Authors: Kirsten Weiss
Tags: #Mystery, #occult, #Paranormal, #Tarot, #Lake Tahoe, #female sleuth
The ghost guttered like a candle into her line of sight, closer to the water.
Riga walked toward her, careful not to make any sudden movements. “Who are you?” The flickering effect was something she hadn’t seen before. Streaks of black sparked across the spirit.
The ghost reached toward her.
“Tell me your name. I can help you,” Riga said.
The ghost screamed. It was an awful sound, a primal cry of pain and fear, and Riga flinched away from it, her nose wrinkling with distaste. Walt had described the stench accurately. The ghost clawed at the blackness that flashed across her and Riga recoiled. She understood now; the ghost was being devoured by a demon before Riga’s eyes, and the demon was taking its time.
“What’s your name?” Riga asked, with more urgency.
“Riga!” Pen shrieked.
Riga glanced behind her. Pen pounded down the shore, her bodyguard, Ash close behind.
The ghost’s features contorted in agony.
“There’s a light, can you see it?” Riga said.
The ghost shook her head, her jaw tight.
“Give me your name. Let me help you.”
“Lynn Chen.” The ghost screamed and flickered out.
Pen, her face pale, grabbed Riga by the arm. She held a clipboard in her free hand. “What was that? I heard a scream. You’re okay, aren’t you?”
Ash scanned the beach, his dark eyes piercing and in spite of the growing darkness, Riga suddenly believed the bodyguard could see as easily as if it were high noon. “What scream?” he asked.
“I’m fine,” Riga muttered. “Act natural. I had to get rid of Griff. The guys think you’re getting me a tampon.”
Pen raised her chin. “A tampon. That’s rich. As if you don’t have an entire arsenal of crap in that bag of yours.”
“Don’t swear,” Riga said automatically.
Sam ambled toward them. “Everything okay?” His nose wrinkled. “Jeez, what’s that smell?”
Pen hastily turned away. “Gotta get something from the van,” she mumbled, and walked off. Ash followed.
“Everything’s fine,” Riga said. “I thought I’d check out the dock.”
“Good idea,” Sam said. “Give us a couple minutes to set up the shots.”
Wolfe set a camera on a tripod at the end of the floating dock, while Griff positioned himself on the beach. Sam gave her a thumbs-up when they were ready.
She stepped on the empty dock, feeling like an idiot with the TV crew watching her.
Riga walks the dock, film at eleven
. And then she caught the smell. It wasn’t demon, but something equally familiar. She hesitated, then moved forward. As she walked further out, the dock swayed beneath her, slapped by gentle waves. Something solid thunked against it. She took another step, and heard the bump again. Riga’s shoulders tensed. There were no boats tied to the jetty. Whatever caused the sound, it was beneath her. She looked over the side and saw crawdads. Lots of them.
They stirred the silt, raising murky clouds. Crawdads liked cool, dark places and meat, Riga knew. She had fished for the lobster-like creatures as a child, hauling them into a bucket and then letting them go. The current changed, and a fan of black hair swept from beneath the dock.
Riga knelt down and removed her gloves.
“What’s going on?” Wolfe shouted from the end of the dock. “Should I move up?”
“Stay back!” Riga said.
She swallowed hard, and plunged her hand into the icy water. Riga grabbed a fistful of the hair, then pulled down and out. There was another clunk, a scrape, then a woman’s head bobbing in the water. Riga let go and screamed, scrabbling backward and falling onto her butt. She’d known what was down there, had seen it once before, but her dream hadn’t accounted for hungry crawdads.
Riga heard the pounding of feet but couldn’t take her eyes from the ghastly thing. Then she remembered Pen and scrambled off the dock.
Sam grabbed Riga’s arm, staring at the rotting thing in the lake. “What the hell?”
“Call 911,” Riga said tersely, watching Pen jog towards them. “Pen doesn’t need to see this.”
“But that’s a—”
“Call 911!” Riga jerked her arm free and stood between Pen and the body, arms extended.
Pen skidded to a halt on the damp sand and gravel, looking from Riga to the dock.
Riga waved her hand, pulling Pen’s attention to her. “A woman’s died and it’s gruesome. Turn around and go back to the house.”
“Who is it?”
“Go back to the house,” Riga snapped.
