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Slowly, silently, the door slid open. Heavy footsteps padded across the ivory carpet: a perfect trail to the desk in the far corner of the library. Mr. Reynolds turned from the bookshelf to find the face of his intruder.
“My God. It’s you.”
A gun was cocked somewhere below his chin and five words whispered into his ear: “Our time is up, James.” A gloved hand pulled the trigger…
“Hey, you almost done there, Amy?” called Ricky from behind the fridge door, parts of his curly black hair barely visible as he reached towards the back of the small fridge. His pudgy face reappeared a moment later, filled with a massive chunk of an old baloney sandwich in his hand. He kicked the door shut with his foot and tried to stuff the food into his cheek before saying, “You’ve been at this all day. Do you ever take a break?” He downed half of his Pepsi and burped loudly, looking around again for the rest of his sandwich. “I mean, I’ve been working for you for what? Six years? And I take breaks all the time.”
Amy didn’t remove her gaze from the laptop screen. “Well, maybe that’s the problem. Shouldn’t you be helping me finish off this case? You’re never going to be promoted if you don’t start doing something. If we weren’t such good friends, I would probably have fired you by now.”
Ricky bit again into his sandwich and rolled his eyes. “Whatever. You’re probably right…but you know, this level of work can’t be healthy for either of us.” He flicked briefly through a large stack of folders sitting on a nearby desk. “I mean, you really couldn’t pay me enough.” He reconsidered for a moment and then said, “They don’t pay me enough.”
“Well, Ricky, not all of us can be as mentally indolent as yourself.” Ricky studied her face for a moment, debating whether or not he had been insulted. Amy’s face gave him no clues, so he flashed a huge grin and finished off his meal in one bite. Amy shook her head, laughing and then closed her laptop crisply and tidied her desk, throwing away a bag of chips Ricky had been eating earlier. He had always been such a slob; she had always been there to clean up the mess. She felt something vibrate in her pocket and pulled out her phone. Then, she looked apologetically up at Ricky.
“Aw, man.” he moaned. “What now?”
“I’m sorry. The investigation’s been moved up to nine thirty,” she read. Ricky began to protest. “It’s already nine o’ clock.”
“So, what? You’re not going to watch the terminator tonight?”
“No. Neither of us is.” Said Amy, checking her phone again. “Yep, Mr. Rogers says he wants both of us there to check it out.” Amy began to gather her files into her arms and swung her laptop case over her shoulder. “This could be a big opportunity for you, Ricky. Think about it that way.” Ricky kissed his teeth and said,
“Great. Guess I’m coming with you.”
“Yeah.” Said Amy, not quite meeting his glance as she flung her things into the back seat and got into her white Volvo.
“What?” asked Ricky, a worried crease forming in his brow.
“Nothing. It’s just that…well, we’re kind of checking out a murder scene.”
“Huh.” Ricky’s voice was level, but Amy didn’t have to see his face to know that all the colour had drained from it. Ricky had never been good with blood. “And you said Rogers asked for me specifically, huh?”
Amy didn’t take her eyes off the road as she said, “Yeah. Both of us.”
“Sheesh. What is with him putting me on these murder cases?” he joked uneasily. “I wonder if he’s been talking to my diet counsellor about a new strategy to get me to eat less.”
“Well, it would certainly leave a lot more for the rest of us.” Amy gestured to the half-devoured subway sandwich on the console between them and smiled lightly. In briefly examining the console, something on Ricky’s left arm caught her attention: a scar?
“What’s that?” she asked innocently, swerving to avoid a car in the other lane. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Ricky take his arm off the console and fold it deliberately across his chest.
“Nothing.” he answered.
Amy couldn’t think of a response. Ricky had never kept anything from her before. She was sure she had seen something though. The worry slipped from her mind as she turned her attention to the investigation case at hand. Thinking back on past cases, she said to Ricky,
“You know, there have been a lot of murder cases lately, haven’t there?”
“Yeah.” said Ricky softly, examining his nails, but still keeping his left arm against his chest.
“Weird, isn’t it?” she asked. It wasn’t like Ricky to give such curt responses. “Yeah.” He said again.
