OCTOBER 28, 2014

Jim Ellison wearily sighed as he turned off the truck’s engine. The man sitting next to him similarly sighed.

Blair Sandburg looked at his partner in silence for several seconds. “Well, at least we’re home in time to see the girls before they catch the school bus.”

Jim nodded. “I hate being called out at night and leaving the girls alone.”

“They’re not alone,” Blair pointed out. He forced himself to move and opened the truck door. “The wolf and jag always show up, and nobody’s getting past THEM.”

Reluctantly, Jim nodded. He got out of the truck and followed Blair up the front steps to the front door of the Ellison home. Part of his mind rebelled at leaving two girls, 11 and 13, home alone at night without some adult supervision. Still, his and Blair’s spirit animals could be ferocious creatures and would protect the girls from harm.

They opened the door and heard laughter from the kitchen.

Blair grinned. “Sounds like a happy breakfast. Hope they’re eating a good meal.”

Jim sniffed. “Pancakes? I smell maple syrup.”

“Great, loading up on sugar before school,” Blair grumbled. He headed for the kitchen, Jim closely following.

“As long as they’ve left some for me,” Jim muttered.

The two stopped in the doorway of the kitchen, their mouths falling open in surprise.

Becky Ellison was on her knees using a hand towel to wipe maple syrup from the muzzle of the Blair’s spirit wolf. The wolf was barely cooperating, moving his head back and forth.

Mariah Sandburg was sitting at the table using a fork to feed a piece of butter and maple syrup covered pancake to Jim’s spirit jaguar. The jag eagerly took the food and whined in appreciation.

“Girls, what are you doing?” Blair quietly asked.

“Daddy!” Mariah squealed in pleasure. “You’re home!”

“Yes, we are,” Blair nodded. He ignored Jim who went to the countertop and began putting pancakes on a plate. “Why are you feeding the animals?”

“They’re hungry,” Mariah explained. “We couldn’t just sit down and eat in front of them.”

Blair sighed and glanced over at Jim. “Any left for me?”

Jim nodded and handed the plate to Blair before putting the rest of the pancakes on another plate for himself.

“What happened to the wolf?” Blair asked as he sat at the table.

“Dove headfirst into a bowl of maple syrup,” Becky explained. She sat back and surveyed the wolf’s muzzle. “Best I can do,” she muttered. “Why a bowl of maple syrup?” Blair asked.

“Why not, Daddy?” Mariah innocently asked in return.

Jim sighed as he sat at the table and reached for the butter. “You guys are supposed to be on protection duty when we’re away from home.” He glared at the jag who was sniffing the table top.

Becky turned the coffee maker on and sat back down at the table.

“They are!” Mariah protested. “But everybody has to eat, don’t they?”

The two men looked at each other and sighed.

“Right, baby,” Blair nodded.

“Any luck last night, Dad?” Becky asked before she drained the last of her juice from her glass.

Both men were reluctant to discuss the Slasher’s latest victim so Jim shrugged. “Waiting on forensics, sweetheart.” He forced a smile. “All ready for tonight’s performance, girls?”

“You’ll be able to make it, won’t you?” Mariah enthusiastically asked.

“We’ll do our best, Mariah,” Blair promised with a grin. “You gonna tell me what you’re doing tonight?”

“Nope.” Mariah grinned back at him. “It’s gotta be a surprise.”

“Having fed the animals, did you girls eat any breakfast?” Jim asked.

“We did, Dad.” Becky glanced at the microwave clock. “We better hurry, Mariah, or we’ll miss the bus.”

Mariah got up from the table and put their dishes in the dishwasher while Becky poured the two men their coffee and placed the mugs on the table.

“Thanks, Becky,” Jim smiled. “You girls are staying at school after classes, right?”

“Yeah, the performing arts department is springing for pizza so we can stay and get everything ready for tonight’s performance,” Becky nodded.

“Okay, you have a good day, sweetheart.”

Becky leaned down and hugged her dad. “You, too.”

As the girls ran upstairs to brush their teeth, both Jim and Blair turned to look at the spirit animals.

The wolf yawned and the jag simply returned Jim’s stare. Then they disappeared.

“This is all your fault.” Becky glared at her best friend as she hissed the words in a soft voice so no one else could hear.

Mariah smiled and chewed on her slice of pizza. “You had to do something besides props,” she calmly pointed out.

“Everyone’s gonna laugh.” Becky’s hazel eyes flickered to the other students who were with them in the cafeteria eating pizzas and laughing.

Mariah sighed. “Nobody’s gonna laugh. In fact, everybody says you guys sound great.” She patted her friend’s hand. “Just calm down.”

Becky took a deep breath. “Think our dads will make it?”

Mariah’s blue eyes briefly clouded. “Hope so. But if they get a break on the Slasher…” she shrugged.

“Yeah,” Becky somberly nodded. She stared down at the pizza on her plate. “Everybody’s gonna laugh.”

Mariah inwardly groaned.

“Hey, Becky, all ready for tonight?”

Startled, Becky looked up then smiled. “Hi, Scott.” After a moment, she nodded, “Sure. Can’t wait.”

“We’re gonna be great,” Scott Rutherford assured her as he sat down next to her. “How are you doing on our history paper?”

Mariah began drinking from her bottle of juice to avoid commenting. 'OUR paper? You haven’t done one thing to help with that paper. You low-down conniving little rat.’ She looked up to see Nanci Compton smirking at them. ‘Letting Becky think you broke up with Nanci…you, you…RAT, you…’

“Almost done with it,” Becky assured him.

“Listen, you don’t have a date for the Halloween dance, do you?” Scott leaned closer.

Becky caught her breath. “No,” she finally answered, gazing into Scott’s dark eyes. “Nobody’s asked me.”

“Can’t believe that,” Scott chuckled. “How about you be my date? I’ll be running late because of basketball practice so I can meet you here for the dance.”

“Sure!” Becky enthusiastically nodded. “Thanks, Scott.”

“My pleasure.” Scott smiled back at her then got to his feet. “Catch you later.”

“Sure,” Becky nodded again. She watched as Scott walked away.

“Oh, stop drooling,” Mariah snapped.

Becky glared across the table at her friend. “What’s your problem? That he didn’t notice you?”

“Oh, please,” Mariah scoffed. “Like I care about THAT.” She thought quickly. “It’s just not cool to be so obvious.”

“Oh.” Becky blushed. “Scott’s been really good to work with me on the performance. He didn’t have to let me in his group.”

“Well, you’re doing most of the work on the history paper,” Mariah pointed out.

“Scott’s helping,” Becky defended him. “I’m just a better writer.”

After a moment, Mariah nodded. “True.” She pointed to the pizza. “Come on, eat up. You don’t want to pass out from hunger, do you?”

Becky snickered and picked up her pizza.

Mariah’s eyes slid past her friend to where she could see Nanci talking with Scott. ‘That rat is using Becky for the history paper. I just know it! But the dance? What’s he up to?’

“Well, it’s official. The press thinks we’re incompetent idiots.” Capt. Joel Taggart ruefully smiled.

“What else is new?” Brian Rafe sighed.

Joel glanced around the Major Crimes conference room. Everyone was tired, both mentally and physically. The Slasher case had taken their toll on everyone. “Simon will be up in a few minutes. He’s handling damage control.”

‘Thank God Simon got promoted to the Police Commissioner’s position. He’ll run interference for us with the press. Unlike that goofball before him.’ Jim grunted. “Better him than me.”

Joel privately agreed. “Blair? Give us a summary, please.”

Blair Sandburg, consultant to the Cascade PD in general and Major Crimes in particular, sat up straighter in his chair. “Six known victims so far. Four women and two men. Ages range from 63 to 17. All victims were found in public places. No missing persons report for any of the victims except number five. Jerome Collins, age 17. His mother reported him missing when he didn’t come home from basketball practice.”