Riga tried to study the scene clinically, not to let it get to her. The head rolled in the gentle waves. Sam, the producer, stood slack-jawed. Walt dialed, stiff-backed and impassive except for a muscle jumping in his throat. Angus knelt, vomiting, holding the cable from his headphones away from his body with one hand, the other pressed into the cold ground. Pen had ignored Riga’s edict and stood beside, Ash, her face averted from her aunt, gazing across the lake, looking green. The bodyguard patted her shoulder awkwardly, a hard expression on his face. Wolfe stood on the pier, his camera held loosely at his side, his handsome features twisted in shock and disgust. Only Griff remained impassive, camera mounted on his shoulder, one eye to the lens.
The camera was rolling.
Chapter 11: Personal Demons
They stood in Walt’s living room. The beach below swarmed with police and crime scene techs.
“Explain again,” Sheriff King said. “How you knew there was a body trapped under the pier.” The Sheriff’s face was flushed and grizzled with stubble, as if he hadn’t shaved that morning.
“I didn’t know about the body.” Riga worked to keep her voice level. “I heard something bumping beneath the dock, saw the hair, was afraid someone might be drowning, and pulled.”
“Is there something else you want to tell me, Miss Hayworth? Why were you here?”
“Because it was the location of a recent Tessie sighting. According to the papers, the body of Sarah Glass was also located near a sighting.”
He raised his eyebrows in disbelief. “You’re saying a monster did this?”
Riga didn’t respond. She was certain a monster had done it, but there were all sorts of monsters and most were human.
He made an exasperated sound. “You’ll need to come down to the station. I’ve got more questions for you.”
Riga’s cell phone rang. She glanced at the Sheriff. “May I?”
She withdrew it from the pocket of her coat. Donovan.
“I have a surprise for you,” he said.
“Yeah.” Her voice was flat. “Me too.”
There was a long pause on the other end. “What’s happened?”
“We found a body. The Sheriff wants me to answer some questions at the station.”
“My lawyer and I will meet you there. Is Pen with you?”
“I’ll send Isabelle for her. Say nothing, do you understand? Nothing.”
Riga was silent.
Donovan sighed. “You already said something, haven’t you?”
She imagined his lips tightening, eyes rolling toward the ceiling.
“Try not to incriminate yourself,” he said, finally. “If this is what you think it is, you’re not going to do any good—”
The line dropped. Riga swore, tried to return his call, failed, and pocketed the phone. Donovan must have been in his car; reception was usually good at the casino.
The Sheriff’s eyes were cold blue steel. “Donovan Mosse?”
“Just so we’re clear, Miss Hayworth, I don’t care who your boyfriend is. If you’re involved in these murders, I’ll arrest you for it.”
Riga didn’t respond to that either.
Deputy Night escorted Riga into the back of a squad car, Sam and Griff following close behind. The camera was slung casually upon Griff’s shoulder, as if not in use, but the light was on. Griff was shooting, Riga realized. Damn him. At least Night hadn’t handcuffed her.
“Where are you taking Miss Hayworth?” Sam demanded. “We’ve got more shooting scheduled for tonight.”
“To the station,” the deputy said, his tone apologetic. “Miss Hayworth is done for the day, I think.” Night closed the car door upon her.
Sam turned abruptly and walked away from her, toward Griff, who lowered the camera and tilted his head, birdlike, as if listening to something his boss was saying. Riga sighed and closed her eyes, sagging into the squad car’s seat. The image of Lynn’s head, turning over in the water, was burned in her mind. She tried to think of something else and settled upon the Emerald Tablet, her homework from Brigitte. As a magician, she’d trained in memorizing long incantations but she’d rarely had to use those skills and they’d rusted from lack of use. Magic had come naturally to her so she hadn’t needed the formal structures of ritual.
Emerald tablet in her own words: point one, this is true. Point two: as above, so below, something, something, miracles. Three… Something about all from one. Four: sun is father, moon is mother – so a union of opposites. Would Jung say an integration of subconscious and conscious? Five… five… She couldn’t remember five.
Riga turned the ideas over in her mind, used word association, tried to logic them out. She thought of the prima materia, still wrapped in its dirty cloth on her cabin’s kitchen counter. She wasn’t ready to begin the work yet.
