A possible story connection to the episode, "The Ferret."
CURSE OF THE SABETH
By S.J. Stiers
It had taken two solid days of dusty travel and every bit of allowance money for the teenage girl to reach her destination. Tired and anxious, she jumped up from the seat and waited impatiently as other passengers shuffled past her toward the open door. The plump woman in front of her struggled to hold a musty carpetbag, managing to hit the back of each seat with every step. The girl hugged her own small piece of luggage as close as possible. Edging nervously toward the exit, she craned her neck to peek around the crowd. The crush of bodies transported her down the short steps and through the door of the Greyhound bus. Once outside, the harsh stench of gasoline and exhaust fumes burned her throat and eyes.
She stood on the cracked pavement, feeling a bit dazed as bodies brushed by on either side. Most of the people bunched up near the luggage compartment like bees in a hive only to spread out again and buzz away. A rusty soda pop machine stood propped up against the dusty window of the bus station, one metal leg missing. Inside, an old man leaned over a counter and idly puffed on a cigarette while staring at her. This first glimpse of Los Angeles wasn't what she had expected.
"Welcome to L.A., baby. Come on...let me show you the secrets of the big city."
She instinctively twisted away from the raspy voice behind her, flinching from the bloodshot eyes and yellow teeth that leered at her from a gray whiskered face. His cracked lips opened again, dragging foul breath along with them. Dirty fingers raked a stinging trail down her bare arm and gripped her small wrist until she jerked away from his grasp. Falling back against side of the bus, her eyes searched for someone to help her, but the other passengers had already fled. The bus sat silent and empty, the engine no longer kicking out smoke. Even the guy behind the counter had found somewhere else to go.
So she ran. She never saw any famous Hollywood landmarks or celebrity homes as she darted from one corner to another, ignoring crosswalks and traffic lights. The honking of angry drivers, some eager to underscore their frustration with screams of profanity, followed screeches of tires. Liquor stores, pawnshops and seedy motels multiplied rapidly, taking over both sides of the street. She weaved in and around the strangers on the sidewalks, ignoring the looks that lingered and forgetting the ones that did not. Exposed and vulnerable, yet afraid to hide away in unknown buildings and dark corners, she wasn't ready to stop. Maybe later...but not yet.
A dirty haze clogged the sky, preventing the sun from shining through clearly. She was all too aware that the daylight hours were already running out. And that meant those dark corners she feared would be finding her instead.
The childlike figure sat scrunched up against the chain link fence. Mesmerized, the girl watched the never-ending L.A. traffic blur in front of her. A light breeze pushed a candy wrapper across the pavement and against her scuffed brown oxfords. She looked longingly at the gooey remains of melted chocolate inside the paper. As she reached for it another small gust snatched it away, handing it over to a nearby drainage opening.
"Figures," the girl muttered softly, wishing the ache in her stomach would go away as easily. She brushed at a tiny black bug as it began a trek across her shoe.
In all of her fifteen years, Michelle Camden had learned about disappointment. Feeling a little hungry was nothing compared to the pain she now kept buried in her heart. Joey told her that they would go to Los Angeles some day, maybe for good. Years of watching beautiful, magical people in beautiful, magical movies offered her one last hope--a slender thread tied to a treasured promise.
But all she found was another place full of people too busy to notice her, let alone care. Not that she cared about them, either. Especially the weirdo back at the bus station. And the rotten little kid who had knocked her down yesterday, stealing her one and only travel case. Trying not to think about the most recent loss, she wrapped her thin arms around tired, skinny legs and shivered in spite of the California sunshine. Three nights of burrowing in cold, dirty doorways with no coat and very little sleep had taken its toll. Michelle smoothed her hair, repulsed at the grime she felt with her fingers. It also reminded her that the public restrooms were sparse in this part of town. She clutched a small coin purse in one hand, feeling the thickness of each quarter and dime. A dollar and thirty-five cents was everything--but everything would last maybe another day.
A man with long blonde hair tied back in a ponytail watched her from the corner. He wore a stained brown vest with fringe and no shirt. One hand scratched lazily at his bare chest, his gaze running up and down the street before coming back to her again. She blinked quickly and wiped a streak of wetness away from her face. A little voice in her head told her that she'd been lucky so far. But that same little voice warned her that everyone's luck ran out sooner or later.
Further on down the block, a motion caught her attention--a car in familiar black and white. That was the last thing she needed or wanted. She wondered if she was ever going to find a kind face. Wincing as her dirty, nail-bitten fingers clamped onto the jagged wire fence, Michelle pulled herself up and made a mad dash into the closest alley. Emerging at the other end of the passageway, she saw brightly painted letters on the front of a building that read, The Temple of the Soul. All Welcome. It might have been curiosity, loneliness or exhaustion, but something drew her to the entrance. The place didn't look much like a church but at least it didn't reach out to grab and hurt her like the rest of the city.
Abruptly, the door opened outward with barely a noise. Stumbling back, Michelle stared up at a man dressed in a long, luxurious robe. He possessed skin the color of cocoa and dark brown eyes that pooled into melted chocolate. The eyes gazed steadily at her, causing her heart to race. Then he smiled. It was a smile that held infinite patience. The door opened wider as he bowed his head slightly.
"Please, child. Know that you are always welcome in the Temple of the Soul. A place to begin again and to cleanse the mind and spirit." His deep voice was soothing and peaceful.
She heard the words and wondered if this man could possibly know how she felt inside. Maybe this was the only place for her now. Michelle took another step.
The busy strangers on the street never even saw the door close.
Pete Malloy winced at the loud howls emanating from the middle level of the stairs. He found it amazing that a small child could create that much noise, and even more amazing that the parents were oblivious to it. He saw his partner lean over, trying to soothe the youngster with words impossible to hear. Under different circumstances, he might have found humor in Reed's predicament with the tantrum-throwing monster. But he was already occupied by a couple of real winners in the marriage pool.
"You big dummy! See what you've done! The cops! I can't believe the cops are in our home!" The dark, wild-eyed female poked her husband in the chest with one long fingernail painted an electric shade of pink.
"Ma'am, please," Pete stepped in closer, reaching for the woman's arm to gently but firmly pull her back.
"Me? Me? You started it, you...you shrew!" The husband's bellow echoed throughout the living room.
"Shrew? How dare you call me a shrew!"
A small headache bloomed behind Pete's eyes as he realized where the little girl had picked up the fine art of shrieking.
"Look, you two, you're going to have to settle down or we'll have to take you in. Mister…?"
"Hollis. Danny Hollis."
"Mr. Hollis, what's the problem here?" Pete had to keep his own voice loud enough to be heard over the constant wailing of the child. Evidently Jim wasn't having any luck trying out his newly developed skills as a father.
"I'll tell you what the problem is, Officer. She can't cook a meal to save her life. It's bad enough coming home to it each day after work but she expects me to eat that slop even on my day off!"
"Slop? Well, since I'm married to a pig, maybe that's what you should eat!" Mrs. Hollis sputtered, then abruptly turned to look at Pete. "No offense, Officer."
"No, ma'am." Pete rested his hands at his waist as he studied the fuming couple in front of him. "Your neighbors called because of the noise. You've got two choices. You can stop right now and we'll leave. Or you can continue fighting and we'll arrest both of you for disturbing the peace. And unless you have a relative nearby, that means your…little girl...will have to be placed temporarily with Child Services."
Sharp intakes of breath and stricken expressions of shock greeted the senior officer.
