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Family Values -- Part 3


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.


Chapter 13

Quinn settled back into the taxi seat and hit speed dial. The weather might have turned cooler, but that hadn’t affected her mood. So far the day was going ok. Ariel had been surprisingly upbeat about being guarded 24/7 again. That could change, Quinn admitted, if the situation dragged on, but for the moment she was doing ok.

Quinn checked her watch as she listened to the phone ring at the other end. She had originally expected to be at the office by now, but an old client had begged her to drop by so she decided to shoehorn in a visit with him before proceeding to her meeting with Kris.

California Girl, California Girl
You’re the best thing that I’ve seen in a while.

The security consultant stared at the phone, then put it to her ear again. "Kris?"

"Yo, fearless leader."

"What gives with the music?"

"Getting into the mood for the movie star tomorrow."

"Ah. What if it had been someone other than me on the phone?"

"Mute button. Besides, I checked call display before I picked it up."

"Glad to see you’ve got things covered."

"Always. And speaking of covered, Vanessa filled me in. I’ve got a schedule worked out, and a few other things for your attention if you’re coming this way any time soon."

"I’ll be there around 1:00 o’clock, or so."

"Alright. We ought to be done watching Charlie’s Angels by then."

"Original episode or one of the movies?"

"Original. Take no substitutes – that’s me."

"Uh huh. I thought you’d be more into VIP," said Quinn, enjoying the banter as she watched the landscape fly by the car window.

"That’s for after you’ve gone and you think we’re actually back to work. I thought I might throw in a few episodes of She Spies as well, and maybe John Carpenter’s Ghosts of Mars to top it off. Can’t get too much of that Natasha Henstridge! Woo hoo!"

"Mmm. I just might stay around for that."

"And spoil our fun?"

"Hmm. Ok, point taken. Oh, looks like I’m at my next stop. See ya later."

"Ok, Boss Lady. Later."

Quinn disconnected, punched in her code to pay the tab and exited the taxi. Just as she turned toward the building’s entrance, the phone on her right hip vibrated. "Quinn Thanatos."

"Hey Boss. Kris tells me you’re just going into another meeting, but do you have a minute?"

"Hi Joe. I do, but I’m running late so its only until I reach the sixth floor."

"Ok. Well, I got something on Katie Johnson. Or at least I think it’s about her."

"Yeah?" said Quinn, as she punched the elevator ‘up’ button.

"I checked all the hospitals and clinics like you asked. A clinic out on Salewski Blvd has a record of a Kathryn Johnson being prescribed both the morning after pill and birth control pills. The description fits her."

"When was this?" said Quinn as she stepped through the sliding door and pushed the button for the 6th floor."

"September 20 of ’48."

Quinn grunted. "Almost two years ago."

"Yeah, but the birth control prescription was renewed. Plus, I have another entry for her on December 16, same year. This time for contusions and a possible fractured arm. The fracture was negative."

Quinn stood still, hand on the door of the office where her next appointment was scheduled. "Anything else in the doctor’s notes?" she asked quietly.

"The doc noted she was there with her boyfriend. Or someone she thought was her boyfriend. It looked like domestic violence to her but she couldn’t get the kid to tell her anything."

"Ok." Quinn fell silent. "Ok," she said again. "Send me what you’ve got. I’ll get it after my meeting."

"Will do, Boss. And I’ll keep looking."

"Yeah," mumbled Quinn abstractedly as she disconnected. "Thanks, Joe." Standing in the silent hall, the security consultant was unaware of tapping the top of her phone against her lips, as she thought about what she’d just learned. Katie, what have you got yourself into?

"—signed the death warrant for Karl Rohl today. Barring appeals, Rohl will die for the rape and murder of ten women on Wednesday. Rohl has expressed no remorse, telling authorities that he wished he could do it all over again. After this news update we’ll talk with a specialist keeping track of serial murderers. What he has to say you won’t believe! But before we get to that, police are warning that the anti-techno group, On Foot, has struck again. At least ten taxis were vandalized overnight and calls are still coming in. The group, which is opposed to self-drive cars, has wrecked the control mechanisms on dozens of taxis and several private vehicles over the past six months. Police Chief Be—" Quinn grunted and switched off the info feed, punched in her code to pay the taxi, and got out. Four long strides brought her to the door of Thanatos Security, where she quickly keyed in her lock code. As she stepped in, she could hear ‘Dream a Little Dream’ playing quietly.

"Cass Elliott. Nice choice."

"Glad you approve. Here’s the info from Joe on the clinic visit," Kris said, holding a printout in the air for Quinn to retrieve, without lifting her eyes from her monitor.

The security consultant tossed her jacket on the meeting table and walked over to take the papers. "Thanks" she said abstractly, and leaned against the table to review the material. Everything Joe had told her was there. "Did you read this?" she asked Kris, who was focused on her monitor.

"Huh? Oh yeah. I guess the morning after pill worked," responded the brown haired woman as she consulted a scribbled note.

"Presumably, since there’s no mention of pregnancy at the second visit." Quinn paced slowly around the table, re-reading the report. "We still have about an 18-month gap, from then to the present." Throwing the papers down in disgust, she strode to the window and stood looking out.

Kris looked up, but said nothing, as she watched Quinn. The dark haired woman put her hands on her hips and starred out, not seeing. Where was Katie? she asked herself. Why did the trail go cold? Was she dead? No! she hastily told herself. I refuse to believe that without irrefutable proof. Alright then, hot shot, her mental voice immediately challenged, get off your ass and go find her! Quinn ran a hand through her hair and turned to Kris. "Ok. What else have you got for me?"

"The schedule for the next 10 days, a couple of contracts, bunch of cheques that need signing, and some partial findings from Joe on the people you didn’t get to talk to in Parsonville, since they weren’t there."

Quinn nodded, accepted the sheaf of papers and pulled out a chair. Tilting it back against the wall, she propped her feet on the table and began to read. The personnel schedule, contracts and cheques she covered quickly, signing or initially where necessary. There. Now she was free to read the report on the people they hadn’t been able to talk to during their aborted visit to Ariel’s hometown.

Joe, she saw, had been able to supply addresses and telephone numbers for most. She noted that neither Paula McBean nor Jefferson Bennett had numbers. In Paula’s case Joe speculated that it was because she lived in a back-to-the-land group that likely didn’t maintain a landline. Jefferson Bennett, the merchant marine sailor, likely didn’t find it very useful to maintain a landline either since he was probably at sea for months at a time. In the case of McBean, Joe had provided the telephone number of the closest police department, while for Bennett he had supplied the name of his employer.

Ok, she said to herself, so now we can contact them if we want to. So where does that leave us? With a bunch of questions and, so far, no answers. Uh huh. And just how, her inner voice asked, sarcastically, does that differ from what we knew before? Oh Shut up! If you’re so smart make some useful suggestions!

Quinn gave herself a mental shake. "Any takers on the poster reward?" she asked.

Kris looked up. "We’ve had some calls. I’ve got a list of names of people who have called with info, but none of it’s recent. It all ends about 18 months ago. We may have caught a break on a call I took just before you arrived, though. I think we got the name of her boyfriend, or whatever. Hopefully the guy who took her to the clinic."


"Yeah. Name of Mickey D."

"At Quinn’s incredulous look, Kris added "I’m not kidding. That’s what he’s called. Real name Michael Dionne. And apparently, he loves fast food."

"Do we have a description?"

"We have better than that," said Kris, as she waited for her printer to spit out a sheet then gathered several and held them out to Quinn. "Hot off the press by way of the police department files."

"You turning into a hacker?" said Quinn with a small grin as she took the papers.

"Just a little sideline of mine. Can’t let Joe have all the fun."

"No indeed. Hmm. Boosted a few things, and got caught. Kited a few cheques. Small time grifter, and similar stuff, looks like."

"Un huh," responded Kris.

"No violent crimes on his record."

"No. I noticed that too."

"Lessee. He was picked up in December of ’48, but let go, and hasn’t come to the department’s notice since. That’s kinda long.

"Un huh. I thought so."

"Hmm. Date of birth . . . " Quinn did some mental calculations. "So he’s 28." She turned a page. "Looks younger."


Quinn stood, staring at the pages for a few moments longer, but she was thinking, not reading. Looking up finally, she said: "You got the name of the person who called this in?"

"Well a nickname, and a number where I can leave a message for him. I thought you might want to pay the reward in person."

"You were right, as usual. Leave a message that I want to meet today. Lessee, I want to see if I can talk to the doctor . . ."

"Clinic closes at 5:00 pm. And the doc is in."

Quinn grinned at that. "More hacking?" she asked.

"Nope," said Kris. "Traditional method. Telephone."

"Good. Ok. Leave a message with the guy that I want to meet, say, any time after an hour, and he picks the spot. Somewhere public." As Quinn talked she pawed over papers in a safe next to Kris’ desk, grabbed one fat envelope and her jacket and headed for the door. "Call me when it’s set up."

"Will do."

"Oh, and Kris," said Quinn, as she paused at the door, "I owe you."

"G’wan," said the other woman with a wave of her hand. "Get outta here and let me get back to work."

Quinn flashed her an answering smile and was gone.

"Good luck," said Kris softly, to the empty room, then turned back to her computer.


Chapter 14

"You can’t go in without an appointm—"

"Emergency police matter," said Quinn to the receptionist while flashing her P.I. license, and hoping the receptionist would not look closely, as she stepped quickly around the desk and through the door of the doctor’s office.

"Doctor Esperanza, I tried to stop her. I—"

"It’s a matter of life and death," said Quinn interrupting her. "I just need answers to a few questions and then I’ll be gone. Promise."

The doctor looked up from the notes she was making. She was a handsome middle-aged woman with dark hair just starting to go grey at the temples. To Quinn’s eye she looked tired but competent, and far from a pushover.

"Of course," said Quinn, "you could always wait for Detective Hank Walsh to pay you a visit, which will happen not long after you turn me away, and then you’d have two interruptions in your schedule today, and not just one." She saw the woman’s mouth quirk slightly, and an amused look appear in her eye.

"It’s ok, Marina. I’ll be five minutes, only," she said to the receptionist as her eyes swiveled to Quinn’s. "Alright," she said, as the woman closed the office door, "talk fast, starting with your name, and go on from there."

"Ok. I’m Quinn Thanatos of Thanatos Security. Here’s my card." Quinn handed a business card to the doctor who took it and examined it as Quinn continued. "You treated a teenager in September and December of ’48 who gave her name as Kathryn Johnson. Is this her?" said Quinn, as she passed over a copy of the poster.

The doctor looked at the photo, then compared the telephone number on the poster to the office number on Quinn’s card, and looked up. "Why?" she said.

"Her aunt is trying to find her. Katie left home under unexplained circumstances but it appears she was in fear for her life, possibly from immediate family members. Her aunt is estranged from Katie’s family. She only heard recently that her niece had run away from home and she wants to help her."

