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* Follows Once Bitten
Simon Banks looked at the two men who comprised his best team, the sentinel-guide pairing of Jim Ellison and Blair Sandburg.
Jim had always been an efficient detective; when a solitary stake-out triggered his senses, Eli Stoddard, head of Sentinel-Guide studies at Rainier, had suggested his senior lecturer as an interim guide. Blair - whose confidence in himself had been shattered years earlier - had been stunned to discover that he really *was* a more than effective guide - for the right sentinel - and now worked full-time with the CPD as Jim's permanent, official partner.
"This case was bumped up to us from Homicide this morning. There have been four deaths in the last six weeks; the last one was found yesterday afternoon. They all had their genitals mutilated - "
" - making it definitely the work of a serial killer," Jim finished.
"Oh, man!" Blair breathed.
Jim glanced at him remembering that the first case they had worked together was a serial killer. "Police work can be nasty at times. You've already seen some - "
"I know, I know. But this... This sounds like a classic example of an honor killing."
"Honor killing?" Simon asked.
"A man thinks his family - most specifically a daughter - has been dishonored in some way. Maybe she's been raped. So he hunts down the man he believes is responsible. He kills the man and damages the genitals. In some cultures he'll kill his daughter, too, especially if she's been left pregnant, because of that dishonor. Even though everyone might know she was raped, she's still had sex outside marriage; in a way her own fault because she should have had some sort of chaperone - and in some cultures having a child out of wedlock is the worst of all possible sins." He grinned slightly at the expression on Simon's face. "My doctorate is in anthropology, remember. I studied a lot of cultures while I was working on it and for a couple of years after I got it, and although I mostly stopped working in that field once I started lecturing in Guide Studies, I still read anthropological journals. And I doubt there's anything anyone can think up today that hasn't already been known and done by some culture, at some point.
"The only odd thing about this case is that there have been four such deaths so close together. Although... maybe... "
"Go on," Jim said.
"Maybe some poor kid was raped by a group of men, and her father is hunting them all down. It's just taking him a few weeks to catch each of them unawares."
"That's worth thinking about," Jim agreed.
The one thing that they quickly established was that the four victims were unlikely to have known each other. The first was a thirty-three year old teacher at a local school, popular with his fellow teachers and from all accounts well liked by his pupils. The second was a well-respected businessman, forty-one years old, whose death had shocked everyone he worked with. The third was a recently retired sixty-six year old who had owned a bookshop - again, from all reports, one who was well liked by his customers, and who had gone out of his way to obtain for them any title he wasn't currently carrying. The most recent had been found just the previous day, a nineteen-year-old, almost-twenty, student at Rainier, and the only reason Blair didn't already know anything about that one through Rainier scuttlebutt was that he now worked almost exclusively as Jim's guide and was spending almost no time at Rainier, only doing the occasional guest lecture there to maintain his ties to a university. Eli Stoddard, who had replaced the unpopular Chancellor Edwards just after Blair met sentinel Jim Ellison and discovered that he was indeed a guide, was more than happy with this arrangement, glad to keep Blair associated with Rainier, no matter how tenuously.
Blair put down the last of the reports handed on from Homicide and slumped a little. "So much for thinking it might have been an honor thing, aimed at all the perpetrators of a group rape," he muttered.
"The honor thing is still possible," Jim said. "Say one of them - maybe the student; at nineteen he'd still have been a raging sex hormone - raped someone, and her father decided to deal with him himself. The first three deaths could have been random killings using the same method that he planned to use on the rapist, designed to mislead any investigation. If that were the case, I'd expect another one or maybe two to muddy the water still further, then no more. We assume the killer has moved on, away from Cascade, and the case goes cold."
"All right - we need to visit the most recent crime scene and see if you can sense anything there. Strictly speaking, we should visit them all, but the first three are probably a bit too long ago for any detectable traces to be left now."
"We'd better have a word with Eli," Blair said as Jim parked the truck as close to Hargrove Hall as he could. Jim nodded agreement and followed as Blair headed for the office that Eli Stoddard had occupied as head of the Sentinel-Guide Unit.
"Blair? Won't he have moved offices?"
Blair glanced back at him. "He will move his office, but not until he has to. He likes the one he's been in since he moved here from Antioch. Now he's Chancellor, his job as Head of the Sentinel-Guide Unit has been advertised, but nobody has been interviewed for it yet, so he's doing both jobs; and he decided his office here is the better one to use. Actually, I'm not sure he isn't looking for a way to keep it and let the new Sentinel-Guide head get the old Chancellor's office."
Jim grinned, sympathizing with Stoddard's opinion. He had only been in the office a couple of times - once with Simon Banks, a visit Blair didn't know he'd made, and once with Blair when he went to tell Stoddard that he and Jim had imprinted on each other; but he well remembered the view from the window. It faced away from the campus and gave Stoddard a vista of open countryside stretching towards the sea. It was a view that couldn't have been better designed to relax a man on whose shoulders responsibility rested heavily. The office Chancellor Edwards had used was dark and gloomy. There might have been a nice view from it at one time, but now its window faced the wall of a later building, added when the university was extended some fifty years previously. He suspected that at least part of Edwards' bad-tempered attitude towards life might have been influenced by the gloom in her office.
"Seriously, I don't think the old Chancellor's office should be an office for anyone who has to spend their entire working day in it," he commented.
"Mmm. You could be right," Blair agreed as he reached Stoddard's door, and knocked.
Blair opened the door. As he went in, Stoddard rose quickly. "Blair!" He moved around his desk to catch his one-time colleague in a tight, reciprocated hug.
As he and Blair drew apart, Stoddard looked over at Jim. "Nice to see you as well, Sentinel."
"Jim, please, Doctor."
"Jim - and it's Eli. So what brings you here? I know this isn't just a social visit."
"No, it isn't - though I've been thinking that the three of us should get together some time soon," Blair admitted. "It's about Tony Howard."
"Ah." Stoddard waved them into chairs as he resumed his own. "I thought that was Homicide's case?"
"We were given it this morning."
"I can't say I'm surprised. Something like this - that looks like an honor killing - " He broke off as Jim gave a muffled, almost amused-sounding splutter.
"Sorry," Jim said. "Murder isn't funny. It's just that that was Blair's first description of it as well."
