Heart and Soul Act III

The man held one finger up to the mouth of the mask. It wasn't the mask in the dream--both sides were identical--but it was close enough. He got the message; he didn't say a word, just held his coffee and watched, and waited for a chance. The man pointed to his chest and made a yanking motion. How--? The gun jerked up. Okay, okay. He reached inside his sweater and detached the microphone. The man pointed at the floor. He bent to lay the mike down, and stayed there, squatting, looking up at the mask as though its expression would change and give him some warning of its wearer's intentions.

The man gestured: up. He shook his head and stayed where he was, gambling that shooting the sacrifice wasn't really part of the plan. The man gestured again; he shook his head again. The hand holding the gun shifted nervously. The man stepped closer, reached for him.

He launched himself up, swung his arm, threw his coffee into the mask, hoping to get at least some of it through the eyeholes. A scream announced his success--must've been hotter than he'd thought--and he barreled into the black parka, knocked the man off-balance, bore him down to the floor. He landed on top, but the man under him wasn't hurt, wasn't even stunned. He grabbed the wrist of the gun-hand, trying to twist, to bash it, something, but the man gripped his other arm, pushing, trying to shove him off. He bounced the gun-hand against the floor. The man lost his grip, and the gun slid away. He snatched at it, but the man grabbed him with both hands and threw him off. He hit the wall, banging his head, but knew he couldn't stay there, couldn't afford it. He scrambled to his feet, looked for--Oh, shit.

The man was crawling toward the gun, stretching toward it. He launched himself after, landed on the man's legs, clutched at them, trying to drag the man back. The man twisted under him, half-sat, and he saw the gun, grabbed for it--

The gun went off. Fire screamed along his arm. He fell back. The man kicked him away, stood, and ran. Jim crashed through the door, gun out, saw him, ran down the corridor and knelt beside him.

"How bad is it?"

"It's okay." Grit your teeth and breathe, damnit. "It's okay! Go!"

Jim took his word--not without a last, assessing look--and ran after the guy. He stayed where he was, clutching his arm. His leather jacket was ruined; so was the new sweater and there was no way the department would spring for replacements. Well, maybe for the jacket. He'd talk to Simon. Good thing his health insurance hadn't run out yet. Maybe he should call an ambulance for himself.

Jim came back minutes later, alone and scowling. "The perp had an SUV waiting behind the building. No plates. I called it in, but there's no unit in the vicinity."

"Can't we--"

"Not this time. You're going to the hospital." Jim gave him a hand up. "Come on, Chief."

He didn't argue. He didn't even want to argue. He just let Jim lead him out to the van.

*****

It was a slow night in the ER. They stopped the bleeding, then he only had to wait about an hour before being called in. With many assurances that he was fine, that it was just the proverbial scratch, and that he'd show her a sketch of the mask as soon as he'd done it, he'd persuaded Marissa to go home; Jim sat in the waiting room skimming magazines from 1998.

The wound wasn't bad. The bullet had sliced a shallow path along his forearm, not even big enough to need stitches. Still hurt like hell, though. The ER doctor cleaned it, bandaged it, gave him a shot, and disappeared to arrange the paperwork for his release. That meant another half hour minimum, but at least they'd be home before dawn. He had a meeting with his dissertation committee tomorrow--today--whatever--maybe he'd see if he could postpone it. Maybe not. Jim had gotten Chancellor Edwards to cut him some slack, but if he went back to his old pattern, she was sure to go back to hers. He'd be fine. He was fine. And hey, the shot was kicking in and that was fine. Oh yeah. Pain? He laughed at pain! And pretty nearly everything else right now.

Wow. He'd never noticed the symmetry of the arrangement of the ceiling tiles and the fluorescent lights. It was fascinating. In fact, if you looked at it just right, sort of tilting your head to the left, you could see recognizable shapes, like faces and animals and--Whoa. They were moving, and taking on color, and….

Net-bound, wolf and jaguar snapped and clawed, whined and snarled, never taking their eyes from the distorted, masked priest with the obsidian knife, the sexless creature who moved in unrecognizable ritual and spouted incomprehensible words.

A man lay upon the altar, not tall, neither young nor old, neither broad nor thin, with brown curls that spread over the stone. Were his eyes open, they would be blue. This, wolf and jaguar knew.

The priest spoke, and offered. The knife slid into the victim's chest, and the priest reached inside, ripped out the beating heart. The man lay dead upon the altar, his chest a gaping wound, his blood painting skin and stone. The priest raised the heart high, brought it down, and bit into it. Wolf howled. Jaguar roared.

