Since getting out of the asylum, Jenny’s taken up running in the mornings. She doesn’t actually like running, but she still relishes the freedom of being able to get up at the crack of dawn and go, just slip out of Abbie’s apartment and head outside to go wherever she pleases, nobody there to say no or stop her.
This morning starts out like all the others, Jenny starting on her usual route, dressed warmly against the morning chill. She’s about halfway through, a block away from the town library, when there’s a loud caw. And suddenly Jenny’s having to duck as a large black crow swoops overhead, wings flapping and letting out a hoarse cry.
It’s over soon enough, as the crow flies away. Jenny cautiously straightens up, lowering her arms from where she’d thrown them above her head in an attempt to protect herself.
The crow’s now perched on top of a lamp post, staring right at her. It caws again in her direction, and Jenny knows it’s just a dumb bird, but the noise sounds smug.
She eyes it balefully, muttering, “Crazy-ass bird,” before staring up on her jog again, glancing back once or twice as she goes.
It might be just her imagination, but Jenny feels like the crow’s watching her the whole time, until she finally turns the corner and is out of its sight.
She’s mostly forgotten about the unsettling incident by the time she loops around back to Abbie’s apartment, drenched in sweat and her muscles aching, only to find that Abbie’s not there. She left a note behind, though, along with a full pot of coffee in the coffeemaker.
The note’s brief: Got called in on a case, NOT supernatural. Will be home late. --Abbie.
It’s a thoughtful gesture, both the note and the coffee--just like all the other kind, thoughtful gestures Abbie’s made since getting Jenny out of the asylum, thanks to that conservatorship.
Like a lot of Abbie’s thoughtful gestures, Jenny’s not sure what to do with it. She tosses the note in the trash and takes a sip of the coffee.
It’s delicious, of course.
After taking a long, hot shower--another luxury she still doesn’t take for granted yet--Jenny ends up heading over to the diner. She’s never really liked cooking for herself, and she’s at something of loose ends until meeting up with Crane later that afternoon.
So she goes into the diner, mostly for the food, but also because she’s discovered it’s a good place to keep a finger on the local gossip, just in case there’s a case or incident that needs keeping an eye on.
The diner’s not bad. The food’s decent, and the staff there makes a special point of being nice to her. Most of the town still knows Jenny as Abbie Mills’ poor, crazy criminal sister, emphasis on the crazy, but some people in this town like Abbie enough that they’ll be friendly to Jenny anyway.
It’s more than a little aggravating, truth be told, but if it keeps Jenny’s coffee mug filled and keeps her from getting dark looks when she’s trying to eat her pancakes, Jenny’ll take it. Or try to, at least.
She orders her usual stack of pancakes and smiles briefly at the waitress when she comes by with her food. But the waitress, whose nametag reads Beth, lingers by Jenny’s booth. “So I bet your sister’s working this new case, huh?” she says in a hushed voice.
Jenny takes a gulp of her coffee--second cup today, but really, who’s counting?--and says, “Yeah, she got called out early this morning.”
“God, it’s horrible,” Beth says, shaking her head in dismay. “I knew the victim, we went to high school together. I can’t believe she’s…” Beth ducks her head, tucking a strand of red hair behind her ear. “I really don’t know what’s happening in this town anymore, all these crazy murders and deaths.”
Jenny lifts her head. “What happened?”
What happened, apparently, is the murder of a local girl, found strangled in her house by her parents early this morning. There were signs of a struggle, although details are scarce at this point. Jenny makes all the appropriate sympathetic noises before asking, delicately, “There wasn’t anything...odd, about the crime scene, was there?”
“Not that I’ve heard,” Beth says, then adds, “But with the way things have been going around here lately, who knows?”
“Yeah,” Jenny says. “Who knows.”
When Jenny exits the diner, there are three crows perched on top of the roof of the diner. Jenny stares at them for a moment before slowly shaking her head and heading off in her truck.
If Jenny’s honest, Crane’s not the most challenging sparring partner she’s ever had. He’s got plenty of height on her, it’s true, but nowhere close to her level of training. Not to mention Jenny’s had plenty of practice beating up men who are twice her size, and she enjoys doing it.
Crane wheezes from where he’s lying flat on his back on the practice mats. “Was that last assault really necessary?”
Jenny stands above him, foot planted squarely in his chest. “Yes. You keep trying to go easy on me, I’m gonna keep beating your ass.”
“I am not--”
“You are, and it’s annoying and you need to quit it,” Jenny says, letting the exasperation show. “First thing you need to understand, Crane? I don’t appreciate chivalry.”
She lifts her foot up and steps back, falling into a fighting stance as Crane scrambles to his feet. “Now get up, and do it right this time.”
She still kicks his ass again, but this time it takes a little longer.
Once they’ve finished for the day, cooling down with some Gatorade--Crane still doesn’t like the taste, but Jenny’s convinced him of the necessity--Crane asks, still panting, “Your sister is still joining us tonight, I hope?”
Jenny shrugs. “I doubt it.” At Crane’s startled look, she explains, “New case at work. Nothing supernatural, according to Abbie, but she might be working late on it.”
“Nothing too dangerous, surely,” Crane says, and Jenny flashes him an amused smile.
“You remember she’s a cop, right? Her job kind of involves jumping into danger.” Crane makes a face at this, which Jenny takes to mean that Abbie jumping into danger is fine, so long as Crane’s jumping in right next to her. “C’mon, get into the showers and we’ll head back to Abbie’s place. Don’t we have more of those British history DVDs to work through?”
Crane brightens at the mention and scrambles up to his feet.
They head out of the YMCA and over to the cheap truck Jenny bought last week at a used car dealership. Crane looks alarmed as Jenny revs the engine and the truck roars to life. “This vehicle seems...angrier than the one Miss Mills drives,” he says slowly, looking around with a wary face.
Jenny laughs and peels out of the parking lot. “Needs a new muffler,” she says. “Don’t worry, Crane, my truck’s not gonna eat you.”
On the drive back to the apartment, Crane starts pressing Jenny for details about her travels, quizzing her about the places she’s been, the things she’s seen.
It’s easy, surprisingly so, to share these stories--to show herself off. But she likes Crane, likes his old-world manners and how he tries to fit himself into a century he so clearly still doesn’t understand.
She likes him, and it’s easy to remember she likes him, even if she also has to remember that he was Abbie’s friend first.
Abbie doesn’t get home until late that night, when Jenny and Crane are already on the second disc of the History of Britain DVDs. They’d figured out early on that when it came to catching Crane up on the 250 years of history he’d missed out on, it was a good idea to pace themselves; otherwise Crane would end up on Wikipedia for five hours straight, eyes glazed and mind overloaded.
Abbie looks tired when she comes into the living room, dressed in her uniform, leaning up against the wall. “Where are we at?”
“Queen Victoria,” Jenny explains. “How’s the case going?”
“Yes,” Crane says, twisting away from the screen to look at her. “Miss Jenny told me some of the details, and when we went into the donut shop for more of the delicious holes, the entire town seemed to be awash in gossip.”
“Trust a small town for that,” Abbie says, wearily. She looks tired, face drawn. “Local woman was found murdered in her home, and we’re trying to figure out who did it.”
“How’d she die?” Jenny asks.
“She was strangled,” Abbie says, shrugging out of her button-down shirt--out of the corner of her eye, Jenny sees Crane avert his gaze, even though Abbie’s wearing a tank top underneath. If Abbie weren’t so tired, she’d have probably gone into the bedroom to change, out of respect for Crane’s sensibilities. “The house was smashed up like there’d been a struggle. Whoever did it strangled her with their bare hands.”
“Gruesome,” Jenny says.
“Indeed,” Crane says, looking slightly ill. “What possible reason could there be for such a crime?”
“Looks like a robbery gone bad. The TV and other valuables were missing from the house,” Abbie says, but there’s a dissatisfied look on her face.
“But you don’t agree,” Jenny says, narrowing her eyes.
Abbie hesitates, then shrugs. “No. The whole thing feels off to me. Plus there’s this boyfriend--”
“Uh oh,” Jenny says, and Crane sits up, looking baffled. “I apologize, but why does that elicit an...uh oh?”
