Heart and Soul Act II

Marissa looked up and smiled when he walked into her office. "Hey, stranger."

He returned her smile. "Hey."

She covered the mouthpiece of the phone in her hand. "I'll be just a minute. Have a seat."

He sat down in one of the "student" (read old and rickety) chairs in front of her desk. Except for the desk, which was one of those fiberglass things meant for a cubicle somewhere, all the furnishings in her office were old. Warped wooden shelves held her collections of books and artifacts, all lined up and dusted. A steam radiator hissed along one wall. Metal file cabinets were scratched and dented. Framed prints and photographs of Mesoamerican art and structures--and some of Marissa and her expedition teams--hung on the walls, covering cracks in the plaster. Dr. Dulong was not high on the totem pole at Rainier. Still, her office was nicer than his had been, when he had one. A lot neater, too.

"Yes," she said into the phone, "first thing tomorrow. Five hundred shares. I know, but I had a tip. Just do it, okay, Brian? Thanks."

Marissa hung up. Her hazel eyes met his with what looked like genuine pleasure. "Thanks for agreeing to meet so late. My only class on Tuesday is evening, and I was too lazy to come in earlier."

He grinned. "I can relate."

"Oh, sure you can, Mr. 'Sleep is for wimps.'"

He laughed. "Hey, I never said that."

"No, you just lived it." Marissa reached across the desk to squeeze his hand, dark brown hair swinging forward with her movement. She tucked it behind her ear in a gesture so habitual that she sometimes did it unnecessarily. "It was nice to hear from you. I'm just sorry it took a murder for you to call me."

"Yeah, well…." He shrugged, trying not to blush.

"You know, not all of us agreed with Chancellor Edwards' actions. We're glad you're back on campus."

"Thanks."

"I heard you have a new dissertation subject. Something to do with the police?"

"The effects of proximity and increased familiarity with police work on observers and other non-official personnel closely involved with the police."

"Like you were."

"Yeah." He grinned. "I'm my own subject. One of 'em, anyway."

"You're not worried about the objectivity issue?"

"Nah. That's really only a concern in my own case; it should be more than balanced out by all the other subjects."

"I wish I were on your committee. I'd love to read it before it's published."

"Oh, hey, no problem, Marissa. I'll send you a copy when I'm done."

She smiled. "Great. So, what have you got for me?"

He gave her the pertinent details of the crime scenes, leaving out the victims' identities. She asked for photographs, and he pulled them out reluctantly, unsure of her reaction. Viewing centuries-old remains was not the same as seeing a newly-murdered body, and these were particularly gruesome. Marissa made a face and whispered a soft epithet, but seemed otherwise unfazed by the photographs. She brought out a magnifying glass and studied them closely, looking for what, he wasn't sure.

"Well, they certainly look like ritual excardiations," she said at last. "The careful placing of the bodies is out of character, though. Once the hearts were removed, most Mesoamerican cultures just kicked what was left down the stairs of the pyramids. There's a theory that--at least among the Aztecs--that was done to tenderize the meat."

"Oh, my God. You don't think--?"

"Have any other parts of the bodies been missing?"

"No." His stomach settled. "What do you think the killer's doing with the hearts?"

"The Aztecs offered them to the sun god, Huitzilpochtli, as food. The heart was believed to contain a divine fire called 'teyolia' that animated the body and shaped the person's thoughts. The god fed on the energy contained in the teyolia, not on the actual heart."

"Right. I remember that. So, the killer's reenacting an Aztec ritual sacrifice?"

"Probably. There's a high degree of inaccuracy in what you've shown me, so I can't be sure. You said the victims had something in their hands?"

"Oh. Yeah. "

Serena had released the first shard to him earlier. He'd be happy to forget that little scene. Talk about embarrassing. Serena had put the shard into his hand and, before he'd had a chance to do more than look at it, he'd had to drop the thing and run for the men's room. He'd delayed for a while, trying to think of an explanation Serena would buy, had finally just gone back and apologized. By that time, the shard was back in its plastic evidence bag and he was able to handle it long enough to drop it into his backpack. Holding the bag gingerly, he gave it, and the pictures of the second shard, to Marissa.

