When Evil Comes Home

By LM and Barb

Rating: PG – 13

Disclaimer: Hunter, McCall and characters created by SJC productions don't belong to us, but since they're not giving them any new adventures, we're going to borrow them.

Summary: Thirty years ago someone kidnapped and murdered several little girls. The killer may be back. Has one of his victims returned as well? Will the horrible visions in McCall's nightmares aid in solving a crime?

DeeDee McCall groaned loudly and threw back the covers in frustration. She couldn't believe it had happened again: that for the fourth time in a week, she'd had the same horrific dream. Each time it was more vivid and felt more real. A glance at the clock by her head confirmed that, again, she had awakened at 4:20 in the morning, her body bathed in perspiration, her heart pounding in her chest and her pillow wet with tears.

For several long minutes, she lay there, struggling with the disorientation from awakening suddenly and fighting the terror invoked by the recurrent nightmare.

Knowing that just like the previous three times, she wouldn't be able to go back to sleep, she pulled herself up in bed, and switched on the bedside lamp.

Hesitating for a moment because she hated giving credence to a dream, she decided to try and analyze it into submission. Ignoring it sure hadn't done anything to solve the problem.

She reached for the pen and notebook that she kept next to the phone and began writing down everything she could remember. She tried to write quickly without conscious thought; not trying for a narrative, but just what she saw.

Night Full Moon Fog Gothic-style mansion

A tall man, dressed all in black, wearing black leather gloves

A young girl, about 10

As she wrote, she remembered details. The only sound was the young girl's cries. "Help me!"

She closed her eyes and tried to picture the setting. She realized that everything was in shades of black, white and gray.

(Wait. Not everything.) She thought. The young girl had red hair.

Then, the man's face flashed in front of her. Only the face was visible, as he seemed to have a black hood on. The face wasn't really a face at all. Almost like a mask – it was deathly white and the eyes glowed a bright red. McCall gasped as face jumped in closer before her eyes.

(You can't stop me) a low voice intoned, seemingly from nowhere.

With a startled cry, she opened her eyes and frantically looked around. She was alone.

"But I heard him," she whispered fearfully, trying to catch her breath. "I heard him."

She grabbed her gun and jumped quickly out of bed to search her house. Feeling a little foolish, she knew she had to check, if only to give herself some peace of mind. She hated it - hated not feeling safe in her own home. Finally, satisfied she was alone, she tried again to figure out what was going on.

It was a masked man in her dream. She heard his voice, but never saw his lips move. Only the glowing red eyes, like a wolf. She took a cleansing breath and forced herself to recall the rest of her dream. It always ended the same way. The masked man, chasing the young girl endlessly through the huge deserted mansion and DeeDee running after them until the man disappeared. McCall would think the girl was safe and would go to her but each time the masked man would jump out at her and she would wake up.

The young girl compelled her. The terror in her cries, her pleas for help. Who was she? What did it all mean? McCall went back to bed and wondered how she could track down who the girl was and help her.

In the dream she sometimes felt that the little girl had made it to a safe place, but usually she was very afraid for the girl's safety, as well as her own. She could always feel the frustration of not finding the child, anger of being defeated by the masked man and feeling that she'd let the young girl down by not coming to her rescue. She had horrible thoughts of what might happen to the child because she couldn't help her. As she tried to gather pieces of the dream, she could remember that just before waking up, all of those feelings; along with abandonment, fused together, causing her to feel a tremendous sadness in that mansion. While her sadness was part of the nightmare, the tears which developed from it were most definitely a reality on her pillow.

She thought of the little red haired girl over and over, wondering if she was someone she knew or knew of. She would make it a point to search the archives at work for any cases she'd worked on that might have clues similar to her nightmare.

It was bad enough that one of the cases she and Hunter were currently working on was tracking down a scum ball of a guy known as Bernie D. He was suspected in the death of two young girls that had been seen in a porn film and they were currently pooling their efforts with Sergeants Andrews and Weston from Vice in tracking him down. She couldn't help but wonder if the atrocities Bernie was accused of and the crime scene photos were coming home with her and escaping through nightmares.

She'd had enough of getting nowhere fast on this mystery. It was time to start solving it. But before she got started, she wanted to try for a couple of hours of sleep. She turned off the light and hoped the remaining few hours of darkness would include a peaceful sleep.

"So, it was another rough night, huh?" Hunter noted that his partner was tired.

"Yeah, it was. I just wish I could figure out what it all means. It's driving me crazy and I can't do a thing about it."

"Yes, you can. You can stop replaying it over and over in your mind; torturing yourself. Maybe if you stop trying to study it, it'll become clearer when you don't expect it. Try not to make such a big deal over the dream, and maybe you can get some sleep."

"Nightmare, Hunter. It's a nightmare. Honestly, can't you tell the difference by now? I mean, I've only been telling you about this horror fest everyday for the past four days. "She sighed heavily and looked at him with annoyance for giving her more of a scolding, than understanding. " If you could just experience what I do, you'd see it's a big deal. The eerie pale face…those glowing eyes…hear the little girl's scream for help….it's just so…so real. You just don't understand what I'm going though. There's so much more to it, than just what I experience when I'm sleeping. It's more than just a nightmare. I know it is."

Telling Hunter about her nightmare was something she had thought would help her feel better, but apparently she'd thought wrong. After Rick's lack of support, she definitely didn't want to tell him that she heard this mystery man speak to her and that she searched her house in case in was inside. Maybe she was hallucinating from being so tired, but it was all so unsettling. She let out a sigh of slight disappointment in him and weariness within herself.

Hunter realized that he'd unintentionally turned into Mr. Insensitive, and needed to make amends for his behavior. "Listen, McCall. I'm sorry if I hurt your feelings. You know I'd never do that on purpose. I just hadn't realized how intense it really is. Whenever you feel like talking about the dre... (He caught himself) …the nightmare, you just feel free to do so at any time, and I'll help you in any way I can."

McCall's face had softened from the earlier look of despair. "Thanks. And, I'm sorry if I snapped at you, but I'm just really stressed about this thing. It's just like trying to solve any other case and I keep running into a dead end. But what's worse, it seems like all the answers are right where I can get them, but I can't. It's weird."

"I know. We'll get it figured out. Try not to worry, okay?" His trusting smile relieved her of any doubts for the moment.

"Okay, I'll try." She managed a little smile. "Now, I guess we should get started on these files, if we intend to solve any of these cases."

"Before we get started, how about some coffee?"

"Well, since I'm sleep deprived, caffeine would keep me alert, but would also add to the jitters. Decaf wouldn't make me jumpy, but…." After a debate with herself on which coffee would be best, she decided to pass on it and asked Rick to get her a bottle of orange juice from the machine.

After a three and half hours of papers and file folders, Hunter and McCall were finally freed from their desk, when they got a phone call from Sporty James with news of where one of their suspects was last seen. After arriving at the house at the end of the street, they found it just as Sporty had said. Old, abandoned and dilapidated, but still well enough to shelter a man in hiding. As Rick got out of the car, he noticed that his partner hadn't made a move yet. As he walked around the front of the car, he saw that his partner stared at the house, perhaps lost in thought. He took a look around and thought about the house she had seen in her dreams.

The old two-story house had a lot broken windows, the paint was so badly faded that you couldn't tell what color it used to be, and the boards on the porch were warped from weather and neglect. He walked back to the edge of the curb and bent down to Dee Dee's window.

"DeeDee, are you okay?"

"Yeah." She opened the door. Hunter took her hand as she stepped out. As they approached the crumbled walkway, she glanced around at a soon to be bare tree, with its darkening and falling leaves. A gusty fall wind assisted the stray leaves across the yard, as the same wind spun a remaining piece of glass in a first floor window as it hung by a thread.

"Hey, does this place bring up thoughts of that old mansion in your dream…um…nightmare?"

"It does a little, I guess. I mean, it's old, rundown, and a little spooky, but it's not exactly like the mansion." She turned to him with an apology to follow. "I'm sorry that I put you in the position where you feel you have to tiptoe around me. I know you care and I shouldn't quibble about calling it a dream or a nightmare. Just between us, I can't believe that I'm letting it get to me like this.

"It's okay, and I understand." With a smile that said all was good between them, he followed her to the front door.

McCall took a deep cleansing breath and tried to clear her mind. (Just focus on finding their suspect,) she told herself.

She stepped gingerly on the rickety porch steps to the massive double doors and took a moment to look around. It looked like most of the windows were either broken or boarded up. "Well, I don't know about you, but personally I think this is the perfect place for someone like Bernie."

Hunter grinned, relieved to see his partner try to lighten up in the shadow of the foreboding ruin towering above them. "Oh, absolutely. Every child pornographer should have a place like this."

Pushing past her sense of unease, McCall reached out to the enormous brass door knocker. (Gargoyle,) she thought sarcastically, (how appropriate.)

"He ain't home."

McCall gasped and whirled around to find Sporty standing with his back to their car, leaning on the door, his arms crossed over his chest.

"God, Sporty, don't sneak up on people like that," she fumed, but embarrassed nonetheless that she'd been so easily startled.

Before Sporty could respond, Hunter placed his hand on the small of her back and guided her away from the house.

"It's okay, Sporty, what have you got?" He said.

McCall felt her nervousness fade with each step she took away from the gloomy mansion. Nonetheless, it felt like she was being watched and it was with difficulty that she resisted the urge to look back at it.

"He left town," Sporty informed them.

"Are you kidding me?" Hunter exclaimed angrily.

"Whoa – whoa, man, easy." Sporty held up his hands in a placating gesture. "He's coming back. My source says he made a run to San Francisco, but he should be back some time tomorrow."

Hunter groaned. "What the hell is he doing in San Francisco?"

Sporty shuffled his feet. "I don't know." At McCall's incredulous look he hastened to explain. "Look - it's a new source I got and he hasn't fully comprehended the importance of keeping me completely in the know."

McCall rolled her eyes. Sporty caught the look and tried to mollify her. "But I did get something else on him."

Hunter sighed. "Make it good, Sporty."

"Dig deeper on this guy. These girls he killed on film are not his first. Before he was Bernie D, he was Wilhelm B. Dietz."

