Beta Reader amilyn - superhero!
Prompt: One of the mortal characters has a flashback that gives them insight into a case. (Bonus points for Nick contributing "shoe-leather" police work.)
Length & Rating: 2983 Words/G
Disclaimer: Forever Knight is owned by Barney Cohen and James D. Parriott and various production companies. No infringement is intended hereby and no profit will be had.
"It was a wild and stormy night. You could hear…" Nope. "It was a bleak and foggy night. The city crept…" Nope. "It was a dark and stor—" AUGH.
OK, so writing reports wasn't her best skill. Apparently, trying to make them interesting was even worse.
Why did she end up with all the report writing? Sure, Nick was senior detective, but still, he should have to write SOME of them. It was a lot like the other basic cop work they had to do as a "team" – she ended up with most of it. She'd heard he was a great cop but she was beginning to wonder how much of that was just stories.
Back to writing.
Nick knew he'd left Tracy holding the bag. Again. They’d been working together for month now and his schedule was becoming a problem for them. He felt bad for her, but it wasn't like he could stay past sun-up. Sooner or later, some idiot would demand his presence next to a window and it'd be all over. Nope, he had to leave with enough time to get home and that's just the way it was.
He pulled the caddy into the garage and headed up to the loft. It was the beginning of his weekend and he wanted to grab a long nap before Nat showed up for movie night.
Reese knew these two would work well together, even if he had to shoehorn them into doing so. Nick needed the stability of a partner, Stonetree had noted that in his early files and Reese had seen nothing to suggest that had changed. After his last partner's death, Nick had been withdrawn. Tracy was the best medicine Reese could think of – open, eager to learn and trusting. Everything Nick hadn’t been for a good month. He’d shut down the minute the plane went down and from experience, Reese knew if he didn’t pull Nick out of this funk fast, it could years. Tracy could help him find his way back to the good cop Stonetree and Cohen had talked about in his reviews. This withdrawn, sullen guy wasn't doing anyone any good. Least of all himself.
Nick and Nat sat curled up on the couch, her with popcorn, him with a glass of what passed for pinot, watching one of their favorites, Casablanca. Nick was sitting with Nat curled up, half on her side. He smiled down at her, “What makes you enjoy this so much, Nat?”
“You don’t know?” she angled a look up at him with a look that said ‘I know something you don’t?’
“It’s always reminded me of that time in history – but you? You weren’t there.”
“No and that’s part of what makes it so wonderful. It always felt like it did a good job of capturing the feel of the time.” She sat up at this, “Does it?”
“Mm-hmm,” he said as he took a sip.
They fell back into comfortable silence, Nat laid back down and Nick, who remembered the war, had always liked what this movie had done with it. Unlike so many, this one wasn't all perfume and roses. It had at least a few warts and he loved it all the more for that.
Nat wanted to know more about the war, but didn't want to ask, lest she bring up uncomfortable memories.
They enjoyed the film in warm friendship, no matter how much either might want it to be more.
Tracy and Vashon sat in the church, drinking a glass of wine while they talked about their days. He spoke of the eternal night, she of the job, but the talk wasn't as important as the chance to share time together. As they drank, the warmth and the candle smoke and the wine all conspired to let her drift off.
She remembered another time like this when she was much younger. A guy in college who she had loved spending time with. He had always talked about the night as well. She wondered where he was now – she could look him up using the police database if he were still local, but that would be cheating, not really her thing. She remembered that just before he left, just before graduation, he had shown her a couple of constellations. Sagittarius The Archer and Orion– he told her their stories and she'd always wondered, if she were a constellation, what would her story have been? Would she have been more like Andromeda, the Chained Lady, or more like Orion, the Hunter?
“Sorry Vachon. Wool gathering. What did you say?
He laughed, "I was asking if you'd eaten yet?"
"You two, in my office." Reese bellowed because he was a big man, not because he was mad at anyone. He'd pointed at Tracy and Nick. It looked like the week was going to start off with a bang. Winters were like that, with such long nights.
Nick entered first, "Cap?" Tracy followed, but waited for Reese to speak first.
"There's been a rash of burglaries," he held up his hands, "I know, not our thing. But the last couple have turned violent, at least one dead in each case and they're beginning to wonder if we have a serial."
Nick looked at Tracy. She’d been good at the plane cra- gods, he couldn’t think about that. Schanke didn’t deserve to go like that. Ok – so it was a big case. He hoped she was up for it. He suspected Reese had been giving them softballs for the last month, though he couldn’t tell if it was more because of him or her. “We’re on it, Cap.”
