Authors: Honey Jans
“At first he was clever, and nobody suspected him. He's a very good psychopath.” She spoke in a grim voice.
“But what about the confessed killer?”
“He was a crazy copycat who thought he did it, so he killed himself. The cops went into his mobile home and saw all sorts of horrific, violent porn and newspaper stories of the murders. They thought he'd been the Scarlet A Killer. But they were wrong. They botched it.”
“And you know all this, how?”
“I was there, kind of,” she said with a wince, seeing his disbelief.
“You said you'd never met him before.”
She took a deep breath. “Just listen and don't interrupt. I saw it from up above. I'm Haley Forkus reincarnated.” Flustered, she quickly rushed on. “Before you say anything, hear me out.”
The tension on his face eased, and he firmed his lips, nodding. “I'm listening.”
She could see he was calmer, ready to listen to her story, so she went on. “My guardian angel, Max, let me come back to right old wrongs, bust Trevor without affecting fate, and save my soul mate,” she added under her breath. “I know you're going to think I'm crazy, but I'm not. And I knew I needed to warn you, because you're in danger. If anything should happen to me that I can't control, take the cops to a condemned home at Twenty-Four Hundred Stanton Avenue. It's a run-down trailer, and nobody lives around it. Trevor stores his sick trophies there, such as the women's underwear.” Seeing his wrinkled forehead, she said desperately, “Don't you believe me?”
“I believe that you really believe what you're saying.”
“Well, believe this. I've broken Max's strictest rule by telling you this, so I could be recalled at any minute. Just in case, I want to tell you that nobody else has ever meant this much to me. Not in either of my two lives.” She wanted to cry but smiled for his sake, seeing the pain on his face. “I love you, Crispin.”
“I'm not letting you go,” he said, covering her.
She gazed up into his eyes as he pressed her into the mattress, and saw the love he had for her, even if he didn't say the words. “I'd never leave you willingly. You know that, don't you?”
He shook his head. “This can't be real. It's just too far-out.”
Haley felt every molecule in her body tingling, and in a moment she felt herself whooshing through the familiar dark tunnel to a distant plane. When she landed, her feet were planted firmly on a cloud. A warm breeze wafted by her, reminding her that she had been naked when poofed away. Blushing, she glanced down, praying that she wasn't naked. She saw that Max had dressed her in a frilly sundress and Mary Janes, as if she were a child. She supposed in some ways she had been, but she'd been growing up fast. She smelled cotton candy, looked up, and saw Max leaning up against a carnival wall. He loved to hang out in this otherworldly amusement park. “Why did you do that? I was just making progress.” His sad smile told her that he had mixed feelings about recalling her, but he'd done it just the same.
Crispin collapsed flat on the bed as Haley simply vanished from under him. One moment he'd been pressed against her warm body, trying not to hurt her feelings as he refuted her crazy story, and the next she was gone and he was lying against sheets still carrying her warmth and scent. His mind reeled as he sat on the edge of the bed. She'd been recalled just like she'd claimed, and he hadn't believed her, damn it all. His gut twisted while his heart shattered. He couldn't lose her, not like this. She'd made the supreme sacrifice to save his worthless ass, and he'd never asked her to. That's why it meant all the more, he knew. Cursing himself, he hung his head. There had to be some way to fix this. Looking up into the heavens, he shouted, “Max, send her back to me, and I'll do any damned thing you want.” He waited breathlessly for something to happen, some sign that he'd been heard. He remembered the hazy sensation that had seemed to travel between Haley's body and his the moment before she'd vanished, but nothing similar happened.
It wasn't going to be that easy. But he could have the balls to follow Haley's example and risk it all for her. He might not be able to fight heaven and earth for her, but he could drop the collar on Trevor so he never hurt a woman like Haley again. Decision made, he reached for his phone and punched in Harry's number on speed dial. He should've guessed that Trevor was involved. The creepy man had given off degenerate vibes, but there'd been nothing to link him to the crimes. Now there was. Haley had told him where Trevor hid his souvenirs from the killings. Once they had the evidence, along with his DNA, he was dead meat.
