18 Seconds (Sherry Moore Series #1)

18 Seconds (Sherry Moore Series #1)

by George D. Shuman

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In his gripping debut, George D. Shuman crafts a pulse-pounding, tension-filled thriller about two brave women — one with uncanny psychic abilities — who unite to catch a murderous madman...before he finds them first.

Thirty years after a deadly traffic accident landed Earl Sykes in prison, he is back on the streets of Wildwood, New Jersey — and back for revenge. He is also feeding his perverse appetite for abducting young female victims — the same crimes he committed years ago for which he was never caught.

Police lieutenant Kelly O'Shaughnessy is bewildered by the disappearance of several young women from the boardwalk — crimes horrifyingly reminiscent of unsolved cases from the seventies. Reluctant to ask for help but desperate to stem the bloodshed, Kelly enlists investigative consultant Sherry Moore. Blind and beautiful, Sherry has the extraordinary ability to "see" the deceased's last eighteen seconds of memory by touching the corpse. As they join forces to discover the killer's identity, the women unwittingly become the hunted — each step drawing them closer to the deadly clutches of a homicidal monster.

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780743277174
Publisher: Pocket Star
Publication date: 03/27/2007
Series: Sherry Moore Series , #1
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 384
Product dimensions: 4.19(w) x 6.75(h) x 1.00(d)

About the Author

George D Shuman is author of Lost Girls, Last Breath, and 18 Seconds. A retired twenty-year veteran of the Washington, D.C., Metropolitan Police Department, he resides in the mountains of southwest Pennsylvania, where he now writes full-time. To learn more, visit his website at www.georgedshuman.com.

Read an Excerpt



Sherry stepped off the courtesy cart near the hotel kiosk in the ground transportation level of the Pittsburgh International Airport. The customer service agent driving the cart laid Sherry's single bag on the floor and made a noisy three-point turn before he sped away.

She braced herself as small feet thundered in her direction. Screaming children circled her in a game of Monkey in the Middle, soon dashing off into the murmuring crowd. She could hear the tinny voice of Elton John on someone's headphones, a couple arguing over who last had the camera, a policeman's radio announcing an accident in short-term parking.

A baggage conveyor lurched forward under a dissonant horn and a stampede ensued, someone colliding with her shoulder; she began to reel until sizable hands reached out to steady her. "So sorry, my dear," a nun chortled. "God bless you!"

She felt a chill as the doors leading outside opened and closed. She was dressed in black slacks, a smartly cut red wool jacket, and practical shoes.

A ruffled man in a long dark trench coat watched her from the opposite side of the kiosk. He was standing with his hands in his pockets, trying to concentrate on the faces around the luggage carousel, but his eyes kept straying back to her. She was exquisite, he thought, simply exquisite, and it took all of his effort to pull his eyes back to the crowd.

There were several candidates for his rendezvous at the carousel; one in particular fit the image he'd conjured. She was wearing a khaki safari suit and hiking boots, her long red hair braided into a pigtail. Of the two runner-ups, one was a platinum blond who wore a black jumpsuit and stilettos, and the other had a gray ponytail and wore a purple sweat suit and running shoes.

It occurred to him that he could have had young Mr. Torlino research the woman on the Internet, perhaps pull up a picture of her to bring along, but neither he nor Torlino had managed to sleep more than four of the last forty hours, much less surf the Internet.

The crowd was tangled around the conveyor, some struggling to extract their bags. He took a moment to steal another glance at the dark-haired beauty by the kiosk. People stopped to talk to her, mostly men who appeared to offer assistance, but she smiled them all away with her magnificent smile. He was ashamed that he wanted to walk over to her and say something trivial, just to see her smile for him.

The crowd began to disperse in twos and threes. The safari lady joined a bearded man with a camouflage hat, and they walked off with two netted bags. The woman in stilettos called over a porter for a tapestry steamer that would have held his entire wardrobe. The purple sweat suit collected a husband and three clutching children. He swept the concourse for a single female, checked his watch and then the door. There were two lonely bags circling the carousel, but no more candidates.

Something rolled against the side of his foot; he looked down at the back of a child's curly head. A chubby hand reached for a rubber ball, the face nearing the cuffs of his trousers, and he wondered if the child could smell death on his shoes.

