All that remains, p.13
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       All That Remains, p.13
 

           Patricia Cornwell

  "Welcome to the big town of Six Mile," Marino announced.

  "What town?"

  There was no skyline, not so much as a single convenience store or gas station in sight. Roadsides were dense with trees, the Blue Ridge a haze in the distance, and houses were poor and spread so far apart a cannon could go off without your neighbor hearing it.

  Hilda Ozimek, psychic to the FBI and oracle to the Secret Service, lived in a tiny white frame house with white-painted tires in the front yard where pansies and tulips probably grew in the spring. Dead cornstalks leaned against the porch, and in the drive was a rusting Chevrolet Impala with flat tires. A mangy dog began to bark, ugly as sin and big enough to give me pause as I considered getting out of the car. Then he trotted off on three legs, favoring his right front paw, as the front screen door screeched open and a woman squinted at us in the bright, cold morning.

  "Be still, Tootie."

  She patted the dog's neck. "Now go on around back."

  The dog hung his head, tail wagging, and limped off to the backyard.

  "Good morning," Marino said, his feet heavy on the front wooden steps.

  At least he intended to be polite, and there had been no guarantee of that.

  "It is a fine morning," Hilda Ozimek said.

  She was at least sixty and looked as country as corn bread. Black polyester pants were stretched over wide hips, a beige sweater buttoned up to her neck, and she wore thick socks and loafers. Her eyes were light blue, hair covered by a red head rag. She was missing several teeth. I doubted Hilda Ozimek ever looked in a mirror or gave a thought to her physical self unless she was forced to by discomfort or pain.

  We were invited into a small living room cluttered with musty furniture and bookcases filled with a variety of unexpected volumes not arranged in any sort of sensible order. There were books on religion and psychology, biographies and histories, and a surprising assortment of novels by some of my favorite authors: Alice Walker, Pat Conroy, and Keri Hulme. The only hint of our hostess's otherworldly inclinations was several works by Edgar Cayce and half a dozen or so crystals placed about on tables and shelves. Marino and I were seated on a couch near a kerosene heater, Hilda across from us in an overstuffed chair, sunlight from the window behind her shining through the open blinds and painting white bars across her face.

  "I hope you had no trouble, and I am so sorry I couldn't come get you. But I don't drive anymore."

  "Your directions were excellent," I reassured her. "We had no problem finding your house."

  "If you don't mind my asking," Marino said, "how do you get around? I didn't see a store or nothing within walking distance."

  "Many people come here for readings or just to talk. Somehow, I always have what I need or can get a ride."

  A telephone rang in another room, and was instantly silenced by an answering machine.

  "How may I help you?" Hilda asked.

  "I brought photographs," Marino replied. "The Doc said you wanted to see them. But there's a couple things I want to clear up first. No offense or nothing, Miss Ozimek, but this mind-reading stuff is something I've never put much stock in. Maybe you can help me understand it better."

  For Marino to be so forthright without a trace of combativeness in his tone was uncommon, and I glanced over at him, rather startled. He was studying Hilda with the openness of a child, his expression an odd mix of curiosity and melancholy.

  "First, let me say that I'm not a mind reader," Hilda replied matter-of-factly. "And I don't even feel comfortable with being called a psychic, but for lack of a better term, I suppose, that is how I am referred to and how I refer to myself. All of us have the capability. Sixth sense, some part of our brain most people choose not to use. I explain it as an enhanced intuition. I feel energy coming from people and just relay the impressions that come into my mind."

  "Which is what you did when Pat Harvey was with you," he said.

  She nodded. "She took me into Debbie's bedroom, showed me photographs of her, and then she took me to the rest stop where the Jeep was found."

  "What impressions did you get?" I inquired.

  Staring off, she thought hard for a moment. "I can't remember all of them. That's the thing. It's the same when I give readings. People come back to me later and tell me about something I said and what's happened since. I don't always remember what I've said until I'm' reminded."

  "Do you remember anything you said to Mrs. Harvey?"

  Marino wanted to know, and he sounded disappointed.

  "When she showed me Debbie's picture, I knew right away the girl was dead."

  "What about the boyfriend?" Marino asked.

  "I saw his picture in the newspaper and knew he was dead. I knew both of them were dead."

  "So you been reading about these cases in the newspaper," Marino then said.

  "No," Hilda answered. "I don't take the newspaper. But I saw the boy's picture because Mrs. Harvey had clipped it out to show me. She didn't have a photograph of him, only of her daughter, you see."

  "You mind explaining how you knew they was dead?"

  "It was something I felt. An impression I got when I touched their pictures."

  Reaching into his back pocket and pulling out his wallet, Marino said, "If I give you a picture of someone, can you do the same thing? Give me your impressions?"