The priest began to change. The patchwork body grew longer, broader; the left side of the mask slid away, and the right side melted also, sloughed off to reveal the priest's face: square-jawed, blue-eyed, with hair receding from his brow. The priest looked to the altar, to his victim, but the long-haired man was gone. In his place lay a man who was longer, broader, older, with brown hair receding from his brow.

"Jim! JIM!"

He jumped down from the gurney, pushed past someone he didn't see, pushed through the double doors. Jim sat in one of the hard plastic waiting room chairs, still caught in the dream, still caught. He grabbed Jim's arm hard, squeezed hard.

"Jim!"

Jim blinked, winced, looked at his hand in annoyance, looked at his face and remembered. Blood and horror flooded Jim's eyes. Unable to stand it, he looked away; unable to stand, he sat down in the adjoining chair. A nurse appeared, to scold him and hand him his release papers. He took them absently, smiled vaguely, and the nurse went away again.

"Jim?"

Blue eyes shifted to his.

"There's been another one, hasn't there? The killer got someone else, after me."

Jim nodded.

"I came out of it right after the mask fell off and you were--on the altar. What else did you see?"

"Nothing. Nothing else."

"Jim--"

"Nothing."

"Okay. Okay, Jim." He looked at the floor: tile, so the blood would clean up more easily; speckled, so it wouldn't show as much. "What do you think it means that you were--in both places?"

"I don't know."

Neither did he. And he couldn't think now; his brain was all muzzy. "Um, I'm all done here. We can go home."

Heavily. "I should call Simon."

"Simon will call you, Jim."

Jim sighed. "Yeah."

He got to his feet and managed to stay there, but he was shaky. Jim slung an arm around his shoulders and walked him out to the van. He might not have needed it.

*****

God. God. Let him understand this. He needed to understand this. He was supposed to be the shaman; he was supposed to help the sentinel understand, guide him, show him the way. That was his job, and he couldn't do it. He needed someone to guide him. It was like that old anxiety nightmare, where he was standing in front of a room full of students waiting for him to teach them physics or biology. Except that this wasn't academia, this was real life, and real people were dying. Jim might--

No. No, that part was symbolic, that was all. He just needed to interpret the symbolism. Why the hell couldn't these things be straightforward?

Okay, calm down. You're not going to get anywhere this way. You need to stop panicking and think. You've got all the paraphernalia: candles, incense, music. Calm down and do your meditation. Then you can think.

He settled himself on the floor, folded his legs, and surveyed the table. Something was missing.

He got up again and went to his room. The medicine bag lay on the table, the yellow scarf hanging above it. He took the scarf down carefully, picked up the medicine bag, and went back to the living room. Kneeling, he draped the scarf over the end of the table, and set the candles and incense burner on top of it. He opened the medicine bag, and laid it and the objects it contained in a semi-circle in front of the candles: jade lotus flower, double-pointed crystal, medicine bag, iron wolf charm, red feather, and gold star. That was right.

He assumed a half-lotus again, hit "play" on the stereo remote, and closed his eyes, breathing deeply. The music started, drums and didgeridoo.

The fourth victim was Gerald Balthazar, age thirty-five, an artist just starting to receive attention from the critics. Gerald had stayed until the end of his official opening at a local gallery, then left alone. His blue silk shirt had soaked up a lot of blood. The ceramic piece in his hand was painted with a portion of a face. At least, that was what Jim said. He hadn't been able to get close enough to look at it.

Simon's message had been blinking when they got home. Jim hadn't wanted him to come along, but he couldn't have stayed in the loft while Jim was out there. Jim hadn't argued much.

Stop thinking. Let it go. Let everything go. Just breathe. That's all you have to do. Breathe. Let the music sink into you, brain and blood and bone. Become the music, and the air.

He lost the awareness of breathing and the weight of his body. No heart in his chest, no blood in his veins: the drum beat, and the music flowed. Thought ceased. The universe was music, and the music faded.

"What's the problem, man?"

He faced himself, younger, dressed in the patchwork vest and torn jeans that had fit the student he was.

"I don't know what I'm doing."

Never serious for long, his younger self grinned. "Who are you?"

"Don't start with me, okay? I know who I am."

"Yeah?" His younger self shrank, grew long black hair, a painted face, and darker skin covered only by a kilt. Incacha asked, "What do you want?"

