The kitchen activity doesn’t reach the bedrooms, nor does any coffee or cooking scent, the ventilation system is too good. Commercial vent in the kitchen and HVAC filtered air in the rest of the house keep odors from traveling.
Still, for whatever mysterious reason, girls appear for coffee or tea, settle in with a bowl of cut fruit. Ellen delivers caviar in ramekins along with sour cream, then a platter of blini. Daphne spoons out eggs, adds a platter of crisp as can be bacon and grilled sausage patties.
Katja, “Blini ees gud, who makes it?”
Ellen, “Daphne showed me, it’s simple as pancakes. Don’t know why I didn’t think to make them at home.”
Daphne, “We’ll go to the Russian Tea Room for lunch one day, tonight we go to Ultra Violet. You can tell us if our food equals New Orleans cooking.”
Oceane and Cassie appear, float down at one corner of the table. Daphne makes up two blini, smear of sour cream, sprinkle on caviar, roll them up and places the plate in front of Oceane.
She looks up at Daphne, “Suicide forest, no suicides.”
Janah comes along and sits, Daphne makes up another plate with two blini, hands it to Janah.
The scrambled are in a covered portable steam tray, adds a couple of serving spoons to Janah’s plate. No bacon or sausage, Janah eats chicken and fish, sometimes beef if it’s a specialty, like osso buco.
“Can you discuss the call?”
Janah, “Most of you saw the story on the laptop, yes?”
Nods, it was passed around while they had the first coffee.
“Call was the state police, Captain Gregson, they want me to have a look, the bodies and the crime scene. We’ll need Zi, Chloe and Oceane, which means Sloane as well.”
Sloane always goes along when Oceane is out.
“What about Cass?”
“She’ll be fine here, Chloe can….no, Chloe is with us.”
Amaya, “Cassandra will stick with me. A few of the rest may want to visit the city, we’ll have lunch out.”
Nikko, “Doesn’t sound like you need me yet, Daria and I will go to Murakami Sylk, we have plenty to keep us occupied.”
Ellen, “Can I come? To observe, we’re thinking of expanding property holdings, nothing on your scale, still, I might accidentally ask the right questions and learn something.”
Daphne, “Dasha, we need you with Amaya and Cassie,” with as in bodyguard.
Dasha, “We will haf Katya and Katja, also Mani and Sarah, nothing will happen. I will call the car company, we will haf driver, no public transportation, no Uber. They haf SUV for seven girls.”
Ellen, “How far is it? To the site I mean.”
“Two hundred thirty miles give or take. I’ll get us a small plane or copter, we can take off from Teterboro and be there in an hour or less. I can’t say when we’ll be back, probably not today, sometime tomorrow maybe. You should still go to Ultra Violet tonight.”
Dasha, “Nyet, we have Ellen and me to cook, we will wait on restaurant until everyone ees home. I will call Mariella and tell her we will be another night.”
Ellen, “Right, we can feed a few girls, homemade pizza or burgers, easy peasy.”
Daphne, “Oceane said something about a suicide forest, isn’t that in Japan?”
Nikko, “Yes, Aokigahara, the northwest side of Mt. Fuji, it’s volcanic rock but over the centuries a dense forest has grown up. It has a reputation as a home to "yūrei" or ghosts of the dead in Japanese mythology. Aokigahara has become internationally known as one of the world's most popular destinations for suicide.”
Daphne moves to Oceane, pulls up a chair so she’s not looking down at her, “What did you mean Oceane, suicide forest?”
Oceane smiles at Daphne, whatever passed through her brain earlier, she’s forgotten it now. Daphne strokes her soft cheek.
“Something popped in her head, but it’s popped back out again, I should have asked when she said it.”
Janah, “What did she say?”
“Suicide forest, no suicides. She said it before you returned from the call.”
“Did she see the laptop, the story?”
“No, at least the screen wasn’t passed to her or Cass, they have no interest in news or anything else on the internet.”
Chloe, “She heard you talking about forests and possible suicides.”
Janah, “Then she is telling us that the deaths aren’t suicides.”
Sarah, “How would she know?”
“There is no answer to that, Oceane sometimes travels to the past and, less often, the future. She sees things that she couldn’t know unless she was there, not stuff reported in papers or books.”
