Randy wasn't a violent man. He wasn't even a very physical man. Gifted with significantly more brains than brawn his most exerting activity was a round of golf without the use of a cart to ease the walk between holes. Time had made him rather pudgy which, considering his diminutive height made him look even more harmless and mild mannered.
Yet, when Venus showed up at the police department, everyone present saw him grab the young girl by the arm with unexpected force and drag her into an office before slamming the door violently behind them.
"Where did you get your hands on that!?!" he demanded.
Venus had walked into the office wanting to talk to her uncle, a large hand-bag hanging from her shoulder. Randy had been busy, but the girl had insisted and wouldn't leave otherwise. Jacky, the dispatcher on staff had noticed how Venus looked strung out and distressed. Considering the events of the past two weeks, especially the recent murder of Gabrielle LaForest, Randy had dropped everything to see to her. What she showed him provoked the unusual response from the medical examiner.
"Ow!" Venus rubbed her arm, it would probably bruise up pretty badly. "Not the grave of a dead girl if that's what you think."
"What?" Randy was stunned. Not that she was aware he'd taken the toy; he knew full well Venus was spying on him when he had committed that particular crime. What the doctor was trying desperately to understand was how his fifteen year old niece had come in possession of an artifact that, if he'd done his job right, wasn't even supposed to be part of the physical realm anymore. "How?"
"You tell me." she insisted, still holding her crushed arm, occasionally wincing in pain. "I saw you take it from Audrey's grave last week, and yesterday, Ms. Hazelwood left it at the ice cream shop. Kind of a weird souvenir to give her, isn't it?"
The medical examiner tried to digest the information as best he could. Not only was this bear no longer where it should be, but it somehow found it's way into Erica's possession. Why? How?
"Do you know where she found it?"
"I didn't ask her yet. I came to you first 'cause I'm really hoping you have a good explanation."
"So you spied on me and then stole this from Erica?" his tone was somewhat admonishing.
"What? No! Don't change the subject. Just... Just tell me why you took this toy from Audrey's grave."
Venus had always had a pretty good relationship with her uncle. Randy wasn't just some random relative but also her family doctor and the only member of her family that made any sense to her, until now. While they didn't really pal around, they did keep in touch and share an interest in technology that they chatted about a lot.
"I'm sorry. You're right." was his defeated answer. "I took the bear because Beatrice wanted it as a keepsake." it was a lie, but the truth was even less believable.
"Please uncle Randy." she pleaded genuinely. "You can't expect me to believe that."
"It's the truth." he swore. "Beatrice wanted the bear but William thought it was too painful a reminder so she asked me to get it for her after the ceremony but huh... I lost it."
It wasn't a good lie. In fact it was terrible and Venus made no sign of believing it. She frowned and closed her hand-bag. Then took a step towards the door. Her uncle made no move to stop her so she put a hand on the door knob.
"I'll bring it to Ms. Bergeron then, if you don't mind." a transparent threat to shake the truth out of him.
"I'd really rather do it myself." he stuck to his weak subterfuge.
Venus shook her head and without moving her eyes from him, opened the door and left.
All eyes in the station were on her as she walked through the front door. She didn't envy her uncle having to explain the scene they had caused but it served him right for being so deceitful.
As she walked out the front door, Venus wondered what she had hoped to gain by coming here. She didn't feel like she could trust him anymore and maybe by giving him back the bear he'd have given her a reasonable explanation for it, they would have laughed and then she could have told him about the creature in her shed. Maybe he'd have believed her too.
The plan had backfired and now she didn't have an adult to turn to. Her parents were unreliable, Penny's mom was dead and Abraham's dad, well, he had enough to deal with. That left inspector Crowley, but he was always sort of mean and too busy these days, and Ms. Hazelwood who somehow had ended up with Audrey's bear.
"Careful there!" Erica called out as a pre-occupied Venus almost bumped into her. The woman and the teenager stared at each other a moment, the former struggling to make a decision, the later surprised by the coincidence.
"Are you okay honey?" Erica inquired looking into Venus' sunken eyes. "You look like Hell."
"I'm fine." she lied. She felt bad for being no more honest than her uncle.
"Well I have to talk to you anyways." Erica gestured to the door Venus had just stepped through, but immediately sensing reluctance from the girl changed her approach. "Or we can go grab a bite to eat."
