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"I'm telling you," Todd Fullerton said. "Sandburg is Ellison's bitch."
"No way!" exclaimed Ritchie Wallace. "Oh, I could believe Sandburg's a fairy, but Ellison? No way, man!"
"Well, can you come up with any other reason Ellison would put up with him? He's an academic, for god's sake - all academics are queer. He's supposed to be studying the PD for his thesis - I mean, hell, a thesis on the PD? Pu-leeze! Ellison got stuck with him as a ride-along, whatever the real reason was, and he managed to worm his way into Ellison's home almost right away - and he's been there ever since. Can you see Ellison doing that out of the goodness of his heart? Bastard doesn't have a heart."
"That's true," Dave Moody agreed. "You know what he was like when he was in Vice - I was partnered with him two or three times and it was like working with a robot. He was... Hell, you know how it is sometimes - you can really lose your cool over some of the things you see - but he never did. Cold, just get on with the job; the victims are only statistics. I tell you, he was good, but I was never so happy to see the back of someone. Far as I was concerned, Major Crime was welcome to him."
"That's exactly what I mean," Fullerton said. "The guy doesn't give a damn about anyone but himself. Sandburg has to be putting out, and be helluva good in the sack, that's all I can say."
"Yeah, maybe, but Ellison doesn't have that much clout even with his solve record. Banks would have to be in on it too, getting his share of the action. It's a stretch to think of Ellison at it; but can you really see Banks doing the nasty with another guy? I can't suspend disbelief that much."
"Wait a minute," Wallace said. "Okay, say Sandburg is letting Ellison fuck him in exchange for a roof over his head - why is he still bothering with the ride-along? And what is he getting from Banks apart from the continued ride?"
"How the devil should I know?" Fullerton asked. "All I'm saying is, Sandburg has to be buying favors with his ass."
Moody shook his head. "Seriously, Todd, I think you're wrong. Hell, Ellison's marriage didn't last six months, and that was one of the reasons - he couldn't, or wouldn't, satisfy Plummer in bed - and you know what a cold piece of work she is. I never saw him getting excited about anything. One of the jobs I did with him was in a strip joint and he could have been looking at frogs for all the interest he showed in those girls. They had male strippers too and he wasn't interested in them either. No, I doubt Ellison would give Sandburg a home just for a piece of ass from time to time - if Ellison was a woman we'd call him frigid. He'd be so frigid he'd make an iceberg look like a furnace."
"I still say it's got to be something like that for Ellison to put up with Sandburg," Fullerton said.
Moody shook his head as the three men left the break room, but said no more.
Jim Ellison might not have been liked by his colleagues when he worked in Vice, but the feeling was mutual; he had not thought much of them, either, and had been more than glad to leave Vice for Major Crime when he was given the opportunity.
He would not have been surprised by the gossip about him in Vice if he had known about it; unsurprised but also not caring what was said about him. He had heard it all before, mostly behind his back though occasionally someone had faced him with personal insults and been surprised at how little he bothered about them. However, he would have been annoyed on Sandburg's behalf. Unfortunately, although he had been glad to get out of Vice and most of his colleagues had been delighted to see him go, Captain Mason had regretted losing him. He, at least, had appreciated Jim's complete dedication to his work, his single-mindedness, and the simple fact that he had always been able to remain emotionally detached.
Responding to Simon Banks' call, Jim left his desk and made his way to Simon's office.
"On your own today?"
"Sandburg has a couple of lectures and a meeting with a student this morning. He'll be in later."
"Maybe it's just as well. Vice - specifically Captain Mason - has asked for your help - it sounds like a nasty case, and one that I think the kid would be better off missing.
"They've got nine bodies. Forensics estimates the oldest at no more than twenty, if that. The one believed to be youngest is ten."
Jim drew in a sharp breath.
"You're not doing anything particularly important right now, are you - so you can report to Captain Mason immediately."
Jim nodded and turned away.
"Good to have you back, Ellison - I can't tempt you back permanently, can I?" Mason asked.
"No, sir. There's a lot more variety of work in Major Crime."
"Your ride-along not here today?"
"No, he's at Rainier this morning."
"I'm not sorry. Frankly, Ellison, there's been a lot of gossip here about him - "
"Why am I not surprised?" Jim growled. "People look at him and think he's a weakling. He isn't. He's far stronger than you can imagine, and a lot of my success in Major Crime is due to him. He's imaginative, intuitive, and very knowledgeable. Don't sell him short."
Mason's eyebrows lifted. "You know, I never thought I'd hear you say something like that about anyone. I didn't think you ever completely trusted anyone except yourself."
"I trust him."
"Ellison, tell me something. Are you fucking him?"
Jim froze for a moment. "Tell me, Captain - would you want to stick your dick in someone's ass?"
"Can't say I would," Mason admitted.
"Then why do you think I would?" Jim's voice was very cold. "In any case, don't you know the kid's reputation in Major Crime? When he first started riding with me, he dated just about every unmarried woman in the place - okay, he wasn't likely to get serious about any of them... at least while he had his studies to complete. But he went out two or three times with most of them."
"Well, the rumor mill here has it that you wouldn't put up with him unless he was paying you with his ass. Especially since he lives with you."
"Well, he isn't. He was assigned as a ride-along, and we became friends. When his home was destroyed I let him crash in my spare room. We work well together; if we didn't, Simon Banks wouldn't have extended the ride-along." Jim's voice was flat, its tone telling Mason very clearly that the subject, as far as Jim was concerned, was closed.
Mason had the sense to realize it, and turned his attention to the reason he had wanted Jim. "All right, here's the story. We were tipped off a couple of days ago about a pedophile ring. We followed it up. Unfortunately, the guys got some warning; when we reached the place - a derelict building due for demolition - they were gone. They left us a present, though - nine kids, ages estimated to be just pre- to late teens, all dead. Three boys, six girls. They'd all been sexually assaulted."
Jim growled. "Any identification?"
"Unfortunately, for most of them, no. One of the kids has been positively identified - probably the youngest. Fay Lovell, age ten. She was reported missing on August 18th, when she didn't arrive home from an afternoon movie; her older brother came in last night and confirmed her identity - the parents were too upset. We're checking the records for other missing kids."
"I want to see the bodies," Jim said grimly.
"I'll send Fullerton along with you."
"No, thanks," Jim said promptly. "The guy's a prick. If you must send someone with me, make it Moody - I worked with him once or twice, and he seemed to have a reasonable amount of sense. Then I need to see where they were found, but I'll leave that till this afternoon, when Sandburg can come with me."
"Ellison - don't take this the wrong way, but it would be better if you didn't take Sandburg along."
"If you don't like it - tough. He's my partner. I don't have to work this case for you - and unless Sandburg's working it with me, subject to his Rainier schedule, you can forget it. I'll spare him sight of the dead kids, but apart from that, I need him along."
Mason looked at him, assessing his determination and stubbornness.
"He's got a profiler's instincts," Jim added more quietly, "and from his knowledge of anthropology, he can see links I might miss."
Mason sighed. "I'm trying to spare him some unpleasantness. Like I said, this department's pretty sure he's - well, I already said it," he finished, recognizing the expression on Jim's face.
He called Moody, who looked less than thrilled when he was told he was to work with Ellison - and Sandburg, when he arrived. He said nothing, however, as he accompanied Jim to the morgue.
Dan Wolfe looked up from his examination of one of the bodies as they entered. "Jim. Dave," he said.
"Hello, Dan," Jim said. He glanced down at the body. "God."
Wolfe's lips tightened. "They're all the same," he said. "Pumped full of drugs, sexually assaulted, and strangled. I think they were probably sedated before they were killed so that they wouldn't struggle. The odd thing is that they've all been tattooed on the right shoulder. And they've all had the third finger of their right hand removed, probably post mortem. You know that one of them has been missing since mid August?"
"Close to four weeks. From the number of needle marks on them, though, some of the others may have been held by their killers for as long as a year." He glanced at Moody. "You need to extend your search backwards that far."
"Can I see the others?" Jim asked quietly.
Wolfe nodded. As he turned towards the mortuary drawers, he said, "Where's Sandburg?"
"He's at Rainier this morning."
Wolfe grunted. "I'd like to hear his take on this." He pulled out the first drawer, and Jim bent over it.
Moody stared at the forensic examiner. "Huh? What can a hippie ride-along contribute that'll be any help?"
"You'd be surprised," Wolfe told him.
Jim studied the bodies carefully, and frowned as he examined the tattoo marks. Finally he straightened. "Dan, I want close-up photos of these marks. Or drawings."
"Right, I'll get them to you ASAP."
"Thanks." He turned towards the door. As he walked out, Dan said,
"Get the bastards who did this, Jim."
Because the student he had been scheduled to meet at eleven called in sick, Blair arrived at the PD earlier than he had expected. He walked into Major Crime expecting to spend the next hour or so before lunch helping Jim with paperwork; Brown called over to him as he appeared. "Hey, Hairboy, Jim's down in Vice. Mason asked for his help."
"Any idea why?"
"No - but from the look on Jim's face, it's not a pretty case."
Blair made a face. "That would figure," he said. "I'd better get down there, then."
He made his way to Vice, admitting to himself that he was reluctant to go there. He had been accepted, more or less, by every other department in the precinct, but Vice was the one department where he had no friends. Of course, he hadn't had any exposure to it, whereas he had had exposure to all the other departments at some time.
There was no sign of Jim as he entered; he decided his best move would be to go straight to Mason's office. He was halfway there when he was stopped by an unfriendly voice.
"Well, look who's here. Ellison's whore."
Blair stopped, then deliberately turned to face Fullerton. "You know, it's amazing what doctors can discover during a check-up," he said sweetly, making no attempt to keep his voice down. "I'd be perfectly willing to have a medical examination to prove I don't take it up the ass. So would Jim Ellison. Would you be willing to do the same?"
It took Fullerton a moment to realize exactly what Blair was implying. Blair knew by the expression on the Vice cop's face the instant he did; Fullerton gave an irate, wordless roar and lunged for the smaller man; with perfect timing, Blair stepped aside, and Fullerton crashed into a desk. He yelped at the pain as his groin hit the edge of the desk, then he swung back towards Blair, raised fist clenched.
Mason strode forward, glaring at Fullerton. "Sandburg may have credentials that let him work at the PD, but he's still a civilian. You touch him, he'd be entitled to charge you with assault."
"Did you hear what the little fucker said?" Fullerton snarled.
"I thought you were suggesting I was the fuckee rather than the fucker," Blair said thoughtfully, his voice still sweetly reasonable. "Was I wrong?" He managed to keep any trace of mockery out of his voice, making the question sound like a genuine request for clarification.
His calmness seemed to infuriate Fullerton even more; he made as if to lunge at Blair again, and was stopped by a growl from Mason, who then glanced at Blair with an expression that was an odd mixture of admiration and surprise, with perhaps a touch of respect thrown in.
"Personally, Captain, I know what I am, and I don't care what he thinks of me; I'm used to people who look at my size and my hair and automatically assume I'm queerer than a three-dollar bill," Blair went on, quietly ignoring Fullerton. "Meanwhile, I've been told Detective Ellison has been assigned to Vice?"
"He went down to the morgue, but he should be back quite soon. You can wait for him in my office if you want."
Blair had turned and was finally looking at Fullerton. "I don't think there will be anything more said - will there?"
"You're not fucking worth it." Fullerton swung around and went back to his desk.
Behind his back, Blair grinned broadly. Mason glanced at him. "Watch out for Fullerton," he said, very quietly. "He has a nasty temper. You'd be better to stay in my office if you're here and Ellison isn't."
Blair answered as quietly. "Actually, I know I have a bad enemy there, Captain. He was prejudiced against me in the first place, and he won't love me any better since I got the last word today. But I was damned if I'd cower in front of him - that's how bullies win - and I'm not going to run for shelter as if I'm afraid of him." He grinned again. "I know your department doesn't think much of me. By standing up to him, I gained a measure of respect from the other guys here; I'm not about to throw that away by hiding in your office."
Slowly, Mason nodded. "You're right. I have to admit I would have preferred you not to work this case with Ellison, but you've got more balls than I expected."