Stoddard grinned an acknowledgement. "I never did tell you, Blair - I finished Guide Studies when I was barely sixteen, but nowhere near your level; I came online as a guide, but only marginally so, when I was thirteen - so I had a couple of years to 'waste' while I decided what to do. Anthropology was my chosen second subject, too, though I never got beyond Bachelors. But there was never any question about my career once I hit eighteen; I never wanted a sentinel - I always knew that my future lay in teaching. But I always guessed that you picked anthropology for much the same reason as I did. Knowing about different cultures was probably going to be an advantage to your future career, right?"
"Right," Blair said.
"Anyway, you were asking about Tony Howard. Sophomore. History major. Grades averaging out at B+ to A-. You know what it's like, Blair - even if a student isn't studying your particular subject, there are some you know or know of."
Blair nodded, and Stoddard looked over at Jim.
"I had heard his name mentioned a number of times as someone who was intelligent - he should have been getting straight As - but mentally lazy, so two or three weeks ago, when he came to see me in my capacity as Chancellor, I wasn't sorry for the chance to form my own opinion of him. It was a fairly routine meeting - he'd been taking psychology as a minor and wanted to drop it. I have to admit I didn't like him very much; not only did the meeting confirm that mentally he was indeed basically lazy, he struck me as being the kind of unreliable charmer who makes a career out of persuading the girls he loves them, then once he's slept with them, dropping them... the sort of man who might end up as a multiple bigamist because he marries the ones who won't sleep with him without benefit of a wedding ring, and not get around to divorcing one before he 'marries' another one.
"Anyway, as I said, it was a routine meeting; despite his undoubted intelligence, he was struggling with the subject, partly I suspected because it wasn't something where he could memorize basic facts and parrot them back without some kind of interpretation, and I agreed that he could drop it in favor of archaeology, which was more related to history and which he felt would be of more value to him. I didn't point out to him that in archaeology he'd be expected to do a fair amount of extrapolating possible facts from the clues found, but I did expect him to turn up a few months down the line wanting to drop archaeology 'because he'd realized it wouldn't be as useful to him as he'd hoped'.
"I'm sorry he's been killed - but all in all, I can't say it came as a big surprise. My guess is that he simply seduced the wrong girl, and paid the price."
Blair glanced at Jim, who nodded 'go ahead'. "There's a little more to it than that," he said. "We've managed to keep the genitals thing out of the news up till now, but Tony Howard is the fourth murder victim to be found recently with his family jewels slashed."
Stoddard's jaw dropped. "The fourth? But that... that... that's... "
"Isn't it," Blair said wryly. "My first instinct was that it could have been a group rape, but there's too much disparity in the age and background of the victims. Jim's suggesting that the killer is choosing a few other victims at random to hide which one is his real target."
Stoddard thought about that for a moment before nodding. "That seems possible," he said. "And from what I saw of young Howard, he might just be that real target."
"Anyway," Blair went on, "Jim needs to check out the area where Howard's body was found. I'm sure Forensics has gone over everything thoroughly, but a sentinel can find things Forensics might miss - hell, I don't need to tell you that! - and Homicide doesn't have a sentinel."
"Perhaps it should," Stoddard muttered as Blair rose and walked over to stare out of the window.
"Possibly," Jim said. "And in an ideal world, it probably would have. CPD does already have three sentinels, though - the others are in Vice and Narcotics - and that's at least one more than a lot of the bigger towns have."
"I know," Stoddard said. "It's just... I sometimes get frustrated at how few sentinels there are. It's lucky not all guides actually want a sentinel; there are far more guides around than sentinels. And there are so many places where having a sentinel would be a tremendous advantage." He dropped his voice to the merest whisper. "Though it's just as well that sentinels are mostly totally law-abiding."
Jim nodded as their eyes met, both thinking about Alicia, the woman with five heightened senses who had so damaged Blair's confidence, and neither willing to say 'law-abiding' or 'not law-abiding' loud enough for Blair to hear.
If Blair brought the subject up, fair enough; but neither of them was willing to do so in his presence. His short acquaintance with her had damaged him for far too long.
Stoddard pushed himself upright. "I'll take you over to where Howard was found."
For once the weather had been kind; it hadn't rained since Howard's body had been found, and even without the chalk outline Jim would have found the place with no difficulty. Even Blair could see the bloodstain, although most of the blood had soaked into the ground.
Stoddard watched, fascinated, as Jim knelt beside the stain, examining it before he rose and began to walk around in a slowly widening oval. Although he had been involved in sentinel-guide studies for nearly forty years, he had rarely had the opportunity to watch a partnered sentinel in action; he split his attention between Jim and Blair, noting how the guide's attention was firmly fixed on his sentinel. He had no doubt that the mental link between them was thrumming as Blair kept Jim grounded, allowing the sentinel to work without fear of zoning out.
At last Jim stopped, shaking his head. "There have been too many people moving around here. I can't pick up anything specific." He sounded more than a little dispirited. "And since there's nothing here, it'll be a total waste of time trying to check any of the older scenes. I can't even be sure whether Howard was killed here, or somewhere else and his body brought here to be dumped."
"We're just going to have to depend on the forensic report, then," Blair said encouragingly, and Stoddard registered that, too, as the guide keeping his sentinel on track.
"Yes," Jim said, but his eyes were still fixed on the bloodstained ground. "Going by the amount of blood, though, I'm inclined to think he was killed here."
"His body was found yesterday morning... but at nineteen, wouldn't he have been in university accommodation?" Blair asked. "Didn't anyone report him missing at lights out?"
"He's - he was - a resident of Cascade," Stoddard replied. "His parents died last year in a car accident. Car didn't make a bend on a mountain road, went over a four hundred foot drop."
"I remember reading about that," Blair said.
"The car was so badly damaged it was impossible to determine whether it was driver error or a mechanical failure, or even just an automatic swerve to miss something like a deer in the middle of the road, and the insurance companies had to pay up," Stoddard went on, "and even with just half of the insurance money, our Tony was a fairly wealthy young man. He has a younger sister - I think she's fourteen or fifteen - and their parents' wills split everything between them. They inherited, and share - shared - the family house."
"And even if she phoned the police when he didn't arrive home, someone needs to be missing for twenty-four hours before the police can act, even if the person making the call is under age," Jim said. "I can understand the need for such a rule - how many teenagers stay out really late, don't get home till long after their parents start worrying about them? But there are cases like this one where it wouldn't be a false alarm, where an early alert might save a life."
