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Tick Tock

Conrad Satan was only twenty-six, but he had the reputation of a twenty-year veteran. His raw talent was combined with sharp skill and instincts more like a cop than a reporter. He'd won several awards for his work. By the time he retired, he'd be the most decorated reporter the city had ever had. His colleagues liked to accuse him of being a glory hound, but he wasn't after the fame. He was only interested in telling the truth.

Hayden wasn't sure about getting Conrad involved, but he knew that Conrad had some interest in the matter. Hayden was more worried about what could happen if things went wrong than what might happen if Conrad broke whatever story they ended up uncovering. Hayden didn't want to take the chance that Conrad would get killed. He was convinced that the killer was trying to draw them both into some kind of trap.

The switchboard operator had put him on hold when there was a knock at his office door. He looked up and then put the phone down. "I was just trying to call you," Hayden said.

Conrad grinned. "My sense of timing had been on all day," he said. "I'm sorry about Taren."

"Thanks. Have a seat."

Conrad sat down and opened the bag he carried. "I don't have much. Taren was really good at keeping this out of my reach. Any other detective, and I'd have cracked the case weeks ago."

"Why were you interested in this anyway?"

"Something felt wrong. And when Osgood turned up dead ... whoever did this wants me to be involved. Osgood was too specific a target. So was Taren."

"So you're already convinced it's a serial killer."

"Does it make sense to you that a detective like Taren would have six unsolved cases otherwise?"

"No, but there's nothing to link these people together. Most serial killers have some common thread to their victims. This is too random."

"Which brings me to what I have that Taren didn't. I decided that if I couldn't look for the killer, I'd take a closer look at the victims. They did have something in common." Conrad handed Hayden several sheets of typed notes.

Hayden skimmed over the notes. A couple of the victims had worked for the same company, but that was more of a coincidence than a common denominator. All of them had committed some crime or unethical act, ranging from adultery to credit fraud, but none of them had suffered major consequences. Josh Portman had lied about his education on his resume and was fired. Eric Riley had cheated on his wife, and she divorced him. That was as severe as it got. "Okay, so they were being punished, but I don't think any of these crimes warrant a death penalty," Hayden said.

"It's not the crimes that are being punished. It's the sinners."

"All right. I'll buy that. What's up with the mineshaft?"

Conrad pulled a map from his bag and spread it across Hayden's desk. The locations where the bodies had been found were marked in red and connected in black at the points of a pentagram with the mineshaft at the center. "Taren figured this out, too. The mineshaft is the center of it. So whatever this killer is up to is down there."

"That's only five points. Where's Osgood?"

"Outside the pattern."

"And Taren was in the middle of it."

"Because we're being called out."

"How do you know that?"

Conrad stared at the map for a minute. Hayden didn't like the look in his eyes. "I just know."

"Are you psychic or something?"

"I keep having this dream. I don't ever remember all the details, but I know there's a man in a dress or something, and he's got Osgood's blood on his hands. He's taunting me, and I know I shouldn't listen because he's gonna hurt me, but I can't stop myself. He's killed people, and all I can think of is vengeance."

"A man in a dress?"

"Or a robe or something. It's a dream. Details are fuzzy at best."

"We need more information. I'm not going to the mineshaft until I know exactly what I'm dealing with."

"We need Taren's case files."

"We can't get those."

"Who's working the cases now?"

"I don't know."

"At the very least, I can go down there and pester them a little. I haven't done that in a while. Besides, half of them still think I had something to do with Osgood's murder. They'd be overjoyed to see me."

"We need more than case files. Kenneth mentioned something about 911 calls."

"Autopsy reports might help, too. If they were all killed the same way, that would tell us a lot."

"That wouldn't be a problem. I can get Kate to talk to me. How much of a distraction do you think you can be?"

"How much of a distraction do you want?"

"We're talking about robbing the police station."

"I hope you're a good thief."

"Not me. Let's wait until later tonight when Kenneth is on duty. Meet me back here at nine."


Something was calling them, pulling them through the river. It sang out their names. Tisiphone, Alecto, Megaera. They listened and wondered. Whose voice was it that beckoned them?

Tisiphone felt something uncoil deep in the pit of her stomach. It was a voice they knew, but the sisters couldn't place it. It had called them many times, and many times, they had not heard it. It seemed eons since they'd heeded the call.

"It calls us again, sisters," Tisiphone said. "But I like it not."

Alecto bared her teeth. "Nor I," she said.

