Susan L. Williams
Story Note: Written for Faux Paws Productions' Virtual Season 6
A knock and a quiet, "Chief," woke him. He started up with an automatic, "Yeah?" blind in the dark, the only light the blue l.e.d. glowing 3:10 am and the pale, broken sliver slipping under the French doors from the living area.
"Simon called. We've got a body at the Courthouse."
He waited for the rest. Jim wouldn't have woken him otherwise.
"He said--he wondered if you'd come down to the scene."
"Me? Did he say why?" Did he forget I'm not a cop anymore?
"Just that there's something weird. He thought you might know something." A pause. "You don't have to."
"No, man." He threw the covers off. "I'm glad to help."
He switched on the bedside lamp, covered his eyes against the glare. Yeah, that was him. Glad. Thrilled, even. Oh, boy, gonna go see another dead body. Help me to contain my excitement. No, scratch that. Better help me to contain my last meal.
Out of sweats, into flannel-lined jeans, shirt, thick sweater, Doc Martens. Enough layers already. Get out there; you know Jim is ready and waiting. He looked around muzzily. Something was missing, something--Oh, yeah. No gun. Weird how something you'd never wanted in the first place could become something that left a wrongness when it was gone. Or something like that. Jim would understand.
He emerged from his room still not really awake, but functioning well enough to fake it. Jim tossed him his coat and he shrugged into it, pushing his scarf out the sleeve. He draped it around his neck, flipped his hair out from under it and dashed down the stairs in Jim's wake. Jim pushed the door open. Cold air bit, and he shivered, wishing for more layers, wishing for bed and blankets. Suck it up, anthropologist wussy-boy; you're needed.
Jim drove. Nothing new and just as well; shivering until the truck's stingy heat came up was about all he could handle right now. He gazed longingly at an all-night coffee drive-through, but apparently the secret sentinel-shaman telepathic link wasn't working, because Jim zipped right past without so much as a glance. Damn. Where was a mystical connection when a guy really needed it?
Flashing blues and reds outlined the scene. Jim pulled into the Courthouse parking lot and parked the truck as close as he could. Simon was already there, talking to one of the uniforms, hands jammed into the pockets of his overcoat. Forensics swarmed around. A dark lump on the ground must be the body. They got out of the truck and started toward it.
"Oh, God," Jim breathed, and paused for a moment, swaying, as though uncertain of the direction, then charged forward.
He hurried to catch up, anxiety heaving up a major babble. "Jim, what is it? Is it bad? Jim? Ji--"
He stopped, close enough now to see for himself. Close. Too close. She lay on her back, arms and legs carefully straightened, long hair a dark aureole around her head. Dark blue pumps matched her suit--Sapphire, they called it. Like the gem. Right? Sapphire. Her blouse had been white. Now it was red, but not a gem color like her suit, not garnet, or ruby, or any color of cold stone. Above it, a slash of darkness crossed her neck. Her eyes were closed, but he knew they were brown. He knew.
"Oh my God. Oh my God, Jim, it's--"
"Beverly Sanchez," Jim said softly, and knelt beside her.
Memories crashed. Smashing through her apartment door; her astonished, fearful face glimpsed before he tackled her; hearing the glass shatter even before they hit the floor, the bullet from Dylan Juno's gun piercing the wall and not her head. They'd saved her--he had--and now she was dead, murdered, saved from an instant, unaware death for one more horrible and more slow. She must have known, must have felt her life draining away, and no one had come crashing to save her this time.
"Jesus," Jim said, "Jesus," and lurched to his feet, away from the body, careful not to contaminate the scene even while heaving up his guts. He stared, not processing. Jim never threw up at crime scenes. Never. Grateful for the distraction--no matter the source--he went to Jim and laid a hand on his back, not offering useless words. Jim spat and wiped his mouth. His head swung toward the body, his face pale, haunted.
"Her heart's gone."
"Ripped out. The killer ripped it out of her body."
Simon approached them. "Sorry. I would have warned you, but I didn't know it was Beverly until I got here myself."
"Jim says her heart's gone," he said, not looking. "Her body was arranged pretty carefully. You're thinking ritual killing?"
"Either that," Jim said, "or someone who wanted it to look that way."
"Someone with a grudge?"
"Yeah." Simon took a baggie from his pocket, held it out. "This was in her hand."
He took the bag, and cupped his hand under the contents. It looked like a potsherd, roughly oval in shape, slightly curved, some kind of red-glazed ceramic. If it was a shard, it was old--centuries. There were no sharp edges, no sign of dust. In fact, the edges looked almost polished, from handling maybe. There was paint, too, white, black, and another red, some kind of symbols or maybe a picture. He couldn't be sure; there wasn't enough of it to really identify. But it looked familiar. And oddly disturbing. He turned it over, but the other side was blank.
"What can you tell me?" Simon asked.
He shrugged. "It's old, I think. Mesoamerican, maybe, but I'm not sure."
Simon did not look impressed by his knowledge.
"Sorry. I'll need to do some research, run some tests, to tell you anything more definite."
"I don't want to take you away from your school work."
"No, it's okay, Simon. I want to do what I can to help."
Jim plucked the bag from his hand. "Let me see that, will you, Chief?"
He was glad to let it go. Jim looked at the shard, frowned. "What the hell--?"
Jim thrust the baggie back at him.
"Jim? You okay?"
Jim wiped his hand on his pants. "Yeah."
He held the bag in two fingers, dangling. Not touching it suddenly seemed like a really good idea. "Is it something with your senses?"
