If there was one thing Izir hated, all cops hated, it was forced psychiatric counseling. Detective Hamad Izir was truly grateful that he had never been in a position to shoot a suspect, and had only drawn his service weapon three times as a uniformed officer. Those moments of abject fear, uncertainty, and overpowering adrenaline surges had faded over time, as had the majority of cases he had worked as a violent crimes detective. Salt Lake City wasn’t a haven from crime by any means, but it wasn’t the south side of Chicago, the housing projects of Baltimore or New York city, or the wild west of border towns in southern Texas where the cartel wars sometimes spilled over onto American soil. But like any large city, it had its share of disturbingly inhumane crimes, and Izir had been front and center for enough of them to have a dim view of his fellow humans.
He had nearly come apart at the seams after working a case where a twelve year old girl had been brutalized with ruthless efficiency, almost as if the girl’s killer had lost a bet with Satan and had been forced to make even the devil quake in fright. Three months of counseling sessions with the department’s resident psychiatrist, Dr. Emile Hesh, had been extremely helpful in purging the burned-in images of that nightmare, but he had resented it as a mandatory step to keep his position within the VCD. Myra, his wife of twenty years, had threatened to leave him if he didn’t get help, which made his resentment burn even hotter. Izir hated that he knew he had become a detached, emotionless, angry shell of his former self, and for some unexplainable reason, hated even more than Dr. Hesh and his wife had been both right about his need for counseling, as well as the primary drivers of his emotional recovery.
Today, however, sitting in the waiting room with Franklin, Fremont, and Gonzales, he was secretly hopeful that Dr. Hesh would be able to perform an even more impressive miracle. None of the detectives had protested when Captain Childress ordered them to immediately sit down with Dr. Hesh. Izir hadn’t even blinked when Captain Childress informed them that they were all on paid administrative leave until they’d had at least two sessions and received a positive recommendation from Dr. Hesh that they were cleared to return to work. The only annoyance Izir felt was the fact that for two weeks, none of them would be able to work on tying James Wesley Ryerson and the Church of the Holy Ascent to four homicides—or two suicides and two homicides. Izir’s somewhat darkly morbid humor was impressed with Krotus’ and Long’s ability to kill themselves by destroying their eyes or entire skulls with explosive force.
“This is bullshit,” Gonzales whispered from his right on the long waiting room couch. “We need to be figuring out just what the fuck happened and how Ryerson did it.”
“Listen,” Izir said softly, grasping his colleague’s hand. Gonzales tried to jerk away, but Izir held firm. “Listen, Gonzo. We’re going in as a group. You don’t need to tell Hesh about your childhood or anything like that, but do yourself and the rest of us a favor and participate willingly. I know it sucks, but it helps, no matter how much you want to believe otherwise.”
“Yeah?” Gonzales said, scowling at Izir, then at the other two detectives watching the exchange intently. “How would you know?”
“Because I had to see Hesh after Daisy Clements,” Izir said quietly, refusing to meet Gonzales’ challenging glare.
“Shit… man…” Gonzales mumbled. He gave Izir’s hand a hard squeeze then extracted it from the man’s grip. “I forgot that was your case.”
“Christ,” Fremont said, her face pale. “Childress made you come here? Or…”
“Yeah, Cap put me on leave until I did it. As much as I tried to wall myself off, Hesh is pretty fuckin’ good at his job.” He passed his gaze over his colleagues then looked down at his lap. “It feels weak, makes you hate yourself and how helpless you seem, how pointless everything is, but it got me through the worst time of my life when I finally gave in and actually dealt with it. It’s like a concussion for an athlete, or PTSD for a soldier. You want to believe you’re better than that, that head shrinks are for weak, sniveling momma’s boys. But Hesh was a beat cop once, so it’s not like he’s an outsider.”
“Yeah?” Franklin asked.
“Worked for LAPD during the Rodney King riots. According to him, the savagery, the brutality made him sick to the point he couldn’t do it anymore, but he was LAPD. His dad was LAPD. His uncle was an LACSD deputy. Grandfather was an MP in World War Two. ‘Cop blood’ as he says. So he couldn’t stop being a cop, and wanted to help others learn to deal with the kind of shit he had seen, knowing how it deeply it affected him.”
“God, Izir,” Fremont muttered. “You got a crush on him?”
