Belle Gillespie’s house was about halfway up Harbour Hill, overlooking the harbour and the islands that dotted the bay. The house was red brick and white-painted timber above, just like its neighbours. There were signs of neglect: in places the paint was chipped, the windows dirty. But the path to the house was clear of weeds, the shrubbery had been trimmed and the gate repaired, with new wood pale and clean, the older wood stained dark.
Audrey parked a short distance uphill from the house, turned off the lights and engine, took out her flask of coffee and settled in to wait.
She was not sure what she expected to find. She just couldn’t shake the conviction that there was something here connected to the Troubles. Mrs Gillespie was in danger somehow. If there was a troubled person causing these deaths, Audrey suspected they were aware of their affliction and couldn’t help what they were doing. The choice of victims implied conscious choice: they were all elderly people, coming to the end of their lives. If a person had no choice but to kill, that might seem a lesser of two evils, though it was a terrible choice to have to make.
It was approaching midnight when she saw John coming up the hill. He moved quickly for a man of his age, his walk purposeful. His eyes searched the darkness as he walked, but his head barely moved, so it appeared his gaze was fixed upon his destination. His scrutiny would have been invisible to Audrey if she had not been looking for it. John saw her, she was certain, but he offered no greeting nor acknowledgement. He unlocked the front door and she saw his frame silhouetted against the light within for a moment before the door swung closed behind him.
Audrey poured more coffee into her little plastic cup and leaned back in the seat. She had a feeling it would be a long night.
Her sneakers slipped on the muddy ground as she ran. The driving rain was like icy needles and her wet hair clung to her skin. She looked back over her shoulder and saw the wavering light of her pursuer’s flashlight behind her. The sight spurred her onward. She knew he would never stop until he found her. She knew his fear of her, his hatred.
She turned away from the road, beginning to run up the hill, pushing her way through brambles and bushes. She moaned in pain, the thorns ripping into her skin, but she dared not slow down. Then her foot slipped on a hidden rock and she fell headlong…
Audrey woke with a start. She felt disoriented for a moment, the terror of the nightmare still with her. She raised a hand to her hair and was briefly surprised to find it dry. Then she recognised the truck she sat in and remembered why she was there. The clock on the dash told her it was past 3.00 am. She shook her head to clear the cobwebs and refocussed her gaze on the house.
The windows were dark, which was hardly surprising at this hour. The street was silent, not even a breeze or the barking of a dog to disturb the quiet. Audrey yawned and wondered if she should call it a night. She reached toward the keys in the ignition, but then let her hand fall away. There was something about the silence. It wasn’t peaceful. There was a tension in the air, like the silence after the bomb-disposal guy cuts the wire in the movies.
The sound of breaking glass shattered the tension. Audrey’s tiredness fled. She opened the truck’s door and headed for the house, drawing her gun as she walked. She heard sounds of movement and quickened her pace.
Before she reached the house, there was a flash of light from around the side of the building. Audrey heard an odd, wailing sound. It cut off suddenly. She rounded the corner, her gun aimed.
Someone lay on the ground; Audrey couldn’t see the figure clearly enough to identify age or gender, but it looked human. Standing over the person, holding some kind of cannister, was John. He did something to the rusted metal in his hand and flame gushed out. The smell was acrid and chemical.
“Stop!” Audrey cried.
Flame engulfed the figure on the ground. In its light, Audrey saw the face of the…the…god, what? It was a human face, and yet it wasn’t. She saw scarlet eyes in dark hollows, a lipless mouth full of fangs. It writhed in the flames, but its screams were silent and she could see why: a jagged piece of glass was embedded in its throat.
“John!” she protested, unable to watch the creature suffer. Maybe it wasn’t human, but it was alive!
He whirled, too fast for her to react. John knocked her gun aside and shoved her against the wall. Terror filled her and for a moment she was sure he would kill her, too.
“It’s not a person, Parker! Back off and let me do my job!”
John pushed her into the wall, an unspoken order to stay put, before he turned back to his grisly task. The flames were dying but the creature was dead, still, its limbs twisted and blackened. It was small, perhaps five feet tall, perhaps a little less, but proportional: a human shape.
Audrey thumbed the safety off on her gun and took a step toward John. “What did you do?” She gestured to the thing in his hand. “What is that?”
