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May 13, 2024

Fresh Hearts

By Mel Trent

Fresh Hearts

Jack Runner didn't want to go to work on Valentine's Day. He hated Valentine's Day. He didn't like being asked about his significant other. He didn't like the candy overload or the jewelry or how the whole idea of the day turned lovers into groveling morons. Love, whatever that meant, was something to celebrate quietly, in private, with a bottle of whiskey and maybe a scented body oil. It didn't help that no one in the office knew about him and Sam except for him and Sam. Every Valentine's Day, Jack wondered how much longer it would be before someone figured it out.

It wasn't going to be this year. The whole building was in an uproar when Jack walked in. People were pouring out of the front doors with sour looks on their faces. Some were covering their noses. Others had their hands on their mouths and hurried to the bushes to eject their morning coffee and breakfast. The security guards were ushering people to the exits. Jack stood in the wave and wondered what the hell was going on. It smelled like rotten meat.

Sam Winston grabbed Jack's elbow as he pushed past. "Get out of the building, Jack. Bomb squad's on the way," he said.

Jack let himself be led out without asking questions. Ghosts and demons, he could handle that. Bombs made him nervous.

When they were behind the yellow tape the police were stringing up, Jack lit a cigarette. He wanted to ask what was going on. It didn't smell like a bomb, but it must not have been a corpse if the bomb squad was there. Whatever it was, it was a hell of a lot more interesting than Valentine's Day.

"So what's the deal?" Sam asked.

"How the hell should I know? I just got here."

"The package is on your desk."


"From your secret admirer."

"Really? I didn't know I had one of those. How sweet."

"Jack, it's not funny."


"No. I'm worried. Whatever it is ... I mean, that smell. It's something that used to be alive."

"So why the bomb squad?"

"Because they're the ones who always handle mysterious packages."

Jack put his hand over his mouth to stifle a giggle.

Sam shook his head. "You have a very dirty mind, you know."

"Yeah. I know."

The police had them too far away from the entrance for them to be able to see anything that was going on inside. Jack and Sam made their way out of the thick of the crowd while everyone else tried to rubberneck. Jack tried to think of anyone who might want to send him a ... whatever was in the package, but he couldn't come up with any names. He let his computer run through his case files, but nothing there seemed to help either. He would have to come up with something. The cops would be asking him questions as soon as they had the package secured.

Jack's cell phone rang. He didn't recognize the number on the caller ID display. "Hello?"

"Did you get my gift?" asked a husky voice on the other end.

"No, I think I may have been a little late. Who is this?"

"You look nice today, Jack."

"Who is this?"

"I'm sorry my gift missed you. I though you would be in early today. I guess you stayed in the coffee shop too long. Had that extra cup before leaving. I don't blame you. And put that cigarette out. Smoking is bad for you."

Jack started to look around for anyone standing apart from the crowd and talking on a cell phone. The crowd was too thick. "You wanna tell me who you are? I would like to be able to thank you for the present. Even if I did miss it. It's the thought that counts, right?"

"You know me, Jack. You've always known me. Stop looking for me. You won't find me down there."

"I don't think I recognize your voice. Care to give me a hint?"

"Jack ... don't be coy. You know me."

"My memory is a little shaky."

"Tsk, tsk. Well. I'll let you go. Looks like they're coming out to talk to you. And do me a favor. Don't tell Sam. It's our little secret, Jack. Bye-bye, love."

The feeling of being watched crept over Jack. He turned around to face the front doors and looked up. He saw a flash of movement at a window on the corner of the building. It wasn't enough for him to be certain it was his secret admirer, but he felt enough of a twinge in his dampened psychic mind to know. He looked down at the display on his cell phone. He still didn't think he knew the number. He selected redial. After one ring, a recorded voice informed him that the number he had dialed was no longer in service.

"What the hell was that about?" Sam asked.

"I gotta get inside the building, Sam."


"I just do. He's in there."

"Shit. Jack, why don't you -- "


"You don't even know what I was going to say."

"Yes, I do. Tell Sanderson and the police about the phone call and the fact that I think my new friend is inside our building. Get SWAT or something down here before I go in there all alone and vulnerable. Because he's dangerous. Whoever he is. Whatever he is."

Sam looked towards the front doors. Lieutenant Cathy Sanderson was coming out with a police officer in a suit and the bomb squad captain. Not one of the three of them looked happy or even relieved. "What d'you want me to do, Jack?"

"Keep them distracted while I sneak in."

"Do you have your gun?"

"No. It's in my desk."

