The small boy they led into the room was eight but he only looked about six. His blond, wavy hair was thick and hung over his forehead, into his eyes. The boy didn't seem to notice and didn't try to wipe it out. He stared straight forward, a blank look in his eyes. He looked blind, but he wasn't. Johnny had seen the boy before and he wasn't blind.
"What are they going to do to him, father?" Johnny asked the man standing beside him. He called Victor father, but he wasn't his father. Johnny didn't have a father, or a mother. None of the kids at the institute did. He just had Victor...and Uncle Lee - but he was Johnny's secret friend.
"Just watch." Victor clasp his hands behind his back and watched through a large window. The room on the other side of the window was about medium size and was equipped with only an exam table. The walls were bright white and a large fluorescent light on the ceiling made it even brighter.
Johnny watched the three men in long white lab coats lead the blond boy to the table. One of the men lifted the boy onto the table and laid him on his back. Johnny could feel the boy's fear like a heat wave, though the boy lay silent and unmoving.
"They're scaring him." Johnny said.
"No." Victor murmured. "He isn't scared. He doesn't feel like we do. None of them do."
Johnny stepped closer to the window and flattened his hands on the glass. One of the men pressed his palm to the boy's head and held him down while another placed a scalpel to the boy's throat. The boy's fear spun into a whirlwind of terror, hitting Johnny hard, like a physical force, causing him to take a step back. His eyes widened as the man with scalpel cut an incision across the boy's throat. Blood drained out and pooled on the table. The boy coughed and blood spittle sprayed from his mouth then trickled from the corner. The boy's eyes went dead.
"Why are they killing him?" Johnny cried. Tears filled his eyes.
"They aren't." Victor said quietly, watching intently. "Just watch, Johnny."
Johnny's throat was tight as he turned his attention back to the boy on the table. The incision on the boy's throat slowly healed. The boy gasped and drew in a sharp breath. A fierce wave of terror hit Johnny. But it wasn't his own. The boy's mind spun chaotically and suddenly his thoughts came together in one single word that screamed through his head.
Paul McCormick sat at the oblong table and stared at the two way mirror. His reflection stared back at him, revealing a man on the edge. He knew this procedure. He was usually on the other side of that glass. He could feel the unseen eyes watching him and for the first time since entering law enforcement, felt a shred of pity for the criminal who had to sit there and wait.
But the men he'd put at this table were usually guilty. He himself was...what? Innocent? Hadn't he been holding his weapon on officer Brent while he let the suspect escape? It still made no sense to him. What the hell had happened back there at the house? How could he literally forget what had taken place between the time Officer Brent had handcuffed the suspect and the moment McCormick realized Sergeant Kempt was holding his weapon on him?
The door to the interrogation room opened. Police Chief Tim Ukiah entered and took a seat across from McCormick. Tim Ukiah had just enough Native American in him to color his hair a deep black and tint his skin, and at times got razzed about being the Chief. Perhaps that was why he wore his hair short and dressed like a white man.
Paul was okay with the Chief. He was straight forward but fair. He didn't pull any punches but he didn't throw unnecessary ones either. Paul had never felt uneasy in the presence of the Chief. Until now.
Ukiah laid a folder on the table in front of him and opened it. "Paul." Ukiah cleared his throat and looked at the detective. "There's a Dr. Orlando here who would like to speak with you about what happened. The feds are coming in on this too, they'll want to speak with you as well."
Paul ignored the information about the feds, that was to be expected. But the doctor? "What kind of doctor are we talking about?" Paul asked slowly, defensively.
"A doctor of psychiatry."
"A shrink." Paul corrected. He grew visibly agitated. "Look, I don't know what happened out there, but I'm not crazy."
"No one is suggesting that." Ukiah assured him.
Paul leaned back in his chair and shook his head. "Right." He leaned forward. "You think I don't recognize that tone? The one we all use to convince a suspect we're not really accusing them of anything just yet, when we're already convinced he's guilty? I'm not a fucking criminal, Tim. I can't explain what happened, but don't treat me like a scum bag suspect."
"Just calm down, Paul." Ukiah said. "I don't think you're guilty of anything, and I don't think you're crazy. But something happened out there that no one can explain. Dr. Orlando is just here to try and help us figure it out. He came in on his own, I didn't call him."
Paul frowned. "Why would he come here without being called in?"
"He thinks..." Ukiah cleared his throat. "He thinks our suspect may be one of his patients."
