The Jester (final).jpg (355519 bytes)

By Demeter

Cover by Ankaree

Artwork by Lisa, Romanse, Ankaree

 

PRELUDE

The young man hummed to himself as he poured the gasoline onto the barren concrete floor. It was a big building, so the fire wouldn't destroy it entirely, but that was exactly the plan. This was his biggest coup so far, and it would make him famous far beyond the borders of Washington State.

He was satisfied with himself.

Taking one last look around, he walked out of the door, lit himself a cigarette outside and threw the match inside. He left his ID a few feet away.

From a safe distance, he watched for a while as the fire grew, then whistling, he walked away from the scene.

He felt invincible.

 

Part One

"Let her go, Chief! She's dead."

"No, damn it!" Blair wasn't ready to let go, not at all, as he resumed CPR on the woman they'd just barely rescued from the burning building. He couldn't even say why this was getting to him so much. Okay, every senseless death got to him, but this one was particularly unfair.

It had been so damn close, the ambulance only a few blocks away, according to Jim - but still he had to admit defeat, because Jim had also said there wasn't a heartbeat anymore, and you couldn't argue much with a Sentinel.

Like so often before, a coincidence in combination with Jim using his senses had led them to a crime scene. When they'd arrived at the burning warehouse, it was Jim who'd noticed the heartbeat inside, and they got her out, still hopeful, but then the young woman, no more than thirty, had stopped breathing. She had probably inhaled too much of the smoke.

And no matter how hard Blair wanted to try, he couldn't turn back time for her.

"The paramedics are here. Come on, Blair."

No. He felt Jim's hands on his shoulders, pulling him back, and he struggled against their hold half-heartedly, but then admitted defeat and let himself be pulled up. He felt like crying all of a sudden, but this was definitely not the place and time to give in, with medical and law enforcement personnel all over the place.

Fighting the surge of emotion, Blair took a deep breath, not very surprised when he was hit by a wave of dizziness. Beneath the frustration, there was something else he couldn't define yet, like a foreboding. It would have been important to save her - now something was going to change drastically.

Say that again?

"Easy there. I'm sorry," Jim whispered, reaching out a steadying hand once more.

"I'm okay." He was still futilely trying to decipher that message from his subconscious, or whatever it had been anyway, or maybe just trying to deny what had just happened, when all they'd wanted tonight had been a quiet evening at home. "Trust me, I'm all right," he said again, wanting the contact, but knowing at the same time that there were more than a few colleagues who still observed them with suspicion.

Testimony to his own misjudgment, the ground came crashing towards him just a moment later.

***

No, this was definitely not how he'd imagined his Friday evening - despite Blair's protests, Jim was still insisting on a hospital visit, and what was worse, the paramedic recommended the same. Unfortunately, the man knew what he was talking about, because he'd been there that fatal day at the fountain. Not that Blair remembered, but Jim surely did, and he and the young man were of the same opinion - with Blair's medical history, it was better to be safe than sorry.

While they were still arguing, Rafe walked up to them, proclaiming somewhat sarcastically, "I'm surprised you didn't find that."

He held up a card that had already been slipped into an evidence bag, and Blair wondered if he'd fallen asleep and was still dreaming. The bit of malice in the detective's voice was totally out of place - and yet, he'd heard it clearly.

"Sorry, we were just a little busy trying to save the woman first," Jim snapped back.

So he'd noticed it, too. Not good. "Guys," Blair said wearily. "Not now, okay. Can I take a look?"

With a shrug, Rafe handed him the card, and he looked at it closely, noticing the fine craft that had been used in making this little piece of art. He'd seen a copy before, but not the real thing. The M. O. was familiar to every cop in Cascade, but as far as they knew, the perp hadn't been connected to any particularly violent crime before. Certainly not manslaughter. With a frown, Blair stated what they probably all thought: "This isn't like him."

