3-20-2002

Title: The Killing Tide 3/?
Archive: Kikotei's archive
Author: Dalton (AngelDalton6@aol.com)
Rating: R
Category: AU only because this takes place 10 years after Endless Waltz.
Warnings: Swearing, angst, violence and death. (Sorry about that last warning, but the fic demanded sacrifices.)
Disclaimer: Gundam Wing is the property of Sunrise, the Sotsu Agency, and Bandai. No infringement is intended upon their rights.
Special thanks to Nicole and Lilias for picking the bugs out! If any bugs remain, it's all my fault. (3/20/2)
---------

Waiting impatiently inside the squad car, Hicks counted the irritating seconds as Hilde got out of a small VW and made her way over. He ignored the cheerful wave from the driver of Hilde's compact vehicle and continued staring at the dashboard until she got in.

"That your little girlfriend?" He grumbled as the cruiser bucked into reverse.

Hilde rolled her eyes heavenward, not even wanting to explain to him his mistake nor endure the expected backlash of "long-hair on men" remarks. She let it drop with a simple "My roommate" as she buckled herself in.

"That why you're late? Chit-chattin' with friends?"

Hilde sighed and crossed her arms. She knew he was taking out his frustrations on her, but she wasn't in the mood to sit back and take it. "Actually, we were discussing this morning's event. Found some interesting things that made me think."

Hicks shot her a glance, nearly sending them into the oncoming lane. "You did what?! I can't believe you.... Police business is police business. You never discuss an investigation with anyone outside the force! Never! Didn't they teach you that in that big academy of yours?"

This was a change. Hicks was now insisting on going by the book while she disregarded it. "Yes, they taught me that, but this is different. That person they have locked up couldn't have done it!"

"Oh, is that so?" Hicks drove the car like a bat out of hell. "And just what is it that makes you think your little two-year stint in the academy and your pal's little bubble-head can give you superior knowledge?"

Hilde was losing her self-control. Hicks could badmouth her all he wanted, but not her friends. "We know that woman they're blaming for the crime. Her name is Sally Po, ever hear of her? Or hear about the war of 195 and what she did to help end it? I'm sure you got the same second-hand tales that I did, but you know what? I was closer to that event than you could ever imagine in that closed mind of yours, and I know it must've taken a lot of heart and bravery for her to send the Peacemillion into Libra. Now you tell me, could a woman who'd put her life in jeopardy for unknown people--like you--be capable of taking other lives so senselessly? Do something constructive for once, Hicks, and just think. I'm not the only one here who went to school."

That slowed Hicks down. Even his driving tamed to a more controllable speed upon the road. "No need to get all snippy, missy. I've heard all about the final events of the war. I kept a damn good eye on it, and there wasn't a single day I didn't regret being kept away from it. If I'd had a choice, I would've died up there instead of them kids they called recruits." He wouldn't look at her, but Hilde could tell her comments had struck a soft spot in the hardheaded man. "So she's ~that~ Sally Po," He muttered. "Maybe it finally got to her. Maybe the stress from the war was just tickin' away like a time bomb and its time was up? Wouldn't have been the first time a vet cracked up."

Hilde sighed; almost surprised she didn't get a barked insult in response. "That's too easy an explanation. Besides, there are things in the photos that don't add up."

"Photos? Oh, yeah, I forgot you was snapping me blind in there this morning." His voice was gruff, but he sounded interested. "Give me an example of what you think don't fit."

"Well," Hilde pulled the envelope out of her coat pocket and began to search for a certain picture. "There's this one....here it is. I caught this picture of Sally when she first appeared. It's only the upper part of her body, but enough to show the blood stains on her blouse and hand."

"So?" Hicks tried peeking at the photo without driving into the median. "That only proves she had the victims' blood on her...."

Hilde interrupted, "But remember the amount of blood in the restaurant? On the walls, here and there? The state the bodies were in? She should have been drenched in blood if she did whatever it took to get that place to look like it did."

"She coulda washed up in back...."

"Then why was there blood still on her hands? See? It doesn't fit." Hilde ruffled through the photos some more. "And here, if you study this body, or what's left of it, you'll see that it's not just hacked into, it's a neater cut. Almost like dicing, or...like in a meat market when they butcher and prepare beef for sale. It's too odd to have such clean, deliberate cuts in an act of crazed violence. And it would've taken some time, too. Hours. God, she couldn't have done that alone. Even if she were to "lose it" she didn't have the kind of malice in her to torture who knows how many people...."