Restless, Blair got to his feet and walked to the board where pictures of the victims were posted. “Victim No. 1. Angela Rice, age 45. Worked as a waitress at IHOP. Found by a co-worker next to her car in the parking lot. Victim No. 2. Benny Long, age 33. Homeless man who was last seen at St. Elizabeth’s shelter two days before his body was found by a patrol officer at the Cascade Marina. Victim No. 3. Ellen McDermott, age 24. Worked as a substitute teacher. Found in the alley behind the 7th Avenue Cascade Public Library by a City garbage collection crew. Victim No. 4. Jennifer Young, age 63. Worked as a home nurse for the City Health Department. Found in the parking lot of a convenience store close to an ATM by a couple of working girls. Victim No. 5. Jerome Collins, age 17. High school senior last seen at basketball practice. Found at the 7th hole of the Cascade Public Golf Course by a groundskeeper. Victim No. 6. Lenore Michaels, age 29. Bank clerk at the First National Bank of Cascade. Found last night in the parking lot of the Northside Mall near the movie theaters by people leaving the midnight show.”

Blair sighed and turned to face the rest of the room. He was surprised to see Simon Banks standing quietly by the closed door.

“No witnesses to the crimes. Evidence showed that Rice and Young were killed where their bodies were found. The others were killed elsewhere, and their bodies moved after death. All victims were slashed repeatedly with a sharp, long-bladed knife, possibly a hunting knife or military K-bar.” Blair glanced at the pictures then back at the waiting detectives. “No known associations between the victims. No common timeframe between the killings. As little as two days and as much as almost two weeks between them. No common denominators between the victims either. Not race, religion, sex, occupation…nothing.”

“Completely random,” Simon quietly concurred.

Blair nodded. “For whatever reason, each of these people caught his attention. They spoke to him or didn’t speak to him. Ignored him or paid attention to him. Looked like someone he hated or someone he loved. Or reminded him of a loved one no longer with him or someone who had disappointed him.”

Jim’s fingers tightened around the pencil in his hand until it snapped. The loud crack startled everyone.

“Well put, James,” Blair wearily smiled.

Henri Brown and Megan Connor nervously laughed in response.

Jim waved a hand in silent apology. “You said ‘he’, Chief? Part of the profile?”

Blair nodded. “Evidence shows that Collins and McDermott put up a struggle. Unknown tissue under their nails. Also, Collins’ knuckles were scraped, possibly he punched his assailant. In addition, Michaels had both unknown tissue and blood under her nails. She scratched him deep and hard.”

“Good for her,” Megan growled.

“There’s no evidence that Rice and Young struggled so they were possibly surprised and incapacitated before they could put up a fight. The autopsy showed that Long had a blood alcohol count of .23 so there’s no way that he COULD have fought for his life.” Blair slowly nodded. “As long as we’re going with the theory of just one killer, then yes, I’d say he’s a man. Statistically, mid-twenties to mid-thirties. He’s going to be in good shape and strong. Either runs or works out on a regular basis. Employed with a good job that allows him to own his home. He drives a mid-sized car, SUV, or van that he uses to transport the victims. But his job allows him to interact freely with the public without creating any problems. It’s doubtful he works in an office in a 9-to-5 job. Most likely, he’s well integrated with others at work and socializes with them when appropriate. However, he’s single or divorced. If divorced, he doesn’t have much contact with the ex or his children. All his family probably lives elsewhere. He’s friendly enough with neighbors and co-workers but has no close friends.” Blair briefly smiled. “He’s the guy who contributes money first when asked for donations and shows up at the office parties. But he’s never the one who contributes time to a cause or stays long at the parties. His work reviews will show him to be very competent at his job although not much of a ‘people’ person.”

“Just your average all-around nice guy,” Henri sourly commented.

“I know you said there are no connections between the victims,” Simon questioned. “But absolutely nothing?”

“Rice was a waitress at an IHOP,” Rafe recalled. “It’s possible one or more of the other victims ate there and she was their waitress. Collins played high school basketball. Maybe they saw a game.” He shrugged. “We’re digging but…” he shrugged.

Simon nodded. “You can’t make a connection if it doesn’t exist. Keep on digging, though. Who knows how far back the Slasher holds a grudge?”

“If it’s even a grudge at all,” Blair muttered.

“People are starting to panic not to mention Halloween’s only couple of days away,” Megan pointed out.

“Everyone keep your cell phones on just in case.” He suddenly smiled. “We’re all tired so wrap up your reports and get out of here.”

“Besides, we have a social engagement tonight,” Blair reminded everyone. “Is Daryl going to be able to make it?”

Simon nodded, missing Jim’s quick frown. “Said he wouldn’t miss this for the world.”

“So what was that frown when Simon said Daryl was coming?” Blair asked as soon as they were in Jim’s truck.

“What frown?”

“That’s what I’m asking you.”

Jim sighed. “I think Becky’s got a crush on Daryl.”

“Really? Whatever gave you THAT idea?” Blair grinned.

“Oh, and like you’re not concerned about Mariah’s crush on Rafe?” Jim pointed out.

“Mariah’s too young to have crushes,” Blair immediately replied.

“Right, Chief. You just keep on thinking that.”

Both men were quiet for several blocks.

The parking lot at Eleanor Roosevelt Middle School was nearly full when Jim and Blair arrived. As they exited, they looked around for the other members of Major Crimes.

“Must be already inside,” Blair decided. Then he grinned. “Wonder how many of them ran lights and sirens so they could get a good parking spot?”

Jim grunted. “Why didn’t I think of that?” As they entered the school’s auditorium, he automatically adjusted the dials for his hearing. He saw Blair’s smile and grinned in response. “Don’t even say it,” he warned. Glancing at the ticket in his hand, he led the way toward their seats.

Blair began waving when he saw the other members of Major Crimes. He heard Jim’s chuckle and shrugged. “So I’m excited to see my little girl perform. What of it?”

Jim laughed then slid into the seat next to Blair. Then he leaned forward and spoke to Simon. “Lights and sirens, sir?”

“Bite me, Ellison.” Simon studied the program. “How many performances is Mariah in, Sandburg?”

“She didn’t say,” Blair shook his head. “Said she wanted it to be a surprise. The girls sneaked Mariah’s costume or whatever she’s wearing out of the house this morning.” He glanced at the program in his hand. “And it looks like they don’t have the students’ names listed. Just the performers they’re covering.”

“So how did Becky get roped into this?” Daryl Banks leaned forward to look at Jim.

“Every student has to participate in an after-school sport and art activity,” Jim explained. “Becky’s into self-defense and dragged Mariah in with her.”

“So Mariah returned the favor and dragged Becky into performing arts,” Blair snickered. “Becky swears all she’s going to do is props and staging, but it qualifies.” He glanced down the row of Major Crimes detectives. “Do we all have our cameras ready?” He broke into laughter when everyone revealed cameras.

“Oh, God, they’re out there.” Becky turned around from where she’d peeked out at the audience. “Front and center! With cameras!”

“Becky, calm down!” Mariah ordered. “You’re going to make yourself sick.”

“I shouldn’t have eaten that pizza,” Becky groaned. She glanced down at her outfit. “Are you sure this is what Grandmama Naomi said they wore?”

“Yep, and I’ve seen the pictures, too.” Mariah slipped past Becky to peer out at the audience. “Did you see Grandmama Naomi?”

“No, but she said she’d be here so she will,” Becky reassured her. “Are you sure she won’t mind me calling her Grandmama?”

“I’m sure,” Mariah nodded. “Where IS she? She needs to be here with Daddy when…”

“Everyone! Come along. Take your places!”

With a sigh, Mariah turned around and followed Becky backstage. “Dial down your hearing,” she softly advised her friend. “Some people just can’t sing, you know.”

Jim had just settled into his seat when he caught a whiff of a familiar scent. Glancing over his shoulder, he grinned and nudged his partner. “Last minute guest,” he murmured as he got to his feet and stepped into the aisle.

