Rosebud Murders


Part Eleven

Spike sat silently and watched while Xander cleaned up his area. Once he had moved to the side, Spike was able to see the carved headboard he was working on.

It was possibly the most magnificent bed Spike had ever seen. With a fondness for all things nautical he instantly recognized the raised outline of the Cutty Sark. The multi masted early sailing ship.

Within a double oval, the ship stood proudly against the waves that lapped it's hull. The wood of the bed frame was a rich, dark walnut that had been polished to a mirror like finish. It was all Spike could do to keep his hands from caressing it, feeling the angles and swirls of the carving.

Finally tearing his eyes away from it he was surprised to see Xander setting on a small stool facing him, studying him. He had a rag in his hands and mirrored Patrick's earlier movements of wiping and cleaning. "Do you like it? It's a special order. A wedding gift of sorts for a man to present to his sweetheart. Because of that I want to put my best effort in it. I want the ship to appear so real it will roll and dip as the motion of the bed stirs the waves."

Spike laughed. "That would have to be some serious passion." His gaze returned to the bed and he nodded. "It's incredible. You do amazing work."

Xander glowed at the compliment. Propping his feet up on the rungs of the stool, Xander rested his elbows on his raised knees, his hands as clean as he could get them and the rag hanging forgotten in his fingers.

"But your admiration for my work is not why you came is it? What is it you need? What can I do for you, Spike"

Spike chuckled and dropped his head, shaking it slightly. "I have no idea, do I? I gotta tell you I don't believe in this hocus pocus spook business but to be straight up, I got nothing else. I'm caught in this investigation that's going nowhere and if I don't do something fast more people may die. So here I am, grasping at straws."

Xander let loose a hollering laugh. "Well, you sure are honest aren't you? That's good, I like that. Did you call the number I gave you? Did you talk to Chief Traynor?"

Spike nodded. "Yeah, yeah I did. Seemed like a nice guy. He told me about working with you. I still don't know about all this......stuff, but I do know that Chief Traynor thinks the world of you. Says you're fair, honest and trustworthy. Something that I need to be really sure of in this case. I can't afford to have the facts that we may discuss released to the public. He also said that you're the real deal. That you can do what you say."

Using his thumb and forefinger in the tic-a-lock motion over his mouth Xander vowed his silence. "The Chief and his wife are the best. Great people. I was glad to be able to help them in some small way. In any case it's the actual police work and the dedicated officers who solve the case. I just try to give them something else. Another piece of the puzzle. A new direction to look. So how about if I take a few minutes and just tell you about myselfand how this works. Then if you have any questions, and I'm sure you will, we'll try to come to a meeting of the minds. O.k?"

Spike sat up comfortably and nodded his agreement. That was exactly what he wanted. Time to listen and process at his own pace. Analyze both the man and the facts he presented.

Xander took a deep breath and, clasping his hands together, began. "Everything in this world is made of energy. Our bodies, our souls, the animate and inanimate objects around us. As we go through this life we leave impressions of ourselves through that energy in different places and with certain people who pass through our lives. It is that energy that I read. An area that has seen a violent or painful passing leaves strong emotional energy. Often with the spirit still attached, searching for resolution.

You see, dying is just another phase of our time. Stepping over the threshold of the door beyond the grave is such a small step. It is the one thing people fear the most, yet when it happens, seems so insignificant, so silly. One that happens so easily, so naturally that sometimes, if it happened suddenly, the person doesn't even know for a while what has occurred.

They stay here, trapped by their own refusal to accept the reached out hand of the loved ones that come to help them on. These are the hardest to communicate with. They are sad, confused and frustrated, sometimes angry. Others, the one's who have moved on to the next plane, are the easiest. They move fluidly between worlds to watch over us as well as enjoy their existence in the next. Each one of us has someone in the next plane that stands by us, protects us and
guides us."

Spike frowned and though he had promised to wait till the end, had to interrupt. "Are you saying there is someone here. Now. With me?"

Xander glanced to each side of where Spike sat and tipped his head. "You have two someones. There's a man standing on each side of you. Each has a hand on your shoulder. They resemble each other and look a good bit like you. The older man to your right is shorter, heavy, balding with clear blue eyes. He's chewing a fat cigar, tugging his suspenders and says his name is..... Ray.......Raymond."

