Author: Froggy Frog and Miller
"Vodka on the rocks. Make it a double," Willow said.
"And for you, Ma'am?" the steward asked.
"Water?" McClay said.
Willow pushed her seat back as far as it would go and closed her eyes. She hated late night flights. Well, that was not strictly true. The flights were usually okay, but what awaited when she landed was usually painful - finding a rental, driving around in the dark in a strange place looking for some dingy hotel or motel. In the meantime however, she had a couple of hours to relax.
She heard the steward deposit the drink on her seat tray and opened her eyes. She took a sip. Then a mouthful. Willow didn't usually drink on flights, or much at all, for that matter - but she hadn't had a very enjoyable day and thought it might help her mood. And the drink was well under the amount that would usually lead her to try and chat up the stewardesses.
"Agent Rosenberg?" McClay said. She sat in the window seat next to Willow, mopping up the water she'd spilled on her tray.
"Bit of turbulence?" Willow asked, feigning ignorance.
"No. Just c-clumsiness," McClay said. She finished her mopping and put the dripping napkin in her empty cup.
"Want a real drink?" Willow said, indicating her own glass. "We should celebrate our absolutely terrible day, I think. Toast the latest pair of FBI rejects."
"Erm. No. Alcohol makes me even clumsier," McClay said. "And I t- talk a lot. And sometimes I get a little... well... n-nevermind. No thank you."
"No problem," said Willow. "Cheers, anyhow." She raised her glass and drank some more vodka.
"Agent Rosenberg. I'm so very s-sorry for being late... at the airport," McClay said. "I had some problems getting Emkay - m-my cat - settled at my friend's apartment. And then I had to pack... but I'd lost my t-travel bag - I haven't been on a field trip for oh... years - and so I had to buy a new one. And I got lost in the airport."
"It's fine. You were only three hours late," Willow said. Odd - no recent field trip experience either, Willow thought. Not that it really mattered. She'd had five years experience as a field agent, with both investigative and under-cover work. She was sure it would all come back to her. She'd kept up regular practice with her firearm and felt confident about her ability to use it. And she wasn't in trouble for practicing witchcraft without good reason. Willow wondered what McClay actually did for the Bureau. She would find out soon enough, no doubt.
Willow focused on McClay's voice again. She was explaining how she found the airport a little intimidating and often got lost in busy, crowded places.
"Don't worry. I understand," Willow said. She had another mouthful of vodka. She was feeling a lot more relaxed now, and was enjoying watching a particularly attractive stewardess walk up and down the aisle. "I used the time to review the assignment. Several times, in fact. Interesting case."
"Oh. Gosh. I should r-read it now. Then we can talk about it," McClay said.
"Er, No. Not tonight. We'll start fresh in the morning, eh, McClay?" Willow said, leaning back in her chair and closing her eyes once more.
"Okay. S-sure..." McClay said. "And... it's Tara, by the way."
"Hmm?" Willow said sleepily.
"My name. It's Tara," McClay repeated.
Willow adjusted her blouse and fastened the top button. She smiled into the bathroom mirror. She had a wonderful smile. She seldom used it, however. Not at work, at least. Well, not since Sarah died.
Work still drove her. She was good at it, and she knew she made a difference - did good deeds. Willow felt she could continue at the FBI, put up with its na´ve prejudices and politics, as long as she felt she was making a difference.
Work. She put on her mask, letting go of the smile she'd shown the mirror since she was a young girl. She replaced the smile with her moderate, impassive, cool statement.
She zipped up her travel bag, and then, holding her hands close to the black leather case, she wove an intricate pattern in air with her slender fingers. The bag's surface shimmered slightly for a split second. Safe now, she thought.
Willow carried her bag to the door, opened it and went into the corridor. She made her way to McClay's room and rang on the bell. She suppressed the urge to yell "Room Service" and then run away.
A few seconds later McClay opened the door, her bag in her hand.
"Good morning, Agent Rosenberg," she said, smiling brightly at Willow.
McClay wore her hair down today, and long blonde strands fell onto her shoulders and framed her smiling face. Her intense blue eyes looked directly into Willow's.
Willow was momentarily taken aback by the intensity of McClay's gaze. She stared, transfixed, into McClay's bright, clear eyes for several seconds. With difficulty she forced her own eyes away.