"Heed the call, and we shall see what awaits," Megaera said.

They pressed on.


Hayden and Conrad sat in Hayden's car a few blocks away from the police station. Hayden hadn't been able to find Sky all day, and he was worried. He'd left messages for Sky in places he knew Sky liked to hang out, but no one had seen Sky. He was tempted to abandon their plan and go to Kyle's.

"What are we waiting for again?" Conrad asked.

"My thief," Hayden said.

"Your own personal thief? Must be useful."

"Yeah. And it keeps him out of trouble. Damn it, this is pissing me off. Where the fuck is he?"

"Maybe he's not crazy."

"Maybe he's dead."


"His lover is hooked on coke and beats him. Sky keeps going back there, and no matter how bad it gets, he won't just stay away. Sometimes, I just wanna go up there and beat the shit out of Kyle and ask him how it feels."

"Poor kid. He's been though hell. I guess he likes it there."

"You know Sky?"

"Yeah. I wrote a story two years ago about Boris Mironov, the guy who had all those factories that closed when the state started to investigate allegations of slavery and torture. Sky's dad worked there. Sky knew Mironov was paying people off to be quiet, and he wanted revenge. He got me the information, and I took it to the state. He got revenge. I got my story. I wanted to do more for him, but he wouldn't let me. He said he'd be okay."

"He would be if he'd stop seeing Kyle." Hayden lit a cigarette, and they kept waiting.

Five minutes later, Sky leaned through the passenger side window and said, "You boys looking for a good time?"

"Where the fuck have you been?" Hayden asked.

"Library. Here." Sky handed Hayden a folder full of photocopied pages. "I had a weird dream about the pentagram thing, so I spent all day doing research. And then something else occurred to me, and it just feels like I have no choice but to find out what happened to Taren. Hi, Conrad."

"Hey, kid," Conrad said. "So we're all having weird dreams about this. I'm not liking this."

"Sky, I need you to do me a favor," Hayden said.

"Yeah, I got your messages," Sky said. "You know, I'd like to have a day at least to case the place a little better than I have. But I like challenges."

"How much time do you think you'll need?"

"That depends on where things are."

"You know what I want, right?"

"Case files, autopsy reports, 911 tapes. I'm the one who told you we needed to do this."

"Yeah, yeah. Be careful. Meet us back at the office."

"I'll be taking a long way around, so don't panic if it takes me a while to get there."

"Just get there."

Sky nodded and darted away from the car.

"A thief and a scholar," Conrad said. "I'd love to know how he would have turned out under different circumstances."

"The same, probably. Less bruises." Hayden opened the folder and flipped through the pages. He paused at copy of a drawing of three women with snakes in their hair and nasty looking weapons in their hands. The caption at the bottom was The Furies. Hayden's stomach twisted into a tight, cold knot. He closed the folder. "I wonder what made him think of that."

"Let's go before he gets too far ahead of us."

The front desk officer had called Kenneth and warned him that Conrad and Hayden were coming, so he waited for them in the hallway rather than letting them get very far into the department where it might be easier for them to learn who had picked up Taren's cases.

"Lt. Taylor, I need to ask you a few questions," Conrad said. He shook Kenneth's hand. "First of all, I'm really sorry that you've lost your best detective. That's a devastating blow to the entire police force."

"Hayden, what's going on?" Kenneth asked.

Hayden shrugged. "I tried to stop him," he said. "He came to talk to me, and I told him the case was closed. I followed him down here to try to keep him out of trouble."

"Lt., you and I both know it wasn't an accident," Conrad said. "Six unsolved cases, a dead detective. There's a story there, and I need to know what it is. The locations of five of the bodies make a pentagram. Kurt Osgood was outside the pattern, which means this sick bastard is calling me out. Taren was in the center of the pattern. This killer wants to be found, and he wants me and Hayden to do the finding. So come on. What can you tell me?"

"Get out of here, Satan," Kenneth said. "I'll have you thrown in a holding cell for the night if you don't just walk away."

"Please. What the hell do you take me for, Lt.? It's entirely possible that my life is in danger. And Hayden's too. Don't you think you can share something? Who took Taren's cases?"

"I'm serious. Leave."

"Well, let's go talk to friendlier folks." Conrad pushed past Kenneth and walked into the department. Kenneth and Hayden followed him.

"I don't know what the hell you two are trying to do, but - "

"Detective Isbister," Conrad said, looking at the board.

