Fraser emerged from an odd sort of opening. It was as if he had entered a wide plaza. The apartment buildings all formed a large circle, facing outward. The empty place was covered with asphalt, with only the occasional piece of stray litter. The lighting was bad. Horrid stenches assaulted his nostrils, and he thought he could smell rotting flesh.
"I know you're out here!" Fraser yelled to the open night. "I saw you run here . . . so you might as well come out."
Nobody answered him. Nobody stepped out.
Suddenly he vomited. It was a long and painful ordeal, and when it was done, he felt drained and dying.
Standing up with difficulty, he noticed a newcomer.
Fraser looked deeply into those eyes. They were his own. That face was a mirror image of his own. Also present was an evident sense of detachment in the expression. "What are you?"
In response the alter-Fraser screamed in fear, but the expressions on his face didn't match the tone of the scream. If anything it was laughing and violent. Like that 'Pinhead' in the one and only horror movie that he had allowed Ray to force him to watch - 'Hellraiser' it was. Maybe the creator of that movie had seen the same demon that Fraser believed he was seeing now?
The screaming stopped and Fraser found that he was lying on the ground, not knowing how he got there.
"Damn it!" he heard Ray yell. "Almost got the son of a bitch!"
Ray shone a flashlight in his eyes, "Are you all right, buddy?"
"I will be when you get that flashlight out of my eyes."
"Sorry. Did you get a good look at the guy?"
"Yeah, it was me."
"What?! The freak who was trying to kill you? It's dark out here, but I could sure tell you it wasn't you." He kicked some trash violently. "Shit!"
Fraser stood up slowly, "Relax." He gathered his wits about himself and knelt to the ground. Nothing but asphalt. That's the one thing he hated about the city. No footprints, and no blood. Nothing he could use to track whatever this was. "Whoever it was didn't count on you following me. He'll show up again." Fraser didn't tell Ray that he wished Ray hadn't interfered with what had been about to happen. He had this gut feeling that he was on the verge of something very interesting, and the hunger of finding the secret of this interesting thing was making him feel the same kind of pain that hunger caused.
"Fraser? Your necklace is glowing."
Fraser looked down. "Yes, it is."
* * *
Peter held a hand in front of Holmes' chest, "Hold still. There's something here."
"So you heard it too?" asked Holmes softly. "I believe it was someone yelling, but it's too faint."
Peter nodded absently. He had heard the yelling after he felt . . . something out of place. An unexplained dread that shouldn't have been there. A feeling of nervousness, a sensing of something with a subset of nerves that he hadn't known he had.
He drew his gun. "Come on. Something's up."
* * *
Asmodeus smiled innocently, holding out his arms. "You judge me unfairly!"
"I do not judge." Caine's words might have been open, but his expression was certainly closed around disapproval and opposition. "You have not yet answered my question; what role do you play here?"
"Is it not obvious? I'm a guardian, just as I always have been. Maybe Solomon has gone beyond the point of disintegration, but his treasures remain. And the Bible was wrong, I'm sad to say -- he might have been rich in gold, but he was even richer in knowledge."
"And so you kill in order to protect these riches?"
Asmodeus held out his arms again, innocence pouring out his eyes. "I have killed nobody! I'm sad to say that they're dead, but it was their doing, not mine!"
"Is that so?"
"Then give me this knowledge -- who has killed these innocents?"
"Innocents!" spat Asmodeus. "There is no innocence in the shadows!"
"Yes! You've looked at the patterns -- all these 'victims' were Good Samaritans. They're all outspoken Christians who always have a few hundred for needy causes and a helping hand for those in need. But tell me this; what makes a Christian? What do all 'Born-Again Christians' have in common?"
"Their zeal. Their belief in salvation of the soul."
Asmodeus snorted, "You're thinking like an optimist!"
"As you are the pessimist."
"No!" He was angry. "I'm a realist! I remember the arrogant Greek who coined the terms. He talked about the glass half-filled with water. It never occurred to him that there's a third school of thought that would have said, 'Either drink or pour out the rest of the glass. Or fill it up if you want more.'"
Caine nodded. "What is your intended answer to your question?"
"Their pain. Their guilt. The fact that they are all intimately entwined with the darkness. How else can they know others so intimately without having met them before? How else can they understand another's pain and guilt -- they identify with the darkness within us all. Now tell me again how a Christian is white and pure!"
"What are you saying?"
"These were very good Christians, but poorly-developed human beings who asked for too much." He winked, "I'll leave you with this; if the Temple was rebuilt, would the Jewish God welcome His children with a loving hug or a torrent of lightning bolts? Why would it be one or the other?"
Caine couldn't tell whether it was a mystical power or a trick of the light, but Asmodeus vanished with the final words, "A man of righteousness is standing in the same puddle of shit just like everyone else, and it's the filthy drunk who has more honesty about it than the saint."
* * *
Holmes looked around pensively. "Have you ever walked into a cemetery the evening after the dead were buried?"
"No. Why?" Peter was truly puzzled by the question.
"It has that feel, as if the dead are not quite asleep."
"When someone was murdered like this, I wouldn't be surprised."
"Look. I have found that which I hoped to find; something that your forensic scientists missed."
"What?!" That was one of the worst things that Peter had ever heard. It was impossible.
"A badly-written sentence, but one that works quite admirably as a message. Your investigators did not know where to look."
On following Sherlock's pointing, Peter was enlightened. The poem was in plain view, and most clearly relevant. At the same time, he could understand why it could have been missed so easily . . . it wasn't quite within the area of the murder scene. Graffiti.
Pain is the door
Knowledge is the key
Fear is the trap
Surrender is the way to escape
Almost as senseless and structureless as a beatnik poetry session.
"What does it mean?" wondered Peter.
"Consider what we know. Our murder victims are devout Christians who are clearly of the philosophical persuasion. That is what they all have in common. Surely one of them might leave a warning or an explanation? Surely pain, knowledge, fear, surrender, and escape are common themes within religion and philosophy?"
"Yes . . . " Peter slowly nodded his head in an even slower-growing comprehension. "It's only raising more questions."
"Of course, but this answers a previous question that was unanswered."
"Why did they die? This poem does not point to the killer, but I daresay that it will be the letter in the pocket that confirms him once he is found."
"What next, Mr. Holmes?"
"I believe I must explore the sensations that a particular teahouse in Chinatown might have to offer. Beer does not quite suit my fancy at the moment."
They heard some sounds from the distance, and saw two shadows emerge from the darkness. Those shadows turned out to be the Chicago cop and the Mountie. Ray, for one, was surprised. "What the hell are you doing here?"
Peter nodded at Holmes. "Following one of Holmes' hunches. What about you?"
Fraser looked troubled, "I don't know yet. It's a long story."
"What about the body?"
"It's the same."
Holmes nodded, "Which would seem to fit the facts. If anything, it confirms that there is more than one agent at work in this affair. Now it raises the question, is the modus operandi a matter of ritual, or training?"
* * * *
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