■ My submissions ■ Partner’s submissions
The knock on Charles’ office door was met with a terse invitation from a gruff, impatient voice. “It’s open.”
Deputy Chief Anderson slowly turned the knob and swung it open, revealing a tall man with short dark hair, deep brown eyes, and broad shoulders situated at a large desk. His sleeves were rolled up and his tie loosened past his collar as he typed away upon his laptop. There were polaroids taped to almost every square inch of an adjacent wall which were arranged in groups in apparent conjunction to various cases. The occasional drawing could also be seen amongst the crime scene photographs… profiles of suspect’s faces, overhead maps with detailed legends, and sequenced explanations of the theories behind available evidence. Apparently, Charles had a creative side.
“Good afternoon, Detective Brock,” Anderson said with a nod as he cleared the way for Kelyn to enter the office. “I assume you got my earlier message… I thought I’d introduce you to your partner, Keyla. She’ll be providing her expertise on several cases, especially the Solstice case.” Charles took a moment before finally lifting his eyes from his laptop towards Keyla. He mustered a weak smile which seemed to weigh against a preoccupied mind. Another moment would pass before opened his mouth to speak.
“It’s nice to meet you, Keyla. Have a seat, let’s chat.” He extended a hand towards a nearby wooden chair before quickly returning to his work.
It wasn’t the first time Kelyn had worked with the FBI in general and Deputy Chief Anderson in particular, but she was ready to jump of this Solstice case. She’d gotten the case files almost three days ago but had only accepted yesterday. It was compelling and ‘right up her alley’. The Chief’s words, not hers.
Kelyn strode in behind Anderson, instantly taking in the office, the Polaroids, the laptop and the man behind them. She stood strong and sure, dressed in a smart pair of slacks and a sharp burgundy long sleeved top. She was short, maybe five foot five and couldn’t have been older than twenty five, a pretty young face, skin the color of light caramel and red hair cut short in the back and long in the front so it framed her face. She was slender and elegant, lithe like a fencer and smiled warmly with pretty lips touched with a light rose lipstick.
She looked like a pushover and a bit of an airhead.
Until you got to her eyes.
A sharp and fierce intelligence stared back through pools of liquid sapphire. It was obvious that she assessed things in an instance and acted without hesitation. And there was something… else.
Something undefinable. Not any sort of feminine wile, not any kind of expression or mannerism.
Just something… different.
Whoever she was, she didn’t fit into the typical box someone of her appearance would confine themselves to.
Kelyn sat on one of the wooden chairs, crossing her long legs. She wore sneakers – clean, but well broken in. They rather contrasted with the sharp business wear. No jewelry either.
And wasn’t it hot out for long sleeves?
“Good afternoon, Detective. I look forward to utilizing our unique skill sets in a mutually beneficial manner.
She sounded just like a grown-up. Who would of thought?
“Yes, yes. I am as well.” Charles’ eyes never left his laptop as his fingers continued their clickety-clack barrage. Another awkward moment would pass before Anderson cleared his throat, which Charles seemed to take as some sort of cue. He interrupted himself with an exhale and turned to Keyla with eyes held up by bags suggesting strings of long nights that were perhaps catching up to him. His five o’clock shadow and an afterthought smell of cologne were also quick to confess his priorities. There was no meanness or malevolence in his gaze, however… only annoyance which was perhaps distilled with a healthy amount of passion.
“You can leave us, Anderson. I’ll be sure to get Keyla up to speed.”
After a moment of reluctance, the Deputy Chief nodded towards Charles before exiting himself from the office.
“All right, Keyla,” Charles began while leaning back in his chair. “Hours are 8 to 5 with an hour’s lunch in between. You’re welcome to pursue leads that aren’t approved by me on your own time, but otherwise, deviation from the lead investigation will be met with serious repercussions.” Charles’ voice was stale, as if he was reciting a set of mandatory guidelines.
“As partners, we should be able to reach each other at any time. As a matter of fact…” Charles turned to reach for his phone, offering it up as an indication to Keyla. “457-618-1103. Go for it.”
Maybe he has never worked with a consultant before… he had certainly never worked with her before. Kelyn’s lips pursed so slightly in frustration. Obviously Anderson hadn’t filled Brock in on Kelyn’s previous cases and how she worked.
Now didn’t seem the right time. Instead she snagged her phone, large and slender and typed in his number. She then called it, her number appearing on his own. That was solved. Sitting back in the chair, the wood creaking so slightly, Kelyn considered Brock.
He was obviously one-of-those. It wasn’t a bad thing, he honestly gave a damn about his job and the people he was trying to help, but too many long nights, too much coffee, and too much skepticism was going to make this a hard one.
Plus, he spoke to her the way one would someone fresh out of the Academy.
Kelyn suppressed a sigh. After the White Hall case, she was in limbo with the FBI. Yes, they had secretly saved the world and yes, she had to write a novel for her reports to make any of it believable. Terrorist threat and explosive had come up a lot. In reality, she had done a good job handling something no one else could have, and Anderson knew it.
The FBI paid her consulting fees without question and called her the next day – but she wasn’t liked or respected by any of the working men. Even Anderson was sketchy on what really happened with White Hall and had decided to keep his questions to himself – he liked sleeping at night.
Instead, Kelyn pulled out a file.
There was no way this man would take her seriously otherwise. It was an FBI asset file and it was hers. She laid it before him. “A little light reading for you, so we generally understand each other.”
The file lay waiting between them.
There was a moment of silence as the file lay like a brick between them. Charles would eventually reach for the file, but his eyes never left Kelyn, even as his fingers began to rummage through the papers encased within the beige file. Finally, he would pull his gaze upon what awaited him. It was sporadic reading at best – mainly focusing on the major aspects of each paperclipped case. His unwavering demeanor suggested insensitivity towards impressive credentials. Finally, with a grunt and a casual lean, he returned Kelyn her property, his eyes retaining their passive gaze.
“Very nice. I’m pretty sure you’ll be some help in the days ahead. But understand that, as consultant, you play by my rules now, and I generally play things by the book.”
His smiled returned, as vacant as ever, and his hands tented themselves above his lap. There was a brief moment of uneasiness… perhaps regret?… and Charles’ mind raced to actively pacify any brooding dislike between them.
“I’m not going to brush you aside like some kind of a-hole, Kelyn. I intend to use whatever talents you have to offer to their utmost capabilities. But there has to be an understanding that what I say, goes. Your advice will always be considered, I assure you. But there is an unfortunate amount of red tape which we all have to deal with, and rules which we have no choice but to play by.”
Charles hoped his explanation would enlighten Kelyn on his true intentions… he just wanted to solve cases, bottom line.
Oh boy. She hoped this case and any other future cases with him kept themselves squarely on the normal side of things. If they ever got deep into her ‘talents’, red tape would be the least of their concerns. There was a flicker of emotion again.
A touch of anger. It was gone in an instant, as if it had never been there, her features once again young and open. “I have worked successfully with the Agency before and you can rest assured that I know the rules. I understand your concern and have at least an inkling of what drives them. Shall we talk about the case?”
Really? That was it? No pouting, no posturing?
She pulled out a binder in which she had organized her copies of the case files. Clean, elegant – not necessarily helpful but at least professional.
“I have been selected as the Consultant for this case due to my previous experience with missing persons. I was the consultant on the Red Tower Pointe case and the lead investigator recommended me to Anderson when he heard you had the Solstice case.”
Red Tower Pointe had been a disaster. Three Federal Judges had gone missing from the Red Tower Pointe hotel almost three years ago. It had been a very high profile case that had dragged on for almost a week with no leads before Kelyn had been called in.
Two days later the Judges were recovered.
They had no memory of what had happened and could not account for their whereabouts for the missing interim. It was an ‘unsolved’ mystery for the department and one of those things Anderson never asked about.
“Obviously, there is still no apparent tie between the victims. Different ages, races, genders, occupations. No matching known associates. It went on for so long early on because no one noticed the Solstice connection. That hints at ritual killing, something serial or occult.”
She wasn’t telling him anything he didn’t already know. Testing the waters perhaps?
Charles has plenty of experience with renegades, hotheads and primadonnas in his past wheelings and dealings as detective. Most were assigned to him a need-by-need, case-by-case basis to accomplish certain ends which were beyond the scope of the average investigator. He developed a healthy dislike for these relationships, as they often led to extra paperwork and countless inquiries by anxious higher-ups.
But as he put his initial assumptions aside regarding Kelyn, she seemed… different, somehow. She had something to hide, he sensed, but he wasn’t sure why he sensed it, what it was or what significance it held. It could be nothing, maybe a blemish on her record or some weird OCD habit. With an effort, Charles abandoned his train of thought, deciding to pursue his analysis at another time.
For the first time, he fully took in Kelyn’s appearance. She had an obvious physical appeal, but likely did not have a boyfriend… the work involved to build her impressive resume made almost certain of that fact. She was well-kept, neat, but her worn sneakers implied she also had a practical side as well. Orange beams of sunlight which bled in from a nearby window painted themselves against her face, and for an instant she seemed almost… angelic. A warmth of acceptance appeared on Charles’ face, the first true sign of respect that he conceded towards Kelyn.
Charles lifted himself from his seat. The stream of orange light reflected off his skin for a moment, unveiling a slight olive tint which suggested Italian or Puerto Rican ancestry. His arms seemed ropey, chiseled and strong, even underneath the wrinkled shirt which otherwise disguised most of his physical traits. A slow nod confirmed that he agreed with Kelyn’s theory, but his eyes warned that a tangent of thought was imminent. Charles walked towards the window, and with a breath, he began.
“You know, I had a case, years ago. Five murders with the same modus operandi, five different states.. the 31st of each subsequent month. Different races and backgrounds, much like this one. I thought it was some religious nutjob who was driven by some wacky-tabaccey pattern, but I eventually solved the case, a year or so later. Turned out the killer was a truck driver who had his check deposited every month on the 31st, so he had some extra cash to spend on his spur-of-the-moment hobby.”
He turned towards Kelyn with a gaze that was lost in thought. “My question is this. What is convenient about the solstices? What advantages do they offer in terms of covering tracks?”
It wasn’t a bad thought. Maybe everyone was reading so much into the Solstice idea behind the case, but to date, it was the only known connection. She flipped a few of the pages in the binder, offering a chart that showed day of the week, numeric date, coordinates, weather patterns including degrees in Fahrenheit, precipitation, and the like. The chart crossed off a number of measurable variables. No notables holidays or celebrations, no proximity to birth dates or anniversaries of the victims and their families.
Never had a page full of information summed up nothing so concisely.
“I hear you,” she said softly, slender fingertips running over the page. “Just because everyone assumes there is an occult connection doesn’t make it true. But Occam’s Razor isn’t helping either, all of the most obvious answers have been ruled out, leaving only the more unlikely answers.”
He was looking at her, listening to her – as if she was a live human being. It was a vast improvement over the first five minutes of their conversation. And standing there silhouetted by the window, Kelyn noticed he was… handsome. That was unusual all on its own and for it’s very own reasons. She picked at the cuffs of her long sleeve shirt, a nervous habit.
“I wanted to head over to Whole Health / Whole Life, then to Diaz’s home. What do you think?”
A curious look of relief climbed its way to the surface of Charles’s face through layers of carefully managed indifference. The consideration he tossed towards Kelyn was basically an afterthought, but she entertained it with due process without an ounce of condescension. Maybe they’d get along, after all. Charles’ biggest fear was his ten years on the force weighing against him in unexpected ways – for example, simply being personable was somehow becoming more and more of a chore with every passing year. The last thing he wanted was to devolve into some bitter gumshoe whose stellar reputation was an inadequate substitute for his lack of friends. Kelyn was young, talented, accomplished, driven – but not abrasive, at least upon Charles’ initial assessment.
Charles turned towards his desk, the afternoon sun now strong upon his back, and pulled open a drawer to retrieve something.
“We’ll use my clunker on official business,” he said with a curl of a smile before tossing Kelyn a set of keys. “And you’ll need to get used to how that piece of junk runs. So, take it easy the first spin down the block, okay?” After tucking an address book into his coat, he politely led her outside into the hallway, where loitering detectives would whisper and watch with eyes that asked undue questions.
Charles guided Kelyn through the back area of the building towards a doorway which led out into an adjacent garage. “I managed to get a spot in here today, but don’t get used to it… usually, this thing is out on the street.”
The pair would navigate through several archways until they approached an old, rust-colored Toyota Corolla parked alone in a corner. As they both climbed in his car, Charles buckled himself before offering the radio to Kelyn with a gesture of his hand. “Driver gets to choose,” he’d offer in concession, nodding his go-ahead.
What a difference! She couldn’t guess what she had done or said to change the man’s opinion, but something had happened. Something was different. She would take it without complaint. The pair strode from his office, falling into step and Kelyn became quietly aware of the other investigators looking at them. It wasn’t just a casual glance in passing. Kelyn frowned softly, toying with her long sleeves as if checking for… something. It was impossible to know what.
She breathed a sigh of relief as they stepped out of the building and into the parking garage to wander amid the cars there. It was a strange amalgam of luxury vehicles and clunkers all mixed in together like a box of chocolates.
She liked his car. It wasn’t pretentious or overbearing. It was a real person’s car.
She’d driven everything from an Al Camino to a Bugatti Veyron and they all got your from point A to point B. Yes, some were more fun than others, but they were all metal (or fiberglass) boxes with wheels.
Her green Nissan Altima would have matched any other car 99.9% of the time.
Kelyn slid in, buckling up, then blinked at him softly. “Radio privileges. I am honored. I promise, nothing obnoxious.” She flipped through the radio stations until she found something that bore a mix of 80’s ballads and 90’s light alternative. John Popper crooned through the speakers, then took up his harmonica.
Kelyn checked before pulling out of the spot, then headed north from the FBI headquarters toward the highway.
She was a pretty good driver. Not too defensive, not aggressive. He could just relax and let the car steal them away for a moment. “So why FBI,” she asked as Lifehouse Hanging By a Moment sang through the speakers.
It was Charles’ habit to close his eyes and peripherally observe his surroundings senses whenever he rode shotgun. In retrospect, he mused that he must look like an old man catching up on some sleep, or a monk squeezing in a quick meditation. Whatever the case, Kelyn’s choice of music was a good backdrop for casual conversation, and he took a moment to mentally prepare himself for some not-at-all-unwelcome small talk.
“My friend stole my action figure,” Charles abruptly recounted with a cursory sigh as an opening to his story. “Initially I thought it was my brother, who was a diabolical piece of work when we were growing up. But covert searches in his room would reveal nothing. Then after a few weeks, I noticed a drawing my friend did of the character in question on his textbook… well, not right on the thing. On a paper bag that protected it.”
Charles tried to illustrate the concept of a sleeve with his hands before dismissing himself in defeat. “You get it. Anyways, my instincts kicked in even at that young age… kids only draw crap that they really like.”
Charles’ lips pressed together in some semblance of a smile; it seemed like he took a small sense of pride in his deduction. “So, next time we were playing in his room, I did some investigating… and there it was, waiting for me in his chest. I smuggled it out and back to my house, but I was sure to not play with it out in the open. I didn’t want to start any arguments.”
A heavy exhale seemed to conclude the matter in his mind. “Little jerk,” he sneered through the corner of his mouth.
“But anyways. After that incident, I realized that I liked to search for clues, assemble them logically and solve mysteries. It probably seems like a frivolous reason to choose a career, but it’s stuck with me all these years, believe it or not.”
Charles opened his eyes, turning his head toward Kelyn with a look of invitation. And you? How did things kick off on your end?”
It was a great story. Kelyn couldn’t help but smile, her eyes fixed on the road as she imagined him as a child covertly searching his friend’s room. Except in her minds eye, he had a black light flashlight and a CSI kit. She chuckled softly.
Now, Kelyn should have known, should have guessed where his quesiton would lead, it was so obvious and turn about was fair play. “I knew very young that I was different. And that I was good at finding things, seeing details other people missed. And I liked helping people. It wasn’t a big stretch to get into the low end of the business.”