On their way back to the station, Jim said, "I think we should have a word with the various relatives. I know Homicide will have questioned them and the reports will be on my desk by now, but I'd rather form my own opinion."
"And you're more likely to know if anyone is lying," Blair agreed. "Do you want to visit the relatives before you read the reports, or after?"
"Before," Jim decided.
Blair called in to the PD and got the addresses, and Jim headed for the nearest - Mr. and Mrs. Armstrong, parents of the dead teacher.
The elderly man who opened the door to them looked as if it wouldn't take much to destroy him. Jim took one look at him and glanced at Blair; Blair promptly moved the step forward that put him in front. "Mr. Armstrong?" Even in the two words, Jim could recognize the calming tone in his voice,
Armstrong's response to it was immediate. He seemed to relax. "Yes."
Blair held up his ID. "Blair Sandburg, and this is Detective Ellison, Major Crimes. We're sorry to bother you, but we've been newly assigned to investigate your son's death. I know you've already spoken to detectives from Homicide, but would you mind very much answering some more questions?"
Armstrong looked at him for a moment, then took a step back. "Come in," he said. "I'll answer anything you like, but please, don't ask my wife anything. She's... she's in a very fragile state. David was our only child, a late baby, born after she'd had several miscarriages, and losing him, especially like this... "
Blair nodded understandingly. "I shouldn't think we'll need to bother her," he said as Armstrong showed them into a kitchen that clearly doubled as a dining room.
"Is... is there any reason Major Crimes is investigating this now, rather than Homicide? Isn't that unusual?" Armstrong asked.
"It happens occasionally. We haven't been told why, but it's probably because it's now being classed as the work of a serial killer and Detective Ellison's solve rate is very high."
"Don't put yourself down, Chief," Jim said. "Our solve rate is high. I may be more experienced, but your insight is just as important as mine."
"A serial killer? But... "
"There was a fourth death under similar circumstances yesterday," Blair said.
"Four? You mean there have been four men killed and... and - "
"Yes. We think it's possible that at least three were killed to hide which victim was the main target. It's highly unlikely that all four were deliberately targeted; your son was probably in the wrong place at the wrong time - not that that's any comfort, I know."
"The wrong place? He was found in his classroom!" It was an anguished cry.
"Well... the wrong time. Can you tell us - did David have an established routine? Did he always arrive home from work at the same time, if he went out in the evening was it always the same time and the same evening?"
"His time home varied a little - he did some after-hours school activities, and if any of his pupils was having trouble understanding something, he'd arrange to give them some extra individual tutoring in the hour after the school closed. He didn't go out at night; he spent his evenings working on lesson plans, marking exercises. He was really dedicated to his work... "
"And the day he died? Can you remember if there was anything unusual about that day?" Blair asked gently.
"No," Armstrong replied. "It was an evening he'd arranged to give some tutoring to one of his pupils - I don't know which one. Well, his mother and I didn't know his pupils, so a name wouldn't have meant anything. I think it was one of the boys - David made a passing comment that 'he's struggling a bit' when he told us he'd be late that night. It must have happened after the boy left, because it was one of the cleaning staff who found him."
"If he had been attacked when the boy was there, I'd have expected the boy to have been killed as well, or else have told someone the next morning that 'someone came to see Mr. Armstrong, and he told me to go home'," Blair agreed. "What was his subject?"
"Math. He found it so easy, and I know that teachers who find their subject easy don't always understand that some pupils can have problems, but he was so sympathetic towards the ones who found it hard... always ready to help them... "
"That's the mark of a good teacher," Blair agreed.
"It would have been easy for us to spoil him, Detective Sandburg; but we were determined not to," Armstrong went on. "And I think we made a pretty good job of bringing him up. Everyone liked him - and nobody really likes a spoiled brat, do they?"
"No, nobody likes a spoiled brat," Blair agreed, "and spoiled brats don't normally understand anyone else's needs, just their own wants." He glanced at Jim, who nodded. "Well, that's given us a picture of David. Thank you. I don't think we'll need to bother you again."
"If we only knew why someone targeted him," Armstrong said. "Part of what's made it so hard is not knowing why."
"A serial killer is often fixated on something," Jim said quietly. "Anything. If we know what it is... I remember one case, years ago - the victims were all left-handed. The killer claimed that was a sign that their parents had made a pact with the devil, and he was just cleansing the world of their evil. If we can find out what this guy's trigger is, we're halfway to catching him."
As they returned to the truck, Jim said, "I can't see someone as helpful as Armstrong seems to have been doing anything that would lead to your 'honor killing'. Looks like I might have been right, and some of the victims were random, to hide the real target."
"I'm not sure," Blair murmured. "I know his father was probably stressing his good points, but he sounded almost too good to be true." He hesitated for a moment. "I know you're the detective, and I'm not trying to tell you your job, but I think, instead of going to see the other families, we should go to the school first, see what the other members of staff thought of him."
"After lunch," Jim said.
They stopped at a small diner for a quick lunch, then carried on, reaching Cascade High halfway through the mid-day break.
There they found much the same reaction; in general the other staff members had liked Armstrong, and if one or two were less than totally enthusiastic, possibly thinking he showed them up a bit by his conscientiousness, it was only Jim's senses that revealed it. A query about the boy Armstrong had been tutoring on the night he died came up blank; none of the teachers knew who it was. An appeal to his pupils, when they returned to their classrooms after the break, didn't help either. None of them admitted to being the student he had been tutoring the night he died.
Their next call was to Maureen Carter, widow of businessman Jack Carter. Once again Blair did the talking.
"Hello, Mrs. Carter. Blair Sandburg, Major Crimes, and this is my partner, Detective Ellison. Sorry to bother you, but we've been newly assigned to investigate your husband's death. Could you answer a few questions for us?"
She made no attempt to invite them in. "I told the other detectives - I don't know anything. Jack didn't have any enemies... "
"That's the problem, Ma'am. There have been three other similar deaths, and at least two of these victims were well-liked and, like your husband, had no enemies that Homicide was able to discover. Nor could they find any links between the victims."
"Links?" She looked puzzled.
"They were all people of very different backgrounds who, as far as we know, had never met or had anything in common," Blair explained.
