Authors: Kirsten Weiss
Tags: #Mystery, #occult, #Paranormal, #Tarot, #Lake Tahoe, #female sleuth
“A suspicious death.”
“Oh? Whose?” Sharon asked.
“The Reverend Carver.”
“You have a body then?”
The Sheriff hesitated. “No.”
“And yet you somehow know the death is suspicious.” Sharon’s voice dripped sarcasm.
“That’s because your client thoughtfully provided me with crime scene photos.”
“When you get a body and have actual evidence of a crime, call me. I’m sure we’d all be fascinated to hear about your findings. Come on, Miss Hayworth. We’re leaving.” Sharon pivoted on one stiletto-heeled boot and led the way, not bothering to see if Riga followed.
Riga paused on her way out, looked at King. “By the way, how did you find out I’d worked with the Oakland P.D.? About the martial arts?”
“A friend of mine is an Oakland cop,” Night said. “He said you had some nice moves.”
Riga nodded and left, leaving the door open behind her.
In the hallway, Sharon whirled on her. “Why did I have to find out about this from Cesar?” she hissed. “Don’t you have any sense? What were you thinking?”
“It wasn’t a suspicious death, it was murder.” She told her about the photos, the rigor mortis.
Sharon slapped a hand to her forehead. “Crap on a cracker! There’s no body yet and you’ve handed the police the only evidence so far that the Reverend was murdered, and placed yourself at the scene. They’re not going to take your word for it about the rigor mortis.”
“Look, there’s a killer out there and he needs to be found. Fast.”
Sharon rolled her eyes. “Oh, God, you really are civic minded, aren’t you?”
“No. This is personal.”
Sharon took a deep breath, studying Riga. “Okay. We should talk later, privately. Don’t worry about the rigor mortis. The local CSI is not what you see on TV but I’ll make sure we get a forensics expert to look at the body after the police get through with it.” She glanced at her watch. “I’ve got another appointment; I have to run. Call me.” Sharon stalked off, her elegant coattails flapping behind her.
Riga followed in Sharon’s wake, slowly weaving past desks populated by police officers interviewing other witnesses. There had to be a way to get that photo of the sigillum and the farther away from the Sheriff’s office she moved, the more clear the answer became. She’d have to use magic, the type of magic she used to do, and she wondered if she could still pull it off. Her stomach twisted.
Riga passed the reception desk, where a bored-looking sergeant listened to a man disputing his parking ticket, then through a Dutch door that led into the outer office. Cesar sat in an uncomfortable looking blue plastic chair, waiting.
He stood and stretched when he saw her. “Sharon got you out?” he asked.
“Yeah.” Riga approached him. “Cesar, can you do me a favor?” she asked in a low voice.
“As long as it’s legal.”
“If you look over my shoulder, past reception, you’ll see a hall. There’s a door on the left hand side. Is it open, or shut?”
“Okay. Act like we’re having a normal conversation.”
Riga closed her eyes, summoning the energies from above and below. She could do this. All she needed was a wisp of wind to catch the photo and bring it to her. She’d done it before. Riga built the spell in her mind and attached the magical energies to a word. “Ventus,” she whispered.
There was a loud crash and a blast of wind swept through the building. The wind rose to a howl, scattering papers and drifts of snow. A plastic garbage can bounced past Riga. She cringed. Cries of fright rang out, and cursing. Then doors and windows slammed and the wind died away. A photograph fluttered to a stop at her feet. She knelt down as if to tie her shoe and deftly folded the photo into quarters, then tucked it into her boot, her heart pounding. That was bad. Really bad. But she’d got the photo of the sigillum.
She straightened. “Ready to go?”
Cesar stared at her, eyes wide. “What the hell was that?”
“Yeah. Pretty freaky, right? We should go now.” She brushed past him, and hurried outside onto the porch. Snow drifted down steadily, icing the tops of cars and the branches of the pines.
Cesar caught up with her. “I speak Latin, you know.”
Pen and the camera crew tramped through the snow toward them.
“Wow!” Sam said. “It looked like a mini-tornado whipped through the Sheriff’s station. Did you see that window blow out? What happened?”
“Good question, but I’m not a meteorologist,” Riga said.
“Could have been a downdraft,” Pen suggested, trying to catch Riga’s eye. “Through the chimney, maybe?”
