Erica sat at a table inside the café at the front of the bed & breakfast where she had taken residence. From behind a fortress of textbooks she drank the last sip from a gargantuan mug of coffee. Even while in university, doctor Hazelwood had never absorbed so much caffeine. She'd have to make an effort to wean herself of the stuff once her work in Saint-Ferdinand was done. Unfortunately, it didn't seem likely to be any time soon.
Being educated in criminal and pathological psychology, Erica thought she was well equipped to handle someone as completely delusional as Sam Finnegan. However, her specialty was handling victims and survivors of violent crimes, not making sense of the ramblings of the insane. So she dove back into her source material, digging through every profiling textbook and article on serial killers she could lay her hands on. Yet, she could find but a handful of criminals that fit Finnegan's particular delusions.
It was a double edged sword; on one hand, she might have a completely unique case, but on the other hand she was truly in over her head.
"I hear you've had a very lengthy chat with our buddy Sam?"
Standing across the table from her stood Randy Mackenzie, holding a cup of coffee and a decadent looking chocolate confection. He was dressed casually, a rare occurance for him. Not that he was particularly enamored with slacks and shirts, but Dr. Mackenzie had very few opportunities to just be 'Randy', usually working either late into the evenings or through his weekends. It was odd seeing him wearing loose shorts and a hawaiian shirt.
"This seat taken?" he asked after a beat.
"Absolutely not." Erica smiled. "Sit down, I could use a break."
Randy did as he was told, settling in with little ceremony before taking a large bite out of his pastry.
"Are you going on a cruise there Randy?"
"Huh? Oh no! I just had a friendly game of golf this morning." Randy nodded towards the books and stacks of notes. "How is figuring out Finnegan coming along?"
"Horribly." she sighed, unabashedly stealing a sip of his coffee. "He's the real deal Randy. A true man of mystery. Except instead of being a spy, he's a serial killer with none of the traditional hallmarks of one."
"What are you looking for?"
"Paraphilia, a psychological trigger, anything. He obviously knows the difference between right and wrong, considering he couldn't bring himself to leave Audrey's body by the road. He's there enough to avoid capture for two decades yet he seems to function on the level of a ten year old the rest of the time."
"What about his signature?" asked Randy, sending Erica into a more agitated rant.
"That makes even less sense! He's got no set hunting pattern, no preferred victim type, all we've got to work with is that strange ritual with the eyes and the age of his victims."
"So he's obsessed with eyes. What more do you need?" he took a second bite to punctuate the rhetorical nature of the question.
"Serial killers don't operate in a vacuum Randy. They kill to satisfy a compulsion. When I interviewed him, he said he needed the eyes to keep something trapped in that cave." Randy stopped chewing abruptly. "He thinks there was a god in there."
Dr. Mackenzie swallowed the half chewed bite of pastry, nearly choking himself in the process.
"Yeah." continued Erica, a frown slowly forming over her eyes. "A god of death and hate."
Randy, took a mouthful of coffee to clear his throat. He coughed a little before finally catching his breath. Erica wasn't blind to the obvious. She quickly noticed that something about this 'god' business had caught Mackenzie off guard. She'd known Randy for a few years now and had seldom seen him flustered.
"Something I said?" she probed, looking him directly in the eyes.
"No, I just swallowed wrong that's all." Randy answered while looking out the window. Lying through his teeth.
"You knew Finnegan had delusions about a god living in a cave Randy?" the question had some urgency to it, challenging the deception.
"Look. Erica, it's more complicated than that. We got the guy. He's crazy but we caught him and he'll never hurt anyone again. That's all that matters." he stood, obviously nervous.
"Wait, Randy..." Erica tried to stop him, partially because he seemed so suddenly distraught but also because she knew there was more she could get from him. "Randy, if there's something you want to talk about..."
"Sorry, I gotta go. I'll huh, I'll see you later."
She stood to stop him but he rushed out the door before she could say or do anything.
"Good job miss psychology," Erica whispered to herself as she was sitting down "good job."
Paul Mackenzie sat on his back porch. The afternoon had been devastatingly hot and he'd decided that the tea shop could go an afternoon being closed for business, which should bring in just about as much business as if it were open. Scorching weather just didn't do much for the hot beverage business. He and his wife had considered selling gourmet ice tea in the summer, but winter sales more than made up for the slower months. There was no need to get greedy. Besides, he would have missed his daughter's big moving day.
"You sure you want to move in that thing? Doesn't seem that comfortable to me." he shouted to Venus as she carried a large bucket of water from the backdoor of the house and across the yard.
"Is that an order Paul?" she shouted back, huffing and puffing as she dragged the pail to her new home.