"No. Maybe. I don't know."
"Well--what did you feel?"
Jim stared at the bag. "Dirty."
"You mean, like sex-stuff dirty?"
"Get your mind out of the gutter, Junior."
He looked at the shard again, and knew. "Unclean."
Jim's eyes met his. "Yeah. Exactly."
"What are you talking about?" Simon huffed.
They exchanged glances. He opened his mouth to explain, but Simon held up one hand and snatched the baggie away with the other. "Never mind. I don't want to know. When forensics is done with this, you can do whatever mumbo jumbo you want with it."
They stayed at the scene until the M.E. took Beverly's body away. She hadn't been killed in the parking lot; there wasn't enough blood on the asphalt. But her car was in the lot. Someone had abducted her, killed her, then brought her back here and laid her out. Courthouse security hadn't noticed anything unusual. The guard had found her body during a routine check and called 911. The uniforms had been first to respond. Jim talked to the older partner while he chatted with the other: David Anderson. He'd gone through the Academy with him. Anderson was an okay guy; hadn't given him any grief, anyway.
"Back to school, huh?" Anderson said.
"Yeah." He sighed. "Yeah, back to school."
"You have problems with the Job?"
"No. Nothing like that. I got an opportunity to finish my doctorate."
"Some guys go to night school."
"Hey, my nights are full, man."
Anderson grinned. "Full of shit, you mean."
Anderson's partner called him over. "Later, Doc."
"Yeah. See ya."
He watched Anderson approach his partner and Jim, but didn't join them. Wasn't his deal anymore. Stuffing his hands in his pockets, he looked around the empty parking lot. His gaze arrowed to the outline of Beverly's body, and the darker patch on the asphalt, where blood had soaked through her jacket. His feet developed a will of their own, and in seconds he was crouching next to the outline. He held one hand out over the dark patch, not touching it, and closed his eyes.
"What are you doing?"
He jumped, almost fell over but caught himself, and glared up at Jim. "Jesus, Jim, don't do that."
"Sorry." Yeah, right. "So?"
"I wanted to see if I could feel anything."
"I don't know. Vibrations, residual body heat--whatever."
"Nothing." He straightened up. "Why don't you give it a try?"
"Come on, Jim, you've done it before. Try it now."
Jim sighed his "exasperated but humor the kid" sigh and crouched, dutifully held his hand over the dark patch, but didn't close his eyes.
"There's no heat. She was already cold when they brought her here." His face twisted. Jim straightened up fast and walked away. "There's nothing else."
That was such a lie. "Jim?" He followed, working up an anger, because he was sick of this, goddamnit, sick of the whole denial-wheedle-demand-grudging admission cycle, and he wasn't going to do it, not now, not at five o'clock in the goddamn morning. He grabbed Jim's arm and yanked him to a stop. Jim looked at him impatiently--impatiently, goddamnit!--and that was totally the wrong thing to do because he was the impatient one in this partnership right now and he was not ceding his position to Jim "Denial is my middle name" Ellison.
"Tell me, damn it."
Jim gave him the blank look. "Tell you wha--"
"Don't start, Jim. Just don't."
Jim sighed again, but that was okay, this was the caving sigh, the "I know I can't get away with this shit anymore" sigh, so he waited, and eventually, Jim said,
"I can't explain it. I just--feel like I have to get away."
He nodded. "A fight or flight response."
"There's nothing there, Chief. Nothing to run from."
"But see, Jim, that's wrong. There is something there, something you can feel, it's just not tangible. It's like the psychometry you did with things that--things that Alex Barnes had touched."
Brief hesitation, but Jim caught it anyway and winced a little, another apology, another reminder neither of them needed. "What good is it?"
"It's all good, Jim. It gives us information. About you, about your sentinel abilities--"
"How does that help us with the case?"
"Well, so far, I think it tells us we should be cautious with this one. The fight or flight response is basic. And since it's you, and the flight response is overpowering the fight, we've gotta figure it's something pretty bad. Something beyond the normal."
"Beyond the normal?"
"Come on, Jim, you know what I mean."
Jim shook his head. "I don't like it."
"Goes without saying, man." He put his hand on Jim's shoulder. "Let's go home. You can catch a couple hours' sleep before your shift starts."
"Yeah." Jim gazed off into the dark distance, but Beverly was still in his eyes. "Okay."
Wolf and jaguar ran through the jungle. Sometimes, one pulled ahead, but always each waited for the other to catch up. Sometimes, they loped easily; at other times, they ran hard or forced their way through dense undergrowth. The jungle grew dark around them, but each had night-seeing eyes, though jaguar's were keener. They ran more slowly, setting their feet more carefully.
They came upon a structure that rose from the jungle floor into the sky. "Pyramid," one thought, "ziggurat," the other, but to both it was "temple." They paced around it, investigating. Stone it seemed at first, and some of it was, but some was wood made to look like stone, imperfect and impermanent, rotten in places and in others eaten away. Altogether it was no safe place, no place where wolf or jaguar wished to set paw or sniff too deeply of the air.
Nets engulfed them, trapped them, dragged them snapping and clawing into the temple, into a room with an altar, and braziers burning something that stank of oil and char and meat. A woman lay on the altar, or a man, with long dark hair or short blond waves, or brown curls, or hair receding in a widow's peak. A figure moved around the altar, human in shape, face covered by a grotesque mask. One side of the face bared teeth in a grin; the other melted, the features smeared and dripping. The body was badly formed and sexless, seeming cobbled together from different people and races. It spoke in a babble of languages that made no sense, and might have been laughable if not for the obsidian knife clutched in one hand.