"The files are on your desk, Knight. So far there's only 2 murders. Let's try to keep the number from climbing any higher, eh?”
Nick nodded, Tracy responded, "Right, Cap!"
It was early in the evening, so they went down to the morgue to talk with Natalie. As much as the reports were well done, talking to the person who'd had their hands on the bodies was always worth more. He needed another perspective – he needed some air – hell, he just needed to stop thinking about that crash. Nat was good at taking his mind off – well, most things, he grinned to himself.
Nick walked in just ahead of Tracy, "Hi, Nat."
Natalie looked up from the autopsy she was in the middle of, "Hi, Nick, Tracy. Give me just a second to wrap up here." She lay down her scalpel, pulled down her mask and picked up the small tape recorder she kept notes on. She always made notes like this, easier to pick up where she left off. "No abnormalities in the chest, remember to run a tox screen." She put down the recorder, took off her gloves and walked over to the sink to wash her hands. "And what can I do for Toronto's finest today?" she smiled at them.
"Nat," Nick began, "The two murders connected to the burglary spree? What can you tell us about them?
She finished wiping her hands and turned to her desk and her files, "Not much that's not in the files. Both died of simple stab wound to the neck. The weapon was very long and very thin, but round, not flat like a regular blade. More like an ice pick. From the reports, it looks like a burglary gone bad. One might be surprise, two is either brazen or sloppy.
Tracy watched these two as they exchanged information. She’d only seen them together a few times, but there always seemed to be an undercurrent, like there was something more, something unspoken in their conversations. "Natalie, both murder victims were young men in their early 20's; the reports indicate the first was the eldest son, living at home while he finished college and the second was recently married and in his first job out of college. Is there anything to tie them together?"
Nat shook her head, "Not that I can tell, other than the identical way in which they were killed. Before they hit my table, it's your bailiwick," she finished with a grin.
Nick nodded, "Thanks, Nat." He turned to Tracy, "Let's go see what we can find out from the families, Tracy." She nodded and they headed back out to the street.
It was only seven or so, making it early enough to talk to both families. Basic questioning of the families hadn't gotten them anything new. Both were, as far as the families were concerned, random burglaries. In both cases, the young man had come home during the event and gotten himself stabbed for his bad timing. Nothing suggested anything more than that.
They stopped for coffee and to reconnoiter. Well, Tracy had coffee anyway. Nick must have been the first cop Tracy'd ever met that didn't drink coffee or at least tea like that couple of Brits she'd worked with on various cases.
“Tracy, I’m wondering if there’s something we’re missing here. Five burglaries in a row, in and out, no violence, no slip-ups. Easily fenceable stuff taken. A pretty professional operation, wouldn’t you say?
She took a sip, “Yeah. So what went wrong on the last two?”
"That's part of what I don't get. The first five were all well researched, no one home, part of a burglary ring, I would say."
"Right, so what makes the burglary unit think these are connected?"
"Method of entry, stuff taken, but I get a feeling there's a missing piece. I've been getting that feeling since we started." Nick toyed with the spoon in front of him.
"Maybe we should talk to the lead cops from the burglary unit.
“Good idea, Trace. Let’s head back and see if we can talk with them.”
They got back to the station and Nick made a couple of inquiries. "Seems Sullivan is downstairs finishing a report, but Nickerson left and is probably at his favorite watering hole. You want to tackle Sullivan? At least he's not a moving target," Nick grinned. He could be damnably agreeable when he wanted to be.
"Sure, Nick. Meet back here in a couple of hours?"
Nick nodded and headed out the door to find Nickerson. He didn't have to go far. Sullivan knew his partner well. Nick walked into the bar and spotted Nickerson at the far end in a well worn stool.
"Evening, detective. Seems you have the better of me. I don't even know your name."
"It's Nick. Nick Knight. I've got a couple of questions about those burglary/ homicides…”
Tracy went downstairs to chat up Sullivan. They had something in common, he doing the reports while his partner was out. That might give her an angle. "Hey, Sullivan," she hollered good-naturedly as she walked into burglary. "You ridin’ a desk tonight?"
He looked up, waved her down, "My cap told me some fancy homicide cop would be lookin’ for me," he grinned back at her. "Didn't tell me it would be a lady homicide cop,” he finished and a big, wide grin split his face.
