Authors: Kirsten Weiss
Tags: #Mystery, #occult, #Paranormal, #Tarot, #Lake Tahoe, #female sleuth
“I noticed,” Riga said finally. She’d seen ghosts drifting out of the rooms and past the card tables and slot machines. “How old is this building?”
“The original hotel was built in the thirties, but this casino is much newer.”
“So you’re still seeing ghosts?” Pen asked him. “That sucks.”
“Do you mean you’re not?” Riga set her glass down upon the glossy end table. “Your mother told me you’d stopped seeing the counselor.”
“I didn’t need to, so why waste Dad’s money? I don’t see ghosts anymore.”
“Huh.” Riga folded her arms across her chest. Pen’s ability could have faded away, but Riga didn’t believe it. She always knew when Pen was lying – a change in her voice, a shifted gaze. Was anyone here telling the truth this evening? “So how did it happen?”
“What do you mean?” Pen’s silvery eyes widened innocently.
“Was it a gradual thing, or did it just stop?” Riga said. She picked her glass up from the table and took a sip. The wine, at least, lived up to its promise that night.
“I decided to stop seeing them and it stopped.”
“So you’re really just ignoring them.”
Pen’s jaw jut forward. Her voice was clipped. “I don’t see them anymore.”
Great. Teenage petulance. This was why Riga had recommended a counselor. Riga wasn’t sympathetic, she wasn’t subtle, and she had little patience for teenagers.
Finally, she said, “Pen, there’s something we need to discuss.”
Donovan rose, stretched. “I’m going to go check on that chocolate fudge cake.” He padded silently from the room.
Pen’s face twisted in a contemptuous scowl. “Well, that was subtle.”
“It was thoughtful of Donovan to give us some privacy. So was his invitation to you. Don’t forget it, kid.”
Pen’s shoulders slumped. “Yeah. It was pretty cool of him. I’m sorry. I just don’t want to talk about the fucking ghosts.”
“Don’t swear,” Riga said absently. “It’s not ladylike.”
“You swear all the time!”
“Yeah, and look where it’s gotten me.”
Pen raised her eyebrows and looked pointedly around the room – the roaring fire, luxurious furnishings, view of the lake.
“Results not typical,” Riga said.
Pen snorted. “The ghosts are gone, okay?”
“Well I’m glad your method worked, because there’ve been cases where people who’ve tried to repress their sight incurred psychological damage.”
“Can we talk about something else?”
“Sure. We need to set some ground rules about this TV show… If I get the job.”
Pen dropped her head loosely across the back of the leather couch, and stared upward. “Whatever.” She sighed heavily.
Riga ground her teeth. “I’m involved in a murder investigation—”
Pen sat bolt upright. “No way,” she breathed.
“The TV show will not learn of it from you. I don’t know who the murderer is but he may know me, which means he may know we’re related, which means you could be in danger.”
“No way!” Pen’s eyes glittered with excitement.
“Your mother thinks I’m overreacting. She may be right. Or not. So I will watch the situation carefully and you will do exactly as I say, no questions asked.”
Pen crossed her arms, scowling. “No way!”
“Way. You will not wander around by yourself. You will remain in the company of the TV crew, myself, or Donovan at all times.”
“That’s so unfair! I’m eighteen!”
“Yes, Pen, it is unfair. You’ll frequently find that when you accept favors, there are strings attached. If you’re not willing to accept the strings, then don’t accept the favors.”
“This is bullsh— baloney.”
Riga smiled. “Welcome to Hollywood.”
Chapter 5: Casting Couch
Riga and Donovan lay in his bed, their naked limbs twined together beneath the down comforter. Riga could spend an entire day in this California king, and on one memorable day, she and Donovan had done just that, enjoying each other and the view of the lake.
He slouched against the wooden headboard and tugged at the amulet around his neck. “Explain to me again why I’m wearing this?”
“Think of it as doppelgänger repellant.”
“How do you know it works? I could be the doppelgänger.”
“I enchanted that amulet at the height of my powers.”
His brow wrinkled. “The height, huh? It looks a little… crude.”
“The height of my magical powers, not my artistic powers,” Riga elaborated. She’d never been terribly artistic and the charm was shaped more like Australia than the circle it was intended to be. “Trust me, it works.”
“Then Pen should have this.”
