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The Sacred & The Profane > Baltimore, MA > [FIN] Habeas Corpus

Posted by: Calla Liu Feb 5 2015, 10:23 PM
Calla didn't like morgues. Bad memories layered over everything, shifting and dancing, blurring her vision;too much cold metal; sharp chemical smells that stabbed needle-sharp at the inside of her nose. But she had a job to do, so she was at the city morgue anyway, alongside Emma Ripley, to see whether her niece's corpse remembered anything the field hadn't. (Aly was at the apartment, reading through evidence. What Calla was going to look at she wanted Aly to see third-hand. To protect her.)

Lucy Ripley's body had been in police custody for longer than normal. Part of that was how bad the murder had been (the coroner had officially ruled the cause of death a shotgun blast). The other part was that Emma Ripley didn't want the residue of the curse inside her wards and was stalling. Security issue. There was no mother in the picture--Nora Ripley was dead; ex-husband Sam Blackwell estranged. Emma had become Lucy's legal guardian after the divorce twenty years ago. The court records had been dropped off at Calla's flat yesterday.

The coroner's assistant opened the drawer and pulled back the sheet, and Calla saw a living woman. Lucy's face was intact, her eyes closed, her long red hair fanned out around her head. She was breathing softly, chest moving just the slightest bit. Even her clothes were there--gray sweater, dark jeans, a chunk of quartz on a thin gold chain. Calla bit down hard on the inside of her cheek and concentrated on now. The image flickered and blurred and vanished, leaving only the waxy, jawless corpse, naked and autopsy-scarred.

Bodies remembered what they'd been.

"Liu," said Ripley, "What are you getting?"

"Nothing helpful yet," Calla said after a long pause. She looked again--saw Lucy, freshly dead; Lucy, alive; Lucy, fifteen years old. Flesh was all about surface impressions. She was going to have to actually touch it. This was going to be...Well, she wouldn't be getting home on her own power, afterwards.

Calla tugged off one of her gloves, and stretched out a hand to press the pad of her index finger to the body's forehead. No earplugs this time. She might need someone to unstick her and she'd take being touched even worse than usual, so if it came to that, it'd have to be sound. A cough interrupted her jarringly.

"Miss Ripley," said the assistant, "Er..."

"What." Ripley's brows drew together and her lips thinned.

"The department's sent down someone else to see the body? Detective Whitaker?" There was someone behind him--a man. One Calla recognized, because she did pay attention to the police. There were dark circles under his eyes and thick gloves on his hands--like her.

"Hello," Calla said, accidentally just a beat too late for real politeness. "You'll have to wait until I'm done. Detective."

Posted by: Nathaniel Whitaker Feb 6 2015, 05:22 PM
He’d already visited one crime scene and one funeral home this week, so Nathan sincerely hoped that no one else in Baltimore chose to die under suspicious circumstances. Truth be told, though, he preferred the morgue when he had his pick. The grief in morgues was transient here, and tempered by the indifference—or even curiosity—of the staff. The smell of formaldehyde and stale, oxidized blood was almost comforting; no matter how much he tried, his fiancé could not wash the smell completely from his hands.

For a trip to the morgue, Nathan decided to forego the alprazolam tablet. He needed it less than he needed his wits about him, and at least in the morgue, comfort was only a few metal steps away.

Some days, it was the little details that caused him problems. Today, the offending stimuli turned out to be a pair of women he hadn’t expected, already examining the body he’d come down to inspect. He was expecting death and chemicals, and those sensations washed over him with relative ease. Nathan recognized them both, Miss Ripley from the recent investigation and Miss Liu from a handful of run-ins they’d had in the past.

At least, he thought it was the past. Occasionally it was hard to tell.

”Ah, sorry to interrupt—“ he began sheepishly. Sixteen years of hiding behind his mother’s skirts, as it turned out, seemed like it was taking just as long to shake. He cleared his throat and considered his options. Miss Liu was a touch-know, much like himself—he didn’t need his own abilities to tell him that, just the way she clung to her single removed glove like a lifeline—and was examining the body much the same way he might have. She knew more, had seen more of the case than he had, and perhaps viewing the deceased Miss Ripley’s memories through her would serve as his first look.

