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Family Values -- Part 2
Copyright: Although the main characters in the following do bear a strong resemblance to a cute couple with whom we are all familiar, all the characters in this work of fiction are the product of my own imagination and are therefore copyright to me. For the rest of the disclaimers, please see the first part.
"Pull over and stop."
"What gives? The church?" Quinn looked out at the small, stone structure they were just approaching. A teenaged boy was assisting an elderly man with weeding a garden at the side of the building. Another teen was carefully trimming grass around the signboard that all churches seemed to maintain. Unlike its neighbour a couple of streets over, however, this church seemed to be trying for tolerance. At least, the message read, "Come now, and let us reason together, saith the LORD . . . Isaiah 1:18." Quinn looked up to find the churchs name. "Hmm, she said, "St Constantines."
Ariel slipped out of the car as soon as it rolled to a stop, then walked hesitantly over to the old man who was issuing some final instructions before getting slowly to his feet. "Dr Ferris?" She said, quietly.
"Eh?" His head came up, as he straightened slowly and painfully to his full height. "Oh, hello. I must confess, although you look familiar I cant quite come up with your name. Im afraid its a failing of mine."
"Theres no reason why you would remember me, actually, since I havent been here in many many years. I used to attend this church with my parents. James and Alys Pedersen. Im"
"Ariel Pedersen," he exclaimed, extending his hands to shake hers in a two-handed grip. "Ariel, of course! Silly of me to forget. Come in, come in! I was just going to get us all something to drink. Come in. And your friend too," he added as he noticed Quinn in the background.
"Truth be told," he said, as he escorted them in through the arched doorway and down the hall to his study, "these days I often have a better memory for names, places and events of days past than days present. Old age, I expect, but Ive always had trouble when I encounter someone out of context. My mind just seems to go on holiday. Here we are. Ill just get the boys their drinks and be right back. Please," he said, as he gestured to a couple of chairs in front of his desk, "have a seat."
The leather armchairs were old but serviceable and smelled faintly of leather conditioner. As Ariel sat down, she took in the rows of books on the overstuffed bookshelves, noting in surprise the works of several modern writers mixed in with the religious texts. Further visual explorations, however, were soon cut short by their host returning with a tray bearing a pitcher and three glasses.
"Lemonade," he said. "I hope youll join me?" glancing at each in turn. Receiving assent, he quickly filled three glasses, handed the women theirs and sank into the worn upholstered chair behind his desk. "So tell me," he said, "to what do I owe the pleasure of your company this morning?" adding, "I imagine you being in Parsonville has something to do with Scott Johnsons attempt on your life, Ariel."
"I guess its no secret, what happened. I understand the local net news gave it quite a bit of coverage," the writer replied, as she sipped the tart-sweet liquid.
"Oh yes, but you have to admit, it was covered pretty extensively in the city net news too." At their look of inquiry, he smiled and said "I love reading. Cant get enough of it. Books," gesturing at the shelves, "net news, cereal boxes, you name it. And the names of former parishioners tend to catch my eye. Youd be surprised what Ive read over the years." Turning to Quinn he continued "And I take it youre the young woman who kept him from achieving his objective."
"Oh, excuse me, Dr. Ferris. This is Quinn Thanatos. My partner." Ariel steeled herself for rejection, however politely framed, but the old man didnt bat an eye as he reached across the desk to shake Quinns hand.
"Ms Thanatos. A pleasure. Im beginning to recall some of the coverage, now, and I believe youre in . . . security?"
"Yes sir. Thats correct."
"Good. It was fortunate you were able to turn the tables on him. I hate to think what might have happened, otherwise . . . " The old man shivered slightly. "But on to other matters. Im delighted youve dropped by, but I assume it wasnt just to renew old acquaintances, hmmmm?"
"No, youre right, it wasnt." Ariel paused to organize what she was going to say next. "Were here, in Parsonville that is, well, I guess because I have to know why he did it, what made him the way he is. And were also here because my niece disappeared a couple of years ago when other young women were going missing, and although they say she ran away theres been some question about it and, well . . ."
"Were trying to find out all we can," interjected Quinn, "because if Katie was murdered, we want to see whoever killed her brought to justice."
"A tall order. A tall order indeed," rumbled the old man. "But what made you come by here? Although the churches in Parsonville talk to each other and pretty much get along, weve never had any meaningful dialogue with the Johnsons church. The congregation is polite to the rest of us but they pretty much keep to themselves, unless theyre proselytizing that is."
"But youre just a couple of blocks apart," exclaimed Quinn. "No joint church suppers? No picnics on that great front lawn of theirs? No mutual fundraising efforts?"
The old man chuckled. "Forgive me, Ms. Thanatos, but thats not the culture of churches. Were polite to each other but thats usually where it stops. Not that I wouldnt mind some joint efforts. They know how to raise funds! Theyre working night and day to clear the Johnsons debt incurred to get Scott out on bail, and my sources tell me that theyre well on the way after only a few weeks."
"Do you know Donna Johnson?" asked Quinn, curious. "I mean, you cant not know who she is, living in this town and all, but since she and her congregation keep to themselves so much, have you talked with her?"
"You mean, since she was a parishioner here?" At the look of surprise on the security consultants face, he added. "Oh yes, when the world was young and I was younger, she also accompanied her parents to St Constantines. Truth be told, the only thing I remember about her now was the disapproving look that she wore most of the time when I would look out at the congregation from the pulpit. Im afraid that my messages met with some resistance in that quarter. "
"Most of the time? Surely youd say something she would agree with."
"Well," the old man rubbed his cheek, "I believe God wants us to love one another. Martin Luther King Jr. said Everyone is somebody because they are a child of God. God created us all, and therefore we are all brothers and sisters. I dont think Donna Johnson either subscribes to, or has ever believed the second part of that. And since I usually get around to that pretty frequently in my little talks to the congregation, I dont think she found much to take away from here. She had left the congregation by the time she married Blake Johnson so I havent discussed it with her in recent memory, if at all, but I would say that her mind hasnt changed."
Quinn was about to ask another question when a knock on the open door interrupted them. All turned to discover one of the teenagers, who had been working on the grounds, shifting from foot to foot. "Uh scuse me. Weve got the weeding done and Ms Arthurs cars not working right again so she asked me if Id drive her around to deliver the food, so if its alright with you, well go now."
"Ok, fine Malcolm, and thank you and Jack for your help." Then, as the young man was turning to leave, added. "Oh, one final thing, did you check the buckets? I havent had a chance yet today."
"Yessir. We emptied them all and put em back, but unless it rains again I dont think well get any more water in em."
"Ok. Right enough and thank you again." Turning back to his visitors, he said, "Those boys pitch in and help, when they can, thank goodness. And theyre just two of many. We may have a small congregation but weve got some good volunteers."
"Buckets? Whats this about buckets?" said Ariel.
"Oh, when we have a heavy rain, as we did yesterday, we tend to get some water leaking in. Were raising funds for a new roof, but it takes time."
"Whats the food for? Meals on Wheels?" asked Quinn.
"Yup. Were one of the participating churches."
"Does Donnas church participate too?" asked Ariel.
"They used to, but its supposed to be non-denominational. They were slipping pamphlets and so forth about their beliefs in with the food and they wouldnt stop, so eventually they were dropped from the list of providers."
"They use ever opportunity to proselytize?"
"Every single one. And its worked. They are the fastest growing congregation around."
"I suppose," mused Ariel, "that in times of trouble people want to blame their problems on someone else, and you cant very well do that in a church that says, no matter how different our cultures, we are all just brothers and sisters."
Vanessa grinned and set her coffee cup back in its saucer. "He sounds like quite a guy."
"He impressed me, I have to say," said Quinn, as she slouched in her chair and stretched her legs out under the table. They were in the dining room, had just finished another Dawn Jameson lunch extraordinaire, and were recounting the mornings highs and lows.
"Did he have a chance to tell you about their literacy program?" asked Dawn? "Theyve helped a lot of people to improve their reading and writing skills."
"Thats my mom. Always the English teacher," interjected Tim, with a grin.
"Hush you!" she exclaimed and pretended to hit him with a soup spoon. "That way they can get better jobs."
"He mentioned it briefly," responded Quinn, "but he seemed to be much more interested in getting Ariels autograph on a copy of Midnight Madness."
"A copy! He owns a copy!? Has he read it??" sputtered Dawn, after hastily swallowing a mouthful of coffee.
"Actually," said the writer, "I was so startled that I asked him that very question. He said that yes he had, although he found some parts were far too racy his word, not mine. But he added that in his opinion it was an important addition to modern literature." Quinn noted that the tips of Ariels ears turned pink as she added, with what Quinn considered a goofy but loveable grin, "that was nice."
"Yeah, it was," agreed the security consultant, warmly.
"So whats next boss?" queried Vanessa. "If you want us to talk to other people the police interviewed, Tim and I can continue with that. Or is there something else youve got in mind?"
"Lets see if we can identify some more people on the list and then maybe split them up between us," said Quinn. "Have you got it there?"
"Sure thing," the red head said as she dug into her jeans pocket then handed the paper over. Turning to Dawn, she added, "Dawn, Tim said you might be able to help with this too."
"Oh, sure," said the middle-aged woman, who stood up from the table then leaned over Quinns shoulder. "Let me see. Oh, yes, I do see some people here I recognize. Tim, please get the telephone book, because Im pretty sure not all the addresses are correct . . . "
"You ok?" Quinn asked concerned.
Ariel glanced over her shoulder from her position in front of a transparent solarium wall. "Oh yeah. Just needed a breather." The writer had slipped out when the others began working on the list, and after a few seconds Quinn had excused herself to follow.
The security consultant moved over behind her lover, slipped her arms around her and gently kissed her neck. The smaller woman was quiet, but Quinn sensed a sadness there. After a few seconds she said, "I wish the motel had a pool. You havent done your laps since you got here. Maybe we should go running tomorrow."
Ariel smiled. "Yeah, maybe."
"Yeah. We could enlist your friend, Andy. Just as long as he doesnt show up at our motel room door at 6:00 am. No sooner than 6:30, Id say."
The writer smiled again briefly but said nothing.
Quinn tightened her hold while she racked her brain for some other conversational gambit. She suspected that Ariel had had high hopes they would uncover something useful on this trip. What they had learned so far was interesting, but basically background. Oh sure, they had answered some questions, filled in some holes, but really knew very little more than what they had started out with. Mind you, that was the way investigations usually went. Plain old tedious foot work. You worked a thread loose here and there, until you could stand back and see how they played a part in the whole.
The writer stirred in her arms. "Im ok, Quinn, really. Just every so often . . . I just want it all over."
