This story is a continuation of “Mirror, Mirror” and methinks the muse is forcing me to continue adding what may become chapters in a larger piece. Consider these posts sneak peeks. With growing confidence, I can say Game IS Not Over...yet!I hope you enjoy it!
* * *
Melissa had just laid her head down on the pillow when she heard a panicked scream from Sandy come from her loft bedroom. Mel bolted out of bed and sprinted for the stairs with her roommate’s screams still echoing in her ears. “Sandy?” Mel shouted, barging into her room dimly lit by the light of the moon leaking in through partially closed drapes. “Are you okay? What’s wrong?”
“He’s back!” sobbed Sandy. “He’s here…and…and …it CAN’T be possible.”
“Who’s back? Who’re you talking about?” questioned Mel insistently.
Sandy sat with her back against the headboard, knees drawn up to her chest, and stared at the dressing mirror, her face shrouded in shadows. She could not tear her eyes away long enough to look at her roommate. The voice said, “You must tell her what is happening.”
Sandy shook her head and whimpered, “No, I can’t…I can’t. There’re too many lies…too many secrets.”
“Sandy, who’re you talking to?” Mel demanded. “What lies? What secrets? You’re making no sense. Are you even awake?”
The cat was now definitely out of the bag, and Sandy knew the time for revealing secrets and buried truths had come due. She wondered where to begin. “Try the beginning,” said the voice matter-of-factly in her head.
“I know,” Sandy said, “I know.”
“You know what? Hey! Look at me!” demanded Mel again more firmly, “You’re talking like there’s somebody else here in this room with us.”
“There is!” shouted Sandy. “There IS somebody else here with us,” And pointed at the glowing mirror…the glow only she could see. “He’s in there!”
Mel exploded, “WHAT? Who’s in there? Where is there? In the mirror? Your mind? This is making no sense.”
Sandy buried her face into her knees and began to cry in big, heaving sobs. Mel looked at her best friend with growing concern and leaned closer to wrap both arms around her in a comforting, loving embrace. She sat like that for several minutes, saying nothing, listening to Sandy’s sobs slowly drain away.
“I will leave you two alone for now,” the voice said, “Trust me, if you tell her the truth now, you will feel so much better.”
“Just leave!” Sandy snarled sharply.
Mel recoiled, releasing her hug, and looked at her friend in astonishment. “WHAT?”
“Not you,” Sandy said and pointed at the mirror again just as it went dark, “Him!”
Mel sat up and folded her arms across her chest, “Who…is…HIM? C’mon girl, you’ve got some serious explaining to do.”
“You have no idea,” Sandy said weakly, looking at her. She needed to let Mel in on everything that had happened. “Let’s go downstairs and brew some coffee. We’re both going to need a clear head for this tale.”
* * *
The Hawthorne House rapidly changed from a fiery inferno to a heaping jumble of destroyed and smoldering wood and other debris. The fire department decided to let the old place burn as long as they could protect the trees bordering the house and the wooded lot beyond. It did not take long for the fire to mostly burn itself out before a heavy layer of water shut down the remaining flames entirely.
Powerful lights were set up around the house, and the entire footprint of the foundation was taped off as a crime scene. A forensics team would arrive for a closer inspection before dawn broke, but the fire department arson investigator began to walk through the debris as the smoldering began to subside. The assessment progressed with no complications until the investigator ran across two charred bodies in what had been a small room off an apparent library. There was no question about this being declared a crime scene now.
Further discovery told the investigator that the fire likely had started where the bodies were found. Additional evidence revealed the presence of an accelerant, likely from one of the oil lamps, and a possible cause for the blaze beginning in this little room. He was no crime scene investigator, but the large holes poked cleanly through the corpses’ chests told him this would be a challenging job for the CSI forensics crew when they arrived later.
* * *
Sandy sat hunched over the kitchen table wrapped in a quilt and waited for Mel to pour their coffees. Mel began when they were both seated, “Okay, roomie, spill it…ALL of it. We have a whole pot of coffee, so if this needs to take the rest of the night, so be it.”
Sandy looked at Mel with tears across the table, “I’m so sorry, Mel. I pray that you will forgive me.”
Mel replied quickly, “Oh, stop it. I told you burning that dump down was a good thing. Seriously, that dump needed to….”
“No, not the fire!” interrupted Sandy. “I lied to you. I lied by omission; I lied outright to your face on more than one occasion and about more than one thing. There’s just so much that’s happened and…” Tears began to flow again, and she sobbed, “I don’t deserve you as a friend.”
“I love you, Sandy, and there is nothing you could do or say that would prevent me from forgiving you.” Mel offered.
Sandy looked at her and smiled, wiping away a few lingering tears, “You may regret saying that when I tell you this crazy story.”
“Mel smiled and said, “Let me be the judge of that. Talk to me, girl!”
So Sandy jumped into the story at the beginning. She confessed to her first lie about not finding the small room off the library. Then she admitted to lying by omission about finding the book “Mirror, Mirror,” which played a role that triggered getting into the small room…the false bookcase…and the mirror…the purple glow when she touched it…the voice…and all the details of her conversations with the voice…and the derogatory facts the voice revealed about Mel’s grandfather and the story behind his death. She released an exaggerated sigh when she stopped to take a breath.
“You have to believe that I wanted to tell you about what I found out but was afraid to hurt your feelings about your grandfather,” explained Sandy.
