It was an out of the way place just off the interstate outside Phoenix on a seldom used highway. Looking through the diner window, Lee could see the heat rising from the road surface, shimmering in the desert air to give a mirage effect. A man was wiping beads of sweat from his forehead as he crossed the dusty, almost empty parking lot, his 18 wheeler truck dwarfing the few cars.
Lee watched the truck driver as he entered the diner, a call of recognition greeting the man from behind the counter. Obviously a frequent patron but he was not the person he wanted to see. He turned his head aside before the man noticed the scrutiny and took it as either threatening or as a cue to start up a conversation. Lee was already expecting company after all, although that company wasn't exactly expecting him.
As he looked through the window, a battered pick-up pulled in, and his eyes narrowed as he tried to make out the person behind the wheel but, once again, the description was all wrong. The hair color was too dark, the eyes brown instead of blue, and the man looked like he had stared into a few too many sunsets and sunrises compared to Allison's description. Lee sighed in exasperation, wondering if Allison had misinterpreted her dream, and glanced back down at his wristwatch. His quarry should have been here an hour ago according to Allison's dream, but there was still no sign of any man matching the description. At least Allison had dreamed up a venue that had decent air conditioning even if it was based on a Fifties diner with red faux-leather booths and fixed tables. The food had that same Fifties appeal too, all greasy burgers and fries, and Mom's Apple pie.
When another car pulled in moments later, Lee sat up and took notice, relieved when he recognized the man in the driver's seat from the description Allison had given of short brown hair and pale skin. It made his job a whole lot easier when he had someone to point him in the right direction though he could never take everything Allison saw for granted. Sometimes her dreams led her astray, colored by her experiences within the vision rather than the facts, which is why they'd spent days searching for a woman killer during one memorable case when everything else had pointed towards a man, despite all the victims being male and recently well fucked. Lee was good at sorting through facts though, and he was a good judge of people too, having a sixth sense for when someone was lying to him. After all, he'd been in the department a long time before Allison brought her unique skills to his desk and had solved plenty of crimes both before and since her arrival using good old honest Police detective skills.
Still, Allison had been most insistent about this particular future dream and in having him involved in stopping it from coming true.
The man stepped out of his car and visibly flinched from the heat, hurrying towards the diner to limit his exposure to the already hot mid-morning sun. He slowed down as soon as he crossed the threshold, sighing in relief and almost staggering to the counter where he slumped into a seat close to Lee's booth. According to Allison, a few hours from now the highway patrol would find this man's car just off the side of the road and two weeks later they would discover his naked, bound and tortured body in a pit just beyond an old line shack deep in the Sonoran desert; so deep that they hadn't a hope of finding it before it was stumbled upon by some extreme backpackers. This man would become the sixth known victim of a serial killer. Lee felt a slight bitterness in knowing five men had already died at this killer's hand, and he wondered why their cries for justice had only just started to invade Allison's dreams.
Lee took a good look at the man from behind, seeing the broad shoulders and the slight thickness around the middle. He wasn't fat by any means, but he was obviously a desk jockey, with his pale skin testament to a man who didn't go outside too often. If Lee had to pick an occupation then he'd choose someone who sat in an office all day, probably in front of a computer judging by the agility of his drumming fingers as he waited to be served. Eventually, the man was poured a coffee and, holding the cup between both hands, he turned to gaze out of the window, too preoccupied to notice Lee watching him. Lee took advantage of the man's preoccupation to study him, seeing the quirky handsome face and the soft brown hair feathered over a slightly receding hairline. Prescription glasses magnified the electric blue eyes, making them seem wide and innocent, like a child's. It was a vulnerable face with a mouth that turned down slightly in one corner; the sort of man who attracted Lee's attention on the few times he allowed himself to indulge in his bisexual nature, and now Lee was no longer involved with Lynn, he realized he could indulge as much as he wanted.
The hard part of this assignment would be allowing the man to live out the next few hours of his life knowing that any mistake on Lee's part could condemn him to that terrible future. However, if Allison's dream was correct then he had a killer to catch and bodies to find so those souls and their families could find some peace and closure.
Lee pulled out his cellphone, sending a text to dispatch to check out the registration number of the man's car. When the phone beeped, he checked the messages and smiled. Now he had a name for the potential victim - Lawrence Yeager, a recently dismissed employee of a Canadian financial institution. Yeager's current address was in a cheap, flea-ridden motel in one of the worst areas of Phoenix, and Lee wondered what Yeager was doing just off the I-17, deciding from the way Yeager was dressed that it had to be a business trip rather than pleasure.