"Is that so?" Hunter sounded skeptical.

"Check it out," Sporty urged him. "I hear he's one bad dude."

"We will. Come on, McCall," Hunter opened her car door.

"Where are we going?" she asked as the car pulled away from the curb, leaving Sporty to watch them drive off.

"To find out if what he said is true."

What about the house?"

"We'll stake it out tomorrow night."

Back at the station, Sporty's information turned out to be true. After many hours of computer work and phone calls and going through countless files, they now had a complete picture of Bernie D, aka Wilhelm B. Dietz.

And it was a terrifyingly ugly picture that hit a little too close to home. Thirty years ago, there had been a string of child murders, caught on film at the very house they had gone to. A total of six young girls, ages 8 to 11 had been terrorized in the house, and ultimately killed by a masked man and then the videos had been released to a select group of viewers.

McCall didn't want to think about the type of people who got off on watching snuff films. Dietz had been suspected, but no one could prove it and the file ended up in the cold case file. Subsequently, Dietz had disappeared but it now seemed that he had returned to continue his work under a new name. She was further dismayed to see how closely her nightmares were tied to the case.

But the biggest shock came when she looked at the pictures of the victims from thirty years ago. She was looking at a glossy 8x10 of the girl in her recurring nightmare. "No," she murmured, "this can't be."

Hunter looked up to see his partner had gone ash pale. Quickly he moved to her side. "What is it, DeeDee?" He asked softly.

She handed him the picture, tears stinging her eyes. "She's the one who keeps begging me to help her in that house. In my nightmare – this is her." She clasped her hands in her lap, trying to calm herself. He put the picture down and placed his hands over hers. They were cold as ice.

He didn't know what to say. And tomorrow they were going to the house that was probably the setting for her nightmare. He looked back at the file and a date caught his eye. Tomorrow, October 31 would be the thirty year anniversary of the girl's death.

It suddenly seemed too much to bear and McCall wasn't feeling equipped at the moment to handle it all. Images from her recurring nightmares flashed before her eyes: the house, the terrifying mask, the sinister voice, and the innocent young girl pleas for help. A chill raced down her spine at a speed so quickly that she felt a slight sensation of dizziness.

Hunter could see that she wasn't doing very well, and was finally able to say something, in an attempt to calm her. "Just breathe easily, and come with me."

He knew she needed to get away from the desk, so he stood up and gently pulled her from her chair by her hands. "Let's go outside and get some air."

Luckily she managed to stand without her legs giving out. On the way down in the elevator, she could hear him talking, but wasn't focused on his words. She could only hear the voice of that little girl screaming for help.

Once outside, Hunter took her to sit at one of the benches in the outdoor eating area. "Are you okay?" He knew she was having a hard time dealing with the nightmares, but he hadn't seen her this upset since they started. "Your hands are still so cold. You're shaking." He was really worried about her. "McCall? Come on, and talk to me. Just take a deep breath and tell me what's going through your mind."

Between a few grayish clouds, the streaming ray of sunshine was welcomed warmth to her face. It was completely unlike the shock of seeing the girl's photo; which affected her like a splash of ice water on her face. She inhaled and exhaled deeply; finally able to rid herself of some of the shock. "I think I'm okay, now. I was just so stunned when I saw that picture. That's the same girl in my dreams. I know she's been dead for thirty years, but I feel like she's still out there waiting for someone…for me, to save her from that lunatic. And the idea of what that monster did to those girls…." She shuddered as thoughts were too much for her to deal with. "They were just babies. No one should have to suffer through that.

"I know. It's awful." Hunter placed a consoling arm around her shoulder. "I just hope we can keep it from ever happening to anyone else."

"Yeah, I hope so, too."

Hunter remembered that the next night might be tougher for McCall. "I know it's really hard on you right now, but we still have to stake out that house tomorrow night. Do you think you can do it? If not, you can call in sick and I'll partner up with someone else until we're done."

"Call in sick? Are you trying to get rid of me, Hunter? Here I am thinking I'm the best partner you've had, and now you let me know that I'm easy to replace, on such a tough case too."

"Oh, well I didn't mean that. I was just…I…"

Before anymore guilt could set into Hunter, McCall let him off the hook with a smile. "I'm joking with you." She found that the strain had been broken even more, and she was able to laugh a little at Hunter's expression. "Look at you. You're so easy."

"Oh, I knew you were joking."

"Sure you did."

"It's good to see you've released some of the tension. You were pretty shaken up in the office. I was worried about you for a minute."

"I'm sorry I worried you. But it really did get to me because I never expected to see that picture. And to find out what that psycho did in that house, and to know he wore a mask….well, it's just so much like the dreams." She thought about how much more from the case could be tied into her dreams. "After I go back and finish reading the file, I'll be sure to have the girl's name. It might be of some comfort to me. I still feel like I owe that little girl my help. Maybe after all this time her spirit is restless because no one helped her and no one was punished for hurting her."

Hunter didn't say a word, but McCall could see that he wasn't ready to buy into that idea. At least not right away.

"I know a lot of people don't believe in that stuff, but I do, and I'm not ashamed to admit it either. I know if I don't follow through on this Dietz case, I won't be able to solve this mystery in my dreams. Maybe my dreams are a way to help find and put Dietz away. He did it thirty years ago when he called himself Wilhelm and now he's doing it again as Bernie." Her determination gained strength as she spoke. "It's got to stop now, Hunter. You can count on me to work one hundred percent on this case."

"Well, if you're really serious about going through with the stake out, I hope you'll be able to get some sleep tonight. We might have to go inside and take a look around if we get the chance. I know you were a little bothered by the exterior of the house, and I hope the interior won't be too hard on you. I mean, it could wind up being exactly like the house in your dreams."

McCall thought about that possibility, but didn't want it to sway her decision on going through with the investigation. "I'll be fine. But, I'd appreciate it if you'd reassure me that it'll all be okay."

"You can count on it." After a few more minutes of the cool autumn air breezing over them, the team decided it was time to return to their desk and move on with work.

The horrible nightmare invaded DeeDee McCall's sleep again later that night. It came with more ferocity this time. The man in the mask taunted her with his tricks of disappearing and reappearing; sometimes in her own house. His red eyes blazed even brighter, and he continued to remind her that he could never be caught. In the distance, somewhere in the upstairs area of the old mansion, she could hear the girl screaming for help. And even more upsetting; once again she could have sworn that someone was somewhere in her house. Just as she had before, she took her gun and searched the place and just like before, she didn't find an intruder. She wondered how much more her nerves could take because it was getting to be all too real, without any substantial evidence.

She settled in for the second time that night, but couldn't get the thoughts of what went on in that big house out of her mind. And knowing that tomorrow might be the day she actually set foot inside of it weighed heavily in her thoughts as well. She was curious to see if it would be the same as in her dream, and also dreaded it. But she wanted to believe that this little girl, the one in desperate need of help would somehow lead her to solving a few mysteries. So, tomorrow, Halloween night would be the night for kids in costumes to receive treats or play tricks, while she and Hunter would do their best to not be tricked by a sicko named Dietz. Before drifting off to sleep, she thought of the girl with the red hair. She had no idea that the child would come to mean more to her than she could ever imagine.

Hunter only had to take one look at his partner to see that she didn't have a restful night. She was sitting at her desk, shoulders slumped and poring over the case files. He was angry with himself for not staying with her last night; sleeping on her couch in an effort to stave off the nightmares. Well, he'd fix that today.

She glanced up at his arrival and he was struck by how pale she was, making her dark eyes seem larger than usual.

"McCall . . ." he started to try and convince her not to go with him to the house but the sheer determination he saw told him he'd be wasting his breath.

"Her name is Colleen Sullivan."

He almost asked who, and then looked at the picture she was holding. The little girl in her nightmares.

"She was the last one," McCall continued softly, her fingers running across the photo as if she could feel the porcelain skin. "I knew her sister."

Hunter sank into his chair like a deflating balloon and his mouth dropped open, working but no sound came out.

Finally, he found his voice. "Are you sure?"

McCall raised her eyes to meet his. "I never knew what happened to Caitlin's sister, she was gone when her family moved next to mine. Of course, we were too young to be told anything – just that she was gone." She reached for a Kleenex and dabbed at her eyes and nose.

Hunter watched her silently.

"I don't know if Caitlin ever learned the truth. They moved again when were in high school and I haven't seen or heard from her since."

"Until now, when you're dreaming about her sister."

McCall nodded morosely.

Hunter rubbed his hands across his eyes and shook his head, trying to clear it. He thought about the case they had been working on with Vice, and to now discover that it was linked to a previously unsolved string of murders with an almost identical M.O. was chilling. He didn't want to believe that the ghost of a girl, murdered thirty years ago was asking for his partner's help in bringing the killer to justice.

He sighed. "So, you never knew anything about Colleen?"

"No. The picture in the case file is a blow up of the one in her parent's house. Back then, Caitlin said she learned early on, not to talk about Colleen." McCall watched Hunter expectantly, waiting to see where he was going to go with this.

"Okay, let's put together everything we've got."

With a grateful smile, McCall spread out the folders and they spent the morning making their case. By lunchtime, they decided they had everything they needed – except Bernie and whatever evidence was in the house. She was shocked that their case with Vice to nail Bernie D was expanding in such a twisted fashion and hoped that no matter if he went by Wilhelm Dietz or Bernie D, that the killings would stop now. She hoped that she would be able to find Caitlin's family and give them long overdue closure in the death of their daughter.

Thoroughly disgusted after learning just how despicable their suspect was and how long he'd been in business, Hunter couldn't wait to get his hands on him. Weston and Andrews were happy to get the report and volunteered to stake out the house until later that evening. Hunter hung up the phone and glanced down at his watch.

"Come on, McCall. Time for lunch." He straightened the piles of papers scattered across his desk and reached for his jacket.

"I'm not hungry, Hunter, but thanks. You go ahead." She tried to sound nonchalant, and busied herself with the stacks of folders, unwilling to meet his gaze.

Hunter watched her with narrowed eyes, arms crossed across his chest. And waited.

It took McCall a full minute to realize that Hunter hadn't said anything and without thinking; looked up. She jumped slightly when she found herself on the receiving end of a stern glare.