He lifted the cannister. “Napalm and a home made flame-thrower.” He said it as if that was something everyone had lying around. “All you need to know is that thing killed Dan Harlow and Peggy Ashworth. It would have killed Belle tonight. Now it won’t.” He set the cannister down and turned to her, unnaturally calm. “So, you can arrest me. Or you can let me clean up this mess.” He spoke mildly, no note of challenge in his voice.
“You don’t expect me to help you cover up a murder?” Audrey made it a question, but she knew he expected exactly that. It wouldn’t happen.
“I don’t need help. Walk away.” That was an order.
Audrey hesitated. She looked at the burned body on the ground.
John moved toward her. “Parker, you’re exhausted. Go home. I’m not gonna skip town.”
Strangely, she believed him, but still she hesitated. If she left now, John would destroy all evidence of the murder. Haven PD didn’t have the forensic resources of the FBI or a big city police department. She would never be able to prove anything happened tonight unless she arrested him now. And yet, even as the decision formed in her mind, she felt a reluctance she couldn’t explain.
John was right about one thing though. The person he killed did not look human. She would have trouble selling this to the Chief as murder. It was also probably true that John had saved Belle Gillespie’s life. Was she looking for an excuse to let him go?
Audrey sighed, defeated, and holstered her gun.
John watched the woman go with relief. Parker wasn’t a typical cop, but that had been a close one. He had several reasons to want to avoid that kind of trouble. He couldn’t just skip town the way he used to. But he was still John Winchester and he couldn’t stand by and let people die when he could stop it.
He crouched beside the moroi’s body, took its head between his hands and twisted roughly, breaking the neck. There was no reaction; it was dead. The trouble with moroi was they didn’t stay dead. He had until sunrise to destroy the flesh, or it would rise a revenant, hungry and much harder to kill. He hauled the body onto his shoulder, grunting with the effort. He picked up his improvised flame-thrower and carried both to Belle’s car.
In the woods behind the hunting club John cut the body into pieces and burned each part separately. He buried the ashes of the body, but kept those left from the head: he would dump that into the harbour. By the time he was done, it was close enough to dawn that the sky was deep blue instead of black. John returned home, did his best to clean the mud off the car and went into his basement apartment. He fell into his bed, fully clothed, hoping to get in a few hours sleep before he had to leave for work.
But sleep refused to come. John stared up at the ceiling above his bed, wondering whether he had ruined his chance of getting Agent Parker on his side. He needed her to trust him; now she thought him a murderer. Could he convince her otherwise? Should he even try? Perhaps it was better to keep his distance for a while.
He was looking at a large rock. The stone was black, with patches of palest green and orange lichen speckling its surface. Grass grew around its base, the length of the blades curling around it silent testament to how long it had been there. On the surface of the rock there was a carved symbol. The stonemason who created it was centuries dead, but the symbol was still clear: a circular maze with a stylised human figure at each of the four cardinal points. Beneath it, almost covered by the grass, was writing in a language John didn’t recognise and certainly couldn’t read.
“Tuwiuwok,” Gabriel said aloud. “It means Haven for God’s Orphans.”
“God’s orphans?” John repeated, making it a question.
“A long time before the white man came to these shores, this land was a sanctuary. Some came here to die free. Others came to live. The old ways are forgotten now, but traces remain in Haven.” Gabe turned to John, meeting his eyes. “It’s a good place, John.”
“Most places are,” he agreed, “but I can’t stay here. I need to find my boys.”
“Johnnie-boy, you ain’t goin’ near those boys. You know why.”
“Try and stop me!” John snarled. Their deal dictated John had to follow Gabe’s lead, but he had not agreed to stay out of it altogether. He would never have agreed to that.
Gabe gave an irritating grin. “I already have.”
“What do you mean?”
“You think you’re ready, but the best part of you is still in Hell. You need time, John. I’ll come for you when it’s safe. But while you’re here, you could do me a favour.”
“You can’t keep me from my sons!” he protested, well aware that Gabe could do exactly that.
“If you blunder into their lives now, you’ll guarantee Hell wins. We had a deal, and now it’s time you hold up your end.”
“This wasn’t the deal – ”John protested, but it was too late. He was alone beside the ancient rock.
“Do you think he’s troubled?” Nathan asked. He reached into the box of pastries on the desk between them, selected the plainest one, tore it in two and kept the smaller half.
“That’s not it,” Audrey answered. She selected a pastry for herself and took a bite, reconsidering. “I don’t know. There’s something about him. Do you know his last name?”