The blade gleamed in the firelight; beads and chips of stone dangled glittering from the handle. The figure raised its arms to the sky, lowered them toward the earth, raised the knife over the altar and plunged the blade into the breast of the man/woman/man who lay there. Blood spurted, spraying the mask and body. Ignoring it, the figure cut a swift crescent in the victim's chest, reached a hand inside and pulled out the still-beating heart.
He jerked awake, heart slamming in his chest, stared at the clock, not focusing on the numbers, only on the light, and on breathing, slowly, evenly, calmly. Shit. Shit, that was not fun. He heard the weight of Jim's feet on the loft stairs, heard the refrigerator door open and close, but didn't get up.
The phone rang. The clock read 3:27. Shit.
They didn't know this one. It was a man, mid-thirties, with light hair thinning on top and a goatee. The driver's license in his wallet read "Troy Kelly." Kelly wore expensive, slightly scuffed shoes, jeans, and a really ugly print shirt with abstract swirls of blue, green, and bright red. Found outside Club Worthy, Kelly was laid out just like Beverly had been, his throat cut, his heart gone. Forensics was just starting to go over the scene, so they were extra careful not to disturb anything. Jim hung back, watching Serena do her thing, doing his own with his sentinel sight. That was fine. He had no interest in going near the body anyway; he could see more than enough from his position at Jim's side.
Three days since Beverly. They'd hoped maybe the weirdness factor was faked, that her murder had been revenge disguised, or a fear of prosecution. No way that was true now. Unless this was part of the plot, killing someone else to make it look like Beverly's job hadn't made her a target. But that was more elaborate than most criminals were likely to get. Most criminals couldn't get more complex than "woman in way--kill woman--woman out of way."
He'd done some research, mostly on the net so far. Forensics was still holding onto the potsherd or whatever it was Beverly had been clutching, but he had photos. He hadn't found much of anything. Mesoamerican? Probably. Maybe Aztec. Old? He was pretty sure. That, or a good fake. What it meant, to the killer or anyone else? He didn't have a clue. But he was willing to bet that--
Serena looked up. "Jim? You'd better have a look at this."
Jim was there almost before she finished saying it. They squatted beside the body and followed Serena's latex-gloved finger to the victim's right hand, fingers open now, a red-glazed, painted potsherd lying in his palm. Jim reached toward the shard, but recoiled without touching it.
"You're the expert, Chief."
He borrowed a glove from Serena--no need to carry his own anymore--and picked up the shard. The painted symbol or partial picture or whatever was different. But it looked like it was from the same pot (if it was a pot) as the other shard. He couldn't feel anything through the glove; he brought the shard up close to his face, trying to spot any significant details.
"It's okay, Jim."
Make that was okay. A wave of nausea knocked him onto his ass. He felt the blood drain from his head. Oh, God, he was going to throw up or pass out. Maybe both.
"Are you okay?" Serena asked.
She was holding a plastic evidence bag. He scrabbled for it, barely managed to drop the shard in before he pushed to his feet and stumbled away from the body. His knees hit the cement, and he bent over, supporting himself on shaky arms, waiting for the inevitable.
Nothing happened. He knelt there for a miserable five minutes, expecting to lose it at any second, and nothing. The nausea and dizziness slowly passed, his vision un-tunneled, and he sank back on his heels.
Jim's hand gripped his shoulder. "All right, Chief?"
"Yeah." He looked around, saw Serena's concern. "You know me and bodies, man."
They weren't much help to Serena and her crew. If she'd noticed Jim's aversion to the potsherd, she didn't mention it, and they sure as hell weren't going to talk about it where anyone could overhear. Jim prowled around the edges of the scene, seeing more than anyone else could close up, which would have been great if there had been anything worth seeing. They questioned the couple who had found the body--the woman was doing okay, but the man was a mess--and Jim asked them to come down to the station in the afternoon. The morning would be given over to Beverly's funeral.
She'd had family in a small town near Spokane. Parents, five siblings, seven nieces and nephews. They hadn't known; she'd never said, they'd never asked, and he felt guilty about that, guilty to become aware of their existence and to meet them only because the one person who linked them was dead. It wasn't right, and there was nothing they could do to fix it. That should make him sick, not a gruesome body, not a stupid piece of clay. Beverly was dead. Troy Kelly was dead. Some sicko had killed them, and they had no idea, not the slightest idea, who it was. Which meant that he could do it again, and they couldn't prevent it. They could only hope that he messed up and gave himself away.
Candles burned in a semi-circle before him; drumbeats dictated the rhythm of his heart. He concentrated on breathing until his awareness floated away, affording him a measure of peace, removed from the world and from his own thoughts. Content, he drifted, troubled by neither visions nor dreams.
He opened his eyes to find Jim sitting on the couch watching television. Apart from the glow of candle and screen, the room was dark around them. Jim had changed from the suit he'd worn at the funeral to jeans and a sweater.
"Hey, Jim," he said, and stretched. "What time is it?"
"The Maharishi speaks," Jim intoned. "It's about eight."
"Already?" He blew out the candles and stood, leg muscles protesting hours of twisting into a half-lotus. "I've got to get to the library."
"I brought deli."