"What?" she asked, feigning innocence.

"You know perfectly well, what. Lunchtime. Grab your purse and let's go." When she didn't immediately move, Hunter moved in. "Or do I have to pick you up and carry you to the car?" He leaned in close and his voice dropped to a whisper.

Their faces mere inches apart, McCall felt her chest constrict and her breathing became faster and shallower. "You wouldn't dare," she challenged, her voice also low.

"Try me." Hunter met her gaze without flinching.

McCall sat frozen. (Would he really? In the squad room?) She looked around to see that it was almost deserted at this time; nearly everyone was gone and the few remaining were otherwise occupied. Hunter stepped closer and actually pulled her chair back before she realized he was serious and she quickly jumped to her feet.

"Okay, okay – I'm coming. Save the caveman routine for some other time," she said, laughing.

Hunter grinned. "You got it."

McCall fastened her seatbelt. "So, what's for lunch?"

Hunter kept his eyes on the road. "It's a surprise."

"Come on, Hunter," McCall cajoled. "I'm too tired for surprises."

"My point exactly. So just sit back and enjoy the ride." Hunter peeked over and couldn't help but smile.

"I saw that."

Hunter just laughed.

"Hey! What are we doing at my house?" McCall looked around in astonishment. "Wait a minute." She looked at him suspiciously. "If you think I'm making you lunch – "

"Heaven forbid!" Hunter exclaimed in mock horror. "Come on, McCall. Let's just go inside and all will be made clear."

McCall frowned but acquiesced. She led him into the living room and plopped down on the couch. "Well, here we are."

Hunter sat down on the coffee table to face her, their knees almost touching. "I'm serious now, McCall."

She just stared at him, eyes widening in surprise at the tone of his voice.

"If you are going to insist on coming with me tonight to stakeout Bernie's house, then I'm going to insist that you have lunch and then you are going to lie down for a few hours to sleep. Right now you are sleep deprived and I want you at your best tonight. Bernie is a cold blooded killer and I don't want anything to go wrong because you're tired and I'm distracted worrying about you."

McCall jerked her head over, a spark of anger flashed in her eyes, but it quickly died when she saw the fear that etched his features. She sighed. "All right."

"Thank you," Hunter said happily, leaning forward to place a kiss on her forehead. Now he knew how tired she was, since she had given in so quickly. "Then, here's the plan. I want you to go upstairs and take a nice warm bath."

"But I just had a shower a few hours ago," McCall protested.

"To get relaxed," Hunter explained. "I'll go and get some lunch and bring it back. We'll eat and then rest."

McCall rolled her eyes but dutifully headed up the stairs.

Later, she had to admit that Hunter had had a good idea. She was totally exhausted. The warm bath water was soothing. He had brought their favorite chowder and he even convinced her to drink some heated milk with a touch of nutmeg that his mother swore by. Now, nestled in her bed, the room darkened by the large blanket Hunter had draped over the window, and a single candle glowing in the far corner emitting a soothing spiced vanilla scent, she thought she might be ready to actually sleep.

Until she closed her eyes.

Almost immediately the masked face appeared before her and she had to bite her lip not to cry out in sheer frustration. "Go away!" She wanted to yell.

As if on cue, Hunter poked his head in. He wasn't completely surprised to see that his partner was lying with her eyes wide open.

"Hey, why haven't you gone to sleep yet?" He asked softly, moving to the bed and sitting down beside her. "Are you okay?"

McCall nodded, unable to speak. Hunter reached over and tenderly stroked her cheek.

At last she found her voice. "Would - would you lie down with me?" She asked demurely.

Hunter paused a beat before answering. "DeeDee McCall, are you coming on to me?" He asked hopefully, his face lighting up.

"Why yes I am, Rick Hunter," she replied with a wink, steering him away from thinking she was too afraid to go to sleep.

Hunter settled down next to her. He'd let her think that he misunderstood, knowing she was trying to put up a brave front. The fact that she trusted him to comfort her without judging was a gift he would cherish.

He waited for her to get comfortable, and then carefully situated himself alongside her. Within minutes, they were both sound asleep.

When Hunter awoke several hours later, he all but flew out of the bed. (Shit!) He swore. He hadn't planned on falling asleep himself and now they were late. "Come on, McCall – up and at 'em!"

McCall awoke slowly, having slept soundly for the first time in a week. She felt like she could sleep another twelve hours at least. "What's wrong?"

"We're gonna be late. Hurry up!" He ran out of the room to let her get dressed and went to the kitchen to grab two sodas and something to eat on the way.

To her credit, McCall was ready in two minutes flat. Hunter had to admit that the extra sleep had obviously done her good. She looked a little disheveled, but definitely rested and refreshed.

They ran to the car and sped off. They arrived at the Dietz House thirty minutes later than planned; much to their embarrassment. Hunter got out of the car to get report and took the ribbing dished out, knowing it was deserved.

Finally he had enough. "All right, guys," Hunter held up his hands, "We surrender – you win. Lunch on us next time."

"You got it, man." Andrews said, reaching out his hand. Hunter shook it.

"So, what did we miss?"

"Nothing that we could see. Still no lights on. Maybe he's a no-show."

"Yeah, maybe. We'll take it from here."

"Okay," Weston started the car. "Good luck. I'm ready to get out of here. This place gives me the creeps – even the trick-or-treaters are giving this place a wide berth. "

"Thanks." Hunter watched them drive off and walked back to the car. He took a moment to look up and down the street, noticing for the first time that there was only one dim street lamp and none of the houses around Dietz's seemed to be occupied. It was as if nobody wanted to live anywhere near the place.

McCall stared at the Dietz House, dark and decaying. (If ever there was a haunted house, then this surely was it,) she thought. She couldn't seem to tear her eyes away from it; it was almost hypnotic.

"McCall."

She drew in a sharp breath, her heart jack hammered in her chest. "What is it with you guys sneaking up on me?" She said breathlessly.

Hunter got in the car. "Sorry." He gave her a chance to catch her breath. "See anything?"

"No."

They both stared intently at the darkened mansion. Seconds later a light glowed dimly on the second floor.

As they waited in the parked car across the street, the light gained attention. "Look." McCall pointed toward the second floor window. "There's some sort of light on up there. It just came on."

Hunter turned to find it, but couldn't. "Where is it?" He got out of the car to take a look. "Which window are you pointing at?"

"Right there." She stretched her arm further out of the car to point more directly. "Don't you see it? It's like a candle burning."

"I don't see it." Hunter took a few steps back; craning his neck to get a better view.

"Where?"

"It's the second window from the left. It's got to be a candle. See how the light flickers?"

"McCall, it must have gone out. I don't see a thing."

"What? Is your eyesight going? It's right there in second win…" Before McCall could finish expressing her irritation with Hunter for not seeing the muted form of light; it faded away. She blinked her eyes; trying to focus more on the window which had held the light. "It's gone. I saw a light up there, but now it's gone."

Hunter didn't see the light, and thought maybe he'd missed it. But it did occur to him that maybe his partner's lack of rest could be causing her to have some kind of hallucination. Instead of bringing up that subject, he slipped behind the steering wheel. "I just missed it, I guess. Maybe we should go knock on the door. If no one answers, you'll just pick the lock and let us in. How 'bout it?"

McCall knew they didn't have the search warrant yet, so to get inside, breaking in would be the only way. Although she didn't always feel it was their legal right to break and enter; there were times when she felt it was absolutely necessary. And, with Hunter urging….sometimes daring her to do so on occasion it didn't help matters. After sighing heavily at the thought of going inside the house with the unpleasant exterior; figuring the interior would be equally or less unpleasant, she agreed. "Okay, we'll go in. But we'll knock first, and ask a few questions if someone answers."

"Okay, that sounds like a plan." Hunter waited for her to make the first move, and noticed she didn't appear to be in a hurry. "I'm ready when you are."

McCall opened the car door and stepped out, with Hunter coming around the front of the car to join her. Before she took a step from the car, she glanced back up at the window where she'd seen the light. After crossing the street, she hesitated again before going up the walkway.

"Are you okay?" Hunter asked.

"Yeah. It's just that I'm feeling more like I know this place…like I've been here before, other than when we came the other day. I guess it's those awful dreams." She noticed a look of concern of her partners face. "Don't worry. I can do this. I'll be fine as long as I know you've got my back."

"Always, DeeDee. Always." The smile on his face, the look in his eyes and the tone of his voice were proof enough for her.

"Come on, let's go." She shook off her uneasy feeling and led the way to the door. She wanted to get in and out before the last bit of sunlight ended its shift for the day.

After three tries at knocking, without getting answer, he suggested she give up and put the lock picking skill into action. As soon as the right side of the double doors opened, McCall could see that the foyer seemed quite familiar, just like her dreams. As they made their way into the huge formal living room; sweeping away cobwebs with their hands, the duo found a tattered dark green velvet sofa in the room, along with fresh footprints on the hardwood floor. There was a place on the green velvet that indicated that someone had sat there often enough to keep the dust in that area minimal. The mint green octagonal rug in the center of the room lay beneath a sturdy oak coffee table.

"Look at this." Hunter whispered, pointing to the rings on the table that were obviously made by a glass or a cup. "Someone was here not too long ago, and may still be here." He drew his gun from his side holster and McCall pulled hers from the holster attached just above the waistband at the back of her pants. Hunter asked if she wanted to take the den while he checked the dining room and kitchen. Not wanting to have a whole floor dividing them, they'd save the upstairs for later.

On her way to the den, McCall noticed a door across the hall from the den. Just as she was about take a step toward the door, a small gray mouse ran across her path. She breathed a sigh of relief that it didn't want to join her, and also because it wasn't a huge rat. She opened the door to what was a half bath; quite disgusting with mold or mildew in almost every corner. Turning around to make a quick exit, she was startled when she caught sight of her reflection in the cracked mirror above the large sink. After catching her breath she went ahead to the den.

It was a rather large room which at one time could have had children laughing as they played board games and made tiny towns from building blocks. The empty room, with its large picture window and bench seat, should have been an area for children to watch the sunset and have their parents reading stories to them. Maybe before Dietz took over, those things did happen, but not as recently as thirty years or so ago. She thought of what horrible things actually went on inside this house and the sounds of children laughing faded from her mind.