“Sure,” Nathan answered at once, then he frowned. “Weston. No, uh, Wesson.” He reached for the stack of files on the desk.
She knew he was looking for the report John filed the day before, so Audrey answered before he found it. “John Winchester. But you’re not the only one who can’t remember his name.”
Nathan flipped the file open. “Winchester, right. Like the rifle. But I didn’t forget him. Just the name.”
“I don’t think it’s an affliction. It’s just…strange.” She sighed and finished her pastry. “What do you think? Should I bring him in?”
“There’s no evidence of a crime, and if what he killed wasn’t human it isn’t murder.”
“This is Haven,” she said, giving him a look. Just because the body she saw didn’t look human didn’t mean it wasn’t.
Nathan got the point. He nodded. “We can follow it up. Find out if someone fitting the description is missing.”
“Red eyes and fangs should be noticeable in a crowd.”
“I meant size. You said about five foot, but adult proportions. If you couldn’t tell the sex it’s either a slender male or a flat-chested female. It doesn’t sound like anyone I know, but there are some communities in Haven that keep to themselves. We can at least ask around.”
“What about John himself? Has he been in any trouble since he showed up in town?”
“I’ll find out.” Nathan took another sip of his coffee before leaving the office. Two seconds later he was back. He pulled out the file again and wrote Winchester in block capitals on a post-it. He returned the file to the tray.
“Don’t say it,” Nathan warned Audrey. He walked out again.
Audrey left alone with the box of pastries, shrugged. “I didn’t say a word,” she told the empty room. She selected another pastry.
When Nathan returned, he held a few photocopied pages. “There’s not much,” he reported. He laid the first page on the desk. “John Winchester helped to break up a bar fight at the Rust Bucket. This is his witness statement. No one was badly hurt.” He laid down the second page. “John Winchester was doing some work at the harbour when there was a fire on one of the boats. He rescued two people from the flames before the firefighters got there. And there’s this,” Nathan added, laying a photograph on the desk.
Audrey picked it up. She recognised the scene: the road beneath Tuwiuwok Bluff, a body at the bottom of the cliff. Jonas Lester’s murder: the reason Audrey came to Haven. She studied the photograph for a moment before she spotted John. He was on the cliff path above the scene. He wasn’t near the place from which Lester fell, but it looked as if he might have been on his way there. The picture must have been taken before Audrey herself reached the scene.
Audrey shivered. The cliff path on Tuwiuwok Bluff had been haunting her dreams. The path slippery in the rain, the bobbing flashlight of her pursuer…
“What’s wrong?” Nathan asked.
Audrey set the photograph down and tried to smile. “Nothing. I’m just tired.” She realised it was true. She hadn’t slept well.
“Take some time off,” Nathan suggested. “I’ll call you if something comes up.”
Audrey nodded gratefully. “Thanks. I will.”
Coffee and pastries satisfied her hunger but not, Audrey realised as she left the Haven PD building, her confusion about the night’s events. Instead of going back to her room, Audrey found her feet carrying her up Harbour Hill. Toward John Winchester.
Audrey stared at the display on the wall of John’s tiny apartment. It was too much to take in.
There were copies of newspaper articles, most of them from the Haven Herald. A few described incidents she remembered: one described the manhunt for Jonas Lester; another was about the giant ball that wrecked the Rust Bucket. There was a copy of the Colorado Kid photograph; an article about a ship that went down in 1979; another about a freak storm in ’83. There was much, much more. Lines of string pinned to the wall linked some of the articles; others had handwritten notes stuck to them with tape. Audrey moved closer to the wall and examined the note beneath the Colorado Kid picture. It read
Murder 10-8 vic connx L.R. Gate?
It made no sense to her. LR might refer to Lucy Ripley. 10-8 could be a date, 8th October. But Audrey knew of no murder involving Lucy except the Colorado Kid case and her only connection to that was the photograph. The date, if that’s what it was, meant nothing. The Colorado Kid murder happened in late October.
What was all this? What was John?
“I guess you don’t have a warrant.”
Audrey whirled, automatically pulling her weapon as she moved. John had entered so quietly she had no idea how long he had been standing behind her. He stood in the doorway, completely relaxed. It was as if he didn’t notice her gun pointed at his chest, but she was sure this man noticed everything.
“Mrs Gillespe let me in,” Audrey explained. “No warrant necessary.” The last was a lie. Strictly speaking she did need a warrant. She was gambling that John wasn’t the type to lawyer-up.
