"You wanted to see me, Simon?" Detective Jim Ellison asked as he entered the captain's office. He pulled up short when he saw the blonde man standing in front of Banks' desk.
Well, I'll be damned. What's he doing here?
The blonde man was Kent Davis, a Homicide detective, and a damned good one from all accounts. He and Jim had worked in Vice together before each had transferred out. The two of them hadn't ever really been friendly--Jim hadn't been the friendly sort back then--but they had been temporarily partnered on several especially nasty cases and had gained a healthy respect for each other's talents and coolness under pressure.
The Sentinel hadn't seen Davis since the younger man had left to join Homicide, though at first glance, time seemed to have treated him kindly. The tanned, youthful face was almost exactly the way he remembered it. Then Jim noticed the unfamiliar worry lines creasing the man's forehead and the frustrated glint in his dark green eyes. Davis had always been the optimistic, carefree one in Vice, never letting his job affect his outlook on life. Whatever reason brought him to Simon's office had to be incredibly disturbing to put that look on his face.
Shaking off his surprise, Jim took the last couple of steps into the office and held out a hand. "Hey, Davis, what's going on?"
The blonde detective took the proffered hand and shook it firmly as he answered in a grim tone. "Got a favor to ask you, Jim, and I'm hopin' you won't say no."
The Major Crimes detective quirked an eyebrow at the statement, but before he could reply, Simon Banks waved them both to the chairs in front of his desk. "Have a seat, gentlemen. Detective Davis, why don't you tell Jim what you've been telling me."
In response to the suggestion, Davis picked up a thick folder from the desk and handed it to Jim. As he flipped through it, the other man gave him a summary of its contents. "About two years back, my partner, Rick Glaser, and I were called in to handle the death of Nancy Myles, wife of industrialist Adrian Myles. According to her husband, she'd gotten drunk and taken a nasty tumble down a flight of stairs. The autopsy revealed that she did have a high alcohol content in her blood, but there were a lot of other things that just didn't add up. Things that pointed to murder--and Adrian Myles. Glaser and I wanted to investigate further," Davis' tone turned bitter, "but Myles has a lot of connections and a very fancy lawyer. They put the pressure on Captain Scroggin, and he made us lay off. Mrs. Myles' death was officially ruled accidental."
Davis sighed and scrubbed a hand over his face. He continued a bit sheepishly, though there was an undertone of defiance as well. "I couldn't let it go, though Rick has tried repeatedly to get me to stop. I just knew that I could prove Myles was guilty. I've been working on this off and on ever since. Haven't really gotten as far as I'd hoped. Then I get this phone call a couple of days ago from a guy by the name of Meredith."
"Turns out that Meredith is the teacher of Adrian Myles' eleven year old daughter, Rachael. He told me that Rachael started out the school year as his best student, always completed her homework on time, got straight A's, well-liked by the other students. Then a month ago, her grades start slippin' and she gets real withdrawn. Meredith suspected abuse and even reported it to the school's administration." Davis' face twisted in disgust. "But the administrators are too scared of Papa Myles' influence and don't do a thing. And Rachael just keeps getting worse."
"Then one day, the kid stayed late after class and asked Meredith if she can talk to him privately. She was pretty upset about something, so Meredith agreed. She then told him that she thought her daddy had done something really bad--apparently she'd found evidence of it--and wanted to know what she should do. The teacher got her to promise to bring him the evidence and told her that he would take it from there." The blonde man paused. "She never showed up at their appointed time, and she didn't show up for class the next day. Meredith knew going to the administration wouldn't get him anywhere, so he called the police himself instead."
"As soon as the Myles name was mentioned, the desk sergeant sent Meredith to me. After I got done talking to him, I went out to see Myles, but he wasn't home." A dark gleam shone in the green eyes. "I did bump into his neighbor, though, and she told me an interesting story. Said on the night when Rachael disappeared, she couldn't sleep and was up reading. She heard a noise outside and looked out her window to see what it was, and there was Myles taking out the trash. At two in the morning. The neighbor thought it was a bit odd, but since the next day was trash day, she just assumed he couldn't sleep either and decided to get the chore out of the way."
"She could be right, you know," Simon said quietly.
The Homicide detective shot him a sour look. "I know, I know. But what concerns me now is the daughter's disappearance."
Jim frowned slightly as he closed the folder. "What was this evidence she supposedly found?"
Davis' face contorted into a grimace of disgust, "From what the girl told him, Meredith says it was apparently a videotape of Myles actually pushing his wife down the stairs."
Jim and Simon stopped, absolutely dumbfounded for a minute.
Shaking himself in disbelief, Simon was the first to find his voice, which was low and raspy with incredulity and rage, "Are you absolutely sure about that? Are you sure that Meredith didn't misunderstand? Are we supposed to believe that Myles not only planned to murder his wife, but that he had a video recorder on hand to tape the event and he's kept the tape around to watch again whenever the mood strikes him?"
