A/N: Just finished this chapter this morning, so here’s a slightly belated chapter three!**
After collecting himself from the sheer panic that had coursed through his veins at the very idea that his doors and windows were unlocked, Miguel bought himself a coffee and headed to the bar across the street from the butchershop. He twisted the doorknob, finding it unlocked. He walked into the bar, the little bell above the door dinging to signal his arrival. Miguel closed his eyes for a moment. He was almost certain that damn ding was going to haunt him for the rest of his life.
Miguel lifted his head, eyes landing on the woman seated at the bar. “Hello. I’m Detective Pareja. Are you the gal who called the police about screaming at the butcher shop across the way?”
“Yeah, that’d be me.” She pulled out the barstool next to her and patted the seat. “You wanna drink with me, or just talk?”
“I’m unfortunately on the clock,” Miguel said. Truthfully, he’d love a damn drink. Anything to distract his brain from the constant loop of the child in the butchershop. But he needed his wits about him. He needed to be able to focus everything he had on the case at hand, and he couldn’t do that if he was busy getting buzzed or drunk.
He cleared his throat and walked over to the counter. He lifted himself onto the barstool. “What’s your name?”
She took a sip of her drink before crossing her arm over her chest, hand outstretched. “Mary St John.”
He shook her hand. “Fancy.”
She snorted. “I normally get ‘religious’. Fancy is more fun. Thanks.” She wrapped her hands around her drink. “What do you need to know?”
“Before I start asking anything, do you mind if I record this? Just the audio.”
Mary shook her head. “No, go ahead. Do your job.”
“Thank you.” He pulled his phone from his pocket and opened up the voice memo app. After pressing record and introducing the date, time, and interviewee, he took a sip of his coffee. “Walk me through your morning, Mary. What was going on before you heard the screams?”
“I was watching TV. Or, I guess I was watching Netflix on the TV. I thought I heard something, but it didn’t seem too loud. Figured it must’ve just been background noise from the show. But it got louder and… and more fearful.” She paused, taking a long sip of her drink. “I paused the show I was watching, and I could still hear the screaming. It got quieter when I walked toward my door, but it was a hell of a lot louder as I walked to the window. Butcher shop’s across the way. I couldn’t see any lights on, but I didn’t see anyone outside, and those alleys aren’t really a blindspot for murder.” She closed her eyes, dropping her forehead to rest in her hands.
“Take your time,” Miguel said, his voice soft.
“I wanted to go outside and check, but I was too scared to. I-I called the police instead.”
“That was a good choice. We could be looking at two bodies instead of one if you hadn’t.”
“Yeah,” she whispered. “I never saw anyone out there. I couldn’t see anyone moving inside the building. I never saw anyone walk down the street or hurry out of one of the alleys. I watched the whole time I was on the phone. I never saw… anything, even after the screaming stopped.” She turned to look at him. “Can you tell me who died?”
“No, I can’t release a name or anything right now, I’m sorry.”
She nodded. “Do you think I would have been able to save them if I had gone over there?”
“No. I really do think that would’ve endangered you, too.”
“That’s not just something you tell to witnesses who can’t stop thinking they should’ve done more?”
Miguel shook his head. “My ex-wife always told me I was terrible at hiding how I really feel about things. If I thought there was any chance you could have stopped the crime scene I had to walk into… I think you’d know.”
Mary blew out a harsh breath before taking a sip of her drink. “Is this feeling, like… common? Do people who call in deal with this insane form of survivor’s guilt?”
“Sometimes. I’ve seen it pretty often in my time as a detective. Generally, people care about people to some degree, and when we see another person struggling or in pain, many of us feel inclined to help them. Some of us even feel a sense of responsibility to help them. It makes sense that, even when there’s nothing you could have done, you’d feel guilty in some way.”
“Well, then I wish I was a worse person,” Mary said.
Miguel couldn’t help the little snort of a laugh that escaped him. “I can unfortunately understand that one too. I wish it on myself more often than I care to admit.” He cleared his throat. “I don’t want to eat up any more of your time than I have to. Do you happen to have any cameras on the outside of this building?”
