Eye of the Beholder

Mickey and Robert drove down the dark, but not very quiet, streets of Manhattan. It was, after all, only a few minutes after midnight. When they got to West 51st Street, Mickey parked near a bright street light.

"Mickey, we can't park here. I refuse to come back to find my car's been towed away," Robert complained irritably. "I'll show you where to park."

"It's OK, McCall," Mickey said, as he pulled a NYPD sticker out of his inside pocket and stuck it to the windshield.

Robert pulled his glasses out of his pocket, and scanned the sticker. "It's genuine! How did you manage that? It's almost impossible to get one."

Mickey smiled, "I've got a couple of friendly contacts in the right places in the police department."

"Friendly contacts, indeed," sniffed Robert. "Young, female, and ..."

"... cooperative." Mickey finished Robert's sentence and added, "A man's got to do what a man's got to do." He grinned innocently.

"Spare me the details," Robert said as he climbed out of the car. "It's ten past midnight. Let's move. Follow me."

They walked through dark and narrow alleyways past small entrance doors in the side of the famous Radio City Music Hall. They finally came to a metal door set flush with the bricks. Robert looked to his left and right and then upwards. He tried the door. It was open. With a final glance around, they entered.

By now, their eyes had adjusted to the darkness. Robert led Mickey through a catacomb of rooms, some small and some large and cavernous. One door had light coming out from under it. Robert and Mickey looked at each other and set themselves on opposite sides of the door frame. Robert nodded. Mickey burst through the door first, aiming low, and Robert followed a fraction of a second later, aiming high.

Control sat languidly on the edge of a dressing room table, leaning against a mirror ringed with lights. The rest of the small room was filled with shadows and crowded with stage costumes hanging on racks. Robert and Mickey put their weapons away.

Robert looked at Control and asked, "What was so important, Control, that we had to play cat and mouse tonight of all nights?" He opened his coat to pointedly reveal his tuxedo, then he sat down heavily in a chair at the dressing room table. The bright lights highlighted his face, making evident the late hour and the amount of alcohol he had consumed. Mickey stood by a rack of costumes seemingly entranced by a red and white spangled bikini top on a hanger.

"The Artist is loose." Control said looking down at Robert.

"The Artist?" Robert repeated trying to make the words connect in his brain.

"You remember The Artist?" Control looked away sadly.

"Formerly known as Prince?" Mickey asked absent mindedly as he continued to examine more of the skimpy costumes.

Robert didn't hear Mickey as the realization of what it all meant washed over him.

"Loose! Loose! How the hell did that happen, Control?" Robert shouted, his face becoming red. He stood up knocking over his chair, he was a tower of rage. "You swore, swore to me that that piece of excrement would never get loose."

Looking away, Control gave Robert a few moments to get his emotions in order. When the tension in the room came down a few notches Mickey ventured, "Somebody fill me in on this Artist."

Robert looked at Control, ignoring Mickey. "When? How?," Robert asked.

"Two days ago," Control said, without much emotion in his voice. "Even private asylums undergo downsizing, Robert. They were transferring twelve high security patients to another facility. Money must have changed hands. When they counted heads at the new location, there were only ten." He paused and took a deep breath. "They found the other escapee this afternoon, in an empty summer house, upstate. Tattooed, posed, and dead."

"Up to his old habits, eh?" Robert said, his voice gaining anger and tone as he continued. "Lives versus information! That's what it comes down to. Doesn't it? Did that drug lord father of his give you sufficient information to balance that equation, Control? How many more lives will he blaspheme because you wanted information?"

Control's eyes smoldered with anger as he said, "Wait just a minute, old son. We did this together, twenty years ago. We found him last time, we made the deal with his father, we used that information and we lied and told the Company that The Artist was dead. I kept him isolated for twenty years. I did the best I could, under the circumstances."

"Not bloody good enough, was it, Control?" Robert snapped as his own guilt washed over him. "What is twenty years when he stole his victims' lives for all of eternity?" The room went silent.