"Yeah, that pretty much sums up the situation exactly," the blonde man's features betrayed his fury as he spoke. "According to what Rachael told Meredith, she came home from school one day and went to put one of her favorite movies in the VCR. She found there was another tape already in the machine, but she didn't recognize it, so she decided to see what was on it."
"That was when her grades started to fall. Apparently she agonized over what to do for an entire month before deciding to ask her favorite teacher for advice. Unfortunately, I'm betting that daddy-dearest discovered what she was going to do and has probably killed her, too."
Jim grimaced, his voice almost inhumanly modulated as he attempted to contain his anger, "How does her father justify her absence?"
Davis snorted derisively. "He claims she ran away."
"Hmm." The dark-haired detective met the intense green eyes of the man opposite him. "So what's this favor you need?"
"I want you to take over the case."
Both of Jim's brows shot up at that. "You what?"
The blonde shook his head in frustration. "Scroggin took me off the case this morning. Said I 'was too emotionally involved' and didn't want me anywhere near it. I'm guessin' Myles has been turning the screws again. But he did tell me I could pass it on to whichever detective was free." Davis grinned a bit maliciously. "I'm sure he meant someone in Homicide, but since he never specified, I came here instead."
Abruptly turning serious once again, Davis gestured towards Simon. "Captain Banks says you're free at the moment, but it has to be your call. Jim, I know it's been a while since we've worked together, but I remember how you get things done. And I know that you don't take crap from anybody. If I can't investigate this little girl's disappearance, I want the best man I know to be doing it for me. And that's you." A mischievous grin, the kind Jim remembered from their days in Vice, curved his mouth. "After all, we all know that you can smell a rat before the rest of us, and probably be able to follow his scurrying feet back to whatever hole he came out of. Will you help me?"
Somewhat taken aback by Davis' appeal, Jim sat back in his chair and silently thought about it for a moment. On the surface, it certainly seemed like foul play had been committed here, but there was Davis' obsession with the case to consider as well. Then again, the younger detective had always had pretty good instincts. If he thought there was something going on, there probably was. At any rate, it wouldn't hurt to check into it.
Jim raised his eyes to meet those of his captain. "Well, if it's all right with you, sir, I wouldn't mind looking into this."
Simon sighed. Somehow, he'd known Ellison was going to say that. "Fine. I'll smooth things over with Scroggin." He hid his grimace of distaste behind his coffee cup. Scroggin was a real jerk, and Simon always felt dirty after just talking with the man over the phone. Smoothing things over was going to be a major undertaking, but something in the way Davis told his story struck a chord in the big captain. He wanted to find the little girl as much as the other two men.
"Thanks, Captain," Jim replied then turned his attention back to Davis. "I'm going to want to talk to Myles."
"Not a problem. I was going to do that myself this morning before I had my little chat with Scroggin. I'll make sure Myles is here around eleven-thirty. That work for you?"
Jim glanced at his watch. Eight-thirty a.m. Plenty of time to go through the files more thoroughly before confronting Myles. Too bad Blair was at the university this morning. He could have used his insights on the whole mess. "Sounds good."
Both detectives rose to leave. Davis laid a hand on his fellow detective's arm. "Thanks, Jim. This really means a lot to me."
Jim shook his head. "Don't thank me yet. I still have a murder to prove."
Three hours later, Jim was standing on one side of the one-way mirror, peering into the interrogation room at his suspect. The man seated on the other side of the glass looked more like a CEO presiding over a board meeting than a murder suspect. Adrian Myles was a handsome man in his mid-to-late thirties. His dark hair was neatly trimmed and coifed, his suit immaculately pressed, his manners impeccable. He sat without fidgeting at the scarred table in the middle of the small room, and his expressionless face would put the best poker player to shame. His cool grey eyes also gave nothing away. Jim smiled grimly to himself. This man would not be easy to crack.
Cool--and cocky. Myles had come alone for this meeting, eschewing the company of his attorney. A bold show of having nothing to fear.
Wiping the grin off his face, the detective opened the door to the interrogation room and stepped in. Those grey eyes landed on him instantly, and after a bare instant of appraisal, suddenly grew warm. A welcoming smile tilted Myles' lips.
"Ah, you are not whom I was expecting to see, sir, but I am most happy that it is you and not the unpleasant Detective Davis. He and I never seem to see eye to eye."
"So I've been told," Jim answered noncommittally. He introduced himself. "I'm Detective Jim Ellison."
The industrialist held out a hand. "Pleased to meet you, Detective Ellison. Adrian Myles, but I suspect you already know that." After Jim shook his hand, the man frowned a bit, as if he were trying to remember something. "Ellison? Are you any relation to William Ellison?"
Jim's face went stony. "Yes." Without giving the other man time to make further inquiries, the detective went on. "I have a few questions about your daughter, Rachael, Mr. Myles. Do you have any idea where she might be?"
Myles easily accepted the change of topic. "Somewhere between here and San Francisco, I would assume."
Jim was a bit startled by the easy reply but recovered quickly. "And why is that?"