The man shifted his weight, self-consciously scraping his shoes across the carpet, thumbed another Life Saver from the roll in his pocket, and popped it into his mouth.

A heavy woman stepped onto the descending escalator and waved frantically in his direction. She had a blond bouffant and heavy makeup. A shopping bag hung over one arm and a small white dog squirmed in the other.

"Yoooo-hooo," she trilled, and he closed his eyes, wondering if his idea hadn't been too desperate. A moment later a dowdy man with a straw hat ran past him to join her. He sighed in relief, turning back to look at the kiosk.

Could she have been delayed getting down from her gate? She might have become ill and gone to the ladies' room. Maybe she was waiting for him in another part of the airport. He supposed there were other hotel kiosks, but he had specifically said the one at ground transportation.

And here there was only the beautiful lady in red, still waiting patiently for whomever to come collect her.

An electronic voice announced that unattended vehicles would be towed and bags removed. He hesitated, then stepped toward her, his expression somewhere between uncertainty and embarrassment. She was standing tall, arms at her side, back straight. There was a calmness about her that belied the commotion around them.

He saw her head turn, her face registering his approach.

"Forgive me, ma'am," he apologized, his face already drawing heat, "you wouldn't be Miss Moore?"

"Sherry," she said, sticking out her free hand. The other clutched a long red and white walking stick. "Captain Karpovich?"

He stepped back and put his hand to his mouth.

Thick chestnut curls bobbed on her shoulders. Her lips were arcs of autumn red that matched her jacket. She was tall, full-breasted, and ever so sensual.

She pulled a strand of hair behind her ear with the hand holding the red and white walking stick, then put it down so that the stick touched the floor again. He took her hand quickly and it was warm. "Please call me Edward," he said. Her beauty and affliction were inconsistent, the appeal practically heart-wrenching. He unconsciously covered her hand with his own, patting it gently. She was thirty-something, he guessed. "I'm so sorry, Miss Moore. I wasn't expecting you to...ah...come by courtesy cart."

"It's quite all right, Edward," she said cheerily. "Which way do we go?"

He grabbed her light bag and hooked an arm under her elbow, forgetting all about his mission for the moment, then led her proudly toward the sliding glass doors. "Our car is just outside."

"It feels very cold," she said.

"Rain," he told her, patting her arm, "and flurries are possible in the mountains."

"Ugh." She smiled and he patted even harder.

The cold temperatures hit them full-face when the doors whooshed open.

A black sedan idled at the curb; it had government tags and an impressive array of antennae. A plume of white exhaust hovered over the trunk. Edward laid her day bag on the backseat and helped her slide in next to it.

The interior was warm, and she could smell the driver's good cologne. "Mike Torlino," a voice said. She sensed a hand being thrust in her direction.

"Sherry Moore," she said as she smiled, reaching for it.

The older man got in the passenger seat and Torlino retrieved his hand, shaking it like it had been burnt. "H-O-T," he mouthed to Edward, which earned him a frosty look.

"I'm afraid I didn't dress for the weather," she said. "It was almost sixty when I left Philadelphia."

"It's coming off Erie." Torlino lowered his head to look in the outside mirror and pulled into traffic. "We lost ten degrees in the last hour. Are you staying in Pittsburgh tonight?"

He adjusted his rearview mirror to look at her face.

"I was hoping to make it a day trip if we got finished in time," she said.

"We'll have you back in plenty of time." Karpovich glowered at his partner. He put his arm over the seat and turned to look at her directly. "Plenty of time, Miss Moore."

They motored south on 90 and east across the turnpike into Donegal and working farmland. Sherry put her forehead to the cold window and listened to the rain and the beat of the wipers as she thought about her nightmares. They would start innocently enough and always decline dreadfully. The face in the windshield lingered on in her memory, clear yet not clear, familiar yet unknown.

In the nightmares, she would be sitting in a car as someone pulled an oversize red fisherman's sweater that smelled of body odor and fuel over her head. There would be a scream and a woman's face slammed hard against the windshield in front of her. She would look up into those terrified green eyes and see crimson blood trickling from a cut lip, smearing pink around a pale flattened cheek.

Then the face would be jerked away, vanishing in a mere instant, the blood washed away by a cold, steady rain.