She wasn’t lying, but it wasn’t the whole truth either. It was impossible for him to know that, she spoke to light-heartedly about it. Her tone didn’t change, her eyes still fixed on the highway before them, but there was just a touch of sadness that colored her words.
She pulled off the highway and onto one of the main thoroughfares, glancing about as she sought out the strip mall that held Whole Health / Whole Life.
She saw the place too late and had to bust a u-turn to get there. It was a small place tucked next to a All natural food store. It bore a decal of a man and a woman standing together and the slogan, “Welcome to a better you.”
Kelyn pulled into a nearby parking spot, and flipped off the radio. “Any thoughts on how we…” she corrected herself with a touch of chagrin, “…you want to play this.”
Once again, the sense that… something… was conveniently absent from Kelyn’s response flagged Charles’ scrupulous instincts. He of course didn’t care to interrupt their momentum with an inquiry, as their rapport was growing by leaps and bounds with every exchange, but somehow understood that whatever her secret was, it would rear its head sooner or later. It might raise an eyebrow but he’d be sure to shrug it off… he was good at that sort of thing, and to each his own, as they say. He had his own crosses to bear, after all.
Upon arriving at their destination, Charles took a moment to process Kelyn’s self-enforced correction.
“’We’ is fine,” he amicably conceded with a smile. A snooping peer might spread the rumor that Charles was bending over backwards for the new recruit, but they were far from prying eyes… and truth be told, he was enjoying the impromptu breaches of protocol.
“I’ll have you take the lead this time – you’re around Ms. Diaz’s age, and her co-workers are likely the same. They’d be more apt to opening up to you, I reckon. Go where your gut takes you – start with the usual nudges and branch from there.”
Charles would commend his own decision upon entering the establishment, as he immediately felt out his element. Something about being at the mercy of unfamiliar hands was enough to give him goosebumps, and he suppressed an urge to shudder.
“Squeeze in a question about her hobbies at some point,” Charles whispered in Kelyn’s ear as they approached the reception desk. “Something tells me that’s worth exploring.”
Beside Whole Life, Whole Health sata Fresh Market grocery store, a dry cleaner, a french bakery, and one of those self serve froyo places. It was a nice enough looking place, a pretty fountain in the front and a wall of beautiful and slender women staring out with perfect thighs and perfect smiles, their gaze proclaiming the wonders of anti-aging treatments, regular chiropractic visits, and colon cleanses. A patient or two sat on the comfortable couches, playing games or reading on their oversized cell phones.
A slender latin girl sat at the front desk collecting money and smiling her pretty smile.
It was just another day at Whole Life, Whole Health – though slightly more hectic for the loss of their lead massage therapist.
It had been a rough few days without Jill and despite the influx of clients and the co-workers calling, stopping by her place, the brilliant therapist had yet to return.
The attractive and dark haired girl at the front blinked up at the pair of them for a moment. “Good morning, may I interest the two of you in a couples massage?”
Kelyn, who had been about to speak, snapped her moth shut with a click of her teeth, took a deep breath, and started again. “Not today, thank you. This is Detective Charles Brock and I am Kelyn SInclair. We work with the FBI and we are looking into the disappearance of Ms. Jill Diaz. We wanted to look around, perhaps ask some of her co-workers some questions.”
The pretty latin girl sat up straighter as the title of FBI (but then everyone did. It was one of the perks of being a consultant with a little FBI consultant ID.
“Of… of course. We will do anything to help you find Jill.” She buzzed him into the small but lush establishment, doors open and closed on either side of the hallway. “Just this way,” she offered, nodding to one of the therapists, a shorter and heavy set man.
“The doctor is with a patient just now, and we don’t know anything more than we told the police, but we will… well… we just are all very worried about her. The patients have been asking for her and…”
She opened the door to to a small lounge area where four people sat, three women and another man. They all looked up in different stages of lunch, blinking at him. “Patients aren’t…” One of the therapists started.
“He is asking about Jill,” the sweet Latin girl offered softly. “I said we would help in any way we can.”
“We should record this,” a small Asian woman threw out. “That way we can play it back for anyone who walks in.”
“Tess!” A pretty blonde haired woman looked scandalized.
“What,” the Asian Tess shot back. “I like Jill and all but do we just pour out her and our life story to every one who walks in?”
They looked at one another with questions in their eyes, then nodded. The pretty Latin girl, Martina, spoke first. “We do what the FBI asks, Tess.”
The group turned more curious eyes to the pair.”
“Let’s start easy,” Kelyn said, pulling out a notebook and pencil. Tell us how well each of you knew Jill?”
Marian cleared her throat. “I started her a few months ago, so I didn’t know Jill that well. We shared lunch sometimes because we are both vegan. Bought something from the local Flaffel Pit and split it. She’s nice. Friendly. I invited her out to play pool with my fiancee and I, but she didn’t come.” She glanced over her shoulder at the sound of the door’s chime. “Excuse me.” She slipped out of the kitchen, closing the door behind her.
“I am Laura,” the blonde spoke up. She had a heart shaped face, large blue eyes and a soothing voice. “I started her not too long after Jill. Been here five years now. Everyone liked Jill. She was friendly, always listened, good news or bad. She could take the meanest patients and calm them right down. She just had that way about her. She never spoke of anyone.”
The man spoke up. He was dark skinned, tall, with a hint of an accent. “She mentioned her mother once, in New York, remember. Her mom was sick and she thought she would have to fly up there, but…” The man shrugged. “Guess she got better.”
“Or died.” Tess frowned at the lot of them as they turned wide eyed to glare at her. “What?” Tess questioned.
“Oh, come off it,” the final woman said from the far end of the table. “You are still just pissed that you were loosing clients to her. She wasn’t stealing your clients, Tess. You are just a bitch.”
Laura blinked at the woman, frowning between she and Tess. “Andrea, Tess, please. We are trying to help these people find Jill. She could need help, be hurt, and you are fighting.”
Laura turned to face him, her features soft. “None of us knew Jill really well. Whenever we asked about things, she quietly changed the subject. I know she just had a birthday last week.”
The rest of the group looked surprised. “I didn’t know that,” Andrea said.
“She didn’t want anyone to make a big deal out of it. She asked me not to say anything.”
Laura looked at Kelyn for the first time, blue eyes wide and deep. “Do you think she is okay? Honestly? She really is anything good person. Maybe you will find out more at her home, but she kept everything here very… calm and professional.”
“Well, it is too early to know anything yet,” Kelyn offered, “but we are going to do everything in our power to find her.” Her notepad was scrawled with details. “So no romantic partners that you know of. What did she do for run? Did she have any hobbies?”
“That music thing,” Tess said with a sneering sigh. The group glared at her again and the Asian woman shrugged. “What? She made Everyone subscribe to her Youtube channel, just to watch her sing and play the guitar. She was okay, but she wasn’t the next Joni Mitchell.” Kelyn wrote furiously. “Do you know the name of the Youtube station?” They all shook their heads slowly. “Excuse us for one moment,” Kelyn offered politely, then steered she and Charles into the hallway. “What do you think?”
The offer for a couple’s massage caught Charles completely off-guard, prompting an embarrassed bite of his lip while darting his eyes to the floor. A warm sense of pride pulsed in his chest, however – perhaps he wasn’t the old goat he thought himself to be. He saw that Kelyn reset herself with the most casual of hiccups, which was impressive… but Charles couldn’t help feeling the slightest bit of disappointment. Her response was so natural that perhaps she disregarded the secretary’s notion as absurd.
His eyes would glaze over as Ms. Diaz’s employees bickered back and forth, storing only a few bits of information away in his mind as potentially useful. In actuality, his primary focus was watching how Kelyn handled herself, and she seemed to be as advertised – professional and straightforward, which was a major relief, and certainly a change of pace from previous partners. The YouTube channel held the most promise, and he quietly congratulated himself with giving his own hunch the time of day.
As Kelyn pulled him aside to discuss their developments, Charles would peek over once more toward the kitchen before locking his eyes with Kelyn’s.
“I think we’ve gotten everything we can from the peanut gallery, especially if Ms. Diaz only worked here part-time for a few months. I say our next move is to head over to her home and compare notes with any and all of her family members.”
A slow smile would then spread across Charles’s face. “If you’re up for some overtime, we can take a couple hours to try and uncover more about her YouTube thing tonight in my office. Social media was never really my thing.”
“I’m game,” she offered back with a smile. “Besides, if anyone knows where to get the best take out around here, I am sure it is the FBI.” She flipped the notebook closed, stepping back into the kitchen. “This is my card as well as Detective Brock’s.” (She must have grabbed a pile off his desk when he wasn’t looking. Trixy little thing.) “If any of you speak to Jill or think of something that might help us, please call. Day or night.”
They strode out of Whole Life / Whole Health, Kelyn pulling out a pair of sleek sunglasses and sliding them on. “I doubt we will get much at the house. Great instinct with the hobby. I wonder if it it is a YouTube stalker thing. I’ve heard of weirder.”
Boy had she, but she wasn’t about to tell him that.
They piled back in his car and she pulled out of the spot and hopped onto the main roads, driving further from the highway. Commercialized strips of tiny stores and massive malls gave way to suburban mazes. The houses here were nothing to write home about, but they weren’t run down either. More solid than the pre-mods, build of actual brick and mortar with slightly sagging wooden porches and overgrown lawns. But there were children playing outside, dogs barking as they ran tracks through the thin grass and the occasional man or woman or both sitting on the front porch drinking coffee or tea or lemonade or something harder.
They found Jill Diaz’s home, a small single family with a well trimmed lawn, a few plants in pots, and a bright yellow paint job. Kelyn pulled the call into the driveway, killing the radio as the Red Hot Chili Peppers sang about Californication.
Kelyn slid from the car and strode up to the home, knocking confidently on the front door.
Kelyn’s third knock was conclusively curt, and by then Charles’ right cheek would have pulled his lips in resignation. He reached into his coat and pulled out his relic of a flip phone, dialing a number and waiting for it to ring while informing Kelyn with a look to keep her ears open. Indeed, the faint sound of a phone ringing in the house could be heard before it reached the mumblings of a voice machine. Charles then put his away and seemed to resolve something in his mind.
“It’s a stretch, but we’ll use that as our fallback for taking the initiative and having a look inside. Gotta cover our butts, right?” He winked before waving Kelyn to follow him to the side gate of the home, leading into the horseshoe-shaped yard.
A brief survey of the house would reveal the back door, which was canopied by a small porch, to be much less restrictive. In fact, there was only a screen door blocking a glass-plated entryway with no curtains or other obstructions. A clear view could be seen throughout the kitchen and living room, and things did seem rather dead inside.
Charles would nod some kind of acknowledgment before pulling himself away from Kelyn. “Wait here,” he’d instruct while starting a jog back to the front of the residence. “I’ll be right back.”
Charles returned with some kind of awkwardly-shaped, hand-held device and situated himself in front of the back door. “Let’s see if this baby can work its magic…”
After some clamp-like maneuvers and a few manually adjusted settings, it would fully encase the stubbornly-locked latch. A few yanks from Charles’ determined hands were necessary before the endgame was reached. The door nudged open from its frame, albeit grudgingly, prompting Charles to prod it fully open with a grunt of success.
“Don’t tell anyone I used this thing,” Charles grinned with a wink towards Kelyn before entering the residence. “It’s supposed to be retired.”
Kelyn waited quite patiently at the back door, smiling softly to herself. Calling was a smart idea. Resourceful. She considered the little patio, a small pot garden ripe with tomatoes, onions, spinach, and a dozen different herbs. It was impressive what the woman had managed in such a small space and she obviously had a green thumb. If Kelyn walked to close to any of the plants, they would wilt and die out of sheer spite.
When he returned, she was still standing right about where he left her, her eyes widening at the device in his hand. “Well, naturally, I saw nothing, I have no idea what that is and am obviously not at all amazingly impressed that you happen to have one.” There was soft laughter in her tone.
Most ‘Suits’ would never use such a useful and law-line-skittering device. Kelyn faithfully looked away as the door loosed from its frame.
“It really is a shame that such a nice home would have such a flimsy and poorly constructed sliding glass door. When we find Ms. Diaz, we will have to advise her of the necessity of well fortified exterior doors.”
Kelyn let Charles take the lead in, considering the home around them. The kitchen to their left was small but well suited for one person. It was generally clean with a single dish and glass in the sink, water inside it. Kelyn checked the fridge. A half gallon of milk, a quarter full and expired. There was some tofu in a brick and some apples that looked a touch shriveled. In the freezer waited home made pre-packed single serve dinners. Tehy were all carefully labeled with the contents and the date. The trash can was empty. No scraps, no bag.
The living room sported a small tv, a worn rug and mismatched second hand furniture. A patina of dust covered all the flat surfaces.
The master bedroom boasted a comfortable looking bed with sheets all rumpled and soothing art on the walls. Clean clothing lay folded in a hamper to be put away and a small pile of assumed dirty laundry waited in a basket on the floor. The small trash can was empty.
The bathroom was well kept, the tub and toilet clean. Bottles of shampoo and conditioner sat half full. The trash can was also completely empty.
The other room had been converted from a bedroom to an office/studio. An electric keyboard sat in the corner, a guitar on a stand nearby and an empty stand beside it. Another guitar lay face down on the floor. The computer on the desk was off, the webcam perched atop the monitor like a patient bird. The trash can beside the desk was also empty.
Kelyn stood in the middle of the converted studio, staring at the guitar on the floor and then the guitar on the stand.
Charles politely took the reigns and combed the residence with keen eyes, starting first in the kitchen before the pair made their way to the living room. Though his focus was unmistakable, his real objective was once again to study Kelyn’s investigative techniques. Her periodic, intensive stops in unassuming areas and other curious mannerisms reminded him an awful lot of his own particular habits; it was a bit like looking into a gender-bending mirror.
There was the occasional drawing and painting of a guitar or guitar-related equipment hanging upon the walls throughout the residence. Charles was at a loss regarding their relevance to particular genres of music, but he imagined Ms. Diaz’s style having more a folksy rock vibe. The webcam in her room stood out to him like a sore thumb, and he mentally noted to explore the possible connection with the other relevant cases.
“All right, so I’m guessing our strongest lead at this point is the music channel thing?” Charles absentmindedly ran his finger along the headstock of one of the guitars, collecting a bit of dust upon his fingertip. He knew now more than ever the importance Kelyn would play in this investigation, as his knowledge regarding popular trends across various types of media had become very rusty indeed.
“She must have friends that are into the same kind of hobbies… maybe we could reach out to a small handful once we get a handle on her YouTube account.”
“I agree,” Kelyn said from the middle of the studio. “But I think all of this is definitely connected.” She crouched before the guitar on the floor then took a closer look at the guitar on the stand.
Pulling out a pair of blue nitrile gloves, Kelyn pulled them on and carefully flipped the guitar over. “I thought so,” she glanced up at him. “The guitar on the stand over there is a DBZ. It costs about $135.00 and can be bought at most music stores and Walmart during the holidays. The guitar on the floor is a Conde Hermanos. They run between 2 to 4 grand depending on the model and quality of sound. Jill is a neat person. Clothes folded, freezer labled. Why is her very expensive guitar on the floor?”
She rose, weaving her blue gloved fingers together. “Did you see the trash cans? Nothing. Not even a bag.”
She quirked a an odd expression. “That’s weird.” She glanced slowly around the room. “I think whatever happened here happened fast, happened quietly, and then someone decided to take out the trash, which means we should care about what has been thrown away…”
Charles’ head would lean forward just a tad, as was his habit whenever he was listening intently to someone speak. Kelyn had brought up a number of promising points in a very short period of time, and he couldn’t help but be impressed, allowing himself a slight smile.
“Two-to-four big ones for a guitar? Yeah, I’d have that thing behind a plate of reinforced glass when I wasn’t using it. Something definitely happened here. I wonder if it’s too late to check the local dumpster and rummage through any bags that may fit the bill for our lonely trash cans. Let’s hope our potential perpetrator and the city itself are both lazy, hm?”
