of his breathing told her that he was asleep. She then changed into her pajamas and went downstairs for a cup of tea. Curled up alone on the couch, Angie stared up at the second floor. It was hurting her to see Rollie suffering. This “gift” was more of a curse for him, and she fervently wished that it had stayed buried inside him. She could only hope that Mangela could do something to help.
‘Hurry, Mangela,’ she said in her mind. ‘Rollie needs you.’
“Rollie, where’s the red ornament with the gold flecks?” Angie asked as she looked through a box full of Christmas tree ornaments.
“Um, wasn’t that the one that got broken last year?”
“No, that was the red one with the silver flecks. Ah, wait. I found it.”
Angie took the red and gold globe and hung it on a branch of the tree. She then took a few steps back and surveyed their handiwork so far.
“It’s looking great, Ange,” Rollie said as he wrapped his arms around her from behind.
“Yeah, it is. I just can’t get over it. Our first Christmas as husband and wife. This time last year, I’d never have believed this day would come.”
“Neither would I, though it was my Christmas wish every year.”
“I just wish dad was here. I think he’d be happy that we got married.”
“I think so too, and I can picture him strutting around proudly at the thought of a grandson on the way.”
“Yeah, me too.” Angie grew quiet, thinking about her father. Rollie looked down at her, seeing the melancholy expression on her face.
“Hey, none of that,” he chided, chucking her under the chin. “There’s to be no sad thoughts, you hear? We’ve got everything to look forward to, Angie. The best part of our lives is yet to come.”
Angie turned around in his arms and gave him a kiss. “You’re right. No more sadness.”
“Good. Now, let’s finish decorating this tree.”
Forty minutes later, the tree was finished, except for the star on top. Getting the ladder, Rollie ascended to the top of the eight-foot pine and crowned it with the star.
“I think it’s a little crooked. Tilt it a bit to the left,” Angie instructed. When the Aussie didn’t respond, she looked at him. “Hey, Rol. Wake up. You’ll fall off the ladder if you go to sleep up there.” Still no response. Now getting worried, Angie touched his leg. The touch seemed to snap Rollie out of whatever kind of trance he was in. He descended the ladder, an odd expression on his face.
“Rollie, what’s wrong?”
“I . . . I think company’s on the way.”
The Aussie walked to the door and went outside. He stared down the street into the darkness as if looking for something.
Angie came up behind him, shivering in the cold. She opened her mouth to ask what was going on, but, at that moment, a taxi pulled onto Brewery Lane. A grin spread across Rollie’s face.
The Aborigine got out of the cab and engulfed Rollie in a big hug. “There’s my Sonny Boy,” he said, smiling. He then pulled Angie in for a hug. “Angie, you’re even prettier than when I was here last.” He turned back to Rollie. “Hey, Rollie. Could you pay the cab? I’m a bit short.”
The Aussie rolled his eyes. “When are you not?” He paid the fair and the tip, then followed Mangela and Angie into the loft. “And since when do you take a cab?”
“Since it’s bloody cold out there. These feet don’t take well to snow.”
Rollie stared down at the Aborigine’s feet. “I don’t believe it. You’re wearing shoes, and I didn’t even have to make you put them on.”
“Well, I’d look pretty sorry going back home with frostbite, wouldn’t I?”
The Aussie chuckled.
Mangela lifted Rollie’s and Angie’s left hands. “So, I see you finally pulled your heads out of those holes you had them stuck in,” he said with a satisfied nod.
Rollie grinned. “Yeah, we did. And that’s not all. Angie’s pregnant.”
A big grin blossomed across the Aborigine’s face. He pulled Angie into another hug, then clapped Rollie on the back. “I feel like I’m going to be a grandfather again. When’s the little joey coming?”
“July 20th,” Angie replied.
“It’s a boy, Mangela,” Rollie told his spiritual father.
“How do you know already?”
“Well, that’s a very long story.”
The Aborigine looked at his spiritual son more closely. “The Dreaming was right. There has been a change in you.”
“You had a Dreaming about me?”
“Yes, a couple of months ago. I saw you, the eagle, facing a great blackness, a powerful evil. There was a light inside you that had always been hidden before. I saw the darkness attack you and Angie. Then a brightness, equal in power to the darkness, flowed through you and fought with the evil, destroying it.”
“I guess I’d better tell you what happened,” Rollie said, recognizing what events the Aborigine’s Dreaming had foretold. He went into the lounge, Angie and Mangela accompanying him. They all sat down.
“It happened late last October,” the Aussie began. “Angie and I went to a little town called Heartwell in Oklahoma. There was an old house there that we wanted to use for a movie we’re going to produce. But something happened.”
Rollie went on to tell Mangela about the house and all that happened there, leaving nothing out, except what happened in the garden between him and Angie. He then mentioned the other things that had been happening since then.
“This one you call Belilac. She is a very powerful spirit,” the Aborigine said.
“Yes, she is, but she has no desire to harm anyone. We owe her our lives.” Rollie took Angie’s hand. “The baby was conceived in the garden where Belilac lives. He’s going to be like me, Mangela.”
The Aborigine nodded. “This is the other part of the Dreaming I had. I saw a light growing inside Angie that was both a part of her and separate.” He focused his gaze on Rollie. “And, now, you need my help.”
“Yeah. I can’t control this ability, Mangela. I touch things, and all these images and sensations pour into my mind. I don’t know how to stop it or how to keep it from happening.”
“You have always been gifted with ngalya ala, but it was hidden inside you. I tried to bring it forth when you were with us as a child, but you were not ready, and you left us too soon. Now, we must teach you how to control it, how to block out the visions, prevent them from coming, and also how to become master of the visions when they do come so that you will not be overwhelmed by them,” Mangela told him.
Rollie relaxed. “That’s what I was hoping for. I don’t know how much longer I would have been able to take this. It’s been affecting my work and just about everything else in my life.”
“What does ngalya ala mean?” Angie asked, stumbling over the pronunciation.
“It’s from the language of Mangela’s tribe,” Rollie explained. “Loosely translated it means supernatural vision, or, as the Aborigines would put it, having powers of spiritual perception.”
“And you’ve known all along that Rollie had this ability?” Angie asked the Aborigine.
“Yes, though not the exact nature of it or how strong it would be. From what you have told me, it is very strong, stronger than I have ever seen before.”
“How long will it take to train me?” Rollie asked.
“It takes as long as it takes. We will not know until it is done.”