Blair's grin widened even more. "I take it you don't know much about animals, Captain."
Mason frowned. "I don't follow you."
"Let's just say I'd rather face down a bad-tempered Great Dane than some of the small terriers," Blair said seriously. "And in a field full of horses and ponies of very mixed sizes, it's often the smallest one who's the boss. And with men, the biggest ones are often the most laid-back and even-tempered; smaller men can get very aggressive with almost no provocation because they feel they have more need to prove themselves - "
"Hello, Chief - you're early."
Both men swung round as Jim Ellison strode towards them, Moody at his heels.
"Yeah, my eleven o'clock student called in sick, so there wasn't any need for me to stay. So what's the story?"
"It's a nasty one. Nine bodies, the estimated youngest nine or ten years old, the oldest late teens, maybe as much as twenty. Weird thing is, they're all tattooed, and they're all missing a finger. Dan's sending up pictures of the tattoos."
Blair frowned thoughtfully. "Murders. So why has Vice got the case rather than Homicide?"
"The victims were all pumped full of drugs, and they'd been sexually assaulted. A real mixed bag of offenses against them."
Blair grunted. "Okay... " He hesitated for a moment, clearly thinking. "Nine bodies..." Then he glanced at Mason. "It might be an idea to check back through the records. Nine or ten years ago, about this time of year. I think you'll find a similar incident back then."
Mason stared at him. "You do?"
"Well, obviously we only knew what was in the papers, which as I remember were speculating about a pedophile, or a pedophile ring, whose members had panicked for some reason and killed their victims to protect themselves; but one of our lecturers used it as an example of how a society - or a group inside a society, like a cult - can develop rituals that make some sort of sense to it but seem weird, even totally pointless, to people outside the group. He postulated that the murders could have been ritual rather than someone running scared. That's how I remember a bit about it. The one thing I positively remember was it involved nine victims, ages estimated to be between eight and twenty. I don't think tattoos were mentioned, or missing fingers, but isn't that the kind of evidence that isn't usually made public? Because not knowing about something is the giveaway if some crank comes forward owning up to it although he didn't do it?"
Mason glanced at Jim. "I see what you mean," he said.
Blair looked from one to the other as Jim grinned. "Yup, the kid's good."
"Come to think of it, it would be nine years," Blair went on grimly. "This is the eleventh of September - they were probably killed a couple of days ago? The ninth day of the ninth month? This batch of victims is one for each year since 1989 - which coincidentally divides by nine. The ten-year-old for this year, the eleven-year-old for last year, and so on."
"But why nine?" Moody asked. "I could understand ten, but nine's an odd number."
"Nine is one of the accepted magical numbers," Blair said.
"Magical?" Moody's voice dripped scorn.
"Lucky three, lucky seven? Unlucky thirteen?"
"The multiple of three and seven? Lucky twenty-one?"
"Nine fits in there too. Three times three. And three times three times three comes to twenty-seven, and two and seven added comes back to nine. But for some reason it's not as popular - or well-known - a lucky number nowadays as the others."
Dan Wolfe walked in. "Ah, there you are, Jim. Hi, Blair. Here are your drawings." He handed Jim a sheet of paper, nodded at the other men, and left again. Jim looked at it, scowled, and handed it to Blair. "Those are the tattoos that are on the bodies. What do you think, Chief?"
Blair studied the paper for a minute. Most were fairly simple designs; the most complicated was a figure wearing long robes and carrying a staff and a lantern, but drawn two-dimensionally. In addition to it, there was a distinct F, a cat, a tree, an arrow, a series of concentric circles, an Oriental-looking squiggle, a P standing at one end of a line, and a shape that looked like a stylised fish that was drawn with four straight lines. "I'll need to check three or four of them, but I've got an idea what some of these things symbolize."
Moody was staring at the pictures over his shoulder. "You do? They don't make any sense to me."
Blair glanced at him and pointed to the arrow. "That's the symbol for Sagittarius - which is the ninth sign of the zodiac. The P - that's Pluto - the ninth planet. The cat - a cat is said to have nine lives." He looked at Jim. "I'm sure when I check them out we'll find that the other symbols have some sort of association with nine as well."
"All right," Mason said. "Ellison, Moody - you check the records, see if Sandburg is right about something similar happening nine years ago. Sandburg - you go wherever you need to to check out those marks."
"You got it, Captain." Blair turned and walked out.
Jim found the relevant report under 'Unsolved crimes' for October 14th, 1989. "Got it!" he told Moody, who was searching a different file. "The bodies were discovered on the twelfth of September. Three had been reported missing in the previous two months, the other six were never identified. The bodies were found in the forest by a couple of backpackers and there was nothing to indicate how they got there. Forensics estimated they had been killed at least three days earlier. And yes, they were all tattooed and were missing the third finger of the right hand. The case was mothballed for lack of any evidence at all."
Moody came and read the report over Jim's shoulder. "That's incredible. Damned sure I wouldn't have remembered any details of this after nine years even if I'd been here then... and he isn't even a cop. How old would Sandburg have been at the time?"
"Twenty." Jim grinned. "Believe me, the kid's head is full of this sort of detail. The number of things he can trot out virtually on demand... I know there are all sorts of rumors flying around, especially in this department - " he had decided to play down the gossip - "but seriously, it's one of the reasons we hang on to him, one of the reasons we managed to keep his ride-along going after the initial ninety days; he's an asset, and, believe me, Major Crime knows it."
Moody pointed to the pictures of the tattoos on the report. "I think those are all the same as this time. There's the arrow Sandburg said was the sign of the zodiac, and the cat... the tree... the P, the F... "
"You think he'll find out what they all are?"
"Well, he's second guessing the way the killers' minds work... I'd bet on him working out a meaning for at least seven of them."
Moody lifted an eyebrow. "That's confident. Twenty says he gets less than seven."
"You're on. Seven or more."
They turned to read the report in detail, and after a moment Moody sighed. "Seems pretty well identical, doesn't it, except that this group was found in a building."
Jim nodded, but his mind was working furiously. "Mason said you were tipped off?"
"Yeah. Came from a guy who calls us occasionally, always when kids are involved. His tips are always good, so we acted on it right away. He didn't know the exact place, just the general area - when we found the place it was about eleven, but we were too late. Forensics estimated the kids had been killed a couple of hours ear- " He broke off to stare at Jim for a moment before resuming. "A couple of hours earlier. That would mean... they were killed at nine... "
"I'd take a small bet," Jim said, "that they've come from nine different towns or cities, too."
"Somehow I don't think I'm wanting to take that bet," Moody replied.
"I'd like to take a look at the house where the bodies were found," Jim said.
"We could go now - " Moody began.
Jim shook his head. "Not till Sandburg comes back," he said. "I want him there. You'd be amazed how often something he's said has helped me solve a case. If we did go now, I'd have to go back once he's available."
"How long do you think he'll take checking out those marks?"
Jim glanced at his watch. "He's been away just over an hour... I doubt he'll be much longer." He returned his attention to the earlier report, then after a moment changed his mind. "Let's have another word with Mason."
They went over to Mason's office. Inside, Mason looked from one to the other. "Well, gentlemen?"
"I think we need to extend the search for where the victims came from to outside Cascade," Jim said. "Sandburg thinks there are all these links with nine, and I'm wondering if the kids were gathered from nine different cities. Now we've got Seattle, Tacoma, hell, even Vancouver, all within a hundred miles, and there are a lot of smaller towns as well. We could chase the records back ten years, too, see if there are any missing kids inside the age group involved from back then in the other cities as well."
Mason grunted, but nodded. "All right, I'll get pictures faxed to some of the other cities in Washington, see if there's any response."
Less than five minutes later, Jim's cell phone rang.
"Hi, Jim. Ready for lunch?"
"How're you doing?"
"I'm pretty sure I've got eight of the references - I'm not sure about the last one. And yes, they've all got a link with nine."
Jim grinned. "Where are you?"
"In the PD garage - I thought you'd get away easier if I didn't come up."
"Right. I'll bring Moody along - he's been assigned to work the case with us."
Jim glanced at Moody. "That was Sandburg. He's finished his search, and he's suggesting lunch."
"Did he say how many he'd got?"
"Eight for certain."
Moody muttered, "Eight? Shit!"
Over a late lunch, sitting in a quiet corner of a small Italian restaurant, Blair pulled out a notebook. "Right, this is what I've got - and I'll tell you, these guys are weird. What we've got is a mixture of literature, fact and... well, superstition, I suppose you could call it, with some good and evil thrown in for good measure. The first three are the cat, Sagittarius and Pluto. The F is for fluorine, which is nine in the periodic table. The robed figure is the Hermit - number nine in the major arcana in a Tarot pack. The tree is a pretty stylised weeping willow - the tree for the week that includes September ninth in Celtic tree mythology. The concentric circles have to represent Dante's Circles of Hell. The 'fish' is othel, the rune for O - Odin in Norse mythology hung for nine days and nights in Yggdrasil to win the secret of wisdom for mankind."
Jim grinned at Moody; Moody looked back at Blair. "Ig... Iggy...?"
"Yggdrasil. The World Tree. The Tree of Knowledge. Call it the Norse equivalent of... oh, the apple in the Garden of Eden - which wasn't actually an apple tree, it was the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.
"The only one I'm not totally sure about is the oriental one. It seems to be the symbol for the Tiger, which would fit for this year - the Chinese Year of the Tiger."
"And you're not sure of it? Why not?" Jim asked.
"Because it wouldn't be a constant. The other symbols wouldn't change in a nine-year cycle, but the Chinese use a twelve-year cycle. I haven't had much to do with cults in my studies, but one thing Professor Yelverton said about cult rituals was that they would always be the same - and right enough, all the rituals I've seen, even something as ordinary as - oh, a kid's birthday party, which when you think about it is a kind of ritual - have always been pretty much the same."
Jim looked at Moody, who shrugged, pulled out his wallet, and silently handed over a twenty.
Blair looked from one to the other. "Guys?"
"We had a little bet," Jim admitted. "I said you'd get seven or more. Moody didn't think you would."
"Let's just say that even if those aren't what the perps meant by their signs, you've come up with some good explanations," Moody agreed.
"I want a look around the house where the bodies were found," Jim told Blair as the three men left the restaurant.
Blair nodded. "Of course," he said.
They went in Moody's car - after the Vice cop looked at Jim and said frankly, "I've heard how many vehicles you've totalled in the last few years. I'd rather trust my own driving." He glanced at Blair. "You're braver than I am, going as a passenger in anything Ellison's driving."
Blair grinned, recognizing the comment as Moody's way of saying he was accepting the observer at Jim's valuation rather than the one that was clearly currently circulating in Vice, but said nothing.
The house, in a semi-derelict part of Cascade, had a distinctly deserted look about it; it was an area that Jim didn't know well and Blair didn't know at all. There was a uniform at the door, who nodded recognition to Moody and let them in. Moody led them straight to the cellar.
"They were down here," he said as they went.
Chalk outlines showed where the victims had been lying in a row. At one end was a small figure, and each one in turn was a little bigger until at the other end the last two were almost the same size.
Blair glanced at Jim, seeing the anger the sentinel was fighting to keep under control, aware of the same anger inside himself. Anger, as he well knew, would not help, and could only hinder Jim's chances of finding anything.
He moved a little closer, and murmured, "Sense of smell, Jim. Do you smell anything unusual?"
"Not really," Jim said slowly. "There is an odd odor, but I can't identify it." He sniffed again, unobtrusively. "No - whatever it is, I don't think I've encountered it before. It's faint, and it's not particularly pleasant. I'll know it again, though."
He looked around, fully focussed; then circled the cellar, peering at the floor, into the corners, and finally shook his head. "Nothing," he said. "Whoever the perps are, they've been careful to clear everything away. You could almost say this is the work of professional killers. They know what they're doing. I'd say they know the kind of thing that could give Forensics a clue and they know how to avoid leaving any of those signs."