Leading the way down several adjacent houses, Charles would indeed find a dumpster area, with two large, green trash receptacles parked within a wooden alcove. He gave it a twice-over and realized that the bins were still full, though it was impossible to know from their vantage point if they held anything of relevance.
“There’s a variety of waste removal services in this area that compete with one another. Their collections occur anywhere from two days apart towards the back end of a week. Let’s hope these two are showing us the latter.”
Charles put on his own pair of FBI-issued handling gloves and set to tossing various bags upon the concrete foundation around them. “This should be fun,” he’d sarcastically mutter while wrinkling his nose.
“Any chance you have another pair of those high tech FBI gloves? I don’t know if my weak little nitrile gloves can handle this?”
She didn’t know if her stomach could handle it either but it had been a long time since breakfast and she was willing to do her portion. Gloves or not, once the bags started coming out, Kelyn couldn’t help but ‘dive’ in.
The first few bags were clearly kitchen garbage and contained meat. Couldn’t possibly belong to the vegan massage therapist.
The next set of bags was paper trash and required a more in depth look. She ruled out each bag by finding a piece of mail and checking the name and address.
Buy your car back!
2 for 1 bags of dorittos from the local supermarket!
Past due bills.
Not Jill Diaz.
Kelyn sighed and moved onto the next bag.
It was a solid hours worth of work, the sun pouring down as the pair dug through bag after bag. He had all but emptied the two dumpsters and they still hadn’t found anything.
Kelyn glanced at Charles to make sure he was deeply occupied in his current search.
She closed her eyes, rubbing her blue gloved hands together and Saw.
He would feel it like a pulse against his body, the deep beat of a dropped base.
Kelyn groaned. Dumpster diving. Naturally.
She opened her eyes and strode to the second mostly empty dumpster. Lever ing herself up, Kelyn climbed into the dumpster.
The smell of rotting spagetti punched the air and soaked into her slacks.
Kelyn disappeared into the confines of the dumpster with only the sound of bags rustling and mild cursing. One. Two. Three bags flew out of the dumpster, one almost catching Charles in the shoulder.
Kelyn rose, moved towards the dumpsters edge and pushed herself up. It wasn’t graceful or elegant at all and it was dumb luck she didn’t land on her but surrounded by their various garbage bags.
“I have a good feeling about these.”
Again that pulse, that sensation of… something.
Kelyn tore open one of the bags. Jill Diaz’s discarded mail looked back at them.
Methodically sifting through the smelly garbage bags was an unpleasant experience, but Charles had certainly been assigned worse tasks involving various crime scenes in his past. He’d brace himself for another round when the first dumpster turned up no leads, but it wasn’t long until Kelyn uncovered something promising.
Though there was nothing overtly unorthodox regarding her discovery, Charles sensed the faintest indication of… something uncanny at work. His mind wouldn’t dwell as it often does in regards to these little revelations, but he’d file it away for future reference. The bags were there and ready, and they had better get to sorting before some expired bag of spaghetti slop was accidentally punctured, ruining any potential evidence.
Charles would arrange two piles upon the concrete floor; one which was dedicated to obvious pieces of useless garbage, and another to more promising articles of evidence. Once he was finished with his quota, he’d hand the relevant stack to Kelyn and stand beside her to join in an examination.
“Lots of papers, receipts and the like,” Charles would comment while filtering through in a casual manner. One torn envelope he’d initially dismiss before Kelyn reached to reintroduce it on the top of the pile. There was a return address written poorly in pen, and after some quick deciphering, it read:
50 Bryansford Road
Newcastle, BT33 0PT, UK
“Something catch your eye about this?” Charles would ask Kelyn, giving her his undivided attention.
It did. It certainly did but how could she explain it to him? Kelyn just knew this particular envelope was important. It was the reason the garbage had been emptied, she just didn’t know why. “Yeah. How much correspondence did she get from out of the state much less out of the country? It is definitely something that does not the pattern.” Her leg was stained with rotten spaghetti, her sneaker smelling rough at best.
She crouched before him, sifting through the papers.
It was the envelope. She knew it.
“I think we should take this, toss the rest back in and head back to your office. Fair?”
Ignoring the Canadian envelope was just a pseudo-test thrown Kelyn’s way, perhaps a change-up down the middle of the plate, but she nevertheless hit Charles’ pitch out of the ballpark. There was indeed something fishy about it, and though Charles initially found something peculiar about Kelyn’s confident proposal to proceed only with the envelope, he’d thumb through the pile one last time before nodding his agreement. She was obviously on some kind of intuitive roll, and who was he to needlessly throw his weight around and stop her? There’d be plenty of conversation and debate in the evening that lay ahead.
“Let’s get back to the house and clean you up a bit,” Charles would suggest before sealing the envelope away in a ziplocked evidence bag. “Then we’ll grab something to eat before we head back to the office.”
The stark orange line of the setting sun across the horizon was enough to reinforce their decision to retire for the day, at least regarding their field work.
Charles should have known that Kelyn would turn down the drive-thru run he’d initially suggest as a time-saver. It was for his own good, he’d reconcile in his mind… after all, he hadn’t been feeling all that great lately and had honestly put on a little extra weight, which he wasn’t pleased with. They decided upon a Noodles & Co. which was relatively close to the office and parked the car in a spot that was easily visible from the restaurant.
Charles and Kelyn would order their meals before claiming an empty table towards the back of the dining area, away from the hullabaloo of other patrons. On the way there, Charles took notice of a sticker on the glass exterior of the restaurant… Free Wi-Fi, it said.
“Wi-Fi. That’s internet, right?” Charles would ask Kelyn as they say themselves down. “Maybe you should do some of our internet research here on your phone as we wait for our food. The internet speed at the office isn’t the greatest.”
Ug. She smelled like rotting spaghetti. How horrible! Kelyn stared at the envelope, her eyes narrowed. Why would Ms. Diaz get a strange handwritten envelope from the United Kingdom of all places. She didn’t know the country abbreviations enough to know just where the envelope had originated from, but it was strange to say the least.
She used Ms. Diaz’s clorox wipes to scrub her shoe and the hem of her pants, so she ended up smelling of rotting marinara AND clorox wipes.
When Charles recommended they call it a day, Kelyn couldn’t agree more. It had been a long time since breakfast and she was starving, but all of the junk food places he recommended met with her vehement resistance.
She felt Noodles & Co was an excellent compromise, particularly since she didn’t have to compromise all that much.
She ordered the mongolian and a cup for water and they found a table in the back.
Kelyn sat with a quiet sigh. Scaling dumpsters, not what she had on the docket for the day, but it was successful on all accounts.
At least she assumed so.
When he mentioned the free Wi-Fi, she pulled out her phone, cocking an eyebrow at him. The way he asked the question betrayed a certain technophobia… no that was the wrong word. Just a lack of familiarity. Thinking back to his office, that actually made sense.
Kelyn’s first order of business – to look up the address. A quick google search showed her a red dot outside a big green park. Weird.
Zooming out far enough showed her a map she recognized.
“Huh… Ireland. Northern Ireland to be exact. Right next to a park called ‘Tollymore Forest Park.’”
She copied the name and three it into the google search, a bunch of pretty pictures popping up on her screen. “Nice,” she said, turning it to show him. A stone archway decorated in classic celtic design stared back at her.
“Does that look familiar to you?’
Charles leaned forward in his chair and studied the image carefully. Nothing about it triggered any inherent relevance in his mind, but a sense of momentum combined with the process of elimination from other dead-end avenues gave him hope.
“Unfortunately not,” he’d say while calmly finding Kelyn’s eyes with his own. “But I have a strong feeling that we’re on the right track. I’ll push through the paperwork ahead of time to expand our budget in case we need to head up there in the future.”
He hoped that his initiative would neutralize any discouraging aspects of the inevitable red tape they’d have to cut. Whatever we need to solve this damn case, his smile seemed to suggest as he nodded to Kelyn. Just point us in the right direction.
Their meals were delivered by a cute Asian girl who seemed to take a quiet interest in their endeavors. Charles accepted his plate with a gracious smile which was eagerly reciprocated with rosy cheeks before she retreated back to the register. Two-for-two today? Charles thought to himself before diving headfirst into his dish of Japanese pan noodles. Don’t get full of yourself, champ.
The arrival of their food naturally introduced a brief reprieve from their investigative pursuits, and Charles’ thoughts drifted once again. He was seasoned enough to know that a tapestry of interlocking clues was often too muddled to comprehend without some act of blind faith, but a sense of dread would sift its way to the surface of his mind. If the address they uncovered was a solid lead, it would be a royal pain to cooperate with the local governments, police officials and God knows who else. He wasn’t even sure if there was an extradition agreement in place between the United States and Ireland if things escalated to that point. They would have to proceed very carefully indeed to make the most of whatever discoveries that lay ahead.
Oh, mongolian! It looked amazing and smelled even better. They should have gotten edamame. Maybe next time. Kelyn, chopsticks laden with noodles half-way to her lips stopped for a second. Next time? Did she anticipate spending many an asian influenced dinner with her new FBI liaison. Oddly, the thought did not send her leaping through the oversized (and no doubt shatterproof) store windows. Whatever else she might have to say and forgoing their questionable introduction, Kelyn felt like they were getting somewhere.
As a team.
That was painfully unusual, especially when she had to deal with a suite. Private clients were so much easier and usually relied on her to use her own consultants for specialty work, which suited her perfectly. But if she was going to have to work with anyone, and if their progress today was any indicator, Kelyn might be adding Agent Charles Brock to her mental Rolodex of go-tos when it came to government and particularly FBI matters.
She glanced up in time to see a touch of red flush across his cheeks, the cute Asian serve sauntering away. A smile crept across her lips.
Kelyn sat back, her bowl empty. She was surprised she ate it all, but it was very tasty, the sauce in particular adding just the right layer of flavor and spice. For a moment the pair sat on the hard plastic benches, watching couples, families, and single people eating. “Want to play a game?” She said with a smirk.
Was she kidding?
“Far corner, couple.”
A sweet couple in their late thirties leaned toward one another, holding hands, their little metal holder with the humber 43 patiently displayed. He was blonde hairs with hazel eyes and wearing a button down polo and slacks. She was dark haired, dark eyed, chunky but not fat and pretty in a soft way.
“Two kids, one in school, young though. Kindergarten, maybe first, one still in diapers. He is an accountant or number cruncher of some sort. Probably usually works late but made it a point to get out early. She stays at home with the little one but runs something on the side. Ebay or Amazon, something to bring in a bit of extra money. They are tight, but content. He is up for a promotion of some sort and is nervous about it.”
What was she talking about?
It took Charles a moment to grasp the concept, but he caught on quickly and invested himself with a mellow smile.
“I’d say Businessman,” Charles would remark conclusively after a moment’s observation. “Or an assistant store manager on his way up. A large chain store like Wal-Mart or Kroger. His boss might be jumping to district manager so he’s the natural successor of the vacant position.” He’d pass a wink Kelyn’s way before scanning the restaurant for another specimen.
“She’s an artist,” he’d propose with a gentle nudge of his nose towards a young woman seated near the large window at the front of the restaurant. “She’d rather draw in her sketchbook than play on her phone. Though drawing alone at home gets lonely sometimes, so she’ll use dinnertime as an excuse to get out of the house.” As if taking a cue, the woman would pull a sketchbook and pencil from a messenger bag she set on the floor. “She might be here until the store closes. Loses track of time rather easily. I used to do that on occasion, back when I was a rookie detective. I wasn’t sure how my compatriots would take to my creative side, so I kept it under wraps for the longest time.”
The game continued until their meals were finished. Charles leaned back into his chair and stretched his arms only after surveying the area for prying eyes. Did his mental vigilance ever take a break?
“Carbs always make me sleepy,” he’d admit while stifling a yawn. “But our night really hasn’t even begun yet. We still have to explore this YouTube account back at the office. The internet speed should be okay since we’ll be one of the few staying late.” He’d reflect on his own comment momentarily before offering a look of apology. “That is, if you’re up to it, of course. Overtime is second nature for me, but I always forget to consider other people’s plans.”
“I’m open,” she flashed back with a grin having thoroughly enjoyed the game and the banter. He was smart. She liked that. It made everything infinitely easier in ways that were nearly indescribable. After all, intelligent people could be offered facts, figures, and logic and draw certain conclusions from incomplete data.
Considering that was the entirety of their job, it never ceased to amaze her how many detectives and agents she had consulted with lacked that basic (and in her opinion necessary) trait.
She toyed with the idea of popping into the self-serve froyo place next store just to sample a few of the sweet flavors out of the little paper cups, but decided that was enough playing for one night.
There was a case with leads and real people missing right now.
People they might be able to help.
“Shall we?” she said, gathering her plates and carrying them over to the little area set aside for dirty dishes and silverware, saving the server the trip.
The city was picking up, all bright lights, neon signs and people in a rush to be about their business. Couples hoping for a quiet night out, college kids checking out the newest club. Kelyn soaked in the buzz of the city as she drove them back to Headquarters, Bare Naked Ladies singing all about how it will still be two days till she says she is sorry.
“The Ireland thing is a real clue. Like you said, I can just feel it. I wish I knew more about it all.” She pulled into the parking garage which was much emptier than it had been and gave them a perfect spot by the elevator.
Kelyn passed over the keys after closing and locking the door. “I believe these are yours.”
Save for the distant activity of a few stray detectives, the walk through the station was almost eerily quiet. Charles would politely hold his office door open for Kelyn and follow her inside before offering her a seat at his computer desk.
“You can take the captain’s chair for now,” he offered while carefully typing his administrator’s password over her shoulder. He then pulled out a sketchbook from a desk drawer and settled himself near Kelyn after resituating the guest’s chair.
Truth be told, Charles had the urge to draw the strange archway since Kelyn presented it to him back at the restaurant. His hand took on a life of its own as he simultaneously vocalized his stream of consciousness.
“So, strange address in Ireland. Possible clue in a YouTube account. If there’s any sort of correlation between the two, I’d say we’d have a doozie of a clue.” A few minutes would pass before he completed a drawing which he casually presented to Kelyn. “Pretty place. Seems like a nice change of pace from the usual dusty city. Which reminds me…”
Charles stood up and selected a few forms from a plastic wall rack and began to fill them out. “Let’s get the ball rolling on our potential trip to Ireland. It’s usually tricky to get prompt approval on a business trip but…” His firm glance seemed to imply that a quick turnaround wouldn’t be a problem.
As soon as she had access, she searched both YouTube itself and run a general Google search with no luck. Oh, Ms. Diaz was a licensed massage therapist in good standing whose license was registered with Whole Health / Whole Life. She had a Facebook page, all private and very limited which offered no clues as to her YouTube channel.
She was also on LinkedIn, but it too was quite limited. Not as much of a social media buff as Kelyn had expected.
She frowned at the computer, the monitor light playing across her features, casting strange lights and shadows. Kelyn turned and considered the drawing Charles offered, quietly impressed on two accounts. Firstly, it was quite good. She shouldn’t be surprised considering the revelation at the restaurant and his naturally sharp observational skills, but he hadn’t looked at the archway that long, and yet there it was. Secondly, well, it was quite good. Most suite types she’d run across had no artistic slant whatsoever. They were all die hard Ooh-Rah boys that wouldn’t have the faintest idea what to do with a sketchbook. There was real talent in that drawing.
And the subject bothered here. There was something there for certain. Out-of-place International Envelopes didn’t just fall from the sky after all.
She would have to do more digging into that as well, but Diaz’s YouTube channel was calling her and she had to pull on that string and see where it unraveled.
“Ok,” she said slowly. “Now we get complicated. I am going to pull her IP from her ISP and then cross reference the recent uploads from that address. That should get us something.”
Her fingers flew across the keyboard as she opened another Google panel. Then a third. She flipped between them, information fluttering around her like so many flitting butterflies. It was strange to see her in this light. She’d held her own out in the field, more than willing to get her hands (and sneakers) dirty, but here she offered an obviously advantage. Even if everything she just spouted could well be utter nonsense.