“Because when a woman is murdered, the husband or boyfriend usually did it,” Jenny tells him, then asks Abbie, “You think that’s what happened here?”
“Boyfriend has an alibi, or so he says. Was out drinking with a buddy from the war, and the buddy’s backing the alibi, but something’s just not right…” Abbie trails off, then waves a hand in the air like she’s wiping the whole mess away. “Forget it. I shouldn’t be talking about it with you two anyway.”
“Why not?” Jenny demands, and Crane clearly agrees, if the affronted look on his face is any indication.
“Of course you should feel free to discuss the details of your work with us,” he says. “Who else should you confide in?”
“It’s not about confiding,” Abbie says, with a fond look at Crane that Jenny doesn’t miss. “This has nothing to do with the supernatural or the Horseman or the apocalypse--it’s a ordinary case. Sad, but ordinary. And you two are civilians--Jenny, don’t give me that look, as far as the law’s concerned, you are--and there’s no need for me to bring you two into it.”
Jenny has several arguments in response to that, and from the look of it, so does Crane, but Abbie gives them both a firm glance and says briskly, as though that’s the end of it, “So we’re at Victoria, huh? Catch me up on what I missed.”
Jenny’s not really ready to leave it, but Crane, with a quelling glance at Jenny, starts in on his explanation. And that’s the last they talk about the case for the rest of the evening.
The dreams start that night.
Generally, Jenny doesn’t dream. Not even when she was a kid--she didn’t have nightmares after watching a scary movie, no goofy dreams about pink elephants or whatever. Later in her life, Jenny would come to look at that as a blessing.
And, needless to say, she doesn’t get the prophetic visions that Crane and Abbie get on a regular basis.
Until tonight. Tonight she dreams of black wings beating against a white sky, the hoarse caw of a crow, and--weirdly--the sound of rushing water.
Jenny’s standing in a clearing, trees around her, the noise of rushing water in her ears, and a voice calls out--
Jenny sits up in bed, disoriented, mind still foggy from sleep.
Abbie’s in the doorway to Jenny’s bedroom, wearing her uniform and clearly about to go off to work, watching her with faint concern.
“Saw you were still sleeping and I wanted to wake you up before I left,” Abbie explains. “You okay?”
Jenny twists to stare at the clock on her bedside table. Sure enough, it’s past nine, long after the time Jenny usually gets up in the mornings. She’s staring at the clock, but not seeing it--instead she’s trying to hang onto the images in her dream, but they’re fading away like mist before the sun.
“Yeah. I’m fine,” Jenny says slowly. “Bad dreams, that’s all.”
The problem is that Jenny has no proof. Not by Abbie’s stringent standards, and not even by her own; Jenny has no proof. A crazy crow and a bad dream aren’t enough to go on, aren’t enough to lead Jenny anywhere, and as possible apocalypses go, theirs has been rather quiet lately. No demons or evil witches for the last month, no grisly, unexplainable deaths, nothing going on at all. It’s why Jenny’s been so relentless when it comes to training Crane, why she wants Abbie to start training with them for real--when the madness and chaos does start up again, she wants everyone to be ready.
But right now, nothing’s happening at all. Nothing but this murder--and as sad as it is, it’s still an ordinary crime, nothing supernatural about it.
And yet, when Jenny closes her eyes, she still sees black wings against a gray sky.
Jenny finds herself heading back to the diner the next day, but in the afternoon, after the morning rush has gone and the diner is mostly empty.
Usually when Jenny comes to the diner, she picks a quiet booth and tries to keep to herself, but that’s not going to work today. Today, Jenny sits right at the counter and calls her usual waitress over with a forcibly cheerful, “Hey, Beth.”
Beth turns and gives Jenny a smile. “Oh hey there, Jenny,” she says warmly. “What can I get for you today?”
“Some coffee and a doughnut would be great,” Jenny says, still trying to maintain a friendly air. Her manners are rusty--well, if she’s honest, she’s never had much in the way of manners to begin with--but she can fake it for right now.
“So,” Jenny says as Beth hands her a doughnut on a plate, “Have you heard anything new about this murder case?”
“Oh God, it’s awful,” Beth says immediately. “I can’t stop thinking about her poor parents.”
“You went to high school with her, right?” Jenny asks. At Beth’s nod, she prods, “Were you two friends?”
Beth shakes her head. “No, we didn’t really hang out in the same crowd, but Sarah was really nice, you know? Just sweet and friendly to everyone, I could never figure out what she saw in--” Beth cuts herself off, with a guilty look.
“Saw in who?” Jenny asks.
Beth hesitates, then says, “Her boyfriend, Ryan. They dated all through high school and stayed together, even when he went into the Marines--well, he’s just not a nice guy, you know? Just mean to everyone, Sarah most of all.”
“Really,” Jenny says, keeping her voice level.
“He was a bully in high school,” Beth says, lowering her voice even though there’s no one around to overhear. “Not just name-calling or teasing; there were even rumors he put a kid in the hospital once. I know he went into the Marines and he’s supposedly this big hero with all his medals, but--people like that don’t change, you know?”
“You think he had something to do with it?” Jenny asks, keeping her voice light.
Beth opens her mouth, then closes it. The answer’s clear as anything, and she says, “The last time I saw Sarah was about a month ago, at the hardware store. I tried to say hello, but she didn’t want to talk.”
“She didn’t have time, or...”
“Maybe,” Beth says. “Or she just didn’t want me asking her questions about her black eye.”
There’s a pause, and then Jenny says, “So it was like that, huh?”
“Yeah,” Beth says, voice heavy with regret. “I think it was.” She doesn’t say anything for a while, just stares at the counter, swallows, and then asks, “Your sister’s on this case, right?”
“Yeah, she’s on it,” Jenny says.
“Good,” Beth says. “Weird stuff happens around your sister, everybody knows that. Her and that English guy--but they fix it. The weird stuff happens and they fix it. It’d be nice if they could get the guy that did this to Sarah. She didn’t deserve that.”
“Nobody does,” Jenny says.
She leaves the diner not long after that. There’s a stiff breeze, and as Jenny zips up her coat, she sees a crow perched on a nearby bench.
The crow seems to be looking at Jenny, although that could just be her imagination.
She doesn’t think it is, though. Not anymore.
“What do you know about crows?” Jenny asks Crane thoughtfully.
Crane lifts his head from the book he’s reading. “Do you mean in terms of ornithology or mythology?”
“Mythology,” Jenny says. “What do you know about them?”
“Well,” Crane says, in what Jenny’s come to think of as his ‘lecturing professor’ voice. “The crow is a common figure in many myths--take, for example, the ancient Greeks, who thought their black feathers were due to earning the ire of the god Apollo. Traditionally, of course, they’ve been associated with death and the underworld in many cultures and mythologies. Why do you ask?”
Nothing, Jenny nearly says, but she reconsiders. “I’ve been having dreams,” she says, and then laughs self-deprecatingly. “They’re probably nothing. I mean, it’s you and Abbie who usually have the big prophetic visions, but--I keep seeing these damn crows everywhere, in my dreams, in real life…” She tells Crane everything, from the crow flying over her head, to the murder of Sarah Woddell being discovered the same day, to Jenny’s dreams and the crows seemingly everywhere in her sight.
Crane listens to it all, and when Jenny’s finished, he says, “The question is what connection could there be between your sightings of this crow and the death of this poor girl.”
“You heard Abbie,” Jenny says. “There’s nothing supernatural about this case.”
“That we know of,” Crane counters, and despite herself, Jenny smiles a little.
“Yeah,” she agrees. “That we know of.”
Crane suggests, delicately, that he be the one to take the lead on talking to Abbie about bringing them in on this case.
Jenny agrees, because Crane’s proven to be a decent go-between when it comes to Jenny and her sister, and she can’t quite shake the belief that Abbie’ll listen to Crane more quickly than she’ll listen to her.
So when Abbie comes to the storage area--which Jenny’s taken to calling the Fortress of Solitude in her head--she comes with several thick file folders in her arms.
“Before you guys start,” she warns as she approaches, “I’m telling you, I haven’t seen anything about crows in this case, let alone anything supernatural.”
