Novation Productions Presents Season Six Episode Two
"Hey, Chief! You ready to go?"
It was Thursday, the 19th of October, in midterms week at Rainier, and a good day for both Jim Ellison and Blair Sandburg to take off and go fishing.
"Yeah, I think," Blair returned blearily. "Don't you know?"
Jim snorted. "Yeah, you got everything but Libby." He bent down to scoop up the wire-haired fox terrier, and popped her into Blair's arms. "She's gonna need a bath when we get back."
Blair yawned. "Her clip is next week. I booked with Pete last year."
"Year?" Jim almost smiled.
"Oh, um, month." Blair looked around. "I need caffeine, Jim," he said plaintively, buckling his seat belt half-asleep, Libby in his lap.
Jim duly made a pit stop for doughnuts, bagels and coffee.
The caffeine and chewing woke Blair up. As he slipped tidbits to Libby, fondly but vainly believing they were unseen by the Sentinel driving, he remembered why he was really taking a day to go fishing with his buddy.
There was something – off, about Jim, and Blair was determined to find the cause. Jim had shut down emotionally a few weeks previously, for no reason Blair could discern. There hadn't been a horrible case which taxed him, there were no broken romances that left him crushed, he hadn't had a run-in with his father over the past. Whatever was bothering Jim had Blair flummoxed.
Jim, of course, wasn't talking about himself, but whatever he was holding in, it looked to be withering the Sentinel. The Sentinel's Shaman, even if he was only a shaman with student status, was responsible for the Sentinel's well being. As for Blair Sandburg -- Blair wanted his best friend to be happy. Whatever it took, he would be there for Jim.
A day away from the city might help loosen Jim Ellison's tongue, or so Blair hoped. Cascade was under a great cloud of fog, and had been for a week, with no end in sight. It burned off partly in the warm midday, but grew dense again in the late afternoon. Only a Sentinel accompanied by his Guide could make it safely to the mountains. Being at a higher elevation might raise them out of the mists, too; Blair had wondered if the weather was telling on Jim, and needed to observe him in a sunnier setting to figure that out.
The cab of the truck was too quiet for Blair's comfort. He launched into a discussion of how well the post-doctoral course in Sentinel Studies, which he was teaching at the university, was being received by his seminar students. "I think some of them signed up just to watch me make an ass of myself," he said, "but I've got 'em all now." Satisfaction saturated his tones. "You'd be surprised," he went on, "to know how many people really do know proto-sentinels."
"Proto-sentinels?" Jim asked a shade bashfully.
Blair shot him a quick, alert glance. "Yeah, you know, the people with one to four heightened senses. I've got a transfer student who switched to Rainier to take my course; his brother has sight, taste and smell enhanced. And one of the physicians on the roll has someone with four; she's been at her wit's end for ways to help her patient in her daily life."
"What sense is missing?" Jim asked, a trifle too casually.
Blair closed the goody box and tapped Libby to let her know the food fest was over. "Touch."
"Good one not to have," Jim commented. "Too many migraines."
"Hmm." Blair downed the last of his coffee, watching Jim. "Also rashes."
"Yeah. Most of them know people like me?" Jim asked.
There was a note of desperation in that question. Was Jim thinking of himself as a freak again? Blair knew the Sentinel still carried the stigma his father had impressed on him in childhood. Maybe knowing there were others having a hard time coping with their hyper-senses would help Jim. "Oh, yeah," the Shaman reassured his charge, "pretty much everyone, Jim." He obliged with anecdote after anecdote, until Jim got them to the trout stream he'd picked out.
The two men stood side by side in the rushing water, angling for a catch, and lunch was a pair of trout for each. While Blair cleaned the fish and built a fire, Jim took Libby on a ramble. Blair looked after them with a small frown. He had wanted Jim to open up to him, not talk to Libby, no matter how good a listener she made. There was no help for it, though. Blair went back to cooking.
Jim was silent as he hiked, watching Libby's antics without thinking much about anything. He had to use his Sentinel eyesight to track her; she was into everything, just like Blair. When she found a bee's nest, Jim powered up before she could bring the whole swarm down on them. He got her just in time, changed course, and ran like hell. The bees decided to leave them alone, and then Jim stopped.