“Got you,” Kelyn whispered with a soft and slightly wolfish grin. Suddenly, Ms. Diaz was on the screen before them, seated in her studio. There were seven or eight videos, each with a couple hundred hits. The most recently uploaded also had the most traffic at 756 hits. Everything else only had about 200.
“Well, here goes nothing,” Kelyn said and clicked the link. The video loaded full screen, buffering for a long moment.
“Hi everyone. Thanks for watching. This is the latest and I hope you like it.” Jill’s voice reached out to them from across time.
She was pretty in an unconventional way, on the slender side with that look that health nuts sometimes get. Strong. Healthy. She settled on her chair, guitar in hand and began to play.
The notes flowed, her voice rich and silvery against the deep bronze resonance of the Conde. Kelyn didn’t understand the words, a language she didn’t recognize but sounded slightly familiar.
It made her think of the Celtic Women she had heard singing at some Medieval Festival once.
It was beautiful, breathtakingly but painfully beautiful.
No doubt Charles would feel it too, the draw, the pull, the need to hear more. It swelled as the song continued, becoming more that just a need but instead a physical and tangible requirement.
It grabbed them both forcefully until it was impossible to look away.
It tore at them from the inside, as if invisible white hot claws sliced through their skin and shredded their vital organs.
It hurt beyond reason or understanding, as if something life-sustaining was being brutally ripped away.
There was no way to move, to speak, to even blink.
It was impossible to breathe.
There was nothing but the song and the pain, coming in waves, pouring from the computer screen and speakers.
Kelyn gasped with a pain filled hiss and there it was again, the pulse he had felt earlier. The one that seemed to emanate from Kelyn herself. It was stronger now. Deeper and sustained, a constant rumble like the bass of rolling thunder that seemed to burst from her, pouring out. It flowed over him and the pain stopped, leaving him cold, tired, and hurting. It hit the computer and sparks flew, the monitor, the speakers, the computer itself a dead black screen, smoke rising pitifully. The UPS beeped mournfully.
Kelyn turned slowly to look at him, her face pale, her features shocked. There was pain and fury there, as if she comprehended something inherent about what had happened and it infuriated her. And it must have been his imagination but through the cuffs of her long sleeve shirt and climbing up to her elbows he would swear he saw at blue patina of light filtered through the burgundy cloth in a courscating pattern. It faded away as he watched.
That wasn’t possible.
That didn’t make any sense.
There was a moment of trembling and shocked silence, then Kelyn rose so sharply she knocked the desk chair over. “I need another computer right now!”
But she has just destroyed the last computer, its husk a smoking and slightly melted ruin before them. All his files. All his work.
And there was a high percentage of likelihood she would destroy the next computer in turn. Perhaps it was time for some answers.
Charles’ assumption of a quiet, clue-hunting evening quickly unraveled itself in a few short moments. He stared towards Kelyn with widened eyes while barely comprehending the events that just unfolded before him. There was music, sublime with an almost unearthly resonance before the searing pain introduced itself without the slightest warning. He certainly wasn’t ready for the sheer intensity of it. It felt like his very organs were under attack, and his heart seized for a few terrifying seconds before Kelyn did… something. His vision would blur as he collapsed to his knees, forcing a few desperate breaths from his mouth before he managed to reclaim his senses.
“What… the hell?” Charles could only manage a few raspy words as he wrestled with the exhaustion which now claimed every muscle in his body. His instincts begged him to stand and prepare himself for the possible return of the force that, at the moment, he could only describe in his mind as pure… unadulterated… evil. His knees, however, refused to offer their support. The strange, bluish glow which pulsed through Kelyn’s clothing was just now registering in his mind. The smell of fried electronics soon followed. With one colossal effort, he willed himself to his feet.
“Kelyn… what… the fuh…”
His computer was finished, there was no doubt about it. Eleven years of case files down the tube. The most important information were backed up somewhere on the network but… Kelyn’s insistent voice carved its way through his fog of bitter disappointment. She needed another machine, stat. Why, so you can annihilate it with your weird blue energy crap? Charles snidely thought to himself with a quiet snort. Somehow, though, he put aside his frustration and focused on the situation at hand. Something of immense consequence just occurred, and Kelyn had gained his trust.
“Two offices down on the left. It’s my spare computer. Try to be a little gentler with…” His attempt at humor was quickly lost. Kelyn was already out the door.
She had to be in just as much pain, be just as exhausted, but Kelyn ran. She burst into the office, all but leaping into the seat and moving the mouse back and forth so quickly to awaken the computer that it nearly went flying from her fingers.
Her hands were trembling just a bit.
Kelyn sat before the computer, her fingers moving so quickly that the keyboard jumped with each strike. She was running a search on something while in another window she was deep into the bowels of Jill Diaz’s Youtube account. How exactly she has managed that she didn’t feel apt to share. She pulled a file and emailed it to herself, hopped back to the search. She was looking through Hospital and Insurance databases. Why in the world would she be bothering with something like that?
Kelyn frowned at the numbers, pulled open a wordpad and wrote a set of digits.
Back to the search.
She checked her email, opened the file and downloaded an audio stripping program, loaded the video and let it strip.
Back to Youtube, she deleted the link, the video, any connection to the primary file and all its back ups and redundancies.
Back to her search. Another Hospital Network.
Oh God. Kelyn was pale and furious.
Back to the video. She saved the audio as one file, naming it ‘Caution Audio’ and the video as ‘Audio Stripped Video Safe’.
She closed the Youtube browser, opened it again and went searching. The video came up missing.
She checked it, checked it. Checked it.
By keyword search.
It was gone.
She sat back with a shudder, pointing to the number on the screen. She turned, checking to see if Charles had joined her before speaking.
A bunch of numbers stared back at him.
“This,” Kelyn said slowly, quietly, “is the number of reported cases of comas, seizures that led to comas and the like reported in the last two weeks to the National and International Hospital Database.”
The number read 1534.
“This,” she said arrowing down. “Is the number of hits on Jill Diaz’s song.”
The number read 766.
“This,” she said, pointing to a list of odd numbers, ranging in blocks but all carrying the familiar number-dot-number-dot-number-dot-number. “Is the list of IPs that watched Jill Diaz’s video. This last one is… was the IP of that computer over there.” She glanced over to the smoking remains of the PC.
“How much do you want to bet if we cross reference the IP owners names to the people admitted for a coma, there would be a match, either the owner, family of the owner or friend of the owner?”
Charles rushed in behind Kelyn, taking his place over her shoulder while the most curious expression plastered itself all over his face. He must have looked like a dog given orders by two different masters. One part of his being desperately wanted to hoist Kelyn up by the armpits and pin her against the nearby wall to demand answers while boring holes into her eyes with his merciless gaze. The other part knew that the momentum they had acquired was escalating towards some of break in the case which had stumped in for the last five years. There were wars and rumors of wars, battles and conflicts which took place in the very same soul which was somehow touched by some mysterious entity just a scant minute earlier.
In the end, Charles would dismiss his inner turbulence for the task at hand. Numbers. Kelyn was mentioning numbers and records and Charles barely, or hardly, could understand what they meant. The look in her eyes was undeniable, though. She was on to something, and he didn’t want to get in the way.
“Now… is there anything we can do about this now?” His voice was quavering due to some combination of excitement, confusion… and fear? It wasn’t Kelyn he feared, but perhaps the can of worms which seemed to be opening up wide before him… Charles prided himself on a solemn promise to be ready for anything, but evil music and weird blue glows from his partner? Was he truly read for that?
The commotion had drawn the attention of a detective who peered into the doorway inquisitively. Charles waved him off with the most reassuring look he could muster, but his glare towards Kelyn suggested that the matter was far from over.
You better be ready to explain yourself, missy.
“We did it,” she said softly pushing back just a bit from his computer to bend over and take a deep breath. Her hands were shaking. “The video. Whatever Jill Diaz was into, I think her video caused the comas and the like. Must be some sort of cyber-terrorism. Seizure inducing frequency modulation. I made a copy of it and emailed it to myself, then deleted it. No one else will just stumble across it and end up a victim.”
Oh, it sounded good. It all sounded very plausible and cyber-terrorism was such a go-to phrase at the moment, but he could tell she was lying.
Utterly and without question lying.
Kelyn knew more than she was letting on and for whatever reason, she wasn’t sharing. “Have cyber department look this over if you want,. Have them check the broken links. Cross reference the IPs of the hits to the IPs of the coma victims. Something happened in that video, that song, Charles. I know you felt it.”
It was strange to hear her speak his first name, familiar somehow, though her tone held nothing but shuddering formality. If it was true and Kelyn knew more about the situation than she was letting on, it was terrifying her. Oh, she was trying to put on a calm face about it all, but just one look at pale features, that slight tremor that still hadn’t faded, the soft shiver in her voice as she spoke.
Kelyn was frightened beyond reason.
“I have just the video, audio stripped. We can watch it. I am… sixty-five percent certain that the danger was in the song, the audio. We can watch it on my phone if company resources are a concern.”
Was she teasing him or was she serious? It was impossible to tell. She seemed to see him suddenly, noticing the after-effects of the encounter that she was in turn suffering reflected in his own stance, tone, and appearance. “Are you alright?”
“Cyber-terrorism… right.” In a way, Charles’ skeptical response must have been some kind of relief. He was still visibly shaken, but his lack of reproach must have meant that a pursuit of the lead before them outweighed any desires for an inquest. Oh, he would ask questions, and plenty of them, when the time was right. But he knew the nature of the department he worked in and how the quietest rumors spread like wildfire. He didn’t want to throw Kelyn to the wolves, not if he didn’t have to. For now, he was playing off his gut, which hadn’t yet let him down.
“I’m fine,” Charles answered with eyes that immediately betrayed his words. Kelyn’s suggestion of presenting the evidence to the tech department was obviously some sort of ruse. What they experienced seemed… personal, somehow… intimate in a disturbing way… not likely to be replicated in another set of conditions. He nodded a conciliatory agreement as a matter of course before switching gears completely.
“Let’s call it a night for now,” he stated in a way that seemed more like a command than a proposal. He’d usher Kelyn up from her chair and chase her eyes in a manner that could only be described as… purpose. “Pack your bags tonight, we’re leaving for Ireland tomorrow morning. Budget be damned.”
Thank god. He wasn’t some warmongering idiot. She knew he wasn’t. Everything she had seen thus far of Detective Charles Brock had left her quietly impressed with his insight and his stoic acceptance of some crazy shit.
After something like that video, lesser men would have had a fit, screamed about a dead computer and kicked her out of the office.
Instead, she had gotten the video down. No more victims tonight.
She rose slowly from his chair, nodding softly to herself. Ireland sounded like a good idea, but they wouldn’t have the resources there they did here. She was all for going, but…
She stood at the door for a moment, her back to him and facing down the hallway before spinning to look at him. “I don’t know about you, but I am not going to be able to let this rest. Not how I am… feeling right now.”
So it had affected her too. She’d been stoic enough about it that it had been a passing question.
“I am going to watch Jill Diaz’s video. I am going to look into Ireland, most especially that park. I am going to keep digging because if those people out there in a coma can be helped, every second matters.”
She stood there for a moment, young but strong. Sure.
“It would be impossibly helpful if I had your eyes and your observation. I’m not letting this one go tonight, Agent Brock. With me?”
Kelyn had said her piece. She could pack later if she had to, sleep on the airplane if the time came, but she did not want to go to Ireland uninformed and under-prepared, especially knowing all the things she knew and all the dangers they might befall.
Kelyn was right, of course. The ball was still rolling, and Charles knew that their impetus should be maximized before a wall was eventually hit. Truth be told, exhaustion was settling in after his recent spike of adrenaline, but the protocol in his mind was always to shrug it off and suck it up.
“Okay. Fine. But not here. My place.” The look on his face warned of prying eyes and ears amongst the remaining personnel in the building. He’d hand his car keys once again to Kelyn out in the garage with an apologetic shrug. “I like the way you drive.”
The ride to his apartment was awkward, to say the least. Charles refrained from saying much, save from the necessary directions pertaining to their route. Questions were clearly burning bright in his mind, begging to be asked, but still he refrained. It wasn’t until the door to his place was safely closed behind them that he let his lips fly.
“Okay, Kelyn. Just WHAT. The FUCK. HAPPENED back there?” Before Kelyn could even gather her thoughts, he’d pause her with his index finger and walk to his sound system to play some big band music from the 30’s. Charles would then plop himself down upon an office chair and offer Kelyn a seat on his couch with a wave of his hand, nodding his approval to proceed with her reply.
Charles’ apartment seemed small but cozy. There was a large couch which Kelyn was now familiar with. The doorframe to a master bedroom was easily seen behind said couch, and another door further down the same wall was likely the bathroom. A small desk with a laptop could be found with the sound system on a shelf above it. The obligatory big screen television rested upon a wooden stand across from where Kelyn was seated. A series of three small windows peered out towards the violet sky outside, offering the bland view of an industrial complex across the street. And then there were the drawings. Many drawings of various subject matter were spread across the floors and walls of the apartment. Countless sketchbooks were stacked in a corner near the waist-high median of the kitchen area which greeted them through the front door. All in all, it seemed to be a modest bachelor’s den.
Well. She didn’t expect that. As Kelyn drove, following his directions, her mind raced. The case, the video, the sensation that gripped her body. She knew what it meant, she just couldn’t… comprehend it.
And Charles in the passenger seat, giving her occasional directions while Incubus reminded them to take the wheel and steer.
She was already deep in a Google search in her mind, wondering what she might find. Already ground through all the research and all the clues, all the madness and nightmares. She had already helped those people who laid still in their beds, family members gripping their fingers and speaking to them in comforting voices, trying not to let the fear show.
She pulled into the spot he indicated and stepped past him and into his apartment.
Covered in sketches.
He turned on her then and Kelyn sucked in a sharp breath, wide-eyed, only to have him silence her reply.
That would give her a minute to figure out what the hell she was going to say.
As he put on some music and indicated she should take a seat, she slipped her sneakers off, tucking them on the floor at the edge of the couch and sit indian style.
Still had no idea.
“I don’t know what to say, Charles, honestly I don’t. This case has been a disaster from day one. Not you now, I am talking 2010. No one has taken any of this seriously until now and now I know why. I don’t think we are the first people to put together the coma connection. Why else would they have called me in?”
What did she mean by that? What, pray tell, was so special about Kelyn Sinclair?
“I just know that video, that audio was hurting you. Hurting us. If it wasn’t stopped, our next trip would have been in an ambulance.”
She was scrambling. He could tell.
But she didn’t have a good answer either. He would know if she was lying and she respected him. She didn’t want to lie. She would just know what would happen if she told him the truth, the whole truth and nothing but.
“For now, and until we know more, we are just going to have to assume there was something about the audio that messed people up. If we watch the video, figure out the Ireland connection, then we can go from there. Fair?”
She meant it, her tone utterly honest and completely sincere.
Charles’ mind filled with the screeching chorus of alarms and sirens. Kelyn was treading water. Buying time. Hiding something. Never mind the evil presence brought on by a YouTube video which seemed to momentarily seize his heart and tear at his very soul. He also caught the briefest glimpse of a bluish glow which seemed to pulse though her clothing. And here she was, hoping to God… or whatever peered down from the skies above… that he missed that portion of the night’s events. Hmm. How to proceed from here? In his experience, he found it best, perhaps necessary, to place everything on the table.
“You’re lying,” Charles casually remarked, as if observing the conversation from a third-hand perspective. He’d lift himself from his chair and mosey on over to the fridge, passing Kelyn without the slightest glance. “Or at least hiding something. Something… big. About yourself, perhaps?” His question would linger in the air even as Charles nonchalantly retrieved a frosty beer. He’d rummage through a drawer to find a bottle opener and pry off the cap before knocking back a swig. Finally, Charles would face her from behind the kitchen’s median, which seemed to divide the pair of detectives in some weird, metaphorical way.
“I don’t blame you. Nor do I expect you to spill the beans. But give me a little credit. After all, we’re partners, right?” There would be another awkward silence, but Charles hoped that Kelyn could see the skeletal foundation of a bridge being built between them. “Help me solve this case, and your secret is safe with me. Just… warn me in the future when something like this could happen again.”