Confused, Blair looked up then widely smiled. “Naomi! You’re here!”

“Oh, sweetie, I wouldn’t miss this for anything!” Naomi Sandburg stopped to kiss Jim on the cheek then sat in the seat next to Blair. She gave him a quick but tight hug then smiled at Simon. “Simon! So good to see you!” She glanced past him. “I see everyone’s here to support the girls.”

“Absolutely, Naomi,” Simon politely nodded. He glanced at Jim who now sat on the aisle seat and wondered how Naomi was going to fit into the expanded Ellison household.

“So who is the cutie-pie sitting with Megan?” Naomi whispered to Blair. “They hardly have eyes for anyone else.”

“Her new husband,” Blair whispered back. “They were married just a little over a month ago.”

“Good evening, everyone. And welcome to our Fall performance.” Polite applause greeted Principal Rose Shaw’s announcement. “As you can see from your programs, we have listed our performers but not the students. This will enhance your enjoyment of the performance by not knowing which student is performing which song. Unless, that is, you saw your child’s costume.” She slowly smiled. “And, if you don’t know where your child is in tonight’s performance, it’ll cut down on early exits.”

Jim chuckled along with the rest of the audience in rueful acknowledgement.

“So, without further ado, ladies and gentlemen…The Beatles!”

Jim and the others sat through performances that ranged from the silly (Tina Turner and The Supremes) to embarrassing (Elvis and Michael Jackson) to pretty decent (The Beatles and Elton John). Just when he’d wondered if they were going to see Mariah perform before the intermission, he heard the announcement, “Ladies and Gentlemen….Donna Summer.” He felt Naomi tense next to him, and glanced at her.

Naomi’s eyes were fixed on the stage as a young girl crouched on the stage, her back to them. The figure was lit by a dim spotlight, her distinctive curly hair immediately identifying her to the people in the fifth row.

‘I…uhhh…love to love ya baby….Uhhhh….love to love ya baby….Uhhhh….’

Jim’s blue eyes widened as the girl slowly began swaying back and forth, rising to her full height. Dressed in a skin-tight jumpsuit, her arms seemed to be crossed in front of her. A young girl’s voice throatily sang the words.

‘….love to love ya baby….Uhhh….uhhhh….’

Jim glanced past Naomi to see Blair’s mouth wide open in shock. A quick glance down the row showed every member of Major Crimes was starting at the stage in just as much shock.

Slowly the lights came up to reveal six cradles. The girl on stage suddenly turned around and began to exaggeratedly rock the baby doll cradled in her arms. ‘When you’re layin’ so close to me….there’s no place I’d rather you be….than with me here….uhhhh….love to love ya baby…’

The audience began laughing when Mariah placed the baby doll in one of the cradles and picked up another one. At one point, she juggled three baby dolls in her arms as she sang and danced around the stage. Finally, she had them all back in their cradles and sank down to her knees and softly sang.

‘I…uhhh…love to love ya, babies….please….stay asleep babies…nitey….nite lit-tle babies…'

Mariah shushed the audience and wearily sighed.

*SLAM* “Honey, I’m home!”

Mariah’s blue eyes widened in horror as the sound of crying babies filled the air. “I’ll kill him!” she frantically shouted just before the lights went off.

The crowd roared with laughter and began applauding when the curtains fell.

“Thank you, ladies and gentlemen. We’ll now enjoy a twenty-minute intermission.”

Jim saw Blair’s expression and collapsed with laughter.

“Oh, my god…oh my god…” Blair groaned. “That was….was….”

“Very amusing, Sandburg,” Simon teased. He glanced at Daryl who was gasping for breath as he laughed. “She’s your daughter, all right.”

“She’s only eleven!”

“Oh, Blair! What does age have to do with it?” Naomi protested, her eyes twinkling with amusement.

“You knew about this!” Blair accused his mother who merely smiled back at him.

“If she wanted to do Donna Summer, she could’ve done Last Dance,” Blair stubbornly protested. He glared at Jim who was still laughing. “I think that’s enough.”

Naomi glanced at the man on her left. “Oh, I think Jim will enjoy the second half of the performance even more than the first.”

Jim stopped laughing. “Why is that, Naomi?”

Naomi just smiled and got to her feet. “If you’ll excuse me, I feel a need to powder my nose.”

Jim automatically stood and allowed Naomi to step into the aisle. Then he looked at his partner. “Chief, what does she know?”

Blair glanced at the curtains which closed the stage to the audience. “I have no idea,” he admitted.

“Oh, God, Mariah, I thought Uncle Blair was going to have a stroke!” Becky laughed as she dragged two of the cradles from the stage.

Mariah grabbed another cradle and followed her friend. “I think they all were!” she chuckled. “That was fun!”

The second half of the performance began with a surprisingly good Aretha Franklin followed by an embarrassing Rick James.

“Ladies and gentlemen. The Mamas and Papas.”

Jim felt Naomi’s fingers lightly tap him on the arm as the curtain was pulled back.

‘All the leaves are brown…all the leaves are brown…and the sky is gray…and the sky is gra—ay…’

“Becky?” Jim whispered.

His daughter, dressed in bell-bottom jeans and a long shirt with a yellow peace sign on it, stood on stage with three other students singing the familiar song in four-part harmony. He dialed up his hearing to listen to his daughter’s clear alto voice.

Naomi shared a smile with Blair who quickly snapped a picture of the group on stage.

‘I’d be safe and warm…I’d be safe and warm…if I was in LA…if I was in L-A…’

“I’ve never heard her sing,” Jim whispered to himself. He saw his daughter’s hesitant look and widely smiled back at her. She relaxed and tossed her long brown hair over her shoulder.

‘California dreamin’….California dreamin’…On such a winter’s day…California dreamin'…’

Jim held his breath as the four students’ voices rose in harmony at the end of the song. Then with a shout of his own, he began applauding.

Becky looked wildly relieved as they bowed. Then she shyly smiled at her father before the curtain fell.

“I didn’t know Becky could sing,” Joel called down the row towards Jim. “She’s good!”

“Yeah,” Jim nodded in surprised pride. “She is, isn’t she?”

Naomi patted Jim’s arm. “That took me back,” she admitted with a smile.

“Any more surprises in store?” Jim asked with a grin.

Naomi hesitated. “Not for you,” she murmured.

“Way to go, Becky!” Scott congratulated her as they quickly exited the stage.

“Thanks, Scott,” Becky smiled in return. Then she saw Mariah and grinned. “Thank God that’s over!”

“You were great! I told you!” Mariah hugged her friend.

“Still glad it’s over,” Becky repeated. “At least the Winter performance is a play. I can just do props and stuff.”

“Oh, I don’t know about that.” Mariah’s eyes twinkled. “The play’s gonna be The Lion in Winter. I think you’d make a great Eleanor of Aquitaine.” She walked away with a smile.

“What! Oh, no, Mariah! No way!” Becky ran after her friend. “Are you even listening to me?”

An embarrassing Diana Ross. A hilarious Tiny Tim. A pretty good Alice Cooper followed by a really good Guns-And-Roses which was followed by a decent Bon Jovi. Act after act followed with Blair relaxing each time his daughter wasn’t on stage.

“Ladies and gentlemen. Miss Patsy Cline.”

“What?” Blair’s eyes widened.

‘Sweet dreams of you.…Every night I go through….Why can’t I forget you and start my life anew….Instead of having sweet dreams about you?’

Mariah, dressed in a dark red dress, stared down at her father who returned her stare as she sang with an almost-adult voice….and Blair remembered his dead wife.


The nightclub was one that Blair wouldn’t have even frequented if he hadn’t been in the company of his fellow teachers from the University of Mexico City. They sat at the table eating and drinking and idly listening to the singers on stage.

Then Blair’s attention was caught by a black-haired woman who stood in front of the microphone. ‘Sweet dreams of you…’ The old Patsy Cline song was being sung by an angel with an Irish accent. Blair glanced at the program on the table.