The doctor folded her arms. "What’s in it for you? You’re not a police detective."

"Her aunt is my partner," said Quinn, quietly.

The doctor sat still for a moment, thinking, then reached out a hand and picked up the phone. Quinn thought about asking whom she was calling, but decided to wait and see.

"Hello? Yes, this is Doctor Elena Esperanza at the free clinic on Salewski Boulevard. Please connect me with . . . What was his name again?"

"Detective Hank Walsh."

The doctor repeated the name and then said, "Yes, I’ll hold." Activating the speakerphone, she went back to writing up the notes she was working on when Quinn had barged into her office. Muzak, or the telephone equivalent, played quietly, and Quinn forced herself to sit still. Just when she felt she couldn’t re-read the doctor’s certificates on the wall without screaming, the music cut off.

"Walsh," growled a voice.

"Detective Walsh, my name is Doctor Elena Esperanza. I have someone in my office named Quinn Thanatos, who says she is investigating a missing person."

"Yeah, I know Quinn. What gives?"

"Hi Hank. The doctor has you on speakerphone. I’m here because she may have treated Katie back in the fall of ’48."

"And just how would you know that?"

"I’m omniscent? Seriously, give me the lecture another day, would ya? Katie, if it’s Katie that is, came here with a man. We have a line on him, at least I hope so, and all I want Doctor Esperanza to do is to look at the photos I have of Katie and of this guy and tell me if she recognizes anybody."

There was silence, and Quinn held her breath. She knew Hank would be ticked at the way she got the lead, but that was just too bad.

A sigh issued from the speaker, then: "Dr. Esperanza, ordinarily I would obtain a warrant and serve it on you, and I will if you insist, but if Quinn says all she needs is an identification, I would appreciate it if you would look at the photos and tell us if the people in them are who we think they are."

The doctor sat silently for a moment, then said, "thank you, Detective," and disconnected.

Quinn waited. The doctor sat looking at her notes for a few seconds then looked up and said: "Yes, that is the girl who came to see me." She added, "I see so many people in the course of a day, or a week, or a year, but I’ve trained myself to remember faces. It helps to establish a rapport with the patient, you understand."

Quinn found herself nodding, but said only: "How about him?" and pushed over the photo from the police files.

Doctor Esperanza contemplated it for so long that Quinn thought she was going to reply in the negative, but when she spoke it was to say "I only got brief glimpses of him, you understand, but I’m pretty sure that was the man who accompanied her on both occasions. At the second visit he seemed pretty anxious to hurry her out of the office. And so he would if he had done the damage. But she wouldn’t say. She fell down the stairs, she said." The woman looked up. "That’s what they all say, you know. Or some variation thereof." She shook her head, and added, "sometimes I wonder why I bother."

Quinn nodded sympathetically, reached for the photos and slipped them into her pocket. "Thanks," she said as she stood up. "I appreciate what you just did."

The doctor smiled. "If this ever comes back to bite me in the ass," she said, "you’ll want your policeman friend out front to run interference. I can guarantee it."

"It won’t. I can guarantee that."

The doctor smiled again, this time with more warmth, and leaned back in her office chair. "This is about more than domestic battering isn’t it," she said.

A statement, Quinn noted, not a question. Quinn smiled in turn, hand now on the doorknob. "Thank you doctor," was all she replied as she pulled open the door and stepped through, closing it quietly behind her.

Out in the taxi, which she had directed to wait, Quinn flipped on the info feed. She thought about switching to an audio channel but decided to phone Kris first. She had just unclipped the phone from her belt when it started to vibrate.

"Shit! Ah, Quinn Thanatos," she said as she juggled, then regained control of the instrument.

"I take a lot of orders from you in any one day, Boss Lady, but there I draw the line."

"Ok, Kris. You’ve had your laugh. Now, have you got something for me?"

"You bet. The guy just phoned back. Name of Jimmy, by the way. There’s a tavern at the corner of Wallace and MacArthur. Dalwhinney’s. You know it?"

"I know the area. I can find the place."

"Ok. He says go there, sit at the back and order a drink that comes with a paper umbrella."

"You’re kidding."

"Scout’s honour."

"You were never a scout."

"You’re right. My orientation is one the top brass wouldn’t exactly approve of. But I had fun with some girl guides once."

"No more about your lurid past Kris, my heart couldn’t stand it. When is this guy going to show?"

"Likely as soon as he thinks you’re alone. If I were you I think I’d go buy a book to pass the time."

"Thanks for the suggestion. See you soon, I hope."


"Corner of Wallace and MacArthur" she told the taxi. "Best possible speed."

"Wallace and MacArthur by way of—"

"No need to give me the specifics. Just drive." Detecting the word "drive," the vehicle’s silicon brain cut short the reply and pulled out into the street.

Quinn settled back. Her mind on the coming interview, she didn’t bother to switch to an audio channel on the info feed, and soon realized that the interview with the expert on serial murderers, which she had heard being promised earlier, was being replayed, and was, in fact, well along.

"In your report you estimate that there are more than 450 serial murderers currently active on the North American continent?

"Yes, 462 actually," responded a sandy-haired young man, identified across the bottom of the screen as Dr. Stanley Hollis, of Statistical Probabilities Inc., otherwise known as the government’s statistical office.

"How can you be so sure?" asked the female interviewer.

"Well, we gather data from a number of sources. Uh, police reports, missing persons. Since serial murderers are often active over a number of years, we look at historical data too. Then everything is fed into a very complex computer program . . ."

"Let me interrupt you there. The name of the program is MORBID?"

"Yes, that’s correct."

"And that stands for . . .?"

"Murder: Organizational Report-Based Idiosyncratic Database."

"Murder . . ."

". . . Organizational Report-Based Idiosyncratic Database."

"Quite a mouthful."

"Yes it is."

"Please continue, Doctor Hollis."

"Ok. Well, this program was only rolled out a year ago, but it’s already exceeding our expectations. It generates statistical probabilities from which we can produce schematics."

"Yes, we have one of those to put up now."

"Here’s the central part of the continent, for example, over the course of the last 10 years," continued Dr. Hollis, offscreen. "As you can see, more serial murderers are active in urban areas, but some of the less populated regions are represented as well."

Quinn looked at the schematic as the interviewer asked: "What do the colours and patterns indicate?"

"Oh, well, each represents the territory of one serial murderer. Or at least as closely as we can determine."

"And how do you do that?"

"Similarities in how the murders are committed, and geographical location, in relation to each other I mean, is also taken into consideration."

"Right now, it looks like a very beautiful abstract."

"Yes, but this is a time sequenced schematic. If your technicians could run it, starting at 2040 . . . Yes, as you can see, it’s a bit easier to understand as you run it year by year. Karl Rohl, for example is that bit of cross-hatched blue in the northeast section . . ."

"Yes! I see, starting in 2045. Are the others equally identifiable?"

"Our data indicates yes."


"Yes, we can take schematics that represent the historical data and match them against murderers who have been caught.

"So, Dr. Hollis, if there were a series of murders spread over an area, you could feed the details into MORBID and it would link them?"

"If we had all the details, and a high degree of accuracy interpreting the evidence, there is a 92 percent chance that MORBID would project an overlap."

"And in layman’s terms. . .?"


"Thank you Doctor," said the interviewer, adding, as the camera closed on her, "There you have it. MORBID. Back to you Worthington."

Quinn stared at the screen for a minute or two, turning this over in her mind. Abruptly she reached for her phone again and speed dialed.


"Yeah, Joe. it’s Quinn again. I have another job for you.


"Ok. The feds have a statistical database called MORBID. It tracks serial murderers.

"Called what?"

"MORBID. M as in mother, O as in . . . operations, R as in ruler—"

"Morbid, you said?"

"Yeah. Morbid. Anyway, I want you to get into that and see what comes up."

"That’s it?"

"You’ll see when you access it. I’m not completely sure what I’m looking for but check it out. One thing I want to know is if the program suggests that the guy active at Parsonville has done stuff elsewhere. Ok?"

"Sure thing Quinn. You think Scott continued having fun when he got here?"

"It’s a possibility that had occurred to me."

"Ok. I’ll get right on it and call you as soon as I’ve checked it out."

"Thanks Joe," said Quinn and disconnected. Checking to see how close she was to her destination, she decided that she had time to make a very quick call to Ariel, and speed dialed her number.

"Ariel Pedersen."

"You have the sexiest voice."

A chuckle. "Why thank you. You’re pretty good in that department yourself, you know."

"Umm. How are you doing?"

"Ok. I worked this morning. It seems strange to have someone in the house during the day, since I’d gotten used to being by myself again, unless I’m expecting someone of course, but I’m managing. Vanessa has been as unobtrusive as she can, and that helps."


"On the other hand, however, she’s likely bored out of her mind."

"She’ll be even more bored at the film location, I expect, so this is a good dress rehearsal for her."

"I suppose that’s one way of looking at it. And speaking of looking, I hear that you’ve been busy."

"You do? Vanessa hasn’t been as unobtrusive as you’ve led me to believe."

"Well, we had lunch together and she got a call from Kris so, at my request, she asked for any developments."

"Ah. That’s alright then," Quinn said with a smile.

"So when are you going to get home and tell me all about it?"

"Well, there’ve been a few other interesting developments since then, and I’m about to meet a guy who I hope can provide some other useful details. But I’m not sure when he’s going to show, so I might not be home for a while."

"Sounds intriguing."

"Certainly interesting. But if I had my druthers, I’d be there with you rather than here with . . . whatever his name is. And speaking of him, I see the cross street coming up so I better end this."

"Ok. Be careful."


A chuckle greeted this, but all Ariel added was "I love you."

"And I love you back." Just then, the taxi came to a halt, double-parked, so Quinn added "Oh, gotta go. See you soon, Love," and disconnected.

Punching in her pay code, she exited quickly, the taxi roaring off as soon as its sensors detected that she was clear of the vehicle. Quinn stepped over to the sidewalk and surveyed the area. The corner of Wallace and MacArthur was in an older section of the downtown that the push for redevelopment of a few years back had passed by. It wasn’t quite a slum, but it was definitely seedy. Rapidly scanning the intersection, she spotted her destination on the opposite side of the street. A few quick strides, and an unplanned two-step to avoid being run down by a bicycle courier, brought her to the stairs leading down to Dalwhinney’s door. Quinn eyed it for a second, then muttered "Well, it’s not ‘Cheers,’ but I guess it’ll do."

Quinn paused in the doorway. The interior was pretty much what she expected: dim and smoky. Heaving a sigh, she continued inside, the door cutting off sunlight and fresh air as it closed behind her. Two men sat isolated from each other at either ends of the bar. Both were drinking something amber-coloured in shot glasses, and neither paid her any attention as she stepped up to order. Quinn mentally reviewed the drinks she could reasonably expect to get with an umbrella in them, and made her decision. "Give me a scotch and rocks in one of those fancy glasses," indicating the glasses used for mixed drinks that were hanging in a rack above the bar, "and put an umbrella in it."

