This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are products of the author's imagination, or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

The Indigo Killer

Copyright 2007 Lynn McEachern

THE INDIGO KILLER

One

SILVER MOONLIGHT SPARKLED along the blade buried deep in the dog's throat. His whimpers had finally ceased. The flow of blood, so thick and hot at first, had finally slowed to a trickle.

He guessed that if the dog wasn't dead yet, then it soon would be. The animal's eyes had gone glassy, and its hind legs twitched only sporadically.

The man was relieved that the reproachful look in the dog's eyes had faded. That look had bothered him, but not nearly as much as when the dog had weakly pawed at his foot, trying to lick his boot, whining pitifully. That had bothered the man, bothered him quite a bit.

It had shaken him.

He took a long drag off his cigarette, then another, and one more, before dropping it to the ground and grinding the still-lit butt into the dirt beneath his oversized, flat-soled boot. He was careful to kick the dirt into the small pile next to the hole that the dog lay in, and he made sure to scuff his footprints. The man leaned close, and peered at the dog for a long moment. Nothing. He guessed that the dog was pretty much dead.

Carefully, so as to not get any blood on himself, he slid the knife out of the dog's neck, and pushed the animal further into the five-foot-deep grave that he had dug for it earlier. When he removed the knife, however, the dog emitted the faintest whine.

The man froze. He waited, for a long moment, listening hard. Just the normal noises of the forest at night. What he thought was a whine must have been the last of escaping air from the dog's lungs.

After a long moment, he lit up another cigarette, cupping his trembling hands around the quick flame. With the smoke clamped tightly between his teeth, he shoveled dirt upon the dead animal, until he could no longer see its pale fur. He imagined that he could still hear the dog's whimpers, though he knew that to be impossible. His imagination was playing tricks on him.

Once he had the dirt tamped down on top of the grave, he grabbed a straw broom that was leaning against the trunk of his car. The generic, inexpensive broom could be purchased at any store, and would be hard to identify as having come from anywhere in particular.

He roughly dragged the broom across the dirt and surrounding area. Once done, he carefully picked up any fallen pieces of straw. Then he stepped back, and surveyed his handiwork.

There were no traces that anyone had been there.

Perfect. By this time tomorrow, fallen foliage, animal tracks, and maybe even wind and rain, would have covered any lingering traces of human activity. The only person who would be able to find the dog would be someone who knew exactly where to look.

The man carefully replaced the broom into the trunk of his car, and sat down on a fallen long to take a deep drag off his cigarette. He stared at the dog's grave for a long while. Around him, the forest was dark, and quiet. The pungent fragrance of pine, mingled with the sweet smoke, failed to disguise the more earthy scents lingering about. The smell of blood, and of fear.

The man sat for a long time, lost in his thoughts.

Two

"…and how I deal with shit is my own business, no one else's. Wish people would mind their own damn business sometimes…"

- excerpt from Brian Besaird's journals

THE SKY WAS black, dead black, and streaked with jagged lightning. It looked hellish, nightmarish, and the powerful storm buffeted the seven-twenty-seven to and fro, as though it was a child's toy.

Once…twice…the flickering lights in the pressurized cabin went out, and the plane screamed down into a sharp dip. It barely righted itself with a wrenching jerk. Wasted effort - just a second later, it was swooping downwards again, and the engines were cutting out. Strapped into a window seat, thirty-three-year-old Nathalie Shand clutched at her seatbelt, too frightened to move. Her eyes desperately searched the dark sky for lights, for land, for anything other than the churning, freezing Atlantic Ocean which she knew lay below them.

The straining engines had become unbearably loud - her ears hurt - and the wings were icing up. It was another eighty miles, at least. She knew that, because she had overheard one of the flight attendants whispering to another.

The sight of the attendant fearfully gripping the crucifix that she wore on a gold chain chilled Nathalie's heart like nothing else could. They weren't going to make it.

Nathalie closed her eyes, in resignation, in prayer. She heard an engine cut out. This time, it didn't start up again. The plane banked violently to the left, and over the cries of the passengers, she could hear another engine cough and splutter. It was a terrifying sound.

Garish red emergency lights gave the cabin an unreal cast. Oxygen masks dangled futilely overhead, roughly jerking back and forth in the turbulence. Desperate hands clawed at them, pointlessly.

The plane cabin stank with terror and smoke. She heard more alarms wailing…something was burning…

With one last agonized groan, the plane began to tilt, diving straight for the roiling water below. The furious winds hammered the fragile craft with a thundering beat –

Dane Shand's eyes snapped open, and, gasping, he jerked awake.

Another nightmare.

He lay on his too-empty bed, his heart still pounding loud in his ears.

"Shit," he muttered, wiping his hand across his eyes. It came away streaked with tears. "Shit," he said again.

It took a few minutes for his breathing to slow, and for him to register his surroundings - his quiet bedroom seemed a world away from the terrifying images that haunted his sleep.

Beside the bed, the alarm clock glowed reassuringly in pale green numbers: three-nineteen.

Dane took a couple of deep breaths, then felt something warm and furry worm its way into the space between his neck and shoulder. His cat, purring loudly. The large ginger-striped Maine Coon snuggled in, rubbing his face against Dane's long hair and beard, and its claws flexed gently into the soft skin of Dane's throat.

He shifted to a more comfortable position, and laid his head back against the pillows. The cat's purrs vibrated against Dane's chest, soothing him. He thought about the nightmare that had awakened him.

Six months had passed, six months since his wife's plane had gone down off the coast of Maine. The crash had killed all forty-three passengers. He still suffered from those damned nightmares.

As always, the same tortured questions ran through his mind. Did she suffer? Was it quick and painless? He sighed, and prayed again that Nathalie's passing had been relatively merciful. Did she think of me, before she…?

Stop it, he told himself sternly. His hand clutched in the cat's fur. Just stop thinking about it, for Chrissakes. This isn't doing anyone any good. Just get the hell over it. Obsessing over it isn't going to bring her back.

Dane sighed again, and closed his eyes. The sheets were tangled around his legs, and he tried to kick them off, with no luck. He sighed again, and told himself to relax.

His eyes roamed over the familiar stucco patterns swirling on the ceiling overhead. The bright moonlight shining through the window cast the swirls and crags into sharp relief, and Dane concentrated on the stark, beautiful designs, trying to lull himself back to sleep.

It didn't work. It never did. "Dammit," he muttered. "Hell with this," he said, sitting up. He couldn't take another night of tossing and turning, his mind circling around the same old thoughts. What he'd give for a good night's sleep.

He had the pills that his doctor had prescribed, and he had booze in the fridge, but neither option appealed to him. That kind of sleep was more trouble than it was worth.

Dane jumped out of bed, and pulled on some clothes. He slipped a pair of worn sneakers onto his large feet, and made his way out of the house, and down the driveway. Deftly, he climbed into his dark green Escalade, and a moment later, he was backing out of the gravel driveway. He turned onto the hard-packed dirt road that led to deep within the Maine woods.

The way was unlit, but the moon was bright, and Dane knew these roads well. Even with only moonlight to see by, he could find his way around easily.

If he couldn't sleep, then there was no need to toss and turn in bed, alone and miserable.

He would be with her.

Three

"…so tired of it, so fucking, fucking tired of all these assholes. Who the fuck do they think they are, to shit on me? Who do they fucking think they are…"

- excerpt from Brian Besaird's journals

I SWEAR IF I were to drop an egg on the pavement right now, it would fry in half a second, thought Gisele Brown disgustedly. She wiped her hand along the back of her neck, feeling the sticky drops of sweat trickle down between her shoulder blades. Damn this August heat, anyway – she'd always hated hot, humid weather. She ran her fingers through her short brown hair, cringing at the damp feel of it.

The heat pounding up from the hot cement of Steeves Grocery's parking lot was burning the soles of her feet, right through her sandals. She wiped more sweat out of her eyes, and turned to glare at the parcel pickup clerk. She'd just heard him drop another bag of groceries in the back of the minivan, and if he broke the eggs again, she wasn't going to be as nice as the last time. Before she could say a word, though, she was distracted by her son's whimpers.

"Quiet, Jimmy," she muttered, trying to keep an eye on the store clerk. "Shhh."

At nine months, Jimmy had a tooth coming in, and it was making him fussy. Gisele had tried to leave him with her sister for the afternoon, but Joanne had to work the late shift today and was unable to help. Rotten luck – she'd had a full slate of errands to attend to: the portrait studio to pick up the latest batch of baby portraits, the pharmacy for her allergy medications, the doctor's office for an appointment, the bank to pay bills, and finally the grocery store.

She was just now finishing up for the day. Jimmy had behaved himself. He was a good baby, but like herself, he was feeling the heat. Gisele was just about to loosen his little shirt, when she heard a crash from the back of the van. Oh, not again…

"Excuse me," she called to the store clerk. "Excuse me, but please be careful. Don't break the eggs." She waited for him to acknowledge her, but he ignored her. He just kept on loading groceries into the back of the van, with little care.

She couldn't stand this kid. She liked shopping at this store well enough, but if they were to fire this particular clerk today, it would not be a moment too soon, in her opinion.

She didn't even like the look of him. Brian, according to his nametag. He'd been working at this store since she and Robert had moved back here from Boston, and he'd always grated on her nerves. Oh, he was polite enough, in a "fuck you" sort of way. Tall, thin, with light brown hair and tea-coloured eyes, his lean face bore a perpetually sullen expression. There was something irritating about him.

Most of her complaints to the store manager had been about this particular employee, but nothing ever seemed to be done about it. She was about to speak to Brian again, when Jimmy let out a loud wail. The sound grated on her already-strained temper. "Shh, Jims, shh… Mommy's here, sweetie, and we're going home soon. Then we'll go for a swim in the pool, how do you like that, angel? Doesn't that sound…oh, for Christ's sake!" she exclaimed, as a basket of apples was overturned. They rolled up the back of the van and under the seats.

"Hey! Didn't I say to be careful?" Gisele rushed around, trying to grab the rolling apples. At the back of the van, Brian continued to ignore her, which served to make her angrier.

"Hey! Brian!" She stormed around to face him, yelling angrily. "Hey! Excuse me, but I am a customer! Do you understand that word? Cus-to-mer! I sign your paycheque, Brian, and if I tell you to be careful with my groceries, then you'd damned well better be careful! Now help me pick up these apples, or I'll be having a little chat with your boss. You got that?"

At that exact moment, Jimmy let loose with a screech, and just as Gisele turned towards her son, she caught the sneer that Brian directed her way.

"Excuse me," she snapped, not caring about the small crowd of people who had gathered to watch. "Excuse me! Did you just curl your lip at me? Hey!" She snapped her fingers. "Hey! I'm talking to you, Brian!

Did you just curl your lip at me? Excuse me, but who in the hell do you think you are?"

Brian ignored her, and dropped the last two bags in her van. They hit the floor with a thud. "Thank you, Mrs. Brown. Have a nice day, Mrs. Brown," he said in a monotone, turning his back to her dismissively.

Gisele slammed the back of the van shut. She whirled and pointed a finger at Brian.

"Excuse me, you snotty little brat! I don't know who the hell you think you are, but I'm a good, paying customer, and I'll be having a chat with your boss! If you don't shape up, I'll be shipping out, and your boss will know why! I pay good money for these groceries, you hear me? Do you?"

His back to her, Brian's neck slowly turned red. The crowd that was milling around was muttering, which served to irritate Gisele even more. She caught the word "bitch", and felt her temper crank up a notch.

"Yes, Mrs. Brown," Brian said in that same, irritating "fuck you" tone of voice. He turned, but refused to make eye contact with her; instead, he was looking just past her, his face neutral, as though she didn't exist.

"I don't think you're listening to me, Brian. Well, listen to this. I'm a good customer - Jimmy, shut the hell up for a minute, will you!" she yelled, as her son's screeches hit the eardrum-piercing level. The shocked murmurs of disapproval from around her didn't help; without thinking, she snapped, "If you people don't have something better to do, I can suggest a few things, and I can damn well guarantee that you won't like any of them! I think it's time for all of you to go mind your own goddamned business." Then she turned back to face Brian.

"And as for you," she continued in a calmer, though no less angry, tone, "You smarten the hell up! Keep this garbage up, and I won't be shopping here any more, and believe me, your boss will know exactly why."

Near tears, Gisele strode angrily around to the front of her van. She was just about to climb in, when she heard Brian say, in a low but clear voice, "You fucking bitch."

She turned, shocked. Who in the hell did he think he was? Oh, she was really going to let him have it this time…

…but the words died in her throat, at the expression on his thin face. She actually took a step back; but, then the look was gone, leaving her to wonder if she'd imagined the rage directed at her. With another sneer, Brian turned his back on her and slammed the grocery cart back into the parcel pickup area. Gisele said nothing, but quickly climbed into her van, slamming the door as she sat down.

With trembling hands, she fumbled her keys into the ignition. This wasn't over, not by a long shot. Gisele finally got the engine started - her hands were still shaking – and she was just about to shift gears, when she chanced a glance into the parcel pickup area. Her blood ran cold.

Brian was watching her.

There was no trace of a sneer on his face now. Just a cold, terrible intensity. His eyes were roaming over herself and her van, as though memorizing every single detail.

Their eyes met.

Brian smiled, widely, and ran his hand back and forth along the handlebar of the grocery cart beside him. His hand slipped along the handle, slowly, and strangely menacing. His steady gaze never left hers.

She looked away, and put the van into gear. He gave her the creeps. She would definitely think about taking her business elsewhere.

Four

"...who the hell is he to call me a freak? Just because he thinks his shit don't stink, doesn't mean he can treat me like shit. I'm going to teach him a fucking lesson someday..."

excerpt from Brian Besaird's journals

GISELE SLAMMED A plastic container of leftovers into the refrigerator. It was satisfying to throw things around. No one was home to hear her, anyway. Except for Jimmy. Her infant son slumbered peacefully in his baby carrier, in the living room.

With a sigh, Gisele peered through the curtains, out the kitchen window. Robert wasn't home yet.

She gave the kitchen counter a final quick wipe with the sponge, then went out to the living room and clicked on the tv, keeping the volume low so as not to wake the baby.

God, she was tired. Gisele leaned back into the comfortable sofa, yawning and stretching. Then she rubbed her face with her hands, leaving her skin tingling. What a day. She had just begun to shake off her rotten mood when Robert had phoned. Gisele sighed again, staring blankly at nothing. Working late again. What an old, stupid, cliché. Did he think she was an idiot?

Ever since Jimmy had been born, sex between her and Robert had been something like a museum display: rare, and old. Her own life, once so busy and vibrant, had become a series of dull, endless days. Caring for Jimmy; waiting around for Robert; housework, errands.

Things had changed after Jimmy had been born. What changed, though? Robert? Yes, definitely. Me? Maybe. Hell, maybe we both changed. But it doesn't matter who changed - what matters is fixing the problem before it gets worse. But can we? She sighed, absently smoothing down the throw cushions on the sofa. I mean, how can we fix things now? She really didn't know.

Gisele closed her eyes and leaned her head back. God, what a mess it all was. She was tempted to throw the towel in.

"Hello."

Gisele started at the sound of Robert's voice. "I didn't hear you pull in," she said, looking him over critically. He didn't look as tired as he should, considering how much "overtime" he'd been working.

"What's for supper?" Robert asked, not meeting her eyes.

Gisele shrugged, and looked back at the tv. "Leftovers are in the fridge. Just like last night." She felt her eyes glazing over, realized that she was becoming bored by the conversation. Suddenly her entire life seemed unbearable.

"Sorry I'm late."

"Sure you are." Gisele stood up and walked over to the kitchen counter, where her purse and car keys lay. "Jimmy's sleeping in his carrier, beside the sofa. I'm going to my sister's for a while."

"What?" Robert turned back to face her. "Honey, I'm beat. Bring Jimmy with you, I don't feel like looking after him tonight."

"I don't really give a damn what you feel like doing, Robert. You have responsibilities too, and it's time you start facing up to them."

"Excuse me," he shouted, slamming the fridge door shut. She tried not to wince at the sound of bottles and containers rattling around inside. "I'm the one working my fingers to the goddamned bone every day, while you sit

around and do fuck all. Maybe I want a goddamned break, has that ever occurred to you?"

"You're working something every day, that's for sure," Gisele muttered, turning her back to him. His temper had never frightened her.

"Hey!" he called, following her. "Where the hell do you think you're going?"

"What the hell do you care? I told you, I'm going to Joanne's. Listen to me once in a while. You don't like it, then pack your bags and get the hell out! I'm fed up to here -" She pointed her hand at her throat, an angry gesture, "- with your bullshit!"

They glared at each other for a long moment. Then Robert looked away, and spoke in a gentler voice. It sounded forced. "Look, honey, I'm sorry that I had to work late -"

"Me too, Robert. I'm sorry, too." She also spoke softly now. Miraculously, Jimmy had not awakened from the noise. "I'm sorry because I called your office four times tonight. Four times! And there was no answer. So unless you just happened to be working too far away from the phone to answer it - "She paused, and read the guilt on his face. She sighed. "So unless you were too far away from the phone, then I seriously doubt that you were working." She paused, then said quietly, "Maybe I would have had better luck reaching you if I'd called that hotel just outside of town. The one that rents rooms by the hour."

Robert said nothing, his blue gaze on her. His lips tightened regretfully, and Gisele looked down, startled by a sudden sting of tears.

"Honey -"

"Not now, Robert."

"Gisele - are you going to be late?"

Too tired to talk, she said simply, "No. I won't be late."

Robert reached a hand out to her, but she flinched, and he pulled back, a hurt expression on his face. "Gisele - we need to talk about this."

"Yes, I know."

"Don't go out. Stay. Please?"

She looked at him for a long moment, then shook her head. "I won't be late. We'll talk tomorrow."

"Okay," he said, sadly. "Honey - I love you."

She chuckled bitterly, and shook her head. "Prove it."

She turned and walked through the front door, anxious just to be away from Robert and to be alone, before the tears started. Had he really thought that she wouldn't notice the faint traces of perfume? The smear of lipstick at the base of his throat, just barely visible? Gisele did not wear lipstick.

"Dammit!" she sobbed, standing in the middle of the driveway, her arms wrapped around herself. "Dammit to hell!"

Gisele took a deep, calming breath. She breathed in and out deeply for a few moments. After the stressful day that she had put in, she needed this quiet respite. A sense of peace washed over her.

A strong hand clamped over her mouth, and she felt something cold and hard just under her jaw.

"Not one word, bitch. Not one sound." A soft voice hissed in her ear, and the hand over her mouth slid aside to stuff a piece of fabric into her mouth. Gisele tensed, tried to twist away, but her captor was too fast for her. She felt the hard object tap warningly against her jaw.

"One more move, bitch, one more sound, and I'll blow your fucking head apart." She was shoved face-first against her minivan, her captor leaning against her heavily as he bound her hands together behind her back. His knee in her lower back prevented her from moving while he shoved a piece of cloth into her mouth, and wrapped a strip of duct tape around it. Without being able to see what he was doing, she moaned as he tugged the keys to the van from her clenched fist.

"Inside, let's go. Don't fuck with me."

Her captor opened the van door and crawled in, pushing her ahead of him. She yelped - or tried to, despite the rag stuffed in her mouth - as her knee collided painfully with the corner of the console between the front seats - and she hit her head hard against the passenger-side window when her captor shoved her down into her seat.

Her arms were twisted painfully behind her back, and she leaned forward to move them, but her captor pushed her back against the seat and used duct tape to bind her upper body and throat to the backrest. She tried to

forward again, so that the tape around her throat wouldn't choke her, but when she shifted position, her captor struck her in the face with a closed fist. His dark gloves did not soften the blow, and she groaned in pain.

"Simmer down or I'll really put a beating into you, bitch. The more you behave, the better it'll be."

The better what will be?

Red-hot terror coursed through her, and she whimpered, looking at him pleadingly. He didn't meet her gaze, however, and after securing her into the seat, he leaned back into his own seat and started the van.

Her captor was ignoring her for the moment, as he expertly backed the van out of the driveway. Gisele realized that, if she twisted a little, she could bring her unbound legs up. Maybe she could kick the gun out of his hand…

He noticed the small movement, and brought the gun up to her eye level.

"You want to simmer down," he said mildly. "You're starting to make me mad, you know that? Not that it's the first time. You annoy me a lot, Mrs. Brown."

Gisele felt her bladder let go, and she began to whimper.

"Oh, shut up. Jesus, did you just piss yourself? Fuck, that's disgusting. We're going for a little drive, and a little chat. Don't make me shoot you, Mrs. Brown." He paused. "Not yet, anyway," he said with a chuckle.

Gisele sat beside him, not struggling. Her mind was racing, trying to think of a way out. It didn't look good. He was driving towards the woods, and she'd seen too many movies, read too many books, to not know that this was going to end badly.

The van had been driving slowly, without any running lights, but her captor seemed to know where he was going in the darkness.

After what seemed an eternity, but was, by the van's interior clock, only a few minutes, they slowed to a stop. By this time, Gisele's arms were numb and her lower back and legs were unbearably cramped from the uncomfortable position that she was in. Her heart sank, however, as her eyes slowly adjusted to their surroundings - there was a small car parked beside them. An accomplice?

Her captor turned to face her as he turned the van's engine off, and he tilted his masked head to look at her. "Don't worry, Mrs. Brown. We're just going for another short little drive, and then we're going to play a little game. I'm sure you'll enjoy it. It's an educational game." He leered at her, and in that moment, he seemed familiar to her - but she couldn't place him. Using a wicked-looking knife, he sliced through the duct tape holding her tight against the passenger seat and tugged it loose.

He opened his own door and slid out, pulling her roughly after him. She would have cried out if she could have, as the gear stick ground cruelly into her abdomen, and crunched against her hip. With one arm, he propped her up beside the van - Gisele couldn't stand up, her back and legs were so sore, and she couldn't feel her arms at all. Not even her shoulders. "Shhh," he said, reaching into the van with his other arm. The keys were still in the ignition. He shifted the gear into neutral, then pulled back, and closed the door.

"Come on, and don't struggle, bitch. Don't give me a hard time." The tall man was considerably stronger than she was, and he hauled her along by the duct tape still wrapped around her throat as though she were a reluctant dog dragging at a leash. He pulled her around to the back of the van; still holding her with one arm, he leaned his weight against the van, pushing steadily, until at last the van rolled forwards.

She hadn't realized how close they had parked to the edge of a ravine, until she felt the van move, saw it roll downwards. After a few seconds of listening to the large vehicle crashing through foliage, she heard a loud splash, and she looked around in surprise.

Were they at the coast, then? Odd, for she had thought that they had driven in another direction entirely. She tried to peer down the hill, but couldn't see anything, other than a ghostly shimmer. Puzzled, she glanced at her captor, who was surveying the woods around them. He noticed her querying look, and spoke again, amused satisfaction in his voice.

"Old lime quarry. Abandoned for years. That lime should strip anything off the van that needs stripping...fingerprints, sweat, piss, DNA...assuming that anyone ever thinks to look in there in the first place." He chuckled. "Okay, now, let's go."

He forced Gisele into the smaller car. "Simmer down, now, we're going for another little drive."

Several minutes later, he pulled off to the side of the rutted dirt road, deep in the woods. "Here we are," said her captor pleasantly, as the car coasted to a stop outside a small, beat-up hunting shack. He winked at her. "End of the line."

Too defeated to struggle, too tired and sore to respond, Gisele hung her head, the tears still pouring down her face. "So, back to today's game." Her captor slipped a hand under her chin, and roughly tilted her face up so that he could make eye contact. He still gripped the handgun in his other hand. "Today's game, Mrs. Brown, is called 'This Is What Happens When You Treat Other People Like Shit'."

With his free hand, the one holding the gun, he pulled the ski mask off, and Gisele finally realized why he seemed so familiar. It was the obnoxious store clerk from the grocery store. Brian.

She began to cry in earnest, muffled by the gag that she still wore. Brian gave her an angelic, mocking

little grin. "That sounds like a good game, doesn't it, Mrs. Brown? Sounds like a lesson you really need to learn, doesn't it?"

As the darkness closed in around her, the last thing she saw was that damned grin.

Five

"...I wish people would mind their own fucking business, and leave me the hell alone..."

- excerpt from Brian Besaird's journals

EARLY SATURDAY MORNING - just after eight - Dane Shand was in the small backroom behind the counter of his bookstore, which he owned and operated in downtown Indigo, Maine. Dane had just finished his paperwork and was just sitting down to enjoy a break, when he heard someone pounding on the front door.

What the...I don't open for another half-hour, don't tell me someone's desperate for their newspaper this early... He peeked out from the office and grinned at the sight of his best friend, C.J. Hollinson, standing at the front door. C.J. was holding a tray of coffee and doughnuts.

"Excellent," he gloated, limping over to the door and unlocking it. "Come in, some of those had better be for me." He grinned and plucked a cup of coffee from the tray.

"Like I'd have a choice," C.J. said, grinning. "How's it going?"

"Not bad, not bad." Dane led the way back to the office. "Yourself?"

"Same old."

Dane grabbed a doughnut. "You're up early."

"Thought I'd go in and do some paperwork, and I wanted to drop by, see how you were doing. You busy tonight?"

"Nope."

"Good. Evie's making roast beef. She's expecting you."

"Oh." Dane paused for a moment, then said, "I don't know. I'd kind of like some time alone."

"You've had too much time alone. The insurance settlement on Thursday - how'd it go?"

"Well...uh, I'm glad it's over."

"Word's out about the money. Over two million?"

"Just under." Dane corrected him, not meeting his eyes.

"So watch yourself." C.J. laughed. "Half the single women in town are talking about it, and a few of the married ones are, too. You want to watch out."

"Thanks," Dane sighed, and rubbed his temples. "God, I need a vacation."

"So you coming over tonight?"

"Uh...well..."

"Evie's already got the roast on. It's enough for ten, so it should just barely feed you." C.J. grinned. "Don't make me tell her you're not coming. The kids were asking about you, too."

Dane chuckled. "Fine, fine. Look, not to rush you, but I gotta get the ball rolling here." He drained his coffee and stood up. "Thanks for breakfast."

"Hey, no problem." C.J. stood with him. "See you about six?"

"Six-thirty? Give me time to close up shop?"

"Yeah, six-thirty's good."

They headed out to the front of the store, Dane still limping. "Shit, I'm tired," he said, running his hands through his long hair. He reached into his pocket and withdrew an elastic to tie his hair back with. "Couldn't sleep last night."

"Yeah, it was some humid night. I think we're gonna look into getting a dehumidifier." C.J. said, glancing out the front windows.

The sun was up and it was already getting hot outside, he could tell. Another scorcher. He looked back and watched Dane do some last-minute straightening up, and glanced back out at the street. There were no customers yet, which was good, because he had a topic to bring up and he didn't want anyone to overhear.

"So," he began, as Dane punched a quick code into the cash register. The drawer slid open, a cash tray sitting inside.

"Mmm?"

"So. Uh, what do you think of those new condos down by the lake?"

Dane shrugged, counting change under his breath. "Never really paid much attention to them," he said, dropping a handful of pennies back into the tray. "Why do you ask?"

"Well," C.J. went on, quickly, "Evie and I were talking...they're nice little condos, you know. Nice, small,

but not too small. And they allow cats." He leaned against the counter, deceptively casual.

"So?" Dane glanced at him.

"I mean, your house...it's just too damn big, for just you and the cat, you know? And it's what, a fifteen, twenty minute drive into town? Winter time, your road is one of the last to get plowed...you can't tell me that's not a pain in the ass. And I mean, we were talking...it's not good for you to be living out there alone, out by the woods. What if something happened?" C.J. paused, waiting to see how Dane would react. His temper, his moods, had been unpredictable during the last few months.

Dane frowned. "Mind your own goddamned business," he said, slamming the uncounted dimes back into the tray.

"No, wait, hear me out," C.J. said soothingly, holding up his hands for peace. "Look, it'd be good for you to move into town, closer to work, closer to everything. Closer to me and Evie, too - hell, my kids are always whining for Uncle Dane, they never see you anymore. Besides, it'd be good for you to be living back in town. I mean, you gotta start getting out more, start dating -"

"I really don't want to listen to this shit right now."

Dane picked up another handful of coins, began thumbing through them.

C.J. sighed, exasperated. "Look -" Dane dropped the change and slammed the drawer back into the till. He turned away - then, suddenly, he swung back around and roared with anger. "Back off! All right! Back the fuck off! I'm really getting tired of this shit, you know!"

"Look -"

"No, you look! Between you, and my mother, and my sister, and everyone else in this goddamned town, I am getting sick of this! Leave me alone! That's all I ask! Just leave me the hell alone!"

"That's the goddamned problem!" C.J. snapped back. "You're too much alone! We worry about you, Dane! We all do! You're out back in the goddamned woods, alone all the time, except when you work. You never do anything anymore -"

"Don't you understand?" Dane interrupted, furious now. "My wife just died! I need some time, all right? Just give me some time! And stop nagging me. You all need to get the hell off my back." Breathing heavily, he opened the cash tray again, to finish counting the cash float. Then he said, more calmly, "And I'm not moving. How can I move? Nathalie and I built that house together. Hell, we had our honeymoon there! I can't just move." He sighed.

"That's part of the problem, Dane," C.J. said, quietly. "You need to move on. You need to get over it. She's not coming back. She's never coming back. She's dead. I'm sorry."

Dane froze, and closed his eyes and sighed. "I know," he said softly. "I know. But that's still my home. I love that house. I can't just leave it." His sad blue eyes met C.J.'s concerned gaze. "I wish you'd leave me the hell alone on this."

"I can't," C.J. said. "What kind of friend would I be if I did?"

The silence stretched out between them. Finally, Dane spoke. "I've gotta open up in a few minutes."

"Yeah, I know. Sorry." C.J. turned to leave. "See you at six-thirty?"

Dane paused, then sighed again. "Yeah. Want me to bring anything?"

"Evie says bring your appetite."

Dane smiled sadly. "For her cooking? You bet. I'm tired of my own."