"Our baby? You'd take our little sweet pea away from us?" Mrs. Hollis' voice dropped several levels as she began to sob into her apron.
"Only if the two of you can't resolve your differences in a peaceful manner, Mrs. Hollis. We have to do what's best for the child and that may mean separating her from a potentially harmful environment."
"Harmful?" Mr. Hollis asked, indignantly. "Are you accusing us of hurting our little Abigail?"
"No, sir…" Pete answered calmly, wondering why they always seemed to get these calls.
Pete's head jerked around in time to see his partner clutching his wrist with one hand and the tiny terror bounding up the steps. The bellowing grew mercifully fainter with her retreat.
Mrs. Hollis gasped, then followed her daughter even as she threw a reproachful glare toward Jim. The younger officer, still holding onto his right wrist, walked over to join Pete and the husband.
"What happened?" Pete asked.
"She bit me."
Mr. Hollis folded his arms across his broad chest, dismay etched across his features. "Well, she only does that when she feels threatened. So you must've done something to scare her."
Horrified, Jim replied, "No, sir! I was only...."
Pete interjected, knowing it would be useless to argue the point. "Mr. Hollis, can we assume that you and your wife are going to...discuss...your differences more quietly from now on?"
"Of course. I take care of my family. We don't need any interference from the law."
"Fine. See that it stays that way."
Mr. Hollis remained in the middle of the living room, making no effort to see them out. Pete pushed the screen door open, waiting as his partner exited first and noticing that the house was now totally quiet. As the two men walked down the cement steps, neither was actually surprised to hear the front door slam shut behind them.
"Come on, let's make a stop at Central Receiving and get that looked at," Pete said as he rounded the front of the squad.
"I can't believe she bit me," Jim said as he gingerly opened the driver's side door.
Once settled inside the car, Pete noted that Jim continued to keep his wrist covered with his left hand. "Okay, let me see."
"It's just a scratch, Pete."
"So let me see it, then."
Jim sighed as he raised his cupped hand away from the injury. A clear imprint of a child's bite was visible with blood beginning to ooze from the marks.
"Yeah, she bit you," Pete confirmed dryly, waiting a few seconds before he continued. "Looks like the Reverend Sabeth's hex is working its magic on you."
Jim stopped examining his wound and glared at Pete. "Funny, Pete. You really crack me up."
Pete stifled a grin, opting instead to respond in a hushed tone. "I don't know, Jim. Didn't he say trouble and terror would soon be yours or something like that?"
"Yeah, well, big deal. So he likes to spout bad poetry," Jim replied, attempting to sound casual as he peered out the window.
"If you ask me, I think trouble and terror just hit you in the form of a four-year old named Abigail."
Jim's only response was a grunt and a slight shake of his head. Pete's lip curled into a half-smile, knowing that Jim wasn't concerned about the injury itself. He's trying to figure out how he's going to keep this a secret from the guys at the station. Especially Wells!
Seated at the report desk, Jim pulled the sleeve of his uniform down another half inch, trying to make sure that the bandage on his wrist didn't show. But every time he bent his arm, the sleeve managed to work itself up again. I'll be glad when I get this darn paperwork finished. He glanced to his right and saw that Pete and Mac were still talking. Wonder what's taking so long? I hope Pete's not telling Mac...nah, he wouldn't. Would he?
Jim sighed with the realization that it was a moot point. After all, everything had to be in the report. He stared at the pen in his hand and realized that Pete would have more reason to give him grief if he didn't have the forms finished in time. A few minutes later, the door to Mac's office opened just as Jim signed off on the last page.
"Thanks, Mac. We'll let you know," Pete said, closing the door behind him.
Jim reshuffled the papers, aligning the edges before he took them in to Mac. When he looked up, he noticed Pete staring at him. "We'll let him know what?"
"I'll tell you in a minute. Finished?"
Jim waved the reports, then stood and walked into Mac's office. He carefully placed the completed papers in the "In" box, nodded to Mac, then rejoined his partner.
"What's going on?" Jim asked as both men trekked down the hallway toward the break room.
"Thought we'd go ahead and take seven. Okay with you?"
"Sure. But I gotta pick up the lunch Jean made me. I left it in my locker this morning."
A minute later, Jim retrieved a plain brown bag as Pete patiently waited by the door.
"Mac had a message from Detective. Brown," Pete said. Jim returned to the hallway and they continued their trip to the break room.
"About the Reverend?"
"Yeah. Even with the complaint from the doctor at the hospital, there's not enough hard evidence to arrest the Reverend Sabeth of South Arden Street. Not yet, anyway. They're keeping the investigation into the Reverend open, though. Maybe they'll dig up something."
"I sure thought the doc's statement would do the trick. He confirmed that it was the red clay Mrs. Dent ate that led to the miscarriage. And the Reverend obtained the clay, even encouraged the Dents in their beliefs."
"We know that and so does the doc. But we'll need more to put him away."
"If it weren't for him, Mrs. Dent's baby would probably be alive and healthy."
"Mac say anything else?"
"Oh, just that we might want to keep patrolling the neighborhood near the World Temple of the Soul and see if anything looks hinky."
"Was that his suggestion or yours?"
"Does it matter?" Pete's eyebrows rose in question.
"No." Jim grinned and stopped at the break room door. He started to place his injured hand against it, then changed his mind and butted the door with his shoulder, pushing it inward and almost colliding with Ed Wells.
"Whoa, Reed, watch where you're going!" Wells held up both hands in mock surrender, and then looked over his shoulder at the three other officers in the room. "Everyone, look out, it's the dynamic duo. Always ready to fight crime...of all shapes and sizes."
"What's that supposed to mean??" Jim asked sharply.
Wells cocked his head to look at the junior officer. "Capturing the elusive ferret, of course. It's not every day that one of L.A.'s finest sniffs out an environmental saboteur."
Wells paused, squinting one eye as he methodically folded his arms in front of him. "Yeah, that. Why, Reed? What'd you think it meant?"
"He thinks it's criminal to stand in the way of our lunch. And he's right. Ya wanna move it, Ed?" Pete pushed his way through the two men in search of something to eat.
Jim shook his head and followed his partner, not wanting to stick around for more of Ed Wells' sucker bait. He'd let the guy get to him more times than he'd ever want to admit.
Ed continued to stare at Reed and Malloy for a few seconds, a curious gleam already forming in his eye. Uncharacteristically, he left the room without another word.
Pete settled at a nearby table, opened a pre-packaged meal and looked at his partner before biting into it. "I haven't seen you get bothered by Wells like that in a while. What's up?"
In a low voice, Jim replied, "I don't know. All of a sudden, I figured he'd heard about that four-year old sinking her teeth into my arm."
Having sampled the bologna and cheese sandwich, Pete stared at Jim. "How could that be? You just handed in the report to Mac. He'd have to be psychic or something."
"Now that's a scary thought," Jim laughed, opening his sack and peering into it. "His comment just hit me wrong, I guess. How's the sandwich?"
Pete shrugged. "Okay."
"Bet it's not as good as Jean's peanut butter and bananas combo," Jim teased.
"Well, now, what could be better than forty-five of those little gems?"
"Oh, come on, Pete. You're exaggerating."
"You're right. It was only forty-three."
"How would you like to try something else? Since I have to work, Jean took little Jimmy to her mother's for the weekend."
"You're cookin'?" Pete asked, suspiciously.
"No, she left a casserole for me to heat up tonight. You wanna come over and help me eat it?"
