A priest is in the midst of a personal crisis when a killer lures him into a twisted world of moral corruption, cover-ups and revenge.
Sheriff Derek Oleson doubted most civilians appreciated the emotional fallout of being in law enforcement. Divorce, depression, and poor health due to the traumatic stress dogged veteran cops -- all for a salary paying slightly more than the manager of a Seven Eleven.
The best detectives would tell you they couldn't conceive of doing anything else. And if pressed for a reason, they'd look at you with battle-weary eyes and give you a bare smile ... remembering a mother's tears of gratitude when the remains of a murdered child were returned at long last.
Debra Padget's body would be released by the Coroner in the next twenty four hours. Derek pictured the niece, Darcy Shaw, soaking up the limelight of a high-profile funeral, and then sashaying off to gorge on the pickings of her aunt's estate. He'd witnessed the phenomenon many times, yet the cunning blonde stood out, even in that group of ghouls.
If I find out you're connected in any way with your aunt's murder Darcy Shaw, you'll be sorry you were ever born.
He approached the location provided by his GPS, parked behind a mobile medical unit and hurried inside. Jack Means, the county's best Emergency Medical Technician, was kneeling on the floor next to Stanley's body. He cradled Stanley's head in his hands and slid a device beneath his neck in order to keep an open airway.
No face paint, no communion hosts. What happened here?
Rather than question the E.M.T., Derek looked around for one of his men. A uniformed officer was on the phone with only his back visible. The officer's stature and stance seemed familiar and when he finished his phone call and approached, Derek's face drained of all its color.
Detective Newstead spoke rapidly hoping to fend off the Sheriff's rage."Before you jump all over me, I'm here because I was the only one available to accompany Officer Blakely. My cousin Officer Rybeck's son had his appendix out and I offered to take his shift tonight."
Derek was too tired to dig to the bottom of what he suspected was a pile of shit.
"What did you find when you got here?"
"We found the vic ... I mean ... Mr. Eisner lying on the floor, barely conscious. While Officer Blakely called for an ambulance, I did what I could to make him comfortable ..."
Sherrif Oleson snapped, "You messed with a crime scene?!"
"No, sir. Upon arriving here, we quickly secured the perimeter of the house. The doors and windows were all locked with no signs of forced entry. We pounded on the front door and identified ourselves as police officers and got no response."
Detective Newstead paused, fully expecting his senior officer to find fault in some way. When none was forthcoming, he continued. "Due to the serious nature of the situation, we felt it prudent to enter the residence and ... uh ... kicked in the front door. We found Mr. Eisner about as close to death as I've ever seen." He pointed to the living room. "The E.M.T.'s believe he's had a massive coronary."
All the fatigue the adrenaline shoved aside came roaring to life. Derek realized it was time to retreat and regroup.
"I want you to park yourself at the hospital. Do not let the man out of your sight."
The young detective displayed obvious relief, but his superior was not yet done with him.
"Detective Newstead, you 'played' this just the way I would have. Good job."
"Thank you, sir." He tipped his cap and smiled.
Dawn's light hunkered beyond the window, anxious to press itself forward like an itinerant preacher's healing hands. Jana lay curled on her side, wide-eyed, senses alert. The dream's graphic images faded but not the dread.
She recalled bits and pieces of Sioux legends she'd heard growing up, but at the moment they offered no comfort.
Her people encouraged certain 'gifted' ones to access the invisible beings known as Wakanpi and learn of their desires. Her uncle, Tony Buday, was reputed to have been born with such a gift.
Jana squeezed the satin trim of her blanket until the tips of her fingers were numb. She was a cop for God's sake, and cops could not afford to be mystics. Yet the dream had shown her to be that rare mixture of both. She felt trapped by her heritage and resentful of, what to her, was more akin to mental illness than a gift.
Ever since moving into her uncle's home, she'd experienced dreams of violent events and natural disasters. Worse were the shadow people that hovered around her bed. At first she thought it was her uncle checking on her -- until she began to find bruises and scratches on her flesh.