"Yup. Me too." The security consultant could see birds fluttering in the trees outside. It occurred to her that living in the city you forgot that birds didnt just come in four types: pigeon, sparrow, crow and gull.
"We should get back to work."
"Uh huh." Neither moved.
"Were never going to find out more if we dont get started."
"Oh," said Quinn, as she pressed small kisses to the writers neck and temple. "On that I beg to differ. It stands to reason that if Vanessa and Tim go out and ask more questions, theyll turn up more. In fact, I bet if we just stood here long enough, theyd solve the whole thing. You up for that?"
The writer chuckled wryly. "Yeah, until I fell down from exhaustion."
Quinn grinned and pressed a final kiss to Ariels neck. "Hey, it was a plan. I never said it was a good plan."
"Speaking of plans, I think the planning session is finished. Wed better go get our half of the list," said the writer as she turned in Quinns arms.
"Umm, yeah. It does sound as if its breaking up in there. Ok, time to go back to work," said Quinn, and planted a quick kiss on the end of Ariels nose.
"Do that again, but slightly lower."
The security consultant gave her lover a sexy grin then complied in a leisurely fashion.
"Umm. On second thought, maybe we should forget the plan and just go back to the motel."
"Just as soon as we talk to a few people first."
"Slavedriver," but said with a grin. Ariel slipped her arm around Quinns waist as they strolled back into the house proper. "Have I told you recently how much I love you?"
"Not in the last five minutes, no."
"Then I better fix that. I love you."
Quinn smiled down at the smaller woman. "Likewise."
"Jill? Uh, Jill Murray?"
"Yes? Youre Tim Jameson, arent you?"
"Yeah, thats right. This is my friend Vanessa Alighieri. Could we talk to you for a couple of minutes? Its about Katie Johnson."
"Katie? Has someone heard from her?" The young woman looked eagerly from Tim to Vanessa and back again.
"Uh, No. Um, is there somewhere we can go to talk?" asked Tim, as he and Vanessa noted the young womans shoulders slump in disappointment.
"Sure. Um," she said, looking around. "I get a break in about 10 or 15 minutes. Why dont you go over to the Jiffy Home Cookin and Ill see you there shortly?"
Vanessa settled into a chair against the wall, sipped her coffee and watched the door. The café currently held a uniformed cop eating a sandwich at a table nearby, a young couple with a toddler in a high chair, and two elderly ladies taking a break from shopping the bags piled around their chairs irrefutable evidence to share a pot of tea. While she waited for Tim to join her, Vanessa listened to the ubiquitous piped in music, realizing, when it was interrupted for a commercial break, that it was broadcast from the local radio station.
"I hope she can tell us something," said Tim, as he slid into an adjoining chair. "Wanta donut?" he said, as he proffered a brown bag.
"Thanks, but Im still stuffed from that fabulous lunch. As far as Jill Murray goes, dont get your hopes up. She looked pretty disappointed that we had nothing to tell her."
"Yeah." Tims head was bent as he stirred his coffee. "It would be nice if we could break this case wide open."
Vanessa smiled tolerantly. "Unfortunately, that usually only happens in movies."
Tim lifted his head and chuckled wryly. "Yeah, I know. But Id still like it." Biting into an apple fritter he said, "I think I see her crossing the street. Ill go see if I can get her a coffee."
"Buttering up the witnesses?"
Vanessa smiled as Tim made his way across the café to the door and opened it for their latest informant. If Jill and Katie had been the same age, that would make her about 17 or 18, about two years younger than Tim. By the way Tim was chatting with her as he paid for her coffee, he evidently found her appealing. Maybe cute brunettes were his type. The two crossed the floor and Tim pulled out a chair for Jill. Vanessa chuckled to herself as she smiled at their witness. Tim was obviously trying to impress.
"I just filled Jill in about what were doing, Vanessa." Turning to the younger woman he added "we were in the store this morning looking for you."
"I wondered. Sherry said some people came in to see me and would come back this afternoon. I dont work the morning shift," she said, glancing sideways at Tim.
"So Jill," said Vanessa, taking over the questioning, "you were a friend of Katie Johnson?"
"Yes. I am."
"Am? So you dont believe shes dead." The security operative hunched forward over her coffee cup.
"No! How could she be? She ran away!"
The red head glanced at her notes. "The police interviewed you on the day she was reported missing. They thought she was the latest victim of the person killing young women in the area, and you hadnt talked to her since before she was reported missing. Theres only the one interview on record with you, Jill, and in it you didnt sound nearly so positive that she was alive as you do now, so whats changed?"
"Because I did talk to her a day later! Shes not dead! Shes not!"
In her peripheral vision, Vanessa saw Tim lean forward, but she ignored him as she continued: "You talked to her? After the police talked to you?"
"Yeah. She called me"
"When?" interrupted the security operative.
"The next day. Id heard some girls at school saying that the police thought at first that shed been killed but then decided that shed run away. And she called me just after I got home from school, so I know shes ok."
"What can you tell us about the call? How did she sound? Where was she calling from? And what did she say?"
"Um, well, it was really quick. She said she couldnt talk long. She didnt tell me much really. She just said that something bad had happened and she had to get away from home really fast. And that shed call me again. But she never did." Jills face reflected her unhappiness.
"Where was she calling from, Jill. Do you know?" asked Tim, repeating Vanessas earlier question.
"I dont know, but it sounded like she was somewhere public."
"What made you think so?" asked Vanessa.
"Well, you know, when people call you from public places theres background noise. I had to ask her to repeat stuff a couple of times because it drowned her out."
"What a lot of people talking, cars, loud machinery what?"
"Uh, I heard a siren, it was far away though, and there was some talking that was pretty loud, but it was the announcements that kept drowning her out, although I couldnt tell what they were saying."
"Announcements? Like on a PA in an airport or a bus or train station?"
"Yeah, it couldve been."
"Ok. Good. Now, can you remember what she said?" Vanessa held her breath and was conscious that Tim seemed to be holding his as well.
The young woman wrinkled her brow in thought. "She just said that something bad happened, that no one at home would have believed her, and that she had to get away because she was afraid if she didnt shed be killed."
"She didnt give any more details?" The security operative leaned over further and looked directly into the young womans eyes. "This is very important, Jill. Youre probably the last person who spoke with her before she actually disappeared. Can you remember anything else that she said, or anything about the announcements you heard? Anything at all?"
"Oh, the announcements werent clear at all, so I got no idea what they were about. She said she had only a minute or so to talk but told me not to worry and said that she was in the city and shed call again. But she never did."
"Yeah." Jill seemed very young as she twisted her cup and stared down into its depths. "We had this, well, fantasy, I guess." She paused and then looked up at Vanessa. "Wed go to the city, break into show biz, be discovered, you know," she added, self-consciously.
"Was Katie active in the drama club or was she a musician or something? What would she have tried to get into if she went to the city?" asked Vanessa, hoping for a lead.
"Active in the drama club? Are you kidding? With a mother like hers she wasnt allowed to do anything like that. She just wanted to, you know? She could do accents and stuff like that. But her mother didnt like her doing it and she would never have let her do anything in public."
"What was her relationship with her mother?" probed Vanessa.
"Katie couldnt do anything to please her, no matter how hard she tried. Yeah, and Scott, who did all sorts of things, couldnt do anything wrong. With him it was always somebody elses fault."
"She told you about things that Scott did?" interjected Tim again.
A nod. "Yeah. The stuff she knew about. She didnt know much, but from the stuff she told me, I dont know how he got away with it. I mean, I know his mother runs interference for him, but I just dont understand how he does it."
"Good actor," said Vanessa, grimly. "Plus people want to believe you are what you appear to be."
"Yeah, I guess. But hes got so many people so completely fooled! Katie said even his girlfriend didnt seem to know what he was like."
"He has a girlfriend? Do you know who she is?" asked Vanessa.
"Yeah. Jan . . . Jan . . . . I cant remember her last name." Looking hopefully at Tim, she added: "Tall, long blonde hair. She was a cheerleader."
Tim frowned in concentration, then his face cleared as he said "Jan Haygood. I know where she lives, Vanessa."
"I think that shes likely our next witness," she responded, then added "Is there anything else you can tell us, Jill? Any little thing at all might help us find her."
"No." The young woman slowly shook her head. "I cant think of anything else."
"Ok. Thanks, Jill. If you think of anything else, give Tim or his mom a call. Tim . . . "
"Heres the number," said Tim as he proffered a paper napkin on which he had hastily scribbled his home number. "Call any time."
"Ok," Jill whispered. "Find her, ok?"
"Well be in touch if we learn anything," assured Vanessa.
Quinn and Ariel headed up Main Street at a brisk walk. Well, actually, Quinn was walking, Ariel was hurrying to keep up with her.
"The hardware store is up here?"
"It is if they havent moved it. Hey Quinn, slow down a little."
"What? Oh, sorry Love." The tall woman turned to look at her companion as they continued walking, adding, "Just want to get our half of the interview list completed so we can get on to other activities. Get my drift?" The question was accompanied by a leer and an exaggerated wink.
"Im sure half of Main Street gets it too. What"
"Oops, sorry!" said Quinn, whipping her head around. But the woman coming out of the bakery, and with whom Quinn had just collided, was not looking at her, but staring at her blond companion. Who was staring back.
"Donna," breathed Ariel, while Quinn did a doubletake, looking from one woman to the other.
"Ariel. You have your nerve coming back here."
"You think so? I guess when people try to murder me I get intensely curious why."
Donna drew breath to frame a rejoinder, but what she said didnt interest Quinn nearly as much as how she said it. At first glance Donna Johnson seemed nothing like Ariel Pedersen. Yet, there was a . . . similarity . . . that screamed blood relationship. Donna was paler, older, skinnier, and sharper featured than Ariel, but she was indisputably her sister. Quinn noted the false smile and concerned tone that Donna switched on as she began to speak. But Goddess! Take away the preachy quality in Donnas voice and they even sounded alike.
"I pray for you, Ariel. Everyday. I ask God to lead you back to the ways of the righteous, and away from the perversions that youve embraced."
"Still the sparkling conversationalist, Donna."
The other woman ignored the sarcastic response as if Ariel hadnt said a word. "All you need to do, Ariel, is repent. Its not too late to come to God. Let yourself feel his love. Once you do, youll never look back. I guarantee it!"
"Yeah, and, if I repented, said Ariel, stressing the word, "Scott would see to it that I had no time to backslide!"
Now pity tinged the reply. "Oh Ariel, you wrong him so! How can you continue to believe these terrible things about Scott? He befriended you! He wanted the best for you. But, like Judas, you turned on him!"