Sam grinned. “It’s strange and we got it on camera. The more weirdness, the better. And the good news is, since we’re extending our taping, you’ll be paid more. We know you’re investigating the murders. It’s a great tie-in with the Tessie story – the Lake monster and the real monster. Was one inspired by the other?”
Riga closed her eyes and massaged the spot between her eyebrows. “I don’t know.”
“I read in the papers that the woman we found on the beach was from Truckee. Is that why you went there?”
Riga glanced at Griff, filming the exchange, and tried to rein in her temper. She’d invited this; they were her client, she reminded herself… “Sam,” she ground out, “I was nearly bar-b-qued today and you told Pen I had the day off.”
“I guess you’ve earned it,” the producer said grudgingly. “We’ve got some fantastic footage and you and Wolfe are diving tomorrow.”
Wolfe waggled his eyebrows, grinning. “It’s going to be fun.”
“I can hardly wait.”
Chapter 23: Multiplication
Riga drove back to her cabin, alone. Brigitte was absent when she arrived, and the cabin felt lonely and sub-zero. She checked her phone. No messages.
“Oh, the hell with it,” she muttered, and dialed Donovan. The call went to voice mail. He was probably on the plane, she thought. But her skin prickled with uneasiness.
She started a fire and pulled some alchemy books from the dusty boxes Brigitte had brought there, and opened a text by Khunrath.
These are not fables. You will touch with your hands, you will see with your own eyes, the Azoth, the Mercury of Philosophers, which alone will suffice to obtain for you our Stone… Darkness will appear on the face of the Abyss; Night, Saturn and the Antimony of the Sages will appear; blackness, and the raven's head of the alchemists, and all the colors of the world, will appear at the hour of conjunction; the rainbow also, and the peacock's tail. Finally, after the matter has passed from ashen-colored to white and yellow, you will see the Philosopher's Stone, our King and Dominator Supreme, issue forth from his glassy sepulcher to mount his bed or his throne in his glorified body… diaphanous as crystal; compact and most weighty, as easily fusible by fire as resin, as flowing as wax and more so than quicksilver . . . the color of saffron when powdered, but red as rubies when in an integral mass...
Riga closed her eyes and thought about it. So if this was a description of a psychological process, as Jung and others believed, the first stage was darkness, confusion, a bad place. Then through fire – a trial of the soul – there would be color, the peacock’s tail. Ash would be produced by another burning, then turned to yellowing. So essentially, one would have to go through multiple trials, one’s ego or psyche burned to proverbial cinder, to reach one’s inner essence. But difficulties weren’t had for the asking. Or maybe, Riga thought wryly, they were.
Her gaze drifted to the alchemical equipment on the counter. The glass glittered weirdly beneath the pale kitchen lights, the pottery shone. Was that the real work? Was she fooling herself by sticking to the philosophical side? Perhaps the lab work was a meditation of sorts – could she access the same transformative effects through her own meditations?
She shook her head, and continued reading. Riga loathed meditation.
A knock at the door roused her and she was startled to see that darkness had fallen. Riga rubbed her eyes, which felt gritty, stood and stretched. She checked her watch; Brigitte still hadn’t returned.
“Who is it?” she called through the door.
“It’s Cesar, Miss Hayworth.”
She opened the door and he thrust a bottle of wine at her. “Pen was too young to get this for you, but figured it would make a good apology.”
“Are you her proxy?” Riga asked, amused.
“Sort of.” He nodded toward the waiting SUV. “She’s in there with Ash. We thought you could use a night out.”
“Donovan should be back by now.”
A crease appeared between Cesar’s brows. “He wasn’t at the casino. Want to call him and see where he’s at?”
“Yeah. Just a minute.” She went to the table where her cell phone lay and called him. The call went to voice mail.
She frowned. No Brigitte, no Donovan… He should have been off the plane by now, shouldn’t he?
“Everything okay, Miss Hayworth?”
She turned to him, slipped the phone in her pocket. “Ye-es. He’s not answering. Probably still en route. But I don’t see why that should stop us from getting something to eat.”
His scarred face twisted in a grin. “I know a place.”
They returned from the steak house to her cabin, comfortably full. Cesar, Ash and Pen waited in the SUV, exhaust pipe steaming, while Riga minced up the icy wooden steps to her door. She put the key in the lock, and froze.
