©2004 Cheryl Kaye Tardif
~ Loon Lake near Kelowna , BC
The helicopter deployed Jasi and her PSI team one mile from the fire. A fog of gray smoke greeted them. It hung in the air over the crime scene like a smothering electric blanket set on high. The scorching sun smiled down upon them, adding to the heat.
Fire trucks were parked on the side of a grassy field surrounded by thick trees and weedy underbrush. An oversized khaki-colored army tent had been pitched in the center of the field while an exhausted group of firefighters slept nearby in the shade. A variety of police vehicles slanted across the gravel road, blocking off public access.
A tired, sooty police officer strolled toward them. "Hey, Ben."
Ben grinned and introduced the man. "This is Sgt. Eric Jefferson, Kelowna PD."
"How's it hangin', Ben?" Jefferson asked, after introductions were complete. "Are you supervising this case?"
"Actually, I am," Jasi said, only slightly offended.
Ben grimaced apologetically. "Eric and I trained at the VPA range together."
The Vancouver Police Academy was highly regarded worldwide for its superior training of police officers. The academy owned acres of land outside the city limits. The rough terrain had been converted to a firearm training facility used by CFBI agents and police officers.
There was also a separate area for the bomb squad.
"A van's coming to get you," Jefferson said. "And someone'll be here any minute with the supplies you requested."
"Where's the Chief of AI?" Jasi asked him.
"Over by the tents, I think."
Jefferson glanced over his shoulder at an approaching truck. "Your supplies are here."
A police officer in his mid-forties, dressed in a fresh uniform, jumped from the truck. When he spotted them standing by the edge of the road his eyes narrowed. A firefighter wearing fire gear, minus the hat and mask, climbed from the passenger side carrying a bright red equipment bag. He had a stocky build and blond hair that was cut in a surfer style, long on the sides.
The man reminded Jasi of an advertisement for steroids.
She caught his eye and he aimed a withering look in her direction. Uh oh, she thought. Steroid-man wasn't happy to see them.
"Detective Randall," Jefferson murmured, indicating the officer. "He's the lead on the Victoria case."
"He was the lead," Jasi corrected him.
She watched while Randall and the stocky firefighter lumbered closer. When the two men reached her, she held out a hand.
"Agent McLellan, CFBI."
The detective winced at her words. Then his hand crushed her fingers, challenging her to back down.
Jasi squeezed harder until Randall let go.
After introducing her team, she caught Randall fighting with Ben for alpha male status. Detective Randall lost. Tension sliced through the air, thick with male testosterone. She saw Ben wave Eric Jefferson aside.
Jasi stole a glance at the firefighter.
The man's head was turned slightly away. On the shoulder of his jacket, a blue firefighter's patch flapped loosely in the breeze. R. J. Scott, KFD, the patch read.
"Have you got the supplies?" she asked him, feeling a shudder of pain behind her eyes.
Scott dropped the red bag on the ground, crouched down and jerked the zipper open. "Right here."
Her head began to pound. The smoke was invading her pores. She reached into her black backpack and extracted the can of OxyBlast. For half a minute, she sucked on the mouthpiece, inhaling pure oxygen and clearing her lungs.
"The oxy-mask is in the bag," Scott muttered in a voice that was hoarse from breathing in too much smoke.
When he brushed the hair from his eyes, she sucked in a puff of air. The left side of the man's face was scarred―a motley web of spidery burns.
"Hazard of the job," he shrugged when he noticed her shocked expression.
Detective Randall joined them. "You done here, Scott?"
"Yeah," the firefighter grunted.
Randall stared at Jasi and laughed rudely. "I don't know why she needs the mask."
Scott scowled at her. "Yeah, it's as useless as tits on a bull―unless she's gonna go into a live fire."
The men grinned at each other, then caught her eye.
"Detective Randall," she said coldly. "There are many things that are useless on a bull."
She allowed her eyes to slowly drift down past Randall's waist, locking in on his groin area. The man's face grew pinched, and then he muttered something indistinctly.
She turned her back and reached into the bag, removing the familiar navy-blue mask. It had a built-in filtration system that eliminated air contamination, giving the wearer a clean source of oxygenated air. Small and lightweight, the oxy-mask fit securely over the nose and mouth.
She drew it snugly over her head and adjusted her ponytail. Fighting back a feeling of claustrophobia, she took a deep breath.
"I'm fine," she assured Natassia who was watching her intently. "The residue is bad out here."
The oxy-mask muffled her voice.
"It wasn't that big a fire," Scott huffed.
"Not this fire. The Kelowna fire."
The firefighter eyed her suspiciously.
