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“Outlander meets Sex In The City”
3-in-1 boxed set! Land’s End Trilogy by Melodie Campbell – On Sale! Just 99 cents!

 Land’s End Trilogy

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“Great imagination, fabulous imagery…This chilling page-turner [Divine Intervention] is a genuine Canadian crime novel…” –Midwest Book Review

an excerpt from
DEADLY DOZEN

Copyright © 2014 by Cheryl Kaye Tardif and published here with her permission

DIVINE INTERVENTION

by Cheryl Kaye Tardif

There is surely a piece of divinity in us,

something that was before the elements,

and owes no homage unto the sun.

~ Sir Thomas Browne

Intervention – to occur or lie between two things

~ Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary

 

Prologue

It always began with the dead girl in her closet.

Every night when little Jasmine opened that closet door she expected to see lovely dresses and hangers―not a child her age strung up by a pink skipping rope, her body dangling above the floor…unmoving.

The dead girl had long blond hair. Her blue eyes stared blindly and were surrounded by large black circles. Her mouth hung open in a soundless scream. The pink rope was tied tightly around her neck, a thick pink necklace of death. A purplish-black bruise was visible and ugly.

The most unusual thing about the girl, other than the fact that she was swinging from a rope in Jasmine’s closet, was that her skin and clothing were scorched.

Gagging, little Jasmine stepped back in horror.

When the girl’s lifeless body swayed gently from a sudden breeze Jasmine let loose a cry of terror and raced down the stairs, searching anxiously for her parents.

“Daddy?”

Her throat was constricted and dry.

“Mommy?”

Then she screamed. “Mommy, I need you! Help me!”

In the lower hallway, the shadows quickly surrounded her.

Then she saw them.

Red eyes flashing angrily at the end of the hall.

Jasmine took a hesitant step backward. She tried to run but her feet would not cooperate. Her small body began to shake while the eyes followed her.

Glancing over her shoulder, she noticed a listless form moving toward her, arms outstretched―pleading.

The girl from the closet wasn’t dead anymore.

Blistered hands reached for Jasmine.

The girl’s mouth yawned and a horrendous shriek emerged.

Trapped and terrified, Jasmine began to scream…

1

Monday, June 18, 2012

~ Vancouver, BC

Agent Jasi McLellan awoke from her nightmare screaming and drenched in sweat. Irritated by a piercing sound, she turned her pounding head and glanced at the wall beside her.

A technologically advanced video-screened wall, or vid-wall, had recently been added to her daunting security system. The wall was divided into four monitors―each coded for different activities.

The message screen flashed brightly.

Someone was trying to contact her.

“Receive message,” she croaked.

She was rewarded with silence.

Jasi eyed the clock. 5:30 in the goddamn morning. Who the hell would be calling her this early on her day off?

Glaring words flashed across the monitor followed by a voice, deep and urgent. “Jasi, we need you! Ben.”

She was suddenly wide awake.

“Message for Ben.”

When the system connected with Ben’s data-communicator, she said, “Give me fifteen minutes. End message.”

She glanced at the words on the screen and realized her holiday was over. She wondered for a moment what was so important that Ben had to interrupt her downtime. With two days left, she had hoped to catch up on some much-needed rest.

Crawling from beneath the sweat-soaked sheets, she crouched on the edge of the bed and reached for her portable data-com.

She checked the calendar.

A black X was scribbled over the date.

“Oh God,” she moaned.

Today was her twenty-sixth birthday.

Jasi hated birthdays.

She pushed herself off her bed. In the dark, her toe connected sharply with the corner of the dresser and she let out a startled yelp.

“Ensuite lights on, low!”

Her Home Security & Environmental Control System immediately raised the lighting to a soft muted glow. Some days she was very thankful she had allowed Ben to install H-SECS in her new apartment. Of course, on the days when she couldn’t remember a command or the security code to her weapons safe, Ben would get an earful.

Limping to the bathroom, Jasi shook her head.

Could this day possibly get any worse? Maybe I should go back to bed…wake up tomorrow.

She hugged her arms close to her chest and stepped into the ensuite bathroom. Parking her butt on the toilet, she stared at her throbbing toe. Scowling, she stood up, leaned tiredly against the sink and examined her reflection.

That’s when she remembered her recurring nightmare.

“Why can’t you leave me alone?” she whispered to a dead girl who wasn’t there.

Frowning at her puffy, shadowed green eyes, Jasi splashed cool water on her face and rested her elbows on the edge of the sink. She traced a finger over the small scar that ran down the left side of her chin. It was barely noticeable, except to her.

Spurring herself into action, she cast a self-deprecating glance at her hazy image and then headed for the shower.

“Shower on, massage, 110 degrees,” she commanded as she removed her panties and nightshirt. “Radio on, volume 7.”

Music from her favorite rock station pounded in through the ceiling speakers as she stumbled into the large shower stall. Stretching hesitantly, she relaxed her tense muscles and breathed a sigh of relief when the steamy water sent thoughts of a dead girl swirling down the drain.

Jasi lathered her long auburn hair and stood under the spray, allowing the water to massage her scalp. Grimacing, she slid a wide-toothed comb through the tangled mess of wavy locks. Her hair had a mind of its own. More than once Jasi had threatened to chop it off but she was afraid she’d end up with a ‘fro.

Couldn’t have that. No one would take her seriously.

Her central data-com beeped suddenly.

Her fifteen minutes were up.

Cursing under her breath, she spit toothpaste into the sink, barely missing the soap dispenser.

“Data-com on!”

“Hey there, sunshine!” a male voice boomed. “You miss us?” Benjamin Roberts, her friend and partner, didn’t wait for a response. “Divine has issued a Command Meet. He says he’s sorry to cut your downtime short but we need you.”