Maybe he would not have to touch the body. From the metal drawer, Lucy Ripley’s head turned to look at him, her cloudy eyes unblinking. Nathan sighed; of course the spirit would linger with a death as violent as Ripley’s had been. The prospect of not touching the body was little more than wishful thinking.

Either way, he would have to wait for Miss Liu to conclude this portion of her personal investigation. That was what Miss Ripley the Living wanted, and since most psychic information wasn’t time sensitive, he didn’t see the point in making himself a bother. ”By all means, take your time,” he said, taking a seat in one of the foldable metal chairs nearby. ”I’m in no rush.”

Posted by: Calla Liu Feb 9 2015, 08:58 PM
Less of an argument than Calla had been expecting. She nodded at him in thanks. Then she checked her traction on the floor, braced herself against the drawer, and touched the very tip of her finger to the corpse's forehead.

The past jackhammered up through her. Cold, dark--skip. Scalpel slicing through her chest--skip. Ambulance rocking, pressure of hands, impact of dirt--skip, skip, skip. Then--then--

Running, she's running, pain spiking through her ankle with every step, fear sick in her mouth. (The world around her is different, all wrong, but that's Cassandra's own mind talking--the wrong brain chemistry is filtering input, smoothing out what shouldn't be.) The sun is hot on her back; wind whips her hair into her face. Behind her power gathers, thunderstorm-heavy. Fear-anger-hate-fear-fear is drowning her (with Lucy's synapses, she can understand how this is like drowning even though actually it's nothing like drowning) and she pulls her magic up and in, collapsing her shields for more strength. Turns, throws a hex that scrapes the inside of her throat raw.

He bats it aside like it's nothing--that's not his power, that doesn't belong to him, she can tell, she can feel it, he borrowed it from someone, someone she's met before--and that was all she had, that was her only shot. And his spell rears up, knives and teeth and light, so hungry. (She needs to get out. She needs to get out now.) It hawk-strikes down--

From very far away, Calla found her hand and pulled it back. It was so heavy. Worse than disassociating. The physical world came rushing at her hard, like a punch to the face. Too bright, too loud, too much, too strong. Even the hum of the air conditioner was overwhelming. She slumped against the drawer, eyes squeezed shut, breathing hard. Her gloved hand clutched the side of it; her bare one was squeezed into a fist, carefully held away from anything else.

And there was the headache, incoming. That was definitely going to be a migraine. Nausea too. Calla pulled her glove back on and, slowly, eased her weight back onto her feet. Processing was still hard. Slowly, wobble-legged, she made her way back to where she'd left her bag on a chair. She popped a Maxalt, washing it down with a swig of water, and then wedged herself against the wall and very carefully rested her forehead against her knees, eyes tightly shut. Better. Hard to think, still, so she concentrated on her breathing. Long breath in, hold it, long breath out, repeat. When her body was calm she turned inward, focusing on her mind--that went there and this went here, everything neatly ordered and in its proper place. Then she probed herself to see if she'd gone nonverbal. Not this time. She'd managed to pull out before it could hit her too hard. Good.

Now, Calla calculated--if the Maxalt kicked in right (and it might not; she'd taken it a little early), then she would be able to handle this for about another hour, maybe forty-five minutes. Then she would need to get home and spend the rest of the day not doing anything at all. That would have to be by cab. Dammit, she should have brought Aly and told her to shield. But she'd done this alone for more than fifteen years before she had anyone else; she'd manage.

"All yours," she said to Whitaker. Then, almost like an afterthought, "Just as bad as it looks. Safest to get out when it comes down." He'd know what she meant when he went in.

Posted by: Nathaniel Whitaker Feb 15 2015, 01:09 PM
Ghosts, in Nathan's experience, rarely did anything dramatic. They simply lingered, for the most part, and looked varying levels of menacing until you got whatever message they were trying to send across the metaphysical pond. He'd had his fair share of experiences with ghosts--they had diagnosed him with a high mediumship score in the early days of the still-controversial scale--and few had ever set out to harm him. Few, and never victims; victims only wanted to be found, or to find peace, or to say goodbye. Occasionally, they wanted revenge, but they left those stories out of the papers.