Spike stiffened. The blood in his veins ran cold. The description was exact. It was the grandfather he remembered from his childhood. The wonderful loving man that took him to the park, held him on his lap, and when Spike was ten, passed from pneumonia and emphysema.

Still, Spike sat stony faced, giving no recognition. It could be a lucky guess. A very lucky guess. Xander continued, paying no attention to Spike's seeming disinterest.

"The man on your left is younger. Maybe thirty-five to forty when he passed. He's sadder. Remorseful. He regrets. He says he loves you and is very proud of you but he feels he did not do right by you when you needed him most. He needs your forgiveness. He knows he's passed but he remains here. He can't fully shift over till he has your forgivness." Xander grimaced, frowned and put his hand to the back of his head.

"His passing was violent, sudden, He should have been home. He should have been with you and your mother, but he was out. He was drinking. He was struck from behind. Struck several times in the head. I think it was over a money dispute. He knew the man who did this."

Spike jumped to his feet. No one had ever been caught in his father's murder. It was assumed to have been a random attack. It was just one of thousands on the streets of London and very little time was given to its investigation. When he came to the states it was the reason Spike went into police work.

Spike's brain searched frantically for a simple explanation. Some shred of reason that he could grab on to and pull himself back from the brink of this insanity.

Sure some of what he said could have been general. A lucky poke in the right direction, but the could he have known?  No one knew about his father. He never discussed his private life.  Not with Faith and certainly not with Angel.

Spike's breathing came in short shallow gulps. Finally, anger, an emotion he could deal with, took over and he exploded. "It's a trick! A mind game! How the hell did you know all that? Have you been spying on me? Looking into my past?"

Xander sighed. It was always the same. They always demanded proof then refused to believe it even when it was pressed under their noses. "Your father, the younger man, is laughing. He says you kept your promise. You never told your mother about the day he took you to wait for him in the whore house. You were eight years old and they gave you crayons."

Spike passed out.

Part Twelve

Spike came to slowly. First aware of the smell, he knew from the rich heady fragrance of wood and polish he was still in the furniture factory. The memory of why he was there remained somewhat fuzzy.

He could tell that he was lying on a well worn sofa in a dim quiet office and had a small pillow tucked under his head. He couldn't remember the last time he'd felt this comfortable. He felt as though he could finally drift off and sleep. He had been tired for so long.

Fighting the pull of slumber, Spike squinted and eased his eyes open, waiting while the focus cleared. He had never passed out before and refused to believe he had done so this time. It was just too girly.

With the memory of their earlier conversation hazy and dreamlike in his mind, and still feeling a bit light headed, Spike looked up and his breath caught in his lungs.

Gazing down on him was the face of an angel. Surrounded by a halo of light, the heavenly creature smiled, gently,
compassionately, knowingly, a look of loving concern in his eyes.

With all the talk of death, ghosts and grandda floating vaguely through his mind, Spike wondered if he had died and moved over that aforementioned threshold.

He raised his hand and shakingly touched the warm glowing cheek, pulling back quickly when he realized it was a real, living person.

"Hey. Are you feeling better? When you started to go down I grabbed you before you could hit the floor. I brought you here, in Patrick's office, to lay down for a bit. I'm sorry if I upset you. I never had anyone faint before." Xander smiled but Spike had no feeling that he was being laughed at.

Blinking, Spike sat up quickly as the full memory of everything that had happened rushed back to him. He realized that the angel was Xander and the halo merely the goose neck lamp on the boss's desk behind him. "I'm fine.' Spike rubbed the back of his neck and looked away, embarrassed. "I didn't faint. I never faint. Just haven't eaten yet today, that's all. Look, I gotta go. I'll, uh, I'll call you."

Spike jumped to his feet and immediately began to sway as the blood rushed back into his brain. Reaching out, Xander threw his arms around Spike's waist and pulled him flush against his body. "Whoa, easy."

Spike felt an overwhelming urge to clutch and hold on to the large man who held him so safely and securely in his strong, muscular arms. The warmth of his body and the natural smell of wood and sweat that surrounded him flooded Spike's senses and pooled in his crotch.

Fearful of discovery, Spike pushed back and found, gratefully, he was now steadier, more balanced and able to stand on his own two feet.

Spike felt claustrophobic. He couldn't breath and the walls were closing in. He wasn't sure how much of what had happened earlier could be believed but he knew one thing for sure. He needed out. He needed fresh air to clear his head and fill his lungs.