The nightmares were worse this winter: more frequent, more violent. She was told she suffered everything from parasomnia to post-traumatic stress disorder, always with the caveat that no one could honestly predict what the side effects of her work might be.

Torlino swerved gently to miss something in the road and her head rolled on the cold glass, startling her from her reverie. It was good to be out of the house today, she had to admit, good to be thinking about something else besides her nightmares.

"What's it like outside?" she asked, absently tugging an earlobe.

"The rain's turning to snow," Karpovich said.

She could hear the patter of beaded ice where she pressed her forehead against the glass.

Karpovich didn't stop there. He began to describe the farmland, his voice soothing and patient like a good storyteller's. She could sense he was tired, yet he spared her no detail, reminding her of her neighbor, Mr. Brigham, who would read her mail to her on so many lonely nights. She wondered if Edward's skill was practiced at home or in a nursing facility on some sad, bedridden soul.

The hills were craggy and the farms poor. Cattle and sheep were anchored knee-deep in the mud. Strings of last year's Christmas lights framed the porches and windows of old farmhouses. She tried to imagine the farms in her mind. The scent of wood fires, beds unmade, breakfast dishes caked with eggs and apple butter; coats on the door smelling of sweat and machinery, boots caked with manure.

In time the land began to level, rolling pleasantly along the base of Laurel Mountain. Working farms gave way to green pasture bordered with ribbons of elegant estate fence. Magnificent horses nuzzled the grass in quilted blankets of green and blue.

It was to such a property they came, turning sharply between stone pillars chiseled with the name Oak View. They climbed a meandering lane toward a large ranch house overlooking the rolling plateau. There was a marked state police car in the driveway and a white van on the lawn.

Torlino parked next to the police car, and Karpovich turned to look over the back of his seat. "Would you like something for the smell, Miss Moore?"

She shook her head. "I'll be fine."

A trooper waited inside the door, staring curiously as they passed.

"We'll be walking across the living area, then a few steps down to the kitchen," Karpovich said softly. "I'll tell you when we're there. Are you ready?"

"Okay," she said. "Let's go."

The house smelled musty and it had the unmistakable stench of death.

"They weren't found for more than a month," Karpovich said. "The wife was in a bedroom off the hall behind us."

"You have the note with you?"

"I do," he said. "Would you like me to read it?"

"Please, Edward."

He liked that she used his name.

He slipped a hand inside his jacket and removed a postcard-size piece of paper, a handwritten version transcribed from the original. He shook open his glasses and began to read.

It will be March soon. Maggie liked March, liked to invite the neighbors over for a party after her first spring cleaning, but that was all years ago. We stopped seeing people. Or maybe they just stopped seeing us?

You know, of course, that she suffered depression. For years she begged me to take her life. I was too selfish to let her go before me. I made her wait until it was my time.

I want to confess to you about another matter, however. Her name was Karen Koontz. You'll find her in your files as a missing person from the early 1970s. She died here on the farm. Her sister came looking for her with the police. I had to lie. I knew it would make things difficult for my residency.

She loved the farm and the animals. Please give her a proper burial and a stone. She deserves a nice stone after all those years in the field. I used to look out there from my chair and think about putting one up myself, but Maggie didn't know about her. I couldn't let Maggie know. It would have upset her so.

You forensic types will be interested that she died of asphyxiation. The ligature will still be around her neck. We were experimenting with drugs and sex, and things just got out of hand. An accident of excess, I guess you would call it. Life is incredibly fragile, isn't it?

My will provides for any expenses you will incur. As for Maggie and myself, there are plots in Easthampton, Massachusetts. The details are with my attorney. Please see that we arrive together if possible.

For what it's worth, I'm sorry for the way things turned out.

Donald S. Donovan, M.D.

Karpovich removed his glasses and returned them to his pocket. "The letter goes abruptly from giving the girl a proper burial to the arrangements he wants made for him and his wife without providing the location of the body. He seems to have lost the thread before he died."

"I imagine he was under a great deal of stress."

"Indeed," Karpovich said. "Indeed he was. There are a hundred and fifty acres of field back there, Miss Moore."

"Have you tried infrared?"

"Too long in the ground," he answered.

"Did you identify her?"

