.X.

Corrie wasn't entirely sure whether Pendergast was sleeping, dead, or merely deep in thought. Seated at her side in the permanently reclined passenger seat, hands folded over his chest, head bowed and eyes closed, he was to her mind the perfect image of a corpse in its final repose. Clad as he ever was in a severe and perfectly tailored suit of ebony, his impeccable haute couture brought into harsh relief the shabbiness of the Gremlin's interior. Both front seats had great gaping rips along the seams, and where the dark grey fabric wasn't ripped it was marred with either cigarette burns or other stains of questionable origin. She hadn't really noticed the severity of her car's state of disrepair before this, and what she had noticed hadn't really bothered her; abruptly she scowled at her silent, supine companion as though her sudden bout of clarity was his fault. When the Evil Eye failed to rouse him from his almost catatonic state she huffed an irate sigh and turned her attention elsewhere.

They were parked on an old, overgrown approach on the range road that bisected the town, although they were some several miles from the town proper. It was late afternoon and the sun at its zenith was creating an unmerciful heat, magnified somewhat by the cracked windshield of the Gremlin. Even with both windows open it was oppressively hot inside, and Corrie, clad as she ever was in mock bondage gear that was currently all the Gothic rave, wondered idly if one could sweat to death. She glanced at Pendergast sidelong and wondered if he was some sort of mutant, because even dressed to the nines as he was he seemed utterly unaffected by the heat. She sighed again, a little quieter this time, and twisted around to look at the veritable menagerie of belongings scattered across the back seat. Careful not to jostle her passenger she sifted through assorted articles of clothing and CD cases until she found what she wanted: a paperback novel with a worn spine and bent pages entitled Halcyon Kept. She shifted back around in her seat and flipped through the pages until she found the small paper receipt she used as a bookmark.

She glanced down both sides of the range road before beginning to read, seeing nothing but heat waves rising from the gravel; she had no idea why they were actually parked here, in the middle of absolute nowhere on the hottest day of the year. Pendergast was incredibly tight-lipped—among other things—and only told Corrie the absolute minimum in terms of what the plan was. When he'd told her to pull over and park, she'd done so, fighting the urge to demand why. She'd learned earlier that the FBI agent was a master of skillful evasion. He had also mastered the ability to ignore things, which was what usually happened when she pestered him with questions. It seemed a little ludicrous that he was paying her to be his "assistant" and all they were doing was sitting in her car on the side of the road, but it was his money and if he wanted to have a little afternoon nap, who was she to protest?

She turned her attention to her book, quickly zoning out the world around her and focusing only on the words. It was an old futuristic sci-fi novel that she'd picked up at the second-hand bookstore in Deeper; the concept of the story, explained in the blurb on the back cover, had seemed interesting. She was soon immersed in the story, forgetting about the heat, the job, and even the man sitting next to her as her eyes moved over the lines—

-They made it but five feet when something struck the ground hard before them. Mae had the rifle aimed instantly, but an instant later she realized that the dark form was actually Liam—and he wasn't moving. With a sound of dismay she hastily approached him, casting a glance upwards lest the other creature, the one that had taken Liam, should reappear, but she saw nothing. She crouched, reaching out one hand to touch Liam, wondering why he looked so odd; a moment later she was on her feet, backing away quickly.

Liam was headless. Not only that, she realized, eyes tracing his sprawled form in stunned horror, but he had been eviscerated—his abdomen was simply an empty cavity gleaming wetly in the lamplight, some of his ribs visible through folds of ripped and sliced skin—

Corrie lifted her head and let the book fall shut. The description brought to mind unerringly all she had seen at the crime scene the previous day when she'd followed Pendergast. The image of the mutilated body, of blood that had dried in the stagnant summer heat into thick, dark lumps, of the skin that had hung like tattered cloth from bones exposed was something now imprinted upon her memory, something she would never, ever forget. And the smell—she had never known anything worse. It was a thick, cloying scent that pervaded the nostrils and was so strong it could almost be tasted. It could never be mistaken for anything but it was—the smell of decay and rot, the smell of death. Corrie closed her eyes tightly and swallowed hard, trying to suppress the nausea that was rising as the recollections swirled around in her head with harsh vividness. Such violence, such malice—and the cause of all that was somewhere nearby, in this small area that was all she had known for all her short life.

