Authors: Kirsten Weiss
Tags: #Mystery, #occult, #Paranormal, #Tarot, #Lake Tahoe, #female sleuth
Still, decapitation, while, nasty, didn’t tell her much. It could have been committed by a demon or a human – both were capable of it. The use of a sigil pointed to a demon, but that might be what the killer wanted them to think. Slowly writing out her address, she surreptitiously scanned the article. It was thin on information. Riga would need to find out more.
She straightened. Sam was right there, too close, crowding her space. She retreated a step and bumped against the desk.
“Oh, sorry!” Sam said. “One of the hazards of my profession – no sense of privacy.” He took the paper from her hand. “I’ll see you this afternoon. One o’clock.”
He bustled out of the room. The door swung slowly shut, and Pen sidled through it inches before it closed. “Well? Are we in?”
“In like Flynn.”
Pen whooped, punching both fists into the air. Clearly, Riga thought, the phrase did not mean what Pen thought it meant.
“Pen, ‘in like Flynn’ refers to the problems Errol Flynn had after… oh, forget it.” Errol Flynn was past even Riga’s time.
“Thanks, Aunt Riga! Oh, sorry... Miss Hayworth. As of now we are not related to each other. I am just here as a favor to one of Donovan’s clients. And don’t worry, I won’t say anything about the police questioning you about the murder.”
“We need to talk,” Riga said. “Let’s go to your room. I don’t want to disturb Donovan.”
Pen’s brows drew together in a scowl. Shoulder hunched, she stomped into her room, Riga following.
Riga shifted a pile of clothing from a wide-armed, Morris-style chair with a hunter green cushion and dumped it unceremoniously upon the wood-plank floor.
Pen hurled herself upon her bed, rolling to her side. “What? Not the ghost thing again? I’m eighteen, I get to make my own decisions now. I’m done with them.”
“I just wanted to let you know that Donovan is putting some personal protection for you on the crew.”
Pen smirked. “Personal protection? Sounds like something to prevent STDs.”
Riga winced. She didn’t care about the way of the world today; Pen was too young to be joking about STDs. “A bodyguard. His name is Ash and he’ll be a part of the crew, keeping an eye on you.”
“Ash? Were his parents
fans? Wait. You mean, he’ll be hanging around babysitting me all the time?” Pen’s expression turned cagey. “But what if I’m always with one of the crew? I don’t need a bodyguard.”
Riga stood, exasperated. “Yeah. Well, you’ve got one.”
“It’s not fair!”
“A carnival,” Pen interrupted, scowling. “I know.”
“You get a bodyguard or you go home. Your choice.”
Pen flopped upon the bed, staring at the wood-beamed ceiling. “Some choice,” she muttered.
Riga left, closing the door quietly behind her, allowing a flicker of a grin to cross her face.
Chapter 6: Prima Materia
Sarah’s red-painted A-frame cabin sat beside the main highway, on the road between the casino and Riga’s rental. She’d driven by it often enough, past the open palm painted invitingly on its side, but this morning, Riga stopped, pulling into the drive. A banner of yellow crime scene tape swagged the front door to the cabin and she watched it sway in the breeze. Though it was early and on a weekend, cars whizzed noisily past, and she felt exposed in the brilliant morning sunlight.
Riga pocketed her keys and stepped out, leaving her bag in the car. The vanilla scent of sugar pines hung heavy in the air. Even this close to the highway, the air smelled delicious.
She walked slowly to the rear of the cabin. Its two square windows looked over the thickly wooded hillside. One was boarded up, as if winking at her. Something sparkled beneath it and Riga squatted, brushed aside some pine needles. She picked up a shard of glass as big as her thumb.
“This is still a crime scene, you know.”
Riga flinched, leapt to her feet. There’d been a time when people couldn’t sneak up on her; Riga’s magical sense had acted as a warning bell.
The Sheriff stood regarding her, hands on his hips, his blue eyes icy cold.
“Is this window how the killer got to Sarah?” Riga handed him the piece of glass. “It’s too clean to have been here long.”
He shook his head. “The window was boarded up when we found her. I don’t think our killer would have bothered with home repairs. What are you doing here?”
