Beast by Nuredhel
Summary:

Bard Bowman is working as a police investigator, when the serial killer he is chasing proves to have a very long history the feds call in a profiler. How is he to convince this gorgeous man of his love when they are chasing something out of a nightmare? The road to love can be bumpy, in special when it is surrounded by murders.


Categories: Fiction Characters: Dwalin, Erestor, Gandalf, Legolas, Lindir, Lobelia Sackville-Baggins, OFC, OMC, Thranduil
Content: Angst, AU, Character Death, Drama, Explicit Sex, Horror, Humor, Hurt/Comfort, Mystery, Romance, Slash
Challenges: None
Series: None
Chapters: 12 Completed: Yes Word count: 135070 Read: 871 Published: September 12, 2017 Updated: December 15, 2017
Story Notes:

This story is AU, modern Au and contains slash.

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Lookin for murder? look no further... by Nuredhel
Author's Notes:

This story is a modern AU in which many Tolkien characters will appear in cameo. it contains some pretty explicit slash so be warned,

 

 

Chapter one: Lookin’ for murder? Look no further….

 

The street was rather dark, this part of the city had never been gifted with new streetlights and the old ones were hardly worth mentioning. The parking lot outside of the small convenience store had just two lights and one of them had been shot out years earlier. The remaining one gave as much light as a handheld flashlight with a bad battery. The only car there was almost as old as the streetlights, a Toyota of unknown origin, it had been fixed so much there wasn’t anything left of the original car. The woman who owned it was making her way towards the car, she carried two heavy bags and held the car keys between her teeth. She was a small person, scrawny and clad in cheap clothing, her hair was tied up in a knot and her face nervous and a bit grey. She worked herself half to death to make a living for herself and her three year old daughter and despair was a feeling she was more than used to by now. She stopped by the car, a chill had just run down her spine and she dropped the bags. This neighbourhood was one of the worst, people got murdered almost every day and attacks were as common as rats. She didn’t have her handbag with her, shit. The mace was in that, she turned around, put her back against the car, eyes trying to penetrate the darkness.

 

She held her breath, someone had been staring at her, she was well used to that feeling. She had worked as a stripper for a year and she knew how it felt when guys looked at you in that particular creepy manner. Her heart was beating fast, the parking lot was full of shadows and she made a move. She unlocked the car and threw the bags into the backseat. Did barely turn as she did it, there was someone out there, or else they could call her a cow. She listened, nothing. Just silence but the feeling remained, someone was staring at her still, do not panic! Her inner voice was trembling and she knew that she didn’t stand a chance if that someone out there had a gun. She was about to throw herself into the car and close the doors when she suddenly felt that the sensation disappeared, suddenly there was nothing there, as if whoever it was had vanished in thin air. She had always been sensitive, that had saved her skin more than once and as she drove out of the parking lot she just knew that fate had intervened and saved her, but God alone knew from what.

-------------------------------------------------------------------

 

The sound of the phone was as always like a harbinger of doom, and the end of a much needed nap. Some day he was gonna grasp his piece and blow the thing to smithereens but not until he was sure he still had a job afterwards. The lights on his alarm clock glowed faintly in the dark, 2:34 in the morning, oh fucking brilliant. He had slept for what, two hours? He lifted the phone and pressed the button. “Bowman”

 

He already knew who he would hear at the other end, his instincts after fifteen years as a cop were never wrong. “It is me, Stella, they have found another one”

 

He groaned, just what he didn’t need now. He closed his eyes. “Right, it is number five isn’t it? Where?”

 

Stella sounded tired but he knew she probably was working overtime again, heck, she was always working overtime, that lazy ass of a husband of hers never contributed with anything but nagging and false accusations of her screwing the entire police station. Why she hadn’t kicked him to the curb years ago was a mystery. “Yes, it is the same M.O and I will send you the address right now”

 

He sighed. “Thanks, I will be there soon”

 

He hung up and rolled out of the bed, yawning and feeling as if he hadn’t slept at all. He stared at the phone, an address ticked in and he made a grimace. Right, not exactly a posh area to say the least, more like a slum and very dangerous after dark. He got up, threw on some clothes and found his badge and gun, there was still some coffee left in the kettle and he tossed it back. Number five, when was this gonna stop? He had never come across a case like this and he knew that nobody else had seen something like it. The entire police squad were waving around like a bunch of blindfolded kids looking for a piñata and he had a hollow aching feeling in his gut. This was the type of case which most probably never would be solved, whoever was behind it was just too good.

 

He drove fast but not too fast, the streets were almost empty but that also meant that some of the drivers out there could be rather reckless and he didn’t take any chances, he wasn’t some kid with a fresh licence anymore. He had seen first hand what a car crash could do to a human being and he didn’t want to end up as yet another number in the grim statistics of dead and injured. The lights from the squad cars told him where to park, they were all there and he took a deep breath and walked towards the taped off area, he already knew what he would see, more or less. Fernando nodded his head at him and smiled, the man looked as if he needed two months of paid vacation at a health resort for he looked as if he was about to drop dead any moment. Bard had always believed that the next smoke the man lit up would be his very last. He nodded back. “You look like a corpse Fernando, ever considered quitting?”

 

Fernando just grinned, it was a sort of constant war between them, a way to soften up the tense atmosphere. “Follow me, this one is interesting”

 

Bard had to grin, interesting, he knew that this meant something akin to “hope you haven’t eaten anything lately”  There were officers running around everywhere, sealing off the area, looking for any sort of evidence. Bard already knew that this one never left anything, it was futile. The victim was a male, Caucasian of origin, wearing ordinary clothes and he did look like an ordinary family man, not someone who ought to spend time in a neighbourhood like this. Leonard was busy taking photos and someone had found some lamps so the scene was illuminated like a fourth of July parade. Bard swallowed, there were subtle differences between the murders but no doubt about the identity of the killer. Albert smiled as he was taking notes, he was one year away from retiring and Bard had always liked the old cop. He had the right instincts and lots of experience the others could just dream of ever achieving. “Let me introduce you to John J Carpenter. Fifty one years of age, living in the suburbs with wife Anna and two kids. “

 

Bard tried not to look at the body, it still made his guts twist. “His wallet is still here?”

 

Albert nodded. “Just like the others yes, nothing is stolen at all, he has just been…murdered”

 

Bard made a grimace. “Murdered, the civilized way of telling the world he has been transformed into meat confetti”

 

Albert shrugged. “I have seen it worse remember?”

 

Bard found that hard to believe, he closed his eyes for a second and tried to pull himself together. Leonard was dictating for one of the female officers, trying to sound as if he was part of some episode of CSI. “The victim has been attached to the wall with great force, his neck appears to have been broken and his chest and stomach area cut into shreds with some very sharp instrument”

 

Bard turned around again, it was one of the things which intrigued them the most. All the victims had been found like that, suspended above the ground, four of five impaled upon something which helped keeping them suspended, and one had been impaled and then thrown onto a wall. The damage to the chest and stomach area was done after the impalement, in three of the previous cases the victim had been alive as its body was shredded. The broken neck came at the end, almost as some sort of act of mercy. The odd thing was that there were no sign of the culprit using ropes or any sort of mechanical aid to hoist the victims up. One of the previous ones had been a giant of a man, weighing in at least two hundred and eighty pounds. And yet he had been found impaled upon an old pipe with his feet four feet off the ground.

Albert sighed. “This one is hanging from a bracket of some sort, it could have been where a fire ladder used to be attached”

 

Bard walked closer, the stench of blood was strong and even though he was used to it he never stopped feeling a wee bit nauseous. After all, this had been a living breathing person, someone who had felt and loved and just lived. So far none of the victims had anything in common and they had been found all over the city. “Yes, that is an attachment of some sort, just solid enough to take the weight. “

 

The wall was made from solid brick, the back wall of an abandoned warehouse and the narrow gap between the buildings did reek of cat urine and rot. There was a small convenience store not far from there, on the other side of a badly lit parking lot. He wondered how much force you would need to throw an adult person up against a wall like that, so hard the body got stuck on that bracket. Albert sighed and scratched his short grey hair. “I am starting to think that we ought to send out a warning to all the precincts, asking them to look out for an eight foot green giant with a nasty temper”

 

Bard had to chuckle. “I don’t think the hulk would have been this controlled if he had existed. These murders, they are almost…industrialized”

 

Albert frowned. “I beg your pardon?”

 

Bard tried to smile. “Oh you see what I mean? The culprit isn’t some newcomer to the world of serial killers, his M.O is well established, there is no sign of hesitation and I am telling you, he has done it before, it doesn’t feel as if this is something which is done for pleasure at all, it feels as if this one is simply doing a job, a duty almost”

 

Albert nodded. “Yep, I have thought the same thing, and that is frightening for those who believe they are on a mission are the most dangerous ones.”

 

Bard just sighed. “Amen to that, but what mission? These poor people have naught in common damn it, it is like they are just randomly chosen and that doesn’t fit at all. Serial killers usually have at least some sort of trait they look for”

 

Albert nodded. “Like that dude five years ago? He only kidnapped women with D cup’s and red hair”

 

Bard nodded, who could forget that deranged lunatic? Well, he was rotting away in a cell now and would never see another boob for as long as he was alive. This killer had so far killed four men and a woman and nothing was fitting the normal profile, not even the time span between the murders. Bard heard the sound of the hearse and clapped Albert on his shoulder.  “Judith is here, I hope she can tell us something”

 

The coroner was an attractive woman in her late 40’s, she was known to be as sharp as her scalpels and the dark blue eyes could make even the most rowdy of guys back off. Bard bowed his head politely. “Mrs Temple”

 

She nodded back and her assistant Brandon helped her unload the stretcher. “Mr Bowman”

 

Bard had the greatest respect for Judith for she was the one who actually solved the cases, without her expertise they would just run around in circles like headless chickens most of the time. She stared at the body and waved her hand at the officers standing nearby. “You, help Brandon here pull him down. Goddamn bricks, we cannot bring the entire wall with us, not even the bracket before he is down”

 

Bard watched in silence as they removed the body and then unscrewed the bracket with some difficulty. It was rusted and one of the officers had to get a crowbar to pry it loose. Judith stared at the dead man’s back. “Just like the others, a little further up and the impact would have been immediately fatal, a little further down and he would have slid off. Goddamn it, this one is good. It is like hitting a basketball hoop from the opposite end of the court with a ball filled with sand and never missing, hitting it again and again and again”

 

Bard felt that uncanny feeling again. “How is it possible?”

 

Judith shrugged. “Are you asking me to be honest?”

 

Bard nodded. “Of course”

 

She stared straight at him. “I have no fucking idea, and that is the absolute truth”

 

She turned around and they started loading the corpse into the hearse, she would perform a very detailed autopsy the moment they returned to the headquarters and Bard already knew that there wasn’t anything he could do. As head of this unit he had to get back and try to organize the investigation, not that there was that much to investigate. The only thing which sort of stood out was the place where the murder had happened, this man was in the wrong place, a family man had nothing to do in this shady part of the city. He turned to Leonard. “Len, what sort of job did he have?”

 

Leonard was the most ambitious of the younger detectives and he always sought to increase his importance and influence. Too bad he didn’t really had what was needed, yet. He needed another decade, then he would perhaps become a skilled investigator. “From what I have found so far he was working as an accountant”

 

Bard had to scoff. An accountant, now that was a job which had to be a thrill to wake up to every morning. He would have gone insane after just a week of that sort of activity, moving numbers all day long. “Right guys, make sure that everything is documented thoroughly, in case we do catch this thing someday. “

 

He walked back to the car, five victims. He had a feeling that it wouldn’t stop there, and so far they hadn’t found a single clue as to who had committed these crimes. Whoever it was, the culprit was both strong, brutally so, and fast. Everything seemed to have been perfectly planned ahead of the action itself and there had never been any mistakes made. It was actually rather terrifying. He drove back to the HQ in silence, his mind reeling though. The dead dude had looked absolutely horrified, they all had.

Elisa met him by his office, she was smiling but her eyes were hard and the lines on her face told him she was angry and maybe even scared. “Number five. When  are we going to catch this thing?”

 

Bard took a deep breath. “When he leaves some clue behind, anything. Right now we haven’t got anything to work with, at all!”

 

Elisa opened the door and Bard stared at the wall, images of all the victims were staring at him, soon an image of John J Carpenter would stare at him too, in silent accusation. “So, where does he fit into the picture, the new victim I mean?”

 

Bard sat down, the leather chair did creak and the sound was almost comforting, something he was used too. It helped him focus. “He doesn’t, and that is the only thing they have in common”

 

Elisa stared at the line of names and pictures. “Do you want me to go over it all again”

 

He nodded. “Yes, read it out loud, maybe there is something in there, something I have missed.”

 

Elisa nodded, she was a computer expert and also a skilled artist. They often used her to make sketches of victims or criminals. She stared at the first victim. “Sean Rogan, age 32, married with three kids, construction worker. Found dead outside of his house on the 25th of February, his wife had spoken to him just ten minutes before. She is still in shock.”

 

She moved on to number two. “Elliot Springer, age 61, divorced and no kids, worked as a janitor at the local school. Well liked, a sweet man. Was found at his home by the house owner on the 15th of April. Had been dead for at least a week.”

 

Bard remembered that one, oh the smell in the apartment. The newbies had been puking all over the lawn. She went onto number three. “Sarah Combs, 27 years of age, social worker. Had an extra job as a cashier at a local market during the weekends. Found in the park not far from her home by a jogger on the 4th of May.”

 

Bard remembered that the poor woman had been impaled upon a dead branch, it had been a very grotesque sight but he had made one observation though. It had seemed as if the culprit wanted the body found fast, before too many stumbled by it and got traumatized. Why he got that idea he didn’t know, but he did.

 

Elisa cocked her head. “Number four, Brian Forbes Whitham. Age 44, lawyer with his own practice, reasonably successful, married to Elisabeth, one kid named Jasper and a dog named Dingo. He was found in his office and he had been seen alive less than fifteen minutes before his secretary found him hanging there like some sort of grotesque art installation. He was a huge man, almost obese and quite tall too He was found on the 9th of June”

 

Bard closed his eyes. “The killer is trying to send a message, he isn’t spending time with his victims, isn’t relishing in the act. It is done quickly, he doesn’t take souvenirs, he just does it and is gone. It is…puzzling”

 

Elisa nodded. “It is indeed, no typical serial killer for sure.”

 

Bard turned around from the row of images. “There is no consistency anywhere, Elliot was black and Sarah was half Mexican on her mother’s side. The time between the murders does warry, the time of the day too. Some like the first one was murdered in broad daylight. I just don’t get it”

 

Elisa made a grimace. “The first thought which strikes me is that this isn’t a serial killer at all, but something else”

 

Bard frowned. “Then what? Do explain”

 

She shrugged. “Albert says he think this one has a mission right? Well, maybe that is the thing we ought to focus upon? Serial killers do take some sort of pleasure from murdering, it makes them feel good, empowered. This one….it doesn’t feel that way. It is too clinical, too cold. It is executions Bard, grotesque ones”

 

Bard leaned back. “Yes, you are right. There is no emotions involved. But if he does it for some reason, then what reason? They have nothing in common at all! We have checked, none of the victims have known each other, they have probably never met. They are from all layers of social life and … I just don’t know where to start Elisa, I have never encountered anything like this”

 

Elisa sat down on the desk, her long black hair was shining. “Listen, we all agree that this is someone who must have done it before right? I will start to check with the police in the bigger cities, with the national data bases, with everyone I know everywhere. If he has done this somewhere else we will know, soon”

 

Bard pushed his hair out of his eyes, damn, he needed a haircut again, he was looking like some savage. “Good, before we know it we’ll have the feds running all over the place”

 

Elisa sighed. “That is true yes, but what else to do? We cannot handle this Bard, just…we cannot! It is beyond us. Five murders Bard, the Red D murderer managed three before we put him away. This one won’t stop, I just know it”

 

Bard mumbled. “I agree, he won’t.”

 

Elisa looked down. “Now, I am gonna return to my office and start working, I will let you know as soon as I get some answers. Meanwhile I bet Mr Carpenter’s family needs some attention, and Thor wants a word with you as well. I suggest you go see him first”

 

Bard nodded, their chief was a man he respected a lot, but he could be rather rough around the edges and he never hesitated to tell people his true opinion on different matters. That gave results but it did also give him enemies. That he had managed to become chief investigator was in the eyes of some a real miracle while others claimed that it was well deserved. Now he was in charge of this precinct and he held them all on a tight leash. Bard got up and headed towards Mr Montgomery’s office, his assistant had a desk just outside of the door and Bard managed to smile politely at the small man who at the moment seemed busy making obscene drawings on a notepad. “So, what is your task today Alfrid? Practicing anatomical drawings?”

 

Alfrid hadn’t heard him coming and dropped the pen, the face had always reminded Bard of that of a fat toad and the guy didn’t exactly help himself for he looked just like something they had pulled out of a garbage heap. Bard knew that Monty would have preferred to have Alfrid transferred to the unit responsible for handing out parking tickets but unfortunately Alfrid’s mother was Monty’s wife’s sister. Alfrid was the biggest ass kisser in the entire police force and he was sucking up to everyone above him and being unbearably arrogant towards the ones who he regarded as of lower importance. Nobody liked him and he was the victim of countless more or less innocent practical jokes. Bard himself had once glued his chair to the floor so he had to sit there bent forwards at a very odd angle the entire day until the janitor had time to come and fix it. Elisa was dead tired of the badly concealed hints Alfrid made almost every day, in his eyes she ought to go out on a date with him and Elisa had told Bard she’d rather date Jack the ripper.  So she had filled laxative in Alfrid’s cup and the guy spent an entire shift crapping.

 

Alfrid tried to smile, he had bad teeth and even worse skin and Bard cringed when he saw him. “Oh hello Mr Bowman, Mr Montgomery is waiting”

 

Bard just walked right by him, the door was open and he gave it a polite knock before he entered the rather large office. Thor “Monty” Montgomery sat in an armchair by the window and he did look worried, he turned his head around and made a grimace. “Bard, what can you tell me of this one?”

 

Bard sat down, he and Mr Montgomery were good friends also outside of the job and he respected the veteran. “Not much, at least not yet. Elisa will start looking for similar cases elsewhere, it is obvious that this guy has done it before. He is just so bloody efficient.”

 

Thor nodded and his eyes got distant. He was a very attractive large man in his late fifties and he had a full beard and thick wavy hair which had begun to turn grey. “Yes, I have looked at the case files. Who is taking care of the family?”

 

Bard sighed. “Leonard and Duke, they know what to say, and what questions to ask”

 

Thor nodded. “They do, but do go see his family, I need someone skilled on this, Leonard is way too eager to excel and Duke is a bloody coward. He is so afraid of offending anyone he is unable to even fart!”

 

Bard had to grin. “Yes, if I ever hear him swear I bet I will pass out. He is seemliness incarnate.”

 

Thor looked a bit tense. “Bard, these cases are making me worried, we aren’t used to murders like this here, and we have only had one serial killer to deal with. I know you have seen some shit before, but do come to me if things get too hard, you hear me?”

 

Bard looked down. “Sure thing chief”

 

Thor looked a bit more at ease. “So, how are the kids doing these days, it has been a long time since I saw them.”

 

Bard had to grin. “Oh, they are doing fine, well, as fine as one can expect. Bain is busy playing soccer most of the time and Sigrid is going to participate in a choir competition in two weeks, she is so eager she cannot wait. “

 

Thor cocked his head. “And Tilda?”

 

Bard had to swallow. “She is better, much better. She still has nightmares but…you know, children are resilient, and Jean is taking good care of them. They barely do mention Sophia anymore”

 

Thor looked out of the window again, the rain outside made the buildings and streets look grey, and flat. “Good, that is very…good. And you, how about you?”

 

Bard sighed. “I think of her every day Thor, and I wonder what I could have done, what I did wrong, if I could have prevented it, something!”

 

The stocky dark man looked at Bard again. “And I can tell you for the thousandth time that no, there was nothing you could have done. Sophia was ill Bard. So ill not even her doctor understood the severity of the situation. That she chose to end her own life in spite of having three wonderful children and a caring and loving husband tell me just how bad it was. Bard, she was insane!”

 

He took a deep breath, his chest hurt as it always did when she was mentioned, but he had gotten used to it. Two years had gone since his wife’s sudden suicide and it had been two years in which he had lived as if in a sort of cocoon. “Yet I still cannot help but wonder, had I come home from work a little earlier that day….”

 

Thor cocked his head. “Then you would have been the one to find her laying on the floor with her head blown open, not Tilda. It would have been better yes, but you couldn’t have stopped her Bard, nobody could. And you know that”

 

He had to nod. “Yes, I know that, now.”

 

Thor folded his arms over his chest. “So I suggest you go out there now, visit Mr Carpenter’s family and use what you have learned. She hid her condition from you all didn’t she? Go see if Mr Carpenter was hiding something from his wife, there has to be a reason why he was targeted”

 

Bard nodded. “Yes, you are right.”

 

Thor got up from the chair with some difficulty, an old injury sometimes bothered him and he was no longer fit for patrol duty of any kind. “Go see if Judith has something new for us, then go interview Mrs Carpenter.”

 

Bard got up too and tried to smile. “Will do”

 

He hurried downstairs towards the basement where the domain of the coroner spread dread and fear into the heart of everyone. It didn’t matter how sterile and clean and tidy those rooms where, they still reminded everybody of the sad fact that everyone sooner or later has to die and Bard had never liked it down there. Judith had just finished the initial autopsy, she was quick but she was also very thorough and nothing did slip by her. She smiled at him and slid her gloves off, threw them into a closed container. “Good, just on time. I am done with the first preliminary exam of the body and there is little news I am afraid. No fingerprints, no blood, nothing under his fingernails, or rather, no skin cells”

 

Bard tensed up. “No skin cells but something else?”

 

She nodded. “Yes, for the first time! I did find something but it could be something completely irrelevant.”

 

She held out a small plastic bag, there was something in it and he held it up towards the light. “Hair?”

 

Judith nodded. “Yes, a small piece of one hair. No root, so no DNA, but it can perhaps tell us something still”

 

She went over to a microscope and he handed her the bag again. “Nothing else? No bruises of any kind?”

 

She shook her head. “Nope, nothing except the obvious injuries. The bracket did pierce his body pretty easily, I cannot imagine how much force the culprit must have used. He would have bled out within minutes even without the torn chest and stomach”

 

Bard almost groaned. “And the instrument used for the cutting? Nothing new?”

 

She just nodded. “Nothing, same as the four other times, extremely sharp and leaves no trace evidence at all, it has gone through bone and flesh like a hot knife through butter”

 

She placed the hair under the microscope and immediately she frowned. “What the….”

 

Bard leaned closer. “What?”

 

She fidgeted with the microscope, enhanced the magnification. “Bard, I have never seen hair like this, ever”

 

She sat there, obviously looking at the piece of hair from every angle. “It is wrong, it is just….not normal”

 

Bard frowned. “What do you mean not normal?”

 

She sighed and pushed her chair out of the way. “Look for yourself, be my guest”

 

She gestured towards the microscope and he took her place, looked into the instrument and saw a brown line across the screen. “I see a hair?”

 

She sighed. “No you don’t. It is a hair and yet not a hair, hair is made from keratin, the same as our skin and fingernails. This is some other substance and the hair is not round but octagonal in shape. “

 

Bard straightened his back. “Uh, could it be some sort of synthetic material, made to look like hair?”

 

She nodded. “Bingo, that has to be it, but what material? It looks normal until you start looking at it really close!”

 

Bard tilted his head. “A very expensive wig perhaps?”

 

Judith sighed. “Maybe, I will send the images to some friends of mine, they are perhaps able to identify it.”

 

Bard smiled. “Do that, I have to go and ask Mrs Carpenter some questions, I hope she isn’t too hysterical”

 

Judith just returned to the microscope. “Do that, I will call you if I find something new”

 

Bard had gotten the address from Stella and drove there thinking that it was way too long since he had visited the kids. His former mother in law was taking care of them for he just didn’t have the time to do that, and for the first year after Sopthia’s suicide he hadn’t been all that stable himself. The doubt and guilt had been gnawing at his heart the whole time and that Jean had stepped in had been a gift from heaven. They loved her and she was a very wise woman who knew that they needed, all of them. Bard was grateful beyond words for what she had done for them all and the fact that they all were returning to normal was thanks to her and her alone. He wondered if Mr Carpenter’s wife would struggle now, the way he had struggled. He hoped not.

 

The home was a neat one, not overly large with a well maintained façade and a nice lawn in front of it. It didn’t speak of poverty nor riches and the car parked in the driveway was an ordinary sedan, the type thousands of families use. He saw that Leonard and Duke had to be inside still, together with some other officers and the precinct reverend. Bard gathered his courage and walked up to the door, one of the officers had seen him and showed him the way into the livingroom where a crying woman sat in a couch surrounded by what had to be her daughter and perhaps some friends. Duke sent him a pale smile “She is quite upset”

 

Bard felt a need to roll his eyes. Upset? No shit Sherlock, half ways hysterical was the word he would have preferred. Bard took a deep breath. “Mrs Carpenter? I am Bard Bowman, I am the leader of the dayshift within this precinct. I can assure you that we will do all that is in our power to catch whoever did this to your husband”

 

The words rung hollow in his ears, he had said them too many times before, and lied. The woman was rather large, not overly fat but overweight to a degree and her face was round and yet pretty in its own way. Now it was red and her eyes swollen and she was shaking all over. “Why, why my John, he was just a sweet man, he never harmed anyone!”

 

Bard saw that Leonard nodded at him, discretely. “We have asked the standard questions, she has no idea why he was near that place, he should have been at his office”

 

Bard frowned, he sat down in front of the sobbing woman. Her daughter appeared to be in her mid twenties and he remembered that there ought to be one more child there. “You have two children?”

 

Mrs Carpenter just sobbed even louder and her daughter answered. “I have a brother. Steve, but he is at college. He is on his way home though, will get here tomorrow”

 

Bard smiled. “Good, you need to stand together now. But I do need to ask some more questions, I am sorry but it is standard procedure”

 

Mrs Carpenter just sniffed. “Go ahead, I have already answered questions for hours it seems so why not”

 

Her voice was trembling and Bard felt sorry for her, the home looked like a very cosy place with lots of charm and also warmth. He just knew that this had been a very happy home until that horrible phone call had turned this family’s life upside down. He opened a notepad and found a pen. “Mrs Carpenter, when was the last time you saw your husband?”

 

She closed her eyes. “I have already answered that, but alright, at five in the evening. He had gotten home from work and we had dinner when he suddenly remembered that he had forgotten some very important papers. He had to go and get them but he waited until I went to bed. He didn’t want to ruin our evening together, he was so thoughtful!”

 

She sobbed again and tore into a box of tissues, almost with desperation. Bard made a note of it, he would compare it with those of the others to see if there were any discrepancies. “Did you notice that he was missing?”

 

She shook her head. “No, I was fast asleep when the phone rang this morning, I have problems with my sleep so I use pills. I just assumed that he had decided to sleep at his office, he sometimes does that if there is much to do, he doesn’t want to bring his work with him, claims that it will ruin the joys of home for him”

 

Bard turned to the daughter. “And you young lady, did you notice anything out of the ordinary?”

 

The girl shook her head. “My name is Sandra by the way, and no, I didn’t notice anything odd or special about dad no. He was just as he usually is, a bit distracted but that is completely normal.”

 

Bard frowned. “It is?”

 

She nodded. “Yes, you see, dad thinks that he is going to be the next great novelist, he is writing on his spare time and he thinks about the plot all the time”

 

Bard raised and eyebrow. “A novelist, that is interesting. What sort of a novel?”

 

Sandra smiled through her tears. “Romance, not the sleazy kind but old fashioned very clean entertainment. I have read some of it, and it is good”

 

Bard nodded, romance novel, written by an accountant. Now that was a book he would have loved to see on the bestseller list. It would mean that pigs suddenly were given the ability to fly. He didn’t say that though. “Does your father have any friends? Does he hang out with any buddies?”

 

Sandra shook her head. “Nope, he is just very boring, his work and his hobby is his entire life, and us of course. He has always been a very supportive dad. “

 

Mrs Carpenter intervened. “My John was the best husband a woman can ever ask for, just ask anybody around here. He was perfect!”

 

Bard frowned. Nobody is perfect, everybody has flaws and what where Mr Carpenter’s flaws? But he didn’t press on, he just smiled. “Mrs Carpenter, it says here that your husband drives a blue sedan, a Toyota?”

 

She nodded. “Yes, it is old though, but it is faithful.”

 

Bard smiled. “Those car’s usually are yes, they can keep running for decades”

He took a quick look at his notes, the car had been found just a block away from the murder site, locked and unharmed and nothing had seemed to be out of the ordinary. They had towed it and it was waiting to be checked for fingerprints and other possible pieces of evidence in the police garage.

 

He stared at the surroundings, nothing there seemed off so if there was some clue it wasn’t to be found in this house. He turned to Leonard. “Have you sent anyone to Mr Carpenter’s office yet?”

 

Leonard cringed. “Should I have done that?”

 

Bard petted him on his shoulder. “No, it is alright. I need the address for his office and keys if you have them, and by the way, does any of you own a wig, dark brown?”

 

The people assembled just stared at him, confused. Mrs Carpenter shook her head. “No, nobody here uses wigs. He has a code lock, the code is his birthday, backwards. And the address is Uptonstreet park number 12, second floor”

 

Bard bowed his head. “Excellent, thank you for your time Ma’am. I am so sorry for your loss, John seems to have been a true gem of a man”

 

She sobbed again, ripping a tissue apart. “He was, oh God he was!”

 

Bard walked out of the door in a brisk pace, he felt as if he needed air, lots of air. This always did him in, he hated it, these visits, asking grieving shocked people such questions about their beloved ones. It felt inhuman at times, just wrong. But it was needed and he stopped by the car and waited for one of the officers to join him. The one who came sauntering towards him was Fred Bark, a short and sinewy fellow with dark blonde hair and a goatee. He was a patrol officer and well known for having a sharp tongue and an even sharper eye. That was welcome now. Fred leaned against the car and sent Bard a tired glance. “I can never get used to this man, it gets at me every time!”

 

Bard nodded. “Yeah, me too. Hop inn, we have to get to that office before rush hour sets in”

 

Bard was quiet in the car, an accountant. A construction worker, a social worker, a janitor, a lawyer. As different as it was possible to get, the job wasn’t the thing which these people had in common, that was for damn sure. He was driving into the parking lot in front of the huge office building when the phone rang and he set it on hands free” Yes?”

 

He heard Elisa’s voice, she was out of breath, like she had been running. “He has done it before, I have been in touch with a detective from Detroit, seven years ago, six murders over eight months. The feds are coming, this one jumps state borders.”

 

Bard felt his mouth go dry. “Damn, holy shit. I was afraid of that, now what?”

 

Elisa was almost panting. “Yeah, I have sent out a warning to all the police head quarters I know of, if he has been somewhere else too we will know. There is a federal agent coming over and he will arrive tomorrow. I am to pick him up at the airport, and by the way, they are sending some expert too, a professor in psychology and human behaviour patterns”

 

Bard groaned, just what they didn’t need, a profiler, some guy with his head up in the clouds and no real understanding of how the harsh realities of life affected ordinary people. “Oh, wonderful. A shrink!”

 

Elisa sounded a bit calmer. “ He is also an anthropology expert, quite famous. Bard, I bet he can help”

 

Bard sighed and saw that Fred too felt less than enthusiastic about this. A stranger was never welcome within such a tightly woven unit, but they couldn’t turn the guy down. “Right, who is this expert then?”

 

Elisa was sounding more enthusiastic now. “His name is Thran Oropherson, he is a professor at Mirkwood university”

 

Bard frowned, the name sounded familiar and Fred nodded. “A very famous place, lots of clever heads there”

 

Bard groaned. “Alright then, let me know when you find out when we can expect this shrink of ours”

 

Elisa answered. “Consider it done”

 

Bard hung up and stared at the brick wall in front of the car. Perfect, a FBI agent and now a darn profiler too, it was getting better and better. This day was promising to say the least.

 

 

 

One plus one equals two by Nuredhel

 

 

Chapter two: One plus one equals two….

 

Bard was supporting his head on his hands, staring down at his desk as if it was about to give the ultimate answer to life and death and everything. His head hurt and he knew that it only would get worse. He was about to return to his apartment for the night and had to think about the day’s events.

He and the constable had found Mr Carpenters office with relative ease and they had entered and found an office which looked more like a commercial from some company selling office equipment than someone’s work place. Everything looked as if it was bought yesterday and there wasn’t a single grain of dust to be seen anywhere. Bard already knew that Mr Carpenter had to have been close to suffering from some form of mental disease for nobody he knew of kept their office that tidy.

Fred made a grimace. “Oh crap, I hate this type of guy”

 

Bard frowned. “What do you mean?”

 

Fred made a gesture as if to embrace the entire room. “The too tidy type, they usually have something to hide”

 

Bard turned around. “Are you serious?”

 

Fred lifted some papers from the desk. “Oh I am, see? These papers here are placed by date, by date! Who the fuck does that? I am telling you Mr Bowman, this dude has skeletons in his closet, huge ones”

 

Bard took a deep breath” Then let us check those so called closets, but I doubt that we will find anything worth working with here.”

 

They went over the office swiftly but carefully, everything seemed to be in perfect order and nothing seemed to be incriminating. Mr Carpenter hadn’t worked with anything which involved money so it wasn’t very likely that he had done anything illegal while at work. He had simply had a job so boring it would have reduced others to tears, and he had done it with spotless precision. Mr Carpenter had to be the most boring individual Bard had ever come across if this truly was his whole life. He didn’t even appear to like sports, what man didn’t like sports?!

 

Bard felt tempted to tear the office apart and just check every little nook and cranny but he couldn’t. Fred was looking at the scene in front of them with narrow eyes and Bard allowed him to just stare, Fred was well known for being able to sniff out things which were out of place like a bloodhound. The shorter man frowned, then he turned to a small table in the corner. It was just a table, the type which is placed in thousands of offices everywhere and a chair was placed next to it to provide visitors with a place to sit. The table was almost empty and only two thick files filled with papers regarding some laws about money transactions laid upon it. But Bard did see what Fred had reacted to, a small ashtray was also placed there and Fred stared at him and nodded. “Mr Carpenter didn’t smoke, and I cannot see why a man like him would allow visitors to smoke in his office”

 

Bard felt his mouth go dry, it was that feeling, the feeling of being onto something, it was like none other. Fred lifted the ashtray, it was made from ceramics but it was definitely mass produced, not some artwork done by the kids or something like that. It was dark brown, anonymous in every manner except….Fred turned it upside down, on the underside they both saw something small, taped to the bottom. Bard held his breath as Fred released it, it was a memory stick, very small and dark brown just like the ashtray. Fred held it up like a trophy, there was triumph within his eyes. “I told you so, skeletons!”

 

Bard felt his heart speed up. “I will let Elisa look at it, but what sort of things can an accountant really be hiding? He is so far one of the least interesting people I have ever come across”

 

Fred almost sneered. “Still water runs deep Mr Bowman, mark my words. I once heard of this old lady who lived in this cosy little cottage just outside of the town where I grew up. Sweetest old woman you can imagine, baked the best cupcakes ever and everybody loved her. When she died they discovered that she had been a Nazi during the war and that she had worked in a concentration camp, sending hundreds if not thousands to their deaths. The truth is always hidden”

 

Bard felt a chill running down his spine, the truth…How often hadn’t he prayed for that to be revealed to him, to be granted a chance to understand, to see what it was that had driven Sophia to such a terrible end. He had never been able to fully get a grasp on it, she had seemed so normal, so happy. Just like she normally did. Yes, she had suffered some dark moments but he had been there damn it, every day he had been there with her. He ought to have seen something, something which could have warned him that it was more than just a simple depression. He had seen naught and that continued to nag him, and he was sure it would until his dying day. There wouldn’t be a single day in which he wasn’t reminded of the things he still didn’t know.

 

He and Fred left the office and told the one in charge of the building that it was to be closed up until further notice. Then Fred returned to the headquarters while Bard visited the scene of the murder once more. Now everything was gone, just some tape was left and a few dark spots on the ground, a swarm of flies did take to the air as he got closer and he could smell it now. The stench of death was unlike anything else. The back alley was dark and very uninviting even in daylight, what in heck’s name had drawn such a man into this place? Drugs? That was possible of course but Mr Carpenter hadn’t seemed to be the type to use drugs, such things always left you sloppy and made you do mistakes. More so, it did cost lots of money and even though the Carpenters hadn’t seemed to be very poor they weren’t rich either. Their budget couldn’t possibly sustain drug abuse. He would have to get someone to take a look at their finances, maybe that was where the dog lay buried.

 

He dropped by Judith on his way to the office, she was in the phone with someone and she seemed to be upset. She was gesticulating and her voice had a hard edge to it, Bard didn’t know if he liked that. It took something rather grand to bring her out of balance thus. She ended the conversation and tossed the phone into a small casket shaped box on the desk, she did have some humour after all. She pulled some loose strands of hair out of her face and made an ugly grimace. “Mr Bowman, just the man I was waiting for. I sent some photos of the hair we found to some colleagues.”

 

Bard appreciated that she said “we” when in fact she had found it. “And?”

 

She crossed her arms across her chest, with her lab coat on that made her look very determined. “They couldn’t identify it, at all. I am gonna send a sample of it over to the main laboratory upstate, they have a gas chromatograph, it ought to solve the puzzle”

 

Bard made a grimace. “Just don’t send the whole thing please”

 

Judith smiled. “No worries Mr Bowman, I only need some micrograms”

 

Bard walked up to the office, it was getting late and he wondered where this day had gone. His stomach did grumble and he remembered that he hadn’t eaten for many hours. Elisa was still there and she sat behind her computer and were busy sending emails. She looked up and smiled, the soft dark brown eyes and the round face did reveal her native origin and her last name, Snowshoe, did also speak of it. Elisa never let anything rock her calm attitude and Bard did appreciate her steady faith in their efforts. He picked the memory stick out of its plastic container. “Here, we found this at Mr Carpenter’s office, it was hidden.”

 

Interest sparked in her eyes and she grasped it and found a small laptop which looked rather special, she started it and plugged the memory stick into its USB entrance. “I won’t use my ordinary computer for this, if this contains some sort of protection I would prefer to have my hard drive un-fried and free of viruses.”

 

She found a separate keyboard and started typing and suddenly Bard saw that the small screen was being filled with odd symbols. Elisa did swear, but she did sound impressed. “This is encrypted, balls! Whoever has done this is a pro!”

 

Bard frowned, he did not understand computers that well, their inner secrets were to him like the backside of the moon. He knew it was there but he had no desire to seek it out. “How do you know?”

 

She was staring at the screen. “Because this is a third degree encryption, goddamn it, it is the type governments uses to protect state secrets”

 

Bard felt a strange heavy feeling gather within his gut. “Could Mr Carpenter…”

 

Elisa shook her head. “Be some sort of spy or state agent? I doubt it, it is possible to get these sorts of programs but they are not cheap, unless you buy them off the black market and then you cannot be too sure about the quality. You risk losing all your data.”

 

She worked on, the symbols did change a tiny bit “Horse-ass! This is high class shit”

 

Bard felt nervous energy building up inside. “Can you break the encryption?”

 

Elisa looked as if she was about to tear her hair out in sheer frustration. “Yes, but it will take hours, see this here?”

 

She pointed at some of the symbols. “ It is a sort of booby trap, if you try to get past the encryption with the wrong key it will dissolve all the data into meaningless mumbo jumbo, everything will be lost”

 

Bard moaned. “Please don’t do that, tell me you have the key?”

 

Elisa grinned. “I don’t but I know someone I bet does, he is a hacker and the best I know. I will ask him for help.”

 

Bard sighed and felt that the excitement did die down a bit. “Can you tell me anything at all?”

 

Elisa nodded and pointed at some rows of symbols. “Those there usually mean numbers, and the rows down here are pictures, JPG’s I think.”

 

Bard frowned. “Pictures?”

 

Elisa shrugged. “Yes, could be anything really, so don’t make hasty conclusions.”

Bard took a deep breath. “Right, have you heard anything about the murders seven years ago?”

 

She nodded and spun her chair around, opened a tab on her office computer. “I have, like I said, six murders over eight months.”

 

He sat down, feeling a bit shaky again. “And?”

 

Elisa grinned. “You are impatient or what? Okay, the dead are all men, ranging from the age of twenty two to sixty nine and there were no pattern this time neither. They were found all through the city, the M.O the same. Impaled upon something solid, guts torn out. Pretty gruesome and very efficient too”

 

Bard stared at the screen, he saw images flashing by, six faces and he wondered where this wild goose chase would lead them. “Nothing out of the ordinary?”

 

Elisa had to grin. “Damn right, exactly the same M.O as our cases here. Nothing left, not a clue. One was found hanging from the wall of a feed silo, his co-worker had driven past it just a few minutes before and he had seen naught. And nobody had heard anything, not in any of the cases. That strikes me as the most odd thing, none of the victims did scream”

 

Bard felt chilled again, it was truly odd, and it was creepy too. “The agent who is coming, what do you know of him?”

 

Elisa switched to another tab. “Not much, he is relatively new but that can be a good thing, he isn’t locked into his own routines yet. He was best in his class at the academy and he has served two years in the army previously”

 

Bard tilted his head. “In the army? What part of the army?”

 

Elisa was using the mouse with lightning speed. “The ranger corpse, apparently he was wounded in battle and had to find something else to do”

 

Bard felt a surge of respect, a former ranger, then this was a real fighter and not some weekend warrior who believed that his gun and his badge made him bad ass. “What is his name?”

 

Elisa pointed at the screen. “Faramir Brown”

 

Bard stared at a picture of a rather handsome man with a face which looked rather young and the guy did look calm and sensitive. That was good, he didn’t want some trigger happy gun nut in his unit and absolutely not protecting his back in action. Elisa smiled. “He seems like a good guy, we could have gotten someone worse”

 

Bard cringed, eight years earlier they had faced a row of identity thefts, when some high end politician got her id stolen the feds sent an agent to supervise them and it turned out to be the most horrible person Bard had ever come across. The guy had been extremely stern and didn’t allow any sort of attempts at breaking protocol and if you said even the smallest thing which could be interpreted as criticism you’d better brace yourself, for a shit storm of accusations were heading your way. Curumo Larsen had been a good old piece of dry wood and a man of the old school and Bard had been afraid that the old fart would order everyone spanked for not working hard enough. Elisa swore they had dug the guy up from some bog and removed the stake through his chest before putting him to work. The sad thing was that his assistant was worse, a creepy grey faced dude with an odd lack of eyebrows and a sleazy behaviour which made him absolutely hated by everyone. He had been especially fond of Judith with her blond hair and elegant features and she swore she was close to pouring formaldehyde into his tea just to get rid of him. He made Alfrid seem like a prime specimen of honest and proper manliness.

 

Bard had to laugh “ At least they didn’t send count Dracula back”

 

Everybody had called Mr Larsen that, not so he heard it of course, but it had become a standing joke there that if they misbehaved the feds would send him back to haunt them. Elisa stretched and yawned. “It will be a long night Bard, I can feel it. I have a shit load of stuff which has to be done”

 

Bard stared at her. “Elisa, there are other people within the unit who can do some of the work, you are aware of that right?”

 

She snorted. “Who? Leonard? He is so eager to get promoted he works way too fast and misses important clues even if they are right in front of him. And Duke? He is so freakin’ shy he spends a week gathering the courage to ask to be excused because he needs to use the bathroom. Nope, it is me and you and Albert, and Fernando, if he survives the night”

 

Bard giggled. “Oh he’ll outlive us all, he is smoking so much he is like cured ham by now, he’ll last forever.”

 

Bard returned to his office to gather some of his stuff, he went through his emails and found nothing new except the annual reminder from the officer responsible for their gun training. He needed to get his certification renewed and he cringed and sighed. He hated it, hated having to carry a gun with him. He had used to carry a rather hefty 45 calibre Smith and Wesson revolver but now he had switched it for a 9 mm Beretta. It didn’t look nor feel as intimidating. He should find some time to fire off the required shots soon, just to get it over with. It was a formality but it had to be done. Some years ago the station had employed an officer who was cross eyed and the guy was a serious danger to everything around him except the target which he never hit even once.

 

Then he went to his apartment, it was small and rather boring but he only used it to sleep in. The house he had lived in with Sophia and the kids had been sold, he couldn’t stay there anymore. He had tried for the sake of the kids but it held too many memories and it had wrought havoc upon his nerves to walk the rooms in which he had been genuinely happy. He had never understood why Sophia had chosen him, she had been a genuine beauty with a heart too large for her fragile body and he had worshipped her. Bard had always known that he was drawn both to females and males and it had given him much heartache over the years and lot of doubt too but with her he had been complete. The house had been sold rather fast in spite of its history and the money had been very welcome but they didn’t bring Sophia back and Jean had brought the kids to her place on the very outskirts of the city. It had been a farm once, now it was surrounded by villas and some mansions. Jean had been offered a fortune for it but she refused to sell. The place was locally known as Rivendell for a small creek used to run through it and the property still had a huge barn with stables and corrals. The kids loved it there and Bard was glad there was a good school nearby. The schools within the city were not good the way he saw it, the teachers didn’t really see the students, they just stood there like machines giving the same lecture over and over again and those who didn’t fit into the little box called normality faced problems right away.

 

Bard had a couch, a table and a tv set, the kitchen was the very simple type and his bedroom had just one bed and a closet filled with cheap shirts and pants. He didn’t need much more, his salary went to Jean and the kids. Jean was a tough lady, she had gotten Sophia when she was eighteen and being  a single mom back then had been hellish but Jean had pulled through, and managed rather well too. Bard was eternally grateful for that woman and her strength.

He ordered some take away from the local fast food shop and then he sat to watch a movie, he had seen it before so he just sat there, not paying attention until he got too tired and took aim at the bed. He was asleep within minutes after he laid down and this night he didn’t even dream, which was unusual. Normally his sleep was interrupted by dreams of the past, of the good days when he and Sophia had lived such a good life. He would remember her carrying the kids, the excitement and the fear he had felt when each of them was born, the pride and the elation when everything went right. Those were the good dreams, the bad ones he couldn’t even bare to think about, Tilda had nightmares but she wasn’t the only one…

 

He woke up early, feeling slightly dizzy and thirsty, he jumped in the shower and then he opened the fridge to find that he was almost out of practically everything, he rarely remembered to shop for groceries and that meant that breakfast would consist of just a glass of milk and some microwave oatmeal, with water. He would have to get some more substantial food later, Jean always complained about his appearance whenever they met. When Sophia had been alive he had been on the border of becoming a wee bit overweight but now he was reduced to what she referred to as skin and bones. Maybe she was right, he ought to take better care of himself but it was hard, he just didn’t feel as if there was any point in it. He found some clean clothes and headed back to the headquarters again, wondering what this day would bring. He was met in the door by Fernando who was standing there looking like an old fashioned tobacco commercial, Bard had to shake his head. “You know that smoke signals went out of use more than a hundred years ago?”

 

Fernando just grinned, his teeth were suspiciously white and everybody were arguing if whether or not the man had artificial teeth. “You are very funny Mr Bowman”

 

Bard didn’t really think it was that funny at all, Fernando ought to carry a biohazard sign for the amount of smoke he managed to produce each day had to rival even the amount an average coal powered electricity plant spewed out. He almost ran up the stairs and saw that Elisa was by her desk as always, she hardly ever left the office and she was the department’s eyes and ears out in the great cyber world. He headed over and she saw him, smiled and moved her chair aside. “Hello Bard, you are inn early?”

 

Bard nodded. “Woke up early, it is not usual for me I know”

 

Elisa nodded and her face revealed that she was disappointed for some reason. “I am sorry Bard, my friend haven’t managed to crack the encryption on that memory stick yet. All we do know is that it is full, about one GB of data. And it contains a lot of files, some small but also some huge ones, he thinks it may be small videos.”

 

Bard nodded. “Right, but he can get through the encryption eventually?”

 

She nodded. “He swore he would and I do trust that he can manage yes. I don’t think he will fail, he is stubborn and very skilled”

 

Bard nodded and knew that hacking was illegal but sometimes you have to crack eggs to make an omelette. Better to have someone on the inside of that very elusive society than trying to solve such puzzles alone. He took a deep breath. “Has the agent arrived yet?”

 

Elisa nodded. “Yep, I picked him up at the airport an hour ago, he is already out here with Leonard and Albert, taking a look at the different murder scenes. I liked him, I truly did. He seemed to be one very dedicated to his job without being a cocky s.o.b.”

 

Bard smiled and sat down, he felt old all of a sudden but it was just silly. He wasn’t old, he was in his prime and he ought to have been full of energy and what Sophia had described as pep. Something had indeed happened to him after she died, he felt like an extinguished candle, just ashes left. The job and the kids was what kept him from falling apart completely. “I am glad to hear that, so, have you heard anything new?”

 

Elisa suddenly looked insecure, her eyes did flicker from side to side and she bit her lower lip. “Uh, yes, take a look at this”

 

She activated her screen and an email appeared. It was from a police investigator in Salt lake city and files were attached. Bard blinked. “Don’t tell me that…”

 

Elisa nodded. “Oh yes, five years ago, four murders within the span of exactly one month, august. All unsolved, all the exactly same method as here and Detroit”

 

Bard felt faint, he was glad he was sitting down. “Oh God, this one is on a killing spree”

 

Elisa nodded slowly. “I am afraid to open my mail now, afraid of what I will see. God alone knows for how long this has been going on…”

 

Bard closed his eyes, no police department has the resources to continue chasing someone for years when the murders have stopped,  the case files would be stored of course but it would be reduced to yet another row of cold cases. This killer was smart, terribly so. He had stopped just before the feds would have been called, just before the full resources of the police had been gathered to bring him down.  Bard swallowed. “Creepy bastard!”

 

Elisa nodded slowly. “Amen to that. But why? Why is he doing it? What makes him chose his victims?”

 

Bard tilted his head. “Something tells me that the moment we figure that out we can solve this, or at least get a better picture of who he is”

 

Elisa was a bit pale. “What if he has done this in small places too? Places where they don’t use the same methods as we do, small police stations barely used to handle murder at all?”

 

Bard stared at the screen. “I bet he has, oh Lord I am sure he has”

 

Why he said that he didn’t know, it just dropped out of him. Elisa took a deep breath and was about to say something when they heard a roar from Mr Montgomery’s office, it sounded like a mixture of both wrath and shock and Bard stared at Elisa who stared back wide eyed. “What in the name of….”

 

Thor tore the door open and shouted. “Everybody, switch on the TV, right bloody now!!”

 

Bard ran over and switched the thing on and they immediately saw why the chief was so upset. It was a face they all knew too bloody well and behind her they saw that back alley where Mr Carpenter had found his sad end. Bard almost growled. “Oh fuck, fucking fantastic! Wonderful! How the fuck has that woman managed to find out about this?!”

 

Elisa just hissed and Thor let out another roar. “If someone in here has had a slip of the tongue I will personally tear it out, do you hear?!”

 

Bard stared at the face of the most hated reporter in the entire city, the police force absolutely loathed the woman for she had no respect for the law, for the unwritten rules they all lived by. She would haunt the families of the deceased and ask them the most inappropriate questions imaginable and she gave a flying fuck about the investigations. Bard moaned lowly. “Oh this time she has done it”

 

The lady on the screen was dark of hair and rather plump with small dark eyes and she wore a hat which was completely ridiculous. Someone in the department had once called the woman “hogzilla” and the word had stuck. She had a tongue so poisonous it would have made a black mamba blush with jealousy and she didn’t care that much about the truth. The main goal of her was to catch the attention of the public and that she did do, in excess. The woman smiled, pointing back towards the still sealed off alley. “And here is the place where the poor citizen met his gruesome fate as one of now five victims of a most terrible serial killer. The question which lingers is, what is the police really doing? Who is the next to die so horribly? Is anybody safe?”

 

She stared straight into the camera and grinned, Bard had seen a huge lizard in the zoo which had exactly the same expression within its eyes, sheer animalistic hunger. “This is Lobelia Sackville for the Daily news”

 

Thor swore, so bad Elisa ducked and some of the other officers there cringed visibly. “And now the cat is out of the sack, shit! Prepare for a hailstorm of epic proportions”

 

Bard swallowed. He wished that he could have removed that woman from this country, sent her to Antarctica or something but that would be just cruel, some poor leopard seal may try to eat her and die from indigestion. Thor leaned against the door frame, he looked tired. “Elisa, Bard, over here, now!”

 

He turned around and they followed him, he shut the door to the office with a bang. “I don’t think I need to tell you what this truly means?”

 

Elisa nodded. “Not a word right?”

 

Thor closed his eyes, pinched the bridge of his nose. “Right, I have no fucking clue about who her informant is but when I find out, oh his or hers ass is mine!”

 

Bard cringed and knew that Thor would be all over that poor person like an angel of vengeance. Being sacked from the job was the least of that person’s worries. Thor turned to Bard. “She will go after you in special since you are head of the investigators assigned to this case, can you handle it? I don’t want any incidents, of any kind”

 

Bard sighed. “I know, I will…be civilized.”

 

Thor stared at him, the dark eyes were both hard and soft at the same time. “I know Bard, if she gets too nasty let me know. I can pull some strings, certain people do owe me some huge fucking favours, it shouldn’t be too hard to have her assigned to some other city, for a while”

 

Bard tried to smile, he remembered that Lobelia had been tormenting him for weeks after Sophia…No, he didn’t want to think of it. That woman was like a bloody vulture, she thrived on death and misery. Elisa smiled, a sinister grin. “I can make her life miserable? I am sure I can do some damage, of course untraceable damage”

 

Thor smiled, a somewhat sardonic smile. “Elisa dear, that is tempting but no, we are the law, we ought to follow its teachings. Just remember that there is such a thing as karma, and I will the first one to laugh when it strikes her down”

 

Elisa growled. “If it ever does, the devil takes care of his own”

 

Bard had to sit down for a while, he told some of the officers there to take a look at the Carpenter family’s finances just in case, then he looked at the files they had received and he soon developed a headache. Fifteen murdered people and yet nobody had anything in common? What sort of serial killer was this?

 

He sat there until Fernando entered the office, he sat down next to Bard and made a grimace. “Know what? It is all over the news, a new serial killer, who murders random people. They have already given him a name”

 

Bard moaned and wished that he could have gone straight to the nearest bar and gotten royally drunk. “What?”

 

Fernando shrugged. “The shrike, after that little bird you know, who impales its victims on sharp thorns, Lanius Collurio something”

 

Bard frowned. “What the heck Fernando, Lanius..whatever. You remember this sort of shit?”

Fernando shrugged again. “Yes, I have a unique brain”

 

Bard just mumbled. “More like smoke  preserved”

 

Fernando pretended that he didn’t hear, he just smiled and Bard leaned back against the backrest of his chair. He felt scared, when people learned of such cases panic could be the  result and he had seen it before. People lost all ability to think rationally and just acted like a bunch of morons. Three years earlier two kids had gone missing and as a result everybody started keeping their kids at home, the schools were closed for two weeks and some were hysterical. A couple of people on the sex offender list had been badly beaten and some people had gotten together and demanded that everybody who was on the list were either deported or chemically castrated.  The kids were found a month after, tragically it had been an accident. They had been playing by the river and fallen into the opening of a huge pipe used when there was flooding of the streets, it had been abandoned and forgotten years ago and was sealed off like a cement tomb. They had died within a couple of days due to dehydration and it had been an awful discovery but it showed just how fast people thought the worst and started shouting wolf wolf when they didn’t even have any evidence that there had been a crime committed.

 

Bard tried to make a real list of the victims, just so it would be easier to visualize the crimes and it was hard, he kept getting distracted and he saw that Elisa was busy with something too. Some were over at the Carpenter’s again to ask even more questions and Fred had been ordered to interrogate Mr Carpenter’s colleagues. Bard didn’t envy the poor dude, if they were anything like Mr Carpenter that had to be downright boring. Bard was trying to read through the files when he heard Thor’s voice. “Bard, the profiler is here, I think I will leave him to you, you know this case by now”

 

Bard looked up, Thor stood by his desk and behind him stood what Bard for a moment only could describe as an angel. The man was so handsome the only word which fitted him was beautiful. He had rather long light blond hair gathered in a loose pony tail and the bluest eyes Bard had ever seen. He looked like a model, too perfect to be human. Bard felt his mouth go dry, he felt like a savage compared to this specimen. The man wore good clothes, expensive but not overly so, yet he did carry himself with a sort of self-assuredness which told Bard that the guy was well used to wealth and that he also was used to being respected. His age was impossible to guess, but he looked fit and strong and God, he was tall. Bard had to stare for a few seconds, the man was taller than himself, not by much but he did look as if he sort of dominated the entire room just by standing there.

 

Bard swallowed, how could anyone look that gorgeous? It wasn’t fair. He managed to smile and got up, not really knowing what to say. “Mr Oropherson, this is Bard Bowman, leader of our investigators.”

 

The tall blonde reached out and Bard had to take his hand, hoped he didn’t look like a complete moron. “I am very pleased to meet you Mr Bowman.”

 

The voice was deep and soft and sent shivers down Bard’s spine, pleasant ones. He hadn’t reacted thus to another male for…for longer than he could remember. “Uh, pleased to meet you too, please, call me Bard”

 

The profiler smiled, the smile was the loveliest thing Bard had ever seen. “And I am Thran, actually it is Thranduil but that is a mouthful now isn’t it?”

 

Bard nodded, his mind was reeling, what to say? He felt like a schoolboy who has developed a sudden and lethal crush on the teacher. Thran did have a thick English accent but at the same time there was something else there too, something Bard couldn’t identify. “Ah, yes, please, find a chair, I will fill you in on the events.”

 

Thor returned to the office and Bard felt as if he had been abandoned somehow, how was he to handle this? He had sort of imagined the profiler to be some old guy with glasses and a smell of mothballs, not this drop dread gorgeous man who made even some of the straight guys in the room turn their heads. “So, I don’t know how much you have heard of this case? What have they told you?”

 

Thran shrugged, the dark jacket he wore fit perfectly and revealed that he had wide shoulders and long arms. And those hands. God! Those were hands a piano player would kill for, strong and elegant and Bard had to stare at some of the more grizzly images on his screen to keep his thoughts on the straight and narrow. “I have been told that this is a serial killer, that he has eleven murders behind him at least and that he probably has been at it for years”

 

Bard cringed. “Uh, fifteen that is confirmed at least. We suspect more”

 

The icy blue eyes revealed both shock and intrigue. “Really?”

 

Bard nodded, tried not to look at that angelic face. “Our computer expert got a mail just hours ago, confirming four new ones, or rather, four we didn’t know of until then”

 

Thran leaned back into the chair, crossed the long legs and Bard did notice that his shoes were very expensive. They were discreet just like the rest of the outfit but high quality and Bard realized that this was a person who knew quality but at the same time didn’t want to flaunt it. “That is interesting, this many murders and yet he has remained unknown until now! Usually a killer like this becomes famous rather fast!”

 

Bard nodded. “Yes, but he hasn’t stayed in one place, he obviously skips from one state to the other, never murders so many that the really serious alarms are set off. It is…creepy”

 

Thran appeared to be thinking hard. “You have been a police officer for how long?”

 

Bard swallowed. “Fifteen years, I was an ordinary patrol officer but I sort of climbed”

 

Thran just nodded. “You have experience then, and that is valuable. What does your instinct tell you about this one?”

 

Bard tried to stay calm. “He won’t quit, but he isn’t doing it for the ordinary reasons. He isn’t after fame, and he doesn’t leave any clues. The murders are more like executions of some sort, gruesome ones but still”

 

Thran nodded again, his eyes distant and Bard wondered how on earth a person with such blonde hair could have dark eyebrows? It looked strange, pretty yes but unnatural. “I think you all have come to the conclusion that the victims are being punished”

 

Bard made a grimace. “Yes, but for what? They have absolutely nothing in common, we have searched through their lives and practically torn them apart and we have found nothing! They were ordinary citizens, normal people”

 

Thran closed his eyes, seemed to be almost asleep for a few moments. “You have to look deeper, there has to be something there”

 

Bard nodded. “We found a memory stick in the office of the latest victim, Elisa is working on it but it has some hefty encryptions”

 

Thran tensed up and for a moment there was something in his eyes which reminded Bard of a wolf. “Good, there is the key to this, I am sure of it. A murderer like that never does it for pleasure or enjoyment. It doesn’t even have to be anything personal. But he is following a sort of calling, he is on a mission”

 

Bard sighed. “I have read about such people, they usually claim that God is giving them the orders to kill”

 

Thran smiled again. “Yes and what intrigues me with this one is that he hasn’t tried to justify his work, most do. They leave notes or bible verses and it is like they know it is wrong but they still cannot help it and often it is as if they want to be caught, to be punished. This one doesn’t. “

 

Bard looked down. “And that makes him so much more dangerous right?”

 

Thran nodded. “Yes, tell me more about the victims, take your time and use your own words”

 

Bard frowned but opened the files again, started telling the blond about each and every one of them. He knew them by now, as if they were old friends. Thran just sat there, listening. Bard didn’t doubt that this man was good at his job, he had the sort of personality and charisma that made people trust him and open up. Bard was about to start going through the four new ones when Fernando raced through the door, he looked shocked. “Everybody, Stella at dispatch just got a call from 911. A dead person has been found, we have another one”

 

Bard just stared and Elisa got up. “Are you bloody sure? It cannot be just some random death?”

 

Fernando shook his head, he had a peculiar expression upon his face. “Nope, same M.O. Guys, it is a priest!”

 

Bard swallowed hard and Elisa moaned. “Oh shit, now people are really gonna tilt, where and who?”

 

Fernando was still looking as if he was sucking on something incredibly sour. “The orphanage down by St Christopher’s cathedral, fader Seamus. It is a bloody mess down there so we’d better get going, before that awful woman catches a whiff of this”

 

Bard got up, feeling frantic, a priest, what was next? Thran got up too. “May I tag along? I may learn something important by watching his handy work”

 

Bard nodded. “Be my guest, but I do hope you haven’t eaten anything for a while, this one…is messy”

 

Thran just smiled, a sort of melancholic smile. “Don’t worry, I can handle it”

 

Bard grasped his badge and gun and rushed down the stairs, Thran was right behind him and Bard did see a very nice and rather classy Mercedes parked outside, it wasn’t hard to figure out who it belonged to. Bard took one look at the worn out cruiser he used and cringed, that car had seen its fair share of both belligerent criminals and puke. One dude had pissed all over the back seat, just in spite. He hesitated and Thran smiled. “I can drive, my car is fast”

 

Bard took a deep sigh of relief, the idea of that lovely clean suit in his dirty stained seats would have made just about any professional dry cleaner cross themselves and pass out. The car was luxurious but not overly so, yet Bard sensed that Thran could have afforded something much more spectacular. When they reached the street Bard did realize yet another fact about their guest, he did drive like someone trained for it, like a cop or a race driver. He was using the gears with expert precision and Bard was intrigued by that. Most who bought an expensive car didn’t want one with stick shift. Thran was almost dancing with the traffic, using the massive engine for all it was worth and Bard was shocked to see that the pretty blond was grinning the whole time. Thran turned his head for a short moment. “I don’t get to really drive that often, but now I have a police officer riding shotgun so I can really let her stretch her legs”

 

Bard frowned. “Her?”