“Relax, relax; my grandfather was a world-class jerk and lived alone in that old house because nobody wanted to associate with him. He was greedy and every bit a present-day Scrooge if there ever was one.” Mel explained, to Sandy’s relief.
“Well, there’s more that happened during the party. After I told you I was going to hide from Phillip in the library, he and his redneck friend confronted me. Phillip began his aggressive behavior and had me pinned into the chair in front of the mirror. Wil stood behind him as his cheerleader and waited for his turn with me. I said, ‘help me!’ and that’s when the mirror fired off this blinding flash of energy that slammed into Phillip’s chest and right on through him to strike Wil. Whatever that energy was, it came from the mirror and blew a big hole right through them. They were both dead before they hit the floor. The mirror murdered them, Mel! Killed them outright!”
“Oh my God!” exclaimed Mel bringing a hand to her mouth.
“I jumped up and accused the mirror…the voice…or whoever…of being a murderer. The voice explained that Phillip’s touching me triggered the aggression with what the voice described as a more invasive solution. I grabbed the big “Mirror, Mirror” book out of my backpack and threw it at the mirror. It shattered into tiny pieces, and the book bounced away, knocking into one of the oil lamps and starting the fire. I ran from the room, closed the bookcase, and texted you to get everyone out.”
“Wow, you had some serious stuff go down tonight,” said Mel shaking her head in disbelief.
“But it did not end at the Hawthorne House as you heard upstairs. I knew I had ended the voice by smashing the mirror and leaving the book to burn. The voice told me I had a relationship with him…a relationship…all because I possessed that freaking book. So the book is gone now and burned up in the fire. I knew it was over until I walked by my dressing mirror upstairs, and it lit up with that purple glow, and the voice said ‘Hello Sandy’ like nothing had ever happened. You heard me freak, and I dove into my bed like something was chasing me. I want it to be over, Mel; I want it to end, but now it’s not over, and I don’t know what to do.” More tears began to flow and grew into wracking sobs of desperation.
* * *
The crime scene investigators spent several hours in the early morning darkness sifting through the rubble around where they found the two bodies. The coroner took the corpses back to the morgue to attempt identification and task the pathologist to complete the autopsies. All identification on the bodies had been burnt in the fire, so dental records would be the only source to help identify who they were. Identities soon revealed they were one Phillip McCorkle and one William Jameson. It turned out both had previous records of assault and simple battery. They had little else to go on.
The investigators were utterly stumped by the two round holes blown clean through their chests. They determined the holes were not from a gunshot or any other weapon they could think of. It was challenging to decide much more about the injuries because of the severe tissue damage from the fire. Both bodies were tagged as killed by an undetermined weapon.
Detectives were assigned before dawn and worked to determine who owned the property so they could gather more information. It did not take long to see with whom they needed to speak; Melissa Merriweather, the title holder, and finding her address from the title deed, the two detectives planned to go to her apartment complex to begin questioning for pertinent details.
* * *
The girls hugged each other tightly, and Mel said, “Hey, we’re good, okay? Let’s try to get some sleep and tackle this in the morning.
“Can I sleep with you? I…I don’t want to be up there with….” Sandy started to say.
“C’mon, girl, said Mel, interrupting her and taking her by the hand; they rose together to head to bed.
Once they laid down, Mel said, “You know, there will be questions and an investigation over the fire. That dump had arson potential written all over it. You know they’ll have a boatload of questions.”
“Oh shit, you’re right, and they’ll probably start hounding us sooner than later,” added Sandy.
“Hounding me, sweetie. I hold the title. And I highly recommend we do NOT mention any of this mirror and mysterious voice stuff. I probably should be answering their questions since I’m not as emotionally attached to what happened as you are. Think about it, you’re pretty upset, and breaking down could potentially raise more questions that could give too much away. Make sense?”
Mel continued, “I know who Phillip and Wil were but have no idea why they were in the other part of the house when the fire started. I sent the remaining partygoers out the front door and thought that was everybody. I won’t even mention you. If they need to question you, and they might ask, absolutely do NOT give up any details that put you in proximity to either of them in the library. Avoid talking about where they confronted you, the threats, or how they were killed. Let’s play it as though neither of us knows what happened to them.”
Sandy said, “This is not good. Not good at all.”
They fell silent, each dwelling on their thoughts, and shortly succumbed to exhaustion and deep sleep.
* * *
Daniel (Danny) Becker, Lead Precinct Homicide Detective, handed a fresh cup of coffee to Francine (Frankie) Hanson, Level 2 Forensics Detective. Frankie nodded with a playful grin, “Thank you, good sir. You know…you’d make somebody a good wife.”
Danny snorted his response, “Nope. Been there, done that, and proved my incompatibility beyond any doubt…twice. And you’re welcome…I think.”
And that is how it was between those two whenever circumstances paired them up on an investigation. Two dead bodies with undetermined weapons used to dispatch them and then deep-fried in a significant fire were enough to bring them together once again. They liked each other and respected each other’s abilities, so this was a choice assignment for them. Danny had an excellent eye for the details of a crime scene where the loss of life occurred, and Frankie had an even better eye for the facts surrounding the victims and the methods or causes of their demise. Not much got by them when they worked together, as their record for solved cases carried a batting average of a thousand.
Frankie rolled her coffee cup between two hands and suggested, “I know you’re anxious to talk to the owner of the Hawthorne House, but I’d like to make a couple of suggestions.”
