Actions

Work Header

Twenty Four Hours

Work Text:

Cascade, 22nd December 1996

10.15am

Detective Jim Ellison parked his truck several houses away from the address despatch had given him. He and Sandburg seemed to be last to arrive on the scene: three patrol cars were parked haphazardly around the driveway, and the meat wagon stood open on the other side. Several uniformed cops stood around in the snow outside the house. The forensics van was there, too. Yellow tape blocked off the driveway and the front door of the house. On the other side of the road, a few curious neighbours huddled together, watching the show.

With one hand on the truck's door, Jim glanced at his "partner" with concern. "Chief, I think you should wait this one out," he suggested. Even from outside, Jim could tell this scene was a bad one. Sandburg was a lot better around crime scenes than he used to be and he would never again make the mistakes he had on the Lash case, but he didn't have the hardened temperament of a seasoned cop.

Blair looked at him curiously. "Why? Do you sense something already?"

"I don't need heightened senses, Chief. Look at them." Jim nodded toward the cops crowding around the doorway. Two of them held lit cigarettes. "They don't want to be inside the house. Whatever's on the other side of that door is bad enough that a bunch of cops would rather stand outside in twelve inches of snow than go in." As Jim watched, the cops shuffled away from the door and two people came out carrying a black-wrapped body on a stretcher.

Blair swallowed. "I can do it."

"Alright." Jim wouldn't humiliate Sandburg by insisting he stay out of it, though he wished he would. "But leave if you have to," he added.

"What if you need my help? If the scene is that bad, then your senses..."

"I can handle it," Jim insisted. He had been to horrible crime scenes before, but Sandburg was right. His newly-heightened senses could be a problem. They could also be a huge advantage; wasn't that why he had Sandburg as his backup?

Blair, of course, somehow knew exactly what Jim was thinking. "You can do this, man. It's just like we practiced. Concentrate on one of your senses at a time, sort through the different elements. Like shuffling a pack of cards."

"Sure thing, Chief. Are you ready?"

For an answer, Sandburg opened the truck door and climbed out into the snow.

***

10.27am

There was blood everywhere.

Jim snapped on a pair of latex gloves and pocketed a couple of spares. He slipped plastic covers over his shoes and nodded to Sandburg, silently telling him to stay outside the room. Sandburg was pale, and looked like he wanted to be sick. Jim didn't miss the gratitude in his eyes. Jim tried to breathe as shallowly as possible and walked into the room.

Mindful of Sandburg's advice, Jim kept a tight rein on his senses. Even so, the sweet, coppery scent of blood was too thick on the air for him to block it out. Jim could taste the blood with every breath he took. There were others in the room: the forensic photographer and a couple of other techs. The bodies had been photographed and removed before Jim arrived; now the positions of the bodies were outlined in tape on the bloody carpet.

Jim concentrated on his sense of sight as he moved around the room, stepping carefully to avoid disturbing the blood spatter. Details leapt out at him: some odd marks beneath the window, scuff-marks on the carpet beneath the blood, some kind of dust on the table. The smell and taste of the blood was making him nauseous. Jim closed his eyes briefly, fighting for control. He had seen things as bad as this before. He had seen worse, in Peru. He could do this.

"Jim," Sandburg's voice came from the doorway, "like shuffling through a deck of cards, remember?"

Jim nodded. Sandburg was right. Of the scents in the room, the smell of blood was the strongest, but it wasn't the only thing he could smell. There was the photographer's cologne, for example. Once he began, Jim identified the other scents quickly: a lingering trace of household polish and the musk of some animal, most likely a pet, were the strongest. He smelled nothing out of place except the blood.

"Jim!" Blair called sharply from the doorway.

Jim turned and saw Sandburg watching him with concern. Had he zoned out? Jim didn't think so: he'd just been working. "It's fine, Chief," he said and went back to looking around the room.

The telephone was smashed and covered with blood. Jim called to the photographer. "Did you get this?"

"Sure did, detective." The photographer was sliding a lens cap onto his camera: he was finished.

Jim leaned over the telephone, at first looking closely without touching. It was a white plastic handset and base, so the blood stood out scarlet against the white. The handset was in two pieces, cut clean through the middle, the wires exposed. Jim picked up one piece and ran his gloved fingers along one edge. His fingers slid in the still-wet blood. It was a clean cut, the edges smooth and warm. Jim frowned. Yes, he could feel the residual heat even through the gloves. Something had melted the edges of the plastic. Whatever weapon did this was very, very hot.

So why didn't Jim smell burning? Heat like this needed a source, fuel to burn. It didn't make sense. Jim replaced the phone carefully and told the techs to be sure to bag it as evidence. He stripped off the bloody gloves and folded them inside-out. There was a bag for used gloves near where Blair was standing. Jim gestured and Blair picked it up and held the trash bag out to him. Jim tossed the gloves in and fished the second pair out of his pocket.

While he pulled the gloves on, Jim spoke to one of the officers lurking near the front door. "Did you find anything in any of the other rooms?"

The officer shook his head: no. "No signs of violence or struggle anywhere but this room."

"Witnesses?"

"A neighbour called 911. She was pretty hysterical. The paramedics gave her a shot of something."

"No others?"

"Not so far."

"Alright." Jim glanced toward the open front door. Someone he didn't recognise was approaching the house. "See if you can get rid of the sightseers out there and arrange a door-to-door. This happened while most people on this street were having breakfast; somebody must have seen or heard something."

"I wouldn't be too sure of that, detective," the newcomer said. He reached into his coat and flashed a badge at the cops outside the door. They drew aside to let him in and he stamped the snow off his boots as he entered the house.

Jim studied the stranger. He was a tall man, dark-haired and bearded. He held the badge up for Jim to see. "Special Agent John Biggs."

Jim had less than a second to examine the Federal ID, but then, Jim was a sentinel. A second was all he needed. He saw the tiny flaws that revealed the badge as a forgery. The colour wasn't quite right - someone with normal eyesight wouldn't have noticed unless the fake was side-by-side with the genuine article. Jim turned his attention to the man. He was wearing a well-worn leather coat over a grey suit with a plain tie. It was a reasonable attempt to look the part, but Jim wasn't taken in. Real Feds worked in pairs and wore better shoes.

