Please send all comments to Jill Gillham



c.1997 by Jill Gillham He held the mug to his lips and drank deeply. He was doing what She had told him to do, and he had sworn to obey her to death and beyond. No matter what the rest of them would condemn him for, she would forgive him, even praise him for his loyalty to her. She was all he needed in the world. He sighed and felt the strength building within him until it was more than enough for him to carry the body away to somewhere it could not be tied to him. He pulled off the robe, and neatly arranged it on a hanger. ****** "Cecilia wants us to bring in what on the case?" Sonny said. Around him, the Hillside Slasher special taskforce noisily sorted through the mess of non-leads, false leads, and fluff that 99% of any criminal investigation seemed to consist of. "A psychic. It might not actually be such a bad idea." "Fine Frank. And maybe the government really is hiding the bodies of aliens out in the Nevada desert. You've been reading the National Enquirer too much again." "I know I have some out there ideas sometimes, Sonny." Frank leaned back in his desk chair, twirling a pen between his fingers. "But this time, it might actually be helpful. This woman's come up with some good leads in a couple of missing persons cases down in San Jose, and there was that little girl she helped find in Berkley last year." "Okay, Frank I may not suspend my disbelief totally, but I'll be nice. I just wish that Cecilia could have done this on her own rather than sticking us babysitting someone who's only going to take time away from the real investigation." Sonny grumbled. With four mutilated bodies so far and no real leads on the case, he had his own frustration about the case as well as growing pressure from downtown to produce a suspect. "Just try not to bite. Cecilia said she's a little skittish." Before he could answer, a slim figure made her way through the chaos of the office. "Umm...Hi I'm looking for Detective Malone. I was supposed to meet her out front, but the desk officer told me she got called away on an emergency. Is everything okay?" "Yeah. Her son fell off a jungle gym and broke his arm. Jeff's fine, and the Detective'll be back in tomorrow if you need to see her. Is there anything I can help you out with today?" Frank said. "I dunno. I was supposed to meet with her today, and tomorrow I've got a paper I'm supposed to present, so I'm not sure how that would work, and in these kind of things, I really do need to have a, um, look around while things are fresh." "Are you Cecilia's psychic then?" Sonny gave the girl a second look. She was young, probably not much more than twenty, with a stream of medium brown hair pulled loosely back into a ponytail against a Nine Inch Nails concert tee. Finishing off what he thought of as an unofficial college student uniform were a faded plaid oxford knotted around her waist and jeans partly hiding the Doc Martins on her feet. "Last I checked, I didn't belong to anyone. I'm Holly Czmer, and Detective Malone did ask me to see what I could see about the case." She nodded at the two men, almost a bow, but didn't offer her hand. "Okay, Ms. Czmer, the detective asked us if we could take you on the rounds of the crime scenes and we cleared our schedules for you. We're glad you agreed to have a look at things, aren't we Sonny?" His partner shot him a sharp look, and Sonny mumbled an agreement. "We've got the places where the bodies have been found, as well as the bodies themselves in the morgue." "Could we try where you found the bodies first, please? I really don't want to go to the morgue just yet." "You're the expert here. We can take my car." Frank said as he hustled them out of the squad room. Sonny guessed that Frank still felt stigmatized for being known of as the local supernatural believer, and that Holly's presence would encourage the jokes more. They were in Frank's car and heading away from the station before any of them spoke again. "So, how do you get a start in this business anyways?" Sonny asked. Despite what he had told Frank, he knew that there were a very few humans who could do what she said she did. "What, getting my Masters in Wildlife Biology? I figured out a long time ago that critters demanded less of you than people did. As far as the other stuff goes, it just kind of happened. My parents were hippies during the 60's and I figure that Mom just did a few too many mushrooms when she was pregnant with me. Wasn't so bad when I was little and we lived in Big Sur, but as I got older and got around more people, I just kept Seeing more." She looked down and idly pushed a bracelet up and down her wrist. "So who am I looking at here, anyways?" "Our latest victim is named Gary Anderson. White male, 19 years old, and believed to currently be a prostitute. We had arrested him for solicitation about six months back, and were able to identify him so quickly because of a fingerprint match." Sonny didn't add that one of the other victims, a young girl still hadn't been identified. "We found him not too far from here. Coroner figures he died last night, around 10:30. Anyways, we're here." Frank pulled the car into a narrow alley and the three got out of the car. Yellow crime scene tape remained draped around a small area between a dumpster and a group of trash cans showing where the body had been found. Other than the tape, the only thing noticeably different was the trash itself or lack of it. The forensics techs would probably spend a few days clawing through the garbage that had been near the body in search of some fingerprint or footstep or other small lead that might show the killer's trail. Holly carefully eyed the site. "Can I cross that tape? Being closer helps." "Sure. Forensics is through with the site now." Frank said. She stepped over the tape and squatted down in the alcove, closing her eyes. Only a few seconds later, she abruptly stood back up and looked back at the men. "Done so soon?" "It's no good. All I can tell is that Gary was dumped. The guy who did it killed him somewhere else, and dropped him here. Creepy." "Creepy?" "Yeah, the guy who dumped him. There was something that was almost dead about him." Before she could say anything more, Sonny suggested that they head for the morgue. Holly quietly slid back into the car. Frank paused a moment. "Almost dead? Do you think that maybe.... and the reports say the victims were missing a lot of blood." "Frank, let's not talk about that here." **** For a change the morgue seemed relatively calm. Sonny had radioed ahead, and Dr. Lewis had arranged to have Anderson's body put on an examining table for the trio. Just before they entered the morgue proper, Holly doubled over into a trash can, the contents of her stomach spilling into the receptacle. Frank, closest to her, grabbed her arm to steady her, and Sonny supported her on the other side. "Are you okay, Holly?" She gasped a second, and her stomach now empty, dry heaved over the wastebasket before standing back up. "Do you want us to get a doctor?" "Be okay n' a sec." she croaked. "Bathroom?" The men looked around and located a nearby men's room. Supporting her on both sides, they steered her to a pair of sinks. She turned on the faucet, and ducked her face under the running water, rinsing out her mouth. "What happened Holly? Normally someone's actually seen a body before they need to..." Frank said as she spit out a swirl of water. "It just kind of hit me like a wave coming out of there. All