Deadly Aura

Deadly Aura

by Robert Sweeten


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Plagued by strange premonitions and recurring nightmares, New Orleans College student Anna Picard fears that she is losing her mind, following the same path as her schizophrenic mother. Earning money as a palm-reader in Jackson Square, she discovers that she knows things about those whose hands she touches, leading her to conclude that, rather than psychotic, she may be psychic.

Meanwhile, the body of a murdered girl- an unusual tattoo on its abdomen- comes across the autopsy table of forensic pathologist Ross Robillard. Before leaving on vacation, he discovers that the girl's father was also murdered, and that the killers were apparently seeking something of value. Both bodies were bound with an unusual knot called a stevedore knot.

Robillard is assaulted by thugs at the airport, the man in charge demanding a map of which the doctor has no knowledge. Escaping amid a melee on the concourse, the doctor cancels his trim and holes up in a New Orleans hotel. When the morgue assistant who aided Robillard in the child's autopsy is murdered, along with his family, the police suspect that the pathologist is somehow involved.

Having his palm read at a local fundraiser, the doctor meets Anna Picard, getting a hint of her unusual powers. When he notices that a bouquet of flowers given to her by a stranger is bound by the same distinctive knot as the two corpses, he explains the danger confronting them and insists that they stay together.

Joining forces, the couple learn that Anna's recurring dream presages an upcoming terrorist event in the nation's capital. The information needed to predict the specifics of the attack is hidden within the dead girl's tattoo. With the help of FBI agent John Picard and Robillard's estranged brother Kurt, the two rush to solve the riddle and thwart the terrorist attack.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781456799342
Publisher: AuthorHouse
Publication date: 10/28/2011
Pages: 392
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.87(d)

Read an Excerpt

Deadly Aura

By Robert Sweeten


Copyright © 2011 Robert Sweeten
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-1-4567-9934-2

Chapter One

As light yielded to darkness, the only remains of the day a pink glow that gilded the western skyline, Anna Picard began the ritual of setting up her folding chairs and card table at her usual spot in front of the Cabildo. Actually on a line between the Cabildo and St. Louis Cathedral, it was a site to which she had laid claim by means of stubborn repetition. Day after day, she returned to the spot–with its familiar grassy tufts sprouting from cracks in the dusty concrete, the pigeons wandering about in search of the odd crumb–to ply her trade along with the rest of Jackson Square's bohemians. It wasn't that it was such a prize location; she was simply fond of sameness, of routine.

Twenty-five years of age, with amber hair and pale green eyes, the shapely Anna turned heads everywhere she went. She was aware that her looks alone brought a fair number of customers to her table. It was the rare client indeed who actually placed any credence in his/ her (usually his) fortune. If one was having his palm read purely for fun anyway, having it done by a pretty woman was a bonus. Though she had no qualms about exploiting her beauty in this fashion, she was normally wary of relationships. It seemed that they always ended badly.

When she had unfolded the table and chairs, she placed her Coleman lantern atop the table and sat down. Lighting a cigarette, she settled back and watched the pedestrians moving along Decatur Street. She wouldn't need the lantern for at least another twenty minutes, and besides, twilight was her favorite part of the day. She wanted to enjoy the waning light; turning on the lantern too early would spoil it. She would resort to it only when it was too dark to see.

The main reason for her late arrival was the sweltering heat. August was typically a brutally hot month in South Louisiana, and this one was no different. Although it usually cooled down after sunset, the temperature hadn't yet changed enough to make a perceptible difference. Despite the breeze blowing in from the Gulf, inside her blouse beads of sweat trickled down Anna's sides and back. Removing a bottle of Coca-cola from a small ice chest beside her chair, she uncapped it and took a swallow, the icy drink causing her eyes to water. She set it on the table and drew from her cigarette.

Another reason for opening shop at dusk was the luxury of avoiding conflict with the legions of mimes, musicians, fortune-tellers, and artists competing for choice spots on the Square. Moreover, pursuit of the occult seemed best suited for darkness. It was only natural that one would seek to have his fortune told after nightfall. Not surprisingly, Anna's business was most brisk between dusk and midnight.

But recently things had not been well with Anna. And although she had done this numerous times in the past several months, tonight she experienced a sense of foreboding at the approach of darkness. She was apprehensive, but she had no idea why. Furtively glancing right and left, she was unable to suppress a shudder.

It worried her that she was fast becoming what her mother was–a nutcase. The cause of this–at least in part–was undoubtedly her Aunt Irma's ceaseless admonitions regarding the dangers that lurked in nighttime New Orleans. Even so, she told herself she couldn't allow her aunt's browbeating to reduce her to a quivering paranoiac, afraid of every footstep and every shadow, including her own. Anna considered herself a strong person, above such neurotic fears, and just the thought brought a flash of shame and annoyance. She subconsciously shook her head as she set out a dispenser of disinfectant hand gel.

Besides, she wasn't a fool; she could afford to be more daring than most. The Colt Commander she carried in her bag was a formidable weapon, and she was hardly a novice in its use. Her daddy had taught her to shoot at a young age, and over the years she'd maintained proficiency by dint of regular practice sessions. Anna could shoot better than most men; it was her father's only legacy.