Venus took a second to think about it. She should really get back to Penelope and make sure her friend was doing fine, but as important as that was, she needed answers and the questions were becoming alarmingly important.
"Sure. Your treat."
They ended up at a small bistro type of restaurant that served decent hot sandwiches and home-made sodas. Ghislain Thibodeau, a boy two years older than Venus was taking care of the customers while his father, Jacques, was in the kitchen. Ghislain was in a few of Venus' classes and was a fairly decent guy in general, if a bit aloof. It was amusing to see him in a customer service job.
"What happened to your arm?" Erica was observant, a trait Venus found increasingly annoying.
"I fell." bad lies were obviously part of the Mackenzie legacy. Hazelwood's smile was filled with doubt, but she didn't press the issue.
"Anyways, I wanted to ask you something." Erica began as she sat down. "I was just at Abraham's farm talking to him. He says you're the one who found my purse when I left it at the shop."
"I guess." Venus answered in a non-committal fashion while taking a bite from her sandwich.
"Was there anything else you found at the same time?"
The teenager paused and finished chewing her food slowly. She wasn't sure if she was glad at the opportunity or worried about the implications. Did Ms. Hazelwood already know she had the bear? Would she get mad when she found out? Where did she find the bear in the first place? Venus had already made a decision. At this point she didn't care about the bear as much. Between her best friend's mother getting murdered and finding self-proclaimed god trapped in her shed, she had a hard time coming up with anything even remotely disturbing. So, very nonchalantly, she bent down, opened her hand-bag, took the bear out and sat it in the middle of the table.
"This?" she asked, casually.
"Yes." Erica picked it up and quickly stashed it back in her purse.
"Where did you find it Ms. Hazelwood."
"I really can't tell you dear." explained Erica. "It has to do with an investigation."
"Are you investigating my uncle?" Venus felt a wave of worry crash over her. While she was still angry at Randy Mackenzie, she knew there would probably be serious repercussions if he was arrested for desecrating of a grave site. She didn't want that. It would ruin his reputation and career. Deep down she still expected there was a good, honest reason why he'd taken that toy.
"Your uncle? Randy Mackenzie?" she looked positively shocked. "Why would we be investigating him."
She didn't know. As far as Erica Hazelwood knew, the plush bear with the red hat had nothing to do with her uncle. Of course, now she'd be curious why Venus even brought it up, so she had to come up with another lie. Except Ms. Hazelwood was a trained psychologist with an obviously very sharp eye and Venus was a bad liar from a family of bad liars. So far, lying had gotten her nowhere. The truth seemed a bit too naive, so Venus tried a different approach.
"I'll tell you if you tell me where you got the bear." Haggling. Now that was something she could do. Hopefully, Hazelwood's curiosity would be sufficient motivation to bend the rules a little.
"Sure. Why not?" Erica agreed after a moment. "I found the bear at the site of the latest murder. It's evidence." the last part added in an obvious gambit to gently intimidate the girl into being honest and forthcoming.
Instead, every drop of blood drained from Venus' face. She stared at the woman in front of her, stunned. She had seen her uncle take the toy from little Audrey's grave at her burial. She'd seen him panic uncharacteristically upon seeing the bear. As she connected the dots, Venus could not help but be horrified at where her conclusions led her. Was her uncle Randy, one of the most nebbish and harmless man in the community yet another bloodthirsty monster? The same thing had been thought of Sam Finnegan before his collection of refrigerators had been found. Maybe it all had something to do with that self-proclaimed god she had trapped. Regardless, if her uncle was indeed a murderer, if he had slaughtered Penny's mother, then she couldn't just ignore it and let it happen again. She had to tell someone and Erica Hazelwood was as good a person to talk to as any.
"Ms. Hazelwood?" she started, shakily. "How... How well do you know my uncle?"
"Everyone's staring at me." Penelope LaForest sat in a cramped windowless office at the Saint-Ferdinand police station. She'd been driven here every day by Lieutenant Belanger. The Lieutenant didn't utter a word during the short rides which was odd even for the characteristically quiet officer. Not even an attempt at small talk.
Walking through the station had been just as strange. Everyone on staff would stop whatever they were doing to stare at her as she made her way to Dr. Hazelwood's office. Jackie stopped mid-sentence during a call to gawk sympathetically at the teenager. Even inspector Crowley, easily the busiest, most overworked man in town judging from his sunken eyes and diminishing girth, took a moment to shoot a look of pity in her direction. Everyone was being so nice, treating her with kid's gloves and being careful with every word they spoke to her or to each other while around her.
