"Somewhere else not guaranteed."The impromptu barbecue was enjoyed by all, even Gary, who arrived late in the afternoon. Brenna caught Piper watching her and Krista at times, though the younger girl always turned away. To let Grace spend time with her friends and to catch up on old times, Brenna and Krista took over the clean up. As ten o'clock approached, Gary offered to let his daughters' guests stay the evening.
"A ritual to put a man completely at your control."
"Lead, absinthe, and laudanum."
"I've just had too many ups and downs this past week."
Before Brenna retired upstairs for the night, Grace pulled her aside. "Okay, Bren, just what the hell did you do to Piper?" the younger Halliday sister asked once both were in the kitchen.
"Yeah, right, Bren. I saw her glancing at you and Krista all night."
"I didn't do a thing."
Grace parked in front of the kitchen door to prevent her sister from escaping. "And what about Krista?"
"Neither of us did a thing to her, Grace." Brenna sat down on a stool. "Why? Did she say anything?"
"No, but she looks all weirded out, Bren." Grace approached her sister. "Are you sure you didn't do anything to her? What about when I had her ask you about the tongs?"
"She looked weirded out then, too."
Grace picked up an orange from the basket of fruit. She tossed it in the air a few times, getting a feel for its heft. "That's a really nice shirt. I'm sure you can get citrus stains out of it with some effort." She squeezed the orange.
"Are you sure about that, Brenna?" Grace took a step closer. "Dad found some really juicy oranges last time he went for groceries."
"Grace, don't you dare."
Grace took another step, squeezing the orange with menace. "Spill, Brenna. Or I will."
Brenna held up her hands in surrender. "Okay, okay. Piper saw me and Krista on the couch together. I was crashing, so Krista was giving me a hug. That's when Piper walked in."
"Did you tell her that it wasn't what it looked like?"
"I answered her question about the tongs. Why?"
Grace smacked her sister on the arm. "Brenna! You know better than to mess with Piper's head! She has enough problems keeping up with conversations. She can't handle conflicting ideas."
"I should be ashamed. In fact, I should go upstairs to me room and sleep on what I did to her." Brenna tried muffling her giggles.
Grace couldn't keep the stern look on her face. "I'll explain it to her in the morning. You better get upstairs before Krista starts wondering where you are."
Brenna hugged her sister. "Good night, Grace."
Tricia glowered at the Monday morning rain from inside her black Lexus. Sacramento should have been easier for her. The police and, more importantly, the average person wouldn't be on guard against a stalking terror who would leave her victims lying in a heap. But the rain prevented Tricia from getting out and following some of her prospects. Everyone either ran or huddled under whatever shelter that could be found. Following someone would get Tricia noticed and soaked.
The traffic light in front of her turned green. Tricia accelerated her Lexus to keep with the flow of vehicles through the state capital's core. As annoyed as she was with the rain, the stop and go traffic pushed Tricia well into frustration. She made a hard right at the next intersection and kept an eye out for a coffee shop. Spying a Starbuck's at the next corner, Tricia found an empty space to park in. She grabbed her laptop bag then dashed through the rain into the shop.
Once inside, Tricia discovered she hadn't been the only person to use the coffee shop as a haven from the rain. She joined the end of the line to order. The queue moved quickly, the baristas handling even the most difficult order with aplomb. Tricia's turn to order came up; the dark-haired woman asked for a large latte. She took her order and found a free table along the wall.
Tricia took a drink of her beverage, letting it warm her up. Just getting out of the traffic let her calm down enough to start figuring out her plan. She needed to find a sacrifice; there was no way she was going to let this trip go to waste. Ten hours on the road each way for nothing was not in Tricia's plans. Still, after trawling the bars until late last night and the rain-soaked search this morning, prospects were non-existent.
Pushing her frustrations to the back of her mind, Tricia got her laptop out and fired it up. The problem, she reasoned, is being in an unfamiliar city. Tourist areas wouldn't work for what she wanted; anyone there would likely be with someone else or a group. Businesses would notice too soon if someone disappeared. No, what Tricia needed was some place isolated, some place where she could preform her ritual without risk of discovery, some place out of the thrice-damned rain.
Looking at a satellite view of Sacramento, Tricia looked for warehousing, preferably without vehicles in the building's parking lot or a truck being loaded. She soon came to realize the problem with the plan – an abandoned warehouse wouldn't have anyone in it or, if it did, would have squatters. The lack of progress got to Tricia. She flicked the map view aside then drained her latte. When she looked back down at her laptop's screen, she found that she'd brought one of the suburbs into view. An idea occurred to her. All she had to worry about now was timing.
Brenna drove Krista back to Missy's so she could start filing her notes with her boss. Leaving Krista alone, Brenna meandered through the streets of San Diego, trying to keep her oversized van from being in everyone's way. Clouds overhead threatened rain. Brenna grimaced; her mood felt fragile as it was. Rain was just going to make things worse, especially if she returned home. Either she was going to share the house with Grace, which usually wound up with a yelling match at some point, or she'd rattle around her home alone. Neither prospect thrilled Brenna.