C.J. grinned back. "Move into town, I can see

you'll get leftovers and invites as much as possible."

Dane rolled his eyes. "Let it go." He glanced at the front door, where customers were beginning to gather. "Get out - I've got a business to run."

"I'm going, I'm going." C.J. waved and left, as customers began to file into the store.

Six

"…just keep pissing me off. God, I'd love to blow their fucking heads off someday…"

- excerpt from Brian Besaird's journals

C.J. DROVE TO the police station, barely noticing the peaceful, tree-lined streets of Indigo's downtown. A few shoppers and families were out, trying to get their errands done before it got too hot out.

He pulled into his parking space at the station, and sat there for a moment, thinking about his conversation with Dane.

I don't know about him anymore. What the hell is up with that temper? And what the hell is he doing, out there on Shubie Road all the time? Nearest neighbour's half a mile away…I wish he lived closer in town. I can never get him on the phone anymore, he never wants to go out of the house except to go hide in that damned bookstore…and that temper. Christ! That temper…

C.J. took a deep breath, and shook his head. He didn't know what to think, but he was worried.

Downing the last of his coffee, he got out of the car and walked across the parking lot. He had a bit of paperwork to catch up on. If he got right to it, he should be done in about an hour, and then he'd get home in time to maybe take the kids and Evie out for a drive, along the coast, maybe.

He wasn't looking, as he ran up the front steps to the precinct, and he tripped, the toe of his sneaker catching on something. C.J. went sprawling across the concrete steps of the station. "The hell…" he muttered, looking down to see what he had tripped over.

His first instinct was to curse the idiot who had apparently mistaken the precinct for Bourque's Videos. It looked as though someone had carelessly tossed a DVD case onto the front steps. Well, it wouldn't be the first time that I found all kinds of junk here…

As he leaned over to pick the DVD up, though, he paused. The case was nearly new, and had a neatly hand-lettered label on the front of it. "Kill Or Be Killed, Episode One," he whispered, reading the label. "What the hell?"

He paused before picking it up. It could just be some kind of weird new reality show with a weird name. But just in case… He'd better check it out. Couldn't hurt, anyway.

C.J. picked up a piece of discarded newspaper lying nearby, and carefully used it to pick up the DVD. He was careful not to obscure any fingerprints.

He carried it inside the station, casually glancing around to see who was working this morning. Just Anita at the switchboard, and his rookie partner, Punk, sitting at the desk he and C.J. shared. C.J. could see Captain Stuart in his office at the far end of the hall, talking on the phone.

"Morning, C.J.", said Punk, looking up from the computer. "Thought you were off today."

"Just came in for some paperwork," C.J. replied quietly. "Got a minute?" He gave Punk a meaningful look, and the younger man, picking up on it, sat up and grabbed a pen and notepad.

"Sure thing," he said, rising to join his patrol partner. "What's up?"

"Not sure," C.J. said softly, holding up the DVD case carefully. "Follow me."

They made their way down the glaring yellow hallway, all the way to the basement door. Punk entered the five-digit pass code that unlocked the door, and they headed downstairs. The basement, air-conditioned to the point that it was downright chilly, housed the imaging station, supplies, evidence lockers, the examination room, archives, and custodial.

It was mostly deserted this early - C.J. nodded hello to Jimmy, who was gathering refills for the soap dispensers, and Blair, the imaging tech. C.J. used his free hand to rap on the glass door of the imaging room.

"Blair?" he mouthed, as the technician turned and saw them. He smiled and indicated them inside. Again, Punk typed in his access code, and the door swung open. Jimmy followed them, with soap and paper towels for the sink at the far side of the room.

"Morning," Blair mumbled, examining some negatives.

"Morning, Blair," C.J. said. "Got something here that we want to have a look at." C.J. held up the DVD, careful not to shift the newsprint any.

"Sure thing," said Blair, reaching for it with his gloved hands. "Has this been printed yet?"

"No, not yet. Just curious to see what it is. Probably nothing." C.J. shrugged.

"Sure, no problem." Godin used the tip of a craft knife to pry the case open. Inside was a recordable DVD, with a similar hand-lettered label. "Kill Or Be Killed," Blair muttered, turning the disk over. "It's been recorded on, that's for sure. Let's check this out."

He turned and pressed a small button on his imaging computer. The DVD tray slid out. Blair carefully deposited the disk onto the tray, then gently pushed the tray back into the machine. The case, he carefully set down upon a large cardboard envelope.

As the drive whined into operation, he tapped the mouse, and the twenty-one inch monitor powered up to life.

Having finished stocking supplies, Jimmy drifted over and joined them. C.J. had no issue with that. Jimmy could be relied upon for discretion.

With a startling suddenness, a blue screen appeared on the monitor, with white letters burning against the background.

"Kill Or Be Killed, Episode One," Blair murmured, frowning a little. "Amateur. This can be done on a home setup. DVD burner, digital video camera…any high school kid could do this, given the proper equipment. Used, you can pick this stuff up for a good price."

After a moment, the image changed, and a warbled, distorted voice could be heard. It sounded as though it were coming from underwater, or from a distance. C.J. felt the hairs on the back of his neck prickle. He was getting a bad feeling about this.

"Ladies and gentlemen," it said, gleefully. There was a mocking tone to the voice that C.J. didn't like. "Welcome, welcome! Please, sit back and enjoy the first episode of my brand-spanking new reality series, "Kill Or Be Killed"!"

"Voice changer," said Blair, matter-of-factly.

"Can you break it?"

"Not with this equipment. I can mess around with it, but the Feds over in Portland have better toys than I do."

"Shhh," Punk hissed, eyes riveted to the screen. He had the pen and notepad at the ready.

The image on the screen was dark around the edges, with a bright light source illuminating the immediate foreground. "Looks like car headlights," whispered Blair.

They could make out trees, a forest floor. And to the side, what appeared to be a crouching body. A woman's sobbing could be heard.

The tension in the room shot up abruptly. This is no joke, thought C.J. nervously. Whatever the hell this is, it's no joke.

Suddenly, a robed and gloved arm appeared in the image, tugging on a long strip of duct tape that appeared to be attached to the body, as though it were a dog on a leash. The body tilted over, fell into the dirt. It was a woman, small and slender. She propped herself up on shaky arms, and raised her dirt-streaked, tear-stained face to the camera.

Her short brown hair was disheveled, and pieces of duct tape were hanging off her. There was a wide red welt about her face, as though her mouth had been duct-taped, and then the tape had been pulled off quickly. Her lower lip was torn and bleeding.

The altered voice spoke again, eerily disturbing. "The object of this exciting new game, ladies and gentlemen, is simply this…oh, please stop crying, Mrs. Brown. The object of the game is, kill, or be killed."

Beside C.J., Punk was scribbling furiously. Everyone else was staring at the screen, transfixed.

The robed figure moved into the field of view. It could only be seen from behind, and the robe it was wearing appeared to be heavy, and dark. No distinguishing features could be seen - there was no way to tell if it was a man or a woman.

It held a gun - .22 repeater, C.J. guessed - pointed towards the terrified woman. And it tossed a long, sharp-looking kitchen knife on the ground.

"That's a .22, my boys got one just like it," Jimmy said, quietly.

"Yours, and every other family in this town." Punk glanced up at the older man, who nodded in agreement.

C.J. shot them a glance, and they shut up. The figure had retreated from the image, but they could still see the barrel of the gun in the lower left hand corner, still aimed at the woman.

"So, Mrs. Brown," burbled the obscene voice. "The rules of this game are simple, simple enough even for a stupid bitch like you to understand." It chuckled, then continued. "You can kill yourself - using this knife, you can slit your own throat, your wrists, I don't care - or, I can kill you myself, much more slowly. With the knife, or with the gun. Starting with whatever body part I choose. It's up to you, bitch. Do you want to do this yourself? Or, " The speaker paused, then said, eagerly, "Would you like me to just…help you a little?"

"You…you're crazy!" The woman cried, her voice full of fear and pain. "You're nuts! You're fucking crazy! Just because I -"

The gun swung up to point between her eyes.

"Time's up, bitch. What's it gonna be?" The voice, although warbled, was clearly taunting. "Kill, or be killed? Come on, Gisele - may I call you Gisele? - we haven't got all night."

"You evil, twisted son of a bitch," she choked out. She picked up the knife, and slowly lifted the sharp point to her throat. "You're going to burn in hell for this, you sick, sick little bastard! I promise you that. You are going to burn in hell!"

Tears poured down her face, and she hunched over, holding the knife tip to her jugular vein.

C.J.'s knuckles clenched, he could not breathe. Beside him, Punk had stopped taking notes.

Over the woman's broken sobs, they could hear her captor's breathing - fast, and shallow.

"Nice to see the asshole's getting his fucking thrills off this," said Blair, anger in his voice.

At the very last second, the woman feinted, and lunged for her captor, the knife held up for the kill. She moved surprisingly fast -

- but she never had a chance.

Before she could take more than two steps, the gun fired, not once, but twice. The image shook a little, then steadied. At the bottom of the picture, part of the woman's body could be seen. One side of her face was a mask of blood, and her eyes stared lifelessly up at the sky.

"Jesus Christ!" Punk jumped from his chair, shocked. He dropped the pen and notepad. "He fucking killed her! He shot her in the head!" His face was pale.

Abruptly, the blue screen reappeared, and that hateful voice burbled again. "Thank you, ladies and gentlemen. I do hope that you've enjoyed the first episode of "Kill Or Be Killed". Stay tuned - there will be more. Coming soon!"

The screen faded to static, and Blair clicked it off, his face white. The room was shocked silent for a moment.

…stay tuned…

His stomach churning, C.J. turned to Punk, who was still shaking. "Punk," he said, grabbing the younger man's elbow. "Go get the Captain."

No one spoke, as they listened to Punk's retreating footsteps. C.J. sat in his chair, dread washing over him.

…there will be more…

He ran his trembling hands over his face.

…stay tuned…

Across town, Robert Brown stirred, and yawned. There was a sharp pain in his neck, where he'd slept wrong. He sat up on the couch, stretching carefully - and then he stopped, and looked around in surprise.

He'd fallen asleep on the couch again? And Gisele hadn't woken him up, as she usually did? He yawned again, and his groggy brain registered something else: Jimmy, in his carrier, whimpering.

That's odd, Robert thought, leaning over the arm of the sofa to peer at the baby. Why would Gisele just leave the baby in there? And where is she? It's gotta be at least nine, maybe nine-thirty…

With a yelp, Robert jumped up. He had a meeting scheduled this morning, and he was late…

"Gisele!" he hollered, fumbling for his watch on the coffee table. "Gisele! Where the hell are you! Do you have any idea what time it is? I told you I've got a meeting this morning…" He found his watch, checked the time. Ten o'clock - shit! He opened his mouth to yell for his wife again, then paused. He looked around him, and he listened.

The house was far too quiet. The dishes weren't done. Jimmy was in his carrier, and judging from the smell, he was in need of a change. A feeling of disquiet began to grow in him.

Robert swung around, to see if her van was in the driveway. It wasn't. Where was she?

Had she left him?

They'd been fighting. God, had they ever been fighting, ever since Jimmy had been born. Too many bills, not enough money, not enough time for each other, and he'd been putting in a lot of extra time at work (but is it really working when you're spending half the time in the backseat of the car, getting it on with Lucie from Accounting, a little voice in back of his head whispered.)

He refused to believe that Gisele would leave him. That she would leave Jimmy. He picked up the infant, his thoughts in turmoil as he set a bottle to warming and carried the baby to the nursery in order to change him.

Enough. Think, Rob, think. It's ten - no, nearly ten-thirty now - and your wife isn't here. She went out last night, and as far as you know, she never came home. She was going - where? To Joanne's. To her sister's. Right, then. Call Joanne. She's probably there. Call her, you can talk to her, sort it all out. You can work it out. And for Pete's sake, end it with Lucie. Lucie's not doing this marriage any good.

Once Jimmy had been changed and fed and tucked into his crib, Robert remembered that he should call work. He walked over to the phone nook. The red "message" light was blinking on and off, and he felt a wave of relief.

Good. She called, then. It'll be all right. It'll be fine now.

He dialed the number, and listened to the first message.

"Gisele, it's Joanne. Are you still coming over? It's almost nine-thirty, you said you'd be over around eight…call me."

Next message.

"Gisele, it's Joanne again. It's just after ten, are you coming over or not? I'm going to bed at eleven. Call me!"

Next message.

"Robert, it's Gary from the office. It's now…eight-thirty-five, Saturday morning. You coming in, or not? Everyone's here, waiting to start the meeting. Give me a call."

Next message.

"Rob, it's Gary again…it's nine o'clock, and we're all sitting here waiting for you. Not too sharp, buddy. You're the one who called this meeting, and people are getting a little irate about having to come in on a Saturday in the first place. Just give me a call, will ya?"

Next message.

"Rob, it's Gary again, it's nine-thirty and I'm sending everyone home. Peterson's pretty pissed, you'd better have something to tell him on Monday. Call me."

Robert stared at the phone, a strange buzzing sensation swirling around inside his head.

She didn't go to Joanne's, and I'm in trouble at work. Ok. Ok. Call Joanne…no, wait, maybe I should call the cops…or…well, shit, I don't know…call Joanne. Yeah. Call Joanne.

At that moment, the phone rang. Robert jumped, startled at the sudden loudness of it. Then, spotting Joanne's name on the caller ID, he breathed a sigh of relief.

"Gisele?" he snapped, as he grabbed the receiver. There was a pause.

"Oh…uh, Rob? Hi, it's Joanne. Is Gisele there?"

Robert's insides turned to jelly, and there was a strange, hollow roaring in his ears. "I thought -" He cleared his throat, and tried again. "I thought she was with you, Joanne."

Silence. Then, "She's not there?"

"…no…she never came home last night. I thought she was with you…"

Another pause. He could picture Joanne's brow

furrowing, the same way Gisele's did when she was trying to think. He heard Joanne say, in a thoughtful voice, "She didn't come here last night, Rob."

"She's not here, Joanne." Robert could hear the rising panic in his voice, and didn't care. "She left Jimmy here, and she's not here, and…hang on…"

He heard a vehicle pull up to the house. Robert set the phone down on the table, and turned to look out the front window. From this angle, he could see the driveway better. It wasn't Gisele's minivan in the driveway, but there was something else.

Gisele's purse.

Lying on the asphalt, contents scattered in the bright morning sunlight. That wasn't right. Gisele would never go anywhere without her purse…

A police cruiser had parked in front of the house.

Robert's mouth went dry.

The roaring in his ears grew louder, as he watched two solemn police officers exit the car and walk up his driveway. One of them noticed the purse, and stopped to examine it. He waved the other one on ahead. He saw the

officer nod, and turn back toward the house, his face grim.

Robert didn't wait for the police officer to ring the doorbell. With a feeling of dread, he opened the door.

The young officer simply stared at him for a moment, an expression of regret on his face.

"Mr. Brown? Mr. Robert Brown?"

Robert nodded.

"Sir, my name is Officer C.J. Hollinson. May I come inside, sir? I need to speak with you."

Behind him, the other cop had returned to the police car, and was using the car radio.

Numb, Robert nodded at C.J. Hollinson, and held the door for him to come inside the house.

The young police officer sighed. "Sir…I have some bad news…"

Seven

"…like I'd ever want to go to one of their stupid parties. I wouldn't fucking be caught dead at one of their preppy, snot-nosed parties…"

- excerpt from Brian Besaird's journals

IT WAS GETTING busy in the bookstore, and Dane was run ragged. He was also starving, and so far had not been able to manage to take a break.

"Hi Dane." said a familiar, pleasant voice. Sarah Bourque had walked in.

Dane felt his stomach drop, and surreptitiously, he checked to make sure his hair wasn't a mess. He wished he taken the time to shave and shower that morning.

He pretended to be busy, as though he hadn't noticed her entrance. Pathetic, really, trying to act cool at his age, but he couldn't help himself. They had barely spoken a word to each other during the last couple of weeks, and he wondered if she was still mad at him. Considering how badly their date had turned out, he couldn't blame her if she was. Dane turned his attention to Sarah.

"Hi, Dane," she said, as she approached the counter. "Did my book come in?"

"Your…uh…oh yeah, yeah, I've got it here." Dane reached under the counter, fumbled through the "hold" pile, and pulled a new paperback. "Uh…that everything?"

"And a newspaper." Sarah inserted some coins into the Coke machine and selected a Diet Coke, while Dane rang in her purchases. His large hands fumbled a bit on the cash register buttons, but after a moment, he said, "Twelve-forty."

Sarah smiled up at Dane and handed him a twenty. "How are you, Dane?"

"Uh…" He blushed a little, as he handed her the change. "Fine…fine, actually. I'm fine. Yeah, fine." His blue eyes shyly made fleeting contact with her warm dark ones, which were crinkled a bit at the corners with amusement. He couldn't blame her for laughing at him - he was acting like a teenaged boy with a crush. With a friendly wave, she took her purchases and left.

Sarah was currently going through a divorce; a fairly nasty one, if the rumours were true. Dane hadn't wanted to ask her about it, and she hadn't volunteered any details. She and Dane had been friends for years, since they had been business neighbours, more or less. Bourque's Videos was just two doors down from Dane's Book Depot.

Dane had always thought Sarah to be very attractive - gorgeous, actually - and he'd always liked her, but after Nathalie's death, he'd found himself feeling rather uncomfortable around her. He hadn't thought it would be this hard, getting back into the swing of things.

They'd gone out on a date, a few weeks back. Sarah had taken the initiative, and asked Dane out for a beer. He'd agreed, and had spent the better part of an hour deciding what to wear. He'd changed his mind at least ten times about even going out at all. The way things turned out, he'd have done better to have just stayed at home.

Dane still cringed, thinking about it. His first date with another woman in almost fifteen years, and he'd gotten drunk and passed out on her couch.

How humiliating. No wonder she'd been angry with him. He couldn't fault her, either. He vaguely recalled pushing Sarah away, saying something about not being ready to move on yet. They'd said a few things, angry and bitter. He still regretted it all. God, he was still embarrassed just remembering it.

She'd had been cold with him for a couple of weeks after that. Finally, he managed to muster up the courage to apologize, and to explain to her that he just hadn't been ready to start dating yet. Sarah had accepted his apology, yet remained cool and distant.

It'll all work out, he told himself. Just go with the flow, and don't worry about it.

Just after one, Dane closed his till, checked that the store was empty, and collapsed in the chair in the back office with a sigh of relief. Busy day – he hadn't stopped, right from opening. His knee was aching something fierce. He unwrapped a sandwich, and twisted open a soda.

He was just about to take a bite of his sandwich when he heard the front door open. Dane muttered a curse, and checked the video monitor. He puzzled over the image for a moment, then frowned. C.J. had walked in. But why was he in uniform?

Dane limped out to the front of the store and greeted his friend. "Thought you were off duty."

"I was," C.J. said, his face grim. "Gonna have to cancel tonight. Sorry."

"No problem," said Dane. "What's up?" He took a large bite of his sandwich, trying to cram as much food in as he could before the shop got busy again.

C.J. sighed, and rubbed the back of his neck, stealing a glance around the shop to make sure they were alone. "There's been a murder."

Dane stared at C.J., stunned. He swallowed, then found his voice. "You're kidding."

"I wish." C.J. sighed, and shook his head.

"Shit," breathed Dane. "Who… who was it? Anyone we know?"

"No one I know. Woman named Gisele Brown. Know her?"

Dane thought for a moment. "No…no, the name's not familiar. What happened?"

"I can't talk right now. Keep this to yourself, remember."

"You know I will. I always do." Stung, Dane glared at his friend for a moment. The room was silent, except for the sounds of the radio playing in the background. They heard the tinkle of the doorbell, as another customer entered the shop. Dane nodded a greeting to the newcomer, and C.J. lowered his voice.

"Hell of a thing, this. Look, I've gotta get back to work. I'll fill you in later, alright."

"Yeah, sure," Dane agreed. "I'll help in any way I can." He shoved the rest of his sandwich in his mouth, and swallowed in one gulp.

" Yeah, I know." Looking tired, C.J. turned to leave. "We'll talk later. I'll call you tonight."

"Yeah, okay." A thought struck Dane. "Well, actually, I'll be out, till ten or so. Business Association meeting. I forgot about it when we were talking earlier."

"Yeah? Good. About time you start getting out of the house," C.J. said absently.

"Don't start. I'm getting tired of hearing that shit." Dane said, glaring as he brushed crumbs from his shirt. He walked C.J. to the front door, and whispered , "Don't bother calling, if I don't see you by one, I'll talk to you

tomorrow."

"Yeah, that's fine." At the door, C.J. paused. "Watch your step."

"Why?"

"We'll talk later, okay. This is going to be some really bad shit. I don't like you living way the hell out in the woods like you do."

"Don't worry -" Dane began, but C.J. cut him off.

"Matter of fact, why don't you crash at my place for a few days?"

Dane grinned, and spread his hands out. "Look at me. I'm twice the size of anyone here in town. Don't worry about it."

C.J. looked at him for a long moment, not a trace of humour in his expression. "Watch your step. I mean it. This - person - is dangerous. I'm not kidding. You're not fucking bulletproof." He held Dane's startled gaze for a bit, then turned and let himself out. "See you later."

It was later that evening - around seven-thirty - and Dane was standing on the sidewalk in front of the Uptown, Indigo's oldest pub, looking apprehensively at the front door. The Small Business Association had been holding its monthly meetings here for years - home of the coldest beer and best ribs and wings in town, hands down.

He and Nathalie had always had a blast at these get-togethers. Her absence hit him hard right now, though, with a fresh wave of grief.

Dammit, he thought, his gut clenching. Just…put one foot in front of the other, and go. Go on in. If Nat were here, she'd give me a good shove inside the door.

He was reminded of another day, more than a dozen years ago, when he had felt so alone and out of place. It had been his first day of high school in Indigo, and he remembered just as though it had taken place yesterday, the fear and isolation that he had felt. It had turned out to be the most important day of his life.

He hadn't wanted to be there. His stomach twisting in knots, Dane had stood in a corner of the Indigo High School gymnasium, not knowing a soul and hoping that no one would notice him. A vain hope, as he was, at fifteen years old, a good foot taller and fifty pounds of farm-boy muscle heavier than anyone else in the room, teachers included.

One of the teachers - a compact, muscular man wearing a gym suit with the word "Football" embroidered on one sleeve - kept eyeing Dane the way a starving dog would have eyed a fresh, juicy strip loin.

Dane and his parents had just moved to Indigo, Maine, a few weeks earlier. Upon inheriting the big old house that would become the family business, his parents decided to sell everything they owned, pack up the kids and the dog, and make the move across country to the east coast.

Shy Dane, who had grown up in a small town in Oklahoma, consisting of no more than a hundred people, now found himself surrounded by at least four hundred students and teachers. He'd never been around that many people in his life, and he was terrified. Too many people!

In trying to remain unnoticed, he missed the bellowed instructions for grade ten students to find their classrooms, and he'd wandered the corridors miserably for a good forty minutes before a pretty grade eleven student had encountered him and offered help.

Nathalie Gardiner, she'd said her name was. She'd chatted in a warm, friendly manner, and after she'd helped him find his classroom, Dane couldn't think of a single thing other than her big blue eyes and warm smile, for the rest of the day. After school, he found her standing around the front steps, as though waiting for someone. Her smile had felt like the warm sun on a summer day to him, and the sunshine highlighted her puffy blonde curls. He walked her home - it turned out that she lived just a block away from him. They then walked to and from school together every day for the next two years, and eventually - on their first real date, when they shared their first real kiss - she finally admitted that she had been waiting out front of the school for him, that first day. She'd thought he was cute.

Over time, her love and gentle persuasion had coaxed Dane from his shell, and by the time they married, Dane had become more open, more sociable. They went out often, either with C.J. and Evie, or with other friends.

So what would she say if she could see him right now? Standing out front of the pub, hunched into his ratty old hooded sweatshirt, too scared to walk inside?

He took a deep breath, then chuckled. He knew damned well what she'd say. He took another breath, squared his shoulders, and, put one foot in front of the other, again and again, until he had walked through the front door. There. That wasn't so hard, was it?

He grinned, rather pleased with himself. Yeah, it was he'd done it.

A blast of noise hit him, almost a physical thing. The ICSBA was there, in full force, and the party was going all-out. Music was blasting from the jukebox, everyone was talking and laughing and drinking and dancing, with much gusto, and his mouth watered at the smell of those famous ribs. He hadn't taken the time to eat anything beforehand, and he was ravenous. He began to relax a little. All right, then. Let's do this.

Hearing his name being called out by several voices, he smiled and waved back, and after a moment, spotted Sarah. She looked prettier than usual tonight, with her dark curls pulled back. The dim lighting emphasized her dark, smoky eyes, making them look more gorgeous than usual, and that was saying something.

Sarah hadn't noticed him yet; before he could make his way over to her table, however, he felt a hand grip his arm, and felt himself pulled around. A cold beer was pressed into his hand.

"Dane! How've you been, buddy!"

Dane grinned, and pulled Scott Abramsson into a one-armed hug. Scott was an old friend from high school football. Now, he owned a lunch counter in downtown Indigo and ran the Small Business Association.

"Scotty, I'm good. I'm great, actually! How you been?"

"Great! Fantastic! Hey, I don't mind telling you, your ugly mug is a sight for sore eyes! We missed ya. Come on, sit over here - come meet your new neighbours."

"Oh, uh…wait…oh, okay…" Dane allowed Scott to propel him towards a table near the back. When they reached the table, Scott - with no small amount of effort - pushed Dane into one of the chairs.

"Steve, Calvin," he said, "This here's Dane. Dane Shand, owner of Dane's Book Depot, right next door to you. Dane, Steve Smith." Scott indicated the tall, thin, dark-haired man who reminded Dane indefinably of Mr. Spock. "And this is Calvin Alex." Calvin Alex was smaller than his companion, with a slight build, pale blonde hair, and mischievous blue eyes. Both men nodded courteously, Calvin sporting a friendly smile, and Dane said hello, shyly. "You guys get acquainted," Scott continued, his eyes already roving the room. "I've got to go talk to someone. I'll see you later." With a friendly slap on the shoulder, Scott headed off to a table occupied by three car-lot owners.

The waitress, a girl that Dane had known since high school, came over to take their orders. She flashed him a warm, dimpled smile, and leaned a little closer than necessary, making sure her arm brushed his.

"Hi, Dane. Long time no see. How have you been?"

"Hey, Claudia. Great, I'm just great. Um, rib platter, please? Spicy. And a Bud."

"Sure thing." She wrote the order down and smiled at Dane for a moment longer, holding his gaze. Then she smiled at Steven and Calvin. "Your food's nearly ready, guys, I'll bring it out in a moment." She turned to go, letting her fingers trail lightly over Dane's forearm as she passed by. Blushing, he looked up to see the others smiling a bit curiously at him.

"She seems nice," said Calvin, mischievously. "Friend of yours?"

"From high school," Dane said, hunching slightly. From across the table, Steven and Calvin watched him, eyebrows raised.

"Um…I've, uh…been widowed. Recently. Well, six months ago, actually." He shrugged. "Um…I'm still a bit…well, you know. Not real comfortable…" He trailed off, not sure what to say.

"Dane, I'm sorry to hear that." Calvin said. "Very sorry."

"Yes, my condolences, as well. It is a difficult experience." said Steven, gently.

"Yeah, thanks." Dane felt embarrassed. Eager to change the subject, he asked, "So. You're the guys opening up that new art gallery next door, eh? What kind of numbers are you expecting?"

Sensing his discomfort, the two men launched into an animated discussion of their marketing plan and market research, asking for more specialized input from Dane, and the three of them carried on throughout their meal. They had just finished eating, when Scott stood, a handful of papers held in front of him. It was time to begin the meeting.

"All right, people, zip it! I'm calling this meeting to order!" Scott's voice was the carrying kind, and gradually, the din subsided. "We've got a lot to cover tonight. Three new businesses, two call centers, the airport expansion, the new mall, charity golf tournament, and just in case no one's noticed him yet, although I don't know how anyone could miss him, let's have a great big hello for Dane Shand! He's crawled out from under his rock and he's here tonight, finally! Round of applause, everyone! Show him how much we missed him!"

Dane stood up and waved to tumultuous applause, laughing through his embarrassment. Cries of "speech, speech" echoed through the crowd. He could see Sarah delightedly blowing kisses to him, and he winked at her.

"Thanks, you guys. Good to be back." The applause grew even louder, and he sketched a little bow, then sat back down, red-faced and smiling. He took a drink to cover up the fact that he was a bit choked up by the reception.

"Short and sweet, unlike himself. He's no politician, is he! Thanks, Dane, and welcome back, big buddy." The crowd laughed, and Scott picked up a sheet of paper. "Alright, let's start with the newbies…"

Over two hours later, the meeting was winding up and Scott was taking notes of a few last-minute things. At this time, people either left for other pursuits, or stuck around to shoot pool and down a few drinks. Dane stayed at his table, and was again blindsided with a pang: he missed Nathalie, more than ever. It was precisely at this vulnerable moment, that he felt a pair of warm, feminine arms wrap around him from behind, and startled, he inhaled a familiar sensual perfume.

"You made it!" Sarah's voice was soft in his ear, and he turned to face her. "You came, after all! Nice speech, by the way. Deep and informative."

"Yeah, thanks." He smiled at her, enjoying her warmth. A moment later, though, she surprised him by sliding onto his lap. "Sarah…don't…"

"Don't what?" Her arms around his neck, she smiled teasingly and looked deeply into his eyes. "Don't sit on your lap? Why not?"

"Are you drunk?"

"Dane!" She glared at him. "Don't be so rude!"

"Sorry." He sighed, feeling awkward as she began to run her fingers through his hair. He wished he'd tied it back. But it felt good, what she was doing.

"Look…" he began, but she snuggled in closer. Dane couldn't help but notice how pretty she looked, in her soft, snug old jeans and black tank top. Resigned, he loosely wrapped his arms around her waist. After a moment, he pulled her closer. He had to admit, she felt good in his arms. Damned good.