that pain. There's an old lady in there's hard to block them out. It's just so intense. I'm okay now. Let's get it over with." To Sonny's eye she looked shaky at best. She was paler, and her hands had curled around the sink with a death grip. He glanced at Frank who nodded his own confirmation. "Okay, let's walk you in there then." The grandfatherly Dr. Lewis met them just inside the door. After a brief introduction, the unsteady Holly took a seat on a stool near the body and closed her eyes again. "Thank God I don't have to touch anything." she mumbled as she slumped a little. Sonny understood her feelings. Anderson's body was covered with knife wounds, the skin on his forearms peeled back to expose muscle and bone, his torso scored in dozens of neat squares so that his chest nearly resembled some sort of macabre chessboard. His legs were mostly untouched, as was his face, but his throat was deeply slashed, almost to the point of decapitating him. Despite the other wounds, the throat had been the killing blow. Next him, Sonny noticed, Frank was doing everything he could to prevent looking at the body, his eyes settling on a thermometer on the far wall. The three men waited for a few minutes in silence before Holly opened her eyes again. "I think I've got everything I can from him." "Would you like to see the others?" "How long ago for them?" "Jane Doe came in here five days ago, the others longer." Dr Lewis said. Holly shook her head. "Too long ago. When there's death, things fade pretty fast. Not to be rude Doctor, but can we get out of here now? With all the other stuff swirling around in here, it's hard to focus on the one I'm supposed to be learning something about. I'll be in the hall." Holly nearly ran out of the room. The two detectives thanked the coroner, and followed her through the door. **** They drove back to the station and claimed an interrogation room for their own use. Somewhat to her surprise, the detectives hadn't asked her much on the trip back, only if she felt ready to talk yet. When she answered no, they left her to her thoughts until they were back in the building. Frank had even brought her two cans of Coke. Now, Holly sipped at the first can, letting the sugar roll around her tongue as she tried to explain what she had seen without panicking. "It was obviously pretty violent. You know that already. It was also somehow, um, ritualistic. There was a man there in robes who did the actual killing. There might have been someone else there but I'm not sure. It was almost a feminine presence that surrounded poor Gary and the guy in the robes. They cut him up like you saw, and then they cut his throat open. Big shiny knife that's blade was maybe a foot long. Then the man in the robes had some sort of bowl. He let the blood flow into the bowl and set it aside." She had set down the can and was now clenching her fists, pressing her fingernails into her palms. "He hurt Gary, really really bad." Gary when he was eight, laying in the grass with a Golden Retriever lapping at his face. Gary at fifteen, the first fumbling kiss with a boyfriend. Gary at ten, letting his bike coast down a steep hill until he was going so fast he thought he'd get into orbit. Gary at nineteen as the dead man in the robe slid the knife across his chest. "Holly?" Frank asked. She shook her head and tried to relax her hands. "You can't understand what it's like to feel someone die like that. Then you keep on feeling it because you can't forget it. You want to ask questions? It might help me focus a little better." "Okay. First question: What did the man look like? Could you see his face?" Frank said. "I don't know. During this ... ritual, the lights weren't on. There were a few candles, but it was pretty dim, and the cowl of his robe covered a lot of his face." "What about before? Was the robed man a customer of Anderson's? Did he offer Anderson money to come with him?" Holly pushed the images around in her brain, trying to keep the ones about knives far away, but not succeeding. Finally, she saw what they wanted. "No. He went in the alley because he had to pee. Someone grabbed him from behind and the next thing I can figure out is that he woke up tied to a table or something and the robed man was there." "Chloroform?" Sonny asked Frank who shrugged. "Another question then: What did the room look like?" "I told you, that there wasn't much light. Um, it seemed to be a room room. I don't know how big, but there didn't seem to be anything else in there." The images were coming back too strong again. Gary at the beach. Gary working as a waiter. Gary as he brought the knife down through his throat. "Oh God." she said. "What was it?" Frank said. "I think the robed man drank Gary's blood when he was done." As she said it, she realized it was the truth as she tried to filter through the bloody images of poor Gary. She managed to calm herself down enough to make it through the interview and answer the detectives' questions, but when they called the job finished and turned the tape recorder off, she pushed herself out of the room and into the women's bathroom. She went into the first stall and threw up for the second time that night. **** "Press conferences should be at reasonable hours during the normal business day, not at stinkin' ten at night." Caitlin grumbled as she worked her way through the station house. She looked at her watch and saw she was early so she walked into the bathroom so she could fix her makeup. Propping her purse on the sink she started to rummage for her lipstick as she eyed what needed repair. Unable to find what she needed by touch, she looked down into her purse and paused to look at her wrist. The last of the bandages had come off a few days before, and the deep wound had almost fully healed. But there was still something that wasn't quite right with the wound, something important that had happened that she couldn't remember because of her bout with the flu. She stared at the healing cut. "Now what could you tell me?" Before she could answer, she was interrupted by coughing coming from one of the stalls. "Are you okay in there?" There was a mumbled yes and the sound of the toilet flushing. She turned around to check on the other woman who was emerging from the stall. To her surprise, she knew the girl. "Holly, isn't it? You helped find Melissa Karos down in Berkley last year, didn't you?" The girl wearily looked back at her. "Caitlin the reporter. I can't talk right now. Please, it's been a pretty bad night so far." Holly stumbled to the sink and started the faucet. Caitlin thought the other woman was on the verge of collapse. "Good grief, you look like death warmed over. Is there anything I can do the help?" "I'm holding together. It's just hard sometimes when you see something ugly." She paused, letting the cold water run over her palms. "And no, I can't talk about it. By the way, thanks for mangling my name when you ran the story on Melissa in the paper. I'm trying to finish my degree, and I didn't want a zillion people showing up at the door asking for tomorrow's lottery numbers." In Caitlin's story on the kidnapping, Holly Czmer had somehow turned into Polly Zimmer. "I realize I owe you one, but I can't talk about this one." Caitlin felt the scar on her wrist itch again. She had seen other reporters try to wrangle information from Holly, and had learned that if you pushed too hard you would get nothing from her. "I won't ask about whatever it is that did that to you until