The bartender stared at her. Quinn held up a $20 bill and said "Give it to me without argument, and you keep the change."

A faint smile touched his lips as he reached for a glass, dropped in some ice, floated it in scotch and dropped in an umbrella that he brought out from somewhere under the bar. "You’re the boss," he said, placing the drink on the dark surface and extracting the bill from Quinn’s fingers.

Quinn nodded, picked up the glass and strolled toward the back of the room. To her relief, other than the two men at the bar, it was empty. Setting the glass down on the table in the last booth, she slid in and decided to get something done while she waited, so she extracted her notebook from a pocket of her jacket and flipped it open. Rapidly scanning her list of things to do, she took satisfaction in striking off several, then added some notes, sipping her scotch from time to time, enjoying the slight burn of the smoky liquid as she swallowed.

Quinn had gone over the list once and was thinking of reviewing it again when a trio of young men entered noisily, ordered pitchers of beer, and seated themselves in a booth across the room. Quinn ignored them, although that was hard since the noise level picked up considerably. In her peripheral vision, she noticed some glances her way, but it would likely take some alcohol laced with peer pressure before anyone had the nerve to approach her. Just stay in your seats and leave me alone, she thought at them, ’cause if any of you try hitting on me and it scares off my contact, I’m gonna get mad.

Taking another sip of the scotch, she decided to turn her mind to the problem of Katie’s disappearance.

Ok, she admitted up front, as she doodled on her notepad, she could be dead. That has always been a possibility. Just because we don’t have a body doesn’t mean it isn’t so. Quinn glanced at her notepad and discovered she had written DEAD??

Don’t get in a rut here, she cautioned herself. Dropping down a line she added, IF NOT??

If not indeed, she thought. If people don’t see you for a while, they don’t assume you’ve died. They think you’ve gone on a trip, moved to another part of town or don’t want to associate with them anymore. Thinking about Mickey D, Katie’s supposed boyfriend, she admitted, that or they assume you’ve gone to jail to do another stretch for something. Ok, she said to herself, that might be, but Mickey hasn’t come into contact with the law, let alone done a stretch in almost two years, which is damned peculiar.

Rolling the pen in her fingers she stared at the page, and mentally reviewed his record. Mickey was the sort of petty criminal who couldn’t stay out of sight. Up to two years ago, he had been picked up every few months, sometimes sentenced to something, but most of the time not. Quinn stared at the page some more. So what this says is that you think Katie’s disappearance is tied in with Mickey D’s, since he seems to have disappeared.

"You the broad with the cash?"

Quinn looked up and sized up her interrogator. He was mid-thirties, about 5’10," with dark hair worn long, and was dressed in a medium grey suit and a black shirt with the collar worn open showing off a gold chain. A heavy gold bracelet encircled one wrist, a flashy, chunky-looking watch the other. His fingers, she noted, were covered in rings. The better to mark you with, my dear, she thought. "If you’re the guy with the information," she replied. "Siddown."

"Where’s the money?"

"Safe. Answers first."

"Show it to me or I walk."

Without breaking eye contact, Quinn reached inside her jacket and extracted the envelope she had taken from the safe and slid out a thick sheaf of bills. Holding it so that just a corner of the stack was visible, she waited for a few seconds to ensure that her companion was satisfied, then slid it back into the pocket. "Now. Answers," she said.

The man opposite her shrugged. "So ask," he said.

"You know Mickey D?"

"Seen him around, but not lately," he said, with an unpleasant smile.

"Oh? And why’s that?"

"Health reasons."

"Such as?"

"Terminal stupidity."

Enough of this shit, she said to herself. "You saying he’s dead?"

"No, leastwise, not that I heard."

"And what did you hear?"

"That he made Big Augie mad, so decided that life would be healthier some place else.

"Big Augie? The gangster? The guy that ended up dead in his hot tub a couple of months ago?" said Quinn, referring to the news story that had knocked the attempt on Ariel’s life out of the lead-off spot on all the info feed channels.

"The one and only. I don’t know what he did, but the story I heard was that Mickey had to leave town because of it."

"So what I’m hearing you say is that you’ve never heard Mickey’s actually dead out in a swamp somewhere."

"Could have happened, I suppose, but I heard he left town."

Quinn eyed him as she sipped her scotch. "So where does Katie Johnson fit in?" she asked.

"The chick you’re lookin’ for?" At her nod, he shrugged. "Girlfriend, I guess. They were together for quite a while and I haven’t seen her around since Mickey disappeared."

Quinn contemplated her next question. "Do you ever remember seeing her before you saw her with Mickey?" she asked.

"You mean on her own?"


"Nah. One day she was just with him."

"You ever see her with anyone else?"


"You’re awfully sure."

He shrugged. "There was something about her. Hard to forget."

"And you’re absolutely sure it was Katie. This girl in the photos?" she said, as she laid the poster on the table then slid it under the man’s nose.

He smiled nastily. "I swear it on my mother’s grave."

"Look at the photos first," she said, keeping her eyes focused on his face.

He glanced down and she noted that he did look at both, although quickly, before looking up again. "So what’s to see?" he said. "I looked at the photos when I got your number off the poster. Yeah, it’s her. It’s her a few years younger, but it’s her."

Quinn maintained eye contact for a few seconds, then slid the wad of cash out of the pocket and handed it over. "You hear anything else, give me a call."

The man fanned the money quickly, then tucked it inside his jacket. "Pleasure doin’ business with ya," he said, before easing out of the booth and sauntering out of the bar.

Quinn watched him leave, then tossed down the rest of her scotch and headed out herself.


Chapter 15

"But wouldn’t a check of the regional police files turn him up, even if he went to another city?" queried Ariel, as she forked in a mouthful of spaghetti, slurping up a couple of strands that strayed at the last second.

"Maybe," said Quinn, applying herself to her own plate, "but the problem is, if he went to another city and also changed his name to keep from being found by Augie, it’s going to be that much harder to track him down."

"You’re saying that you’d have to check by finger prints or DNA or something," said Ariel, reaching for her beer.

"Exactly. And that’s only if he’s been arrested wherever he is now. I’ve already called Hank to see if he can have a search done. But you see, there’s another problem on top of that."

"Which is?" queried Ariel, intently.

Quinn frowned. "We can’t be sure how far he’d run. If it was right across the continent, well . . . " She let her voice trail off.

"That would put us back to square one looking for Katie."

Quinn reached across the table and squeezed Ariel’s hand. "Not quite, but it does slow us down."

Ariel nodded slowly, but said nothing.

Quinn lifted and gently kissed the back of the writer’s hand before relinquishing it.

"So tell me," said Ariel, making an obvious effort to change the subject, "what do you expect this MORBID database to show?"

"Well, if there are any murders in this area that appear to have the same m.o. as those around Parsonville, it could give the police something else to dig into, to bolster the case against Scott."

"And it can do that? Show connections, I mean." said Ariel, as she opened a tin foil package of garlic bread, releasing the pungent fragance into the air. "No Charlotte," she added sternly to the kitten who, knowing good food when she smelled it, prepared to leap onto the kitchen table.


"No! You can’t have any." repeated Ariel as the kitten paced back and forth looking for a way up.

"I’ll get her, Love," said Quinn, "I’m just gonna get another beer. Want one?"

"No thanks."

"Ok. Come on guys. Out in the hall until we’ve finished eating," she said, as she scooped up Charlotte and Hairy, who had been attracted by Charlotte’s protest. Grise was nowhere to be seen but as she straightened from setting the other two down outside the kitchen door, she spotted him strolling out of the living room. "Sorry guys. Find something else to do until we’re done." Shutting the door, she crossed to the fridge to select a beer before returning to the topic, and the table. "Supposedly. At least that’s what the guy on TV seemed to indicate. Joe is supposed to phone me when he’s got something to report."

As though to underline her words, her phone beeped. Quinn checked the caller ID, winked at Ariel and flipped it open. "Hi Joe," she said.

"Boss this is some database you sent me to," said Joe, without preamble.

"Hello to you too," said Quinn with a grin. "So it’s as good as advertised?"

"At least. I’ve been playing with it for the last hour. They’ve got all the known serial murderers in it and you can run the schematics to show their crimes. It’s wild, I tell ’ya. They’ve used it to link the known guys to other murders that were considered unsolvable. Solved a whole bunch in the past year."

"Yeah? Did they get those guys to cop to them, to support their conclusions?"

"Yup. They have details on sixteen of them that they got the murderers to confess to, and they say they are going to put up details of several others over the next few months."

"Sounds promising. So. Did you find out anything that helps us?" said Quinn, leaning forward unconsciously.

"Well, it’s the weirest thing, Boss . . ."

"What is?"

"There’s nothing like the Parsonville crimes in this area . . ."

"Shit," muttered Quinn.

"No, wait. Like I said, there’s nothing in this area, but there are some small odd pockets on the west coast. They’re pretty sure it’s the same guy but for the moment they’re marked inconclusive. Because of the distance, you see."

"The coast?" said Quinn. "And you’re sure there’s nothing in this area?"

"Not a thing. But I’ve put in a call to the head honcho . . ."

"Dr. Stanley Hollis."

"That’s the one. Maybe he can tell me more, but I won’t be able to talk to him until tomorrow."

"Ok, Joe," said Quinn, distracted. "Call when you’ve got more."

"Will do," said Joe, and disconnected.

Quinn sat back, dinner forgotten.

"What is it?" asked Ariel, watching Quinn’s face.

"Huh? Oh, something that I never thought of before. And dammit, I should have! Just a sec. I want to check something." Quinn picked up her phone again, activated the pda function and logged into her office’s secure server. As she hunted for a file, Ariel watched with ill-concealed impatience.

"Ok, yeah. Here it is. Vanessa said two of the people questioned by the police moved to the west coast. And they are . . . " Quinn rapidly scanned the document "Mike Davis and Paula McBean." At Ariel’s questioning look, she added, "Joe just told me that although nothing like the Parsonville murders has been seen around here, some murders that bear a resemblance to them have shown up on the west coast. Has Scott been anywhere near the west coast?"

"I don’t know," said Ariel. "I don’t think so."

"Ok, Hank may have to see if he can track his movements. If he hasn’t, I’m not too sure what to make of this."

"It creates an enormous hole in our theory about Scott."

"Unhuh. And I don’t like it," said Quinn, with a frown.


Chapter 16

Quinn had puzzled over this glitch in her theory far into the night. If Scott hadn’t ever visited the west coast, he couldn’t have done the murders. But the murders bore a resemblance to the Parsonville murders in which Scott possibly was implicated. Was the MORBID database accurate? Where was Katie and why did Scott not want her to be found, supposing, of course, that she was why he had tried to kill Ariel in the park. If in fact it was him who had tried to kill Ariel in the park. And if not Scott, who? The idea that someone else might be out there intent on killing her lover was frightening, but had to be examined since, given Ariel’s well known views, it might, in fact, be true. Sleep finally claimed Quinn about 4:00 am, without her solving any part of her problem. Maybe in the cold light of day, she decided, something would jump out at her that she had missed the night before. With that in mind she laid the problem before Kris.