Mani, “Damn, how cool is that? Too bad she can’t remember.”
“Sloane will sit with her on the way up, she may come up with more when there aren’t a dozen people around. Chloe gets her to talk too.”
Janah clicks off her phone again, “Plane in an hour, it’ll take a half to get to Teterboro.”
Ellen, “Need someone with a weapon?”
“Sloane is a weapon.”
Daphne doesn’t mention Janah’s powerful Qi or her own not insignificant skills. Zi and Chloe are not only Sensitives, but they have master level martial arts talents. To fly up and sniff around murder sites, they have more than adequate firepower.
“We should bring a drone, not one armed, just for video and perhaps audio.”
Janah, “Good, let’s get on the move. Amaya….”
“I’ll drive you, Cassandra can take a ride.”
“Take one of the armed girls, any volunteers?”
Katya, “I’ll go with, they will be safe.”
Amaya has a two Tahoes fitted with bulletproof glass and reinforced side panels. The titanium panels are lightweight and stronger than steel. Titanium was also fitted to the quarter panels so that the wheels are mostly covered, reducing the likelihood that a bullet will bust a tire. Janah and Daphne’s New York family is ultra rich, multi billions, they don’t intend to make themselves easy targets.
Janah, “They had it available, costs more than a standard turboprop, but it has two engines, I don’t like single engine aircraft. Cruising speed of three sixty, we’ll be there in a half hour.”
“The propellers are behind the plane.”
“Keeps the noise down, and turboprops burn less fuel, reducing operating costs. If we have to fly any distance, I’d probably use jets.”
Touchdown practically before the seats get warm.
“Didn’t book a return flight. I hope we get gone in a day or so.”
We land at Adirondack Regional, a rental Tahoe awaits, the cops offered to pick us up, but that only leaves us without wheels or dependant on the police for transportation. An unmarked car is parked alongside the Tahoe.
A big cop, white, and another big cop, black, climb out of the Ford Interceptor.
The white one addresses Janah, “Ma’am, I’m Captain Maxwell, this is Sergeant Station Commander Simpson.”
Janah, “My associates, Daphne, Sloane, Chloe, Zi and Oceane.”
Those aren’t the names she uses, they are here under different identities, but let’s keep it simple for ourselves, shall we?
Janah, “Sergeant, suppose you ride with Daphne and the others, I’ll ride with Captain Maxwell, you can fill us in along the way.”
Maxwell, “Good idea, better get moving, I really don’t need another body hanging from a tree.”
They load up, Maxwell and Janah lead the way, Daphne is driving the Tahoe.
Maxwell tells her the story so far, the others get the same rundown from Simpson.
The first body found turned out to be the first girl killed. Hikers found the third kill before a park ranger found the second. They appeared to be a month apart, it was relatively easy to figure out the sequence.
Maxwell, “We went with suicide, it was a little stretch though,” Janah giggles.
Maxwell, “What’s so….oh, a little stretch, a stretched neck..weird. Where was I?
“You had just mentioned the sequence, then sounded like you had doubts.”
“That’s it, yep, one body was far enough from the tree trunk to make it hard to see how it was suicide, at least unassisted suicide. There was nothing obvious that she could have stood on. That left her crawling out the limb, hooking up the rope and jumping or rolling off the limb to complete the job.”
Janah, “And the condition of the neck didn’t suggest a sharp yank like it would if she jumped.”
Maxwell, “Good call, it wasn’t reported to the media. We still aren’t sure which way to go. If we say suicide, we risk bringing out copycats. If we say killer…well, you can see the dilemma.”
“Almost better to have suicide copycats, they’re confused and distraught and that’s a shame, but at least it isn’t a serial killer.”
“Ugly choices, but you’re right. I always wonder why the copycat suicide, they see that someone else could do it, news even provides a description of how. It’s just simpler to do what’s put in your head?”
Janah, “Yes, that certainly wouldn’t help, almost a form of encouragement. Perhaps there’s more. The media has a way of forcing explanations, the pre-suicide circumstances of the victim. A few experts later and descriptions of the suicide’s behavior, early home life, abused as a teen, pushed around at school the whole tragic bio. Other depressed people see these descriptions…you know what happens.”