“No,” Izir growled, then took a deep breath. “No. He’s good police is all I’m saying, even if he’s a head shrink instead of a patrol officer or detective. Like I said, he’s seen shit, been in the middle of shit, and so when he says something to the effect of ‘I know how you feel,’ he’s not blowing smoke up your ass.”
“Okay, calm down,” Fremont said, the corner of her mouth turning up into a grin. “I just hate the idea of pouring out my soul to some clown with a fancy diploma.”
“I know,” Izir said with a nod. “But take a look at the photos on his wall when we go in. He’s legit.”
“The first thing I need to say,” Dr. Hesh said once they had all been seated, “is that I have absolutely no idea how any of you are feeling beyond whatever my mind can imagine.”
Gonzales furrowed his eyebrows and stared at Izir until Izir shrugged and nodded toward the doctor.
“That being said,” Hesh continued, “I’ve seen the videos of what happened with Krotus and Long, and the crime scene photos from Alicia Donnington and Enos Mecham.” Hesh visibly shuddered, then shook his head as if clearing away the memory of a nightmare. “I can’t offer you an explanation as to what happened or how it happened. I don’t want to sound like I will be absolutely useless in helping you four deal with whatever might be bouncing around in your heads, but I am asking you up front to at least work with me so I can do whatever I can to get you back to work. I have no doubts that you are all itching to get on with the case, so my primary goal is to make sure none of you are going to have a psychotic episode and potentially endanger others.” He met each detective’s eyes for a moment. “Or yourselves.”
Izir nodded. The suicide rate for police officers—especially homicide detectives—was only slightly lower than for soldiers returning home from combat. He trusted Hesh even more after the psychiatrist admitted he was in uncharted territory. Based on the expressions of his colleagues’ faces, they ranged from skeptical to somewhat open-minded that the sessions would help rid them of the nightmares they saw each time they closed their eyes, whether asleep or awake.
“Now, I probably shouldn’t do this, but I feel it is important that you know exactly what is happening since you’ve been sidelined.”
“No offense, Doc,” Gonzales said, “but we’ve only been ‘sidelined’ for about ten hours.”
“I know,” Hesh said. “But Reverend Ryerson is still in the game, and he’s upped the ante since Long’s… Well, you know.”
“Ryerson?” Izir asked. “Did he turn himself in? Or admit on camera that he murdered one or all of these people?”
“I’m afraid it’s a bit more… I don’t know. No one other than Ryerson himself knows what he’s up to, what his eventual endgame might be.”
“What the hell, Doc?” Franklin asked. “What’s going on?”
“About an hour ago, the FBI intercepted a livestream that Ryerson uploaded to all of the major video sharing sites. They tried to contain it, but Ryerson or his IT disciples easily recognized what was happening and flooded every known streaming, file sharing, and minor video site, which of course led to users on those sites to share it repeatedly, and so on until the FBI gave up. And now there’s a storm brewing. I’ll show it to you, and then instead of what I would consider a ‘typical’ session, we can spend the hour parsing it.”
“Aren’t we supposed to be ‘working through our feelings’?” Fremont asked, the disdain in her voice unmistakable.
“Since it has gone viral, you will see it eventually once you leave this office,” Hesh said with a sigh. “And none of you are going to actually push any of these cases from your mind and spend the next two weeks chanting Zen koans in your backyard gardens. What I’m trying to say is, until this shit with Ryerson is resolved, comes to a head, whatever, there’s not a lot of mental or emotional healing I can offer. Any progress we make today and next week will be shattered the instant Ryerson makes his next move, uploads his next video, what have you. Agreed?”
“Sure,” Gonzales said after looking at around and receiving nods from his colleagues. “And for the record, none of us are going to eat our own bullet or make anyone else but Ryerson eat a bullet.”
“I’m quite sure of that, Detective Gonzales,” Hesh said. He leaned back in his chair and pulled a tablet from the shelf behind him. After a double-tap on the screen, he flipped it around and set it on the desk, as if his four charges were suspects in an interview room. “The man has a certain… charisma, even if none of us wants to admit it. Not that any of us would fall for his bullshit, but then, anyone who watches documentaries on Hitler’s fiery speeches can’t figure out how an entire country fell for his bullshit either.”
“So Ryerson is Hitler?” Franklin asked, not taking her eyes off the tablet’s screen as she waited for the video to load.