 

Thran nodded. “Listen how the engine is purring? Of course this car is a she, just look at those lines”

 

Bard had to grin, but he wondered about the preferences of the other man. Thran was just…he was too bloody pretty to be straight, or was he? Bard hadn’t noticed a wedding ring and he suddenly felt terribly aware of the fact that he still wore his. He hadn’t removed it, it had felt…wrong to do it. Thran smiled even wider and passed some taxis. “My father owned a raceway, not a large one but I was allowed to go there and play. Sometimes that was the only real freedom I had”

 

Bard didn’t know whether or not it would be seen as being too bold but he gathered his courage. “Your father must have been loaded then?”

 

Thran nodded. “Oh yes, dad was English, most of the family was and he owned several factories and he had a knack for making money even when others lost everything. My mother was from Finland, that is where my accent comes from. She never stopped using her native tongue”

 

Bard had to blink. “Finland?”

 

Thran grinned widely. “Yes, land of a thousand lakes, actually there are more lakes than anybody is aware of. I have only been there a few times, lovely country”

 

Bard didn’t know what to say. “So, why are you here in the states?”

 

Thran sighed, changed lanes and slowed down for a red light. “I ran off, simple as that. I couldn’t stand being in the same country as the old fart and I wanted to create my own destiny, not be ordered around like some bloody puppet”

 

Bard cringed. “So you and your father doesn’t see eye to eye?”

 

Thran shrugged. “No, we didn’t. He passed away four years ago. I inherited the entire business and I sold it all, and got a good price too. So yes, I am loaded but I don’t take it for granted, I have seen what wealth can do to people”

 

Bard swallowed. “I understand. Are you all alone or do you have some family left?”

 

Thran turned onto a narrow street, he seemed to follow the GPS and Bard knew that this route in fact was a very fast one. “I have a son, Legolas, he is twelve and my only living family. Mom died ten years ago of cancer and dad didn’t have any siblings”

 

Bard frowned. “Uh, I am being impolite now but your son’s mother?”

 

Thran laughed. “Oh her, the moment I heard of dad’s death I went to the lawyers with the divorce papers. It was never a real marriage, just a façade. Dad didn’t …approve of my way of life”

 

Bard felt his mouth go dry, maybe…No, he couldn’t even think in that direction. He didn’t stand a chance now did he, this was a classy elegant and sophisticated person who probably could choose lovers the way others chose underwear. A worn out cop like himself would be a fool to even fantasize about such things. “Oh, I am sorry, ah…?”

 

Thran sighed and they saw the spires of the cathedral up ahead now. “My dad insisted upon me getting married and producing an heir, and so I did, even if I am gay. She knew and she signed a contract where everything was explained. I paid her well to pose as my wife and when we split apart she lost all rights to our son.”

 

Bard had to swallow. “Uh, that is a bit shocking to say the least”

 

Thran turned onto the parking lot in front of the orphanage, some squad cars where already there, plus two ambulances. “Yes, but she knew what she was heading into. She had many years of luxury and she went and got married again almost immediately, to someone she actually loved. Our relationship was a business, nothing more. Dad would never have allowed me to inherit his business if I had lived the way I wanted. But now I am free of him and I have never looked back”

 

Bard saw that some men wearing black stood outside of the main entrance, some kids were held back by some nuns and it was indeed a bloody mess. Bard heard screaming and he and Thran jumped out of the car, many stared at Thran with huge eyes, he didn’t exactly fit into the picture. Bard saw that Leonard was there, and next to him stood the FBI agent. He looked tense and Bard just hoped that the crime scene wasn’t contaminated in any way. He suspected that these people were able to do just about anything on the not to do list. Leonard saw them and waved his hand, some officers were trying to shoo the nuns and the kids away and Bard saw that Albert drove into the parking lot. He almost ran to them and Bard let out a sigh of relief. “Listen up, this is a crime scene. You are all to leave the perimeter until further notice”

 

Albert did have a voice like a foghorn and he did know how to use it, the crowd scattered and Albert turned to the priests, Bard saw that three of them wore the collar and two were probably just working there. He stared at the men. “One of you will have to show us the entire mess, the rest of you follow the nuns”

 

One of the men stepped forth, he did look slightly green but controlled and he tried to smile. “I am fader Connor, I can show you the way”

 

 

Bard saw that Leonard almost stepped in one place out of sheer zeal and he made a grimace, that man would never get further than his present position. He just aimed for a promotion instead of thinking of the cases he was working on. Faramir had been silent but he made a gesture towards Bard. “We haven’t met, Leonard has said so much about you”

 

Bard took his hand and shook it. “Not all terrible I hope”

 

Faramir shook his head “No, not at all. Quite a mess you are in here, I have never heard of anything like this”

 

Bard tried to smile. “Neither have we, believe me!”

 

Thran stepped forth and he too shook the agents hand, he seemed to know Faramir from before and Bard felt a surge of something which only could be described as light jealousy. He just blinked and tried to supress it. Fader Connor showed them the way into the orphanage, it was a huge building which had been erected somewhere in the late eighteen hundreds and it was both awe inspiring and a bit sinister at the same time. Bard had never liked that style of architecture, it did remind him of countless ghost stories his older sister had enjoyed sharing with him when he was a kid, scaring him shitless.

 

Fader Connor almost ran along the corridors. “We discovered it when we were gathering for the first prayer of the day, it is here, in the chapel”

 

Bard groaned inward, a chapel This killer didn’t care about the sanctity of such places, good to know. He probably lacked even an ounce of respect for religion. The chapel was not a large one, just two rows of chairs with an open space between them and an altar and above it the crucifix would have hung but now something else hung there. The huge cross with an exquisitely carved likeness of the saviour had been thrown to the ground and fader Seamus hung in its place. Arms out to the side, pinned to the wall with some pieces of metal Bard couldn’t immediately identify. The dead priest looked grotesque, a huge pool of blood had formed underneath the body and it was exactly the same thing as before with a few minor changes. Fader Seamus had gotten his eyes torn out, and someone had written a huge A on his forehead, with his own blood. The torso hung upon a thick iron spike which had held the cross before and Bard wondered yet again how it was possible? Fader Seamus feet hung more than fifteen feet above the ground.

 

Faramir looked at the body and he seemed to be completely calm, Leonard on the other hand had turned ashen grey and was heading for the exit. Bard had to snigger, Leonard really had a weak stomach. “The pieces of metal holding his hands, are those candle poles?”

 

Fader Connor nodded. “Yes, the chandeliers here are of the old type, we use real candles in them and those metal poles are used to light the candles and to extinguish them too.”

 

Bard saw that some of the technicians had arrived, he gave them their orders and soon the room was filled with activity. Photos were taken and measurements taken. Someone was dusting the crucifix for fingerprints. Bard saw that Thran was staring at the body with narrow eyes, he appeared to be thinking hard yet again. Fader Connor was shivering, and he appeared to be in a state of light shock. “Did you find the body?”

 

Fader Connor shook his head. “No, that was sister Margaret. She was going to the chapel a few minutes before the rest of us to turn up the heat. It is very cold here now and some of the kids are a bit fragile, we have had an epidemic of colds and we don’t like to take any chances. The poor thing is in shock, the paramedics are working on her as we speak.”

 

Bard tried to think. “The entrances, are they locked in any way? Do you have surveillance?”

 

Fader Connor looked a bit apologetic. “The doors are locked yes, they are closed between midnight and eight o clock. When it comes to surveillance, uh, I am sad to say that the camera’s you see doesn’t work, the parish doesn’t have much money and maintaining such a system is costly. We have prioritized the children, we never believed that…Oh who could possibly expect….”

 

Bard groaned to himself and Faramir shook his head. “No video’s then. When exactly was the body found?”

 

 

 

Fader Connor tried to smile. “Exactly ten minutes before ten, Sister Margaret is being taken to the hospital as we speak, she collapsed. This…this cannot be the work of a human being, this has to be….a demon of some sort”

 

Bard was almost going to agreed, how the heck did the killer hoist a man like Fader Seamus up like that? The fader hadn’t been small, he was what others may describe as “fluffy” and Bard felt a sudden surge of nausea. A priest, someone who had dedicated their lives to helping and serving others. This killer was indeed a most terrible person. Faramir cleared his throat. “I do see two things which causes me concern”

 

Bard frowned. “Oh, only two?!”

 

Thran nodded. “I see them too, I think we have to revisit some of our former assumptions”

 

Bard turned around, the technicians were trying to figure out a way to remove the body from the wall, without tearing it apart. He didn’t envy them. They would need a forklift, or a couple of tall ladders and good luck fitting something like that into this room, the doors were not that large at all. “Really?”

 

Thran pointed at the dead body. “He has been marked, this time the killer has in fact left a message, one very clear one. He does use references after all”

 

Bard did look like a living question mark and Faramir sighed, “The A on his forehead. In the old days, and among puritans in special, people accused of adultery were marked with a red A stitched onto their clothing. It was a mark of shame”

 

Thran continued. “And the eyes, I think it is in the bible somewhere, if your hand tempts you to do evil things cut it off and if your eyes tempts you tear them out or something like that, oh you catch my drift yes?”

 

Bard nodded, adultery? A priest? Well, nothing did really surprise him anymore. He saw that the technicians had found some collapse-able ladders and now they were trying to remove the dead man from the wall with respect. Bard wondered why, the fader couldn’t feel anything now and what mattered was to get the body to autopsy as fast as possible. He sighed and saw that Leonard returned to them, green and shaky. Had he been puking? Bard would laugh if he had. Thran smiled. “I once followed a few police officers during their work for a week, one of them told me the most peculiar thing”

 

Bard swallowed hard, the soft deep voice sort of pulled him back to reality, he could listen to Thran talking forever. “Really?”

 

Thran nodded. “Yes, one of them had been in the force for thirty years and he said that he never had seen a small woman or a small man pass out by the sight of blood. Large burly guys on the other hand? They fell like timber to a chainsaw, just boom and goodnight”

 

Bard had to grin, Thran had managed to lift his spirit again. Faramir was making notes. “The A and the eyes, we have to look into that, could it be that Fader Seamus has done something…uh…you know, wrong, in his past?”

 

Fader Connor did in fact cross himself. “Fader Seamus?!! Excuse me, but are you mad? He was….he was the most dedicated and gentle man on this earth. Yes, he did have his flaws as we mortal all do, but nothing of that kind?!”

 

Fader Connor did sound rather hysterical and Bard realized that the mere accusation was enough to make this man of the cloth almost explode. Bard had heard a lot about things going on behind closed doors within monasteries and churches and he no longer had his childhood faith. Too many scandals had been uncovered and he didn’t trust that these holy men and women were all innocent. He had to suspect everyone, it was his job. Thran smiled and the priest sort of relaxed again, that smile was almost hypnotic. “Fader,  what has happened to Fader Seamus is a terrible tragedy, but it will be even more tragic if the children are to suffer because of this. I trust that none of them have been inside of this room after…it happened?”

 

Fader Connor shook his head. “No, they were stopped in the hallway, none of them have seen…the body, but they know something is terribly wrong. They all adored Fader Seamus, he was so good with the kids. “

 

Thran kept smiling. “Then I will give you my advice as a psychiatrist, do not try to wave it off as if nothing is wrong. Tell them the truth, you can of course keep quiet about the most grizzly of the details but don’t try to hide the fact that someone has murdered Fader Seamus. If you try to cover this up they will make assumptions on their own and believe me, when children make assumptions a small feather will turn into a flock of hens really quick.”

 

Fader Connor swallowed visibly, his adam’s apple moved up and down. “Uh, of course.”

 

Bard frowned. “You have worked with children?”

 

Thran nodded and stared at the technicians who were placing the body on a stretcher, someone were taking photos of the pool of blood underneath the metal hook. “Yes, quite often. It is a part of the job and one I do enjoy”

 

Bard felt a glimpse of hope, Tilda had been seeing a therapist for the last year and yet she had these nightmares, perhaps…. “You are a professor in psychology? And anthropology?”

 

Thran smiled and nodded and moved out of the way so the body could be transported out of the room. Someone had thrown a body bag over it, but Bard could smell it, and he was bloody darn sure everybody else could too. Nobody who saw this could mistake it for anything else than a dead body. “Yes, the workings of the human mind has always fascinated me, even as a child. And the cultural circumstances do affect the way people think and react to certain things. A native from some isolated tribe would react completely differently to the loss of say a dear one than a person from our part of the world, shielded and spoiled as most are.”

 

Faramir grinned. “Oh I remember that case you helped us with, the guy with repressed memories. It was by God the most disturbing thing I have ever seen”

 

Thran shrugged. “Yes, that person was terribly disturbed on all levels. A good thing I managed to crack his shell”

 

Bard frowned and was about to ask if he could hear more about that later on when a horrible sound cut through the hallway and the entire building. It was a scream, a high pitched wail so sharp it cut their ears and Bard rushed into the hallway just in time to see a terrifying sight. The hallway ended in a rather steep flight of stairs, narrow and rather dark and down the stairs someone came running, a tiny figure clad in white who screamed again and again. Bard’s heart almost stopped, it was a child and Fader Connor let out a loud gasp. “Ludmilla?!”

 

The child was indeed a girl, sweet and very small with a doll like appearance and her eyes were wide open but what made Bard realize that something had happened was the fact that the child’s nightgown was covered with blood. Fresh blood, so fresh the cold air in the hallway made it steam. Thran swore and Faramir let out a groan, the kid was shivering all over and Fader Connor looked as if he was about to burst into tears. “She is autistic, cannot be left alone even for a moment. She sometimes runs away to hide in the attic, must have slipped by Sister Agnes during the breakfast. Oh sweet Jesus, what has happened to her?”

 

Bard felt a surge of energy, of sheer terror. He looked at Faramir. “Follow me, Leonard, Albert, take my six”

 

Thran followed too, Bard would have preferred if he hadn’t. Faramir had pulled his gun forth and Bard did the same, the staircase was covered with droplets of blood and the track was easy to follow. The staircase ended in a door which had to lead into an attic of some sort of Bard felt his heart thunder in his heart. He wasn’t wearing any sort of protection and they should have waited for the swat team but this was happening now! He heard the kid wailing still, awful ghastly noises and he did remember having heard sounds like those before… Dear lord how he remembered…

 

He kicked the door open and saw a huge open room, ran through the opening and stopped, felt something warm dripping onto his shoulders and looked up. He almost screamed but he didn’t. The wall over the door, it was rather large and tall and he had just run underneath the body of a nun. Bard swore, he felt as if his legs were about to give in, as if there wasn’t enough air to breathe. The body was still twitching, it looked grotesque and he just knew it. This nun had been killed while they were downstairs, investigating the murder of the priest.

 

He is here! The feeling was overwhelming, made him crouch down, hold the gun out while he panted. Faramir was breathing hard too, eyes wide open. Albert was whispering something and there wasn’t a sound coming from Thran. Bard turned around slowly, stared up at the body hanging on the wall. She was just impaled, not crucified. No torn out eyes but someone had written something on the wall underneath the shivering legs. She couldn’t have been dead for more than a minute and a half or even less. The girl had seen it happen, she had to have seen it happen, oh God poor kid!

 

His inner voice was hysterical, he forced himself to calm down, to think. The word was almost glowing as some faint light streamed down from a ceiling window. Peccatorum in perpetuum, what in hells name did that mean? Albert was screaming for reinforcements but the room was empty, there was nobody there and where had the culprit gone? There was no door except this one, no windows except from that tiny one in the ceiling and that was at least four meters up. Maybe this was a demon after all, Bard felt drained, without energy. A murder had happened with them all present, the audacity of this killer was unsurpassed. Faramir was reading the words, his lips moved and Thran looked like a thundercloud. “Sinners for eternity”

 

Bard swallowed, he had felt something when he entered the room, a presence. He was sure of it, someone had been staring at him. It sent cold shivers down his spine. But where had the culprit been staring from?  Albert was pale. “The son of a bitch murdered her while we were downstairs, in all my years I have never….”

 

Thran looked shocked, but he was in control of himself. “He is unafraid, cares naught about anything but his mission. This is a show of strength, a challenge.”

 

Bard felt himself shiver. “He was here, he was bloody HERE!”

 

Faramir was walking around the room, slowly. “He must have slipped out the door before we ran up the stairs, after the kid left!”

 

Leonard was staring at the corpse, he was even paler than before and Bard started to fear that he might pass out. “Len, get downstairs, show the technicians the way or something”

 

Leonard just gulped and ran out, careful to avoid the blood on the floor. Fader Connor came up the stairs, he was pale as a ghost. “Ludmilla has been taken care of by the paramedics, sweet mother of Christ, is…”

 

Bard nodded. “Yes, another victim, killed as we were downstairs. Can you identify her?”

 

Fader Connor entered the room, looked up and let out a shriek, he almost tumbled back, eyes wide and face contorted with shock and grief. “That is sister Agnes”

 

Bard frowned. “The one responsible for Ludmilla? She looks fairly young?”

 

Fader Connor nodded. “Yes, she is…she is only twenty nine, has been one of the sisters for two years. A sweet wonderful woman, oh God why?!”

 

Fader Connor burst into tears and they all stood there, not knowing what to do or say, how do you offer comfort to someone usually doing the comforting? Faramir stared at Bard. “There is no signs of any activity in the room, no tracks of any kind. Just an empty cardboard box in the corner, probably the kids hiding place. And then the text, something tells me that the killer knew something, either that or he just hates nuns and priests”

 

Bard mumbled. “Let’s hope it is the latter.”

 

The rest of the team entered, cameras started rolling, pictures were taken, measurements made. Bard felt shaken still and he felt his heart racing. Faramir shook his head. “Listen, we are useless here, we are only in the way. I say we go and get something to eat, I am starving and you Mr Bowman look as if you really need to sit down for a while”

 

Thran nodded, his brow furrowed. “Yes, Bard, when did you eat last?”

 

Bard tried to smile, his face felt stiff. It was too much, it was simply too much, the memories this awakened…. “Uh, I had some oatmeal this morning, was going to buy some food in the cantina but then all hell broke loose and …well”

 

Thran sighed. “You are gonna work yourself into an early grave man, come on, let your team do their work. I bet your coroner has to go over these bodies and then we can see if the paramedics have managed to get something out of the kid. “

 

Fader Connor sniffled. “Ludmilla is a mute, she has never spoken a word in her entire life”

 

Bard sighed. “She must have seen the killer, isn’t that just ironic? An eye witness, the first one ever and she cannot talk? Bloody fucking perfect!”

 

Fader Connor cringed and Bard made a sheepish grimace. “Pardon Fader, it… it just is…too much”

 

Fader Connor bowed his head. “Amen to that.”

 

Thran almost dragged him out of the door by his elbow and Faramir followed. Albert smiled and petted Bard on his shoulder. “Let these guys find some nice place to eat, you need it. If that brain of yours is gonna work it needs fuel”

 

Bard nodded like a dimwit, he felt as if in a trance, the blood, the smell of it, it had smelled just like Sophia’s, it was the same damn nightmare all over again, why couldn’t he bloody forget?!. “Sure, alright”

 

They made it down the stairs and by now the parking lot was overfilled with cars, Leonard was standing there gesticulating wildly, he did look like a freaking windmill. He was trying to explain the situation to the leader of the SWAT team someone had called and Bard saw that almost the entire police force had descended upon the site like a murder of crows. Fred was there, and Fernando too. They were sealing off the entire building and there were scores of photographers on the other side of the parking lot, the flashes from the countless cameras felt like a thunder storm. Bard sort of cringed, it felt as if he was being fired upon, his nerves were really on the outside of his skin now. Faramir suddenly walked in front of him, as a sort of human shield and Thran took his right flank. It felt better, much better. They made it across the parking lot and were aiming for Thran’s Mercedes when a shrill voice could be heard over the ruckus. Bard groaned, Lobelia Fucking Sackville, she was there!

 

“Mr Bowman, Mr Bowman, any comments on the latest murders? Is it true that also a nun has been killed, with the police in the building? Wouldn’t you say that this is a clear example of the incompetence of the city’s police force? How can you possibly protect the public when such things are allowed to happen?”

 

Bard felt a surge of panic, he wanted to get out of there, desperately. He wasn’t in the mood to talk to that goddamn leech right now, didn’t know what to say or do. Faramir sort of stayed in front of him. “The police are doing all that they can and you Ma’am are disturbing the investigation. This is of now an investigation supervised by the Federal bureau of investigation, if you have further questions then please go ahead and call our main office. I am sure they will be glad to be of service. Good day Ma’am”

 

Faramir had seemed like a very nice person, he had even seemed to be of the jolly type but now his voice was ice cold and his eyes hard as flint. The ranger was visible now, and Bard knew that Faramir probably had killed, possibly many times. That voice could have frozen the great lakes solid and it made Lobelia take a step backwards, she suddenly looked as if she wasn’t as self confident as before, she hesitated and Faramir almost shoved Bard into the backseat of the car before he shut the door right in front of the still gaping woman. Thran started the engine and as soon as Faramir had gotten in they took off. Bard took a deep breath, then another one. He still felt like he was trying to swim with huge weights attached to his feet. Thran didn’t turn his head, he was concentrating on the traffic. “How do you feel?”

 

Bard swallowed, he had thought that he could handle just about anything but that…the kid, screaming, running down the stairs…he saw it again, Tilda, sitting underneath the kitchen table, shivering, eyes wide open and yet unseeing, the strange mewling sounds she had made. It had brought it all back and he was trying to calm himself but he just couldn’t. “I…I will be fine, it….it brought back some old memories, unpleasant ones”

 

Faramir nodded. “No shit, I will call Thor and explain the situation, you need the rest of the day off, and you need a change of clothes before you go anywhere. What is your address?”

 

Bard told him and took a look at his jacket, it had blood drops all over it, the blood of sister Agnes. “Fuck, the car seat, there will be stains, I am so sorry, I wasn’t thinking”

 

Thran just made a vague gesture. “Don’t worry about it Bard, it is alright. The seats can be cleaned, it is no big deal.”

 

Bard had that empty feeling again, like his guts had disappeared, he just saw that kid, the bloody nightgown. She had seen it, she had seen it all. Had the killer known that there was a kid hiding there? If he had then he was truly a monster, a beast. Faramir did call Thor and Bard didn’t listen in on the conversation, he just concentrated upon breathing. Faramir hung up and turned around. “You are showing symptoms of post traumatic stress, I hope you are aware of that? I saw guys acting just like you after battle, some did fall apart completely. The adrenaline was all that had kept them going. “

 

Bard tried to sit up straight, to look calm. “I am alright, like I said I just need some food and some rest”

 

Thran pulled into the small parking lot in front of the apartment building where Bard lived. “Here we are, I will follow you up, I don’t think you ought to be alone. I know shock when I see it”

 

Bard wanted to say something rude, but he knew that the profiler was right. He could handle the murders, without problems. The kid on the other hand, no fucking way. It was as if he still heard Tilda screaming, heard Sigrid cry. His own therapist had been working with him for months but he hadn’t gotten anywhere at all. They walked up the stairs, the elevator was broken yet again and the building did tell everybody with eyes that the inhabitants weren’t wealthy. This was just a place to sleep and rest, not a place to really live. Bard stumbled out of the door and walked down the corridor, it was silent, most people were at work but he could hear the radio from the apartment next to his own. Mrs Jackoni always listened to the radio, at a volume usually reserved for rock concerts. She was almost deaf, ninety eight years of age and as tough as old boots. That woman refused to move to a retirement home, she was still fully capable of taking care of herself and Bard did admire her, even though the noise could get annoying at times. He stopped by his door and found the keys, was about to put it into the lock when he did notice something out of the ordinary. A small piece of paper had been placed in the door crack, just underneath the handle.

 

Bard frowned, it was the size of a business card and it looked like just ordinary stiff paper, the type everybody uses. Thran saw his expression and tensed up. “Bard?”

 

Bard wetted his lips, he didn’t know anyone who would leave a message for him like this, no-one. He reached out, almost hesitantly, it was just a piece of paper and yet he felt as if he was about to touch a snake or something else which potentially could harm him. The paper was naked on one side, just a shiny white surface. Then he flipped it around. He frowned. Written upon it was a row of numbers and it had to have been written using a computer for the font was very elegant and looked like handwriting but it wasn’t. Bard did read 1.2.3.5.8.13.21 and 34 before he did notice that signature under the long row of numbers, S it said with elegance and he felt a sudden surge of anger, and fear. He had to grasp onto the door. Thran grasped the note, stared at it. “It is the Fibonacci numbers, each one is the sum of the two previous ones, S? What does this mean?”

 

Bard tried to breathe, tried to remain in control of himself. He was panting. “They have called the killer the Shrike, he was here Thran. He left this for me. Oh God, he knows where I live!”

 

Thran did look shocked for a few seconds, then his expression changed to something akin to rock hard determination. “That does it Bard, you are not returning to this apartment until this is over, I have rented a hotel room, there is more than enough room for two. You are staying with me!”

 

For some reason Bard didn’t find that reassuring at all.

 

 

 

 

A drunk cop and a melancholic shrink by Nuredhel

 

 

Chapter three: A drunk cop and a melancholic shrink.

 

Bard entered the apartment with great care, his gun ready and his heart hammering within his chest. There was nothing there, the door was locked and the room was definitely as he left it earlier that morning. Thran looked at the rather empty rooms and frowned. “Damn, even a Spartan would call this a bit too….spartan.”

 

Bard felt frantic, he ran around gathering his clothes. “I don’t need much, just a place to sleep”

 

Thran nodded and Bard found a bag and started throwing clothing into it, he did it fast, he didn’t want this godlike man to see his worn out shorts or t shirts with holes in them. “I can see that yes, ah, I couldn’t help but notice your ring, divorced?”

 

Bard swallowed hard and tried to keep his voice steady. “Widower.”

 

Thran blinked, there was an odd expression on his face. “Oh God, I am so sorry, I shouldn’t have asked”

 

Bard just shrugged. “It is alright, how could you possibly know? It’s been two years actually”

 

He had to close his eyes. Two years since he felt the scent of her, heard her voice, felt her gentle hands touch his own. Two years of absolute emptiness.

Thran swallowed, helped him stuff some jeans into the bag. “I am still sorry, you are upset, I can see that very well!”

 

Bard sighed, tried to centre himself again. “Yes, the….the thing which happened today, it reminded me of…what happened to my wife.”

 

Thran looked shocked. “I…see, please, don’t feel obligated to tell, now isn’t the time for that”

 

Bard nodded and closed the bag. He found his toothbrush and his razor and other personal grooming equipment and stuffed that into a side pocket of the now bulging bag. He knew he couldn’t return to this apartment, it didn’t feel safe there now, not at all. Thran held the door open. “If you do need to talk then do, later when we are safe”

 

Bard just shrugged and they hurried down to the car, Faramir was waiting and he could see that something was off. Bard sat down in the car seat and tried to smile “The son of a bitch was here, left me a note. I am gonna stay with Thran until further notice”

 

Faramir nodded with almost exaggerated energy. “Lord! He was?! Then do stay with Thran, for heaven’s sake. And call Thor, he would want to know!”

 

Bard swallowed, he didn’t look forward to this conversation at all. “Yes, I will do it right away”

 

Thran smiled as he started the car. “The hotel I have booked into is one of the best in the city, their security is top notch. Nobody will manage to get in there with evil intent, be sure of that.”

 

Bard swallowed and felt like a barbarian yet again. He was still wearing worn out jeans and a rather anonymous grey sweater which had seen better days. He didn’t exactly fit in among the usual guests at such a place. Faramir smiled too. “I have a room at the hotel across the street from where Thran is staying, it isn’t as classy but it is good enough for me, and I can watch your backs”

 

Thran just made a vague gesture. “Perfect. There is a good restaurant there, I would be very honoured if the two of you would join me for an early dinner. We all need food.”

 

Bard sort of cringed, a dinner at such a high end place? Oh God, he would feel like an outcast. Thran didn’t even look at him. “Don’t worry Mr Bowman, I do have some extra clothes which would be considered very suitable and I do believe that they will fit you rather well”

 

Bard felt a bit overwhelmed. “Ah…thank you”

 

He didn’t know what else to say and he sort of fidgeted with his phone, just to hide his feeling of slight embarrassment. His pride was in the way, that was the problem. He shouldn’t accept this, he wasn’t some pauper, nor a beggar. But it was an act of kindness, one he couldn’t refuse without hurting this generous man he just had met and so he took a deep breath and dialled Thor’s number, preparing for a very difficult conversation.

Thor answered after a few seconds, his voice sounded grumpier than ever and Bard felt a bit like a disobedient kid, facing a scolding, even if he had done nothing wrong. “Bard, I have given you the evening off, from what I hear it was…quite a circus”

 

Bard knew Thor well enough to hear that the man actually felt concerned, he grimaced. This would probably raise that sense of worry with several notches. “It was, it was rather terrible, uh, I have some other news”

 

Thor fell silent, then Bard heard his voice. “Alright, go on”

 

Bard did take a huge breath of air, trying to keep calm. “The killer has been to my apartment, he left a note.”

 

Silence yet again, then he heard Thor’s voice and now it was extremely tense. “Are you fucking kidding me? Shit! What sort of note?”

 

Bard managed to keep cool, although it wasn’t easy” Just a list of numbers, Thran says it is the Fibonacci numbers. “

 

Thor sighed. “That is the first time that son of a bitch have tried to communicate, I heard that he did write something at the last scene? Is he changing his M.O?”

 

Thran answered that. “He is, and that makes him even more atypical than before, serial killers are routine animals, they don’t like changes. This one is beyond that, he is obviously on some sort of mission”

 

Bard broke into the conversation. “I won’t stay at home now, Thran has offered me to stay at his place until further notice”

 

Thor could be heard mumbling something. “Alright, that is good, do not go anywhere near your apartment, we have no idea of whether or not this one kills cops as well as ordinary citizens”

 

Bard felt a shiver go down his spine yet again and he swallowed. “Do call me if they find something? I will be back in tomorrow”

 

Thor’s voice was distant. “I will let you know the very second someone do discover anything, worry not. And Bard, I am very sorry, I know that this…,must have been very tough on you, the kid and everything”

 

Bard just mumbled and said a sort of thank you before he ended the conversation. By now they were getting nearer to the hotels and Thran stopped and surrendered the car to the valet. The young man looked very smug for being allowed to drive such a car, even just to park it, was probably what most car enthusiasts would dream of. The hotel wasn’t the largest in the city but it was the most posh one and the one across the street wasn’t cheap either but the feds probably paid their agents well, and paid their hotel bills as well, without blinking. Bard saw that Faramir left for his own room and he followed Thran into the foyer, rather reluctantly. Again he felt like some barbarian, barely able to hide his lack of sophistication. Thran just acted completely as if nothing was out of the ordinary, he smiled at the employees, entered the elevator with a polite nod to the people leaving it and Bard started to realize that this guy was used to handle all sorts of people.

Bard wasn’t surprised that they ended up on the top floor, where the suites were. The one Thran had rented wasn’t the largest one, nor the most luxurious but it was nice and very cosy. It was held in very soft warm colours and Bard didn’t want to know the cost of a night there. It would probably eat most of his pay check if he went to stay at this place, even for just one night. Thran left his jacket on a hanger and turned around, looked at Bard with narrow eyes. “You are almost as tall as I am, and you have the same body shape but damn it, do you even know what food is?”

 

Bard felt himself blush, intensely. “Uh, I do, but the job, and …it is complicated”

 

Thran sat down in a comfortable armchair by one of the tables and Bard found another one, he sat down too, afraid that he would stain the pristine fabric, was it real velvet?! Thran was staring still, there was compassion within his eyes but also a sort of curiosity. “You are a man who is pushing yourself way too hard, I would say that you are almost possessed. I am gonna be very blunt now, we are gonna work together for God alone knows how long so I need to know as much as possible about you if I am gonna avoid stepping into a sort of minefield. What happened?”

 

Bard swallowed hard, he didn’t know where to look, tried to think rationally. Of course Thran would be interested in knowing what had happened, he was a psychologist, to him Bard was probably a very interesting case. “You can trust me, do you need to know more? I am not gonna fall apart or something, or do something stupid or rash and endanger the investigation”

 

Bard didn’t want his voice to sound the way it did, as if he was accusing Thran of something, as if he was angry. God, he was a cop, knowing and trusting your partner can be what separated life and death in some situations and they were chasing something which by now seemed more and more like a nightmare. He did understand and yet…He would have wished for that interest to be of a slightly different type but who was he trying to fool? Thran would never see him as anything but a potential patient.

The tall blonde smiled, a very soft and comforting smile. “You have been through some rough shit, I don’t even need to be a shrink to see that. And Thor is very protective of you, even if he comes out as a rather rough and determined type. He cares about his people, but he doesn’t show it, except when it’s about you. I get that it must have been something nasty, and believe me, I have seen nasty you wouldn’t even imagine. Spill it, get it off your chest. We need to play with open cards if we are to cooperate.”

 

Bard swallowed again, his mouth dry. Thran saw it and got up, went to a sort of bar in one corner and Bard heard glass clinking. The blonde returned with a glass filled with a very generous amount of liquid, dark brown. “Here, this will help”

 

Bard sniffed, it was whisky and probably very expensive too. He took a careful sip and he almost had to cough for it was so strong he felt it burn. But it did leave a soothing warmth in his gut and he wondered if it was all that wise to have a drink now, before he even had had a chance to eat. He managed to take a few more sips and Thran leaned back, with the elegance of a huge cat. “So, what happened to you my friend? “

 

Bard looked down at the glass, tried to focus on that and that alone. “My wife…she committed suicide. It came completely out of the blue for she had suffered from some mild depression but nothing that indicated a possible suicide, nothing at all. I found her.., but our youngest daughter…”

 

Thran suddenly seemed to tense up, his expression didn’t change but it was a difference in his eyes, a sort of keen attention, mingled with deep compassion. “Go, on, how many kids do you have?”

 

Bard tried to smile. “Three, Bain is the oldest, he is fifteen now, and then there is Sigrid who is thirteen and Tilda who is seven, she was a surprise but a welcome one”

 

Thran frowned. “They don’t live with you?”

 

Bard shook his head. “No, the city is really not a suitable place for them and my former mother in law has a farm just outside of the suburbs, there is a good school there and they love the place. She is a tough woman, but she cares for them and loves them above all else and I visit whenever I can”

 

Thran looked sad. “And you miss them constantly”

 

Bard nodded. “Yes, but as a cop I work almost all the time, I wouldn’t be able to give them what they need emotionally at all, so Jean has become their mother more than their grandmother. I cannot praise that woman enough”

 

Thran smiled. “She seems like a wonderful person, but back to your wife…”

 

Bard felt trapped, he didn’t want to speak but he knew he had to. His hand was shivering and he hid it, by placing it on his thigh, with the glass in it. “She had shot herself in the head with one of my spare guns, it was…extremely messy. Tilda had been visiting one of the other kids in the neighbourhood, kindergarten was closed that day do to some virus outbreak and she had gotten sick so she was driven home and dropped off in our driveway. They didn’t follow her to the door, for who thought about anything being wrong? The neighbourhood was a good one, no violence, no problems at all.”

 

Thran had tensed up. “She saw it?”

 

Bard bit his lower lip, tears starting to burn his eyes. “She found Sophia, and I came home just about ten minutes later. By then she had hid in a closet, didn’t dare to come out, she was just screaming. She had gone into complete shock and it took us two months before the kid even spoke. She is still struggling, having nightmares, sudden bursts of rage, all sorts of behaviour problems. If I hadn’t stopped on the way to buy some fruit for Sophia…”

 

Thran looked intense. “The other kids?”

 

Bard sniffled. “Devastated, heart broken, confused. But they sort of dealt with it, they were old enough to understand. Tilda…wasn’t.”

 

Thran pushed his chair closer to Bard’s, took his hand very gently. “I would very much like to meet your daughter, I may be able to help. But you need help too, you did see a therapist?”

 

Bard looked down, the hand, it was warm and firm and rather rough, not what he would have expected. There was strength in that grip, and he knew that Thran probably kept himself very fit. “ I did, we all did, but…I had to focus on the kids right? I did take some sessions but I didn’t feel that it was getting me anywhere at all. “

 

Thran leaned back, his eyes narrow and he nodded slowly. “Some of the so called psychologists they provide in such cases are not worth the paper their so called diplomas are printed on. They are the bottom of the bucket, those who barely passed their final exams and thus rather cheap.”

 

Bard almost cringed, he was right. Mr Balin had been a very compassionate person, in fact too compassionate. Bard had often felt that he had to comfort the psychologist more than the psychologist comforted him. It is no good when you allow your feelings to run amok with you, in special if you are supposed to help others sort out their emotions. “I guess you are right”

 

Thran tilted his head. “Is your daughter receiving proper help? “

 

Bard nodded. “Yes, an expert on children who has been through trauma, but she isn’t really getting any better. Do you think you can help?”

 

The last words came with a mixture of hope and disbelief and Thran smiled. “I cannot make any promises but I can try. I do often choose a different approach than most others. But back to your wife, Sophia was it?”

 

Bard nodded. “Yes.”

 

Thran crossed his legs and his eyes got distant again. “You said she suffered from depressions, did she take any sort of medication?”

 

Bard shook his head. “No, she did see a doctor and he didn’t think she needed any, it was a very mild case, she just felt a bit blue at times”

 

Thran cocked his head again, looked intense. “And yet she did what she did?!”

 

Bard shrugged. “It was investigated of course, and the conclusion was that she had suffered an acute sort of crisis, become overcome by her problems and just…ended herself”

 

Thran did look even more intense now, but he smiled and leaned forth, pointed at the glass in Bards hand. “We’ll talk about that later, what was the name of her doctor? Do you recall?”

 

Bard managed to smile. “Uh, I think it was doctor Jack Jackson, a local”

 

Thran took a deep breath. “Right, now, drink up and take a shower, I will find some clothes for you. I think you have some issues that do need to be addressed but that can wait until later on. You have the evening off, enjoy it while it lasts!”

 

Bard made a grimace again, an evening off…He couldn’t remember when he last had enjoyed an evening off, usually he stayed at work even when he didn’t have to, he had to earn as much as he could for the sake of the kids and also, he didn’t want to return to the empty apartment. It was better to stay at the office, where there was action all the time. He managed to finish the drink,  felt light headed already and his body felt almost alien to him when he got up, darn, he shouldn’t have agreed to this, he would regret it, he was sure he would. There was a grand bathroom in the suite and Thran had put some clothes onto a sort of dresser, Bard let out a sigh of relief when he saw that most of it was rather dark and anonymous. He didn’t like bright flashy colours, no cop did. No reason to give the bad guys something easy to aim for. He stripped down and went into the shower, it was the modern type where you punch in the wanted temperature and he realized that he didn’t know what temperature he usually preferred, only that it was hot. He tried and the shower immediately responded by acting like a bout of torrential rain, way too cold. He let out a small shriek and adjusted the darn thing and now it was more to his liking.

 

There was both soap and shampoo and other stuff in there, he had no idea what half of it was and he didn’t want to take any chances. One guy he had known once had visited his girlfriend and wanted a shower, he had grasped for a bottle of shampoo and it didn’t foam so he kept pouring more into his hair and kept rubbing until he realized that his hair had started to fall out. It was Nair, used to remove hair. He went bald for a couple of weeks and was teased mercilessly by the others, his nickname from that day on was “The shampoo commercial”  Bard had to snicker when he thought of it for the guy had been very tanned and his scalp wasn’t so he did look a bit as if he was wearing some sort of tight white cap until his hair started growing back.

 

Bard felt that he was relaxing, the warmth was so blessedly good and he had truly needed this, he had been reeking of sweat and also adrenaline. He was careful to wash his hair and yet again he made the conclusion that he soon needed to see a hairdresser unless he would look like a complete savage. He even had some stubble but that could wait, it wasn’t too bad yet. His mind went back to the day’s events, the killer had shown a sort of determination and cunningness which was terrifying. Bard had the note in a small plastic bag but he already knew they would find no fingerprints there, and the paper was not traceable either. This one didn’t do any sort of mistakes but what had the note truly meant? Thran had said that each number was the sum of the previous two, it had to mean something but what?! It was driving him a bit nuts thinking about it, he was no mathematician for sure.

He was standing there thinking for so long Thran knocked on the bathroom door. “Is everything alright in there?”

 

There was true concern within the voice and Bard sighed and turned off the water, he felt like a new man. “Yes, just enjoying this, a bit too much”

 

He heard some distant laughter and dried off, the hotel towels were wonderful, fluffy and soft and he had to think of the ones he had at home, it felt like trying to dry yourself with burlap. He now understood those who stole hotel towels and smuggled them with them back home, these were just wonderful. He took a deep breath and started to get dressed, the clothes did fit rather well but they were a wee bit too large, not overly so though and it didn’t look odd once he got everything on and tightened the belt. He looked in the mirror, saw someone who definitely could have needed a long vacation. He did look like shite, Sophia would have been all over him if she had seen him like this, accusing him of not caring about his own well being at all. He guessed that she was right. He came out of the bathroom and Thran smiled, there was a hint of admiration in the gaze and Bard felt an odd surge of warmth rush through him, why he had no idea. He was a fool for even being attracted to this gorgeous person, he stood no chance. “Damn, there was in fact a very handsome person hidden behind all that sweat and grime”

 

Bard had to blush, Thran had to be teasing him. The blonde gesticulated eagerly. “I have taken the freedom to pre order a table while you were showering, we’d better be going before we arrive too late. Faramir is probably waiting already.”

 

Bard swallowed. “You know him from before?”

 

Thran got his jacket on, checked his imagine in the mirror just casually and then he smiled, why did those smiles give Bard butterflies in his stomach? It was on the edge of becoming annoying. Thran nodded and opened the door. “Yes, the feds hired me for an investigation almost two years ago, some scumbag who had embezzled enough money from the firm he was working in to run a third world country. It wouldn’t have been so bad if he hadn’t used some of those money to support some rather shady organizations.”

 

Bard looked confused and Thran sighed. “Right wing extremists, very nasty people. Would have made Hitler seem benign and friendly. The problem was that the best witness they had suffered from some sort of yet unnamed disorder and he had a head full of fake memories, and he didn’t even know it. He sort of lived within his own reality and couldn’t separate fantasy from reality. He was extremely messed up, but we did manage to get the culprit behind bars, for life”

 

Bard swallowed, this city had its fair share of racism, homophobia and general hatefulness but it wasn’t as bad as many other places. “It must have been challenging?”

 

Thran nodded. “Oh yes, but I love challenges, I learn something new every day”

 

They arrived at the restaurant now and Bard felt his stomach rumble, he was really hungry. Thran waited a little by the door, Faramir hadn’t arrived yet. “I worked very well with Faramir, he is a truly great guy and I even met his family. His wife is a very good photographer, a true artist.”

 

Bard suddenly felt oddly relieved, oh for craps sake, someone like Thran probably had someone in his life, for how the hell could someone that kind and generous not be taken already? He shouldn’t think about the profiler in such a manner at all, they were professionals damn it.

 

Faramir came jogging, he was grinning from one ear to the other. “Sorry I am late, I just had to help the valet outside”

 

Bard frowned. “What?”

 

Thran looked puzzled too. “The guy who parked my car seemed capable enough?”

 

Faramir was almost sniggering. “Yes, but this old couple just arrived, driving an old English car with the steering wheel on the left side and stick shift. The poor dude needed some instructions. The car was a veteran, probably expensive as hell although it looked as if it had been a part of the invasion of Normandy. More holes in it than in a kitchen sieve. “

 

Thran laughed and they entered the fancy restaurant, Bard didn’t feel so out of place now that he was wearing clothes which were clean and whole and the waiter showed them the way to a table at the corner of the room. Bard realized that it was because of Faramir, he did seat himself with his back against the wall, facing the entire room. A warriors instincts can never be fully removed and Bard did feel a sense of gratitude, Faramir was capable of protecting them both if something happened. The menu was in French of which Bard only understood a  few words, and that was the sort of words you never utter during a pleasant and polite conversation. Thran did translate and ordered some wine and acted as if this was just very ordinary and nothing to bother with at all. He probably ate at such expensive places every day. Bard did notice that even the table cloth probably cost as much as he would earn in a week. Bard had ordered steak with fried potatoes and vegetables and the food arrived rather fast. The smell alone made his mouth water and he saw that Faramir had ordered some sort of fish and Thran did get some sort of poultry. The wine was very good too, and Bard couldn’t remember the last time he had eaten this well, usually he called for some fast food or dropped by some corner restaurant where the food was cheap and maybe not what you would call quality sustenance. It was odd really that he was so skinny, but he was probably working it all off.

 

They ate in relative silence and Bard had to really think of his manners, he was so hungry he would have wolfed it all down if he had been alone. Then there was dessert, and it was ice cream and it was the best he had ever tasted. He wondered what the kids would have said if they had been given the opportunity to eat at such a nice place, they would have been beside themselves with awe, and the ice cream wouldn’t have survived for many seconds. Thran did pay and then they sort of walked over to an area with a huge fireplace and comfortable chairs and sofas, Thran sat down and Bard felt full and pleasantly buzzed. The wine had been strong and he knew he had a silly grin on his face, he felt good, for the first time in a very long time he felt…well.

 

A waiter came with a tray and placed it on the table and it contained three glasses of what could only be Brandy, oh to heck with it, why not? It was still early and he couldn’t remember the last time he had been drinking more than just one small shot. Beer was more his thing but he had hardly ever overindulged and he hadn’t been very fond of being drunk even when he was at college. This on the other hand was nothing at all like the cheap stuff he usually had, it was smooth and soft on the tongue and the aftertaste was just wonderful. Faramir leaned back into the seat and admired the colour of the liquor in his glass. “So, what do you think the note meant?”

 

He was addressing Thran so Bard just relaxed, he felt oddly tired but that could be due to the fact that he just had had a rather large meal, when he wasn’t used to it. He just sat there, feeling tipsy, happy and removed from reality somehow. Thran swirled his drink around, his face revealed that he was thinking hard. “He is definitely not choosing his victims randomly after all, we can all agree on that. There has to be something they all have in common”

 

Faramir turned to Bard. “Your computer expert is working on something right?”

 

Bard felt almost annoyed, now he had to think again. “Yes, a memory stick. It is encrypted”

 

Faramir looked rather intense. “I hope they do crack it then, or else I can call in some favours, we do have some fairly good experts at the bureau.”

 

Bard made a gesture. “She has this friend, a hacker. She says he can crack it, it will just take some time.”

 

Thran stared at the table. “Time is something the next victim doesn’t have, he has broken his routine guys, killed two in a little over an hour. He is speeding up”

 

Faramir nodded. “Yeah, or he just happened to have two “chosen ones” comfortably gathered in the same location, two flies in one strike”

 

Bard tried to think straight, darn that Brandy was good. “I agree, he is too…what shall I say, systematic”

 

Thran nodded slowly. “Yes, and he obviously stalks his victims, but how? And for how long? How the heck does he find them?”

 

Faramir shrugged. “Beats me”

 

Bard felt a bit dizzy and he put his glass down, it was empty, strange. “How the hell does he hoist them up, that is what really bugs me, I mean, the priest? He wasn’t a small guy, and he was hanging from a hook four meters up. It shouldn’t be possible.”

 

Faramir frowned, his eyes had a very serious expression and the face was closed off, expressionless. “You are right, it shouldn’t be possible at all”

 

------------------------------------------------------

 

Elisa was working like mad now, information kept pouring in from the detectives and the officers put on the case and she had to organize it all. She already knew that the Carpenters had a normal steady use of money and there were no irregularities of any kind. They paid their bills, saved enough money for a one week cheap cruise once a year and otherwise from that they were as regular as they come. Nothing fishy going on at all and she had to agree with what Bard had said, they were definitely the most boring people she had ever come across. By now more emails had ticked inn, and the shrike had killed ten more people that they now knew of. Elisa just knew it, this guy was all over the place, and he didn’t seem to take any breaks at all. Five had been found in Toronto six years ago and another five in some to her unknown town in Nebraska two years ago. The investigators had believed that it was some sort of cult killing off disobedient members and when the killings suddenly stopped they had left it with that, didn’t want to bother with it any further since the danger obviously was over. Elisa felt horrified.

 

Stella at dispatch was working extra shifts as usual and the poor woman was being flooded with phone calls from what seemed to be every bloody person in this city, some were sure that they had seen the killer, others wanted to know if they could be in danger, if their kids ought to go to school or not, if the killer could be satan himself. Elisa did not envy her at all, Thor had in fact ordered some patrol officers to phone duty, and they looked as if they’d rather pull out their own chest hair with a pair of blunt pliers. Elisa got her fair share too, email after email and she didn’t have to take more than one look at them to know that most were the exact same type as the phone calls. Some drunkard claiming to have seen the killer fly between the buildings, some hysterical housewife claiming that her husband had to be the shrike for he had been late from work the last weeks. (probably an affair) Elisa just deleted ten and ten at a time.

 

She hadn’t heard from her friend yet but she knew that he was working hard, Erestor was a genius when it came to computers and she had complete faith in him. The guy actually worked for a company delivering packages around the city and dedicated his spare time to his hobby, she was rather sure that he loathed his daytime job.

She was about to delete yet another bunch of emails when one caught her eye, the email was marked with a sort of logo she hadn’t seen before and it said “For the county police force, important information regarding the so called Shrike”

 

She was on a secure computer, if this was a virus or something it couldn’t spread and she opened the mail. It didn’t say anything, but there was a row of files attached and she saw that just one sentence had been written in the mail itself. “Watch this and email me back”

She opened the first file, it was a row of pictures, organized like a film and she gasped and had to look away, feeling slightly sick. Picture after picture, some clips of film from crime scenes, she got this horrible sinking feeling in her gut. The pictures and films got older and older, this wasn’t bloody possible? She opened the next file, it was a map of the world, rather large and small red dots were added in almost every country she could see. Beside the dots were numbers, probably the number of victims and the year and she swallowed and had to stare at the screen. This couldn’t be one killer, this had to be someone cooperating, an almost global network. What in hells name had they gotten themselves into? She stared at the email address, it was rather anonymous, a Hotmail address and it didn’t say anything about the person sending the email. Thebasement 77 at Hotmail it said and she took a deep breath and started typing.  If this was real it was….just too much.

 

She sent a reply and tried to remember how to breathe, the pictures…she hadn’t been to any of the murder scenes, she didn’t have the stomach for it, now she was very glad she was an office worker and not a patrol officer. She stared toward the office where Thor right now was trying to explain the case to the mayor, she could see that the chief was close to an explosion and she closed her eyes. He had to be told about this, she wanted to call Bard but knew that he had gotten the evening off, and she didn’t want to ruin that for him. The poor man was already working himself half to death and she liked Bard, she really did. She didn’t want to add further stones to his burden but knew she had to, eventually. Thor would have to decide what they were to do now, if this list was real then….No, she didn’t want to think about it, not at all. She leaned back into her chair and waited patiently for the Mayor to leave Thor’s office, there was a chance for a very imminent explosion and she was preparing herself.

-------------------------------------------

Bard was almost afloat when he felt his phone buzz, it was a text message and he sighed and opened it. It was from Judith, it was short but said it all. “Gas chromatograph results back, substance completely unknown. Sample sent for further study”

 

Bard  swallowed and Thran did notice his odd expression. “What?”

 

Bard took a deep breath. “The hair found on Mr Carpenter? It isn’t a hair, it is some unknown substance”

 

Faramir tilted his head   “That only means that they don’t have it in their reference data base, don’t get too excited guys.”

 

Bard smiled. “Of course”

 

He still felt disappointed, he really wanted to know what it had been, maybe it could have given them some clue about the killer’s identity. Faramir grinned widely, he was well into his second glass of Brandy and Bard realized that he wasn’t even tipsy, he had to be very well used to alcohol. “We once had a case where they found something nobody were able to identify, some sort of odd goo which had attached itself to the sole of a boot. The lab guys were scratching their heads like mad for they had never seen the likes of it and couldn’t really tell what it was. But one of the patrol officers saw it once and identified it right away, it was some sort of toy the kids were very fond off, slime I think they called it. Some kids had discovered that if you dropped the goo in a special type of detergent you got this ghastly fluorescent effect and that was what had confused the technicians”

 

Bard had to laugh, he remembered that craze too, Dain had bought two jars of the stuff and Jean had almost blown a fuse when he forgot some in a pocket and threw his jeans into the washing machine. Everything came out covered with thin slime and she had to wash all the clothes three times to get it all out. He wondered if his son had been thinking at all, probably not, kids don’t really think of the consequences at that age. Faramir got up. “I think I better get back to my room, I have a video appointment with the boss, need to fill him in on the resent events. Can’t say I am looking forwards to it at all”

 

Bard just waved a hand lazily and Thran frowned. “Bard? You are drunk, darn, you aren’t used to drinking now are you?”

 

He waved for a waiter. “Bring us some coffee, black! And strong”

 

The waiter took off and Thran looked worried. “I am so sorry, I assumed that you were used to alcohol”

 

Bard shook his head, he was grinning again, God he felt so silly. “No, I am not, he he he, I haven’t been really shitty drunk since…since I tried to …”

 

He had to giggle, things were terribly funny right now. “ Since I tried to go on a date with a crush I had back at high school”

 

Thran smiled. “I recon that didn’t go very well?”

 

Bard shook his head. “Nope, Kim didn’t like that I puked in the car”

 

Thran laughed. “No girl does, it sort of kills the mood now doesn’t it”

 

Bard corrected him. “Dude, Kim was a dude, ah, it was his car”

 

Thran looked a bit confused and Bard shrugged. “I am bi, so what?”

 

Thran frowned. “Really? Not that it is any business of mine but you and Sophia must have met when you were pretty young?”

 

Bard nodded. “Yes, at College, she was…she was everything I had ever wanted, my best friend, my other half.”

 

Thran emptied his own glass. “So I guess that you haven’t gotten over her yet, in any way?”

 

Bard had to close his eyes, it still felt as if there was a deep raw wound somewhere in his soul. “No, I haven’t. We…we got Bain when we had been together for just a year but we already knew that this was it, that we belonged together.”

 

Thran smiled, a sort of sad smile. “I am very sorry you lost her. But you were at college, what did you study?”

 

Bard felt silly. “Believe it or not, I was trying to study economy and history, it didn’t end well, I was too distracted and had to get a job and well, I ended up as a patrol officer and sort of climbed within the ranks after that. They do say I have a gift for investigating stuff, I see beyond the obvious.”

 

Thran nodded slowly. “I believe them, you are a sensitive person and you have a deep sense of duty too. Those are good traits to have”

 

Bard just stared down, he felt embarrassed, as he always did when someone praised him. Thran leaned back and the waiter came with the coffee, it was really black and strong but it was good, very good. He was thinking about the note yet again, could the content of that hidden memory stick perhaps shed some light upon this mystery? He shook his head, tried to think of anything else than the case, it was his evening off damn it. “So, how about you? Anyone special in your life?”

 

He didn’t believe it, he hadn’t really thought himself to be that bold but Thran didn’t seem to be offended, he just shrugged, looked a bit embarrassed though. “No, not at the moment. I was so sure that things would change when I divorced Eleanor but I still have a job and then there is Legolas and …I haven’t had any really serious relationships, for a very long time.”

 

Bard felt himself blush. “Really? I mean…someone like you…”

 

Thran sighed and pulled some of his long hair out of his face. “Ought to be sought after yes? Should be popular and get whoever I want? I thought so to, for a while”

 

Bard frowned. “What happened?”

 

Thran seemed to shrink a bit, he didn’t look at Bard at all. “Oh, I am sure you know that some people can see the errors of others perfectly well but not their own? Apparently I am one of those people. I am a psychologist and yet I have done blunders like some hormonal teenager”

 

Bard was still drunk, that had to be the reason why he was so bold, so straight forward. “Oh, I guess we all can make mistakes, you are not alone there”

 

Thran sighed and then he shrugged. “Yes, but I was too naïve, didn’t think at all. The reason why I ought to be what you refer to as “popular” is also the reason why I have to be extremely careful. To someone who has been born and raised in wealth, well, it is hard to imagine that someone would…Oh I am rambling, you did lose your wife and I…I have not lost anything, except perhaps from some pride”

 

Bard felt intrigued, Thran did to him seem like a perfect person, like someone without flaws, someone confident and in mastery of himself and the world around him. “So, what happened? Do tell, you have made me curious. What sort of relationship blunders can a shrink really do?”

 

Thran grinned and there was both sadness and mirth within his gaze. “Oh, the very worst ones.”

 

He reached into his pocket and retrieved his wallet, opened it and pulled out a photo, it was folded and Bard saw that it was almost worn through. Thran opened it and handed it over, Bard took it carefully and it showed Thran in just a pair of bathing shorts. He was tanned and wet and held a surfboard in one arm and the other one was wrapped around a very pretty guy with long dark hair and very light skin. Both were grinning widely and Bard felt a sting within his chest. If that was what Thran was looking for in a partner then he truly didn’t stand a fucking chance, he had naught in common with that overly pretty young thing. “Uh, you do look happy enough?”

 

Thran took the photo and made a grimace. “Yes, yes we were, or rather, one of us was. I was blinder than a goddamn bat back then.”

 

Bard had to snicker. “That sounds bad”

 

Thran stared at the photo, there was something akin to sheer resentment in his eyes. “Yes, it was so bad I have kept the photo, just to remind me of the damage done. I should have burned it but who knows, I may learn something from it, at the end”

 

Bard heard the sorrow in the deep soft voice and he felt how a surge of compassion rose within him. “So, what went wrong? He does look…fabulous?”

 

Thran nodded, hid the photo. “Oh he was, Lindir was everything I thought I wanted back then, he was gorgeous, outgoing, talented, a true spark of joy. I failed to see how flawed he really was, that he was hiding his true self the entire time. “

 

Bard sort of realized that Thran was telling him something which probably was very private, something he rarely mentioned. That made him feel rather humble. “He wasn’t who he pretended to be?”

 

Thran stared at his empty glass with a sort of snort. “Damn right he wasn’t, I thought he loved me, that I finally had found someone I could truly trust, someone to share my life with, to grow old with. If there ever have been a greater idiot alive then do tell me please, I haven’t been able to find any”

 

Bard blinked. “That bad?!”

 

Thran nodded slowly. “That bad, and worse. It wasn’t me he loved you see, it was my goddamn bank account. I didn’t realize what he was doing until my accountant told me that he had forged my signature several times and made huge withdrawals from several accounts. And yet he had the nerve to claim that it shouldn’t matter, that if I really did love him I would accept that he had needs”

 

Bard tensed up. “What sort of needs?”

 

Thran sighed deeply, his eyes dark. “Gambling, drugs, even whores. I had fallen into a honey trap and God help me, I had to struggle for months to get rid of him. He kept trying to flatter his way back into my life and my bed and I had to act as a complete asshole. He is still trying, even if he has gotten a restraining order”

 

Bard just stared, in disbelief. “Shit, was he violent?”

 

Thran shook his head. “No, just extremely clingy, he did make threats though, nasty ones too. I was with him for a year, it took me more than two years before I had everything under control again, had to change passwords, bank accounts, everything. He knew way too much about me”

 

Bard felt stunned. “Damn, so he was really only after your money the whole time?”

 

Thran nodded. “Yep, I was his sugar daddy if you catch my drift, oh there wasn’t any limits to how much he loved me and I believed him, I truly did. I was actually truly at peace and happy, I should have listened to my son”

 

Bard frowned. “He saw through the disguise?”

 

Thran nodded, eyes cast down. “He is a smart kid, way smarter than me. He knew something was off right away, he never liked Lindir and Lindir ignored him most of the time. I have a sneaking suspicion that he would have tried to harm the relationship between me and my son, to become my heir. I loathe the idea but it is possible.”

 

Bard blinked again. “You know, that isn’t impossible. I have heard of such people, more than once. You said he was talented? How so?”

 

Thran emptied his coffee, put the cup down and a waiter was there immediately and replaced it with a full one. “He was actually incredibly talented, had a voice like an angel. But he hadn’t realized that the best way to achieve something is to work for it, he expected everything to be handed to him right away on a silver platter, as if it was a right of his since he was so beautiful. He was spoiled and lazy, and that is a nasty combo”

 

Bard remembered how he and Sophia had worked to overcome their differences, they had both helped each other pull the load and they had never had much but they had been happy. “You know what, I do not envy you at all. Being wealthy like that has to be a curse”

 

Thran lifted his cup again, there was a small spark within his gaze. “Amen to that my friend”

 

Bard frowned. “Your son, he is at school?”

 

Thran nodded. “Yes, a private one, I can afford it and I don’t like the ordinary schools. He is a sensitive kid, very smart and very unique. They allow the students to sort of make their own curriculum, chose subjects and so on. It is great”

 

Bard sighed. “Sounds amazing, well, the school my kids go to is rather nice, not much bullying, good teachers and not too much pressure neither. They like it a lot”

 

Thran smiled, a somewhat melancholic smile. “Good, that means a lot. If the kids doesn’t have a good childhood to look back upon it is like trying to build a house on clay. It may stand there for a while but as soon as it starts to rain, bye bye”

 

Bard nodded. “Yeah, I see what you mean”

 

Thran crossed his legs. “I was sent to a very expensive private school, had to learn exactly what my father wanted me to learn, wasn’t given any choice. I bet I was quite the hellion at times, I rebelled in every possible manner I could come up with”

 

He touched his long silky locks with a grin and Bard felt an intense urge to reach out and run his fingers through that amazing mane. “They tried to force me into cutting my hair but I refused. Since dad died I have followed my own path, at least that is one thing I am proud of”

 

Bard nodded and remembered his own childhood, it had been rather idyllic until he reached his teens and started to realize that something was slightly off. He knew that he was supposed to like girls but he did like boys too and sometimes he had felt like a goddamn fox with a pack of hounds at its heels. Some kids seems to have a sixth sense when it comes to sniffing out those who are different. That was when he discovered that he did have a talent for fighting, and that he was able to ignore pain in a way few others could. If you could fight back fewer were likely to pick on you and he knew that he had gotten a very bad reputation back then. He still remembered the bully he had sent to hospital, the sound of his collar bone breaking was still something Bard remembered.

