Shelley and Melanie
The full moon cast long shadows into the darkened living room of the loft, shadows that gently swayed and rippled with the tall plants that sat out on the balcony. The soft hum of a small fan perched on a low table was mesmerizing as it lazily swung its cooling breeze back and forth across the room. Cascade's weather had remained uncharacteristically mild for late October, as summer seemed unready to relinquish its hold and would stretch into November. It would be a trick-or-treater's delight as the weather forecast promised clear skies and warm evenings for the few remaining days of October. A trick-or-treater's dream and a cop's nightmare.
At the top of the staircase a worried Jim Ellison sat in the dark, watching his friend. Uneasiness, and another night interrupted by the panicked outbursts of his sleeping partner, drew deep lines across his brow. Sandburg may have been a rookie as far as the department was concerned, but he was no rookie when it came to police work. Together they had tracked down murderers, kidnappers and psychos, each case uncovering both personal and professional demons they had been forced to battle. Bridges that seemed more like chasms had been crossed over the last four years and Ellison knew that a few of those crossings had nearly destroyed them. They may not have emerged unscathed from it all, but he knew it had strengthened both their friendship and their bond as sentinel and guide. Rising from the landing, he softly padded down the stairs to the living room.
"Hey, Chief," he called out quietly, giving Sandburg's shoulder a gentle squeeze as he passed behind the couch. "Another one?"
Blair's response was a shaky breath and a choked answer. It might have been "yeah" if it had made it past his lips, but his throat was still too tightly constricted to allow even the smallest of syllables through. He watched as Jim came around the couch to sit in front of him, relieved and at the same time embarrassed that his friend was there. He swallowed and tried again. "Yeah, Jim, a real doozie this time. They just seem to get worse with each one."
"You wanna talk about it, Blair?" Jim watched as his friend tried to look everywhere but at him. "It might help." The flickering moonlight played across the planes of his partner's expressive face, catching the blue of his eyes and then hiding them in its shadows. Even without heightened senses those quick glimpses were enough to reveal his guide's distress.
Suddenly restless, Sandburg went to stand at the balcony doors. "Yeah, sure." As images from his nightmare flashed in his mind, he doubted he could even put them into words, and he added with a frustrated groan, "I don't know. I guess." He leaned his head against the cool glass of the window and noted with disinterest the swaying of the fronds on the balcony. Heaving a sigh, his warm breath obscured the view in a gray fog. "Something wicked this way comes," he whispered.
Confused by what he thought he had heard, Jim asked, "That's a movie, isn't it?"
With an amused grunt, Blair turned to face his friend. Folding his arms across his chest, he leaned against the glass door. "Yeah, it's a movie. But the line's from Macbeth." He stepped away from the glass and lowered his voice an octave. With a dramatic flourish he spoke the passage. "By the pricking of my thumbs. Something wicked this way comes!" Dropping into the chair, and clicking on a table lamp, he sat forward with his elbows on his knees. His hands were still and clasped loosely in front of him. "One of the witches says it after they sing Black Spirits."
Jim leaned back against the cushions of the couch and smiled. "Well, thanks for the lesson, professor, but what does that have to do with the nightmares you've been having?" Ellison had expected his friend's usual derisive snort at the nickname of professor. Gentle teasing usually helped Blair regain his equilibrium. This time the teasing had no effect. The eyes that stared into his own were deadly serious.
"Everything, Jim." Blair tried to smile, but didn't quite make it, so he settled for chewing his bottom lip as he chose his words. "I think my subconscious has been trying to beat me over the head with this. I just haven't been listening. But I think the nightmares might be more than just bad dreams."
"You've lost me, Chief. What exactly are you getting at?" The detective felt a small shiver travel through him. He had an uncanny feeling that he knew exactly what his partner was hinting at. Blair's dreams had begun not too long after the first murder. The case they were working on had disturbed the young shaman from the beginning, but Sandburg hadn't been able to pinpoint exactly what it was that did bother him. He had only kept insisting that it was a vague impression of missing something important. "Tell me about the dreams, Blair. All of them."
Sandburg nodded, looking down at his hands. "Okay, I was going to tell you after this one anyway." He gave his friend a quick smile when he gazed up into Ellison's gently mocking expression. "Honest." Holding up three fingers, he put his other hand over his heart. "Scout's honour."
With a growl Jim got up, giving his partner's head a gentle shove so that the younger man was forced back into his chair. "Give it up, Sandburg," he grinned. "We both know you've never been a Boy Scout." Sobering, he stood before his guide with his hands on his hips. "I'm going to grab a beer and then you're going to tell me about the nightmares."
Once the two men were settled, Blair knew he wouldn't be able to stall any longer. Taking a deep breath, he began. "The first really bad dream was the night after we found the second body. You know, the one in the field..."
Two weeks earlier
A crude and makeshift scaffold stood in an abandoned field on the outskirts of the city. Tall weeds and spindly trees, bent from the strong winds that cut through the mountains, all but hid the gruesome site from the gravel road that ran along the meadow. It had only been through the anonymous tip of a concerned citizen, or perhaps the perpetrator of the sick crime, that the murder had been discovered.
Simon Banks stood at the base of the wooden structure; the cigar jammed between his teeth had nearly been bitten in two when he had first seen the woman. Placing his hands on his hips and taking a deep, steadying breath, he tilted his head back and gazed at the clouds that drifted lazily above, trying to remind himself that life did hold some beauty. Lowering his eyes once again to the body, he looked away in disgust. He knew that Forensics would have his head for this, especially Chapple, but he couldn't stand to have the woman hanging from the scaffold much longer. "All right," he sighed, speaking to the uniformed officers that had responded to the call with him. "Cut her down." Not wanting to watch the men as they performed their task, he turned his back to them to follow the approach of the old Ford pickup. Ellison and Sandburg had made excellent time in getting there.
Loose stones and dirt were kicked into the air as the detective brought the truck to a sliding halt on the old road. The dust settled around the Ford as both men remained in their seats, Ellison leaning forward to take in the sight. A grisly tableau spread out before him. Their captain stood in the foreground, the tails of his suit jacket slapping against him as they caught on the strong wind. Jim could see the man working furiously on the cigar stub that was held in his tight grimace. Extending his sight past Banks, he saw what had his superior so unsettled. He turned to the younger man seated next him. Jim's face bore a grim and tightlipped expression that more than matched Simon's. "It's going to be an ugly one, Chief." He pulled a spiral notepad from the glove compartment and handed it to his partner. "You ready?"
Giving his eyebrows a quick lift, Blair smiled and got out of the truck. "I'm ready...I hope." He nervously twirled the small notebook Jim had tossed at him. "Another woman? Like the last one, Jim? You, uh, got a little pale when you were checking things out." Sandburg held his breath as he waited for the answer. His partner's curt nod was all he needed. Resignedly, he matched his friend's pace and walked with him across the meadow to where the police captain stood waiting. "We're looking at a serial killer, aren't we?"
"Yeah." Jim expelled the word along with his breath. "I think we are, Sandburg. Two killings in two weeks. This guy's working on a pretty accelerated schedule. We'd better figure out that schedule fast if we hope to track him down before the next killing."
"He didn't leave us much to work with on the first murder. Maybe we'll find something here." Blair wiped at the trickle of sweat that ran down his temple. "Man, you think this heat is ever going to let up?" He began to peel off his jacket as he and the sentinel reached Banks. "Hey, Simon." Catching the older man's glare, he quickly corrected himself. "I mean, good morning, sir." His mischievous grin faded as he watched the two uniformed policemen lay the woman's body on the ground. Biting back a gasp, he looked at the captain. "She looks just like the other one."
With an exaggerated sigh, Simon turned to lead the two men over to the body. "And you didn't think he'd make a good detective, Jim." Loosening his tie, he crouched next to the woman. "Well, now that we've stated the obvious, is there anything else?" Realizing the other officers were still standing behind him, Banks held up a hand. "Bailey, Antonelli, why don't you go and see if you can find out when the ME is going to get here?" A thought occurred to him as the men headed towards their squad car. "And gentlemen, there will be no mention of how the woman's body was found?" Satisfied he had made his point, he dismissed them with a nod. "The last thing we need is to have rumours start about serial killings," Simon grumbled.
Winking at his partner, trying to relieve some of the discomfort he knew Blair would be feeling, Jim began his examination of the scene. "Well, sir, at the risk of stating the obvious, she seems to be about the same age as the first woman." He lifted a piece of the clothing she wore and rubbed it between his fingers. "Same material. Coarse cotton." He turned to Sandburg, squinting into the sun. "Any thoughts on why he dresses them this way, Chief?"
"No. It doesn't even look like something you'd be able to buy in a store." Blair knelt next to the detective, doing his best to avoid looking at the woman's swollen face. "It kind of reminds me of something you'd see the Amish or the Mennonites wear." A memory of something he had read almost came to mind. Frowning when it wouldn't stay long enough to form into a solid thought, he stood up. He took a disgusted swipe at his jeans, annoyed that he couldn't extract the memory. "You want to try digging a little deeper, Jim? Maybe we missed something about the clothing last time?"
Simon Banks took a step backwards, a self-satisfied smile on his lips. Recommending Sandburg for the academy had been one of the biggest risks he had ever taken. He knew the kid would do well. Sandburg's brand of tenacity wouldn't have allowed him to do anything less than his best. He shook his head in wonderment. Who could have imagined it? Sandburg a cop, and at the insistence of one Simon Banks. But if he understood anything of this Sentinel myth, that one long haired anthropologist had repeated to him over and over as some sort of litany, it was that a sentinel needed his guide. Blair had tried to convince him in every language he knew, but the one that had rung true to the captain had been Sandburg's insistence that a sentinel needed someone to watch his back. Cop vernacular. It worked. There was no mistaking the kid's ability to read and play most people the way he wanted. So Simon had let himself "be played" and won an almost unbeatable team of detectives.
"What is it you smell, Jim?" Sandburg's softly asked question brought Simon's attention back to the scene.
Ellison took another deep sniff of the air, blocking out the odour of the decaying body. "It's the clothing. A strong detergent smell that almost overpowers everything else." Standing straight, he looked intently at his guide as if he could find the answer he needed written in Blair's face. "But there's another smell. Damp, musty. Like they've been stored in a basement or cardboard box." Another scent began to tickle his nose. "And something else. I know I've smelled it before but I can't place it. It's not perfume." He shrugged his shoulders. "I don't know."
Sandburg pushed back a damp lock of hair from his forehead as he slowly circled the body. The clothing, the closely cropped hair. Both victims had their hair nearly shaved off. Blair seriously doubted the two women had chosen the same style. "Did she have any identification on her, Captain?" At Banks' shake of the head, he turned to his partner. "There's just something about the way they're dressed. I mean, I know it's deliberate and everything." His hands sliced through the humid air as he spoke, underscoring his frustration. "The way he's laid this all out is really important to him. I just can't see it."
"We'll figure it out, Chief," Ellison promised as he drew a sheet over the woman. "I can't get anything else from the body. Let's concentrate on the rest of the scene." He gave the rookie a light slap on the back and went to the scaffold. The lumber was old and rotting as if it had been salvaged from an abandoned building or woodpile. None of it looked as if it should have been able to hold the woman's weight. He made a mental note to do a search of the area. The nails, in contrast, glinted in the bright sunshine. All but one. "Sandburg?" Ellison gave his partner's sleeve a gentle tug. "Take a look at this."
Blair quickly glanced back at Simon and smiled. Both men were well acquainted with that tone of voice. "What have you got, Jim?" He squinted at the dark area the sentinel was pointing to. "It looks like a stain."
The detective's grin was wide. "Oh, it's a stain all right. A bloodstain." He looked more closely at the beam. "I don't think our killer is much of a carpenter, Sandburg." He walked around to the other side of the wooden post. "He's definitely not too handy with a hammer. We've got a beautiful, bloody thumbprint right here."