“No, I’m just saying, we’re immune to his charisma, but looking at it objectively, combined with what he says, it’s not hard to see how he appeals to a certain subset of society, especially because of the religious angle.”
“Fucking nutters,” Gonzales growled.
The detectives watched as Ryerson walked from out of frame to a black podium the camera had centered on. Izir was surprised by Ryerson’s physical features. He knew James Ryerson was thirty-two years old, but if he hadn’t had that information available, he would have guessed Ryerson was maybe twenty-one, if that. The preacher was tanned, and even fully clothed, Izir knew that underneath there would be rippling muscles and tanned skin that would make women swoon and men jealous. He could almost picture Ryerson standing on a beach with a surfboard in his hands as he watched intently for the right set of waves to materialize.
“Hello, Utah,” Ryerson said, his voice deep and steady. It reminded Izir of a number of his professors from college. “And hello, America, possibly the world.” Ryerson paused dramatically, nodded once, then continued. “My name is Reverend James Wesley Ryerson. I am the founder of the Church of the Holy Ascent. I have come before you today to announce that I am also the judgment of humanity.”
“Jesus fuckin’ Christ,” Gonzales snarled in disgust.
“Shut the hell up, Gonzo,” Fremont said sharply. “Let’s see what the pretty boy has to say.”
“For the last year, I have gathered many of our church’s faithful at our facility in Nephi, Utah,” Ryerson said. “In this time, the Federal Bureau of Investigation has repeatedly violated both our faithfuls’ civil rights, as well as our freedom to practice religion. Three times the FBI has raided our ‘compound’ in hopes of finding guns, drugs, victims of human trafficking, and any number of other supposed illegal activities.” He paused and stared into the camera, as if challenging any viewer to look away. “Three times they have walked away empty-handed, finding nothing more than a couple of unfortunate souls who left their old lives of sin behind, along with a warrant for their arrest.
“The FBI, at this very moment, are attempting to silence me and the Church by blocking this livestream by any means possible, including illegal means that violate the Constitution of this once-great country. To them, I say, you will reap what you sow for your transgressions. The punishment for you will not be death, not for the agents engaged in these illegal acts. But I have added your sins to the register, and it will be because of you that payment will be demanded. And it will be paid in full.”
Izir touched the screen to pause the video. “Sorry, but we’re supposed to quake in fear of this shitbird? Has the FBI kicked in his goddamn doors and put him in chains for this?” He glanced around the room. “Please tell me this ends with a tactical team taking him down in the middle of his moment in the spotlight.”
“Patience, Detective,” Hesh said quietly. “Hear the man out at the very least.”
“Fine,” Izir growled. He stabbed his finger on the Play button.
“I have no doubt that the unbelievers watching this are at this moment scoffing at my words,” Ryerson continued. “I understand your doubt, your lack of faith. I will unburden you of your lack of faith with proof, of which you can easily verify by contacting both the FBI as well as the Salt Lake City Police Department.”
“Good god,” Franklin groaned.
“Specifically,” Ryerson went on, “Detectives Hamad Izir, Dakota Franklin, Alexis Fremont, and Manuel Gonzales of the Violent Crimes Division of the Salt Lake Police.”
Izir and the others flinched as if Dr. Hesh had fired a pistol in the room. The anger in each detective’s eyes worried Hesh, and he hoped they would keep it in check long enough to finish listening to the insane yet frightening man speaking from the tablet.
“One month ago, a sinner named George Krotus met his fate at our lord’s hand as he sat in an interrogation room while Detectives Izir and Franklin scoffed in disbelief, the same as many of you are doing at this very moment. Sinner Krotus brutally raped and murdered another sinner, Alicia Donnington. I personally commanded our lord to remove the scourge on this earth named George Krotus, and so it was. Sinner Krotus paid for his crimes when our lord burst his eyes from his head, burst his carotid artery so that his sinful blood would mark the path of evil for others to see. If you refuse this truth, you only have to ask Detective Izir or Detective Franklin to know that I speak honestly.