Chemicals. That was it. Woodworkers used chemicals and in enclosed areas such as this it could cause confusion. It was the only explanation for the difficulty he was having breathing, thinking. The professional side of him considered notifying the Health Dept.

Xander held his hands out as if trying to calm a spooked animal. "Wait. Don't rush off like this. I'll tell you what, you said you hadn't eaten yet. Why don't we go have a sandwich. Talk this over somewhere public where you won't be so wierded out."

Spike stepped back. He'd never let a interview go so far down the drain as this one had. He hated feeling like he'd lost the upper hand but had to admit that when it came to Xander, he very possibly never had it.

Quick to agree to anything that got him out of the claustrophobic enclosed space and back out into the hustle and bustle of the sunshine world Spike nodded his agreement. Xander's beaming smile returned and he opened the office door allowing Spike to lead the way back out into the small furniture factory.

"Great! Why don't you go on out to the parking lot? You look like you could use a cigarette. I need to tell Patrick I'm going to lunch then I'll join you. Can we take your car? I don't drive."

Spike was shaken, flustered and more than a little impressed. "How did you know I smoked? Did the spirits tell you?"

Xander laughed. "No Spike. No one told me. I can smell it on you and you have half a pack in your pocket that got pretty well crushed when you collapsed, from hunger."

Spike scrambled in his pocket and fished out the flattened pack of Newports. "Fuck!"

He looked up in time to see the strange young man disappear around the corner into what was presumably the owner's cubicle. Spike took great pride in the fact that he could read people like a book. He could glance at the middle chapters and instinctively know how the story started and probably what would happen in the final pages.

This boy was different. Spike could find no deceit, no tell that would give away the ugly secrets of his life. Everybody had them, didn't they? Yet the boy seemed so open, so honest, Was that possible? Was it a very successful act?

How much of what happened earlier could be believed? Spike's common sense wanted to tell him that none of it was real. A magic trick. Smoke and mirrors. Card tricks and snake oil. Still..........

Spike knew the boy was right about one thing. He sure the fuck needed a cigarette.

Stepping out into the blinding light, Spike shielded his eyes and rushed quickly to his car, shaking a flattened coffin nail from it's crumpled pack as he went. Lighting his fag, Spike sucked in deeply and felt the relaxation fill his body as the smoke permeated his lungs. He slumped against the car and blew out with an "Aaahhhhh."

He stared back at the plain brick factory building and mumbled to himself. "Wasn't all this a Twilight Zone episode? Maybe Outer Fuckin' Limits?"

Just as he was considering jumping into the Corvette, slapping the twirling light on the roof, flipping on the siren, and getting the fuck out of there, the front door opened and Xander stepped out into the sunlight. Spike's stomach jumped, his heart pounded and he had the sinking feeling he was lost. He both cursed and thanked the God's that he hadn't made his getaway when he had the chance. Now it was too late.

Walking comfortably around to the passenger side, Xander dropped down into the plush leather seat like he belonged there. "Come on, I only have an hour. Hey, I know where we can go. There's a great diner down the street aways called Momma Mabel's. Why don't we eat there."

Spike snorted and dropped his half smoked cigarette to the ground, crushing it soundly with the toe of his Doc Martin shoes that Faith had told him more than once were not a good match with his dark suit. "Of course. Why should that fuckin' surprise me?"

Spike jerked the driver's door open and, just before climbing in, froze crouched down and pointed accusingly in Xander's face. "HEY! How the hell did you know my name was Spike?!?"

Part Thirteen

Spike dropped down into the seat and strapped on his seat belt. He stuck the key in the ignition but then dropped his hand to his lap and faced off with his passenger.

"Well? How the fuck did you know people call me Spike instead of William? No one would have told you that, yet you've called me Spike ever since I got here."

Casually, Xander buckled up and waited patiently. "Let's just say a little birdy told me and leave it at that. Is it too
presumptious? Would you rather I called you Detective or Mr. Pratt?"

For reasons he didn't want to examine, he liked it very much when Xander called him Spike. He just wasn't ready to admit it. "No. No, that's all right. After all, we may be working together. No need to be too formal." Spike slammed the car into first and sped away.

