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DOUBLE CROSS
by Carolyn Crane

Genre: Urban Fantasy, Paranormal/Urban Fantasy

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Ez the coat check girl, a.k.a. the Stationmaster, draws her face right up close to the glass window of her little booth and fixes me with a piercing gaze. Her fine features and short blonde hair lend her a certain elfin beauty; it’s hard to believe she’s a mass murderer. Honestly, how does a dream invader even kill people? People have bad dreams all the time. They’re just dreams. I should have asked when Packard assigned me her case.

“Do you get a lot of patients coming to your clinic with, you know, Morgan-Brooksteens parasites colonizing their organs?” she asks.

“Oh, yes.” I run my finger along the semicircular hole at the bottom of the window. The coat check booth is situated along a kind of balcony overlooking the glamorous piano bar below. They call this place the Sapphire Sunset. Soft music and voices rise up through the air, punctuated by occasional hoots of laughter.

“What happens to them?”

“Well, once a person’s organs are colonized . . .” I shake my head.

“But I thought there were promising new medications on the horizon!”

“‘Promising’ may be overstating it. Just between us, we don’t want people scared if they have symptoms.”

Ez stiffens. “People should be scared if they have symptoms?”

“No, I said we don’t want them to be scared.”

“Which implies they should be scared!” The conversation winds on like this for a while. It’s easy to frighten a hypochondriac once you understand that it’s just an adult version of monsters in the closet.

I study the booth as she describes her symptoms. Stationmaster Ez is separated from the world by two panes of glass; tokens are passed back and forth along a metal gully under the semicircular holes. To the left is a coat carousel, like a revolving door for coats. Patrons hang them on hooks and Ez spins the coats to her side. She slides a token across the gully for each coat, and then she hangs it up and rollers off lint. You’d never know it’s been her prison for three years. The curtain behind her probably hides where she sleeps and bathes.

Cut off even from touch! Otto only reserves this level of security for his most dangerous offenders; usually when he makes a force field prison, non-prisoners can pass in and out. That’s how it was when he had Packard imprisoned in the Mongolian Delites restaurant.

A new tune noodles up from below. “Muskrat Love.”

Ez lowers her voice. “Whenever he plays that, I want to shove an ice pick in my ear.”

“I bet.” I’d like nothing better than to discuss the insanity of that song, but I can’t let her get off subject. “Look, I could take your pulse and examine your skin tonus,” I say. “That would provide certain indicators.”

She points to the window. “Anti-burglar force field.”

I nod. So that’s how she explains it. Probably only the owner knows she lives here. Her eyes grow huge as I pass my hand through. I have to be touching a target to zing her.

“How’d you do that?”

I’m ready with my story: as a nurse, I have a descrambler that unknits fields just enough for me to pass through.

“I never heard of that!”

“What if you were having a heart attack? How would I treat you?” I don’t tell her the device is the chain bracelet I’m wearing; she might try to rip it right off. “Come on, let’s see.”

Cautiously she places her hand in mine and I pull it toward me, back across the gully, and pretend to inspect her skin as I stoke up the fear I’m going to zing her with. The abnormally large amount of fear I’m able to generate is the reason Packard drafted me into his psychological hit squad, and the reason he could teach me to dump it into other people just by touching them. Later, others from my squad will do the same thing to her, with different emotions. We’re like a demolition team of neurotics.

I concentrate on ripping the hole between our energy dimensions in the area beyond my fingers. The hole acts as a kind of siphon tube, allowing my dark, roiling emotions to rush out of me and into her. Out they flow, faster and faster. I try to maintain my composure, standing there inspecting her hand, but I feel this incredible happiness as the fear leaves my body, my mind, my entire being.

Just then, fingers dig into my shoulders and I’m jerked backward. My hand separates from hers, which is forced back inside the field.

I spin around. “Packard!”

He grabs my elbow and pulls me across the catwalk and down the wide, carpeted stairs, down into the sea of people.

“What are you doing?” I ask, nearly tripping down the last few steps.

He drags me into a corner below the coat check catwalk, where Ez can’t see us.

This sort of rough treatment would make me a lot angrier if I hadn’t just zinged out all my negative emotions. All the same, I shake him off, and I do my best to fix him with a good glare. “Don’t ever do that again,” I say.

His green eyes burn into mine. “Or what?”

I have nothing to say to that, unfortunately.

“You zinged her!” he says. “I told you to wait for me.”

“You were an hour late,” I say.

“What have you done?” Packard’s handsomeness doesn’t come from being pretty and finely sculpted; he has a more brutal handsomeness, with big rough-hewn features that look as if they were carved with caveman tools. Tonight, his shortish cinnamon curls are a bit wilder than usual. He glares at his hands, then at me. 

I should probably be more concerned at this point, but after you zing out all your fear and darkness, life seems pretty great. Glory hour, we call it. Most people think happiness is about gaining something, but it’s not. It’s all about getting rid of the darkness you accumulate.