DISCLAIMER: The Sentinel and its characters are the property of Paramount Studios and Pet Fly Productions. These stories are offered for the enjoyment of the fans. No money has exchanged hands.


Lullaby
by
Iris Wilde

.

Act I

Cascade -- 1966

Cold. Wet. Foggy. She hated Cascade. Too much rain, not enough sunshine, and on nights like this when the clouds hung atop the street lamps and telephone poles, it reeked of dead fish and stagnant salt water.

She bent slightly and adjusted her stocking. Someday she'd get out of here. Someday she'd have enough money and she'd go someplace warm. Someplace sunny. Someplace where she could get a real job. Someplace where no one knew what she'd done before.

She really wanted to go to Hollywood. She knew she could make it as an actress if given half a chance. Mrs. Haines, her English teacher, had told her she had natural ability. She'd been cast as Emily Webb in her high school's production of Our Town and everyone had said she was Oscar material. She'd have to work hard, maybe even hop in the sack with an agent or a producer or somebody, but hell, that was no big deal anymore.

She'd have to start off small, a minor role or walk on, but eventually she'd move up. She'd do some television, maybe get to star opposite Ryan O'Neal in Peyton Place. Then there'd be movie offers. She'd play Paul Newman's leading lady. She could drown in eyes so blue.

Just a few more weeks, maybe a couple of months, and she'd have enough money to go. A year at most. Then she could put all of this behind her.

Something crashed in the alley behind her and she whirled about. A small orange blur darted by her legs and she nearly tumbled over it. Damn cat! That was something else she wouldn't miss -- all the stinking stray animals. Cats on the streets, dogs in the parks... there ought to be a law.

She sighed. It was just the stress and long hours. She could use a nice soft bed, one in which she could actually sleep, but now she was working days as well as nights. The cops were really cracking down, thanks to that lunatic, and many of her regular customers were avoiding the area for fear of being picked up. Great. The cops decide to patrol the area to "protect" people like her and business dwindles to a trickle. Just swell. Well, with any luck they'd catch the guy before long.

She didn't worry about it -- well, not too much. She was young, but she could take care of herself. She'd just have to be careful. She'd stick to near street lamps and main roads, and she'd only --

Hands grabbed her hair and clamped over her mouth simultaneously, jerking her back. She lost her balance and fell against solid bulk, the heels of her shoes bouncing across pavement as she was dragged backwards. The glow from the street lamp faded, replaced by the smothering darkness of the alleyway, and in that single second she knew she was going to die.

She was shoved to the ground, and the little air left in her lungs was squeezed out by the man's weight as he dropped onto her. Gravel cut into her calves and the odor of nearby garbage made her gag. The man didn't seem to notice.

"Don't you scream, baby girl. Wouldn't want to have to hurt you. You just lie there and be quiet."

His breath stank of old coffee and stale spearmint and she tried to turn her face. He would have none of that, though, and yanked her hair. His face, hidden behind a ski mask, was less than an inch from hers.

"Look at me, whore, and don't you dare close your eyes. You do and I'll rip them out."

It wouldn't matter, she knew. He would kill her when he'd finished.

"Hush, little baby, don't say a word. Papa's gonna buy you a mockingbird." His voice was thick and breathy as he sang, and she felt him fumbling with his belt. Part of her wanted to cry in terror. Part of her wanted him to just hurry and get it over with. Part of her was determined to survive.

The latter took control.

"If that mockingbird don't sing, Papa's gonna buy you a diamond ring." He lifted her dress and clawed at her panties.

Her hand moved, spider-like, over the bits of trash scattered about them. Her fingers danced across something sharp, halted, investigated, then grasped.

"If that diamond ring turns brass, Papa's gonna buy you a looking glass." He jammed a leg between hers, forcing them apart.

She swiped the jagged edge of the broken bottle across his face, slicing through both mask and flesh.

His cries of surprise and agony sparked her to action. She kicked and squirmed, dislodging him in seconds. She crab-crawled away from him[,] then scrambled to her feet. He lunged at her, but she dodged and used the bloodied bottle to keep him at bay. She dashed out into the street and the screams he had forbidden now ripped the fabric of the nighttime peace.

The flashing red strobe from the police car bounced off the surrounding buildings seconds before the vehicle squealed around the corner, stopping only after one tire had jumped the curb. She staggered to the unit and collapsed against it, and for once she found the sight of a policeman comforting. All she could do was point into the alley, but it was enough. She heard the officers call out to someone, then the sounds of a scuffle, then footsteps. The policemen emerged from the alley. A bent, bleeding figure walked between them.

One officer settled her attacker into the back of the unit while the other approached her. "Are you all right, miss?"

