Walking on Thin Ice

By Demeter

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BEST EPISODE RELATED GEN STORY

BEST SHORT STORY - GEN

EMAIL: Demeter

Notes: January Themefic for SentinelAngst.

Warning: Discussion of child abuse in the context of 'Cypher'. Nothing graphic, but be warned.

Feedback is very welcome.

 

What a day. In some way, I'm relieved it's finally facts for everyone that I never had to do anything with the leak, even though I did some pretty stupid things recently. Anyway, my reputation's clean and of course I could feel a little smug being right about the killer's profile – that thought is too creepy though, when I consider that the one who's praised me most about it actually is David Lash.

I had hoped to hear it from Jim, silly, but I wish he'd say it just once, that I really did something good this time. It was Lash instead, 'You too, Blair, very impressive fieldwork'. The memory still makes me shudder.

Now Lash's father is here for an interview, hopefully willing and able to help us finding his son; and I'm allowed to sit in. That at least is proves that Jim has trusted me all the time, which makes me infinitely grateful. However, I'm already beginning to feel somewhat claustrophobic in the confines of the interrogation room.

"So what can you tell us about your son... Mr. Lash?" Jim begins. He's standing in one corner, me in front of the two way mirror, while Lash senior is seated at the table, an ash-tray in front of him. It's a bizarre situation; the man doesn't even seem surprised much his son has grown up to become a wanted serial killer.

"Hey, Davey was a strange little egg, I'll tell you. Me and the mama, we could never connect with him, you know? She'd go to hold him, he'd cry every time. I figured maybe he needs a pal or something..." he recalls, showing no real emotion on his worn face.

Jim walks over to stand beside me, casually, while Lash goes on, "...so I bagged us this little mallard from a lake by where we was living. It was cute. We called it Homer. Davey choked it to death," he says matter-of-factly.

Here it goes. I'm not sure if I want to hear the rest of the story. Killing animals as a kid, humans as an adult. But what set him off in the first place?

"Kept him in his room for days. Davey's little brother, Jimmy? He was something else. Mama used to say the sun shined in that kid's eyes." Lash senior is a heavy smoker. I wonder if the smoke is bothering Jim. There has to be some way to, I don't know, to turn his sense of smell down somehow. 'You've got to learn how to turn things on and off.' My words. So I should be the one to come up with a solution, right?

"You said Jimmy. Where is he now?" asks Jim after a questioning look at me. I just shrug, but I'm feeling cold suddenly - as if I know the answer already.

"Dead. On his fifth birthday, found him in his bed. The doc says, 'it just happens sometimes.' I says, 'God took the wrong boy.' The damnedest thing after that -- Davey, he starts pretending he's Jimmy."

Bingo! Now we're on to something. I think of the yellow scarf dangling from a gloved hand - and the one around Susan Frasier's throat. "Does the color yellow mean anything to you?"

"Yeah, my wife's favorite color. Everything in the damn house was yellow."

"Where is your wife? Could we speak to her?" As he's talking, Jim goes back to the table, sitting down next to Lash's father.

"She started drinking heavy after Jimmy died. She says everything is my fault. We got divorced. I ain't seen her since." That doesn't seem to bother him any.

The spot where I'm standing seems too dark to me, I sit down as well, to get a better view of the interaction, I'm telling myself. Closer to Jim, that too. "So who got custody?"

"Judge made her take him."

I am distracted somehow then, realizing I was close to pulling my sleeves over my hands. My Mom always said I was 'hiding in my clothes' when I was younger, and right now it's the most inappropriate thing to do.

Jim takes over again. "How'd she treat him?"

"She'd lock him in his room for days when she was going out, you know, with her friends."

"You mean men?"

"Yeah, whatever. He'd cry and cry, you know? He started smearing filth on himself. His mama'd punish him something fierce--"

God, I want out of here! I don't know where to look. I just want out. This is getting too close, too dangerous to think about all the implications of his statements.

"She gave him hot baths, scrubbing and scrubbing like she could clean him on the inside."

If I could, I'd just press my hands over my ears, to block out the words, and their echoes from within. Again: Inappropriate.

"And you knew about this."

There's this certain tension about Jim that I've learned to interpret very early. He stays polite, but underneath, I know, he wants to throttle the man who knew all the time of the abuse his son was exposed to, but let it happen anyway.

Which reminds me, I've got to ask Jim about his childhood someday – a welcome distraction from the here and now. Not that it's going to happen just so, based on my recent experiences, I'd say it'd be more like pulling teeth.

"The boy was a devil. I was hoping she would kill him," are Mr. Lash's final words, sad testimony to what being a parent meant to him.

Anyway, now we know where this monster's coming from. At least. Hopefully, this will be over soon.

***

Something still bothers me as I'm driving home from the university; except for having pissed off Christine just once more. That's what you get for saying things before thinking. Water under the bridge, I guess; my thoughts are still occupied with the interview anyway.

Lash's mother abused him, and the angry helpless child turned into a predator. It doesn't happen every time that the victim becomes a perpetrator, of course, but the relation's obvious here. I can't help wondering if there's more. Lash senior's total indifference. Like he wasn't really capable of any empathy; like he --

Damn it!

I hope Jim will be already home when I get there; I just have to share this theory with him. The mother's behavior might be an explanation for Lash going on a killing spree later – or maybe it was just her part in an extremely destructive family system.