Listening to the gutteral breathing of Lucy Ripley's spectral double, her body violated by whatever the hell he'd seen in Liu's vision and then by the coroners scalpel, rendered this knowledge almost entirely un-comforting. He tried not to stare into her translucent corneas, and his attention definitely did not linger on what was left of her missing jaw. Eventually, she faded into the background with the other stubborn spirits of the morgue, a shadow hovering on the blurriest part of his periphery.

There would be a time and a place to communicate with Lucy herself. Right now, he doubted she could tell him much more than he could find out himself through her corpse's memory and through Liu. If she could tell him anything at all, that was--and he doubted it. Nathan's knowledge of magic was rudimentary at best, in that he assumed it must exist because peculiarities like himself (and Billy, he added mentally, and Meghan, who had phoned him just last week to excitedly relate some rather disturbing news) must have come from somewhere. Many of the ghosts he encountered were much more whole than Ripley; perhaps the magic that had severed her jaw had made it impossible for her to relate the details after her death.

So instead, Nathan focused on Liu's emotions and flicked through her visions; Lucy alive, Lucy dead, Lucy in a panic, the dark figure behind him--behind her, he reminded himself, pulling himself back out of the memory of a memory. Adrenaline and fear had driven rationality from Miss Ripley's thoughts in the moments before her death, and now this fear was the foremost thing her corpse remembered.

Nathan sighed softly. He would have to go digging. He stood, dusting off the legs of his trousers in a gesture that served more as a comfort than practical grooming. The weight of another person's hands to remind him that he was still in reality--that was what he wanted. His own hands were what he got, and he'd been making do for more than twenty years.

"That looked nasty. I see why you work with a partner. I've got half a Xanax if you need it," he offered. "Always helps me out, and it's quick if you dissolve it under your tongue. I was saving it for after, but my ride's just upstairs, and I think I need my wits about me with this one."

Posted by: Billy Carson Feb 17 2015, 06:12 PM
Dr. Billy Carson was, until very recently, on his lunch break. He’d spent most of it sending emails but had managed to eat a sandwich he had packed and some pretzels from the vending machine upstairs, as well as a few peanuts and an apple, all of which did little to curb his hunger. He was going to have to make time to eat again before his shift ended if he was going to be able to focus at all and that was inconveniencing to say the least. As he took out his earphones and shoved them in his pocket, he realized from outside the door to the morgue that he could hear voices. Surprised, he let himself in.

“Oh, Jeremy! I didn’t realize we had company.” He grinned sheepishly at the grim looking crowd, marking the tension in the room and both Liu and Whitaker’s pale faces. Ah. “Ms. Liu, Detective Whitaker,” he said, nodding to them. His eyes lingered on the third woman, wondering who she was.“Do you, uhm. Have any questions about Miss Ripley? About the technical details, I mean.”

At this point he thought they might know more than he did, considering their talents.

Posted by: Calla Liu Feb 17 2015, 07:58 PM
Good of him to offer, but bad idea for her to take a Xanax with the Maxalt. And worse idea for him to look inside her head and not pay attention. (The fact she was currently the only person in the room who'd have followed that detail tree all the way without prompting escaped Calla. She was in a bad mood for remembering how other people saw things right now.) But she was too wiped to be angry or even annoyed. "No," she said. A beat later, "Thank you. You will." She didn't wish him luck. Calla didn't believe in luck.

Ripley focused on him, her pale eyes locking on. "You," she said, "Whitaker. You're a medium, yes?" It was a rhetorical question; Ripley had heard of him. "Does she say anythi--" She broke off as another man entered.

It took Calla a second to register the new person. Pain frissoned behind her eyes as she automatically looked a few seconds back to see the memory of him and sucked up one of the last bits of her energy. Automatic reaction--prints were better than faces, which looked the same to her, more or less; she'd been doing that since she was twelve and realized how much easier it was than trying to figure out whether the nose was the right shape or the eyebrows the right thickness. This was why she hated being around people when she was working. Calla hissed slightly between her teeth and pulled herself back in.