“Two weeks ago, as my own faith, and therefore the power that our lord has instilled in me because of my unwavering faith, grew exponentially, I once again smote a terrible sinner. Gavin Long, a slovenly waste of a soul, was tasked with taking the life of Enos Mecham, an adulterer, a polygamist, a liar and a thief. Once again, Detectives Izir and Franklin were present when I revealed our lord’s power a second time, and now Sinner Long’s soul resides in hell along with Sinner Mecham’s. Refuse my truths twice if you must, but Detective Izir and Detective Franklin were witnesses, along with Detective Gonzales and Detective Fremont.”
“Okay,” Franklin said, pausing the video. “This fucker is straight-up admitting that he somehow killed Krotus and Long? And that he somehow commanded them to kill Donnington and Mecham before blowing their heads to smithereens right in front of us?”
“Seems that way,” Gonzales said, his eyes staring at nothing. “This shit is almost creeping me out.”
“Almost?” Fremont asked, raising an eyebrow at her partner.
“Yeah, almost. The missing ingredient is actual proof of how he did it. I’ll admit that Hesh is right, he’s got a charm about him like Hitler, but to me, it feels more like he got someone in the department to leak what happened and is taking credit for it and using God as his righteous bogeyman.”
“Fucker is definitely creepy,” Franklin admitted. “But I’m with Gonzo. How many other cranks have we seen in the past do the same thing? Take credit for something just to whip up a mob, take their money, their women?”
“I’ll agree,” Dr. Hesh said. “It’s too far-fetched to believe God or an evil wizard or the Necronomicon allowed him to smite Krotus and Long from a few hundred miles away while surrounded by cops in an interview room.”
“So what gives, Doc?” Gonzales asked with exasperation. “I don’t get it.”
“Keep watching,” was all Hesh would say.
“To assure you who still refuse to believe my words,” Ryerson said when Franklin resumed the video, “and to convince the Salt Lake City Police and the FBI that I have come to judge humanity for its egregious fall into sin, I will tell you a third and final truth. At this very moment, in apartment 316 at 17942 Chelsea Court, the soulless body of Cameron Louise Potter is waiting for Detectives Izir, Franklin, Fremont, and Gonzales to discover her. Sinner Potter, a lesbian, a drug addict, a hypocrite, and a thief, will sin no more thanks to Holly Wi, her lesbian lover and fellow drug addict, thief, and worst of all, murderer of two innocent children—one aborted in the womb, another who was struck down three years ago by an intoxicated Sinner Wi, who served less than thirty days of a five year DUI sentence.
“I have revealed myself to the world, to you, the faithless, the sinners who have worked with the forces of evil to destroy the lord’s work, the lord’s love. Know that my name is James Wesley Ryerson, and know that my real name, gifted to me by our omniscient and powerful lord, is Gafalta, bringer of judgment, executioner of the damned, and savior of the faithful. Flock to me, eat of my spiritual flesh, and be spared the coming destruction that shall be wrought upon this cursed world. Refuse and be damned.”
Ryerson paused again, his eyes glowing, burning with an inner flame that Izir was sure had to be some kind of special effect. The preacher shook his head once, as if saddened by what he had to unleash on the truly innocent, then held up his right hand. The detectives watching the video flinched when Ryerson’s hand burst into flame with a loud whoosh sound.
“I, Gafalta, will reveal my next truth in one week from today.”
Before anyone could say a word, Hesh’s desk phone rang.
“I’m with patients, Bernice,” he said curtly after punching the speakerphone button.
“I’m sorry, Doctor Hesh, but Captain Childress is on line one. He says it’s urgent and I am to interrupt your session with the detectives.”
“Very well,” Hesh said. He picked up the handset and pressed the button for line one. “Hesh. Yes, sir. Yes, sir. I see. Yes, sir, they have my recommendation to continue. Yes, sir.” He hung up and leaned back in his chair. “Captain Childress has reinstated you, effective immediately, and will be out front in five minutes to pick you up.”
“Just like that?” Izir asked, suddenly worried, yet relieved to be back on duty. “What the hell is going on?”
“He’s taking you to Holly Wi’s apartment,” Hesh answered.
“Jesus,” Franklin breathed. “It’s true, then.”
“The moment Ryerson revealed the address, SLCPD officers were dispatched to the scene. I don’t know what awaits you there, only that Captain Childress sounded frightened.”
“Cap? Scared?” Fremont scoffed. “The old man is made of hardened steel.”
“He didn’t give me details other than Ryerson wasn’t bluffing,” Hesh replied. “Be careful, detectives. If any of you need to see me at any point, no matter what time of day or night, please, don’t hesitate to call me. I’ll come to you.”