“One. I have one of those, umm, Ring Doorbell things. It’s supposed to send a notification to my phone if it senses movement, and that didn’t happen this morning. It only records if I’m live reviewing the footage or if something activates the motion sensor thing.”
“So no footage.”
Mary nodded. “No footage. Sorry about that.”
“God, no need for that. This isn’t your fault, not in the slightest.” He tucked his notepad away, clearing his throat. “Thank you for your time, Mary. I’m going to leave you with a business card in case something comes to you that might be important. Otherwise, try to enjoy your day, Mary. It’s okay to feel guilty, but you did everything right.”
“Thank you,” Mary whispered.
Miguel nodded as he slid his business card over to her. “Take it easy, Mary.”
“You too, Detective.”
Miguel couldn’t help himself–before heading to the station to interview the butcher, he headed home. He unlocked the front door and walked inside. Landon made it into the foyer before Miguel could even close the door. “Where’s my boy?”
“Asleep on the couch,” Landon said, his voice soft. “God, you look…”
“The homicide of a toddler will do that to you.”
“I am so sorry, Miguel. That’s… horrible. I’m sorry.”
“Me too.” Miguel chewed on his bottom lip, gaze shifting to the back of the couch. “It’s a boy Eliseo knows. Daycare, couple playdates. I just…” He shook his head. “I know it sounds crazy, but when he woke up from that nightmare, he told me this Father Whipper thing was gonna kill his friends a-and chop them up, sell ‘em as meat or somethin’. That boy was… carved up pretty damn good. Harvested. Butchered. I wanna believe it’s a coincidence, but the more I think about it, the harder it is to believe.”
He expected Landon to tell him he was crazy, but he didn’t. Instead, when he met the man’s brown eyes, Landon simply looked… understanding. “Before I say anything, I need to know which way you want me to respond to that. Do you want me to tell you that it’s a coincidence? Or do you want me to tell you what I actually think?”
Miguel blew out a harsh breath. “That sounds like a question I don’t want to answer.”
“I can understand that. I’ll phrase it a little differently. Do you believe in ghosts?”
Landon nodded. “My sister and I come from a long line of psychics on our dad’s side. About a year ago, when I was babysitting Eliseo for, umm… for your ex, I told my sister about one of his nightmares and sent her a picture of him. Your baby boy is… is a psychic, Miguel. My sister says she’s been able to sense him for a while.”
Miguel swallowed roughly. “You’re…?”
“Yes. I am, she is, and so is he.”
Miguel took a step back until his hand found the door. “I just, umm… I need a sec.”
Landon nodded, shoving his hands into the pockets of his dark blue jeans. “Take as long as you need. I’ve got all the time in the world today.”
Miguel crossed his arms over his chest and leaned back against the door. “What can you do? Read minds and shit like that?”
Landon shook his head. “I can’t, no. My sister’s abilities are more… wide range than mine. I can more or less mind-control people, but I don’t really do that often. It was cool when I was a kid, but it feels wrong as an adult. I can see the dead, help move them on… Stuff like that.”
“Nightmares?” Miguel asked.
“Sometimes, but I never have them from living people. I only see stuff from the dead, spirits who need help moving on from the Veil.”
“So you see, like… murders and shit? From people who have died?”
“On occasion, yeah. But it isn’t just people who are murdered that need help moving on. People who die naturally need help sometimes too.”
Miguel uncrossed his arms, burying his fingers in his hair instead. “What does your sister do?”
“A hell of a lot more than I do. Nightmares pre- and post-life, dream walking, mind-reading, auras… She pretty much does it all. She’s the strongest psychic I know.” Landon wrapped his fingers around Miguel’s forearms and pulled his hands from his hair. “I think you should meet her. You and Eliseo. She can sense psychics, sense what they’re all about, what they can do. She can help you work through this, uh, new territory.”
“Work through it? What do you mean? Like, get rid of it?”