Blair Isbister was sitting at her desk. She put her hand on her forehead when Conrad turned away from the board and spotted her.

"Sorry, Blair," Hayden said.

"Right," she said.

Conrad sat down in the chair at the side of her desk. "This is all off the record, Detective," he said. "Anything you can tell me?"

"No. Get lost."

"Look, I'm not leaving until I get something. Just admit it's a serial killer. That's enough for me."

"Quit trying to make something out of nothing just because you're bored."

"Did you know all these people had committed some kind of crime within the last five years? Did you know that not one of them went to jail or paid fines of any kind? What about the anonymous 911 calls? That strikes me as just a tad bit strange. What do you think?"

"Lt., make them go away."

"Conrad, you're not getting anywhere," Hayden said. "I told you."

"I have met with greater resistance and overcome it. I won't be so easily thwarted," Conrad said.

"How about I give you a knuckle sandwich?" Blair asked.

"Just ate, thanks."

"Okay, that's it," Kenneth said. "I'm gonna have you both locked up for the night." He walked towards his office.

Out of the corner of his eye, Hayden spotted Sky peeking around the corner. He had to get Blair away from her desk. "Wait a minute," he said. "What are you locking me up for? I told you I was trying to stop him."

Conrad got up and followed Kenneth to his office. "You can't lock us up," he said. "What about freedom of the press?"

"You're not press, Satan. You're a plague," Kenneth said.

"Well, then freedom of plague. I have a right to know what's going on, especially if I could be involved."

"You can get rid of him, Blair," Hayden said. "Just feed him a line. Anything. Give him something to chew on for a while."

"Hayden, when he chews on things, he wins awards," Blair said. "I won't be shown up by some kid reporter."

"All the more reason to throw him a bone. Lie to him. Look, I tried to keep him from coming down here. He's really kinda freaked out about Osgood. Just a little peace of mind. I promise I'll keep him out of it."

"Oh, all right." Blair and Hayden went into to Kenneth's office. Hayden shut the door, and Kenneth put the phone down.

"Let me make something perfectly clear to both of you," Kenneth said. "I have no idea what you're trying to pull, but I will not have either of you coming in to my department demanding answers on cases you have no business looking into. Satan, I know you have a reputation for chasing cases you can't handle. Believe me, this is one you can't handle. I don't know how the hell you're still alive after some of the shit you've pulled. I don't like having you questioning my detectives like that. I didn't say anything when these were Squire's cases because he knew how to handle you. If I have to get a restraining order, I will. I understand your concern. We're working on it, okay. And Hayden, I expect more of you than this.

"That said, Blair, what could you tell them to get them to shut up and go away?"

"Well, there is the pentagram pattern," Blair said. "All the victims appear to have been drained of large amounts of blood, which seems to be the cause of death. They were also missing random body parts. Based on that, I'm inclined to say that yes, it's a serial killer, and I believe it's a vampire."

"So there were bite marks?" Conrad asked.

"I've told you what I'm going to tell you. Go write a vampire story, Satan. You'll go from superstar to laughing stock."

"Do you like garlic, detective?"


"Hang a bulb of it around your neck. If I tell San Desperado there are vampires, there will be vampires. Thank you for your time and your cooperation." Conrad stalked out of the office.

"Hayden, I don't want to see him back here," Kenneth said.

"I know," Hayden said. "I tried to tell him - "

"You put him up to this. I don't know what you're doing, but I don't like it. I told you to keep your nose out of this."

"I know. That's why I jumped in feet first."

"Chelios will have my ass."

"It's not your fault. Vampires, Blair? That was lame."

"Bite me," Blair said.

Hayden shook his head and left. He scanned the area for Sky and saw nothing. Blair's desk didn't look as if it had been touched. His gut told him that Sky had gotten what they needed and was long gone.

Conrad was standing on the sidewalk watching the sky as it began to rain. "Did that go well?" he asked.

Hayden lit a cigarette. "For us, no. For Sky, we'll see," he said.


When they got back to Hayden's office, there was a light on. Hayden didn't think Sky would have gotten there that fast, and he knew Sky wouldn't turn on the light. He pulled his gun out and turned the safety off. "Stay here," he said.

"You sure that's a good idea?" Conrad asked.

"No, but it's better than both of us going in there."

"Damn, I knew I should've brought my gun."

"You know how to use a gun?"

"In theory."

"Do me a favor. Leave the theory at home, and stay in the car."