"Want to get out of here?"

"What?"

"You know," she whispered, leaning in close. "Go for a drive, or something?"

"Uh…"

"Just the two of us, so we can talk in private." She trailed a nicely-manicured fingernail down the side of his neck.

"Look, Sarah, I - I do want to see you again. But I have plans tonight."

"Plans? Isn't that convenient?" She leaned back, her eyes narrowed a bit.

"Yeah." He gave her an apologetic look. "No, wait, I didn't mean it that way…I meant…sorry…ah… Well, C.J.'s coming over tonight, later on. I'm sorry. Maybe some other night?"

She sighed, and slid off his lap. "Maybe."

Dane groaned, rolled his eyes, and heaved a huge sigh. "Hey, Sarah, look, come on," he said, his arm still around her waist. Reluctantly, she allowed him to pull her close again. Dane smiled ruefully at her. "I'm sorry, ok? No hard feelings?"

"Well…" she purred, drawing out the word. Her fingers fluffed through his hair again. Finally she grinned at him impishly. "Ok. No hard feelings." With a quick movement, she leaned in and gave him a quick, teasing kiss. "I'll see you later."

"All right, then," he said, watching her walk away. Dane watched her for a long moment, feeling pleasantly warm.

He stood, getting ready to leave. Steven and Calvin were over at the bar, inspecting the somewhat-limited selection of wines. He turned to find Scott beside him.

"Oh, hey," Dane said, holding out a hand. "Hey, Scott. Good meeting! I've gotta get going, though."

"Dane." Scott shook his hand heartily, slapping

him on the back at the same time. "Great to see you out, buddy. Fantastic! Don't make it so long next time."

Dane laughed. "No, I won't. I'll be here next month."

"Listen," Scott said, serious for a moment. "I just want to ask you - I noticed you and Sarah…"

"Yeah," Dane said, blushing again. "Not sure what's going on, there. Maybe, maybe not. We'll see." He shrugged.

Scott held Dane's gaze. "Well, look. Just - uh, be careful, alright?"

"Why?"

Scott sighed. "Well…look. You should know. Johnny's taking her to the cleaners. He'll get half the store. And it's all over town that you made out like a king with the insurance settlement." His mouth thinned. "She's a nice woman, but just - be careful. She might be a digger."

Dane just stared at his friend for a long moment. "Right," he said, finally.

Scott sighed. "Just calling it like I see it. Take care, buddy."

"Yeah," Dane said, woodenly. "You too." He watched Scott walk away, then turned to leave the bar.

At the door he paused, and looked back, at Sarah joking and laughing with Calvin. He watched her for a long moment, before exiting the bar.

Life was too damned complicated sometimes.

At the Indigo Police Station, C.J. was finishing up some last-minute notes before heading home. He set his pen down for a moment and paused to run his fingers through his short hair.

What a day it had been. He and Punk, along with a few other officers, had canvassed at least half a dozen businesses after talking to Robert Brown, and poring over Gisele's credit card records - she paid for everything with her credit card, to get the air miles. That made his job easier. They'd talked to friends, family and employees in stores that she had shopped at, and while everyone knew or remembered her, no one had any information as to who might have murdered her, or why.

C.J. leaned back in his chair and watched the brass-tipped ceiling fan spin slowly. He cast his thoughts back to his academy days, remembering tried-and-true methods that he'd been taught.

Ingress. Egress. Forensic evidence. Murder weapon. Witnesses. Motive. Opportunity. Scene of crime.

He groaned. They had dick all, really. The purse had yielded nothing. Her van was missing. They had no idea where in the woods the murder had taken place. Search teams had turned up nothing. No body, no murder weapon, no motive, no witnesses, no scene of crime, no nothing. Just a horrifying DVD that some sick bastard had made - why? Why record it? Was it a game?

C.J. rubbed his eyes tiredly. Of course it was a game. Until they knew a motive, it was a game. It was all a game. Of course it was. One big, sick game. Ha ha. Real fucking funny.

He picked up a list that was sitting on his desk. Interviews with people who had interacted with Gisele Brown within the last few days. Very little stood out. His eyes roamed down the list. Only a few items of interest, really.

The husband was having an affair. That might be something - the spouse was always the first suspect. And what about the woman that he was messing around with? A woman named Lucie, who worked in his office?

Gisele Brown had yelled at a pharmacist on Wednesday for not having her prescriptions ready on time.

She had snapped at a sales clerk on Thursday for moving too slowly. She had chewed out her son's doctor, also on Thursday, for running an hour behind on appointments. On Friday, a crowd of people witnessed her tearing a strip off a grocery store employee.

Nice lady, C.J. thought, his eyebrows raised. She was a real sweetheart. Still, none of those incidents warranted her being dragged out into the woods and having her head pumped full of bullets. At least, not in my opinion - but maybe in someone else's opinion. Maybe she yelled at the wrong person at the wrong time…and something snapped. C.J. shifted, an impatient movement. Ok, so we've got lots of people with possible motives. But what kind of person stages such an elaborate to-do?

Someone who's been planning such a thing for a long time... He rubbed his face with his hands, trying to wipe the exhaustion away.

…someone who probably seems very normal on the outside. Someone who's crazy as all get-out on the inside. Someone who's completely messed up…

C.J. felt an icy chill run down his spine, and he leaned forward, his head in his hands.

…someone who's probably planning to do this again…

Eight

"…and I thought she was different, thought she was pretty cool, but she turned out to be a real princess, an air headed idiot like all the rest of them…"

- excerpt from Brian Besaird's journals

JUST AFTER ELEVEN, C.J.'s car pulled into the long, unpaved driveway in front of Dane's house. From the kitchen window, Dane watched him approach. He'd changed out of his street clothes into a baggy pair of sweatpants that had seen better days, and a torn-up old t-shirt. He grabbed a couple of beers from the fridge, as he heard C.J.'s car door slam and the crunch of his footsteps on the gravel.

The back door opened, and C.J. walked in, carrying a foil-wrapped pan that made Dane's mouth water. He had been living on his own cooking for far too long. "I come in peace, and I bring food."

"And I give you beer," said Dane, handing C.J. an opened bottle with a jokingly-dramatic flourish.

"Evie sends her love, and leftovers." C.J. slumped into one of the kitchen chairs, exhausted.

"She's a fine woman, Evie is. A treasure." Dane grabbed the pan and brought it over to the kitchen counter. He doled out two platefuls of food, and a saucer of beef morsels for the cat. "Never could figure out what she sees in you," Dane added teasingly, sliding a plate in front of his friend.

"It's the uniform," C.J. said, grabbing a fork from the basket on the table. "Chicks dig uniforms." They laughed, and clinked bottles.

"Cheers."

"Yeah, you too." C.J. took a long drink. "Oh, that's good."

"Didn't you eat already?" Dane asked, surveying the large amount of food still in the pan.

C.J. shrugged. "She always makes extra when you're coming over. Well, she has to, I mean, look at the size of you. Ouch," he said, laughing, as he barely ducked Dane's playful swat. They fell silent, as they tucked into the meal. After a few moments, C.J. noticed something on the kitchen counter and pointed.

"What's that?"

"Hmm?" Dane followed his gaze, then grinned enthusiastically. "Oh, that! Hang on." He jumped up and retrieved the small object. Clicking a button on, he handed it to C.J., who turned it over carefully, inspecting it. "What do you think?"

"Nice," C.J. said, examining it closely. "Look how small it is! Hell, you could fit that in a jacket pocket or something. Where'd you get it?"

"Bangor." Dane retrieved the object, and held it up to his face. "Remember when I went up a couple of weeks ago? They were having a sale, and I've always wanted one of these. Smile," he said, aiming the DVD digital camcorder at C.J. "Say cheese."

"Go to hell," C.J. grinned. "Cut it out."

Dane laughed, and turned the camera off. "It's a fun little toy. I've mostly been filming the cat, but I'd like to learn more about how to use it. There's a hell of a lot of features on this thing. And you know me and photography."

"Yeah, I know." C.J. yawned and stretched, leaning back in his chair. After a few moments, he drained his bottle, and Dane handed him another one.

Finally, C.J. rubbed his face tiredly, and sighed. "Spent all day working on that case. It's bad, it's real bad. And we don't have a thing. Not a thing. Sweet fuck all."

Dane lowered the volume of the tv that was playing in the background, and turned back to his friend. He didn't say anything, just listened.

"Remember when I was in this morning?" Dane nodded. "I said I was heading in just to do a little extra paperwork, you know, get ahead for Monday morning. Yeah, well," C.J. laughed bitterly. "I never did get any of it finished. So I was walking up the front steps, right? And I tripped on a piece of trash. So I looked down, and there was this DVD case sitting there. I figured it was garbage, right? Someone tossed it from their car as they were driving by. But I figured, what the hell. Check it out."

He sighed, and took a swig from the bottle. "All right, then. So I pick it up, using a sheet of newspaper so I don't get any fingerprints on it, you know? There was a sticker on the front of it. Square capital letters. Hand-printed." C.J. sighed. "Sent a digital photo of it off to a handwriting specialist. Friend of the captain's. Shit outta luck there. Square caps are the hardest to work with." He shook his head, disgusted. "So the DVD is a plain, store-bought variety, with a sticker on it that says, "Kill Or Be Killed, Episode One"." C.J. paused to take another sip. Dane nodded, listening intently.

After a few moments, C.J. continued. "So I brought the case inside, brought it downstairs to Blair. We watched it - me, Punk, Blair, old Jimmy. We watched the whole thing - thought I was gonna puke. It was sick. Jesus."

"What was it?"

C.J. shook his head, as if to clear it. "Stuff that I'm never gonna forget. And I mean never. Jesus. Someone - I don't know how many perps there were, one for sure, maybe two - kidnapped that woman - Gisele Brown - and took her out into the woods. We're not even sure if it's local woods, that's the bitch of it. No identifying marks. We haven't found the woman's vehicle, and there are so many tracks on the roads in and out of the woods, there's no way to trace any in particular. No one saw a burgundy minivan drive out into the woods last night. Mind you, it was dark out. But still."

"So anyway. Took her out into the woods. Whoever did this was prepared, I'll tell you. They recorded the whole thing. Blair thinks that there was only one person - he thinks that the camera was on a tripod, and that the lights were car headlights. Digital video camera. Something like that, anyway. Possible." C.J. shrugged. "It's possible. Don't know for sure, though."

C.J. paused for a second, and took another drink of his beer. "So anyway. Some sick bastard thinks he's real cute. Calls it a "new reality show". "Kill Or Be Killed". He - I'm saying "he", but I'm not absolutely positive - gave the woman a choice. Handed her a knife, big kitchen knife. Ordinary, the kind you'd find in any store. Gave her a choice. She could either kill herself, with the knife, or the perp would kill her. He had a .22. Looked like a semi-automatic. Same as two-thirds of the local population owns. Big help that is."

"Yeah, no joke," said Dane. "I've got a couple here myself. Don't even use them, but I have them." He shook his head. "That's crazy shit, though! What kind of bastard would do something like that? What'd she do? Do you know anything about her?"

C.J. took a deep breath, as though bracing himself. "Gisele Brown. Thirty-eight. Got a little boy named Jimmy, nine months old. She lived with her husband, Robert, out in one of the new subdivisions…she's been living away for years, in Boston, but she and her husband decided to move out here a few years ago. She has family out here."

Dane shook his head slowly. "I'm sure I don't know her, or her husband. Name's not familiar at all."

"No, me neither. Husband works for that insurance broker out in the west end; you know the place." C.J. sighed. "I was one of the guys that talked to him. He had to identify her from stills that Blair pulled off the DVD. Poor guy, can you imagine having to see something like that? Myself, I can't even think about it. If it were my wife…" He was silent for a moment, then continued.

"We don't have the body, no other evidence, no nothing, not yet. There are teams searching the woods, but that'll take forever. Like I say, we're not even sure which woods it took place in. There are no identifying markers around at all, that we can see. It's too big a job." He shook his head wearily, and rubbed at his face with his hands.

Dane said, "I bet! Is her husband a suspect?"

"Unofficially, yes. The spouse almost always is. We've been talking to friends, family, co-workers. The marriage was a little rocky." C.J. shrugged. "They'd been having trouble since the baby came along. Hell, I know from experience just how hard a new baby can be - it takes a lot of work and time from both parents, not just one. And apparently he was having a fling with someone in the office." C.J. shrugged again. "It's something to look into." He tipped another long drink back.

"Yeah, but what do you think?" Dane asked.

C.J. thought about this for a moment. "I think he's clean," he said, stroking the cat. Meatball wrapped his paws around his wrist and began to chew his thumb. "It's just a gut feeling, but I do think he's all right. And remember! Not one word about this to anyone. It's my job if you spill."

"I won't say a word," Dane said quietly. "You know that."

"I know. I trust you. I'm just reminding you. Don't take it personally." C.J. finished his beer, and then stood up, gently depositing the cat on the floor. "I'd better head home. I'm beat. Early day tomorrow."

"Yeah," Dane said. "So much for your weekend off, huh? Want me to drive you home?"

"Naw, I'm fine. I only had two." He indicated the empty bottle. "I'll call you tomorrow. Keep your doors locked."

"Yeah, you too." Dane walked his friend to the door. "I'll keep my eyes and ears open. You know, maybe I'll pick up some clues…" He broke off at the look on C.J.'s face.

"Be careful!"

"Hey, I won't -"

"You heard me. If you come up with any ideas or suggestions, call me. But don't go snooping around. You're not a cop."

"I said I won't -"

"You say that every time, and you snoop around every single time. Jesus, Dane! This isn't about shoplifting! This is…hell, I don't know. This is serious! I don't want to have to worry about you. Hell, I'm thinking of getting Evie to take the kids and visit her mother in Moncton, to be honest with you. At least till we get this figured out."

"Fine, fine," said Dane, with no small amount of irritation. "Don't nag me." He folded his arms and leaned against the doorframe, glaring at his friend.

C.J. waved tiredly. "I'll call you tomorrow."

"'Night." Dane remained where he was.

C.J. paused. "What the hell are you doing?"

"Watching you get into your car safely."

C.J. chuckled. "Yes, mother."

The tension broken, Dane grinned back and ambled outside, closing the door behind him. He carefully checked the back seat of C.J.'s car, then the front seat, and even leaned down to peer underneath. "Looks clean."

"Why, thank you," C.J. said, with an exaggerated bow, and climbed into his car. He backed out of the driveway, then sat on the dark road and watched until Dane had returned to the house and locked up.

The moment of levity had been brief. C.J. began to drive home, his thoughts on the case before him. He couldn't help but think that the DVD had been put on the steps on purpose. As though the killer was playing a game of catch-me-if-you-can. And if that was the case, then you could be damned sure that he hadn't left any other clues.

He was barely a couple hundred feet down the road when his cell phone vibrated, and he pulled over to answer it. The light from Dane's front porch still reflected in his rear-view mirror.

"Hollinson."

"Hi, hon."

"Hey, babe - I'm on my way home right now. What's up?"

"I just noticed that we're out of milk. Can you stop at the all-night convenience store and pick some up? And we could use a loaf of bread, too."

"Sure thing, babe. See you soon." C.J. looked around casually as he hung up. He was glancing in his rear view mirror when something caught his eye and made him sit upright.

Dane's house was the only one out this far, and the road was poorly lit. Nonetheless, C.J. recognized Dane's big Escalade as it pulled out of his driveway and turned onto the road. That in itself was nothing to be concerned about - but what caught C.J.'s attention was that the SUV turned not right, to drive into town, but left.

Into the woods.

C.J. stared, dumfounded, as Dane's vehicle made its way along the road, past the part where the pavement ended, and continued along the dirt road. He's not going into the woods? With a killer running loose? What the hell? He sat there, thinking about what he had just seen. Perhaps he'd turn around and follow Dane, see what he was up to. It wasn't safe in the woods right now. Just then, C.J.'s cell phone rang. He thumbed it on.

"C.J. Hollinson."

"C.J., it's Punk. I know you're not on duty, but there's been a big car accident here on Downey and Gear St. Pile-up. We could really use a hand here - can you help out?"

C.J. felt a twinge of annoyance - he really wanted to see what Dane was doing. But he pushed his irritation aside, and said, "Be right there, Punkie."

"Thanks, man."

"No problem." He clicked his phone off and began to drive back into town, his mind racing with thoughts. He'd have to give Dane a call tomorrow, ask him about - An image flashed into his mind, and he felt a pang of disquiet: Dane, sitting at the kitchen table, playing with his new digital camcorder. And now he was driving off into the woods, by himself, late at night.

Why?

Nine

"…then I kicked him right in the jewels. It was worth getting detention for. Asshole, saying shit like that about my mom…wish I'd kicked him harder…"

- excerpt from Brian Besaird's journals

DANE ROLLED OUT of bed early the next morning, exhausted.

His head was pounding - hell of a night. Nightmares had haunted him all night long, keeping him in a state halfway between awake and asleep. Feeling groggy and disoriented, Dane stumbled to the bathroom. After brushing his teeth and splashing some cold water on his face, he stumbled back out of the bathroom, and sleepily staggered to the kitchen. He opened the fridge door and stared inside for a moment. Nothing appealed to him, so he poured himself a large glass of juice. He wandered out to the back patio and lowered himself into one of the chairs.

Dane thought back to what he and C.J. had discussed the previous evening. He'd forgotten to ask C.J. if there were any suspects other than the poor woman's husband. First and foremost, he reflected, was to discern the motive. How did it go again? He tried to recall what he had picked up from those cop thrillers that he read constantly. Ingress, egress, motive, opportunity, weapon, witnesses, evidence.

Inspired, Dane got up and limped back inside the house for a moment, then returned to the patio a few minutes later with a pad of paper and a pen. He sat down and began to scribble.

Ingress and egress - well, they weren't even sure where exactly the murder had taken place. Hell, they didn't even have a body yet. It was probably a good guess, though, that the woods were local. Dane couldn't picture someone making a DVD of the event and driving a great distance to Indigo. He would assume, for the time being, that it had happened locally.

Opportunity…C.J. had mentioned that the woman had been out alone, at night, and in her own driveway. They hadn't found her minivan yet, as far as Dane knew. Just her purse, and Dane remembered C.J. saying that the money and credit cards had still been in it. Not robbery, then. Could the killer have kidnapped her before she got into the van? It seemed likely. Could she have been planning to meet someone somewhere? C.J. had said that there was trouble in the marriage. Perhaps that had something to do with it. He grimaced, running his fingers through his hair. Enough with the imagination, stick with what you know for now. You can always play the guessing games later.

Weapon, that was easy enough. But as they had mentioned last night, it was true that probably seventy-five percent, if not more, of the population of Indigo owned such a gun.

Witnesses. Bears and raccoons, most likely, and the problem was that they weren't the best witnesses to have testifying in court. He sighed. He'd have to pump C.J. for more information.

What motive, then? From the information that C.J. had been able to give him, it didn't appear likely that the motive had been robbery. True, the woman's vehicle was missing, but the whole setup seemed far too elaborate to steal a minivan. He wondered: even if the van hadn't been spotted driving in or out of the woods, that didn't mean that another vehicle hadn't been spotted. Had the perp stashed a getaway vehicle in the woods?

He or she would have probably needed transportation, to bring the props… camcorder, disguise, weapons…into the woods. There were probably a dozen or more roads into the forest, with vehicles coming and going all day long. Even his own road led to the woods, and to the coast.

The problem was, Indigo was almost completely surrounded by the woods. And if that wasn't enough of a problem, then there was still the issue of not being sure whether or not the DVD had indeed been shot locally, Dane's gut feelings aside.

Maine was hugely forested. And not just Maine. Right across the Canadian/American border, the Canadian province of New Brunswick was still something like sixty, seventy percent forested, the last he'd heard. Unless there were any identifying landmarks in that little home movie, (and C.J. had said that there were none that they could see) it would be extremely difficult to pinpoint which particular part of the woods that the incident had taken place in. Maybe if they brought dogs into the woods, to sniff out the trail of blood, using a piece of the dead woman's clothing? Dane scribbled quickly. He'd mention that to C.J., although he was certain that the police had already thought of that idea.

So. Revenge, then? Someone who hated the woman? The "other woman"? An unlucky coincidence? Could Gisele Brown simply have been in the wrong place at the wrong time? C.J. said that the husband had been having an affair. Could this be a clever way to dispose of the unwanted wife? But no. Perhaps it was his own recent experiences clouding his reasoning, but he couldn't picture someone doing such a thing. The poor woman's slaying had been too brutal. Dane couldn't imagine a husband doing that to his wife.

Unless he was one hundred percent certain to get away with it…then he could have the mistress, custody of the kid, and not lose half of everything in a messy divorce…

Dane knew that the police had talked to Robert Brown, questioned him about his wife's murder. But he wondered - perhaps the man would talk a bit more openly with someone who wasn't wearing a uniform, and appeared to be a sympathetic listener instead. Dane wondered if he couldn't somehow manage a meeting with Brown.

The problem was, he didn't know the man from a hole in the ground. How would he manage to run into him? Maybe he's in the phone book, Dane thought, rising from the patio chair.

An idea occurred to him: C.J. said to stay out of it, but he didn't say anything about me not delivering a customer's purchases, now, did he?

Dane grinned and made a beeline for the bedroom, where he paused only long enough to throw on some clothes and a ball cap. Whistling a little tune, he grabbed a couple of bananas and limped out to his SUV.

Alone in his too-empty house, Robert Brown sat, hunched, at the kitchen's small breakfast nook. A steaming cup of black coffee sat in front of him, courtesy of his sister-in-law. Joanne had dropped by early that morning with the baby, and to see if Robert needed help with anything.

He took a deep breath. He couldn't bring himself to drink the hot brew. His stomach felt like mud. He felt like he was hung over, yet he hadn't had a single drink.

He supposed that he should call Joanne back, to thank her and to see how Jimmy was doing. He hadn't been very talkative when she'd been by earlier. It had been good of her and Bruno to take the baby for a few days; he was a wreck, and in no fit shape to care for a baby.

Pushing the coffee mug away from him, Robert folded his arms on the countertop, and laid his head down. He was just drifting off into an uneasy sleep, when the doorbell rang.

"Aw, shit," he muttered, not raising his head. "Go away."

After a moment, the bell rang again.

"Hell with it." Robert slid off the stool and stood, making sure his bathrobe was closed. Then he headed for the door. "Coming," he called, as the bell rang for a third time.

Robert opened the door, and stared blearily at the large man standing on his doorstep.

"Uh, yeah, hi there." The young man held out a large hand. "Delivery for Mrs. Brown from Dane's Book Depot. For Mrs. Gisele Brown?"

Robert shook the man's hand, automatically, and his eyes went to the carton perched on one huge shoulder. "Delivery?"

"Yeah, from Dane's Book Depot. Uh, I'm Dane."

Robert was confused, but held the door open so Dane could bring the box in.

"Books? That's odd - Gisele isn't -" He stopped, a fresh wave of grief hitting him hard. "I mean…she wasn't much of a reader. You…uh, you're telling me that she bought a whole carton of books?"

"Yes, sir." Dane set the box down, and faced Robert, tipping his ball cap back a little. "She was in last week, she picked out a few books - I had a "buy one, get one free" used book sale, but she didn't want to take them at the time. So I, uh, said that I'd deliver them." He shrugged, and gave him a friendly smile. "I don't charge for delivery in town."

Dane watched Robert closely, as he bent down and tugged one of the books from the carton. Curiously, Robert turned the book over and began to read the back.

"Sherry, convinced that her husband is having an affair, runs away during a confrontation…" His voice trailed off, and the colour drained from his face. He dropped the book and stared blindly at the carton of books.

"Hey, buddy, are you okay?" Dane's voice startled Robert, who seemed lost in thought. After a moment, Robert shook his head, as if to clear it, and made his way over to the living room sofa, where he sat down, still absorbed in his own thoughts. Dane waited a moment, and then asked, "Mr. Brown?"

"Yeah." Robert muttered, still distracted. "Yeah. When…when did Gisele buy these?"

Dane pretended to think, although he had worked out a story beforehand. "Thursday, I think. Or Friday."

"Did she mention anything?"

"Pardon?"

"Did she say why she was buying these?" Robert focused on Dane, sharply. "Did she say anything at all?"

"No, sir. She just picked out a few - then her baby started fussing. I didn't have a room where she could change the baby, the shop only has a small bathroom, and she said that she had to get home, anyway, so I got her address and said that I could deliver them on my day off…"

"Okay, okay." Robert held up a hand to stall Dane. When he spoke again, his voice sounded on the verge of tears. "My wife…died…Friday night."

Dane didn't need to fake a sympathetic reaction. "Oh, hey…really? But she was just in the shop last week…" He sat down in the chair opposite of Brown. "Hey, man. I'm real sorry to hear that. What happened? Car accident?"

"She was…murdered." Robert spoke in a small, hesitant voice. "She left me…she found out that I was…" His voice broke, and Dane was silent as the man composed himself. After a moment, he resumed. "She left me, after she found out that I was cheating on her." He sobbed once, a harsh sound. "And some sick bastard murdered her. I don't even know why the hell I'm telling you this. It's just…" He trailed off.

Dane sat there for a long moment, giving Brown some space. While he waited, he noticed a notepad on the coffee table beside him, peeking out from under some crumpled napkins and old newspapers. Scribbled in firm, compact handwriting was the following "To Do" list: pick up diapers; pick up bottled water; pay phone bill; call Steeves Groc. to complain about Brian; pay cable.

His eyes widening, Dane quickly memorized the list, then returned his attention to the man sitting across from him. Who was Brian? Someone who worked at Steeves Grocery? He had shopped there a few times. He made a mental note to check it out - it could be important. He stood, wincing as he knee twinged, and limped over to the sofa. Cautiously, he lowered himself into a sitting position, his sore leg straight out in front of him, and put a reassuring hand on Robert's shoulder.

"Mr. Brown?" After a moment, Dane continued, in a soft voice. "Can I help? Can I help you in any way?"

Brown drew a breath, then looked up at the younger man. "Thank you. No. I'll be…fine. What …what did you say your name was?"

"Dane. Dane Shand. Dane's Book Depot."

"Yeah…I know that name. I know I know that name. Where's your store?"

"Main Street. Here in town."

"Yeah…it's by Sarah's, right? Bourque's Videos?"

"Yes…two doors down."

"Yeah…Sarah's my cousin. I'm pretty sure she's mentioned you."

Dane winced. This could prove to be awkward. "Oh, right."

"Yeah." Robert leaned back, exhausted. "She's going through a rough time right now, poor kid. Her husband's just killing her with that divorce."

"Right," said Dane, uncomfortably. "Well, I have to get back to the shop. Is there anything I can do for you, sir?" He spoke kindly.

"No." Brown stood up, looking tired and drawn suddenly. "No, but thank you."

He walked Dane to the door, then looked up at him. "Uh, here, take these books back - maybe you can donate them to somebody. I…really don't want them here."

"Sure. Take care, now." Dane hoisted the box of books, and, with a nod, walked out to his truck.

He made good time down the long driveway to his vehicle, and as he slid in behind the wheel, he blew out his breath in a "whew", staring up at the house.

Well, hell, if that wasn't just the most awkward thing I've ever gone through, Dane thought, relieved to be out of there. Poor guy. He's going through hell, and feeling guilty about his affair, to boot. Jeez.

Dane started the engine, and backed out onto the quiet, somewhat posh, street. As awkward as the entire experience had been, Dane agreed with C.J. He felt quite sure that Robert Brown was innocent of the murder of his wife. That left him with no other suspects, unless this "Brian" panned out.

Dane drove to the store, thinking about Sarah Bourque. He'd have to let her know about his little visit to Robert Brown. Sarah was sharp, and if he didn't shore up his story, it could come back to bite him on the ass.

Ten

"…and I mean it, one of these days that fucking asshole is going to be so fucking sorry…"

- excerpt from Brian Besaird's journals

"HEY, FREAK SHOW!"

This was all that Brian Besaird heard, before something bumped into him hard and knocked him against a shelf. He didn't have enough time to get his balance, and slammed hard against the bottles of salsa that he had just finished arranging. With a dull thunk, four or five heavy jars crashed at his feet. The contents landed on everything within the radius of five or six feet, including Brian's clean work pants and shirt.

The salsa had barely settled, before he spun around and grabbed the offender by the shirt collar, pulling him forward even as his clenched fist shot out and made hard contact.

It hurt - he'd punched the little bastard right in the mouth, and his knuckles had scraped on teeth - but it was satisfying, nonetheless.

"Fuck you, Jock Strap," he snarled at Chris Grett, who doubled over, clutching at a split lip. "Fuck you and fucking clean up this mess before I kick your ass all the way to - "

"Brian. Chris. What's going on?"

Brian released Chris and looked up to see the store manager, Mr. Dawson, standing over them. He looked pissed. Chris immediately started speaking. "Sir, I was just passing by, and - "

"Brian," interrupted the manager, "What happened?" Beside him, Chris flushed with anger.

Brian stood still for a moment, holding his boss's gaze. Then he said, in steady tones, "Chris tripped over his shoelace. He fell against the shelf, and knocked some jars of salsa over. I think he hit his lip on the shelf." No way was he playing Grett's little game.

"And what happened to your knuckles?"

Brian looked down at his hand, which was bleeding where Grett's teeth had made contact. Then he looked back up at the manager. "I must have walked into a door, sir," he said, silently fuming.

"You want to watch out for some of the "doors" around here, Brian," said Dawson mildly. "Some of them can be quite annoying, and even useless."

He was silent for a moment, looking them both over. His face was inscrutable. Then, he said, "Chris, go home. In fact, take the rest of the day off. Brian - get this cleaned up, get yourself cleaned up, and come to my office."

"Sir, do I get the day off with pay?" Grett looked anxious.

A pause. Then, "No, I don't think so. You need to learn to be more careful when walking down the aisles." Dawson glared at him. "Be glad I don't make you pay for the salsa. Brian - in my office, fifteen minutes from now." With that, Dawson turned on his heel and strode away.