"I was thinking they might be Aztec."

Marissa nodded. "You're right; they are. In fact, they bear a close resemblance to a fifteenth century vessel found in the great temple at Tenochtitlan. We'd have to do some testing to be sure, though. Can we remove it from the bag?"

"As long as the shard doesn't leave my sight, we can do pretty much anything you want. Short of smashing it to little pieces, that is."

Dryly. "I hadn't planned on that."

"Okay, then. Test away."

Marissa started to get up.

"Um, before we do that, I was wondering--Would you look at something else for me? I'm not sure it's related, but--"

"Sure." Marissa sat down again. "What is it?"

From the zippered pocket of his backpack, he removed a drawing he'd made of the sacrificial knife in the dream. He handed it to Marissa. Her eyes widened for a second, and she looked from the drawing to him.

"You didn't mention this."

"No. Like I said, I'm not sure if this is related at all, I just, um, wanted to know what you thought."

She studied the drawing. "The shape is Aztec. What's the material?"

"Obsidian."

"That would fit. But this ornamentation--the beads and leather--that's North American, not Mesoamerican."

"I know. Have you ever seen anything like this?"

She shook her head. "North American indigenous peoples really aren't my field. You should talk to Ralph Brookfield."

"Yeah. Okay, I'll do that."

"Anything else before we go to the lab?"

"Yeah. I've been trying to research, but I'm not really up on which books are considered the best sources for accurate information. Could you recommend some?"

"Of course." Marissa smiled. "Get out your pencil. This will be on the test."

*****

He walked in the door at three-thirty. Jim had left a light on for him, probably figuring a sleep mask would block out the light, but not even white noise generators would block out the sound of a blind roommate colliding with some piece of furniture, and the ensuing curses. Loaded with books, his backpack thumped to the floor. He winced, hoping he hadn't just woken Jim up, but there was no growl from the loft. He hung his coat up, hefted the backpack again, and tiptoed around the kitchen island.

God! Someone was--

"Jim," he squeaked--damnit--at the shadowed figure on the couch. "Why didn't you say something, man?"

"Didn't want to scare you."

"Yeah. Sure. Thanks." Okay, his heart was beating again. That was good. "What are you doing up? You weren't waiting up for me, were you? Did something happen? Is something wrong?"

"No."

"Okay. Good. So--Oh. Another nightmare?"

"Same one."

"Oh, man. Sorry, Jim."

The shadow shook its head. "Get anything from your friend?"

"Yeah. We're pretty sure the killer's reenacting an Aztec sacrificial rite, offering the--uh--the victims' hearts to Huitzilpochtli, the sun god."

"Why?"

"Well, the Aztecs did it to appease him and to communicate with him. They thought they were feeding him the only substance a god could consume. Why this guy's doing it, I do not have a clue."

"What about the shards?"

"Marissa thinks they're from a fifteenth century Aztec ceramic. They're definitely not part of any known ritual."

"Anything else?"

"Yeah." He moved into the living room and snapped on a light. Heaving his backpack up onto the couch, he dug through it. "She recommended some books, so I checked them out. While I was looking for those, I found another one--It's in here somewhere--that pretty much runs through what was known of Mesoamerican rituals about twenty years ago. It's out of date now--I know it's in here--which is probably why Marissa didn't mention it, but--Aha!" He pulled the small, brown hardcover book out of his pack. "--it's pretty non-technical, so I figured maybe it would be the kind of thing the killer might have used as a reference, assuming he's not an anthropologist."

"Assuming."

"Yeah. So, I asked one of the librarians--"

"Old girlfriend?"

"Jim! We're friends, that's all."

"Uh-huh."

"Anyway, I asked her for a list of the people who'd checked out the book, and--" He opened the book and removed the carefully folded list. "--here it is."