“Christ, hadn’t thought of that, they see themselves as having the same or similar experiences. That woman killed herself, she’s better off…I could be better off too.”
“Giving them permission so to speak.”
“So the media biographies and behavioral descriptions are encouraging suicide. Even to the extent cops try and explain the victim’s behavior.”
“Swell, I gotta bring this up at HQ, it not only applies to suicides, there are copycat serial killers.”
It’s about forty minutes, they arrive at a fire road and take it to the end. A twenty minute hike to the site of the first murder, or suicide, or immaculate hanging where nobody is responsible.
Chloe and Zi split the search, Chloe goes left, Zi right.
Maxwell, “We searched the area, thoroughly searched.”
Daphne, “I’m certain you did, they aren’t looking for physical evidence.”
Simpson, “What then?”
“They see differently and sense differently than we do.”
Oceane is talking to the tree, ‘Do not be sad, there is a sick man, he is to blame.’
Maxwell, “Should I ask?”
“She has a different set of senses from the other two, comforting the tree that hosted the death is her way of getting in touch with the atmosphere of the place. I know it sounds like psychic baloney, but she’s provided more than a few accurate descriptions of people and places. Keep an open mind, that’s all we ask.”
Sloane has been keeping a watchful eye on Oceane, she’s wandered off into the woods. Since we can’t tell if she’s just being Oceane or if she’s tracking something, Sloane simply follows.
Chloe shows up, “Not much on my side until I get close to this spot.”
Simpson, “What happens at this spot?”
“Let’s wait for Zi.”
Ten minute later Zi returns, “Black as whatever you think is the blackest black.”
Janah, “Not good.”
Maxwell, “What’s not good?”
Oceane comes in with Sloane trailing, she goes to Chloe and says something so quietly the others don’t hear it. Daphne has owl hearing, whispers sound like normal conversation to her.
Chloe looks at Janah, “Psycho cold maybe?”
Maxwell, “I don’t understand a single thing your folks are saying.”
Janah, “Let’s get to the other sites, collect more data. I promise to clear it up when we’re done with our searches.”
The second site is the last victim, the one who went out on the limb. Her neck was snapped. The three girls reconnaissance again.
Simpson, “She was relatively light, otherwise she might have been decapitated according to forensics.”
Janah, “It takes surprisingly little pressure, your head is protected by the skull, the cervical vertebrae have nothing like that.”
Maxwell, “You’ve seen it?”
“Not the decapitation, I’ve seen decapitated bodies, in person, not an ISIS video, so have the others.”
“You guys are young to have seen so much death.”
“Think of what the children in the Middle East have seen, and much of it dead relatives, fathers, mothers, siblings, either murdered or collateral damage.”
“True, and sad. I’m a cop, been a cop since dirt. I still can’t imagine what it does to a kid’s mind.”
“They become terrorists.”
Simpson, “We keep creating them don’t we?”
“It’s endless. If somebody doesn’t keep terrorists corralled, they just keep showing up with bombs strapped to their backs. If we contain, given how they use the civilian population as shields, innocents are inevitably caught up in it. We can’t even control who sells them weapons, we can’t keep them from capturing our weapons. Strange to say, but Iraq, and the Middle East in general might have been better off with Sadaam alive.”
Zi and Oceane return from different directions, Zi, “Whispers of dark only on my side.”
Sloane, “Oceane got distracted by the biggest crow I’ve ever seen.
Maxwell, “She’s a birdwatcher?”
“The crow came to her when she parked on a log. He saw the man. He knows him as ‘man of the long nights’. When the crow’s companions joined to see the anomaly, the man killed two.”
Simpson, “He had a gun?”
“No, with his energy. The birds can see it, if you could it would look like a lightning strike.”
Maxwell, “Come on now.”
“There are two dead crows about forty yards out,” she points in the direction they came from.
Simpson, “Show me.”
He and Sloane go off, Chloe comes along, “I must have gotten the dark side, I walked through a spot that was like a freezer, maybe two feet deep, six feet high.”
Maxwell, “Now you can show me, this is like one of those evil wizard movies.”
They go off.
Sloane and Simpson return, Simpson has a plastic bag, he’d put on vinyl gloves to collect the carcasses.