"Yes, sir," Brian said to his retreating back. He'd always liked Dawson, and his respect for the man just increased twofold. It seemed that not everyone was under "Mr. Jock Strap All-American Apple Pie" Chris Grett's charm. Hell knew that Brian wasn't. He grinned, then made his way to maintenance for cleaning supplies.

Fuck, Brian thought, filling a bucket with water and looking for a mop. Fucking Grett, one of these days I'm gonna put paid to his sorry ass. I don't know if he thinks we're still in high school, or what, but it's time he fucking well grows up and shuts up. Brian's hand shook while directing the hose into the bucket, and a bit of water splashed on his shoes. At least it washed some of the salsa off, and good thing. It was starting to smell.

God, he needed a break.

It was…what, three days?…since he'd lost his mind with that Brown woman. He was a mess.

Lost your mind, yeah, that's a good word for it. Call a spade a spade, pal. You murdered her.

Temporary insanity, the rational part of his mind insisted. Temporary insanity, that's all. Besides, she deserved it. It was her own goddamned fault. That'll teach her to treat people a bit better. Stupid bitch.

Brian turned the water off and rubbed his face, trying to clear his head. "Oh, shut up," he muttered, leaning back against the wall in the maintenance closet.

His nerves were shot. He needed to get drunk, or laid. Or both. He hadn't been eating, or sleeping, all weekend. And every time he was paged, or someone spoke to him, or even looked at him, he'd get jumpy, twitchy, curiously light-headed. This shit was turning him into a head case.

The murder had been all over the papers, and the local news. So far, the cops had very few clues, if any. A couple of them had come to the store and asked questions of every employee. He'd been asked a few questions, about her yelling at him, and about whether or not he knew her, stuff like that.

He'd given the cops some vague answers. Yes, he recognized her as a regular customer. No, he didn't know her personally. Yes, she did yell at him, but she usually yelled at employees every time she was in the store, so that was nothing unusual. No, he had no idea if she had any enemies, or if anyone wanted to kill her.

Yes, he did remember what he'd been doing that night - he had been at home, in his room listening to music. No, he didn't know if anyone could confirm that, because he'd gone straight to his room, before his dad and brother had gotten home. He'd fallen asleep with his headphones on, so he had no idea if anyone had looked in on him, but they could ask his dad or his brother if they wanted to find out. Brian cleaned up the mess as quickly as he could.

After dumping the dirty water down the drain and rinsing the mop, he glanced at his watch. Seven minutes. Just enough time to run to my locker and get cleaned up. He'd gotten his uniform filthy enough times to justify keeping a couple of extras in his locker. If he hustled, he could sneak a quick smoke in the bathroom before going to Dawson's office.

A few minutes later, his thoughts returned to Gisele Brown, as he headed for Dawson's office. As far as he knew, from what his father had told him, the cops had nothing. Zip all. They hadn't even found the van yet.

That surprised him. He thought that they would have checked the quarries - assuming that they even knew about them. They should know about them, they were on local maps. According to his father, though, the cops were checking for the van's license plates all across the country. Yeah, good luck with that, he thought smugly.

Those lime quarries had been out of operation for some twenty, thirty years. He was surprised that they even still existed. Brian wondered how many other vehicles, and incriminating sorts of things had found their way to the bottom of those milky pools.

For him, the quarry was the best way to get rid of the van - he'd seen a tv show where they'd said that lime would eat away at pretty much anything - or was it that lime would disguise smells? Something like that, anyway. He'd worn gloves, but it would still be nice to know that the lime might wipe away fingerprints and trace.

He hadn't taken that chance with the bitch's body, though. Far as he was concerned, the best thing had been to cut her up into small pieces, and toss those pieces over the coast, along with any blood-soaked dirt and leaves. That had been a hell of a lot more work than he'd expected…good thing he'd found an axe in a nearby hunting shack. The weapons had gone into the quarry, but the organic stuff had gone into the Atlantic Ocean. Gruesome, but at least there was a good chance that something would eat the body parts. Permanent disposal. Perfect.

Brian arrived at Dawson's office. The tall, dark-haired man was talking on the phone, so Brian made eye contact, then stood outside the office, waiting to be summoned.

After a few seconds, Brian heard the phone being replaced in its cradle, and he peered around the door frame. Dawson looked up, and nodded.

"Come in, Brian, and sit down. Close the door, please." Brian slid the door shut, and sat down in the chair across the way from the desk. Dawson said nothing for a moment, but shuffled papers on his desk. Then, he looked up, his black eyes piercing. "How are you, Brian?"

"Uh…fine, sir."

A pause. Then, "Are you sure?"

Huh?...thought Brian. But he said, "Yeah, I'm sure."

Dawson looked down, and folded his hands. Then he looked back up, his lean face somber. "I don't believe you."

"What…?"

"Your work performance is suffering lately. You're jumpy, temperamental, and distracted. Not to mention walking into doors." The older man's gaze flickered down to Brian's swollen knuckles. "Is there anything you want to discuss?"

"No…no, I'm fine," Brian said, flabbergasted.

"Any trouble at home?"

"No."

"Any problems here at work?"

"No…"

"Any problems at all?"

"No…look…"

Dawson held up a hand to silence him, then leaned back in his chair. "You're a good employee, Brian, but lately, you haven't been at your best." Brian felt a flash of anger, but Dawson continued. "I want to be fair, however. This is just a verbal discussion. Nothing on paper. Let's say two weeks, shall we? If your work performance has not picked up by the end of two weeks, then we'll have another chat, and I am afraid I shall have to document that discussion. However, I'd much rather it did not have to occur."

"Yes, sir," Brian said. His fists were clenched. Dawson must have noticed this, for he continued, in a gentler tone.

"Brian, if there's anything you wish to discuss, please - feel free. If not with me, then with Margherita. She is the employee representative, after all, and a good person to talk to." Dawson smiled. "Thank you for coming by, and remember - my door is always open, should you need to discuss anything."

"Yeah, sure," snarled Brian. Dawson looked at him, disappointment registering on his features. He seemed to know that Brian was in no mood to listen.

"You may go," he said, sadly.

Brian didn't answer, but he stood so fast that the chair fell over behind him. He didn't stop to right it, however, but he stormed out, slamming Dawson's door so hard that it bounced open again. He didn't care. He was halfway to the staff washroom before he heard Dawson call his name. He ignored him.

After another calming smoke in the bathroom, Brian returned to the soup aisle, and began stocking up again. God, he thought, that was…pretty tense. That wasn't a good moment, not at all. This whole thing needs to blow over real soon. Maybe it's time I move the hell out of this dump - change my name, change everything. Just go start over somewhere else.

He could do it, he knew. He could just pack up and go. And by the time anyone got around to suspecting him, Brian Besaird would no longer exist. Maybe he'd be Paul Trait, or Mark LeBlanc - just two of the four or five fake identities that he'd been working on. It was a big country. He was sure that he wouldn't have too much trouble just disappearing into the woodwork. Hell, he could even move to Canada. No one would ever find him there.

He was so absorbed in his work that he didn't notice the large shaggy-haired guy surreptitiously reading his nametag and studying him carefully. He was shopping in the same aisle that Brian was working in.

Brian just kept slamming cans of soup on the shelf, one after another, muttering to himself in a rotten temper. His hands were still shaking.

"Excuse me."

Brian immediately put on his "customer service" face, and turned towards the large man. "Help you?"

"Yeah, uh…" The man looked down at a list in his hand. "I'm looking for chicken broth."

Brian reached over, and picked up a can. "Here you go, sir. Is there anything else I can help you with?"

The man stared at him, appraisingly, for another moment, then smiled. "No, thank you."

The big man moved away, and Brian returned to task, his thoughts in turmoil.

The week passed quickly, if it was a bit nerve-wracking, and come Friday night, Brian sat at the kitchen table in the house he shared with his father and little brother, smoking a cigarette and drinking a soda.

He had his mp3 blasting from the small set of speakers that he had gotten for Christmas, and his little brother, Aaron, was tapping away at the computer in the adjoining dining area. It was still early - five-thirty, or so and he was waiting for his father to get home from work so he could go out.

"Want another sandwich?" He asked, as he stood up to get another soda. "Or something to drink?"

"No thanks." Aaron did not even look up.

"Whatcha doin'?"

"Looking up Superspiders." Aaron grinned at him. "There's a new DVD out."

"Oh yeah?" Brian said, with little interest. Aaron spent hours watching those damned cartoons.

"Yeah. Can we rent it?"

"Not tonight. I'm going out." He felt guilty at the look of disappointment on his little brother's face, as he popped the top on his can of soda. Brian blew a few smoke rings; then, after a few minutes, said, "Ask Dad. If he doesn't want to tonight, then maybe you and I'll rent it tomorrow or Sunday night, all right?"

"Okay."

"Nice night, huh?" He leaned back in the comfortable old kitchen chair, and glanced idly out the open window. The humidity had lifted a little, and there was a sweet, balmy breeze blowing through the window. He imagined it was going to be nice out in the woods - maybe he'd drive out to the coast, and watch the ocean fade to dark as the sun set over the woods. It'd be good to get away from everything and everyone for a while.

He tapped ashes into the old plaid beanbag ashtray near his elbow, and took one last long drag.

Brian yawned as he stubbed out his cigarette, his gaze wandering to the window again. He was still a bit tired from work - it had been a long day, and still pissed off at what had happened between him and Chris Grett the other day. It was just the latest in a long line of incidents with Grett.

As though it still ached, Brian rubbed the side of his leg, remembering what had happened in grade ten.

"Besaird," snapped Mr. Simpson, the school Phys. Ed teacher. "I expect to see you trying out for the basketball team this year. You're what, six feet? Six-one? You look fast, too, and wiry. Just right. See me after class."

Simpson, a tall, fit man himself, eyed each student appraisingly, as though they were livestock. "You too, Theriault. Godet. Lewis. And you…what's your name again?"

"Chris Grett." The shorter, stockier blonde boy stood at the end of the line, looking every inch the All-American boy, apple pie and all.

"Grett. You, too. Maybe the football team, actually. We'll talk after class, son."

Brian stood near the back of the group, his thin white legs and spiked hair looking out of place, as usual. Here in Shit Town, Maine, everyone either looked like a hick or a used-car salesman. Brian's goth-punk look set him apart. He did not fit in, and that suited him just fine. First chance he got, he would be so out of this shit stain of a town…

He continued to snap his gum, wondering how to get out of trying out for the basketball team. No way would he be part of that dumb jock crowd, no fucking way. He stood there, with a practiced bored expression on his face, and his skinny arms folded in front of his chest. Maybe he just wouldn't show up -

"Hey…Freak Show!"

Brian ignored Chris Grett's whisper. Man he hated that dumb fuck, had hated him ever since they were little kids. Grett had been an asshole then, and he was an even bigger asshole now.

"Freak Show! I'm talking to ya!"

Brian paused just for a second, then rolled his eyes disinterestedly towards Chris. He continued to snap his gum, even louder now.

"Think you're gonna play on the basketball team?" Grett moved so that he was right in Brian's face.

Brian did not bother to answer, but he had no intention of playing on any stupid jock team. Not his cup of tea, one might say.

Although, come to think of it…if trying out would piss off Grett, then maybe it'd be worth it. He wouldn't make the team anyway - he wasn't some dumbass hickville jock. Chris's hiss distracted him from his thoughts.

"You try out for basketball, and I'll break your fucking chicken legs, hear me, Freak Show? Don't even fucking think about it." He gave Brian a push, but Brian braced himself and didn't move.

It was the way that Grett cracked his knuckles afterwards, yet another lame attempt in a long list of lame attempts at trying to intimidate Brian, that did it. Brian sneered at him, deciding then and there to not only try out for the team, but to kick Grett's ass at the same time. Nothing like a little reverse motivation to get the ball rolling, was there?

And so it happened that by Christmas, he was the leading scorer on the Indigo High Men's Basketball team, and, he grudgingly admitted, he was even having fun. For once, he was actually good at a sport, and was making a few friends. Indigo High was set to go into the Christmas break in the number one position in their division, for the first time in years, when a freak accident sidelined their leading scorer and derailed the team's momentum, causing them to finish up a disappointing third place.

Everyone swore that it was an accident that caused Chris Grett to trip and fall, his full weight landing on Brian's outstretched leg during a game. The sickening snap of bones cracking had silenced the cheering auditorium quicker than quick; as Brian was being taken out on a stretcher, only the ambulance attendants had heard the exchange between Brian and Chris.

"I'll fucking get you for this, Grett. No matter how long it takes, I fucking promise you. You'll fucking regret this."

"Yeah, right. See ya around…Freak Show."

Brian took a long drag off a fresh cigarette, surprised to find his hand shaking with anger. After all these years…six years? Seven? The memory still enraged him. He'd spent the rest of the year, and some of the next, with enough metal in his leg to set off metal detectors at airports. Some of it, he still had, and would have for the rest of his life. Thanks to that little bastard. He took another drag.

Maybe it was time to start planning a little bit of revenge.

At that moment, he heard his father's truck pull up in the driveway; and, a minute later, the front door opened.

"Hi, Dad!" Aaron jumped up from the computer, and ran over to the front hallway. Brian could hear his father kicking off his shoes. "Dad, can we rent a movie tonight? There's a new Superspiders DVDout…"

"Not tonight, boy. Maybe tomorrow night."

"Okay." Aaron sounded disappointed. His father walked into the kitchen, Aaron swinging off his arm. Jimmy Besaird clapped a strong hand on Brian's shoulder. "How you doin', Bri?"

"Hey, Dad." Brian grabbed his father's hand and squeezed briefly. "Your beer's in the fridge. Some ham for sandwiches, too."

"Thanks, boy." Jimmy cracked open a beer and sat at the table. "Some interesting news from that murder case today."

"Yeah?" Brian tried to look only mildly interested. His father had told him all about the DVD, and the cops' reactions to it. "What news?"

"Some body parts washed up the coast." He raised his eyebrows and watched his son over the rim of the beer can. "They're pretty sure that they're from that Gisele Brown woman."

"Gross." Brian grimaced, took another drink of soda. "How do they know it's body parts? Could be just…I don't know, dead fish or something?"

"They're body parts. No mistaking it. Not real pretty stuff. They're having them tested for DNA." Jim spread a couple of pieces of bread with mayonnaise, and slapped some sliced ham on them. He took a large bite of sandwich, chewing rapidly and washing it down with another swig of beer.

"Man, that's just crazy. Any word on that lady's van yet?"

"None. No clues. Not a damn thing's turned up yet, other than fingers and toes." Jimmy took a long drink. "Cops are discouraged. If they haven't found anything by now, they're pretty sure they won't find anything at all. I mean, there's a heck of a lot of woods out there."

"Yup." Brian drained his soda, and belched. "I'm gonna go out for a while. Relax for a bit. Long week at work."

"Be careful, son." Jimmy stood up and began to root through the fridge for more ham. "Crazy people out there."

"I will, Dad, don't worry." Brian said.

"No, really." Jimmy turned to face his son, concern in his eyes. "Maybe you shouldn't go out there. I'd feel better if you didn't."

Brian stared back at his father for a long moment, seeing how the evening light made the lines on his face look deeper, giving him an uncharacteristically harsh expression.

For a moment, his father looked a lot older than he was, with his old-fashioned duck-tail hairstyle, and the grey stubble on his cheeks. His light brown eyes - so much like his son's - were faded, and a bit bloodshot. Brian felt a sudden surge of affection for his old man. "Ok, Dad. I'll just go for a drive, then."

Jimmy smiled warmly. "Good."

Brian stood and grabbed his jean jacket. The cooler of beer was already in the trunk of the car. With a wave to his father and Aaron, he headed out to his car, smirking. The crazy people aren't always 'out there', though, Dad. He grinned. Sometimes they're standing right beside you.

The evening sunshine was warm and golden, glaring through the windshield as Brian drove out the old Woods road. It wasn't the closest route to his cabin, but it was the least-rutted, therefore the easiest on his old Cavalier. He was cruising slowly along, when he noticed the shiny, pimped-up black Honda Civic pulled over on the side of the road, four-ways flashing and front hood propped open.

He could not resist a gloating grin when he noticed Chris Grett pacing beside the steaming car, trying to make a call on his cell phone, then slamming the phone to the ground angrily and kicking the Civic's back tire. Brian snorted with laughter.

This has some rather interesting potential, he thought, slowing down. I could have a bit of fun with this...

When Chris noticed Brian, he flagged him down, although the expression of relief on his face turned wary when he realized who it was. Brian grinned even wider. He turned down the stereo and rolled to a stop. "Yeah?" he said, leaning across the seat to talk out the window.

"Hey…Brian." Chris leaned in, his perfectly-gelled blonde hair starting to wilt a little.

Not so cocky now, are you, asshole, Brian thought. He smirked. "Whaddya want?"

"Uh…rad blew. Can I get a lift?"

Brian shrugged. "I'm heading out for the night, sorry. Call someone who cares."

"Can't." Chris picked up the scuffed cell phone. "Battery's dead."

"Fuck, you're an idiot," Brian said, mildly. He watched a dull red creep up Chris's thick neck. It was a good two or three miles back to town - quite the walk, and it was still hot, even if the temperature was cooling down a bit. Chris looked away for a few seconds; and then, as though coming to an unpleasant decision, looked back and attempted a sickly smile. "Can I borrow your cell phone for a minute? I'll pay you back."

"I don't have a cell phone." Brian smirked at him. "Who would call a loser like me, right, Chris old buddy old pal? Who're you expecting me to call? Do you honestly think ol' Freak Show has any friends?"

Chris flushed even darker, then pasted that pathetic smile on his face again. He was in a spot, and he knew it. "So, uh…Bri…where ya going?"

"Out to the cabin. I've got a case of beer in the trunk."

"Yeah?" Chris chewed his lip, thinking. Then he said, "I've got a quart of vodka in my car…I was gonna head out to the coast. The guys got a bonfire going tonight."

"Well, isn't that special."

Chris checked his temper with difficulty. "Well, hey. Look, Bri, I'll give ya ten bucks, if you could drive me out there. I can get a lift back with one of the guys. Hey, tell you what. You can hang out with us, if you want. Should be all right." He looked at Brian happily, as though conferring a huge honour upon him. "There's a lot of girls at the cottages, they were gonna come out and hang with us tonight. Whaddya say?"

Brian looked at Chris for a long moment, pretending to consider the idea, then shrugged. "Yeah. No problem. I gotta stop at my cabin first."

"Hey, Bri, that's cool."

Brian shrugged again, and checked their surroundings. There was no other traffic on the road, and no houses or people around. Lots and lots of trees, even though the woods proper didn't begin for another half-mile or so. No one to see them. Good.

"Get in," he said, a little grin on his face. And if you call me "Bri" again, you won't live long enough to regret it, Jock Strap Breath…

"Hey, thanks, buddy!" Chris grabbed a paper bag out of the trunk of his car, and climbed into the passenger seat. "Thanks a lot…appreciate it, man."

"Yeah, no problem, pal." Brian put the car in gear and pulled away. "That's what friends are for, right?"

There was an uncomfortable moment. Chris fidgeted in the seat beside him, glancing out the window at the trees passing by. They were almost at the start of the woods. After a moment, Chris said, in a softer tone of voice, "Hey, look. Sorry about what happened the other day, at work. I…I was just kidding with ya. You know that, don't you?"

"Sure." Brian smiled. "No hard feelings. It's all cool." And sometimes, fuckhead, payback is a bitch.

Brian chuckled and cranked the stereo. Beside him, Chris smiled and relaxed into the car seat. Just as though he and Brian were pals. Best pals. Brian hid a grin. And guess what, Chris, ol'buddy, ol'pal? Go on, take a guess! We're gonna play some games tonight, Chris ol' buddy, ol' pal. Tonight you're gonna be my bitch! You like apples, Chris ol' buddy, ol' pal? Do ya? Do ya? How do you like them apples? Behind the wheel of the Cavalier, Brian smirked. Because, just between you and me, Chris ol' buddy, ol' pal…I think that I'm liking them apples just fine.

Just fine.

Eleven

"…and I can damn well guarantee that "sorry" isn't gonna be good enough, no fucking way…"

- excerpt from Brian Besaird's journals

FRIDAY NIGHT, JUST after eight or so, C.J. drove out to Dane's house, lost in thought and oblivious to the music blasting from the car stereo.

With Evie and the kids gone to Moncton to visit her mother, C.J. was alone in the house, and at loose ends. So he'd given Dane a call, and they'd decided that C.J. would pick up some food and head over to catch the game.

Besides, he wanted to keep an eye on Dane. Just in case. C.J. pulled into Dane's driveway at about a quarter past eight - they'd agreed on nine, but he'd gotten bored sitting around the house watching tv, and the food had been ready earlier than expected, anyway.

He looked around for Dane's Escalade - it wasn't in the driveway. No matter. He had his own key. He parked his car, and stepped out, reaching carefully for the food. Balancing the boxes carefully, C.J. made his way up the driveway to Dane's door, and inserted his key into the lock. It turned easily, and he gingerly stepped over the pile of old shoes just inside the door.

C.J. placed the food boxes in the oven to keep them warm, then peered into the fridge and grabbed a beer. Twisting the top off the bottle, C.J. sat in one of the chairs surrounding the kitchen table to wait for Dane, and amused himself by batting the bottle cap around for the cat to play with.

He noticed a couple of blank DVDs sitting on the table top, similar to the one that was in the evidence file down at the station. Carefully, C.J. picked one up and turned it over, examining it.

"What's this?" he murmured, absent-mindedly scratching Meatball behind the ears. The cat's purrs vibrated through the wood of the set the DVD down, and noticed a notepad under the other disc. Curious, C.J. took a drink of his beer and pulled the notepad towards him. What he saw written on the cover made his heart skip a beat.

Gisele Brown.

"What the hell…?" he muttered, flipping open the cover. On the first page, Dane had made some notes.

"Ingress," the first page was titled. "Egress." "Weapon(s)." "Opportunity." "Motive." "Witnesses." "Miscellaneous."

Frowning now, C.J. read all of Dane's notes written under each of these categories, pausing at "Miscellaneous". Dane had detailed his visits to Steeves Grocery, and had even described details of his observations of three employees named Brian.

Brian?

What the hell? What is that all about? He'd better not be stirring up any shit - it's one thing to collar the perp, and it's a whole other ballgame to convict. I'll have to have a little chat with him, thought C.J., flipping back to re-read the small pages.

As if on cue, Meatball trotted to the front door, meowing eagerly, and C.J. could just hear the distinctive rumble of his friend's SUV. Time to get that thing tuned up, old buddy, C.J. thought as he stood up to peek out the front window. What he saw raised the hair on the back of his neck.

Dane was coming out of the woods.

The SUV clumsily maneuvered next to C.J.'s car, and pulled to a stop. As the driver's side door opened, C.J. stood back from the window - he didn't want Dane to know that he'd been watching for him. But he did notice something that made him very uneasy. Dane's face was drawn. It looked as though he'd been crying.

As he watched his friend wipe his sleeve across his face, C.J. felt a growing disquiet creep up his spine.

What the hell is going on?

C.J. watched for a few seconds longer, then hastily returned to his seat, and pretended to be absorbed in the newspaper when Dane walked in.

He had dried his face, but there was a suspicious redness about the eyes. C.J. refrained from mentioning it, nor did he say anything about Dane having come from the woods.

"Hey," said Dane. His voice was a bit hoarse.

"Hey." C.J. said, casually.

"Been here long?"

"Just a couple of minutes."

"Sorry 'bout that. Had some stuff to attend to." Dane tossed his ball cap and denim jacket carelessly aside, then ran his hands through his hair. C.J. noticed that there were some twigs and leaves entangled in the long strands. "Had a few errands," Dane continued. "Listen, I'm gonna go get cleaned up, change. I'll be a few minutes - help yourself to anything."

C.J. watched his best friend climb the stairs to the upper loft, aware that Dane had not once made eye contact with him. He noticed the small camcorder tucked neatly into the upper pocket of the denim jacket. Dane had brought the camcorder with him into the woods. C.J. stared at it for a long moment, frowning.

What the hell was going on?

Twelve

"…and she can be such a bitch sometimes. I think I've just about had enough of her shit…"

- excerpt from Brian Besaird's journals

UPSTAIRS, DANE STRIPPED off his sweaty clothes - he was hot and tired, and his leg was aching something awful - and stepped into the bathroom, to grab a quick rinse. The cool water felt good, though, and he stood there for a few minutes longer than he intended to, letting the water cascade through his long blonde hair and over his tense shoulders.

He could feel some of his tension starting to drain away, feel his energy coming back. It had been a hellish day. All his deliveries had come in at once, rather than scattered throughout the day as usual - the drivers claimed it had something to do with repairs being done to the highway - and he'd had a real mess of stock to deal with. It had been crazy busy in the store, too.

Add to that his leg being unusually sore - he hadn't been doing his stretching exercises the last few days - and to top it all off, he'd had another fight with Sarah.

Dane soaped up quickly, thinking about the argument. Damn, but that woman could be difficult sometimes. He laughed sourly, wiping soap out of his eyes. Only sometimes? More like all the time, lately.

After he'd talked with Robert Brown, Dane had called Sarah and asked her if she'd wanted to go for coffee. She'd agreed, but finding a time that was good for both of them was next to impossible. Finally, he'd closed up the store a few minutes early today and had arranged to meet her at the bakery/coffee shop two blocks down.

She'd shown up nearly half an hour late, pleading a small rush at the store. Dane had been a bit irritated, but he understood. After a moment or two of small talk, he'd mentioned his encounter with Robert Brown, and expressed his condolences on the death of Sarah's cousin-in-law. She'd thanked him, and said that Robert had called her to tell her of Dane's visit. Sarah had also mentioned her surprise that Gisele had taken up reading what she called "trashy romance novels".

"She said she wanted to try something new," Dane had replied, suppressing his indignation at Sarah's description of the product that he sold.

"That's odd, though," Sarah had said, her big brown eyes peering at Dane from over top of her coffee mug. "Gisele never was one to try new things, and she definitely didn't like to sit still long enough to read a book. Oh well," she sighed. "We'll never know what was going through her mind, I guess."

Too true. They were silent for a moment. Then, he said, "Yeah, you're right. Any idea who would want to kill her? Do the cops have any leads?"

"No idea," Sarah said, folding her arms and leaning back against the booth. She smiled and nodded hello to a couple of people, then returned her attention to Dane. "I've been racking my brain, trying to think if she had any enemies. I don't think she ever mentioned if she did. I mean, I won't lie to you." Sarah unfolded her arms and picked up her mug for another sip. "Gisele could be a real bitch sometimes, and she and Robert had quite a few problems. Things were definitely rocky. But who would want to actually kill her? I can't think of anyone." Her lips tightened, and she shook her head. "Poor Gisele."

"Yeah," Dane said softly. "Poor lady. Were you close?"

Sarah smiled sadly. "No. No, not at all. I mean, I liked her well enough, but I wasn't close to her. Robert and I grew up together, we're closer. Before my family moved out to the Midwest, I mean. But no, Gisele and I weren't great friends or anything."

She put her elbow on the table and rested her chin in her palm, looking up at Dane. He was struck, in that moment, by how very soft and vulnerable she seemed, and he wanted to reach out and stroke her cheek. But he refrained. The shop was packed with customers, and nothing flew faster than gossip in a small town like Indigo. Heck, just sitting here with her for coffee was going to generate enough fuel for the gossip mill as it was.

"She was family, though," Sarah continued, "And I won't lie to you, we're all hurting right now. Robert, more than anyone, understandably, though he doesn't let on, you know?" She broke off at the look on Dane's face, then said, softly, "Yes, you do know, don't you." Sarah paused, then reached out with her free hand to squeeze Dane's hand affectionately. "You know all about it," she added.

Dane didn't know what to say - he just nodded, and squeezed her hand back, a lump in his throat. Gossip be damned. Then, perhaps a bit tactlessly - to cover the moment of awkwardness - he asked, "Did you know that he was running around on her?"

It was as though he'd slapped Sarah - she gasped in shock and pulled her hand away, and Dane realized that he had blundered. Badly.

When she spoke, her voice was icy. "Yes, Dane, I knew that he was screwing someone. But what are you saying? You think he…? You don't think…"

"Well, not so much that, but…"

"But nothing!" She glared at him, and snapped, "Don't think for a second that Robert didn't love Gisele. He did! He really tried, you know? But they had their problems. Since the baby came, things just got worse." Sarah looked away, patches of angry colour on her cheeks. Dane kept his mouth shut. "He felt like he didn't exist anymore, all right? He felt like he was nothing to her but a paycheque." She sighed. "We'd talked about it a few times. He was miserable. But he loved her, and he didn't kill her. You can trust me on that."

"Well, what about his girlfriend?" Dane said quickly, trying another tack. He didn't want Sarah to be mad at him, but he had to know the answers to his questions.

"What about her?"

"Do you think maybe she could have…?"

Sarah snorted. "I doubt it. She's just some brainless slut from his office. I sincerely doubt that she did it."

"Hmm," Dane murmured, lost in thought.

"Well, don't listen to me. What the hell do I know?" Sarah snapped, incorrectly interpreting Dane's response as judgmental. She straightened up, and made ready to leave. Before Dane could speak, she continued. "Every relationship has its problems. Trust me on that. No one's perfect, and no one really knows what's going on in a relationship except for the two people involved. People like to speculate, even though it's none of their damned business." She grabbed her purse and stood up.

"Sarah…" Dane began.

"Any other stupid questions, Sherlock?"

"Sarah, don't be like this…"

"Oh, shut up. You're an oversized idiot, and I have better things to do." She turned to leave.

Desperately, Dane said, "Hey, Sarah, look, I was just asking…"

"Well, don't ask me," she snapped angrily. "Ask Robert! I'm sure he'd love to sit down and chat with you about whoever killed his wife. Maybe it would distract him from how miserable he is right now." She glared at him.

Dane felt like a first-class heel. How did she always manage to do that to him? "Sarah, look, I'm sorry…"

"Jerk." Sarah stomped out of the bakery, and slammed the door behind her.

