Time and Again

By Peter Pike

"He ain't got a head."

"You're very observant, Hal," Sheriff Edward Garland replied dryly. The two looked at the body at their feet. In addition to having his head removed, the killer (or killers) had also cut off both the hands and feet of the victim before leaving the naked body in the field where it now lay.

"Someone doesn't want this guy identified," Deputy Harold Kilgore continued.

Ed nodded. "But why didn't the killer dump him down the mine shaft?" The Sheriff gestured toward the open hole in the ground, a mere twenty-five yards away. "It would have taken longer to find him then."

"Maybe he was interrupted and had to do a dump and run."

"Possible. Check with Mike. See if he saw anyone suspicious."

"Will do," Kilgore said, and started toward his patrol car for the short drive to Mike Weiss's ranch house. He paused suddenly and turned, "Hey, why do you think they took his feet too? Think someone printed this guy's feet?"

Garland shook his head. "They didn't want us to know his shoe size. Or maybe there was some kind of identifying mark on it, like a scar or tattoo." Garland looked down at his right foot to emphasize the point. Two years previously, Ed had been shot in the foot when an out-of-state drunk driver decided to have a shoot out with the cops. Fortunately, the guy couldn't hit the broadside of a barn because he was so plastered, but Garland was still hit in his right foot off a ricochet. The wound left a scar on the top of his foot and still caused him some minor pain when running.

"Alright, I'm off," Hal said. He gave the brim of his hat a tug, and walked to the cruiser. Garland watched his friend go, and then turned to survey the scene again. Over closer to the mine's gaping maw, Melinda Gomez was interviewing the woman who had found the body. From what Garland had heard earlier, the woman, a tourist, was just out for a spring hike when she had stumbled upon the remains.

"How long you think he's been here?" Garland asked the county coroner, Bruce "Doc" Miller.

"Oh, best guess is two or three days, Sheriff."

"Great. So he was killed before the rainstorm yesterday?"

"More than likely."

Ed shook his head at the news. Any chance they would have had for trace evidence had almost certainly washed away with the rain. Garland put his hands on his hips and leaned back, looking up at the bright blue sky. With Gomez conducting an interview and Kilgore on his way to another, all the police officers in Blue Spruce, Colorado were now fully occupied. Ed prayed that no one decided to rob the General Store while they were all out. Not that it had ever happened in that sleepy little town.

Garland paced around the scene, methodically making a grid of the crime scene, looking for any clues that might have escaped the previous morning's deluge. His heart skipped a beat when he saw a .22 shell casing. He bent down and studied it carefully. Then, in the corner of his eye, he saw the glint of metal reflecting in the sun.

It was a .38 shell. And beyond that were several other casings. Garland walked over and looked down at the pile of casings. Then he turned and shook his head at what he saw.

It was Osama bin Laden.

The photograph had been pinned to a target and nailed to a tree. Several bullet holes ran through the picture and large chunks of bark had been blasted off the tree. Someone, no doubt Mike Weiss or one of his three sons, had set up a shooting range here and had decimated the target. The shells could be from any one of their guns.

Then again, one could be from the murderer. Garland would need his evidence kit.

"Can you figure cause of death?" Garland's voice was a little muffled from the surgical mask he was wearing.

"No bullet or knife wounds on the torso, and no signs of blunt trauma. It's possible he was shot in the head, or maybe poisoned. We'll have to do some blood tests to rule that out."

Ed nodded at the corner. "Get a DNA test done with that too. Maybe we can find out who he is."

"Will do," "Doc" Miller said. "It would be easier with the head, since we could get dental records and such. But it's amazing what we can do with science these days. Track down a killer with just a little bit of blood, OJ not withstanding. It's amazing that will the billions of people in this world, DNA still is so unique. Only identical twins have--"

Garland laughed and interrupted his friend. "Well, without a clue as to who this guy is, there won't be anything to compare DNA with, and that leaves billions of possibilities for an ID. I'll put in word that we have a body and see if anyone's missing. Maybe the guy's been reported and we can do a DNA comparison."

"Yeah," Miller said, uninterested. Once he got on a topic, he didn't like diversions from it. "As I was saying, only identical twins have identical DNA."