Jim took the paper and didn't mention confidentiality laws. "Couldn't the killer have gotten the book somewhere else?"

"Well, yeah, theoretically. But it's pretty obscure, and it's not the kind of thing the public library is likely to have. Plus, it's out of print, so he couldn't buy it or order it from a bookstore."

"Isn't the Rainier library restricted to students and staff?"

"Nope, it's open to the public. Not many people take advantage of it, though."

Jim unfolded the paper and started to read. One eyebrow rose, and Jim tapped the paper with his index finger. "Here's our perp, right here. Case solved."

"Really?" He moved closer, trying to read the list upside down. "Who is it?"

"Blair Sandburg. Checked the book out in 1987."

He scowled. "Funny, Jim. You're a real comedian."

Jim grinned. "It's right here in black and white, Chief."

"Yeah, yeah. I spend my valuable time obtaining illegal documents for you, and this is what I get. I think we should concentrate on more recent borrowers, Jim."

"Think so?" Jim folded the paper again, and stood up. "We'll start questioning these people tomorrow. Good work, Chief."

He stared. "Thanks, Jim."

*****

He couldn't sleep.

He hadn't slept, really, for days. Well, nights. Days were okay; days he could sleep, if he had the time, which he didn't, mostly, because he was researching, for the case or for his diss, or, like today, interviewing people, which had been a total waste of time. Of the six people who had checked that book out in the last three years, only four were still in the area, and only two were still at the addresses the Rainier library had for them. They'd had to work to track down the other two, and when they had, neither one had looked good for the killer. The first two were still students, and the only thing they remembered was being pissed off that their professors had marked their papers down for using an out of date source.

Jim wasn't sleeping either. Okay, right now Jim was sleeping--he was pretty sure--but that wouldn't last. Somewhere around three a.m., Jim would have the nightmare, and that would be it for the night. Oh, sure, Jim would go back to bed, but that was a sham. Neither one of them could get back to sleep after that dream. And he didn't want to sleep before it, either. He was perfectly willing to spend hours trying to interpret the damn thing--That was his job as a shaman, right?--he just didn't want to experience it again.
So if he just stayed awake until after Jim had it, he should be able to get some sleep tonight.

Maybe he should wake Jim up when it was time. If they were both awake until three-thirty or so, they should avoid the dream altogether, right? It wasn't like the dream was giving them any vital information. Why should either of them have to go through it again? Yeah, he'd wake Jim. Jim would thank him, later.

Until then, he'd meditate. That would keep him from falling asleep. Not that he was really in danger of that, but meditation should calm him down, make it easier for him to get to sleep later. He hoped.

He chose three blue candles, passed over the incense--no smelly stuff when Jim was home--and started to leave his room. He stopped, his eyes drawn to the medicine bag Ezra Deerfield had given him. The beaded leather bag lay on the table that sometimes served as desk. He knew what it contained: a red feather, a wolf charm, a crystal, a jade lotus flower, and a gold star. Above it, a beaded yellow scarf hung, draped over his rainforest frog print. They were his gifts, his medicine; objects of power and memory. Not as most people would expect. They didn't confer magical powers on him or anything like that. They were representational. He never used them, seldom even looked at them. Sometimes, their existence was more than he could handle.

That sounded stupid, even to him. Jim would say he was being ridiculous. But Jim wouldn't really mean it; it would just be a fear response. Jim hated all this weird mystical stuff. He'd always kind of envied Jim that part of the sentinel thing. It was so far beyond anything he'd ever experienced, despite all the years of meditation, yoga, tai chi--you name it. He was Naomi Sandburg's son; the search for spiritual enlightenment had always been a part of his life.

He'd thought he'd be prepared, that when it came--the lightning bolt, the flowering of his consciousness, whatever you wanted to call it--he'd be ready. But he hadn't been. Of course it hadn't come at the best time, but the universe seldom ordered things to any individual's liking. Even though they were, in a way, the instigators of his spiritual awakening, Alex Barnes and the whole dying thing had really interfered with his processing. And they'd totally blocked Jim's acceptance of it, which further screwed up the whole mystical deal. That was a bad thing. He knew it was, but he didn't know what to do about it. He wasn't shaman enough to lead Jim where they needed to go. Hell, he didn't know where they needed to go. He wished he did. God, he wished he did.

