HUMAN/SUPER #10

THROUGH A GLASS, DARKLY

 

 

 

 

 

Maryam Mahdavi pulled over at the side of the road and climbed out of the car. A steep, grassy embankment led down to a crime scene below, surrounded by yellow tape and filled with police and forensics.

She carefully made her way down the hill to a sparsely-wooded area just off the highway. She flashed her credentials to the officer manning the barricade and he let her through. Detective Brian Rhode, a fifty-two-year-old white man with a broad frame and receding grey hair, broke off from a larger group and approached Maryam.

“What do we have?” she asked.

“The victim’s in her early twenties, no ID,” he replied. “She’s banged up pretty bad and there are erratic tire treads on the road above, so we’re thinking hit and run.”

The crowd parted as Maryam stepped forward and stood over a white woman with long, blonde hair. She was wearing a denim jacket and blue jeans, and lay on a bed of freshly fallen leaves. Maryam set her bag down and kneeled beside the body.

As Maryam stared at the girl’s face, the skin melted away, revealing musculature and bone beneath. She panned her eyes along the body, noting injuries: cracked ribs, arms broken in three places, legs in five, fractured skull, all consistent with being struck by a vehicle.

But something wasn’t quite right. She zoomed out to skin deep to inspect the bruising.

“Injuries were post-mortem,” she said, and focused in on the girl’s chest. “Cause of death: heart attack.” She peered into the girl’s veins. “I see traces of methamphetamine in her bloodstream. An overdose, perhaps.”

“Well, looks like someone,” Brian said, putting on a pair of sunglasses, “was trying to cover their tracks.”

“Yeah,” Maryam replied, and stood up. “I’ll run a full tox screen as soon as I can.”

“Thanks,” Brian said. “So, what can you tell me about time of death?”

She shifted her vision to the infrared spectrum and was bathed in the deep blue light of the cool Autumn morning. A gradient of colors appeared on the body in front of her, telling a story as clearly as the rings of a tree.

“Late,” she said. “After midnight. Before dawn. I’ll know better when I get her to the morgue.”

“We’ll send her your way when we’re finished here,” Brian said. “Let me know if you find anything else.”

Maryam nodded and headed for the embankment.

“You need any help getting back up that hill?” Brian asked.

“No,” she replied. “Do you?”

He laughed and said, “See you around, M.”

///

Maryam headed home late in the evening and heard gunfire as she stepped into the house. Her teenage son, Cal, sat on the couch, shooting Russians on his Xbox. She ruffled his hair as she passed through the living room and headed down the hall. She paused at the door to the study, where Khalil, her husband, sat at his computer, preparing class notes for his students.

“Hi,” she said, leaning against the doorframe.

Khalil stopped typing and glanced back over his shoulder.

“Evening,” he said. “Have you had supper?”

“Some chips from the vending machine,” she replied.

“You should eat something,” he said. “There’s leftover pasta in the fridge.”

“I think I’ll just sleep,” she said. “Long day.”

“Well… if you’re sure…” he said.

“Good night,” she said, and stepped into the bedroom.

She collapsed back onto the bed and stared up at the ceiling, through the ceiling. The night sky materialized above her, and she peered up into it, inspecting the surface of the moon and continuing out into the darkness of space.

She closed her eyes and the universe disappeared.

///

Maryam gripped the sides of the gurney and rolled it out of the cooler, through the autopsy suite, and into a small, discreet room across the hall. She called Brian and he stepped into the room a few minutes later followed closely by a white couple in their forties.

“M, this is Josie and Harold Farmer,” Brian said. “They reported their daughter Hailey missing yesterday.”

“Maryam Mahdavi,” she replied. “Medical Examiner.”

“Are you sure you’re ready for this?” Brian asked the couple. “We can contact someone else if you—”

“No,” Josie said. “Show us.”

Brian glanced at Maryam and nodded. Leaning forward, she pulled the sheet back from the blonde girl’s face. Josie gasped and clutched her husband’s arm. Harold covered his mouth with his hand.

“That’s her,” he said. “That’s our little girl.”

Maryam glanced away as the couple broke into sobbing. Brian cleared his throat and switched back to “cop” mode.

“What can you tell me about her?” he asked. “Did she have a job? Friends? Relationships?”

“We haven’t talked much lately,” Josie said, sniffling. “I mean, she calls all the time asking for money, but she never really talks. I think there was a boy. Reggie? No, Roger. Roger Whitford.”

“You have to understand,” Harold said. “She was a good girl, she just… got in over her head.”

“Drugs?” Brian asked.

Harold nodded, and Josie buried her face in his chest.

“Is that how she…?” he asked.