On the surface, the guy was a small-time criminal - graffiti, small thefts, damage to property. But wherever he'd struck, he'd also given the police hints that more serious crimes were being committed. The house he'd decorated with graffiti turned out to be the residence of a man who was abusive to his wife and children, and the damaged car belonged to a known drug dealer who was steadily building a porn ring.

He always left a tarot card at the scene of his crimes, his signature: The Jester.

Straightening up, still with the hope he could spend the night at home, Blair said, "He definitely loves the attention, otherwise he'd have just called 911 instead. Until now, he's always been kind of helpful, helping to uncover bigger crimes. The jester is the figure that stands for rejecting convention, searching for new solutions. In Middle Age, he was the only one who was able to tell the truth to the king without fear of getting punished. It's about doing things differently, and--"

Unfortunately, Jim hadn't bought into his obfuscation, interrupting him in mid-lecture. "Sorry, but we're still going to the hospital." He had, however listened to what Blair had said.

"Well, Chief, there is something different now - someone's dead."

***

"Hey, babe."

Blair grumbled something that was unintelligible even to a Sentinel, and with a pout, he said, "I hate you," no doubt referring to the fact that the doctor had indeed wanted to keep him overnight for observation.

Blair had argued that in fact no one could 'observe' him better than Jim, and maybe he had a point there, but Jim had been more than willing to accept Dr. Grant's orders. The crucial scene - Blair trying to save the woman's life by breathing for her, and failing - was still too vivid in his mind, bringing up bad memories. Even though he'd been lucky that last time, there was no way he'd take any chances when it came to Blair's health, even when Blair himself didn't share his opinion.

A little grouchiness on his lover's side, he could handle. It meant things weren't *that* bad.

"I don't believe you." He sat down on the bedside and reached out to tug on a dark curl playfully, then leaned in for a soft kiss. "I'm sorry, though. I had other plans for tonight myself," he admitted.

Jim could sense the change in Blair's mood when he was kissed back, thoroughly.

"Oh yes, you be sorry," Blair whispered against Jim's ear, sending shivers down his spine. "About not keeping your promises. I don't think your offer from this morning is still standing, given the fact that I'll spend the night here, and--"

Instead of answering, Jim shut him up with another kiss, suddenly feeling a deep and profound need for the closeness. His senses were vaguely distracted by the smell of smoke, as dangerous as the memory of stale water, and beneath it, something else.

Fairly lost in those sensations, he didn't notice when the door was opened, and a cheerful voice said, "This might be just what the doctor ordered, but I'm sorry to tell you visiting hours are long over. Why don't you let him sleep and come back tomorrow, Detective?"

The nurse grinned, while Blair protested hastily, "Just a few more minutes, Nancy. It's important we talk about some details of this case."

Jim thought he was stunningly beautiful with that blush and the look of mortification.

"I can see *that*," she returned, chuckling. "Okay, deal. But I'll be back in five minutes."

When she left the room, Blair's expression had changed to one of worry. "What was that about Rafe? I mean, I was out of it for a moment, but he seemed weird."

"You're right. I can't explain it either, but I think he wasn't too happy with Simon assigning us to the Jester case. I'm sure we'll find out about it - you'll be back in time for poker night tomorrow."

Jim had noticed, too, that their colleague had been tense for some time now, but whether it had to do with Rafe's relationship with Megan Connor, or his sister Trina living with them, or something completely different - since poker night was taking place at Rafe's and Megan's tomorrow night, there'd surely be an opportunity to get an answer.

"Right. Something about that card?"

"Not as far as I know. No prints, no evidence. If someone's copying the guy, he's doing it damn near perfectly." Of course, there'd be lots of files to study and facts to compare, but he shared Blair's gut feeling that the man who called himself The Jester was an unlikely candidate for murder. Which meant they were looking for two perps at least - if they weren't all wrong about it, and they were dealing with one man who had decided to move on to a bigger game.

