Not exactly where I pictured myself ending up, but the past ten years the world had been a picture painted by a madman with one big brush that seemed to color everything with bad luck and despair. The bottom had dropped out of the market and what little folks had in my east Texas hometown soon dropped a little more. Then the crops dried up. Hell, everything dried up and most of Texas blew into Arkansas before the winds finally stopped. The black blizzards that swirled through the early thirties left their fair share of the dirt a little closer to home, filling the houses, the barns, the cars… my mother’s lungs, and she died coughing in her bed in 1934.
By then I was a cop. No big city detective like I was now, just a simple small-town deputy on my Dad’s force. Sheriff Sheppard was known and loved in our town, just as his father Sheriff Sheppard had been, and just as it was assumed one day I would be if I could ever live up to the legacy that had been played out before me. But the fertile topsoil wasn’t the only thing that left during the dust storms; the people did, too. And after Mom died, my Dad wasn’t far behind. Oh, his body hung around all right, but that part of him that the town knew and loved died right along with my mom and no one, not even me, especially me, could find it again.
So, I left and went in search of something I hadn’t seen in years.
Seattle had it in spades─ dripping down the gutter pipes, filling the Sound, washing away thirty-five years of grit and despair that had taken up permanent residence under my nails and other places a lot more inaccessible. There seemed to be water everywhere, and that was just fine by me. After a lifetime of sunshine illuminating everything that was wrong with me in my father’s eyes, I was ready for a little dark. Which was why I took the night beat when I made detective the year after arriving in Seattle.
Besides, nobody gets themselves murdered during the day.
And I seemed to have a knack for solving murders. I’d learned under one of the best. Jack O’Neill had the knack, too, and he taught me one of the most important things I’d ever learned… nobody can do it alone. You can take the lead, take the occasional personal risk, but you need a good team backing you up or you’re up shit creek without a paddle. That’s why I wasn’t upset about being assigned a new partner. Jack had retired a month before. Gone fishing. I never understood the fascination, but if it made O’Neill happy, then good for him. Me, I had a good twenty years left to catch the bad guys and put them away and if I was going to do that, I needed a partner and that’s just what I was getting.
“Ronon Dex,” the big guy told me as he held out his hand. And by big, I mean big. I was surprised he hadn’t scraped his head on the door frame coming into to Chief Landry’s office. And I eyed the massive hand he was offering with a bit of apprehension that I might not ever get it back.
But I was the senior officer here.
“Ronon? What the hell kind of name is that?” I ignored the hand for the time being. This was a test.
“Mine.” The hand stayed right where it was and the brown eyes measured me as much I was measuring him. His eyes were just a shade darker than his trench coat, and his suit under that was a shade lighter still. Me, I preferred black. But, to each his own, I supposed.
I took the hand and shook firmly. “John Sheppard.” And surprise, surprise, my own hand came back.
“Good, you two have met.” Landry bustled through the door and moved to sit behind his desk with barely a glance at the two of us. “Now, get the hell out of my office.”
“Sir?” But I was already standing. If I’d learned nothing else in my father’s home, it was that you respected authority… usually.
“Dex just transferred in from Omaha.” Evidently deciding that was all I needed to know, he looked up and handed me a piece of paper with an address on it.
I lifted my eyebrows and gave my new partner a disbelieving once over. “Ronon Dex from Omaha?”
Before he could answer, Landry waved his hands to both chase us from his office and indicate the paper. “You can get to know each other in the car. You two have a stiff to check out.”
* * * *
The address was down town in an alley between two office buildings and the surrounding area was pretty much empty of people at this hour except for a couple of smaller restaurants on the adjacent block. By the time we arrived, the uniforms had the area roped off and the lab boys were already there.
“All right, who’s the Wisenheimer who’s been messing with my head? Because when I find out the moron who tampered with my evidence, I’ll have your badge before you can say ‘disgraced career’.”
That would be Dr. Rodney McKay. Loud, brazen, grating, annoying as hell, smartest man I’d ever met… smartest man he’d ever met, too, and the type of guy that would tell you just that. I’d worked with him for over four years now. He was the reason it had been so easy to take the night shift. No one else wanted to work with him even if he was the best crime scientist around. I wouldn’t work with anyone else.
“Should I start making a list, rounding up the usual suspects, McKay?” My drawl had him looking up from the severed head he was studying… the head that rested a couple of feet from the accompanying body that still gripped a gun in its hand.
“Ah, Sheppard, it’s about time you got here. I was afraid you’d taken another shortcut through the secretarial pool and found yourself distracted by the peek of an exposed garter again.” Blue eyes flicked to Ronon. “Who’s the brick wall?”
“Ronon Dex,” he introduced, once again offering his hand. I almost laughed at the attempt. You didn’t make friends with Rodney. He either accepted you as someone worthy of his attention, a necessary annoyance, or ignored you completely.
“My new partner,” I supplied, trying to throw the kid a bone. For some reason, I’d been accepted from the get go. Although with Rodney, it could be kind of hard to tell.