The quick trip to Momma Mabel's was short and quiet. Spike's brain spun with questions he wanted answered, very few
of them had to do with a case he had all but forgotten.

When they pulled in and parked, Xander unsnapped his seat belt and jumped from the car, heading straight for the front door, Spike scrambled after.

The tinny bell that jangled over the door signaled to the owner that hungry customers had arrived and she hustled from the kitchen.

"Well lookie here. My two favorite boys. Together. I didn't know you two was friends. How come you never been here together before? You gonna hurt Momma's feelin's. Mabel's ain't good enough for a real date? Come on. You come have a seat. Momma put you in a booth in the back so's you 'uns can have some privacy."

Mabel winked, grabbed a couple paper menus and led the way to the back, a move that really seemed most unnecessary considering Spike and Xander were the only two people in the restaurant.

Spike stayed silent, smilingly accepting the seat assignment and the paper food list describing the daily blue plate specials. Once they were alone, however, he snapped.

Jerking the menu from Xander's hand he slammed them both down on the table and pointed his finger just inches from the tip of Xander's very surprised nose. "That's it. Buddy!" he whispered harshly. "I want some fuckin' answers and I want them right fuckin' now!"

Calmly, Xander retrieved the gravy stained paper and spoke like nothing had happened. He paid no mind to the red faced cop with the steam rolling from his ears.

"I believe I'll have the grilled chicken, the baked potato, a salad, and, oh, you are buying aren't you? Maybe a piece of apple pie. Mabel's has the best apple pie. You ever tried it?"

Spike crossed his arms and continued to scowl. He pouted and waited impatiently while Xander cheerfully ordered for both of them. Frustrated and furious, Spike couldn't decide if he wanted to plant his boot in this boy's ass or....... something else.

His attraction was most unsettling. Finally, when he was just seconds away from exploding, Xander fixed his deep penetrating eyes on Spike's and spoke. "Now, what exactly do you want to know? Is it real? Am I real? Am I running some sort of scam on you? Think about it Spike, what would I have to gain? My Grandmother raised me Spike and she was just like me. Two things she taught me are, expect the unexpected, and make the most out of what God has given you. That's what I do Spike. I use what God gave me to make beautiful furniture and I help people along the way whenever I can. If you're open minded, Spike, if you can expect the unexpected, I believe I can help you."

Spike felt himself relax and sink into the beautiful face of the man across from him. There was no twitch, no blink, no flex or stammering tell. It apparently wasn't needed, as Spike could detect no deceit or dishonesty. It was extremely unnerving yet, surprisingly reassuring.

"O.k., let's say you are for real. And I'm not ready to believe just yet. How can you help me? Can you look into a crystal ball and tell me who my perpetrator is so I can just go pick him up?"

Xander laughed and sat back, settling into the soft, red plastic seat. "No, sorry, not quite that easy. What I can do is receive messages. When a victim dies violently at the hands of another, they're restless, unable to be at peace till the matter is resolved. If you can take me to one or two of the crime scenes I can try to read the residual energy. Pick up on what the victim was feeling at the time of the attack. I can't promise anything but I can say my pull to this case has been strong."

The hamster on the wheel in Spike's brain spun so fast he nearly had a tiny hamster stroke. Taking advantage of the time it took for Mabel to return, set down their plates and ask if they wanted ketchup, Spike considered his options and made a decision. One he prayed he would not live to regret.

"All right. With conditions. First one, NOBODY knows. I can't have this investigation turned into a joke or a side show because I'm parading around with Morton the Magnificient Mind Reader."

Xander spit a mouthful of potatoes with a whoop of laughter then did his best to mop up as Spike continued.

"Second, we do this strictly by the book. I can't have any evidence compromised. If you find something, DON"T TOUCH. We get a warrant and collect it right. Next, you call me only on my personal cell phone. No coming to the office to see me."

Xander stuck out his lower lip and batted his eyes. "That hurts my feelings. I would almost believe you're ashamed to be seen with me Spike." bat bat bat "Are you ashamed of us?"

Spike wiped his mouth with the paper napkin and balled it up tossing it to the table.

"Ha ha. Very funny. HEY! That reminds me. Why the fuck did Mabel think we were dating? Am I giving off some sort of vibe? I mean, shit, do I look gay? Not that there's anything wrong with that."

Xander continued to happily shovel the rest of the potatoes in his mouth in anticipation of the apple pie that would soon find it's way to their table.