“Are you going to shoot me?” he asked.
Point to him. Audrey holstered her weapon. “Not today.” She gestured to the wall. “What is all this? And don’t give me that crap about not believing it.”
John took two steps into the room. “It’s Haven. The history. The Troubles.”
“But why is it all over your wall?”
“Because this is what I do.”
Audrey frowned. “Will you explain that?”
He regarded her for a moment, then shook his head. “I think it’s too soon. You’re not ready to believe it.”
Audrey frowned. She was in no mood for cryptic. “Life in Haven could get very difficult for you,” she suggested. “I may not be able to prove what you did last night, but Chief Wuornos trusts me. He’ll want to keep a close eye on you. And I know the FBI – ”
“Enough!” John barked. “You can’t intimidate me with threats, Parker, so don’t waste your breath. Just tell me what you want to know.”
Geez, where do I start? “Who are you, really? What kind of handyman has a stock of napalm under his bed? What is all this on your wall? And why is it no one in Haven remembers your name?”
John’s face remained impassive through most of her questions, but at the last he looked up sharply. “My name? What are you talking about?”
“Every time I’ve asked someone your last name, they don’t know it. Even the Chief, right after he wrote your name in the report you filed.”
John nodded thoughtfully. “I wasn’t aware of that, but it does make a kind of sense.”
“What kind of sense?”
“This is Haven.” John shrugged. “You must know by now that strange things happen here.”
“The Troubles,” Audrey agreed.
“The Troubles affect different people in different ways, but no one in Haven is untouched. I wasn’t born here, so I didn’t inherit any Trouble like most of these people.” He gestured to the display on his wall. “But I’ve spent a lot of my life hiding who I am or pretending to be something I’m not. So it makes sense that Haven would…help me with that.”
Audrey had never heard the Troubles described in that way before. She wondered if John really knew about the Troubles or was just making it up as he went along.
“My name is John Winchester,” he said. “You want to write it down?”
She smiled, just a little. “I don’t need to, John Winchester. I’m…I seem to be immune to the Troubles. Most of them, anyway.”
He glanced at the wall display, just a quick flicker of his eyes. “Interesting,” he commented.
But Audrey shook her head, unwilling to be distracted from her main purpose. “Why do you keep a stock of napalm?” she pressed.
He sighed. “I don’t. I don’t need to stock it. Anyone can cook up a batch with gasoline and any of a dozen things to thicken it.” John moved past her to sit on the bed. “Do you really care about the napalm?” he challenged.
“I care what you did with it. I care that it obviously wasn’t the first time.”
John nodded, his expression serious now. “You’re right about that.”
It was an effort not to reach for her gun. He’d basically admitted to being a serial killer. She should have been terrified. She wasn’t…but neither did she feel safe with him. “Will you tell me everything now?” she asked.
“If I must. Where should I start?”
John nodded. “Have a seat, Agent Parker.”
She looked around for a seat and found a fold-up chair against one wall. She opened it and sat down. Would he tell her the truth? She doubted it, but she hoped she would be able to sort the truth from the lies.
John sat on what Audrey had taken for a coffee table; evidently it doubled as a stool. “I’ll have to give you the short version or we’ll be here for weeks. So just…accept it.”
Audrey nodded. With a quick smile she said, “I can believe six impossible things before breakfast.”
“Six won’t be enough, Alice, and this ain’t Wonderland.” John touched his left hand, twisting the wedding ring he wore. “There are things out there most people wouldn’t believe in, and not only in Haven. Things that prey on humans, steal children, things that can control people and make them do errible things. No one sees it until they are forced to look.” He took a deep breath. “My wife passed in 1983. She was killed…” he stopped and rubbed a hand over his face. “I saw her die, and the way it happened was…impossible. So impossible no one believed me when I tried to tell them what I saw.”
Audrey nodded. “That must have been hard. I’m sorry.” She had seen things in Haven no one would believe. She understood the feeling. And when it involved his own wife…yeah, that was tough.
John ignored her comment. “I started hunting for the thing that killed her. Along the way, I hunted other monsters, too.”
“And the person you killed last night?” Audrey pressed, more interested in the present than in his history.
“It wasn’t a person. It was a moroi. They’re a kind of psychic vampire. They feed on the…I guess you’d call it the life force of humans.” John made an odd gesture. “Haven isn’t like anywhere else. The monsters I’ve hunted all my life are different here.”
