Only on the second story and already missed the deadline. I am a terrible person. But I'm apparently a dedicated one. So, here's the next story:
“No, I'm not going to do it again,” said Max. “Not for you, not for anyone. It's too much.”
“Common, Max,” said the voice over the phone. “We need you on this case. This is bad. Really bad. We've got to get this one.”
“No!” Max gripped the phone harder and resisted the part of his mind that suggested he throw it. He was in no position financially to replace his phone. Really, he was in no position to be turning down this job. “Look, Terry. I just can't do it. You don't know what it's like.”
“No, you don't know what it's like,” said Terry. “You're not the one who has to go explain to the big man that once again we've got a stiff and no leads. You don't have to deal with calls from loved ones asking why I'm not doing my job good enough. You get to come in, get paid, and go home. You don't have to deal with lawyers or actually face the guy you're locking up, since psychic evidence inadmissible in the courts.”
“I'm not a psychic.”
“Yeah, whatever, Max. You see the thoughts of people who aren't there. It's close enough to psychic that my point still stands.” Max heard another voice in the background. “Hang on a sec,” said Terry.
Max kept the phone to his ear, listening to the muffled sounds funneling through it. He knew it was bad. It was always bad if Terry was trying to call him in. Terry was in charge of homicide investigations at the police force. He saw a lot of things, but it was always the worst ones that Terry wanted help with. Max closed his eyes and tried to banish the images of the last case he had helped on. The victim had been only ten years old, and through his “psychic” abilities, Max had experienced the distinct pleasure of reliving the last few minutes of her life... through the eyes of her killer.
That man was behind bars now. Terry and his team had managed to connect the killer to the deaths of six other young girls in the area, all thanks to the leads they got from Max's visions. Max tried to take comfort in that, especially on those nights when he would wake in a cold sweat, those images still playing at the corners of his consciousness.
“You still there, Max?” Terry's voice broke through his thoughts.
“Yeah, I'm here.”
“Look, I gotta go. Why don't you sleep on it and I'll call you again tomorrow?”
“Yeah, ok,” Max heard himself say. He stood there for a second staring at the phone, then set it on the table. That, his bed, and a mini-fridge were the only furnishings in the small apartment. It was better that way. Most people only asked to come over once, and they never sat down.
Terry switched off his phone and turned back to Bruce, who was leaning in the doorway of the bedroom.
“So, Terrence, is your pet psychic coming or not?” said Bruce.
“After all the work he's done for this city, I'd think you'd show him some respect,” said Terry. He slipped the phone back into his pocket. “He'll come. But not tonight, so pack it up.”
Terry decided not to respond to Bruce's obvious sarcasm, but pushed past him into the hall. Of course his partner was skeptical. Everyone was skeptical at first. Terry himself hadn't believed it when Max first told him, but back then Max had been much more willing to show it off, and it was hard to argue with when you saw it in action. That had been high school, before the full force of the adult world had quite caught up with them.
Nowadays Max could hardly keep down a job due to his abilities. He had eventually found his niche in retail, of all places. “It keeps me on my feet all day,” Max had said. “Makes things easier.”
It was barely enough to keep a roof over his head, but Max seemed content with it. Terry couldn't complain. It kept Max off his couch, which had never gone very well.
He paced about the house one more time. It reminded him a bit of Terry's place. It was plain, only furnished with the basics. A rickety table and two folding chairs. An old mattress with a sleeping bag and some spare blankets. There were no pictures, no trinkets, no memoirs. They had dusted every corner for fingerprints, vacuumed three rooms for evidence, and they were still coming up with nothing useful. Nearly a dozen different distinct hair samples turned up, but aside from the ones belonging to the three identified victims, they meant nothing. The fingerprints had been smudged and yielded no matches in the database. All they were sure about was that the guy was about six foot and wore size eleven shoes. Well, that and apparently he had something for blondes.
