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.
"We bagged our catch. Time to pack up, Chief." They had moved to a spot on a river where the salmon were running, for their afternoon catch. But the fog was rising again, and at four o'clock in the afternoon, it was none too early to leave for the city.
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."
Blair Sandburg sat alone in Captain Simon Banks' office at Police Headquarters, rubbing his aching head. His mind was on the letter Jim had already read. He was trying to deduce a profile of the author on the spot.
I cut another whore. What fun it is to see all the red blood run.
Ha ha. She didn't make a peep. I would have had her kidney home
to eat, but these days, they're all diseased. Ha ha. So she kept
her kidney. I just took an ear for kicks.
Catch me when you can. If you can. Ha ha. No one's caught me
Jack the Ripper
"Man, but this guy is sick," he said to himself. "Whoever he is."
"What'd she say, Jim?" his partner asked.
Jim sank into a chair beside Blair wearily. "Nothing. Delores, her last name's Alvarado, by the way, she is completely traumatized. In deep shock. I told the uniforms to call for an ambulance. Her heartbeat was really slow and her pulse was irregular." The Sentinel of Cascade, previously a medic in the Rangers, had seen to the health of one of his tribe. "In that state, there's no way she'd be able to give any help. Anything she might know, she'd repress until she gets really good psychological counseling."
Captain Banks arrived next and heard Jim out about Delores Alvarado. "Too bad," he sighed. Then he informed his best team that he'd told Traffic to keep a lookout for an apparently abandoned car anywhere in the vicinity of the Harbor Hotel; they might be able to trace her through motor vehicle records, if she did own a car, as Grady had guessed. Jim briefed Simon about hauling the entire KDCE news crew downtown, where everyone was waiting in separate interrogation rooms. When he got to the letter, Simon summarily filched it from Blair's hands with a gorgon's stare and Blair stared helplessly back.
"'Catch me when you can. No one's caught me yet!'" Simon echoed the killer's words. "Just what we need. A copycat Jack the Ripper for Hallowe'en."
Blair said, "Why couldn't we have had someone who thinks he's Napoleon instead?" It wasn't a flippant remark.
Jim squeezed his shoulder.
"What do you think, Blair?" Banks asked his department's special consultant.
"I'm no expert, but it looks to me to be an exact match to the 'John Smith' signature on the desk register, so we don't have two crazies working together. The perp's probably psychotic, I expect he's delusional rather than just boastful, but above all else, he's arrogant beyond belief. He's chosen the most famous serial killer, and one of the goriest, in all history, to identify with. He's not the second Ripper, or a Ripper copycat, in his mind, or he'd have chosen a special name for himself in his taunting letters, like the Zodiac did. Something like the Cascade Ripper or the Millennial Ripper, whatever, and maybe referred to Jack the Ripper or maybe not. No, he thinks he is Jack the Ripper, or at least as good as him.
"Back in the 1880's, London, England, the real Jack the Ripper was never caught, despite having a bunch of different police agencies out after him. He stopped killing suddenly, and no one knows why, but he wasn't caught as 'Jack the Ripper'. He might have died or gone to jail for some other crime, but he successfully escaped justice for all time for his slayings of prostitutes. This copycat feels invincible."
Everyone looked grim at that. The innocent plastic evidence folder was handled like a viper, because of the poison was within.
"I'll send it down to Forensics, and ask for them to arrange for a graphologist to look at it, as well as doing the regular tests," Simon decided.
Jim suggested that they all go talk to the newsies, in case any of them had information to share. Blair and Simon got up, but no one speculated on the likelihood of help from that quarter.
First up was Haas, and the main concern in the minds of the Major Crime unit was whether he had read the signature at the bottom of the letter.
Of course he had. And he intended to use it.
"The people have the right to know if there's a maniac on the loose in Cascade," he expostulated, his arms in the air, hands fisted, ready to fight. "Even whores have the right to live!"
That was a gut-punch for the Major Crime investigators.
"No one ever said they don't," Jim snarled. "We're talking about holding back information that might help us identify the killer, and keep us from getting a load of false tips and sick letters from people who like to pull 'pranks' this time of year."
Haas scowled at him. "So you don't want the pros on the street knowing they should be extra careful? You want them out there, as decoys, so you can try to track 'Jack' when the next one's killed?"
"No," Simon roared. "We just don't want the case polluted by loonies, Haas." He paused, knowing he had to make a deal with the reporter, and hating every second of it. "You can have an exclusive on the killing, now, no photos, though. No mention of the letter, neither its contents, nor its existence. Tell the public there's someone targeting the hookers; they do deserve to know that they're vulnerable. Once we get the guy, you can have an exclusive interview then, too. Not with him, of course. With one of the investigators."