"Silly Libby," Jim said to the terrier, holding her up to eye level. "You don't investigate bees. Only bears investigate bees, and even they get stung for their trouble."
He got a swipe with a wet tongue on his nose for thanks. He tucked her tidily under his arm, and began to wend their way back to the campsite. The trout was smelling good.
Finally, he talked. "Got yourself a fine alpha for your pack there, Libby. You'll be the envy of all the other alpha bitches. He catches dinner, and cooks it too. He catches crooks. He teaches his own course to doctors, and he writes his own monographs for it. He's learning all about shamanism." Jim stopped talking, so Libby bunted him in the ribs. He petted her absently, and went back to vocalizing his stream of consciousness. "So busy, so happy. Got it all, the academic recognition, and learning to be a shaman, and I thank God for him being my Guide every day. It's a dream come true that he'd get everything he ever wanted.
"But if I'm so happy for him, why aren't I happy myself? What am I doing wrong? What am I doing? It's just the same thing over and over again, each day. I can't stop the crooks from killing, only clean up afterwards. Shouldn't I be stopping them instead? What's wrong with me, Libby?"
Libby licked his hand liberally, and he let her down as they came within earshot of the camp. She scampered ahead to find Blair, leaving Jim alone with his thoughts.
No women, no hobbies, no fun, Ellison. Stick in the mud, stuck in a rut, going nowhere, Jimmy boy. Do something about it. Jim sighed deeply, wishing his subconscious would take a permanent vacation, then shook himself and drew in a deep draft of air, redolent with the savory scent of fresh trout ready for eating. He smiled, a small but genuine smile, and went to join his partner. The trout was terrific, and so was the companionship.
Blair help up a beautiful chinook, easily 20 pounds, that team work of the best kind had just earned them. "I hope the photos turn out. This is a monster!"
Libby jumped like a flea to bite at the tail. Jim clapped his hands, and she stopped with a doggy grin.
"It'll make a nice supper for more than you and me, Jim. Who should we ask?" Blair commented.
"Simon and Daryl – if they even can eat, over the salmon envy!" Jim laughed.
"Works for me!" Blair was glad. That laugh had been real. The R&R had done Jim a lot of good. It had been too long since Blair had heard laugher from his partner.
They packed up and moved out, both Sentinel and Guide content with their catch and each other.
The first part of the trip back was amiable, full of hiking and camping talk, but that wore out quickly. Jim went quiet again, and though the fog was rising, Blair knew it wasn't because of the driving. Time to intervene.
"Hey, Jim, ever pick up a hitchhiker in the fog?" he asked innocently.
"Do I look like a guy who picks up hitchhikers in the fog, Sandburg?" Jim replied with a quizzical glance.
Blair laughed. "You look like a guy who took a homeless grad student in for a week and is still living with him five, six, years later. So, yeah, you look like you might give a hitchhiker a lift, especially if he's in the rain."
Jim had to smile at that. "Well, I've picked up a few people, but I don't advise it. No doing that, Chief. You pick up any hitchhikers and I'll kick your butt."
"Oooh, I'm so scared," Blair chuckled. Libby woofed and stuck out her tongue as she grinned at Jim from the sanctity of Blair's lap. "But I agree, picking up hitchhikers can be trouble. Or very, very interesting."
Catching the 'come-on' in his partner's voice, and as close as it was to Hallowe'en, Jim let himself be amused. "You got a tale to tell about that, Chief?"
"Yeah, as a matter of fact, I have," Blair replied. "A bunch of them, in fact. Ever heard of the Vanishing Hitchhiker?"
"The Vanishing Hitchhiker," Jim said deadpan. "Tell me all about it. Is it a man, or a woman?"
"Could be either, depending," Blair said mysteriously.
"Okay, then." Blair sat back to weave his storytelling in the tiny cave of the truck's cab, to the firelight from the headlamps.