His voice followed Jasi as she returned to her bedroom and ordered the lights on full.

She sighed loudly. “It’s not like I have anything better to do today. Like relax, go to a movie, or hook up with a handsome stranger for a night of passion.”

She eyed the closet nervously, then whipped the door open and stepped back, unsure of what or who might emerge.

No one was there.

“Hey, am I interrupting something?”

She grabbed some clothes, slamming the door quickly.

“I wish! What’s up, Ben?”

Stepping into a pair of casual slacks and a light blouse, she waited for her partner’s answer.

“You still in the shower, Jasi? Maybe you should put up the vid-wall.” She heard him snicker.

“Yeah right!”

“We caught a case near Kelowna―a fire.” Ben’s voice grew serious. “One victim, Dr. Norman Washburn, ER doc at Kelowna General.”

Jasi frowned, and strapped on a shoulder harness.

Kelowna.

She hadn’t been there in years. Not since the disastrous Okanagan Mountain forest fires of 2003. Now, nine years later, she would be returning. She’d have to take some precautions, prepare herself.

“Why’d they call us?”

“Sorry, Jasi. I know you’re still officially on downtime, but this one is bad. They found a link to another fire. Two victims―a mother and child in Victoria. Unsolved.”

There was a long silence.

“Ben?”

She heard a soft chuckle on the other end. “By the way, Jasi, Happy Birthday.”

“How’d they link that one to the doctor?” she asked, ignoring the reference to her birthday.

When he told her what the crime scene investigators had found at the scene, Jasi grabbed her 9-millimeter Beretta, checked the safety and jammed it into the holster. Then she dashed from the apartment―a shadow hot on her heels.

A cab dropped her off at an isolated address in the West End. On the roof of a seedy-looking warehouse, a helicopter waited, its engine camouflaged by the busy drone of the streets below. Vancouver was a city in perpetual motion. A city that never slept.

Hiking her handbag over one shoulder, Jasi keyed in her security access code and spoke her name into the VR box. The Voice Recognition program was the latest addition to security.

When the door opened, she stepped inside a small airlock. A man in army greens and a brush-cut greeted her. He was loosely carrying a rifle in one hand.

“Hey, Thomas,” she waved.

The weapons tech was tall and muscular, with a face like a pit-bull. Recognizing her, he cracked what was his idea of a smile. “Agent McLellan. Good to see you back.”

Jasi removed the Beretta from her pocket and laid it in a clear plastic tray. The tray was carried on a conveyor into a hole in the wall where the gun was scanned and the registration was recorded.

Thomas buzzed her through.

She followed a short hallway that opened to a large room filled with computers and electronic equipment. Another guard escorted her through a body scan, metal and powder detector and a fingerprint analyzer.

The last stage was the Retinal Scanner Device.

“I spy with my little eye,” the RSD tech, Vanda, greeted her cheerfully.

“Eyes that are puffy and bagged…and belong to a sixty-year-old,” Jasi muttered when the RSD clicked off and Vanda waved her on.

“For a sixty-year-old, you’re lookin’ pretty damned good, girl,” the woman teased.

“Yeah? Well, next time Divine calls me out on my downtime, I’ll roll over and play dead!”

Jasi neared the final scanning gate.

It examined the small tracking device that had been surgically implanted in her navel. The tracker was used when an agent went missing―and for identification purposes. Especially if an agent’s body was recovered in an unrecognizable state.

Benjamin Roberts greeted her from the other side of the gate. “Pass on through, oh Queen of Darkness.” He made a sweeping motion with his black-gloved hand.

Thomas slid the tray with her gun toward Ben.

Examining it, Ben said, “You know, Jasi, we do have better weapons than this old thing.”

She shrugged. “I know. But it has sentimental value.”

He handed her the gun.

“Happy Birthday, Agent McLellan,” Thomas called out.

Jasi glared at Ben, her eyes shooting daggers. “What’d you do? Take out an ad in the newspaper?”

“Naw, just a vid-wall ad on Hastings,” he said, laughing. “Ouch! Watch that elbow!”

Jasi examined her co-worker, taking in his broad shoulders and gray eyes. Benjamin Roberts was in his mid-thirties. He was a tall striking man who wore Armani suits like a second skin fitted to every contour of his muscular body.

“New ones?” she asked, indicating his gloved hands.

“I needed a better lining.”

She thought of how challenging it must be for him.

Ben was a Psychometric Empath.

If he touched someone, he often sensed flashes of thought or emotion. He wore specially designed gloves when he was out in public. Inside the black leather gloves, a protective coating blocked his empathic abilities. It was essential that he keep his mind fresh, so that he could focus on each case without unnecessary interruptions.

Ben was also an expert in various martial arts and the best profiler the CFBI had. He had been with the Canadian Federal Bureau of Investigators for over fifteen years, before it was ever known as the CFBI.

Back in the late 1990’s, the Canadian government requested a more ‘open-door’ policy with the United States―and the sharing of information. It started with computer programs designed to be accessed from either country so that information on every criminal perpetrator, rapist, pedophile, kidnapper, or serial killer was available at the touch of a keyboard. CSIS was still dedicated to protecting Canada’s national security and focused primarily on international terrorist activities.

Then in 2003, the CFBI was formally introduced as a Canadian counterpart to the previously established FBI organization in the US. Eventually the CFBI took over CSIS and integrated a variety of divisions. Agents were employed and deployed from either side of the border, anywhere they were needed.

Some agents were Psychic Skills Investigators―PSI’s.

Of course, the public was naively unaware that both governments were implementing the use of psychics. Even now, in 2012, it was a closely guarded secret.

