Charmed Role Reversal



Richard Castle's Charmed Heat



A note from the author of Charmed Role Reversal

A very warm and special double "thank you" to best‑selling author Richard Castle for so kindly honoring this amateur writer with the appellation colleague in his recent interview in the Wall Street Journal. And for graciously and generously allowing me to preview Charmed Heat, his new Nikki Heat story, here for your reading enjoyment, prior to its upcoming publication in the first book of Nikki Heat short stories Heat Expansion.

Thanks, Rick, for your invaluable encouragement, advice and mentoring during my writing of Charmed Role Reversal. And save a seat for me at your writers' poker game table.

MD
November 2013

Charmed Heat

J ameson Rook warily eyed the picture on the glossy paper that lay on the table in front of him. He slowly moved his head sideways to the right, without turning his head from, nor taking his eyes off of, the picture. He then slowly moved his head to the left of the picture, again keeping his head facing straight at, and his eyes fixed on, the picture.

Then he moved his head back to the center, a perplexed but intrigued look across his face. He slowly turned his head to the right and moved it rightwards. But from the far left corner of his eye he snuck a peak at the picture.

New York City Police Homicide Detective Nikki Heat stood at the entrance to the living room, leaning her right shoulder against the door jamb, her arms folded across her chest. Rook was a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist, whose articles in First Press magazine reported on everything from foreign war zones to domestic corruption. His friendship with the Mayor had gotten him ride‑along privileges with Heat to allow him to better report on police work. She had initially been opposed to his presence and had found him many times annoying. But over time that changed and their association evolved into an intimate relationship.

Her hair still wet from her morning shower, Heat watched Rook with a bemused look. Nikki was accustomed to Rook's occasional less‑than‑adult quirks. She was wearing an ivory colored robe that had square shoulders, a single belt loosely closed around the middle and a length that reached less than half‑way down her thighs. That would have gotten Rook's attention had he not been so consumed with his unusual activity.

Nikki cleared her throat. Rook briefly glanced in her direction.

"Oh, you're out of the shower," he said. He looked back at the picture then quickly turned back towards her and realized how she was dressed.

"Oh ‑ you're out of the shower!" he repeated, emphatically. An approving look and a smile crossed his face. Then he turned back again to the picture.

"How do they do that?" he asked as he moved his head sideways again. "No matter from which angle I look at the picture, her eyes follow me and are staring straight at me."

Nikki walked over to the table and picked up the glossy paper. It was a full‑color flyer, obviously expensively produced. She looked at what was on it.


Witches, and Demons and Fairies, oh my!

SuperNatCon

Film Festival and Symposium

Celebrating 75 Years of Hollywood's Fascination With The Supernatural

Below that was the picture that had been the focus of Rook's attention. It was a woman, not quite a witch, but clearly something supernatural about her with deep set, piercing eyes.

"It's just an optical illusion that's been around for a long time," Nikki said. "I remember seeing pictures with 'following eyes' in store windows when I was a kid."

Nikki continued to read down the flyer.

"Free valet parking for broomsticks," she read out loud. "Seriously?!"

"Seriously," Rook replied. "Well, sort of."

Nikki dropped the flyer on the desk.

"There is really fascinating stuff in Hollywood's history here," Rook said. "For example, in The Wizard Oz, Margaret Hamilton's scenes as the Wicked Witch of the West were thought to be so frightening for audiences that MGM cut out many of them completely and heavily edited the rest. And before becoming an actress, Hamilton was a kindergarten teacher. Hmm...talk about a frightening first day in school."

"And you know this because..." Nikki asked.

"I wrote an article in First Press for the movie's 60th anniversary," he answered.

Nikki gave him a quizzical look.

"Not all of my reporting for the magazine is done from the jungles of Central America," he said. "Once in a while I need a change and I do something lighter for them. Something without intrigue."

"Like reporting from the jungles of Hollywood," she retorted.

"Umm...point taken," he admitted and shrugged his shoulders. "But let's go over there for a while. It's being held right here at the new Grand Manhattan Hotel. The registration fees will be my treat. They have lots of great things going on. They're screening the very first episode of I Dream of Jeannie. And Rene Clair's 1942 hilarious movie I Married a Witch, with Veronica Lake. Did you know that besides her famous peek‑a‑boo hairstyle, Lake had a pilot's license and flew her own plane across the country?

"And they're also screening three episodes of Tucker's Witch, the very short‑lived TV show from the 80s about a husband‑and‑wife private eye team, Rick and Amanda Tucker. Amanda is a witch, which sometimes helps, or hurts, their investigations. Few people remember it."

"But you do," Nikki noted.

"Misspent youth," he replied. "Well, maybe not so misspent. It was a decent show. And Catherine Hicks made for a really pretty witch."

Nikki gave Rook a hard look.

"But not as pretty as this witch...I mean this detective." He paused and gave Nikki a "little boy" look. "My foot's in my mouth, isn't it."

Nikki smiled. "Just be careful not to swallow it," she said.

"OK...but it would still be fun to go there, just for while," Rook said.

"In case you've forgotten I have a murder to solve this morning," Nikki said. "And I have to do it the non‑supernatural way."

 

Nikki stood looking at the white murder board in the 20th Precinct's Homicide Detectives' bullpen. A picture of a man of about fifty, with a salt‑and‑pepper van dyke beard, was at the board's center. A solid line ran to the picture of a fairly attractive woman in her mid‑forties. A second solid line ran to the picture of a young man in his twenties. Detective Sean Raley ‑ one‑half of Nikki's core team ‑ and Rook sat in chairs behind Nikki.

Heat stared at the sparsely filled murder board. She wasn't happy.

"Let's look at this with beginner's eyes," she said, using one of her pet phrases, "and maybe we'll see what we missed. Harrison Harkness, Professor of Mythology and Legends at St. John's University, was found yesterday morning drowned in his bathtub in his apartment. Doors and windows locked, no sign of forced entry. Autopsy shows no medical issues but no marks of a struggle nor any contusions showing that he was forced under the water. But even if he had lost consciousness by himself, the water in the tub wasn't deep enough for him to have slid all the way down and drown. Unless someone held his head under the water."

Nikki pointed to the woman's picture. "Estranged wife Simone Harkness ‑ angry at financial arrangements in proposed divorce settlement. Five million dollar life insurance policy with her as beneficiary still in force."

She motioned towards the young man's picture. "Carl Neskin ‑ former research assistant to Harkness. Known to have resented Harkness' allegedly taking credit for Neskin's significant research discoveries as his own."

"Both classic motive's for murder," Rook said. "But both have solid alibis."

"Lauren set the time of death between eight o'clock and ten o'clock the night before," Nikki continued. Lauren Parry was the Medical Examiner. "Simone Harkness was having dinner at a restaurant with a friend. Security recording time stamps confirm her being there. Neskin was at a gym. Witnesses confirmed that he signed in at 7:30 and signed out at 10:00. It would take a good forty minutes to get from the gym to Harkness' apartment.

"Raley, go through the restaurant security footage again. Scrutinize it for any anomalies, anything that could indicate someone tampered with it."

"On it," Raley replied.

"I'm going back to the gym and see if I can crack Neskin's alibi," Nikki said.

"Maybe not," Detective Miguel Ochoa, the other half of Heat's team, said, as he joined them. He handed Nikki a slip of paper. She looked at it carefully, then turned and stared at Rook for a minute. She started to say something but then just took a deep breath and exhaled.

"What?" Rook asked, looking between Nikki and Ochoa. "Did I do something?"

"Yes," Nikki said. "No...maybe. You wished for something...and now you're going to get your wish. We're going to the SuperNatCon."

"Great," Rook said, his face lighting up. "Isn't it?"

"There's been a murder there," Nikki said.



Click speaker for Opening Credits Theme Song

Rook, Heat and Ochoa stood a few feet from the body of a young woman lying on her side. She had dark hair in a short bob reaching her eyes and a slim, attractive body. She was wearing a tailored grey pinstripe suit and black flats. Medical Examiner Lauren Parry knelt next to her, examining the girl's body.

"Chloe Collins, twenty‑nine," Ochoa read from his notes. "This was her room. Door was locked. Found an hour ago by two people ‑ the Assistant Manager and a Con guest. They're waiting in an adjoining room."

"Cause of death?" Nikki asked as she took a step closer.

"Preliminary," Parry replied, emphasizing the word, "is asphyxiation. Petechia in the eyeballs and along the ear canal." She saw the questioning look on Rook's face. "In plain English, red spots caused by minor hemorrhage from broken blood vessels, which can be caused by strangulation. I don't see any obvious bruises to her face and body that could have caused that but I'll know more after I examine her fully. There's a slight chance of a poison that caused internal bleeding. We'll know from the tox screen. Preliminary time of death about two hours ago."

"Any defensive wounds?" Heat asked.

"No marks on her hands and no skin nor fibers under her fingernails," Parry said. "She didn't put up a fight."

"So she knew her assailant," Rook said. "Or was taken by complete surprise."

"I don't see any ligature marks," Nikki said. "Or any marks at all around her throat. There would have had to have been something there if she was strangled. Even if just some slight abrasion."

"That's right," Parry said.  

"Then how does the victim get strangled without a single mark on her?" Nikki asked.

"When you find the answer to that," Parry said, looking up at Nikki, "be sure to let me know."

"You found the victim," Nikki said to the Assistant Manager, as they spoke in an empty adjoining room.

"Yes...I just came up to open the door because someone from the Symposium said she was overdue and maybe something was wrong," the man said. "I don't know anything else. I don't know the...the woman. Please...I have to get back to the front desk. I have a lot going on there that needs my attention. Especially after...this becomes known to the guests."

Nikki exhaled. "OK...but don't leave the hotel. I may need to speak to you later."

"Of course...of course," he said with relief and hurried towards the elevator.

Nikki walked over to the woman who had been kept on the side.

"Your name is Prue Halliwell?" she asked. "And you called the Assistant Manager to open the room?"

"That's right," Prue said.

"Why did you think something was wrong with Ms. Collins?" Nikki asked.

"Chloe was late for her session," Prue said. "She had wanted to come early to be sure everything in the room was set up correctly. I came up to her room and knocked but there wasn't any answer. That's when I got someone to open the door."