“I really didn’t expect you here so soon. I left the message for you in Docker River only a week ago.”
“I haven’t been to Docker River. I sensed that you needed me, so I came.”
Rollie didn’t question how the Aborigine had known. He stopped asking those questions a long time ago. “Well, I’m glad you’re here.”
Mangela looked at the Christmas tree with all the presents beneath it.
“Christmas is on Saturday, Mangela. We’d love for you to join us,” Angie told him. “Rollie and I are just going to spend a quiet day at home.”
“My people do not celebrate Christmas, except those who are Christian, but I would be happy to spend that day with you.” The Aborigine fished into his duffel bag and pulled out a kangaroo hide pouch. He handed it to Rollie.
“What’s this? A Christmas present?” the Aussie asked with a grin, knowing that wasn’t what it was.
“It is something I also sensed that you might be in need of.”
Rollie opened the pouch and emptied the contents onto the coffee table. It was several dozen green, jagged-edged leaves. Another smile came to his face.
“What is it?” Angie asked.
“Wanngati, leaves from the rock isotome. Mangela’s tribe uses them for bad headaches.”
“What do you do with them? Make a tea?”
“No, that wouldn’t be a good idea. They’re very poisonous if ingested. You crush them and make a poultice.” Rollie met the Aborigine’s gaze. “Thank you. This is something I could use.”
Mangela nodded. “When you are ready, we can begin your training.”
“Tomorrow, Angie and I have to go to the studio. It’s going to be a busy day there, so we probably won’t get home until well after dinnertime. Friday is Christmas Eve, so there’s no work. We could begin then.”
“Then that’s what we will do.”
The next day, Rollie and Angie headed off to the studio at 6 a.m. Two of the main F/X gags were going to be shot that day, and Rollie was worried. His concern was not over the gags themselves. He and Angie had them planned them down to the last detail. What he was worried about was if he was going to be able to make it through the day. They were going to be surrounded by people and handling a lot of equipment and props, more than any other day of the shoot so far.
By eight o’clock, Rollie was beginning to suspect that his concerns were justified. By eleven o’clock, he was having serious trouble concentrating on the work. Angie was having to take over for him on a lot of things. By the time the noon break came, Rollie’s headache and dizziness were so bad he felt like he was going to pass out. Angie helped him to the van, where he laid down on a thin foam pad.
“Tell me what I can do,” she said, stroking his forehead and holding his hand.
“The leaves,” her husband croaked, biting back a moan of pain.
Angie got the pouch and dumped some of the leaves into a plastic container. She then crushed them into a pulp.
“What now, Rollie?”
“Spread the pulp on a cloth and put it on my forehead,” he whispered.
Angie quickly put the crushed leaves on a clean cotton rag and took it over to Rollie, draping it across his forehead. She then sat beside him and waited. The minutes passed with the Aussie laying still, his eyes closed. Gradually, the lines of pain in his face smoothed out.
“How are you doing?” Angie finally murmured.
Rollie’s eyes blinked open and looked at her. “Better. The headache’s going away, and the van no longer feels like it’s spinning.”
“Rol, how are you going to make it through the rest of the day? We’ve still got a good six or seven hours of work left before we can go home.”
“I don’t know. Maybe if I take a ten minute break every hour, it will be enough.”
“I think I should tell the director that you’re really sick and just take you home.”
“No. That would cost the production a lot of money. They’d have to reschedule the shoots.”
“To hell with the movie. If they want to take the cost out of our fee, then let them. If it was one of the stars that got sick, they’d shut everything down.”
There was a knock on the back door of the van. Angie opened it to see a crew member. The man got a startled look on his face at seeing Rollie lying on the floor.
“Rollie’s sick,” Angie explained.
“Oh. Well, there’s someone at the gate wanting to come in. He says that he’s a friend of yours. Name’s Mangela, or something like that. Do you want the guard to let him in?”
“Yes, and, if they could, ask them to bring him here in a cart.”
A few minutes later, Mangela climbed into the van. Rollie was sitting in a chair by then, holding the poultice to his forehead.
“I should have known you’d show up here,” he said to the Aborigine, forcing a smile.
“It was not difficult to sense your distress. Is the wanngati helping?”
“Yeah, it is. I almost feel back to normal now.”
“Mangela, maybe you can talk some sense into him,” Angie said. “I want to tell the director that Rollie’s too sick to work, but he refuses to let me.”
The Aborigine chuckled. “Even as a child, I couldn’t change Rollie’s mind when he was determined to do something. Do you really expect me to be able to now?”
Angie sighed. “No, I guess that would be asking the impossible.”
The object of their conversation smiled at them sarcastically, not finding their discussion humorous. “Well, now that that’s settled, we need to get back to work, Angela.”
“Would you mind if I watch?” Mangela asked. “Never seen a movie being filmed before.”
“Sure,” Rollie replied. “We’ll be shooting the first scene in about an hour. The second one won’t be until late this afternoon.”
Rollie made it through the next hour without taking a break, though the headache was starting to return. He was relieved when they got the scene filmed in one take since he wasn’t sure he’d have been able to handle resetting everything. They immediately moved on to setting up for the next big gag.
“That man over there. He is the lead actor?” Mangela asked Angie, nodding in the direction of a man sitting in a director’s chair, reading a script and sipping on a soda.
“Yeah, that’s Karl Emerson,” Angie confirmed, making a sour face.
“Why do you say his name like that?”
“The guy’s a jerk, an ego the size of Texas, thinks every woman should fall all over themselves to be with him. But he’s a talented actor and popular with the fans, so he’s made it a long way.”
“Is he in the next scene you will be filming?”
“Uh huh, him and the leading lady, Sally Riker. She’s nice and not the least bit charmed by that jerk. In fact, I hear she turned him down cold when he asked her out.” The last sentence was said with a grin. She looked over to where Rollie was working. Her sharp eyes did not miss the fact that he looked pale. “I need to go help Rollie. If you’d like to chat with Sally, she’s right over there. She’d probably love to talk with you. She’s an amateur student of native cultures.”
“I will do that.”
Leaving the Aborigine to entertain himself, Angie went to her husband, who was popping some ibuprofen in his mouth.
“You’re going to get an ulcer if you keep taking so many of those things,” she told him.
“I would almost be willing to live with that if the things were doing any good.”
“You want me to make another poultice?”
“It would be a little hard to use it while I’m working. I’ll take a break in another hour or so. I can use some then.”
Angie shook her head. “Why do you have to be so stubborn?” she muttered, not really expecting an answer.
