"A kid found her mother lying in the kitchen in a pool of blood."The afternoon crowd at the Perfidious Clam's was completely unexpected by Brenna. Instead of the myriad of bathing suits revealing as much as legally allowed, the people here wore work clothes; business suits with ties loosed or removed completely, jackets tossed over chairs or into the corner of booths, top buttons undone, sleeves rolled up. Still a young crowd, Brenna noted as the hostess led her to a small booth.
"So, your new friend has a book of rituals that may or may not work that he can read?"
"I don't like the idea of being in some place where I can be locked up when I'm talking about stuff that sounds crazy."
"Her soul didn't feel as substantial as I expected."
Brenna ordered a beer that she nursed while she waited for McCoy to arrive. To keep herself busy, she pulled a small sketchpad and a pencil from her purse and doodled. When the detective arrived, he found the young brunette with half a pint of beer and a small stack of drawings. "I hope I didn't keep you waiting long," he said as he sat down.
"No, not at all, Detective." Brenna started putting away her sketches.
"Do you mind if I take a look at some?"
"Sure, I guess." Brenna pushed the stack over to McCoy. "They're just rough works, really. Ideas I've been playing with."
McCoy went through the stack, pausing at a few. "These are really good. Did you go to an art school?"
"I had to drop out. Unforeseen circumstances." Brenna took a swallow of her beer. "Let me get out my cousin's work."
"Take your time, Ms Halliday." Detective McCoy signalled for a waitress. "I'd like to get a drink myself before we dive into your research."
Brenna dropped the pages on the table. "Oh, okay. Sure."
The waitress stopped by and took McCoy's order of a coffee and a slice of pie. She returned in a few minutes with both. The detective added cream and sugar to the coffee then took a bite of the dessert. "Not bad," he said after he swallowed his mouthful. "Okay, what do you have."
Brenna laid out the pages so that McCoy could read them. "Summer – that's my cousin – had someone at her university translate from a Romanian book my grandmother, my mother's mother, had in her collection. Summer then noticed that two rituals," Brenna pointed at two separate pages, "this one and this one look a lot alike."
"Before you go much further, Ms Halliday, I just want to know what this has to do with the investigation. I need something provable, not a magic spell. I'm a cop, not a wizard."
"Sorry." Brenna took a swig of her beer. "Okay, look here at this one." The brunette pointed at the demon-summoning ritual. "This needs to be done eight times. Each time, there has to be a sacrifice."
"Yes. How many murders have there been so far?"
"I really can't say, Ms Halliday."
"Detective, please." Brenna pleaded with her eyes.
McCoy drained his coffee. "Off the record."
Brenna nodded in agreement. "Off the record."
"There was the one you found, the one on the beach that hit the news, and three more all around the city. One of those was thanks to your suggestion of an occult motive instead of a serial killer. We found what was left of the body last night in an abandoned warehouse. Forensics is still trying to find out who he was, but they think he was the first. My partner is heading to the Zoo right now; there might be another one of ours there."
"So, that would put the total at six?"
"If the body at the Zoo is part of the killings."
"And a seventh in Sacramento."
McCoy shrugged. "Don't know about that one. That's well outside of San Diego's jurisdiction."
"But the killer won't care about that, would she?"
"An occult killing streak by someone who knows what she's doing? Do you realize how difficult that would make my job?"
Brenna shrugged. "She might only have watched CSI and read up on serial killers."
Detective McCoy's cell phone trilled. "I better get this." He fished the device from under his jacket. "McCoy. Yes, Jim, I'm still with her. I'll be right there." He stabbed the End key. "Sorry, Ms Halliday, I have to leave. My partner found a second body. Total of seven bodies here and a missing child case just got solved."
"I'm sorry, Detective."
"Don't be. Thanks for your help, though. We do appreciate it, even if it does sound a little odd."
"Thanks for coming out."
McCoy dropped a ten on the table. "The San Diego Police Department has your drink, too. Just make sure you're sober before you get in your van."
Brenna smiled. "I will. Thanks, Detective." She watched McCoy leave the Clam. Looking back down at the pages, the young brunette drained the remains of her beer. She mulled over the discovery. Eight mutilated bodies. Eight sacrifices. If demons existed, shouldn't she feel something wrong around now? Brenna gathered the papers, then dashed out.
Brenna parked her van in front of her home and ran inside. "Grace?" she called the moment she opened the door. "Grace, are you here?"
Grace emerged from the living room. "What is it, Brenna?"
"Have you seen anything today?"
"I caught up on a couple of soaps. Why?"
"Not that type of seeing. Your other seeing."
"Bren, you're not making any sense at all. What are you talking about?"
"Eight sacrifices, Grace. She's killed eight people to summon a demon."
