"I'm going to see if the cops will bring down some of the boy's clothes for Evans to look at."
"The touch clairvoyant that tried to cut his own hands off?" He made a face when he said it.
"He's out of the hospital," I said.
He frowned. "But didn't the paper say that he tried to cut off his hands so he wouldn't see murders and violence every time he touched something?"
"Anita, I never thought I'd say this, but leave the poor guy alone. I'll give back the money."
I narrowed my eyes at him. Was he being nice to fool me? Did he mean it? Out loud, I said, "Evans is feeling better than he has in years. He's taking active clients again."
Bert looked at me, and it wasn't an entirely friendly look. "This man has tried to kill himself to keep from seeing these things, and you want to take items from a serial killer case where he cut up a nice teenage couple. That's cold, Anita, that's truly cold."
"Evans put himself back on the market, Bert, I didn't. He's married now, and he's a lot more relaxed than he ever was before."
"Love may be grand, Anita, but it doesn't cure everything."
"Nope," I said, "it doesn't." What I didn't try to explain to Bert was that Evans's new wife was a projective psychic null. She negated most psychic abilities within yards of her. Evans was a lot calmer around her. She truly had saved him.
His small pale eyes narrowed at me. "That man out there, the boy, he's your boyfriend."
"Just your boyfriend?" he made it a question.
"What else could he be, Bert?" And it was my turn to have the innocent face.
He shook his head. "I don't know, but the noises from your office were a hell of a show, and that was without any visuals."
I didn't blush, because I was working too hard at keeping control of my face and eyes. "Do you really want to know, Bert, or do you want deniability later?"
He stood there for a moment, thinking, then shook his head. "I don't need to know."
"No," I said, "you don't."
"But you'd tell me the truth, if I wanted to know?" he asked.
"Why, why would you tell me?"
"To watch your face," I said, and my voice was soft, and not altogether pleasant.
He swallowed hard and looked just a little paler than his untanned face had a moment before. "It would be something bad, wouldn't it?"
I shrugged. "Ask and find out."
He shook his head again. "No," he said, "no."
"Then don't ask questions you don't want the answers to," I said.
"Don't ask, don't tell," he said.
I nodded, again. "Exactly."
He gave that roguish, I-know-something-you-don't smile. "But we get to keep the ten grand."
"For now. If Evans agrees to see the evidence, we'll need a bankroll."
"Is he that expensive?"
"He risks his sanity and his life every time he touches another clue. I'd make people pay for that, wouldn't you?"
A light came into Bert's eyes. "Does he have a business agent?"
"Bert," I said.
"Just asking, just asking."
I had to shake my head and give up. Bert had a real genius for making money from psychic gifts that other people thought of as curses. Would it be so bad if he could help Evans make more money? No. But I wondered if Bert understood that Evans was one of the most powerful touch clairvoyants in the world. That to brush against another person with his fingertip told him more about that person than most people would ever know. Bert would probably offer to shake hands, and the deal would be off. I only suspected what Bert was. One touch, and Evans would know for sure. In a way, if Evans didn't run screaming it would be reassuring for me. I would never offer to shake hands with Evans. One, you never offer your hand to a touch clairvoyant, just bad form. Two, Evans had brushed up against me before, by accident, and he hadn't liked what he saw. Who was I to throw stones at Bert, when he might pass Evans's radar unscathed, and I knew that I would go down in bloody flames?
The rest of the afternoon appointments were damned boring compared to the Browns. Thank God. Nathaniel sat, quietly, in a corner of my office through all of them, just in case. Bert didn't argue now. I'd had two appointments with lawyers to discuss wills and other privileged material. They'd objected to Nathaniel, but I'd told them that legally the conversation with me wasn't privileged, so why did they care. Legally, I was right, and lawyers hate for a non-lawyer to be right. Or at least the ones I meet get cranky about it. So then, they'd wanted to know who he was and why he got to sit in on their meetings.
I told the first one, do you want this meeting, or don't you, and he let it go. The second one didn't let it go. My fingers hurt where I'd torn off the nails. My face hurt even if it was healing. My pride was hurt from ha**ng s*x in the office. I was not happy, so I told the truth.
"He's here in case I have to have sex." I smiled when I said it, and knew that it didn't reach my eyes, but I didn't care.
Nathaniel had laughed and done his best to turn it into a cough.
The lawyer, of course, didn't believe me. "It was a perfectly legitimate question, Ms. Blake. I have every right to protect my client and his interests. You don't have to insult us with ridiculous lies."
So I stopped insulting him with lies, and we got down to business.
Every client, or group of clients, had to ask about Nathaniel. I told them he was everything from domestic help, to lover, to office boy, to personal assistant. Nobody liked any of my answers. I stopped caring long before I stopped seeing clients. I actually started telling the truth again, and the two new groups that I told it to got insulted. Insulting lies, they called it. Try to tell the truth, and no one believes you.
What I'd wanted to talk about all afternoon had been my beast. I had a lycanthrope right there, and we didn't get five minutes of peace to even begin the discussion. I had so many questions, and no time to ask them. Maybe that was why I was so grumpy to the clients. Maybe, or maybe I'm just grumpy. Even I wasn't sure sometimes.
It was seven o'clock by the time we climbed into the Jeep. Bert had passed my 7:30 cemetery appointment on to Manny without me having to ask. He even apologized for overbooking me. He always overbooked me, and he'd never apologized before. I think the realization that I could call a vote and get his ass kicked out had made him a better boy. Or maybe it was just the realization that I knew that any one of us could call a vote and kick him out. If Bert had any weakness in business it was assuming that those of us without a business degree didn't understand business. A little fear isn't always a bad thing. In fact, it can be downright therapeutic for some people. I didn't expect for the nicer version of Bert to last, but I'd enjoy it while I had it.
I'd actually turned off onto Olive in the direction of the city. I had just enough time to drop Nathaniel off at Guilty Pleasures and be only about fifteen minutes late for what was now my first outside appointment of the evening.
"Where are you going?" Nathaniel asked.
"Guilty Pleasures," I said.
"You need to eat first."
I glanced at him as I slowed for a stoplight. "I don't have time to eat."
"You know how when you don't feed one hunger the other hungers get worse?" His voice was so gentle when he asked, but I'd begun to mistrust that particular gentle tone. It usually meant he had a point to make, and he was right, and if I'd only accept it, I'd see that he was right, too. It usually meant that the argument was lost before it had begun. But I never considered defeat a reason not to put up a fight.
"Yeah, I know. If I deny the ardeur the beast wants meat more, or the vampire wants blood. I know all that."
"So what happens if you don't feed your human stomach, you get hungry, right?"
The light changed, and I eased forward. Saturday night traffic on Olive was always fun. "Yeah," I said. I was looking for the trick, and didn't see it.
"So if your body gets hungry for normal feeding, then doesn't that make all the other hungers worse?"
I almost hit the car in front of me, because I was staring at him. I had to slam on my brakes and endure much horn blowing, and, if it hadn't been so dark, I'm sure I'd have seen some hand gestures. "What did you say?"
"You heard me, Anita."
I sighed and started paying better attention to the traffic. But inside I was kicking myself, because it was so simple. So terribly simple. "I don't eat regularly when I'm working, and that usually means that I'm running home with the ardeur riding me every night."