"Ever since Nancy died, my daughter has been obsessed with finding 'the perfect family.' I'm afraid that between her mother's drinking and my being away on business so much, Rachael hasn't had a very good example of that. For some ungodly reason, she latched onto the TV show 'Charmed'--the series about three sisters who are also witches." He shrugged. "I don't know why she would think that's a perfect family. Anyway, I believe they are supposed to live in San Francisco, and no doubt Rachael has left to join them. I've tried to tell her that TV is all make believe, but apparently she wasn't listening."
"I see. Any idea why she would choose to wait until now to run away?"
Myles shook his head regretfully. "None whatsoever, I'm afraid. I would have stopped her had I any indication she'd do something this rash."
"Of course." The detective switched tactics. "Mr. Myles, are you aware that your daughter's grades have begun to suffer over the past month?"
The man seemed taken aback. "Why no, I was not aware. I had not received any such impression from her teacher. Rachael's always been a good student. I'm surprised that Mr. Meredith did not bring it to my attention sooner. Perhaps it was something at school that prompted her to leave when she did?"
"Perhaps," Jim conceded. "I'll be talking further to Mr. Meredith on the subject myself. Also, I would like to talk to her friends. Do you know their names, by any chance?"
"I don't even know if she has any good friends, Detective. I don't recall her mentioning anyone in particular, anyway. Like I said, she spent much of her time watching TV and fantasizing."
"Something else to ask Mr. Meredith then," Jim responded almost absently. His gaze suddenly sharpened on the man across from him. "Mr. Myles, I'd like your permission for my partner and I to take a look around your house."
A glint of something indefinable flashed briefly in the grey eyes but was quickly gone. If Jim hadn't been looking for it, he would have missed it. His nose twitched as he caught the faint yet acrid scent of blossoming fear. //Hah! Gotcha!//
"I don't see why that is necessary, Detective. Wouldn't it be more beneficial to concentrate your search out on the highways and byways of this city? Surely a girl as young and inexperienced as my Rachael couldn't have gotten that far."
"Sir, if we are to find your daughter, we need to know what she was thinking at the time she ran away. She could have left clues behind that would be vital in our search," Jim's voice grew a shade colder. "I'd like to have your permission, Mr. Myles, but I can get a search warrant if you'd prefer to go that route."
There was no mistaking it this time. Whatever warmth Myles had regarded him with at the beginning of this interview had quickly been replaced with grey ice. "There's no need for that, Detective. I have nothing to hide. I just want my daughter back. Do as you wish."
"Thank you, Mr. Myles. I don't have any further questions for you right now." Jim pulled out a card from his pocket. "If you think of anything else that might help us locate Rachael faster, please give me a call."
Myles took the card and said with polite stiffness, "I'll be sure and do that, Detective. Am I free to go now?"
"Be my guest."
Without a backward glance, Myles rose and swiftly exited the room. Jim followed at a slower pace. Simon was waiting for him on the other side of the door.
"So, what do you think?" the captain asked as they made their way back to Major Crimes.
"He's one cool customer, Captain. His heart rate hardly went up until the very end, but the mention of searching the house had him sweating a little." Jim stared down the hallway that had swallowed up Myles. "He's hiding something. Look, Simon, I want to get over to the house right away before he has a chance to destroy any evidence."
"All right, but you're going to wait for Blair, aren't you? I don't want you going out there without any backup. He's supposed to be in today, isn't he?"
Just then, the man in question strode into the room. "Hey, Jim!" Blair Sandburg's cheerful voice rang out clearly over the hubbub of the bullpen. His smile turned to a frown as his partner turned around and he got a good look at his grim expression. "What's going on?"
"You got here just in time, Chief. C'mon, I'll explain on the way."
The battered blue pickup pulled to a halt at the curb in front of 1272 Greenspring Avenue. Yanking the key out of the ignition, Jim stepped out into the street, but Blair just sat in the passenger seat for a moment, staring at the Victorian style house that was Adrian Myles' residence. Set back a little bit from the rest of the neighborhood on a large lot, the house was beautiful, charming. With its fancy gingerbread, bright green shutters and exquisite landscaping, it looked more like something out of a fairytale than the site of two probable murders.
"Hey, Chief, shake a leg! Are you coming or not? We've got a house to search."
Jim's words shook Blair out of his reverie, and he scrambled out of the truck to stand beside his friend. "God, Jim, look at this place. It looks like everyone's vision of happily ever after. How could something so horrible have happened here?"
Focusing his gaze on a turreted window on the second story of the house, and the cheerful, flower patterned curtains visible there, Jim shook his head sadly and nudged his partner up the steps in the direction of the front door. "I don't know, Chief. To be honest, I really don't understand how this can happen anywhere."
Pausing momentarily to usher his friend into the foyer of the house, Jim took a last look at the immaculately manicured lawn. "I really don't."
Inside Jim stopped short in the foyer, the malignant atmosphere of the beautiful house striking him like a fist. At first glance, the décor and furnishings reflected the same quiet elegance and understated welcome as the exterior had. To the right of the foyer, plush, cream colored carpeting stretched across what was obviously a family room, while an exquisite oriental rug provided a colorful accent to a formal dining room. Directly in front of the foyer a wide, highly polished, mahogany staircase led to the second floor.
