Well Secluded, I’ll See All
The plane lands thirteen minutes late. They disembark, make their way through the crowded airport, pluck their bags from the luggage carousel, and claim the rental car reserved for them by Briana all by 11:03 am. Not their best time, but not terrible. He and Misha travel frequently, so they have the whole thing down to a science. They stop for a quick lunch, check into their hotel, and arrive at the station shortly after 1:00 pm.
The police chief, a rugged man in his late fifties with salt and pepper hair and a neatly trimmed beard, welcomes them personally. He introduces himself as Chief of Police Jeffrey Dean Morgan, but is quick to add they should just call him JD since everyone else does. “We got the heads up you were on your way. To tell you the truth, I’m glad you’re here. This one has us scratching our heads,” he says as he leads them out of the bullpen area and into his office. “Have a seat, please.”
“No thank you. We won’t take up much of your time,” Jensen declines the offer. “We read the reports, but there’s not much there to go on. No fingerprints, no unusual activity reported by neighbors. The only clue seems to be the black...liquid found at the scene.” He just barely stops himself from calling it ‘goo’, a throwback from his teenage years. “What can you tell us about it? Do you have a sample here I can examine?”
“In our evidence lock-up, yeah. I don’t think you’ll be able to tell much from looking at it though. Kinda reminds me of the greasy sludge you find in a clogged drain. Nothing that gets my wheels spinning, if you know what I mean. Our lab guys on the other hand, they’re all up in arms about it.”
“Have they figured out where it comes from?” Misha asks in the gravel-rough voice he reserves for new acquaintances, people he’s not sure he can trust.
JD runs a hand through his hair and huffs a sigh. “That’s just it. They say it doesn’t come from anywhere, not anywhere on this world anyway.”
Jensen carefully schools his expression into one of casual interest. “Not this world? Where then?”
Silence greets his question. JD rests his hands on the back of his desk chair, studying Jensen and Misha in turn. Finally, he says, “If I tell you, you’re going to think we’re all off our rockers. Hell, I don’t even believe it myself, but well...every test they’ve run on the stuff has come back negative. I don’t know what else it can be.” The man looks at a complete loss.
Taking one step closer to the police chief, Jensen looks him in the eye, pouring every ounce of empathy he feels into his gaze. “I won’t think you’re crazy. You can tell me anything and I won’t judge you. Please, tell me what they think it is.”
JD’s gaze goes out the window. His shoulders are stiff, tense. In a gruff voice, he says, “I’m probably going to want to punch myself in the face after I tell you this.” He shakes his head. “Oh, what the hell. They have two hypotheses. The first is that it’s extraterrestrial and the second is that it’s from another dimension. Another dimension...listen to me. I sound like a nutcase.”
Jensen suppresses a shudder. “Who’s to say what’s crazy and what isn’t? I’ve found that having an open mind comes in handy in this line of work.” His fingers are going numb. He sticks his hands in his pants pockets.
He’s heard professors and academics talk about string theory and the possibility of dimensions other than this one many times, has made it his number one priority to track down as much information on the subject as he possibly can. He probably knows more about parallel universes than most physicists working in the field do. Still, hearing Police Chief Jeffrey Dean Morgan say the words ‘another dimension’ in correlation to a case he’s working is surreal. He’s close to finding the truth after all these years. He can feel it.
Come to me...you are mine...the door to my world is open
The voice sounds eager. Icy fingers trail down his spine
Misha clears his throat, throwing Jensen a troubled glance before addressing the Chief of Police. “We’d like to speak with the lab technicians and the investigating officers. Can you set those meetings up?”
JD nods, looking relieved for the discussion to end. “Certainly. And you said you wanted to see the evidence as well, right? I’ll have someone take you down there in the meantime.” Opening the door, he flags down the nearest uniform. “Take these agents to evidence lock-up.”
“You got it, JD,” the dark-skinned man says with an amiable smile. “This way.”
As Misha and Jensen leave to follow the officer down the corridor, JD sticks his head out of his office, “Come back here when you’re done and I’ll give you the details for when and where you can meet the ME and the officers in charge of the Tomas case.”
“Much appreciated,” Misha intones.
The evidence room is partitioned off by a sliding iron gate. A long counter also bars the way. An older officer who appears about a decade past normal retirement age, gives them the paperwork necessary for evidence removal. The little remaining hair on his head is white as snow and so thin that it waves in the slight air currents created as he returns to his seat at the other end of the counter.
Heaving a sigh at the prospect of filling out another form, Jensen grabs a pen from the nearby cup.
Misha rests his forearms on the waist-high counter. “I’ve been meaning to ask you something.”