"You're not going in there unarmed."

"Sam --"

"Don't argue with me. I outrank you."

Jack knew when he was beaten so he said nothing. By then, Cathy and the police were headed straight for him.

"Detective Runner," Cathy said. "You're still here. I'm amazed."

"Why? Did you think I was gonna sneak off for a beer or something?" Jack asked.

"I figured you would have tried to get inside by now so you could see exactly what's going on."

"I wouldn't let him," Sam said.

"Thank you, Detective Winston," Cathy said. "I appreciate you being here to keep our little wild child in check."

"Someone has to do it."

"This is Captain Ray Murano of the bomb squad, and Detective Colby Whitaker. Gentlemen, this is Detective Sam Winston, our task force coordinator, and this is the infamous Detective Jack Runner."

"Infamous?" Jack asked. "For what?"

Colby grinned as he shook Jack's hand. "Personally, I'd like to know if some of the things I've heard are true," he said.

"They're all true," Cathy said. "He's insane. But he's good at what he does."

Colby's hand was ice cold, and he held onto Jack's hand just a second too long. There was something unsettling in Colby's eyes, but it vanished before Jack could give it a name. He tried to tell himself he was just a little bit shaken by the whole situation, but his instincts didn't buy it. He knew that look. It was the look of a person possessed. For the moment, there was little he could do.

"So what's the deal with this package?" Jack asked.

"We're hoping you can tell us that," Ray said. "It's ... it's the sickest fucking thing I've ever seen. And I've been at this a long time."

"It's not an explosive device of any kind," Colby said. "All the readings seem to indicate that it's something organic, and on the x-ray, it looks like a human heart. We haven't opened it yet, but --"

"Good," Jack said. "I wanna open it." He started towards the building.

Sam grabbed his arm. "Wait," he said. "What the hell do you think you're doing, Jack?"

"My job."

"You don't know what's in that box. It could still be dangerous."

"We're prepared for anything, Detective Winston," Ray said.

"Anything? You don't even know what you're dealing with."

"I think I do know, Sam," Jack said.

"Then you can't --"

"Stay out here."

"Jack --"

"Please. Just stay here."

Sam wanted to pull Jack into his arms and kiss him. This was what he loved so much about Jack. Jack's seeming recklessness was almost never without good cause. He released his grip on Jack's arm and looked down at his feet. "Okay, fine."

Jack turned to Ray. "Captain, get your people out of the building. Now."

"What --" Ray started.

"Just do it. Lieutenant ."

Cathy shook her head. "All right. I'll leave you to it," she said. She folded her arms across her chest and fixed Jack with a glare that let him know there would be hell to pay when all was said and done.

Ray radioed into his crew and ordered them out of the building. When they were all behind the yellow tape and asking what the hell was going on, Jack slipped his arm around Colby's and led him to the building.

"You are insane," Colby said.

"Yup. And?"

"How long have you and Sam been together? A while, huh? How much older than you is he? Twenty years, at least, right?"

"Shut up."

"Are you a top or a bottom? I can see you being either one, really. I kind of like the idea of you on your hands and knees so I could watch your back. Nothing gets me hotter than imagining your back as I--"

"I said shut up."

Jack yanked open the door and pushed Colby inside. The stench made his throat tighten up. It was just enough of a distraction for Colby to be able to twist Jack's arm behind his back and slam him face first into the nearest wall.

Colby pressed himself against Jack and slipped his free hand under Jack's shirt to run his cold fingers up and down Jack's spine. "I thought we could play just a little longer," Colby said. But it wasn't Colby's voice any more. It was the voice that had spoken to Jack on the phone.

Jack struggled to get himself free. Colby pressed into him harder.

"I should have figured you would solve the puzzle quickly. You are a clever boy. Always have been. That's what I like about you, Jack. It's not just that you're smart because you're certainly that, too. But clever. There's a difference, you know, and it's so sexy."

Jack snapped his head back towards Colby's face. He heard the crunch of Colby's nose as pain shot through his head. Colby let go of him and stumbled backwards, his hands covering his nose. Jack slumped against the wall for a second. The initial blast of pain faded, but the left side of his head began to throb sharply. He turned, still leaning against the wall, to face Colby.

Colby was grinning through the blood running over his mouth from his nose. "I don't mind if you fight. Accelerated heart rates are the closest thing to an aphrodisiac I've ever experienced."

"Get out of the human's body. I wanna see what you really look like."