"And what is your relationship with Ms. Collins?" Nikki asked.

"Just as an attendee," Prue said.

"Yet you knew that she was planning on coming to her session early," Nikki said.

"We had dinner together last night," Prue said, "and she told me that."

"You had dinner together but you didn't know her?" Nikki asked.

"I have an interest in her presentation," Prue said, in a level tone. "I found her at the pre‑symposium reception and suggested having dinner together."

"Just what was her presentation about?" Nikki asked.

"The title was 'Demons in Our Midst ‑ The Truth Is Out There'," Prue replied.

Nikki wanted to smile but she kept her professional demeanor.

"Find her presentation?" she asked, turning to Ochoa.

"It's not here," he replied. "It's not a large room. We already went through the drawers and the closet."

"Look under the bed," Nikki said, but without much conviction.

"What was in her presentation?" Nikki asked Prue. "Surely over dinner she must have told you."

"Chloe wouldn't give me anything specific," Prue answered. "She didn't want anything leaking before the symposium session so that her presentation would have a strong affect."

"And what affect was that? Nikki asked.

"To make people aware of the dangers around them," Prue said.

"The dangers...from demons?" Rook asked.

"She felt she had proof of that in a few cases," Prue said. "That much she told me."

"Why did you think something happened to her?" Nikki asked. "Just because she was a little late, it seemed a bit drastic to get the Assistant Manager to open her room. You must have felt that she was in danger. Who would want to harm her?"

"I don't know of any person who was a threat to her," Prue said, again with her level tone.

"Then why jump to the conclusion that something happened to her?" Rook asked. "Did Ms. Collins appear frightened last night?".

"Not really," Prue said. "She felt that once she made her presentation, her proofs were made public and everyone knew them, she would be safe."

"She had proofs..of what?" Nikki asked.

Prue exhaled. "Of demon activity," she said.

Nikki and Rook looked at each other.

"Heat, we found something stuffed in her pants pocket," Ochoa said, interrupting them and handing Nikki a sheet of paper.

"'You have been warned'," Nikki read aloud as Rook looked over her shoulder. "And a symbol." She showed the page to Prue. "Do you know what this is?"

Prue glanced at it briefly and exhaled. "That's a pentagram," she answered.

"Pentagram," Rook repeated. "I remember reading somewhere that it's used in a supernatural context. By whom?"

Prue hesitated for a moment.

"By demons," she replied.

"Move these chairs so that we can get the second murder board over here," Nikki said when they were back in the Homicide Detectives' bullpen.

"Maybe we don't need the second board," Rook said. "Maybe these murders are connected."

"Connected?" she asked. "How?"

"Harkness was a professor of myths and legends," Rook said. "That would include the 'supernatural'. He's found dead in his apartment yesterday. And today, Chloe Collins was going to speak about the supernatural. And she's found dead."

"You have a highly active imagination," Nikki said.

"You always say that's what you like about me," he replied.

"Yes...but not here," she said.

"Oh...umm. But still..."

"That's a really big stretch, even for you," Nikki said.

"I found something," Raley said as he joined them in the bullpen.

"There's something on the restaurant surveillance footage?" she asked.

"No. There's something that's not on it," he said.

"See that?" Raley said, as Heat and Rook looked over his shoulder at the monitor. "Simone Harkness is lifting her glass. It's half‑full. And look at the top left corner. You can see part of a blond woman coming in." Raley fast forwarded the footage.

"This is about thirty minutes later on the footage," he said. "Look carefully."

"Simone Harkness is lifting her glass," Rook said, "and it's half‑filled."

"And that same blond woman is coming into the restaurant again," Heat said.

"Exactly," Raley said. "When I looked closely at it that caught my attention. I went back and looked at the first footage again. About a half‑hour of the footage has been cut out and replaced with the previous thirty minutes."

"The restaurant is less than five minutes from Professor Harkness apartment," Nikki said. "That would give his wife enough time to get there, drown him, and get back to the restaurant. And I'm sure she still has a key to the apartment so she could have just let herself in."

"She would need an accomplice to doctor the surveillance recording," Rook said.

"Bring Mrs. Harkness in," Heat said to Raley. "And find out who had access to the surveillance recording at the restaurant and bring that person in, too."

Simone Harkness sat across the table from Nikki in an interrogation room. Rook and Raley stood on the other side of the two‑way mirror that was on the wall facing the woman and let them see inside the room. The speakers allowed them to hear what was being said.

"As I told the other detective, I was having dinner at the Sunset restaurant with a friend Wednesday evening," Simone said. "I know you already spoke to my friend Raymond who confirmed that."

"And the restaurant's surveillance recording shows that, too," Heat said. "Except for a little over half an hour. That footage was removed. Just enough time for you to leave the restaurant, kill your husband and return, undetected."

"I had no love left for Harrison but I didn't wish him dead," she said. "You would do well to use your time to find out who killed him instead of wasting your time here with me."

"I'm not wasting my time," Heat said, staring at Harkness. The door opened and Ochoa came in.

"Elvin Michaels is here," he whispered to Heat. Nikki stood up and looked at Harkness. "I'll be back," she said firmly.

Nikki headed toward the second interrogation room as Rook and Raley joined Ochoa as he went into the listening room.

"Mr. Michaels, I'm Detective Nikki Heat," she said as she sat down at the table that was between them. "You work at the Sunset restaurant and oversee its security cameras."

"That's part of my job," he said. "Mostly I greet people and handle the register."

"You greeted Simone Harkness when she came to the restaurant Wednesday night?" Heat asked, shoving Simone's picture in front of him.

"I don't know her name but yes, she was there Wednesday night," he said.

"How long was she there?" Nikki asked.

"I...I'm not sure," Michaels said. "I think it was around 10:30 or so when she left."

"The surveillance footage shows her arriving at 7:45," Heat said, "and leaving at 10:35. Except someone tampered with the security recording. The footage from 9:24 until 9:59 is missing. In its place is the footage from 8:49 to 9:23 repeated."

Nikki saw Michaels swallow hard and a look of fear begin to take hold in his eyes.

"Sunset's owner swears that only you have access to the security equipment. And the knowledge to use it. In fact, he said that he recently raised your salary to install and oversee the equipment."

Nikki paused and half stood up, leaning forward over the table.

"That missing thirty‑five minutes of the recording would not have been noticed by a someone casually reviewing it. Thirty‑five minutes of duplicate footage that gives Simone Harkness her alibi while her husband was being killed. An alibi that you manufactured for her."

Michaels swallowed hard again. His breathing became heavy and he began to sweat.

"Look...I don't know anything about anyone being killed," he said. "And I didn't make up an alibi for this woman. I don't even know who she is. She just comes to the restaurant once in a while, that's all."

"You looped the recording of her back into that thirty‑five minute period," Heat said, then sat back down.

"It had nothing to do with her," Michaels said. He hesitated for a moment. "I can get into big trouble if I tell you this."

"You're in big trouble already," Nikki said. "Accessory to murder."

"No! I told you I don't know anything about any murder!" he shouted. Nikki saw him thinking over his options. Then he exhaled.

"Laney Cole came to the restaurant that night," he said.

"The Assistant District Attorney?" Nikki asked.

"Yeah. Only she wasn't alone. There was a guy with her. And it wasn't her husband." He hesitated again.

"He wanted a table in the back corner but they were all taken," Michaels continued. "The best I could do was a table behind that woman, whatever her name is. They didn't stay long, maybe half an hour. As they got up to leave the guy sees the security camera and tells Cole. She talks to the manager for a minute and the next thing I know they're pushing me outside. That guy was big like a football player.

"Anyway, he tells me the recording of them being there has to be deleted. Then she says if I don't, she'll let the owner know...all about me."

"What about you?" Heat asked.

Michaels swallowed hard again.

"About my record," he said. "Three years ago, I broke into a store and stole a bunch of electronic stuff. There was a security camera that caught everything. The PD managed to get it plea bargained down to six months. Cole was the Assistant DA on the case. And she remembers me.

"Look, what I did was stupid and I've tried to turn my life around. That security recording is what got me interested in surveillance equipment and I'm pretty good at it. But if she tells the owner about me, he wouldn't let me near his restaurant, let alone his security equipment."

"So you overlaid the real footage with the repeat footage," Heat said.

"The guy came back in the morning...the restaurant wasn't even open yet," Michaels explained. "I told him I couldn't just cut it out because the recording would be short thirty‑five minutes on the time stamp. If the owner did a spot check and saw that, I'd be in trouble. So I showed the guy that I was overlaying that part of the recording. Then I re‑synched the time keys from that point to the end."

"Who was the man?" Heat asked.

"I don't know...and I don't want to know," he said.

"All I have is your word about what happened," Heat said. "There isn't anything to substantiate that what you've told me is true and that Simone Harkness was there the whole time."

Michaels exhaled, sweating profusely. "There is," he mumbled, barely above a whisper.

"What did you say?" Nikki asked.

"Shut off the tape recorder," he said. "I know you're recording everything. Shut it off!"

Nikki looked at him sternly, then glanced up at the two‑way mirror and nodded her head.

"It's off," she said.

Michaels took a deep breath. "If this gets back to Cole, I'm finished," he said.

"If there's no reason for it to get back to her, it won't," Nikki assured him.

"I have a copy of the deleted recording," he said. "Before I went home that night, I stayed and copied that portion of the recording. I wanted it...as some kind of insurance in case Cole tried to do anything to me."

Nikki looked at him silently for a moment. "Where is it?" she asked.

"Safe at home," he said. "I wasn't going to leave that lying around the restaurant."

Nikki exhaled then stood up, walked out and went into the listening room.

"Take him home, Raley, and see what he has," she said. "And make sure that hasn't been doctored, too."

 

"If he's telling the truth that lets Simone off the hook," Ochoa said when they were back in the bullpen.

"I know," Nikki said. "I'll take another run at Neskin's alibi but I'm not holding out much hope at cracking it. Which leaves us back where we started."

"Not quite," Rook said. "You can still try my theory that the two murders are linked. If we look closely at them we'll find someone or something very specific that connects them. And then we can combine the two murder boards."