“There’s no point. The amulet is linked to you now and it’s a one shot deal. I wish I could make another.” Once, magic had been a living language to Riga. She could manipulate the energies of magic to enchant anything – make things fly, locks turn, empower objects to protect. But that part of her mind, and that way of seeing the world, had vanished.
“You said Lefebvre was a necromancer. Isn’t that someone who works with the dead? Zombies and such?”
“A necromancer uses death to fuel his magic and yes, they have a certain affinity with magic associated with death.”
“Like working with ghosts?”
Riga sat up, clutching the silky cotton sheet to her breasts. “No. A necromancer wouldn’t work
ghosts, he would use a spirit’s energy to fuel his magic. It’s completely different from our ability to interact with ghosts. Ghosts remain here because they’re confused or damaged in some way. When a necromancer draws their energy, it leaves them even more weakened and confused, or even destroys them entirely. It’s disgusting.”
He stroked the small of her back. “Do you think you might be jumping to conclusions? The killer could be a random lunatic.”
She rolled away from him, onto her stomach. “True. Lefebvre had a big library. Some of it could have escaped the fire, been sold off, and fallen into the hands of someone unstable. I just… This is one of those times when one hopes for the best and plans for the worst. A doppelgänger is the worst, especially with my magic on the fritz. And now Pen is here for this TV show…”
“It seemed like a good idea at the time,” he said ruefully.
She laid her hand atop his. “Thanks for thinking of her.”
“My motives were entirely selfish.” Donovan propped himself up on his elbow, his free hand drifting along the curve of her hip.
“Mmm.” Riga knew he was neither as bad as he professed, nor as good as she’d like him to be. But since neither was Riga, she couldn’t hold that against him.
“You’re worried about her,” he said.
“I don’t like her being connected to this sort of investigation through me. But Pen’s not dealing with her ability to see ghosts and that could be a problem, too.”
Donovan’s expression grew thoughtful.
“How have you been able to manage the transition to seeing ghosts?” Riga asked.
He shrugged. “Unlike, Pen, I’m a mature adult who doesn’t give a damn what other people think of me. And I know I’m not crazy because you’re here, and can see them, too.”
Guilt wriggled in the pit of Riga’s stomach. She should have stayed with Pen, tried harder to get through to her when the ghosts first appeared.
“Besides,” he said, “my lover has super powers. I need to bring some magic to the table.”
“You’d better be talking about me.”
He rolled her towards him. “Idea. What if no one here knows about your connection to Pen? I haven’t told anyone who she is. As far as the TV crew is concerned, she’s the daughter of a business associate I’m doing a favor for.”
Riga hesitated. Was she being overly paranoid?
“I could bring in some personal protection too,” he said.
“You mean a bodyguard?”
He nodded. “Several of the men on staff have experience. I can embed one in the TV crew to keep an eye on her.”
It could work, Riga realized. “That would make me feel better. I’ll tell Pen tomorrow.”
“Pen will have to continue living here, though, in the penthouse, where we’ve got security. Of course, you’d have to stay, too.” He smirked. “It wouldn’t look right for Pen to be here without a chaperone.”
She threw a pillow at him and he ducked, laughing.
She’d been outfoxed.
Riga met with the show’s producers in the penthouse’s study. Donovan made the introductions and then left the men settled upon the couch, claiming an urgent appointment, his expression grim.
The room, like the rest of the penthouse, was styled in rustic rich, with its own fireplace and a wide beamed ceiling. Tall bookcases lined the walls. She sat in a tall-backed leather chair, one wool-trousered leg slung casually over the other. She examined the TV men with interest.
The casting producer looked like a thug – dark hair plastered to his blocky skull, muscles straining against a too-tight blue sports shirt, thick, stubby fingers bitten to the quick. His rolled up sleeves exposed thick, hairy arms. He set his briefcase beside the leather couch. His beady black eyes roved over Riga unpleasantly and she returned the gaze, impassive.
The field producer, Sam Waters, was younger than she expected – early thirties or late twenties – and dressed in L.L. Bean mountain chic. He had freckles and sandy-colored hair, and spoke in a low, soothing tone, as if to a skittish horse.
Sam leaned forward and put his elbows on his knees, clasping his hands and resting his chin upon them. His hands, she noticed, were beautifully manicured.
