Blood Wind - Chapter 1
Thank you for the reviews and alerts on the prologue. Hope you didn't feel cheated by such a short posting. Here's a longer chapter to tide you over until I can work out some of the gaping holes in the plot. Right now, they're large enough to contain William Shatner's ego with enough room left over to park a bus or two. (No offense to Mr. Shatner, I like him.)
Disclaimer: Don't own them. If I did, there'd be a nice, shiny, new car sitting in my driveway instead of the rustmobile.
Just Another Mystery
LAPD was territorial . . . but not stupid. This was the fifth killing with the same M.O. in as many weeks. Painstaking investigation and hours of overtime had produced nada.
Los Angeles was a happenin' town. It had its share of homicides as a daily occurrence. People who flocked here from many different cultures killed each other for as many different reasons.
Here, murder was nothing new. It was as old as the adobes that lined Olvera Street; old as the narrow alleys and decrepit wood framed cottages perched on the hillsides of Boyle Heights.
Like movies or cosmetic surgery, murder was almost an industry in this city. The LAPD had plenty of practice bringing murderers to justice but, it was time to throw in the towel. The California Bureau of Investigation got the call.
Lisbon, Jane, Cho, Rigsby and VanPelt had all flown into LAX together on an early evening commuter from Sacramento. Last minute booking had them scattered throughout the plane. No two of the team sat together.
On the short flight, each had time to get lost in their own inner worlds. Cho, as was his usual habit, opened a book. Rigsby and VanPelt craned their necks to find each other in the rows of crowded seating. Like their derailed office romance, they couldn't be together but, they took great comfort in not being apart.
Lisbon was going over the files e-mailed to her, then printed out and stuffed into a couple of fat manilla folders shortly before they left for the airport. She'd always liked to have a hard copy. From experience, she didn't trust that her laptop wouldn't do something that would make her want to take out her gun and blow the damned thing into tiny little electronic pieces.
Jane, who sat across the aisle from her, did as he usually does on flights; he stared out the window, lost in whatever quicksilver thoughts flitted through his mind. This was one of the only times he sat without reading or working on one of his Sudoku or other puzzles. It was one of the only times he sat absolutely still.
Lisbon was positive that a hyperactive child had turned into the hyperactive adult that was their consultant but, after years of working together, she still didn't know why he stared blankly out the windows of airplanes. Just another mystery about this odd but brilliant man, she sighed to herself, one of so many.
Looking up from her reports to give eyes and mind a break, she studied Jane who now seemed miles away from where he actually sat. In the bright sunlight, he looked tired. He'd been involved in every case they'd caught in the last couple of months and there were many. Though it had worked out great for their solve-rate, she could tell it was wearing on him. He hadn't whined about it as he usually would but, his face looked hollow and drawn. She didn't think he'd been getting even the amazingly small amount of sleep he required. She was glad she remembered to pack the drugs; with Jane, one never knew.
The wheels of the Airbus touched down with a thump as night was beginning to fall and the sky had turned an angry color; not unlike molten lava. From the air, the city below had looked to be on fire. The buildings glowed in the eerie red light of sunset.
Every year, in late autumn, the Santa Anas sucked the moisture out of the air, the vegetation and the populace. This lack of humidity, accompanied by searing heat, triggered wildfires that cleared overgrown brush and sometimes entire subdivisions from the brittle landscape. Huge amounts of dust and smoke particles in the atmosphere filtered and distorted sunlight until the sky itself looked ablaze but, the cause of this display, made it no less spectacular.
Here in the 'Golden State', it was just part of the rhythm along with smog, traffic and the occasional melt-down of major or minor celebrities. The melt-downs always resulted in the celeb's spokesperson trying to explain it away as 'exhaustion' and then, of course, genuine or feigned remorse from the celebrity him or herself, then . . . rehab. Sometimes they grasped onto religion and declared themselves 'reborn'. If their first entrance wasn't enough, trying again probably couldn't hurt.
Just part of the ambience.
There was no luggage to claim as each one of them carried their perpetually packed carry-on stored at the office for just such occasions. After de-planing, Lisbon, with the rest filing behind her like ducklings, quickly found her way to the auto rental counter at the edge of the chaotic jumble of LAX.
The shuttle to which they were directed, carried them to the car-rental lot and they piled efficiently into the huge SUV. They drove directly to the observatory without first bothering to check into their hotel. Jane, as usual, took a seat at the rear of the vehicle and produced a Sudoku paperback from the pocket of the suit jacket he'd draped across the back of his seat. He began to work with a stubby pencil.
It was full-on 'rush hour' and Lisbon, behind the wheel, stared gloomily out at the other vehicles trapped in this slow-moving queue on the 405 Freeway. She was glad she didn't live here.