"Great. I'll take it with me." He ducked into his bedroom, grabbed his backpack, snatched his paper-wrapped sandwich from the kitchen counter and lifted his coat off the hook by the door. "I'll put the candles away when I get back, okay?"
Jim nodded, eyes never leaving the screen. Not once. He stared at the deli paper, weighing his options. Wait until he got back? Jim might be in bed by then. Probably would be, in fact, and that would mean putting it off another day. Okay, then: Now.
Still holding the sandwich, he went back and perched on the arm of the couch. "Jim? Can I ask you something?"
"Did you have a nightmare last night? Just before the call came in?"
Jim looked at him.
"Jaguar and wolf? Temple? Human sacrifice?"
Jim nodded. "You, too?"
"Yeah. You think it's a message?"
"You're the shaman; you tell me."
He sighed. I don't want patience: pliers. Give me pliers. "I think it's a message."
"What? That our perp is some kind of Frankenstein's monster?"
"Something like that."
"That's not much help."
"No. Guess not." He stood up. "I better get going. You'll tell me if you have another nightmare?"
"Won't you know?"
"Maybe. But let's play it safe, just in case."
"Whatever you say, Chief."
Don't I wish.
He was supposed to be working on his diss. He was supposed to be researching, organizing, writing--anything that would move this thing forward. But he couldn't concentrate on the workings of the police; he was too busy concentrating on police work. His table was piled high with books on Mesoamerican art and rituals, and the photos Serena had taken were spread out at the top of his notebook. He compared them to illustration after illustration, until faces superimposed themselves over the pictures: Beverly, and Troy Kelly. He took off his glasses and rubbed his eyes, gazed off into the distance to give his focus a rest.
The funeral had been large, but quiet. They'd been afraid the mayor would take advantage of the situation to make a speech, but Hawkins had shown some restraint for once and contented himself with remarks about Beverly's fine character and legal ability, and how much Cascade would miss her "crusading spirit." Beverly had never been on a crusade. She'd just wanted to do her job and do it well. Like Jim. Still, considering what the mayor could have said, it was harmless enough.
Her family was nice. He and Jim had made a point of introducing themselves and saying a few words about what a great person Beverly was as well as a great D.A. Nothing original, but they hadn't wanted her family to think that they were there only because it was some sort of professional obligation, or because they were investigating Beverly's murder.
Not they. Jim. Jim was investigating Beverly's murder. He was just--a consultant. A real one, this time. Not that the Cascade PD was paying him, any more than it had before. And not that it mattered. He'd be doing it even if Simon had ordered him not to. Not that Simon could order him, now. But maybe that was wrong. Maybe Simon could order him, as one of the trustees of his scholarship. Everyone else involved in it had tried to tell him what he could and couldn't do with his life.
No, he had to be fair. Simon had offered him a choice, told him he could come back to the PD at any time, that he'd be welcome back. Simon had left all the decisions up to him. If he screwed up, it was his own fault. If he let the Chancellor dictate to him, that was his own fault, too. He was long past being a kid.
This was accomplishing nothing. He rubbed his face, put his glasses back on, and returned to the books. It was all so familiar: the shards, the removal of the hearts. Excardiation was common to Mesoamerican cultures. The Maya would have painted the victims blue first, but the Aztec and Olmec wouldn't. The shards might be Aztec, but they weren't big enough for him to be sure. As far as he knew, Mesoamericans had only slit the throats of children, not adults, but he was no expert. Except for his constant search for possible sentinel references, he hadn't studied this stuff since his undergrad days, and that was, what, more than ten years ago. Oh, man, he was getting old. Pretty soon, he'd be referred to as "the geezer." Which was better than--
That was what he needed: an expert. And since he'd been in the Anthropology Department for most of forever, he knew everyone. Including both resident experts on Mesoamerican cultures. Rodney Jepson was pretty much unapproachable, but he'd always gotten along with Marissa Dulong. It was too late now--much too late. Geez, eleven-thirty already?--but he'd call her first thing in the morning.
He closed the books and started to pack them up with his other stuff. Marissa's input would get them that much closer to Beverly's killer. He felt good about this. It was definitely the right way to go, he was sure of it. Maybe he'd even get some sleep tonight.
Or not. He stared at the ceiling, trying to make his heart slow down. Shit, he hated these nightmares. Or visions. Or whatever the hell they were. Okay, the big one in Sierra Verde last year had been pretty cool, if a little scary in parts, but these--these sucked. And what was with the repeat performance anyway? It wasn't like he was gonna forget the first one. And it hadn't given him any more information than he already had, so what was the point?
Jim's voice startled him. Damn, man, turn a light on or something. Give a guy a little warning. "Yeah?"
"You want something to drink?"
He pulled his flannel robe on over his t-shirt and sweats and shuffled out to the kitchen where, in the interest of shaman safety, the sentinel had turned on a light. Jim handed him a beer and he stared at it stupidly for a second. He'd been thinking more along the lines of a cup of tea, but what the hell. Beer was good.
They headed for the couch, but Jim veered off toward the balcony doors, so he followed. Together, they stared out at the lights of the Great City. For about the millionth time, he wondered how much Jim could see, and if there was any real way to convey that to someone without enhanced vision. Probably not. Jim had tried a few times, describing colors and distant shapes and night-flyers gliding, and he could imagine it, but he couldn't really know.
He drank some beer, and cleared his throat. "Same nightmare?"
Jim nodded, his own beer half gone.
"I feel like I should know what it means. Like it's trying to tell us something and I'm just not getting it. You know?"