Turning his attention back to the head, McKay asked distractedly. “Ronon? What the hell kind of name is that?”
“His,” I supplied with a grin into my paper cup of coffee. Ronon straightened when he realized he’d been dismissed and seemed to be considering if he even wanted to try again. “And he’s from Omaha.”
“Omaha?” Rodney demanded. “Do they even have cops in Nebraska? What did you do, catch cattle rustlers?” A quick glance back had the scientist observing, “Although it looks like you’ve eaten your fair share of them.”
A drop fell into my cup and I looked up, knowing we were in store for another downpour.
McKay followed my gaze. “Oh, fuck. Grodin! Get the photos of the splatter marks before they wash away! Simpson! Cover the body so we don’t lose any fibers!”
Rodney’s team flew into motion and he moved to stand next to me when I asked, “So, who’s our Ichabod?”
“A literary reference; I’m shocked, Detective. I didn’t know you owned a book except for the one you use to keep your desk from wobbling.”
I shrugged good-naturedly. “Two, actually. War and Peace was too thick… my pencils kept rolling off the edge when I put them down… so I had to find something thinner. So, have we got a name yet?”
“I haven’t let anyone touch the body until I get everything I need. Although, by necessity, it looks like we might be at that point.” He pulled up the collar of his overcoat to keep the pending water from running down his neck.
“Mind if I do the honors?” I asked, pushing my hat back with a hitch of my head toward the body.
He just pulled his hat down further in an attempt to keep the raindrops off his glasses. “Once Grodin finishes the photos, help yourself.”
I tried for another sip of my coffee but had the cup taken immediately from my hand by one covered with a myriad of band aids.
“Oh, thank God.” McKay took a deep swallow. “I had to leave the office before I ate lunch to try to beat the rain.” He gave an irritated glare up into the night sky that it would dare to ruin his crime scene. “For all the fucking good it did me.”
Reaching in my own coat pocket, I pulled out the secret weapon… a Baby Ruth bar. Eyes lit up behind the wire-rims. He’d finally broken down and got the eye glasses the year before. The glasses, the band aides, the chronic back complaints, all of it was from doing what he loved best─ analyzing the evidence. Low light, a dozen file cabinets worth of reports, and hunching over microscopes had led to near-sightedness, ever present paper cuts, and a crick that just wouldn’t go away. But it also led to the highest conviction rate in the country. So, if I felt the need to occasionally thank him for all his effort with a candy bar, so be it.
That didn’t mean I couldn’t use it to my advantage now and again.
I pulled it just out of his reach. “Only if you play nice and introduce yourself to Ronon.” When he just frowned at the large man who was squatting, but, most definitely, not touching the head, I added. “You’re going to be seeing a lot of him. You might as well at least be civil.”
The frown deepened as he turned it on me, but he snatched the candy and went to stand behind Ronon as the rain turned into a slow drizzle. “Dr. Rodney McKay,” he stated, already biting into the Baby Ruth.
When he didn’t offer a hand, Ronon simply nodded. “Nice to meet you.”
But Rodney was already yelling at someone else. “You, policeman standing beside the body, go loiter somewhere else. Your shadows are screwing up the photographs. Grodin, the head, the camera, go. If we don’t document it all now, we won’t have enough to convict the chopper even if you photographed him doing it. Simpson, bag the goddamn gun before the rain really starts coming down. Christ, you people know what a pain in the ass Weir in the DAs office can be.”
There’s a saying I’ve heard a lot… it’s not really a crime unless you get caught. It’s a motto that I tried to provide the caveat for every day of my career. But the truth of the matter is, it’s not really a crime unless Weir decides there’s enough evidence to go to trial. And that was the caveat McKay spent his life trying to overcome.
Ronon moved to stand next to me and asked under his breath, “Is he always like this?”
“No,” I admitted. “You caught him on a good night.”
The big guy grimaced at the thought of what a bad night might be like. “He must be good then.”
“Not good, the best.” I corrected. “Luke May hand picked him for his lab.”
“No shit? May himself?”
I grinned. Evidently Dex kept up with his True Detective subscription. Luke May was the foremost criminologist around. He was known as the Sherlock Holmes of America, had worked on almost every high profile crime scene in the country, and had started the crime lab contracted by the Seattle police department over twenty years ago. He’d also helped the Royal Canadian Mounties set up their own lab several years back and that’s where he’d recruited McKay.
“Yep, brought him down here from Canada.”
“He’s Canadian and working here in the States?”
“Had to get my foot in the door somehow,” Rodney grumbled as he came to look over my shoulder as I squatted by the body now that the photos were finished.
“For what? Citizenship?”
Ronon’s question had Rodney sputtering. “Ha! You people wish. I’m waiting for the feds to smarten up and ask me to join the team building the atom bomb.”
I rolled my eyes even as I lifted the lapel of the stiff to find his wallet. “McKay, there’s no secret mission to build a bomb.”
“We’re at war, Sheppard,” he insisted. “Of course there’s a secret weapons program.”
“Canada’s at war, Rodney. Uncle Sam’s decided to stay out of the mess.”
