"Was there another murder last night?"Brenna returned home, parking her van on the street. Back up in her room, she read over the emails. The requests seemed simple enough to her, just a matter of sitting down and doing the work. The new design might have some extra work to be done, preliminary drawings to get approved by the client and tests with fabrics, but nothing that she hadn't done before.
"You might be the only person to have seen the murderer."
"Excuse me for being busy trying not to get stabbed at the time."
"Gory death left local man boneless."
After a half hour of cutting fabric to the measurements provided, Brenna started up her sewing machine. Her grandmother had left it originally to Brenna's Aunt Dawn, who passed the machine along when she bought a new one for herself. Joni had never wanted to take up sewing, calling it a throwback to an era when women were confined to the house. Brenna had to learn how to sew from her aunt, but she picked it up quickly. If Grace had inherited the Soul Blade like her mother expected, Brenna could have finished college. She wouldn't have had to drop out because of the need for an heir kept overwhelming her whenever she walked down a hall.
The rhythm of the sewing machine's needle helped Brenna keep up a good pace. Costumes started taking form, sleeves added, collars sewed on. Brenna's online gallery, maintained by Missy, not only showcased Brenna's talent, but also only showed the designs she could work on quickly. Not quite an assembly line, because of small details that she enjoyed adding, but works that she could complete in a matter of days; hours if she pushed herself.
With only a quick break for lunch, Brenna pushed herself to get as much done to the costumes as possible. She already was a few days late in starting them; the more she got done before the next big interference in her life, the better.
Brenna heard the front storm door slam outside over the sound of the sewing machine. She set her work down and looked out her window. Her father's black Challenger was in the driveway again. Brenna looked over at her alarm clock. Almost five o'clock already! Brenna brushed off the bits of fabric on her shirt and jeans and made a note to vacuum her rug when she had a chance, then dashed downstairs.
Grace emerged from the living room as Brenna hit the bottom step. "They're in here," the young blonde said. She led her sister to the couch where Gary and a red-haired woman in what Brenna hoped was her very early thirties sat.
Gary got up. "And this is my eldest daughter, Brenna. Bren, this is Amy."
Amy stood up and offered her hand. "Nice to meet you, Brenna."
Brenna shook the offered hand. "Nice meeting you, Amy."
Grace grabbed Brenna by the arm. "We better get going," she said as she started to drag her older sister out of the living room. "You two have fun and don't worry about us."
"Are you sure you have to leave?" Amy asked.
"Me and Bren have plans for tonight," Grace said, cutting off Brenna. "Maybe another night."
Once outside, Brenna shook off Grace. "What are you doing?"
"Giving them space. What are we doing tonight?"
"We? What? Gracie, I do have plans."
"Yeah, and unless they involve Matt, I'm not going to be underfoot."
Brenna stopped in her tracks. "What makes you think I'm not going to be with Matt tonight?"
"You're not the only one with weird powers in this family. It's almost a requirement."
"Gracie, stop being annoying."
Grace grinned. "I know you're going to check in on last night's murder with your girlfriends. I already saw it. So, I'm going with you. Much more exciting than watching Piper do her nails. And you better get to your van. Your phone is about to ring."
"My phone?" Brenna remembered where she last saw it. She dashed to the van and unlocked it just as her cell phone started to ring. Picking it up in the middle of the second ring, she greeted, "Hello?"
"Hey, Bren, it's Missy! Wow, you sound out of breath. Did I catch at a bad moment?"
"No, just . . . just no. Is Krista in town yet?"
"Yeah. We're waiting for a table right now at Parson Brown's, on West San Marcos. How long before you can get here?"
Brenna thought for a moment. "Twenty minutes, give or take? Depending on traffic." She heard over her shoulder Grace clearing her throat. "And can you add an extra chair? Gracie's coming with me."
"She heard about the murder, too. And she was there when I found the body."
"All right, I'll get an extra seat. See you soon, Bren!"
"Bye, Missy." Brenna hung up her cell phone. "Ready, Grace?"
Grace took a step back. "You're not driving."
"Oh, what now, brat?"
"Why are we taking your van? Why not my car?"
Brenna started to climb inside. "Because I know where we're going. Unless you want to follow me in your Bug."
Grace ran around to the other side of the van. Brenna finished getting into the driver's seat, then stretched over the passenger's side to unlock the door for Grace. As the blonde closed her door and buckled up, Brenna turned on the engine. The diesel roared to life.
As Brenna eased the van on the road, Grace leaned back in her seat. "So, what do you think of Dad's girlfriend?"
Brenna shrugged. "Amy?" She guided the van out of her neighborhood.
"Dad seems happy."
"You've been the one who wanted to see Dad happy. He's happy. What's wrong?"
Brenna kept her eyes on the road. "Nothing, Gracie."
Grace braced herself as Brenna took a corner almost too tight for the van. "Sure, Danica Patrick."
Grace pointed at a truck making a turn. "Watch where you're going!
Brenna stepped hard on the brakes. "I see it!" The Savana shook and shuddered as it squealed to a stop.
"Bren, what's wrong with Amy?"