“So, Riga. What does a metaphysical detective do?” Sam asked.
“I investigate the causes of things. Sometimes those causes are rationally explained, and sometimes they stray into paranormal territory. But most of my clients come to me because they believe their problem is of paranormal origin.”
“Can you tell me about your last case?”
“A haunted condo. The real estate agent hired me because she couldn’t sell it, and the owners were threatening to find a new realtor. I helped the ghost move on and the condo sold within a week.”
“Tell me about the ghost.”
“He was a World War II Navy vet. His home was demolished when they built the condos and when they were completed, he moved into one of the units. When the owners left, he decided to keep his new digs unoccupied.” She smiled, thinking of Vinnie and how inadequate her description was of the wisecracking ghost. He was the first spirit Donovan had helped cross over.
Sam smiled as if she’d just said something witty. “So if you were in charge of this Tessie hunt, how would you approach it?”
“I’d start by researching the legend of Tessie, then interviewing the witnesses. After that, I’d check out the locations where they witnessed the phenomena under similar conditions. We won’t be able to replicate the atmospheric conditions, of course, but we can adjust for lighting.”
The casting director stood. “I’ve seen enough. She’s your hero. I’ll tell the director.”
Sam blinked in surprise. “Really? That was quick.”
“We don’t have time to piss around. Besides, look at her. The camera will love her, her voice is sexy as hell, and she’s brainy. She’s a nerd’s wet dream.”
Riga’s eyes narrowed to slits.
The casting director checked his gold watch. “I should be able to make my flight. Nice meeting you, Miss Hayworth. Welcome to the Supernatural Channel.” He grabbed his briefcase from the floor and strode from the room, leaving Riga and Sam staring at each other in bemusement.
Finally, Sam said, “He’s a little abrupt, but he’s been in the business a long time. If he says you’re a fit, then you’re a fit.”
“What did he mean about me being the hero?”
“In reality television we have certain… archetypes I guess you could call them. Hero. Sneak. Ass—er, jerk. He’s pegged you as the hero.”
“And the other archetypes?” Her voice cracked on the last word and she cleared her throat to cover it. On her last case, she’d made an enemy of an archetypal sun god. He was off her back, for now, but she didn’t know how long her freedom would last. “Where do they fit into this?” Riga asked, cautious.
“They don’t. This is pretty much a one-woman show, though some of the crew may end up with screen time. We’ll see. They’re good guys. Some can be a bit intense but that’s only because they’re young and they take their jobs seriously. Don’t worry, this isn’t one of those shows driven by conflicts between the characters. The only conflict in this show will be between you and Tessie. It’ll be fun.”
Riga nodded. “So when do we start?”
“The good news is that we scouted locations for the pre-production a couple weeks ago, so we’ve done a lot of the research for you.” He leaned down and drew a thick manila envelope from his canvas carrying-case beside his chair. “Here’s what we turned up.” He handed her the packet. “If you’re up for it, we’ll start this afternoon. I understand you live in a cabin nearby. We’ll bring the crew there and can start with some shots of you going through the research and discussing the case. I’ll be off camera, prompting you with questions. I’ll send the crew by after lunch, say one o’clock? They’ll need to do sound and lighting checks, set up, that sort of thing before we start.”
The clock on the wall read eleven. The cabin was in fairly neat condition – it needed a bit of straightening but that shouldn’t take long. “Sure,” she said.
“Excellent!” Sam sprang to his feet. “I can see that you’re a team player and I appreciate you helping us out. We were really in a jam until you came along. Oh! Here’s the contract.” He handed a sheaf of paper to her. “Mr. Mosse looked it over but I’m sure you’ll want to read it, too, before signing. Now if you don’t mind, I’d better run. We weren’t sure if you were on board for this, and now that we know you are, there’s lots to do.”
“Don’t you want the address?”
Sam smiled sheepishly. “Sorry, getting ahead of myself. Yes, the address, please.”
Riga stood and walked to the antique desk in the corner, finding a yellow pad and pen to write with. Someone had laid a fresh newspaper upon the desk and she caught the headline: TAHOE PSYCHIC DECAPITATED. Riga flinched. She was glad she hadn’t seen the body. Riga had enough horrors in her brain. It was the reason she avoided violent movies – the images stuck. Even though she knew they were fake, her subconscious believed.