Impenetrable shadows seemed to line the edges of the staircase, and Jim found himself reluctant to try to pierce their darkness, afraid of what he might see within. A quick slither of movement caught the corner of his eye, and as Jim snapped his head around toward the family room, he could almost have sworn that he really had seen the tail end of something disappear under the couch.
Steadfastly squaring his shoulders and pushing away the tearing emptiness that scrabbled at the corners of his brain, Jim turned all his attention to his partner. "So, Chief, where should we start? Upstairs or down?"
"I don't know," Blair countered, lifting his glasses to rub at the bridge of his nose. "There's just something about this place that sets my teeth on edge. I'll tell you what. Why don't we start upstairs and work our way back down? It'll feel more like we're working our way back outside that way."
"Upstairs it is, then." Trying to keep to the exact center of the steps and stubbornly refusing to look at shadows that seemed to squirm down the edges of the staircase, Jim led the way to the second floor, one arm back to ensure that Blair followed directly in his footsteps.
Stopping at the second floor landing, Blair turned a slow circle, glancing into the open doorways as he went. "Parents' room, spare bedroom, guest bathroom--I'd say that," the young man continued, pointing toward a closed door, "is Rachael's room. If she was going to bring her teacher that videotape, there's a good chance that's where she would have hidden it. If it was there, her father's probably found it already, but who knows, maybe we'll get lucky and find either the tape or some trace of what happened to Rachael."
Blair turned to face his partner, his expressive face clearly reflecting his tangled emotions, "I really hate this, Jim. How could a parent even think about murdering his own child? I know it's not going to happen, but I keep hoping that we'll get a phone call and Simon will tell us that they found Rachael. She'd just gone to spend the night at a friend's house and forgotten to call her father."
"I know how you feel, Darwin," Jim gave his friend's shoulder a quick, reassuring squeeze. "But, don't forget: even if Rachael were to turn up safe, Adrian Myles is already under suspicion of having murdered his wife."
"A real prince of a guy, isn't he?" Taking a deep breath, Blair dug into his pocket to pull on a pair of latex gloves, before reaching out to open the door. "Well, let's go, Jim. Unfortunately, this isn't going to get done without us."
The small bedroom was decorated in clashing shades of sea green and purple. While the color choices were definitely not those an adult may have made, the carpeting and all of the furnishings were of the highest quality available. A small desk sat in one corner of the room, schoolbooks and spiral binders fighting for space with a top of the line computer set-up. Two long shelves above the dresser held an assortment of dolls and other toys, all neatly arranged and waiting for the return of their owner.
Stepping into the room, the Sentinel felt as if the malevolent atmosphere of the house had increased ten-fold. Almost against his will, Jim found his attention drawn to the neatly made four-poster bed that dominated the room and the discarded doll sprawled lifelessly across the quilt. Her black hair was tangled wildly around her face and head and her blue, glass eyes gazed sightlessly upward in an uncanny imitation of a death stare. For just a moment, the detective would have sworn that a puddle of blood was seeping out from under the doll's head, but when he squeezed his eyes shut then looked again, it was gone.
Rubbing vainly at his temples against the increase in his headache, Jim turned resolutely from the bed and struggled to keep his voice even as he addressed his partner, "Okay, Chief, I'll start in this corner of the room, you start over there by the desk. Don't forget. We're looking for any signs of what happened to Rachael as well as that videotape she talked to Meredith about."
The look on his friend's face gave Jim his first clue that Blair hadn't bought his act, even before the young man spoke, concern evident in his face as well as his tone, "Jim, Jim. C'mon, man, what's the problem? Just listen to my voice, breathe deeply and dial it down."
Focusing on the comforting feeling of Blair's hands on his shoulders as well as the young man's voice, Jim was able to push the pain in his head to the background as he answered quietly, "Can't you feel it, Chief? This place has an atmosphere worse than any murder scene I've ever investigated. Look, I can't explain it, but there's something really wrong here. Don't you feel it?"
Glancing around the room, Blair's eyes settled momentarily on the discarded doll lying lifelessly across the bed, and he found himself swallowing nervously before answering, "Well, like I said before, something about this place really sets my teeth on edge, but I couldn't tell you what it is. All I feel is this sense of unease, and a sort of pressure in the back of my head. I don't know how to describe it."
Turning his gaze back to his partner, Blair continued, "Now, are you sure you're all right to do this? We can search together, or we can call Simon and ask him to get another team out here to look at the place. The regular forensics team will be here in a couple hours. We can just wait for them. I don't know if this is a Sentinel thing or not, but I don't want you to hurt yourself. Once we get out of here, you're going to have to tell me everything you feel. Maybe I can do some research or we can run some tests--"
"Hold it right there, Darwin," Jim held up one hand to stop the torrent of words. "I'm fine, and I don't think we need to run any more tests on anything at this point. Now, if you'll start searching your corner of the room, maybe we can get out of this house before my head explodes."