Pumping a blob of disinfectant gel into her palm, she rubbed her hands together and watched the pigeons strut about in the fading light. She watched the distance between her and the birds gradually shrink, the creatures venturing ever closer in anticipation of her largesse. As she had done countless times before, she dug in her purse and produced a few slices of bread enclosed in a Ziploc bag. Removing a slice, she began methodically breaking it into tiny fragments.

While her hands were busy working with the bread, she glanced at the bottle of hand gel, feeling an undercurrent of fear as she fought against the urge to cleanse her hands again. Reading palms was dirty work, she reasoned. After all, she never knew where the hand she held might have been a few minutes or hours earlier. The risk of contracting infectious disease was very real; it only made sense to be careful.

But then she admitted to herself that such thoughts were nothing more than self-delusion. She had yet to touch the evening's first hand. Tossing the bits of bread onto the pavement, Anna was entertained by the rival pigeons as they vied for the tasty tidbits. But the birds were only a momentary diversion. As she watched, the subject foremost on her mind was herself.

The germophobic behavior, the excessive hand washing, the inappropriate aversion to even minor degrees of dirt and dust–Anna reluctantly admitted to herself that this was the way her mother had started. It was true that her mother's behavior had been accompanied by a collection of more significant psychiatric symptoms–some wacky, some bizarre–but it seemed to Anna that she was following a disturbingly familiar path. She could imagine no worse a fate than to be like her mother. Having observed the woman's years-long descent into the dark pit of psychosis, it seemed that death would be a welcome alternative. Anna had been in junior high school when Mary Picard was first hospitalized. By that time, she had long been aware that her mother was an odd person: strangely distant and apathetic, given to prolonged periods of silence. She had thought her mother merely eccentric, perhaps a little depressed by her father's frequent changes in posting. After all, by then Anna had known eight different homes, one of them in Germany.

But one day Anna arrived home from school to find the house disheveled, spots of spattered blood on the kitchen linoleum suggesting sinister forces at work. Anna had phoned her father, who had called the police. By late that night, Mary Picard had been discovered cowering in a nearby wooded area, naked and smeared with her own feces. The voices, she explained, had kept saying awful things to her, finally driving her to hide in the woods.

Anna had been devastated. Seeing a person you dearly loved reduced to a bleak and barren shell was a shattering experience. The family would see many more acute psychotic breaks in the coming years. By the time Anna graduated from high school, her mother had been institutionalized. At about the same time, her father had walked out of their lives. Anna had not heard from him in eight years.

She wondered if coming here had been such a good idea. It had certainly seemed so nine months ago. A big part of her reason for moving had been the proximity to John; however, he was such a workaholic that she didn't really see him any more than previously. And compared with her job with the Department of Human Services, with its endless procession of squalor, poverty, strife, and abuse, the Big Easy had seemed precisely that. A city filled with fun and entertainment, it had appealed to her sense of adventure. She had even returned to school, enrolling at New Orleans University. Everything had been new and exciting.

When her ditsy friend Paula suggested that Anna earn money through palmistry, she had assumed Paula was joking. But after thinking about it, she decided it wasn't a bad idea. She did some checking, and found that many of those who operated in Jackson Square–whether mimes, musicians, or fortunetellers–were surprisingly prosperous. And earning money reading palms was infinitely more attractive than the alternative–real work, like waiting tables or cashiering.

Spurred on by the promise of money and a spirit of adventure, she attended a class and procured books on palmistry. A few weeks later, she had obtained her license from the city and had set up shop on the square. For a while, things had been great. She made enough money to support herself, school was fun, Aunt Irma was grateful for her company, and Peter finally quit calling from Akron to harass her.

But lately her new situation had begun to lose its luster. The reality of prolonged cohabitation with her mother's sister had finally begun to take hold. Although she often spoke of her sister's problems with a baffled and sympathetic shake of the head, it was painfully obvious that Aunt Irma was not herself a shining example of mental health. Living with her was roughly the equivalent of having to listen to a fingernail continuously scraping against a blackboard. It had reached the point where Anna was considering finding her own place.

But despite what she earned on Jackson Square, if forced to pay rent, she would be reduced to what was for her an uncomfortable level of poverty. Anna was aware that she was spoiled by her current living arrangement, and the thought brought with it a brief flash of shame. She had worked hard for what she had, and couldn't bear the prospect of being constantly strapped for money again. It was gratifying to have one's financial fortunes take a swing upward, but bitter indeed to make adjustments in the opposite direction. Sighing heavily, she absently tossed pieces of bread to the pigeons aligned in an arc in front of her chair. Reluctantly, she admitted to herself that her thoughts of moving from Aunt Irma's were unlikely ever to become reality.

Suddenly looking up, Anna realized it was dark. Lighting the lantern, she adjusted its brightness. Her aunt's warnings echoing through her mind, she moved her purse to the pavement, beneath the table and beside her chair. If need be, she could seize the pistol in a matter of seconds. Pumping another dollop of gel into her palm, she rubbed her hands together and looked around her.