“Go for it,” said Danny sipping his coffee and leaning back to listen.
“Let’s not go straight to their apartment. I want to poke around at the burn site first. The arson investigator did not call it arson, but he did not rule it out either. He did say there was evidence of an accelerant but not how it had been used. That leaves too much mystery, and I don’t like to be left wondering. Then we should stop by the morgue and see the bodies before the pathologist has them sliced up. No identification of a weapon or weapons used in the murders leaves me wondering again. Starting with these two things, I think they could shape where we need to go with our questioning. Whaddaya think?” asked Frankie.
“Agree…and you know I think you’d make a darn good detective when you grow up.” Danny offered with a wink, knowing he was soon to turn 45 and Frankie was only one year his junior.
She flipped him the bird and said, “Let’s roll, old man!”
* * *
Sandy awoke with nagging recollections of the day before, especially how it ended with the unexpected presence of the voice coming out of the mirror in her room upstairs. She knew she could not avoid going up there and laid still with the comforter pulled up under her chin, trying to screw up enough courage to go and confront what may or may not be up there.
Mel rolled over and smiled into her morning greeting. “Good morning, roomie!”
“Hmm,” said Sandy turning her head to face Mel, “Morning? Yes. Good morning. Not so much. I’m still freaked over last night, that damn mirror, and whoever or whatever speaks to me. I don’t know…I know you can’t hear his voice…but can you see the light…the purple glow coming off the mirror?”
Mel replied, “No, I couldn’t hear anything, no voice, nothing. And I also did not see any colors coming off the mirror, no purple or otherwise. You must be the only one who hears and sees anything from the mirror. If it were me, I’d like to know how he or it moved from the mirror destroyed at the Hawthorne House to your bedroom in the loft. That relocation is just a little spooky to me.”
“Little spooky?” Sandy retorted. “I mean, I did not even touch the mirror last night, and the book described that touch as a trigger to summon the voice. I never touched my mirror upstairs, yet there he was and scared the crap out of me. I wish I had that book back so I could finish reading through it. I probably got halfway, maybe a little more. I never got to the parts about turning him off or getting away from…or out of…the so-called relationship…or even if I could escape. I should never have been so quick to destroy the book.”
“Want my two cents?” asked Mel.
“Yes, please. I’ll take a dollar’s worth,” Sandy answered gratefully.
“Okay, I’ll tell you what I would do if this happened to me. You do with my advice what you will, so this is as much opinion as it is advice.
Sandy nodded and said, “Fair enough.”
“I’d go upstairs, confront the mirror, and get my head around his agenda. Ask questions about how he’s operating now that the book has been destroyed. How could he move from the Hawthorne House to here when even the book described possession equaled ownership? Since you say he can read your thoughts, I think I’d stay away from thinking about ending the relationship. Make your questions focus on how he can continue this relationship with you without the book. Seriously, let it be about the book. Who knows what he might do if he thinks you’re about to bail on him.”
“Wow, how do I NOT think about the only thing I’m thinking about? Getting away from him is ALL I’m thinking about.” Sandy gestured, sweeping broadly with her hands.
Mel answered, shaking her head, “Don’t know. Just suck it up and decide this whole thing is about the book and nothing else. All these mysteries you’re wrestling with could be solved by the book, and what options do you have now that the book is toast? Don’t think about any of them. Think BOOK!”
Sandy rolled out of bed with a renewed sense of resolve sprinkled generously with self-doubt and apprehension. “Okay, I’m going in. Hold my beer….” She attempted to laugh…and failed.
You got this, girl!” Mel said encouragingly.
Sandy looked at her roommate and smiled before embracing her in hopes of absorbing some of Mel’s confidence and calmness. She did not feel like she had gained either and just headed for the stairs, trying not to think about how to rid herself of this relationship.
When she stood at the doorway into her bedroom loft, she stopped. Why had she paused? Was courage going to well up within her or something resembling power or protection? Would she sprout new courage or something? She just shook her head and quietly opened the door. Upon stepping into the dimly lit room, her eye locked onto the mirror, the surface showed no evidence of color, and she let out a breath of relief. After several steps to the side of her bed, she climbed in, sat cross-legged, and stared at the mirror.
“Well, where are you?” she challenged.
No response came from the mirror—no purple glow—no voice. Was he still in there, or had last night all been an elaborate hallucination? She continued to sit and wait. Finally, a decision had been reached to touch the mirror’s surface. When she did, it immediately glowed purple, and she jumped back as though she had been shocked.
“Hello, Sandy!” said the voice and then fell silent as though waiting for her to respond in kind.
Sandy paused for about ten seconds before responding with an unkind response, “You need to tell me just what’s going on. How did you get in here? How did you greet me last night, and I never touched you? I thought I had to touch you; has that changed? How can we still talk when the fire destroyed the book? I thought this whole relationship you talked about was because I possessed the book. Well, the book has been destroyed. No book – no relationship. Right? So how can this continue to be? Explain yourself!”
“You’re angry, Sandy, said the voice calmly.
“You’re damn right. I AM angry. YOU are a loose cannon. You’re killing people and showing up uninvited, and not sticking to the rules described in your magic book. Or does the book getting burnt up make the rules of our little relationship moot? How can I trust you aren’t going to blow me away any second?”
“You’re still angry, Sandy, and if you can calm down for…” the voice began to say evenly before Sandy went screaming off the rails.