“Oh yeah?” Jensen doesn’t look up, intent on completing the form in the most efficient way possible.
“Yes, how do you get people to open up to you the way you do? For instance, Chief Morgan was visibly uncomfortable discussing what he saw as the ridiculous conclusions reached by his lab techs. And yet, it only took a few words from you and he was eager to tell you every detail.”
Jensen chuffs, “I think you might be exaggerating.”
“It’s not an exaggeration. It happens all the time. You have a way about you. People trust you, they feel relaxed around you. Are you telling me you don’t even know you’re doing it?”
Misha thinks for a moment, head cocked to the side. “I’m not sure what to call it, but you seem to connect with the people around you. You relate to them and they to you. I’ve witnessed it often.”
Jensen shrugs, self-conscious. He taps the pen against the evidence requisition form a couple times. “Maybe it’s because I know how it feels to have no one believe me, to wish there was someone...anyone...I could talk to who wouldn’t look at me as though I was batshit crazy.” A lump lodges in his throat. He swallows around it and waves the completed form in the air to get the evidence lock-up guard’s attention.
“Maybe,” Misha says quietly.
The white-haired gentleman shuffles over, peruses the form with tired eyes, and proceeds to use a key from the ring on his belt to open the gate, reappearing some time later, a 9x12” mustard yellow envelope in his hand. He gives it to Jensen, not a scrap of interest in his demeanor.
Inside, a stoppered glass vial rests in a cocoon of bubble wrap. Jensen removes the vial gingerly, holds it up to the fluorescent overhead light fixture, and tilts it. The slimy black liquid therein has the consistency of molasses, it sticks to the inner walls of the tube, moving sluggishly from one end to the other. There’s only about a teaspoon’s worth in the vial. The monster is getting more canny, it leaves less and less of its spoor behind each of the few times Jensen has come across its handiwork.
He begins unstoppering the container, but Misha makes a grab for it. “Let me,” he says. “I know what it smells like as well as you do at this point.”
Jensen shakes his head. “I got this.”
The plug pulls free and the smell smacks him full in the face, rancid and sharp, making his eyes water and his nostrils burn as if sprayed with hydrochloric acid. Jensen’s body jerks. It’s an instinctive reaction, pure muscle memory, a violent need to escape. His fingers spasm and the vial falls. Misha’s hand comes from out of nowhere to snatch it mid-air. He plucks the rubber plug from Jensen’s other hand and deftly screws it back in place.
“Sweet baby Jesus, that crap is strong,” Misha exclaims, scrunching up his nose and fanning the air in front of his face. “I don’t remember it being that pungent last tome. Why do you suppose that is? Is it fresher this time? Or did the shadow thingy forget to shower?”
Jensen stands, paralyzed, afraid to take another breath.
Cry for me lovely boy...your tears will open the door...show me the way
“Jense? Jensen!” Misha is right in front of him, hands on both his upper arms, shaking him in controlled increments that are gradually becoming more insistent. “Breathe damn it!”
“I’m okay,” he gasps, finally gulping air into oxygen-starved lungs. How long has he been standing there without taking a breath? Stepping backwards out of Misha’s hold, he leans against the counter. Each greedy inhale he takes helps dispel the spots dancing in his vision. “I’ve got-”
“If you say ‘you’ve got this’ one more time, I’m going to hogtie you and leave you in your hotel room while I finish this investigation by myself,” Misha threatens. “I mean it, Jense!” Softening his tone, he says, “Let me help you. You don’t have to do this alone.”
Jensen can do nothing other than nod.
He takes the vial from Misha and pockets it without giving it much thought.
The Shadow was here. Jensen is now certain.
Continuing the normal course of investigation will be a waste of valuable time and effort. The killer isn’t human and won’t be captured or convicted for its crimes by conventional means. It’s long gone now and, unlike human murderers, the Shadow doesn’t ever return to the scene of the crime.
Jensen feels as jittery as a racehorse at the starting gate. Time is of the essence. He wants to start looking for patterns between these two murders and the others he’s been able to pin on the Shadow over the last three years he’s been working for the FBI, five murders all told. The key to stopping the interdimensional monster will be in learning how to predict when and where it will show up next, being there when it does. Of course, he’ll also have to discover a way to kill it, but he’ll figure that out later.
Misha, however, convinces him they need to keep up appearances for the time being, conduct the meetings they’ve requested with the ME and the officers in charge of the Tomas case, examine the bodies, conduct their own search at the crime scene, and so on. He argues there still may be some useful information to be found and besides, they still need to rule out human involvement. Jensen knows he’s right. Despite his peculiar ways, Misha is often the more reasonable one between the two of them.