The first girl they found, Jennifer Lukston, had been very beautiful. Some friends of hers from the university had reported her missing nearly a month ago. It had been two weeks before her body was found, and even then, it was pure luck. The neighbors had called animal control because of a dog barking next door. The house was supposed to be abandoned, and they were concerned that it had gotten stuck in there. Animal control had showed up and found the dog, and what was left of Jennifer Lukston.
A sweep of the place had turned up the remains of two other girls, and they had since matched blonde hair from the sweeps to both bodies. One turned out to be a high school student who had gone missing the previous year. They were still trying to identify the second.
Which was why Terry had called Max. This wasn't run-of-the-mill gang turf business, or a matter of the wrong combination of booze and anger. This was someone who was hunting these girls, and would hunt more if they couldn't stop him.
Five hours and twice as many cups of coffee later, and Terry was still pouring over the case files. He'd been over them countless times in the last two weeks trying to put the pieces together, but was still coming up with nothing. If Max didn't show, or couldn't find anything, this would quickly become a cold case.
He picked up the stack of photographs again and thumbed through them. Then he laid them out on his desk, spreading them over stacks of paperwork and other files he wasn't quite ready to let go of yet.
A white dress torn in several places and shredded across the midsection. A gnawed-on ankle bone. What was left of her ribcage. A fleshy mass that had once been a face, bent at an odd angle on the remains of the neck. Cuffs that had kept her attached to an exposed metal pipe in the living room. The dog, a sleek, untagged mutt with her blood matting his fur. The kitchen. The table. The old mattress in the bedroom.
Why her? Sure, there were guys who had a thing for blondes. Terry himself preferred fair hair over cocoa or raven. But why this particular one? Did they know each other? Or was she just convenient, in the wrong place at the wrong time?
Terry rubbed his temples and shuffled for the transcripts. They had managed to get a few interviews from Jennifer's friends and family, and a few stories from people close to the high school girl. Jennifer had left a party on Friday night driving her red Camaro. Best anyone could tell, she had never made it home. Her housemates had figured she was staying at the party house for the night, and maybe the weekend. Her friends didn't think anything of it until she missed the next day of classes. Yes, she had been drinking. No, she hadn't been drunk. The Camaro had turned up in the lot of a Wal-Mart that same week.
The high school girl's ran similarly. She had been walking home from school one day, and never quite made it there.
His cell phone rang and Terry started, then dug it out of his pocket and checked the display.
“Hey, Max,” he said. “I'd have thought you'd be asleep.”
“What's the case?”
“Does that mean you'll take it?” yawned Terry. He checked the clock. He also should have been asleep.
“It's the case with the girls they found dead in that abandoned house, isn't it?”
Terry paused. “Yeah. How'd you find out?”
“The newspaper. I got Mr. Grace's old one and looked for local homicides.”
And probably latched onto the messiest one. They had tried to keep the press out, but that always worked better in theory than in practice. “You know,” said Terry, “most people get their news from computers these days.”
“I can't afford a computer.”
“They have them at libraries, too, but I guess that's out for you.”
Terry sighed. It seemed that yawn had reminded his body how late it was, and how long he had been sitting in that chair. “Look, Max, I know this is a bad case. I'm sorry I went off on you earlier.” He picked up a photo of Jennifer. In it she was alive and smiling, her arms around some well-built young man. He looked like a football player. “I just really want to see this one wrapped up, and quickly, and right now I've got nothing. If you want, you can come by my office tomorrow and look at all the solid evidence before you make up your mind.”
“I'll do it.”
“Good. What time'll you be here?”
“No, I'll go to the house. See what there is to see there.”
Terry placed the picture back on the table next to the others. “Are you sure, Max? This guy... he's... well, you know.”
Max laughed nervously. “Not yet. But I will.”
Terry winced. “Yeah, I suppose you will.”
Max turned off the phone and let it slide to the floor beside his mattress. Was he really agreeing to do this? He took several deep breaths to steady himself. It wouldn't be that bad, right? When it was done, he got to come back to himself, his own life, the safety of his apartment. But the memories never quite seemed to fade. They stood out in his mind, dark and foreign against the memories of his own life. And now he was going to have more.