"I want to know how to help Jim."

"You know how." Incacha grew wide, his hair gray and wild, woman's body covered by skins and iron charms. The Siberian shaman scowled at him. "Why are you here?"

"I told you why."

"Wolf, you have learned nothing." Tall, taller, the hair once again long and black, the clothing breechclout and leggings. The Cheyenne shaman asked, "What is your choice?"

"About what?"

The Cheyenne smiled. "What is your choice?"

Great. Multiple choice choice. "I choose to stay with Jim. To help him any way I can."

The smile became sensual; the brown eyes teasing. The priestess of Oshun stroked his arm. "Where is your heart?"

"Where it's always been."

"And the empty place you spoke of? Where your work used to be?"

"Still there," he admitted. "Maybe--maybe it won't ever be filled."

She laid a hand over his heart and kissed his cheek, drew back with dark, wrinkled skin and a thin, naked man's body painted with patterns of white dots. The Aboriginal shaman asked, "What do you dream?"

"You don't want to know."

"Do you remember my words?"

Of course he remembered. He remembered every moment of that experience. "'The dream is real. The dream is the making.' But whose making?"

"Whose dream?"

"Mine and Jim's. But--"

The white dots spread, shimmered into silk robes in the colors of sunset and sky. The Chinese shaman asked, "What do you see?"

"Blood. Death."

"See beyond. See within."

"How?"

Incacha stood before him. "You know how."

"If I knew how, I wouldn't be here!"

"Chill, man." His younger self shook his head. "Be who you are. Do what you do. That's all there is."

"That's easy for you to say."

His younger self laughed, and waved good-bye.

He opened his eyes to darkness. The candles and incense had burned out, and no lights were on in the loft. He rubbed his hands over his face, and straightened his legs. Well, that was useless. "Be yourself: you're on your own." Gee, thanks, guys. If I wanted cliched platitudes, I'd buy a self-help book.

The door opened. Jim stood silhouetted against the hall light for a moment, then walked in and took off his coat.

"Hey, Jim."

"Chief." Jim snapped a light on, and frowned. "You okay?"

"Sure." He replaced the objects in the pouch, gathered up his stuff, and took it back to his room. He was just great. Couldn't be better. Or more confused. Or frustrated. Or pissed off. Scared might be able to find room in there, too. But other than that, he was great. Really.

When he came out, Jim had his head in the refrigerator. "Did you eat?"

"I had another vision."

Jim's head came out of the refrigerator. "So, you didn't eat?"

"I finished the beef stew. Did you tell Sally thanks for the recipe?"

"Yes, Miss Manners, I told her."

He sat down on the couch, rubbing his temples. He didn't have a headache, exactly. But maybe he could forestall one. Jim grabbed a beer and the box of leftover pizza, and joined him on the couch.

"How'd it go?"

Jim shook his head. "No progress. The victims still have nothing in common but the color of their clothes. The killer's blood type is A+."

"That helps a lot."

"Yeah." Jim wolfed down a piece of pepperoni. Almost casually, "Sacrifice again?"

"Huh? Oh, the vision. No, it was the other kind. Shamans and obscurity."

"What'd they say?"

"Mostly, that I already know what I'm doing, whether I know it or not, and I should keep on keeping on. Not in those words, of course."

Jim swallowed some beer. "Sounds right."

"Right?" He stared. "Jim, I don't have clue one what I'm doing."

"Then you do a good job of faking it."

"Uh--Thanks."

Jim looked at him. "Chief, you know I couldn't have handled the sentinel thing without you."

He started to argue, but decided against it. "I guess."

"Same goes for all this weird mystical shit. I don't like dealing with it. You do."

"That's not exactly true."

"Close enough. You're a great cop, and a great partner, even if it's not official anymore."

He felt the blush racing over him. "About that, Jim, I--"

"Let me finish. I know exactly what you gave up, and why. It ate at me from the moment you called yourself a fraud at that press conference. I know it's not the same, but I'm glad you're getting your Ph.D. after all. You deserve it."

"Thanks, Jim. Really. It's--nice to hear. I just wish I were better at the shaman stuff."

"You do just fine."

He shook his head. "I'm floundering here."

"You don't get it, Chief. You're not alone. We're feeling our way through this together."

"But it's not supposed to be that way."

"What, you think a shaman's supposed to know everything? You think Incacha did? A shaman's just a man."

"Or a woman."