"How many murders, all told?"

"Five," said Quinn, staring over Kris’ shoulder at the computer screen.

"Ok. Well, other than a colourful pattern, what do you think we should be seeing?"

"I don’t know! Something!" exclaimed Quinn, throwing her hands in the air. "I was so sure that Scott was the killer I didn’t look beyond him. Now everything’s up for grabs again and we’re still no closer to finding Katie or nailing her no good brother!"

"Easy Boss Lady! Easy! Let’s take a step back." Quinn glared at Kris, but the other woman didn’t back down.

"Ok," said Quinn, dropping into a chair. "You’ve got the floor."

"Alright." Kris stood up and paced slowly back and forth. "There were other people besides the two who moved to the coast, uh, Paula McBean and Mike Davis, that you were unable to interview because they moved out of town. Right?"


"And the fact that the police originally interviewed them because they had some connection to the missing girls, they moved out of town, and then these west coast murders come to light looking like they might have been done by the same person, bump the folks you couldn’t talk to higher up your list of probable suspects, right?"

"Your point?" growled Quinn.

"Were you able to track them all down?"

"Joe located them. No one else lives on or near the west coast."

"Ok, but do they travel to the coast on business? Have they been there on vacation? Do any of them live close enough to nip over and back on an airline shuttle on a day off?"

Quinn contemplated Kris with an unreadable expression that finally resolved into a small grin. "Nip over and back?" she said, and started to chuckle. "Nip over and back?"

"Hey! Ariel’s the wordsmith around here, not me! And you know what I mean!"

"Yeah, I do." Quinn sobered and looked rueful. "You mean we’ve got our work cut out for us evaluating the likelihood that any of these people committed the murders."

"That’s exactly right."

"Nip over and back."

"Bite me. And while you’re at it, I assume that you’ve included in this number the people who were on your list that you had no idea where they’d got to. Joshua, Julius and whatshername, Emily."

"I assume you’re referring to Jessie, John and Amelia."


"Joe tracked ‘em all down, so we’ve got starting points for all of them." Quinn sat immobile for a few seconds then slapped her hands down on the arms of her chair. "Ok. Kris, I want to get this resolved as quickly as possible, so in addition to Joe working on this I think it’s time to give your hacker skills another outing."

"Be still my heart. Now get out of my office."

"That’s what I like," said Quinn as she grinned and got to her feet. "Loyal, obedient, polite staff."

"That’s me," said Kris, settling down once more in front of her computer, adding sarcastically as Quinn turned to leave, "Tell him I’m taking credit cards and airline records. Those always put me in a carefree mood."

"You got it," said Quinn as she left the room.

Quinn’s phone buzzed as she strode back to her office, or, more accurately, her closet. When she’d moved in with Ariel she had revamped the layout of the office in her two-bedroom bungalow to give her employees more office space. With her out of the office most of the time, either on the road visiting clients or protecting Ariel, which, she acknowledged ruefully, had become a full-time proposition, she didn’t need much space herself. Now, since Kris and John seemed to have taken over most of the administrative load of running the business, they had the only areas that could properly be called offices, while she and the rest of the operatives shared a couple of desks tucked into odd corners. The one that she was currently using was located in a closet in the bedroom considered John’s office. He was on the phone as she threaded her way around filing cabinets, silenced the buzzing of her own phone by opening the connection and dropped into a chair. "Thanatos," she barked.

"Mmm. I’d say you should have taken me up on my offer this morning," purred a velvet voice.

Quinn grinned in reflex. "Sorry, Love. Just a bit of frustration showing there."

A sexy chuckle greeted this. "That’s exactly what I mean. If you’d stayed in bed a while longer I would have taken care of all, and I mean all, your frustrations."

"Oh, Baby, I wish I had! But since Jamie was arriving at 8:00, and we’d overslept, I didn’t think the new hire should find her boss and the client getting it on. Didn’t seem to set the right tone, somehow."

A chuckle greeted this, but Ariel elected not to pursue it, saying instead "Actually, the reason I phoned was not to remind you of what might have been, but to tell you that Edward just phoned with some good news that I wanted to share."

"Oh yeah? How is the old buzzard and what did he have to say?" said Quinn, who found herself doodling a caricature of Ariel’s publisher on the desk blotter.

"He just got the word that After Dark has sold three million hardcover copies world wide and the same film company that optioned Midnight Madness is interested in optioning it. We made a date to discuss that and future projects at his office on Wednesday."

"Hey! Congratulations! That’s great news!" exclaimed Quinn. "Knowing Edward, I’ll bet he was absolutely bubbling."

Ariel chuckled. "He told me that after he heard that, he rushed right out to Julia’s desk and waltzed her around the office before he could calm down enough to call me."

"Sounds like you’re his favourite author, as if there were any doubt."

"Yeah, well he’s my favourite publisher, so I guess we’re even," said Ariel, with a smile in her voice. Then changing the subject she asked: "How are things going there?"

Quinn blew out a breath. "Well, if I told you that we’d made progress, I’d be lying."

"Oh Love, I wish I could help!"

"Thanks. I wish I could do more than what I’m doing, but Kris and I have decided that we have to investigate all the people we couldn’t talk to, to see if any of them could be responsible for those west coast murders."

"Oh no." commiserated Ariel.

"Yeah, which means hacking into credit card info, bank accounts, airline records, employment records. That sort of thing. Which means that Joe and Kris are going to have to bear the brunt of the work on this."

"Has Joe got through to Dr. Hollis yet?"

"I haven’t heard from him, so I assume the answer is no, but I’m just about to call him with this latest assignment, so I’ll ask him. Speaking of assignments, how’s Jamie doing?"

"Fine! No problems at all."

"Good. The way things are working out . . . well," Quinn paused, "you may be seeing more of her."

"Quinn, Honey, it will all work out. It will."

Quinn smiled ruefully. "Thanks for your confidence, Love. Now I’d better get back to doing whatever it is I should be doing."

"Ok. Me too. I love you."

"And I love you too. See you later."

After disconnecting, Quinn thought for a second then decided it would be smarter to review the file they had compiled on the people they’d missed, before calling Joe. She was comparing conflicting stories from two witnesses to the same event, making her marvel at the subjectiveness of human memory, when she heard voices from Kris’ office. After a moment’s eavesdropping she concluded it was Owen, the firm’s other new operative, back from the film shoot, and she decided to go get an update.

"It’s like watching grass grow. Twenty-two takes! And one of the camera techs told me they were on schedule."

"Welcome to the world of movie making," she heard Kris respond, dryly. "Don’t get so bored that you forget what you’re there for."

"Yes mom," he was saying with a grin, as Quinn came around the corner.

"So, no sign of the deranged fan?" asked Quinn, leaning in the doorway. Carson Oliver, the star they’d been engaged to protect, had been followed around the country by a man convinced that she really was Honor Harrington, a role she had played in a sci-fi film some years before.

Two heads swivelled toward Quinn. "Not so far," responded Owen.

"Yes, but if he holds true to form, he’ll turn up sooner or later," interjected Kris. "He’s been arrested at every film shoot she’s done on this continent since the release of Death before Dishonor, three years ago. So I repeat, don’t get distracted."

"Vanessa’s guarding her now?" asked Quinn.

"Yeah. They don’t need Carson now ‘til later in the day so Van’s with her in her hotel suite and she told me to come back here in case there’s anything else you need done."

Quinn raised an eyebrow at Kris, who grinned evilly in return. "You betcha, sonny boy! I’ve got some filing over here that’s just waiting for someone like you."

"Oh boy," mumbled Owen resignedly as he followed her out of the office.

Quinn smirked and went back to her desk to dial Joe.

Fifteen minutes later, the phone was picked up on the second ring. Finally! said Quinn to herself, leaning forward, pen poised over her notebook. She’d punched in his number and then hit redial twice but got his voice mail each time on the first ring. And she hated waiting! "Have you got through to Dr. Hollis yet?" she barked, before he had time to speak.

"Quinn! Hi. Yeah I just got off the phone with him. This is real interesting stuff!"

"Tell me."

"Well, he says that they’ve got some other murders out there on the coast that they haven’t put up yet, but they’re pretty sure it’s the same guy."

"How many?"

"Six. Spread out geographically, which has been making it hard to link them. But if they’re all the same guy, it’s eleven in all."

"Eleven? Goddess!"

"Yeah. He’s sending me info. I ought to have it within the hour and I’ll send it on immediately."

"Good, although if they are the same guy, it’s really beginning to look as if Scott’s not our man," said Quinn with a frown. "But we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it, I guess. Anyway, ’nother topic. Because those murders occurred there, we’ve got to take a closer look at the people we couldn’t talk to. Kris is taking credit cards and airlines. Can you handle the rest?"

"I’ll get right on it."

"Good. Call me."

"You bet."

Quinn tapped her lips with the phone as she considered what to do next. She felt so useless. Hacking was a skill that she’d never taken the time to develop well enough so that she could contribute significantly at times like these. Of course, she conceded ruefully, times like these were few and far between, and usually handled by Joe quickly, and with no problem. Alright, she told herself, as soon as this is over, a hacking 101refresher and further instruction is at the top of your list of new and useful things to do. Mind made up, she was just setting the phone down on the desk when it buzzed.

"Quinn Thanatos."

"Quinn, it’s Hank Walsh. We think we’ve got a line on the guys who did the driveby."

"Yeeeehawwww!" shouted Quinn as she pumped her fist in the air. John looked up, startled. "Where are they?" asked Quinn, ignoring John, and then Kris and Owen who arrived seconds later.

"We went to their last known addresses but neither was home. We’ve got APBs out on both.

"How’d you get onto them?" she asked, curious.

"The usual way. They bragged about being paid to take a shot at a celebrity. The guy they told needed something to get out of a three-time loser rap. The story sounds pretty solid. We just have to confirm it."

"Great. Keep me posted. I want to see the interrogation."

"I’ll let you know," said the detective and disconnected.

"Good news," said Kris, laconically.

"The best. The driveby shooters. They know who they are. Now they just have to catch them."


Chapter 17

As it turned out, the good news about the driveby shooters was the high point of Quinn’s day, and she arrived home in a very bad mood.

Although Joe had expected to receive material from Dr. Hollis momentarily, it was hours before the hacker phoned her back to report that a computer crash at the government facility had effectively stalled that line of inquiry until the next morning, at the earliest.

Quinn hoped that at least the electronic search by Kris and Joe would turn up something, but as the hours went by and nothing out of the ordinary materialized, it became apparent that it was going to take many more tedious hours of hard work to unearth anything, although both contended that it was just a matter of time before something surfaced.