Don Haas mulled the offer over for all of a half second. "Done. And I'm really sorry I don't know more than I do about this guy. He needs taking down."
"Yeah, we're in agreement about that," Blair put in. "But there is more than one psycho out there at large, and we don't need to attract any more of them."
Haas gave his agreement with a tap to the table, and then it was the light man's turn to be interviewed.
Nathaniel Markle sat very still. He stuttered. "I-I-I d-don't kn-n-now anything. S-s-somebody t-tapped me on the sh-shoulder f-from the b-back, and d-d-d-ropped the envelope in m-my lap. I w-was kneeling d-down, g-getting the angle r-r-right; the f-fog needed s-s-special l-l-lighting. He w-was gone b-b-before I could g-get b-b-back up and s-s-see him. I j-just opened it, g-g-gave it to D-Don." He stopped for a breath. "I s-saw what it s-s-said, but I w-w-won't say anything. I s-s-swear."
He seemed sincere to all his hearers, and at the lift of an eyebrow from Blair, Jim blinked his eyes slowly: 'he's telling the truth'.
Still, they had to ask the person who first had the letter in his hands. "Where were you between the hours of 4 p.m. and now?"
"At w-work. Gil and I were working l-l-location shots around the c-city all day, with d-d-different r-reporters. Hallowe'en c-c-color spots. H-he'll t-t-tell you. S-so will the other r-r-reporters. Oh, and J-johnny was th-there; he's our d-driver. He e-edits and m-m-monitors the feed."
'Gil' was Gil Hardesty, the cameraman. His attention had been on Don Haas, and he knew absolutely nothing. All he'd done was run the camera, so it was the tape he had shot which was of potential value. Jim okayed him, too.
Johnny Sargento had been in the van the whole time. Blair had noticed that himself.
Sargento, Hardesty and Markle were told of the deal Don Haas had made, to withhold knowledge of the Ripper letter from the public, and they were more than willing to go along. After giving their fingerprints for comparison with whatever Forensics found on the paper, they ran like blazes to set up a feed at the front of the building, in order to make the eleven o'clock news. Cascade would go to bed and have nightmares; Haas would make sure of it.
Dan Wolf looked up from the body, and said mildly, "I was expecting you earlier. I've already started the autopsy."
Jim, well ahead of Blair, who was doing deep breathing exercises to center himself, went directly to the gurney. "That her?" he asked.
It had to be. The blood had been washed from the body, which was covered with stab wounds everywhere. The right ear was missing, also, a fresh cut.
Blair came up behind them, and when he got a good look at the woman's corpse, unobscured by gore, he swallowed hard. The extent of her injuries was almost unimaginable. "Poor thing," he murmured. "Which of them killed her, Dan?"
"The first one, a deep slice to the throat, left side to right," he said. Pointing to them one by one, he started to walk them through the wounds she had suffered.
"Any fiber evidence turned up?" Jim asked, after the first few.
"No, nothing," Dan replied. "There was stuff stuck to the top of the blood, but it was obviously fluff from the bedding. Looked like a pink tufted cotton bedspread was shedding like a cat."
"Good guess," Blair told him. "The spread was pink, with little pompom-type things on it."
"She was naked when she died," Jim thought out loud, "clothing intact, so she was probably naked before the attack, and the perp was as well, or there would have been fibers in the wounds. She could have been facing away from him, and he came up on her from behind. Then the killing stroke to the throat, first off." He looked to Dan Wolf for confirmation.
"He not only severed the jugular and her vocal cords, but nearly decapitated her," the medical examiner confirmed. "That took strength, even if she wasn't fighting for her life. She did struggle a little, there are defensive wounds on her hands from where she'd put them to her neck. He cut her there three more times. She's a medium sized woman, five foot six, 135 pounds, about 30 years old or so and in good physical shape. I can see the murder going down the way you describe, Jim."
Jim concluded, "He must be pretty strong. And he'd be right-handed if he slashed her from in back of her."
"He may have gotten nicks from the knife on himself as she fought him," Dan continued. "But after the initial wounding to the throat area, she would have collapsed quickly. The stab to the femoral artery was done fast, immediately after the throat, because she bled out from both the neck and groin. Then he began hacking at her, vertically, using the knife in both hands, I'd think, to get as far through the bone as he did in some of these wounds. Altogether, she's taken 39 over her neck, torso and groin."
