While Sandburg's visiting the funny farm, the paperwork goes on.
I follow Simon into the bullpen, updating him on the latest in the paper chase.
"There were 17 staff members at Conover when Chapel first arrived. Fourteen are
still there; the other three have moved on."
"It will take a while to go through them, Jim," he grumbles. He wants this case over with as much as I do.
I shrug. "However long it takes, we've got to go through the process. If Chapel isn't leaving the hospital, which is highly unlikely, then he's got a relationship with somebody on the outside, right?"
Simon pauses in the doorway to his office. "You could use some help on this one. Why don't you work with Cassie? She ought to know what kind of person Chapel would try and use."
That's the last thing I need. Cassie's made it clear to me that she doesn't want to get any further involved. I understand where she's coming from, but I could tell Blair was hurt when she didn't show up to at least wish him good luck the night before he entered Conover. "Uh, sir, back in San Francisco, Chapel almost killed her. She thought she'd put that nightmare behind her, and now Chapel's in her face again. I think that's pushed her pretty close to the edge. I don't think we should push her any closer."
Simon looks at me like there's a horn growing out of the middle of my forehead. It isn't very often I do the touchy-feely type stuff, that's more Sandburg's area. "When did you become her mother?" he asks. "Let her decide." Entering his office, he shuts the door in my face.
Great. Just how I wanted to spend my day, begging for Welles' help to do background checks. Like she doesn't have other, important case-related things to do with her time. Gritting my teeth, I head for forensics.
Pulling my van to a stop, I jump out and go running toward
the crime scene. A paramedic is closing a body bag, but he stops when I
approach. "Who is it?" I ask. He doesn't say a word, just unzips the bag.
Blair's sightless eyes stare up at me. His lips are blue, his skin almost white,
save for the livid bruising on his neck. His shirt is blood-soaked from the
killing shot fired at point blank range. I take a step back, my hand
automatically going to my throat.
"No, no, oh god…Blair…."
"See what happens, Cassie, when you send your little friends to do your dirty work?" The paramedic turns around, and I'm staring at Chapel. A twisted smile crosses his face, and he raises his chrome-plated automatic.
"No, no, noooo!"
I jerk awake to the insistent beeping of my pager. "Shut up, shut up, shut up!" Grabbing the damn thing off the nightstand, I fling it across my bedroom. I flop back down on the mattress, pulling the covers over my head. Shivering, I lie there, trying to convince myself it's all a dream, that Blair's perfectly safe, that Chapel won't kill him.
But it's no use. The nightmare was too real, and much too possible. I feel the sting of tears against my closed eyelids, and I give in to them, letting them spill down my cheeks as I sob silently into my pillow. The phone begins to ring, and I ignore it. Whoever it is, I can't deal with them right now.
After five rings, the machine picks up, and I hear Jim Ellison's voice say, "We've got another body, Welles, 1234 Fifth Street. Meet you there." There's a click, then the beep signaling the message end.
Throwing the covers off, I get out of bed, wiping at my eyes. Pull it together, Cassie. You don't have time for a meltdown right now. And maybe I can convince Jim to pull Blair out of Conover.
When I get out of my van at the crime scene, it's like being
inside my dream. For several long moments, I'm tempted to run back to my
apartment, crawl back in bed, and try to wake up in the real world. But pushing
aside my panic, I make my way through the police line. The sense of déjà vu
comes over me again when I find Jim watching an attendant from the coroner's
office zip up a body bag. It's not Blair, it's not Blair, I keep telling
Jim gives me an odd look, like he can hear my heart pounding in my chest. Attempting a smile, I say, "Same as the other guys, right?" He nods, and my control shatters. "You've got to pull Blair out of Conover!" I urge, a note of hysteria creeping into my voice.
He looks startled. "Why? What do you mean?"
I wrap my arms around myself, trying to keep from flying apart. "Something…something is going to happen, okay? Please, please get him out of there. Please, just trust me."
"Take it easy, Cassie. I trust you. I promise I'll go get him as soon as I'm done here." He gestures broadly, indicating the crime scene. "How about giving me a hand? I could use your help on this."
A wave of nausea rolls through my stomach. "No…no…I can't…"
I clench my teeth, swallowing the acid taste of bile. "You don't know what it's like, Ellison, having your blackest nightmare coming true. Every sound, every shadow is him. He's right there, breathing down my neck every second." I'm barely hanging on by my fingernails, can't you see that?
Jim lays his hand gently on my arm. "I know how hard this is for you, Cassie. But if you start running now, you'll be running forever. You have to stand up to him, make the decision that you're not going to allow him to do this to you."
I shake my head. "I can't--I can't. Just get Blair out of Conover!" Turning my back on him, I practically run toward my van.
The lights finally dim in the hallway outside my room, and I
know Conover has settled down for the night. I remain stretched out on my bed
for another hour or so, letting the inmates get to sleep, and the guards perform
the first round of bed checks. When I feel I've waited long enough, or more
truthfully, at the point I run out of excuses to keep me in my room, I move to
the door and peer out through the small round window.