"Jane", said Rigsby, "didn't you use to live somewhere around here?"
VanPelt tried to warn off the big detective with her eyes.
"Not actually here", said Jane, tearing himself away from his puzzle. "Malibu's still a few miles northwest of here. You're not far off though."
"How far is it from where we are now?" continued Rigsby, not yet getting the hint from VanPelt.
"In L.A. everything is measured in time, not miles. It could take anywhere between thirty-five minutes to two hours to get there from here, depending on traffic."
Even though he'd officially moved to Sacramento, Jane didn't think anyone was aware he'd still kept his house. Certainly no one was aware of the smiley face in oxidized blood on the wall of the master bedroom. It was why he didn't just follow his wife and daughter into oblivion. It was his material reminder that he had something to do before he could leave.
Grace VanPelt, ever the one most attuned to what could be potentially sensitive matters, secretively pinched Wayne Rigsby on the arm. Rigsby yelped and said "Hey, cut it out Grace!" . . . so much for subtlety.
"Don't worry Grace", smiled Jane as he watched the interaction in amusement. "Rigsby isn't in any danger of upsetting me." With that he returned to his puzzle, tapping his finger on his lips as he concentrated. It wasn't a good thing to have nothing with which to occupy him. He only got into trouble.
Rigsby's open face registered surprise as he rubbed his arm and it belatedly dawned on him that he may have brought up something best left alone. He mouthed a silent, "Oh", toward VanPelt as she knit her elegant brow and frowned at him as further warning.
Changing the subject, Rigsby said, "Hey, boss, could we stop to get something to eat on the way? I'm starving!"
"That's something new." muttered Cho from the seat beside Lisbon but, he was actually glad Rigsby had brought up the subject of food.
Lisbon resignedly steered the big vehicle off the freeway down the first offramp that featured a fast-food sign. They probably wouldn't have time to eat anything later and she didn't want to listen to any whining.
Burritos and drinks were ordered from a giant fiberglass mouse wearing a sombrero.
"Don't you just love L.A.!" said Jane with what seemed like misplaced enthusiasm. "I love ordering food from mice in hats!"
"Beats that giant pickle in Fresno." said Cho without expression in voice or appearance.
"My favorite is still that big, orange, chicken on the way to Visalia." smiled Rigsby.
"No, I got that beat. What about the big donut, you know, the one in Modesto? You can actually drive through the hole." said VanPelt in what seemed near wonder.
"Nah, the chicken wears an apron and a chef's hat, now that's cool." countered Rigsby
"You like clothing on animals? I knew you were weird." said Cho
Everyone joined in an extended conversation about the best anthropomorphized, (made to seem human), rodent, bird, vegetable, pastry, etcetera from which they'd ever ordered food. That is, everyone but Lisbon who was feeling the beginning of a headache and that she was driving a school bus filled with fifth graders.
The drive-thru line was way too long. The exhaust fumes from the idling engines ahead just aggravated the tightening she felt around the back of her head. They finally got their food, distributed it to the proper recipients and ate in the car on the way.
Jane, who'd been somewhat disappointed the sombreroed mouse didn't have tea on the menu, was slurping happily on a large lemonade in the back seat as Rigsby, legendary for his eating prowess, ecstatically wolfed down a carne asada burrito with extra cheese and guacamole. The SUV became silent as everyone concentrated on eating and the only sound was the rustle of food wrappers and the gurgle of straws as the last remaining drops of moisture were sucked from the paper cups.
When they finally arrived at the Griffith Park Observatory, it was fully dark. Like the beacon of a lighthouse, they were guided to the crime scene by the halogen lights of the crime scene investigators. It turned night into day. There was a small herd of L.A.'s uniformed finest gathered on the steep, imposing steps that led up to the western observation terrace. Nearly as many plain clothes investigators and technicians milled about looking 'cop-like'.
Jane's mind wandered as he looked up from the broad landing at the bottom of the steps to the group of peace officers and CSI techs. One could go to any city in the U.S., or anywhere in the world for that matter, and pick the cops out of a crowd.
There was something about their stance; about the set of their faces; even his own elite group had the look. He wondered if this 'look' was simply acquired by osmosis when you worked daily next to other cops or did you have to seek it out and practice until successful? Was it handed to you like a diploma when you graduated from the academy? Maybe it was sold as 'Essence of Cop' like cologne at the same stores where you could purchase uniforms and holsters? Even his petite boss and the stunning VanPelt had this look; certainly Cho and Rigsby had it in spades.