"Okay, you're on. As long as it's not a peanut butter and banana casserole."
"It's not," Jim laughed.
"Good. Now let's finish lunch before Wells comes back."
"You got a deal."
"1-Adam-12, 1-Adam-12, see the woman, a possible 459. Nine Three Three Rosewood Avenue. Code Two."
"Roger, 1-Adam-12," Jim replaced the mic and jotted down the address.
As Pete neared the location, a young woman in a lime green pantsuit ran toward them, waving one arm spastically.
"1-Adam-12, code 6 at Nine-Three-Three Rosewood," Jim radioed into Dispatch, then opened the car door.
Both men ran up to the woman who was breathless and now had one hand pressed against her chest.
"Ma'am, are you all right?" Jim asked, holding out a hand to steady her.
"Yes, yes, but I think he's still in there!"
"You called in a prowler, Mrs…" Pete asked, surveying the two-story house behind her.
"Purdy. Miss Lydia Purdy. And yes, I most certainly did call the police!"
"If you'll just stay outside, we'll search the house," Pete said, placing one hand on his gun as he took a step forward.
"Oh, no, not my house!"
"Ma'am?" Jim inquired, looking at the woman again.
"It's around back," Miss Purdy pointed to a paved drive winding around the left side of her residence.
"Mr. Chavez's garage apartment. And his workshop. He's out of town this weekend, you see. He told me. It's a good thing I'm wearing my glasses because I looked out my back bedroom window a few minutes ago and there he was! Plain as day and bold as brass!"
"Mr. Chavez?" Pete asked, thoroughly confused. Now I know why Dispatch called it a "possible."
"No, no, no! The man breaking into Mr. Chavez's apartment! He's probably stealing all of the expensive tools Mr. Chavez uses in his work."
"All right, Miss Purdy, we'll check it out. Just stay here."
The agitated woman nodded, wringing both hands as she watched the officers disappear around the corner of her house.
Pete and Jim trotted down the drive, sticking close to the outside wall of the house. They stopped once they reached the far corner and Pete peered around to cautiously scan the area surrounding the garage apartment. The building was smaller than the main house, consisting of two levels. Wooden steps led first to a landing, then up to a door on the second floor. No other entrance was visible. Pete figured that there could be a back door or garage doors on one of the other sides. He motioned for Jim to take a quick look before they moved on.
"I'll take the stairs, you go around back," Pete instructed, keeping his voice low.
Jim nodded and drew his gun as he approached the dwelling. His peripheral vision kept Pete in sight while he watched for any motion around the garage.
Pete had again readied his weapon, keeping his eye on the door above. He eased his way up the steps and reached the landing quickly. As he turned, a face appeared in the small window in the door. Pete had an instant to take in a man's round, pale face, blonde hair and look of alarm before he disappeared.
"Jim! He's headed your way!" Pete yelled. He sprinted up the remainder of the steps and grabbed the doorknob, hoping to get lucky. Unfortunately, the entrance was locked and refused to budge even after he rammed his shoulder against it. He gave up on the door and clattered down the stairs to join his partner.
Jim heard Pete's warning as he rounded the shady corner of the garage. At the same time, a stocky, tow-headed man burst out from a ground-level door. The guy hesitated, and then ran. Jim dropped his gun back into its holster, confident that he could catch the suspect with a rush and tackle. In a burst of speed, he covered the distance between them easily and knew this guy would not be getting away from them.
Two seconds later, his right foot pushed off the hard surface of the drive and flew out from beneath him. The stable ground that he had counted on for leverage had vanished. In its place was an oil slick the size of a child's wading pool. Even as he fell helplessly forward, one arm still reached out and snagged the ankle of the blonde man, pulling him down as well.
Jim refused to let go and clamped his other hand around the man's leg. Jim tried to get up at the same time, which proved to be a more difficult task than he expected. Every time he pulled up his knee in an attempt to stand, the other leg slipped from beneath him and brought him back down again. The suspect continued to struggle and kick but only succeeded in wiggling closer to the puddle of oil.
Jim sighed in relief as he heard Pete's voice beside him and knew that the suspect was covered. The man in his grasp gave up on his efforts and simply lay on his stomach.
"Hands out from your sides," Pete said, keeping his voice stern.
Jim finally found dry ground and rose to his knees, maneuvering close enough to handcuff the prisoner. Thankful that the garage wall was now within reach, he pulled himself up and back on his feet. The suspect followed suit and walked sullenly as Jim prodded him forward and read him his rights.
"You hurt anything?" Pete asked, keeping his eyes on the suspect.
"Just my pride," Jim answered in disgust.
"And that uniform," Pete deadpanned, throwing a sideways glance toward the younger man.
As they approached the squad Miss Purdy smiled broadly at them and pointed at the captured intruder.
"Wonderful! You caught him!" she exclaimed.
"Yes, ma'am," Pete answered, stopping in front of her.
"Oh, my..." The woman adjusted her rhinestone-tipped eyeglasses and scrutinized Jim closely, eyes traveling up and down his tall frame. "You've got horrid oil all over your nice uniform."
"Yes, ma'am, I know," Jim said as he opened the back door of the black and white.
"Well, I did tell you that it was a garage and workshop. Mr. Chavez was bound to have some oil here and there."
"We appreciate your assistance, Miss Purdy," Pete said, walking to the back of the car. "Hold up a minute, Jim."
Jim held onto the suspect's arm, preventing him from sitting in the back seat.
Pete opened the trunk, reached in and retrieved a bundle, which he held up for Jim. "Slickers. Remember, we thought we might need 'em this morning?"
"But it's not raining, Pete," Jim replied, glancing briefly toward the blue sky.
"I'm not worried about rain. I'm worried about the upholstery in the squad. You wanna take it back to the station with the back seat coated in 30-weight?"
"Oh. Right," Jim conceded. If they turned the car over in that condition he didn't know which would be worse - the irritation of the officers using 1-Adam-12 during the next shift or Tony's wrath down at the police garage. As far as Jim was concerned, the sooner they got back to the station, the better.
Pete nodded at Jim as they entered the station and treaded down the hallway. "You go ahead and change. I'll get this guy booked and start the report."
"Thanks, Pete." Jim couldn't wait to get out of his uniform and into a clean one. Even my shoes…uh-oh…shoes? He looked down at the floor behind him, cringing when he saw dark traces of oil left in his wake. Oh great.
Jim bent down to untie his shoes, slipped them off quickly and ducked into the locker room to set them aside. He grabbed a towel, dashed back out into the hallway and wiped up the black residue. Still on his hands and knees, he took one last look to be sure he'd gotten rid of it all.
"Watcha' doin', Reed?"
Wells. Again. Jim sighed inwardly, stood up and turned around to see Wells and Brinkman.
"Good grief, what happened to you? And what were you doing on the floor?"
"Nothing, Ed," Jim replied, taking a step forward.
"Whoa, wait a minute. You mean you're not going to tell ole' Ed what's going on?"
"Nothing's going on, Ed. Just taking care of business."
"Come on, Ed," Brinkman shrugged at Jim as he bumped his partner's shoulder, trying to get him to move.
"Okay, okay," Ed hooked one thumb into his belt loop and held up the other hand in resignation. "I just wanted to make sure that Reed here wasn't going to trip over his shoelaces or something." Ed lowered his eyes to stare pointedly at Jim's feet. "Oh wait! You don't have any shoelaces, do you?"