And that was that. There was finality in the way he delivered his request. Charles was no doubt ready to move on. There was plenty of work to do. “So, then. While I’m up… would you like something to drink?”
She paled when he said it. He would see the slow progression of hue shift not unlike watching a chameleon camouflage to its surroundings, except in Kelyn’s case, his words brought in her such a visceral reaction, she almost looked like she would be ill.
She didn’t respond.
She just listened. After all, she had always known in the back of her mind that one of these days she would meet someone, likely a suite, who was just as smart or smarter than she was. Who would catch on to the weirdness quickly and to whom she would have no good answers. She rested her elbow on her bent knee and her forehead balanced precariously on her fingertips, the long ends of her hair hanging down to frame her sharp cheeks and closed eyes.
She just listened because so far, all of this was salvageable.
Barely, but salvageable.
If there had been any other way, she would have taken it, any other means to stop the audio that had been carving at their souls, she would have done it.
But there hadn’t been. Not really.
It was just a drastically bad turn of events and she had gotten comfortable. Instead of watching the video on her own and avoiding this whole debacle, she had wanted his opinion. His insight.
And she still did, damn it.
She had the chance to walk out, take her car, go home and have a long hot bath and then tackle this thing from her comfy flat but no.
Kelyn was sitting on his couch having to decide just how much she had to share. How much would be acceptable but survivable.
And then he asked for a warning next time and if she wanted something to drink.
She started slightly, so surprised. She expected the full twenty question, demands and explanations.
And he wanted to get her something to drink?
“Um… just water, I think.” Dear god, she could use something stiffer, but that was dangerous territory. Kelyn was a light weight at best and the situation was too volatile for anything else.
“And if I had even guessed anything of the sort about the video, neither of us would have watched it, but I understand your point. I will do my best to give you a heads up when things are about it get…”
Oh god, she hated that word. Hated it with the passion of a thousand fiery suns. But it was the word.
The right and fitting word and it didn’t matter how much she hated it.
She uncurled her legs, tucking them under her. “For what it is worth, I am sorry about your computer.”
Charles would hand Kelyn a chilled bottled water along with his laptop after fetching it from his desk. “Don’t worry about it,” he’d remark regarding Kelyn’s condolences, though the tone in his voice suggested his loss still weighed significantly in his mind. After a quick adjustment to the thermostat, Charles would grab a notebook and pen before resituating himself upon his office chair with his beer in his hand.
“Okay, down to business. But first, let’s talk about our trip to Ireland tomorrow.”
Charles would jot a few notes down onto his pad as he began to verbally examine their looming excursion. “Most likely, we’ll have to check in at the nearest station and fill out a few forms as part of a face-to-face interview process. Hopefully it won’t take long, but in my experience it may be a few hours. They may insist on having one of their agents join us during any official investigations, but let’s keep our fingers crossed. I don’t want any unforeseen hiccups to complicate any big breaks we may come across.”
A quick chew on his pen cap would precede his next point. “We’ll be leaving around nine in the morning, but our arrival will be closer to noon despite an eight hour trip. I suggest we catch as much sleep along the way to keep us fresh. I’d like to check that archway out the same night we arrive in the area. Bring enough clothes for a three day trip.”
One last flurry of scribbles would conclude his thoughts on the matter before Charles finally redirected his concentration. “Okay, now that that’s out of the way. Let’s iron out exactly what we know about this case, and what we should be looking for in the day ahead.”
He’d turn a page in his notebook before fervently staring into Kelyn’s eyes. “Tell me exactly what you stumbled upon back at the office, keeping in mind that I’m not the most technologically astute person in the world. It’s about time I touched base with the modern generation… with your help, of course.” His smile reflected the readiness in his mind.
He was very organized and he spoke with such authority and experience that Kelyn didn’t doubt a thing he said. She’d never traveled internationally on the government’s dime before and a certain amount of paperwork and red tape was to be expected, especially since they would be brushing elbows with another nation. She pulled out her phone as he spoke, texting notes to herself. 9 am departure, three days of clothes (she would bring 4, plus and extra pair of underwear and socks – no trip was every spoiled for having too many socks.)
She knew very little of Ireland’s National Security, but part of her was silently thankful leads hadn’t pointed them toward the middle east, Russia, or China.
That would have been infinitely more difficult.
She agreed that they should get to the park and check out the archway, but she also felt there was a lot more digging to do in that regard. She emailed something to herself, then set her phone aside as he turned toward her, requesting a clearer and less ‘tech-speak’ explanation of the events at the office.
Kelyn opened the bottle, taking a sip as she coalesced her thoughts.
“Every computer or device needs a connection to access the internet. In order to do so and not jumble up the words, Internet Service Providers or ISPs assign addresses to the computers, a lot like the addresses of buildings. They are called IPs, TCP/IPs or Transmission Control Protocol / Internet Protocol. Normally this only matters if something has gone wrong and you have to call up a computer guy to fix it, but it can be used, by hackers, corporations, and even the government to track traffic on the web.”
She took another pull from the water.
“Diaz’s video, you know the one, had seen a lot more traffic than any of her others and I was able to track down the ‘addresses’,” she offered the double quotes with her fingers, “of the people who had watched the video. It is an easy guess that they didn’t fare as well against it as we did.”
Mainly because they didn’t have a strange blue-glowing girl to blow up the computer when necessary.
“So I looked at the national and international hospital databases, which track certain diagnosis for the CDC and WHO. There was a spike in comas since Diaz put up that video, and I bet if we pulled the IP addresses of a number of those patients, they would match the IPs I pulled from the video link. Short answer, I think that video put about seven and a half hundred people into the hospital. I bet most of them are still there, in a coma. And now we have an audio stripped video of Diaz. I think we need to watch it.”
Pulling open his laptop, she opened his browser and dug into her email, pulling up the attachment, but not opening it. Her hands shook so slightly, come and gone so fast, it may as well have never been there. Kelyn may have played it cool in the office, but she was more than frightened by the concept of watching Jill Diaz’s video.
“Seven and a half hundred people.” Charles softly repeated the figure aloud with heavy disconcertion. His eyes fought hard against glazing over during Kelyn’s explanation, but in the end he understood it well enough. Now over seven hundred people had accidentally or purposely seen a video on YouTube and paid a heavy price.
“What are the odds that the audio was the only threatening aspect of the video?” Charles would ask, somewhat hypothetically, before continuing his train of thought. “Can you imagine if this video somehow went viral? If no one is immune to its effects, then we were looking at the digital form of the bubonic plague on steroids.”
His face soured, and a twinge of fear surfaced in his eyes before it was promptly discarded… or buried.
“I agree with you,” Charles concluded aloud with a nod towards Kelyn, folding his arms after setting his bottle on the nearby coffee table. “But we need to be smart about this. If the video portion is still dangerous, then only one of us should watch as the other is in position to intervene. Maybe with a finger at the ready to shut down the laptop at the slightest indication of things going awry.”
He’d sigh a bit before fidgeting in his chair, prowling his eyes around the room before finding Kelyn again with a steady gaze. “How about a game of paper-rock-scissors to decide who donates their eyeballs? Unless you think you’d naturally fare better in that arena…”
Charles’ eyebrow raised just a bit, but his demeanor suggested a growing acceptance of his talented partner… whatever those talents may be.
“I would say… 85% certain it was an audio issue. I could… feel the music.” Yeah, she didn’t feel like explaining that one at the moment, but he likely understood her meaning. I was the music that had pulled at them, had divorced will from body.
“And I can’t help but think that the point of all of this may be a technological plague striking down people all over the world. I just have no idea why… or how.” She watched him for a long moment while he considered their options.
He was right.
One of them should watch the video, the other ready to shut it down if necessary.
“I’ll do it,” Kelyn said slowly with a deep breath. “Just be ready to close the laptop if things seem off…”
As if he would be able to tell.
They arranged themselves so she sat with the laptop’s glow highlighting her face, throwing stark contrast of white and red and blue in broad strokes across her slender features.
She looked up at him over the laptop, nodding softly with a tiny swallow the only indication of nervousness.
Kelyn opened the attachment, let it load, and pushed play.
Jill Diaz sat in her spare room with her Conde, looking exactly the way they remembered from the original video. She spoke, but no words came out.
She began to play, began to sing.
Kelyn tensed for a moment, the deep rumble emanating from her so low it was barely audible, but as Jill’s lips moved to the lyrics, none of that sensation, that need, that pain pressed upon her.
Kelyn exhaled, the tension releasing and that feeling, that deep base fell silent again.
Jill Diaz sang soundless on, her features transported and ethereal. She sang and played, played and sang.
Kelyn leaned forward.
Jill’s features twisted in pain, her mouth stretched wide in a scream with no sound.
It was actually more terrifying, waiting for the scream that never came.
She screamed on and on, then fell out of her chair and out of the frame, the Conde laying face down on the floor in the background.
For a minute nothing happened.
Still and silent.
Kelyn leaned closer.
Suddenly Jill Diaz stood up.
Kelyn jerked back with a little yelp of surprise.
Diaz moved awkwardly, jerkily, like a marionette at the hands of a novice. There was no smoothness of motion, no semblance of normality there.
She turned and looked at the camera. Her eyes glowed a sickly yellow green. There was nothing human in those eyes. Kelyn swallowed sharply, her eyes narrowing.
Jill reached out and the video cut.
“Shit,” Kelyn hissed, taking another swig of her water. Her hands shook just a touch and her breathing was shaking, but she nodded to Charles. “You need to see this…”
Charles’ hand was strategically placed behind the fold-out laptop screen as Kelyn prepared herself to watch the video. He was awkwardly situated as his torso leaned towards Kelyn in his seated position, with his knee on the couch as his eyes stared resolutely towards the wall over the top of her head. Charles was primed and ready to shut the laptop closed upon a moment’s notice, and based on her reactions during her viewing, he was certainly tempted more than once. However, there would be no threatening ‘presence’ to attack the pair’s senses, and though his will was tested, he allowed the video to run its course.
Finally, Kelyn indicated its conclusion with a curse, and Charles breathed a sigh of relief. “Perhaps the most tense three minutes of my life,” Charles grumbled as his clammy hand retired itself from its duties.
His own viewing of the video would be an exercise in restraint as he tried to remain as placid as possible. Despite his efforts, however, his eyes widened several times and his breath would catch noticeably towards the end. “What the fuck?” Charles would question with a glance towards Kelyn as beads of sweat began to rise to the surface of his forehead. “Just what are we dealing with…”
Out of nowhere, a vision of the archway began to pound against Charles’ mind, prompting his eyes to turn away from Kelyn’s in contemplation. Why did that just pop in my head? It’s certainly a focus in our investigation but… The video. He’d scan back a few seconds, past the revelation of Jill’s possessed body for comfort’s sake, and survey the room around her. Game of Thrones. There was a poster on her wall, small but prevalent, showcasing several characters of the show.
Why is this jabbing at me? The only reason Charles knew about the show was because of someone he briefly dated a year back. She was a Game of Thrones junkie and would invite him over to her place for every new episode. Charles would politely pull the computer from Kelyn’s lap and place it upon his own. A quick Google image search of the show’s name revealed nothing of interest… cheesy character pinups with horrible fanart thrown in for good measure. Hmm. He’d add archway to the end of his search entry… and there it was. The very archway they planned to investigate was a focal point in one’s of the program’s episodes.
Charles took a heavy breath and folded his arms after handing the laptop back to Kelyn. “I think we have another breakthrough. Know anything about the show ‘Game of Thrones’?”
If she knew, really knew what they were dealing with, it would be a completely different matter. As it was, Kelyn had vague guesses at best and none of them were good. Watching the video a second time did nothing for her nerves and when he stole the laptop from her, she took another long pull from her water bottle, almost wishing it was something stronger.
He jumped through the video again (she gave him a bit more credit, she wasn’t sure how many times she could watch the damn thing and then it paused it. He had skipped the worst part, for which she was thankful and yet… Kelyn leaned forward, her shoulder brushing his. “What is it… just a poster from some show?”
But he was hard at work. She leaned over as best she could to watch what he was up to. So, she liked a show. There was no indication of any other connection to the show and…
He pulled up Game of Thrones archway and Kelyn almost fell out of her seat. There it was, the archway from her search, the one he had sketched. Thr one in the park the international letter had originated from.
“Yeah,” she said softly, peering at the image. “That is an epic neon clue if I ever saw one and I know nothing about the show, the books. Nothing. Sorry.”
But was the show even in production when the first disappearance occurred.
She swiped back the laptop, pulling up the IMDB. There it was.
Premiered April 2011.
They were well into production of the first season when the first disappearance occurred, June of 2010.
It was a connection. A real honest to god connection.
Kelyn’s fingers lay across her lips in silent shock. It was a real lead, not just a clue, but pointing without question to a place, a similarity. She looked at Charles, her eyes wide, a soft smile on her lips. “Well done, Agent. I would call that a break in the case.”
It wasn’t often when Charles felt older than he was, but the series of adrenaline spikes he had experienced in accordance with the day’s events had finally accumulated themselves into exhaustion. He was excited, surely, but his vision seemed to lag behind him whenever he turned his head, a surefire sign that his reset button needed to be pushed with a prompt round of sleep.
“Let’s back to the office,” Charles abruptly suggested, doing his best to mask his fatigue while casually shutting the laptop closed. “Something tells me we’ll need our forty winks to be at our best for whatever awaits us tomorrow.” Kelyn was sure to be surprised and frustrated at his sudden declaration, but Charles knew it was for the best. Cases that seemed to solve themselves were always trouble. Something was waiting for them… or perhaps just for him… at the end of the rainbow. Perhaps it was related to the strange abilities which his partner seemed to harness, but he avoided dwelling on that possibility for now. Staying in the moment was a philosophy which paralleled his inclination to trust his gut when the going got tough… or strange, as it were in this case.
Kelyn, of course, could barely contain herself in the driver’s seat during the car ride back to the station. Charles did his best to match her enthusiasm, but his mental resignation must have been evident at this point. The case file he’d find upon his desk back in his office would set him upon another roller coaster of contemplation, however. Aside from the curious psychiatric evaluations which Charles decided to explore in-depth at a later point, there were no parents or next-of-kin to speak of… and the only emergency contact was a facility called “The Institute.” He casually hid the file behind his back when Kelyn popped her head around the corner of his office door. Hopefully she didn’t catch his flushed face in the absence of light as they reasserted their plans to be ready to roll at 8am the next morning.
Charles cursed at his alarm clock when its sharp beeps shook him from his sleep at 6:45. The intense dreams he experienced throughout the night quickly gave way to the rising sun as it pried open his pupils without the slightest apology. All of them involved Kelyn, but the details ebbed away with each second his head parted from his pillow. He couldn’t shake the feeling of an impending showdown, however, where he would protect Kelyn from an evil force not unlike the one which assaulted him the afternoon prior… or would she be the one protecting him?
His energy level quickly snowballed after a short shower, which was his personal gauge on the quality of sleep he received the night prior. Charles decided upon a luxury suit which was collecting dust in his closet for the day’s attire, as making a good impression on foreign departments was an unspoken priority which he picked up from his superiors. From the looks of things in the mirror before leaving his apartment with his duffel bag, Charles was sharply dressed. A scant ten minutes later, he was parked near Kelyn’s residence, where she herself was ready and dressed to kill.
Kelyn was in no way becoming accustomed to Charles’s sudden shifts in attitude. She was still high on adrenaline and aching for answers. Yes, it was terrifying but it was also exciting and dangerous and she wanted more than anything to learn more.
Which she could not do driving back to the station.
Nevertheless the drive was made and the office quite this late. She knew nothing of the file left on his desk though she was more than aware of the contents. After all, they were the bold details of her life.
She confirmed the pick up time and drove home, rolling over all the realities, the things she had seen, the things she understood but had no way of telling him.
The things she had to hide.
Those were the hardest. The worst.