Calla weighed her options and went with a simple, "No," again. She knew how she worked; she knew she'd sound dismissive and rude if she went for anything more complicated. Well. More dismissive and rude. She couldn't figure her own tone of voice right now, but she knew it probably wasn't even close to polite.

"I assume," Ripley said, "That you work with the morgue. I'm Emma Ripley. Since Liu is currently unable to tell me--" (Not an insult, just a fact; Calla didn't take it as one.) "--do you know what angle the jaw was ripped off at?" There was a reason Ripley wanted to know that--the angle might indicate the type of spell, which might indicate who'd cast it. If Calla dared, she'd get that close--but she knew how much she'd feel it, and she needed to be on her feet for this case. Aly couldn't run it alone.

Posted by: Billy Carson Feb 18 2015, 02:29 PM
Billy hesitated, felt himself go rigid. He was never good with closest of kin—men or women weeping in his morgue was something he tried to avoid at all costs; he did his best to keep casual visitors out for anything but IDing the body. Still, he assumed if she was dealing with the likes of Liu, she was already used to a lack of compassion in some regards. And hell, she seemed to be handling it fairly well.

He extended a hand. “Dr. Carson, resident forensic pathologist.” Works with the morgue indeed. “And gee, jaw angle. Well boy howdy, lady, let me tell ya, this is one of the nastiest we’ve seen in a while.” He took out a pen, showing the still breathing Ms. Ripley to the body. “Stressors in the tendons and and bone fissures indicate that it was ripped off with force approximate of what you might expect from a tow truck, and at what I’d say is probably about a thirty-three degree angle from her shoulders at the time of the incident. Honestly I would normally expect that amount of force to rip her head clean off her shoulders, or at the very least disconnect the base of the skull from her spinal column. You can see—er, if you want to get that close—that riiiight in here there’s cracking at her upmost disc but no separation. I’m still trying to work out what happened.” He couldn’t say he didn’t enjoy his work, but he did notice people didn’t tend to appreciate his enthusiasm. He was just so interested.

Posted by: Nathaniel Whitaker Feb 23 2015, 04:59 PM
It was at this point that Jeremy excused himself; he had never been a fan of wild speculations, and now that there was another official employee to oversee the small band, he was quite finished with psychics for the day. ‘Cause of death’ was where the conversation always turned strange, and after a falling out with Dr. Carson a few weeks prior to Whitaker’s retirement, they had decided that it was also where Jeremy’s criticism was no longer invited. He got along well enough with Billy outside of those conversations, so packing up the show and moving on to more pressing matters in the adjacent examination room was hardly a burden.

Nathan coughed.

“Based on what I gathered from Ms. Liu and what Dr. Carson’s ascertained from his own investigations, I’d say there’s some vital information we might be missing from Miss Ripley.” His tone was more matter-of-fact than accusatory; Nathan had learned a long time ago that accusing people made them far more likely to deny whatever you were suggesting than simply stating it as fact. The woman’s thoughts were distant and high, outside his reach not because they were incompatible with his own (that had happened one recently with the director of a local funeral home), but because she wanted them there. Emma Ripley had dealt with her fair share of psychics.

Withholding evidence or information was generally frowned upon, and was, he was fairly certain, mostly illegal in most states.

“I can assure you that Dr. Carson and I are the closest you’ll get to experts on unconventional cases when it comes to the Baltimore PD.”

He was biding his time before touching the deceased, and he knew it, but that didn’t mean the information wasn’t pertinent.

Posted by: Calla Liu Feb 27 2015, 11:49 PM
Ripley's lips thinned. "I see." Calla had no idea if it meant anything to her. What it meant to her was confirmation of what she already knew--too brutal to be execution-style. That meant either it was personal or for fun. Or someone who did it for fun hired by someone with an issue. Hard to pick out the differences; thinking was still frustrating. Remembering thinking with Lucy's mind was worse.

She did it anyway, focused in on that feeling of not-his. The further away in time she let it get, the harder it would be to look at closely, so she had to do this now even if Whitaker would see it. (Didn't matter, anyway. Her investigation would be faster.) The world closed in on her. Whitaker's words dissolved into garbled, too-loud noise; so did what Ripley was saying.