Walking over to the desk, Blair was unable to resist a parting shot as he began flipping through the books scattered over the top of the work area, "Okay, Jim, if that's the way you want to play it. Just don't forget to let me know if it gets to be too much for even someone of your immense abilities."
Suppressing a chuckle at his partner's sharp, "Humph!" Blair began opening the desk's drawers, carefully searching through the contents of each and checking underneath for anything taped to the bottom.
As he neared the end of his task, his partner's voice called his attention over to the canopied bed, "Come here, Sandburg. I've found something."
Hurrying over to where Jim was kneeling by the side of the bed, Blair followed his partner's gaze to the wall. "Look right there--about a foot and a half above the floor. What do you see?"
Squinting hard, Blair thought he could just make out, "Spots. I don't know what they are, but it looks like there are spots of something kind of sprayed across the wall."
"You got it right in one, Junior," Jim smiled slightly, ruffling the younger man's hair. "I hate to say it, but this is at least part of what we were looking for."
"What? You think those spots are blood, maybe from when Rachael's father--" Blair broke off suddenly, looking to his partner for support.
"Yeah, that's exactly what it is, Chief. It is blood. I can smell it. I think it's a blood spray from when that bastard killed his daughter. He tried to scrub it off the walls, but hopefully, forensics will still be able to get enough of it to type and tell us how old it is. Would you mind marking the area, Sandburg?"
Pulling a permanent marker out of his pocket, Blair scrawled a large X on the wall while Jim continued to search the area around the bed.
Running his gaze along the edges of the bed itself, and the area under the bed frame, Jim's eyes locked on what looked like a small tuft of black hair. Reaching over, he had barely touched it when he heard a young, lilting voice say, "Oh, goody. You're starting to find me, now--"
The rest of what the girl might have said was drowned out by the sudden, sharp spike that rammed through Jim's head as the voice dissolved into a deafening squeal. Turning his eyes toward the sound of the voice, the detective caught a fleeting glimpse of a young, black-haired girl standing by the window, surrounded by a nimbus of light, before his vision dissolved in a blinding flair of golden brilliance.
Overwhelmed by the dual attack on his senses, Jim could not help curling up, with his hands clenched over his head as he tried very hard not to whimper. He didn't know how long he spent caught between the agony in his ears and eyes. Slowly, however, he became aware of the gentle touch of his Guide's hand, rubbing soothing circles over his back. A moment later, he caught the fresh, herbal scent of Blair's shampoo.
Following the reassuring feedback of these two senses, Jim found his sight and hearing slowly coming under control again, and in a few minutes, he was able to hear his friend's voice gently urging him back from the brink.
"I'm okay, Chief. I have it under control now." Jim turned his rapidly clearing eyes to Blair just in time to see the young man screw a cap on a small bottle and place it in his backpack. "What did you just put away?"
"Oh, that's just a bottle of my shampoo. I thought it might be useful if your sight and hearing ever went together. It would give you a second sense besides touch to focus on." Shaking himself, Blair suddenly switched tacks, "Wait a minute, wait a minute. That's not important right now. What happened to you? One minute you're fine and the next you're curled in a ball and whimpering in pain."
"Chief, just for a second, I saw Rachael's ghost. She was right here, but when she started to talk to me, my hearing went on the fritz, and when I turned to look at her, there was this absolutely brilliant light that just blinded me. Oh, and by the way, I was not whimpering."
"Trust me, Jim, I know whimpering when I hear it. So, what caused this? And why did seeing Rachael's ghost cause problems for you now, when you were able to see and talk to Molly before with no trouble?"
Blair paused momentarily, and his face went white as the implications of what he had just said sunk in, "Oh, god, Jim. If you saw Rachael's ghost that means she's dead for sure. I was really hoping we were wrong here."
"Just calm down, Junior. I was looking at that." Jim pointed to the small tuft of hair he had seen earlier, careful not to touch it again. "When I touched it, I heard a little girl's voice say, 'Oh, goody. You're starting to find me now.' Then I was blasted by this horrible, high-pitched squeal. I turned, and just for a second, I saw her, before I got blinded." The detective gave himself a little shake. "Uhm, Chief. I really don't want to touch it again, just in case. Can you please bag that hair - carefully - for forensics."
"No problem." Blair reached a latex clad hand toward the hair, just to recoil as he pulled it free of the bed frame. "Jim. Please tell me there isn't a piece of scalp attached to that."
"I'm afraid it is. Bag it up. I'm sure forensics will be interested, and I want to know how Mr. Myles is going to explain a fresh blood spray and some hair with a piece of scalp still attached. I hate to say it, but if I had to make a guess, I'd say that he probably bashed her over the head with some sort of blunt object. He's probably gotten rid of it, but look very carefully at anything he could have used. Especially something with sharp corners that might have cut her scalp."