On pure whim, Brenna wheeled her Savana around in the middle of the block. If she wanted to be productive, she was going to have to go out of her way and force herself to be useful somewhere. She even had an idea of where to go. The station house Matt worked out of wasn't far, though he wasn't at the forefront of her thoughts. Besides, he was supposed to be back on the late shift, though Brenna could verify that with someone at the station.
Brenna parked her van carefully at the station. Last thing she wanted was a parking ticket; Grace would never let her live it down. She popped a pill, washing it down with a gulp of water, then waited to let it take effect. Satisfied that the Blade's desire for heirs was under control, Brenna got out of the van.
The front reception was busier than Brenna expected. Uniformed officers passed by, giving her pause as she admired how well they fit. She lectured herself silently, reminding herself that she was here for a different reason. Her composure back, Brenna walked up to the main desk. "Hi, is Detective McCoy in?"
"Who may I say is here?"
"Brenna Halliday. He's talked to me before."
"Please have a seat." The receptionist picked up the phone. Brenna sat down on one of the hard plastic seats. She adjusted her gloves and took care that her bare arms didn't touch anything. All she wanted to do was mind her business, though she wished she had brought in some of her sewing with her.
After a ten minute wait, Detective McCoy came out to greet the young brunette. "Sorry, ma'am. Got caught up with something else. You wanted to see me?"
"Yes s--," Brenna caught herself. "Yes, Detective. About those murders."
McCoy cocked an eyebrow. "Best we talk in my office, then." He ushered the young brunette into the back. "You are aware that I can't talk about details about the case."
"I am." Brenna nodded. "But I can still talk to you about it, right?"
"Can't fault that line of thinking." McCoy showed Brenna to his office. "Please, sit. Coffee?" He poured himself a mug from a coffee machine sitting on his filing cabinet. "Beats the mud in the vending machines."
Brenna sat down. "No, thank you."
McCoy smiled. "You know, a polite, pretty girl is a great way to brighten up a day. Your parents must be proud of you."
Brenna shrugged. "I guess."
Sitting down behind his desk, McCoy said, "So, you wanted to see me. What's on your mind?"
"I read the paper over the weekend and saw the details of the last body and started thinking." Brenna took a deep breath. "What if the killings are occult related? I mean, the person was killed and the bones were removed. I'm no expert on murders except for the occasional police show on TV, but that doesn't even come close to normal. Does it?"
"I can tell you this, Ms Halliday; no, no it isn't normal. I've been on the force for seventeen years and haven't seen anything like this. But, occult? Another hunch? Or did a ghost tell you?"
Brenna blushed. "It's a real hunch, sir. I was reading some of my grandmother's old books and the idea hit me."
"Old? As in paperbacks from the Fifties? Or do you mean old, as in each book written in ink by monks laboring in candlelight?"
"Not quite that old. The books are old, but were printed on a press. A few centuries old."
"And your grandmother just happened to have them?"
"They're more like family heirlooms. My aunt in San Francisco has most of them, but Mom had a few that she left to my sister and me."
McCoy took out a notepad and started writing. "So, you were reading and made this leap in logic. Why do you think the murders are occult killings?"
"My grandmother's books mentioned various rituals. It doesn't make that much sense to take the bones as trophies, not all of them. But if they're needed . . ." Brenna let her voice trail off.
"Do you believe in the occult, Ms Halliday?"
"It doesn't matter if you or I believe. If the killer does, then there's the motive."
McCoy hmm'ed. He got up to close his door. "This can't leave this office, understand?"
"I do." Brenna watched as McCoy sat back down. "Whatever 'this' is."
"Good. Since you figured it out on your own, I think it's safe to say that we have looked at the occult angle. The problem our forensics people pointed out is that there were bodies found too soon for the killer to have filleted them to get all the bones out. Unless you have a solution for that."
Brenna shrugged. "Magic?" she suggested, feeling sheepish.
"Now go tell the District Attorney that." McCoy drank his coffee. "Ms Halliday, Brenna, I appreciate your effort. I think that, after five murders, we here at the San Diego Police Department, have exhausted any theory you can come up with. But, do call me if you think of something else."
Brenna started to get up. "Thanks, Detective. Sorry I could be much help."
"I appreciate the effort and the time you took to come in today." McCoy shook Brenna's gloved hand. "Keep in touch."
"Thanks." Brenna smiled. "Oh, do you know when Officer Larson's shift starts? I don't want to wake him if he needs his sleep during the day."
"I'll ask for you and give you a call."
"Thank you, Detective." Brenna showed herself out. When looked out the main door, the rain that had threatened early had started. Grumbling, the young brunette ran out the door and to her van, unlocking it quickly so she could get inside without getting too wet. She sat in the driver's seat, waiting to see if the rain would end as fast as it started. After five minutes, Brenna gave up on waiting.
As much as she hated driving in the rain, Brenna knew she couldn't stay in the police station's parking lot. She started the Savana's engine, then drove home, taking corners slower than necessary. When she arrived at her house, no cars were in the driveway. Brenna parked in it, leaving room for her father's car for when he got home from work. She ran inside. Once she got her shoes off, Brenna wrung out her damp hair, taking it out of the red ribbon tying it back. Alone, Brenna disappeared to her room to finish the contracted projects.
"You did the crime, Bren."
"It's a big step."
"You're a little warm."
"Let me show you our latest blade."