“It seems that way, yes,” Brian replied. “You wouldn’t happen to have Mr. Whitford’s contact information, would you?”

Harold shook his head.

“I think he lives somewhere downtown,” Josie said, “with his parents.”

“Do you think he had something to do with this?” Harold asked.

“It wasn’t an accident, was it?” Josie said, stepping toward Brian.

“It’s too soon to say for sure,” Brian replied. “Her body was moved after she died. We just need to get a clearer picture of what happened before we can proceed.”

“And then what?” she asked.

“Then we’ll arrest whoever was involved,” he said. “Come on, why don’t the two of you come back to the station with me and we’ll discuss things further?”

Brian headed for the door and Harold dragged his wife with him. Maryam glanced down at the body and rubbed her chin. Something about this case didn’t quite add up, but she couldn’t put her finger on it. She shrugged and drew the sheet back over the girl’s face.

///

Maryam pulled up in front of Victory Central High School and peered inside. The bell rang, and the students filed out of their classrooms en masse, hurrying out to catch their busses.

She spotted Cal lurking in the first floor hallway and staring at a mousy white girl with dark hair and glasses who was standing in front of a locker. As he took a step forward, the girl closed her locker and turned toward him. He lowered his gaze and kept on walking past her, down the hall and out of the building.

“You were watching, weren’t you?” he asked as he climbed into the car.

“Just a little,” she replied, pulling away from the curb.

“You promised you wouldn’t do that,” he said.

“Yeah,” she said. “Sorry.”

He crossed his arms and stared out the window.

“Who was she?” Maryam asked.

He shrugged. “Just a girl.”

“What’s her name?” Maryam asked.

“Kristen,” Cal replied.

“You like her?” Maryam asked.

“It doesn’t matter,” he said. “I’d never have a chance with someone like her.”

“Why not?” Maryam asked.

He shrugged again.

“Never know until you try,” she said.

He said nothing else for the rest of the ride home. As Maryam pulled into the driveway, her cellphone rang. Cal hurried into the house as she answered the call.

“Evening, M,” Brian said. “I’m just calling to let you know we’re closing the Farmer case.”

“Already?” Maryam asked. “How?”

“The boyfriend confessed,” Brian replied. “I paid him a visit this afternoon and he cracked immediately. Guy’s parents were out of town for a while so he invited the vic over to spend the night. They got high before they went to bed, and she ODed in her sleep. He woke up in the middle of the night and found her dead beside him. He didn’t want to get in trouble for the drugs, so he took her body out to the highway and tried to make it look like a hit-and-run.”

“You believe him?” Maryam asked.

“The kid’s an idiot,” Brian replied, “but he’s not a killer. Of course, we’re still charging him with possession and obstruction of justice and whatever else the Crown decides to throw at him. But not homicide.”

“Okay,” Maryam said. “I’ll send you my findings in the morning.”

“Thanks, M,” he said. “Have a good night.”

“Bye,” she said, and hung up.

Cal was already playing his game by the time Maryam stepped into the house. She hung up her coat, kicked off her shoes, and headed to the kitchen. Khalil was standing at the sink, washing vegetables.

“It’s my turn to do that,” she said.

“I needed a break from midterms,” he said. “I knew you’d be tired, so I thought I’d take care of supper for you.”

She stepped forward and rested her forehead against his back.

“I am tired,” she said, “but so are you. You shouldn’t have to do all the work around here.”

“I don’t mind,” he said, turning around. “Why don’t you go get some rest? I’ll let you know when the food’s ready.”

She kissed him and said, “Fine.”

Backing out of the kitchen, she headed up the hall and lay back in bed. She watched Khalil peel potatoes for a few minutes before staring out at the mountains looming over the city. Wildlife scurried about the snowy peaks, unconcerned with the affairs of the people below.

When she closed her eyes, she saw Hailey Farmer.

///

Maryam closed her report and tried to push the misgivings from her mind. But when the third heart attack victim with no history of related illnesses appeared on her table within the span of a week, she knew something was wrong.

She went back to the lab results on Hailey Farmer. After crunching the numbers three times, the only conclusion she could come to was that the amount of methamphetamine in the girl’s system was not sufficient to cause an overdose. The heart attack was completely unrelated.

“So what caused it then?” Brian asked over lunch. “A virus? Some kind of poison?”

“Nothing detectable,” Maryam replied. “The only physical symptom linking the three cases is dilated pupils, which could indicate any number of causes.”

“And what about the other two victims?” Brian asked. “Do they have anything in common with each other?”

Maryam shook her head and unfolded a sheet of paper.

“Taxi driver, male, age forty-five, Chinese,” she said. “Convenience store clerk, female, twenty-seven, black.”

She slid the sheet across the table and Brian glanced over it.