"A recent murder victim was a teacher at Cascade High, wasn't he? Is he one of the ones... "
"Well... it's not really a link, but Jack had met him. Violet - our daughter - was in one of his classes last year. Jack and I never normally bothered going to parent-teacher conferences - there didn't seem to be any point. Violet is a hard worker and doing well at school, we didn't have any reason to speak to any of her teachers - but Jack decided to go to the last one before the summer break, and when he came back he mentioned having spoken to Mr. Armstrong. Apparently Mr. Armstrong was very complimentary about Violet's work."
"Mmm... You're right, it's not really a link," Blair agreed.
"You don't want to speak to Violet, do you? Because she's at school right now - "
"I imagine she was quite traumatized by everything," Blair said. "I don't think we need to upset her further."
"You know, that's the odd thing," Mrs. Carter said. "She's been very... very... I suppose 'composed about it all' would be the best way to describe it. Of course, it's possible she's putting a brave face on it so as not to upset me, but... She never cried, not even when the police came and told us... "
Blair heard Jim draw in a quick breath, and knew he had detected something in Mrs. Carter's voice that he hadn't caught.
"That seems most likely," he told her. "I was about that age when my grandmother died, and I felt I had to stay strong for my mother. She told me later - much later - that for a while she'd almost hated me for it, for seeming not to grieve.
"Anyway, I'm sorry we had to bother you again."
She nodded. "It's all right. I just hope you find whoever it was... and that he'll tell you why... "
"That's what Mr. Armstrong's parents want to know, too. Why. We'll certainly do our best to find out."
They heard the door close behind them as they walked back to the truck.
"What did you get from that?" Blair asked once they were on their way to Carter's office.
"I'm... not sure," Jim said. "I'd say something is worrying her. Could be just that she's afraid that Violet might totally break if she's pressured at all... "
"You don't believe that, do you?"
"No. But I can't imagine what else could be worrying her."
They finished the journey to Carter's office in silence.
Although Jack Carter himself had been dead for close on a month, his widow had inherited his share of the business, and had chosen to leave the running of it in the hands of his partner, Ronald Carter, who also happened to be his cousin.
Shown into Ronald's office by an elderly secretary, Jim and Blair were greeted by a man who looked to be in his late thirties, a little younger than his dead cousin.
"Detective Ellison. Have you any news for us? About Jack, I mean."
Jim shook his head. "Sandburg and I were just given the case this morning. We're trying to get a picture of the victims to add our own impression to that of the Homicide detectives who did the initial investigation. We understand that Mr. Jack Carter was well-liked?"
"Yes. He was a very understanding employer, and respected by our business rivals. I was the junior partner, and I'm trying to continue running the business as he would have done."
"What about his family?" Jim asked.
"He and his wife were devoted to each other. She was shattered by his death, especially... " He raised his hands in what was almost a shrug. "She's trying to get her life back, but it's not easy for her."
"And his daughter?"
Ronald hesitated. "He loved her very much... but... "
"Sometimes I wondered if she loved him."
Remembering how Mrs. Carter had commented that Violet had never cried, Jim asked, "What made you think that?"
"She never seemed... well... comfortable any time he hugged her. And at the funeral... She was... I don't like to say happy, but I certainly don't think she was grieving."
"Was he strict with her?"
"No. I don't say she was spoiled - but he was pretty indulgent, though only up to a point. There was a line, and she knew it, knew where it was."
"Is there any chance that she was jealous? That she loved her mother, and resented sharing her with her father?" Blair asked.
Ronald looked thoughtful. "It's possible," he said.
"It's not a crime to be so devoted to one parent that someone resents sharing that parent with the other," Blair went on, "though it makes it very difficult when the better-loved parent dies."
Jim nodded his agreement, then said, "Thanks for your time, Mr. Carter. I don't think we'll need to bother you again."
Back in the truck, Jim said, "I think Carter said less than he might have done. He was quite quick to accept your suggestion that Violet was jealous, but I don't know that he was convinced. There was an underlying note in his voice... "
"As if he thought...?"
"I'm not sure - but I think that at some point we need to speak to Violet, find out why she 'wasn't comfortable' and 'wasn't grieving'. There's an implication there that I don't like. But for the moment, let's go on to see Vermont's family."
Vermont's Books was surprisingly large for an independent bookstore. On the opposite side of Cascade from the university, it wasn't one that Blair had ever patronized; he had a quick look around the nearer shelves as they waited for the two people standing at the counter to be served, and decided that while it did carry a good stock of books, it seemed to lean most heavily on popular novels, although Blair remembered the dead owner's reputation for getting any book that a customer might want. Service like that would engender loyalty, loyalty which it seemed carried over to the new owner, the dead man's son, John. As well as the two women waiting to pay for books, there were several people of both sexes browsing the shelves. Perhaps John followed his father's example and accepted orders for books he didn't normally carry.
As the second customer paid and left, Jim moved over quickly before anyone else could reach the counter. "Mr. Vermont?"
Jim held out his badge. "Detective Ellison, Major Crime. My colleague over there - " he nodded towards Blair, who, realizing that Jim had gone over to the counter, moved quickly to join him - "is Blair Sandburg. Could we have a quick word with you, or is this not a particularly convenient time? We could come back later - "
"Detective? Is this about... ?"
"Your father, yes. It seems now that it was the work of a serial killer. Homicide has passed the case on to us."
Vermont glanced at the customers still browsing the shelves. "I can talk now, but if someone comes over to be served - "
"It's your livelihood, and you'll need to serve them. Yes, we understand," Blair said.
"It won't take long," Jim went on. "I know you'll have been questioned already by someone from Homicide, and we'll see that report, but I'd like to format my own report as well.
"From all accounts, your father was well liked?"
"Yes," Vermont said. "I'd have said he didn't have an enemy in the world."
"Did you work with him here in the shop?"
"Since I was in my late twenties. I was never academic, didn't do too well at school, though it was more laziness than lack of ability - I knew the shop would be mine one day, maybe shared with my brother, and with a guaranteed livelihood I never worked particularly hard at school. After I left school, I went to work for Barnes & Noble to get experience in the bookselling business away from here. Ten years later, I came back here as junior partner. Dad didn't understand at first why I would want to go anywhere else, but he came round to the idea when he saw what I'd learned from working there. It would never have occurred to him, for example, to have a web page and sell by mail order. It's not a major part of our business yet, though I'm trying to expand it."