Unfortunately, the remainder of the day proves unproductive. No one is able to speak with them until tomorrow and although they go to the Tomas’ house, they find nothing more interesting than a broken wine glass and a red wine stain on the living room carpet where Mrs. Tomas’ body had been found. By the ME’s estimation, death occurred around 8 pm. Simple deduction leads Jensen to believe Mrs. Tomas was having a glass of wine after dinner. Nothing unusual about that. When the Shadow appeared, she probably dropped the glass. The question remains - Why did the Shadow come here? What drew it to Mr. and Mrs. Tomas?
Sadness is part of it. The voice has told him that much on many occasions, always begging him to cry or asking if he’s sad enough yet. His parents, Jensen learned after their deaths, had received a phone call while he was at Rocky Horror with Jared, informing them that his cousin Isabella had drowned at the lake where she and her mother were vacationing. The five other confirmed victims of the Shadow also had recent reasons for sorrow and grief, whether it be a death in the family, the loss of a much beloved pet, or a recent divorce. He’s sure once he digs into it, he’ll find a recent tragedy in the Tomas’ life as well. Yes, emotional pain is part of the equation, but there has to be more. Sorrow in and of itself can’t be the only ingredient. Hundreds of thousands of people are sad everyday and the Shadow doesn’t kill them all. There’s something else he’s missing.
After discussing their options, he and Misha decide to go back to the hotel where they can do some research on their laptops, breaking for dinner when they get hungry.
“I’ll grab my laptop and come work in your room,” Jensen says as he fishes the keycard from his pocket. This hotel doesn’t have any rooms with adjoining doors. Whenever that happens, they always pick one room to work in. Because they share an office at headquarters, and a small one at that, they’re used to bouncing ideas off each other as they work. Plus there’s the whole Jensen-doesn’t-do-well-alone situation of which Misha is well aware.
The green light comes on, indicating the door is unlocked. He steps across the threshold and hears a crinkle. On the floor, under his shoe, lies a folded piece of paper that definitely wasn’t there when they checked in earlier.
Flicking on the light switch, he quickly scans his surroundings. The slam of the door as it automatically closes behind him reverberates loudly in the otherwise silent room, causing his heart rate to stutter and jump. Curtains covering the window along the far wall remain stationary, not even the movement of air through vents making them flutter. Nothing emerges from behind the bed. Jensen breathes in the scent of detergent and air freshener and feels the tension in stiffly-held muscles drain away with the expelled air. Stupid. He’s being stupid. Housekeeping probably slipped the paper under his door to alert him of laundry services or something equally mundane.
He bends down and picks up the paper. As he unfolds the nondescript white page, handwritten block letters appear.
I KNOW WHAT KILLED YOUR PARENTS
MEET ME AT THE LEXINGTON BOTANICAL GARDEN AT MIDNIGHT
Jensen’s thoughts race, skipping from one course of action to another and still another. Option one - do nothing. Ignore the note. Dismiss the possibility that this could be his only opportunity to get the answers he so desperately needs. It’s probably just a prank anyway. He could be reading much more into it than is there. Option two - do exactly as the note says. Lie to Misha, even if only by omission. Sneak out on his partner and meet the mysterious note sender at midnight alone. Option three - show Misha the note. Let his partner weigh-in on the matter and take his often-reasonable counsel into account. Even if Misha talks him out of going and the chance is lost forever.
Exhaustion drags at his limbs, arms and legs growing heavier as if gravity has suddenly shifted, become more oppressive. His eyes itch and his eyelids droop. This happens whenever he’s still for too long, stress and sleepless nights catching up with him.
He folds the paper until it’s a small square and stuffs it into his pocket. In the bathroom, he splashes tap water on his face and studies his blurry reflection in the mirror, hands braced against the sink. Moisture clumps his lashes together. A droplet clings to the tip of his nose. His pale complexion does nothing to diminish the dark smudges under his eyes. Misha is right; he does look like shit.
He’s not sure how much longer he can go on this way. Misha is right about something else too, this...life...the voice...his quest...it’s destroying him. All of it whittling away at him like a woodcarver working a piece of wood, curled flecks being shaved off him bit by bit to land in a pile, dried out and brittle. The first gust of wind that comes along will scatter him to the four winds. Just like that, he’ll be gone.
The note has to be the lead he’s been looking for. It has to be. Option number one is off the table.
Laptop bag in tow, he takes the three steps from his room to Misha’s and knocks.
Upon opening the door, Misha says, “What took you so long? I thought you’d fallen asleep over there. I couldn’t decide whether to go get you or let you sleep. God knows you need it.”