He'd called her "miss." His gentle tone and polite manner were her undoing, and sobs shook her small frame. The broken bottle was pried from her fingers and an arm was placed about her shoulders.

"He s-sang," she blurted out, realizing it made no sense but knowing somehow it was important. "He sang th-that song... the one about the m-mockingbird."

The arm around her shoulder tightened. "Call it in, Tom," the officer said to his partner. "Tell them we caught the 'Lullaby Rapist.'"


Cascade -- present day

Jim studied the photos carefully. Each woman was young, each was reasonably attractive, and each sported bruises on her face, neck, arms, and thighs.

"Four rape victims, four similar stories." Simon's nasal baritone floated above Jim's head and moments later the captain leaned over him to place two files on the conference table. "None of the victims saw their attackers, so they can't provide us with much in the way of a description. The DNA sample taken from one of the victims is useless because she'd had intercourse with other men prior to the rape. The remaining victims reported their attacks several days after the incidents. What we do know is that all of the women were assaulted by a man wearing a ski mask, and all stated their attacker sang to them."

Blair gulped the last of his coffee, nearly choking. "Sang?" He leaned across the table to better see the file Megan perused.

Simon nodded. "Sang, Sandburg. He sang a lullaby."

Megan smiled grimly. "How sweet."

"Isn't it, though?" Simon dropped into the chair beside Jim. "'Hush, little baby, don't say a word...'"

"'Papa's gonna buy you a mockingbird,'" Blair finished. "So this guy takes a song that parents have been crooning to fussy babies for generations and turns it into his own twisted serenade. That's sick."

Jim tossed the photos onto the table. "Is it him, Simon?" He felt Blair and Megan's attention turn toward him but kept his own eyes on Simon. The captain gazed back momentarily, then shook his head.

"No, but still...."

Blair leaned forward in his seat. "Um, what are you guys talking about? Is it whom?"

"It's all there." Simon indicated the second file, older and worn. "Thirty-some years ago there was a series of rapes on Cascade's lower west side. All of the victims were young female prostitutes, and all claimed the rapist sang to them. Sang a lullaby. That lullaby."

Megan pulled the second file across the table and began rifling through its contents, sharing them with Blair. "It couldn't be the same man, could it? After all these years?"

"His name is Gerald Schirding and no, it's unlikely. He was released from prison a few years ago, but according to prison authorities he was pretty ill. Emphysema."

Jim detected the uncertainty in Simon's voice. "You don't sound convinced, sir."

"Oh, I'm sure he isn't committing the rapes, but I'm not so sure he's innocent of all involvement."

Blair toyed with his empty coffee cup, absentmindedly rubbing his thumb along the rim of his cup. "Why is that?"

"The details of the earlier rapes weren't given much attention. The west end was considered Cascade's low rent district even then, and its inhabitants were usually treated like second-class citizens. A crime there was given low priority, so the rapes of a few prostitutes were pretty much ignored by the police and media alike."

"Peachy." Styrofoam squeaked beneath Blair's fingers.

"It was another time, Chief," Jim explained, knowing as he said it how lame it sounded. "Prostitutes in that part of town were near the bottom rung on the ladder of humanity. Still are, as far as some people are concerned."

"In fact," Simon said, "the one good thing to come out of the case was a ruling from the commissioner's office demanding that officers be held accountable for their behavior in dealing with citizens. All citizens."

"Sensitivity Training 101, huh?"

Jim grinned. "Something like that. The case was big news for a few years in part because Schirding was from the 'right' side of the tracks -- Woodland Heights, to be exact."

Megan closed the file and set it aside. "In part?"

Jim picked up the file, opened it, and began flipping through the reports. "During the same time frame as the rapes there were three murders, all prostitutes. Their bodies were dumped in the bay, so what little forensic evidence a lab in the mid-60's could've used to find the murderer was washed away."

"Everyone suspected Schirding," Simon added, "but without evidence there was no proof, and he swore he was innocent. He confessed to five counts of rape and assault and battery, and he served thirty years. The murders were never solved."

Megan locked her fingers and placed her chin upon them. "So, we have a copycat-rapist-might-be-murderer."

"With possible inside information." Simon leaned back in his chair. "Like I said, the rapes didn't receive much attention, so the public's knowledge was limited. They knew that Schirding wore a black ski mask and sang to his victims, and they knew he choked and hit the women during the rapes. However, they didn't know the details of the actual attacks, and they didn't know he called his victims 'baby girl' and 'sweetheart.' Or that afterwards he told them they'd wanted it as much as he had."

Jim winced as the cup in Blair's hand screeched angrily.

"An MO shared by our current perp, I take it?" He leaned forward, wrestled Blair's cup from his grip, and set it next to his own.