And now was not the time to be worrying about this. Deal with what you can deal with and leave the rest. Who'd said that? Anyone? Did it even make sense? Of course it did, now. It was two a.m. The weirdest things made perfect sense at two in the morning. They made even better sense at three. But three was a bad time right now. Three was dead bodies and bad dreams.

Oh, man, try to stay rational, will you? Meditation. We're going to meditate now, remember? Oookay. Let's go. But…. He opened the medicine bag, and took out the red feather. It lay curling in his palm, shed by some rainforest bird Jim could probably identify, left for him in Sierra Verde by Incacha. Incacha, who was dead. But the feather had come from the Chopec shaman; it hadn't been a random find. He knew that.

"It is a shaman's duty to guide." Incacha's words filled his mind. "Show your sentinel the way, shaman."

"I can't," he said, shoving the feather back into the pouch. "I don't know the way."

He closed the pouch, left it on the table, brought only the three blue candles into the living room. He set them on the coffee table, lit them, and settled down in front of them, laid his hands on his knees, lightly, not gripping, palms up to signify his openness, closed his eyes and breathed deeply, let it out slowly and completely, breathed in again, and let himself relax, let himself drift away from the outside and find his center, let the world and heavy reality fade away to float in the cool peace of darkness and no-thought.

Wolf and jaguar ran. The temple caught them up, tangled them in nets, and they bit at them, and clawed, but the ropes would not part, they could not get free. Hidden behind the mask of godhood and destruction, the patchwork priest gestured, and spoke words none could understand. The woman/man/man/woman lay upon the altar and did not move even when the priest stood over her/him and displayed the obsidian knife, showed it to the god and to the earth, the beads clicking and flashing, the blade gleaming. The knife slid into the victim's flesh; blood ran, flesh parted, and the priest ripped out the beating heart, held it high, that Huitzilpochtli might see the offering.

So it should have ended, releasing wolf and jaguar, but it did not. The priest set down the knife, discarded it as the body was discarded, and brought both hands to the heart, which no longer beat. Heart held out, arms upstretched, the priest paced the chamber. Blood ran over awkwardly joined arms, painting vari-colored flesh with life and death in one. More words tumbled from the priest's mouth, but they were nonsense, or some secret tongue only the gods would understand.

The priest lifted the heart higher still, thrust it at the sky, then brought it down, brought it to the mask. The mouth of the mask opened, large, even teeth on one side, broken, jagged stubs on the other. The teeth bit into the heart, pierced the muscle and tore free a ragged piece. The teeth chewed and chewed, blood running down over the lips and chin, dripping onto stone and flesh, and the priest swallowed.

"God!" He opened his eyes, rested his forehead on closed fists and shook his head. "No. God, that can't be. It can't be." He turned his head, looked up at the loft. "Jim?"

Jim lunged out of bed, grabbed his robe and thrust his arms in, wrapped it around him as his bare feet pounded the stairs, practically running.

"This can't keep happening. This has to stop." Jim eyed the candles. "Did you bring this on?"

He stood. "No, man, I was meditating. Trying to get a little peace, you know?"

"Yeah. Yeah." Jim rubbed a hand over his head, smoothing down wild tufts of hair. "Jesus. Do you think it's true?"

"I don't know, Jim."

"You're the goddamned shaman. You're supposed to know."

"Yeah, well, you're the sentinel. You're supposed to solve the goddamned case!"

He turned away from Jim's stare. "Shit. Sorry, Jim, that was unfair. I know you're doing your best. Not even you can work miracles."

"This case has us both on edge, Chief," Jim said, an apology, sort of. "This guy's too careful. Doesn't leave any evidence."

