©2004 Cheryl Kaye Tardif
Jasi followed Divine while he led the PSI team into the primary operations station―Ops One. An assortment of security scanners recorded each agent's various stats before admitting them to a small corridor. The same programmers that designed H-SECS created the Divine Ops security system. Ever since the kidnapping and murder of the Prime Minister in 2008, security programmers had been rallying to design a system that was impenetrable and virtually flawless.
Jasi allowed a technician to scan her with the paranormal electroencephalograph unit, an apparatus that recorded brain waves and psychic residue. This security precaution safeguarded PSI agents against overuse of their skills.
Heaving a sigh of relief, she smiled when the PEU flashed green. She was clear.
"Welcome back, Agent McLellan," Divine finally said with a curt nod. "I hope you enjoyed your well-deserved holiday. Sorry I had to cut it short. Have you been given details of the case?"
Jasi held up the envelope. "Ben told me that the killer left something behind…a lighter?"
Divine pulled her aside. "A Gemini lighter. Same as the one you received in the mail two months ago, Agent McLellan. The same brand found at a fire in Victoria last month."
They waited for Ben and Natassia to clear security, and then the four of them crowded into an elevator. When the elevator doors opened, an electronic voice informed them that they had reached the PSI floor where an expansive maze of halls and pale mauve cubicles lay before them.
"Happy Birthday, Agent McLellan," a co-worker greeted her.
Jasi whacked Ben in the arm, hard.
They wove through the maze of hallways, passing agents and technicians engrossed in their work. Artificial light hovered over occupied cubicles while the empty ones remained in darkness.
Abstract paintings lined the wall―someone's attempt at personalizing the underground lair. One painting showed a window opening onto a garden. Beside it, a photograph of a wooden maze tempted two rats to find their way out.
We're all just a bunch of lab rats, Jasi mused. We live underground, running through this insane maze every day.
Part of her wished that her downtime hadn't ended. On the other hand, two weeks of pretending to be normal, living in her empty apartment in North Van, had been about as much as she could take of herself. Even her plants couldn't live with her. The last ivy had died a slow, torturous death, its neglected soil shrinking from lack of water.
"Why didn't we hear about the Victoria fire a month ago?" she asked Divine.
"Victoria PD thought they had an isolated case last month so it didn't show up on our radar. Until this morning's case, just outside of Kelowna . The current victim is Dr. Norman Washburn. He was the head of Surgery at Kelowna General Hospital . He's also the father of Premier Allan Baker."
There's the higher influence.
Divine escorted them to the Command Office.
As they sat down around the conference table, Jasi opened the manila envelope and slid one picture from the stack of photographs.
A blond-haired man smiled confidently into the camera.
Premier Allan Baker.
Allan Baker was the youngest Premier ever voted in by any Province in Canada . Now, at thirty-two years old, he had set the precedent for bringing in young blood. Baker was now a front runner for Prime Minister of Canada.
She passed the photo to Ben, then carefully examined a surveillance photograph taken the year before, in which the Premier of British Columbia and Dr. Washburn were engaged in an intense argument.
Jasi recalled that the newspapers had created a frenzy when it was discovered that Baker's mother had given birth to the son of a prominent, married doctor. The scandal had almost cost Baker the position. It had cost Washburn his marriage.
Divine flipped a switch on the box embedded into the table in front of him. Two oak panels in the wall parted slowly, revealing a large vid-wall. He pressed the remote and a photograph of a lake appeared.
"Dr. Washburn's remains were found at Loon Lake early this morning. Loon Lake is less than an hour's drive from Kelowna ."
The photo zoomed in to reveal a smoldering mass that was once someone's holiday home.
"Who reported it?" Jasi asked.
Without missing a beat, Divine answered, "Shortly after four o'clock this morning an anonymous caller reported a cabin fire near the lake. Fire fighters were sent to the area, and ten minutes later, the Kelowna PD arrived and secured the scene."
Jasi's eyes locked on Divine's. "How secure?"
Divine flipped to an aerial photo, revealing neon orange perimeter beacons that surrounded the crime scene.
"Kelowna PD has guaranteed that there has been no contamination of evidence―other than water, of course. The fire was almost out by the time the trucks got there."
Ben cleared his throat loudly. "We've heard that before. How'd they know there was a body?"
"Kelowna PD used an X-Disc," Divine explained. "As you are all aware, very few departments outside of Vancouver and the major cities have access to X-Discs. And our PSI division is the only unit to have the Pro version. Kelowna PD has one of the original prototypes."
"What's the estimated time of death?" Ben asked.
"TOD is between one and two this morning."
The wall photo switched to a black and white of the esteemed Dr. Washburn. The man had posed for the hospital staff photo as if it were a painful experience, his brow pinched in a wrinkled scowl. His receding white hair looked wiry and stubborn.
Like the man himself, Jasi thought.
She had met Dr. Washburn a couple of years ago during a symposium on children's health. The man had not impressed her. There was something about him she didn't like, something she couldn't quite put her finger on.
Divine turned to Natassia. "Forensics came back as a positive on Washburn. His dental scans matched. I'll need you to dig deep on this one, Agent Prushenko."
Jasi saw Natassia's head dip in agreement.
"We need any information pertaining to the victim. His life, his career―everything," Divine said.
Jasi rubbed her chin. "If this is his second fire, then what's the connection between the victims? What can you tell us about the Victoria fire?"
Divine's data-com beeped suddenly.
He examined it, then shook his head. "I'm sorry, Agent McLellan. I have a meeting with the Premier in half an hour. You'll have to upload that info into your data-communicators." He walked to the door, then paused. "The sooner you pick up your supplies, the sooner you can get your team moving. I need you at the Kelowna crime scene A-SAP. Allan Baker's going to want some answers―fast."