The energy felt scattered, broken, jangling her nerves.
She reached out with her senses, probing, but couldn’t sense anyone behind the door, just that sense of fractured pieces.
Riga turned the key and gently swung the door inward. She sucked in a breath. Tables and lamps lay overturned on the floor, pictures hung crookedly on the walls, the throw rugs were tossed aside. She backed away from the door.
Cesar materialized at her side; she hadn’t even heard his car door open.
“What’s wrong?” he said in a low voice.
“Someone broke in.”
He made a gesture toward the car and Ash swung out, reaching for a gun holstered at his back. Cesar made a “that way” signal.
Ash nodded, circling the cabin.
“Wait in the car,” Cesar told Riga.
She stomped to the idling SUV, irritated at being told what to do, irritated that Cesar was right. Pen rolled down the rear window and Riga leaned inside, her forearms resting on the frame.
“What’s going on?” Pen said.
“Someone broke in.”
Pen reached for the door latch.
“Let them handle it,” Riga said quickly. “The cabin’s small. It won’t take them long to clear it.”
Pen looked longingly at the open cabin door. “How can you just wait here? You’re a detective!”
“I’m a detective without a gun.”
“But what if it’s not… normal?” she said, her voice lowering.
“A person broke into my cabin, not the fae folk. A gun will do just fine.”
“What is it with you and faeries? I’ve been reading up on them—”
“Why?” Riga clutched the car door. “You can’t see them, can you? Please tell me you can’t see them.”
“No, but they seem fairly benign. They’re nature spirits, after all.”
“For God’s sake, Pen, there’s nothing benign about nature!”
Pen’s eyes widened and Riga realized she was yelling. She needed to get a grip.
Cesar appeared in the cabin’s doorway. “The place is clear,” he shouted. “You can come in.”
Pen scrambled out of the SUV and followed Riga inside.
Dismayed, Riga surveyed the devastation. Brigitte was going to go ballistic. The alchemical equipment had been smashed to pieces. Fragments of centuries old retorts, aludels, and glass eggs lay scattered upon the floor. Even Riga’s mortar had been crushed. Breaking the mortar must have taken some doing, she reflected. It was thick and heavy and someone would have had to work at it to break it. Perhaps with a baseball bat? Or… Riga saw the fireplace poker lying beside a pile of smashed glass and earthenware.
She glanced into the open kitchen. A set of wine goblets hung, untouched, from a rack beneath one of the cabinets. Small favors, she thought wryly. Treading carefully to avoid the wreckage, she walked into the kitchen. Aside from the alchemical equipment, nothing had been touched... And the stone. Her blood ran cold. The prima materia was gone.
“Oh, my God.” Pen’s mouth dropped open comically.
“Try not to step in anything,” Riga said. “Or touch anything,” she added, when Pen bent to pick up a fragment of pottery.
Pen flushed, and stuffed her hands in the pockets of her black jacket.
“He got in through the back door,” Ash said. “Looks like it was kicked in.”
Riga closed her eyes, her anger building. She’d never gotten around to fixing the door, making it that much easier for her adversary.
“We should call the police,” Cesar said, but his look to Riga was questioning.
She nodded, lips pressed together and watched while he dialed. It was what she’d have told a client to do. Get a report on record, and maybe, just maybe, there will be prints. But Riga knew there wouldn’t be. A police report would be just another time wasting exercise when she had little time to waste.
Riga prowled the cabin. The bedroom closet had been opened, its contents spilling forth as if eviscerated. But aside from the ransacked closet and the damage to the alchemical equipment, the bedroom was undisturbed.
Riga sat down on her bed and stared morosely at the broken door, thinking. Someone had gotten through her wards – that was the sense of shattered energies she’d felt. This meant her magic was still subpar or the thief was really good. She wasn’t sure which felt worse.
A man cleared his throat behind her and she turned towards the sound. Ash.
“Strange sort of break in,” he said. “If I wanted to rob someone, I’d look for small, portable, high value stuff, like jewelry. But he didn’t go through any of the drawers here, or your jewelry box there on the dresser. What do you think he was looking for?”
“Something bigger than a breadbox, apparently. Or else he was just trying to piss me off. He succeeded.”