Twenty minutes later, the trucker moved on, the heavy sound of the engine drawing Lee's attention so he missed whatever initial contact passed between Lee's possible victim and the other, dark-haired man. At first, Yeager looked a little nervous at having a stranger talking to him while he was digging into the breakfast plate the short-order cook had placed before him. Despite the close proximity, Lee couldn't hear the low-spoken words that had dipped-down corner of Yeager's mouth rising in a hesitant smile, but it was enough to ping Lee's sixth sense. He pulled out his cellphone, sending a text to dispatch to check out the registration details of the pick-up. The response came back quickly giving him the name Joseph Minter, a local ranch hand.
Lee kept his head down but his ears pricked up as the two continued to talk quietly for another half an hour but then they parted, with Minter leaving a few minutes before Yeager. As Yeager drained the last mouthful of coffee from his mug, obviously preparing to leave, Lee folded up his newspaper and dropped enough dollars on his table to cover the cost of food and a tip. He left the diner ahead of Yeager, feeling the heat slam into him as he stepped outside and quickly starting his car engine to get the air con running. Yeager followed moments later but what caught Lee's attention was the sound of the pick-up truck's engine turning over and over uselessly.
As Yeager reached his car, Minter called out to him. Lee could see Yeager was suffering from standing under the hot sun, saw him glance towards the pick-up as Minter pointed to his watch plaintively, obviously spinning some tale of being late to work. In hindsight, it seemed such an obvious way to get Yeager alone on an empty highway; make his acquaintance in the diner to gain a little trust, and then play on that to get a lift in whatever direction the victim had been traveling.
Making a swift decision that he hoped he wouldn't regret later should this just be a friendly request for a ride, Lee called for back-up, requesting a Police helicopter and a land cruiser. Moments later, Minter climbed into the passenger seat of Yeager's car and they set off. Lee pulled out far enough behind them not to arouse too much suspicion but his sixth sense was screaming as he drove along behind them, especially when Yeager's car seemed to veer a little before Yeager got it back under control. Suddenly, he was glad he had called in the helicopter to keep the car in sight for after fifteen minutes, it turned off down a dirt track and then pulled over.
"Detective Scanlon, this is Air Support 3. Both driver and passenger have left the vehicle and are climbing into a second pick-up parked several hundred feet away."
"Keep them in sight."
Lawrence could feel his hands trembling as he drove the strange car over the bumpy, dirt track, casting frightened glances across to the man seated in the passenger seat. Joe Minter had seemed so genuine in the diner, telling him about some of the great places he'd seen out in the desert, and though it all sounded pretty good, Lawrence had no intention of checking those places out. His fair skin had barely coped with the exposure as he walked from his air conditioned car to the air conditioned diner and back, but a sharp knife pressed against his rib cage was pretty persuasive.
"Look, if it's money you want then I could get a bank loan...or sell my car.... but I really don't have a lot to spare."
That was an understatement because he was flat broke, finding it hard to gain employment after being fired from his last company after his security card was stolen and used to break into the company's main vault. It could have happened to any one of them but he'd stupidly put himself in a vulnerable position by letting his libido dictate his common sense. He should have known a beautiful woman was never going to look at him twice unless she had an ulterior motive, and that was stealing his security pass. It was why he'd resorted to phone sex, indulging both sides of his sexuality depending on his preference for a man or woman on any particular evening. The loss of the security card was damaging, but the investigation had revealed the true reason why he worked late so often, using the company's phone bill to pay for those sex calls.
Without a decent reference, none of the larger financial companies would take him on, and he was left driving further and further afield from his new base in Phoenix, looking for someone who would give him another chance. Today he thought he had that chance with a small company north-west of Phoenix that was only interested in his skills. He had a feeling he was never going to make that interview.
"Don't need money. Already got what I want." Minter grinned, pressing the knife a little harder into his side.
Lawrence felt a sharp pain followed by a trickle against his side, uncertain if it was sweat or blood and too scared to look. He didn't need to though as Minter poked him in the same spot with a finger and then smeared something warm and metallic tasting against his lips.
Blood. It was blood.
"Hey," Minter crooned as Lawrence began to sob softly. "If you do exactly as I say, then I'm not going kill you. Just want to play for a piece and then I'll drop you back at the highway by your car."
Lawrence knew the man was lying but he was too scared to call him on it, silently praying that someone--anyone--would stop this, would come along and save him.