"There was a man who was driving along a deserted road at the dead of night. He caught the figure of another man, hitchhiking, ahead of him. He felt compassion for the hitchhiker, and decided to pick him up and give him a ride. The hitchhiker gets in the car, and they talk for a while. The driver is impressed by the otherworldliness of his passenger. Suddenly, the passenger starts talking about the second coming of Christ, and announces, 'It's happening soon! Be ready!'. The driver is startled, and takes his eyes off the road to look at the hitchhiker, but...."
"The hitchhiker had vanished," Jim said in sepulchral tones.
Both of the men cracked up.
"You know the legend, huh?" Blair asked. "I figured you would."
"Oh, yeah. Only when I first heard it, it was Resurrection Mary. Just a ghost story. No religious overtones to it." He quirked up his eyebrow as a question.
Blair filled in the gap. "Well, it started out with religious overtones, and dates back to the 1800's, where it's a buggy driven by a woman, usually, and a man is picked up. He tells her to be ready for the second coming, and then disappears. If it's the Mormon version, he says to stock up food for two years, because the tribulation's about to start."
"Really? Is there a Jewish version, Chief?"
"Yup," Blair said, "but it's in the same category as Resurrection Mary, a pure ghost story, and they both come out of Chicago."
"Yeah. Resurrection Mary dates back to 1930's Chicago, and she's not hitchhiking per se, but trying to jump on the running boards of the cars back then. Of course, she's this beautiful young, blonde, blue-eyed woman in a long party dress, so she's not exactly a threat." Both of the men laughed again, and Blair went on, "Later, she's hitchhiking outside another ballroom in Chicago, and asks for a lift to a specific street address. It turns out to be...."
"The graveyard," Jim filled in the gap with delicious apprehension.
"...And she disappears from view. She often leaves a purse or scarf or even her dancing shoes behind, and they're supposed to be evidence that she really exists." Blair scratched Libby's ears. She was listening attentively, too. "The Jewish version goes that the ghost is a flapper who liked to dance at another ballroom, and hitches a ride home to the Jewish Waldheim Cemetery. There are supposed to be independent ghost sightings of her in the cemetery, as well.
"But they're both classic FOAF stories."
"FOAF? What's that stand for, Chief?"
"Friend of a friend," Blair stated. "Secondhand information that needs to be accepted on faith. No digging into things. None of the details, and there are a lot of them in some of the stories, ever pans out."
"Isn't there some kind of cop involvement too, to them?" Jim was trying to recall what he'd heard in Police Academy on Hallowe'en something over a decade before.
"Oh, yeah. If the hitchhiker vanishes after warning of the end of the world, either the driver goes right to the local precinct to report it, or gets stopped for speeding or driving erratically. When he tells the story, the cop replies, 'You're the eighth person to tell me that tonight.' The guy doesn't get a ticket."
Both laughed out loud.
"You did your term paper for your independent studies course on this, didn't you, Chief?" Jim accused him. "You're just full to the brim with it."
Blair guffawed. "You know me too well, Jim. Yeah, I did. Urban legends are such fun, and this is one of the best. A favorite variant is the girl asking for a ride to a house, where she gets out, leaving something behind, usually a scarf or purse. So the driver gets out and goes up to the front door, which is opened by a middle-aged couple. He asks about her, and they don't know what he's talking about. He spies a photograph of the girl on a table or something, and says she's who he's talking about. The woman pales and nearly faints, and her husband tells the driver that the girl is their daughter, but she died after being hit by a car on her way home from a dance. That very night was the anniversary of her death."
"Ooooh, scary," Jim shivered dramatically.
"There's a thread of another use of the legend besides spiritual warnings and pure ghost stories. It's a kind of morality tale thing. If you don't pick the spirit up, she appears in your back seat and curses you."
"So you'd better pick her up, I guess," Jim said, privately vowing there was no way in hell he was ever picking up a debutante on a lonely road.
"Seems like. It's really interesting though, how far back these go. Washington Irving wrote a novel in the early 1800's, 'The Woman in the Velvet Collar', using the device, and it's appeared in movies by Orson Welles and others. But if you want to go right back to the source, or at least, a related idea, you have to read the Book of Acts."
