The clock ticked. Each beat of the second hand was like a hammer falling on a pile of gunpowder. Just when Hayden thought he couldn't take it any more, it stopped. The rapid palpitation of his own heart was a softer sound, but he was still afraid. His breath trembled. He felt cold sweat pop out along his hairline.
"You're wasting time, detective. Justice doesn't grieve. She seeks vengeance. Tick tock. They'll put him in the ground and then what? Does the fury in you rest? Come on, detective. Don't make me wait too long."
Something squeaked. Hayden cringed and turned towards the sound. It squeaked again. He saw a swing set. The rest of the playground was cloaked in shadows.
A little girl in a white leotard and tights was swinging as high as she could. Her long blonde hair swished back and forth, and the frail silver wings attached to her back flattened and unfurled. The sensation Hayden felt in his chest must have been similar to what Taren felt when his heart exploded.
Hayden took a step forward and realized he didn't move. He was only watching from somewhere outside. He couldn't talk to his daughter, and she couldn't see him.
A tall, skinny man in a white suit walked up to the swing set. He shoved his hands in his pockets and watched Meghann. Hayden wondered if he should panic. It wouldn't have done any good if he couldn't save her.
Meghann looked at the man and said, "You're not supposed to be here."
"Well, shit happens," the man said. Hayden decided he didn't need to panic. It was Taren.
"Does my daddy know you're here?"
"Yup. And he's not happy about it."
"He's not happy about lots of things."
"He's a sad dad."
"Wanna swing with me?"
"I bet I can swing higher!"
Hayden watched Meghann and Taren for a while. He wished he knew where they were. They seemed safe, and they weren't alone. Even so, he couldn't seem to let them go.
The buzzing of the alarm clock washed the dream away. Hayden rubbed his eyes. His stomach was tight and cold. He squinted at the red numbers on the clock. Seven thirty. Taren would be in the ground before noon.
The smell of coffee dragged Hayden into the kitchen against his will. Julian was sitting in the armchair and staring out the sliding glass door with her glasses off. Sky was asleep on the couch. There were crusts of blood on his ear, his mouth and his nose. A nasty black bruise spread over his temple.
"Is he okay?" Hayden asked.
"I didn't hear you get up," Julian said. She put her glasses on and looked at Sky. "He's got a concussion. He wouldn't let me take him to the hospital. He didn't want to wake you up because he didn't want to make today any harder than it already will be."
"It's getting worse."
"Kyle. Sky's gonna end up dead if he goes back there."
"He knows that."
"But he'll go back anyway. It's fucking stupid."
"Kyle is all he has. He's in love."
Julian sighed and put her chin in her hand.
Hayden poured a cup of coffee. When he sat down to smoke, Julian got up and went into the kitchen to make breakfast.
"Quit," she said.
"Next year," Hayden said.
Julian shook her head and continued to pull breakfast parts from the refrigerator. Hayden watched the smoke from his cigarette and wondered about his dream. It didn't feel much like a dream at all, and the nagging knot in his stomach wasn't just because of Taren's funeral.
"What if I drop him?" Hayden asked.
Julian turned away from the oven. "Hayden ... "
"What if I'm not strong enough? Or what if I trip? Or what if I try to carry him all by myself and it crushes me?"
"I think you'll be fine."
"But I'm not."
Taren had hated the nickname Squire, at least at first. It had started off as a joke when Taren joined the homicide division and started working with Hayden. Hayden couldn't remember who'd come up with the nickname, but it stuck. Taren got used to it. He had to. Almost no one in the department called him Taren. Even his girlfriend's father, a patrolman, called him Squire. It had become such a familiar and affectionate epithet that it was on his gravestone.
Somehow Hayden made it through the church service without giving in to the urge to run out and tear the city to pieces to find Taren's killer. He tried to find some comfort in the words the pastor spoke, but there was nothing in those words about justice or vengeance.
When it came time to carry the coffin out of the church, Hayden felt a surge of strength, and for a second, he thought he might be able to carry the coffin alone. When he looked at the faces of the five other pallbearers, he knew he wasn't alone in that feeling.
At the graveside service, Hayden tried again to believe in God and heaven, but his stomach felt like cold, thick gravy. Taren wasn't in heaven. He was on a swing set with Meghann. Hayden wanted to leave when it was all over. He didn't want to have to hear anyone say any combination of words that would add up to a loss and empty condolences. He shook hands and accepted embraces, nodded and thanked them for coming and wished they would all just go away.
Kenneth waited until almost everyone had left before he approached Hayden. Hayden had made a point to stay as close to Monica as possible. It seemed the safest place to be, but when he saw Kenneth coming, he knew he'd get one last warning. Kenneth hugged Monica and mumbled an apology that would have been sincere if he wasn't grieving himself. For several minutes, he couldn't bring himself to do more than look at Hayden. He turned his attention to the coffin and said, "It's a closed case. It was an accident."
"Do you believe that?" Hayden asked.