Hank had not called back with further news about the shooters so that too was at a standstill. And to top it all off, the automated controller of the taxi she took to go home had been vandalized by the anti-techno group she’d heard about on the news, causing the vehicle to wander aimlessly along city streets unless given specific instructions at every street corner. This proved to be less than safe and Quinn arrived home still recovering from a close encounter she’d had before getting the hang of controlling the vehicle: she’d told it to proceed straight along the street she was on, and it had, crossing an intersection against the lights and narrowly avoiding clipping the tail end of a moving van. Thank the Goddess that the automated controllers on the vehicles around her had been operational!

"Hunk of junk!" she snarled as she got out. "Park yourself and wait for Central Traffic to come get you."

"Thank you for taking Central Traffic Transportation," intoned the car. "We hope you enjoyed your ride, and will travel with us again soon. Have a nice day."

"Park it, you accident-waiting-to-happen!" she roared, slamming the door. While dialing CTT’s customer service line, she was somewhat mollified to see it pull over to the side of the road and shut itself down. Assured that a crew would be around soon to repair the damage, she started across the street.

Just as she reached the sidewalk, with her thoughts beginning to turn from murderous mayhem involving people who sabotaged taxis, to Ariel, cold beer, and a much neglected workout schedule, the door of the Rankin sisters’ home opened, and Jemma Rankin looked out. "Quinn!" she called. "Quinn do you have a moment?"

The security consultant arranged her face into what she hoped was a cordial expression. "Ms. Rankin. What can I do for you?" she said, stopping at the bottom of their front porch. She’d spoken to the Rankins less than a half dozen times and usually it was just hello and goodbye, so she wondered why one of them would be flagging her down.

"Oh you!" the other woman exclaimed. "So formal! You really must start calling me Jemma ."

Quinn controlled herself – no reason to take her mood out on innocent bystanders – "Ok Jemma. What’s on your mind?" she inquired.

The elderly woman glanced up and down the street theatrically, and Quinn began to rethink her decision not to inflict her mood on others, when she continued: "Well, Maggie and I know about Ariel’s nephew. . . I mean, it was all over the ‘netnews for days after all, and the media hanging around Ariel’s front door. . ." Sensing something in Quinn’s demeanour she hurried on: "Well, I thought you should know, I saw him out here this afternoon."

What? "You saw who out here this afternoon?" she barked.

"Scott," said a new voice from behind Jemma. "It was Scott," said the voice’s owner, Jemma’s older sister, Maggie. "Jemma called me and I saw him too," the other woman continued as she edged past her sister out onto the porch.

"When? Give me the details," Quinn snapped, hanging onto her patience by only strength of will, although intuition told her that getting the story from Maggie would be a lot quicker than from Jemma.

"About two hours ago. He was only here for a few minutes. Jemma looked out the front window. We were expecting a grocery delivery and when she heard a motorcycle she thought it was the delivery boy."

"Yes, they promised us the boy would be right over with some of those wonderful cinnamon buns. . ." Two sets of eyes bored into her. "Um – " she said, hurriedly. "Well, anyway, he just sat out there on his motorcycle, watching the house.

"You’re sure it was Scott? He took his helmet off and you got a look at his face?"

"No," responded Maggie, uncompromisingly. "He didn’t take it off."

"Then how can you be sure it was Scott?" snapped Quinn, losing patience. "I mean if he was still wearing a helmet what –"

"It was the way he sat, dear," interjected Jemma triumphantly before Maggie could reply.

"The way he SAT!" exclaimed Quinn, voice rising in volume.

"YES!" shouted Maggie, temporarily silencing the security consultant." He has a way of sitting, when he’s not sitting in a chair with a back," she continued, "leaning a bit to his right and resting his elbow on his thigh. It was Scott. No doubt about it!" She folded her arms and stared challengingly at Quinn.

And Quinn had a sudden flashback to Scott on many occasions talking and laughing with Ariel in the garden, seated on the backless bench and resting his right elbow on his thigh. Looking at the two faces gazing back at her she was suddenly thankful that they apparently spent a lot of time observing Ariel’s back garden.

"Ok," she responded carefully. "What happened?"

"Nothing. He sat there for about five minutes, then he gunned the motor, did a wheelie down the street and disappeared," answered Maggie.

"That’s right. We watched him the whole time and that’s what he did," agreed Jemma. "Personally, I was surprised he was able to do a wheelie on a Suzuki-Honda 1280 so easily, because of the torque and the centre of gravity, you know, but there you are," she added, offhandedly.

Quinn closed her mouth, which had dropped open, and tried to collect her thoughts. Several ideas tried to push to the fore, but what came out was: "A Suzuki-Honda?" she asked, weakly. "He was riding a 1280?"

"Yes," interposed Maggie. "But all the chrome was painted black. Probably to disguise the make. As if!" she added, disdainfully.

"Yeah. Ok," said Quinn, mind at sea. "I’ll have to call the police . . ."

"Oh, that’s already taken care of dear," responded Jemma, pleasantly. We called Ariel right away and that nice woman you have staying with her now – Jamie? – she called that lovely man Mr. Walsh and he came right over. We served him the cinnamon buns with tea – the boy had delivered them by that time – and we told him everything. We just wanted you to know so that you’d be extra vigilant, dear. We know how protective you are!"

"Oh." Quinn gave herself a mental kick, as the two gazed at her. Collecting her wits, she added, "Thanks. Uh, yes, I am pretty protective. Thanks again for, uh, speaking up," she added, lamely.

"Our pleasure dear. We’d hate to have anything happen to Ariel," said Jemma, brightly. "She’s such a lovely neighbour. Bye now," she added, as Maggie steered her into the house.

"Yes," added the second Rankin, pausing for a moment before closing the door. "Keep her safe."

"Count on it," responded Quinn, thoughts in a whirl.

"You’re telling me that those two old biddies are motorcycle experts?"

The voice at the other end of the phone chuckled for several seconds while Quinn’s blood pressure rose. Just as she was about to lose it, Hank Walsh’s baritone replaced the laughter, but only just. "Yup. In their day, between them, they held a good half dozen national motorcycle records. And they operated a cycle shop that was famous throughout the north east. Custom jobs, refurbishments, you name it, they did it. If anybody qualifies as a cycle expert, it’s Maggie and Jemma Rankin. And if they say it was a Suzuki-Honda 1280, it was a Suzuki-Honda 1280. They still contribute occasionally to some of the cycle ’zines, so they’re up on the latest, trust me."

"Ok," responded Quinn, weakly.

"What I’m wondering about," Hank continued, his voice considerably more serious, "is their identification of Scott. What’s your take on that?"

"Well," Quinn paused. "It’s not an identification that would hold up in court, but he does sit like that. And it sounds as if they’ve seen him often."

"Yeah." There was a pause. "When we went looking for him he was in his room and claiming to have been there studying all afternoon. We couldn’t find anyone who could or would say anything different. And of course, he’s still claiming the bike was stolen, and still periodically pesters the theft detail about it. "

"Ok, but what I’m wondering," said Quinn, slowly "is what does he get out of this? I mean, it seems pretty pointless."

"I don’t know. So he can claim police harassment when it finally comes to trial? Maybe he thought he could get into the house. Or perhaps because he’s keeps eluding us he thinks he can get away with anything. Your guess is as good as mine." Hank paused, then continued. "Just to be safe, I’ve asked that patrols on your street be upped."

"Thanks." Quinn cudgeled her brain, but nothing else came to mind. "Ok, Hank, thanks. I suppose there’s no sign of the driveby shooters yet."

"Nope. I’ll let you know."

"Alright. Talk to you soon," said Quinn as she disconnected.

"Believe it now?" asked Ariel, uncapping a bottle of Hobgoblin Ale, and crossing the kitchen to Quinn’s side.

"Huh? Oh. Yeah. Who knew. Little old ladies on hogs. What is this world coming to," replied Quinn, weakly, as she accepted the bottle and took a long pull of the malt flavoured brew.

"Well, Darlin’," said Ariel with a grin, slipping her arms around her lover’s neck as she seated herself in her lap, "they aren’t little, in fact, Maggie is almost your height, and Jemma’s not that much shorter, they haven’t always been old, and they’d have to have a bit of money tucked away to live in this area, so running, and then retiring from a successful business sounds quite plausible to me." The blond woman concluded by intercepting the bottle and languidly gulping down the tawny liquid. Quinn watched, entranced, as beads of moisture rolled off the chilled bottle over Ariel’s bottom lip and chin, to run down her tanned throat toward the valley between her breasts.

"Ummm. . ." Quinn shook herself mentally and raised her eyes, only to meet Ariel’s amused glance. "Oh! Uh, yeah, but. . . Well, I guess I just thought they must have inherited a bundle from Daddy, or somebody," responded Quinn lamely, as she relieved her lover of the now half empty bottle and poured more of the crisp brew down her own throat.

"Jumping to conclusions, were we?" asked Ariel, with a smile, as she leaned closer.

"Yeah, you’re right. I was," said Quinn, shamefaced.

"Don’t beat yourself up," murmured the blond woman as she brushed her lover’s lips with her own. "Just improve."

Quinn grinned lopsidedly, hearing a variation of the advice she’d given on more than one occasion, coming back to her. "yes Ma’am," she whispered, inches from Ariel’s face.

The blond woman shifted fractionally and Quinn felt a surge of heat to her groin. "Perhaps you need some positive reinforcement?" inquired Ariel, between kisses.

"Oh, yes Ma’am!" responded Quinn, eagerly, leaning forward.

Ariel paused and contemplated Quinn, a small smile playing around her lips. "Call me Ma’am too many times and I’ll think you want this to go in a somewhat different direction than what I planned," she breathed.

Quinn caught her breath. "Well, you in tight black leather always turns me on—"

"Jacket? Pants?"

"Oh yeah . . ."

"And . . . ?"

"Surprise me?"

"Well then," murmured Ariel, amused. "What are you waiting for? Take me to bed."

"Yes Ma’am!" agreed Quinn, enthusiastically.


Chapter 18

The fog of sleep was suddenly dissipated by a small sound. The dark haired woman ran a quick auditory check of her immediate surroundings before determining that whatever she had heard, it wasn’t in the room with them. Turning over carefully she lifted the gun from the bedside table and sat up noiselessly on the side of the bed. The clock glowed 3:00 am.

Quinn listened. Ariel’s slow, deep breaths told her that her lover was still sound asleep behind her. The security consultant concentrated, to isolate what had wakened her. Outside the house, a car drove down the street, not slowly, but not fast either. Someone on the way home, or one of the police patrols Hank had promised. Quinn was ridiculously comforted by the thought, for she wryly acknowledged that the patrol car could be miles away before anything went down, if anything was going down. Still, she was glad they were near, even if near was relative.

There it was again! Quinn rose and walked quietly across the room to listen at the closed door. Whatever it was, was right outside in the hall.

Suddenly a series of unearthly shrieks, hisses, thumps and spitting erupted, followed immediately by two sets of pounding feline feet heading downstairs at breakneck speed, followed a few seconds later by a third set, moving more sedately.

