Production No. CVT504
Shelley and Melanie
MEET THE CAST
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?"