"Is it totally a family business?" Blair asked.
"Only insofar as it's totally family owned, and I work here most days. We always needed more staff than the family could provide, especially since neither of my sisters wanted to work in the shop. I think Dad hoped to change their minds, but no. Muriel was the studious one - she left Cascade to go to college on the East Coast. Daisy went into an office here, then after a few months applied for a transfer to a branch in Denver. I haven't heard from either of them for several years. The lawyers have been trying to find them since Dad died, because there was money left to both of them, so far without any luck. Oh - excuse me." He moved away from them to serve a customer, returning after two or three minutes.
While John Vermont's attention was on his customer, Jim murmured, "This guy is almost more garrulous than you, Chief."
"And that's good, right? We might learn a bit more about background, see if there's any possible reason why Vermont was targeted - and if he was that well liked, why did his daughters move away and lose touch?" He suddenly sounded serious.
"You picked up on that too," Jim said.
"And add that to Violet Carter's reaction to her father's death, and even the fact that whoever Armstrong was tutoring the evening he was killed never came forward... It could be coincidence, but... well... "
"Vermont's just finishing with his customer," Jim said.
Vermont rejoined them and promptly picked up where he left off. "Where was I... Yes. My brother came to work in the shop straight from school. He died just before I came back - in fact, that was why I came back when I did."
"He must have been very young," Jim said. "Was it an accident?"
"Yes, actually, it was. Tom was down in our stockroom. He'd gone up a ladder to fetch some books, and as far as we could tell, must have over-reached. The ladder slipped sideways and he fell awkwardly, hit his head on something and... " Vermont's voice broke. After a moment he went on. "Dad blamed himself for not using a system for the top shelves that would allow a ladder to be secured, and did put a safer system in a month or two later."
"Do you have family yourself? Do they work here?" Jim asked.
"My son does. He's worked here since he was twelve - came in on Saturdays to do some easy work for pocket money, mostly sorting books, then two years ago, when he was sixteen, we employed him full time. By then my daughter was twelve. I tried to interest her in doing the same thing, and she did come in for a few Saturdays, but after a couple of months she said she didn't want to do it after all, that she wasn't finding it interesting and she thought she'd really like to do something else with her life."
"So she's fourteen now?" Blair asked.
"Doing surprisingly well at school, too, considering our family history with education. She must take after her Aunt Muriel."
"Which school does she go to?" Blair made it sound like a totally casual, polite question.
"Cascade High." Vermont sighed. "One of her teachers there was killed recently."
"Mr. Armstrong. Did you know him at all, sir?" Jim asked.
"I'd met him at one or two PTA meetings. Nice guy, I thought. Jane liked him, but Harry finally admitted that he didn't. But then Harry never did like number work."
Jim and Blair glanced at each other. "We're investigating his death as well," Jim said carefully. "Do you think we could have a word with Harry? He's the first person we've heard of who didn't like the man."
"Sometimes a kid doesn't like a subject, though, because he doesn't like the teacher," Blair added. "Or it could just be a reaction to Mr. Armstrong expecting him to put some effort into a subject he didn't like. That's not uncommon. If there was any other reason, we'd be interested."
Vermont nodded, picked up one of the two phones at the side of the counter and pressed a button. Jim could hear the distant tinging of a phone, once, twice, three times before it was answered. "Yes, Dad?"
"Could you come up for a minute, son. There's someone here who'd like a word with you."
"Sure." There was a click as the phone was put down. A couple of minutes later a younger version of John Vermont appeared through a door behind the counter.
"Harry, this is Detective Ellison and Detective Sandburg - Excuse me, gentlemen, I have a customer."
As Vermont turned to serve the woman, Jim led Harry a little way from the counter, Blair following. At Jim's silent message, Blair said, "We're here because we're investigating your grandfather's death, but we're also investigating the death of Mr. Armstrong at Cascade High. Your father tells us you didn't like him?"
Harry licked his lips nervously, then said, "Will it sound terrible if I say it couldn't have happened to a more deserving guy?"
Blair gave a soundless whistle.
Harry carried on. "When I heard about it, I reckoned that someone had finally had the guts to tell his - or her - parents what was happening, and the father did something about it. Those intimate little one-on-one tutoring sessions?
"A and B students were safe, and so were the Ds and under who didn't care that they were doing badly... but the C-level students, especially the ones who tried hard... It was a pretty open secret among the students that there was tutoring all right, but it wasn't all in math. Boys or girls, it didn't make any difference to him. He had a sort of blackmail scheme going - say nothing, smile happily, and your marks would improve. Nobody dared say a word. Hell, I didn't care what mark I got and I didn't dare say openly that I didn't like him until I'd left school. Even then I only made a face any time he was mentioned at home. I thought he might have penalized Jane if I'd ever said anything openly."
"He was supposed to be tutoring someone the evening he was killed," Jim said. "We haven't been able to discover a name." Normally he wouldn't have said as much, but he was hoping for some kind of reaction.
"At a guess, the other students would cover for whoever it was in case it was an angry parent." Harry hesitated. "Detective... "
"We couldn't tell Dad why Jane didn't want to work here... she just said she didn't find it interesting... but... She told me. Down in the storeroom, the last day she was here..." He hesitated for a moment, then, speaking very quickly, carried on. "Ourgrandfathermolestedher." With that said, he seemed to relax slightly. "She was very careful after that never to be left alone with him."
"You're sure about that?"
Harry nodded. "Since then - sometimes I wonder if that was why Aunt Muriel and Aunt Daisy left. To get away from him. But - " He glanced over to where John Vermont was handing over a wrapped book to the customer. "Please - don't tell Dad."
"Thank you, Harry," Jim said. "I know telling us about all that couldn't have been easy for you. On top of the information we already have, it's given us something to think about. I'm afraid your Dad might have to be told, but if he is, he certainly doesn't need to know that we heard it from you."
"Thanks," Harry whispered.
Back in the truck, Jim and Blair looked at each other again.
"We really need to have a word with Violet Carter, don't we, but it's too late to go back to the school," Blair said.
"Yeah. We still have to see Howard's sister, too," Jim said.
"If she's a mid-teen, won't Social Services have taken charge of her? So we'll need to find out where she's been fostered."