"So if this guy's been printed, we've got him." Blair's smile matched his partner's.
"And it was after this that you had the dream?" The detective leaned forward to place the beer bottle on the floor next to his feet. "Was is it something about the murder scene? It was a rough investigation. The heat..." He stopped when he saw his friend's upraised hand and wan expression.
"Thanks, Jim but I don't think we really need to go over that again." Sandburg inspected his palms before continuing. "The dream didn't really have anything to do with the crime scene so I didn't make the connection. It was a really strange dream. I kind of felt like I was standing inside and outside of it. You know?" The sentinel only nodded in reply. "It was dark. Dark all around me. I couldn't see anything, but I knew that I needed to get away from there. Wherever there was. I knew something was going to happen, but I didn't know if it was going to happen to me or to someone else." His brows furrowed as he remembered details of the dream. "Nothing threatening happened. In fact I never saw anything. It was all just feeling. I could feel my heart pounding. I could feel goosebumps starting to raise on my arms. And then it started to get hot. Really hot. I know I wasn't moving, but this wall of heat just kept getting closer and closer, until I couldn't stand it anymore. And that's when I woke up." Sandburg shuddered as the fan's breeze washed over him.
The Sentinel considered what his partner had just told him. "Well, I have to agree with you, Chief. I don't see how the dream has anything to do with the case we're working on. We've got a killer that likes to hang his victims and dress them in some kind of Mennonite costume. There's nothing to do with heat. But you think there's a connection here." Ellison gave his shoulders a shrug. "I know better than to ignore your hunches, Sandburg, so let's hear the rest of it."
"It's like it's all sitting just beyond where I can see it." Blair yanked a handful of hair in frustration. "When we got back to the station and checked those prints I had hoped that it would be the end of it. We would find out who this sick bastard is, go out and arrest him. Isn't that how they do it on all the cop shows on TV?" Sandburg's grin was rueful. He could almost let the horror of the dream fade as he talked with his friend. Heaving a sigh, he moved over to the couch to sit next to him. Resting his head against the back of the sofa, he ran his hands through his hair. It was slowly growing back to a decent length. Decent in his mind at least. Another month or so and he would once again earn Brown's nickname of Hairboy.
"When did you first have the second one?" Ellison gently prodded once again.
Needing to move, Blair went to stand behind the chair. "I kept having that first one until... After we found the third body in the warehouse." Grabbing the back of the chair, he winced. He quickly let go, somehow managing to miss his partner's noticing. "Finding that third woman really got to me. What this guy is doing is so cruel. He may as well be torturing them, making them dress that way and cutting off their hair. They must be so scared. And who knows what they go through before they realize how they're going to die?"
"C'mon, Blair," Jim's voice was soft. "You have to step back from it. You know that."
Swallowing, Sandburg nodded. "I know. I'm sorry. This all just hit a little too close to home. I know I'm not involved with Rainier much anymore, but so far all the victims have been students. I have a lot of friends there. They're scared, Jim." Closing his eyes, he bent his head forward, trying to relieve some of the tension in his neck. "The second dream started out a lot like the first one."
Blair had shifted gears so quickly that the detective almost missed it. He knew that the case would have been weighing heavily on his partner. The three women had been about his age and all were either students or teaching students as his guide had been. So far that was the only common tie between the women.
"I still had the same feeling, Jim. Like I was split in two. I was in the dream, but I was standing outside it too, watching." He took a deep breath. "It was dark, like the last one and I couldn't see anything. This time though, there was someone there with me. I couldn't hear or feel whoever it was. I just know someone was standing behind me. Knowing that made my skin crawl. I called out to you, thinking it might be you. Hoping it was you. But I knew it wasn't." Blair stopped and gave his friend a nervous smile. "Just didn't feel right."
Talking about the dream had reawakened the dread and fear he had felt. He was now caught in a waking nightmare, as he became more certain that the dreams were much more than that. Describing them, putting them into words, had helped to draw phantom feelings and impressions into the cold light. As much as he wanted to give the outward appearance of being calm, he knew that his partner would see through it. He was scared and that fear translated into nervous energy. He began to pace as he continued. "No one answered me. But as soon as I called your name, it started to get hot again. Then I saw this light in the distance. It was the same kind of pulsating red glow you get when coal or wood is burning down. No flames... only heat."
Blair's voice had become soft and almost hypnotic as he related the dream. The sentinel had found himself drawn along with it; something Ellison had discovered only happened when he listened to Sandburg. It was with an abrupt realization that he noted his friend had stopped talking. Giving himself a mental shake, he saw that his guide was staring into the dark recesses of the loft, caught up in a private vision.
"Blair? You okay, Chief?"
Dragging his gaze back to meet the detective's, Sandburg swallowed. "Yeah, I'm fine."
The detective's eyes narrowed, knowing his friend was far from being fine. "Was that the end of it? The light you saw?"
Shaking his head, Blair moved back to the couch to sit next to Jim, instinctively moving to where he felt safest. "No. I was moving towards that light. Something, someone was pushing me. The closer I got, the hotter it became."
Sandburg had turned to face him, and Ellison could see the beads of sweat that stood out on his partner's forehead and upper lip. Whether it was from the warmth of the room or the remembered heat of the dream, he couldn't guess. The sentinel only knew that he now mirrored the lines of tension on his friend's face and the stiffness of his usually relaxed posture. Blair's ordeal had become real for him as he listened and watched.
"I fought to get away. A couple of times I did manage to twist around. It didn't matter. No matter which way I turned I always ended up walking in the same direction. Those fingers always digging into my arms." Blair's eyes closed as he took a ragged breath. "It felt like I walked forever. The pain in my arms, where his fingers were digging into me, was agony. I was sure he had gone right through them. And then..."
Ellison's breath caught in his throat as his friend's eyes slowly opened, holding his, and he saw the naked fear and pleading in them. He was suddenly sorry that he had pressed his partner into talking about it and wanted to kick himself for not waiting until morning, when the bright light of day might have softened some of the nightmare's obvious hold. "Hey..." He reached out to give Sandburg's shoulder a shake. "Why don't we quit here, Chief? I guess talking about it right now wasn't such a good idea." He arched one eyebrow and gave his friend a crooked grin. The grin faded as Blair shook his head 'no'.
"There's really not much more, Jim." He looked away and almost stumbled over his words. "I... I just want to finish it and then maybe I won't be so afraid about going back to sleep. Right now, I don't feel like I could ever sleep again."
"Sure, Blair." Ellison's words were a gentle whisper. "Go on."
"The heat got so strong I couldn't stand it. The part of me that was watching kept trying to wake up, but I couldn't wake up. I could only feel this damn, searing heat. I felt like my skin was burning. Finally, I managed to break free of that guy's grip and I threw my hands up in front of me. Oh, God..." Sandburg's eyes widened and his voice cracked with emotion. "It was like I had put them into flames. I could feel my skin blistering and bubbling as it burned. It hurt so much." Blair's breathing had quickened and he seemed unable to tear his gaze away from his upturned palms.
"Sandburg," Jim's voice was sharp as he grabbed hold of his guide's wrists. "C'mon, relax, buddy. It was a nightmare. It can't touch you." Feeling almost as unnerved as his partner, he still wasn't prepared for Blair's too quiet reply.
"It can. It did this time."
Puzzled by Sandburg's reply, he followed his friend's gaze down. "Oh my God." Jim Ellison gaped in wonder at the blisters and burns that marred his guide's hands. "Chief?"
"I don't know what to make of it, Simon." Ellison stood looking through the blinds into the bullpen. Sandburg was sitting at his desk gazing intently at the computer screen. "Those burns were real. At first I thought maybe they were cuts from having his fists clenched too tightly." He saw his partner suddenly sit straighter and wondered what it was that he had found. "I don't know what freaks me out more, that the burns were there or that they disappeared completely."
Simon had sat quietly listening to his friend's story. He knew that by now he shouldn't be too surprised by anything Ellison told him. Unfortunately, that was rarely the case. Once again he found himself at a loss for words. Or advice. "What does Sandburg say about all of this?"
The detective shrugged his shoulders. "He said he's heard about things like this happening. He said it was like the body acting out what the mind was telling it. Kind of like stigmata, I think. When he told me about it last night, it made sense." Sighing, he turned to look at the captain. "Maybe he was telling me the truth. Maybe he has heard about it before. All I know is that the look on his face was close to terror. He was as scared as I've ever seen him. As I ever want to see him."
"So what do you want me to do here, Jim? Yank him off the case?"
Ellison crossed his arms as he considered Banks' question. "He wouldn't go for it, sir." Reaching up, he pulled at an earlobe. "Besides, as much as Sandburg thinks there's a connection to the case, he hasn't figured out what it is. We're both just going on the fact that it all started about the same time."
"Hmph," Simon grunted as he folded his hands across his middle and leaned back into his chair. They were doing it to him again. Making him take that uncomfortable step into a place he'd rather not go. Sentinels, shamans, mysticism. What place did they really have in a city like Cascade? Closing his eyes, he indulged in a self-pitying sigh. What place did they have in his department? Hard questions he had asked himself numerous times over the last four years, but luckily the answers were easy. They were his men, his colleagues... his friends. "Okay, then. Go with your instincts. Just get this guy."
Favoring his captain with a crooked grin, Ellison nodded. "Don't we always, sir?"
Sandburg took the last bite of his sandwich, chewing thoughtfully. Phantom twinges of pain, from where the burns had been, still plagued his hands. "You told Simon everything?" He tried not to sound as nervous as he felt. Banks had always been tolerant of whatever situations he had gotten himself into as an observer, but the man usually seemed a little skittish when having to deal with the sentinel "stuff" as he had put it.
"Yes, Sandburg. Everything." The exasperation in the detective's voice wasn't masked by the smile that accompanied it. "He was fine about it. Concerned. Confused. But fine." Seeing his partner finally start to relax, he grabbed a stack of folders that sat on the chair beside him. Wonderburger may not have been the best place to go over the facts, but a man had to eat. "We're still on the case." He stood and tucked the files under his arm. "You about ready to head back to the station?"
Blair wiped the last of the juice from the burger off his fingers and smiled. "Yeah, that hit the spot. It's about time they started serving some decent food here. That veggie burger was one of the best I've ever had." Pulling the garish red tray towards him, he began to clear their booth. "Getting out for lunch was a good idea, Jim. I can almost think again." He nodded towards the folders his friend held. "We haven't missed anything, have we? Other than the three are students, they don't have anything in common." His stomach did an uneasy flip-flop at the thought that the campus might be the killer's hunting ground. "They didn't know each other. They were from different parts of the country. None of them were even from Cascade, so no connection there." He shook his head as he emptied the tray and placed it back on the caddy. "Dead ends at the end of every investigation."
"But there is a connection there... somewhere... Chief. It's obvious to the killer, and with digging, it'll be obvious to us." Resting a hand on his partner's shoulder, Ellison steered him towards the door. As they walked out onto the street, a thought occurred to the detective. "When you were doing the database search, back at the station, it looked like you might have stumbled onto something. What was it?" Blair's hesitation was only a fraction of a second, but to the sentinel it was much more pronounced.
"Just trying to follow up on a hunch." Sandburg gave his shoulders a slight lift. "Nothing really turned up." Blair looked up into his partner's concerned face and smiled. "Don't worry, if I come across anything that looks like it might go somewhere, you'll be the first to know." He raised an eyebrow and grinned. His friend's expression was full of doubt. "What? You think I can get into trouble searching the Net?" He couldn't repress a laugh and held both hands up in surrender. "No, wait. Don't answer that." Sobering, he got back to the case at hand. "How about his MO? Maybe the connection is there? Not with the victims?" Sandburg gave his partner a puzzled look. "What're you smiling at? Did I say something funny?"