Quinn, aware of her racing pulse, concentrated on breathing evenly. Just the cats or something else? Glancing back at the bed, she saw that other than turning onto her side, Ariel, a very heavy sleeper, seemed to be undisturbed. Good. She didn’t want to wake her if she could avoid it. Putting her ear to the door and listening for another minute, the security consultant was pretty sure she had the answer to her question, since she heard nothing. However. Satisfied that no one was immediately outside, and holding the Glock at the ready, she eased the door open. Nightlights, which she had installed as a security device, provided enough illumination that Quinn could see the hall was empty of intruders. Sliding through the entrance, she closed the door behind her.

Moving carefully, Quinn drifted silently down the hall to the first room next to the master suite. She was pretty sure the noise had just been the cats, but didn’t intend to leave anything to chance. One thing is sure, she thought, if I run into anyone I’ll have a split second advantage since no home invader would expect to encounter a six-foot tall naked woman with a heavy duty gun, in the middle of the night. Smiling grimly, she checked each room in succession, and found nothing.

Back again at the head of the stairs, she moved down slowly, one step at a time, pausing to listen and assess her surroundings on each step. Nothing. At the bottom she waited and listened, then headed for the front door. All secure. The videocamera that allowed her to check who was at the front door showed only the street at night. Retracing her steps from the front entry, she began methodically checking the downstairs rooms, moving toward the kitchen at the back of the house. No one anywhere, and all windows secure. So far, so good.

Pausing at the doorway to the kitchen, she could hear something inside, but a moment of concentration told her it was more of the feline fracas that had wakened her, although not nearly so noisy. Easing through the doorway she listened, and determined that whichever cats were involved would be found in the back alcove outside the powder room. Nightlights again provided enough illumination that she could determine that the back door was still barred against intruders, as was the door to the basement. Moving silently around the edge of the room, she took enough time to determine that she was the only human there.

In the back alcove, she found Charlotte, back to the wall, protecting herself against Hairy, while Grise looked on interestedly.

"Hey! Stop it you little monster!" she said, as she pushed Hairy aside with her foot and bent down to pick up Charlotte.

"Roworrghh!" said Hairy indignantly, but backed off hurriedly when Quinn growled at him.

"Hey Sweetie," she said to Charlotte, scooping her up, and setting the Glock down on the powder room counter, "You ok?"

"Yeorrow!" was the reply, although under Quinn’s soothing hands it soon turned to purring.

"Hey, I see a little blood on your ear. No, no. No wiggling. I have to look. Ok. I think you need a little peroxide on that." Holding the cat with one hand, Quinn opened the cabinet over the sink and lifted out the liquid. Working quickly she applied some to a cotton ball she extracted from a bag under the counter and then wiped it on Charlotte’s ear. "Yes it smells bad, I agree," she told the struggling cat. "There now. I think you’re ok." Charlotte’s response was to leap down and disappear. Nevertheless, Quinn fervently hoped that she’d heard the last of the feline follies for the night.

Collecting the Glock, she padded back into the kitchen proper and manually checked the back and basement doors and the windows, just to be sure. Again all was secure. Breathing a sigh of relief, now that her security check was complete, she pulled out a chair and slumped in it. Might as well rest here for a minute or two, she told herself, because I’m still too hyper to go back to bed right now.

Especially since she had to admit that the first thing she’d thought when she heard the noise outside the door was that Scott had found some way to get in.

Curiously enough, thinking back to earlier in the evening, Ariel had not been particularly alarmed at news that Scott had been spotted outside their home. Later, after Quinn outlined the reasons that Hank had come up with, Ariel had said that setting up a case for police harassment might be the reason, but she was far more willing to believe that Scott was just scared and frustrated and was trying anything that he thought might achieve his purpose, which, as they both knew, was to get rid of her, even though the logic for such an act escaped them both. And, Quinn acknowledged, she might be right. Certainly, if the McEwan Park attacker had been Scott, he had failed dismally. All he’d managed to do was cause Quinn some inconvenience since the car was still being repaired, although its return was promised by Friday, thank the Goddess.

So, she had been 100 percent wrong about Ariel’s anticipated reaction. And that’s not the only thing you’ve been wrong about, she told herself. Yeah, that’s true, she acknowledged. Look at how far off you were regarding the Rankins. She winced. Yeah. Things aren’t always what they seem. She stopped and thought for a minute, trying to tease a memory out of her subconcious. Suddenly it came to her. Her grandmother used to sing a snippet of song with words like those. "Things are seldom as they seem," she sang, under her breath, remembering, then paused. "Dah, dah dah, dah dah, dah dah. Whatever," she said acknowledging that the rest was lost. The important thing was that the lesson remained.

Yeah, so here you are, it’s the middle of the night, you’ve just had the shit scared out of you, so you won’t sleep for hours. . . So what are you waiting for? Get to work!

A quick scan of the kitchen revealed Ariel’s laptop at the end of the kitchen counter, where the writer often left it. Scooping it up, she turned on the pendant light over the table, sank into her chair again and flipped the machine open. In seconds she had established a secure connection to her office. Maybe all of them had been guilty of looking for what they expected, not what was there. Ok. She had some hours to kill, since she was now wide awake, might as well see what she could see.


Quinn glanced to her left at the half-grown dark gray cat who had materialized on the table next to her, and who was now eyeing her solemnly. "Hi Grise."


"Keeping me company, or do you have some insidious motive of your own?" she asked as her eyes swung back to the screen.

"Mew," he responded, and stood up to rub against her shoulder.

Quinn spared him a brief glance and then reached out to stroke him, causing him to purr happily. "Ok, little guy, I’ve got work to do, so settle down or take a hike. Or make some coffee. Your choice."

The cat responded by stepping down onto her bare thighs, and preparing to knead. "Hey! Hey wait a minute!" she exclaimed, snatching him up. "Wait ’til I’ve got something on, for the Goddess’ sake!" Glancing around, she noted one of her sweatshirts slung across the back of another kitchen chair. Snagging it she quickly arranged it one handed in her lap then gently deposited Grise. Quinn watched with approval as he kneaded for a moment, then settled down and closed his eyes. "Ok, we’ve established I’m good furniture. Let’s see if I’m good for anything else," she said, leaning forward to review the files Kris and Joe had compiled.


Chapter 19

7:00 am. Hugely pleased with herself, Quinn leaned back in her chair, stretching and yawning. She’d done it! Or at least part of it. She still didn’t know how Scott fitted into the overall scheme, but she was more sure than ever that he did, and it was only a matter of time until she figured it out and nailed his ass to the wall. Her activity, after hours of minimal movement, woke the cat on her lap and he promptly leaped down, mirrored her actions in catly fashion, then strolled over to his dish. Charlotte trotted in, seconds later, seemingly none the worse for the battle the night before, but Hairy was nowhere to be seen.

"Hey guys," said Quinn, as she got up to switch on the coffeemaker, and put out kitten food. "Where’s Hairy?’ As if in answer, the third feline member of the family walked in, but with little of his usual joie de vivre.

"Hi Hairy. You look as if you’ve been through the wars. Did Charlotte hurt you last night?" Picking up the feline she checked him over, finding a swollen and painful area on his leg near his hip that surrounded a puncture mark. She put the struggling animal down, unwilling to cause him more pain, and watched him retreat to the other side of the kitchen. "Yeah, I think we should get that checked out," she said, thoughtfully.

"Get what checked out?" said Ariel, newly arrived on the scene. Walking over to slip an arm around the taller woman’s waist she murmured: "Love the outfit," and slid her hand down over sensitive skin to give Quinn’s buttock a quick squeeze.

Quinn grinned, but elected not to respond, saying instead, "Hairy’s right back leg. I think Charlotte bit him last night in their battle royal."

"Oh? They had a fight?" said the writer, crossing the kitchen to the cat in question and picking him up to check out the injury.

"Yeah. Right outside our door. I was pretty sure you slept through it, although how, I don’t know. Glad you did, though."

"Hmm. Must explain why I dreamed I was attending a Klingon Opera," said Ariel, bemused while she slid her hands lightly over Hairy.

"Klingon opera? That would have been worse than being wakened by the fight!"

"Um, well it had it’s compensations," Ariel replied, sparing Quinn a quick grin before redirecting her eyes to Hairy as she returned him to the floor. "I attended with Jadzia Dax."

"Really!" said Quinn, amused. "So, how far down do her spots go?" she leered.

Ariel looked up from watching Hairy pick at his food, and flashed Quinn a lecherous smile in return. "I’m not the kind to kiss and tell," she responded. Then more seriously: "Yes, he should go to the vet ASAP. They had a fight a couple of days ago before you got home. I didn’t find any marks on either of them at the time. But I think it’s an infected bite, and more likely he got it then, rather than last night. Anyway, both of them should be checked over. What about Grise?"

"He just seemed to be a bystander."

"Hmm. Yeah, just like the other day, although he has had a couple of scraps with Hairy recently." Ariel observed a listless Hairy for a few seconds more then said: "I think it’s time to get the boys neutered."

Mind made up she looked up at her lover and added: "At any rate, first things first. I’ll make an appointment for Hairy with the vet right after my laps, which gives me . . ." Ariel glanced over Quinn’s shoulder at the wall clock ". . . 20 minutes until they open."

"Ok," said Quinn, picking up the Glock from the table and preparing to follow the writer out. "Let’s go."

Ariel regarded her with an amused smile. "As much as I love what you’re wearing, or more properly, not wearing, Sweetheart, I’m not letting you go outside in daylight like that. I’ll wait right here while you go get some clothes on."

"What? Oh, yeah. I wasn’t thinking. Be right back," said her lover, and sprinted out the kitchen door toward the stairs.

Ariel, enjoying the last glimpse she had had of Quinn’s tanned, muscular body, grinned and said, "World, eat your heart out. She’s all mine!"

Her lover soon returned in hastily dawned shorts and t-shirt. A few minutes later, laps accomplished, Ariel was back upstairs, stripping off her wet bikini while simultaneously punching in the vet’s telephone number.

In response to her enquiry, the receptionist said: "Yes, Ariel. We can fit you in at 4:00 pm."

"No chance it could be earlier Beth? The little guy’s in pain."

"Aw, poor Hairy! I wish we could, but Dr. Connor has a very tight schedule today, and that’s the earliest time we have."

"Ok then," said the writer, accepting defeat. "We’ll see you at 4:00."

Ariel disconnected, dressed and hurried downstairs. Quinn, who was just serving omelets, looked up as the writer walked into the kitchen.

"4:00 pm. Dr. Connor is booked solid." Ariel crouched and stroked Hairy, adding directly to him: "I’m sorry, Sweetie, but you’ll feel better soon."

"Ok. I’ll go with you," said Quinn, as she carried the plates to the table. "By the way, what time is your appointment with Edward?"