“Deirdre Cade,” he muttered. He looked back at the stage and wondered if it really was possible to fall in love at first sight.

OCTOBER 28, 2014

‘Instead of having sweet dreams….a-bout….you…’

The spotlight dimmed to darkness as the curtain slowly closed.

Jim worriedly glanced past Naomi to his partner who slowly began to clap with the rest of the audience.

“Wow!” Daryl sighed. “That girl can SING!”

“She inherited it from her mother,” Blair proudly nodded. He casually wiped his eyes then saw Jim and Naomi’s worried looks. “I’m okay. Just…surprised. That was a song that Deirdre sang to the kids.”

“Oh, sweetie, she thought it would make you happy.” Naomi worriedly patted his arm.

“It does, Mom. It does.”

Mariah worriedly nibbled on her thumbnail. “Daddy didn’t like the song. I know he didn’t.”

Now that the performance was over, Becky was her usual calm self. “Which one?” she asked as she zipped up her gym bag.

Mariah’s eyes flashed. “Either one…the last one.” She sadly sighed. “That was my momma’s favorite song. Daddy said so, even if I don’t remember hearing her sing it.”

Becky hesitated, then hugged her friend. “I don’t remember ever hearing my mother sing either. She just kept going on about how sure she was that I was going to go to Hell.”

‘Bitch.’ Mariah lowered her eyes so Becky wouldn’t see her expression.

“Don’t worry about it,” Becky advised as she picked up both her bag and Mariah’s. “Grandmama Naomi will save us. C’mon, let’s go face the music….so to speak.”

“Huh! You’re not the one who’s in trouble.”

Figuring the best offense wasn’t necessarily a good defense but rather a good misdirection, Mariah favored the adults with a wide smile and waved at Becky. “Wasn’t she great?!”

Startled, Becky glared at her friend then shyly looked at her father.

Jim silently opened his arms in invitation. When Becky dropped the gym bag to the floor and hugged him, he wrapped his arms around her. “Yes, she was,” he agreed. “You’ve got a great voice, Becky. You should sing more often.”

“Really?” Becky looked up at her father in surprise.

“Really,” Jim assured her with a kiss on her nose. “I’m so proud of you.”

“We all are,” Blair agreed even as the other adults added their encouragement. “You, young lady…” Blair quickly turned on her daughter.

“Yes, daddy?” Mariah looked up at him with wide-eyed innocence. The two stared at each other in silence for several seconds until Simon began to chuckle.

“Karma is a wonderful thing, isn’t it, Naomi?” Simon asked.

“Yes, Simon, it is,” Naomi snickered.

“That was quite a…performance,” Blair coughed.

“Which one?” Henri asked with a straight face.

“Personally, I liked the use of the baby dolls,” Jim drawled, winking at Becky. “Was that fore-shadowing for Grandfather Blair?”

Blair slowly turned to glare at his partner.

“Six, wasn’t it, Mariah?”

“Uh-huh, six.”

“Enough,” Blair groaned as the others began to laugh. He pulled his daughter into a tight embrace. “Love you, baby” he whispered. “You sounded a lot like your mother.”

Mariah’s arms squeezed her father in response.

OCTOBER 29, 2014

Joel took one look at Jim’s glowering face the next morning and raised his eyebrow at Blair who was trying not to smile. “Problems?”

“No, sir!” Jim snapped as he sat down at his desk.

Joel hesitated then continued. “The girls did a great job last night. You two must be very proud.”

Jim relaxed. “Becky was scared to death, but she did it,” he quietly answered. “And she’s got a good voice, doesn’t she?”

“She sure does,” Joel nodded. “So why the glower?”

“Becky has a date,” Blair confided.

“It’s NOT a date!” Jim snapped.

“Becky’s got a date?” Megan walked over to Jim’s desk. “Who is he?”

“It’s NOT a date!” Jim repeated, gritting his teeth.

“Scott Rutherford, one of the kids she sang with last night,” Blair explained. “He asked her to the Halloween dance tomorrow night.”

“Waited until the last minute, didn’t he?” Megan frowned.

“Thank you! That’s just what I said!” Jim triumphantly stared at his partner. “I mean, what kind of guy waits until the last minute to ask a girl to a dance?”

“One that’s been turned down by other girls?” Megan surmised.

“Or just broke up with his girlfriend,” Henri pointed out.

“You didn’t tell her she couldn’t go, did you?” Joel gently asked.

Jim sighed. “I told her she could go.” He glared again at Blair. “But only because my partner and his mother were giving me the stares of death.”

Rafe snickered then coughed. “It’s just a dance, Jim.”

“He’s not even picking her up!” Jim exploded. “He’s meeting her at the dance! What kind of bum won’t even pick up his date!?” He took a deep breath. “Not that this is a date!”

“Jim, the kid’s in middle school,” Blair calmly pointed out. “He can’t drive.”

“His parents do. One of them could’ve driven,” Jim grunted. “I offered to do the driving. Or Blair. Or Naomi. But Becky insisted they were meeting at the dance.”

“It’s a school dance, right? At the school?” Megan asked. When Jim nodded, she continued, “Then it’ll be over early. You can pick her up.”

“Actually, Naomi volunteered to do that,” Blair spoke up. “She’s gonna take Becky and Mariah shopping after school today for dresses.”

“Mariah’s going, too?” Megan curiously asked.

Blair nodded with a grin. “She’s going stag. Naomi’s thrilled.”

“So are you,” Jim pointed out.

OCTOBER 30, 2014

“Chief! Let’s go!”

“Coming!” Blair pounded down the steps and hugged his daughter. “Have fun tonight, baby.” He kissed her on the forehead.

“I will, Daddy,” Mariah grinned. “Hope you get the Slasher.”

Blair sighed. “Stop listening at keyholes, young lady.” He sighed again when his daughter unrepentedly grinned up at him.

“Luck, Dad,” Becky quietly spoke.

Jim absently nodded, then stopped. He hugged his daughter. “Have fun at the dance, sweetheart. You’ve got money? You’ll have your cell phone?”

Becky nodded. “And Grandmama Naomi will pick us up.”

Jim hesitated. “Make sure Scott knows that. You don’t leave with anybody else, understand?”

“I know.” Becky’s eyes flashed in annoyance. "Stop worrying."

Jim met her eyes. “I’m your father. It’s my job to worry,” he calmly reminded her.

“Sorry.” Becky stared at the floor.

“Hey.” Jim used his forefinger to raise Becky’s chin until they were looking at each other. “Have fun, okay?”

Becky happily smiled. “I will.”

Jim kissed her on the cheek and nodded at Naomi. “Thanks for playing chauffeur tonight.”

“My pleasure. Be careful. Both of you.”

Blair kissed his mother and patted Becky on the shoulder as he followed his partner out the front door. “She’ll be fine and will have fun,” he said as he got into Jim’s truck.

Jim put the truck into gear and backed out of the driveway. “Like I told Becky, I’m her father. I get to worry about my daughter when she’s on a date.”

“But it’s not a date, remember?”

“Shut up, Sandburg.”

“Listen up, here’s what we have.” Simon’s voice cut through the chatter. When everyone fell silent, he continued. “We have an affidavit from a Candace Bauer that she found a lot of bloodstains in her garage today. She left six weeks ago for a three-month cruise but came home early for personal reasons. She returned home earth this morning and found bloodstains in her garage. She called the police, and we've had forensic units quietly in her home. The only person who had access to her house and garage is a neighbor, Christopher Barlow, who was keeping an eye on the house, water her plans, and feed her fish.” He glanced at Blair then continued. “Barlow fits Sandburg’s profile. He’s 32 years old, divorced with his ex-wife and children living in Arizona. His parents live in Kansas. He works for the Campbell Construction Co. as an inspector. So he’s out of the office four days of the week. He’s got a house on Chestnut Drive as part of his divorce settlement and drives a Ford Suburban.”