"That's so interesting."

Miller missed the sarcasm. "Yeah, have you ever seen your DNA?"

Garland laughed. "What?"

"Have you ever run a test on it? You never wanted to know what it looked like?"

"No. Why would I care about that?"

Miller shrugged. He opened a file and pulled out a sheet of paper. "Here's a graph of some of my nucleotides. This is like the blueprint for my body."


"Just give me one hair!" Miller said excitedly.


Miller reached out and plunked a hair from Garland's head.

"Ow! That hurts!"

"Sorry, had to get the root of your hair" Miller said with a laugh. "I'll just put it in this little bag and name it Sheriff Nottingham, and we'll see what your DNA looks like too."

"Wonderful," Garland said as he rolled his eyes. "You really need to get a hobby."

"I already have one. I collect DNA."

Garland shook his head and left the coroner's office. The joys of being a Sheriff in a small town were never-ending.

Ed slowly cross the street and walked up a block to the police station. The sun was setting beyond the mountains. That meant it was suppertime and he was looking forward to the break. He pushed the door to the station open and stopped.

A Federal Bureau of Investigation agent was there, judging by the identification he was holding. But his presence was not what gave Garland pause. Behind the Federal officer was Ted Patterson, the owner and operator of the gravel quarry fifteen miles north of town.

"Is he with you?" Garland asked hopefully.

The agent shook his head. "Sheriff Garland, we need to talk for a moment."

"In my office."

The agent nodded and started off. Garland turned to follow when Patterson blocked him.

"Not so fast, Sheriff. Those damn kids have been breaking into my shop again!"

"Look, Ted, last time you said that and I drove out to your shop what did we find?"

"Raccoons. But-"

"And the time before that?"

"Raccoons. But-"

"I'm not interested, Ted. Get an exterminator."

"But this time someone cut the lock! Raccoons can't do that." Patterson reached in his pocket and pulled out the chain-lock that had once kept the fence to his shop closed.

"Congratulations, Ted. You have ruined the evidence."

Patterson blinked.

"By picking up the lock, you've ruined any fingerprints that might have been on it from whoever cut it."

Ted turned red. "But...but...but you wouldn't come out unless I was able to show you something like this!"

Garland patted Patterson on the shoulder. "That's because-" He stopped. "You ever heard the story of Peter and the Wolf?" Ed saw the hurt look in Patterson's eyes and continued: "Look, I'll swing by your place later. Right now, I have to meet with this nice Fed who's driven up here, probably from Denver. I don't want to waste any more of his time."

Patterson grumbled something, then said, "You better show up then."

"I will." Garland ignored anything else from the shop owner and entered his office. "Sorry about that."

"Small town politics," the agent said knowingly. "I'm special agent Donald Feingold."

"Ed Garland. So, what rates us a visit from the people at the FBI? It isn’t very often we get to see you guys."

"I heard you found a body. No head. Hands and feet cut off. All identifying marks removed."

"Wow, news travels fast," Garland said, genuinely impressed. When it came to small town police officers, the FBI was generally either seen as a nuisance to be avoided like the plague, or an agency with God-like powers. Garland tended toward the latter.

"I'm in charge of a case involving a serial killer. This is the seventh victim like this."

"What?" Garland was shocked. "How did I never hear about this?"

"The other murders happened in Illinois, Oregon, and Florida. This is the first in Colorado. It probably just hasn't made the news yet. Hopefully, we can keep it that way."


"Don't want to upset the public, ya know." Feingold winked at Garland, as if letting him in on something.

Garland nodded. "Anything we can do to help. But…." He paused, frowning. "That hasn't stopped you from putting media coverage out on other serial killers. In fact, it might have been possible to save this person's life if you had just simply notified us that there was a serial killer. Then the public could have taken more precautions."

Feingold clenched his hands and his face darkened. "We have jurisdiction on this case, so we'll take over from here. You still have the body?"

"It's at the coroner's," Garland said, puzzled by the sudden turn in Feingold’s attitude. Normally Federal officers were polite, wishing to work with the locals rather than acting so high and mighty.