"We'll get him, Jim. We have to. I, uh, I don't think the dreams are gonna stop until we do."

"Great." Jim sighed. "That's just great."

The phone rang. Jim's shoulders slumped. It rang again. Jim charged to the phone and snatched it up. "Yeah?"

He blew out the blue candles. One. Two. Three.

*****

Her name was Kiria Martin. She lay on a foot-worn path between the gym and Hutcheson Hall, her dorm. A hundred narrow braids radiated from her head. Her blue nylon warm-up suit was drenched in blood. Her hands were gracefully posed, long nails adorned with shooting stars. A piece of red ceramic nestled in her palm.

Six feet away, Jim paced. He watched, understanding exactly. Nothing would get him near that body.

"Dial it down," he murmured. "As far down as you have to."

Jim stopped, looked at him, nodded after a minute and approached the body, crouched beside it as though nothing were wrong other than another dead girl on campus. Serena was there. Suzanne Tamaki hovered, looking sick and probably composing resumes in her head, if she could think about anything other than Kiria. He didn't know Kiria, but he'd heard of her. She ran track, and won trophies, won ribbons. Rainier displayed them in glass cases, along with her picture. They'd frame her picture in black, now.

Serena looked around for him, held up the ceramic taken from Kiria's hand. He couldn't look at it. The thought of it made him sweat. "Bag it for me, okay? I'll, um, I'll look at it later."

She nodded, dropped it into an evidence bag, had one of the forensics team take it to be labeled. Once it was gone--God, it was gone. He didn't feel sick anymore. He went to Jim, whispered a suggestion, and Jim dialed his senses up, carefully, cautiously. Jim frowned, nodded, and went back to work.

"Here," Jim said, pointing to Kiria's left hand. "Scrape her nails."

"We always do," Serena muttered.

Jim ignored her pique, straightened up, clapped him on the back. "We've got something, Chief."

"Great. That's great, Jim."

"It's about damn time."

*****

They had nothing. Well, nothing that was worth anything at the moment. Sure, there was skin under Kiria's fingernails. Forensics would test it and determine blood type and DNA. But none of that was any good without a suspect.

Jim sat at one end of the couch, watching an old Western on television with the sound turned down, eyes fixed on the screen, blank face giving nothing away. He sat at the other end, trying to concentrate on transcribed telephone interviews he'd done with police observers and consultants in other states. He'd been at it for over an hour, and he was still on the first page. Instead of the notes that should be there, the margins were filled with doodles of shooting stars and broken pottery. He took off his glasses and rubbed his eyes.

Marissa said the shard she'd tested was authentic. She'd given him a picture of the fifteenth century cache vessel she thought it resembled. They weren't identical, of course, but she was pretty sure they were from the same period. This afternoon, he'd managed to look at the third shard for about five seconds before the nausea boiled up. It looked like it was from the same pot as the first two. They didn't have enough pieces to determine the size of the pot before it was broken, but he hoped it was small. For all they knew, this psycho could be killing one person for each shard until they were all gone. In that case, the fewer pieces the better.

"We're missing something," Jim announced.

"You mean like a suspect and a motive other than keeping Huitzilpochtli fat and happy?"

"No, Einstein, I mean something that ties the killings together. My gut tells me this guy's not choosing victims at random."

"Okay." He set his transcripts aside and picked up the case folder. "So we find something they all had in common. Something we missed the first time around with Beverly and Troy Kelly. Maybe with three victims, the commonality will be easier to spot."

Maybe not. He set the new pot down on a coaster and poured himself a cup of pau d'arco. He'd switched from coffee an hour ago, thinking maybe he was too caffeinated to think straight. Jim was still on the bean. And they were getting nowhere.

They'd made charts. Listed everything they knew, each victim with his or her own column, each item with its own row. Beverly was a prosecuting attorney; Troy was a stockbroker; Kiria was a student. Beverly was Hispanic; Troy was Caucasian; Kiria was African American. Different ages, different home towns, different interests, different zodiac signs. Different everything. They had nothing in common except excellence at what they did. And the way they died.