“Hey, Jasi! Ben! Over here!” a woman called.

Jasi’s other partner, Natassia Prushenko, was tall and leggy―and had breasts Jasi would kill for. Her black hair was razor-cut in a short wispy style. Her sapphire eyes twinkled mysteriously. It had been almost two weeks since they had seen each other but Jasi immediately sensed that something was different about Natassia. Something other than the copper streaks in her jet-black hair.

Natassia passed her a sealed manila envelope.

Then she gave a similar envelope to Ben, saluting him cockily. “Agent Prushenko, reporting for duty, sir.”

“Aw, cut it out, Natassia,” Ben growled, rolling his gray eyes before pulling himself into the helicopter.

The woman smirked, then climbed in beside him. “Aye, aye, mon capitaine.”

Jasi curiously eyed Natassia.

Why, she wondered, was her friend grinning like a Cheshire cat?

When Ben leaned forward to talk to the pilot, Jasi nudged Natassia’s leg.

“You’d better tell me what’s going on.”

“Later.”

Jasi shrugged, then stared out the window. They were flying low under the canopy of clouds. As always, the beautiful British Columbia scenery with its lush forests and majestic snowcapped mountains entranced her.

When the flight ended, they landed safely on the heliport in the center of a gated complex. Perched high on the electric wall, numerous cameras zoomed in on their arrival. A sterile concrete field surrounded two large buildings in the center of the complex. Both held a reception area and countless offices.

Most were empty―a front.

To civilians, the complex was known as Enviro-Safe Research Facility. To Jasi and the rest of the CFBI, it was Divine Operations. Or Divine Ops, as most agents referred to it. But the real Divine Ops was not visible. It was actually a maze of underground tunnels and offices more than fifty feet below the surface.

“Well, now I know this is a big one,” Natassia mouthed, her eyes glittering darkly while she followed Jasi from the heliport.

On the tarmac ahead of them, a man paced restlessly.

“Yeah,” Jasi agreed. “A power-figure must be involved. I think this fire has someone hot under the collar.”

She nudged Natassia and they hurried toward the creator of Divine Ops.

Matthew Divine’s investigation of psychic phenomenon had initiated the construction of the first PSI training facility in Canada. The Federal government had listed the building as nothing more than a laboratory―one that researched the environment and its effect on people, animals, plant life and weather patterns.

The locals knew nothing of the CFBI’s presence. They were unaware that a web of offices existed underground, stocked with high tech computer equipment. They had no idea that the people they saw flying in and out of Enviro-Safe were highly trained government agents with specialized psychic skills.

They did know that Matthew Divine and Enviro-Safe had brought prosperity to the area. When Enviro-Safe was first built, there was one existing town nearby. Originally called Mont Blanc, the town’s name was changed in 2005.

Through a unanimous town council vote, it was renamed Divine.

Jasi straightened to her full five feet, eight inches as she reached Matthew Divine. He was a man of average height, average looks but above average intelligence. His long gray hair was tied back with a strip of leather. Intense brown eyes were framed with outdated tortoise-shell glasses. No one dared ask him why he hadn’t gone for the ever-popular SEE―sectional eye enhancement―to restore his vision.

Divine’s arms were crossed.

The grim expression on his clean-shaven face made Jasi gasp.

A serial killer was on the prowl.

2

Jasi followed Divine while he led the PSI team into the primary operations station―Ops One. An assortment of security scanners recorded each agent’s various stats before admitting them to a small corridor. The same programmers that designed H-SECS created the Divine Ops security system. Ever since the kidnapping and murder of the Prime Minister in 2008, security programmers had been rallying to design a system that was impenetrable and virtually flawless.

Jasi allowed a technician to scan her with the paranormal electroencephalograph unit, an apparatus that recorded brain waves and psychic residue. This security precaution safeguarded PSI agents against overuse of their skills.

Heaving a sigh of relief, she smiled when the PEU flashed green. She was clear.

“Welcome back, Agent McLellan,” Divine finally said with a curt nod. “I hope you enjoyed your well-deserved holiday. Sorry I had to cut it short. Have you been given details of the case?”

Jasi held up the envelope. “Ben told me that the killer left something behind…a lighter?”

Divine pulled her aside. “A Gemini lighter. Same as the one you received in the mail two months ago, Agent McLellan. The same brand found at a fire in Victoria last month.”

They waited for Ben and Natassia to clear security, and then the four of them crowded into an elevator. When the elevator doors opened, an electronic voice informed them that they had reached the PSI floor where an expansive maze of halls and pale mauve cubicles lay before them.

“Happy Birthday, Agent McLellan,” a co-worker greeted her.

Jasi whacked Ben in the arm, hard.

They wove through the maze of hallways, passing agents and technicians engrossed in their work. Artificial light hovered over occupied cubicles while the empty ones remained in darkness.

Abstract paintings lined the wall―someone’s attempt at personalizing the underground lair. One painting showed a window opening onto a garden. Beside it, a photograph of a wooden maze tempted two rats to find their way out.

We’re all just a bunch of lab rats, Jasi mused. We live underground, running through this insane maze every day.

Part of her wished that her downtime hadn’t ended. On the other hand, two weeks of pretending to be normal, living in her empty apartment in North Van, had been about as much as she could take of herself. Even her plants couldn’t live with her. The last ivy had died a slow, torturous death, its neglected soil shrinking from lack of water.

“Why didn’t we hear about the Victoria fire a month ago?” she asked Divine.

“Victoria PD thought they had an isolated case last month so it didn’t show up on our radar. Until this morning’s case, just outside of Kelowna. The current victim is Dr. Norman Washburn. He was the head of Surgery at Kelowna General Hospital. He’s also the father of Premier Allan Baker.”