Landon shook his head. “No, I’m sorry. But she can help you figure out how the hell to raise a boy with psychic abilities. It can be scary, Miguel. You’ve been experiencing that all day. My sister and I–I don’t know. Maybe we can help make this easier for you and Eliseo. As ‘easier’ as it gets, anyway.”
“Why the hell would you wanna do that? Why would you…? Why would you want to put your time into me and my boy?”
Landon searched his eyes for what felt like an eternity. For a moment, Miguel allowed himself to imagine that Landon was working to prevent himself from admitting he found Miguel attractive or liked him in any capacity. Unfortunately, the thought of his son being a psychic and facing horrible nightmares and real life murders quickly knocked that imagination of falsities out of his head.
“I want to help you because you’ve been a great boss, and Eliseo has always been a good kid. And if that’s not enough for you, I want to help you because I know how hard it can be for kids like Eliseo to grow up with a parent that just doesn’t… that doesn’t get it. And that isn’t your fault. It’s not your fault that you don’t get it. It’s just something he was born with and you weren’t.”
Miguel looked toward the living room again. “I just want Eliseo to be okay. I want him to not have to deal with any of this.”
“Well, I…” Landon cleared his throat. “I-I don’t know if all psychics are the same or not, but with my family, the abilities are controlled by tumors in the brain. If it’s done when he’s young, removing them will be, umm, easier. When my grandfather got them removed, he lost a part of himself he’d had for, y’know, six decades. He was never the same.”
“Cutting my son’s head open and letting some surgeons cut into his brain in hopes that it removes the nightmares.”
“It’s not ideal. I know.”
“Fuck,” Miguel whispered. He crossed his arms over his chest again, nails biting into his bicep. “Would I…? How would I meet your sister?”
“She lives about an hour away, give or take. If you’re interested, we could visit her as soon as you’re free to. She doesn’t leave the house much anymore, so we’d have to go to her.”
“This psychic thing has made her a shut-in?” Miguel nodded toward the living room. “So if I don’t get these tumors cut out of his head, then he’ll close himself off from the world?”
Landon shook his head. “No. I mean, I still, y’know, hang out in the world. And my sister’s husband, he does too. Nora, she just, uh…” He cleared his throat, looking down as he shifted his weight between his feet. “She just prefers helping people online nowadays. But if I vouch for you, she’ll meet you guys in person. I think it’ll be better that way.”
“Okay,” Miguel whispered. “I-I still have to talk to the guy who owns the shop we found the body in. We’re having a forensic analyst flown in from Los Angeles, so… so I need to be there for at least some of that, and I still need to notify the boy’s parents. But tonight? Tomorrow?”
“I’ll call her, see if tonight works. I’ll text you when I know for sure?” Landon suggested.
Miguel nodded. “Yeah. That works.” He let out a breath. “S-so if… if Eliseo is a psychic, and thinks this Father Whipper was going to kill his friends…”
“There’s a good chance that’s true.” Landon cleared his throat. “I looked into the Father Whipper thing while Eliseo was asleep. It’s what one might call, umm… supernatural.”
Miguel snorted. “What, like, vampires and shit?” Landon unfortunately didn’t crack a smile. “Oh. You’re not joking.”
“I wish I was.”
“The supernatural isn’t real, Landon. Ghosts are one thing. Werewolves and vampires and shit–that’s a whole other topic. It’s folklore, myth.”
“Folklore comes from somewhere, Miguel. Where better than reality?”
Miguel shook his head. He didn’t want to deal with this now, not in the slightest. “I need to get back to work. Let me know what your sister says.”
Landon let out a harsh breath, but he nodded. “I will. Don’t, umm, don’t work too hard.”
“Yeah. Take care of my boy.”
“Always do. I’ll take extra good care of him today, I promise.”
Miguel nodded, reaching back to open the door. “Lock this the moment I close it. Don’t unlock it for anyone. I have a key.”
“Okay, Miguel. I won’t, I promise.”
Landon only nodded.