"We really can't afford the time to chase after one of your wild ideas," Ochoa said.

"Whose wild idea?" a voice asked. They turned and saw that the voice belonged to Captain Wally Irons, to whom the homicide detectives reported.

"Uh...mine," Rook admitted, sheepishly.

"If you quote me in one of your articles extolling Detective Heat I will deny ever having said this," Irons said. "But I have learned, albeit reluctantly, that Mr. Rook's wild ideas are sometimes valid."

They all stared at him. In her mind, Nikki translated that to 'these are becoming high profile cases and I'll even have you take one of Rook's crazy ideas if there's a chance that you can close them and I can get some good press out of it and probably my picture in the paper'.

"You said you're at a dead end," Irons said. "Follow his idea."

Rook and Heat sat in comfortable leather chairs. Bookcases filled two of the office's walls while filing cabinets stood against the others. The man sitting opposite them across the desk was about sixty, with grey hair that apparently could not be tamed to lay properly as it kept falling down over his forehead.

"Professor Edmund, you're Chairman of the Department which included Professor Harkness," Nikki said. "Please tell us about the course he was teaching."

"The course covers the sources of myths and legends and their influence on individuals and society," Edmund began. "Mythology and legends are rooted in the past. That is where the majority of the course curriculum lies. There is inclusion of some contemporary material as an outgrowth of the past. But it is supposed to be a minor part of the course.

"Midway through the previous semester, Harrison began changing the emphasis away from the past and into the present. Most of his lectures were on the contemporary, looking for and showing what he called manifestations of the legends. He was even working on a paper that he was going to publish in some academic journal. He was on ‑ I don't know how else to describe it ‑ a demon hunt."

"Hmm," Rook said, giving a knowing glance at Heat. But she ignored him.

"You sound like you weren't happy about the change," Heat said.

"No, I was not, nor was the rest of the Department," Edmund said.

"Then why didn't you change it back?" Rook asked. "Surely as Chairman, and with the rest of the Department backing you, you could have forced him to change it back to how it had been."

"Of course I could have forced the issue," Edmund replied. "But there's no arguing with success. Harrison's class became quite popular. So much so that this semester we had non‑matriculated students enrolled in it. I even had to find a larger room with more seats to accommodate everyone who signed up for the course."

"I'll need a list of everyone registered for the course," Nikki said, "and whatever information you have about them. I also want to see Professor Harkness' lecture material."

"Harrison did not write out lengthy notes," Edmund said. "He would write down a word or two to note a topic he wished to cover or a point he wanted to make. And then he would just lecture from his head."

"I still want to see whatever there is," Heat said.

"Harrison was not the most organized person," Edmund replied. "Finding anything in his office can be a challenge. But you're welcome to try."

"Can you think of anyone who wanted to harm him?" she added.

"No," he said. "But if you would have asked Harrison...he would have told you the demons."

Detective Ochoa smiled at the young woman behind the gym's counter. She was about nineteen, a good five inches shorter than him, with auburn hair reaching her shoulders. She smiled back.

"Detective Ochoa, NYPD," he said, showing her his badge. "Stacey, right? I need to ask you a few questions about Wednesday night. You were working here from 8:00 until 11:30, right?"

"Yes," she said.

"Do you recall seeing this man?" he asked, showing her Neskin's photo.

"Yes, I remember him," Stacey said. "When he was leaving he chatted with me, asked me how I was doing ‑ it was only my second day here."

"And what time was that?" Ochoa asked.

"It was a little before 10:00," she answered. "I remember because I was about to take my break."

"Do you remember seeing him around the gym until then?" he asked.

"Like I said, that was only my second day here. All the faces were new to me," she said. "Maybe he was around...but I can't say that I remember that he was. Except for when he left."

"If people go out and come back, do they have to check in again with you?" he asked.

"Yes, they're supposed to show their membership card and sign in again," she said.

"And did they Wednesday night?" Ochoa asked.

Stacey hesitated. "It was busy and it was only my second night...I was overwhelmed," she said. "A lot of times there were more than one person at the desk asking for things at the same time...when someone came back in I just waved the person in when he held up his card. Please don't tell the manager or I'll get into trouble."

"Don't worry, Stacey," Ochoa said, smiling. "That's just between us."

 

"Carl Neskin is in the interrogation room," Ochoa said to Heat. "And no one can confirm that Neskin was at the gym the whole time. He could have snuck out, gone to Harkness' apartment and killed him, and gotten back in time to leave and sign out. And guess who has a key to Harkness' apartment?"

 

"Mr. Neskin, you claim that you were at the gym from 7:45 until about 10:00 the night Professor Harkness was murdered," Heat began as they sat in the interrogation room. "The girl at the check‑in counter remembers you coming in but her shift ended at 8:00. The girl who followed her remembers you leaving at just before 10:00. You made a point of talking to her. Was that to establish your alibi of being there? In any case neither one can confirm that you were actually there the whole time."

"That's ridiculous," Neskin said. "Look, you have to go to the check‑in desk when you come in. Whoever was there would have made me check‑in again."

"But not when they're busy," Nikki said. "And the girl on the desk was new and she was overwhelmed because the gym was busy and she had to juggle a lot of requests. She just waved in anyone holding up a card without having the person sign back in. So you had plenty of time to leave the gym, drive to Harkness' apartment, kill him and return in time to make your noticed departure at 10:00."

"I didn't do that," Neskin replied.

"Tell me about your key to Professor Harkness' apartment," she said.

"That was back when I was still doing his research," Neskin said. "He kept a lot of the material at home. I'd work on it there while he was at school. He took the key back when I stopped being his lackey."

"But not before you made a copy of it," Nikki said. "A neighbor saw you unlocking the door and going in to Harkness' apartment Wednesday morning, the day that he was killed."

Neskin exhaled. "OK...I was there. But in the morning. I was looking for the material on Grimhild. That's Norse mythology. It was the last research I did for him and I wasn't going to let him claim that one as his, too. I was going to...take it." He looked up at them." "That was my research. I deserved to have my name on it, not his!" Neskin paused and took a deep breath, then resumed. "I had worked on it in his apartment but I couldn't find it. Either he took it to the school or he hid it very well."

"And when you couldn't find it you decided to come back at night and get it," Heat said. "And when he wouldn't give it to you, you killed him."

"No! That's not true. I didn't go back there again," he insisted.

"But your alibi for being at the gym doesn't hold," she said. "You claim you were at the gym the whole time but no one can place you there. You had motive and opportunity. I have enough to hold you for the murder."

Neskin lowered his face into his hands and held it there for a moment. Then he lifted his head and exhaled.

"I wasn't at the gym the whole time," he said. "I...I went out for a while. But I didn't go to Harkness' apartment and I didn't kill him. I...was with a friend."

"Who's the friend? Heat asked.

"Her name's Frankie...Del Greco," he answered. "She's...we were close...a few years ago. She was Frankie Avalon then. I used to kid her about her name, ask her if we could make movies together." Neskin sighed, remembering an earlier, happy time, then continued. "Anyway, we drifted apart and she got married to this guy Del Greco.

"Last week she calls me, more or less out of the blue. She said this Del Greco turns out to be a monster. He's extremely jealous if she even says boo to another man. She said she's afraid of him and didn't have anyone else she felt she could turn to and trust besides me."

"Did he abuse her?" Nikki asked.

"Yeah...a couple of times," he said. "She had to go to the hospital last month after he hit her. Anyway, her husband works out at the gym. So I went there and waited for him to come. I met him once and so I remembered what he looks like. Once he came and started on the bike, I knew it was safe so I snuck out and went up to Frankie's apartment. It's only two blocks from the gym. She begged me to help her."

"Why didn't she come to meet you?" Heat asked.

"She has a three month old baby," Neskins replied. "She couldn't take her out at night. And her husband works mostly out of their apartment so she couldn't just go out during the day without him getting crazy jealous. I gave her my cousin's phone number. He's a divorce lawyer. I told her to get it started right away. And as soon as she did, I'd get her a place to stay where she'd be safe."

Nikki sat quietly, saying nothing. Neskin began fidgeting.

"We'll ask her and see if she corroborates your story," she said.

"No...you can't do that," Neskin said, getting agitated. "He can't know that I was there. He'll take it out on Frankie before she can get away."

"She's your only alibi," Heat said.

"No...wait. There's someone else," he said. "When I was coming into the building there was an older woman with packages trying to open the door. I helped her, even carried her packages up in the elevator. She can tell you I was there."

"What's her name?" Nikki asked.

"I don't know ‑ she didn't tell me," Neskin answered. "But her apartment is two doors away from Frankie's."

"The woman in Frankie Del Greco's building identified Neskin as the man who helped her that night," Ochoa said. "She said it was almost 8:30 because she was getting home in time to watch a TV show that was about to start. And Bellevue Hospital confirms that a Francesca Del Greco was treated for bruises and lacerations from 'a fall' three weeks ago."

"That takes off Neskin as a suspect," Heat reluctantly said.

"And the security footage that Michaels cut out shows Simone Harkness in the restaurant the whole time that she said she was there," Raley added. "I went through it twice and it's legit. So she's off the hook, too."

 

"But Harrison's course," Rook began, then grunted as he squeezed his way in the detectives' bullpen between the two murder boards and the desks and chairs that had been pushed together to make room for the second board, "and his paper were about finding demons in today's society. And Chloe Collins was going to speak about the same thing. That's more than just a coincidence. So can we combine the evidence boards into one?"

"It's a theory, nothing more," Nikki said, "so don't get carried away with it. We're not combining the two cases. It might make a good plot if you were a writer of detective fiction. But you're not ‑ you're a journalist. You write based upon facts and evidence. And there isn't one piece of evidence to connect the two murders."

"Maybe there is," Raley said from his desk. "I compared the list of students enrolled in the course with the symposium registration list. One name was on both lists. Scott Reynolds. And guess which symposium session he marked on his registration form as being his top interest."

"Mr. Reynolds, I'm Detective Nikki Heat and this is Jameson Rook," she said, as she and Rook sat down at the table in the interrogation room. Reynolds was in his late twenties, had a somewhat broad face, with dark unruly hair and a scraggly short beard that only grew around his chin and in patches on his cheeks.