Ed jabbed his partner in the side and exploded with laughter. Brinkman shook his head, chuckling and rubbing a hand over his mouth as he looked at Jim's feet, still in socks.
"Reed, you really are having a run of bad luck, aren't you?" Ed winked at the younger officer as he and Brinkman continued their trek to the parking lot. The heavy door slammed shut behind them and silence descended on the hallway.
Jim returned to the locker room, balled up the filthy cloth in his hands and threw it in the trash. When he caught sight of his shoes, he changed his mind and retrieved the used towel to wipe them off. At least he could salvage them. His uniform looked like a lost cause. Jim blew out a breath, unbuttoned his shirt and tried to squash his frustration. As much as he hated to admit it, Wells was right. This had not been his day.
Pete closed his locker door, crossed his arms and leaned against the metal surface as he waited for his partner. The younger man was buttoning the top button of his uniform in unhurried fashion, whistling and seemingly oblivious to the fact that they were the last to leave for roll call.
"Any time now, partner," Pete raised his eyebrows, a smile beneath the surface.
Jim stopped abruptly and grinned at Pete. "Oh, sorry, Pete. Guess I'm just in a good mood."
"Well, Jean's not here so that can't be the reason…" Pete mused.
"No," Jim laughed, shrugging a shoulder. "I made up my mind that today's a new day."
"Meaning it's better than yesterday, right?"
"Exactly." Jim grabbed his nightstick and case and fastened his locker door. Both men walked toward the squad room and were instantly waylaid by Wells as he skirted around the corner. Barely stopping short of Jim, Ed kept both of his hands hidden behind his back.
Jim and Pete looked at him, then at each other, then back at Ed again.
"Well?" Smiling, Ed bounced up and down on his toes like a kid with a big secret.
"Well what, Ed?" Pete asked, not bothering to hide his impatience.
"I've got something for Reed here."
"That's okay, Ed. Whatever it is, you can keep it," Jim stated flatly, both hands solidly resting on his hips.
"Oh, but you need this." Ed's hands swooped forward, one holding something unidentifiable and the other fluttering around it with grandiose gestures. "Ta-da!"
Jim and Pete both stared silently at the odd-looking paper construction in Ed Well's hand.
"I give, Ed. What is it?" Jim sighed, aware that he was going to regret it.
"Why, my boy, this is a genu-wine ancient artifact guaranteed to ward off crazy kooks of all kinds and their curses. Especially...hexes! Yes, sir, the next time some nutcase with a big plastic eyeball sics a little kid after you, Reed, you just throw this at 'em."
Pete thought Jim's own eyeballs were ready to burst right about now. But it didn't really surprise him that Wells had found out about Jim's encounter with Reverend Sabeth or the incident with the monster tyke. However, his partner remained calm. Suspiciously calm. Pete decided to interrupt Ed's loony sales pitch as his own curiosity got the best of him.
"Gee, Officer Wells, that's a swell science project," Pete said, utilizing his best Eddie Haskell impression. "I bet your folks are proud."
"Don't you see, Malloy?" Ignoring the gibe, Ed pointed to the multi-sided paper object that resembled bad origami. "Six sides. It's a...hexagon. Hex. O. Gone. Hex-o-gon! Get it?"
Pete watched as Ed Wells cracked himself up, almost doubling over in laughter. Ed still managed to hold onto the flimsy item even as his other hand wiped at his eyes.
"Ed." Jim's voice broke through the commotion.
Looking up to meet Jim's steady gaze, Ed blinked back tears and attempted to choke back his giggling fit. "Yeah?"
"This thing really gets rid of all kinds of curses and kooks?" Jim asked, earnestly. He reached out tentatively, regarding the thing in Ed's hand with blatant interest.
"Uhh, yeah," Ed coughed to cover a smirk as his eyes lit up with renewed attention.
Jim lowered his hand over the so-called charm, picked it up and slowly and deliberately crumpled it in his fist. Nothing was left but a thoroughly mangled wad of paper.
"It's defective," Jim stated evenly, dropping it back into Ed's hand, still poised in mid-air.
"Huh?" Wells stood open-mouthed, gaping at his masterpiece. "What do ya mean?"
"You're still here." Jim turned to Pete, shrugged and headed toward the squad room.
Pete thought the look of total consternation on Ed's face was a thing to behold. He bit his lip trying to maintain his composure but a laugh escaped nevertheless.
"Ed, when he's right, he's right, " Pete grinned and followed his partner.
The shift had been an eventful one so far. If traffic citations could be considered eventful, Pete thought. Everyone and their brother must have decided to bend or break the traffic rules on their beat.
"What was that last one, Pete? The sixth car we've pulled over for running a red light?"
Pete nodded, slowing down as they approached a stop sign. "It's a miracle nobody got clobbered at those intersections. Some crazy people out there today, that's for sure."
"Yeah, like that kid who poured six bags of flour on the leaking fire hydrant. What a mess."
"Don't forget the guy running through the alley without any clothes."
"Who could forget that?" Jim chuckled, looking to his right as the squad car stopped on the street.
"I wish I could," Pete cringed, checking his left side view.
"You know, one of these days, they're going to give it a special name."
"Give what a special name?"
"Running in public without a stitch on," Jim answered, glancing briefly at Pete.
"It already has a name. It's called 'indecent exposure.' And if you want its really special name, it's called a '311.'"
Jim continued to watch the neighborhood. Houses gradually gave way to deteriorated businesses. "Okay, okay, so maybe that's too much," he conceded. "But stranger things have happened, right?"
"Speaking of strange..." Pete nodded ahead to his right.
"Oh. Yeah," Jim stared as they cruised slowly past the building that housed the World Temple of the Soul. "Wait, Pete...back up."
"What is it?" Pete brought the squad to a stop, checked the rearview mirror and immediately shifted into reverse.
"The side of the building. I thought I saw something."
As Pete pulled in closer to the curb, Jim attempted to locate whatever had caught his attention. All he could see was a paved lot, a small dumpster and a few boxes scattered around. His eyes took in everything, from left to right, top to bottom. Nothing.
The side door to the temple building opened and a young girl emerged, holding a container with both hands. Her back to the street, she flipped it sideways and splashed the contents onto the asphalt. Turning around, she saw the black and white police car and stopped in her tracks. She stood unmoving, hands still wrapped around the empty container.
"That's what I saw, Pete."
"That's my guess. What in the world is she doing in there?"
"Call in our location and we'll go find out."
Pete climbed out of the car as Jim radioed in to dispatch. Walking over to the sidewalk, he maintained a watchful eye on the dark-haired girl and received a scathing frown in return.
"That's quite a look she's giving you," Jim remarked, sliding out of the passenger side of the squad.
"How do you know it's me?" With Pete in the lead, the two men approached the teenager slowly, not wanting to alarm her.
"Miss, may we talk to you for a moment?" Pete asked, toning down the request with a smile.
The girl responded by sprinting back inside the inky interior, disappearing completely.
Pete looked at his partner dryly. "Don't say it."
The officers closed the gap, stopping a few feet short of the open doorway. Blinking against the sudden blackness, Pete entered cautiously with Jim one step behind him.
The dim corridor led to the larger center room familiar to them from their last visit. Wall coverings in burnished colors did nothing to alleviate the lifeless setting. It contained a few meager items, seemingly ritualistic in nature, and the lighting remained minimal. Everything appeared basically the same, except there were only two people present instead of a group. A woman, approximately thirty years old, with long, wavy red hair, was listening raptly to Reverend Sabeth. Both of them looked up only when the officers made their presence known, making Pete feel that they were being ignored on purpose. It was obvious from the Reverend's expression that he was not pleased to see them again. The woman stepped back and turned to leave.
