'This is most important to me, Frederickson,' Younger said, jabbing his finger in the air for emphasis. 'I'll double your normal fee.'

'That won't be nec-'

'At least, I must have access to Esteban if you can't clear him. Perhaps. . your brother could arrange that. I'd be willing to donate five thousand dollars to any cause your brother deems worthy.'

The words, heavy and ugly, hung in the air. Janet looked away, embarrassed. 'Uh-oh,' I said quietly. 'Hold on, Senator. I can see that you're a little overwrought, but if I were you I wouldn't suggest that kind of arrangement to Garth. He might interpret it as a bribe offer, and he's very touchy about those things.'

'Damn it, Frederickson, it will be a bribe offer!' Younger's face was blanched bone white. He choked back his anger, and his next words came out in a forced, breathy whisper. 'If Esteban Morales is not released, my daughter will die.'

I felt a chill, and wasn't sure whether it was because I believed him or because of the possibility that a United States Senator and presidential hopeful was a lunatic. I settled for something in between and tried to regulate my tone of voice accordingly. 'I don't understand, Senator.'

'Really?' he said tightly. 'I thought I was making myself perfectly clear.' Younger was still shaken, but now he had his anger and desperation under control. He took a deep, shuddering breath and slowly let it out. 'My daughter's life is totally dependent on Esteban. Linda has cystic fibrosis. As you probably know, doctors consider the disease incurable. The normal pattern is for a sufferer to die in his or her teens, usually from pulmonary complications. By the time Linda was fourteen, we'd consulted the finest specialists in the world and were given no hope; my wife and I were told that Linda would die within a year. Then we heard of Esteban, and we felt we had nothing to lose by going to him for help. He's been treating Linda in his own, very special way-for ten years. She's now twenty-four. But Linda needs him again; her lungs are filling with mucus.'

I could see how the medical establishment might be made a little nervous by Esteban Morales' activities; false hope could be the most insidious of poisons. Under the best of circumstances-meaning when I didn't have a Nobel laureate to poke at-it didn't sound like the kind of case I'd be too eager to take on. If Morales was a hoaxer- or a killer-I had no desire to be the bearer of bad tidings to a man with William Younger's emotional involvement.

'How does Esteban treat your daughter, Senator?' I asked, finding myself naturally slipping into the familiar usage of the healer's first name. 'With drugs?'

Younger shook his head. 'Esteban just touches her; he moves his hands up and down her body. Sometimes he seems to be in a trance, but I don't think he is. It's. . very hard to explain. You have to see him do it.'

'How much does he charge for these treatments of his?'

Younger looked surprised. 'He doesn't charge anything. I'm told that most psychic healers-the good ones, anyway-won't take money. They feel it interferes with the source of their power, whatever that may be.' Younger laughed shortly, without humor. 'Esteban prefers to live simply-off Social Security, a pension check and small gifts from friends. He's a retired metal-shop foreman.' He smiled thinly. 'Doesn't sound like your average rip-off artist, does he, Frederickson?'

It was true that Esteban didn't exactly match the mental picture I'd been sketching of him. 'Senator,' I said, tapping my fingertips lightly on the desk beside me, 'why don't you hold a press conference and describe to the public what you feel Esteban has done for your daughter? It could do more good than hiring a private detective; coming from you, I guarantee such a statement would get the police moving.'

Younger grimaced. 'It could also get me locked up in a mental institution. At the least, I'd be voted out of office-perhaps recalled. My state's in the Bible Belt, you know, and there'd be a great deal of misunderstanding. Both Linda and I would be ridiculed. Esteban isn't a religious man in my constituents' sense of the word-meaning he doesn't claim to receive his powers from God. I'm not sure he even believes in God. Even if he did, I doubt it would make much difference.' The Senator's painful grimace became a bitter smile that slowly faded. 'I've found that most so-called religious people prefer their miracles. . well aged. You'll forgive me if I sound selfish, but I'd like to try to save Linda's life without demolishing my career. I'm egotistical enough to really believe … I have something to offer my country. If all else fails, then I'll hold the press conference you suggest.' He paused and looked at me a long time. Then he said softly, 'Now will you take the job?'

The business with Smathers had just begun, and I hadn't wanted that job. Now, just hours later, I was being asked to take on a second investigation that looked to be stranger and more unpleasant than the first. I wasn't exactly enthralled by the prospect.

When I looked at Janet, her lips silently formed the word 'Please.' I told Younger I'd see what I could find out.

Chapter 3

'How did you become involved with Esteban?' I asked Janet as I followed her out of the office into an adjacent, smaller laboratory. Younger had left to catch the shuttle flight back to Washington, and Janet had indicated that she wanted to show me something.

'Yvonne Mercado mentioned him to me; she was the one who suggested I design a research model to study him. I did, and I got the grant.'

Yvonne Mercado was another friend, although not as close as Janet. 'Where did Yvonne hear about him?'

Janet shrugged. 'Well, I suppose cultural anthropologists get involved with all sorts of strange types. She told me she was introduced to him in Miami while she was researching some of the Cuban refugee groups there.' Janet paused and looked at me strangely. 'You should talk to Yvonne. She has some provocative things to say about these healers.'

'Thanks; I will. Has Esteban made you a believer?'

'Here,' she said, stopping beside a marble-topped lab table. 'Before I answer that, I want to show you this.'

The microbiologist opened a drawer under the table and took out what appeared to be a large photographic negative. In its center was the dark outline of a hand with outstretched fingers. The tips of the fingers were surrounded by waves of color; flashes of pink, red, violet and green undulated outward to a distance of two or three inches from the hand itself. The effect was oddly beautiful, and very mysterious.

'Pretty,' I said. 'What is it?'

'It's a Kirlian photograph. The technique is named after a Russian who invented it a few decades ago. By the way, the Russians are far ahead of us in the field of parapsychology.'

I knew: the Rafferty case again. What had started out as a lazy Friday was turning into a very strange day filled with haunting memories and racking tensions.

'They're very good at this kind of research,' Janet continued quietly. 'Healing, ESP, clairvoyance-that sort of thing. Kirlian photography is supposed to show what's known as the human aura, part of the energy that all living things radiate. The technique itself is quite simple: you put the test subject-or object-into a circuit with an unexposed photographic plate, run a small current through the circuit while the subject touches the plate with some part of the body-in this case the hand.' She pointed to the print I was holding. 'This is the sort of thing you end up with.'

'Esteban?' I asked, tapping the print.

'No; me. That's an 'average' aura, if you will.' She reached back into the drawer and withdrew another set of negatives; she studied them, then handed one to me. 'This is Esteban.'

The print looked no more spectacular than Janet's, and I told her so.

'You might say that's Esteban at rest; he's not thinking about healing.' Janet handed me another print. 'Here he is with his batteries charged.'

The print startled me. The bands of color were erupting from the fingers-especially the index and middle fingers. The apogee of the waves extended beyond the borders of the print. It reminded me of pictures I'd seen of

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