Hayden got out of the car and looked around. Rain gurgled down to the sewers. Nothing seemed out of place except the light he knew he hadn't left on. The front door was locked. Through the frosted glass, all he could see was the light and the shadows. There was no movement inside.

For no reason, Hayden thought of the crow that had smashed into the window. He walked around to the back of the building, wincing as cold water seeped into the worn seams of his shoes. He reminded himself to tell Julian that he needed new shoes.

Glass shattered. Hayden's stomach went cold. He turned around. A breeze rippled around him, but the trees above him didn't even twitch. The leaves on the ground behind him shifted. He turned towards the sound, raising his gun. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw shadows move. They drifted into his field of vision like black smoke, obscuring a human figure. Before Hayden could do anything, the figure was gone.

His stomach had only been that cold one other time in his life.

He ran back to the parking lot. Conrad was standing behind his car, staring at the broken rear window. Hayden looked around, saw no one else lurking nearby and put his gun away. "I thought I told you to stay in the fucking car," he said.

"Not when someone's throwing dead birds at my car," Conrad said.

"Lemme guess. A crow?"

"Yeah. How did you know?"

"Gut feeling."

"I didn't see anyone. I just heard the glass break."

"I saw ... something."

"That's useful."

"If I thought it was real, I'd share."

"Acid flashbacks?"

"We should go somewhere else. I don't think we're safe here."

"Hayden, he doesn't want to kill us. He's goading us."

"Well, the fucking bastard has my attention."

Conrad took a small flashlight off his key chain and shined it on the bird that had broken the window. The crow's neck was twisted. A silver pentagram was shoved onto the end of its beak. "Well, look at that," he said. "A calling card."

"Yeah, but what the fuck does all this mean?"

"I'm hoping Sky's research has some answers."

Hayden lit a cigarette.

"You wanna go down there now, don't you?"

Hayden turned away from the car. "Where the fuck is Sky?"

"If you go to the mineshaft now without knowing what's down there, you'll end up like Taren did."

"You don't understand."

"No, I don't. I don't want to. But I know justice isn't being done."

"What, are you some kinda vigilante now?"

"I'm a reporter. That's my job."

"You're just crazy."

"And you're afraid."

"Why the hell was the light on?" Hayden threw his cigarette at the ground and went to the office door. He unlocked it, and when he walked in, he was surprised to find Julian asleep at her desk. "Julian?"

She sat up, startled, and straightened her glasses. "Oh, god. I fell asleep, didn't I?" she asked.

"What are you doing here?"

"Your cases ... clients have been calling, but ... I didn't know what to tell them, so I wanted to ask you what I should say. Because you don't return calls any more. And I was getting tired of telling them the same thing all the time."

"That could have waited until morning."

"I'm worried about you, Hayden."

"I'm okay."

"Are you really?"


"Let's go home."

"In a little while. I'm waiting for Sky."

"Where've you been?"

"At the station. Blair Isbister told us it was a vampire."

"That's a new one."

Conrad walked in the door with Sky a few steps behind him. Sky was squinting at the silver pentagram he'd pulled off the crow's beak. On the backside of the medallion was part of a fingerprint in blood.

"We might wanna put this somewhere real safe," Sky said.

"Sky, do you have somewhere to stash all this stuff?" Hayden asked.

"Am I a thief?"

"I want you to take everything we've got so far. We'll look at it tomorrow night."


"Maybe we should meet somewhere else," Conrad said. "We don't need any more crows thrown at us."

"My place."

"You have a place?"

"A very empty place, but a place all the same. If this freak is going after you two, he knows where you both work and live. He doesn't even know I exist, much less where to find me to throw a crow through my window. And if you tell anyone where I live, I'll have to kill you both. Got a plastic bag or something?"

Julian opened a drawer. "I got Ziploc bags," she said. She handed one to Sky, and he dropped the pentagram into it. No one saw where the bag went after that. "If I can do anything to help, let me know."

"Can you hack into the police records to look for a fingerprint?"

"Sky, you've already done enough damage to police records for one night," Hayden said. "There will be no hacking."

"I could do it," Julian said.


"That's what you said about getting the case files, too," Sky said.

"I said no hacking. I mean it until I change my mind."

"Meet me at the library at eight."

"All right. And be careful."

"You worry too much. You'll put holes in your stomach."

"He's right, you know," Conrad said. "Try to think of something pleasant. I gotta go tape up my car."