There’s the higher influence.

Divine escorted them to the Command Office.

As they sat down around the conference table, Jasi opened the manila envelope and slid one picture from the stack of photographs.

A blond-haired man smiled confidently into the camera.

Premier Allan Baker.

Allan Baker was the youngest Premier ever voted in by any Province in Canada. Now, at thirty-two years old, he had set the precedent for bringing in young blood. Baker was now a front runner for Prime Minister of Canada.

She passed the photo to Ben, then carefully examined a surveillance photograph taken the year before, in which the Premier of British Columbia and Dr. Washburn were engaged in an intense argument.

Jasi recalled that the newspapers had created a frenzy when it was discovered that Baker’s mother had given birth to the son of a prominent, married doctor. The scandal had almost cost Baker the position. It had cost Washburn his marriage.

Divine flipped a switch on the box embedded into the table in front of him. Two oak panels in the wall parted slowly, revealing a large vid-wall. He pressed the remote and a photograph of a lake appeared.

“Dr. Washburn’s remains were found at Loon Lake early this morning. Loon Lake is less than an hour’s drive from Kelowna.”

The photo zoomed in to reveal a smoldering mass that was once someone’s holiday home.

“Who reported it?” Jasi asked.

Without missing a beat, Divine answered, “Shortly after four o’clock this morning an anonymous caller reported a cabin fire near the lake. Fire fighters were sent to the area, and ten minutes later, the Kelowna PD arrived and secured the scene.”

Jasi’s eyes locked on Divine’s. “How secure?”

Divine flipped to an aerial photo, revealing neon orange perimeter beacons that surrounded the crime scene.

“Kelowna PD has guaranteed that there has been no contamination of evidence―other than water, of course. The fire was almost out by the time the trucks got there.”

Ben cleared his throat loudly. “We’ve heard that before. How’d they know there was a body?”

“Kelowna PD used an X-Disc,” Divine explained. “As you are all aware, very few departments outside of Vancouver and the major cities have access to X-Discs. And our PSI division is the only unit to have the Pro version. Kelowna PD has one of the original prototypes.”

“What’s the estimated time of death?” Ben asked.

“TOD is between one and two this morning.”

The wall photo switched to a black and white of the esteemed Dr. Washburn. The man had posed for the hospital staff photo as if it were a painful experience, his brow pinched in a wrinkled scowl. His receding white hair looked wiry and stubborn.

Like the man himself, Jasi thought.

She had met Dr. Washburn a couple of years ago during a symposium on children’s health. The man had not impressed her. There was something about him she didn’t like, something she couldn’t quite put her finger on.

Divine turned to Natassia. “Forensics came back as a positive on Washburn. His dental scans matched. I’ll need you to dig deep on this one, Agent Prushenko.”

Jasi saw Natassia’s head dip in agreement.

“We need any information pertaining to the victim. His life, his career―everything,” Divine said.

Jasi rubbed her chin. “If this is his second fire, then what’s the connection between the victims? What can you tell us about the Victoria fire?”

Divine’s data-com beeped suddenly.

He examined it, then shook his head. “I’m sorry, Agent McLellan. I have a meeting with the Premier in half an hour. You’ll have to upload that info into your data-communicators.” He walked to the door, then paused. “The sooner you pick up your supplies, the sooner you can get your team moving. I need you at the Kelowna crime scene A-SAP. Allan Baker’s going to want some answers―fast.”

Divine held her gaze. “Get me some.”

Then he left.

Jasi plugged her data-com into the Ops mainframe and began reading aloud while the computer uploaded to her portable. “Case H081A. Two victims. Charlotte Foreman, sixty-three, and Samantha Davis…four years old.”

Poor baby.

Her voice faltered slightly. “TOD is 9:05 p.m. on Charlotte Foreman. She was pronounced in the hospital. The child died shortly before. Smoke inhalation.”

“Who called it in?” Ben asked.

“A neighbor. When the fire department got there the rain had already extinguished the fire. Victoria PD exhausted their leads. The case was cold. Until now.”

Her eyes gleamed with determination.

“So we have jurisdiction over both fires, now that it’s a serial arson case.”

For the next half-hour, Jasi examined the evidence, including the fire investigator’s statements and forensic reports on the two bodies found at the scene in Victoria. There wasn’t much to go on. A cable truck would warrant investigating but other than that, no one in the neighborhood remembered seeing anything remotely suspicious.

“Let’s start with Washburn and work backward,” Ben suggested. “I’ll call ahead, Jasi, and make sure that everything’s ready for you in Kelowna.”

He disappeared down the hall.

Meanwhile, Natassia continued flicking through the wall photos of the Washburn murder.

“See anything?” Jasi asked her, moving beside the dark-haired woman for a closer look.

Natassia pointed to the close-up of a strange melted mass of plastic. “There’s a few possibilities. The X-Disc found IV tubing. Washburn was secured to his recliner with it. Funny thing, though. The recliner was fully extended.”

Jasi chewed on her bottom lip, wondering why someone would bother to recline the chair…or use plastic IV tubing.

Wouldn’t a rope have been better? And how did the arsonist get possession of the tubing?

“Back in a sec, Natassia. I have to get my pack.”

She walked down a narrow corridor to a door marked PSI Prep Room. Swiping her ID card, she was buzzed inside. The room held a row of lockers lined against one wall.

She inserted her card into the slot on locker J12.

It beeped, then opened.

Removing a hefty black backpack, she silently cursed its necessary weight. She placed the bag on a metal table in the middle of the room and kicked the door to her locker shut. The zipper to the main compartment of the bag jammed. Frustrated, she tugged at it until it finally opened, revealing two thin flashlights, evidence markers, a piece of florescent chalk and other field supplies.