Joel continued. “Forensics has matched the blood types of all six victims to the bloodstains in Ms. Bauer’s garage. A complete DNA workup will take time, but what we have is enough to get a search warrant for Barlow’s house.”

“Do we know where Barlow is now?” Jim asked.

Joel shook his head. “We’ve got an APB out on him with orders to keep him under surveillance until we’re on site. Another neighbor said Barlow loaded his kayak in his SUV early this morning. Barlow told him that he was spending the day out at Schooner Lake. We've set up a perimeter in a two block radius from his home. We'll have warning if she shows up while we're there.”

“What about the storage facility?” Blair asked. “Any evidence there?”

Simon started for the door. “We have Ms. Bauer in protective custody so let’s see what we can find at Barlow’s house.”

“I look like a dork!”

“Becky! You do NOT! Whatever gave you that idea?” Naomi protested. She walked to Becky’s side as the girl stared at herself in the mirror.


“You’re tall. And healthy.” Naomi smiled. “Becky, you’re a very pretty girl. But even if you weren’t, you still don’t look like a dork.”

Becky sighed. “It’s just that all the other girls will have these flowing dresses. You know…elegant…feminine…”

“And if you wore something like that, you WOULD look like a dork,” Naomi pointed out. “Let them all look alike. YOU will look unique.”

Becky stared at herself in the mirror and had to admit Naomi was right. No other girl would be dressed similarly. A dazzlingly white poet shirt with flowing sleeves helped conceal the length of her arms while the burgundy skirt fell just below her knees. A sleeveless matching burgundy vest fell to between her hips and knees while knee-high black boots with two-inch heels finished the outfit.

“Well, I’ll be even taller than usual,” she wryly admitted.

“Good for you. And stand up straight,” Naomi urged. “You are Becky Ellison. The one and only!”

Becky snickered. “That’s true.” She suddenly hugged Naomi. “Thank you,” she whispered. “Dad just doesn’t understand how hard it is to fit in.”

“Oh, I think he might,” Naomi hugged her in return. “Just in a different way.” She pulled back. “Now, let’s braid your hair. Tonight, you are in control and completely assured of yourself.”

“Grandmama Naomi, can you…wow! Becky!”

Becky shyly looked at her friend who stood in the doorway, her mouth gaped open. “It’s okay?” She indicated her outfit.

“Okay? You’re…awesome!”

Both Naomi and Mariah chuckled when Becky widely smiled at them.

“We've done what we can. Pull everybody back from the house,” Simon ordered. He grimly watched as his detectives obeyed then he glanced at Joel. “Ellison found a trace of bloodstains in the basement bathroom, and Brown found some in the laundry room.”

Joel shook his head. “But nothing to indicate why.”

“Sandburg’s in the home office. Maybe he’ll come up with something.” Simon started towards the back of the house. “I’ll get them.”

He found Blair and Jim going through Barlow’s desk. “We’re pulling out so Barlow doesn’t spot us if he returns,” Simon advised. “Anything so far?”

“Not really.” Blair eyed the computer. “His computer’s password protected. He doesn’t have a lot of papers so I’m thinking he’s put everything on his hard drive.”

“He brought at least some of them here, Simon,” Jim angrily spoke. “I saw their fingerprints in the basement.”

“Forensics will be able to confirm all that,” Simon decided. “Right now, we’re pulling back to the perimeter and waiting.”

“And hoping somebody spots him before he grabs someone else,” Jim grunted.

As Simon followed the two men outside, he silently reconsidered his decision to run for Mayor. He wouldn’t be able to run interference for the Sentinel and Guide of the Great City in that position. Plus the politicking for Mayor sucked.

Naomi waved one more time before pulling away from the curb. She looked in the rear view mirror and saw both girls waving back at her. Becky in her tailored outfit and Mariah in her gypsy-style purple and blue dress were no more alike than their fathers were. Naomi chuckled to herself and wondered if either Jim or Blair would survive their daughters’ teenage years. 'Maybe I need to stick closer to Cascade for the next few years.’

Mariah hesitated when she realized Becky wasn’t with her. Turning around, she walked back to the curb. “Becky? Let’s go.”

“I’m going to wait for Scott,” Becky decided. “We’ll come in together. You go on.”

Mariah hesitated then nodded. “Okay. Did he say when he’d be here?”

Becky shook her head. “Only that he would be coming after basketball practice.” She smiled. “See you inside.”

Mariah nodded and walked towards the door. Paying the entrance fee, she was inside before she wondered why a basketball practice had been scheduled for a Saturday afternoon. Frowning, she absently nodded when greeted.

“Hey, Mariah! Want to dance?”

Mariah hesitated then nodded. “Sure, Billy.” As she followed the boy to the dance floor, she asked, “Do you know if there was a basketball practice today?”

“Beats me.”

Outside, Becky slowly walked back and forth in front of the auditorium door. As the sun set, she shivered slightly, her head lowering with every step before she realized what was happening. Then she resolutely straightened her shoulders and kept walking. As she passed the auditorium door, she idly extended her hearing to find out if she could hear Mariah.

‘You mean there wasn’t any basketball practice, Mark?’

‘Not on a Saturday. Especially not on a Saturday when there’s a dance in the evening. Mariah? What’s wrong? What did I say?’

Frowning, Becky stopped walking and stared at the closed auditorium door.

“Well, look at this. What kind of an outfit is THAT?”

Becky spun around, staggering slightly on the heeled boots she was wearing.

“Wow! Better be careful! Goliath’s likely to fall and crush us!”

Scott laughed even as he squeezed Nanci’s arm.

Becky’s eyes flickered from Scott to Nanci then to the other two couples behind them. All six were smirking at her.

“You didn’t REALLY think I’d take you to the dance, did you, Becky?” Scott asked with false sweetness. “Gee, I’d hate to think you got dressed up in that clown outfit thinking I’d actually be seen at a dance with you.”

Becky felt her head lowering then snapped it up. “So it was all a con? So I'd do all the work for the history paper?”

“I wouldn’t say a con,” Scott chuckled. “More of an example of my excellent acting ability.”

“He just didn’t think you’d be smart enough to stand out here,” Nanci cattily added. “We all figured you’d be waiting inside.”

Becky slowly nodded. “So you could embarrass me in front of everyone. Right?” she softly spoke.

Scott’s eyes narrowed.

“Nothing you can do about it now, Becky,” Nanci sniffed. “So just toddle off to wherever it is you go to do whatever it is that you do.” Taking Scott’s arm, she walked past Becky who moved to block her path.

Becky coldly stared down at Nanci, feeling a slight thrill when she was able to use her height to force the other girl to step backwards.

“Back off, Becky,” Scott warned. His dark eyes widened when Becky slowly turned to coldly stare at him.

“Another time,” Becky quietly spoke. She stepped aside and mockingly added, “Another place.” She silently watched the three couples enter the auditorium then turned and began to run away from the school.

Inside the auditorium, Mariah stopped her progress across the dance floor when she saw Scott enter with Nanci. “I knew it,” she grimly muttered. Slipping through the crowd, she approached the couple who were laughing with two other couples.

“Did you see her…”

“You rat bastard!” Mariah caught Scott’s arm and pushed him backwards. She glared at Nanci who had stepped forward. “Keep out of this or I’ll yank every one of those dyed blonde hairs from your head!” She looked back at Scott. “You set Becky up! Made her think you liked her when all you wanted was for her to do your work on that history paper!”

“What if I did? If she was stupid enough to fall for it and do all the work, why not?” Scott demanded. “She may be your buddy-buddy but she’s just a…”

Enraged, Mariah stomped her entire weight onto Scott’s right foot. Then she balled up her right fist and slammed it into his stomach.

With a groan, Scott dropped to his knees.