Jim nodded again, his beer three-quarters gone.
"I feel like I'm not doing my job."
"Which job is that?"
"The shaman-thing. Shamans are supposed to interpret dreams. I can't even figure out my own."
"What if it wasn't your dream?"
"What if it was just my dream? What would you do to interpret it?"
"I--guess I'd make a detailed record of it and compare it to the facts of the case. And then I'd, um, probably just wing it."
Jim's beer was gone. "So do that."
"Okay. Okay, but you're going to have to help me. I'll need you to tell me everything you remember about the dream. And we have to do it now, while it's fresh in our minds."
Jim nodded. "Let's get started."
He grabbed a notebook from his room, took up half-lotus position on the couch, and began to record the dream. Jim was cooperative for once, which had to mean desperation to solve this case. He only had to prod once or twice to get details Jim was reluctant to give. The differences in their recollections were too slight to matter, and he ended with a record of the dream that seemed complete to both of them.
"Okay, here's what we know: One, the killer kidnaps the victims and returns them to the same place he took them from. There's no correlation to that in the dream.
"Two, the killer slits their throats and cuts out their hearts. We've got the hearts in the dream, but not the throat-slitting. Actually, the dream is more historically accurate. Mesoamericans didn't cut the throats of their sacrificial victims unless they were children.
"Three, the killer places pieces of ceramic in his victims' hands. The ceramic may be Aztec in origin. There's no direct correlation to that in the dream, but the mask the killer wears may be Aztec. Well, half of it anyway. I don't think the Aztecs ever made masks with half the face, um, contorted like that.
"Four . Is there a four?"
Jim thought for a moment. "Don't think so."
"Okay, so let's go to the dream-only stuff. We've got victims shifting as we watch, but that's probably just an indication that this guy isn't finished yet. Or maybe that he's not particular about his victims."
"Two of those victims are us," Jim said.
"Well, yeah, but I don't think we need to take that literally. I think that just relates to our being on the case and needing to find the killer." I hope. "Like, maybe we're supposed to put ourselves in the victims' place and see if we come up with anything."
"The killer's place," Jim said softly.
"You put yourself in the killer's place, not the victim's."
"Man, I do not want to get into that guy's head."
Jim smiled darkly. "I hear that."
"Could the victims have something in common?"
"Not so far. Kelly was a stockbroker."
"In that shirt?"
"His co-workers told us that Kelly thought of himself as some kind of Romeo, after hours. The guy was good at his job: made a lot of money."
"Did Beverly have a stockbroker?"
Jim shook his head. "Good thought, though. Kelly never had anything to do with any case of hers, either. As far as we know, they never met. They went to different schools, came from different states. They were both single, but Beverly wasn't the type to go clubbing. They belonged to different health clubs, shopped at different stores, lived in different sections of the city."
"So, the only thing they had in common is that they were good at their jobs?"
"That's about it."
He sighed. "Okay, back to the dream imagery. The killer uses an obsidian knife. That's historically accurate. But the ornamentation on the handle of the knife isn't Mesoamerican, it's more North American, and that doesn't fit."
"Maybe our brains aren't getting it right."
"Maybe. But I wouldn't mix them up like that. Are you familiar at all with any of this?"
"Not really. I mean, you said the Temple of the Sentinels was Olmec, right? But I never studied it or anything."
"So if it were coming from our brains, it would either have accurate Mesoamerican imagery--from me--or it would have only the Olmec imagery from the Temple of the Sentinels--from you."
"Maybe it's a combination of you and me."
"I don't know, man. Do you remember seeing any of this imagery before?"
"No. But I might have just forgotten it, right? Consciously? Hell, for all I know, I saw the North American stuff on Bonanza."
"Could be. TV Westerns are not known for their accuracy. So, either it's a mix of cultures for a reason, or because our brains don't know any better." Well, that helped a lot. "I figure the reason the killer is a Frankenstein's monster in our dream is that we don't have a clue who it is, so it could be anyone."
Jim nodded. "That, and the guy's a sick, twisted bastard."
"What about the temple? Only part of it's stone. The rest is rotten wood. What does that mean?"
"I don't know. It's dangerous?"
"The temple? The place where the victims are killed? The killer himself? The idea?"
"The reason for the sacrifices. Maybe the killer's trying to accomplish something."
"They usually are, Darwin."
"Yeah." He put the notebook down. "We're not accomplishing anything, are we? Nothing fits."
"Maybe that's it. You said the mask is wrong and the knife's wrong, and we both know the temple's wrong. Maybe, whatever the killer's trying to do, he's doing it wrong."
"Maybe. But where does that get us?"
"I don't know. But we know more than we did before. We'll figure it out."
He smiled, hoping Jim would buy it. "Sure."
Jim stood, stretched, and bent to squeeze his shoulder. "We'll work on it tomorrow."
"Okay." He unfolded himself and started back to his room. "Good night, Jim."
Jim was already climbing the stairs to the loft. "Good night, Chief."
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."
"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?"
"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?"
"Okay. Good. So--Oh. Another nightmare?"
"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."
"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."
"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."
"Yeah. So, I asked one of the librarians--"
"Jim! We're friends, that's all."
"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."
"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?"
"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."
"Yeah." A paintbrush joined the feather. "I know it's not part of the Aztec ritual or anything, but--"
"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."
"And I'm the expert, right?"
"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?"
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.
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."
"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.
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 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.
Blue eyes shifted to his.
"There's been another one, hasn't there? The killer got someone else, after me."