From a shelf above the lockers, she grabbed the last can of OxyBlast and shoved it inside the bag. Satisfied, she closed the backpack, heaving it over her shoulder.

Then she returned to Command.

“Okay, ladies, we better get moving,” Ben suggested, poking his head through the doorway.

“Ladies?” Natassia asked with a laugh. “Jasi, did Agent Roberts just call us ‘ladies’?”

“Well, one of you certainly doesn’t fit that description,” Ben grumbled under his breath.

“Come on, Natassia,” Jasi said with a snort. “Focus.”

“I am focusing.”

Watching her, Jasi chuckled. She couldn’t help but admire Natassia Prushenko. Not only was the woman gorgeous, she had self-confidence up the ying-yang.

Natassia was a Russian immigrant. In some ways, she was a trade from the Russian government in return for favors from the PSI division. She spoke five languages and was the best VE Jasi had ever worked with.

And Jasi had worked with a number of Victim Empaths over the years.

Natassia had joined her team just over two months ago, during the Parliament Murders. Jasi had seen firsthand what her partner’s skills could take out of her. A VE sometimes assimilated the emotions of the victim, to the point that it was almost impossible to separate―to come back to reality.

“Happy Birthday, Jasi. Great way to be spending it, huh?” Natassia’s grinning mouth snapped firmly shut when Jasi whipped her head around.

“Okay, the chopper is ready,” Ben announced.

Covering their ears, they dashed across the tarmac. The four-blade rotor of an Ops helicopter sliced through the air, droning and choppy. The sound was deafening until the pilot handed each of them a headset.

A few minutes later, they were onboard and gliding across the treetops.

“We’ll do the scene first,” Jasi said, plugging her data-com into the outlet in front of her.

Natassia nodded. “Okay. After that, I’ll see if I can get a read off Washburn’s remains. Maybe I’ll get a hit. There’s a good chance Washburn knew the perp.”

“I’ll get the reports for both fires and make some calls to set up interviews,” Ben said, removing his gloves. “Then I’ll start my profile. So far, what do we have?”

“A sick bastard who likes to set fires,” Jasi murmured.

“Yeah, we have that. Hey, are you going to be okay in Kelowna? Do you need anything special?”

She handed him a short list. “Just this. I have everything else.”

Ben read the list quickly, then keyed in the request on his data-com.

A few minutes later, his unit beeped a response.

“Everything will be waiting for you, Jasi. Just see the Chief of Arson Investigation on-scene.”

She knew that her day would be long and grueling. She recalled the disaster that occurred years ago. A raging forest fire had swept over Okanagan Mountain, burning almost three hundred homes to the ground and destroying over twenty-five thousand hectares of natural forest.

As the private helicopter soared closer to the dreary crime scene, Jasi settled into the seat, pulled her long auburn hair up into a quick ponytail and closed her eyes. She would need to be alert and rested.

Agent Jasi McLellan could already taste the bitter smoke in the air.

And something more―death.

3

~ Loon Lake near Kelowna, BC

The helicopter deployed Jasi and her PSI team one mile from the fire. A fog of gray smoke greeted them. It hung in the air over the crime scene like a smothering electric blanket set on high. The scorching sun smiled down upon them, adding to the heat.

Fire trucks were parked on the side of a grassy field surrounded by thick trees and weedy underbrush. An oversized khaki-colored army tent had been pitched in the center of the field while an exhausted group of firefighters slept nearby in the shade. A variety of police vehicles slanted across the gravel road, blocking off public access.

A tired, sooty police officer strolled toward them. “Hey, Ben.”

Ben grinned and introduced the man. “This is Sgt. Eric Jefferson, Kelowna PD.”

“How’s it hangin’, Ben?” Jefferson asked, after introductions were complete. “Are you supervising this case?”

“Actually, I am,” Jasi said, only slightly offended.

Ben grimaced apologetically. “Eric and I trained at the VPA range together.”

The Vancouver Police Academy was highly regarded worldwide for its superior training of police officers. The academy owned acres of land outside the city limits. The rough terrain had been converted to a firearm training facility used by CFBI agents and police officers.

There was also a separate area for the bomb squad.

“A van’s coming to get you,” Jefferson said. “And someone’ll be here any minute with the supplies you requested.”

“Where’s the Chief of AI?” Jasi asked him.

“Over by the tents, I think.”

Jefferson glanced over his shoulder at an approaching truck. “Your supplies are here.”

A police officer in his mid-forties, dressed in a fresh uniform, jumped from the truck. When he spotted them standing by the edge of the road his eyes narrowed. A firefighter wearing fire gear, minus the hat and mask, climbed from the passenger side carrying a bright red equipment bag. He had a stocky build and blond hair that was cut in a surfer style, long on the sides.

The man reminded Jasi of an advertisement for steroids.

She caught his eye and he aimed a withering look in her direction. Uh oh, she thought. Steroid-man wasn’t happy to see them.

“Detective Randall,” Jefferson murmured, indicating the officer. “He’s the lead on the Victoria case.”

“He was the lead,” Jasi corrected him.

She watched while Randall and the stocky firefighter lumbered closer. When the two men reached her, she held out a hand.

“Agent McLellan, CFBI.”

The detective winced at her words. Then his hand crushed her fingers, challenging her to back down.

Jasi squeezed harder until Randall let go.

After introducing her team, she caught Randall fighting with Ben for alpha male status. Detective Randall lost. Tension sliced through the air, thick with male testosterone. She saw Ben wave Eric Jefferson aside.

Jasi stole a glance at the firefighter.