"Karen Koontz was reported missing in 1973, two years after Donovan bought the farm. They had been seeing each other for several months, according to her sister. She was a waitress at the Westmoreland airport and he was learning to fly, so it's likely they met there. The restaurant called the sister one day and told her Karen had stopped coming to work. They had a paycheck she hadn't picked up. She tried to call the doctor, but he never answered the phone. When she got suspicious, she told the police about him. They handled Karen like a missing person, which meant little or nothing in those days. They didn't have cause to search the doctor's farm, so weeks went by before they came out and asked him for permission to look around."

"And she was never seen again?"

"Never. The commonwealth would just as soon put this case to rest, Miss Moore. You can imagine the argument of digging up a field on so little information. The girl's sister died many years ago and she was the last of her family. Since the doctor is now dead, there is no one to prosecute, even if we found her. In other words, it wouldn't mean a hill of beans to Pennsylvania if she was left here or not."

"Except that it bothers you, Edward," Sherry said softly.

He coughed and shifted his feet nervously.

"I've earned a few favors in the last thirty years, Miss Moore. I used most of them to get you here today. Family or not, she doesn't deserve to be left in a field."

"Well then," she said, warming to the old man, "are his hands exposed, Edward?"

"The right one is draped over the arm of his chair. The gun he used was on the floor beneath it."

"Can you put a chair alongside him?"

"He's quite decomposed, Miss Moore."

"Yes," she said, "I would imagine so."

"Very well then."

"Good," she said. "Then we might as well get on with it."

He opened the door and the stench hit her full in the face.

Sherry could hear the window blinds rattle; the cold air from outside did little to minimize the smell.

"Ten more steps," he told her, then reached for a chair, dragged it next to the body, and helped her into it. "I'll be by the door. You call me when you need me."

He watched her from the ledge of the open window, not knowing what to expect. After a few minutes her head tilted to one side and he thought he heard the slightest moan escape her lips.

The walls were painted oxblood. The furniture was heavy, dark wood and leather splintered with cracks, everything covered with a somber layer of dust. Karpovich knew he would never forget the sight, not until the day he died — the beautiful blind woman holding the hand of a putrefied corpse. It was surreal.

She washed her hands in the kitchen sink and dried them with paper towels. "I'd like to walk to the field, if I may."

"Of course," he said hoarsely. He led her out the door past Torlino and the trooper.

Karpovich held up five fingers before he closed the door and Torlino nodded.

"You're cold," he said, reaching for her hands and pushing his gloves into them.

"Thank you, Captain, but what of your own?" she asked.

He patted her on the arm. "The field begins here behind the house and runs to the mountainside. The nearest neighbors aren't visible."

He sneezed and removed his handkerchief, blowing his nose and wiping it.

"Just a hundred feet ahead there is a cluster of trees. Midway is a cement drinking trough for the cattle. There haven't been any livestock here for years, but the field is still cut up from their trails."

Sherry looked ahead. "Take me to the trees, Edward."

"The grass is high, Miss Moore. Your feet will be soaked."

"It's all right." She took a step forward and he jumped to catch up with her, grabbing her arm for fear she would fall on the uneven ground. The going was awkward at times, the tip of her walking stick collecting chunks of sod, her boots becoming covered with grass and hayseed.

"What does the house look like now?" she asked. "You said it hadn't been cared for?"

"It looks like they stopped living five years ago. That's about the time he quit the hospital and sold off the animals. They had become recluses, according to the neighbors. Not even the postman had seen them for months. There is dust and trash in every room. The roof could use new shingles; they get lots of wind up here. There is grass growing through cracks in the patio and pool."

A stiff breeze pelted them with icy flakes of snow. She stopped for a moment to turn from the wind. Then she started out again, her hands thankful for the gloves as she continued toward the grove.

"Take me under them," she said. "I'd like to stand there for a minute alone, if you don't mind."

"Pretty woman," Torlino said. He'd come around the gate to join his partner.

"Beautiful, actually," Karpovich responded. He was standing by the gate, breathing hard from the walk uphill. His hands were cold, and he buried them in his pockets.

"Shame, good piece like that. Know what happened to her?"

Karpovich looked at him. "I didn't ask."

They could see her tapping her walking stick and stamping her feet to get the layout of the ground. At last, she put her back to a tree and seemed to be staring in their direction. Then suddenly her body started to sink down and Karpovich leaped, too late realizing that she was only crouching with her back against the tree.

