Jayne Ann Krentz

In Too Deep

For Frank,

with all my love.


Fallon Jones: three years earlier . . .

Paranormal fire burned in the darkness. Auroras of psi splashed across the ether. The night sky above San Francisco was ablaze with light from across the spectrum. Fallon Jones gripped the condo balcony railing with both hands, fighting to anchor himself to reality. There were spectacular patterns wherever he looked: wondrous, astonishingly intricate webs of connections and links that illuminated the path back to the heart of the universe.

The dazzling radiance of the midnight world was compelling beyond anything he had ever experienced. He was certain that if he only looked closely enough, he would be able to distinguish the light from the dawn of creation, perhaps even grasp a fistful of the raw power of chaos that fueled the forces of life and death.

“Good night for a walk, isn’t it?” Tucker Austin said.

Fallon turned to look at the figure silhouetted in the opening of the sliding-glass doorway. There was something wrong. Tucker looked as if he stood on the other side of a waterfall. It was impossible to focus on him. He held something in his hand but Fallon could not make it out.

“What are you doing here?” Fallon asked. He was vaguely aware that he sounded drunk. But he was almost positive that he’d had only one glass of wine with dinner.

“We both know why I’m here.” Tucker moved out of the doorway and went to stand at the railing a short distance away. He kept the object in his hand out of sight against his left leg. “The magic lantern really slammed your senses, didn’t it? That’s one of the interesting side effects of the device. The higher the level of talent, the greater the impact. You are literally off the charts on the Jones Scale. That makes the lantern the ideal weapon to destroy you without arousing any suspicions. By now you’re lost out there on the paranormal plane. There’s no coming back from this trip.”

“You came here to kill me,” Fallon said. A simple statement of fact, nothing more or less. It was good to know he was still able to think logically.

“I did warn you that one day your talent would be the death of you.” Tucker sounded amused. “I’m not alone in that opinion, as I’m sure you’re aware. Fortunately, a lot of people are convinced that a chaos theory-talent as powerful as you is doomed. And there have always been those rumors about the men in your family who inherit that aspect of the founder’s talent. Everyone knows that Sylvester Jones was a paranoid whack-job at the end.”

“Sylvester died more than four hundred years ago,” Fallon said. “No one knows what really happened to him at the end. And rumors are, by definition, not facts.”

“But as you have often pointed out, an interesting rumor always has more influence than a boring fact.”

Fallon shook his head once and blinked a couple of times, trying to bring Tucker into focus. The small motion caused the universe to shift around him. The disorientation was so fierce now that he had to clench his hand around the balcony railing to stay on his feet.

“Why?” he asked. It was a foolish question. He knew the answer. But for some reason he wanted to hear Tucker put it into words. Then again, that had been the problem all along. He had wanted to believe Tucker Austin.

“I’m afraid there’s no other way out.” Tucker rested both elbows on the railing and contemplated the night. “It’s either you or me this time. Survival of the fittest and all that. The magic lantern has certain hypnotic effects. In addition to creating those fascinating hallucinations you’re currently viewing, it makes you vulnerable to suggestion. For example, you feel like taking a walk off this balcony, don’t you?”

“No,” Fallon said again. He tried to move, but when he took a step he stumbled and went down to his knees.

Tucker gestured toward the building across the street. “You know what you should do, Fallon? You should cross that crystal bridge. Halfway over, you’ll have a terrific view of the heart of the universe. How can you resist?”

Fallon tightened his grip on the railing and hauled himself upright. He tried to focus, but the crashing waves of the auroras that lit up the night were too distracting.

“What bridge?” he asked.

“Right there.” Tucker pointed. “It leads from this balcony to the roof of the building across the street. Just step over the railing and you’ll be on your way.”

Fallon looked down. Strange machines moved on the street below. Lights glowed and flashed. Cars, some part of his brain whispered. Get a grip. You’re fourteen floors above the street.

“Don’t you see the bridge?” Tucker asked. “It leads to all the answers, Fallon. You just follow the crystal brick road to find the wizard.”

Fallon concentrated. A crystal bridge materialized in the night. The transparent steps were infused with an internal light. He pulled harder on his talent. The bridge brightened and beckoned. But a tiny sliver of awareness sliced through the wonder of the scene.

“Think I’ve seen that bridge before,” he said.

“Yeah?” For the first time Tucker sounded slightly disconcerted. “Where?”

“In the movies. Damn silly plot but the special effects were mildly entertaining.”

Tucker chuckled. “Leave it to Fallon Jones to come up with a logical explanation for a perfectly good hallucination. Well, it was worth a shot. But if you won’t do this the easy way, I guess we’ll have to go with Plan B.”

He moved suddenly, bringing up the object in his hand. Fallon tried to raise one arm to block the blow, but his muscles would not obey. Instinctively he twisted aside, instead. He lost his balance and went down hard on the tiled floor.

The object Tucker wielded was a hammer. It struck inches away from Fallon’s head. He heard the crack of the tiles. The entire balcony shuddered with the force of the blow.

Somewhere in the night a woman started screaming.

“You crazy son of a bitch,” Tucker said. He raised the hammer for another blow. “You’re supposed to be out of your head by now.”

Fallon rolled away and reached for more talent. The hammer struck the floor of the balcony again.

He managed to scramble to his feet. The sparkling, iridescent night spun wildly around him.

Tucker charged him in a violent rush. The promise of imminent death sent another rush of adrenaline through Fallon, producing a few seconds of brilliant clarity.

He finally succeeded in getting a focus. For an instant the familiar features of the man he had considered a trusted friend were clearly visible in the light from the living room. Tucker’s face was twisted with a maddened rage. Fallon realized that he had never known the real Tucker until tonight.

The shock of being so terribly, horribly wrong brought another dose of clarity. People had died because of Tucker Austin, and Fallon knew that he was, in part, to blame. He summoned up the full, raging force of his talent, reached into the heart of chaos and seized a fistful of fire. He hurled the invisible currents of paranormal radiation into Tucker’s aura. Not exactly Zeus with the lightning bolts but good enough to get the job done.

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