Hesh handed each of them a card after writing his personal mobile number on it. He stood up and shook hands with the four detectives, then ushered them to the door. The detectives filed out and walked briskly to the glass doors leading to the outside, all lost in their wandering thoughts as to what they would see when they walked into Holly Wi’s apartment. Childress was already waiting at the curb in his department-issued sedan.
“I’m sorry, detectives,” Childress said, his voice steady as he pulled away from the curb. “I know you don’t want to sit in Hesh’s chair and spill your guts out, but you understand why I ordered it.”
“Yes, sir,” Izir said for the group. “What’s going on?”
“We’ll be there in less than three minutes, so until then, I advise you to prepare yourselves for… I don’t want to say anything more. Take these three minutes to wall off whatever sanity you have left so when you see it, you can reconnect to it afterward instead of going off the deep end.”
An army of uniformed officers stood in a semicircle around the apartment building’s entrance, breaking rank occasionally to let residents evacuate the building. Izir frowned when he spotted Cox, Whitman, Ames, and Chavez just inside the entryway. Eight detectives on-scene meant whatever was in Holly Wi’s apartment was worse than horrific. None of the detectives said a word after Izir and his colleagues were allowed through the ring of officers. The only sound they could hear was the pained wailing of a young woman who couldn’t seem to catch her breath between sobs.
Izir entered apartment 316 first, steeling himself for what he was sure would be every square inch of wall and floor covered in blood. Instead, he saw a somewhat messy apartment that was obviously inhabited by women based on the furniture, decorations, and soft pastel paint on the interior walls. He stepped into the living room and stopped so suddenly that Franklin bumped into him, which caused Fremont to collide with her. Izir saw Holly Wi, a short, thin Asian woman wearing nothing but a black bra and lace panties, on her hands and knees next to the cooling body of her girlfriend, Cameron Potter.
“Hey, Holly,” Fremont said softly, stepping around Izir to kneel next to the sobbing woman. “Holly, come on, let’s get you some clothes.”
“I—I—I—Oh my god!” Holly cried out, refusing to let go of her lover’s limp hand. “I didn’t mean it! I didn’t mean it!”
“Come on, honey,” Franklin said, kneeling on the other side of her. She gently gripped Holly’s bicep, Fremont doing the same to the woman’s other arm.
“Noooo!” Holly wailed when the detectives picked her up off the floor and tried to steer her into the bedroom. “No! Cam! Cam!” she screamed.
Izir and Gonzales waited for the women to move away before kneeling next to Cameron’s corpse. Izir touched the girl’s neck, then shook his head at Gonzales to let him know she was dead. Izir knew it was a useless gesture. He could feel his stomach beginning to bubble and boil, and did his best to keep his mind focused on Cameron Potter’s twisted, deformed body.
“I don’t even know what to say,” Gonzales whispered from the other side of Cameron’s body. “How is this even possible?”
“I don’t know,” was all Izir could say.
Both detectives had witnessed the remnants of what could only be described as evil, but whatever Holly Wi—or, if Ryerson was to be believed, Ryerson’s god, Gafalta—had done to her girlfriend was beyond comprehension. The only explanation Izir could come up with was that Holly had placed her girlfriend’s hips in a vice then grabbed onto Cameron’s shoulders and twisted her torso around at least three times, then somehow placed the vice on Cameron’s shoulders and twisted her head in the opposite direction three more times. A brief memory of a childhood toy, Stretch Armstrong, flashed through his mind. There was very little blood beyond a small trickle from the victim’s left nostril.
Izir stood up suddenly and rushed toward the kitchen, barely making it to the sink before the burger and fries he had eaten before his appointment with Dr. Hesh ejected from his stomach. He felt Gonzales’ hand on his back, the sound of heavy sniffing alerting him to the fact that the detective was doing everything within his power to not burst into tears. Izir knew he would never make a single remark, not even in jest, concerning Gonzales’ near-descent into a torrent of sadness.
“Hey,” Fremont said softly from behind them. “You guys okay?”
“Yeah,” Gonzales said after another powerful sniffle to clear his sinuses.
“I think so,” Izir answered after taking a drink from the faucet and swirling the water around his mouth before spitting it into the sink. “Honestly though, maybe not.”