They took some time to go around the rest of the building, but nothing drew Jim's attention; it was dirty and redolent of rodent, but it had been emptied of everything moveable, either at the time it was abandoned or looted in the days soon after. There was no indication that anyone, even someone homeless in search of temporary shelter, had spent time in it for many months. It was a building clearly waiting to be demolished, still standing because nobody had thought of a use for the land - in an area where at least some of the buildings were still partly in use - and so nobody was prepared to pay for knocking it down.
As they headed back to the PD, Blair said, "I assume there were tattoos on the kids in the 1989 case?"
Jim nodded. "They look the same as this lot, including an oriental squiggle."
"I'd like to see it," Blair murmured. He was silent for some minutes before asking, "Have any of the kids been identified?"
"One," Jim said. "Fay Lovell, ten years old. She went missing last month. Incidentally, after what you said about everything being in nines - I asked Mason to extend the search for the others into some other cities."
Blair nodded. "I think you're right, Jim. I think there's probably just the one from Cascade. Do we know which tattoo was on Fay?"
Jim shook his head. "Dan didn't say."
"I suspect we'll find it's the F." He hesitated before adding, "And there are nine letters in her name."
It was the F, and Blair nodded. "In that case, the one with the cat will have a name that starts with C, the hermit will start with H..."
Moody said slowly, "That's a bit of a stretch."
"It's something we can check on, though," Jim commented. "Where's the 1989 report?"
It was still lying on Moody's desk, and Jim leafed through it. "Tattoos... tattoos... 'The identified victims were Holly Rigg from Cascade, fourteen years old, Dawn Young from Seattle, seventeen years old, and Frank West from Everett, eighteen years old.' Wonder how they identified those two from other cities, but not any of the others? 'Rigg's right shoulder had been tattooed with an elaborate design of a figure wearing robes, leaning on a staff and carrying a lantern. Young's shoulder was tattooed with a series of concentric circles. West's shoulder was tattooed with the letter F." He looked at Blair.
"Holly - the hermit. Dawn, Dante's circles. Frank, fluorine," Blair said quietly. He leaned over Jim's shoulder to check the tattoos, grunted, pulled a notepad from his backpack and checked it, then tapped the oriental mark. "That's the symbol for the snake. 1989 was the Chinese year of the snake. It's a sort of constant, I suppose."
"And there are nine letters in each of those names," Moody muttered. He looked at Blair. "All right, hot shot, can you come up with any reason for the fingers that were cut off?"
"Trophies. Or, more likely, as lucky charms." Blair was looking slightly sick, clearly struggling to maintain what might be called anthropological detachment.
"How many people carry around - oh, a lucky coin, or wear a lucky shirt if they're going for an interview? This could be akin to the lucky rabbit's foot - a finger from one of their nine-year victims. Third finger of the right hand - that's the ninth finger if you look at the backs of the hands and start from the little finger of the left hand, the way you read, and include the thumbs."
"Damn sure I wouldn't like to carry someone's finger around," Moody muttered. "How long before it begins to stink, anyway?"
"They might not carry the finger around," Blair said. "It might be enough for them to know it's there, tucked away safely somewhere in their house. As for the stink - I'd guess they'd boil the flesh off inside the first twenty-four hours and just keep the bone." He swallowed. "They might even have eaten the flesh - to absorb the youth of the victims, perhaps, the way some tribes ate the hearts of their dead enemies to absorb their courage, and persuade themselves it wasn't really cannibalism because it was a ritual."
As the loft door closed behind them, Blair turned and threw his arms around Jim, who in return clung to him with a desperate need for comfort.
"You didn't just go to the morgue to speak to Dan - you went to see the bodies, didn't you." It was not a question.
"Yes... but there was nothing about any of them that gave me any kind of clue to their killers. God, Chief, I hate cases involving kids!"
"So it's up to us to catch these guys so that nine years from now they don't kill another nine kids."
Jim pulled back slightly. "You don't think they'll target anyone for another nine years?"
"Well, more likely eight - I think that's probably when they'll plan to start collecting another set of victims," Blair said. "That doesn't mean I think we should just let this lie the way they did nine years ago."
"Nine years ago they didn't have any evidence," Jim said. "Nine years ago they didn't have a pushy anthropologist who was able to come up with some ideas that might help us find the killers."
Blair shook his head. "All I did was find a common theme, man. I know it's not as common as it used to be, but have you any idea how many people in Cascade alone might consider nine as their lucky number?"
"When you put it that way..." Jim muttered. He sighed, and stepped back. "I want a quick shower, then I'll start on dinner."
Dinner a tasty memory and the dishes washed, they settled down in front of the television. Jim handed Blair twenty dollars.
Blair looked at, then at Jim. "What's this?"
"The twenty I got from Moody." He grinned widely. "He was so sure you wouldn't be able to come up with more than half a dozen meanings for those tattoos, and I could see that he thought even six would be pushing it. Unlike some of them, though, he's a good loser; he won't forget - and it wouldn't surprise me if he didn't get it back by betting on you some other time. Take it, Chief - you were the one who really won it, after all."
Blair shook his head, but pocketed the bill. "Thanks."
"What was all that with Mason, when I got back from the morgue?" Jim asked.
"Oh, it's all tied in with them thinking I'm buying favors with my ass. Fullerton was being particularly obnoxious, so I - er - implied he'd be unwilling to have a medical to prove he wasn't someone's bottom man."
"Then Mason intervened. Told me I'd more balls than he expected."
"Mason had already asked me if I was fucking you."
Blair grinned. "All these guys think the same way, Jim. In their book, you're not gay if you're big and butch, though you're probably gay if you're short and especially if you have long hair."
Jim shook his head. "How do those stereotypes get started?"
"Good question," Blair said thoughtfully. Then his grin broadened. "Hey, I wonder if I could get a paper out of that?"
Although the next day was Saturday and it was Jim's weekend off, they went in to the PD. On the way, Blair said, "I wonder if the case goes back as far as 1980? Even 1971?"
Jim glanced at him and he went on. "You said it yourself - nine years ago there wasn't a pushy anthropologist with a long memory asking questions. It could be worth checking. It probably doesn't go any further back than that, though - if you have a group of guys who are in their forties, maybe early fifties, now, they'd have been in their late teens, maybe early twenties, in 1971. About the age when some people start experimenting with things."
As they walked into Vice, they saw Mason speaking to Moody, who hadn't had time to take his coat off. As they went over to join them, Jim was pleased to notice a few of the other men already there muttering a greeting aimed at Blair as well as Jim himself. It appeared that even one day's exposure to Blair had altered the preconceptions of at least some of the guys in Vice.
"Ellison!" Mason said, with a nod of acknowledgement to Blair. "We've got a couple of identifications on the bodies. Yvonne Day from Ferndale - nine years old. She's been missing for eight months. And Steve Ross, eighteen, from Tacoma. He was last heard from in April, but because he was taking an extended vacation, touring the country, he wasn't actually reported missing until a few days ago when he didn't return home at the end of August. His family had wondered about the lack of contact, but hadn't really worried about it. We got a possible identification on one of the 1989 victims, too - Candy Shaw, also from Ferndale. Twelve years old."
"At least that gives their families closure," Jim said quietly. "Captain, Blair and I were talking about the case and - well, Blair began to wonder if there was a similar incident in 1980. I'd like to check the records for that year."
Mason looked from Jim to Blair and back again. "Any reason?" he asked.
"It's just the sheer - well, professionalism of the killing," Blair said. He was once again wearing the face that Jim had come to recognize as his 'anthropologist discussing customs he personally finds distasteful but can't or won't criticize because they come with the territory' expression. And although Blair had been known to mutter about what he called the 'check your humanity at the door' attitude of the cops he worked with, it was actually, if he would admit it, a very similar reaction to a similar situation. "Nobody found anything in the cellar with the bodies, did they? And from what Jim said, according to the records there were no clues of any kind in the 1989 killing either. These people know what they're doing. They know how not to leave anything incriminating lying around. It made me wonder if they'd done it before - and if they had, 1980 is the year to check. Maybe even 1971, too. If it's just the one group, I don't think they'd go back further than that, unless they recruit new people to the group as older ones die."
"You really do think it's a cult?" Mason asked.
Jim found himself relaxing. Yes, Mason was definitely beginning to appreciate Blair.
"Not so much a cult as... I think it's a group of people, probably or predominately male, who have found a common... " Blair shook his head. "I'm not sure what the best word is. They may or may not be what you might call regular pedophiles, because I think they spend eight years as ordinary, respectable members of society and one year letting their sick impulses or beliefs run wild. A common superstition, perhaps. There might be just two or three of them, but because of all the other links to nine, I'd guess there are nine of them. Nine people aren't really enough to create a cult - the leaders of cults always want more followers - and if there were more than nine, I think there would have been more signs of people in the cellar where you found the bodies.
"I think one of the group, at least, has to be in a position to keep their victims hidden for up to a year; maybe someone who lives alone in a big house, probably in a fairly secluded location.
"Unfortunately, the kind of people who live in houses like that also tend to be very influential in their societies, if only because they have money."
Mason, who had opened his mouth to say just that, closed it again; then after a moment he said, "You think that this is a group of influential people rather than a bunch of losers?"
"If you study history at all, you realize it's usually the powerful ones, the influential ones, who have the knowledge - and more importantly, the time - to cause trouble. How many of the guys in prison come from good families? More than anyone wants to admit, and if you look at the ones who've been leaders you realize many of them have come from backgrounds where in theory they have every advantage. The losers are more likely to be followers, or if they're working independently, they're involved in nothing more than relatively petty crime. So yes, I think whoever leads this group is probably highly respected in Cascade society. The other eight could be anything from bored rich wanting an occasional bit of titillation to someone easily led who genuinely believes that whatever they're doing will bring him luck.
"I don't think a loser would have the knowledge of all these nines. Certainly not the Celtic tree or the Norse Tree of Knowledge or the Chinese zodiac."
The records for 1980 were reasonably accessible; the records for 1971 were buried in 'we have to keep these but nobody is likely to want to refer to them' storage, and the clerk who was assigned to dig them out made it clear that she was far from happy about raking through dusty files for something over thirty years old. It was her attitude that made Moody say, "Might as well check 1962 as well, guys - what do you think?"
Jim glanced at Blair. "Chief?"
"It wouldn't do any harm," Blair agreed, one eye on the unhappy clerk, "but only if 1971 produces something. There's no point in wasting our time with 1962 if 1971's blank." He hesitated for a moment, then added, looking apologetically at the girl, "On the other hand, if September 1971 to the end of the year is blank, we could try early 1972 - maybe as far as March - just to be sure a case of this kind wasn't kept open for at least six months. If that isn't too much trouble, Miss...?"
"Shirley," she said, giving him a grateful glance before she left to search out the necessary files. Finding six consecutive months of files in the 'cold case' stock was much easier than finding files from two different years nine years apart.
Blair grinned mirthlessly. "I'll bet she's cursing the schedule that landed her with working this Saturday."
They settled down to read through the records for 1980.
It was Moody who finally said, "I think I've got something. It's not quite the same pattern, but - Sandburg, take a look. What do you think?"
As Blair moved to Moody's side, Jim grinned. Yes, Moody had learned already to appreciate the expertise of the 'hippie ride-along'.
There was only one body - a nine-year-old, Yvette Kim, whose parents reported her missing at the end of August and whose body was found in a shallow grave in the woods on September twenty-fourth when a dog dug down through some recently disturbed ground to it. It was already partly decayed, of course, and there was a tattoo on one shoulder that delayed identification because the child's father said his daughter was not tattooed, but the body was finally identified from the clothes and the dental records. It was assumed that the killer had been responsible for the tattoo, but nobody had been willing to suggest a reason for it. There was a sketch of the tattoo - an apparently meaningless group of lines.
Blair looked at the sketch, then reached for his backpack and pulled out his notebook. He riffled through the pages, compared the sketch to one in the book, and grunted. "It's not quite accurate, but part of it might have been lost as the body decayed. It's close enough. I think this is the monkey - the Chinese sign for 1980. Were there any other children reported missing around that time?" He was wearing his anthropologist face again.
Jim, who had checked the 'missing persons' list for 1980, shook his head. "Several fifteen to eighteen years old, the usual runaway age, but none in the ten-to-fourteen range. We'd need to check the records of other towns, though, because of the pattern of each victim coming from a different town."