  "I'll try," she said as he handed her a snapshot.

  Closing her eyes, she rubbed her fingertips over the photograph in slow circles. This went on for at least a minute before she spoke again. "I'm getting guilt. Now, I don't know if it's because this woman was feeling guilty when the picture was taken, or if it's because she's feeling that way now. But that's coming in real strong. Conflict, guilt. Back and forth. She's made up her mind one minute, then doubting herself the next. Back and forth."

  "Is she alive?"

  Marino asked, clearing his throat.

  "I feel that she is alive," Hilda replied, still rubbing.

  "I'm also getting the impression of a hospital. Something medical. Now I don't know if this means that she's sick or if someone close to her is. But something medical is involved, a concern. Or maybe it will be involved at some future point."

  "Anything else?" Marino asked.

  She shut her eyes again and rubbed the photograph a little longer. "A lot of conflict," she repeated. "It's as if something's past but it's hard for her to let it go. Pain. And yet she feels she has no choice. That's all that's coming to me."

  She looked up at Marino.

  When he retrieved the photograph, his face was red. Returning the wallet to his pocket without saying a word, he unzipped his briefcase and got out a microcassette tape recorder and a manila envelope containing a series of retrospective photographs that began at the logging road in New Kent County and ended in the woods where Deborah Harvey's and Fred Cheney's bodies had been found. Hilda spread them out on the coffee table and began rubbing her fingers over each one. For a very long time she said nothing, eyes closed as the telephone continued to ring in the other room. Each time the, machine intervened, and she did not seem to notice. I was deciding that her skills were in more demand than those of any physician.

  "I'm picking up fear," she began talking rapidly. "Now, I don't know if it's because someone was feeling fear when these pictures were taken, or if it's because someone was feeling fear in these places at some earlier time. But fear."

  She nodded, eyes still shut. "I'm definitely picking it up with each picture. All of them. Very strong fear."

  Like the blind, Hilda moved her fingers from photograph to photograph, reading something that seemed as tangible to her as the features of a person's face.

  "I feel death here," she went on, touching three different photographs. "I feel that strong."

  They were photographs of the clearing where the bodies were found. "But I don't feel it here."

  Her fingers moved back to photographs of the logging road and a section of woods where I had walked when being led to the clearing
in the rain.

  I glanced over at Marino. He was leaning forward on the couch, elbows on his knees, his eyes fixed on Hilda. So far, she wasn't telling us anything dramatic. Neither Marino nor I had ever assumed that Deborah and Fred had been murdered on the logging road, but in the clearing where their bodies were found.

  "I see a man," Hilda went on. "Light-complected. He's not real tall. Not short. Medium height and slender. But not skinny. Now, I don't know who it is, but since nothing is coming to me strongly, I'll have to assume it was someone who had an encounter with the couple. I'm picking up friendliness. I'm hearing laughter. It's like he was, you know, friendly with the couple. Maybe they met him somewhere, and I can't tell you why I'm thinking this, but I'm feeling as if they were laughing with him at some point. Trusted him."

  Marino spoke. "Can you see anything else about him? About the way he looked?"

  She continued rubbing the photographs. "I'm seeing darkness. It's possible he has a dark beard or something dark over part of his face. Maybe he's dressed in dark clothing. But I'm definitely picking him up in connection with the couple and with the place where the pictures were taken."

  Opening her eyes, she stared up at the ceiling. "I'm feeling that the first meeting was a friendly encounter. Nothing to make them worry. But then there's fear. It's so strong in this place, the woods."

  "What else?"

  Marino was so intense, the veins were standing out in his neck. If he leaned forward another inch, he was going to fall off the couch.

  "Two things," she said. "They may not mean anything but they're coming to me. I have a sense of another place that's not in these pictures, and I'm feeling this in connection with the girl. She might have been taken somewhere or gone somewhere. Now this place could be close by. Maybe it's not. I don't know, but I'm getting a sense of crowdedness, of things grabbing. Of panic, a lot of noise and motion. Nothing about these impressions is good. And then there is something lost. I'm seeing this as something metal that has to do with war. I'm not getting anything more about that except I don't feel anything bad - I'm not picking up that the object itself is harmful."

  "Who lost whatever this metal thing is?" Marino inquired.

  "I have a sense that this is a person who is still alive. I'm not getting an image, but I feel this is a man. He perceives the item as lost versus discarded and is not real worried about it, but there is some concern. As if whatever he has lost enters his mind now and then."

  She fell silent as the telephone rang again.

  I asked, "Did you mention any of this to Pat Harvey last fall?"

  "When she wanted to see me," Hilda replied, "the bodies had not been found. I didn't have these pictures."

  "Then you did not get any of these same impressions."

  She thought hard. "We went to the rest stop and she led me right over to where the Jeep was found. I stood there for a while. I remember there was a knife."