Jane idly wondered if, some day, he himself would unknowingly acquire it . . . though he probably needn't worry. He was, after all, only a consultant, not a real cop with a real gun and real bullets and stuff. He was only 'cop adjacent' as he'd described himself to a suspect in another case. Maybe the 'look' was brought on by the burden of knowing the thing clipped into your holster could end another's life with only the twitch of a finger? He sighed and gave up the thought for the moment.
"Just another mystery", he mumbled to himself.
An impressively mustachioed, olive-skinned man approached them. He was trim and compact with crisp salt and pepper hair and was dressed in a polo shirt and chinos. His badge was clipped to his belt.
"I'm Ben Ortega, Detective in Charge. You guys the team from the CBI?" Lisbon nodded and smiled politely, shook his hand firmly and introduced the group one-by-one.
"I'm Teresa Lisbon, Senior Agent in Charge, this is my second in command Agent Kimball Cho, agents Wayne Rigsby and Grace VanPelt and our consultant Patrick Jane."
Jane smiled as he was introduced and shook the detective's hand. Ortega looked at him a little quizzically but his face creased in a friendly smile showing even, white teeth.
Ortega addressed Lisbon as he spoke. "Well, sorry to say that this looks like another one. Same M.O. as the previous four." He faced Lisbon when he spoke because he recognized the leader of the pack, not just by rank but, by her air of authority. He didn't turn to the men in the group as so often happened.
Lisbon noted his deference. It had been a long, hard road to where she now stood in cop hierarchy. The fact that she was attractive and petite didn't really help but, she more than made up for it with a no-nonsense intensity and lack of girly mannerisms that meant business . . . not that she wasn't feminine.
Her consultant, in fact, thought her feminine and also quite beautiful; though maybe not in the conventional sense. Her porcelain skin, clear green eyes and dark, glossy hair gave her an almost ethereal quality. Sure, the statuesque, red-haired Grace VanPelt was certainly the more traditional vision of beauty, but there was something about Teresa Lisbon.
As he was wont to do at crime scenes, Jane wandered off immediately after his introduction. He strolled across the grass to the astronomer's monument which sat before the main observatory building. It was a tall concrete spire in art-deco style with six larger than life sized figures around it depicting the well-known Copernicus, Galileo and Newton as well as three others. As was the observatory itself, it was all swooping edges and streamlined shapes. He stared up at the edifice, mesmerized.
Ortega looked at Lisbon questioningly as they saw the consultant standing transfixed in front of the monument.
She volunteered, "It's just part of his technique, don't let it worry you." As though she'd said it a hundred times before . . . and probably had.
The L.A. detective still looked skeptical but took her word for it and escorted them the rest of the way to the crime scene while filling them in on what was, so far, known about the series of murders. It was pretty much what they'd already learned from the files sent right before they left Sacramento. VanPelt had read some of the information aloud to them on the long ride over.
After several minutes reviewing what they knew against what they could see before them, Lisbon walked quietly over to where Jane stood lost in his trance. He seemed fascinated by the monument but Jane was always distracted by what Lisbon called 'shiny things' and would frequently wander off course. It was part of her job to make sure he stayed on task. He suddenly became aware of her presence and glanced over his shoulder to see her looking at him questioningly. She raised her eyebrows without saying anything. She was, of course, wordlessly telling him it was time to practice his unique talents. It was time to get to work.
They walked together up the steps to the object of this investigation which sprawled nearly bloodless on the first landing from the top. The blood that had belonged inside it was now congealing to a red/black sludge on the still baking concrete and had wended its way in small rivulets down the risers to the next landing where it pooled once again.
Jane stood unmoved and unmoving while he took in this still-life in blood. He was thinking this should go smoothly enough . . . well, at least for him, (the victim would surely disagree if she could), until the strong breeze shifted and carried with it that coppery mammal scent, hot and strong. He shivered in spite of the heated gust. Maybe he was just tired. It had been awhile since any of them had gotten some down time.
The power of scent always amazed him. It could bring to mind a spring day, a first love, or even a first car. But for him, that metallic smell brought cataclysmic memories in Technicolor. The unwelcome images would haunt him for the rest of the day and, most likely, the rest of the night.
Over the years, he'd finally been able to discipline his mind to place them in the 'Do Not Open' box of his consciousness. Not to worry . . . they'd always be there and, at night especially, they'd escape and rob him of any meaningful rest. Sometimes, all he had to do was close his eyes or let his mind wander. The lid never stayed on the box for long.
He knew Lisbon could sense when he'd start to come unstrung. He'd almost begun to count on it. She would insist that he take the prescribed pills that would render him unconscious and dreamless for hours at at time. She was the guardian of his grip on reality. She was good at it as she was good at so many other things. He admired and trusted her . . . well, as much as he trusted anyone.