"What? That fire was years ago." The scarred side of his face stretched tautly and barely moved when he spoke.
"Agent McLellan?" Ben called out, hurrying to her side with Sgt. Jefferson in tow. "Everything all right here?"
"Everything's fine," she assured him.
Her head swiveled and her eyes latched onto Detective Randall's. "Right?"
The man flashed her a dangerous smile. "We don't need your help. Victoria PD is more than capable of handling―"
Jasi threw the man a frigid glare.
"This isn't a pissing contest, detective. The CFBI was called in and it's our case now. Both of them. And if you have a problem with that, then take it up with your supervisor."
Outraged, Randall tipped his head toward Scott, then stomped back to the truck and sped away in an angry cloud of dust. Scott watched him go. A second later, he rasped a quick goodbye and headed for the field. Joining a small group of firefighters, he pointed in Jasi's direction and circled one finger beside his head.
Cursing under her breath, she spun around and looked Eric Jefferson directly in the eye.
"What about you, Sgt. Jefferson? You have a problem with us being here?"
The police officer smiled. "Whatever gets the job done, Agent McLellan. That's my motto. With a serial arsonist on the loose we can use all the help we can get."
"Too bad those two don't feel the same way," Jasi growled, casting a shadowed look in Scott's direction.
Jefferson glanced toward the field. "Scott's just a rookie with a big mouth. Randall, on the other hand, he's a hotshot. He needs the collar." He nudged his head in Detective Randall's direction. "It's guys like him you need to worry about…and maybe Chief Walsh."
"I'll take care of the chief," she muttered. "As soon as I find the man."
Jefferson elbowed Ben. "If Scott or Randall get in your way, you let me know. I'm the CS Supervisor."
Jasi caught a brief nod then the man headed for a patrol car.
"Good luck with the chief," Jefferson called over his shoulder.
When the officer was gone, Ben removed two mini-cans of OxyBlast from the equipment bag and passed them to Natassia. Natassia tucked the cans into Jasi's backpack and pulled out a small protective nosepiece. She handed it to Jasi who carefully tucked it away in the top pocket of her black PSI jacket.
"Thanks," Jasi smiled beneath the oxy-mask.
She shoved her arms through the straps of her pack, shifting it slightly so the weight was balanced on her back.
Natassia nudged her. "Let's find the AI Chief. He's supposed to be here somewhere. Then we can get a ride to the scene. Man, I'm starved! I could go for lunch right about now―maybe a nice marinated steak."
Jasi grinned. "Yeah, with sautéed mushrooms."
"Excuse me for interrupting your culinary exchange," Ben nudged dryly. "I'm going to talk to the police. You gonna move or stand there swapping recipes all day?"
Laughing, Jasi adjusted her backpack while Natassia picked up the red bag. Then they headed toward a group of firefighters.
Jasi noted their smoke-covered faces and sooty yellow fire jackets. The men were in the middle of a serious discussion and no one noticed their approach.
"Excuse me, gentlemen," Natassia called out.
The men stopped talking.
Oh Jesus! They're gonna start drooling any minute.
Jasi rolled her eyes when she saw the firefighters focus in on Natassia like a swarm of bees. One of the firefighters stepped forward, grinning unabashedly. The man's eyes slowly perused Natassia's body, then his ice blue eyes turned and rested on hers. One eyebrow lifted when he registered the mask she wore.
She stiffened slightly, registering his obvious contempt.
"Well, well. What have we here?" the man drawled sarcastically. "Uh, ma'am? The fire is out now. There's no need for that mask."
The firefighter was over six feet tall―a lumbering, magnificent personification of man. He had eyelashes that most women would die for, and eyes that were such an unusual pale shade of blue that she wondered if he had visited a SEE office. A jagged scar intercepted his right brow, narrowly missing his eye. A slight cleft in his chin gave him an air of stubbornness. Dark wavy hair clung to his head and she couldn't help but wonder what it would feel like to run her fingers through those curls.
Jasi held his gaze while she examined him like a lab specimen in a jar. Built like a tank, she thought.
"I think maybe you're a bit lost, ma'am," he said, his lip curling disdainfully.
He turned toward the men, brushing her off like an annoying wasp at a barbecue.
She stared at the back of his head and then flipped her badge. "That's Agent McLellan, not ma'am. Where's the chief?" Her voice was cool, her eyes unwavering.
"Whoo-eee!" the man whistled when he caught sight of her ID. "An agent with an attitude. How rare!"
He shifted so that he was standing in front of her. Behind him, some of the men snickered loudly.
Jasi's smile was deadly sweet. "Listen, you arrogant asshole. When I find the chief and report you I'll have you on desk duty for a month. Now where is he?"