"Why don't I just let you talk to him." Ukiah said and stood up. "He can better explain it."
Ukiah went to the door and opened it, then motioned for someone to enter. A man walked in and stood beside Ukiah. He was middle-aged but his neatly trimmed hair and thin neat beard gave him a younger appearance. He had a pleasant demeanor but something in his clear blue eyes put Paul on edge. A wolf in sheep's clothing was the first thought to cross his mind.
"This is Dr. Orlando." Ukiah told Paul. "From the West Ridge Behavioral Institute." He looked at Orlando. "This is Detective Paul McCormick."
Orlando approached the table and held out his hand. "It's good to meet you, detective."
Paul hesitated then accepted his hand, nodding. Ukiah remained at the door while Orlando took the seat across from Paul.
"I'll be out here if you need anything." Ukiah told Orlando, then cast Paul a quick glance before exiting the room.
As soon as he was gone, Paul eyed Orlando. "What is the West Ridge Behavioral Institute? Is that some fancy name for a nut house?"
"No." Orlando spoke low as he looked through the file Ukiah had left on the table. "I'm not a shrink, detective. I specialize in behavioral modification and therapy."
Orlando looked up. "Which means...I don't spend my days talking to repressed men about their twisted relationship with their mamas." He returned his attention to the file. "My work is real science."
My ass, Paul thought as he studied the other man. "Why do you think our suspect is one of your patients?" Paul asked. "Do you have an escapee unaccounted for?"
Orlando raised his eyes without lifting his head. "The people we're working with at the institute aren't patients." He said low. "And West Ridge isn't a prison. No one escaped."
"My mistake." Paul murmured. "Why do you think our suspect is one of your...people?"
Orlando didn't answer immediately as he looked through the papers in the file. He cleared his throat and looked up. "Why don't you tell me what happened at the Stuart residence."
Paul shook his head. "I don't know what happened. One minute my weapon is aimed at the suspect, and the next..." He faltered. "...he's gone and I'm holding Officer Brent at gunpoint. That's all I remember."
Orlando looked at the file again. "Sergeant Kempt stated that you ordered the release of the suspect." He looked up again. "That you threatened Officer Brent's life if the suspect wasn't released."
"I don't remember that." Paul said tightly.
Orlando sat back and looked at McCormick thoughtfully. "Did anything else...unusual happen?"
Orlando leaned forward, eyes slightly narrowed. "Did your...nose bleed?"
"Yeah." Paul frowned. "Why? Does that mean something?"
Dr. Orlando tensed with renewed interest.
The Shadow Pines motel sign was back lit by the late afternoon sun and overshadowed by the looming Rockies. Jonathon parked the SUV in front of a row of bungalow type rooms and turned off the truck.
The engine ticked. Clarice asked softly, "Are we safe?"
"For now." Jonathon tugged the keys from the ignition and opened the driver door. "Wait here. I'll get us a room."
Jonathon headed for the small building a few yards away with a sign on the door that read Office. He seemed a fraction more relaxed and that helped Clarice relax a little. Actions speak louder than words, her mother used to say. Jonathon could tell her to relax until he was blue in the face, but as long as he was tense, she would be tense.
She wondered when, exactly, the full weight of her grief would hit her. Although she'd done her share of crying since the loss of her family, she knew the worst was yet to come. And that scared her, almost as much as all this insanity scared her. A part of her was actually glad to be distracted from her grief and the unbearable reality behind it.
A heavy breeze swirled leaves and dust into the air, passing behind the SUV in a small dust devil. The shrubbery in front of the rooms shuddered and rattled. Clarice resisted the anxiety that threatened to rise up inside her. Jonathon said they were safe for now. He wouldn't have stopped if he hadn't believed that one hundred percent, that much she was certain of. For whatever reason, he was compelled to keep her alive and everything he did seemed directed towards that end.
The office door opened and Jonathon came out with a room key clutched in his hand. He motioned for her get out of the rig. When she was at his side, he handed her the key. "We're in room five. Unlock the door. I have to grab something from the truck."
Clarice walked down the narrow concrete walk till she came to the bungalow with a brass number 5 on the door. She unlocked the door, opened it and stepped inside. The room was medium size with a full size bed, an adjoining bathroom and even a small kitchenette.
The SUV's door shut outside and she stepped deeper into the room as Jonathon entered behind her and closed the door. He was carrying a black sports bag.
