The howl of the wind reminded Catherine Mans of the voices of lost souls as it shook the old house, rattling the window panes. A single candle flickered and died as the faded drapes gave way to the drafts pushing them. Catherine pulled the frayed blanket closer around her shoulders, sipped the lukewarm tea and waited, even though she wasn’t sure exactly what she was waiting for.
The room grew steadily colder, a constant reminder of her plight. No money. No job. No hope. Her stomach rumbled and she glanced at the single pack of crackers on the table. She would need those tomorrow.
Catherine sighed heavily and bowed her head. There was nothing she could do. Her only talent lay in the ability to see what others could not. To hear the voices of the dead, and sometimes the living as they cried out in pain and desperation. A talent no one wanted to buy.
Her face flushed, warming her body as she remembered the humiliation from earlier that morning. Desperation and hunger had led her to the police station to offer her talents there. She had fled in tears, the sounds of rude laughter ringing in her ears. Destiny? Fate? The wrong officer on the wrong day? Perhaps, but she didn’t have the courage to try again. Never again.
A familiar tiredness washed over her. She fought the trance. What good was it to see things if no one believed you? The sensation grew stronger as she grew weaker, her eyes slowly closing.
The vision was clear and Catherine found herself standing in the howling snow, watching the red and blue lights flash. She watched as the patrol car parked in front of her house. The officer sat there, hands clenched tightly around the steering wheel. He stared at her door, hesitating, weighing his options. He looked too young to be a police officer, but the clear gray eyes held a strength that told her he was older than he looked. And that he had seen things no one should have to see. He was clean shaven, blonde hair closely cropped in military style which only added to his youthful appearance.
Catherine continued to watch as he signed, wrenched his hands from the wheel, squared his shoulders, opened the door and stepped into the blinding snow. She felt desperation, frustration and fear emanating from him as he followed his steps toward her front door.
The sound of angry pounding jerked her from the vision. Her hands trembled. Pulling the blanket closer against the chill in the room she made her way to the door.
Even though she had just watched him walk up the walkway, the shock of staring into those clear gray eyes almost caused her to slam the door in his face.
“Catherine Mans?” “Yes.” Catherine hated the sound of her voice. It sounded weak, afraid. They couldn’t arrest her for just offering her services. She stiffened her spine, raising her head to meet his stony gaze. Why was he so angry?
“We don’t have much time. Can I come in?”
His voice echoed the same desperation and frustration she had felt earlier. Opening the door she stepped aside, watching as his gaze swept over the meager furnishings before coming back to her.
“I don’t know if you’re real or not, but we have a three-year-old boy lost in this snowstorm and we’re running out of time. If you’re real, then for God’s sake help us. If you’re not, then don’t waste my time. There’s a thousand dollar reward that. . .”
“Let’s go.” Catherine pushed him toward the door, rushing ahead of him as she struggled through the knee-deep snow, wind whipping through the old blanket.
Grasping the car door, Catherine pulled it open and quickly climbed in. Gasping from the cold, she shivered in the warmth of the patrol car.
“Give me your key, and I’ll go back and get your coat.”
“I don’t have one,” she snapped. “You’re wasting time. Do you have a picture?”
Taking the seat next to her, his gaze raked her features, as if seeing her for the first time. Catherine struggled to control the shivering. She knew what he was seeing. The auburn curls matted to her pale face. The worn out shoes. The jeans and flannel shirt a size too big.
“How old are you,” he asked.
Catherine met his gaze with what she hoped was more confidence that she felt.
Reaching above the visor, he handed her a picture of a small boy laughing at some unseen antic of the photographer. His soulful brown eyes reached out to her, touching her, wrapping her in warmth, pulling her toward him.
“What’s his name?”
She felt the hesitation, skepticism. “It doesn’t work that way.” She wanted to scream at him, but her words come out as a whisper through chattering teeth.
“Danny.” He looked away from her, staring into the blowing snow.
Catherine ignored the emotion filled car as her shivering stopped and the familiar tiredness enveloped her. She closed her eyes, watching the flashes of white. Hearing the sounds of laughter. Running. She followed the sounds. He was chasing something. More laughter. Crawling. Cold. Hungry. “Mommy? Daddy?” He was scared. His hands were so cold. No, they were warm. Touching something. Something warm, furry. Hugging. A kitten. He was hugging a kitten.