“This isn’t much to go on, M,” he said.

“It’s all I have,” she replied. “Sorry.”

He shrugged.

“Well, I suppose I’ve worked with less,” he said. “I’ll run a cross-reference on these names, see if I can turn up a connection. Worse comes to worse, I’ll pound the pavement and retrace their steps. And you’ll contact me the moment you’ve nailed down the cause, right?”

“Count on it,” she said.

///

Another body later, Maryam was no closer to determining the cause of the heart attacks, and Brian still hadn’t found a connection between any of the victims, other than the fact that they all lived and worked within the downtown core. But that was a large area, home to tens of thousands.

Maryam opened her front door to silence late in the evening and found Cal on the couch with his game paused, typing rapidly on his cellphone. She leaned over his shoulder and he glared back, holding the phone to his chest. She considered looking through him, but decided against it.

She stepped into the hallway and headed for the bedroom. Khalil emerged from the study and blocked her path, his arms crossed.

“I left a bowl of soup in the microwave,” he said. “You just have to press start.”

“I’m not hungry,” she replied, trying to step around him.

He put his hands on her shoulders and gently guided her back up the hall.

“You need to eat,” he said. “You’re going to starve yourself if you’re not careful.”

She glanced at Cal again as they passed through the living room, still focused on his phone.

“Who’s he texting?” she asked.

“Just a girl,” Khalil replied. “Keep moving.”

He sat her down at the table and pressed the start button on the microwave. It lit up and the soup spun in lopsided circles. The microwave beeped after a minute and Khalil placed the bowl in front of her. She dug in as he took a seat opposite her.

“I’m worried about you,” he said.

“Don’t be,” she said. “Everything’s fine. I’m just working on a tough case.”

“Do you want to talk about it?” he asked.

“There’s not much to tell,” she replied. “It’s a series of suspicious deaths with no obvious cause. I’ve been poring over the bodies for days but still haven’t found an answer.”

“I’m sure you’ll figure it out,” he said. “You always do.”

“What if I can’t?” she asked.

“Then you can’t,” he replied. “What’s the saying? ‘You win some, you lose some’?”

“People are dying,” she said. “I can’t just ‘lose’ this. I have to stop it.”

“You’re only human, Maryam,” he said.

She froze for a moment, then slapped her forehead.

“You’re a genius,” she said.

She finished her soup and found her phone. She dialed Brian’s number and waited.

“Superpowers,” she said when he answered.

“What?” he replied.

“Telekinesis, maybe,” she said. “A squeeze is all it would take.”

“Slow down, M,” he said. “You’ve lost me.”

“The heart attacks,” she said. “I think someone’s causing them with superpowers.”

Silence hung on the line for a long moment, and then, “Shit.”

“Yeah,” she said.

“Do you have any proof?” he asked.

“No,” she replied, “but it’s the only explanation I’ve got.”

“M, I can’t just start rounding up people with powers on a hunch,” he said. “I’d have the Human Rights Commission up my ass before you can say ‘profiling’.”

“You can’t do anything?” she asked.

“Well, I’ll factor it into my search,” he said, “but I’m going to need something a little more tangible if we’re going to pin this on anyone.”

“You could try talking to the press,” she said. “Maybe someone will come forward with information.”

“No dice,” Brian said. “Chief Derrickson wants to keep this case out of the papers. She’s worried it’ll cause a panic. I disagree, of course, but I have to do what she says.”

“What if I leaked it?” Maryam asked.

Brian chuckled.

“Better not,” he said. “I’m going to have a hard enough time selling her on your superpower theory without you shooting your mouth off to reporters. Best to stay on her good side.”

“Fair enough,” Maryam said. “Let me know if there’s anything I can do.”

“Will do,” he said. “Thanks for the heads up.”

“No problem,” she replied, and hung up.

///

The fifth body belonged to a homeless man who was found in an alley a few days after he died. Maryam was about to start her examination when Brian stepped into the autopsy suite.

“You didn’t need to come all the way down here,” she said. “I’d have called.”

“I know,” he said, covering his nose from the smell, “but we picked up a suspect this morning, and I thought I’d stop by before questioning him, just in case you found anything I can use.”

She examined the body and found the usual dilated pupils and damaged heart. His blood alcohol level was elevated, but within reasonable limits. Maryam also found signs of malnutrition. But nothing that could help the case.

She shook her head and said, “Sorry.”

“Damn,” Brian said. “I was really hoping you’d have something for me. This suspect’s ex-Army so I’m sure he knows how to handle interrogation.”

“What makes you so sure he’s the killer?” Maryam asked.