Jim turned to look at his partner. "The Bible has a vanishing hitchhiker in it? I don't remember that."
Blair poked him in the ribs and said, "You ought to read it more often." He fended off a bat from Jim's hand, and Libby woofed enthusiastically. When everyone had settled down again, Blair said, "It's the part where St. Philip is told by God to take the road to Gaza, and, when there, to go up to the chariot driven by the Ethiopian eunuch. St. Philip explains what the guy needs to know about Christianity, and then baptizes him. All of a sudden, St. Philip is miraculously transported to some place called Azotus."
"The original vanishing hitchhiker? Huh. Imagine that."
"Yeah, except it's a totally different category from the others," Blair continued.
"It's told from the hitchhiker's point of view. It's not a warning to others. It isn't a ghost story. There are no prophecies made in it – and a lot of the variants do have prophecies, quite apart from the religious ones. In World War II, there were stories prophesying the end of the war, for instance. It's got the basic facts of a Vanishing Hitchhiker story, but it doesn't have the same reason for being as the legends themselves. You have to take it on faith, but it's significantly different from the legends."
"Faith," Jim muttered to himself.
"Yeah, faith," said his friend. "Only sometimes faith is worse than disbelief." He went on to tell Jim of the burning of Bridget Cleary in 1895, in Ireland, a casualty of folk beliefs in fairy changelings. Both of them were a trifle somber as they reach 852 Prospect Avenue an hour and a half later.
They didn't have time for gloominess while unpacking the truck, getting Libby back into Blair's lair, and deciding to rearrange the contents of their refrigerators to make room for the salmon.
Blair tripped the answering machine in the lair while he and Jim moved things around in his freezer.
"Sweetie! I'm coming to Cascade for Samhain, and should be there any day! I'm looking forward to seeing you, and Jim, so much! Watch for me!" The bubbly voice could only belong to Naomi Sandburg, Blair's mother.
"Sow-ahn?" Jim asked, hands full of cold Tupperware.
"Hallowe'en, in Wiccan. Or Druid." Blair was pensive for a moment. "She's coming for the big convention starting this weekend, leading up to Hallowe'en."
"Oh, yeah. New Age everything, rocks, crystals, channellers, palmistry, astrology, past lives, future lives, all that stuff, huh?" Jim was jaded. "I've seen the posters for it everywhere. Seen some of the 'business people' too, around town. Men in long flowing red robes. Women with green hair and fingernails. Really weird costumes, weirder than that, even. Hallowe'en is such a dicey day for law enforcement. Why encourage the flakes to come calling? Don't we have enough here already?"
"Yeah, but it's a holy day in some religions, Jim, not just a day for fakes and frauds. It sounds like Naomi wants to hook up with the Wiccan crowd, or maybe the Druids. I can put her in touch with them," Blair said sadly. "They're all allotted space at the Cascade Fairgrounds and parks, along with the peddlers. Open ground or booths or tents, whatever's necessary, so no one crosses belief barriers or starts riots or anything. Sky would have hated that."
Jim changed the subject back to the freezers; they didn't need Blair to be off in a fit of despair over the death of Skylark Kullien. Jim knew how much that still hurt him; Jim had his own ghosts to mourn. So he took charge.
"If we put this, here, and that there, you'll have room for whatever I can shift out of my fridge, and then we'll shove the salmon in my fridge, Chief."
"That's great," Blair agreed, with a spark of liveliness again.
They trekked up the spiral staircase into Jim's loft, salmon still in its bucket, and Libby nosing insistently at the backs of their legs all the way, tickling Blair's knees.
Jim's freezer proved to have significantly fewer stores of frozen food, which was common for them; Blair was the better chef, and he often made much more than they could eat at one sitting. Jim unloaded peas, which Blair took to store in his, and removed a container of lasagna to thaw. There was room for the salmon, and dinner ready to go.
"Hey, Chief, get the message machine," Jim suggested.
"Sure," Blair said, and, beer from Jim's fridge in hand, did so.