He shouldn't have agreed to this.
He could remember when it first started going bad. He had been hanging out with his first girlfriend at her house. Her parents were out and they had the place to themselves. Unthinking, he had sat down on the couch next to her. An instant later he had stood back up, and then he had run from the house. He hadn't bothered to explain things to her. He just left. He couldn't talk to her the next day, or the day after that. She tried passing him notes, in class, and through friends, but he never read them. He didn't want to know anything more.
Terry had told him it was a jackass move. He was probably right, but at that time, Max hadn't been able to explain things to her. It was one thing to let your best friend in on your secret. It was another thing to tell your girlfriend.
He hadn't dated much since then. People had too many secrets, and his abilities made it too easy for him to find them out, even when he was trying not to. But people got nervous if you stood all the time, especially when you were supposed to be relaxing with them. Like on a date.
It was better this way. He was safe from people's memories, and their memories were safe from him.
And then there were people like Jennifer Luckston, who wouldn't be making any more memories.
As much as he wanted to, he couldn't just leave it to the cops. If Terry was calling him, then they weren't getting anywhere. In the meantime, the killer would still be out there.
So, at 5:30 PM, after his shift ended, Max drove his car to the house. Terry was already there waiting, along with a buff-looking younger recruit.
“Max,” said Terry, “this is Bruce. He's working with me on this case.”
Max nodded politely and shook the officer's hand. Bruce grinned, perhaps a bit too broadly. “Let's see what the boss's magic man can do, shall we?” he said.
“Knock it off, Bruce,” said Terry. “We're here for business.”
Max let go of Bruce's hand and turned to follow Terry. “Yeah, let's get this over with.”
Behind them, Bruce huffed, and then he followed them into the house.
The front room smelled of mildew and something else Max couldn't quite place. Some sort of cleaner, perhaps. A pipe was exposed on one wall. A small plywood table and two folding chairs sat in the center of the room. Max swallowed.
“You're sure no one tainted the scene?” said Max. “I mean, no one on the clean-up crew, none of the other cops. No one.”
“As best I know, no one's been here without my supervision since they found the girl,” said Terry.
Max looked away from the chairs. He wasn't ready for this. This had been a bad idea. “Is there anything else I should see first?” he said.
Terry squinted at him. “Well, you said you didn't want to see the evidence on file first, so I didn't exactly bring anything down. I guess I could give you the tour.”
Max nodded, hopefully not too eagerly. Anything to take his mind off of what was coming.
Terry led Max around the house. There wasn't much to show, but he had the feeling Max wasn't really looking at it, anyway. A minute later they were back in the living room. Max stared at the chairs as if he expected them to suddenly leap at him. Then he reached out slowly and placed a hand on the back of one.
“You have the recorder ready?”
Terry nodded toward Bruce, and Bruce pulled out a small recording device and set it on the table. He grinned at Max. “I have to admit,” he said, “I'm really curious what you'll have to say.”
“Bruce...” started Terry, but then he noticed Max was staring hard at Bruce.
“Would you, now?” said Max. “Got a taste for the morbid, then? Or just for voyeurism?”
Bruce tensed and his eyes went dark, but Terry noted he bit his lip. Max met Bruce's gaze and smirked.
“Hey, let's just start this thing,” said Terry. He flipped on the recorder. “Get it over with and all, right?”
Max blinked and looked down. “Right. Sorry.” He pulled the chair out and made a small motion with his hand. “Terry, could you stand....”
Terry moved into position behind the chair, and as Max lowered himself onto it, Terry placed a hand on his shoulder.
Bruce raised an eyebrow at him. “What, is that for some sort of channeling or something?” he said.
“Shut up.” It wasn't channeling, or not in the sense Bruce meant. Back in high school, Max had told him the feel of someone else nearby helped him keep his realities straight. Terry had quickly enforced the tradition when he started asking for Max's help on cases.