It was easy to blame one's problems on outside influences, and Anna, like most people, initially sought to attribute her troubles to such forces: She had recently dissolved what was for her a lengthy and involved relationship; she had moved to a faraway, unfamiliar place; she had taken on a new job; reentered college; and she had to live with her Aunt Irma, an arrangement that was something less than ideal. All things considered, she had piled up quite a number of stress points over the past year. If one put any stock in the work of Hans Selye, Anna was due for a major illness of some kind.

However, lately she had come to believe that her difficulties stemmed from an internal source. Rather than her problems deriving from outside events, it had become increasingly clear that they originated from her mind, from her inner world. Strange things were happening to Anna Picard, and while these curious events didn't necessarily imply a pathological basis, she was frightened. They reminded her too much of her poor, dear mother.

It had all started with the strange spells. She could be doing anything–eating, studying, driving, watching a movie–when suddenly she would experience this feeling of being disconnected from her body. An episode might last from thirty seconds to thirty minutes. It was sort of like observing yourself from outside your body, but that still didn't adequately describe the sensation. The spells were eerie, spooky, otherworldly. She didn't like them. It was frightening not having complete control over oneself.

When they were still talking, Peter had told her, in his best doctor's voice, that the attacks could be feelings of depersonalization, which arose as a response to extreme mental stress. But she didn't see how that could be–her only mental stress came from having the weird spells. He had also said they might be temporal lobe seizures, whatever they were. He hadn't elaborated.

It was about this time that an idea had come to her, one that she was amazed hadn't occurred to her earlier. It appeared that moving a thousand miles from Peter had changed her perspective, enabling her to see that perhaps she'd entered into a relationship with a psychiatric resident because of her mother's mental illness. Oddly enough, this had never occurred to her when they were dating. Well, actually it had, but she hadn't taken it seriously. Later, when she'd overcome her denial, she felt it was all the more reason to break it off with him; she couldn't stand the thought of being constantly analyzed, like a lab rat in a maze.

Then, a few weeks ago, she had started having strange feelings and thoughts while reading palms. She soon realized that these thoughts were those of the person whose hand she held; unbidden, they popped into her mind as if they were her own. It had thus far happened only twice, but each time she had been compelled to reveal to the client what she knew. She couldn't help herself. In each case, the result had been a disaster. Neither was likely to further her career as a palm reader.

And then there were the dreams. Or, more correctly, the dream.

As best she could figure, the dream had been the first portent of her current problems. With minor variations on the theme, it went something like this:

Anna is always part of a throng of people trying to escape, but from what she isn't certain. In the dream, she has no idea as to the nature of the menace, but judging by the frenzied efforts of those around her, it must be terrifying. Some of the people are horribly burned, others sick and emaciated. No matter how hard she tries, she always feels as though escape is futile. That all will die in the end is an implicit part of the dream.

Also implied in the dream is that the mayhem is being caused by the devil. But in the absurd manner of dreams, the devil never actually appears, yet Anna somehow knows that he is responsible for the crowd's terror.

As she flees with the horrified citizenry, over and over Anna sees the same traffic sign. It reads "Poland." A clock hovers, both hands on twelve. Although in the context of the dream the sign and the clock seem important, they make no sense to her. She has spent a good deal of time pondering them, yet hasn't drawn any closer to divining their meaning. It was tempting to speculate that the dream was prophetic, but unless she was soon taking an unexpected trip to Poland, Anna couldn't see how the dream fit in with her future. She wondered if perhaps it had no special meaning, that the dream was simply what it appeared to be–a recurring nightmare.

Somehow she is made to know that the cause of the chaotic violence is a black man, which doesn't jibe with the villain also being the devil. Because the dream never reveals a clear image of the perpetrator, she has no way of squaring the contradiction that the devil is also a black man. Like other parts of the dream, this absurdity remained a mystery.

And lastly, there is the glowing white powder that she intuitively knows is deadly. Its purpose is never revealed. And there is the strange lettering that means nothing to her. The dream always seemed incomplete. It played out something like a movie with pieces of film haphazardly snipped from the reel.

If one believed in such things, Anna knew of only one explanation linking the strange phenomena that had plagued her in recent months: that the recurring dream, the odd feelings, and the rest of it were the result of paranormal activity; that she was psychic.

If ESP was indeed a true phenomenon, then according to her family Anna had been born to it. Her mother and grandmother were reputedly "seers," blessed (or cursed) with a sixth sense, an ability to foretell the future, a capacity for knowing that which was supposed to remain unknown.


Excerpted from Deadly Aura by Robert Sweeten Copyright © 2011 by Robert Sweeten. Excerpted by permission of AuthorHouse. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Deadly Aura 3.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 2 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Great book..Really enjoyed it.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I wrote to soon. I am on page 72 and after the last 5 or 6 pages of gore to children and then on page the awful gore to their Father, my review has definately changed. None of the better author's would write such gore. To bad. Probably would have been good without the violence.