Thran cocked his head. “You are far away, memories?”

 

Bard tried to smile. If it hadn’t been for Sophia…He could so very easily have ended up on the wrong side of the law back then. “Yes, would you believe me if I told you I was rather infamous for beating people up if they dared to mock me?”

 

Thran looked a bit shocked but then he laughed. “Oh I believe you, you are not the kind of person who allows injustice to continue now do you? You are a fighter”

 

Bard winced and he couldn’t help but notice the warmth in the voice, the softness. “Uhm, I guess so, that is why I became a cop, to make a difference.”

 

Thran nodded. “You have found your true calling, but you are allowing it to rule you, to control you. That has to stop or else you will burn yourself out and become one of those old disillusioned and bitter cops who just sees wickedness and evil and allows it to eat their souls away. I have seen that Bard, and it is not pretty”

 

Bard nodded. “Me too, those who lose hope are the ones to go first I guess. I have the kids, that gives me something to keep going for”

 

Thran smiled. “Having kids does change you, I was way more immature before Legolas was born, it makes a man much more humble, more aware of how small we are”

 

Bard had to smile. “Yes, and more vulnerable too, in so many ways”

 

Thran sighed. “Definitely, but I wouldn’t change it for the world”

 

Bard remembered how he felt when he held Bain in his hands for the first time, he had wept like a fire hydrant or so it seemed and Sophia had been laughing really hard, claiming that her son would be a true heartbreaker one day when he managed to make his own dad cry his eyes out on his very first day in this world.

Thran sighed and his gaze was distant. “I rarely have time for Legolas, too much work. I love my job but it comes with a price”

 

Bard couldn’t do anything except to agree, fully! “Yeah, it is sad isn’t it?”

 

Thran stared into his coffee cup. “Indeed it is!”

 

----------------------------------------------

Elisa had waited patiently for almost twenty minutes before the Mayor finally left Thor’s office, Alfrid of course tried to suck up to him and she saw that the man just ignored the tiny weasel of a man. He was probably very familiar with that type of person. Thor sat behind his desk when she entered, he did look very tired and there were deep shadows within his gaze. He didn’t even look up. “The world is coming to an end, heed my words! Madness is unleashed”

 

Elisa frowned and bit her lower lip. “Pardon?”

 

Thor ran his fingers through the thick dark hair and made a sort of grimace, as if in pain. “The Mayor is the biggest airhead you can imagine, if you cracked his skull things would be sucked into it for there is a vacuum in there. Nothing else can fully explain his lack of intelligence”

 

Elisa blinked, what was she to say? Thor could be sarcastic but rarely to such an extent. “Uh, what?”

 

He rolled his eyes. “He was concerned about the safety of our citizens, concerned about commerce, concerned concerned blah blah blah! I wanted to gag the moron, but it boils down to this, he wants us to place more police on the streets”

 

Elisa sighed. “We are already short on staff, is he nuts? Where are we to take those officers from?”

 

 

Thor looked straight at her. “Everywhere apparently, he wants us to pull people out of our sleeves like a magician pulls rabbits out of hats. Goddamn it, I cannot remove people from the investigation, that would be counterproductive as fuck!”

 

Elisa nodded and Thor stared at her, eyes narrow. “So, how can I help you, I can see you have something you want to discuss?”

 

She took a deep breath, held out a folder with some of the images she had received and the map, she had printed it all out. Thor stared at the photo’s and then he went slightly pale. “Are you shitting me? Is this for real?”

 

She nodded. “Apparently yes, the sources are listed at the bottom, seems legit.”

 

He sat up, back straight as if someone had glued a board to it. “Elisa, don’t mention this to anyone! And if you go to meet this person be careful.”

 

She nodded. “I have answered the mail, I guess I will know more soon”

 

Thor took a deep breath. “Someone able to gather this much information is either a lunatic or someone with very odd interests, I don’t know what frightens me the most”

 

Elisa shrugged. “Don’t worry about me, I do know how to take care of myself”

 

Thor didn’t look as if he was completely convinced. “I know, but I would like to assign one of the officers to you if you are to leave this station, just in case”

 

She shook her head. “Nope, you need everybody to work on the murders, don’t even think about it. “

 

She returned to her desk to find that she had received an email. It was from the same address and it war short as the last one. “The diner at the corner of Ashstreet and Harleystreet, two hours”

 

 

She knew that diner, it was a cosy place with good food, usually frequented by families with kids and it had huge windows. You could watch without being seen, excellent. She would need half an hour to prepare, then she was off. Traffic was a nightmare these days and it was at the other end of the city. She would need an hour to get there, at least. This ought to be interesting.

 

She did make it in time, oddly enough. She did find a taxi driver who probably believed that he was an extra in some car chase movie, the speed he had used did tempt her. She could have pulled out her police badge and given him a hefty fine but she needed to get there fast.

She entered the diner, it was half full, some kids were playing in the ball pen and a couple of nervous parents stood by in case something happened. Parents these days were treating their kids as if they were made from china, she remembered climbing trees, handling knives and roaming the neighbourhood the whole day long without any sort of supervision. And she had survived it, without becoming harmed in any way.

 

 She immediately saw the person she was there to meet, he sat in a corner with a laptop on the table in front of him and she had to stare twice to believe what she saw. The person was a young man, perhaps in his early twenties and he didn’t look like anyone she had ever met before. First of all he had a hairdo which went out of fashion somewhere in the thirteenth century, it looked as if someone had taken a bowl and put it over his head, cutting along the edges of it. He had a very thin and not at all impressive beard or rather an attempt at a beard, small beady dark eyes and a nose which would have made a cosmetic surgeon rub his hands in anticipation. It was way too large for the face. And the clothing? Who the heck wears knitted sweaters these days? And fingerless gloves? And sued pants?

 

Elisa got it, this was a nerd, not just your average “I like this a bit more than most others”

kind of nerd but one who had taken it to the final level. If this dude didn’t live in his mam’s basement you could call her a cockroach, he even smelled of lavender soap. He got up when he saw her, smiled and revealed that he was a wee bit cross eyed on top of it all. Dear lord, the guy was like a parody. “Ms Snowshoe? I am Ori Decker, I sent you the mails, about the Shrike”

 

Elisa just knew that this guy probably released flies from spider’s webs, he was as harmless as they come. “Yes, pleased to meet you”

 

The guy actually blushed and made room for her. She saw that the laptop showed the map, stared at him with narrow eyes. “First of all, how have you come across all this information? And why?”

 

Ori sent her an apologetic grin. “Uh, I find unsolved crimes fascinating, I gather cases from all sorts of sources and I guess we are a small number of people out there with the same passion, who share material. It didn’t occur to me that it could ever become useful until I saw the newspapers, then I knew that I had info on this killer. Even if it seems impossible.”

 

Elisa sat down, she had hid a small recorder in her purse and it was recording, just in case. “Do explain please?”

 

He nodded eagerly and opened a new tab on the laptop. “I first believed that this was mere coincidences you know? Several killers using the same method, just because it is rather gruesome and spectacular. Then I started getting files from my friends and I started to realized that this is one killer, and that he has been at it for decades”

 

Elisa frowned again. “You know that it is quite impossible yes? It has to be like a cult or something, several people involved?”

 

He nodded and typed, with the tip of his tongue visible. Darn , the guy was cute, the way a puppy is cute. “I thought so too, I have some friends who are into conspiracy theories and they were all over it, believing that the victims were sacrificed and that it was the illuminati or something like that which was responsible but darn, that is rather mad too”

 

He turned the laptop towards her. “See? I have made a detailed statistic, and it is rather…terrifying”

 

She stared at the graphs and diagrams and gaped. The guy was good, and thorough. She realized what she was staring at and felt cold through and through.  “Good God”

 

 

 

Ori nodded “Or something like that yes. Three cases a year, never more than eight victims and all within two to three months, all within different countries. They are spread out all over the place. “

 

He pointed at the lists. “The first victim I am sure was killed of “our” killer died in august 1924, in Cairo Egypt. I haven’t been able to trace anything before that date, they used different methods back then, weren’t that good at reporting stuff.”

 

He pulled out a photo, it was black and white and faded but the dead body hanging from a brick wall could easily have been Mr Carpenter. She swallowed hard. “God, that truly is fucking impossible?! Almost a hundred years?! Could it be a sort of family business? Several generations?”

 

Ori shrugged. “That is the only rational explanation”

 

Elisa got a mental image of a body wrapped in linen bandages, staggering about, killing people. She shouldn’t have watched all those mummy movies, now this would haunt her forever. “Egypt, I guess I ought to put out a wanted alarm to everyone, the suspect is at least six foot tall, kinda dry looking and wearing bandages”

 

Ori giggled like a girl. “Oh, I don’t believe in curses, and zombies and such is just bullshit. No, this has to be some sort of inherited mission.”

 

Elisa tensed up. “We have tried to find something which explains why these people are killed, but we haven’t managed to find anything they have in common. Have you any idea? It would be most welcome”

 

He opened another list. “Here, a list of their jobs, all his victims.”

 

She stared at the elaborate list, names and the year and the country was elegantly placed next to their jobs in alphabetic order. She blinked, here you had everything, from the beggars on the street to a noble man. Every layer of society was represented, and every race too. Even religion was listed and the killer apparently killed regardless of faith. “He is all over the world, bouncing back and forth with no pattern at all. How many dead in all?”

 

Ori pointed at the screen. “93 years of killings, about eighteen dead each year, you do the math. Some years there have been more and some less though. “

 

Elisa had to calculate in her head, Jesus, she had never heard of any serial killer this efficient. Ori opened his bag, it appeared to have been crocheted and she wouldn’t be surprised if he had done it himself. “I have connections, and there has been things found at some of the murder sites. A handful of dollars and some sweet words can be very efficient, in special in some countries”

 

He pulled out a plastic lunch box, the kind every kid carries their lunch in, he unwrapped the elastics wrapped around it and opened it. The first thing he lifted out of the box was a thing Elisa at first believed to be a piece of wood, dark and torn. Ori grinned and held it up. “This was removed from the sternum of Mr Hakeem Mahadaas, the first victim I found, the one in Egypt.”

 

She stared at it, it had a familiar shape somehow but appeared to be split in half….It dawned upon her and she gasped. Ori nodded, a dark glimpse appeared within his eyes, “Oh yes, it is a claw, it is still razor sharp. I don’t have the equipment needed to test it, but I bet you do?”

 

Elisa felt her mouth go dry, she stared at the dark object in its plastic wrapping, felt her heart speed up. “We do Mr Decker, indeed we do!”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Its all in the evidence by Nuredhel

 

 

Chapter 4: It is all in the evidence…

 

Elisa stared at the claw yet again, Ori was pulling something else too out of the box. It was another object wrapped in plastic and it appeared to be a sort of tiny figurine, a piece of rawhide string was attached to it and it looked very old. He sent her a tiny grin. “I have managed to get stuff from many of the previous murder investigations, when a case goes cold evidence is thrown out and like I said, some places money can buy almost anything”

She had to wonder where he got the money from, but chose not to ask. “Are you aware of the fact that things have changed this time? He left written text and as far as we know he haven’t done that before.”

 

Ori’s eyes got wide, he looked absolutely corny like that. “Really? That is exciting, I have looked at every one of the murders and he haven’t done that in any of them. What sort of text?”

 

Elisa sighed, “I am not really supposed to tell you but it was written in latin, sinners for eternity.”

 

Ori stared at the laptop, she could almost see the activity within his brain. “Alright, it was written in the orphanage right? It had to do with the murdered priest and nun?”

 

Elisa nodded. “The priest had a red A written on his forehead”

 

Ori seemed to tremble with excitement. “Oh, the sign of shame, I bet those two must have been chosen for a very specific reason, and the killer wanted to make sure that everybody knows about it. He isn’t some random killer, that is for sure”

 

Elisa cocked her head. “We too have come to that conclusion, but the artefacts you have found, I can bring them to a lab for testing?”

 

He nodded and removed a third and last item from the lunchbox. “Yes, of course. I will be more than willing to be of assistance, it is truly a great opportunity for me.”

 

Elisa stared at the thing he held. It was a piece of cloth, very smooth and it held a deep amethyst colour which was just gorgeous. Something appeared to have been written on it but the piece was too small to see what it really was. Ori smiled, he looked very proud. “This was found in the hand of a victim, a guy murdered in Hungary in 1953. It is some sort of extremely tightly woven fabric but none of the experts I have been in contact with have been able to identify it. It is just too nice, nobody is able to weave cloth of such a quality anymore”

 

She had to admit that the tiny piece of fabric was extremely soft and it was shiny too. Some sort of silk? She would have loved to have a gown made from something like this, it would have caressed every curve like a lovers touch. “Are you willing to cooperate with the police from now on? Share your information and your contacts?”

 

He nodded. “Well, some of my contact may prefer to remain anonymous but I can communicate with them yes, if this killer can be caught I would love to be a part of it, even if it is only a tiny one. I want to know how he does what he does, I mean, hanging people from all sorts of structures like that, it takes strength”

 

Elisa didn’t want to think about it, it made her cringe. “Good, here is my number and you already know my email. Please do contact me the moment you find something new”

 

Ori grinned from one ear to the other, he seemed to practically beam with pride and Elisa couldn’t help it. “You live with your mom now don’t you?”

 

Ori frowned, “Yes, why? How do you know?”

 

Elisa had to make a vague explanation. “Uh, just intuition I guess, a cops sixth sense, call it whatever you like”

 

Ori smiled. “I live with my mother, and her sisters, I always have.”

 

Elisa managed to keep the smile, poor guy, he probably lived in a household completely overruled by femininity. She got up and took the lunchbox. “I will notify you the moment we know something.”

 

He grinned even wider, eyes shining with thrill. “Great, I am looking forward to it, a lot!”

 

She didn’t doubt that, and as she left the table she realized that she in fact did like this guy, not in a romantic way but the way you like someone who possibly can become a friend. She just hoped that this wouldn’t cause him any sort of problems. She found a taxi and returned to the headquarters, feeling both excited and confused. It was no doubt about it, all these murders were connected but it wasn’t possible, no person could go on for that long! It had to be like a master teaching an apprentice who then takes over and trains yet another one, but why? Why these victims? She just wished that she knew. She told Thor of everything and sent the things she had gotten to Judith, she would transfer it all to a good lab for testing. Maybe they would get lucky this time.

--------------------------------------------------------------

Bard had finished two cups of coffee, but he had also gotten a new glass of brandy and he stayed relaxed and slightly tipsy. The world seemed to be a nice place there and then and he listened to Thran telling of some of the more odd cases he had encountered. The feds had used him as a profiler in many cases and Bard was astonished by the fact that he had reached this far career wise at such a young age. Thran was speaking of the job as a professor, it was apparently very interesting but also challenging for he got all sorts of students and some were not what you would describe as cut for the job.

 

Faramir returned after a while, he had sent a report to his boss and had to go back to the station but promised to give them a heads up warning if something happened. Bard just nodded and Thran sighed and stared at Faramir’s back as he exited the lounge. “I think we ought to make the most of the day right? I haven’t been to this city before, is there anything I ought to see?”

 

Bard shrugged. “Oh. Plenty, but it depends on what you do find interesting.”

 

Thran tilted his head and smiled again, a very sweet smile which sent a shiver down Bard’s back. “Surprise me, there has to be some place you see as special?”

 

Bard nodded and got to his feet. “There is, do follow me”

 

He waited for Thran to retrieve his jacket, then they left the hotel and Bard stopped a taxi. He wasn’t so sure about this, but he hadn’t been there for many years now and everything could have changed for all he knew. The taxi stopped after a while and Bard paid the driver. They were outside of a park, it was rather small and not very well maintained. The trees hadn’t been taken care of for years and the fence was rusty and old but it had a sort of charm and Bard was glad to see that nothing had been changed. Thran stared at the huge old elms and oaks and the paths which were covered with a thick layer of dead leaves. “You used to go here with Sophia?”

 

His voice was soft and Bard felt a knot form in his throat. “Yes, she lived not far from here when we started to date, this was where we…”

 

He had to swallow again. “This was where I proposed, where she told me she was pregnant, where we discovered what we were feeling for each other. “

 

Thran was smiling and there was a gentleness in his eyes, “Thank you for sharing this with me.”

 

Bard took a deep breath. “If there is any place in this city which holds magic, which holds some sort of hope it is this park. It is like a bridge to the path, to happier days”

 

Thran nodded. “I used to have a place like this too.”

 

Bard turned around, puzzled. “Really?”

 

The tall blond looked down. “A sanctuary, a hiding place where I was myself, not just my father’s tool. It was an island, in the middle of a river. It wasn’t large but it was like a world of its own, at least to me. Nobody knew I was there, and I loved that place so much.”

 

Bard found that fascinating. “You have chosen to study the human mind but I feel that you probably have an even deeper connection to nature? Am I right?”

 

Thran nodded. “Yes, I prefer the woods to the city streets but alas, I don’t have time for hiking that often. My dad was furious with me, I refused to go hunting with him, I cannot stand the thought of some innocent creature being slaughtered just for pleasure”

 

Bard had to send the blond a wry grin. “You accuse me of being sensitive? You are just as much of a softie”

 

Thran laughed. “Yes, guilty as charged, I have never liked hurting others, not in any way. I am too afraid of confrontations, perhaps I was trying to figure myself out when I started studying psychology.”

 

Bard grinned. “Yes, I guess we all are trying to find out who we truly are”

 

Thran touched one of the trees with reverence, there was something distant within his eyes. “These trees were probably saplings when the city was founded, and they have survived until now, in spite of everything.”

 

Bard frowned. “Yes, you are right”

 

Thran smiled slowly. “Tells me that as long as you dig your roots in deep enough nothing will be able to rip you up”

 

Bard had to laugh. “Hail to the steadfast?”

 

The blond laughed too. “Exactly”

-----------

Bard took aim at a part of the city where many artists lived and performed and they walked instead of driving. He hadn’t really felt the pulse of the city for a while and it was yet early so there wasn’t any sort of danger in walking. The blocks they passed by were dominated by huge office buildings and Bard had some stories about most of them. One of the most famous buildings of the area was a small skyscraper with a very odd past. Bard explained that the architect had been thinking of sailboats when he made the drawings but he failed to remember that a building built like a sail also works like a sail. The structure had been finished for little more than three months before it had to be evacuated, the foundation was cracking and windows exploded since it was trying to twist with the wind. The entire thing had to be remade and wind breakers installed. That in turn caused new problems since it created a nasty wind tunnel effect and if there was anything stronger than a mild breeze the neighbourhood was haunted by a ghastly howling sound. The building and the wind breakers and the narrow streets around it acted like a sort of flute and it almost drove people mad. Thran was laughing and obviously having a good time and Bard found that he enjoyed this, guiding this man through the city he after all knew like the back of his own hand.

 

He remembered small things he thought he had forgotten, like the guy who had gotten drunk and believed that he was King Arthur, stole a cab horse and rode through the streets looking for a dragon to slay. It was the first time Bard had been in a pursuit which involved a rider and not a car. Thran told Bard of all the absolutely ghastly posh people he had had to meet when he was his father’s representative and they were both grinning and having a good time. They stopped here and there, admired some statues, an old church, a historical building. Bard didn’t think of the case at all, his mind was elsewhere. He hadn’t really felt so at ease with someone for a very long time. Thran had some of the same warmth and compassion he had seen in Sophia but he was also very confident and Bard felt that Thran perhaps could be a very domineering person if he needed to be. There was great strength in him, not only physical but also will power and stubbornness.

 

Bard showed Thran the city museum, then the great concert hall which was famous for having burned down on the opening night of a very infamous opera. The building had been rebuilt to look exactly like the old one and still strange things were said to happen there. They visited the street market and Bard bought some roasted chestnuts and suddenly he remembered having done that exact same thing when he was trying to woo Sophia. He felt himself blush and he had to pretend to be interested in some ghastly scarfs hanging from a street vendor’s booth.

 

Thran was enthusiastically telling about Legolas and his interest in archery and martial arts and the two men ended up discussing football and other sports. They had the exact same preferences when it came to sports and they stopped at a restaurant and had some more food. Bard discovered that he was hungry again, odd really, where had the hours gone? They had some very good stew with garlic bread and wine and then they walked off again. It was getting dark and they walked through the main park, Bard knew of a good bar not far from there and it had some very nice beer. Later on he didn’t really remember what had happened but suddenly it was closing time and Thran was paying for their drinks and more or less hauling Bard out the door. Bard didn’t want to leave, he felt so darn good and everybody was so darn nice and he wanted to dance! Thran was laughing, a very friendly sound. “Bard, it is time to return to the hotel, there is yet a day tomorrow”

 

Bard just shook his head but he was tackled and Thran hailed a cab and hauled the dark haired man into the back seat before telling the cab driver where to go. Bard was quiet in the cab, until they almost reached the hotel, then he got sentimental all of a sudden and he was almost in tears when they stopped. Somehow Thran managed to get Bard inside and through the foyer without anybody really noticing that one of the two tall men was absolutely wasted. Bard almost collapsed in the elevator and he was trying to sing as they walked down the corridor towards the suite. Thran was just laughing the whole time and Bard had a blurry memory of Thran tossing back drinks as if it was water and yet he wasn’t even visibly tipsy. The man had to have a stomach made from titanium or something like that.

 

Bard was elegantly placed in a chair and Thran used the kitchen to brew some coffee. Bard managed to drink a huge cup, then Thran more or less forced him to drink a whole gallon of water. The result was that Bard felt stuffed and it wasn’t enjoyable at all. Thran patted him on his back. “Do you think you can undress without any incidents or do you need help?”

 

Bard grinned, he felt amazing still, everything was floating and the world was wonderful and here he was with this gorgeous man, why shouldn’t he be happy? “ I can…hick….manage”

 

He got up and tried to kick his shoes off and he almost ended nose first in one of the huge marble tables he had admired earlier that day. Thran had a wry grin on his face. “No, you don’t, come here”

 

Thran sort of manhandled the dark haired man over to the bed, then he got the shoes off the by now happily humming cop. Getting the shirt off was a bit more tricky, Bard felt as if he suddenly had grown some extra arms and they were in the way. But he had Thran so close and he could smell the after shave the blonde used and it was the best scent he had smelled ever, or so it seemed. Bard buried his face within lose locks of silky hair and if this wasn’t heaven then it was pretty darn close. Thran managed to get his pants off and now he was left in his boxers and a t shirt, normally Bard was very shy but now he didn’t care. The bed was massive, so wide four people could have slept in it without it ever getting crowded, and it was soft and very comfortable. Thran pulled him up into the bed and Bard giggled. “Are you gonna try to seduce me?”

 

Thran smiled, but there was sadness in the eyes. “No, you are drunk, you are tired and it would be very wrong”

 

Bard made a grimace. “Why? I….hick….I think…I think I am in love….”

 

Thran rolled his eyes. “Listen to yourself, it is the liquor speaking. I am not going to take advantage of someone who clearly isn’t thinking straight”

 

Bard pouted. “You don’t like me….”

 

Thran looked as if he was about the do a face palm. “Oh but I do Bard, I do like you very much, perhaps too much. “

 

Bard beamed. “You do?! Hick! Great, for I want to…I want to kiss you”

 

Thran had to push him back, very gently. “No Bard, if I am gonna kiss you it will be when you are sober and aware of what you are doing.”

 

Bard almost groaned. “Not fair, I need….I need….something”

 

Thran shook his head. “Yes, a good night’s sleep, and tomorrow you will need a lot of aspirin I bet. You are gonna be more hungover than ever before.”

 

Bard was starting to get sleepy, odd, he had felt so energetic just minutes before. “No I won’t, I never get hang overs.”

 

Thran sighed deeply. “But this time you will, you drank like a camel at an oasis.”

 

Bard tried to pull Thran down to him, God the man was so beautiful, like an angel. “ I want you”

 

The words were a mere whisper but Thran did hear and he did push some strands of dark hair out of Bard’s face. “I know, and believe me, I do want you too, but I want to get to know you first, to be a friend before I become a lover. I have done the mistake of rushing it before, I won’t do that again. You deserve better than to be just another one night stand for you will loathe yourself tomorrow if we do go too far and then everything will be lost. Is that what you want?”

 

Bard blinked, it was so hard to keep his eyes open. “Nope, I…I really…like you”

 

Thran saw that the dark haired man was about to fall asleep and he caressed his hand gently. “I like you too Bard, believe me I do. Sleep well my friend”

 

Bard just drifted off and Thran pulled the covers over the man very gently. He had enjoyed a wonderful evening and he had a small smile on his face when he got rid of his own clothes and climbed into the bed on the opposite side. He had never believed that he ever could feel trust again, but perhaps this handsome investigator in fact was the one he had been waiting for his whole life. Time would show. Thran shut off the lights and went to sleep too, he had been drinking as well but he was used to it, his body could handle it. He had to grin before he drifted off into the realm of dreams, Bard had an almost boyish charm when he forgot about being a cop and a father, his enthusiasm for the things he cared about was contagious and Thran had started to realize that Bard was one of the most decent men he had ever met. If this could grow into something real he would welcome it, but he wouldn’t rush it, if this was the start of something serious he wanted it to have solid foundations, and sheer primitive lust was not it.

---------------------------------------------

Elisa was early that morning, she had rushed out of bed and she ran to the office as if her soles were on fire. The artefacts could possibly be identified already for they would have been prioritized due to the severity of the case. She was so excited. Thor was already there, delegating tasks and Elisa logged into her computer and saw yet another row of emails. She sighed and shook her head, that people never understood that the police needed real stuff, not detailed descriptions of last night’s bad dreams. Then she saw a mail from Erestor and her heart jumped, had he cracked the encryption? She felt her hand shiver as she opened the mail. “Call me right now!” That was all it said and she blinked, he had never asked her to call him before and she found her phone and dialled the number shown on the screen. She held her breath and a smooth voice answered. “Elisa, I did crack the encryption but there is a password, any idea of what it may be?”

 

She cussed, shit! A password? What in heck’s name could that be? Mr Carpenter had been the least exciting person she had ever come across so it was likely that the password was something equally systematic. He had probably been too smart to use birthdays and such, what could it be? Then she remembered the note Bard had received and an odd feeling gathered within her chest, may be? She took a deep breath. “Try the Fibonacci numbers, the first eight of them”

 

Erestor could be heard working on a keyboard and then she heard a pling and Erestor gasped. “It worked, it was the right password, what the heck Elisa?”

 

She swallowed. “Bard got a note from the killer, with those numbers, one could almost believe that…no, that is too far fetched….or is it?”

 

Erestor suddenly sounded very tense. “Ah, I am gonna send over the entire content of that thing, but be warned, you are not gonna like this”

 

She saw that an email arrived, with files attached. “Okay, I have received it. Thank you Erestor, you are our saviour”

 

He could be heard chuckling before he did hang up and Elisa turned to her computer, what could be so bad about these files? She wasn’t some rookie, she had seen it all before. She believed that for exactly twenty seconds, then she abruptly got up from her chair and ran towards the bathroom.

 

When she returned fifteen minutes later there was a crowd gathered around her desk and Thor was in front of it, he did look very worried. “Elisa? What is wrong? If you are ill please do tell, we cannot have anyone running about being contagious now”

 

Elisa gulped, she felt tears burning in her eyes. “No, I am not sick….it is the files, from the memory stick. My friend managed to break the encryption and the note Bard got, it was the password. I did take a look at it…”

 

Thor turned around, stared at the gathered crowd. “Back to your desks, now!”

 

The others obeyed but very reluctantly and Alfrid sort of hovered there for a while and he didn’t return to his own desk until Thor sent him a rather strict glare. Elisa reawakened her computer and the first image appeared again, Thor went pale, then he went green and then she saw how the veins on his forehead sort of swelled, he was grinding his teeth together and she knew that this was his way of controlling strong emotions. “Elisa, don’t take another look at this, we have experts for this sort of…horror. I will call the guys at VICE, they have proper training”

 

Elisa swallowed, she gathered all the files into a folder and sent it to Thor, her heart was still hammering. “Fred said that such tidy guys usually have skeletons in their closets, well, in this case that is the understatement of this century”

 

She felt like she needed to wash her eyes with chlorine or something like that, her hands were trembling and she had such a hard time imagining that something like this could be real. She remembered something from a book she once had read, the real monsters are the ones who lives among you, unseen. The writer of that book had to have been clairvoyant or something, it fitted, oh God how it fitted.

Thor sent her a soothing glance. “Go do something else, get it off your mind. Bard is coming back today, and the profiler with him. I bet he can help if you feel you need it, you got a nasty shock”

 

She tried to smile. “Thanks, I…I may do just that”

 

Thor smiled and she sat down at her desk again, slowly. The dark screen in front of her felt like a black hole, like an enemy she until now had regarded as a benign friend. She just hoped that this guy was some deviation, that he was the only one of the victims with such…tendencies. If not then by all her grandmother’s curses, the killer deserved a medal.

------------------------------------------

Bard woke up very early, and he felt as if his head had been transformed into a lump of lead. His tongue was stuck to the roof of his mouth and there was a charging battalion of heavy machinery revving up their engines inside of his skull. God he was so dizzy, and thirsty! Now he did understand what the soldiers caught in the middle of desert warfare were battling every day. He felt as if he could drain an entire swimming pool all on his own. Then he remembered and cringed, sweet Jesus, he had tried to make Thran kiss him?! How drunk had he really become? Judging from his current physical state he didn’t want to truly know, he had to have been totally wasted. He lifted his head with some effort, Thran was sleeping soundly on the other side of the bed, he had kicked off the covers and laid there on his belly, clinging onto his pillow, the silvery golden hair looked like a halo spread around him and Bard wished that he could have swallowed for the sight was just wonderful. He had a hard time understanding how anyone could be so pretty, so perfect. The profiler was very toned and muscular and yet lean like a cheetah.

 

Bard remembered having been in a good shape himself but that was before…he really had let himself go now hadn’t he? He let his head drop to the pillow and drifted off again. The next time he woke up he was laying on the edge of the bed and someone was holding his hair back, a bucket was placed underneath him and he felt just horrible. Another warm hand was rubbing his back and he whimpered as a bout of really nasty nausea raced through him, how could he have been so fucking stupid? First he literally offered himself up like some slut and now he was puking his guts out in front of the kindest most attractive person he had met in a very long time. Couldn’t someone just shoot him and put him out of this darn misery?

Thran was humming softly. “Relax, get it out. You started to gulp while you were asleep, I dragged you onto the edge of the bed, I didn’t want the ones who clean these rooms to get a nasty shock.”

 

Bard couldn’t answer, he just kept retching and felt like the most miserable wretch there ever where. Thank God that Thran had resisted last night, or else things could have become very awkward indeed. Bard almost sobbed. “You must think I am such a hopeless individual”

 

Thran kept rubbing his back and God, it felt so good. He was heaving for air and he was trembling like a leaf in the wind. “I think you are a very dedicated and loving person who has pushed yourself way too far for much too long, I think you are very lonely in spite of it all”

 

Bard sort of broke down, tears started to run down his cheeks and now he was really sobbing. Thran was there with a soft cloth, wiping his mouth and chin. “It is alright, you haven’t wept for her now have you? Let it all out, let loose. You need it”

 

Bard tried to fight it but by now it was like trying to stop the Niagara falls with a spoon and some tape. He was clinging onto the sheets as if they were a life raft, gasping for air between his sobs and then Thran grasped him and pulled him into a tight embrace, held him against his own body and Bard just wept like a kid, allowing the sorrow to vent itself for the first time. Thran was humming, stroking his hair, pulling the covers up around them since Bard was trembling still and he didn’t mind the smell of sick and the clammy sweat which covered Bards body now. “Sshhh, just let it happen, don’t fight it. You need this so much, everything will be better afterwards”

 

Bard slowly regained control and stopped trembling but he was so so embarrassed for having collapsed thus. “You…I am not some …crybaby”

 

Thran continued to stroke his hair. “Of course not, you are too strong for your own good, keeping all emotions jailed up inside the way you have is a soul killer, I hope you know this?”

 

Bard sniffled. “I do, now”

 

He got some tissues and blew his nose, Thran had already seen him puking so he didn’t have much more to hide now had he? “You are too kind to me, I don’t remember half of what I said yesterday and the half I do remember makes me want to hide in a deep black hole”

 

Thran laughed and it felt so darn good just leaning against that strong warm body, the warmth was so blessed, he was cold and he tried to relax against Thran, to soak in as much warmth as he could. Thran chuckled. “If it is any consolation I was thinking exactly the same as you were but I wasn’t as drunk as you. No, I do find you very attractive and I think I do share your feelings but such things should  never be rushed. “

 

Bard sighed. “I agree. I was completely knackered wasn’t I?”

 

Thran laughed and gave Bard’s hair an affectionate tug. “Utterly, you had at least six beers and I lost count of how many shots and drinks. If you hadn’t been skinny as a greyhound it wouldn’t have been so bad”

 

Bard scoffed. “Right, but you do have a talent for manhandling puking guys, or have you trained?”

 

Thran was grinning. “Both, Legolas was at home for a few weeks two years ago, he brought his best friends from school and they found this funny looking bottle in one of the pantries. It was opened and it did smell good so they drank it all. That night I had to tend to not one, not two but five puking kids at once. Darn, it was a nightmare”

 

Bard remembered when a bout of stomach flu had turned the entire family into a bunch of toilet seeking zombies. In the end the kids had won the right to the bathroom while he and Sophia had found some old buckets. It had been a terrible stinky mess and he could laugh at it now but back then it had been rather horrible. He felt that the nausea had all but disappeared and he wished that he could have lain there forever but he couldn’t. It was getting light outside. “Let me guess, it was some sort of wine?”

 

Thran nodded. “A very heavy port the chef used in some dishes. He had sweetened it and thus camouflaged the taste of alcohol.”

 

Bard could hear Thran’s steady heartbeat and it was such a calming sound, he was relaxing more and more. “I bet the parents weren’t that thrilled?”

 

Thran shrugged. “I told them the truth, that they had been raiding the pantry. Nobody blamed me thank goodness. They were old enough to know that you shouldn’t just drink anything you see just because it looks cool.”

 

Bard moaned, that was exactly what he had done last night. He vaguely remembered a sort of umbrella drink with a ghastly blue colour. “Did I drink….?”

 

Thran grinned widely, gave his shoulder an affectionate squeeze. “Yes, I think you even had what the barkeep referred to as “A crazy monkey” You were a sight for sore eyes, that was for sure. A wonderfully jolly and festive drunk”

 

Bard groaned. “Oh God, don’t remind me. I feel like an utter moron”

 

Thran did fidget with his hair. “You were dancing too, well, in some primitive tribes it would perhaps be classified as dance. It looked more as if you were trying to snake your way into some way too tight clothing”

¨

Bard had to laugh, oh Jeez, Thran was funny and somehow it didn’t feel as bad anymore. “I bet you haven’t done blunders like that”

 

Thran let out a snort. “No? Be glad you weren’t there to witness what I can only describe as the most silly moment in the history of mankind”

 

Bard giggled. “Do tell, you have awakened my curiosity.”

 

Thran leaned back into the pillows, one arm around Bard still and it felt so safe and so good he could have cried even more. It had been cathartic, he felt renewed somehow. “I was nineteen I think, and a hopeless romantic. I had fallen head over heels in love with this guy and I had written a love poem for him. To make the story short, I got royally drunk one evening and started reciting the poem to one of the statues in the park behind dad’s mansion. I didn’t know that the security guards had placed microphones everywhere and that they in fact heard the entire thing. For the next weeks I only went by the codename “Romeo”. God, I was close to leaving for good”

 

Bard frowned. “Ah, didn’t they know that you were…you know?”

 

Thran sighed. “The poem was such that it wasn’t possible to know the gender of the person in question, they thought it was some girl and I was teased, oh sweet lord how I was teased.”

 

Bard had to grin. “Wonderfully embarrassing yes, the sort of thing which shapes your entire future”

 

Thran chuckled. “Indeed.”

 

Bard swallowed. “I am thirsty and hungry too oddly enough. And I need a shower, a cold one”

 

Thran sighed. “It is so darn tempting to just stay in bed here with you but we cannot, there is work to be done”

 

Bard managed to get out of the bed without it getting too awkward and he missed the skin contact right away. He drank a huge glass of water and then he made use of the fancy bathroom. After a very refreshing shower he felt like a new man yet again and he sat down to just relax as Thran showered and prepared for the day. The blond put on some dark clothes this day and it made him look more like some high end lawyer than a psychologist but Bard didn’t mind. Thran would have been just as stunningly handsome wearing nothing but old burlap sacks. They had a swift breakfast, Bard got some aspirin and then they were ready to go. Bard checked his phone, there was a text message from Thor and it made him tense up again. “Elisa’s friend has cracked the encryption, the Shrike knew the password. It is extremely unpleasant, be warned”

 

Bard swallowed hard and showed it to Thran. The profiler got a hard expression within his eyes. “Thor has been in the police for decades, if he says it is unpleasant then I fear the worst!”

 

Bard was glad Thran was sober enough to drive, the traffic wasn’t that bad yet and they got to the station in record time. Bard hesitated before he entered, he just knew that this would be a hellish day, in many ways. They saw that most of the officers already were out working. The crime scenes they worked on now were not the typical type and required a lot of work. Bard remembered the chapel, the crucifix alone had to weigh in at several hundred pounds, how had that been removed? The office was rather quiet, the normal chatter was reduced to a quiet murmur and Bard saw that Thor gestured towards them the moment he saw them. Thran patted Bard on his back. “Don’t worry”

 

Bard took a deep breath of air, it was easy to say. Thor opened the door and let them inn, he was a bit pale and Bard did notice that there was a person sitting by the window, seemingly working hard. He had seen the man before, a stocky but rather handsome fellow with thick golden hair and a neat beard. Wasn’t he working for the VICE division of the county police force? Thor sighed. “Bard,Thran, Elisa got the files earlier this morning.”

 

Bard cleared his throat, he still felt hungover but it wasn’t as bad as it had been. “Mr Carpenter was hiding something?”

 

Thor nodded towards the man by the window. “This is Mr Fili Durinson, Bard, I think you may have met?”

 

Bard tried to remember. “Yes, uh, but it was long ago”

 

Fili just nodded politely, he had the sort of face which made you instinctively trust the guy but the eyes were serious and Bard remembered the text message. “ He hid…?”

 

Thor stared at the floor. “ Take a look, just one mind you. Most of the stuff was…graphic”

 

Fili turned the laptop towards them and Bard felt his gut sink towards the floor. Thran gasped audibly and Fili turned the laptop back again, he tried to smile. “I am used to this, I can watch this without losing my cool but I have to admit, it is the worst I have ever seen”

 

He had a light voice and it was trembling slightly. Bard did understand why. Thor sat down by his desk. “I want you two to go to Mrs Carpenter again, try to find out if she knew, if she suspected anything. At least let her know the truth in a gentle manner.”

 

Bard swallowed hard. “If she knew naught then this will…”

 

Thran continued. “Devastate her!”

 

Thor nodded, his eyes dark, he looked ten years older than the day before. “Yes, but you are a psychologist, maybe you can help shed some light upon this…perversion. Make it more understandable, help her cope”

 

Thran smiled, a soft smile. “I can try, but it will still be a terrible shock.”

 

Bard frowned. “Where is Elisa, a woman’s presence may soften the blow somehow?”

 

Thor ran a hand through his hair, he grimaced. “I sent her off, today she is gonna work with the animal police, collecting baby bunnies from some hoarder. She needs something else to think about”

 

Bard nodded. “Understandable.”

 

Thran did throw a glance at Fili, the man was lost in the files again and Bard realized that the profiler found the investigator puzzling. Fili did notice that he was being stared at and looked up, smiled slightly. “They call it emotional detachment. If I truly started to get involved with what I see every day I would go mad. My predecessor shot himself, the guy before that threw himself out in front of a freight train. It is a hazard which comes with the job”

 

Thran nodded. “I see, you guys do have counselling available?”

 

Fili nodded. “Yep, twenty four seven, nobody would last more than a few months without it”

 

They returned to the garage and this time they used one of the police cruisers, luckily one which was rather new and shiny. Showing up in Bard’s old wreck wouldn’t exactly look good. Thran stared at Bard, his face was closed off. “We have stuck our hand into a nest of vipers Bard, I can sense it.”

 

The investigator nodded, the things this would unleash…Thran continued. “Let me do the talking, just add in what you feel is needed. I know how to deliver bad news, and I do know how to decide whether or not someone is lying.”

 

Bard swallowed, he felt dizzy again. “I cannot believe that she would try to hide something like that, if she knew then….”

 

Thran smiled, it was an ominous smile. “Did you see her home?”

 

Bard nodded, “It was pristine, like a commercial from some furniture and accessories shop”

 

Thran nodded sternly. “Exactly, to some it is more important to protect the façade than to do the right thing.”

 

Bard felt depressed all of a sudden. “I cannot believe that about her, she didn’t seem like a person smart enough for such deceit.”

 

Thran took a deep breath. “Don’t underestimate women, it is the most common mistake of all.“

 

Bard had to smile. “If you say so.”

 

He wasn’t looking forward to this at all. The traffic was heavy now and they ended up in a grid lock which lasted for several minutes, some idiot had tried to change lanes and lost control of his car. Bard was swearing and Thran looked stressed too, the police radio suddenly buzzed to life and Bard grasped it. “Yes?”

 

Stella’s voice could be heard. “Car 12? Turn on the radio, channel six, you won’t believe this. Thor is going apeshit in here! It just started, a certain someone has breaking news apparently.”

 

Thran and Bard stared at each other, eyes narrow. Bard turned on the radio and they immediately heard the voice of Lobelia Sackville, Bard grinded his teeth. “The county police have revealed that the murdered Mr Carpenter in fact was involved in a ring of child abusers, pedophiles  and perverts. A spokesman from the police force claims that the evidence gathered is “Disturbing” and “Graphic”. Could it be that the Shrike in fact is doing our society a favour by removing such filth from our streets?”

 

Bard turned the radio off, he was pale and Thran had closed his eyes. “You have a mole in your department”

 

Bard hit the steering wheel, hard! “Goddamn it, Fuck! Let us pray that Mrs Carpenter isn’t listening to the radio.”

 

Thran was narrow eyed. “Elisa opened the files rather early right?”

 

Bard nodded. “She is in at eight, probably even a little earlier. “

 

Thran seemed to be thinking hard. “It takes time to prepare to broadcast something like that, the so called “spokesman” must have spoken to Lobelia right after Elisa opened the files.”

 

Bard stared at Thran and his eyes shot lightening. “Alfrid, it can only be Alfrid. He is seated only ten feet from her, and he is the lousiest weasel ever born, I bet it is him!”

 

Thran sent him a wry grin. “I won’t bet against you, but please, floor it, use the lights. I don’t like the idea of Mrs Carpenter hearing about this from someone else”

 

Bard nodded and put on the sirens and the lights, they sort of zig zagged through traffic and when they arrived at the Carpenter’s the driveway was blocked by cars and there were people everywhere. Apparently many had showed up to comfort the grieving widow and Bard sort of swore, rather badly. “Damnation, is the entire neighbourhood invited?”

 

Thran sighed. “Looks like it yes, but we have got to do what we came for anyhow. Ready?”

 

Bard cringed. “As ready as I will ever be”

 

They exited the car and walked up to the house, there was a distinct sound of very loud voices and they did sound angry. Bard felt a surge of panic, he was armed but what was really going on? Then they heard the sound of a woman crying and another one screaming and Bard knocked on the door, rather hard. He knew he had his gun ready hidden under his jacket, something was definitely off in there. It was the daughter who opened the door and she let out a gasp and looked relieved. “Mr Bowman, thank Goodness, we need help!”

 

Bard ran past her and into the living room, several people were gathered there, most looked scared or rather shocked and Mrs Carpenter was weeping, she had a large bruise on her cheek and a huge rowdy man stood in front of her, obviously very upset. Two other men tried to calm him down but to no prevail. The man was almost foaming at the mouth and he was spewing out the worst row of accusations Bard had ever heard. It was obvious that he believed that the late Mr Carpenter had molested every kid in the area, his own included. Mrs Carpenter did look as if she was close to a heart attack and now her daughter tried desperately to get the man to step away from her mother. Bard let out a roar, and the people got aware of him and the tall blond guy behind him. “Everybody, get out or we will be forced to use drastic methods. We need to talk to the widow, privately”

 

The huge guy was obviously still angry, he glared at the two. “As if you twats can do anything useful? The police is bought and run by sick perverts like this bastard, it is all a cover up.”

 

Bard felt a need to roll his eyes, there was always someone like that in every bloody town or neighbourhood. Someone completely convinced that everything was a conspiracy and that the only reason he or she wasn’t succeeding in live was that everybody else was out to get them. Bard just stared at the guy with a cold expression on his face, he had learned from countless fights. “Do remove yourself from this property sir or answer to the law. If you have harmed this lady you may be prosecuted for assault.”

 

The man sneered and turned around, pointed a finger at the shivering woman. “I am leaving, but this ain’t over yet, if I find out that your filth of a husband has ever touched my daughter I will sue you all, for all the bloody money in this state!”

 

The man sort of pushed his way out of the room and Thran shooed the remaining crowd out as well before he closed the door. Bard sat down and looked at Mrs Carpenter, she was shaking and crying and she looked ten years older than before. “Are you alright ma’am? Do you need a doctor?”

 

She sobbed. “No, I…I am unharmed, it is just a bruise, he is…he is the neighbourhood bully I am afraid, he has no brakes and no social intelligence at all”

 

Bard tried to smile, tried to calm her down. “You can press charges if you like? That sort of rude and terrible behaviour ought to be punished”

 

She gasped and shook her head. “I don’t dare to, no, I cannot. Please, tell me, is it true? Did my John really do these terrible things?”

 

Bard looked at Thran with a helpless expression within his eyes and the psychologist sat down and took Mrs Carpenter’s hand, holding it gently. “I am afraid so, we have a lot of evidence, even film. I am terribly sorry ma’am, I know this must be a gruesome revelation for you”

 

She sobbed again and her daughter looked mortified. “I…Oh God, I didn’t believe it when Mr Benson came bursting in here, claiming that John had been…”

 

Thran caressed the hand, in an almost hypnotic rhythm. “Most people with such tendencies are very good at hiding them, you wouldn’t have seen anything unusual, he was probably extremely good at pretending to be someone very different from who he really was.”

 

She closed her eyes, looked small and grey and old, very old. Like someone who has given up, “John…he never was …very eager if you catch my drift. Once a month, the lights off, he wasn’t very vigorous. I thought it was because he was raised by very conservative parents, and I accepted that. I too was raised in such a manner and I was happy to submit to his ways.”

 

Thran smiled, he was so angelic the poor woman couldn’t take her eyes off him. “Do not blame yourself in any way ma’am, it wasn’t your fault at all. Nothing you did would have changed him”

 

Mrs Carpenter burst into tears once more. “Oh God, what will everybody say now? What will they do? We will be….Oh I am scared, they will think I knew!!”

 

Bard gave Thran a quick nod. “Ma’am, I think it would be smart if you and your family do go on a vacation, for a few weeks, until the worst commotion dies down.”

 

She just gasped. “Yes, I can…I can go to my parent’s farm, we will be safe there”

 

Bard nodded calmly. “Good idea Mrs Carpenter, as soon as the funeral is over you go there, for as long as you need to”

 

She still looked devastated and Thran gave her hand a final squeeze. “The investigators have taken your husbands computer, but is there something else here which could be of interest? Somewhere where he stored stuff?”

 

Mrs Carpenter shook her head but the daughter looked as if she suddenly remembered something. She frowned. “ I think I know of something, I saw dad hide a box once, I didn’t think any of it back then but now…”

 

Her mother looked shocked. “A box? What sort of box?”

 

Sandra tried to choke a sob. “A shoe box, I think I can find it”

 

Bard got tense, he swallowed. “You can? Show me, now!”

 

The girl got up and Bard followed her into the basement of the building, it was filled with the typical basement content, old furniture, spare tires, boxes with discarded clothing. It did smell of mothballs and gasoline and Bard had to grimace. Even here everything was tidy, he didn’t even see spider webs. Sandra walked over to a huge shelf leaning against the back wall, it was made from solid wood and had to be extremely heavy. Upon it stood several really massive objects, they looked out of place. Why would a man like Mr Carpenter collect engine parts? From what Bard could see it was parts to the engine of a thunderbird or another muscle car. Sandra made a grimace. “Those car parts belong to dad’s brother Freddy, he passed away three years ago and he stored them here because his wife couldn’t stand the smell of oil. Mom have asked dad to remove them over and over again but he said the parts reminded him of his brother”

 

Bard frowned. “How did he die?”

 

Sandra shrugged. “Of a heart attack, during a car race, he got too excited and they said his heart almost exploded. He was a sour Grinch of a man so I can’t say I miss him.”

 

She started to push at the shelf and incredibly enough it could be moved, sideways that was. “It is placed on small wheels, but it is heavy as fuck. Mom cannot move it at all”

 

Sandra bent down, close to the floor was something which looked like a small ventilation shaft and it was clogged with insulation. She pulled it out and then she reached in. Bard cringed, he remembered having stuck his hand into a hole in a wall like that as a kid and found a nest of black widows. He hadn’t gotten bitten oddly enough but he had a slight case of arachnophobia still. She pulled out a shoe box, it was white and closed and she handed it over. “Here, I never had a close relationship with dad, neither did Steve but he was my dad. It is terrible to hear that he was such a twisted person”

 

Bard took the box and smiled at the girl. “Thank you, this may be nothing but it can also be something important.”

 

She sighed, “I just wish for it all to go away, for things to go back the way they were. Everything is ruined now, our lives will never be the same again. How could he? How the fuck! Could he do this to us?!”

 

Bard shrugged. “I do not know, and that is an honest answer”

 

Sandra stared down at the floor. “Dad didn’t know that I knew of the box, I saw him hide it while I and Steve were playing hide and seek, I was in the closet over there, It makes me wonder what he would  have done if he had seen me…”

 

Bard didn’t really know what to say, he just gave her a small pet on her back, to cheer her up.

They returned to the living room and Thran was speaking to Mrs Carpenter with a soft soothing voice, the woman seemed less upset now and she was sitting up straight again, there was life in her eyes yet again. Whatever Thran was doing, it was working. Bard showed Thran the box but he didn’t open it and they bid the grieving widow goodbye and offered to place an officer on the street outside as protection, it could be that it would be wise. Mrs Carpenter looked as if she by now was ready to fight for her remaining family and she wanted to leave the house and stay at a hotel until the funeral was held. Bard couldn’t do anything except praise her for thinking fast.

 

The two men walked to the car and Thran looked thoughtful, he was obviously deep within his own mind and he didn’t speak until they sat in the car. He turned around and looked at Bard, his eyes rather hard. “She didn’t know, I am one hundred percent sure of it. She was oblivious and I pity her, her entire world has come crashing down.”

 

Bard nodded. “Her façade has been broken, I bet they will sell the house and move elsewhere rather fast”

 

Thran nodded. “Yes, the neighbours will regard them as pariah’s from now on, she is innocent, so are the kids but they have been living with a true creep and it won’t be forgotten.”

 

Bard sighed, “I was afraid I would have to pull my gun on that guy, he was almost rabid!”

 

Thran sent him an odd glance. “I can understand him on some level, he thought his kids had been molested. But he did overreact and I don’t think Mr Carpenter would try to touch any of the neighbourhood kids, it would be too risky.”

 

Bard made a grimace. “Yes, god knows for how long he has been doing it.”

 

Thran stared straight ahead of them. “Most of those who actually go as far as we saw Mr Carpenter go starts off early and then it escalates. They need more and more to get off, to feel just as much as before and they end up…as monsters”

 

Bard shuddered, he remembered the image they had seen, it still sent shivers down his spine. He had of course known that this problem did exist and seen some ugly shit too but what Mr Carpenter had been doing was just…No, he didn’t even want to think about it. If anyone had even looked at his kids like that he would have gone berserk, of that he was dead sure. He held the box, stared at it. It could hold anything, something completely irrelevant or something nasty. Suddenly he felt a strong urge to toss it away, as if it contained a bomb or something else harmful. He swallowed and Thran saw his distress. “I can open it, it is alright Bard”

 

Bard felt himself breathing hard. “That image…what sort of a person…I just cannot fathom how anyone can do that to a kid?!”

 

Thran sighed and took the box. “A good question and one without any good answers I think. I would like to be realistic and define it as a sort of psychological deviation, as a disease of the mind. I want to be rational but it can be hard when faced by something like that. I am not religious in any way Bard but that…that which we saw today can only be described with one word, absolute evil”

 

Bard held his breath. “Agreed!”

 

Thran pulled the lid of the box, and Bard half expected that something would burst from it, like a jack in the box. Thran looked into the box. “It is papers, just that, It looks like recites and some sort of lists”

 

Bard bit his lower lip. “Oh God, that can be important”

 

Thran lifted one of the papers, using his pen to avoid touching it. “Bard, this is a list of his associates, there are at least twenty names here. Goddamn it, I just knew it, he couldn’t be some lone wolf.”

 

Bard gasped and turned around, staring at the list. It was printed on cheap paper and the names were very clear, addresses and phone numbers listed next to them. He felt a need to giggle hysterically. “Oh Jeez, this is wonderful. The guys at the precinct will love this, I bet VICE too will demand some quality time with these people. We have just uncovered an entire secret club or something”

 

Thran was biting his teeth together. “Bard, this will be very ugly, I hope you are aware of that? Some of these people are resourceful, others may have influence. They won’t accept being charged with something like this without fighting back”

 

Bard sneered. “They can shout and scream all they like, if we find evidence that they are guilty then I bet the jailors will find the most solid cells there is and throw the key into the sewer”

 

Thran nodded. “Yes, but let’s go. We need to share this with the other’s”

 

Bard started the car and they drove off, he felt shocked but also elated, almost giddy. The lists, they would be able to save many children if all of these people were like Mr Carpenter. The traffic was terrible and Bard had to concentrate on driving the whole time, Thran was reading through the lists and he looked very intense the whole time, he was almost shivering. They both jumped in their seat when an intense sound shattered the silence, it was a phone and Bard recognized the melody as the fifth symphony of Beethoven. Thran swore, his voice sort of empty. He pushed the button and Bard heard his voice turn into ice and steel. “I have said it before and I will repeat, do not call me again! I will not take you back, and I want nothing to do with you at all!”

 

Bard had never heard anyone sounding that cold before, it was almost frightening. He heard a voice coming back from the phone, smooth and pleading. “But Thran, remember how good we were together? We can be like that again, I can change, I promise. Remember that night on the beach? I can do that again, you loved it didn’t you? I can suck you off so good every day, I swear I won’t do any silly things again”

 

Thran rolled his eyes and Bard saw that his knuckles were white, he was obviously absolutely furious” Lindir, if you call me again I will make sure that you stay the next years in jail. Do you hear me? I won’t take you back, ever!”

 

The voice became whiny. “Oh, you have someone new haven’t you? Some new boy toy? Does he know what a jerk you are? You have a shitload of money, you ought to share it but no, all for yourself and that brat of yours”

 

Thran was obviously close to exploding and Bard pulled over. “This is the last warning Lindir, you stay clear of me and my family or I will use my influence”

 

The voice had become hard now, there was something shrill within it. “Fuck off Thran, you will regret this, oh by every fucking God there is, you will regret it!”

 

There was a click and Bard took the phone from Thran before he smashed it against the dashboard. The blond was shivering and Bard laid a hand on his arm, it felt like touching a tree. The muscles were so tight Bard realized that this had affected his friend more than he would have guessed possible. “You can press charges, threats were delivered! “

 

Thran took a deep breath, then one more. “Bard, I am not so sure that those threats are just idle.”

 

Bard stared at him. “Are you kidding me?”

 

Thran smoothed his jacket, adjusted his tie. “No, I fear that he may do something stupid, did you hear his voice?”

 

Bard frowned. “Uh, yes, why?”

 

Thran sighed. “He was hoarse, short of breath, the words were a bit staccato, he was high Bard, I bet he has owes money for drugs, maybe a lot of money. Or else he wouldn’t be this desperate”

 

Bard cringed. “Shit, you are safe here but do you want some sort of protection for your son? I can get a bodyguard for him, I know some ex army guys who are both discreet and skilled. “

 

Thran nodded, vigorously. “Yes, please, yes. Lindir knows way too much about me and my son, I am afraid I let a snake into my lair when I fell in love with him”

 

Bard did nod. “Afraid so yes, I will make a few calls when we reach the station”

 

Thran smiled, there was genuine gratitude in his eyes. “Thank you Bard”

 

The investigator just grinned back. “Nothing to thank me for, it is a pleasure to be of help”

---------------------------

When they reached the station it was chaos everywhere, reporters had laid the station under siege and many were shouting and trying to get a photo of everybody leaving or entering the building. Bard swore as they drove into the garage, he had been afraid of something like that. They entered the office and Bard saw that Elisa had returned, Judith too was there and she looked very excited. Bard walked over and Thor appeared in the doorway, he did look very tired. “Did you see the shitstorm, did you? God’s hairy balls, I have never witnessed such madness!”

 

Bard had to cringe. “Yes, it almost blocked the access to the garage, I didn’t know that there were that many reporters in this city”

 

Thor pulled at his beard. “Oh now they are gathering, like hungry vultures over a rotting carcass. That fucking Sackville woman has unleashed a nightmare, how are we to investigate diddeli squat with that horde outside of our doors. The mayor demands that I address the public, but we have nothing to show for”

 

Bard handed over the box. “Now we do, in here is a list of names. You can call me a frog if it isn’t the names of Mr Carpenter’s partners in crime”

 

Thor just gaped and then he started shouting orders, the room was filled with people within two minutes blank and Judith and Elisa hauled Bard and Thran into an empty office in the corner. The officer who had owned it had retired two months ago and nobody had been able to remove the smell of his favourite food from the carpet yet. Thor had suggested that they refurnished the entire room. The man had been of Swedish origin and was fond of a certain Swedish dish known as surstromning, or in plain English sour herring. He had dropped a box of the horrible goo onto the carpet and the smell had been so bad the washing lady had used a hazmat suit when she was trying to clean the room but it hadn’t helped even a bit. Bard saw that the two were extremely eager and he waited.

Judith was almost jumping up and down. “The artefacts, the labs have looked at them, I cannot even start to explain this but they are…mysteries”

 

Bard sat down. “Okay, what do you mean by that?”

 

Elisa looked both thrilled and sceptical, all at the same time. “They are old, bloody old”

 

Thran looked intrigued. “And they were found with victims?”

 

Judith nodded. “The first was found in a victim actually, embedded in his breastbone. It was a claw”

 

 

She showed them a photo and Bard whistled. “Damn, what sort of animal has claws like that? It looks as if the dead guy must have taken a very overrated vacation at Jurassic park!”

 

Judith swallowed. “The claw cannot be identified, it is from some unknown species.”

 

Thran looked close to laughing. “Don’t tell me we are looking for a freaking dinosaur or something?”

 

Judith looked a bit helpless. “All the lab could say is that it is a creature of considerable size, way larger than any carnivore we know of today. But here is where it becomes genuinely creepy”

 

She took up another photo, it was the figurine and it was freed from the plastic wrapping. Bard saw that it was a female form but the head was that of an animal, was it a lion’s head? Judith was a bit pale. “This is the goddess Sekhmet, an Egyptian deity. She was associated with the goddess Ma’at which is the deity for justice. “

 

Bard frowned, he felt an odd tingling at the back of his neck. Judith continued. “She is also associated with the Goddesses Hathor and Bast”

 

Thran raised his hand a bit. “The one with the cow’s head and the one with a cat’s head?”

 

Judith nodded slowly. “Yes, protective deities, dedicated to fertility and family. Sekhmet is a warrior goddess, she has many names and is always portrayed as a lioness. The most feared predator of ancient Egypt”

 

Bard frowned. “I thought they would use a male lion for such a strong deity?”

 

Judith shook her head. “No, they knew that the king of beasts is nothing compared to the queen, a male lion just fuck, sleep and chase off other males. The females does the killings!”

 

She stared at the two men. “Sekhmet was also known as “the one for whom evil trembles” “Mistress of the terrible” “Lady of killings” and last but not least” She who maims” The claw guys, it belongs to some sort of feline!”

 

Bard had to laugh. “Don’t tell me the Shrike is really some old Egyptian Goddess? Please, we are not part of an episode of the twilight zone.”

 

Judith held up a picture of the cloth. “This is a piece of the fabric only priestesses of Sekhmet were allowed to wear. The Egyptology department of the Smithsonian is going nuts right now as we speak, they will be fighting like mad wolves over these things.”

 

Thran scoffed. “So, what is it you are saying?”

 

Judith shrugged. “I think that the killer could be a devotee of Sekhmet, someone belonging to the old Egyptian religions. It is the only rational explanation”

 

Bard sighed. “A crazy murderer who kills because some lion headed deity demands it?”

 

Judith looked helpless. “If you have a better explanation I would love to hear it!”

 

Thran looked slightly uncomfortable. “No, it doesn’t fit the situation, it doesn’t feel right. I have investigated serial killers before damn it, this is no madman, no psychopath. This is a person who does a job, and that is it. There is no more emotion involved than when my gardener trims my lawns.”

 

Judith sighed, she looked like a beaten person. “So, now what?”

 

Bard got up. “We go and see what Thor wants us to do, I bet the lists can provide us with hour upon hour of work”

 

Elisa nodded but there were shadows in her eyes. Bard knew she already had started to doubt her own sanity, it wasn’t good. She mumbled. “It has to be a sect then, surviving since the days of old Egypt, making sacrifices? “

 

Bard touched her arm gently. “Listen, don’t think about that now ha? We have a lot of possible suspects out there, people who need to be investigated, to be questioned. We have a shitload of work ahead of us”

 

Elisa just smiled vaguely, there was darkness in her eyes.

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Bard was leaning against the wall, his head hurt like hell and he was almost seeing double, the day had brought more work than anybody could have guessed. The lists had been long and lo and behold, the other victims killed in their city had all been on them. Bard had never believed that people, seemingly ordinary citizens could hide such secrets. The construction worker had helped build a secret room within an old bomb shelter underneath an abandoned school. The social worker had access to records of kids who were vulnerable, who could disappear without anybody really bothering to ask why. The janitor had access to an incinerator, the one they used at the school, to burn garbage. Small bodies were easy to burn. The lawyer helped create false papers, keep them out of danger, prevent anybody from getting suspicious. It was terrible and then there were the other names, almost thirty in all. It had been a sort of club, with secret meetings and a coded language.