"11:00. Jamie can go with me—"

"I’ll be back here at 10:30. She’s good but I’d still rather do the honors. Until we have this squared away."


"Mmm," said Quinn giving Ariel a quick kiss as she handed her a plate. "A female who does what she’s told. I like that in a woman."

"No you don’t," rejoined the writer, playfully, as she sat down at the table.

"Ok. Point taken. Let me amend that. I like that in a woman I’m guarding."

"Better," smiled Ariel, as she poured Quinn some coffee. Sniffing the fragrant brew’s aroma, she added "I expect you’ll need this, since I assume you were up most of the night?"

Quinn made a face. "Yeah. I decided after the ‘cat – astrophe’ it was pointless to go back to bed, so decided to do some work."

"Cat – astrophe – nice one," grinned the writer. Then, looking closer, she added: "Come to think of it, you ‘re pretty perky for someone awake half the night, not to mention the sleep deficit from the night before. What gives?"

"Well, I have to check some things at the office first, but if I’m right we got part of the puzzle solved, although how it fits into the whole, I still haven’t a clue," concluded Quinn, buttering toast. Then glancing up and noting Ariel’s hopeful look she added, quickly: "Sorry, Love, it’s not anything to do with where Katie is. But that will come in time. I’m sure of it."

"Ariel smiled, and laid a hand gently on Quinn’s wrist. "With you working at it, it’s sure to be a slam dunk," she murmured.

Just then, the doorbell sounded, signalling Jamie’s arrival, cutting off further conversation.

"’Morning Boss Lady," said Kris, simultaneously checking faxes received overnight and nodding at Quinn who was just letting herself in the front door.

"’Morning Kris. Anything happening I should know about?" said Quinn as she dropped her jacket on a chair. All the way down to the office she had tried to snatch a few minutes of mental rest, putting what she thought of as the Scott problem out of her mind so that she could return to it refreshed and ready to look for new ways to tackle it. But her subconscious was having none of that, worrying at it like a dog with a bone. She hoped the normal office activity, frantic though it could be, might help.

"Just got here myself, but no one’s called me about anything, so presumably it’s all under control," said Kris as she glanced quickly over a fax, adding "here’s something for you from a company called Asia Marine. It gives you the ports of call of one of their ships, uh . . . ." Kris paused to consult the paper she held, "the Sea Dragon, over the last two years. What gives?"

"That was fast," said Quinn, taking the paper. Scanning it quickly she said "I only called them a couple of hours ago and the guy I talked to didn’t seem too interested. But, if I’m right, we are about to identify the Parsonville, and presumably, the west coast killer."

"Yeah?" said Kris, taking the paper back.

"Pull up MORBID. If you plot when the ship was in port against when the murder victims went missing, we’ll soon find out," responded Quinn.

"You got it!" said the shorter woman as she slid into her chair and opened the MORBID database.

While Kris was occupied, Quinn phoned Vanessa.


"How’s it going?"

"Fine, Quinn, although I wish we were through this street scene."

"Would it be better if you had another body there?"

"Yeah. Right now I feel we don’t have her well enough covered."

"Ok. Someone will be down there soon. Likely me."

"Good. We could use the help."

"You got it," said Quinn, and disconnected. "Well? she added to Kris, who was waiting for a chance to speak.

"It fits. I’ve only had time to check the first two but they dovetail perfectly. Jefferson Bennett’s our guy."

"Yeah. Quinn replied. "After about the sixth time over the facts it jumped out at me that after he left Parsonville to join the merchant marine, there were no more disappearances. And then that helped to explain the scattered nature of the west coast murders. Join the merchant marine and slay a girl in every port," she added, savagely. "Call Hank for me, will you? But before you do, check the rest of the data and make sure it matches up. I don’t want to be premature on this."

"Of course, oh Cautious Leader." Kris slid into her chair again, then looked up. "By the way, Boss, good call.

Quinn grinned. "Thanks. A wise woman cautioned me on jumping to conclusions and that made me rethink what we thought we knew. If you need me," she added, collecting her jacket and heading for the door, "I’ll be at the movie set."

"You got it."

"And . . . action."

Unlike almost everyone else on the set, Quinn directed her attention to the onlookers, not the actors, as the scene was played yet again. And that was a pretty tall order, considering that the action covered the length of a city block.

She had arrived at the set twenty minutes before, but just seconds before the crew signaled that a take was about to begin. Quinn had positioned herself so that Vanessa could see and acknowledge her presence. After that take was complete, and while everyone waited for the crew to get ready for another attempt, the security consultant had occupied herself looking over the spectators and assuring herself that no one in the immediate vicinity was a danger to their client.

For this take, she could see that both her operatives were again in position. Vanessa was up the street, as close to Carson Oliver, the woman they had been hired to protect, as she could be under the circumstances, while Owen stood about halfway down, trying to keep an eye on the onlookers and stay out of the crew’s way at the same time. Oliver, Quinn could see, was strolling down the street with a fellow actor, playing out the scene surrounded by cameras, crew and many extras. It was no wonder, thought Quinn, that Vanessa had felt that a little help in this situation was in order.

The main group of actors and crew stopped advancing down the street, while extras continued to mill about the edge, as Oliver and the other actor faced each other and exchanged several lines of heated dialogue. Quinn and her staff tuned out the scene that everyone else was focused upon and kept their eyes moving constantly, checking all the possibilities. Filming on a street with only barricades holding back passersby was chancy. Most people cooperated cheerfully, but a few, well, they were the ones to watch out for.

"And . . . cut. Good one, everybody. Ok, that’s it for here," Quinn heard the director say. An assistant with a megaphone repeated the words up and down the street. As she threaded her way through the throng, she noted with approval that Vanessa and Owen moved in swiftly on either side of Carson, after the scene came to its conclusion. A crew member had just completed a brief conversation with their client when Quinn reached Vanessa. "What’s happening?" she asked. The tall red head turned to greet her, as Owen escorted Carson to a waiting car.

"Hi Boss. They finished here earlier than expected. Carson isn’t needed again until the afternoon so Owen and I will see her back to her hotel, and I’ll stay with her."

"You need anyone later?" she asked, mentally juggling operatives.

"No, I don’t think so. The scenes to be shot this afternoon are interiors."

"Ok, but call for it if necessary," said Quinn.

Vanessa nodded then followed Owen and the client. Quinn watched until she was sure they were safely into a waiting car and off to the hotel. Then, looking around, she assessed her chances of quickly finding transportation herself. The barricades at either end of the block had been lifted and traffic was beginning to build to normal levels. Dodging around some crew members disassembling their equipment, the security consultant spotted and hailed a passing cab.

"Thank you for choosing Central Traffic Authority to fulfill your transportation needs," intoned the taxi, as she got in. "We aim to give you the best in swift, courteous and SAFE service. There is no need to be concerned about recent incidents of taxi vandalism. This cab is tamper-proof and certified safe, clean and suitable for the whole family! If you are travelling with little ones, child seats are available and can be accessed at the touch of the red button on the console! Please follow the instructions to ensure a safe and enjoyable ride. Now, it is our very great pleasure to assist you to reach your destination. Where may we take you today?"

Quinn, who had stolen an impatient look at her watch during the taxi promo responded: "1420 Rochester and cut the chatter."

"I do not recognize –"

"Yeah, yeah, I know, I know already! Just drive!"

Settling back into the taxi’s upholstery, albeit hesitantly, given her experience the day before, Quinn dialed in an info feed audio channel.

Keep your motor runnin’,
Head out on the highway,

The dark haired woman smiled wryly as she got comfortable and closed her eyes. Who would have believed that the old girls next door would turn out to be motorcycle experts. Goes to show you, she said to herself, Margaret Thatcher was right: it’s a funny old world.

Her phone chose that moment to buzz, interrupting her reverie. "Quinn Thanatos," she said.

"We got them Quinn. The driveby shooters. We’ve just started the interrogation."

Quinn bolted upright. "On my way!" she responded and then a split second after disconnecting growled "Oh shit!" as she remembered where she was supposed to be at 10:30.

"Excuse me," queried the car, "I did not understand that instruction." Please repeat, speaking slowly and clearly."

"Cancel your last instruction and take me directly to central police booking."

Thumbing the speed dial on her phone while the taxi acknowledged the change in destination, Quinn impatiently waited for Ariel to pick up. "Hi Love," she said, without waiting for Ariel to speak. "There’s been a change in plans. Hank just phoned to say they got the driveby shooters so Jamie will accompany you to Edward’s after all, and I hope to meet you there."

"Finally! That’s great news!"

"Yeah. I’m hoping the interrogation will nail Scott to the wall. Would you let me speak to Jamie, please?"

"Sure thing, Love. Here she is."

Seconds later, a new voice said: "Yes, Quinn."

"Jamie. Normally I’d relieve you at the house but the police have finally caught the driveby shooters and I want to see the interrogation so you’ll have to accompany Ariel to her publishers. I’ll meet you there. Don’t let her out of your sight and don’t let Scott anywhere near her. If you do, you’ll deal with me. Understand?"

"Loud and clear, Quinn."

"Ok. Good. See you in a while." Quinn disconnected, musing that so far Jamie, who had an impressive resume, had proved to be a good addition to the staff of Thanatos Security.

Her immediate problem taken care of, the security consultant discovered that she’d arrived at her destination. As Quinn punched in her pay code and exited the vehicle, she surveyed the building entrance, taking in the half dozen police cars parked outside, and officers coming and going through the doors, with and without handcuffed prisoners. Every time she saw the police HQ’s gray façade, the security consultant found herself wondering how something that looked so Stalinist had wound up on the opposite side of the globe. "Damned institutional architects," she muttered, as she strode to the entrance.


Chapter 20

Although Quinn could hardly curb her impatience, in reality it was only a matter of moments before she was logged in, issued a visitor’s badge and waved down the hall to the interrogation section, which smelled faintly of disinfectant. Hank met her there.

"Well?" she barked.

"They’re not talking. I think they’ll fold, but they’ll want something for it. It may take a while."

"I got time," she said, hoping she’d bought herself enough.

"Ok. You can watch through here," said the detective, ushering Quinn into a small dim room with one-way mirrors on two of the four walls. Through each she could see a youth seated at a table. One was alone, but two police officers were questioning the other. "They’re talking to Ronnie Whalen," said Hank, gesturing at the interrogation. "The one by himself is Marcus Colby. Ronnie is the weak link."

Quinn nodded, but before turning to the interrogation of Whalen, took a moment to focus intently on the kid lounging indolently in a chair in the other interrogation room. She knew without a doubt that here was the gunman who had fired multiple rounds at Ariel, Scott and herself, so many months ago. His face still haunted the occasional nightmare in which she found herself powerless to prevent Ariel’s murder.

Turning to Hank Walsh, who was watching, she pointed at Colby and mouthed "shooter." Hank nodded, and softly said "That’s what we were told." Then, both focused their attention on the interrogation in the other room.

