Noll was not in the mood. He paced around the dark office, irritation gnawing at every thought.
Doctor Arainn gave him a pensive look. "Is Mai doing well?"
"As well as someone in a coma can be, I guess." He shrugged, dragging his hand over the numerous books stacked on the bookshelf. Normally, he would have taken the time to read the titles, peel back the covers and read a few passages. Today, he wanted to rip them to shreds. "Why are we doing this?"
Noll gave a humorless laugh, "this entire thing is pointless, you realize that, right?"
Arainn crossed her legs, leveling him with a dark stare. "Are you referring to these sessions? You think they're pointless?"
"Isn't that what I just said?" He mumbled, turning on his heel to lean against the couch.
"I don't get what you're aiming at."
"I mean," Arainn gave him a pointed look, "you were perfectly rational two days ago. What happened after our session?"
Noll sighed, sagging out of his perfect posture. "The prosecutor came to see me yesterday..."
"What did she say?"
"The evidence against... Dumont is circumstantial at best. She doesn't think we can win the case." He watched his fingers work their way into a tight fist. "Not without my testimony."
"And if you take the stand..." she drifted off as realization hit. Doctor Arainn might have just been a therapist but she knew enough about the court system to get what he was hinting at. "You could be put on trial for murder."
He turned away from her words, body tense. "Exactly."
"I'm sorry, Oliver. I know this isn't the ideal situation but there's still a chance he will be indicted."
Noll pounded his fist into the couches' wooden frame. "I can't take that chance." He barked, "Mai deserves justice for what he did to her and I will make damn sure she gets it."
Arainn was silent for a long moment, studying him. Then she pulled her notebook into her lap and gestured to the couch. "If you're really sure about this then I suggest you sit down. When are opening statements?"
"I want you here, in my office, every day for the next two weeks. We've got a lot to cover and not a lot of time."
Noll nodded deftly, collapsing onto the hard cushions with a thud. "Thank you," he said, "for helping me."
Arainn clicked her pen, "You can thank me when you don't have a mental breakdown on the stand. Now, I need you to tell me about the second kidnapping attempt."
"I know," she interrupted, "I told you before not to skip anything but we're on a schedule now. If it's not immediately critical to the story, then we don't need to go over it."
He pushed a hand through his hair, holding it there. "Fine," he conceded. The thought of skipping over most of his time with Mai, but even he had to admit it wasn't important. He closed his eyes. "It was early December. This couple had been requesting to see me for some time..."
6 months earlier
His head pulsed; that spot just above his eye. He pressed a hand to his temple trying to ignore the dull throb but it was just... there.
"I'm listening." He eyed the intern, all blonde hair and black-rimmed glasses. She was supposed to be top of her class and aiming for her own doctorate, but Noll couldn't help but think the 'leggy model' thing was why she was assigned to him.
"I know you're not officially back yet but there's this couple. They've been trying to make an appointment with you for months ー are you alright?"
Noll had leaned forward, resting his hot cheek on the cold glass of his desk. His leg was throbbing in time with his head. He made a gesture, closing his eyes. "Appointment for what?"
"You haven't heard?" She asked, incredulous. When Noll just glared in her direction she quickly continued, "Their daughter went missing two weeks ago. They've been trying to get in contact with you but..."
He stayed silent but gave a curt nod of his head. Sweat had begun to bead across his forehead as the headache raged on. The memory flickered, blurring with his effort to recall it.
Miss Intern cocked her head to the side, reading off the file in her hand, "Annalise Foster, 14 years old."
He paused, posture rigid and tried not to think about the statistics that had crossed his mind then. Survival rates, recovery rates... Those didn't matter anymore. He already knew the outcome. "Reschedule them for," he stood, checking his watch, "two o'clock."
"But," she said, following him out the door, "you have a prep meeting at two."
He ignored her, turning down the hall to the main area. "Is that all?"
"Nothing important. Where are we going?"
The office area was loud, buzzing with activity. With a sigh, Noll turned back to the intern and continued. "You are going to go back to your desk and call the Foster's. I'm going to have that prep meeting with Martin." His voice sounded as if he were talking into a glass jar. The image of the intern wavered as he left her out in the hallway.
The color of Martin's walls looked pastel and more dreamlike than Noll would have like. It was making him nauseous.
"Don't open your eyes. On a scale of zero to one-hundred, how anxious do you feel?"
"Can you tell me why?"
Noll bit his lip. "You'll see."
Doctor Arainn huffed and he could hear her scribbling something down in her notebook. "Continue then."
He was split between feeling annoyed and relieved. The case seemed, for lack of a better word, simple. Almost too much so.
"And when was the last time you saw her?"
"T-Tuesday afternoon." The woman on the couch hiccupped. He watched as she leaned into her husband, sniffling delicately into her tissue.
Martin was observing from behind his desk with his hands clasped tightly in front of him. Noll tried not to think how hard it must have been for him to remain impassive. He was a father whose child had also gone missing. That story, too, had ended in tragedy.