“Maybe there’s enough left for forensics to say how they died. Weird, the bodies weren’t half eaten like you’d think. This is wilderness, the two birds were free food. There weren’t even maggots.”
Janah, “They don’t want any part of the man who did the killing, even if he never touched them.”
Maxwell and Chloe return, Maxwell, “Damndest thing I’ve ever seen, she’s right, like an invisible tube of freezing air.”
Chloe, “It’s dissipating, it was colder when I passed through the first time.”
Maxwell, “I took photos with my phone, but they look like forest photos, can’t see anything unusual.”
Janah, “The air thing is new to me. It may or may not be related to the case. When a body is frozen and thawed, blood cells rupture and leak intracellular fluid. There might also be small signs of decomposition, particularly if the intestines and stomach were full at the time of death. You might want to tell your forensics guys to look for the ruptures, they could be microscopic.”
Maxwell, “Christ, lemme make a call.”
The third site is the second to die victim. The result of the girls explorations had the same dark patches in the air, nothing to indicate freezing.
Janah, “Can we see the bodies now?”
Maxwell, “Well…I don’t know.”
“Tell you what, call your boss, tell him what we want.”
“He’s gonna wonder if I’ve lost my mind.”
“I think Major Denison will be impressed with your diligence.”
“You know my….Major Denison?”
“Not personally, I just know he’s who you report to. Just call, it will be okay.”
He shrugs, pulls his phone and dials, “Maxwell sir. I have a request. The consultants have reconnoitered the sites…well sir, they had a couple of strange observations, one I confirmed myself. It will be in my report. And…oh, the request, they want to see the bodies sir….uh, okay, got it, thank you sir.”
Janah has her perfectly innocent face on.
Maxwell, “Chief was pretty clear, any goddamn thing she wants to see, or any other goddamn thing she wants. I know the brass is getting roasted by the Governor and all the other groups that like to take cheap shots at the cops.”
Janah giggles, “You and Simpson are going to do well out of this, one good thing at least. Otherwise it is a nightmare, your jobs require you shake off the night sweats and get on with finding the killer. Now let’s visit the morgue.”
On arrival, Maxwell stops just outside the swinging metals door to the morgue itself.
“The young one,” he nods at Oceane, “she maybe should stay…”
Janah, “She is essential to get us the jumpstart we need. She needs to touch the corpses, anyplace will do, a few fingers for instance.”
Maxwell looks at Simpson, shrugs, “Let’s get on with it.”
Dr. Akers, “We did the analysis, you’re right, the bodies were all frozen before they were hung, suicide is out of the question. That led to a different question, how were they killed, then frozen, then dragged into the wilderness and strung up?”
Janah, “The sequence is, frozen alive, then dragged into the wilderness and strung up.”
Dr. Akers grimaces, duh, “That’s the answer. Once we saw they had been frozen, all of them had frostbitten fingers and toes, the cause of death was apparent. No punctures, no drugs or poisons, I think we’re waiting on two more poison reports, but I don’t see any external evidence of poison. Apart from the neck, no broken bones, no stress fractures, no bruising of the sort that might come from a fist or blunt instrument. Heart, lungs in satisfactory shape and a check of the women’s prior medical history revealed nothing life threatening.”
Janah, “My associate needs to make physical contact with the body.”
Akers, “I don’t know if….”
Maxwell, “Anything she needs doc, that’s from the top.”
Akers steps aside.
Janah, “Oceane, what does she reveal to you?”
Oceane steps to the body, lays one hand on the woman’s forehead, the other on her exposed arm, a minute passes in silence.
Oceane, “A container, dark, cold, she’s scared, screaming, then shivering. Cannot feel her fingers and toes, heart racing, her breathing slows, then blank, her organs shut down, she dies.”
Akers, “She’s got the sequences right, but I could have told you what happened.”
Sloane, “Oceane, before the woman was put in the freezer, what did she experience?”
Oceane smiles, as if she’s figured out what they need to know, “A man, big, bushy beard. His hand over her mouth, she’s nude.”
Sloane, “Good. How big was he? Look at Captain Maxwell, the policeman, bigger than him?”
Oceane studies Maxwell, “Bigger, she puts one hand six inches over the other indicating how much,” Maxwell is six two, the killer must be huge.
“What else Oceane?”
She turns back to the corpse, replaces her hands, it’s quiet again.