By the time the hour had almost passed, Rollie knew that he was going to have to use the poultice. The bombardment of images, emotions, and other sensations were making him feel like a mining crew was blasting for ore inside his head. He was about to get to his feet to go take a break when the assistant director came over.
“Well, we’re calling it a wrap, I’m afraid,” he told them. “Karl’s as sick as a dog in his trailer. It’s coming out both ends, from what I hear. They figure it was something he ate.” He looked closely at Rollie. “You don’t look so hot yourself. Maybe you’ve got the same thing as Karl. You might as well go on home. We’re just going to pick everything back up on Monday.” The man turned around and called for everyone’s attention. He then told them what was going on and instructed them to go home, wishing them a Merry Christmas. There was a flurry of activity as people set aside what they were doing and left. Mangela came up to the F/X artists.
“Too bad about the actor. So, I guess we’re leaving,” he said.
“Yeah, that’s what it looks like.” Rollie stared at the Aborigine narrowly, suspicion growing inside him. “Okay, what did you give him?” he asked abruptly.
“Give who, Rollie?” Mangela asked.
“You know who, you tricky bastard. You slipped something to Karl to make him sick so that I wouldn’t have to work any more today.”
Angie stared at Mangela, then started laughing. She gave the Aborigine a hug and kissed him on the cheek, which made the man smile.
“I guess there’s no denying it, is there,” he said to his spiritual son. “I never could get a lie past you. Don’t worry. Mister Emerson will be fine by tomorrow. I didn’t give him much.”
Rollie shook his head, not sure if he should be mad or grateful. Then he thought about seeing Karl hitting on Angie despite her marital status, and he decided that there was not a thing to be mad about.
“Come on, you two. Let’s go home,” he said with a smile.
Friday morning began Rollie’s training to gain control of and master his abilities. Throughout the day, Mangela took him through mental exercises to harness and hone his skills. He brought items to Rollie and asked the Aussie to tell him what he saw when he touched them, instructing him how to begin filtering out the unwanted sensations.
While Rollie and Mangela were doing that, Angie was busy fixing Christmas dinner, which they had decided to have that evening instead of Christmas Day. She stuffed a small turkey and put it in the oven that Rollie had bought and installed a couple of weeks ago, their first purchase for what was eventually going to be a real kitchen.
As she was preparing the other stuff, Rollie came up to her. “Can I help? We’re taking a break right now.”
“Sure. You can chop the onions.”
“Oh, so you want to see a grown man cry, huh?” he teased.
“Better you than me,” she shot back.
Once he’d finished chopping the onions--and wiping the tears from his eyes--Rollie leaned over and whispered something in his wife’s ear.
“You’re right. We should do that,” Angie responded. “You go on. I’ll draft Mangela to help me.”
Explaining to the Aborigine that he needed to make some last minute purchases, Rollie left. He returned two hours later with a poinsettia plant, some candles and candle holders, and a round wooden table with folding legs. After setting up the table, he arranged the candles and poinsettia on it.
“Looks good, Rol,” Angie said approvingly. “Now, we can have a proper Christmas dinner.”
By six o’clock, dinner was on the new table.
“Everything looks great, Ange,” Rollie said.
“Yes, it does,” Mangela agreed. “I haven’t had a meal like this since. . . . Thinking about it, I have never had a meal like this.”
“Thanks,” Angie said, blushing slightly. “I hope it tastes as good as it looks.”
Which it did. The three of them enjoyed the meal and each other’s company, Rollie and Angie chatting about past Christmases with family and friends while Mangela recounted some amusing adventures with Rollie as a child. By the time they got to the pumpkin pie, they were all feeling the glow of the holiday spirit.
That night, husband and wife snuggled down under the covers together, wrapped in each other’s arms.
“For the first time since we came back from Oklahoma, I feel like I might actually be able to get control of this thing,” Rollie murmured.
“The training is helping?”
“Yeah, I think it is. I really don’t know what I would have done if Mangela hadn’t shown up.”
“Everything’s going to be all right now, Rol. I know it is.”
“Yeah, it is, Ange. It’s going to be wonderful.”
The following morning, Rollie opened the door of the living quarters to the surprising sight of sunlight streaming in through the windows. He descended the stairs and found Mangela in the kitchen area.
“Morning, Rollie,” he greeted.
“Good morning and Merry Christmas. It is my imagination or is that sunlight out there?”
“The clouds moved off early this morning. The skies are as clear as a summer in the outback.”
Rollie was halfway through the process of making coffee when Angie came downstairs. She gave him a hug and a kiss. “Merry Christmas, Rol.”
“Merry Christmas, sweetie. Looks like we’re going to have a beautiful Christmas Day.”
Husband and wife shared Christmas breakfast with Mangela, then went to the tree to start opening presents. Before they were halfway through, their sides were aching from all the laughter. It appeared that some of the people who didn’t go to Rollie and Angie’s small wedding ceremony had taken Christmas as the opportunity to get the couple a wedding gift as well. Three people had given Angie very daring sleepwear, all with a Christmas motif. Rollie had particularly liked the one with an embroidered Santa Claus on his sleigh--and not much else.
“So, you going to model these for us, Ange?” Rollie asked, waggling his eyebrows.
“Sure, Rol, if you’ll model that Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer Speedo Rodney gave you,” Angie replied with a straight face.
“On second thought, we can save the modeling show for tonight,” the Aussie hastily said.
Angie and Mangela burst out laughing. After a moment, Rollie joined in. He reached for the next present and was surprised to see Mangela’s name on the card.
“What’s this?” the Aussie asked in surprise, looking at the Aborigine.
“Just something I got for you and Angie.”
“You didn’t have to do that, Mangela,” Angie said.
“Perhaps, but I did it anyway.”
Rollie saw that there were actually two boxes tied together with a ribbon. The long, narrow one had his name on it, the small one, Angie’s. He gave Angie hers and started opening his own. Inside, he found a rolled up canvas. Unrolling it revealed an authentic Aboriginal painting of an eagle soaring high above Kata Tjuta. Rollie’s throat tightened.
“Thank you, Mangela. This is. . . . I don’t know what to say. It’s beautiful.”
“You’re welcome, Rollie. It was painted by one of the young men of our village. He has made a name for himself with his art.”
“He’s very talented,” Angie said, brushing her fingers over the canvas.
“Yes, he is,” Rollie agreed. “I’ll hang this in our bedroom as soon as I get a frame for it.”