"Chief? You see any pattern to the wounding?"
"'Overkill' doesn't even begin to describe it," Blair muttered. "Otherwise, no, no pattern I can make out. He was on a rampage, not following a ritual."
"In a killing frenzy," Dan commented. "One of the most vicious stabs hit her pelvic bone, and the tip of the knife is still embedded in it. I'll document it and send it to Forensics once I remove it. But my guess would be he's already gotten rid of the knife."
"Mine too," Blair and Jim chorused together.
"What about the blade?" Jim wanted to know.
"Depth and width of the wounds, plus the cut marks – say, a nine inch butcher's blade, sharp but not serrated. Forensics will be able to tell more from what I send them."
"Any actual medical knowledge or experience needed to make these wounds, Dan?" Jim asked.
Dan looked at him oddly. "Nothing but strength and willpower, the willpower of someone truly psychotic, or maybe on PCP. Why?"
Jim looked away. "No reason. Just asking."
Dan shrugged and said, "If I find anything else, I'll let you know. So far, I haven't even found a hair or semen. He might have been wearing plastic gloves and a shower cap, for all I know, and probably a condom he took with him." Dan lifted an eyebrow. "Since there are no pubic hairs either...."
He'd probably shaven his body. After that ugly image, Jim and Blair were both glad to get out of there, and leave Wolf to his work.
The three men viewed the news tape in Simon's office. There were about five minutes of talk, Haas making sure the sound and light levels would work and that he looked good, the news crew techs doing checks of various sorts, followed by a few lines setting up the story. Markle slipped the letter to Haas, who read the first few words, and Jim intervened with a big hand blanking out the feed. The tape was blank after that. Nothing but the building, the fog turned sepia under sodium streetlights, and various police officers were to be seen. There was no one suspicious to be seen in the crowd, because Hardesty had not filmed it. He'd had the camera on Haas alone all the time. It was a great disappointment. The room was quiet as the black tape spun on.
Jim broke the silence with a report of Dan's autopsy results to that point.
"What kind of a killer do we have here?" Simon demanded from behind his desk.
"He goes on berserk once he starts, but he's intelligent and organized, very organized," Jim said. "Best guess: he gets them both naked, positions her on all fours facing away from him, and attacks from behind. Very simple killing and almost no trace evidence. I'd say he leaves his own clothing in the bathroom, showers after he's killed, then dresses and leaves completely clean. There may be hairs in the bath drain, so both it and the sink trap should be checked out."
"Forensics is already on it," Simon replied. "What else do we know about him?"
Blair looked up from his laptop. "He knows Jack the Ripper inside out and backwards, and he's started by copying one of the killings that most Ripperologists don't even attribute to him. The death of Martha Tabram."
"Okay, give it to us, Chief," Jim directed with a sigh. Solving a crime by going back over a century to try to outthink a maniac – it was not the way any cop wanted to work.
"If we put Martha Tabram into the mix, the original Jack the Ripper worked from August 7 to November 9, 1888, and killed six women, prostitutes, in London, England. Tabram was the first, with 39 knife wounds, just like Bunny Tail."
"Shit." Simon shook his head. "He is copying the Ripper exactly."
"Not as to timing, Simon," Blair said. "This is the 19th of October, not the 7th of August. Nor as to time of day; Jack the Ripper always killed overnight, in the wee hours, and this guy's brazen enough to do it in the daytime, late afternoon or evening."
"What does the calendar dating mean, Chief?" Jim asked. "That he's going to keep going until" – he counted time -- "four months from now?"
Blair let out a small puff of air. "I'd think he's probably collapsing the time instead, Jim. He's probably going to try for five more victims spread out over the next little while, and I'd guess his final date would be Hallowe'en. He might be going for November 9, as the anniversary of the death of the Ripper's last victim, but it makes more sense – if you're insane – to jerk up the fear and anxiety, by playing off the date in the calendar that means scariness. Plus it's exactly 13 days to Hallowe'en. I don't think that's coincidence."
"So what do we do?" Jim was up and pacing. "Just sit on our hands, until he kills again? Like Don Haas said?"
Both Blair and Simon stared at the sentinel who was the best cop in the city, and possibly the nation. This was not a man who was naive about how the criminal investigative process worked.
"Jim," Simon started.
"I know, I know!" Jim interrupted. "He's faceless and nameless and we can't stop the deaths from happening, only find out later." The words were bitter. Jim threw out his hands to ward off comments, and dropped into a chair, slouching low.