She twisted suddenly, tossing the book into the back seat and digging quickly through the mound of assorted items until she found her small faux leather CD case. She rifled through it, selecting a CD without glancing at it and popping it in the deck. Screw Pendergast and his little siesta—she needed something to get her mind off the horror she'd seen and she needed it now. Even as she thought that, however, she adjusted the volume so that it the music was barely audible, and as it started to play she risked another glance at the agent to find he hadn't moved at all since her last observation. As the first song began to filter through her car's speakers—which had been blown at some point and as such added slight static to whatever sounds issued forth—she breathed yet another sigh, closed her eyes, and leaned her head back against the seat as she began to listen. A heavy and dark symphonic intro lead into a furious staccato of drumbeats, and the following guitar riff became harsh, discordant, but still maintaining an element of melody, like a song hidden within a song. A voice, sibilant and abrasive, began to sing so softly it was barely more than a whisper:

"A tragic yet magickal fall from grace
Too awful to taste for the led and the chaste
Those whose long fetters are addressed to all saints
Free shining souls torn from God's given Reich
Defiled, reviled, exiled from sight

And Hell knows we sought victory
Chancing the leash
But when bad die were cast
We were cast down to die
A steeple of needles thrust into our eyes
So scholars might say we were blinded by pride
Like the sin of Our Father (and the whims of our kind)
Whom in Isaiah and Midian thrived
Regaining His sights for the storming of skies ..."

The voice was no longer insidiously quiet—it was screaming, chanting, backed by the furious, powerful beat of the drums and the driving, abrupt riffs of the chorus. Corrie leaned ahead quickly to turn the music down, but even as she did so she realized she was being observed. Pendergast's eyes, though mere slits, were trained in her direction.

"Sorry," Corrie said by way of apology for waking him—(had he even been asleep?)—but then cursed herself silently. Why should she apologize? It was her car …

"Midian was the son of Abraham, and Isaiah the son of Amoz; the latter of the two was rumored to be something of a holy prophet, and the father of the former is said to be the founding patriarch of the Israelites. Curious lyrics, these, when you take into account the history behind those two names."

Corrie, her hand on the volume dial, merely blinked. A moment later her scowl returned. Trust Pendergast to take break apart and analyze to the most minute degree even music. "You take the fun out of everything, you know? I'll turn it off if you don't like it," she added waspishly, but made no move to do so.

Pendergast didn't reply, instead straightening in the seat and glancing down at his watch—which Corrie suspected cost more than her car and everything in it—before saying, "We will be paying Sheriff Hazen a visit now, if you please."

Corrie stared at him in silence until he shifted his pale eyes towards her again. "Why?" She asked, forgetting in her irritation that asking that particular question of Pendergast never accomplished anything. "And besides, he wasn't there this morning—"

"He will be there now," the agent interrupted smoothly and without bothering to answer her.

Her eyes narrowed. "Yeah, but how do you know that?"

"We will miss him if we don't hurry, Miss Swanson." Though his gaze was fixed on something beyond the windshield, she thought she saw the ghost of a small smile flicker about his lips.

"Glad I can entertain," Corrie muttered, starting the car. It roared to life with a jerk, and immediately the sound of the motor—unfettered by a muffler—drowned out the music. As she slammed the Gremlin into drive she simultaneously reached out and tweaked the volume so that the staccato-like thump of the bass guitar could be felt through the vibration of their seats. She spun the wheel about and stomped down hard on the accelerator so that the Gremlin swerved back onto the road at a velocity that almost had them airborne. Great plumes of dust rose up behind them, a testament to the drought-like conditions that currently had hold over the area.

"Remember your speed, Miss Swanson."

Corrie, who had been singing along silently to the rest of the song, glanced down at the speedometer and cursed. She eased off the gas and said irritably, "I thought you said we had to hurry."