Blair's face was rather pale, and he looked distinctly queasy as he nodded his head reluctantly. "Okay, Jim, but we really need to figure out exactly what Rachael was trying to tell you. Maybe she wanted to let you know where her body is." He peered up at Jim. "We also need to figure out why you're having trouble this time when you didn't with Molly. If we could figure that out, maybe you'd be able to see her without a problem."
"Well, you just think about it, Einstein. That seems to be what you do best. Do some research, but, in the meantime, let's try to solve this with good, old fashioned police work," Jim's face was determined as he continued searching around and underneath the bed for further clues. His next words were muffled by his actions. "One question, though. Didn't you see or hear anything?"
"No, Jim. I didn't see or hear a thing. I did feel this sort of pressure in the back of my head, like before, but stronger. That's all, though." Blair looked momentarily disgusted as he continued, "I thought Incacha had passed the way of the shaman to me, and shamans are supposed to be sensitive to the spiritual realm. You'd think I'd be able to see a simple ghost."
"Don't worry about it, Chief. We'll figure out what happened here one way or another. Now, come on. Let's finish searching this house so we can get out of here. I still don't like it in here."
However, after searching for another two hours, the pair had finally reached the front door of the house, and hadn't discovered anything else unusual or incriminating.
Seeing Blair's disappointed expression, Jim pointed out, "All this proves, Chief, is that that bastard knows how to hide his tracks pretty well. We're going to have to get a warrant to search his office and car. We're also going to have to talk to all his friends and business associates, see what they know and we'll have to get some people out here to interview all the neighbors. Maybe we'll get lucky and someone saw something a little more concrete than just a man possibly taking out his garbage."
"Yeah, I know what you mean. Somehow, I doubt that we're going to find the tape of Myles pushing his wife down the stairs among all those ones we boxed up. Who knows, maybe the experts might turn something up when they go through his computer's hard drive and all those computer discs we found. There's got to be some clue, somewhere, as to what he did with his daughter."
Blair's voice cracked slightly on the last word, and Jim gave his friend a reassuring squeeze on the shoulder as he opened the front door, allowing them back out into the real world. They stood on the porch for a moment, just enjoying the sensation of being out of the oppressive atmosphere inside the house. In just a few minutes, the forensics team arrived, and after giving them all the evidence they had collected and a quick overview of what they would find inside, Jim and Blair decided it was time to head over to Rachael's school.
As they walked slowly to the truck, neither one of them noticed the young girl with long, black hair watching them sadly from an upstairs window.
It was almost three p.m. when Jim pulled his truck to a stop in front of the ornate, iron fence surrounding Cedar Run Elementary School. Pressing the button on the call box stationed beside the entry gate, the detective waited impatiently for the answer.
"Hello. Please state your name and the nature of your business." The voice issuing from the speaker was male, clipped, no nonsense and efficient.
"Detective James Ellison, Cascade P.D. I'm here to interview one of your teachers, a Mr. Timothy Meredith. If you'll check with him, you'll find that he is expecting me."
"We'll do that, Detective Ellison. Can you please tell us who that is with you in the truck?"
Looking around, Jim spotted the security camera almost hidden in the vines growing around the call box. "Mr. Blair Sandburg. He's a consultant with the force."
"Very good. If you two can please hold your identifications up to the camera, we will open the gate. Please proceed up the driveway and park your vehicle in slot number twelve, directly in front of a school. A guard will be waiting at the entrance to take you to meet Mr. Meredith."
"Thank you." Jim put the truck in gear and accelerated smoothly as the heavy, metal gates parted.
Moving down the tree-lined driveway, Jim looked around at the immaculately kept grounds. "You know, my father was well-off when I was a child, but he never sent Stephen and I to anything nearly this exclusive." Glancing over at his partner, he noticed the slight smile playing around the younger man's lips. "What is it, Chief? Do you have some super rich background I should know about? Have you been hiding some unimaginable wealth from me?"
Blair smiled and gave a snort before answering the question. "Yeah, right, Jim. Me, rich. That explains all the student loans, the times I've had to borrow money from you, and the Volvo. No, man. When I was about twelve, Naomi hitched up with this really rich guy for a while. I spent a couple semesters in a school just like this one before Naomi got tired and moved on." Blair's face twisted into a moue of disgust for a moment before he continued, "Let me tell you what. The parents may be a whole lot richer, but the kids can be just as nasty to someone they don't think quite fits into their little cliques."
Jim smiled slightly as he eased the truck into his assigned parking space and turned off the engine. "I think you've hit on one of the great truths of life, Chief. Human nature is human nature."
"Oh, look, Jim." Blair pointed toward the imposing marble entrance to the small building. "The man up there with the stick you-know-where must be our escort. Boy, they just don't get any more ex-military than that, do they? Where do you think they got him? Soldiers-Are-Us?"
"Hey, Shorty." Jim gave his partner an affectionate cuff as they approached the school. "Watch what you have to say about those of us with military backgrounds. Some of us turned out okay."
"Hello. I assume you are Detective Ellison and Mr. Sandburg." The man was tall and clean-shaven, with a buzz cut, and his voice betrayed the same military discipline as the rest of him did. "If you could please show me your identifications, I will take you to see Mr. Meredith."