"It's mine now. Hand over all evidence you have collected. You are off this case, understood?"

"I hardly-"

"Understood?" Feingold snapped. "Or do you need me to produce the court order for you? Rest assured, it’ll only take a few minutes to get here, and if you want to waste everyone’s time, we can go that route."

Garland shrugged his shoulders, mystified. "Fine," he said. What else was there to do?

"Doc" Miller sipped on his favorite beer, Miller Lite (named after "Doc" Miller, of course), and looked at the Sheriff. "So, just like that they step in and take everything you collected. Pictures, bullet casings, the body. Everything."

"Yup," Garland said. "I suppose it's better that way. I mean, we don't have the resources that the Feds have."

"Yeah." Miller took another swallow. He looked over at his friend. "But something else is bothering you."

"It's just....it's odd." Garland took a swallow of his own Coors.

"Well, those city folks probably think that we country bumpkins wouldn’t know what to do with a case if it hit us in the nose. He was probably overreacting due to stress or something."

"It’s not that," Garland responded, shaking it off. "He said that there had been a serial killer doing this, that taking the head and the hands and feet were part of his M.O. But I did a search and couldn't find any other case like this. At least, not recently. None that would be considered as having been done by a serial killer, at any rate."

"True. You'd think this would be well known by now. Like the sniper killings back on the east coast. You know, coverage on CNN or something."

"Exactly! That's what I thought. But there's nothing. And that's not all."

Miller waited.

"That special agent, Donald Feingold, said this was the first murder of this type in Colorado."

"Yeah. I'm sure we would've heard about it otherwise, even if they were trying to keep it low-profile," Miller said. He missed the point that Garland was drawing.

"How long does it take to drive here from Denver, Doc?"

"C'mon, you know that. Three hours, assuming you have your lights flashing." Miller chuckled. He saw the look in Garland's eyes. "Okay, what am I missing?"

"The first murder in Colorado, a three hour drive from the Denver office, and God knows how long it would have taken to fly an agent in from wherever the headquarters of this investigation are. But the Feingold is here by six. We only found the body this morning. What does that tell ya?"

Miller nodded. Even though he only worked with dead people, and usually not murder victims in the sleepy town of Blue Spruce, Miller could still draw the dots on that scenario. "He must have already been on the way before we found the body."

"Yup," Garland said. He tipped back his bottle again. "And, of course, the question is: Why?"

As if to answer, Ed's cell phone rang. He picked it up. "Sheriff Garland."

"Sheriff, I have Ted Patterson in my office and he says you said you were going out to check his shop tonight," the voice of the dispatcher said.

"Damn it," Garland said with a groan. "Okay, I'm on my way." He hung up and looked at Miller. "See you tomorrow."

"See ya, Sheriff."

Garland pulled up outside the quarry and hit the parking brake. Patterson was already there ahead of him, waiting.

"About time."

Garland ignored the remark and walked over to the shop entrance outside the giant gravel pit. "So someone cut the lock."

"Yup. And that's not all. They got into the boxes of blasting caps. Now, I haven't inventoried them-"

That was an understatement, Garland thought as he surveyed the mess Patterson's shack was in.

"-but I'm pretty sure some are missing. If those kids are breaking in here again, someone's gonna get their head blowed off, and I don't want to get sued, okay?"

Garland looked around the disorderly shop room. "How am I supposed to be able to tell where to look for evidence in this dump? Really, Ted, you have got to get this cleaned up. OSHA would have a fit if they knew you did this."

"Look, you just do your job, okay?"

"I'm trying," Garland said, managing to hold his tongue from lashing out at the other man. "Okay, you're used to this place. What looks like it's out of the ordinary?"

Patterson put his hands on his hips and started to survey the room. Garland rolled his eyes. He doubted that the man had looked over his shop carefully in years. Patterson probably had no idea what the mess was supposed to look like-he just dug through the piles until he found what he needed.

"Those boxes of blasting caps are supposed to be over there on that shelf," Ted said. "And it looks like someone pried that box open. See?"

He pointed to where the wood had been chipped. "I see it." Garland bent to examine it. It looked to be the work of a crowbar. "You got a crowbar?"

