They all sat at a secluded table, at a bar that wasn't Peter's usual hangout. Peter and Kwai Chang Caine, Ray Vecchio, Benton Fraser, and Sherlock Holmes all sat around a table with pints of light beer for everyone. Only Caine refused beer, drinking iced tea instead. Even Diefenbaker, Fraser's deaf wolf, was present, flopped underneath the table and chewing on a barbecued bone. It turned out that the bartender really loved dogs, and he'd given it to Dief 'on the house'. It took about two minutes of arguing between Fraser and the bartender until he would agree to take it for free.
Although Holmes had been briefed by Sandric, Ray and Fraser hadn't heard the whole story from the Toronto end, while the two Caines and Holmes hadn't heard about what happened in Chicago, so it turned into a big storytelling hour.
Since Johnson had apparently started off in Chicago first, Ray was first in laying out the general background, "It started off with some young high school kid around Thanksgiving last year. Athletic hopeful. The kid was over six feet and could probably crush a brick in his hand. This kid was the stuff football coaches' dreams are made of, and he was about to go play for the Wildcats, but when he didn't show up at the Tucson airport, people knew something was up, and a search was started. Some homeless bum called it in when he was walking the tracks in Chicago, hoping he could walk into a train and end his own life."
Holmes interrupted, "That is very interesting, but could you perhaps supply more details about the murder itself?"
Ray looked startled and irritated at the same time, "Details? Anything for you, Mr. Holmes . . . The kid was found strung up between two telephone poles, with cord punched through the wrists where the two bones join together. Somebody strung him up, wrapped up both wrists so that he wouldn't bleed to death . . . and made sure he died a lot more slowly.
"God!" Ray took a deep swig of beer and muttered something about it not being hard enough. "I was on the scene only after the coroner got there, and a lot of the stuff was still pretty fresh. Somebody with the skill of a surgeon took him apart while he was still alive, and burned whatever he took off in a clay pot that was left there. Unglazed, so we couldn't take any prints.
"So, then and there, I figured it was some Satanic ritual. See, there wasn't just the clay pot with the burned body parts, but there was the writing on the wall. Here -- take at look at these -- they're the pictures the camera boys took. See? The guy was some disturbed butcher! Then there's this; he painted the same thing each time in the victim's blood. Nobody seems to know what it is, but it's a good way of ID-ing the killer. But we also think it's a good way to prove that he didn't act alone."
Peter looked disturbed at that, but kept silent.
Fraser joined in, "We've often speculated about the nature of this symbol, and haven't come up with any leads, but we're sure that it's not Asian in origin."
Holmes interrupted, "I believe I have seen writing of that nature in the past. It resembles the Viking runes, but made cursive in an angular manner and . . . apparently interwoven. I do not believe I have ever seen anything like this before . . . if it had been seen before, it would certainly exist in the encyclopediae."
Fraser nodded, "If that's true, then it would certainly narrow down our search. Maybe someone from the university could attempt to translate it."
Holmes smiled, "That would be a logical course of action." What he didn't add, to be diplomatic, was the question of why this hadn't been done in the first place, since this was such a crucial piece of evidence.
Ray continued, "We believed that Johnson acted alone, until yesterday. An informant of ours who pickpocketed Johnson when he was getting a beating . . . turned up dead when we came back to his place for questioning. Someone tore him to pieces and wrote the same symbol on the wall. This was a little bit before Johnson got killed, and clearly impossible because the man was in jail at the time."
Caine looked disturbed as he viewed the photographs, "This is not Satanic. The symbols are all wrong. The symbol is not Chinese, but is Asian in origin. This is the work of the Sing Wa."
Peter snapped at this point, "Sing Wa? They don't do serial killings!"
"Do they not?" Caine looked straight into his son's eyes. "The Sing Wa have 'serial killed' for centuries without fail. They do not even need a reason to kill. Remember that."
Peter remembered. For all the times that the Sing Wa crossed his path, they'd had reasons to kill him, but they'd also killed innocent people for no reason other than being at the wrong place at the wrong time . . . and catching the Sing Wa in a bad mood.
"Sing Wa?" asked Holmes. "I believe I have heard of this band of criminals, but did they not get wiped out by the British?"
Caine raised his eyebrows, his eyes narrowed, "That is a fact that few know, and even fewer remember. You are almost correct. The Sing Wa who lived for fame in the open world were killed off because they had not learned about the reality of the repeating rifle. Those who had always stayed in the shadows . . . flourished."
Holmes' eyes narrowed, "If the Sing Wa are involved . . . then -- " he cut off what he was about to say (probably something about Moriarty). " -- we have the gravest crisis the world has seen in at least a century."
"Hold it here!" barked Ray. "What is this 'Sing Wa?'" Ray mispronounced it horribly, and everyone glared at him, except for Fraser and Caine, who usually took everything in stride.
Caine told this tale, "For everything in this life, there are opposing forces that create the balance that we take for granted, but the balance is not static. It is very dynamic. The Shaolin represent the crane, and the Sing Wa represent the tiger. Whereas we Shaolin try to embody the light and the good, healing wounds . . . the Sing Wa are aggressive, killing and causing wounds."
Ray was about ready to pound his head on the table, "So what do we have here? A cult?"
"If that is what makes you feel better. Or you could think of them as a collection of murderous individuals who use the world's need to create balance to further their own destructive ends. The forces that cause balance are the most powerful, and if anyone opens the way, these forces can create the most brutal killers -- even if these individuals unknowingly do so."
Ray stared at the man as if Caine was trying to rattle off a complex equation with a verbal proof.
Holmes made another observation, "While Detective Vecchio and Constable Fraser were reporting their observations, I took the liberty of looking through their written reports . . . and I find one observation which they have not mentioned; the deceased Mr. Paladin mentioned a young lad shooting this killer repeatedly. If this man appeared to escape death once, perhaps he could have done so again?"
"That's a possibility," nodded Peter, "except for the fact that the Chief shot a round through his head. Unless he can stuff his brains back in, he's a dead man."
"That certainly clears things up," Holmes didn't appear disturbed that his theory had gotten shot out of the air. In fact, he even appeared relieved.
"And so," Ray concluded, "Mr. Johnson killed a total of four people that we know of, if we exclude Mr. Paladin. Same M.O.s, same everything. And the lack of killings that coincided with the startup of the killings in Toronto matches . . . except for the Paladin problem."
Everyone was silent for a few moments.
Holmes was the first to speak, "It appears that we have a lot to meditate on, gentlemen, since this Mr. Paladin problem adds a certain difficulty." The look in his eye said that he was more certain of what was going on, but also that he had an open mind and wasn't ready to speak his views.
Peter was deep in thought, and took a sip of beer. "The way I see it, we need to decipher that symbol . . . and do a comparison between all the victims from both cities. Maybe there's some pattern that we're all missing . . . "
Holmes spoke again, "And perhaps one of us should review all of the recorded evidence completely again, from both cities."
Ray interrupted, "We still need to ID the body, Fraser."
Fraser nodded, hiding a knowing smile, "Of course, Ray." Ray hated paperwork and reading with a passion.
The beer meeting was over, with everyone assigned a task.
Too late, a question came to Peter's mind -- he wondered where Kermit was. He could really use the man's help about now.
* * * *
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