Authors: Kirsten Weiss
Tags: #Mystery, #occult, #Paranormal, #Tarot, #Lake Tahoe, #female sleuth
“But you know enough to identify it,” Night persisted.
“Lefebvre tried to summon a demon in my presence,” she said dryly. “It’s not something one forgets.”
The Sheriff’s bushy eyebrows rose. “Did he succeed?”
“Of course not,” she said. Lefebvre had succeeded in raising the demon, but not in controlling it. Riga had seen to that. The demon had seen to Lefebvre. Riga had managed to evade the Parisian cops, keep her involvement secret, and she wasn’t about to upset the status quo.
“You haven’t asked me what this is about,” King said.
“What’s this about, Sheriff?”
“Sarah Glass was murdered. We found this beside her, and now you tell me you’re one of the few people in the world who knows what this is and how to use it.”
Damn it. She should have known nothing good could come from telling them about Lefebvre. But she’d maintained a reasonable relationship with the authorities by not withholding evidence, even when the police neither liked nor believed her.
“I understand you’ve got some fighting skills?” the Sheriff asked. “Have studied martial arts?”
“I’m no black belt. What does hapkido have to do with this sigil?”
The Sheriff leaned forward, his stare unrelenting. “So what happened here? Did a demon kill her?” His voice was mocking.
“I have no idea how she died or by whose hand,” Riga said. “If I had more information—”
He stood and replaced his hat. “Can’t give you that. Thanks for your help, Miss Hayworth. Don’t leave town.”
Chapter 2: Pride and Prejudice
“That went well,” Riga said. She went to the cupboard and pulled out a bar of chocolate, broke off a block, took a bite. It melted slowly on her tongue, food of the gods and oddly comforting.
Brigitte hopped to the sink and retrieved the damp cloth. The gargoyle scrubbed violently at the drying egg on her rough face, shredding the fabric. “If by well, you mean you still cannot do magic and now you are a suspect in a murder investigation, yes, it went well. Good job.”
“Did you get a look at the sigil?”
The gargoyle dropped the cloth. Bits of eggshell still clung to her. “It was Lefebvre’s work, but it was not in his hand.”
“But Lefebvre knew how to shape-shift. If he was in doppelgänger form…”
Lefebvre’s favorite trick had been the doppelgänger, taking on the appearance, knowledge, and personality of his victim. It allowed the magician to go anywhere, be anyone, and was the sort of magic Riga despised, because it required the death of the victim the doppelgänger mimicked. It was why she’d confronted him, five years ago.
“No,” Brigitte said. “Even as a doppelgänger, there are signs. I know; I spent years in his keeping. It was not Lefebvre.”
Riga felt a knot in her stomach release. Brigitte would know; when Riga had met her, the gargoyle had been magically bound to Lefebvre. “So it’s not all bad news,” Riga said lightly. “I was starting to think I hadn’t killed him after all.”
“You did not kill him. Ze demon did.”
Riga turned and walked to the curtainless picture window. If she looked left or right, she’d see other cabins and so she gazed straight ahead into the columns of pine trees, casting long shadows upon the needle-covered ground. The view usually relaxed her – silent, ancient, still. But tonight it only made her feel small and vulnerable. Through the well-lit cabin window, she stood out like a beacon to any watcher. Was there a watcher? Had there been one earlier? The lack of curtains had never bothered Riga before; the cabin was a rental and she hadn’t planned on any naked frolics. Now the windows seemed exposed.
“Could any of his servants have learned his doppelgänger trick?” Riga asked. If one had, the killer could be anyone. Just as long as Lefebvre hadn’t returned. Riga wanted to keep that horror far behind her.
“It’s possible,” Brigitte said. “Anything is possible.”
The hell with it. She needed a drink. Riga went to the kitchen and uncorked a beer bottle she’d filled with blood-colored Cab – the remains of a larger bottle she’d downsized after opening to keep the wine from oxidizing.
“Ze man, if you can call Lefebvre that, deserved to die,” Brigitte rasped. “You have nothing to feel guilty about. He was a monster. If you had not stopped him…” The gargoyle bent to nip at something in her stony feathers.
But Riga didn’t feel guilty and when she thought about that lack of guilt, it worried her. She didn’t think about it much. The memory of Lefebvre was too frightening.