It was tempting to arrest "Agent Biggs" right then and there. Jim was confident a quick call to the FBI would prove him right. But Jim had a double murder on his hands and he was curious about why this man was trying to get into the scene. He decided to play along.

"What's the FBI's interest in this case?" Jim asked, feigning annoyance. No one liked the Feds muscling in on a case this early in an investigation.

"You don't need to know that," Biggs answered, moving as if to push past Jim into the room beyond.

Jim stepped into his path. "Until I know the Feds have jurisdiction, Agent Biggs, this is my crime scene. I don't need you contaminating it."

Biggs met Jim's eyes and for a moment Jim thought he was going to throw a punch. He definitely wasn't a Fed. Then Biggs sighed. "I've got six double murders across three states. If this makes seven, I've got jurisdiction. So why not let me in and we'll find out?"

Biggs might not have the clone-like dress sense of an FBI agent, but he had the Quantico-brand arrogance down pat. Jim stood aside, gesturing for the fake agent to enter.

"Why don't you tell me what you've got, detective?" Biggs suggested in a more friendly tone. He barely glanced at the bloody ground, but walked around to the window.

"Two dead, a couple. No sign of the murder weapon but it was some kind of knife."

"You're sure it was a knife?" Biggs crouched near the window, examining the frame closely.

The note of amusement in his voice made Jim glance around again at the pattern of the blood on the floor and walls. It was true he had not yet examined the bodies and didn't know what the wounds looked like, but the blood told its own story. He knew the wounds would be slashes and stab wounds: a frenzied attack with something very sharp.

"As sure as I can be until I see the ME's report," Jim answered cautiously, but he resolved to get a look at the bodies himself as soon as he could.

Jim watched "Agent Biggs" walk around the room. Biggs was careful not to touch anything. He finished his examination of the window and took an equally close look at the fireplace, for no reason Jim could identify. Biggs asked all the right questions, but he didn't respond to the answers like a cop. He asked no follow-up questions and showed no interest in the victims. When he bent over the fireplace Jim saw the tell-tale bulge of a gun in a shoulder-holster and a second gun at the man's back.

When they finished their circuit of the room Biggs was looking very grim. "Thanks for your help, detective. I'll be in touch."

Jim held out his hand. "Always happy to co-operate with the FBI," he answered smoothly.

Biggs' mouth twisted in what might have passed for a smile. "See you soon, Detective Ellison." He shook Jim's hand; he had a firm grip.

Jim watched him leave, his boots leaving bloody footprints in the snow outside. Jim carefully stripped off the clean latex gloves and slipped them into an evidence bag. "Chief, let's go. I've seen all I need to see for today." The relief on Sandburg's face was plain, and Jim hurried them out of there. He wanted to get those gloves checked for prints.

***

12.40pm

"It wasn't a knife." Jim slid the crime scene photographs across the table to Simon.

Captain Simon Banks spread the pictures out in front of him, frowning. "Sure looks like one."

"The ME will probably say the same, but I examined the bodies myself. The wounds are in parallel lines, not single cuts and the cutting edge was thicker than a metal blade. They're slashes, not the stab wounds I'd expect to see if the weapon were a knife."

"So what weapon are you looking for?"

"I'll let you know when I figure it out. As crazy as it sounds, the closest thing I can think of is a bear's claw."

Simon gave him the look that statement deserved and Jim shrugged. He hadn't said the killer was a bear, only that he was looking for a weapon that resembled a claw.

After a moment, Simon moved on. "What about this fake FBI agent?"

Jim looked at Sandburg, who had been doing that part of the research while Jim was in the morgue.

"Lieutenant Plummer got a positive match on the fingerprints from Jim's glove," Blair reported, passing an untidy sheaf of papers to Simon. "His name is John Winchester."

Simon flicked through the sheaf of papers. "Looks like he has a long record. Can you give me the highlights?"

Blair nodded. "John Winchester, originally of Lawrence, Kansas. He's a former marine who fought in Vietnam. Married once: his wife was killed in a house fire in '83, leaving him with two children. The cops concluded the fire was an accident, but a week after the case was closed the couple who had taken them in were murdered in their home. Winchester vanished, along with the kids. Since then he's moved around a lot. There are a number of arrests on record: breaking and entering, firearms violations and a couple of traffic offences. No convictions." Blair grinned suddenly. "I like his car," he added. Distinctive."

Simon snorted. "This is your suspect?" he asked Jim.

"He's got no connection to the victims, so why was he at the scene? There's more to this guy than meets the eye. He's not the only suspect, Simon, but he's the one I'm most interested in."

"Impersonating a Fed is a good place to start. I'll get you a warrant and you can bring him in on that. Tell me about your other suspects."

"The usual. Karen Moore had a brother who stands to inherit, and apparently he needs money badly. Will Moore had some business connections I want to chase down. But this scene..." Jim waved a hand over the photographs, "this isn't business. Whoever did this enjoys it."

"I agree. Give a copy of the file to H. He can do some of the grunt work so you can concentrate on this man Winchester." Simon leafed through the record Blair had put together. He stopped at the last page and turned it around to show Jim. "You're gonna need backup."

Jim read it and nodded. "I might. I need to find him first." Then he smiled. "But I think I know where to start."

***

5.15pm

From behind the one-way glass outside the interrogation room, Jim watched John Winchester run his fingers over the handcuff bracelet around his left wrist. It looked as if he was searching for a way to slip the lock, but that was surely impossible. He had nothing he could use to pick the lock. A length of chain ran from the handcuffs to a bar beneath the table which was, in turn, bolted to the floor. Winchester was alone in the room. The only light came from a naked bulb above the table.

He was a cool son of a bitch, Jim thought. No sign of nerves. Hell, he looked a little bored.

Jim picked up the case file and headed into the interrogation room. Winchester watched in silence as Jim laid the case file on the table and slid a tape into the recorder. The detective sat down, meeting Winchester's calm eyes.

"John Winchester." Jim spoke into the recorder. "Would you confirm your name for the record?"

Winchester stared at him for a moment, as if considering. Eventually he shrugged. "I'm John Winchester," he answered.

"I've been informed that you waived your right to have an attorney present, is that correct?"

"For the time being, yes," Winchester agreed.

"Why were you at my crime scene yesterday?"

Winchester met Jim's eyes but said nothing. His expression gave nothing away. The silence stretched on.