Blair put in, "Jim, we can't do the impossible. Not even you can do the impossible."
"Well, you know what's impossible for me right now, Chief? To get the smell of that woman's blood out of my nostrils. The smell of death. It's in here," Jim tapped the side of his nose, "and I can't get it out again. There's death everywhere I go."
"Is there something you're not telling me, detective?" Simon pulled rank. "What's this all about? Are you overdue for leave?"
"Of course, he isn't," Blair said with light sarcasm. "He always takes his vacation days."
"I just took today off, and look what it brought us all," Jim said, with gall on his tongue.
"Sandburg, get him out of here and fix him."
"I'm not stopping now," Jim yelped in outrage.
"Yes, detective, you are." Jim's boss stood up and loomed over Sentinel and Guide. "I don't know what's biting you, but we need you up and working, and right now, you're broken. Go the hell home, Jim. Talk to Sandburg. Get back here tomorrow with a new attitude, and we can all get some work done. Forensics won't report before tomorrow morning, anyway," he softened his harshness. "The heat's off, at least for this evening."
"The heat's never off," Jim sneered, but the other men chose not to hear him.
"C'mon, Jim." Blair grabbed his partner's sleeve and hung on. "We can go back to the loft and go over things there, if you want."
Jim glared at him, but Simon was adamant about the two of them leaving, so Blair carried the day.
Simon Banks, Captain of Major Crime, was left wondering if Jim Ellison, duty-bound Sentinel and cop, had begun to burn out.
Blair busied himself in his own kitchen, Libby sitting attentively, looking for tidbits. The lasagna could thaw in Jim's fridge and still be fine on Tuesday. For that night's supper, Blair grabbed some ostrich chili from the freezer and warmed it up, making a fresh pan of johnnycake to go with it on the side. There was beer upstairs, and Blair was set on making sure Jim didn't drink it all, or go hungry, either.
Once it was ready, the microwave tub and the aluminum pan juggled in Tweety mitts, Blair jogged up the staircase and called out, "Hey, Jim!"
There was no immediate answer. That wasn't good. Blair got to the top of the stairs and looked around for his partner. The living area was full of beer and silence. That was worse.
"Jim, hey, Jim! Give me a hand here, wouldja? Libby, stop!" he slandered his dog. "I'm gonna drop this all over. Whoa! Whoooooaaaaa!"
Jim cursed indistinctly, but got up and moving, snapping the cornbread out of danger, and dumping it on the kitchen island. "What's this?" he asked sullenly.
"Dinner. It's cold out there, what with the dampness. I felt like comfort food."
"I'm not hungry." Jim took a step towards the living area.
"Guess I made too much, then," Blair said softly. Jim hadn't told him to go back downstairs again, so he got out Jim's plates and cutlery and set two places at the table. He busied himself rescuing the johnnycake from obscurity, and put both tub and pan in the middle of the table, on trivets. It all made a homey clatter. "I'm getting a beer. Want one?"
Jim turned back to face him. "I already have one," he said, but Blair wasn't looking at him.
"S'okay. The chili's pretty good. Better for standing," Blair chattered, taking his seat and dishing out a bowlful. "Sure you don't want some? Or the cornbread? It doesn't keep, you know."
Jim walked slowly and mechanically to the table. "You know I don't want dinner." It wasn't quite a complaint.
"Yeah, but I made plenty, and it's a shame to let good food go to waste. Naomi was always on me about that," Blair mentioned. "Not that she overfed me, but the principle of the thing, conservation, sharing, preservation, all of that."
Jim sat beside his friend. "Sally said the same kind of thing to me and Stevie all the time. She kept listing all the starving children in the world."
Blair smiled. "Yeah, I guess most kids get told that. How much chili do you want?" He put a large scoop in the second bowl before Jim could answer.
"A little more," Jim admitted, and reached for the pan of johnnycake. Blair scooped out a huge serving of chili for him, and then passed over a knife. Libby chose Jim's feet for her pillow, and the battle was won.
They ate, comfortable together, Blair talking about his students and the course some more, asking if Jim would be willing to do a demonstration of the dials technique for controlling the amount of stimuli his hyper-acute senses took in. Jim wouldn't give a definite answer, but he didn't bite Blair's head off for asking. He also slipped Libby a last bite of cornbread, and left his hand down long enough for a lick and a nuzzle.