Brigitte looked up from her grooming. “You made a bargain you cannot break; without a client, you may not interfere. Besides, your magic is still weak and unpredictable. We came to Lake Tahoe for a vacation, to rest, and this you must do.”
Riga had come here because of Donovan. He’d become her lodestone, holding the fragmented pieces of her together. Riga was a magician without control of her magic and she needed to figure out what that made her. Soon.
Her cell phone rang. She dug it from the pocket of her khakis and smiled. Donovan.
“I have in my hands a bottle of 2003 Chateau Lafite,” he said without preamble.
She smiled, re-corked the beer bottle. The man knew his grape.
“Is that good?” she asked.
“It had better be after what I paid for it. Get over here before I start without you. We’re celebrating. Riga, I found a ghost who may have known my parents.”
“That is cause for celebration.” The disaster that had knocked her powers askew had given Donovan the ability to see ghosts and he’d embraced it wholeheartedly. His delight and her ability to share in it was a bright spot in her wrecked magical life. “In that case, I’ll hurry. And bring chocolate.”
“Mmm… Now you’re talking dirty. And I have a surprise for you, too.” He hung up before she could ask more.
Riga pocketed her cell phone, bracing for the explosion from Brigitte. They’d planned to train tonight. But when she turned, she found Brigitte regarding her thoughtfully.
“Dinner with Monsieur Mosse?”
“And you will spend ze night?”
“Probably,” Riga said cautiously. She’d been staying there so often, Donovan was nagging her to move in. But even at forty-something, Riga wasn’t that kind of girl.
“Good,” Brigitte said. “I have an errand to run and shall return tomorrow.”
“An errand?” Riga didn’t pry into Brigitte’s personal life, was unsure if Brigitte actually had one. What sort of errand could the gargoyle be running?
“An errand,” Brigitte said. She cocked her head, examining Riga critically. “Are you going to wear that?”
Riga looked down. She’d dressed in wide-legged khaki-colored slacks and a vintage forties black button-up sweater that hugged her curves. A red silk scarf was knotted jauntily around her neck.
“Why?” Riga said. “Have I got egg on me?”
“It is not ze most romantic look. At least unbutton it at ze top.”
Riga’s eyes narrowed. “Thanks for the fashion tip.”
“You are welcome. In ze meantime, do not pursue this poor murdered lady. It is too dangerous on your own.”
“Of course I won’t. The police consider me a suspect. Getting involved would only make me look guilty. Besides, I don’t have a client.” But the sigil nagged at her.
Brigitte shot her a knowing look. “A coincidence, you think, that a sigillum only five people in ze world know how to create appears near ze body of a dead woman in Lake Tahoe, your home for the last month? A coincidence, now that you are at your weakest and unable to defend yourself?”
“I’m not defenseless. This may come as a shock to you, but every day, billions of people go about their lives without depending upon magic.”
“These people you speak of are very silly.” Brigitte fluttered to the sliding glass door that opened onto a wooden deck. The movement was surprisingly graceful for a block of stone. “It is as I feared, Riga. They know what has happened, that you are vulnerable, and they are challenging you. Now open ze door.”
Riga hastily slid the door open before Brigitte shattered the pane of glass. “They? Who are they?”
“Stay close to Monsieur Mosse.” Brigitte crouched, her muscles tensing, then with a bound soared off over the pines, a shrinking silhouette against the darkening sky.
Riga shut the door, shifting her weight uneasily. Brigitte was right; the coincidence was too great. But if the sigil had been drawn by one of Lefebvre’s servants, the police wouldn’t be able to protect her.
Riga was on her own.
Chapter 3: Life in the Penthouse Suite
Riga discreetly undid the top button of her sweater, then waved her key card in front of the electric eye for Donovan’s private elevator. Slot machines rang faintly behind her. Riga wasn’t a fan of gambling. She had nothing against people throwing their money away; it was their money, after all. But casinos felt like purgatory to her, with their bad lighting and no clocks to tell if it was day or night, and by coming here for Donovan, she felt she’d taken enough of a gamble. He, however, lived in his casino’s penthouse. It was a temporary residence, while Donovan worked out “management issues.”
The doors slid open to reveal a hulking man in a forest-green uniform, with a fine spider-webbing of scars that splintered the right side of his face. She ran her glance over him – ankle holster, bulge over right buttock, and was that a miniature taser on the key ring attached to his belt? Riga felt a surge of weaponry envy.
“Evening, Miss Hayworth,” he said.