“Three heads are better than one,” Crane says briskly, stepping forward to the table. “Even if Miss Jenny’s suspicions are proven to be groundless, I am sure we can be of aid.”
“Take us through the case,” Jenny says, nodding at the files, and Abbie sighs and puts them on the table.
The first thing they see is a photograph of what has to be Sarah Woddell, a picture of her in the woods, smiling happily at the camera. It’s the same picture Jenny’s seen plastered all over the local news, a pretty white girl with glossy brown hair, a bright smile and pink cheeks.
“Sarah Woddell,” Abbie says. “Born and raised in Sleepy Hollow, worked as a bank teller. Lived with her boyfriend Ryan McGrew, when he wasn’t on an overseas tour.” At Crane’s questioning look, Abbie clarifies, “He was in the military, Crane. Did three tours in Afghanistan before being discharged.”
“Honorably or dishonorably?” Jenny asks, and Abbie glances at her.
“Good catch. Dishonorable discharge; apparently he got a little too rough with a fellow soldier. Seems to be a habit with this guy.”
“He was hitting her, wasn’t he?” Jenny says softly, staring down at Sarah’s photograph.
“Yes,” Abbie confirms baldly. “She’d hidden it from her family and friends, but there were old bruises on her body from before the night she died, and her medical records are a textbook case of abuse.”
Abbie talks them through the photos of the crime scene, laying it all out, showing where the scuffle happened, how the assailant and Sarah fought, how Sarah’s head was bashed into the wall before she was finally strangled to death. There aren’t any photos of Sarah’s body, for which Jenny’s grateful.
Crane is staring at the photographs, though, the ones that show the blood on the wall, the smashed lamps and overturned kitchen chairs, and shaking his head. “This is monstrous,” he says, horror thick in his voice. “And you think this McGrew fellow is responsible?”
“Yeah,” Abbie says, staring down at the photographs. “I think he did it. I think he and Sarah had a fight that night, I think he got violent, and I think he killed her.” She lifts her head and says flatly, “But I can’t prove it. His buddy is adamant that McGrew was with him the night of the murder, and I don’t have any evidence yet to break that alibi.”
She looks over at Jenny. “So crows, huh?”
Jenny lifts her chin. “Yeah. Crows.”
Abbie looks down at the files, and then lifts her head back up. “Okay. So tell me about them.”
Abbie’s developed the habit of surprising Jenny lately. Jenny doesn’t like surprises, as a rule, but she’s learned to make an exception here.
The problem remains the same. Other than a crow acting weirdly, and the case of a murder with seemingly no supernatural connections, they don’t have much to go on, so they’re eventually reduced to debating what the crow could mean.
“In Sweden, it was once believed that crows were the spirits of murdered men,” Crane offers at one point. “Might that be the case here?”
“Still doesn’t make sense,” Jenny says eventually, after mulling it over. “I mean, if the crow is Sarah and she’s trying to send information about her murder, why come to me? Abbie’s the one working the case.”
They don’t have an answer for that. Or for what the crow is supposed to be, or whether it’s supposed to be anything other than some dumb crow. Finally, Abbie calls a halt to the meeting with a weary, “We’re running around in circles here. We can’t do anything else without more information, and we’re not going to get any right now, so let’s call it a night.”
Neither Jenny nor Crane has much of an argument against this, so they do wrap up for the night. Abbie drives Crane back to what Jenny will always think of as Corbin’s cabin, and then, once she sees him safely inside, turns the car back around to the apartment.
“I could talk to the waitress at the diner some more,” Jenny brainstorms on the way back. “Beth said--”
“Beth?” Abbie echoes. “Beth is the waitress you were chatting up?”
“Yes,” Jenny says, and says nothing in the face of Abbie’s clear amusement.
“You always did like redheads,” Abbie says with a smirk, and Jenny glares, even if her cheeks are feeling hot.
“Not the point,” she says stubbornly, and Abbie laughs, but thankfully doesn’t push any further there; instead she says, “I want you to tell me when you have another dream, all right? No matter how insignificant it may be, it could hold a lead.” She shakes her head. “God knows, we’re running low on those right now.”
Jenny studies her sister’s face. “Look at you,” she says. “The true believer at last.”
Abbie laughs, rueful and self-deprecating. “If Mom could see me now.”
“Yeah,” Jenny says softly as she turns back toward the window, and she’s not laughing when she says it. “If Mom could see you now.”
She heads to bed as soon as they get home, but it doesn’t help--she doesn’t dream of black wings or the woods or Sarah Woddell’s smiling face. She doesn’t dream at all.
Jenny’s been arrested more than a time or two, but usually when she’s been arrested, she knew that it was a possibility beforehand, that she was running right into trouble.
She doesn’t see this one coming.
Jenny has a P.O. box in town--it’s still under her own name, and it’s hers, a tiny way she can reclaim her independence instead of simply having everything sent to her sister’s address. She’s got a contact in Guatemala that sends her artifacts and curios from time to time, and today she checks to see if he’s sent her anything. He hasn’t, and she’s leaving the post office when she sees the two men fighting.
It’s two white men, one young, one old--and the older man is sticking his finger into the younger man’s chest, yelling, even shoving him with both hands. The younger man’s got about five inches and plenty of muscle on him, so he’s not actually moving much, just staring down with a contemptuous sneer on his face.
“Goddamn you, Ryan, I know you did it, I know you killed my little girl,” the man chokes out, his voice cracking, looking thin and frail against the other man’s bulk, and oh God, this is Sarah Woddell’s father and Ryan McGrew getting into a public argument in the middle of the street.
Jenny’s not a Good Samaritan, at least not normally. But the street’s fairly quiet, not too many cars or pedestrians, so with a sigh, she starts to head over, jogging toward them as she calls out, “Hey, cool it--”
They don’t listen. Mr. Woddell seems to be past listening as he pulls back and lands an awkward punch to the side of McGrew’s face. McGrew feels at his jaw for a moment, testing it, then, almost casually, backhands Mr. Woddell with enough force to knock him to the ground.
“Hey!” Jenny yells, breaking out into a run. “I said enough--”
McGrew doesn’t listen. Instead he hits Woddell again, hard enough that the poor man’s head snaps back.
Furious, Jenny sprints in, yelling, “McGrew!” McGrew turns to look at her, and she knows what he sees, a skinny black girl that couldn’t take him if he had both hands tied behind his back.
“Fuck off,” he rumbles at her, and turns back toward Woddell, whose face is bleeding, his glasses knocked to the ground.
“No,” Jenny snaps at him, and when he turns to face her again, sneering, she’s ready. A hit to the face, rabbit-quick, then one to the gut, and when he’s doubled over, she kicks him in the groin for good measure.
McGrew’s groaning on the ground, and Jenny stands over him. “How about you fuck off, asshole,” she mutters, shaking out her aching hand--she knows how to throw a punch, but they still hurt.
“Fucking bitch,” McGrew spits up at her, and Jenny tilts her head for one second before casually kicking him in the ribs. She’s wearing boots, and McGrew howls and curls in on himself protectively.
“Sorry, I didn’t hear that,” Jenny says, plastering a sweet smile on her face. “Wanna say it again?”
McGrew just groans in pain, and Jenny turns her back on him as she helps Woddell off the ground.
Once he’s on his feet, Woddell immediately moves to rush McGrew again, and Jenny holds him back. It’s not hard--Woddell’s weak and still trembling with emotion. “No, no, come on,” she says. “He’s already down, all right?”
“He killed my daughter,” Woddell says, tears running down his cheeks, mixing with the blood from his nose. “He killed my little girl and left her there to rot--”
“I know,” Jenny says, but she’s not listening. Instead she’s hearing the sound of sirens, coming closer and closer--somebody must have seen the fight and dialled 911. “Goddammit,” she mutters, before the sirens are right on them, drowning everything else out.
It’s hard to tell who’s more annoyed by Jenny being brought to the police station in handcuffs, Jenny or Abbie.
“You want to tell me what the hell you were thinking?” Abbie asks, glaring at Jenny from across her desk.
“Oh, so what, I was supposed to just let McGrew beat up a man half his size?” Jenny immediately retorts.