“She trusted,” Oceane turns and steps away from the body, she moves on to explore the morgue.
Aker, “What does that mean…oh, she shouldn’t touch anything else.”
“She’ll need to touch the other two bodies.”
Sloane hops over and takes Oceane by the arm, leads her back to the group surrounding the body.
Janah, “What does that mean, the trusting thing? Is that your question?”
“Yes, do you know, hazard a guess.”
“It’s obvious, the victim trusted the killer. What we don’t know is why. Was he in uniform, cop, security guard, someone she knew, probably not a relative, none of the girls were related to each other.
Sloane is talking quietly with Oceane, “One final bit, the killer watched the woman freeze to death”.
Akers, “How would he do that? He’s got on cold weather gear and she’s naked?”
“Most probable, he could also have a portal, a window of some kind. Most cameras would be problematical, it’s freezing, there’s an operational problem and the matter of fogging the lens. On the other hand, there are cameras designed to work just fine in very cold temperatures. On balance I think he would want to be present, not distanced, it’s more real.”
Akers, “Most frozen bodies, if they aren’t trapped under an avalanche or dead before they froze, are in a fetal position trying to stay warm. Either he fastened them to something so they couldn’t curl up, or he let them go through a long thawing process and stretched them out afterwards.”
“It could take a week for a fully frozen body to thaw, maybe he sticks it in a heated environment. I’m trying to grasp the level of complication our man goes through just to watch a woman freeze to death. Acquire the victim, restrain them and haul them to the freezer, strip them and position the body, then just sit and watch for, gosh, it could take a couple of days to completely freeze.”
Akers, “Then thaw, more days pass, take the corpse to the woods and hang it. That is a lot of moving round. And the smell is going to get rank during the thawing process.”
They move to the second body, Oceane returns, places her hands in the same position.
Janah, “The girl saw a white truck?”
You have to ask Oceane direct questions, she doesn’t grasp subtlety or innuendo, “Describe the truck, a pickup truck, a big car like the one we have, a van?”
“A truck with a big box in back, to put things. She saw it, then woke up in the box, tried to stand and walk, it is cold, she shivers then is asleep but not sleeping.”
Oceane smiles and walks off, Sloane keeps her focused, “The last one Oceane, what did she see?”
Hands on again, nothing for a couple of minutes then, “The man…a dark coat, a hat.”
“Anything written on the hat, or a picture of something?”
Oceane stare into the void, seeing what only she can see. “A blue symbol, a snake, letters…e…m… his head is turned to the side.”
“Is it the same man, with the beard, the big man?”
Oceane twists her neck, blinks up at the ceiling, “He has gloves, the rubber kind.”
Akers hold up his green latex examination gloves, “Like these?”
Oceane looks, blinks again, touches the gloves, “No color.”
Janah, “What else, did she see anything else?”
“A yellow bus with red signs, children inside. It passed, did not stop, then she was in the box.”
Janah, “She’s done, thank you Oceane. Now maybe Sloane can find you that soda.”
Akers says, “Is she accurate? I mean, she senses things from touching dead bodies?”
“Were there any clothes, personal effects?”
“Nothing, they were found like you see them.”
“Too bad, she could have seen more, still, she will be proven correct. What we have so far are relatively young women, not children. The killer drives a white truck that is likely refrigerated, but he’s wearing a paramedic cap, Blue Star of Life, has the staff with the snake image on it. I figure the t after e m wasn’t visible with his head turned.”
Daphne, “Can a refrigerated truck freeze a human body?”
Janah, “Yes, they can get to zero, it would take a while to completely freeze though. Most stuff put in these kinds of trucks is already frozen, the truck just needs to keep it that way.”
Akers, “Anything else we’ve overlooked or haven’t addressed?”
Janah, “Nothing comes to mind, Chloe, Zi?”
Chloe, “Not me.”
Zi, “Does he transport them to another freezer then? A truck would go through a lot of juice for the time it takes to freeze a body.”
“Good question, although I think some refrigerated trucks stay constantly cold, like long haul trucks delivering frozen food. Still, in a truck it would take days to freeze solid.”
Daphne, “He’d have to stay with the truck if he gets off watching them die, I don’t suppose it’s out of the question, but where is it parked? He’s got to go to the bathroom from time to time.”