"Wow," said Ariel, "a new definition of betrayal calling the police after Ive just been threatened with death in my own home."
"The only one who came to harm that day was Scott! Between you and your . . . your whore!"
"You must be talking about me," smiled Quinn, engagingly, as she slipped her arm around Ariels waist, "but I have to clarify that she only pays for security services. The rest of it she gets for free. And my undivided attention."
Revulsion flashed across Donna Johnsons face as she drew breath to respond but just then a new voice cut in from behind her.
"Afternoon Miz Johnson. Need a hand?"
Quinn noted the speaker, dressed in grease stained jeans and t-shirt, who stepped up to Donnas side from the growing crowd of bystanders. He was around 40 and looked reasonably fit. Could be trouble, she concluded.
"Thank you, Earl. These are the two causing all the trouble for my dear son, Scott. Not satisfied with telling false tales about him there, they had to come here and spread their hate."
"Looks maybe like they need a little help decidin to go back where they come from," the man said in a menacing tone, and took a step toward the two women.
"This is a private conversation," said Quinn, moving in front of Ariel. "No need for anyone else to get involved."
"The lady wants you to leave town, and By GAWD youre gonna do it," the man responded, as he suddenly swung at Quinn.
Earl might have survived a few bar brawls, Quinn decided, but he was strictly amateur. Easily slipping under the fist, the security consultant countered with a hard boot to the crotch and, as the man bent over clutching himself in shock and pain, a blow to the nose that left him bleeding badly. Quinn could see that, for now at least, Earl was out of the picture. Glancing quickly from side to side she readied herself for more.
"Ow! You bitch!"
Quinn whirled at the exclamation, but Ariel had already taken care of another man, who, she guessed, had tried to grab the writer. Quinn noted with approval that Ariel now had her back to the shops outer wall, as the would be attacker hunched over holding his ribs and attempted to melt back into the crowd.
The blond woman flashed her lover a look that was equal parts surprise and glee and said, "Sharp elbows!"
Quinn had no time to comment because another local, figuring she was distracted, tried to land a kidney blow. Quinn caught a flash of movement in her peripheral vision and trained reflexes took over. Her attacker quickly found himself heading toward the shop wall, with which he collided at considerable speed. Quinn didnt think hed prove a further problem for at least a few minutes. She was looking out for the next attack when a new voice cut through the increasing crowd noise.
"All right folks, shows over. Break it up. Come on, break it up now and move along." The police chief emerged from behind Donna, who had stepped back, and shouldered his way through the growing crowd, which was slow to disperse. "Move along now or Im going to have to start arresting people."
"If youre gonna rest people, Chief, start with them two perverts. Look what they did to me and Earl and Tyler," snarled the man who had tried to attack Ariel.
"You got what you deserved, Jimmy. And the same with Earl and Tyler. If these two were of a mind to, they could bring charges against you all." Then, glancing at Quinn and Ariel in turn, he continued, "but Id like to think theyd spare me the paperwork."
"Suits," said Quinn. "Ariel?"
"Fine by me, " the other woman said, stepping forward.
"Good. Get moving Jimmy. And take Tyler and Earl with you. You might want to have Earls nose seen to. And maybe his nuts as well."
Watching the three men stagger off down the street, holding each other up, Quinn commented "If you were here long enough to know that Earl threw the first punch, you sure took your time reacting, Chief."
"Figured you could handle them," rumbled the chief. "At least thats what your pal Hank Walsh said. Said you could take just about anything that came at you. Thought Id see if he was right."
Quinn rounded on him. "Listen to me, you asshole," she hissed, "if its only me, fine. Stand back and enjoy the show. But if Ariels involved, youd better get your ass in gear pretty damn fast mister, or I will PERSONALLY feed it too you, piece by piece! You got me!?"
The police chief returned her glare calmly. "I got you."
Quinn, just inches from his face, held his eyes for a moment longer, then stepped back. "Alright. Fine. Now Ariel and I are going up the street to the hardware store to talk to the nice people inside. If you got an objection to that youd better say it now."
"Nope. None whatsoever," he responded, mildly. Turning to Donna Johnston, he nodded and said "Maam, can I escort you to your car?"
"Thank you Chief," said the older woman, "but I can manage," and, with a swift parting glance at Ariel, she turned and walked down the street.
Glancing at Ariel the chief smiled and said, "have a nice day," then turning to Quinn he added, "and stay out of trouble," as he, too, set off down the street.
Quinn watched him go. "Asshole," she muttered.
"So show me what you did," said Dawn, after Ariel finished describing their encounter with Donna, and her minions.
"Ok. Well, he had his arms all over me, like this," said Ariel, pretending to engulf someone with her arms, "and he was trying to drag me away," she continued, as she backed up a couple of steps. "However, Quinn has dinned into me how an elbow fast and hard can hurt a surprising amount. So I did it." Ariel, now playing her own part, drove her elbow backward with considerable force. "And he just crumpled. It HAD to hurt. I almost felt sorry for him."
"Save your pity," said Quinn, entering the solarium. "That meatball deserved a lot worse than that, and would have gotten it, if Id got my hands on him."
"Did you talk to Hank?" asked Ariel, as she took a seat.
Quinn sat down next to her. "Yeah, I talked to Hank. Apparently, he and the chief had quite a conversation about us after our visit to the cop shop on Monday. From what Hank said, he and the chief got along like old buddies."
"Whats his take on him? Does Hank think hes trying to snow us?" asked Ariel.
"No. He thinks hes on the up and up, or at least thats what he says," responded Quinn, as she snagged a leaf, dropped by one of the solarium's many plants, off the floor and proceeded to shred it.
"What about Marly Bennett, after all that? And why was she on the list again? Ive lost track," admitted Dawn.
"Well, she works at the hardware store alright, and she was there when we finally got there, but she couldnt tell us anything." At Dawns questioning glance she added: "She had been the last person one of the other murdered girls had talked to before she disappeared, but she couldnt remember anything different about that day, or in general, for that matter, so shes pretty much a dead end." Quinn dumped the remains of the leaf on the floor and suddenly stood up." Damn it!" she exclaimed, beginning to pace, "I really wish wed get a break in this case!"
"Maybe we just did."
The three women looked up, startled, to see Vanessa and Tim entering from the door into the house proper.
"Jill Murray had a call from Katie after she was reported missing," continued Vanessa, as they walked in and pulled up seats at the table.
"You mean shes not dead?!" exclaimed Ariel, hunching forward on her chair. "Then where is she?"
"Slow down, Babe. Let them tell it," said Quinn, patting Ariels shoulder as she too leaned forward. "What did you find out?" she added, to Vanessa.
"The call came the day after Katie was reported missing. From the background sounds, she was likely in a bus station. She said that something really bad had happened, no one at home would have believed her, and she was in fear for her life so she had gone to the city. Apparently she and Jill had fantasized about hitting it big in showbiz. She said shed call again, but she never did. Murray never told the police because by the time she got the call she had heard that Katie was officially considered a runaway."
"But this means shes alive?" said Ariel, hopefully.
"She was then," responded Vanessa, carefully.
Quinn mentally filled in what Vanessa had left unsaid: 16-year-old female from a strict family alone in the big city. If she were still alive . . . Quinn didnt want to think about how she would survive, mentally or physically.
"We have to get home," said Ariel, standing.
"Sweetheart. . . " began Quinn.
"No Quinn, I know what youre thinking. I can connect the dots too and I dont like the picture any more than you do. But if theres a chance in a million that if we get home today and begin searching for her it could make a difference, Im taking that chance.
Quinn nodded, acknowledging her lovers desire to take immediate action, but turned to Vanessa and Tim. "You guys talk to everyone on your list?"
"All we could find," said Vanessa. Some of them are no longer in town."
"Yeah, and we even talked to Scotts girlfriend," added Tim. "And she wasnt on the list. Jill told us about her."
"She wasnt much help, though," said Vanessa. "I got the feeling he sometimes hurt her physically, but I also got the feeling she would never admit to that in public."
"Yeah, Quinn," added Tim. "She was spooked but she wasnt saying anything."
Quinn blew out a breath. And came to a decision. "Ok then. Were getting background on Scott here, but nothing we couldnt get later. So, lets do it. It will take us a couple of hours to get cleared up here and to the airport . . . "
"Ill call for reservations," said Ariel, checking her watch. Then, turning to Dawn: "When this is over, well be back for a visit, I promise," she said.
The older woman smiled and hugged the writer. "Im counting on it. Now go do your best to make it all turn out right."
Kris Cavendish pushed back from the table, the picture of skepticism. Quinn looked at the other faces in the group and decided that her second in command was not the only one who thought they were grasping at straws. The early morning sunshine streaming in the windows of the offices of Thanatos Security did nothing to lighten the mood "I dont know, guys," said Kris. "With what youve got to go on, you might as well be searching for . . . I dont know . . . the Easter Bunny." Kris shrugged expressively. "And as far as that goes, old EB has distinctive ears. You cant even say that for this girl. And if she did arrive here, it was two years ago!"
Quinn mentally winced, but she agreed with Kriss assessment. But rather than turn to Ariel to see what effect Kriss blunt statement had had on her, the security consultant concentrated on finding words to frame a rejoinder. Before she could, however, the writer took that opportunity away from her.
"I realize that this is a very difficult thing that Im asking you all to do," Ariel said, quietly, watching her fingertip draw patterns on the table as she spoke. "I also realize it will take a lot of time, a lot of effort, and a lot of money." She looked up then, at each of them in turn around the table, but ending with Kris. "I also recognize that the chance of success is infinitesimal. But . . . " she paused, then continued, her voice gaining in volume until it filled the room. This girl is not just anybody to me. She is my niece, Katie, and I will do everything in my power, and spend whatever money is necessary, either to find her, or find out what happened to her. Are we clear on that?"
"Yes maam!" said Kris. "Ariel I didnt mean"
"I know you didnt, Kris. I know you were just trying to be realistic. Believe me, if we had anything else, wed be doing it. But this is the only lead weve found so far, so were going to follow it. Ok?"
At the nods around the table Quinn decided it was time to step in.