As she made her way back to the foyer, Hunter came out to meet her with his findings. "There's nothing in the kitchen or dining room except a lot of dust, but the kitchen door looks like it's been in use lately. The dust around the bottom of the door has been disturbed. What'd you find in the den?"

"The same…dust." She wiped the dust and cobwebs from her hands onto her pants. "Apparently this guy isn't into housekeeping."

McCall suggested they search one more room downstairs, together, and then head upstairs. The library; three walls covered with cherry finished bookcases, was another room that at some time could have been filled with good times. There might have been books containing classic poetry, works of fiction, non-fiction political works and possibly a collection by Dr. Seuss and various nursery rhymes. Encyclopedias and dictionaries would have been a part of the collection as well. She could imagine that at some point the man of the household might have even had a desk where he may have worked on items he hadn't had time to finish at work on some days. She visualized a kind faced man sitting there with his pipe, completely engrossed in his work, until one of his children asked to be read to, or to be tucked into bed. The man would also make time to pay attention to his wife and smile at her for no reason and to tell her he loved her just because it was true.

Once again, the horrors of Dietz's crimes erased the good memories for her. She thought silently "The people living her before Dietz had no idea that their perfect house would become a chamber of torture for young girls."

Hunter spoke softly to his partner. "Let's check out the second floor." Keeping quiet with slow steady steps, they made their way up to the first landing of the staircase. Making a right turn, they headed up to the next level of stairs, which lead to second landing. Finally, they got to the top where the hallway began.

Hunter checked the first two bedrooms at the start of the hall on his own. He searched those rooms and one bathroom; but didn't find much of anything. He walked up to his partner who was standing in the hall and told her he'd check the bedroom around the corner if she'd be okay alone. She told him to ahead. He told her he'd probably run into the same luck as with the other rooms, and would be right back.

McCall felt herself drawn to the master bedroom at the opposite end of the hall. At first she thought someone was calling to her…whispering something to her and for a moment she thought it was her partner. But she remembered that he was at the other end of the hallway, and the voice was coming from inside the room she stood in front of. She stood outside the door for a few moments, listening to what sounded like a child crying.

"Please let me out. I won't tell anyone what happened, I promise. Let me out of here. Please open the door."

The voice became very clear to McCall as she heard a child…a little girl begging to be set free. Suddenly she heard the doorknob being turned, and looked down to see it move as the little girl must have tried to open it. Not knowing for sure if it was a child or the captor at the door, she took a firm grip on her gun, took a step back and tried to prepare herself for whoever was coming out. Just as she took a silent deep breath, the door knob stopped moving. She held steady, until she heard the child again.

"Is someone out there? Are you going to take me home?"

McCall was slightly startled by the questions. She now knew that the little girl was alone and it was safe to enter the room to rescue her. "I'm here, sweetheart! Don't cry! I'm a police officer and I'm here to help you! I'll call my partner and he'll help us too. Rick! Rick!"

He didn't answer.

She continued to speak to the little girl. "Listen to me. My name is Dee Dee and you're going to be fine, okay?" She began to feel frustrated. She couldn't get the door open and Hunter still hadn't come to find her. She felt she had three options; shooting, picking or breaking the lock with a sturdy kick. She took a closer look at the doorknob and realized that even with her skills it would waste a lot of time picking the old outdated lock.

"I need you to stand back, away from the door so I can kick it in." The little voice was silent and she could only hope that the girl had done as she was told. Without waiting another second, she told the child to stand away from the door as she'd try to beak the door down. She kicked it once, but it didn't budge.

"Rick! Hunter, come here!" McCall tried kicking the door again but the lock wouldn't give.

Finally Hunter rounded the corner; coming down the hall at full speed with his gun drawn. He saw the desperate look on his partners face as she explained the situation.

"A little girl's in this room and I can't get the door open!"

Just as Hunter was about to try to break the door down, McCall heard the lock click and stopped him. "Wait! I think she opened it." She took the doorknob and turned it slightly. He watched as she slowly opened the door and went inside.

He kept his gun ready for any surprises, and followed her inside. He took the miniature flashlight from his pocket and shone the light around the room which was completely empty except for a few ragged drapes over the two windows. There were two places the child could be…the large double door closet or the bathroom inside the master suite.

McCall called for the child. "Honey, it's okay now." She opened the bathroom door with disappointment. "Nothing." She must be in the closet. "I know you're hiding in the closet, but you can come out now. We'll take you home."

Since there was no answer, she went to open the closet door to let the little girl out. When she opened the door, she received quite a surprise. As Hunter's flashlight shone in her direction he could see the confused looked on her face. "Is she alright?"

McCall stared into the closet completely taken aback. Hunter's curiosity peaked and he started toward the closet. "Well, is she okay?" The way she looked at him told him that something was wrong.

"She's not here."

Hunter, a little surprised at the reply, took a look inside as McCall one again stated the obvious. "The closet's empty."

Dumbfounded, she just stood there, hands hanging limply at her side, mouth open, forming a perfect "o".

Hunter sighed and stepped over to his partner. Facing her, he draped one arm across her shoulders and pulled her close until their foreheads were touching.

McCall let her eyes slip shut, and when she felt his breath warm on her cheek, she wanted to cry. "I'm not crazy, Hunter," she whispered brokenly.

"I didn't say you were," he whispered back.

She raised her eyes to meet his and let her expression tell him that she thought that whether he said it or not; he thought she might be a little crazy.

He sighed again. "Look, you're tired, you're stressed, you've had a recurring horrendous nightmare and we're here trying to nab a psycho, child killer with a twisted obsession for snuff films and pornography." He caught her eye and held her gaze. "I don't think you're crazy."

McCall stared at him a moment longer, searching every inch of his face. Finally, she accepted his words and nodded.

Hunter stepped back and glanced around the room. Nothing. "Let's keep looking." He headed for the hallway.

Biting her lip in consternation, McCall went back to the closet for one more look. For any sign of the little girl she was sure she had heard. When the door to the master bedroom slammed shut behind her, she whirled around to find that she was now alone in the room. "Hunter!" she cried out and ran to the door.

Locked.

Terror like a white hot iron leaped into her chest and she felt her heart try and crawl up in her throat. Breathing suddenly became difficult. Frantically, she turned and twisted the knob to no avail and when she looked again, she saw that there was no key. She jerked on the knob until she thought her arms would come out of their sockets.

"Hunter! Hunter, where are you? Answer me, Hunter," she begged.

The only reply was a grunt and then the sounds of a struggle on the other side. With her ear pressed firmly to the door, she strained to hear what was going on. Just as she was reaching for her gun, a body crashed into the door. Instinctively she leapt back, half expecting the door to come off its hinges.

"Hunter!"

Silence. Poised to jump back, she again strained to hear what was going on just outside the door. She thought she heard something being hauled down the hall. Something heavy. The next sound was thumping down the stairs.

(Oh, God – please – please don't let it be Rick!)

Again she called out for him, but there was nothing. She was alone.

Alone.

Every horrible thing was magnified to the nth degree when you were alone. Finally she reached for her gun and took careful aim; a task made more difficult by her body's overload of adrenalin and fear. Just as she was about to squeeze the trigger, she realized that the knob was turning and with a loud creak, the door swung open.

No one was there.

In that instant, she felt like the Cowardly Lion from the Wizard of Oz, as he stood in the Haunted Woods, clutching his tail desperately and with eyes squeezed shut, proclaiming, "I do believe in spooks, I do believe in spooks."

Up until now, she thought she believed in ghosts, but in an abstract way. She didn't truly comprehend what that meant, exactly. She hadn't taken it the next step and wondered what she would do or feel if put in a situation where she was confronted with the supernatural. Certainly Bald Mountain had been unnerving, but deep down, she hadn't really believed ghosts were responsible, had she?

Then she remembered that she had read about houses that could absorb the emotions experienced in them. Could the sheer terror suffered by those helpless young girls have reached some kind of overload and the right person with the right connection act as a catalyst, allowing it to take on a new kind of energy? Could her link to Colleen through Caitlin have brought Colleen back somehow – to bring justice after thirty years?

She didn't know for sure. So here she was and she found herself engulfed by a tidal wave of the blackest fear she had ever experienced in her life. And if this was indeed Colleen, then the only way to put her to rest was to find Dietz. And Hunter.

Her mind became numb and then she felt another surge of adrenalin, more potent than she'd ever had before and she began to tear through the house. Beyond hysterical, she searched the entire upstairs, running from room to room, opening every door she encountered without hesitation. In her fractured state of mind, she imagined she was reliving her nightmare and occasionally Dietz's face would appear before her, taunting her. She even thought she heard Colleen calling for help. Her worst nightmare was unfolding before her very eyes.

Without conscious thought, she was drawn to the kitchen and ended up before the door to the basement. The last place to look was behind the very door she now stood in front of. Feeling like she had just run a marathon, her breath coming in short ragged gasps, she scrounged up every ounce of courage she could muster. It must have been enough, because seemingly of its own volition, her right hand reached out to grasp the door knob.

As she turned the tarnished metal, a low agonized groan escaped her parchment dry lips. She pulled the door back and faced the steep staircase. Below, it was pitch black and her flashlight now seemed woefully inadequate.

Then the smell like a rotted grave, hit her like a physical blow. She gagged twice before regaining her composure, the stench nearly overpowering her.

"Hunter!" she called out, her voice sounding too high-pitched to her own ears. When she didn't receive a response, she took a moment to wipe her hands, now slick with sweat on her pants before proceeding forward.

With her flashlight in one hand and her gun in the other, she would have to go down the stairs using only her legs that felt as though they had been replaced with flimsy rubber. She braced her gun hand on the opposite wrist and took the first shaky step and then the next and the next, sweeping her flashlight and gun from side to side.

Each step revealed more of Dietz's chamber of torture and the instruments used to inflict the pain and suffering on those innocent girls and the remnants of torn and bloodied clothing left behind.

McCall made a low, keening sound. She could feel her heart thudding painfully in her chest and in her head. Her lungs were burning; the air becoming more noxious and stale the further down she went.