Control spoke calmly. "I have reason to believe he is in the city under the protection of his father," Control said. "We will find him and stop him now."

"Stop him permanently," Robert glared.

Robert looked at Control as the memories of the last time they hunted this particular prey replayed in his mind.

"You know," Robert said pointedly, "it's not going to be so easy. It's not Thanh Hoa, in the seventies, it's New York City. The police might actually be looking for him this time."

"We're one step ahead of them. They don't know he is The Artist. We do," said Control. "We know what he has a taste for."

Robert grimaced as he remembered what those tastes were. "We've got to find him first and we've got to find him fast before one more person becomes another one of his 'Works of Art'," Robert said resolutely.

He looked at Mickey. "Let's go," Mickey said as he buttoned his jacket, "I'm in."

Carrying a tray, the frail, old man shuffled painfully along the hallway. The house resembled its occupant; it too had seen better days. Peeling paint and wallpaper offered a sad reminder of the former splendor of the building.

Oblivious to the state of his surroundings, Li Min stopped outside a door. Putting his hand into his pocket, he fingered the key there, remembering, for a moment, the sweet and happy child his son had once been.

The problems had begun, over twenty years ago. He blamed the defoliants used in the war for the sudden change in his son. The boy had become withdrawn and sullen and then there had been the problems with the authorities. At first his power and influence, as one of the leading drug producers in the area had been enough, but then, as the problems worsened, he had to make a deal with the Americans. The pair of vultures, from the government agency, had put him in a position where he had no other choice. So he had sold out his fellows in the cartel, and, after faking his own death, he had moved to America.

The choice of country had served two purposes. Firstly, in a heavily populated city like New York he had merged into the background easily. He had paid hard cash for the large house and soon developed a reputation for being a recluse. After a couple of years nobody was at all interested in him or anything he did. Secondly, he was still close to his son. The other condition for his son's life had been that the young man be confined in an institution. He had visited regularly at first, but in the end his son's Doctors had told him that his visits caused more problems than they solved and, with sadness in his heart, he had discontinued them.

With the passing years, even his hatred for the men that had caused his despair had faded. Now, he was simply overjoyed that his son was home once more. The boy, he corrected himself, the boy wasn't a boy any longer; he was a man. Maybe he was old and simple now, but he believed the bad times were over. He hoped that now that his son was home, he would settle down and marry. Maybe if he were fortunate, he would get to see a grandchild or two before he died. Holding the tray one handed, he put the key in the lock and opened the door.

It took seconds for the old man to die, his skull shattered by the impact of the bedside lamp. Hardly noticing his weight, the younger man lifted his victim from the floor and laid him gently on the bed. Humming to himself, he opened his bag of tools and began what he considered would be his greatest work to date.

Wincing, Robert McCall refilled the coffee machine for the fifth time that day. This type of liquid diet was playing havoc with his stomach. He was, he decided getting far too old for this sort of thing. But, he and the man now dozing on the couch were responsible for the maniac running loose in New York and his conscience wouldn't let him rest until he was no longer a threat to society.

The doorbell rang jolting Control awake; the older man looked around, rubbing his hand over his face wearily. Robert answered the door and Woody and Kostmayer staggered into the room burdened down with boxes and bits of computer hardware.

Woody had hardly got over the threshold before he began complaining bitterly, "I don't see why I had to bring all this equipment here, I can work much better at home."

"For Pete's sake, don't start that again," snapped Mickey. "I already told you McCall wanted you here, so it would be quicker if we needed more information."

Woody opened his mouth to reply and Robert jumped in, lack of sleep was playing on all of their nerves. Motioning Mickey to go into the study, Robert followed. "Please, Woody, just bear with me on this. The man we need to find is probably the most dangerous individual I have ever come across. We have to find him before he leaves a trail of blood and gore across the city."

