Dark Impulse Ch. 07byAurora Black©
St. George's Rare Books,
"Sound check, one, two, three."
Gabriel sat at one of the small tables that bordered the stage, watching absently as the band went through its warm-up before the evening crowd was due to arrive. It was 7:30pm; the show wasn't set to begin for another half an hour.
His brow furrowed in distaste. A live band for three performances a week? A full bar that serves drinks and light meals after dark while the customers browse the shelves? Jesus, this wasn't what I had in mind when I built this place from the ground up. St. George's is on its way to becoming a freaking Barnes and Noble, for Christ's sake.
On stage, the band began to practice a jazz number. The singer took her position at the microphone, and her sultry voice reached every corner of the room as she launched into the song.
I'm feelin' mighty lonesome, haven't slept a wink,
I walk the floor and watch the door,
And in between I drink black coffee...
Gabriel jumped at the sudden touch of a hand on his shoulder. He stiffened and turned, and he let out a sigh of relief when he saw that it was Gran.
"Lord have mercy, my dear boy! You looked as if you were expecting to see the Devil himself behind you!"
Rebecca Knight's eyes, which were normally lively and bright, were shadowed with worry over her only grandson. Gabriel saw this and immediately felt guilty. "I'm really sorry, Gran. I was just deep in thought and you startled me."
She didn't look convinced; she knew that there was something deeper going on, something that Gabriel wasn't willing to admit to. She sat down across from him, searching his face for answers.
"You've been lost in your thoughts all week. What's troubling you, dear?"
Gabriel sighed heavily. "Where can I start? I have a lot on my mind."
Gran reached out for his hand, and squeezed it firmly.
"I have an idea. Start at the smallest problem and work your way up."
He glanced around at the newly revamped St. George's. "Well, I am having a hard time adjusting to what you've done to the place. I really liked the old shop the way it was, and now I feel like I'm on another planet."
"Oh, honey. Things were bound to change sooner or later. The customers have been pouring in ever since your first book sold so well, and the pressure was on for the shop to evolve so it can accommodate the steady flow of business that has increased even more since you wrote the two sequels."
Gran leaned forward in her seat with a conspiratorial grin. "And don't forget that you also have a fan following that's eagerly awaiting a fourth installment. They were left breathless from that cliffhanger ending that you wrote for the last one, when Fujitsu left... oh, dear. I'm sorry, sugar."
Gabriel gave a smile that he didn't feel. "That's all right, Gran. Let's move on."
Rebecca's heart ached at his crestfallen expression when she carelessly mentioned Fujitsu, Grace's fictional alter ego that Gabriel used in his novels. She had liked Grace very much; she believed that if there was any woman that was the perfect match for her grandson, it was her. She was intelligent, beautiful, and had more than enough courage and spirit to hold her own in whatever she did.
She remembered the last time that she saw Grace; it was a year before, when Grace came to New Orleans to deliver an art lecture at Tulane. Rebecca had attended the lecture, and went to see her afterwards. Grace was uncomfortable at first, but she soon came around and they spent the rest of the day together before she flew out that evening. They toured around the city, did some shopping and talked for hours about anything and everything.
Except about Gabriel. That was the only topic that was forbidden; whenever Rebecca tried to steer the conversation in that direction, Grace completely froze and shut down all her efforts. A few months later, when she went to visit Gabriel in Germany and he told her the details, she understood why Grace reacted that way at the mention of his name.
Returning her thoughts to the present, she regarded her grandson and silently prayed for God to ease his pain as well as Grace's. My dear children. Somehow the two of you have to make peace with the past, and with each other.
"Go on, son. I'm here for you."
Gabriel pushed on. "It's also strange to be here again after so many years. There are so many memories here, some of which I'd like to forget. I feel as if old ghosts are waiting for me, just below the surface."
Gran nodded knowingly. "No matter what happens, you must remember that God is on your side. And you also have the support of all those who came before you; your grandfather, Wolfgang, and even your father stands beside you in spirit."
Despite himself, he felt his eyes begin to water and he quickly blinked to prevent tears from forming. He cleared his throat to conceal his moment of weakness, but Gran wasn't fooled.
Gabriel smiled in relief. "Thanks, Gran."
Rebecca smiled back. "You're very welcome, my dear. What else bothers you?"
"All right. This is a big one, but not as major as what's coming. Christ, I don't know how to say this, so please bear with me. I've been thinking long and hard about my life, about everything that's happened in the past few years and how I've changed as a result."
He leaned forward, locking eyes with Gran. "The whole experience with the Voodoo Murders was like a giant Pandora's Box for me; it released all these different forces inside me, feelings that I'd never known before. Then, I learned about the actual, clear-cut boundaries between good and evil. I fell in love for the first time ever and then lost that person soon after. I realized that I could be counted on by others, and so on."