"Hunter!" She barely recognized her own voice, thin and reedy.

There was still no sign of him; but now her flashlight shone on a long table, filled with both old and new cameras, camcorders, old 8mm's and piles of film and cartridges. There was something else at the end of the table. Hesitantly she took another step forward, the darkness pushing against her like some kind of approaching force field, sapping her strength as she realized what she was looking at. Her flashlight trembled in her grasp as it shone its light on the object before her.

The mask.

"Oh, God," she moaned. It was the face in her nightmare. Exactly.

She stared at it, mesmerized, her breath hitching in her chest. (This isn't real,) she thought desperately, (this can't be happening – it can't be possible.)

Yet she was unable to tear her eyes away from the glowing red orbs that stared back at her.

Eyes that shone with a hellish fire born of pure evil.

Eyes that held her transfixed.

Eyes that blinked.

DeeDee McCall screamed.

Dietz rose up from behind the mask and vaulted smoothly over the table. McCall stumbled backwards across the cellar, dropping the flashlight in order to have both hands on the gun. Dietz moved in with nearly superhuman speed, going for her legs; too fast for McCall to drop her aim.

They both went down and rolled twice. Dietz struggled to keep her legs trapped as McCall raised her arms and brought the gun down hard. She intended for the blow to strike his head, but he dodged at the last second and she merely grazed him.

In the blink of an eye, she managed to bring the muzzle back up, but before she could pull the trigger, he viciously backhanded her and the gun clattered across the cellar floor. Now his hands pinned her wrists to the ground, his death grip threatening to crush the bones.

When Dietz scooted up to straddle her body, it allowed her legs mobility and feeling his heavy weight across her pelvis gave her a surge of power, nearly forcing him off of her.

He recovered quickly though, and wrapped his hands firmly around her throat.

And squeezed.

McCall twisted her head frantically, trying to get any oxygen at all. Dietz denied her, even as she clawed desperately at his hands. The roaring in her ears was deafening and she could feel each of his fingers digging into her skin. She knew with an awful certainty that if she didn't do something fast; she would be unconscious or dead.

She found the necessary strength to focus on one or two fingers and every time one loosened even the slightest, she sucked in as much air as possible. It had to be enough, if she hoped to survive.

Dietz was unrelenting and her struggles weakened. Her vision began to dissolve into tiny black specks, even though her eyes felt like they would bulge right out of their sockets and the pressure around her neck was constant. Her hands fell lifelessly to her side.

Suddenly the nearly unendurable force that was squeezing the life out of her stopped. In the dim light, a brighter glow appeared over Dietz's right shoulder and in shock he released her and spun around. Although she was free, McCall was unable to move. She and Dietz both stared at the glowing apparition that McCall recognized as Colleen.

"NO!" Dietz shouted. He rose to his feet to confront her. "NO!"

McCall realized with a detached wonder that the young girl seemed to be floating. With outstretched arms, she advanced on Dietz who backpedaled quickly, stumbling over McCall's body. He went down with a crash and Colleen sailed over McCall to envelop him. Lying on the cellar floor, she shivered in the cold air that rushed through her. Unable to move and see what horror was transpiring across the room, she felt her body go limp from the oxygen deprivation and consciousness abandoned her as Dietz's shrieks filled the room.

Some time later, Rick Hunter opened his eyes to pitch blackness. Every muscle in his body ached; especially his head and he realized that he was lying in a closet. He could feel several bruises forming on his body and he discovered a knot at the back of his skull. The cramped quarters smelled musty and fetid. He glanced at the glowing display on his watch and saw to his horror that it was almost three in the morning. Remembering his struggle with the man he assumed was Dietz, he was desperate to find McCall. What had happened to her?

Stumbling to his feet, he fumbled around for the doorknob, swallowing hard when he was hit with a wave of nausea. When it didn't open, he tried to force it open without success. Unable to get the necessary space for sufficient power, it took several painful attempts to finally break out.

The sight before him nearly took his breath away, leaving him dizzy and more nauseated. His partner's body sprawled on the dirt floor, lying in the beam of her flashlight, her eyes closed and a trickle of dried blood from her mouth. He was at her side in an instant and then true terror took hold of him.

Her throat. Sweet Jesus, her throat. It was beyond dreadful. The entire length of her neck was covered in ghastly blue and purple blotches.

His hands stroked her face and he felt tiny puffs of air on his fingers. "DeeDee? Can you hear me?"

To his immeasurable relief, her eyes fluttered open. Before she could feel relief at seeing him, she darted her gaze around frantically and struggled unsuccessfully to pull herself up and talk. "Dietz?" It came out husky and rough. Hunter had to lean in to hear her.

Hunter gently held her down and shook his head. Her voice had been decimated. He looked around and spotted Dietz lying across the room. Hating leaving her side for even a second, he knew he had to make sure Dietz was no longer a threat. "Stay here, and don't move. He's over there. I'll check on him." A quick distasteful check confirmed there was no pulse to be found; the body was cool to the touch.

He scrambled back to her side. "He's dead. Don't – don't try to talk." His eyes and hands raked over her body, searching for any other injuries. "Are you hurt anywhere else?" McCall opened her mouth, but Hunter quickly stopped her. "Sshh, don't. Just blink once for yes, twice for no."

She closed her eyes and then opened them twice."

He sighed in relief. "We've got to get out of here." Gently he reached out and scooped her into his arms.

Although he was able to lift McCall with ease, Hunter didn't want to take chances getting her upstairs. Before making another move, he made sure he wasn't suffering from any dizziness due the bump on his head, and took each step leading up and out of the cellar with extra caution. Once they reached the living room, he lay her down on the rundown green velvet sofa and gave her a sympathetic look. "I hate to leave you on this thing, but I have to go to the car and call the paramedics."

McCall grabbed his hand as he was about to walk away. She tried to speak, but the irritation in her throat wouldn't allow her, and she only managed a small cough.

Hunter figured he had an idea of what she wanted to say and answered her. "Don't argue with me, okay? You really need to have someone check you out, and I don't think I should try to drive you to the hospital with this bump on my head." He winced as he touched the sore spot. "Besides, we can't leave the scene with Dietz's body downstairs."

McCall nodded in agreement and while reluctant to settle into the dirty sofa, she rested her head against its arm.

As Hunter walked out the door, McCall thought about what she had tried say to her partner. It wasn't that she was going to argue against going to the hospital, because from the way she felt, she knew better. It was that she wanted to tell him about Colleen. She'd seen that little girl…or what represented her in the cellar, and knew that if whatever it was hadn't appeared that Dietz would most certainly have killed her. She knew it with all her heart that Colleen was there to save her.

There were so many thoughts running through her head, and with the throbbing pain around her neck, it made for a not so nice combination, but she couldn't stop thinking about the situations.

Another eerie thought in particular, was that of the child calling for help from inside a locked room. Once she entered that bedroom she expected to see a scared little girl huddled in a corner, but instead; she and Hunter walked into a room where only remnants of past horrible deeds were evident.

She couldn't shake the idea that it was Colleen who called her into that bedroom, in order to keep Dietz from getting to her. For a split second she could almost feel his hands around her throat again, and it chilled her to the bone. She was grateful to Colleen, but at the same time she had to remember that Colleen was murdered thirty years ago. She knew ghosts existed, and that the old house could have a hundred in it as far as she knew, but to have one to save her life was something she never would have thought would happen…ever. Explaining her theory to her partner and having him believe her or not would be an interesting event ahead.

Hunter had returned to her side and told her that her 'chariot' would arrive shortly. While they waited the twelve minutes, he told her how he was jumped by Dietz in the hallway, and how he'd obviously lost consciousness after a blow to the head. He leaned over the show McCall the bump on the back of his head and she very gently reached up to touch it. She frowned as if she felt the pain herself and whispered ever so softly - "I'm sorry".

"Don't be." Hunter replied while placing a gentle kiss on her hand. "As long as you're okay, and we got Dietz, then it's worth it. I'll survive. I've survived much worse, haven't I?" She smiled and pointed to herself nodding yes.

"Yeah, you too." Hunter added with a smile. "We've both been through it, and made it out a million times. And we'll do it until the day they force us off duty to draw social security."

After watching a smile come across his partner's face, Hunter looked out the window as he heard sounds of help approaching. He saw the paramedics and officers pulling up with lights and sirens in operation and felt relieved that McCall would get to the hospital soon. The bruises around her throat and neck were darkening, and he was worrying even more. After McCall was loaded into her 'chariot'; as Hunter called it, he made sure to tell the officers that Dietz could be found in the cellar, then immediately climbed into the back of the ambulance with McCall and the attending medic.

After both officers had been checked over in the emergency room and given a fair amount of testing, they were to be admitted for observation. While only a curtain divided the two partners in the ER, each could hear the other's doctor as they pleaded with them to stay the night. The patients were stubborn, but once the serious subject of each of them losing consciousness was thrown at them, they realized that it would be in their best interest to stay put. Besides, each of them was eager to get cleaned up and have something to eat and Hunter found it much easier to give in after realizing McCall would be looked after by more than just him alone. And there was no way he wanted to be anymore than two minutes by foot away from her. He'd seen what Dietz did to her, and knew that she was almost his most recent murder victim and the thought scared him.

Captain Devane knocked lightly on the door, and then entered room 717 as a nurse made an exit. "I hear you got another bump on that hard head of yours."

Hunter turned his head to greet him as he toweled his hair dry. "Yeah, well, I figured it was about time to take another hit to the old noggin. I can't let my reputation slide, now can I?"

Charlie laughed at the idea as he took a seat next to the bed. "No, I guess we can't have that."

"Have you seen McCall yet?" Hunter asked, as he settled into bed.

"No. I went to her room but the nurse said she was about to take a shower and asked me to come back in a few minutes."

"Yeah, she was just about to step into the bathroom when I called her before you came in. She still can't talk very well, but there's no permanent damage done, thank goodness." Hunter sighed at the thought of McCall's bruises. "Charlie, Dietz was trying to choke her to death. The bruises he left on her are really, really bad. They're so harsh it's obvious that he was using every ounce of his will to crush the life out of her."