you're ready to talk." An idea came to her mind, seemingly by way of her wrist. "However, maybe you can do me a different sort of favor. Nothing involving any of your cases, I promise." She gave her best smile to the girl. "What do you need from me?" Holly asked. "I got sick on vacation a few weeks ago, and ran a high fever and can't remember the trip, Julian tells me. It was my first vacation in God-knows-how-long and I really wish I could know what happened, even if it just was me sitting in bed." Holly looked her over carefully. "Maybe I can help. I can't just touch you on the forehead, and have it all come back to you or anything. What I can do is give you a nudge along, and say that if you remember this, then maybe you can remember what happened five minutes after this. No guarantees on that either, especially if you really did sleep through much of it. It's easier when there's something distinctive that happens. Things tend to blur otherwise. But I'll try if you want to." "Thanks." Caitlin arranged for Holly to come to her home the night after next. Then the two women parted ways. Caitlin to attend her press conference, Holly to go over her notes for presenting her Master's thesis. "Sonny, when you asked me to call this meeting, you said is was extremely urgent. I suggest you explain yourself now." Julian shifted in his chair and surveyed the Conclave's meeting room. Too many new faces were at the table, he knew. You could simply not lose more than half of the Primogens in the city and assume that things would be business as usual. He also knew he was fortunate that new Primogens had been settled on fairly quickly, not that anyone could truly replace Archon. "I thought we were waiting for Lillie." "She had an emergency at the Haven. She will come when she can. Begin." Sonny nodded. "Okay. This may turn out to be nothing, just one mortal preying on others. I hope that, horrific as it is, that's all. However, if it is one of us involved, the Masquerade itself could be endangered. You've all heard of the Hillside Slasher?" heads nodded around the table. "I think he might be Kindred." "And you didn't say anything before?" Cash said. "They've found what? four victims by now. And you keep it to yourself until now and endanger us all!" "Quiet. Let Sonny explain." Julian said. "Until last night, there were no reasons to have those suspicions. When those people were killed, there was nothing to indicate any sort of Kindred involvement. All the wounds were knife, and none of them were fang." "What changed that?" "One of the other detectives arranged for a seer to have a look at the latest victims." He relayed what Holly had told him about Gary Anderson's death. "And she described the killer as a man who feels dead already." "You believe this ... tea leaf reader then?" Cameron asked. "Frauds have been around as long as civilization itself." "There are things she knew about the case that no civilian could. I'm sure of what she saw. What I'm not sure of is whether the perp was Kindred or human, or what effect this all has on us. Even if the killer is just a human psychopath, there's still a chance of some sort of "vampire cult" story popping up and jeopardizing things for us." Sonny seemed to want to say more but Julian cut him off. "We know very little right now, but based on that, I think we all need to take some precautions." The Conclave broke into a discussion, quickly agreeing to a general plan of action. Julian declared the meeting over and the Primogens started leave. Cameron and Cash quickly left the chamber, while Daedalus lingered longer. "Sonny?" The new Ventrue Primogen turned back to Julian. "Yes." "Is the seer herself a threat to the Masquerade?" "Not right now. She's seen the fringes of some things, but not enough connect things together and see Kindred." "And if she does learn about us?" Julian asked. "She doesn't have much control over her gift. Embracing her could end up causing only grief to all sides." "It seems that the longer you live, the more secrets you feel you need to keep." Daedalus said. "And she apparently has a lot of friends in police departments from here to Sacramento. If she died an unnatural death, the investigation would be a lot more thorough than I'm comfortable with. Even if she does learn about us, it's not likely she'd be believed if she tried to talk. Besides, I think she wouldn't say anything anyway. She's a scientist by training and would have her own reasons for not talking about us." Julian had seen a street performer juggling chainsaws once. The juggler had said that he did it because it was an adrenaline rush. Now Julian had blades of his own to juggle and it only made him feel drained. "She also said she's starting a job in Minnesota in three weeks, so time is on our side." Julian started to reply, but was interrupted by Lillie's late arrival. "I'm sorry Julian. We had a bomb threat at the Haven and I couldn't get away until a few minutes ago. What is the problem that couldn't wait?" The three Kindred changed the topic of conversation and started to fill Lillie in. ***** She had said she was pleased with the last one but that it was time to take his art to the next level. He agreed with her. Instead of mere lines, this time it would be something greater. A garden, maybe. He saw that the canvas was still for now but rechecked the restraints. Once he began his work, they had a tendency to awaken and as the pain started in earnest. Then they tried to move from him, something that might make him misjudge his cuts. It had happened with his second piece, and she had been angry with him for wrecking things. He knew he wouldn't wreck another. He picked up his scalpel and began. "It is a good work." He had been working so hard on the left thigh that he hadn't heard her enter the room. "Finally, there is one who is worthy of my attentions. The throat now." He exchanged smaller blade for larger and drew it expertly through the windpipe. He moved to catch the blood in the bowl, but she waved him away. Instead, she drew her mouth around the wound and sucked greedily at the spurting arteries. She claimed her fill and then pulled him back to the neck. "You may have the rest. I am very pleased with your work here. After you have placed it in the right place, you may come attend me." As she glided out of the room, he let the rest of the blood flow into the bowl. He was excited now, and very much looking forward to her presence later. ***** "So, what do you need me to do here?" Caitlin said as she led Holly into her living room. "I'm kind of new at this. I've never even talked to a regular type of therapist before, much less..." "There isn't exactly a manual for what I do. I'd say we should just make ourselves comfortable. I've ended up with some pretty bad muscle cramps when I haven't. And hello there kitty." Lion stalked into the room to investigate Caitlin's guest. After a few sniffs, he decided that this one would be acceptable and twisted himself around Holly's legs. Holly rewarded him with a few scratches under the chin as she slid into a chair and he purred a response. Caitlin followed the lead and stretched herself onto the couch. The two women traded 'what's next' looks for an awkward moment before Caitlin felt she needed to say something. "Well I'm glad Lion likes you. For some reason he can't even bear to be in the same room as my boyfriend." "Your boyfriend? Tell me about him." Holly reached out and lightly rested her fingers on Caitlin's