“Are you still covering for him? I think you got a better look than you’re letting on,” Wilson said.
“No, I swear. I really don’t know who it was.”
Gaither said the killer referred to his “lovely family” when he threatened him. Wall had heard that kind of talk from someone in the plant — Jeff Stivins, the supervisor for the area where the body was found. “Don’t worry, Kay, we’ll get you to a safer, more pleasant place.” To say something like that right after seeing a dead body seemed awfully calm and collected. He was sure Stivins would know about the attic access area.
Still, Gaither’s story sounded so contrived, it was hard to believe. He could have just bumped the guy himself and then made up the whole story. But, why leave the body out in plain view? Why not just toss it in some molten metal?
After Wall and Wilson both talked to him, Stivins insisted that he knew nothing about the murder besides what the body looked like. Then they informed him that he had been implicated, and gave him a brief rundown of the scenario.
“It all sounds terribly tidy, doesn’t it, Detectives? Everything points to another man, whom you refuse to name, but of whose identity I’m well aware, yet he claims some mystery man forced him into complicity,” Stivins said.
Wall didn’t like it, either. Still, there was something strange about Stivins. The way he talked, for one thing. It did not seem to fit a factory worker’s normal pattern of speech. Or anybody else’s, for that matter.
“Did you say you have a college education?” Wall asked.
“Not a degree, no, but I spent time at the University of Central Arkansas. Please, don’t think that is where I learned to sound educated. My mother is from London. She and my father met each other at a software company that has locations both here and in Europe. Both of them are quite refined.”
That grated on Wall’s nerves. It all sounded snobby to him. Still, it was no reason to pin a murder on a guy without more evidence than they had.
“But you grew up in the U.S.?”
“Yes, I did. Father was from Omaha, and he inspired my pronunciation.”
“Yeah. Tea, crumpets. Whatever,” Wall said.
“You claim you know who told us this. How?”
“Everyone in the factory knows who reported the murder, who had blood on his shirt in the manager’s office,” Stivins said.
Stivins sat alone in his office. He steamed at the thought that Gaither might get him caught. More than that, he chided himself for getting clumsy. Still, nobody was supposed to be in that area that early in the morning. If Gaither had not been there, then he would not have Wallace Davies or any other police to bother him. Still, instead of any real evidence, they had only Gaither’s word.
“I will not let you be my ruination, little man,” Stivins muttered to the empty room. “And you tried to cheapen my efforts by at first telling them you heard a gun. Such a cold, impersonal way to kill.”
Shaeffer’s soul swept over his mind, and he felt a rush that made all the risk worthwhile. He felt he had absorbed three souls now, and knew that the latest — the oldest — would hold him for quite some time. The experiences he could feel through Shaeffer were almost endless compared to the homeless man and the young college girl he had killed in the past.
Gaither barely had pulled Shaeffer across the floor in time for Stivins to give Shaeffer the proper final impression. He made him believe he was going to die not from the stab wound, but by being lowered into a fiery pool of metal. When he caught his soul, the fear was so pure and intoxicating that it almost put him on his knees before he finished moving the body.
The last breath was all it took, for it was the breeze that bore the soul to its destination. Somehow, when he was a teenager, Stivins himself had become one of those resting places. Just being present, however, did not work. He had tried that with his dying grandmother, a few years after he discovered his power. For the soul to transfer to him, he had to be the instrument of death.
Stivins in a way considered himself a victim. The homeless man’s death, which was a case of self-defense in his eyes, had introduced him to this ability in the most jarring manner imaginable. The man’s broken soul, damaged irreparably by a torn mind, had been too much for Stivins’ young mind to take, and he was convinced it had driven him to more murderous tendencies.
He needed new experiences. The freedom of worry when he called upon the college girl’s soul was refreshing, but it proved a shallow well. One can only dance in the rain with
wreckless reckless abandon a few times before it starts to seem wrote rote. On the other hand, the homeless man’s varied experiences were poisoned by his soul’s insanity.
The older, more experienced, and mentally stable soul of Frank Shaeffer would afford him a much deeper and safer well from which to draw. That was what made him a prime target for Stivins. Already, in fact, he had felt the emotion of surviving a prisoner of war camp in Vietnam. Invigorating.
More and more, he could direct which experience his mind culled from the souls he had collected. The homeless man’s soul still remained his curse, however, as he could not predict when it would invade his thoughts. He must keep it in check to maintain impunity.
(continue to Part 8)