The detective's smile deepened. "Not funny, Chief. Every once in a while you'll toss in things like MO. Guess I'm just not used to it yet." He walked on a bit more in silence. "To answer your question though. I don't know, Sandburg," Jim sighed. "We've gone over every scene with a fine- toothed comb. The only similarities are how he prepares his victims and that he hangs them." He fished his keys out of his pocket as he neared the truck. "Venue doesn't give us anything. Kathy Grady's body was discovered on a freighter that was dry-docked. All he used there was rope he found at the scene and overhead pipes in the engine room. We know he didn't bring his own rope because forensics identified it as being a section of rope that was discovered on another part of the ship." Reaching the late model Ford, he leaned against its hood as Sandburg headed to the passenger side. "Murder number three, Bridget Bishop, has some of the same elements. He used an abandoned warehouse and materials he found there. Rope he found on site and this time he used a catwalk instead of a pipe. Nothing elaborate about either one of them. So we have a utilitarian serial killer. Doesn't exactly help us in identifying him." He pulled a pair of sunglasses from his pocket, checking them for smudges. "And then there's murder number two."
Blair stopped and leaned against the other side of the truck. "Right. Martha Corey's murder was a little more involved. He took the time to build that scaffold in a field." Frowning, he traced random lines through the dust on the hood. "But again, it was old wood, so he was still using materials at hand. Just not things he found at the scene. He had to have planned this one out a little more. He needed a hammer and nails."
Ellison waited; watching as his partner chewed the inside of his cheek, lost in thought. "Transportation, too."
"Hmm?" Blair looked over at his friend. "Yeah, something big enough to carry long pieces of wood." He tapped his finger on the truck. "I was thinking. He really had to know what he was doing. That wood wasn't in the best condition but he managed to build something sturdy enough to hold the weight of the body. So maybe we're looking for some kind of handyman?"
Ellison chuckled. "You mean a near-sighted handyman, judging from the amount of blood he left on the scaffolding." He had an idea of where his partner's mind was headed. "You thinking campus maintenance?" Jim straightened, slowly stretching his cramped back muscles. "We went over the university staff, but I guess it wouldn't hurt to do it again." Unlocking the driver's side door, he climbed inside. "Let's go, Sandburg. You wanna call us back in and let them know where we're headed?"
The ancient Volkswagen van stood quietly idling on a deserted side street. Its tail end blocked the entrance to an alleyway that contained an industrial sized dumpster. Pocked and rusted green sides barely held everything that had been tossed into it and it overflowed with rubble and material from a nearby building that was being demolished. Splintered wood, steel girders and wire created a modern day sculpture that flowed from the bin and spilled to the pavement around it.
The stillness of the alley was shattered as a length of board shot from the dumpster, landing with a resonant bang. Building materials shifted as something forced its way to the top, stone and grit giving way to reveal a calloused hand gripping the edge. Fingers, blackened and bruised, curled around the lip of the rusted container. Another hand appeared, followed by a grunt, as a man heaved himself up and over the side to land lightly on the ground. He wiped the palms of his hands on his worn jeans, feeling each small cut and scrape as it traveled over the material. Brushing powder and small pieces of grit from his shoulders, he took in a deep breath of air. The air in the bin had filled his nose and lungs with its dust.
Smiling, he looked to see the van just as he had left it. Not that he had really worried it would become the target of a car thief or vandals. It was probably older than most of the kids he had seen hanging around the alleyway. Its dented body was covered with scratches and peeling paint but the engine purred as it had when he had bought it those many years ago. Opening the rear doors, he began to pile the materials he had collected onto the bed of the van. A firm believer in the old adage that one man's garbage was another man's treasure, he had been able to find everything he thought he might need. His chest swelled with joy as he loaded his cargo, knowing that the hand of God was certainly guiding him. Just as the Bible had promised, the Lord had provided.
The evil voices that sounded in his head would be silenced. One by one he would hunt them down. He knew their names. He would find them. He began to hum to himself as he worked. He knew that he would remain strong and upright. They would have no power over him. He would silence them and wash their foul smell from his skin. The Lord had called upon Samuel Parris and he had answered.
With a hard slam Parris closed the doors to the van. Leaning heavily against the side of the old Volkswagen, he ran long fingers through his blond hair. The afternoon sun beat down on him, causing it to mat against his scalp as perspiration tracked into his ice blue eyes. Closing them, he leaned his head against the warm metal and listened to the sounds of the streets. The sound of laughter reached his ears, making him smile. It brought back memories of the days he had been happy. A time past when he could relax and share a joke with a friend. He hoped he could again someday. Slowly opening his eyes, he looked for the source of the laughter and his heart nearly stopped. Two men were getting into a truck on the far side of the street. There was nothing remarkable about that, except for the shapes that swirled around the shorter man's legs. Parris blinked his eyes and then rubbed them furiously, trying to bring the images into focus. He prayed that what he saw was nothing more than the reflection of the sun's angry glare, but as he concentrated the blurs of grey and black began to take shape. A wolf. An incredibly large, black cat. Both animals seemed to step into and out of view as their forms faded then solidified once again. Parris' knees began to weaken as the reality of it all came to him. He had been shown the face of the enemy. The young one with the short curls and angelic smile seemed to command the ghostlike creatures that hovered round him. Needing to see the face of his enemy's companion, Parris took a tentative step towards the street. As he did so the cat's head swung in his direction. Its teeth were bared and the warning it hissed chilled him to his very soul.
With a weary sigh Jim Ellison flipped the last of the file folders closed. "I don't know, Chief, did you come across anyone that might be at least a little suspect?" Checking his watch, he realized that they had been poring over Rainier's personnel files for over two hours, paying special attention to their maintenance department.
"Nary a one, Holmes," Sandburg mimicked his friend's sigh. "Dead end, I guess." He shoved the stack of folders away from him. "It would have been a lot easier if Rainier had at least brought their Human Resources department into the computer age. I didn't think anyone used paper anymore." Groaning, he dropped his head into his hands. "What am I thinking? This is a university. Paper's a tradition."
Standing and stretching, Ellison smiled wanly down at his partner, as his bones seemed to creak back into place. "Well it was worth a second look anyway, kid. Unfortunately it left us exactly where we started."
"Yeah, nowhere." Collecting the folders from the table, the shrill ring of Ellison's cell phone brought Sandburg up short. Holding his breath, he watched his friend's face as he took the call. It was a brief call and judging from the detective's expression as he flipped the phone closed, it was hardly sweet. "We've got another one, don't we?"
Nodding, Ellison grabbed his stack of files, shoved them into his partner's hands and headed for the door. Sandburg quickly followed, depositing them in front of the departmental secretary. Walking backwards, he flashed the woman a quick smile. "Thanks, Kim. It was nice to see you again." Turning, he ran to the elevators. "Hey Ellison, wait up!" Breathing heavily he caught up to his friend. "What were you going to do? Leave me behind?"
"Thought about it." Jim grabbed the sleeve of his partner's shirt and dragged him into the elevator as the doors slowly closed behind them, not quite swallowing Sandburg's yelp of "police brutality".
Samuel Parris sat hunched over the steering wheel of his van. His chest heaved as he tried to draw in more air. This one had been more difficult than the last three. He knew it would be. The retired lawyer hadn't been too strong. His struggles hadn't amounted to anything, but this had been the first time he had met with real resistance. If this had been a test, then he had passed. He hadn't been sure he would.
"But I did it." Samuel's clipped words sounded hollow in the empty van. "I did it." Straightening, he reached for the keys that hung from the visor, wishing that the beating of his heart would return to normal. The ring of keys dropped into his shaking hand and he made a fist over them, trying to still the tremors. "Relax. Relax. This one's over." Taking another deep breath, he started the van and slowly pulled onto the road.
The sun had dropped lower behind the horizon and streetlights began to flicker to life one by one as he headed back towards town. Deep purple bands of color that stretched across the warm, rust-tinged sky were oddly calming and he felt a vague sense of serenity, finally, where only panic had been before. A four way stop was just ahead and he slowly braked as the headlights of an oncoming vehicle briefly blinded him. It had a flashing red light sitting on its dashboard. Taking a deep breath, Parris tried to remain calm. The police were arriving, but he knew that if he didn't draw attention to himself he would be all right. As his vision cleared he had to make an effort to keep the shock from his face. He was looking at the two men he had seen earlier that day. The enemy he had been shown was the police? Slowly pressing down on the gas pedal, he eased his van through the intersection, doing his best to avoid eye contact with them.
A yellow bug light illuminated the front porch of the old coastal home. It stood at the end of a long winding drive that was well hidden from the main road.
Leaning forward to peer into the encroaching gloom, Blair sighed. "This place couldn't be any further out of the way, could it? It's so secluded it's almost begging for something to happen." Squinting, he noticed some movement. "Looks like someone is standing out front, Jim." Rubbing the back of his neck, he let out a small snort. "Man, I must be tired. I'm telling you what's up ahead. You probably saw him when we first turned onto this road."
Ellison gave his partner a sympathetic smile. He knew that Sandburg hadn't been getting any real sleep for the last two weeks. "That must be the person who called it in. Dispatch said someone would be meeting us." He pointed further up the road. "There's a squad car parked up the road, too. The officer must be inside."
The detective eased the truck up the driveway, parking behind a silver BMW. The house looked quiet, except for the older man pacing along the front porch. "According to dispatch, the guy who called it in is a neighbor. A Peter Collins. They didn't have anything on him." Jim gave the car an approving glance as he climbed out of the truck. Letting out a theatrical sigh, he winked at his partner. "Someday."
"I don't know, Jim." The hint of a smile lifted a corner of Blair's mouth as he crossed in front of the truck and headed towards the house. "You just don't strike me as the BMW kind of guy." Shoving his hands into his pockets, he shivered slightly against the damp breeze that was blowing in from the water. "Perfect night for a murder," he murmured as their informant hurried down the steps to meet them.
Peter Collins was a large man with a mane of salt and pepper streaked hair held back in a ponytail. A full black beard lined with white covered a good portion of his face. He towered over both detectives as he approached them; a shaking hand held out in introduction. "Detectives, I'm Collins. I'm the one who called you about John." His words were rapid; coming out in short gasps. Their deep rumblings carried the hint of an English accent. His eyes held the look of someone who had just witnessed a scene that was almost too much to be processed. "I... I can't believe what's happened. Not to John." He led the way to the front door, only to be stopped by a restraining hand. His eyes travelled from the hand that gripped his arm to one of the detective's faces.
"Mr. Collins," Jim's voice was gentle as he steered the man to a chair that sat on the porch. "Why don't you sit down for a minute before we go in?" He could hear the man's heart racing and feel the blood as it rushed through the veins in his arms. His pasty complexion and the thin sheen of perspiration on his face had the Sentinel worried that Collins was very near to going into shock. "We can talk out here."
The older gentleman gratefully took the chair offered to him, slowly lowering his tall frame into it. "Thank you, detective. This has been... I can't begin to tell you." His square hands were clasped tightly in his lap as he stared off into the distance.
Frowning, Ellison tapped Sandburg lightly on the arm. "I'm going to go in and take a look around. I'll be back out in a couple of minutes. Don't start without me." Giving Collins another quick check he disappeared into the house.
"Are you going to be all right, sir?" Blair had caught his partner's worried look. "Is there someone we can call?"
Looking up, the older man smiled grimly. "No, no. I just need a minute to absorb all this. But, thank you. Sandburg, isn't it?" His smile gained more warmth as he went on to answer the surprised stare his question had received. "I recognized you from a seminar you attended. Doctor Stoddard, a good friend of mine, gave the lecture. You impressed us both with the intelligence of your questions. He told me that you had gone on to police work." Taking a handkerchief from his pants' pocket, Collins wiped at the sweat that had gathered along his brow. "Exciting work, police business. I've done some consulting from time to time. I suppose every anthropologist has a bit of the detective in him." Taking a deep breath, he turned to look at Ellison who had just stepped out onto the porch. "I think I can answer some questions now, Detective. Thank you for your solicitude."