After examining the pro-offered badges closely, the man turned on his heel, opened one of the large front doors and ushered the two men into the building. "My name is Bruce Davidson. There are a couple rules that we ask you follow during your visit to Cedar Run. First of all, do not speak to any of the students unless it has been cleared by Mr. Meredith and he is there during the interview. Secondly, do not go anywhere in this school without Mr. Meredith or I to act as an escort. If you follow these rules, we'll get along fine. Here," the man stopped in front of a door, "is the teacher's lounge. If you'll just stay here, I'll let him know that you're waiting."
"Geez," Blair whispered as the other man entered the room, shutting the door firmly behind him, "do you think maybe they wrap him back up in the G.I. Joe package he came in at night and just take him out again every morning?"
"Sandburg," Jim's answering growl was barely audible, "are you going to behave yourself or do I need to send you to your room without any supper again?"
"Jim, it's your turn to cook tonight and I've seen the preservative stuffed, salt laden, fat dripping items you have waiting in the refrigerator. Explain to me again why going to bed without dinner is a punishment?"
Jim was still trying to form a suitable retort when their chaperone opened the door again and ushered them in.
"This way please, gentlemen." Bruce Davidson led them into the room filled with half a dozen comfortable chairs arranged in a rough circle. There was a large coffee table in the middle of the circle. In one corner, a state of the art coffee/cappuccino maker rested. In the opposite corner, another table sat, this one littered with books and papers.
As they entered the room, a middle-aged man stood up and walked toward them, holding his hand out. "Hi, there. I'm Tim Meredith." The man's handshake was firm and somehow reassuring. "You must be Detective Ellison and Mr. Sandburg. I'm very pleased to meet you. Please have a seat and I'll tell you everything I can about Rachael and her father. Please."
As they took the seats indicated, Jim studied the man in front of them. He was tall and broad, with a muscular build that was just beginning to run to fat. His sandy hair was beginning to thin on top, but he had a full beard and compassionate brown eyes. He reminded Jim of nothing so much as an overgrown teddy bear, and he could easily understand why Mr. Meredith's students would come to him when they needed someone they could trust.
"So, before we get started, can I offer either one of you a cup of coffee or perhaps a cappuccino? One of the perks of teaching at a private school is that we actually do have decent coffee." Meredith looked up at the guard still stationed by the door as he continued, "Davidson. Would you please get the beverages for our guests before you leave? If you could bring me back a coffee, black, I would appreciate it."
Smiling brightly, Blair turned toward the sullen looking man standing behind him, "Oh, yes, please, Davidson. Could you please get me a cappuccino, extra froth and a coffee, cream, two sugars for Detective Ellison? Thank you ever so much."
As the security man stalked angrily to the coffee machine, Jim leaned over to his partner and whispered in a barely audible voice, "Control yourself, Chief. If you give that man a tip when he brings our coffee back, I'm sure he's going to kill you."
Blair only grinned impishly as he accepted his cup from the returning Davidson. "Thank you so very much, kind sir," he offered as the guard reluctantly left the room, closing the door behind him.
"Oh, good." Meredith set his coffee cup down, his intense, brown eyes taking in the two men seated in front of him. "We can speak freely now. Adrian Myles is a very important man in this community, and I really need to watch what I say about him in front of the administrative staff. Davidson is nothing if not a good little flunky. Anything we said with him in the room would have made its way to the principal's ears in record time."
"Now, how can I help you gentlemen? I assume you're going to want to know everything that Rachael told me as well as some background information on the girl herself, and perhaps a listing of her closest friends?" Meredith's face clouded over as he continued, "I really like Rachael. I know it's a cliché, but she really is a very special young girl. Very sweet, very unspoiled, despite her family's wealth, and there is a spiritual dimension to her that I see in far too few of my students these days."
"So, what can you tell us, Mr. Meredith? Please, start from the beginning and don't forget anything. The least detail may turn out to be important." Jim spoke with quiet authority as Blair pulled out a pen and a small notebook to take notes with.
"Well, Rachael Myles was--is--one of the students in my sixth grade class. God, I'm sure her bastard of a father has killed her, but talking about her in the past tense just seems so--final. I'm sorry, I'll just talk about this as best I can, okay?"
"That's okay, Mr. Meredith." Blair voice was low, honey smooth and reassuring. "Just take as much time as you need. We're here to listen."
After a moment, Meredith nodded and began. "Up until about a month ago, Rachael was one of the best students I had. She seemed to enjoy learning, participated in class, did all her homework and got good grades. She was also just a genuinely nice person. Yes, she did have some bouts of, I guess you could say, depression--after all, her mother had just died in that horrible accident two years ago. Overall, though, she was a happy girl.
"She even enjoyed participating in some of the extra-curricular activities. She was so proud of that trophy she got for winning the sixth grade spelling bee. She said she was going to take it home and put it in it's very own place of honor on her desk--" The teacher broke off speaking for a moment, his eyes suspiciously bright with unshed tears.