Over the dishes, they got into a discussion of some of the ways the other people Blair knew of, those with superior sight and hearing specifically, had dealt with their overloaded senses, and both men relaxed into a topic of mutual interest. For the first time, an academic discussion between them on that point hadn't deteriorated into a shouting match about lab rats. Blair hoped Jim was finally seeing the reason for all the tests, and the benefit Jim had conferred on others like him by being willing to let Blair test and train his sensory awareness.
By the time all was done, and they were sitting on Jim's sofa with a second beer apiece, Blair thought it was time to broach the subject of whatever it was that was bothering Jim.
"Wanna watch the hockey game? It's the only game on tonight. The Cascade Effect isn't playing, though."
"Nah," came the predictable answer. In his current state of mind, Jim might have been able to scurry up interest in a game played by one of Cascade's teams, but never in another.
"'Kay," Blair said, happily enough. "It warm enough for you? The dampness is getting to me."
Jim looked over and paused a long while. "Put the heat up, then, Chief."
Yes! He hadn't turfed Blair and Libby out of the loft. He was willing to talk.
"Sure thing," Blair said, and got up to regulate the thermostat.
"You're not fooling me," Jim said accusingly.
Blair sat down again, and Libby jumped into his lap. "I know."
Jim eyed the dog for a moment, but said nothing. She was looking at him with her big brown puppy-dog eyes. She loved him so much! "I'm totally pitiful," he told the dog, and opened the way for Blair at the same time.
"You? Pitiful? I don't think so. Why do you?" Blair asked softly.
Jim sighed more gustily than a set of bagpipes. "I don't know. I'm off my game, Chief. I'm taking this case personally."
"You usually do, Jim," Blair noted dryly. "Why is this particular case special?"
"The woman. So helpless. She had no chance against that sick bastard. What good am I, if I can't save people like her? It's like if I don't solve it soon, today, I'm responsible for anything he does to any other woman."
"Hey, hey, you know better than that!" Blair protested. "You're not psychic! You can't predict the future. You can't spell the wacko's name out with a Ouija board. His karma is his karma. Your karma is yours. You're not responsible for him. Only for yourself."
Jim turned tortured eyes to his guide and shaman. "But I should be, shouldn't I? It feels as if I've spent my whole life tracking down murderers after they've killed people who are innocent or vulnerable, and that's just not good enough any longer." He sat back again, and Libby crawled over to curl up on his knees instead.
Blair was seriously concerned. Jim didn't talk like this, ever. "Jim," he said intently, "it's good enough. It's way better than good enough. You're the best detective ever, and you know it, don't you?"
Jim was staring fixedly at Libby's head. He didn't respond.
"Jim! Geez, get a hold!" Blair pulled up a leg and sat on it, bending to the side, giving Jim his fullest attention. "You put everything of yourself into each case. Seriously, what more can you do than you're doing?"
Jim faced him again. "Something, anything, I don't know. Shouldn't I be able to at least stop the next woman from dying at this maniac's hands? Shouldn't I be able to figure out where he's gonna strike next, and when? He's a Jack the Ripper copycat, and the public is gonna go to town on us if he kills another prostitute before we get him, and you know what? I think they're right!"
Blair paled a little. "You're not in this alone, Jim," he reminded his Sentinel. "I'm right here with you. If anyone is supposed to be able to figure out where he'll strike next, it's me, with research, not you. But he's not really Jack the Ripper and he's not true to the Whitechapel pattern. I said that earlier. He's on his own timetable. I don't know where or when he'll strike next. He's copying the way the Ripper killed, but the MO's significantly different as to time of day and location, and I have no idea who his next victim will be, though I'm pretty sure he's going to be out there looking for one soon.
"Do you think I'm failing you, Jim? Or failing the public? Because if I am, I have to know."
Jim startled, and Libby scrambled to the safety of the floor. "No, Chief, you're not failing me. How could you think that?"
"The same way you think you're failing the public, Jim. What's sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander. If one of us is failing, the other is too. We're a matched set. Don't you get that?"
"Yeah, I do. I do get it. But I'm the one with the sentinel senses, and I should be picking up clues Forensics misses."
"He's got to have killed before you can find any clues, Jim. It has to be after the fact. What, is he gonna take out an advertisement with a time and place in it? This guy is not into suicide-by-cop. He's into thrill killing, and cop-taunting. He's cagey, and he's doing his best to hide from us. But we will get him. You will get him. I know this like I know you're the Sentinel and I'm the Guide."