He looked to his partner in embarrassment, but the younger man pretended not to notice.

"So what happened in there?" Torlino asked.

"She held his hand," Karpovich said distantly.

Torlino looked at him. "You're kidding."

Karpovich shook his head.

"That's it? She didn't say anything?"

"Not yet."

Torlino looked at her and pointed. "What's she doing now?"

"She wanted to be alone under the trees," Karpovich said. The snow continued to blow off the slopes of Laurel Mountain to their east; it lay for a moment on their heads and shoulders before it melted. "Please get us the umbrellas, Mike."

Torlino rolled his eyes and turned for the car.

Sherry crouched and felt her heart beating. She felt the moisture of her breath around her nose. She smelled the man's rotting body all the way into her sinuses, tasted it in her mouth. She removed her hand from the glove and traced the roots of the oak behind her. This was the frustrating part of what she did. Trying to interpret the images she had just seen.

Karpovich had said the tank was for watering cattle, not sheep. But she distinctly saw and smelled sheep at her feet as she was holding the doctor's hand. Why were sheep so important to his last seconds of life?

She grabbed the trunk for support and managed to get herself back on her feet.

One leg had cramped and her fingers were cold. She bent them back and forth, pulling the glove on as she heard Karpovich's labored breathing. "Here," he said as he took her arm. She could sense the umbrella above her head and huddled closer to him for warmth.

"Could we walk by the water trough?" she asked.

He led her to it and she leaned forward, the front of her thighs against the cold, rough concrete.

"It's rather high," she said. "Too high for sheep to drink from, is it not?"

"Yes." He looked at her oddly. "I would think it would be."

She stood there, eyes straight ahead, staring toward the Blue Mountains as if she could actually see them.

"I know where she is," she said at last.

The airport was crowded for March; the booths were filled in the small TGI Friday's next to the C-gate walking tram. Torlino had ordered a beer and Karpovich a ginger ale. Sherry ran her finger around the salty rim of a margarita.

"You really don't have to wait with me," she said. "I'm boarding just across the corridor."

"There is no place I'd rather be, Miss Moore," Karpovich said. "I can only thank you again for taking the trouble to do what you did for us."

"Very well, but please don't give me any credit," she warned. "Not yet. It doesn't always work out the way I imagine. You could dig for a week and not find anything."

Karpovich smiled. "It will still have been my pleasure," he said warmly.

"I read something about your role in the Norwich case," Torlino said.

Karpovich, who had observed a thousand interrogations over the years, caught the faintest tic at the corner of her mouth. She was uncomfortable with the subject.

"Can you tell us how you do what you do?" Torlino asked.

The older man was about to cut him off, but Sherry leaned forward, seeming to welcome the change in subject.

"I'll tell you what the doctors tell me." She folded her hands in front of her. "I suffered brain damage as a child, a head injury followed by cerebral blindness, which means that my optical nerves are intact but something in my cortex prevents them from working. I also suffer retrograde amnesia, meaning I have no memory of the injury or anything prior to it. Damage to the cortex imitates the electrical anomaly of an epileptic. My brain has electrical storms, though I don't have the seizures."

Her smile was disarming, Karpovich thought. She had none of the inanimate characteristics associated with the blind. Her eyes were light sensitive and looked quite normal behind her tinted glasses. She followed conversation with her face and used her hands as she spoke.

"One day when I was quite young I took the hand of a dead girl in a funeral home and saw images that were not my own. When it happened again years later, I saw a crime taking place. The police got involved and more or less verified what I had told them. One thing led to another and people started asking me for help.

"Scientifically speaking, I'm told I'm tapping into the short-term memory of the deceased."

"Uh-huh," Torlino said, stuffing a pretzel into his mouth.

"The frontal cortex of the brain houses short-term memory. Every time you compare cereal box labels in the grocery store you draw information from your memory reserves and bring them into short-term memory to assist you in making a decision. STM holds only what you are thinking about at the moment, about eighteen seconds' worth, so if you had a heart attack while comparing cereal box labels, there might be glimpses of what you were reading along with people running or kneeling over you trying to help. You might even retrieve the image of someone dear to you or someone like your family doctor. If you were shot instead of having a heart attack, you might focus on the face of the shooter. If you pull anything into the eighteen seconds of memory, like the face of someone you loved, you push something else out."