Amy gave up the conversation attempts. A few minutes later, she turned the car into the cobblestone driveway of an old Victorian-style house and parked behind a black Mercedes next to the entrance. It was strange how such a normal house could be the site of such a terrible murder: gun shot.
She got out, hauled her things onto her shoulder and into her arms from the backseat, and joined Ricky as he made his way slowly up to the heavy oak doors and knocked. Sheryl, a slender middle-aged woman who had been with the bureau for over thirty years, answered the door. As usual, her auburn hair was tied into an immaculate bun and her slender figure enhanced by a turquoise blouse and suit jacket with a slight v-neck where the buttons had been left undone. Amy was shocked to see her. Sheryl was only ever put on high-priority cases. Amy had certainly never worked with her. Sheryl was the ultimate perfectionist in the bureau; and Amy’s idol.
Despite her intimidating exterior, Sheryl spoke quite calmly as she allowed Ricky and Amy to enter, “Hello. I’m Sheryl.” She said, as though an introduction were actually necessary. “You must be Ricky and Amy.”
Amy nodded, unable to find the words to respond. Luckily, Ricky did. “Yes, we are. It’s really an honor to meet you, Sheryl. We’ve heard so much about you.”
Sheryl laughed lightly and began to walk down the narrow corridor that branched from the entrance hall. “Well, I’m certainly impressed by what all I’ve heard about you.” Now, she was looking at Amy. “Your work on the Duke case was absolutely phenomenal.”
“Thank you.” said Amy, somewhat abashed. “But my work there is still far from finished.” She’s almost let slip how difficult she was finding it to make sense of the clues, but caught herself at the last minute. No one seemed to notice.
Finally, they reached a dead end. Thinking Sheryl had made a wrong turn, Amy began to leave. Ricky caught her arm and held her in place, though. Amy watched as Sheryl lifted a brass pot that should have been too heavy to budge from a table nearby. It stayed in place in midair, attached to a metal rod that seemed to lead into the table itself. The wall moved aside to form an opening to what appeared to be an office.
Sheryl made her way inside first, followed by Amy and Ricky. Amy scanned her surroundings quickly as she entered, unsure as to what part of the chaos to absorb first. Before anything else could register, however, she spotted a cluster of people gathered around a desk in the far end of the room. She felt Ricky shudder beside her: the body. Ignoring this, she pushed roughly through the confusion, intent on seeing the victim first hand. When she reached the clearing, her stomach clenched and her mind swam, the murder scenes she had already witnessed paling in comparison.
Blood was everywhere; the stench was overpowering. Underneath the thick crust of human flesh that seemed to have erupted from the neck of the victim, Amy was barely able to discern a placid look in the eyes of the Mr. Reynolds. His arms were sprawled widely in a gesture of resignation and the only signs of a struggle emanated from his fists, still clenched in his lap. Amy felt a hand fall roughly on her shoulder and turned to face the penetrating stare of Mr. Rogers.
“Yessir.” she slurred, still recovering. “What can I do?”
“Amy, it’s very important that this case not be made public, do you understand?” he raised an eyebrow meaningfully and Amy nodded, unable to find her voice. “I would like you, Ricky and Sheryl to stay on this case until we have made some sense of it.” He hesitated before adding, “I expect you to pull an all-nighter if you have to.”
Amy nodded dumbly and Mr. Rogers moved on to talk to a petrified Ricky standing in the opposite corner of the room. Amy vaguely noted that he was limping as usual with the unsteady support of his wooden cane. Ricky had seen the body. Amy walked forward to greet Sheryl, who was pensively tapping her fingers against her chin as she continued to examine something on the floor that Amy couldn’t see. She cleared her throat loudly and began,
“So, what have you guys found so far?” Sheryl paused and shook her head in evident frustration.
“Absolutely nothing.” She set down her instruments and rested her head in her hands. “I mean, I’ve found a lot, but nothing useful.” Amy’s silence prompted an explanation. “See Mr. Rogers is the one who found the body. He and Mr. Reynolds were friends, I think. All I’ve found is his and Mr. Reynolds’ DNA all over the place. Well, that and some strange markings on the desk.”