"The main difference is that this one was buried," Blair said. "Can we assume there was a general search made at the time for more graves?"
Moody had been scanning on through the rest of the report. "There was a fairly thorough search of the immediate area, and no other disturbed ground was found."
"In any case, someone who killed several victims at the same time, as happened in 1989 and this year, would probably have just buried them all in one grave, not gone to the effort of burying them separately. He'd want to get the evidence hidden as fast as possible," Jim said. "Either that or just leave them lying, the way they were found in 1989."
"Was there a finger missing?" Blair asked.
"They didn't get the entire body; some of the small bones were missing," Moody said. "The forensic examination assumed that these had been taken by animals."
As Blair nodded acceptance of that, Shirley returned with the 1971 records. Blair smiled his thanks as she put them down, and Jim reached for the top file.
"We've got another missing nine-year-old," Jim said after a while. "A boy this time. Yves Sabon, reported missing on September third."
Blair sighed, and walked over to Shirley, who had returned to her desk. "I'm sorry," he said. "We're going to need the 1962 records for August through March '63."
She looked heavenwards, her expression clearly saying, 'Give me patience!'
He forced a smile, though smiling was the last thing he felt like doing. "It's not much fun reading through those dusty old records either, but... "
As she left to go down to Records again, he turned and rejoined Jim and Moody. "Anything more?"
"They were new immigrants," Jim said. "The family had only been in the country for two months. The boy hadn't made any friends - he only knew a few words of English when he arrived, the schools were still on their summer break - so he was reported missing very quickly. It was his sister's birthday on September sixth, and he persuaded his mother to let him go by himself to buy some candy as a present for her. The store was only five minutes' walk away from their house, he should have been back again inside half an hour; when he didn't arrive home his mother went to meet him.
"It was a small general store they'd been using since they arrived, so the boy was known there. He'd never reached it."
"And nobody had seen a young boy being dragged into a car?" Blair asked.
"It was Labor Day weekend. Most people were away on vacation, so it was fairly quiet. Nobody remembered even seeing him."
They carried on looking through the reports. It was Jim who finally said, "I've got it. His body was found washed up on the beach on September twelfth." He read on, and grunted. "At first it was thought he'd drowned, though his parents insisted that he was a good swimmer; but the forensic examination showed no sign of water in his lungs. He was dead before he was put into the water." A moment later, he added, "His right shoulder had been injured; there were some bad cuts on it. The forensic examination showed that these were not the result of post mortem injury, but had been deliberately inflicted while he was still alive. And there's a finger missing. There's a sketch - Blair?"
Blair moved round the desk and leaned over Jim's shoulder. He nodded and reached for his notebook. "Yes - it's the sign of the pig - the sign for 1971." He frowned. "I think we'll find that this one was the first," he said. "The symbol was cut into his shoulder - not tattooed. I think in the years between 1971 and 1980, our perp learned tattooing."
"So in 1971 and 1980 there was only one victim, but by 1989 there were nine," Moody said. "Why?"
"I suspect that until 1980 our perp worked alone, but in the next nine years he found some more guys who either already thought the way he did about luck or he persuaded them that killing kids would either bring them luck or - more likely - somehow transfer to them their victims' youth and health. Or both. Sympathetic magic. It does often work if the people involved believe strongly enough."
As Jim glanced at Moody, smiling slightly and proudly, he realized that they had an audience; several of the other Vice cops who were on duty that day had moved closer and were blatantly eavesdropping. Despite the grimness of the case, he extended his grin to include them, clearly saying, "That's my partner."
Fullerton scowled and turned back to his desk, but the others remained, openly listening as Moody said, "These last two follow your pattern too, Sandburg - nine letters in the names, and both names starting with Y."
Blair was looking thoughtful. "Finding victims, especially child victims, that fit those parameters... couldn't have been easy. Maybe the perp was in an occupation that gave him relatively easy access to records of births, or at least to the names of pupils of school age. Do we know what school Yvette went to, what school Yves was going to attend? And Fay, wasn't it, from this last group of deaths?"
There were three different schools involved. Blair shrugged. "Scratch the idea that it could have been one of their teachers, then."
"Unless it was one teacher who'd moved between schools," Moody suggested. It was something they couldn't check until the schools opened on Monday, so they were forced to leave that line of enquiry unexplored for the moment.
When the dusty files for 1962 arrived, the three men searched them in vain. Finally Jim said, "I think you're right, Chief - the 1971 incident was the first, unless the killer moved to Cascade from somewhere else after 1962.
"Now, the kid disappeared less than a week before the ninth," he went on. "It had to have been well planned beforehand, though grabbing him in time for the ninth would depend on a lot of factors the perp couldn't control."
"You don't think it was just an opportunist thing?" Moody asked.
"Hell of a coincidence if it was," Jim replied. "A nine-year-old kid, nine letters in his name... "
"Hang on, Jim - that's looking at it from hindsight," Blair said. "Maybe the first one was a coincidence - someone with the idea that killing a kid, using some sort of ritual he'd devised, would give him youth, health, luck, whatever, a youngster grabbed at random, then the discovery that the kid was nine, with nine letters in his name. If the perp happened to be superstitious enough, he'd take that as an omen. It's the next one that would be a deliberate choice - and finding another kid that fit the same parameters, including a name that began with the same letter - a Y, for heaven's sake - that would need planning. Could also explain why the next one was a girl - there are more girl's names begin with a Y, though there still aren't many. Yvette, Yvonne... Yasmin, I suppose..."
"And why change from one kid to nine, and the different ages?"
"Well, like I said, he maybe found some other guys who shared his ideas concerning sympathetic magic. He'd have to change his MO to accommodate them - they'd all want their full share of the luck."
"That's sick," someone among the listeners muttered.
"Yes, it is," Blair agreed. "But nobody ever said superstition was logical, and sympathetic magic... Well, it was at the root of a lot of medical 'treatment', even in supposedly advanced cultures, within historical times, and in a lot of cultures, sacrificing children - or young breeding adults - was a recognized way of appeasing the gods and ensuring the welfare of the community. Some anthropologists believe child sacrifice is still being carried out in some places, though finding proof of it is almost impossible.
"Now, I don't believe for a moment that these guys care for the welfare of the community; they're doing this for themselves. But, objectively, it doesn't invalidate what they - presumably genuinely - believe."
"Is anyone that superstitious nowadays?" someone asked.
"What's your birth sign?" Blair asked.
"How do you know?"
"My wife checks - oh."
"Exactly. Every newspaper prints horoscopes. I'm not saying many people seriously believe them, but a lot of people wouldn't think of not checking them, just out of curiosity, and if something goes wrong - or very right - mutter something about, 'Here, my horoscope said that...' Even people who genuinely aren't superstitious are likely to say something like, 'With luck - ' Can you even begin to imagine how someone who is superstitious thinks about luck? How avidly he - or she - will pursue it, do things he - she - believes, for whatever reason, are lucky?"
"You sound as if you sympathize," someone else said.
"Yes - but by 'sympathize' I mean I understand why they react the way they do. It doesn't mean I agree with it. Someone superstitious enough to believe that killing kids will bring him luck has to be seriously unbalanced."
There was a murmur of agreement, interrupted by Fullerton. "God, listen to you guys! What does this little cop wannabe know? Superstition, believing in luck, for Chrissake! Whoever's killing these kids is evil! We should all be out looking for them, not listening to some little hippie spouting a load of crap!"
Moody swung around to face his fellow cop. "Crap? By listening to him, we've already found a link going back years. We've found a possible reason for how the victims are chosen. Hell, we've even managed to identify some of them! And that's all within twenty-four hours of starting to listen to the 'hippie wannabe'. It sure explains why Ellison is hanging onto him, and it's a more likely reason than the one you've been spouting around the place!"
Fullerton glared at him, swung his gaze round the other men, saw that he had no support, and rose, kicking his chair over. "Well, I don't want to listen to his nonsense! And I don't have to. I'm outa here - doing some real police work!"
As Fullerton stamped out, Moody turned back to Blair, who grinned at him, but with a trace of unease in his expression. "Thanks, man. But you don't need to fall out with one of the guys you work with over me - "
"Sandburg, it's not just about you. This has been coming for a while."
"Dave's right," someone said. "Todd's never been much liked, but hey, he's a fellow cop so we've put up with him. You're maybe not officially a cop, but your instincts are right and I'm not too proud to admit I was wrong about you."
It was obvious that Blair was almost more embarrassed by the acceptance than he had been by Fullerton's insults the previous day, and Jim quickly changed the subject back. "So how do we go about finding these guys, Sherlock?"
"Good question," Blair muttered. "I have no idea. But hey, you're the detective, not me. I'm just your ride-along. I wouldn't want to embarrass you by taking over your job."
Jim glanced at the men surrounding them and nodded towards Blair. "Says the guy who just came up with more ideas that anyone else."
There was a scattering of laughter, interrupted by Mason. "Doesn't anybody have any work to do?"
As the other men returned to their desks, Mason joined Jim, Blair and Moody. "Got anything?"
"One victim in 1971, one in 1980. Nine-year-olds, and they fit the general pattern," Moody reported.
Mason sighed and gazed upwards. "Why didn't anyone spot this before?" he asked. "No, don't tell me. It's the length of time between the killings."
They decided to spend the last part of the day speaking to Fay Lovell's parents, but because Moody didn't think it would be of any help, he decided not to go with the other two.
A young man answered the door. Before Jim could show his badge, Blair said, "John?"
"Mr. Sandburg!" John Lovell exclaimed.
"Don't tell me - was Fay your sister?" Blair asked gently.
"I'm really sorry," Blair said. "And we don't want to upset your family, but we need to ask your parents a few questions. This is Detective Jim Ellison, Major Crime."
John looked at them, his face grim. "You will try to remember that my parents are shattered by this." It was more than obvious that although he too was devastated by his sister's death, he felt he had to protect his parents.
"All we want to do is find Fay's killer," Blair said.
As they followed John through the house, Jim glanced at Blair enquiringly. "John's in my Anthro 201 class," Blair said quietly, and Jim nodded.
The young man introduced the visitors to his parents. Mrs. Lovell was clearly close to tears, while Mr. Lovell was equally clearly holding himself together only with a massive effort in an attempt to support his wife.
Jim said quietly, "We're sorry to bother you, but there are one or two questions we have to ask."
Mr Lovell nodded. "I don't think there's anything we can tell you, though."
"Over the last few months, did Fay ever say anything to you about thinking she was being watched, maybe even followed by someone?"
Husband and wife looked at each other, and both shook their heads. Jim glanced at John. "She didn't say anything like that to you, either?"
"Fay... Fay was a very trusting child," Mrs. Lovell said. "Even if she was followed, she probably wouldn't have thought it anything more than chance." Her voice broke.
It was John who said, "You think she was targeted?"
"Yes, we think she might have been." Jim's voice was very gentle.
"But why?" Mr. Lovell asked angrily.
"We've linked her death to a case from 1989 - a case that petered out then because of lack of evidence - as well as a possible link to two other earlier cases. If we go by the pattern of those crimes, we know that the killer wanted a child of a specific age to meet his... I'm sorry, there isn't another way to say this - his requirements. He wanted a ten-year-old whose name began with F.
"He might have been watching more than one child, ready to grab whichever one he could without being seen, and it was Fay's bad luck that she was the one - we can't know."
"You said... the killer's 'requirements'?" John asked. "Why... why would he have 'requirements'?"
"A serial killer rarely acts randomly," Blair said. "There's usually a pattern. We might not see the logic in his actions, but it's there. It makes sense to him. That's how a lot of serial killers are caught - by the cops realizing what his pattern is and following it up. Part of this guy's pattern is selecting victims with names beginning with certain letters. We don't need to understand why this makes sense to him, all we need to know is that it does." He glanced at Jim, who quietly picked up the questioning again.
"Mrs. Lovell, you said, when she went missing, that Fay had gone to a movie? Was she alone?"
"She went with a friend," Mrs. Lovell answered. "Donna got off the bus first, the stop before Fay's. Then Fay would have to walk about a quarter of a mile to get home. It would have taken her maybe five minutes."