Angie turned to her own present and opened it to find an exquisite pair of pierced earrings crafted out of silver and some kind of brilliant blue shell.
“Mangela, they’re gorgeous!” she exclaimed. “What kind of shell are they made of?”
“Paua shell. It is an abalone found only on the coasts of Australia and New Zealand.”
Angie put her arms around the Aborigine and gave him a kiss. “Thank you. I’m going to wear them right now.” She removed the earrings from the box and put them on.
“They look beautiful on you, Angie,” Rollie murmured.
“Yes, they do,” Mangela agreed. “Your beauty is a good match for them.”
“Thank you,” Angie said, her cheeks coloring.
Rollie got up and walked over to his coat. He pulled a wrapped package out of the pocket and handed it to the Aborigine.
“It was not necessary to get me anything,” the man said.
“We wanted to, Mangela.”
The Aborigine unwrapped the package and opened the box. With a look of surprise, he pulled out its contents. The little wallaby had been carved from crystal, the detail so fine that you could almost see every hair on its body. It was mounted on a piece of polished wood that the Aborigine recognized as ironwood, a wood often used by his people for artifacts.
Mangela looked up at Rollie, who was smiling at him gently. “It is wonderful. Where did you find it?”
“There’s a shop that sells imports from Australia and New Zealand in town. I discovered it a couple of years ago.”
Mangela ran a finger over the wallaby. “You remembered.”
“Of course I remember, Mangela. I could never forget that.”
“Remembered what?” Angie asked.
“The rock wallaby is my totem animal,” the Aborigine told her. “It is an important spiritual symbol to me.” He laid the wallaby down and pulled Rollie into a tight hug. “I love you, Sonny Boy,” he whispered.
Rollie held onto him tightly, blinking away his tears. “I love you too, Mangela.” They pulled apart and smiled at each other.
Clearing his throat, Rollie retrieved another present. “Hey, Blue! Come here, Boy!”
The electronic dog let out a bark and came over, his tail wagging.
“Look, Bluey. It’s a present for you.”
The dog barked again, studying the gift-wrapped box.
“Here. Let me unwrap it for you.” Rollie tore open the package and pulled out a teeny tiny Santa hat. Angie started laughing.
“That is too cute, Rollie. I love it!”
“Well, let’s see what it looks like on him.” The Aussie tied the hat onto Bluey’s head, being careful not to cover the lens that was the robot’s eye. Angie laughed again and was joined by Rollie and Mangela.
“Bluey, you look so cute in your little Santa hat,” the blonde said.
“I think he looks quite dashing, myself,” Rollie said, grinning broadly. He hurried upstairs for a mirror and placed it in front of his pet. “So, what do you think, Blue Boy?”
Bluey stared at himself in the mirror, his head bobbing a couple of times, making the white ball crowning the hat bounce up and down. Then he began to bark, his tail wagging enthusiastically.
“I think he likes it,” Rollie announced.
“I think you’re right,” Angie agreed.
The remaining presents were opened until they at last came to the gifts that Rollie and Angie had gotten each other. Angie was the first to open hers. When she took the lid off the big box, it was to find a smaller box inside. This one, in turn, contained an even smaller box. Angie began to smile and shake her head.
“You know, it doesn’t surprise me that you’d do something like this, Rol, but it is so cliché.”
“Well, I couldn’t have you guessing right off what I got you. Besides, the thrill is in the hunt.”
Opening a box to find yet another inside, Angie said, “I hope there’s actually something in her, Rollie. I know how you love practical jokes.”
“Oh, there is definitely something in there, Ange,” the Aussie replied quietly.
At last, Angie got down to a box that couldn’t possibly have an even smaller one inside. When she opened it, however, she found that it did . . . a ring box. Pausing, she looked up at Rollie, who was watching her nervously. Then she picked up the box and opened it. A gasp left her lips when she saw what was inside.
The gold band of the ring was inlayed with opal that flashed with bright, multicolored fire. The crowning jewel of the ring was a two carat oval-cut diamond.
Angie lifted her eyes to Rollie’s.
“I never had the chance to get you an engagement ring before we were married,” Rollie explained quietly. “I had this one custom-made for you.”
Angie looked back down at the ring. After their engagement, Rollie had wanted to get her an engagement ring, but his ability as a psychometrist had started to get really difficult for him. The first week after returning home, he had been a virtual prisoner in the loft, unable to go anywhere because of what happened whenever he touched something that others had handled. Angie had insisted that he forget about the ring, not wanting him to suffer physically just to get her a piece of jewelry.
“There’s an inscription inside,” Rollie informed her.
Angie looked at the inside of the ring.
“To my beloved soul mate,” she read aloud. Then, suddenly, she was in his arms, holding him tightly. “I love, you, Rollie,” she whispered.
“I love you too, Angie, forever.”
Rollie took the ring from her and slipped it onto her left ring finger. They both looked at it, sitting beside her wedding ring.
“It’s beautiful, Rollie,” Angie said. “Thank you.”
The Aussie smiled into her eyes and stroked her cheek. Then he brought his lips to hers in a long, slow kiss.
Suddenly remembering that they were not alone, the couple self-consciously pulled apart and looked at the Aborigine, who was watching them with a gigantic grin on his face.
“Time to open your gift, Rol,” Angie said, her voice quivering slightly with nervousness.
Rollie removed the wrapping from the thin box and pulled off the lid. His breath caught and his body stilled as he stared at what lay inside. Slowly, he lifted his eyes to Angie’s.
“It’s time for you to go home, Rollie,” she said simply.
The Aussie picked up the airline tickets, staring at them. The date of the flight was October 15, 2000, the return flight a month later.
“Benarin will be three and a half months old by then,” Angie said. “It’s only right that he see the land his daddy came from.”
Tears filled Rollie’s eyes as he gathered his wife into his arms. “I love you, Angie. I love you so much.”
“I love you too, Rollie, more than anything in the world.”
They shared a long, tender kiss, thanking whatever powers had brought them together.
“Come on. Let’s go outside,” Rollie said eagerly. He pulled Angie to her feet. Donning coats, scarves, and gloves, they all went outside. The sun shone brightly off the snow, making it glow with an almost unearthly whiteness. Grinning wickedly, Rollie scooped up a handful, quickly formed it into a ball, and launched it at Angie’s back. His wife let out a shout as the snow hit her with a loud splat. She spun around, grabbing up some snow, and fired off a counterattack. In a matter of seconds, a full-blown snowball fight was underway. Mangela tried his best to stay out of the line of fire but was soon forced to defend himself.