"Probably. Okay, let's get back to the station. We can see how Homicide's reports mesh with what we've discovered already."
Once back at the PD, he pulled in to the garage and backed into his usual parking space. They took the elevator to Major Crime, and settled down to read the Homicide reports - quickly realizing they had already learned more than Homicide had discovered in the six weeks Detectives Muir and Scott had been dealing with the case.
"Not their fault," Blair murmured as Jim put down what was basically an empty report. The Homicide detectives had questioned Maureen and Ronald Carter, Don Armstrong and John Vermont, and had learned from them no more than the surface picture Jim and Blair had also been given. But Muir and Scott hadn't spoken to Harry Vermont or realized that two of the families had children who had been in one of Armstrong's classes. Neither had they registered Ronald Carter's unease when he spoke about his cousin's daughter, nor the odd note in Maureen Carter's voice when she mentioned her daughter.
"And how could they have missed hearing... " Jim muttered.
"Quite easily, and not because they weren't paying attention," Blair said. "I don't think that anyone but a sentinel would have been aware of that note in both their voices that spoke of a suspicion neither would want anyone to know had entered their minds."
"You were aware - "
"No, I wasn't. You heard a note in both their voices you weren't happy with, and you told me what you thought both times, after we were back in the truck."
Jim sighed. "According to Harry Vermont, his sister told him her grandfather molested her. He also said the students at Cascade High knew that Armstrong was probably molesting at least some of his students. Reading between the lines, I'd say the Carters suspect that dear Jack was... a little too affectionate with his daughter. That's three of the four.
"Now a fourth victim - Howard... It makes me wonder if he was taking advantage of his sister."
"Say you're right... who knew about all of them? Harry knew about two - his teacher and his grandfather, the two he interacted with. But he told us... If he'd killed them, would he have told us about them?" Blair asked.
"He might, to make himself look innocent," Jim said, "but I'd swear he didn't kill anyone."
"He didn't give off a killing vibe?" Despite the gravity of the case, Blair's voice took on a teasing note.
Jim glared at him. "His heartbeat was steady. He was nervous, probably afraid we wouldn't believe him - it's amazing how often kids think that adults won't believe them, which is hardly surprising because adults so often don't want to believe something like this - but he was definitely telling the truth as he knew it. No, we need to speak to Violet Carter and the Howard girl - Eli didn't mention her name, did he?"
"No. Still, it shouldn't be hard to find out where she is."
"We need to speak to both girls... but we can't just go to the school and ask to see Violet Carter or - do we know what school the Howard girl goes to?"
"No, but it wouldn't surprise me to discover it was Cascade High," Blair said.
"Unfortunately, because of their age, we can't just speak to either one without a parent or guardian present. That's going to make seeing, and getting the truth from, Violet difficult - "
" - because although she didn't say so outright, her mother didn't really want us to speak to her," Blair finished. "Might it be possible for us to see her at the school with a teacher present?"
"It might," Jim said doubtfully. "It would be pushing the boundaries of legality, but - "
"Teachers are in loco parentis during the school day," Blair suggested.
Jim looked at him, obviously tempted, before saying, "If there was no other option we could go that way, but if Mrs. Carter chose to make something of it, we'd be in trouble. Okay, as a sentinel-guide pair we're valuable, so it would probably be limited to a 'breach of regulations' notation on our record, but even so... "
"So later this evening we go back to see Mrs. Carter. and hope she'll let us speak to Violet?"
"I'm afraid so."
"If her father was... She mightn't want to say anything in front of her mother."
"Yes - but I'll know if she's covering up something."
Blair reached for the phone. "I'll contact Social Services," he said, "and get an address for the Howard girl. I wouldn't think they, or her foster parents, would object to our talking to her - since she's the only family member for Howard, the only one who can tell us anything about him, apart from what Eli said."
"And if her brother was molesting her, there's nobody to be hurt by the knowledge. I think she'd tell us."
It only took a few minutes before Blair put the phone down with a satisfied look on his face. "Got it," he said. "Olivia Howard. An unusual case, they said. Because she is the actual owner of a house, she's being allowed to stay in her own home, with a live-in foster parent. For the moment it's a temporary one - a Mrs. Oswald. Olivia will be assigned someone permanent as soon as Social Services can get it organized. I've got the address here."
"Okay - will she be home from school yet?"
Blair glanced at his watch. "Probably. It's nearly five."
"Then let's go and have a word with her. We can go back to Mrs. Carter's after that."
They tidied their desks and headed off.
The Howard home was in a very middle class area. The house was surrounded by a fairly small garden, mostly grass that was badly in need of a cut. The narrow strip of flower garden that could be seen from the road held only a few flowers, half of them needing dead-headed. Neither Tony nor his sister had, it seemed, been interested in gardening and had simply ignored what was sometimes referred to as the 'outside room' of the house. It seemed likely that nothing had been done to it since their parents died. A small car was parked in the driveway.
Jim pulled in to park in front of the house and, with Blair close behind him, headed for the front door.
The woman who answered the door was clearly the temporary foster mother. She looked to be in her early forties - still young enough to be probably much the same age as the Howards' deceased mother, and Blair, at least, registered the sense of that.
"Hello," Blair said. "Mrs. Oswald? Blair Sandburg, with the Cascade PD." He held up his badge. "This is Detective Ellison. We've been assigned to investigate the death of Olivia's brother, and we wondered if it would be possible to have a word with Olivia? It's pure routine, to get an idea of his movements, his friends - anything that might help us."
"Come in," she said. "Yes, you can certainly speak to Olivia, but I don't think she'll be able to help you much. She and her brother - I don't think she liked him very much." She closed the door and paused. "Could be sibling rivalry, of course. Maybe their parents thought she was less important - a girl, and so much younger. Some parents are far too concerned with having a son to carry on the family name, and some... well, in my job I see a lot that I suppose you probably see too. Some parents consider the oldest child the most important, especially if it's a boy, and give him privileges the younger ones don't get. It can cause resentment. Though leaving everything, including the house, in equal shares to them... makes it hard to think that Mr. and Mrs. Howard were like that."
"It can be worse if the son is the youngest, coming after several girls." Blair seized the opportunity when she paused for breath to get a word in edgeways. "I've seen that once or twice."