  "What knife?" Marino asked.

  "I saw a knife."

  "What kind of knife?" he asked, and I recalled that Gail, the dog handler, had borrowed Marino's Swiss army knife when opening the Jeep's doors.

  "A long knife," Hilda said. "Like a hunting knife or maybe some kind of military knife. It seems there was something about the handle. Black and rubbery, maybe, with one of those blades I associate with cutting through hard things like wood."

  "I'm not sure I understand," I said, even though I had a good idea what she meant. I did not want to lead her.

  "With teeth. Like a saw. I guess serrated is what I'm trying to say," she replied.

  "This is what came into your mind when you was standing out there at the rest stop?"

  Marino asked, staring at her in disbelief.

  "I did not feel anything that was frightening," she said.

  "But I saw the knife, and I knew it was not the couple who had been in the Jeep when it was left where it was. I did not feel their presence at that rest stop. They were never there."

  She paused, closing her eyes again, brow furrowed. "I remember feeling anxiety. I had the impression of someone anxious and in a hurry. I saw darkness. Like it was night. Then someone was walking quickly. I couldn't see who it was."

  "Can you see this individual now?" I asked.

  "No. I can't see him."

  "Hint!" I said.

  She paused again. "I believe my feeling was that it was a man."

  It was Marino who spoke. "You told Pat Harvey all this when you was with her at the rest stop?"

  "Some of it, yes," Hilda replied. "I don't remember everything I said."

  "I need to walk around," Marino muttered, getting up from the couch. Hilda did not seem surprised or concerned as he went out, the screen door slamming shut behind him.

  "Hilda," I said, "when you met with Pat Harvey, did you pick up anything about her? Did you get any sense: that she knew something, for example, about what might have happened to her daughter?"

  "I picked up guilt real strong, like she was feeling responsible. But this would be expected. When I dead, with the relatives of someone who has disappeared or been killed, I always pick up guilt. What was a little more unusual was her aura."

  "Her aura?"

  I knew what an aura was in medicine, a sensation that can precede the onset of a seizure. But I did not think this was what Hilda meant.

  "Auras are invisible to most people," she explained. "I see them as colors. An aura surrounding a person. A color. Pat Harvey's aura was gray."

  "Does that mean something?"

  "Gray is neither death nor life," she said. "I associate it with illness. Someone sick of body, mind, or soul. As if something is draining the color from her life."

  "I suppose that makes sense when you consider her emotional state at the time," I pointed out.

  "It might. But I remember that it gave me a bad feeling. I picked up that she might be in some sort of danger. Her energy wasn't good, wasn't positive or healthy. I felt she was at risk for opening herself up to harm, or maybe bringing harm upon herself through her own doings."

  "Have you ever seen a gray aura before?"

  "Not often."

  I could not resist asking, "Are you picking up a color from me?"

  "Yellow with a little brown mixed in."

  "That's interesting," I said, surprised. "I never wear either color. In fact, I don't believe I have anything yellow or brown inside my house. But I love sunlight and chocolate."

  "Your aura has nothing to do with colors or foods you like."

  She smiled. "Yellow can mean spiritual. And brown I associate with good sense, practical. Someone grounded in reality. I see your aura as being very' spiritual but also very practical. Now mind you, that is my interpretation. For each person, colors mean a different thing."

  "And Marino?"

  "A thin margin of red. That's what I see around him," she said. "Red often means anger. But he needs more red, I think."

  "You're not serious," I said, for the last thing I would have thought that Marino needed was more anger.

  "When someone is low on energy, I tell them they need more red in their life. It gives energy. Makes you get things done, fight against your troubles. Red can be real good if channeled properly. But I get the sense he is afraid of what he is feeling, and this is what is weakening, him."

  "Hilda, have you seen pictures of the other couples who disappeared?"

  She nodded. "Mrs. Harvey had their pictures. From the newspaper."

  "And did you touch them, read them?"

  "I did."

  "What did you perceive?"

  "Death," she said. "All of the young people were dead."

  "What about the light-complected man who may, have, a beard or something dark over part of his face?"

  She paused. "I don't know. But I do remember picking", up this friendliness I mentioned. Their initial encounter was not one of fear. I had the impression that none of the young people were afraid at first."

  "I want to ask you about a card now," I
said. "You mentioned that you read people's cards. Are you talking about playing cards?"

  "You can use most anything. Tarot cards, a crystal ball. It doesn't matter. These things are tools. It's whatever makes it easy for you to concentrate. But yes, I use a deck of playing cards."

  "How does that work?"

  "I ask the person to cut the cards, then I begin to pick one at a time and tell what impressions come to mind."

  "Were you to pick the jack of hearts, would there be any special significance?" I asked.

 
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