"Miss?" Jim said, firmly. "Would you mind staying, please?"
Her eyes flickered toward the Reverend briefly, who nodded, and then settled back on Jim as she waited.
"You," Reverend Sabeth's smooth, low-toned voice rolled out in heavy waves, his face growing darker with unconcealed hostility. "…are not welcome here."
So much for the sign outside. "There was a young girl... a teenager," Pete said firmly, disregarding the Reverend's antagonism. "We saw her come in here."
For a moment there was only silence in the gloomy room. Each man stood his ground until Pete noticed Sabeth barely nod to the woman again.
"Michelle." She answered so softly that Pete could barely hear her.
"Michelle? Long brown hair, wearing bell-bottom jeans and a baggy white t-shirt? Is that her name?"
"I'm Officer Malloy and this is my partner, Officer Reed. Is the girl related to you?" Pete asked. He noticed the Reverend observing his partner as Jim mindfully explored the outer edges of the room.
"She's...my niece," the woman answered, her eyes now drawn and anchored to the wooden floor.
"This is an unusual place for a teenage girl, Miss."
"Regina Cain and her niece come here for spiritual enlightenment, Officer," the Reverend interjected. "They do have that choice, do they not?"
"We're here to make sure that child stays safe," Jim spoke clearly, making sure that Sabeth heard him. Both men stared at each other across the room, one with contempt, and the other with solid determination.
"We'd like to talk to her," Pete continued, aware of the growing tension in the room. The sooner they could figure out what might be going on, the better.
"Don't call me a child." The young girl in question emerged from the main entryway and stood next to the woman.
"Michelle? What's your last name?" Pete asked, pleasantly.
"Cain, like mine." Regina Cain's small voice interrupted.
"Miss, if you don't mind, I'd like Michelle to answer for herself."
"It's Cain, like she said." Pursing her lips, Michelle crossed her arms in front of her.
"Where do you live, Michelle?"
"With her. My aunt."
"All right, but what's the address?"
"Number Two thirteen," Regina added quickly.
"And your parents?"
"They're not here," Michelle answered, with a vagueness. "I mean they're…dead."
"I'm sorry," Pete said, trying to see behind the words.
"What do you want? We didn't do anything wrong."
"No one said you did, Michelle," Jim said, as he took a step closer to her. "It's our duty to make sure you're okay."
Michelle paused, her mouth hanging slightly open as she looked at him. Her already defensive stance turned openly combative as her fists clenched in small knots of rage. Pete wondered what Jim had said that triggered such a reaction. She scowled at Jim, her voice increasing in volume. "I am not your responsibility..."
"But you are…" Jim began, taken off guard by her anger.
"You said you're here because of responsibility, right? That means someone else told you what to do. And you do it."
"That's not…" Jim attempted to answer, although he was stunned by her accusations.
"The world would be a better place if people did things because it's what they want in their hearts...instead of doing what other people tell them!" Michelle's tirade ended as suddenly as it had started. Suddenly paling, she spun around and clutched the corner of the wall.
"You continue to harass the members of my Temple. You bring lies to frighten, mislead and upset the people you claim to protect." Sabeth's own words were comfortably swathed in the guise of outraged victim. "Regina, Michelle needs to rest. Please take her home."
Regina obediently led the young girl from the room, keeping her close to her.
"That dead baby was no lie," Jim said, grimly.
"Jim," Pete cautioned, recognizing the troubled features on his partner's face.
"And you are intent on using a tragedy of one of our own for your own purposes." Sabeth held up one hand in warning as his dark-rimmed eyes remained on Jim. "And for that...take care. Only in darkness will true dangers be revealed."
"I think we've been down this road before," Pete's mouth tightened, knowing that their options were limited for the moment. "Just remember, we'll be in the neighborhood."
"The power of the mojo can help or harm," Sabeth whispered. "You would be wise to remember."
"Like he said, we'll be in the neighborhood," Jim said, meeting the Reverend's icy glare with one of his own.
Once outside, both officers were quiet as they returned to the squad. Jim opened his door and waited until Pete rounded the front bumper. Keeping the door open, he leaned one arm on the roof and looked at his partner.
"For what?" But Pete already knew what was bothering him.
"Nearly losing it with Sabeth back there."
"You can't play his game, Jim."
"I know. But what'd you make of that scene in there, Pete?"
Pete stopped, his hand still on the door handle. "With Sabeth? The aunt? Or the girl?"
"All of them, I guess. But yeah…the girl. Did I scare her or something?"
"Maybe she doesn't like the police. That's not exactly new to us." Pete knew it was a logical answer but he wasn't sure it was the right one this time.
"You know, Pete, I thought today was going to be a good day. Now I'm not so sure."
Pete paused as he threw a glance toward the building, and then opened his door. "Come on. Let's go."
Pulling away from the curb, Pete listened as Jim finished clearing them with Dispatch. It wasn't difficult to see that his partner's earlier high spirits had plunged.
"I guess it wasn't just you," Jim said.
"Getting all the dirty looks. It's a good thing she wasn't carrying a weapon or you might be minus one partner."
"Don't let it get to you. She's a kid. And I bet a confused one at that."
"Yeah, you're probably right."
"Hey, so this isn't your week for impressing the fairer sex."
Jim let go of a smile as he watched the traffic begin to build up again. "Well, at least Jean's not complaining."
"True. But then, she's not home yet."
"Thanks, partner," Jim shook his head, grinning.
Michelle huddled in a corner, resting her chin on bended knees. Being here at this place and staying with Regina had been like sleepwalking in a warm cocoon. Bound up nice and snug so she didn't have to feel anymore. Until now.
Her mixed-up thoughts confused and scared her at the same time. The words were so familiar, so caring and spoken by a police officer, of all people. A tiny place in her soul wanted to believe him. But if she did that, then she'd have to admit that Joey was right. And he couldn't be right…because he was dead.
A hand stroked her hair lightly, startling her for a brief second.
"You were destined to be here, Michelle. No one will change that. No one." The man's huge hand grasped both of her hands and placed a small object in them. A dark brilliance stirred on the Reverend's features as he gazed past her. "The symbol of a new existence. Always remember what you have heard here. Learn and the power can be yours."
"1-Adam-12, 1-Adam-12, see the woman. A 390, 415. See the woman. Six-thirteen Ridgeway. Code two."
"1-Adam-12, roger." Jim responded and glanced at Pete briefly. "Ridgeway. Pretty ritzy area."
"People get high or drunk pretty much anywhere."
Moments later, the squad pulled up to a stately residence surrounded by high brick walls and protected by an iron gate entrance. A woman, her hair streaked silver, stood behind the immense metal framework, waiting for them. Neither officer made it out of the squad before she started talking.
"Officers, you have got to do something," she demanded hoarsely, lighting a cigarette at the same time.
"Yes, ma'am," Jim replied as he closed his door. He noticed that the woman made no move to open the spiraled gate, choosing instead to remain behind it.
"I'm Mrs. Gilbert McAffrey. Such abhorrent behavior right here. Right here! I simply cannot abide by it."
"I'm Officer Reed," Jim informed her as Pete joined him in front of the gate. "This is my partner, Officer Malloy."