"Okay, it will take me about fifteen minutes to put this lot together. What do you want me to do then?"

"Firstly, I want you to hack into the police computer, I want to know immediately if there are any reports of bodies being found. Especially if the circumstances are like those in this file." He handed Woody the document and he saw the look of nausea cross the younger man's face when he caught a glimpse of The Artist's most recent victim.

"God, McCall, this guy is a real sicko."

"Yes, he is. That's why we need to find him."

Dumping another load of electronics equipment Mickey said, "That's the last of his stuff. What do you want me to do now?"

Robert thought for a moment, "Call Alice and see what you can find out about the escape that isn't on the police computer. I'm going to get Control to talk to his contacts and see if he can turn up the father's address. We know he is in the city and so will his son."

Just then Woody let out a shout of triumph. They all bolted back into the study to see what Woody was yelling about. Mickey followed more slowly and reached the others just as Robert began to write an address on a slip of paper.

"We've got it, his father's address."

The sleek black car and nondescript van drew up outside the dilapidated mansion. While Mickey set up the surveillance equipment, Robert studied the house through a pair of field glasses. Passing the glasses to Control he said, "I can't make out anything, can you?"

"No, there doesn't appear to be anyone moving about."

Robert picked up the radio, "Mickey, can you see or hear anything with the equipment?"

"No, everything is coming out negative, audio, video and infra red. The place is empty, McCall."

"Okay, let's go in."

Robert took one look at the high fence and locked and barred gate surrounding the property before admitting defeat. His days for scaling such obstacles were long gone. "Mickey, do you think you might go over and open up for us?"

"No problem, won't take me a second." Taking a short run he jumped, and catching hold of the top of the fence, he pulled himself up and over dropping lightly to the ground on the other side. A short time later, the older men heard the sound of the gate opening and Mickey looked out. Getting into the house was even easier, and before long, they were gathered in a bedroom looking at the mutilated body of the old man.

Control recognized the old man at once and offered his opinion that the younger Li was now completely out of control.

"Hey, McCall, I promised I would let Alice know if we found anything. Do you want me to call her?"

"Not right away, Mickey. I want to take a look around first. If I know anything about this man, I know he will have left us a clue to his whereabouts."

Ignoring the body on the bed at first, they searched the room thoroughly finding nothing. Turning their attention to the dead man, they searched his pockets and any exposed areas of skin looking for clues. Apart from the bloody tattoo there was nothing out of the ordinary. From his place at the head of the bed Control's view of the tattoo was different to the others and Robert noticed that he let his gaze rest on it. "Wait a minute I'm beginning to see a pattern. Robert come here and look at the tattoo from this side. What does it remind you of?"

"I don't know." Robert snapped irritably.

"Look again. Can't you see? It's a map."

"Good God you're right it is."

Mickey traced the outline with a finger, careful not to touch the body. "That bit could be Battery Park and look there's Liberty Island. Does this mean this wacko wants to be caught so much that he's leaving us directions?"

"Far from it, Mickey, I think he knows that we will see the clue and follow him. After all, he has had twenty years to plan his revenge."

My name was Ly. The Americans with their disdain and thoughtlessness pronounced it Li. It is of no matter, worse was done to me.

I am no longer what I was for those many years. I am changed. Ly stemmed from my homeland and from its soil and people. I shed the skin of that being long ago; I became The Artist.

For five glorious years, I created works of art on cold skin. I perfected my art and my thoughts on many quiet bodies in my peaceful rooms in Thanh Hoa. Until the vultures came. The two Americans who put me into bondage for twenty years, for a lifetime.

I was buried in a place where drugs make you feel sick, not happy and filled with the power and sweet song of the heavens. I was stuck in that purgatory for a long time, permitted neither to travel into the darkness nor to drink from the light.

But now, here I am. I have been delivered unto the land of my most longed for dreams.

