Authors: Kirsten Weiss
Tags: #Mystery, #occult, #Paranormal, #Tarot, #Lake Tahoe, #female sleuth
“You’ve been studying,” she said, surprised. There were ordinary dreams, the subconscious processing the flotsam and jetsam of daily life, and then there were big dreams. These were dreams with meaning, predictive dreams, magical dreams.
“I’ve been studying you. You told me once that dreams were your way of crossing to the other side, that shamanism never really worked for you.”
“And I thought you weren’t listening.”
He stepped around her and leaned against the desk, looking down. Donovan wore a black robe and nothing else. She glanced down. His feet were perfectly shaped, as if he’d never worn western footwear. Donovan picked up her wine glass and drank. He handed it to her; his green eyes darkened. “Was it about the murdered girl?”
“I’m not sure,” she hedged, fiddling with a pencil. A feeling in her bones wasn’t good enough, not anymore.
“What else is bothering you? There’s more.”
“Besides the murdered girl, and being under suspicion for murder, and Pen rejecting her ability to see ghosts?”
He smiled crookedly. “Come on. That’s all in a day’s work for you.”
“My magic isn’t getting better. It’s growing more uncontrollable. The irony is when I had it, I tried not to use it too much. I thought relying on magic was weak. I never realized…”
“How much a part of you it was?” he finished for her. He pulled up a chair and sat down beside her, his legs in a sprawl, his robe gaping enticingly.
She raked her hands through her hair. “Yeah.” Her magic had been a sixth sense, and now she was down to five and a quarter.
He glanced around the room. “That’s how I feel about this place. I couldn’t imagine not being a part of it.”
She gave him a long look and suddenly wondered what he was doing awake at this hour. “How’s the turnaround going?”
“Ah. That.” He tilted the wine glass, observing the play of lamp light through the garnet-colored wine. “I know what needs to change. Gambling at Tahoe once had glamour, elegance. Sinatra and other movie stars used to come here. I want to bring that back. This place will never be Vegas and it shouldn’t be. Tahoe is different and that’s a strength.
“I plan to renovate the building in American craftsman style. I want people to come here and feel like they’ve arrived somewhere special.” His expression turned wistful. “This was my parent’s first casino, you know.”
She didn’t say anything, knew Donovan’s parents had died when he was young. By the time he was old enough to take control of their casino, it was flagging. But he’d turned it around, and added to the family empire with casinos in Las Vegas. The casinos were more than just businesses to him, Riga knew. They were his heritage and mythology wrapped together.
His jaw tightened. “I won’t lose this place.”
“Is there really a chance that might happen?”
“I’ve been complacent and I trusted…” He stopped himself with a quick shake of his head. “I turned this place around once. I’ll do it again.”
“A full renovation… Sounds like big changes in the works,” she said, thinking of Reuben, who’d been in charge here for so long.
“If that’s your subtle way of asking if Reuben is on board, the answer is, no. Reuben thinks I should play up the celebrity card, brand myself, to bring people in.” He set the wine upon the desk and took her hand, traced the lines of her palm. They tingled from the contact. “Don’t worry, I won’t do it.”
Riga felt a surge of relief. She didn’t like the idea of a more public Donovan, didn’t want to share him. Was she being selfish? Was the celebrity angle such a bad idea? Donovan already got his share of press, he was rich, sexy. But celebrity was fleeting, the public fickle. It might provide a boost to the casino for a few years, but what then?
“Though if your show on Tessie takes off,” he continued, “I might just have to. I can’t have you walking the red carpet with an empty-headed actor on your arm.”
“I wouldn’t worry about that.” She smiled. “It’s just the Supernatural Channel. I didn’t even know there was a Supernatural Channel until this week. How many viewers can it have?”
He stretched his legs out, and crossed them at the ankles. The robe slipped further, exposing his powerful muscles. “The paranormal is hot right now.”
Riga placed her hand on his knee, slid it up his thigh. The paranormal might be hot, but Donovan was on fire.
Chapter 10: Action
“I don’t believe in Tessie,” the retired Marine said.