"No one got Jack the Ripper." Jim ignored the snort Blair gave. "No one got the Zodiac killer. No one's gotten the Green River killer, or killers; there are so many bodies that I have to think there's a bunch of people operating under that name. There are precedents, Blair, for people going uncaught and unpunished, and I don't know about this one."
Blair sat back against the sofa, striking the cushions with a balled hand. "God, Jim, we're living in a different age now. There wasn't even fingerprinting when the Ripper was operating. There wasn't DNA testing when the Zodiac was operating. With the Green River killer, it might be just a matter of time before someone's arrested for some of the killings, if not all of them. Hey, they got the Unabomber, you know? You're an urban Sentinel, in the most dangerous city in North America, not one in the jungle with a tribe of forty to sustain. You're doing all you can, and it's more than is humanly possible for anyone but a sentinel to do."
"I may be an urban Sentinel, Chief, but I feel like an urban myth. Like a fraud on the public, and in the department. I don't know if I can go on doing this."
Blair's eyes were incandescent. He turned on his hip and took Jim's face in his two large hands, and they were not gentle. "You are not an urban myth. You can and will go on doing your job. You're the right man for it, and there is no one who can replace you. I believe in you, Jim Ellison. In the cop, in the sentinel, and in the man. You are no urban myth. I have every faith in you." The Shaman had spoken.
Jim placed his own hands over Blair's. "Keep on telling me that, Chief," he whispered. "Because right now, I have no faith in myself."
Blair leant his forehead against his Sentinel's. "Believe in yourself, James Ellison, the way I do."
Jim bowed his head.
They headed to bed early, choosing not to watch Don Haas's scoop on KCDE. They had enough nightmares of their own.
"Forensics has sent in their report on the knife," Simon said at the start of the next day. "Nothing there except for the identification of the type of knife. It's a standard butcher's knife blade, cheap stainless steel, one sold in every store on the continent. We know what it is, but it's useless information. There's no way to trace it. There are no fingerprints on the envelope or letter, except for Haas' and Markle's. Dan found no trace evidence but the fibers from the bedspread."
Blair rubbed the bridge of his nose. "How about the letter's material?"
"The paper's standard issue; you can buy it in stationery shops, drugstores, five and dimes, anywhere. The envelope matches the paper. The ink is from the cheapest roller ball pens available. Again, you can buy them anywhere. The Forensic graphologist says he's sure the letter and the 'John Smith' signature are by the same individual. He'll give a fuller report in a couple of days on the handwriting itself, but I think we're all aware we're dealing with a seriously disturbed individual, and I don't know what more he can tell us than that. As for the sketch artist, this is what he sent." Simon flicked a page to his men.
It was a stick figure, with the notation, "The 'clerk' was seeing double at the time; there's nothing to make a portrait from."
"Anything from Traffic?" Jim asked.
"I'm waiting for it. Rhonda should be...."
The lady herself appeared. "Here's the report from Traffic," she said, handing over a file.
"Thank you," Simon said crisply to his assistant. She flashed a grim smile at all the men, and left again.
"What, what?" Blair had to know.
Simon glared at him, but without heat. "A car turned up over on Seaside, in the parking lot next to the old Embassy theater. It's within walking distance of the Harbor Hotel, and someone clever in Parking took down the license plate number before the car was trashed by the homeys."
"Give that man a raise!" Jim cheered.
"Give him a promotion!" Blair suggested.
Simon smirked, "I'll pass that on to her supervisor."
Jim and Blair nodded their abashment, and Simon continued, "It's registered to an Amy O'Hare." He accented the last syllable.
"The inspiration for the Bunny moniker, no doubt," Jim commented.
"No parking tickets, no traffic violations, and no outstanding warrants," Simon summed up the rest of the report. "Here's her address. Check it out, gentlemen."
The Major Crime team was gone in a heartbeat.
1110 Charlemagne Street, Apartment 1, was a tiny studio apartment in the basement of a lower-middle class district. The locals were blue collar, mostly, and the area one of lace curtains and tiny, tidy yards. The apartment supervisor reported that Ms. O'Hare had no known relations, and no friends, either. She paid her rent on time, and that was all that was asked of her. A mug shot from the morgue made the supervisor choke; it was certainly Ms. O'Hare, Jim and Blair were told. It was all they needed to get the supervisor to let them into the deceased woman's apartment.
It proved to be an artist's studio. Amy O'Hare had been a starving artist, turning out indifferent seascapes, all very much the same. There was nothing of material value in the place, except for the canvases, paints, and brushes. One can of sugary soda was on the top shelf of the fridge, one hot dog alone in the freezer, and a single box of no-name oatmeal in the cupboard. The men had no doubt about why the artist turned the occasional trick. She had been suffering for her art. Both were very much touched, and neither knew quite why.
