Chapter Three: Thom's Dreams
Earth, Southeastern United States, 1999 C.E.
When Debtra opened her eyes and gazed into his own, Thom remembered the dreams he'd had since he was a young boy, of angels and gods, of worlds spinning off at the whim of the beings whose trivial decisions created whole realities. In each of those dreams, there had been bright figures watching and waiting for… He didn't know what. He would wake feeling like he had just witnessed an epic movie, but opening his eyes erased all but the vaguest impression.
Debtra's dark eyes brought the dreams back to him, and he almost dropped the soda he held to her full lips.
"What is it?" she asked and broke the spell. The vision faded again, but the emotional impression remained, like the lost comfort of visiting a favorite childhood candy store and finding it having been turned into a chiropractor or nail salon.
He used the walk to the diner to study the two consultants that Agents Gurney and Troxley had brought in. True, he'd known that there was something strange about the exploding, no, disintegrated statue, but these certainly didn't look like the "experts" he'd expected. The older guy, Professor Homily, wore a grey tweed jacket with patches on his elbows and spoke with a slight accent. He babbled on about feeding one's manifestation, which Thom guessed was academic-speak for needing to eat and keep your blood sugar up. Thom had initially dismissed the young woman dressed in heels, jeans, and tank top with a filmy overshirt – the student? intern? – but his internal sense told him that there was more to her than a killer curvy body, legs that wouldn't quit, and straight, dark hair to her waist. He could imagine her coyly hiding her breasts behind its damp curtain as she waited naked for him in the bath…
And that was as far as he'd let that thought go. This was a professional association, he reminded himself.
They found the diner and ordered. Thom got a burger, Debtra a chicken salad-apple croissant and green salad, and the Professor a huge plate of pancakes.
"So, Detective Thom," Homily asked after he'd finished half the pancakes and poured syrup on the rest, "do you know why you're shepherding us around?"
Thom shrugged. "The agents mentioned you were an expert at solving unusual crimes. They said you used to work for another agency and then went out on your own, and now you teach."
Debtra and Homily exchanged a look. "Something like that," agreed the professor. "Why don't you catch us up with the events of the day now that we've seen the scene and had something to eat?"
Thom dragged a fry through some ketchup. "There's not much to tell beyond what you saw. There were two volunteers in the park before it opened, cleaning and stuff, and a cop. They split up with one and the cop going in one direction and the other cleaning by the statue. The two heard a noise, then came back to find the mess you saw and the other guy, not breathing. They did CPR until the ambulance got there, but there was nothing they could do for him. Like I said, there will be a full autopsy."
"We're going to need to talk to the volunteer and the cop," Homily said. "I need to know their exact impressions, and the sooner the better."
"Both of them?" asked Thom.
"Yes, both of them. Where they disagree can be most informative."
Thom looked at the plate and wasn't hungry anymore. "There's a problem."
"I don't know that the volunteer will be up for talking – her husband was the one who was killed."
"Oh, how sad!" Debtra looked at Thom, and he saw in her eyes the same pain for the victim's widow that he'd felt. He sighed when she looked away.
"Even so, if she wants her husband's murder to be solved, we need to speak with her. It's imperative that we do so today."
"Why?" asked Thom. "Can't we give her a day?"
Homily shook his head. "I don't plan on being here that long."
Thom raised his eyebrows. "Investigating accidents, especially strange ones, take longer than that."
"If it's what I suspect to be true, we need to move quickly. I've only seen one device that can wreak that kind of destruction…" He frowned. "Is there somewhere private we can talk?"
"We can go back to my office."
"More private than that. Your office may have been bugged."
Thom searched his mind for the places where he met snitches and thugs, places where no one would hear them because no one dared to go there.
"Give me a few hours, and I'll see what I can do. In the meantime, let's get the visit to the widow over with."
Merrie Lancaster lived in a large house just south of the city on the bluffs overlooking Birmingham itself. Her maid answered the door.
"Mrs. Lancaster ain't accepting visitors," she said and tried to close the door.
Thom showed his badge. "I'm afraid we have to disturb her. I'm Detective Pickering, and this is Professor Homily and Miss Lacoeur. We're here to ask her some questions about what happened this morning."
"Give me a sec." She closed the door, and Thom heard her yell, "Mrs. Merrie! Visitors! It's the po-lice and a professor!"
After a few minutes, the door opened again. "This way."
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