“He fits the profile,” Brian replied. “He got injured fighting in Afghanistan and ended up discharged from the Army with PTSD. Now he works as a street cleaner not too far from where all these people died. And, of course, he’s telekinetic. It all adds up to a shellshocked vet on a rampage.”

“Makes sense,” Maryam said.

“Now I just pray I can make him crack,” Brian said.

“Do you want me to come along?” she asked. “I can tell you if he lies.”

“Tempting,” Brian said, “but I almost got suspended last time we tried that. This needs to be done by the book if we’re going to make anything stick.”

“And if he doesn’t talk?” she asked.

“We’ll be keeping an eye on him, twenty-four-seven,” Brian replied. “The minute he steps out of line, we’ll be all over him.”

“Well, good luck,” she said.

“Thanks, M,” he said. “Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go nail a murderer to the wall.”

The door to the autopsy suite slammed shut behind him.

///

The next bodies came as a pair, male and female, found in a car parked on a secluded lane near Victorious Park the next morning. Maryam found Brian glowering at the edge of the crime scene, arms crossed and foot tapping impatiently on the pavement.

“I take it your interrogation didn’t go well,” Maryam said.

Brian sighed.

“I almost had him,” he said, leading Maryam down the wooded drive. “I showed him my Navy tat and got him talking about his time in the Army. He started opening up about the things he’d seen and what that did to his head. He was so close to spilling, but the moment I brought up these killings, he lawyered up. I had to cut him loose. And he clearly didn’t waste any time getting back to business.”

“I thought you were watching him,” Maryam said.

“We are,” Brian replied, “but it took time to get the surveillance set up. I didn’t think he’d strike again so soon.”

They stepped into a small parking area where a red compact car sat amid a swarm of investigators. Maryam approached the vehicle and peered in the driver’s side window at a boy and a girl, both Caucasian and about fifteen years old.

“I know them,” Maryam said.

“What?” Brian said, leaning in behind her. “How?”

“They’re in my son’s class,” she said.

“Friends of his?” Brian asked.

She shook her head.

“Bullies,” she replied.

“Is that going to be a problem for you?” Brian asked. “We can call in someone else if….”

“It’s no problem,” she said, and peered inside the bodies. “The symptoms are the same. It’s definitely our killer.”

“It’s a bit outside this guy’s usual territory, though,” Brian said. “And two for the price of one isn’t exactly his style. He either got lucky, or he’s stepping up his game. Trying to keep us on our toes, maybe.”

Continuing her examination, Maryam said, “The girl has a cellphone in the back pocket of her jeans.”

Brian stepped around to the passenger side and a fellow officer helped him lift the girl far enough from the seat to reach into her pocket. The phone was small and pink; Brian flipped it open and pressed a few buttons.

“She’s got unread text messages going back to late yesterday afternoon,” Brian said. “They haven’t been dead that long, have they?”

Maryam checked infrared and nodded.

“Looks like it happened not long after school let out,” she said. “Give or take an hour.”

“Shit,” Brian said. “I was grilling my suspect well into the evening. There’s no way he could’ve done this.”

“You really should have taken me with you,” Maryam said. “It would’ve saved you a lot of time.”

“Maybe,” Brian said, and glanced at the car, “but it still wouldn’t have saved them.”

///

Maryam watched the students of Victory Central while she waited in the car for Cal. There was a palpable tension in the air, fear and anger and sadness all mingled with the usual stew of teenage emotions. Word had already gotten around.

She found Cal on the second floor, walking slowly toward the stairs with that girl, Kristen, at his side. They weren’t talking much, but they were standing very close to each other, their hands brushing together every once in a while.

When they reached the entrance, Kristen gave Cal a quick hug and dashed out the door. He smiled to himself for a moment and then stepped outside. As he climbed into the passenger seat, Maryam opened her mouth to speak.

“You did it again,” he said.

“I didn’t have to,” she replied, starting the car. “You were standing by the window.”

He glanced back at the entrance and sighed.

“I don’t want to talk about it,” he said.

“That’s fine,” she said. “Whenever you’re ready.”

She watched the school fall away in the rearview mirror.

“I guess you heard about those kids who died,” she said.

“Yeah,” he replied.

“I know how they treated you,” she said. “It’s okay if you feel confused.”

“Why would I be confused?” he asked. “They were assholes and I’m glad they’re dead. Couldn’t be happier.”

Khalil,” Maryam said, raising her eyebrows.

“What?” he replied. “You want me to pretend that I feel sorry for them? That my life won’t be like a hundred times better without them in it?”

“Cal, I’m as relieved as you are that they won’t be bothering you anymore,” Maryam said, “but death is never a cause for joy. Understand?”

Cal shrugged and glanced down at his hands.

“So,” Maryam said after an awkward silence. “This girl….”