Mai stood just behind the love seat, frowning at her teacup with a despondent look in her eyes.
Noll wished she would leave. She didn't need to hear this. "Where?"
"Home. She was h-heading to s-soccer practice and... God, I should have gone with her but I-I couldn't just leave Egor alone."
"Our son." Mr. Foster replied, raising his gaze to Noll's. It was the first time he'd spoken since the couple had arrived. "He's just a couple months old."
"How old is Annalise?"
"She-She'll be 15 next month."
He closed my eyes and brought the cup of tea to his lips, breathing in the earthy scent of Earl Grey. But he didn't drink. He thought.
Annalise Foster was a 14-year-old girl gone missing just short of a week ago. Noll had read the case file, complete with newspaper clippings and police reports multiple times but something still felt off.
He opened his eyes to study the couple. Mrs. Foster's eyes were red and puffy, signs of distress clear in the sag of her shoulders. It was clear she was the driving force behind the search for Annalise. Mr. Foster looked a little disorganized, aiming a blank stare at the floor.
"Is anything Annalise has done in the past few weeks that might have led to her disappearance?"
Mrs. Foster's eyes filled with fresh tears. She hid her face in her husband's chest and sobbed quietly. "No," Mr. Foster said, gazing at his wife but not moving to comfort her. "Ana was a happy soul. She always was."
"There were no arguments? No rebelliousness that you can remember?"
Mrs. Foster jerked away from her husband, sniffling as she stared at him. He tried not to flinch. "Are... Are you suggesting my daughter has... Run away?"
"Would there be any reason for her to?"
Her brown eyes widened, anger morphing quickly into rage. Noll sipped his tea.
"Doctor Davis," her voice was cold. Ridged. Defensive. "Right now my daughter is out there by herself, alone and afraid. So call me what you will, accuse me of whatever you please but you must help me find her before something bad happens. Please."
Mai made a noise halfway between surprise and anger. Noll met her gaze, saw the concern swirling in the honey brown irises.
Martin cleared his throat. "Noll,"
Noll raised his hand to stop him and regarded the Fosters' carefully. "Are you familiar with psychometry?"
They exchanged looks. Mrs. Foster shook her head.
Noll took a breath, watching Mai fiddle with the empty tea cup. "Psychometry is the ability to read the past or future of a person through an object they are familiar with."
Suddenly a loud ruckus erupted from the main office area, leaking through the walls of the office. Martin rose from his chair with a quick apology. "Mai? Come with me please? I need you to go find Lin."
Mai was reluctant to leave Noll alone in such a situation but nodded and excused herself from the room with the professor.
"When they said you could help us..." Mrs. Foster swallowed and shared a look with her husband. "Are you sure this will help us find Annalise?"
No, he wasn't sure, not entirely. Despite the ability to see through the victims eyes, it never guaranteed success. Realizing they were still waiting for an answer, Noll stumbled for the right words. "Psychometry will give you irrefutable answers." He offered, "But be warned. What I see might not be what you want to hear. Are you sure you want to take that chance?"
Mr. Foster looked terrified but his wife nodded eagerly. "I just... I need to know. I want her to come home."
Noll nodded curtly. "Do you have an object of Ana's? Something she was fond of, perhaps?"
Mrs. Foster had started to shake her head before she stopped and looked expectantly at her husband. "Yes," she breathed, "you have her ring don't you, Daniel? He's been carrying it around with him since she disappeared." She directed the last part at Noll as she waited expectantly for her husband to dig the ring out go his pocket. With shaking hands he handed it over.
The fear hit first, his skin tingling where the silver ring lay in his palm. Then the nausea hit. He held his breath to keep from retching there in front of the Fosters'.
He turned the ring over in his hand, rubbing a thumb over the square pink diamond, and suddenly, he was her. Annalise.
He ー she ー was on her knees, hands held securely behind her by a man Noll couldn't see. Mr. Foster, however, was in plain view, hovering by the door. "What do you want from me?" Annalise spit, struggling against her captor, "I'm not going to do anything for you!"
Foster smirked as he sized the girl up. "You will do as I say, Ana," he said, thick Russian accent shaping his words, "or you will die. You're choice."
"Go fuck yourself ー ahhhh!" Annalise screamed, white lightening jolting through her. Noll felt his own heart stutter from the shock.
Or maybe it was from the pressure wrapped around his neck.
Annalise's presence lingered at the edge of his brain as Noll struggled for air. He knew this wasn't part of the vision ー this was happening to his real body.
With a jolt, Noll wrenched himself out of the vision, the room spinning dangerously as he recognized the feeling of hands around his throat. The face above him was Mr. Foster's, his black eyes glistening with self-importance. "S vozvrasheniyem, Olivier," he cackled, Russian accent once again seeping into his voice.
"You..." Noll growled, bucking his hips. The Russian had expected a struggle and widened his stance over the teen. He hadn't, however, expected the punch to his nose. "You murderer!"