 

The officers from the VICE division had been working like mad, and the lists and the information on the memory stick had resulted in the discovery of the hidden rooms. Others did deal with this now, Bard and his team were investigating the murders and it was getting harder and harder to find the will to go on. The priest and the nun, they had also provided children for this gang of disturbed people and if the children did survive the two of them made sure that their victims fell silent forever. There had been more deaths at that orphanage than normal but since there wasn’t like an epidemic or something, just some very sick kids passing away nobody reacted. It was so disgusting and horrible Bard had felt like crying the entire day.

 

The only good thing was that he had managed to get a hold of one of his former friends who were working as body guards and he had been more than willing to protect Thran’s son, he had given off the contact information and soon Legolas would be protected all day long. It felt good knowing that he had managed to at least solve one problem.

 

Fred reported that Mrs Carpenter had found a hotel and stayed there using her maiden name, by now the media were all over the case like a swarm of blowflies. Thor tried to keep the cards tight to his chest, they didn’t want the suspects to be warned of what was happening and flee so he feared that names would be leaked. The lists were therefor kept locked up within his desk and the digitalized copies were on his computer only, behind a password protection.

The first people on the lists were hauled in that afternoon and nobody had any chance to think of  the artefacts.

 

Thran became very useful now, he and Faramir would sit with the suspects and pretend to be just two people sitting there waiting for someone and they did observe a lot and Thran managed to determine whether or not the suspects were involved in anything illegal rather easily. A few of the people on the lists were not guilty of abuse or anything, they were victims themselves, people who were being blackmailed into helping out and some didn’t even know what they had been involved in. These unfortunate souls were let loose but they soon found those who had participated. Most did confess when they were shown photos and film showing themselves and their victims and Bard knew that the trials would take months. The evidence was too disturbing for an ordinary jury, they would need specialists and where could you find a lawyer willing to defend this sort of criminals? Bard knew that if these culprits ended up in an ordinary jail they would last perhaps forty eight hours tops, child molesters were the absolute lowest of the low in a prison and everybody hated them.

 

He was so tired he was seeing double when he and Thran drove back to the hotel that night, it was very late and he was aching all over. He had been so fucking tense the whole day. Ori had mailed Elisa with yet some cases from as far away as China and Bard wondered how the hell the nerd managed to find this shit. But it was obvious, the shrike was a global phenomenon, there had even been a murder on Greenland of all places, in 1931.

 

Thran ordered dinner to be brought to their room and they ate in silence, both too tired to do anything except getting the food down and then Bard got some pain killers and found the bed. He fell asleep the moment he laid down, overwhelmed by emotions and anxiety.

 

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He woke up with a start the next morning, he heard Thran speaking to one of the hotel staff and he heard that he thanked the man for something, then he ordered a large breakfast and Bard moaned. He didn’t want to get up, but he had to. He had slept like a log and he had felt safe there, with Thran by his side. He got up and took a warm shower before getting dressed. Thran was already ready for the day but he did look tired and worried. He was holding a newspaper in one hand and he pointed at it. “Bard, look at this.”

 

Bard could read the headlines from the other side of the room, the fonts were war sized. “Angel of wrath!” it said and “Vigilante killer on the loose”

 

Thran tried to smile. “Thor called just a few minutes ago, they have informed the other police forces of our findings, all the murder cases are being reopened, they want to check if the victims had done something criminal”

 

Bard yawned, it was Thursday and that meant that he would get to go and meet the kids in a little over a day. Now it felt like a small glimpse of sunshine within an otherwise dark and rainy day. Thran pointed at the table by the door. “The hotel staff have left some coffee there, go ahead. Breakfast is coming soon.”

 

Bard felt his nose shiver, the coffee did smell divine. He poured a cup and noticed an envelope on the table, it was for Thran but he saw a logo in the corner which made him frown. It was the logo of Sophia’s doctor and he turned around. “What is this?”

 

He felt something akin to anger, what was Thran doing? The blond made an odd gesture. “Listen, I know I am way out of line here but what you told me about her, I just cannot make sense of it. I think something must have been missed, some diagnosis or something. I just wanted to take a look at her files, I hope I haven’t offended you?”

 

Bard swallowed, some part of him was angry, hurt even, but his more rational side told him to rein it all inn. Thran was just trying to do him a favour and he managed to smile. “It is alright, go ahead. Maybe you can shed some light on why she did what she did”

 

Thran looked relieved. “Thanks, it was eating away at me, I hope I can be of use to you, help you find some peace”

 

Bard felt moved. He reached out and Thran took his hand, it felt good. “I am grateful, even if you find nothing”

 

The breakfast arrived and Bard ate a lot, he was truly hungry and when they drove off to the station he felt as if he was ready to burst. He wasn’t shocked to find that the station still was under siege, there were reporters everywhere and many camera crews and they had delegated some of the interrogations to other stations which were less profiled. The newspapers and the TV channels and the net was buzzing, by now people had added two and two together and the resent arrests were both shocking and disturbing. Everybody were working very hard, and by now they all knew that this was some sort of vigilante but how did he know of everything? How could he possibly have known of the horrors these people were creating? Some very seasoned and well trained special officers had entered the hidden rooms and they did find several bodies, the youngest were probably not more than a few months of age, if that old. The rooms were described as torture chambers and Thran had to spend much of the first shift of the day trying to help traumatized officers overcome the shock.

 

Camera crews from news stations all over the state descended upon the station, many more came from other states , some foreign stations too demanded that the police did release more information. Thor still kept his cools, refused to say even a word until the proper protocol had been followed and Bard and Elisa had to sit there going through the files with interviews and interrogations to see if there was something the other officers had missed. Thor had asked Leonard and Albert to do some of the interrogations, they worked well together. Duke was commanded to guard the entrance, he wasn’t to let anybody in and for once he did his job well. Carrying a gun sort of brought the tough guy out in him. Fernando was helping with the final examinations of the chapel and the loft, he didn’t have a sense of smell left and didn’t mind rotting blood. The other officers on the team had more than enough to do and the entire station was caught in an atmosphere of mixed horror and determination. They had unravelled something absolutely horrible and as the day went by the number of kids having been abused or killed or both rose to alarming levels.

They found evidence hidden several places, many of the suspects had caches of stuff and Bard felt sick to the bone. Seven had been killed until now, the Shrike never killed more than eight, so there was a good chance that it had moved on, whoever it was. Bard hoped it had, the mere idea of a person who was able to do such things to a human being, even a bastard like Mr Carpenter, made him aware of the fact that it wasn’t someone he wanted to come face to face with. It was almost the end of the shift before Thor started getting emails from police stations all over and then the feds.

 

They had been digging deep and fast and so far it seemed that at least two thirds of the victims indeed had done rather ghastly things. Not all of the deeds were violent though, one man had tricked several older people of all their savings, leaving at least one very old widow to die alone in absolute poverty. Another man had been given permit to transport toxic waste and he hadn’t used the money to safely store it in underground bunkers but dumped it all in a river.

The result was that an entire village had to move away, more than half of the citizens ended up with strange diseases and most died. A woman had been working for a local church, trying to convert children the parents feared were homosexuals. Several had died under her care, she tortured them and nobody had protested at all, believing that the deaths were a result of Gods wrath. Thor was dark eyed when he told them of these findings, the Shrike was after evil, of any kind and Bard remembered what Judith had said and something deep within, some instinct, told him that the Shrike wasn’t done yet, that it never would be done.

 

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Claude Dougal had been a prison guard for almost twenty years and he had worked in the maximum security part of the jail for the past five. He was a huge guy, muscular and tough looking and even the worst of the prisoners usually submitted when he showed up. He had a reputation for having put several men in hospital and in his eyes the inmates of this cellblock were just a waste of air. They were vermin and he had no compassion for any of them, these were murderers and rapists and they were kept in their cells twenty four seven. Some were on death row and he wished that they all could be hauled off to be finished off. He was grunting as he moved along the row of doors, it was early and most were asleep still, he had been pulled out of his daydreams by a red light on one of the panels. It meant that a cell door wasn’t properly closed and that could spell trouble.

 

He saw the door in question, it was locked but he did notice that one of the bars which usually slid into deep holes within the walls had remained in the unlocked position. The system was old and needed repairs, this happened often and didn’t really mean anything as long as the other five bars did slide the way they should. He gave it a kick and then he smelled it, the unique and heavy scent of blood. He froze, grasped his gun and listened carefully. Nothing, the cell was quiet and he felt the hairs stand up at the back of his neck. Something was watching him, cold calculating eyes without any compassion were evaluating him and he felt as he had when his grandmother had hauled him up to the alter of their church, explaining that if he didn’t fear God he would burn forever in brimstone and flames. He had almost pissed himself and now he felt his knees shiver. He opened the hatch and looked in, let out a howl of horror and backed away from the door, ran desperately for the guard room and the alarm button. What he still saw with his inner eye was the text written on the wall underneath the body, with blood. This was the work of the devil, he was sure of it and he just prayed that he wasn’t counted on the list of souls to reap. The words had been bold, large, and yet elegant. Donum enim est iuvenis sagittarius.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A gift for the archer by Nuredhel

 

 

Chapter five: A gift for the archer…

 

 

Bard had finally gotten to the end of the shift, he was exhausted but also elated, he was going to visit the kids this weekend, and Thran was going with him. He had called Jean in the midst of the mayhem and explained that he was bringing a colleague with him, someone in need of a place to stay. That was a white lie but Jean swallowed it, she had such a big heart and would probably spoil Thran royally. The entire station was like a beehive of activity now, the other shifts came in and were briefed and carried on with the work and Thor gave Bard an explicit order to relax and forget about work, completely. It would be hard but he knew that the kids would manage to lift his spirit considerably. He hadn’t returned to his apartment yet, techs had been all over it dusting for fingerprints and found only his, as if there ever were anybody visiting him. He packed the clothes he had and Thran too gathered what he needed for the weekend, he had rented the room for a week more and the hotel staff obviously knew he had money for they were extremely polite and always ready to do his bidding.

 

Jean’s place wasn’t far from the city but it still took a while to get there because of the system of roads, you had to drive in the opposite direction for many miles before you got off the main road and turned onto a spider’s web of smaller ones. If you didn’t know the way you would be hopelessly lost within ten minutes. Bard was driving, he felt almost giddy and Thran was smiling from the passenger seat. “You are really looking forwards to this?”

 

Bard nodded. “Yes, I haven’t seen them for two weeks, last weekend we had to work on the case so I didn’t get to go there. I do miss them so much!”

 

Thran just kept smiling and watched how the landscape changed. The huge office buildings and shops were replaced by smaller ones, then suburbs with nice and expensive villas. Outside of that zone there were more suburbs, just not as fancy and then they reached the area where the farm lay. Here you had a conglomerate of open fields, small gatherings of houses, some large mansion like properties and also a few hotels, far apart and rather discrete compared with the ones in the city. Jean’s farm was not very large but the largest in this area and Bard felt a sense of peace as he turned onto the gravel road leading up to the main buildings. It was surrounded by pastures, a few fields where Jean grew her vegetables, and some holts with different sorts of trees.  Her dad had been very fond of planting trees and you found combinations there which were rather unnatural but cool the way the kids saw it. The small creek ran across the pastures behind the farm buildings and it never ran dry, it originated from a spring.

 

Jean’s huge old pickup was parked in the shade of the barn and Bard had to smile. The scene was one he was very familiar with and it always brought joy to his heart. A bunch of chickens ran around looking for food, an elderly golden retriever laid in the shadows and didn’t even bother to bark and he saw that Sigrid and Tilda were standing in the paddock, trying to braid the old pony. The animal had been old already when Bard started dating Sophia and he had no idea of how long it would manage to cling onto life. It had to be at least thirty by now? Bain was nowhere to be seen, he probably sat in the basement with some video game or something like that, it was too hot to play and Jean had a room which was rather cool even in the midst of summer. It was affectionately referred to as “The fridge”

 

Bard parked the car and Sigrid and Tilda came running as if their soles were on fire, they immediately flung themselves around his neck and he hugged them back, vigorously. “How have my brave girls been?”

 

Sigrid was grinning from one ear to the other. “Good, good, know what? I beat Sarah at the spelling bee.”

 

Bard knew of that girl, the one everybody in Sigrid’s class loved to hate, spoiled, full of herself and actually not stupid but mean as hell. “Wonderful, I bet she didn’t like that ha?”

 

Sigrid giggled. “She was absolutely fuming”

 

Tilda was clinging to his legs and she too was grinning. “And you princess, who have you bested today?”

 

Tilda cocked her head and stared at Thran who was getting out of the car, a bit slowly, as if he felt guilty for being there and interrupting this. “Who is that? He is pretty!”

 

Bard felt himself blush, listen to children and thou shalt hear the truth, or whatever they used to say back in the days. “Yes, his name is Thran and he is working with me now”

 

Sigrid hadn’t forgotten the manners. “Pleased to meet you”

 

She took Thran’s hand and he shook it gently. “Very pleased to meet you too young lady”

 

Tilda kept clinging to Bard’s waist and he sighed, lifted her up. She was too big now to be carried but she had sort of returned to an almost toddler like behaviour after Sophia’s death. She refused to let go of him and she was fiercely protective of her siblings, could explode in a rather terrifying sort of rage if anyone even looked at them the wrong way. Nobody had any idea of why, but the therapist said that it was normal for kids who had been through trauma of any sort to become clingy. Jean exited the front door and Bard saw that the screen should have been fixed and the broken window next to it replaced. She grinned from one ear to the other but Bard did notice that she looked more tired than before. “Bard, welcome. How good to see you again, the kids have been missing you terribly”

 

She hugged him and he hugged her back, she smelled of food as usual and it was as if that woman had a sixth sense for each time he arrived dinner was just about ready. She then stepped back and took a look at Thran and her eyes got a bit wide. “Oh my, you must be Mr Oropherson?”

 

Thran blushed and nodded and took her hand, she smiled and winked at Bard before she took Tilda. “Come, I have rooms ready and the dinner is ready too. My chicken casserole”

 

Bard felt his stomach grumble, her cooking was second to none, in fact he was dead sure that many professional chefs would have sold their souls and all of their equipment to achieve just a tiny bit of her skill. Thran bowed his head politely. “That sounds lovely Mrs…?”

 

Jean laughed. “Buckley, but do call me Jean, please. Nobody have called me Mrs Buckley for years, not since Mr Buckley left us”

 

Thran blinked. “I am sorry to hear that”

 

Jean opened the door and they entered the huge combined kitchen and living room. A massive oak table was placed along the wall with plenty of chairs and one corner held a couch and armchairs and her old TV set. The only modern thing in there was her kitchen appliances, she had plenty of those and knew how to use them too. The stove was huge with several rooms and Bard knew she loved to experiment with all sorts of food. “Don’t be, he wasn’t a large loss. Bain! Get your ass up from the basement, we have guests”

 

Bard had to grin, if his son was immerged in some game you could burn the house down and he wouldn’t notice. But this time the door did open and he did show up, hair unkempt and sticking in every direction and the first thing Bard did notice was a huge bruise around his right eye. “What in God’s name have you been doing?”

 

Bard went into a sort of “Mother Hen” mode right there and then and Bain squirmed as his father grasped him and tried to evaluate the damage. “Da, no! it is nothing, I am alright!”

 

Bard frowned. “Don’t tell me you have been in a fight? For if you have then by God…”

 

Bain hissed as Bard checked a couple of stiches which were placed above the lad’s eyebrow, Jean chuckled. She was a thin and rather tall woman who still looked rather pretty but she was worn down by hard work and worries. Now she patted Bard on his back. “No, the boy haven’t been fighting, it was an accident at school”

 

Bard froze” And why haven’t I been told?”

 

Jean stared at him, she had soft brown eyes just like Sophia had but hers could look like they were made from ice at times. “Because you are busy you big oaf, I didn’t want to cause you extra distress when you are on a case. I read about it in the papers you know, disgusting stuff”

 

Bard had to let go of Bain who stared at Thran. “Hello? Are you the prof…profiler?”

 

Thran smiled and nodded. “Yes, pleased to meet you young man”

 

Bain sort of blushed, he was tired of being treated as a kid and being called young man pleased him, a lot! “Likewise”

 

Bard bit his teeth together. “So, what happened?”

 

Jean sighed. “It was in the chemistry class, from what I was told something exploded and Bain was hit by a glass jar that came flying. Apparently some prankster had replaced some chemicals with others and the teacher didn’t notice until it was too late. Two more kids got cuts and the school have been calling twice a day to check on everybody. I haven’t heard anyone being as apologetic as the headmaster when he called me, he was all but crying”

 

Bard growled. “Oh he’d better be, such things shouldn’t be allowed to happen”

 

Jean shrugged. “Agreed, but they do happen when there are kids around and the culprit did confess and is grounded for a month with no phone nor TV, I bet that kid thinks his life is over”

 

She sort of pushed and hauled everybody towards the table. “But sit, do sit down! I just need to finish the sauce”

 

Thran sat down next to Bard and the investigator did notice the way Thran admired the old building. The rooms were huge, veritable halls but the wood was worn and grey and Bard knew that most of the farm needed repairs. Serious ones. Bard had always loved this place, the farm had once been home for several families and there were at least ten huge bedrooms upstairs. It only had one bathroom though but Jean had managed to get hold of a huge old barrel which was placed outside of the house on the backside and it functioned as a combined bathtub, pool and shower. It was so huge six people could be seated in it easily and she claimed that it came from a brewery. Bard did believe her, when the water got really hot he could smell alcohol from the wood, but he wasn’t able to determine what sort of alcohol.

The table was already set with plates and everything and Bard grinned, this was a ritual they always performed when he was there. Jean placed the different kettles on the table, everybody poured water into their glasses and then Bard cleared his voice and folded his hands. Thran looked a bit confused but did the same. “Everybody say grace”

 

The kids grinned from ear to ear “GRACE!”

 

Then they attacked the kettles like a pack of hungry wolverines and Thran had to laugh. “That was the most heartfelt and fitting prayer I have ever heard.”

 

Jean giggled and took out two bottles of beer form the cooler. “Bard likes a cold one when he is off duty, how about you Thran?”

 

The tall blonde nodded “Why not really, yes please”

 

Jean stared at Bard. “You look a bit tired, and your eyes are bloodshot?”

 

Bard cringed and Thran sent him a wolfish smile. “Oh Bard was showing me the city, and things got a bit out of hand, he got drunk, very much so, he was even dancing.”

 

Jean’s eyes formed two O’s. “Oh my goodness? Bard drunk? Having a good time? Whatever you are doing Sir please continue!”

 

Bard blushed almost violently and Jean came around the table and gave his shoulders a swift squeeze. “When was the last time you enjoyed yourself dear? You are way too emerged in your work, Sophia would have hated to see what you have done to yourself”

 

Thran was quiet and Bard felt like an odd animal showed off at a market or something. He just stared down at his plate and Jean shook her head. “Mr Oropherson, I am sure you have encountered the den which Bard refers to as his apartment? And you have surely seen that he works himself to death? Thor has a soft spot for my son in law, or else he would have been all over him and sent him off on vacation”

 

Thran smiled. “He does look as if he needs it, badly”

 

Bard closed his eyes and sighed. “I need the money damn it, we all need it”

 

Thran’s eyes got narrow. “I see, don’t you have a job Mrs…eh….Jean?”

 

She sat down and pushed the casserole closer to him, Thran had already finished most of the food on his plate. The expression on her face was serious. “I was working until a year ago, I used to teach art history at the local college. Now I am just trying to make ends meet here, Bard does contribute but I just wish he didn’t give us everything while forgetting about himself. “

 

Thran looked a bit shocked. “You are not old enough to retire?”

 

Jean looked a bit embarrassed or rather, embarrassed and bitter. “No, I am not. I still had some years left in me, good years too. I loved my job and my students and the pay wasn’t bad. Not good enough to do everything which needs to be done with this place but enough to make our lives relatively pleasant. “

 

Bard knew this story but Thran was ignorant and obviously curious too. “So what happened?”

 

Jean took a deep breath. “Oh Mr Oropherson, that is an ugly story I am afraid, are you sure you want to hear?”

 

Thran straightened his back. “Ma’am, I know all about ugly, don’t worry about that”

 

Jean made sure that everybody’s plates were full again, nobody left her table with room for more, that was for darn certain. “I did mention my husband? I married him when I was twenty five and Sophia was seven. Jacob was….a good man in some ways, not so good in others but I didn’t know. He was handy and fixed a lot and he did work hard too, when he felt like it”

 

Thran cocked his head. “And when he didn’t?”

 

Jean tried to smile. “Oh then he was drinking, gambling and whoring. The last was what got me fired from my job”

 

Thran was gaping. “What?!”

 

Bard knew this all too well, and there had been nothing he could do, Jean was too stubborn to accept help, just like her daughter had been. Jean continued. “Jacob was already dead by then, the last years he was alive he was confined to a bed and couldn’t take care of himself at all. It was some sort of brain tumour and since we didn’t have insurance there was naught we could do. But rumours spread you see and we have this extremely conservative little group within the leadership of the college. Someone managed to convince them that Jacob had suffered from everything from HIV to syphilis and that I shouldn’t be allowed near the students since I could have it too. So I was told to go and the potty mouth with the vivid imagination got the job I used to have”

 

Thran swallowed visibly. “That is about the meanest thing I have heard in a long time, didn’t you fight back?”

 

Jean looked down at her hands. “I was a widow, in shock after the death of my husband, and even more shocked by the death of my daughter. I didn’t have it in me, I had savings but a farm like this? It eats away at those like termites.”

 

Thran shook his head slowly. “Too bad, way too bad. You should have sued them”

 

Jean smiled, a sad smile. “Where could I get a lawyer? Oh Bard did try to push me into taking them to court and he would have found a lawyer too but I didn’t have the energy, nor the money. I didn’t see the fight as one worth fighting”

 

Thran sent her a very sad smile. “And thus you are allowing them to tarnish your name, I would have been all over them and demanded that they’d make a public apology”

 

Jean snickered. “Well, if it is any consolation, the art history students used to be among the best within the entire states, with record grades. After they fired me they have dropped almost to the bottom, their scores is just about better than the worst college there is, one situated at some island somewhere, most of the students  there cannot even read. They cut their own switch when they employed that little ass kisser”

 

Thran grinned widely. “So she isn’t a good teacher?!”

 

Jean shook her head. “No, if there weren’t younger ears here I would call her by her true name but we don’t use such profane language by the table in this house. She wouldn’t be able to teach a fish how to swim, she has an IQ lower than her bra size. But she is the mistress of one of the board members, the whole campus knows but nobody dares to protests since he has got something on everyone. Lovely isn’t it? A brilliant environment for our hopeful youths, that college has changed a lot in just a couple of years. In some ways I am glad I am here now, I would have mourned to see the changes.”

 

Thran had to laugh. “You haven’t lost your spirit Jean, I can see that.”

 

She grinned back. “No Sir, this old lioness still has her claws. If I cannot teach I can at least take care of these wonderful grandchildren I have been blessed with. “

 

She bent down and kissed Tilda on the head and the girl giggled. Thran finished his plate and Bard emptied the glass of beer, he felt relaxed and well. Sigrid was fidgeting with the napkin she had been given, she sort of grimaced and Bard did see it. “What is it dear?”

 

She stared over at Jean. “Da, grandma has sold some of the horses”

 

Bard turned his head around, so fast he almost got a whiplash. “What? Why?!”

 

Jean sighed. “Oh for crying out loud Bard, you do know why! This place is like a drain, everything goes down it. It has been bone dry for months and the price I get for everything has dropped too. The barn needs a new roof or it will fall apart sooner or later and the tractor is kaput. It needs a new engine. So yes, I sold some horses. Three to be exact”

 

Bard swallowed. “Oh Jean, you should have told me!”

 

She stared at him, chin thrust forward. “And what could that have accomplished? You working even harder? Until you become a burnt out wreck, barely able to do naught but exist? No Bard, my daughter loved you dearly, I don’t want to see you destroyed. You have a sense of duty which is way too strong, I said it back then and I am saying it again”

 

Bard cringed, he felt a bit guilty for he knew she spoke the truth but he also knew that selling her beloved horses was like selling her own children. “Which ones did you sell?”

 

Jean shrugged. “The colt after Sunshine, the filly and the colt after Sunflower.”

 

Bard almost moaned. “You sold Sunspot? But you told me that was the best darn colt you have ever bred?!”

 

Jean took a deep breath. “Yes, yes he was. But I did get ten grand for him, and I got seven for Sunbeam and eight for Sundance. I needed the money Bard, and I’d be damned before I demand that you push yourself into an early grave. We will manage, somehow we always do”

 

Thran cocked his head. “You breed horses?”

 

She nodded. “A hobby I started with when I first met Jacob, he used to be a horse trainer you see. I only have three brood mares, Sunshine, Sunflower and Eclipse’s babe, but I get three foals each year and some have done well too, as show horses”

 

Thran looked very interested. “What breed?”

 

Jean smiled. “You are interested in horses? Bard is afraid of them. I breed paint horses, and palomino’s”

 

Thran sent her a wide grin. “My father had a stud farm, I had to learn how to ride before I was able to walk. I love horses yes. And I do own some too, a couple of race horses and some riding horses my son uses”

 

Jean’s eyes were alight, she sensed a kindred spirit. “Really? Here, look”

 

She got up and grabbed a photo from a shelf, showed it to Thran, It was rather faded but showed a huge palomino stallion with a proudly lifted head and long silvery mane and tail. “This was the first stud I got, I bought him as a foal and he was going to be put down for they said he had a twisted hoof bone. But I knew how to fix him and my did I get some gorgeous foals out of him”

 

Thran gasped. “He is exquisite, a beauty!”

 

Jean nodded. “Yes, Sunseeker was my pride and joy. He lived to the age of twenty, could have gotten older but his heart said stop. It was like losing your best friend”

 

She put the photo away. “The mares I breed from are his daughters, Sunspot was his spitting image but like I said, we needed the money. So you have a son Thran?”

 

Thran nodded. “Yes , Legolas, he is twelve”

 

Jean had sharp eyes, she saw the empty ring finger. “And no wife?”

 

Thran made a grimace “Uh no, uhm, long story”

 

Jean nodded. “I see, would you guys like some more beer?”

 

Bard nodded and Thran did too. They moved away from the table and found seats on the porch and Tilda immediately came running with some drawings she had made. She wanted to show them to Bard and Thran too admired them and bragged about her talent. Sigrid was telling about the preparations for the singing contest and Bain had managed to get hold of an old trampoline and was practicing somersaults on it. He did show them too and Bard felt a bit worried that the boy would hurt himself but Thran just laughed and said that this was a good activity. He would learn a lot about coordination and how to evaluate risk.

 

Jean went to do the dishes and Thran saw that Sigrid saddled the pony and helped Tilda ride in circles within the paddock. “So Jean’s husband was no good?”

 

Bard sighed. “Well, I wouldn’t say he was no good at all, he had his moments when he really pulled his weight and accomplished a lot. But he was bossy, and had a tendency to treat everybody else as if they were daft. I have always wondered what in heavens name Jean saw in him but I guess they both loved horses. And when he had a good month he could be a very decent guy, just too bad he was a prick when his mood was low. Sophia tried to avoid him, I guess she never saw him as her step father at all, just as someone who lived with her mom!”

 

Thran looked interested, Bard guessed that he found this fascinating. “Do you know anything about him before he met Jean?”

 

Bard shrugged. “Just that he trained racehorses somewhere in California I think, and got fired for having showed up drunk at work a few times too many. Alcohol was the demon he tried to dodge, it is sad but he didn’t always manage to stay clear of its path”

 

Thran stared at the kids and his eyes were distant. “A broken man I bet, proud and once respected, then a victim of his own weakness, one he hated. It is a well-known tale”

 

Bard raised his beer bottle. “Cheers to that. Jean did mourn him though, in spite of it all, I do pity her”

 

Thran turned towards him and ran his hand over Bard’s. “So do I, if your Sophia was anything like her she must have been a wonderful woman indeed”

 

Bard took a deep breath, felt his throat sort of close up. “She was”

 

Jean reappeared and took Thran to see the stable and the mares and Bard spent some time with Bain, helping him perfect his spins. It was getting late and the sunset turned the old grey wood into gold for a few fleeting moments. The farm was placed so that the last rays always hit it and he guessed that it was the reason Jean had chosen to use sun based names for her animals. Jean returned and grinned, she sat down and watched how Thran was showing Tilda how to sit correctly in the saddle. The pony was a Shetland mix and so small it looked rather silly but old Blizzard didn’t mind being led around while someone adjusted his rider. He was as docile as they come. Jean petted Bard on his hand. “Bard, I have met many people in my life, some I have loathed, some I have been completely indifferent too and a few I have desperately wanted to be a part of my life. “

 

Bard frowned. “And?”

 

Jean smiled, a melancholic smile. “He is in the last category dear, I know how to read a man and he is rock solid. If you let this one pass you by I will personally smack your bottom!”

 

Bard almost spat out the beer he had been close to swallowing. “Jean?!”

 

She grinned even wider. “Oh don’t be daft Bard, I know you swing both ways and he is as gay as they come, I could be blind and still be certain of that. Sophia wanted nothing more than for you to be happy, this is your chance and don’t you dare wasting it”

 

Bard cringed, he didn’t want his former mother in law discussing his love life, this was embarrassing. “We are co-workers, it wouldn’t be…!”

 

Jean put a finger over his mouth. “Do you believe in faith? I do. Thran is a psychologist and a darn good one too, yes I do know how to use google! He will try to help Tilda, only that alone is enough for me, if he can give my granddaughter some peace I would gladly give everything I have.”

 

Bard frowned. “How is she?”

 

Jean sighed. “Seemingly doing well but I see it Bard, I see it every day. She is suffering, that kid is afraid, all the time. And she won’t tell anyone what she is afraid of.”

 

Bard swallowed, his heart sank within his chest. “Nightmares?”

 

Jean looked very tired all of a sudden, sunken almost. “Horrible ones, but she has been making some odd drawings lately. Celebrian has managed to get through her shell in some ways but not in others, she taught Tilda to draw the things she was thinking off”

 

Bard tilted his head. “That is a new method? Is it working?”

 

Jean made a vague gesture. “Sort of. She is better at expressing her feelings now but sometimes she elapses and just sits there, crying. “

 

Bard felt a surge of sorrow, yet again he wondered why he couldn’t have come home just a little earlier, and saved his daughter from what she saw. “What sort of drawings are you talking about?”

 

Jean got up and walked over to a bureau by the wall, pulled out a drawer and found some sheets of paper. Bard saw that it was drawn with crayons, in Tilda’s characteristic style, bold thick lines which seemed almost aggressive but he couldn’t make out what it was at all. It looked like some sort of non figurative art. “I have no idea of what this is supposed to be? It looks like something a two year old would draw”

 

Jean nodded. “Yes, so Celebrian suggested that this is Tilda just venting her feelings, it looks almost aggressive in a way, wouldn’t you say?”

 

Bard nodded. “Very, those lines are extremely…bold!”

 

Jean sighed and patted his hand. “I guess it is good for her to get it all out, I just wish she would speak of it. But she refuses to even mention that day. I guess the shock was too much for her, poor little darling.”

 

Bard nodded, he didn’t really have anything more to say. Thran sauntered over and smiled that wide smile that made Bard’s heart speed up. “You have a future barrel racer there, she has such a good balance but needs to work on her coordination”

 

Jean was beaming with pride. “Oh yes, and she is courageous too. One day she will be among the best for sure”

 

Sigrid helped Tilda take care of the pony and Bain retreated to his own room, apparently there was a TV show he wanted to watch. It was getting cooler so they went inside again and Jean entertained Thran with long stories about her horses and the things they had accomplished. She hardly ever mentioned Jacob and when she did it was with a certain bitterness, Bard knew that Jacob could have transformed this farm into a very successful business if he hadn’t had his bouts of drinking, he had gambled and lost too much money and thus they had stayed at a standstill economically speaking. Jean knew how far they could have come if he had been stronger, that was what pissed her off the most.

 

The kids went to bed after having hugged Bard thoroughly, Tilda had to be carried to bed by him as was usual when he visited and he wished that he could have spent more time with them all. He felt as if he was failing them but what was he to do? He had to work, he had to earn money so they could put food on the table and pay the bills. Jean was bragging about one of the two year olds, a colt named Solar storm and Thran seemed to be impressed by the animal too. He wasn’t as pretty as Sunspot but more powerful and Thran had suggested that they trained him for cross country riding. Jean agreed and Bard had to laugh, she had already managed to talk Thran into breaking him inn. Jean brought out a bottle of scotch and Thran had a glass of it, Bard did not like scotch that much but he had a little, just to be social. Jean bid them goodnight and disappeared into her room at the back of the house and Thran and Bard remained there alone. The fireplace had been lit but now the flames died down and the room got darker. Thran stared at the embers. “You have a wonderful family Bard, I envy you that. “

 

Bard had to blush, “Thank you”

 

Thran put down the glass and turned towards him. “I have brought Sophia’s files, I think I will take a look at them tomorrow. Is she was anything like her mother she wouldn’t just give up the way she apparently did, she would have fought it, clawed at it, battled her depression like a grizzly bear”

 

Bard nodded. “I know, that is why I haven’t managed to find any peace yet, it eats away at me constantly”

 

Thran got up. “I am tired and I bet you are too, it has been a lovely evening Bard, and I think I may be able to determine what Tilda’s problem is”

 

Bard held his breath. “Oh, that would be wonderful”

 

He shut the lights and followed Thran upstairs, the corridor had rooms on both sides and Thran had been given the huge guest bedroom at the end of the row. He turned to Bard and smiled, a hand reached out and caressed his and Bard’s breath hitched. “I bet the walls here are paper thin, so no way to go too far but I guess this would be a good time to kiss you, yes, it is”

 

Bard didn’t have time to react before Thran leaned in and suddenly warm lips were pressed against his own and a firm body pressed him against the wall. The almost violent surge of sheer arousal which rushed through him couldn’t match the odd tenderness of that kiss though, or the feeling of it being just right, what he always had wanted and waited for. He kissed Thran back and by God, the blond knew how to do this. Bard felt his toes curl in his boots and his knees had been transformed to jelly. Thran did break the kiss eventually, there was a devil dancing in the blue eyes and Bard was panting, he did see that Thran did breathe hard too. “Oh how I long to get to know you better, it is gonna be a wonderful experience for sure. You are so delectable”

 

Bard felt dizzy, overwhelmed. “I still cannot wrap my head around the fact that you want me”

 

Thran chuckled and let a finger slide along Bard’s jawline, it was just about the most erotic touch he had felt in many years. “And why shouldn’t I? You are ragged and handsome and so manly, and I just know I can trust you.”

 

Bard sort of moaned, Thran was pressing against him and he did feel that the tall blond was just as hard as himself, he wanted to grind against the firmness, grasp onto the narrow hips and just let go of everything even resembling control but knew that he couldn’t. Not here and now. It didn’t feel right. “ I am flattered”

 

Thran leaned forth and nipped at Bard’s earlobe. “It is the truth, you are everything I want packed into one.”

 

Bard felt his legs shiver. “I see, but now I think we’d better find our separate rooms before I lose my control and ravish you here in the hallway right on the floor”

 

Thran grinned viciously. “Is that a promise?”

 

Bard shuddered, the timbre in that voice, the teasing tone and the warmth. He wouldn’t be able to sleep now, not right away anyhow. “It is, one day that will happen”

 

Thran let go of him. “Good, I will hold you to that promise. Good night my friend, I am very glad you invited me”

 

Bard did squeeze his hand one last time. “So am I”

 

He hurried into his room, it wasn’t large, just a bed and some closets but it was way better than his bedroom in the city and he got rid of his clothes and turned off the lights. He stretched out on the matrass and tried not to think about Thran, about the scent of him, the strength in those elegant hands and the obvious proof of his desire, pressed against Bard’s own crotch. It was no good, he turned over, opened a drawer in the nightstand by the bed. There were some tissues there from the last time he visited, he had had the sniffles then and needed something to clear his nose and now the tissues found another use. He turned over onto his belly, eyes closed and mind locked on the gorgeous man who obviously were as taken by Bard as Bard was taken by him. The thrusts were desperate, he strained against his own grip and it didn’t take long before he came, hard. He gasped Thran’s name into the pillow, shuddered through the release and afterwards he threw the tissues in the garbage bin by the door before he fell asleep like he had been shot, relaxed, exhausted and filled with a strange feeling of euphoria. Thran liked him, this could perhaps be going somewhere after all.

 

The next morning he was awakened by the sound of the children clamouring down the stairs and the radio which as usual was turned on to a level which made it hard to ignore. Jean liked to listen to loud music while preparing food, for some reason it helped her concentrate. Bard made use of the bathroom and luckily nobody else felt the urge right then for he hated having to wait. He was glad neither Sigrid nor Tilda yet was of that age when a girl can spend half a day in front of the mirror. Some once said that the tapdance was invented by a Scottish man with fourteen daughters and one bathroom and Bard was able to believe that. Jean had prepared breakfast as usual, which meant huge amounts and extremely tempting. Thran came wandering down the stairs and he stopped and stared at the table, eyes wide. “Are you preparing to feed an entire army ma’am?”

 

Jean just grinned. “No, just you, but as I am sure you are aware of, growing children, and boys in special does eat a lot!”

 

Than nodded and found a seat, Bard felt an urge to just stare at him like some love sick teenager but knew that he couldn’t so he schooled his face into a believable neutral expression and found a huge cup for his morning tea. Jean had already brewed a whole mug, just the way Bard liked it, strong and sweet. Sophia had loved coffee, and she preferred it black as tar and just about as viscous. The kids got milk or orange juice and Tilda was happily tearing into a box of chocolate syrup, the result was a piece of toast which was more chocolate than toast. She would get the sugar high of this century soon. Bain was wolfing down his breakfast, he had watched some youtube videos with trampoline stunts and wanted to test them out and Sigrid had some homework she wanted to be done with. Bard sighed, it felt so good to be there, away from the city and everything but he felt bad for leaving all the work to the others on his team. But by God how he needed this, he emptied his cup and ate slowly to savour the excellent bread Jean was making. Bain left the table and scooted outside and Thran turned to Tilda and smiled. “I hear that you are fond of drawing? What do you draw?”

 

Tilda sort of squirmed. “Stuff”

 

Thran nodded. “So do I, but I am no good though.”

 

Tilda frowned, “Really?”

 

The blond smiled and nodded again, very solemnly. “Perhaps you can teach me?”

 

Jean had already found some crayons and paper and they moved over to the living room table in the corner. Tilda was smiling, she obviously liked the idea of teaching someone for she grasped the crayons with great zeal and started showing Thran how to hold them. Thran winked at Bard, this was good. If he was to get a good view of Tilda’s situation he had to make her trust him. Bard didn’t interfere, he knew that Thran had to form a bond with the girl and he would just be in the way. Instead he went outside and watched Bain test the different moves he had found. The boy was actually very good and Bard even tried a couple of times and almost ended on his nose. He wasn’t all that agile anymore. Jean went to take care of the horses and the other animals and the place was quiet, here you could really breathe, feel the air and relax. In the city it was always cramped somehow, nothing was natural.

 

Bard went back inside and saw that Thran and Tilda were busy drawing “stuff” she actually had a talent for it but the drawings Jean had showed him had been so very odd, nothing at all like the stuff she now made. Thran made some rather simple drawings and Tilda sort of embellished them, it made them both laugh. Bard sat down with a book he had started reading the last time he was there and tried to get back into the story but it was hard. He just couldn’t concentrate. He was about to close the book when his phone rang and he jumped, he just knew that something was off right away. It was Thor and Bard swore as he answered the call. “Yes?”

 

Thor’s voice was a bit shaky. “Bard? There has been a new murder, the Shrike again”

 

Bard felt his mouth go dry. “I can be there in an hour”

 

Thor was speaking rather loudly, there was a heck of a lot of noise in the background. “No, you don’t. You are off this case”

 

Bard gaped. “What?! NO!! why?”

 

Thor could be heard sighing. “Because this one hits way too close to home Bard, I am sending over the info now, you do have a laptop? You stay exactly where you are, and I mean it!”

 

Bard felt cold. “What do you mean close to home?”

 

Thor obviously closed the door to his office. “First the note, which proves that the Shrike knows who you are and what your role is, and this one came with a message. See for yourself, I will let Faramir be the contact person from now on, I bet the media and the mayor and just about every goddamn individual on this planet will be at my throat for the next hours”

 

There was a pling coming from Bard’s laptop, he had left it on the sofa the day before and he went over and picked it up. Thor could be heard one last time. “Take care Bard, this frightens me. We have no idea of what this…person…is after”

 

Bard opened the mail, first was a short note written by Thor, the murder had happened early that morning in the high security prison north of the city, the prison guard who found the body was still in shock, claiming that the devil had done it. And when Bard looked at the facts he was inclined to agree, the prison was full of cameras, almost everywhere and yet none of them had caught even a glimpse of the killer. It was the same M.O too, the dead prisoner was found hanging from a water pipe which had been twisted in what the technicians could only describe as a very “creative manner”. The guy had been mutilated just like the rest but underneath him was a text which made Bard freeze up. The picture was graphic and terrible and yet it didn’t bother him as much as those words. A translation was written underneath the image. A gift for the archer it said with bold letters, and Bard realized why Thor wanted him off the case. But a gift? Why? What did that mean? He had never seen the dead guy in his life and he just got more and more confused. Was this some sort of sick joke from the killer? A challenge? A way to mock him? He had no idea.

Thran finished what he was doing and walked over, he frowned. “Bad news?”

 

Bard nodded. “The worst possible. A new murder, in prison. The high security one”

 

Thran looked shocked. “What? Are we going back to the office?”

 

Bard shook his head. “Nope, I am off the case, look at this”

 

He showed Thran the image and the profiler cringed but did read the text and went pale. “Oh Jesus, this could be bad.”

 

Bard felt his throat go dry. “No shit!”

 

Thran obviously tried to think practically. “So, who is the victim this time, at least there is no doubt that he is guilty of something foul. “

 

Bard opened the file following the mail, he stared at the hard facts. “The man’s name is Bolg Tawar, age 39, born in Alaska of all places, a real work of art”

 

The list of crimes was as thick as Bard’s family bible or so it seemed, this man had been hard core. “Says here that he was hired by the mafia for most of his adult life, did break inns, stole cars, broke some kneecaps and did assassinations and kidnappings. All with the greatest glee, he was regarded as a complete psychopath.”

 

Thran mumbled. “And now he is a very dead psychopath, don’t ask me to weep for this creature for I have seen this type before, they are as bad as they get. But how the hell did the Shrike get in there? Unseen?”

 

Bard shook himself. “I have no idea, more and more about this case makes no sense whatsoever. But a gift for the archer? Is the meaning ironic?”

 

Thran stared at the picture, the dead man was stripped down to his waist, and the body was covered with tattoos, some were rather tasteless. He was obviously thinking hard. “The killer could mean it like that yes, a sort of “Look, I have given you more to work with” but I don’t think so, he isn’t that type. I think this is meant quite literally, this death is a gift for you, but why? I have no idea”

 

Bard frowned. “I have put many behind bars, I would have understood it if it was one of those guys but this one? I have never even heard of him!”

 

Thran started going through the files. “He was put behind bars a year and a half ago, after a failed bank robbery, shot two cops and an innocent bystander. Was on death row but his lawyers tried to convince the judges he was insane. Would most likely be locked away for the rest of his life.”

 

Bard had to think. “I don’t think this Bolg dude has had any connection to the cases I have been working with at all, so why would his death in any way be a gift?”

 

Thran shrugged and made a grimace. “Look, try to forget about it ha? I will go and read through Sophia’s files now and I know Jean wants to go shopping so maybe you’ll join her?”

 

Bard nodded slowly, this had made his skin crawl though, and he did pity the technicians. They couldn’t release the prisoners so everybody would have to work with the rest of this gang of convicts locked up in their individual cells. He hoped Faramir would call and fill him inn on the development. Jean was finished with her chores and did take a quick shower before she got her best dress on. It was a twenty minute drive to the grocery store and Bard was more than happy to help her. They needed a lot of food and the old pickup had room for a lot too, you could even transport round bales with it.

 

They did drive to the shop in silence and Jean stared out of the car window with a distant gaze, he did notice that she had been biting her fingernails and there were blue circles under her eyes. He didn’t ask but he knew that something really was off, and stubborn as she was she would never tell until she felt good and ready for it. Whenever that was. The store wasn’t a large one but it had almost everything you could ask for and Jean put on a happy smiling face as they entered it, she greeted the store manager, smiled at the two employees and pulled out a shopping list the length of the passenger list of a cruise ship. Bard had to run like a rabbit in a summer field to retrieve all the stuff she sent him to find and she proclaimed that she would make her famous mushroom stew for dinner.

 

A couple of bottles of wine went into the shopping cart as well as some beer and then they raided the vegetable department. Jean was extremely concerned about the quality of the stuff she bought and she also abhorred anything sprayed with pesticides so shopping with her did take some time. They were about to visit the meat counter when the phone rang and Bard saw that it was Faramir. He answered with a grunt, the shopping cart had become heavy now, and one wheel was broken so it tried to ram the shelves all the time. Faramir sounded a bit confused. “Bard, what are you doing?”

 

The investigator managed to turn the cart onto the right course again. “Nothing, just trying to avoid that a behemoth of a shopping cart turns into a darn battering ram.”

 

Faramir laughed. “ Wonderful, at least some of us are doing normal stuff, Thor briefed you?”

 

Bard confirmed and Faramir continued. “This is the worst mess I have ever seen, the Shrike did take its time with this one, the dude must have been in agony for quite a while. Odd really, there was some real anger projected onto this victim”

 

Bard swallowed. “Okay? And the other prisoners? Didn’t see or hear anything I recon? “

 

Faramir almost snorted. “Nope, they were asleep and you know, I would have anticipated a lot of noise now, with the cops crawling all over the place but no. They are quiet, all of them are. You should have seen the prison guard, huge burly guy, so afraid he was almost pissing himself, he is in the infirmary now, clinging on to a crucifix and saying hail Mary’s enough to bless the whole freaking country”

 

Bard felt curious. “They are afraid?”

 

Faramir chuckled. “Oh yes, this is beyond them all, this isn’t the cops or the law of any other force they know. These are the worst of the worst Bard, they only fear those who are stronger than them and this…this is the biggest and most terrifying shark in the tank right now, if they are great whites this is a freaking Megalodon”

 

Bard swallowed. “I still cannot wrap my head around the fact that the Shrike has entered unseen! Didn’t the cameras pick up anything at all? Could he have used some sort of electronical device?”

 

Faramir sounded a bit far away. “Hey, don’t go too close to the cell doors, some of these guys spit through the hatch okay?”

 

He returned to the phone. “Sorry about that Bard, one of the technicians is a rookie. Well, the cameras did pick up some sort of interference, the images were a bit blurred, like static but it only lasted for like two seconds”

 

Bard was trying to think. “Could the timing be tampered with?”

 

Faramir could be heard sighing. “Perhaps? I can check it out, you stay put and relax, I will call you the moment I know something more”

 

Bard knew that this was the eight victim, the Shrike would move on if it continued to follow its own pattern. Darn! “Alright, take care”

 

He hung up and Jean was waiting for him. “A tough case?”

 

Bard sighed. “Oh you have no idea!”

 

They went to the counter and Jean paid, Bard wondered if she really could afford all this but he didn’t say anything. She would be offended if he offered to pay for the groceries. The drive home became a slow one, they ended up behind a tractor with some sort of huge machine attached to the back of it and there were no place for it to swing aside and let them pass by. Jean sighed and fidgeted with her hair. “Do you remember our neighbour? The turkey farm?”

 

Bard nodded, he had been there once, buying a turkey for thanksgiving. “Yes, what was their name again, Aragorn and …Arwyn?”

 

Jean giggled. “Arwen Bard, Arwen! Not Arwyn, no, they had to quit two years ago, now they don’t know what to do really, the investors are all over them with lots of shitty and not so shitty offers.”

 

Bard turned his head to look at her. “Quit? Why?”

 

Jean sighed. “An outbreak of some very contagious avian disease, apparently so bad even people can catch it. They have no idea of where it came from though, haven’t been any case of it here on the east coast for at least a century”

 

Bard frowned. “Could some wild bird have brought it in?”

 

Jean nodded. “Yes, it is the only possibility but not a very likely one. Those buildings are sealed off like lab’s.  They were so careful too, very dedicated and very skilled and yet they had to kill off every bird on their farm and the buildings has to stay empty for two years. It has ruined their business completely”

 

Bard cringed. “Oh no, that is too bad, I liked them both”

 

Jean nodded. “Yes, me too. He is trying to get a job and so is she but I don’t know if they have made it yet. They’ll lose the farm if they don’t succeed, easy as that”

 

Bard remembered the highly modern production buildings and the very advanced feeding system and everything, it had cost them a lot, the mortgage was massive. He pitied them right away. “And the bank is impatient?”

 

Jean snorted. “Of course it is, and those leeches knows that too. This area is bloody valuable Bard, not as it is but as land which can be used to build malls and hotels and all sorts of shit! We don’t need that, no, we simply don’t!”

 

Bard nodded, he knew how passionate Jean was when it came to the way fertile land was being converted into something only a capitalist would find appealing. They turned into the driveway and Bard stopped the car in the shade. Bain was still trying to do a backflip and he politely came to help carry the groceries into the house. Thran was sitting on the back porch, he was obviously reading and Bard felt a bit nervous, had he discovered anything? They unpacked and got the stuff into the fridge and the closets and then Jean took off to check the fences. There had been a lot of problems with wild hogs in the area and they would sometimes run through the fences like armoured tanks and leave naught but torn wires and upturned poles. The local farmers were hunting the culprits all the time but hogs are smart and sly and so far only five had been shot, out of a population of at least fifty.

Sigrid was done with her homework and was doing Tilda’s hair and Bard went over to Thran who looked up, his face was serious. “Hello, nice trip?”

 

Bard sat down. “Not too bad. Faramir called, the rest of the prisoners are terrified, scared shitless.”

 

Than sighed, “No wonder, I would be too. Any clues?”

 

Bard shrugged. “Could be that the culprit used some sort of device which interfere with the cameras. Two seconds were reduced to just static, maybe the timing of the cameras was tampered with”

 

Thran nodded. “Let’s hope so, I cannot explain this otherwise.”

 

He put the folder down and stared at Bard. “I have checked the doctor rather well, Dr Jackson has a perfect record, no complaints, is regarded as a first class doctor who really listens to his patients and never ignore any symptoms. He is among the very best, and extremely well liked”

 

Bard nodded. “Yes, he is a pleasant person, you feel as if you can trust him completely. I met him once, at a party somewhere.”

 

Thran took a deep breath. “Listen, there are a number of things regarding your wife’s suicide which triggered my interest and it has just gotten stronger. Dr Jackson wasn’t available when Sophia died, one of the other doctors was in charge and was interrogated, he also did the post mortem examination since the coroner was on vacation. That doctor was rather fresh from medical school.”

 

Bard felt a strange tension creep up his spine. “And? Are you saying that this doctor did a mistake?”

 

Thran nodded. “He may have, listen up. Sophia didn’t leave a suicide note, she had no previous attempts at taking her own life, she knew that her daughter would come home soon and that the other kids too were inbound relatively early. She knew that you were on your way as well. If she truly suffered a mental breakdown she would have waited for all of you to be in bed, or gone somewhere else to do it. And last but not least, how many suicides have you seen Bard?”

 

He felt confused. “Uh, at least twenty I think?”

 

Thran nodded. “How many women?”

 

Bard shrugged. “Five”

 

Thran patted the folder. “Had any of them shot themselves?”

 

Bard didn’t know where Thran was heading at all. “One yes, with a revolver.”

 

Thran stared straight at him, eyes so amazingly blue and yet so adamant. “Had she shot herself in the head?”

 

Bard shook his head. “No, the chest”

 

Thran straightened his legs. “Exactly! Women don’t do that, they don’t just put a gun to their forehead or temple and blow their brains out the way a man would, they are too vain. If a woman does that she is so desperate she has no choice left. Women usually use some sort of poison, or they hang themselves, or slit an artery. Nothing disfiguring, nothing too disgusting and bloody. Sophia had a very light case of depression, it was barely a problem at all and she was in control of it, such cases don’t suddenly change into a full out mental crisis.”

 

Bard held his breath for a few seconds. “What are you saying?”

 

Thran took a deep breath. “Something was very fishy regarding Sophia’s death Bard, I think Tilda saw more than she wants to admit”

 

Bard felt cold. “But…”

 

Thran opened the folder again. “When you arrived the body was still warm, and the paramedics who arrived claimed that she couldn’t have been dead for more than half an hour tops. I have checked the time line, the lady who dropped Tilda off was sure she had seen someone in the house, a shadow across the window. That was twenty five minutes before you arrived. She thought it was Sophia, what if it wasn’t?”

 

Bard felt a cold claw clasp around his chest, he stared at Thran with pleading eyes. “She must have seen the curtains move in the wind, or something like that? You cannot be serious”

 

Thran leaned over and suddenly Bard was pulled into a tight embrace. “I looked at Sophia’s medical records, all of them. She once injured her right index finger in a door, it couldn’t bend as much as before. Your gun was a Colt 45 right? It takes power to pull the trigger, power she didn’t have! You weren’t allowed to be a part of the investigation naturally enough but those who were didn’t have much experience, nor time on their hand. I think the assumptions they made were hasty to say the least and the conclusion was wrong”

 

Bard shivered, the embrace was all that kept him from falling apart, quite literally. “Thran, I cannot believe what you are saying, it isn’t possible, who would…”

 

Thran stroked his hair, hummed into his ear, felt like the only safe and good thing in the world right there and then for he knew, oh how he knew, that the profiler was right. How could he ever have believed what they told him? How could he have had so little faith in her? How could he have forgotten about her stiff finger and the fact that the gun was very hard to fire? The grief had clouded his mind, made their explanations seem rational and true, when they weren’t. Thran kissed his brow, rocked him gently in his arms. “Bard, Sophia was murdered, and Tilda saw it happen”

 

The only thing he could think there and then was why? Why his gentle and innocent Sophia, who would want to harm her? And why? Was this because of him? An act of retribution from some criminal? Then he remembered the words written on the cell wall in blood and a ghastly realization dawned upon him, a gift for the archer…. A gift of vengeance.

 

 

 

 

 

A tale from ye days of olde by Nuredhel

 

 

Chapter 6: A tale from ye days of olde….

 

 

Elisa had been rather busy with organizing the evidence, there was suddenly so much which had to be prepared and done and she wasn’t too happy when Ori suddenly called her. She did fully accept that Bard was taking the weekend off, he needed it badly and she wasn’t stupid, she had seen the way he and the profiler acted around each other. It was actually very cute. But now this, Ori had called and he sounded frantic and so she had given him permission to come to the station.

 

It took two hours before he arrived, in a cab. The guy wore an old coat which had to have been owned by a woman before for no man would normally wear something like that, it had embroidered flowers on the sleeves damn it, and huge wooden buttons which were carved into the likeness of roses. That guy had to live completely under the rule of his mom, perhaps his odd interest was the only escape he had, in that case she did think he deserved it. The coat was very worn and faded and yet the slightly bluish pink colour made many of the officers turn their heads in disbelief as he was shown to her desk. He was clutching his laptop tight and as soon as he sat down he leaned forth and pulled out an odd ring. It looked as if it was carved from hematite and the design was peculiar. Elisa had seen rings like that before, they were supposed to be worn with another ring of a similar design, made to fit together like pieces of a puzzle.

 

Elisa frowned. “Where did you get that?”

 

Ori was almost trembling with excitement. “Got it in the mail today, it comes from a small city in Hungary. It was found with a man who died there in 1936, he was a policeman and he had investigated some murders which undoubtedly had been done by our killer”

 

Elisa hissed. “Don’t call him “Our” killer, but how did you find it?”

 

Ori grinned so widely he looked absolutely insane. “A friend, of a friend. I have so many friends, and believe me Elisa, this isn’t the only thing I have found. “

 

He opened the laptop and started it, opened a document. “Listen to this Elisa, this was written by an English priest in the year of 1783.”

 

She frowned. “A priest? And that early?”

 

He nodded. “This winter has come with the most dreadful of omens, the air itself seems heavy and on the fields men and women are caught by a terrible fog and many die. The sun seems to bleed as it sets and my soul fear that this is a harbinger of the apocalypse, I pray for the poor sinners for in this bitter cold the reaper is on the loose and from his scythe nobody will be spared”

 

Elisa cocked her head. “Uh, what does this have to do with our case? It sounds horrible but….”

 

Ori raised a finger. “Everything, now, listen up”

 

He moved the cursor. “On this day, the 27th of December yet another member of our society was found dead, slaughtered like a pig and hanged from the wall of his own mansion. Two more men have been found thus, and the fear within our parish is great. I spend my time praying for their souls but I fear it may be in vain. We know that the late Sir Denethor was a cruel man and his servants swear that it was the devil who came for his black soul. The sun is cold and dead and the days seem to have been exchanged for an everlasting night, this is surely the end. May God have mercy upon our souls”

 

Elisa swallowed, then she felt a sudden need to do as her mother often did and pray to the ancestors for strength. “That is bloody impossible, it cannot be the same killer.1783?!”

 

Ori opened a new tab, it was a church book and the old fashioned writing was almost impossible to read but he was obviously able to understand what it said. “Five were killed in that parish in three months, we have no record of what they may have done but if the priest’s diary is any proof at least one of them was “cruel” and if you take the time period into consideration that means he was the very definition of a bastard, probably one who would flog servants to death or rape innocent maidens.”

 

Elisa just blinked. “They were all found impaled and ripped apart?”

 

Ori nodded, his eyes were shining. “The last one was found hanging on the church steeple, as if he was crucified. The congregation was gripped by a fit of absolute panic and fled, everybody was convinced that the end of days was approaching and it was mayhem all over Europe.”

 

Elisa found it a bit fascinating but also confusing. “The things he said, about deadly fog? And a darkened sky?”

 

Ori smiled yet again, he seemed to be extremely proud of himself. “It was the result of a terrible volcanic eruption on Island, a fissure eruption from a volcano named Laki. It engulfed all of Europe in ash and sulphur and it changed the entire history of the continent since crops failed and people and livestock died by the thousands. They think it ultimately triggered the French revolution. “

 

Elisa shuddered. “Geez, sounds like a true nightmare scenario for sure”

 

Ori nodded. “And back then nobody knew about such things, they didn’t know that volcanos can have a global impact. Nobody understood what had happened and so panic spread. “

 

She looked at the laptop, the text was printed but with old fashioned letters. “You know how to read this stuff?”

 

Ori nodded. “I have discovered that if you want any information from really far back you need to use the church books and other religious literature. Remember that in most countries only the clergy and the nobility knew how to read and write and if something odd happened they were the ones who would write it down, otherwise it would be forgotten fast”

 

Elisa looked at him with narrow eyes. “And you have….?”

 

He grinned. “Put all of my friends to work, in many countries church books are digitalized and they go back to the reformation. Unusual deaths are always registered in them, they were very careful to make notes of such things for in some cases it meant that the dead person could be defined as “unclean” and had to be buried outside of the churchyard, in ground not blessed by the priest”

 

Elisa suddenly got a mental image, an endless row of freshly dug graves, covered with sickly yellow fog, going further and further back in time and from each one the wailing of restless spirits, condemned and cursed forever. She had to grasp her coke bottle and take a swig to camouflage her sudden urge to cross herself. Ori smiled and closed the tab. “In a few days I bet we will have some further evidence of how far back this goes, one of my friends have found an interesting document regarding some odd incident within a monastery somewhere in France in the 13th century. We cannot be too sure but it sounds as if it could be our guy, he has to translate more of it to be sure though”

 

Elisa felt dizzy and sat down. “Ori, it has to be like a hidden group or something, like the assassins of that game, assassins creed. I cannot believe the alternative, that it is some sort of immortal being, or even worse, a deity!”

 

Ori shrugged. “Whatever it is, I am sure we will find out, soon enough.”

 

Elisa stared at him, she was a brave woman, raised to be proud and to hold her back straight and her chin up but this? “And if this thing we are chasing decide to go after us?”

 

Ori lifted his hands. “Then we can kiss our asses goodbye, simple as that. But it won’t, we are the good guys remember?”

 

Elisa had to send him a faint grin. “Yes, we are the good guys, I hope”

 

Ori was fidgeting with his bag, he opened it and pulled out a wrapped baguette and a bottle of orange juice. “I have brought some food this time, I think we may have some hours of work ahead of us. I have made a program which goes through newspaper headlines for as far back as the record goes, all over the world. I have put it to work”

 

Elisa was impressed, against her will. “A program? A sort of robot?”

 

He nodded with obvious pride. “A worm, snaking its way through the internet and all computers linked up to it. I was an idiot who didn’t start it earlier, well, I have used it but not for this purpose”

 

She tilted her head. “And what purpose did you use it for?”

 

He looked a bit guilty. “Nothing bad, I am not a creep alright? I just happen to know this girl who accidentally lost some shall we say sensitive photos and found them again on a porn site. So I helped delete them, and the rest of what those who had downloaded them had on their computers but let’s not talk about that now ha? I have called it Smaug, because it seeks treasure, and it retrieves it too”

 

Elisa couldn’t believe it, this guy was probably just as good as Erestor. “Uhm, you shouldn’t happen to know a guy who calls himself Erestor?”

 

Ori nodded eagerly, he was busy typing, his fingers went like lightening over the tabs. “Oh we call him the librarian, he is darn good, probably the best at many things but I am a better programmer. I know how computers are thinking”

 

Elisa crossed her arms. “Computers aren’t really thinking, they are machines!”

 

Ori grinned again, a rather sardonic smile. “Oh but they are, put many computers together in a room and they will start to communicate, scary ha? Welcome Skynet and farewell cruel world”

 

Elisa hissed, this sort of talk did frighten her a lot. She was about to ask Ori to find another seat and work at one of the desks which were empty and available when they heard a crash. Then they heard a roar and then the door to Thor’s office exploded. Everybody froze, even Albert stood there like a kid playing some game. Duke whimpered and Leonard looked as if he was ready to piss himself, no wonder, Thor looked as if he was seconds from dropping dead from massive aneurysms. His face was red, his eyes shot lightening and he had kicked the door so it had cracked down the middle and the hinges were ripped free from the wood. Elisa just gaped, what in heavens name was going on.