Cal half-smirked and quickly looked away.

“No,” he said.

///

Maryam was inspecting the stomach contents of a shooting victim when her cellphone rang. She fumbled blindly to answer it while continuing her examination. Brian was on the line, and she could sense hesitation in his voice.

“We… may have another victim on his way to the hospital,” he said.

“Okay,” she replied. “I’ll clear a table.”

“You don’t understand,” Brian said. “He’s heading to the emergency room, not the morgue.”

Her vision snapped back to the room around her.

“He’s alive?” she asked.

“Just barely,” Brian replied, and paused. “Listen, I don’t know how to tell you this….”

“What is it?” she said.

“It’s Cal, M,” Brian said. “He’s the victim.”

Maryam dropped the phone on the table and ran out of the autopsy suite, up the hall, and jabbed the elevator button repeatedly. She waited a few seconds, then ran to the other end of the hall and bolted up the stairs.

She peered up into the building above her, searching for her son, then scanned out into the city, eventually spotting an ambulance speeding toward the hospital. She made her way to the emergency entrance just as the ambulance arrived.

A police car pulled in behind it and Brian hopped out. The ambulance doors opened and the paramedics wheeled Cal out on a stretcher. Maryam ran forward and Brian grabbed her by the waist. She squirmed and reached out to her son, but Brian wouldn’t let go.

“Calm down, M,” he said. “Focus. You know what you have to do.”

She took a deep, ragged breath and peered into Cal’s chest. His heart was damaged and barely beating. A doctor shone a light into his eyes as they rushed him to the emergency room; his pupils were dilated, just like all the others.

“Yeah,” she said, stepping back from Brian. “It’s our guy again. How did this happen? And why didn’t he….”

She trailed off and bit her lip.

“He was at school when it happened,” Brian said. “Someone called 911 right after he collapsed.”

“Who made that call?” Maryam asked. “They might have seen something or—”

“We’re looking into it,” Brain said, putting his hand on her shoulder. “You should call your husband. He needs to know what’s going on.”

“Okay,” she said, taking another deep breath. “Okay, I’ll go do that.”

“Good,” Brian said. “I’m going over to the school to see what I can find out. You’ll keep me informed about Cal, right?”

She nodded and staggered back to the elevator. She rode it back down to the morgue and returned to the autopsy suite. With the help of one of her assistants, she moved the body on the table back into the cooler.

Finally, she retrieved her phone and dialed Khalil’s office. His secretary answered.

“Your husband’s in class at the moment,” she said. “Can I take a message?”

“Sure,” Maryam said. “You can tell him our son’s in the hospital right now and I don’t know if he’s going to make it.”

“Oh my God!” the secretary gasped. “Hold on, I’ll go get him and send him right over.”

“Much appreciated,” Maryam said, and hung up.

She slid the phone into her pocket and retired to the restroom to cry.

///

Maryam stared blankly at the waiting room floor, fighting with all her willpower to not watch her son’s treatment. She glanced up as the door opened and Khalil burst in, sweating and gasping for air. She stood from her seat and he rushed over to her.

“Where’s Cal?” he said.

“The ER,” she said. “Doctors are working on him.”

“What happened to him?” Khalil asked.

“He had a heart attack at school,” she replied.

“Heart attack?” Khalil muttered. “Wait a minute; does this have anything to do with that case you’ve been working?”

She nodded.

“It’s my fault,” she said. “Somewhere there’s a clue I’ve overlooked. If I had found it sooner, this wouldn’t have happened.”

Khalil hugged her and said, “You’re doing your best.”

“My best isn’t good enough,” she said. “And now Cal’s….”

She pulled away, and the door opened again. Doctor Wright, an older black man who specialized in cardiology, stepped into the room with a weary expression on his face.

“I’ve never seen anything quite like this,” he said. “Your son is suffering from congestive heart failure, but the damage is consistent with the late stages of the disease. It’s like his heart just… spontaneously degenerated.”

“But he’s stable?” Maryam asked.

“For the moment, yes,” Wright replied. “We’ve got him on life support in the ICU, but that’s only a temporary solution. Frankly, what your son needs is a heart transplant.”

“But that could take months,” Maryam said. “Years, even.”

“I’m going to make some calls,” Wright said. “I can’t promise anything, but this being an unusual case, I may be able to push him up the waiting list a bit.”

Maryam clutched Khalil’s hand and said, “Can we see him?”

“Of course,” Wright said. “Follow me.”

He led them upstairs to a small white room where Cal lay in a bed surrounded by machines with tubes pumping air into his lungs and drugs into his veins. Maryam reached out and stroked his cheek but he didn’t react. She turned and buried her face in Khalil’s chest.