“What’s the girlfriend saying?” Gonzales asked, changing the subject to get his mind back on track.
“Not much,” Fremont said. “She just keeps crying and saying she didn’t mean to do it.”
“I can’t even begin to imagine how such a tiny woman could do that to the vic,” Izir said. He waited a moment for his stomach to lurch once more. “I don’t even think if Gonzo and I worked together we could do that.”
“I’m thinking that lame trick with his eyes and the flaming hand might not be a trick after all,” Fremont said in a low voice. “How fucked up is that?”
“As fucked up as me believing the same thing,” Izir said.
“Are we dreaming this?” Gonzales asked, his voice sounding far away. “Or am I having a nightmare I can’t wake up from? A collective hallucination? Did someone spike our coffee with Ketamine or something?”
“Unfortunately, this is real,” Captain Childress said from behind them. The three turned to face him, none surprised to see that he was on the verge of losing it himself. “Any ideas?”
“Are you going to put us in straight jackets if we say that this has to be Ryerson’s doing?” Fremont asked with a nervous laugh. When Childress didn’t reply, she punched her left leg as hard as she could. “Fuck! This is insane!”
“It’s just not possible,” Childress said. “And yet, one look at the victim says I’m wrong.”
A commotion broke out in the hallway, a few voices shouting before a much louder voice commanded everyone to stand down. Three seconds later, what seemed like an army of federal agents entered the apartment. Two entered the the living room, with two more heading to the bedroom. A very serious agent with close-cropped hair stopped at the entrance to the kitchen, an other agent at his side.
“Captain Childress,” the man said, nodding to Izir’s boss. “Detectives,” he said, nodding to each of them. “I’m Special Agent In Charge Jack Harrison. This is Special Agent Janice Gorman.”
Izir and the others shook hands with the two FBI agents, Agent Harrison glanced toward the living room, then back to the detectives in the kitchen. Agent Gorman stood as rigid as stone, her eyes passing over the detectives as if on repeat.
“Detectives, Captain, I’m sorry but the FBI is taking charge of this investigation.”
“Bullshit,” Izir said, keeping his anger in check, but just barely.
“Stand down, Hamad,” Childress said, placing a hand on Izir’s arm.
“No, sir, fuck that. This is our case. Our juris—”
“Stop right there, Detective,” Agent Gorman said, interrupting the rant Izir attempted to launch into. “This isn’t a pissing contest, so just stop.”
“Agent Gorman is right,” Harrison said with a shake of his head. “You’ve seen the livestream Ryerson broadcast to the world. This is now beyond SLCPD.” He glanced around, then to the body in the living room before turning back to the gathered detectives in the kitchen. “Christ, this is beyond the FBI. But we’ve got orders from AG Kramer to put a lid on all of this.”
“You think you’re gonna just bury this?” Gonzales asked hotly. “You’re fuckin’ crazy. Kramer is fuckin’ crazy if he thinks, if any of you think that this is going to go away. This shit already blew up in our faces two hours ago. This… This is napalm on a gasoline fire.”
“I hear you, Detective,” Harrison said, holding up a hand. “But I’ve got orders, and now you have orders. The AG wants this to stay as quiet as possible until we can figure out just what the hell is going on. However, I know you’ve all been on top of this since Alicia Donnington was murdered by George Krotus, so before you go for my jugular, let me at least tell you that I want you all in the loop until this is over.”
“We’re supposed to stand around with our thumbs up our asses while you do our jobs?” Gonzales asked.
“I understand you’re pissed,” Gorman said, showing the first sign of humanity or emotion since she arrived.
“Pissed doesn’t even cover it,” Fremont said. “I don’t even know if there’s an emotion that does.”
“We’re going to interview Holly Wi,” Harrison said, wincing at the heat from hateful looks that the detectives shot his way.
“No, you’re going to stand outside the glass and let us do it,” Izir said, his tone suggesting he was willing to fight any and all who would say otherwise.
“Detective…” Captain Childress warned.
“No, fuck that, sir,” Izir rumbled. “This—”
“I said stand down!” Childress said, his voice full of command from his days in the Marines.
“No offense, Detective,” Harrison said diplomatically, “but the last two suspects you interviewed are dead. Not just dead, but dead in the most gruesome ways imaginable.”