 

Thor went over to the TV screen at the end of the room, his steps were those of a staff general who is about to order a troop to engage in a suicide mission. He turned around and stared at them all, he was grey and then red again, fists clenched so hard his knuckles were paper white. “This…this is all over the news, and worst even, all over freaking YOUTUBE!!”

 

Elisa let out a small shriek, it was video from the memory stick, they could clearly see the face of the man who laid on top of a tiny girl, grunting and panting as the child was screaming in agony and fear. Then the face of Lobelia Sackville became visible, grinning like a moray eel. “This is the face of the worst monster of all, the most feared predator we know of. As of today the local police are interrogating a long list of pedophiles, the list has been released to us by a spokesman of the police force and it is disturbing information, it contains many high ranking citizen’s, even politicians and officials of all kinds. The vigilante known as the Shrike has done our society a great favour, these beasts will soon be removed from our streets and our children will once more be safe.”

 

Lobelia’s face disappeared and now a long row of names followed, everybody was stunned. They knew what this meant, she had ruined the investigation completely. These people were just suspects, not convicted of a crime. They hadn’t been found guilty yet and some hadn’t even been taken in for interrogation. They would probably flee now. And the families of those on the list? Elisa had to sit down, her legs were gone, transformed into something too soft to carry her. Thor was panting. “We are gonna be sued from here onto kingdom come, the lawyers will be all over us, the feds will demand our heads on a fucking silver plate! How in FUCK’S name has she managed to get those files?!”

 

He was roaring and those closest to him ducked and cringed, he had a very powerful voice. Everybody stared at each other and then they stared at Alfrid who looked like a man on his way to the scaffold. Thor walked over and grasped him by the thin ponytail, he almost shook the man. “Was it you? Then confess now before I forget all about human rights and fucking torture the answer out of your rotten ass”

 

Alfrid whimpered. “Please, it wasn’t me! I swear, I would never do something that stupid. I may not be smart but I am not suicidal, I swear by my mother’s heart, I have nothing to do with this!”

 

There was a silence and then Ori’s thin voice could be heard” Excuse me Sir, but where did you keep those files?”

 

Thor turned around and saw Ori, his face twitched in a peculiar manner but he managed to stay serious. “And why do you ask?”

 

Ori fidgeted with his sleeve, he did look a bit pathetic with his eyes on the floor and his thin excuse for a beard. “Because I may be able to help. I am good with computers, Elisa knows that.”

 

Thor took a deep breath. “If you can find the culprit then by all means, be my guest”

He pushed the remains of the door out of the way. “The files were stored on my computer, it isn’t connected to any other and everything is protected by passwords. It ought to be safe. The memory stick is in my safe together with the original list, also well protected. The safe opens by optical scan of my retina.”

 

Ori was cracking his knuckles and pulled a small laptop from his bag, this one didn’t have a keyboard but he turned on a button and put on some gloves and suddenly there were tabs floating in the air. He found some cable and connected it to Thor’s computer and then he attached some sort of box on them and put a cable into the box and then into his own unit. Thor was shivering, Elisa could see that this had been an awful blow to his psyche and his pride. This had been evidence, now it could be tampered with, and the accused could come up with all sorts of excuses. Thor sent Elisa a swift glance. “Is he really that good?”

 

She nodded. “Perhaps even better than Erestor, I guess computers and the internet is his life”

 

Ori went to work, he started typing and his face was stiff and his eyes moved up and down like the head of an owl who has spotted something interesting moving over the snow. If this hadn’t been so bloody serious she would have laughed for he did look comical as fuck! One of the office workers did appear in the door, he was pale. “Sir, we did search for the video files, they are all over the place, we cannot contain this, Two files have been uploaded to pornhub already, we have notified the site since it is both stolen material and child pornography. They say it will take at least an hour to remove it, the one who uploaded it has made it almost impossible to delete the files.”

 

Thor moaned. “When I started as a police officer we were trained to always presume that an accused person was innocent, until otherwise was proven beyond any doubt. What this motherfucker has done is put a guilty stamp all over these people, their friends and family and that even before they have been officially accused”

 

Elisa felt that her mouth was dry. “Nobody will trust us anymore…”

 

Thor just leaned against the wall, he looked as if he had aged ten years in a short time. It would be a scandal, this station would be responsible for the loss of this evidence, for the mayhem which undoubtedly would follow and countless ruined lives. These bastards could run free because of this, and worst of all in his eyes, the police would now be responsible for their safety. Ori was cursing under his breath, computer code flew by and Elisa didn’t understand anything of what she saw. Ori gasped, then he lifted his fingers from the holographic keyboard. “Mr Montgomery? Has anyone had access to your computer lately?”

 

Thor looked tense. “No, it is my private one, nobody else is allowed to go anywhere near it, why?”

 

Ori pointed at some lines of odd symbols on the screen. “You have a bug”

 

Thor frowned. “A virus? It isn’t connected to the net, and I have the best anti virus programs available”

 

Ori looked like a patient teacher trying to push some knowledge into the dimwit of the class. “No, a real bug, as if in “you are bugged” Catch my drift? Hardware, not software”

 

Thor blinked twice “What?! Are you…That is impossible!”

 

Ori shrugged. “No, it is a fact. This computer has a parasite, and it is a very physical one too. If I can get some screw drivers and stuff I can find it right away”

 

Thor ordered Fernando to get some equipment and the man came back three minutes later, huffing and puffing like an old fashioned steamroller. Ori attacked the computer like a butcher attacks a fresh side of beef, he was through the cabinet wall in just half a minute and then he started to really freak Elisa out. He was talking to the darn computer like a father talks to a sick kid and the fingers almost caressed wires and hard drives. Then he froze and a vicious grin could be seen. “Gottcha!!”

 

He pointed at a tiny piece of plastic hidden next to one of the fans, it was connected to one of the disks with a thin piece of wire and it looked rather harmless. He looked like a cat who has cornered a very fat and lame rat and is about to go in for the kill. “There you are, it is a transmitter, everything you have stored has been automatically copied and sent off, before you had time to protect it. It isn’t a break in, this is a break out”

 

Thor was breathing fast, he was staring at the tiny thing as if it was a terrible monster of some kind. “How far can that thing send the info? “

 

Ori scratched his nose. “Not very far, it isn’t very powerful but it is high tech, such stuff is almost impossible to come by. No virus program can trace it, the computer doesn’t know it has a passenger. I would guess that the signal fades completely within a mile from here”

 

Thor closed his eyes. “A mile, a circle with a one mile radius is still freakin’ big. Hundreds of buildings, places to hide. Can the signal be traced?”

 

Ori shrugged. “Listen, I know computers, bring in radio signals and shit and I don’t know a hertz from an X ray. It should have a frequency which is traceable but this is cool stuff, like I said, hi tech. I bet it has an oscillator of some sort, which makes it change the frequency at uneven intervals. It is like an enigma machine, you need the other unit to make sense of what you have. “

 

Elisa groaned. “And who would do this? Tap into our computers like that? Who has the resources?”

 

Ori swallowed and looked down. “Listen, very few alright? You need to check your computers, your laptops and your smartphones. Shit like this is expensive, and it isn’t done  by someone just on a whim. Whoever did this is serious”

 

 

Thor was still breathing hard. “And more than willing to utterly ruin the investigation, and show every card we have got to the public, through that Lobelia woman. Can we arrest her?”

 

Elisa shrugged “Don’t ask me, you are the chief remember? I bet she will scream out loud about the public’s right to know and so on and so forth until even the lawyers go blue in the face.”

 

Ori smiled but the smile was a sad one. “I bet she has gotten all this information anonymously, from an untraceable source. Even if you do bring her inn it will accomplish naught. The thing you have to think of now is checking every darn computer you have and if possible, track the signal. It should be doable, at least in short intervals.”

 

Thor sat down, he bit his lower lip. “This smells Elisa, this smells worse than a week old carcass. I think something very sinister is happening”

 

She frowned, feeling slightly scared. “What are you talking about?”

 

Thor sighed and leaned his head into his hands, looking tired. “ This sort of technology isn’t something your common criminal can get their hands on, and worse even, it is a method used by intelligence bureaus all over”

 

Elisa felt cold. “Are you saying the government is involved? Why?”

 

Thor took a deep breath. “I have no fucking idea, remember, there are factions within the different organizations which may act independently of the rest of the group. What I fear is that this is a trick used by someone who is being paid very well”

 

Elisa still felt confused, she was perhaps naïve but she knew that Thor had seen some shit in his time. “To cause us trouble?”

 

Thor ran his hands through his hair. “To make sure someone walks out of this mess as a free person, all charges dropped. That would be the only explanation I can believe in. Some of the people on the list are powerful, and I bet at least some of them have ties to the mob.”

 

Elisa swallowed. “Shit, what do we do?”

 

Thor closed his eyes. “We check the computers, I’ll get one of the experts here to see if there is a radio signal coming from this room, and then we’ll do whatever we can to feed whoever the bastard is false news.”

 

Elisa blinked. “You aren’t going to remove the darn thing?!”

 

Thor shook his head. “And reveal that we know it is there? No, keeping it will buy us some time to figure this out. “

 

Ori snickered. “Smart move Sir, ah, do you need help with the search? I can check the computer’s rather fast I think, this tiny gadget does use electricity and if there is some sort of discrepancy between what the computer is supposed to use and what it actually uses then bingo!”

 

Thor smiled. “Bless you kid, go ahead. Leonard will help you, he is quite zealous”

 

Elisa returned to her desk, numb on the inside and feeling shaken. If someone from the outside had placed the transmitter in Thor’s computer it had to be someone with access to the office, someone who knew their habits and the time schedule they followed, someone who wouldn’t be detected. She suddenly felt as if she was being stared at from all directions, her skin crawled. Did they have someone among them with sinister intentions? She just hoped that this wouldn’t end in a disaster, that she still could trust the people she had once trusted. That nobody out there were wearing a mask.

 

Ori and Leonard went over all the computers and found two more which were tapped, the one used by Dean who was the one in charge of cataloguing everything and keeping a record of all they did at times and the computer reserved for guests. Both Thran and Faramir had used that one and Thor was almost fuming with anger still. Equipment was brought in to measure signals and yes, there were signals coming from all the three units but they had no idea of where they went, they were too faint to be tracked and as Ori said, they were shifting constantly. Elisa just knew that this meant serious trouble.

 

It took two hours before the first calls came in, then all hell broke loose and every available officer was sent out to protect the families of those accused. Someone had thrown a Molotov cocktail through the window of the house of a woman related to one of the men on the list and the brother of another one had been beaten half to death. The people of the city seemed to have gone off the hinges completely, the rage and the disgust was beyond anything anybody could have imagined to be possible. Those on the list were taken to secret and hopefully safe locations but there were camera crews everywhere and the news were flooded by images of people being taken away in police cars while the crowd was booing or throwing things at them. The social media were buzzing like a hive of angry hornets, some begged people to calm down and think rationally and let the police do their job and others were being equally loud, claiming that the accused ought to be lynched right now. 

Elisa watched as a rather high ranking politician who was a personal friend of the mayor was shown his way to a police car, he was fuming with rage, eyes dark and face contorted. “This is bullshit, a conspiracy of filth. I hold the city police responsible for this disaster, believe me, you will regret it!”

 

He was shaking his finger towards the camera and Leonard turned the TV off, he sighed, “That dude has his fingers deep into the pockets of the mafia, everybody knows that”

 

Elisa looked at him, almost pleadingly. “But we will be alright?”

 

Leonard looked very serious, just for once. “Let’s hope so.“

 

Elisa just knew it, something was about to happen, and it would be bad, very bad. What in God’s name were they to do?

--------------------------------

 

The old man stared at the screen, his hand kept stroking the fur of the dog sitting next to him, almost automatically, a soothing slow rhythm. The news reporter was short of breath, the voice shivering and the eyes shining, this was the juiciest news she had ever come across. The old man sighed and stared down at the old German shepherd, his eyes were distant. The reporter kept talking about the vigilante killer, about the group of pedophiles which had been discovered thanks to his actions and the scandal which had occurred when the police had leaked such vital information to the public. The old man did fidget with a ring on his left hand, made from hematite, the face became determined and he smiled faintly. “Old boy, it is time. They must be told, and warned. Finally the wait is over”

 

He got up from the chair and walked over to a shelf, it contained few items, an old bible, a box of cards and some novels, all rather old and worn. The bottom shelf had a row of small statues, the type you can buy at souvenir shops in every large city. It was the statue of liberty, the Eiffel tower and some more and he bent down slowly and picked one up. It was made of china and made to look exactly like a sections of the great wall. He sighed and walked over to the sink, his apartment was small, just one room but he didn’t need much and he found a knife and went to work. The bottom was loose but you had to know of it to find the crack. It was camouflaged with chalk and lacquer and he pried it open very gently. The content fell straight into his hand, he smiled. “So, maybe I’ll see you once more after all, I will keep my promise.”

 

He walked to the phone and dialled a number, waited for a while before it answered at the other end. “It is me, it is time. I need plane tickets, asap. I fear the shit is gonna hit the fan”

 

The voice at the other end was distant, blurred. “Be ready, tickets will arrive within one hour, you are sure?”

 

The old man nodded to himself. “As sure as I’ll ever be.”

 

The voice was quiet for a few seconds. “Right, do what you must do, don’t use this number again”

 

The old man grinned slowly. “Of course sir, goodbye sir”

 

He petted the dog on the soft ears. “One last adventure ha? Care to join me?”

 

The old dog wagged its tail once, let out a small woof and the man grasped a bag from the shelf over the bed. It did contain papers, pass ports and other documents. He did chose one carefully before he started to pack. When a delivery boy knocked on his door carrying an envelope he was ready. This was like the old days, he had only two hours before the plane left and he took a final look at the apartment. He wouldn’t come back, and he accepted that. Sacrifices had to be made. He grasped the dog by the leash and closed the door, finally he was to fulfil his duty, and it was an honour.

 

------------------------------

Bard was trying to calm down, trying to think logically but it was so very hard. Thran did hold him and he did cling onto the other man as if he was a life raft. Thran was humming and rubbing his back, it did soothe him but his heart was aching as never before, How could he have accepted what he was told? He should have known, he ought to have protested, told them that his Sophia never would have done something this terrible. But he hadn’t, he hadn’t questioned their conclusions at all, because he trusted them. Rage burned within his chest and he knew who it was aimed at, the dead guy, Bolg. Had he known this before that bastard would have died way earlier, and much more slowly and Thran seemed to know exactly what he was feeling. “Bard, the Shrike did know somehow, and did you a favour. You are a good man, too good to be tainted with the blood of such a creep”

 

Bard gasped for air. “Don’t think about me, think of Tilda, she must have seen Thran, that is why she is so odd. The fucking bastard killed my Sophia and didn’t care if her own kid saw it. That is…”

 

Thran sighed. “Evil, and this person or whatever it is hunts evil. I am starting to think that the Shrike is on our side here. “

 

Bard was almost growling. “But we have no evidence now have we? No way of knowing for sure!”

 

Thran was pouting slightly. “Oh but I am sure, I am dead sure. It is the only explanation Bard, the real question is why? Bolg wasn’t some junkie who breaks into random homes looking for cash or drugs, he was a professional.”

 

Bard tried to think. “Yes, you are right, what in hells name was he doing at our home?”

 

Thran took a deep breath and his embrace wasn’t so tight anymore, more like a normal hug. “There has to be a reason, and it has to be a serious one. Bolg was probably expensive, he was working for the mafia remember? Did something happen around that time? Were you on a case with connections to the mob?”

 

Bard shook his head. “No, I wasn’t given such high end cases at that time, Albert was in charge back then, if they were trying to get rid of someone they would have gone for him, not me.”

 

Thran nodded, “And yet he was there, what sort of job did she have?”

 

Bard scoffed. “She was working at a local restaurant, and as a kindergarten teacher. Who would want to harm her?”

 

Thran was thinking hard and Bard had realized that this man could think like a computer at times, or a master chess player, seeing several possible outcomes of a situation. “It wasn’t about her, I am pretty sure of it. Nor was it about you, if it were he would have left something behind, a message of some kind.”

 

He looked at Bard. “You have naught of value, neither did Sophia own anything anybody would want, you weren’t working on any case including someone with money and power, but before that? Any cases including people who could seek revenge? “

 

Bard looked at the walls, trying to think. “No, like I said, nothing grand, we haven’t really had any cases of that kind here, until now of course”

 

He fell silent and a faint memory seemed to caress his mind, he was staring at the walls again, the walls… He let out a gasp, eyes wild and heart beating like a drum. “Shit, oh fucking…Hell!!”

 

Thran blinked. “Whoa, what is wrong, do you remember anything?”

 

Bard grasped his phone, dialled franticly. “Elisa? Do you hear me?”

 

There were faint sounds coming from the phone, then they heard Elisa’s voice, she sounded terribly tired. “Hello Bard, oh be glad you are off duty, this place has become a hellhole, you wouldn’t believe the shit which is going down here now, the feds want to come over and run the entire investigation from here. Thor could get suspended. “

 

Bard felt as if he had been kicked in the gut, “What?!”

 

Elisa sounded as if she was about to cry. “Someone tapped our computers, the evidence is all over the web now. We’ll all get suspended I fear, and there are agents coming to the airport as we speak. Faramir has tried to talk some common sense into them but no, apparently the competence of this station is questionable. But enough of that, how are you?”

 

Bard tried to think fast, his mind was spinning, Thor suspended? That would most likely break the man completely, why would the feds want to step in and steal this case like that? “Uh, I have made some discoveries, terrible ones, but I need a favour, and I need it bad!”

 

Elisa could be heard swallowing, “Right, shoot”

 

Bard held the phone close to his ear, as if he was trying to make sure that nobody else was listening in. “The guy who was murdered in prison, could you access his files and see if he had anything to do with someone by the name of Bombur Dwight? If there is some sort of connection between those two?”

 

Elisa could be heard typing, he could almost see her, bent over the computer. “Ah, not that I can see no? But they have only listed the stuff they know, there could be a lot they don’t know about this guy. “

 

Bard clenched his fist. “Okay, please, keep quiet about this, it could be important”

 

Elisa sounded tense. “Important for this case?”

 

Bard took a deep breath. “No Elisa, Thran has…we are sure that Sophia was murdered, and that Bolg was her killer”

 

Elisa took a very sharp breath, then he heard her make a wheezing sound “Oh God, Oh sweet lord, I knew it, I just knew it! It just wasn’t right Bard, but they were so adamant and everything…everything seemed to back it up!”

 

Bard closed his eyes, still feeling dizzy from the emotional turmoil. “Yes, and I believed them too. The Shrike, he killed Bolg and dedicated the murder to me! He knew! How the hell could he know?”

 

Elisa was obviously typing still. “Beats me, but Ori came with more stuff today, a hematite ring and some old English texts. The shrike has been doing this for centuries, it has to be like assassins creed or something like that. “

 

Bard felt a bit disappointed. “Right, well, thanks for checking, I will call you back later on. Take care”

 

Elisa sighed. “You too. Bye”

 

Bard put the phone down,  he grimaced. “Damn, it would have been such a nice explanation. “

 

Thran frowned. “What would?”

 

Bard leaned back, stretched his legs. “Listen, do not mention this to Jean but I know she was under some hefty pressure for a while. The area is extremely attractive for those who wish to build stuff and Bombur Dwight was a somewhat shady developer who did come to her offering quite a lot of money for the farm. She refused and I know that he had a reputation for using less than legal methods to make people change their minds”

 

Thran swallowed. “He hired Bolg to kill Sophia?”

 

Bard frowned, “No, not kill, threaten, possibly kidnap. Jacob had put her in a very tough position economically and it shouldn’t take that much to make her crack. But something went wrong and I don’t think Jean heard from the guy again.”

 

Thran smiled softly. “I bet Sophia fought back, I bet she tried to shoot Bolg. “

 

Bard nodded. “Yes, but we cannot prove it, Bombur died a year ago of pancreatic cancer and Bolg is dead too. I guess we’ll never know the truth. “

 

Thran kissed his forehead, very tenderly. “You know the truth, deep within your heart you do”

 

Bard nodded. “Yeah, I guess so. Don’t mention this to Jean at all, act like before, if you can”

 

Thran sighed. “Will do, but will you tell her eventually?”

 

Bard shrugged. “I don’t know, and that is an honest answer. I fear that she will feel guilty somehow.”

 

Thran looked down, sighed, “Yes, you are right, she may.”

 

Bard went to the bathroom, washed his face, managed to return to normal. Jean came back swearing and cursing since the hogs had managed to tilt three fence poles and Bard and Thran volunteered to go out and fix them while she cooked. Jean was thrilled by the offer and went at it with zeal, Sigrid wanted to help her and Tilda watched some TV since she was tired of playing. Bain was in the basement and they would probably need a strong winch to drag him out of there now. Apparently some friend had sent him a new game and it was awesome.

Bard found it hard to concentrate at dinner, he kept dropping out of the conversations and Thran often kicked his shin to wake him up. Jean cocked her head. “You are worrying about the case dear?”

 

He nodded and tried to smile. “Yes, uhm, I heard from Elisa earlier while you were out. They have made a blunder, or rather, someone has made it look as if they made a blunder. The case is going…down the drain”

 

Jean looked worried. “Oh dear, I am so sorry to hear that. But they will be able to arrest those…nasty people?”

 

Bard smiled, “I am sure of it, but the feds are taking over the investigation, and I don’t like it at all”

 

Jean didn’t answer, she just made sure that everybody’s plate was full. The stew was awesome as usual and Thran kept praising Jean’s cooking until she was giggling like a schoolgirl. Afterwards they all helped doing the dishes and Thran challenged them all to a game of badminton. Bard had used to be pretty good at it but now he was soundly beaten and Bain was the one who almost managed to win, Bard suspected that Thran did it on purpose. Then they watched some programme about the animal migrations of Serengeti and Tilda was constantly claiming that the hippo’s had been eating too much and were full of gas. Bard had managed to push it all aside, to store it at the back of his head. He didn’t want to ruin his weekend anymore.

 

The evening was pleasant and as the kids went to bed he and Thran watched a movie while Jean took care of the horses. Bard wanted to invite Thran into his room but knew that it would be a bad idea, He wouldn’t be able to stop himself and he had a strong suspicion that this was true for Thran as well. It ended with some very eager fondling and some hungry kisses outside of Thran’s door and Bard did go to the huge barrel and took a quick and cold bath before he went to bed. It was needed.

 

----------------------------------------------

Being a bodyguard did have its perks, because those who hired you were most often wealthy and that meant that you got to work in a very luxurious environment. You got to mingle with the rich and shameless and the pay was often very good indeed. The bad thing about it was of course that you had to risk your own life if someone in fact was after the one you were hired to protect. In this case he doubted that anything would happen and he doubted it strongly too. The house was a veritable fortress and it had high tech alarms and defence systems which would have made a destroyer seem puny. He wasn’t the one to ask questions though, nor did he doubt his employers. If this professor did say that there was a risk of a possible break inn then there was a risk of a possible break inn, and he was there to make sure that the kid was safe. He loved working with kids and this lad was very sweet and not at all spoiled. He would make his own bed every morning, thank the cook for the food, be polite and humble and the house was luxurious enough but not overly so. Still, the father had lots of money, nobody would deny that.

 

The house was large and it had plenty of rooms and an open patio in the middle decorated with mosaics and some very nice pools with koi carps. He knew that only one of those fishes cost more than his Ford, the colour pattern was a rare one. There was a huge wall surrounding the property and also a fence made from wrought iron, He already knew that it had some hidden tricks, it could be electrified and the poles were in fact shaped like an L with the bottom hidden underground. If someone tried to ram the fence the bottom of the L would tilt up and pierce the engine block of the car.  The wall was very impressive too and he had a hard time believing that anybody would even try to do something stupid.

 

There were two other guards working there, nice guys and both were ex soldiers. One was a veteran from the gulf war and the other had served several times in Afghanistan. They were well prepared, but they weren’t body guards, they weren’t trained to secure one single person among many others and their military training was in some ways a problem. They relied on orders and they saw everybody as part of a team. He on the other hand had trained to work as a lone wolf, to bring his packet out of harm’s way no matter what and if need be, leave comrades behind. He was ready to take a bullet for the person he was to protect, many if it came to that. He already knew that he liked the kid, he was one of the most polite boys he had ever met and showed nothing but respect in contrast to many other rich kids who were spoiled brats he would love to spank really well. Bard had asked him to do this and well, he did owe Bard some favours. But this was hardly any hardship, it was lazy days with good food and even better entertainment and he was being paid by the hour.

 

He was sitting in one of the lounges watching a TV show when Jo suddenly stuck his head in through the door, the other guy, Adrian lifted his head. “Dudes, there is a car approaching the front gate, it looks fishy”

 

Jo got up and so he did too, fishy? He wondered what they meant by that. “Alright, how so?”

 

Jo made a grimace. “It is an old Pickup, ought to be light but I can see that the springs are pushed all the way down, it is carrying something heavy as fuck. Nobody has ordered anything and the windows are dark too. It doesn’t feel right”

 

He trusted their instincts, they were soldiers and he nodded. “Guard the gate, if your boss is right it could be his ex, the guy was supposedly crazy”

 

Jo grinned. “And possibly in league with people you really don’t wanna know, yes. Go Dwalin, find the kid and get him out of here”

 

Dwalin already knew where Legolas were, in his small apartment at the back of the house. The kid had a room all on his own where he trained and performed yoga and Dwalin had already admired the skills of the young archer. He ran through the corridors and pushed several buttons as he went, it sealed the doors and made it very hard to get through the house without the right keys. He reached the apartment and entered, Legolas was in the middle of a session and was standing on a mat in the middle of the room, body twisted into a position Dwalin had a hard time believing to be possible. “Young Sir, you must come with me right now, there is a possible situation”

 

Legolas immediately unwrapped himself and the huge blue eyes became worried, he was after all just a kid and Dwalin didn’t want to startle him. “A situation?”

 

Dwalin nodded. “Yes, a car is coming down the driveway and we don’t know it, it looks suspicious”

 

Legolas straightened up, he still looked scared but he smiled faintly. “Alright, I am ready”

 

Dwalin patted him on the back and walked towards a cupboard containing yoga mats and other equipment, He opened one of the doors and pushed some robes out of the way. They hid a small console and he did press some buttons. The cupboard started to move, it slid sideways and revealed a narrow door. Most of these modern mansions did have a hidden escape tunnel or a safe room and this was a tunnel. The mansion was placed on a hill and Dwalin knew that Mr Oropherson never had told his ex lover about this. He had been smart, at least in some ways. The radio he carried buzzed to life and he heard Jo’s voice. “Dwalin, they have got a fucking r.p.g. Get out of there, now! They have turned the car around and is backing it towards the gate, full speed.”

 

 

Legolas looked pale and Dwalin sort of pushed him into the tunnel. “Go, hurry. They will take care of this”

 

Legolas did obey, the long blonde hair was flying behind him as he ran down the narrow corridor. Dwalin shut the entrance and ran after the kid. He heard distant explosions and machine gun fire. Shit, what had this boy’s father gotten himself into? Well, if his ex did hang out with the wrong people Dwalin wouldn’t be surprised at all, the drug community did consist of many willing to walk over corpses to get what they wanted. The tunnel was fairly long and at certain intervals it could be sealed off completely. Dwalin shut the doors behind them and when they reached the garage at the end he was rather sure that he heard sirens as well. Jo and Adrian had of course called the police, it was a smart move and one that was part of their instructions too.

 

The room was not very large but it did contain a few vehicles. Mr Oropherson had learned from his father. The old badger had many ways to escape his den and he had taught his son well. If you have wealth there are always those out here willing to help you get rid of some, willingly or not. He knew that Mr Oropherson’s father had been very paranoid and rightly so for the multi millionaire had been the victim of several attacks and attempted kidnappings. He wouldn’t call Mr Oropherson until they were safe, no need to cause him unneeded worries. Legolas hesitated. “Which car Mr Short?”

 

Dwalin nodded towards a rather anonymous looking sedan, it was the type of car everybody uses, and it looked as if it had driven through a sandstorm. “That one, put on the clothes in the bag in the backseat”

 

Legolas pulled out the bag, it contained some ordinary clothes and a short brown wig plus sunglasses and shoes. He did put it on, looking nervous still. “Will Jo and Adrian be okay?!”

 

Dwalin nodded as he started the engine, the car did look like an ordinary sedan alright, but the stuff under the hood was far from ordinary. The car was a thoroughbred camouflaged as an old plough horse. “They will be fine, don’t worry, they know what to do”

 

The garage had a gate which opened up into yet another tunnel, wider with good lights. It was also rather long and Dwalin drove down it at a relative slow speed until they reached the end. There was a monitor at the end and he saw that the road outside was clear of traffic. It was a mountain road which lead to a famous viewpoint and this early in the morning nobody was out there, except people wanting to catch the sunrise from up high. He drove out onto the road and kept a steady speed, did nothing out of the ordinary and he saw smoke from afar, damnation, he just hoped that the whole mansion hadn’t gone up in smoke. It was a nice place, cosy and not too fancy.

 

He drove for twenty minutes, then he stopped by a resting place and called. Jo answered. “Dwalin here, status?”

 

Jo sounded tired. “Adrian has been hurt but it isn’t too bad, just a scratch really. They blew down the gate and the guard room inside of it but it was empty, and we were ready for them”

 

Dwalin had to grin. “And?”

 

Jo sounded triumphant. “They were four, crammed into that pickup. We shot three of them, two are dead. The cops arrived and hunted down the last guy with a K-9 unit, you should have heard the guy scream, that shepherd really knew where to bite!”

 

Dwalin had to laugh. “Well done, should I return?”

 

Jo sighed “Nope, that is a negative, the house is a sort of a mess and the gate is broken, they fired a rocket at it, the bastards acted as if they were part of some fucking Rambo movie or something, morons! Stay with Mr Oropherson, we will take care of things here. I bet the cops will confirm the identity of the one behind this, and hopefully bring him inn”

 

Dwalin had to laugh. “Excellent, I will call you again later, make sure that Adrian does see a doctor ha? You ex marines are too darn stubborn”

 

Jo could be heard chuckling and then he ended the conversation. Legolas looked nervous again. “It was Lindir wasn’t it?”

 

Dwalin nodded. “Most likely yes, why?”

 

Legolas made a nasty grimace. “I never liked him, he was hanging around dad like a bee around a flower but his eyes, they were false. I never liked him “

 

Dwalin nodded. “You are a smart kid, your dad ought to have listened to you. Right, I am gonna call your dad and then we’ll go to him, alright?”

 

Legolas smiled widely. “Great”

 

--------------------------------------------

 

Bard was pulled out of his reverie by a knocking on the door, it was still not light outside and he blinked and sat up, feeling confused. The sound told him that this had to be an adult person and he heard that it was rather frantic too. He shouted. “I am awake”

 

Thran burst through the door, he was so pale he looked rather like a ghost from some horror story and his eyes were huge. “The body guard just called, my home was attacked just half an hour ago”

 

Bard shot out of bed, feeling utterly shaken. “What? Oh no, don’t tell me that that…”

 

Thran gasped for air. “Apparently yes! They have two of the attackers under arrest though. Dwalin wants to bring Legolas over here, they’ll be here in a couple of hours if it is alright?”

Bard blinked, tried to imagine if someone had attacked his home, with his kids inside. “Of course it is alright, they are more than welcome. Please, I will be very happy to meet your son”

 

Thran let out a sigh of relief. “You will? Wonderful, he is a very quiet boy but I think he will like Bain. “

 

Bard smiled. “So do I, but how are you Thran, you look scared?”

 

Thran sat down on the bed and Bard couldn’t help but admire the perfect body, the fact that he was wearing just boxers was a distraction, to say the least. “I am angry Bard, not scared. I am so pissed off right now I don’t really know what to do!”

 

Bard smiled slowly. “Well, I do have a remedy for that. The kids won’t be up for another hour at least and Jean is already in the stable if I know her right, We have an hour all to ourselves, and I think your back deserves a good massage”

 

Thran chuckled. “You do? Yes well then so”

 

He turned around and flung himself onto the bed, laid down on his belly and Bard couldn’t believe his own luck. He got up on his knees and started to rub the slender and yet muscular back gently. Thran had skin like the smoothest silk and Bard lifted the long silky hair aside and worked his way down along the spine. It was very obvious that Thran took excellent care of himself and Bard was envious on some level. After a while he was straddling the narrow waist and working with more force and Thran was gasping with delight as Bard kneaded his way through the muscles. Bard remembered when he had that crush on Kim, he had been interested in other guys too but never touched any other than him. Bard had been just a teenager then, bubbling with hormones and yet he hadn’t felt nearly half as horny back then as he did now. He was trying to keep his mind out of the gutter as best as he could. “Was there great damage to your home?”

 

Thran just grunted, he was smiling widely with eyes closed in bliss. “No, just the gate and a guard room. It can be fixed easily enough.”

 

Bard fought the urge to lay down, grind his crotch against the firm rear and lick his way down that elegantly curved back. He was shivering. Thran chuckled and stretched underneath him, it made Bard groan. “You have gotten yourself into trouble haven’t you now? “

 

Bard hissed. “Yes, you are too bloody tempting”

 

There was a sudden movement and Bard found himself on his back on the bed, Thran on top of him with a devilish grin. “Oh but I do know the remedy for that”

 

Bard was sure that he would simply explode there and then, the huskiness of the voice and the softness of the skin pressed against his own, it was maddening. Thran made yet another swift move and Bard’s boxers said farewell. Bard moaned, Thran had gotten rid of his own underwear too and was also naked and Bard was yet again flipped over, this time onto his side and he almost cried out when he felt a strong warm hand grasping onto them both at once. The sensation was electrifying, before he knew it he was thrusting into the grip, almost sobbing with need and Thran was panting too and his eyes were dark and glassy. It was the most tantalizing sight Bard had seen in a very long time. Thran knew just how to do this and Bard didn’t stand a chance at all. He tried to hold back but it was no good, the rhythm of their bodies had become like a dance of sorts, an ancient hymn of desire and Thran captured his lips in a hungry kiss, stifling his cry of release. Bard was seeing stars and explosions and he did just feel that Thran followed him, groaning as their essence mingled between their straining bodies. This was divine, this was better than anything he had ever felt, he gasped through the aftershocks and Thran kissed him again. “You are so beautiful, my dark knight”

 

Bard had to giggle. “Likewise angel”

 

Thran pulled Bard closer, relaxed visibly. “Rest now, soon we’ll have go get up and tell Jean that she’ll get even more visitors but this little hour is ours”

 

Bard nodded and caught Thran’s lips in yet another kiss. “Yes, ours”

 

-----------------------------------

 

Elisa woke up late, she felt as if she had been a jumper in a washing machine, her head spinning and her eyes sore. The end of the shift had been terrible, the mayor had shown up, so angry he was almost spitting flames and several lawyers too had descended upon them like a law book wielding army of angry harpies throwing law suits at almost everybody there. Most of the accused had gotten some very good lawyers and knew how to use them and Elisa knew that this could ruin many careers. She felt scared, the rage and the bottled up aggression mingled with the frustration and the despair felt by the officers. Four federal agents had showed up rather late in the day, going over every routine they had and questioning everyone and she was very glad she had sent Ori back home. He would have cracked completely under pressure and put her in trouble since he wasn’t a police officer but a civilian. He really had no business being there in the first place.

 

Judith was fuming too, she looked like some ancient warrior Goddess as she fiercely defended the things Ori had found from the agents. They claimed that it all now was to be transferred to a federal lab for examination and she refused to let go. Elisa hadn’t shown Judith the ring yet, and for some reason she had stuffed the thing into her bra, just in case. She wouldn’t allow these bullies to take away even that. When she walked home that evening she felt empty, beaten. None of them would be allowed to work freely, they would all be under suspicion of being a mole, of having been bought , of being a rotten egg in this basket. Now it was pouring down and she hurried towards the station.

There weren’t that many reporters outside anymore, they were more busy trying to get interviews with the people on the list or their families and many had been hunted down as if they were animals and forced to make a sort of statement regarding their relative’s actions. It was really insane. Many had come forth with their kids and claimed that this or that person had molested them and demanded insane amounts of money in compensation and in some neighbourhoods people formed watch groups which chased down registered sex offenders, criminals, people of a different religion or opinion or just people they didn’t like. The city was looking more and more like a warzone.

 

She stopped to shake her umbrella before entering and suddenly there was a huge guy standing in front of her. She frowned and saw the sign on his chest, special agent. “I am sorry Ms Snowshoe, but this investigation and all evidence have been put under the jurisdiction of the federal bureau of investigation. All investigators and officers are as of now suspended from their jobs until further notice. Return to your home”

 

Elisa just gaped, how dared they? She made a grimace, the guy sounded as if he was practicing for a role in the next terminator movie, he sounded just like Arnold, accent and all. She felt a need to give him the finger but reined herself in. “Alright, maybe you fine folk could have bothered to call everybody so we wouldn’t have to walk for four fucking miles in the rain to get here? Thanks a lot!!”

 

She turned on her heel and walked away with brisk steps, rage seething within her. They weren’t the ones who had leaked the information to the press, goddamn it, and yet they were the ones to be punished. She hoped Thor kept his mouth shut and said nothing about the little spy in his computer, if they tried to use it they could spread their own stuff worldwide for all she cared. She rounded the corner and heard a sharp hiss, turned her head. Faramir was visible in a sidedoor usually reserved for Fernando, the place did stink of smoke even now in the rain. “Elisa, I wanted to call you but there hasn’t been time.”

 

She growled. “No shit, are you their lackey or what?”

 

Faramir shook his head. “Listen, something is off. Don’t tell anyone that I have said it but some of the guys in here? They aren’t regular agents, I think they are part of some sort of special unit. I have seen such guys before, groups not even the president knows anything about”

 

Elisa felt a chill run down her spine. “What? Why?”

 

He shrugged. “I have no idea, but I am not being told anything, I am just a regular agent remember? I have to make their bloody coffee and go to the café down the street and order lunch! Like I am some bloody servant or something. They are after something and it has nada to do with the people on the list!”

 

Elisa bit her lower lip. “What is it that you are trying to say?”

 

Faramir blinked. “Elisa, don’t trust anyone! The feds least of all. Do not speak to anyone you don’t know. Have you spoken about the artefacts with anybody except Judith and Bard and Thran?”

 

She shook her head. “Only Thor, we didn’t even write things down, only we know of the stuff Judith spoke about.”

 

Faramir smiled, but his eyes were haunted. “Good, let it stay that way. Go home, stay at home. Do not leave your house. I have a very bad feeling”

 

Elisa nodded slowly. “Alright, I will. How about you?”

 

Faramir made a grimace. “I will stay here and see what I can find out, I have suspicions though but they are very far fetched, I cannot believe that they are anything else than my own too vivid imagination”

 

Elisa tilted her head, he did look a bit pale, a bit disturbed. “Let me be the judge of that?”

 

Faramir turned his head, hissed. “Someone is coming, go! Have you seen Alien 3? The answer is in there”

 

He closed the door and Elisa felt a desperate urge to run. Alien 3? She had watched that film but it was years ago when she had appreciated such movies. Now she loathed anything that terrifying but how was the plot of that story again? She slowed down, mingled with the crowd, just an umbrella in a sea of umbrellas. It dawned upon her and she gasped as she sped up yet again. No, that was impossible? Nobody would be that crazy? But she just knew it, they were that crazy and they would try, just like the cooperation within that film. Sweet Jesus.

 

She was hurrying in through the gate when she noticed that someone stood by the stair leading up to the door, it was a very old man wearing a raincoat and black sunglasses, he carried a white stick in one hand and the other was clutching onto the harness of a German Shepherd, it too looked old but it had a sign saying “Service dog, please do not disturb me while I am working”

 

She slowed down, the man had long grey hair and a long beard and he was tall but rather spindly looking and the quality of the raincoat was poor. He wasn’t some rich person, that was for sure, and blind? She stopped and the dog wagged its tail, his eyes were friendly. “Sir? Can I help you? Are you perhaps lost?”

 

The man smiled, it was a very gentle smile. “Well Ms Snowshoe, I do believe that you can help me yes”

 

She backed off a step. “How do you know my name? What do you want?”

 

The old man tilted his head. “Warn you young lady, and your friends. You are all in grave danger”

 

Elisa frowned. “What do you mean, who are you?”

 

He held out a hand and Elisa gasped, on his hand was a hematite ring and she immediately knew that it was the partner of the one now stored safely at the bottom of her coffee box. “My name is Olorin Grey, and since you know this ring you also know what this is about”

 

Elisa felt her heart race like mad. “The Shrike!”

 

Olorin sent her another soft smile. “That isn’t her real name, it is getting wet here, let us get inside before we both catch a cold shall we? My story is very long young lady, and in need of a cup of tea”

 

Elisa opened the door, her mouth dry. “Of course Sir, just follow me”   

 

 

A little C4, knockin' on your door... by Nuredhel

Chapter 7:  A little C4; knocking on your door…

 

Thran and Bard managed to get out of bed just a few minutes before Jean returned from the stables. By then they both were sweaty, shaky and very satisfied not to mention happy. Thran did sneak back into his own room and got some clean clothes before he did sneak downstairs and took a quick bath and Bard used the real bathroom just for once. When Jean shouted that breakfast was ready both were presentable, all traces of sweat and other bodily fluids washed off and both fresh as spring leaves. The kids came scampering down the stairs and attacked the breakfast table like a horde of savage Indians in some old fashioned western movie. Bard pulled Jean aside for a moment. “Jean, Thran’s son is coming over, with his body guard. There has been an incident at his home”

 

Jean immediately looked worried. “An incident? What sort of incident? Is the kid alright?”

 

Thran tried to smile. “He is fine, don’t worry about him. Let’s just say I have an ex who is a wee bit vengeful right now, and he got some bad guys to attack the house”

 

Jean gasped. “Oh my God, is everybody alright?”

 

Thran nodded. “One of my ordinary guards is hurt but it isn’t serious, the house is a bit messed up so if Legolas could stay here with me I would be immensely grateful.”

 

Jean almost hugged him. “Of course, you don’t even have to ask, he is more than welcome. Oh poor lad, he must be so scared, I’d better make some cocoa, he does like cocoa?”

 

Than smiled. “What kid doesn’t? He loves it”

 

Jean smiled widely and Thran thought for a moment that it was a sad thing that she only had one child, she was the sort of woman who ought to have half a dozen for she had so much love to share. “When will he be here?”

 

Thran looked a bit unsure. “If what I know of Dwalin’s driving is true he could be here anytime”

 

Bard turned to his kids. “Listen, Than’s son is coming soon, he is twelve, a very sweet kid and his home just got blown up, or almost blown up so be nice to him alright?”

 

Sigrid smiled and nodded and Bain tilted his head. “Can I show him the trampoline?”

 

Thran grinned. “Sure, he will love that”

 

Bain looked excited and so did Sigrid, Tilda looked more indifferent, she was eagerly awaiting her favourite morning show and the TV was already turned on.

 

Thran managed to steal a kiss behind Jean’s back, when nobody was looking and Bard fought the urge to giggle like a fourteen year old girl. He was sure this would be a successful meeting, Legolas would feel very welcome there.

----------------------------------------------------

Back at the police station the atmosphere was tense, to say the least. The few officers who were left there felt that they were being bullied around by the veritable horde of special agents and the odd thing was that these guys did order the ordinary federal agents around too. They acted as if they owned the entire place and the investigation had sort of hit a dead end. It wasn’t the revelations which mattered now, nor was it to get the people involved in the ring of child abusers convicted. What mattered seemed to be the evidence found on the murder scenes, as if that was the most important thing there was. The artefacts had been taken away in sealed containers, and so had almost every computer and written document they had.

 

Faramir felt conflicted, he was a man of honour and he had done what he had been told to do out of the belief that his superiors did know things he didn’t. Now he was in serious doubt, he had already understood that this wasn’t about the things the memory stick had revealed at all, the abusers would go free. It made his heart sink and he felt nauseous. The orders hadn’t come from his boss, but from someone else, who didn’t give a damn about the investigation at all. He had been used, he saw that now, they had all been used. By someone with some really sinister intentions, someone who didn’t care about the law, who didn’t answer to anyone. It was as if this place had been filled by the presence of a ghost of some kind, a dark entity to whom lives didn’t matter. He had been made to believe that it served a noble purpose, that leaking some of the latest information to the press would enable the feds to go in and solve the case swiftly, and with efficiency. He had been made to believe that this station was filled with less competent people, that they would make a mess out of it. It was a lie.

 

Now he sat by a desk, trying to find out how he and his fellow agents could turn this mess around, the men accused of child abuse couldn’t just be allowed to flee now could they? Some were locked up already but the absolute mayhem the list had caused hadn’t been stopped. It seemed as if the agents dressed in black were quite indifferent to the fact that riots were threatening to break out. And why had the list been released? Damn it, even a child could foresee the results? The sinking feeling within his gut got stronger, he had started to feel afraid, not only for the outcome of the investigation but he feared for his fellow agents, and his new friends. One of the ordinary agents sauntered over to him with some papers, placed them on his desk. Faramir had seen the guy before, they had been on a case together and he liked the younger agent. Sullivan was both dedicated to his job and a pleasant person and Faramir smiled at him. Sullivan sat down and he was splitting the papers into heaps, as if he was truly doing something. The papers were just old lists of everything from when the cars last had been washed to who was on duty during the weekends. “Faramir, is there somewhere we can talk? I bet this room is tapped, darn, the entire station is tapped”

 

Faramir had to think fast, the restroom? No, that was definitely tapped. Then it hit him, the room in the basement where they kept dead bodies, it was cold as a meat locker and nobody would be able to tap that, the cold would freeze up any microphone. “Follow me”

 

He got up, grasped the first pile of papers and pretended to be in a hurry, the door leading downstairs was just beside the door leading to the room used to store papers of every kind and he and Sullivan slipped through the door easily enough. They almost ran down the stairs and into the realm of Judith. She wasn’t there now but the lights were on and the room was very cold since there were corpses there even now. Faramir almost dragged Sullivan into the small but very chilled freezer, sometimes bodies did arrive when the coroner was busy and thus they had to be stored like that until autopsy could be performed. Sullivan wetted his lips. “Faramir, something is terribly wrong”

 

Faramir made a grimace and tried not to show that he was fully aware of the fact. “Shoot”

 

Sullivan cringed. “I overheard some of those guys in black, they are not feds man, they are some sort of black op’s group. And I saw two of them carry something into the chief’s office, a box of some sorts. I know I am being paranoid but that did look awfully lot like an explosive device of some sort”

 

Faramir went cold, and it had nothing to do with the fact that he stood in a freezer. “Ok, anything more?”

 

Sullivan nodded. “Yes, they referred to their boss as sour-Jon, I have never heard of anybody with that nick before. And they said something about hitting two flies with one strike, I couldn’t make out the rest of it, just something about a mad ex, and blame.”

 

Faramir swallowed hard. He had heard that name, mentioned by some senior agent at a very wild party. The guy had been terrified and Faramir had come to the conclusion that it was someone within the system with so much power not even the president could match him. A hidden power, with very long arms, like an octopus hiding on a reef.  He put a hand on Sullivan’s shoulder. “Here is what you are to do now, I think the so called special agents are here to capture the Shrike, they don’t care about the crimes at all. And they will stop at nothing to get it, understand?”

 

Sullivan gulped. “Yes”

 

Faramir took a deep breath. “You go back upstairs, do something mundane, don’t draw any attention to yourself at all. After twenty minutes try to make it to the dispatch central, there is a woman working there, Stella.”

 

Sullivan blinked, he was obviously shocked but he did pay attention.  Faramir did write something down on his notepad, then he put the small note in Sullivan’s hand. “Get her to send this to everybody, their phones are being tracked for sure, and maybe tapped.”

 

Sullivan took a peak at the note and he went pale. “Faramir…”

 

Faramir swallowed hard. “Go, I have been used, as have we all, but I will not accept it. Someone has to be told the truth”

 

Sullivan gaped. “Are you nuts? They will kill you!”

 

Faramir took a deep breath. “Maybe, but how many do you think will have to die if this is allowed to continue? The city is like a tinderbox, and chaos is what they want, to cover their tracks. When you have given Stella the message leave, just take a car and drive off, anywhere, Tell nobody where you are heading and ditch the police car as soon as you can. You know how to hotwire a car? Great, lay low for a few weeks.”

 

Sullivan looked as if he was about to faint, he was an experienced agent but this was outside of his comfort zone. “A-alright”

 

Faramir took his hand. “I was a Ranger for years Sullivan, we didn’t leave any man behind but sometimes you have to make sacrifices. I am ready to do just that. Go!”

 

Sullivan took off and Faramir closed his eyes. If he knew these black op’s guys right, and he was sure he did, they had been tapping his phone too, so what to do now? The idea came fast and he left the freezer and headed for the police garage. There weren’t any guards down there and he found an unlocked cruiser and stared at the radio. Now it was all up to him, could the right person be reached this way? He could just hope that he managed to get the message through.

---------------------------------------------------

 

Legolas and Dwalin arrived half an hour after breakfast, apparently they had arrived just in time for the morning rush and Dwalin was rather frustrated since he had been in a queue for several miles. He was suddenly in a much better mood when he was being told that there would be food soon and Legolas was thoroughly hugged by Thran who for the first time revealed to everyone that the news of the attack had been a shock. Legolas seemed to take it all relatively easily, he was a bit shy at first but Jean seemed to melt completely and her warm personality made the lad relax. Bain asked if he wanted to take a look at the trampoline and Legolas just nodded, he had gotten a huge cup of cocoa and some very nice sandwiches and he found that he liked these people. Thran watched how his son scurried out the door after Bain and grinned. “I am glad he wasn’t too scared”

 

Dwalin had gotten a portion of egg and bacon large enough to feed two men and he looked as if he had fallen asleep and woke up in heaven. “He is a tough lad Sir, he didn’t complain at all about having to leave like that.”

 

Thran sighed. “I just hope that this is the last we hear from Lindir, he ought to have learned but somehow I doubt it”

 

Dwalin emptied his coffee cup. “He will try again, that attack was ruthless and violent and they had a lot of equipment too. He is in league with some shady types, that is for sure”

 

Bard frowned. “He can’t find Thran here now can he?”

 

Dwalin didn’t say anything and Thran looked a bit unsure. “Unless someone at the station has a slip of the tongue, I think he is cocky enough to call my boss to find out where I am.”

 

Bard felt nervous. “Will he tell of he is asked?”

 

Thran scoffed. “Of course not, he knows that I have broken up with Lindir and that I don’t want anything to do with him. And he does also know that it is against the rules to let anyone know where someone is when they are out on a job like this.”

 

Bard nodded. “Of course, but I still cannot help it. I feel worried”

 

Dwalin just grinned. “Oh, he won’t find this place, I had a hard time getting here damn it, the roads here is like a maze. And I have some surprises in the car.”

 

Bard cringed. “Listen, no guns around the kids and that is an order. But we do worry too much, the police will surely get Lindir behind bars soon enough. They cannot ignore something like that now can they?”

 

Dwalin shrugged. “Not at all, and those morons who made it will talk, I am pretty sure of that. I know the type, guys who think they are so tough when they have a gun in their hands but the moment they face real resistance they collapse like a house of cards”

 

Bard had to nod, he knew that Thran was an important person, not just some random citizen and thus the police would do their outmost to make sure that the threat was removed. He was silly for worrying so much. Outside they could hear the sound of the trampoline and it was rather apparent that Bain was very happy to have someone there who found his skills interesting. The boys seemed to have connected right away and Thran looked relieved. “They are going to make great friends for sure, Legolas is just the sort of kid who is a bit nervous until someone reaches out, he has problems taking the first step”

 

Bard had to smile, proudly. “Bain is the opposite, he is never afraid to reach out to someone”

 

Thran had to chuckle. “Like father like son?”

 

Bard blushed and Jean smiled as she went over to turn on the TV again, it had been switched off since nobody had watched it for a while. Tilda was very eager to watch her favourite show and she was almost jumping up and down in the couch. Bard had a strange feeling now, he couldn’t quite explain it but something felt off. It wasn’t something there, he was sure of it, but his instincts rarely were wrong. Dwalin finished his food and thanked Jean profusely and she went upstairs to prepare a room for him and one for Legolas. It was rather clear that she appreciated having a full house where she could show off her skills in the kitchen and as a hostess.

 

Thran went with Jean to help her with the horses and Bard tried to join Bain and Legolas but found that the boys were too skilled, he couldn’t hope to match them at all. Sigrid did find Dwalin rather fascinating and kept the man busy with questions about this army career and Dwalin answered with some pride. He was a veteran and liked to tell stories about his life as a soldier. He just made sure that they were suitable for a young lady to hear.

 

Bard had just gotten back inside when they heard an odd noise coming from the couch, it sounded like whimpers and Bard ran over. It was Tilda, she laid in the couch in a crouched up position and she had peep herself. She stared at the TV screen while rocking back and forth the whole time, shivering. Bard stared at the screen, a reporter was speaking about the latest murder and they showed a picture of Bolg, sneering towards the camera. Bard swore, they had interrupted the usual schedule to send some extra news and now the reporter told about attacks against the homes and families of the people on the list and even attacks towards their workplaces. Seemingly little was being done to prevent it.

 

Bard grasped Tilda and she was more or less unconscious, eyes rolling and body twitching and he started to fear that the kid had gotten some sort of seizure. It was no doubt about it, she had recognized Bolg and Bard did once again feel that anger was seething within him. He turned to Dwalin. “Thran is in the barn, go, get him now!”

 

Dwalin sprinted out the door and Bard had no idea of what to do. Jean and Thran came back with Dwalin and Thran grasped the child and checked her pulse and her respiration. “She is in some sort of shock. What did she see?”

 

Bard swallowed. “Bolg, a picture of Bolg. She freaked out”

 

Thran hissed “Little doubt about his guilt then, but she needs to calm down immediately. Jean, do you have any sort of sedative in the house?”

 

She looked terrified, her eyes huge. “Uh, yes, some pills Jacob used from time to time, but they are old and…”

 

Thran interrupted. “Go get them, they could perhaps be useful”

 

Jean ran off and returned with a couple of boxes, Thran grasped them and frowned. “These may work, we must try.”

 

He opened a box and pulled out a pill, broke it in half and managed to get it into the girl, made her swallow it with some water. He did look rather angry too and he held Tilda until she stopped twitching and calmed down. Her eyes were out of focus but she wasn’t seizing and she was breathing normally. “A panic attack, I wonder what she did see”

 

Bard saw down, caressed her silky hair and there was despair in his eyes. “I guess we’ll never know”

 

Thran tilted his head. “There is a way to ask her, but I am not so sure if you would agree on it being used?”

 

Bard sighed, he felt tired, old. Such shocks were not good for him. “What method?”

 

Thran took a deep breath. “Hypnosis, we usually never do that with so young patients but it will help her face her demons and get it over with”

 

Bard felt conflicted, he had heard a lot about hypnosis and little of it was good, but he did know that it was more than just funfair performers making people believe that they were chickens or whatever. “Is it harmful?”

 

Thran shook his head. “No, unless I wish for it she won’t remember anything afterwards at all, but the bottled up fear will be gone. There is a reason why she haven’t gotten any better, and I bet that is connected to something she saw, or heard. If we can remove that element I bet she can start to recover truly. “

 

Jean had stood in the background the whole time and she looked confused. “What does this have to do with Sophia?”

 

Bard sighed deeply, he bit his lower lip, didn’t know what to say. Thran sat up and laid Tilda down upon the couch again, in a comfortable position. “Sophia was murdered Jean, it wasn’t a suicide. No woman kills herself like that if there is a chance that her children may find her, and she wasn’t that depressed. I have checked her records. We think Bolg was the killer and Tilda saw that whole thing”

 

Jean went pale, she almost sank down into a chair and Dwalin put his arm around her, just to offer some support. “Why? That Bold man, he was a terrible person yes? Why would he murder my Sophia?”

 

Thran looked down. “We think he was sent to threaten her, to possibly kidnap her. He was hired by Bombur Dwight”

 

Jean passed out, her eyes rolled up and Dwalin caught her just before she could hit the floor, he held her gently and looked a bit stunned. “Listen guys, why don’t you please fill me in on this? For something is going on here and I feel as confused as a fart in a wicker chair”

 

Bard felt a sudden urge to break down and cry, but he couldn’t. Sigrid sat by the table and looked scared and confused and he had to be strong, for all of them. “Okay, listen up, I will tell the whole sad tale but only once”

 

Dwalin nodded. “Got it, shoot”

----------------------------------------------

 

Faramir had managed to do what he came for, he did sneak out of the garage again and was heading for the stairs when he heard a sound and turned around. Two of the black op’s agents had entered the garage and Faramir knew they had seen him. For a second he wondered if he could trick them somehow but one of them did pull out a gun and he threw himself behind a car just in time to avoid the first round. The sound of the gun was deafening and he knew he didn’t stand a chance without his own gun. These guys were prepared to remove all loose ends, to make sure that nobody could tell the world of their true intentions. Several bullets slammed into the car and he was looking for a way out, desperately. He was pinned down and couldn’t escape, they were blocking his way out.

 

Suddenly the door opened and agent Sullivan stormed out, he was holding a weapon which Faramir identified as a shotgun and he fired rapidly. Both the black op’s agents dropped but they managed to shoot at the agent who fell too. Faramir stormed forth, Sullivan was breathing in a funny way and he moaned. “Faramir, they have asked everybody to return to the station, claiming that they are returning the investigation to the police here but it is a trap. They want no witnesses, nobody who knows anything about the case is to survive.”

 

Faramir swallowed hard. “The message, did you get the message to Stella?”

 

Sullivan shook his head. “They have closed off that part of the station, those who work there have been sent home. I couldn’t get a hold of anyone”

 

Faramir cursed, what was he to do now? Sullivan coughed. “The station is surrounded, no way out.”

 

Faramir felt an urge to grab the shotgun and shoot his way out but knew it would be futile. “One of the investigators, and the profiler is off duty, they are at some farm somewhere, can they be reached?”

 

Sullivan was slipping away. “I heard…” He coughed blood. “Someone is coming for them…and then they will clean up the mess, afterwards”

 

Faramir felt stunned, not only the station but also innocent people? These so called agents were true bastards and probably able to kill their own mother if they were ordered to do it. He knew that the shotgun blasts had been heard, he had seconds to go before more agents would come storming through the doors. Sullivan wheezed. “Don’t let them do it, warn everybody”

 

Faramir felt his heart hammer, he couldn’t get out of the station but could he hide? There was just one place where he could go without having to enter the stairs again and that was the morgue. He squeezed Sullivan’s hand one last time before he ran back into the basement. The realm of Judith wasn’t large but there were several rooms down there and he knew that they would look for him in the small closets where they stored the bodies. It would be the most obvious place to hide. He had to come up with something else fast. He already heard shouts and orders being called out and they would shoot first and ask questions later.

 That he and Sullivan were federal agents didn’t matter, these people were above the law, or at least, they believed that they were. He was staring at his surroundings, there had to be something….¨

One minute later four of the black op’s agents stormed into the rooms with their automatic weapons drawn, they had found the bodies of their two fellow agents and that of Sullivan and since Faramir was missing it was easy to understand who they should be looking for. The leader was a tall man with a nasty scar across his cheek and very cold eyes. “He has to be in here, nobody is to get out of here. The boss demands it, we are so close.”

 

The men tore through the rooms and opened every cupboard and every closet. The bodies were checked and even the huge tank used to remove flesh from bone was opened. It was empty and they lowered the lid again, the thing was massive and had to be opened using a hydraulic device.  One of the agents made a grimace. “He isn’t here sir.”

 

The leader swore. “He cannot be allowed to escape, he is too smart. And he knows too much. Double the number of guards, he is in the building somewhere, he cannot have gotten far”

 

The agents nodded and exited the room, leaving it in darkness.

----------------------------

Elisa had opened the door to her small apartment and the old man and his dog did politely wait for her to allow them entrance. She felt utterly confused, the ring he wore, how in heavens name had he come across it? And what did it mean? What was this all about? She wasn’t to trust anybody, could she trust this old timer? The old man sat down on a chair and she closed her eyes and forced herself to focus. “Can I get you anything, tea? Coffee?”

 

Olorin smiled gently. “Thank you young lady, some coffee would be nice”

 

Elisa found her kettle while her mind was swirling around like a maelstrom. Olorin didn’t look like a dangerous person at all, the guy had to be over ninety and he looked as frail as a dandelion fluff. He took the glasses off and she frowned. “You aren’t blind?!”

 

He shook his head. “No, but it is a very good disguise. Even in the most rowdy of neighbourhoods I am allowed to walk alone, nobody bothers with a very old blind man, even the worst thugs thinks that is below their dignity.”

 

Elisa put the heat on. “That is smart”

 

She wondered how it could be that an old man like him would find himself in such places though, there had to be more to him than what met the eye. Olorin sighed and let the old raincoat slide off, he wore a dark grey sweater and some worn corduroy pants and he could have been mistaken for some homeless person if it all hadn’t been clean and without holes. Elisa swallowed. “I was told earlier today not to trust anyone, why should I trust you?”

 

Olorin cocked his head. “A very good question, I will allow you to decide for yourself whether or not you should believe me. But there are a few things you do need to believe and that is that your co workers are in peril, as soon as we are done here you have to get out of this house and try to contact them all. But do not use your cell phone, it is tapped”

 

Elisa frowned. “How do you know?”

 

He smiled again, he was very charming and she thought that he had to have been a complete lady killer when he was a young man. “Because I know the people you are up against, and believe me, to them there is only one thing which matters and that is their ultimate goal”

 

Elisa swallowed hard, she had a hard time believing what she herself said next. “To capture the Shrike?”

 

Olorin nodded and his eyes were very clear, not at all cloudy and running as on many old people. “Yes, I know what you and your friends have found, and the conclusions which are made. The killings are impossible for a human being, but it is very hard for us modern humans to accept something we cannot see with our own eyes and have confirmed by solid science. “

 

Elisa cringed. “But….it cannot be one being? It is impossible, it has to be many people, a cult of some sorts”

 

Olorin laughed, “Oh, I have heard that explanation before young lady, we humans try to desperately cling onto what we can understand and explain. “

 

Elisa swallowed and lifted the kettle of the stove, the water was getting warm. “Then what is it we have discovered?”

 

Olorin made a vague gesture. “What you have discovered has been discovered before, that is why I am here. And I will explain like I said, but first things first”

 

She found some cups and realized that she still understood next to nothing. “So what are they after, those who seek to capture it, whatever it is? A weapon?”

 

Olorin nodded. “Yes, and a key to something mankind has craved for millennia. Immortality”

 

Elisa had to make a grimace. “Immortality? Are you kidding me?”