"We three discussed how to go about this on the plane trip back last night. Vanessa contacted Jill Murray, the friend that Katie called after she disappeared, and she confirmed that she had a few photos of Katie. Shes taking those to a photo store in Parsonville as we speak and having them scanned and sent here. Hopefully, some will be good enough so that we can pick the best from them. If not, well, well just have to get a graphic artist involved to see if they can be cleaned up. Jill said that if we have to go that route we should e-mail her the pics and shell tell us if the artist has got it right. Once we have photos, we hit the streets. I hope that that happens sometime this afternoon. In addition to all the regular spots youth agencies and so forth Im getting information on where homeless kids currently hang out. Well split the city into sectors and well go in pairs to check out each and every one of those locations. And any others anybody tells us about. I want us to talk to as many people as we can and hand out as many photos as we can. Ive also got a company ready to put up photos on every telephone pole and community billboard in the city, if necessary. Were gonna get out there and get this thing done. Ok?"
Nods and mumbled agreement greeted this. "Alright, Ive got a brief bio here. Nothing fancy, just her age, place and date of birth, likes and dislikes. That sort of stuff. You know the drill." Quinn took a big breath. "Ok. Any questions or suggestions?"
"Since she came to the city to get into show business we also maybe should check talent agents, amateur theatre groups too, no?" said John.
"Good point, John. Youre elected to assemble that list. Ill let you know how to break it down into sectors as soon as we see where the other places well be checking are located."
"Since it sounds as if hitting the streets wont happen for a few hours, I assume if weve got other assignments we should get on with them?" asked Jamie, one of the two new employees, and an ex-cop.
"Check with Kris on how she wants to run that, but, yeah, we should be working on our other contracts as much as we can while we do this.
"Yeah Jamie, you can go ahead, but keep in touch because well call you as soon as we have the photos and info ready," said Kris. Then she continued thoughtfully, "weve got some wiggle room now, but well have to have some bodies to guard the movie star starting . . . " she paused as she consulted a wall calendar, "Tuesday of next week."
"Tuesday? I thought it was next month," said Quinn.
"Monday is the first."
"Oh. Ok. We want this blitz completed before we have to get into that, so if the current assignment means you work extra time, youll be paid accordingly. Just everybody keep track on your time sheets. Ok? Thats it? Alright, then lets get to work."
But as Quin had warned, just because they caught a break, it didnt mean everything would now go their way. After what seemed like eons later, an exhaustive search had little to show for it.
Ariel slumped over the kitchen table, her head pillowed on folded arms. She was so-o-o tired! She had insisted on participating in the blitz, and so, with Quinn as her partner, they had spent two long days talking to every last person in their sector. At least it seemed that way. Social workers, street kids, pimps, talent agents, cops, and likely some robbers too. The thought made Ariel giggle.
"Boy, Hairy, I must really be tired if that makes me laugh," she said, as she lifted and cuddled the kitten who had thought it a good idea to stroll across her bowed shoulders.
She only hoped all the talking would bear fruit. Surely, surely somebody would have seen Katie? Would have noticed her? Quinn had warned the writer that even with the blitz they were mounting, it might all be for nothing. After two days in which no one had reported talking to anyone who was sure theyd seen her, Ariel was beginning to wonder. Please, she thought, please let me find her. Shes only a kid! She shouldnt have to pay for the sins of others. The sudden ringing of her cellphone interrupted this train of thought.
The voice was familiar but she just couldnt place it. "Yes, speaking."
"Ariel, its Roger Ferris."
"Oh! Dr. Ferris! How nice to hear from you."
The voice at the other end of the phone chuckled. "Well, I had to phone as soon as I received your very generous gift."
"Dont try to snow me my dear. Youre the only person Ive spoken to recently about our leaky roof, at least, who has the money to help out. So, when a bank draft for enough to fix the roof AND purchase some new computers for our literacy program was delivered late this afternoon by courier, I put two and two together. Thank you. Thank you from the bottom of my heart."
"Ah, well, Dr. Ferris, Im glad you received a donation," responded Ariel, uncomfortable with being thanked for her generosity.
The voice chuckled again. "Like that is it? Well, I wont embarrass you any more, my dear, except to say that youve just made a lot of people very happy, and we wont forget it. I hope that the next time youre in Parsonville youll drop by. Id like to have another chat, and therell be no mention of roofs. Not a one. I can guarantee it!"
Ariel smiled. "Thanks Dr. Ferris. Id like that. I hope that Quinn and I will be able to visit again soon."
"Alright then, Ill hold you to it." The old man chuckled. "Good bye."
"Good bye," responded Ariel, as she hung up.
"Dr. Ferris?" said Quinn, who had entered the room quietly.
"Huh! Oh, Quinn. You startled me. Uh, yeah, Dr. Ferris."
"Uh huh. Phoning about his bank draft, Ill bet."
"How did you . . . I mean, I dont know what youre talking about."
"Uh huh. A cool thing to do, Sweetie."
"I repeat, I dont know" Quinn joined with her to complete the denial, "what youre talking about."
"Yeah, yeah I know. I know NOTHING," Quinn added.
"Exactly, Sgt. Shultz.," chuckled Ariel. "Boy, I am really tired," she added, yawning hugely.
"Stand up," responded Quinn. When Ariel complied she scooped her up in her arms and started for the doorway.
"Carrying me up to bed?" asked the writer, as she laid her head on the security consultants broad shoulder.
"Yup, with a side trip to the bathtub to relax some of those aching muscles," responded Quinn, starting up the stairs and reflecting, as her thigh muscles protested, that she could use a good soak too.
"Knight errantry my specialty, Milady," said Quinn as she sidled her way into the bathroom, stopping next to the slowly filling tub. "Stand here for a sec while I take your clothes off."
"Oh, ok." Ariel obediently raised her arms as Quinn slipped off her t-shirt and then unfastened her bra. "Quinn?"
"Uh huh?" said Quinn, removing Ariels boots and starting to unbutton her jeans.
"I gave the money to St. Constantines because they needed it, you know. Not . . . not as some kind of a trade for Katie."
Quinn looked up, stood, then solemnly kissed Ariels forehead. Tilting the writers chin up so that they were eye to eye, a few inches apart, she said, "I know. Youre far more spiritually evolved than the kind of people who think they can make deals with gods."
Ariel stared at her for a few seconds, then said, "Spiritually evolved. Thats a very nice compliment. Thank you."
Quinn smiled, and gently kissed her lover. "Youre welcome. Ready for your bath?"
"Ok, just give me a sec," responded Quinn as she quickly shed her clothes, turned off the tap water, scooped up Ariel and stepped into the big old-fashioned tub.
"Ok," said Ariel, who leaned back against Quinn and promptly fell asleep.
The dark-haired woman chuckled softly as she enfolded the writer in her arms. "Sweet dreams, Babe," she murmured.
Day three back home, reflected Quinn, staring at the ceiling, while listening to the gentle whisper of the air conditioning. Would they get some kind of break today? Just do your job, hotshot, she admonished herself quickly. You know enough not to put all your eggs in one basket. While youre waiting for a break on the search for Katie, look at what else you found out in Parsonville to see if theres something you can pick at, and maybe unravel.
Her mind made up, Quinn checked the time. 6:15 am. Hmm. Pretty early. She drummed her fingers on the bed and thought about that. A lot of people were up and at em at 6:15. Firefighters, cops, to name two. Farmers, Nurses, Doctors. Hey, Im on a roll here, she thought. Hell, half the country is already at the breakfast table and here Im wondering if I should call them this early. Quinn checked the clock again: 6:20 glowed back at her. "Oh shit," she muttered, "time they were up anyway." Picking up the phone from the bedside table, she checked the number index and hit the speed dial.
One ring. Two rings. Three rings. Four . . . "Hello?" The voice sounded a little out of breath.
"Kelly? Hi, sorry to wake you but is Vanessa there?"
"Just a sec, Quinn."
Quinn curbed her impatience. While she waited, she congratulated herself that she had guessed right. Rather than call Vanessas cell, which the red head might have turned off, or ignored, shed played a hunch and dialed Kelly Sanchez, the PR liaison from McQuarrys, whom Vanessa had met on a whirlwind crosscountry tour promoting Ariels latest book, a couple of months previous. Kelly, she knew, would have to be at deaths door before she would let a phone go unanswered.
"This better be good, Quinn."
"Vanessa. Sorry I woke you"
"I wasnt sleeping."
"Oh," said Quinn, and then "Oh!" as the penny dropped.
"So I repeat, this better be good."
"Yeah. Ok, well I want to meet with you this morning to go over everything we learned in Parsonville, to see if theres something else we can follow up."
"Ill be there."
"Good, then Ill see you . . . then," said Quinn as she realized she was talking to a dial tone."
"Interrupt something?" asked a sleepy voice behind her.
"Apparently," said Quinn, turning around. Ariel was just rolling onto her back, stretching. Quinn noted with interest that this made the sheet, her only covering, slip downward, exposing nipples that contracted tantalizingly in the cool air.
"Quinn? Quinn! My eyes are up here Quinn!" said Ariel, as Quinn tore her gaze away from the entrancing sight. "Good morning," the writer continued. "Sleep well?" punctuating the inquiry with a noisy yawn.
"Cant complain. You?"
"Like a log. I cant remember much after you carried me out of the kitchen."
"Oh, well I had my way with you on every horizontal and some vertical surfaces between there and here. And then, of course there was the orgy in the bedroom . . ."
Ariel smiled sleepily. "In other words it was a typical evening."
"Thats about the size of it."
"Whats on tap for today?" The writers eyes were suddenly more watchful, as reality reasserted itself.
"Well, while I was running the bath last night, Kris called to say that everyone had reported in that they had completed their sectors. There were two or three possibles reported but nothing more definite. Well have to analyze it all today and then decide our next moves."
"And youre meeting with Vanessa about other possible leads."
"Thats about the size of it, yeah." After a pause, she added reassuringly, "Theres still stuff to pursue, Babe."
"Yeah." The writer fell silent, eyes focused in the middle distance. "Ok," she said after several long seconds, "None of that is getting accomplished if we stay here so its time to get moving." Suiting the action to the word, Ariel sat up on the edge of the bed, adding "Ill do my laps then get breakfast, ok?"
"Sounds good," said Quinn. "Today I think Ill join you in the pool," she added, as she watched Ariel get out of bed and pad, naked, toward the bathroom. I sure hope something comes of this, she said, but only to herself. I sure hope something does.
Ariel picked up a copy of the poster and read it again as she listened to Quinn and Vanessa. The two were painstakingly reviewing all the notes taken during the trip to Parsonville, assessing the value of what theyd been told, looking for discrepancies, and noting information that needed to be followed up.
As the writer listened, her eyes again reviewed the details of Katies disappearance, outlined on the poster. Shed lost track of how many times shed read it, but she knew she could recite it by heart. "HAVE YOU SEEN HER?" it asked. "Kathryn Christina Johnson, D.O.B. 08/01/32. Missing since 20/08/48. REWARD FOR INFORMATION." The rest of it detailed what Katie had been wearing when last seen, and where, given her likes and dislikes, she might be found. A life summed up in a poster, thought Ariel. It just wasnt fair.