"Um... Hi," Willow said. It was all she could say. She struggled to refocus her thoughts.
"Shall we g-go?" McClay said.
"Breakfast?" Willow said, hoarsely.
"Yes, please," McClay said.
"Sure. But must be quick," Willow said, regaining her self control. "We've a four hour drive to get to the crime scene, and I believe there's good reason to hurry."
"Yes. Of c-course," McClay said.
The agents made their way to the lobby and Willow checked them out of the airport hotel. They then proceeded to the hotel's restaurant and found a table.
Willow ordered some coffee. McClay ordered toast and water.
Willow sat and sipped her coffee, looking around the restaurant. Everywhere except McClay's eyes. They'd shaken her, and she didn't like it. Or perhaps she liked it a little too much.
Stupid, she thought. She wouldn't let this woman get to her. She looked up and saw her nibbling her toast and reading a small book. Willow decided to simply avoid looking into her eyes. Simple. Easy.
"You look over the case, McClay?" Willow said.
McClay looked up from her book and wiped a crumb from the corner of her mouth with her napkin.
"Yes, yes I d-did," McClay said. She took a sip of water and cleared her throat. She closed her book and looked at Willow, who avoided meeting her gaze. "Location is the town of Turrendale, New York, population 38,549. Six victims, two male, four female. All six victims share the basic MO. Each found tied to the ground within a large chalk-drawn pentagram, various other symbols present but in each case they are simple annotations and contain little or no information. Each victim was missing the tips of the fingers and toes, and the left eye. Cause of death undeterminable in each case. No toxins, wounds or any other signs of trauma. Each victim found in the nearby woods, except for the latest, a male age 37, found in the basement of his house at 5404 Englewood Terrace, who was discovered by his wife Ashley, age 34, on November 6th at 5:15pm..."
McClay paused to take a breath.
"You remembered all that?" Willow asked, astonished. McClay had recited the facts very quickly in a soft, clear voice devoid of the nervous stutter she normally demonstrated.
"Yes. Well. There's m-more, actually," McClay said. "All of the victims were under 40 years of age and in good health, two were married and all were employed, though one victim, a woman age 26 only worked part time at the local supermarket..."
"Woah!" Willow interrupted, grinning. "Slow down. I get it. You've a good memory, McClay."
"Thank you, Agent R-rosenberg." McClay's cheeks reddened slightly. She looked down at the tablecloth, which gave Willow the chance to look at her without seeing those wonderful eyes.
"And what do you make of all this?" Willow asked.
McClay looked up, and Willow dodged her eyes again. Willow pinched herself. This is silly, she thought. She forced herself to meet McClay's eyes and sat there, reluctantly held by McClay's gaze, as she spoke.
"It's a c-collection ritual. That is, a process of collecting s- sacred items to perform some other larger spell or ritual. It's most commonly used to translate a spirit or demon from the nether world into this dimension," McClay said.
Willow let out a small sigh of relief. This woman was clever, if clumsy. And she knew witchcraft. McClay wouldn't be the useless dead weight Willow was dreading having follow her around a small isolated town.
She pulled her eyes from McClay's. It was a little easier this time.
"I think you're right," Willow said. "Did you notice that the period between each murder is decreasing over time ? This might indicate that the entity is becoming closer to this dimension and requires more frequent rituals to penetrate the stronger local membrane between realms."
"That's just what I thought," McClay said, somewhat excitedly. "And, g-given the dates of the murders, w-we should be able to figure out when the summoning will be complete"
"March 19th, late afternoon," Willow said, trying not to sound too smug. "I wrote a small program to calculate it last night. "
"Really?" McClay said, smiling at Willow. "That's wonderful!"
Then McClay frowned. Her faced became troubled, and as her smile faded Willow felt an unwanted pang of loss. Danger sign Willow, she warned herself.
"Goddess. That's only two weeks away," McClay said.
"It is. Not much time," Willow said. "And it gets worse. I'm sure that another ritual needs to be performed, before the summoning, to provide the energy for the final crossing. So, we're looking at the possibility of another murder soon. Very soon, Tara."
"Oh d-dear", Tara said. "We'd better go, Agent Rosenberg."
"Yes. We'd better," Willow said. She paused for a few moments, let out a small sign of resignation, then forced herself to look directly into Tara's concerned eyes.
"And it's Willow. My name is Willow."