The old man who insisted that he knew me, who fed me, and showed me where his money was hidden, was the final work of The Artist. It was his reward to become the last of the dead canvases. I am now become a higher spirit.

Manhattan, it sounds a magic place. It is where my New World will be created, my new place of quiet joy. I walk and am amazed that such a place could exist outside of my head.

The streets are dark and filled with sorrow and desperation. Things that could only be bought in secrecy in Viet Nam can be gotten easily on the streets. Acts are openly performed here that would have been punished by death had they seen the light of day in Thanh Hoa. This is truly a place of great dark delights.

In my New World, I bought the loyalty of the desperate who dwell here, with my drugs. They are walking dead; they obey me for my heroin. I draw my designs on their warm flesh. Those who are marked by my colors will belong to me when they die.

Now I wait for the two Americans filled with their pride and righteousness. I made the way to find me clear. They will come and try to dim my light again, but I will be the victorious one. For they will follow me as my servants. After I mark their living skin I will own their souls. I am what The Artist has become. I am The Creator.

"Are you sure this is the best way into the area, Mickey?"

"Trust me, McCall. I was down here a few months ago. This is the safest way into Alphabet City." Mickey paused for a moment, then he pointed, "Take that left turn there and then park on the right."

Looking around, Robert stopped the car. He noticed that it was very dark and most of the streetlights weren't working. A feeling of unease crept over him. There was still the possibility that they had misread the clues left by The Artist.

Woody had used his considerable computer know-how to overlay the tracing of Thanh Hoa over the outline of Manhattan that The Artist had tattooed on the old man. When this building corresponded to The Artist's old haunt in Thanh Hoa, they had surmised that this was the place where he would be found.

Robert looked through the car window at the dark and gloomy buildings that awaited them. If only they were in a position to call in a squad now. He had a bad feeling about this place. Glancing at Control and then at Mickey, he knew there was no one he would rather have beside him going into this urban jungle. They were professionals and he had worked with both of them countless times before. Robert had the utmost confidence in them.

With a sigh he opened the car door and climbed out. Walking round to the back of the car he opened the trunk. Mickey was beside him in an instant, followed quickly by Control. Robert threw back the rug covering the small arsenal that he carried. Without hesitation, Mickey picked up an Uzi; he then took a second automatic and taped it to his leg. Spare clips of ammunition went into his pockets. Control settled for a heavy caliber pistol and a back-up, while Robert took his familiar Walther from his pocket and checked it, before picking up the .50 caliber desert eagle he favored in these situations.

Robert looked at the others. A silent agreement passed between them and they made their way into the building. Robert let Mickey lead the way. He knew the area and was carrying the most firepower. Robert came next and Control brought up the rear, watching their backs.

The stench of urine and worse was appalling, it made Robert catch his breath. He wouldn't have been surprised if there had been a number of dead bodies lying undiscovered. Not that the NYPD, or anyone else ever ventured into this maze of rubble and decay. He made a mental note to ask Mickey what the hell he had been doing in here a few months ago. Kostmayer was a lot of things, but stupid wasn't one of them; he must have had a very good reason to take that sort of risk.

As they moved forward, there were scratching noises and the patter of tiny feet as rats fled from their approach. Try as they might, it was impossible to walk silently over the debris littering the floor. Glass crunched underfoot and pieces of wood crackled as they stepped on them.

Moving further into the labyrinth, Robert could see faint flickers of light through a doorway. They approached cautiously but the next room only contained a few addicts at various levels of insensibility. The light came from the small fires used to prepare their drugs. There was still no sign of The Artist.

They stopped to discuss their next move, keeping a wary eye on the dazed addicts that were in the room. Most of them were out of it, oblivious until the need for their next fix drove them back to awareness. Even the worst opium dens that Robert had encountered in the Far East were civilized compared to this place.

When the addicts begin to take an interest in them, Robert motioned for Mickey to move on. There was yet another room off this one, and if anything, the lighting there was brighter.

