Authors: Kirsten Weiss
Tags: #Mystery, #occult, #Paranormal, #Tarot, #Lake Tahoe, #female sleuth
Audrey stood abruptly, knocking over her chair. “Gone to her house, checked up on her. Something.” She righted the chair and, grasping the back of it with her hands, leaned heavily upon it, her head lowered. The coppery buttons on her vest gleamed beneath the fluorescent lights of the café.
“She was found by the lake,” Riga said. “I don’t think you could have done anything.”
“Sit down,” Lily said gently.
Audrey sat, and pulled a burnished metal lighter from her vest pocket. She flipped its hinged cap open and closed, open and closed. “Shit.”
“I can’t believe she’s gone.” Lily tucked her hair behind her ears. They were faintly pointed, giving the slender woman an elfin air. “The last time I saw her, we talked about… nothing. She asked me for some passion tea. I was going to give it to her at the next meeting. It was all so superficial. Of course, I didn’t think someone would…” She bit her lip.
Riga asked Lily, “Passion tea? Is that passion fruit?”
She smiled wanly. “No.
, sex, romance.”
Ah. A magical tea, then. “Was Sarah in a relationship?”
“I don’t think so,” Lily said. “She never mentioned anyone. Did she say anything to you, Audrey?”
“No.” Audrey snapped the lighter shut. “It must have been unrequited.”
“Why?” Riga said.
Audrey raised an eyebrow. “She would have told us otherwise.”
Tara returned, carefully setting two mismatched, delicate-looking teacups on the table. She slid one toward Riga and the yellowish liquid slopped over the rim. “No, she wasn’t seeing anyone. Sarah was single and happy. I wish I had her joie de vive.”
“It might have been part of a spell for someone else,” Lily said. “She was so insistent about having to have it soon, but I was out. I had to make more.”
Riga sank a spoon full of sugar into the tea, disturbing the flecks of chamomile at the bottom of the cup. “I didn’t realize Sarah was a spell worker.”
Audrey and Tara darted glances at each other.
“We all are, to some extent. Sarah and I are Wiccan.” Lily colored, realizing what she’d just said. Sarah wasn’t part of the present tense anymore.
“Part of a local coven?” Riga asked.
“Solo practitioners,” Lily said. “Sometimes we worked together but two don’t exactly make a coven. You?”
Riga shook her head. “I’m not a Wiccan and I work alone.” Too many magicians had top gun complexes, wanting to prove themselves better than their peers, often with deadly results. She imagined it was a bit like being a gun fighter, with other fighters out to make a name for themselves by bumping you off.
Tara shifted, her bulk settling into the wooden chair. “You said you spoke to the Sheriff?”
“He seemed to think Sarah was killed in a ritual involving black magic.” Riga stirred her cup, the teaspoon clinking gently. Her stomach rumbled, and she glanced again towards the glass counter. It had not magically filled with baked goods since her arrival.
Tara slammed her palm down upon the table, making the teacups rattle. “No way,” she sputtered. “That’s ridiculous! Sarah? She was a Wiccan, not a Satanist!”
“I don’t think that was what the Sheriff was suggesting,” Riga said.
“She was a victim of black magic, you mean,” Lily said. “He doesn’t think she was a practitioner?”
“But there’s no such thing as black magic,” Audrey said. “Black magic implies evil magic, and good and evil don’t exist. Good and evil are subjective, human constructs.”
“Evil becomes much less subjective when you’re its victim,” Riga said dryly.
Audrey folded herself into a cross-legged position atop her chair, flipped the lighter open and shut. “The point is, the Sheriff is wrong.”
“When did you see Sarah last?” Riga asked.
“I saw her about a week ago,” Lily said. “I ran into her outside the hardware store. She was getting new locks.”
Audrey gave her a sharp look.
“New locks?” Riga said.
Lily looked away. “I think she believed someone was harassing her.”
“Someone’s been harassing all of us!” Aubrey snapped. “At least, all but you, Lily.”
“Is that how her window got broken?” Riga said.
Lily nodded. “Sarah thought so.”
“What do you mean, she thought so?” Audrey said. “Just because nothing’s happened to you, doesn’t mean nothing’s happening.”
Tara cleared her throat. “We don’t know—”
Audrey threw the lighter upon the table. It bounced and skittered to the floor. “Sarah’s dead! Isn’t that proof enough? Someone was harassing her and now she’s dead. Any one of us could be next.”