"Is this how you get your kicks?" Jim demanded. "Dismembered bodies get you hot?"

Winchester simply continued his stone-faced silence.

Jim extracted Winchester's forged FBI badge from the case file. It was sealed into an evidence bag. He slid it across the desk. "You're not a Fed. You're not even a cop. Did you make this yourself?"

Winchester remained silent. This time, so did Jim, hoping the other man would break if he stayed quiet for long enough.

Finally, Jim shook his head. "Fine. Let's try something else." He opened the file but didn't look at it. "Where were you between six-thirty and nine this morning?"

For the first time, Jim saw expression crack Winchester's face. Not much, just a slight frown before the man covered it up. Jim's question troubled him. But he still refused to answer.

"You have the right to remain silent, Winchester, but if you have an alibi you'd be helping us both out if you tell me."

Jim thought he saw a look of pity in Winchester's eyes before the man sighed and finally spoke. "I was in bed, asleep. I checked into the motel at one in the morning, maybe later. I'd been driving nearly thirty six hours straight. So, no, I don't have any alibi."

Jim nodded thoughtfully. "Thirty six hours on the road? You must have stopped somewhere along the way."

"Sure."

"Well, did you use a credit card to buy gas? Or dinner? Is there maybe some waitress who'll remember you?"

"I pay cash," Winchester asserted.

"Or used a stolen card," Jim suggested.

Winchester shrugged, which was as good as an admission.

"So," Jim tried again, "now you've found your voice, what were you doing at my crime scene?"

Winchester shook his head stubbornly, saying nothing.

"What are you doing in Cascade? Sounds like you came here in a real hurry."

Winchester took in a deep breath. "I'd like to make a phone call, if you don't mind."

***

5.32pm

Jim leaned against the wall, watching Winchester while he made his call. He was a fair distance away; Winchester could have no idea he was listening. Most suspects call either a lawyer or family. This didn't sound like either:

"You did what? You goddamned stupid sonovabitch!"

"Damn it, Bobby," Winchester growled, "it ain't my fault they sold the damn thing. Look, this is my only phone call. Will you listen to me?"

There was a short silence. "You need me to post bail?" Bobby asked, his voice more even.

"It'd be useful, but that ain't why I called. Dean has orders to call Jim if I don't make rendezvous, but I need someone to finish this hunt before Dean gets any ideas. The boy's good, but - "

"He's sixteen."

"You think I don't know that? Are you going to help me or do I have to call someone else?"

Bobby snorted. "You mean there's someone else you haven't pissed off?"

"Bobby."

"I'll be on the first plane. And since you probably won't get another call, I'll let Jim know what you've gotten those kids into." There was real bite in the man's voice.

"Thanks," Winchester muttered gruffly.

"Just try not to dig yourself in deeper, Winchester, you idjit." Bobby hung up the phone.

Jim took  deep breath as Winchester hung up the phone. Simon would have his badge if he knew Jim was listening in on a suspect's phone call. But Jim needed to know if Winchester was his man. He still wasn't sure. The phone call might have given him a way to find out...but he couldn't use it.

The call had told Jim one thing, though: Winchester's kids were somewhere in Cascade, alone. He had checked the motel room when he arrested the man and had seen no sign of the children. Damn it.

He could hold Winchester overnight. He could charge him with impersonating a Fed right now, and the DA said there was enough in Winchester's past record for her to insist on a high bail. Maybe high enough to keep him in custody. But maybe not.

Jim had a few hours to act. Maybe this time having a civilian for a partner could work in his favour.

***

6.19pm

Jim gazed at the moonlit snow behind the motel. "Damn, that's what I was afraid of."

"What?" Blair asked him. "All I see is snow, man."

"The boys climbed out the window. Someone did a good job of covering their tracks and this afternoon's snow finished the job, but I can see where it's been disturbed."

"Lucky you're a sentinel. Which way do you think they went?"

They followed the trail left by Winchester's two sons to a nearby diner. Jim ducked under the Christmas streamers hanging from the ceiling to talk to the waitress at the cash register. After the usual introductions, Jim learned her that the Winchester boys had been in the diner long enough to order a plateful of fries and to make a phone call. She described the younger boy as "cute as a button" and the elder as "a young James Dean". The boys paid cash for their fries and left right away.

Jim left Blair to flirt with the waitress and headed for the phone booth. It was a cramped corner next to the diner's toilets. The wall around the telephone was covered with scrawled graffiti and flyers for this and that. A business card above the coin slot promised a magical night with Melanie. There was a two-year-old directory on a shelf beneath the phone. Jim noted down the number of the phone, thinking he could get a list of numbers called from it. He was about to leave when he got another idea. He dropped a quarter into the slot and hit redial.

A woman's voice answered. "Aberline Motel. How can I help you?"

"This is Detective Ellison of Cascade PD. Someone I'm trying to trace may have called this number earlier today. Can you tell me if you've had any inquiries or new bookings today?"

"One moment please." There was a thud as the woman set the phone down on a table, and Jim heard her turning the pages of a book. There was a TV on in the background, playing what sounded like a quiz show. After a moment, she returned. "There have been two check-ins today, but I can't give you any details by phone. We have to protect - "

Jim interrupted her. "That's fine, I understand. I'll be there within the hour."

***

7.25pm

Jeanette, the motel receptionist, unlocked the motel room door for Blair. He laid a gentle hand on her shoulder as she reached for the handle. "You'd better let me go in alone," he suggested.

She nodded nervously. "Whatever you say, detective."

"Oh! I'm not - " Blair started to protest, then shrugged. It would take too long to explain that only Jim was a detective, and Blair was just his ride-along-cum-unofficial-partner. "Thanks," he added.

Jim had gone around to the rear of the motel so the boys couldn't climb out of the window again. Listening from the parking lot, Jim had said he was sure the younger boy was inside, and thought he was alone.

The elder of the two boys had called the motel from that diner and convinced the clerk he was an adult. He paid for a room using a stolen credit card, then left instructions that his "son" would collect the room key. So when the boys showed up, Jeanette didn't blink at a twelve year old asking for the keys. He'd told her his dad was sick, and the room was listed as paid for.

Smart kid, Blair thought. He remembered doing similar things during his own nomadic childhood - though in his case without the stolen card. Naomi would have considered that bad for the karma.