"What's that?" She asked.
Jonathon set the bag on the end of the bed. "An overnight bag." He said. "The owner of the SUV left it behind." He unzipped the main top zipper. "There's a couple clean t-shirts and some socks and stuff." He looked at her. "If you want to take a shower, you can grab a clean shirt to put on."
They had been going full boar ahead since they'd left Aaron's house that she'd forgotten she was still wearing the same clothes she'd changed into after the funeral. She suddenly felt grimy and in desperate need of a shower. She wondered if she smelled too. Maybe that's why he had suggested the shower. At any rate, it was a good idea.
"A shower sounds nice." She said quietly.
Jonathon reached into the bag and took out a folded white t-shirt and handed it to her. "Go ahead and shower now." He said. "You'll feel a lot better, and it'll help you sleep."
She took the shirt but hesitated before heading for the bathroom. "You said when we stopped you would..." she let the sentence roll away.
"After you shower." He said quietly, his back to her. "The hot water will help get rid of the tension in your body and help you relax." He gradually unpacked the bag, checking the contents. "And trust me, you're gonna need to be relaxed to hear this."
"It was you...wasn't it?" Clarice suddenly whispered before she could think about what she was saying. "Twenty years ago...it was you who saved me and my family. But...how?"
A tension rippled through Jonathon as he continued to stand with his back to her. "After your shower." Was all he said.
Clarice nodded though he couldn't see her. She went into the bathroom and closed the door. She set the t-shirt on the small counter next to the sink then looked at her reflection. She barely recognized the woman staring back at her. Hair messed. Eyes haunted. Skin pale. She looked dead. Maybe she was. Maybe this was all just some weird transition into the next life. What if the man who had killed her family was really a demon, trying to drag her to hell. And Jonathon...
Maybe Jonathon is an angel...trying to get me to heaven.
Jonathon sat on the edge of the bed, elbows resting on his knees, head in his hands. His eyes were closed as he listened to the thought as it drifted through his head. But it wasn't his thought. He tried not to invade her privacy, but he couldn't help hearing her.
An angel. Him? He didn't want her to see him that way. He was no angel, not even close. It would be great if that were the case. Him being her guardian angel, keeping her out of the hands of the devil while he guided her to heaven. How gallant and honorable that would be. But unfortunately it was nothing of the kind.
He released a slow sigh and pressed his palms into his eyes as a sudden warm sensation rushed through him as he felt Clarice's mind and body begin to relax beneath the hot shower spray. A new ache spread through him and he struggled to resist it. But the need and desire was there, whether he embraced it or not. The intense longing to hold Clarice to him and make love to her was nearly more than he could handle. But he knew he could never go there with her if she didn't know the truth about him...and once she did, would she even let him near her?
He didn't know how long he'd been sitting there, before he realized the shower had turned off. When he heard the bathroom door open, he lifted his head from his hands and opened his eyes.
Steam drifted out of the bathroom door as Clarice stepped out. Her wet hair clung to her shoulders and neck. The t-shirt hung down to mid-thigh. She wasn't wearing her pants and her legs were still slightly damp, the bandage around her wound wet and beginning to loosen a little.
The strong scent of shampoo drifted to Jonathon as he stared at the woman. He tried to avert his eyes, but he couldn't stop them from taking in every inch of her body or prevent them from lingering briefly on her full breasts, braless beneath the t-shirt, her firm nipples pressing out against the thin material.
As he gazed at her, he wondered if the intense hunger inside him showed in his eyes. Could she feel how much he wanted her? He tried to block his own mind from probing her thoughts, but it was pointless. She wanted him, almost as much as he wanted her, and he didn't think she even realized it. Not fully, anyway.
"Feel better?" He asked as he tore his eyes away. And that's how it felt, like he literally had to tear his eyes off her.
"Much." She said softly, clearly self conscious standing before him with very little covering her. As if to explain why she was dressed so skimpy, she added nervously, "My pants had blood soaked all through the leg...I rinsed them out in the sink and hung them up to dry."
"You should hang them out here by the heater." He said as he stood up, forcing his eyes to look anywhere but at her. "And your bandage will need to be redressed."
He could feel her eyes on him, but he knew if he looked at her again - really looked at her - he might do something impulsive and stupid.
"I can change the bandage." She said slowly. "If you want to shower."
He cleared his throat and chanced a quick glance at her. "Shower sounds good."
