Vincenzo Shields was taller than Detective Spells by several inches. His shoulders were broad and the outline of a perfect physique could be glimpsed beneath the clingy fall sweater in greater detail. It was white and played nicely against the olive color of his skin. The other man, Richard Azz, was not much taller than Emily. His hair was so dark it was almost black, and he had cool, blue eyes. There was something not quite right with the way Azz looked out of those pretty eyes.
Emily closed the door after them and gestured with an open palm to the couch. The feeling she had hidden behind her smile was as a rabbit must feel when facing a tiger. The two men smiled their thanks and took the offered seats.
Shields sat forward on the couch while Azz reclined easily on the end. Benny gruffed and grumbled sniffing at Richard Azz and his tail was not wagging. Shields put his hand down, not smiling, and let Benny get a good whiff. Surprisingly, Benny let him scratch behind his ears. Friskers remained perched on the desk beside the door. He wasn’t as trusting a soul as Benny. Emily tended to agree with him, so she took the desk chair just in case she needed to make a dash for the door. There wasn’t that much space between the men and Emily’s perch, but she was quick and, hoped above all, she could make it if necessary.
“I’m sure you must be very frightened,” Shields began. He nervously rubbed his palms together. Emily couldn’t help but like hearing him talk. “I know about the death threats and the packages. My sister was a victim of the same killer. She was….” Shields paused to carefully choose his next words. “Alison was sensitive,” he finally said. “All of this man’s victims have been sensitive in one way or another.”
Emily swallowed to moisten her suddenly dry mouth. “What do you mean ‘sensitive’?”
“She was psychic. All of them have shown psychic abilities in one form or another.” Richard Azz said as he shifted position casually on the couch to lean forward, too. Benny jumped back and gruffed some more at the sudden movement before coming to take up a defensive position at Emily’s feet. Shields gave Azz a disapproving look.
“In each case, the man has sent the same picture and he has traveled from one city to the next looking for the woman. We have not found her so far. She seems to keep moving, changing her name, quite expertly, and vanishing before we can find her and give her the help she deserves.” Shields laced his long fingers together. “If this guy is sending pictures and presents to you, then you are sensitive as well.” It was a quiet, gentle statement of fact.
Silence descended heavily on the living room. Detective Spells wasn’t the ‘believing’ type, but these two men…. Their acceptance gave Emily a little relief, and at the same time it frightened her just a little more.
What had happened to the other women? How were they killed? Were all of the victims women? Exactly how was Vincenzo Shields and Richard Azz connected with it all? Shields had said his sister had been a victim, but there felt like there was more.
Instead of asking questions, however, Emily said, “Would you like some iced tea?”
Vincenzo Shields smiled reassuringly before answering with a very sexy, “Yes, thank you.”
“We don’t have time for this, Vinnie,” Richard Azz snapped.
“Yes, we do,” was Shields answer – there wasn’t any room for further discussion.
Emily took her time getting glasses and a tray; ice, and the pitcher of sweet iced tea from the refrigerator. Moving helped her to relax a little. Vincenzo, Vinnie, was a good man she thought…felt. Richard Azz was a little crazy she thought, but felt like he had a good heart. They were surprisingly comfortable knowing she had ‘gifts’ and accepted them almost too casually. No one had ever done that before. Once back in the living room, Emily served her guests first and then herself.
“It’s sweet tea,” she said to fill the space. She hadn’t heard the murmur of voices from the living room as she approached. “I hope it isn’t too sweet for you.” Shields accepted his glass with more enthusiasm than his partner and took a long draught from the glass. Richard Azz only sipped at his tea. Maybe he was more of a hot tea kind of guy; or maybe he didn’t like tea at all with the way he was holding the glass. If Emily hadn’t known for sure there was nothing in the glass except homemade sweet tea, she might have garnered there was poison or explosives in the glass: Azz was acting – and feeling – as if there was far too much liquid in the glass and he moved wrong, they were all going to blow up! He made Emily feel very uncomfortable.
“We know this is horribly difficult for you, but we do need to ask some questions, Ms. Post,” Azz said, putting his almost full glass back on the tray. It had taken him a couple of seconds to regain his composure and assume a more business-like tone.
“Call me, Emily please,” she said with a self-conscious smile.
“Very well, Emily, we have some questions we need to ask.” Azz’s tone was of an adult talking to a child, and just as condescending.