“But… It doesn’t make any sense,” Tara said helplessly.
“Who do you think might be harassing you?” Riga said, looking to Audrey.
“It’s that damned church.”
“What church?” Riga asked.
Tara sighed heavily, her breasts heaving. “Church of the New Dawn. Reverend Carver. I guess you haven’t been here long enough to catch one of his Sunday demonstrations in front of Tea and Tarot. It’s quite a show. Fortunately, Sunday afternoons aren’t my best time, but it really—” Tara took a deep breath and tried to smile. “It makes it difficult to stay centered when people are picketing with signs about not whoring after mediums or allowing a sorceress to live.”
Riga frowned. It also made it difficult to stay profitable. And while the phrases were biblical, they were threatening. “What do the police have to say about this?”
“The protestors don’t block the entry or the street and so far they haven’t actually done anything.” Tara waved her hand dismissively. “The cops have bigger fish to fry.”
Audrey flicked open the lighter and a tall jet of flame shot out. She snapped the top down, extinguishing it. “I’ll bet they killed Sarah. There’s some dark energy around that church.”
“I just can’t believe it,” Lily said. “They have a limited vision, and they’re scared and ignorant, but I can’t believe they’re killers.”
“Someone killed Sarah,” Tara said. “Decapitated. My Goddess. There’s always a reason, but sometimes it’s hard to see it.”
“And sometimes, shit just happens,” Audrey said, her eyes flashing angrily.
“But she must have done something, don’t you think?” Lily appealed to Riga. “Made someone angry or… something.”
“Something like what?” Riga asked. “Did Sarah have any enemies?”
“That’s blame the victim talk,” Audrey growled.
Tara spread her hands wide. “So what do we do now?”
“I’d like to honor our sister,” Lily said tentatively. “What about a Wiccan funeral ritual? At least we can do that much for her.”
“Her family may have other ideas,” Tara said.
Audrey snorted with derision.
“Then a memorial service.” Lily pulled her hair into a ponytail and loosely knotted it. “Would you like to join us, Riga? I realize you didn’t know her well, but I think she would have liked you.”
“Of course,” Riga said, rising to her feet. “Let me know if there’s anything I can do to help with the preparation.” Riga wasn’t sure when she’d have time for it, but she wanted to stay in touch with these three. They’d known Sarah well. Riga wondered whether they knew too much.
Chapter 9: Dissolution
The sun warmed Riga’s back. She lay face down upon the floating pier, gazing dreamily over the side. Moss-covered stones lay below, visible through the blue-green water, and minnows darted past. A cool breeze sighed through the pines, and her reflection shivered, fracturing then reforming as the water calmed.
Her reflection changed and a young, Asian woman smiled serenely up at her. Riga shifted on her stomach, bringing her hand to hover above the water and the reflection’s hand rose to meet hers. The stranger’s face moved closer, rising towards Riga, through the water. It distorted, grew sallow, the eyes cloudy. The head broke the surface, rank and rotting. It bobbed in the water, staring, lips curled in a snarl, then rolled, and settled face down. Long black hair fanned out upon the water.
Riga reared backward, her stomach rolling. Tentacles wrapped around her wrists, dragging her toward the water. She was so close now. There was a word that would free her, if she could only remember it, but the magic was out of her reach. The bones in her wrist snapped and she shuddered from the shock of pain. The rough edge of the dock scraped off a thick strip of her flesh. The word, God, what was it?
Riga woke to darkness, her heart pounding. For a moment she forgot where she was, then the even breathing beside her anchored her. Donovan. She was in his room. Riga wanted to curl up against him, but instead slid quietly from the bed. She hooked a soft cotton robe from the end of the bed and slipped her arms inside, then slunk out the bedroom door.
The woman in her dream was unfamiliar but she knew that place, that pier. Donovan kept maps in the study and Riga padded there now, feet bare on the cool wooden floor, thinking hard.
It had been years ago. A warm summer, a cabin on the beach, the icy sapphire lake. The cabin belonged to friends of her parents. She and her sister’s family had lain upon the beach, north of Cave Rock, a young Pen shoveling rocks and sand into a bucket, the high sierra sun darkening their skin.