"Would you, Mr. Whitaker." Ripley folded her arms and was silent for a moment. (It was actually just long enough to be awkward, though Calla didn't realize. Ripley was calculating that very carefully, to make it seem like she was giving up more than she was.) Finally, she said, "Lucy stood to inherit my business." By which she meant both the front fitness company the Ripleys technically owned and the coven. "And quite a lot of money--she was my heir. I think you know what that means."

Yes. That was definitely borrowed power. Or stolen. No--borrowed. No--she wasn't sure. Lucy hadn't had enough time to be sure. Someone else's. Right around the edges of the spell. There hadn't been enough time for Lucy to figure out whose, either. Just someone she knew. That had knocked all Calla's thoughts out of order again, but she knew that was a lead. Might go nowhere, but still a lead.

Calla pulled back into herself. Automatically, she started to rock, remembered that it wasn't something she could do in public (she'd learned at a very young age what coping behaviors she could show; rocking wasn't one of them), and went for the zipper of her jacket instead. Tugging it up and down grounded her. Better. Not good, just better. Her legs would get her up and into a cab, as long as she didn't push herself too much. And she still wasn't nonverbal--though it'd been a close thing for a second there.

"Got what I--" Calla said, and realized that she was talking to an afterimage of Ripley instead of Ripley herself. The whole room was overlaid with the memory of five minutes ago. Everyone looked like a fuzzy copy of themselves, and there was a dull pain growing inside her skull. Dammit. She closed her eyes and centered herself When she opened them, the room was still layered with memories, but she could pick out who was real. "Got what I need."

"Good. I'll call you a cab in a moment. But first--" Ripley fixed Whitaker with a stare. "I'd like to see what Mr. Whitaker makes of the body."

Posted by: Nathaniel Whitaker Mar 3 2015, 03:53 PM
He did not pull a face. He did not ask “Do I have to?” Both of these options came readily to Nathan’s mind, but he’d been at the job long enough to know that yes, he had to touch the body, and no amount of visible disdain was going to change that fact. What had they called him for, anyway? He only nodded and removed a single glove, taking a brief moment to establish exactly where Billy was in case he needed to reach out for comfort.

Ripley was still holding something back. That was fine; while the icy Emma Ripley’s memories and thoughts might have been out of Nathan’s reach, he was going to find out anyway when he touched her niece’s cadaver. If it was there to be found, anyway. Considering whatever had torn Ripley’s jaw off had made provisions for any chattiness on the part of her ghost, he didn’t know what other precautions might have been taken.

He breathed in. He breathed out.

After more than twenty years of living with his abilities, Nathan had gained a healthy appreciation for the mindfulness and meditation techniques his mother had taught him from an early age. He resolved to call her up and buy her a beer after this; he had control of himself now, but the medicine only did so much to keep him from following the deceased too far down the rabbit hole. Lucy Ripley was going to follow him home. He hoped, avoiding the eyes of the specter in the corner, that it would only be in his nightmares.

Lucy Ripley was cold to the touch. Nathan carefully avoided the spot where Liu had pressed her finger to the body. Even a little bit of psychic residue could influence his impressions, and he wanted as close to the unadulterated truth as something as inexact as psychometry would allow. Cold first, then hot, and the flutter of a frantic dying heartbeat flickered under his skin. He sorted through the flash-bulb memories—at the memory of life, the alarm bells sent out by Ripley’s endocrine system played full blast. His ears rang.

Lucy dead, Lucy in a panic, Lucy’s blood and sweat were no good to him. He’d seen all of these through Liu’s eyes already, seen the weapon (if it could be called such; the word “magic” lingered timidly on his tongue) that had killed her. There was no way to jump from the late Miss Ripley to her assailant—there was no physical conduit between them—so Nathan pushed deeper, farther back, to a living Lucy Ripley whose life still hung in the balance. As he flipped through the visions for pertinent information, he tried to stay focused on the feelings of the people in the room with him. In the now.

Always easier said than done.