After Miguel left, Landon locked the door and checked on Eliseo in the living room. Satisfied that the boy was still asleep, Landon headed into the kitchen. Leaned back against the counter, he pulled his phone from his pocket and called his sister.
“You’re nervous,” Nora said after the third ring. “I hope that doesn’t have anything to do with the boy I sent your way?”
“No. I mean, well, sort of.”
“Sort of,” Nora echoed. Do you want to explain, or do you expect me to do the heavy lifting and read your mind?”
Landon couldn’t help the little chuckle that fell from his lips. Nora always had a way of making him laugh, no matter how upset or nervous or stressed out he was. “So, umm, a few things. One, I told Miguel that Eliseo is a psychic.”
“Oh. How’d that go?”
“I’m not sure. He handled it without telling me I was a freak or a liar, and he didn’t kick me out of the house or ban me from babysitting. So that’s… something.”
“Definitely something. What made you decide to tell him? I know how worried you’ve been about how he would react once he found out, so I can’t imagine you just decided that’d be a fun way to spend the weekend.”
“God, my heart was fucking racing. I’m still a little shaky, honestly. But, umm, I didn’t have a choice. Eliseo, he had a nightmare this morning that some thing was going to kill his friends and sell them as meat or something like that. I’ve only gotten the details from Miguel so far. Anyway, the boy you sent my way this morning? Wanna take a guess at who he is?”
“Oh, God. Eliseo knows him?”
“Seems like it. His name’s Eddie, and he’s the homicide Miguel is working this morning. He told me about the nightmare, about the homicide, about how it didn’t seem like a coincidence. I couldn’t let him think he was stupid or crazy for putting those pieces together,” Landon said.
“You’re a good man, Landon. You risked your relationship with the man and your babysitting gig to try and give him some comfort. I’m proud of you.”
“Thank you.” Landon closed his eyes for a moment, letting out a slow breath. “I was wondering if you’d be willing to meet him and Eliseo tonight.”
“What’re you hoping I’ll be able to accomplish?”
“I don’t know. Anything, I guess. Helping Miguel understand the psychic thing a little better or finding a way to help lessen the severity of Eliseo’s nightmares. I think Miguel would accept any layer of help at this point. He just wants his little boy to be healthy, happy, and safe.”
“A reasonable desire.” A pause. “Yeah, I can see them tonight, and I’ll see what I can do. Just let me know what time you plan on swinging by so I can make sure the kids are either busy or asleep.”
“Thank you, Nora. Really.”
“You’re welcome. In return, you can tell Miguel you think he’s hot so I don’t have to listen to you complain about how unfairly hot he is.”
“Then no deal.”
Landon scoffed. “Whatever. You wouldn’t do that to me.”
After a moment, Nora laughed. “Unfortunately, you’re right. Seriously, though, maybe when this horrible homicide case is over… You know?”
“He’s in his forties, Nor. He’s not interested in me. And with the way things ended with his ex in public, I can’t even imagine how much shit he took behind closed doors. I doubt he’ll ever want to screw around with anyone ever again.”
“I think you’d be surprised, maybe on both fronts. But that’s all I’m gonna say.” Nora cleared her throat. “I’ll see you tonight, Lan. Let me know.”
“I will. And no more being all suspicious and shit about what you know.”
Nora snorted. “You don’t own me. I’ll be as suspicious and coy as I want.”
Landon rolled his eyes. “I’ll see you tonight. No more dream walking in the meantime.”
“It was technically astral projection. Basically. It doesn’t destroy my immune system nearly as much as dream walking.”
“I thought so. See you tonight.”
Landon nodded. “See you then. Bye-bye.”
He pulled his phone back and ended the call. Nora being willing to see Miguel and Eliseo was good news. She didn’t get out much anymore, and she met up with new people even less. Of course, Landon was pretty sure it had something to do with her desire to force him to tell Miguel that he’d wanted to jump his bones for at least the last six months, but he’d still take the win. Even if it was more fueled by a sisterly desire to score him a date and less about a sisterly desire to be helpful. He’d take what he could get.
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