"Five." Hicks spoke blankly as he turned into a dirt road off the county highway. Hilde looked at him as he continued, "I snuck a peek at the reports this afternoon. They figure it was five different men from the blood samples and various remains. Looked like they suspect some kinda drug was part of the deal, but the reports hadn't come back from the lab yet. Will take a bit longer since not much of their stomachs were left. They still haven't identified the men."

"Hicks."

"What?" He pulled to a stop and put the car in park.

Hilde grinned at him. "I think we're gonna be a good team."

"Don't go countin' your chickens before they hatch, Heidi. I ain't helping you. I'm just shootin' the breeze. Talking police stuff from one police person to another. You go pointing fingers my way and I'll have your hide, got it, rookie?"

"Yes, sir!" Things were just beginning to look up when she realized where they were. A little on the hesitant side, Hilde opened the door and stepped out onto the circus grounds. "Hicks, why are we here?"

Her partner rose from the car, easing his hat over his brow. "Some hysterical woman called the precinct about missing some pets or about them dying. I don't know which. She was hard to understand until someone calmer finally took the phone away from her and just told Bob to send someone to check it out--make a report. We still didn't get the exact story, but I'm sure we will now. Here comes someone." Hicks slammed the car door shut and walked up to the couple approaching them from one of the smaller tents.

Trowa and Hilde recognized each other at first glance, but Catherine had her eyes locked on Hicks like a dog's toothy grip on a stuffed animal--not letting go until everything was shaken out. Catherine seemed to cling to Trowa's taller frame as if his body provided her with the strength she needed to get through the interview, but Hilde knew more about Catherine than the casual observer would. The circus girl was holding back rage, not tears; and Trowa was the leash keeping her in check. In Hilde's biased opinion, Trowa was the perfect person to cling to, or be restrained by. Always admiring his toned physique when attending one of his circus performances, Hilde now caught herself watching how his thigh muscles moved strongly beneath his tight jeans as he approached. She mentally smacked herself for drifting away from the duty at hand and forced her eyes to behave.

Hicks's gruff introduction helped bring her back. "You the ones who called the station?" After Trowa's mute nod, he continued, "I'm Officer Brandon Hicks. This is Officer Hilde Childbaker...."

"Schbeiker. Hello, Hilde."

Hilde was pleasantly surprised that Trowa remembered her and more amused at the look on Hicks's face for being corrected by a stranger.

"Hilde?" Catherine finally recognized the second officer and her hardened visage relaxed. "Oh, I am so glad they sent someone we know! Whoever I talked to on the phone seemed to believe this was no big deal, so much a waste of their time, but they sent you, didn't they? So I shouldn't get upset, but still, these animals mean so much to me and to the circus. I don't care if it takes a whole station, I don't care what it takes, I want to know who did this! The...the sick bastard! Yes, I know I cursed, and I don't care, Trowa. It feels damn good and I'm not finished...."

Trowa grinned as she bit her lip to keep from saying anything more, and he gently smoothed the loose hairs from her heated face. "I'll take them to the pens. You might get upset seeing it again."

"He's got the right idea, miss." Hicks broke in. They could get the task done quicker without her emotional interruptions, and he felt better dealing with another man. "Your friend, Officer Schbeiker, can come give you an update on our progress later, OK?"

Hilde caught the correct pronunciation of her name and the underlying message that she was going to be left out of the more important aspects of the job once again. Catherine, however, knew nothing of Hicks and Hilde's working relationship, and with a thankful smile toward Hicks, she reluctantly released her brother and made her way back to the trailers set apart from the main tents. Within Catherine's strong retreat, Hilde spied a strange sort of fragility that seemed at odds with the woman's knife-wielding stage persona. Whatever had happened to the animals had hit her hard, and Hilde was anxious to help any way she could.

"The sheep are this way." Trowa stated simply, after making sure that Catherine had not changed her mind and come back. He began to lead them toward an area where the distinct sounds and smells of animals filled the air.