He opened the door cautiously. There was no sound from inside, but he trusted Jim's senses. The room was dark, the curtains closed although it was still daylight outside. Blair eased into the room and looked around. He froze.

The boy stood in the middle of the room, holding a gun too big for his hands in a two-handed shooting stance. He was aiming directly at Blair. The boy wore a t-shirt that was much too big for him and well-worn blue jeans. His hair was longer than was trendy, bangs flopping over his eyes. His eyes were his most striking feature: a piercing gaze, steady and strong.

"What are you?" the boy demanded. His voice shook a little, but his hands holding the gun weren't shaking.

Blair raised his hands to show he was harmless. "I'm Blair. Are you Sammy Winchester?"

"Don't come any closer."

"Okay. Okay, man. No problem." Blair stayed where he was, raising his hands to show he was unarmed, but not, quite, doing the reach-for-the-sky thing. He watched the boy carefully. "Are you Sam? Or do they call you Sammy?"

"Sammy," the boy answered.

"Sammy, I'm Blair. I'm here to help you."

"No, you're not." The gun was very steady in the boy's hands. "You'll take me away from my family."

Blair wasn't sure he could deny it. He risked a glance around the room: it was bare of everything but the standard motel furniture. It appeared the boys had come here with nothing but their clothing...and a gun.

"Sammy," Blair said softly, "please put the gun down. I'm not going to hurt you." He took a step toward the boy. "Are you alone here?"

Sammy nodded. His hands were beginning to shake. The gun must be heavy, or perhaps it was fear, but there was no sign of fear in his voice. "Are you police?" he demanded belligerently.

"I'm not a cop," Blair answered, relieved he could tell the truth. "I'm an anthropologist."

To his surprise, the boy smiled. "Seriously? What kind?" He sounded as excited as if Blair had said I'm a rock star.

"I study South American tribal cultures," Blair answered. He'd been something of a child prodigy himself, but he was still surprised to run into a twelve year old who even knew what anthropology was.

Slowly, Sammy lowered the gun.

***

7.37pm

 "I've dealt with social services before, man," Blair insisted. "They're morons." He moved across the room as he spoke, placing himself protectively between Jim and the boy.

Jim noted the body language and wondered how Blair and the kid had bonded so fast. "Chief, I don't have a choice here," he began reasonably.

"Yes, you do!" Blair grabbed Jim's arm and dragged him out of the motel room into the snow-filled parking lot. "Do you really believe his father killed those people?"

Truthfully, Jim didn't. Winchester was involved somehow, but if he'd killed the Moores why had he pushed his way into the crime scene? The only explanation Jim could come up with was he needed to retrieve some incriminating evidence, but if so he'd failed, and Jim hadn't found anything. Jim had no doubt Winchester was connected to the case, but he wasn't the killer.

But it didn't make any difference right now. "It doesn't matter what I think, Chief." Jim spoke quietly so the kid who was no doubt listening wouldn't overhear. "He may not be a killer but the man's a criminal. What do you think that kid is gonna do when he's on trial?"

"I don't know, but that's not the point, man. Sam's scared. All he cares about is his brother and he's not here. If you call child services, we'll never know anything they might be able to tell us about your case."

Jim glanced at the window, where the boy lurked behind the curtain. "What are you suggesting?"

"It's outside office hours anyway. Let me stay here with Sam for the night. I'll talk to him..."

"We can both do that at - "

Blair interrupted sharply. "No we can't. You're a cop, and Sammy's been taught to be scared of cops. I think he'll talk to me."

Jim shook his head. "I must be crazy."

Blair grinned. "Thanks, man."

"Alright. I'll get a room here for myself and let Simon know what's happening. You'll stay here. Don't go anyplace else. Call me if anything happens. First thing in the morning, we'll have to go to the PD."

Blair nodded, reluctant, but he understood. "You got it."

"Chief. In the morning, we'll have to make that call. No option."

Blair nodded. "Okay, Jim."

***

7.51pm

Jim hadn't spent a night in a motel like this since before his divorce, but there were worse ways to spend an evening. He flipped through the TV channels until he found a movie that seemed worth watching, then lay down on the bed to watch.

Ten minutes into the movie Jim's cell phone interrupted. He answered it quickly. "Ellison."

"Ellison, it's Simon. Can you come in?"

Jim groaned. "I only just got off duty. Can it wait?"

"Not this time. We've got another murder, Jim. It sounds a lot like the scene you saw this morning."

Jim's first thought was of the man he had in custody. Was this an older scene - an earlier murder - or had this happened since Winchester's arrest?

He turned off the television. "What's the address? I'll go straight there."

Simon gave him the address: an apartment building overlooking the bay. "You sound tired, Jim. Are you up to this?"

It wasn't as if Jim could say no. Truthfully, he wasn't that tired. "The overtime had better double my Christmas bonus," he answered jokingly.

"In your dreams," Simon retorted with a laugh.

Jim pocketed his phone and headed for the room where Blair was waiting with Sam Winchester. It was several doors away from Jim's room. He knocked on the door. From inside, he heard Blair's voice, then his footsteps approaching the door.

"Hey, Jim. Trouble?"

"I just got a call to a fresh murder scene. Sorry, Chief."

Blair's face fell. "No rest for the wicked, I guess. Do you need me to come with you?"

Jim shook his head quickly. "No, I've got this one. Stay with the kid. I might not be back for a while, but I'm a phone call away if anything happens, okay?"

Blair grinned at him. "What's gonna happen, man?"

He had a point. "Alright," Jim conceded. "I'll see you later, Chief. Gotta go be a cop."

***

8.30pm

 "...Tripped over my own feet and fell on my face."

"Did they catch you?" Sammy asked breathlessly.

Blair had intended it to be an amusing story. Sammy wasn't taking it that way. He sat on the pillow with his feet on the bed, hugging his knees. He watched Blair raptly, taking in every bit of the story with earnest attention.

"Yeah, they did," Blair answered.

"But if they thought you were a demon..."

Blair grinned, hoping to convey that it really was supposed to be a joke. "Apparently they decided no demon would be that clumsy. The introductions were a bit awkward but the next day I was smoking some really weird sh- er, stuff, around their friendship fire."

Sammy visibly relaxed. "That's good."

Blair frowned. "It was meant to be funny. What's wrong, Sammy?"