"Nay, you're not giving off a vibe. She just knows I'm gay and I told her the other day that I thought I'd met the right one." Xander looked at Spike with a touch of sadness in his eyes. "You know Spike life is a whole lot easier when you just accept yourself for who you are. Hiding and cover ups burn a lot of unnecessary energy and clogs your cosmic flow. Do you want to go through life cosmically constipated Spike?"

Part Fourteen

Spike leaned back in his seat at Momma Mabel's diner. His food sat all but untouched on the chipped laminated table in front of him. With a morbid facination, he watched his companion inhale every morsel on his plate. Obviously the boy was able to consume several times his own weight in one sitting.

He mulled over what Xander had said and knew the truth of it. He wanted, with all his heart, to be open and forthcoming with who he was but it just wasn't possible. He had far to much to lose.

The life and politics of being a cop were a lot different than the safe isolated world of a furniture maker. Nestled, snug as a bug in a rug, back in his cozy little cubicle with his gay tolerant boss, Xander couldn't possibly understand what it was like in the real world.

Someone in the market for a beautiful hand made desk wouldn't care about the sexual proclivities of the builder. Especially one as brilliant in the delicate art of expert carving as this one. A handsome, warm, funny and very talented builder with deep brown eyes and the appetite of a bull elephant.

Never missing a bite or a break in chewing, Xander looked up, off to Spike's right, smiled slightly and returned to scrape the last of the potatoes onto his fork.

"What?" Spike turned and looked behind him.

Xander laid down his silverware, which wasn't, much to Spike's surprise, smoking, and wiped his mouth on the napkin he had held on his lap. "Your Grandfather says you act like you were raised in a zoo. Small as a guppy, stubborn as a mule, and smart as a whip"

Every hair on Spike's body stood up as he gripped the edge of the table and fought back the tears in his eyes. When he was a very small boy those were the exact words his grandda used to say to him.

In response he would answer "They don't have whips in the zoo," and the old man would give him a good natured, light swat on the seat of his britches and tell him it was because he kept them right here.

Spike's eyes clouded up and he ducked his head in shame. He hated showing weakness. Immediately Xander reached over, covering Spike's hand with his own. The ever present smile disappeared from his lips. "Spike, I'm sorry. I didn't mean to upset you. Sometimes I just repeat a message without thinking first."

Spike took a deep breath and slowly blew it out in an effort to regain control of his off the chart emotions. Finally he shook his head and lifted his face.

Although several other people had drifted in and now filled the small tables and booths around them, Spike made no move to remove his hand from the warmth and comfort of the man sitting across from him. A man whose face was filled with such knowledge and compassion that it shook Spike's view of the population of the world. "No. No problem. You just caught me off guard that's all. Is he still there?"

Xander's eyes drifted to Spike's side and with his smile returning, nodded. "He says he's always there. He's always by your side. Are you religious, Spike?"

Spike sat back confused at the quick change in subject. No one in his family had been particularly church oriented. Other than his father, who Spike had heard pray more than once on the speed of a race horse who was carrying his last bob or two.

This was one time Spike was certain Xander had guessed wrong. Maybe it was a game after all. Spike shuddered at the renewed doubt. Disappointed in what he had almost let himself believe. "Nope. Not much for church, Pet. I think you got a message meant for some other bloke." Spike sadly pushed his plate away and took a drink of his now cooling coffee.

Xander shrugged his shoulders and smiled as Mabel cleared away the dirty dishes and set an extra large piece of apple pie topped with vanilla ice cream on the table in front of him. She then ruffled his hair and winked at Spike before hustling away with the 'woosh whoosh' of her house slippers.

After scooping a huge chunk of fruity, sugary pleasure onto his fork, Xander looked up and before shoveling it in, tipped Spike's world off it's axis.

"All I know is he says there's no angel in your future."

Spike's stomach jumped into his throat and he wondered how upset Momma Mabel would be if she had to clean up the few bites of food he had already eaten. His breath came in short, shallow gasps and he considered the medical difference between an anxiety attack and a heart attack.

He had never had either, but he had a funny feeling if he spent much more time with the boy he would become intimately aware of both.