And then he was slipping, and it was easier to fall and control the descent than to climb back out. The memory was all-consuming—a realization that Lucy had played over and over in her final moments. She would live for several months after this moment, but in the instants before her death, this was the moment that she knew.

He was seated—she was seated—drat it all, who cared. The table was small, an intimate gathering of friends or perhaps trusted friends (nothing formal, he noted). They had gathered, it seemed, to give Lucy advice, or at least were quite insistent upon it. He heard all of their voices at once, like the chatter of starlings too close to a window. He wanted to see the room in person; it was clear Lucy’s memories were focused on one particular part of this event. At the other end of the table, Lucy was doing her best to stay cordial without alerting the henpeckers that she was far from interested in their warnings. There was a large band-aid, almost hidden, under her sleeve, but Nathan could feel the long scratch down his own arm. Involuntarily, he recalled the taste of warm blood dribbling down someone else’s hands.

She knew about caution, knew she had to stay one step ahead of—something, perhaps a rival? And she was watching someone in the room, someone who been causing her grief since this meeting began.

A turn of the head. That was all Nathan would need, and eye contact, to begin scouring the city for this character who had clearly had some hand in Miss Ripley’s death. But just as he thought he was going to get a lucky break, her memories lurched forward, speeding through the next eight months, and he was breathing hard, his feet pounding down on an open field and he could hear the quiet of the room around him but he could also hear the thrum! thrum! thrum! of his heart just a half-beat out of step with Lucy’s. Safest to get out when it comes down, he remembered, and anchored himself to that thought, anchored himself to the speaker who was still disoriented but back in reality.

Hot blood. His skull felt like it might split—

Fortunately, Nathan knew the layout of the morgue rather well, and knew precisely where they kept the small metal wastebasket near the desk. He had already begun to move before he was lucid, and leaned over to retch into it. Experiencing that much time, no breaks, in only a few short seconds scrambled the brain and left the body weak. Nothing came up, which was a relief.

“She—” he began, but the searing pain at his temples had not let up yet. Fumbling for his notebook, Nathan sank to the floor and scribbled out his thoughts before panic pushed them away.

June 19th. Close. Blood, blood, blood, he lingered on blood, pen looping over the curves of the letters a few times before the tactile response slowed the beating of his heart. ”Your niece had her own suspicions, starting about eight months ago, about someone she knew. I’m sorry, I didn’t see a face—fear does strange things to the mind. Did she ever—” A flash of Lucy’s specter spooked him further into the corner, but he recovered. Mostly. She would undoubtedly follow him home, nightmares or not.

He breathed in, he breathed out. “Did she ever discuss these suspicions with you?”

Posted by: Calla Liu Mar 15 2015, 10:40 PM
Calla watched him through the haze of afterimages; Ripley did not. Her talents didn't run to seeing what exactly he was doing. Calla couldn't either, but she understood. Especially the part where he retched into the trash can.

Lucy had never said she was suspicious, not as such. Only that she thought something was wrong with her friend Marianne Woods--daughter of Lorraine Woods, the coven's chief diplomat, who had become, in Ripley's opinion, far too hungry for any kind of power she could grasp. But Ripley was shielded, and hadn't told Calla this yet, and what she said out loud was, "Lucy was beginning to handle these things on her own." Which was not a lie. Lucy had, in fact, handled the problem, whatever it had been. She had seemed perfectly happy a few weeks later, and so had Marianne. Ripley did not like the idea that her niece had managed to lie to her to spectacularly and thoroughly, but she had to consider it.

Ripley also saw what he'd written, but said nothing about it.

"Thank you for your time, Mr. Whitaker," said Ripley, "I trust Doctor Carson will assist you. Now, if you'll excuse us, we need to be on our way. Our cab is here."

Head swimming, Calla got up. She looked at Nathan with a twinge of sympathy. That was a place she'd been before, and a place she'd be again. But he wasn't her friend, and his involvement in this wasn't over. Hard to really think about that, though. Hard to think about anything past putting one foot in front of the other. Even getting to the cab seemed hugely distant.

She made her way out of the morgue, a step behind Ripley. Later. Later she'd consider all that.

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