Finally beginning to move down the hallway, "Oh, I know," Mrs. Oswald went on, almost as if he hadn't spoken but picking up on his statement. "It doesn't always happen, but... I usually foster children in my own home, which is why I'm only temporary here, and there have been times when I've had families of three or four siblings where the boy is the youngest and once or twice he's been nothing but a spoiled brat, with his sisters treating him as if he's a little god, doing everything for him - how they'd been brainwashed into seeing and treating him by their parents, of course. And it isn't doing him any favors. Once he has to get a job, make his own way, it's never easy for someone from that kind of background. Often they just can't cope." She opened a door. "Ah, Olivia, dear. There's someone here to see you."
The girl sitting at a table in the comfortable-looking living room looked up from the notebook in which she was writing with only mild curiosity on her face as Blair, closely followed by Jim, entered, Mrs. Oswald bringing up the rear.
"Hello, Olivia," Blair said, using his most reassuring voice. "We're from the police - I'm Blair and this is Detective Ellison."
"Hello." Her voice was very soft.
"This is pure routine." Blair spared a split second to wonder just how often he'd said that since becoming Jim's guide, and how often he would say it in future. "We're investigating your brother's death. I understand you reported him missing?"
"No?" Blair said, although he already knew it was true. "But if he didn't come home - "
"He sometimes stayed out all night." The was a flat monotony in her voice.
"Did he tell you when he was staying out?" Jim asked gently.
"No. He just arrived home some time the next day."
Jim and Blair glanced at each other. At nineteen, nearly twenty, Tony Howard would have been acknowledged as old enough to be his sister's guardian, but it didn't look as if he took that duty seriously - though that fitted what Eli Stoddard had said about the boy's character.
"Can you tell us where he went in the evenings?" Blair asked.
"You can't tell us because you don't know?"
"Do you know who his friends were?" Jim asked.
She glanced at him. "No. I... "
"Yes?" Blair encouraged after she'd remained silent for some seconds.
"I don't think he had any."
Blair took a deep breath. The timbre of his voice changed very slightly, and Jim recognized the tone of it as the one Blair used when he was encouraging Jim in the use of his senses. "Did you like him?"
Olivia shook her head.
"Were you glad when he stayed out at night?"
"Yes." Despite the monosyllable there was, for the first time, a touch of animation in her voice.
"Wasn't it just a little scary being here all on your own?"
Jim heard the faintest of gasps from Mrs. Oswald and knew that she was responding to the note in Blair's voice. Yet there was no objection she could make - it was, after all, a perfectly legitimate question and the way it was asked, with its apparent stress on 'scary', was quite legitimate when asked of someone young. Possibly Olivia was reaching an age when putting that sort of emphasis on the question could be considered condescending, since early teenagers usually considered themselves quite grown up, but she showed no sign of resenting it.
"It was better than having him here."
The sentinel in Jim, already alert, stiffened. Her voice was still monotonous, but was that hatred in it? Watching the subtleties in her body language, Jim knew that it was... and knew that their suspicions about Howard's treatment of his sister were undoubtedly correct.
"He's dead, Olivia." Blair's voice had changed to reassuring. "You don't have to be afraid of him any longer. What did he do to you?"
The gentleness in his voice broke her. She burst into tears. Blair glanced at Mrs. Oswald and gestured her forward, knowing that a man trying to offer comfort would probably be inappropriate.
Mrs. Oswald gathered Olivia in her arms and rocked her gently, murmuring softly to her. Jim chose not to listen.
Blair moved over. "I'd say that's confirmed," he said softly.
Jim nodded. "But we still have to get her to actually say it."
"Whoever killed Howard probably did this child more of a favor than he did any of the others," Jim went on grimly. "We still have to find and arrest him, but you have no idea how tempted I am - " He broke off, reluctant to admit it.
" - to turn a blind eye? Yeah. The others that we know of at least had other family. This poor kid had nobody but her molester."
It took several minutes, but the wild sobbing finally dwindled to a few hiccupping sobs. Over Olivia's head, Mrs. Oswald looked at them.
"Ask her," Blair mouthed.
"What did Tony do to you, dear?"
"He... he... He started coming to my room at night just after I was ten, getting into bed with me, and... and... Once, maybe twice a week. I didn't know what he was doing at first. I didn't like it, but he said I'd get into trouble if I told anyone, so I didn't. Once we started sex education at school I knew... Then after our parents died it was every night except when I had my period, and that's when he went out.
"He... I think my parents were maybe beginning to suspect something, and I think he realized that and did something to the car the day they crashed. He didn't actually say so, but the look on his face when the police came to tell us... Mom's sister is an invalid, living in a hospice, and they did that drive regularly to visit her. Dad knew the road well, knew all the dangerous places. He'd driven it in all sorts of weather."
"Oh, my dear... " Mrs. Oswald raised her head to look at Blair. "You knew?"
"We suspected," Blair said quietly. "And seriously, it's better for Olivia to have told us. We - or you, as her caregiver - can arrange for her to get counseling."
Mrs. Oswald nodded. "I'll see to it," she said.
"There's just one last thing," Jim said. "What school does Olivia go to?"
"Cascade High," Mrs. Oswald said.
Jim looked at Blair, who moved forward again. "Olivia," he said. "Was Mr. Armstrong one of your teachers?"
For a moment he thought she wasn't going to answer, then she said, "Yes."
"Did you like him?"
"We all had to say we did."
"Why was that?" From what Harry Vermont had said, Blair knew, but this would be confirmation.
"If we didn't he gave us lower marks and a bad report."
"Did he ever keep you at school late to tutor you?"
And this time she looked at him. "You... know what he did?"
"Someone told us earlier today," Blair said quietly.
"He wasn't as bad as Tony."
Blair took a deep breath, forcing control on himself. This poor kid, abused by a teacher as well as her brother, sounded almost grateful that Armstrong 'wasn't as bad as Tony'.
"Do you know Jane Vermont or Violet Carter?" he asked.
"We're friends," Olivia said.
"Did Mr. Armstrong ever tutor them?"
"No. They're both good at math. But... "
"They knew what happened at those sessions. And they both told me that they knew what it was like."
"They knew? How did they know?"
The dam had burst. "Jane's grandfather - it only happened once, she said, she managed to avoid being alone with him after that. But Violet's father had been doing it to her since she was very small. She couldn't tell her Mom, she said - it would have broken her heart. But now - if you do - " She broke off.