Dane watched her for a moment, aware that everyone in the shop was staring at him. With a sigh, he tossed a few bills on the table and slunk out the front door, blushing furiously and not meeting anyone's eyes. He could hear a few chuckles, and he shook his head in disgust. Some detective he was. Funny how these things never seemed to happen on tv or in books. Maybe he really wasn't cut out for this sort of thing, after all. Maybe he'd better stick to running a bookstore.

Perhaps Sarah was right, though, he admitted now as he turned the water off and began to dry himself. He probably was a jerk, and he seriously doubted that Robert Brown had any connection to his wife's death. Still, it was frustrating. He hoped that the police had some more leads. He'd have to ask C.J.

Dane padded barefoot back to the bedroom and dug through the closet for some comfortable clothes.

His damp hair felt like a sticky blanket on the back of his neck, so he quickly pulled it back into a messy ponytail, and slipped a pair of sandals onto his feet.

After a good yawn and stretch, Dane slipped downstairs, expecting to see C.J. stuffing his face. But when he entered the kitchen, he was surprised to see his best friend staring thoughtfully into space, his beer more than half-full on the table beside him. C.J. started at the sight of him. "Oh...hey," C.J. said.

Poor guy, Dane thought sympathetically as he pulled a chair out. This case must really be getting to him. I hope they solve it soon, for his sake.

For all our sakes.

Thirteen

"…I thought she was pretty cool, but I guess not. I never know who to fucking trust anymore…"

- excerpt from Brian Besaird's journals

DANE GRABBED A beer out of the fridge, and sat down at the table across from C.J., who indicated that he wasn't ready for a fresh one yet. "Hey," Dane said, stretching his sore leg out onto an empty chair. He groaned and began to massage it carefully.

For a few moments, it seemed as old times, as Dane babbled about what was going on at the store. C.J. simply watched him, sipping his beer. Dane's words blurred past him as he sunk deep into his own thoughts.

I don't know what the hell you're up to, going into the woods like you've been doing. You're definitely not yourself lately, and I know that something's up. But I'm gonna keep an eye on you, big buddy. If you're in trouble, I want to know about it. I want to help. He sighed. But if there's another reason you've been going into the woods, with your big SUV and your camcorder…If you're up to something…if you had anything to do with that woman's death…

Dane rambled on as they ate, and C.J. nodded at the appropriate places, but his mind was not on the conversation.

An hour or so later, the plates had been cleared away, and Dane sat back with a fresh beer in hand, belching. "So," he said, stretching and yawning. "What's new?"

"With me, or with the case?" C.J. yawned also, drinking soda. He was driving, and he never drank more than two beers when he was going to be behind the wheel.

"Both."

"Well, I'm tired as all get-out," C.J. said. "Fine, but tired. Lots of overtime. Not much new, though."

"Heard the bodies washed up."

"Pieces of them." C.J. grimaced.

"Nice." Dane took a drink, then belched again. "Any new clues?"

"Dick all." C.J. sighed. "Absolutely dick all."

"But you'd tell me if you had anything."

It wasn't a question. C.J. looked up at Dane, his face expressionless. "Maybe."

"You always did before," Dane said, frowning.

"We're not talking about break and enter, here. This is serious shit, Dane."

They were silent for a moment. Then, Dane dug his notebook out from under the blank DVD's and handed it to C.J. "I don't know if you took a look at this yet, but I've been…ah…"

"Sticking your big nose into things?" C.J. said, in a cold voice.

"Well, yeah…you could say that," Dane said, an embarrassed grin on his face. "Take a look, see if there's anything that can help you."

"Sure." C.J. leafed through the notebook, pretending that he hadn't already read it. "You've been busy." Trying to help? Or trying to deflect attention from yourself? C.J. paused, and took a deep breath. He didn't at all like the direction that his thoughts were going in. But he couldn't help it. He was a cop. That was his job. Still, he hoped to hell that he was wrong.

He should cut Dane some slack until he knew otherwise, until he had some kind of proof. Driving through the woods at night with a camcorder wasn't enough. In a friendlier tone, he said, "What's this bit about guys named Brian?"

Dane explained, a bit sheepishly, about his visit to Robert Brown, and the scribbled "to do" list that he had found.

"We didn't see that," C.J. said, frowning suspiciously. "Are you sure it was hers?"

"It was sticking out from under a pile of papers on the coffee table," Dane said. "I'm sure it was a woman's handwriting. Besides, she was a stay-at-home mom - chances are, she's the one who did the grocery shopping. Not her husband." He shrugged. "Anyway, I checked all three employees named Brian, but none of them struck me as odd."

"People don't always look like killers, you know."

"Yeah, I know," Dane replied sharply. "I wasn't looking for shifty, beady eyes. Give me credit for some intelligence, please." He gave C.J. a sour look. "You're in a right mood tonight, aren't you."

C.J. met his friend's gaze steadily. "Relax, man. You've got good instincts, I know that. But I really wish you'd stay the hell out of this, you know. And make sure you stay out of the woods. It's not safe."

"Yeah, I know. I heard you the first ten times, thanks." Dane shook his head, looking, to C.J.'s practiced eye, a bit uncomfortable. "I mean, hey, I know. You've got to keep an eye on anyone and everyone, right? And from what I've been reading, unless it's someone who is a complete sociopath, the perp's gonna start acting weird. Assuming that it's someone who's around people on a regular basis," Dane added, struck by a sudden thought. "Jeez, that's another point, isn't it? What if it's one of the old crazies that live out in the woods?"

"We've checked them out. But we're still watching them, too. And police work isn't exactly like it is in books, you know."

"Who's still out there?" Dane opened a soda, and grabbed another one for C.J. "Old Leroy? Theo? Can-Can? I know that crazy old Monkie is out there still."

"What? Monkie? He's still alive?" C.J. frowned again. "We didn't find him. No one mentioned him."

"Ask Can-Can. I still save old newspapers for him, and he tells me all the gossip. He sees Monkie occasionally, but he doesn't like him. Still, he probably knows how to find him."

"Good idea." C.J. took a sip of his soda. "But I don't see any of those guys pulling this one off."

"No, that's true. I don't, either. It's not their style. Where would they get the equipment?"

They were silent for a moment, the ball game still playing softly in the background. Meatball was curled up in C.J.'s lap, snoring softly. After a few moments, C.J. said, "Did you know that Robert Brown is Sarah's cousin?"

Dane sighed. "Yeah." Miserably, he detailed the conversation with Sarah for C.J., including the part where she had called him a jerk and stormed out on him.

C.J. burst out laughing. "Nice," he said, grinning. "What's going on with you and her now?"

"Uh, well…" Dane fiddled with the soda can. "Don't know, really. Probably nothing, now."

"You still interested in her?"

"Yeah, well. Yeah. I guess." He looked up. "But she's still in the middle of a split, and I'm not in a rush. I don't need to get messed up in that."

"True." C.J. agreed. He thought for a moment, then said encouragingly, "You've got a real nose for detective work, you know."

"Thanks." Dane grinned, then added slyly, "I read a lot of books."

C.J. rolled his eyes. This was an old argument between them. "I'm serious. You ever thought about becoming a private eye, or something?"

"Well, you know," Dane said, pointing to his bad leg and shrugged.

C.J. brushed it off. "I don't think that would matter too much. I'm serious, though. They offer correspondence courses and stuff now. You should really think about it."

"Maybe I'll look into it," said Dane, thoughtfully. "I have thought about it, on and off."

They were silent for a bit, watching the end of the game. Finally, C.J. spoke up again, in a quiet voice. "I hope and pray that this was an isolated killing."

Dane nodded, his expression serious. Then he sighed, and said, slowly, "I don't think it is."

C.J. met Dane's gaze. "Neither do I." And I hope and pray, big buddy, that you've got nothing to do with it. I don't think I could handle it if you were…involved, somehow. I could not deal with that.

They were quiet for a few more moments, then C.J. said, "Well, I'm gonna head out."

"Are you ok to drive?" Dane looked at him, concerned.

"Yeah, I'm fine. I'm just tired. I only had two."

"You can crash here, you know. Or I can drive you. I haven't even got a buzz."

"No. I'm fine."

"All right, then. But I'm driving behind you." Dane stood up and slipped his denim jacket on over his old t-shirt.

"I'm fine," C.J. repeated, firmly, rising.

"Good, that's great, but I'm doing it anyway. At least until town limits."

"Oh, fine, Mother."

Dane laughed as he locked up, and they made their way out to their vehicles. "And make sure you go straight home. Drive carefully."

"Yeah, yeah," C.J. grumbled. "Nag." C.J. backed out of the driveway. True to his word, Dane drove behind him until C.J. hit town limits. Then, with a cheerful honk of his horn, he did an extravagant U-turn (making C.J. laugh in exasperation) and drove back towards his home, the tail lights of his truck lighting up the darkness of the unlit rural road.

C.J. pulled over and waited until he could no longer see Dane's tail lights. Then, turning off his own headlights and driving at a slow coast, he cruised the mile and some until he reached Dane's house. He pulled over and parked on the side of the road, and quietly got out of the car.

The SUV was not in the driveway. The house was dark. The road had no turnoffs. It led only into the woods.

What the hell was Dane up to? He stood there, staring into the dark woods. After a moment, he slid back behind the wheel of his car, and sat there for a few minutes, thinking.

He thought of Dane, throwing on his denim jacket as they prepared to leave the house. With that camera still in the front pocket. C.J.'s knuckles clenched on the steering wheel. He started the car and drove a few hundred feet down the road, pulling off to the side so that he was off the road, and he then parked in the field, concealed behind some small trees. From this vantage point, he could see Dane's house clearly. He would be able to see when Dane returned home. Turning off the car, he shifted to make himself more comfortable, and settled in for what could turn out to be a long wait.

It was just after eight the next morning when C.J.'s phone rang, jerking him out of a light sleep.

They had found a DVD on the station steps.

C.J. had dressed quickly and rushed to the station, still groggy from less than three hours' sleep, his tired brain reflecting upon the night's activities. Dane had returned home shortly after three a.m.

C.J. couldn't see anything suspicious, and after watching the house for a while - first the light went on in the kitchen, then out, and then the light in the upstairs bedroom was on for about half an hour. Then it went out, and C.J. had slipped out of his car to take a quick look around Dane's truck.

He'd walked around it quietly, trying his best to see in the darkness. Dane had turned his porch light on before going to bed, so C.J. had some small illumination. He had not wanted to use his flashlight.

There was nothing unusual about the SUV - a bit dusty, but nothing else drew his attention. From what he could make out through the windows, there was nothing inside to arouse suspicion.

After a few minutes, he'd gone home and tried to sleep. It wasn't easy. He'd tossed and turned for at least an hour.

And now, with an untouched coffee cooling in his hands, he sat in the small, chilly imaging room with Punk and Captain Stuart, Blair, and Jim Besaird, who was puttering away in the background. They were watching the DVD – Kill or Be Killed, Episode Two - play out on the monitor.

C.J. felt a cold rage building in him, as he watched young Chris Grett - he and Dane had gone to school with Chris's uncle, and they had both known Chris since he was just a kid, in fact - crying, pissing himself with terror just seconds before he was shot right between the eyes, a large knife slipping out of his fingers as he fell.

There was no sound with this DVD - it had been muted altogether, giving it the feel of an old silent movie, complete with rather poor image quality - and the assailant was unidentifiable in the bulky, large robe that he or she wore. But C.J. knew, looking at the image of the dead body sprawled on the floor of the forest, oddly unreal-looking in the harsh glare of a car's headlights, why the sound had been muted, and why the image had been blanked out at times. It was to make lip-reading difficult, if not impossible.

Because Chris knew his killer.

Fourteen

"…and there's nothing I hate more than these phony assholes that are so nice to your face, yeah real fucking sweet, but the minute you got your back turned, they shove a knife into it. Fuck I hate people like that…"

- excerpt from Brian Besaird's journals

BRIAN BESAIRD PULLED into the parking lot of the grocery store at about ten to ten Saturday morning. There were about twenty cars parked there, more or less - all employees. The store didn't open until ten.

His short hair was still damp, and his stomach was rumbling - he hadn't taken time for breakfast, and had stopped at the coffee shop drive-thru on the way to work.

If he hustled, he'd just have time to scarf down his coffee and doughnuts before heading into the store.

Brian checked his watch - eight minutes to ten - then tore open the bag and practically inhaled the contents. Then he gulped his coffee, nearly scalding his mouth in the process.

Licking the crumbs from his fingers - he'd never eaten that fast before, and his stomach felt even worse than it had already - Brian got out of his car and made his way across the parking lot.

The store looked odd this morning. The lights weren't fully on, and the doors weren't open yet, although there were only a couple of minutes left until the store opened. But he could see a group of employees gathered around the front end through the front windows, just standing around. That was unusual. Usually at this time of morning, everyone was on a mad rush to finish up any last-minute things.

Just after he entered the store through the employee entrance, he saw two police cars parked up front. Brian felt his liver drop to his ankles. Shit. So soon? How could they possibly have figured it out already?

He considered bolting. Then his common sense took over. Don't be an idiot. Nothing looks guiltier than running. They don't know anything. They can't know anything. They're just here because of Chris. Just go in and act normal, and no one will suspect a thing. Besides, you've covered your tracks. There's no way - no fucking way - that they can connect a thing to you. You didn't leave one single clue. Not a damn thing. So just play it cool.

One foot in front of the other, he thought, walking through the parking lot. Several police officers had already entered the building, and he could see them at the front of the store. His gut churning, Brian passed through the employee entrance, and joined the other employees, as they stood around the front. He arranged his features to look as bewildered as everyone else's did, and he joined the crowd.

"What's going on?" He asked, trying to look casual and unconcerned.

The cashier beside him shook her head and shrugged her shoulders. "No idea. Mr. Dawson got a phone call, then he paged us all up front, to wait for the rest of the morning shift to come in. He said he's got to talk to us about something." She frowned as one of the officers - a dark-haired young man with a compact build - spoke to Mr. Dawson, in somber tones. They watched in shock as the store manager's face crumpled in sudden anguish, turning away for a long moment.

Curious murmurs broke out amongst the assembled crowd. The police officers talked amongst themselves in low, somber tones. The one who had spoken to Mr. Dawson stood with him now, one hand resting reassuringly on the taller man's shoulder.

Tyler, one of Chris Grett's best friends, came running through the employee door, sweaty and panting, a backpack slung over one slim shoulder. Everyone stared at him. He turned to Dawson, and said, "Sorry I'm late, my ride didn't show up, so I had to hoof it…" He trailed off, looking around at the gathered employees and police officers, confused. Dawson had not yet looked at him.

"What's happening?" Frowning, Tyler turned to glance at the front doors, where customers outside were becoming irate at having to wait. A few were pounding on the windows. It was a few minutes after ten. Tyler glanced back at the store manager, who had finally turned around, and he asked, "Why aren't we open? You guys want me to go open the doors?"

"No, Tyler, wait here," said Mr. Dawson gently, his voice slightly hoarse. His lean face looked drawn, pale. One of the police officers went to the front doors to speak to the customers, and the staff watched in shock as the disgruntled people returned to their cars.

Mr. Dawson stood by the front windows, his face composed now. After a moment, one of the cops stepped forward and, with a questioning glance at him. He nodded, and the cop began to speak.

Seeing his face, Brian recognized him from "Bring Your Kid To Work Day". The others looked familiar, but this one, he knew he had met previously, when his father had brought him to the station for the day several years ago.

"Thank you for your patience, ladies and gentlemen. I'm Officer C.J. Hollinson, of the Indigo Police Department. There…there is no easy way to tell you this. I'm sorry. Christopher Grett passed away during the night." He stood, patiently, and waited for the shocked outbursts and exclamations of grief to subside. After a few moments, he continued in a gentler voice. Counseling is available for each of you. However, if you would be so kind, we would like to speak with each of you, for a few moments, in regards to this matter."

"What happened to Chris?" Tyler's face was white. "He didn't show up to pick me up this morning, that's why I'm late…"

Officer Hollinson nodded, and said, kindly, "That's why we're here, son. We're investigating this matter, and we need your help."

"He was murdered, wasn't he?" Charlie from produce spoke up, voicing everyone's thoughts. "Just like that lady last week. Right? Was it like that?" Low, speculative muttering broke out. People were wondering if there might be a connection with the store itself. Brian didn't like the sound of that, not one little bit, and he decided to throw some misdirection into the mix.

"Was it drugs?" He spoke up, over the noise of the crowd. "He was into drugs, wasn't he? Remember that time in high school? They found drugs in his locker?"

Judging by the thoughtful expressions that Brian now saw on people's faces, he had achieved his goal of deflecting their thoughts. It was a well-known, if little-discussed fact, that Chris had been thrown off sports teams in high school for drugs.

What had never been guessed, fortunately for Brian, was that he, himself had planted the drugs in Chris's locker, and had sent the anonymous note to the school principal informing on Chris. Call it a sweet little bit of revenge for what Chris had done to him in grade ten. Very sweet, in fact.

Oh, Chris been reinstated after a short time - this was a small city, after all, and the good ol' boy network was thriving as always - but any football scholarships that might have been there had disappeared, along with any other hopes of college sports. With his marks too low for anything else, Chris had been obliged to mingle with the "little people" and to even stoop to working for a living. Far as Brian had been concerned, it looked good on him.

"Please, everyone, calm down." Officer Hollinson spoke again. "We'd like to talk to each of you in turn. Please do not engage in useless speculation. We need you to see Officer Weeks, here…" He indicated the taller blonde cop next to him. "He'll get things arranged. Thank you for your patience and co-operation."

At this, the other officers moved into action, organizing employees into small groups, and getting their names and background information. Brian obediently got into line, and tried not to stare back at Officer Hollinson, who seemed to be watching him thoughtfully, as though trying to place him. He'd heard his father talk about C.J. Hollinson. One of the steadiest, smartest guys on the force, his dad often said. Someone who got the job done. Brian stared back at him.

Better mind your own fucking business, Officer C.J. Hollinson. Don't piss me off. You don't want me as your enemy, C.J., ol' buddy, I don't care how much my dad likes you. To me, you're just another one of them.

Saturday morning, Dane was at his bookstore, ringing in a purchase for a little auburn-haired boy. They both looked up as the front door opened, admitting Sarah.

"Hi, Ms. Bourque," the boy said.

Sarah smiled at him. "Hi, Aaron." She pulled a newspaper out of the bundle, and slid some change into the soda machine. "How are you today?"

"Fine, thank you."

"Good. Where's Brian? Or are you out on your own today?"

"Brian's working till five."

"Oh." Sarah placed her items on the counter. "When you see him, tell him that the movie he ordered is in."

"I will!" Aaron ran out of the store and hopped on his bike. He peeled away at a pretty good clip. Sarah watched him, smiling. Then she looked up at Dane. "He's such a cute kid."

"Yeah, he is. Comes in every Saturday for comic books." Dane rang in her purchases, a bit awkward. He wondered if Sarah was still mad at him. "How are you, Sarah?"

She smiled and shrugged. "Fine. You?"

"Not bad." Then he grinned, a bit sheepishly. "A bit hung over. C.J. was over last night. We had a few."

"Have a big, greasy meal. It'll help." Sarah smiled and turned to leave.

Dane didn't want her to go. He kept talking. "Thanks." He laughed. Just like my old college days. Uh…anything new at the shop?"

Sarah paused, and looked back from the doorway with a little smile on her face. "You shouldn't spend so much time watching movies, Dane. Life is just passing you by. Get out and live a little."

Dane didn't know what to say, just stared at her in surprise. "Oh. Right." After a moment, he said, "Well, how about you and I -"

"We're not having this conversation again," Sarah said. "When you've got your issues worked out, call me. Otherwise, don't waste my time. And besides, I have a date tonight." She walked out, leaving him standing there open-mouthed.

What the hell! He thought, astonished, as the phone rang. He reached over to pick it up. Dammit! Why the hell are women always so difficult? "Dane's Book Depot," he snarled into the receiver. He could see Sarah walking down the street, pausing to talk to Steven Smith.

"Dane?"

"Yeah, C.J., hi…" He saw Sarah laugh and toss her dark curls back, at something Steven said. Dane fumed. When was the last time she laughed like that around Dane?

"Busy?"

"Huh? No." C.J.'s voice sounded strange. Dane frowned as Sarah leaned in and lightly touched Steven's arm. Really, did she have to flirt with every guy in Indigo? She wasn't dating Steven, was she? He couldn't see him being her type, to be honest.

"I need to cancel for tonight."

"Yeah, sure." Dane glared out the window. What the hell were they talking about, that had her so animated? Sure, Steven was a nice guy, but truth be told, he could be a bit boring.

"You got any other plans?"

"Huh?" Dane focused on what C.J. was saying. "How come you're canceling?"

"Are you even listening to me?" C.J. sounded amused.

"Sorry," Dane said, watching Sarah lean in close to hang on Steven's every word. "What'd you say?"

"Keep your doors and windows locked out there in the woods. Hell, stay out of the woods altogether. Grab the cat, and crash at my place tonight." C.J. sighed. "We've got another one. I'll call you later. What time are you going to be home?"

"Uh…probably late. Say ten. Another what? Not another murder!" Dane said, horrified.

"Yeah. Keep it quiet. You're not really working that late, are you? You got other plans?"

Dane was silent for a moment. "No, not me," he said, bitterly. "But I might go catch a movie, or something. May as well, I don't know. What time are you going to call?"

"How about I call you before you close up. Go home, grab the cat, and crash at my place. You can watch a movie there," C.J. said patiently. "I don't want you out there in the woods. I want you right where I can keep an eye on you."

"I'm not crashing at your place, and I'm perfectly safe at my house," Dane said. "Call me at home tonight."

C.J. sighed, irritated. "What time's good for you, then?" he snapped.

"Oh. Uh, say ten, I guess."

"All right. Gotta go. Lock your doors and windows, and be careful out there." C.J. hung up.

Dane stared at the phone, all thoughts of Sarah gone.

Another murder?

What the hell was going on in this town?

Fifteen

"…sent to another dumbass counselor. God they piss me off, with their phony "I understand how you're feeling" bullshit. Yeah right, they got no goddamned clue how I'm feeling…"

- excerpt from Brian Besaird's journals

"BESAIRD. BRIAN PHINNEAS Besaird."

"Phinneas, eh? How do you spell all that?" Officer Hollinson asked politely, his dark eyes boring into Brian's light brown ones. He knew that he'd met Brian before somewhere, the minute he saw him earlier that morning. It had been puzzling him, and when he had read the list of employees that Mr. Dawson had given him, C.J. had recognized the name. Brian Besaird - Jimmy Besaird's boy.

"B-E-S-A-I-R-D. B-R-I-A-N. P-H-I-N-N-E-A-S."

"Thank you, Brian." Officer Hollinson made some notes in firm handwriting. They were sitting in the store manager's office, with the door closed for privacy.

Officer Weeks, Mr. Dawson, and some lawyer sat in the small room with them, silently observing. A video camera whirred in the corner, firmly attached to a small tripod. It was nearly one - interviewing each employee had taken quite a while. The store was still closed, so the assistant manager was taking advantage of the down time to get some serious cleaning done. Through the small windows in the office, Brian could see everyone scattered throughout the store, burning the old elbow grease.

"And how long have you worked here, Brian?"

Read my nametag, dumbass, Brian thought scornfully, though he kept his face composed. "Uh, six years. Six years in December, anyway." He hoped Hollinson didn't notice the slight tremor in his voice; or, if he did, Brian hoped that he would chalk it up to ordinary nervousness in the presence of a cop.

"Six years, wow, that's a long time. Like it here? Good place to work?"

Brian forced himself to smile at the cop, who was smiling at him politely in a "Hey, we're all buddies" way. His school counselor used to smile at him like that, too. Idiot. "Yeah, it's alright. It's a job."

"Yeah, nice store. I shop here sometimes. So, what's your job description, son?"

I'm not your son, asshole. "Uh…well, I stock the shelves, and serve customers. You know, help them find stuff. And sometimes I load their groceries into their cars."

"Parcel pickup."

"Yeah. Yeah, parcel pickup."

"Hey, weren't you the guy who did the parcel pickup for Gisele Brown last week? Didn't you give a statement to Officer Weeks?"

Like you don't already know that. "Uh, yeah, I did. I mean, I told him then, too, I don't know her or anything like that. Like, I recognized her picture." Brian nodded, his hands twisting in his lap. "She used to shop here sometimes, but I don't think I ever talked to her or anything. I really don't know her. Sorry."

"Didn't she give you a hard time? I think that's what some witnesses said."

"Yeah, uh, yeah." Brian reached up, rubbed the back of his neck tiredly. "That's why I remember her, really. I heard she used to be a bitch with everyone. It was no big deal."

"That so?"

"Yeah. I mean, it's too bad, though, what happened to her."

"Yeah." Hollinson watched him for a few more seconds. Brian wished he'd just hurry up and finish the interview. "Yeah. Hell of a shame, that."

"Any luck catching the guy who did it?"

"Uh, yeah." Hollinson looked down at his notes. "We've got a few promising leads. Still, anyone with any information, we're encouraging them to come forward. We can use all the help we can get on these cases." He sighed, then looked back up at Brian. "So. Ever work with Christopher Grett?"

"Chris, yeah. Yeah, I've worked with him. Went to school with him, too."

Brian had a couple of hours to think of the best way to answer these sorts of questions, and decided that honesty was the best policy - to a point, anyway. "Yeah. We're not friends, though. I mean, it sucks that he got killed, right? But we never got along that well. Different crowds, that kind of thing." Brian shrugged. "So, I don't know him hardly at all. It's too bad, though. Shitty thing to happen."

"Yeah," said Hollinson, staring steadily at Brian again. "Yeah. It's too bad."

Brian composed his face into a mask of sympathy, and shook his head sadly. "Poor guy."

Officer Hollinson continued to stare. Brian supposed that he was trying to intimidate him, or something. After a few moments, Hollinson spoke again.

"Any idea who would want to kill him, Brian?"

Brian's eyes widened and he blew out his breath in a whoosh. "Jeez, no idea. Was it really murder, then?"

Officer Hollinson's gaze never wavered. "At this point, we're not sure. We're still investigating."

Brian shook his head regretfully. "Jeez, that's really hard to believe. I mean, I didn't like him, I'll be honest with you, but lots of people did, you know? He really was popular. Can't see it, really." Brian shrugged. "No idea. I can't imagine who would do something like that."

"Where were you last night, Brian? After dark?"

Perfect. Brian had been waiting for this. Give the dog a bone. He arranged his features to suddenly look panicked. "Oh, man…"

"Yes?" Hollinson leaned forward. The tension level in the room rose a notch - the lawyer even stopped taking notes to pay close attention.

"Oh, man…don't tell my dad…"

Hollinson shrugged. "Jimmy? Why would I tell him anything?"

"But he works at the cop shop…uh, sorry, I mean police station…with you…he'd be pissed if he found out what I was doing last night…" He looked pleadingly at Hollinson, a "C'mon, buddy" look.

"Well, tell me and I'll see what I can work out." Hollinson said.

Excellent, thought Brian. Let's be pals, you and me. Let's be real good pals, Officer C.J. Shithead… He tried to look like he was trying not to look nervous. "I was up at the Gorge. I had a case of beer."

"Drinking?" Hollinson looked at him sharply. "Driving?"

"Uh…yeah…" Sheepishly. "It's just that… sometimes, you know, I like to get out of the house, grab a book and a case of beer, just go be by myself for a bit. You know, all week working with the public, then taking care of my little brother at nights…sometimes I just need a break, you know?"

Hollinson made some notes again. "Anyone see you out there?"

Brian shrugged. "Jeez, no idea. I didn't see anyone, but I wasn't looking. I had my mp3. It was pretty deserted, far as I know. My dad told me to stay out of the woods, though, till that killer was caught, and he'll be pissed if he knew I was back there."

Hollinson paused in his writing, then, in a hedging sort of voice, asked, "Brian - did you see anyone at all? Any vehicles? Hear any voices? Not necessarily last night, but any time recently? Not out by the Gorge, but by the far end of town, out past the sports club?"

Weeks looked up from the video camera, and gave Hollinson a puzzled glance. Brian got the impression that there was more to that question than there seemed to be. He wondered what it was. Maybe they did have some kind of leads, after all. Curious.

"Uh, not that I've noticed. Well, I never go that way, anyway. I live down closer to Old Woods Road, that's usually how I go in. Plus I've usually got my headphones on, and like I said, I try to keep to myself. I'm not going out there to be sociable. I do that enough here." He chuckled. "My dad says I spend too much time out in the woods by myself."

"Your dad's right," said Hollinson gravely. "The first murder took place in the woods somewhere, and - between you and me, all right? - Chris died out in the woods, too." He sighed, his face grim. Then he said, "Listen, until we catch the killer, I want you to stay out of the woods, too. Keep your eyes open, and if you have anything you want to tell me…anything at all…call me. Anytime. Here's my card. If you see anyone suspicious going into or out of the woods, call me."

He handed a small white card to Brian, who murmured his thanks, and tucked it into his wallet. Hollinson looked at Brian intently. "Nothing's too small to report, Brian. It's going to be the small details that trip up this guy, or girl, whatever. Anything you can do to help, please do so. And I don't want you drinking and driving anymore." He held out his hand and smiled warmly. "It's a pleasure to see you again - Jimmy talks a lot about you and your little brother. Your dad's pretty proud of both of you, and your dad's a great guy." Beside him, Officer Weeks nodded and smiled.

Brian shook hands with both cops. "Yeah, a pleasure to meet you guys, too. And if I think of anything, I'll call you."

Mr. Dawson rose. "Thank you, Brian. You may have the rest of the day off, and if you'd like to speak to one of the counselors, they're set up in the break room. Could you send Krista in next, please?"

"Sure thing, Mr. Dawson. Thanks." Brian nodded to everyone, then left the room, making sure not to look back. He'd read in a book once that looking back was a sure sign of guilt.

It's going to be the small details that trip up this guy.

Shit. He'd have to think things over, make sure that he hadn't left any small details to trip him up. And what was it, he wondered, that C.J. Hollinson had seemed to be on the verge of asking? What was going on at the other end of town?