“He’s going to be just fine,” Khalil said, but she could see that he didn’t really believe it.

///

Maryam was sitting in a chair by Cal’s bedside, half asleep, when she heard a knock. She looked up and spotted Brian standing at the door, looking in. She carefully disentangled her hand from Khalil’s and stepped out of the room.

“How is he?” Brian asked.

“He needs a new heart,” she replied.

“Jesus, M, I’m so sorry,” Brian said. “Is there anything I can do?”

“Just find whoever did it,” she said, “before anyone else gets hurt.”

“I’m doing everything I can,” Brian said, “but this guy’s like a ghost. Nobody at the school saw anything. Hell, we don’t even know who placed the 911 call. She used a payphone and hung up before giving her name.”

“She?” Maryam asked. “It was a woman?”

“A girl, actually,” Brian replied. “Probably a student.”

Maryam rubbed her chin and glanced at the wall.

“I know that look,” he said. “What is it?”

“Cal’s been… seeing someone,” Maryam said. “I only know her first name: Kristen. She’s Caucasian with dark hair and glasses. About five feet tall, no more than fifteen years old.”

“Okay, now that’s something I can use,” Brian said. “I’ll go back to the school and see if I can track her down. Maybe she saw something and is too afraid to speak up.” He chuckled. “I swear, M, I don’t know how I’d do this job without you.”

“Let’s hope you never have to find out,” she replied.

“Yeah,” he said, and paused. “You hang in there, okay? Watch over your boys. I’ll handle the rest.”

Maryam watched Brian head up the hall, down the elevator, and out of the building. She turned back into the room as he got into his car. She sat next to Khalil and stared at her son’s face until the steady beeping of the EKG lulled her to sleep.

///

Maryam and Khalil met Doctor Wright in his office the next morning. Wright sat silently behind his desk for a long moment with his fingers steepled beneath his chin. He took a deep breath.

“I have an associate at the teaching hospital attached to Victory City University,” Wright said. “He may be able to help your son.”

“Really?” Maryam asked, leaning forward. “What are we waiting for, then?”

“Well, the thing is,” Wright said, “some of his methods are not… strictly legal.”

“But they’ll work?” she asked.

“I believe so, yes,” Wright replied.

“Then let’s do it,” she said.

“Hold on, are we sure about this?” Khalil asked her, then glanced at Wright. “We’re not involving our son in anything criminal here, are we?”

Wright shook his head.

“It’s more of a grey area in the law,” he said. “The only person he’s putting at risk is himself. I’ve already made him aware of your situation. Just say the word and I can have your son transferred there as soon as this afternoon.”

Maryam glanced at Khalil, and he sighed.

“Do it,” he said to the doctor.

“Okay,” Wright said. “I’ll make the call now. You should go back to your son’s room and gather his things. Someone will be up for him shortly. The operation should take place sometime in the new few days.”

The doctor smiled and walked them to the door. They stepped out in to the hall and headed for the nearest elevator in a daze. When they got inside, Maryam squeezed Khalil’s hand. As he reached for the button, her phone rang.

“I’m really sorry to do this, M,” Brian said, “but I could really use you at a crime scene right now.”

She glanced at Khalil, and he nodded.

“I’ll be right there,” she said.

///

The crime scene was located on the first floor of a small apartment building downtown. Maryam pulled up around back and found Brian holding the rear door open for her.

“How’s the kid?” he asked as he led her up the hall.

“The same,” she replied, “but we may have something lined up that could help him.”

“That’s great!” Brian said, stopping in front of an open door. “Now, let’s see if we can catch the person responsible.”

She followed him into the apartment, where a middle-aged white man with dark hair sat on an old, blue couch, dead. His feet were still propped up on the coffee table. A redhaired woman with glasses lay facedown in the doorway between the kitchen and the living room.

“Who are they?” Maryam asked.

“Curtis and Emma Whitford,” Brian replied. “If the name sounds familiar, I arrested their son Roger a couple weeks back.”

“Hailey Farmer’s boyfriend?” Maryam asked.

“Yep,” Brian replied. “This is where she died.”

“So… the killer came back?” Maryam said.

“Well, something like that,” Brian said, shoving his hands into his pockets.

“Brian, what aren’t you telling me?” she asked.

He sighed.

“The Whitfords also have a daughter,” he replied.

Maryam stared at Brian, confused, for a long moment, then her eyes widened.

No,” she said.

“I’m afraid so,” Brian said. “Kristen Whitford. Fifteen years old, five feet tall, with dark hair, glasses, and a body count nearly in the double-digits.”

Maryam shook her head slowly and thought about her son.

“Where is she now?” she asked.