Mariah put a small hand into the boy’s hair and forced his head up. Her lips curled in a feral smile. “Another time and another place.” Shoving him backwards, she walked towards the auditorium door.

Moaning, Scott got to his feet, then angrily looked around for Mariah.

“Scott, I’ll see you in my office now.”

The boy looked around to see Principal Shaw standing behind him.

“We need to discuss your contribution to your history project.”

“What about Mariah hitting me?” Scott whined.

“That’s a separate issue,” Principal Shaw nodded. “However, I’m most concerned about this accusation that you convinced another student to do your work.” She slowly smiled. “I’m sure you can tell me what information you contributed to this paper.” She motioned towards the stairs leading to the school. “We can call your parents and discuss the matter while we wait for them.”

Running outside, Mariah frantically looked for her friend. “Becky!” When she heard nothing, she muffled a scream of frustration. She looked back at the auditorium door. Her purse with her cell phone was inside the building. She started to run back inside when she caught a glimpse of Becky running across the soccer field. Grimly, she began running after her friend.

Becky paused for a breath at the edge of the soccer field. She glared down at the boots on her feet. “Well, these weren’t made for running.” With a sigh, she opened her purse and pulled out her cell phone to call Naomi. She hesitated, not really wanting to make explanations or even be around anyone. She turned around, intending to walk back to the school to wait outside for the dance to end when she saw an SUV pull over to the side of the road, the headlights momentarily blinding her.

Instinctively, she pressed the speed dial number for her father’s cell phone.



In the truck, Jim sat up to attention. “Becky? Where are you?”

“Dad, there’s someone here. On the road by the soccer field behind the school.” Becky saw the car door open and a man get out of the SUV. Expanding her vision, she saw a knife in the man’s hand. “He’s got a knife!” she added in a panicked voice.

“Becky, run! Get back to the school!” Jim keyed the ignition and muttered to Blair. “Man on the road by the soccer field.” Then he returned his attention to his daughter. “Becky! Run!”

“Can’t run in these boots, Dad.” Becky’s voice sounded small and frightened.

“Becky!” Jim heard the sound of the cell phone hitting the pavement. “Becky!”

“All units, man with a knife chasing Detective Ellison’s daughter along Porter Road behind Eleanor Roosevelt Middle School,” Blair reported to Dispatch. “Porter Road runs behind the athletic fields between Simpson Road and Route 896.”

As Jim accelerated the truck, both men saw a black panther and a grey wolf running ahead of them. "Porter Road's a shortcut coming back from Schooner Lake," he muttered.

“Unit Adam 117 responding to Roosevelt Middle School. I’m on Porter Road now.”

“That’s Daryl,” Blair breathed. His cell phone rang. “Sandburg.”

“Your position’s covered,” Simon brusquely spoke. “Keep me informed.”

“Yes, sir.” Blair closed the cell phone and concentrated on hanging on for dear life. He stifled a curse when the spirit animals in front of them disappeared.

Desperately Becky turned and began running back across the soccer field. She’d only made it a couple of yards when the man behind her grabbed her arm and swung her around. Catching a glimpse of the knife in his other hand, she let her weight drop to the ground and pulled the man off balance.

He stumbled to one knee but immediately got up again. As he lunged towards Becky, he yelled, “Stop! I’m trying to save you!” Before he could move towards the girl, he was hit in the back and fell face-forward onto the ground.

“Run!” Mariah screamed as she rolled from the man’s back.

Both girls began running towards the school. But the man reached out and grabbed Becky’s left ankle causing her to stumble and fall. Twisting her body, she landed on her back rather than on her face.

Mariah skidded to a stop and turned back around. “No!” she screamed in defiance.

Startled, the man looked at the smaller girl.

Becky cocked her right leg and slammed her booted heel into the man’s stomach.

The man doubled over but refused to release Becky’s ankle.

Mariah jumped on the man’s back and began hitting him on his head. “Let her go!”

Daryl Banks pulled his squad car in behind the SUV parked on the shoulder of Porter Road behind Eleanor Roosevelt Middle School. He saw the kayak strapped to the roof and recognized the license plate. Knowing that the press could be monitoring the police radio transmissions, he cautiously spoke. “All units, this is Adam 117. Be advised APB Barlow’s car is parked on Porter Road behind Roosevelt Middle School.”

“Copy, Adam 117. Proceed with caution.”


Daryl got out of the car and heard a young girl scream, “Let her go!” Drawing his weapon, he began running across the soccer field.

He never saw either the black jaguar or grey wolf run past him.

Becky cocked her leg again and this time shot her heel towards Barlow’s jaw.

Barlow jerked to one side, causing Mariah to fall to the ground. But he lost his grip on Becky’s ankle, and she quickly crawled to the smaller girl.

Both girls were trying to get to their feet when they heard Barlow snarl, “You’ve ruined this! You’re not worthy!” He jumped to his feet and pulled a gun from his pocket.

Protect the Guide.

Neither Jim nor Blair had burdened the girls with the dangers of being a Sentinel and Guide, preferring to stress the gifts they’d been given. Yet Becky knew deep in her heart that her job was to protect Mariah even at the cost of her own life. When she saw the gun being raised towards them, she protectively got to her feet in front of the younger girl.

Protect the Sentinel.

Shrieking, Mariah jumped to her feet and tried to get in front of Becky, determined to protect her friend at all costs.

Barlow’s eyes widened as the girls truggled with each other to keep the other one safe. “What the hell?” he muttered.

Then they all heard the snarling of wild animals and turned to see a large black jaguar and a slightly smaller grey wolf. The moonlight bathed the animals in a white light as they lowered their heads and growled deep in their throats at Barlow. Behind the large beasts were the shadowy figures of a small eagle and a tiger cub.

“No…” Barlow shook his head in disbelief. He turned the gun on the animals, ignoring the girls as they began to back away.

“Cascade PD! Drop your gun!”

Barlow whirled around, aiming his gun at the voice behind him.

Daryl didn’t hesitate in firing his gun in response. He watched as the man screamed and fell backwards onto the ground. The young police officer quickly walked forward and kicked Barlow’s gun to one side. He worriedly glanced at the two girls, surprised to recognize them. He activated his ratio and reported, carefully choosing his words, knowing who would be listening. “All units, Adam 117. Suspect down. Repeat. Suspect down. Need an ambulance to my location for the suspect. Repeat. For the suspect.”

“Copy, Adam 117. Ambulance dispatched.”

Daryl picked up Barlow’s gun from where he’d kicked it then walked to where the girls stood. He saw Becky protectively standing in front of Mariah who was gripping Becky’s arm.

As he approached, the jag growled once more in Barlow’s direction while the wolf gently butted his head against Mariah’s leg. Then both animals herded the shadowy smaller animals close to them and disappeared into the darkness.

“Becky? Mariah?” Daryl gently spoke. “You girls okay?”

“Daryl?” Becky looked around in confusion. “Dad? I called Dad…”

“On his way,” Daryl quietly assured her. “Both your dads will be here soon.” He glanced back at Barlow. I’ve got to secure him, but I’ll be right here. Okay?”

Becky nodded. “Yeah. Okay.”

“Thank you, Daryl,” Mariah whispered.

“Anytime, kiddo.”

Jim’s truck fishtailed as he slammed on the brakes. Blair had his door opened and was halfway out of the truck by the time Jim had the vehicle halted. They saw a gurney being loaded into the back of an ambulance. A patrol officer jumped in the ambulance, and the doors closed. As the ambulance pulled away, Jim stopped and closed his eyes. Extending his senses, he quickly located his daughter and ran towards a nearby patrol car, Blair on his heels.

“Becky!” Jim shouted.

“She’s okay, Detective Ellison. Mariah was out here with her.” Daryl stepped away from the patrol car. “I put them both in the back so they’d stay warm. The paramedics looked them over. They’ve got some scrapes and bruises and are scared half to death. But they’re okay.” He glanced past them to see his father and Joel Taggart running towards them.