The sentinel had heard Collins' comment about anthropology and detective work and inwardly winced. As much as his friend told him that he had accepted his new career, Jim knew that Blair couldn't have possibly surrendered his passion for anthropology that easily. He was sure it was still a tender point for his partner. Going to sit on the railing that surrounded the veranda, he raised an eyebrow at his partner, hoping Blair understood that he was asking if everything was all right. He relaxed when Sandburg nodded and moved to lean against the railing next to him.
"All right, Mr. Collins, I may need you to go back inside to look at the body, but why don't we cover the preliminaries first? At about what time did you discover the victim?" Sandburg had once called him a human crime lab and maybe he was. One thing his sentinel abilities had made him was a human lie detector. Everything he had seen in the house made it seem that they were looking at another victim of their serial killer, but this time the victim was male. This meant that the killer had broken his pattern, making it that much harder for them to uncover his trigger. His gut reaction was that Collins had no involvement in the murder but he couldn't afford to not treat the man as a suspect. A small part of him hoped, even if perversely so, that the seemingly gentle man that sat before him was the killer in this particular murder. If he was not, he and Blair had a new wrinkle to iron out.
"It was about an hour ago now. John and I usually play cards most Friday evenings. Especially now that we're both widowers. He was late," Collins continued. "I tried calling him, to see what was holding him up. I knew he was home. He had called earlier to ask if I still wanted to play." He stopped and rubbed at a gnarled hand. "I have arthritis, you see. It had been bothering me all day."
"Do you remember what time you spoke to him?" Blair asked the next logical question.
"Ah, yes. It was close to 4:00, I believe. I had just returned from driving Mrs. Campbell, she's a woman who comes in to clean, back into town. So it must have been very near 4:00." The older man ran a hand across his face. "Dear heavens. Two hours later and..."
The murderer's window of opportunity had been a small one, Jim realized. "Can you tell me anything of your friend's schedule or comings or goings for the day?" Had the victim been stalked? Or had the choice been random? The detective hoped that the man's answer would provide at least a clue.
"John was a creature of habit. Friday mornings he would meet with his old law partners. They would have lunch and trade stories of their days in practice." Collins smiled ruefully. "They invited me along after my wife died, but after a few lunches I knew that I didn't belong and begged off." Sighing, he addressed Blair. "They would make a wonderful study of the habits and preening rituals of the aging American male, Mr. Sandburg."
"I think I know the type, sir," Blair chuckled. "Do you know where he would go after lunch?"
"They would usually finish lunch by 2:00 or 2:30. Then John would go to his health club or take care of errands. He was always back by 4:00 at the very latest. He liked to catch his soap opera. Never missed it."
Ellison couldn't hold back his surprise. "Did you say soap opera?"
"Yes. According to John, any male our age is allowed at least one eccentricity. That was his. And it was a British one, no less." He watched as the detective wrote down the information. "Has what I told you helped at all?"
"It has Mr. Collins. Thank you." Getting down from the railing, Jim knew he could no longer put off the inevitable. After listening to the man's answers he was certain that he wasn't a suspect and regretted having to ask him to visit the murder scene again.
"It's all right, Detective," Peter Collins assured him as if reading his mind. "I'm ready to go inside. Let's just get this over with, shall we?" Rising from the chair, he took an unsteady step towards the house. "If this will help find the killer, then it's the least I can do for my friend."
Ellison and Sandburg followed the older man to the study. They stood by the man's side, ready to catch him if he showed any signs of collapse. Collins hesitated at the door to the den then pulled himself to his full height and entered. His hands that had hung loosely at his side became tight fists as he took in the scene once more. Reaching out to steady him, Jim shot his partner a look of regret. He hated to make an old man suffer to gain information.
Swallowing back a sigh, Sandburg knew what his friend was thinking. There had to be better ways to get the job done. And they were there to get the job done. Stepping around the older man, but still standing within arm's reach, Blair tried to get a get a better look at the room. One quick scan was enough to tell him that they were dealing with the same killer. A long board had been wedged between two beams that crossed the ceiling. It looked worn and rotting against the deep mahogany coloured wood that framed the room. The rope that had been flung across it and tied into a hangman's noose was frayed and soiled. It stood out in stark contrast to the high, white collar of the man's shirt. The room itself was neat and orderly. The only piece of furniture that seemed to be out of place, Sandburg noted with distaste, was the heavy wooden desk chair that lay on its side.
"Mr. Collins," Jim asked. "Is there anything about the room or your friend that seems wrong or shouldn't be here?"
Collins snapped around angrily and he thrust an arm out, pointing to the centre of the room. "You mean other than fact that... that..." His anger subsided almost as soon as it had begun. "I'm sorry. I realize that you need this information." Taking a deep breath, he made himself look more closely at the body that hung suspended from the overhead beams. "His clothing. I don't think I've ever seen him wear a shirt like that. It looks quite old. Out-dated. The pants as well."
"Is there anything else?" Ellison gently asked. Pulling a card from his shirt pocket when he received no answer to his question, he handed it to the now shaking man. "Why don't we head back to the porch? I'm going to give you my card. If you remember anything else, no matter how unimportant it seems, I want you to call me."
Ellison and Collins left the room, leaving Blair to his thoughts. He knew from Jim's treatment of the elderly man that he didn't consider him a suspect. He was glad for that. He had liked Peter Collins from the moment he had shaken his hand. But what did this do to their case? What did a retired male lawyer have in common with three female college students? So far their investigation had been focused on the fact that the victims were women and students of Rainier. Were they going to have to start all over again?
"Or look on the bright side, Sandburg," Blair argued with himself. "Maybe this means none of your friends will become targets."
"Talking to yourself, Hairboy?" Henri Brown's chuckle floated across his shoulder.
Blair turned to see Henri and Megan Connor standing at the door to the study. He grinned sheepishly, and looked down. "Caught."
Connor draped an arm around Sandburg's shoulders. "Don't pay any attention to him, Sandy. Jim told us that we'd probably find you in here." She walked over to the desk and gazed up at the body. "It looks like the same killer, doesn't it?"
"That puts all our efforts right down the tubes." Henri had moved to stand next to Blair, his hands planted solidly on his hips. "Two weeks of going over every file on every woman enrolled, employed or whatever at Rainier. Man, what a waste of time."
"Yeah, and now you know why I was talking to myself."
"Did you and Jim learn anything from the man who found the body?" Megan looked up from studying the papers that were lying on the desk. "Jim was just finding someone to drive him home when we arrived."
Not wanting to spend any more time looking at the body, Sandburg moved to the long corridor that connected the room to the front of the house. He waved at the other two to follow him. "Not much. Nothing that would tie him in with the first three, at least. About all we know is that victim number four is a retired lawyer, likes to play cards on a Friday night, and is named Rockford."
"Proctor." Ellison's voice came from behind them.
Slowly turning, Blair gaped at his partner. "What did you say? I thought on the way in you said his name was John Rockford?"
"I did. That's the name I got. Somebody heard it wrong, I guess. But Collins told me it's Proctor. John Proctor."
"Oh, man. I think we may have just found the connection we've been looking for."
Friday night had started to edge its way into Saturday morning by the time Jim Ellison turned the corner into familiar territory. A few more blocks and they'd be home. Looking over the day's events, he couldn't help but feel an odd mixture of frustration and optimism. Major Crimes had wasted so much time pursuing what they thought was their killer's pattern. All totalled, hundreds of man-hours had been invested checking into the background of the first three victims. Rainier University had been turned upside down. Dozens of staff and students had been questioned. Every alibi had to be traced and verified before anyone could be removed from an impossibly large list of potential suspects.
Frustration levels had started to climb as investigators and civilian aides alike began to suspect their efforts were futile. The growing body count hadn't helped, and the frustration soon became laced with fear when it seemed that any woman was being randomly selected as the next victim. Ellison had heard rumors of police personnel encouraging their children, spouses, whoever to avoid classes until the killer was caught.
But now they had a lead.
Or so it seemed.
John Proctor. Until early Friday evening he had been someone's father, another's friend. Now he had become the pivotal point in a manhunt. Stealing a glance at his partner, who slept soundly in the passenger seat next to him, Ellison could only shake his head in wonderment. It never ceased to amaze him, the amount of information Sandburg kept stored away in his head. Although the sentinel sometimes suspected that his young friend would drag out the most trivial of it to see how much it would take to drive him over the edge. Somewhere in their friendship "getting a rise out of Ellison" had become Sandburg's favourite sport. Grinning to himself, he had to admit that "1001 ways to drive Sandburg insane" was one of his favorite ways to liven up a dull day.
Proctor. The name had meant nothing to him, but when he had announced it back at the murder scene he had thought that Blair was going to burst. His usually exuberant partner had almost gone into hyperdrive as his mind put the pieces of the puzzle together. Nothing had come out in complete sentences, only fragments. Connor and Brown were given the very rare privilege of visiting the Sandburg zone. Luckily, they had had the benefit of an experienced guide. Both detectives had turned to him, looking perplexed.
"Don't worry, he'll get to where he's going with this," he had assured them.
And so his partner had. He had looked at the three of them as if they had missed something so incredibly obvious. "The clothes, the names. Don't you get it?" He had fixed Ellison with a triumphant grin. "It's Salem, man."
Stifling a yawn, Ellison turned on his signal light and made the left turn onto Prospect. If Sandburg was right, and he had no reason to doubt that he wasn't, they now had the "why". Blair was confident that a few hours of research in the Americana Collections area of the university library would provide them with all the proof they would need. If they were lucky it would also give them a list of possible victims. The name of every man and woman involved in the witchcraft trials of early New England would be compared against the list of citizens who lived in Cascade. It would be a painstaking job to identify everyone who appeared on both lists, but the police would now be able to offer some protection to those at risk.
The detective deftly maneuvered the pickup into its narrow space. With a weary sigh he switched off the key in the ignition and leaned his forearms against the steering wheel. "Well that's half the battle, Sandburg." He turned bleary eyes on his sleeping partner. "You wouldn't happen to have the answer to "who" tucked away in that brain of yours, would you?"
Oh man, I don't want to do this again. Blair looked all around him, trying to make shapes out of the darkness. He, or it, was there with him again. He could sense his being there. But where? He cautiously put out his hands, trying to feel what was around him. It took all his courage to do only that, with the too fresh memory of the searing pains from his last dream. Visit? Were these the lucid dreams of shamans and other spiritualists that he had read about? He didn't quite repress a shudder. I hope not. That would be one trip I wouldn't want to make alone.
"I know you're there." Blair tried to keep the quiver from his voice. "Why don't you show yourself? What do you want?" The faint scrape of footsteps seemed to come from behind him and he turned towards the noise. The sound moved with him. Oh God, oh God. What the hell is this place? With shaking fingers he wiped away the salty sweat that stung his eyes. Spinning around again, he tried to listen for the footsteps, but the roar of blood in his ears and the painful thudding of his heart against his ribcage drowned the sound out. Fighting back against the fear that held him rooted to the spot, he took a step forward. His foot had barely touched the ground when he felt a breath of warm air caress his cheek. He thought his heart would stop when the icy cold fingers wrapped around his arms. "What do you want?!"
Devil's Night: on the eve of Halloween
The aroma of coffee brewing and the clatter of dishes dragged a reluctant sentinel out from a sound sleep. Rolling over onto his back, he contemplated which form of execution his partner deserved. Death by heated glare or death by yelling? He had just crawled into bed. It couldn't possibly be morning. With a supreme human effort he lifted one eyelid and squinted into the brightness of the room. Checking the clock, all thoughts of killing his guide melted away. The kid had let him sleep in. Flinging back the sheet, he swung his legs out of bed and sat perched on the edge of the mattress. At any moment now, he knew that the rest of his body would catch up and he would be able to make the long trek down the stairs to a hot shower. With a groan that would have done any man twice his age proud, he pushed himself upright and headed downstairs.