His tone of voice told her he was just poking at her, that he didn't have a real chip on his shoulder. She'd seen that before and this wasn't that. "Right Sullivan. Like you'd know a lady cop if you saw one." Poking back was part of the game. "Talk to me about your burglary spree…”
Nick met Tracy back at the precinct about midnight. "Tracy, I talked with Nickerson. Not much there, the burglaries seem pretty straight up. They connected them to each other by pattern. You were right about that.
"Yea, I got the same thing when I spoke with Sullivan. I'm still sure there's something we're missing, Nick."
I thought so too, so I did some digging and checked out the homes that were hit. They're all pretty close, so it didn't take too long. I noticed something on the back doors of every house, something I don't think the burglary unit guys noticed."
Tracy was surprised. Nick didn't usually do the tedious stuff. She hadn't been sure he even remembered how. "What'd you find, Nick?"
"Each door had marks on it. I didn't take much notice at first, but when I realized each door had marks that seemed to pick up where the previous ones left off, I wondered if it was a calling card. Look."
Nick pulled out a piece of paper with seven sets of marks on it, each set in a different color, making it clear when the next door was being mapped. Tracy hadn't seen those marks in a very long time, but she still recognized them. She found herself sitting on the grass in front of the admin building back at college; she was looking up at the night sky and Paul was pointing out Andromeda, Orion, Sagittarius – and one more… Ophiuchus. He spoke of the Serpent Bearer with an almost reverence. He drew it on his notebooks. He had a picture up on his wall in his dorm room. Not a common constellation, but one that Paul seemed especially drawn to. Ophiuchus. Like the picture on Nick's piece of paper. Oh. Oh, god.
"Oh, God! Nick, I know that picture! It's the constellation Ophiuchus! I use to know a guy who talked about that constellation all the time. It's been years, but it can't be a coincidence!"
Nick nodded, "All right, Tracy. It's unusual enough, you think it's worth looking this guy up?"
She could barely breathe. Gods, it couldn't be Paul, could it? He'd been such a nice guy…
"Nick, he was fascinated with stars, but he spoke about this one constantly. He drew this one in both star form and imagined art form, like the Renaissance art of the astrological signs? I haven't seen this guy since I left school, but he shouldn't be that hard to find, right?"
Nick smiled, "If you've got a last name, we should at least have a starting point, eh?"
Tracy nodded, "Sort of. Paul Jones isn't going to stand out like a shining star or anything."
Nick winced, "Ouch. Here, let's see what we can find out."
Nick sat down and tapped at the computer. He would get used to them eventually, but the idea that this box would do all the work of scribes and researchers in a fraction of the time was still amazing to him.
"We'll have to wait till morning, when the schools are open, but we've no record for a Paul Jones of the right age."
"It's gonna be a long night, waiting to be able to talk to the university, Nick."
He smiled, “Let’s go back to the houses he hit. I found something, maybe you will.
As morning approached, Nick had to head home. “Let’s hand this off to the day shift guys, we can pick it up again tonight.”
“Ugh. I hate handing it off, but you’re right. We’ve got to get some sleep.”
“See you tonight, Trace.”
He went home, but he only slept for a short time. He made more than a few calls. He'd checked the University for a Paul Jones, not expecting to find much. There had been a student by that name for a year back in the same time frame as Tracy, but he never graduated and had moved on. Nick ended up at the school's admin offices just after dark. One of the many things about winter he loved: 4pm sunsets. He managed to get the kid's Social Insurance Number out of them, so he could track him. Turned out the kid went on to another college, lasted about a year before transferring. He did this some seven times before he graduated with both a Bachelors and a Masters. He’d started his PhD in that time as well and it seemed he took a post at a local private college, finished his degree work and just gotten tenure after seven years there. Seemed he had an affinity for that number, seven.
Nick met up with Tracy and told her all he'd found. She'd gone back to talk to his old professors who had confirmed his interest in astronomy. They even remembered his fascination for Ophiuchus. One had remembered a tattoo of the constellation on his shoulder.
"Nick, the door markings. All adding up to this constellation. It almost has to be Paul, doesn't it?"
"It looks that way, Tracy. It's likely though, with his fascination for the number seven, that he might be done for now. If it is Paul, and he's finished this series, he’s going to be hard to trace. We don't have the stabbing weapon used and the fact that there's only two dead out of seven burglaries muddles the "planned" approach."
Reese walked in, "No, afraid it doesn't Nick. It seems they hadn't noticed till you put a bee in Sullivan's bonnet, but there was a death at every site. Just not a human one."
"What do you mean?" Tracy was more uncomfortable by the moment.