Apparently Xander's innocent comment had no meaning to the boy wolfing the poor doomed pie, but it shouted volumes to Spike. It solidified the fact that he and Liam O'Connor needed to part ways. More importantly, it validated Xander's skill and unusual ability without his even knowing,

The rambling thoughts that now surged full force through Spike's mind had suddeny sprouted wings, flying off in a dozen different directions. 'Holy fuck! This boy might be the real thing. Look at him sitting there all calmly, fuckin' over that pie. Boy like that could rule the world. He could solve my cases before I even get the call. He could pick the winning lottery numbers every day. He could know weeks ahead of time which stores are gonna have toilet paper on sale. He could......uh,oh. I wonder if he can read minds? Look at him sitting there like he doesn't have a care in the world. Just listening to me rambling, planning, plotting. Well I won't have it! I won't stand for it I tell you. Lalalalalalalalalala.'

Xander belched, rubbed his belly and slumped down into the squeaky plastic seat. He glanced over and wondered what the heck was on the police detective's mind that was causing that pained constipated look on his face. "Wow, I'm stuffed. I don't think I could eat another bite if you begged me. So what do you say? Wanna go to the scene of the crime?" Xander grinned from ear to ear, looking for all the world like a young man asking for a trip to his first strip club.

Spike pulled out a handfull of bills to cover the tab and a generous tip from his wallet. He tossed them on the table and hoisted himself to his feet. "Why the heck not. I'm in it this far I might as well hold my breath and dive in the deep end. How about you? Can you swim Xander?"

Xander threw his arm around Spike's shoulder and walked out the door with him tugged close like a lifetime friend. "Like a fish, Buddy, Just like a fish."

Spike was not reassured.

Part Fifteen

The trip in the Corvette to the crime scene was silent. Not knowing what to expect, Spike was more than a little apprehensive.

There were a million reasons not to do this and, while his fingernails unconsciously picked at the red leather steering wheel cover, he tried reasoning through every one of them. 'What if Giles found out? Taking a civilian to an unreleased crime scene was grounds for severe discipline. Of course taking an evidence expert wasn't. And he was, kind of, sort of, if you squinted and turned your head sideways.'

Spike glanced over at the boy who seemed not to have a care in the world short of the apple pie stain he was trying to scrape off his shirt with his thumbnail.

Spike shook his head and let his thoughts speed on down the road 'Oh, and Faith. Dear Lord, I would never hear the end of it from her. Little Miss conventional thinking. Miss straight and narrow. Miss never do anything impulsive or irrational.'

By this time Spike had very nearly talked himself out of the crazy idea he was planning and seriously considering taking the boy back to his little woodworking projects and pretending this never happened.

Unfortunately there were other things preventing that. First and foremost was Spike's unexpected and very unadvisable attraction to the strange psychic. Although he knew there could never be anything between them, Spike longed to just be close to him.

Everything about him was so different than anyone Spike had ever known. He seemed filled with peace and contentment. He was kind, open and above all, honest. Something Spike saw very little of in the people he dealt with on a daily basis. All traits Spike found enormously attractive.

Spike's brain continued with its analyzation. 'Then there's that talking to dead people thing. Was it for real? It had to be. How else could he have known the things he did? How could he have known about Angel? Hell, he is right about
that much. There is no Angel in my future. The prick.'

Letting his eyes dart over to the young man who was now busy picking what appeared to be white cat hair off his jeans, Spike's thoughts took a turn down a different path. 'Maybe when all this is over we could have coffee. Coffee and pie.' Spike snorted, causing Xander to look over and frown.

'Yeah, I would definately have to feed him. The way that boy can eat, any date would have to be an all you can eat buffet. Even a homicide detective doesn't make that much.'

Spike smiled. Xander tipped his head to the side and studied the handsome cop sitting beside him. He could just imagine what the humor was from. Cops were such cynics. Never believe what you can't touch or prove.

Closing his eyes, Xander could feel the emotions flooding off the detective. Whatever he was thinking about, there was no malice in his humor. Xander picked up confusion, concern, frustration, and.......uh,oh, arousal?

Xander sat back, unable to stop the big grin that covered his face.

"What the hell you smiling about?" Spike stared at him suspiciously.

"Oh, nothin'. What about you? What were you grinning about?" Xander waited to see what kind of an answer Spike would come up with.

"Oh, um, well, I was just........HERE! We're here." Gratefully Spike whipped over to the curb of the brownstone he had only seen in the dark. Taking out his note pad he immediately slipped into professional mode and began jotting down things that had not been apparent last night in the dark.