No wonder Violet had 'felt uncomfortable' when her father hugged her, and 'hadn't grieved' when he died. And poor Mrs. Carter, who would now have to learn that the husband who had apparently been devoted to her had been abusing their daughter for years... although remembering that odd note in the woman's voice, Jim was fairly sure that she had at least suspected something. Had been afraid of her suspicions.
And John Vermont. And Armstrong's parents.
Those innocent relatives were victims, just as much as the abused teenagers.
Breaking the silence - "They all deserved to die," Olivia said. There was an oddly distant note in her voice, almost as if she was somewhere else. Almost as if someone else with a somewhat deeper, almost masculine voice was speaking, using her mouth, and the expression on her face was totally blank.
"Olivia?" Mrs. Oswald said.
"I've sent Olivia to sleep. I'm Oliver - Olivia's twin."
"Oliver. Was it you that killed them?" Blair asked.
"Yes. They deserved to die," Oliver repeated. "For a long time I wasn't strong enough to do anything to stop Tony, but when Armstrong started I got really angry, and that gave me the strength to act. He wasn't expecting one of his victims to fight," he added almost reminiscently.
"And the slashed genitals?" Jim asked.
"Something Olivia read a few months ago - that in some cultures anyone who was found guilty of a sexual crime had his genitals either cut off or mutilated. It seemed to be fitting. I'd have liked to deal with Tony next, but I knew it had to be some time when he wasn't in the house - "
"So while you were waiting, you decided to help Violet and Jane?"
"Well, they're Olivia's friends. I couldn't leave them like that when I was rescuing Olivia."
"The first chance I got. The first time he went somewhere at night after I knew I could take him on when there was nobody else around."
"Will there be more?" Blair asked.
"No," Oliver said. "Those were the only ones that involved Olivia or her friends, the only ones she knew about. She doesn't know what I did." He was silent for a moment, then went on, "Olivia doesn't need me now. I can go back into her memory."
"Into her memory?" Blair asked.
"I died when we were eight. I only live in her memory. This last few weeks I've become strong - strong enough to make Olivia go to sleep when I wanted to use her body. But now I'll waken her, and go back to sleep myself, living only in her memory... unless she ever needs me again."
"Oliver - "
There was no answer. After a moment Olivia blinked. " - find out who the killer was," she went on, continuing as if there had been no break, and her voice had returned to what seemed to be its normal pitch. "I suppose Mrs. Carter will have to know. Same with Jane - she didn't want to worry her parents." She sounded surprisingly mature where earlier she had sounded more childlike.
"Thank you, Olivia," Blair said. "You've been very helpful. Would... would it bother you if we never found out who killed Tony?"
She shook her head. "No. Whoever it was saved me - and Violet and Jane. And if you don't find him, Mrs. Carter need never know... or Mr. and Mrs. Vermont. They're all nice."
"Or Mr. Armstrong's parents. They're nice too. It would hurt them to know what their son had been doing," Blair said quietly.
Jim looked at Mrs. Oswald. She smiled and said, "Would it help to talk to someone about it, dear?"
Olivia nibbled her top lip. "I don't know... Maybe."
"I can arrange for you to see someone. If after a week or two you don't think it's helping you won't need to carry on - but I do think you should at least try."
"Not a man," Olivia said.
"Not a man," Mrs. Oswald agreed. "Now you carry on with your homework while I see Detectives Sandburg and Ellison out. I'll come straight back, if you want to talk to me."
"Goodbye, Olivia, and thanks," Blair said.
"Goodbye," Jim echoed.
"Goodbye," she whispered.
They followed Mrs. Oswald out.
In the hallway, Jim said quietly, "I don't think anyone needs to know about Oliver."
Mrs. Oswald nodded. "I agree," she said, equally quietly. "I might mention it to whoever counsels her, but that would immediately come under patient confidentiality." She hesitated. "You're not going to arrest Olivia?"
"No. It was quite clear to me that she was completely unaware of Oliver," Jim said.
"I was afraid you might think she was making it up to cover having killed Tony."
"I'm a sentinel, Mrs. Oswald." Jim said. "I could read her physiological response to everything that we said. She's genuinely not aware that she has an alter ego in Oliver or that he took over her body. He acted to save her, and knows he's not needed now. If someone threatens her again, he might - as he said - manifest again, but I don't think it's anything we need worry about."
"I'm glad. She's a nice child; I wouldn't mind being her permanent foster mother."
"Why not suggest that to Social Services?" Blair said. "Her own house could be let for the next four years, and it's still there for her when she's eighteen."
"That's a good idea," Mrs. Oswald said. "I'll suggest it."
It was getting late; they decided to go straight home. Time enough next day to persuade Simon that although they had solved the case, it would have to remain officially unsolved.
"It's a fairly typical reaction to abuse," Blair said, when they reported to Simon in the morning. "The situation is unbearable, so the victim retreats into his - her - own brain and lets a new personality deal with it. In this case, the new personality was that of a dead male twin - Olivia undoubtedly felt that if Oliver had lived, he would have defended her. And yes, I know that's an over simplification of the psychological reactions involved.
"Carter and Vermont died because Violet and Jane were Olivia's friends, and Violet in particular was in a similar situation. Olivia has no memory of the murders, because although her body did the killing, her own mind had gone to sleep."
"Blair's right," Jim said. "I was monitoring her body's responses all the time we were speaking to her. She genuinely doesn't know. She's just very, very grateful to whoever killed her brother and her abusive teacher."
Simon sighed. "So you're saying that this case will have to go cold?"
"Yes. Oliver said he wouldn't be killing anyone else, so when no more victims appear, the assumption will be that the killer has moved on. When we write up our report, it'll be without including Oliver's confession."
"After all, how can we arrest someone who's basically only a memory?" Blair asked.
"And there's no point in putting the families through the trauma of knowing that all four dead men were pedophiles - not when it would be impossible to get a conviction," Jim added. "At worst, Olivia would be declared mentally unbalanced, and committed for psychiatric treatment. As it is, her foster mother is going to see that she gets counseling for the abuse. That's all anyone could do."
"All right," Simon growled. "Go and write up your report. Officially you're still on this case, but it can be quietly mothballed. And then I want you to go and see Bert Gershwin. His furniture warehouse burned down last night, and a night watchman died in the fire... "