"Whatever. The point is, no one knows everything. Someone whose opinion I have a lot of respect for once said to me, 'I know you're doing your best. Not even you can work miracles.'"

He rolled his eyes. "That's original."

"Doesn't have to be original. It's true. Your best is plenty good enough for me, Chief."

He smiled. "Thanks, Jim."

"No buts this time?"

"I'm fresh out, man."

Jim grinned, and picked up another piece of pizza. "Good."

*****

"Hey."

"There you are!" Marissa tried to scowl, but couldn't hold it and broke into a smile. "How are you feeling?"

"I'm okay." He sat down. "Pretty pissed off."

"I should imagine. Did you bring the drawing?"

He pulled the sketch he'd made of the killer's mask out of his pocket and handed it to her. Marissa looked at it, and frowned.

"This doesn't look quite right." Marissa got up and scanned her bookshelves. "Are you sure all the features are accurate?"

"I'm pretty sure. But that wasn't exactly my biggest concern at the time."

"No kidding. I think I have a picture somewhere…." She searched the shelves, pulling books out here and there, glancing at the titles, and putting them back. Finally, she shook her head and sat back down at her desk. She pulled a clean sheet of paper out of one of the drawers, picked up a pencil, and quickly sketched a mask. "Is that close to what you saw?"

Marissa was definitely a better artist than he was. Her mask was correctly proportioned, shaded, and looked almost exactly like the one the killer had worn the night before last.

"Yeah, it's perfect. Does that mean it was authentic?"

"In style, yes. We can't tell for sure without being able to test it, but it was probably a recent reproduction made of contemporary materials. I can't imagine the killer getting his hands on a real one without a museum making a lot of fuss, and I'd have heard about that." Marissa looked up. "Even if it is real, it's just another inaccuracy as far as the ritual is concerned. Why would the killer wear it?"

He shrugged. "To avoid identification, in case one of the victims got away?"

"Which you did, thank God." Marissa reached across the desk and squeezed his bandaged arm. He winced, and she realized what she'd done. "Oh, shit, I'm sorry!"

"It's okay." He felt her eyes on him, and looked up. "What?"

"Why do you do it?"

"Do what?"

"You know what I mean. Why do you put yourself in danger? I had a hard enough time trying to understand why you'd become a cop, but you're not a cop anymore, you don't have to do things like this. Why do you? Do you get some enjoyment out of it?"

He thought for a while. "I won't lie to you, there's an adrenaline rush that's pretty amazing. But that doesn't last long--it doesn't even happen much after the first few times--and even if it does, it's not reason enough to become a cop. People who just want a rush should take up skydiving or something. There's way too much boredom involved in being a cop for anyone who isn't dedicated."

"Are all cops dedicated?"

"Most of them are. Just not all to the same things."

"What are you dedicated to?"

"Helping. I want to help people. Being a cop is the best way I've found."

"You can't do that in anthropology?"

"Not enough."

"But you're not a cop anymore."

"I can go back. The door's open."

Marissa sighed. "Well, I can understand the appeal, I suppose. I just wish you'd stay in anthropology."

"Thanks."

"Very few people shoot at anthropologists."

"Yeah, it's usually blowguns you have to worry about."

Marissa whapped him with the pencil. "Be serious. I've been thinking about the other night."

"What about it?"

"You said the man who attacked you--"

"The Masked Murderer."

"Cut it out." The pencil whapped him again, but Marissa smiled briefly. "You said he knew about your microphone. Doesn't that mean that someone had to have told him?"

"It might."

"So it had to be someone who knew about what you were doing. Maybe someone in the police. Or me."

A chill shook him. He'd already talked about this with Jim. "Did you tell anyone?"

"Not that I can remember. I hope not. But what if I did? What if I'm responsible?"

"Marissa, you're not responsible. If you did mention it to someone, you couldn't have known they were involved. And whoever it was might not have been; they might have told someone else, who was. It might not have anything to do with you. The killer could have been watching me for a while, long enough to figure out I was a decoy."

"I know you're right. But I still feel like it was somehow my fault." She fixed her gaze on the desk. "I shouldn't have insisted on riding along. The way you used to describe it--I thought it would be fun."

"Was it?"

Marissa shook her head. "It was deadly dull, until that man attacked you. Then it was terrifying."

"That sounds about right."

She stared at him. "And you like this?"

"Well, not that part, no. But it's worth it, if it helps us to catch the killer."