"Jameson Rook," Reynolds repeated, trying to recall something. "I know the name. Yeah...I remember you now."

Rook smiled at the recognition.

"Entertainment writer. You wrote that piece in the First Press magazine about The Wizard of Oz," Reynolds said.

Rook's smile disappeared. "Not the way I prefer to be remembered," he grumbled.

"You're not a regular student at St. John's University yet you signed up for Professor Harkness' course on myths and legends," Nikki said. "That seems odd."

"It's an interesting subject," he replied, "and an interesting teacher."

"Really," Heat said. "Some of your classmates said that you were argumentative, even hostile, with Professor Harkness during class."

"Challenging," he corrected her. "I challenged him on what he said."

"And you didn't like him," she went on. "You have a website called Dupernatural. You warn people not to be duped by..." Nikki looked down at the page in her folder "'those promoting supernatural myths, and in doing so put forward their own myths'." She looked up again at Reynolds and gave him a cold stare. "And you mention Harkness by name."

"What he promoted was like junk science," Reynolds said with a condescending sneer. "Only it wasn't even science. It was just junk."

"Maybe you got tired of hearing his 'junk'," Heat said, "maybe you had enough of it. Day after day listening to him 'dupe' his students. It infuriated you. And you decided to stop him. By killing him."

"Whoa...you got this all backwards," Reynolds protested. "Harkness was my best source for my website. I would hear the nonsense he taught, add it to my site and debunk it there. Then anyone hearing it or reading about it afterwards would already understand that it was babble.

"That's why I signed up for his class. I needed his ravings to keep my site up‑to‑date. No way did I want him dead."

"Where were you Wednesday night between eight and ten o'clock?" she asked.

"I was having a live session on my website," he answered. "I give a short presentation on some of the latest things that I added, then take questions from those logged in. It started at eight thirty and was supposed to end at nine o'clock but there were a lot of questions and I ran over until about a quarter to ten."

"Which really could have been done at some other time," she said.

"The logons and questions are time stamped," Reynolds answered.

"Which anyone could have answered and no one would have known it wasn't really you," Heat said.

"I use a webcam," he said, "so everyone can see me. I record it and keep it on my website. You can go check it."

"I will," Nikki assured him. There was a knock on the door and Ochoa came in and beckoned Heat outside.

"You need to see this," he said, handing her a sheet of paper.

Nikki quickly read it and exhaled. "Thanks," she said, and went back into the interrogation room.

"Let's talk about the SuperNatCon and Chloe Collins."

Reynolds exhaled.

"You marked as your top interest the session Chloe Collins was giving," Nikki said, then glanced down at the paper Ochoa had given her. "That's a strange choice, considering that you and Collins had been seeing each other pretty steadily. Even staying over nights at her place. Until she dumped you about six weeks ago."

"I had my reasons," Reynold answered.

"Reasons ‑ like outrage and resentment," Nikki said. "Chloe's dumping you must have made you angry."

"Yeah...no one likes to be dumped," he replied.

"Angry enough to want to get back at her," she added. "You had motive and opportunity at the symposium to go up to her room this morning and kill her."

Reynolds shook his head. "I'd never hurt Chloe," he said. "Yeah, I was angry. For the first week...maybe really angry. But after that I realized Chloe did me a favor. I need a girl whose head is here. Chloe's head was somewhere else, with the witches and demons and all of that. But because of how I felt about her I would never have been able to break it off. So her doing it for me was what I needed."

"Why were you going to her session?" Rook asked.

"For old times sake, I guess," he said. "To see Chloe again."

"And to get more material for your website," Rook added. Reynolds hesitated then just shrugged his shoulders.  

"Where were you between nine o'clock and ten thirty this morning?" Heat asked.

"At the session on the history of Bewitched," he said. "I really dug that show. Saw almost all of the episodes in the reruns on some cable channel. Witches there were just for fun. I figured as long as I was here I might as well enjoy myself."

"And you were there the whole time?" Nikki asked.

"Yep. Didn't leave until the session speaker answered the last question," he said.

"Mr. Reynolds, if you so disliked all of this supernatural stuff, why did you get involved with Chloe to begin with?" Rook asked.

"Chloe wasn't always like that," he answered. "She used to be a normal girl. She had a little interest in this stuff but no more than the average person. Until her best friend was killed. Then everything changed."

"How? Why?" Rook asked.

"Lindsay Parker was a year or two younger than Chloe," Reynolds began, "but they were really close. Lindsay was killed in a car accident. Her tires blew out and she went off a cliff.

"Lindsay's mother had told her this nonsense story about their family being special. That they can keep evil away. That there's a door through which all sorts of evil demons can come through and do all kinds of havoc here. But some people have the ability to be a counter‑balance against the door and keep it closed. Just by their presence in this world. And it's always the oldest girl in each line who has that power. But at some point the evil that was already here would send someone to open that door. And to do that they'd have to kill those who kept the door tightly closed.

"Well, you know what I think about all of that. And Chloe didn't think much of it either. But Lindsay sort of believed it...or maybe she just made believe she did to placate her mother.

"After Lindsay died, and the police ruled it an accident, Chloe got really upset. She started to learn about demons and stuff like that, and the evil that they do. Then she went around trying to find the other people whose presence supposedly kept the door closed and the evil demons out. Something about their having the same birthday...February 29th. That was Lindsay's birthday. Chloe was convinced she found other cases like Lindsay's ‑ girls being killed in supposed 'accidents'. And she was on the warpath to prove it."

"Did she?" Rook asked.

"You're kidding, right?" Reynolds said. "Demons, evil doors and virtuous girls keeping them out? That's why I needed to break away from Chloe only I couldn't bring myself to do it. So she did it for me."

"Did she find any of these other girls?" Rook asked. Heat gave him a look.

"I really didn't want to know about that stuff," Reynolds said, "but there was one name I kind of remember. Andrews...somebody Andrews. Mary...Maria...uh...uh...something like that." He made a face and thought for a moment. "Marla. Yeah, that was it. Marla Andrews."

 

"Lainey Trent gave that presentation on Bewitched," Raley said, "and she confirmed that Reynolds was there the whole time."

"How could she be sure?" Nikki asked. "Maybe he snuck out while she was speaking or while they showed a clip of the show?"

Raley shook his head. "Trent said he was sitting in the first row right in front of the podium. She would have noticed if he got up and left."

"We're nowhere again," Heat said, then turned to Rook.

"I know how hard it is for you to admit that you were wrong," she said with a sympathetic expression on her face. Then she paused. "So I'll admit it for you," she said, changing to a gleeful smile. "You're theory was wrong."

"When I was digging into the connection between the Pakistan security service and the insurgents, two editors at First Press kept telling me that I was wrong. But I wasn't. My instincts were right and I did the story."

"We're not in Pakistan now," Nikki said.

"Maybe we are," Ochoa said as he joined them. "As much as this pains me to say it..." he turned to Rook, "this really pains me..." then turned back to Heat, "Rook is right. The two murders are connected."

"What?!" Heat exclaimed.

"When I was going through Harkness' office looking for his lecture notes, I found this in his desk drawer," Ochoa said. He handed her an evidence bag with a paper inside it.

"'You have been warned'," Nikki read. "With a pentagram above it. Just like the note that Chloe Collins had."

"I had it dusted for fingerprints," Ochoa continued. "Harkness' prints were on it. But so was a second set of prints.

"Then I had Collins' note dusted for prints. Hers were on it. And so was a second set of prints. That second set matched the second set on Harkness' note. The two notes were sent by the same person."

"I will refrain from preening, gloating and telling you I told you so," Rook said with a smile.

"You just did all of that," Nikki said, then exhaled. "Any match on that second set of prints?"

"No...none of the databases turned up a match," Ochoa answered.

"This doesn't make sense," Nikki said. "The killer was extremely careful not to leave behind any trace of himself when he committed the murders. Yet he doesn't take the simple precaution of wearing gloves when he writes the notes. He had to know his fingerprints would be on them."

"Maybe he was just rubbing our noses in it," Ochoa said. "Trying to taunt us that's he's smarter than us."

"Or maybe," Rook said, "he knew we wouldn't have his fingerprints on file. Because we don't have a demon database." He paused and looked from Heat to Ochoa. "Do we?"

"There are no demons involved here," Nikki said, "just a very clever human murderer."

"Maybe...maybe," Rook said, then paused. "Now can we combine the murder boards?"

Prue Halliwell stood outside the hotel room. Yellow crime scene tape blocked the door. Prue waved her hand at the lock and heard it pop open. She hadn't used her power to open the door in the morning as she didn't want to have to explain anything if her fears about Chloe had been right. Which it turned out they were.

But now she would not have to explain anything about what was inside the room. And she had no excuse for getting someone from the hotel to open the door for her. Prue looked both ways down the hallway, then quickly pushed open the door, slipped under the tape and closed the door behind her.

The room was dark, the draperies covering the windows pulled closed. Prue didn't turn on the lights. The darkness suited her needs. She opened her pocketbook and took out a small pouch. She said some words that were audible only to her, then lifted the pouch as high as she could and shook out its contents. White powder‑like particles began to float downwards. But instead of falling to the floor, they began to take form.

In a moment the forms were complete. One of the forms was an image of Chloe Collins lying dead on the floor. And standing over her was a second form. Its back was towards Prue and she slowly walked around Chloe's body to see the face of the second form. The face had a sinister look of satisfaction. It was the face of Chloe's killer.

Prue removed a glossy rigid sheet of some material from her pocketbook and placed it against the killer's face. When she took it away the image of the killer's face was on the sheet. She returned the sheet to her pocketbook and said some more words that only she could hear. The two forms disappeared, leaving no residue.

Prue went to the door and put her ear to it. Hearing no one, she quietly opened the door just enough for her to get a glimpse of the hallway. Seeing no one, she quickly opened the door enough for her to slip beneath the tape, then closed the door. Now she knew for whom she was looking. All she had to do was to figure out how to find her quarry.

Rook had decided that as long as they were investigating at the symposium he might as well get to enjoy something there, so he went over to the hotel. He had just come out of the I Dream of Jeannie screening when he saw Prue in the hallway, talking to one of the symposium managers.