"Aw, come on now, Jack. You know I can't do that. If I leave the protection of this boy's flesh, you won't feel the need to practice any restraint. I want to savor this time I have with you."

"So it's not Colby's heart you put in the box, is it?"

The look that came over Colby's face was hardly human. "Damn. Damn you, Jack. You're too fucking smart. That's why it's been so hard for me to get this close to you. Don't you have any appreciation for the trouble I've gone through just for you?"

Jack said nothing and tried to gauge from memory exactly how far from his desk he was at the moment.

"Is it because I'm a demon? Is that it? You don't believe a human and a demon could ever have a meaningful and loving relationship?"

Jack looked at Colby for a moment. He tried to see through the detective to the demon that was holding him captive and for a moment, he touched on the small piece of Colby's mind that was still conscious. There was nothing but terror there. Calm down, Jack told Colby's wailing psyche. I'll get you out of this. I promise. But the message only made things worse.

"What about your angel, huh? He wasn't human. You loved him. Didn't you? Didn't you? And you know what? You're not human either. Not really."

Jack had been preparing to run towards his desk until that moment. "What?"

Colby grinned.

Jack waited half a second for more. When nothing more came, Jack bolted for his desk.

"Hey!" Colby yelled. "What the hell are you doing? Aren't you gonna ask more questions? We were having a meaningful conversation!"

Jack didn't much care for the conversation, but he didn't tell Colby that. He focused on getting his hands on the box. He had no idea what would happen after that, but it was at least better than waiting for more lies and the demon's idea of romance.

He heard Colby scrambling after him. He had just enough of a lead to get his hands on the box before Colby tackled him. He held onto the box as they went down to the floor. Colby pawed at him, trying desperately to get at the box before Jack could open it. Jack shrugged Colby off for a second. It was just long enough for him to rip the box open. When Colby lunged at him again, Jack dropped the box, and the black heart skidded across the floor.

"No!" Colby shrieked.

Jack turned to face Colby and drove his fist into Colby's jaw as hard as he could. Colby staggered backwards, holding his face between his hands and blinking in shock. Jack stumbled forward and got his hands on the heart. It was cold and still pulsing faintly.

Colby didn't move. "What are you doing?" he asked.

"What's it look like I'm doing?"

"You can't."

"This was your gift to me, wasn't it?"

"I gave you my heart because I love you, Jack. How else was I supposed to let you know?"

"I can think of quite a few without even trying."

"I didn't know how else to get close to you. You wouldn't have hesitated to kill me if I had come to you as myself."

"What the hell do you think is gonna happen now?"

"I haven't hurt anyone."

"Not yet. What's gonna happen to Detective Whitaker when you leave his body?"

"I haven't hurt him. He'll live. But ... but --"

"But you can't live without him now because you took your own heart out."

"I wanted you to see it. I wanted you to have it. It's always been yours anyway. From the moment I saw you for the first time. I could taste the power in you, and I saw what you could become. It was amazing. Even after you let the Agency shut you down, it was amazing. Look at my heart, Jack. Can't you see that I'm being sincere?"

Jack looked down at the quivering lump of flesh in his hands and saw that he could.

"You don't love me. That's okay. I knew I had no chance with you. But I had to show you how I feel. It's been too long, and I can't keep it inside any more."

Jack looked up at Colby. "How long have you been stalking me?"

"I wouldn't call it stalking."

"I would. How long?"

"Since you were two."

"Why did you wait so long?"

"Fear. Of what others would say. Of what you would do."

Jack looked back down at the demon's heart for a moment and then towards the front door. Sam and Cathy were probably waiting for him to come out and announce that the demon was dead. That was what they wanted. That was what he wanted. It was his fucking job, and he had the demon's heart in his hands. He could destroy it at any moment.

Colby took a timid step towards Jack. "Jack ..."

"You have to get out of the detective's body. I won't let you keep him."

"But ?"

"I'm done talking. Get out of his body. Now. If you make me have to exorcise you, I promise you that you won't like it."

The demon did as it was told. It peeled itself away from Colby. It was almost like watching an insect molt, except what was left behind wasn't just an empty shell. Colby collapsed, mercifully unconscious. The demon dropped to its knees, clutching at the gaping hole in its chest. It looked up at Jack.

Jack crouched down in front of the demon. It reached out to touch him. He didn't stop it. "This might sting a little," he said softly. He gave his computer a reboot command and shoved the demon's heart into its chest.

"Thank you," the demon said and leaned forward to kiss Jack.

Article © Mel Trent. All rights reserved.
Published on 2008-02-25
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