She shrugged. She’d been caught fair and square. “Snooping. I’m a P.I., remember.”
“Not in Nevada, you aren’t.”
“It’s a hard habit to break.”
“Try harder.” He tossed the shard of glass to the soft ground.
“Have you got a time of death yet?”
She didn’t expect him to answer her, was surprised when he did.
“She was killed three days ago,” he said. “Where were you last Tuesday night?”
Tuesday night. She’d been in Donovan’s arms while another woman was having the life torn from her. She felt a flash of the woman’s terror and looked away, her stomach roiling. What was wrong with her? She swallowed. “At the casino, with Donovan Mosse.”
“Why don’t I believe you?”
Dammit. He’d read her expression and come to the wrong conclusion. “You tell me.”
“You looked like you remembered something.”
“No. Putting a time and date on the killing just made it more real.”
He looked disbelieving. “Huh. Were you with Mr. Mosse all night?”
“I’ll verify that with him,” the Sheriff said. “Go home, Miss Hayworth.”
Riga nodded, impatient to leave. She’d felt Sarah’s memories, something which had never happened to her before and that she wasn’t eager to repeat.
Riga opened the door to her cabin, today’s papers under one arm, and stopped dead. The living room furniture had been overturned and shoved against the walls. Large cardboard boxes lay upon the floor. The cabin was frigid and cold air gusted through it.
“Brigitte?” Riga called, stepping inside. Glass crunched beneath her boots and she cursed. “Brigitte!”
The gargoyle fluttered to the top of an overturned sofa. “Hello, Riga. How was your evening with Monsieur Mosse?”
Riga surveyed the disaster zone. “What the hell happened here?”
“I have discovered ze solution to your problem. And with my help, we shall solve it.”
Upon the kitchen counter was an array of oddly-shaped glasses and ceramics. Riga cleared a space beside them and put her newspapers down. She examined an hourglass-shaped vessel, turning the smooth glass in her hands. “What is this?”
Brigitte hopped to the counter, sending an ancient-looking ceramic jar spinning to the linoleum floor. She reached beneath her stone feathers with one clawed foot and withdrew a small dirty rag. It fell open in her claw to expose a lump of grayish material.
Riga gasped. “Good God, is that the prima materia?” She wasn’t an alchemist but she knew the stone at once, though she couldn’t say how she recognized it; the first matter of the Philosophers, the beginning and end of the alchemical process. “Where did you find it?”
Brigitte edged away, threatening a tall glass alembic. “That is not important. What is important is that you have all ze tools now. Here is everything you need for alchemical work. Alembics, aludels, a retort, the crucible, and your mortar and pestle.”
Riga snatched the latter from the tile counter. “I make guacamole with that!”
Brigitte paced the countertop. “My approach with your magic has been wrong. Yes, Riga, even I, can be wrong! We cannot return to what you were, at least, not yet. But you, Riga, are part of a golden chain of magic – western hermeticism and alchemy is a part of that. It is to this you must turn to reclaim your birthright. But first you must start with ze books.” She thudded to the floor and hopped to a mid-sized cardboard box. “Here. Read. Start with ze Emerald Tablet. Memorize it. Put it into your own words. This will be ze first step.”
“Alchemy,” Riga said, intrigued in spite of herself. If she had to turn actual lead into gold to get her magic back, her odds of success were low. But alchemy was first a method of transforming spiritual lead into gold, of dissolving the alchemist herself, removing impurities, and unifying her disparate spiritual and psychological pieces. It was also really complicated, which was why Riga had never gone further than an academic knowledge of the subject.
“No,” Riga said. “It’s not practical. I’m no lab worker.”
“That is not a problem. As you know, there are two paths in alchemy – lab work or philosophy. If you wish to take ze philosophical route, ze effect will be ze same. If you succeed.”
Riga had once set her high school lab table on fire; laboratory work was out of the question. “But the alchemical process takes months, years.”
“Oh, have you something better to do?”
“Brigitte, a TV crew is going to be here in an hour,” she said, dodging the question. “We have to get this out of sight.”
“What TV crew? What has happened?”
Riga explained about the show, Tessie, Pen.