"If you see him, let me know right away," Prue said, "but don't approach him. He could be dangerous."

"Sure, I'll keep an eye out for him," the woman said, then walked away.

"That picture," Rook said, as he came over to Prue, "looks like someone quite mean. Why are you telling people to watch for him."

"I have my reasons," Prue said.

Rook grasped the picture to get a better look. "Where did you get this?" he asked. "Is this related to Chloe's murder?" Prue did not respond.

"Is he what the police call a 'person of interest'?" he asked.

Prue exhaled. "Someone of interest...yes," she admitted.

"But...not a person?" Rook asked.

"Does it matter?" she asked.

"Uh...you mean someone...like a demon?" Rook asked.

"There are things in the world that many people don't understand, nor accept," Prue said.

"Things that Chloe, and you, do accept?" he said. "How did you get that picture?"

"I have my ways," Prue answered, ambiguously. She pulled the picture back from Rook but as she did, a flyer fell from her hand. Rook bent down to retrieve it.

"What's this?" he asked, as he looked at it. "You're doing Chloe's symposium session tonight?"

"As a tribute to her," Prue said. "I'm not doing it. My friend Kelly Anderson will be giving the presentation."

"Then you found Chloe's presentation material," Rook said.

"No, I didn't," Prue answered. "The killer took it. We're patching together some hints she gave me over dinner, plus some general things. It's really all superficial. But it doesn't matter. I don't expect that much of the presentation actually will be given."

"You don't expect..." Rook started to say. Then he stopped and thought for a moment.

"You don't really intend to give a tribute presentation," he said. "You're just setting yourself up as a target for the killer to try again."

"Kelly is," Prue corrected him. "We have to draw him out. It's the best way we have to...get him. But I'll be with her and watching her the whole time."

"This is insane," Rook said. "You shouldn't be doing this. And even if you're right about drawing him out, Heat needs to know about this. She needs to be here with police to protect you and be ready for him."

"Not all evil can be stopped using police procedures," Prue said. "Sometimes other methods have to be used. I don't want Detective Heat here. She'll be in danger."

"As will you and your friend," Rook said.

"We know how to handle this," Prue replied. "We have experience...and resources."

"Resources," he said. "As in...supernatural resources? Supernatural powers?"

"Let's just call them 'special' resources," she said cryptically, and walked away.

"Special powers...supernatural powers," Rook muttered. "Demons have supernatural powers. Or are supposed to have them. So she's...no she can't be a demon. Demons are evil. And she is trying to do good and catch a killer.

"Hmmm...so if she's not a demon and she has 'special' powers...then she must be a good witch!" he exclaimed. "She's Catherine Hicks' Amanda Tucker come to life."

"Here's the file on Lindsay Parker's accident," Raley said as he approached Heat's desk. "Both of her front tires blew out as she came to a curve on a hill. She lost control and her car went over the edge and down the side of the hill."

"Any chance it wasn't an accident?" Heat asked.

"Like a rifle shooting out her tires?" Raley asked. "The holes in the tires were bigger than what a bullet would leave. They checked the road for casings but there weren't any. At that velocity there would have been a second hole where the bullet exited the tires. Or else they would have found the bullets inside the tires. But they didn't find either one."

"And they didn't find what caused the blowouts," Heat said, reading the report. "They assumed whatever it was had either been knocked away when it punctured the tires or was blown away. There was a high wind and it was a couple of hours before anyone saw her car down the hill." Nikki exhaled.

"There's nothing here to make anybody think it was anything but an accident," she said.

"Nothing there," Raley said, opening another folder. "But I did some more digging on Parker. It seems she filed a complaint that she thought she was being stalked. And she included a picture of the stalker."

Nikki turned the folder towards her. The picture was a two‑thirds front‑face image, not too sharp and apparently taken with a cell phone camera. But it would have been enough to ID the person.

"Constantine Akrom," Raley said. "He hung out in the park where Parker jogged and sometimes sat and fed the pigeons. They brought him in but didn't have enough to hold him."

Nikki looked at the first report. "That was two weeks before the accident," she said. "He could have been stalking her and then got angry when she reported him and decided to take it out on her. But it still looks like an accident."

"So does this," Raley said, opening a third police report. "Reynolds said that Collins was trying to tie another death to Parker's. That was Marla Andrews. She fell down a flight of stairs in the train station. It was ruled an accident. No witnesses to her actual fall but one woman said she thought she saw a man hurrying away from the top of the staircase after Andrews was at the bottom of the stairs.

"That was six weeks after Parker's accident."

"A second accident of two friends," Nikki said, with some wavering of conviction. "What are the odds."

"Probably less than you think once I give you the last piece of information," Raley said. "Two weeks before she died, Andrews filed a complaint about being stalked."

"By Constantine Akrom?" Heat asked.

"When she was shown a picture of him she identified him as the stalker," he said.

"Pick him up," Nikki said.

"Can't," Raley replied. "They tried to bring him in again after Andrews' complaint but they couldn't find him. He's disappeared."

Kelly Anderson stood at the lectern. There were still almost fifteen minutes before her session was to begin. She didn't know how long she would have to speak before anything happened so she was looking over the material that she had just in case. While still being alert to her surroundings.

Prue stood towards the back of the room. A handful of people had already come in and she had looked over each one very carefully.

Kelly did a mic test and Prue nodded affirmatively that it was working. Kelly reached into the lectern's well and checked on the bag she had placed there, then went back to reviewing her notes.

Suddenly the lights went out. Prue heard one of the doors open but no light shone in from the hallway. It had also gone dark.

Before Prue could react, a bright beam extended from inside the room near the door towards the podium, burning half of the lectern when it hit. But Kelly had already grabbed her bag and rolled away from the podium. She pulled out a flask and threw it in the direction from which the beam had come.

Glass shattered and orange smoke rose up from where the flask had landed just as a second bright beam extended towards the front of the room. Prue waved her hand in the direction of the beam's origination and she heard something hit the door. Then she heard someone get up and run out into the hallway.

Nikki was coming down the hallway when the lights went out. She heard noises, and the screams of the handful of attendees, coming from the session room and ran towards it. In the dim illumination of a single hallway emergency light she saw a figure racing towards the emergency exit. Nikki pulled out her Sig Sauer handgun and began to chase the figure.

The figure opened the exit door, triggering the alarm. Nikki followed through the exit and heard him running up the staircase.

"NYPD ‑ Stop!" she commanded but the figure ignored her. Nikki ran up the staircase, following him until she came out on the roof. Ambient light from the street below and nearby buildings was all Nikki had to dispel the evening darkness but for her that was enough. She had chased people in worse conditions.

The figure ran to the edge of the hotel's roof and jumped over the ledge to the adjoining building's roof. Nikki fired a shot, not to hit him but to come close enough to get his attention. But the figure kept going, jumped down to the outside fire escape and began heading down.

Nikki followed suit. She heard the footsteps going down the metal rungs and could just make out the figure below her when a bright beam from the direction of the figure came at her. She ducked and the beam hit a fire escape bar above her. The bar fell away and hit Nikki's hand, the impact knocking her Sig Sauer from her grasp. She heard the gun clanging down as it bounced off of the lower levels of the fire escape and hit the ground.

That was not going to stop her. She'd have to be more careful without her weapon but she was determined not to give up her pursuit. Nikki went down two more levels of the fire escape, then stopped and listened. There weren't any sounds of footsteps below her. Where had the figure gone? She looked at the windows that led out to the fire escape. They were all blocked with one‑way window bars, legal because they opened easily from the inside but could not be opened from the outside.

And then a bright beam hit the fire escape steps below her. They broke off and plummeted to the ground. A second bright beam hit the fire escape just above her, severing the left side that connected Nikki's platform to the level above it.

She couldn't go down. Going back was impossible, as well. Her platform was dangling with only one side connected to the level above it. Any movement to try to climb up would surely break loose the right side ‑ and she would fall four stories to the street. Nikki was trapped.

She looked to her right and saw above her a second fire escape, belonging to the building abutting the one where she was. That second building had been renovated and an indoor fire escape stairway had been built. The bottom half of the old outdoor fire escape had been dismantled but the upper part was still there. She could see that the window into that other building was unbarred. But while the fire escape was only about six feet to her right, it was ten feet above her, well beyond her reach. There was a drop down ladder attached to it but it was in the up position.

Nikki turned back and looked again at the fire escape level above her on her building and the one side that was still connected. The tenuous connection would surely break if she put pressure on it to climb up.

Then she looked again at the adjoining building's fire escape. The drop down ladder was now fully extended. Impossible, she thought. I just saw it in the up position. But Nikki had fast reactions. She didn't wait to ponder what happened. Nikki used to work out in jujitsu and other hand‑to‑hand combat which gave her an athletic body. She made a trapeze performer's jump across the six feet between the two fire escapes, grabbing the extended ladder's bottom rung. The force from her jump pushed the platform on which she had been and the right side that had been connected broke away, sending the platform crashing down to the sidewalk below. Nikki pulled herself up until both her feet were on the rungs, then ran up the ladder to the platform.

The window was locked but accessible. Her arm shielded by her jacket sleeve, Nikki smashed the window, carefully reached in and unlocked it. She lifted the window and was about to climb in when she heard glass smashing below her. She looked down and saw orange smoke on the street below.

Prue lowered her hand from pointing at the fire escape ladder. She and Kelly had followed Heat and their quarry. In the dark, Heat didn't see Prue looking over the edge of the roof and then waving her hand at the fire escape to lower the ladder. Nor did she see Kelly throw her flask filled with potion, a potion Kelly had made up that afternoon to vanquish the demon they were after. But Kelly was throwing the flasks in the dark, both in the symposium room and at the ground where she thought the demon was, and had missed him.

Now the demon knew he was up against two witches, Kelly thought. He would be more careful, more circumspect in his actions. They would have to come up with a new plan of how to vanquish him.  

Heat had retrieved her Sig Sauer from the street and was making her way down the hotel hallway to the symposium room where the attack had just occurred, the lights having been restored, and ran into Rook.

"What are you doing here?" they simultaneously asked each other.

"Uh...ladies first," he said.

"I came to ask Halliwell a few more questions," she said as they continued walking.