“Patience, Detective. Patience.”
It had been a little over nine months since Hitler had invaded Poland, and while Canada declared war on Germany the next day, the U. S. of A was keeping her nose clean. Not that I minded, let the neighbors clean up their own backyard, I say. But it just felt… off to me. Maybe it was McKay’s national pride, maybe it was the way he kept insisting there was some secret military project, maybe it was the news reports that were coming out of occupied Europe and rumors of ethnic groups being rounded up and segregated, maybe it was just a feeling in my gut that McKay was right and it was just a matter of time before we were all ass deep in a fox hole.
“Do they need someone to lift fingerprints off this bomb they’re building?” Ronon asked with a humored twist of his lips and I did my best not to wince because I knew Rodney wasn’t going to take well to that sort of comment.
“No, they need a brilliant physicist. It’s the Seattle PD that seems to need someone to help remove their heads out of their collective asses. I just happen to fulfill both roles. Now, as much as I appreciate how you’re making a nice wind break for me, Detective Dex, you’d help the case out a lot more if you can find the sword that removed that head from this body.”
“Sword?” I asked in disbelief.
“Yes, sword. Given the angle, the clean cut, and the pattern of blood, the head came off as a result of one fell swoop of a very sharp blade. That sounds like a sword to me.”
Ronon lifted an eyebrow suggesting he was having as much trouble as I was in buying the sword theory. I mean, let’s face it, it was 1940. It’s not like there were a lot of swordsmen running around in this day and age.
But he was smart enough to realize Rodney wasn’t in the mood for an argument, so he stood and straightened his fedora. “One sword, coming up.”
When Ronon had left on his assigned task, McKay grumbled at my shoulder, “You need to enlighten your gorilla, Sheppard.”
“It’s his first day. Even I took more than a day for you to like me.”
He checked his watch. “We’ve passed four years and I still don’t think I can say I like you. Tolerate, maybe. Gotten used to.”
“Stop it, Rodney, I’m getting choked up here.” I flipped the wallet open and found the driver’s license. “James Frasier. There’s a University I.D., as well.”
“Huh, no wonder he looked so familiar.”
“You know this guy?” I wasn’t sure that was a lucky break or something to be concerned about. People that knew people outlined in chalk sometimes ended up outlined themselves.
“I’ve met him. The lab consulted with him and his research partner… Scottish guy…” Fingers snapped as best they could with the bandages as McKay fought through the clutter of information in his brain to recall the name. “… Beckett. Cameron…Carter…Carson! Carson Beckett!”
I pulled out my notepad and wrote the name. “What sort of research?”
“Genetics.” When I simply gave him a blank look he continued to explain, no doubt dumbing it down to my level. “They’re working to find markers in the blood to account for how certain traits that are hereditary…passed on from parent to child… actually work. But in order to do that, they have to isolate the markers in the first place to study them. Luke thought we might be able to take advantage of some of their findings and apply them to investigations.”
Rodney bobbled his head. “They’re making progress, but the isolation techniques aren’t exactly conducive to our lab setup… too much prep cost for the return on the investment.”
“So, this Beckett, did he seem the type to carry a grudge against his fellow researcher? Or for that matter, did he seem the type to carry around a sword?”
“Well, he didn’t have a Highland broadsword strapped under his lab coat, if that’s what you mean, and they seemed to be getting along fine when I saw them. Besides, Fraiser’s about your height…”
“I’d say he’s about a head shorter.” My grin was met with a roll of McKay’s eyes and he ignored my joke.
“Beckett’s close to the same height, maybe an inch or two shorter. But whoever killed Fraiser, given the angle of the slice, is a good six inches shorter.”
The sky opened up then, the rain coming down in icy sheets. Rodney pulled his coat tighter around him and hunched his shoulders and I found myself doing the same after I put away my pad. McKay was already twirling his hands in the air to gain the crowds attention. “All right, people, bag him up. Let’s go. This shindig is officially over thanks to Mother Nature.”
As McKay oversaw the cleanup, I heard Ronon call out, “Hey, Sheppard, you need to see this.”
Joining the large man over by a cluster of overflowing garbage cans, I could see by the way he was wiping his hand on his handkerchief and standing up to his ankles in trash that he had been rummaging through the refuse. He simply pointed and my eyes widened when they followed where Dex was indicating.
“Son of a bitch.” With a shake of my head, I admitted, “Maybe he’s right about the goddamn bomb, too.” Then I turned and yelled to be heard over the pounding rain.
“McKay, get over here!”
He trudged irritably to where we stood, declaring as soon as he was within speaking range without having to shout, “I’m a little busy here, Sheppard. So this better be…” I pointed just as Ronon had and the ire turned to awe. “Hello, gorgeous.”
Rodney slapped away Ronon’s hand that was reaching for the leather-wrapped hilt sticking up out of the trashcan closest to the wall. “Grodin! Get your ass and your camera over here!” The silk tassel was soaking wet and stained with blood, but there was no denying we’d just found a goddamn samurai sword shoved in a pile of garbage.
* * * *