Sammy brushed his bangs back out of his eyes and looked at Blair for a long time. "Demons aren't something to joke about," he answered finally.

He seemed so serious that Blair answered just as seriously. "I wasn't talking about real demons."

Sammy offered a weak smile, as if he'd finally gotten the joke. "Is my Dad in big trouble?"

"Yeah," Blair told him honestly. "He is."

"Is my brother in trouble?" Sam looked past Blair toward the bathroom.

"I don't know. Do you know where he is, Sammy?"

"I'm right here." The voice came from behind Blair. "Who the Hell are you?"

Blair turned and found himself staring into the barrel of a gun for the second time that day. The boy holding this gun was a teenager. He stood framed in the bathroom doorway, wearing torn jeans, sneakers and a leather coat that looked too big for him. He held the gun, just as Sammy had, in a steady, two-handed grip. His eyes above the barrel were cold, and Blair felt himself shiver inwardly. Sammy had just been scared and Blair hadn't felt in any real danger with him. This boy would pull the trigger.

Before Blair could react, Sammy had dived in front of him, spreading his hands as if to protect Blair. "Dean, it's okay," he insisted.

"No, it ain't, Sammy. What are you doing with this guy?"

"He's not a cop, he's an anthropologist," Sammy announced, and it should have sounded funny, but Blair wasn't laughing.

Dean kept his eyes on Blair. "Who are you?" he demanded.

Blair tried to explain.

Dean was tougher to deal with than his little brother. He did lower the gun, but he kept it in his hand, safety pointedly off, the gun in plain sight while Blair talked, explaining why he was there. He tried to make it sound reasonable, but he could see Dean wasn't convinced. His look remained suspicious and hostile.

"We don't need help," Dean insisted.

Blair needed to gain Dean's trust. He nodded. "I know you don't need a babysitter, man. I moved around a lot when I was a kid, too. Never had a real home for long. It makes you independent, makes you grow up fast. But even though you don't need help, Dean, the law says you do."

"I already called Pastor Jim. I can take care of Sammy until he gets here."

***

10.10pm

Jim was waiting in the interrogation room when the duty cops brought Winchester in for the second interview. Winchester didn't look at him as he entered the room. He sat down in silence and waited while they chained him to the table.

Jim sat down opposite him. "I have one piece of good news. You're no longer a murder suspect."

Most people would have shown some positive reaction. Winchester's look darkened. "You haven't caught the killer, not this quickly. So either someone else has confessed or more people have died."

He was right.

The second murder scene was as bloody as the first, though they found only one body this time. The scene was fresh when Jim got there, the body no more than three or four hours dead, which meant that the man Jim had in custody couldn't be the killer he sought.

Yet Jim was certain that Winchester knew something about the murders. Why else would he have been there? He was determined to find out what the man knew.

"Another murder," Jim said shortly, volunteering only the bare minimum of information.

Winchester frowned down at the table. "It shouldn't have happened again so soon," he muttered to himself.

"It shouldn't have happened again at all," Jim snapped. "You know something about this killer. You're going to tell me or I'll add obstruction of justice to the rest of the charges."

Winchester raised his eyes slowly. "I haven't lied to you. I haven't misled you in any way. I've just remained silent."

"And let someone else get butchered!"

"No, detective. You let that happen. If you'd left me to do my job, no one else would have died."

"Your job? What job?"

Winchester merely shook his head.

Jim stood, shoving his chair back so violently it crashed into the wall behind him. He leaned over the table, getting right into Winchester's face. "Damn it, talk to me! You know who is killing these people, don't you?"

Winchester moved back as far as the chain would allow, but he moved slowly, apparently unaffected by Jim's display of temper. "No," he answered calmly. "I don't know who is killing them." Winchester put a slight stress on who, as if to confirm that he did know something of importance.

Jim waited.

Finally, Winchester sighed. "I don't know who," he repeated. "I know why. But even if I tell you, you won't believe it. There's nothing you can do to stop this thing."

It wasn't, Jim thought, the defiance of a hardened criminal. Rather, Winchester seemed sincere, as if he genuinely believed Jim would reject whatever he knew. Jim said quietly, "You'll be surprised what I might believe."

Winchester nodded. "Is there a connection between the victims?"

"They knew each other. How well hasn't been determined."

"Alright. You'll think I'm crazy, or lying, but I'll tell you what I know. Off the record, though. Turn off the tape recorder."

Jim was a little surprised Winchester hadn't tried to cut a deal. He reached out and turned off the recorder. "Off the record," he confirmed.

"There's an...an artefact, I guess you'd call it. A piece of sculpture which Will Moore purchased in Illinois. You'll probably find it somewhere near the newest murder scene. It's about this big..." Winchester held up his cuffed hands, one above the other, his hands spaced as far apart as the handcuffs would allow, indicating an object about eleven inches high. "It looks like a Mayan artefact, but it's not."

"If these people were killed for this artefact, why didn't the killer take it?"

"Because that's not how it works. Where this thing goes, death follows. Everyone who owned it in the past twenty years has died, bloody."

***

10.15pm

 "Dean." Blair looked at the kid with exasperation.

Dean looked up, all wide-eyed innocence, as if he had no idea what Blair meant.

"We're going to Cascade PD," Blair pointed out. "Don't pack a gun."

Dean shrugged, clicked the safety on the .45 and shoved it into his bag. He pulled out a long stiletto blade instead and started to slide it into his sleeve.

"Or a knife!" Blair spread his hands. "Geez, are you boys in a gang?"

Dean gave him an angry look. "No," he answered coldly. "Just a family." He didn't remove the knife.

"You don't have to trust me, man. You trust this pastor of yours, don't you?"

"I trust my dad," Dean declared. "He trusts Pastor Jim."

"Dean, that's not fair," Sam put in. He was all dressed and ready, wearing a thick coat and hat as it was snowing again outside.

The man the boys called "Pastor Jim" had been on his way to Cascade when Dean contacted him. No one had said how he'd known he was needed. He called Dean again from the airport. Blair spoke to him, explained who he was and they agreed to meet at the Police Department. If the boys recognised him, Blair figured it should be a simple matter to verify that he was authorised to take care of the boys. It was a better option than turning the kids over to child protective services. Blair had only spent a few hours with them, but he was sure they were better off with their family.

Dean made for the door without answering.