She shook her head again. "I am never going to understand you. I admire you, but I just can't understand."

He was blushing, he knew it. "Uh, I'd better get going, I need to talk to Ralph Brookfield about the knife. Can I keep your sketch?"

"Sure. Call me if you need any more help. And let me know when you catch him?"

"I will. Thanks for your help, Marissa."

*****

Ralph Brookfield's office was just like his had been, only more so. Thirty years more so. Books and papers were crammed into every available space, and some that weren't available. What patches of wall weren't filled with bookshelves were covered with artifacts, from a Ghost Dance shirt to Ojibwa snowshoes and Tlingit masks. At least half the artifacts were weapons: stone hatchets, arrows, spears, knives, some plain, some elaborately decorated. Looked like he'd come to the right place.

Brookfield sat behind his desk, mumbling to himself while he flipped through a book and jotted down notes. A shock of graying hair fell across his forehead, kept out of his eyes by gold-rimmed glasses. His shirt collar was frayed, and the patches on the elbows of his jacket weren't there for show. They couldn't be: when he took Anthro 101 fourteen years ago, Brookfield had been wearing that same jacket.

"Professor Brookfield?"

"Yes?" Brookfield stood up, six foot four and scarecrow lanky, except for the pot that strained his shirt. The professor waved him inside. "Come in, come in, have a seat. How's the dissertation coming?"

"A little slow, right now. I've been kind of preoccupied."

"Oh? With what?"

"Well, that's what I wanted to talk to you about." He pulled the drawing of the knife out of his pocket, unfolded it, and placed it on the desk. "Does this look like anything you've ever seen before?"

Brookfield picked up the drawing. "Hmmm." Lifted his glasses, watery blue eyes moving back and forth. "Hmmm?" Frowned. "Hmmm." Put the paper down. "No."

"No?"

"That's correct. I've never seen anything like this before. The elements are utterly disparate. The blade is Mesoamerican, the hilt North American. Northeastern American, actually. Most likely, Iroquois. No known tribe would have made such a thing."

"So, the beads and stuff--they're Iroquois?"

"That's my best guess, yes. If the drawing is accurate."

"I'm pretty sure it is, Professor Brookfield."

"Well, then. Iroquois." Brookfield cleared his throat. "Was that all?"

"Um, no. Did the Iroquois engage in human sacrifice?"

"Not in the sense of ritual sacrifice to appease a god or spirit, no. But they were known to torture and kill captured warriors."

"This might sound crazy, but--Did cannibalism ever come into it?"

"As a matter of fact, there are some who claim that the Iroquois ate the hearts of those they killed."

Oh, God. "The hearts?"

"There is considerable disagreement within the field as to the truth of that supposition, but if they did, it is theorized that they did so in order to obtain the desirable traits exhibited by the victim: courage, skill in warfare, and the like. Good God, you've gone pale. The concept can't be unfamiliar to you."

"It's not. I just--I never--associated it with a North American tribe."

"Cannibalism crops up everywhere, at one time or another. Even now, the occasional psychotic engages in the practice."

He nodded, not seeing Brookfield at all. "I have to go." He stood. "Thanks, Professor Brookfield."

"You're welcome. Are you sure you're all right?"

"I'm fine. I just--I have to--" He shook his head. Get it together. You got what you asked for. Deal with it. "Sorry. You've been a lot of help, Professor. Good night."

Brookfield frowned, obviously unconvinced. "Good night."

*****

He walked into the bullpen a little uncertainly; he hadn't been back here since he quit the force. The place was a riot of tacky Christmas, Hanukkah, and Kwanzaa decorations, bright colors clashing everywhere. A Christmas tree stood in one corner, multi-colored lights flashing. Red, green, gold, blue, and silver garland webbed the ceiling. Snowflakes plastered the windows of Simon's office, and bells hung on his door. A flight of angels hovered over Rhonda's desk; a traditional, red-bowed wreath graced the front of Rafe's; Brown's was covered with holiday-themed toys, the Seven Principles of Kwanzaa posted somewhat incongruously between Santa in a hot air balloon and a glow-in-the-dark Grinch; Joel's was covered with snowmen of every description; and Megan's sported a kangaroo and a koala in Santa hats. Even Jim had gotten into the act, in typical Jim-style: a six-inch tree perched on one corner of his desk, unornamented except for a tiny gold star at the top.