Abbie presses her lips together, a look that’s eerily reminiscent of their mother, and that gets Jenny’s back up even further. “There’s a difference between defending someone and assault, and don’t tell me you don’t know the difference--”
“Miss Jenny!” Crane’s voice cuts through the noise of the police station, and Jenny lifts his head to see him approaching, a harried look on his face. “I got the message upon my cellular device of your altercation. Are you all right? That scoundrel didn’t hurt you, did he?”
“Thanks for the concern, Crane,” Jenny says, with a pointed look at Abbie. “But no, I’m fine. Because I managed to put him down on the ground--”
“And then kicked him in the ribs once you got him there, according to multiple witnesses,” Abbie cuts in. “Want to explain to me how that’s defending yourself?”
“Ryan McGrew likes to hit women and old men half his size,” Jenny snaps. “Forgive me for not wanting to get a punch to the face.”
“You must admit, her logic is impeccable,” Crane says to Abbie, who sighs and pinches the bridge of her nose.
“And when her caseworker calls me up to ask why my sister’s getting into a brawl in the middle of the street, are you going to admire her logic then?” she demands. “You’re on probation, Jenny; my conservatorship lasts only as long as you stay out of trouble and you know that.”
“Some things are worth getting in trouble for,” Jenny says, heated, leaning in over the desk. “You want to sit there and tell me that asshole didn’t have it coming?”
“What I’m telling you is--” Abbie starts, but Captain Irving calls out from the doorway, sounding irate, “Mills! Get over here.”
Abbie shoves her chair back and stalks toward her boss, and Jenny glares after her as she leaves.
Both she and Crane watch her go, and then Crane turns back to Jenny. “Are you sure you’re all right?”
“I’m fine,” she says shortly, not looking at him. Restless, she starts poking around Abbie’s desk, flicking away papers and files in irritation, not even sure what she’s doing other than keeping her hands busy and snooping around--
--and then she sees it. A small notepad, flipped open to a page where there’s nothing but a detailed sketch of a crow’s head.
“Did your sister draw that?” Crane asks, peering over her shoulder.
“Abbie can’t draw,” Jenny says slowly. Carefully, as though the paper will turn to ash beneath her touch, she flips through the notebook, but there’s nothing else in it. “Seriously, there’s no way she drew this. She barely got a C in art class.”
“If she did not draw this, then who did?” Crane asks.
“I have no idea,” Jenny says, but despite everything, she feels a spark of anticipation--at last, something is happening, even if she has no idea what.
Abbie appears a few minutes later, face tight and her gait stiff. Jenny immediately gets up, notebook in hand, but Abbie doesn’t even glance at them, just grabs her jacket off her chair.
“Let’s get out of here,” Abbie says in a clipped voice, shrugging her jacket on. “C’mon, I’ll drive.”
Jenny and Crane share a look, and Crane starts, “What’s happened--”
“Jenny’s not getting charged. I’m calling it a win, now let’s go.”
“Whoa, whoa,” Jenny says, grabbing at her sister’s arm. “That’s it? What about McGrew? What about this drawing that I know you didn’t draw--”
Abbie slowly turns around, fixing Jenny with a glare. “McGrew has been released. He says Mr. Woddell hit him first and he was defending himself, and the witnesses we’ve rounded up back his story--”
“Okay, hang on--”
“--and then he says that you needlessly attacked him, which again, is something the witnesses back up, so really, you should just be glad that McGrew isn’t pressing charges against you--”
“Are you fucking kidding me?” Jenny demands, and behind her, Crane makes an unhappy noise at her use of profanity, but he can suck it up, Jenny’s too pissed off to deal with his delicate sensibilities. “That asshole was going to press charges against me for stopping him from beating up a helpless old man--”
“Yes, Jenny,” Abbie snaps. “He could’ve pressed charges against you and would’ve, if Irving hadn’t talked him down. As it is, he’s not being charged--”
“Hold up,” Jenny says, anger rising to the surface. “That guy killed his girlfriend and beat her grieving father up in public, and he gets to walk? You’re just gonna let that happen?”
“Given that I’ve been taken off the case, I don’t get much of a say in what happens to McGrew right now,” Abbie shoots back. “The captain generally frowns upon an investigator’s sister beating the hell out of our lead suspect.”
“So that’s it then,” Jenny says, and she can’t keep the disgust out of her voice. “You’re letting him walk away.”
“Yes,” Abbie says, just as angry, “--that is it, Jenny, Christ, do you think the rules don’t apply just because you think they’re inconvenient? You think I get to ignore due process just because my sister doesn’t like the lead suspect? There is a protocol to follow, and if you ignore that, people get hurt and the bad guys walk.”
“The bad guys walk when the cops don’t do their jobs,” Jenny snaps. “Don’t put the blame on me because the system you uphold is broken, and don’t blame me because you can’t find enough evidence to put a murderer behind bars.”
Abbie just looks at her with an angry smirk on her face. “Trust you to miss the point,” she says bitterly, shaking her head. “All right, that’s it. I’ve got work to do, and you officially don’t need to be here anymore.”
The dismissal sends Jenny’s anger spiking, and she opens her mouth to really start in--
--only to have Crane tugging on her arm. “Come along, Jenny.” Jenny wheels around on him, because she doesn’t need to be led around like a child, but Crane adds a soft, “Please. This is not the place.”
Seething, Jenny goes, sending one last angry look at her sister.
Once they’re outside and getting into Jenny’s truck, Jenny explodes. She rants for a good five minutes straight while Crane pointedly doesn’t say a word in response, until the silence finally gets to her and Jenny shoots him a glare while they’re stopped at a red light. “Cat got your tongue, Crane? Say something, for Christ’s sake.”
“I’ve always believed that discretion can be the better part of valor,” Crane says, primly, but at Jenny’s glare he relents. “While I share in your frustration and disgust that Mr. McGrew remains free, I question your judgment today.”
Jenny’s glare gets hotter, but if Crane notices, he gives no sign.
“There are times when I truly do not understand you,” he says. “At a time like this, we should be allied, and instead you insist on insulting your sister at the worst possible moment--”
“Don’t put the blame for today on me,” Jenny shoots at him. “Don’t even start with me right now.”
“I am not putting the fault upon your shoulders,” he insists, “--but the fact remains, you must display greater prudence when it comes to your sister, and I would not be a good friend to either of you if I did not speak of it--”
“Oh,” Jenny says, her anger sparking her onward, letting the sarcastic drawl come forth again, “--and I’m sure that’s why you’re taking her side now. Because your motives are always so pure when it comes to Abbie.”
She can practically hear his shoulders going back, as he says, painfully stiff, “I’m sure I have no idea what you could mean.”
“Don’t you?” Jenny shoots back, gripping the steering wheel, but Crane is staring at her, his face alert and defensive, and Jenny doesn’t have much practice in not going for the jugular when given the opportunity, but she’s managed to avoid this topic with Crane or Abbie up till now, and goddammit, she knows it’s not Crane she’s really mad at.
So Jenny does something she normally doesn’t do, and she backs down from a fight.
“Never mind,” she says, her voice tight, gritting her jaw as she looks away. “Let’s just leave it.”
Thankfully, Crane doesn’t push further, and it’s the first thing Jenny’s been grateful for all day. They drive back to Abbie’s apartment in silence, and it’s not until they’re getting out of the car, doors slamming a little too loudly, that Crane says, “Miss Jenny, if you’re implying that I favor your sister over you--”
“That’s not what I said,” Jenny says quickly, although it is, and they both know it. “I just felt like I was being ganged up on, that’s all.”
“We were not ganging,” Crane says, still horribly stiff, and Jenny’s put in mind of a cat putting back its ears, fur on end.
“Okay,” Jenny says, simply, and she sees Crane’s shoulders slump suddenly. Uncomfortable and wishing the feeling in her stomach wasn’t so close to guilt, Jenny huffs out a sigh and says, “C’mon. Let’s get inside.”
Once they get to the front door, Jenny frowns a little as she notices the package propped up against the front door. “What’s this?” she murmurs, slicing it open with one of the Pocketknives she carries around, and that Abbie has always tactfully ignored.
When she pulls it open and realizes what’s inside, Jenny’s bad mood gets worse. Of course this would arrive today.