Blair opened the patrol car door. “Mariah? Baby?”


Blair pulled his daughter from the car and wrapped his arms around her. Knees shaking, he sat on the ground, pulling his daughter onto his lap.

Jim glanced into the car’s back seat. “Becky?” When she didn’t answer, he climbed into the back seat with her and shut the door. “Come here, sweetheart.” He opened his arms in invitation.

Becky slowly turned to look at him. “Slasher, Dad. It was the Slasher, wasn’t it?”

“I think so,” Jim admitted. He waited patiently until Becky leaned towards him. Then he pulled her into a fierce embrace.

“My fault, Dad…all my fault….” Becky moaned into his chest.

“Shush….nonono….shush now,” Jim crooned.

Outside, Mariah shivered in her father’s arms. “Daryl shot him, Daddy…he had a gun so Daryl didn’t have a choice…and the spirit animals were going to attack him…they would’ve eaten him!”

“Okay, okay, quiet now, baby. Daddy’s here.” Blair lowered his face into his daughter’s curls.

A short distance away, Daryl drew his weapon and handed it, butt-first, to Joel. “My weapon, Captain Taggart.” He forced himself to meet Joel’s eyes.

Joel slowly nodded and accepted the weapon. “I’ll have someone escort you to Central to take your statement.”

Simon put a hand on his son’s shoulder and gently squeezed.

“There’s no need to do this now. You can make a statement tomorrow.” Jim’s jaw was clenched as tightly as anyone had ever seen it.

“I WANT to do it now,” Becky stubbornly argued. “I want it over, Dad. When I go home, I don’t want to have to think about coming back and talking about it again. I’m giving my statement tonight.”

The two Ellisons glared at each other while the rest of the occupants in the bullpen silently watched.

“Please, Dad. Just let me do it and go home.”

Jim inwardly sighed. He studied his daughter standing in front of him in her dirt-stained outfit and gave in. “Why are you so stubborn?” he muttered, reaching out to hug Becky.

“It’s ‘cause I’m an Ellison,” Becky mumbled. “Aunt Megan says so.”

“Is that a fact?” Jim chuckled.

“Here’s a soda, Becky. You look like you need some sugar and caffeine.” Henri placed a soda can in front of the quiet girl. “And Hairboy would have my head if I gave you coffee.”

Becky forced a smile. “Uncle Blair’s not going to be happy about me drinking a soda at this time of night either.”

Henri grinned and put a finger to his lips. “It’ll be our little secret,” he promised. “Ready?” When Becky nodded, he activated the recorder and identified himself. He waited until Becky had taken a drink of the soda then began. “Okay, state your full name and address for the record.”

“Rebecca Blair Ellison. I live at 1752 Rockford Place, Cascade Washington. I’m a student at Eleanor Roosevelt Middle School.”

“In your own words, tell me what happened tonight.” Henri reached out and gently patted her hand.

“I…got invited to the Halloween dance,” Becky began. “I…uh…was waiting for the guy who’d asked me, Scott Rut…Rutherford. He said he’d meet me at the dance.” She lowered her head and nearly whispered. “He came with somebody else. He just…pretended to like me so I’d do all the work on our history paper.”

Henri reached out and turned off the recorder. “Okay, off the record. This Rutherford kid’s a slimeball, and you’re too good for him.” When Becky looked up in surprise, he continued. “You take those good-lookin’ boots and kick his lyin’ lazy ass to the curb. You don’t need trash like that hangin’ around. You hear me?”

“Yeah, I hear you,” Becky quietly answered.

Outside the interrogation room, Jim slowly smiled.

Henri turned the recorder back on and nodded for Becky to continue.

“He…Scott thought I’d be inside the auditorium so he could embarrass me in front of everybody, but I was waiting out front.” Becky took a deep breath and pushed the soda can back and forth on the table. “When he and his…friends went inside, I just started running. I didn’t want to see or talk to anybody.”

“Where was Mariah?”

“She was already inside. I…I’d asked her to go on in.” Becky bit her lip. “I guess I wanted everybody see me walk into the dance with Scott.” She took another deep breath. “Anyway, I got to the road and realized these boots aren’t any good for running or walking any long distance so I turned around to go back to the school. I figured I’d just wait outside until the dance was over. Grandmama Nao…Naomi, Uncle Blair’s mother, was going to pick us up.” Her voice faltered.

“That’s when the SUV stopped and that man got out. I don’t know why, but I called Dad and told him what was going on. I saw the knife and Dad told me to run. I tried…I really did! But he caught me and tried to throw me to the ground. That’s when Mariah jumped on his back.” She shook her head. “I don’t know where she came from but…he wouldn’t let me go so I kicked him in the stomach and then in the jaw.”

She sat up straighter. “We got away, and he pulled a gun. Said we weren’t worthy or something like that. Anyway, that’s when Daryl showed up. He yelled ‘Cascade PD’ and ‘put down your gun’ or ‘throw down your gun’.” She apologetically looked at Henri. “I can’t remember exactly how he phrased it.”

“By ‘Daryl’ you mean Officer Daryl Banks?”

“Yes. Officer Daryl Banks.”

“Are you sure Officer Daryl Banks identified himself by saying ‘Cascade PD’?” Henri carefully asked.

Becky immediately nodded. “I heard that loud and clear. The guy turned around and pointed his gun at Daryl…I mean Officer Banks who…fired. The guy fell to the ground, and…and it was over.” She dropped her eyes to the table.

Henri hesitated then turned off the recorder. “Okay, take a couple of sips of that soda; and I’ll bring you some water, okay? Your dad can sit with you while I get this typed up.”

“Uncle Henri?” When Henri smiled, Becky continued, “Did you really mean it when you said I’m too good for Scott?”

“Becky, that jerk isn’t good enough to lick the toe of those awesome boots,” Henri firmly assured her. He patted her arm and stood. “I’ll send your Dad in.”

Becky glanced down at her feet. “Awesome boots, huh?” she muttered, a slow smile beginning to form.

Jim paused before entering the interrogation room. “H? Thanks for what you said to her…about that kid.”

“No problem, just speakin’ the plain truth,” Henri assured him with a grin. “Girl like Becky’s special, you know.”

“Yeah, I know,” Jim nodded.

“Blair! Oh my God! Where are the girls?! I was at the movies and turned off my cell! I got your message, and it’s all over the news that the Slasher tried to kill two girls at Roosevelt Middle School!” Naomi grabbed her son’s arms and almost shook him.

“Mom! They’re okay! Really!” Blair quickly assured her. “Daryl managed to get to them in time. He had to shoot the guy but the perp’ll be okay.”

“Oh, who cares about that piece of filth?!” Naomi nearly shouted.

“Mom!” Blair stepped back in surprise.

Naomi took a deep breath. “Anyone who preys on children is…despicable!” She looked around. “Where are the girls?”

“Jim’s waiting while Becky is giving her statement.” He held up a hand to stop her protest. “Becky insisted on doing it now. Megan’s going to take Mariah’s statement. Why don’t you wait with me?”

“Okay, here’s some water, Mariah.” Megan put a bottle of water on the table in front of the small girl. “Ready to give your statement?”

Mariah took a deep gulp of water and nodded.

Megan activated the recorder and identified herself. Then she smiled at Mariah. “Please state your name and address.”

“Sure. Mariah Naomi Sandburg. I live at 1752 Rockford Place in Cascade, Washington.”

“Just tell me, in your own words, what happened tonight,” Megan requested.

“Well…it actually started when Scott Rutherford, that rat bastard…oops…can you edit that part out? Oh…well, he conned Becky into thinking he and Nanci Compton had broken up; and he was interested in Becky. In reality, he was stringing her along so she’d do all the work on their history paper. Then he asked Becky to the Halloween dance just so he could embarrass her by showing up with Nanci…who, by the way, is NOT a natural blonde, you know?”

Megan fought back a grin.