"If you want us to help you, Mrs. McAffrey, you'll have to let us in first," Pete said, slightly irked by the woman's stance.
"Oh, no, that won't be necessary."
Jim and Pete exchanged a look.
"What exactly is the complaint, Mrs. McAffrey?" Jim asked, baffled.
"Abhorrent conduct, young man! I told you!" Mrs. McAffrey raised a sallow hand, pressed a thin cigarette to her mouth and inhaled deeply.
"Yes, ma'am. You reported an intoxicated person on the grounds, is that correct?"
Exhaling, the older woman's eyes crinkled with indignation as a cloud of smoke swirled around her face and settled in her hair. "On these grounds? I should say not!"
"Why, next door, of course. And it's absolutely ruining my afternoon Canasta meeting. All that laughing and howling. I know it's that boy, Paul. Probably having some wild, drunken party in the middle of the afternoon. His parents are never home so he does whatever he wants."
"All right, ma'am, we'll check it out."
"See that you do, Officer. Some of us have better things to do than to be bothered by crazy people," Mrs. McAffrey sniffed loudly, and coughed twice, the sound resembling cries of a deep-throated animal. She turned abruptly, stopping to make sure that her multi-colored caftan dress billowed elegantly behind her, and marched back to her card game.
"I couldn't agree more," Pete said, glancing at Jim.
The officers returned to the squad car and drove up a circular drive a few hundred yards from the street to a colonial style residence. The lawn was as elegantly manicured as a movie star's fingernails. The front of the house was so flawless that it coul have served as a studio backdrop. On the surface, not a thing was out of place. An eerie stillness greeted them as they left the car and walked up to the gilded front door.
Pete reached for the doorbell, pressed the gold button and nearly jumped as an earsplitting wail tore through the air. Both men backed up several steps to scan opposite sides of the building, trying to determine the origin of the piercing screams. Jim spotted an opening on the left side of the house and signaled to Pete. The shrieking ceased reverberating through the air as the two men cautiously entered a courtyard. Sections of brightly colored lawn furniture lay overturned on the smooth cement. Clear turquoise water in a kidney-shaped swimming pool lapped quietly. A modest pool house, door gaping wide open, was set conveniently near the steps of the pool.
Guns held ready, each officer moved quietly and hastily to either side of the doorway. Small bursts of laughter curiously mixed with low moans drifted outwards. Jim checked with Pete, who barely nodded agreement, then edged over to the far corner of the building. He neared a small window only to discover that it was firmly sealed. Quickly checking the back and finding no other access, he rejoined his partner and shook his head.
Pete's lips tightened, already knowing that his side of the pool house was windowless. It was time to find out what was going on.
"You, inside! This is the police. Come out with your hands up."
The sound of objects falling over, metal containers banging against hard surfaces and aggravated grunting was the initial response. Within seconds, a scrawny young man faltered to the doorway and braced both hands on the doorjamb. Long black hair fell into his eyes as he stared at the blue uniforms blocking his path.
"Oh, man...help me. They're all...gonna...get me."
"Calm down," Pete asked gently. "Paul? Who's trying to get you?" Briefly, the young man's terrified eyes located the face of the man speaking to him. Pete scrutinized the kid's appearance carefully as he slipped his revolver back into place. The teenager was sweating, trembling, even drooling as swayed from side to side.
"All of them, man...in there." Paul turned his head slowly, indicating the void behind him. Suddenly, he yelled again and bolted from the entryway, trying to push past the officers in the process.
"Hey, take it easy," Grabbing Paul's arms, Jim cuffed them behind his back as Pete held onto the kid. Paul continued to moan and shake his head but stopped fighting them.
Jim grasped the boy as Pete quickly inspected the interior of the pool house. "See anything?"
"No," Pete answered, returning. "But I guess he did."
"Might be a good idea."
"Come on, Paul." Jim began to propel Paul forward, then stopped as the kid twisted and doubled over.
In that instant, Paul gagged violently, catching Jim by surprise. Before he could get completely clear, the teenager retched the contents of his stomach all over the glazed tiles, the cement surface...and at least one of Jim Reed's shoes.
Jim didn't move a muscle as he stared down at his shoe in stunned disgust. The kid still tilted in his hold, groaning loudly. "I'm sick, man...I'm sick."
"I'll take him," Pete said as he took the boy from Jim's grasp, which earned him an expression of gratitude from his partner. "I saw a garden hose on this side of the pool house."
A moment later, Pete had finished calling in to Central while the boy sat in the back seat of the squad, with the door open. Pete hung up the mic and shut the back door as his partner rejoined him.
"No ambulance?" Jim asked.
"We might as well take him in ourselves. Faster...and probably better than waiting."
Pete wasn't surprised when Jim readily agreed.
Jim Reed slipped on his canvas loafers and remained hunched over on the bench next to his locker. This was another day that he was glad to change out of his uniform completely. His dark socks had immediately ended up in the trash. No way was he going to bring those home to wash with the rest of the family laundry. He still wasn't sure if his pants had suffered from the nauseous assault or not. He'd done the best he could at the scene, being sure to rinse away all traces of the boy's illness but one shoe was undeniably ruined. No amount of spit and polish would help now. He stared at the regulation footwear, knowing he was going to throw them away, too, but hating the fact that a new pair was going to cost a pretty penny.
"Not been your week for uniforms, has it, partner?"
Jim straightened up, looking at Pete as he stood near the door of the locker room. He hadn't even heard him come in. He shrugged. "Guess not. What do you think that kid was on, anyway?"
It was Pete's turn to shrug as he answered. "I don't know. Hallucinogen of some kind. At least the effects were wearing off at the hospital."
"Awfully young to be getting into that stuff," Jim shook his head, thoughtfully. "A kid in a beautiful home, parents probably earning a good living, right?"
"Sure looked like it."
"So if that can happen to someone like him, what about the others? The ones with no parents, no nice house to live in?"
"Don't forget, Jim. This kid's parents weren't around either. Even with that great house, life doesn't come with a guarantee."
Jim nodded, knowing Pete was right.
"Think it's time to get out of here?"
Finding a grin somewhere still inside him, Jim grabbed his work shoes and replied, "Definitely. But I gotta stop at the market before I go home."
With one eyebrow raised, Pete asked, "Is that where you're buying your shoes now? The market?"
Ignoring the comment, Jim walked over to the waste can and ceremoniously dropped his shoes into it. "Jean's mother gave her a new recipe and now that she's back she wants to try it out tonight. She needs me to pick up a special spice or something." He pulled the door open, holding it for Pete. "Hey, you wanna come over later for dinner?"
Pete walked past him, shaking his head and squinting his eyes for effect. "I'll let your wife test it out on you first. If you survive...then I'll come over."
Jim let the door go and caught up to his partner, chuckling. "So you're afraid of a little gourmet experimentation, Malloy?"
"That's what husbands are for, Reed. Godfathers get the perfected version."
Ed Wells and his off-tune whistling confronted them as they neared Mac's office. Jim and Pete stopped, allowing Ed to pass neatly between them as he meandered down the center of the hall.
"Hey, Ed," Jim joked, "Yield right of way, remember?"
"Only when you're driving a car, Reed. And we all know how often that happens." Ed tossed back his comment without turning around and disappeared into the locker room.
"I think he's still miffed that you got him back this morning," Pete commented, his eyes twinkling.
"Well, he deserved it."
"No argument there."
Both men had barely taken a step when the sound of Ed Wells' voice prompted them to stop again.