“What is that?” Crane asks, curious. Jenny tilts the DVD set up so he can read the title: Prohibition, and says, “Abbie and I ordered it off Amazon last week. It was supposed to be for you.”
Crane looks startled, then touched by this. “A gift for me?”
“Yeah. Not a nice present--we figured learning about Prohibition would send you into a rage, and we wanted to enjoy the show,” Jenny explains with a shrug. “I had plans to make popcorn.”
Crane rolls his eyes. “I’m so glad I can be a source of amusement for you both.” He looks back down at the DVD and his forehead wrinkles, finally asking, “And what is this Prohibition? What exactly was prohibited?”
“It,” Jenny starts, and then stops. She and Abbie had a deal about this, once they’d first realized that explaining Prohibiton and the nationwide ban of alcohol would send Crane into a tizzy--they’d agreed to wait to reveal it until they were both in the room, and then let the fireworks fly.
But thinking of that makes Jenny think about the argument with Abbie in the police station, and while Jenny still doesn’t think she was in the wrong--she’s also aware she probably didn’t handle it as well as she could’ve.
Jenny sighs loudly and opens up the door to the apartment, tossing the DVD on a nearby counter. “Don’t touch it,” she warns Crane, and then pulls out her phone.
Part of Jenny thinks that maybe Abbie won’t pick it up when she sees it’s her calling, but of course, Abbie picks up on the second ring. “Hello?”
“Hey, it’s me,” Jenny says briskly. She doesn’t want to apologize, she’s not going to apologize. “The Prohibition documentary showed up at the front door today. Do you want to watch it with us?”
There’s a brief pause, and then Abbie says, “Yeah, I’m in. Just give me a little time to wrap things up here, I’ll be back home around six.”
“Okay,” Jenny says.
There’s another pause, longer, and Jenny wonders if Abbie’s going to bring up the fight, bring up McGrew and Mr. Woddell, but instead, Abbie says, her voice deliberately light, “And don’t tell Crane what Prohibition means until I get there.”
Jenny can feel the reluctant smile tugging at her lips as she says, “Will do.”
She hangs up and turns to Crane, who is doing a very bad job of hiding how pleased he is. “Your poker face is crap,” she informs him, and he doesn’t even have the courtesy to look chagrined at her put-down.
True to her word, Abbie arrives at the apartment around six, looking tired but calmer than she had at the station. “Did you tell him?”
“No,” Crane says in a tone of deep irritation. “Your sister has been silent as the grave about this Prohibition business, whatever it is.”
Abbie catches Jenny’s eye, and Jenny nods, silently saying, after you.
“Prohibition refers to the time in the early 20th century when the sale and manufacturing of alcohol was banned throughout the United States,” Abbie says.
Crane’s reaction is everything they could’ve asked for. He stares at them blankly, blinking for a long moment before finally saying, his voice strangled, “Surely you are jesting with me. No government could possibly be so asinine.”
“Nope, no jesting,” Jenny says with relish. “They even passed an amendment to the Constitution.”
“To ban spirits?” Crane demands, looking between them wildly. “Did the country rise up in rebellion against such an unjust and ridiculous law?”
Jenny makes a face. “Kind of. I mean, I wouldn’t call Al Capone a revolutionary, but--”
Crane is already scrabbling at the plastic wrapper around the DVD case, muttering darkly, “Utter madness, complete and utter madness--were the lawmakers possessed? Surely there must have been some nefarious witchcraft at work, for no sensible being could possibly believe such a law would--” Stymied by the plastic, Crane thrusts it toward Jenny with a huff. “Here. Let us bear witness to the tale of this travesty.”
“I’ll make the popcorn,” Abbie says as Jenny carefully picks off the plastic.
Crane reacts with approval when he finds out it’s a Ken Burns documentary--“Ah, the fellow who did that lovely lecture about the sport of baseball,” he says, nodding, but that brief moment of calm quickly disappears, to be replaced with shouting at the TV every few minutes, occasionally going so far to shake his fist with disgust whenever the arguments of the temperance movement are espoused.
“Who knew you were such a fan of alcohol, Crane?” Abbie teases him at one point, and he looks indignant.
“I hope I should never be thought of as a lush or intemperate, but I cannot see the logic in attempting to legislate morality. My God, and did none of them think of the ramifications to the public’s health?”
Jenny glances over at Abbie and says, sotto voce, “You know we’re going to have to explain the war on drugs to him at some point, right?”
Abbie groans theatrically. “Oh God, that’s gonna be fun. Just wait until he hears about mandatory minimums.”
“You’re the cop, you’re explaining that one,” Jenny says without thinking, and then internally winces. It seems to brush too close to their argument earlier today, to the things Jenny threw in Abbie’s teeth.
Their conversation is interrupted by Crane yelling at the screen, completely overcome, “Oh, you damned fools!” then looking mortified to have lost his composure so thoroughly in front of them.
Abbie just laughs, and Crane ducks his head, but Jenny can still see the flush on his cheeks, the bashful smile he’s trying to hide.
“I’m getting some beer,” Jenny says quickly, getting up. “Anybody want anything?” She’s learned by now to simply get out of the way when Abbie and Crane get like this, and so she takes a little longer in the kitchen than needed, loudly banging cabinets in search of a bottle opener before returning with three bottles of beer.
When she gets back, Jenny sits back down between Crane and Abbie. It just seems like the smarter move.
They finish up the first disc, and Crane wants to continue straight away, but Abbie smiles and says, “Maybe space it out a little, huh? Can’t have you going apoplectic too much, or the neighbors will start to complain.”
Crane grumbles a little but concedes and then says, “If we are not to continue with this documentary straight away, then perhaps we should discuss something else?”
“Sure, what?” Abbie asks promptly, but Jenny’s sure she’s not imagining the quick glance she sends Jenny’s way.
“I was thinking,” Crane starts, delicately, “--that perhaps we could discuss this drawing.” He carefully pulls a piece of paper out of his coat and unfolds it before handing it to Abbie. It’s the sketch Jenny had found on her desk earlier today of the crow’s head, and Jenny glances up to watch Abbie’s face.
There’s absolutely no recognition there, and Abbie asks, “What is this? Did you draw it, Crane?”
“No,” Crane says, watching her face as carefully as Jenny is. “We believe that you did.”
“I found it on your desk this afternoon,” Jenny interjects. “With everything that’s going on, I thought it might be significant. Not to mention I have no idea how you could suddenly draw that well.”
Abbie’s staring at the drawing now, a faint crease between her eyebrows. “I don’t remember drawing this,” she says at last, and Jenny sits up a little straighter.
“You don’t remember?” she repeats, and Abbie shakes her head, that clouded look still on her face.
“I must have, but--I don’t remember doing it. Maybe I doodled it when I was on the phone working this case--”
“You don’t draw like this, though,” Jenny presses. “I always got better grades than you in art class. You barely even passed our freshman year, remember?”
“I wasn’t that bad,” Abbie protests, but she looks again at the sketch before tossing it on the coffee table with a sigh. “Guys, I’m sorry, I don’t know anything about that drawing. I don’t remember drawing it, I don’t know what it means--”
“It has to be connected,” Jenny insists, and Abbie glances up.
“How?” she demands, but without any heat behind it. It’s a genuine question. “Jenny, I’ve been over this case a million times, there is nothing supernatural about it. McGrew’s not connected to the Hessians, there haven’t been any sightings of the Horseman--if you guys have found some connection here, I’m all ears, but there’s nothing there.” She looks at Jenny, and adds, more gently, “If you guys have anything...”
They don’t. Jenny doesn’t have anything here, not a single thing, but her instincts screaming at her that there’s more to this case than what they’re seeing.
“Perhaps he was possessed when he killed her,” Crane muses, and Abbie cocks an eyebrow at him.
“Oh, you think so?” she asks, voice dry, and Crane flushes a little bit.
“Well,” he says awkwardly, “--it’s just that I cannot fathom anyone doing something so brutal to a woman, his intended--”
“Not every guy is you, Crane,” Abbie says simply. “Some people--some men--have a darkness in them. They like power, they like hurting other people. And with McGrew--we know what he was doing to her.” She looks troubled by this, and Jenny asks, curious, “Did you know what was happening?