She packed up a bag with a few essentials with the intention of packing the rest in the morning. She laid down on her simple platform bed with her tablet in her hand, planning on doing some research, but fell asleep in the interim.
The alarm screamed at her at 5:45 a.m. and Kelyn dragged herself from her bed and threw herself into the shower. It was only after the super heated water had beat upon her for a good ten minutes that her mind began to engage again and her packing list raced before her eyes.
Kelyn made a quick breakfast, dressed and packed, settled her things and watered her plants.
She made a cup of tea for herself, resting in the comfortable round chair that dominated her living room and playing various logic and escape games on her cell phone.
She too was dressed sharply, but not her finest. After all, she wanted to look nice but they would be landing in Ireland in 1:00 a.m. No one to impress. She just hoped the Agency would have picked them a decent hotel close to the airport.
She glanced at the time, threw a backpack with a number of country patches sewn onto it over her shoulders and a simple rolling bag with her other items. Four days worth of clothing and essentials plus a few extra pair of socks and underwear.
A trip was never ruined by too much underwear.
Her cup of tea in hand and a cup she had brewed for him in the other, Kelyn strode down to the lot in front of her flat and stood waiting as Charles pulled up.
“Good morning,” she said with a grin. “Tea? It is my own brew so I can’t promise the flavor.”
By default, Charles wasn’t much of a tea guy, but the offer of a hot caffeinated beverage was too much to turn down.
“Why thank you, Kelyn. I’m sure it’s delicious.” He wasn’t accustomed to the flavor, but slurped most of it down anyway, even before the pair of detectives left her parking lot. With a laugh he stifled in his throat, Charles supposed that he wasn’t very cultured, either. But with all things considered regarding his current case, he quickly forgave himself for his lack of refinement.
The airport wasn’t too far away, and their passage through security was brisk with the flash of their badges. Before long, they were sitting beside one another while waiting for their flight to announce its passengers to board, an hour-and-a-half ahead of schedule. There was plenty of time for idle chit-chat amidst punctuated observations of the series of clues from the day prior. It was then that Charles fully took in Kelyn and what she was wearing. She was indeed an attractive young woman, and his face instinctively turned a number of times to obscure his flustered cheeks.
Easy there, tiger, he thought to himself. Solve this case first. Then we’ll see about wining and dining a woman as your reward.
Charles and Kelyn’s seats on the plane were naturally beside on another. As a stewardess conducted the usual pre-flight ritual regarding proper seatbelt buckling, Charles amused himself with the ridiculous catalogs where one could purchase a Darth Vader hood ornament or a Big Foot lawn statue. The plane slowly bounced from its parking area to the main runway, and took to the skies before Charles even had a chance to realize it. His previous anxiety regarding air travel were negated after years of routine and necessity. In a quiet way, he was proud of himself, having come so far from his green years as a rookie and up-and-comer in the Bureau… and now, he was likely on the cusp of solving the case which would define his career.
The tea was delicious, actually. A blend of mint and orange blossom and something else. Something mysterious and exotic and undefinable. Much like the woman who mixed it. The drive to the airport was short and uneventful, the trip through security laughable and the time they sat in the terminal surprisingly pleasant.
Kelyn wasn’t one for small talk, nor did she feel comfortable enough to ask any deep and burning questions. Any question would be fielded with one of his own and Kelyn was not ready for that. Instead, she found herself at the window seat with Charles beside her, all but pressing her face to the glass as they took off.
Obviously, she had no problems with flying. She turned to say something to him and caught him looking at her. Kelyn smirked a bit and decided not to say anything, turning her attention back to the shrinking landscape below.
As she stared out the portal, she thought not about what lay beyond the polymer window nor about the adventure before them but instead what she knew of Agent Charles Brock.
Well, he had impressed her. That was new.
He knew something was up, but hadn’t tried to bully answers from her.
He understood he was in unfamiliar water and was willing to let her lead, but all with a quiet air of confidence and authority that…
… well she could at least think it… was very attractive.
Kelyn shook her head softly. That way lay a dangerous road for both of them.
The flight settled, promising to be a long one.
Kelyn reviewed some case facts, shared a game or two on her phone, and basically whittled away the time on the plane.
They flew across the world, chasing the sun but never catching it. The world outside the window seemed made of clouds and endless sky which blossomed from light and crystalline blue to the reds and oranges of sunset, to a deep and brooding purple and finally to endless black.
A number of the passengers opted to sleep, so the cabin lights were off, but Kelyn kept her reading light on. They talked quietly, mainly about the case until the plane began its descent.
It was both the shortest and most pleasant 8 consecutive hours she had ever spent beside another human being, but now, tired, feeling grimy, and unable to get the cardboard taste of the chicken and vegetables they had served for dinner from her mouth, Kelyn was glad to depart the plane and take her first breath of Irish Air.
It still smelled just like any other airport.
“Hotel?” she questioned softly, backpack over her shoulder and wheeling bag spread behind her like a lounging guest. “And better food if possible.”
Charles revealed a neatly folded piece of paper tucked away in his suit coat, offering it to Kelyn for her examination. “I went ahead and made some arrangements before heading to bed last night. My boss owed me a favor after I took on a long series of stakeouts from a suspect he had his eye on.”
A slight smile curled upon Charles’ lips before he continued. “We’ll be staying at the Belvedere hotel, indefinitely, until we’ve milked everything we can here regarding our case. It’s three stars but should be a nice improvement from the usual motel arrangements for investigators like us.”
Charles’ focus shifted towards hailing a cab after claiming their luggage, which soon led to a chatty and almost certainly drunk Irish driver to request that they “get their arses on in here, whydoncha.” His terse responses to the driver’s nosiness left the door wide open for Kelyn to field his incessant inquiries. Charles was quietly relieved that Kelyn had no issue being the sociable one between them. He knew that his placidity was often misinterpreted as moodiness, which was another project on his self-improvement list he’d been meaning to tackle.
Their hotel room revealed two full-size beds which seemed to tease their wearied bodies upon their arrival. Charles immediately hung his coat and began undressing, ineffectively using a closet door as a makeshift barrier for privacy’s sake. He honestly didn’t care at this point after their long flight; they were both adults, after all, and nothing was revealed past his boxers… but a few scars on his legs and torso seemed to beg that their stories be told. He popped a melatonin pill to circumvent any jet lag after climbing into his nightly attire, offering one to Kelyn before hitting his head on the pillow and falling asleep almost immediately.
A plague upon life itself, Charles groaned in his mind as the morning sun hit his eyes through the window’s blinds, forcing him awake. He sat up in bed, stretching and yawning while mentally planning the day’s events. They’d have to visit the local precinct and fill out some paperwork before embarking on any clue-hunting adventures, but the thought didn’t annoy him one bit. Soon enough, they’d be hot on the trail towards solving the case once again.
“The Belvedere?” she questioned softly, looking through exhausted eyes at the slip of paper. She hadn’t heard of it, but Kelyn wasn’t the foremost experts of three star Irish hotels. How was it possible that sitting on an airplane playing cell phone games and talking about their case had so exhausted her?
She hauled her rolling bag into the cab, sliding in, and waded her way through the cabbie’s accent to tell him where they were going.
He shared all sorts of helpful and useful information in words she barely understood about the local pubs and who brewed the best beer and how one of the boys from the city had come up on the local football team and now had a chance at the World Cup.
He chatted aimlessly as if it wasn’t nearly 2 a.m. and as if his passengers weren’t dead on their feet.
Kelyn smiled and nodded and asked the pertinent questions at the right times, but she barely retained anything.
He pulled up before the hotel and wished them both a pleasant evenin’ before driving off into the pre-dawn darkness of NewCastle.
Kelyn fluttered an eyebrow at Charles.
It was a nice enough looking place, all white stucco and column in the classical style. The lobby was staffed by a single friendly clerk who welcomed them and issues their electronic keys.
As the pair wheeled their luggage down the slightly worn carpeting of the first floor, Kelyn realized with a burst of heat across her cheeks that the receptionist had only given them one room number.
She was sharing a hotel room with the quiet and dedicated and hard working and… interesting Agent Charles Brock.
The room was nicely appointed, neutral and calming tans and beiges with rich accents of dark green and blue and red.
Kelyn saw none of it beyond two beds which seemed to beckon with all the allure of a lover.
Sleep sounded blissful.
She changed in the bathroom, giving them both some privacy and after washing her face, brushing her teeth, and switching into a pair of shorts and a large t-shirt, slipped from the bathroom to the empty bed.
She was asleep before she had managed to wish him a good night.
The problem with going to sleep at 2:30 in the morning and wanting to get an early start was the lack of needed and restful sleep inbetween. Kelyn dreamed restlessly, as always, old Disney afternoon cartoons like Duck Tales and Rescue Rangers playing as a backdrop to cold stone walls, huge men in suits with no faces, the heat of a surrounding fire and the searing, stunning, luminescent azure light.
She woke only a few minutes after he did, roused by the sound of moment.
After all, Kelyn was not used to sleeping with anyone else in the same domicile, much less the same room.
She tore through her morning routine with a certain bitterness but appeared showered and dressed. A smart long sleeved burgundy top and simple black slacks, finished off with a solid pair of sneakers.
It would be terribly hot out at Tollymore and he knew Kelyn was smart enough to realize that, and yet she strode out the door to their room with only her simple backpack, bespeckled with various countries flags, seemingly unaware of future discomfort.
Another taxi brought them to the NewCastle precinct who held jurisdiction over the park itself.
Where they waited.
Kelyn sat in one of the uncomfortable visitors chairs, made of plastic with a tattered pillow to offer some modicum of comfort.
She glanced to Charles, who looked unbearable calm, then scanned the tiny police station once more.
This was the part she hated. The reason she could never be what he was or do what he did.
She would have just gone to the forest and skipped all this jurisdiction nonsense.
After an hour and ten minutes they were presented to Captain Michael Kelly.
The man was a mountain, huge and agingly muscular, like a weightlifter a few years after retiring. He had a bit of a belly held in tight by a chipper brown belt, but his eyes missed nothing at all.
“So, what interest does the United States FBI have with our little park? Surely this isn’t about the purse snatching incident during that ‘Game of Thrones’ tour.”
Kelyn perked up a bit, but said nothing.
It wasn’t often when Charles didn’t have to shift his neck downwards while greeting someone. Captain Michael Kelly was just as tall as he was, maybe even a bit taller, with a bear wrestler’s physique to boot. Charles’s psyche was as fragile and envious as any other guy, so he imagined having to sprawl with such a physical specimen and couldn’t foresee a positive outcome under most circumstances. Maybe with a baseball bat and a tranquilizer dart, he could even the playing field somewhat.
“No, sir. Not a purse-snatching.” Charles offered his hand towards Mr. Kelly alongside a focused pair of eyes. “It’s a pleasure to meet you, Captain Kelly. My name is Charles Brock, senior investigator for the Federal Bureau of Investigation in Chicago, and this is my consultant, Agent Kelyn Sinclair.“ His hand segued towards Kelyn after the principle handshake, allowing her and the Irish Mountain of Man to exchange their own pleasantries. He couldn’t help but quietly study her body language, scanning for any sort of infatuation.
“We’re here because a trail of clues for an ongoing homicide case led us to this location.” Charles pulled out another folded piece of paper from his overcoat, a type-written document that looked official with highlights to emphasize particular sentences. He offered it to Captain Kelly, who accepted it after a moment’s hesitation.
The mountainous man murmured to himself as he read the document while listening to Charles detail their investigation to this point. The reading continued even after Charles finished his explanation, leaving a few long moments of silence between the investigators that bordered on awkward. Finally, with a heavy exhale indicating bad news was forthcoming, Captain Kelly handed back the piece of paper to Charles.
“Normally, foreign departments would initiate their negotiations with us months ahead of time.” His comment wasn’t posed as a complaint but as a matter of fact. “I’m afraid that matters like these require two weeks’ time before your investigation can be reviewed and approved by my superiors.” Instinctively, Charles butted the side of his shoe against Kelyn’s as a silent indication to keep her cool. Captain Kelly continued with a face of concern and apology, but in Charles’ mind, the look seemed artificial.
“I would do my best to push that time period down to one week or less, but please understand that I cannot guarantee such a turnaround.” Again, the promise fell flat on the floor at the detective’s shoes.
“But there’s even a bigger dilemma at hand, Agent Brock. There hasn’t been an extradition agreement between the United States and Ireland in nine years. Even if your investigation culminated with a suspect, we couldn’t detain him or her for more than seventy-two hours before we’re required to facilitate their release.” The way he winded down his sentence suggested that the matter had come to a close in his mind.
The steady look on Charles’ face never wavered as Captain Kelly delivered his sour news, with Kelyn being as cooperative as he had hoped. Charles wouldn’t press the issue any further and instead nod his acceptance.
“I understand that your hands are tied, Captain Kelly. I appreciate your time and effort regarding this matter. We’ll be keeping in touch.” With that, Charles and Kelyn excused themselves and returned to their car. Once they were seated inside, Charles delayed Kelyn’s boiling frustrations with a raised forefinger while tending to his phone in his other hand. A number was dialed, and soon, Deputy Chief Anderson was on the phone.
“Hello, sir? Yes, yes. Everything went pretty much as we expected. Put me through to Senator Williams, please.”
A few moments would pass before another voice was heard on the phone, warm and welcoming.
“Bradley, buddy! How have you holding up, sir? It’s been a long time! How’s the family?” The way they were chatting it up, Senator Bradley Williams and Agent Charles Brock must have been good friends for a long time. There was guy talk for fifteen minutes, spanning everything from the latest superhero movie to tentative plans regarding their next cookout. To Kelyn, this must have been an excruciating intermission.
“Yes, yes, ha ha ha. That sure was one hell of a night.” Finally, the conversation seemed to be winding down, prompting an about-face in Charles’ tone of voice.
“Hey, listen, Brad. Regarding the Solstice case.” Bradley went quiet on the other line, suggesting he knew enough about the topic at hand.
“There were a few hiccups when we chatted with the local departments. I’m gonna need some kind of extradition agreement to be pounded out as soon as possible.” Mumblings about a rider to a bill about to be passed was mentioned, prompting Charles to gaze towards Kelyn with a look of accomplishment.
“Yes. Yep. Yeah. They said seventy-two hours. You’ll have it done in thirty-six?”
More chatter on the other line, seemingly to confirm the arrangement.
“Hey, Brad. Thanks. That really helps us a lot. Really, you’ve just saved our collective butts out here.” Senator Williams’ response was as clear as day. “Think nothing of it.”
“Listen, I better get Kelyn and I back on the road. I’ll call you if anything else comes up. Have a good one, buddy.” The click through the receiver concluded matters, and Charles turned his attention fully to Kelyn.
“Let’s change out this rental car,” Charles said with a tempered sense of urgency, “before we head to the forest. Just to be on the safe side.” He locked his gaze upon Kelyn’s now-enlightened eyes one last time before they were on their way.
There were a lot of things Kelyn expected from this Ireland Adventure. Being turned away at the door by Mr. Irish Spring was not one of them. Oh, she had smiled pretty and shook his hand, surprised at how small and delicate her fingers felt in his larger grasp. She had let Charles take point on this one – after all, he was the government appointed agent and while he had introduced her as a fellow agent (which would ease a lot of open doors on this investigation) she didn’t actually have a badge to back it up.
How he knew to nudge her sneaker with his own finer shoe right when she was about to say something that might not smooth their way, she did not know. Instead, she glanced for a long moment between the men, her lips pursed. She had nothing that would change the Captain’s mind and opening her mouth would only make matters worse.
However, she didn’t relish the flight back knowing they had gotten nowhere and unfortunately, because he had identified her as an agent (true or not) meant she couldn’t investigate on her own.
She wanted to ask him so many questions.
He kept stopping her.
She nodded in thanks to the Captain and strode out beside Charles, utterly confused.
That felt an awful lot like failure.
They climbed into the car, Kelyn’s lips already parted to barrage him with questions and again he stopped her.
This was becoming something of a habit.
And he was making a call to… a Senator?