"The woman?" Blair looked away, and in that instant, his pain was so palpable that Jim felt like he could almost touch it.

"No ID yet, but it's a matter of time, I guess."

There was silence for a moment. Knowing the nurse would return soon, Jim didn't want to leave Blair with the image of the dead woman, so he leaned close again, opting for a light tone, as he said, "And before I go, I want you to take a look at what I brought you - before you go on about me not keeping my promises."

He handed the cup he'd placed on the nightstand to his lover, and Blair sniffed at the drink carefully, his eyes lighting up with a genuine smile. "Chocolate?"

"Yeah, well..." Jim said, pleased with the effect of his little gift. "I promised you something hot."

InHospital.jpg (33006 bytes)

***

There'd been quick success in identifying the woman who'd died at the warehouse after her description had been given to the press. An older brother living in Cascade turned up. Her name was Julia Edmonds, and she'd been working as a bank teller. He had no idea what she could be doing in the warehouse, claiming they hadn't been in touch in some weeks. Darren Edmonds was clearly distraught about his sister's death, but it seemed they hadn't seen each other often.

He'd also given them an address, so Jim and Blair went to take a look at her apartment. The bed was made, everything was in order in the living room, not even a journal lying around. There were food and drinks neatly stacked in the fridge.

"Seems like she was very neat." Jim summed it up, as he was taking a last look around. It seemed like she had left that morning for work and never come back, but there was no hint as to why she would have been in the burning building - or what she could have had to do with the Jester anyway. The man had, so far, considered himself one of the good guys, if with unconventional means - why would he deem her death necessary? It didn't make any sense whatsoever.

"You call that neat? I'd call it obsessive-compulsive," Blair muttered, his head still inside a cabinet. "Man, I don't know - those tablecloths and the china - it looks like she spent more money than she'd earn in her job."

The first part of it had made Jim smile, because it'd been so predictable - but Blair had a point about the money. This apartment hadn't been furnished from a discount store. "Let's take a look at the garage," he suggested.

When they did, Blair wasn't the only one who gaped at the bright red Porsche.

Shaking his head, Jim said, more to himself than aloud, "Whose money was the girl spending anyway?"

***

That evening, there was a new initiate to poker night, Major Crimes' dearly held tradition. Chris Foley was studying criminal science and collecting material for his dissertation; so far, they'd only seen him briefly at the station. He was young, not older than twenty-five, with red streaks in his dark hair, and an earring in his left lobe.

Nothing revolutionary for the CPD any longer, Blair reflected with some amusement, as they all took seats around the table.

"Meet my new partner," Megan said dryly, rolling her eyes.

"Whoa. That sounded different than when Jim first said it."

"That's because he had certain intentions towards you. Well, I don't."

"That's a pity," Chris commented with a bright smile in Megan's direction.

Everybody laughed, even Rafe, but Blair hadn't missed that the reaction seemed forced. Before he could say anything though, Rafe's kid sister, Trina, entered the room. Wearing high heels and a short skirt, her long hair pulled back in a braid, which enhanced the effect of her make-up that made her look older than her fifteen years, and Blair wondered if there had been trouble regarding that subject.

"Hi everybody," she greeted, then whispered something to Megan.

"I thought we'd said, not tonight," was the quiet answer.

"I just don't understand why I'm the only one who's not allowed to have fun tonight!"

Those words were loud enough to make all other conversations in the room halt, as Trina stalked from the room, banging the door shut behind her. Both Megan and Rafe looked a bit embarrassed, but then Megan got up with an apologetic smile. "I'll be back. Sorry, guys."

Maggie Taggart shook her head. "Nothing to be sorry for, honey. Joel and I know what it's like to live with a teenager under the roof. Can be a pleasure, but sometimes... it's just plain war."

***

Blair felt bone-tired. He found it hard to follow the game, because there was so much going on between the lines, so to speak, and the tension had been growing continuously since Megan returned to the table. More than that, he had to fight intrusions on his thoughts about Julia Edmonds, who had died despite all his efforts, and there was something at the very back of his mind about that Jester guy that refused to come into his consciousness.