Blair called him back. "Dean, the metal detectors in the PD will light up like a Christmas tree. Would you rather leave the knife here, or have the cops confiscate it?"

Dean shoved the knife back into his duffel.

***

10.40pm

At the PD Blair got the boys settled into a room near the Major Crimes bullpen. He bought them candy and a couple of sodas from one of the vending machines.

Dean passed his candy bar to Sammy and looked at Blair. "I want to see my Dad," he demanded.

Blair nodded. "I'll ask, but I don't know the rules. They might not allow it."

"Whatever, dude." Dean turned his back on Blair, as if it were all his fault. He sat down at the table and said nothing more.

"I'll be back as soon as I can," Blair promised, looking at Sammy. He waited for the boy's nod before he left the room.

Jim was right outside. "Chief. Good, I was just looking for you. If you've got a moment I could use your help."

"Sure. I guess the boys are safe here." Blair followed Jim into the bullpen. This late at night it was almost deserted, only one detective besides Jim still working. "Are you getting anywhere with the case?" Blair asked, stealing a chair from the desk next to Jim's.

"It's not Winchester. I got something from him, maybe. I want you to look through the pictures from the second crime scene."

"Oh, man, I don't know. Is it bad?"

"It was, but it's the room I want you to look at." Jim passed him a folder. "Winchester mentioned a fake Mayan artefact. I want to know if it's there."

Blair's frown smoothed out and he relaxed. Jim was consulting him professionally. This, he could do.

The photographs revealed a crime scene as bloody as the first. Looking at pictures was a lot easier than being there. The room was decorated in dark colours: blue-grey wallpaper, dark wood shelving and furniture. It made the blood less vivid, but no less horrible. How could one body hold so much blood? Blair stared at the first picture for a long time before he realised he was doing it. He turned to the next and managed to look past all the blood to study the shelves. There was a display of antique items on the shelves: Blair knew enough to recognise eighteenth century china but couldn't tell whether they were real or just good imitations. On the bottom shelf was a collection of books: art and history, large volumes of the kind most people buy to display, and rarely read. He moved on to the third picture.

There it was. "Jim. Here." Blair tapped the photograph, showing it to Jim. "This ornament must be what you're looking for. It's a replica of a fifth century Mayan vessel used for burial offerings." He ran one finger across the top of the artefact in the picture. "The figures on top are..."

"I don't need the details, Chief." Jim took the picture from him. "Are you sure it's a replica?"

Blair chuckled. "I think I'd have heard about it if the original had been stolen from the Met, so yeah."

Jim flashed him a quick grin. "Good to know. Thanks, Chief." He took the folder back from Blair and flipped through the paperwork, running his finger down one page as he quickly scanned it. "They didn't bag it. No reason to, I guess. If we go to the scene we can..." he broke off as his phone rang. Jim answered it, "Ellison." He listened for a moment. "Yeah...got it. Thanks." He hung up. "The priest is here for the boys. Can you let the kids know? I want to ask him a couple of questions while I have the chance."

"Sure, man." Blair headed for the door, glad to be leaving the photographs behind for the real cops.

***

10.47pm

Dean wasn't in the room where Blair had left him.

"He went to the john," Sammy explained. He sucked loudly on his soda.

"How long ago?" Blair asked.

Sammy shrugged. "Just a minute."

"Okay." Blair pulled out a chair and sat down. "Your Pastor Jim is here. As soon as he's been checked out you and Dean can get out of here."

"But not my Dad," Sammy said glumly.

It wasn't a question, but Blair answered as if it had been. "No. I don't think so," he answered gently.

Sammy nodded, as if that wasn't a surprise. He finished his soda. "Dad's not a bad man," he said. He met Blair's eyes, his expression all sincerity. "I know how it looks, the way we move around. My teachers have seen bruises on me before and thought...you know."

"Yeah, I know. They thought your Dad hit you. Did he, ever?"

Sammy drew back from him. "That's a trick question," he accused, and suddenly he looked much older than his twelve years. "If I say he's never hit me you'll know I'm lying. If I say he has, you'll think he beats me."

It was the voice of a kid who had seen far too many social workers. Blair smiled. "I'm just looking for the truth. I'm not trying to trick you."

"Dad never beat me. That's the truth."

"I believe you, Sammy."

The door opened and Dean walked in. He said an indifferent "Hey," to Blair, then the two brothers exchanged a look. It was almost as if they were telepathic; Blair was certain they were communicating with that look. But neither of them let him in on it. He settled in to wait for Jim.

***

11.38pm

Jim slammed the truck door and looked across at Blair. "I was planning to head back to the second murder scene on our way home, but I think I'm beat."

Blair groaned theatrically, tilting his head back to stare at the truck's ceiling. "Thank you!" He turned his head to look at Jim. "I'm not gonna argue. Let's go home."

Sandburg's look of relief confirmed for Jim that his partner was in no hurry to see another crime scene. It was late, and they'd both had a long day. The case could wait until morning. "Let's grab take-out on the way," he offered.

Blair grinned. It was answer enough.

Jim started the truck. Wu's Wok was only a small detour between the PD and Prospect and it was the best Chinese take-out in Cascade.

"Do you think the boys will be okay?" Sandburg asked.

Jim shrugged. "Father Murphy checked out and their father confirmed he'll care for the boys."

"That's not..."

"You really bonded with them, didn't you?" Jim teased.

Sandburg was silent for a moment. "Sammy's a smart kid, and the way they've been moved around...I guess he reminds me of me."

Jim smiled, taking his eyes off the road long enough to look at his friend. "Then I think he'll be okay," he suggested.

Blair returned Jim's smile then, his blue eyes sparkling. "Thanks, man." He took a deep breath. "Did you find out how the Winchesters are connected to the case?"

Jim scoffed. "Hell, no." He turned into a parking space near Wu's Wok. "You know, when I became a cop, I really believed in civil rights. Winchester makes me wish I was allowed to beat the truth out of him."

Blair laughed, then stopped as if he wasn't sure Jim was joking. "Would you really do that? If you were allowed?"

Jim hadn't quite been kidding. "Usually, no, but three people are dead, Sandburg, and he knows something. He dropped cryptic hints and implied I wouldn't believe the truth, but he wouldn't give a straight answer to anything. If I thought beating the shit out of him would stop whoever butchered those people...yeah, I'd be tempted." He shook himself and reached for the door handle. "Come on, the working day is over. What do you want to eat?"