“Goddamn right I’m angry. Start answering some questions, or I’ll shatter this mirror too…for whatever good that’ll do,” and she started tearing up and wiping her face to hide evidence of liquid emotion leaking onto her cheeks.
The voice changed to a more sincere and caring tone, “I’m sorry I’ve angered you, Sandy. I suppose a few answers are due to you. May I continue?”
“A FEW?” Sandy shouted, not ready to relinquish any of her anger but feeling it begin to slip slightly, tiring from carrying her anger, “Yes, go ahead…continue!”
The voice began to answer her questions and explain even those she did not ask. “Well, first and foremost, I apologize for frightening you last night. I realize you never touched me, but you were in such proximity that your presence equated to the touch…plus…I felt it important for you to know I had not abandoned you.”
“Abandoned ME?” she interrupted loudly, still tinged with anger, “Oh, so killing people outright before my eyes were just an act of endearment by you to protect our relationship?”
“Certainly not,” the voice replied, “those two men were planning to rape you, and it was our relationship caused my response when you called on me. If you recall, you were pinned in that wingback chair by Phillip, and you did call out, ‘Help me!’ and so I did. They were unrighteous men with unrighteous thoughts and intentions, and I believe I had explained earlier, as did the book, how I may respond with more invasive punishment to unrighteousness.”
Sandy relaxed a little more as uncertainty over maintaining her anger slowly crept in, “But killing them? Wasn’t that a little extreme?”
“Yes,” the voice continued, “It was extreme. I felt there would be a high degree of uncertainty in how you could have proved the assault when it would be your word against those two deceiving liars. There would be no way to capture the reflections of what happened, and since you have the book, no one else would ever have access to what I know and what I witnessed. Let us face it, Sandy, even if they could, who would listen to a voice like mine in the first place? I had to protect you the only way I knew, and their punishment had to be absolute. I could not stand by, nor would I ever stand by and witness you being abused by anyone.”
Sandy’s consideration shifted from only looking at what happened to why it happened, and those thoughts calmed her even more. The mirror had protected her, and if not, the alternative outcome was unthinkable.
She thought for a minute and said, “The book…it WAS in my possession, but I used it as a weapon to retaliate for your killing those two guys. I wanted to strike back. My gut reaction was to destroy the mirror when I threw the book, and the fire took care of the rest.”
The voice replied evenly, “I understand, but you must know that possession does not have to be physical when your mind has been exposed by reading the contents. You possess the knowledge in your head, so the book is part of you. I also know you have more to read and are mistaken that the fire destroyed the book. The book survived, and it is buried in the rubble of the burned-out house.”
“You mean to tell me the book survived that inferno?” asked Sandy in disbelief. “I’ve only read about half….” She abruptly stopped explaining. She was about to reveal what else she wanted to learn from the book. Mel said to stay locked onto the book’s destruction, not the reasons you wished you still had it. He does not need to know those details.
The voice interrupted her thoughts, “I know why you wish you had the book, Sandy. You still harbor thoughts of leaving our relationship, and you hope the book will tell you how to leave. I will not fight you over thinking like that, given the trauma you have just survived. I only ask this…consider that a relationship with a protector like me can be a good thing, and there is plenty of room for that to grow and mature as you would have it.”
The voice continued soothingly, “I do not have control over your thoughts. Yes, I can read them and advise you on them if asked, but they do not come from me, nor are they influenced by me. What you do with what I say is all on you, Sandy, and you have complete control over how you choose to react. I can be a trusted confidant if you accept me that way, and I hope you do because you are a good person.
I also will respect you no less if you choose to walk away. If that is your choice, I have additional instructions on ending the relationship and ensuring the book’s destruction. I can assure you the book did not get destroyed in the fire. I hope you can retrieve it from the burn site so you can find your answers.”
She sat silently on the bed and stared into the purple glow. Finally, her anger dissipated further, allowing her clarity of thought, “Thank you! You’ve given me some things to think about. And also, thank you for protecting me last night, and I’m sorry I tried to kill you for killing them.”
“All is forgiven, Sandy!” said the voice.
“One more question, if I may,” she asked, “how did you show up here in my dressing mirror from the destroyed mirror at the Hawthorne House?”
“Sandy, I came with you last night. I am a spirit within you; our spirits are connected on a higher plane…in a different dimension…if you will, and the mirror represents a physical portal through which I can speak with you and hear your thoughts.”
“So then this dressing mirror or any mirror I touch or come close to can connect us?” she asked.
“Yes, any mirror. Anytime and anywhere. Touch the mirror in your bathroom, for example, and it will summon me,” the voice added.
“She shook her head, “Ahh, no! That’s okay. I don’t need some man observing my shower time and other bathroom habits.”
The voice said, “Sandy, I have no gender, and I can switch to a female voice if you’d be more comfortable.
“That’s okay,” she said, “having a woman watching me would be just as weird, so keep your current voice, but don’t expect me to share all my secrets with you, okay?”
“We can agree on how to summon me. If you prefer, I will no longer be summoned by you merely by coming in close proximity. It would be best if you always touched the mirror of your choice to summon me. Is that acceptable?” the voice asked.
“Yes, I can live with that. But… to understand, if I need you for advice, do I need to be close to a mirror to ask or are you monitoring me 24/7?” Sandy asked, becoming even more comfortable as they spoke.