He was now ready to attribute Rafe's strange behavior at the crime scene to the obvious difficulties he seemed to be having with his sister. That had to be hard for all of them - Trina wasn't just the average teenager; she was one who had lost her parents only a year ago, and been forced to start a new life in a foreign country.

So far, she seemed to have adjusted well, but a trauma like that didn't take much for memories to be triggered. He wondered if the new family had ever even talked about the impact of anniversary days.

That wasn't all, though. Megan appeared unnerved about her assigned ride-along, even though Chris Foley seemed nice, if a bit wet behind the ears. Blair supposed he was getting a pretty good mirror of himself in his early days with Major Crimes, here. If somebody had told him then that he'd end up as a detective and profiler with the PD, he would have called them crazy.

Anyway, lots of things hadn't happened as initially planned.

He looked at Jim, and just for a moment, their eyes met, a surge of happiness outbalancing the discomfort that was plaguing him. I'm such a lucky bastard.

With sudden inspiration, he spoke up, "I think I'm calling it a night. I'm beat."

"Ah, you're just saying that, Hairboy - because you're losing," Henri Brown accused.

At the nickname, Chris Foley grinned at Blair, but it seemed open and friendly, as if they were sharing a joke that the others didn't understand. "Sometimes it's hard to be the one who's different, but somebody's got to do the job," he said.

Jim watched the exchange with fond amusement. "You need a ride, by any chance?"

"You bet I do." Blair just couldn't help it, even though the following catcalls and whistles could have been predicted.

"Good," Jim said. And to his colleagues, "You've got dirty minds, you know that?"

***

Inside her room, in which she had locked herself, Trina Rafe stood in front of the mirror, watching as the tears made black trails of mascara on her cheeks. She raised the bottle she was clutching tightly to her lips, and drank deeply. And another swig. The burn of the alcohol was warm and comforting.

***

Once they were upstairs in bed, Blair had said something about how good it was to be home again, yawned deeply, and whatever plans he'd also had were delayed for the moment, as he fell sound asleep. Jim had expected that, and he was quite satisfied with simply holding Blair close, much as he would have liked to discuss what he'd picked up tonight.

Of course, his lover had noticed some things, too. When it came to people and their psychodynamics, Blair had something like an enhanced sense for it. A skill he'd possessed long before his initiation to shamanism. Hell, he'd seen through Jim the first time they met.

Directing his thoughts back to this evening, Jim frowned at the memory. Of course, he could have been mistaken, and he honestly hoped so. There had been beer on the table, so the smell could have come from the open bottles in the room - but it had been more distant, and naturally, he could distinguish beer from vodka. Somebody in that apartment had had a stiff drink while everybody was there.

How did you approach a subject like that?

If there wasn't a problem, why had the atmosphere in the room almost been vibrating with suppressed emotions - anger, confusion, helplessness?

At first, he'd thought that Foley might have an interest in Megan, but no, his eyes had shone when he looked at Trina. Even though Jim was nothing but relieved that Trina seemed to be over the crush she'd had for him earlier, Chris wasn't of an appropriate age to be boyfriend material either.

No doubt - there was trouble brewing, and with the current case, as demanding and confusing as it was, it was the last thing any of them needed.

It made him cherish this present moment of peace all the more. "Love you," Jim whispered, drawing the sheets higher around them. As if in answer, Blair snuggled closer to him, his sleep fortunately undisturbed by yesterday evening's events.

***

"Don Haas is having a field day with this new development. He's right in one thing though - the guy went over the line this time. I want you to find that clown, and soon." Simon had had a conversation with the mayor over the phone, and the urgency in his voice was not to be mistaken.

Don't you just love Monday mornings? Funny, Jim mused, how the public image of the man they were looking for had changed practically overnight. The press had initially made the Jester into a hero - as quickly as that he'd become a murdering freak.