"Sheep." Hicks snorted, scratching under his cap. "I wasn't sure what kind of animal your lady friend called about. But, sheep? What do sheep do in a circus? I gotta say I've never seen that before."

Trowa looked sideways at the large policeman then turned his gaze back to the path ahead. "My sister tends to adopt things that have no home. She found these sheep roaming the area when we first arrived and has been searching for their owners while she cares for them. They could have been used somehow. The circus always hides a few surprise acts. Here we are."

Hilde would have known they were at the site, had she not been so enraptured by the smooth tones of the former gundam pilot, and the way his bangs fluttered teasingly over one eye. Hilde wrinkled her nose as she turned her eyes from Trowa to the scene that produced an acrid scent of blood and decay mingled with an earthier smell of manure. For once, Hicks was momentarily silenced, but Hilde was spurred into action. The piled heap of decimated sheep carcasses gave her flashbacks of the morning's discovery, and, instinctively, Hilde reached for the new camera in her jacket.

As she flashed at the butcher job, Hicks tackled Trowa with questions. "How long have these been sittin' out here?"

"Cathy feeds the animals every afternoon at four. I check on them every morning at eight. They were alive when I did my rounds." Trowa watched Hilde's amateur photography with some interest.

"So that means anytime in the past eight hours," Hicks mumbled as he flipped out his pocket notepad and began to write. "Anyone notice any strangers poking around since then? You get any gruff from the locals about making camp here? Know anybody who might have some grudge against the circus?"

"No." Trowa's definite, single-word response wasn't what Hicks expected, and he paused a moment to make sure the boy wasn't going to continue.

The pause ended not by Hicks's further questioning, nor Trowa's further explaining, but by a scream that tore through the camp. Trowa spun on his heels and was running before Hilde looked up from her camera. Hilde took off after him, his long strides putting him far ahead of her and her heftier partner. Slipping in a pile of animal waste, Hicks fell to one knee and cursed. Reaching the trailer from which the scream had come, Trowa nearly tore the door from its frame, catching the out-bound form of his frantic sister. She flew into Trowa in her panic and knocked him back a step or two, her mouth still in its rounded shape from the scream. Other carnies began to gather in alarm, and after making sure his sister was not hurt, Trowa gently moved her toward their comforting circle.

Hilde didn't stop to check on Catherine, but moved right past the little group and entered the trailer. Nothing seemed to be out of place or wrong enough to elicit such behavior from the already upset circus woman, but Catherine was not the type of person to scream at nothing. Hilde moved past the neatly-kept sitting area to the smaller sleeping rooms in back. The trailer offered little space to move, and Hilde flipped the snap off her belted holster as she edged down the narrow aisle. Trowa's sudden presence behind her made her feel even more claustrophobic. Despite her uneasiness, she was thankful he had joined her. His military experience was enough to aid her against whoever or whatever had frightened Catherine.

Trowa motioned silently for her to continue, and it was then that she noticed the large knife in his hand. He must have taken it from the counter by the front door. She pushed the unimportant thought away as she leaned against the wall next to the closed bedroom door. Trowa took a stance opposite her, his hand on the bar that would pull the folding door open. When those cool green eyes got the nod they were waiting for, Trowa yanked the door toward him, offering Hilde access to the mystery inside. Hilde stopped so suddenly that Trowa almost skewered her with his improvised weapon when he attempted to follow.

Instead of a potential thief, rapist or killer, the small room had hidden the dead body of a sheep upon the bed. The animal's head rested peacefully on a pillow while the bloody remains of its body darkened the pristine sheets beneath it. Its hindquarters were missing. The ravaged backside seemed to disappear within a folded comforter at the foot of the bed.

Hilde fumbled for her pocketed camera as Trowa gingerly plucked a bit of cloth out from under the animal and held the stained item between his thumb and forefinger. It was the costume shirt he wore in Catherine's knife act. Something more than distaste flitted across Trowa's normally calm features and it was a look that did not please Hicks as he finally entered the scene. Hicks was not too happy to see the animal on the bed, Hilde's unholstered weapon, nor Trowa's rather large knife. The fact that he stepped in more animal droppings inside the room only made things worse.

"Son," he said to a slightly surprised Trowa as he took the knife from his hand, "I think we'd better finish our questioning downtown."