"Yeah." Patterson reached behind the door and pulled out the metal bar. "What did you want with it?"

"Can you open that box there? I want to count how many caps are in each box and make a comparison."

Patterson turned and jammed the end of the bar between the boards, prying the lid off. Garland pulled the box over and set it next to the one he was examining. "Look," he said, pointing to the identical score marks on the wood. "It's the same. Do you use the crowbar to open these boxes?"

"Yeah, but...but I haven't in a while."

Garland stood. "Look, the only thing I can really say is get yourself a security camera. There's nothing for me to work with here, okay?"

Patterson shook his head. "You ain't gonna do nothing?"

"There's nothing I can do."

"Well, you just see if I vote for you next election then."

Patterson threw the crowbar into the corner and stormed out of the shop. Garland turned off the lights and followed after him.

The sheriff sat at his desk, feet kicked up and a deck of cards in his hand. He was shuffling them to get ready for the next game of solitaire. He looked up when Hal Kilgore entered the room.

"Hey, Hal. Wanna play some poker?"

"Sure. You already owe me six bucks."

"No, you owe me six bucks."

"Are you sure?" Hal asked, then laughed. "Okay, double or nothin'."

"I'm game." Garland started to deal the cards.

Kilgore hung his hat up on the hat rack, and took off his jacket. He glanced over toward the Sheriff and said, "By the way, I ran into an acquaintance of yours today."

"Oh really?"

"Yeah. Special agent Donald Feingold, only I don't see what's so special about him. He wanted to make it clear that we weren't to be out trying to do any investigating on our own in regards to that headless body."

"He told you that?" Garland said in shock.

"Yup. He practically threatened to send me to jail if I started trying to 'connect-the-dots' on this case. I wanted to deck the little peckerwood right there."

"I'm surprised you didn't."

"Yeah. He gave me a line of bull about how this was all super important and that we had to keep everything under the lid, so to speak. I got the impression he thinks we're a bunch of inbred rednecks stuck up in the mountains without any oxygen in the air, so it stunts our brain growth or something."

Garland laughed. "Let him think what he wants."

Kilgore pulled a chair over from his desk and set it in front of Garland's desk. Then, he sat down and exhaled wearily.

"Hey, what with all the commotion yesterday with the FBI taking over and all, I never got to ask you about what Mike Weiss said." Garland said it as if he couldn't care less what the answer was. Hal knew better.

"Go straight for the jugular, eh?" he said with a laugh. "Alright, screw the FBI. Weiss didn't see nothing, didn't hear nothing. Only thing out of the ordinary was a couple of explosions he heard last Tuesday-you know, the same day we had those northern lights? But he didn't see anything."


"Yeah. He said it was like gunfire--a .45, or something pretty big. When he ran outside, he saw a black Ford Explorer leaving, but couldn't make out the driver, and was too far away to see the plate. You know Weiss too. He's got it in his head that it's some kind of big conspiracy going on. Ever since the Bureau of Land Management took over those six acres of land on the north side of his property, he's been paranoid of the government."

"No kidding."

Kilgore raised his left index finger and pressed his right against it, making his point. "Anyway, Mike went up to see what that Explorer was up to. He would have seen the body if it had been there then, so we know whoever it was dumped the body after last Tuesday. But why are you so interested in it?"

"No reason."

"Don't give me that. You've got that look in your eyes. You know, the one that-hey, hold up a second. You gave me an extra card."

Garland blinked and looked down and the deck of cards. "Sorry. Anyway, I spoke to Patterson and he said he might be missing some blasting caps. Said someone broke into his shop. Cut the lock. Maybe some kids stole the caps and set them off by Mike's ranch. Then drove off in the Explorer."

"Patterson? He's almost as bad a kook as Weiss."

"Yeah, but he's our kook, ain't he," Garland said with a laugh. He looked at his cards and groaned at what he had dealt himself.

Over the next few weeks, Garland ran into Feingold a couple of times. He told the Sheriff that he was just conducting his investigation and had to return every once in a while to collect more evidence. Feingold’s demeanor made it clear that Garland ought not ask what evidence was being collected. But he did thank Ed for not leaking news of the murder to the press. "It's just a matter of time," the FBI agent assured Garland.