Penny hated it.
Erica could see it in her patient's eyes. A boiling impatience at being handled with too much care. The girl was obviously the de facto leader of her small group of friends. She led the way. Had the first job, the first relationship and was the only one with a driver's license. She was a tough one, this Penelope. She was the one who supported her friends in their time of need and according to her, had been as much a support to her mother as vice versa when her father had disappeared. So of course, now that it was her turn to be treated like a porcelain doll she despised it.
"I'm not the first orphan in Saint-Ferdinand." she continued. "I appreciate their concern but I'm starting to feel like the village freak."
Across the desk, Erica Hazelwood leaned back. The doctor looked exhausted. Obviously, the toll of twenty years worth of victims coming forth with their stories weighed on her mind but today the load looked especially heavy. The usually tidy desk was cluttered with papers and case files. A small family of coffee cups of various sizes gathered on the left side corner, outflanked by a stack of folders, each ready to vomit their load of photographs and yellowed form onto the surface of the desk.
"You're mother is the first victim that they can't just point a finger at the Saint-Ferdinand Killer as their suspect." Hazelwood explained. To her, this whole town was a strange anomaly. She couldn't think of any other municipality where the residents had endured such a steady stream of murders for such a long period of time. Yet, the unique situation wasn't documented anywhere she could remember. "if you ask me, I don't think they know how they're supposed to react and that's terrifying to people who are used to being the ones in control."
"You mean how I'm used to being the one that supports my friends and now that I need support I don't know how I should behave?" Penny smirked a thin, satisfied smile. She sometimes wondered if the doctor intentionally led her with these simple parallels in order to cater to her ego.
"Erica?" the doctor had insisted on dropping formalities "I need to know how my mother died..."
Doctor Hazelwood frowned disapprovingly. Obviously, she didn't want to inflict further trauma on the girl. Already she'd had to break the news to Gabrielle LaForest's mother over the phone. The old woman had reacted like she expected the news sooner, directing her anger at the village and the police department and finally at Gabrielle herself for not leaving Saint-Ferdinand sooner, before it was too late. On the other hand, Penelope had shown she was much brighter and more emotionally mature than anyone her age had any right to be. Erica understood why she and Venus Mackenzie had become such good friends.
"Mr. Montgomery already explained it was going to be a closed-casket funeral but all you've told me is that she was killed in the woods." Penny leaned forward on the desk, pleading "Please; what happened to my mother?"
"Alright," began the doctor, "the details are huh, too graphic for me to go into, but from what we can tell so far, the victim... Your mother, was attacked on her way home. It's unclear how many attackers there were, but she was... She was ritualistically dismembered."
Erica furrowed her brow a stared at her patient as if she expected the teenager to explode or at the very least burst into tears all over again. The teenager failed to meet expectations.
"Oh." Penny reacted with unnerving calm, almost callously. If the doctor hadn't known better, she would have sworn the teenager had expected the answer, that it served but to confirm what she already knew.
"Are you okay?" the doctor asked, still trying to understand her patient.
Penny shook her head, clearing her mind of whatever gruesome images it was conjuring on her behalf.
"I'm fine." she lied. "Are we done for today?"
Doctor Hazelwood wasn't sure if she should conclude the session or not. An eery calm had taken over Penelope. It wasn't the acceptance she was hoping to cultivate in the girl, but a sudden and iron-clad determination. Erica was wondering if she'd made a mistake and begged to know what was going through the teenager's mind. It was increasingly tempting to have her flown down to her grandmother's home down in Florida.
"We're done if that's what you want Penelope. Your ride should be here soon, but he can wait if you have anything else you'd like to discuss." she would have rather kept asking more questions, gotten more into her psyche, but she also didn't want to push the girl.
"Not today." Penny answered while getting up "I have a few things to think about first."
Erica crossed her fingers, silently wishing her patient wouldn't do anything foolish before they had a chance to talk again.
Crowley wasn't in his best mood, which was saying a lot considering his best mood had once been described by his ex-wife as 'marginally tolerant'. Her departure had left him bitter for months, but his son Donald had eventually managed to soften up his father's demeanor. These days, since Sam Finnegan's arrest, he had regressed to the Stephen Crowley of years ago. He was working too hard, too long and kept people he used to trust at arm's length.