Mickey was through the doorway and out of Robert's line of sight when all hell broke loose. People erupted from everywhere. Robert could just make out trapdoors in the floor that had been thrown open. More scarecrow figures were spewing out into the room from hiding places in the walls.

Hearing gunfire echo from the next room, Robert worried about Mickey. Trying to disable rather than kill, Robert began shooting. He still didn't believe this could be an organized assault. When he saw Control go down under the sheer weight of the number of their attackers, Robert realized they were fighting for their lives. Hearing the sound of the Uzi firing intermittently, he hoped that Mickey was still at liberty. He tried to make his way to Control, but he could no longer be seen under the hands that clutched at him. Distracted for an instant, Robert couldn't avoid a plank of wood that was slammed into his elbow.

He immediately lost the feeling in his hand and his gun skittered away. He tried to struggle but his arm wouldn't work properly. As he went down under the onslaught, he saw Mickey, kicking and struggling against his bonds, being dragged past.

Robert's captors bound and gagged him. He was carried for what seemed like miles through twisting corridors to another room, where he was dropped unceremoniously into a chair. The pain from his injured arm flared and Robert groaned involuntarily. It felt as though his elbow was dislocated.

Holding his arm as still as possible, he looked around. Control was sitting close to Robert, dazed, barely staying upright. Mickey was in the far corner, continuing to fight against the hands holding him down. At last Mickey gave up the unequal struggle and lay still. Robert guessed he was conserving his strength for any chance of escape that might arise.

The light grew brighter and Robert saw a number of people carrying lit candles come into the room, followed by the most extraordinary sight. The Artist entered the room wearing what seemed to be a blood stained priest's vestment which covered most of his body. He had barely changed in twenty years; his hair was untouched by gray and he was still painfully thin. His hands were hidden within the folds of the robe and, as it skimmed over the ground, Robert couldn't see his feet.

When the Americans came today I was creating, as I was twenty years ago the last time they came for me. But this canvas was warm, still alive. It was an American I worked on now and even though this female is still and quiet, filled with my drugs, her blood flows fast. Last time my poor canvas was cold.

I had told the denizens of this place that a happy reward would be theirs were the two Americans alive and undamaged when they were delivered to me.

Now, I sit quietly and observe the gifts as they are presented. Yes, the two Americans are older, but they are still worthy of becoming my canvases. A third American was brought to me. A young and healthy one. I am greatly pleased.

I walk over to the young one. He is tied and gagged, but he fights mightily. "What nice color he has," I breathe. I run my fingers through his hair. "Remove his coat," I whisper to my attendants. When he has been freed of it, I pull open his shirt and he is held even tighter as he fights.

"Beautiful canvas," I address him very softly. "I will keep you for later. You will be my last creation before I pass to my next life." I run my fingers lightly over his chest. His skin is smooth and tight. "Yes, a fine canvas for my creation." I bless him with my promise of things to come. As I stare at his visage, I see the look in his eyes. Fear comes unbidden into my heart. I remember that some Americans are perfect killers. This is such a one and will never be easily subdued.

"Take him," I whisper to my helpers, "and give him this." I take my own special silver box from my robe and remove a new needle from its nesting place. I glance at my old captors, who glare at me even though they are bound and gagged.

"I treat guests well, as is my duty." I bow to them and I show them the bright needle. I bestow the beautiful needle to one of my clan and he fills the syringe with my special brew. I watch as my helpers pull my perfect, young canvas away. The sleeve is ripped from his tattered shirt and a tourniquet is tightened on his strong arm. The needle slips smoothly into his vein. I see him look inward before he succumbs to my gift. "Good," I murmur.

I turn to my old enemies, the vengeance of my heart's desire will now begin. Even though they are restrained, they still have the look of arrogance that I so well remember. Encompassed by darkness, they glow with the same inner light that surrounded them the last time.