“Just a second, Rick,” Shields held on to his glass and put gentle, brown eyes on Emily’s face.
“Before we start with our questions, are there any you would like to ask?”
Emily’s head was so full of questions it felt about to pop! There were hundreds of questions roaming around inside and she was pretty sure she wasn’t going to like the answers. This still didn’t mean she didn’t have to ask them. There were so many questions she actually felt smothered by them.
Benny, sensing her unease, lifted his head and looked up at her quizzically, then lay his head down on her feet. He might be small, but he was going to give her as much support as he could. Friskers walked easily down from the desk, over the arm of the desk chair, and into Emily’s lap. He curled his black tail around him and settled down. Friskers made sure he was facing the two men.
“How many victims has there been so far?” Emily asked.
“We have found 10 so far. Four were in and around Coney Island and 3 were in the Chicago area. The remainder have been scattered across the country,” Shields said, rolling his glass between his palms.
“Why me? Why did he choose me?” Emily’s heart was thundering inside her ears and the open room felt suffocating, small.
“Because you’re real,” Azz said. “A lot of the other so-called psychics are fakes or con artists, or they depend on tools to help them do their fortune-telling. Only one of the previous victims was actually advertising her gifts.” Richard Azz reached into his inside jacket pocket and produced a notebook. “Her name was Monica Winslow and she was in Chicago. She died four years ago. It seems this guy chooses one victim a year. He wants a challenge when he faces them.”
“A challenge?” Emily said, her mouth going dry again, “What kind of challenge? Wait, you mean he has been leaving bodies lying around for 10 years and no one has caught him yet?”
This time it was Shields who answered, “It seems he wants something like a wizard’s challenge you see in the movies and read about in books. So far, none of the women have had the ability to defend themselves… well enough.” Emily was very aware he had not answered her question.
“Who was the last woman to die and when did she die?” Emily wasn’t sure she should have asked the question and whether she wanted to know the answer. She needed as much information as she could get.
“Her name was Caroline Michaels from Knoxville, Tennessee. She died last year.” Azz flipped back and forth several pages after answering.
“Did you try to help her?”
“Yes, we did,” Shields said. His glass was now empty. “May I?” he said, lifting his glass. Emily told him to help himself and waited. Neither of the men wanted to answer this question. Azz kept glancing nervously at Shields.
“Caroline was 66 years old with grandchildren.” Emily didn’t think it was possible, but Vincenzo Shields’ voice dropped even lower, husky. He swallowed a couple of times and took a sip of tea. “She was active in her church and bought a bag of cat food for the neighborhood cats because she didn’t want them to go hungry.” Shields paused to take another sip. He looked at the amber glass of liquid and ice long and hard for several seconds. He was wishing he had a stiff drink.
“He got to her by threatening her grandchildren. We told her not to go to any meetings without us present, but she slipped out late one night and went to meet him at an empty warehouse down by the river. She left us a message on the kitchen table and a voice message on Azz’s cell. Caroline didn’t call and tell us what she was doing until she was already at the warehouse. By the time we reached her she had been murdered.” Shields put his glass down and rubbed his hands on the legs of his jeans. Emily already knew the answer, but waited for Shields to actually say the words. “We came close with Caroline, the closet we have ever come. We wanted to stay in the house and protect her, but she would not let us because she didn’t want to alarm her family.”
“The police also wanted to put her under police protection and she even refused that,” Azz added.
“I see,” was all Emily could think of to say. Silence descended again. This time it was even more uncomfortable.
The guilt of not being able to protect Caroline Michaels came off Vinnie Shields in thick waves. He had really liked the woman. He had wanted to protect her, save her as he hadn’t been able to save anyone else so far.
Richard Azz was quiet. He seemed calm and placid like a pool of water that hadn’t been disturbed. Beneath this calm surface, emotion was in roiling, boiling turmoil; however, he did not feel guilty for having been unable to save the last woman. She had acted foolishly and let her caring for someone else get her killed. There was a lot of anger deep inside of Azz and Emily did not want to probe too deeply to find out just what he was angry. It was a very dark and dangerous anger and it was all focused on one single point.
Emily pulled back from Azz’s emotion and looked up into his eyes. He was staring at her coolly, almost emotionless. She shivered. She never wanted anyone to hate her as much as Richard Azz hated this…monster.