Who did they suspect?

Sixteen

"…sometimes I wonder if I'm crazy. Sometimes I think I am. But maybe I'm just imagining it all. Who the fuck knows, really, who the fuck cares…"

- excerpt from Brian Besaird's journals

SHORTLY AFTER THREE, Brian arrived home. Aaron was nowhere to be seen, and his father was snoring on the couch, the ball game on the tv. He shut the bedroom door behind him, and threw himself on his bed without bothering to remove his uniform.

"Jesus", he muttered, rolling onto his back and staring furiously at the ceiling. He'd paid a small visit to the counselors, just to avoid arousing suspicion. Mealy-mouthed bullshit, that had been. Fucking waste of time. Then he'd stopped for a burger on the way home. Not a good idea - the grease was making his stomach churn even worse. Was it just his imagination, or had every little glance, every little move, had seemed to be an accusation?

Does he know? He'd think, when someone's gaze lingered on him for a little too long. What's she thinking? He'd wonder, when a cashier would avert her gaze. Do I look guilty or something? Do I look like I have something to hide?

He'd decided that he was just paranoid. He'd covered his tracks, after all. Hadn't he?

Small details.

Fuck.

Trying to take slow, deep breaths, Brian stared at the ceiling and thought hard. Small details, small details. Had he tripped up on any? He didn't think so. He'd watched enough of those crime shows and movies, and had even read enough books to have a pretty good idea of what things can trip you up. And even the internet had provided a ton of useful information. It was amazing, what you could find on the net if you looked hard enough.

He'd been obsessively careful to wear gloves and other clothing that would keep his skin cells and hair from contaminating crime scenes. Oversized boots with no tread. He'd used a different location in the woods each time, and was careful never to record any identifying landmarks. All his equipment had been purchased online, via mail-order, under a false identity, and delivered to a post office box some forty miles over. No one in town knew that he had this stuff. No one, not even his own family, knew what he had hidden in the trunk of his car, or under the floorboards of his bedroom.

Thinking about every little aspect, putting everything into perspective, soothed his nerves a bit, and Brian drifted into a calm state while gazing up at the swirled stucco patterns overhead. He continued reviewing his mental checklist.

There were hundreds of square miles of thick Maine woods surrounding Indigo, and at least fifteen miles separating Indigo from the Atlantic coastline. It would take one hell of a search to find the two locations, and derive any useful clues from them.

Brian had been careful to shovel up any blood-soaked dirt, to toss over the cliffs along with the body parts, and to carefully rake the remaining dirt and leaves back into place. He'd made sure to sweep up any footprints, clean any blood spatters off trees. He'd learned from tv that they could do a lot with a single drop of blood, or a single hair. DNA investigation was the wave of the future.

Heck, he'd even gone back to where he'd killed that dog, that time, because he thought that he had left a cigarette butt there. Mentally, he thanked the store's employee rep, Margherita. On a coffee break one day, she and some of the cashiers had been talking about one of those crime scene tv shows. She'd mentioned how DNA could be retrieved from saliva, even from something as small as a cigarette butt.

He breathed deeply, and exhaled. He was pretty sure that he'd handled everything properly. There was nothing to trip him up. One thing was for sure, though. He wouldn't take any more chances. He came to a decision.

His killing days were done. He couldn't do this anymore.

Relieved, he lit up a cigarette and watched the curls of smoke drift up towards the ceiling. He hadn't even meant to do this shit, anyway. What the fuck was the matter with him?

Sure, he used to write about "Kill Or Be Killed" in his journal. Elaborate stories of what he'd do to the people who used to bully him in school, who used to treat him like shit. It was a great stress reliever. It made him feel a hell of a lot better, just thinking of smashing Asshole Grett's over-inflated head in with a tire iron.

The school counselor had given him the idea, really. Good ol' Mr. Weirdo.

He'd suggested writing in a journal, to get his feelings out of his head and onto paper, to help him cope, after his mom had died. Brian had just taken it a step or two further.

That's where it all started, though, wasn't it? In those journals. He'd filled up…what, four? Five? Five, at least, all about his little imaginary game. "Kill Or Be Killed". It'd been a great way to deal with things. But he'd never intended to make it real, though. Had he?

No, he hadn't. Of course he hadn't. Only some crazy fuck would do something like that. Brian took a drag off his cigarette, relaxing and feeling curiously mellow about the whole thing. That was the key question, for him. Had he ever intended to follow through, or had he just been blowing off steam?

No, he told himself. He'd never intended to follow through. Only crazy people do shit like that.

Right. So why'd you buy all that stuff through mail-order? Under different names? And why do you keep it all hidden? Oh, and by the way - why did you use it?

Brian grinned. Only crazy people had voices in their heads. That was something that his father always said. And even crazier people actually listened to those voices. He stubbed out his cigarette butt, and sat up. He wasn't crazy. Was he? Would a crazy person actually wonder if he was crazy? He didn't think so. He suspected that if a person didn't occasionally wonder if he was crazy, then maybe he really was crazy.

Fuck that, he thought, lighting up another cigarette. He wasn't crazy, but if he kept thinking thoughts like this, he sure as fuck would end up that way. He'd just made a couple of stupid little mistakes, that's all. A couple of stupid little mistakes. The voice in his head scoffed.

Is that what you call them, Brian? Mistakes? You killed two people, Brian. And made DVDs of the murders. And then you gave copies of those DVDs to the cops. Why? 'Catch-me-if-you-can'? You honestly call those 'mistakes'?

Not at first. At first, it'd been fun. Hell, the cops still didn't have a clue. The ultimate game of "Catch Me", wasn't it? Talk about getting your thrills. But now, he was having second thoughts, and yeah. Maybe he'd made a couple of mistakes. A couple of big mistakes, maybe. Shit.

But it wasn't too late to stop. He could stop right now. Right this minute. Right now.

In fact, late tonight, he'd take a drive out to the coast, and smash the equipment up. Throw all that shit over the cliffs. No more.

But what about the DVDs?

His gaze slid over to the far corner of his bedroom, where he'd fashioned a storage area of sorts out of some loose floorboards. Not the most original idea in the world, but it had served him well. He'd hidden the DVDs under those boards. There were three - that Gisele Brown bitch, Chris Grett, and his very first attempt, the one involving Chelsy Lansing's dog. Fucking mutt had barked at him every time he'd walked by her house. How he'd hated that fucking dog.

He remembered the first time Chelsy had treated him like shit. He'd showed up at her house to take her out on a date, a date that she had agreed to, only to find that she'd ditched off on him. That damned dog had barked at him the whole time. Fucking mutt.

A few months ago, Brian had returned late one night and fed the dog some food laced with a sedative that the vet had given him for his own dog, after the dog had been operated on. Brian had laced the canned food with a pretty good dose of that sedative - more than twice what was recommended on the label - and the little bottom-feeder had gulped it down like it was filet mignon. The smacking and chewing noises made Brian want to kick the damn thing right in the head.

Not five minutes later, old Fluffy was passed out on the ground, and it had been no work, no work at all, to bring the mutt out to the woods and to teach the little asshole a lesson. No work at all. A downright pleasure, in fact, thank you ma'am.

But the thrill of it. Talk about adrenaline rush. Holy shit, talk about a fucking rush!

Brian thought of perfect little Chelsy, all dirt-streaked and crying, in the middle of the dark woods, pleading for her life. No one around for miles. No one to hear her cry or scream. He bet that she'd do anything in exchange for her life, or at least a quick, painless death. The thought made his nerve endings tingle.

He lay there, thinking how she'd teased him, and flirted with him, at school. How she'd trashed him - oh, she'd really made a fool out of him, hadn't she? The little slut. And she still treated him like shit. And he'd let her. He always let her. Like a desperate fool, he always let her. Yeah, Chelsy, I've always played the fucking fool for you…

His thoughts drifted back to high school, passed through old memories. What was it, grade eleven? No, grade ten. Yeah, that's it. Grade ten. His mother had died just a few months before, and he was on the basketball team. Before that asshole Grett had broken his leg. So it would have been November? No, October. The first time she had made a complete fool of him.

Late October, with the air full of the pleasant, earthy smell of decaying leaves, and the sky warm and golden from the late afternoon sunshine. A nice day to be sitting out on the football bleachers.

Brian sat near the far end of the bleachers, watching the cheerleaders practice. He had to admit, they were good. They were talented. He almost envied their grace and co-ordination, and he even had to admit - not out loud, of course - that they looked pretty cute in those silly little uniforms. "Let's go! Let's go! We're number one! Indigo!"

One of the cheerleaders, in particular, had Brian's attention. Chelsy Lansing.

He watched her doing some complicated kind of handstand, which ended up with her flying through the air in a graceful sort of somersault. She landed perfectly. Her beautiful face was flushed, and her silky blonde hair fanned out in every direction. He couldn't hear what one of the other girls said to her, but he saw her laugh, those dark blue eyes sparkling. Brian smiled.

Chelsy was one of the breed that he despised: the dreaded "in crowd". However, she sat next to him in most of his classes, and was usually pretty decent. After the game last weekend, she'd even come up to him and congratulated him on a spectacular showing. And she usually smiled at him whenever they passed in the halls. Brian thought that he might ask her out.

As the girls filed from the field, their practice completed, Brian slouched forward, and said, "Hey, Chelsy."

She looked up at him, surprised. "Oh, hi, Brian."

"How ya doing?"

"Not bad, not bad." Chelsy paused, and flipped her long hair back. He stared at how the bright sunlight traced golden paths on the soft strands. "How are you?"

"Not too bad." He leaned against the bleacher railing. You…uh…you doing anything tonight?"

Chelsy opened her mouth, then closed it, and her eyes slid away from Brian's. "Uh…I dunno…"

He shrugged. "Just wondering if you wanna get something to eat, or something?"

"Uh…" She seemed unsure. Then she smiled, a bit shyly. "Sure. I'd like that."

"Okay, then." Brian straightened up, and grinned at her, his usual smirk absent. "I'll come pick you up, then. Say about seven? Eight?"

"Uh…" Chelsy thought for a moment, then said, "Seven's good. You know where I live?"

"Yeah, over on Clearview. The big house with the pool."

"Right." She smiled, nervously, and ran her fingers through her hair. "All right, then."

"Yeah, all right." Before his nerve could give out, Brian leaned in close and kissed her. She seemed surprised at first, but after a moment, he felt her respond. He was about to pull her closer, but then she shyly pulled away.

"All right," Chelsy said, flustered. She stared up at him for a moment, then smiled, grabbed her backpack, and hurried off towards the school. Just before she entered the building, she looked back at him. She gave him a half-smile, bit her lip, and disappeared indoors.

At six-fifty-three p.m., Brian pulled up in front of the Lansing house. He did a quick check in the mirror, to make sure all his ends were tucked, and he reached over to pick up the white roses that he had purchased on the way over. Just three - he couldn't afford more than that, not if he wanted to take Chelsy to Renny's (home of the best wings and ribs in town, according to the big billboard on the highway).

One more quick check, and he got out of the car. He strode quickly up the front walk, and used the big lion's head knocker to knock on the door.

An older man opened the door. Brian guessed him to be Chelsy's father. Tall and well-built, he had a graying crew cut, and vibrant blue eyes the same shade as his daughter's. "Yes?" The man was polite enough, his gaze appraisingly taking in Brian's slicked-back hair, new shirt, and shined shoes. His eyes lingered on the roses.

"Hello, Mr. Lansing?" Brian held out a hand, which was met with a firm handshake. "I'm Brian Besaird. I'm here to pick up Chelsy."

"Chelsy?" Her father appeared perplexed. "Why, she's gone out, Brian. She went out with her friends. Did you have plans with her?"

"I…uh…" Brian felt like a first-class idiot. "Uh…maybe I've got the wrong night."

"Do you want me to give her a message?" Mr. Lansing said kindly.

"Yeah. Uh…" Brian thrust the roses into the older man's hand. "These are for her. Tell her I'll see her at school." His face flaming, he spun quickly and walked to his car as fast as he could without breaking into a run. Damned if he didn't feel like the biggest goddamned fool.

He slid behind the wheel and just sat there for a moment, his face flaming. Maybe she'd gotten mixed up. Maybe she'd thought he meant some other night. Maybe.

Brian glanced up towards the house, just in time to see Chelsy watching him from an upstairs window. She darted away, but she knew that he had seen her.

He sat there for a moment longer, not embarrassed anymore. He was mad now. He felt like he'd been kicked in the gut. She'd gotten her father to lie for her. Couldn't even do it herself. She'd made her father lie for her. And to think, just for a moment, Brian had almost liked the man.

Disgusted, more at himself than anything, he started the car, and peeled away.

All these years later, and he could still feel himself blushing with embarrassment. The next time he saw her at school, Chelsy had been withdrawn, avoiding eye contact - or any kind of contact, for that matter - with him. After a few months, they became semi-friendly again, but Brian never forgot how she had humiliated him.

He still saw her parents, once or twice a month, at the grocery store. Her father always greeted him politely. Brian was always polite in return, but he knew that the older man could see the contempt in his eyes.

Couldn't even let her do her own dirty work, could you, he would think, sneering. The little slut plays you just like she plays every other guy. You must be some proud to have a daughter like that. Well, you can keep her. She's not fit for me to wipe my shoes on, old man. Not one bit. To me, she's nothing but a little whore.

Brian got up and walked over to the floorboards. Surveying the DVDs stacked neatly underneath, he chose the one marked "Gisele Brown", and walked over to the tv beside his bed. He turned the volume low. His father was sleeping like the dead downstairs, but Brian got up and locked his bedroom door nonetheless, and made sure that the shades were pulled down. Watching out for those small details, he thought.

As the image of the bloodied, sobbing woman appeared on the screen, Brian pictured Chelsy's perfect, beautiful face in her place, begging for his mercy. Apologizing for being such a whore. He'd like to see her beg for her life, he thought. He'd like to see her cry. He didn't even notice as his hand slipped beneath the waistband of his jeans.

…yeah. I bet little Princess Chelsy would do just about anything…

Seventeen

"…always going to visit Mom's grave, it drives me nuts. Sometimes I just want to tell Dad to get the fuck over it! She ain't ever gonna come back. She's worm food now. Fucking pathetic…"

- excerpt from Brian Besaird's journals

AT THE PRECINCT, C.J. sat at his desk, staring at his untouched coffee. He wasn't feeling so hot. And he sure as hell didn't like the way his thoughts were going. Last night - why did Dane go back into the woods? What was so important about those damn woods?

Gary said that Chris had been going out with friends, had gone out early, in fact. Before dark.

If…and that was one huge "if"…Dane was the killer, would he have known that Chris was going out? Or was Chris even the intended victim?

Think about this, man. Think what you're saying. Dane. Your best friend. You've known him half your life. A killer? But he's changed so much since Nathalie died, hasn't he? So damned much. Quick-tempered. Reclusive. Restless. Picks up one hobby, drops it. Picks up another, drops it. This camcorder - what's the deal with that? When did he get interested in that?

Ok, enough, C.J. thought, firmly. Look at the facts. Chris went out early. Dane went into the woods late. After midnight. Ah, but he went into the woods earlier, too, didn't he. C.J. leaned back in his chair and rubbed his aching eyes. Speculation was one thing. Proof was another. He needed some proof.

Unfortunately, the only way he could think of obtaining that proof was to investigate the woods. And I'm definitely doing it alone. Probably a stupid thing to do, but if I'm wrong about Dane, I don't want him to know I even suspected him. And I don't want anyone else to know about it, either. C.J. stood up, and drained his now-cold coffee in a single gulp. I have to know. Because I can't believe that he would hurt anyone. I can't believe he would kill anyone. I have to know the truth.

Dane ended up working late that night. He'd hoped to hang out with C.J. for a while, but C.J. had to work. Dane figured that this was as good a time as any to prepare his weekly return and make way for new stock. Besides, the shop was comfortably air-conditioned, and the house would be roasting. It held the heat a little too well, sometimes. Meatball lay curled up on his cushion beside Dane's work area, snoring.

Dane noticed C.J. drive past the shop, wearing his civvies and driving his own car. He saw C.J. slow and peer inside, but realized that he probably couldn't see him through the tinted windows. No problem - if C.J. wanted to stop, Dane's SUV was parked behind the store. C.J. would know that he was there. C.J. kept on going.

Dane wondered what he was up to, as he sorted delisted romance titles. Probably plainclothes surveillance, he thought, mildly envious. He would ask him later. Last night, C.J. had been too tired and stressed-out to talk. The news had broken today, via rumours and gossip: Chris Grett had been murdered last night. No one knew how, for sure, but everyone was convinced that it had been the same person or persons who had murdered Gisele Brown.

Dane had been shocked and heartbroken when he'd heard. Back in high school, he and C.J. used to hang out with Dave Grett, Gary's younger brother. Gary'd been a big football hero in their town, and it had been a big honour to be invited to the Grett's for a summer weekend barbecue. Because he and C.J. were good friends with Dave, they'd often partied at Gary's.

Dane shook his head, sadly. He and C.J. were still on friendly terms with Gary. He'd have to give him a call, later. Not right now, though. He didn't want to intrude on the family's grief. He knew too well how it felt. They were going through a hell that he would never, ever wish upon anyone. He sighed, and returned to his books.

C.J. parked off the road as much as he could, deep in the woods. He'd driven as far as the road went, and hadn't seen anything suspicious. Glancing around, he cautiously emerged from his car, his weapon strapped to his hip. The woods were quiet - he didn't sense anyone there. It was getting dark, and the road through the trees had been even darker. He was at the cliffs where the road ended, and the last of the sun's rays shimmered softly on the cold waters of the Atlantic Ocean.

He took a step forward, to peer over the cliff. Just then, C.J.'s foot caught on something hard, and he lurched forward, nearly falling head first over the cliff. "Shit!" he exclaimed, catching himself on a tree trunk just in time. He looked down. It had to be a good eighty, or a hundred feet to the rocky beach below.

"Shit, that was close," he muttered, scrambling to his feet. He wasn't fond of heights. He looked down to see what he had tripped over…and his jaw dropped, in amazement. It was a small headstone.

It rested on the ground, partially obscured by low-hanging foliage. That was why C.J. had not seen it. On the ground in front of it lay a heavy block of crystal, with a red rose preserved inside. He brushed aside some leaves, and knelt to read the carved lettering on the headstone.

"Nathalie Shand." The dates of her birth and death.

C.J. sat down heavily, floored by what he saw. Shock, and relief, flooded him.

Now he knew why Dane came out to the woods by himself. It was to be with Nathalie, in the only way that he could.

Her body - most of the bodies from the crash, in fact - had never been found in the pieces of wreckage - and the funeral service for her had contained an empty coffin. But here - apparently this is where Dane had wanted to be able to visit her, rather than the old graveyard. Here on the coast, overlooking the Atlantic Ocean, where he could come by himself and have some privacy.

C.J. understood. He remembered how much Nathalie and Dane had loved the ocean. They'd planned to build a cottage out along the coast.

He felt relief course through him, and he bowed his head, one hand on the small headstone. "Thank God," he murmured, a lump in his throat. "Thank God." He now knew, without a doubt. It wasn't proof, not by a long shot, but it was good enough for him.

Eighteen

"…love to just haul them out to the woods and pump a few shells into their thick, stupid heads…"

- excerpt from Brian Besaird's journals

DANE'S CELL PHONE rang, startling him. "Hello," he said, balancing the phone between his ear and his shoulder as he taped up the last carton of book returns.

"Hey." It was C.J.

"Hey, what's up?" C.J. sounded tired, but Dane wasn't really surprised, what with the stress and the overtime that he'd been working lately. "Saw you earlier, you drove by the store."

"Yeah, didn't have time to stop in, sorry."

"No problem." Dane snipped off the last bit of packing tape, then grabbed his phone, rubbing his slightly-stiff shoulder. "I was knee-deep in magazines, so I wouldn't have had time for you anyway. So what's going on?"

"You still busy?"

"Just finishing up here, actually. Why? Want to get some food? I'm starving."

"Not right now, maybe later." C.J. paused, and Dane could hear voices in the background. After a moment, he said, "Stuart's called a meeting. It's been on the radio all evening, but I thought I'd check and make sure you knew about it."

"Oh yeah? No, I didn't know. What's it about?" Dane checked his watch - it was ten after nine, no wonder he was hungry. "Where's it at?"

"Indigo South Rec - they're gonna be calling for volunteers." C.J. yawned, then continued. "It's at nine-thirty. You interested?"

"Yeah, for sure. Are you gonna be there?"

"Yeah, we'll all be there. We're hoping to get a few hundred people out, volunteers to help patrol the woods and such. Ah - wait -" He paused, and Dane could hear his voice, muffled, as he spoke to someone. Then C.J. came back on the phone. "I gotta go - see you at the Rec, all right?"

"Yeah, I'll be there." Dane clicked off the phone, and locked up the shop. Humming to himself, he made his way over to his SUV and climbed in, revving the engine. It was a five-minute drive to the Rec Center, so he took his time, knowing that it wouldn't matter if he was a few minutes late or not.

Within moments, he arrived, and swore at the sight of the packed parking lot. He began to drive around, looking for a space. He finally found a space down at the of the block - he was pretty sure that he was illegally parked, but he wasn't the only one, so he didn't worry about it. All the cops were inside, anyway.

Limping slightly, Dane walked the length of the block, and carefully hopped up the old cement steps. The place was all lit up, and people were packed inside, almost to the doors.

It was difficult to squeeze into the crowded auditorium. Dane couldn't believe the amount of people that had turned out. He wormed his way around the perimeter of the crowd, and spotted a couple of acquaintances by one of the coffee tables.

With a few nods and smiles to friends and neighbours, he made his way over to Whiney and Troy. "Hey," Dane said, as he reached them. He nodded his thanks as Whiney handed him a styrofoam cup filled with hot coffee.

"Dane," said Troy, laconically. "Hell of a crowd, huh?" He pursed his lips, looking somber.

"Not bad, not bad." Dane grinned and ducked a playful punch from Scott, who was passing by. He glanced around, a full head taller than everyone else in the room, and did a quick count. "There's got to be a thousand people here, at least," he said, incredulously.

"And more outside," added Troy, nodding towards the door. Sure enough, Dane could see dozens more congregated outside. "Hell of a shame, though, all this."

"Sure is." Whiney added some sugar to his coffee. He nodded, sorrowfully. "First that poor woman, and now little Chris Grett."

"That woman was Sarah Bourque's cousin-by-marriage, did you know that?" Dane took a sip of the weak coffee, and grimaced. He reached over and snagged a couple of donuts off the refreshment table.

"Sarah's cousin!" Whiney exclaimed. "You don't say! I'll have to pass along my condolences, next time I see her."

"Sarah's up front, talking to them art gallery boys," Troy said to Whiney, jerking his head towards the podium. "Hell of a thing, that. I saw Chris…what, Thursday? Friday? I was picking up some groceries, Chris was stocking shelves."

"Where was that?" Dane asked, frowning as he looked for Sarah. He spotted her, next to a tall, dark haired man, and he glared at the back of their heads. What was she still talking to Steven Smith for? He began to wonder if there was anything going on. Maybe he'd ask her sometime.

He pulled at the collar of his polo shirt. It was stifling inside the auditorium, and he glanced down at his watch. Nine-twenty-five. If this meeting didn't get started soon, he was going to go stand outside with the others. It had to be cooler out there, anyway.

"West side. Steeves Grocery. Down by the creek."

Just then, Whiney stood up on the tips of his toes, peering over the crowd. "Cops are here." Around them, the muttering of the crowd subsided.

Dane looked to see if he could spot C.J. He could just see him enveloped in the crowd, his tired and drawn face making him look ten years older. It looked like the entire police force was there, all of them struggling to make their way to the small stage and podium. Once there, they lined up behind the podium, somber in their dark blue uniforms.

They all looked tired. Dane could see Captain Stuart, with his slicked-back black hair and piercing black eyes, step up to address the crowd.

He tapped the microphone a couple of times, testing for sound. Satisfied that it was working, he leaned forward and spoke into it. His smooth, deep voice was reassuring. "Ladies and gentlemen. Thank you for coming here tonight." He paused, then spoke again. "As you know, a second murder has taken place."

Muttering broke out again, and Stuart waited until it died down a bit. "You're all aware that we've been investigating these murders, and that we have search teams, as well as planes, and K-9 Units, combing the surrounding areas. However," he paused again, and took a deep breath. His dark eyes search the crowd imploringly. "We need your help. We are asking for volunteers to help patrol the roads into the woods overnight."

The muttering broke out again, louder this time, and approving.

"We'll need volunteers to patrol the roads, volunteers to provide relief, coordinators, what have you. I'm not going to lie to you, though," he said, speaking over the crowd. "We're up against some kind of serial killer, or maybe even more than one. We don't have any leads yet. Other than the fact that the perp is someone who doesn't give a damn about human life. This volunteer duty may be dangerous. You all need to remember that before you come on board." Stuart paused, to let his words sink in. The room had gone quiet. "Does anyone here wish to volunteer?"

Every hand in the room went up.

Nineteen

"…sure, she's pretty, but man, can she ever be a fucking bitch sometimes…"

- excerpt from Brian Besaird's journals

ABOUT HALF AN hour before the meeting was getting underway, Brian pulled his car up to the curb in front of Chelsy Lansing's house. He hadn't meant to leave it so late, and he wanted to get a move on. It was getting pretty dark out now, though, which suited him just fine.

He hadn't spoken to Chelsy in months. Not, if he recalled correctly, since he had showed up at a house party out in the new subdivision on the west side, and had run into her there, surrounded as always by her faithful followers. He was sure that they were the same crowd of idiots that she'd always been surrounded with in school, too.

He guessed some things never changed, and wondered why she hadn't gone to college or university yet. He doubted that the little princess had ever worked a day in her life. Why should she, when Mummy and Daddy were paying her way and doing everything for her?

His gut burned with bitterness. He fucking hated people like that. He really, honestly, passionately hated them.

He had said hello to her that night, and she'd brushed him off, then spent the rest of the night batting her eyelashes at him, and hiding behind her friends. Same old story. Still a little slut. As far as he was concerned, it was past time for her to get hers. Past time, and then some.

There were no cars in the driveway, and he wondered for a moment if she was even home. It was a Saturday night, after all. After a moment, though, he could hear some kind of music coming from an open window upstairs. Her bedroom, he thought with satisfaction. He'd watched her house long enough to know which room was hers.

Brian sat in the front seat of his car and watched her house for a long moment, thinking. He could turn around right now. Turn around, go home, resume his normal, boring little life - and after a few months, when things settled down, maybe he could - what? Move? Quit his job, go to school? What?

Maybe he should just do that, then. Get the hell out of here, move on with his life. Sure, Chelsy was a bitch, and she'd really treated him like shit. Had she ever. But was she worth it? Was revenge really worth it, when it came right down to it?

He sighed, toying with his key chain. After a few moments, he got out of the car and walked up the front walk. What the hell, right?

There was no one about to see him, which was good. The street seemed deserted, even. Barely any lights were on in any of the houses. Perfect.

He rang the doorbell. He could hear her light footsteps coming down the stairs. Brian caught his breath as she opened the door. She looked as though she was ready for bed. Her long blonde hair was caught up in a casual, messy ponytail, and there was no trace of makeup on her flawless face. Instead of the expensive, tailored clothes that she normally wore, she looked comfortable in a baggy pink sweat suit.

She looked beautiful.

"Oh…Brian," Chelsy said carefully. "How…how are you?"

"Hey, Chels." He forced himself to sound normal. "How's it going?"

"Oh…I'm…uh, fine." She seemed confused by his appearance, and made no move to let him inside the house. "What's going on?"

"I have a question to ask you." He felt a surge of anger as he saw the closed, wary expression on her face.

What's the matter, Princess, think I'm gonna ask you out again? As if. I learned my fucking lesson the first time. Quite thoroughly, thank you very fucking much.

"It's about your dog."

"Oh!" She looked relieved for a moment, then sad. "He died."

"He did?" Brian pretended to be surprised. "Oh, alright then. Sorry to bother you. It's just that I thought I saw him running loose in the woods near my dad's old cabin…"

"Really?" Her lovely face lit up. "Well, to tell you the truth, we really didn't know what happened to him. About three or four months ago, he disappeared. Daddy figured that he got loose, and something got him in the woods." She paused, frowned. "You really think it was him?"

"His name is Skipper, right?" She nodded. Brian leaned against the door frame, his hands in his pockets. He smiled. "Yeah…I think it's him. He's pretty thin, and not real friendly, but I gave him a sandwich, and he didn't seem completely wild. He ate it in like two bites, though. I can show you where I saw him. Want me to take your dad or your brother out there?"

Chelsy looked disappointed. "They're not home. They're at that big town meeting, you know, at the Rec Center."

"Oh, shit, that's right. I forgot about that!" Brian feigned surprise again. "About the murders, right?"

"Right." Chelsy looked down for a moment. When she looked back up at Brian, her clear blue eyes were sad. "You must have heard about Chris - are you still working at the grocery store?"

"Yeah." Brian shook his head. "Man, that was a shock. Horrible."

"Yeah." Chelsy sighed sadly. "We were going to get together tonight, you know, light some candles for Chris. But then everyone took off for that meeting."

She hugged her arms close to her, and looked around. "I didn't want to go. It's too hard, right now. I mean, it hurts, you know? I just wanted some time alone."

She looked at him, as though she were asking Brian to acknowledge her suffering, to understand the pain that she was going through, as though she was the only person on the entire planet who had ever lost anyone that they cared about.

Oh, but he understood, all right. He understood, just as he had understood ever since high school. He understood that Chelsy Lansing was just too wrapped up in her precious self to give a damn about others.

He understood, and hated himself for still being attracted to her - the selfish little princess. He bit down his anger, though, and sought the right words to ingratiate himself.

"Yeah, I don't blame you," he said, trying not to gag on his words. "Some people wouldn't understand what it's like to lose a friend, but I do." He gave her a sympathetic glance, and she smiled at him.

After a moment, Chelsy spoke again. "Thanks, Brian. I knew you'd understand. Well, if you're not too busy, maybe you could take me to where you saw Skipper? Maybe I could get him to come home."