"Oh no." Paul laughed. "Not at all. That wouldn't be cool. You gotta do what you gotta do man. It's just really kind of a crappy shed."
Venus dropped the bucket next to an arsenal of cleaning products she had already assembled at the door of the shed. Half the content spilled into the grass but she didn't seem to notice, let alone care. She dumped some all-purpose soap into the water and stirred it with a rag.
"I don't care. I just want my own space for a while dad."
Paul leaned back and kicked off his sandals before taking a swig of his lemonade. He'd always tried to raise Venus as an independent thinker. They figured there was nothing they could teach their daughter that life experience wouldn't teach better. So far the experiment had been rewarding. Venus was a smart and resourceful young woman. She had grown into more of a friend than an offspring. Usually it was awesome. The three of them could talk and relate in a way most families didn't and he really felt like she was comfortable telling him anything. Sometimes though, Venus got it in her head that she would rather have 'normal' parents. During those episodes, Paul thought it best to just let her have her way until it passed.
"Groovy." he finally said. "Let me know if you need a hand."
The job of cleaning out the shed was colossal and Venus quickly decided that it would take more than one day. Simply emptying the thing of all the broken down junk that had accumulated over the years took the better part of two hours. To her surprise, she found that the storage area was wired for electricity, if in a very limited way. An old electric lawn mower was still plugged into the single outlet. A simple test quickly confirmed that it had current opening up a whole new realm of possibilities for her future domicile.
On the other hand however, she also stumbled upon what looked like a bird nest. While unoccupied at the moment it still contained eggs. Venus didn't want to disturb the nest if it wasn't already abandoned, but she didn't have any reliable way of making sure. At least none came to her immediately.
It's only after nearly an hour of vigorously sweeping and scrubbing the floor, her eyes often going back and forth between her work and the nest, that she came up with a way to determine if it, and it's content, were indeed abandoned.
Immediately, she bolted out of the shed, coming back a few minutes later with her arms full of electronic equipment. Her hygienic endeavors forgotten in favor of an entirely different project. Her father, bearing witness to the rapid change in focus bit his lip to stifle a laugh, settling for a knowing smile instead.
Penelope arrived just as Venus was putting the finishing touches to her setup. She looked appraisingly at the complete disaster the Mackenzie's yard had turned into. Cleaning products littered the lawn amongst piles of discarded junk that would have been more at home, well, inside of the shed.
Penny walked into the shed to see her friend perched on a stool, tying up some wires into neat bundles. She held plastic cups of half-melted ice cream in each hand and put on her most disapproving glare.
"Y'know Veen, for genius you sure come up with stupid ideas."
Venus was startled and nearly fell off her perch.
"What are you talking about. This is a great idea." the younger girl explained while accepting the dripping treat.
"Oh sure! If you're planning on getting another twelve cats or writing a manifesto."
"Speaking of cats," started Venus while looking around between bites of ice cream. "Have you seen Sherbet? I don't want him getting into the eggs."
Penny gave Venus the same kind of quizzical look most people reserved for those with diminished capacities.
"I should have seen it coming. This is all my fault. Hanging out with older kids was too much for your immature mind and now you're going mad." said Penny, her voice dripping with sarcasm and mockery.
"Ha, ha. I'm serious. I found this nest at the back of the shed and there's eggs in it. I don't want to move it until I know if the mother hasn't abandoned it." Venus explained. "So I installed a camera."
"Of course you did. So you're going to be spying on your own empty shed through your computer?" Penny asked, leaning on a wall while picking at her ice cream. "Come on Veen, aren't you over-reacting? André's the jerk who shoved you in the mud, not your parents."
"Yeah, but it's because of them that I get teased so much."
"No, you get teased because you're in high school. If it wasn't about your parents, it'd be about your grades and if not that, it'd be your hair color or some other trivial garbage."
"You're probably right." sighed Venus, sitting down on her stool. "I just don't know how to deal with them anymore. I mean, other kids think Paul and Virginie are weird but they don't understand; I live with them! I know how strange they are and it's a lot more bizarre than the other kids think."
"Oh?" Penny raised an eyebrow.
"They keep bursting into scenes from back in their theater days. And I don't mean once in a while in the evening when they're bored. I mean any time. Do you know how annoying it is to hear Andrew Lloyd Webber at breakfast three days in a row?"
"I can't imagine, no." Penny giggled.
"They act like teenagers too. I keep coming home from school to find them making out or some other embarrassing junk.
"Or like last summer when they just up and left for three weeks without warning. Just a note on the fridge. 'Dear Venus, gone on vacation. Back soon. Money on the dresser for food.' Aren't there laws against that sort of thing?"