He sat back on the couch, staring into the cup. "Man, this is hopeless. Why couldn't it be something simple, like with Portier, or Spencer? Like, they all had blue eyes or were circus performers or something."

Jim frowned. "What did you say?"

"Jim, you're a sentinel: you heard me."

Jim snatched up the charts and flipped through them. "Blue."

"Huh?"

"Blue." Jim leaned toward him, stabbed a finger at one row. "They all wore blue." Jim's eyes rose to his. "Was that part of the ritual?"

"I don't know. I don't think it mattered what they wore. But--"

It sounded familiar. He set his tea down and stood up to pace. His brain needed a jumpstart. Jim watched him.

"But what, Chief?"

"I don't know. There's something--The Maya! They used to paint their sacrificial victims blue."

"Not the Aztec?"

"No. But that may not matter. Marissa said the reenactment was highly inaccurate. This is just one more inaccuracy."

Jim nodded. "If we assume this guy doesn't know much, or is twisting the rituals to fit his twisted ideas--"

"Then this could fit. Jim, do you think this is it?"

"Could be."

"Is it enough? I mean, we know this guy goes after people in blue, and we know someone is killed once every three or four days--at least, that's the pattern so far--but how does that help us catch him? We can't put a guard on everyone in Cascade who wears blue."

"No," Jim agreed. "But we can put some bait out there and hope the killer goes for it."

He grinned. "Kinda gives new meaning to 'the boys in blue,' huh, Jim?"

"And the girls, Chief. Don't forget the girls."

*****

Slouched down on the couch, feet on the coffee table, he cradled the phone between shoulder and ear, notebook propped on his raised legs, mug of coffee in his left hand, right hand free for taking notes, or doodling, which was pretty much what he was doing. A curving line, a series of diminishing v's, and hey presto! a feather curled around the margin of the page. "A marathon, wow. I knew you were a runner, but I didn't know you did long-distance. So anyway, Marissa, Jim and I were wondering what you think about the possibility that the killer's targeting people in blue."

"Blue?"

"Yeah." A paintbrush joined the feather. "I know it's not part of the Aztec ritual or anything, but--"

"The Maya."

"Right, exactly. So, do you think it's possible?"

"Anything's possible. But how does that help you?"

He sketched in a badge. "Well, we're putting some of our people out there, and--"

"'Our people'? You still sound like a cop."

"Yeah, well, force of habit, I guess." The badge looked more like a tulip with a hole in it; he crossed it out.

"You're not getting involved in this, are you?"

"Well, um, actually…."

"It could be dangerous!"

"Marissa, I'll be fine. Jim'll be there, watching me every minute. I couldn't ask for better protection."

"Uh-huh. And when are you doing this?"

"Tomorrow night. Late." A moon and stars came out above the feather.

Marissa was silent for a moment. "Look, I want to help."

"Uh, that's great, Marissa, but--"

"It's not illegal."

"No."

"And I'm the expert, right?"

"Sure, but--"

"So let me be there. I might be able to spot this lunatic before anyone else. You know I'm right."

A man with steam coming out of his ears took shape. "Marissa, it's not up to me. But I'll ask Jim, okay?"

"All right. Let me know."

*****

So, he'd asked. And he couldn't believe that Jim had agreed, but apparently, Jim thought that Marissa's knowledge might be valuable. He didn't see how, really, didn't understand quite why Marissa wanted to be there. He really really hoped it wasn't some misplaced maternal instinct; Marissa wasn't even forty yet, and he had once entertained ideas of asking her out. But it wasn't his call. So Marissa sat in the van with Jim, keeping an eye on him while he strolled back and forth between Hargrove Hall and the library, pretending he had some business there. He wore a blue scarf, gloves and jeans, and his leather jacket was open so the new, bright blue sweater the Cascade PD had bought him would be easily visible. It was past one, and he was freezing his ass off.