She took a drink and dabbed her lips with her napkin.

"Okay," Torlino said. "So it's like the RAM memory in a computer."

Sherry nodded. "Essentially."

"But what exactly is it that your body is doing to reach it?"

"In a sense, I am completing an electrical connection." She wiggled her fingers. "I am electrically charged, just as you are electrically charged. We are all wired with millions of receptors from our fingertips to our toes. Brush against something and the receptors stimulate neurons. Neurons send signals to the brain, retrieving interpretations. Your brain tells you if the object is hot, cold, dull, sharp, whatever. Everything we touch, just like the Braille I read, is interpreted by various parts of our brain in short-term, or working, memory for real-time evaluation."

She took a breath.

"When my skin receptors touch a dead person's skin receptors, my live electrical system — which is to say my central nervous system — makes contact with the circuitry of the deceased person's central nervous system. I am hot-wiring myself through their central nervous system to their brain."

A woman sitting at another table turned to look at them.

Torlino lowered his voice an octave and leaned toward her. "What does another person's memory look like, Miss Moore?"

She shrugged and tilted her head to one side. "It's like a homemade movie, but every one is so very different. I once saw nothing but words on the pages of a book — the whole last eighteen seconds of that person's life were immersed in a novel. Most often, when people are under stress, they move from one thing to the next without warning, although you can tell pretty much what is real time and what is not. Sometimes, though, the memory of something or someone in the past may be so vivid that the thing seems to be standing right there in front of you. The tricky part is trying to interpret the difference, to understand real time versus the recollections of a dying human being."

She put her hands palm-down on the table. "In any event, the images come and go, a second here, two seconds there, until the whole eighteen seconds is exhausted. Eighteen seconds is a lot of time." She turned a thumb toward the corridor behind them. "Consider what you have been thinking for the last eighteen seconds and what it might look like on film. You would undoubtedly be thinking about what I am saying right now, my face might be there, but what else would be on your mind?" She smiled. "You might also be thinking of a flight attendant who just walked by, and so her face or some part of her body comes to mind."

Torlino smiled and tried to roll his eyes.

"If your thoughts strayed to tomorrow's dental appointment, you might envision your dentist's chair or his face, or maybe your mind is on the date you had last night. I must tell you that not all of what I see is PG-13. Can you imagine trying to interpret those images out of context? Let's say you were shot in the back. I could see the women I just mentioned, but without the benefit of your specific knowledge of who they were, I couldn't know if one was your wife or your sister or your murderer unless I actually saw her kill you. And those are the easy ones. When death comes slowly, there are a great many images of unknown relevance in a person's last few seconds. The dying often forget about the present and start to recall old friends, family, lost loves — it all comes to mind, sometimes things that no one else ever knew about the person."

"You mention images. You can't read thoughts, you just see images?"

She nodded and smiled. "Ironic, wouldn't you say? A blind woman who can see images."

Torlino smiled and looked up at the ceiling. Then he shook his head back and forth, as if to unclog it. "No," he said, "more like unbelievable."

Sherry picked up her glass, pressed one finger against it, and lifted it up for them to see. "Who would have believed two hundred years ago that a man could be identified by leaving his fingerprint on the side of a glass? Who would have believed fifty years ago that the blueprint of our existence would be found in the oil that makes up that fingerprint?"

She put the glass down and folded her hands. "If the brain is more sophisticated than any computer we ever hope to devise — and I daresay we don't use a tenth of its capacity — then given the right conditions, couldn't it tap into other human systems and read the data? That's a pretty simple task to ask of a computer."

"So you're saying your mind is acting like an EEG or whatever, but you're reading images, not electrical waves?"

"I don't even know if it's that sophisticated, but yes." She nodded. "Something along those lines."

She tapped the table. "I believe that the aggregate of all we've ever experienced is etched into the cerebrum when we die. Picture our brains as saturated with data just like the hard drives we throw into the trash when we outgrow them. That I am able to see a few seconds of it surprises me not at all."

"Then why wouldn't you be seeing images every time you shook hands with someone?" Torlino asked.