He cleared his throat briefly before continuing. "From the Munich wolf killings, I saw that there are times when the enemy is difficult to recognize. I appreciated the importance of having friends in one's corner during hard times, and I found out about the dangers of being too alone in the world."
Alone. God, I'm so tired of being alone.
"From the Night Stalker case, I learned... Jesus!"
Gabriel stared at the wood finish of the table, unsure of how to put his feelings into words. In the distance he could hear the clock chiming eight times, and the soft murmurs of incoming people.
"I learned that when you have something wonderful in your life, you should make an effort to hold on to it by all means. God, I was stupid. She didn't deserve to be treated like she didn't matter; she mattered a hell of a lot more to me than she knew. She couldn't take any more of my shit and she left, and she didn't know how I felt because I never told her! I was always keeping things from her, and I was too quick to dismiss her valuable opinions whenever we were on a case..."
Damn it, I was always shutting her out, even when she was trying to help me.
Gabriel had trailed off, and Gran waited patiently until he spoke again.
"I should have told her that I loved her, Gran. Grace helped me to understand the importance of second chances. She was my second chance at love, but I didn't recognize the opportunity when it was right in front of me. It wasn't until she was gone that I realized how much she was a part of my life. I want the chance to make it up to her, to tell her how sorry I am that I let her down."
Rebecca wiped away tears, wishing that she could help relieve his burden.
"Do you still love her, my child?"
Gabriel didn't hesitate. "Absolutely."
"But Gabriel, so much time has passed..."
He held a hand up, not willing to hear the same argument again. "I know, Gran. It was my mistake, waiting so long to try and set things right. I would undo it if I could. But when I tell you my worst problem, you'll understand why it doesn't matter."
It was on the tip of Rebecca's tongue to ask him to continue, and she would have if she didn't see someone trying to get her attention from across the room. It was time for the show, and as the manager, she had to make an appearance. Her sigh echoed her frustration as she rose from her chair.
"I'm so sorry, sweetheart. I have to make my rounds around the place. This conversation is not over, okay? I want to hear everything. I'll see you later."
She leaned down to gently kiss Gabriel's forehead before taking her leave. He watched her go, noting the gathering crowd entering the bookstore. Ηis eyes flicked briefly over each patron's face, searching in vain for a glimpse of Grace.
Gabriel sighed as he signaled for the waitress to bring him a beer. The band was performing full force, the infectious energy of the jazz spreading to almost everyone within earshot. Shouts of "yeah" and "all right" were audible in the crowded establishment, along with the sounds of claps, snapping fingers and tapping feet.
The only ones not affected by the atmosphere were himself and a stranger.
He was sipping his beer and half-heartedly listening to the music when the man arrived. He heard the faint jingle of bells and automatically looked toward the door, and was startled when he saw that the tall blond man was staring straight at him. The man just stood there in the doorway, watching him for a long moment before stepping fully inside.
Gabriel felt as if he was being measured up for something, being tested by some unknown list of criteria to see if he was suitable for an unknown purpose. He wasn't sure what to make of the whole thing.
The stranger's eyes were an odd color of grayish-blue, like storm clouds reflected in the sea. They glittered with intelligence and something else that Gabriel couldn't identify. He wasn't sure if he even wanted to identify it; he wasn't in the mood for socializing at the moment, not with all that he had on his mind. But something inside urged him to approach the man and see what would happen next.
He rose from his chair, his beer forgotten as he strode toward the entrance where the mysterious man waited for him. "Gabriel Knight, I presume?"
He detected an Irish lilt in the stranger's voice; along with the elegantly tailored suit and expensive watch that he wore, Gabriel guessed that he was dealing with a successful man of the world. Or at least someone who worked for such a man.
"Yes, I am. What can I do for you, Mr...?"
The man's smile appeared like the sun emerging from behind a cloud, and Gabriel liked him instantly. The two men warmly shook hands. "How rude of me! My name is Liam Kilpatrick. At your service, Mr. Knight."
"To what do I owe this pleasure, Mr. Kilpatrick?"
Liam glanced cautiously around where they stood before leaning toward Gabriel. He lowered his voice to a whisper. "I have a business proposition for you. Could we have a word outside?"
"Certainly. Just give me a minute and I'll meet you there."
Gabriel went to put on his jacket when he saw Gran watching him with a curious expression. He walked up to her and gave her a quick hug.
"I've got to go, Gran. I'll see you later at the house."
"Who was that man? What does he want?"
"I don't know yet, but I have a feeling that it's important. I'll fill you in later."
"Be careful, son."