Catherine felt the warmth of tears running down her face as the onslaught of emotions reached out to her from the young child. He was so cold. His eyes were stinging from the wind. His cries turned to whimpers. A large object loomed before him. “No, Danny,” she whispered. “Dear, God, no.”
“Landfill, junkyard, a place where old refrigerators are stored.” Catherine reached for her seatbelt and buckled it. “We have to hurry.”
Cody Allen didn’t move, simply stared at her.
“Start the damn, car!”
“The closest junkyard or landfill is two miles away from where the kid disappeared. There’s no way he could have made it that far in this weather.”
Catherine stared at him in disbelief and disgust. He’d come to her, asked for her help. The little boy was still alive, but he wouldn’t be much longer. Rage boiled inside her. If he wasn’t going to believe her, then why had he come? Danny’s feelings washed over her, the warmth, the laughter—the cold, the fear. If he died she would be left with those feelings for the rest of her life.
“Damn you,” she hissed, opening the door and climbing out into the howling wind. Tears of frustration froze on her eyelids as she once again struggled through the snow. She didn’t feel the cold, or hear the slamming of the door before a strong hand seized her arm, jerking her around to face him.
“What the hell do you think you’re doing?” The clear gray eyes had turned cold blue.
“I’m trying to save a child’s life.” Catherine shook off the hand.
“Get back in the car.”
“Go to hell.”
“Ms. Mans. . .Catherine, please. You’ll never find him in time.”
Catherine stopped, swallowing the remark on the tip of her tongue, along with what little pride she had left.
“Please, get back in the car.”
The authority was gone from his voice now. Catherine knew he was right. All she would accomplish was giving the city two bodies. She’d never find the junkyard in time, and her pride wasn’t worth Danny’s life.
Catherine refused his help as she made her way back through the snow to the car, opened her door and slammed it shut behind her. She stared ahead, ignoring him as he started the car and turned up the heat.
The rode in silence as the wail of the police siren competed with the howling of the wind. The streets were empty. Cold, stark and lonely.
He reached for the radio. “This is car 97, I need an ambulance at the junkyard at the corner of Seventh and Steele Street.”
The radio squawked. “What’s the code, 97?”
Cody glanced at Catherine. “Just send the ambulance.”
Catherine closed her eyes, struggling to feel the lifeline that would tell her the child was still alive. It was weak, but still there.
“You know, if you’re wrong you just cost me my badge.”
“Your badge?” Catherine turned on him, her voice filled with the contempt she felt. “If I’m wrong, I just cost a child his life.”
Turning away from him, Catherine bit her lip. Welcoming the pain. For some reason he was really getting under her skin. She’d dealt with skeptics before, but his was something more. Something personal. Why hadn’t he called for backup?
The gates to the junkyard loomed before them.
“Damn, I forgot about the gates.” The car slowed.
A slight smiled played around her lips as he heard his mumbled oath. The locks were old and the gates crashed open as the cruiser plowed through them. Not waiting for him to completely stop, Catherine ripped off the seat belt and rushed from the car. Her gaze scanned the fence line, looking for small holes underneath. Danny had crawled under a fence chasing the kitten. He was close. She could feel it. Wind whipped her hair and the old blanket, still wrapped around her small frame offered no resistance to the freezing chill that enveloped her. She had to be quick for Danny’s sake, as well as her own. Stinging tears filled her eyes as she scanned the snow covered piles of debris and old appliances.
“The refrigerator is gold,” Catherine screamed as she ran, spotting it in the distance. How could she have forgotten that? She heard the sound of the ambulance approaching, heard Cody’s yell, but the wind carried his words away from her. “Dear God, please let him still be alive,” she prayed. Her hands shook as she reached for the handle. How long had he been in there? The hinges of the old door squeaked as she jerked it loose. His tiny body was curled into a ball, wrapped around the small black kitten held tightly in his arms. “Please. . .” Catherine sobbed as her trembling hands reached out to the small still form.
“Strong fingers closed around her wrist. “I’ll do it.”
Catherine stepped back to give him room, watching as he reached in to pick up the child. She heard the sound of his whispered prayer, running footsteps coming toward them. She held her breath as he cradled the child in his arms. Waited for the words that would tell her, but he seemed unable to speak and simply stared at her. Even after the paramedics removed the child from his arms he continued to start her at.
“He’s alive. They’re both alive.”