forearm. "Skin to skin contact helps." She said in answer to Caitlin's puzzled look. "Or at least the closest thing I've had to a boyfriend in years. Multimillionaire, a pillar of the San Francisco community, and one of the most beautiful straight guys I've met in a long time. But he likes to hide things, and the reporter in me just has to know what's behind the doors. We went up to Manzanita partly because I wanted to learn more about him, you know, find out if he was really Prince Charming or, well, something else. Instead, I end up with the Lost Weekend!" She could feel Caitlin's anger in her bones as well as hear it in her voice. "Relax, your anger's overwhelming the rest of you now. Okay, do you remember the trip out of town?" "Yes, and it was kind of strange. When Julian first agreed to let me 'kidnap' him for a weekend, he sounded excited about it. It was going to be a happy trip. But when he found out it was Manzanita, he went distant on me, like something up there had left him scarred." "Keep talking about the drive up. It helps you stay focused on the right time period." Holly told her. She didn't wait for Caitlin's verbal response, but instead blocked out the world and started to follow Caitlin's memories. She followed the memories on the trip up and let the images flow slowly forward. She couldn't see anything too unusual. Then she hit the barrier. Caitlin's memories of the trip had been blocked away, and something she thought of as a wall surrounded them. She'd felt that happen once before, on a case where someone had been molesting a kid named Kris Engels. Kris built the walls herself around the memories so she wouldn't have to remember the pain. It was different in Caitlin's mind, it seemed. For Kris, it had taken months to learn how to build the walls and forget. For Caitlin, it was almost like someone else had locked her memories away. Caitlin's walls were also crumbling. Holly could see parts of them though they were blurry, like trying to see to the bottom in a muddy lake. She tried to focus in closer. She saw the wolves first. They ranged through the cemetery charging at Caitlin. She tried to look closer but the images blurred away from her. There were fights she couldn't quite see, and there was the feeling of death again. She winced away from it for a moment before trying to break back through the wall. The next thing she saw was Julian Luna dying on a cabin floor, a shocked Caitlin slitting her wrist and offering it to the man. Then something shoved her away from the pictures so violently she started and opened her eyes. "You saw something?" Caitlin said. "I don't know what I saw, Caitlin. If you described it to me, I would say it was a fever dream, but when I um, looked I could feel that it had to be real." "What was it?" Caitlin demanded. "I'm not quite sure. First, it was almost like someone tried to make you forget. They didn't destroy the memories, but they did their best to lock them away. I dunno. Maybe you were hypnotized or something. I'm no shrink, so I don't know if that's possible or not." "But you saw something that I'd forgotten. What was it?" "I can't just tell you what happened. If I do that, you aren't really remembering on your own. I can give you clues, let you figure it out, and try to break the lock that way. Okay?" Even if it would have helped, Holly didn't want to just tell what she had seen. Caitlin would have probably just called her crazy and shown her the door. "I guess." Caitlin shifted a little on the couch. "There was a cemetery up there. Can you remember walking through a cemetery with Julian?" "Yes. I think I can. There was wind, this kind of strange breeze..." Before Caitlin could finish, the telephone rang. They let the machine take the message, and Holly was surprised to hear one of her roommates' voices. "I'm calling for Holly Czmer. This is Jeff, and it's an emergency so please pick up." Holly scrambled to the phone and grabbed the receiver. "I'm here." "Holly, it's just me and Leah right now, and she's in trouble. We were watching TV and she passed out on me." Leah had diabetes. "Since the terrible trio are camping this week, you've got the only car, and we need to get her to the hospital." "You called 911?" "Yeah, but they're backed way up, and I know you could get there sooner." "'kay, I'm on my way then. Give her something sweet if she can eat it." Holly dug her car keys out of her pocket and charged out of the house, promising to call Caitlin the next day and make plans to meet again. Caitlin watched her leave. She was not quite sure what had happened to Holly when the other woman had sat with her, and Holly's quick departure left even more questions. Before she could think any more about it, the clock rang nine and she started to scramble. "Dress first, questions later." she mumbled as she headed into the bedroom. Julian was picking her up at nine thirty for a date, and she just might be able to find out more from him. "So what did you think of the male violinist? I'm a friend of his father's." Caitlin asked as Julian opened the bottle of wine. They had just come back to her house for drinks after attending a performance by a local string quartet. "He is pretty good right now, and just might be great if he really puts his mind to it. Would I know his father?" He set the cork aside and steered the Chardonnay into the waiting glasses. He offered one to Caitlin and took the other, following her into her living room. "Adam Diemer, son of Kevin Diemer." She gracefully eased onto the sofa. He took the cushion next to hers, slipping an arm around one shoulder and under the other. "Our sports editor? And what does Mr. Diemer think of his son's career choice." Julian grinned. In the times he had met Kevin Diemer, the other man had had little interest other than whether the Giants were going to find a decent closer anywhere. "I think he might be a little bit disappointed, but he loves his son a lot, and has been pretty supportive. Besides, he's got a daughter who was All-CIF in volleyball, so he's still got hopes that Janie will carry the family name to athletic glory. To us?" She offered up her wine glass. He clinked it with his own and smiled. "To us." Julian sipped the wine, letting it slowly roll over his tongue. He swallowed it, feeling the alcohol roll gently down his throat. "I think there's something I'd rather taste, though." He pulled her closer and brushed his lips gently at first, then more persistently. Her heart beat faster, and he felt her start to blush a little. He longed to slide his mouth further down, to press himself against the veins in her neck, but he knew that would be disaster. Instead, he enjoyed the moment as best as he could until Caitlin gently pulled away. "I just need to come up for air here. I don't suppose you practice holding your breath." "Not in particular. I just wanted to enjoy things, and I lost track of time." He untangled himself enough from Caitlin to lean forward so he could set his glass on the coffee table. As he maneuvered it down, a brightly colored checkbook caught his eye. He picked it up, looked briefly at the checks inside, and set it on the table. "This doesn't look like your style." The cover was painted and showed a pair of wood ducks flying over a marsh. "Holly must have dropped it." She sat her glass on the table and snuggled closer to him. He stroked her gently across the back. "Holly?" "You know how frustrated I've been about not remembering much about our trip? I'm a little