Gabriel strode out of the shop and joined Liam on the street. The evening twilight gave way to darkness as they walked together down Bourbon Street. His eyes sparkled as he looked around at his old neighborhood. How he'd missed this street, the entire French Quarter! It never slept; there was always something interesting going on for those who longed for adventure the way he had.
It would find him; not in New Orleans, but over a thousand miles away.
They stopped underneath a street lamp to talk. With the exception of a few drunk college students darting in and out of the many clubs and strip joints and the occasional patrol cop on horseback, the two men were alone.
"Okay, Mr. Kilpatrick. You have my undivided attention."
"Please, call me Liam."
"Only if you'll call me Gabriel."
"Very well then, Gabriel. I am here on behalf of my employer, David Anami."
Gabriel felt his stomach clench at the reminder of the killing that had occurred a week before. Once he arrived in town and reunited with Gran, he had forced himself to put the horrifying images and sensations that he'd experienced that day out of his mind in order to enjoy his stay and to concentrate on his plans for finding Grace. He had also spent the past week waiting for Mosely to call him with information on her whereabouts, but he never got back to him.
Maybe he changed his mind about helping me after all.
He cleared his throat, returning to the present.
"I see. And how did Mr. Anami know about my services?"
Liam paused as if he was deciding on how much to tell Gabriel.
"Mr. Anami and his wife are good friends with Prince James of Albany. Recently on a trip to Paris, he confided in His Highness about his particular situation and you were highly recommended."
"Well, it's nice to know that my former client is satisfied with my work. What situation would that be, exactly? Is it related to the recent killing?"
A wolfish smile briefly transformed Liam's features before disappearing as if it had never been. "I'm afraid that I'm not at liberty to say, Gabriel. Mr. Anami will tell you himself, if you decide to accept the assignment, of course."
Gabriel's eyes narrowed, but inside he was intrigued by the offer.
"Could you give me a general idea of what this case involves? It's my custom to do some preliminary research before I accept an assignment."
Liam's eyes widened slightly, and he turned to watch the black sky for a moment before his gaze returned to Gabriel's face. "Very well, then. I'm sure that Anami wouldn't object."
He leaned toward Gabriel, the street light shining into his eyes and making the pupils contract until they were just black specks that swam in the stormy depths of his irises. Gabriel began to feel a warning tingle at the base of his spine, but he needed to hear what his companion had to say. He had to know.
Liam's lips moved as if in slow motion. "Possession."
Gabriel's mouth felt as dry as a desert, and he longed for a glass of water.
"What type of possession?" He managed to croak out the words, and Liam straightened with another smile while reaching into his suit jacket.
"No more 'freebies', Gabriel. You now know everything that I've been sent to tell you, and I cannot say more. You're either in or you're out; it's that simple. By all means, take all the time you need to decide whether you want to work with us, but I need an answer by tomorrow night. I'm returning to New York on Sunday afternoon; it would please Anami very much if you were to accompany me. You will be paid very handsomely, I assure you, and you will be extended every courtesy as an honored guest."
Liam handed Gabriel his business card. "Call me when you've made a decision. I'm staying at the Ritz-Carlton, but since I'll be out all day tomorrow on an errand, it would be best if you would call me directly on my cell phone. It was a pleasure meeting you, Gabriel, and I hope that we'll see more of each other in the future."
With a brief nod, Liam strode away, leaving Gabriel to stare after him from where he stood beneath the street lamp. He glanced down at the card that he held, noting the taste and elegance of its design. He flipped it over, and the breath stopped in his throat.
On the back of the card were three words in what Gabriel assumed was Liam's handwriting: "She needs you."
Alarmed, Gabriel looked up in search of Liam's departing form, but he was gone. He had already turned the corner onto Canal Street to return to his hotel.
His heart pounding in his chest, Gabriel had the thought to run after him; he wanted to grab him, shout at him, demand that he tell him everything that he knew about Grace's whereabouts and how she was. But the patrol cop that was touring the area wouldn't have cared for his idea, and he wasn't in the mood to explain himself if he was caught in the act.
What the hell would I say? "Oh, hello Officer! No, I'm not attacking this gentleman. You see, this man has just offered to hire me on behalf of his billionaire boss because someone - or should I say something - is taking control of persons unknown and... What? Hell no, I'm not high! Or drunk! Listen, then this guy gave me his card with a message on the back that's cryptic as hell, and I think it has to do with my long lost lover!" Yeah, that would go over well.
Gabriel smirked to himself briefly, and then his face grew serious again. He turned and walked back up Bourbon Street, back to where his motorcycle was waiting. He had something else in mind first; he decided that he had waited long enough to talk to Mosely, and tonight they needed to have some words.
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