Brigitte’s stony feathers ruffled in annoyance. “Reality TV? There is no reality on TV. Why are you wasting time with this foolishness when there is important work to do? Lake monsters? Faugh! And what will happen when they learn that you are a person of interest in a murder investigation? They will turn you into one of those trashy criminal celebrities and follow you everywhere!”
“What do you know about trashy criminal celebrities?” Riga narrowed her eyes. “Have you been watching daytime TV again?”
“I know what goes on in ze world. But I do not understand why you would take this sort of job. This is ze problem with you, Riga. You have no life strategy. You just leap from one thing that interests you to ze next.”
“Life strategy? Where do you get this stuff? The TV show is a client, and they’ll be paying me to investigate Sarah’s death.”
“I thought they were paying you to investigate lake monsters?”
“The two may be linked.” Riga was stretching things, she knew. But hell, anything was possible. They
be linked. Maybe.
“How?” Brigitte demanded.
“If I knew that, I wouldn’t have a mystery to investigate.”
“But they will pay you money for this?” Brigitte mused. Then she made a quick, negating motion. “No! Not reality television! You cannot debase yourself. Alchemy is a sacred art, Riga. No one can know.”
“They won’t. They’re not going to follow me twenty-four hours a day. I still get a private life – I’m just going out on some shoots for the next two weeks. So, you move the books to the bedroom, and I’ll get the equipment…” Riga drew her brows together. “How did you get all this stuff inside? And why is it so cold in here?”
Brigitte groomed her feathers, avoiding Riga’s gaze. “Through ze rear door.”
“Did you leave it open?” Riga said. She walked into her bedroom. The door that led from it to the porch had been wrenched off its hinges. Riga stared at it, aghast, closed her eyes, opened them again. The door was still tilted the wrong way. She clawed one hand through her hair and reminded herself that it wasn’t Brigitte’s fault she couldn’t manage doors.
There was no way Riga would get her security deposit back.
She propped the door in its frame and moved a heavy dresser in front of it. That would have to do until she could get to a hardware store. At least the door was whole, more dented than broken, really.
Riga righted the furniture in the living room, jammed what she could into the closet, did a quick sweep with the broom and a wipe down with a damp sponge, and called the cabin done. She had a few minutes before the crew arrived, and used them to go through the newspapers she’d brought with her.
The body had been discovered Monday by a pair of hikers. Riga knew the trail – it led from the highway down a steep slope to the lake, where there was a small cove and a ruined stone house. It was a lovely and secluded spot and the police were lucky the body had been found before summer. Treks to the lake shore were less popular in winter. She wondered about the hikers; were they just looking for a quick and nearby trail? Or had someone set them on the path?
The other paper had little intel on the actual crime, so the reporter had focused on the victim, Sarah Glass. Sarah, aka Lady Moonstone, had moved to South Lake Tahoe three years ago, and quickly become popular with tourists and locals. She worked out of her red-painted cabin that she’d converted into an office. Lady Moonstone had a mother in Idaho and had self-published a book on palmistry and energetics. There was a photo of her, with long brown hair and serious eyes. She reminded Riga of her younger self, and Riga felt a twinge of sadness.
She had just finished ordering the book online, when she heard the tramp of feet on her steps and a knock at the door.
Chapter 7: Tahoe Tessie
Riga wasn’t ready. The crew had cleared the room she’d just put back together, erecting lights on metal tripods and snaking cables across the floor. She sat in a folding chair, ignoring Pen and reading the notes Sam had given her, while a woman applied thick makeup to her face. As Riga read, however, her interest in Tahoe’s lake monster grew. The Tessie stories were older than she’d thought. At one point she absently got up, disregarding the sputters of the makeup artist, and went to the bookcase, black nylon protective cape flapping about her. Riga returned to the makeup chair with a thick hardback in hand. She leafed through it, found what she wanted, and smiled.
“So what do you think, honey?” The makeup artist held a mirror before Riga’s face. She was a dark complexioned woman, with startling black eyebrows that grew together, a sweep of bird’s wings, over her deep brown eyes. The effect was strangely lovely.
Riga stared at the mirror, appalled. She looked like a clown. “I thought this was
“You’re too pretty for reality, honey. Trust me, you’ll look good on camera. Do you think you can do this for yourself tomorrow?”