Authors: Kirsten Weiss
Tags: #Mystery, #occult, #Paranormal, #Tarot, #Lake Tahoe, #female sleuth
She smiled ruefully. “We’re on a budget, honey.”
Sam materialized at their side. “Are you ready?” he asked Riga.
The makeup artist whipped the cape off with a flourish. “Isn’t she gorgeous? Just like that old actress.”
Sam steered Riga to a fraying, stuffed chair near the fireplace. The crew had rearranged the furniture so the chair faced outward, with the fire as a backdrop, and had laid the pinecones she used as fire starters on the mantle. It was an improvement over the old arrangement of a dusty mantle, and couch facing the fireplace, but a beat up chair and faux-stone fireplace did not create an aura of glamor.
“Okay,” Sam said. “So think of this as an interview. I’ll ask you questions, and you answer. When we cut the film, I won’t be in it. The audience won’t hear my questions. So try not to ask me any questions. This is an interview, not a conversation.”
A cameraman named John Wolfe cleared his throat. He was dark haired, with seventies-era sideburns. He cradled Brigitte in his arms, his rolled up shirt sleeves setting off his bronzed muscles to good effect. “Hey, what about this gargoyle? It would look cool in the shot.”
Sam shrugged. “Sure.”
Wolfe moved toward the mantel.
“I don’t think it will fit,” Riga warned.
He lifted the stone block onto the mantelpiece. The gargoyle slid perfectly into place, her curved claws clamping around the edge. “It fits like magic!” Wolfe said.
“Yeah, just like magic,” Riga said, eyes narrowing. So much for the horrors of a tacky reality TV show. Even her gargoyle was getting in on the act.
Brigitte’s expression remained fixed in a haughty smile.
A thickset young man wearing jeans, a plaid shirt, and headphones around his neck shuffled forward. “I need to hook this microphone to your blouse. May I?”
Riga arched slightly backward and let him clip the microphone to her collar. He moved slowly and methodically and when he was done, the mic was invisible.
“This is Angus,” Sam said, “our sound crew.”
Hence the headphones, Riga thought. “Crew?”
“With Angus, you don’t need anyone else,” Sam said. “He’s got the trickiest job of us all. You’ll be seeing a lot of him.”
A flush of pride spread from the collar of Angus’ polo shirt to the roots of his curly red hair, darkening his freckles.
Sam glanced around the room and nodded with satisfaction. Riga didn’t get it. The cabin still looked like a dump. Was that the effect they were going for, she wondered?
“So how did you and Mr. Mosse meet?” Sam said.
“In a bar.”
“Ah. Okay. So when we get started, you’ll need to be a bit more talkative. Don’t worry about being concise; that’s what editing is for. We want the story, and storytelling means you’ll need to give us some emotion, some context we can understand. For example, how did you feel when you first met him? What was he wearing? What were you thinking?”
Another cameraman, Griff Lee, shifted the camera on his shoulder impatiently. He was thin and angular, with blond hair and a beak-like nose. “Can we get a move on? I’d like to start shooting while we’ve still got light coming through those windows.” He shot an annoyed look at a taciturn black man helping Pen splice two cables together, Pen’s bodyguard, Ash. Sam had accepted Donovan’s request to place him on the crew, incognito, though Riga wasn’t sure how he’d explained his presence to the others. The bodyguard was tall, with the long, lean musculature one saw in basketball players and Masai warriors. He nodded imperceptibly to Riga, his toffee-colored eyes cold and impersonal.
Electricity crackled and Pen yelped, dropping the cable.
“Amateurs,” Griff muttered, fixing his pale blue eye to his camera’s viewfinder.
“Cool your jets,” Wolfe said. He peered through his own camera, set upon a tripod, and furrowed his dark brows. “We’re on schedule and I, for one, don’t mind the extra help.”
Griff glanced up from the camera, scowling, but Sam interjected before he could respond. “Guys, we’re on the same team and I think we’re ready to begin. Riga? Are you good to go?”
She nodded, tense. Riga told herself she was being ridiculous, the show was a means to an end. Why should she care about how she actually did on it? The butterflies in her stomach did a tango. “Ask away.”
He led her through the same questions he’d asked at Donovan’s and she began to relax. Then, he said, “So what are your thoughts on Tessie?”