"Not far now. See up ahead? It's just as beautiful as I told you, and you're gonna look so pretty there."
Lawrence squeezed his eyes tight but opened them quickly as the knife pressed in again. "Eyes on the road, Lawrence. Or can I call you Lawrie? Yeah, Lawrie. Sounds like a girl's name. A pretty girl's name."
Minter was practically vibrating with insane eagerness. "Turn here! Yes... another hundred yards." The knife dug in again. "Here. Pull over here."
Lawrence stopped the pick-up, knuckles white around the steering wheel as Minter snatched the keys out of the ignition and climbed out, walking slowly round the front to the driver's door, leering at Lawrence all the way around. He pulled open the door and scraped the flat part of the knife gently down the side of Lawrence's face before his other hand reached over and pulled one of Lawrence's hands from the steering wheel, all the while shushing him as if trying to reassure a frightened child. Minter drew him from the pick-up towards a shack that had seen better days.
"POLICE! Drop the knife, get down on your knees, and put your hands behind your head!"
From his vantage point inside the helicopter, Lee saw both men's heads snap up sharply as the pilot issued his order through the megaphone.
Once they had figured out where Minter was going, Lee had left his car on the highway and transferred to the helicopter, mainly because his car wasn't built for negotiating pot holes on what couldn't even be described as a dirt track. Other officers would be converging from another direction in vehicles better suited for the environment, and from this height, Lee could already see the flash of blue and red closing in on the shack.
His own gun was trained on Minter and on the flash of light reflecting off of a knife held in Minter's hand. For a moment, Minter looked as if he was going to grab for Yeager to use him as a hostage but the pilot realized what Minter was planning, swooping in lower and forcing both men in different directions.
"Put her down," Lee asked, and he waited until the helicopter was almost on the ground before jumping out, gun trained on Minter. He spared a glance towards Yeager, feeling concerned when Yeager dropped to the ground as if his knees had given out on him.
The police vehicle pulled up abruptly and two officers jumped out, guns already drawn, and once Lee was certain they had Minter under control, he holstered his gun and crouched down beside Yeager.
Yeager was holding his side, and he pulled away a bloodied hand. "He stabbed me!"
Lee pushed aside the suit jacket and tore open Yeager's shirt to reveal a shallow wound. He looked back up, straight into shocked, wide blue eyes, and smiled reassuringly.
"It's not too deep, but it'll probably need a few stitches."
One of the officers dropped a medical kit beside Lee and he reached in for a pressure bandage, pushing it against the wound and telling Yeager to hold it in place while he stood up and walked over to the officers just as they were securing Minter into the back of the police car. Lee stopped and stared at the shack, indicating to one of the officers to follow. Allison had mentioned a well worn path leading away from the back, and Lee followed it, eventually coming to the pit she had described from her dream; the pit where they would have found Yeager's naked, decomposing body on top of a pile of older victims. He took off his shades and glanced over the edge, seeing exactly what Allison had described in her dream.
The officer let out a shocked gasp. "Damn! There's gotta be at least four bodies in there." He looked to Lee. "How did you know?"
"Allison DuBois," Lee stated softly, and the officer nodded because Allison was no longer a secret, and hadn't been for years. "Get Forensics out here. See if we can identify the bodies and get proof of Minter's presence in the shack."
He moved to the shack next and opened the door, taking in the dried blood crusted on the floor and on the table, noting the rusted shackles that would have been used to hold down Minter's victims while he tortured them in a place where no one but Minter would hear their screams. He thought he'd become used to horrific sights like this over the years but a glance in Yeager's direction had his stomach roiling because, if not for Allison, Yeager would have met his end on that table after enduring days of torture at Minter's hand.
Lee returned to where Yeager was still sitting on the ground, holding the bandage against his side; he crouched down again to get to eye level with Yeager. "Let's get you to Phoenix Memorial."
He helped Yeager towards the helicopter but Yeager stopped just short. "Wait! My car!"
"An officer will arrange for it to be towed back to Phoenix."
Lee didn't mention that as it had been used in an abduction, Forensics would want to collect evidence from it before they released it back to Yeager but he figured Yeager had suffered enough loss and fear for one day already. Still, Yeager's condition convinced Lee to accompany him all the way to Phoenix Memorial rather than pick up his own car from the highway. Instead, he radioed in for someone to drive it back to Phoenix Police headquarters where he'd pick it up later.