One of these people was Randy Mackenzie. The inspector and medical examiner had been a good team for a long while. Small town Holmes and Watson. Neither tackled a crime scene, and there had been quite a few of them, without the other. On the day of Finnegan's apprehension, despite the amazing stroke of luck that had led to the killer, more than a few people had still credited the arrest to the two men's teamwork and cooperation.
Not today. Today, Randy was sitting in Crowley's office not as a friend and coworker but as a potential suspect. It was an awkward situation. After years of chasing a monstrous killer together now one of them was being accused of being the homicidal maniac.
After a moment, Randy did as instructed and took a seat. Crowley stared at him with his pale blue eyes, frowning, weighing the potential ways to handle things against one another.
"Randy. Help me out here." began the inspector. "Why shouldn't I sit you in the cell right next to Finnegan right now?"
"What?" Randy's eyes bulged in disbelief. "How about because you know exactly who... What killed Gabrielle!"
"No." said Crowley, rubbing the back of his neck. "I don't. Not one hundred percent. I'm pretty sure it's not you, but there's always a chance that you're taking advantage of the situation for your own ends and I can't ignore that."
"What the Hell are you talking about Stephen?" Randy's outrage was slowly turning into anger. "I don't have any 'ends' that would require me to kill someone and decorate the forest with their entrails."
"You don't?" Crowley sat on his desk and picked up a file. "I know for a fact that you dug up a little girl's grave to mutilate the corpse. So explain to me how different that is from killing someone in..." he flipped through a few pages and read "'an obviously ritualistic fashion' as your friend calls it."
"You bastard. I saved that girl from a fate worse than death and you're going to feed me to the dogs as a scapegoat?"
Crowley looked his friend in the eyes again, staring him down. He had known Mackenzie would have figured it out. That wasn't the issue. The real question was whether he would fight and how much he could. After all these years there was so very little that the inspector understood about Randy's talent concerning dead people. He'd seen enough to know the medical examiner was a more than capable necromancer, but whether or not he could bring that power to bear in a jail cell was still an unknown.
"I'm sitting you in a cell Randy. Do I have to worry about having zombies walking the streets tonight?"
"It doesn't work that way Crowley. But if you dare hang me for this I will find a way to make your life miserable." he threatened.
There was a spark of worry in the inspector's eyes as he stood and paced the office slowly. He knew Mackenzie couldn't just raise an army of the undead to do his bidding. That kind of magic, like Peterson's, took work. What he didn't know was any other tricks the medical examiner might have up his sleeve. Still, Stephen wasn't the kind of man that simply backed down when threatened.
"Look, Randy, I don't want to do this, but someone's pointing the finger and I have to at least make it look like I'm taking action. It would be damn convenient to use you as a scapegoat no matter how unpleasant." the inspector sighed before he continued. "We'll figure something out, but this will help me keep an eye on you."
"Who's pointing fingers?"
Randy Mackenzie was ordinarily the very picture of a mild mannered man. However, when asking about his accusers his tone had an edge to it that made it easy to believe he had dealings with dead things. There was menace in his voice enough to make one wonder who this short, overweight balding man really was.
"I can't tell you that Randy and besides, you don't want to know."
"You might as well tell me Stephen." the medical examiner continued, his tone still sharp with anger. "It's not like you're even paying lip service to the law anymore anyways."
Crowley stopped his pacing and gave a final, appraising look at the medical examiner, which looked every bit the necromancer at that particular moment. Eyes sunken, lips pulled back in a snarl. What would he do with the information given to him? Would he lash out and seek revenge? This wasn't the best time to pour oil onto the fire. The inspector had much more important things to take care of. Maybe knowing would actually pacify him, destroy him just enough to make him harmless.
"Fine, but I warned you." said Stephen "Your friend Erica and your niece."
For the second time since walking into the office, Randy Mackenzie couldn't believe what he was hearing. With his brother Paul and sister-in-law Virginie, Erica and Venus were some of his favorite people. The other Mackenzie were family as close as he could hope to have and Erica was one of the few people he'd call a close friend. The shock of knowing that they, of all people, believed that he could commit something so atrocious, especially Erica, who had seen the condition of the victim's body, was a crushing blow to Randy. His jaw dropped open and for a second he could feel tears welling up. Through the watery haze, he could have sworn he saw a moment of regret on Crowley's face.
"Go ahead then; lock me up." said Randy in a neutral tone after a few seconds. "I have some thinking to do."