The bigger man is slumped in his chair. He glares at me with his blue lighted eyes. I am happy to see that light once again. I have chosen blue as the color for his skin. It is the blue of his cold eyes and heart that could not comprehend the beauty of my great creations.

The other one has now become gray of hair. The color I have chosen for him is red. The red of happiness, the red of the blood that courses through his skin. When I finish with him, that blood will be the only thing that will be seen when he is looked upon.

I turn and take off my blood stained robe. I clothe myself in a new garment. One that is of purest white, the color of mourning and death. I show them the boxes which contain new, beautiful artist's needles bought to use on their flesh. I confide that I wanted the two to find me, so that I might add them to my collection. I explain as clearly as I can that I will be generous. My great kindness will be in permitting them to become the soil from which my art will grow. For as I mark them, so will they belong to me as servants upon their deaths. It will be a gift from me to my oldest enemies.

They are still too earthbound to understand the great honor soon to be bestowed upon them. I sigh and give the order to begin. Pointing to the taller man, I say I will start with him.

My other creations surround him and their combined strength is sufficient to subdue him as he is tied to my artist's worktable. He is too tall and his head lolls off the end. His torso is stripped bare and washed. I will start on the front of this canvas.

As the work will take a long while, I give my helpers another gift of my sweet heroin. Soon, all that is heard is the occasional breath of a dreamer and the scratching of a rat lost in the walls.

Just the three of us old friends remained conscious in the room. The one on the chair still struggles and makes the occasional muffled sound from behind his gag. The one on the table groans and winces as the needle first slides into his skin. Now he is quiet. He is breathing rapidly while his heart flutters in his chest. The moist heat from his body steams in the cold air as his blood drips slowly onto the table.

Ah, it was as pleasant a time as I could have dreamed. A tranquil time shared by The Creator and his art.

Robert saw that apart from Li, he and Control were the only ones in the room still awake and he honestly wasn't sure how much longer Control would be able to hang on. A movement from the corner of his eye caught his attention and Robert turned. It was Mickey. He had stirred slightly before nodding away again.

Robert had looked on in horror earlier, as Mickey had been injected. The younger man had tried to sit up but the drug had overwhelmed him. Moments later he had slumped onto the floor; his eyes had closed and his head tipped limply to one side. Robert had prayed it was a sleep from which he would wake again. Mickey moving now gave Robert renewed hope.

Controlling the pain from his injured arm by sheer bloody-mindedness, Robert began to work on the tape binding his hands. It took twenty minutes before his hands were free. Keeping them behind him, Robert took a final look around. He had already decided that he was going to try for the spare gun he knew was taped to Mickey's leg. He would kill the madman first and then, somehow, get Mickey and Control out of this hellhole.

Mickey stirred, mumbling quietly to himself. Robert looked over at him in concern. Opening his eyes, Mickey looked straight at Robert, and winked before he closed them again. Robert was so shocked he let his expression change briefly, smiling for an instant, before he was once more in control.

Thoughts raced through his head. Was Mickey really awake? What had happened? Was he unaffected by the drugs he had been given, or was it merely a coincidence? If he was alert it would make Robert's job easier.

Looking at Control, Robert became concerned; blood was dripping down off of his body at an alarming rate. Robert wanted to give Mickey as long as possible to recover, but he couldn't wait too long to free Control. It was going to need a careful balancing act and it was one that Robert had performed hundreds of times before. That it had been with different degrees of success, he chose not to recall.

Then, the decision was taken from him. The Artist stopped working over Control and moved away from the table. He walked towards Mickey; Robert was on his feet instantly and, before The Artist had covered more than five yards, Robert had moved up behind him and hit him once, hard.

Going swiftly to Mickey, he touched the younger man on the shoulder and was rewarded with a low groan and the opening of his eyes. They were still glazed and unfocused but he began to climb unsteadily to his feet without assistance. Leaving Mickey to regain his footing, Robert hurried back to Control and freed him from his restraints. With his good arm, Robert helped Control to slide off the table. His chest was a gory mess but it seemed to Robert that it looked worse than it really was.