“What's happening, Crispin?” Harry demanded, answering the phone crisply after two rings.
“Plenty,” Crispin said grimly as he felt Haley's loss. He didn't need to look at the bed to see that she was gone. The atmosphere felt different. Nothing would ever be the same again. “I know who the Scarlet A Killer is and where we can get evidence against him.” He heard Harry's whoop of celebration on the other end, and his jaw firmed. He had to get his act together, or he'd be no help at all.
“Let me guess. Your witness was holding out on us after all.”
Crispin bristled at the sarcasm in Harry's voice. “Watch what you say about her. And remember that she was a victim, not just a witness.”
“I know; it's just so damned frustrating when they hold out on you and—”
“Yeah,” Crispin interrupted, sensing time wasn't on their side. “Look, all you need to know is that she had some good reasons for keeping quiet.”
“Someone threatening her?” Harry speculated.
“Something like that,” he said, looking plaintively at the empty spot where she'd once been. “Anyway, now that she's opened up to me about it, I won't let that information go to waste. We need to act fast.”
“So tell me who the subject is, and I'll go get him.”
“Not so fast. I want in on the takedown,” Crispin said, feeling his hunting instincts sharpen. He was going to take grim pleasure in destroying the bastard who'd dared touch his woman. Come and pick me up, and I'll ride shotgun.”
“You know that's against protocol. Don't worry. I'll give you an exclusive.”
“Fuck the exclusive.”
“Forgetting about your job isn't like you, pal. You've changed.”
“In a lot more ways than one,” Crispin said, thinking about how Haley had broadened his life.
“You want me to have one of the agents come babysit Haley while you're out?” Harry offered.
Crispin gulped as he tried to absorb the loss and man up. “There's no need for that. She's disappeared.” He winced when he heard Harry's groan. Yeah, he'd fucked up big-time. If he hadn't kept pushing, he'd still have her.
“What the fuck went wrong, pal?” Harry asked after a moment of silence. “I thought you were going to keep her.”
It was the same question he'd been asking himself since she'd left him. Now he had to face the fact that she wasn't coming back. “So did I,” he said grimly. “I'll be waiting out front for you,” he said, severing the connection.
Haley frowned back at Max. “Listen, I know that I broke your rule, but Max, I did it for the right reasons. Shouldn't that count for something?” His penetrating gaze told her that he saw through to her newly mended soul.
He inclined his head. “Maybe. But if you'll recall, I also told you there was a penalty to be paid.”
Yeah, he had when she'd encountered him at her sister's the night before. She also recalled how her sister had wanted to brain him, and smiled.
“Naughty, naughty,” he scolded with a snarky laugh.
She shook her head. Man, one of his charges couldn't get away with anything around him. He was worse that the nuns in elementary school. He didn't carry a ruler, but he could zap you into infinity. If she had to pay a price to keep Crispin safe and whole, she'd do it. Schooling her features to a serenity she didn't feel, she nodded. “Fine. As long as Crispin is safe, I can accept that.” His doubtful smile told her he saw right through her.
His probing glance raked her. “You sure about that, probie? Sure you don't want to pull one of your diva pouting episodes because I spoiled your great adventure on the outside?”
She looked at him, feeling stung. How could he even think she'd regressed to how she used to be? “No.”
“I don't believe you. Crispin will forget you and find another lover. Wouldn't you like me to throw a lightning bolt down on them?”
“Have you completely lost it, Max? If I have to leave him, I want him to be happy.”
“The best way I can help him is to wipe his memory so that he won't miss you,” he said with a shrug. He slanted a curious glance at her.
Pain went through her at his words, but she knew it was best. Crispin needed to be happy. She nodded, and a feeling of true peace came over her. “Do it.”
He smiled and chucked her on the shoulder. “I didn't think you had it in you, probie.”