The hallway's clear and, opening the door a crack, I listen for several moments, wishing, not for the first time, for Jim's hearing. Nothing strikes me as out of the ordinary, and I slip into the corridor, closing the door silently behind me. Okay, I'm out. Now what?
If I was Warren Chapel, and I could get out of my cell, but not out of the hospital, where would I go? Somewhere I could contact my outside accomplice. Perhaps one of the doctors' offices, where I could use a computer to send email? Sounds good to me.
I'm heading in that direction when I hear voices, one of them Chapel's. I follow the sound until the shutting of a door cuts off the words. Trotting around the corner, I find I'm at the stairwell door. Opening it slowly, I catch the faint voices again, then the noise of another door closing, far below. Great, it sounds like Chapel went to the basement. Why would he go there? Nothing's down there but the laundry. Resigning myself to seeing this thing through, I start cautiously downward.
When I reach the bottom of the stairs, I crack the stairwell door open and listen. I can hear Chapel's voice, but not the person he's talking to. He's saying, "So did he beg for mercy at the end?"
The image that flashes in my mind's eye is enough to make my stomach churn. I want to go back to my safe little cell, but I have to find out who Chapel's talking to, who's helping him. Pushing the door open a few more inches, I ease around the jamb, and take cover behind a large rolling laundry cart. From there, I creep across the room to the safety of a rack full of towels. In that position, I can see Chapel through a chain-link fence that separates the laundry area from the storage part of the basement.
He's standing next to an open utility panel on the wall. When he turns slightly toward me, I can see he's holding a phone receiver to his ear. Wires lead from it to the panel. So that's how he's doing it. Just as I'm about to split and contact Jim about what I've found out, Chapel says, "I've had a visitor, someone from my past. She's working with the police. Right now they're just guessing, but pretty soon they'll put us together. It may be time to move on."
Shit! He's talking about Cassie. Keeping low, I leave the laundry room, breaking into a run when I reach the hallway. I know there's a phone down here somewhere. Rounding a corner, I see it. Skidding to a stop, I pick it up and punch "0". "Operator, I'd like to make a collect call. It's an emergency."
A hand slams down on the phone, disconnecting the call. Jumping, I spin around to find Chapel looming over me.
"You think you're so clever, don't you?" he hisses in my face. "A little obsessive-compulsive behavior, throw in the ravings of schizophrenic and we're all supposed to buy into your little charade. Who sent you!"
"No-nobody sent me," I stammer.
"Then who were you calling?"
Think fast, Sandburg. I look at the phone and get an idea. "My higher power. That's how we communicate. She lets me call collect."
Chapel's hand darts out, his fingers closing around my throat. He applies pressure, lifting me in the air. "You're my little friend Cassie's idea, aren't you? Tell me!"
Spots are beginning to swirl in my vision. I've got to escape. I bring my knee up into his crotch as hard as I can. When he doubles over, I hit Chapel in the head with the telephone receiver. His grip on me releases, and I make a break for it.
Sprinting down the corridor, I hit the door to the stairwell at full speed. I take the stairs two at a time, not daring to slow long enough to look back. I can hear Chapel stomping up the stairs behind me. Where the hell is all the security in this place? A guard, a doctor, somebody to help me!
Leaving the stairwell on the main floor, I make a mad dash down the hallway there. Still no one in sight. Someone has to have seen me on the security cameras. Why isn't anyone trying to stop me, or Chapel, for that matter?
"Eeyah!" Skidding around a corner, I run full force into Jim. Grabbing onto his arms, I haul him up against the wall with me. "Oh, J-Jim! Oh, my god, he's over here!"
I peer around the corner toward the stairwell. There's no one there, and I'm hit with the sinking feeling that maybe I am delusional, that I dreamed that whole terrorizing Blair thing up. "Where'd he go?"
Jim takes the lead and walks into the other hallway. I follow him toward the stairway as he asks, "What's going on, Chief?"
I'm still hanging on his jacket, shaking with adrenaline. "Chapel. I'm not imagining this. He was just trying to kill me. Go look!"
Disentangling himself from my clutch, Jim walks toward the door. "All right, all right, I believe you. Take it easy." He opens the door.
"Be careful," I warn.
"I don't see or hear anything." He goes a little further down the hallway, then returns to where I'm standing, shaking his head.
Shuddering, I say, "Oh, man, maybe I am going crazy." Suddenly realizing it's well past visiting hours, I stare at Jim. "What are you doing here anyway?"
"We had another murder. The consensus was that you're in over your head."
"Well, I'll tell you what, I am down with that majority." I latch onto his jacket again. "Oh, god, get me out of here."
Guiding me toward the exit, Jim says, "All right, settle down."
I remember I haven't told Jim what I found out. "Oh! I know how he's doing it. He's using a special phone and he's tapping into the phone lines. I overheard part of the conversation. I don't know who he was talking to, but whoever it was sounded like they were getting ready to get out of town."
Jim looks over at me, his expression serious. "Which means if we don't unravel this soon, we may not get another chance. Come on." He breaks into a jog, and I trot after him out of the hospital.