"So she disappeared in those five minutes. You said she was a trusting child - if someone stopped and offered her a lift, even for that distance, would she have been likely to take it?"
"We always told her not to get into a stranger's car," Mrs. Lovell said. "I don't know. But - oh, I'd hate to think she was killed by someone we know! That... Somehow that makes it worse."
"It's not likely," Blair said quietly. "Unfortunately, people who target children are often pretty good at sounding as if they know the parents. Say she's just off the bus, started walking down the road, maybe still four minutes from home, not close enough to see the house, let alone that the car is still in the driveway. A car pulls up beside her. 'Fay!' That instantly draws her attention - she doesn't recognize him, but this guy knows her name, so he must be someone she ought to know. 'Fay, your Mom has had an accident, your Dad just took her to the hospital and asked me to pick you up and drive you there.' It would need a very suspicious, street-wise child to question that, and you said Fay wasn't a suspicious child."
"Blair's right," Jim agreed, sympathy in his voice. "It doesn't occur to most parents to warn their child of that sort of situation, because not many parents are in a position where their child is likely to be kidnapped, but it's a pretty sure way to blindside even a normally street-wise kid. Parents whose children are most at risk often have a code word that must be used if the child is to be contacted by someone he - she - doesn't know. No code word, don't trust the stranger. But don't blame yourselves for not thinking of that. You had no reason, no reason at all, to think that Fay would ever be the target for a kidnapper."
As John showed them out, he said quietly, "I was too upset when I identified her body to ask at the time, but... Can you tell me - did she suffer much?"
"I don't think so," Jim said. "We know she was heavily sedated before she was killed - she probably didn't really feel anything." He chose not to refer to anything the child might have suffered during her imprisonment - the last thing her brother needed to know was that, like all the other victims, she had been raped.
"Thank God for that."
It was too late to go back to the PD; they went straight home.
Neither had much appetite after their meeting with the Lovell family, but Jim in particular knew that starving themselves would accomplish nothing. He heated some soup and as they ate it, Jim said quietly, "Any new ideas?"
"Well... yes and no. I keep thinking I'd like to have a word with Professor Yelverton, see what he thinks about it."
"The lecturer who thought the 1989 killings might have been ritual? Why don't you just go and see him on Monday?"
"He's retired now; he retired - oh, it would be six or seven years ago. I could probably get his address from the Rainier office, though; I'll ask on Monday, and we can go and see him if he's still in Cascade."
Next morning, as they were putting away the last of the washed breakfast dishes, the phone rang. Jim picked it up.
It was Moody.
"Jim, I know Vice isn't your department, and God knows you had no reason to like the guy, but I thought you need to know - Fullerton's been killed."
"His body was found this morning lying in front of his house. He was still wearing his pants, but he'd been stripped to the waist. And Jim - there's a fresh tattoo on his left shoulder - an eye."
"Are you at the PD?"
"We'll be right in."
As he put down the phone, his partner said, "Jim?"
"Fullerton's been killed." Jim tossed Blair his jacket, and repeated what Moody had told him as they went down the stairs, finishing with, "I doubt anyone will miss him, but he is a fellow cop."
"Jim, you realize that tattoo links his killing to the dead kids."
"He wasn't assigned to the case."
Blair hesitated, then said, "You're not going to like this, but maybe he was part of it. It's a bit of a stretch, but think about it. He went off yesterday afternoon pretty late, muttering about doing some proper police work, but just where was he headed half an hour before his shift ended? He didn't have the reputation of being all that conscientious. Also - you said yourself the killer knew how to leave no clues - and who better to know what cops would look for at a crime scene than another cop?
"And Jim - I just realized; there are nine letters in 'Fullerton' - "
"And F is one of our letters. I see where you're heading, Chief. Come to think of it - he was pretty dismissive of everything you said about superstition - all right, that fitted his attitude towards you, but he could have been trying to misdirect everyone."
They got into the truck and as Jim started the engine, Blair said, "I think we want to keep this to ourselves for now. I don't want to throw away what I've gained with Vice in the last couple of days."
"I'll mention it to Mason - " Jim began.
"Then mention it as your idea, not mine," Blair said firmly. Jim glanced at him. "I mean it," Blair said. "It's a speculation that should come from another cop, not a civilian observer. If he thinks it comes from me, the cop ranks will close - and you know it."
Jim sighed. "I suppose they would," he said reluctantly. "So - what about the tattooed eye?"
"I'm not sure. The only thing that comes to mind is pure fiction."
"And that is?"
"The Lord of the Rings. In the early editions of the book, the cover had an illustration of an eye inside a ring; I think some of the later editions didn't. The link with nine is the nazgul; the ringwraiths, the chief servants of Sauron, the Lord of the Rings. It's years since I read it, but as I remember, when Frodo put the ring on, he was aware of an eye looking for him.
"If that is the symbolism, it's either the head of this cult ensuring his own safety by removing someone in the group who panicked, even though it means dropping their numbers to eight, and marking him as a warning to the others - "
"It seems possible, and if you're right you should get the credit - "
" - Or it could be explained by the guy watching what's happening, and killing someone in law enforcement who, maybe accidentally, learned too much," Blair continued. "And if I'm pushed for my opinion, Jim, that's what I'll say - that I think it's possible Fullerton was maybe doing some investigating on his own, hoping to beat the cop of the year and his hippie wannabe-cop partner to the solution, and perhaps got too close. The guys in Vice won't care if I was fooled by a dirty cop - after all, if we're right, he fooled them for long enough. If I dropped the dime on him and was proved right - they'd resent that, Jim."
"Unfortunately, I think you're right," Jim admitted.
He pulled in to the PD garage and they made their way in silence to Vice.
Moody was sitting at his desk, doodling on a scrap pad as he waited for them. He rose as soon as they appeared.
"Todd's body is in the morgue - I thought you'd want to see it?"
As they waited for the elevator, Moody asked, "Does the eye mean anything?"
Blair repeated his guess for it. Moody grunted.
"The eye means 'I'm watching', then?"
"I think that's possible."
The arrival of the elevator interrupted their conversation.
At the morgue, Moody pulled the door open. "Morning, Serena."
"Morning, boys." Serena rose from her seat in front of the computer. "You here about Fullerton?" Without waiting for an answer, she was already moving.
She pulled the drawer open.
The body was as Moody had described it; stripped to the waist, the tattoo obviously fresh; and even the relaxation of death had not removed the rictus of agony on his face.
"Do you have a cause of death yet?" Jim asked.
"Tentatively, poison. We won't be doing the autopsy till tomorrow, but I'm fairly certain that once we check the contents of his stomach we'll find he's eaten badly prepared fugu."
"Oh, man!" Blair muttered in chorus with Moody's, "What's fugu?"
"A culinary form of Russian roulette," Blair growled.
Serena grinned. "Not quite." She looked at Moody. "It's the flesh of one of the puffer fish. I don't say you won't get it in America, you will, but it's commonest in Japan - it's considered a delicacy, and any sushi chefs who want to serve it have to be properly trained and licensed. It's perfectly safe when it's properly prepared, but if it isn't - that's when you get the fatalities, but there are only one or two deaths attributable to it in any given year. It's a bizarre way of killing someone, but one that the perp could easily explain away as an unfortunate accident - that although he wasn't a sushi chef, he knew how to prepare it, he was sure he had prepared it properly - after all, he had eaten some of it too - but enough of the poisonous tissue must have been left on one of the pieces to kill whoever ate it. Even if he went to trial the most he could be convicted of would be involuntary manslaughter - causing death through carelessness.
"If it wasn't for the tattoo, I'd pass Fullerton off as an accident."
"Isn't fugu toxin fast-acting?" Jim said.
"Yes. Most people would begin to feel the effects in about twenty minutes, and in extreme cases can even die in that time, but there have been cases of people who have ingested the toxin taking about eight hours to die. As a rule, though, they die in four to six hours. If they get medical attention in time they can survive, so it's not a guaranteed way of killing someone."
"Unless they were kept from getting medical attention," Jim muttered grimly. "But you'd have a helluva job proving that."
Serena nodded. "All the perp needs to do is claim he thought it was just a mild allergy not worth bothering the doctor with - or he thought Fullerton was drunk - so he put him to bed - or in this case, drove him home; and who more surprised, shocked, than he when in the morning he found Fullerton was dead. At worst he'd be considered negligent for not seeking medical help, at best he might even get public sympathy for accidentally causing the death of a friend."
By the time the three men returned to Vice, Mason had arrived. He called them into his office.
"You've been to the morgue?"
"Yes," Moody said.
"Serena thinks he was poisoned - Sandburg, you knew what she was talking about."
"Serena thinks someone fed him badly prepared fugu," Blair said quietly.
Mason grunted an almost incomprehensible one-word response that sounded like swearing. He looked from Blair to Jim, and then to Moody. "The report says there was an eye newly tattooed on his shoulder."
"You realize what that means?" Mason asked. "This has to link him to the child-killing case."
Moody nodded. "I've been trying to tell myself I was being stupid, but I keep thinking... Todd heard everything Sandburg said yesterday even though he said it was nonsense. If for some reason he was acting as a spy for the killer, letting him know how the investigation was proceeding... "
"Though in that case, why kill his informant?" Blair protested, but his voice sounded unconvincing even to himself. "It's just as likely he found out something accidentally and been force-fed the fugu."
"Do you really believe that?" Mason asked. "You're not officially a cop, Sandburg, but you work closely with Ellison; he considers you his partner, and Simon Banks told me he thinks of you as one of his men. So - speaking as cop to cop - seriously, what do you think?"
Blair sighed, but couldn't ignore the compliment. However, he answered obliquely. "Captain, you know what Vice thought of me a couple of days ago, purely on the basis of my appearance."
"And most of us are admitting now that we were wrong," Mason replied.
"Yes - but suppose I'd turned up dead a week ago. What would your reaction have been? 'Hippie wannabe, probably ODed and serve him right, good riddance, Ellison's better off without him'. Right?"
"So I'm just saying I know what it's like to be misjudged. I don't want to misjudge anyone, especially someone I didn't like. Instinct says yes, he was involved somehow, but at the same time I think the evidence for it is purely circumstantial."
"You know, on Friday morning, I'd have bitten your head off for even agreeing you'd suspected it," Moody said. "Now - Sandburg, you might be a civilian but I agree, you've got a cop's instincts. If you suspect it, there has to be good reason."
Blair sighed and looked from Mason to Moody and back again. "How many of the guys here will agree with that? Most of them aren't going to like having a civilian suggest that one of their fellow cops is - was - dirty. I'm just the ride-along. I don't need to be credited with anything except not interfering in an investigation.
"At the same time - would accusing him of being dirty help us find the guy responsible for the killings? Do we - rightly or wrongly - need to ruin his reputation?"
Mason grinned mirthlessly. "He wasn't that brilliant."
Jim nodded agreement. "Captain Mason originally suggested him to work with us, Chief. I told him no, no way would I work with Fullerton. A lot of that was knowing how he was reacting to you, but part of it was also knowing he was pretty run-of-the-mill as a detective."
Blair looked thoughtful. "I wonder... "
"Say it," Moody told him.
"He had to know he was considered run-of-the-mill, right?"
"I suppose so."
"Maybe that was how he got sucked into this. Maybe he was trying to improve his luck."
Mason snorted. "He'd have done better to have applied a bit more conscientiousness to what he did." He looked from Blair to Jim to Moody. "I want you to go and check Fullerton's house. Whoever's guarding it will have the key. See if you can find anything, anything at all, that might link him to the case, either as one of the killers or as a detective investigating things on his own."
Fullerton's house was surprisingly large for a man who lived on his own.
Moody shrugged when Jim commented on it. "He inherited it when his parents died. He said occasionally he was thinking of selling, moving to someplace smaller, but he was too damn lazy to make the effort."
'Lazy' was probably a very accurate description, Blair decided, considering the overgrown, neglected look of the grass in front of the house.
They paused at the spot on the gravel drive where a sprayed outline showed where Fullerton's body had been found, and Jim shook his head. "Nothing to find here," he said. They moved to the door.
A uniform stood guarding it; he looked bored. Blair grinned at him. "Hi, Danny. Looks like everything's pretty quiet now?"