Excellent. Brian appeared to think it over, though he was actually delighted at how smoothly his plan was going. "Well, I don't know…jeez, now that you mention it, going into the woods might be dangerous…"

"Oh, come on," she said, turning on the charm. "It'll be safe. There are two of us. And it would really take my mind off things. Please, Brian?" Chelsy leaned forward, her lovely eyes imploring, and laid a well-manicured hand on his arm.

He sighed, then said, reluctantly, "Well…ok. But let's hurry and get it over with."

"Great," she squealed. "Thanks, Brian! Give me two minutes to get ready." Without a second glance, she closed the door in his face, leaving him standing alone on the doorstep. Any second thoughts that he might have had disappeared with that small, thoughtless act.

Un-fucking-believable, he thought, amazed. You really think you're the cat's ass, don't you? You'll see. You'll see who's really cat's ass. I can guarantee that, sweetheart. You'll see.

He pasted a phony smile on his face, to hide the fury burning in his gut, and Chelsy reappeared two minutes later, beaming at him. She carried a leash and a collar, and a bag of dog treats. She hadn't changed, except to put on a pair of sneakers.

"Thanks, Brian. This is really great of you."

"Hey, no problem," he forced himself to say. "No problem at all, Chels."

He led her out to the car, and opened the door for her. A quick glance up and down the street showed no one watching, not even from lit-up windows. Did everyone in town go to that damned meeting? Shit. He'd have to think up a good cover story, to explain his absence. "We should be back in no time. It's not far."

"That's cool."

There was a slightly awkward silence, as he drove away. She didn't seem to know what to say, and Brian wasn't interested in making conversation with her, anyway, so he settled for turning the stereo up. Chelsy made a face.

"Too loud!" She nearly shouted, in order for him to hear her. He turned the volume up louder. She rolled her eyes, and with a pouty expression, she leaned back against the seat, and gazed out the window.

Christ! Brian thought, irritated. What the fuck did I ever see in her? He slid a cigarette out of the pack in his jeans jacket, and lit up.

"Must you smoke?"

"Huh?" He looked at her askance.

Testily, Chelsy turned the volume down on his car stereo. "I said, must you smoke?"

"That a problem?" He blew a stream of smoke into her face.

"Second-hand smoke is bad for my health," she said, waving it away.

Brian couldn't help it; he started laughing. Bad for her health? He laughed harder. Too damned funny. Oh Princess, he thought, pretty soon, second hand smoke is going to be the least of your worries. I can pretty much guarantee you that. How do you like them apples, huh? Huh, Princess?

"What are you laughing about?"

She was cute when she was angry, even if she was a mint-pure bitch. Brian blew another stream of smoke at her, and shook his head, still grinning. "Suck it up, Princess."

"What did you call me?

Brian laughed even louder, as they drove into the not-yet guarded Maine woods. Irritated, Chelsy rolled down her window and stared out into the growing darkness. They drove slowly along the bumpy roads for about fifteen or twenty minutes. Finally, Brian pulled over and turned the ignition off. Chelsy breathed a sigh of tired relief, and got out of the car.

"About time! God, that took long enough. You should really get your headlights fixed."

"Yeah, I'll get right on that." He'd kept them turned off, so as not to attract any attention. It had been difficult, but the road was clear for the most part. He just hadn't driven too fast.

"You don't have to be sarcastic," Chelsy snapped. "I thought you said it wasn't far. We must be halfway to the border by now."

"Don't exaggerate."

"It's too dark here," she continued, her voice turning whiny. "Are you sure it's the right spot?"

"Yeah." Brian got out and looked around. He couldn't see anyone else near, couldn't sense any other presence. With luck, everyone was still at the rec center. And he knew, from overheard conversations, that no one was stupid enough to go partying in the woods these days.

"Hurry up, let's just find the dog and get out of here," he said.

"Scared?"

He turned his head slowly to face her, and felt an urge to slap her, at the mocking scorn in her voice.

"What's the matter, Brian? Scared that the killer's going to get you?"

"Aren't you?" He smirked. "You should be." He stared at her until she looked away, then added, "I've got a light in the trunk. Wait here."

"Like I'm going anywhere."

He laughed. "You said it, Princess, not me." She gave him a puzzled look, then rubbed her elbows nervously, anxiously scanning the woods. Except for the bright light of the moon, it was pitch-dark, and this close to the coastline, a chill breeze had sprung up.

"It's creepy out here. It's getting so dark! Are you sure this is where you saw my dog?"

"Right in this area." Brian rummaged in his trunk, the popped-up lid hiding him from her view. "Try calling him."

"Good idea. Skipper!" Silence. She tried again. "Skipper! SKIPPER!"

"It was right here, I swear it." He continued to dig through the trunk.

"How can you tell? It's too dark. I wish your headlights were working. Maybe we're at the wrong spot." She turned away, her back to the car, to peer through the gloomy night. She barely registered the creak of the car's trunk door closing. "Maybe we should come back tomorrow, in the daylight. I really think we're at the wrong spot, Brian."

"No, we aren't." She jumped at Brian's soft voice, right behind her, and swung to face him. Confusion twisted her delicate features - Brian was wearing long, heavy robes, and he was holding a gun to her forehead, right between the eyes. Horrified, she barely registered the distinctive click of the gun's safety being released. Brian chuckled softly. "I've got you right where I want you, Princess."

Twenty

"…I don't think it's asking too much, really, to ask for a little bit of space. Just a fucking bit of space once in a while…"

- excerpt from Brian Besaird's journals

A FEW HOURS later - it was going on midnight - Brian drove back through the woods. He'd just finished cleaning up after his little adventure with Chelsy. Right now, chunks of that perfect little body were floating in the Atlantic. Fish food, he thought, smiling. And he'd been right about her reaction. She'd been willing to do just about anything in return for her life. Or at least a painless death. It had been interesting. Very, very interesting, he thought, smiling. And quite satisfying. He couldn't wait to watch the footage at home. This was fantasy material in a big way. God, wouldn't the cops get off watching this one? He was getting hard just thinking about it, remembering the things that he'd had her do. Oh Princess, he smirked. You were nothing but a little slut in the end, weren't you. Nothing but a little whore.

He drove with the headlights and stereo off. He had a feeling that they would start patrolling the roads in and out of the woods soon, and had devised a story in case he was intercepted. Once he was about half a mile from the edge of the woods, he turned the stereo back on, and flipped his lights on. Act like you've got nothing to hide, and no one will ever suspect a thing.

Sure enough, as he neared the end of the trees and approached the brushy field, a trim figure stepped onto the road, holding a flashlight and with hand raised. Brian coasted to a halt and put the car in park.

"Hey, there," said the man as he stepped closer, shining his light in Brian's face. "Brian, isn't it? Jimmy Besaird's boy? You weren't up at the Gorge again, were you, Brian?"

Brian squinted for a second, trying to make out the figure holding the light. The owner realized that he was blinding him, and lowered his arm. "Oops, sorry 'bout that."

"Oh, hey there," Brian said, blinking, as he recognized the man. "Officer Hollinson?"

"That's right. What are you doing in the woods? Didn't I tell you to be careful? It's dangerous here now, buddy."

"Actually, I'm looking for my Dad. I think he's volunteering tonight. Have you seen him?" Brian looked up at the cop with a carefully-constructed expression of innocent curiosity.

With him was a taller man, big but not fat, with long hair and a beard. Brian couldn't place him, but he was sure he'd seen the guy around town. Not that he could miss seeing someone that size. Wouldn't want to mess with that fucker, he thought. He could pick me and my car up one-handed, look at the size of him! Christ!

He didn't like the way that the giant stared at him, as though he was seeing right into him. The big guy was beginning to make him nervous.

"Who's your dad?" The giant spoke in a surprisingly mild, deep voice.

"Jim Besaird. He works at the cop shop."

"Yeah," said C.J. "You've met him before. Uh, I can't remember right off where he was posted, Brian. Why, something wrong?"

The giant continued to stare piercingly at Brian, and it was really starting to bother him. But he kept his attention on the cop. "No, nothing wrong. I was just wondering if he wanted me to bring him something to eat, or a coffee, or something."

The cop smiled. "That's good of you, Brian. We're good, though. We've got volunteers bringing snacks and relieving us for breaks. Hang on, I'll radio and find out where your dad is." He clapped Brian on the shoulder as he went over to his car and spoke a few words into the radio.

Brian sat and waited, uncomfortable under the giant's steady gaze. After a moment, the giant spoke again. "Why were you in the woods?"

"Oh, I go out there sometimes, just to take a break. You know, grab a book, a couple of beers, some peace and quiet…"

The giant stared suspiciously. "We've had volunteers patrolling for over an hour now."

"Oh yeah? I was out early, though. Six, seven, something like that." Brian kept his voice casual, relaxed.

"See anything suspicious?"

"Naw - not that I know of, really. I mean, I could hear some people partying out by the Gorge, but I don't think I knew them. Didn't recognize any voices, anyway. They were pissing me off, so I put my headphones on." He indicated the tiny mp3 player lying on the seat beside him, next to a dog-eared book.

The giant looked concerned. "Hold on, now – there are more kids in the woods?"

Brian shrugged. "I don't know. There was, but when I was leaving, I couldn't hear them anymore. Maybe they left earlier than me?"

"I'll mention that to C.J. Thanks for telling us. Where exactly were you?"

"Hey, no problem. Up by the Gorge - the far end of it, to the right. Know where I mean?"

"Yes, I do. Thanks. There's one thing, though."

The giant leaned down to talk to Brian, face to face. His shaggy head filled the entire window. "I wouldn't be heading into the woods anymore, buddy. Not till this psycho's been caught. It's dangerous now. You want to end up swimming around with a bullet in your head?"

What is this guy, some kind of tv cop-wannabe? Brian nodded politely, to keep this guy off his case. After a moment, C.J. came back over to the car.

"Ok, Brian. Your dad's over at Cardin Road. He said he's fine, but he wants you to get home and relieve the babysitter."

"Ah, alright. Thanks, Officer Hollinson. Could you tell him to call if he needs anything?"

"Sure thing." The cop smiled warmly at him. "That's real good of you. Now get on home, and be careful. It's not safe right now."

"Thanks, sir." With a friendly smile, Brian shifted to drive and began to pull away. He could just hear the giant muttering something to the cop, and he could just hear the cop's reply.

"Don't worry about him, Dane. He's good. He's Jimmy Besaird's boy, you know, Jimmy who works at the Station?"

Dane, Brian thought, amused, looking into his rearview mirror. The giant was at least half a foot taller than the cop, and probably a hundred or more pounds heavier.

Good name for that wannabe-cop. Like those dogs, Great Danes. Fuck. That's one big puppy that I would not want to piss off.

Back at the lookout, Dane and C.J. were talking about Brian. C.J. had radioed in about the possibility of more people in the woods. He leaned back in his plastic lawn chair, and Dane sat on a sturdy chair that he had brought from the book store, one that was high enough to let him stretch his sore leg out in front of him.

"I don't care if you know his old man, that kid was off," Dane was saying, rubbing a bit more bug repellent onto his shoulders. Damned bugs were eating him alive.

C.J. grinned. "You're reading way too many of your mystery books. He's just a kid."

"Not that much of a kid. He's old enough to commit those crimes."

C.J. laughed. "Are you kidding me? He probably doesn't weigh more than eighty pounds soaking wet, and that's after a good meal. Don't worry about it. Let it go. He's good."

Dane shrugged. "I'd keep an eye on him, if I were you." Shaking his head, he took a sip of his coffee and fished around in the box of donuts. "That's just me, though. We should have searched his car."

C.J. grabbed the last chocolate donut, earning a glare from the larger man. "I know. Hey, I'm not disrespecting you. Your instincts are really good. I'll keep it in mind, ok, but I've already talked to him. He works at the same grocery store that Chris worked at. He's good. I'm sure of it."

Dane shrugged again, bit into a jelly doughnut. "Whatever." He chewed for a moment, lost in thought. …grocery store…? Something about that… Then he made the connection. He swallowed the last bit of doughnut, and said, "Whoa, wait a minute. What did you just say? Where does he work?"

"Same grocery store where Chris worked."

Dane sat up, alert. "Now hold on. Listen to yourself. I think I talked to this kid already. He works at the same store that Chris worked at. Chris is dead. Same store that Gisele Brown shopped at. She's dead. And you say this kid's been hanging out in the woods? With a killer on the loose? And his name is Brian? As in, Gisele Brown was going to complain about a Brian? You really don't think there's anything to this?" He stared at C.J. in disbelief. "No way, you've gotta talk to this guy. I'd bet my ass he knows something."

C.J. looked uncomfortable for a moment. Then he shrugged. "All right. Maybe. I'll talk to the Captain tomorrow. But we've looked into all the staff at the store. We've talked about the possibility of a connection. I don't know - it doesn't really wash with me. "

"I'd look in to it," Dane repeated, stubbornly. "That's way too many coincidences, and you damn well know it."

"I will," C.J. sighed. "I'll bring it up. But right now, they're sending a replacement for me. In case there's another party in there, we're sending a couple of cops in on every road, to see if we can spot these kids. They've got parents checking in at home, to make sure their kids are there, too." C.J. stood up, and looked at his friend seriously. "But I will talk to Stuart. You may have something there." He frowned. "That is too many coincidences, isn't it. Maybe you're right. Maybe he knows something."

"Ya think?"

C.J. didn't miss the sarcasm in his friend's voice. Fortunately, at that moment, a police car pulled up, and Sarah stepped out, holding the door for C.J. As he slid into the passenger seat, he directed a thoughtful look at his friend. "I'll get on it, Dane." Then he grinned. "Be nice to my replacement." He winked at Sarah, who smiled back.

"Hi, Dane." Sarah smiled warmly as the police car pulled away.

He grinned at her. "Hi."

Twenty-One

"…sometimes I just feel like saying "Fuck it all", packing my shit and fucking off. Yeah, just blow off this shithole town for good…"

- excerpt from Brian Besaird's journals

WHEN BRIAN PULLED into his driveway, the living room light was on. He opened the front door carefully, so as not to make too much noise. The house was quiet - Mrs. Jessup, the widow who lived a few houses down the street, was nodding off in the big armchair, a paperback propped open on her stomach. The tv was on, but the sound was turned down. He leaned down and shook her shoulder very gently, trying not to startle her too badly.

"Hey…hey." He whispered softly. "Hey, Mrs. Jessup."

She snorted and jerked her head up. "What? Oh, Brian. Hello, dear. I wasn't sleeping, dear. Just resting my eyes." She sleepily tried to focus on him, pushing her old-fashioned cats'-eye glasses back up the bridge of her nose. They'd slipped down while she was dozing. "How are you, dear?"

He smiled at her. "I'm fine. I'll take over here, now. Here," he said, pulling a twenty from his wallet. "Thanks for helping out, appreciate it. Want me to drive you home?"

"No, dear." She accepted the money and gave him a little hug as she stood up, her book tucked under one arm. "Aaron's in bed, sleeping like a baby. I'll see you later, dear. Tell your father I'm making meatloaf tomorrow night, if he wants to come over. You and Aaron are welcome, as always." She smiled at him fondly.

"Sure thing. Thanks again." He walked her to the front door, and watched her get into her car. When she'd backed out of the driveway and pulled away, tooting her horn in farewell, he waved and closed the door.

He padded quietly into the kitchen. There were a few beers in the fridge, and he pulled one out, twisting the top off as he walked back into the living room.

That's that, then, he thought as he leaned against the doorway, ran his hands through his short hair, and rubbed at his tired face. He felt a surprising sense of relief, but it was tinged with just the tiniest little bit of…something else. Regret? Maybe. Perhaps. But enough is enough. I can't get away with this forever. No more. I'm done. It's over.

Brian yawned, and sat down on the comfortable old sofa, next to the recently-vacated armchair. The tv was still on, the volume low. The country music channel. Brian clicked the tv off, and leaned his head back against the sofa. He was tired, and he just wanted to think for a moment.

Tomorrow was his day off. He'd go for a long drive, head a couple hundred miles up the coast maybe, and ditch the equipment over a cliff. He'd wipe it all down carefully, of course, smash it up good, and toss it. That'd be the end of it. Definitely. He took a long drink of beer, and turned off the overhead lamp. The light gave him a headache. So after he ditched the equipment, maybe he'd start thinking about making some changes in his life. Maybe get out of that damned grocery store, finally, and go to college, get a career - something like that, anyway. Change his whole life around, yeah. Move the hell out of Maine, get a good job, meet some new people, make some cool friends, get a girl…yeah.

Yeah. Maybe he'd do that. Start right over. Turn over a whole new leaf. Yeah. He could do that. No problem. Brian grabbed the remote and clicked the tv back on, flipping through channels.

He'd take a few minutes to rest, then pack up his stuff and get things squared away. And tomorrow, maybe, he'd move on. Move on with his life. His whole new life. He took another drink, and smiled with satisfaction.

That's right. Tomorrow's a brand-new day. A brand-new day for a brand-new life. He laughed quietly. And I'll be a brand-new person. Goodbye to the old Brian …and hello to the brand-spanking-new and improved Brian.

Chuckling, he drained his bottle of beer, turned the lights and the tv off, and went to bed.

Twenty-Two

"…and when I got up this morning, I just fucking KNEW that it was going to be 'one of those days'…"

- excerpt from Brian Besaird's journals

THE NEXT MORNING, Brian awoke early.

He yawned and stretched, then rolled over to look at the clock on the nightstand. Nine-oh-seven. Feeling unusually buoyant, he rolled over and pushed himself into a sitting position. He dressed quickly and hurried downstairs.

Aaron was already gone. Brian saw the remains of peanut butter toast and bits of cereal floating in a bowl of milk and sugar. There was a scribbled note on the table: Dad and Brian, I went to Pete's house, his parents are going to Bangor today and taking us, too, ps can someone return the Superspiders DVD to the video rental place, I'm done watching it. Thanks, Aaron.

Brian picked up the movie case that was sitting on the kitchen table and absently wiped off the peanut butter smears. Maybe he'd go now, drop the movie off, pick up some coffee and donuts for him and the old man, and then head out to do the "dirty deeds". There was no need to rush - he had his whole life ahead of him. A whole new life. Brian laughed aloud at the thought.

"What're you laughin' at?" His father's amused voice came from the doorway of the kitchen. Jim Besaird was wearing his customary faded, worn jeans and white t-shirt, a pack of smokes in one hand and a lit cigarette in the other. His salt-and-pepper ducktail stuck out untidily in spots, and there was stubble on his face. He looked tired.

"Hey, Dad. How was patrol last night?"

"Boring's jack shit." Frowning, his father rummaged through the fridge for a soda. "C.J. Hollinson told me he saw you in the woods last night." He sat down at the table and popped the can open, eyeing his son sternly. "Didn't I tell you to stay the hell outta there? It's not safe, and I am damned well not joking." he said, sternly. "I know you've got common sense. Use it. Understand?"

"Yeah, you're right." Brian slipped on a jacket. "I won't go again, ok?"

"Good." Jimmy took a long gulp, belched. "Not safe right now. Not till we catch those crazy arseholes." He rubbed his eyes, tiredly. "God, what a long night."

"Can I help patrol tonight?"

"Yeah," said Jimmy, thinking. He shrugged. "Yeah, sure, I guess." He paused, then added, "But I want you paired up with someone like C.J. Or maybe that big friend of his."

Brian chuckled. "Yeah, I saw that guy last night. I've seen him around, but don't know him. The big blonde guy? Looks like a wrestler?"

"Yup." Jim smiled, tapping his ashes into the ashtray. "Dane Shand. Friend of C.J.'s. Used to play football. Busted his knee." Jim took a puff off his smoke, then shook his head, exhaling streams of smoke through his nose. "Crying shame, that. He was good. Defensive lineman. No one got past him, put his mind to it."

"I'll bet!" Brian tried to imagine the football player who could get past that giant, and failed.

"Just lost his wife, few months ago. Plane crash. Now he works all the time, owns that little bookstore downtown."

"That's probably where I've seen him before." Brian tried to picture the tough-looking giant curled up with a book, and failed.

"I'll see if I can get you on his patrol."

"Yeah, sure." Brian thought it'd be a great idea, a great way to deflect any suspicion. He was sure that this Shand guy was already suspicious of him. This would keep him on the cop's good side, too. Keep your friends close and your enemies even closer. He didn't know where he'd heard that, but it sounded like good advice to him. "Dad, I'm heading out to drop off Aaron's movie." He held up the DVD. "I'm gonna get coffee and donuts, want anything?"

"Whatever you're having." Jim reached for his wallet, but Brian stayed his hand.

"I got it. Be back soon."

"Be careful." Brian grinned; then, with a sudden surge of affection for the old man, he gave him a quick hug and kissed his father's cheek, something he hadn't done since he was a kid.

"Hey, what's that for?" His father asked, surprised and pleased.

"You be careful, too, Dad. Love you." Brian headed for the door.

"You, too." Jim Besaird proudly watched his oldest boy get into his car and drive off. Then he turned back into the kitchen, and flicked the radio on, still smiling.

Sarah Bourque unlocked the front door of the video shop, angry and sleepy.

She could barely stop yawning long enough to find the right key on the key ring. She'd been out late on patrol, and had planned to sleep at least until noon. Her weekend clerk had called this morning, however, pleading a sudden case of the flu. Yeah, right. Forty-ouncer flu, more like it, she thought grumpily. Third Sunday in a row, too. She was getting tired of this.

On the up side, she'd enjoyed sitting patrol with Dane last night. Their watch had been uneventful. They'd talked all night. Things were looking up. Her divorce was nearly final, and when she had those papers signed, sealed and delivered, she was going to invite Dane for a home-cooked meal. She wanted this relationship to work, and they were going to go about it the right way. She smiled. Things were finally going her way, for once.

The sight of the overflowing early-return box was enough to wipe the smile off her face. "Oh, great, just damned well great," she exclaimed, as she opened the flap on the box and the DVDs and videos slid onto the floor in a flood. She made her way through the pile, slamming them around with a roughness that she would have reprimanded her employees for, and swore under her breath. Checking the rewinds was going to take her half the day.

"Hey, pretty lady."

Sarah jumped at the voice behind her. Then she laughed, her hand on her chest. "Brian! You scared the heck out of me! Uh…we're not open yet -"

"Sorry. You left the door open." He grinned charmingly at her, and held out the DVD that Aaron had rented. "Here you go. From Aaron. I wiped the peanut butter off before I brought it in."

Sarah was pleasantly surprised at Brian's cheerful attitude - he usually didn't have more than two words for anyone, although he had always been polite to her. The absence of his usual sneer made a world of difference on him.

"Why, thank you," she replied, smiling. "You know, you should really just break down and buy Aaron the whole set of these cartoons. He rents them all the time, anyway. I'll give you a good deal on the set, if you want."

"Yeah, I might do that for Christmas - he loves those things. He wants the action toys now, too." Brian shook his head, amused.

"There are a lot of those around these days. Which is good, I guess. Could be worse." Sarah smiled. "And at least they're toy guns, not the real thing."

" Bang, bang," Brian said, pointing an index finger at her and smiling rakishly. "Have a great day," he said, and with a flirtatious little wink, he turned and headed out the door. He was careful to pull it closed behind him.

"You too, Brian. See you later." Still smiling, Sarah turned back to the mountain of movies in front of her. Her smile faded, and she sighed. "Oh, hell." Frustrated, she tossed the Superspiders DVD onto the pile, and began the tedious task of organizing the returns.

Dane rolled over in bed, groaning and shielding his eyes from the sunlight streaming in through his window.

He'd forgotten to pull the shades. "Dammit," he muttered, putting a pillow over his face. He turned this way and that way, trying in vain to get comfortable. It was no use. He was awake. "Dammit," he said again, rolling to a sitting position and cradling his head in his hands.

He was exhausted. It had been a long night. He and Sarah had patrolled the edge of the woods until six a.m. He pried one eye open and peered at his bedside clock: ten-fourteen. He groaned again.

Rubbing his bad knee, he remembered that he was going to give C.J. a call, to remind him to follow up on that kid. What was his name? Brian…Besaird, was it?

It could be no coincidence, Dane thought grimly, that Gisele Brown had planned to complain about someone named Brian. The more he thought about it, the more he was convinced that there were no coincidences here. He agreed with C.J. in that the kid did not look like a killer. But he'd bet his good knee that the kid knew something. His inner gut was telling him that the kid had information for them, if only they were to ask the right questions. It was worth a shot.

With a small groan - his knee was killing him this morning - Dane lurched to his feet, and limped over to his dresser. He picked up his cell phone and thumbed the quick dial with C.J.'s home number. The answering machine picked up. He frowned, then said into the phone, "Hey, it's me. I just want to remind you to check out what we were talking about last night. Call me." He disconnected, and set the phone back down on the dresser, and headed for the bathroom.

A short time later, Dane emerged from the bedroom, freshly showered and shaved. He grabbed his cell phone and headed downstairs.

He leaned heavily on the railing as he limped down the steps to the main level. He fed the cat, then poured himself a cup of coffee, and sat down at the kitchen table. Just as he had made himself comfortable, the phone rang: his land line, not his cell phone. He debated letting the machine get it, then realized that it might be C.J. calling back. Stiff and sore, he lumbered to his feet, cursing as his bad knee buckled. "Shit!" he yelled, spilling his coffee. Dane cursed as he grabbed the receiver. "Hello!" he barked.

"Dane?"

He barely recognized the voice as Sarah's. She sounded frightened.

"Sarah? What's up?"

"Dane?" Her voice trembled. "I'm at the store. I need you here. Right now."

"What's wrong?"

"Just get here. Please! Hurry!"

"Do you want me to call someone? The cops, or someone?"

"I…don't know. Yes. No. Maybe, I don't know…please, Dane!"

"Ok. Ok, hang on. Calm down. Stay calm. I'll be right there. I'll call C.J. Lock the doors, Sarah. I'm on my way." He hung up, and threw on a pair of sneakers, and slipped his phone into his pocket. It was a ten or fifteen minute drive into town, and if Sarah was in trouble…

Without thinking about it, he grabbed an old baseball bat from the mudroom, and limped quickly out to the truck, the tendons of his bad knee screaming in protest. Gravel flew as he peeled out of the driveway. Dane thumbed the speed dial on his cell phone again.

"Hello, you've reached C.J. and Evie. We're busy right now. Please leave a message."

Shit, he thought. He hated to call C.J. at work, but he might have to make an exception if his friend wasn't home yet. "C.J., it's me. Pick up." He waited a few seconds. "Pick up, dammit! Shit," he muttered. "C.J. -

I'm on my way to Sarah's store, it's…" He checked his watch. C.J. was probably still asleep. "It's eleven-nineteen on Sunday morning. She just called me. Something's wrong, I don't know what. Call me! Or go to Sarah's store, I don't care."

On the last word, he heard an ominous beep from the phone, and the line went dead. Forgot to charge it! Shit! Disgusted, he turned the phone off, put it back in his pocket, and increased his speed. He should have called C.J. at work, after all. He'd have to use the phone at Sarah's. His hands clenched on the steering wheel, and prayed that he'd get there in time.

Brian pushed open the kitchen door, carrying a tray of coffee and donuts. The kitchen was empty, and there was a note on the table.

"Brian, gone to the station. Dave called in sick and they got no janitor today. Said I'd help out. And they found another DVD. C.J. Hollinson wants to talk to you, he wants to ask you about some kids you said you seen out in the woods last night, call him at the station soon as you can. Dad."

Brian re-read the note. A feeling of disquiet grew within him. Hollinson already wanted to talk to him - so soon? Maybe he'd better get a move on, then. It surprised him that the police were acting so quickly, but he guessed it was only sensible. It didn't matter, though. He'd left none of those damned small details to trip himself up. He was sure of it.

He lit up a cigarette, and drank half his coffee in one gulp, cursing as the hot liquid burned his tongue. No, he thought, they could search for Chelsy all they wanted, and good luck to them. They won't find her. Not in one piece, anyway. He grinned. She's fish food by now. She's gone swimming with the fishies. Bye-bye, Princess.

Small details, he thought, taking a long drag off his smoke. Small details. No, he was positive that he'd covered his tracks. Taking another drag, he reviewed the previous night's activities in his mind. As he finished his coffee, he thought of the DVDs stored under the floor of his bedroom.

He'd originally planned to keep them, but upon reflection, decided that maybe he should get rid of them, too. If he was going to wipe his slate clean, then they had to go. It was regrettable, but necessary.

Just then the phone rang. He glanced at the caller I.D.: the police station. Brian ignored the phone, and ran upstairs, two steps at a time. Perhaps he'd better grab everything, and head out now. With luck, he could be halfway to Etherton before anyone noticed that he was gone. He should be out and back from the far coast by nightfall, which would give him some time to think up a good enough cover story of where he had been all day.

Or…he could just go, now. For good.

Smooth and steady, he told himself. Smooth and steady. Don't panic. Once in his room, Brian removed the DVD of the dog and of Chris Grett from the floorboards. He hadn't taken the Gisele Brown DVD out of the machine yet. That had been careless. Especially since Aaron sometimes used his room to watch his cartoons, when Dad was watching tv downstairs. Never mind that Aaron wasn't supposed to go in Brian's room without his permission. They'd had more than a few arguments about it. Maybe he should pick up a tv and DVD player for his little brother sometime. Maybe for his birthday. They weren't expensive, and it might cut down on some of the arguments. Assuming he was even coming back to the house.

Brian picked up the empty case labeled "Brown" from the shelf under the DVD player, and thought he heard a DVD rattle around inside.

That wasn't right. He'd left the DVD in the machine - hadn't he? He quickly checked the DVD player. It was empty.

Oh, shit.

Uneasily, he pried open the case.

Oh…shit…

Familiar, hateful, smiling cartoon faces stared up at him from the disk's shiny surface.

Superspiders.

Damned Aaron! He had used Brian's DVD player - no doubt when Mrs. Jessup had been here last night, and had taken the DVD of Gisele Brown out of it, and had put it into the nearest available case, as he often did, with no regard for which disk belonged to which case.