The man’s head was turned slightly away. On the shoulder of his jacket, a blue firefighter’s patch flapped loosely in the breeze. R. J. Scott, KFD, the patch read.

“Have you got the supplies?” she asked him, feeling a shudder of pain behind her eyes.

Scott dropped the red bag on the ground, crouched down and jerked the zipper open. “Right here.”

Her head began to pound. The smoke was invading her pores. She reached into her black backpack and extracted the can of OxyBlast. For half a minute, she sucked on the mouthpiece, inhaling pure oxygen and clearing her lungs.

“The oxy-mask is in the bag,” Scott muttered in a voice that was hoarse from breathing in too much smoke.

When he brushed the hair from his eyes, she sucked in a puff of air. The left side of the man’s face was scarred―a motley web of spidery burns.

“Hazard of the job,” he shrugged when he noticed her shocked expression.

Detective Randall joined them. “You done here, Scott?”

“Yeah,” the firefighter grunted.

Randall stared at Jasi and laughed rudely. “I don’t know why she needs the mask.”

Scott scowled at her. “Yeah, it’s as useless as tits on a bull―unless she’s gonna go into a live fire.”

The men grinned at each other, then caught her eye.

“Detective Randall,” she said coldly. “There are many things that are useless on a bull.”

She allowed her eyes to slowly drift down past Randall’s waist, locking in on his groin area. The man’s face grew pinched, and then he muttered something indistinctly.

She turned her back and reached into the bag, removing the familiar navy-blue mask. It had a built-in filtration system that eliminated air contamination, giving the wearer a clean source of oxygenated air. Small and lightweight, the oxy-mask fit securely over the nose and mouth.

She drew it snugly over her head and adjusted her ponytail. Fighting back a feeling of claustrophobia, she took a deep breath.

“I’m fine,” she assured Natassia who was watching her intently. “The residue is bad out here.”

The oxy-mask muffled her voice.

“It wasn’t that big a fire,” Scott huffed.

“Not this fire. The Kelowna fire.”

The firefighter eyed her suspiciously.

“What? That fire was years ago.” The scarred side of his face stretched tautly and barely moved when he spoke.

“Agent McLellan?” Ben called out, hurrying to her side with Sgt. Jefferson in tow. “Everything all right here?”

“Everything’s fine,” she assured him.

Her head swiveled and her eyes latched onto Detective Randall’s. “Right?”

The man flashed her a dangerous smile. “We don’t need your help. Victoria PD is more than capable of handling

Jasi threw the man a frigid glare.

“This isn’t a pissing contest, detective. The CFBI was called in and it’s our case now. Both of them. And if you have a problem with that, then take it up with your supervisor.”

Outraged, Randall tipped his head toward Scott, then stomped back to the truck and sped away in an angry cloud of dust. Scott watched him go. A second later, he rasped a quick goodbye and headed for the field. Joining a small group of firefighters, he pointed in Jasi’s direction and circled one finger beside his head.

Crazy.

Cursing under her breath, she spun around and looked Eric Jefferson directly in the eye.

“What about you, Sgt. Jefferson? You have a problem with us being here?”

The police officer smiled. “Whatever gets the job done, Agent McLellan. That’s my motto. With a serial arsonist on the loose we can use all the help we can get.”

“Too bad those two don’t feel the same way,” Jasi growled, casting a shadowed look in Scott’s direction.

Jefferson glanced toward the field. “Scott’s just a rookie with a big mouth. Randall, on the other hand, he’s a hotshot. He needs the collar.” He nudged his head in Detective Randall’s direction. “It’s guys like him you need to worry about…and maybe Chief Walsh.”

“I’ll take care of the chief,” she muttered. “As soon as I find the man.”

Jefferson elbowed Ben. “If Scott or Randall get in your way, you let me know. I’m the CS Supervisor.”

Jasi caught a brief nod then the man headed for a patrol car.

“Good luck with the chief,” Jefferson called over his shoulder.

When the officer was gone, Ben removed two mini-cans of OxyBlast from the equipment bag and passed them to Natassia. Natassia tucked the cans into Jasi’s backpack and pulled out a small protective nosepiece. She handed it to Jasi who carefully tucked it away in the top pocket of her black PSI jacket.

“Thanks,” Jasi smiled beneath the oxy-mask.

She shoved her arms through the straps of her pack, shifting it slightly so the weight was balanced on her back.

Natassia nudged her. “Let’s find the AI Chief. He’s supposed to be here somewhere. Then we can get a ride to the scene. Man, I’m starved! I could go for lunch right about now―maybe a nice marinated steak.”

Jasi grinned. “Yeah, with sautéed mushrooms.”

“Excuse me for interrupting your culinary exchange,” Ben nudged dryly. “I’m going to talk to the police. You gonna move or stand there swapping recipes all day?”

Laughing, Jasi adjusted her backpack while Natassia picked up the red bag. Then they headed toward a group of firefighters.

Jasi noted their smoke-covered faces and sooty yellow fire jackets. The men were in the middle of a serious discussion and no one noticed their approach.

“Excuse me, gentlemen,” Natassia called out.

The men stopped talking.

Oh Jesus! They’re gonna start drooling any minute.

Jasi rolled her eyes when she saw the firefighters focus in on Natassia like a swarm of bees. One of the firefighters stepped forward, grinning unabashedly. The man’s eyes slowly perused Natassia’s body, then his ice blue eyes turned and rested on hers. One eyebrow lifted when he registered the mask she wore.

She stiffened slightly, registering his obvious contempt.

“Well, well. What have we here?” the man drawled sarcastically. “Uh, ma’am? The fire is out now. There’s no need for that mask.”