Through the short flight, Lee kept a close watch on Yeager, seeing the exhaustion hit once the adrenaline stopped flowing. Yeager leaned his head back and closed his eyes, looking incredibly young and vulnerable at that moment, and drawing out a protective streak within Lee that he hadn't felt in years. When the helicopter landed, he helped Yeager down and then into the hands of the emergency medical staff, following on behind as they put Yeager into a wheelchair and set off. Lee's detective shield and a smile got him most of the way but the nurse forced him to wait outside the examination cubicle.
Allison found him there some time later.
"Did you find him?"
Lee grinned and shook his head, amused by her excitement until he recalled the horrific dream she had experienced with the open pit containing the bodies of Minter's victims, including Lawrence Yeager.
"He's still in there being taken of." Her eyes widened and Lee jumped in quickly to reassure her. "Just a few stitches."
As if summoned by her presence, the curtain pulled back and Yeager walked out looking pale and drawn. He looked confused for a moment when Allison started mothering him but no more so than Lee, who wondered exactly what was going through her head. Certainly, she seemed determined to ensure Yeager was well and relatively unharmed, treating him more like a friend than a total stranger.
"You should take him home and stay with him tonight," Allison stated and Lee blinked at her words, definitely confused now. Yeager stared straight at him, cheeks flushing unhealthily against his pale skin, clearly embarrassed by Allison's forwardness.
"I'm sure detective... erhm!" He looked momentarily stricken to realize he didn't even know Lee's name but Lee doubted if Yeager would have remembered even if he had told him. The man was almost out on his feet, the toll of the day and the small blood loss draining him to exhaustion.
"Scanlon. Detective Lee Scanlon."
A doctor had followed Yeager out of the emergency cubicle. "I would recommend staying with someone for a day or two, let them do any heavy lifting so you don't tear those stitches."
Yeager's face reddened a fraction more, his eyes sliding away almost bashfully. "I'm sure Detective Scanlon has work--"
"No." Lee surprised himself by his outburst. He cleared his throat. "No. I'm off shift now so I can..." Lee looked to Allison, sensing the smug grin she was trying to hide. "I can stay with you tonight."
"I'll give you a lift back to Police headquarters...for your car."
Lee grinned though he should have gotten over being amazed by the things she knew. She smacked his arm lightly in admonition.
"I saw them bring your car in, and when I asked they said you were here."
Lawrence felt a little embarrassed inviting Scanlon into the small motel room that he was calling home these days, especially as the toilet kept backing up and it was always a guess as to whether he'd have hot running water for a shower at either end of the day. He felt even more embarrassed when Scanlon glanced at the unmade bed with its sheets gray and worn from having been used and washed too many times in the past. Beyond the bed, most of his worldly possessions remained in the two suitcases as Lawrence had not seen the point of unpacking when he had no plans to stay in this dump for long. Instead, he'd been fairly optimistic concerning a job interview that he was supposed to have attended a few hours earlier and had originally debated over whether he should check out of the motel and take his suitcases with him, except he'd paid a week up front for the room and the owner refused to give him his money back for the two days left.
"I know it's not much but..." Lawrence trailed off when Scanlon went into the bathroom and returned a minute later with Lawrence's belongings, dropping them into his suitcase. "What are you doing?" Lawrence asked but it was pretty obvious by the way Scanlon checked every drawer and cupboard.
"You're not staying here." He snapped the lid shut on the suitcase and picked both of them up, carrying them to the door. "I've got an extra room at my place."
More than slightly bewildered, Lawrence straightened his glasses and then followed, hugging himself as Scanlon put his suitcases into the trunk of his car and opened the passenger side door for him. He climbed in carefully, hissing as the movement pulled on his stitches. Scanlon drove in silence, moving away from the less savory area where the motel was situated and towards a quieter residential area. Once they arrived outside a neat apartment block, Scanlon jumped out and grabbed the suitcases, warning Lawrence off when he made an attempt to take one.
Scanlon led him up to a large apartment and placed the suitcases on the floor of the guest room.
"I'll leave you to get settled in."
Lawrence ventured out a few minutes later and found Scanlon in the kitchen. He accepted a mug of coffee with gratitude, breathing in the aroma before taking a sip and looking up in surprise when it was exactly as he liked it.
"How did you know how I liked my coffee?"
Scanlon grimaced. "I was at the diner, seated behind you."
"At the diner?" Lawrence dropped into a seat in shock. "You knew about that man?"