A while later, breathless from the laughter and the cold air, the three went back inside.
“I think I’m safe to say that that was Mangela’s first snowball fight,” Rollie said.
“Since I’ve never even seen snow in person before, you are very safe to say that,” the Aborigine confirmed.
The rest of the day was spent indoors, singing Christmas carols and chatting. That night, Rollie and Angie made slow, quiet love, bringing the day to an end in the best way possible.
Throughout the next week, Mangela continued Rollie’s training. Each day, the Aborigine brought a few items to the loft, which they used to help Rollie master his abilities. During that time, the Aussie went nowhere except to work and back, eliminating his contact with objects outside of the loft as much as possible. To his relief and delight, he found that every day at work was easier than the last as he gained the control he so desperately needed.
It was on the last day of 1999 when Mangela lined up ten objects on the workbench. The items had been gathered from all over town, from the silk scarf purchased at Bloomingdale’s to the empty Chinese food container fished out of a trash dumpster.
One by one, Rollie picked up the objects--and felt nothing. The silk scarf was just a scarf. The Chinese food container was just a piece of greasy white cardboard. No images came to him, no flashes of who had handled the object before--that is until he got to the last item on the bench, which was a kitchen knife. As soon as he picked up the knife, Rollie felt a sense of wrongness. It set his nerves on edge. Quickly setting the knife down, Rollie stared at it.
“What’s wrong, Rol?” Angie asked.
“I felt something with the knife. I didn’t feel a thing with anything else, but that knife. . . . Where’d it come from?”
“I don’t know. Mangela got it.”
Husband and wife turned to the Aborigine.
“I got the knife from your detective friend, Mira. It was used in a crime.”
“Was this your idea or hers?” Rollie asked, frowning.
“Mine. I wanted something that I knew would hold very strong images within it. She got the knife for me. It is from a case of hers that was solved several months ago. What did you feel when you touched it?”
“Just an unsettling feeling, like there was something wrong. I don’t know what would have happened if I kept holding it. Did Mira tell you what was done with the knife?”
Mangela nodded. “A woman stabbed a man to death with it.”
Rollie shuddered, glad that he’d gained enough control of his abilities to avoid seeing that.
“You did very well, Rollie. You were able to block out the impressions from the items. Did you have to concentrate to keep them out?”
“No, I didn’t have to think about it at all. It was like it was before I set foot in the Powell house.”
“Good! Now, I want you to open your senses to each of these things and tell me what you see.”
Rollie went to the first item, which was the silk scarf. He picked it up and focused his mind on it, letting himself feel the impressions. “The scarf was made in India. The last person to hold it before Angie was a twenty-year-old college student looking for a birthday present for his girlfriend.” He laid the scarf down and picked up the next items, a man’s wallet. He let out a laugh and looked at the Aborigine. “Does Frank know you have his wallet, Mangela? Wait, let me answer that.” He focused more fully on the wallet. “Well, that’s good. He gave it to you willingly. I wouldn’t want you to get arrested for pickpocketing.” Replacing the wallet on the workbench, he moved on down the line, opening his senses to each object but always maintaining control of what he saw. Finally, he reached the last item.
“Don’t, Rollie. There’s no need for you to touch the knife again,” Angie said. “You’ve already proven that you can control how much you see.”
“I need to know if I can still control it under extreme circumstances, Ange. Those other things were easy. They were just ordinary stuff. The most exciting thing was the lustful thoughts that businessman was having toward his secretary as he ate the chicken chow mein.” He pointed at the knife. “If I can control what I see and feel from that knife, then I’ll know that I’ve really got this thing conquered.”
“Okay, but if it starts getting out of control, you drop it, all right?” Angie said worriedly.
Taking a deep breath, Rollie picked up the knife. Using the techniques Mangela had taught him, he focused on it, letting the impressions trickle into his mind. “There’s a woman. She found out that her boyfriend has been cheating on her, and, now, all she can think about is getting revenge. He’s on the couch, and his back is turned toward her. She’s lifting the knife above her head and. . . .” Rollie quickly put the knife down, drawing his hand away as if he had been burned.
“Okay, that’s enough, Rollie,” Angie said firmly. She reached for the knife, but Rollie stopped her with a hand on her wrist.
“I have to finish it, Ange,” he said softly.
“Why? Why do you have to do this to yourself?”
“Because I have to know if I can stay in control. You should understand that, Angie. You’re someone who always wants to stay in control of yourself.”
“Well, not always,” Angie muttered. She shared a secret looking with her husband. Making love with Rollie was the only time that she enjoyed totally losing control.
Knowing that nothing she said would stop Rollie from completing this test, Angie sighed and nodded. Her husband brushed his fingers across her cheek and kissed her forehead. He then turned back to the knife and picked it up.
Trying to separate himself from the event, Rollie saw the woman stab the man over and over again. He then watched as she took the knife back into the kitchen, calmly washed it with soap and water in the sink, and returned it to the knife drawer, being careful not to get prints on it. He witnessed the whole thing as if it was on TV--except for one thing. As he watched, he felt a ghost of the emotions raging through the woman, the shock and then fear in the man as he died. But the one thing he didn’t feel was pain. He managed to block that out completely.
Feeling a little shaky, Rollie laid the knife back on the workbench.
“How are you doing?” Angie asked.
“I’m . . . I’m okay. It didn’t overwhelm me. I succeeded in blocking out most of the emotions and all of the pain.”
Mangela rested his hand on Rollie’s shoulder. “You did well, Sonny Boy. You’ve come a long way, much further than I had anticipated.”
“Is this it then? Is this my ‘graduation’?”
“Yes. There is nothing more that I can teach you.”
A big grin bloomed on Rollie’s face. He swept Angie into his arms and spun her around, laughing. He then strode over to the phone and called Mira.
“Hey, Mira. You know that New Year’s Eve party at the station that you invited us to? We’re accepting the invitation.”
“That’s great, Rollie. Then your, um, problem has been fixed?”
“It sure has. Everything’s terrific.”
“Wonderful! So, we’ll see you and Angie at nine o’clock. Will Mangela be coming too?”
“Um, let me ask.” Rollie turned to the Aborigine. “Would you like to join us?”
“No. I will stay here. A crowded party is not a place that I belong.”
Rollie nodded, understanding. “It’ll just be Angie and I,” he told the policewoman.
“Okay, we’ll see you then.”
