to step into a television studio.

I glanced inquisitively at Janet, but she was standing over by a window, her arms loose at her sides and her gaze fastened steadily on the floor. When I looked back at Younger, he cocked his head to one side and smiled absently, as at a memory.

'I used to take Linda-my daughter-to see you perform when you were with the circus,' he said distantly. 'You were Mongo the Magnificent. What an incredible gymnast and tumbler you were. I remember the stunt where you-'

'That was a long time ago, Senator,' I interrupted gently. It had been seven years since I'd left the circus, but it seemed a hundred. 'Why the background check?'

'I recommended you, Mongo,' Janet quietly interjected from the other side of the room.

Younger's smile faded. 'Now you're very well known as a private investigator,' he said, looking at me hard as though he couldn't quite believe it. 'I wanted to make certain you were also discreet. You are; your credentials are impeccable.' His tone shifted slightly. 'You seem to have a penchant for unusual cases.'

'Unusual cases seem to have a penchant for me. You'd be amazed how few people feel the need for a dwarf private investigator.'

Younger wasn't really listening. 'Have you heard of Esteban Morales?'


'Perhaps I should explain,' Janet said, leaving her outpost by the window and coming across the room to us. That was fine with me; the Senator seemed to be having trouble getting started. Janet stopped in front of me, continued softly: 'Esteban is a healer.'

'A doctor?'

'No, Mongo,' Janet said, slowly shaking her head, 'not a doctor. Esteban is a psychic healer. He heals with his hands … or maybe his mind.' She paused and looked at me intently, as though trying to gauge my reaction. I must have looked startled, because she quickly added, 'I know it sounds absurd, but-'

'It doesn't sound absurd,' I said. Janet had no way of knowing-and I couldn't tell her-that the most unusual case I'd ever handled had involved a man by the name of Victor Rafferty. Rafferty had been able to heal-and do a great many other things-with nothing more than the power of his mind. 'Go on, Janet.'

'Apparently, there are supposed to be a number of good psychic healers in this country,' Janet continued. 'Most of the ones we hear about are associated with some religious group. But people who are familiar with this kind of phenomenon consider Esteban the best.'

'What group is he with?'

The nun shook her head. 'None that I know of. Esteban's not a faith healer. What he does seems to be independent of religious belief-his, or that of the person he's treating. Anyway, I received a grant to do a research project on him this summer.'

'Excuse me, Janet,' I said, 'but working with faith healers, psychic healers or any other kind of healers seems like an odd project for a microbiologist.'

'I'll explain later,' she said softly. 'I know Senator Younger has to return to Washington for an important committee hearing. The critical point is that Esteban is now in jail awaiting trial for murder. In fact, Garth was the arresting officer. It seems he's now working on some special squad that has to do with …' Her voice trailed off into embarrassed silence.

'The occult,' I finished for her. For months, Garth had been heading an interborough task force working the burgeoning New York occult underground, ferreting out the con artists-and worse-who preyed on the gullible. The tympani lessons had been his response to my mercilessly kidding him about wasting the taxpayers' money chasing witches, warlocks and Satanists. But murder wasn't so funny.

Janet was slowly and rhythmically massaging her temples with the tips of her index fingers. 'It seems that Esteban, as a psychic healer, is considered some kind of occult figure just because he's not associated with any religious group,' she said with a trace of bitterness in her voice. 'That's why Garth was assigned to the case.'

Watching Younger, I was beginning to suspect that it could be more than Janet's recommendation that had attracted him to me. I hoped I was wrong, because he was going to be disappointed if he thought I could-or would try to-influence my brother when it came to his official business. I had a natural distrust of politicians. 'Is Esteban one of your constituents?' I asked the Senator.

'Yes,' he answered simply. 'It so happens that he is; but that's not my reason for wanting to help him.'

'What is your reason?'

Younger was still having trouble telling me what was on his mind. When he didn't answer right away, I turned to Janet. 'Who's this Esteban accused of killing?' I asked abruptly.

'Don't you want me to tell him now?' she asked Younger. Janet's voice was very gentle, and I wondered if my impatience with the Senator was showing. I was still smarting from my tussle with the Chinese, and angry that I'd agreed to investigate Smathers in the first place; I could hardly wait for the next meeting of the faculty Ethics Committee.

'No,' Younger said, his voice strangely muffled. 'I can do my own talking. It's. . just that I'm having trouble. .'He swallowed hard, closed his eyes. 'Yes, Sister,' he whispered. 'Would you please fill Dr. Frederickson in on the background of the case?'

I tried to sneak a glance at my watch, and Janet caught me at it. Her gaze was steady and vaguely accusatory. 'Esteban is accused of killing a physician by the name of Robert Samuels,' she said tightly. 'Dr. Samuels worked at the university Medical Center.'

'Why would Esteban want to kill Samuels?'

Janet touched her fingers to her temples again, then dropped her arms stiffly to her sides. I had the feeling she was struggling to control an enormous amount of tension. 'The papers reported that Dr. Samuels filed a complaint against Esteban-practicing medicine without a license. The police think Esteban killed him because of it.'

'They'd need more than suspicion to book him.'

Janet nodded quickly as she sucked in a deep breath. 'Esteban was found in Dr. Samuels' office-with the body. Dr. Samuels had been dead only a few minutes; his throat had been cut with a knife they found dissolving in a vial of acid.' Janet's tone had been growing increasingly strained. She paused and took another deep breath. It seemed to calm her, and her words came easier.

'Mongo,' she continued, 'if it's true that a complaint was filed against Esteban, it wouldn't be the first time; and it certainly wouldn't have been a reason for Esteban to kill anyone. He's always taken the enmity of the medical establishment in stride.'

'Esteban is not a killer,' Senator Younger interjected from the center of the office, where he'd been nervously pacing. He stopped and pounded a fist into his palm. The sharp slap of flesh against flesh grated on my nerves, and I suddenly realized I had a headache. 'The charge is absurd! Damn it, the man's spent his entire adult life helping people!'

'The Senator's right, Mongo,' Janet said, and the nun/ scientist's soft, quavering voice had a far greater impact on me than Younger's outburst. 'Esteban just couldn't have killed anyone; and certainly not that way. I feel a responsibility for what's happened, because I brought Esteban here. When Senator Younger came to see me, I told him I thought you could help.'

'I'm not sure how you think I can help, Senator,' I said, turning to face the politician. 'And I still don't understand why the case is so important to you.'

Younger slumped into a chair behind him. He unconsciously ran a hand through his hair, then quickly smoothed it down. 'You must clear Esteban,' he said, looking at me with anguish in his eyes. His voice was steady, intense. 'Prove that Esteban didn't do it-or that someone else did.'

'That's a pretty tall order, Senator. And it could get expensive. On the other hand, you've got the entire NYPD set up to do this kind of work for nothing. It's their job.'

Younger shook his head. 'I want one man-you-to devote himself exclusively to this case. You work here at the university; you have contacts. You may be able to find something the police overlooked-or didn't care to look for. The police think Esteban is guilty, and we both know they aren't going to spend a lot of time investigating what they consider an open-and-shut case.'

'I can't argue with that.'

Вы читаете An Affair Of Sorcerers
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