Divine held her gaze. "Get me some."
Then he left.
Jasi plugged her data-com into the Ops mainframe and began reading aloud while the computer uploaded to her portable. "Case H081A. Two victim's. Charlotte Foreman, sixty-three, and Samantha Davis…four years old."
Her voice faltered slightly. "TOD is 9:05 p.m. on Charlotte Foreman. She was pronounced in the hospital. The child died shortly before. Smoke inhalation."
"Who called it in?" Ben asked.
"A neighbor. When the fire department got there the rain had already extinguished the fire. Victoria PD exhausted their leads. The case was cold. Until now."
Her eyes gleamed with determination.
"So we have jurisdiction over both fires, now that it's a serial arson case."
For the next half-hour, Jasi examined the evidence, including the fire investigator's statements and forensic reports on the two bodies found at the scene in Victoria . There wasn't much to go on. A cable truck would warrant investigating but other than that, no one in the neighborhood remembered seeing anything remotely suspicious.
"Let's start with Washburn and work backward," Ben suggested. "I'll call ahead, Jasi, and make sure that everything's ready for you in Kelowna ."
He disappeared down the hall.
Meanwhile, Natassia continued flicking through the wall photos of the Washburn murder.
"See anything?" Jasi asked her, moving beside the dark-haired woman for a closer look.
Natassia pointed to the close-up of a strange melted mass of plastic. "There's a few possibilities. The X-Disc found IV tubing. Washburn was secured to his recliner with it. Funny thing, though. The recliner was fully extended."
Jasi chewed on her bottom lip, wondering why someone would bother to recline the chair…or use plastic IV tubing.
Wouldn't a rope have been better? And how did the arsonist get possession of the tubing?
"Back in a sec, Natassia. I have to get my pack."
She walked down a narrow corridor to a door marked PSI Prep Room. Swiping her ID card, she was buzzed inside. The room held a row of lockers lined against one wall.
She inserted her card into the slot on locker J12.
It beeped, then opened.
Removing a hefty black backpack, she silently cursed its necessary weight. She placed the bag on a metal table in the middle of the room and kicked the door to her locker shut. The zipper to the main compartment of the bag jammed. Frustrated, she tugged at it until it finally opened, revealing two thin flashlights, evidence markers, a piece of florescent chalk and other field supplies.
From a shelf above the lockers, she grabbed the last can of OxyBlast and shoved it inside the bag. Satisfied, she closed the backpack, heaving it over her shoulder.
Then she returned to Command.
"Okay, ladies, we better get moving," Ben suggested, poking his head through the doorway.
"Ladies?" Natassia asked with a laugh. "Jasi, did Agent Roberts just call us 'ladies'?"
"Well, one of you certainly doesn't fit that description," Ben grumbled under his breath.
"Come on, Natassia," Jasi said with a snort. "Focus."
"I am focussing."
Watching her, Jasi chuckled. She couldn't help but admire Natassia Prushenko. Not only was the woman gorgeous, she had self-confidence up the ying-yang.
Natassia was a Russian immigrant. In some ways, she was a trade from the Russian government in return for favors from the PSI division. She spoke five languages and was the best VE Jasi had ever worked with.
And Jasi had worked with a number of Victim Empaths over the years.
Natassia had joined her team just over two months ago, during the Parliament Murders. Jasi had seen firsthand what her partner's skills could take out of her. A VE sometimes assimilated the emotions of the victim, to the point that it was almost impossible to separate―to come back to reality.
"Happy Birthday, Jasi. Great way to be spending it, huh?" Natassia's grinning mouth snapped firmly shut when Jasi whipped her head around.
"Okay, the chopper is ready," Ben announced.
Covering their ears, they dashed across the tarmac. The four-blade rotor of an Ops helicopter sliced through the air, droning and choppy. The sound was deafening until the pilot handed each of them a headset.
A few minutes later, they were onboard and gliding across the treetops.
"We'll do the scene first," Jasi said, plugging her data-com into the outlet in front of her.
Natassia nodded. "Okay. After that, I'll see if I can get a read off Washburn's remains. Maybe I'll get a hit. There's a good chance Washburn knew the perp."
"I'll get the reports for both fires and make some calls to set up interviews," Ben said, removing his gloves. "Then I'll start my profile. So far, what do we have?"
"A sick bastard who likes to set fires," Jasi murmured.
"Yeah, we have that. Hey, are you going to be okay in Kelowna ? Do you need anything special?"
She handed him a short list. "Just this. I have everything else."
Ben read the list quickly, then keyed in the request on his data-com.
A few minutes later, his unit beeped a response.
"Everything will be waiting for you, Jasi. Just see the Chief of Arson Investigation on-scene."
She knew that her day would be long and grueling. She recalled the disaster that occurred years ago. A raging forest fire had swept over Okanagan Mountain , burning almost three hundred homes to the ground and destroying over twenty-five thousand hectares of natural forest.
As the private helicopter soared closer to the dreary crime scene, Jasi settled into the seat, pulled her long auburn hair up into a quick ponytail and closed her eyes. She would need to be alert and rested.
Agent Jasi McLellan could already taste the bitter smoke in the air.
And something more―death.
©2007 Cheryl Kaye Tardif
Note from Cheryl: This month I am giving away free books at some of my virtual book tour stops, so be sure to check my schedule and drop by. http://www.whalesongbook.com/virtual-tour-2007/
~ Cheryl Kaye Tardif, author of Whale Song, The River and Divine Intervention