embarrassed to talk about it, actually. Holly's a psychic, and I've seen her dig up some things in criminal cases that are pretty amazing. I asked her if she could help me remember what happened up there." "And did she?" Julian tensed for a second before he realized he already knew the answer. If Caitlin was remembering Manzanita, she would have drowned him in questions before they had even left for the concert. "She got called away before we could really talk about it. She did say something about a cemetery, though." Julian knew that the more time Caitlin spent thinking about the trip, the greater the chance she would remember. It was time to change the subject. "Enough of the past. Let's enjoy the present." He leaned forward and kissed her again. ***** "Good news, Sonny. We've got the lab results back from the Anderson killing. There's a DNA match between a hair sample we found on him and some skin cells under the fingernails of Jane Doe." Cecilia said as Sonny walked up to her book-enveloped desk. "At least we've got a concrete connection between the two killings now. We haven't been able to find anyone who knew Anderson who also knew any of the other victims. We've got two who were prostitutes, Anderson and Lita Savickas, one homeless man, Willis, and Jane Doe who we think may be a runaway." "And the only connection so far is that all were probably easy targets." Cecilia reached for a coffee mug, catching her elbow on one of the stacks of hardback books. "And all the while, you're reading your way through Danielle Steel's latest works." He teased. "Nah, it's all in the line of duty. After what Holly said about rituals and the killings, I got myself assigned to the research end of things. There's a woman over at Berkley who's sending me stuff on death rituals." "And you're the one who gets to plough through it all to find the good stuff?" "Actually, this is the pared down list of things. Originally, there were a couple hundred possible 'hits' on the subject I had to worry about, not to mention that my librarian is working through all the online information as well. I've got the small pile here. I just wish I had a copy of the Necronumicon. That one would probably have exactly what I need." "And you can't just get that from Berkley too?" Cecilia started to reply by was interrupted by a rumble through the task force's room. Frank emerged from an interview room and barreled toward the exit door grabbing his partner to tow along. "101st just called in. They think they found another Slasher victim. Let's get out of here and beat the crowd down to the crime site." After all his time in San Francisco, Sonny thought he knew the city well. But he admitted that he still didn't know the back roads and alleyways as well as Frank seemed to. They had had a head start on the rest of the task force to begin with, and they arrived at the crime scene well before both the rest of the task force members and the press corps. Frank parked the car near a Thai restaurant and the two ventured down the street and into a nearby alley.. "What's the situation, officer?" The detectives showed their badges to a uniformed cop and were waved into the freshly restricted area. "Appears to be a Chicano female in her late teens or early twenties." Sonny made note of her race. The other victims had been Caucasian. " The restaurant owner found her when he went to empty the trash in the alley. Same MO as the other Hillside Strangler bodies, naked, throat slit, and other knife wounds on the body. This time though, the knife wounds are worse." "Worse?" Frank said. "More of them and more complex." "We'll have a look then." The two detectives moved closer to the body and into the harsh portable lights. She had probably been a pretty girl. Now, her body was crossed with a mess of thin bloody lines in spirals, almost like some awful tattoo pattern. Like the others, her throat had been slit, but this time, the cut was more jagged, less precise. Frank leaned closer to the body. "Sonny, do you see the marks on the neck?" He pointed to small indentations that could only come from one source. Kindred. "I see Frank." He shot his partner a look that clearly said they wouldn't talk about it here. "Maybe a dog got to the body?" He asked, loud enough for the other policemen to hear him. "I understand." For once, Frank was thankfully not going to start rambling on about vampires. "Maybe I should give Holly a call to have a look at things once they've done the first sweep of the scene." As they moved away from the body, Frank pulled a piece of paper scrawled with phone numbers from his pocket. "Borrow your phone?" Sonny passed Frank his cellular phone without comment. Frank dialed a number, waited a few seconds, and then crossly delivered a message to an answering machine on the other side on the connection. "No one home?" Sonny said. Frank nodded a reply. "Well I guess it looks like we'll have to try again later. In the meantime, I think I see the unpleasant glow of a television crew pulling up over there." "Time for crowd control, then." Frank said, heading back out of the alley. **** Lillie distastefully looked over the crime scene photographs that had arrived near dawn. As part of the Slasher taskforce, it had been easy enough for Sonny to get prints of the scene made for his own use. In turn he had sent copies to each of the Primogens in the city, calling for help in identifying what seemed to clearly be a Kindred killer. After examining the slashes across the girl's legs, Lillie became convinced that not only was the murderer Kindred but they were also Toreador. The cuts were careful and purposeful; the patterns were delibrately plotted. It seemed to be some sort of perverted sculpture. Ever since she had become Primogen, Lillie had prided herself on how well she led the Toreador Clan. They were prosperous. The Haven was only part of what the Toreador controlled in San Farncisco. There were dozens of art gallerys, coffee houses, and dance clubs in the area operated by the Toreador. There was comprably little infighting among the Clan. Disputes were settled before problems became too big. She had also kept them out of the worst of the Ventrue-Brujah power struggle, leaving them possibly the strongest of the Clans at the end of the conflict. Lately, she had found herself worrying. She was still feeling the reprecussions of the Zane problem. Even worse, she was still struggling to figure out the balance of power in the Conclave. She knew Cash fairly well, but Sonny had always worked in the mortal world, keeping some distance from all but the other Venture. And she didn't really know Cameron at all. Lillie liked being able to side with the winners. And now there was this new problem to deal with. She put the pictures away and picked up her phone. She might not know who the killer was, but at least she could start accounting for people during the times of the killings and figure out who the killer wasn't. ****** Julian had called Holly's apartment, expecting to arrange a meeting where he could have a few words with her while using the excuse of returning her checkbook. However, when he had tried to reach her at home, a sleepy voice informed him that she had gone over to campus to help out a friend with a project. "Are you sure you don't need me along, Julian?" Cash asked from the front seat of the car. "No I'll be fine on my own. Wait here." "Okay. Be careful." Cash sounded a little relieved. Both of them had fed recently, and the sky was