Janah, “Reasons he may take them to a more suitable location, where it’s really cold and he can monitor from both inside and out. Once they’re unconscious there’s no thrill in watching, nothing happens.”
Maxwell has been quiet, as has Simpson, understandably dubious about Oceane’s descriptions.
Maxwell, “I’m not convinced, but there’s no reason not to scrutinize freezer trucks, they were frozen after all, had to happen someplace.”
Simpson, “Where are you staying?”
Daphne, “Whiteface Lodge.”
“Nice, took my wife there for a weekender, lovely scenery, placid surroundings, now you got me wanting to go again.”
“Never skip the chance to get your lady in a nice hotel, sneak in a box of Godiva Truffles and a bottle of good Champagne, let the games begin.”
Simpson turns to Maxwell, “Capt’n, I got a couple weeks vacation time, maybe I…”
Maxwell, “Maybe your people solve this case, then we talk about vacations.”
I grin, “Book a room a month out, it’ll be done before then.”
Maxwell, “You know something I don’t?”
I resist the temptation, there are so many somethings I know and he doesn’t, it would take hours.
“We don’t let the grass grow Captain, if it takes more than a week I’m turning in my Junior Crime Buster Badge. If you gentlemen can get out the freezer alert we might get lucky early.”
Janah, “Do you have drones?”
Maxwell, “Yeah, sure.”
“Then they need to go on a truck search.”
He’s unconvinced, “I don’t know, the brass is kind of paranoid about the damn things. They worry about the public, which is already touchy about surveillance.”
“Captain, you have three grisly murders, if there’s a cooperation problem the Major can’t solve, let me know.”
“You can do that? Straight to the top?”
“We can do just about anything Captain, any little thing at all, big things may take a couple of calls, but it gets done.”
Maxwell recalls his earlier conversation with his boss, somebody got to him before we even met.
He leans to Simpson, “I don’t know who these people are, but they got over my head before I laid eyes on them. They must be something special, I’ve been around twenty eight years, never saw any civilian with that level of clout.”
Simpson, “At least they aren’t heavy handed, there’s no attitude.”
I hear their whispers, decide to encourage them, “Gentlemen, we don’t work this for money, there’s no book deal, we pay our own expenses. It interests us, and we have a few skills that may simplify the process. When it’s over, we’re ghosts, we came out of nowhere and we will exit quietly, no interviews, no TV, no talk radio, no credit of any kind. Part of our agreement is that we’re never mentioned. If a camera catches us at a scene, that’s not your fault. It’s never happened, we only go to scenes when the cameras have come and gone.”
Maxwell, “Good to know. Some of it I got from Command when they told us to meet you at the airport, that’s normally patrol duty, so the message was VIPs in town, send rank. We were also told, as far as the media, there are no consultants, you guys don’t exist. Normally they would call in the behavioral analysis people at the FBI. But they get a load of requests.”
“Probably why we were contacted, we think the FBI does a good job, point the locals in the right direction. Our contacts with them have been productive.”
“You’ve worked with the FBI?”
“Twice directly, as pass-throughs on several occasions.”
“What’s a pass-through?”
“You need information from another agency, they have procedures that delay or deny your request, have you had the problem?”
“We are in contact with someone able to sidestep the bureaucracy, no paper, no email, no text. As far as anyone knows, no one asked for anything, no one received anything.”
“So if I want a look at something in an FBI file…”
“You should call Mrs. Pearson,” she pulls out a card, it has only a phone number printed on it, otherwise blank, “identify yourself, she will verify you on the first call, after that she knows who you are, tell her what you’re looking for.”
“And she’ll get it, just like that?”
“Just like that.”
“What’s the catch?”
“When she calls you for something, you deliver. Remember, no one but Pearson knows who you are, the other party never hears your name, location or job title. The same is true in reverse. Ask for information, you get it, you just never know who supplied it. That’s the beauty of a pass-through, kind of a live Tor browser, anonymous.”
Maxwell doesn’t know he’s talking to Mrs. Pearson, or that Daphne is also Mrs. Pearson. Janah mostly takes the calls, but if she’s occupied, Daphne does it. If he ever calls, her voice, or Daphne’s, will be modulated, he won’t recognize it.