Which meant…

Brian closed his eyes, cold fear trickling down his spine.

…SHIT…

He had brought the DVD of Gisele Brown's murder to the video store, in the case of a cartoon that had been rented under his own name.

If he didn't get that DVD back, then he was a dead man. Hey, Bri, you like small details? How do you like them small details, ol' buddy? Huh? How do you like them small details? He clutched his head in his hands for one wild moment. Shut the fuck up, he thought, snarling, at that nagging little voice in his head. Just shut…the…fuck…UP!

Brian took a few deep breaths, his hands over his face. He didn't like them small details at all.

Not at all.

"C.J., can I have a word with you? In my office?"

C.J. Hollinson looked up from his desk, and set the phone receiver down.

He had been just about to check for any phone messages on his home phone, when Captain Stuart had dropped by the desk. Dane had said he'd call, and C.J. wanted to see if he was up yet. He'd check his answering machine later, then. "Sure thing, Captain."

"I just want to run by some patrol details with you, and clarify a couple of things from last night's report. See if we can't get a leg up on this new murder." Stuart nodded tiredly at him, as he led the way to his office. The blue shadows beneath his eyes told of a sleepless night, much like C.J.'s, and everyone else in the Precinct that morning.

C.J. suppressed a yawn as he followed the Captain to his office.

It was going to be a long day.

Twenty-Three

"…and sometimes I think the only two fucking reasons I stick around are my old man and my little brother. They're the only people in this fucked-up town that I can handle..."

- excerpt from Brian Besaird's journals

THE HOUSE WAS silent. Brian carefully walked downstairs, gripping the railing to keep from losing his balance. He felt curiously light-headed, as though he were sleepwalking. The sound of his footsteps seemed horribly loud, as did the pounding of his heart. He had a heavy backpack slung over his shoulder, but barely noticed the awkward weight of it. He had to get out of here.

This was bad.

Oh, fuck, this was bad.

He slipped out the back door. Uncaring, he left it open, left it swinging in the light morning breeze. A snap in the bushes made his heart leap up into his throat, and he whirled around.

Only a bird, hopping from branch to branch.

Brian's heart was pounding so hard, he could feel his hands and wrists throbbing. And his head and throat - throbbing, as though he'd run miles. His thoughts were racing through his head, oddly clear and focused. It was as though he saw everything in high colour.

Did she discover the DVD yet? Did she watch it? Did she call the cops? They usually check inside the cases, don't they, to make sure the right movie is in the right case? Isn't that how it works? He leaned against the side of his car, taking deep, steadying breaths. Think, Brian, think. Just breathe. And just think. Don't panic. Panic kills. Just think.

After a few seconds, his pulse slowed and his head cleared. Small details, that's all. That's all this is. A small detail. But if I don't handle it right, this is one small detail that's gonna nail my ass, that's what. Calmer now, Brian tossed his bag into the crowded trunk, then slid behind the wheel and slipped the key into the ignition. His hand was trembling only slightly now, and he turned the key with ease. I'm gonna have to play this one some close. Smooth and steady. Smooth and steady. He repeated it like a mantra. Smooth and steady. I can do this. I know I can do this. Because if I can't…well, I don't like them fucking apples not one little bit. Not one fucking bit.

It was his own damn fault, he thought, backing out of the driveway. He knew how Aaron was. Many of their fights had been about Aaron sneaking into his room and using his stuff. It was his own damn fault. He shouldn't have left the DVD in the machine. Careless. Stupid.

As he drove through the deserted streets - the only people who moved around on Sundays in Indigo were the churchgoers, and those who were unlucky enough to be working that day - his fear began to turn to anticipation.

I can do this. No problem. And if she's got it all figured out?

Brian sighed as he turned onto the main drag, and pulled up at an A.T.M.

Well, then I guess it's a good thing I still have my gear in the trunk, isn't it. Just to take care of those last minute things, you know. Those damned small details.

Dane reached the video store in thirteen minutes. Quite an accomplishment, considering that his leg had locked up on him twice, and he'd had to pull over to the side of the road to try to straighten the vicious spasms out.

Right now his nerves were screaming in protest; he didn't have his knee brace with him, nor had he taken any painkillers. He prayed that he was up for whatever lay ahead. All he could think about was Sarah, and the terror in her voice.

Please let her be all right, he prayed as he hobbled heavily to the front door. He used the baseball bat as a crutch, to help him move faster. Please let her be all right. Things are just starting to work for us…

The door was sporting a "closed" sign, but he could see Sarah behind the glass. She opened the door as he got closer. "Oh, thank God, thank God you're here," she said, clutching at him anxiously.

"Hey, it's alright." Dane folded her into his arms. She was trembling. "Hey, hey. Sarah, it's alright. I'm here now." He stroked her hair. "What's wrong?"

Sarah pulled away. "Come with me." She led him behind the counter, to the workroom visible in back. It was a small room, maybe ten feet by twelve feet, lined with shelves of movies and rental video equipment. There was no door, just a worktable and a couple of chairs and stools. A filing cabinet sat in the corner. "Sit down," Sarah said, indicating a chair.

"What's up? What happened?"

She was pale as she sat at the worktable and indicated the tv, vcr, and DVD player on the table in front of her. "A customer returned a kid's movie this morning." She held up a cartoon case, her hand trembling. "I check the DVDs to make sure the right movies are in the right cases. Look at this, Dane - look what was in this case!"

She gingerly handed him a disk, which she held by the edges. Just as carefully, he took it from her and tilted the label side up to his face. He'd forgotten his glasses at home, and squinted a little to make out the lettering.

"Gisele Brown", he read from the handwritten label. "Kill Or Be Killed…what…?"

He looked up at her, and Sarah took the DVD back from him, and carefully inserted the disc into the DVD player. "Watch." She pressed 'play'.

A bright blue screen popped up, and bright white letters spelled, "Kill Or Be Killed, Episode One".

Dane felt his mouth go dry, and he reached for his cell phone. Then he remembered the dead battery, and muttered a curse. "Oh, my God - I know what this is. I know. Have you called the cops? I need to use your phone."

"I didn't, not yet," Sarah said, looking at him wildly. "I didn't know what to do."

"Sarah, what the hell, why didn't you call the cops?" Dane couldn't seem to focus his thoughts. "Did you watch it?"

"Yes," she sobbed. "It shows…it shows Gisele being killed!"

"Who brought this in?" Dane made his way out to the front counter. "Have you got a phone book?"

"Why?"

"I need the police station's number."

"Call 9-1-1."

"Good idea. Hell, I'm not thinking straight." His heart pounding, Dane fumbled for the phone.

"9-1-1, Dane, 9-1-1!" Sarah stared at him, her eyes wild, panicked.

"Yeah…yeah," he muttered, distracted. "Sorry, I can't seem to get my shit together…"

"Me, neither." Sarah was shaking. "I just can't believe it."

"Calm down, Sarah. We're both losing it here." Dane dialed, his hands shaking. Shit. He'd pressed the wrong buttons. He pressed the 'disconnect' button, and took a deep breath, to calm down and focus. "Who brought this in?" he asked, punching the wrong numbers again. Why the hell were these buttons made so small, anyway?

"One of my customers. A kid named Brian Besaird." She paused, startled at the sudden rage on Dane's face as he swung around in shock. "Dane, what…his little brother rented the movie on Brian's account. He always does that. My God, it shows Gisele getting shot! How would Brian get hold of something like this?"

Furious, Dane slammed his fist on the counter and snarled, "Get hold of it? He made it! Goddamn C.J.! Why the hell didn't he listen to me!"

Sarah gasped. "You've got to be kidding. Brian? He's just a kid!"

"Yeah, right." Dane snarled, trying to punch 9-1-1 again, and hitting the wrong buttons again. "Dammit," he muttered, breathing hard. "Kid, my ass, he's a little psycho. He's the killer, Sarah. I know it. Little bastard, I met him last night, and I got a bad feeling about him. C.J. wouldn't listen to me, well he's damn well gonna listen to me now, I don't care who the kid's father is."

"Hurry up, Dane! What if he realizes that we have the DVD?"

"I'm trying, Sarah, I'm trying!" Dane shouted at her. "What the hell is wrong with this damned phone? Why the hell didn't you call 9-1-1 yourself?"

"I…shit, I don't know! Dane!"

"Hang on. Goddamit!" Dane tried again, and finally, got it right. He heard the operator answer the phone, but before he could say anything, the door opened and Brian Besaird walked in. Sarah must have forgotten to lock the door after letting him in. Dane looked at Brian curiously, as he quickly lowered the phone receiver to the counter, concealing it behind a stack of movies. He hoped that Brian had not noticed the movement.

It was warm out, yet the boy wore a denim jacket and leather gloves. Leather gloves? Dane felt his hackles rise.

"Hey," he said, trying to sound casual and friendly, nonchalant even. "Brian Besaird, isn't it? I met you last night." Dane hoped he had spoken loudly enough for the 9-1-1 operator to have heard. "How's it going, Brian?" Brian said nothing. He just smiled politely.

Dane didn't like the look in the kid's eyes. Too cool and too calm, while he himself was sweating buckets. He could sense Sarah's terror, from where she stood beside him, and hoped that she could hold it together for them to get out of this alive.

"Hello, Brian," Sarah said, nervously. "Is…is there something I can help you with?"

"Sure, Mrs. Bourque." Brian's eyes flickered to Dane, then back to her. "That movie I returned this morning? Can I have it back?" He held out the Superspiders DVD to her. "I found this sitting on the table when I got home. I guess Aaron must have forgotten to put it back in the case."

"S-sure." Sarah reached behind her, grabbed the empty case, and held her hand out for the DVD. Brian's DVD was still in the player. "Thank you for bringing it in, Brian, that saves me from having to call." She was trying to sound casual, but Dane wasn't fooled, and he doubted Brian was, either. His heart sank as the young man grabbed the case from her trembling hands, and pried it open. At the sight of the empty slot, he went still. After a second or two, he looked up at the both of them, his light brown eyes eerily calm and remote. "Where's the DVD that was in here?"

"There … was no DVD, Brian. It…it was empty." Her voice faltered.

"Oh, I don't think so." Brian was still smiling politely, but his smile was fixed, bland. "Give me the DVD that was in there. Please. "

Dane stared at Brian, every muscle in his body tense. His leg hurt like hell. He was listening as hard as he could, to hear the telltale beep beep beep of a disconnected phone line. He hadn't heard it yet, which hopefully meant that the operator was still listening. And if they're listening, I hope to hell that they've realized something is wrong and they're sending some help! Aren't they supposed to, in a case like this? Do they have caller I.D.? Can they trace this call? Come on, come on…

"N-no, Brian, there was no DVD."

"Funny. I think there was. The case seemed pretty heavy when I brought it in this morning." His tea-coloured eyes bored into Sarah's, and he leaned forward. He deliberately placed both gloved hands on the counter.

"No. No, sorry."

Brian leaned back, an almost-regretful look on his face. Then he sighed. "Mind if I come back there and look for it?"

Sarah was beginning to panic now, Dane could see, and he stepped in. "No, sorry, Brian. Employees only are allowed back here."

Brian sighed again, his face wooden. Dane listened with all his might for sirens, for anything from the phone, anything. Nothing. Brian spoke again.

"I'd rather not do this the hard way, you know."

"What…what exactly do you mean?" Dane asked, but he was sure that he already knew the answer.

"I mean," Brian said, in a soft, silky voice, "Give me the DVD. Now." He pulled a small gun out of the inner pocket of his denim jacket. "I don't want to have to hurt anyone. Just give me the DVD and I'll be on my way."

Sarah lost her nerve, and began to sob. Dane stepped in front of her to shield her. "Put the gun away, Brian Besaird. We're not stupid. Now just - "

"I'm getting a little tired of you, Moose." Brian aimed the gun at Dane, just below waist level. "Mrs. Bourque - get the DVD for me, or your boyfriend's gonna take one in the nuts. Let's go! Now!"

"I…I…"

"Please don't make me shoot him. I really don't want to have to hurt anyone." Brian smiled again.

"Ok, ok." Dane held out a hand, reassuringly. "Ok. Hang on, Brian. I'll go out back and get the DVD."

"Oh, I don't think so." Brian walked around the counter, and held the gun up to Sarah's face. Dane stood there, helplessly. Brian spoke louder, to be heard over Sarah's terrified sobs. "I really don't trust you, Moosie. Come on, Mrs. Bourque. Quickly, now. I've really got to be going." He reached out and grabbed Sarah's ponytail, forcing her away from Dane. Dane made a quick, instinctive grab for her, and Brian, anticipating that, fired a shot into Dane's leg, just barely above his bad knee. The shot echoed shockingly loud in the small room. Dane went down, screaming.

"Let's go, Sarah!" Brian yelled, over the noise. Still holding her ponytail, Brian pulled her into the back room. There was a thud as the large man hit the floor behind them. "Let's go! Now!"

"You little bastard!" She tried to twist away, but Brian held fast, and pushed her forward. Her hands were shaking uncontrollably now, and she barely managed to hit the 'open/close' button on the DVD player. On her fourth try, the tray came sliding out, with the DVD in it.

"Ah, thank you so much," Brian said, as he pocketed it. "Well. It's really unfortunate that you both had to get mixed up in this. I really didn't want to hurt either one of you. Not to use a cheesy old line or anything, because I really do hate to kill and run, but I've got to get going."

Still gripping Sarah's hair, Brian hauled her back up to the front counter, and bent down, placing the muzzle of his gun behind Dane's ear. It was hard to hold it in place, as the big man was writhing and moaning. "Hold still and I'll make this quick. Say goodbye, you big dumb fuck."

As he pulled the trigger, Dane managed to twist away and reached up with a huge hand to knock the gun away. He wasn't fast enough, though. There was a gunshot, and Dane slumped back to the floor, his eyes glassy and blood pouring from a hole in his chest. Brian was trying to maneuver enough to shoot Dane again, in the head this time, for good measure, when Sarah began to struggle frantically.

"Simmer down, bitch! I'll make it quick, now just fucking well simmer down!"

"You crazy bastard!" Sarah screamed at him, and grabbed a box cutter that she kept on her worktable. Brian held her by the hair, and was trying to get a decent shot at her, but she struggled and squirmed and managed to strike several shallow blows to his arms and chest with the craft knife. The knife wasn't enough to do any serious damage, but they bled heavily, and made it difficult for Brian to hang on to Sarah.

"Enough! That's enough, bitch!" Without being able to aim properly, Brian fired off a couple of shots. Sarah cried out and went limp. Before Brian could fire again, he heard the front door slam open.

"Drop the gun! Freeze! Hands in the air!"

"Oh, for fuck's sake…" Brian turned slowly, letting go of Sarah. She collapsed, bleeding, onto Dane. Brian held onto his gun. There were at least eight cops, all holding guns on him. He could hear a commotion at the door.

"Drop the gun, Brian!" C.J. Hollinson's face was fierce. "Drop it now!"

Brian made no move to relinquish the gun. At that moment, his father burst past the cops at the door, and wormed inside. He stood there, staring at his son in horror. "Brian," he whispered. "Oh, my God…I thought the dispatch was wrong." His face crumpled. "I thought it had to be wrong…"

One of the cops tried to push Jimmy farther to the side, to get him out of the way, but he struggled, fighting to get to his son.

"Jimmy, get out of here!"

"No! No! That's my boy, he's my boy, don't…"

Horrified, Brian stared at his father, and he swung the gun up towards the cops. He never wanted his father to find out - just like on tv, everything seemed to be going in slow motion. He struggled to see the situation clearly. "Dad…" he said, in a voice just above a whisper.

Sorry…but I'm not going to rot in jail for the rest of my life…

"Drop the gun or we'll shoot!"

Still looking at his father, Brian took a rough aim toward the cops, and fired. He saw one clutch his arm and go down. He barely registered the heavy force of the bullets as they lifted him and slammed him against the wall, ripping through his thin body.

Brian slid down to the floor, numb. He felt so cold. His vision was fading, fading fast, and he could just hear someone sobbing harshly. An ugly sound. His father.

With a sudden clarity, he remembered his dad sobbing like that before. When? Years ago. He remembered. His mother's funeral. He hated the sound. It was awful. He wished it would stop. He remembered that he'd thought at the time how he'd never wanted to

hear it ever again. Ever.

…Dad…

Twenty-Four

HIS HEAD WAS reeling.

Dane Shand opened his eyes. He felt like he was going to puke. He knew exactly where he was, without being told. The muted hush, the antiseptic smell, the tubes running into his nose and wrists. The cottony feeling in his mouth and overall dull pain. He was in the hospital. Three knee surgeries in ten years had given him, unfortunately, a more than passing familiarity with the place. Dane lay completely still, knowing from unhappy experience that any sudden movements in a hospital bed tended to be painful. He squinted, struggling to focus his eyes.

A blurred face appeared over his, and he struggled to understand the words it spoke to him.

"…take it easy…gonna be ok…how do you feel?"

"Like…a…sack of shit," he mumbled. The blurred face…C.J.?…laughed.

"…safe now…go back to sleep…"

That, he could do. Dane closed his eyes and drifted off.

Dane opened his eyes. Everything came into focus immediately.

"Well check it out! He lives! Buddy! How you feeling?"

"Like a sack of shit."

"Still?" C.J. laughed, and leaned back in his chair. "You said that two days ago."

Dane tried to process this, found that he couldn't quite manage it.

"What do you remember?"

"Uh…pain. A lot of pain."

"Yeah." C.J. looked at him sadly. "Your leg is fucked." He shook his head. "He had to shoot you in your bad leg, didn't he? It missed the knee, just barely. Took a good chunk out of your thigh, though, and apparently that's going to cause a lot of problems with your knee. New problems."

Dane groaned.

"But," C.J. continued, determined to try to be cheerful, "You were damned lucky to have survived the bullet in the chest. One of your lungs got nicked but good, and you've got a couple of broken ribs, but that's it. We got you out before you bled to death."

Dane said nothing for a moment, just looked at his friend glumly. Then a thought occurred to him. "Sarah? She ok?"

C.J. sighed. "She'll be fine. Bullet in the shoulder, one in the side. Nothing serious. She'll be fine." He fiddled with the hem of his shirt, the way he did when he had bad news to impart, and continued. She…uh, well, uh… sold the store. To her ex. She just said the hell with it, and sold him her half. She's moving."

"Why?"

C.J. waved vaguely to indicate their surroundings. "This. All of it. It was too much. She's moving Midwest. Got family out there."

"Oh." Dane stared at the ceiling. "I guess that's it, then."

"Yeah." C.J. paused. "She just wants to get the hell away from everything. This was too much for her. She…uh, wrote you a letter. It's right here with your wallet and stuff." C.J. sighed. "Sorry, bud."

"Naw, it's alright. Throw it out. I don't want to read it." Dane forced a smile. "If it was meant to be, then it would have been. Right?"

"Yeah, well. That's true, I guess."

"So tell me all of it."

C.J. talked, for a good fifteen or twenty minutes, relating all that they had been able to learn.

The search of Brian's car - parked three blocks away from the video store, on a back street - had yielded the tools of the young man's trade. The car had also contained DVDs of the other murders, notebooks full of plans, personal effects, money and clothes. Two sets of false identification. His bank accounts had been emptied. Brian had not been planning to return home. He had been planning to cut and run.

"And you say he actually survived," Dane said, amazed, as C.J. concluded his tale. "Tough kid. Six bullets!"

"Yeah." C.J. took a sip of his coffee, and nibbled on a chocolate. The table beside Dane's bed was piled high with cards, boxes of chocolates, and the windowsill of the small room was lined with stuffed animals and flowers. Dane, not yet allowed to eat, crunched on the ice that C.J. kept feeding him, and eyed C.J.'s coffee longingly. "Will he recover?"

"Yeah, so much." C.J. snorted. "He's fucked, though. Not sure if he'll stand trial for the murders of Gisele Brown, Chris Grett, Chelsy Lansing…crazy bastard. You should have heard him confess. It's like he was talking about someone else. It's like he doesn't even realize that he did it. He said he did, but it's like he's talking about someone else. Like he's telling a story about someone else. Kept talking about 'small details', 'apples', stuff like that."

"Schizo?"

C.J. shrugged. "Not for me to decide. I heard one shrink talking about "Multiple Personality Disorder", whatever the hell that is. I can't stand to think that he might just end up in a mental hospital." He sighed again. "Poor Jimmy."

"Who?"

"His father. Jim Besaird. God, it's just killing him. And the younger brother, little guy named Aaron. Poor kid. He's staying with a foster family right now. Jim asked for that. He didn't think he was in any shape to look after the little guy right now. Jim's been with Brian every minute. Blames himself. Keeps asking what he could have done to prevent it. Can you believe Jim's talked to the families of the victims? To apologize." C.J. shook his head. "It's so sad. It's really, really sad. Poor Jim."

Dane tried to imagine what it'd be like, to have your own son do such terrible things. Could a parent ever truly forgive their child for such actions? "Is he going to be all right?"

C.J. shrugged again, and said nothing. After a few minutes, he spoke again. "Evie's running the store, by the way."

"Oh yeah. The store."

"She's doing what she can - when you're up to it, she wants to go over some stuff with you. You really need to hire some help, you know. She had no idea where to find anything."

Dane grinned weakly. "Sorry."

"Naw, don't be. She's running the store, got a couple kids helping her. I brought Meatball to my place, he's loving it. The kids keep him run off his feet. Here," C.J. shifted and lifted something onto Dane's bed. "Evie sent this."

Dane was delighted to see a box filled with dozens of new magazines, and his reading glasses. "Ah, bless her. You're a lucky man, you know."

"I know," C.J. said quietly.

They fell silent again. Dane was exhausted, but C.J. seemed preoccupied with something. "Was that everything?"

"What?"

"Something bothering you?"

"Well." C.J. looked at Dane, his face grim and sorrowful. "Yeah." He looked down. "I'm so fucking sorry."

"Huh?"

"I should have listened to you. I'm sorry, buddy. You've got a shark's instincts, and I should have listened when you said Brian was 'off'. I let my friendship with Jimmy get in the way. I'm…man, I'm sorry. You can't imagine."

Dane gripped his best friend's hand weakly, and smiled at him. "So listen to me next time. Don't worry about it. Next time we have a serial killer running around Indigo, just listen to me when I say someone's acting funny."

C.J. chuckled, and squeezed Dane's hand back. "I will, but I sure as hell hope there never is a 'next time'." He sighed again. "I'm gonna head out, you need to get some sleep. Jimmy Besaird wants to talk to you later, by the way. Go easy on him. Please."

"I will. Don't worry. I will. The poor guy. I can't imagine how he's feeling."

"Yeah. I'll come by tomorrow. There are some shoplifting problems happening lately. I want your input."

Dane grinned at him, and C.J. let himself out. For a long while afterwards, Dane lay there, staring at the ceiling, thinking. It was a long time before he drifted off to sleep.

Out in the car, C.J. leaned against the headrest, his eyes closed. He felt weary as hell. When Dane had asked if something was bothering him, he'd only partially answered the question. For he didn't know whether or not to ever tell Dane of his suspicions, and of his discovery of the small headstone on the cliff. His conscience said yes, but his heart said no. He sighed, and made a decision. His conscience would have to keep. He would forever keep that truth to himself. Dane never needed to know.

Twenty-Five

DANE CHECKED HIS reflection in the hallway mirror. Other than the crutches, he thought he looked fairly presentable. He'd gotten a trim that day, and the new shirt that Evie had helped him pick out was a flattering shade of dark blue. The cut helped hide the extra twenty or so pounds that he had packed on over the last two months. Now that he was out of the hospital and somewhat mobile, he should be able to shed the extra weight quickly.

The doorbell chimed, and he expertly maneuvered his way down the hallway to the front door. He was expecting Annette any time now. In celebration of finally being released from the hospital, he had asked the pretty physiotherapist out to dinner.

It was not Annette, however. A courier delivery man stood on the doorstep. "Dane Shand?"

"Yes." He shifted slightly to sign for the parcel. He handed the pad back, and shifted again to accept the package, which fit neatly under one arm. "Thanks," he said, using one crutch to push the door closed.

Dane hobbled over to the sofa, and slid the parcel onto the coffee table. Using a pocketknife, he slit it open and smiled delightedly when he saw the contents. "Acme Home Studies: Complete Program. Become A Certified Private Investigator". Excellent. Dane eagerly began to leaf through one of the workbooks, when the doorbell rang again. "Coming!" He called, thumping across the floor on his crutches.

Carefully, he balanced himself on one crutch, and opened the door with his free hand. "Come on in," he said, smiling at the attractive brunette on his doorstep. "Just let me get my jacket."

"Let me," said Annette. She picked up the jacket slung over the back of a chair, and helped him shrug into it. It was a stretch - she stood on the tips of her toes to reach his shoulders.

"Thanks, but you're not on the job. You don't have to look after me."

Annette grinned, her arm on the small of Dane's back as they made their way out to her car.

"That's ok. I like looking after you."

Dane smiled. "I like you looking after me, then." He bent down and kissed her. It felt good. They stood there like that for a long while, watching the sun set through the thick Maine woods, listening to the night sounds and breathing in the fragrant late autumn air.

Dane felt good. For the first time in months, Dane could honestly say that he felt good, that he felt at peace, and that he was looking forward to the future.

He felt great.

Twenty-Six

"BRIAN? COME IN."

Fifteen-year-old Brian Besaird dragged his feet into the school counselor's office. He was pretty sure he knew why he was here. Without waiting to be asked, he slammed his skinny frame into one of the chairs in front of Mr. Weir's desk, and glared at him sullenly through a fringe of blue and green hair. He said nothing, and waited while Weir - Weirdo, most students called him - shuffled through a bunch of papers. After what seemed to be an hour, Weirdo looked up at Brian, and gave him a bland smile.

"How are you, Brian?"

"Fine."

There was a silence, while the counselor watched him. The silence stretched on; finally, annoyed, Brian snapped. "What?"

"I beg your pardon?"

"What do you want? What'd you call me in here for?"

The bland smile was back. "I thought we'd have a little chat, Brian. I just wanted to see how things were with you, since you lost your mother -"

"I didn't lose her," Brian snarled, really angry now. "She died. All right? She fucking died from cancer! She isn't lost, she's dead -" He choked on the last word, and fell silent, staring at the floor, the sudden stinging in his eyes humiliating him.

The office was oppressively silent, except for the annoying click-click-click of the generic big white clock over Weir's desk. Even the school itself was quiet. Most of the students were in class. Through the window behind Weir's desk, Brian could see the football field, still covered with snow even though it was late March. His gym class was outside, snowshoeing across the field.

Brian was exempt from gym class until his leg was fully healed, and usually spent those periods in the library, doing his homework. Just as well. Snowshoeing looked like a real drag. Besides, he hated winter.

"Yes, Brian. I'm sorry about that. Yes. She died." Mr. Weir's soothing tones were beginning to grate on Brian's nerves. "A few students have expressed concerns -"

"It's none of their fucking business, and it's none of yours, either."

"-about your ability to cope," Weirdo continued, as though Brian hadn't spoken. "I'd like to suggest - "

"I'd like to suggest that you go fuck yourself, ok? You like apples, Mr. Weir? How do you like them fucking apples? Huh?" Still leaning back in his chair, his good leg propped up on Weir's desk, Brian looked every inch the teenaged rebel that he wanted to be, and his lips curved in a nasty grin. Weir stared at him, unimpressed.

There was a long silence. Brian was the first to break eye contact. Finally, Weir spoke again. "Just hear me out, please. Then you can leave."

"Fine. Spit it out."

Brian could see the man struggling to conceal his irritation. Fine by him. He didn't much care. What the fuck did Weir know, anyway? Did he think it was easy?

His Dad was on stress leave from work, a complete wreck after his wife's shitty, miserable death, and he, Brian, was trying to hold his father and himself together enough to look after his four-year-old brother, who didn't truly understand that his Mommy had gone to "live with the angels", as his father put it.

Brian, who could barely walk up the stairs because of the injury to his leg, was going to school, then going home, looking after his father, then doing the housework and cooking the meals, paying the bills with his father's benefit money, which somehow just didn't seem to stretch enough to pay everything. It was a fucking drag, all of it, and he wasn't even old enough to hold a job yet. He couldn't bring in any extra money to help out. God, he was tired of it all.

"Brian. You can come by to talk to me anytime -"

"No thanks."

"- or you can try something else. A little idea I have. Have you ever written in a journal?"

"A what?" Brian glared at Weir. He was getting fed up of this bullshit.

"Journal. It doesn't have to be anything fancy. A notebook, even some blank sheets of paper will do."

"What the royal fuck do you want me to write about?" Brian stared at Weir, convinced that the guy was smoking something.

"Your feelings."

"Fuck that shit," he snorted, rising to his feet and heading for the door.

"Sit down."

At the door, Brian turned to look back at the counselor. "I gotta go."

"Fine. Fine. But just give it a try, will you?"

He frowned, exasperated. "My feelings? What the fuck do you mean, my feelings?"

"Well," Weir said, tilting his head and looking at Brian thoughtfully. "How about just starting off writing about your day, how it was, what went on, that sort of thing? And then - well, just let the words flow. Write whatever you feel like." He smiled. "It might help you deal with things a bit more clearly, you know. Could you give it a try? Please?"

Brian sighed, then shrugged. "Sure. What the hell."

"Can you come back on Friday? Just for a quick chat? Say during your library period?"

Brian shrugged again. "Sure. What the hell. If it makes you feel like your job is justified. Can I go now?" Mr. Weir grinned, and said, "Sure. What the hell." Brian stared at him for a moment; then, reluctantly, he smiled back, and turned to leave. He guessed that Weir wasn't really a bad sort. He wasn't even all that weird.

Brian limped out of the office, and down the nearly-deserted hallway, to the library. As he sat back down in his seat, he pushed his chemistry textbook aside, and pulled a notebook towards him. He sat and stared at it for a few minutes, as though deciding something. Then, he shrugged, and muttered, "What the hell."

He clicked his pen, and, smirking, began to write.

"Dear Diary…"