Together and slowly the three men made their way out of the maze of passageways and rooms. Taking the spare gun taped to his leg, Mickey used it threateningly, to clear their path out of the hellish surroundings.

I woke and saw that all three Americans had slipped away from me, back into the land of the living. I knew then that fate is the most powerful of the Gods. They had escaped, and I struggled with my anger until I became serene. Now, I stand in the middle of the room and raise my arms, gazing upon all of my beautiful living canvases. I bless them with my happiness. The forces of the universe cannot be commanded, but they can be swayed if you prepare.

I pull a pile of cloths aside and lift up a pure white ceremonial box that I had created over the past twenty years. It was my only possession during my long in-between life. Only yesterday, I filled it with my final gift to my warm breathing works of art.

I open the box and show it to my creations as they lay on the ground surrounding me. Fifty needles filled with the best heroin and morphine mixture the old man's money could buy.

I walk amongst them, and hand out needles to those who are capable of taking them. My marked children will never know that the needles are filled with death, all of them so hungry for another high! Those still too deep in the arms of Morpheus, I minister the needle to, plunging death straight into their veins. I am filled with deep happiness as each one slumps farther down into the dark valley. I swiftly, but gently, arrange their gradually cooling bodies.

My last and finest creation was as complete as it would ever be. I sigh sadly; the two Americans are not present to complete the tableau.

I bow to my future servants as I unsheathe my blade. I feel the welcoming arms of Death reach out for me, yearningly, as a lover would. I look to the heavens and plunge the sword deeply into my abdomen. I gasp at the exquisite white light of pain it brings me. Happily, I slide into the arms of She who waited for me since I was young, She who guided my steps, She who taught me to create.

I slide gratefully toward the arms of Death. My reward finally earned. Then I see something coming toward me with great speed. My eyes open in surprise. No sound escapes my throat as I scream in horror as I see what lies in wait for me.

Barely staying on his feet, Kostmayer cleared the way through the dregs of society that surrounded them as they made their way to the car. The whole building was spewing people, like rats running off a sinking ship. Robert's useless arm meant that driving the car was beyond him, so Kostmayer sat behind the wheel and they took off for safety. Before they had gotten very far, the hard realization struck them that The Artist might escape once again. Mickey turned the car around and drove back.

Robert picked up his car phone with his good hand, and called in the situation to Detective Shepherd. They waited there, locked in the car. Control's bleeding had stopped, and the cool night air revived him although he was still in pain. Kostmayer found the first aid kit and used the time to bind Robert's useless arm to his complaining body. That physical exertion seemed to help to lift any remaining grogginess that Mickey still had and brought him nearly back up to speed.

Robert looked at his young colleague, "I don't understand, Mickey. Why weren't you out of it for much longer after they gave you the drugs?" he asked.

With a wry smile, Mickey said, "I was lucky. The guy with the needle only gave me a small amount. Keeping most of it for himself, I guess. The Artist should have known to never trust a junkie."

It took about ten minutes for the patrol cars to show up. In that time nothing stirred near the filthy, dilapidated building. Some survival instinct had alerted the street people to clear out.

Control pushed himself up out of the back seat of the Jag when Detective Shepherd showed up. The look of disgust and horror on the faces of the officers, as they looked at the bloody mess that covered Control's chest, hardly registered on him. He took command of the situation. Standing tall, he raised his arm and barked at the assembled NYPD. "This is a Federal Crime Scene. You are to assess the situation and the danger only. Detective Shepherd will fill you in on the details." He gave some orders to Shepherd and then he walked over to Robert and Mickey. An officer handed Control and Mickey dark blue windbreakers with NYPD printed on the back. They quickly put them on, Control covering his bare and bloody torso and Mickey over his torn shirt.

