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Chapter One

"And how does the wise man die? Just like the fool.
Therefore I hated my life; because the work that is
done under the sun was grievous to me: For all is
vanity and a striving after wind." Ecclesiastes 2:17

Robby picked up the old TV and put it in the truck with the other items. It had been a long day, and he was tired. He took the money the woman handed him, thanked her as he stuffed it into his pocket, and then he started down the alley glad that had been his last pick up for the day. Now he could go home. It wasn't that there was no work waiting for him there, just that he didn't feel as rushed when he was working at home.

He felt it first. He wanted to ignore it, tried, but he couldn't. He looked up the alley and saw him—saw it, a black mark dancing across the face of the planet. He stared at that darkness, and as he did he saw what was in the man's mind; the sins of his past, the crimes he had committed and those he longed to commit. Robby saw the evil blackness of the man's soul, and though he wanted to, he couldn't just walk away.


Spider Webb looked down at the corpse then at her partner, Tommy Chan.

"Looks dead tame," she said.

Tommy nodded and laughed. "Crying shame, that."

"How about a little respect here, detectives. The man is dead. He's been murdered." Lieutenant Toby looked at the body and made a face. "Or something. This is the sixth one like this in three months. I don't think that's any laughing matter. Don't you guys have any leads yet?"

Spider started to say exactly what she was thinking, but Tommy elbowed her in the ribs and answered the lieutenant, "Give us a break, Lieutenant. We aren't the only ones on this case. The FBI is just as clueless as we are. This guy is sharp; he leaves no evidence. Even forensics can't figure out how he's doing it. Believe me, we are doing the best we can with what little we've got."

"The captain's giving birth to monkeys over this shit. The mayor keeps promising the public we'll catch him any day, and we don't have a fucking clue."

"The two beat cops said they saw a man run away from the scene. They got a pretty good description of him." Tommy held up his comlink communicator. "Call up suspect F6," he ordered. A three dimensional holographic image of a weasel faced white guy appeared over his comlink. "Spider and I are going to see if we can't track him down."

"Good idea. This shit here is more or less up to forensics now." He looked at the face of the corpse and grimaced. "Poor fucker died screaming . . . "

Spider started to say something, but Tommy took hold of her arm and drug her away.

"Could you at least pretend to be concerned?" Tommy whispered angrily as they walked away.

Spider only shrugged. "Not about that."


Carrie Long watched the two veteran detectives as they walked away from the crime scene, more because she found Spider Webb incredibly intriguing than anything else. The woman was almost six feet tall and slender, with short, black hair and blue-gray eyes that seemed to dance when she was amused—which she seemed to be most of the time. Her skin was uncommonly fair but not in a sickly way. Carrie thought she was stunning. As assistant district attorney it was her job to look for clues that might eventually lead to a conviction if they actually caught the killer, but she was far more interested in where Detective Webb and her partner were going than the crime scene.

She watched them walk away thinking that you most probably couldn't find two more different people. Tommy Chan was Asian, probably topped out at around five foot six and was built like a small tank. He wore his long hair in a ponytail that reached to the middle of his back and looked serious even when he was joking.

Carrie tried to think of some good reason to follow them, but the only good one was the one that she didn't want to admit even to herself. Those two knew more than they were saying; she was sure of it.

For the thousandth time she found herself wondering why she only seemed to be attracted to the kind of women who were nothing but trouble.

"Ms Long."

Carrie's head snapped up, and she must have looked as startled as she felt, because the young officer looked concerned as he asked. "You alright Ms. Long?"

"Ah . . . gruesome scene." She shrugged. "What was it you wanted?"

"The lieutenant wanted to show you something." He nodded towards the body with a sympathetic look on his face.

Carrie nodded silently and walked over. Bodies, no matter how badly disfigured, didn't bother her nearly so badly as someone catching her with her guard down.


Tommy and Spider walked up to the bar, and Tommy showed the holograph of the "suspect" to the bartender.

"You see this guy around, Tony?"

Tony shrugged. "He doesn't look familiar."

Tommy turned off the image and put his comlink away. "In that case, bring us a couple of beers."

The bartender handed them their drinks and they walked over to a corner booth and sat down. Tommy took his comlink out of his pocket and purposely dropped it onto the surface of the table.

"Oh shit." He picked it up and showed it to Spider. "Would you look at that? It erased the composite drawing of the suspect. Wouldn't you know it? I didn't take the three seconds it takes to save it on the main frame."

Spider shook her head, a look of mock horror on her face. "How very careless of you! Especially after the Lieutenant gave us all that huge briefing addressing that very subject just this morning . . . Speaking of ole needle butt, what was all that bull shit back at the crime scene about?"

"Gee, I don't know, maybe it had something to do with you walking up on the murder scene and dancing a jig around the corpse," Tommy said. "I can't imagine why the lieutenant might think that maybe we weren't putting our best efforts into this case."

"That 'poor fucker' was a child molester with six convictions. Jails get over crowded, some bleeding-heart dove starts screaming that it's 'uncivilized' to keep people locked up under those conditions, and so they let . . . how many of them go this month?"

"Six hundred and fifty two. Mostly first offenders . . . "

"That's not the fucking point. We catch them, and the system lets them go on whatever the technicality of the month is. If someone's willing to come along and kill 'em, I say we give 'em a fucking reward and a goddamn medal instead of trying to catch him and lock him up."

"We're not going to catch him if we don't try." Tommy took a long sip of his beer and looked around to make sure no one was watching, although it was hard to say whether it was because he was drinking or because of what he'd just said.