“Sir,” Izir pleaded with his captain. “Let me speak. After, you can suspend me, you can even terminate my employment, but let me at least say what needs to be said.”
Childress glared at Izir, who refused to look away. He shrugged, silently asked Harrison for permission, then gestured with his hand for Izir to speak his piece.
“You’re right, Agent Harrison,” Izir began. “The last two perps we interviewed are dead. But if your people interview Holly Wi, the same thing is going to happen to her as happened to Krotus and Long.”
“How do you figure, Detective?” Agent Gorman asked.
“As crazy as it sounds, I believe Ryerson, Gafalta, whatever the fuck he’s calling himself, I believe he somehow implanted a subconscious command, or something, in Krotus and Long’s minds. Something to the effect of whenever we started questioning them as to who did it, or why they did it, it triggered and they, uh, died. Or killed themselves. Hell, maybe Ryerson exploded their eyes and head somehow. I don’t know exactly how, but that’s the only explanation that is plausible at the moment. Take a look at the vic in the living room. Now look at Holly Wi and tell me you believe a woman who weighs maybe ninety, maybe one hundred pounds twisted her girlfriend like a pretzel.”
“She was likely high on something,” Gorman said. “PCP, maybe some new drug—”
“No offense, Agent Gorman,” Gonzales interrupted. “But that’s fuckin’ bullshit and you know it. Even if the guy from Game of Thrones and his burned-up brother were high as fuck on PCP and meth and cocaine, there’s no way they could do that to the vic. Human bodies aren’t designed to twist up like that. You know it, we know it, so just stop with the ‘she was all doped up’ shit, okay?”
“Agents,” Izir said, “let us do the interview.”
“Why you?” Harrison asked. “What special technique have you learned in the last week that will save her from from Krotus and Long’s fate?”
“Not a technique, sir,” Izir said, keeping his tone respectful. “We’re not going to interview her as a suspect.”
“What?” Gorman asked in surprise.
“Exactly what I said,” Izir said. “We’re going to treat her as a victim.”
“A victim?” Harrison asked skeptically.
“Yes. Instead of pushing her to tell us what happened, or how she did it, or who brainwashed her or forced her to do it, we’re going to treat her as a victim and avoid the subject entirely.”
“Why the hell would you do that?” Harrison asked, his voice edging into disbelief. “We need to know what happened here!”
“I think it’s obvious what happened here,” Izir said. “But I also think the instant we start pushing her to explain what happened, or name whomever is responsible for making her do this, she’ll pop just like the others. In fact, I’d bet my career that it’s exactly what Ryerson wants. Expects.”
“Just so he can punish her as a sinner and display his godly powers,” Harrison said, mostly to himself.
“Exactly,” Gonzales said, immediately understanding where Izir was going with his plan. “We’ve walked right into two previous traps, if you can call them that. I’m with Izir. Ryerson is sure we’ll try to interrogate her so he can do whatever it is he does, eliminating another sinner while making us look stupid again.”
“Giving his followers and every jackass on the internet more fuel,” Childress agreed. “It’s your call, Agent Harrison, but Detective Izir seems to have the best plan. Unless you can think of a better approach?”
“You better hope you’re right,” Harrison said after a few seconds of mulling it over. “Because your career most certainly does depend on it.”
“Holly,” Izir said softly after sitting on the bed next to the still-sobbing woman. “Ms. Wi?”
“Yuh-yuh-yes?” she said, her words hitching in her throat.
“Holly, is there anything we can get you? A drink? A cigarette? Is there anywhere you want to go? We can transport you to Salt Lake Regional if you need to see a doctor. They have excellent doctors who can care for you, give you a tranquilizer or even something to help you sleep.”
“I…” she began, then stopped as another stream of tears poured from her eyes. “Cam? Is she really dead?”
“Yes, ma’am,” Franklin said after kneeling in front of her. She grasped both of Holly’s hands in her. “I’m sorry, Holly. Truly sorry, but she’s gone.”
“I did this,” Holly whispered.
“Let’s not go down that road,” Izir said quickly. “You’re not in any trouble, okay? Don’t worry about that. Let’s worry about you and getting you some help. Whatever you need.”
“But I killed her,” Holly whispered. “I killed her.”
“Shhhh,” Franklin said, leaning forward to wrap the petite woman in a hug. “You didn’t do anything wrong. You’re not in trouble.”