"Nothing, Gracie. She's nice. I even read her aura."
"Like hell there's nothing. You almost hit a truck. Out with it."
Brenna touched the accelerator, getting the van going again. "Ever feel like the world is passing you by? Dad's moving on. You're moving on. Me? I'm going nowhere." She sighed. "It's not her, Gracie. It's what she represents, you know?"
"Bren, you're being ridiculous."
"Am I? I couldn't even finish college. You've got a great career ahead of you. I get to go from event to event hoping to get gas money." Brenna sighed. She drove in silence several blocks, turning on to West San Marcos. The sign for Pastor Brown's loomed ahead. She pulled into the restaurant's parking lot. As she brought the van to a stop, she muttered, "I'd like to matter to people for a change."
Grace unbuckled. "Bren, you matter. To me, to Dad, to your friends, and to all those ghosts you've helped." She got out of the van, closing the door behind her.
Brenna made sure all the doors were locked before leaving her van. She scanned the lot for her father's old Volvo. Not finding it, she said, "They must have taken Krista's car. Come on, Grace."
"Hold on a moment." Grace walked over to her sister and pulled her into a hug. "Don't you ever tell yourself you're not important or insignificant. I still need my big sis." She broke away. "And if you tell anyone I said that, I will hurt you. I know where you sleep."
The two Halliday sisters entered the restaurant. Brenna saw Missy waving from a booth. Pulling her sister along, she weaved through the tables to get to her friends. "Hi," she said as she sat down beside Missy.
"Hey, Brenna," Krista said. "Grace. It's been too long. How have you two been? Brenna, you need to come out and visit me."
"I will, Krista. Call me, okay?"
"Krista, what are you doing now?" Grace asked.
"I'm a reporter, sort of." Krista took a swig of her beer. "Technically, fact checker and gofer. Mainly gofer. But, since I'm from here and allegedly know the area, I was sent to get background information on the murder last night. I basically get mileage paid to come here and go back and get to see my high school friends and then check out the scene of a grisly murder." The young woman leaned back in her chair. "One of those things doesn't belong."
"Brenna wanted to check out the crime scene, too," Missy said.
"Yeah." Brenna nodded. "I just want to see if it looks the same as on Wednesday."
"Back up a bit, Bren," Krista said. "You've been to this crime scene before?"
Grace laughed. "No, she just jumped a few steps again. Brenna found a body Wednesday."
Brenna nodded. "In an office building, bent all the wrong way. No ghost, not even a trace. In fact, there was nothing in the office. Like a blank chalkboard."
"My editors aren't going to like the mystic stuff, but could you tell if the same thing happened in both spots?"
"And what about that trick of yours, to see the past."
"If I have to. Krista, I'm not completely comfortable trying it on a murder scene, especially ones where the paper called the victim boneless."
"Ooh," Grace piped up. "I know what I want now."
"You know what, Grace?" Missy said. "Ew."
Brenna picked up a menu and peered at it. "I better find something before the waitress comes over."
"That's the reason why my paper sent me," Krista said. "Because of the boneless part. It sells, but, yeah, ew. What sort of sick person would do that?"
Missy sipped her beer. "I'd say it was someone who got off on it, but, well, Bren? Your other bit of excitement?"
"Oh, right." Brenna looked up from her menu. "I got attacked yesterday."
Krista set her glass of beer down. "No! Get out! Are you okay?"
"She got my favorite skirt."
"I fought her off. Then I got questioned by the police and gave them a description." Brenna shrugged. "Like she was going to be dressed like a business woman on the beach."
Krista picked up her purse and pulled out her mp3 player. "Hang on, Bren. The killer's a woman?"
"If my hunch is right." Brenna sat back. "I may just be jumping to a conclusion."
"Wouldn't be the first time," Grace added.
Missy ignored Brenna's younger sister. "But you think she was."
Brenna nodded, then set down her menu. "Which is why I want to see the crime scene. To be sure, either way."
The waitress arrived at the table to take the women's orders. After verifying the requests, she disappeared, returning briefly to drop off a draft beer for Grace and a glass of white wine for Brenna. Once making sure the waitress was gone for a bit, Krista asked, "So, what did your body look like?"
"Not sure? I mean, I saw it, but it was folded around a cabinet. There was blood, but, well, how do you tell when there isn't a bone in a corpse?" Brenna glared at her sister. "Without picking up an arm and waving it."
"What?" Grace put on an innocent expression. "I wasn't saying anything."
"Keep it that way," Missy said.
Grace rolled her eyes. "What ever happened to innocent until proven guilty?"
Krista patted Grace's hand. "We know you too well, dear." Missy broke out in roaring laughter. Brenna covered her mouth to hide her amusement.
"Why did I even come?"
"So, Bren," Krista said once the group recovered from laughing, "do you mind giving me an interview if your hunch plays out tonight? I mean, first interview with a victim that escaped, that has to be front page."
"Sure, I guess."
"It's going to help your career," Grace said.
"Just a helpful side effect. I'm wondering now, too. This isn't a normal serial killer if your attack, Bren, is related."
Missy raised an eyebrow. "Serial killer?"