Garland agreed that it was just a matter of time, but was not assured by Feingold’s attitude. There was just something odd about the FBI agent. Garland tried to put it aside and out of his mind. When Monday rolled around, three weeks after the body had been found, Ed stopped by Jenny's Grub for his usual breakfast of biscuits and gravy with a side of coffee. Mike Weiss was inside, his eyes busily glancing over the newspaper as he sipped his own coffee.

"How's it going, Mike?"

"Oh, hey, Ed. Not too bad."

"Anything new in the world of news?"

"Nah. Stock markets tanked, gas prices are up. The usual. How about you?"

"Not much. Say, I was just wondering if you remembered anything else about the night we found that body up near the mine on your ranch."

"Nope. Told Hal everything I could remember. I wouldn't be surprised if it was some government agency doing it though. They have lasers that could cut through a person's arms and legs."

"Is that what you told special agent Feingold?" Garland asked with a laugh.

"Feingold? Who's he?"

Garland's heart skipped a beat. "The man from the FBI."

"I ain't talked to no man from the FBI," the rancher said. "Was I supposed to?" He was suddenly worried. Weiss didn't want any reason for the government to have an excuse to invade his property. They already took several acres from him because of some endangered mouse or some crock like that. He didn't want them to get the whole ranch.

"No, I'm just surprised is all. I mean, the body was found on your land and all."

"Yeah. You know what I think? I think the BLM did it and put it on my land to scare me off. There's some strange things going on up in those hills. I've seen black helicopters fly over, and strange lights in the middle of the night. Those northern lights the other day? I'd bet a hun'erd bucks they weren't natural at all. Nope, I don't believe it for one second."

Garland was no longer listening to the paranoid anti-government rancher. The FBI not interviewing the man who owns the land a body is found on? Such was downright illogical. It made no sense at all.

What exactly was special agent Feingold doing here?

Feingold had disappeared. After three weeks of conducting an investigation, wherein no witnesses were spoken to and the local cops shunned, the Federal officer just stopped showing up in Blue Spruce. Garland felt a sense of unease about the whole thing, but there wasn't anything he could do about it.

Then the fax came. It was from the DNA lab.

"I don't get it," "Doc" Miller said, looking at the two DNA sequences. "There must have been some cross-contamination or something."

"That's a possibility," Garland acknowledged. "But those are obviously identical DNA sequences. So, unless I have a twin that I didn't know about, and he just happened to be murdered, decapitated, and had his hands and feet cut off and before he was dumped out on Mike Weiss' property, then they must have messed up somewhere at the lab or something."

"Well, nothing else we can do about it then. The feds have the body. Hell, it's already buried or cremated by now." "Doc" Miller shrugged. "You probably don't need to know anything more about it anyway."

"Yeah, you're probably right," Garland said.

"No, I am right. There's no 'probably' about it."

Garland laughed. But he couldn't shake the odd feeling from his mind. What if someone had intentionally sent the wrong DNA sequence to hide whom the body really was?

"This just makes absolutely no sense whatsoever," Garland said, shaking his head. "Whoever sent this would have known that we'd be suspicious seeing two strands of identical DNA."

"Assuming there wasn't a lab mistake."

"Yeah, assuming that. But if someone was trying to throw us off the trail, why wouldn't they just give us someone else's DNA? Like a homeless person. It's not like we could tell the difference."

"You're so logical, Sherlock Garland," Miller said with a grin. "That's why it should be obvious that it was a simple lab mistake. No one would have intentionally done this. You said so yourself. It makes no sense. Give it a rest."

"I'm going to drive out to the body dump site again."

"Why?" Miller was getting exasperated.

"I don't know why. I'm just missing something." Garland stopped, looking at the paper. "Feingold told me that it was just a matter of time before the truth would come out. Well, now it’s time. Who is this guy? If we can answer that question, then we can figure out why he was killed. And if we can figure that out, we can figure out who killed him. And if we can figure that out, then we can find out why they're blocking us here."

Garland was out the door before Miller could say, "Now you sound like Weiss."