"I was here to catch a session or two," Rook said.

"Like the Chloe Collins session that suddenly re‑appeared?" she asked. Before he could answer they entered the symposium session room and bumped into Prue. Heat took a look at the destroyed lectern.

"What kind of stunt were you pulling?" Heat asked angrily, waving the session flyer at Prue. "You said you didn't have Collins' presentation and here you are putting it on."

"It was to be a tribute to Chloe," Prue said. "I don't have her material, just a few things that I picked up over dinner with her. The rest was going to be generalities. It does say 'tribute' on the flyer and generalities suffice for that."

"That's not the impression the rest of the flyer gives," Heat said. "An impression you purposely wanted to make. And that put you in danger."

"Actually it was you who was in danger, Detective," Prue said. "I heard about what happened outside. I'm thankful that you're safe but it was something I very much wanted to avoid," giving Rook a knowing look as she said that.

"What happened to that lectern tells me otherwise," Heat countered. "Did you see who it was and what he used?"

"The lights went out so I couldn't see him," Prue said. "Nor his weapon, though it seemed to be some kind of a laser that was shot at the lectern."

Heat gave Prue a look. A look that said that she knew that Prue knew more than what she was saying.

"What do you know about Lindsay Parker and Marla Andrews?" Heat asked.

Prue hesitated before answering. "Chloe mentioned their names during dinner."

"And..." Rook prompted her.

"And that the truth about them and their deaths would come out in her presentation the next day," Prue said. "And that others would now be protected."

"What truths?" Nikki asked. "And which others?"

Prue shrugged her shoulders. "She said to listen to her presentation. As I told you, Chloe didn't want to give away anything beforehand."

"What aren't you telling me, Ms. Halliwell? What are you holding back?" Heat demanded.

"Nothing that you need for your investigation," Prue carefully answered.

Nikki exhaled in frustration. "I'm going back to the precinct for a little while," she said, turning to Rook. "My place in an hour? I'm tired so it will have to be a light dinner."

"As long as the dessert is heavy," Rook said. Nikki gave him a concurring smile.

"Good night, Ms. Halliwell," she said. "We will speak some more."

Rook waited for Nikki to leave, then turned to Prue.

"You said to Heat very specifically nothing you need for your investigation," he said. "But there is more that you know for whatever you are doing to trap this...whoever it is."

"You're a journalist and so you're digging," Prue said. "Don't. Not with this."

"I was coming by the back entrance of the hotel when Nikki was dangling from the fire escape," he said. "I saw the ladder suddenly extend."

"I'm sure it's an old fire escape with an old ladder," Prue said. "It must have just slipped downward."

"At just the right second?" he asked. "And old fire escape ladders rust, which makes them all but impossible to slip. Something else happened. And you know what it was."

"Most things have an explanation," Prue said, "but not everything should be explained."

"You're convinced Chloe was killed by a demon," Rook said. "And you're trying to stop him from killing again."

Prue exhaled. "Everything has a story. But not every story should be told," she said. "Stop being the journalist. This is not something for a First Press article. Let it go."

"I'm not doing this to write a story," Rook said. "I'm doing this to help."

"A light wine for a light dinner," Rook said, as he began pouring from the bottle of Goose Bay Sauvignon Blanc. They had taken to buying a bottle of wine from a different country each time and this evening was New Zealand's turn.

"This is good," Nikki said, letting herself start to relax with the wine. "This has been one rough day."

"How did he get the lights in the symposium room to go off?" Rook asked.

"The circuit breakers were overloaded and tripped, knocking out the lights," Heat said. "It could mean that he had an accomplice but stalkers almost always work alone. The breaker box was at the end of the hallway and the room was close enough that I suppose he could have done it himself and run back to the room to shoot at the lectern."

"Or...he could have used his demonic powers to do that from afar and be at the room's doorway at the same time," Rook said.

"This isn't a demon," Nikki said emphatically, "and there's nothing supernatural about him. He's a very human murderer. And I'll get him."

"But not tonight," he said, taking her hand in his.

"No," she said, with a smile. "Tonight is reserved for us."

Nikki sat at her desk and stared at the single white murder board that covered the two murders. Collins and Harkness both becoming deeply involved with demons and legends just after Lindsay Parker's death. Both apparently convinced that Parker had been murdered, and probably Andrews, too. Both being warned by the same person.

"Akrom is our best suspect," Heat said to Raley. "He wasn't stalking Collins, he was watching her because she was turning over rocks and he was in danger from her if she learned too much. And her being a speaker and her session abstract were printed in the symposium agenda weeks ago so he had time to prepare his plan to kill her. But what did he know about Harkness? Where's the odd sock to point to something about him?" she asked, using one of her favorite investigation expressions. "Why did he think Harkness was connected to Chloe?"

"Because he was," Ochoa said as he walked into the bullpen. "You told me to go through Collins' phone records. Over the past two months, there were almost ten calls to or from Harkness. And when I went through Harkness' appointment book, he had CC circled at noon on two days this month."

"He was meeting her for lunch," Nikki said. "If Akrom was following her he would have seen them meet. He could have found out who Harkness was and figured Collins had given him what she had found. That's why he killed him."

"She had, or at least she was going to," Ochoa said. "I also finally found what Harkness used as his lecture notes. Edmund was right. They make shorthand look like War and Peace. But I did find something marked for next Tuesday's class. CC symposium highlights. He was going to tell his class about her findings."

"Akrom knew they were both involved in this supernatural stuff so he sent them identical warnings with that pentagram," Raley said. "Hoping that would frighten them off."

"But it didn't," Rook noted.

"I also went through Harkness' emails," Ochoa said. "Apparently he and Collins didn't trust them, preferring to talk on the phone and in person. But there was one email from Collins three weeks ago." He handed Nikki the printed copy.

"Confirmed her birthday same as M's and L's," she read. "Final link to prove who C is and what he did but she's afraid. Working on that."

"'M' and 'L' have to be Marla Andrews and Lindsay Parker," Rook said, "but whose birthday? Reynolds said Collins had that idea that the protectors had to have the same birthday, February 29th."

"That was part of her delusions with the supernatural," Heat said, "but 'C' must be Constantine Akrom. The important part is what she wrote about him. That someone can prove who and what he is. The murderer of Parker and Andrews."

"Anything else in the phone records?" she asked.

"Most of the rest were routine calls," Ochoa answered. "But there was one thing, though. She had five calls over the past three weeks to a Cassiopeia Mellon. The first two calls were about twenty minutes each. Then they got shorter until the last one was about three minutes. That was the day before the symposium began."

"Cassiopeia..." Raley said slowly. "That name...is familiar." He grabbed a folder and pulled out some pages stapled together. "I saw that name on the symposium registration list when I compared it to the names of the students in Harkness' class. The name was so unusual that it stuck in my mind when I came across it." He flipped over the top page and ran his finger down the second one.

"Here she is," Raley said. "Cassiopeia Mellon. But she's not a regular registration. Her registration was comped."

"Comped...by whom?" Nikki asked.

"By Chloe Collins," he answered.

"She was obviously important to Collins," Rook said, as he and Heat walked down the Grand Manhattan Hotel's hallway.

"I'd guess she was the one in the email, the key to her presentation," Nikki said, "to whatever Collins was going to reveal. And Mellon wasn't anxious to come. The long phone calls were probably Collins trying to convince her to come. The short one the day before the symposium was confirming that she was coming. Comping her was one of the things that Collins had to do to get her to agree. We have to find her."

"She's not going to be at the symposium," Rook said. "After Collins was killed she must have been frightened and got out of here."

"There was no answer at her home when I called," Heat said, "so Halliwell is our best lead to finding her. She knows a lot more than what she's told us."

Nikki pushed the hotel room bell. In a moment the door partially opened.

"Hello Detective and Mr. Rook," Prue said.

"Can we come in?" Heat asked.

"This is not a convenient time," Prue answered.

Heat gave her a no‑nonsense stare. "This is important," she said.

"Then we can talk out here," Prue said, stepping into the hallway and closing the door behind her.

"Where is Cassiopeia Mellon?" Heat asked.

"Who?" Prue asked.

"Cassiopeia Mellon. She was key to whatever Collins was going to reveal in her presentation," Nikki said.

"I never heard of her," Prue said, shaking her head. "Chloe didn't mention her name."

"Ms. Halliwell, Mellon is in danger. The person who murdered Collins took her presentation material so he knows about Mellon. If he thinks that she also knows what Collins knew about him, he'll try to kill her, too. Where is she? If you don't tell us you'll be obstructing a police investigation for which I can arrest you."

"I honestly don't know who or where she is," Prue answered, a concerned look coming over her face. "I wouldn't do anything to stop you from protecting her."

Nikki exhaled in frustration. "If you find her call me right away," she said, handing Prue her card. "Let's go," she said to Rook and started down the hallway.

Rook turned back to Prue. "Find her...help her," he whispered as he slipped a piece of paper into Prue's hand. Then he quickly took off after Heat.

Prue went back into her room and looked at the paper. It was Mellon's home address. Rook had quietly copied it down when Ochoa had looked it up at the Precinct. And he had added that Mellon's birthday was the same as the two dead girls'. And also Akrom's name. Now Prue had a name to go with the face of the killer.

Heat was right, Prue thought. The demon knew about Mellon. And she was in grave danger.

Kelly stood in the living room of their suite holding a small flask filled with orange liquid. The young witch put a stopper into it, then put the flask down on the desk, next to three similar flasks. Jars with small amounts of leftover powders and herbs were lined up next to them.

Kelly was only twenty-one and occasionally exhibited youthful exuberance in her demon fighting activities. But she was quite capable, having gained much from her experience working with Prue and Prue's sisters.

"He'll eventually sense her trail," Prue said, showing her Rook's paper, "the way he did with the other two girls."

Kelly quickly read the note. "That can take time until he does," she said. "And even more time to decide where to kill her. It would be faster if he knew where she lived."

"Then let's make sure that he does," Prue said.

"There's a chance that Akrom may still be here even if Mellon isn't," Heat said on her cell phone, as she and Rook walked through the Grand Manhattan Hotel's lobby on their way back to their car. "I want unis covering the entrances and walking the hallways."