"They went back and cased each home again. Spoke to the residents there again."
"Busy day," Nick mumbled under his breath.
"I'll say," Reese responded, "They found evidence of a circle drawn in sidewalk chalk the same color as the cement or wood porches under the back doors, half washed away by rain. There were marks, dots almost, in each of these circles, only they don't match up to anything they can recognize as a pattern."
Nick and Tracy exchanged looks.
"Somewhere on the property, they found a small animal killed with a single stab wound to the neck. Rats, cats, raccoons – almost like the sicko stabbed whatever animal wandered across his path – except that he had to be in the backyard looking for something to kill."
"Cap, Nick found patterns on the door, painted with the same color as the door. When he put them all together, they made a large constellation. We think we may have a lead on who did it," She looked at Nick, "Someone who's really into constellations."
Tracy headed down to tell Sullivan her hunch about the now Dr. Jones. Nick trailed her and Nickerson was over at the water cooler when they got downstairs. The four of them split up, Sullivan and Nickerson went to Jones’ home, while Nick and Tracy went to the college and his office.
They walked into his office and saw maps of constellations on the walls.
“Makes sense for an astronomy professor,” Nick noted.
Tracy just glared at him.
They entered the office and Tracy immediately recognized her old classmate, “Hi, Paul.”
Paul was seated at his desk, “Hi, Tracy.”
Nick hung back just a little to let this play out.
“I recognized The Serpent Bearer, Paul.”
“I knew you would, T. But was that all?”
She looked at Nick, he shrugged his shoulders.
“We didn’t see anything else that was obvious.”
“Oh, I am disappointed. You were such a good student, too. What made you think of me, T?”
“The pieces of the Serpent Bearer on the doors. I recognized it when we laid them out in order.”
“Ah, then you never took time to look at the back porches. The opposite of the front doors?”
Tracy was thoroughly confus- oh, wait, she wasn’t. “Good grief, Paul, why leave pieces of Andromeda at the opposite side of the house from the front doors?”
He stood. “You were always a good student, but not as imaginative as you could have been. Don’t you remember, Andromeda was always your constellation. Ophiuchus and Andromeda are separated by the whole of the night sky, T. Just as you and I are separated by the whole of our lives and now the whole of the Justice system. We couldn’t be more on opposite sides, could we?”
She swallowed. He was telling her something, but she didn’t want to look too closely at what.
Nick walked in and took control of Paul. He put cuffs on him, read him his rights and handed him off to the uniforms that had appeared out of no where.
Tracy still hadn’t moved.
“Trace? You OK?”
“Um, yea, Nick. I just – I’d forgotten about Andromeda.” She turned to him, “Nick, tell me that nut didn’t kill all those animals and people just to get my attention?” she looked completely consumed by the terror that he might have done just that.
Nick shook his head, “No Tracy, it’s not your fault.” Every cop went through this, certain it’s their fault the perp had done as he’d done. But every cop finally figured out she was wrong too. It was the perp’s fault, not the cop’s.
“But he said…”
“I know “he said”. He chose to hang his crazy on you – that doesn’t make it your fault, Tracy. It makes you a very lucky lady that he didn’t get far more personal with his particular brand of psychosis.”
“I remembered him. When I was having dinner with – a – friend, I remembered him and his obsession with Ophiuchus. I’d forgotten about Andromeda. One night he’d all but wrapped her up and given her to me as my personal constellation. Why do think he did that, Nick?”
“I suspect he felt that far away from you at that point, Tracy. And anyway, tonight you weren’t The Chained Lady. You were much more Orion, The Hunter.”
Tracy smiled. She wondered, sometimes, how he knew what he knew – other times, she was just happy he’d figured it out.
They'd done it. They'd cracked the case and found Paul. He'd been planning another series of seven, though his notes looked like he was planning a human death at each site. He'd become so enamored of the Serpent Bearer that he had begun to think of himself as Ophiuchus's representative on earth. The "sacrifices" were to honor the Serpent Bearer and he had some crazy idea he would bring the Serpent Bearer close to Andromeda.
Reese stood in his doorway, looking at Nick and Tracy over at her desk, "How'd you make the connection?"
"It was Tracy, Cap," He looked over at Tracy and grinned, "She had a hunch."
Tracy shook her head, “No Cap, it was Nick.” She smiled up at him, sitting on the corner of her desk, “It was good, old fashioned shoe leather that solved this one.
Reese nodded, as he turned to head back into his office, “Sounds like it was the two of you making a good team.”