Simon nodded. "Jim, I want you and Sandburg to pay Schirding a visit. He lives with his son Michael in Pine Ridge. He has to know something about this. Connor, head over to the west end. There's a clinic on the strip called The Haven that offers assistance to prostitutes in that part of town -- birth control, HIV tests, counseling, drug rehab, things like that. It's run by a woman named Maureen Paxton." Simon chuckled. "She's a live wire, so be prepared. She persuaded our four victims to file reports with us, and she's been calling the mayor's office demanding 24-hour police patrols, an undercover operation... everything but the National Guard."

Megan pocketed the address. "Can't say I blame her, Captain."

"No argument from me. Jim, when you two finish at Schirding's, meet up with Connor at The Haven then report back to me."

"Will do." Jim motioned for Blair to follow him. "C'mon, Chief. Let's pay Mr. Schirding a visit."

Blair frowned in disgust. "Shouldn't we get shots or something first?"

"Nah, just maintain a safe distance and wear gloves."

"Gotcha."


"Impressive!"

Jim smiled. "Don't drool on the window, Sandburg."

"Jim, I'm looking at some of the highest priced real estate in Cascade. I think that warrants an appreciative word or two."

"Hey, you're a byproduct of the hippie era, remember? You're supposed to be above coveting material goods."

Blair snorted. "Yeah, right."

Jim shook his head sadly. "Another illusion shot to hell." He gave some of the opulent homes a cursory glance. A sprawling Mediterranean here, an imposing Tudor there, each with an immaculately manicured lawn, strategically placed shrubbery, and trees trimmed into submission. Money could buy perfection. Or at least a perfect facade.

"Hey, Jim? You seem pretty familiar with the Schirding case."

"Yep."

"Why? You were just a kid when it happened."

"It hit close to home. Literally."

"How so?"

"Remember where Schirding lived when he committed the rapes?"

"Yeah, Woodland Heights. That's on the -- oh!"

"Exactly."

"How far from your house?"

"Woodland Heights was adjacent to my neighborhood. We could see the homes there from the park." Jim focused his sight on a road sign in the distance. "Three more blocks."

"Did you know the Schirdings?"

"No, but I knew of them. Gerald Schirding was the original bogeyman, the 'monster in our midst,' so to speak. Parents whispered to each other about him and kids passed along the legend, embellishing it through the years. I remember sitting on Pete Stinson's back porch one summer night while his older brother 'entertained' us with the latest tale... something about Schirding sneaking out of prison on the weekend and kidnapping local kids."

"Were you scared?"

"Hell, yes! Every time something happened in the neighborhood -- a window was broken, a pet disappeared, a kid turned up missing -- it was blamed on Schirding." Jim chuckled as he turned onto a side street. "Of course, we'd find out later a baseball had broken the window, Brutus the Dachshund was visiting the poodle down the road, and the missing kid had run away to grandma's, but the rumors continued."

"Sounds like Cascade's answer to Boo Radley."

"Except Schirding really was a lunatic," Jim reminded him as he parked the truck in front of a palatial gray stone home, "and still may be."

Jim gazed at the home, raking it from top to bottom. Every door was closed, every window curtained. The house seemed suffocated.

"When did you find out the truth about the Schirding case?"

Jim continued to stare at the house. "A few months after Bud was killed. I realized that bogeymen were just men. I asked Sally about Schirding and she explained it in terms I could understand. Then when I joined the force I did my own research. The reality was almost as scary as the myth."

There was a movement, a faint shifting of fabric in the front window, and Jim zoomed in. They were being watched.

"C'mon, Chief," he said, reaching for the door handle. "Let's not keep the man waiting."


The housekeeper frowned at Jim's ID, then frowned at Jim. Blair averted his gaze as an image of Young Frankenstein's Frau Blucher pricked at the edge of his mind. He doubted this woman would appreciate the comparison.

"I don't know about this." The frown deepened. "I don't think Mr. Schirding would like this."

Jim retrieved his ID. "Well, perhaps you should call him," he said, stepping around her to the edge of the foyer. "While you're doing that, my partner and I will have a friendly chat with the elder Mr. Schirding."

The woman seemed to consider this. Then, frowning deeper still, she extended a hand and indicated a doorway to their right. "Mr. Schirding's father is in the den. He has another guest. Please be brief." With that, the frowning housekeeper turned and scurried into another room.

"Thank you, Miss Congeniality," Jim muttered as they headed toward the den.

The room beyond was spacious and grand but heavy curtains drawn against the afternoon sun gave it a stifling, almost claustrophobic feeling. At the far end sat two men who turned to face them. Blair thought the younger of the two vaguely familiar, but there was no mistaking the identity of the elder. Time and disease had ravaged Gerald Schirding's body so that it bore no resemblance to his mug shot, but there was something about his eyes...