"Hi, Blair. Yeah, it's quiet," Danny Osborne said. "We'd a few reporters here first thing, but after the body was taken away, they found other things to do. It's not as if the inside of the house is a crime scene; there's no real reason for me to be here."
Blair glanced at the two detectives, but both seemed perfectly happy to let him do the talking, if only because he knew the guy and they didn't.
As Blair carried on talking, Jim thought again how easily his friend interacted with almost everyone.
"Well, we've got orders to check the house. He could have been killed because he discovered something linked to a case currently under investigation. It shouldn't take long."
Osborne let them in, and they went along the hallway and into a kitchen. A pile of unwashed plates nearly filled the sink; there was the smell of decay in the air. "Looks like he washed his dishes when he ran out of clean plates," Moody commented. They retreated, all three glad that they wouldn't be the people who had to clean this place up.
The next door led into a living room; Blair glanced round, then looked at his partner. "Hey, Jim - next time you accuse me of being untidy, just think about this place. It makes my clutter look positively neat."
"At least you move your clutter around from time to time as you work with it," Jim agreed. "Most of this looks as if it hasn't been moved in months."
"I don't think it's going to be possible to find anything in here," Moody said hopelessly.
"Let's look at the rest of the house," Blair suggested.
The third room on the first floor had the appearance of being another living room, but it at least was tidy - although it looked as if it hadn't been cleaned in months. Dust lay thick on every surface.
"I'd guess this was where his parents spent most of their time," Blair said. "He didn't need it, so he just closed the door on it and left it."
"Sounds likely," Moody agreed. They went up the stairs.
There were three rooms on the second floor; the first two were neat but covered in dust, and Moody said, "His parents' room and the spare?"
"Probably," Blair agreed, seeing that Jim was concentrating, but not sure what he was was trying to detect.
The third room was obviously Fullerton's. The bed was unmade, the comforter thrown back. Clothes were heaped on a chair; the unpleasant smell of stale sweat rose from the pile.
Moody shook his head. "We knew he was lazy, but I don't think I realized just how much of a slob he was."
Jim frowned. "Wait - that box - " He pointed to a small polished wooden box sitting on a small square table that clearly served as a bedside cabinet. "Notice anything odd about it?"
"It's clean," Moody said after studying it for a moment.
"Right. I wonder why?"
Jim pulled on a pair of rubber gloves and picked up the box. The rectangle where it had been showed clearly in the dust. It was clear that it had been picked up recently, and any dust on it cleaned off; and then replaced very carefully exactly where it had been. "Locked. I wonder where he kept the key?"
"Is there a drawer in the table?" Blair asked.
Jim glanced at him and leaned over to look at the side of the table that faced the wall. "Yes."
He pulled the table away from the wall and opened the drawer. It was empty but for a small key.
It fitted the lock on the box, and Jim unlocked it, opened the lid.
Inside, carefully placed on a bed of cotton wool, were the disarticulated bones of two fingers, one, rather larger than the other, looking drier, older. A fingernail sat beside each finger.
The three men looked at the bones in silence. Finally, Blair said quietly, "I didn't like the man, but I hoped - I really hoped we were wrong."
"I know," Moody said. "It seemed to add up, but it *was* all circumstantial - until now. We can't even say this was planted - not with that mark in the dust where the box was sitting."
"We can get it dusted for prints to make sure," Jim said, "and the key. But I don't think anyone else was in here."
"Certainly no sign of a break-in," Moody agreed.
"Er - guys," Blair said. "Danny had the door key? Where did it come from?"
Jim and Moody looked at each other. "Let's ask him," Jim said.
They found a plastic garbage bag in the kitchen and wrapped the box and key in it, then headed for the door. Osborne grinned at them, then noticed the package Jim was carrying. "You found something?" he asked.
"We think so," Blair agreed. "Danny - there wasn't any sign of a break-in - where did you get the key?"
"It was in Fullerton's pants pocket," Osborne said.
"Was the door locked when Fullerton's body was found?" Moody asked.
"That would fit," Jim said slowly. "He'd gone out, locking the door as he left, met someone who killed him, and was brought back and left there."
The only prints on the box were Fullerton's.
"We won't know for certain till we get a DNA check, but I'm pretty sure that the smaller bones will prove to be Fay's... and that the bigger ones will be Frank West's, if we can find his family to try to get a match." Jim sighed. "It'll prove Fullerton's involvement, but it won't get us any closer to finding the killer."
"I don't suppose anyone saw where he went yesterday?" Blair asked.
"No," Moody replied. "He drove out of the garage - Wait a minute! He drove out of the garage... but he was found lying in his driveway, and there's no sign of his car. What happened to his car? Maybe the killer's slipped up. The sensible thing to do would be to put Todd into the car, fully dressed, drive him back, take time to put him into the driver's seat and leave him sitting in the car at his own front door. We find him dead, Forensics diagnoses fugu poisoning, we assume he went for a meal somewhere and afterwards he drove home, perhaps feeling increasingly ill, then collapsed before he could get out of the car." He shrugged. "Could be the killer kept the car to sell."
Jim shook his head. "Maybe, but I think this guy is too smart to do something stupid like try to sell a car with no paperwork to go with it."
"Unless he's grown overconfident," Moody suggested. "Here we've got a serial killer who's remained undetected for at least twenty-seven years. He's got to be thinking that he's smarter than most, so he'll get away with anything."
Jim glanced over at his partner. "You're very quiet, Chief."
"I'm just wondering... We're linking the eye with meaning 'I'm watching', and I know I originally agreed it could be a warning to the rest of his group, but now I'm wondering if they were present when Fullerton was killed. Since the tattooing was never publicized, how would the rest of the group know they were 'being watched' unless they were actually there? And then whoever is the leader getting one of the group to drop off the body and another one to dispose of the car - keeping himself well away from either."
"With the eye being a message to the cops that 'I know what you're doing, I have eyes everywhere'?" Moody asked.
"It would fit the mentality of someone who was very confident of his own ability to escape notice," Blair said.
"And that sort of overconfidence could lead him into making a mistake," Jim said. "The car could be it. If we can find it... "
"We can get the uniforms to check out used car dealers tomorrow," Moody said. He stretched and yawned. "God, I'm tired. A case like this takes a lot out of you."
Jim nodded. "It's felt like a long day," he agreed. "Come on, Chief; there's nothing else we can do here today. What do you say we pick up a pizza for dinner? I don't feel like cooking anything tonight."
"Sounds good," Blair agreed. He waved farewell to Moody as he followed Jim out.
Monday was one of the days when Blair taught, so in the morning Jim went in to the PD on his own, while Blair headed for Rainier.
Just after 10 am, a call came in. Josh Whitworth, a used car dealer, had been found dead in his office when one of his staff arrived to start his day's work. Homicide answered the call, and within seconds of their arrival called the PD to report that this killing looked much like Fullerton's.
Forensics was already there when Jim and Moody arrived, to discover that, like Fullerton, the dead man was stripped to the waist, but instead of a tattoo, he had cuts on his left shoulder. Detective Burke, of Homicide, indicated the cuts, saying, "That's why we sent for you," and Jim looked thoughtfully at them. The pattern was partly hidden by the blood that had run down the dead man's arm to drip onto the floor. It still looked fairly fresh, and...
"Is that an eye?" Moody asked.
"Yes." Dan Wolf looked up from where he was still checking the body. "It's not as clear as the tattoo on Fullerton, but it certainly looks to me as if it's the same design."
"All right, the first kids were marked with cuts, then the perp started tattooing them instead," Moody muttered. "Why go back to cutting the design now? It's got to be a copycat."
"Dave, the tattoos weren't publicized. Who would know about them except the killer? Doing a tattoo takes time - he could do those cuts in a couple of minutes. I think he went back to cutting the pattern for speed," Jim said. Feeling slightly uneasy, he glanced around the office. "I don't think Whitworth's been dead all that long - Dan?"
"An hour at most," Wolf replied.
"The killer was bound to know that there would be other staff arriving soon. He'd want to be away before they arrived. Let's have a look around the place."
Correctly interpreting that to mean 'Let's see if we can find a box like Fullerton's', Moody nodded, and they began to work their way around the small office, dodging around the Forensics people who were also checking the room, but finding nothing. There was a safe behind the desk; Jim glanced over to where the shaken employee who had found the body was still talking to Burke's partner.
"Excuse me, sir, do you know the combination of the safe?" he called over.
"Oh - yes." The man gave it to him; Jim pulled on a pair of gloves, opened the safe, and turned his attention to the contents. It held a laptop, a box containing eight floppy disks, some papers pertaining to various cars, a cloth bag containing several checks, some high-value bills and a bank deposit book, as well as a cash box containing some low-value bills - fives and tens, clearly designed for change in the unlikely event that someone paid cash for a car rather than pay by check. He straightened. "If Whitworth is another one of this child-killing gang, his trophy box must be at his house," he said softly.
"It would make sense," Moody agreed. "If he kept it here, someone might accidentally open it."
"And because he's a murder victim, we have due cause to check his house in case he was killed for something he'd taken home."
They approached the employee, who was sitting silently - he seemed to have talked himself out. "Detective Ellison," Jim introduced himself, with a nod to Detective Lestrange, a woman he knew only vaguely. "This is Detective Moody. I understand you found Mr. Whitworth's body, Mr...?"
"Murray. Rod Murray. Yes. We open at ten, though we don't usually do much during the mornings. Mr. Whitworth handles - handled sales. It isn't that big a business, but it's growing, and Mr. Whitworth has a very good reputation in the trade. Had a good reputation."
Jim nodded encouragement, knowing that Murray was repeating what he had already told Lestrange, but that repetition might produce one or two new facts.
"Mr. Whitworth comes in around nine to deal with the paperwork, I get here just before ten, and Stu and Marty start at twelve, but Monday's their day off."
"Stu and Marty?"
"Oh - Stewart and Martin Webster. They're brothers. There are - were - just the three of us working for Mr. Whitworth. There's too much work for two but not actually enough for three, so Stu and Marty work part time."
"What about yesterday? Do you work Sundays?" Jim asked.
"Mr. Whitworth does. People often come in on a Sunday afternoon, just looking, really, and if someone's interested in a car he can do the preliminary paperwork, ready to finalize it on Monday. We do a final check-up on the car over Monday morning, and the car's ready then for the buyer to pick up any time after that."
"Do you have any idea what'll happen now that Mr. Whitworth's dead?" Moody asked.
Murray shook his head. "He has a brother who'll probably inherit, but I expect he'll sell the business if he does. If we're lucky, the new owner will keep us on. As it stands, as soon as you clear us to go back to normal - well, as normal as possible - we'll try to keep going as usual. I'll handle the sales side - I've done it before when Mr. Whitworth was on vacation, and get Stu and Marty to come in full time"
"Was Mr. Whitworth a good boss?"
"He never exactly relaxed with us - he was never 'Josh', always 'Mr Whitworth'; we were Murray, Webster and Webster to him. But as long as we played fair by him and did our work properly, he was always fair to us, and if we needed time off for anything we got it."
"Mind if we have a look around the place?" Jim asked, beckoning Burke over from where he waited beside the body. Courtesy, if nothing else, demanded that he give both Homicide detectives their place, although they seemed perfectly happy to let him take charge of the investigation.
"No - no, by all means do." He turned to the desk, opened a drawer and took out a bunch of keys. "I'll come with you and open everything up."
As they reached the first door, Murray said, "This is the service area, where we check over any new - " As he opened the door, he broke off, staring at the car that stood inside. "That wasn't there on Saturday! And I've never known Mr. Whitworth to buy one from anyone on a Sunday." He crossed to it, walked round it. "Nice car, too."
Jim and Moody glanced at each other. "Fullerton's?" Jim asked softly, knowing that Moody, the man who worked beside the dead cop, was the most likely of them to know Fullerton's car.
Moody nodded. "Yes," he said, and turned his attention back to Murray. "This car belonged to a murder victim. I'm sorry, but we'll have to impound it. It'll have to be checked over by Forensics."
