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.
Her throat was constricted and dry.
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…
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.
"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.
"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.
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.
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 focussed 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."
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.
Divine Intervention by Cheryl Kaye Tardif