Abbie shakes her head, but it’s not a denial. “I got called out to their place once on a domestic disturbance call. He was...very smooth, very slick, apologized for the misunderstanding, swore up and down there wasn't a problem. And she wouldn’t say anything to contradict him, no matter how many times I asked. Nothing we could do, so we just...left it there.”
“She wouldn’t leave him?” Crane asks.
Abbie shakes her head again. “No. She wouldn’t leave, wouldn’t press charges, wouldn’t go to a shelter--wouldn’t even admit there was anything wrong at all.”
Now Crane’s shaking his head. “I don’t understand it,” he says simply. Jenny opens her mouth, but Crane continues, “I don’t understand doing that to someone you’re supposed to love.”
“You’re not supposed to understand it,” Jenny says quietly. Most days she finds Crane’s chivalry bemusing, a minor irritation at worst--but she likes that a man like McGrew is something that he can’t begin to understand.
Abbie’s looking at Crane now, her face soft, open, and Jenny looks between them once before clearing her throat. “I’m hungry,” she says, abrupt. “We going to order some food before we start with part two?”
They end up ordering Chinese--Abbie’s not in the mood to cook, Jenny hates to cook, and Crane’s culinary tastes have expanded since landing in the 21st century--and they keep the conversation deliberately lighter while waiting for the delivery guy to show up. Crane is quizzing Abbie about the recent state laws legalizing marijuana, and Jenny is throwing wrenches into Abbie's explanations by saying she thinks the government should just bite the bullet and make all drugs legal but regulate and tax the hell out of them.
Abbie takes the opening, as Jenny knew she would. "Oh, and I suppose legalizing heroin is just fine with you? What about speed? Crystal meth?"
Crane is listening to them with fascination and demands, "My God, how many mind-altering substances have you devised in this age?"
"We didn't personally invent them, you know," Abbie says, tart, "--and as for how many drugs are out there, do you want to be here all night listing them all?”
The doorbell rings, and Jenny answers, enjoying the look on the delivery boy’s face when Crane yelps in the background, “It does what to your teeth?”
Toward the end of part two of the documentary, they’re all fading a bit, Abbie especially, who’s rubbing at her eyes and trying to stifle her yawns. Crane’s not much better, looking as though he’s about to nod off any second.
“All right, we need to call it a night,” Jenny says. “Christ, it’s already half past midnight.”
“Dear Lord, I must be getting back to the cabin,” Crane starts, and Jenny gives him a skeptical look.
“You can just stay here, you know,” she says. “We’ve got a couch and plenty of blankets.”
Crane looks thrown. “Here? For the entire night?”
“What’s the problem with that?”
Crane opens and closes his mouth, and finally says, voice a little small and embarrassed, “Well...you are two unmarried females…”
Jenny scoffs at this, and Abbie rolls her eyes, saying, “Crane, really?” He just looks at them, stubborn, and Abbie says impatiently, “You’ve already seen me without my shirt on,” and when Jenny turns to her wide-eyed, adds quickly, “Long story. It involves scorpions and the dreamworld; you don’t want to hear it.”
“No, I’m pretty sure I do,” Jenny says, eyeing both her sister and Crane, and then adds, “--but probably not tonight. Look, Crane, you’re tired, it’s late, there’s a couch. Do you honestly think anybody’s virtue is at risk tonight?”
“No, I suppose not,” Crane says at last, making a little nod at them both. “I...thank you for the hospitality. Not just for the night’s lodgings, but for the company this evening.”
“Our pleasure,” Abbie says.
After getting Crane settled in for the night, Jenny really should just go to sleep. She’s about to head off to her own bedroom, but she sees the light in Abbie’s room is still on, and for some reason, she goes in, pushing the door open.
Abbie doesn’t seem to be doing anything, just sitting on her bed in a t-shirt and drawstring pants, staring at her hands, but she looks up when Jenny enters, sounding almost normal when she asks, “Hey, Jenny, what’s going on?”
“Do we need to talk?” Jenny asks before she can stop herself.
It gets Abbie’s attention, as she focuses on Jenny and asks, “Talk about what?”
About their blowup earlier in the police station. About the way Crane looks at Abbie, even though his wife is still out there somewhere. About whatever’s coming for them next, and what Jenny’s role is supposed to be when it comes.
“Whatever it is you’re brooding about,” Jenny says instead.
Abbie shakes her head a little, but her answer isn’t what Jenny expects, exactly. “I was just thinking about that documentary we were watching--about the women in the temperance movement.”
“What about them?” Jenny prods, leaning against the door.
“They were trying to save the country,” Abbie murmurs. “It’s easy to laugh now, but those women campaigning for temperance, they just wanted to save everyone. The women whose husbands beat them when they were drunk, the alcoholics who drank away their future...they wanted to save them all, but the battle was lost before it ever started.”
“They tried to do too much,” Jenny says. “We’ll be smarter. Pick a smaller fight.”
Abbie looks up with a disbelieving smile on her face. “You think warding off the apocalypse is a smaller fight?”
“Sure,” Jenny says with a shrug. “One headless guy, another guy with horns, couple of zombies--no big deal.” It gets Abbie to laugh, which is what Jenny was going for. “We’re gonna be okay, you know that.”
Abbie’s smile is now crooked, rueful. “Shouldn’t that be my line?”
Jenny shrugs. “Yeah, but I can be your understudy for one night.”
Abbie’s smile gets a little smaller, a little more wistful. “You’re good at that.”
Tell me about it, Jenny doesn’t say. Instead she lets out a breath and says, “Don’t stay up too late. Night, Abbie.”
“Goodnight,” Jenny hears as she closes the door behind her.
She heads to her own bedroom, wearily climbing into her bed with a sigh, settling into the pillows, limbs heavy, her body ready for sleep.
Jenny closes her eyes, and when she opens them again, she’s in the woods.
There are trees all around her, a gray sky above her head--and Jenny holds herself very, very still, waiting for whatever’s about to appear next--Moloch, the Horseman, even Andy Brooks, her sister’s creepy zombie stalker. Or hell, maybe it’ll be Katrina Crane, which would be a far better option than anything else.
A crow calls out above her head, and Jenny looks up to see it flying above her, and when she brings her gaze back down, she’s suddenly at a stream--with someone crouching right by the bank.
Jenny automatically reaches for the gun she’s not carrying, but the woman doesn’t make a move toward her, doesn’t even look up. With the dark cloak and her glossy black hair spread out over her shoulders, she looks like nothing so much as a brooding crow, hunched over the river.
“Hey,” Jenny says, her voice loud in the silence. “You there.”
Slowly, the woman turns to stare at Jenny over her shoulder, and Jenny barely keeps from backing up a step--she’s white, yes, but her skin is the sort of deathly pale you’d associate with illness--or, given that it’s Sleepy Hollow, the undead.
She stares at Jenny for a long time, not speaking, and Jenny breaks the silence again, using bravado to cover up her creeping unease.
“So you’re the crow lady, then?” Jenny asks. “You’re the one who’s been sending all those crows after me?” The woman doesn’t say anything, and Jenny demands, “What the hell do you want?”
The woman still doesn’t say anything, not at first, but she rises to her feet, the movement sudden and graceful--she’s carrying something in her hand, some kind of cloth, but Jenny has no idea what it is. Once on her feet, the woman asks, in an accent Jenny can’t place, “Do you know where your sister is?”
“My sister?” Jenny repeats. “Where--”
The woman just looks at her, smiling faintly, and Jenny’s gaze drops to the sodden cloth in her hands.
She recognizes, suddenly, what those clothes are, who they belong to, and her body goes cold with terror. “You,” Jenny’s out of breath, her feet nailed to the ground, and her vision is starting to blur. “You--”
--and then she’s awake in her bed, eyes snapping open to the sight of her bedroom ceiling, innocuous and real, nothing but the sound of her own harsh breaths in her ears.
It takes less than a second for Jenny to fly out of her bed, throwing her door open and running to Abbie’s door, calling out Abbie’s name and ignoring Crane’s bewildered shout from the living room.