They searched the place thoroughly. Her diary told her life story. Her mother was dead, her father a non-entity – deadbeat dad, Jim guessed, without voicing his opinion – she'd once owned a cat, but it had run off. There were no steady boyfriends, and no woman friends either; there had been no time for love or friendship, because she gave all of herself to her painting. She was a lone, solitary soul, who saw beauty in nature, but couldn't make it pay, not even for her own burial. The city would pick up the cost.
Jim and Blair were done by 10:30 a.m., and let themselves out again. Though there was nothing to suggest that the copycat had known her or stalked her, they told the supervisor that Forensics would be through the place later. They left, heading to Major Crime. There was nothing to say in the truck, and both were almost relieved when Blair's cell phone rang suddenly.
"Sandburg?" It was Simon Banks' voice. When he remembered to do it, he would call on Blair's line rather than Jim's, for fear of Jim's driving.
"Yeah, what's up?" Blair asked.
"Get over to 454 Gloaming Avenue. We may have another one. I'll meet you there."
"Oh, my God," Blair breathed.
"We're on it," Jim yelled to the receiver.
Blair hung up.
"This shouldn't be happening so fast. It just shouldn't be happening yet," Blair repeated again and again.
Jim had felt pole-axed by the possibility of a second random murder by the same killer within twenty-four hours, but one quick look at Blair drove home how hard his Guide and Shaman, was taking it, too. After their talk the night before, it seemed that Jim's self- doubt was contagious. Jim felt like kicking himself.
"Ah, Chief," he shook his head. "You're not at fault. He's not sticking to any timetable but his own. You know that. You kept telling me so last night."
Blair cleared his throat. "Yeah, I know. But I was trying to make it fit the pattern, anyway. He's copycatting. He should be following the pattern, even if he does have to twist it all around to make the time line gel. Copycats copy, you know?"
"So he's breaking the pattern. He's calling himself after the best-known serial killer ever, and playing with the idea of himself being the guy. He still thinks he's God, above man, above justice. He's the one writing the rules. Nothing's really changed, Chief," Jim argued.
"I guess, Jim," Blair said unhappily. "It just feels...wrong."
They were still at it when Blair's cell phone rang again.
"Mom? Hey, Mom. Where are you?" Blair asked distractedly.
"I'm at the airport. Can you or Jim pick me up?"
"No, sorry, Ma. We're on a case. Can you take a taxi home?"
"Well, of course I can! I just wanted to see my two favorite men as soon as possible!"
"That won't be till tonight, Ma. We may be working late, too. It's a hot case."
"Hi, Jim! Of course, I should have known you'd hear me. How are you?"
"Fine, but busy. Take a cab to my place, and we'll put you up in Blair's old room."
"Okay! That's great! I'll make dinner, and hope you get off in time to come home and eat it."
"No, we have dinner covered. Blair's vegetarian lasagna. It's thawing in the fridge."
"Wonderful! Love you, Sweetie. Love you too, Jim."
"Love you, Ma. If you need to borrow the Volvo, the spare keys..."
"...Are in the top right desk drawer in the computer nook. I should go food shopping for my visit. I know some great new vegetarian dishes I'd love to do for you."
"Hey, we can feed you!" Blair protested indignantly.
"I can pick up some wine. garlic bread and salad mixings, at least. And some wild rice, and cous-cous for...."
"See you later, Naomi," Jim put in, smelling a long discussion of vegan cuisine ahead, one he didn't need to listen to. "Don't let Libby out. Oh, and no sage, and no feng shuing the loft!"
"I hear that, Jim! Bye, both of you!"
Blair folded the phone. "I'd forgotten she was coming. I can't believe I forgot that."
"It's okay, Chief. It'll be good for us. She'll help keep us on an even keel. This case has us both a little squirrelly."
"Yeah, she'll be good for us. I was really looking forward to seeing her. I just can't believe I forgot."
"Well, we've had a lot on our minds. I forgot too."
"Yeah, I guess."
There was no more time for chitchat: they had reached the new crime scene.
The place was swarming with police personnel. It was a cheap boardinghouse, which once had had rules against women having male visitors upstairs, but couldn't run without those visits any longer. The victim had lived in the basement room, like that of Amy O'Hare, but instead of her paints, this room was littered with drug paraphernalia.
"What do we know?" Jim asked of Simon Banks, already on the scene.
