The Marnie Baranuik Files, Book One
by A. J. Aalto
Genre: paranormal fantasy
Publisher: Booktrope Editions
Word Count: 158k
Cover Artist: Greg Simanson
The media has a nickname for Marnie Baranuik, though she’d rather they didn’t; they call her the Great White Shark, a rare dual-talented forensic psychic. Twice-Touched by the Blue Sense--which gives her the ability to feel the emotions of others, and read impressions left behind on objects--Marnie also has a doctorate in preternatural biology and a working knowledge of the dark arts. She is considered without peer in the psychic community.
Then her first big FBI case ended with a bullet in one shoulder and a chip on the other, a queasy heart and a serial killer in the wind, leaving her a public flop and a private wreck. When the FBI’s preternatural crimes unit tracks her down at a remote mountain lodge for her insight on a local case, her quiet retirement is promptly besieged by a stab-happy starlet, a rampaging ghoul, and a vampire-hunting jackass in tight Wranglers. Marnie figures the only real mystery is which one will kill her first.
Too mean to die young, backed up by friends in cold places, and running with a mouth as demure as a cannon’s blast, Marnie Baranuik is about to discover that there’s no such thing as quitting time when you’re Touched.
“Well, I will. I intend to. Tell you, I mean. Every thing of the truth.” What the hell am I even talking about? “You’re going to want this on paper.”
“Maybe so,” he mused, scratching the back of his neck. “Since you’re about to tell me ‘every thing of the truth’.”
He fished around for a notebook in his pocket that looked like it had never been used, clicked a brand new pen. Not a lot of serious crime in Lambert County.
I shifted in the pillows propping me slightly upright, and tried not to think of staples clawing flesh together and sutures keeping skin in a taut line. Post-surgery painkillers kept the pain at a safe distance, but I could almost hear it pacing like an impatient Attila the Hun considering the distant walls of Constantinople.
“One huge waste of your time, coming right up,” I warned him, taking a deep cleansing breath. “My name is Marnie-Jean because my mother likes hyphenated names and the old cologne Jean Nate. I enjoy setting fires in a woodstove. Conversely, I’m afraid of BBQ grills; I’m sure the propane tank is going to explode and take my face right off. I’m also afraid of home invasions, clowns, Santa Claus, and the tooth fairy. I mean, what does she use those teeth for, anyway? It’s disturbing, when you think about it.”
Hood made no notes. I guess I hadn’t said anything good yet. When I launched into the layman’s explanation of my psychic Talents and my former position at GD&C, Hood’s pen moved but his eyes never left my face. Neat trick. He searched my eyes, his own face revealing nothing, and then surprised me with a thoughtful question.
“If you know stuff just by touching things, doesn’t that get a little…busy in your head?”
Relief—validation perhaps—flooded me; for a second I thought I might embarrass myself by welling-up. I showed him my bare hands. “Usually I wear gloves all day, inside and out, to block influxes of information. Leather works best.”
“We didn’t find any gloves at the scene.” So he’d been to the scene, check. I wondered if Harry’s motorcycle was in evidence also. Boy, would he be ticked.
“Maybe she took them?” Like she took my hair. And very nearly my life. “I took them off. They were on the floor beside the bed last I saw.” Or did Harry take them? I had a vague feeling he might have, but it all seemed foggy.
“Can’t you “tell” where they are?” He wiggled his fingers mysteriously.
I shrugged. “I might be able to link to and trace my own possessions. I’ve never tried it. What I can’t do is pull visions out of thin air. That’s a clairvoyant. I have to touch something, or feel someone’s changes in emotions. I can tell when I’m being lied-to, ninety-nine percent of the time. She fooled me. No, that’s not entirely true: I knew she was pissed off. I misread the depth of her hatred, and I believed she had information, and that she was truly in trouble. Being fooled by a successful liar bothers me like I can’t even describe. No one should be able to fool me.”
Hood’s lips twitched. “Ever thought of becoming a cop?”
“Criminals give me the wobbly-knees.” I shook my head. “I do like the law. The law is one of the few things that make me feel stable. Boundaries are good when the rest of you feels ready to fly apart.”
Hood gave another unexpectedly understanding nod, and I tried to probe at his aura and see if he was faking the sympathy. I couldn’t feel him. Lord and Lady, what the hell had I done to myself? Meanwhile he was watching expectantly, pen poised.
“Thanks to my partner, I’ve developed a strong sense of smell. I bet you didn’t know that tulips have what revenants call an under-scent. It’s mild, kind of citrusy. I also like over-cooked roast beef, sun-warmed Key limes and Canadians.”
“Canadians in general, or just the way they smell?”
“Canadians smell fantastic,” I deadpanned. Hood half-smiled; I don’t think he wanted to like me but I was winning him over. “I drink more espresso than is healthy and will undoubtedly die, Balzac-like, of caffeine poisoning. I cannot say no to a cookie. Sometimes when I’m alone I sing old Monty Python songs in the bath. And at the moment, I have titanium staples where my belly button used to be.” I shook my head. “But you don’t need to know any of this. You don’t need to know about my irregular periods or my crush on Wil Wheaton. So why don’t you tell me what you’re looking for?”
“You were injured in Buffalo on your first official FBI case.” He watched me without blinking. “Gun shot wounds. The reports said you were shot by a vampire serial killer named Jeremiah Prost while you were working as a ’preternatural forensic consultant‘ for the PCU. How did he escape?”
“Everyone’s got theories on my failure. Why ask me?”
“Maybe I like the sound of your voice. Besides, I didn’t say it was your failure; you were one of many on that team, correct?”
My shoulders fell. I told him a concise version of what happened, in Buffalo and at the Ten Springs Motor Inn, including the FBI but leaving out the sex and the vomit. Then I added the vomit, because I was pretty sure he’d seen that at the scene. I left Batten’s name out of it, and implied that Danika was resentful of me but left it at professional jealousy. I hoped he bought it.
He didn’t appear to buy a single word of it.
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Top 5 Paranormal Writers
When I read, I tend not to distinguish between paranormal romance or paranormal fantasy/horror. As long as there are monsters, I’m there. With that being said, these are my choices, from my bookshelves, for top paranormal reads.
5. Kay Hooper
4. Kim Harrison
3. Laurell K. Hamilton
2. Jim Butcher
1. Stephen King
About the Author
A. J. Aalto