 

He shook his head. “No, I am not. But let me tell the entire story dear, I think it will explain it all. Before I start though, here”

 

He held out a small cell phone. “Do call your friend Ori, ask him to leave the house immediately and take his mother and aunts with him. “

 

Elisa frowned. “Why are you doing this?”

 

He chuckled. “There are other forces at play in this world beside those of evil young one. Call him now, the phone isn’t tapped.”

 

She dialled Ori’s number and it went a few seconds before he answered. “Ori, it is me, Elisa, where are you?”

 

Ori sounded excited. “I am with a friend, we are visiting the museum downtown, checking out the old library. There are plenty of old newspapers here which haven’t been digitalized yet”

 

Elisa felt a need to roll her eyes. “Ori, listen to me. This is very important. Do not go home, you are in danger. Someone else is also after the Shrike and they want us out of the way, got it? Hide, don’t let yourself be seen.”

 

Ori fell quiet for a few seconds. “Ah, okay? My friend, could he be in trouble too?”

 

Elisa had to think fast. “Have you been in contact with him on the net? If you have they know of him, is there somewhere nearby where you can hide? Somewhere with many people?!”

 

Ori was whispering something to his friend, then he answered and his voice was a bit odd, as if he was trying to avoid laughing. “Yes, there is a conference centre next door, with a sort of fantasy and sci fi gathering. It is packed, and all sorts of creatures are present. I saw two Klingons while walking to get here, it is crazy!”

 

Elisa closed her eyes. “Great, could you hide in that crowd? Try to stay in that centre until I call you again, okay?”

 

Ori could be heard snickering. “Yes, it will be easy, but my other internet friends?!”

 

Elisa looked at Olorin. “If they are abroad they are safe, just ask them to shut down their computers for the next days, and don’t open any emails from unknown addresses. The ones here in the states should leave their homes and go somewhere only they know.”

 

Elisa told Ori and he promised he would before he ended the call. Elisa swallowed and stared at the old man. “Is it really that serious?”

 

Olorin nodded, his face a bit glum. “It is dear, this goes back a long time, the one you all ought to fear is not the Shrike as you call her, but a group more lethal than anything you can imagine. “

 

She scrunched her nose. “The illuminati?”

 

Olorin laughed out loud. “No, they are a myth, I am talking about an organization which hides in plain sight, one with very long arms and extreme goals. I’d better start with the beginning or what?”

 

She nodded and poured the tea. “Yes, do that, I am getting both curious and worried, to say the least”

------------------------------

At the police station the black op’s agents refused to tell the few ordinary agents what had happened, everybody had heard gunshots and now the atmosphere was volatile. The investigators had been called back but Bard and Thran hadn’t answered the call, it didn’t seem to bother the leader of the agents though, he seemed pretty indifferent. The rest of the team would be there soon and then their job would be over with, it would all be a sad act of some terrorist, vengeance for some wrongfully accused relative or something. They had gotten what they wanted, and the fact that one federal agent had managed to get away didn’t really matter, nobody would believe him if he was to say anything. They could stop his mouth soon enough anyhow. The agents were packing up and the ordinary agents were relieved that the haughty fellows were going.

 

The leader of the black op’s agents had lots of confidence, he had powerful people backing him up. The fact that this police station had discovered yet another one of her raids had been a welcome chance, he was sure they would make it this time. They had so many things now there was a good chance some of them would have to be the right one. That this goddamn list was found was not a part of the plan, it was perfect to create a distraction though, he didn’t care whether or not the people on it got punished, it was not up to him. But the information they had gathered? It was priceless. Some they of course knew from before but they had also discovered things which were new. Now they just had to wrap it all up. It was a nice touch to make sure that this huge mouthed reporter caught wind of everything, it was a smoke screen as good as any. He was standing there admiring his own cleverness when one of the agents entered the room, he had a young guy wearing a sort of uniform at his heels. “Sir, this guy has a packet to deliver, for one of the investigators, Bard Bowman I think?”

 

The leader frowned, the lad did wear the uniform of one of the most relied upon delivery businesses in the city and he smiled and looked very relaxed. The leader managed to smile, it could be something important. “Here lad, he isn’t in right now but I can sign for him, I am one of his bosses”

 

The boy looked a bit uncertain but then he nodded. “Oh, well, I guess that is okay then.”

 

He held out the papers and the leader signed, he took the package into one of the offices and stared at it. It was the size of a shoebox, not very heavy but there was something in there. He had already ordered for a group of his guys to find the investigator and the profiler and make sure that they couldn’t talk, it was a nice trick of faith that the profiler had a disgruntled ex who could be blamed, a swift phone call and the guy had swallowed it all, hook line and sinker. It would be such an easy job, just make sure that things looked believable. He saw that the men of his group gathered to carry some of their equipment out of the offices, the small devices agent Faramir had been tricked into placing in the computers were of course removed now, they couldn’t leave anything behind which could be tied to them. He shook the box gently, hmm, interesting, what could it be?

 

He found a letter opener and started removing the paper, it was ordinary grey paper and nothing fancy. Underneath was a cardboard box with no special text or anything and he cocked his head and sniffed. There was a faint smell there he couldn’t believe came from the room itself? It smelled like…marzipan? He cut the tape holding the lid closed and then he realized that he had done a blunder, in his arrogance he had forgotten to bring one very important factor into the equation. There were really angry people out there, angry enough to want to kill the investigators, angry enough to commit murder, to attack a police station. It wasn’t all a lie.

 

He had time to see the card placed on top of the device. “Goodbye you cocksucker, hope you burn in hell. My uncle sends his regards!”

 

Then the box exploded and the explosion was extremely violent. The box didn’t contain explosives, it was made from explosives, C4 mixed with wet cardboard and inside was the trigger mechanism and several paper rolls packed full of one inch nails plus a huge amount of flour. It was a sort of pipe bomb, without a pipe and the blast blew out all the windows and released a fireball which spread through the entire first floor like a fist of fury, scorching and setting things ablaze. The flour added a dust explosion effect and if he had recognized the smell of C4 he could perhaps have stopped it but it had been too late. The shaking of the box had added to the effect, it was a devilish trap. It was ironic that a device made to kill a man he wanted dead now killed him. The leader was transformed to a scorched, twisted piece of meat within a fraction of a second and the rest of the people on that floor were thrown backwards, and peppered with nails. Fire alarms started to go off, the sprinkler system tried to start but was too damaged and for a few moments there was an odd sort of silence. Then one of the black op’s agents managed to get up onto his feet, he saw that the main office was reduced to rubble, and it was burning. Their leader was dead, there was no point in even checking but how many of them had made it?

 

He checked, just one of the other men from the unit was alive, he was hurt but able to move and he grasped the man under his arms and hauled him with him. The fire would remove all traces, they had to get out. Someone would come up with a cover story for sure, now they had to go before someone came and started asking questions. The mission would continue, they would just have to regroup. He passed by moaning office workers and federal agents without offering any of them as much as a glance, they were expendable. He had to go before the fire brigade arrived. The crates with equipment was already in the back of a car, he hauled his injured friend into the car and took off. He couldn’t risk that the man started to speak and he knew that they couldn’t lose too many guys just yet, or else he would have shot him. Nothing ought to stand in their way!

---------------------------------------------------

At the farm Bard had finished telling Dwalin the story of Sophia and Tilda and the veteran was frowning. “Too bad that Bombur guy is dead already, I am sure I could have gotten the truth out of him, one way or the other”

 

Bard had to grin for a second. “Yes, I am sure you would.”

 

Thran looked at them. “I think I will try to use the hypnosis as soon as she wakes up, it is best to have it over with. “

 

Jean had woken up now and she was in bed, she had cried like a child and Bard had held her while he told Dwalin everything. Thran had helped her to bed as she calmed down and he knew that she blamed herself for this. But there was no point in it, selling the farm would have been like selling off everything which meant anything to her, and to her grandchildren. Tilda slept for yet an hour before she started to come too and then Thran shushed everybody out, except Bard. At first she didn’t understand what they were doing, but then she sort of relaxed and listened to Thran’s soft deep voice and Bard was fascinated. It almost made him too fall asleep, he felt heavy and drowsy and just odd and Tilda sat there leaned back on the couch and she looked as if she was sleeping again. Thran was moving ahead very slowly, he didn’t want to trigger yet another attack so he took her back gradually.

 

Bard was impressed, none of the questions were leading, he allowed her to find her own words and as she spoke the whole situation unfolded before their eyes. Tilda had arrived and since she was ill she had run straight for the toilet. While she was there she had heard voices, her mother’s and a man’s voice, loud and scary. She had heard her mother running by the door, heard her being chased and by now Tilda had been terrified. She had dared to sneak out though, desperate to help her mom. Her mother had been standing by the stove, aiming the gun she knew her dad kept hidden somewhere at the man. He was a huge man, and he was ugly, with odd drawings on his skin. Her mother had screamed something and Tilda had screamed too, the man had seen her and just laughed, called her a little bitch.

 

Bard had a hard time breathing, his chest was heaving, Tilda’s voice was flat, dead.  The man had said some nasty thing about granny too, and then things had happened so fast Tilda hadn’t even seen. There had been a loud bang and her mommy had fallen down, the man had a gun in his hand and he had been swearing badly. Then he had walked over to her mom and taken the gun she held and fired again, through the same hole. He had laughed, and then he had turned to Tilda and pointed the gun at her too. Said that if she ever said anything about this to anyone he would find her and fuck her with his gun and shoot her too. Then he had just walked out the backdoor for there was a sound of a car pulling into the drive way and Tilda was so scared, so terribly so. She wanted to tell her dad what had happened but she couldn’t, she couldn’t for then that bad man would come back and what if he shot her dad too? So she had stayed quiet, for then the bad man wouldn’t come back.

 

Bard was sweaty, angry, shocked and disappointed too. The police had done a lousy job with the investigation from the first second. Bolg had camouflaged the original wound with a close range shot from Bard’s 45, but still a good forensic investigator should have been able to see that she had been shot twice instead of just once. And the bullet from the 45 had been found embedded in the wall rather than in the ceiling but the morons had come to the conclusion that she had been kneeling. It had been one huge mess up and Bard stared at Thran with pleading eyes. “Say you can do something for her, please?”

 

Thran nodded and started to speak, his voice even softer and more pressing than before. “Tilda, when you wake up you have forgotten all about that bad man, he wasn’t there. He had harmed your mom before you came home remember? You just found her. It was bad and terribly sad and nasty but you didn’t see anything. The bad man is dead now, he can never find you or any of us again, it is like he never was, understand?”

 

She nodded and Thran repeated the orders several times, Bard just listened to how Thran practically created new memories for her, memories which were a little easier to bear than the ones she had had. Then he allowed her to sleep for real and Bard carried her off to bed. Both men were exhausted from all the emotional turmoil and Thran sighed and sat down next to Bard. Dwalin was outside and showed the other kids how you build a catapult using old car springs and planks and even if it was a bit unconventional they would probably love it. Bard leaned against Thran’s shoulder. “ Oh geez what a weekend, but at least we know”

 

Thran sighed, “Yes, we know. But it won’t hold in court, they will still say she killed herself. Her name haven’t been cleared”

 

Bard closed his eyes. “Yes, maybe there is some evidence stored away somewhere, something which puts that creep in our kitchen that day.”

 

Thran did run his fingers through Bard’s hair, slowly and soothingly and Bard started to feel as if he was melting, he was close to dozing off. “Sometimes I wish I was like that professor in them Xmen movies, then I could have made that creep live out his life thinking he was a lamprey or some other nasty creature, but alas, I am just an ordinary psychologist”

 

Bard scoffed. “There is nothing ordinary about you my dear, nothing at all. If this worked Tilda will get better, I cannot explain how grateful I am”

 

Thran kissed his brow. “You don’t have to, I know. And Bolg is dead anyway so nothing to do there.”

 

Bard sighed and closed his eyes again. “Yes, and now, with our chef in bed , who is to cook us dinner if I may ask? Don’t tell it is me for then we will all be in mortal peril, I cannot even cook potatoes!”

 

Thran had to laugh. “That bad ha? But fear not, I am a very good cook and I think a pizza would be very suitable wouldn’t you agree? I can make a huge one, Jean’s stove is the size of a cave”

 

Bard hummed. “Oh a pizza, yes, with lots of cheese, and crunched nachos on it, and peppers”

 

Thran laughed. “You do like spicy food then? Good, for so do I.”

 

Bard felt an odd feeling descend upon him, a sort of euphoria. He knew, he finally knew the answer to the question which had tormented him for two long years and it was as if he was being freed from heavy chains he hadn’t even been aware of until now. He was free! Free from doubt, free from endless hours of increasingly dark thoughts, free from the fear of seeing his precious child suffer even more. He had to gasp and he hid his sob by kissing Thran, hard. “Thank you”

 

Thran suddenly looked very tender, loving even. “It is so little, I am glad to be able to help you, you are the most wonderful man I have ever met Bard, and I believe that…no I know that we are as born for each other”

 

Bard nodded and smiled, relaxed into the warm embrace. “So, hot food, how hot?”

 

Thran chuckled. “Well, I once did the mistake of trying to bite into an inferno chilli at some fair, it was…interesting!”

 

Bard laughed. “Do tell, please, we have the evening”

 

Thran pulled Bard closer and Bard just laid there, listening to the soft deep voice and he felt that things from now on would be good, why shouldn’t they? The mess at work would work itself out, yeah, things would calm down for sure.

--------------------

Olorin stared at his teacup and his eyes were distant. “The place where I step into this story was in Germany, in the spring of 1945, when the country surrendered. I don’t know how much you know about the great war young lady?”

 

Elisa swallowed, 1945? That was…a long time ago now. “A little”

 

Olorin nodded. “Great, now, most aren’t aware of this but Hitler was very interested in the occult, and his co-workers even more so, Himmler in special was very interested in the history of the Aryan race which he believed to have roots on the sunken continent of Atlantis. There were expeditions sent all over the world in search for clues and magical artefacts of all sorts”

 

Elisa blinked and had to take a sip of her tea. “Like in that Indiana Jones movie?! Are you kidding me?”

 

Olorin shook his head.  “No, if people were told half of the stuff these fanatic people were involved in they would classify it as downright lies. There were even expeditions sent into caves and places like Tibet, they believed that fairy tales could hold some truth, that there were real elves living in the forests and that the Germans somehow were related to them. That would justify their claim of being a “master” race. They even had psychics trying to contact aliens and some say that they in fact had success. That some of the technology they so suddenly developed were given to them by these extra-terrestrials.”

 

Elisa had to grin. “Some say the same thing today, about the army, and area 51”

 

Olorin grinned widely. “Oh yes, but they did have very advanced technology and I was part of a group put together specially to get a hand on that technology and preferably also the ones making it. The German scientists were top notch, the very best in their fields and the allies wanted them and wanted them bad. Some said that Hitler even had people working on an anti gravity device called “die glocke” the bell. There are those who claim that it was real, that they in fact built it and that one of the officers involved in the project escaped in it never to be seen again.”

 

Elisa frowned. “Now that is far fetched isn’t it?”

 

Olorin just shrugged. “Maybe? I don’t think so, they achieved so much but a great deal of that came at a horrible cost. They did experiments on humans so cruel you wouldn’t believe it, and some of these people, they were so brainwashed and so completely convinced of their right to rule they became more or less monstrous.”

 

Elisa took another sip. “How come?”

 

Olorin sighed and put down the cup. “That is where I come in, you see, we were sent to capture a scientist, a man specializing in genetics. They had no idea about DNA back then but they did know genes and how certain traits can be transferred from one generation to the next and this guy was really a genius, he was decades ahead of his time. He had been part of a project run by a group within Hitler’s army which was feared by all, they called themselves the black sun and they dealt with what we would call black projects. Things ordinary people were forbidden from learning anything about. He was supposed to create some sort of super soldier who would bring Hitler victory for sure, a being unable to tire, to feel pain, a killing machine”

 

Elisa felt she was getting goose bumps all over. “A terminator?”

 

Olorin grinned. “Something like that yes. So I was part of this group and we managed to get to this village high in the mountains, it was deserted, all the civilians had been rounded up and gunned down, in case someone knew something they shouldn’t and I am telling you, it was absolutely horrific. They hadn’t shot the babies and the small children but smashed their heads with the blunt end of their rifles, it was a bloodbath. My men were tired and angry and shocked and yet we had to follow orders, we were to get that man alive, because the generals and the majors and the governments wanted the same as Hitler, a super soldier.”

 

Elisa held her breath. “Then they were no better than that creep”

 

Olorin cocked his head. “Remember, history is always a question of angle, see things from a new one and everything may change. They wanted this scientist to make soldiers who could be expendable, who were tools, soldiers nobody would mourn. Hitler wanted soldiers who were the perfect specimen of his idolized super human race, but it all boiled down to this one thing, we needed Oscar von Wolfensloss alive.”

 

Elisa emptied her cup. “And you caught him?”

 

Olorin sighed, “Yes, and that is where this story starts for real Elisa, for that is when I saw her first.”

 

He leaned back against the wall, eyes half closed and his voice was hoarse. “We were ambushed, by a troop of special units soldiers, worse than the SS. These guys were high on meth, pumped up on all sorts of drugs, virtually unstoppable. I saw one take a shot through his throat and yet he kept firing, they were probably the first attempts at making that super soldier. We were trapped in a small cave, ammo was running low and we knew that these creeps would torture us. We saw what they had done to the workers of the lab, we had searched through it but everything was destroyed and all papers burned. Only Oscar now knew the secrets of his experiments and we weren’t going to let the Russians have him, no way. But things were grim, my sergeant had ordered that if we were to be captured we should throw ourselves onto a hand grenade each, to avid that and we were ready to do it. Those men were monsters, or even worse than monsters for they had been humans once. “

 

Elisa couldn’t imagine a situation like that, when it was so bad killing yourself in such a manner was the only option left. “But that didn’t happen”

 

Olorin petted the old dog. “No, that didn’t happen. She came. At first there was just an odd silence, the soldiers turned around, started firing at something behind them, and then…the screaming began”

 

He looked down, eyes distant. “I cannot even begin to describe it, these horrible men, strong and well trained, with top weapons, they were slaughtered. It was as if you swat flies with a newspaper, just splat splat and splat. We were terrified, believed that this scientist in fact had managed to create something inhuman, something which now attacked its own makers. Nobody dared to look”

 

Elisa stared at him. “Except you…”

 

Olorin nodded. “I have always been too bold for my own good, human beings isn’t supposed to see such things, it does something to you. A man can never face a God and remain the person he was before. “

 

She frowned again. “A God?”

 

He nodded slowly. “A God,  a being of limitless power, of endless thirst and anger. She was there and she was…the most beautiful and the most terrifying thing I had ever seen in my life. I was sure my heart would burst, that my soul was in jeopardy. In that moment I forgot all about religion, all about faith and doubt and existential questions for there and then young one, there and then I KNEW!”

 

His voice was intense and she blinked, couldn’t really believe it. “So, what happened next?”

 

He sighed, seemed to shrink. “She looked at me, studied me, than I heard her voice in my head, and it was like the roar of a hurricane, or the softness of a cat purring, all at once. “You are mine” she said” one of my brave, and my gift I will give you as long as you keep fighting for good, always for good. Those who know will find you” And then she was gone in the mist, like a shadow, like a ghost and I passed out.”

 

Elisa was just gaping. “But…”

 

Olorin raised a finger. “But there are no Gods right? They are just ideas, made up by us humans when we try to explain what we cannot fathom as of yet”

 

Elisa tried to pull herself together. “Yes”

 

Olorin tilted his head. “You went to school Elisa, you were told that the history of mankind started back in the stone age and then we evolved and got more advanced and now here at this moment we are at the pinnacle of our journey through time. We are smarter and more advanced than ever before and those who came before us were dimwits compared to who we are now, right?”

 

She had to nod. “Yes, that is what everybody knows?”

 

He chuckled. “Wrong, the natives knows that mankind has risen to great heights and destroyed itself three times before, and the fourth time will happen by fire. The Egyptian high priests could follow their family lines back 46000 years when Plato visited them. The great pyramids were not tombs my dear, they were power plants, tapping energy from the very earth itself. Believe me, so much is forgotten that what we currently know is like a single grain of sand, compared with the sand on all this worlds beaches”

 

Elisa felt confused. “But what has this to do with …her?”

 

Olorin smiled. “Everything, I don’t know what she is Elisa, nobody does. Is she a natural being? Immortal and terrible? A deity?  Is she some sort of alien? Could be as well. Is she an artificial creation, like an android or something of that like? Perhaps. What I do know Elisa is that she has been hunting the wicked for as long as mankind has existed and she goes after those who otherwise would escape justice, those above the law, those too clever to be exposed as what they are.”

 

She swallowed, put the cup down. “So, the people trying to capture her?”

 

Olorin laughed. “Clever girl, you have a good head on your shoulders. We did capture that scientist and he was brought to the states where he got a new name and a job for uncle Sam instead. Since his projects were so important he got free reins and my oh my did he exploit that. He started his own group, at first it was rather benign, just a bunch of scientists and some guards to watch over them. Then he got influential friends, rich friends. He did things which caused them to believe him when he said that he could make them even richer, even more powerful. He convinced men within the army leadership that if he had it his way he could eradicate the disease which was communism with just a pill, that he could eliminate disease, cancer, poverty yes even death!”

 

Elisa gaped. “Was he insane?”

 

Olorin shook his head. “No, he was terribly clever, and he knew about her, he was one of the members of Hitler’s occult group and Egyptian legends were studied in detail. He knew she was real, the knowledge Ori has gathered is of a newer date but he had all the old information about her deeds. He wanted her, she would be the key to his ultimate power.”

 

Elisa closed her eyes. “And now?”

 

Olorin smiled gently. “He was too late, he died of cancer in 68, one year before the lunar landing, it was ironic. But his son Jon took over, just as fanatical as his father or perhaps even more. He runs a whole hidden society, to the onlooker they are special agents taking care of specially violent cases and cases which involve terrorism . In truth they seek to cover up any trace of her, to silence those who have seen her, to make sure that nobody ever finds the whole truth and that she is real, if someone does they may face competition and they cannot afford that.”

 

Elisa gasped. “Now I see why you warned me!”

 

Olorin nodded and petted the dog again. “They hide in plain sight, within the ordinary organizations. But they are loyal only to him, as fanatic as Hitler’s black sun soldiers. They will stop at nothing to get her,  that Ori found those artefacts did draw them here like bees to honey”

 

Elisa frowned. “But…we never told anyone…”

 

Olorin smiled, nodded. “You didn’t now did you, but you did send stuff to lab’s and they have people everywhere, tapping phones, checking emails, watching the great wide web twenty four seven for anything which may indicate a connection to her. They knew the moment you started gathering information and from that moment you were targets”

 

Elisa felt her chest constrict, she suddenly felt very scared. “But you? You know, and her gift?”

 

Olorin smiled gently. “Oh yes, her gift to me. I have never used it, but it is a very powerful thing, a power which I may use only once, and that is it, and I have to use it for good. It is a sacrifice Elisa, one I have to give freely. “

 

Elisa looked confused. “But ….the rings?”

 

Olorin sighed and straightened his back. “You see, whence you receive the ring you do age, but not as fast as other people, I was born in 1912, same year as the Titanic disaster. Hard to tell hu? If I am to die I have to do it by using the gift, and I intend to, if I have to. But your question about the rings, now that is an interesting one for sure!”

 

He handed his ring over to her. “When we were to leave Germany this old man approached me, he was bent and twisted and looked like he had been carved from wood, a survivor from a concentration camp. He gave me the ring and I didn’t understand until he spoke. “You have seen her” he said, “so know the truth about her! Once she almost wiped mankind out in her thirst for justice for man is wicked and cruel and even the good can be turned into beasts. But there is one thing controlling her thirst, and this is a part of it. As long as this ring and its mirror image exist within this world she will never kill more than a few at a time. Beware, for there are those who covet this ring above all else”

 

 

Olorin sighed. “I didn’t quite understand but he told me that there is a group of wise people who has been watching her for millennia, the watchers they are called and now I was one of them. We are few, hidden very well and we never meet and we don’t even know each other’s name. But we are here to make sure that she isn’t stopped, that her work is allowed to continue!”

 

Elisa swallowed again, this was like listening to someone reading a fantasy book or something like that, it couldn’t be real, and yet her instincts told her that it was. “And if it is stopped?”

 

Olorin made a grimace. “Imagine a dam, it has an overflow valve, a device which allows a little water to escape all the time so it won’t overflow. She is that valve, if she is gone all the wickedness and evil and filth mankind is capable of creating will burst free, all at once. She takes care of the worst of the worst, the surplus, those souls who have lost all humanity if you like. With her around there is still hope, the weak will be avenged, the wicked will face their doom”

 

Elisa cringed. “Without a trial nor a jury?”

 

Olorin nodded. “She is more than us Elisa, more than a simple flawed human. Her methods are cruel yes, but she is above moral and all these things which makes us humans tick.”

 

Elisa felt a bit sick. “It doesn’t make it right”

 

Olorin shrugged. “No, it doesn’t. But it is as it is little one, and there isn’t a bloody thing we can do about it. Sometimes I have wished that there were but no, history is like a maze and she is a bullet piercing straight through it.”

 

Elisa looked at the ring. “I have the other one, so what now?”

 

The old man smiled and scratched the dog behind its ears. “There was one final thing that old man told me at the harbour of Hamburg that late evening, if those two rings are put on by a single person standing on holy ground he can summon her to him, and control her, but only for twelve hours. And he will carry her gift then, as all those who carry the rings must. He will be a warrior or light, able to see the truth behind even the most elaborate lie, able to change the course of history by exposing the wicked. I have lived that life Elisa, and I have never regretted it, not even once.”

 

Elisa felt stunned, confused. “So, what have you done? “

 

He grinned. “Oh, I have worked from behind the shadows, a word here, a little  leak there, some evidence someone thought was lost, I have put my mark on history and it is good that way. Even if my name never will be known.”

 

Elisa held the ring, it felt warm, heavy, as if it was alive somehow. “Who is the rings for?”

 

Olorin smiled gently. “You know already, the one with the deepest sorrow and the kindest heart. The one who sees and seeks the truth of the heart and the voice of the soul. They are chosen, she has spoken and it shall be. Dark times are coming Elisa, for the first time there will be two chosen ones, working together as one. “

 

Elisa felt dizzy. “Bard, and Thran”

 

Olorin found something in his pocket, it was a piece of vellum and it had to be ancient but it was still soft and the drawing upon it could have been made the day before. Elisa felt her legs shiver, it was two men, one dark haired with a huge bow and one with blond hair with a sword and a halo of light was drawn around them and she recognized them. Olorin took the drawing and folded it back, hid it. “The archer and the Stag, she did the archer a favour, she will do a favour also for the stag. You will see. That is how she identifies those in her favour, and her gifts may sting at times but they are meant well, even when they hurt”

 

Elisa was about to say something less than intelligent when she heard a buzzing sound and frowned. It was her old fax machine, it hadn’t been used for months but she had a friend who for the moment visited some remote island as part of a science project and fax was the only means of communication. It was a short message, and a very disturbing one. “The station has been bombed, the agents wants to kill you all. Lay low. Faramir has told Lobelia and she will spread it. They are after Bard and Thran, they will use Thran’s ex. I will warn the others. Judith “

 

Elisa stared at Olorin with huge eyes. “Oh Gods, what are we to do?!”

 

Olorin got up, his eyes were suddenly ablaze. “Do you own a car young lady?”

 

Elisa shook her head. “No!”

 

Olorin grasped her arm. “I have rented one, get your guns and your west, it is time for me to keep my promise”

 

She looked at him, feeling scared to the bone. “What promise?”

 

He smiled and it was a melancholic smile. “To die well for the cause. Come on child, the time is running out”

 

Elisa grasped her flak west and her guns, checked them and found all her ammo, all while her head was spinning like a top. This couldn’t be happening, and yet it was. She sprinted after the old man, God alone knew if she would return.

Dogs and cats by Nuredhel

Chapter 8: Dogs and cats.

 

Many believed that the chief was the most important person within a police station, but in fact the people working at dispatch were the heart and core of the entire police force. They would send the officers to the places where they were needed, they would send out warnings if some suspect was spotted somewhere or reroute extra cars and people. If an officer was in trouble dispatch was his lifeline, his hope. When the federal agents sent the dispatch workers home they did in fact cut the lifeline for so many of those out on patrol, the police who was on duty had become blind and deaf and had no way of knowing whether or not they would get help if something happened. And things did happen, in all the areas of the city people were gathering, protesting against the way the police handled the case. They wanted action and they wanted it now, that the suspects had been taken to safe locations were seen as a way of protecting them, and the tempers were flaring.

 

The police had to stand back, they weren’t able to stop this and since the station where it all started now apparently was under federal control nobody knew who to contact to receive new orders. It was a chaos. The dispatch workers were a special breed, they knew what responsibility they carried and to be ordered out of their work station like that didn’t go well with many of them. Stella was at home, she rarely was and her husband laid on the couch as usual, complaining about his back. The truth was that the only thing which was aching was his will power since it was tragically weak. He had barely done an honest day’s work in his life. Stella was angry, she was sad and she was confused. She just knew that something about those agents was off, terribly so. Stella was like a mom to the entire station, the one they all trusted, and she didn’t want to break that trust now. She hesitated, her instincts were going haywire and she wasn’t stupid. She had worked at this police station for over twenty years and she knew the game, and its dangers. If someone in truth was trying to mess up the investigation information was the key to success, and thus information had to be controlled. She couldn’t use her phone, even a kid would reach that conclusion easily enough. She stared at her husband, he was half asleep, a bag of chips rested on his chest and she felt slightly disgusted by the sight. Trying to make a living when the one you live with in fact is more of a leech than a provider isn’t easy. So why not, if this backfired she didn’t mind if it backfired upon him, he could be useful for once in his life.

 

She slid from the chair and pretended to be straightening the table cloth, it was all greasy on his side of the table and she knew why she worked so much. It wasn’t just the money, it was the fact that her co-workers respected her and even treated her as a real person worthy of respect instead of a servant. She grasped his phone and went into the room at the back of the house reserved for washing, it was small and damp and not very cosy but it had reception and she had a wicked grin on her face as she dialled the first number from her memory. Her job required that she had a good memory, she knew the phone number of everybody in the force and not just the officers and investigators but also their spouses, kids and friends. When someone answered at the other end she didn’t hesitate. “Donna? It is Stella from the police station, I work at the dispatch unit, and I have to reach Judith but I cannot call her, someone is tapping the phones.”

 

Donna was the secretary of the city coroner and Judith often worked there when she wasn’t busy at the station, Stella had met her once, a small and rather overweight woman with a sparkling laughter and an even more sparkling personality. “What? Oh I get it, there is something odd going on for sure, the media are acting like a bunch of kids who have broken into a candy store. Judith is down in the basement right now, helping Dr Baker with an autopsy”

 

Stella closed her eyes, thank goodness. “Good, could you connect me to her? Through the intercom system?”

 

Donna could be heard punching buttons like crazy. “Sure thing, wait a minute”

 

Stella held her breath, heard clicking sounds and then finally Judith answered, she sounded surprised and Stella took a deep breath. “Judith, listen to me, this is important. Something odd is going on over at the station, I want you to call everybody and tell them not to go back to work until Thor gives the order okay? “

 

Judith sounded a bit confused. “Okay? But…”

 

Stella interrupted her. “No but! Just do it! Call everybody! Even Thor, I have a very bad feeling Judith, and my gut is the one thing I do trust in this house”

 

Judith could be heard swallowing. “Alright, I will call them.”

 

Stella took a deep breath of air. “And tell them to go undercover, go somewhere secret, somewhere nobody knows of. “

 

Judith scoffed. “Stella, it cannot be that bad? “

 

Stella held her voice calm but it was trembling ever so slightly. “It is, trust me, it is. Get out of there, find somewhere to hide.”

 

Judith sighed, “Right, since you insist.”

 

She hung up and Stella closed her eyes and bit her lower lip. She just hoped that her hunch wasn’t off but she was dead sure it wasn’t. She grasped the phone and tossed it into the washing machine, filled it with clothes and started the darn thing. If they wanted to track the call they would be very welcome, for she was out of there. She knew one of the other women living on that street and she knew she could borrow her car whenever she wanted to. It was a very anonymous looking Toyota and she also knew of a small hotel a few hour’s drive away where she could live for as long as she wanted. She had once saved the life of the owner’s son when she managed to get a police patrol over just in time to stop him from being beaten to death by some burglar so she could live there for free if she liked. She grasped just what she needed, then she did sneak out of the door with a devilish grin on her face. If the feds came looking for her they would find her husband who was just about as clueless as a piece of pie.

-----------------------------------------------

Judith was staring at the phone, it was hard to believe but she had been furious when they took the artefacts and even more so when they ordered her out of there. She was perhaps not employed by that station but it was her workplace nonetheless and she hadn’t liked the way the feds had acted at all. She was if not famous then at least respected by her peers and something had been rotten, she agreed upon that. She walked to the office she used when she was in that building and found an old phone she rarely used anymore. The battery was bad and she used it only as an alarmclock but with the charger plugged in she could make calls with it so she found the right numbers and started making calls. She didn’t reach Bard and she didn’t have Thran’s number but she reckoned they were together so she left a text message on Bard’s phone, hoping it would reach him. She also tried Elisa’s phone but it was turned off and she wondered if she perhaps had been warned already somehow. You cannot easily track a phone which is practically dead.

 

She wandered about, feeling restless. Judith didn’t like being idle, she wanted to make herself useful and she swore and made a swift decision. She was a public person, her name was well known, they couldn’t just get rid of her now could they? She put on some bland clothes and ran down the stairs, hailed a cab while she still had the courage. The station was half an hour away and she had plenty of time to think while she was waiting to arrive. The things which was all over the news and the odd behaviour of these so called federal agents told her something for sure, they were not interested in the case as such, they were interested in the murderer and not to stop it. Judith was a scientist but she had been brought up by a mother who was a devout Jew and she had great respect for the faith of others. She just didn’t share it. She wanted scientific proof but she wasn’t one of those people who believe that everything has been discovered already. A scientist had in fact delivered a very solid explanation of why man never would be able to get to the air just two years before the Wright brothers took off from Kitty Hawk, and it was just one example of how new knowledge suddenly alters everything, both in the present and the past.

 

She got out of the cab a few blocks from the station and she immediately saw that it was guarded, there were agents on the streets and it could be to keep reporters at bay but she saw that they carried firearms and she felt how her heart dropped. Something was really off. She hesitated, then she pulled her hood up and walked by like an ordinary pedestrian, the weather was horrible and many wore thick clothes so she didn’t stand out from the crowd at all. She knew something the agents probably didn’t.  When she first was hired to help out with autopsies at this station the former coroner had showed her a few things few others were aware of. The station had once been a factory building and back in the days much of the transport of goods happened underground. There was a veritable maze of old tunnels under the city and most were unaware of that fact. The station was in fact still connected to that system and she had been shown the passages because they could be used as a method of escape in case of a crisis. She headed for the nearest entrance to the subway and stopped once she was out of sight from the police station. Behind the stairs were a small door, it was grey and almost invisible and the people who did fix the escalators would sometimes use it to get to the backside of the mechanisms. But there were other doors leading from those rooms and Judith had the key.

 

She waited until she was alone, then she opened the door with shivering hands and slid inside. She closed the door after her and used her phone as a flash light. There was a narrow walkway over a veritable void and then there was  a ledge with several doors. She chose the one she knew was the right one and then she opened it carefully. The door was so old it was made from wood and the tunnel behind it looked like something a computer game creator would love to copy. A narrow dark and rather slimy passage with spiders, rats and God alone knew what else. She gathered her courage and entered, she had to bend her neck for the tunnel was not built for tall people and she hurried as much as she could. After about twenty minutes of hyper ventilating and severe claustrophobia she reached the end and lifted the handle which held the door closed. There was no lock here at this end and she took a deep breath of relief. The door opened up into a very small storage room which was hardly ever in use. They normally stored used equipment and garbage there until it could be picked up. The door was locked from the outside but the lock was an old and primitive one and she knew how to pick it easily enough. She held her breath as she slowly pushed the steel door open, she would have a problem if some of the agents saw her but there were nobody there. Judith entered the main room and she immediately smelled blood, she felt her heart beat faster and walked towards some covered objects by the door. Some blankets had been thrown over what proved to be three corpses, two agents and one of the feds she recognized as one of the few who seemed to be an alright person.

 

She turned the lights on, the doors were closed and she wondered what she was to do now, the computers were gone and with them her notes and all her work or was it really? She had once suffered a complete loss of data due to a lightning strike within the local grid and she had bought an external hard drive which had been programmed to make copies of everything once every 24 hours and store it for a week before it was deleted. The hard drive had been placed in a closet and it was connected to her computers with just one cable. If they hadn’t checked very carefully it could still be there. She was about to open the closet when she heard a low banging sound, it was too regular to be some mouse scurrying around inside the walls or air bubbles in the water pipes. She froze, stared around herself with huge eyes. The banging stopped, then it started again. Three hard bangs, three soft ones, three hard ones….She recognized it, it was Morse code, a plea for help and she turned around, stared at the huge metal container with disbelief. The sound came from the container where they removed the flesh of cadavers, was someone in there?!

 

She walked closer, yes, there was someone banging on the walls and she took a deep breath and picked up the controls, pushed the button and the lid was lifted slowly. What she saw made her gasp, it was agent Faramir, he was gasping for air, soaking wet with sweat and he was shivering all over. “Faramir? What in heavens name….”

 

Faramir coughed and wheezed. “Darn thing is airtight, but I had no other place to hide”

Judith swallowed. “What is going on?”

 

She helped him get out and he trembled, his eyes were bloodshot and she knew that five more minutes and he would have died from asphyxiation. He sat down, tried to get in control of himself. “The agents, some of them are some sort of black op’s agents. They want the Shrike, and they want to kill everybody who has been on the case, just to make sure that nobody asks any questions, or puts two and two together and realize what they really are after. They are going to bomb the station whence everybody is back!”

 

Judith gasped. “I called everybody and told them to stay away, Stella called me, she said her gut was going haywire. “

 

Faramir dried some sweat from his brow. “Bless that woman and her guts. Did you reach everyone?”

 

Judith shook her head. “No, not Bard and Thran, but I left a text message for Bard.”

 

Faramir looked as if he was in pain. “They are in danger, the special agents wants to use Thran’s ex to cover their tracks, to do their dirty work so to speak. They could be heading for them already, they have to be warned right away!”

 

Judith gasped. “Oh Gods, that is devilish? Someone ought to do something, they cannot be allowed to just do this? They have ruined everything, the investigation is practically fucked, and that Lobelia woman was sharing everything with the whole bloody world!”

 

Faramir blushed. “Wanna know who the informant was? It was me, at least after the list was found, I have no idea of who told her the first things she revealed. I was ordered to place some device in the computers which was made to leak stuff to the press so the feds could go in and take the investigation off Thor’s hands with a good excuse. I didn’t realize that we all were being used and by God I am so sorry. But what is done is done, so now I have contacted Lobelia once more and given her the most important news of her life, I have told her everything. Soon the secret will be out, everybody will know that these special agents just are there to capture the shrike and turn it into a weapon. I bet people will view them in a very different light after that revelation.”

 

Judith looked as if she didn’t know whether or not she ought to hug him of hit him. “Right, good, I believe you. But why were you in the tank?”

 

Faramir tried to breathe normally. “I had to hide in this tank for they were after me, they knew I was switching sides so to speak, that I had seen through their fat little lies. They shot Sullivan, he managed to take two down with him, he was a brave man. “

 

Judith frowned. “They didn’t check the tank?”

 

Faramir shrugged. “Of course they checked it, but it has a lid now hasn’t it? I was in the top of the lid, had they looked up they would have found me”

 

Judith had to grin. “Well done, so now what?”

 

Faramir swallowed and closed his eyes. “First of all, how did you get in here? We need to get out of here”

 

Judith pointed toward the storage room. “Through there, it is a tunnel and it is connected to the subway system. It is a part of the old transport tunnel system”

 

Faramir smiled. “Thank goodness. Those black op’s guys fire first and asks questions later. I just wish we could help the others upstairs, there isn’t some way to get the station evacuated?”

 

Judith was about to answer when the walls suddenly shook, the lights went out and a terrible boom made them both fall over. Faramir grasped Judith and pulled her with him underneath the tank, it was pretty solid and the entire basement shook as if in a violent earthquake. When it got quiet the air was filled with dust, some parts of the room had collapsed and fire threw an eerie light over the devastation. Faramir cursed, “God, did they set off the bomb too early? None of the investigators have returned yet. Shit, something must have happened”

 

Judith coughed, she got to her feet and immediately saw that the door leading out to the garage and the stairs was blocked by debris, so was the door to the storage room. The entire roof had fallen inn and she knew that the building probably was very unstable now. Faramir swallowed. “Crap, is there cell phone reception down here?”

 

Judith shook her head. “No, not here”

 

He wiped dust out of his face. “Damnation, we must tell everybody of this, if these guys can’t round everybody up like cattle in a slaughterhouse they will hunt you down, one by one”

 

Judith swallowed, her body was still trembling from the shock and her ears were aching. “I warned them, told them to go into hiding”

 

Faramir nodded. “Good, but they need to be warned again, the bombing will force at least Thor to appear in public. He will be a target then. Did you warn Elisa? She is among the main targets, she knows way too much about the shrike now to be allowed to speak”

 

Judith made a grimace. “I tried her phone but it was off. “

 

Faramir smiled. “She is clever, I told her not to trust anybody, her phone is most likely tapped. Does she have a home phone? “

 

Judith suddenly remembered something Elisa had told her some months ago. “No, but she has something even better, outdated technology!”

 

She ran over to one of the closets and hauled out a fax machine, it was covered with dust but she placed it on a table and prepared it. She also found a typewriter and wrote a swift message on it. Faramir looked bewildered. “The electricity is out?”

 

Judith nodded, the only light they had there was the greenish glow from some emergency exit signs and her phone. “Yes, but I have a trick up my sleeve, or rather, this lab has”

 

She ran over to a cupboard and opened the bottom shelf, inside was a huge box and she pulled it out and opened it. It contained a sort of metal contraption which was made to contain a huge number of batteries and it had an outlet and also a cable. She grinned and pulled out several packages of batteries. “Help me put the batteries into this baby, it will give us enough juice to power up the fax machine.”

 

Faramir was blinking. “What in heck’s name is that thing? I haven’t seen anything like it!”

 

Judith had to smile. “It is the brainchild of my assistant, he is not the most talkative of guys but he is probably gonna end up as a mad scientist. He was tired of the electricity always failing at his old apartment and they wouldn’t let the inhabitants of that building buy generators so this was his solution.”

 

She opened the packages and Faramir dumped batteries into the odd contraption, several layers of them. “Geez, this thing is bloody heavy!”

 

Judith nodded. “Yes, the Tesla of do it yourself projects.”

 

She plugged the cable to the old fax machine and crossed her fingers as she turned the old junk on. There were a few rather disturbing sounds coming from it and a spider ran out of a crack in the front, obviously very upset. Faramir shrugged. “Won’t help us unless we can find an old fashioned phone line to hook it up to”

 

Judith smiled and walked over to the other end of the room where a phone hang on the wall. It was an intercom but she yanked the apparatus off the wall and pulled out the wires. “This does also have a line to the outside, it haven’t been used for years because everybody these days have cell phones but it hasn’t been removed. Get the old thing over here!”

 

Faramir pushed the table with the machine and the battery pack over and Judith proved to know a great deal about how to connect wires, not only cut into dead human bodies. She pushed the test button and it beeped.  “We have connection, put the note into the machine, I will use Elisa’s home number”

 

She dialled and the fax started buzzing, Faramir held his breath. “There, it is sent off. Let us hope that she is able to do something”

 

Faramir nodded and he did look a bit glum. “Yeah, but what about us? We cannot get out, by the looks of it the tunnel is collapsed and the door to the garage is blocked and even if we do get through it they will discover us for sure.”

 

Judith made a grimace. “I guess that just laying low isn’t your thing?”

 

He shook his head. “Nope, it isn’t! Damn it, I have to get out!”

 

She took a deep breath. “Right, there is a way out here but that involves yet another trip into a small metallic container, can you handle it?”

 

Faramir nodded. “Hell yeah, as long as I can do something useful”

 

Judith sighed. “Awesome!”

 

She walked over to one of the dead body storage closets and opened it. A body laid on the table inside and she rolled it out. “I am sorry Mr Jowalsky, you will  need a new address”

 

Faramir looked shocked. “What are you doing?”

 

Judith smiled. “Fixing a way out, help me lift this stiffy over onto a new table!”

 

She opened another container and rolled out the table and they lifted the dead body onto that and shoved it in. Faramir still looked confused. “Uh, are we gonna pretend to be dead or something? That won’t work!”

 

Judith nodded. “I am not daft Faramir, no, I have a plan.”

 

She jumped up onto the table where the dead person had lain and pushed it into the opening with her hands before she started kicking at the back wall, hard! A few solid kicks and the wall suddenly disappeared. Faramir looked at the new opening with huge eyes. “Follow me, quickly now”

 

She slid down from the table and Faramir crawled through the narrow space and he was stunned. It was a room behind the row of containers, it wasn’t big, there was no light and it was dusty and smelly and just the stuff of nightmares but it was a room. Judith nodded. “When they built the morgue this space was a sort of left over, they didn’t need all the space provided and this part of the basement was sealed off. It isn’t big but my assistant discovered it by accident one evening when he was a wee bit too vigorous when he tried to push a body into its new home. The feet of the dead guy pushed the back wall out and I guess they had forgotten to attach it the way they had the others.”

 

Faramir coughed and whined. “So, what now?”

 

Judith made a grimace. “The hard part, are you a good climber?”

 

Faramir held his breath. “A climber?!”

 

She walked over to a wooden door and opened it, it creaked like a dying soul when it is being thrown into hell’s flames. Behind it was light, a dim very faint grey light but it was light nonetheless. The source was easy to see, they stood at the bottom of a shaft and about five meters above them were a narrow opening covered with a metal grid. Faramir groaned. Five meters! The shaft was built with bricks and they hadn’t been put together by a master mason, that was for sure. It was possible to climb but without gloves it would be a rough trip for sure. Judith grasped into her pockets, hauled out several pairs of surgeon’s gloves. “These aren’t very solid, but they will provide you with some extra grip.”

 

Faramir swallowed hard. “What about you?”

 

She shrugged. “Don’t worry about me, with the backwall of that container put back into place they won’t know that I am here at all. I can stay here until you can get me out safely.”

 

Faramir stared at her. “Are you serious? This place is full of dead birds, cockroaches and rats!”

 

Judith nodded with a grin. “Much like the station above us right now ha? Don’t worry about me, I can make it. I will be fine! I am used to being in odd places, surrounded by death. I once had to examine a body someone found lodged inside of the grain tank of an old combine harvester which had been left in a barn for forty years. You cannot imagine the dust! Or the smell!”

 

Faramir frowned. “Did the body stink after such a long time?”

 

Judith shook her head. “Heavens no, and I am used to the smell of decaying bodies, no, the barn was full of cats, and they had peed on the harvester, everywhere!”

 

Faramir chuckled and looked upwards. The shaft was very narrow, he could see that it probably had been used to dump firewood or coal into the basement for it wasn’t completely vertical. It was slightly tilted and that made it a wee bit easier to climb. He was wearing good shoes with stiff soles, that was an advantage and he put on the gloves and took a deep breath. If he fell he would most likely hurt himself seriously, he gave Judith a nod. “I will make sure that someone comes to get you out as soon as things get sorted out”

 

Judith just nodded. “Great, take care, there are agents placed all around the building so you have to be very careful”

 

Faramir groaned. “Great, but I think that explosion have ruined their plans, the fire brigade is surely on the way and they cannot keep them out without causing some serious suspicions. If they still try to act as if they own the place someone will react for sure.”

 

Judith nodded. “Yes, but still, take care of yourself. If these people are ruthless enough to want to bomb a police station just to silence a few persons they won’t hesitate to shoot a federal agent, they’ll just come up with some clever lie.”

 

Faramir nodded. “I know, so please, don’t leave this place unless you absolutely have to.”

 

She sighed and sent him a wry grin. “I cannot climb to save my life so no chance of that. But I do have reception here so I will text everybody and warn them of the bomb.”

 

Faramir grasped onto the rough surface and found a place to start, it would be a very unpleasant climb for sure.

-------------------------------------------

Thor had received the message from Judith with disbelief, he just couldn’t believe that it was true, that something that sinister was going on. When she called his sister earlier that day he had believed that it was an exaggeration but now he saw that it wasn’t. He had been pushed aside as if he was a nobody, his work and his people were being treated like trash and ordered around by a group who didn’t serve anyone else than themselves. It made him furious. But then the news of an explosion downtown reached him and he realized that this game wasn’t about glory or power, it was about life or death. He had gone to his sister’s best friend’s home. He knew that family well but he didn’t think that anyone would know of that friendship since he never joined his sister when she visited them. He was afraid for his friends and co-workers and he knew that Elisa probably had warned as many as possible through Judith.

He just hoped that they were okay, but the explosion, judging by the images taken from a news helicopter it was a big one and people had to have been killed. He knew that exposing himself now was a very stupid thing to do, he would risk his life. Even if these people had gone into hiding they wouldn’t stop, not when they had done so much already. They were hiding behind their identity as federal agents, it was a masque and he felt helpless, and terrified.

 

Thor was a proud man, that these strangers had come and just shoved him and his best teams aside as if they were morons hurt  more than the fact that the case they had been working on was hopelessly screwed. He wished that he could get even, that he could make them pay, make them bleed. It wasn’t a very rational thought for he knew that such organizations usually are so well hidden it is impossible to unravel them. Stick your nose out and it will be removed, permanently. Still, there had to be a way to make them pay, there wasn’t justice in this world if there weren’t. He was tempted to call the others but knew that he shouldn’t, his phone was turned off and he didn’t want to risk exposing anyone. He just wished that he had known what this all was about. He had believed that the feds wanted to capture the serial killer to look good, to gain favour among the people and the politicians. These recent events told him that something way more serious was happening, and the riots and the sheer madness was a smokescreen.

 

He sat in a couch and watched how the kids tried to dress up the family dog, they had this small dog which to him looked more like a ball of fluff and teeth than a real dog. He preferred large dogs, German Shepherd’s and other breeds like them. As a kid he had owned a malamute and it had been a handful to handle but that was what he called a real dog. This yapping little abomination made him cringe. The TV was on and suddenly Lobelia’s face appeared, for once she didn’t look smug, she looked angry, or rather, pissed and scared at the same time. He grasped the remote control and turned the sound up, what now?

 

Lobelia stared straight into the camera and he saw that the background was just a grey wall, it could be everywhere really. “Citizens of our beloved city, I know you all have so very many questions, and I am going to answer some of them, here and now, on live TV. Why haven’t the people involved with the pedophilia network been dragged to court, the evidence is there isn’t it? Why haven’t the police done something to stop the rioting and the violence from spreading? Where is the police now? Why are they seemingly scurrying around like blind chickens while the worst criminals imaginable are stowed away in safe houses like some beloved family heirloom? “

 

Her voice dropped and her eyes got very hard, for once she did look like a person you ought to listen to and not some spreader of slander and lies. “I will tell you why, oh it is not because the city police has gone soft, it is not because they are lazy, not because they don’t see this as important, for they do. The reason ladies and gentlemen is that their arms have been tied behind their backs, their voices silenced. You may ask who has enough power to just overrun the city’s best men and women thus and believe me, they have been pushed aside as if their efforts and their work is worth nothing. Is this right? No, we do owe the police so much”

 

She was almost sneering. “They have been ordered to step aside by so called federal agents, but in truth these men only serve one master and that is power and greed. They won’t let the police of this city solve this case, and why?”

 

She pointed into the camera. “Because they want to be the ones who can claim the glory of having caught the vigilante, to be the one to proudly parade that person through the streets like some roman emperor showing off the spoils of war. They don’t care about the children who has died, they don’t care about ruined families and futures, all they care about is their own ambitions! I say we stand by our police force and demand that their control of this case is returned to them, as it rightfully should be! “

 

She raised her chin and looked like an ancient warrior queen about to order her army into battle. “Don’t blame the men and women in blue for this misery, put the blame where it ought to be, blame these agents of darkness, don’t let them go on slandering the names of our protectors and friends. They have invaded the police station where this all happened and they have seized all the evidence. I trust you, the citizens of this proud city, to do what is right”

 

She lowered her head again. “This was Lobelia Sackville for the evening news”

 

Thor was almost gaping, he felt utterly confused but also in an odd way relieved, she had exposed the truth, or at least some of it and the agents wouldn’t be able to order the police force around now. Everybody would question their right to do so. Thor had been used to dealing with politics and hidden agendas before, and he knew when he was facing an opponent likely to use unethical means to achieve their goal. This opponent was such an enemy and if Judith was right they wanted all of them dead? Thor wasn’t stupid, it wasn’t the honour of having caught a murderer which tempted these people, it was something so much more and the nature of the murders had shocked him and honestly made him doubt his own sanity, and the things he did know about the order of things. He had believed it to be impossible but what if the killer in fact wasn’t a human being? What if Judith was right? What if it was some sort of ancient being? He knew why they had to be silenced, they could tell the public the truth, that these agents wanted to use the Shrike, against the people. He turned the TV off, stared at it with distant eyes. The question was whether or not that explosion had been planned, if it wasn’t it could work in their favour.

 

He got up and walked over to the house phone, dialled a number only he knew and there was a cold grin on his face. “Beorn? It is me, I think we need some help, are you available?”

 

The voice at the other end was gruff but surprisingly mild and Thor smiled and felt a deep sense of relief when he heard a confirmation. “Good, you know the place, as soon as it gets dark”

 

Thor closed his eyes. He was going to bite back, they had taken his station and his crew from him, it was time to take something of theirs!

--------------------------------

Tilda was still asleep when Thran finished preparing dinner, Jean was still in bed as well and Bard tried to keep up a relaxed appearance for the sake of the kids. Legolas and Bain had already been all over the farm and Thran’s son was starry eyed and full of dust and straw since Bain had taken him to the barn where they had been playing hide and seek in the huge hay storage room. Sigrid was worried about her sister and sat with her for quite a while, she was seemingly calm but Bard knew her well. She was angry and hurt and he knew that she would need to talk about this with someone soon, to get it all out. Thran would probably get the time to chat a little with the girl soon.

 

Thran had raided Jean’s pantry and created a pizza which probably would have made an Italian chef weep but it was huge and filled with all sorts of stuff. Thran had thrown some peppers onto it and used plenty of spice and Dwalin sat there with a glass of milk and tried to wipe some tears out of his eyes after he bit into one of the peppers without realizing what it was. Bain giggled and Legolas laughed out loud. Jean had returned to the kitchen and she was still rather affected but she managed to thank Thran for not trashing her prized kitchen completely. Tilda was carried downstairs and she didn’t appear to remember anything and Bard had already instructed the other kids to say nothing, If she asked they would say that she had gotten sick and that the medicine made her drowsy.

 

Bard praised the pizza, Jean was very conscious about healthy food and he was a little fed up of salads and stuff he ordinary shunned. Sophia had been more relaxed, and his waistline had been evidence of that. Now he was as lean as greyhound again, he could afford enjoying a calorie bomb. Legolas was very enthusiastic about the horses, he was obviously trying to get permission to ride one of the mares and Jean did give him permission to take Eclipse’s Babe for a ride the next day. The paint mare was very safe to ride and yet she did have some spark in her and could surprise a rider. Jean found some wine and some beer and when the pizza was devoured they all moved over to the couch to watch a movie. The kids picked some comedy Bard never had seen before and his attention was more on Thran than on the action in front of him. He was sitting so close to the blond he could feel the warmth of him and it felt very good.

 

One movie became two and Dwalin volunteered to go and take some rounds around the farm, just to check things over. He was working, even now. Jean took care of the horses and then she came back in and had a long chat with Thran. Her dream had been to transform the farm into a real stud farm, with good stables and better facilities. She had also once dreamed of running her own western themed restaurant and Thran said that she most definitely had the skills and the talent needed for that. The only thing which had held her back was her lack of money, whenever she and Jacob had managed to get some income it all went flying because of expenses and his unfortunate habits. Bard sent the kids to bed and Bain and Legolas tried to plea with the adults to be allowed to stay up a bit longer but they were told to hit the sack. The boys obeyed but very reluctantly.

 

Bard checked his phone, he hadn’t even touched that during the weekend and now he did see that it in fact was dead. He had forgotten to put in into the charger and the batteries were flat. He attached it to the loading device and left it on the bench, he would check it the next morning. He was off the case anyhow so why should he bother? He had to see this as an extended weekend or even a bit of a holiday, and he needed it. Thran checked his phone too before he went to bed and found that he had terrible reception, a message had arrived but it was not a number he knew and the text was scrambled and unreadable. It could be some patient of his, he usually preferred to communicate with them through email. Dwalin and the two sat up for a while longer after Jean went to the barn for the final check up before the night. She let the old dog out and then she locked the doors and bid them all a good night.

 

Dwalin was entertaining them with some more rowdy stories from his past and Thran told of some of his most eccentric patients, he recalled one woman in special who was convinced that her shi zhu dog was the reincarnation of none lesser than Albert Einstein and that her cat was housing the spirit of Adolf Hitler. She was sure that it was the reason why the two animals didn’t get along and the shi zhu did have Einstein’s eyebrows for sure while the cat did have that little silly black moustache. Thran had spent several weeks trying to help the old lady overcome her odd beliefs and in the end he had given up. Bard laughed so hard his belly ached afterwards. He had to tell them of the one time when a very drunk and very angry man had showed up at the police station trying to make them arrest a prostitute he claimed had fooled him. The reason was that the very pretty lady in fact had been a very pretty boy when the clothes came off and the man wanted his money back. The result was that he spent the night in the drunk tank.

 

It was midnight when the three men finally called it a night and Thran held Bard back until Dwalin had gone to bed, he gave Bard a very suggestive kiss and grasped his hand, caressed it gently. “Do you want company or do you prefer to sleep alone?”

 

Bard had to swallow, he imagined the two of them in bed again and it was enough to make his heart beat faster. “Company, please”

 

Thran opened the door to Bard’s room. “Excellent!”

 

Bard swallowed and went inn, Thran followed close behind and closed the door firmly. The room was dark and Bard reached for the light switch but Thran grasped his hand and stopped him. He was grinning, but it was actually hard to see in the darkness. “No, tonight we do see with our hands”

 

Bard had to gasp, warm hands were already sliding up underneath his shirt and he shuddered with delight and a sense of nervousness. Thran chuckled. “Don’t worry, I won’t go too far, this I want to savour, no point in rushing things”

 

Bard leaned into the touches and relaxed, oh how he had missed being able to just let go and follow his inner desires. Thran kissed the back of his neck and Bard had to let out a moan, it was one of his most sensitive spots and it was obvious that Thran realized this for he chuckled and licked the spot he had kissed before he did bite down, not hard but hard enough for it to sting. Bard had to press himself back against the slightly taller man, he was suddenly on fire. Thran knew how to tease and stimulate without letting his partner find any sort of release, Bard was soon reduced to a shivering mess and by now they were both naked and in bed. Not being able to see that much added a lot to the sensations, he had to surrender to his sense of touch and smell and this had become like a slow dance, he was allowed to almost reach the goal but  each time he was sure that this was it Thran would start anew somewhere else on his body. Bard was whimpering. “You…are such… a bastard!”

 

Thran just snickered and a warm tongue was paying attention to Bard’s nipples, the dark haired man was writhing by now, overcome by need. “I aim to please”

 

Bard couldn’t even answer, he was running his fingers through thick locks of silky hair and his body was screaming for that final stimulation which would let him come. Thran kissed him with hunger and Bard tried to buck up against his lover, to seek some friction. Thran let go and then he just slid downwards with one smooth movement and Bard forgot how to breathe, how to think. Everything just disappeared into that feeling of wet warmth surrounding him and he sobbed and keened, still being held back at the very brink. Thran was like a maestro playing a well known instrument and Bard was unable to even speak, it was too much, too good. “So, do you want to come?”

 

The voice was teasing and playful and Bard could only groan while he nodded, he didn’t have breath in him to create even one single coherent word. “Obviously you do, should I show mercy and let you?”

 

A hand was caressing Bard’s aching length and even if it wasn’t as good as Thran’s mouth had been it was overwhelming. He let out a thin wail and bucked, feeling how the sweat made the sheets cling to his body. “Alright then”

 

The voice was husky and deep and Thran returned to his previous activity and this time he didn’t stop, Bard just grasped onto the sheets, hanging on for dear life as he was being dragged along like a small canoe trapped in a strong current. He covered his own mouth with a pillow to stop the rest of the house from hearing him scream, the orgasm had to be the strongest he had ever had for it almost made him pass out and he was reduced to jelly, or at least what felt like jelly. He was boneless, just floating in complete bliss and Thran licked him clean slowly and deliberately. It made him feel both cherished and debauched, nobody had ever done that for him before.

 

Thran pushed himself up next to Bard and pulled him into a tight embrace. “You really needed that”

 

Bard was still panting, he didn’t want to move at all. “Yes, but what about you?”

 

Thran kissed his cheek. “I can wait, you need to recover. Damn it, haven’t anybody given you head before? You reaction was a bit extreme!”

 

Bard shook his head. “No. Kim didn’t like the idea at all, and Sophia tried but she had a very strong gag reflex, couldn’t do it and I didn’t want to push her”

 

Thran turned over on his side. “So I was your first? How much experience do you really have?”

 

He sounded a bit shocked and Bard blushed. “When it comes to being with another guy? Not much, Kim and I just got to the stage where we were fumbling around, kissing, touching, I think the farthest we did get was jerking each other off”

 

Thran caressed Bard’s face lovingly. “So you have never been taken before?”

 

Bard nodded. “No, Kim wanted to try it once but….he panicked, wasn’t ready. So no, I am a virgin, anally speaking”

 

Thran kept caressing him. “How wonderful, then I can teach you and make sure you don’t get harmed in any way. There are so many errors people can do if they are unprepared!”

 

Bard blushed even deeper. “Uh, I am not sure I am ready to go there, yet!”

 

Thran kissed him again. “Don’t worry about that, we’ll get there, eventually. But know that I want you, you are the most alluring man I have ever met”

 

Bard smiled into the kiss. “More so than Lindir?”

 

Thran growled. “Oh yes, he was nothing like you. You are a real man!”

 

Thran nipped at Bard’s throat, hands were starting to roam again. “I think you have recovered now, ready for round two?”