“No idea,” Brian replied. “She was long gone by the time I got here, looks like she packed in a hurry. I’ve got men out looking for her all across town, but we’re not taking any chances. One wrong move, she’s going down.”

“She’s just a child,” Maryam said.

“Tell that to her victims,” Brian said. “We’ll do our best to bring her in alive, but I don’t want any dead cops on my hands.”

“Fair enough, I guess,” Maryam said, and began her examination of the bodies.

///

“So what exactly are you going to do to our son?” Maryam asked Doctor Hassan, Chief of Surgery at the VCU Hospital. “Doctor Wright mentioned something about the… legality of the procedure.”

“Oh, the procedure itself is perfectly legal,” Hassan replied. “It’s the source of the donor organ that is somewhat questionable.”

“It’s from the black market, isn’t it?” Khalil asked.

Hassan chuckled.

“It’s easier if I just show you,” he said, and waved to someone up the hall. “Miss Leeds, could I see you a moment?”

A white girl in blue scrubs hurried over to them. She had pale skin, long black hair shaved on one side, and multiple facial piercings. She smiled at Maryam and Khalil, and glanced at Hassan.

“Yeah, Doc?” she said.

“These are the parents of Khalil Mahdavi,” he said. “They want to know where their son’s new heart will be coming from.”

She turned to the couple and tapped her chest.

“Right here,” she said.

“I don’t understand,” Khalil said, glancing at the doctor.

The girl reached up to her face and removed one of her nose rings. A few seconds later, the hole closed in on itself.

“Is that going to be a problem?” she asked.

Maryam peered through the girl’s ribcage to the perfectly healthy heart beating within, and smiled at Khalil.

“Not at all,” he said.

“Excellent,” Hassan said. “I’ve scheduled the operation for Friday afternoon. You can stay with your son until then, or you can wait at home. We’ll take good care of him, either way.”

“Thanks,” Maryam said, and headed to Cal’s room.

She pulled up a chair by his bed and Khalil did the same. Grabbing her son’s backpack from the bedside table, she clutched it to her chest and closed her eyes.

///

By the end of the week, the killings had finally made the news. Maryam’s office received a flurry of autopsy requests from people suddenly doubtful about their loved ones’ deaths, but none were actually related to the case.

Maryam watched the coverage closely, hoping for a peaceful resolution to the police search but preparing herself for the worst. Brian checked in with her daily, but he’d thus far come up empty.

When a pair of nurses came to take Cal to the operating room Friday afternoon, Maryam sat frozen in her chair, still hugging Cal’s bag. Khalil held her hand and smiled at her.

She watched the nurses wheel her son up the hall, down the elevator, and into the operating room a couple floors below. They transferred him onto a table that reminded her of the ones in her autopsy suite. Miss Leeds lay on a second table beside him.

She heard a burst of machinegun fire and glanced at Khalil, who was staring at the bag in her arms. Searching the pockets, she found Cal’s cellphone and opened it. A new text message was waiting, from “KW”.

“I’m so sorry,” the message read.

Maryam grabbed her phone and started typing in Brian’s number. She hesitated, glanced back at the message. She put her own phone away and slid out the keyboard on Cal’s.

“Where are you?” she typed.

The reply came a minute later: “Cal?”

“This is his mother,” she typed. “Can we meet?”

Another minute, then: “No cops?”

“No cops,” Maryam replied.

A moment later, Kristen sent a photo of the Victory City Public Library. Maryam stood from her seat and grabbed her coat. Khalil stepped in front of her.

“Call the police,” he said.

“I can’t,” she said. “They’ll kill her.”

She’ll kill you,” he said.

“I don’t think she will,” Maryam said. “She’s scared, but I think I can get through to her.”

“You think?” he snapped. “Honey, our son is downstairs fighting for his life, and you want to have a heart-to-heart with the person who did this to him? All because you have a hunch that she won’t do the same to you?”

“I’m doing this, Khalil,” she said. “If you don’t hear from me in an hour, then you can call the police.”

He sighed.

“Thirty minutes,” he said.

“Deal,” she replied.

She gave him a long kiss, and he leaned his forehead against hers.

“I can’t lose you both,” he said.

“You won’t,” she replied. “I’ll be back before the operation’s over.”

She backed away and hurried out of the room, sneaking one last look at her son on the way out of the building.

///

Maryam ran a few red lights and made it to the library within ten minutes. Kristen was leaning against the facade with a hood down over her face. She gestured to Maryam and headed for a small park next door.

“What do you want?” Kristen asked, pulling the hood back.

“I want to know what happened,” Maryam said. “Why you killed all those people.”

The girl shoved her hands into her pockets and stopped in her tracks.

“I didn’t mean to,” she said. “It just… happened.”