"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."
"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?"
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?"
"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?"
"See beyond. See within."
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.
"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."
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."
"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?"
"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?"
"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."
"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?"
"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."
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.
"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."
"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, 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."
"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."
Bouncing on his toes to help generate some warmth, he looked around before once again starting the Hargrove-to-library circuit. He'd gotten smart this time, and borrowed a bright blue parka with a rating of -10 degrees from the Cascade PD stores. It was a little big, but who cared? Long johns under his jeans, and three pairs of socks helped, too. Jim had laughed, claiming it wasn't that cold, but some people couldn't dial down their sensitivity like certain other people who were once again comfortably ensconced in another departmental van, drinking hot coffee and probably promoting negative stereotypes by eating donuts.
Despite her declaration of boredom followed by horror, Marissa was in the van with Jim, also drinking coffee. Okay, she'd brought apple strudel flavored coffee, which had to be the most revolting stuff he'd ever heard of, but it was hot.
At least he wasn't suffering alone this time. Megan was out there, watching him and the area, every bit as bundled up as he was. Jim had offered to let her have the van, but she'd refused. He'd bet she was regretting that now. Brown and Rafe were out there somewhere too, trying to stay hidden while keeping an eye on things.
The library was getting closer. He was trying really hard not to count the number of steps between Hargrove and the library. He should be concentrating on his surroundings without being obvious about it. He did not want the killer to sneak up on him again; it was bad for his reputation. Not to mention his heart.
This was probably a bad idea anyway. How incredibly arrogant would this guy have to be to try for him again, knowing he'd be surrounded by cops? Either that, or incredibly stupid, and that couldn't be true. Beverly Sanchez would never have let herself be murdered by some idiot.
Maybe it was worse than arrogance. Maybe the killer was delusional and believed himself to be Huitzilpochtli. That would explain eating the hearts. And a god could take a victim without fear of being caught by the police or any other mortals. That could be it.
He threw himself down, wishing he had a gun, wishing he had cover, glad there was no snow to show up against. He raised his head cautiously, looked around as far as he could, couldn't see anything or anyone. A dark shape detached itself from the trees--Megan, he was pretty sure--and ran crouching toward the entrance to Hargrove Hall, disappeared into the shadows beside the stairs. Her voice came through the earpiece.
"Rafe's down. Jim, you'd better call an ambulance."
Jim didn't answer, but he heard Brown's soft imprecation. Moments later, Brown's bulky figure joined Megan's in the shadows. There were no more shots.
"Jim, did you see him?" he asked the mike quietly. "Jim?"
Nothing. Maybe Jim's headset was malfunctioning. Gambling that the killer wouldn't shoot his intended victim--again--he got his feet under him and sprinted for Hargrove. He dropped to his knees beside Megan.
Rafe lay on the ground, his back propped against the stairs. Megan's hands gripped his right leg a few inches above the knee. Blood soaked his pants-leg and leaked through her fingers. Rafe was conscious, grinning weakly at Brown's feeble joke about ruining his designer slacks.
"You're gonna be okay, man," he said. "Did you see the shooter?"
Rafe shook his head. "Nothing. I was coming around the building, and wham. I didn't even have time to get my weapon out."
"Where's that ambulance?" Brown demanded.
He pulled his cell phone out. "I'll call again."
He pressed the speed dial for 911, his gaze going to the van. There'd been no activity. No one had come out, or signaled. Jim had to know what was happening.
The van's engine started. Its headlights flashed on, and it pulled away from the curb, roared toward them, and past, without slowing.
"Jim?" Phone forgotten in his hand, he stood and watched the van race away. "What's going on? Jim!"
He shoved the phone at Brown, barely felt him take it from his hand. "Megan, give me your keys."
"Give me your keys! I have to go after Jim."
"Sandy, calm down. He's probably in pursuit of the shooter."
"No. Something's wrong. Give me your keys, damnit!"
Megan exchanged glances with Brown. "You can't go alone."
"I'll take over," Brown said, matching words to action by setting his hands in place of Megan's. "Ambulance is on its way. We'll be okay."
Rafe nodded. "Go on. I'm fine."
Megan stood. He grabbed her arm and ran, dragging her after him until she got going and matched him. Her car keys jingled in her hand. They reached her car and got in, and he managed not to shout at her when it took her two tries to start the engine. They raced as far as the exit from the university grounds, and Megan stopped the car with a shriek of brakes.
Oh, God. Which way? Which--"Wait. Dave Anderson and his partner--What's his name?"
"Yeah. They're patrolling the area. Maybe they saw the van."
Megan got on the radio. Seconds later, Decker's no-nonsense tones announced a sighting of the van heading north on Waverly, and that they were initiating pursuit. They took off. Megan drove like a maniac, drove the way he felt. Decker kept them updated, and they followed his broadcasts, never seeing the van themselves, until they heard a curse and a clipped,
"Oz-11, we have lost sight of the vehicle. Repeat, we have lost sight."
"No!" he shouted. "No, damnit! We have to find it!"
They spotted the squad car, followed it through residential streets, then split up, crawling, searching for the van. Five minutes. Ten. Fifteen. Too long. Too long! Jim could be--
"There!" Megan cried. "Behind that house! 2250 Sinclair."
She pulled into the driveway, and they jumped out of the car. No warrant needed: a man was in imminent danger. They checked the van--empty--and climbed the back stairs. He reached for the door, but Megan put out a hand to stop him. She took her backup .38 out of her pocket and pressed it into his hand, folded his fingers over it until he nodded and gripped it on his own.
