Fugitive psychic Dylan Pierce faces a tantalizing prospect: a chance to rescue a drop-dead gorgeous folksinger from her insanity - a folksinger he's admired for years from afar.
There's only one catch. He has to journey into her twisted subconscious for any hope of bringing her back.
Here's a sneak peak at Chapter One:
© 2007 Joseph Dysart
~ Chapter One ~
I CAME to woozily, staring into the puss of one of those white-sweater-tied-around-the-shoulders kind of guys. Fiftyish. Stingy smile. Silver-feathered mane. Mirror-slave blue eyes.
Winston Hamilton. One of the world's richest men.
The two goons who'd drugged me were slouched against the wall, one on either side of me. The tallest stroked a shiner under his left eye - a little memento I'd gifted him during our recent 'get acquainted' encounter. The other picked his nose like it was some sort of performance art.
I could see Hamilton clearly now. I coughed, and he grinned, leaning towards me from the throne of a big black leather chair that loomed up from behind his desk. A pink mole about the size of a raisin dangled from his jaw. He pulled on it. It was the same nervous tic I'd noticed on a recent TV interview he'd done "60 Minutes."
"Ah, Mr. Pierce," Hamilton said. "How nice of you to join us."
The goons stiffened, both looking at me like they wished they'd used a real gun to take me down during our altercation earlier that day -- instead of one that fired tranquilizer.
I made a move to get to my feet, but got nowhere. They'd lashed me to a chair while I was unconscious, and had done good work. The ropes squeezed my shoulders and gut like anacondas. "My apologies," I said to Hamilton, grinning. "Been meaning to drop by for awhile."
Hamilton snorted. "Yes. Well. I really wish we could have met under more pleasant circumstances, Mr. Pierce. But you must admit, you've been rather elusive lately."
A wave of pain rifled across my back, and my grin pinched to a wince. The tall goon smirked. Apparently, he and his buddy had been very thorough during their version of the "meet-and-greet" earlier that day.
"Nothing personal," I said. "But the fact is, I misplaced my Blackberry. Been hell trying to put my week back together."
Hamilton cracked a faint smile and said nothing, pulling on his pink mole instead. He looked over at the tall goon. "Cut him loose."
The tall goon -- Goon Number One -- responded to Hamilton's words like he'd been thwacked by a two-by-four. He and his booger-loving buddy had spent the past six months chasing my butt clear across the globe. Cut me loose? He'd rather shove rusty razor blades under his fingernails.
Still, Hamilton was the one signing the checks. The goon's eyes went vacant. He drew a switchblade from a pocket, and went to work on the ropes. As the restraints popped loose, his blade kissed my skin in a way I thought was a bit too familiar. I was tempted to school him on the finer points of switchblade safety, but decided against it.
He finished up, and I heard a clink! of his switchblade closing behind my ear -- a clink! that seemed to say I might be free of the restraints, but gosh darnit, he still was boss, and I'd better realize that.
"Much obliged," I said to Goon One.
"Screw you, pretty boy." He slouched against the wall again - his arms crossed, his eyes down, his lips moving in a silent swear. All things considered, he wouldn't be my first choice for the neighborhood welcome wagon.
His goon buddy, who'd only displayed marginal interest in the rope cutting, resumed his favorite diversion. This time, he dug deep into his left nostril, retrieving what apparently was a blue-ribbon winner. He stared intently at his prize, thoroughly pleased with himself.
I rubbed my chest where the ropes had bitten deepest, and kept an eye on Hamilton. He'd gotten up from his desk, and had his back to me, his hands clasped at his butt. He was gazing through some rather majestic, crystal-clear glass windows, which were about three stories high, and overlooked a sprawling compound.
It was a stunning view - acres upon acres of finely manicured rolling hills. It must have taken an army of laborers to maintain. The grandeur of it all - the artfully sculpted shrubbery, the controlled explosion of pinks, violets and yellows emanating from more than a dozen varieties of flowers, the intricate maze of paths meticulously woven through the scene - reminded me of something you'd see outside the window of a French count's castle.
I studied the scene more closely, and saw the symphony of flora ending abruptly at a cliff overlooking a quiet ocean. Off on the horizon, there was a boulder about the size of a small cottage perched precariously on the edge of the cliff. I recognized the landmark immediately: Mugu Rock. We were on the Southern California coast, just north of LA, somewhere up in the hills of Malibu.
"I have a driver outside," Hamilton said, his back still to me. "You're free to go."
Goon Number One exhaled fitfully, trying not to explode, forcing himself to stare at the floor. Even so, he couldn't help shooting what he apparently thought were daggers at me in a sideways glance.
I rubbed my chest some more and studied Hamilton's shoulders.
Neither of us said anything for a long time.
He finally turned around to face me. "Look, Mr. Pierce. We realize we're not going to get anywhere without your cooperation. You know it, and we know you know. So I'm going to ask you - very politely -- for your cooperation."
"Something tells me Miss Manners would dicker with your definition of 'polite.'"
Another faint smile from Hamilton. "Well then, let me start again, and be among the many to congratulate you on the way you handled the Leary murder case."
I snorted. The Leary case. That was where all this nonsense had begun. About a year ago, LAPD had hit a major wall in a dragnet for a gruesome serial killer three years running, and had quietly begun making overtures to the local psychic community.
After "sourcing" a few sensitives with no success, they'd shown up at my door, the Virtual Reality Lab at UCLA. I found out later they'd been tipped off about me by someone at the U.S. Department of Defense - now my former employer. "He's not your run-of-the-mill psychic," their informant had gushed. "He can crawl into other people's minds. Slither in and out of dream-worlds. Plod through someone else's unconscious like it's a walk in the park. He's absolutely amazing.
"Plus, he's got some kind of computer graphics gizmos wired into his brain that enable him broadcast his entire experience to a computer screen. So everything he sees and does inside someone else's mind, you're able to see - in real time."
Actually, those "gizmos" represented about two hundred million dollars -- and about a dozen years of groundbreaking research in virtual reality. But I'm not one to quibble.
The lead detective from LAPD who approached me for psychic help was extremely skeptical, and made it clear she didn't put any stock in what I did. Mean-eyed, short, and mostly disgusted with life, she informed me that she was simply reaching out to satisfy, as she described it, "some hair-brained whim," of another detective on the case. "He's had some luck with 'your type' before," she told me.
She went through the usual niceties, charming me into public service with a golden-throated, "Like I said, I don't buy this crap for a minute. But go ahead and play around with this bloody blouse, which we found at the crime scene. You'll make my partner happy, and then we can all go home."
It was an invitation that me, and my research partner, Elliot Jenkins - who I call the "Silicon Wizard," and for good reason - simply couldn't refuse.