Oh crap! she chastized herself in the next instant. Katie isnt dead until shes proven dead so get off this depressing train of thought! Think of something cheerful. Yeah, what? she responded, sarcastically. I dont know! Just something else. Well, thought Ariel, casting around for a subject, and finding one across the table, if Vanessa is still irritated by Quinns early morning phone call, she isnt showing it. As always, the security operative was the picture of professionalism. Ariel, smiling to herself, concluded that Kelly had probably played a major role in helping the tall red head forget her irritation.
"Alright. Whos on the list we never got to interview?" said Quinn, flipping a page in her notebook, and glancing up.
With an exasperated shake of her head the writer chided herself for her momentary lack of attention. At this discussion she had elected to remain in the background, but had still tried to follow everything closely. Normally, when Thanatos Security did a job that concerned her, she let Quinn take care of the details, asking only that the security consultant give her a run down after the fact. This time, however, she just couldnt carry on with everyday life while the investigation took its course. It was illogical, she knew, since Quinn and her people were trained investigators, but if, Goddess forbid, something were to be missed and she, by being on the spot, had the tiniest chance of catching it, shed take that chance. The alternative was unthinkable. A little like staying sober on a plane, shed admitted to herself wryly, in case she, whod never flown a plane in her life, was suddenly called upon to take the controls.
"Ok, so that makes eight people from the cops list of interviewees that we still need to track down," Quinn was saying, after comparing notes with Vanessa. "So, do you have an idea where the ones from your list are?"
"A general idea," responded the red head, leaning back in her chair and reviewing her notes.
The three women were gathered around Quinns former kitchen table in her apartment turned office. Ariel reflected that the vinyl-covered chairs werent exactly standard meeting room furniture, and she suddenly realized that it had never occurred to her before what Quinn did about formal meetings. I guess she just goes to their offices, she thought, glancing around at the room that was a weird hybrid of home and office. And Damn it all! Here Im off on a tangent again! Focus, Ariel! Focus. Luckily, when she tuned back in she discovered she hadnt missed much.
"moved to the west coast to work for a software developer, although which one I dont know. Uh, Paula McBean also moved to the west coast and is living in some womym only space. Brendan Bartley is currently serving time for burglary but Im not sure which institution. Jefferson Bennett joined the merchant marine and hasnt been seen in Parsonville since. And Tom Tolliver stole a car and scattered it, and himself, all across the transcontinental freeway about a year after the disappearances stopped."
"Um, who was the first one again?" asked Ariel, somewhat shamefaced.
"Thanks," responded the writer, who subsided into silence.
"Ok," said Quinn, anxious to pick up the pace. "Fill in the details on the ones youre unsure of. Joe can help you. Youre doing better than I am, anyway. I have three on my list, and they are . . . " she consulted her notes, " Jessie Martinez, John Wilson and Amelia Bluestein. And I havent got a freakin clue about any of them."
Vanessa smiled, and said, "Looks as if Joe is going to be busy."
"Yeah. Ok, lessee what else"
"Did I miss anything important?" asked Kris, as she slid into a seat.
"Yeah, we needed someone to go undercover at the jail so we elected you," said Quinn, without missing a beat. "What kept you?"
"Well someone has to make sure this place keeps ticking over," responded Kris, rolling her eyes theatrically." Becoming serious, she continued, "Potential new client wanted to discuss our defensive workplace strategy training."
"Good. Does he want a follow up?"
"She sounded reasonably sold, but shed like to observe a class first before booking her employees in for a session, so I invited her to attend the next one, which is Monday."
"Ok, good. So youll handle it?"
"Ill have a contract ready and waiting for her signature as soon as shes persuaded."
"Good. Ok. Now, about the search for Katie. Can you give us an update?"
Kris flipped open her notebook. "Yeah, although theres not much to report. We had two possibles but so far we have no positive follow ups. The first was a social worker in Johns sector who said the photo looked familiar. She didnt know the girls name, however, since the kid came into the youth shelter but didnt stick around long enough to tell anybody who she was. The worker talked to her for a couple of minutes, and told her to stay right there because she was going to get her something to eat, since the girl looked like she could use a good meal. Unfortunately, the worker got waylaid for a few minutes and when she got back, the kid was gone. She hasnt seen her since. The second sighting was reported to Jamie and Owen. A street kid, name of . . . " Kris flipped a page and quickly scanned her notes, "Jade, said it looked like a girl she knew named Casey, but the kid she told them might be able to give them more info was killed in a gun fight about six months ago and they couldnt find anyone who knew where Casey might be now."
"Hmm," said Quinn. "Ok, its not as much as we hoped but its not a complete dead end either. What about the postering company?"
"Postering." Responded Kris. "I ordered more posters yesterday just before they ran out and theyre hitting the streets with the new batch now. I talked to them before I came in here and they have their whole workforce on it. They expect to have a total of 10,000 up by the end of the day."
"OK. Thanks, Kris." Quinn blew out a breath, and looked around. "Any other questions? Comments? Ideas? Things we missed?"
"When did the social worker see this girl, Kris, do you know?" asked Ariel.
The other woman consulted her notebook. "John says she couldnt pin it down, but she judged it to be at least a year and a half ago."
"She must see a lot of homeless kids. Why did she remember this one?"
"John asked her that same question. Apparently she was pretty new on the job newly minted degree, out to save the world you know how it is. According to John, the worker said that what struck her about the kid was how lost and alone she looked. I guess this was the first one that really got to her." Kris shrugged apologetically, glanced quickly at her notes and up again. "Thats all I know, Ariel. Sorry."
"No, thats Ok. Thanks," responded the writer, lapsing into silence and lowering her head to scan the poster again.
"Anything else?" said Quinn, looking around. Receiving head shakes she continued "Ok, lets get on with it. Im going to phone Joe now and get him looking for Jessie, John and Amelia. Vanessa if youre stuck, you might as well give him your list at the same time. Kris "
"Wait a minute! There is something else!" the writer interrupted. "I just realized . . . " she paused, eyes on the poster.
The three women looked at the writer. "Ok, Sweetie," said Quinn, "what is it?"
"Follow up on Casey."
"Yeah, Ok. We were going to anyway . . . " said Quinn, raising an eyebrow as she waited for Ariel to continue.
"Kathryn Christina," parrotted Quinn, and then as comprehension dawned, "K . . . C . . . Shes going by her initials! Ok! I want as many bodies out on the street following this up as weve got available, Kris. Right now!"
"Im on it, but well have to do some shifting around. Come on and Ill show ya . . . " Kris continued talking as she and Quinn moved off to Kris office to consult the job schedule.
"Good catch," said Vanessa with a grin as she picked up a telephone to call Joe.
"Thanks," said Ariel, smiling slightly, as her eyes dropped again to the poster lying on the table. Two photos of Katie looked back: one smiling, the other of the teenager in an introspective mood. Ok, she thought. Now weve got something! Hang on Katie, or KC or whatever the hell youre calling yourself these days. Just hang on until we find you! Please.
"Ok Hank, thanks for the update." Quinn waited for the detectives rejoinder. "Yeah, I know. Thanks anyway." Quinn clicked off the phone, disgruntled. In the background, the infofeed chattered on about the latest reality show: Death Row Survivor. Quinn had tried working with, and without, the infofeed on and decided it didnt seem to matter.
Quinn looked down into a solemn, grey, furry face. "Hi Grise. Got any rabbits you can pull out of your hat on this one?"
"Mew," he responded, rubbing against her ankles, while looking up hopefully.
"It would be nice if you did," added the dark haired woman, immersed again in her notes on the kitchen table, "because I sure dont seem to be getting anywhere."
"MEW!" repeated the kitten, impatient at the humans stupidity.
"What!" yelled Quinn, at the half-grown cat now twining his way around her legs. "Do you want to go out?"
Responding to imperial feline command, she stood up, whereupon Grise immediately hurried over to the door that led to the deck and the garden beyond.
"Mew! Mew! Mew!" he added, while he waited for the slow-witted human to slide the door open.
"And good day to you too!" she replied, as he strolled through the door and sat down in a sunny patch on the deck. She could see that Hairy and Charlotte were already occupying choice sunny spots: Hairy in a lawn chair and Charlotte curled up in a flower pot nearby. Neither deigned to look at her, although both twitched ears her way.
"Cats!" muttered Quinn as she went back to her notes on the table. Today, she envied them. Free to nap all day, lots of food, pleasant surroundings, no responsibilities . . . Yeah, she admitted, its the no responsibilities part of it thats really getting to me today. Twenty-four hours and were no closer to KC than we were when Ariel figured out she was going by her initials.
It was like the kid had dropped off the face of the planet, mused Quinn. They found people who had seen Casey, or KC, if indeed they were one and the same, and Quinn was pretty sure they were, but no one had seen her recently. When the second blitz turned up nothing after several hours of pavement pounding, the thought arose again, unwelcome though it was, that they were too late, that although Katie had made it to the city, they hadnt found her in time, and that, somehow, she was now dead.
That had always been a possibility, although one that none of them wanted to dwell on. Yet, somewhere along the way it had to be faced and steps taken to determine if that were the case. Given the lack of success in finding Katie, Quinn was glad, in a perverse sort of way, that she had faced the necessity of checking this out early on, and had called Hank on Wednesday, the first day of the search. He had pulled strings to obtain files on all the unidentified female corpses found in the previous two years, and sent them to her. With a record of Ariels DNA, which Quinn kept on file, the private lab that Quinn used made comparisons between that and the DNA of the nameless victims.
Quinn had finally gotten a call from the lab on Friday afternoon, several hours after they had mounted the all out search for KC There were sighs of relief all around when the lab work showed that none of the nameless was related to Ariel.
But although these results brought some closure, at the same time they deepened the mystery. Quinn didnt want to think about one obvious explanation as to why no one had seen KC recently: she was dead but no one had yet found her body.
"Hi Babe," said Ariel as she entered the kitchen. "I was just going to make some tea. Join me?"
"Yeah, thanks Sweetie. It might jar something loose up here," said Quinn, thumping her knuckles on her temple, "so I could figure out some other way to go about this."
The security consultant tossed down her pen, slouched in her chair while stretching her legs out under the table, and folded her arms. "I just heard from Hank again, by the way. They have no record of Katie or KC or Casey anywhere in their system."
Ariel switched on the gas under the kettle, and crossed the kitchen to the table. "She hasnt been charged with anything?"