Jim and Blair exchanged a quick look at the other man's words. They definitely had not found a spelling bee trophy while searching the house.
Taking a deep breath to compose himself, Tim Meredith continued with his narration. "She was popular and had plenty of friends. And then, about a month ago, everything changed.
"She stopped doing her homework or participating in class. She started failing all of her tests and became very withdrawn from both her teachers and all of her friends. I tried talking to her, to find out what the problem was, but she just claimed there was no problem and that there was nothing to talk about. I know that other teachers and some of her friends also tried to gain her confidence, without success.
"I suspected abuse, so I reported my suspicions to administration." Meredith's face twisted into a scowl of disgust as he spoke. "They wouldn't do anything. Mr. Myles is a very influential man in this area, and no one was willing to take any chances or step on any toes without the proverbial smoking gun. In fact, the school board hinted to me strenuously that it would be in my best interest to drop the whole matter."
Meredith paused and took a sip of his coffee before continuing his narration. "Then, a week ago, Rachael came to me and asked if we could talk privately after class. She told me that she thought her daddy had 'done something really bad' and she wasn't sure what to do about it.
"When I asked her exactly why she thought this, she told me that she had come home from school one day about a month earlier. Her father wasn't home--she was a latch key kid--and she decided that she wanted to watch a favorite movie of hers on the VCR before she started her homework. When she tried to slide the tape into the machine, she found that there was another tape already in there.
"She took it out and looked at it, but didn't recognize it. So, she decided to watch a little bit to find out what it was. When she turned it on, she saw that it was a movie of that bastard of a father of hers pushing her mother down the stairs."
Jim interrupted the narrative. "Now, Mr. Meredith, was Rachael absolutely sure that that was what she saw? Isn't it possible that she might have actually been watching a scene from some movie that reminded her of what happened, and she superimposed the faces of her parents onto the actors?" His questions were low, but sure. "We don't want to doubt what Rachael told you, but we need to be absolutely certain of what she saw."
"I know, I know," the teacher responded. "I asked her exactly the same questions myself. She was crying and nearly hysterical, but she insisted that it was her parents. She said that she recognized them both and that she knows the front staircase of her house. She couldn't mistake it for anything else. She also said that her mother was wearing a night dress that Rachael had given her for Christmas the year before, so she knew for sure it was her."
"Did Rachael tell you how this videotape was supposedly shot? If Myles was holding the camera, how did she ever see his face to know it was him?"
Meredith paused, seemingly to center himself, took another sip of coffee and continued in a tone that was as cold as ice. "No. She said that the videotape was shot from the bottom of the stairs looking up. She could see her father drag her mother, struggling, from out of the bedroom and throw her down the stairs. She said she could see their mouths move, but there was no sound on the tape, so she didn't know what they said." The older man looked up at both Jim and Blair, his eyes as hard as chips of diamond. "The bastard must have been planning to murder Nancy that night, and he set up the video camera at the base of the stairs so that he could tape the festivities.
"I told that poor, little girl to go home and bring me the videotape the next day, and I'd watch it and take it to the police with her if need be. She never showed up at school the next day, and no one's seen her since.
The teacher's face twisted as he tried to hold back tears. "It's all my fault! If only I had told Rachael that we'd go to the police together that night. You could have searched the house, and nothing would have happened to her. I, I don't know if I can ever forgive myself for that." The older man finally broke down completely, hiding his face in his hands as tears made their way down his cheeks.
Getting quickly out of his chair, Blair knelt in front of the teacher and placed a comforting hand on his knee as he spoke in quiet, reassuring tones, "Shhhh, shhhh. You did your best. I'm sure no matter what happened, Rachael knows that and doesn't blame you." Blair gently pried the other man's hands away from his face and continued speaking in a calming voice. "You did the best you could. That's all any of us can ever do. C'mon, why don't we get you another cup of coffee and you can tell me all about Rachael. Who were her friends? What did she like to do? You know, all those sorts of questions.
"While we're busy here, how about if Jim goes into your classroom and looks through Rachael's desk, just to be sure there's nothing there that might tell us where she is. Is that okay with you?"
The teacher looked up at the detective momentarily, his cheeks streaked with tear tracks. "Go ahead. My classroom is the one right across the hall. Rachael's desk was--is--the third desk in the row closest to the window."
Jim quietly closed the door to the lounge, his ears still picking up the comforting murmur of his Guide's voice from the room behind him. Pausing, he took a quick look up and down the hall. Good. No sign of Bruce Davidson--Over Enthusiastic Security Guards Are Us. Crossing the hall, he found himself in what seemed to be a typical classroom. He was looking at the teacher's desk and the chalkboard with math work still written on it, when a flicker of motion caught the corner of his eye.
Turning to see what had captured his attention, he caught sight of a pretty girl with long, black hair sitting at the third desk, in the row closest to the window. She smiled at him and started to speak when it suddenly felt as if someone had set off the world's largest flashbulb directly in his eyes. As he reeled back against the desk, putting a hand out for support, he managed a strangled, "Blair."
Continue on to Act Two