"Yes...and no. It's complicated."
"No. No, it isn't. You knew about him and you let him drive off with me."
Scanlon closed his eyes and pinched the bridge of his nose. When he opened them, he seemed to have come to some internal agreement. "The lady you met at the hospital is Allison DuBois. She's a...psychic. She has dreams, and in those dreams she sees things." He looked uncomfortable giving this explanation and yet it was so ridiculous, Lawrence had to believe it was true. "She saw someone matching your description at that diner on that day. Someone who ended up dead at that line shack."
Although he'd been in shock at the time, Lawrence recalled being left alone for several long minutes.
"You found something there."
Scanlon nodded. "Five previous victims. None of them identified as yet."
Lawrence felt horrified, recalling how naive he had been, telling Minter that he was alone in Phoenix, without family and friends. If Scanlon hadn't been there then no one would have known he'd gone missing, not until it was far too late to save him.
With the pain medication wearing off, Lawrence felt a little nauseous so he turned down an offer of food, hoping Scanlon wouldn't mind if he retired to the guest room instead. He went to clean up a little first, gazing longingly at the shower just from knowing it would have hot water, but he'd been warned not to get his stitches wet so he knew he'd have to make do with the equivalent of a sponge bath. Still, it felt good to wipe away the sweat and grime of a day that really put his life into perspective.
Before today, he'd truly thought no day in his life could get any worse than the day the Police had banged on his door in Toronto and asked him about his security card, followed hours later by his employer discovering his phone habit. He'd spent hours in a Police station followed by the most embarrassing half hour of his life in his former employer's office. Then had come the walk of shame, packing his few possessions into a box while a security guard hovered over him, looking down on him in contempt, and finally the walk through the office with the stares of former colleagues following him all the way to the elevator.
Although no charges were brought against him, without a reference his prospects of finding another job in the finance industry plummeted. In fact, no one in Canada would touch him after the incident made it to the press, and without his high end wage, he couldn't afford to pay his bills or the upkeep on his apartment.
He still hadn't figured out why he'd chosen Phoenix for his fresh start. Perhaps it was the cowboy stories from his youth and those long forgotten boyhood dreams of the Old West, fueled by John Wayne movies. All he had learned though was that his dreams had borne no resemblance to the reality, and this day had been the worst by far though he had to admit that, from Scanlon's description of Allison DuBois' dream, worse days would have followed before Minter finally killed him and dumped his body in an open grave with all his other victims.
The sheets in the double-sized bed were cool against his flushed skin and they smelled fresh, but it took a long while before he could find a comfortable sleeping position despite the exhaustion that dragged at his eyes. Eventually he must have slept but his dreams were nightmares, filled with Minter's leering, sadistic face and the flash of the knife as it cut into his flesh.
He awoke with a yell, sweat pouring off him, panicking when the door opened and he saw a blurred, male shape silhouetted by the light bleeding into the room from the corridor beyond. The silhouette spoke.
"Hey? You okay there?"
The voice flowed over him, bringing back memories of being safe, and a name followed: Detective Lee Scanlon. Scanlon came into the room and sank down onto the side of the bed beside him. He reached over and flicked on the bedside lamp, casting a dim light over them both. Scanlon's handsome face was filled with compassion, and with something more that Lawrence was too afraid to name because he wanted it to be true. He wanted Scanlon to feel more than pity or compassion for him.
God help him but he wanted Scanlon to feel desire too, wanted to feel those strong arms holding him and telling him everything was going to be okay. He wanted to lose himself in the touch and taste of another person so he could wipe away the stench of his own fear and blood. It occurred to him then that this day couldn't get any worse for a rejection so he reached out and dragged Scanlon towards him, almost sobbing into the press of lips as a moment of hesitation past and hands cradled his face to deepen the kiss.
The usual awkward dance followed as they stripped, edged with licks of pain that Lawrence ignored out of sheer desperation, holding on tight as Scanlon--as Lee--brought them to a slow and needed climax.
Afterwards they lay together in the bed with Lawrence half draped over Lee's hot body and his hand splayed out over Lee's chest and Lee's hand placed over the top of it, linking their fingers, finally comfortable. He fell asleep within minutes with Lee's presence keeping the bad dreams away.
There should have been awkwardness in the morning but, instead, all Lawrence felt was contentment. As days turned to weeks and then years, he realized he had come to Phoenix uncertain of his future following the events in Toronto, but as long as he had Lee he knew that, somehow, the future would now take care of itself.