"Neither charged, nor convicted. Not even questioned on anything!" Quinn had picked up her pen, but threw it down again. "Crap! Where the hell is she? Why couldnt she shoplift or something, or pick a fight with another kid and get arrested for disturbing the peace? Why does this kid have to be so damned law abiding for Goddess sake!"
Ariel moved swiftly behind her and began to knead her shoulders. "Quinn, youve been at that without a break for hours. Its time to rest and recharge."
"But Ariel we have to keep picking at it if were going to get anywhere, weve"
Ariel leaned over and kissed Quinn into silence. "I know," she said, when she broke contact, "but its time to stand back for a bit. Get some rest. Do something different. You can take it up again tomorrow."
Quinn searched the writers eyes for a moment, then nodded. "Ok. Youre probably right. Ill take a breather."
"So," she continued as she swung around in her chair to watch Ariel cross back to the now whistling kettle, "you got something in mind instead?"
The writer was silent as she poured water over tea leaves. "Well," she said slowly, as she turned around and leaned back against the counter, "if I could trust you not to discuss the search for Katie all evening, I was thinking of asking over Kris and Michelle and Vanessa and Kelly for a barbecue. If you thought it was a good idea, that is. Kris and Vanessa wouldnt feel it was a command performance would they?" asked Ariel, making quotation marks in the air with her fingers. "Or Kelly either, for that matter. I dont want them to think that just because we invited them, they have to come. They may have other plans already, since it is short notice." The writer was frowning in thought as she poured two mugs, added milk and honey to hers, then brought both to the table and sat down. "I just thought, well we like them all, and since Michelle enjoys the pool and the kittens so much and neither Vanessa nor Kelly lives in a building with a pool, they might enjoy it too. So what do you say?"
Quinn sipped her tea, the hot liquid helping to focus her thoughts. " I think," she said slowly, "we ought to call them to see. If they could come over, Id like that."
"Ok, good. So whos going to call whom?" queried the writer.
Quinn dug a hand in a pocket of her jeans and came up with a quarter. "Flip ya?" she said, raising an eyebrow.
"Youre on," grinned the writer.
"Well at least your timing has improved, Quinn." The red head sounded amused. "What can I do ya for?"
"Well, Ariel and I wondered if you and Kelly would like to join us for a barbecue and a swim in the pool this evening. Maybe Michelle and Kris too if theyre available. Its short notice, I know. If youve got other plans or just want to relax at home dont worry, were fine with that."
"Sounds good Quinn, but let me check with Kelly." The writer only had time to cap her pen and resolutely avoid re-reading her notes as she gathered them up and paperclipped the bunch together before the red head returned. "Kelly says were free and clear and wed love to join you. What time should we turn up?"
"How about 5:30? Gives us some time to swim before we get to dinner?"
"Ok, Quinn. See you then."
Quinn was just putting the phone down when Ariel walked in. "Any luck?" she said.
"Vanessa and Kelly will be here at 5:30."
"Good! So will Kris and Michelle. So," she said, glancing around, mentally reviewing the menu, "I better start getting ready then."
"Can I help?"
Ariel turned and gave her a big sexy grin. "This is your lucky day, Sweetheart. Remember last week I said the barbecue could do with a good cleaning?"
"Me and my big mouth," said Quinn, in a resigned tone of voice. "Ok. Anything after that? Gotta keep me occupied or Im gonna start thinking again!" she added, only half humourously.
"Um, well get ready to tend bar outside, and then I guess . . . just stand around and look beautiful."
"Now that I can do," responded Quinn with a smirk, giving the writer a hug.
"Dont I know it!" chuckled Ariel.
"It was a book on wildlife, you know, globally." Kelly got more comfortable, cuddled up to Vanessa, as she settled into her story with a grin. "A huge, beautiful coffee table book. Photos every page. Full color. Expensive. Anyway, it had gone through every stage getting signed off. Editing and copy editing, fact checking and proof reading. Matching photos with credits and making sure they had clearances for them all. Everything you can imagine. All the "Is" dotted and "Ts" crossed. They ordered up a print run of 300,000. It was ticking along like clockwork until someone finally checked the cover proof. As an afterthought, really, since everybody and their uncle had approved the project all the way down the line." Kellys grin broadened. "The title was supposed to be "the Wildlife of Our World," but somehow it had become "The Wild life of Our Lord."
"Oh boy," said Ariel, laughing. "Ill bet there was hell to pay."
"You bet! agreed Kelly. "Heads rolled on that, I can assure you."
"And just how did you to come work for McQuarrys again?" asked Vanessa, with an arched eyebrow, while giving her lover a friendly nudge.
Kellys mirth-filled voice rose over the ensuing laughter. "I had nothing to do with it! Honest!" and she good naturedly shoved Vanessa in return.
"The devil is in the details," said Michelle, with a smile. "Old editing expression," she added at the look of incomprehension that crossed Kris face.
"Oh," the other woman immediately responded, with a broad grin: "and did it come from that old editor you used to date?"
Michelle looked down, smiling, as she ran an elegant finger around the rim of her wine glass. "Deirdre wasnt old, but she was certainly more . . . mature . . . . than my current inamorata," she added, widening the smile and turning it on Kris to deprive the words of their sting.
"Ooh! Mature! I think Ive just been insulted!" responded Kris, hoisting her beer bottle and taking a healthy gulp.
"Not at all Chèrie! Theres a time for fine wine and a time for hearty ale. From time to time I enjoy a delightful vintage," here she raised her wine glass to Quinn and Ariel, who were curled up in the loveseat across the deck, "but I definitely know how to appreciate the more . . . robust . . . pleasures." This last was addressed directly to Kris, whom she leaned over and kissed lingeringly.
"Speaking of drinking," said Quinn when the two finally broke apart, after some good natured ribbing, "can I get anyone something?"
"None for me Quinn," responded Kris. Turning to Michelle she added, "I hate to say it, Babe, but I think its time we were going."
"To get a room?" inquired Vanessa, innocently, tipping her glass to her lips and draining it, as the others chuckled.
Kris eyed her by the warm glow of the deck lighting. The moon, currently a sliver in the night sky, contributed to the ambience, but made not a whit of difference to the light level. "Vanessa, try to remember who hands out the dirty jobs at Thanatos Security, these days," she said meaningfully.
"Oops," responded an unrepentant, grinning red head.
"And speaking of jobs," said Kris, turning to Quinn. "Who do you want on the detail tomorrow?"
"Detail?" said Quinn, mystified.
"Tomorrow?" echoed Vanessa.
"Oh!" exclaimed Ariel. "I forgot to tell you!" All eyes swiveled to her, as she continued: "Sorry! I got a call about a month ago from the cat people."
"Call of the Cat People" mused Quinn. "Sounds like a movie title."
"Oh, be serious!" said Ariel with a grin, backhanding her lover across her belly. "You know who I mean! The people who rescued Charlotte and Grise."
"And they wanted . . . ?"
"They were having a fund raising thing in McEwen Park and asked if Id like to participate. Say a few words, you know, about the joy that rescued animals have brought to me, sign a few autographs. I couldnt see why not, and I was feeling a bit better after Scott . . . so anyway, I said yes. One of their members is an animal photographer. He came over one day . . . "
At Quinns narrowing eyes, the writer added, "You were busy so I just asked John to bodyguard me while he was here. Anyway, he took some photos of me with the terrible trio. They turned out pretty well too, although Grise was trying to struggle out of my arms at the time. It had slipped my mind that it was this Sunday, although I would have remembered when I checked my day timer."
"And how is it Kris knows and I dont?" asked Quinn.
"Ariel got the original call while she was in our office. I noted it on our calendar but forgot to mention it to you. Sorry, Boss."
"Me too, Quinn. Im sorry."
"Ok, well, no harm done, but after this, people, tell me stuff, ok?" Receiving contrite nods, she continued, "Ill escort you myself, obviously. And one more would be a good idea," looking inquiringly at her two operatives.
"Vanessa would be perfect," supplied Kris, helpfully, as she stood up.
"Yeah, you. Tall. Rangy. Far more intimidating than little old me," grinned Kris, mouthing silently, for Vanessas benefit only, "paybacks."
"Youre right," said Quinn.
"I am?" exclaimed Kris.
"Yeah. Tall is scarier. Might be more likely to keep off the opportunistic attacker. Particularly while this other thing is up in the air. Ok. Sorry Vanessa," said Quinn addressing her and Kelly, "but anything youve got planned tomorrow is going to have to be interrupted at . . . ?"
"Two to four oclock," supplied Ariel.
"No problem," said Kelly. "Vanessa and I will be there. I might even be able to arrange some publicity."
"At this late date?" exclaimed Quinn in awe. "If you do, youre the best P.R. liaison Ive ever met."
"Stand back and give me some room!" responded the small woman.
"Well Quinn," said Vanessa, slipping an arm around Kellys shoulders, "since were both going to be working tomorrow, I think Id better take the dynamo home now so shes ready to come out swinging tomorrow."
"Ok. Sorry again to break into your weekend."
"No problem. Ariels public appearances are usually entertaining," the red head replied with a grin at the writer, as she and Kelly stood to leave.
"They are?" said Kris, slipping an arm around Michelle, as they started to head inside so they could exit by the front entrance.
"Yeah. You know, most of them get around to the subject of sex sooner or later."
"I never noticed that, before," said Kris, feigning a serious demeanor. "Have you noticed that, Michelle?"
"Dont ask me, Chèrie. Ive only been to a few. But I must admit, with some of her fans, its a difficult subject to stay away from."
"In that case," replied Kris, "maybe Ariel needs to be guarded tomorrow by someone older and more experienced than Vanessa . . . "
"Older, maybe . . . " grinned Vanessa, roguishly.
"Hey!" the other woman exclaimed, "I think Ive just been insulted! Again!"
Quinn strolled around the back garden one more time, then locked, bolted and shuttered the deck door. Inside, she took a final tour of the downstairs, checking all the windows and switching off all the lights. Deciding to complete the security check, she made her way to the front door and assured herself that it was also secure, despite shutting and locking it less than ten minutes before. A street light outside showed her the time on the grandfather clock in the hall as she retraced her steps to the stairs.
Ariel was wrestling with sheets when Quinn entered the bedroom, the warm glow of the bedside lamps the only illumination. The security consultant noted with approval that the writer had tuned the info feed to the oldies program on the audio channel, and it was quietly playing one of her favourites.
I want, want you to kno-o-ow
Quinn added her rich alto to the groups perfectly balanced harmony.
"Oh! Quinn, you startled me," exclaimed the writer, who glanced at her lover then continued spreading out the king sized sheet.