Jenny throws open Abbie’s door--and there’s nothing. An empty bed, the bedside drawer open and the sheets rumpled--and Abbie herself is nowhere to be found.
“Jenny, what on earth is--” Crane’s behind her, and she hears the sharp intake of breath as he sees Abbie’s empty room. “Where is your sister?”
“Gone,” Jenny says, “She took her,” and Jenny whirls back around to rush into her bedroom.
His sense of propriety long gone, Crane follows her into her room, asking in alarm, “What do you mean, she took her? Who took Abbie?”
“The woman I saw in the woods,” Jenny explains, shucking her pants for a pair of jeans. It’s a measure of how alarmed Crane is at Abbie’s disappearance that he doesn’t even bother to turn away from the scandalous sight of her bare legs. “I had a vision just now and when I woke up, Abbie was gone. And I know who took her.”
“The woman in the woods,” Crane repeats. “What woman? Jenny, for God’s sake, tell me what’s happening here.”
Jenny pauses, takes a breath, and outlines her vision for Crane, describing the scene in the woods, the woman Jenny had met. “It wasn’t until I saw the clothes in her hand that I realized who the woman was--Crane, they were Abbie’s clothes, it was her uniform the woman was holding. When I saw that, and I remembered the crows--she’s the Morrigan, the Irish goddess of war and death.”
Crane says, his face pale, “Good Lord, Jenny, are you certain?”
“It’s the only thing that makes any sense,” Jenny insists. “I’ve read about her--she’s symbolized by a crow, the same crows I’ve been seeing nonstop, it’s told that she washes the armor of soldiers before they go off to war, and the woman in the woods was holding Abbie’s uniform. Jesus Christ, McGrew was in the Marines before he came back to town. As for Abbie, she’s a cop, which must be the modern-day equivalent of a knight. Not to mention--”
“--her role as a Witness in the battle against the forces of evil,” Crane finishes, grimly.
“Exactly,” Jenny says. “If you’re looking for another warrior to pit against McGrew, Abbie fits the bill.”
“But why look for her in the first place? Why do any of this?”
“Maybe she doesn’t need a reason,” Jenny says slowly, remembering the woman’s harsh voice and faint smile, the unnatural stillness of her body. “She’s a goddess--war and death are what she’s for.”
“If that is the kind of being that has your sister in its clutches,” Crane says heavily, “--then we must come to her aid as soon as possible.”
They figure out a few things fairly quickly. One, Abbie wasn’t physically snatched up--wherever she is, she’s got her phone, keys and sidearm, and when Jenny runs out to the parking lot, her car’s gone too.
If it hadn’t been for the dream, Jenny might’ve thought Abbie had just gone in to work. Except that Abbie always leaves a note when she goes, and she would be picking up her phone right now when Jenny called her.
“Car’s gone,” Jenny says as she comes back into the apartment. “Wherever she went, she took her car to get there.”
“How are we to locate her?” Crane asks as he puts down his own phone from another fruitless call to Abbie’s cell, the strain clear in his face.
Jenny pulls out her phone. “Don’t worry, I can track her.” At Crane’s confusion, Jenny explains, “I set up an app on Abbie’s phone that lets me track it by GPS if it’s on.” She’d lifted Abbie’s phone within a week of moving in and set up the app without Abbie’s knowledge, figuring it would probably come in handy the next time Abbie and Crane disappeared into a haunted house or got kidnapped by goblins or whatever ridiculous thing happened to them next.
She’s been proven right, but it’s cold comfort, especially when the app shows Abbie’s phone is out on the highway, by the woods. The tiny dot’s not moving, and Jenny’s hand tightens around her phone for a moment before she forcibly relaxes it.
Jenny looks at Crane. “You have a gun?”
“We can fix that,” Jenny says, going for the tiny arsenal of weapons she’s carefully amassed these past few months, which Abbie has pointedly ignored.
When they get Abbie out of whatever trouble she’s in, Jenny’ll be sure to thank her for that.
Jenny blows through every red light on the way to Abbie’s car, and it’s a sign of how dire things are that Crane doesn’t make a word of complaint, just sits there next to her and mutters to himself, reciting every fact he knows about the Morrigan or Irish mythology. It’s surprisingly not much, given that Crane’s a walking encyclopedia, at least until Jenny remembers her history, and the state of affairs between Ireland and England back when Crane was alive and kicking.
Crane recognizes it too, as he says, jaw ticking with frustration, “We don’t know enough about what we’re up against. I don’t know enough.”
“We’re going to get her back,” Jenny says, taking a sharp turn, hard enough that the tires squeal. Crane braces himself but doesn’t complain, and Jenny presses down on the gas pedal a little bit harder. “We’ll get her, don’t worry.” Jenny says this because she knows it to be true, knows there’s no other option for them.
Once they get out onto the highway, the fog starts to appear, creeping around the edges of the road, thick and heavy. Jenny turns on her high-beams and keeps going, slowing down enough so that they can pay closer attention to the map on her phone, the tiny red dot that shows them where Abbie is.
They come to it soon enough, Abbie’s car appearing out of the mist, parked on the side of the road. The hazard lights aren’t on, and there’s a big, flashy truck right in front of it. Both the cars are seemingly abandoned. Jenny throws her truck into park, grabbing her gun as she gets out, Crane right behind her.
She checks the truck first, and then Abbie’s car: nothing. No one inside, although when she peers inside of Abbie’s car, she sees her phone sitting on the passenger seat. “Damn it,” Jenny says, frustrated. “She left her phone in the car.”
“Or was forced to leave it here,” Crane says, nodding at the truck. “Under the circumstances, it’s a possibility we cannot rule out.”
Jenny goes over and checks the hood of the truck; it’s cool to the touch. She circles around it and sighs, because there’s a Semper Fi bumper sticker on the back. If there was any doubt before, there isn’t now. “This is McGrew’s truck,” she tells Crane as he comes over to her. “That sticker’s the motto of the Marines.”
“Should we not call for help?” Crane asks softly. “The captain would be eager to know about this turn of events.”
Jenny pulls out her phone, looks at it, and grimaces. “That’d be a great idea, if I could get a signal. Check your phone.”
Crane checks his. “And now our devices no longer work,” he says grimly. “What an interesting coincidence.”
“Something’s drawn us here. It brought McGrew, it brought Abbie, then it made sure we could track Abbie’s phone and follow her here, but now that we are--it won’t let us call for help.” Jenny stares up at the sky. “Think I have an idea who it is, too.”
“What--” Crane starts, and then he follows her gaze up, and goes silent.
Three black crows are circling in the sky, right above their heads.
Jenny stares up at them a moment, then sets her jaw. She hates the idea of walking into what clearly is a trap, but it’s Abbie, alone in the woods against some malevolent supernatural force and a man who has already killed one woman, and who probably won’t hesitate to kill another.
“You can track them, right?” she asks Crane.
“Yes,” he says steadily, still staring up at the crows. “I can.”
“Then let’s go.”
Jenny hates the woods. It’s not a secret, and it’s not something she’s shaken off in her travels; she’s learned to make do wherever she is, but given a choice, the woods are the last place she would willingly go.
Abbie and McGrew’s trail is obvious, even to her own eyes, and Crane keeps up a running commentary, explaining what he’s seeing--McGrew making his way through the woods first, Abbie following him. There are no signs of a struggle, no signs of either of them running after the other, and Jenny tries to hang onto that.
Jenny thinks more than once about just calling out Abbie’s name--but she can’t shake the suspicion that whatever force has led them here, be it the Morrigan or something else, is going to let Jenny and Crane find Abbie when they’re good and ready, and not a moment sooner.
So they keep going, careful and slow, weapons drawn, the stillness of the woods pressing down on them like an invisible weight, until a loud caw shatters the silence.
“Just a bird,” Jenny says quickly, trying to ignore the hammering of her heart.
Crane shoots a look at her over his shoulder. “Under the circumstances, I sincerely doubt it is just anything.”
Jenny opens her mouth to respond, and then there’s another caw, louder, closer than the first. And then another, and another still, until the air is full of crows loudly calling out to each other, the noise piling on top of each other until it seems to be almost a wall of sound, overpowering everything else.