His glee was almost enough to brush away the nice, peaceful, sensations floating through her. She frowned at him. “And stop calling me 'probie,' will you? You're way too hung up on old episodes of
. Get another hobby, for Pete's sake.” When he smiled at her, the urge to sock him made her ball her hand into a fist.
He glanced at the gesture and grinned. “I see we haven't completely tamed your fire. Good. You're going to need it where you're going.”
“What?” she asked, completely baffled. The only place she was going was back to was purgatory, and there it was same old, same old…unless. She gave him a hopeful look.
“Calm down, probie. You just passed the last test, with flying colors, I might add. I always knew that you would.”
Tears misted her eyes as she started to realize that all wasn't lost. That she'd made it. She glanced at Max's beaming face suspiciously. “You mean it. This really was my final exam?”
He nodded solemnly. “Yes, fair maiden. You'd really give up your life for your soul mate. You know what love is. And you finally managed to get it through your thick head that all you need is love.”
“So I've made it, and Crispin is going to be okay,” she said cautiously.
He smiled. “Oh so suspicious, even now. But good. Like I said, you'll need your fighting spirit to rectify things.”
It was confirmation that things had turned from sugar to shit down below. “Okay, give me the intel, Max. What's happening down there?”
He frowned. “It's not going to be easy. Crispin and his friend from the FBI are on the way to Trevor's workplace with an arrest warrant. But Trevor has been getting more paranoid and is prepared for a siege. It could get bloody. The problem is, once I release you, I'm not allowed to intercede on your behalf. Are you sure you really want to go down there?”
That Trevor was growing more paranoid wasn't a surprise to her. Serial killers usually spiraled out of control, got careless, and got caught. But there was more going on with Trevor. He was touched by evil, as though a demon had touched him. “There's something even more toxic about Trevor, isn't there?” she asked, seeing Max's look of surprise.
“So you felt that, did you? Good. I see the powers I settled on you have stood you in good stead. Just remember that when you go back and become fully mortal again, I'm not sure how many you'll retain.”
“I'll take my chances,” she said with a smile, and in the blink of an eye she was standing in the hotel suite, still dressed in the sundress, Mary Janes, and pigtails. “Thanks, Max,” she said aloud, unsure if he heard her or not. She looked around the vacant hotel room, looking for clues to where Crispin might have gone. She could use them like Hansel and Gretel did the bread crumbs.
His mini-tape recorder sat on the dresser. He never went anywhere without this, yet he'd left it behind. Maybe he'd left her a message. Thrilled at the find, she ran up to it and flicked it on to hear dead air. Her hopes abated in a flash. Well, drat, no message. Then she glanced down at the notepad on the nightstand and saw
8th and Mandrake
scrawled in his handwriting. What did that mean? Maybe Kiera would know what it referred to. She picked up the telephone and dialed Kiera's number, remembering it from the night before, then tapped her toe impatiently while it rang on and on. “Come on, Sis, pick up…pick up. I know you're there. I can feel you,” she muttered, twirling her finger around the cord. An image of her distraught sister flashed through her mind, making her gut twist. Trevor had a lot to answer for.
“Haley, is that you?” Kiera asked.
Her sister's panicked tone and instant assumption that it was her made her shiver. The harmony between them blazed dancing lights around the hotel-room walls. She looked at the pink and blue vapors and smiled through her tears. She could fix this. She had to fix this. “Yes, it's me, Sis… Tell me what's wrong!”
“What's wrong?” Kiera shrieked. “Crispin's place is broken into, you both disappear, and you ask me what's wrong.”
Haley crumpled onto a bedside chair, instantly contrite, and the dancing lights in the room went out. Harry hadn't kept his word to keep the attack on Crispin's home quiet, big surprise.
“Darn it all, the Feds were supposed to keep the break-in quiet. I never wanted to worry you. And Crispin and I went to a hotel. We weren't hurt, Sis, so calm down. You know getting excited isn't good for the baby.”
“Oh thank heavens,” Kiera said with a sigh. “I was so worried.”