“Yes, you need a mirror you can touch. As I said, a mirror serves as a portal for our conversations. It can be any mirror anywhere, even if it is small, like a makeup mirror carried in your purse, which would work nicely,” the voice explained, “but remember, if you need to communicate, you must first touch the surface of the mirror to open our portal and summon me. I can quickly read what’s on your mind because of your subconscious thoughts. Your brain works much faster than your mouth so I can get caught up near instantaneously.”
“Okay, I understand,” she confirmed. “On another topic, I’m curious, do you have a name? It would help me to get a sense of you…you know…being real and not just my imagination working overtime.”
After pausing a few seconds, the voice replied, “No one has ever asked me for a name, Sandy. I have never had a name, but what would you like as my name?”
She did not hesitate and said, “Paul!”
“May I ask why Paul?
“Two reasons actually; Paul was my brother’s name, and Paul was also a biblical character, an Apostle, from the New Testament. My brother passed away five years ago, and he was a loving mentor to me, and I trusted him. The biblical Paul was a very righteous man…not God…but knew and acted on God’s righteousness that lived deep in his heart. Both Pauls in my life and my belief system had good hearts, and after speaking with you this morning, I think you have a good heart too. I believe Paul would be an appropriate name for you,” she said.
“Consider that our deal, Sandy! I like being a Paul worthy of confirming your choices. I am here for you, Sandy, a touch away.” The purple light winked out, and she felt comfortable and confident that she was alone.
* * *
An hour later, Mel and Sandy were headed to what was left of the Hawthorne House to search for the “Mirror, Mirror” book. Mel was impressed by Sandy’s about-face regarding the mirror and voice relationship, especially when she learned the voice had been given the name Paul. “So it…the voice…can come to you from any mirror you touch?”
“Paul…his name is Paul…not the mirror…not the voice, or the purple haze…just Paul,” she responded, trying not to sound too defensive. Despite her growing comfort and confidence, Sandy wondered if the transition to trusting Paul had possibly come too quickly. She felt it would take some getting used to whatever the relationship would mature into. But would it mature? How would that happen? There was still a shred of doubt, after all, given that we all have voices in our heads, but how many of them operate like Paul? How many can kill? How many of those voices ever get names assigned to them? Sandy would be the first to admit being a little twisted, but had this situation taken her over the edge? What about this higher-dimension connection? Was it based on good…or evil? Was it the dark side in disguise? Had she been duped and relaxed too quickly? Had she not resisted enough? There were still questions Paul needed to answer, and the apprehension over speaking with him had melted away for the most part.
When they arrived at the burn site, both women swapped out their running shoes for winter boots for better protection to kick through burned debris. Yellow crime scene tape stretched between trees around the entire house. A secondary line of tape looped around the library and the rough outlines of where walls once stood. This inner loop of tape marked the area as the primary crime scene where two bodies had been found and where they needed to concentrate their search for the book. The ruins reeked of burned wood and anything else combustible. Remembering what happened less than twenty-four hours ago sent a shiver up Sandy’s spine, and she stopped cold and stared at what had been ground zero for murder…no, not murder, a defensive act of protection.
“Are you okay?” asked Mel.
“Yes…and no…still kind of fresh. I can see it all, hear it all, smell it all, feel the panic. No, not really…okay…not yet anyway.” Sandy looked around and visualized what used to be there…not the charred remains currently in front of her. Large chunks of plaster had fallen from the ceiling as walls were consumed by fire; some of the pieces were severely burned, but not all. The fire burned amazingly fast and nearly burned itself out before the fire department layered in gallons of water to snuff out the remaining flames. The ashes and debris gave off a stink and a mushy mixture of ash, soot, and watery sludge that nearly turned her stomach.
The chair was gone. The mirror was gone, but numerous shards and pieces of glass from the destroyed mirror mixed in with the scattered ash debris. Both girls kicked at the fallen plaster and partially burned wood around the room’s perimeter while looking for the book. Sandy stopped to estimate where the book may have landed after ricocheting off the mirror. A few steps later, the toe of her boot struck paydirt, “Here it is,” she said excitedly and lifted away a piece of damaged plaster from the book with her boot.
Mel stepped over to inspect her discovery and shook her head, “I can’t believe it survived the fire. I guess that heavy leather binding must’ve protected it.”
“Yeah, the binding and all the stuff that partially buried it,” Sandy agreed. “I was concerned it would have been severely water damaged if the fire had not burnt it to ash first. This is a pleasant surprise.”
“Are the pages still intact?” Mel asked curiously.
Sandy flipped open the cover and fanned through several of the heavy pages, “Yeah, they look pretty much untouched except for a little searing along the edges. Good shape,” Sandy described with satisfaction. Now she had her reference volume back in her possession and could finish reading to complete her education regarding Paul and his mysterious, lethal powers that had already been displayed.
Mel said, “Put it in your backpack, and let’s get out of here before the police show up.”
Sandy brushed off all the ash and soot with a rag she brought in her pack, slipped the book into protective plastic, stuffed it inside the pack, and zipped the pocket shut.
“Give me the backpack!” demanded Mel suddenly.
“What? Why?” questioned Sandy.
“Do it! NOW! And keep your mouth shut; we have company,” instructed Mel.
Mel slung one of the straps over her left shoulder, and they turned to walk back to her car. A man and a woman who had gotten out of an unmarked police car were approaching them at an intercept angle to prevent them from reaching Mel’s car. “We’re busted,” whispered Mel. “Let me do the talking, please!”