"Well, we're going to have to at least start going through the motions, or someone is going to catch on," Spider said, lowering her voice still further.

Tommy nodded. "Well, it doesn't help that you keep having an orgasm every time we find a stiff."

"I'm louder when I'm having orgasm, but you're right. I'll try to cool it. It's just hard for me to get too worked up when the so-called 'victim' is a fucking psychopath in his own right. It's poetic justice if you ask me."

"Nobody's asking you, so just keep your big mouth shut for a change. You don't have to act grief stricken, but you don't need to rent a hall and throw a kegger, either."

Spider nodded her understanding.

"Aren't you going to drink your beer?"

"We're on duty, Tommy," Spider said.

Tommy looked at her in disbelief. "Tampering with evidence is okay, but drinking a fucking beer . . . "

"Okay, all right." She laughed, wrapped her hand around the bottle and raised it to her lips.

Tommy found himself staring at her hands again. He tried not to, but they fascinated him. Her fingers were abnormally long—freakish even. On a six-foot seven-inch basketball player they would have been proportional, but not a five-foot eleven-inch woman. He looked too long, and she caught him—again.

"Don't start with my fucking hands again," she hissed at him across the table.

He laughed and shook his head. They had been partners too long. He sighed and looked at his beer bottle. "Remember when we first started? Green kids right out of the academy . . . "

"I wasn't exactly a green kid, but yeah, I remember. We thought we were going to change the world—or at least the city," Spider said, a faraway look in her eye.

"Now we're in our late thirties. I was almost killed once. You've been shot twice. I'm on my second marriage. You have no fucking life to speak of, and what the hell for? So that we can lock them up and the fucking lawyers can let them go. We haven't changed a goddamn thing."

"Speak for yourself. I change my underwear every day." Spider shrugged at the pained look he gave her. "And I don't have a life for a very good reason. I haven't figured out what it is yet, but I'll let you know as soon as I do."

They both laughed.

"Maybe we never should have gotten our fucking shields. We should have just gotten some big, bad-assed guns and started blowing shit heads away," Tommy said, only half kidding.

"I've thought about that, but the pay and bennies are nonexistent for street vigilantes."

They laughed again, then looked at each other, all hint of amusement gone.

"So . . . " Spider took a drink of her beer. "What now, pard, huh? Could we really do anything else? What else do we know? We've become those people we used to hate. We don't care about the job anymore. We're just here for the good insurance program and so we can collect our pensions. We're pathetic."

Tommy nodded. "It's a sad statement to make that the only good I feel I've done is the three perps I killed in the line of duty, and the fact that we are now running interference for a serial killer."

"Sadder still, I'd gladly lose my job, my benefits and my pension to protect him. After all, he's living my dream," Spider added.

"Hard to believe that in our old age when we look back at our lives our finest moment will be when we helped keep a killer on the streets."


Spider fixed his pillows and then sat down beside his bed.

"You're looking good today, Henry. The weather outside is brutal—cold and windy. Weather man says it might snow."

She sighed, looking into his face for any sign. Any sign at all that he heard her.

"Any way, the Fry Guy—that's what the news people call him—anyway, he got another one today. This one was a child molester. A guy the system decided was rehabilitated on six different occasions.

"I hope they never catch this guy, Henry. Tommy and I were talking today. This guy is kind of doing our job for us. Doing the job the way it ought to be done. Get these guys off the streets and keep them off in a way that means they'll never be a threat again, and in a way that they don't cost us any money. We're supposed to catch this guy—bring him to so-called justice. But how can I justify doing that?" She turned her head and looked out the window. "You know what's ironic? If we caught this guy he'd probably get life in prison without parole—or the chair. And for what? For doing what should have been done in the first place, except that our namby-pamby government doesn't have the stomach for it. You kill a violent criminal, and they don't hurt anyone ever again.

"They're painting a picture of this guy as some kind of psychotic with a God complex, but I think this guy is someone just like you and I, Henry. A man who's sick to death of watching the guilty run free while the rest of us live in self-made prisons to keep them from raping or killing us. I thought at first that it was a cop, maybe retired, who had access to these guys' records. Problem with that theory is that with the new comlink system any one in law enforcement on any level can call up any case file, so it doesn't really narrow the list."

She looked back at Henry. "I don't think it's a cop anymore, anyway. I think—stop me if this sounds too crazy. I think this guy is . . . well, different. Not like you and me. Well, not like you, anyway. You know how he's killing them? Their eyes are burned out. It's like their brains were cooked in their heads. The guys in forensics say it's like microwaves or something, but they don't have a clue as to how or why. They think maybe he got hold of some kind of new military weapon, but if it is, the military isn't claiming it.

"I think this guy has something else, though. Some kind of telepathic power—pyrokinesis or some damn thing. Of course I'm not going to tell anyone but you that—they'd have me locked up."


"Is she the guy's wife?" The nurse was new on the floor.

The head nurse looked where the woman was pointing and sighed. "No. The guy doesn't have any family. That woman is a police officer."

"She's trying to find out who did this to him?"

"They caught the men who did this to him. It's really a very sad story. A young man was attacked by a gang of thugs. That man, a total stranger, ran in to try and save him, and the attackers shot him four times and killed the other man any way. The man he tried to save was that woman's brother. She comes here every day and sits and talks to him for fifteen minutes to an hour. She's paying to keep him here, otherwise he'd be sent to some state run facility. It costs her a small fortune. I guess she feels responsible for him because of what he tried to do for her brother." She shrugged. "I can't say that I get it."

"How long has he been in a coma?"

"Sixteen years."



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