While Moody remained in the garage and called it in, Jim, with Burke and Lestrange, went with Murray to the sales area, but saw nothing he considered helpful. Leaving Murray there, the three cops went back to the small office.
The body was being taken out of the office as they reached it. Dan Wolf was following and paused when he saw Jim, Burke and Lestrange.
"Any idea how he was killed?" Jim asked.
"Not yet. I think that pattern was carved into his shoulder when he was still alive, though he was probably unconscious; it bled quite profusely. However, it was the only obvious injury."
Jim nodded. His nose was twitching; he could smell something that seemed out of place, something he couldn't identify but knew he had smelled before. Something not particularly pleasant... Mentally, he snapped his fingers. It was the same faint, unpleasant odor he had detected in the basement where the children's bodies had been found, but here it was rather stronger, and he realized he had been aware of it the first time he was in the office, he just hadn't paid much attention to it. He remembered how uneasy he had felt, and realized it had to be the result of smelling the... whatever it was.
He knew that this time he would remember it.
Satisfied that they had checked everything they could, the four detectives returned to the PD. Jim and Moody arrived first, and looked at each other as they waited for Burke and Lestrange to park.
"Vice or Homicide?" Jim asked softly.
"It's still their case," Moody said, "even though they called us in."
As Burke and Lestrange joined them, Burke said, "We've discussed this, and since it's really a continuation of the case you've been working on, we'll report to Captain King and clear it with him, then come over to Vice and give you the details we got."
"Thanks," Jim said. As they headed towards the elevator, he sighed. "We have to check Whitworth's house - we don't actually need a warrant, but it might be better to get one. Dave? How soon can Mason get one for us?"
"Probably by tomorrow," Moody said.
Blair bounced into Vice just after one, and stopped short when he saw the group gathered round Moody's desk, clearly slightly puzzled by the presence of the two Homicide detecties. He moved on after the briefest of pauses. "Hi, Jim, Dave," he said, then looked at the others. "Hello, Leona - Art."
As Lestrange answered, Jim grinned mentally, not surprised that Blair was on first name terms with two cops from a different department, cops he himself knew only vaguely.
Blair turned his attention back to Jim. "What's happened?"
Jim explained briefly. "Burke and Lestrange got there first, and saw right away that this killing seems definitely linked to Fullerton's, so Dave and I were called in. Mason's getting a warrant for us to search Whitworth's house."
"Well, while we're waiting for it, we could maybe go and see Professor Yelverton this afternoon," Blair said. "I got his address from Rainier. I thought he might have moved after he retired, but the secretary confirmed that his old address is still valid - apparently there's still the odd piece of mail arrives at Rainier for him - you'd think that in seven years he'd have let all his contacts know he's retired - and they have to forward it. I'd really like to see what he thinks of this, in relation to the last time... if he even remembers that old lecture he gave us," he added thoughtfully. "I remembered it, but will he? It's so much the sort of thing I've done pretty often, using something topical to make a point, but a month later I've forgotten doing it - the important thing at the time was clarifying the point, not how I clarified it."
"So what was your class about, if your professor felt he had to use something like a mass murder to make his point?" Lestrange asked, honestly curious.
"Rituals," Blair said.
"What made him think of rituals in relation to a murder?" she asked.
"I remember he made some reference to the date and the number of victims - ninth month, nine victims - as being in some ways more likely than 'just' a serial killer, then he went on to other murder rituals, like the Aztec belief that by shedding blood, they helped the sun rise every morning, and how meaningless such rituals seemed to people who didn't have that particular superstition."
"You know, Blair," Lestrange said slowly, "I don't think I've ever known anyone as bloodthirsty as you."
"Me? Bloodthirsty?" Blair said, horrified. "I hate the sight of blood, don't I, Jim?"
"You talk very freely and cheerfully about things like human sacrifice," Lestrange chuckled.
"But that was all centuries ago!" Blair exclaimed.
"Can you deny you love trying to shock people with all those stories?" she asked.
"They're all true," he said indignantly.
"And how do people react when you speak about... oh, the Spanish cutting the hands off the native Americans who wouldn't convert to Christianity?" she asked.
"It's not my fault if people are grossed out by things that happened hundreds of years ago," Blair protested.
"But you don't have to tell us about them, Chief." Jim more than half suspected that Lestrange was right, that Blair did enjoy producing gory details about things past in order to shock anyone who might be considering him a wimp, purely on the grounds of his appearance or his dislike of actually seeing proof of the violence men could inflict on eath other.
"Jim, sometimes what's happened in the past throws a very bright light on what's happening today," Blair said. "There's nothing new under the sun; it's all been done before, somewhere, somehow. The only thing that's different is the level of technology. Murder is still murder, whether the victim has a bullet in him or an arrow, whether the arrow is just a bit of sharpened wood, has a flint head or an iron one. It's still death by projectile. It's still having been killed from a distance."
Lestrange glanced from her partner to Moody to Jim. "See what I mean? He's discussing murder absolutely cheerfully."
"Academically," Blair protested.
"All right, Sherlock," Jim said. "Have you tried contacting your Professor Yelverton to see if he's available to talk to us?"
"Well, no," Blair admitted. "But Jim, the man's over seventy. There's no way someone that age is going to be gallivanting around."
"There speaks youth," Burke commented dryly. "Blair, my grandfather is nearly eighty, and there's no stopping the man. He's got more energy than I do. Don't you have any elderly relatives?"
"No," Blair said quietly. "Naomi - my Mom - has never mentioned her parents. Neither have her two brothers. The oldest of the three of them is fifty-four. Eli Stoddard - you could call him my mentor - is barely sixty. I don't really know anyone older than that. Most of the tribes where I've spent time... sixty is old - only a handful of individuals live that long, and mostly their lives have been so hard that they're worn out."
"Well," Burke said, "I think you'll find your Professor Yel... Yeller... "
"Yelverton is having the time of his life now that he's retired, refusing to grow old, trying out new hobbies, and hardly ever at home. Ellison's right - you should phone him and arrange a time to see him, if you really think he can give us some insight into how this killer's mind works."
Blair looked at him, clearly unconvinced, but retrieved a notebook from his backpack, checked it, and dialed. There was no answer.
"See?" Burke asked. "That phone call saved you a useless trip."
"All right, say 'I told you so'," Blair muttered. "I'll try again tonight."
Blair's first evening attempt to contact Yelverton again produced no answer, but his second, at nearly 10 pm, did.
"Hello, Professor. You probably don't remember me - Blair Sandburg. I was in one of your classes nine years ago."
"Sandburg... Oh, yes. You joined the class a week late because you were on an expedition with Dr Stoddard, and your journey home was delayed."
Blair chuckled. "I can laugh about it now but, at the time, it was a nightmare!" Then he sobered up. "Anyway, Professor, I wondered if I might come to see you some time in the next day or two. It's in connection with a lecture you did - or rather, a reference in a lecture - back then. I'm working with the police for my dissertation; there's a recent case - you might have seen it in the papers - that has similarities to one you commented on back then, suggesting that it might be a ritual killing, and I wondered if you'd be willing to meet me and the detectives working the case to give us the benefit of your knowledge of rituals, see if it could throw any light on these latest killings."
"Well, if you really think my very academic knowledge would help, by all means," Yelverton replied slowly. "I imagine it's fairly urgent?"
"Well, too long a delay in following things up can mean a case going cold," Blair said.
"Let me see... I'm busy most of tomorrow, but I should be home by six. Shall we say seven tomorrow night?"
"Great. It'll be good to see you again, Professor; I learned a lot from you." Blair put the phone down and turned to Jim. "I suppose you heard that?"
"Yes," Jim said. "I wonder why he sounded worried?"
"Worried? I didn't think he did."
"It might be truer to say he sounded a little apprehensive," Jim said thoughtfully. "As if he had something on his mind."
"I'd be apprehensive too in his position," Blair said. "He's probaby never had anything to do with the police, and now here he is being asked for advice by a cop? How often do witnesses sound nervous?"
"Well, yes, it can happen," Jim agreed. "They're reluctant to get involved, but know they saw something tht might help - but they're afraid their comments might be dismissed as imagination, or they might be accused of something simply because they were in the vicinity... Well, we'll see, tomorrow night." He glanced at Blair. "So what's the story behind the 'nightmare'?"
"Oh... " Blair gave a disparaging chuckle. "Eli Stoddard liked to take some of his students on short expeditions, give them a taste of what a 'proper' expedition would be like; he said it gave him a good idea of which students would be good working in the field interacting with living tribes, and which ones would be better advised to look for work in museums, because their mindset was more suited to historical anthropology. This particular expedition was to the highlands near the border between Peru and Bolivia. It was pretty remote, and the point of the trip was to see how people in such areas, depending on their own efforts, survived.
"There was only one road in, a very rough track; wheeled vehicles couldn't negotiate it. We went in on mules, and it took us a week. Anyway, while we were there, there was an earthquake - not a terribly major one, nobody locally was hurt and damage in the village was minimal, but - as we discovered later - there was a fair amount of damage in one of the more populated areas, and all the aid was directed there. Anyway, when we came to leave, we found a long stretch of the road was totally destroyed; either blocked by rockfalls or carried away by landslide. The mules couldn't cope; we had to leave them behind. If we wanted to get out, it had to be on foot. It took us nearly three weeks, because it wasn't just a case of skirting the damaged bits of the track; in some places the entire side of the mountain had been carried away. At one point, it took us an entire day to go a quarter of a mile." Blair grinned. "It was an interesting experience, but not one I'm in any hurry to repeat. The locals were going to have to make themselves a new track somehow, and it wasn't going to be an easy job. Anyway, by the time we arrived back in Cascade, it was a week into the semester. Eli cleared us with Rainier, and we all got a published paper out of the trip."
"I wouldn't have thought there were that many anthropological magazines," Jim commented.
"Well, there were only half a dozen of us, and we didn't all write about the same aspects of the trip," Blair pointed out. "We'd already discussed what each of us would cover in our papers to make sure we weren't clashing, and only one of the group changed his theme to deal with the problems we had getting out. One of the girls concentrated on the weaving the women of the village did and sent it to a crafts magazine. The other one wrote about the women's place in village society. One of the guys wrote about the difficulties we had at the altitude compared to the locals. My paper was about local customs and superstitions, and another one compared and contrasted village life with life in one of the bigger, more accessible towns. The one who changed his theme did an article on the hike out for a climbing magazine."
Blair stretched and yawned. "Dunno about you, but I feel as if I've had a long day," he said. "I'm ready for bed."
The warrant allowing them to check out Josh Whitworth's house arrived mid-morning, and Jim, Blair and Moody lost no time in heading for it, armed with the keys that had been taken from the dead man's pocket.
Whitworth's house, unlike Fullerton's, was clean and tidy. There was a bareness about it, however; as they looked around they could see nothing that spoke of the man's personality.
They went first into the living room. It held a couch and two armchairs arranged around an empty fireplace. A small table stood beside one of the armchairs, and on it was the remote control for the television standing at the other side of the fire. There was a simple clock on the mantlepiece.
The pattern continued throughout the rest of the house. The bedrooms all contained a bed with a small table beside each, a chair and door opening into a closet. Small lamps stood on the tables, and the one in what was clearly the master bedroom also carried a clock. The only other items of furniture were in the master bedroom; a desk on which stood a monitor and keyboard and a printer, and an office chair in front of it. The computer sat on the floor under the desk. Moody nodded towards it. "Apart from that, you'd think this guy was almost a pauper," he said.
"Careful with his money, certainly," Jim agreed. "A laptop in his office for his day to day transactions, then he brings everything home on disks and does his books on that one." He nodded towards the desk.
Pulling on gloves, he opened the top drawer of the desk; he nodded and lifted out a small box. "I think we have it," he said as he tried to open it. "Locked. I wonder where he kept the key?"
"In the drawer?" Moody suggested.
Jim took out two folders and shook his head. He replaced them and leaned down to check the small cupboard under the drawer. "No, not there either."
"On his keyring?"
Jim took Whitworth's keys from his pocket and checked them. "None of them are small enough."
"Taped under the drawer? Or under the desk so that you have to open the drawer to reach it?" Blair asked.