"Morning, Sandburg. Going to grab a shower." His greeting had been muffled by a wide yawn but he assumed his friend had understood him. Blair's "sure, Jim" reached his ears as he closed the bathroom door.
Flinging his boxers into a corner of the room, he leaned into the shower stall and turned the showerhead to its pulsating setting. With a tired sigh Ellison stood under the stream of hot water, allowing his senses the full enjoyment of the soothing massage. The beating jets of water traced a path across his shoulders and the base of his neck, doing their best to drive away the beginnings of a tension headache. A few more minutes in the shower and he was sure he would be able to face the long day he knew lay ahead.
Feeling clean and definitely refreshed, he wrapped a towel around his waist and stepped into the cool air of the loft. That ten minutes under the shower had been able to work a near miracle. He felt human again. Taking a deep breath, he smiled. "Hey, that smells great, Chief. I'll be down in two."
He took the stairs three at a time. The delicious aroma of his waiting breakfast was all the incentive he needed. Pulling clothes from his dresser, it occurred to him that Blair had been unusually quiet, but then shrugged it off. Sandburg had never been a morning person. Deciding that a black tee shirt and jeans would be the uniform of the day, he quickly dressed and went down to breakfast.
"Get a good night's sleep, Sandburg?" He gave his partner's back a quick slap as he headed for the coffeepot. Pouring himself a cup, he turned with the pot in hand, ready to refill Blair's mug. "You..." Jim's mouth dropped open and he slowly returned the carafe to the heating plate. "...look like shit. Are you feeling all right?" He went to sit in the chair next to his guide, resisting the urge to reach out and feel his forehead.
"I didn't get much sleep last night." Blair's eyes were rimmed with dark circles, making their blues appear almost transparent. Even the spring of his naturally wavy hair was lacking. "I'm just a little tired. I'll be okay." He started to get up from the table. "Your breakfast is in the oven."
Jim grabbed his friend's elbow, pulling him back down into his chair. "It's fine where it is. I'm serious, Blair, you look ready to fall down." Going with his earlier impulse, he felt the younger man's forehead. It was cool to his touch. Maybe a little too cool. "I've seen you pull strings of all nighters, Sandburg. This is more than losing a little sleep."
"If you pour me that coffee you started to offer, I'll fill you in on chapter three of Blair Sandburg's walk through the twilight zone."
"You had another one?" Ellison picked up the chipped and cracked mug that his friend refused to part with and carefully filled it, never taking his eyes off Sandburg's face. "I didn't hear you."
Blair's eyebrows went up as he gratefully accepted the coffee. "You didn't? That's good. I was pretty sure I had yelled out at the top of my lungs. I think that's what finally woke me up. Maybe I only yelled in my head." He rubbed at his temples. "I wouldn't be surprised, the way my head is pounding this morning."
"Was it the same as the last one?"
"No." Blair shook his head and looked down into the steaming cup. "If it had been, I don't think it would have affected me as much. This one was different. This time I think I got to where it's been leading me." He took a sip of the coffee.
"Where you've been led? What do you mean?"
"I was thinking about it last night. The dreams have sort of the same theme, but they progress. You know?"
"I think so." Jim waited silently for his friend to continue. It was hard for him to imagine that anything could have been more frightening than the last nightmare Sandburg had had. But this one must have been. As Blair traced the edge of his cup with a finger, Ellison could detect slight tremors. They could have been the result of fatigue. He didn't think they were. That same look of fear was back. Every instinct was urging him to become what he and Blair had once jokingly referred to as a Blessed Protector. He would have gladly, without hesitation. But how could he protect his best friend from his subconscious? "Why don't you tell me what you mean?"
"The first one was really vague. The second one added a little more to it. This one didn't leave much to the imagination." Blair considered the person sitting next to him. Never overly verbose, Jim Ellison displayed everything he was thinking or feeling through expression and body language. You just had to care enough to look for it. Right now he could see the concern and underneath that a certain determination. He had seen it often enough. It was the patented sentinel look of "Trust me. I can fix this." Trust wasn't a question. Whether or not this was something to be fixed, he wasn't so sure about. A pressure on his arm startled him.
"Hey, Earth to Sandburg." Ellison's tone was gently teasing. His face was not. "You going to be okay, kid?"
"Sorry, man, didn't mean to keep you in suspense there." Taking another long sip of coffee, Sandburg steeled himself to tell his partner about the nightmare. "This one started out the same as the first two. Really dark. Feeling like I'm in the dream, but watching it too. It feels like I'm there forever, but I don't think they last very long." His laugh was short and mirthless. "Long enough, I guess." He took another sip. "Coffee's cold. I'm gonna nuke it. Yours okay, Jim?"
You're stalling, Sandburg. Just how bad was this? "Mine's fine."
Blair pushed down the oval button to open the microwave door. "This time that guy shows up sooner. I've decided it's a guy anyways. I never really see him. He talks to me this time. Tells me that I'm almost there. I just have to look straight ahead." He shook his head and smiled sadly. "What a joke. I never know where straight ahead is when I'm there. It's like every time I turn around I'm facing in the same direction. Very weird." The high pitched timer sounded on the microwave and he popped open the door to grab his cup.
"Whoa! Wait a minute Sandburg, that's going to be..." The warning came too late as Blair quickly extracted his hand and blew on his fingers. "...hot."
"Uh yeah, thanks for the warning." Sighing, he reached for a dishtowel to rap around the hot ceramic. "Not my morning."
At any other time, Ellison might have gotten a chuckle from his friend's minor mishap. "The day's still early, Chief. It's bound to improve," he offered sincerely.
Giving his partner a strange look, Blair groaned, "If you break out into strains of "Tomorrow" I'm going to slate you for drug testing, Jim." He returned to his seat at the table. "Nothing like a little comic relief." Blowing on the steaming mug, he continued. "I guess you want to hear the rest of it. A lot of it is pretty much the same as the second one. The iron grip on my arms, being pushed forward, the heat. This time though, he stops pushing me. Just leaves me standing there. That's when he tells me to look ahead. And when I do, I can see someone standing in front of me. It's far off so I start walking towards it." Chewing at the inside of his cheek, he tried to block the images that were starting to form in his mind. He needed to put some distance between himself and the dream if he was going to be able to talk about it. "I was almost there when this wall of flame shot up in front of me. It blinded me for a couple of minutes. But through the yellow glare I could see that I was closer to the person. Maybe only a few feet away. He, ah, he looked familiar. I think I must have known who it was because I started to panic. I didn't want to get any closer. He had his head bowed and my vision was still a little blurred, so I wasn't sure. All I knew was that I didn't want him to look up. But he did. It was me, Jim," he sighed.
Not knowing what to say, the sentinel could only offer the comfort of a touch and laid his hand on his guide's arm. Perhaps the gesture was enough since it earned him a smile of gratitude. "What happened next, Blair?"
Shuddering, Sandburg seemed to huddle in on himself. "Soon as our eyes met it was like we became one again. But instead of him being drawn into me, I was drawn into him. It's so hard to explain. All I know is that I was suddenly tied to this wooden post. I couldn't move. Then I knew what the other dreams had been telling me. The fire. The heat. I knew what was going to happen. There were small piles of wood all around me. He was going to burn me to death." He took a deep breath. "When the fire started I could see him standing just beyond it. I begged him to tell me why, but he wouldn't say anything. He just watched. Then the flames started to get higher and the air was too hot to breathe. It was burning my throat. I felt like I was breathing in the flames. I knew I needed to call for help while I still could. And that's when I yelled."
"And then you woke up."
"And then I woke up." Swallowing, Blair nodded. "So the dreams have been about the killer all along. I think deep down I must have made the connection." He rubbed at his face. "Witches. Salem. Hangings. Burnings. But I as far as I know no one was ever burned to death. Don't know where that one came from. Guess all the folklore got mixed in with the truth."
"Blair?" Jim waited until his friend looked at him. "The last time you had those burns. Were there any this time?"
"No burns. Not this time. Just these." Sandburg pushed the cuffs of his sweater up to reveal welts that circled his wrists. The skin had been rubbed raw. "He had my wrists tied together above my head. It looks worse than it is, Jim." Reliving the dream had worn him out and he closed his eyes for a moment. "I keep wondering, though. What happens next time?"
The doors to the university's Humanities library were just opening when Ellison parked the truck under the "No Parking/No Stopping" sign at the base of the library steps. Pulling the leather folder that held his badge from his pocket, he angrily flipped it open and pressed it to the driver's side window of the truck. He had spotted a security guard making his way towards it. The campus security officer took one look at the man seated in the truck and decided that it probably wouldn't be wise for him to challenge the driver. With a brisk nod he proceeded down the walk.
"All I'm saying, Sandburg, is that I think that we should stick together on this investigation." The entire morning, following breakfast, had been a seesaw battle of wills with Ellison gaining one small victory. Blair had insisted that he would take his own car that morning and make his first stop the university. It had taken some convincing, but putting the safety of unsuspecting motorists and pedestrians first had ended the argument. Jim had done his best to paint a disturbing picture of what would happen when Blair fell asleep behind the wheel.
"Why?" Sandburg threw his hands up in the air in disgust. "I know you want to take another look at Proctor's place before things get too trampled on. And I want to get started on researching those names." He reached for the door handle. "Besides, you'll go stir crazy sitting around the library and only one of us is going to be able to work on the books at a time. So you go do what you're good at and let me do what I'm good at."
"I don't like it," Ellison gritted out between clenched teeth. He sat ramrod straight, facing forward. His fingers were wrapped tightly around the steering wheel.
"You keep saying that, but I don't understand why?" Blair had sunk back against the truck's bench, running his hands through his hair in frustration.
Realizing that he was going to have to admit that he didn't have a real reason, the detective turned in his seat to face his partner. "I just have a bad feeling about this, okay?"
"A bad feeling?" Sandburg's anger seemed to visibly deflate. "What kind of bad feeling? Is it something specific? Does this have something to do with your senses?" His voice rose along with his excitement. A heightened sixth sense was always a possibility.
Blair's string of questions had caught him off guard. Jim hadn't even considered how he felt to be sentinel related. "No, I don't think so. I just feel like, I don't know, like we shouldn't split up."
"Oh." Sandburg's disappointment was obvious. "I think I know what's causing this. It's what I told you this morning. Hey, I'm not feeling great about it either." He smiled, trying to lighten the atmosphere in the cab of the truck. "Everything's okay. I'll see you in a couple of hours. Are you going to come in or do you want me to meet you out here?"
Knowing he wasn't going to win, the sentinel gave up. "I'll come in and meet you. You've got your phone with you?" He rolled his eyes in exasperation when Sandburg pulled it from his pocket and waved it in the air in front of him. "Just make sure it's turned on. I want you to keep in touch."
"I'll keep it turned on." Blair couldn't keep the annoyance from his voice as he got out of the truck. He started to close the door, but stopped. "You know, Jim, I did manage to pass at the academy. They thought I could do this job." He threw the door closed and started up the steps to the library.
Nice. Now you've managed to insult him. Waiting until Blair went into the building, Ellison attempted to find the reason behind his mood. No matter which angle he attacked it from, the cause of his bad feeling eluded him. It was only that, a bad feeling. When the large door closed behind his partner, he threw the truck into gear and pulled away from the curb. As he drove by the university fountain his eyes were drawn to a particular patch of grass. It reminded him of another time when he had completely misread a feeling. It had cost him everything, but he had been given another chance. It was one he couldn't afford to waste. "I know you can do the job, Chief," he said into the silence. It had come out as a sigh. "But that doesn't mean I'm not going to worry about you."