She heard the car door open, felt the car sink with the weight of the driver, and opened her eyes. Sheriff King twisted around, scrutinizing her through the Plexiglass shield.
“You sleeping?” he asked.
“Thinking deep thoughts.”
“Huh.” He faced forward and started the cruiser. It crunched across the gravel drive and onto the highway. She’d been on this road so many times, and dreamily watched the scenery unfold. Lake Tahoe was like an inverted island. No matter where you wanted to go, you seemed to always end up on the same highway, circling the lake, flashing past the same tall pine trees, road markers, and bike paths.
When they arrived at the wood-timber station, the first stars had appeared in the sky. The Sheriff opened the door and led her into the station, his hand on her arm. The pressure was just firm enough to remind her she was in custody. Riga didn’t need the reminder.
He directed her past a female deputy at the front desk and to an interview room. The linoleum was in worse shape than the floor of Riga’s cabin. The table looked like something out of a cheap diner and its top was cracked. Riga slung her leather satchel upon the table and sat down upon a wobbly chair. Its red vinyl seat was cracked too, a matched set.
King took the chair opposite her. It didn’t wobble, she noticed.
“Anything you want to tell me, Miss Hayworth?”
“Did you know that the New Dawn church has been picketing the Fortune Teller’s Café?”
“Yeah,” he said, his voice thick with sarcasm. “I think I might have noticed them.”
“What do you know about Reverend Carver?”
“Am I really going to have to remind you that I’m the one asking the questions?” He pulled a leather-bound notebook from the breast pocket of his jacket, and opened it upon the table.
“Am I under arrest?” She hated that I’m-the-one-asking-questions routine.
His face darkened. “No. Did you know the woman?” He drew a shortened pencil from his pocket and licked the tip.
“No. Aren’t you afraid of lead poisoning?”
“No. Why were you on that dock?”
“I like docks.” This at least was true. It was as close to walking on water as she’d ever get. Boats made her seasick.
“Not a good time to be a smart ass.”
“It’s a defense mechanism.”
“If you’re innocent, you’ve got nothing to be defensive about.”
“You’re right. Ask me something else.” She squared an ankle over one knee.
“How did you know she was under the dock?” The Sheriff scribbled something in his notepad.
“I didn’t.” The image of the crawdads bobbed to the surface of her mind and Riga shuddered, pushed it away.
“In my experience, women don’t reach into the water to see what’s at the end of a clump of hair.”
Riga lifted one eyebrow. “How many women do you know who’ve had the opportunity?”
He crossed his arms across his chest, where they rested atop his gut, and gave her a beady look. “So how did you know she was under the dock?”
The grilling went on for another forty minutes, before it was interrupted by a soft knock on the door. A female deputy stuck her head in, jerked it toward the hall. The Sheriff lumbered out of his chair and closed the door behind him, leaving Riga the room.
Ten minutes later the door opened and Donovan walked in, the edge of his black wool coat swirling about his knees. His fist clenched around a pair of black leather gloves. With the other hand, he tugged a gray scarf from around his neck. He was followed by a stately looking black woman with graying hair cropped close to her scalp. She wore a red skirt and blazer with matching boots. A chocolate-brown fur coat was draped over her arm. Mink, Riga wondered?
“I can see life with you will never be dull,” Donovan said. “You’ve been sprung.”
Riga exhaled noisily, feeling the muscles around her heart loosen. She stood to face him. Getting bailed out by Donovan hurt her pride but she was glad to be free. “Thank you.”
He gestured to the woman beside him. “This is Sharon Williamson, your lawyer. Thank her.”
“We should talk about the situation tomorrow morning, Miss Hayworth.” The attorney shook Riga’s hand and the grip was firm without being bone-crushing. “The Sheriff doesn’t have enough to hold you but you are a person of interest. Nine o’clock?”
“I think we start shooting at nine.”
“Eight o’clock then. I’ll meet you at the penthouse.” She nodded to them both and strode from the room.
Riga grabbed her satchel from the table and slung it over one shoulder. “Ms. Williamson knows how to control a conversation.”
“She’s the best. That’s why she works for me. Pen’s waiting outside with the camera crew.”
“Hoping to film my perp walk?” She leaned against the table. Leaving the station just got a lot less appealing, but at least it wouldn’t be in handcuffs.