"On it," Raley answered. "But it's a longshot."

"I know that," Heat said, "but at the moment it's something we can do. One good thing at least is that Mellon's phone number is unlisted as is her address. That should buy us some time."

 

"A memorial for Chloe Collins will be held this evening at the home of Cassiopeia Mellon, who was to partake in her presentation and who was also her friend," Lainey Trent read from the flyer, as she stood at the lectern, as the screening that was about to begin. She then announced Mellon's address at the Waterside Plaza, the apartment complex that overlooked the East River.

It had taken no more than twenty minutes for Prue to make up new flyers, post one on the symposium message board and hand out the rest to speakers and chairmen to announce at all of the screenings and sessions.

"He's searching for her, looking for any hint of her trail," Prue said to Kelly. She placed the image of Akrom, that she had created from the murder scene, on the desk in their suite. "Let's see if we can amplify that for him."

She took both of Kelly's hands in hers. Together they concentrated on the image as they began to say their spell.

 

The young woman stood looking out the living room window at the magnificent late afternoon view of the East River. That view was one of the benefits of Waterside Plaza, along with a bank and a few shops on premises, and an above ground three‑story parking garage covered with green landscaping.

The water was calm, despite the wake left behind a Circle Line boat, a tourist magnet that circles Manhattan Island and which had just passed by. The young woman's blond hair was tied up in a loose bun, her aviator style glasses complementing her attractive, rosy‑cheeked face, a star‑shaped birthmark on her neck. The master bedroom door was ajar, allowing the living room window and the late sunlight to be visible in that room as well.

There was a faint, almost undetectable, click at the apartment entrance's door. The young woman raised her left hand and placed it casually against the window pane, an act that was visible in the bedroom. Her eyes remained focused on the glass.

Slowly and quietly the door opened, the window's sunlight showing a light reflection of a figure entering. The young woman abruptly turned around to face the intruder.

Prue rushed out of the bedroom and waved her hand at the figure, sending him backwards through the apartment doorway and landing him on the hallway floor just outside the open door.

"NYPD ‑ Stop!" came a shout from down the hallway.

The intruder leaned over the threshold into the apartment and shot a beam of light at the young woman. But thrown off balance by Prue and rattled by Heat's unexpected command, his aim was wild and the beam hit a chair. Then the figure got up and started running away from the apartment and from Heat.

"Stop!" Nikki commanded again. But the figure ignored her and ran leftward towards the near indoor stairway.

"Stay here with her," Heat ordered Rook, then took off after the figure. Rook started to go into the apartment and bumped into Prue rushing out. "No...stay here! Be ready!" she shouted over her shoulder into the room. The she pushed Rook aside and ran down the hallway in the opposite direction from Heat and the figure.

Rook stood there for a second, then quickly turned and ran after Prue, who was heading for a second stairway at the other end of the hallway.

The figure had gone down two flights in the near stairway, then opened a door and ran out. Nikki was fast but was still a good distance behind him. She opened the door he had and found herself in the complex' garage. It was above ground but lay at the edge of the East River. The figure was over thirty yards ahead of her. But as he turned a corner around a line of parked cars, the afternoon sun illuminated his face. Heat recognized Constantine Akrom.

She tried running faster and turned the corner he had. But the layout of the garage made for a maze through which she had to tread carefully. Akrom could be hiding behind a car or a column, waiting for her.

Nikki surveyed the area. Cover and access. The two words she had trained herself to always look for in dangerous situations. Her access would be slightly off to her right between this row and the next row of cars. And the cover was the parked cars. But that could work two ways ‑ it would provide cover for him, too. She would have to be careful but she would use it to her advantage.

Crouching behind the left front wheel of an SUV, which blocked her from being seen, she carefully peeked underneath the vehicle's door, looking for exposed feet in the rows on the other side. She didn't see any but heard footsteps running ahead on her left.

She took a deep breath and slowly stood up, peeking over the SUV's hood. A beam of light hit the hood's grill, smashing it. Nikki ducked down but a second beam hit the left headlight, splintering glass shards on her jacket. She was pinned down. Her only escape was to run was towards the row of cars to her right but there was just open space between her and those cars without any cover.

Rook had followed Prue but when he heard the smashing of the SUV, he turned and went to his right to a concrete pillar. He saw that a second beam of light had been shot at Nikki and realized that she was stuck.

"Akrom ‑ you're surrounded," Rook shouted. "Give up."

Akrom turned in Rook's direction. Rook pulled himself behind the pillar just as Akrom sent a beam of light towards him, hitting the pillar and leaving a gaping hole in it.

Akrom's attention was diverted for only five seconds. But five seconds was all that Nikki needed. She sprinted the dozen feet to the other row of cars and dropped down behind a pickup truck. Now she was perpendicular to Akrom. To see her and take a shot at her, he'd have to come around and expose himself, making him an easy target for Heat. Or he could choose to run.

He ran.

Nikki heard his footsteps and quickly got up to run after him.

Akrom came to the end of a row at the edge of the water. He turned towards Nikki and a beam extended from him towards her. She hit the concrete floor, the beam smashing the window of a car behind her, triggering the car's alarm. From her prone position, Nikki fired off three shots at Akrom just as he started to turn to his left onto a narrow walkway that ran between a cinder block barrier wall and the river. Nikki heard a scream coming from Akrom. She picked herself up and started running towards the walkway.

Rook had followed Prue down the far stairway. He heard Heat's shots but stared as orange smoke engulfed Akrom, his scream coming as he quickly burned up inside the flames that surrounded him. Rook saw Prue ten feet in front of him. He had seen her throw the flask filled with orange liquid at Akrom. And he had seen what it had done to him ‑ and what Heat's bullets had not. A second flask of orange liquid was in Prue's hand.

Prue turned to run back to the second stairway and came upon Rook. They stared at each for a few seconds, unspoken words of a plea carried between them from her eyes. Then Prue went around him and hurried to the far staircase.

The orange smoke was gone as Nikki came flying around the corner of the cinder block barrier onto the narrow walkway ‑ and into Rook. "I told you to stay upstairs," she admonished him.

"I came down the far stairway to cut him off," he said.

"Where'd Akrom go?" she demanded, looking all around her.

"Your shots got him," Rook lied. "He fell over into the river. He's...dead."

Nikki stood on the edge of the path, peering into the water. "By the time we get anyone into the water, the current will have carried his body down past the Narrows." That was the body of water into which the East River flowed. "From there the water will carry him into the Lower Bay and then into open ocean. We'll never recover his body."

She turned to Rook and looked him firmly in his eyes.

"That was a very brave thing you did back there, to get his attention away from me," she said. "And very stupid! You could have been killed."

"Nah...he missed Mellon when he shot at her and he missed you twice," Rook said, with a slight grin. "So I knew he was a bad shot."

Nikki exhaled and shook her head slightly from side to side. Then she leaned forward and placed a soft, quick kiss on his lips.

"Thanks, Writer Boy," she said.

 

"It's a good thing the unis were covering the symposium and one of them saw the flyer and called me," Heat said, when they were back in Mellon's apartment. "Why did you do this?"

"I felt I owed it to Chloe," the young woman said. "She told me not to be afraid, that saying the truth would protect me and others. This was to be a memorial to her bravery and her dedication to finding truth. And my not being afraid, the way she wanted me to be, would let the truth come out."

"And just what is the truth, Ms. Mellon?" Nikki asked.

"I know about Constantine Akrom," she began. "I didn't know who he was, until Chloe showed me his picture. But I recognized him when I saw it.

"My boyfriend likes electronic...toys, for lack of a better word. His brother gave him a birthday present of some kind of long‑range microphone. I don't remember what he called it but I guess it was made for eavesdropping, like what they sell in those spy stores."

"A parabolic microphone," Rook offered. "I've seen them used in surveillance."

"Yeah...something like that," the young woman said. "About a month ago, we were in Central Park and he had the microphone with him. He wanted to see how it worked outside. It was windy and overcast so the park was pretty empty, at least where we were.

"We got pretty far apart ‑ he wanted to see the range and clarity of the microphone over a large distance. I held up the mic but couldn't hear him. He explained afterwards that something was blocking the signal between us, like some trees.

"But I did hear someone else. Someone frightening. It was very clear, like he was standing next to me. He was talking to another man and was saying how his clients liked the laser guns in the last shipment but he kept one for himself. And he used it to take care of a little problem he had with someone who went to the cops, how it worked perfectly on the front tires without leaving a trace. That nobody talks to the cops about him.

"The second man ‑ he had some kind of foreign accent ‑ said that secret military equipment always does what it's supposed to do. And it was so new not even all the army units that are supposed to have them got them. Then he said he'd have something else special in the next shipment.

"They got quiet and after a minute I saw two men walking together and I heard one man, the one who said he used the laser gun, say 'add it to the launchers'. I saw the other man nod his head, like he was agreeing with the first man. And then they split up and started walking down opposite paths. The one who had nodded his head went right. And the first man went left on the path that led right to me.

"I quickly stuffed the microphone back into its bag but I didn't know what else to do. I was afraid running away would draw his attention. But he saw me anyway. As he approached me there was a look on his face. Part wariness and part...I don't know what. But I knew I'd never forget his face. And I somehow I knew he wouldn't forget mine, either.

"I know I should have done something about it but I was terrified. I remembered what he said about people who talk to the police about him. My boyfriend told me not to go to the police. I didn't have anything specific. I didn't know who the man was nor what he actually had done."

"And then Chloe found you and convinced you to come forward in her symposium session," Heat said.

"She said she knew who Akrom had attacked," the young woman said, "and that once it was out in the open, out in public, the spotlight would be on him. He'd be under a lot of scrutiny and he couldn't risk doing anything to me. And then there would be justice for the ones that he killed."

"Is this your boyfriend?" Nikki asked, as she picked up a framed photograph that was on a shelf. It was an 8x10 close up head shot of a man close to the young woman, smiles on both their faces, her hair done up in a bun, her aviator glasses complementing her face, and her rosy cheeks shining, the distinctive star‑shaped birthmark on her neck clearly visible in the photograph.

"Yes," she said. "He'll be relieved that this is all over. He's felt guilty that his testing his toy is what put me in danger."