Blair rattled off his usual order with a grin. "And don't forget the fortune cookies!" he added.

***

23 December 1996, 8.02am

Jim lifted the yellow tape and Sandburg ducked beneath it, entering the apartment.

"First door," Jim said, but Sandburg hung back, waiting for Jim to enter ahead of him. Jim couldn't blame him for his reluctance. It wasn't that long since the Lash case, when Blair almost ended up a serial killer's victim. This case wasn't similar in detail, but if Jim was reminded of Lash's murders, he was sure Sandburg would be, too.

No one had tried to clean the room yet, but the blood had dried overnight. The smell permeated the whole apartment: it smelled disgusting, like rotting meat. Jim tried to breathe shallowly and crossed the room quickly, Sandburg trailing behind him. They were here to bag and tag the artefact Winchester had talked about. The artefact itself was worthless - Sandburg had confirmed that based on the photographs - so why were people being killed for it? Of course, it was possible Winchester was lying or mistaken, but Jim couldn't pass by the potential lead.

"How can anyone do this?" Blair asked. "Why would anyone do it?"

Jim glanced back at his partner, concerned. "When I know why, I'll have a viable suspect." He knelt beside the bookshelves where the artefact should have been. "It's gone!"

The shelf was spattered with blood which left a clear outline where the ornament had stood on the shelf. That meant it had been taken after the cops were done with the crime scene. There must be something inside the artefact; something worth killing for. It was the only thing that made sense. Jim frowned, trying to remember the size of the object from the pictures. It was big enough, perhaps, to hold drugs or perhaps jewels.

He straightened. "Winchester was right," he said grimly. He thought back to the phone call he had overheard the day before. What had Winchester said? I need someone to finish this hunt. Had he arranged for someone to steal the ornament? Was that why he'd been at the first scene?

But if so, why would he tell Jim about it? Had Jim found the ornament, it would have incriminated him, wouldn't it? This made less and less sense.

Jim looked more closely at the place where the ornament had stood, opening his senses to examine every small detail. He saw the imprints of boots in the blood-saturated carpet, marks of fingers, signs that some of the furniture had been moved. The problem was Jim could not tell whether anything he saw was related to the theft. This room was a crime scene: many, many people had tramped through the room from cops to forensic techs, and any evidence was quickly messed up by so many people. The artefact had been taken after the forensics unit had finished their work, but were there fresh prints from the thief? Jim could not tell.

Sandburg's voice broke his concentration. "You're looking for signs of whoever stole the ornament?"

"Yeah, but there's too much here." The smell was awful.

"Let me help, Jim. Come into the middle of the room."

Jim moved as Sandburg directed. The dried blood saturating the carpet crunched beneath his shoes as he walked.

"You've been here before," Blair said, "yesterday. Close your eyes and try to relax."

Jim resisted the urge to roll his eyes, which was always his impulse when Sandburg said something like that. But he couldn't keep the cynicism out of his voice. "Come on, Chief."

"Work with me, man. If it doesn't help, it doesn't, but let's give it a try."

Jim shrugged and closed his eyes. The trouble was that blocking out his sense of sight amplified everything else for him. He struggled to breathe through the stink of decaying blood. It was impossible to relax. He stood there and lied to Sandburg, "Okay, I'm relaxed."

"Now, try to remember the way this room was when you stood here yesterday. Not just what you saw, but all of your senses. Like the Moores' house, did you smell anything above the blood? What did you hear? And taste? What did the room look like? Don't strain for the details, but get it as clear in your mind as you can."

Jim tried. The images came easily to his mind, but other details seemed elusive.

"When you're ready, open your eyes. You're looking for what's different. What's different, and shouldn't be?"

Jim opened his eyes. He still wasn't used to this sentinel gift, and the way details leapt at him came as a surprise. The table had been moved after the blood dried, as if someone crashed into it, maybe? Other items on the shelf that had held the ornament had shifted, again as if the shelf had been jostled. He saw smudges of fingerprints.

Jim called the PD and asked for a forensics team to come down and dust for new prints.

***

8.58am

"Thanks for your help back there." Jim sat down opposite Sandburg, who still looked a little pale. They were in the diner opposite the PD. Jim had paid for breakfast and coffee for both of them. Whether or not they could match a print from the crime scene, he was going to re-examine every piece of evidence today. He was going to find something. He did not want to visit another bloodbath.

Blair smiled over his coffee. "That's why you let me hang around, isn't it?" he said deprecatingly.

"I mean it, Chief. I've got this...ability, but I would never have thought of trying that. It worked."

"If it'll help catch this killer." Blair gazed down into his coffee mug.

Jim watched him in silence for a few minutes. If Sandburg needed to talk, he would talk. Technically, this wasn't a serial killer investigation, not yet. But they were both thinking it, both expecting another death. No one sliced-and-diced like that unless they enjoyed it.

But when Blair spoke, it wasn't to talk about the case. He was halfway through his short-stack when he laid down his fork. "What's going to happen next? With the Winchester boys?"

Jim considered the question. "I think that depends on their father. Father Murphy doesn't have legal custody  but since he's a priest and a family friend no court is likely to take the boys away from him. They'll go and live with him until their father is released, at least in theory."

"In theory?"

"Winchester's arraignment is..." Jim checked his watch, "in about half an hour. If the judge grants bail I'll give you good odds he'll skip town. He might leave the boys with the priest, but his past record suggests he'll go get them."

"Why are you so sure he'll skip town?"

"I read his record. He's got a couple of outstanding warrants in other states and a history of using false identities. The charges we have won't exactly put him on the ten most wanted list. It'll stay on his record and will be flagged up if he's arrested again, somewhere else, but as long as he stays under the radar there's a good chance he'll get away with it."

"And you're okay with that?"

"Hell, no. But my job is major crimes. It comes down to priorities, Chief. Winchester is a petty criminal and I've got a murderer to find."

Blair nodded. "And I've got a class to teach at eleven. You don't need me today, right?"

"No. Today I'll be stuck at my desk. Paperwork, Sandburg. The meat and bone of police work."