“Good morning, ladies,” said Lead Detective Danny Becker as he closed the gap between them. “I’m Homicide Detective Daniel Becker, and this is my partner, Forensic Detective Francine Hanson.”
Mel did not immediately respond, thinking to herself, Homicide? Forensics? Okay, so they already knew about two guys getting killed, and forensics would oversee this under a microscope, and what she carried in the backpack was a surefire ticket to the slammer.
Mel acknowledged the greeting, “Good morning, I’m Melissa Merriweather, owner of this burn pile, and this is my friend Sandy.”
“Ahh, perfect,” said Detective Hanson, “Meeting you here may save us a trip later, Ms. Merriweather. We have some questions that need answers concerning this burn pile of yours and, of course, about the two bodies that were found earlier this morning. Fortunately, we’ve run into you here.”
“Questions? Bodies? What bodies?” Mel knew but added a tone of incredulity to her response.
Detective Becker looked around and noted that they were inside the secondary crime scene tape and spoke up, “So…you don’t know about the bodies…but here you are walking through where the bodies were found. Why is that, Ms. Merriweather?”
“I do not know any bodies you may or may not have found. This area was formerly the library and had many rare books my grandfather collected. I came back to see what had been destroyed by the fire. That’s why we were walking around in this area,” Mel explained.
“I see,” said Detective Hanson, “and did you find any rare books?”
Without hesitation, Mel replied, “Yes, I was lucky enough to find an heirloom edition given to me by my grandfather. It’s an extraordinary book; it survived the fire by being covered in debris and missed by the flames and the subsequent water flood courtesy of the fire department.
“Can I see it?” asked Detective Hanson.
Again with no hesitation, Mel responded, “Sure,” and pulled the book from the backpack and handed it to the detective. “Please be gentle.”
Sandy held her breath, hoping the book would not be seized as evidence. She needed that book and fought back the urge to grab it out of the detective’s hands and run. Unsure of Mel’s strategy, she hoped her willingness and openness to cooperate would be enough to dispel any perceived value to the investigation and let the book leave in their possession. After all, it was just a book.
Detective Hanson slipped off the protective plastic wrapper and held the book with care turning slowly through several pages. “This is a beautiful old book. I see no author’s name or copyright information on it. How can this be an heirloom edition with no authentication?”
“I believe my grandfather wrote it, and that’s why it’s so precious to me. I feel blessed to have found it intact with only a few burned page edges,” explained Mel. “It will require special handling to prevent further damage, and that’s why it was so important to find it before the demolition crews show up with bulldozers to raze the property.”
Detective Becker said, “You realize you have crossed the line of a crime scene…twice actually…and are attempting to remove evidence from the scene.”
Mel maintained her cooperation and replied with increasing firmness in her conviction, “Yes, we knew it was a crime scene, but with me being the owner of the crime scene and owner of the heirloom, I would hope that we don’t have to go to jail. Nothing we did was ill-intentioned, and the book is harmless.”
The two detectives traded glances, “Stay put. We’ll be right back.” And both turned and walked away from them to discuss what should happen…or not…out of earshot.
Mel looked at Sandy for the first time, blew out her cheeks, and rolled her eyes.
Sandy said softly, “Heirloom edition? Written by your grandfather? You’re a genius liar, roomie!”
The two detectives returned, and Detective Hanson handed the book back to Mel. “I think I’d feel better if you maintained possession of this heirloom on the condition that neither you nor the book leaves the area in the event we need to dive deeper into it to solve this case.
“Great! And agreed. I’m sure you already know where I live, so the book is available whenever you need to see it,” Mel promised.
“Fine,” said Detective Hanson.
“May we go now?” asked Sandy, anxious to leave before the detectives’ minds changed.
Detective Becker responded, “We still have more questions about the people who attended the party, including the two people killed. The problem is that we have to meet the coroner in twenty minutes, and the questions we have to ask will take longer. We’ll have to meet you later today, say three o’clock, at your townhouse to finish up with our initial discovery. Will you both be available then?”
Sandy flinched at hearing ‘you both’ but gave an affirmative nod; Mel nodded and said quickly, “Sure thing!”
The detectives returned to their car to drive to the coroner’s office and meet with the pathologist. The girls got back into their vehicle and left for home, almost giddy for making a clean getaway with the book in their possession. The realization that what just happened was the easy part hit them both; Sandy would have to be involved in the interviews, and it scared them; Sandy intensely, more so than Mel.
* * *
Dr. Martin Talbot scratched his head and confessed, “I’ve seen a lot of fatal wounds from my time in the Middle East working in a forward-deployed field surgical unit, but I’ve never seen a wound like what killed both of these boys. The wound is almost surgically administered and goes straight through their chests at the same exact spot with the same dimensions front to back. It even looks like the wounds were cauterized when whatever it was passed through their bodies. Do you know if there were trace amounts of blood at the crime scene?”
Detective Becker shook his head, “This has been a tough one. Both the Arson Investigator and the CSI team remarked that they found no sign of blood where the bodies were found. In addition, the bodies showed no signs of movement by impact, and with a significant wound, there should have been evidence that they were thrown by the force of whatever impacted them. The CSI guys said they both dropped dead and fell like marionettes with cut strings. They just dropped right where they were hit and dead before they hit the floor.”
Frankie stepped into the conversation, “Dr. Talbot, I know you’re anxious to complete the autopsy, and I appreciate your delay so we could take a closer look at the victims. Specifically, may I take a look at the fatal injuries?”