“I… I need a joint.”
“I’m afraid we can’t give you that,” Franklin said softly after pulling away from her. “But we can get you some Xanax. Do you want some Xanax?”
“Klonopin,” Holly whispered. “There’s some in my nightstand.”
Izir stood up and went to the nightstand. He sifted through multiple bottles of prescription pills, silently noting that none of them had either Holly or Cameron’s name on them. He hated that Ryerson had been right, that the women were drug addicts. He didn’t care one bit that they were lesbians, didn’t consider it to be a sin at all, no matter what that the Mormons still clung to such an outdated belief. But he knew that when they pulled up Holly Wi’s info, a DUI Manslaughter charge would be listed.
Izir hated Holly Wi in that moment for killing a young child while drunk behind the wheel, but that hate was quickly replaced with sympathy for what Ryerson had done to her. He was sure that Holly had spent the last few years living in a black hole of guilt for it based on the cache of drugs in her nightstand drawer. He was even more sure that Ryerson had targeted her specifically to crush what little was left of her soul before murdering her in the same fashion as Krotus and Long.
“Here,” he said, handing her the bottle of Klonopin pills.
Franklin’s eyes went wide, but Izir shook his head. They were in uncharted territory, and he wanted to do whatever he could to avoid triggering the next phase of Ryerson’s plan.
“Thank you,” Holly said after tilting the bottle to her mouth and swallowing at least half a dozen pills. “Can I lay down?”
“Sure,” Franklin said.
She helped the woman get under the covers, then sat next to her, holding her hand while Holly cried herself to sleep. A few minutes later, she and Izir emerged from the bedroom. At least a dozen eyes were on them.
“Well?” Harrison asked.
“She’s asleep,” Franklin said. “Ate half a bottle of tranqs.”
“Did she say anything?” Gorman asked.
“Nothing new,” Izir answered. “She knows she killed her girlfriend, seems confused that we’re telling her she’s not in trouble, that we’re being nice to her instead of cuffing her and tossing her into a squad car. But so far, we’ve successfully avoided triggering whatever booby trap Ryerson might have devised.”
“What do you suggest from here?” Harrison asked.
“I’m not sure. She doesn’t want to go to the hospital, but we can’t leave her here. The nightstand is packed with Oxy, Fentanyl, Vicodin, pretty much every opioid you can think of. Fremont says there’s needles in the bathroom, glass pipes in the kitchen drawers… We can’t give her an opportunity to kill herself out of guilt.”
“Taking her to the station is probably a bad idea,” Captain Childress said, his lips set in a permanent frown. “Does she have any family in the area?”
“Not that we know of,” Gorman said. “Victim has family in Vernal, but I don’t think they’re going to want their daughter’s killer as a guest.”
“It’s okay,” Holly said from behind Izir. He spun around, startled that she was somehow awake and fully alert after downing enough tranquilizers to put a horse to sleep. “I won’t burden anyone anymore.”
She stared at the tarp covering her lover’s body for a few seconds while everyone else in the room stared at her, unsure of what to do. Izir reached out to put a hand on her shoulder, but she stepped back, blinked twice, then raised her hands in the air.
“Gafalta has judged me,” she said, then collapsed to the floor.
Izir immediately fell to his knees and shook her, calling out her name while the others crowded around him. She didn’t respond, her chest no longer rising and falling. He held a finger to her neck for a few seconds, then looked up, shaking his head. Before anyone could speak, the television turned on. Everyone froze when they saw James Ryerson’s face on the screen.
“I applaud your efforts, Detective Izir,” Ryerson said. “I’ve decided to spare you further trauma by simply extracting her soul instead of making a mess of things.” His eyes glanced down, as if looking at Cameron Potter’s body under the tarp. “She was judged and found to be beyond redemption. I believe Ms. Wi was truly repentant in her final moments, and while her soul now resides in Hell, I was merciful.”
“You fucking monster,” Izir said, surprising himself at how calm he sounded.
“You are the monster, Detective Izir,” Ryerson said. His eyes roamed around the living room then focused on the detective again. “All of you are monsters, and there is no place for your kind in the new world.” He grinned, winked, then nodded as if satisfied at his performance. “I’ll see you soon.” He looked down, as if checking a watch that was out of the camera’s view. “In six more days, to be exact.”