Beneath Terry's hand, Max had gone rigid. His breaths were quick and shallow. “Stay with me, Max,” said Terry. “What do you see?”
“I'm... um....” Max licked his lips. His hands were clenched tightly at his sides.
“Easy, Max,” said Terry. He squeezed Max's shoulder. “I'm right here. You're right here in front of me. What do you see?”
“It's the same room,” said Max. “The girl... she's crying in the corner. Not very loudly. I muf... he muffled her. She's got some rags tied over her face.” He flinched away from the wall with the exposed pipe. “She's too loud, that one. I thought she'd be quieter. She's going to cause trouble if she doesn't shut up. Oh, god.”
Max buried his face in his hands and shuddered. “This wasn't in the article in the paper.”
“Hang on, Max. We need something to go on so we can find this guy.”
Max rocked back and forth in the chair. “Oh, god. Oh, god.”
From the far side of the table, Bruce gave a slight chuckle. “Wow. I gotta say....”
“I thought I told you to shut up, Bruce,” said Terry.
Bruce glowered at him. For a moment, Terry thought he would keep going, but then Max burst into giggles. “They're so fascinating on the inside,” he said, his voice pitching oddly. “But they don't really last long after that. Unfortunate. Oh, well. She should have listened to Jack.”
“Jack?” said Terry. “Jack who?”
Max groaned. “Jack. Jack Cassidy. No, Jack... Jackson Marshall. Cassidy was his mother's last name. He doesn't like her, either, but it seems like a more fitting name now.”
“Good, good,” said Terry. “But we need something more, Max. An address, a city, a workplace. Anything.”
“Oh, god, I don't want to see this,” Max murmured into his hands, but he stayed seated in the chair. “He's... going to have to wash up before he takes the bus. Route 710 to... to....”
Max stood up sharply, knocking Terry's hand off his shoulder and sending the chair back into Terry's legs as he did. Terry jumped back. Max made a bee line for the door, but Bruce grappled him before he got more than three feet, and the two began struggling. “What the hell...” Bruce started.
“Let him go, Bruce,” said Terry.
Bruce loosened his grip and Max tore free and nearly ran out the door. Bruce stared after him, then turned to Terry. “Dammit, Terrence. Does he always do that?”
“Usually.” Terry brushed at his pants. He was going to have bruises on his legs tomorrow.
“But we didn't even get anything. There could be a hundred Jackson Marshalls within twenty miles of here.”
Terry picked up the recorder from the table and switched it off. “We're not done.”
Max sat huddled in the middle of the sidewalk in front of the house. The neighbors kept peeking out the window at him. They must have thought he was some sort of druggie. Not for the first time, Max wondered if drugs might help, then dismissed the idea. He spent enough time in an altered state of consciousness already. He rested his chin on his knees and started counting the rocks in the asphalt, trying to focus his mind elsewhere.
A little down the street, Bruce was leaning on the Crown Victoria. Terry slowly paced the sidewalk next to the car, pretending to look over a notebook. Max chuckled softly. Terry never had been very patient, but Max had to give him credit for trying. He took in a breath and exhaled it slowly. Then he nodded Terry over.
“Hey, Max,” said Terry. “How're you holding up?”
“Ok,” said Max. “I have something for you. Do you have any paper?”
Terry dropped the notebook next to him.
“Sorry, dumb question.” Max picked up the notebook and thumbed to a blank page.
“Need a pen, too?” said Terry.
Terry handed him a pen, and Max scribbled down an address. “That's the place he thought of as home, at least.” Max felt himself shudder involuntarily, and he nearly dropped the notebook before Terry could get a hold of it. “You better find something.”
Terry nodded. “Yeah, I will. Do you need a ride home?”
“You know that won't work out very well for me.”
“What if I drove your car? Bruce can follow in the Crown Victoria.”
“I'll be fine. Just give me a few.”
“Sure thing.” Terry turned back toward the car. “Oh, and Max.”