“Okay, but how?” Maryam asked. “I want to understand.”

Kristen took a seat on a bench just off the cobblestone path, and Maryam sat beside her.

“I have this… ability,” she said.

“Telekinesis?” Maryam asked.

Kristen shook her head and removed her glasses. A pigeon pecking at crumbs in the grass paused and looked up at her. Her eyes glowed red and the pigeon froze, twitching faintly. After a few seconds, it slumped over onto its side and Kristen put her glasses back on.

“It all flows into me,” she said, closing her eyes. “Memories, feelings… life. I can remember flying, the wind beneath my wings, the city far below. Safe up there.”

Maryam looked inside the bird; its heart had suffered the same damage as the nine dead people and her son. Kristen opened her eyes and looked up at Maryam.

“I just wanted Hailey to leave my brother alone,” she said. “She kept bring that stuff into our home, so I flushed it down the toilet when she wasn’t looking. When she found out, she slapped me.”

Kristen touched her cheek idly.

“I was hurt and angry and I just…” she trailed off. “Next thing I knew, she was on the floor, dead. Roger wanted to protect me, so he covered it up, and took the blame when the cops came. But even after that… I couldn’t stop.”

“Why not?” Maryam asked.

“It was like a hunger,” Kristen said. “Every time I… killed, I felt stronger, more alive. I don’t know if this need was always inside me or if I took on Hailey’s addiction, but either way….”

“How did my son get involved?” Maryam asked.

Kristen blushed, looked away.

“He asked me out,” she replied. “I said yes. For a while, everything was good. I resisted the urge, tried to be normal. But when those bullies found out about us, they cornered us after school and started saying terrible things. They pushed Cal to the ground and… and started kicking him. So I….”

“You protected him?” Maryam asked.

Kristen nodded.

“Afterwards, we put the bodies in their car and drove it out to the park,” she said. “Please don’t be mad at Cal! He just wanted to help me and we didn’t know what else to do.”

“But why did you hurt him, then?” Maryam asked.

“It was an accident,” Kristen replied. “He… kissed me. I was surprised and… I lost control. I didn’t even realize I was doing it until he was already…. Is he alive?”

Maryam nodded.

“He’s in surgery now,” she said. “His chances are good.”

Kristen glanced away and said, “When he wakes up, could you… tell him I’m sorry?”

“Of course,” Maryam said. “There’s just one last thing I’d like to ask about.”

“My parents?” Kristen asked.

Maryam nodded.

“I was so upset about Cal,” Kristen said. “When I got home, Mom started yelling at me about something – I don’t even remember what – and everything just… went blank.”

She started crying and wiped her tears on her sleeve. Maryam put her arm around the girl’s shoulder.

“The worst part is the memories,” Kristen said. “I keep seeing flashes of my childhood through their eyes. They loved me, and I slaughtered them.”

She stood from the bench and stepped forward.

“Maybe I should just go jump in front of a train,” she said. “At least then nobody else will get hurt because of me.”

“That won’t solve anything,” Maryam said. “Let me take you to the police. There are systems in place for kids like you. We can get you the help you need.”

“I’m too dangerous,” Kristen said. “If it happens again….”

“We’ll make sure it doesn’t,” Maryam said, reaching her hand out to the girl. “Trust me.”

///

Maryam’s phone rang as she pulled up in front of the police station. She fished it out of her pocket and answered it.

“You’re late,” Khalil said.

“You waited,” she replied.

“I trust you,” Khalil said. “Did everything go well?”

“Reasonably,” she replied and glanced at Kristen, sitting in the passenger seat with her hood up over her face. “How are things on your end?”

“Great,” he said. “Someone wants to talk to you, actually.”

There was a pause, then a hoarse voice said, “Mom?”

“Hi, honey,” she said, choking up. “How are you feeling?”

“Bad,” Cal replied. “Is… Kristen okay?”

“Yeah,” Maryam said. “Do you want to talk to her?”

“Okay,” he said.

Maryam handed the phone to the girl, who stared up in wide-eyed confusion as she placed it to her ear.

“Hello?” Kristen said, and gasped. “Oh, Cal, I’m so sorry! I didn’t mean to hurt you. I….”

Maryam stepped out of the car to give the girl some privacy as Brian emerged from the police station, his hand resting on his sidearm. He crept cautiously across the parking lot.

“Is that who I think it is?” he asked, nodding to the car.

Maryam nodded.

“Be gentle with her,” she said. “She wants to turn herself in, but she’s not fully in control of her power.”

“Lovely,” Brian said, and crossed his arms. “Who’s she talking to, anyway?”

She glanced back at the girl, smiling faintly as she talked on the phone.

“A very lucky boy,” Maryam replied.

 

 

 

END