***

10.00am

Blair took a detour past the Aberline Motel on his way to Rainier University. He saw the boys right away because they were outside, packing their things into their father's car. Blair cast an admiring glance over the sleek Impala as he steered his own car into the parking lot. Blair appreciated classic cars, though he would have chosen his own Corvair over the Impala any day. The Impala being here seemed...odd, though. Hadn't it been impounded? He shrugged inwardly, not certain of the rules about such things. Jim would know; he could ask later.

Sammy saw him and waved. Blair waved back from inside his car. He saw Dean speak to the younger boy, then Sammy ran toward Blair's car. Blair grinned at him and opened the car door, half turning to talk with him.

"Hey, Sammy. How's tricks?"

"We're going back to Minnesota with Pastor Jim. Dad's going to join us there."

Blair didn't think their father would be joining them very soon, but he'd come here to make sure the kid was okay. The rest wasn't his business, no matter how much he liked Sammy. He glanced toward the Impala and saw Dean watching them. His look was suspicious, almost hostile.

"Is Pastor Jim here with you?" Blair asked.

Sammy made a face Blair couldn't decipher. "He's paying the motel bill."

Why the face? Blair wondered, but he didn't ask. Sam was okay, and he felt a little foolish for worrying. They had a weird kind of family life but it was no stranger than Blair's childhood had been. They would be fine.

"Do you want to come and meet him?" Sammy suggested. "I told him all about you."

"You didn't tell him my demon story, did you?" Blair feigned embarrassment.

Sammy shook his head vigorously. "No. He wouldn't get the joke."

Blair checked his watch. "Well, I can't stay for long, but, yeah. I'd like to meet your friend."

***

10.00am

Jim sat in the interview room, trying to concentrate on what Mrs Howard, the neighbour of Will and Karen Moore, was telling him. Usually, he could block out the random noise of the Police Department. His peculiar gift enabled Jim to listen to a whispered conversation from two rooms away. Without Sandburg's help the constant sensory input could have driven him crazy, but he had learned to sort through the voices, the footsteps, the shuffling papers and tapping keyboards, until most of it became simply white noise to him. But not today. Today he heard Simon's voice raised in anger and although he should have been listening to his witness he couldn't help trying to hear his captain's conversation.

With an effort, Jim dragged his attention back to Mrs Howard. She'd been talking about seeing the blood through the Moores' window. "You didn't hear anything before that?" Jim prompted.

"Nothing," she answered, her voice a little breathless with nerves. "That's strange, isn't it?"

"Yes, ma'am, it is, but other witnesses have said the same thing." Jim glanced at his notes. He hadn't written much, partly because she hadn't told him very much he didn't already know. He might have missed something, but the tape was running. He could go over it all again later. "Uh...Mrs Howard, I think that's all I need this morning." Jim stopped the recorder, stood and walked around to the door. "Thank you very much for coming in."

She smiled, evidently relieved. "I do hope you catch him soon. It's all just so horrible."

"I'm doing my best. If you do think of anything else, give me a call." Jim opened the door for her.

Jim would have escorted Mrs Howard all the way to the exit, but Simon called from the door to the bullpen, "Ellison! In my office!"

Jim gestured Two minutes and saw Simon's exasperated look in return. He walked with Mrs Howard as far as the elevator, thanked her again, and hurried back to the bullpen.

Simon was waiting in the doorway of his office. As he crossed the bullpen Jim saw others glance his way. It was as if he'd screwed up badly and they were anticipating him getting a reaming for it. But surely Jim would know if he'd screwed up? Had he done anything worth this kind of attention? The only thing he could think of was the missing evidence, but though that was his responsibility as the lead detective, it wasn't his fault.

He walked past Simon into the office, but didn't sit down. If Simon was going to tear him a new one, he would prefer to be standing.

Simon closed the door. "Is there something you want to tell me, Jim?" He did not look happy.

Jim shook his head. "I have no idea what you're talking about," he answered honestly.

Simon turned his back on Jim and poured coffee. He held up the jug, offering it to Jim. Jim declined with a gesture, though the offer was a good sign.

Simon sat down at his desk. "Your man Winchester escaped custody this morning," he announced bluntly.

"What?" Jim was thunderstruck. "How?"

"That's what I want to know." Simon looked hard at him.

Jim knew that look. "Wait a moment. Simon, you know me. You can't possibly think I did something..."

Simon sighed and drank his coffee. "No, I don't," he admitted. "But you were the last person to have contact with him, Ellison."

So he was the logical suspect. Jim nodded, understanding. "After the second murder I got Winchester out of the cell for a follow-up interview. Everything we discussed is on tape. When we were done, I called officer Newland, he came to the interrogation room and we both escorted Winchester back to the cells. All normal procedure."

"Nothing out of the ordinary at all?" Simon pressed.

Jim frowned. "The eldest boy, Dean, wanted to see his father when Sandburg brought them in, but I didn't authorise it. What happened, Captain? How did he get out?"

"You just told me what happened. You and Newland put him back in a cell; this morning he wasn't there. That's all I know. There's no broken lock, no sign of how he left."

"What about the security tapes?"

"They're still being reviewed. I've posted an APB..."

Simon continued talking, but Jim was only half listening. He had a feeling John Winchester would never be found. Had Winchester been a murder suspect, then the department would throw more resources into finding him but under the circumstances...

"I'd like to take a look at the cell, Simon," Jim suggested. "Maybe I can find something the others can't."

***

10.15am

"I'll be damned," Jim breathed. The single clue he found in the cell was a small scrap of paper which had been folded up and wedged into a small crack in the floor underneath the single bunk. Had Winchester really expected Jim to find this? How could he have known?

The paper bore a cryptic set of numbers. The first set looked like a phone number. The second set was four digits: 12-24. It could be a date, or an ATM code, or, well, anything. Jim glanced toward the cell door. He was alone. He pulled his cell phone from his pocket and dialled the number.

A recorded voice asked for an identification code. Jim shook his head and tried the other four numbers. It worked.

He heard Winchester's voice. "Detective, sorry I had to leave without saying goodbye. I wanted to thank you and your partner for taking care of my boys. I'm sure you've discovered that the artefact we talked about is gone. By the time you hear this it will be destroyed and this curse won't kill anyone else. I know you won't believe that, but time will prove it to you. Don't bother trying to trace this number. You can't."

The call ended automatically, leaving Jim holding a dead line.

"I'll be damned," he said again and headed out of the cell.

~ End ~