As he drove, he ran the facts in his mind again. Someone had murdered a man and taken all possible ways to identify him away, except for DNA. Then, the Feds arrived way too fast. They had to have known that the body would be dumped there.

Which meant that maybe the killer was in communication with the FBI and told them where he would dump the body. But that wouldn't explain the odd behavior of special agent Donald Feingold. He had run the lousiest investigation ever run on the face of the earth, and had been hostile towards the Blue Spruce police from the start.

Garland braked and turned the corner for Weiss' ranch. The thought suddenly struck him. What if instead of searching for the killer, the FBI agent actually was the killer?

But could Feingold have been able to change the DNA report so that it matched Garland's DNA? How would he have had the authority to do such a thing? That seemed almost a challenge to the Sheriff, as if whoever had done it was mocking him and demonstrating supreme power. The kind of power special agent Feingold could not possibly have.

"What have I missed?" Garland asked, for the hundredth time. He rounded the last corner and pulled to a stop at the site the body had been dumped.

Here. Here was where he would get his answers.

He had almost opened the door when his radio crackled to life.

"Sheriff Garland? We have a call from Ted Patterson. He says its urgent and he needs you at his shop right now."

Garland rolled his eyes. "What now?"

The police cruiser stopped at the shop. Ted Patterson was there, nervously wiping his hands on his jeans.

"What is it? More kids breaking in?"

Patterson shook his head. "I found something. Something weird."

Great. Garland nearly rolled his eyes. Then, he saw Patterson's face.

Patterson was sheet white. Something had him spooked.

"What did you find?"

"I was blasting away on the south rock face for some more gravel," Patterson explained. "The whole side came down. And...and I found this object."

He motioned for Garland to follow. The Sheriff started on after the man, beyond the shop and into the pit itself. The gravel pit wasn't much of a pit. It was more of a valley area that Patterson had been working on widening, mining the gravel from the area. They entered the east end of the valley and turned to their left.

A metallic object was halfway up the cliff face. It looked almost like a NASA satellite or something like that.

"When I got close to it, it started making some odd noises, and it looked like a bunch of static electricity and stuff coming from it. I was going to touch it to see what it was when...."

"When what?"

"You're not going to believe me," Patterson said. He turned away. "I think I'm going to have to call someone on this. The news or something, ya know."

"Okay," Garland said, looking at the metal object. "Although I have to say I don't see what the big deal is." Garland started up the slope for a better look.

"Don't touch it!" Patterson cried.


"Trust me! You don't want to touch it!"

Garland looked back at the man. He was still shaking. Then, Patterson let out a gasp and started running.

Garland turned around. The object was starting to glow. It did look like static electricity coursing across the face of the metal. Now, a loud humming sound filled the air.

There was something painted on the metal, just poking out from the rock face. It looked like the end of an American flag.

Garland reached out to brush the rock debris away. He carefully avoided touching the metal in the process, taking Patterson's advice for the time being. Using a small stone, he broke loose the rock face and uncovered the flag.

It was the United States flag, but it was wrong. The stars were in the wrong position. It was almost like there were more of them.

Garland was about to do a quick count when the rock beneath his feet slipped. He lost his balance and fell against the object.

There was a bright flash. He felt his body get thrown backwards, into space, and the world turned black.

He hit the ground and rolled. When he came to a stop, he realized it was night.

"Who are you?" the voice called out. There was something familiar to the voice, but Garland couldn't place it. He tried to see the person speak, but couldn't because of the light in his face.

The light was a flashlight. And it was night outside.

"What happened?" Garland asked groggily.

Someone grabbed his arms and pulled him to his feet. The light moved from his eyes and the person spoke again, "Did you touch it?"

"Feingold!" Garland said with a start.

"How do you know that name?" the man asked, bewildered.

It was the genuine tone of the voice that caught Garland off-guard. "What do you mean? Just a few weeks ago you were prowling around here investigating the murder. Why are you here now?"

"Oh God, you did touch it," Feingold said. "We have to hurry."

Feingold raced forward to the rock face. Garland blinked and looked around. His eyes were adjusting to the night.

That was odd. If he had been unconscious, his eyes shouldn't have needed to adjust at all. They would have been used to the darkness. But it was almost as if he had been plunged straight into darkness.