"Sorry, thought you heard me," remarked the dark haired woman as she reached over the bed to help.
"Normally I would have, I guess, but. . ." Ariel trailed off, absorbed in her task.
Ive waited, waited so long
"Deep in thought?" asked Quinn as she snagged the sheet and shoved it down around a corner of the waterbed mattress.
"Yeah, I guess I was." Ariel pulled the sheet taut and pushed it down on her side of the bed.
"About anything in particular, or everything in general?" asked Quinn as she spread the top sheet.
"Oh, in general," responded Ariel, stuffing pillows into pillowcases. "Im glad everyone was able to make it here today. It took my mind off things too, for a while." Suddenly she straightened and exclaimed, "Oh, damn it! The kittens! I forgot to make sure they were all in!"
The writer started toward the door, but Quinn quickly reassured her. "All done. Grise was the only one still out, and I let him in just before I locked up the back. I checked on the other two before I came up and theyre curled up together in the lazyboy."
"Oh, thank you! Whew! I cant believe I didnt think of them sooner," exclaimed Ariel, trying and failing to stifle a yawn.
"Yeah, well, its way past 1:00 a.m." responded Quinn with a smile, as the song came to an end.
"And that was the Fleetwoods," the night dj whispered, "with Come Softly to Me. Its coming up on 1:30," she continued, "but the night is young, my friends, so dont go way, cause well be right back with a rare recording by We Five."
"1:30?" said Ariel. "I had no idea. I guess everybody had a good time then, since they stayed this late."
"Well, the pool, the kittens, your world famous marinated steak and grilled veggies, my free hand with the booze, whats not to like?" grinned Quinn, who finished by straightening the comforter and turning the sheet down. As she moved around the bed toward her lover, she was dimly aware that a public service announcement for a needle exchange program had ended, giving way to a womans powerful voice singing the haunting opening bars of the next selection.
There were hills,
The writer smiled lazily, as the taller woman wrapped her up in her arms and slid a teasing hand inside the unbuttoned shirt that Ariel had donned over her bikini. "Then I guess the question really is," said Ariel, looking up into Quinns eyes, "did you have a good time?"
"Yeah, I sure did. But I have to say, Im having an even better one now," murmured Quinn, nuzzling Ariel, while tugging one of the fastenings loose that kept the bottom half of the writers bikini in place. On the info feed, the vocalist was pleading,
Love me, not tomorrow,
"Ummm," Ariel agreed, feeling a shock of cool air. A second later it was followed by Quinns hands sliding teasingly over her skin.
The dark haired woman sprinkled light kisses over her lovers neck and confided, "Fresh sheets make me horny."
"Yeah. I know," responded the writer with a chuckle, as she surrendered herself to the other womans insistent stroking.
In the background, Quinn was dimly aware of the vocalist imploring,
Im askin you please,
As the song wound down, Quinn purred: "that bed is calling my name," and lifted Ariel up.
The momentary interruption briefly snapped the writer back to the here and now, but within seconds she had surrendered again to a haze of pleasure. Although Quinn was highly skilled at building tension, making every second an exquisite, delicious torture, this night, sensing Ariels need for release, she chose the direct approach, and soon, the writer lay panting, held securely in the arms of her dark lover.
While Quinn waited for Ariel to get her breathing under control, she listened idly to Tina Turner, promising,
I'm gonna wait till the midnight hour
When Ariels breathing settled, Quinn returned to their interrupted conversation. "You knew? About the sheets, I mean." she added.
"What?" the writer replayed the exchange in her mind. "Oh. Why do you think I changed the bed tonight?" she inquired, snuggling closer.
Quinn watched headlights splash the back wall of the bedroom as she thought about that. On the info feed, Tina had given way to some instrumental thing she couldnt identify. "Ok. So the sheet thing was . . . foreplay?" she asked, as a newly energized Ariel rolled her onto her back and began unbuttoning her shorts.
The blond woman grinned. "Up," she said.
Quinn obediently raised her hips allowing her lover to slip shorts and underwear down her legs.
But when she, in turn, reached for Ariels open shirt, the writer murmured, "Leave it on."
"Yeah. And yours too." The writer spared a quick glance up. "You gave me the idea," she added then started blazing a trail of vivid sensation down Quinns belly, with her lips tongue and teeth.
Quinn caught her breath. "Ummm. This mean Im your muse? I kinda like that," she added.
"I know," chuckled the writer as her tongue probed Quinns navel.
The night dj was promising that this was a night for opening the vaults, and the next one would be no exception. Her whispered tones were followed immediately by a show stopper from a cult film.
Our love is an old love baby, it's older than all our years.
Ariels warm breath on wet skin made Quinns abdominal muscles contract, and sent lightning surging through her nerve endings. The taller woman let her eyes close, giving herself over to pure pleasure. She wanted this, needed it. But when her lover paused, moved back up her body and pushed her t-shirt up over her breasts, Quinns eyes opened in surprise.
Ariel straddled her, her hips continuing to move ever so little, teasing her lover as she surveyed her hungrily. The dark haired woman caught her breath as their eyes met and something passed between them, equal parts carnal and sacred. In the background the vocalists smoky alto wove a compelling counterpoint:
Our paths have crossed and parted,
Quinn tore her gaze from Ariels, glanced down at her exposed breasts, then slowly up, and said with a small smirk, "You changing the rules on me?"
Ariel, breathing suspended by how erotic she found the sight, replied, "Bending them, maybe, but in a good cause," and leaned over to attack Quinns erect nipples.
Our love is a strong love baby we give it all and still receive
"Ooh, Babe," moaned the dark haired woman, "Youre so right."
She felt Ariel smile against her right breast, then release her nipple long enough to respond, "Oh yeah. I know that too."
All souls last forever so we need never fear goodbye
Sun filtered through the trees, bathing all in a soft, late summer afternoon glow. From what Quinn could tell, the fundraiser for . . . she glanced again at the sign . . . The Animal Rescue Volunteer League . . . was on the way to being a huge success. The crowds had come early, given generously (from what Quinn could tell) and stayed for the activities. In addition to the speeches in Quinns mind, Ariels had been a standout there had been face painting, games, food, and a chance to meet some of the rescued animals, including a pony and a small herd of goats. And thered been music.
Quinn didnt know where the band came from, but she was amused by their choices. Predictably, animals were the theme around which they had built their repertoire, so it didnt surprise her to hear snatches of songs such as that ancient standard, How Much is that Doggy, or Whats New Pussycat. She also identified Me and You and a Dog Named Boo, Yellow Bird, and dipped deep into her memory to peg Bird Dog, but was mystified as to why they also included The House of the Rising Sun, until she remembered that it had been a major hit for The Animals. Right now the four musicians were playing their rendition of Allycat, which had been a favourite of her grandmothers. Come to think of it, she mused, she still had the womans vinyl album somewhere in her collection, and made a mental note to dig it out.
Quinn pulled herself away from her plans to transfer the song to more modern media, and spared Kelly a glance, as she continued to survey the crowd. It was a mixture, alright: traditional familiesmom and dad and one or more children; untraditional families mom and mom or dad and dad and one or more children; single parents and their kids; singles; couples of all genders and sometimes groups. All ages, all colours. The one thing, seemingly, they had in common was a love of animals.
Quinn had been watching the passersby and Ariel simultaneously, while loitering near the ice cream stand at a little distance from the writer, who was talking to some TV people. Two of the local stations had apparently almost decided not to assign someone to get film of the event, on the theory that if youve seen one, youve seen em all, until Kelly had called that morning to tell them about Ariels presence. Film of, and a sound bite from the reclusive celebrity, Ariel Pedersen, was worth sending a news team to cover.
"Hiya Kelly. Howd it go?" Ariel had not wanted to present a picture of a celebrity under siege, so she had asked that only one bodyguard remain with her during the brief interviews. Quinn had flipped Vanessa for the duty, and lost.
"Like clockwork, as I expected. Ariel is just so good at them! Shes certainly one of the best on McQuarrys roster."
"That so?" said Quinn, glancing quickly at Kelly as she watched a couple of men under the trees across the way looking in Ariels direction. The two were dressed in long sleeved white shirts, ties, baggy, unpressed suit pants and each carried a black, leather bound book.
Kelly picked up on the men who had attracted Quinns attention and watched them as she continued: "Yeah. Some people, if theyre not talking about their work, tend to freeze up. Makes my job difficult. Thats not so with Ariel."
"Yeah?" said Quinn, who, followed by Kelly, began to walk casually toward Ariel, now chatting with two of the group organizers. Vanessa, next to her, was watching the crowd and Quinn could see that she, too, was aware of the men.
Quinn picked up the pace and cut the men off neatly, a few meters from the writer. Neither was more than 25, the security consultant judged, as she planted herself in front of Ariel, but both had the fire of fundamentalism in their eyes. They tried to dodge around her but a long arm shot out and blocked the man who appeared to be the leader. "You. Leave. Now." Quinn rumbled, in her deepest and most threatening voice, while she stared the man down.
"Out of my way, woman. We are here on a mission of salvation," then raising his voice he intoned, while trying to catch sight of the writer over Quinns shoulder, "Ariel Pedersen! Repent your sinful ways. Ask GAWD for forgiveness. It is not too late to cleave to him!"
"Shes not cleaving to anyone today so take your show on the road. Now!" said Quinn, turning up the volume. Quinn wasnt sure where the TV people were. She hoped they had gone back to their trucks and were not filming this, but if they were, well, so be it. She had to get these guys to back off, at least long enough for Vanessa to hustle Ariel to the car, which, she knew without turning around, was exactly what was happening.
"Thou harlot! Thou Jezebel!" Repent! Repent I say, for the good of your soul!" the man pontificated. A part of Quinns mind noted the badly ironed over-starched shirt and the bubbles of spit forming at the corners of his mouth, while she continued to keep herself between the men and Ariel.
"Oh stuff a so" but the retort was lost in the sudden roar of a heavy engine directly behind her, interspersed with a fusillade of what sounded like firecrackers. Quinn crouched and pivoted all in one motion, and then leaped aside, barely in time to escape being run down by a motorcycle thundering up behind her. The man in the saddle, if man it were, wore a helmet with a reflective surface, making him faceless. Quinn jumped to her feet, pulled her Glock from its quick release clip, and tried to draw a bead on him as he weaved his way through the crowd and then roared off across the lawn to the street beyond. But with all the people between them, she didnt dare squeeze off a shot. Seconds later he was out of sight. Quinn stared after him for a second, then her brain re-engaged. "Ariel!" she shouted, and turned to find her lover.