For a moment, he wondered what would have happened if Blair had not denied the existence of Sentinels. When would the superhero cop have become a monster in the people's eyes? - this was not the moment for idle musings. "I'm still not sure if he's our guy," he said instead to Simon. "He's never killed before."

"The tarot card, same manufacturer, no traces - it all fits so far. The artist has been interviewed before by..." Simon looked over the report quickly until he found it. "Bennett and Larsson. Go talk to him again, see if you can find something. Rafe, Connor, you check into Edmonds' accounts again. Maybe we'll find a hint about how she came to have that kind of money."

"Figures," Rafe muttered to himself, barely audible to anyone but Jim. And then, louder: "I wouldn't have expected anything else." He stood up so abruptly, he almost knocked his chair over.

"Detective?" Simon's tone was stern; he'd obviously expected a confrontation, too. No surprise there. It seemed like things hadn't improved any in Rafe's and Connor's household over the weekend, and Jim wondered if it had to do with his observation.

"Is there anything else?" Simon inquired.

"Oh, yes, there's something else!"

Blair sent Jim a questioning look, but Jim just shrugged. They had briefly talked about their impressions of Saturday night, but hadn't come to any conclusion yet.

Megan, who had been cringing at Rafe's sneer, said firmly, "Now I don't think we should--"

"Yes," he interrupted her, "we should. Here and now. You know, I'm sick and tired of how this unit seems to consist of three people only. Oh, I forgot. Four, maybe. Megan gets a good case every now and then when the dream team is too busy."

There was a moment of explosive silence. Jim would have liked to say a word or two to this, and it was easy to tell that Sandburg and Connor were probably feeling the same way, but it was Simon's job to handle it, so he waited.

And the captain did handle it. "Is that is how you see it?" Simon asked evenly, and Jim thought Simon was good at hiding his internal struggle about the accusation, that was way below the belt, and still keeping the role of the superior. "I'd like to remind you it's not entirely true. When you brought your sister home to live with you, it was you who asked me for a lighter case load."

"You're going to throw that in my face now? That I have to take care of her?"

"No, not at all. I admit it happened a few times that the Chief asked me to give a case specifically to Jim and Blair. That was out of my hands. And before the secret was 'out', I let Megan work closely with them because she knew the truth already. But if you're alleging I placed you at a disadvantage intentionally, you're wrong. Hell, I don't care which of you does it in the end - I want that Jester found."

"That's not all. Why is it that after Jim has such control over his senses, and we all know he has, he and Blair still don't have to answer to the same regulations like the rest of us?"

"Now, Brian, come on," Blair protested finally, but Simon held up a hand to silence him.

"You're saying you don't want to be partnered with Brown anymore?"

"No. I'm saying I don't know if I want to work in Major Crimes anymore. I'm going to take the afternoon off, because I don't think you have any use for me here."

With that, Rafe left the room, banging the door shut behind him, which reminded Jim unwittingly of Trina's behavior from Saturday night. Finally, it was all out in the open - which was a progression, he supposed, but it could also make their job a lot harder. Now they'd be a man short and Megan was bound to be preoccupied by her more personal worries.

"He didn't come to those conclusions yesterday, did he?" Blair wasn't asking; it was clear to all of them.

"I apologize," Megan said softly, the embarrassment clearly showing in her face and voice. I swear I didn't know - but I'm sure he doesn't mean it that way. He's having a hard time, too."

"We all know that," Simon replied. "I'll take his arguments seriously even if he wasn't very rational about them. But if we can't solve this, there'll have to be consequences."

"I know, sir," she sighed wearily. "I know."

***

The little store was hidden in a corner beside a deli, the battered sign barely readable. 'MYTH', and the owner's name, McDougall. Inside, there was a small assortment of esoteric literature, crystals, dream-catchers, essences, oils and candles. That, and - the handmade tarot cards that had become especially famous lately.