That night, Rollie and Angie went to the New Year’s Eve party without the trepidation that they’d had over the Christmas party. When they got there and started circulating among the guests, Rollie was certain that he was going to be okay. Almost two hours later, he knew that his confidence had not been misplaced. He felt good. In fact, he felt great. For the first time in two months he felt like his life was back in his control. Not once throughout the party had he had a relapse. He’d been eating from the snack trays, drinking punch, and rubbing shoulder to shoulder with other the guests, and it was like the events in Oklahoma never happened to him.
“So, Rollie, are you all prepared for the Millennium Bug?” Officer Taylor asked.
Angie snorted. “What Millennium Bug? That whole thing has been blown way out of proportion. Yeah, it’s true that some computers may have not been 2000 compliant, and there are companies that had to make some changes and updates to their accounting and other programs, but they’ve been preparing for this for years, and there are patches and software fixes for the 2000 compliancy problem. Anybody who’s taken care of it shouldn’t have a problem.”
“Angie and I made sure all our systems were compliant months ago,” Rollie explained.
“Well, if you guys aren’t worried, I guess I shouldn’t be. After all, in the business you are in, you should know what you’re doing.”
A few minutes later, Captain Marvin VanDuran came up to Rollie and Angie.
“Hey, Captain. Enjoying the party?” the Aussie asked.
The man made a noncommital noise, his face not changing from its perpetually serious expression. “Detective Sanchez told me that you were instrumental in the arrest of Earl Royce, the man who was abusing his wife.”
“Um, yeah, I had a hand in it.”
“I wanted to tell you that, earlier today, he attempted to take his wife by force from the shelter she was in. He was out on bail.”
“Is Helen all right?” Angie asked anxiously.
“Yes, she was unharmed, except for some bruises on her wrist. Mister Royce is back in jail, this time for three counts of assault, assault with a deadly weapon, assault on a police officer, and attempted kidnapping. He’s going to be in prison for a good number of years.”
“Unbelievable. That guy was an idiot,” Angie said. “Was anyone else hurt badly?”
“One of the men who stay at the house to protect the women suffered a fractured arm when Royce hit him with a wrench, and two of the women were slightly injured when they tried to stop him from taking his wife. Royce then made things even worse for himself when he punched one of the arresting officers.”
“We should go see Helen and make sure she’s okay, Ange,” Rollie said.
“Yeah, we should. Thanks for telling us, Captain.”
“Okay, everyone!” someone shouted. “It’s almost time for the countdown. Be sure your glasses are full of champaign.”
Rollie topped off his champaign glass and put some more ginger ale in Angie’s glass. They were both taking very seriously the warning not to drink alcohol while pregnant.
Everyone grew quiet, their eyes glued to the TV that showed the New Year festivities going on in Times Square. The ball began to descend and everybody started counting down with Dick Clark.
“Happy New Year!” Somebody threw confetti into the air as they all drank a toast to the new year. Rollie pulled Angie against him and captured her mouth in a heated, open-mouthed kiss, not caring if everyone in the station was watching them.
“Happy New Year, Angie,” he said as they finally drew apart.
“Happy New Year, Rollie. I think this is going to be one of the best years ever.”
Rollie and Angie pulled up in front of the shelter for battered wives. As they walked toward the door, they noticed several women looking at them from the windows. There was fear on their faces.
The door was opened by a strongly built man with a serious expression.
“Can I help you?” he asked.
“We’re here to see Helen Royce,” Rollie replied.
“Is she expecting you?”
“Um, no, we didn’t think to call ahead. Could you tell her that Rollie and Angie Tyler are here?”
The man’s sober expression transformed into a friendly smile. He stuck out his hand, which a surprised Rollie shook. “It’s a pleasure to meet you, Mister and Mrs. Tyler. Helen told us all about the strangers who put themselves at risk to save her from her husband.”
Rollie flushed. “Uh, Helen told everyone about that?”
“She sure did. We encourage our tenants to talk about their experiences, and Helen’s recount of your rescue had the place buzzing.” He stepped back. “Come on in. I’ll tell her that you’re here.”
As the couple waited, they watched the women moving about the place. Most of them had bruises or bandages on various parts of their bodies, some wearing casts or slings. It angered both of them to think that all those injuries were inflicted by the women’s husbands.
“Rollie! Angie!” called a familiar voice. They looked up to see Helen rushing down the stairs. She gave each of them a hug. “It’s good to see you.”
“We heard about what happened with Earl and wanted to check on you,” Angie told her.
“Thank you. That was very sweet of you. I’m doing all right now. I was terrified when it happened, though. I thought he was going to kill me. I think he would have if he’d managed to take me out of here.” She shook her head. “Even after all the years he abused me, I still find it hard to believe that he lost control like that. I didn’t even recognize him when he was here. He acted insane.”
“We understand that he racked up a lot of charges against himself,” Rollie said.
“Yes, he did. The prosecutor of the case told me that he thinks the judge will give Earl the maximum sentence allowed by law. They’re also going to make him go through psychiatric counseling for his anger and violent behavior. I can only hope that it does some good.” She sighed, a look of sorrow crossing her face. “I think of the nice man I married, and it breaks my heart to think about how he changed. But one of the counselors here told me that he really didn’t change, that this violent streak was always there in him. It just didn’t come out until after Tommy died.”
“We all have things hidden inside us, sometimes things that we don’t even know about ourselves,” Rollie said, thinking of how very true that had proved to be in his case. He glanced about at the other people, seeing if any of them were within earshot. “Um, that guy who answered the door said that you told everyone about how Angie and I helped you.”
“Yes, I did.” She studied the Aussie’s expression. “Don’t worry. I didn’t tell anyone about your, um, talent. All I told them is that you found out about the abuse, not how you found out.”
Rollie relaxed. “Thanks. That’s something I really don’t want to get around.”
“It is an extraordinary gift. I never really believed in such things until I saw what you could do. You could help a lot of people with that ability. But then, I guess you already do. I heard those police officers talking to you at the station, so I asked them what they were talking about. They didn’t go into any details, but they said that you’ve helped the police quite a lot in the past.”
“I’ve helped on some cases,” Rollie said, shrugging. “So, how long will you be staying here?”
“Now that Earl’s back in prison and won’t be getting out again for quite some time, I’ll be going back home. I’ll probably have to sell the house, though. Without Earl’s income, I can’t afford to keep it. It will be a while before I’m making a good wage.”
“I’m sorry to hear that,” Angie said.