"Hayden, just stay out of it."
"I don't want to go to any more funerals this year."
"Why did he have six unsolved cases?"
"I don't know. Please, Hayden, don't go looking for something that isn't there."
"I'm not. I know it's there. I can't ignore my gut feelings."
"Ignore this one."
"You're not telling me something."
"Hayden ... "
"That's fine. Don't tell me. I'll find out anyway."
"I'm just trying to save your life. I don't feel right about this either, but if you're right, this could happen to you."
"Trust me. I won't let it. Not until I have answers."
"I can't help you. I can't keep Chelios off your back. He's already trying to find out who your snitch is. You know if he finds the kid, he'll throw him in jail."
"Thanks for the warning."
"You're a hard headed son of a bitch."
"My squire is dead. It's my responsibility. I don't mind you not helping. Just don't get in my way."
"I'll do what I can."
Everywhere they looked, they saw that they were needed. The innocent suffered, and the criminals walked free, fearing no retribution. They waded through the river of blood that rushed into the temple. They marked the sinners with their terrible glares.
The sinners shrieked and clawed at their eyes. Flames and worms ate their flesh, and they ran, screaming and scratching. They threw themselves into the river of blood and upon the ground, trying to free themselves of the torment.
But the Furies were relentless. No one could hide from them. Justice and vengeance were awake at last, and after so long a slumber, they hungered to feed their purpose.
When Hayden opened the door to Taren's apartment, he half expected to see Taren with a silly grin on his face saying that it was all just some misunderstanding, but the place was empty and silent. He wasn't sure he was going to find anything at all, but he had to start looking for clues somewhere. He'd told Monica he'd help get things packed up anyway, so he, Julian and Sky went there the day after the funeral. It was storming again, and Hayden stared out the window for a while, thinking about the crow with the broken neck.
They started in the kitchen. They boxed up the nonperishable things and tossed out everything else. In the bedroom, Julian broke down in tears when they found a ring box containing a small diamond solitaire in Taren's sock drawer. Hayden had forgotten that Taren had planned to propose to Rochele on her birthday in a few weeks.
Hayden looked everywhere he could think to look and couldn't find anything that resembled a clue. Then he noticed that there was a message on the answering machine. He popped the tape out and slipped it into his pocket.
"I think I found something," Sky said. He was absorbed in a box of Batman, Daredevil and The Punisher comic books. He had found a sheet of paper in the latest issue of Daredevil.
On the sheet of paper were six names. Next to the names were body parts. There was a pentagram drawn in the margin with a dot in the center. The rest of the paper contained scribbles about the victims, about where they were found and summaries of various interviews, all of which had seemed to lead Taren to one word. Mineshaft.
"He must have done this the night he died," Hayden said.
"It looks like he was trying to make things make sense," Sky said. "Because this doesn't make sense without knowing every little detail."
"Just because the victims had nothing in common doesn't mean this isn't a serial killer. There had to be some other ritualistic reason for the murders."
"A satanic cult in the mineshaft?"
"That's kinda stretching it."
"Then why the pentagram?"
"Does it always have to be a satanic cult when there's a pentagram?"
"I don't know. I'm not into satanic cults or pentagrams."
"If I had the case files, I might be able to figure this out easier."
"I could - "
"No. I'm not gonna have you rob the police station."
"You think I couldn't do it?"
"I know you could. That's what bothers me. You need to stay off the streets anyway. Chelios is gonna have patrols everywhere trying to find my snitch."
"But I can't learn anything if I stay in."
"Give it a few days. Your head will stop hurting. Chelios will get bored. And I'll have reinforcements."
"We could just go to the mineshaft."
"Like hell we could."
"With large guns and explosives."
"That might stop the murders, but it wouldn't give me any answers."
The rain had stopped. The clouds popped and rumbled, threatening to let loose again. If the trees could have pulled up their roots and run for shelter, they would have. They shivered in the wet breeze and tossed rain off their leaves. The streets were empty. The city had never felt so much like a ghost town before dark.
The cemetery was empty. Hayden watched the ground as he walked towards Taren's grave. Mud squelched under his feet, and cold water seeped into the seams of his shoes. He needed new shoes. He stopped at the foot of the grave. Thunder tore the air. His stomach tightened.
There were all kinds of flowers on top of the mound of dirt. There were white and yellow roses and others he couldn't identify. Next to the headstone, someone had left a cactus in a small pot. It seemed a strange parting gift, but Taren had his share of odd friends and acquaintances.
Hayden reached into his pocket and pulled out a folded handkerchief. He'd stopped searching for a reason for what he was about to do several hours ago. It was the only way he could think to make a promise that would be kept. He'd made promises before. He'd broken them before. He couldn't afford to break another one. He unfolded the handkerchief. The razorblade didn't gleam or sparkle. It just lay there. He opened a long, deep cut on his palm and held his hand over Taren's grave. He watched the blood drip down and seep into the dirt. Thunder erupted again, and it began to rain.