The man's eyes snared hers, turning her knees to mush.
Suddenly he reached for her arm, gripped it firmly and led her away from the laughing eyes of the firefighters. She felt the heat of his fingers through her jacket, branding her as his possession.
Natassia nudged her sharply. "Jas―"
"Shh!" Jasi interrupted her, glaring up at the man whose tanned fingers still curled around her upper arm. "I could have you up on charg―"
"Check out his shoulder patch!" Natassia hissed.
Jasi glanced down. Then her eyes found the patch.
Walsh, Chief of Arson Investigations .
Her eyes traveled back to the man's face. His expression was dark and smug. For a second her composure flickered. There was something annoyingly attractive about the man.
But damned if she would let that cloud her judgement.
"Brandon Walsh, at your service," he said blandly, interrupting her thoughts. "AI Chief Walsh, that is."
Jasi ignored his outstretched hand and felt her temper rising when his eyes scoped Natassia's hip-hugging jeans and tight blouse. Men!
When he turned to issue a command to the firefighters, Jasi couldn't restrain the snicker that erupted from her throat. The back of the man's fire jacket was well worn. The lettering in some places was covered with black scorch marks.
Walsh, Chief of Ars In stig tions.
"Arse, all right," she muttered under her breath.
Abruptly, Walsh turned, piercing her with a frigid stare. Then he frowned and jerked his head.
"This way, Agent McLellan."
"Now isn't he a fabulous piece of work?" Natassia mumbled in her ear. "Check out the size of those hands."
Although Jasi had to admit, his hands were well shaped―like the rest of him.
Beside her, Natassia giggled beneath her breath. "You know what they say about large hands―"
"Shhh! Wouldn't want him to hear you. It might go to his head."
And that's big enough already!
She followed Walsh to a table standing beneath the shade of a tent.
He pulled out a chair beside his, offering it to her.
"You gonna tell me why you're wearing that mask?"
Jasi's eyes fastened on his and she took the chair across from him instead. "Allergies."
Walsh watched her for a long moment. "As the AI Chief, I've been informed of your…uh, special team. I wasn't given much info though."
"What have you got so far on the victim?"
"We've only received a few of the reports. Dr. Norman Washburn, age fifty-eight. He's the only victim . The fire originated in his livingroom where Washburn was tied to his recliner with IV tubing."
"Time of death?"
"Estimated TOD, one to two a.m. ," Walsh replied. "We believe he died from smoke inhalation. We'll know for sure when the autopsy's in."
"What about neighbors? Anyone see anything?"
Walsh shook his head. "The cabins are separated by trees and bushes. He had no immediate neighbors."
"Did you ask around?" she asked impatiently.
"Listen," he said glibly. "I'm well aware that we've been ordered by the CFBI to cooperate with your team, but personally, I think AI is capable of handling this ourselves. And I don't really buy into the whole psychic thing."
She detected a trace of bitterness in his voice.
Jasi bit back her reply, frustrated.
She was sick and tired of having to defend herself―and her team. This wasn't the first time that someone had questioned the PSI's value.
"Chief Walsh, we've got two fires, three murder victims and few leads to go on. We're here to aid this investigation, not hamper it. You're not too macho to take help wherever you can get it, are you?"
Walsh laughed. "Macho? Now there's an outdated term."
Jasi refitted her oxy-mask.
She desperately wished she could tear it off her face and rip into the man before her. His attitude grated on her and left her feeling uneasy.
Walsh pointed to a Qwazi laptop and touched the screen with a stylus .
"Here's the data from the X-Disc. Have a seat and read through it. And yes, we asked around. No one saw anything. I'll go check on the other agent. Where'd he go, anyway?"
"Agent Roberts is busy drafting up a rough profile and arranging for transport to the scene," Natassia spoke up for the first time.
"Upload the data, Natassia," Jasi ordered. "I'll go check on Ben."
She cast a warning look in the AI Chief's direction. "I'm counting on your support. Don't get in my way, Walsh."
The man raised a well-shaped eyebrow. "I have no intention of getting in your way. Just stay out of mine."
She clenched her teeth. "Trust me, I'd be happy to stay away from you."
"Jesus, thanks. I think. And here I thought I was irresistible."
Jasi huffed in exasperation.
The man was insufferable. The sooner she finished her job here, the sooner she could put Brandon Walsh out of her mind.
Walsh accompanied her outside, and slipped on a pair of dark sunglasses.
"Need anything else?" she asked tightly.
"Yeah. What's Agent Prushenko's role?"
"She's a Victim Empath."
The man stared blankly, his lip curling in disbelief.