The house was quiet. Forensic teams and coroner personnel had long since packed up and gone. Without an audience, the sentinel could really dig for clues to the killer's identity. His first circuit around Proctor's home had been a quick and hardly satisfactory one the night before. Ellison really would have preferred to have Blair there with him this time, but his partner had been right when he argued that they didn't have time to waste. No one had been able to discover the timetable the murderer was working from. Still Sandburg had taken the time to lecture him about not focusing on one sense and risking a zone out. Jim hadn't suffered from zoning in a long while, but he suspected that was as much due to his guide being there to anchor him as it was from learning to control his senses. A slow smile crossed his lips as he thought about Blair being his guide. Lee Brackett had tossed the term out years ago; a vague reference to something that Jim and Blair had still been trying to work through. The word hadn't made an impression on the sentinel, but the same couldn't be said for his partner. Sandburg had latched onto the term. The first time he had used it, it had rankled and Jim remembered demanding an explanation. If he was to be honest with himself, he hadn't demanded anything, he had exploded. To him it sounded like giving up control of his life and being led around by the nose. By some kid, no less! And rather than turning tail and running like any sane individual should have done in the face of his anger, Blair had stood his ground and explained what being a guide had meant to him. It had been the ultimate extending of a hand in friendship, an offer to watch his back and a promise to help one stubborn cop learn how to deal with and accept the frightening gift of heightened senses. And that was a promise Sandburg had managed to keep in spite of the hurdles life had thrown at them. Perhaps only Ellison realized how correct the title of guide really was. Sandburg was the one who had shown up, out of nowhere, to lead him through a labyrinth of senses gone mad where other so-called professionals had failed. So maybe guide only told half the story. The kid had saved him. The detective's smile faded as his thoughts turned again to his partner's strange nightmares. His gut feeling was that Blair was in danger, but from what? Pulling in a deep breath, he started his investigation of the crime scene. He wanted to be done quickly and get back to the university.
Deciding to start at the rear of the house, the detective walked the holly-bordered path to a large wrought iron gate. It opened with a piercing squeal, making him wince. There was no way anyone would have been able to enter the backyard without being heard. This time Ellison took his time and carefully checked the grounds surrounding the sprawling house. He knew that other officers would have already scoured the house for signs of a forced entry, but he wouldn't be happy until he had done so himself. After a disappointing hour, he could find none. No ground floor windows had been left unlocked. He couldn't find any damage done to doorjambs or windowpanes. The house seemed secure. Had Proctor known his killer? Had he been somehow persuaded into inviting the man into his home? It seemed the only likely scenario. The idea that he had known his killer appeared to be the most logical. When he had looked over the body the night before he hadn't been able to see any evidence that the lawyer had struggled with his killer. Of course a medical examiner's findings could indicate otherwise. The only thing the sentinel could be sure of was that there were no obvious bruises or cuts anywhere visible. If it was the same killer, Dan Wolf wasn't likely to find any. None of the previous victims had carried any marks of physical abuse. Satisfied that he had literally left no stone unturned, he turned his attention to the inside of the house.
Ellison ducked under the yellow crime scene tape that barred the entrance to Proctor's home. He could still feel the tackiness of the powder that had been dusted on the handle. Fingerprints of friends and neighbors were still being collected to run against the ones found in the house. He was hoping for one particular match. It would be incredible luck if one of those prints matched the one found in the field. Was it possible that these four people shared one friend or acquaintance? It seemed unlikely, but years as a detective had taught him that nothing was ever impossible.
These thoughts were rolling around in the detective's mind as he entered the front foyer. These thoughts, and the one that had been bothering him for the last half an hour. He hadn't heard from Sandburg yet. He debated whether or not to call. His friend had been fairly angry with him already for seeming overly protective. He would give it another half an hour and then call.
Propping an elbow on each side of the worn, leather bound journal that he had been reading, Blair took off his glasses, laying them on the desktop. Giving his temples a quick kneading, he tried to focus his tired eyes on the print. As he stretched his arms out in front of him, hearing joints pop and groan, he looked at his watch and realized that he had been at it for a little over an hour. The closed stacks of the Americana Collection had proven to contain a wealth of information. It was more than he had hoped for. What had really surprised him, though, was that his cell phone had not rung. He had even checked it to make sure he hadn't inadvertently turned it off. Grinning, he pulled it out of his pocket and dialed his partner's number. The second ring had barely sounded when his friend answered.
"Hey, Jim," Blair kept his voice hushed. Even though he and the reference desk staff person were the only two in the reading room that morning, he couldn't break ingrained habits. "Just checking in and checking up on you. How are things going over there? Found anything promising?"
"Checking up on me?" Ellison's warm laughter filled the small carrel. "What did you think, Sandburg? I'd be just another statue in Proctor's garden, zoned on the smell of the flora and fauna?"
Blair couldn't help grinning at the picture that came to mind. "Well, not exactly, but I suppose it could have happened." He switched the phone to the other ear and stifled a yawn.
"I heard that, Chief. Nothing's really turned up here. How are things going with your search? Found that list you're looking for?"
"No." He carefully turned another page of the journal. "I know I've seen it somewhere. Right now I'm going through a diary. It's a first hand account of the Salem proceedings. It has some names and dates, but at this rate I'll be retiring before I can find them all. And I don't think we have that much time. I think what I'm going to do is run downstairs, grab a cup of coffee, and then try Drake's account." He yawned again. "If I don't find it there, then maybe I can find it on the net somewhere. When do you think you'll be done, Jim?"
"Nother hour, hour and a half. I'll probably find you asleep under a pile of books when I get there, from the sounds of it. Blair..." There was a long pause. "I didn't mean to say this morning that..."
"Don't worry, Jim, you didn't. I was tired. I lost my cool." He laughed softly. "You're off the hook this time, big guy. I'll see you in an hour or so."
"Okay, kid. See you in an hour."
Ending the call, Blair stacked the journals to return them to the desk. As he signed the copy of the request slip to prove he had returned the materials a thought occurred to him. "Dan? Do you keep a record of these slips?"
The man looked surprised at the question. "Yes, we do. We have to track usage to prove to our less than learned board that we actually deserve the meager funding we get. Why?"
Quickly explaining what he was looking for, Blair waited in eager anticipation as Dan went to retrieve his records. If the killer didn't have his own reference sources, he would have probably come to the university for his information. Matching names and dates might give him a new list of suspects.
"Okay, Blair," the man grunted as he dropped a large file box onto the counter. "I brought everything out that covered the last month. But you said that you were only interested in the New England witch trials, right? That should help to narrow it down some." He grinned at Sandburg and raised both eyebrows. "Do you mind if I help? It gets really boring here on Saturdays."
Eyeing the bundled papers that filled the box to the top, Sandburg gratefully accepted the offer. "Sure, that'd be great, Dan. So, how do you sort this stuff?"
The elevator doors opened to the sub-basement level of the library where the books about the plague of witches was kept. Samuel Parris walked with his usual determination to the reading room. The university made him nervous. He didn't like being there since he had discovered that three of its students had been on his list. The newspapers and radio had told him that. Reaching the end of the long aisle and turning the corner of the last row of stacks, he stopped dead in his tracks. Through the large glass windows of the reading room he could see two people standing at the front desk. One he immediately recognized as Dan, the graduate student who always worked on Saturdays. The other he was almost certain was the cop. The one he had been shown was his enemy. Was he there looking for him? Stepping back behind the shelves of books, he watched through the gap between the rows. He knew what he had to do. His mission was nowhere near to being completed. This evil one would have to be stopped first before he could continue. Maybe this one was the key? If he was stopped, the others might be released from his corrupting influence.
The front bell to the Proctor home rang just as Ellison had finished checking the remaining room of the main floor. Surprised by the sound, it took him a moment to realize what it was. Zeroing his sight down the hallway, he saw Peter Collins through the frosted window of the door.
When he opened the door Collins looked both relieved and nervous. "Detective Ellison. I saw your truck parked out front. I hope it's all right that I've come over. I was about to call you." He paused to take a deep breath.
Lifting the yellow tape, Jim motioned for the man to come in. "No, no, it's fine. Is something wrong?"
"I've remembered something that I should have mentioned last night. It occurred to me this morning that the house seemed terribly neat. I thought that maybe John knew the man." Collins suddenly blushed a deep red. "I... I'm a bit of a mystery buff," he stammered.
"And a good one," Jim smiled. "I've been thinking about the same thing. What's your theory?"
"It's not a theory really. It's a name. John was having some work done in the backyard. The deck needed some planks replaced."
Ellison waited patiently as Collins related the story of how a young man named Samuel Parris had appeared on Proctor's doorstep three weeks ago seeking work. The retired lawyer had offered the handyman the job of repairing his warping deck.
"At first I thought it was quite amusing," Collins finished.
"Amusing? I don't think I understand."
"That Samuel Parris and John Proctor would meet again." He looked down and shook his head. "But perhaps the meeting wasn't as random as I had thought? After what has happened."
The sentinel knew that if Sandburg had been there Collins' remarks wouldn't have seemed as cryptic to him, but he was lost. "I'm sorry, sir, but you're going to have to explain what you mean."
"Samuel Parris and John Proctor met in Salem in the 1700's. Samuel Parris was one of the men responsible for having Proctor executed by hanging for witchcraft. If this is mere coincidence, Detective, it's a chilling one."
Ellison had just closed the door behind Collins when his cell phone rang. Flipping it open, the excited voice of his partner was on the other end.
"Jim! I think I've got the name of our killer!"
"Samuel Parris," they said in unison.
He couldn't help laughing at Blair's puzzled "huh?" The detective quickly filled the younger man in about the conversation he had just had with Peter Collins. "But how did you figure it out, Chief?"
Blair Sandburg stood at the reference desk, a large wad of papers clutched in his hand. "When I was signing some materials back in, it occurred to me that if our killer had come here to do some research he would have to do the same. So I've been sifting through the files here. All I was hoping for was a name that might show up a few times, taking out books on the witch trials. When I saw Samuel Parris' name I nearly choked!" He gulped down a breath. "And what's even better, Jim, is that you have to record your status when you want to look at something! He put down university staff. So he does work here. Or did. Dan, the guy that works at the library who helped me out with this, thinks he either quit or was let go."
"Sounds like we have to make another trip to Human Resources, Sandburg." Ellison let out a frustrated groan. "That warrant's expired. I'm pretty sure of it. I'm going to have to get Simon to throw his weight around to find a judge to swear out a new one. And on a Saturday too."
With a groan of his own, Blair sank into a nearby chair. "And while he's at it, you better get Simon to have someone contact university administration. The dean's gonna love that." He rubbed at an eyebrow with his finger. "I don't get it. I know that I would have remembered seeing that name when we made the Salem connection. I wonder how I missed it last night?"
"I know the answer to that one, Chief. Our warrant released the personnel files of people currently employed at the university. This one will have to include terminated positions. Okay, I'm going to get on it. I'll call you when I'm on my way over to the administration building. It shouldn't take too long."
Blair ended the call and with a happy sigh turned to Dan. "Guard those little slips with your life, Dan. I have a feeling they're going to be very important very soon." He got up to leave. "I was wondering. Do you know what this Parris guy looks like?"
"Oh yeah," Dan answered with a crooked grin. "He's one of those guys that strike you as being a little left of centre. You know the kind. They look normal enough until you talk to them. He's tall, taller than I am. Kinda on the lanky side. He's got blond hair. Cut short. Real prim and proper looking. Or make that grim and proper. I don't think I've ever seen the guy smile." He shrugged. "Other than that, there's not much else to tell you about him."
"That was pretty good," Blair grinned. "I'm just going to go to the cafeteria and get a cup of coffee. Can I get you anything? I'm coming back here. I still need to find that list I'm looking for."
Dan waved him off. "Nah, nothing for me. Thanks anyway, Blair."