Jim couldn't really say why, but he always felt a bit weird in this kind of environment, and he *knew* he really had no talking room here, seeing ghosts and animal spirits, and living with a shaman under his roof - but still...

Of course, being Naomi's son, Blair didn't share his sentiments any. He strode purposefully over to the man behind the counter, identifying himself.

Randy McDougall had tanned skin and completely white hair he'd bound into a ponytail - he could have been sixty, or older, it was hard to tell. "How can I help you, gentlemen? I believe I already answered all questions with your colleagues." He didn't seem unfriendly, just a little impatient.

"Unfortunately, things have changed," Blair explained. "One of the 'Jester' cards has been left at the scene of a murder."

The man's eyes widened. "I thought he was helping you guys put away the real creeps. Murder?"

"I want you to think very carefully. You told the police already that there's a limited number of those cards. They are sold in this store only, right?"

"I know what you're up to," McDougall smirked. "It's true, I know most of the regulars by name, and I already gave you my client list. Go and see if the jester is missing in any set of cards - I don't think so. Those people wouldn't set anything on fire, let alone kill anyone; they just want to be left in peace. Oh, and by the way - I've been doing this for twenty years. The tarot cards are my best seller, and last year I set up an internet shop. I've shipped them to Japan already."

Of course. If it had been that easy, the Jester would have been found already - and Julia Edmonds' murderer too, probably, being the same man or not.

"Could you show me a set?" Blair inquired then, and Jim wondered what he was up to.

"Of course."

McDougall went into the store's back room, and came back a minute later with a set of tarot cards. They came in a colorful box, another indicator that these cards were unique. But McDougall, even if a little unnerved to be visited by the police again, had told them the truth so far. His heartbeat was steady; as far as Jim was able to tell, he wasn't hiding anything. Was it possible they were on the wrong track here?

He watched as Blair looked at the cards carefully, then asked, "How much are these?"

"$178," McDougall said promptly, and Blair winced a little.

"Well, they're handmade. You're really interested?"

"I'll buy one set. There must be a reason why this guy favored your cards - and we will find it."

***

That evening, shortly before nine p.m., Megan and Rafe returned to an empty apartment, after dinner. With a sigh, Megan waited for the argument, and didn't have long to wait.

"Where's Katrina? Don't tell me she's still studying with her friend this late!"

Megan looked up, surprised at the obvious, angry frustration in Rafe's voice. "Don't you remember? She said they were going to a birthday party after that. Helen's mom is going to drive them back."

"Really? Just how many birthday parties is she getting invited to anyway? I've had enough. I'm going to call Mrs. Haslett now. Let's see where they really are."

"Brian," Megan said softly, pushing aside the files she'd picked up to read. They'd had this conversation before, and she knew they had to do something about his kid sister's behavior, but she also knew the subject had to be approached with a clear head. She doubted Brian was able to do that at the moment. "I know you worry - I do, too - but we won't get anywhere with Trina if we go all cop on her. She's got to know that we trust her."

"But can we, really?" He turned to the window, his back rigid, and Megan sighed. This quasi-parenting thing sure had turned out to be much harder than she'd thought. At first, Trina had been so sweet, the little sister she'd never had. But lately, her grades in school had taken a nosedive, and it was true, she'd been to lots of parties in the past few weeks, and Megan suspected, it wasn't all just for the fun of it.

At Christmas back in Australia, both she and Rafe seemed to be fine, even though the holidays inevitably brought back memories for him and his sister of spending those days with their parents.

What they had all been too busy trying to ignore was that a year ago, Trina had come back from school to find her parents dead, her home in shambles. She'd had to leave everything behind to live in another country with the elder brother she hadn't seen in years, and his girlfriend. The death of his parents had been hard on Brian too, of course, but unlike his teenage sister, he was an adult, having lived apart from them for quite some time, and so wasn't as emotionally dependant on them. At times, Megan was still uncertain whether she was expected to take over that role now, or rather be a friend to her lover's sister.