 

Bard shivered with anticipation. “Yes!”

 

Thran pulled him closer. “Good, now you can show me how skilled those beautiful strong hands of yours are”

 

Bard grinned. “Gladly”

 

A while later they both were dozing, curled up like puppies in a basket and Bard had discovered that Thran was a bit ticklish and that he was very vocal, and also loud. Making him come undone had been an almost humbling experience, Bard just prayed that it was something he would be granted to do for a very long time to come, he just couldn’t imagine life without Thran now. It was odd, but it was as if he had been half a person for so long and that without even realizing it. Now he felt whole again, he had a purpose beyond providing for his family, and it filled him with new hope and new life. He was smiling as he drifted off to sleep.

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The old golden retriever had never been much of a watchdog, he was too lazy and too friendly too. He preferred to chase chipmunks instead of burglars and preferred to just lay and doze in the shadows instead of doing anything useful. Jean had bought him as a puppy simply because she had seen him in the window of a pet shop and fell in love with the lovely golden colour. Now he was very old, fifteen years and arthritis and bad hips had reduced him a lot. He had glaucoma and his vision was almost gone but he still had his nose and it was as good as in his youth. Golden did have his favourite place underneath the porch, it was cool there in the heat and warm in winter and he could stay close to his pack of humans. He had never been the kind of a dog who has to be cuddled with the whole time, he had his dignity and preferred to do his job without being reduced to lap dog. He would chase off squirrels who tried to invade the barn and he would go up against racoons and once he had chased off a black bear. It was his most glorious memory. Now he was asleep under the porch, being old he was sleeping much deeper than before and when his nose did pick up an unusual scent it took a while before he woke up. He did smell smoke, and he did smell strangers too.

 

He got up, his instincts told of danger and he saw shadows moving about, a low growl could be heard from his throat. He heard feet trample down upon the porch, some sort of whimpering and then he saw that something was being hauled off away from the house. He smelled fear and he also smelled a very faint hint of blood. The hairs stood up along his back, the pack was in danger! He had to act now!

 

He heard feet approaching the opening beside the stairs and the adrenaline made him forget about his aching body and failing eyes. When the man stepped down from the porch he charged forth, he was skinny and didn’t weight more than fifty pounds but he still had all his teeth and his jaws were strong. The teeth did sink into the man’s thigh just below the crotch and the man let out a scream of agony and shock. At this moment the old retriever was like an incarnation of Cujo, snarling and pressing the teeth even harder into the flesh. The man swore and grasped the dog by the scruff of his neck but old Golden refused to let go, there were more men there and they had bottles in their hands and they were burning, that couldn’t be good. He wasn’t afraid of fire, he had seen that humans mastered the hot enemy and so he focused on his victim, jerking his head to the side and the man screamed and in panic he grasped his gun.

 

One of the other men saw what was happening and ran to stop him but too late, the man fired his gun at the dog, two times. The shots were like thunder and the dog collapsed with a small whimper but the teeth were still embedded in the man’s leg and had to be pried off. “Idiot, now they’ll wake up!”

 

The wounded man kicked the dead dog and swore. “So what, they cannot get out, and we have gotten what the boss wants. We’ll shoot them if the smoke and flames don’t finish them off. Goddamn mutt, he bit me”

 

The other men tossed their bottles at the wall and the burning liquid attacked the dry old wood with glee, this was a bit of overkill the way they saw it but what the heck. Their boss had gotten a promise of a very solid payment and that someone anonymously had told where they could find this guy and his brat was just glorious. The lower part of the building was on fire, now they just had to make sure that nobody got out, there weren’t any windows or doors at the backside of the old farm building, they just had to watch the front. This was easy money. The one in charge just stared at the wounded guy with a snarl “If you really are stupid enough to let an old retriever bite you I say you deserved it”

 

The wounded man showed him the finger and limped off towards the car they had parked closer to the main road, he was going to get a bandage for goddamn it, the old piece of shit had gotten him good.

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Bard was shaken out of a strange and confusing dream about dancing policemen and a pumpkin with legs by a sudden sharp noise. He was awake within the blink of an eye, he was a policeman, he did know the sound of a gunshot when he heard it. He blinked and then he felt the scent of smoke and for a second he didn’t really understand anything. Then his instincts kicked inn and he shook Thran, there was a fire somewhere. Thran groaned and opened his eyes and Bard had to cough, the smoke was thick and he heard a crackling sound which didn’t bode well. Oh God, the children!

 

Thran gasped and jumped out of the bed, threw on a pair of pants and Bard did the same, he just had time to pull them up before the door burst open and Dwalin stormed inn, he was coughing and thick black smoke followed him. “The first floor is on fire, and it isn’t an accident”

 

Bard felt his knees turn into liquid. “What?!”

 

Dwalin pressed a cloth against his nose. “I smell gasoline, and I heard a window being smashed. A gun was fired, twice, probably a Heckler and Koch. “

 

Thran was pale,, his eyes enormous. “Dear Lord no, he cannot have found us?”

 

Dwalin made a grimace. “There are at least five guys out front, I bet they’ll fire at anyone trying to get out.”

 

Bard felt his heart hammer and tried to supress the panic. Thran raced past Dwalin and headed for the bedroom where Legolas was placed. He tore the door open and Bard heard him let out a sort of strangled scream. He ran after the blond, the temperature was already high and the smoke made it hard to breathe. The room was empty, the covers from the bed was on the floor and Bard immediately saw blood on them. Thran was making a sort of whimpering sound, Bard knew that he was completely overcome with shock. The policeman saw that there was a piece of paper placed on the nightstand, it hadn’t been there the day before and Bard picked it up. Thran saw and gasped and Bard read the text written on it and just knew that this was the most vicious thing he had ever heard of.  “I told you you would be sorry, but don’t worry about that brat of yours. After all he is your heir, and I will get it all, through him. Think of that while you roast, he is pretty, maybe I’ll make him my little toy”

 

Thran read it too and let out an odd wailing sound, Bard shook him. “Thran, he is alive! So we have to try to stay alive too, focus”

 

Jean came into the corridor, coughing and obviously terrified. Dwalin threw her a handkerchief. “Do you have any guns here?”

 

Jean was blinking, “Guns? What? We need to get out!”

 

Dwalin grasped her gently. “The front is being watched, someone has been sent to murder us all, but I am not gonna let that happen.”

 

Jean almost screamed. “Oh Jesus, there is only one door in this house!”

 

Dwalin nodded. “I know, back to my question, any guns? Mine are in the car!”

 

Jean tried to think, the smoke was black and it was dark there and the heat was getting stronger all the time. “Ah, a shotgun, in the closet of my room. And an old rifle, it haven’t been fired for years”

 

Dwalin smiled. “Good, any ammo?”

 

She nodded and he pushed her gently. “Go, get it”

 

She ran off, coughing and Bard ran into the rooms where his kids were sleeping, they had awakened but were too dazed to have reacted yet and Bard felt a fear unlike any he had ever felt before. How was he to protect his children now? How was he to get them out of there? Thran was trembling and Bard grasped him by the shoulder. “Don’t lose it man, we have to get out of here and get Legolas back”

 

Thran nodded but Bard saw that he was on the edge of panic. Jean returned with the weapons and Dwalin took them, he smiled. “Deer slugs, and enough bullets for the rifle too.”

 

Bard cringed. “What use is it, there is no way you can shoot? We are trapped!”

 

Jean was gasping for air and Thran had grasped some sheets and wrapped them around the kids, Tilda was crying and obviously terrified. Bard tried to think of something, the building didn’t have a loft, and the back side was without any openings. He was about to suggest trying to break through the roof when he suddenly saw something at the back of the corridor, by the floor. He gaped, it was a cat, a huge black cat. "Jean, when did you get a cat?!”

 

Jean coughed and wheezed. “A cat? I don’t own a cat?”

 

Bard had to fight for air, the heat was close to unbearable and he heard creaking sounds which indicated that the structural integrity of the building was weakened. The cat walked towards them, calmly and he had never seen one that large, or a cat with gold earrings? And a gold collar? It nodded and stopped, seemed to encourage them to follow and Bard shook Thran’s arm. “Come on, it wants us to follow it!”

 

Thran just gaped and the cat tilted its head and bared white teeth, as if it was smiling. Jean was panting. “It is heading for the old wardrobe?!”

 

There was a narrow room at the end of the corridor, it was too small to be used as a bedroom and Jean stored clothes there instead. The cat stopped in front of the door and put a paw onto it. Bard hesitated but Dwalin didn’t, he pushed the door open and the room was still free from smoke since the door was rather small and thick. “What now? We cannot last long here, the heat and the smoke will find us even here, and the house will collapse”

 

Thran was coughing violently and Bard pulled the door shut behind them, that cat was no cat, he was dead sure. Dwalin had pushed all the clothes to the back of the room and now he pointed at the wall. “Look, that must be some sort of hatch?”

 

Jean let out a small shriek. “Oh yes, the old door, I have completely forgotten about it. It haven’t been used in decades!”

 

Bard stared at the door, it was way up on the wall and square in shape. It wasn’t as much a door as a hatch and Jean tried to wipe her eyes. “They used to hoist firewood up into the second floor here, all the rooms were heated by ovens back in the old days. This room was where they stored it”

 

Bard didn’t hesitate, he grasped the hatch and shook it, it was probably almost invisible from the outside for he had never paid any attention to it and he put his weight against it and pushed. The opening creaked slightly, there wasn’t any lock, it was kept in place just by friction but years without use had made it stick to the wood like it was nailed in place. Dwalin too came over to help, the room was getting smoky now and the kids were terrified. Tilda was wailing and Sigrid tried to calm her down. Finally the hatch started to open, it was so stuck it took all of their strength to get it open and Bard took a peek at the surroundings. It was dark, and he saw nobody. The attackers were on the front of the house, but how were they to get out, and how could they hide? The drop was too high, they couldn’t jump without risking breaking their legs and Bard tried to see if there was something they could use as rope when he got an idea. The trampoline! It was placed almost exactly under the hatch and he turned to Bain. “Bain, can the trampoline take the weight of an adult person, falling from this height?”

 

Bain nodded. “Uh, yes?”

 

The boy was pale and shivering and Bard saw that the huge barrel they used as a pool was just a few feet from the trampoline. “Everybody, we need to jump down and hide in the barrel, under its cover. It looks like some sort of farming equipment in the dark, they may not check it”

 

Dwalin grinned, he was gasping for air but the face was stern. “I can act as a decoy. It is dark, if I get out into the field I can fire at them from there, draw them away from the house.”

 

Jean was whimpering. “The barn, the horses! The fire might spread!”

 

Bard tried to calm her down. “The distance is too great, and I don’t think those bastards care about a barn, they are sent to get rid of us, not some animals”

 

Dwalin climbed out of the hatch and gave the guns to Jean. “Toss them to me when I am down, hurry now!”

 

He jumped and hit the trampoline dead on, made almost no sound and by now the fire roared so loudly nobody would have been able to hear anything anyway. Jean tossed the guns and he grasped them and ran off into the darkness. Bard just hoped and prayed that the man wouldn’t pay for his courage with his life. Jean jumped next and pulled the covers off the barrel, then Bard dropped Tilda down to her and Bain and Sigrid jumped before Thran took the plunge and Bard was the last to leave. The smoke was thick now and the heat so strong it hurt. He made sure that everybody got into the barrel before he pulled the covers back over it, it was dark there but cold and the barrel had very thick walls. Not even bullets from an automatic rifle could get through those oak boards. The house was falling apart, it was just in the nick of time that they got out, the front started to fall forwards and then Bard heard the distinct roar from a high calibre rifle. Dwalin was keeping his word, nobody would think of checking the back just yet.

 

Out front the attackers were pretty confident, the fire had almost consumed the entire building and they were pretty sure that their targets were dead when one of the men fell down, his head seemed to explode and then they heard the sound of a rifle and sought cover wherever they could. They immediately sought to locate the shooter, he had to be in the field of corn which was planted along the entrance road and they fired against the field with all that they had. The leader was gesticulating and trying to organize the counter attack when he suddenly got hit square in the chest by a deer slug. The west he wore could stop bullets but the impact energy of the slug was so great it did crush his ribs and sternum and he fell, lungs pierced by broken bones. The others did panic, a few ran off towards the car and those who stayed behind were determined to avenge their boss. They kept firing and one got a bright idea and ignited the last Molotov cocktails they had left. He tossed them into the corn and the dry weather had transformed the entire field into a tinder box. The fire spread rapidly and the guys cheered, they would flush the shooter out for sure.

 

They got onto the pickup truck they had used to get there, and the driver headed towards the field, grinning widely. This would be fun, they would flush the bastard out like you chase rabbits with a dog. The burning house was forgotten, now the shooter was all that mattered.

Bard and the others were trembling, the water was cold and the heat from the fire forced them to stay low in the water. Debris was raining over them now, and the tarp covering the barrel could catch fire any moment. The house did collapse and some of it fell toward the barrel, surrounding it with burning wood. Bard swore, if the barrel caught fire and the water inside of it escaped they lost their protection. They couldn’t get out of there as long as those men were on the loose, with guns. Tilda was hysterical and Thran was wild eyed and pale as a ghost. “What are we to do??! We have to find him!”

 

Bard tried to breathe calmly, to not be overwhelmed by the intense fear. “We will, believe me we will, and they will pay!”

 

Out in the field Dwalin had sought refuge in a drainage ditch, it was bone dry naturally enough but deep so he had avoided the bullets but now the fire soon would force him to move. He grasped the shotgun and loaded it with yet another slug, aimed for the truck which was following the fire like some vulture. He knew what they were trying to do and he grinned to himself when he saw that one of the front tires exploded with a bang. He crawled forth, as fast as he could, there was another ditch not far from there and he was pretty sure he could hide in it but the attackers had become impatient and drove the car straight through the wall of fire, even if the front wheel was out. It had to be very hard to steer the darn thing but the driver did floor it and Dwalin swore. The headlights would find him soon and he got ready with the rifle, if this was his last stand he would fight well, it could give the kids and the others a chance to escape.

 

 He fired at the truck, several shots in rapid succession but the car kept moving forward, they had figured out where he was. He was seeing his life pass by in his mind when suddenly something almost flew over the ditch. It was another car, with the headlights turned off and it was a large one. A dodge ram with a cow catcher mounted on its front and it came at top speed. The car bounced over the rows of corn and the impact when it hit the other pick up straight at its side felt like an earthquake. The other pickup was flipped over, it quite literally spun along its own axis and landed on its roof and the huge blue ram stopped. Smoke rose from the front but the car was built like a tank and one of the doors flew open. Someone jumped out, ran over to the pickup and Dwalin heard several shots, quick precise ones. The one shooting was being efficient, killing anyone surviving the crash. Dwalin knew his lungs were damaged by the fire and he felt a sting in his left thigh, probably a bullet wound. Was this friend or foe? A woman with long black hair and slightly tanned skin showed up through the smoke, she clutched a gun with both hands and she had a very stern expression on her face. “I am Elisa Snowshoe, where is Bard Bowman? These devils were just the start, there is more coming!”

 

Dwalin let out a sigh of relief, the cavalry was perhaps just one fighter but now they stood a chance. “Follow me lady, I will take you to him!”

 

 

 

A warrior's death by Nuredhel

Chapter 9: A warrior’s death.

 

Thor was nervous, he knew that their enemy probably would try to make them all disappear. The news reporters had once again descended upon the police station and he had hid among the crowd of onlookers wearing some old clothes and a wig. With thick glasses and some make up on he did look like a rather ragged old guy and he didn’t think anybody could recognize him. The wounded were being carried out of the building and the fire brigade tried to stop the fires and estimate the damage to the structure. One of the survivors was coherent enough to speak and he had explained that someone had delivered a packet to the leader of the agents who had taken over the station and it had exploded. The packet had been addressed to Thor and he felt a cold chill run down his spine. The anger and hatred some now felt had culminated in this, but there was a lovely irony there.

 

The problem was, if the warnings were true there could still be a bomb in there somewhere and it could go off. Thor saw that the agents had evacuated the spot, the only ones left were the feds who had been wounded and he realized that they too had been ordered around like toys. There were a few dead agents and they wore different clothes and Thor hoped that the losses did hurt this hidden group and that in the worst place imaginable. The leader of the group was just smithereens, the bomb had been a terrible device and it had to have been made by someone who knew what he was doing. It was most likely vengeance on behalf of one of the accused men. Most of those who had been at the station were severely wounded and some would most likely die. He felt a seething rage, it could have been all of them if those bastards had gotten their will. The bomb had in fact saved many of them, it was a cruel and yet blessed trick of fate.

 

The reporters were slowly scattering, the news delivered to the thousands of hungry viewers and the crowd dissipated too. The fire brigade was still busy, the top of the building had taken the worst damage, the windows were blown out and looked like the naked eye sockets of a skull. Smoke still rose and Thor heard them claim that the entire structure was unstable now, since the basement was made up from the huge garage and few other rooms it could collapse. The bomb hadn’t reached the garage but the floor had cracked and the pillars carrying the upper floor could in fact act as spears and pierce the structure which then would fall into itself. Thor wondered what he really was to do, the immediate threat to his crew had to be removed and he had a sort of a plan but there were still so many questions. He turned away from the ruined buildings and knew that he first and foremost had to help the living. Judith had warned the investigators, he had to trust that they knew how to hide. But the wounded office workers and patrol officers? They too were in danger and he knew that an organization who bombed a police station wouldn’t hesitate to kill a helpless person.

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Faramir had managed to climb up the shaft, his fingers were bleeding and he was sore all over. He was a man in top physical shape but this was very exhausting and when he reached the grid at the top he was soaked with sweat once more. The grid was embedded in the concrete but luckily the rain and wind and years had worked their slow destructive job and a desperate punch had been enough to get it out of the way. It fell into the shaft with a loud clang but he didn’t care. The block was resounding with the sound of sirens and shouts and the smell of smoke was thick and nauseating. He crawled out, slowly. His old battle instincts kicked in and he used his eyes for all they were worth. He crawled over to the edge of the roof, the streets were filled with people now and an intense fear grasped him. What if the bomb the agents had left went off? It would be a terrible disaster, there were hundreds of people there and firemen were scurrying in and out of the smouldering ruin, carrying dead and wounded. Faramir felt sick, his muscles were aching and he had to stop and think. What in heavens name was he to do?

 

He made a quick decision, the black ops agents had left, it was rather obvious and he ran over to the other side of the roof. This part of the building hadn’t been that damaged and he knew he had to get Judith out fast. If the hidden bomb went off there wouldn’t be anything left of the building. There had to be something he could use? Then he saw it, hanging on the wall. It was a hose, probably used for hosing off the façade after storms and it was old and not very thick but it was still in one piece. He grasped onto it and ripped it from its fastenings, it was a bit rotten but he prayed that it was strong enough to hold her weight. It was luckily long enough but just barely. He ran over to the shaft again and knew that they had to get out of there before they were spotted. He couldn’t answer questions now, lives were at stake. He shouted down and Judith showed up, staring up at him. “Grasp onto the hose, I will haul you up”

 

She looked shocked. “Faramir, are you serious?! I am not a doll damn it, I weigh a lot”

 

Faramir clenched his jaws, determination written on his face. “You can help me by using your legs on the wall, come on, the bomb can go off!”

 

That made her react, she grasped the hose and he started to pull. Desperation did give him more strength than usual, and she did try to aid him as much as she could. But still it took twenty minutes before she was on the roof and by then they were both shivering and Faramir felt as if he had fought a hard battle. He grasped her by the arm. “Come on, we have got to get out of here”

 

Judith nodded, her clothes were covered with dust and debris, she had bloody wounds on her hands and knees and her eyes were very dark and large. Faramir sent her a quick glance. “Fear of heights?”

 

She nodded. “I pass out standing on a chair”

 

Faramir bowed his head in respect. “Then you are indeed very brave”

 

She had to smile in spite of it all. “More like too terrified to care”

 

Faramir walked over to the edge of the roof on opposite side of the road, it was a small open yard down there where the employees would park their cars. Most cars were there still and their windshields smashed by flying debris and the force of the explosion itself. The one making that bomb had really been serious about it. There was a ladder leading down from the roof and it was old and rusty and not at all safe but their only way down. Judith climbed first since she was the lighter one, Faramir made it down and then the ladder sort of gave up its existence as a ladder and decided to live out its days as scrap metal instead. It came crashing down and they had to jump out of the way. Faramir had to sit down and Judith stared at him. “Are you hurt?”

 

Faramir shook his head. “No, just…sore, tired, scared shitless.”

 

Judith just mumbled. “So am I, so what now?”

 

Faramir closed his eyes. “I want to ruin it for them, I want to expose them, if possible send them straight to hell! I want people to see them for who they are!”

 

Judith nodded slowly, she was still grey all over and Faramir knew that they both looked terrible. They couldn’t get out on the streets looking like that, someone would react for sure. Judith had blood on her face even and Faramir was covered with a thick layer of dirt since the wet clothes had worked like a dirt magnet. He coughed and shook his head to clear his thoughts. “Is there somewhere nearby where we can hide for a while, and get rid of these soiled clothes?”

 

Judith bit her lower lip, the station was laying back to back with a small shopping mall and with the bomb she was pretty sure all the alarm systems within this block had been fried thoroughly. “We can play burglars?”

 

Faramir smiled. “Know what? I always wanted to do that, are there any food in there? I am famished”

 

Judith crossed the parking lot and he did see that she did use the cars for cover, he liked that. Since the front of the station had taken the worst of the damage there weren’t any people bothering with the back just yet and Judith found one of the doors leading into the mall. It was a door used by the employees and the place had been evacuated when the bomb went off  and someone had forgotten to lock it. “Behold, we are in luck. We don’t even have to pick a lock!”

 

Faramir grinned. “Excellent, hurry up, get inside before we are spotted”

 

Judith ran inside, there was a corridor and she let out a small gasp of relief, there were wardrobes there, with showers. The mall had a small fitness centre and the employees had to shower during the day not to stink and scare off people. Faramir ran into the mall, the shops were open, everybody had left in a hurry in fear of fire and he grasped clothes and equipment everywhere. He even ran by the apothecary and got some bandages and when he returned Judith was on her phone, checking the news. He frowned. “Should it be turned on? They could be tracking it?”

 

Judith just shrugged. “We are just a few hundred feet from the site of the explosion, for all they know I died in it and the phone survived. I need to see what the news are saying about this!”

 

Faramir pointed at the shower. “Ladies first!”

 

She sighed. “Okay, I will be fast, we cannot linger here for too long”

 

She closed the door and he heard the water being turned on, she had taken some of the bandages and he knew that she would take care of her own injuries. She was in fact fast, after five minutes she re-emerged and now she did look normal again, just a bruise on her cheek revealed that she had been through something traumatic. Faramir jumped in the shower too, he scrubbed himself vigorously and it felt like a rebirth, he was suddenly alive again and the water got so dark it looked like mud before all the dust got out of his hair and skin. They had put on some ordinary looking clothing and while he showered Judith had found a couple of wigs from a shop selling costumes and stuff for Halloween. Faramir had to grin, the one she had picked for him was light blond and rather terrible but with a hat on top of it the result wasn’t half bad. She had put on a long black wig and now she did look like some ordinary lady. A little makeup covered the bruise and she picked a handbag from a store and some boots as well.

 

Faramir found a small café where the food was tempting enough, they sat down for a short break, he knew that fighting while hungry is a very bad idea, if he was to think straight he had to eat now.  Judith finished her bowl of salad and her sandwich with her usual elegance, it was as if she was having a pleasant lunch with a co-worker. “So, what is the plan?”

 

Faramir looked down, he was trying to come up with a good idea. “I am not sure, I want to make sure that everybody is okay. I guess contacting them all will be hard now that they have gone under cover but I fear for everybody Judith. The people we are up against, they are ruthless!”

 

She cocked her head. “You do have an idea, I can see that, what is it?”

 

 

Faramir swallowed hard, he bit his lower lip. “They are after the shrike, they must have been keeping an eye on the internet and possibly every police station in the country. They are like vermin, hiding everywhere, I bet there is no place safe from them”

 

Judith looked at him with calm eyes,. “Big brother sees you, everywhere”

 

Faramir nodded. “Exactly, I bet they have search machines which react whenever anyone mentions something which can be related to the shrike. And then they come to investigate”

 

Judith took a deep breath. “Faramir, they took the artefacts, that tells me something important”

 

He frowned. “What?”

 

She pointed her fork at him. “They want to capture the shrike right? A person or creature capable of tossing a huge man up onto a wall, hard enough to impale him, a person who has been all over the entire globe, even before travelling became something you can do fast and without effort. “

 

Faramir nodded, a bit confused. “Yes?”

 

She took a deep breath. “Listen, I am a scientist, I was born and raised by a family who always insisted that I ought to make my own conclusions about stuff and never just accept what others tell me. It goes against everything I have learned but what if it isn’t a human being? If I was to capture something like that I would very much like to be in possession of something which enables me to control the thing”

 

Faramir held his breath for  a few seconds. “You think they took the artefacts because they think that there is something out there able to do just that, control it?”

 

She smiled. “Exactly, they wouldn’t use time and resources on finding such things otherwise, it has to be important.”

 

Faramir frowned again. “So?”

 

She stared him straight in the eye. “They have murdered good people, they will be on our backs forever more unless we do something. We have to bite back, we have to fight for justice”

 

Faramir felt a chill running down his spine. “Why do I get the distinct sensation that we are thinking of the same thing?”

 

Judith smiled, a smile with too much teeth. “Because great minds think alike? But no bullshit Faramir, if they want the shrike I bet we can lure them inn like a fisher hauls a trout out of the water.”

 

He swallowed. “You are bold woman, they are powerful! They have resources and weapons and influence. They can do whatever they want to, I bet not even the president can stop them”

 

Judith sneered. “And is that right? Is that what this country is about? Someone abusing our freedom thus? If they do capture the shrike I bet they will make a weapon out of it, whatever it is!”

 

Faramir pushed his plate out of the way, he was feeling stuffed. “Yes, they probably will. Or something even worse. You are right, they have to be stopped”

 

She wiped her chin, her eyes were hard. “We gather the troops so to speak, then we make a plan. We have to stand together now, and fight as one. They have eyes and ears everywhere, let us use that against them, let their strength become their weakness”

 

Faramir laughed. “Know thine enemy as you know thyself and you will win every battle?”

 

She smiled, a real smile this time. “The art of war, yes. We don’t know our enemy Faramir so that is first priority, we have to gather information. Someone has to know, I bet Elisa’s hacker friend can fix that. He is good. Then we have to form a solid battle plan, if this is a dragon we have to cut its head off. “

 

Faramir wetted his lips. “And if it is a hydra?”

 

She sneered again. “”We cut all it’s heads off and burn the bastard.”

 

Faramir sighed. “So, first priority, find the others, how do we start?”

 

Judith looked a bit uncertain. “Now, there is the problem. They won’t be at home, that is for darn sure, but I think I know most of them rather well, I can find some of them I am sure”

 

Faramir nodded. “Good, but Thran and Bard must be first priority, they are in jeopardy as we speak if it isn’t already too late.”

 

Judith looked down, she had an odd expression on her face. “Know what? I think they’ll manage, I don’t know why I feel this but I do. It is odd”

 

Faramir smiled. “It is called gut instinct and it is never wrong. It has saved my butt many times when I was a ranger. If something feels off it usually is.”

 

She got up. “It is getting darker outside, what now?”

 

Faramir smiled. “We see if we can find a safe place to stay, let’s take to the street, this place will be checked soon and we cannot be here then.”

 

He left some money on the counter for the food and they left the same way they came. Judith took a deep breath. “It smells terribly, I wonder if the fire fighters will discover the last bomb?”

 

Faramir cringed, if the thing did explode the first bomb would seem like a fire cracker in comparison, he knew what these people could conjure up of deviltry. “I think I will make an anonymous call, they have to at least check things out.”

 

They walked down the street and saw that the crowd had more or less dissipated, just a couple of news reporters were left arguing with one of the fire fighters, they obviously wanted to get inside of the bombed building to film. Faramir shook his head, morons, they didn’t know the danger they were in. He was about to move on when he did notice an elderly man walking down the street, he had a slight limp and a somewhat crouched posture and Faramir was no fool, he did recognize his gait, and the camouflage could fool anybody who didn’t know Thor but Faramir had learned how to recognize people even when they were trying to conceal their identity. It was vital for the soldiers fighting in the worst war zones, sometimes enemies would try to hide their true nature so they could get close enough to trigger a suicide bomb. This was Thor, Faramir was dead sure and he tugged at Judith’s arm. “Follow me, now!”

 

She obeyed, a bit startled by his tone and they walked down the street like a normal couple. Faramir started talking enthusiastically about the last football match and she tried to act naturally as well. They were catching up with an old man and then Judith realized what Faramir was doing and who this were. She recognized the slight limp and the way he carried his left shoulder a wee bit higher than the right one. Faramir just walked by the man, without looking at him at all, he just whispered while being turned towards Judith. “Thor, it is me, Faramir, follow us!”

 

Thor was a steady person, he didn’t change his expression at all, he did just walk on and Faramir and Judith started to pretend that they were arguing slightly and thus they slowed down a bit. Faramir had seen a bar further down the street, it was open and not a place where police officers usually did hang out for it was very old fashioned and most of the patrons were elderly people. Now Faramir and Judith did enter swiftly and they sat down in a corner. It took about fifteen minutes, then Thor too entered and he walked over and sat down. He was staring at them. “What in hell’s name is really going on here? “

 

Faramir took a deep breath. “The mother of all deviltry, believe me. But first things first, there is still a bomb in the building, we need to warn everybody”

 

Thor sighed and his eyes were distant. “Right, then I suggest you call 911, they will send the message to the fire fighters really fast. But don’t sound like some crazy attention seeker, give them something which makes you seem legit.”

 

Faramir nodded. “Right, I’ll tell them what sort of bomb the first one was, only someone with real knowledge will know that.”

 

He smiled at Judith. “I have to buy a phone, or find an old fashioned phone booth. They cannot be allowed to track the call”

 

Thor grinned and handed over a cell phone. “Try this one, the number is untraceable, I called in a favour from an old friend”

 

Faramir took the phone and went outside to find a quiet place from where to call. Judith stared at Thor. “We have decided to gather everybody, to bite back. Faramir has a plan, and I intend to help him.”

 

Thor did look tired. “Great, I have a plan too, but I have a feeling we may be better off if we cooperate. I have a friend I have planned to meet later tonight, he can be of good use I think”

Judith was fidgeting with her hair. “They will not give up Thor, they will keep chasing the shrike and mow down anyone who is stupid enough to get in their way. Faramir is sure that they want it to exploit it somehow”

 

Thor grumbled. “A conclusion I too have reached, it cannot be all for the glory of having caught a serial killer.”

 

Faramir returned and gave Thor the phone back. “Message delivered, I bet the bomb squad will be on the case very soon.”

 

Thor sighed and he appeared to be very tired, Judith got worried. “I just hope it won’t be too late, or that the thing does go off. I cannot really imagine someone being so wicked, so determined and not the least indifferent to the lives of others. “

 

Faramir made a grimace. “I am pretty sure that we can trick them, or at least expose them so that they’ll never dare to stick their heads out again. But it will require a lot of work, and some real luck too”

 

Judith nodded and they saw that the man behind the counter turned on an old TV hanging on the wall. She gestured towards it and the two men turned their heads too. It was the evening news and first there was just a lot about the rising anger within the population and the outbreaks of violence. Then someone told about some famous actress who had been caught using cocaine. The news were almost over when they broke into the broadcast with some real news, a camera crew were filming the station as the bomb squad sent a robot inside. Apparently they had found the bomb the agents left behind and it hadn’t detonated yet so it was probably still hot and dangerous. The reporter was talking very fast and trying to make explanations as to why someone would leave a bomb there like that and Thor stared at the images and he did look very angry.

 

The sudden boom made them all jump in their chairs and they heard it, and felt it as well. The camera went black and the image disappeared and was replaced by a news anchor who desperately tried to get connected to the reporter again. In the bar the windows did shake and Faramir stared at Judith and Thor with huge eyes. It was easy to imagine what had happened, the bomb had gone off. Outside debris peppered the streets and car alarms went off. Thor swore, his voice low and almost sore. “Goddamn bastards, even more good men have died”

 

Judith swallowed hard, her face a grey mask. “They are gonna pay for this, by God they are!”

 

Thor got to his feet, on the outside sirens were flaring once more, someone was screaming and he took a deep breath. “The entire block will be evacuated, we’d better leave now. My friend is waiting”

 

Judith sighed and Faramir helped her get up, she was still a bit stiff after the climb. “I hope he can fight”

 

Thor managed to smile, a small and very stiff smile. “He does, worry not”

 

They walked down the street and Thor headed towards the old park in the middle of the city. It was a long walk but they did get there without any incidents, most people were indoors watching the news and they could see from the TV’s displayed in shop windows that the entire station now was reduced to a pile of debris. Several bomb technicians had died and some fire fighters too plus a few onlookers as well. And there were a huge number of wounded people.

Thor stopped by a statue of the city’s founder. He pretended to be blowing his nose and Faramir and Judith saw that a very tall person suddenly stepped forth from the shadows. He wore a brown cap and some worn workman’s clothes and his great height and ragged features made him look dangerous. Judith saw that the man had dark brown hair and brown eyes and he had a nasty scar on his chin. Thor nodded his head. “Beorn”

 

The huge guy smiled and shook his hand. “What in heck’s name have you managed to get yourself into now my friend?”

 

Thor took a deep breath. “Something nasty, but I need to ask a favour and it has to happen fast!”

 

Beorn sat down on a bench and they followed, Judith did notice that the huge man moved like a cat, with an almost sinister smoothness. “Alright, what do you need?”

 

Thor leaned forth, his eyes were dark. “I have wounded people in hospital, and I need them watched at all times. The bastards who has done this to us may try to silence them”

 

Beorn frowned. “Sounds bad but it can be done. I need to make a few calls but I’ll manage. I have many who are available now, and willing to do something useful once more”

 

Thor let out a sigh of relief. “Excellent, make sure they don’t arise any suspicion though, I want this to be something few if any will notice”

 

Beorn grinned. “Alright, it will be done”

 

He got up and pulled a phone out of his pocket, went behind the statue and they heard him talk but none of them understood the language. Afterwards he returned and sat down again. “Who exactly is it you have managed to piss off this time? The entire station was bombed to rubble, I saw the news.”

 

Thor gestured towards Faramir. “I will let him explain, he can do that better than me”

 

Faramir sat up and started to tell, he had no idea of who Beorn was but if Thor trusted him so did he. Beorn listened very carefully and his eyes got very narrow. He leaned back and cocked his head. “The name you mentioned, sour Jon, I have heard that before. He is a very secretive fellow, with immense power. Much of the new weapons systems and technological inventions which the army uses comes from him and his comrades.”

 

Thor seemed eager all of a sudden. “So this could be controlled by one person?”

 

Beorn nodded. “It is controlled by one person for sure, he inherited the group or shall we rather say cult from his father, a german scientist brought to the united states after the war. The old man was insane, believed in all sorts of shit. The son is supposedly even nuttier, but also a genius, which makes him twice as dangerous”

 

Judith rubbed her hands, it was getting cold. “That makes sense, that has to be it. It is the only possible explanation. He is trying to get the Shrike all to himself”

 

Thor frowned. “How come you know this?”

 

Beorn sneered. “Oh, the reason is a nasty one. Twenty years ago this perfect specimen of human waste came up with a new vaccine against a lot of tropical diseases. It was supposed to help soldiers avoid getting ill while fighting in the jungle and the army started to use it immediately. There were a lot of troops fighting in tropic climates back then and my platoon was one of them”

 

Judith hissed. “Something tells me that vaccine had some side effects?”

 

Beorn laughed, a short hard bark of a laugh. “That is the understatement of this century. About two thousand got the vaccine before it was taken out of the vaccination program, I think only a handful are left alive today. Most went completely psychotic just a week after inoculation, some developed huge sores which turned gangrenous no matter what the doctors tried to do and a small but significant percentage suffered from violent hallucinations and had to be restrained. One man killed twenty others before they managed to shoot him, he was like a zombie, almost unstoppable.”

 

Judith just gaped “I have never heard of that?”

 

Beorn smiled, a cold smile. “Of course you haven’t, it was all covered up, some fat lie about mycotoxins and jungle fever. The sick ones were put away and the families were barely allowed to see them and the firm who made the vaccines? They walked out of the deal with their hands clean and a fat wallet. Nobody dared to blame them, nobody!”

 

Beorn crossed his long legs. “So if you are out to get that old bastard I am inn, and I bet most of my friends will be dying to help you as well. So, straight to business, what now?”

 

Faramir took a deep breath, he had his priorities made. “We try to find the others, they need to be in on this, then we plan the trap”

 

Beorn did look very pleased. “Good, the sooner we get to work, the better!”

 

---------------------------------------------------------

 

The fire was burning fiercely around the barrel and by now the tarp had caught fire too, pieces of burning fabric was raining down onto them and Bard tried to make the kids hold their heads under water for as long as they could. Tilda was hysterical, screaming like a banshee and clawing at him to get out of there but they couldn’t climb out, there were flames licking up along the sides of the barrel and debris from the house did surround it too. It was hard to breathe and Bard had never felt such despair ever. If only the children could have been spared from this, he would gladly have died if they had been safe now. Thran were in tears, he was just thinking of his son and Bard did understand him so well. It was bitter, they had finally found someone with whom they felt at peace, someone worthy of their love and now the chances were that they would perish there, together. A burst of flames roared over the top of the barrel and they all ducked, Tilda was wriggling like a worm and he felt like a complete and utter bastard for holding her down but if she inhaled flames her lungs would be scorched and he knew that was lethal. They got back up again, heaving for air but found mostly smoke, coughing and wheezing and Bard wished to hold them all, tell them how much he loved them. He had no hope left , the fire was too intense.

 

Then they heard the sound of an engine, a powerful one and the barrel was hit and hit hard. The huge wooden structure tipped over, slowly and they all grasped onto each other out of sheer instinct as they suddenly were flung forwards together with hundreds of gallons of water. It was like a torrential flood, they were carried along with the water and out of the debris zone and Bard saw that a huge Dodge pickup backed away from the fire before it got ignited too. He grasped the kids, Thran took Sigrid and grasped Jean by the arm and they scrambled away from the flames like a bunch of half drowned extras from some horror movie shoot. Bard was half blind from the heat and the sparks and yet he did recognize the person who came running towards them. It was Elisa and he had never seen a more welcome sight. She grasped him by the arm and helped him up, Tilda was still wailing and Bain and Sigrid were shivering and their eyes were huge and black.

“Elisa, why…what are you doing here now?!”

 

She smacked him around his cheeks, the pretty face was stern, the jaws set and he realized that they weren’t safe yet. “I have tried to call you and text you and God Bard, warn you! Goddamn it man, you have got to get out of here. There are more coming any minute”

 

Bard gasped. “What?!”

 

She nodded. “Yes, the agents which sort of took our jobs? Most of them were black op’s, working for some very shady group. They have blown up the police station and they want us all dead. They used Thran’s ex as their tool, but they will be coming to check if they managed to do the job properly”

 

Thran was letting out a wail, he was on his knees and trembling and Bard ran over, embraced him,, kissed his brow. “Thran, Thran, we will find him, I promise, we are alive. We can do it!”

 

Elisa’s eyes were narrow. “They took someone?”

 

Bard nodded. “His son, that bastard wants to use him to get Thran’s property and money”

 

Elisa shook her head in silent anger. “Typical, but first things first. I have information about the Shrike which you need to get, and about our enemy as well!”

 

An old man climbed out of the car, he was white haired and looked a bit fragile but there was steel in his gaze. Bard also saw that Dwalin sort of snaked his way out of the battered vehicle, he was suddenly very relieved that the body guard had made it, but he was obviously hurt. Bard sort of frowned when he saw that a very old dog also exited the car, what was that thing doing here?

 

Bard stared at the stranger. “Who is that?”

 

The old man bowed his head. “I am Olorin, just that. The group who is chasing the so called Shrike are among the most ruthless and heartless people you can imagine. I am part of a small group of people watching them, they don’t know it but everything they do is being monitored. We are just as good at intelligence as they are, if not better”

 

Bard still looked confused and he held Thran tightly, the blond was crying and he did look terrible. Sigrid and Bain were holding onto Tilda and  Jean was in obvious shock, the house had almost burned to the ground. Olorin smiled at her, a very warm smile. “Dear, there will be some very bad people coming soon, go to the barn and let your darling horses out, let them run free. They won’t harm a herd of animals, it isn’t what they are after!”

 

Jean frowned. “How do you know…”

 

He smiled. “I am very old ma’am but not deaf, I have heard the whinnying of terrified horses before, go!”

 

She got up, ran towards the barn and pushed aside a sliding door at the back. It lead straight out into a paddock and a fenced in road leading to the pastures which were the farthest away from the farm itself. She opened the gate and disappeared into the barn and before long a long stream of golden and paint animals ran by, neighing and kicking. Bard stared at Olorin, he had a hard time believing what he had been told but Elisa believed this old man so he guessed that he spoke the truth. Elisa was the least silly person he knew of.

 

She stared him straight into the eye. “Everybody has been warned, they want the Shrike so they cannot allow anyone who knows anything about the case to get away, Olorin here has seen her, he has served her. She is…something beyond our understanding Bard, you may use the word deity, it fits as well as any other.”

 

Bard held onto Thran, he was still trembling. “But Legolas, we have to get him back!”

 

Olorin smiled, a sad smile. “Lad, you and your beautiful friend there have been chosen, she favours you and wants you both to stay alive. Elisa will explain, and here is something I want you to have, go through it, it will explain everything!”

 

He grasped into his jacket and pulled out a small computer disk, of the external type. “You are among the watchers now. She did you a favour and she will also grant your lover a favour. It is yours to ask for. “

 

Bard remembered, the black cat! “ We saw a black cat during the fire, it helped us out but then it was gone”

 

Elisa nodded. “She is often seen as an aspect of the Goddess Bast remember? She is portrayed as a black cat”

 

Bard felt dizzy and he had to sit down. “God, this…this is madness!”

 

Jean was pale. “If there are others coming we have got to go, but where? We have no weapons, nothing”

 

Bard tried to think. “The nearest neighbours?”

 

She shook her head. “No, they would be in danger too then, farther away”

 

Bard got a hard expression on his face. “Let’s go to Aragorn and Arwen’s farm, I bet the same bastard who got Sophia killed also caused that disease. I wouldn’t find that odd at all.”

 

Jean nodded slowly. “Yes, that could be it, they are friendly, and won’t let me down.”

 

Olorin just stood there. “Listen, You both will be given a ring, if one of you put both on while on holy ground you can summon her too you and possibly control her. The enemy must never get those rings, understood? I have lived for a very long time and that gift is paid for with a promise I intend to keep. You will both be able to live for decades more than normal, and fight injustice for many years to come”

 

Bard frowned. “Not to sound condescending but I cannot really believe in all this? I have no belief in the supernatural”

 

Olorin sent him a faint grin. “You will soon enough, the enemy is approaching and I am ready for my last stand. They cannot be allowed to see that you are alive, this place will soon be no more, I am very sorry Ma’am but something catastrophic will happen to your farm”

 

Jean sobbed. “As long as my horses survive…”

 

He smiled. “I have never harmed an innocent animal and I don’t intend to start. They will be safe. Get in the car and drive across the fields. There is a set of night vision goggles in the front seat, don’t turn on the head lights whatever you do.”

 

The old dog wagged its tail and Olorin petted it on its back. “That is right boy, one last fight together”

 

Elisa tilted her head. “I never asked you about your dog, what’s his name? Why don’t you let us take him? He can surely live for a few years longer?”

 

Olorin smiled and the smile was wry. “Old Fenrir here was bought the day before I met that old man in the harbour. He is…very old. He was the guard dog of some German officer, quite mean and vicious but a gorgeous dog and I didn’t want to see him be put down. We have been friends ever since. And he shares my gift, it is as it must be. I don’t know what awaits us but it will be something good, of that I am certain.”

 

Bard stared. “Excuse me, but are you going to fight them? That is suicide?! You are just one old man!”

 

Olorin laughed, a soft low laughter. “Oh yes, just one man. But blessed son, blessed by her. I can do this only once so I will make sure that it is spectacular and worthy of her.”

 

Bard swallowed. “You are mad”

 

Olorin grinned widely. “Perhaps, but you will see. Go now, they are coming, I can sense them. There is a certain darkness following those who are evil, and I can see it. You will too, remember the favour. It will serve you both well, you already know what you ought to ask for. Go!”

 

Elisa grasped onto them, forced them into the pickup. She placed Tilda in the rear seat and Sigrid next to her and the adults were shoved into the back. Bard felt a terrible stress, a feeling of not really knowing what to do. Jean took up the seat next to Elisa who put on the goggles. “You tell me where to go lady, I will not follow the roads”

 

Jean wetted her lips and looked at Olorin who just stood there in front of the burned down remains of the old farm house. He was smiling and the dog was standing next to him, wagging its tail again. “What is he gonna do?”

 

Elisa started the car. “Die well, hang on everybody!”

 

She took off and Bard had to grasp onto Thran, he was trembling like a leaf and he feared that the blond had suffered a complete breakdown. The car raced down the tractor road leading away from the farm houses and Elisa knew how to drive, she could have held her own against a professional race driver for she handled the huge heavy pick up extremely well. The car had taken some damage but it was still running and she pushed through a fence so the wires and poles went flying and floored it over one of the pastures. She headed for a holt of trees and there she suddenly stopped and turned the engine off. “Not a sound, they are coming!”

 

Bard stared towards the farm, the light from the flames made it possible to see everything even from this distance. Olorin was standing in front of the remains still, seemingly very calm and now Bard did pick up the sound of engines. At least three large cars, heading towards the farm from the main road, headlights off and all were black. Almost impossible to see in the dark, a very sinister sight. He also heard another sound, a deep thrum which told him a helicopter was on its way too, most likely a sort of attack vehicle. Damn it, Elisa had to be right, there was some real shit going down.

 

 

Bard stared at the old man, he didn’t move until the three cars drove into the yard and men started pouring out of the vehicles. He heard the hard cracking of machine gun fire and cringed, the old man still stood there, seemingly untouched and Bard realized that everything he had believed in no longer mattered. The helicopter was hovering up above and it was indeed a war machine, probably an Apache. It happened so very fast, suddenly the old dog grew, it became a giant, a massive hulking beast of a creature and Bard remembered what Fenrir really meant. It was from Norse mythology, the giant wolf who would one day devour the sun and the moon. The helicopter was shooting, but the thing was larger than the house had been now, and it reared up and massive jaws closed around the body of the chopper and pulled it down. The agents were firing, desperately and Elisa yelled. “Cover your eyes!”

 

Bard couldn’t, he had to see. The old man started to glow, became a figure of sheer light and energy and Bard heard the men scream, they tried to get back into the cars. It was too late, the glow became so strong he had to look away and it was like a silent explosion. This had to be what a nuclear blast felt like but without the heat and the boom. The pickup shook up and down on its suspension and the wind felt like a hurricane. Several trees fell and there was a stench of Ozone in the air. Bard opened his eyes again, he couldn’t believe what he saw. The place where the farm had been was flattened, there was nothing left at all. Just scorched earth and a deep crater which was smouldering. Thran was shaking and making some odd sounds. “What the fuck!”

 

Elisa turned around, stared at them through the back window. “That power is yours now, put these on”

 

She gave them two rings and they took them, slowly and with obvious doubt. She grinned. “Do it, you will be so much more than before now, there is nothing to fear”

 

Bard took a deep breath, he put the ring on and oddly enough it fitted, perfectly. Thran did the same and let out a whimper, it felt as if their bodies were on fire but just for a few fleeting seconds and then they both felt invigorated, strong. Bard swallowed, his voice thin. “How did he do that? What did we see?”

 

Elisa started the engine again, it roared to life. “The combined life energy of many human beings. She is letting those who serve her share the power of those she kill, it is a reward of some sorts.”

 

Bard stared at the ring, he knew he had made a choice which couldn’t be unmade. Only time would show what that would mean. He sat down and embraced Thran again and the blonde pressed his face against Bard’s neck and sobbed. If this thing really did help those in her service then he knew what he would ask of her, deity or not. His mind was set when it came to that matter.

 

Elisa did drive slower now, they didn’t have to hide that well but she didn’t turn on the lights and she stayed in the small valleys until they reached another farm road. Jean was guiding her and they sort of zig zagged through the landscape until the old turkey farm lay ahead of them. There was light in the main building and Jean let out a sigh of relief. The children were cold, wet and traumatized and she just couldn’t believe what she had seen. She just knew that she owed that old man her life, and the lives of her beloved grandchildren. Elisa turned towards the back. “Don’t worry, you will get the answers you need, we have to lay low for a while though.”

 

Bard coughed, his lungs still hurt but not as much as before. “What do we tell them? The truth?”

 

Elisa shook her head. “No, you tell them that bad people were after you because of a case you are on, and that they attacked and set fire to the farm and that the propane tanks in the cellar blew up.”

 

Bard had to giggle, it was a hysterical sound. “Propane tanks?! Sweet Jesus, that explosion was like a small nuclear bomb! There is a crater there now, a crater!!”

 

Elisa shrugged. “Doesn’t matter, just stick to the story. We need to get the children to safety and then we have to make plans.”

 

Bard just sighed and they drove into the yard in front of the large main building. Like most of the farms in this area it had a huge house since the farms back in the days required a lot of people working there and Jean got out of the car. “I will knock, they know me. Just…don’t mention what we just saw, Arwen is still a bit fragile after the loss of the birds and she isn’t all that stabile all the time”

 

Everybody nodded and Jean took a deep breath and walked up to the door. She knocked hard three times and stepped back, praying that they were home, and that this little group of rather dishevelled survivors would be welcome.

A few minutes went by before anyone opened the door, it was Aragorn who appeared and he stared at Jean with eyes which got wide with shock. “Jean?! What in heavens name have happened?”

 

Jean swallowed hard, it felt tough to lie to her neighbours but she had to. “The farm, it is gone, there was a fire and…”

 

Aragorn let out a gasp and saw that others, he recognized Bard and the children and saw that they all appeared to have been through something rather bad. “What?”

 

Jean gasped, she felt very tired all of a sudden. “Someone came, for Bard. It has to do with a case, but we did hide. Everything burned down, we need a place to stay”

 

Aragorn tried to pull himself together. “Dear lord, that is horrible. Do come in, I will tell Arwen that we have visitors”

 

Jean leaned against the doorframe, she felt it now, the last hours had been almost too much for her. Bard helped the kids out of the car and Dwalin jumped down with a groan, Bard had forgotten that he was hurt. Elisa parked the car between two tractors, where it wouldn’t be so visible. She hurried after them and they all entered the house. Bard felt ashamed, they were wet, dripping water mixed with sooth and dirt and Arwen’s floors were shining and clean. She appeared in the door and her mouth became an O when she saw them. “Holy cow, you look terrible, are you hurt?”

 

Bard tried to smile but his face felt stiff and he was supporting Thran who was swaying from one side to the other like he was drunk. Tilda was still sobbing and shivering and Arwen suddenly got busy. She shouted at her husband. “Aragorn, fill the bathtubs in the guestrooms and also the one in our bathroom. Hot water!”

 

She ran into a room by the hallway and came back with her arms full of clothes. “Here, you’ll all need something warm and dry. I will put a kettle over, you need something hot to drink”

 

Bard felt his legs shake, the adrenaline was slowly seeping out of him and he was feeling oddly disconnected, as if nothing was real anymore. Arwen showed them into a bedroom and they got rid of the wet clothing, Jean helped the kids and got them into the bathtubs and Bard rubbed Thran until he got the heat back into his body. Then Thran returned the favour and Dwalin did take a quick dip in hot water just to make sure that he was clean before he started tending to his wounds. He had a nasty one in his thigh but it was rather clean, a through and through. The bastards hadn’t used dumdum bullets, that was a good thing. Arwen did have some bandages and also some iodide and he cleaned the wound himself and he even stitched it together. Back in the days you had to be able to function as a field surgeon if someone got hurt and the medics were unavailable. Bard could finally sit down, and Aragorn presses a glass of whisky into his hands. “What happened? Was someone really after you?”

 

Bard nodded, it was true, they just didn’t tell the whole truth. “Yes, because of the case I was on, the serial killer and the network of abusers. Someone was probably pissed”

 

Aragorn looked shocked still, he was a handsome man about Bard’s age with thick black hair and blue eyes and he was the sort of person who always tries to help others, also when it demanded a lot from himself. Bard knew that he had been a farmer all his life but Arwen had once worked as a model, why she had ended up as a farmer’s wife was anybody’s guess. “I heard the news today, they have bombed the police station? Twice?!”

 

Bard sighed. “Yes, we have gotten ourselves into some serious shit unfortunately. But they think we are dead so we ought to be safe for now”

 

Aragorn swallowed, his eyes were huge still. “That is just…terrible! The kids, Jean, they must be monsters”

Bard nodded, the whiskey burned down his throat but he felt that he needed it. “Yes, uh, you haven’t met my friend Thran, he is a profiler. Dwalin over there is working for him. Elisa over here is one of my fellow investigators.”

 

Aragorn just nodded, he had sort of guessed that the tall blonde was there because of Bard. Arwen was working in the kitchen like mad and she soon showed up again with cups of hot cocoa and some sandwiches. Bard felt famished, he hadn’t been thinking of that before now. Thran smiled at Arwen, his eyes were haunted and he was pale. “Do you have anything in the house which can help the kids sleep? They will be having nightmares I fear”

 

Arwen nodded and took off, came back with a packet of some sort of pills and Thran checked them. “They are too strong, but half a pill for the two oldest ones, and a quarter of one for Tilda. They will need it”

 

Bard just wanted to hold Thran, to comfort him. He saw how much it took out of the man to stay calm. Jean went to help Arwen and Dwalin stretched his legs and groaned. He was obviously sore and he had some nasty burns on his arms and hands. Aragorn tipped his head. “What about Jean’s horses?”

 

Bard managed to smile. “Safe, she managed to let them out, the propane tanks blew up, the house is no more”

 

Aragorn gaped in disbelief. “So that was what we felt? The whole house shook some while ago, we thought it was an earthquake”

 

Bard cringed, that bad? “Uh, that would be it yes, it was quite a hefty explosion”

 

Aragorn looked impressed. “No shit!”

 

The kids had eaten and gotten the heat back in their bodies and Jean took them upstairs to get them to bed. There was a huge guest room there with several beds. She stayed with them, didn’t get back down and Bard knew that she would care for them now, she probably wouldn’t leave the room at all. Bard knew that Jean needed someone to care for, someone who would take her mind away from all that she had lost. Without the kids she would fall apart for sure.

 

Dwalin emptied his glass of whiskey and sighed. “I am not young anymore, damn it. I need a nap, or many. I feel like I have been shot!”

 

Bard had to grin. “You have been shot! Remember? Go find a bed, sleep. We’ll discuss what to do tomorrow”

 

Dwalin yawned and got up, staggered toward the livingroom. Arwen had made a bed for him there with a matrass and some sheets. He didn’t need much more to sleep. Aragorn stared at Bard, his eyes were narrow. “Are you sure you are safe?”

 

Bard sighed and leaned his head into his hands, feeling shaky. “For the moment yes, but not for long I fear. Let’s just say that I need to contact the rest of the team in some way, and by the way, do you have a laptop I can borrow?”

 

Aragorn nodded and got up, returned with a small laptop. It was old and the screen a bit cloudy but it did work. Bard took the hard drive Olorin had given him and plugged it inn, Thran sat down next to him and they stared at the text. Elisa had been silent the whole time, now she smiled and nodded at Aragorn. “I have parked outside, but the car needs to be hidden, is there something like a garage or something where it will be less visible?”

 

Aragorn nodded, he did look nervous. “The old silo, it has a door in it, you can park inside of it. It is dry and all but nobody would expect a car to be hidden in there”

 

She smiled, a genuine smile. “Excellent, show me the way”

 

The two left and Thran and Bard stared at the information on the screen. It was hard to believe but as they read they realized that it was true, and that Olorin hadn’t exaggerated at all. Thran stared at Bard and his eyes were pleading. “What can we do? I cannot bare the thought of what Legolas must be going through now, he must think I am dead poor lad”

 

Bard nodded. “Yes, but I have a plan”

 

Thran looked at the text on the screen. “Don’t tell me that…”

 

Bard nodded. “Yes, yes damn it. I believe him, I have to. I have seen what happened, it goes against my rational mind but what else can I do? I can ask her for a favour on your behalf if you cannot join me, she can get him back”

 

Thran swallowed hard. “I…I cannot even believe that anyone would go that far for me. Bard, I…I don’t think I can come with you, it would…I wouldn’t be able to cope with it, a thing like that…I am supposed to be a scientist, to believe in logics. This goes against…everything!”

 

Bard nodded. “It truly does now doesn’t it? But there is no other way, we cannot find Legolas using ordinary means, they are watching Thran, I bet they are out there trying to look for any clues as to where we are, if they discover any signs of life we’ll have them down our throats once more”

 

Thran cringed but nodded. “I just…I want Lindir in jail Bard, not dead. I don’t care if she makes her victims suffer before they die, it isn’t enough”

 

Bard caressed his hand. “I understand, I will see what I can do”

 

Thran grasped the hand, hard. “If he has hurt my son though…Then please, let her do whatever she wants with that bastard, I don’t care”

 

Bard embraced him. “Will do, come, we need to rest. Tomorrow we’ll see if there is a way to contact the others. I bet they will be trying to find us somehow, I feel that they will”

 

Thran sighed. “I don’t think I can sleep now, I am too….oh I don’t know!”

 

Bard smiled and kissed his brow. “I know, I think we need some pills too”

 

Thran tried to smile. “Bless the pills right?”

 

Bard nodded and took his hand, helped him up. He dragged the man with him to the bedroom they had been given. “Yes, bless the pills”

 

-----------------------------------------------------------------------

 

Legolas was scared, he didn’t know where he was, just that his head hurt terribly and he was nauseous. He had woken up by the sound of the floorboards creaking and then there was a sudden flash of light and something hit him on the head. It had knocked him out, he was old enough to understand that. When he woke up he had been tied up and he could smell gasoline and oil and he heard an engine roaring. He was in the trunk of a car! Someone had kidnapped him and he just knew who it was. Goddamn Lindir, how he hated that man. He couldn’t understand what his father had seen in him.

 

Lindir was pretty, that was true enough but there were plenty of pretty guy out there who were nice. He liked Bard, he wasn’t that pretty but he was kind and strong and Legolas knew that Bard was good. He would be good for his dad. Legolas had accepted that his father was gay, that he was born out of the need of having an heir. He never had a good relationship with his mother, his nanny and the other servants working at his father’s home had been more family than her. She had only cared about pretty dresses and fancy parties and the love she had given him had been hollow at its best.

 

Legolas didn’t want to give in to his despair, the bad men would want to hurt his dad, he just knew they would. But his dad had Bard now, and he somehow knew that Bard didn’t let anyone he cared about get hurt. He had seen how his dad’s eyes did shine when he stared at the cop and it felt nice, he was glad his dad was feeling happy again. Back at school some of the other kids were making fun of him for having a gay dad but he didn’t care. His nanny often said that you love someone with your heart and your soul, not that which defines your physical gender, he often thought that she was very smart. But now he was cold and his body hurt, it was dark all around him and it did stink a bit. The room he was in wasn’t large, not much wider than he was long and perhaps a wee bit longer and he sniffed and tried to understand where he could be. It did smell like a garage in a way for there was a scent of rubber, and he heard a distant hum which indicated that there was a busy road not far from there.

 

 

He had learned to use his senses, the man who trained him had taught him how to hear and smell and just feel more than before and now that became very useful. He whistled, the sound was somewhat muted, not sharp as if he was in a concrete room. The walls were wood then, an old building? There was a distinct smell of mould and something which reminded him of old stale bread? He felt around him with his fingers spread, he was laying on a blanket, it was wool but not soft or fancy, just a very cheap blanket. The floor was concrete though, and covered with dust? He smelled  it, felt it between his fingers. It was too dark for him to see but the dust was soft, almost like a powder. He put some on his finger, tasted it with his tongue carefully.  It was flour, very old flour. This had to be an old bakery, was there any of those in the city? He had no idea. There had to be a way to tell his dad that he was alive, that he was captured.

 

A feeling of loneliness overwhelmed him, after all he was just a lad and not at all prepared for something like this. He sobbed and curled up, refused to cry but his head hurt and he was very afraid even if he didn’t want to admit that to himself. His grandfather had said that a real man never does cry, it had sounded harsh and Legolas hadn’t liked his grandfather at all but he tried to be brave. He startled when he heard a faint sound, something was moving and he gasped and pressed himself against the wall, what was this? Then he heard a soft Mrooo and realized that it was a cat. He loved cats, cats were nice. He relaxed a bit. “Kitty? Here kitty”

 

He made his voice soft and hoped that the cat would come to him, then he wouldn’t be so alone anymore. There was another soft miaou and then he could faintly see the outline of a cat, it was black and it was rather large and heading for him. He smiled. “Pretty kitty, come”

 

The cat sauntered up to him, purring like a chainsaw, he saw that it had gold earrings and a collar which appeared to be made of gold as well. Odd, who does that to their pet? But the cat licked his hand and laid down in his lap, purring so hard it made him vibrate. He giggled and laid down, pulled the cat tighter and he felt better right away. The warm body soothed him, made him feel loved and protected and he slowly drifted off to sleep. The cat stayed awake, golden eyes were watching the darkness, protecting this unspoiled and innocent light from the terrors of the night. Bast was doing her duty, as she always had, protect the children, make them safe. Her sister would come soon enough, and then things would be made right again. She kept purring, the child’s sleep would be undisturbed.

Thou shall know my name... by Nuredhel

Chapter 10 : Thou shall know my name…

 

 

Judith, Faramir and Thor had sought refuge in the home of Thor’s friends. Now it was up to them to locate the others and Judith sat there with a note book in her hand. It was small and black and contained a long row of phone numbers but there were no names attached to them. Thor stared at it. “What is that?”

 

Judith swallowed and grimaced. “I have learned to be careful alright? I do have a very good memory and I don’t need to write down the names of my friends. I know which phone number each person owns.”

 

Beorn had taken off to “organize some stuff” and Thor was getting restless. The news were telling of some rather odd reactions among the people. They had been ready to storm the police station in anger of the in their eyes too gentle treatment of the criminals but now the attitude had taken an abrupt 180 degrees turn. When they learned through Lobelia that the police in fact had been controlled and ordered around by strangers the men and women in blue became heroes once more and Thor knew that any agents who happened to be out there now would be in great trouble. People would keep their eyes open and if someone did try to do something which could be interpreted as an act of hostility towards the police force they had it coming.