Jana did not feel she knew her uncle well enough at the time to ask for his advice. He was kind but aloof, attributes they shared. If the situation continued much longer, she'd resolved to seek psychiatric intervention.
One Saturday morning Tony asked her to help him prepare a fever poultice for one of his 'patients'. Jana's job was to pluck peppermint leaves from their branches, keeping a steady pile for her uncle to grind with his mortar and pestle.
She was taken aback when he spoke in the manner of one continuing an old conversation. "Dreamers have the potential to retrieve information to aid them in their healing work." His voice was edged with authority. "But it's a dangerous path for the unbalanced ego."
How does he know about the dreams?
First ten, then twenty minutes went by with no further elaboration on the medicine man's part. She glanced in his direction. He appeared fully engrossed in his task of grinding the fresh herbs -- the fragrance of peppermint filled the room.
Out of respect for the Elder, Jana allowed the silence and continued her task of separating leaves from branches. His words were hardly comforting when they came.
His chair scraped the floor as he edged it sideways to face her.
"Lost and angry souls are drawn to the energy of healers." His eyes bored into hers. "Even those who are not fully walking that path."
The elder curled his fingers and Jana could imagine they were the talons of a bird of prey.
"When they claw at you, begging you to save them, you must order them to leave. Under no circumstances, allow yourself to feel their pain, Tuzaya."
When Jana offered no response to her uncle's odd pronouncement, he dropped the subject.
Inexplicably, there were no more dreams -- or visitors -- following that afternoon in her uncle's kitchen. Months passed and Jana settled into believing they were gone for good.
She'd not moved from the warm nest of her body pillow until her bladder screamed for attention. When she padded down the hall to answer nature's call, her body shuddered.
Uncle must have turned down the thermostat for the night.
Jana finished quickly and hurried back to her warm bed. She crawled back under the covers, but was soon up looking for another blanket. For extra measure, she dug into the back of a drawer for a pair of light wool socks and slipped them on her feet.
With the combination of warmth and a placated bladder, Jana dropped into a light sleep.
Her consciousness was split between dreaming and knowing she was dreaming: She stood on the porch of Debra Padget's home, furious with a hooded figure who'd breached the security of the crime scene. She waved her arms and yelled for him to look at her, but her words came out garbled. Again, she screamed, and, again, unintelligible sounds came from her mouth.
A crow dropped unto the step below where Jana stood. It paced back and forth three times, flapped its wings and cawed.
The figure turned sharply and floated across the lawn. It stopped at the foot of the porch. The crow disappeared and in its place lay a long, ornately jeweled staff in the shape of a shepherd's crook. Jana could hear labored breathing, but the thing's cowl kept its features from being seen. She reached for the staff but a gloved hand grabbed her wrist and twisted until she heard a bone snap.
Jana fell to her knees from the intense pain only to face an even greater horror. The staff had become a writhing, spitting nest of snakes. She tried to scramble backwards, but her body would not respond.
She kept telling herself it was a dream ... that nothing in the dream could hurt her. Her chin rose and she faced the hooded figure full on. The cowl fell back to reveal the face of Debra Padget.
The make-up applied by her killer was smeared into chaotic lines of color. Debra's eyes bulged, and she frantically gouged skin into red, raw ribbons as she tried to remove the wafer taped to her mouth.
Extreme fear kept Jana from reaching out to help the dead woman.
From the depths of her subconscious mind the words of a prayer taught to her by her foster mother grabbed hold of her thoughts. 'Angels bless and Angels keep ... Angels Guard me while I sleep ...'
Between one eyeblink and the next, Debra's face disappeared and another took its place. It appeared male through features contorted with rage.The tattoo of a dragon ran from the back of his skull to the front of his neck. He opened his mouth and the stench of rotted flesh accosted her. She woke, then, with his words reverberating in her skull:
I AM INVINCIBLE.