"Think about it," she said as she shook her head. "If a living neurological system were exposed to outside stimuli, it would be compelled to reject it. Its primary function is toward self-preservation, and it does that by maintaining a closed system. In other words, nature itself wouldn't permit it." She wagged a finger. "But turn off the power and the wiring's open to invasion."

"Any side effects? I mean, how do they end?" Torlino asked.

Sherry's fingers curled into a ball. She smiled, and crossed and uncrossed her calves.

Another question she didn't like, Karpovich thought.

"Side effects?" Sherry repeated. She put her elbows on the table and folded her hands, seeming to contemplate the question.

How did they end? A very good question indeed. How did you ever forget the sound of earth being tossed on your grave as you're being buried alive? How could you ever forget the taste of a plastic tube taped in your mouth, the plane going down, or the muzzle flash when a gun is pointed straight at you? Could you ever forget making a mistake that cost a life?

"No effects, really," she said.

Even now she was defying her doctor's orders. "Your little horror shows are catching up with you, Sherry, aren't they?" The doctor never liked what she did and thought it caused her harm in ways that no one could comprehend. She'd been told that her work was at variance with nature and that just because she was already blind didn't mean that worse couldn't befall her.

She knew what the doctor was thinking — the nervous tic that sometimes appeared at the corner of her mouth, the nightmares and obsessions.

"Post-traumatic stress disorder can lead to dozens of forms of psychosis, Sherry. You must consider the side effects."

But people managed to cope with complex emotions all the time. Cops, emergency workers, soldiers — they all took on horrible memories. The fact that she was seeing it through the victim's eyes hardly seemed relevant. It was still only a memory, and no one ever died of a memory.

Besides, the thought of not doing it terrified her even more.

As a child in the orphanage, she had dreamed of becoming someone important, some extraordinary woman that other people looked up to, a woman like the doctors and politicians and astronauts in her textbooks. She wanted to go to a university to discover new theories and ideas; she wanted to contribute to society in some distinctive, meaningful way.

But the dream had only been a dream. She was, in reality, a penniless orphan. Not only was she an orphan, but a blind orphan with no past. It quickly became apparent to her, as other children came and went, that no one was going to adopt a blind girl with no history. She knew that without the kind of financial help that only parents could give, she would never realize her dream.

It was ironic that only now, after Sherry had become a minor celebrity with more than enough money for college, that universities were throwing themselves at her feet, that doctors and scientists rallied to study or educate or even save her from herself.

No. She had made it this far on her own. She had fulfilled the dream on her own and she had no intention of going back, no desire to live in darkness or go through life afraid. She would take life head-on, even at the risk of her sanity.

Torlino continued to nod, seemingly impressed by the expression on her face.

"No dreams?" Karpovich asked. His voice was so soft, so gentle that the question barely registered.

She turned her smile away from them. "We all have dreams, Edward; you dream about what you see at work, I dream about what I see. Even our victims have dreams. Dr. Donovan was thinking about that concrete trough in the last moments of his life because he must have thought about it most every day for the last thirty years. And sheep. I know you mentioned it was a cattle farm, Edward, but I saw sheep beneath my feet."

"Sheep?" Torlino repeated.

She finished her drink. "What if the whole purpose of the cattle was to justify the trough and the whole purpose of the trough was to cover a grave? According to the inventory, there was more than adequate machinery to set the tank there by himself."

"But why go to the trouble?" Torlino asked. "Why not just bury her at the edge of the forest?"

Karpovich put a hand on the younger man's arm, feeling foolish for not thinking of it himself. "Because he didn't know when the police were going to show up, and the last thing he wanted them to discover was broken ground."

"Exactly," Sherry said. "The tank looked natural because water slops out and the earth around it got trampled as a matter of course. Can't you just imagine those officers walking around those buildings and fields, and right there in front of them, just fifty feet from the house, was a herd of cattle, ankle-deep in the muck around a trough, as if they had all been there for years? Who would have thought otherwise?"

"So what's with the sheep?" Torlino asked.

"My guess," Sherry said, "is that there were sheep in the field prior to the murder. I think he was remembering a time right after the killing. He was standing among the sheep and trying to decide what to do with her. Finally he decided to drop a concrete trough on top of the grave, a trough so large and so heavy that nobody could move it without machinery. The sheep were too small to drink from such a tank, so he sold them and surrounded it with cattle."

Copyright © 2006 by George D. Shuman

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