 

Judith wrote down some of the phone numbers and found the phone Thor had gotten. She smiled faintly. “I have no idea of whether or not I am right here, but I think I can guess where almost everybody are.”

 

Thor frowned. “I didn’t know that you knew all the investigators that well?”

 

She smiled faintly. “I do, it is my job to notice things and I do, even when the people I am surrounded by are alive still”

 

Faramir chuckled and she sent him a rather sharp glance. “Hush you, my job is no less important than that of you agents. I find the final evidence, the cause of death!”

 

Thor knew that Judith was very proud of her job and she always did her very best. He saw that she dialled a number and waited for a moment. A gruff voice answered at the other end and she made her voice rather soft. “Excuse me, but is Hernando there?”

 

Thor frowned, Hernando?! What the fuck? The voice sounded a bit relieved when it rather briskly told her that there were nobody there by that name. She smiled. “Oh, I am sorry, but I am working at the coroner’s office and have a message for the biggest chimney there is in this town, “if you don’t quit polluting the U.N will make you pay a huge fine” I hope that message gets through? It is as clear as Brightwater and Updale glass”

 

Thor held his breath, the street the station was on was named Brightwater street and straight across it was a small shop named Updale glass. He knew what she was trying to do.

The voice at the other end was replaced by one they knew, this was Fernando for sure and he was coughing lightly. “Judith? Is that you? Bloody hell, what is going on?”

 

She swallowed. “Listen, I don’t have time to explain now, but can you find us? Do you know where the others may be? In that case contact them, we need to gather and make a plan”

 

Fernando sounded a bit exasperated but he was obviously thinking fast. “I may know where Duke and Leonard are, I can try to call them”

 

Judith nodded. “Do it, and ask them to come here too. We are at the friends of Thor’s wife’s place, Roseberry street 87”

 

Fernando did cough again. “Will do”

 

Thor heard him hang up and he made a grimace. “I know where Albert is hiding, it is a secret of ours, he has a small fishing cabin.”

 

Judith smiled and gave him the phone. “Does it have phone reception?”

 

Thor took a deep breath. “It does, he will recognize my voice”

 

He did take the phone and went behind a wall for a few seconds, they heard him speak and then he returned. “He will be coming, eventually”

 

She sat down again and crossed her legs. “Who else do we need?”

 

Faramir shrugged. “Bard and Thran of course? They were heading for Bard’s mother in law’s place”

 

Judith was thinking. “I have no idea of whether or not they are there still. What about Elisa?”

 

Thor looked nervous. “She is absolutely in danger, she does know a lot and she is too unafraid to back off. How did you contact her?”

 

Judith shrugged. “An old Fax machine, I doubt that they will be tapping into that”

 

The couple who lived in the house entered the living room, both looked a bit shocked. “Guys, the news….they think something have happened outside of the city, the seismographs have picked up one hell of a tremor, 4.9 on the Richter scale. Something must have been blown up”

 

Thor went pale, he almost sank down. “Oh Gods, Thran and Bard….”

 

Judith swallowed hard. “Listen, we don’t know if it was something related to them at all, it could be something else all together. “

 

Faramir was wild eyed and Thor looked as if he was about to piss himself, he was trembling all over. “Can we get there? “

 

Judith rolled her eyes. “Of course not! The others may be coming right? If we show up there we will be like sitting ducks, do you want to blow our cover completely?”

 

Faramir suddenly looked as if he had discovered the light for the first time and that it had been burning right under his hose the entire time. “Judith, didn’t Elisa have a hacker friend, what was his name?”

 

Judith frowned and looked uncertain. “Uh…I don’t know?”

 

Thor sighed. “Erestor, his name is Erestor. But I don’t know if that is his real name”

 

Faramir got up and ran out into the kitchen, came back with a laptop, “This belongs to the kids, nothing but games and home work on it, nothing they can track us by.”

 

He opened a tab and started typing, Judith stared at him. “What are you doing?”

 

Faramir looked as if he was focusing completely upon his task. “Trying to contact him, there are channels on the net which the hackers use to communicate. Please, is there something I can use to confirm that we are Elisa’s friends and not the enemy?”

 

Thor was thinking fast. “She has a stuffed toy, a my little pony. It is pink and blue and she has named it Mr fluffles, she used to bring it to work the first years she worked here”

 

Faramir typed and then he raised his hands. “Right, it is all up to him now, we can just wait”

 

Judith still looked very confused. “What are you doing?”

 

He smiled. “We have Sat’s out there haven’t we? I bet we can get a look at the action from above?”

 

Thor gaped. “Are you nuts?! You cannot turn a multi billion dollar surveillance Sat just to take a look at the site of an explosion?!”

 

Faramir grinned, a wide and wicked grin. “Oh? I cannot? Watch me! If I get in contact with this Erestor dude I can give him the codes. I bet there are many interested in seeing the truth of what happened.”

 

Thor just shook his head and Judith looked mildly optimistic. “Faramir, the Sat’s, they do also have thermal camera’s right?”

 

He nodded, “Yes, so?”

 

She took a deep breath. “We can use them to check if anybody is alive down there?”

 

Faramir sort of grimaced. “Now there is a rather small chance it will work but we can try, if Erestor is online that is”

 

Judith sighed. “Let us hope that he is, he must have seen the news like all others?”

 

Faramir made a vague gesture. “Who knows? Hackers often have a somewhat weak connection to reality”

 

Thor was about to say something when there was a pling coming from the Laptop and Faramir sat down again. “So, what is up? I understand that you guys are in shit up to your necks.”

 

Faramir did read it out loud and he became frantic, typed back. “Yes, Elisa is missing, and something bad happened outside of the city just a while ago, we need to look at it, it could be connected to two of our friends. Can you access the Sat control?”

 

Erestor was quiet for a few seconds. “It is nice to finally meet someone capable of understanding and appreciating my talent, a good day to you Agent Faramir.”

 

Faramir did wet his lips. “How do you know who I am?!”

 

The answer came immediately. “Duh, I am a hacker, and the laptop you are on have a webcam? I can see your sorry asses, not that your ass is sorry Miss, it is rather perky”

 

Judith blushed and hissed. Faramir sighed. “Can you help us? We need to find Elisa, and Bard and Thran. It could be that she has tried to find them”

 

Erestor typed back. “Brave girl ha? She has brass balls the size of church bells that one, too bad she often acts before she thinks. Let me see what I can do, I will be back in five!”

 

Faramir smiled. “He will be back in five. That must be good right?”

 

Thor crossed his arms. “Let us hope so.”

 

It took seven minutes, then the laptop did pling once more and Faramir looked eager. “Listen up slackers, there are people watching Elisa’s house, and Thor’s as well. I do also see some dudes with surveillance equipment in the area around the station. I think there may be a mobile base somewhere in the city, probably a van of some sorts”

 

Faramir looked flabbergasted. “How do you know this?”

 

Erestor typed back. “Surveillance cameras? Hello? They are everywhere and there for the taking. I can hack anything remember? Do you want me to find that mobile base?”

 

Faramir typed. “Yes, yes please, Do it”

 

The answer was quick. “On it”

 

Thor was obviously impressed. “Damn it, he is good!”

 

Judith winced. “Scary is what he is, imagine that power? Everything is digital these days, guys like him can quite literally erase your entire life!”

 

Faramir nodded. “Good thing he is working for us then!”

 

There was a silence which lasted for about then minutes, then he was back. “They have a base near the station yes, it is a black van parked in one of the parking houses, they are trying to find you guys, my oh my are they frustrated, and pissed too. Some agents just went missing, I bet it has to do with the explosion”

 

Judith took a deep breath. “Ask him about the Sat’s?”

 

Faramir did and a new tab opened, it showed the entire area from above and as they sat there it zoomed in. “You are in luck, one of the Sat’s of the geological survey are above you right now, they are redirecting it as we speak, they fear it could have been something seismic which caused that tremor”

 

The city became visible and then the camera angle changed a bit and aimed at the area south of the city. It continued to zoom in and Faramir asked. “Are you controlling it now?”

 

The answer came right away. “Hell yeah”

 

Judith frowned. “Frisky guy”

 

Thor smiled. “Yes, and arrogant. But he has reason to be”

 

The camera revealed a huge area which was completely flattened and smouldering and in the middle was a crater. Thor moaned and Faramir closed his eyes for a moment. “Can you switch to Thermal?”

 

The image changed, now they saw several glowing dots moving around and Thor squinted. “Several people, that truck over there is a fire truck, a small one. Probably the local fire brigade. There are some horses over in that direction, I know that Bard’s mother in law is a breeder. I do also see two coyote’s and…over there, is that a ditch? It is a car, and corpses, almost cold”

 

The camera turned and zoomed in max. “Damnation, it is corpses, several. Could it be them?”

 

There was text coming. “That car has been hit by another truck, I can see that the entire side of it is pushed inn. There is a heat track leading away from the farm, it is cooling down though, from the time of the explosion I think”

 

Thor leaned over Faramir’s shoulder. “Track it!”

 

The camera was turning slightly, they could see a faint glowing line, barely visible over the otherwise blackened terrain. Judith held her breath, the track was not visible to them but Erestor did probably have some sort of equipment which allowed him to stay on it still “They are on a farm road, it leads to an old Turkey farm.”

 

Thor snapped his fingers. “I remember that, Bard mentioned it once. Neighbours of Jean who are about to lose their farm, they could be hiding there”

 

Faramir typed and a phone number came back, with an address and names. He turned around and looked at Judith. “Do we call?”

 

Judith shook her head. “No, are you nuts? Considering what just happened they need to rest, we’ll call them tomorrow. And if they are trying to hide we could blow their cover, we’ll wait.”

 

He typed back. “Great, can you come back to us at nine? We all need some rest now, and we have incoming people, I hope”

 

Erestor answered. “Yes, I have seen them, they are heading towards your position. Stay low, don’t make any calls, the phone lines are tapped for sure, and don’t use your own computer’s. I will do some sniffing while you rest, discretely of course”

 

Thor nudged Faramir who wrote. “Great, the more we know about our opponent the better it is. Be careful”

 

Erestor was probably grinning. “Of course, I’ll be back”

 

Then he was gone and Faramir closed the laptop. “Right. What now?”

 

Judith took a deep breath. “We wait for Fernando, Duke and Leonard, Thor did call Albert and we ought to pray for Bard and Thran and the kids, I just hope they are alright”

 

Thor sighed. “Yes, let’s hope so. But these new enemies of ours, I don’t think they have much moral at all. Murdering children is probably nothing to them.”

 

He went to get some food and Faramir stretched and yawned, he felt very tired and Judith also knew that the day had been way too long. “Let us sleep for a few hours, I bet we will feel better afterwards. “

 

 

Faramir bit his lower lip. “Yes, I think so too”

 

She pointed at the couch with a faint grin. “Yes, let us rest.”

 

Faramir took the long couch and she went for the smaller one and Thor got a spare bed in one of the kid’s bedrooms. They just hoped that things would get better in the morning.

----------------------------------------

Bard was awakened by Elisa who did look as if she hadn’t slept at all, he yawned and stretched and felt like shit. Everything had changed and his mind was reeling with the consequences of what they just had been through. What were they to do with themselves now? The farm was gone, where could the kids go, where could Jean go? He groaned and Elisa smiled. “There is hot water in the bathtubs again, go take a bath. You need it, you look like a savage!”

 

Bard ran his fingers through his hair and felt that it was greasy and full of dust. He got up and more or less staggered into the bathroom. Thran was already there, he had bathed and was getting clothes on, he had blue circles under his eyes and his skin was paler than ever before. Bard couldn’t help it, he gave him a quick hug before he filled the tub and got inn. It felt divine and he was like a new man when he finally got rid of the last remnants of the night’s events. When he returned to the livingroom Thran and Bard and Elisa were chewing away at some sandwiches and the kids were gathered in a corner, trying to play a game. It was rather obvious that both Sigrid and Bain tried to make Tilda forget about last night. They were such great kids and Bard hoped that this didn’t end with them having to be separated. Elisa nodded and turned the laptop around, they had obviously been going through the stuff Olorin gave them. “I have been thinking”

 

Bard yawned and stretched, his muscles felt much better now. “Really? And it doesn’t hurt?”

 

Elisa snorted at his joke. “Ha ha, very funny dumbass, but listen, the group which that scientist was creating is now being controlled by his son, and they have had like decades to catch the shrike, but they haven’t really tried before. They have monitored it, these files are proof of that, but it isn’t until now that they have stuck their heads out of the shell and actually made an attempt at getting the thing.”

 

Bard sat down and took a cup, filled it with coffee which was black enough to be regarded as tar. It burned almost as much as the whiskey the night before. “You are right, that tells us something”

 

Dwalin came strolling and he did look well rested, he was probably used to sleeping in less than ideal places. “They are in a hurry?”

 

Thran snapped his fingers. “They are, you are right damn it, what could that be about?”

 

Elisa stared at the laptop, her eyes were dark. “The shrike represents two options folks, either a new sort of weapon, or something even more precious”

 

The others looked at her and she bared her teeth, there was something almost feral in her features. “Immortality, I bet the leader is starting to feel the hand of time, he wants it before he gets too old”

 

Thran frowned. “That could be it, but they haven’t really made their presence known before right?. He must have been aware of his own mortality for a while, no, I think this is something which leaves them with even less time than we think”

 

Elisa turned her head, her eyes expressed curiosity. “So?”

 

Thran took a deep breath. “I think that man could be dying, I think he is ill, and desperate. Heck, they have been tracking this creature for almost a century, they know it isn’t human, they know it is dangerous and judging from what I have read so far they haven’t dared to go anywhere near it, until now! And now they try to wipe out any resistance, remove every obstacle and even murder those who know what they are up to?”

 

Elisa smiled. “Damn, you are right. They are desperate and if they are desperate they’ll do mistakes.”

 

Dwalin grinned widely. “Amen to that, now what?”

 

Bard took a deep breath, straightened himself up. “We deal with the important stuff first, Legolas. He is out there somewhere and we know who took him. We just don’t know where. I will try to use what’s been given to find him”

 

Elisa frowned. “You are gonna summon her?! Goddamn it Bard, they say I am bold…”

 

Bard bit his teeth together. “We are chosen right? We ought to be safe, we find Thran’s boy, then we deal with that fucking group”

 

Elisa tilted her head. “You need to summon her on holy ground, not many churches in this area?”

 

Bard nodded “ Correct, but there is an old Indian burial ground not far from here, it just says holy ground, the type of religion isn’t mentioned at all”

 

Thran swallowed, he looked drained. Bard felt so sorry for him, his own kids were safe there and Thran had to live with the fear that his son could be in danger. “I will go with you, I can help, I have to help!”

 

Bard nodded. “I know, but we have to prepare and prepare well. We’ll need weapons and equipment and probably more manpower as well”

 

Dwalin frowned. “You expect trouble? Why don’t you just tell that thing to go and get the kid and get rid of the bad guys?”

 

Bard shook his head. “I don’t think that’s how it works. I could tell her to kill them all and she probably would but getting Legolas? I think that is something a human has to do.”

 

Elisa nodded. “You are right, that is why you are chosen, to deal with such things. “

 

Bard tipped his head. “So, is there any way you can contact the others? Thor for example?”

 

Elisa opened her mouth for a second and then the phone suddenly rang, quite loudly. They all stared at each other and Aragorn came from the kitchen and answered it, he looked puzzled and turned towards them. “Is there anybody here named Mr fluffles?”

 

Elisa let out a snort. “Oh Gods, it is Thor, put it on loudspeaker if you can”

 

Aragorn did and Elisa gasped. “Boss, is it you?”

 

Thor’s voice was a little gruff. “It is, Judith and Faramir and some of the others are here as well”

 

Bard closed his eyes in relief. “The station, how many are dead?”

 

Thor sighed. “Bard, I am so glad to hear your voice again, but we lost many, I am very sorry, but these bastards seems to care naught about anything but their own goals, whatever they are”

 

Elisa leaned forth. “Listen, I met someone, someone who knew everything about them, and the shrike. He died last night, but he left us with a heck of a lot of material and knowledge and I will send it all to you if you have a safe computer. But first and foremost, the bastards who attacked us first took Thran’s boy and we plan on getting him back tonight.”

 

Thor fell silent for a few seconds, then he came back and his voice was tense. “I was afraid of something like that. We have an email address you can use, it is not one they will know anything about.”

 

Elisa smiled. “How did you find us?”

 

They heard Faramir in the background. “That hacker of yours, he redirected a Sat and we saw the heat signature of the car you used. “

 

Elisa chuckled. “Erestor is clever, oh so clever. Listen, if you are in contact with him, ask him to check something out. The leader of the group, it could be that he is ill somehow, we need to know if that is so. In that case it is no wonder they are so eager at catching the shrike, they think it could heal him somehow, Can he check that?”

 

Faramir sounded eager. “I can certainly try, I can message him right away”

 

Elisa put all the info in a folder and sent it over, she crossed her fingers. “Now, read through this, it is all true even if it sounds more or less like a fairy tale. If you are ready for it we’ll meet later and discuss what to do next, but the kid is first priority okay?”

 

Thor could be heard moving “Alright, we are prepared, I have a friend who can get the equipment we need.”

 

Bard smiled slowly. “Excellent, call us back when you have read the files. We need to prepare as well”

 

Aragorn had been standing in the background. Arwen was upstairs taking care of Jean who had been more affected by the events than they previously had believed, she was really struggling. "I am not even gonna start trying to understand what this is all about”

 

Bard turned to him and his face was a bit grim. “Aragorn, you lost all your birds because of a disease right? We just found out that someone tried to buy Jean’s farm at the time Sophia died, and her death was murder, not suicide. Did a Bombur Dwight try to buy this place?”

 

Aragorn frowned, then his chin sort of dropped. “Oh my God, ah, yes?”

 

Bard smiled, a stiff smile. “Great, now I know for sure.”

 

The black haired man was blinking. “Shit, are you saying that….”

 

Bard nodded. “Yes!”

 

Aragorn swore. “Oh fuck, goddamn it! What a jerk!”

 

Bard smiled but the smile wasn’t pretty. “Yes, too bad he is dead, or else I would have forgotten all about being a cop and just put a bullet in his obnoxious head”

 

Aragorn was breathing fast. “So that was how that goddamn disease entered our buildings, someone brought it here, on purpose.”

 

Bard nodded. “Yes, so now you know. If I can find evidence of that I bet the insurance company can be persuaded into giving you at least some of your money back. I remember that they were less than thrilled by what happened?”

 

Aragorn leaned against the doorframe. “Less than thrilled?! They were enraged, we didn’t get anything back for they claimed that we hadn’t been careful enough, that it was caused by neglect and poor routines”

 

Bard scoffed and crossed his legs. “I thought so, I will look into it, when this is solved.”

 

Aragorn wetted his lips. “Listen, if you could do that, it would mean everything. We are at the bottom of the treasure chest here, our accounts are empty. Last week Arwen sold her mother’s gold watch, just to get money for food.”

 

Bard nodded. “Shouldn’t have to be like that now does it?”

 

Elisa leaned forth. “Listen, you are going to that burial ground? Now?!”

 

Bard smiled, a faint smile. “Yes, I am scared as fuck yes, but I have to do it. You can deal with the others when they call back, you know more than me at this stage”

 

Thran had been silent. “I will go with you, I won’t meet…her, but I will be there, for you”

 

Bard smiled and reached out, caressed Thran’s hand. “Thanks”

 

Thran blushed ever so slightly and Dwalin chuckled. “You guys are adorable, are you aware of that?”

 

Bard took a deep breath. “I better get going, it is a couple of hours walk away”

 

Aragorn interrupted. “No it isn’t, there is a tractor road following the river, I have an ATV you can borrow. It is small and not very fast but it beats walking and it has room for two”

 

Bard smiled. “Thank you, it is very appreciated.”

 

Bard got up and Aragorn found some clothes he could borrow, they were a bit short but useable still. Thran too got a huge jacket and a pair of overalls and with his hair pulled up into a cap he did look like some farm worker instead of a professor. Bard went over to the kids and gave them a swift kiss on the head. Sigrid looked a bit worried. “Where are you going da?”

 

Bard smiled. “Listen, the bad guys took Legolas, I have to go and see if we can get him back right? There is someone who might be able to help us and I am gonna go and see that…person now. Be good and don’t be a menace while I am away, I will be back soon enough”

 

Tilda started crying and Bard knew that the poor kid probably would need tons and tons of counselling, a good thing Thran could help.

 

They followed Aragorn outside, the long buildings which had housed the turkeys looked like a ghost town now, the paint flaking and the feed wagons empty and rusty. Behind the turkey houses were a small barn with a few household animals, some chickens, a couple of pigs and some sheep. It was just for food for themselves and Aragorn petted one of the ewes and opened a small door. An ATV did stand there, one of the smaller type. It wasn’t very strong but Aragorn petted the seat. “The tank is full, I use it when I go checking for coyotes, they used to dig into the turkey houses before I electrified the foundation.”

 

Bard had to gasp. “You did what?!”

 

Aragorn grinned, a wry grin. “I attached several miles of fencing wire along the foundation and attached it to the electrical grid. It did do the trick. We could smell fried coyote for a few weeks but then they stopped coming. I guess they realized that it wasn’t worth the risk.”

 

Bard checked the wheel, new and full of air. He turned to Aragorn again. “Do you have any sort of weapon, just in case?”

 

Aragorn nodded and went over to a closet, it was locked but he opened it and took out an old shotgun. “My badger gun, here, I don’t have much ammo though”

 

He tossed a box with five shots in over to Bard who took them and put them in his pocket. “Badgers too? What the heck, did your turkeys sort of attract every beast in the area?”

 

Aragorn nodded. “Yes, even bears. We have had racoons trying to break inn, snakes, possums, cats, dogs, one day we even saw an eagle try to peck its way through one of the roof windows. I guess the turkeys were temptation incarnate for all predators”

 

Bard mounted the ATV and Thran sat down behind him. “Alright. If someone should come while we are away, assume that they are the enemy. You can keep an eye on the road from here yes?”

 

Aragorn nodded. “Yeah, if someone comes we can see them from miles away”

 

Bard started the machine and Thran grasped onto his waist, it felt oddly reassuring to know that he wasn’t going to do this alone. “If you see something, anything! Get the kids into the basement or something and hide them”

 

Aragorn smiled but the smile was pale. “We have a tornado cellar, behind the old outhouse. It looks like a piece of metal someone has left there if you don’t look too closely”

 

Bard smiled and took Aragorn’s hand. “Great, if something happens go there with the kids, the others can deal with any attackers”

 

He backed the thing out of the garage and drove carefully through the barn not to disturb the animals. Thran leaned his chin onto Bard’s shoulder. “You think you can help them?”

 

Bard smiled. “I am sure I can help them, I know people Thran, and some do owe me favours, if this Bombur dude left any sort of evidence of having killed their birds I will find it.”

 

Thran sighed. “And Sophia”

 

Bard speeded up and headed towards the river. “Yes, nothing will bring her back but just seeing it, black upon white, it would feel…”

 

Thran finished the sentence. “Like closure”

 

Bard nodded. “Yes, closure”

---------------------------------------------------

Thor and the others gathered around the files Elisa had sent and they all stared at each other with rather shocked expressions upon their faces. What in heck’s name? And Bard and Thran were suddenly among those who were monitoring this creature? Thor did swipe the sweat from his brow and he felt dizzy. He was the leader of a police station damn it, all this …this rambling about ancient gods, Nazi’s and mad scientists were just not what he was used to but it was true. He had to believe the evidence and the evidence was there, right in front of their eyes. Judith took a look at the pages of text, dates and images and she leaned back, a bit pale. “We are not made to understand these things, damn it, mother always said that some things aren’t meant to be understood by mere mortals, just accepted.”

 

Faramir nodded slowly. “Look at this, goddamn it, that scientist they brought over, he was really a beast all on his own.”

 

The files showed images of starved prisoners, victims of terrible experiments and Judith felt a surge of anger. “And now his son is just as bad I bet, if not worse. We are gonna do it right? We are gonna put an end to his power?”

 

Thor sneered. “We are gonna put an end to him, simple as that. Period”

 

Faramir stared at him, eyes wide open. “Are you kidding me? You are gonna…That is not how things are supposed to be done!”

 

Thor nodded. “I know, we are cops, we uphold the law and abide it right? But that man…he has the power to evade the law completely, to let someone else take the fall for him, to escape without any consequences to himself. Is that justice?”

 

Faramir looked down. “No, it isn’t”

 

Thor had a very hard expression upon his face. “Good, then we agree. I bet the Shrike will want a word or two with him as well”

 

Judith sighed. “Why can’t we call her by her real name, she is Sekhmet isn’t she? “

 

They stared at each other and Albert shrugged. “That name is as good as any I bet, much more elegant than a bird’s name”

 

Thor smiled. “Alright, Sekhmet it is then. Beorn has gotten some equipment for us, I say we prepare for a fight. We cannot let Thran’s lad be injured, so he is first priority. The old bastard can wait, he has waited for this long so a day more cannot hurt. “

 

Faramir went over to the laptop and then he waved his hand. “Erestor has sent us a mail, already! Damn the man is fast.”

 

Judith looked eager. “Read it, come on”

 

Faramir bent down and opened the mail, he blinked twice, then he sat down. “They were right, the old man is really ill. This is a part of a journal, from some specialist. He has even used a fake name, but if Erestor says it is him, it is him.”

 

Thor almost growled. “Come on, what is the matter with that bastard?”

 

Faramir made a grimace. “Ah Judith, come here, I have no clue about what this is, I don’t even know how to pronounce it”

 

Judith moved over and she read through the text fast. “ Aha, now that is proof that karma does exist.”

 

Everybody stared at her and she grinned, the grin was wicked. “It is a very rare nerve disease, it makes the nerves sort of malfunction and the sufferer will lose the ability to control the body”

 

Thor cocked his head. “Is it painful?”

 

Judith bared her teeth, there was glee in her eyes. “Very!”

 

She pointed at the text. “It does give extreme burning pains and it can also give nasty sores where the nerves are close to the skin. Earlier they believed that it was some sort of syphilis”

 

Thor had to laugh. “Karma indeed. But it is fatal?!”

 

She nodded. “Always, it will take some years before the sufferer dies but they do die, the body shuts down”

 

Faramir frowned. “Like ALS?”

 

She shook her head. “No, this is worse, way worse. Not as fast, very painful and it makes you disfigured too, the sores can be very nasty”

 

Fernando and Duke cringed and Leonard sort of shrunk, he looked as if he was about to piss himself. “So everything hurts?”

 

She nodded. “At the last stage yes, swallowing, moving, clothes chaffing against the skin, urinating, basically everything which involves nerves. It is a hellish disease and fortunately very rare”

 

Thor took a deep breath. “Let me guess, hereditary?”

 

Judith frowned. “Yes? Have you heard of it?”

 

Thor shook his head. “No, but you know, the sins of the father’s”

 

Judith got a stern expression on her face. “But it does explain why they suddenly try to capture the shrike by using our evidence. And the info we got from Bard also tells us that we were right when we assumed that there is something out there which can enable them to control her. They just don’t know what it is”

 

Thor nodded, he sat down in an armchair and for a moment he did look very determined, like some world leader about to sign some very important treaty or something. “Well, at least we do know how to lure the old man out then”

 

Judith looked confused. “Ha?”

 

Thor smiled, a wide grin. “With an artefact of course, one which he cannot resist. You do have friends at the Smithsonian right? They have got to have something stored there which can entice him, something old he doesn’t know anything about or something fresh out of Egypt. Doesn’t matter, it just has to look promising”

 

Judith sort of backed off a foot. “Whoa there, we cannot just ask the Egyptology department for an ancient artefact?! They will think we are insane!”

 

Thor smiled, a slow devious smile. “We have a hacker on our side right? I am sure we could arrange so that something is delivered here at this door tomorrow by Fedex, in crisp condition”

 

Judith gaped. “You have lost me…what are you talking about?”

 

Thor grinned. “I am of course talking about the extremely rare and precious artefact they just discovered stuffed away in some crate, covered with magical hieroglyphs and so on. It will be all over the news soon, Erestor or someone else just has to be a bit creative and pretend to be an expert on old Egyptian stuff.”

 

Faramir gaped. “Seriously?”

 

Thor smiled again, like a benign king granting some loyal subject a wish. “Of course, and that precious artefact is gonna get stolen you see, by someone mysterious, and that mysterious someone is gonna have a small slip of the tongue online, leave some small breadcrumbs here and there, lead the way”

 

Judith scoffed. “And it will all be make believe? Just made up? I don’t think they will fall for that”

 

Thor smiled slowly. “There is a souvenir shop at the museum, I bet we can order something from it, some plastic statue or something and make up a fat lie, say that the thieves did replace the souvenir with the real thing or something. Let us use the media for all they are worth, isn’t that an idea as good as any?”

 

Faramir’s eyes got narrow. “Know what, that may work. If someone were to steal something very precious from the museum it would most certainly catch the attention of our enemy, and the method  is both bold and smart. Put the artefact in a box and have it sent in the mail, like some ordinary thing. Yes, I like that. But we need a pre history, and we need someone to back it up, at least until we have got the guy”

 

Judith rolled her eyes. “Fine, great, okay, I do know someone at the museum who could, for the sake of justice and so on, pretend to be an Egyptologist, and pretend to have discovered something very old and special.”

 

Thor rubbed his hands. “Then let us get to it shall we? I bet the museum will be more than willing to help us if we promise that they’ll get any artefact those bastards have in their possession.”

 

Judith had a sour expression on her face as she started to search for the address of the one person she did know. “Thank goodness that he owes me one, or else this would have been a terrible idea.”

 

Thor just snickered. “Oh don’t come here and say that police work doesn’t involve creativity, come on, this is a set up like none other. And the bait must be perfect too”

 

Faramir rolled his eyes. “ Alright, I will tell Erestor of our plan, it cannot be a huge newspaper headline, just some note in the local paper perhaps? Telling of our bold heist?  I bet that can be arranged”

 

Thor rubbed his hands. “Excellent, this will be so good!”

------------------------------------

Bard drove carefully, the road was bumpy and here and there nothing more than a muddy track along the creek. The landscape was lovely with grooves of beeches and high thick grass and here and there they did startle birds and even a few deer. Bard didn’t say anything, he was too busy trying to figure out what to do. He had no idea of how he was to summon that thing, just say “come here” like you would to your dog? Bet that would work just fine, nope! He sighed and concentrated upon keeping the vehicle on the track and Thran was clinging onto him like a monkey over the worst bumps. The burial ground was upon a small hill and it was surrounded by some tall rocks, some said they were placed there just after the last ice age. Bard had been there once before with Sophia, when they first started planning their wedding. The spot seemed sinister and he hadn’t liked it but now he had to overcome that feeling. The wind was chilly and he was glad they both wore good clothes now, Thran was quiet too and Bard knew he was worrying about his son, the whole time. They had to hurry. He drove as fast as he dared to and they saw the hill in the distance.

 

He slowed down as he approached the area used for burials, parked the ATV under a tree and Thran took off his ring and handed it over. “Here, please, I wish I could have been there with you but…”

 

Bard kissed him, very gently and felt the warm lips against his own, a surge of something very pure and very strong went through him. “I know dear, don’t blame yourself. I know that you won’t be able to handle this, you are not as pragmatic as me”

 

Thran bit his lower lip. “No, I am not, I…”

 

Bard embraced him. “Stay here, I will make sure that she’ll help us”

 

Thran sighed and kissed him swiftly. “Be safe, I cannot….!”

 

His voice cracked. “I couldn’t bear it if something happened to you”

 

Bard smiled and let his hand run through a loose lock of silky hair. “Likewise”

 

He turned and walked toward the area which was sort of marked by an old fence, some signs stood there , probably placed there as information to the locals that this was protected land and not to be farmed. The letters were almost gone and the fence had sort of flipped outwards and was heading for the ground. One more winter and it would be flat. He walked until he was well on the inside, then he put on also Thran’s ring and he felt odd, as if the world he saw with his own eyes was an illusion, something not even there. This had to be what a bad LSD trip felt like. He took a deep breath, tried to think rationally. “I am here, I am summoning you. I wear the rings, come to me”

 

It was the only thing he could think of saying and he waited, eyes almost closed and heart thundering in his chest. At first there was nothing, just the cold wind. Then he felt a burst of heat and opened his eyes. In front of him everything changed, from the terrain he knew to a sandy desert. He felt the heat from the sun and saw how it made the air shiver. Was this real? Then he felt a presence behind him, heard something moving against the sand and he held his breath, fear grasping him tightly. He shivered, the presence was so overpowering, so terrible and yet it wasn’t hostile, at least not towards him. A hand landed on his shoulder and he yelped like a startled kid, a chuckling laugher could be heard. “Oh are you that easy to scare my beautiful knight?”

 

Bard had a hard time even breathing, he was shivering from head to toe. The voice was deep and sensual and most definitely female, the voice of a seductress. “I..I have never done this before….”

 

There was more laugher, it was like the chiming of bells. “Who can say that they have, truly? Fear me not, you are beloved by me, as is your silvery lover.”

 

Bard tried to catch his breath. “I…I have a favour to ask, for him”

 

She chuckled. “You do love him so much already, that you will do for him this? Face a Goddess? Truly you are blessed, and yes, I know what boon for which you ask”

 

He swallowed. “You do?”

 

The soft laughter was like ripples over a peaceful pond. “Oh yes, I am a Goddess remember? I know everything”

 

Bard took a deep breath. “Can you help us? His son…he is everything to him”

 

She let the hand slide through Bard’s hair, it felt like a real hand, warm, with weight to it and structure. “Of course he is, you humans are such fascinating creatures, so diverse but this I can understand, your love for your offspring. The boy is safe for now, my sister is watching over him”

 

Bard didn’t know what to say and the hand kept caressing him gently. “I will help, and I will not slay the one behind it, he will be allowed to live, but punished he will be”

 

Bard looked down. “That is all that we’ll wish for”

 

She chuckled again. “Modest, that is good. I have sensed you two, for a long time. Beacons of light in an otherwise dark world, bringers of justice and hope. You are precious and rare, like a blue lotus”

 

Bard felt his heart beating like a drum. “You killed Bolg for me, why?”

 

She was straight behind him, he could feel it, he could almost feel drawn backwards towards her, as if she was a black hole and he matter. “He would have ruined you otherwise”

 

Bard frowned. “I don’t understand?”

 

She was oh so close, smelling of flowers, and something otherworldly he couldn’t identify. “But you will, soon enough.”

 

He licked his lips, feeling how dry his mouth was. “How, how do you chose them?”

 

She let her hand rest on his shoulder and he looked down out of the corner of his eye, it was a hand, a woman’s hand, larger than normal for she was very tall but still a hand, not something unnatural or odd. She sighed, a soft sound. “You mean the ones I kill?”

 

He nodded slowly and she grasped his shoulder, made him turn around. He looked down, refused to look until she grasped his chin and raised it gently. “Look at me Bowman, fear me not”

 

He opened his eyes, let out a small sigh of awe and fear. She was magnificent, he couldn’t form words which would do her justice, he simply couldn’t. She was extremely tall, over seven feet and her hair was braided into thousands of tiny braids, adorned with gold beads. She did look human, but her eyes were not. They were large and slanted and the eyes of a predator. Yet her gaze was soft, almost loving. “Those who serve good should never fear me my beauty. Only those who’s hearts are black and devoured by darkness shall know me as death”

 

He shivered, she did look very Egyptian, from her olive skin to her malachite make up but there was something more to her as well. Something which went beyond that old culture. “I…I know…”

 

She smiled. “Tell me Bowman, what is the nature of evil?”

 

He held his breath. “I…I don’t know what to answer?”

 

She sighed. “The concept is grand, too great for a human mind to fully perceive”

 

Before them he suddenly saw a scene from a road, cars drove by, one was placed on the shoulder of the road, a blue van with a family in it, the car had motor trouble. Bard gasped as a huge truck suddenly ploughed into the van from behind, literally crushing it. She pointed at the terrible scene. “What you saw is real, the driver of that truck had been awake for twenty hours straight, trying to earn enough money to fend for his family and he fell asleep at the wheel. Was he evil to do this? To kill six people in one go?”

 

Bard bit his lip, blinked, it was awful. “No, no he wasn’t evil…”

 

She purred and for a second her head was that of a cat, a giant one. “Exactly, he was being distracted, tired and in despair. He didn’t mean to kill that family.”

 

The scene shifted, a man was moving through a crowded street somewhere in a small rickety wagon pulled by a skinny donkey. Every now and then he hit the poor thing with his whip to make it move faster. “And this man, is he evil for flogging that poor beast?”

 

Bard swallowed. “I don’t know, I would say yes?”

 

She caressed his shoulder again. “If I tell you that he is doing what everybody else is doing, that this is what has been done for ages? He doesn’t know of anything else, to him it is natural”

 

Bard took a deep breath. “Then perhaps not”

 

She smiled. “Yes, good and evil does depend on the eye of the beholder, in most cases. The ones I do kill are the ones who are beyond human understanding, those who know that the things they do are wicked and still do it, because they simply don’t care! To them others are tools, things to be used”

 

Bard dared to look at her. “Psycho’s? “

 

She shook her head. “A man born with a faulty brain cannot be blamed for being the way he is. No, being evil is a conscious choice Bowman, and I chase them”

 

He nodded slowly. “Why so few, and so far apart?”

 

She smiled. “Because I cannot end all evil, I can only take those who otherwise would go on for many long years. Souls so dark and wicked nobody truly are able to see the truth about them”

 

Bard tried to smile but his lips were so tight” I…see. You have done this for a long time”

 

She lifted her hand, and before them he yet again saw a  new image. Of an Egypt at the height of its power but things were not as he had believed them to be. The streets were lighted and the pyramids were glowing, with a strange sort of power. “The history of mankind is very different from what you have been told, and way longer. Once you were able to reach the stars themselves, but that knowledge was lost. Don’t think more about this, it is too much for one person to fathom. From now on you and your lover will be able to use my gifts, to see if someone indeed is touched by darkness or not. You will age slowly, and live for a very long time. Have no fear my dear one, I take care of my own”

 

He felt himself shiver again. “What now?”

 

She bent over, kissed his brow. “Go back to the farm, rest, meet the others by the monolith. I will show you the way from there”

 

He frowned. “The monolith?”

 

She giggled. “You will know of what I speak soon, go now, you are my eyes and ears now, my weapons against the dark”

 

She was fading, like an ageing photo and he just gaped as he stared at the empty spot where she had been. His mind was reeling, how could this be true? But it was, and he staggered back to Thran who was watching him approach with nervous eyes. “Bard, are you alright?”

 

His voice was thin and Bard nodded, embraced him. “She will help us, we should meet the others and gather by the monolith and then she would show us the way”

 

Thran frowned “The monolith?...oh, I see!”

 

Bard looked shocked. “You do?”

 

Thran smiled. “The old obelisk they placed straight in the middle of the old city square, see? I have some knowledge about this city after all”

 

Bard deadpanned, “Of course, the old business district. It is mostly cheap houses and old abandoned stores now, they plan on renewing the entire area”

 

Thran petted Bard on the back. “So…she was real?”

 

He nodded. “Yes, she was…words cannot describe it Thran, we humans are not supposed to see such sights I think”

 

Thran smiled but the smile was a sad one. “I am glad you were the one to meet her then, I fear I would have gone bonkers if I had been in your shoes”

 

Bard snickered, he felt so terribly relieved, so oddly light somehow. He gave Thran the ring back. “It works, guard it well”

 

Thran nodded and Bard chuckled. “Bonkers, and you are a psychiatrist?”

 

Thran smiled vaguely. “Yes, I suppose I am.”

 

Bard started the vehicle again. “Your son is okay, I can feel it. He is unharmed, but we must hurry back. I can feel that we need to move soon”

 

Thran frowned. “I feel the same, why?”

 

Bard got the ATV onto the track again, “Because she has changed us, we are more sensitive now, have new instincts. Call it whatever you like but we will be so much better at our jobs from now on”

 

Thran just hung onto him again and they drove towards the  farm again. When they were close to the buildings Thran suddenly leaned his chin onto Bard’s shoulder again and gasped, as if he was crying. Bard stopped, shocked and turned around, stared at Thran’s teary face. “Thran, what is the matter?!”

 

The blonde embraced him, held him tight, hard ” Bard, promise me this, do never ever leave me again, I have hardly ever been so scared in all my life, the atmosphere over there, it was…terrifying, like a thunderstorm”

 

Bard held him, kissed him, caressed his hair. “I swear, I will never leave you for as long as I live”

 

Thran smiled and closed his eyes, leaned his head onto Bard’s chest. “Thank you”

 

They drove into the farm yard and parked the vehicle and they were greeted by Elisa who was very eager. “Guys, the others, they have made a plan and it is the most audacious thing I have ever heard, it is so mad it has to work!”

 

Bard hung his coat on a rack and Thran got rid of his overalls with a groan. “Do explain please”

 

Elisa grinned from one ear to the other. “See? They are gonna trick them with a fake Egyptian artefact, supposedly stolen.”

 

Bard had to laugh. “That sounds like Thor, he is bold enough to try something like that”

 

Elisa nodded. “They have gotten some guy who will pretend to be an Egyptologist and Erestor will make some fake news to insert into certain newspapers. It will happen tomorrow, the “theft” is to happen tonight”

 

Thran looked confused but Bard patted him on the back. “Don’t worry, they know what they are doing  We’ll prepare and meet them later on. Elisa, send a message, we will all meet at the old city square, at dusk. Bring everything they think we may need, it could get nasty”

 

Thran took a deep breath of air. “Things are happening now?”

 

Bard kissed him fast, and rather hard. “Yes, at last things are truly on the way, vengeance is coming, and with the Goddess at our side I bet they won’t stand a chance”

 

Thran sent him a pale grin. “Let us hope you are right”

 

Bard just smiled, a new sort of energy was filling him. “Thran, I am right, do never doubt that alright? We will get Legolas back tonight”

 

Thran smiled but he was trembling slightly. “I trust you, we will get him back”

 

Bard pulled him with him towards the fireplace. “Damn right we are. Now, let us eat, get warm and prepare. Understood?”

 

Thran managed to smile. “Understood”

 

Guns and cats and old bastards by Nuredhel

Chapter 11: Guns and cats and old bastards

 

There had been people visiting the room, he just knew it. A bucket had been placed there and a plate with some food had been left but he had been asleep and he hadn’t seen anyone. The cat stayed however, it didn’t appear as if the one visiting the room had seen it. Legolas was glad, he was afraid they would have scared it away. But he knew that Lindir had been there, the pretty young man had always used this rather odd perfume and Legolas did catch a whiff of it, every now and then. It had gotten a bit lighter as night changed to day and he knew that he in fact was locked in a crate, a huge crate. There were cracks in it and he had seen through them but saw little, just grey walls and a tiny window or rather vent high upon a wall. The little light there was could be seen coming from that. He wondered how the cat could have gotten into the crate but cats are very agile, there could be some hidden crack he didn’t see. Anyhow, it did lay next to him, purring and comforting him and he held onto it and felt strangely protected. Someone had spoken to him early that morning, he thought it was Lindir but it was hard to tell really, the voice became muffled somehow. The person had claimed that his dad was dead, that he had burned, that they all had burned. Legolas knew it was a lie, he refused to listen to the voice, just listened to the calm purring of that huge black cat. The voice said that Legolas was on his own now, but that Lindir would take care of him and be his new dad. Like Lindir even knew what it meant to take care of someone? No way, Legolas knew that his dad was fine, and sooner or later he would come for his boy and then Lindir would pay for what he had done. He was not afraid, he could wait, his dad would come, sooner or later he would come.

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Bard and the others had gathered in the livingroom and sat down to discuss the plans, Arwen had made some lunch and Bard hoped that he could repay their generosity by saving their farm. He knew a lawyer who was as tenacious as they come and if he did manage to get the right evidence no insurance company could continue to cause problems without being sued from here to kingdom come. It was actually a sweet though.

Dwalin sat there looking thoughtful. “So, this Lindir is in league with some shady people, do we know anything about them?”

 

Thran shook his head. “No, just what the attack on my home and the farm proved. They are ruthless and after my money. I doubt that Lindir will last very long, he may think they are trying to help him but in fact he is being too naïve. This sort of people are nothing but cutthroats and deceivers.”

 

Dwalin pressed his fingertips together. “Then let us assume that they do have lots of resources available, people, guns and so on. The one thing we don’t know is how well Legolas is guarded, it all depends on that one factor”

 

Bard nodded. “I bet she will let us know, I somehow feel that she already know everything there is to know about the situation.”

 

Thran scoffed. “Of course she does, she is a deity. But what about that plan of Thor’s? Will it work?”

 

Elisa smiled, she cocked her head. “I have already put Erestor in contact with Ori, they are co-operating and creating just the right amount of info. I bet that it will work just fine”

 

Bard frowned. “And that dude who is going to pretend to be an Egyptologist?”

 

Elisa shrugged. “Judith has gotten that covered alright? Don’t worry, Erestor will make the right bait and then leave just enough clues to make them eager but not enough for it to be too obvious”

 

Thran looked uncertain. “Great, but this will be a very long day”

 

Bard embraced him, he didn’t bother hiding what he felt, what was the point in that anyhow? “Go to bed, have a nap. I am going to do just that, I just need to make some calls first”

 

Thran smiled faintly, he returned the embrace. “You are right”

 

Elisa looked curious. “What sort of calls?”

 

Bard stretched and yawned. He felt tired after that trip, odd really for he hadn’t used much strength, yet it had been draining him. “I know someone who may be able to help Aragorn and Arwen, I think that the same bastard who got Sophia killed also ruined their livelihood.”

 

Elisa looked angry. “Really? Then do it, if there is something I can help you with let me know please”

 

Bard smiled and got up, Arwen had a phone and he doubted that the enemy would be listening in on that one for she usually only used that to call the other ladies of the local sewing club when there was a meeting. Bard knew just who to call, the bastard known as Bombur had lived in a city two hours from this one, not as big but one where the majority of the citizens were rather wealthy due to old money. Bombur had been one of those people, with a long family history and also a history of greed and betrayal. Bard had worked with one of the chief investigators of that county on two occasions, both cases involved tax fraud, murder and threats and Bard had liked the man. He had gotten his number and now he called it with a feeling of being a bit uncertain. He knew he could trust this guy, but could he do anything useful? Was there any evidence at all to be found?

 

The phone rang for a little, then he heard a very dark raspy voice at the other end and let out a sigh of relief. “Haldir Woods”

 

Bard took a deep breath. “Haldir, I don’t know if you remember me, but this is Bard Bowman, from those cases five years ago?”

 

Haldir fell silent. “Bard? Oh God, what is happening over at your place, the news reporters are speculating so bad it is hard to tell whether or not it is a huge nasty prank or terrible truth?”

 

Bard swallowed hard. “It is the truth, unfortunately. Let’s just say that I am in hiding so not word of this to anyone, but could you please try to help me with something?”

 

Haldir didn’t hesitate. “Sure thing, you saved my ass back then, I do owe you one, a huge one. What do you want?”

 

Bard took a deep breath. “There was this one not so very clean citizen of your city named Bombur Dwight, I just found out that he is the one responsible for my wife’s murder. He did also possibly ruin the livelihood of our neighbours here and I want to check if there is any evidence for any of it. Something connecting him to my wife and that farm. Could you check it?”

 

Haldir moved through a room, Bard could hear it. “I am on it, give me the details please, I have lots  of informants, some dollars and I bet I can get something out of them”

 

Bard gave him the needed information and Haldir did write it all down. His voice was low. “Bard, I was so sorry to hear about Sophia, she was a wonderful woman and I wished I could have come to visit you and pay my respects but I was on this rather terrible case and the boss refused to let me go.”

 

Bard remembered having read about it in the newspaper, some crazy stalker who had trapped two celebrity singers in their homes and played all sorts of nasty and creepy games with them. It had given him the shudders back then. “I remember that one yes”

 

Haldir seemed to hesitate. “So, how are you these days? How are the kids?”

 

Bard swallowed. “They are doing well, just…To be honest things have gone a wee bit to hell here and we have just lost everything except my mother in law’s horses. But the kids are alright physically and well, I have met someone, and I hope that he is the one”

 

Haldir took a deep breath. “Bard, that is fucking wonderful, that you have met someone I mean, not that you have lost your home. But what is going on?”

 

Bard felt his neck muscles tense up. “Haldir, let us just say that some major shit has hit the fan of all fans. If someone claiming to be feds come and ask questions about me just forget this conversation, say you haven’t heard from me in years.”

 

Haldir’s voice was tense. “Bard, are you kidding me? The feds? What have you gotten into now?”

 

Bard closed his eyes. “Something so nasty I cannot begin to tell, let’s just say that anyone asking questions aren’t who they appear to be alright? Just be discrete, and don’t call back before you have real info. I can give you a number you can use safely”

 

Haldir hesitated for a moment. “Alright, I will be careful. Bard, take care, I mean it man. Don’t be reckless”

 

Bard sighed. “I don’t plan on that. Here is the number”

 

He read it out and Haldir did write it down and then they hung up. Bard just hoped that Haldir could sniff up something but if he knew that man right he would find something, useful or not.

 

The next call was going to be a more tricky one, he knew he had to explain the situation very carefully to make her agree on taking the case and he realized that he was too tired and too hyped up to be calm now. He had to wait until they were done with the rescue mission, perhaps wait until they were done with the whole shit. But if he did give her good evidence he was sure she would do it for free, she hated it when the big guys sort of trampled the little guys down without any remorse. Bard had never met a lawyer quite like her, she was known as the bulldog of the courtroom and she never backed down for anyone. In her eyes justice was sacred and she refused to represent bad guys, she would never try to coax the jury into believing that some bastard in fact was a good guy. She was as incorruptible as they come and Bard had the greatest respect for her, most judges shivered in their pants when her name was mentioned for she could make even the worst criminals turn into a puddle of water on the floor confessing every sin back to their childhood.

 

Bard would rather face a dragon than going up against Galadriel but if he did present this well she could be the best friend Arwen and Aragorn had ever had. He had to see what Haldir could conjure up and be as humble and apologetic as possible, she liked that.

 

He had some food and spoke to the kids, Sigrid and Bain were doing rather well, they had some bruises and cuts but were unharmed physically. Tilda was seemingly alright but she would burst into tears by the smallest sound and Bard started to get really worried. She was pale and he feared that she had gotten injured somehow. They had all gotten smoke in their lungs, and she was a fragile kid. But he couldn’t take her to hospital, and he had no idea of what to do if she got ill. Jean was also in bed,  overcome with grief and shock and she too should have seen a doctor. Bard was very worried and Arwen came to sit with Tilda. He did see that she had gotten some lines on her face which hadn’t been there before, the financial problems were eating away at them. “She should have been checked up”

 

Bard nodded. “I know, but if we take her to hospital they can find us, we cannot use some fake name”

 

Arwen looked down. “Listen, there is a local doctor living some miles from here. He isn’t working anymore due to an episode but he is very good at what he is doing. He is working a little as a vet, but he is a doctor”

 

Bard frowned. “An episode? What sort of an episode?”

 

Arwen sighed. “He lost a patient alright? And no, it wasn’t his fault at all but the hospital he worked at chose to blame him so they wouldn’t get sued.”

 

Bard sat down again. “And he is our only choice?”

 

Arwen shrugged. “Like you said, you cannot go to the hospital and both Tilda and Jean do need medical attention.”

 

Bard felt conflicted. “How did he lose that patient?”

 

Arwen seemed uncomfortable. “I don’t have the details but it was some huge fat man who was in for a gastric bypass and I think there was an instrument failure. Anyhow, the dude died and the doctor took the fall.”

 

Bard grimaced. “Alright, fine, call him. “

 

Arwen smiled. “I cannot promise that he will come but I can try, he is a bit grumpy but good as gold really”

 

Bard got up. “What is his name?”

 

Arwen pulled the blanket up around Tilda a little tighter. “Oin, Oin Dougal. He is rather old and doesn’t hear very well but he is a good doctor”

 

Bard just sighed and walked over to the bedroom he and Thran shared. He saw that Thran already had fallen asleep, exhausted by the emotional turmoil. He got rid of his clothes and climbed into the bed, embraced the warm body which immediately grasped onto him and held him close. It felt like a blessing.

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Thor and the others had used the day to rest and prepare as well, Beorn had showed up in the early afternoon with a van full of stuff and Judith and Faramir was a bit shocked by what they saw. The man had to have connections to the army for what they saw was bullet proof vests, guns and equipment which was top notch. This was what a swat team would dream of and Thor stared at the trunk of the car with narrow eyes. “I am not going to ask where you got this”

 

Beorn grinned widely. “Wise decision, for I cannot tell you that”

 

Beorn stared at them. “Righty, you do have some training I hope? For if not stay here!”

 

Duke was a bit pale and he held the rifle he had been given the same way a nun would hold a cock, with obvious distain. “I….”

 

Thor took the rifle from him. “You are to stay here and guard the perimeter”

 

Duke was visibly relieved. “Alright boss”

 

Thor stared at the small group, everybody were in disguise and Judith had done a good job with the makeup for Leonard did in fact look intimidating, if you were half blind and a bit drunk. Faramir had already found a west which fitted him and was putting on the equipment needed and Thor made a decision. “Listen up, the ones engaging the enemy will be me, Faramir and Beorn and those of Bard’s group capable of fighting. The rest of you will stay back and make sure that nobody escape to spill their guts alright? We cannot let that group of bastards know that we can bite back.”

 

Judith did look relieved too now, she sighed. “Alright.”

 

Thor knew that they couldn’t use public transportation dressed the way they were now. They had to get there somehow but without the risk of getting seen, since there were agents looking for them and surveillance cameras everywhere. Luckily the family they stayed with had friends who owned a small mini buss. It could take them all in one go and since it was dark they hoped that nobody would notice them. The old square was not a place where many would dare to go after dark and if someone indeed did see them and wanted trouble they had it coming. He had made sure that they had everything they needed, Beorn had been very creative and provided them with both shock grenades and some other surprises too.

“Now, let us eat and then we will have to go, the traffic can be nasty this time of the day”

 

Beorn nodded and they sat down for a meal, someone had ordered take away from several shops just so that the sheer amount of food ordered wouldn’t make anyone suspicious and they ate in silence. This was so serious nobody really had much to say anyhow. When the meal was over there was a short rest and then they grabbed their gear and entered the buss. They all knew that this was it, they had to get Thran’s boy before they could think about getting back at this new and strange enemy.

-------------------------------------

Bard and the others had left Jean at the house with the kids, the doctor had said that he would come sometime during the night but he didn’t know when, he was helping some farmer with a sick cow and didn’t know how long it would take. Arwen would be there to explain things to him but she had gotten a list of things she was allowed to tell or not. Bard was very worried as they left the building, Tilda was still very upset and she had started to cough. It could be because of all the crying but it could also be a sign of something sinister. But they had to leave now and Aragorn promised that he would keep an eye out for any strangers. If he sat in the living room by the window he could see the road leading to the farm. The car Elisa had used was too damaged to be used again, it had some serious dents and it did also have some more serious damages but Aragorn had an old van and they borrowed it. The car was ancient and looked like a wreck but it did run and the engine was good and very strong. He told them that had he had had a strong interest in cars years ago and this car was one of the projects he had worked on. It was rebuilt and the engine was that of a huge truck, a five hundred horse power diesel with turbo and he didn’t use it because it drank diesel like a camel drinks water.

Bard didn’t have many weapons, just the ones Aragorn had and they weren’t that much really but he guessed that Thor and the others had a veritable arsenal at their hands.

 

Thran was shaking with nervousness and Bard just hoped that he wouldn’t do anything stupid. He had to keep a tight leash on the man, just for safety reasons. The van had good seats and was comfortable and Dwalin did drive, he was an expert and knew how to drive even during a chase. The trip into town was long, way longer than normal for they didn’t know what to expect this time. The old part of the city was rather dark and dank and the streetlights were giving just as much light as a dying firefly. Dwalin parked the car in a narrow alley and covered it with some tarp, it was dark and matted so it was hard to see. They walked towards the square and felt anxious and didn’t really know what to say now so they all shut up. The old obelisk was placed upon a sort of dais and it was once a majestic sight but now it was just sad. The ground was covered with all sorts of garbage and Bard kicked an old empty bag from a take away shop away from the dais. Some cats were serenading each other and a rat scurried past them without even caring about the humans. It was the size of a possum and Thran hissed and Elisa cringed. This part of the city had gone to the dogs and done it fast too, Bard could still remember when it had been if not posh then at least respectable. But the huge malls and the shopping streets had lured the money away from these blocks and the money had never returned.

 

Bard did take a sigh of relief when he saw the group which approached them, it was Thor and the others and he had to grin. Faramir was wearing a very ugly wig and so was Thor and Leonard had gotten some make up on which made him look like the villain in some old fashioned western move. The only thing he was missing was a Stetson and a colt peacemaker. Thor bowed his head. “We are here, so, what’s next?”

 

Bard took a deep breath. “First of all, we need guns. An old shotgun isn’t all that efficient I fear”

 

Thor opened a bag he had carried and hauled out a lot of rather impressive stuff. “Take your pick my friends”

 

 

Dwalin grasped an assault rifle with glee and Bard went for a slightly smaller and lighter rifle. Thran grasped a 9mm Beretta and Elisa picked out two desert eagle pistols. They were heavy as fuck but kicked a serious punch and Bard lifted an eyebrow. “Why those two?”

 

Elisa grinned from one ear to the other. “Dhu, have you seen Charlies angels? Demi Moore just rocks two of these in that movie, it was badass”

 

Thor waited until they all were armed and had gotten vests on. “Where are we going?”

 

Bard swallowed. “I am waiting for someone to show us the way, or a sign to be given. A certain someone is on our side, she promised to help us”

 

Thor growled deep in his throat. “This is way over my understanding but alright, let’s just accept that some ancient Egyptian deity is slaying murderers and other evil doers and that she is on our side”

 

Bard was about to say something when they heard a sound, a loud meow. A giant black cat came strolling towards them, wearing a gold collar and earrings and it was looking as if it had every right in the world to be there. It stopped and looked at them with anticipation in its gaze and Bard nodded swiftly. “She is here, follow us”

 

The cat meowed again and walked off and they followed it, if someone saw this they would probably not believe their own eyes, a group of heavily armed people following a huge black cat! The cat wandered through the narrow streets past old shops and apartment buildings ready to crumble and entered a small open space between two huge buildings. She stopped and Bard saw a faint light flickering in one of the windows of the building straight up ahead. A faded sign hang by the old door, “Jonathan Smartley & Sons Bakery”

 

The building looked as if it was the ultimate site to film some gothic horror movie, Bard felt a chill run down his spine and Thor picked up something from the bag. “Here, try this!”

 

It was a set of night vision goggles and they were high tech, he turned to the group. “Me, Faramir and Beorn from our group, Judith and Leonard guard the perimeter. Albert take the back and Fernando can help him. Don’t let anyone escape, understand? I don’t bloody care if you have to rip someone’s head off”

 

The group nodded and Bard lifted the Goggles and realized that they were the type which sees heat. With them on he could actually see through walls and he saw that the building was rather full of people and when he paned around he did see something which caused great concern. “Guys, there is a meth lab in the basement”

 

Thor swore. “Seriously? Aw shit, that means we could have some very desperate people on our hands soon, but we can use it to our advantage.”

 

Bard cocked his head. “How?”

 

Thor pointed at the third floor. “See up there? Few people, but there is some heat signatures there still. I bet that is where they keep the boy”

 

Bard turned the googles and saw that Thor was right. Thran was almost panting. “My son…”

 

Bard patted him on the back. “Easy there, we will get him soon.”

 

Dwalin spat and his eyes were narrow. “I say we split up, one combat veteran for each group, I can go with Bard and Thran if Beorn goes with the rest.”

 

Thor looked at Bard, “What do you say?”

 

Bard nodded. “Yes, we cannot be too many, three guys are easier to hide”

 

Thor smiled. “Alright, I say we create a distraction. The lab is vulnerable, a few grenades and the whole thing goes boom so you have to be fast Bard, in, out and nothing more. Get the kid and run for it!”

 

Bard felt his mouth go dry, he knew what could happen if such a lab went badaboom, it would be one hell of an explosion. Thran looked nervous. “How do we tell you that we are out?”

 

Thor grinned, a vicious grin. “Easy, you start firing”

 

Bard looked at the building, there was a fire ladder leading up to the third and fourth floor and he grimaced. “Alright, we do go up to the fourth floor, there is nobody in there I think. We go down, not up. I doubt that they will expect any trouble from up above.”

 

Dwalin smiled. “Yes, and I will be the one to draw their attention away from the lad, I know how to do this.”

 

Bard frowned. “You will be fired upon”

 

Dwalin showed them the long line of shock grenades and flash bangs he had attached to his vest. “Yes, by people who are more or less blind. We cut the electricity before we go in”

 

Thran tried to smile. “That is a good idea.”

 

Beorn pointed at the wire entering the building. “If we cut it here they will suspect foul play right away, wait a moment, I can cut it half a block away”

 

Albert did toss him a set of tools and the huge man disappeared like a ghost in the night. Bard held his breath and stared at the dark windows. “Could there be traps and shit on the fire stairs?”

 

Dwalin shrugged. “I have no idea but I will go first, I know how to detect such deviltry”

 

He seemed to be as cool as a cucumber and he was grinning like mad. Beorn returned and returned the tools to Albert. “Here you go”

 

Thor smiled and cocked the shotgun he was carrying, it was a pump action gun and it had an extra large magazine. Bard suspected that he had loaded it with something rather nasty. “Everybody, get in position. Elisa, take the goggles and keep an eye on everybody, if Bard and Thran get in trouble you try to help them”

 

She nodded and hid behind a trash container. They spread out and Dwalin smiled at Bard and Thran. “This is it guys, be fast, be efficient and do not hesitate”

 

Dwalin listened, then he walked toward the fire stairs like he had every right to be there and felt the metal, seemed to sniff it almost. “It is okay, come”

 

The low whisper was almost inaudible, he started using hand signs instead. The stair was rusty and old and covered with leafs, moss and pigeon droppings but it was solid and it didn’t creak at all. They made their way up the building slowly, avoided the windows for even if the inside was dark they would create a black shape against the lights from the city. Bard was glad Dwalin was so experienced, he knew just how to move. They had to stop as they passed the third floor, someone exited a door at the side of the building and started looking for t