“It’s all right. There are a lot of bad memories in that house and very few good ones. If I had the memories of Tommy there, it would be different, but we bought that house after his death. If I sell the house, I can use the money to live on until I start earning an income. Hey, you wouldn’t happen to know a good divorce attorney, would you? I have a feeling that Earl is going to refuse to sign any divorce papers, so I need to discuss my options.”
“No, a divorce lawyer is not something I’ve ever had a use for,” Rollie said. He looked down at Angie lovingly. “And I know that I never will.”
“No, I don’t think you will,” Helen agreed, seeing the deep love that the couple shared.
“Well, we’ve got to get going,” Angie said. “It was nice seeing you again.”
Rollie gave Helen one of their business cards. “That number’s for personal calls too. Feel free to call us any time.”
“Thank you, and when I get my new phone number I’ll give it to you.”
Saying goodbye, Rollie and Angie headed home. The loft was empty when they got there, Mangela apparently off doing something. The couple fixed some tea and curled up on the couch.
“Ange, I want to thank you,” Rollie said quietly a few minutes later.
“Thank me? For what?”
“For encouraging me to get involved in the situation with Helen and her husband, to do something about it personally. It, um, usually isn’t like that. I’m usually the one rushing headlong into a situation while you’re trying to hold me back.”
“I know, Rol, and I’m sorry if I made you feel like I didn’t want you to help people. It wasn’t that. I was just so afraid that I was going to lose you, that you’d get too close to the action and get killed. I know, now, that you help the cops mainly because you want to help people. I’m very proud of you for that.”
Rollie took Angie’s hand, holding it tightly. “That means a lot to me coming from you, Ange.”
His wife gave him a tender smile and kissed his hand. “I encouraged you to go to the Royces’ house because I could tell how much it was hurting you that you thought you couldn’t help. I also couldn’t stand the thought of that poor woman being brutalized by her husband.” She grinned. “Of course, I didn’t anticipate that you’d have to duke it out with Earl. We could have done without that part.” Her grin broadened. “Though it was an unusual treat to see you come out the winner of a fistfight. A Kodak moment for sure. Too bad I didn’t have a camera with me.”
“Har har. Laugh it up, Angela. You probably should have had a camera since that might have been the last time you see me in a fight.”
“What do you mean?”
Rollie’s eyes dropped from hers to stare at the floor.
Angie looked at him more intently. “What did you mean by that comment, Rollie?”
The silence continued a moment longer, then the Aussie gave a small sigh. “I’m seriously thinking about telling Mira and Frank that I’m not going to help them on cases any more like I used to. No more getting into the middle of them.”
Angie stared at him in surprise. “Why?”
Rollie turned to her. “You said it yourself, Angie. Over these past few years, there are dozens of times when I could have ended up dead while helping the cops or the feds.” He caressed her cheek. “I have to think about you and the baby first now. I can’t keep risking my life for something that isn’t even my job.”
“Rollie, I know you. If you stop helping the police and something bad happens that you could have prevented, you’ll hate yourself for it.”
“I didn’t say that I’d stop helping them completely. I’d just stop putting myself on the front lines. I can still set up the elaborate schemes to catch the bad guys, like I’ve done before. I can still lend them equipment, run tests and stuff at the loft, other things like that. I just wouldn’t be an active player in their operations. I’d be, well, behind the cameras rather than in front of them. And, now, there’s another way I can help them as well, a way I couldn’t before.”
“Yeah. With it, I could do things that might be an even bigger help than what I did before. I mean, think about it, Ange. If I’d had this ability back when we were trying to find out where Wayne Harmon hid that bomb, we wouldn’t have had to set up that whole ruse. All I’d have had to do was touch his clothing, and I’d have known, just like that. And what about that situation with Doctor Craymore? I could have touched the chamber we found the frozen body in, and I’d have known what was going on. Craymore wouldn’t have kidnapped you and tried to freeze you, and you wouldn’t have almost died from hypothermia.” Rollie paused. “And then there’s Loubar. He sat in that chair in Elena’s office. I would have been able to see what he was planning, maybe even where he was staying. We’d have caught him that first time.”
Angie gazed at him in silence for a long moment. “I do want you to be safe, Rollie. I want you to live to see your great great grandchildren. But I also want you to be happy. What will make you happy?”
Rollie pulled her into his arms. “This makes me happy.” He laid a hand on her stomach. “And this little guy growing inside you makes me happy. The years I see before us make me so happy that I want to shout it out at the top of my lungs. I can still help the police in the ways I said. It will be enough, Angie.” He smiled. “Beside, with my propensity for getting into trouble, you can bet that, even if I didn’t help the cops at all, I’d still find myself up to my neck in one situation or another.”
Angie laughed. “Boy, you can say that again.” She sobered. “If this is what you really want to do, then I’m with you.” She poked him gently in the chest. “But I am not going to let Mira, or Frank, or any other cop or fed take advantage of your gift and expect you to spend your life helping them solve their cases. You are going to be plenty busy enough as it is with work and taking care of our family.”
Rollie grinned, a twinkle in his eyes. “Yeah, you’re a handful all by yourself, Love.”
With a mock shout of outrage, Angie gave him a shove, toppling him over sideways onto the couch. She straddled his hips and began tickling him. Laughing breathlessly, Rollie grabbed her wrists and yanked her down on top of him. Her squawk of surprise was silenced by his mouth. In about five seconds, they were exchanging wild kisses, their hands covering each other’s bodies. Rollie began rocking his hips upward into Angie’s, fanning the flames in each of them higher.
With a groan, Angie broke away from his lips. “We really can’t get started with this. Mangela could be back at any second.”
Rollie clutched her bottom, pulling her tighter against him, making them both moan. “He said this morning that he wanted go to Central Park. He wanted to see what it was like in the snow. If he went there, he could be gone for hours.” He reached up and began fondling her breasts.
“Hours?” Angie repeated huskily.
“Hours.” Rollie started assaulting her neck with his lips.
“Well, there is something to be said for living dangerously and taking chances.”
With a grin, Rollie plunged his hands under Angie’s sweater and unhooked her bra with the speed of much practice. Angie moaned again as he took her breasts into his hands. Their mouths met, tongues dueling frantically as they built the fire to the point where they could not wait any longer. Angie reached between them and undid the button and zipper of Rollie’s jeans, baring him. She then stood up and divested herself of her shoes, pants, and panties. With a sound between a sigh and a groan, Angie settled back down on Rollie, joining their bodies as one. Rocking together with the perfect rhythm that they’d found from the first time they made love, husband and wife lifted each other to the heights of ecstasy, then plunged over the edge together.