Captain Simon Banks was their contact. "Sorry to curtail your pleasure, gentlemen, but call me when you get in. We have a bad one this time."
Jim and Blair exchanged concerned looks, and Jim quickly returned the call.
"Simon? What's up?"
"Jim! Glad you're home early. I won't wrap the scene till you get here." The line crackled a little. "We've got a homicide, female victim, and it's ugly. Multiple stab wounds, and it's a mess. We're at 1287 Hertford. Get here ASAP." The line went dead.
"So much for our day of relaxation," Blair murmured, and reached for the things they'd gotten out to eat. The beer and lasagna went back into the fridge.
Meanwhile, Jim settled for briskly rubbing down Libby with a warm, wet towel until she smelled fresh again, while paying special attention to cleaning her paws gently, and tossing the towel into the hamper.
The partners flew out of their home.
The peas lay forgotten in the sink.
1287 Hertford was the Harbor Sights Hotel, a grungy dive, which rented its rooms by the hour. Jim knew it well, from his days in Vice. Here and there were pools of hookers, the bright finery they wore a tawdry comparison to the ugly life they led. A cordon of yellow police tape forbade entrance to the public, and a live-feed television camera, featuring Don Haas, Cascade's premier newshound, was setting up to report, live as a breaking news bulletin, anything he could pick up. Staying tuned to the police scanners tipped Haas to a lot of the biggest stories in Cascade.
A querulous voice from the front office was alternately bitching about how much business was being lost, and providing information of the least value possible. "I don't know what he looked like. He looked like everyone. Good suit. Good hat. Hat? Yeah, he wore one. I don't know what kind of hat. Do I look like a haberdasher to you? I've lost a couple hundred bucks already today, and you want me to draw you a picture of a hat. Forget about it. Just clean up and go."
Jim looked wearily at his partner. "Clean up and go," he echoed. It sounded like the story of his life.
Blair heard something in Jim's tone which he couldn't place, but continued the thought. "Yeah, as if the cops had time to clean up the room for him. What a loser."
Jim didn't answer. Blair had to prod him to make him move on. Flashing Jim's shield and Blair's Special Consultant pass, they moved beyond the police tape and climbed four flights of stairs to the scene of the murder. One look inside the room had Blair turning away and clutching his stomach.
"Take it easy, Chief," Jim said. "I can handle this alone."
Blair shook his head and forced down the revulsion. "S'okay, Jim, I'll be okay."
Captain Banks was in the room, a mask of horrified anger for a face. "Glad to see you here, Jim. Sandburg, you gonna be all right?"
Blair nodded. "It's just – there's so much blood," he whispered. "Like every drop in her poured out."
"Yeah, it seems that way to me too, kid," the police captain assured him. "I had trouble with this, myself."
Blair took heart from that, and from the kind understanding in Simon's eyes. "I'll be okay now. Thanks."
Jim was at the side of the body, careful of where he was treading. Forensics was going to have a job on their hands, and not a pretty one. The victim was lying on her side, her throat slashed so violently that her spine was almost severed. There were wounds to her front, her back, her sides, all her limbs. It seemed as if there were no part of her where the killer hadn't struck.
"Talk about overkill," Jim said. "I can't find anything with the scene like this, Simon. It really is blood everywhere. When is she being transported to the morgue?"
"Now. If you're sure you can't pick anything up here?" Simon sounded disappointed.
Jim turned to look at him. "I can't work miracles, Captain. I see just what you do, blood on everything. You can't even tell how many wounds she has. They run into each other, and all were bleeding. She must have bled out from the throat wound, but I think the femoral artery was probably opened early too. He's sliced the vocal cords. She couldn't even scream."
"Wouldn't he be covered in blood, too, Jim?" Blair asked. He looked at the walls, spattered with blood spray.
"Yeah, but this is a 'hotel', and he probably got naked in the bathroom and sluiced off there afterwards, before getting dressed again. We need Forensics to look into that as well."
All three took a look at the washroom, and saw the victim's clothing stacked in a neat pile, a short red dress, black nylons and black, strappy high heels. There was an evening bag with plastic crystal beads beside them. Jim managed to get the clasp open with a pen, and inside were a pair of long black gloves, a white fur bandeau, and a couple of twenties. No I.D. at all. They left the lot to Forensics, and retired to the main room.