Feeling more optimistic than he had since the case had begun, Sandburg thought he had the energy to take the stairs the two floors up. He knew he didn't have the patience to wait for the elevator. Humming to himself, he pushed through the swinging door and started to jog up the steps. He didn't realize that anyone had followed him into the stairwell until a voice called to him from behind.
"Hey, mister! Wait up a minute. You dropped something."
Fairly certain that he hadn't, Blair started to turn to say so. He caught a blur of movement in the corner of his eye and a blinding pain at the back of his head followed a whoosh of air. He was unconscious before he hit the concrete floor at the bottom of the stairs.
The sentinel burst through the elevator doors and hurried into Major Crimes. Simon had promised to meet him there. Pausing long enough to throw his jacket on his desk, he made a beeline for his captain's office. He could hear Banks' voice alternately arguing with and then cajoling someone on the phone. Not waiting for an answer to his knock, he pushed the door open and poked his head inside.
"Yes, your honor." Simon looked over to the door and waved his detective in. "You did swear out a release allowing us access to personnel files. That has expired and only allowed us to view current employees. We have good reason to believe the man we're looking for no longer works there." He frowned at Ellison, rolling his eyes. "It's for the serial killer case we've been working on." There was a pause. "Yes, I agree. The sooner the better. I'll have Detective Ellison pick it up within the hour. Thank you, your honor." He slammed down the phone in disgust. "You'd think they had to pay for every one of those we requested."
"But we've got it, sir?"
"We do." Whatever else he had to say was lost when the door swung open and admitted someone resembling Daryl Banks.
"Hey Dad," the younger Banks laughed as he grabbed the ends of a black cape and drew it around him. "So what do you think? Oh hi, Detective Ellison! Is Blair with you? This was kind of his idea."
Grinning, Jim walked slowly around the costumed teen. "This definitely looks like something that could qualify as one of Blair's ideas. And this would be?" He raised his eyebrows in question.
"Darth Maul!" Daryl gasped, pushing his hood back. He sounded astonished that anyone could even ask the question. The blood red makeup scored with black, and the horns, couldn't have left any doubt. He turned to his father. "Didn't I get the makeup right, Dad?"
"You certainly did, son," Simon grinned. "I think Jim was pulling your leg."
Ellison couldn't help but laugh when Simon's son fixed him with an accusing glare. "Busted," he smiled, holding a hand up. "You look great, Daryl. Blair told me what you were going to be wearing to that party tonight. He's going to be sorry he missed seeing it." The smile left his face as he focused on the case once more. "Speaking of Sandburg. Did you manage to find someone to let us in to see those records today?"
"The dean himself. Campus security would only give me his name because of the sensitivity of the warrant. I guess I can't blame them. No one wants a lawsuit. He's going to meet you there in a couple of hours. He lives on the outskirts of town and has to drive in. I'll warn you now, Jim. He did not sound like a happy man."
Daryl had listened to the conversation with some interest, but he still had places he needed his father to chauffeur him to. The day he had money enough to buy his own car couldn't come fast enough. "I'm gonna go and wash this stuff off, Dad. And then can we get going?" His gym bag and shoes sat on the table behind the sentinel. Reaching over to grab them, he noticed that the detective had an odd expression on his face. "Are you okay?"
Ellison nodded, but addressed Simon. "It's that smell again, sir. The one that I couldn't identify. It was there again at Proctor's." He spun on Daryl. "Do you have more of that red goop with you?"
"Sure," he said, opening his bag. "Here."
Opening the jar, Jim smiled triumphantly. "This is it." He handed it back to the teenager. "Thanks Daryl. That smell and what it was, it was starting to bother me." Not really sure where the smell of theatrical makeup fit into the puzzle, Ellison filed it away.
Tossing the makeup back into his bag and pulling the zipper closed, he shrugged. "Glad I could help. I'll be back, Dad."
Sandburg's world had taken a crazy tilt. He was lying down on something hard and gritty. Enough awareness had returned for him to realize that he was gagged and bound. A rough cloth had been tied tightly across his eyes. And he was moving. He could hear the crunch of tires over stone and the sound of a car's motor. Van or truck, he corrected himself, since he was lying full length. He had no idea of how long he had been unconscious or how long they had been travelling. All he knew was that his throat ached from the dryness and his head throbbed. He could only hope that wherever Jim was, he had discovered that his partner was missing and most likely in the hands of Samuel Parris. His last thought, before his head bounced off the floor as the tires dipped into a pothole, was either a sign that he had been hit hard enough for a concussion or that his sense of humor was still in working order. Don't let him cut my hair, man. Not again. Then he saw stars and nothing else.
Across town a worried Jim Ellison tried dialing his friend's cell phone a fourth time. He knew that Blair had been anxious to get word about the warrant and wouldn't have turned it off. A dead battery was a possibility and the only thing that kept him from riding up on the sidewalk to get around slow Saturday traffic. The bad feeling that had plagued him for most of the day came back with a vengeance. Retrieving the warrant had been a quick job, leaving him enough time to meet Blair at the library before the dean was scheduled to arrive. Now if Sandburg would only answer his phone. He beat his palm against the steering wheel, debating what to do. The panic that he had been fighting finally won out and he grabbed the police flasher, sticking it to his dashboard. Sounding the siren, he moved into the empty lane for oncoming traffic and detoured around the jam that blocked his way. He was only a few short miles from the university.
Within minutes he was once again parking in front of the university library entrance. Racing through the front entrance, he spotted an elevator headed down, its doors just beginning to close. Slipping inside, he punched the button for the sub-basement.
This floor of the library seemed almost deserted compared to the high activity of the main floor. The lights were dimmed and the stacks deeply shadowed. Blair had always referred to it as the catacombs and had favored it as one of his spots to disappear to when he needed some absolute quiet for study. "Disappear to, Sandburg," Jim growled to himself. "Not disappear from. Just be there." His heart sank as the reading room came into view. Save for the man working behind the desk, the room was empty. Stopping in between two rows of stacks, the sentinel listened for his partner's voice. Maybe he was elsewhere on the floor, looking up a fact. He swore he could hear the bugs in the walls, but not an echo of the sound he was searching for.
Dan looked up as Ellison entered the glassed in area. The detective had already fished his badge out of his pocket. "I'm looking for Blair Sandburg. He was supposed to be working here."
"Right. The other detective. He was here. He went to get a coffee." Jim started to relax when he heard the man's answer. "Come to think of it, that was probably an hour ago. He said he was coming back. He gave me the impression that he was coming right back because he offered to get me one too."
"You think it was about an hour ago?" That would have meant that Blair had left soon after he and Jim had finished talking. "He didn't mention stopping anywhere else?"
The man shook his head. "No. He told me to guard the request slips with my life and then he left. I'm sorry, I can't help you."
"That's all right. Can you give me your number here? If he comes back, tell him to stay put." Jim jotted down the number and headed back to the elevators. Before allowing complete panic to set in, he thought he would try Blair's cell phone one more time. He waited for the first ring, hoping that his friend would pick up. He nearly dropped the phone when he heard the echo of the shrill ring of Sandburg's phone. He slowly turned on his heel, trying to determine where it was coming from. The stairwell. Heart pounding, he made for the door. He could only hear the ringing of the phone. No heartbeat. If Blair was there...
Moaning, Sandburg came slowly awake. This time he was standing upright and as far as he could tell he had stopped moving. He throat still ached and the throbbing at the back of his head seemed to have doubled. Instinctively he went to massage the spot, but found he couldn't. His wrists were bound together and pulled up above his head. A sudden flashback to the nightmare he had had the night before made him want to vomit. He tried to pull his arms down from where they were tied, but they were held fast. Another moan escaped him as he realized that he was trapped as he had been in his dream. His fear that the nightmares had been more prophecy than dreams had been realized. The remembered agony of the burns and the suffocating heat made him yank even harder on the ropes that were wrapped around his wrists. And then he froze. The scrape of a footstep sounded from behind him and the soft caress of a breath touched his cheek.
Tucking Blair's cell phone into his pocket, Jim ran the two flights up to the main floor. A sick feeling had lodged in the pit of his stomach. Parris had his guide. And all of Parris' victims turned up dead. This time was different. He had a name. He would get the address. He would find his partner. Bursting through the front doors of the library, he raced down the concrete steps and headed off across the treed lane. The administration building and the library faced each other. An island of green separated them. At the centre of which stood a fountain. He wouldn't let himself look at it or hear the rippling of its water. Instead he focused his vision on the building that loomed up ahead. The university's dean was waiting, pacing impatiently in front.
"It's about time, Detective. I don't appreciate being dragged out here just to be kept waiting."
The adrenaline that was now pumping through Ellison's system nearly sent him at the dean's throat. Keeping his anger in check, he shoved the warrant into the man's hands. "The sooner you let me in to see the files the sooner you can get out of here." He followed the dean down through the quiet halls.
"You're that detective that was involved in the Sandburg mess, aren't you?" The haughtiness of the man's tone was almost too much for the sentinel to ignore. "He's not involved in this too, is he?"
One question too many. Jim grabbed the shorter man's arm and leaned into his face. "Yes, Detective Sandburg is involved in this case too. He's working to make sure that no more of your students end up the target of a killer." He released the man's arm. "I don't have time for this. I need to get into those files."
Visibly shrinking away from Ellison's anger, the dean opened the Records office. "The files of those terminated are over here. If you like I can..." He nearly jumped back when the detective stepped toward him.
Not giving the other man a second glance, Jim pulled the folder from the drawer. "Parris." Opening it, he laid it on the desk to read the address. "Warner House." He looked at the dean. "Warner House? That's a half-way home for the emotionally disturbed. According to this, Parris was still working here when it burned to the ground. You didn't get an updated address?"
"Well, Detective, I would hardly be responsible for..."
"Save it. A David Pettigrew signed these termination papers. Who is that and where can I get in touch with him?"
The dean went to the secretary's desk and sorted through a file basket. "Ah, here it is. The university directory. David Pettigrew is a professor here. Drama and American Literature." He wrote down a phone number and handed it to Ellison. "Would you like to call him?"
The sentinel had the number dialed before the dean finished speaking. If luck was with him, Pettigrew would be home. He said a silent prayer of thanks when he heard a man's "hello."
"David Pettigrew. My name is Detective James Ellison of Major Crimes. I'm trying to track down a Samuel Parris. I'm here at the university, looking at his termination papers. I noticed that your signature is at the bottom. I was wondering what you could tell me about him."
Pettigrew must have recognized the urgency in Ellison's voice, as he didn't question him at all about the call. "Samuel Parris. I'm not likely to ever forget him. We hired him to work on some sets for a production the Drama department was going to be putting on. I have to admit that we didn't do much checking into his background before hiring him. If we had, I don't know if we would have hired him. We wanted to do the right thing and not hold his disability against him." Pettigrew sighed. "To be honest, Detective, the man's name was also a factor. You see, we were doing a production of the Crucible. Salem and all that. My production crew and I thought it would be interesting to have a Parris working on the set. Big mistake. He became very involved with the character in the play. At one point I honestly believed that he was confusing himself with the Parris of the Crucible. He started spouting the Bible. He developed an obsession for the history of the witch trials. We were always relieved when he would disappear for hours to do his "research", as he called it. Lord only knows where he went for that. He even began harassing the actors who were playing the accused. It finally reached a point where we had to ask him to not be in the building when we were there."
"Do you have any idea where Parris moved to? His residence burned down while he was working for you." The detective mentally crossed his fingers.
"We let him move into the basement of the theatre. The old Alex on Denman. It's usually empty. We had it rented for the play and that was all. I don't think he moved out when the play ended. He may still be there."
The clothing, with the smell of theatrical makeup still on them, had been the only consistent clue at each murder. Parris had to be living at the theatre.