Minutes later, Angie lay atop Rollie, both of them content and satiated.
“Well, I’d say that was well worth the risk of being walked in on,” the Aussie murmured, raining kisses across his wife’s face.
“But I’d say that you had better hurry up and get your pants back on, sweetie.”
“Because Mangela’s going to be walking in that door in about a minute.”
Angie scrambled off Rollie and yanked her pants on. Grinning, the Aussie zipped himself up and sat upright. “Your bra, Ange,” he reminded his wife.
She looked at her chest, remembering that her bra was hanging undone. She’d just barely managed to rehook it and sit on the couch when Mangela walked in. Glancing down at herself to make sure everything was in order, Angie spied her underpants laying on the floor. She hastily kicked them under the sofa.
“Hey, Mangela. Did you go to the park?” Rollie asked nonchalantly.
“Yes. It looks very different now than when I was there before.” The Aborigine came into the lounge. He looked at them closely, a faint smirk forming on his lips. “Have you been having a . . . nice afternoon?”
Knowing they’d been busted, the couple blushed.
“Very nice, Mangela. Very, very nice,” Rollie confirmed, then grunted when Angie elbowed him in the ribs.
The Aborigine grinned broadly. “So, are you planning on having lots of children?”
“Uh, we haven’t really talked about that yet. Why?” Angie asked.
“I was just thinking that, based on the way things are going now, many children could be in your future.”
It took Rollie and Angie about three seconds to realize what Mangela was implying. When they did, their faces turned beet red.
“Well, that’s what birth control is for, Mangela,” Rollie said with a grin after a moment.
“Rollie!” Angie cried, even more mortified.
Both men laughed.
“You shouldn’t be embarrassed, Angie,” the Aborigine said. “After all, I am a grandfather. I know how it all works.”
“Yeah, well, I’m beginning to consider the possibility that my husband isn’t going to live long enough to become a grandfather,” she responded, glaring at Rollie.
“Better watch out, Sonny Boy,” the Aborigine warned. “I would not want to be on the receiving end of this one’s wrath.”
“No, you wouldn’t, Mangela. I can attest to that!” Rollie said emphatically. His words were rewarded with another punch in the ribs. He responded by pulling Angie against him and giving her a hard kiss. “But I’m still crazy in love with her, even if she does beat up on me.”
Both pleased and put out by his statement, Angie muttered intelligibly and got up, taking the cups of now cold tea with her to the kitchen area.
“I have booked my flight home for Tuesday.” Mangela told them quietly.
Rollie looked at him rather sadly. “I wish you could stay longer. It’s nice having you around.”
“My spirit is longing to be back home. I cannot feel the earth in this city of yours. But we will see each other again in a few months.”
“Yeah. It’s going to be strange going home. It’s been so long.”
“The years away cannot change the fact that a part of you never left, Rollie. That part of you will always be home.”
Rollie and Angie watched Mangela stuff the last of his things in the duffle bag. The Aborigine then turned and looked at them. He gave Angie a hug. “When I see you again, that little joey in there will be getting his first look at the land of his birthright,” he said.
“Yes, he will, and it won’t be the last time either. I’m going to make sure we come back and visit you again.”
“That will be good,” the Aborigine said with a smile.
Angie hugged him one more time. “Goodbye, Mangela. We’ll miss you around here.”
“And I will miss you.”
Rollie drove Mangela to the airport. Arriving at the gate, they took a couple of seats away from the other passengers. The Aussie turned to his spiritual father.
“I want to thank you for everything, Mangela. I don’t know what I would have done without you.”
“You would have made it through, Rollie. In time, you would have learned to master these abilities on your own.”
Rollie looked at the aborigine for a silent moment. “Um . . . Belilac told me something. She said that I had the ability to see the future, if I was willing to accept it. I know that I had that Dreaming when I was lying in the desert, but. . . .”
“Belilac saw truly,” Mangela told him. “This I also knew about you, almost from the time you first came to me as a little one. When you are no longer afraid to embrace that part of you, the Dreamings will return.”
“I don’t want them, Mangela. I don’t want to see the future. I’m afraid of what I will see. I’d rather not know.”
“And what if seeing the future gives you the power to change it?”
“What if it doesn’t? What if I see something terrible, and I can’t do anything to stop it? I couldn’t take that. But. . . .” He sighed, his eyes drifting away to look out into the terminal. “I have a feeling that I’m not going to have a choice in the matter.”
“What do you mean?”
“I didn’t tell you this before because we were so focused on the training, but I knew Angie was pregnant days before any test would have told us. I saw our baby inside her. It was a shock, to say the least, but I knew that it was true. I also knew he was going to be a boy. I just sensed it. Around three weeks ago, it happened again. At first, I saw him as he is now, but then . . . then I saw what he would be in a few months. He was a fetus, every little finger and toe so perfect.” The smile that had briefly touched Rollie’s face faded away. He finally turned to look at the Aborigine. “He looked right at me, Mangela, as if he could see me, and called me Daddy. I heard his voice in my mind as clearly as if he was standing right here, speaking to me aloud.”
Mangela did not say anything for a moment. “Is there something else?” he asked, looking at his spiritual son closely.
“Yeah. I felt. . . . It’s hard to describe. I felt his . . . his spirit, I guess you could say, almost as if it was a part of mine.”
Mangela again did not speak for a few seconds. “There is more within you than you now realize, Rollie, things you have yet to discover about yourself.”
“What things?” the Aussie asked, almost afraid to know.
“I cannot tell you, for I do not know fully myself.” He leaned forward, shortening the distance between them, and looked at Rollie intently. “But you must remember this. Your kurun and kuuti, your will and life force, are very powerful. There may come a time when it will be very important for you to remember that.”
“What are you talking about, Mangela? Did you have another Dreaming? Is something going to happen?”
The Aborigine shook his head. “I only know what the signs tell me. I can say no more.”
The call for boarding came just then, interrupting what Rollie was going to say. The two men rose to their feet and waited for Mangela’s turn to board. Finally, it was time. The Aborigine embraced Rollie.
“Goodbye, Sonny Boy. We will see each other again soon.”
Rollie watched his spiritual father join the crowd of people getting on the plane, not looking away until the Aborigine was lost from sight. He then headed for home, thinking about the words Mangela had spoken to him, a vague feeling of dread stirring deep within him.