"Gerald Schirding?" Jim's voice was all business. "We're with the Cascade police department. I'm Detective Ellison and --"

The man seated beside Schirding rose to his feet. "I'm Thad Martin. What's your business with Mr. Schirding?"

Blair snapped his fingers. "That's why you look familiar! Your picture is on the back of your books." The man smiled slightly, obviously pleased to be recognized. "Pleased" did not describe the expression on Jim's face, so Blair hurried to explain. "This is Thad Martin. He writes novels about --"

"-- serial killers and other lowlifes. I know who he is, Sandburg." Jim leveled his gaze at Martin. "I've read a couple of your books. The Dark Heart was very interesting."

"Yes," the man agreed, "it was one of my best. Robert Hickman is a fascinating man. Quite brilliant, but such a tortured soul."

"Yeah, after reading about his rough life as a kid I was able to overlook the fact that he brutally murdered seven children."

Martin's smile faded. "Detective, understanding the nature of the beast may help prevent similar tragedies."

"Or not." Jim drew closer to the fourth man, who still sat silently on the sofa. "Mr. Schirding, I'd like to ask you a few questions."

The old man adjusted the tube that snaked from an oxygen tank to his nose. "Haven't the police got anything better to do than harass a dying man?" His voice was raspy and tinged with anger, and Blair realized any information he and Jim got from him would be hard won.

"We're not here to harass you, sir. We're hoping that you can shed some light on a current case."

"Heh-heh!" the old man wheezed. "You -- you want me to help you? God, that's rich!"

Jim persevered. "Mr. Schirding, you were arrested over thirty years ago for a series of rapes. Is that correct?"

The laughter stopped. "You know damn well I was or you wouldn't have asked."

"Well, it appears that someone is following the example you set."

"There's a copycat?" Martin's voice contained an element of delighted curiosity that grated on Blair's nerves.

"Hoping for a sequel?"

The author backed down.

"Do you know anything about it?" Jim asked.

Schirding matched Jim's stare for several moments before answering. "No, I don't know anything about it," he sneered, "and if I did you'd be the last to hear about it."

"What the hell do you people want?"

Blair whirled around as a middle-aged man, his face flushed with fury, stormed into the room. Blair stole a quick glance at Jim, noted he was still engaged in a battle of wills with Schirding, and intercepted the newcomer.

"And you are?"

"Michael Schirding," the man stated, stopping in front of Blair but looking past him. "Would you mind telling me what the police want with my father?"

"We need to ask him a few questions."

"About what?"

"There has been a series of rapes and --"

The younger Schirding exploded. "What? You're interrogating my father about what?" Blair was nearly knocked from his feet as Michael Schirding lunged past him. "Get out! Get the hell out of here before I call my lawyer and have you charged with harassment!"

"We're investigating a crime." Jim's voice was calm and controlled. Michael Schirding wisely avoided physical contact but stood with his face only inches away from Jim's.

"My father is seventy years old, for God's sake. You can't seriously believe he has anything to do with... with..."

"There are similarities, so we came to ask a few questions."

Schirding closed his eyes and took a deep breath before saying though gritted teeth, "Any further questioning will be done in the presence of my lawyer. Now get out."

Blair started for the door at Jim's signal, glad to be facing away from the others when Jim called back over his shoulder, "Don't leave town, Mr. Schirding. We'll be in touch." The den's heavy oak doors nearly clipped his heels.

"Well, that was fun," Blair mumbled as they crossed the foyer.

"Charming family," Jim added.

"I see you survived."

Jim and Blair looked at each other, then behind them, seeking the source of the third voice. A fair-haired man, tall and muscular, stepped from the shadows.

"A little worse for wear," Blair admitted, taking in the man's casual clothing and relaxed appearance. "Do you work here?"

The third man nodded. "Eric Portier. I'm Mr. Schirding's nurse."

"Nice job."

Portier shrugged. "It pays well. Mr. Schirding -- Michael -- he's okay. He's got a lot on his shoulders and I think it gets to him sometimes."

"And Gerald Schirding?" Jim inquired.

Portier looked at the closed den doors, then back at Jim. "Like I said, the job pays well."

"Ah."

Portier started to speak, but the housekeeper abruptly appeared, her perpetual frown firmly in place. The nurse excused himself and left through the doorway from which he had emerged, his thick-soled tennis shoes barely making a sound against the hardwood floor.

The housekeeper made shooing motions, her hands flapping about like startled birds, and Blair nearly tumbled over Jim as the woman all but threw them out onto the stoop. The door was slammed shut and a familiar frowning face materialized in an adjacent window.

Jim smiled and waved to her.

Continue on to Act II...


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