The second suggestion was right. Jim retrieved the key and opened the box. There, on a bed of cotton wool, were the bones from two fingers. Unlike Fullerton's, which had been different sizes, these ones were much the same size.
"W," Blair said.
It took Jim only a moment to make the connection. "It'll certainly help us narrow the field a little when we're checking the missing persons files."
"I don't get this, though," Moody said. "There are - or were - nine of these guys, if Blair's right. Now someone has offed two of them. We decided Todd was maybe killed because he felt we were getting too close, and panicked. Why Whitworth, though?"
"The car," Jim said. "The car has to be the link. Whitworth was killed because he took Fullerton's car. The sensible thing to do was leave it at Fullerton's house. It was going to lead us to Whitworth, who might have cracked under questioning." He relocked the box. "Let's see if we can find something to carry this in."
Blair was teaching that afternoon, and Jim dropped him off at Rainier on his way back to the PD.
He gave the lecture almost mechanically, glad that it was one he could have given in his sleep; at least part of his mind was occupied with the puzzle of how the original killer had managed to find eight other like-minded people and how they had tracked down victims that fit their pattern. Did they each have some area of expertise that helped the group? Fullerton, the cop, knowing how to hide evidence - or at least, what the cops would look for. Whitworth, the car dealer, possibly providing transport. Was one of them a professional tattooist? Though no - there was only the one tattooed body in 1980, unless the others had been very well hidden. And who was the informant who had alerted the cops? If he had known what was going on, why hadn't he been able to give any names? Was he one of the group, participating but with enough of a conscience that he secretly wanted to be caught?
As he wound down, he knew that despite its very routine nature, it had not been one of his more successful lectures; several of the questions he invited proved that. He forced himself to concentrate on clarifying the points that had obviously been a little obscure.
Finally, he dismissed the class a little early, knowing he would have to rework the lecture and give it again. He was gathering up his papers when a quiet voice said, "Mr Sandburg."
He glanced up. "John. How are you doing? And your parents?" He hadn't even realized that this was the class John Lovell was in, let alone that he was present.
Lovell shook his head. "I'll feel better when you catch the killer. I don't think Mom will ever get over it, though. I just wanted to say thanks. You had to ask those questions, I realize that, but it was clear to us that you all cared. I'm just sorry we couldn't tell you much."
"I can't tell you anything more than you already know about the case, but we do have one or two ideas," Blair said. Although tempted to tell Lovell that the man who actually killed Fay was probably already dead, he knew he mustn't.
"You were thinking about it while you were giving us the lecture, were't you?"
Blair gave a wry half smile. "Was it that obvious?"
"It was obvious something was on your mind, but I'm probably the only one who knew what it might be."
Blair nodded. "We really want to get this guy," he said, totally unaware that he was including himself as one of the cops. "For Fay, for the other kids he killed this time, and for the ones we're pretty sure he killed a few years ago."
Moody - who still refused to get into Jim's truck - picked up Jim and Blair at 6.30 that evening, and they reached Professor Yelverton's house - a neat one-story building - just after seven. There were lights on in the house, and a car sitting in the drive, preventing Moody from driving off the street; he had to park at the side of the road.
Blair led the way up the drive and knocked confidently on the door. There was no answer. "Could be in the john," he muttered as he knocked again.
Jim glanced at his watch. "If I was expecting someone at seven, I'd make sure I was there at seven to answer the door," he said. They waited for another minute, then Jim said, "The curtains aren't closed. I'll go and look in the windows, see if the Professor is all right; he might have been taken ill, or fallen asleep while he waited for us." He moved briskly to the first lit window, looked in, moved on to the next. He came back quickly. "Someone's slumped in a chair in there. Try the door, Chief."
It was unlocked, and they went in. The moment he was inside, Jim said, "There's that smell."
Moody sniffed. "Yeah, there is a smell, isn't there. Not very pleasant."
They went along the hall and Jim opened the door into what was clearly the living room. The smell inside it was very marked.
"Professor!" Blair began to move forward; Jim caught his arm.
"He's dead, Chief."
After the ambulance took Professor Yelverton's body away, Jim said quietly, "I want to look around this house."
It was Moody who asked, "Why?" Blair thought he already knew, and he wasn't happy with his conclusion.
Jim looked at his fellow cop. "I've got a pretty good sense of smell, Dave. The smell in this house - I was aware of it, or something very similar, in Whitworth's office. It's enough to make me think Yelverton saw Whitworth not long before he died."
"You think Whitworth knew Yelverton? Maybe he'd just gone to see about buying a car."
"It's possible. But I was also aware of it in the basement where those kids were found."
Moody stared at him, then glanced at Blair, who was looking studiously at the floor. "You... you think this guy...? But he was a Professor at Rainier, for God's sake!"
Blair raised his head. "Didn't we agree that the leader of this group had to be educated?" He drew a deep breath. "Y. The two earliest kids had names beginning with Y. And Yelverton. Nine letters in his name. An anthropologist with a particular interest in ritual. He probably got a helluva kick out of making *his* crime an illustration in a lecture, knowing that none of us would get it." There was an unaccustomed bitterness in his voice.
There was nothing to see in the living room, nothing out of the ordinary. They moved into the kitchen. A door in the side wall drew Jim's attention, and he crossed to it. It opened easily; a stale and unpleasant smell wafted out, different from the one in the living room. Jim could smell semen in this odor, and an acrid quality he had come to recognise as fear. Ignoring the stench, Jim switched on the light beside the door, and looked into the now illuminated doorway.
"Basement," he said. They went down the stairs into it.
There were nine mattresses on the floor, with chains fastened to the floor beside each. Beside one wall was a table; Jim took one look at the equipment on it, and said, "His tattoo 'parlor'."
They went back up the stairs and moved on. A small bedroom, clearly a spare room, held nothing. In the next room, a larger bedroom where the original smell was strong, there was a box sitting on the bedside cabinet, and a letter propped against it addressed to 'Blair Sandburg'.
Jim pulled on a pair of gloves before touching the box. He laid the envelope flat on the cabinet, then checked the box. There was no keyhole. It wasn't even a trick box; it opened instantly.
Moody leaned over. Inside it, as he had expected, were finger bones... "Seven?" he exclaimed.
Jim closed the box carefully. "The letter's addressed to you, Chief. What does he say?"
Blair had been looking at it with the fixed expresson of a man threatened by a rattlesnake curled up six inches from him. Now he glanced up. "I'd better put on gloves, hadn't I?"
Wordlessly, Jim handed him a pair and he pulled them on. The envelope wasn't sealed; the flap was simply tucked into the back of it. He pulled out the letter and began reading it aloud.
"I address this to you because as a fellow anthropologist you will have more appreciation of my beliefs than any mere cop. I had no great respect for the intelligence of my ex-follower Fullerton, and he gave me no reason to believe his mentality was in any way atypical of police in general - although I think that perhaps your Detective Ellison might be more insightful than most. Your influence, perhaps?
"As you know, my particular interest in our field was ritual. My fascination with the subject started when I was very young; my mother was devoutly religious, and I watched the rituals she followed and saw how they helped her handle a life that was far from easy.
"I was eighteen in 1944; being drafted was automatic. On the morning of September 9th, two days before I was due to report, my nine-year-old brother and I were involved in an accident. A vehicle that, if it had hit me, would possibly have injured me severely, hit him instead. He was killed; while I escaped unhurt. His right hand was badly mangled, the fourth finger ripped off; I took it for luck, since his death had been so lucky for me, and survived the war unscathed.
"It made me realize that nine was my lucky number. However, in the years immediately following the war, although I did well in my studies, it seemed to me that my luck was diminishing, and in 1953, nine years after my original lucky break, I realized that I needed to do something to restore it; and what better way than to find another nine-year-old whose name began with Y and with nine letters in it? Sympathetic magic, you know. Then if I killed him on the ninth day of the ninth month, my luck would be restored. Y is a difficult letter, there are not many names that begin with it, but one has to work at maintaining luck; what comes easily is of lesser value.
"I almost despaired of finding someone suitable. I couldn't find anyone where I lived with a nine-letter surname beginning with Y, but I realized that nine letters in total, with the first name beginning with Y, could be as effective. With the new parameter, I found a sacrifice, and it worked; within the year I had my doctorate in anthropology, on the subject of rituals.
"I began searching earlier in 1962. This time the child lived in the same apartment block; I was careful not to get too friendly with her or her family, while making sure she knew me. It made it very easy to kidnap her, while remaining only marginally a suspect - I was no more so than anyone else who lived in the building.
"I moved to Rainier not long after that; to a position that suited me perfectly.
"In 1971 I again thought I would be unlucky, but the Sabon family arrived in July. I should have trusted Ganesha; my earlier sacrifices to him surely ensured that he would provide me with a suitable one when the time came. I knew, then, that I would always find the necessary child quite easily.
"That was also the year I realized I should thank the gods for providing the sacrifice, and what better way to do it than use the symbols for the Chinese years. Cutting the symbol into the flesh proved clumsy; so I learned how to tattoo them.
"When I was burying my sacrifice in 1980, I was seen; but Ganesha did not fail me. Brian O'Driscoll was not a nice person - not at all a nice person - but he was a superstitous fool. It was easy to persuade him that he, too, could be helped by Ganesha. It was fortuitous that his surname also had nine letters... I was able to guide him to an eighteen-year-old, who was about to begin his studies at Rainier; O'Driscoll killed him that night at 9 pm; I helped to bury him, and his body was never found.
"I knew that Ganesha would not consider two an acceptable size of group to worship him. However, over the next years we found seven more men; weaklings all, incompetent fools who were not the kind of men I would have sought as friends but who were happy to follow the guidance of a strong, confident mentor.
"However, I was foolish. By mentioning our ritual in a lecture I knew I was taking a chance, but I was confident of Ganesha's shielding hand. Alas that it failed me.
"Some months ago, I discovered I had cancer. It was already inoperable; the doctors gave me rather less than a year. I hid my growing weakness from my followers, sure that this year's ritual would provide me with an instant cure as I absorbed the youth and vigor of the sacrifice.
"It did not. And my arrogance of nine years ago showed itself when you remembered the reference I made in that lecture back then. I was surprised, but gratified, to learn that someone had remembered it after so long... although I would have been better pleased had it been entirely forgotten. Then Josh Whitworth took Fullerton's car, meaning to sell it, when the only sensible thing to do was leave it where it was. That was when I realized I had to kill all of them. The survivors would have tried to make up their numbers to nine again, and would almost certainly have been caught nine years from now; and Ganesha would not have been pleased.
"You will undoubtedly find the rest of my followers over the next day or two, and recognize them by the eye I cut into their shoulders as they died. They are my last sacrifice to Ganesha, and will surely earn for me a place at his side.
"I remember you as a keen and intelligent young man. If there had been nine letters in 'Sandburg', I would have seriously considered trying to recruit you to my group, and disposed of one of the others... for you would have been a worthy successor, a worthy heir to my genius and the good fortune Ganesha bestowed upon me for fifty-four years.
"As it is, these qualities will die with me, and be returned to Ganesha that he might one day bestow them upon some other deserving recipient.
Blair put the letter down, blowing out his breath in a long sigh.
"Who," Moody asked, "is Ganesha?"
"The Hindu god of luck," Blair said. He looked back at the letter. "Over thirty people, most of them children, dead because an impressionable child learned the 'value' of ritual from his mother and saw 'luck' in his brother's death. And it worked for him for many years because he believed it would." He looked at Jim. "Do you suppose he killed himself, too, rather than wait to be arrested? This - " he indicted the letter - "has all the hallmarks of a well-thought-out suicide note, disguised as a confession."
"I think he probably did," Jim agreed. "People, no matter how ill, don't just drop dead at the most convenient time for... well, anyone. And if he had cancer, and knew he had only a short while to live... It's possible he was in pain, and chose to end his life now rather than continue to suffer."
Moody glanced at Blair. "What would you have done if he had spoken to you about joining him?"
"I wouldn't even have been tempted," Blair said quietly, "but I imagine that he would have killed me when I turned him down."
Jim nodded. "And then we'd never have known you. I'm glad," he said, "that there aren't nine letters in 'Sandburg'."