Penelope looked distant for a moment. She was suddenly lost in her own family reminiscence. She smiled with distant melancholy and had probably stopped listening a few sentence or two earlier.
"Oh god, Penny. I'm so sorry." Venus covered her mouth in embarrassment. "I'm such a jerk, complaining about my parents being idiots when I still have both of them."
She took a step towards her friend and grabbed her in a tight hug. "I'm so selfish she added."
"No, no. I was just remembering some good times with my dad." Penny reassured "This was nice nostalgia. Just a little bittersweet is all."
Venus finally let her go.
"Still, you do have it pretty good Veen." she wiped an aborted tear off the corner of her eye. "My dad being gone aside, I don't see mom very often. In fact, she got home so late last night and left so early this morning, I didn't even cross path with her."
"You're right. I do have it good." Venus confessed in shame. "So...how high on the self-absorption meter did I score this time?"
"Pretty high." The older girl confirmed with a smile. "If you need a break from your parents you can probably come spend a few days at my place. I'm sure mom wouldn't mind. Besides, what kind of troglodyte lives in a shed?"
The Crowley house wasn't the most ostentatious in Saint-Ferdinand but it reflected the standing of its owner well. The only pieces of undeniable luxury was the two car garage which contained a sleek black Lexus and an amazing array of sports equipment, ranging from skis to golf bags, all neatly hung on the walls.
In front of the garage was a long asphalt driveway that led to the road. The sun beat down on the black surface, creating ripples in the air just over the ground. In the middle of this forbidding ocean of burning pitch stood the island of a white Honda Civic. Impeccably clean with dazzling chrome hubcaps, its hood gaped open as a young man leaned, shirtless over the engine.
"Nice car!" called out Sean Hayes as he got within a few feet of the Civic. "I used to have one of those when I was your age. Red hatchback. Nowhere near as well maintained as this one though."
Donald Crowley pulled himself up from under the hood of his car and, squinting from the sun, took an appraising look at the stranger. How the man could stand the heat without swimming in his own sweat, all while wearing a full business suit, seemed baffling to him.
"Thanks." Don replied "If you're looking for my dad you're out of luck. He's working today."
"Why doesn't that surprise me?" the stranger asked in exasperation, stuffing his hands in his pocket and leaning back against the car.
"Who are you anyways?" countered Donald, wiping the grease from his hands.
"Oh! Where are manners? My name is Sean Hayes. I'm a freelance reporter."
Sean extended a hand which Don slowly accepted, knowing full well how stained his fingers were. Donald was wary. Through the years he'd had contact with a few reporters and although he'd never really had any trouble with them, there was something unsettling about people who's job it was to dig into the lives of others.
"So my dad's been dodging you I gather?"
"You could say that. Or you could say that the entire village has been avoiding me." Hayes put on a smile "Not that I blame them. I wouldn't want to talk to me either if I'd gone through what you folks have gone through. At least not yet."
"No one's talking to you? You're just not asking the right people Mr. Hayes."
"'Sean', please." Hayes wiped nonexistent sweat from his brow. "Look, I'll level with you Donald. I would rather not bother a man like your father, but it's kind of traditional to get the authority's point of view when it comes to criminal investigations. I'm really trying to be respectful of his position and his community by making sure I get the story right from the horse's mouth."
"Well, you're in for an uphill race then, Sean." Don smiled knowingly. "My old man is a master at avoiding people and pretty damned pig headed."
"Alright. Who should I be asking then?"
"There's this criminal psychologist who's been in town a week. She's writing a book or something. She can probably answer most of your questions." Donald suspected that having two people from out of town conspiring to publish Saint-Ferdinand's dirty laundry wouldn't sit well with his dad. Normally he'd be first in line to defend his father's values, but after his latest altercation with the old man, he felt a spark of satisfaction at doing the opposite.
"Interesting. Any idea where I can find this fellow wordsmith?"
"Sure. Her name is something Hazelwood. She's got an office at the station."
"Fantastic. Well, you've been a great help Donald." Hayes produced a business card out of thin air, handing it to Don who picked it up without looking at it. "If you could give that to your dad I'd be grateful. Maybe he'll change his mind."
A final handshake later and Sean Hayes was strolling down the driveway, hands back in his pockets and still apparently unbothered by the scorching summer heat. Finally looking at the card, Don noticed an odd but familiar symbol at the corner; an hourglass with wings. While trying to put his finger on where he'd seen something like this before, another, more pressing mystery dawned on him. Turning back to the now distant reporter about to turn down the road he yelled: "Hey! Sean! How did you know my name was Donald?"
Hayes either didn't hear him or intentionally ignored him. Either way, a second later, he was gone.