Next to Jim's desk--He grinned, shaking his head. His desk was still there, unoccupied. No one could occupy it: the entire surface was covered with decorations. A fiber-optic tree hung with gold suns and silver stars of David was flanked by a bright blue menorah and a red, green, and black-striped Kinara. Reindeer, snowmen, dreidels, and miniature ears of corn were scattered over the surface, and a little train ran an endless figure eight among them all. Red, silver, and blue garland draped the sides, giving it a sort of patriotic look, and a giant gold sun grinned from the front.

"Hairboy!" Brown clapped him on the shoulder. "How's it hangin'?"

"Great, H. How're you doing?"

"Just fine, my brother. You doing all your homework?"

"Don't have to, man. I skate by on my looks."

Brown winced. "Ooo, baby, you are in deep trouble."

"Yeah, yeah." He gestured at his desk. "What's all this?"

Rafe, Joel, and Megan joined them. Rafe punched his arm lightly, and Megan squeezed it. Not the wounded one, fortunately. Joel hugged him. What was with all the touching?

"Well," Rafe said, "You weren't here, so we decided to decorate your desk for you. But we didn't know which holiday you celebrate."

"So," Megan continued, "since you're an anthropologist, we decided you must celebrate them all. And voila."

"Well, you guys did a great job."

"Yes, we did," Brown said.

"And this way," Joel added, "no one else will try to use your desk."

"Which is a good thing," Megan said. "You should see the way Jim growls at anyone who so much as lays a file down on it."

"I heard that." Jim exited Simon's office, a mock-scowl on his face.

Megan smiled sweetly. "You were meant to, Jimbo."

Simon's voice drifted through the open door. "Don't make me come out there."

Megan rolled her eyes and went back to her desk, followed by Rafe. Brown slapped him on the back again and returned to his toys. Jim watched them go, then turned back to him, grinning.

"Hey, Chief."

"Hey, Jim. Is everyone on the late shift?"

"'Tis the season. All the whackos come out for the holidays."

"All the whackos are in this room, man."

"You got that right. So, what's up?"

"I, uh, I think I know what the killer's doing with the hearts."

*****

"What?" Simon's bellow all but shook the bells on the office door. "Are you sure about this?"

"Pretty sure," he answered. "Unless the killer's offering them to Huitzilpochtli. But there's a more direct benefit from eating them."

"If this guy's eating the victims' hearts to take on their attributes, they can't be picked randomly."

"No, sir," Jim said. "The killer's picking people known to him."

"But not necessarily personally," he added. "All four victims had been in the paper and on the local news shows. And they were all really good at what they did."

"So the killer could be anyone who reads the paper or watches television."

"And has a rudimentary knowledge of North and Mesoamerican sacrificial rituals."

"Great." Simon removed his glasses and rubbed his temples. "So how do we catch him?"

"Well, the killer grabbed me once. Maybe, given the chance…."

"You think the killer is crazy enough to go after you again, knowing you're with the police?"

"Didn't seem to faze him the first time," Jim said.

"No. No. It's too dangerous. You're not a cop right now; you're a Ph.D. candidate."

"Simon, I am a cop. I'll always be one. No matter what I'm doing, I can't stop being a cop any more than I can stop being an anthropologist, or a shaman. I've been working this case from the beginning; I don't want to stop now. Especially if I can help catch this guy. This is Beverly's killer."

"I know that. I just don't want him to be yours."

"That won't happen. Jim will be there. If you're worried, put Brown and Rafe on, too. Or Megan."

"Jim?"

"It's our best shot, sir."

"All right." Simon put his glasses back on. "All right, fine. But I had better not have to explain to the committee how the first recipient of the Still Graduate Scholarship got eaten."

"It's nothing they haven't heard before, Simon," he said. "Anthropology is a real cutthroat field."

Simon waved them away. "Out. Get out. Both of you. Now. Go."

Chuckling, Jim hauled him up and out of Simon's office. The bullpen was deserted. Most of the overhead lights were off, leaving a chaos of blinking, twinkling multi-colored bulbs that cast an ever-changing patchwork of light over everything in the room.

"That was quite a speech you made in there," Jim said.

"Yeah. Well. I've been thinking about it for a long time. Last night--I think that's what the shamans were trying to tell me in the vision. To tell you the truth, I think that's what they were trying to tell me in Sierra Verde; it just took me this long to figure it out."

"Kind of slow on the uptake, aren't you, Chief?"

He grinned. "Guess so, Jim. But I've got it now."

End Act 3

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