Jim turned to see the officer partially leaning out from the locker room, looking rather concerned. "What is it, Ed?"
Ed took a step out into the hallway, pointing into the room. "There's a pair of shoes here in the trashcan. They're not yours, are they?"
Jim hesitated, silently wondering about the odds involved in having Ed Wells ask about his shoes twice in two days. "Yeah, Ed. They are."
Eyebrows shifted in mock sympathy as Ed shook his head at Pete. "Malloy, I think your partner's got a real problem keeping his shoes on. You want me to fish them out of the garbage for him?"
"Trust me, Ed. I wouldn't touch 'em if I were you," Pete cautioned.
Ed paused, then peeked back inside the locker room for a quick glimpse. Returning a skeptical gaze to them, he asked, "Why? What'd you do to them?"
"Oh, I didn't do anything to them," Jim replied, turning to his partner. "Pete, you ready to go?"
"Yeah, it's been a long day. See ya, Ed."
Jim and Pete turned their backs and continued their trek to the exit. Ed Wells' head resembled a tennis match in motion, his attention bouncing back and forth between the two officers and the trash can.
"Hey, wait a minute! Aren't you going to tell me what's wrong with the shoes?" he asked, loudly.
"No!" Jim and Pete's voices rang out in unison as the door closed slowly behind them.
Sergeant McDonald walked out of his office a few seconds later, hands on hips. "Wells, are you out here shouting?"
"No, sir," Ed stammered, "I mean, well, yes, sir."
"Who are you yelling at?"
"Reed and Malloy there," Ed indicated the now closed door with a nod of his head.
"Oh?" Mac surveyed the otherwise empty hallway.
"Yes, sir, I know," Ed sighed, turning back to the locker room once again. Only this time, he kept his eyes averted from a certain pair of shoes. Almost.
Jim figured he had a few extra minutes on his side, mostly due to the light traffic he encountered after leaving the station. He spent that spare time cruising down South Arden Street, locating Rockdale one block north. Two-thirteen turned out to be a rundown two-story house on the corner with several windows flaunting starbursts in their glass. At this distance, it was anyone's guess as to the cause--rocks, pellets, bullets. The peeling paint provided the only contrast in color. The yard around the structure was more dirt than grass. The front door was propped open with a cement block.
It always bothered him to see a child, even teenagers, living in squalor or in dangerous environments. He'd been raised in a happy home with two loving parents, giving him a blueprint for his own life with Jean and Jimmy. But as a cop, he'd seen endless situations involving families. And, always, he was reminded of how lucky he had been. And still was.
Glancing at his watch, Jim knew he better leave while he still had time to make his last stop. He also knew there was a corner market just up the street. It wouldn't take long to find the items Jean needed and, if the traffic held out, he'd be home just in time. He wished he could stop and check on the girl, see if she was all right. But Jean would worry if he came home late. And it was going to be hard enough explaining this little side trip to Pete in the morning.
Michelle sat on a small stool close to a window, watching an occasional car sail through the neighborhood. Her right hand played with the torn screen, bending the edges of a small opening until the thin barrier shredded beneath her fingers. It was rusty and worn out, much like the rest of the house. Footsteps creaked on the wooden stairs behind her.
Regina approached her, kneeling down beside her to speak quietly. "There's no need to be afraid."
"But what if the police come back? What if something happens?"
"That risk is theirs to take." Regina stared at Michelle's left hand, clenched around an object. She tenderly pried open the young girl's fingers, revealing a small gold scarab. Fear and fascination reflected in the woman's eyes. "You have the amulet. Do you understand its meaning?"
Michelle nodded, her eyes watering.
"A new life is what you have with us, with the Reverend. Your life is beyond what you imagined. Don't you know that by now?" Not waiting for an answer, Regina quietly exited the room. The aged stairs groaned again as she made her way back to the second floor.
Michelle watched as the taillights of a light-colored car gradually faded into the twilight. The little thread of hope dangled out of reach. She wanted to go home. She wanted Joey to come home. But it was too late. Everything had changed, just as Regina had said. Michelle laid her forehead down upon the windowsill, never feeling the roughness of the wooden surface. Her body trembled with choking gasps and muted tears for things she had tried to forget, only to find that she wanted to remember. She had to remember.
The shimmering golden beetle fell to the floor.
"Hmmm?" Distracted, Jim watched little Jimmy play with his blocks on the kitchen floor. The wooden squares had already been piled a multitude of times only to quickly totter and spill onto the linoleum.
"Did you like it or not?" Jean sunk a bowl into soapy water, leaving it to soak, and turned to scrutinize her husband. Even though she knew he was enjoying the scene in front of him, she could also tell when he had more than one thing going on in his mind.
"Oh, yeah, honey, dinner was great."
"That's quite a trick, Jim."
"What?" Jim's head snapped up, baffled by her question.
"I bet you don't even remember what my new recipe tasted like, do you? Or what it looked like."
He studied the empty plate in front of him a few seconds. "I'm sorry, Jean."
"It's okay. It's probably for the best." She winked at him and leaned back against the counter as she dried both hands on the front of her apron. "You've been so quiet lately. Do you want to talk about it?"
Jim stood up, taking his plate and utensils with him, and walked carefully around his son. Little Jimmy held up a blue block, waving it around in the air.
"That's a block, all right," Jim nodded his encouragement. He immersed the plate into the water, picked up a dishtowel and turned to his wife.
"Remember that baby I told you about? The one that died because the mother ate red clay while she was pregnant?"
Jean remembered how Jim had sounded when he told her about the parents, how they unknowingly caused the death of their unborn child and the strange man whom Jim felt was at least partially responsible. He had discussed it with her, trying to be professional and detached, but not quite succeeding. It was like that, sometimes. It had been difficult for both of them, especially that first year. He had tried to shield her at first, not wanting to upset her. But she couldn't let him try to get through it alone. They loved each other too much to lead lives pushed apart by his job.
She was too aware that Jim witnessed things that she could never envision. He still tried not to bring it all home, at times dodging around his day, telling her about the routine calls and staying away from the bad stuff. But the bad stuff had a way of finding them anyway and it was better if they dealt with it together. She thought it would get easier with time. But she was still waiting for that to happen.
Jean nodded and waited for him to tell her more. His eyes stayed stuck on his little boy, watching his concentrated efforts to stack each piece of wood on top of another.
"Those people at that...temple...just follow this guy. Without question. All his crazy superstitions...I don't understand it."
"I thought you were going to be able to arrest him."
"So did I. Turns out there's not enough solid evidence. And now there's this girl."
"A teenager Pete and I found hanging around the place. She's with a relative so there's not much we can do. But when I think about what kind of man this Sabeth character is..." Jim twisted the cloth around one hand, his jaw muscles tensing.
"Do you think she's in some kind of danger?"
"I can't prove it."
"But you think she is, don't you?" Jean persisted, unwilling to let her husband drop the conversation.
"I keep thinking about that little baby, Jean. He should be healthy and alive right now. With his parents." Jim gazed intently at one blue block clenched tightly in a chubby little hand.
"Jim." Jean touched his arm, feeling the knotted stiffness in his muscles. "What are you going to do?"
"I'm not sure. But the whole thing feels so wrong, Jean."
"What's Pete say?"
"He agrees it's tricky," Jim exhaled slowly, and dropped the towel on the counter beside him. "So we're going to patrol the area more than usual, that kind of thing. Keep an extra eye out for any sign of trouble. You know."