"I'll just..." She moved back towards the bathroom. "...get my pants and bring them out here."
She disappeared in the bathroom as Jonathon grabbed a dark blue t-shirt from the bag then, as an afterthought, grabbed a pair of boxers as well. He didn't really take to wearing another man's underwear, but they were clean and he'd already spent too long in the shorts he was wearing.
When Clarice returned with her wet jeans, he headed to the bathroom. "Hang them by the radiator heater beneath the window." he said as he stepped into the bathroom. "They should dry by morning." He closed the door, took a deep breath and felt his heart beat against the inside of his chest like a bird going crazy in its cage. He'd never felt this level of desire for a woman before. He had never, in fact, felt any desire for a woman before meeting Clarice for the first time. He knew how to deal with physical threats, he knew how to fight an enemy...but he had no idea how to deal with this.
He turned on the shower and shed his clothes then stepped beneath the hot spray. His whole body, heart and mind ached for Clarice and the evidence of it was too obvious. After washing his hair and body, he cranked the shower temperature to cool and stood beneath the cold spray until it affected him appropriately. But he knew the cool down effect wouldn't last for long.
When he left the shower, he dried off, slipped on the t-shirt and pulled on the boxers then his jeans. He couldn't go back out there in only the boxers and t-shirt. He needed more confinement than just the thin boxers.
The motel room was already growing dim with twilight as the sun faded behind the mountains when Jonathon finally left the bathroom. Clarice was sitting on one side of the bed, her knees drawn up and the t-shirt pulled down over them to her ankles.
"You should cover up." He said. "It's gonna get cold."
"It's warm enough with the heater." She said quietly, watching him as he went to the window and looked out into the deepening shadows of the oncoming night.
He knew they were safe for awhile, but he still couldn't relax completely. There was more than one threat out there, coming their way. "Did you change the bandage?" He asked low without looking at her.
"Does it hurt bad?" He asked.
"Not too bad." She said. "I'll live...for now, anyway."
Jonathon looked at her. A tiny smile played at the corners of her mouth and it was the most beautiful thing to see. For this one moment, she had let go of the horror of this situation and allowed herself to relax.
"I'm sorry." She said. "I couldn't resist that last bit."
A faint smile pulled at the corner of Jonathon's lips, he couldn't resist it. "Don't apologize. It's nice...to see you more relaxed."
A more prominent smile touched her lips. He stared at her mouth, unable to look away. Good god, how he wanted to kiss those lips. Feel them drop kisses on his neck, brushing across his ear as she pressed her warm, soft body against his...
"Are you all right?" She asked softly, snapping him out of his thoughts.
He cleared his throat and looked away, forcing his eyes back out the window. "Yeah." He could hear the thickness in his own voice and was certain she hadn't missed it either.
"Please tell me what's happening." She spoke in a near whisper. "Come over here, sit down." She flattened her hand on the bed. "And talk to me. Please."
The bird in his chest was beginning to flutter its wings again, a little faster with each passing moment. He had to tell her. If not everything just yet, at least a good part of it. But where the hell did he begin?
He walked around to the opposite side of the bed and sat on the edge, his back to her. He couldn't look her in the eyes as he tried to explain the chaos he'd created in her life. And just simply looking at her distracted him too much, made it impossible for him to collect his thoughts.
"Clarice." He cringed at the tremor in his voice, but couldn't seem to vanquish it. "There's so much to tell you...I'm not sure how or where to begin."
Her hand touched his shoulder and he flinched, hard. He didn't trust himself to turn and look at her. What was she doing?
"That isn't what I meant." She said softly. "I want you to tell me what's happening...between us."
The fluttering bird in his chest went into spasms. He realized he was more prepared to tell her the truth about their situation than he was to talk to her about how she made him feel.
"I don't." He swallowed thickly. "I don't understand what you mean."
Her other hand touched him and he could feel her nearly naked body press up closer to his back. When she spoke, her lips brushed the back of his neck, sending electrifying shivers down his spine. "Yes you do." She whispered. "You think I don't see how you look at me? After I took my shower, do you think I missed the hunger in your eyes as you sat there and stared at me like a starving man?" She pressed her lips against the nape of his neck. "I know you want me. I want you too."
Her hands rubbed gently across his tense shoulders, making his head spin. He could feel her hunger and need for him, not only in her touch but igniting her mind as well. It was intense to the point of desperation. And then he understood.