Charlie shook his head in an effort to erase the unwanted thoughts of losing McCall. "Well, she'll be fine now. There's no way that Dietz can hurt her anymore." After Charlie took the fruit cup that Hunter offered him, he began to add more information about Dietz. "I don't think you and McCall knew it, but Dietz grew up in that house."

"Really?" Hunter replied with surprise as he swallowed a bite of his ham sandwich. "I'm pretty sure I didn't know that."

"Well, he grew up there. His aunt and uncle; Marilyn and Gene Dietz, gained custody of him after his parents overdosed on Morphine on his seventh birthday."

While Hunter and Devane felt a sense of sympathy for young Wilhelm B. Dietz, they couldn't see themselves cutting him any slack for his demonic actions as an adult. As they continued to discuss the events of the night, McCall; in room 721 had finished her shower and enjoyed a warm bowl of beef broth.

The heated nourishment aided in comforting her sore throat and soon she was able to settle more comfortably against the pillows. After finishing her meal a nurse gave her two Vicodin tablets to help ease the pain and help her to relax and get some sleep. She told the nurse that she was so wired that she didn't think anything would help, but she soon found out differently. As she watched the morning newscast about last night's Halloween festivities around the area, she could feel the medication start to ease the pain and she could feel some of the tension in her shoulders ease up. A few minutes later there was a newsbreak about Dietz. The reporter on the scene; Gerald Henson, explained that two police officers had captured Dietz in the old house, and due to a confrontation, both officers were hospitalized with minor injuries while Dietz had died on the scene. Henson added that more would be reported as further statements were made.

McCall could barely keep her eyes open and she began to feel a slight sense of sinking into the warm covers on the bed. "The pain pills might do the trick after all." She noted to herself.

Just before she dozed off, Charlie poked his head in. He realized that she wasn't up for company. "I only wanted to check in on you and say – job well done, McCall." He added a smile which she appreciated. He took a look at the bruises around her neck area and was thankful that they weren't permanent and that they and a few scratches were all Dietz left her with. "I'm gonna go now. You go ahead and get some rest, okay. I'll see you tomorrow."

Charlie made his exit, and McCall suddenly realized that she hadn't talked to Hunter about Colleen. She was exhausted, but wanted to at least mention it to him to help ease her mind about the situation.

"Hello." Hunter answered; also a little groggy from his pain reliever. "Hunter speaking."

"Hey, Rick." McCall barely whispered. "How are you feeling? Is your head still hurting you?"

"DeeDee? Why aren't you getting some sleep? I'm coming to see you in a few hours. Now hang up and rest your voice, and your body."

"Oh, are you thinking of my body, Rick Hunter?" She tried for coy, despite the pain it caused trying to speak.

"As a matter of fact, I am. And I'm not bashful to say so." He chuckled at his own reply.

"Well, I really wanted to talk to you about what happened at the house. And I want to talk about Colleen." Her scratchy voice was near pleading, but Hunter wouldn't let her continue.

"Tomorrow, okay? We'll talk about it all tomorrow after we've both gotten some rest."

Evidently he'd made himself clear as McCall agreed and wished him a good night and then hung up the phone. After a few thoughts of that horrid white mask, the crying child and the apparition, she managed to fall asleep. As soon as she drifted into a fairly deep sleep, reminders of Halloween night began to appear, as well as scenes from nightmares she'd had nights before, but some were not as horrific this time, for which she was grateful.

At 7:30 in the morning, Hunter and McCall had only been asleep a little over an hour and a half. Kate Powers, the RN assigned to them, reviewed the charts and shuddered as she read the account of their assaults. She decided that sleep would be their priority for her shift, since they had just showered and eaten a couple of hours ago.

She went into Sgt Hunter's room first; performed a brief physical assessment, obtained vital signs and though loathe to wake him, did a quick, necessary neuro check. Her patient answered appropriately then promptly went back to sleep. Pleased that he was stable as she adjusted his covers, Kate smiled, kept the lights dimmed and then quietly slipped back out.

She took a moment to document her findings and write a short narrative on the Sgt's chart so it would be readily accessible when the doctor made his rounds. A glance at her watch told her it was time to get the medication due for Sgt McCall, so she stepped over to the med cart, drew up the ordered medication and entered her next patient's room.

Here, too, she kept the lights low, working by the sunlight peeking through the half-closed curtains. It was more than enough light to see the horrific bruising on her patient's neck: the telltale imprints of each finger that had clamped fiercely enough to render her patient unconscious just five hours ago. Shaking her head, amazed that the woman before her hadn't had any of the bones in her neck fractured, she moved to her side and began her assessment. She didn't like what she found.

Kate fit the earpieces of her stethoscope snuggly in her ears and placed the bell first on McCall's upper chest, listening briefly on each side and moved down, covering all the lung fields.

Diminished breath sounds, possibly due to swelling in her throat. Kate gently lifted both eye lids and wasn't surprised to see that both corneas were blood red; a common result of strangulation when the tiny, delicate blood vessels in the eyes burst due to the increased pressure. Kate knew it would resolve on its own.

The rest of her assessment was negative for any abnormalities, so she quickly checked vital signs and administered the medication the doctor had ordered. She elected to put McCall on a pulse oximeter. When the reading didn't rise above 90 on room air, she wasted no time setting up humidified oxygen and hooking the soft tubing behind each ear and settling the padded prongs at the nose. Letting the cool air work on the inflamed breathing passages, she rang the nurses' station and asked them to page the doctor.

Dr. Hermann called back and Kate was happy to report that the pulse ox was now at 96. He promised to be there in twenty minutes.

The rest of Kate's shift was uneventful. Sgt McCall slept soundly, and her oxygenation level remained high. Sgt Hunter slept through lunch, as well. Her other two patients were discharged and the new patient she was expecting had to go to the operating room first.

She delivered Hunter's dinner tray and was pleased to see that he was awake.

"How's the head?"

Hunter grinned and ruefully touched the large knot at the back of his head. "Not too bad now. Sleeping all day really seemed to help."

"I'm glad. Sorry I had to do those neuro checks."

Hunter waved her off with a smile. "Just doing your job and I went right back to sleep." He pulled himself up in bed with a small grimace of discomfort, still stiff and sore from his tussle with Dietz. That and he vaguely remembered a long, painful trip down a couple of flights of stairs. He got settled and then looked up expectantly at his nurse. "So, how's my partner? Is she awake yet? Can I see her now?"

Kate grinned. "She's slept even more than you have today. Just what kind of hours do you two keep?"

Hunter frowned as he remembered why McCall had been so sleep deprived. "Well, we were working a pretty gruesome case. Sometimes, no matter how hard we try not to, we end up taking it home with us. She hadn't been sleeping well – nightmares."

"Wow. I'm guessing you must have solved it last night, because she's been sleeping peacefully with no evidence of any bad dreams, no restlessness at all."

"That's great," Hunter said, relieved. "How is she otherwise?"

"The radiologist confirmed that there were no broken bones in her wrists, just bruising. There is some swelling in her throat, but nothing's broken there either. She's on cool, humidified oxygen and medication to help with that." She went on to explain the reddened eyes. "Oh, and the doctor wants her to strictly limit her talking until he's sure her airway will stay open. Any talking or whispering will only strain the muscles further. So, I'll let you see her, but you have to promise to do all the talking."

Hunter held up his hand. "Promise."

"Eat some of your dinner, while I get a volunteer to bring in a wheelchair. And before you protest, don't. Concussions are not to be trifled with and if you want to see your partner, you'll go in the chair." She gave him a mock glare.

Hunter rolled his eyes, regretted the move, and then agreed. Kate nodded in satisfaction and slipped out as he picked at the food before him.

Fifteen minutes later, half the dinner was gone and he was on his way to McCall's room, hiding his face in embarrassment as he was wheeled down the hall by sweet little Agnes, who had to be at least eighty years old. At the door, he convinced her that he could make it the rest of the way inside on his own. Panting slightly with the exertion, she eyed him suspiciously, and then left him after cautioning him not to get up.

"Yes, ma'am," he mumbled then turned to see his partner, watching from her bed, hand over her mouth to keep from laughing aloud.

"Very funny," he groused, trying to scrounge up some dignity.

McCall just smiled brightly, her dark brown eyes fairly dancing with delight. Hunter did a double take, when he noticed the redness had replaced the whites in her eyes, but took comfort in Kate's explanation that it was temporary and painless.

He wheeled himself to her side, basking in the sight of his partner, safe and sound. The picture was marred by the hideous marks on her neck and he shook his head slightly.

She opened her mouth to speak, but Hunter immediately put a finger to her lips. "Nope. No talking. Doctor's orders."

Kate stepped into the room. "That's right, Sgt McCall. Too much of a strain right now." She placed a tray filled with yogurt, juice and ice cream on the bedside tray. "Just work on these."

McCall quirked her lips and huffed silently. Hunter felt rather than heard the "hmph" he knew she wanted to say. She reached for the juice and he grimly noted the difficulty she had with the first swallow. He winced watching the shadow of pain flicker across her face. She took a deep breath and tried again. It obviously went a little smoother and she managed a small smile.

"Gee, McCall, I think I could get used to this peace and quiet," Hunter commented, trying to coax a bigger smile out of her, even though he knew it wasn't true. He loved her voice and he especially loved her singing. He said a silent prayer that no permanent damage had been done.

Kate laughed out loud at his comment and McCall took a playful swipe at him, missing entirely. She wagged her finger at him instead, shook her head, and then finally smiled again.

"Remember, no talking," Kate admonished before stepping out.

Resigned, McCall sank back against the pillows with a silent sigh. She had so much she wanted to discuss with Hunter.

Before Hunter could say anything else though, Devane walked in, carrying a manila file folder. "Hunter, I thought I'd find you here. How are you, McCall?"

Without thinking, she opened her mouth to speak but Hunter was quicker and placed one hand over her lips.

"She's not allowed to talk, Captain. Doctor's orders – she has to rest." McCall thought he sounded awfully smug.

Devane's eyebrows shot upward. "Hunter's got to do all the talking? This'll be one for the books." He winked at McCall.

McCall reached for the pen and paper Kate had left for her and scribbled a note then displayed it to her visitors.