She listened to the conversation, fuming silently at Charles. This was such a waste of time and they were no further along than they were. All the talk about movies and cookouts. This was bullshit.
What was he expecting, someone to pull an extradition treaty out of their…
Kelyn blinked at him, her features a study in surprise and… pleasure.
As he hung up the phone, Kelyn tilted her head just a bit, considering him.
That was… unexpected.
“Quite,” she offered, pulling out and heading back to the airport so they could change out the car.
For a long time, Kelyn didn’t say anything. She wasn’t sure what to say.
That was impressive.
Kelyn wasn’t used to being impressed, especially by… normal people, and yet Agent Brock just kept impressing her.
The black sedan was traded for a sport little green coup and seated in the airport rental parking, Kelyn pulled up her phone and Navi-ed their happy way to Tollymore Forest.
It was a good hour and a half drive, but ‘Agent’ Kelyn Sinclair didn’t mind and instead hooked her phone to the car’s bluetooth and fired up her Pandora. Music floated around them.
“Agent Brock,” she managed finally, as if it had taken her that long to cohesively construct her thought. “That was damn impressive.”
She meant it. He could hear it in her tone.
“So what do you think about this ‘Game of Thrones’ tour. I think we should book one or tag along if we stumble across one. As ridiculous as it seems, I can’t help but think something about the show is intertwined with the case.”
Outside, the city fell away, the countryside rolling along to the crooning Cranberries.
Charles couldn’t help but smile at Kelyn’s compliment. “Impressive, you say? You ain’t seen nothin’ yet, galpal.” His subsequent moment of self-reflection flowered a mild epiphany, as Charles realized he was possibly more resourceful than he gave himself credit for. Senator Bradley Williams had come through in the clutch after a substantial amount of bro-chat, with Charles quietly relishing Kelyn’s impatience as she squirmed in her chair. It simply made his ultimate success much more gratifying and perhaps solidified their trust in one another more than ever before.
The decision to swap out rental cars didn’t originate from any frivolous reasoning. Charles suspected that the local police would be keeping tabs on a pair of renegade detectives desperate to make headway on a hot case, and had likely jotted down their license plate number. A simple exchange of cars could make their stealthy endeavors easier to facilitate. As they whizzed along the freeway towards Tollymore forest, Charles wholeheartedly agreed with Kelyn’s suspicions.
“Yeah. This Game of Thrones show is integral to the case somehow. I regret not having watched a few recent episodes before crashing last night to better prepare myself to deal with any characters we might come across. I was just too beat to do anything but sleep.”
He was also much too tired to bother being discreet with his clothes-changing, but he figured Kelyn accepted his unspoken apology.
The outside scenery became more and more scenic as they approached their destination. Irish air cleansed their lungs as Kelyn supplied a pleasing arrangement of alternative rock songs, half of which Charles recognized. Before long, a building which must have been the forest’s entrance for tourists appeared at the end of a long, winding road across a mountainside. A stout Irish gentleman was waiting to wave in their lumbering vehicle and greet them.
“Hello, sir and madam. May I see your identification cards, please?”
Charles nipped any complications in the bud by carefully leaning over Kelyn’s lap with his badge at the ready.
“Good afternoon, sir. My name is Agent Charles Brock and this is my partner, Agent Kelyn Sinclair. We’re with the Federal Bureau of Investigation in Chicago, Illinois. We’ve actually been dispatched by the local precinct to conduct an investigation in Tollymore forest regarding a criminal case. It won’t take long and we’ll be out of your hair as soon as possible.”
The Irish forest ranger looked perplexed and slightly overwhelmed. He studied the badge and it looked official, and the pair of detectives certainly looked the part. After a moment, he seemed to respond to Kelyn’s well-timed smile and waved them through the gate.
“All right then, everything looks in order here. The park area closes in four hours, just so you know.”
The rental car lumbered forward and towards a carved patch of forest which quickly tapered in and closely flanked the asphalt road. Charles put his badge away and turned his attention to Kelyn.
“You aren’t bothered by me referring to you as an Agent, right?” He pulled a smile into his left cheek, watching her reaction closely. “Because any time I can use that distinction to our advantage, I plan to do so.”
Oh, Kelyn had understood exactly why they had swapped cars. In fact, she had pulled just such switches in the past back home, except she had actually paid someone to continue to drive her car and once even left her cell phone in the offending car because she knew it was being tracked.
Charles’s steal was not lost on her, but she didn’t feel like sharing that tidbit at the moment. Instead she nodded softly. “I wish I knew anything at all about the show. I read the wikipedia, but I am pretty certain something was lost in the translation between major hit drama and plot summary because I don’t see either the appeal or why in the world this ties to the case.
“I just know that it does.”
They turned down the final curve and up to the park entrance, an archway different but similar to the one Charles had drawn. Kelyn blinked softly as Charles leaned across her to greet the forest ranger, surprised by the little ripple of electricity that sparked at the base of her neck and rushed outward along her arms, goosebumps hidden beneath her long sleeves.
That was… new.
She stared for a moment at his features in sharp profile against the daylight streaming through the windshield.
Very new. Her features were a study in thoughtfulness when he spoke her name. Kelyn turned to smile at the ranger, her expression bright and winning and after a moment of hesitation, he allowed them in.
She continued along the winding lane, searching for a good place to park and his question caught her off-guard. “The first time, it surprised me. I have had the offer but never really considered the possibility. You have, I am sure, discerned that I am not very tolerant of the red tape and bureaucracy that comes with job. But I don’t mind if it gets us where we need to go expeditiously.”
She found a lot littered with cars and – even better- tour buses. One of them was emblazoned with the words “Game of Thrones Tour” with what she assumed were a few of the main characters looking quite stoic. They were still unloading.
Pulling into a spot, she nudged Charles gently. “Lucky us.” A quick hop out of the car and the pair seamlessly joined the mass of tourists snapping pictures and dressed in various degrees of fan gear.
Kelyn heard a few different languages from Spanish to Chinese to what she thought might be Swahili. Diverse fan base.
The tour plunged into the forest, leading them along a wide and well kept path that wound between ancient and massive trees. Everywhere greenery spangled the starlight, giving it a verdant hue as it poured through the canopy.
Everything looked so healthy. So lush.
It was actually spectacularly beautiful. Man-made and natural waterfalls, stone and wood bridges, a bubbling river, quick and leaping in places, wide and sedate in others.
Kelyn took a few pictures that had nothing to do with the case.
And she listened.
Listened to the tour guide drone on and on about this scene in the show where that character did… whatever.
Over and over, on and on. The tourists were eating it up.
Then they found the archway. It was bigger than Kelyn had thought and felt… old.
Not ancient in the way a place like Stonehenge might, but… old.
But this wasn’t it. She didn’t know how she could tell, she just knew. They were on the right path, but the Archway was the beginning, not the end.
“I heard that a number of the stars are in town,” one of the tourists chimed in.
“Yes,” the guide answered. “There is a gala tomorrow night at the Culloden Estate. Very exclusive. Plates were upward of $50,000.00 a piece. Supposed to be a very intimate affair with the cast and crew.
Kelyn glanced at Charles.
The guide droned on at the location of a particular pivotal scene, but Kelyn kept glancing over her shoulder.
She twisted, sighting a tiny and overgrown path down a short ravine.
It’s down there.
She couldn’t explain, couldn’t even verbalize it. Instead, she tugged at Charles’s sleeve and as the group moved on, she started down the ravine.
It was rocky going, but the woman always wore sensible shoes and her sneaker-clad feet found easy purchase.
Branches tangled in their hair and bushes snagged at their pant legs, but Kelyn pushed forward.
She could feel it now, a some thrumming, a constant beat on the air.
It took ten minutes to find the cave entrance, tucked behind a pair of massive standing stones, weathered and mossy.
“Found you,” she whispered softly.
In retrospection, Charles’ conversation with the Irish gatekeeper should have lasted much longer than it did. He quietly cursed himself for not having prolonged it with aimless pleasantries, all the while steadying himself before Kelyn’s ethereal gaze. The intention of his lean across her lap rose from simple necessity, but the fleeting moments which followed were brimming with unspoken revelations. One of Kelyn’s breaths caught along the collar of his shirt and rolled towards his ear, prompting an awkward swallow along the flank of his neck. His mind held fast to one word which burned hot and bright within its grasp.
Was there a possibility for the pair of detectives following the conclusion of the Solstice case?
Perhaps there would be an encore of Kelyn’s breaths on his neck at some point in the future, but Charles refused to dwell on such possibilities unless sleep followed close behind.
The Game of Thrones bus was a welcome break, but Charles quickly found himself at a loss as he listened in alongside Kelyn, picking and placing tidbits of information from the tour group. He knew next to nothing of the show, aside from the sporadic episodes he watched with his ex which his brain only half-tuned in for. Try as he might, he just wasn’t a TV guy beyond war footage programs and space documentaries on the History channel. But he filed away as much as he could, with the announcement of a forthcoming gala being the most tantalizing prospect.
The archway was a sight to behold. The pictures on the internet didn’t do it justice in the least, at least from Charles’ perspective. A casual survey of the stoned behemoth was meant to ingrain specific details for a future drawing, but Charles was stumped as to where to go from there. He stood quietly and pulled a half-hearted frown into his right cheek before feeling Kelyn tugging at his shirt. She was beckoning him to join her down a nearby, overrun trail which looked no fun at all for a guy with dress shoes on. A quick study of her eyes, however, would widen his own with dawning revelation. He had seen that look before. Kelyn was on to something, and he’d be wise to follow without hesitation.
The path through the ravine was inconvenient at best. Thorny bushes kept sweeping across his calves, drawing lines of red irritation through his tailored pants. A low-hanging branch almost knocked him on his ass, and an insect flew right into his mouth, prompting a spitting fit. It wasn’t too long, though, before Kelyn would abruptly stop in her tracks, seemingly to signal the end of their journey.
A few moments later, Charles would huff-and-puff himself beside Kelyn’s side once more. A quick study of her face seemed to suggest that she some kind of daze or trance. Charles would gently turn her by the shoulders and lock his eyes upon hers.
“I’m going in first. If things get hairy in there, get the hell out. I’ll be right behind you.”
A few grunts and groans later, the stones were moved and they were inside the cave. Charles had to squat down a bit just to fit himself through, but the interior quickly accommodated his height. The passage inside seemed naturally made but oddly symmetrical. A pothole filled with water caught Charles’ shoe after a few steps, prompting an echoed curse before he turned back towards Kelyn.
“Watch your step,” he advised before trudging forward.
Minutes would pass as the pair of detectives pressed forward for whatever awaited them. The guidance of the light from the entrance was quickly losing its influence against the swallowing darkness. Their trajectory was mostly straight, however, encouraging Charles’ and Kelyn’s chances in case they needed to make a quick getaway.
Finally, just as it seemed they were fully immersed in murky blackness, slivers of leftover light would trickle against the edges of a spherical room and the items within it. An altar, the features of which could hardly be discerned… a cauldron which seemed to be rusted through from either side… and a small, circular trinket with a spiral design. Charles would shift and allow Kelyn room to observe the items for herself.
“Well, it looks like we’ve found something, finally. What are your first impressions, Agent Kelyn?”
It took some ducking and squeezing to get through passageway and Kelyn felt a little odd standing by while the gallant Agent Brock moved the stones and put himself to the hazard for her protection. It wasn’t something she was used to and she wasn’t sure how she felt about it.
It didn’t matter though for once she ducked inside, everything changed.
It was dark, damp, and musty and as the pair pressed forward, at times stooped so as not to hit their heads and at other times basking in sweeping open spaces, they followed the simple and generally straight trail to its end.
It was very dark here, the meager light offering little in the way of details, but Kelyn’s eyes narrowed in the gloom.
Was that a…
She pulled out her phone and flipped on the flashlight, illuminating the ancient place with the bright and modern light.
The altar, the cauldron, the triskellion.
She lowered the phone slowly, throwing everything into sharp relief. The feel of the place.
“Do you smell salt water?” It did, the aroma of seaweed and old fish, of salty sea breezes on the stale air. “We are too far from the coast but I smell it.”
It wasn’t all Kelyn was aware of but how could she explain the sensation pulling her to the altar, the glow lighting it with a dull blue phosphorescence.
“That is a triskelion, a symbol most often used in ancient druidic traditions. Considering the history, the area, the cave and the other artifacts, it makes sense. This could easily have been sacred place of worship for the ancient druids. Kelyn crept forward slowly, flashing the light pouring from her phone along the various items and artifacts.
She moved among the artifacts, careful not to touch anything. The smell was stronger here and completely at odds with the dank smell of the cave.
Kelyn stared down at the altar, then leaned in close. “Come look at this.” The altar was covered with mossy overgrowth except for a strangely shaped hole in the center where the moss was much thinner.
“I think there was something on this altar, which is obviously no longer here. I think this cave was a sacred place to the druids who may have left an artifact here and I think said artifact is now missing.
“How that ties into the disappearances I don’t know, but the solstices are very important to the druidic tradition.”
She rose, shining the light about.
Was that a shadow at the entrance?
The overwhelming smell of rotting fish, low tide, and fishing wharf washed over them.
The shadow spun and bolted, racing along the entrance.
“Stop!” Kelyn howled, leaping over the jutting rocks and slipping on the damp floor, her flashlight jumping and bobbing after the perpetrator.
The shadow disappeared through the brilliant sunlight at the end of the tunnel and then, to her horror, the light began to disappear.
A sharp rumble sliced through their world and all at once, the tunnel’s mouth collapsed, raining pebbles and boulders and dust. Kelyn threw her arms over her head, skittering to a stop before the pile of rocks.
No no no…
Charles was relieved that the dark would mask the look of his eyes glazing over at Kelyn’s explanation. Triskellion? Druidic traditions? He applied a colossal effort towards applying the information towards their clues thus far, but was mostly at a loss. At the same time, he was pleased that Kelyn retained such knowledge and was ready to utilize it when the opportunity presented itself. He scrambled across the confines of his mind to search for a question or comment that would serve to prove he was at least within Kelyn’s time zone of understanding.
Then things happened, fast. Much too fast.
Charles was slow to react and would only be turning his body as Kelyn’s flashlight slid and scraped across the rocky floor. He caught a glimpse of the shadowy character at the entrance, but only a glimpse before things went to hell in a handbasket. The unmistakable sound of rocks collapsing in upon themselves could be heard in the near distance before… silence. A tip-top-topping stone or two would drive the point of their predicament home. The pair of detectives were trapped.
Action always spoke louder than words in Charles’ mind, prompting his stride towards the entrance after helping Kelyn to her feet without any verbalized concerns. He’d near the pile of rocks that divided he and Kelyn from freedom before pulling out his ancient Razr phone to find that there was no reception. No bars. None.
Then, he was reminded of something, and managed a half-hearted smile. Could Charles play the hero again and impress Kelyn to the point of infatuation?
He had brought a signal-amplifying device which was purchased through ebay, $2.69 plus shipping, mailed via e-packet from China. His doubts about Ireland’s cell-tower capabilities had given him the foresight to bring it along for their exploits within the country, and it was now sitting in his pocket.
Untwist, discard. Twist, snap. Now hold up your stegosaurus phone as high as you can, Chuck… and let’s see.
Moments passed without any signal reception. Then moments more. Disappointment was now escalating towards despair.
Alternative possibilities began their climb to the forefront of Charles’ mind. They could perhaps begin the process of moving rocks and carving their way out, but such a process was likely to take hours upon hours. All the while, they would be eating up oxygen which was likely a precious resource, to be conserved at all costs.
Charles would walk dejectedly back towards Kelyn, only finding her by the sound of her breath. “I think we’re stuck,” he’d say with a hang of his head.
Soon after he said those dejected words, however, he was hard at work navigating himself around the altar room with his hand on the wall as a guide. Slow but sure footsteps would make the full circle around before he found himself before Kelyn again. No signs of a trap door or secret room were to be had.
“Well, at least if the cave paintings suck in here, we won’t know the difference.” Charles’ humor was likely lost on Kelyn but he felt the need to interject some lightheartedness into an otherwise dire situation.