With another glance at my watch and a yawn, I continue pacing
back and forth in front of the door to Jim and Blair's apartment. I know I
should be home in bed, and I tried that, honest I did, but I couldn't make my
mind shut off, couldn't stop imagining every terrible thing that could befall
Blair inside Conover. Finally I got dressed and drove over here to discover no
one's home. I don't know whether to be worried about that or not.
The sound of the elevator grinding to a halt at the end of the hallway reaches my ears. The door opens and Blair walks out first, wearing a jacket over his scrubs, his face turned back toward Jim. Despite my intention to remain calm, cool and collected, my relief overwhelms me, and I call out his name. "Blair! You're okay!"
His gaze turns toward me, his eyes widening in surprise. "Cassie? It's one a.m. What are you doing here?"
I go to meet him, tears stinging my eyes, too overcome for words.
"Cassie?" he asks again. "What's the matter?"
Instead of speaking, I throw my arms around his neck and just hang on. I feel his bewilderment, then he slides his arms around me as well and hugs back. "I'm fine, Cassie. I'm just fine."
Pulling back a bit to look at him, I say, "I was so scared, god, so scared. I--I dreamt Chapel killed you. It seemed so real, and I had to know for sure. That's why…that's why I came over. I had to know if you were okay…"
Jim's voice gently interrupts the moment. "Why don't we take this inside?"
For the first time, I notice the door to the loft is standing open. I untangle myself from Blair, keeping hold of his hand. I follow Jim through the door, gripping Blair's fingers tightly. He leans over to me and says softly, "Let go."
"Let go so I can take my coat off."
Oh, right. I release my hold on Blair's hand, and he removes his jacket, hanging it up on the coat hook next to the door. As he turns back toward me, I can see the purple finger marks on his throat. The world drops out from under me, and I'm plunged into my nightmare again, Blair's lifeless eyes staring up at me accusingly, his skin a chilling white, save for the dark bruises on his neck.
My fault…this is my fault…the room spins around me, then everything goes black.
"Cassie? Cassie? Oh my god!" Even though I'm standing right next
to her, I'm too slow to catch her before she hits the floor. Dropping to my
knees beside her, I'm hunting for a pulse as Jim rushes to help.
"God, Jim, what happened to her? What's the matter with her?" I ask frantically.
He checks her over quickly, then looks up at me. "She fainted; I'd say from exhaustion. She looks like she hasn't slept in days."
For the first time, I notice the dark circles under her eyes. "Jesus, Cassie…what should we do?"
"Let's get her into your room and in bed." Jim shakes his head as he helps me pick her up. "I should have seen this coming. She was damn near hysterical when I saw her at the crime scene earlier, demanded that I get you out of Conover."
Maneuvering through the French doors, we settle her carefully on my futon. "Well, she knew what she was talking about. If you hadn't shown up when you did…." I suppress a shudder. "Is she going to be okay?"
"She should be waking up any moment," Jim reassures, just as Cassie sighs and stirs. I sit down on the mattress next to her.
Blue eyes blink slowly open and she looks up at me, confusion on her face. "What happened?"
"You fainted," I answer with a smile. "Think you can sit up and we can get your coat off?" She doesn't answer, just leans up enough so that together we can remove it.
Jim heads for the door. "I'll leave you two kids alone. Yell if you need anything."
"We will," I answer. Once he's gone, I turn my attention to Cassie. She's leaning back against the pillows, biting her lip, her gaze locked on my neck. "What?"
Raising up a bit, she touches my throat gingerly. "Did Chapel do this to you? He hurt you, didn't he?"
Swallowing hard, I look to the side, unable to meet her eyes. "Yes." I'm not about to tell her I really thought I was going to die there for a moment, when my vision started to go all funky. "But I'm fine. Jim scared him off." I glance back to see tears running down her face.
She wipes at them hastily, apologizing. "I'm sorry, I'm sorry. I don't mean to freak out on you. I…it's just been really, really hard. I thought it was bad when it was just my problem, when I was the only person Chapel was messing with personally. But now you're on his list too, and…I…I'm so tired of being scared. I can't eat, I can't sleep, and when I do sleep I dream, and that's worse." Shaking her head, she scrubs at her face with her hands. "It's late and you're probably exhausted. I should go home."
She makes a move to get up, but I stop her. "Cassie, you just passed out because you're so tired. You're not in any shape to drive home." I pat the futon. "You can sleep here, and I'll just be right through those doors on the sofa. Okay?"
She deliberates for a moment, then nods. Taking off her shoes, she lies down, and I cover her with a blanket. I start to leave, when she grabs my hand. "Stay with me, just until I fall asleep. Please?"
She scoots over, and I lie down next to her. Cassie wraps her arm around my waist, and leans her cheek against my shoulder. Kissing her forehead, I gently stroke her hair. She closes her eyes, and after a few minutes, I feel her relax. I decide I'll stay a little while longer, make sure she's really asleep, then I'll get up and go to the other room. While I'm waiting, I figure closing my eyes for a bit can't hurt. Within moments, I'm out.