The Alexandria Theatre on Denman had been built in the tradition of the grand old theatres of decades ago. Even now, as it graced the entrance to Cascade's harbour district, it still managed to retain some of its elegance. The home of amateur theatre, the more highbrow patrons of the arts moving uptown, it often stood empty. Jim remembered the last time he had visited the old Alex. It had been two years ago that he and most of Major Crimes had been convinced by Sandburg to see the production of Before Midnight. Little had they known they were really there to witness the acting debut of one Henri Brown. Blair had been quite pleased with himself that night. He had pulled off a surprise for all involved. And it was his partner who had brought him here once again.
"I'm sitting outside the Alex now, Simon." The sentinel was in his truck across the street, arguing with the captain. "I don't have time to wait for backup. Not if he's got Blair in there." He clenched the phone more tightly, knowing that Banks wouldn't give up easily.
"Jim, listen to reason." Simon knew his pleas were falling on deaf ears. "We don't know how violent this guy is. Barging in there alone could get you and Sandburg killed. Give it a few minutes. Connor and Brown are on their way and a uniform unit has been dispatched."
"I can't wait," Jim sighed. "You're asking me for time I don't know I have. I don't know that Blair has. I'll be careful."
Cold fingers grabbed Sandburg's jaw from behind. "I'm going to take the gag off now. You can yell all you want. No one will hear you."
When the cloth was finally removed from his mouth, yell was exactly what Blair wanted to do. He knew he wouldn't be able to, though. His throat and mouth were so dry that just talking would be an effort. "Aren't you going to take off the blindfold?" The words were barely a hoarse whisper. "You're going to kill me. What would it matter?"
"I... I'm not sure." The voice had moved to the front now. "I don't know if you have to be able to see me to hurt me. Maybe letting you talk was wrong."
"Hurt you? I don't want to hurt you." Blair wondered how sincere that had sounded. At that very moment he knew that nothing would be beyond him if it meant escape. "I don't even know who you are or why you're doing this."
"You know who I am!" The man fairly screamed it. "That's why you were there at the library. You wanted to stop me. But you can't because I know who you are. I've seen who you really are."
Blair could hear noises all around him and tried to convince himself that is was only his overactive imagination that made it sound like wood being dropped on wood. "What do you mean who I really am? If you know I'm a policeman then you know it's my job to protect people, not hurt them." He gasped in surprise when strong fingers wrapped themselves into his sweater.
"You hide behind doing good," Parris snarled. "But I've seen you. You and the one that was with you. I saw the wolf. I saw the black cat. I know what they are. You command them."
He saw them? I haven't seen them! "I don't know what you're talking about. There isn't any wolf or cat." He heard the man grunt and another clatter of wood against the floor. "What... what are you doing?"
"I'm getting things ready. It's Devil's Night tonight," he panted. "Tonight I will send your black soul back to Hell. Maybe then the others will be freed." Another bang of wood. "You are the one. It's you that's corrupted their minds. Made them what they are."
"They?" Sandburg hadn't thought it possible but the throbbing in his head began to worsen. He wondered if he was going to black out again.
"The witches!" Parris shouted at him. "You created them. When you're dead they'll be set free!" Blair heard the man's sharp intake of breath. "Wait. Did you hear that?"
The last thing he needed was for the killer to panic. "No. No. I didn't hear anything." It was the truth.
"Someone's coming. It's too soon!" Parris ripped the cloth from Blair's eyes. "I want you to see the face of the man who is your executioner. I have been the only one strong enough to stand against what you've created."
Sandburg blinked into the lighted room. The face before him swam in dizzy waves. Whether it was from being hit on the head or the sudden brightness, Blair couldn't be sure. "Please, just untie me. You've got it all wrong. I'm not a devil." He watched the blur that was Parris move away from him. Blinking hard to clear his vision, he tried to see what the man was doing. He heard a splash of liquid and then the strong odor of gasoline reached his nose. "Wait! Samuel, stop!" He didn't know why he had used the killer's first name but it had the desired effect.
Parris stopped pouring the gasoline, setting the can down carefully. Three long strides brought him to the devil. He raised his hand and slapped Sandburg across the cheek with enough force that it left imprints of his fingers. "Don't ever speak my name!" He raised his hand once again, ready to deliver another blow. Blair saw him stop and cock his head to one side. "He's coming. He can't stop me now."
Dazed, Blair wasn't sure what it was Parris was talking about. He hadn't heard anything either time. He was having a hard time hearing past the pounding in his head. But he began to hope that the killer was right. It had to be Jim. Mustering the strength he had left and taking a breath, he shouted the sentinel's name as loud as he could. Jim had to have heard him. He didn't think he could do it again. The effort had almost sent him back into unconsciousness.
Samuel Parris threw the empty gasoline container onto the last pile of wood. "That's not going to help you. He'll never get here in time. Even if he does he'll probably burn along with you. It's sad. I had hoped that I could save him from you." He took a book of matches from his pocket, pulling one match from it. "I had wanted the chance to pray over you. I had wanted to properly dispatch your soul, in case there was some small chance for your salvation." He shook his head sadly. "I can't do that now. I can't risk being interrupted."
Jim Ellison had come to a skidding halt just outside the large double doors to the theatre's storage area. He had heard Blair's voice as soon as he had entered the building and had followed it to the lower levels of the Alex, to the deep cave-like nooks hidden under the stage. He now stood with his back to the door, listening to Parris. The man was still too close to Sandburg for him to make a move. He didn't know if Parris was armed and he couldn't take that risk with his friend's life. He tensed as he heard the killer's last words. They had a sound of finality to them. Taking a deep breath and a step towards the room that held the two men, Ellison hoped that backup arrived soon. He had put in a call to 911 as soon as he had smelled the gasoline and had heard Parris say that he was getting ready to send Blair's soul to Hell. He still hadn't heard any sirens.
Chancing another quick look into the room, he saw that Parris had moved away from Sandburg. The smell of the gasoline filled the area, stinging his eyes and throat. He had to choke back a cough. Hearing his friend cough and wheeze against the putrid air, Jim had to use every ounce of control to not rush in. He had to have a plan. Holstering his gun, he realized it would be useless. One shot would ignite the fumes. Stealth would be his only weapon. Just as he made the decision to rush Parris, he heard Blair's heart begin to race.
"I know you're there," Samuel Parris called to Ellison. He held the matchbook in his hand. His other hand held the match, ready to strike it. "I can hear you. But you're too late."
Time had now run out. All promises he made to Simon of being careful were forgotten as he stepped into the room. With no time to think about a course of action he let instinct take over. He charged the killer. They both went heavily to the ground, but the sentinel had managed to knock Parris away from the gasoline soaked wood, winding him. Ellison knew he hadn't stopped the man. What he had done was buy himself enough time to get to his partner. As he picked himself up from the concrete floor he checked on Sandburg.
Blair had used the diversion to topple the stand and pole his arms had been tied to. His wrists were still bound, but he was free to move and get himself away from the gasoline soaked pyre. Pushing himself to his knees, he tried to stand. His eyes watered and stung from the fumes and his lungs struggled as he tried to breathe. He frantically worked to clear his vision to see what had happened to his friend, sagging with relief when he saw Jim just beyond the low wooden barrier. Attempting to straighten up, he saw that the world had once again taken a dizzying tilt. He doubted that he'd be able to make it to the door on his own. It was further than he wanted to walk. His strength had all but deserted him when he had freed himself. A loud crash brought his eyes wide open, making him wonder when he had closed them. Sure that Parris had recovered, he gathered every ounce of energy he had left, ready to fight for his life.
"C'mon, Chief." Jim's arm reached around Sandburg's shoulders, pulling him to his feet. "Backup's arrived and we're outta here." He gave his partner an encouraging smile, not liking the slightly disoriented daze that clouded Blair's eyes. He half dragged, half carried his guide to the door and freedom.
Blair wanted to tell Jim how glad he was to see him but couldn't get his voice to work. So instead he let himself be led from the room. He knew he'd never understand what it was that made him look back. Perhaps the fear that Samuel Parris was behind them? Whatever it was, he would be forever thankful that he had. What he saw nearly paralyzed him. Parris had risen unsteadily to his feet, a look of pure hatred marring his features. Blair saw the quick blur of the killer's hands and the flash.
With no time to shout a warning, he shoved at Jim with all his might. They both landed in a heap as the blue-white flame of a fireball shot over their heads. Then Blair's world went black.
"I think he's coming around now."
Blair heard the voices and tried his best to ignore them. There would always be the possibility that if he didn't answer they would go away. Wherever he was it was soft. He didn't want to leave it.
Jim was using Blair? He referred to him by his given name, but rarely used it. That meant he was worried. Slowly opening his eyes, he saw Ellison leaning over him. "Hey." It was hardly more than a rasp, surprising him until he remembered what had happened.
The sentinel's face creased into an impossibly large grin. "How you doin' buddy? You ate a little smoke back there. Paramedics say you've a pretty good knock on the back of your head, too. No permanent damage."
"Thas' good." Blair felt what must have been the gurney start to move. "Parris?"
"He never made it out, Chief." Jim answered quietly. Turning, he spoke to someone walking next to him that was out of Sandburg's line of vision. "They want to take you in for a check, Blair. I'm going to ride in with you."
"Okay," he sighed. "You sure? About Parris?" Blair relaxed at his partner's nod. He had questions, but they could wait. "Jim?" He grabbed his friend's sleeve.
Ellison held up his hand, signaling for the medics to wait. "What is it, Chief? You all right?"
"Yeah." Sandburg licked at his dry lips. "Just next time? Next time you have a bad feeling? Don't let me brush you off. Okay, man?"
"You got it, kid." Jim's smile was rueful as he gave his guide an affectionate tap on the cheek. "Let's get you checked out and go home."
Blair set the bowl of miniature chocolate bars and candies down on the table next to the door. Deciding to test the loot they were handing out, he tore the wrapper off a Snickers bar and popped it into his mouth. He smiled, as he walked back to the couch, at the pure genius of the person who thought to put peanuts and chocolate together.
Hearing a light knock, he turned down the sound of Jim's new Santana CD and went to the door. So far he had been visited by an assortment of vampires, princesses, and Star Wars characters. He wondered who would be next. With the bowl of treats in hand he flung the door open, expecting to hear the cries of "trick or treat". His mouth dropped open and he took a step back from the door. His eyes wide with fear.
"Oh, ha, ha, Sandburg," Jim growled as he pushed his way into the loft. His arms were full of groceries.
"Hey, Jim," Blair laughed. "Can I help it if that was the scariest mask I've seen all night?" He followed his friend into the kitchen. "So, what's for dinner?" He started to sort through the bags.
"Whatever you're making, Chief." Ellison went to the fridge for some bottled water. "I heard from Simon while I was dodging kids in the supermarket. They found his body, Blair. He died in the fire."
"Guess that ends it. There was a lot I didn't get about him. He saw them, Jim. He saw the panther and the wolf. " He stopped unpacking the groceries. "Do you think...?" He looked at his partner long and hard and then sighed. "Probably not." Sandburg pulled a loaf of bread from the bag. "He was one sad bastard, wasn't he?"
"Yeah, he was." Jim walked over to the CD player and turned up the volume on Supernatural. He watched his friend's reflection in the glass of the picture that hung over the stereo system. It was just a little too solemn for his liking. The case had been a long and tough one. Parris had had them chasing their tails. Grinning to himself, Ellison reached for the newspaper, flipping to the entertainment section. Nothing like a little humor in bad taste to get the kid going.
"Hey, Chief, what's say that after the last goblin gets the last piece of candy we go to the show?" He folded the newspaper in two and held it out for his friend. "There's this picture I've been wanting to see. It's about these three kids that go camping in the woods to film a documentary about..."
Acknowledgement: I'd like to offer a special thank you to Mina, who approached me months ago about "scenes" she had imagined for a story. Those chilling dreams Blair had are hers. *g* I would also like to thank her for being patient enough to wait until I finally wrote the story and not suggest that she talk to someone else. Thank you for sharing those wonderful ideas with me!