Amy was vaguely aware that she, Ricky, and Sheryl were the only ones left in the room now. The silence was chilling. “What kind of markings?”
“Well, they could be nothing…but I don’t think so. It looks like someone was searching for something. Their fingers left a trail in the dust around the lamp.” She glanced over at it hesitantly before looking once at Ricky and back again to Amy, clearly hoping for some ideas. The questioning gaze that ensued was strange in Sheryl’s eyes, and it took Amy a moment to look away.
Amy strolled over to the desk, unsure as to where the evidence was leading her. As she stood peering down at the finger trails, she became fairly confident that she had seen these exact shapes before. She searched her mind for something to explain the familiarity.
Something in expression had obviously caught the attention of the other two because when she looked up they were both staring expectantly at her.
“What is it, Amy?” Sheryl prompted. Ricky looked between them, his face blank and his eyes avoiding the gaze of Mr. Reynolds.
“Well,” she began, “I don’t think these markings were made unintentionally.”
“Why do you say that?” Sheryl asked quietly.
“I think I’ve seen them before.” Amy said as she started to pace in front of Ricky and Sheryl.
“You mean on another case?” Sheryl asked excitedly.
Amy looked carefully at Ricky whose blank expression had contorted into a look of encouragement. She answered, “Yes.”
“Which case?” asked Sheryl, slightly irritated now, but Amy was too lost in her own thoughts to notice. When Amy didn’t answer, Sheryl continued, “On one of your own cases?”
Amy stopped pacing and turned with a pale face to meet Sheryl’s eyes. She nodded slowly, her hands shivering in convulsions as she brought them to her face. She whispered, “and on six others…over one hundred years ago.”
Sheryl stormed over to Amy’s side, feeling that they were onto something now and shook Amy roughly as she said very clearly, “Amy, what happened on those cases? I need you to talk to me.”
Amy shook her head quickly to clear it and, although her voice levelled, her face remained chalk-white. “In 1908, there were six deaths in the month of June alone. None before and none afterwards.” She swallowed. “All of the bodies had this symbol on it. Engraved in the chests of the victims with a branding iron.” Her voice broke.
“So, the murderers left a mark on their victims?” asked Sheryl carefully.
“No.” Amy said, shaking her head solemnly. “The marks were too old to have been made by the murderer.”
“Exactly twenty-four hours in every case.”
“Where were the markings?”
“On the first five, they were on their chests.”
“And on the sixth?”
Amy looked through tears at Ricky. “On his arm…”
“My God…” Sheryl breathed, her eyes on Ricky’s left arm. He made no attempt to hide it. She turned to face Amy. “What does this mean?”
Amy’s face convulsed as she silenced another wave of tears and it was several minutes before she could compose herself to speak. “It’s the sign of the Earth Angels.” She looked hard at Ricky and Sheryl waited patiently for her to continue. “It’s a group of protectors. A legend supposedly. Angels selected every hundred years for a cause that you only know once you have become one.” She shuddered as she exhaled. “They don’t age. There have to be six of them to fight the six Diablos, or â€˜devil’s men’ who are strongest in the sixth month of the year.”
“So, who killed the last person?” Sheryl asked, looking carefully at Ricky.
“The last death was a suicide.” Amy answered quietly, staring at the floor. “The leader is the last to die. The only one with the strength to take his own life…to take his own power and bestow it on someone else. I guess…oh my God.”
“What?” asked Sheryl.
“Ricky,” she breathed, staring dumbfounded at his arm. “How long have you had that mark?”
“Since yesterday night.” His voice was uncharacteristically even.
“What does that mean?” Sheryl seemed to tremble with her own words.
Ricky smiled warmly, glancing at his watch and pulled a gun out of his back pocket. He put it to his temple, his eyes on Amy as he cocked the gun. She made no attempt to stop him.
“What -- -- ?”
He pulled the trigger and fell noiselessly to the floor. “Sheryl,” she said, holding her in place to prevent her going to Ricky, “We have been chosen…”