(Ha Ha)

Devane chuckled. "I needed to do the talking for now anyway. You and Hunter need to write up your accounts of last night's events as soon as possible. Let me tell you what we've got so far. I told Hunter a little of this earlier."

Hunter and McCall listened as he let them know that they were in the process of wrapping up both strings of murders: those by Wilhelm Dietz thirty years ago and the current ones being investigated by Hunter and McCall with Weston and Andrews. Discovering Dietz and Bernie were the same man was key, followed by finding the house and all the video and 8mm tapes.

McCall fidgeted in the bed. To her, these were all generalities, skimming the surface. She wanted to dig below and talk about Colleen; the young girl that she believed reached across thirty years to touch her through her dreams and bring her to the house. She wondered if she had been used as some kind of bait and thought how it wasn't until Dietz was trying to kill her that Colleen had gone after him.

Had Colleen needed Dietz distracted in order to gain the upper hand?

And do what? What had happened to Dietz and how had Colleen killed him? McCall had no doubt that Colleen was able to bring her own justice to Dietz; she just didn't know how it was possible.

Hunter and Devane exchanged glances. McCall seemed to be far away, lost in her own thoughts. McCall caught them staring at her and offered a wry grin.

"You still with us? Don't zone out just 'cause you can't talk," Hunter teased her.

McCall nodded. She figured that Hunter thought she was chafing against the "no talking" rule, when in actuality she knew it would be painful to try and talk right now.

She did need answers though, and quickly jotted a note and handed it to Devane.

(Autopsy – Dietz?)

Devane shuffled his feet. "Ah, well, the medical examiner is still working on that. A cause of death hasn't exactly been determined. We'll need your exact description of your struggle with him. There's evidence that his heart stopped, but no medical reason for it.

McCall looked away as Hunter watched her; curious by her response.

McCall had no idea how she would explain. They'd say it was just a hallucination. But she knew that wasn't true. It couldn't be. She was absolutely certain that Colleen had killed Dietz. Perhaps pure fear had stopped his heart. He had seen Colleen as well - McCall was sure of it.

How to explain that one to Hunter and put it in an official report?

Staring out the window, McCall once again let her mind drift away from the voices of her guests. She could only hear Dietz's voice repeating the word 'No' over and over.

Although at the time she was on the verge of passing out, she had plainly seen two things: the sheer look of terror on his face and the glowing apparition of Colleen Sullivan. Both images were still very clear to her and she couldn't free her mind of them. A deep breath and the resultant heavy sigh caught the attention of Hunter and Devane.

"Are you okay, McCall? Hunter's concern grew as he handed her the pen and pad. "What's on your mind?"

She placed the items beside her on the bed, smiled slightly and mouthed 'Nothing.'

Charlie didn't believe it was just 'nothing' and wondered if she wanted to tell Hunter something in confidence. He thought he'd make himself scarce for that purpose. "I guess I should take off now. McCall, make sure to save your voice, okay?" He gave her hand a tight squeeze. "Have Hunter call me if you need anything." McCall smiled at Charlie's gestures of kindness and mouthed the words "thank you" as she squeezed his hand in return. Before leaving, he handed the file folder to Hunter.

As soon as the Captain left, Hunter reminded McCall that he was to do the speaking for the both of them. After she nodded in agreement, she took her pen and paper to begin a written conversation.

1) Autopsy – cause of death unknown

2) Dietz's heart stopped. Heart attack?

She handed the paper to Hunter. He read her note and quickly scanned the file before answering. "Yeah, his heart stopped, but they don't know if it was a heart attack. Like Charlie said, they'll have to do a more thorough examination."

McCall reached for the notepad again. She wished she was literally able to speak to Hunter about Colleen. Not being able to talk about it; not speaking, would drive her nuts, and although Hunter might scoff at her reasoning, she couldn't keep it to herself any longer. Quickly writing more notes, she turned the pad so Hunter could read it.

3) Something scared the hell out of Dietz. Scared him to death.

"Okay. Something scared him to death."

4) I saw it…what may have killed him.

"What was it?" Hunter moved the edge of his seat with curiosity.

5) Something you may not believe.

"That strange, huh?" He thought for a second before continuing. "Don't be so sure. If it happened in that creepy house I might believe it."

McCall sat up straighter, hesitated, and then began to tell Hunter the story. "It's about Col …."

"Write it! Don't say it!" Hunter admonished her. "Don't make me try something like having the doctor temporarily sew your lips together." His serious expression faded into one more relaxed once his partner smiled and then covered her mouth with her hand to show that wasn't necessary. With her right hand, she quickly wrote 'I'll be good, okay?'

"Okay. Make sure you keep that promise, or I swear I'll do it, and you know it." He added a wink.

She settled back into her pillows, took a deep breath and continued to write. She handed the pad to Hunter once again and watched his reactions as he read her notes to himself.

6) There was a glowing light in the cellar. I saw it and so did Dietz. It was a ghost. It was Colleen that scared him away from me."

Hunter read over the new information twice, trying to decide if it made any sense to him. "A ghost? Are you serious?" He chuckled lightly. McCall gave him a look of disappointment for questioning her. "Okay, okay. Go ahead. I'll hear you out."

7) I believe Colleen saved our lives. She called me into that empty room when I heard a child crying. She saved me from Dietz when he attacked you in the hall. If not for her in the cellar, we'd both probably be dead.

Hunter leaned back in the wheelchair. What he really wanted to do was to stand up and start pacing around the room and try to get a handle on what McCall was trying to tell him. McCall watched him anxiously.

"Let me get this straight." Hunter rubbed his hands across his face, distracted and trying to focus. "Are you saying that Colleen, a ghost that's been dead for thirty years, protected you in the bedroom while I was going at it with Dietz in the hallway and then she led you down to the cellar? That doesn't make sense – he almost killed you down there!"

McCall began scribbling furiously. Hunter watched her and waited for her to finish. He had a hard time reading what she had written in such a hurry.

Think Colleen needed to have Dietz focused on me for some reason and that gave her strength somehow. Until he tried to kill me, I hadn't seen Colleen except in my dream. When we got to the house – I only heard her. But then in the basement – I DID see her. Maybe Dietz couldn't hear her before but he definitely saw her when he was choking me. He was definitely scared!.

Hunter cocked an inquiring eyebrow at his partner. (Good God – she's talking about Colleen as if she's real) He sighed. McCall started writing again.

I saw her. She floated. When she passed over me – could feel cold breeze. Scared me! She went to Dietz and -

McCall paused, trying to come up with the right word. When she did, she again put pen to paper.

I think she enveloped him. Maybe she drained the life right out of him.

Hunter groaned when he read what she'd written. This wasn't getting any better. McCall stared at him defiantly, flexing her fingers to relieve the slight cramping.

"How in the hell are we supposed to put that in our report?" Hunter said in exasperation.

McCall shrugged and jotted another note.

I know what I saw. Know what I felt. Not making this up.

"I didn't say that you were," Hunter said, softening his tone. He huffed softly, letting his head fall into his hands. (Think) he told himself, his fingers rubbing at both temples. (How can we make this work?)

McCall chewed on her bottom lip. It was all she could do not to talk to him. To use her voice and really explain. After a moment's hesitation, she began to write again. Slower this time, using more details to really sound like she was talking to him.

Rick – you're trying too hard. Keep it simple. What I saw doesn't have to go in any official report. I know there are no witnesses. All I care about is what you think. I need you to believe me and I do know it's going to be hard. Officially, we got a tip from Sporty. We discovered Bernie D was Dietz. We staked out his house. We got separated. Dietz knocked you out. I went looking for you and ended up in the basement. Dietz jumped me. He choked me until I lost consciousness. You woke up and found me and Dietz was dead. Let the medical examiner come up with a cause of death. Dietz is dead and can't hurt anyone ever again.

Hunter mulled over what McCall had written. Could they get away with it? It's not like Dietz was going to come forward and either confirm or deny anything. He looked up and saw that McCall was staring at him. He figured she could almost see the internal battle he was fighting, coming to terms with what she was telling him and what he'd always thought about things supernatural.

He sighed heavily, dropping his gaze to the folder in his lap. McCall continued to watch him expectantly.

The room was silent and the air felt thick and heavy with unspoken tension. When the door opened, both patients were caught off-guard and quickly looked over to see who had come in.

"Hi, I'm Audrey. I'm taking over for Kate now – she – " The auburn-haired nurse abruptly broke off and stared from one to the other. "Uh – is everything all right in here?"

McCall clamped her lips together, fighting the urge to answer as Hunter shifted uncomfortably. "Everything's fine. Just going over some police business."

Audrey gave a brief smile and didn't appear entirely convinced. "Well, it's time for you to get back to your room, Sgt Hunter."

"Just one more minute, please." Hunter asked quietly.

Feeling like she was interrupting something important, Audrey acquiesced. "I'll go and get the medication and be right back." She slipped silently back out.

When they were alone again, Hunter pulled himself up to give his partner a quick kiss. "Get some sleep. Let me think about all this, okay? I just need a little time to sort it all out."

McCall nodded morosely, as she clutched his hand in hers and squeezed gently. Her eyes pleaded with him and she desperately hoped he understood how significant this was to her.

Hunter smiled and squeezed back. "I know," he told her, letting her know that he got the message she was sending. "It'll be okay. I promise," he said, not really sure of anything just then but wanting to offer her some comfort.

She nodded again and tried to return the smile, not totally convinced, but knowing there was nothing else she could do right now and she didn't want to worry him any further.

More certain than ever that she had intruded on an intimate, albeit one-sided conversation, Audrey stepped hesitantly into McCall's room. She noted that the two patients kept their eyes locked on the other until she had backed out of the room, pulling the wheelchair out into the hall. She respectfully felt compelled to keep the silence and couldn't help but regret that she had to separate them.

She waited until her patient had returned to his bed, shifting painfully until he found a comfortable position before heading out. She paused at the door and looked over to see that he was staring out the window, his expression forlorn. He looked like someone confronted with a very serious problem and she had taken him away from someone that might have been able to help. She was tempted to return him to Sgt. McCall's room, but didn't dare. She decided to take a chance that he would work it out on his own. She went to the window and pulled the blinds up so he could have a clearer view.