"Help me set these charges!" Feingold yelled. In his hand he held some of the explosives that Patterson had reported missing earlier.

"What?" Garland felt his head spin.

"Help me set these!" Feingold repeated. "We have to get to it before someone else finds it!"

Garland started forward when he heard a sudden noise from the east. Feingold's flashlight went out. "Get down!" he whispered harshly.

Garland ducked down and looked up. Patterson was heading toward the shed. "Damn kids," he said, flashing his light around.

"Did you--?" Ed Garland started before Feingold cut him off with a "Shh!"

But Patterson hadn't heard them. After playing the light around for a bit, he turned and went back for his car.

"C'mon," Feingold said when Patterson had left. "We don't have enough time to get it now."

He raced out of the gravel pit, dragging Garland along. When they reached the end of the valley, they saw Patterson's taillights disappear down the road. Garland looked for his police cruiser, but couldn't find it.

"Over here," Feingold said. The FBI agent had pulled back the canopy that had been hiding his black Ford Explorer. "We have to go now."

"Does this have anything to do with the murder?"

Feingold hesitated for a second, and looked at Garland. "I don't know," he finally said. "We have to hurry. See?"

He pointed toward the northern lights in the sky.

"Twice in one year," Garland muttered.

"What did you say?"

"I said this is the second time this year we've had northern lights. They're usually rare, this far south, although it's not unheard of either."

Feingold said nothing. He opened the driver's side door and said, "I have to show you something."

Garland hesitated, then climbed in the passenger's side. "Where are we going?"

"A little place in the hills," Feingold said cryptically. He started the engine and they pulled out. As they traveled down the road, he nervously glanced at the sky. "It's holding for now," he said.

"What's holding?"

"The split."

"I'm not following you."

Feingold sighed. "It's complicated. What do you know about paradoxes?"

"Paradoxes? Like what kind of paradoxes?"

"Well, like the paradox of time travel. You go back in time and kill your grandfather when he was a young boy, for example. But that means your father was never born, and neither were you. So you never existed to go back in time to kill your grandfather. Therefore, your grandfather lived. Which means that you did exist to go back in time. See the problem?"

"Yeah," Garland said. "It's a contradictory infinite loop."

"Uh-huh. Well, those lights there in the sky-what you think look like northern lights-that's caused because of a paradox. Have you ever read ‘Jurassic Park’ or seen the movie?"

"The island with the dinosaurs."

"Exactly. It was all about chaos. Chaos. Little miniscule changes, over time, create radically different results. If a butterfly flaps its wings in Peking, the weather will be different from what it would have been."

"I'm not following you."

"Air molecules that would not have collided suddenly do. This a little tiny monkey wrench in the atmosphere. In no time, those little changes add up until there's a big difference. Think of it this way: the number two and the number three are only one number different, right? So changing a two to a three isn't that big of a deal. But suppose you are multiplying the number by another number. Two times two is four. But two times three is six. Now, instead of having four, you have six, which is two numbers different from what should have been. That's not that big of a deal when you have small numbers, but what if you're dealing with huge numbers? Two million times two is four million, but two million times three is six million. Now you're off by two million and it's because of one seemingly little number change!"

Garland shook his head. "What does that have to do with anything though?"

"Something happened. Something that wasn't supposed to happen, and that's why those lights appeared. They're the only warning we have, and we have got to figure out what happened or the paradox will get worse. The chaos will only multiply!"

"So what does this have to do with me?" Garland said. "And what does it have to do with the murder nearly two months ago?"

"See, that's just it. I don't know what murder you're talking about!" Feingold shouted. "I've never seen you before in my life. You know why? Because I haven't gotten to that point yet!"

Garland's mouth snapped shut. "'Haven't gotten to that point yet'?" he echoed.

"You had to have touched the machine. It's a time machine, and it sent you back in time. I don't know how far you've gone back-it can't have been too far, because the lights aren't that bad."