"Within reason. Breaking the law will not endear you any further to the good Sheriff."

She shot the agent a sharp look. "I don't care what Hazen thinks about me."

He returned her look with a mild one of his own, one thin eyebrow arching only slightly. "I'm not saying you should. But it is never a bad idea to build good relations, especially with those who enforce the law."

Corrie snorted. "You," she said, shaking her head, "Should write a self-help book or something. And anyways, Hazen doesn't really like you either, if you hadn't noticed."

"I had. But you'll take note that even so, I am nothing but polite towards him."

He had a point there, though Pendergast's version of polite could, as she'd witnessed, still be insulting in a faint and underlying sort of way. "Look where its got you," she persisted.

She turned her eyes back to the road, and he said, "Look where it has gotten you."

Corrie flushed. Goddamn him, but he had another point; without Hazen's approval—and it had been reluctant approval, at that—she knew she wouldn't be an "assistant" to an FBI agent. The sheriff could have vetoed such an arrangement even though she was of legal age, as this was still his jurisdiction. Deciding the wisest course of action from that point on was to keep her mouth shut, Corrie decided to pretend that Pendergast wasn't in the car. It was a strategy that worked well for several minutes, until the agent chose to speak again.

"Miss Swanson?"

Corrie sighed loudly and said with a heavy amount of mock solemnity, "Yes, Special Agent Pendergast?"

Again, she thought she saw the corner of his mouth twitch upwards. "Could you perhaps lower the volume of the music? I need to make a phone call."

Without further comment she lowered the volume until they sat in silence but for the roar of the occasionally hiccoughing engine and the grinding of the gravel beneath the car tires. Pendergast removed a slender silver cell phone from within an interior pocket of his suit, flipped it open, and began to dial quickly with long, slender fingers. He moved it to his ear, and he said after a moment, "Wren? How are things proceeding?"

Corrie wished she could shove her fingers in her ears and sing out loud, because she felt uncomfortable listening in on the conversation. He seemed unperturbed by the fact she could hear what was said, however, and so she focused on keeping the Gremlin in a semi-straight trajectory as it hurtled down the road. In a few minutes Pendergast flipped the phone closed and slid it back into his pocket. Silence fell again, and Corrie hated it. There was nothing worse than sitting in silence with someone you didn't know well at all. She sorted through her head for a suitable conversation topics and discarded them all; Pendergast was most definitely not one for small talk. She was in the process of lifting her hand towards the volume dial on her stereo deck when suddenly Pendergast said sharply, "Pull over here."

"What? Why—?" But she did it anyways, driven to compel by the urgency in his tone, slamming on the brakes so hard that the Gremlin slid into a fishtail. When finally the car careened to a precarious stop at the side of the road it took Corrie a moment to realize that her hands hurt from clenching the steering wheel so tightly. Pendergast was already opening the door and stepping out into the blistering heat of midday, and Corrie called after him, "Hey! What gives?"

"That, Miss Swanson." He replied, pointing. Her gaze followed the direction of his finger and suddenly understood—wheeling about lazily in the sky were turkey vultures, circling something below them, something hidden from view by the tall, thick stalks of a cornfield, something not that far from where Corrie and Pendergast were now … She was out of the vehicle before she'd even realized it, her eyes trained on the birds; there was an unpleasant tightening sensation in her chest as she her thoughts raced towards what exactly could be located out there, what exactly would be so provocative to the vultures.

"Will you be able to handle this?" Pendergast questioned, and her eyes snapped back to him. He looked as he ever did—calm, implacable, completely undisturbed. But there was a gleam in his icy eyes as he waited for her reply.

"I … yeah. I think so." She said lamely, remembering how embarrassing and horrible it had been to puke right in front of him.

"Very well. Come along; I fear we don't have long." He turned and briskly began to head for the cornfield.

"Until what?" She called after him, hurrying to catch up. But Agent Pendergast, already weaving his way easily throughout the rows of corn, didn't reply.

.X.

Sol's Notes: As you may have noticed, I utilized poetic license to alter some things, such as Corrie's car. I wanted it to seem like the first vehicle I ever owned.