He tried to avoid taking the drugs during an active case because it dulled his senses. After all, he didn't want to cheat the CBI out of their dime but, sometimes, it couldn't be helped. He could tell when the others knew he was circling the drain because they'd walk on eggs around him and offer to get him tea. He had to be really bad before they'd go that far. For him, tea preparation was an exacting science and they usually failed the task. He tried to be nice about it but, it sometimes came out as a little snappish so they avoided this gesture if they could. Even though it shamed him, he appreciated their solicitousness and kindness.
He put the thoughts into their box and cleared his mind as he strode briskly forward and bent down to begin his examination. The victim was a small, curly-haired, young woman whose dark eyes had already gone cloudy, tanned skin already gone grey.
Her gaze was now, sightlessly, fixed on the vast grid of sparkling lights below the dry Los Angeles hills. The view from the steps was spectacular but, with the speed and flash of a sharp blade, someone had ended her appreciation of it or anything else . . . ever again.
He noted the broken fingernails on her right hand and the scattered flecks of what was probably cigarette tobacco in the folds of her sleeve. They'd caught in the loose, gauzy weave of her clothing and hadn't yet been taken by the gusts that scoured the hillsides and their inhabitants. It blew dried leaves, twigs and man-made debris in swirls along the walkway.
"She's not unfamiliar with her killer", he stated aloud to no one in particular, trusting that Lisbon or one of the others on the team would be listening and possibly taking notes as he began his evaluation. He crouched down to get closer without quite touching his knees to the ground. Ignoring the scent that threatened to send him off into a place he didn't want to go, he sniffed her hands and clothing as he balanced carefully with his fingertips to avoid the evaporating puddle that surrounded most of her body. He'd only brought the one suit and blood is a bitch to remove without dry-cleaning. Unfortunately, they'd all had far too much experience with that issue.
"There's tobacco on her sleeve but, her hands and clothes don't smell like a smoker's. No nicotine stains on her fingers. My guess is that she possibly ripped her attacker's pocket open in the struggle while she was being killed and it spilled out whatever was in the bottom of it. It's probably how her fingernails came to be broken. Under the body or all of this blood, you may even find some loose cigarettes or perhaps part of the wrapper or box. Maybe even the torn pocket or something equally as exciting."
He added, "Good luck with that." and then mentally shuddered at the thought of scooping up the coagulated goo to look for evidence underneath. He didn't envy the techs who drew the short straw on that one. He looked closely around her body, saw nothing more that would be of any useful information, then abruptly stood and walked quickly down the steps to the bottom landing.
Ortega joined him as the consultant stood staring out at the lights scattered like confetti over the landscape below. The red glow of a distant brush fire on the mountainsides beyond gave a surreal feeling of menace. The wind whipped their clothes about them on the unprotected terrace as Ortega turned to address the blonde man.
"So, Mr. Jane, you think this is Red John?"
"It's not him."
"How do you know?"
"For one, there's obviously no smiley face; number two, there's no real mutilation. I don't think having one's throat cut counts but, I'm not really sure of the technicality."
"Maybe he's changed his M.O.?"
"No, not him. I think he considers the way he kills his . . . " Jane eyes became focused on something interior and ugly, "for lack of a better term, art."
Ortega cringed internally at the concept of something so evil as 'art'. He'd also been somewhat startled by the blonde man's change in demeanor. Jane's face had gone absolutely blank, eyes cold, empty and dark. The transformation was a startling change from the face he'd shown only minutes before when they were introduced.
There is definitely more to this guy than he allows others to see, thought Ortega.
"Well", said Jane suddenly and a little too brightly, a smile back on his face as though an invisible switch had been flipped, "Done here, gotta go. Do you have anything further you want to ask?"
"Uh, no. Thank you." Said the detective, surprised by the sudden sunny smile and easy manner. He watched as the blonde man strode quickly and gracefully down the sloped walkway toward the parking lot. Weird guy . . . smart, but weird.
Jane had to get away from the scent of her blood. He could, usually, tolerate it. After all, it wasn't like the smell was unknown in the kind of work required of him.
Lisbon took note of his retreat then shrugged and went back to her task of interviewing the straggle of bystanders gathered at the top of the steps near the main entrance. It was a motley collection of kids looking for a good time and a night away from parental authority, a couple of homeless people who made their beds in the park after everyone had gone for the day, drug dealers and their customers and . . . the merely curious. They'd question every one of them and would get nothing. They didn't really expect to.
The wind continued it heated way through the concrete canyons and river-beds scrawled with graffiti. It sighed in the eucalyptus and flowed into the gullies and ravines. Lisbon fought the urge to scratch at her exposed skin as it began to dry out and itch.
Something bad was coming, she could feel it.
TBC - of course