cloudy in anticipation of a mid-morning shower, but there was still something uncomfortable about going outside during the day time. Julian got out of the car, and headed into the biology building at the University of San Francisco. After a few flights of stairs and a few wrong turns, he made his way into Room 221B. It was a small windowless room with rabbit cages occupying most of the walls and a table with a scale on it in the middle. Clipboard in hand, a man stood at the table making notations on a pad of paper while a woman carefully placed a rabbit on the scale. "Okay, for rabbit Peter number Five, we've got a change of 100 grams for the period." The two were enveloped in their work and didn't notice Julian's presence until the woman turned to put the rabbit back into a cage. "Hello, I'm Julian Luna. I'm looking for Holly Czmer." "That would be me. I'd shake your hand, but I've kind of got an armful right now. What brings you here?" She slipped the rabbit back in the cage and shoved her hands in her jean pockets. "You left your checkbook at Caitlin's the last night. I came by to drop it off, and because I wanted to meet you. Could I have a talk with you?" Holly glanced at the other man, who shrugged. "All I've got left are the Benjamin group, and I can handle them easy enough by myself. Thanks for the help." "'Kay see you later then, Mike." She grabbed a backpack from the floor and followed Julian out the door. "You're not quite what I expected, Ms. Czmer." "That's usually the case. People usually expect either someone that looks like a gypsy with the big crystal ball, or one of those New Agers. Me, I'm just a college student." "You study rabbits?" They had gone back down the stairs and out of the building. "Nah, that's Mike's project. I just finished up my thesis on the adaptation of the mallard duck to urban environments. The next question is why ducks instead of something like cougars or wolves. I've just always liked ducks. They never really bother anyone. So, has your girlfriend's pet psychic passed, Mr. Luna? Or am I just a scam?" "From everything I've heard about you, I'd say you were the genuine article, and that's why I wanted to talk to you." He was a little surprised by her sudden change in topic, but he quickly steered the conversation in the right direction. "I want you to stop helping Caitlin remember her missing weekend." She stopped walking suddenly. "Why?" "For a lot of reasons, but most importantly because I sometimes live in a dangerous world. I would never do anything to hurt Caitlin, but there are people I have to associate with who would hurt her pretty badly just because she was in the way." He chose his words carefully. If Holly was as strong as Sonny seemed to think, then he had to convince her on them alone. Trying to coerce her would be disasterous for both sides. "And if she remembers what happened that weekend, she would definitely get herself in the way of those people. If you're as good as I've heard, you can tell when someone's lying. You know I'm telling you the truth as best as I can." He paused, and they looked each other in the eyes for one long moment. Holly was the first to break eye contact. "Okay, I'll give her a call, and tell her I can't come by anymore." He was surprised at how easily she was willing to walk away. "I shouldn't complain, but I feel like I should have had to argue with you more about it." "You're right, I can tell when someone's telling the truth. As for the rest, maybe it's because I do my best to try to help people, and you said keeping it up would only harm Caitlin. Maybe it's because I know how much it can hurt to know too much about someone. Maybe it's just because I've seen The Godfather one too many times, and I can feel enough of you to be a little scared of you. I'm a scientist, not Nellie Bly. I'd much rather go study the ducks than people. I know way too much about people already." "I'm glad we agree then, Holly." He reached into his suit coat pocket. "And here is your checkbook back." She accepted it and tucked it into her backpack. "Thanks. I hope you don't take it the wrong way, but I hope we never have to meet again." "And may you have success with your ducks." Julian watched her take a few steps away from him before heading back to his own car. The shower had never quite arrived, and the sun was starting to poke through the clouds. ***** "Caitlin Byrne, editor speaking." As she picked up the phone, she kept scanning the latest article on the Hillside Slasher. "Caitlin, hi it's Holly." "Okay, I was meaning to call you about our next appointment." "Actually, I was calling about that. We can't meet anymore." "Why not? I thought we were making progress." "That's the problem. We were making too much progress. Remembering any more could really get you really hurt. I can't help you anymore." "Someone got to you didn't they? Did Julian pressure you into this?" "The choice was mine to make. I can't help you any more." Caitlin felt the other woman hesitate. "If you still want to try to figure it out on your own, focus on the cut and how why you did that." Before she could ask anything more, Holly hung up the phone. Caitlin went back to looking over the paper. Partway through one of the articles, the writer mentioned that psychic Holly Czmer had been called on to help in the investigation. Just as she had before, Caitlin started to alter the paragraph to keep Holly's correct name out of it. She hesitated, and kept it in. Caitlin knew that it had to be Julian who had spooked away Holly, and that she could not really blame the other woman. Still, it had to be part Holly's fault that she had given in so easily. ****** Part 6 The next day She had told him he was truly accomplished in the art now, and that it was time for the serious work to begin. This time, she had drained the canvas before he had started his work. He was glad that she had. On one hand, he had to move quickly before the canvas became stiff and unusable. But on the other, it wasn't going to twitch with every cut like the others had, and that was something that decidedly made his job easier. With steady hands, he carefully drew the letters she requested in calligraphy across the canvas' stomach. ******* In his heart, Julian knew that this fight would eventually come no matter how much he tried to avoid it. There were some things that Caitlin might be able to accept without questions, but parts of relationships were not on that list. "But I just don't understand why you're blaming me. Did your psychic friend say I told her not to talk to you any more?" "She didn't have to. Holly doesn't talk about her cases to outsiders. Period. The only person I talked to about it was you. You're the only person who could have scared her away. You've asked me to trust you, but how am I supposed to trust you when time after time, you try to hide things from me?" "I wish I could help you and say all the right things, but there are some things I just can't talk about because I've got obligations that go far beyond you and me.... no matter how much I wish it could be otherwise." He wanted to say more to her but she stormed out of the mansion, slamming a slew of doors behind her. He wanted to follow her and try to bring her back, but he felt like he had already lost her. He slowly walked out of the mansion and into the garden. In his mind, he saw Archon dead in the fountain. He knew he should have been there when it happened. Instead, he had been off with Caitlin in Manzanita. The