“When I first heard about a monster in Lake Tahoe, I assumed the story had been dreamed up for tourists. But Tahoe makes an ideal home for a lake monster. A researcher named Michel Meurger conducted a cross-cultural analysis of lake monster sightings and they tend to have certain things in common. First, where lake monsters are sighted, the lake is typically believed to be bottomless. Tahoe isn’t bottomless but it is one of the deepest Alpine lakes in the world. ‘Monster’ lakes are also believed to connect to other lakes or to the sea, and to have caves. Tahoe has a cave system and water from one of its rivers meets up with the Pacific.” Riga winced inwardly. God, she sounded pompous. But she didn’t know how to turn it off. “It’s also big enough to have currents and eddies and squalls – all associated with lake monsters. And there’s something otherworldly about the Lake Tahoe Basin, so it doesn’t surprise me that people have been seeing lake monsters here.” There was something different about Tahoe, she thought. Riga had felt the first stirrings of her own magic as a child on summer vacation at the lake, exploring these woods.
“So you believe in Tessie?” Sam said.
“I don’t take the paranormal on faith. I need evidence or experience. There may well be a Tahoe Tessie, but a lot depends on how we define her.”
“So what is Tessie?”
The lights had heated the small cabin and a rivulet of sweat trickled between Riga’s shoulder blades. “There are lots of theories, but we can break them into four categories. Either the lake monster is real, it’s a delusion, or it’s a fake. If it’s a real, physical creature, the two most popular theories are that it’s some sort of prehistoric creature or a really big sturgeon. If it’s a delusion, then we may be able to put it down to the power of suggestion; people see a floating branch and think it’s a monster. Third, it could be a fake, a joke, a fraud.”
“You said four categories,” Sam said.
Riga leaned back in her chair. “Fourth: it’s a real creature of the imagination, a moment in time when something shifts and a branch reveals itself as a monster. Carl Jung explored this in his writings on UFOs, theorizing UFOs were either objects manifested or projected by our unconscious or real objects that people projected their unconscious content upon.”
“So we’re back to seeing a log and thinking it’s a monster.”
“No, we’re back to seeing a log and gaining a new and very real view of the world.”
“Great. Let’s do it again.”
Riga blinked. “Again?”
“You were a little stiff. This is a conversation, not a lecture.” He gave her a tight smile. “Don’t worry about it. This was your first time out. I’d have been shocked if you’d nailed it.”
Riga nodded, glum.
They did it again.
By the fifth take, Sam was genuinely smiling. “Terrific! Think you can give us a quick history of Tessie?”
“Sure.” Riga’s jitters had been replaced by annoyance. She didn’t understand why the fifth take had been any better than the first one. She forced a smile and reminded herself that the client was always right. Usually.
“Great,” Sam said. “Where’s the map?”
Pen raced forward, nearly tripping over a cable in her excitement. “I’ve got it!”
“Thanks, Pen,” Sam said absently. He unrolled the map on the square, wooden kitchen table, lifted a hand and the map rolled back. “We’ll need some paperweights,” he said.
“What about this?” Wolfe hefted Brigitte onto the table, the muscles in his arms swelling to Pen’s unabashed admiration. “If we shoot from this angle like so,” he made a box with his thumbs and forefingers, “the camera will just catch the edge of the claw.”
Riga inhaled sharply. Brigitte’s talons lay flat now but they’d been curled upon the mantel.
Sam laughed. “You’re going to get that gargoyle into every shot, aren’t you?”
“It could be a great running gag,” Wolfe said, his hazel-colored eyes intent. “Something for the Internet discussion boards.”
Sam nodded, considering.
“But impractical,” Riga said. “Aren’t we going into the field? She’s heavy.” She heaved the gargoyle off the table and placed it on the counter, turning Brigitte so her tail faced the living room. Brigitte’s claws made vengeful scraping sounds upon the countertop.
“Point taken,” Sam said. “No more gargoyle, Wolfe.”
When Pen and Ash had arranged the lights to Griff’s satisfaction, Riga began, bending over the map. “The first recorded sighting of Tessie was in the 1950s, when two off-duty police officers reported seeing a large, black hump rise out of the water, here.” She pointed with a sharpened pencil. “They claimed the object kept pace with their speedboat. Since that time, there have been fairly regular reports, at least once a decade, of a long, serpent-like creature seen in the lake. In the 1980s, two fishermen spotted it near Cave Rock, here.” She pointed. “A few weeks later, divers reported a serpent shooting out of an underwater cave, and finding fin-prints left in the silt. And then, of course, there have been the recent sightings in the last month.” Riga was inclined to discount these. The uptick in sightings when a TV crew was in pre-production for a show on Tessie was most likely due to the power of suggestion, or to attention seeking.