Riga flipped the study light on and strode to the desk. Her leather satchel lay beside it, gaping open, papers protruding from it. She pulled a crude tourist map from her bag then found a Tahoe street map in the desk drawer. She spread them both upon the desk. The tourist map had Tessie sightings marked upon it in red ink. X marks the spot.
The summer cabin was just north of Cave Rock, also the scene of a recent Tessie sighting.
Dammit. There was another body.
Riga started, spun around, a hand over her heart. Pen stood in the doorway, looking young and rumpled in black cotton pajama bottoms and a white tank. Riga squinted to read it:
Dear Karma, I have a list of people you’ve missed.
“Pen. You scared the hell out of me.”
Her niece yawned. “What are you doing?”
“Homework.” She folded the map. “One of the Tessie sightings last month was near a cabin we used to vacation in. Do you remember it?”
Pen wandered into the room and folded herself upon a leather settee. “Sure. There was no TV. It was really boring.”
Pen was right. Beautiful scenery, but Riga had been bored too. She’d never been one for sunbathing. “So how do you like the film crew?” Riga jammed the maps into her satchel.
“They’re fantastic!” Pen’s gray eyes glittered with excitement. “Wolfe’s been showing me all sorts of cool lighting techniques. He’s amazing.” Her cheeks flushed. “Did you know he worked on a series in Vancouver? That’s where the action is now. Hollywood is so over.”
“You know, the cameraman? The one with the sideburns, not the pasty-faced guy. I’m lucky to be working with him.”
Riga straightened. “Oh, yeah. The older guy,” she teased.
“Old? He’s only twenty-six! That’s what’s so amazing. He’s done so much cool stuff and he’s still young.”
John Wolfe was too old for Pen but telling her that would only make the pursuit more romantic. Riga changed the subject.
“So what are you doing up so late?”
“I couldn’t sleep.”
“Guilty conscience?” Riga joked.
A shadow of annoyance crossed Pen’s face.
“I was kidding.” Riga leaned one hip against the leather sofa. “You know the saying: no rest for the wicked. What’s wrong?”
She looked away. “Nothing.”
Bull. Riga’s off the cuff comment had struck home. Pen felt guilty about something, though Riga couldn’t imagine what deadly sins Pen had amassed at the tender age of eighteen.
“So what are we shooting tomorrow?” Riga asked.
“We’re going to film at Tessie sites. We managed to get a couple of the witnesses to agree to meet us there. You did review the video interviews that Sam gave you, didn’t you?” Pen asked.
Riga crossed her fingers behind her back. She hadn’t had time and then had forgotten about them. “Yeah. I ran through them. Since I can’t sleep, I think I’ll watch them again though, take some notes.”
Pen looked skeptical. “Right.”
Pen finally tottered off to bed. Donovan, bless him, had a bar in his study and Riga found a newly opened bottle of Cab. She poured herself a glass, then booted up her laptop and inserted the DVD of eyewitness interviews that Sam had given her. It was standard lake monster fare, reports of seeing a long neck, a snakelike shape, ripples in the water where there shouldn’t have been any… She sipped the wine thoughtfully. The most recent sightings had all occurred around twilight. If they were related to the killing – plural, killings, she reminded herself – was a pattern developing?
If. Riga couldn’t jump ahead of herself. But twilight was a liminal time – neither day nor night – when the veil between the worlds was thin. It was a prime time for certain types of magic. Or it could simply be that the poor lighting made people think they were seeing monsters rather than jumping fish or floating sticks.
“Can’t sleep?” Donovan asked from behind her.
“Gagh!” Riga’s hand jerked, knocking her glass of wine. It teetered upon the desk, and she steadied it. “You startled me.”
“Really? I hadn’t noticed,” he said, his voice layered with irony. He kissed her neck and she shivered with pleasure. “I woke up and you were gone. It’s getting to be a habit. You should stay.”
Riga pretended to misunderstand. “I couldn’t sleep, and didn’t want to wake you.”
He put his hands on her shoulders and massaged her.
She felt her muscles descend into a pleasant lassitude and closed her eyes, relaxing against him.
“No rest for the wicked,” he rumbled. “What woke you up?”
Riga smiled at his echo of her earlier thoughts. Was her attraction to Donovan one long exercise in self-admiration?
“Just a bad dream,” she said.
His hands stopped massaging. “A big dream?”