breakup made him feel even more guilty about his Sire's death. If Caitlin and him had been able to stay together in a relationship somehow, at least his absence would have had some meaning. Instead, he had lost his Sire and the woman he thought he loved. Because of Caitlin, he had lost Archon. Because of the Kindred, he had lost Caitlin. It was almost a twisted form of the old chicken or the egg question. He wished he was only Archon's Enforcer again. Granted, there were things he had done that would haunt him for the rest of life, but there had also been times when he could just walk away from everything and just be Julian, not the Prince of San Francisco. These days, he couldn't physically walk to his mailbox without a bodyguard at his side. Mentally, he felt even more chained to his circumstances. If it weren't one sort of problem only the Prince could solve, then it would be some other crisis that demanded his unique skills. Caitlin had been right about one thing. A vacation might do him some good. Only the last time he had tried to get away from things even a little, people had died because of his absence. He sighed and started to head toward Daedalus' lab. With Archon gone, he was the only person left that Julian felt he could talk to about his problems. Before he could get down the last flight of stairs, he was intercepted by Sonny. "Bad news, Julian. We've got another Slasher victim, and there are some things that we're going to have a really hard time preventing leaking out." "Such as?" Wordlessly, Sonny passed over an envelope of photographs. Julian took it, and examined them closely. After a minute, he returend them to the envelope and looked back at Sonny. "And this one was drained of blood as well?" "Yes. Same as the others." "And Lillie is somehow connected to this all?" "There has been something almost artistic to how the murders have looked so far. It looks Toreador to me, and with her name on the latest victim, it's almost like someone is trying to drag her into something that would force her out of San Francisco." "The question becomes who. Lillie certainly has her share of enemies, but none I know of who would do something like this. She's careful not to get someone too angry at her." "Maybe it's time we go talk to her and see if she could offer some sort of information on the situation." Julian passed the envelope back to Sonny, not wanting to handle the pictures any more. It had been another body, but this time the Slasher had carved a message into the torso.-'For the only one who stood by Caine after his crime was Lillith, so she joined him in his curse." ****** Even though she had said he had done his best work, she was angry at something tonight. At first she refused to tell him what troubled her. Later, after the canvas had been disposed of, she had decided he had done well enough to share her dear confidence, and she had even allowed him to try to aid her again so soon. This time, he would have to be careful. He was not to bring his canvas to her, but to bring his art to the canvas. **** Part 7 Holly loosened the laces of her boots, kicked them off, and collapsed onto her bed. Two more weeks. Two more weeks, and she was through with police departments, serial killers, missing people, and missing parts of people either way. Her degree was in hand, the contracts were signed, and most of her things were shipped. Just about the only things that currently weren't in Voyageurs National Park were herself, a toothbrush, and an old judo trophy held together by Crazy Glue that she knew the movers would have mangled. She turned off the light, and still dressed, pulled a blanket around herself. It wasn't like she was helping out the cops on this one all that much anyway. Usually, if the creep she was trying to find was anywhere between here and Sacremento, she could get some sense of not only who he was but also where he was hiding. On this one, she kept hitting the same dead end. She knew that the creep was out there, him and his girlfriend. For the first time since she had started working with the police she couldn't even say if the right direction was north, south, west or east. The bodies were getting uglier, too. The latest should have been covered with blood considering how badly it had been slashed. Instead, there had hardly been any blood at the crime scene. With the way the blood had been drained away, it was almost like the killer was a vampire or someone who believed they were one. She remembered the impression she had gotten from Gary, that the killer was already dead, and shivered a little. 'Okay, Holly, you're going to walk into the police station, and tell that nice Detective Toussaint that his killer is a Dracula-type?' Not likely. It was hard enough to get people to believe she really could See things without talking about supernatural creatures. In the end, it didn't matter if the creep was a killer vampire, or just a human who thought he was a killer vampire, just as long as the killings stopped. Holly curled on her side, and tried to push her brain to other topics such as sleep. She could feel her housemates settling in for the night. Jeff, who had the other third story bedroom, was deep asleep, as was Kendra. Leah, back from the hospital, was still downstairs watching an old Marilyn Monroe movie with Jason and Steve. She could feel them laughing about something. She was in the place between dozing and sleeping when she felt him outside her window. For a minute she thought it was a nightmare before she realized that she was definitely awake, and that it was the Slasher out there. She rolled off the bed, intending to bolt for the door. From the outside, he saw her movement, and crashed through the window. Holly finished her roll, and came up with her pillow in hand, a part of her mind quietly noting that it was hardly a decent shield in the matter. Holly tried to figure her next move. For a moment, she thought about going for the light switch, but it was bright enough from the street lights outside for her to see where she was going. She wanted to get through the doorway, but to do that, she would have to leave the little shelter the bed provided. Still, it was better than waiting here until the Slasher pulled a knife on her. She bolted for the door, but with an inhuman speed, he grabbed her arm, and pulled him toward her. To her surprise, he spoke. "Quiet. You're going to come with me, and you're going to be quiet." There was something appealing about doing what he wanted, something comfortable. Everything would be all right with him. She relaxed a little. "Good. It's time to leave, then." Another wave of calm flowed from him to her. There was something about him that made him want to walk away with him. Suddenly, something in her mind snapped. Instead of feeling the calm from him, she saw Gary, but from His mind, seeing how much he had enjoyed taking his knives and..... "Get out of me!" Holly screamed, and before the Slasher could react, she kicked him in the groin. He doubled over and let go of her, and she scrambled toward the door. Before she made it there, it opened on its own, and Jeff came charging through carrying his Maglight flashlight. "Careful." She started to warn as Jeff brought the flashlight towards the Slasher. To her surprise, the Slasher ran then, going back through the broken window, and leaping from there directly to the street. They followed to the window, and watched as he landed lopsided, but quickly got to his feet and ran