"Thanks."

"Hope it helps," she said softly then turned off the lights, letting the night sky provide the only illumination "Call the desk if there's anything at all you need." And without waiting for an answer, she exited the room, closing the door behind her.

Alone now, and realizing that there may not be a simple answer to all of this; left Hunter feeling discouraged and frustrated. Several minutes passed as he continued to stare blankly out the window, unable to sleep.

He kept staring at the stars twinkling in a nearly cloudless sky and wondered if McCall was also looking out her window, seeing the same thing he did and he thought of how different the sky was outside the city. He remembered driving in the desert several years ago and looking up at the celestial panorama above.

Even now, lying in this bed, he remembered exactly how he felt at that moment. How he had pulled the car over to the side of the road, gotten out, lain atop the hood of his car and just stared up.

The sheer magnitude of the sight above him felt like a heavy weight pressing down upon him and he imagined himself shrinking into nothingness. Even his chest felt tight and breathing seemed a little harder. He imagined himself the most miniscule piece of matter in the entire universe. And that surely life on the planet Earth was not the only intelligent life in the universe.

He knew he wasn't the first to ever feel this way, but it didn't make the moment any less profound for him. Or any less true.

Hunter pulled himself back to the present. How could he ever think that life on Earth was all there was? What did it matter if no one knew exactly what the inhabitants of any of those planets really looked like? Did it mean that they didn't exist?

"No," Hunter answered himself, thoughtfully.

(So take it one step further.) He mulled it over. Why couldn't he believe in ghosts, or the supernatural, or spirits? He usually scoffed at the notion of ghosts and such, but really, who's to say it couldn't be possible. Was it really easier to mock such ideas just because he'd never personally been touched by them?

Actually, he found it easier to believe that she believed. Then again, maybe that was enough for now. The more he thought about it, the easier it became. Just believe in McCall. She believed the ghost of a murdered child had needed help to bring a killer to justice.

He blinked. (What's wrong with that?) Hunter pulled thoughtfully on his lower lip. (Nothing's wrong. McCall's right.) He was trying too hard. And then, out of nowhere, the solution presented itself. Maybe there was a simple answer after all.

He thought about DeeDee's dream, or nightmare, as it were. And what she said she'd seen in Dietz' basement. Why did he fight it? Wouldn't it be easier to believe her?

He sat up in bed, his eyes wide as the realization hit.

"That's it," he whispered in awe. "It's so simple: just accept it." If he didn't already have a concussion he would have thumped his own forehead.

He was trying to make it more than it needed to be. Why cook a 7-course dinner when take-out would suffice?

Slumping back against the pillow, he felt a deep sense of relief. Just believe that McCall believed and leave it at that. Why let this eat away at him? Why look for details? Dietz saw something that literally scared him to death. McCall believed that something was the ghost of a girl murdered thirty years ago.

(Fine. Let's go with it.)

Suddenly spent, he breathed a sigh of relief and felt ten pounds lighter, as if a huge load had been lifted from his shoulders, knowing that his didn't need to disrupt his entire belief system to just accept what McCall says she saw. She had said that she thought Colleen "drained" the life out of Dietz and the M.E. said the heart stopped suddenly. Okay, maybe in his world it wouldn't have added up, but when he looked at it as just believing that it did in McCall's world, it didn't seem that farfetched. Besides, it wasn't like every case was wrapped up with a nice, neat bow. He told himself to just focus on the fact that the case was wrapped up and maybe the bow was a little bent.

Actually, he kinda liked the analogy and he smiled. And soon he fell into a deep dreamless sleep.

By the next morning, Hunter felt one hundred percent better. He was discharged as a patient and immediately called Charlie to see if he would drive him home. While he was waiting, he tried to check on his partner, but found her still sleeping.

"I don't think she had a very restful night," Kate told him when she ran into him in the hall. "Audrey said she checked on her several times and she was usually awake."

"Is she okay?" Hunter asked worriedly.

"She denied any discomfort," Kate reassured him. "Audrey thinks she was troubled about something else, but of course she couldn't actually talk about it, and she said Sgt McCall didn't want to write either." She watched Hunter closely. "Is it about the case you were working on?"

Hunter sighed. "Yeah, I'm pretty sure it is."

"I read about it in the newspaper. Sounds gruesome. How did the guy die?"

Hunter shot her a look, but realized that Kate was merely curious. "Uh, they're still working on it."

"Well, thank goodness you two made it through. And on Halloween of all nights." She moved off shaking her head in wonder.

Hunter peeked back in on McCall, feeling guilty because he figured that he was the reason she had a lot on her mind. He wished he had gone in to talk with her when he had his breakthrough, but had honestly thought she would be asleep. He berated himself for not seeing how all this must be overwhelming to her.

Charlie found him in the hall. Hunter explained that McCall was sleeping. Charlie offered to take him home to shower and clean up then get him to the station and get started on his report. Hunter agreed.

It was after three o'clock before Hunter was able to get back to the hospital to see McCall. He had missed her but was pleased at all he had accomplished, including retrieving his car and swinging by her place to pick up some toiletries for her as well as a change of clothes. He stopped by the nurse's station when he saw that Kate was still on.

"Hi, Sgt Hunter. I hope you're here to cheer up Sgt McCall. I don't think she thought you'd be gone so long."

Hunter grimaced. "I didn't either. But I do have a lot of good news for her, so hopefully she'll forgive me."

Kate smiled. "As long as the news includes those beautiful flowers, I'm sure she will."

"Absolutely." Hunter assured her, as he moved off.

He knocked lightly on the door before pushing it open. He found his partner curled up on the sofa, staring out the window, elbows propped on the window sill and her head resting on her hands. She apparently didn't hear his entrance, because she jumped slightly when he sat down next to her.

"Hey," he said, presenting her with the bouquet of pink and white roses, "I'm sorry it took me so long to get back, but I hope these will make you feel better." The smile she gave him banished his guilt.

"They're beautiful," she whispered very, very softly.

At his look of alarm, she held up a hand to halt his protest.

"It's okay. Doctor said I can – just really quiet though."

"So, everything's okay?" Hunter asked, not entirely convinced. The bruises on her neck were a graphic reminder of how close Dietz had come to killing her.

McCall nodded. "Can't overdo it, though. Have to go slow." Hunter had to lean in to hear her, but was grateful that it was the voice he knew.

Hunter nodded. "Okay – that'll give me a chance to fill you in." He put the flowers down and pulled out two file folders. "Weston and Andrews are wrapping up the current case. They've got film, negatives and enough DNA evidence from the basement. Charlie is letting one of the detectives from the Cold Case Division handle Colleen and the other girls murdered thirty years ago." Hunter paused to watch McCall's reaction.

"I thought I would want to talk to Caitlin and her parents, if they were still alive – give them closure," McCall said sadly, "but now, I think I'd rather let someone else do it. I just really want to put this all behind me."

Hunter nodded in understanding. He felt like they could both use a vacation after all this. "I've got the portable typewriter for you and here's a copy of the report I gave to Charlie," he said, trying to change the subject.

McCall took the file and put it in her lap. She was hesitant to read Hunter's account after their discussion last night.

"Go ahead, it won't bite." Hunter joked even though he knew why she would be a little tense.

McCall rolled her eyes and opened the folder then began to read. Hunter walked aimlessly about the room, not wanting to sit and stare. Several minutes later, she closed it up and looked over at her partner, waiting for him to notice that she had finished.

"Well?" He asked, returning to her side.

"So, what are you saying?" She fingered the papers, unable to look at him.

Hunter cleared his throat. "I'm saying that you're right. I'm saying that I believe you. That's why I put what you said in there. It hit me last night, while I was lying in bed. You said keep it simple, and I did. We were investigating Bernie D, we got a tip to check out the name Wilhelm Dietz and found that they were one and the same, so we staked out the house, you know the rest. I was stuffed in a damn closet while you almost got killed and when I got out – Dietz was dead – end of story."

McCall eyed him suspiciously. "That's it?"

"Well, Charlie got some more, interesting information about Dietz from the M.E. Apparently, Dietz suffered from a form of albinism."

"What!" McCall's voice croaked at the strain.

"Hey, take it easy. Here," he handed her the glass of water, waiting until she sipped at it before continuing. "The condition wasn't too severe in his case, but it did cause him to have red eyes and pale skin."

McCall remembered her nightmare with the glowing red eyes and the mask-like face and the actual mask she'd seen in Dietz' basement right before he attacked her. She realized that Dietz's mask was a distorted version of his own condition. She shuddered at the recollection.

Hunter watched her with concern. "Are you sure you're okay?"

McCall nodded. She motioned for him to continue.

He got the message. "So, they checked him over and pending toxicology, the official cause of death will read sudden cardiac death. He didn't have any sign of cardiac disease, so they're thinking –," he checked the other folder for the findings from the coroner. "A lethal arrhythmia. I asked Charlie and he said it translates to mean his heart just stopped." He put the papers down and reached over to take McCall's hands in his. "DeeDee, I did a lot of thinking."

She gazed up at him, curious.

Hunter continued. "I want you to know that I believe you. I believe that what Dietz saw scared him to death."

McCall eyed him warily. "You're saying you believe he was scared of a ghost?"

Hunter kept his eyes focused on hers. "Do I have to label it?"

With her brow furrowed in concentration, McCall replayed his words and what it meant. And then she thought back to her original instructions to him. Keep it simple.

(No,) she thought to herself, (he didn't have to label it.) In the end, what did it truly matter if she said Dietz saw a ghost and Rick simply agreed with her, without acknowledging the ghost? She shouldn't expect him to just automatically be of the same opinion that what she saw was supernatural. She put herself in his shoes and immediately understood how just saying that he believed that she believed made her feel validated.

Hunter knew she was trying to come to terms with what he had told her and respectfully remained silent, letting her work it out. When she did, she pulled herself over to him and put her arms around him. He was happy to see her smiling.

"What's that for?" He asked with a grin, gently hugging her back.

"For believing me." Her soft voice tickled his ear.

He reluctantly pushed her back so he could really look at her. "Always. You got that partner – always!"