“Where were those sightings?” Sam said.
“The first was just north of Cave Rock, here. The second…” Riga trailed off. Good God, the recent sighting wasn’t a coincidence. It couldn’t be. The last sighting was three days ago, Tuesday.
“You were saying about the second sighting?” Sam said, patient.
Riga hesitated. She’d planned to use the TV show to investigate the murder. She just hadn’t really believed there was a link between the two. “The second sighting was in this cove, where the body of a local palm reader was just found, decapitated.”
Chapter 8: The Fortuneteller’s Cafe
Riga and Sam stood by the open cabin door, on the front porch. The light had switched on automatically, though it wasn’t quite dark enough to make a difference. The crew bundled up their cables and lights, clearing the cabin.
“Here’s some homework.” Sam handed Riga a DVD. “A couple interviews we did in pre-production, Tessie witnesses. We plan to use the footage as is, you probably won’t need to re-interview this group but there are still plenty of people we haven’t met with yet.”
“Sam, there’s something else I should tell you. The Sheriff’s asked me not to leave town.”
His spectacles glinted. “Not to leave town? You make it sound as if you’re a suspect.”
“I’m not sure what he’s thinking, or if this will affect my ability to do this job.”
Pen brushed past them, unsmiling, a heavy light in both hands.
“Hey, Riga, don’t worry about it,” Sam said. He clapped her on the shoulder. “I’m a whiz at thinking up new storylines on the fly.”
She watched them depart, uneasy, the tail lights of the crew’s van disappearing around a bend in the road, then shut the door on the night.
Riga did a ritual cleansing of the cabin and reset her wards. She was going on faith and habit now, unable to sense the familiar buzz of magical energy and unsure if her rituals had any effect. Brigitte assured her they worked, but Riga’s faith was dimming.
She checked her watch, shrugged into her thick pea coat, and drove to The Fortuneteller’s Café. It was an unassuming coffee shop located in a strip mall, with red Christmas lights rimming the windows. Riga found a parking place in front of the door, the lights from her car rudely illuminating the three women, huddling around a table inside.
Riga opened the glass door and a bell jangled, announcing her presence. A long glass pastry counter, depressingly empty of food and swagged with plastic garlands, stood near one wall. Behind the counter was a chalkboard menu of coffee drinks and divination packages: $60 for an hour’s consultation, $30 for twenty minutes, $10 for fifteen. Opposite, oversized paperback books on the occult tumbled across a squat bookshelf.
The women fell silent, watching Riga wend through the maze of tables.
Tara was the owner, a short, voluptuous woman with graying hair worn in a loose braid. She made as if to stand and the tabby on her lap leaped to the floor, its tail bristling. Then the woman recognized Riga and relaxed onto the chair, rearranging her ankle-length flowered skirt.
Offended, the cat stalked behind the counter.
“Hello, Tara, Lily, Audrey,” Riga said, nodding to each. “The Sheriff told me about Lady Moonstone, I mean, Sarah. I’m sorry.” She didn’t know the women well, but suspected the hint about the Sheriff would be an effective means of entrée if the expression of sympathy fell short.
Tara’s round shoulders slumped, curling inward. She reached behind her and grabbed a wooden chair from another table set up, dragging it to their own. Its legs bounced on the cheap beige linoleum. “Have a seat,” she said. “I was just going to make myself more chamomile tea. Would you like some?” She didn’t wait for an answer, standing and going behind the counter, making a clatter of mugs and plates. The scent of patchouli lingered in her wake.
Riga lowered herself into the chair, leaned her elbows on the table.
“I knew something was wrong.” Audrey fiddled with one of her earrings. A line of studs and rings ran around each ear. Riga thought the piercings must have hurt like hell. She dropped her hand, twisting restlessly, then ran it through her flaming red hair, making it stand up in short spikes. “I should have done something.”
Lily sniffed, delicately blotting her nose with a tissue. “What could you have done?” Her white-blond hair flowed in waves past her shoulders, and with her eyes pink from crying, she reminded Riga of the White Rabbit.