"Clarice." Jonathon stood up quickly, pulling away from her touch. He had to get away from that touch or nothing would stop him from giving in to it, regardless of why she wanted him. His chest heaved and he struggled to steady his voice. "You don't really want me. This is a common feeling among those who have been rescued from life and death situations. It's called transference. The survivor experiences feelings and emotions that are brought on strictly by gratitude for the one who saved them. But the feelings aren't real." He looked at her as her lovely dark eyes gazed back at him. Maybe it was better that her feelings weren't real. "I could be...anyone. And you would still have these feelings."
A sheen of tears glistened in Clarice's eyes, making Jonathon hate himself for having to say that to her. She was in a desperate situation and she needed comfort, she needed to feel connected to someone, emotionally and physically. She needed to be held, and made love to, and assured that somehow - somehow - everything would be okay. And had she continued to look at him that way, tears in her eyes, he couldn't have resisted her. But she blinked back the tears and looked away.
"You're wrong." Was all she offered in response as she scooted back to the other side of the bed and slipped beneath the blankets.
He stared at her for a long moment as she lay on her side, turned away from him. Again he wondered how much better he'd really made things for her by altering the events of her life. But he remembered too clearly how things had played out the first time, and surely nothing - not even this - could be worse than that.
He tried to take some measure of comfort in that as he returned to the bed where he was sitting previously. "I said I would explain things to you when we stopped." He said. "And I think it's time I did."
"I don't care anymore." Clarice whispered, her voice thick with tears. "I don't want to know. In the morning, I want you to leave...without me. My fate is my fate." Her voice grew quieter still and heavy with tears. "You shouldn't have to die because of me."
The torment inside Clarice's mind sliced through Jonathon's head like a razor. He squeezed his eyes shut as they threatened to fill with their own tears. Her pain was excruciating and it ripped him apart inside.
He stood up quickly and walked to the door, opened it then paused without looking at Clarice. "I'm not leaving you here." His voice was low but firm. "And anyone or anything that intends to hurt you...will have to kill me first."
He left the room, closing the door a bit too hard behind him.
Inside the interrogation room, Dr. Orlando continued to interview Detective McCormick. Tim Ukiah watched through the observation window. There was something he distinctly disliked about Orlando, he just couldn't put his finger on it. The man reminded Tim of a dangerous politician, if there was any other kind. A politician who looked people in the eye and made them trust him, when deep in his corrupt mind he was planning the next world war or holocaust or something to that effect.
Tim shook his head. His Indian heritage was beginning to surface. He imagined that plenty of the white men who made promises to his ancestors had this guy's look and demeanor. It wasn't that Tim was prejudice against the white man, he was one quarter white himself, but he knew the look of deceit when he saw it and he often wondered if that ability to spot bullshit wasn't inherited from his native ancestors.
The good doctor was involved in all this insanity, Tim was certain of that, but just exactly how remained to be seen. Because Tim was also convinced that Orlando wasn't being straight about this patient of his. Orlando didn't look like any kind of psychiatrist Tim had ever met. What he looked like to Tim was a scientist of some form, and not the kind that worked on cancer cures or anything else so noble. The idea of what this man might create gave Tim the creeps.
Maybe he was just letting his imagination run away with him. There really wasn't any concrete evidence this man wasn't exactly who he said he was. It was just a feeling in Tim's gut. And he'd learned to trust those gut feelings. They'd saved his life more than a few times.
The door to the small room opened and an officer stepped in. "Sir."
Tim looked away from the window. "What is it?"
"Sir, the Colorado state police located our rig." He said. "The one the suspect took."
Tim grew alert. "Where was it?"
"At the residence of a Dale Chambers." The officer said. "Apparently the guy drove it home and parked it right in his driveway out front."
Tim frowned. "I don't understand." He said. "Dale Chambers. Is that our suspect?"
The officer shook his head. "No, sir. When the state police arrested him, he claimed to have no idea how he came to be driving the vehicle. According to Chambers, he thought he was still driving the SUV he and his wife bought two years ago."
"That doesn't make sense." Tim's frown deepened. "How can you think you're driving one rig when you're driving another..." The words faded away as he turned back to the window and his eyes came to rest on McCormick. "What the hell is going on?" He whispered.
His eyes shifted to Orlando. The feeling in his gut intensified. Just what the hell were they mixed up in? And more importantly...what kind of suspect were they dealing with?