"It was brave of you, Ms. Mellon, to agree to speak out," Heat said, returning the photograph to its place. "Now that Akrom is dead, you don't have to be afraid any more. We can't bring him to trial for the murders he committed. But at least the truth may help their families."

"Thank you Detective Heat," the young woman said, "and thank you too, Mr. Rook. I appreciate what you've both done."

Heat and Rook made their way to the door, said their goodbyes, and left. The young woman waited a moment, then opened the door and peered into the hallway.

"They're gone," she said, after closing the door. Prue emerged from the master bedroom as the young woman undid her bun and let her hair fall. She took off the aviator glasses, then went to the bathroom sink and began washing off the rose‑coloring from her cheeks.

"The resemblance is amazing, Kelly," Prue said. "Even without the makeup, and that extra pair of aviator glasses that you found, you look enough like Mellon to pass for her sister."

"I do, don't I," Kelly said, as she washed off the birthmark from her neck. "Even the same build and height." She dried herself then came into the living room, just as Prue finished saying a spell that restored the chair broken by Akrom to how it had been.

"My coming here with you instead of your sister Phoebe coming ‑ coincidence?" Kelly asked.

"When I saw the session in the agenda, I knew I had to come," Prue said. "Then Phoebe couldn't come along but you could ‑ well I don't believe in coincidences."

"I know that," Kelly said. "And I know that she couldn't have pulled off the impersonation, not with all of Mellon's photographs lying around. And with the risk of someone who knows her stopping by to see her."

"And as good a story teller Phoebe is," Prue said, "she couldn't have come up so quickly with as good a cover story. That story you made up about Mellon and Akrom in the park to explain everything was perfect."

Kelly picked up a smaller photograph of Mellon. She began to squeeze the frame tightly, her eyes locked onto the young woman's face.

"Kelly...what's wrong?" Prue asked.

"Mellon ‑ I can see..." Kelly said.

"A premonition? It can't be," Prue said. "You don't have the power of premonitions."

"It's not a premonition," Kelly answered. "It's her thoughts. I can hear them. That's...that's what happened when we let ourselves in here. I was holding this picture...and I just knew that she was hiding out with a friend and wouldn't walk in on us and give us away."

Kelly slowly sat down on the sofa, the framed photograph still tightly in her grasp.

"That's why Chloe needed Mellon," Kelly said. "Cassiopeia had dreams. She dreamt about Akrom killing Parker and Andrews. And about how he did it." Kelly put the picture down.

"I...I look like her. Is that why I'm connected to her?" she asked.

"There has to be more to it than only your physical similarity," Prue said. "How did Chloe find Cassiopeia?"

Kelly picked up Mellon's picture again and closed her eyes.

"It isn't clear in her mind. Somehow through her birthmark. And...it really was also through finding out her birthday. It really is part of their connection," Kelly answered, putting the picture down again.

Prue exhaled. "When is your birthday, Kelly?" she asked.

Kelly was silent for a moment as the realization of something setting in.

"February 29th," she slowly replied. "Just like their's."

Rook handed Heat her coffee, sat down at the chair adjacent to her desk in the bullpen and took a sip of his. The two murders solved, the material from the evidence board had been taken down and stored. Nikki took a long drink of her coffee, allowing herself a bit of relaxation after the stress of the past few days.

Raley was sitting at his desk, his telephone at his ear.

"Akrom was an arms middleman," Nikki said, "and he also knew how to pick locks, as we saw at Mellon's apartment. That's how he got in to Chloe's hotel room to kill her and into Harkness' apartment. Then he held Harkness down in the tub and drowned him."

Rook made a less than satisfied expression on his face.

"The cases solved in a very natural way," she said. "I guess you were disappointed that there weren't any demons and witches involved. Other than on the screens at the con."

"You might want to reserve judgment on that," Raley said. Heat gave him a look like he was off the wall. "I'm just saying there's something that we can't explain."

"Which is?" Rook asked, with interest.

"That was Lauren Parry on the phone. The tox screen came back negative for poison. She said she tested for every poison she could think of, and then some. Nothing. And no needle pricks, no bruises, nothing at all on her body. Everything in the autopsy points to her preliminary conclusion for cause of death. Strangulation."

Nikki looked at Raley dumbfounded.

"Then how did Akrom strangle Collins' without leaving so much as a blemish?" Nikki asked.

"Well, I suppose demons have other ways of doing that," Rook said.

"There is no demon here," Heat said. "We just have to ‑"

"Sorry...are you Detective Heat?"

"Yes," Nikki said, looking up at a young woman standing near her desk. She was in her late twenties, with reddish‑blond curly hair, a few inches shorter than Heat and with a slim figure. A green Lark suitcase stood at her side.

"Glad that I found you," the woman said, with a pleasant Irish accent. "I'm Colleen O'Dell and I'm looking for Cassiopeia Mellon. I've just flown in from Dublin. I went to the SuperNatCon Symposium to find her. People there told me that you had been looking for because she was in danger. Have you found her?"

"I did find her and she is safe," Heat said, discreetly glancing at the tags on her luggage. One said "JFK", the other was an Aer Lingus name tag. "What is your interest in her?"

Colleen paused for a moment. "Were that what you said was true," she said. "But I feel it is otherwise."

"And why is that?" Heat asked.

"Because Cassiopeia and I are connected," Colleen answered. "We are Protectors. And I fear the only two of us left."

"Protectors?" Nikki asked. "You mean to protect against the door opening to let the demons in to this world?"

"Then you know of it," Colleen said.

"I know what people have said," Nikki replied, "but it's not real. It's just in people's imagination."

"Hmmph. Americans! In Dublin, they have more respect for, and understanding about, what you call the supernatural," O'Dell retorted.

"You came all the way from Dublin because you believed that Mellon was in danger?" Rook asked.

"Not believed ‑ knew!" Colleen answered emphatically. "I told you that we are connected."

"By your birthday," Rook said. And not just that, he thought, as he saw the star‑shaped birthmark on Colleen's neck. The same birthmark, and in the same location, as on Mellon's neck.

"Then you know of that, too!" Colleen said, her Irish accent becoming more pronounced as she became upset. "February 29th. And you still don't accept it?"

"Tell me why you...knew that she was in danger?" Heat asked.

"Being connected means that sometimes I can hear her thoughts or feel her emotions," she said. "I felt her being worried and apprehensive ‑ even frightened ‑ the past few weeks."

"That would match the time when she was being recruited to participate in a session at the symposium," Rook said.

"I found the symposium and its agenda online," she continued, "and I could hear her thoughts that she was connected to it. Where is she?"

"I can't give out her whereabouts," Heat said.

Colleen nodded her head in agreement. "That's good," she said. "If you won't give it to me then you won't be giving it to anyone else looking for her. That will help keep him away."

"Keep who away?" Rook asked.

"I don't know his name," O'Dell said. "But he was following me around Dublin. He kept turning up wherever I was. He's out to kill us so that the demons' door can be opened. He tried using his power to throw me down a flight of stairs at the train station. But I was alert to his following me and didn't let him."

"You stopped him...how?" Rook asked.

"I have some things up me own sleeve," she said.

"Did you go to the police?" Rook asked.

"Indeed I did," she said, "but there's not much the guards can do against the likes of him. They did take interest in what I told them ‑ as I said, they believe more in Ireland ‑ but they couldn't find him after that."

"I'm glad you're safe, Ms. O'Dell, despite being stalked," Nikki said, "but I can assure you that person was just an ordinary human."

"Sure he knows by now that I've left Dublin," Colleen said, "so he has no reason to stay there. He's coming here for Cassiopeia, if he's not here already, to kill her. And to kill me too if he can find me again," Colleen said. "So that he can open that door.

"But I see I'm not going to convince you. I'd best be off to find Cassiopeia. Our thoughts will connect again and I'll know where she is. In the meantime, even though you don't believe, please be on the lookout for...him. I took some pictures to give to Cassiopeia but I have another set to leave with you. I'm a bit of an amateur photographer. I have a powerful zoom lens that I used to get these pictures without him knowing."

She took out an envelope and placed it on Nikki's desk. "Thanks for your time," she said. "Take care." Then she turned around, took her luggage and walked away.

Rook picked up the envelope and took out the picture, then spread them out on the desk for everyone to see. There were six shots, each date stamped by the camera for a period of three days over the previous weekend. The angles were different ‑ some were three‑quarters and one was a profile. Another was full face, as if the man was looking straight at the camera without realizing it.

The pictures were taken in different places. One was in front of a train station with a Dublin Heuston Station sign over the entrance. Another was in front of the Bank of Ireland ‑ Dublin, while a third was near a river with a small sign reading O'Connell Bridge. The others were taken in residential streets. There was no mistaking that the pictures had been taken in Dublin.

Nikki stared at the faces in all the pictures. Despite the different angles, there was no mistaking that they were the same face in each one, unknowingly caught by the camera.

It was a face that Nikki had immediately recognized. It was the face of the one whom Colleen O'Dell said had followed her and had tried to kill her. And was coming here.

Nikki stared in disbelief at the face in the photographs.

It was the face of Constantine Akrom.


Acknowledgments from Charmed Heat author Richard Castle

My thanks, as always, to the crew at the 12th Precinct, upon whom I've based the Nikki Heat characters. To Javier Esposito and Kevin Ryan, who have tolerated my presence, indulged my theories - and have taught me so much. To Captain Victoria Gates, whom, truth be told, I really do admire. But don't tell her I said that. To Dr. Lanie Parish at the Office of Chief Medical Examiner, who has numerous times been my sanity check when I get carried away.

And most of all to Kate Beckett, the star in the firmament around whom my world revolves. My model for Nikki Heat and my inspiration for a thousand stories.

And now that I've finally finished this story, that leaves only nine hundred eighty more that I have to somehow find time to write.

RC
November 2013


~ ~ ~

See all of Richard Castle's Nikki Heat books, as well as his earlier Derrick Storm series, on his website Richard Castle.
And watch for Heat Expansion, his new book of Nikki Heat short stories, including Charmed Heat.

Richard Castle's Heat Expansion

Coming in the spring from Hyperion Books





Top