"She picks up vibrations―pictures from the victims," she explained. "Usually she sees their final moments."
"Yeah, right," he scoffed.
Jasi gripped Walsh's arm, her eyes flashing angrily.
"Agent Prushenko has empathic abilities, whether you believe in them or not. She's been a PSI for eight years, traveled worldwide and is recognized as one of the best VE's in the CFBI."
She wanted to slug the man.
Walsh grinned. "What about you?"
"I've been with PSI for almost six years. That's all you need to know."
"What do you do?"
"She reads fires," Natassia interjected, poking her head from the tent.
Wordlessly, Jasi glared at her partner.
"He needs to know, Jasi. Otherwise he's useless."
Jasi hid a sly grin. "I can usually tell you where and how a fire started. Sometimes I pick up the perp's last thoughts or the last thing he saw."
"She's a Pyro-Psychic," Natassia bragged. "Jasi is the best there is."
"Jasi?" Walsh smirked.
"That's Agent McLellan to you!" Jasi snapped.
She'd make Natassia pay for that slip-up.
Oops , Natassia mouthed silently, raising her open hands in the air.
"Time for you to leave, Walsh," Jasi said rudely. "I'm sure there's something out there for the Chief of AI to do. Just remember we're running the show here."
Walsh's breath blew warm against her ear. "We'll see about that."
Then he hurried from the tent. "See ya later…Jasi."
With her eyes glued to his back, Jasi cursed aloud.
"Not if I can help it!"
Brandon Walsh walked away from the tent, unsure about the PSI's role. He had heard of the Psychic Skills Investigators in his dealings with various police departments, but his cases rarely required CFBI intervention. Or interference, as he thought of it.
As the AI Chief, he was compelled to assist the CFBI in any investigation involving serial arsonists. And that didn't sit too well with him―not one bit.
He'd show Agent Jasi McLellan who was boss.
After all, wasn't he the one responsible for capturing the arsonist involved in the Okanagan Mountain forest fires of 2003? He had led the AI team that had tracked down the arsonist and the accelerant used to set the blaze.
The press had blamed an unattended campfire for the raging fires that consumed a massive portion of the BC forest. Then a week later, it was rumored that a single cigarette had ignited the blaze. That was before the public ban on smoking became official―before people were restricted to smoking in the privacy of their homes, in well-ventilated smoking rooms.
Brandon had never believed the fire had started from a cigarette. He personally sifted through acres of destroyed forest, searching for a clue. He had explored the land until he discovered an abandoned cabin deep in the mountains.
There, he found remnants of liquid methylyte and zymene , highly flammable chemicals used in the underground production of Z-Lyte. Z-Lyte, with its sweet musky scent, had become the hallucinogenic drug of the new generation.
Public homeowner records listed Edwin Bruchmann as the owner of the cabin. An hour later, Bruchmann was in custody. When the old man was escorted into an interview room by his caregiver, Brandon was disappointed to discover that Bruchmann suffered from Alzheimer's.
Brandon 's leads were slowly disintegrating―until his suspicions turned to the caregiver. Gregory Lawrence, thirty-nine, had been employed by Bruchmann for the past two years and had access to all of the old man's documents. But Lawrence denied knowing anything about a cabin.
"When was the last time Mr. Bruchmann visited his lakeside cabin?" Brandon had asked the caregiver.
Lawrence 's face had registered confusion.
Then, without thinking, he had blurted, "You idiots! Edwin Bruchmann's cabin is not by any lake. See? I told you, you have the wrong person. Mr. Bruchmann's cabin overlooks the valley."
Brandon had smiled then. "I thought you knew nothing about the cabin?"
"I, uh…" the man stuttered. "Well, I m-might have heard about it once. But that doesn't prove anything!"
A knock on the door halted the interrogation and a detective passed Brandon a toxicology report.
"Maybe not," Brandon had agreed. "But this sure does."
Earlier he had recognized the sweet-smelling body odor common with Z-Lyte users. Suspicious, he offered Lawrence a can of pop. When the man had finished it, Brandon dropped it into a plastic bag and handed it over to the lab for analysis.
It came back positive for Z-Lyte.
The case was immediately closed, Gregory Lawrence locked away, Bruchmann established in a care facility and Brandon promoted to AI Chief.
All accomplished without any outside help.
And Brandon certainly hadn't needed a PSI!
This new case was no different, he reasoned. What could Agent Jasi McLellan possibly offer?
He laughed suddenly, adjusting his shades.
How could the woman expect him to believe she had the power to see into a killer's mind?
I'd have to see it to believe it.
©2007 Cheryl Kaye Tardif
Get the whole story. Order Divine Intervention now.
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