The door was locked, but it was lightweight. Megan kicked it in. They entered the house, covering each other, covering as many angles as they could, all very by the book when all he wanted was to charge through and scream for Jim.
There was no one in the kitchen, or the living room, or the dining room. Stairs led up, and a door in the kitchen probably opened on stairs to the basement. Megan pointed up; he nodded, pointing down. They split up.
He opened the door to the expected stairs. Light glimmered below. A woman's voice chanted. He closed his eyes briefly, took a deep breath in a useless attempt to unravel the knots in his stomach, and started down the stairs.
Braziers burned, the smell that from the dream, the horrible, nauseating odor of oil and charred meat. Temple paintings were fastened to the walls, stolen from authentic Mesoamerican sites, or imitations, he couldn't tell. A small table held the pieces of a shattered, red-glazed vessel, painstakingly assembled to form a depiction of sacrifice. The center of it all was the altar, carved from stone, a trough cut around the surface to channel the blood to a waiting bowl. Jim lay on the altar, unconscious, his jacket removed, his shirt open. Marissa stood behind the altar, her face covered by the mask his assailant had worn three nights ago. Beads clacked and flashed on the obsidian knife in her hand. She must know he was there. But she didn't stop her chanting. He couldn't understand the words.
She ignored him.
The mask turned toward him, but the chanting went on.
"Marissa, what the hell are you doing? You've got to stop."
Chanting, she raised the knife to the sky.
"Marissa, Jim's a cop! There's a cop upstairs and more outside! I'm a cop, damnit! I have a gun! You can't do this!"
Chanting, she showed the knife to the earth. Upstairs, he heard gunshots. One. Two. Three. Four.
"Marissa, I'm not going to let you kill him. Stop now. God, please!"
She raised the knife. He raised the borrowed gun, and shot her. She slammed back against the wall, slid down to the floor.
He edged around the altar. Marissa lay in her own blood. He kicked the obsidian knife from her lax hand, and crouched to pull the mask from her face. She was alive, conscious. She smiled at him.
"I wanted to understand," she said.
God. He took off the parka, his sweater, his flannel shirt, tore the shirt and wadded it into a pad. Marissa watched, uninterested. He pressed the flannel pad to her side, grabbed Marissa's hand and pressed it hard over the pad.
"Hold this. Marissa! Listen to me. Hold this."
She applied pressure on her own, kept her hand there when he took his away. Nausea receded. He could breathe. She'd be fine. Megan would call an ambulance, or Dave Anderson would. She'd be fine.
He stood, forced himself to go around to the other side of the altar, to take the time in case she rallied and somehow became a threat. Jim was waking up. There was no sign of injury, no bumps on the head or other wounds he could see. Jim moved his hand, rubbed his face, opened his eyes.
"Right here, Jim."
Jim turned his head, looked at him. "You okay?"
"Yeah." Jim tried to sit up, but gave up on the idea. "A little woozy."
"Woozy, huh? She didn't hit you with anything, did she?"
"Uh-uh. Nasty taste in my mouth. Must have drugged me."
"That's not drugs, Jim, that's apple strudel coffee. I told you that stuff was a crime against nature."
"Sandburg," Jim growled. He sighed, and a smile ghosted across his face, gone as soon as seen. "When you're right, you're right."
Blair grinned. "Always listen to your shaman, Jim."
Blair cleared his throat, straightened his tie, and cleared his throat again. "Easy, Chief," Jim murmured from the chair beside him, but he didn't reply, there was nothing to say.
Fourteen people sat around the conference table in the Dr. Victoria S. Palmatier room in the Administration Building at Rainier. Dr. Palmatier's portrait gazed serenely down at them from the green-papered walls. Thirteen of the fourteen were academics, Chancellor Edwards and Dr. Eli Stoddard among them. The fourteenth was Captain Simon Banks of the Cascade Police Department, recently arrived from the hospital, where one of his detectives was recovering from a gunshot wound to the leg and flirting outrageously with the nurses. They were all waiting for Blair to speak, and he was waiting for the signal to begin.
The Anthropology Department was short one faculty member and one student. Marissa Dulong was currently incarcerated in Conover until her trial. Though she was not a lawyer, she was insisting that she be allowed to serve as her own counsel. Her student, Michael Rawlings, was dead, killed in an exchange of gunfire with Megan Connor. Yet another scandal for Rainier University. Though it was no fault of hers, Chancellor Edwards was scrambling to keep from losing her job. Blair was not secretly amused by that. Nope, not at all.
Eli nodded at him. Blair stood and approached the conference table. He stood at one end; Chancellor Edwards sat at the other.
"First, I'd like to thank the Trustees and the Scholarship Committee of the Still Graduate Scholarship, and the members of my dissertation committee, for coming here today at my request. I'd also like to thank Detective James Ellison, who is here in the event that you have questions for him later." And for moral support, and because I just want him here, and if you don't like it, tough.
"I've asked you all here today because I've come to a decision. It's not one I've made easily, or lightly, but it is one I probably should have made much earlier.
"I'm sure you're all painfully familiar with my academic history, so it should come as no surprise to you that the offer of the Still Graduate Scholarship both flattered and flabbergasted me." A few people laughed. Good. "Because of the unexpectedness of it, I probably wasn't thinking as clearly as I should have been. I don't offer that as an excuse--I'm responsible for my own decisions--I just wanted you to be aware of my general frame of mind at the time.