Charles made his rounds in the altar room once more after a short while passed. Perhaps there was something he missed the first time, perhaps a switch or lever or…
The sound of running water?
Indeed, the faint sound of water could be heard from the northeastern corner of the room. Charles pressed his ear against the wall and was possessed to bang his fists against it as well.
“I think I hear something! I hear—“
Then things went to hell in a handbasket once more. Charles wasn’t ready for a portion of the wall to collapse inward a few feet, revealing an opening in the floor which he fell into without the slightest moment to prepare himself. A few loud thud sounds could be heard before a large splash preceded a return into relative quiet. Kelyn would find Charles in what appeared to be a nearby sewage tunnel with a rather large gash across the top of his head as he clasped his ankle in pain.
“I think I found our way out of here,” he groaned with a wrinkled nose and gnashing teeth.
Her breath came fast, her body tensed. Trapped.
She was back in that cheap hotel room, a pair of beds, the covers stained and threadbare. The clunky tv played Disney cartoons over and over, the cheerful theme song skittering over fast food wrappers and cold french fries.
Hands found her in the darkness, pulling her to standing and suddenly Kelyn was back in the cave.
She crouched down, clamoring around for her cell phone and brought the flashlight to bear, illuminating tiny wedges of the cave one at a time.
There was a moment of hope, the signal-amplifying device torn from its packaging, such a modern device in such an ancient place. But… nothing.
She tried it on her phone, a slicker and far newer model, but there was no luck.
They were trapped.
Charles moved away and Kelyn faced down the pile of rocks.
There was no way of knowing how deep the cave in, how far from the entrance, but the lack of light creeping through the various cracks and wedges was not promising.
Kelyn had already seen the rest of the cave. She had looked. There were no secret passages, no hidden exits.
Which meant she had to do it.
Kelyn clenched her eyes shut against the darkness.
He wouldn’t understand.
He wasn’t ready.
Hell, she wasn’t ready, but there was no denying at this point. And there was no other escape.
He would look at her… that way, but it was better than starving to death. No one knew where they were. It would take days for his superiors to realize he was missing, even longer to mount a search party and then what? They would methodically search… Ireland?
No, the only way out was the way they came and that meant…
She heard the pound of fist against wall, his words barely discernable and then the sound of shattering rock, a portion of the wall tumbling once more. Kelyn threw her arms over her head, fearful of another cave in and stumbled her way towards the sound, towards his voice.
“Charles?!” There was concern in her tone, clear and strident.
The smell hit her first and Kelyn skidded to a halt before the gaping mouth, the sound of flowing liquids echoing throughout the darkened expanse.
Kelyn pulled a face, but was silently relieved. Flashing the light through the hole, she pinned Charles with the beam, the blood on his forehead black in the odd light. She turned the flashlight off but left the phone with its screen illumination to cast a far weaker light.
He was holding his ankle. Shit.
Flowing on either side of him.
Training took over. Clean and bind in a toxic environment. Kelyn stepped cautiously through the gaping hole, sliding her cell phone into the space between her breasts to keep her hands free.
Useful storage space.
The smell was worse – something she should have assumed but couldn’t have prepared for. The scent whirled around her, making her momentarily nauseous. Her pack was in the car – that was stupid – and so were all her supplies. Kelyn crouched before Charles, pulling the hem of her shirt and tore it, the sound lost beneath the rush of liquid and solid waste.
She tore the piece into two halves. The first she folded into a thick wad of fabric and leaned forward to press it carefully against the gash across his forehead. The light illuminated the pair at odd angles, carving the hollow at her cheek, her throat, the oddest highlights in her hair. She pressed the makeshift bandage against the wound, then took the other strip and tied it about his head to hold the bandage in place.
It looked ridiculous, but it did its job.
“Are you alright?” she questioned softly, glancing toward his ankle. She had to twist her body so the light followed, casting his injured limb in its light. She didn’t see any open wounds, which – considering the proximity to the waste – was one good thing.
Everything was in her pack which was in the car.
“We don’t have a choice,” she offered calmly, helping the man to standing and sliding beneath his arm to help keep him steady. Between the ankle and the head wound, she was worried he would pitch face first into the ankle deep sewage.
She felt soft yet steady against his side, her own arm around his back and hooking his opposite shoulder. Like a flowing stream, constant and relentless. Gentle yet oddly strong.
They had to move forward.
Step by slow and tortuous step they moved away from the cave and along the tunnel. Smaller pipes joined to the larger main, the flow creeping higher and higher until they were calf deep, knee deep.
And they thought combing through a week old dumpster was bad. Kelyn breathed through clenched teeth, her nose blatantly refusing any other option. The ground grew all the more precarious, the coating of waste making every step slippery. More then once they almost slipped and more than once, it was only the stable wedge their bodies created that kept them standing.
She was so focused, eyes forward and constant, one steady step after another, but every once and awhile, she would look up to him, cellphone light, showing a mixture of determination and concern across her features.
They trudged for what felt like hours, days, the featureless interior of the sewer main broken only by the occasional additional pipe, the sewage creeping all the higher and no end in sight. Waste splashed and splattered, soaking their clothing and filling their shoes. Kelyn felt infused by it, soaked through until she was sure she would never be clean again.
How far could this pipe go?
Where did it possibly empty and how could they not see any hint of light?
Her back ached from her slightly hunched position, her leg muscles burning from constantly fighting for stable ground.
It was the first tendrils of fresh air that brought Kelyn to a halt, her breath catching and suddenly hopeful. Bad idea. The stench rushed in and she gagged, swallowing acid.
There was literally no light at the end of this tunnel because night had fallen.
They trudged for what felt like another half an hour before the pipe opened, the sewage tumbling into a massive vat before heading for treatment.
To the left, were the sewage sped up before tumbling into the vat, a rickety and rusted ladder promised escape.
Kelyn glanced to Charles’s injured ankle, hidden beneath the flow of sewage.
Navigating cautiously to the ladder was hard. She wanted to spring forward, to be done with this feces-encrusted nightmare but one wrong step could send them both into that vat and Kelyn couldn’t imagine worse than that.
Closing the distance to the ladder took them ten minutes and when Kelyn grabbed the rungs, she felt a rush of relief.
It was almost over.
“You should go first… just in case.”
Retrospectively, Charles’ own reflexive reactions during dire situations were amusing to him on a subconscious level. He often recalled the time a few years back when he was cornered in a warehouse by two suspects wielding automatic rifles. Despite his critical situation, Charles felt as though he had an out-of-body experience of sorts, as if he was watching himself play a role in a movie… one where the good guys always won, no matter how much trouble they find themselves in. And somehow, some way, he did win, weaving through stacks of boxes and rounding corners at just the right times to turn the tables on his pursuers.
And now, even as the crumbling wall and floor sent Charles tumbling towards a debilitating injury or worse, his detective mindset was hard at work. Ah ha. So this was the joker’s back door out of here, should he ever get cornered within his creepy abode. I guess the thought of escaping through a thick pile of crap isn’t appetizing, but I’m sure it beats getting arrested for multiple counts of kidnapping. His unflappable analysis, however, would eventually give way to the pain of his turned ankle and the throbbing cut of his forehead. A sobering acknowledgement of his situation would seep into his mind all at once.
Oh, shit. I’m actually in shit.
Charles was pretty sure his ankle wasn’t broken, but it hurt like hell all the same. A trickling bead of blood found its way from his forehead to his left eye, forcing it shut. He was a mess, flowing shit-stream notwithstanding. The urge to force himself up with soldier-esque bravado was tempered by a sudden bout of exhaustion as his body processed the extent of his injuries with pulses of pain.
Kelyn would rush to his aid and finally get him back to his feet after a series of maneuvers within the shit-slop. They had found their way to freedom, but they weren’t out of the woods yet… or more accurately, out of the pipe. Charles tried extremely hard to refrain from any humor regarding the ridiculousness of their situation, but the occasional glance towards Kelyn’s ruggedly determined eyes suggested that she wouldn’t have heard him anyway.
Every step along their route would shoot a miserably intense, stinging sensation from Charles’ ankle throughout the rest of his body. Charles, however, simply refused to show any signs of discomfort and scrunched his facial features in an attempt to dull out the pain. Their journey was long and arduous, but the pair of detectives would eventually be rewarded for their persistence. A ladder offered itself as a beacon of freedom, teasing Charles and Kelyn with its vertical ascension.
Charles nodded at Kelyn’s suggestion that he go first. He would climb the ladder with a series of ‘hops’ upon its rungs – neglecting to apply any real pressure on his bum ankle. He scaled it after an agonizingly long period of time, finally reaching the top to muster his strength against what appeared to be a manhole cover. Another long series of grunts would be heard before a trickle of light seeped down towards Kelyn’s eyes from the world above.
It would be another series of carefully-executed maneuvers until Charles found himself on the surface. A few heavy pants of exhaustion would precede a survey of his surroundings. It seemed as though he was in the middle of a desolate street with dusk close at hand, but a look to his left revealed a gas station within yelling distance. There was someone filling up on gas, seemingly unaware of the shit-covered stranger which had climbed his way to freedom.
“Sir! Sir!” Charles called with a strained voice, stumbling to his feet. “I’m with the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and we need to commandeer your vehicle at once to aid our pursuit of a suspect.”
The man reacted adversely to the sight of Charles, widening his eyes before climbing into his car and speeding away with a screech of his tires.
“God damn it,” Charles sneered, but his voice lacked any real disappointment. He recognized the inherent silliness of his demands and shrugged off the setback. A payphone booth was visible, but certainly no sane cab driver would accept a pair of feces-covered detectives in his back seat, would he?
Then Charles saw it. A self-serve car wash, attached to the side of the gas station.
“Get up here, Kelyn!” he yelled down below into the sewer with renewed vigor. “It’s time to get cleaned up and on our way.”
Of all the things she expected, hearing Charles’s more upbeat call which tumbled down the ladder into the darkness that surrounded her was not one of them.
Exhausted, her back and arms and legs aching, Kelyn hauled herself up the ladder. It was only in this moment, while he waited above and she was alone in the wafting stench and darkness that she allowed herself to feel the frustration, the fear, the disgust and the anger.
Five rungs to go.
This was a literal nightmare, wading through untreated sewage.
Hauling the pair of them through various tunnels for hours.
The fear when the cave collapsed. The memory of a room, all pale gray stone. Locked in at night in a ten by ten cell.
The cheap hotel room, too short to reach up and flip open the safety lock, even standing on a chair, her tiny child’s fingers reaching… reaching.
Fire all around her, staring out the window to see her mother, clutching her baby brother, her expression horrified.
Kelyn emerged from the hole in the ground and hauled herself onto the empty roadway.
She took two breaths, one to clear her nose of the stench that had infused her and the other to clear the rush and clatter of memory.
Then she rose to stand at Charles’s side, watching sardonically as the driver all but peeled away.
Well, she didn’t thinks he would have stopped either.
The gas station was a welcome sight and Kelyn helped Charles towards it, digging through her pants to find a couple dollars.
But the symbol on the money slot of the carwash didn’t say dollars, it said euros.
Of course it did.
And the euros were in the car.
Along with everything helpful or useful or necessary in their lives.
“I have to change some money. I’ll be right back.”
She left Charles sitting at the curb and stepped into the gas station.
The smell of air freshener and the bright fluorescent light seemed almost alien after so long in the sewage.
The clerk, a young man about her age glanced up as she approached, grinned softly at her, and then was hit by the smell.
His eyes actually watered and he slid back a bit.
“Canna help you?” he questioned tightly.
“A first aid kit, some beef jerky, two bottles of water, and enough change for the car wash. Do you take Visa?”
There was one thing on their side, the card went through with no issues and Kelyn sprawled her signature across the digital pad, took the plastic bag with the items, the little thermal paper that gave her the carwash code and returned to Charles.
She was thirsty and hungry.
She needed to see to his head wound and likely splint or at least wrap his ankle…
…but if she was this filthy for one more second, she would loose it utterly. Kelyn laid the bag down on the curb beside the car wash, placing her phone (and his) in the bag, then tucked it in the bushes.
She punched in the code, pushed a few buttons, and the water came streaming out.
She wanted to run to it.
To drown herself in it.
Instead, she helped Charles stand and the pair of them moved cautiously across the slippery blue tile.
The water was chilly bliss and while she only intended to rinse off her legs, Kelyn couldn’t get the smell off her. Too much waste had splattered her entire body. She ended up drenching herself, soaked from head to toe, her hair hanging in dripping scythes, her long sleeves shirt clinging to arms and shoulder and chest and waist like a tired child.
It was chilly.
She didn’t care.
The water tasted of chemicals.
She didn’t care.
Kelyn washed herself and helped Charles in whatever way he needed – whether he wanted only his legs washed or wanted to drench himself as she had.
Again and again, she soaked herself, unable to get the feeling of slime and dirt and waste off her.
The water turned off before she was done, but then, she would have stood under it for hours if she was able to, certain she wasn’t clean.
In the end, she settled him back on the curb, both of them as clean as they could get given the circumstances, sat dripping beside him, and offered him a water bottle.
“Well… that sucked,” she offered softly, gulping down half the bottle before tearing into one of the sticks of jerky. It was awful stuff, salty and chewy, but it was high protein and would get them through until they made it back to the hotel and could get some real food.
Once she wasn’t dying of thirst and her stomach temporarily satiated, she pulled out the first aid kit.
His ankle wasn’t going anywhere, so with cell phone flashlight in hand, she knelt on the roadway beside him, dusk falling to darkness around them and checked his head wound.
Nasty gash, bleeder – all head wounds are – and she leaned carefully close to him, cleaning it gently.
It was as if they each offered up a slightly magnetized field and coming within a certain proximity triggered the reaction: this close, a soft flutter of electricity rushed from the back of her neck, skittering down her spine and out to her arms. She shuddered softly (from the cold – naturally) but her hands were steady.
The isopropyl alcohol stung something fierce, but she had to make sure the wound was clean. More than once she whispered a soft ‘sorry.’
More than once, she glanced down to him, but this close, she couldn’t hold his gaze for more than an instant, that magnetism, that electricity pulsing through her, as if in time to a steady if rapid heartbeat.
And just barely, as if in the distance, that deep thrumming bass began.
Kelyn actually started when she heard it, seeming utterly shocked. It was the first time he had ever witness her acknowledging the sound.
She paused for a moment, her fingers curling into fists to clench and then unclench. When she leaned forward again, the bass rumble was gone.
He was so close, if he turned his head just a bit, his cheek would brush her collarbone, and she could feel the gentle heat coming off his body.
She was so cold.
He was so warm.
Again that skitter of sensation, of electricity.
Kelyn crushed it ruthlessly.
She gently pressed the edges of the gash together and laid a trio of steri-strips to bridge the distance.
“All set,” she offered softly, her eyes meeting his again, her own exhausted features just inches from his.
The heat, the electricity spiked and Kelyn drew a long, soft, and breathless gasp.
That was all she could risk.
She broke away, kneeling to sit on her ankles, her fingers soft on his leg. She carefully pulled off his soaked shoe, his soaked sock.
There was something oddly intimate about the gesture, though there was nothing intimate about the circumstances and again that soft shudder raced through her.
Kelyn showed none of it, the absolute professional.
In fact, she moved so cleanly, so confidently, and yet so carefully, it begged the question if she had medical training.
She checked his ankle gently, prodding here and there, and though it was moderately swollen, there were no black and blue marks. She could check it more once they were safely ensconced in their room.
Get to the car.
Get to the hotel.
She repeated the mantra over and over as she pulled a pair of oversized and thickened popsicle sticks and with the ace bandage she wrapped his ankle until he couldn’t flex or extend it.
It actually felt better.
Once done, Kelyn settled on the curb again, a careful distance between them. She pulled out her phone, launched Uber and requested a cab.
“Ten minutes,” she offered softly, taking another swig of water. There was a moment of silence before she offered. “That was pretty Indy Jones of you, crashing through the wall like that. I might have preferred the big ass boulder though… for next time.”