"Don't you get it? A butterfly flaps its wings and the weather changes six months later from what it would have been! That means that if you go back in time, you don't need to kill your grandfather at all! Even if you just pop into a period of time and pop back out, you have altered that time forever. And the consequences are so far reaching! How many people die in weather related accidents every year? How many good people? How many evil people? How many mass murderers are accidentally frozen to death by a cold spell before they are even born? Don't you get it? Maybe you don't kill your grandfather, but what if your popping into a time period causes a storm to kill your father before you're born! It's the same paradox.

"The world is far too complicated! Everything is so complex, working together at just the right reactions to get us where we have been before. If you change anything, even a minor little thing, it can have disastrous effects later on! The simple fact that you are here right now means that you are causing things that wouldn't have happened. You exist in a place that you shouldn't have been now! Imagine the consequences, the chaos you are causing right now!"

"Then you're saying-"

"That's right, I'm saying that there is something happening right now that never should have happened."

"But…." Garland shook his head. "Outside of that being impossible in the first place, Patterson touched it too! Why did he cause any problems like this?"

"I don’t know who Patterson is," Feingold responded. "But maybe he only brushed it or something. I don’t know. Maybe he only went back in time a few minutes and didn’t have enough time to mess everything up beyond repair."

Garland swallowed. "That's it," he said suddenly.

"What's it?"

"I get it now. Why there were no hands, no feet, no head. Why the DNA matches. It was me the whole time."

"You?" Feingold asked. "Wait. You mean the murder?"

Garland turned toward Feingold. "Yes. You're going to kill me."

"Are you sure? Are you positive it was you?"

"I just told you, it was the same DNA. But now that I know who the victim is, I'm not going to let you do it!" Garland pulled his Glock .45 out. "Pull the car over now."

Feingold swallowed and slowed to a stop. Outside, the northern lights flared brighter than ever before. "Think about what you're doing," Feingold said, raising his hands over his head. "Think about it."

"What's to think about?"

"You said that you knew me from investigating the murder. The murder of you, right?"


"So if you kill me, then you would never have met me. And maybe you never would have died. But then you would never have found your body, and none of this would have ever happened."

"Yes, that's what I intend to accomplish," Garland said. "It's self-defense!"

"It's suicide!" Feingold screamed. "Not only for you, but for all of mankind! It's the same thing as if you went back in time and killed your father before you were born! All those events that were supposed to happen to get you to that point never did, and therefore you have an infinite contradictory loop."

Garland swallowed.

"You see those lights out there?" Feingold pointed to the northern lights, dancing on the horizon. "Those lights are from the split, and I just figured out what the split it! If you kill me, then the split ruptures completely and all hell breaks loose. Everything is destroyed, instantly."

"But if I don't...."

Feingold shook his head, tears forming in the corners of his eyes. "I'm sorry, but you said it yourself. It's your body. You have to die. I wish there was something…but, it’s impossible to be different now."

Garland put down his pistol and sighed. The lights overhead really were quite beautiful, he thought. It was a shame they were so deadly in origin. Then, he laughed suddenly.

"What is it?" Feingold asked.

"That's where Weiss lives," he said, pointing to the ranch house. They were on the other side of it, away from where the body--Garland's body--had been dumped. "He thought it sounded like gunfire. A .45 or something big." Garland chambered a round in his Glock .45 and looked at the northern lights one more time.

Garland opened his door and got out. "Listen," he said, looking at Feingold. "This is really the only way to save mankind?"

Feingold nodded. "I wish--"

"If wishes were horses. Okay, I'm going to do it here. You need to drive over there and speed off when you hear the gunshot. That will make Weiss think the shot came from that direction. Then, tomorrow night, you'll have to come back and remove everything that could identify me, including my feet. Then, dump me back over there."

"That's sounds complicated," Feingold said.

"But that's how it happened. That's how it happened." Garland shook his head, rolling the phrase over his tongue. "It was just a matter of time until I figured it out. It's not every day you solve your own murder."

With that, he shut the door. The Explorer drove off. Minutes later, it was parked near the Osama bin Laden poster. Garland looked back up at the shimmering lights flickering over his head and marveled at the beauty of chaos.

The End

Copyright © 2003 by Peter Pike


E-mail: peter@peterpike.com

URL: http://peterpike.com

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