"Yeah. Okay, look, serial killers tend have a particular motif," Krista said. "They pick the same type of victim each time, kill the same way each time. Predictable, right?"
"I follow so far," Missy said.
"I get it," Grace said. "So, if this serial killer of ours was following a pattern, she'd be going after mousy brunettes with hormonal problems."
"Ha ha, Gracie." Brenna sipped her wine. "But, yeah, last night's victim was totally not me according to the paper."
"For one, he was male," Missy said.
"So this person is trying not to be predictable," Grace said. "I mean, if I check Wikipedia, I could get the short version of tracking a killer and throw people off the trail that way. If that's what this murderer is doing, then, well, how are we going first find her and then turn her over to the police?"
"Oh." Missy took a moment to drain her her beer mug. "But we're not looking for her, are we? Bren?"
The women paused again as the waitress returned with their entrées; a garden salad with thousand islands dressing for Brenna, grilled tuna for Krista, English-style fish and chips for Missy, and a boneless chicken breast for Grace, much to the others' dismay. As the group ate, the topic of conversation drifted to tamer subjects. Krista described her new apartment in Needles and the details of her job, then drifted on to the Padres' chances at a World Series title. Grace tuned out the baseball talk but Brenna became animated.
After coffee, the women settled their bills and left. Missy stretched once outside. Noticing that the tall blonde and the tinier Brenna were both wearing jeans, Krista said, "Okay, that's different."
"What's different?" Brenna asked.
"Jeans on both of you?" Krista looked up at the sky. "Not the full moon yet." She jumped in between Missy and Brenna. "What's up?"
"My favourite skirt has to be patched," Brenna explained. "I've got two paying sewing projects to do before that."
Missy shrugged. "I got scratched bad enough for stitches. That tends to freak out most of my customers." She pointed at her Levi's. "Thus, jeans."
"Stitches?" Krista repeated. "Missy, what happened?"
Krista turned to Brenna. "Weren't you there?"
Grace held up a hand. "Wait, Bren, you never mentioned going out ghost hunting this week."
Brenna answered each woman in turn. "Yes, I was there and no, I didn't say I did."
"What happened?" Krista pressed.
"I had heard from some guys passing through that they had seen something unusual up near Cardiff. I figured that Brenna could use the distraction. Turns out, the ghost was upset."
Brenna nodded in agreement. "I'm thinking the person this ghost used to be had a girlfriend who broke up with him and didn't take it well."
"Understatement," Missy said.
"So, when Missy and I were poking around this abandoned beach house, it showed up, threw me through a wall and tried to grab Missy."
"Never go ghost hunting in shorts, Krista."
"And I assume you got rid of it," Krista said.
"I did." Brenna shrugged. "It wasn't that big a deal."
"Other than being thrown through a wall."
"The bruises are fading."
Krista hmm'ed. "And why did you need the distraction?"
"Oh, that's easy," Grace said. "Between the body and Officer Matt, Brenna really needed to take the edge off."
Brenna flushed red. "Grace!"
"Officer Matt?" Krista grabbed Brenna's arm. "Spill, Bren. Who is he?"
"Remember Matt Larson in high school?"
"Tall, thin, hair that needed to be combed, hung around with the geek clique even though he didn't quite fit there, tried dressing like he was in Miami Vice for a semester? That Matt Larson?"
Missy cocked her head. "I thought Kevin dressed like that."
Krista shook her head. "Kevin was trying to be Tubbs. Matt was doing the Don Johnson thing." She waved off the side track. "What about Matt?"
"He pulled me over when I got back in town," Brenna said. "And instead of giving me a ticket because of my tail light, he offered to fix it. And he's filled out nicely since high school."
"See?" Missy said. "All perfectly innocent."
Brenna looked down at the ground. "Yeah, that."
"Okay, Bren, what else have you and Matt done?" Missy asked.
"He asked me to dinner and," Brenna shrugged, "I said yes."
"And?" Brenna repeated, confused.
Krista answered for Missy. "I think she's referring to your, um, issues around men. Especially guys that are extremely attractive for you."
"Did you jump him?" Grace interpreted.
Brenna glared at her sister. "No, I did not 'jump him'. Really, Grace."
"You know what, Bren?" Missy said. "You're getting really good at skipping important details. What happened?"
Krista grinned. "What sort of kiss? A peck on the cheek? Kiss on the lips? Tonsil hockey? Spill!"
"We kissed in his car." Under her friends expectant stares, Brenna relented, "Okay, we made out."
Missy held her right hand up. "High five, Bren!"
"It wasn't anything that special. Was it?"
Krista hugged the tiny brunette. "Honey, we're your friends. We've seen you struggle around guys. This is a breakthrough for you."
Missy joined the hug. "It's about time you went out on a date."
"But it was just dinner," Brenna protested.
"A dinner that didn't involve the police and the fire department with hoses to separate you from Officer Matt," Grace said.
"Bren, do you want to hit your sister, or can I?" Missy asked.
"Grace, shut up," Brenna said. "Maybe we should get going."
"I could try reading the wall, but I'll be watching the murder."
"You knew what was coming."
"I think we have to find this woman."