"As I said, the offer astonished me. Here was the chance to attain my Ph.D., something I'd wanted and striven for literally since childhood. I still wanted it, badly. So badly that I set aside my dignity and my personal integrity and allowed certain terms regarding the conditions under which I would be allowed to re-enter the doctoral program to be dictated to me. These terms--which I will not list now--were unreasonable and very likely illegal. Still, I agreed to them. I wanted my Ph.D. Badly, if you'll recall."
Blair smiled. More laughter, though not from Chancellor Edwards. Big surprise.
"Since that time, certain of the conditions have been rescinded. This was not accomplished by me, however; it was left up to Detective Ellison to--negotiate--the relaxing of those conditions on my behalf. Grateful as I am to Detective Ellison, that was wrong. I am an adult--or I'm supposed to be--and the responsibility for such negotiations is mine.
"To that end, I have a proposal for the Trustees, the Scholarship Committee, and my dissertation committee. Recent events have made it clear to me that I cannot continue to observe the remaining conditions of my participation in the doctoral program: namely, that I resign my position with the Cascade Police Department in order to devote myself full time to my studies and to whatever research projects I may happen to be needed for. I am already needed, as a detective and as Detective Ellison's partner. It is my opinion that the current and continuing need of the city and the people of Cascade outweighs any need for research that may arise in future. The fact that teaching is not a part of my doctoral program further strengthens my belief.
"Since I am wholly convinced that this is the case, I respectfully request that I be allowed to return to my duties with the Cascade Police Department while continuing my participation in the doctoral program here at Rainier. I give you my word that my dissertation will be completed within a reasonable time, and that timely progress reports will be made to the dissertation committee, and to the Scholarship Committee and the Trustees should they deem it necessary. Should I fail to keep my word in this regard, I will, at the decision of the Trustees, undertake to return every cent I have been awarded as the recipient of the Still Graduate Scholarship.
"Please consider my request, and notify me of your decision at your convenience. Thank you."
Silence. That was not good. No one would meet his eyes. That was worse. Chancellor Edwards looked at him.
"Thank you, Mr. Sandburg. We'll let you know."
Oh, man. He was screwed. "Um, thanks."
He turned to go, but Eli's voice stopped him.
"There's no need to keep him waiting, is there? Why don't we take a vote now?"
"Professor Stoddard," the Chancellor said, "There are ramifications to discuss."
"The proposal seems clear enough to me." Eli nodded at Simon. "I believe I can speak for Captain Banks, and say that the Trustees approve Mr. Sandburg's request. Would the Scholarship Committee care to vote now?"
Six heads nodded.
"Very well. Will all who approve please raise your hands?"
Six hands rose.
"Thank you. Would the dissertation committee care to vote now?"
Only four heads nodded.
"I believe the majority carries in this case. Will all who approve please raise your hands?"
Four hands rose. Chancellor Edwards' hand stayed on the table. Professor Reichert looked from her to Eli, and slowly raised his hand.
"The vote is thirteen to one. Mr. Sandburg's proposal is accepted. In light of her dissension, it seems obvious that Chancellor Edwards would be subject to undue stress and discomfort should she continue as a member of Mr. Sandburg's dissertation committee. I suggest that a replacement be found with all speed. All those in favor?"
Thirteen hands rose.
"Thank you." Eli turned to Blair. "Mr. Sandburg, your proposal is hereby officially accepted. You will be notified as to the new member of your dissertation committee as soon as possible."
He couldn't believe it. Just like that. Eli took over and bam! He was a cop and a doctoral candidate. "Thanks. Thank you." He shook Eli's hand. "Thank you very much." He went around the table and shook everyone's hand, even Chancellor Edwards. What the hell. Simon scowled down at him.
"I expect you to report for your shift first thing in the morning, detective."
"Sure, Simo--I mean, yes, sir, Captain!"
He couldn't help it. He threw his arms around Simon and hugged him. Simon stood it for five seconds, then shoved him to arm's length and roared, "Ellison! Get your partner out of here!"
"Yes, sir!" Jim grabbed his arm and dragged him away. "Let's go, Chief."
Jim steered him out of the conference room and down the hall. About halfway down the corridor, Jim stopped, gripped his shoulder, and looked at him. "Blair?"
Uh-oh. Jim using his first name was almost never good. "What's up, Jim?"
Jim yanked him into a hug. "Welcome back, partner."
Blair returned the hug, giving as good as he got. "Thanks, Jim. I never should have left."
"No, you shouldn't have." They let go, and Jim slung an arm around his shoulders. "I hope you learned your lesson."
"Oh, I did, Jim. There's no place like home. There's no place like home."
Jim cuffed him lightly, and he rubbed the imagined injury. As they emerged into the sunny, cold December morning, Blair said,
"I didn't miss the Major Crime Christmas party, did I?"
"No, Sandburg, you didn't miss the Christmas party."
"Good. 'Cause, you know, it wouldn't be the same without me."
"You got that right, partner," Jim said, laughing. "You got that right."
Detective James Ellison
Detective Blair Sandburg
Captain Simon Banks
Detective Henri Brown
Inspector Megan Connor
Detective Ray Rafe
Captain Joel Taggart
Officer David Anderson
Dr. Ralph Brookfield
Sergeant Roy Decker
Dr. Marissa Dulong
Dr. Eli Stoddard
And a cast of--well, dozens--many of whom are in fact either dead or otherwise not on this physical plane.