Trina had seemed to adjust surprisingly well to her new life, but Megan now wondered if they'd all been kidding themselves.

Resolutely, she shook off that somber thought. "She's having a hard time. I'll talk to her when she gets back."

Turning to her, Rafe didn't say anything, but she could see the doubts clearly in his eyes. Megan supposed this was not a good moment to ask about his behavior in Simon's office today. Well, maybe tomorrow.

***

"Why don't you come to bed?"

Jim was shaking his head at himself, realizing he'd come *that* close to whining. He was entitled, he thought, because all evening he had hardly gotten any word from his partner who was still studying the tarot set, the cards spread all over the coffee table, the laptop on his knees. He'd been researching the myth of the tarot, and the jester card in particular, ever since they got home, trying to find any relationship to the Jester's earlier acts.

"First guy he tipped off was a bank robber who'd killed one of the tellers. Then the wife- batterer. Finally, the one who'd started the porn ring. Why would he want to kill Julia? She was a bank teller, too. The solution has be somewhere in this," Blair said distractedly.

"I've got a solution for you..." Standing behind the couch, Jim leaned down to kiss Blair's neck, and Blair leaned back into the embrace for a moment, closing his eyes. "You're not playing fair," he complained, but the tone of his voice conveyed that the diversion was more than welcome.

"And you're tired. Let's get back to it tomorrow, okay?"

Opening his eyes again, Blair smiled. "You're kind of persistent. Got anything specific on your mind?"

Jim laughed. "I wish. But I bet you're only going to fall asleep on me again."

Even though he'd said it with a purpose, he was surprised just how quickly Blair was up from the sofa, ready to prove him wrong.

***

He hadn't fallen asleep, Blair thought, grinning in the dark as his mind flashed back on the previous moments. Jim had been so totally right when he suggested a break; there weren't any spectacular findings to be expected tonight anyway.

At the moment, he was just happy to lie here, still shivering with delight as Jim's fingers trailed patterns down his back.

It had felt so good to let go for a while, of the lingering guilt, and the pieces of the riddle they had just begun trying to solve - all of that hovering on the edge of his mind, but he did his best to push them aside a moment longer.

***

"You don't look old enough to drink."

The voice sounded concerned and strangely caring, but after half a bottle of vodka, it was Trina who didn't care much. And she really liked that state. "What's it to you?"

He shrugged. "Can't stand to see people hurting, that's all. You want to talk about it?"

"God, another shrink," she said disgustedly. "How do you know I don't just like to get smashed on the weekend?"

"I'm sorry - Trina, isn't it, right?"

Trina wondered why he knew her name - and why she suddenly felt like crying. Damn him anyway. She'd been well on her way to that blissful oblivion, but it seemed out of reach now. She didn't want to talk. Words wouldn't change anything for her. "Yeah, so?"

"Why don't we go outside for a moment? It's way too loud in here."

She wanted to tell him to go screw himself, but for some reason, she didn't. Maybe it was because he had really beautiful eyes.

***

"Sandy, can I talk to you for a moment?"

Megan sounded serious, and Blair immediately agreed to her wish, but not before sending a knowing smile in Jim's direction. Oh yes, it had been hard to get to the station in time, and no, they hadn't had breakfast yet.

Absently, because of lazily following Blair with his senses, Jim took a seat behind his desk, picking up the mail. There was a nondescript manila envelope among it, his name handwritten on it in bold letters. Directing his attention back to the object on his desk, he turned up smell and touch, finding no reason for any danger, so he opened it cautiously.

Inside was a passport, and with a start, Jim realized that the picture showed Julia Edmonds. Her purse had never been found, of course, her identity having been confirmed by her brother, and the papers for the car, apartment, and everything else were in her name.

But the name on this passport said, 'Michelle Bergen'.

"Hey, Chief, come take a look at this."