Then the first crow swoops low over their heads, forcing them to duck, and then the entire small clearing is filled with angry black birds, swooping and twisting and circling all around them, until they’re in a storm of birds, being buffeted from all ends, and Jenny yells and closes her eyes for a moment--
--only for everything to go still and silent, the only sound in her ears that of gently rushing water.
Jenny opens her eyes. Crane is still right next to her, gun drawn, ready to shoot, as he aims at the woman in front of them, standing by the stream that wasn’t there a moment before. It’s her, black hair spread out around her shoulders and over her dark cloak, damp clothing at her feet.
Jenny recognizes both the Marine uniform and the lieutenant's uniform, and in one smooth movement aims her gun at the woman’s heart. Or where her heart could be, if she has one.
“The Morrigan, I take it?” Crane says sharply.
She inclines her head. “That is one name I am called by. I see you accepted my invitation, Captain, Miss Mills.”
“We didn’t exactly have much of a choice,” Jenny says. “What with you kidnapping my sister and all.”
“Kidnapping?” the Morrigan repeats, her voice smooth, smoother than Jenny remembers. Her accent’s changing as well, becoming more lilting, more familiar to Jenny’s ears, closer to what Jenny knows as an Irish accent. She sounds amused, which spikes Jenny’s anger, an emotion she clings to. “On the contrary, Lieutenant Mills is exactly where she should be.”
“And where is that?” Crane asks.
“In battle, of course,” the Morrigan says. “Where else should any good soldier go?”
“In battle against Ryan McGrew?” Crane demands, his voice getting harder. “You compelled her to come here and set her against a murderer?”
“Are you so shocked?” the Morrigan asks. “Has Miss Mills here not told you of my purpose? What else should I do but lead good soldiers to battle? And Abigail Mills is a soldier, Captain Crane. As are you, and as is Miss Mills. She sought a murderer, and a murderer is what she’s found.” She smiles at Jenny, her teeth pointed and uneven. “Don’t fret, child. I’ll wash your armor too, when the time comes.”
The veiled threat sets Jenny on edge. Enough of this, she thinks, cocking her gun. “Tell me where my sister is.”
The Morrigan just laughs. “Do you hope to use your weapon against me, child? Have you no idea who I am?”
“I don’t know and I don’t care,” Jenny says. “Tell me where my sister is.”
The Morrigan tilts her head. “And if I don’t? What do you plan to do then? Fire? I welcome it,” she hisses. “The walls are thin in this place; it’s become so easy to slip between worlds. Something for which I have you to thank, apparently,” she says with a nod at Crane, who bristles. “And now that I am here in the New World, I don’t plan to be sent off so easily.” She smiles broadly as she looks at Jenny. “So fire your weapon. See what good that does you.”
Her pulse is hammering so loudly in her ears that Jenny is sure both the Morrigan and Crane can hear it, but she says, yet again, “I want my sister. Tell me where she is.”
The Morrigan stares at her and smiles again, but it’s a different smile this time, even crueler. “Do you truly want to find her?”
Jenny’s hand tightens around her gun. “What the hell kind of question is that?”
“Jenny,” Crane mutters softly, a warning. “Jenny, don’t.”
“Do you think your names are unknown to me?” the Morrigan asks, eyes going wide in false surprise as she turns to Crane. “Do you think you escaped notice, the two Witnesses who are destined to fight against the End of Days? And then there is you,” she continues, turning back to Jenny. “Jennifer Mills, the forgotten sister. The outcast.”
Jenny hears the words, as if from a distance, the Morrigan’s voice ringing in her ears.
“Do you still hope to play the hero? You stink of envy and long-held resentment, and yet you hope to fight the demons and the underworld with a pure heart. You foolish, jealous chit of a girl, did you really think to stand against me?”
Jenny’s throat is tight, but she forces herself to take a tiny breath. And then another, and another still, until her lungs are full of air and she has enough breath to say, “Yes,” and then she deliberately fires her gun at the Morrigan’s feet.
The Morrigan doesn’t jump or start, but somehow Jenny knows it was a near thing. Jenny’s surprised her, and that knowledge, along with Crane’s eyes on her, gives Jenny the courage to say, “You took my sister, and I want her back. Now tell me where she is.”
The Morrigan just watches her, body still, eyes dark in that pale, hollowed-out face, “Go on. Find her if you can.”
And that’s when the shots ring out, two of them, one right after the other. As the air leaves Jenny’s body in one horrified rush, the Morrigan disappears, the landscape blurring until they’re back where they started, no stream, no goddess, just a cold trail and the sound of gunshots still sounding in Jenny’s ears.
“Abbie?” Jenny tries out loud, and hears Crane calling out her name, but Jenny doesn’t listen, just keeps saying, louder and louder until it’s a scream, until it’s torn from her throat and carried along on the wind, “Abbie! Abbie!”
She waits, for one agonizing second, and then another, and then faintly, so faint she could almost swear she hadn’t heard it at all, “Here, Jenny, I’m here, I’m--”
Jenny starts to run, Crane hot on her heels, tearing through the woods, pushing past branches and brush, the gun a heavy weight in her hands, lungs heaving, somehow knowing exactly where to put her feet, exactly where to turn, that faint voice calling out in her mind.
At last, Jenny bursts into a clearing, gun drawn and chest heaving, to find McGrew’s body sprawled out on the ground, eyes staring blankly up into the sky, a gaping bullethole in his throat and blood pooling around his head.
And Abbie, sitting against the trunk of a tree, her sidearm by the ground as she clutches at a wound in her side.
“Oh, thank God,” Abbie murmurs as Jenny rushes over to her, putting pressure on the wound, blood seeping through her fingers. “McGrew had a gun, he drew first, I told him to lower his weapon but he wouldn’t, he just kept talking about Sarah, he wouldn’t stop, he was out of his mind, he--”
“Shh,” Jenny says, focused on the gunshot wound in Abbie’s side. Crane’s there too, gently pushing Jenny’s hands away, peeling back Abbie’s sodden shirt to examine the injury. He looks up and says, voice trembling with relief, “It’s a flesh wound. She should recover.”
“I don’t know how I even got here...how did you find me?” Abbie asks in astonishment, staring at them both.
“Don’t worry about it,” Jenny says, knees so weak with relief she doesn’t think she could stand. “We’ve got you, don’t worry.”
Abbie looks up at her, and even through her evident pain, she manages to give Jenny a smile. “Who’s worried?”
Jenny laughs, and if her own laugh is still unsteady from relief and strain, nobody says anything.
Their phones still aren’t getting a signal, so they get Abbie out of there, Crane hefting her up in his arms as if she weighed only a feather, Jenny going out in front with her gun drawn as lookout.
Somehow Jenny knows it’s not needed, that there’s nothing left to face in these woods, and she’s right. The walk is silent and uneventful, the air still and quiet around them as Crane gently tells Abbie what they saw, who they met, what really happened today.
“Now we’ve got Irish war goddesses to deal with?” Abbie asks, voice weak but sarcastic. “That’s great. That’s just wonderful right there.”
“Don’t worry,” Jenny says over her shoulder. “I scared her off.”
Abbie grins at her from Crane’s arms. “Like I would expect anything else.”
Much later, Jenny sits in a hospital chair by her sister’s bedside and lets herself think for the first time that day.
Abbie’s out cold on painkillers at the moment. The doctors say she’ll make a full recovery, that it was as Crane said, just a flesh wound. Captain Irving’s already come by and taken their statements, which means he listened impassively to their accounts of what really happened and then concocted a cover story that would hold up to scrutiny better than the actual truth.
People won’t ask too many questions, Jenny knows. McGrew won’t be missed, and there’s enough plausible deniability to leave everyone satisfied.
Jenny thinks of Mr. Woddell, of Beth from the diner, of Sarah herself, and winces. Not satisfied, no--but McGrew’s gone, Abbie’s safe, and they’re all around to face another day.
Jenny looks at her sleeping sister, and at Crane, dozing off in the chair opposite Jenny, his chair carefully positioned between Abbie’s bed and the door, attempting to guard her, even in his sleep.
Slowly, Jenny settles herself more fully into her own chair, lets out a sigh, and sets herself to keeping vigil over them both.