Somewhere in the rest of the city, Megan, Rafe, and three other undercover officers were doing the same, watched just as carefully by their backup. Truthfully, they'd all be surprised if the killer showed up. They were only guessing about the three-day schedule, and thousands of people wore blue every day. The odds of this guy choosing one of them were pretty much astronomical. But this was the best shot they had. Kind of sad, when you thought about it. Which he'd been doing for just over an hour now. Interspersed with muttering curses in various interesting languages into the microphone for Jim's benefit. He'd always told his classes the first things to learn in any language were how to ask for directions to food, shelter and toilet facilities, and all the really good curses. No matter what language it was, if you could swear, people assumed you were fluent.

"You know, Jim," he said under his breath, "on the bright ideas scale, this one doesn't even rate a dim glow. How about we pack it in?"

No answering flash of headlights from the van.

"I'm serious, man. I mean, I know Rainier is the most dangerous university in the most dangerous city in America--if the killers don't get you, the administration will--but how likely is this guy to choose two victims from Rainier in a row?"

Nothing. Damn.

He heaved a sigh. "Okay, Jim. Just to let you know, then: Next time I get to Hargrove, I'm stopping at the vending machine for coffee."

He walked to the library, pulled a book at random off the shelf, pretended to read it for five minutes--the night staff must think he was nuts by now--and left again. Heading back to Hargrove Hall, he kept up a soft, running monologue.

"Hey, Jim, I was just wondering: Do you think the Chopec have a history of human sacrifice? I know they don't do it now--and even if they did, they probably wouldn't have done it in front of you, sentinel or not--but did they ever tell stories that referred to it? Incacha would have known more about it than anyone, if there was anything to know. Don't shake your head like that, man; almost all religions involve some kind of sacrifice, and a lot of the sacrifices used to be human. Look at Christianity. Look at the Bible. Gods are greedy, Jim; they all want something. Shamanism doesn't even necessarily involve gods, but the shaman still has to sacrifice to gain his knowledge or abilities. Presumably, some kind of power is benefiting from the sacrifice. You can't get away from the concept. At one time or another, some kind of sacrifice is demanded from almost everyone. Look at you. Look at--everyone. It never stops. Why is that? Does it all grow out of the compromise necessary for individuals to form a society? Or is there more to it than that, something deeper, basic, some ingrained need that we can't understand? What do you think, Jim?"

He went on like that, asking questions that couldn't be answered, knowing he was probably driving Jim crazy, not caring. Jim was warm; he was freezing. Jim had a thermos of good coffee--two, Marissa had brought one--he had a vending machine that dispensed lukewarm brown water. Envy was an ugly thing. And it was his own fault. He had volunteered to do this. Where was his brain? What was he thinking?

Of course, he knew what he was thinking. He was thinking that Jim needed his help, and that Jim didn't get a lot of help from him these days, that he was mostly helping himself and he wasn't used to that, so he felt guilty, so he volunteered, and here he was and he had no one to blame but himself. Sacrifice. It was all about sacrifice.

He hauled open Hargrove's door--he'd never realized how heavy it was until tonight--and walked in, gaze fixed on the light coming from the alcove that was his goal, the enticing glow of vending machines dispensing sugar or salt-laden products with no nutritional value. He hadn't even known how to use one of these things until junior high. Naomi would never let him touch this junk.

He took his gloves off and rubbed his hands together, more to get the circulation going again than in anticipation. Okay, let's see: regular, espresso, cappuccino, hot chocolate. Didn't matter, they all tasted pretty much the same. May as well stick with regular. He held his offering before the vending machine god, and it was accepted. In reward for his sacrifice, a cup rattled down and lo! the god filled it with a caffeinated beverage for his succor. He picked it up and tasted it, and lo! it was just as disgusting as he'd expected. But caffeine was caffeine and lukewarm was better than cold. And he'd better get back outside.

He turned around, and stopped dead. A big man in a black parka and an Aztec mask held a gun on him. Only a .22, but it was enough. He knew that kind of thing now.

End Act 2

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