“Absolutely,” Talbot said and swung the magnifier light over the first corpse for her to take a look. Frankie stepped over and peered down into the wound. I agree with your assessment that the wound looks cauterized, which would mean no excessive bleeding. That tracks with what the CSI team said they found…or should I say, what they did not find… at the scene…blood. Even with the fire, there should have been blood evidence, and there was none. Something else stands out to me. Look at this.” And she stepped back to allow Dr. Talbot to look again.
“Look beyond the charred flesh and notice how the edges of the exposed bones look like they’re melted. I’m reminded of combat injuries. I also have seen in a previous life, from contact with white phosphorus that burns at 1500 degrees. The ends of those bones look like a torch or something much hotter than the fire had a hand in this injury. Not saying it was WP because the area exposed is too localized. “The melted look indicates extremely high heat was present.”
“Agreed,” said Talbot and swung the light over to the other examination table. “This wound is identical, and both are precise in diameter from entry to exit. Again, I say I’ve never seen anything like this. CSI said an undetermined weapon caused the fatal injuries, and I must agree because I’ve got no better answer.”
“Aliens,” blurted out Detective Becker.
Frankie whirled around, “WHAT?”
Becker said evenly, “Well, it was a Halloween party, if you recall. Maybe there was an alien with a real ray gun that zapped these two knuckleheads and….”
“Shut the fuck up, Becker!” interrupting him and flipping the bird for the second time that day.
Dr. Talbot ignored Hanson’s rebuke; his facial expression looked serious, “You might have something there, detective. There are plasma weapons and maybe energy weapons I don’t know about that exist today, but honestly, I’ve never seen the results of someone being shot by one. The temps were probably hot enough to drill neat holes like these through a body. No impact from what I’ve read either…more like a hot knife through butter.”
Becker winked at Frankie and flipped a middle finger of his own without saying a word.
Frankie shook her head and looked at Dr. Talbot with an extended hand, “Thanks, Doc. Again we appreciate the delay so we could see for ourselves. Here’s my business card. Call me any time after the autopsy is complete if you run across anything out of the ordinary.”
“No problem,” Dr. Talbot said. “I appreciate your input too; I did not put any significance to the exposed bone segments appearing to be melted. Maybe that will be important…maybe not, but it’s important enough to include as discoverable evidence. Good catch, Detective Hanson.”
Frankie turned to Becker and motioned with her head toward the door, “C’mon, old man, let’s go talk with the owner of our little burn pile mystery.”
* * *
After returning home, the girls put their heads together to plan for the investigations certainly coming their way. “You know,” Mel began, “they are going to interrogate us separately so they can compare our stories.”
“I know,” said Sandy, “and that scares me.”
Mel explained that she did not think their stories needed to match, given that Sandy’s experience was separate from hers. There was no way Mel would have details of the deaths because she was not even in that part of the house, plus she had no proof the men were ever in the library. The rub was going to come from Sandy, having already told Mel everything that happened. Mel would have to avoid revealing she had any recollection of those details and hoped Sandy did not go off the deep end.
For Sandy, the challenge would be more around what she witnessed, details that would be tough to explain. She would walk a fine line between truth and accidentally positioning herself as an accessory after the fact since she promoted their deaths by asking for help. The entire series of events could quickly become too complicated to explain, considering the various parts involved. How could she describe spirit intervention, a talking mirror, unexplained energy, the whole book thing, and the mirror’s single blast that sent both guys to their deaths? Yeah, it might be tough to explain, so better off left unsaid. And that would likely be easier said than done as freaked out as Sandy looked and acted right then. All the detectives would have to do is observe the panic in her body language.
After falling silent for several minutes, Mel finally spoke, “You know, if you don’t introduce the concept of you being in the same place as the two guys, you wouldn’t have to explain how they died.”
“Yes, but how do I explain the holes in both chests? How do I avoid telling the part about me starting the fire by throwing the book at the mirror? How can I not reveal the existence of the mirror when there were shards of shattered evidence all over the place?” Sandy moaned her concerns.
“Damn,” remarked Mel, “damn, damn, damn!”
Sandy sat quietly contemplating her dilemma before coming up with a solution, “I think I need to go ask Paul for his advice; I mean, he was the trigger man; maybe he has some brighter ideas than I can think of.”
“Oh yeah,” Mel said, shaking her head in disbelief, “now THAT’S a plan…go ask your spirit entity for advice.”
She added sarcastically, “Maybe you two could get adjoining jail cells…that is, as soon as they decide whether or not you’re crazy as a rat in a tin can and lock you up in the nut house instead.”
Sandy shot her best warning glare at Mel and said, “Thanks for your help, best friend. I’m going upstairs to talk to somebody who gives two shits about me. If the cops show up, leave me out of it unless they make demands to hear my part of the lies. Then I’ll decide whether to run or have Paul blast them into next week. Options…good God, do I have options.”
She shook her head, picked up the backpack as she stood, and headed for the stairs without another word. When Sandy returned to her room, she dropped the backpack on the bed, climbed in, crossed her legs under her, pulled the book from the pack, and pushed away the plastic covering. She turned to where she had stopped reading earlier and began to read. She was not so concerned about ending the relationship anymore, thinking she had better find out what else the book could reveal to incriminate her should push come to shove with law enforcement.