Jensen pushes past him into the room. Misha’s room is identical to his own - a king-size bed, bedside table, work desk complete with power and charger outlets, desk chair, a television on top of the dresser, and a plush chair for more comfortable TV viewing if you don’t want to sit on the bed. Misha’s suit jacket is hanging on the desk chair. His tie is loose around his neck, his light blue dress shirt is untucked, and the sleeves have been rolled up to the elbows. For Misha, that’s about as relaxed as it gets. Jensen is still wearing his suit, tie and all. Maybe he should have changed into casual wear while he was in his room.
“I wasn’t sleeping, I was thinking,” Jensen eyes the bed longingly. Sleep does sound good and with Misha in the room there’s even a chance he could catch a few winks before leaving to met his secret admirer at midnight. The temptation is strong, so strong that Jensen sits in the straight-backed, uncomfortable desk chair rather than get any closer to the bed, afraid he’ll be unable to resist it’s lure much longer.
“Thinking? About the shadow thingy?” Misha’s guess is anything but. He knows the Shadow is never far from Jensen’s thoughts.
Removing the laptop from his bag, Jensen proceeds to set it up on the desk in front of him. He’ll use the time from now until his meeting wisely. There are plans to make and research to do. While his fingers tap out Lexington Botanical Garden in the search engine, he continues the conversation, “You know that no one besides me has ever come forward, claiming to have seen it - the shadow thingy as you so eloquently call it. Of the cases we’ve investigated where we found the gooey black residue on or around the victims, there has never been a survivor of its attack.”
“Yes, we have discussed this.” Misha agrees, a solemn furrow in his brow. “You are the only one who has ever seen it and survived. Perhaps because it wasn’t expecting anyone else to arrive during its attack. You must have startled it.”
“That’s what I’ve always thought. Especially since I haven’t been able to find any mentions of unidentified black substances in any unsolved cases before my parents’. It seems like they were the first and maybe the monster was inexperienced, easily confused, something like that.” Half his attention on the conversation and the other half on his computer, Jensen pulls up a map of the gardens, plotting likely meeting points since the note lacks any details. There’s one main entrance off the parking lot that leads to the ticketing area and a small gift shop. Most likely the meeting will take place there and not inside the garden itself, at least he hopes so, because the garden complex is just that - complex - with pathways and offshoots winding every which way, creating a labyrinth of hiding places. The perfect place for an ambush. In the dark, it will be easy to become lost, disoriented.
Misha crosses to the dresser, leaning his hip against it. “You have a different theory now?”
“If it feeds on sadness or is drawn by sadness, at least in part, like we think...it’s possible that happiness repels it.” Looking up from the map, Jensen gives his partner his full attention. “Mish, I was deliriously happy that day. Happier than I’ve ever been in my life, either before or since.”
“Because of Jared.” It’s not a question. Misha knows the story of Jared.
Jensen nods anyway. “Isn’t it possible that my happiness acted as a sort of shield? That it protected me?”
After a moment’s silence while Misha studies the floor, deep in thought, he shrugs. “It’s certainly possible, but how do we separate conjecture from truth? I’m afraid I have no answers for you, Jense. I wish I did.” He sounds dispirited and that only makes Jensen feel more reckless than ever. He will go meet whoever left that note and he will get answers, no matter the repercussions.
More heat in his voice than he’d intended, he stands and says, “That’s just the thing, isn’t it? We have no way to test that theory or any other theories because we haven’t been able to predict where it will be next. It doesn't appear often and, when it does, it’s always long gone by the time we get wind of it.”
“I know.” Misha pushes off the dresser and puts a commiserating hand on Jensen’s back. “It has always been one step, make that ten steps, ahead of us.”
Jensen’s face vibrates; is that even a thing? He chalks it up to exhaustion and ploughs on. “And there has never been a witness to interview, no one who even knows the monster exists...”
“This time looks to be much the same. I’m sorry.” There’s a note of something that sounds like pity in Misha’s voice.
Agitated, Jensen shakes off Misha’s sympathy. “No, you don’t understand. There’s never been anyone... until now.”
Misha raises an eyebrow, unaffected by Jensen’s brusque tone. “Until now?”
Jensen pulls the note from his pocket, holds it out to his partner. “This was waiting for me in my hotel room. Someone pushed it under the door.”
Once he gets the paper unfolded, Misha stands motionless as his eyes flick rapidly over the brief message.
“I’m going,” Jensen says into the silence, nudging the laptop screen so Misha can see the site he has open.
“I’ve made up my mind.” Jensen interrupts, jaw clenched.
Misha doesn’t even blink. “You’re not going alone. I’m coming with you.”
Link to Chapter 8
Link to the Master Post