The Mark Five had been parked on a narrow park road about 15 meters behind the central stage. By the time the event got underway, a handful of vehicles that belonged to event organizers had been left along the same stretch of roadway.
"Ariel! Ariel!" Quinn yelled, as she advanced toward the car, checking in a 360 degree arc every few steps for more attackers. She could hear shouting and some screams from the crowd behind her, but no sounds came from the car, ahead. Goddess, please, she thought. Reaching the line of vehicles, Quinn crouched and proceeded carefully. As she made her way along, from car to car, the tang of gun powder teased her nose briefly, then dissipated. Soon she was at the last car before hers, a very old Suzuki-Volvo with an empty animal cage in the back. Still no sound. Quinn made one more brief visual sweep of the area while keeping her gun trained ahead, then crept noiselessly forward.
Looking along the length of the vehicle, she noted bullet holes toward the rear end, and could see shards of broken tail lights on the ground. Just as she was wondering what to do next, a faint sound caught her ear. A whisper of cloth.
"If somebodys there," she said, "you better come out now with your hands up while you still can."
There was a pause as brief as a second but as long as time, and then "Quinn?"
Oh thank you Goddess! "Yeah, its me. Dont shoot, Im coming around." Moving carefully, the dark haired woman stepped around the end of the Volvo, keeping the Glock trained where she could reasonably expect attackers to be.
"Oh Goddess, Quinn! Am I glad to see you!" said the writer, scrambling to her feet and rushing into the dark haired womans arms.
"Shusssh, its Ok. Its all over," she said, holding Ariel tightly. "Are you Ok?"
"Yeah. Im fine. Vanessa got me undercover just in time. Are you Ok?"
"Yeah, he tried to run me down but missed me." Quinn turned to the tall red head, who was holstering her gun as she uncoiled from the ground between the two vehicles. "How about you Vanessa?"
"Nothing I know of."
"Thank the Goddess," exclaimed Kelly who had arrived on the scene just as Vanessa started to get to her feet, and was currently holding her tight while checking feverishly for injuries.
"He came out of nowhere. Had he waited a second longer we wouldnt have had the cars to duck between. As it was, I just caught sight of him in time. Thank the Goddess he was a lousy shot! Although he did manage to do a number on both cars." She patted the hood of the Mark Five grimly. "Im afraid youll have to ride home with us and get this beast towed."
Quinn ran a finger over the damage. Several punctures marked the passage of bullets into the Mark Fives front end. "I think youre right," she said, "but before we can do that "
Ariel joined her in completing the sentence: "We have to call Hank."
"It had to be Scott," rumbled Quinn pacing up and down the living room.
The big man in the easy chair shrugged. "The m.o. has similarities to the message on the car at the museum. Cause a diversion, then strike. We did check on his location."
"And supposedly he was in the school library all afternoon. At least, we cant find anyone who can definitely say he wasnt there at the time of the attack."
"Its an easy alibi to set up," contributed Vanessa, leaning against the doorway. "Drop your books on a table, sit down for a while, leave, go in and out a couple of times, and youre a fixture. No one knows when youre actually there. Does he own a motorcycle?"
"Yup. Second hand Suzuki-Honda 1280. Supposedly it was stolen a couple of days ago. Hes been pestering the theft division about it ever since. And no, before you ask, no one at the park could positively identify the bike one way or the other. Two were convinced it was an S-H, but I had a couple of other guys swear it was a Harley. How about any of you?" Head shakes greeted the question. Walsh grunted.
"What about the two guys I was dealing with?" asked Quinn, leveling a glare at the detective. "Surely you got something out of them!"
"Brother Matthew and Brother Clifford," said Walsh, consulting his notes. "They go out proselytizing every weekend. They got a telephone call from someone claiming to be Brother Joshua, a member of their church "
"Which is?" interjected Quinn.
"The Church of the Holy Brethren."
"Figures," muttered Quinn. "Go on."
"Brother Joshua told them that the evil Jezebel, Ariel Pedersen, sorry Ms. Pedersen," he added, nodding at Ariel, who was seated on the couch beside Kelly.
"No problem, Detective. Ive been called a lot worse. Please go on."
"Ok. Uh, Ariel Pedersen was going to be speaking to a group in the park today, and that it would be a good opportunity to bring her back to God. So of course they went to the park."
"Of course," said Quinn testily. "And Brother Joshua says . . .?"
"Who is Ariel Pedersen?" Glancing at Ariel again, Walsh added, "he says hes never heard of you, and he didnt make that call, and I tend to believe him."
"So did you show him a photo of Scott? And what about the other two wingnuts?" snapped Quinn. "Did you show them a photo too? He must have gone to their church at least once to get their names and their telephone number."
"Yes to all, and no, none of the three can identify him. As for the telephone number, its posted on a bulletin board so that you can phone to report people who you think should have a visitation."
"Oh Dear Goddess!" exclaimed Quinn, running a hand through her hair, and pacing to the other end of the room.
"He likely used a disguise at the church," contributed Vanessa. "What about the other church members? Are you going to show the photo to them too?"
"Were getting a list of the members and well talk to them all. But dont hold your breath," responded Walsh, as he rubbed his eyes. "By the way," he added, "the event organizers told me that they announced Ms. Pedersens participation on the net news, so theres no leads we can follow there."
"Right," said Ariel. "if he was trying to find out about my public appearances, at least those that make the net news ahead of time, all hed have to do would be to use the search function every day or so to check for my name."
"Does he own a gun?" asked Kelly.
"None registered. I didnt expect any different," added the detective. "The gun used was small calibre, by the way."
"Ok," said Quinn, pacing back toward the detective. "At the moment we cant prove it was Scott. So maybe we can work back to him. What was the shooters intent? Ok, I know there were shots flying around, but was it the same as last time? Just to hell raise, or what?"
"Id say no, not this time," said Walsh, tapping his pen against his teeth. "I think he really intended to hurt people this time. We havent found all the bullets yet, but it would appear that he was deadly serious about injuring or killing Ms. Petersen. The number fired, the pattern, which was concentrated on about an 18-inch wide area, all point to him firing with intent.
"I agree," said Vanessa from the doorway. "He fired off several as he approached, then he slowed the machine a bit. Get a better shot, I guess. I threw Ariel down and covered her, then pulled my gun and fired a couple back. I might have hit the bike but I cant be sure. But whether I hit him or not, I think it kinda discouraged him because he took off again and fired a couple more shots as he passed the gap between the cars, but they came nowhere near us, probably because he was already riding like a bat out of hell. The whole thing probably didnt take more than . . . . Six to eight seconds, Id say."
"And he didnt fire at you," said Walsh, addressing Quinn.
"No. Not that Im aware of. He just seemed intent on running me down."
"Yeah." Tap, tap, tap. "Although we havent found them all yet, he seems to have fired the whole clip near the cars, which makes me think Ms. Pedersen was the target. Add in his haste, and it points to an amateur, not a professional hit, so that does point to Scott doing his own dirty work.
"Ok," said Quinn, "why now?" She turned and paced, head down, in the opposite direction, but suddenly paused and looked up. "Unless . . . " Turning quickly she met Ariels eyes. "The poster," they said together.
"Poster?" queried Hank Walsh.
Quinn made a go ahead gesture at Ariel, so the writer continued: "As you know, Detective, weve been looking for my niece. A postering company has just put 10,000 posters up on lampposts across the city."
Walsh sat forward and spoke before Ariel could continue. "Oh, yeah, now that you mention it, Ive seen it." He looked around at the circle of faces. "Hes afraid." He said. "She knows something that could harm him and he doesnt want her to have the chance to tell you."
"But isnt that kind of backward thinking?" asked Kelly. "Why would killing Ariel stop Katie from telling somebody else?"
"Its not necessarily backward," said Vanessa, brow wrinkled in thought. "He thinks that Ariel is the driving force behind the hunt for Katie, which she is. So he thinks that if he eliminates Ariel, the hunt for Katie will die too. And the alternative is to kill Katie, which he cant, because hed have to find her first."
"Sorry, but I dont follow," replied Kelly. "Why should Ariels death bring the hunt for Katie to an end?"
"Because, like usual, he hasnt thought far enough ahead," said Quinn. "He doesnt give us credit for adding two and two and making four." At Kellys continued expression of confusion, she went on: "He doesnt realize that we have a lot of the big picture already. He may not even know that Thanatos Security is involved in the poster thing. He may just think Ariel hired a poster company and had them put them up. If he kills her he thinks hes broken the link and that the hunt for Katie will fizzle out."
"You see, Ms. Sanchez," added Hank Walsh, "were dealing with someone who doesnt share his thoughts and feelings with anyone else, so he cant conceive of anyone who does. He only interacts with other people to manipulate them, so he doesnt understand that people can work together to get something done."
"Oh. Ok, I think I see." She looked around. "What a screwed up way of thinking."
"Tell me about it," said Quinn, disgustedly. Turning to Walsh, she said: "So what now? Other than guarding Ariel night and day, that is."
The big man shrugged. "Well keep pursuing leads, talk to the church members, that sort of thing. But unless we find the guys involved in the original drive-by, or your niece, Ms. Pedersen, were no closer to putting this thing to bed. Sorry, but thats about it."
"Its about what we expected. Isnt it Quinn?" said Ariel.
"Yeah, unfortunately." Quinn ran a hand through her hair again.
Walsh stood up. "Ill let you know if anything turns up."
"Alright," Quinn responded, distractedly, as she continued to chew the problem over. "Ill show you out."
"Ok," she said when she returned a minute later, "First things first. Well have to set a schedule to give you round the clock protection again, Love."
"Dont forget the movie star were bodyguarding starting the day after tomorrow," interjected Vanessa.
"Damn! Youre right. Ok, Ill have to work with Kris to see what shes already done on that front. Has she assigned you anything for Monday morning, Vanessa?"
"Ok. Ive got a couple of clients to see so Ill need you here at 8:30. Call Kris tomorrow and let her know what youre doing and why. Ill call her as soon as my meetings are done so we can go over the schedule."
"Ok, I guess that wraps it up," said Quinn. "Sorry guys," she added, addressing both Vanessa and Kelly, "I didnt mean for a two-hour assignment to drag on for six hours."
"No problem, Quinn. I wish . . ." Vanessa paused and shook her head a little. "Ah, you know what I wish," she said, quietly.
"Quinn patted her shoulder. "You and me both, Vanessa. If one of us had even just nicked him. . . Didnt happen, so we move on. And blow the son of a bitch to hell, next time."
"Your lips to the Goddess ear," said Kelly fiercely, as she and Vanessa departed.
Continued . . .
Copyright 2004, by Helen Smith email@example.com
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