Getting out of the car, Xander was all but forgotten. Spike carefully approached the front of the building. The yellow police tape remained in place and an armed officer protected the, as of yet, unreleased crime scene.

Instinctively flashing his badge, Spike didn't wait for the patrol officer to nod his permission for the men to approach. Xander scurried around the car and rushed up beside him. "I'm with him."

For a second, the officer thought about challenging the civilian, but what the fuck. His shift had two hours to go and the last thing he needed was a complaint of insubordination on his record. Quickly deciding this detective could have Bozo the Clown in tow and he didn't care, the officer turned a blind eye and went back to his mental problem of who to call for that fucking septic tank that kept flooding.

Spike walked slowly around to the side of the wide cement entry steps. The victims apartment was on the second floor in the front of the building. Spike was careful not to step too close, but noted that the earth in front of the windows was undisturbed, the area secure and a large windowsill flower pot well tended. There was no fire escape and no indication of a ladder being propped against the building. The killer did not enter from this area.


"Huh? Oh, sorry. What did you say?"

Xander stared at the building and kept his voice low. "I said I need to go inside. I need to see where it happened."

Spike could see the tension and anxiety in the beautiful young face and worried again that no good would come of this. He also could read the determination. Xander was going in, with or without him.

Nodding, Spike dropped the black note book in his coat pocket and led the way, tossing the officer a curt, "Going in. Keep everyone else the fuck out." The officer responded with a disinterested wave of the hand.

The apartment door had two lengths of yellow tape tacked over it in a giant "X" signaling only authorized persons should enter. Spike opened the door, ducked under the tape and led the way. Xander followed suit.

"O.k. so what do you want to..........."

Xander held up his hand, silencing the detective, and closed his eyes. "Shhh. Just let me stand here for a second.

Spike stood quietly. It gave him a chance to really look things over in the light of day. The apartment was small. Full of family photos and random knic knacs this was more than an apartment. It was a home.

Living room, kitchen, bedroom, bath. It was not only clean, it was spotless. No signs of a struggle. The attack had to have been sudden. Unexpected.

"It started here."

Spike looked up to see Xander standing with his hands pressed against the closed front door.

"She invited him in. One man. Middle aged. She didn't know him, but she trusted him. She felt safe having him in her home."

Spike looked at the row of deadbolt locks that ran the length of the door frame. Obviously this was a young woman very concerned with safety and security. Why would she feel safe inviting someone she didn't know into her home?

Quickly Xander turned and headed toward the kitchen area. "She brought him this way. She was trying to be hospitable."

Xander stopped in the small kitchen alcove. He gazed down at the taped off outline of the body and again closed his eyes.

"It happened here. I'm feeling shocked. Surprised. Total confusion. The attack was totally unexpected." Xander clutched his hands at his throat. "I can't breath. He's cut off my air and all I can feel is my stupidity for trusting him."

With one last gasp, Xander stepped back and opened his eyes, a look of shock covering his face. Spike was disappointed. He wasn't sure what he had hoped for, but it was more than this. Although Xander was right on every point, other than the killer being a middle aged man, he hadn't actually given them anything new.

"She's embarrassed."

Spike stared back down at the figure outline. "What? She's what?"

Xander's eyes were filled with sorrow and compassion. "She's embarrassed. After......well, after, he removed part of her
clothing. He inserted an object into her body and then redressed her. She's ashamed. Embarrassed. Did you find a foreign object Spike? Because now I'm getting a whole lot of energy from the killer."

Spike's felt his blood freeze. No one knew. No one knew about the rose.

"What? What are you getting?"

Xander rubbed his hands over his face. "He's furious. He hates this woman but doesn't even know her. His victim selection is not random. He's killing the same woman over and over again and won't stop till you catch him. He's laughing at you. He thinks he's smarter than you and is leaving clues. The answer to why he's doing this and who he is, is hidden in the object he uses."

Spike forgot to breath. Every fiber of his being told him Xander's assessment was spot on. It also told him something else. Xander was a keeper. At least till this case was over.

"Anything else?"

Xander looked Spike in the eye with a fear Spike could almost feel. "Yeah, he's selecting this area for you. It's personal Spike. It's not about the victims, it's about the investigators. It's about you and your partner."

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