“There are no demons here, for a start. Haven is protected from them, which right now, is pretty close to a miracle. But that’s just the beginning.” He reached under the bed and produced a book. He opened it and offered it to Audrey.
Audrey took the book from his hands. It was some kind of encyclopedia of mythological creatures. The page John indicated showed an illustration of something that looked a lot like Nosferatu in the 1922 movie: a human-like face, thin and gaunt, bald, with scarlet eyes and sharply pointed incisors.
“A lot of creatures are things that used to be human,” John went on as she studied the picture. “Vampires, skinwalkers, wendigos, werewolves. Haven changes them. They become more human. From what I’ve been able to figure out, that’s what this land used to be, centuries ago. A place for creatures to fight free of their curses. Tuwiuwok. It means – ”
“Haven for God’s Orphans. I know.” Audrey looked up, beginning to see his point. “‘God’s Orphans’ means supernatural creatures,” she said softly.
John flashed a grin at her. “You’re quick.”
“So you’re saying the Troubled are people who used to be monsters?” Audrey said, disbelieving. Nathan, less than human? No. It couldn’t be true.
“No, not monsters. I think the Troubled families have, somewhere back in their bloodlines, something not human. Monster is as good a word as any, but the people here now are human. At least, they are until the Troubles hit them.”
John pointed to a corner of his display on the wall. It was a cutting from the Haven Herald: an obituary for Joe Campbell. “Succubus,” he said and pointed to a picture of the giant steel ball that destroyed the Rust Bucket. “Dream Rider.” He picked out another news cutting. “Witch.” Another. “Skinwalker.” Another. “Springheel.” Another. “Necromancer. I could go on.”
Audrey rose to study the display. As she began to understand what he was doing, she could appreciate the work he had put into this research. John knew of more Troubled people than Audrey had encountered, perhaps because he had been in Haven for longer than she.
“But then the – what did you call it? Mori?”
“Moroi,” John corrected. “It was killing people, Parker, and it wasn’t a human with a bit of moroi blood. It was all moroi. Probably a new arrival. If you’re waiting for me to say I feel guilty for taking it out, I don’t.”
That much was obvious. Audrey nodded. She drew a breath to ask another question, but John interrupted her.
“What about you, Parker? What are you doing in Haven?”
“I’m helping out at Haven PD.” Audrey gave her stock answer. It was the second lie she’d told him.
But John wasn’t fooled for a second. “Please. You came here to find Jonas Lester. A strange job for an FBI agent, since it’s usually the Federal Marshals who track fugitives. Anyway, Lester’s dead, so why are you still here?”
It wasn’t a secret; she might as well tell him, Audrey decided. “I’m looking for the woman in the Colorado Kid photograph. I think she could be my mother. Do you know something about her? You have the picture.”
John glanced at the picture on his wall. It was a poor quality print from microfiche. “She disappeared about two weeks after the Colorado Kid murder. I don’t know everything that happened, but it ended the Troubles for a quarter of a century.”
Audrey knew that Lucy had been in Haven during the Troubles, but she hadn’t connected her leaving with the end of the Troubles. She frowned. “Are you saying she was the cause?”
“I doubt she’s that powerful,” John answered, utterly serious. “She’s connected to the Troubles somehow. She may have left because they were over.”
Audrey moved closer to the wall and examined the familiar photograph. “Is that possible? How could she know?”
John didn’t answer and Audrey guessed that meant he hadn’t figured that out yet. It was slightly reassuring to see he didn’t have an answer for everything.
“This is important to you, isn’t it?” John’s voice was soft.
She answered honestly. “She could be my mother. Of course it’s important to me.”
“I’ll make you a deal,” he offered.
“You can find me in the Gull three nights a week. Talk to me. Tell me what’s going on. I don’t mean confidential things, just whatever you’re free to say. In return, I’ll tell you everything I can find out about the Colorado Kid murder and this woman.”
Audrey was tempted, but she shook her head at once. “I’m not going to tell you things so you can go out and…”
“Throw napalm around?” he finished for her. “Look, Parker, I’m a hunter. Killing monsters that kill people is what I do. I’m not asking you to point me in the direction. I can do that myself. I’m interested in the Troubles.”
Audrey still felt suspicious, but after a moment’s consideration she nodded. She knew that by accepting his offer she was agreeing to keep his secret about the previous night’s events. More, she was making herself an accessory next time he did it. But the bait was just too tempting.
“I’ll see you at the Gull,” she agreed.