“Anyway, we got to the dance and Becky decided to wait outside for Scott. He'd told her that he had basketball practice and would be late getting there. But that kinda confused me so I asked Billy, but he didn’t know. Then, when I was dancing with Mark, I asked HIM; and he said there wasn’t any basketball practice so that’s when I put two and two together and went to find Becky. But then I saw Scott coming in with Nanci and the rest of their little clique. So went over to Scott and spun him around and got in his face. Told Nanci to stay out of it or I’d pull every one of those dyed blonde hairs outta her head.”

Megan finally allowed her grin to emerge.

Mariah took another drink of water then continued. “Anyway I got him to admit what he’d done…about the history paper and setting Becky up…that’s when I hit him in the stomach. Told him there’d be more later and ran out after Becky.” She leaned forward. “But Principal Shaw heard everything so I think Scott’s in trouble about the history paper.” She chuckled under her breath.

“So I’m outside and I can’t find Becky and I remember I left my cell phone inside so I was going back inside when I saw Becky on the other side of the soccer field and ran after her. When I got there, this man was fighting with her. So I jumped on his back and started whaling away on him.” Mariah’s arms were waving in the air to demonstrate her actions. “Becky was kicking him…and I bet she hurt him good ‘cause of those boots she’s wearing. We got away but then he pulled out this…this GUN. Well, Becky got in front of me but I was trying to get in front of her ‘cause…well, you know…”

Megan began to smile. “Yes, I think I do.”

“Right,” Mariah nodded, her curls bouncing up and down her back. “Anyway, then Daryl shows up…just in the nick of time and yells out ‘Cascade PD! Drop your gun!’ Just like on TV!”

“You mean Officer Daryl Banks,” Megan interrupted.

“Yeah…Daryl…Officer Daryl Banks. Well, the guy…who had to be absolutely STUPID…turned and aimed at Daryl who HAD to fire back! He’s not going to get into any trouble, is he?” Mariah’s blue eyes stared at Megan in consternation.

“There’ll be a full investigation. That’s normal procedure.”

Mariah grunted. “Well, just let me know ‘cause I’ll testify for Daryl. He saved our lives! No way The Man’s gonna hang a bad rap on him for this!” She slammed her water bottle down on the table in front of her for emphasis.

Megan choked back a laugh. “Anything else you’d like to add?”

Mariah frowned then shook her head. “No…don’t think so.”

Megan turned the recorder off. “I’ll have your father come in and sit with you while I get this typed up. You’ll read and make any corrections then sign it. It’ll be your official statement so make sure everything’s correct.”

“I will,” Mariah nodded.

When Megan closed the door behind her, she saw Blair and Naomi grinning at each other. “Oh, Sandy, that girl is SO much like you!” Megan laughed.

Both girls carefully studied their written statements then signed them with equal sighs of relief. They returned with their fathers to the bullpen to be swept up into Naomi’s embrace. As Megan passed them, she patted Mariah on the shoulder. “Nice shot with that jerk, Rutherford.”

“What?” Becky looked at her friend in surprise. “What shot with Scott?”

“I hit him,” Mariah proudly answered. She looked up at her father. “You’ll probably be getting a call from Principal Shaw about my aggressive reaction to his jerkdom.”

Joel chuckled under his breath. “Where did you hit him?”

“In the stomach.” Mariah sighed. “I’m really sorry about that, too.”

“Well, you should be. Violence is not the answer to your problems.” Blair felt good at giving an adult response when inside he was cheering his daughter’s actions.

“Oh, I’m not sorry about hitting him,” Mariah disagreed. “I’m just sorry I hit him in the stomach. I was aiming for his nuts.”

Henri spewed coffee across his desk. As he coughed, Megan tossed him some napkins.

“And on that note, it’s time to leave.” Jim barely managed to speak.

However, both girls crossed their arms across their chests.

“Where’s Daryl?” Mariah demanded. “We’re not leaving until we know he’s okay.”

“Daryl’s fine,” Simon assured them. “He’s speaking with IA right now…giving them his statement.”

“IA?” Becky’s eyebrows rose skeptically. “Does IA have our statements? About what Daryl did?”

“They’ll get a copy, Becky,” Jim assured her. “But they’ll also need Barlow’s statement. And Rafe can’t get that until he gets out of surgery.”

“Barlow’s statement? You mean they’ll actually consider what that…that SLASHER has to say?!” Mariah shrieked. She dropped into a nearby chair. “I’m not leaving until I talk to IA!”

Henri quickly turned his head to laugh.

“Me, too!” Becky dropped into another chair and stubbornly raised her chin.

“Sweetheart, it’s late; and we’re all exhausted,” Jim protested. “IA will get copies of your statements, and we’ll make sure they know to speak with you if they have any questions. But right now, you can’t do anything to help Daryl.”

“Hell, no, we won’t go!” Mariah tossed her head in defiance.

Blair took a deep breath and picked up his daughter.

“Daddy!” Mariah wailed. “Put me down! I’m NOT a baby!”

“I know,” Blair soothingly patted her back. “But tomorrow’s another day, Scarlett O'Hara. Right now, we're going home.”

Jim stared at Becky and silently pointed towards the door.

Becky's hazel eyes narrowed in defiant response.

Naomi quickly spoke up. "Jim, why don't I take the girls home while you and Blair see about Daryl? Wouldn't that be fair?"

Blair glanced at Jim then lowered his daughter's feet to the floor. "Okay, Mom. Thanks." He quickly shook his head at Jim who'd opened his mouth to speak.

"Come on, girls." Naomi quickly walked them towards the elevators. She paused and gave Simon a quick hug. "Tell Daryl we're all so grateful," she murmured, then followed the girls to the elevators.

Jim irritably shook his head and gritted his teeth when Becky gave him one last glare.

“Jim, it’s just a nervous reaction,” Simon assured him.

“Hers or mine?” Jim snapped.

When Jim and Blair returned home hours later, Naomi met them at the door. She took one look at their faces and raised her hands almost pleadingly. “Don’t start in on them tonight. They're already asleep.”

“God, Mom, we almost lost them,” Blair shakily spoke.

Jim grimly nodded. “And Becky’s going to know that running off alone in the dark isn’t an appropriate reaction.” He glared at Naomi. “What if Daryl hadn’t been there in time?”

“They know that,” Naomi stressed. She reached out to both of them. “They KNOW.”

Blair shuddered and ran a hand through his hair. “We can’t let it just pass, Naomi. We have to say something to them.”

“But not tonight, honey,” Naomi pleaded. “Let them feel safe and secure tonight.”

Jim rubbed his face with both hands and groaned. “You’re right,” he admitted. “Becky’s been through enough hell tonight. She doesn’t need me snapping her head off.” When Blair slowly nodded in agreement, he glanced upstairs. “Are they in Becky’s room or Mariah’s?”

“Becky’s. The bed’s bigger,” Naomi impishly grinned.

Jim leaned forward and kissed Naomi’s cheek. “Thanks, Naomi.” He wearily started climbing the steps.

“Go with him, honey,” Naomi quietly urged her son. “There’ll be time for talking tomorrow.”

“Today,” Blair ruefully nodded, glancing at his watch.

“Whatever,” Naomi waved her hand with undisguised relief.

Jim turned when Blair walked up to him. He nodded through the half-open bedroom door to where both girls lay sound asleep, curled up under blankets on Becky’s bed.

“Asleep or faking?” Blair whispered.

“Completely asleep,” Jim assured him in an equally soft whisper. “Your mom is right. We can talk to them later about running off in the dark…”

“…hitting jerks in the stomach…”

“…when she’s really aiming for his nuts…”

“…and protests in a police station…”

The two men shared tired grins. Blair turned away and walked down the hall towards his own room.

Jim took one more look inside the bedroom and respectfully nodded at the jaguar and wolf stretched out on either side of Becky’s bed. “Thank you,” he whispered to them.