into the night. "What the?" Kendra came charging into the room, reproduction Claymore from her SCA demonstrations in hand. "The glass breaking woke me up, and then I heard you scream." "I think that was the Hillside Slasher." Holly replied, leaning against the wall. "Call 911." Before they could leave the room, a pale looking Leah with a butcher's knife charged into the room, followed by Jason who had a baseball bat, and Steve, who had the carving knife. She explained to her roommates briefly, and Jeff headed downstairs to call the police. "Okay, I think we need to all go downstairs. Cops don't like people stepping on the evidence." Holly said as she pushed herself away from the wall in an attempt to follow her friends downstairs. In the commotion, she tripped over one of her boots and stumbled. Kendra dropped her sword and tried to steady Holly, but only succeeded in moving both of them even more off-balance. Kendra hit the floor, and Holly managed a mid-air twist that landed her on the bed. "Are you okay, Holly?" Kendra said. Holly didn't respond. It was not uncommon for her to feel what her roommates felt but this time she was Seeing more of Kendra then she ever had before. She was Kendra as she charged up the stairs, wondering if she really was going to get to use her Claymore in a live situation, and excited at the idea she might. She was a younger Kendra, crying in her room in her parents house because she didn't get into UC-Berkley. She felt Kendra's first time having sex, the joy of having someone she loved love her back. Then that memory turned black as the same loving boyfriend months later turned into one of the creeps as he raped her. A part of her knew she was still Holly, but she saw Kendra's life so clearly now she could hardly tell her own memories from the other woman's. There was a high school dance and a corsage, and tripping on high heels....... "Holly? HOLLY!" For a moment, she was only Holly again, sprawled on a bed in an almost-empty room while Kendra leaned forward and snapped her fingers in front of her face. "Is something wrong?" "I think so. When you grabbed me, I Saw right into you without trying, and I don't know if I could have stopped if you hadn't screamed at me like that. I've never lost control like that before. I'm sorry. I think I Saw some things there you don't want to let out." Other than getting a general sense of well being from them occasionally, Holly had always genuinely tried to give her roommates her privacy and stay out of their minds. They knew about what she did for the police, and she had talked about what she could do, but she didn't want to make them any more uncomfortable. "Like what?" She could feel Kendra thinking back to her rape again, the sense of helplessness as the man forced himself in her, and being too scared to do anything to resist. "Yeah, what you're thinking right now." She could still feel everything Kendra was feeling and knew she had to pull away somehow or else they would be both sucked back into Kendra's nightmare. "And I also picked up a little, um, Kendra, Warrior Princess when you were rushing to my rescue." Kendra laughed nervously. "In Umbros and an old Jane's Addiction tee? Cops are going to be coming. Do you want to go downstairs now? The creep could still be close by, and there's physical safety in numbers, if you can keep your brain from frying." "The Slasher's not anywhere close. I can't feel him nearby, if that's what you mean. Still, I really don't want to be up here with all the echoes of him rattling around." Holly realized that as she spoke, she could still feel the malevolance in the bedroom, and once again the sense that the Slasher was already rotting somehow. "Downstairs then. I'd help you up, but I remember you saying that skin contact makes it easy for you to see stuff, and I think that's not a good idea right now. You go first, and I'll cover your back." "'kay." They made their way down to the living room, where Jeff leaned against the kitchen counter as he talked with the EMS people on the phone. His flashlight was still in one hand, and Holly noticed that the others also still held their improvised weapons as well. "Jeff'll be off the phone in a second. In the mean time, we aren't going to let anything happen to you. Whoever that was, he's got to go through us to get to you." Steve said. Holly sat down heavily on one of the couches and her friends formed a lose circle around her. She felt their tension and nervousness, felt Steve's fear as he tried to keep the carving knife steady in his hand, knew the adrenaline still was rushing through Jason, giving him an almost sexual high. She tried to push away from Jason's thoughts. They had dated a few times, and she knew he found her attractive, but his current feelings were not something she could cope with right now. Fortunately, she heard Jeff hang up the phone and say that the police were on the way. She tried to focus on Jeff. Maybe it was because Jeff meditated a lot, or maybe he was just better at keeping to himself, but he had always been a hard person for her to See with any sort of clarity. If Seeing an average person was like looking in a clear mountain stream then Seeing Jeff was usually like trying to see the bottom of a mucky lake. You could look a few inches down, but it went blurry quickly. Tonight it was different though. She could sensee his thoughts just as clearly as she had sensed Jeff and Kendra's thoughts. Holly clenched her fists and dug her fingernails into her palms trying to ground herself somehow in reality. She tried to look beyond her friends, and felt their neighbor's cat lounging on a window sill, eying the world in search of prey. She leeched onto the cat's mind, glad that she could focus on something that didn't have the complex thoughts of people, but whose biggest concerns were hunting and an urge to groom one's self. He had even been fixed so she didn't even have to deal with a sexual angle of things. She was so caught up in following the cat that she didn't even hear the police come through the door. "Holly." Jeff lightly hit her with a throw pillow, and she returned her focus to the human world. "This is Officer Millborn, and this is Officer Hersey." She nodded and introduced herself to them, and then before she could stop it from happening, Saw into them. Millborn was a decent enough sort, but what she felt from Hersey made her want to bolt from the room. As it was, she leaned forward, and started to throw up the little food that she had had for dinner she hadn't thrown up at the other crime scene that night. Hersey was a cop because of the power, power to rough up a suspect when he felt like it, power to take out his gun and threaten someone just because he could, power to come home from work and beat his wife when she did not do as she was told. "Get him out of here." she mumbled weakly to Jeff as she tried to straighten herself up. "What's wrong." "He's too much like the Slasher. I can't handle it right now." "Look here, missy. We came all the way out here because you said you had a break-in. Don't make me bust you for filing a false report." He wanted to do just that to her and then maybe he would...... "Jeff, can you give a report first? You saw most of what I did?" Jeff nodded, and sheparded the cops through the living room into the kitchen. "Kendra, in my backpack, there's a card with the numbers for Detectives Toussaint and Kohanek there. I think they're probably the people I should talk to about this."