Simon Banks grunted. "Good enough, both of you. If you can't do anything more here, then perhaps there'll be something to work with, once Forensics and the morgue have reports for us. Maybe there's a pattern you can pick up on, Sandburg. Something sacrificial or whatever."
The doctor of anthropology grimaced. "I can't make one out right now, and I don't see anywhere near as well as Jim does. Maybe we should go to the autopsy." There was no enthusiasm in his voice.
"I'll talk to the desk man," Jim proposed, a strain of menace in his tones. It was the Ranger-trained black operative speaking.
Simon stared at him sharply. "I want this solved, but I don't want any more bloodshed, Detective. Curb the violence."
Jim stared back. "What violence would that be, Sir?"
"As long as we understand each other," Banks said evenly.
"Yeah, we do, we do," Blair hurried to say, pulling Jim back from both the body and the captain. "Let's go downstairs, Jim. We'll have to hurry with the guy, if we're going to be there for the post-mortem."
Jim allowed Blair to tug him out of the room. "Okay, Chief. Only I'm not gonna be exactly soft on the slime."
"No one would ever expect you to be soft on slime, Jim."
"Just so you know."
"I know. Believe me, I know."
They got down to the front lobby, and into the manager's office. A pudgy, balding, red-nosed man in a dirty t-shirt and rumpled trousers was loud and groggy-eyed. "I've told them all everything. Go away. I have business to attend to."
Oh, so he was drunk, too. Jim started to choke on the fumes, and Blair hastily talked him through filtering out the stale, stink-laden air. Jim nodded to the uniforms to leave them, then the best detective in Cascade went to work.
"So, Grady, how've you been keeping?" he purred.
Grady stuck out his lip and drew down his brows. "El-li-son," he said, hatred in every letter.
"I see you remember me from last time."
Grady went white and looked at his shoes.
"You didn't help us in our investigation then, did you? I'm sure you want to help us now, don't you, Grady?"
"Yeah, yeah," he mumbled to the floor.
"Who was she?"
"Hooker, named Bunny Tail."
"Hey, that's what she calls, um, called herself. Don't know if it's one word or two." He shrugged. "She used to wear a kind of headband made of white fur, I guess it was rabbit, but I don't know. Had some line about being a bunny from head to tail." He shrugged again.
"How long she been on this strip?"
"A year, maybe."
"Who's her pimp?"
"Doesn't have one, as far as I know."
"Come on, Grady!" Jim was impatient.
"I mean it," Grady looked up, surprised. "She came and went, on her own time. She got rousted a couple of times by Big Lou's girls and Patsy Pie's boys, but she was mostly a hit-and-run kind of woman. She'd troll for a john and pick one up faster than the regulars did, mostly because she wasn't one of them. Johns sometimes want a change, you know? Plus she looked a little fresher than the other pros. I figure she had a car stashed somewhere, and worked the whole city. I think she drank, but I don't think she did drugs. Strange she got hit. You'd expect it to be one of the regulars, wouldn't you?" He shrugged again.
"What about the guy she was with?"
"Signed in as John Smith. Look at the register. I always keep a register," the rummy said righteously.
Jim took a good look. A scratchy hand, but bold and harsh. "We'll need that for Forensics," he mentioned, and waved at a tech to take it. "The pen too."
"So what'd he look like? And you'd better give us all of it, Grady. Every single detail you can remember," Jim told him clearly.
"Okay, okay, he was maybe five foot ten. White guy, dark hair. Medium everything. Didn't look like much. Just a guy in a good suit and a hat."
"What kind of hat?"
Grady threw his hands up in the air. "How should I know from hats? I don't wear 'em, Officer," he said sarcastically. "He had one in his hand, and it wasn't a baseball cap, and that's all I know."
"Who asked for the room?"
"He didn't say a thing?"
"Nope." Grady paused. "Wait. He did say something. Only not then."
"When he left?"