The firefighter was over six feet tall―a lumbering, magnificent personification of man. He had eyelashes that most women would die for, and eyes that were such an unusual pale shade of blue that she wondered if he had visited a SEE office. A jagged scar intercepted his right brow, narrowly missing his eye. A slight cleft in his chin gave him an air of stubbornness. Dark wavy hair clung to his head and she couldn’t help but wonder what it would feel like to run her fingers through those curls.

Jasi held his gaze while she examined him like a lab specimen in a jar. Built like a tank, she thought.

“I think maybe you’re a bit lost, ma’am,” he said, his lip curling disdainfully.

He turned toward the men, brushing her off like an annoying wasp at a barbecue.

She stared at the back of his head and then flipped her badge. “That’s Agent McLellan, not ma’am. Where’s the chief?” Her voice was cool, her eyes unwavering.

“Whoo-eee!” the man whistled when he caught sight of her ID. “An agent with an attitude. How rare!”

He shifted so that he was standing in front of her. Behind him, some of the men snickered loudly.

Jasi’s smile was deadly sweet. “Listen, you arrogant asshole. When I find the chief and report you I’ll have you on desk duty for a month. Now where is he?”

The man’s eyes snared hers, turning her knees to mush.

Suddenly he reached for her arm, gripped it firmly and led her away from the laughing eyes of the firefighters. She felt the heat of his fingers through her jacket, branding her as his possession.

Natassia nudged her sharply. “Jas

“Shh!” Jasi interrupted her, glaring up at the man whose tanned fingers still curled around her upper arm. “I could have you up on charg―”

“Check out his shoulder patch!” Natassia hissed.

Jasi glanced down. Then her eyes found the patch.

Walsh, Chief of Arson Investigations.

Her eyes traveled back to the man’s face. His expression was dark and smug. For a second her composure flickered. There was something annoyingly attractive about the man.

But damned if she would let that cloud her judgement.

“Brandon Walsh, at your service,” he said blandly, interrupting her thoughts. “AI Chief Walsh, that is.”

Jasi ignored his outstretched hand and felt her temper rising when his eyes scoped Natassia’s hip-hugging jeans and tight blouse. Men!

When he turned to issue a command to the firefighters, Jasi couldn’t restrain the snicker that erupted from her throat. The back of the man’s fire jacket was well worn. The lettering in some places was covered with black scorch marks.

Walsh, Chief of Ars   In  stig tions.

“Arse, all right,” she muttered under her breath.

Abruptly, Walsh turned, piercing her with a frigid stare. Then he frowned and jerked his head.

“This way, Agent McLellan.”

“Now isn’t he a fabulous piece of work?” Natassia mumbled in her ear. “Check out the size of those hands.”

“Natassia!”

Although Jasi had to admit, his hands were well shaped―like the rest of him.

Beside her, Natassia giggled beneath her breath. “You know what they say about large hands―”

“Shhh! Wouldn’t want him to hear you. It might go to his head.”

And that’s big enough already!

She followed Walsh to a table standing beneath the shade of a tent.

He pulled out a chair beside his, offering it to her.

“You gonna tell me why you’re wearing that mask?”

Jasi’s eyes fastened on his and she took the chair across from him instead. “Allergies.”

Walsh watched her for a long moment. “As the AI Chief, I’ve been informed of your…uh, special team. I wasn’t given much info though.”

“What have you got so far on the victim?”

“We’ve only received a few of the reports. Dr. Norman Washburn, age fifty-eight. He’s the only victim. The fire originated in his living room where Washburn was tied to his recliner with IV tubing.”

“Time of death?”

“Estimated TOD, one to two a.m.,” Walsh replied. “We believe he died from smoke inhalation. We’ll know for sure when the autopsy’s in.”

“What about neighbors? Anyone see anything?”

Walsh shook his head. “The cabins are separated by trees and bushes. He had no immediate neighbors.”

“Did you ask around?” she asked impatiently.

“Listen,” he said glibly. “I’m well aware that we’ve been ordered by the CFBI to cooperate with your team, but personally, I think AI is capable of handling this ourselves. And I don’t really buy into the whole psychic thing.”

She detected a trace of bitterness in his voice.

Jasi bit back her reply, frustrated.

She was sick and tired of having to defend herself―and her team. This wasn’t the first time that someone had questioned the PSI’s value.

“Chief Walsh, we’ve got two fires, three murder victims and few leads to go on. We’re here to aid this investigation, not hamper it. You’re not too macho to take help wherever you can get it, are you?”

Walsh laughed. “Macho? Now there’s an outdated term.”

Jasi refitted her oxy-mask.

She desperately wished she could tear it off her face and rip into the man before her. His attitude grated on her and left her feeling uneasy.

Walsh pointed to a Qwazi laptop and touched the screen with a stylus.

“Here’s the data from the X-Disc. Have a seat and read through it. And yes, we asked around. No one saw anything. I’ll go check on the other agent. Where’d he go, anyway?”

“Agent Roberts is busy drafting up a rough profile and arranging for transport to the scene,” Natassia spoke up for the first time.

“Upload the data, Natassia,” Jasi ordered. “I’ll go check on Ben.”

She cast a warning look in the AI Chief’s direction. “I’m counting on your support. Don’t get in my way, Walsh.”

The man raised a well-shaped eyebrow. “I have no intention of getting in your way. Just stay out of mine.”

She clenched her teeth. “Trust me, I’d be happy to stay away from you.”

“Jesus, thanks. I think. And here I thought I was irresistible.”

Jasi huffed in exasperation.

The man was insufferable. The sooner she finished her job here, the sooner she could put Brandon Walsh out of her mind.

Walsh accompanied her outside, and slipped on a pair of dark sunglasses.

“Need anything else?” she asked tightly.