She smiled and stepped inside. “Evening, Cesar.”
The doors closed silently and the elevator sped upward. Riga tried to ignore the lurch in her stomach. She hated elevators.
The elevator slowed to a halt.
“Penthouse suite,” the guard said.
The doors slid open to reveal a foyer designed in American Craftsman style, with darkened wood paneling, lofty ceilings and sweeping crossbeams. A red and green totem pole stood against one wall and beneath a chandelier of elk horns stood Donovan, straight-backed, arms loose at his sides. Riga felt a surge of pure, golden joy at the sight of him. His cousin/manager, Reuben Mosse, and Donovan’s executive assistant, Isabelle Locke, faced him.
“—regret this!” Reuben shouted.
Reuben carried the Mosse genes: startling green eyes, ebony hair, square jaw, dark good looks. But while Donovan was tall and broad shouldered, Reuben was slight. Donovan’s hair swept in dramatic waves, Reuben’s lay flat against his scalp, thinning at the top. Reuben was not quite Donovan and that, Riga suspected, was a problem.
She stepped into the foyer, the heels of her boots rapping upon the wood plank floor, and the three turned, taking notice of her.
“Riga,” Donovan said. His jade-colored eyes warmed, the expression on his sculpted features shifting from irritated to welcoming. He wore a tailored suit that was black as sin and Riga’s lips curved in a smile in spite of the tension in the air. Their relationship was still young and her stomach fluttered at the sight of him.
“Miss Hayworth,” Isabelle said, appraising. “How nice to see you.” She tucked a wayward strand of blond hair behind one ear. Her pale green Jackie Kennedy-style skirt and jacket accentuated the alabaster translucency of her skin.
“Am I interrupting something?” Riga asked.
Reuben spluttered. “This isn’t over, Donovan.” He stormed past Riga into the elevator.
Isabelle tucked her lime green case beneath her arm. “Will there be anything else, Mr. Mosse?”
She nodded and followed Reuben into the elevator, sparing Riga a bemused glance in passing.
Riga unbuckled the belt on her suede jacket, watched the elevator close.
Donovan sauntered toward her. “Sorry about that. Reuben’s having a hard time accepting some of my changes.”
“He’s been in charge here for a long time, hasn’t he?” Riga mused. And now, he had Donovan to contend with. It would be a tough adjustment. But family was important to Donovan and if he was second guessing his cousin, the problems at the casino must be serious.
“Forget about Reuben,” he said, nibbling at her ear. His arms encircled her, his lips grazed her neck and heat coursed through Riga’s body in response. “You are a sight for sore eyes.”
“Mmm...” She leaned into him and Donovan did other interesting things with his hands and mouth. Riga felt herself melting beneath him, her brain disengaging. Reluctantly, she stepped away.
“You did say something about a bottle of Château Lafite, didn’t you?” Riga took a step toward the living room, with its wide view of the lake.
But Donovan clasped her lightly about the wrist, drawing her towards him. “Wait. I need to ask you a favor.”
Riga arched a brow. Donovan had a legion of minions at his command, and didn’t need favors from her.
“You know business is down,” Donovan began. “And not just here, in the whole region.”
Everyone knew it. It was why Donovan had moved into his Stateline, Nevada casino, rather than returning to his home in Vegas.
“I’m not sure a metaphysical detective can help you with that,” Riga said, playing along, “though I do know an excellent shaman...”
Donovan blanched. “No shamans.”
Riga looked at him, surprised. “What’s wrong with shamans?”
“What’s wrong with faeries?”
Riga stiffened. Faeries were her bête noir. “If you knew any, you wouldn’t have to ask,” she muttered.
“Huh. Well the Supernatural Channel sent a crew here to do a reality TV show about Tessie, the Lake Tahoe monster. The crew is here, but the host broke his leg skiing. They were set to cancel, but when I showed them a photo of a possible substitute host, you, they reconsidered.”
Riga’s nose wrinkled. Lake monsters. As if. “No. Absolutely not. I’m a metaphysical detective, not a monster hunter. And the TV adds ten pounds.”
“You’re a paranormal investigator and a dead ringer for Rita Hayworth. You’re perfect. They want to hire you to seek the cause of the recent uptick in Tessie sightings, and film you doing it. I didn’t promise them anything. They just want to meet you tomorrow. It’s a legitimate client, a short, two week assignment and the pay is fair.”