Blair interrupted his conversation with Megan to join him. "Whoa," he commented. "Seems like the girl had even more secrets than we'd thought."

"She definitely had," Megan added. "Remember Brian and I checked her accounts? There have been money transfers, large sums, each month. We followed the money back to a business that's definitely not related to the bank she was working in, but get this - one of the partners is Darren Edmonds. We checked him, too - and he seems clean, but there's something strange about him. It seems like he didn't exist before 1993."

"Interesting," Jim agreed. "Just like this." He turned the passport to show them the other side to where a note had been stuck by the sender:

'The Jester doesn't kill.'

***

Megan hadn't mentioned anything about what Rafe had decided, so Jim hadn't asked. After going through everything they had on the Edmonds siblings, while the passport and the note were checked for prints, he and Blair had retreated to the loft while Megan met with Trina. She'd asked Blair to help Trina with some school work, because lately, she had been failing dramatically. Blair had immediately agreed.

Wondering about the curious connection of Julia and Darren Edmonds, and the Jester, Jim was startled out of his musings, when Blair suddenly asked, "Have you seen my 'Death'?"

He actually seemed to mean that question, and it made Jim shudder unwillingly. "What the hell are you talking about?" he asked, irritated.

"Death. The card from my tarot set," Blair explained patiently. "I'm missing it."

"Oh. Of course."

"Right. Do *you* know where it is?"

Jim didn't know where it was, but he was ridiculously relieved to find the subject wasn't any more serious than a skeleton drawn on a paper card that Blair had mislaid. "No, why should I? I think you put them all back in that box."

"Yes, but..." Blair was shaking sofa cushions cautiously, even looking under the table. "Strange. I knew all the cards were there. I checked each of them."

"Maybe it's in between all the papers from yesterday. You can search tonight, okay?"

"You bet I will. They cost me $178, remember?"

***

The call came in that afternoon, not even an hour after they'd returned to the station - a dead body found near the docks, with another tarot card beside it. Blair had tried to steel himself for a bad sight, but it turned out soon that he couldn't have prepared himself any way for what was waiting for them there:

Another woman. This one younger than Julia Edmonds a.k.a. Michelle Bergen. Her face was about the only part of her body the killer had left intact - otherwise, he had cut her up badly. Slaughtered her, to be precise.

For a moment, Blair stared in horror at the deep, lengthwise cut that revealed more about the insides of a human body than he ever wanted to know from a real model. God. No matter how much violence he'd already seen, or how many bloody rituals he'd studied, inwardly it was still inexplicable to him how anybody could do this to a living, breathing human.

Still made him want to scream, if he was totally honest.

But of course he didn't, he took a deep breath instead and tore his gaze away from the horrific sight. He turned towards Jim, who was already scanning the surroundings with tense concentration, but paused to give Blair a questioning look. "You okay?"

Shaking himself a little, Blair said, "Not really, but I'll manage. The officer at the scene said something about a card? What about the note that came with the passport this morning? I don't believe The Jester did this. He might have a problem with his self-confidence, but, man, I can't picture the guy doing something like this!"

"Neither can I, Chief. Come on, let's talk to him and find out about the card."

***

"Not what you see everyday around here - fortunately." The middle-aged officer who'd been first at the scene shook his head. "Everyone believed that guy to be on our side, but it seems like that was wishful thinking. He's gone off the deep end."

With that, he handed Jim the card that was smeared with blood.

Taking a closer look, Blair gasped with shock. It wasn't the Jester this time. The tarot card was exactly the one he'd been missing from his set:

Death.

Seemed like somebody was playing a wicked game with them.

And then the vision started, drawing him in, images spiraling like a kaleidoscope - Julia Edmonds, her brother, a man with a mask in a jester costume, and then, as his heart began to pound, somebody washing bloody hands in a puddle of water, the surface like a mirror, revealing a face.

It was his own.

 

PART TWO

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