“Yeah. What’s Agent Prushenko’s role?”

“She’s a Victim Empath.”

The man stared blankly, his lip curling in disbelief.

“She picks up vibrations―pictures from the victims,” she explained. “Usually she sees their final moments.”

“Yeah, right,” he scoffed.

Jasi gripped Walsh’s arm, her eyes flashing angrily.

“Agent Prushenko has empathic abilities, whether you believe in them or not. She’s been a PSI for eight years, traveled worldwide and is recognized as one of the best VE’s in the CFBI.”

She wanted to slug the man.

Walsh grinned. “What about you?”

“I’ve been with PSI for almost six years. That’s all you need to know.”

“What do you do?”

“She reads fires,” Natassia interjected, poking her head from the tent.

Wordlessly, Jasi glared at her partner.

“He needs to know, Jasi. Otherwise he’s useless.”

Brandon Walsh―useless?

Jasi hid a sly grin. “I can usually tell you where and how a fire started. Sometimes I pick up the perp’s last thoughts or the last thing he saw.”

“She’s a Pyro-Psychic,” Natassia bragged. “Jasi is the best there is.”

“Jasi?” Walsh smirked.

“That’s Agent McLellan to you!” Jasi snapped.

She’d make Natassia pay for that slip-up.

Oops, Natassia mouthed silently, raising her open hands in the air.

“Time for you to leave, Walsh,” Jasi said rudely. “I’m sure there’s something out there for the Chief of AI to do. Just remember we’re running the show here.”

Walsh’s breath blew warm against her ear. “We’ll see about that.”

Then he hurried from the tent. “See ya later…Jasi.”

With her eyes glued to his back, Jasi cursed aloud.

“Not if I can help it!”

Brandon Walsh walked away from the tent, unsure about the PSI’s role. He had heard of the Psychic Skills Investigators in his dealings with various police departments, but his cases rarely required CFBI intervention. Or interference, as he thought of it.

As the AI Chief, he was compelled to assist the CFBI in any investigation involving serial arsonists. And that didn’t sit too well with him―not one bit.

He’d show Agent Jasi McLellan who was boss.

After all, wasn’t he the one responsible for capturing the arsonist involved in the Okanagan Mountain forest fires of 2003? He had led the AI team that had tracked down the arsonist and the accelerant used to set the blaze.

The press had blamed an unattended campfire for the raging fires that consumed a massive portion of the BC forest. Then a week later, it was rumored that a single cigarette had ignited the blaze. That was before the public ban on smoking became official―before people were restricted to smoking in the privacy of their homes, in well-ventilated smoking rooms.

Brandon had never believed the fire had started from a cigarette. He personally sifted through acres of destroyed forest, searching for a clue. He had explored the land until he discovered an abandoned cabin deep in the mountains.

There, he found remnants of liquid methylyte and zymene, highly flammable chemicals used in the underground production of Z-Lyte. Z-Lyte, with its sweet musky scent, had become the hallucinogenic drug of the new generation.

Public homeowner records listed Edwin Bruchmann as the owner of the cabin. An hour later, Bruchmann was in custody. When the old man was escorted into an interview room by his caregiver, Brandon was disappointed to discover that Bruchmann suffered from Alzheimer’s.

Brandon’s leads were slowly disintegrating―until his suspicions turned to the caregiver. Gregory Lawrence, thirty-nine, had been employed by Bruchmann for the past two years and had access to all of the old man’s documents. But Lawrence denied knowing anything about a cabin.

“When was the last time Mr. Bruchmann visited his lakeside cabin?” Brandon had asked the caregiver.

Lawrence’s face had registered confusion.

Then, without thinking, he had blurted, “You idiots! Edwin Bruchmann’s cabin is not by any lake. See? I told you, you have the wrong person. Mr. Bruchmann’s cabin overlooks the valley.”

Brandon had smiled then. “I thought you knew nothing about the cabin?”

“I, uh…” the man stuttered. “Well, I m-might have heard about it once. But that doesn’t prove anything!”

A knock on the door halted the interrogation and a detective passed Brandon a toxicology report.

“Maybe not,” Brandon had agreed. “But this sure does.”

Earlier he had recognized the sweet-smelling body odor common with Z-Lyte users. Suspicious, he offered Lawrence a can of pop. When the man had finished it, Brandon dropped it into a plastic bag and handed it over to the lab for analysis.

It came back positive for Z-Lyte.

The case was immediately closed, Gregory Lawrence locked away, Bruchmann established in a care facility and Brandon promoted to AI Chief.

All accomplished without any outside help.

And Brandon certainly hadn’t needed a PSI!

This new case was no different, he reasoned. What could Agent Jasi McLellan possibly offer?

Psychic mumbo-jumbo?

He laughed suddenly, adjusting his shades.

How could the woman expect him to believe she had the power to see into a killer’s mind?

I’d have to see it to believe it.

… Continued…

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By day, Melodie Campbell is a mild-mannered association executive; by night, she transforms into a fevered scribe of comedy andsuspense. Melodie has a Commerce degree from Queen’s University, but it didn’t take well. She has been a banker, marketing director, comedy writer, association executive and college instructor. Not only that, she was probably the worst runway model ever.

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I jabbed a finger into Thane’s chest.  ‘I’ve read more battle strategy than the whole freaking lot of you.  I can shoot a gun as well as any man.  And I can do it from horseback.  So don’t give me any chauvinist crap about being a woman.”

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Melodie Campbell got her start writing comedy, so it’s no surprise that editors have called her fiction ‘wacky’ and ‘laugh-out-loud funny’.  She has over 200 publications and has won 5 awards for fiction.

Website:  www.melodiecampbell.com
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