What happened before?

Homer, the duck?

Little Jimmy?

David Lash started killing before, and I have an idea about this.

***

"We are a lot alike," he says with an air of satisfaction, while I'm struggling to keep my eyes open, the sound of my heartbeat seemingly drowning out everything else. I want to scream again, but he's already showed me it's useless. "You'll become my very special friend..."

God help me--

"You know, I do some research on who I'm going to be. And imagine my surprise when I found out that your Mom's a worthless slut, just like mine... Left you all alone in the care of her 'friends', didn't she? What happened when you were all alone with them, eh? I know."

I'm trembling, don't really know if it's from the drug or the suffocating fear – it just might be the anger that's building up inside, it's all lies, what the hell does he know about *my* Mom anyway?

"No." It's all I can say, all I can think.

Not that he cares. Lash grins at me, asking me for a "Progress report. How am I doing, man? Do I make a good 'you'?"

He can't know anything about me, he's just taunting me, but two can play that game...

"You *suck*..."

***

Don't you ever look back.

The message we get from mythology is clear; everyone who was released from the underworld and hesitated, was immediately punished by the Gods. Orpheus and Eurydice, Demeter and Persephone, they all had to pay the price in the end. The images are quite intrusive, and I'm careful not to turn around, not to look at the dentist's chair and the chains.

Jim is saying something, but listening takes too much of an effort now, and what he says without words is crystal clear anyway. His arm is around my shoulders, as he's leading me out of the warehouse. I drink in his presence, solid and real and reassuring; the nightmare is over at least.

Now, I only want to go home, and I'm so very glad it's not the rat-infested warehouse anymore. I'd have rather slept outdoors than there.

***

Of course, that part doesn't happen as soon as I had hoped, because Jim insists on going to the hospital first, not accepting any protest. We're lucky though; they send me home in the care of my very own protector. Quite an image.

Surprisingly, I manage to fall asleep, at least for a while until the nightmares hit. I wake up sitting upright in my bed, wondering if I screamed. Stupid; most certainly it doesn't take screaming to wake a Sentinel.

There isn't any clear image I remember, just the vague but oppressive feeling of a threat, and helplessness. It's not so hard to guess where *that* is coming from. The most disturbing thing about it is that I actually felt much younger, like a child that cannot just walk away. Like David Lash.

We are a lot alike...

...do I make a good 'you'?

Whoa. I don't need this now! I get out of bed to stand on embarrassingly shaking legs when I finally make the connection. The theory I wanted to tell Jim about. Only that it's almost three a.m. now, and he will be so not pleased to hear about it at this time of night.

I've got to try. "Jim?"

"You okay down there, Chief?" the answer comes immediately; and relief washes over me.

"Yeah. I think so. Look, I'm sorry to wake you, but..."

"No problem. I wasn't asleep." He's already halfway down the stairs, so he must be telling the truth. Or isn't he?

We sit down, and I suddenly don't know where to begin. What if I got it all wrong?

"I know it sucks," Jim says patiently, "but nightmares are the most normal thing right now. It gets better with time."

"It's not that. Jim -- I think -- Lash's father abused him, too."

The thought is just so depressing, I almost can't quite back the tears anymore. 'I says, God took the wrong boy'. Lash senior must be satisfied right now.

It's not the right moment to break down, I know, I've got to finish now what I started. "You know," I say, "if it's true that he killed the last three months, or maybe before he was institutionalized, because of what his mother did – what about his little brother? Lash said that his wife started drinking after Jimmy's death. So what ever happened before that? Maybe I'm way out of line here, but if it is true, maybe others were involved...?"

I guess I thought Jim would dismiss the idea and send me back to bed. None of that happens. He looks at me, surprised.

"I had this idea right after the interview. I wanted to tell you earlier, but then..." I don't have to go on; Jim knows exactly what I'm talking about.

"The case is going to be closed now, but I could make a few phone calls. Dr. Bates' colleagues might know something. Talking to Mrs. Lash could be still worth a shot."

I just nod, relieved that he's taking this serious. It's true, people need to find explanations for the evil that happens to them, everyone of us, because life would be too hard to take if you acknowledged that a lot of it is randomly.

For sure, my Mom would disagree; according to her beliefs, everything happens for a reason, for you to learn from it. That red-hot anger I felt when Lash was defaming her, rises to the surface again, layer after layer of protection against repressed questions, like, did he really research his victims like he told me?

"We'll try and figure this out, Chief," Jim says calmly, pushing those darker thoughts further away, holding me in the very present.

Thank you.

"Think you can go back to sleep now?"

"I guess. Thanks for -- you know --" Being there, I wanted to say, but I don't trust myself to speak that moment.

"It's alright." As Jim passes me by, he squeezes my shoulder briefly. "Whatever we find, it can never be an excuse." With those last words, his voice is taking a hard edge, and the realization strikes me: He's not talking about the murderer in general. It's about what Lash had in mind for *me*.

"Goodnight, Chief."

"Goodnight," I say after a moment, knowing Jim can still hear me even though he's already reached the top of the stairs, the thought making me smile. Maybe my mother is right after all, and there is something to learn here, namely that you should never let your past dictate your life, no matter how hard this may seem at times.

Your dreams can still come true. Didn't I prove it? ;-)

THE END