It was the first really interesting thing Riga had heard from an interviewee all day. She’d spent the morning shuttling with the TV crew around west Lake Tahoe, standing on frozen piers and interviewing witnesses who described Tessie sightings from decades past, and itching to return to the south shore, where the more recent sightings had occurred.
Finally, in the late afternoon, they were where she wanted to be: interviewing one of the recent witnesses, Walt, a no-nonsense ex-Marine. He stood with a tall, erect posture, his arms folded across his broad chest. His steely blue eyes looked out from a leathered, outdoorsy sort of face.
They filmed in Walt’s three story lakeshore home, perched on a hillside overlooking the lake. A picture window revealed a sky blazing tangerine, the clouds rimmed with gold, the mountains a violet haze. And then the sun dipped lower and the lake flashed crimson fire. Riga’s breath caught from the beauty of it. The trick of light faded and with it, the lake turned dull silver.
Walt pointed down the wooded slope, towards a small pier on a neighboring property. “I saw something moving in the water over there. It was dusk, the light about like it is now, and the view was clear. Whatever it was, it was too big to be a fish and it moved wrong, coiling about itself. And then it flipped a tail as big as my arm in the air and took off, leaving a wake like a motor boat.”
“Still, that’s a fair distance from here,” Riga said. She stood with her back to the fire, enjoying the heat upon her legs. “How did you spot it?”
“It was the light, just a flash out of the corner of my eye, coming from the trees above the shoreline. Sometimes hikers cut through here to get to the lake and we’ve had a couple of break-ins around here. I was suspicious because my neighbors aren’t home. And then the motion in the water caught my eye.”
It was the first Riga had heard of a light. “What did this light look like?” she asked sharply.
“Just a flash, bluish-white.”
Riga looked at him appraisingly and wondered why he’d reported it at all, or had agreed to be interviewed by her, for that matter. “What made you call the police?” she asked. “Why report it?”
His jaw set and he looked out over the lake. The mountains darkened to deep purple and the waters to the color of cold steel. “Tessie is a children’s fable, something for the tourists. It isn’t real. But I saw something out there. I won’t call it a lake monster but there was something and I thought the Sheriff should know.”
Riga sympathized. It had been his duty, even if he looked like a fool executing it. “What did you do afterward? Did you find any tracks the next day?”
“I didn’t wait for the next day. I grabbed my flashlight and headed down to the beach. But the stench was so god awful I turned back, figured whatever it was could wait until daylight, when I’d be less likely to step in it.”
“What did it smell like?” she asked.
“Shit and rotting garbage, pardon the language, ma’am.”
Riga felt a prickle of fear. He’d described the stench of demon. No wonder he’d retreated. There had likely been other things in that scent as well: oppression, terror, and death.
“I checked out the beach again the next morning,” he continued. “Didn’t find any unusual tracks. There were some footprints that couldn’t have been more than a week old, but tracking was never my strong suit.”
“Mind if we look around on the beach?” she asked.
“Go ahead. Just keep off my neighbor’s property.”
“That’s the Gonzalez home, isn’t it?” Riga jerked her chin toward the window.
“Yeah. You know them?”
She drew her cell phone from the pocket of her pea coat. “I used to spend summers up here. Let me give them a call now.”
Mr. Gonzales answered on the third ring and it was the work of minutes to get permission to walk his part of the shoreline. She handed the phone off to Walt and left him talking to Mr. Gonzalez, about the film crew, the break-ins.
Riga and the crew walked out onto the deck then took the wooden stairs, slick with ice, down toward the water.
It was colder now and the chill air burned Riga’s nostrils. Patches of snow gleamed pale beneath the trees. Riga glanced covetously at Pen, who wore a fitted black parka and a black felt hat with flaps that covered her ears. She gathered her coat more closely around her, pulled her scarf higher around her neck.
Riga scanned the shore with every magical sense she’d once had, broadening her vision, reaching out with her senses, listening with her inner self.
She tightened her lips in frustration. Still, if it had been a demon, it would have left signs that didn’t require magical senses to locate. Riga paced the beach, walking methodically through the soft, damp dirt. Closer to the water, the ground turned sandy. Riga crouched beside the empty pier, near a patch of earth that had been roughly churned. “Get a photo of this, will you?” she asked Griff, who followed closely behind her.