What she found in her reading settled her mind on the path she would take. The truth. She would tell the truth and let the police figure out the supernatural aspects of the whole mess. The truth would either set her free or guarantee a ride in the back seat of a police vehicle to the slammer as an accessory to murder. She finished reading and scooted forward in the bed to reach out to touch the mirror.
Paul’s voice followed the purple glow, “Hello, Sandy.”
“Hello, Paul. I need your help, your protection, not the kind where you blast holes in people, the kind where you offer advice to protect…to keep me safe.”
“Talk to me, Sandy; tell me more about the nature of the threats you face. I know the police are going to question you but need to know what you may think about what to share with them…or not share with them…as the case may be.”
She gave him her thoughts about the police investigation and the potential for her to be in serious trouble over the implications of promoting murders she did not commit. All the details of her plan to be truthful, were shared with him, and she sat back on her heels and asked, “So…what am I missing? What are your thoughts?”
He spoke after a slight pause, “Do you even need to bring me into this situation?
“Oh no,” she said sarcastically, “help me figure out how to best explain two charred corpses with perfect holes in their chests…holes, I might add…not made by any weapon known to humankind. The bodies complicate things a little bit, don’t you think?”
He did not respond to her sarcasm and asked, “Did you finish reading the book?”
“Yes, Paul, I did finish reading the book just now.”
“Did you read the section on punishment, Sandy?” Paul returned what might have passed as his brand of sarcasm.
“Yes, I did, Paul,” still a little bitter, “and that section felt like it had the potential to compound my situation. How can I explain the directed energy source that blew those guys away? I don’t think that explaining that I have an extraordinary relationship with you, who is both unseen and cannot be heard, is going to fly…do you?”
Paul said, “Well, maybe if you gave the police the book and told them nothing, their investigation would reveal that you did not have any role in the deaths of these two unrighteous men. After all, you did not kill anyone, I did, and you did not order me to kill them. That was all on me. This is not your dilemma, Sandy; this belongs to the police investigators. Let them sort it all out. What are they going to do, arrest me?”
“Thought of that,” she said, “but what do they do with me while they sort things out? I’d rather not be cooling my heels in a jail cell…know what I mean? If anyone gets arrested, it’s going to be me.”
Mel yelled up the steps from the living room, “Sandy, can you come down here? The detectives are here and would like a few words.”
“Sure, coming!” Sandy called back and turned to stare at the mirror. “Here we go….”
* * *
“Thank you for taking the time to meet with us, Ms. Tillman,” Detective Hanson said cordially. Detective Becker did not smile but nodded his agreement.
Becker said, “We’ve completed our interview with Ms. Merriweather, and she has agreed to step out while we ask some additional questions of you privately. We have also interviewed several others who attended the party and need to clarify a few things with you.”
Apparent signs of nervousness had to be plastered all over Sandy’s face when she answered, “I’ll be happy to answer your questions, although I’m not sure what else I can share.”
The entire interview blew up when Sandy revealed she had been in the library, and she knew that admission would prove to be catastrophic. That fact almost put her at ground zero in the library near where the bodies were found. True, they were found in an adjacent room, but the detectives had no way of knowing that the room actually was adjacent based on what was left of the walls in the burned-out ruins. They had no way of knowing there was a secret opening between them. Maybe she could squirt out of this jam if she would think…think…before running her mouth.
“Do you know Philip McCorkle or Wil Jameson?” asked detective Hanson.
Sandy twitched, “Ahh, yeah.” Her answer almost sounded like a question. “Why?”
Becker said, “They were both at the party, and we know about an earlier confrontation between you and Mr. McCorkle…an assault at a local pub. The police report you filed described threats by Mr. McCorkle to get even…to make you pay for reporting the assault that he claimed never happened. Did he or did he not, Ms. Tillman.”
Sandy knew she was headed down the road to more confessions than she was willing to make. “Yes, but the assault had been interrupted by another person, and yes, he did threaten me.”
“Was he at the party to exact payback?” asked Becker sharply.
“No,” she replied shakily, “we had words…though nothing came of it.”
“Nothing? That’s odd, Ms. Tillman, because several witnesses overheard Mr. Mc Corkle promise to meet you later to take care of some unfinished business.”
Detective Hanson joined the questioning again, “We also have a witness that heard Mr. Jameson send a message to Mr. McCorkle telling him ‘It was time, and to meet him in the living area.’ He made the call after watching you leave the room and head down the hallway to the library.”
“Did you go into the library at any point, Ms. Tillman? And did you confront Mr. McCorkle there?” Becker pressed, watching her face for a tell that she was lying.
Sandy started to cry. Game over. “Yes, I did go into the library, and yes, he confronted me in the room next door,” she sobbed. “He put his hands on me and…” Her sobs overcame her speaking ability.
“And…what…you killed him and Mr. Jameson, correct?” Becker moved in for the final question.
Sandy wailed, “I didn’t kill anybody. I don’t know how they died or what killed them; I was alone in that room and….”
“Alone with two men found dead. That’s a problem, Ms. Tillman.
Detective Hanson stood and said, “You’re under arrest for suspicion of murder. I need you to stand and put your hands behind your back.”
Sandy was bawling and barely heard Becker begin his recitation; you have the right to remain silent. Anything you say from this point forward may be used…
The cuffs were tight on her wrists, and her head spun with a finality she feared but never considered would happen so quickly. In her mind, the game was truly over, and she was going to jail for something she did not do.