Jean put her arms around Jim's waist as she leaned her head against his chest. "Yeah, I know," she said, gently. His arms instinctively curled around her, pulling her closer to him.
Jimmy squealed as his towering mountain of blocks suddenly toppled and scattered in every direction. Wasting no time, he immediately snatched up a handful and began building again.
"Look at that, Jean. He just keeps going...he doesn't give up." Jim laughed, a flutter of amazement on his face.
Jean smiled to herself and held on tightly to her husband, her son...and the moment.
Jim walked at a leisurely pace down the hallway toward the locker room. He'd started the day early, not exactly an everyday occurrence. There was plenty of time to change and get to morning roll call.
Jim turned around, spotting a face that was unrecognizable to him. Between twenty-eight and thirty years old, dark blonde hair, worn shaggy and long in back, dressed in blue jeans and a faded long-sleeved tee shirt. "Yes, sir?"
"Hey. Cooper Lee, Vice," Detective Lee stuck out a hand, an amiable grin popping up on his face.
"Detective Lee," Jim responded, clasping the other man's hand. "Have we met before?"
"Not really. I was with one of the units that responded when you guys had the sniper over at the Rex Theater. Which, by the way, a lot of people still talk about. Not only did you clear and rescue the civilians in record time but your SWAT team took care of the sniper without any bloodshed. Nice."
"Thanks," Jim replied, "It was good teamwork. I'm sorry, I don't remember seeing you."
"That's because I spent most of the time cordoning off 9th Street, but someone pointed out you and Pete to me later that day," he laughed, shrugging. "And I got a thing about remembering names and faces."
"Comes in handy in our line of work, Detective," Jim agreed, feeling at ease with the man.
"Call me Coop." The young man rolled his eyes, a quirky smile replacing the grin. "My mom had her own thing.... for Gary Cooper."
Jim grinned. "What can I do for you, Coop?"
Cooper Lee inched closer to the wall, supporting it with his shoulder. "Maybe I can do something for you, Jim. I hear you and your partner recently had an encounter with the illustrious Reverend T. Leland Sabeth."
"Yeah," Jim said, somewhat taken aback. "Are you working on the Dent case?"
Coop shrugged noncommittally. "No, although I did read over the report you guys filed. I ran across Sabeth once...related to an incident with another one of his so-called followers. Weirdest stuff I ever saw."
"It was about a year ago, before I joined Homicide. I was still on patrol. It was pretty late, or early, I guess. Around 2:00 am. Had a report of a 415 in that neighborhood. Some guy and his girlfriend got into it."
"That's what we thought at first. A real screamin' fest. My partner and I...Bill Hawkins…do you know him?"
"Uh-uh, I don't think so."
"Well, anyway, we go in there, take 'em to separate corners, calm 'em down...you know the drill. They're both pretty wound up. And the guy tells me that this chick is doing a number on him because she's hooked up with some funky guru or something."
"Sabeth," Jim guessed out loud.
"Yeah," Coop muttered, rubbing the back of his neck. "Ya know, I thought he was accusing her of cheating on him. Turned out that he told her to stop going to that temple and she wouldn't. She was a petite little thing but he was real fidgety around her."
"Any signs of physical abuse?"
"Looked like some old bruises, nothing fresh as far as I could see. One thing's for sure, she was definitely giving him the evil eye."
Jim straightened up at Coop's use of the recognizable term. "Why do you say it like that?"
"His words, not mine. I noticed how she was looking at him and I gotta admit, it was pretty bizarre. He told me she kept staring at him like that and threatening him."
"She threatened him?"
"Yeah, that was my reaction, too. Guess it finally pissed him off so bad that he lost his temper. That's when it got really loud, I guess. He admitted that he'd hit her once or twice before but this time he was scared. He actually seemed relieved that we were taking him in."
"Nothing that night. We did make a small courtesy call to the Temple and met the Reverend," Coop grimaced. "I really hate calling him that, you know?"
"Gave us this song and dance about his mission to help people. Man, he's one creepy cat. There was nothing to go on except for the crazy claims from the boyfriend. But a week later...that boyfriend turns up dead."
"Dead? Did you ever connect Sabeth with it? What happened?" Jim said, his eyes sparking as the new information flooded through his brain.
Coop shook his head, sighing. "No. It's a lot like your case. Circumstantial, no real connection. The arrows point in his direction but drops short of the mark."
Jim glanced at his watch, quickly calculated how long it would take to change for roll call and realized he was running out of time. "What's your take on it?"
"Jim, there was nothing to tie that guy's death to Sabeth or even the girlfriend. Looked like just another OD…both of them had been busted for possession once before. But I was in the back with him when we took him in. He swore that his girlfriend told him she was going to get Sabeth to put a death spell on him And, let me tell ya, the guy was seriously spooked."
"And then he turns up dead."
"Yeah, very dead," Coop said, looking at Jim earnestly. "Look, I'm not saying one way or another about the mumbo jumbo. But I've never been able to forget the look on that guy's face. And I always wondered if I missed something. So when I heard that you and Malloy were paying a little extra attention to that part of the district and why…well, I thought you might be interested in knowing some back story...even if it's as inconclusive as the Dent case."
"I appreciate it."
"Looks like change of shift," Coop gestured over Jim's shoulder. "I better get outta here myself. Good luck."
"Thanks," Jim nodded. "I'll let you know if anything happens with Sabeth."
"You do that. And if I think of anything else, I'll do the same." A good-natured smile returned to the young detective's face, replacing the somber expression of the previous moment. He moved smoothly toward the back door and took the exit to the parking lot.
Jim headed for the locker room, already trying to sort out what Coop had given him. He pushed open the door and saw that Pete was already dressed.
"Wondered if you were going to make it." Pete lifted a single eyebrow in greeting.
"Hey, how'd you beat me in here?" Jim hastily pulled his turtleneck over his head and reached for his uniform shirt. "And I was even early today."
"Beating you in here was easy, partner. You were in deep conversation out there."
Jim hustled to button his shirt and unloosen his belt. Within a few seconds, he had managed to hastily remove his tan slacks. "I didn't even see you come in, Pete," Jim admitted, glancing at his watch again.
"I know," Pete answered, amused.
"When we get some time, I'd like to tell you what it was about," Jim said, placing his hat on his head.
"Okay," Pete replied, "But would you please put your pants on before roll call?"
Pete carefully placed the shotgun in its secure casing as Jim stowed the rest of their gear in the trunk. A small bit of white paper caught his eye, tucked in between the dashboard and the windshield. It was all the way on Jim's side, but Pete leaned over and pinched it with two fingers. Curious, he sat down behind the steering wheel, started the engine and unfolded the paper. Oh, great.
"What's that?" Jim asked, joining him in the front seat and closing his door.
"It's for you," Pete answered, handing the note over to his partner. He closed his door, keyed the ignition and waited for the expected reaction.
Jim looked at the penciled scrawl and grunted in exasperation. "Wells."
"He just doesn't know when to stop."
"Then I guess I'll have to tell him," Jim replied, shoving the scrap of paper deep into his pants pocket.
Pete shifted into reverse, pulled the black and white out of the parking lot and cruised onto the street.
"Ya wanna clear us, Jim?"
"Oh, sorry." Jim yanked the mic from its slot and spoke quickly. "1-Adam-12, day watch clear."
"1-Adam-12, clear and a call."
Discussion of Ed Wells would have to wait.