He sighed, adjusted the camera on his narrow shoulder. “Video. Not camera, video.”
“What do you think?” Sam asked her.
She straightened. “I think it’s too soon to jump to conclusions.”
Walt strode up the beach and joined them. He looked about as if to assure himself the crew was behaving on his neighbor’s property, and handed Riga her phone.
She inhaled. If a demon had been there, its scent was long gone. But something would have been left. There are always signs, she reminded herself. Riga closed her eyes and cleared her mind. When she opened them, her gaze was drawn up the hill, away from the beach.
She walked to a circle of pines and Walt and the crew followed. As Riga stepped into the circle, it felt like crossing a threshold. The temperature dropped and the trees pressed in upon her, the air thickening. Dark magic had been practiced here, and the feeling of it rushed in upon her. Her stomach roiled. Ladies, she reminded herself, don’t vomit on TV. Not even on cable TV. To give herself time to recover, she went to one of the trees. A palms-width line of bark had been turned to charcoal and she broke off a piece, crumbling it in her hands. She sniffed the bark, not daring to look at anyone, sure she looked greenish and ill.
The nausea subsided.
Riga drew a flashlight from her satchel and flipped it on. She walked to the center of the clearing and the crew parted around her. A charred line stretched across all the trees in the little stand, as if a flash of energy from the center had scorched them. “Could this have been the area where you saw that flash of light?” she asked Walt.
“Yeah,” he said, “but I saw a flash of light, not a fire. A flashlight didn’t cause this scorching. There was a fire here.”
“What do you see, Riga?” Sam asked.
“This wasn’t a campfire. A fire that burned hot enough to turn the bark to charcoal, would have singed the needles and pinecones and dead branches on the ground. And it wouldn’t have caused this narrow band of heat. This was something different. Walt, I think your first instinct was right. This was caused by a flash of energy.”
“What sort of energy?” Sam asked.
“I don’t know.” Riga put her hand upon the cold ground, extending her senses, and felt another wave of nausea, tinged with triumph. She couldn’t differentiate the energies, couldn’t see what had happened here, but her magical senses were returning. Even if these particular energies made her want to throw up, she was feeling something.
The back of her neck prickled.
She was being watched.
Riga stood up and clicked off the flashlight, then unfurled her senses outward, probing. With a fierce joy she realized she could feel her senses extending beyond her physical boundaries. But after a few feet, the energy became scattered, dissonant, then dropped entirely.
She bowed her head, trying to hide her disappointment. “How long do you think it was between the time you saw the light and the time you came out here?” she asked Walt.
He hesitated. “Maybe thirty minutes. A call came as I was walking out the door and it delayed me. It was dark by the time I got out here.”
Riga stood and scanned the hill, the beach. Something flickered at the edge of her vision and she relaxed her gaze the better to see.
The woman from her dream stood beside the shoreline. She wore a parka and jeans, shiny with damp and her black hair hung lank about her shoulders. Her image flickered like an old movie, then blinked out of existence.
Riga left the tree line and walked slowly down to the beach. Griff kept pace, an eye glued to the camera, one bony hand fiddling with the lens.
“Griff, there’s this concept called personal space—”
“Not in reality TV.” He gazed at her, his pale blue eye unblinking. When most people looked through a camera, they squinted, one eye shut. But Griff kept both eyes open – one to look through the viewfinder, the other to see the world as it was – and the effect was strangely disconcerting.
“I need a quick time out.” She had to get rid of him. Riga wasn’t prepared to converse with a ghost on cable TV. As she neared the floating dock, the ghost wavered into existence in front of her, then disappeared.
“There’s no time out in reality TV either.” He adjusted the camera on his shoulder.
“Then I need you to get Pen.”
“Feminine problem.” She stared meaningfully at him.
Griff’s fair skin reddened. “Oh. Yeah. I’ll, uh, get her.” He took off up the beach.
“I’m here,” Riga said in a low voice. Sam had remained in the circle of trees, talking to Walt. But he wouldn’t leave her alone for long, she knew. “My name’s Riga.”