"So Ronnie," one of the plainclothes officers was saying, "Attempted murder. Wouldn’t want to be in your shoes! That’s pretty big, isn’t it Danny?" he added, addressing his partner, who was lounging against the wall.

Taking his cue, the other man, who was taller, younger and more fashionably dressed, agreed. "Twenty to life," he said. "That’s practically all she wrote. Only one more stop on that sin-bound train before they cancel your ticket," he added, leaning over the table to face the prisoner.

"Attempted murder! What are you guys talking about? I don’t know nothin’ ‘bout no attempted murder!" scoffed the seated prisoner.

"Sure you do. Your prints tie you to a car from which hollow point rounds were sprayed at three people at almost point blank range. The car was ID’ed at the scene. You’re going down bro’. That’s all there is to it."

"And the ammo used is going to get you a special circumstance – no parole consideration ‘til you’ve served 30 years. Minimum," added Danny, again leaning against the wall.

Quinn, who knew that when found, the car had been wiped clean of prints and the rounds fired were standard, held her breath to see what Whalen would say.

"Aw, you don’t got shit," the prisoner sneered.

"Nice big fat thumbprint on the steering wheel. You didn’t get ‘em all, Ronnie," said the older detective moving back into the picture again. Quinn, noting a fleeting look of worry cross the kid’s face, glanced at Hank, who had been watching the scene as intently as she.

Sensing an unvoiced question he met her eyes and shook his head, whispering, "They’re just softening him up. Criminals aren’t usually the brightest people, and they’re hoping he’ll contradict them. It’s been known to happen."

Quinn nodded and went back to observing the dance.

"So Ronnie," continued the older detective, "with the evidence we got, it’s gonna be next to impossible to disprove. Course, with a good lawyer you might be able to wiggle out of it." He sat down, smiled and added: "If Marcus doesn’t talk, that is."

"Marcus ain’t sayin’ nothin’, ’cause there’s nothin’ to say, " said the prisoner, confidently.

"That’s my cue," said Hank. "Excuse me. Back in a moment," and he left by the door through which he and Quinn had entered. In a few seconds Quinn heard a knock on the door to the interrogation room, followed almost immediately by Hank stepping in to motion the older detective out.

The two men entered the observation room seconds later. "Quinn, John. John, Quinn," Hank muttered by way of introduction. Quinn and the older detective nodded at each other and then turned their attention to the action on the other side of the glass.

Danny, the officer left in the room with the prisoner, relaxed against the wall, and then after a couple of minutes began to pace slowly around the perimeter, whistling softly. After about five minutes, Ronnie, whose calm exterior was beginning to show cracks, suddenly asked: "So what’s happening?"

"Huh?" said Danny, portraying a man wrapped up in his own thoughts who had been suddenly pulled back to the present. "Oh, he’ll be back soon."

"Fuckin’ cops" mumbled the prisoner, slouching down in the hard plastic chair and folding his arms.

The older detective grinned. "We’ll give him another minute or two then I’ll go back in and see if the wait has helped things along."

The younger detective came to rest at a section of wall slightly behind and to the left of the prisoner, leaning against it, hands in his pockets and whistling almost soundlessly to himself. After a couple of minutes, Ronnie craned his head around and complained: "Hey, how long you gonna keep me here? I got rights!"

"Oh, we got lots of time yet, man. Don’t worry," responded Danny, smiling pleasantly.

"Ok. Showtime again," said the older detective as he turned and stepped out of the viewing room, pulling the door soundlessly closed behind him. Seconds later he re-entered the interrogation room. "Well, Ronnie," he greeted the prisoner, "you’ve been a very bad boy."

"Whatcha talking about? I ain’t done nothin’."

"Your word against Marcus’s, Ronnie, and remember whose thumb print we found," continued the older officer with glee. "We didn’t find any of Marcus’s prints so that supports what he’s been telling the officers in the other room."

"Whata yuh mean?" the kid blurted. "What’s he been saying?"

"You should have just kept your mouth shut, but you had to boast to him about the job you did."

"I never told him nothing about nothing!" exclaimed the prisoner, becoming agitated.

"Sure you did," said John, the older officer, leaning over the table. "You were supposed to hang out with him at Jack’s Bar and Grill, but when he got there you were gone. It wasn’t until he saw you the next day that you told him about the easy money you made taking pot shots at a celebrity. He’s writing it all down now, and he’ll testify at your trial."

"I didn’t take no shots! He – " Ronnie, realizing he was about to give the game away, clamped his mouth tight and made an effort to compose himself. Quinn was aware of total silence both in the viewing room and in the interrogation room, and realized she was holding her breath.

John pulled out a chair and sat down opposite the prisoner. "Are you telling us that Marcus is lying, Ronnie? See, he’s got the evidence on his side, seeing as how we didn’t find anything to tie him to the car, and if you can’t shake his story, you’re going down and he’s gonna walk."

Quinn watched. Hank watched. The two detectives watched, but the prisoner remained stubbornly mute.

John, the older officer, leaned across the table. "So that’s how it’s gonna be, huh?" he said. "I guess Marcus is right." He stopped, and smiled pleasantly at the prisoner.

"Marcus is right ’bout what?" snarled the prisoner.

"Think about it, Ronnie. Why do you think he did the job with you? ’Cause he knows you’re so stupid you wouldn’t know how to get off and he could leave you twisting in the wind. But Marcus knows how, doesn’t he, Ronnie?" Turning to the younger detective he added "Danny, go see if Marcus is finished writing his statement yet."

"Will do," acknowledged the other man, and stepped out the door. Seconds later he appeared in the observation room.

"Quinn, Danny. Danny, Quinn," said Hank. The younger detective nodded at Quinn, then, as before when John had entered, all three focused on the action on the other side of the glass.

"You see, Ronnie. It’s like this," the older detective was saying as he tilted his chair back and locked his hands behind his neck, the picture of relaxation. "Whoever talks first, gets our attention. There’s still a chance, of course, to change our minds, but if someone hands us a perp tied up with a bow, why should we bust ours balls to prove their story wrong? Personally, the city doesn’t pay me enough."

"My cue, whispered the young detective, picking up some papers from a filing cabinet next to the door before slipping out. Quinn raised an eyebrow at Hank, who quietly said "it’s a confession alright, but one we got on another case, a day or so ago." The security consultant nodded and turned back to the room on the other side of the glass.

Quinn expected to see Danny appear immediately in the interrogation room, but all she saw was the door open slightly, and heard his voice as if he was finishing a conversation with someone outside the room before re-entering it.

"Ok, thanks, man. Yeah. Yeah, we’ll need you at the trial. We’ll let you know. ’Bye."

"Get it?" asked the older detective, as Danny reentered the room with the papers.

‘Uh huh," was the response, as the younger officer handed them to his partner.

"Has Marcus gone now?"

"Yup. But he’ll testify."

"Good. Good. Well I guess that wraps it u—"

"Whaddaya mean has Marcus gone?" interrupted the prisoner, clearly listening to the conversation, and not at all liking what he heard.

The older detective looked up, as if he’d forgotten that the prisoner was there. "Marcus finished his statement," he said, lifting the papers by one corner. "You’ll see him again at the trial."

"You let him go? Just like that? And you’re keeping me here!?" Ronnie exclaimed.

"Well, it’s like I tried to tell you," said the older officer, in a reasonable tone. "Whoever talks first, gets first crack at selling his story." He stopped to riffle the pages, pausing as if reading a line here or there. "What he’s given us here is plausible. I’m afraid there’s nothing more we can do for you." Turning to the younger officer he added, "Danny, would you get a uniform to take him back – "

"Ok! I’ll talk, " he snarled.

"Finally!" Quinn muttered, then immediately spluttered "what?" when John, the older officer said, "Well, we’ve got Marcus’s sta—"

"Fuck his statement! It’s a pack of lies! He was the shooter, All I did was drive the fuckin’ car. I’m not taking a fall for him!"

John looked at him, brow furrowed. Then, he slowly pushed a writing pad and pencil across the table. "Ok," he said. "But you’ve got to write it, so we got it down in your own words. Start with how the whole thing came about. Somebody paid you to do it, didn’t they, Ronnie. Hell, if they paid you, even if you did do it, it’s their responsibility, see? You could turn state’s evidence and walk away laughing."

The prisoner was nodding through this, and grabbed the pencil and paper. But before he could begin writing, the detective added: "But remember, Ronnie, if somebody paid you, we’ve got to be able to find him, otherwise, you’re still stuck. See what I mean? So you’ve got to give us a good description, and pick him out of a lineup, too."

"That’s easy!" exclaimed the prisoner, now the picture of cooperation. "We saw the dude two or three times before he offered us cash to do a little job for him . . . "

Turning away from the scene on the other side of the glass, Quinn exhaled, and looked at Hank. "You guys do good work," she said.

The big man smiled. "Like tickling fish," he said.

"What?" Quinn said, clearly not following.

"Tickling fish. It’s a fishing technique. You take the hook and . . ." The big man trailed off, seeing his listener’s face "Forget it," he said with a wave of his hand. Then added. "By the way, nice call regarding the serial murderer."

"Kris called you?" said Quinn, as she opened the door and stepped out into the hall.

"Called me and faxed and emailed me the info. Time matches on all the murders. We sent out notification immediately. He’s currently at sea, but he’ll be picked up at his next port of call."


"Yeah." The big man rubbed the back of his neck, then added, "Would you like the pleasure of telling the police chief in Parsonville?"

Would she!? Quinn had to admit that she’d love it. However. "Naw, I’ll leave that to you, but tell him that I sent him a big ’ol wet kiss, Ok?"

"It’ll be my pleasure," he replied with a grin. Then, switching gears, he added, "You leaving now? Don’t want to stay to see them crack the other guy?"

"Wish I could," responded Quinn, ruefully, "but I don’t have the time. Got to meet Ariel over at her publisher’s, about . . ." checking her watch, "twenty-five minutes ago."

"Ok. The other guy will take a while but we should have this wrapped up in a couple of hours."

"You’ll make him the same deal? If you identify Scott you’re laughing?" Quinn asked as she and Hank walked down the hall.

"Yeah. I know, that sucks, but, yeah. That’ll be the deal." They stopped at double doors to the entry lobby, cops, robbers and bystanders streaming by on all sides. "And remember, we still have to get them to identify Scott."

"They will," said Quinn with certainty.

"Sure about that?" asked Hank. "They might not be able to identify him after all these months."

Quinn looked at him with a small smile. She was as tall as most men, but she still had to tilt her head back to look Hank in the eye. "I’ve been wrong about a lot of things in this case, but that’s not one of them. They’ll identify him and make it stick. Count on it."

The big man smiled slowly, and then nodded. "It’s about time something went our way on this thing," he agreed. "I’ll call you when I’ve got anything else to say."

"Likewise, " she agreed, then joined the sea of humanity streaming past, and was gone.

Continued . . .

Copyright 2004, by Helen Smith


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