Shepherd entered the building first, with two units of men. There were no sounds of gunfire or any other disturbance, only that of footsteps and shouted warnings as the NYPD stormed the building. The last of the men disappeared inside the building, and for a few moments there was nothing to be seen or heard. Then, two tall burley cops looking pale and shocked, reappeared at the entrance. They went over to Control, and indicated that he was to follow them back into the building.

Robert went in first, followed closely by Kostmayer. By the time Control made it back through the maze of rooms, Robert was leaning against a filthy wall for support. Hardened officers of the NYPD were standing aghast at the sight in the room. Only Kostmayer walked around amongst the bodies checking for life. He had been the object of such a ploy before, and had vowed that would never let himself be duped by men faking death again.

Control walked further into the candle lit room. There were bodies everywhere, wrapped in a silence so deep and still that the wind, creeping outside of the building, was the only sound to be heard. The horror of the room was almost overwhelmed by the beauty and colors that glowed off the posed bodies.

Control saw that there was room for two more bodies remaining in the staged tableau. His stomach turned as he realized that the boxes that had held the needles bought for Robert and himself sat in those empty spaces. They marked where their dead bodies were supposed to be posed had The Artist been successful in completing his creation.

Face down, The Artist was kneeling in the center of the room, dead. His blood had drained from him and the colors and shapes surrounding him were of an unnatural and exquisite beauty. Control was temporarily overwhelmed by its enchantment.

Shaking himself out of its spell, he shouted, "No more of this!" He turned and ordered all the officers to double glove and pull the bodies apart. Detective Shepherd strode over to him and protested the ruining of a crime scene. Control stared her down and told her to leave it all in his jurisdiction.

Robert was still leaning against the wall. He seemed to be memorizing the bloody scene that lay out before him. He turned toward Control and glared. Control's whole body braced for the angry verbiage that was sure to be forthcoming.

"Is this enough to teach you to chose your priorities more carefully, Control?" Robert was shaking with anger. Control was in pain, and had been through more than he could stand that day. He didn't have any extra patience to deal with being the butt of Robert's, all too easy, righteous indignation.

"You're right again, Robert," Control said bitterly. He walked to Robert and they stood toe to toe, "Next time, when we're faced with a victim of mental illness, I'll be sure to think of today and your pearls of wisdom," he sneered. "then I'll slit that man's throat in cold blood."

The words hit home. Robert grimaced and closed his mouth tightly. He set his jaw and turned away. Control wiped his mouth with the back of his hand. Robert and he would have a hard time getting over this incident.

"Control," Mickey called. He was standing over the body of the dead madman. Control took a deep breath and walked over to him. Immediately, Robert joined them.

"I guess he got what he wanted." Kostmayer said, as he turned the body face up. They all stepped back involuntarily. The dead man's face had a look of abject terror frozen on it.

"I doubt that," Control said flatly.

"Borchek said that his momentary visit to hell was unbearable torture," Robert said through a clenched jaw. "I would think that this piece of excrement got a very good view of what his ultimate judgment and penance would include." Robert turned away and hitched his useless arm higher in its binding, before adding, "I certainly hope he did."

Robert walked out of the room. Kostmayer looked up at Control, then retrieved his own jacket from the floor. He gave a small salute and a crooked smile before he followed Robert out.

Control put a few phone calls into headquarters. He told everyone, in no uncertain terms, that if one word got out about what happened in that room, all the powers in heaven and earth would not stop his wrath from coming down on whoever leaked the information. Control stood by himself, overseeing the clean up. He remained at the crime scene until the Company's cleaning crews finished and the last of the NYPD's questions had been fielded.

Alone, he walked through the empty building, listening to the silence, forcing himself to remain there, undergoing his own penance. He wondered how much responsibility he held for this fiasco. The many victims of The Artist weighed heavily on him.

He would never admit, even to himself, that he had clearly heard the sound of a soul screaming in torment. He could still not be sure that it was the dead artist he had heard crying out, and not his own soul's weeping.