"Victim's street name is LuLu, her real name Mary Louise Nichols. Hooked, and hooking."
"Yeah, and speed, and X, and coke, and pot. An all-round junkie."
"Anyone see anything?" Blair wanted to know.
Simon lifted his shoulders. "Wrong time of day. Everyone was asleep; they all work the night shift," he said sardonically. "We don't know how she came into contact with the killer, but it's got to be the Copy Cat Ripper. I can't believe two knife-men would be working Cascade at the same time."
The partners took a good look at the victim. She was posed sitting up against the bed's headboard, naked, legs apart. The neck wounds were much like those of O'Hare's, deep and running from left to right, but the wounds to the body were different.
The upper body, except for the throat, had not been touched. But a long-bladed, very sharp knife had been used to inflict a deep, jagged cut across the lower abdomen, with four more slashes much like the primary wound. There was a pool of blood on the mattress, apparently lost from the arteries in the neck, before she had been turned and posed face forward. Blood also covered her belly and thighs. The police didn't have to guess about the size or kind of knife this time. The Copy Cat Ripper had left it behind, spearing Mary Louise Nichols' pubic bone.
Blair was theorizing as he bounced nervously from foot to foot. "Mary Louise Nichols, called LuLu. The second victim of the real Jack the Ripper was Mary Ann Nichols, nicknamed Polly. Maybe this was purely a crime of opportunity. He chose her for her name, not for the time line of the original murders. He used the same method of killing from behind while naked as with Amy O'Hare, but he posed this one as Polly Nichols was posed, except that Polly Nichols was still clothed.
"He somehow found out Ms. Nichols' name (maybe someone in the life knows how and can tell us), and took his chance when he found it. She wasn't planned. She was an impulse kill. He's losing control, maybe, but this is a pretty organized killing anyhow. It's a near perfect copy of Jack the Ripper's first murder, and I'm leaving out Martha Tabram here, in everything but timing. Yeah, yeah." He fell silent, still thinking.
Simon drew Jim aside. "You taken all the photos you need of the vic?" he called over to the Forensics tech with the camera.
"Yes, everything's documented."
"You can get to the corpse directly here," another tech pointed the way. "We've been all over it. The path's clear of evidence."
"Good." He brought Jim's attention to the knife impaling the woman. "What can you tell us about the knife, Jim? What's there that we need to know about?"
Jim gloved up, and approached the body. He squatted down, and put a finger out to steady the blade.
Under the glow of gaslight, the street sign read 'Buck's Row'. The stench of bad liquor bloomed from the woman, as body heat filled the cool foggy air. "I knew my new bonnet would bring me luck! It's a jolly one, hain't it, sir? The velvet's so soft." Something garbled was said. "Righty-ho. Let me get my balance." Something sharp and shiny flashed, again, and again. There came a gurgling sound. More flashes in the night, and all fell silent. There were stables, and something that might look like a tarpaulin from a distance, but was a woman, or had been, just a few minutes before.
Jim jerked back. He was white and shaking. Simon caught him before he could fall, and shouted, "Sandburg!"
Blair was there before Simon could take another breath. "Jim? Jim? What's wrong? What's happened?"
Jim's eyes were dazed, his breathing shallow.
"Breathe, Jim. Nice and easy," Blair said, in safe, compelling tones. "In. And out. In. And out." He kept it up until his partner was able to take his hand in a firm grip and rise from the floor. "Okay, Jim. Okay." He sent a sharp glance Simon's way, and got Jim out of the room and into the fresh air outdoors again. "Are you overloaded with stimuli? Do we need to filter anything out, Jim?"
The Sentinel looked down at his Guide. "No, or rather, yes, but not like you think."
Blair's brows narrowed in confusion.
"It's okay, I think. Only, something really weird just happened."
"What?" Blair demanded, worried about a thousand things which could have impacted his best friend in that haven for drugs.
"I had a vision, Chief. A vision of a woman's death. I think I just saw Polly Nichols die."
"What? What do you mean? Was the jag there? Incacha?" More worries about bad drugs assailed the Guide.
Jim took a long breath of air. "No, and no. I saw what happened when Jack the Ripper killed his second victim back in 1888."
"You imagined it?"
"No. I saw it, Chief, as it happened. I've done this before."
Blair was dull with incomprehension and concern.
Jim grabbed him by the shoulders and gave him a little shake. "Blair, listen to me. This killer isn't a copycat of Jack the Ripper. He doesn't just think he's Jack the Ripper.
"He is Jack the Ripper."