"You didn't hear anything before that, coming from the room? No screaming? No noises, calls for help?"
"Huh-uh. I always have the TV on, sports mostly, lotsa noise to drown out what goes on upstairs. Who wants to hear all the sex everyone else is having, you know?" Grady's mouth was particularly sour.
"So how much later did he leave?"
"Within the hour. I don't remember exactly. But I couldn't charge for an extra hour. That's all I cared about."
"You find the body?"
"Nah. Bimbo named Delores works here, gets a free room for the night, and freebies for her own customers. She cleans up. She found Bunny Tail. Started screeching right away. I could hear her over the soccer match, she was so loud. I called 911."
"Where's Delores now?"
"Some cop took her downtown. That's all I know."
"All right. Go back to when the man left. How did he look?"
"I don't know. Like all johns look. Like he'd had sex. Satisfied. Whatever."
"No blood on his clothes?"
"Nope. He looked as good walking out as he did walking in. Good tailoring."
"And what did he say when he left?"
"When he gave back the key, he said, 'Ta very much.'"
Jim and Blair were both surprised at that. "'Ta very much.'" Jim stated. "That's all he said."
"Yeah," said the clerk. "Oh, and it sounded strange, kinda. Like that Spike character on TV, only not exactly." He sucked his tongue, loudly.
"Buffy the Vampire Slayer. He's a vampire with an English accent," Blair filled Jim in. "It's popular on campus."
"You watch Buffy the Vampire Slayer?" the detective asked in astonishment.
"Hey, some cuties on that show," the office manager salivated. "What I'd like to do to that little Willow...."
That was sickening enough to convince both men from Major Crime that that well of information was tapped out. They arranged for him to talk with a P.D. sketch artist, and left the drunk behind them.
They came out of the Harbor Hotel to find heavy fog pierced by floodlights and Don Haas reporting live for Channel Four. He stuck his mike in Jim's face. "So what can you tell us about this horrendous case, Detective Ellison?"
"What are you doing here, Haas?" Jim asked in exasperation.
"The public has the right to know about this horrible crime. What is the status of the victim? What leads do you have? Do you have a description of the perpetrator for us?"
"No comment," Jim returned, and elbowed past him, on the way to the truck.
Blair was behind, and Haas intervened. He was about to interview Major Crime's consultant when he himself was interrupted, and Jim swiveled around to see what was happening to his partner.
The light man from the news crew was thrusting a sheet of paper into Don's hands. "R-r-read this!" he said excitedly. "You w-won't b-b-believe it!"
Haas got his head turned around and read mechanically from the paper. "'From Hell,'" he started, "'I cut another whore....'"
He didn't get any further.
Jim shoved everyone out of the way, shouting down Haas's next words, and seizing the paper with a hastily grabbed latex glove used as a cloth, unworn. "That's enough. Cut the feed!" He yanked a couple of cords, and the cameraman groaned.
Blair leaned into the van and flicked the off switch to the camera. The editor was swearing a blue streak. They had been on a thirty-second delay. The live reporting was over before it got started.
"You're interfering in a police investigation," Jim told the news crew. He pointed at a bunch of the uniforms and told them, "Get him, and him, and them, and that, down to Major Crime, and I mean yesterday."
The uniforms hustled Haas and the soundman, as well as the man watching the monitors inside the van, away from the crowd, picking up the cameraman and his camera to boot.
Jim got out his cell phone and called Simon. "Get down to the department. We'll meet you there."
"Jim? What is it?"
But Jim had already cut the connection. He grabbed Blair by the shoulder and plowed through the crowd to the truck. There he carefully slipped the letter into a plastic evidence pouch, to protect it from further contamination by fingerprints.
"Jim?" Blair asked from the passenger seat.
Jim put the flasher on top of the truck and started the motor. "Look at this," he said, tossing the packet to his partner before putting the truck in gear and moving out. "I didn't need to wait for Haas to read it live on television, and we don't want it getting out."
Blair stared at the letter. "Oh, shit," he said.
"Yeah. Oh, shit."
It was signed, "Jack the Ripper."
Continue on to Act 2
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