"I'm going to roll up the newspaper and hit you with it if you don't start making sense." Grace reached for the paper.
Brenna caught her breath. "Summer sent me her research. There's two rituals that I can't make out. I just don't recognize the languages. But, one needs eight souls to summon a demon. I talked to Detective McCoy and there's been seven bodies here. Add the one up north and that's eight. And has Detective Kirk called you yet?"
"If you believe demons exist."
"Yes. But, I was thinking that maybe the anti-CSI ritual has messed up your foresight. Have you seen anything today?"
Grace rolled up the newspaper. "No, I haven't seen anything coming up. Still nothing, remember?"
"I remember. Just checking."
"And what's this about Detective Kirk? Have I met him?"
"Why would he call me?"
"Don't ask me. Maybe he likes fluffy tomboys."
Grace bopped her sister on the head with the paper. "Bad. Bad girl. Besides, how can a tomboy be fluffy?"
"Ow, Grace. Don't hit me."
"Don't call me fluffy."
Brenna took off her shoes. "Is Dad home yet?"
"He called. He's going to be late tonight. Something about helping Amy."
"Oh, okay." Brenna closed the door behind her.
Grace stepped back into the living room. Brenna followed. She flopped down on the couch, stretching out. The young brunette let her head rest as she watched whatever TV show Grace was. During a commercial break, a news preview aired, citing the discovery of two bodies in the San Diego Zoo as its top story. Grace turned to face Brenna. "Are those the two the detectives found?"
"Yeah. McCoy said one was a missing kid."
"Are you going to find this bitch, Bren?"
"I don't know, Gracie. Right now, this could be it for her. No more killing needed, she got what she wanted."
"That's it, then?"
"Until she either realizes that demons don't exist and all her work was for nothing or she actually summons the demon and all hell breaks loose. I'm really hoping the ritual doesn't work."
"And if it does?"
"I don't know." Brenna flipped on to her back. "I'm not the expert, Grace. Mom was teaching you, remember?"
"She taught me about ghosts, not demons." Grace leaned back in the recliner. "We're screwed, aren't we?"
"And Mom will still expect me to fix things."
"You're our only hope, Obi Wan. Hey, are you bringing Matt to my party Sunday?"
"Are you sure you want that?" Brenna smacked her forehead. "Damn it. I still have to get my prescription filled. I ran out of the samples Dr. Womack gave me this morning."
"Give me the prescription. I have to run around in a bit to get stuff for Piper and Yesi. Do you want your usual pharmacy?"
"Yes, please. They'll recognize my name. You shouldn't have any problems."
Grace got up. "Got the prescription handy?"
"In my purse." Brenna sat up. "Want me to get it?"
"Nah, I can get it. Side pocket, as usual?"
Grace walked out of the living room. "Want anything while I'm out? I'm going to grab dinner while I'm gone."
"Can you get me a vegetarian sushi platter? I'm getting tired of salad."
Brenna's purse flew into the living room and landed on her feet. "You better look for the prescription, Bren," Grace called from the front hall.
"Some warning next time?" Brenna recovered her purse and found the slip from her doctor. "Found it."
Grace returned, wearing a light jacket and running shoes. "If Piper or Yesi called, tell them I'm out getting supplies for Sunday."
"Okay." Brenna settled back on the couch. She heard the front door close; a few minutes later, she heard Grace's Volkswagen start up and leave. The young brunette let herself just lie on the couch, ignoring whatever it was blaring from the television. She closed her eyes. "Mom, are you there?"
After a moment, Joni answered, "Yes, Brenna."
"Did you ever have to deal with demons?"
"Other than you and Gracie when you two fought, no. Bren, there's probably no such thing."
"So everyone tells me. What am I supposed to do?"
"Is there anything you haven't done?"
Brenna rolled over on her stomach. "Find the killer. There aren't any lost ghosts. I can't even track them." She looked up at her mother. "It really sucks."
Joni crouched down to her daughter's level. "It does."
"What did you do?"
"The same thing you are – lying around and moping. I was fortunate in that I seldom ran into a road block."
"Figures," Brenna muttered.
"Brenna, I never ran into this situation. I hunted ghosts. I never had to worry about a murderer going around mutilating her victims. All I had to do is make sure the victims didn't exact revenge on the wrong person."
"So what do you suggest I do?"
"Move on. If you've done everything you can, then you no longer have any responsibility. Take the night off and go back to talking to ghosts tomorrow."
"And if there is a demon on the loose, Mom?"
"Deal with it if and when it comes up. No use worrying now. You've done a good job and did what you needed to."
"But what about everyone who died, Mom? I could have stopped her. I had the chance."
"Or you could have been killed, Brenna. Just because you broke her knife doesn't mean that she didn't have another one or even a gun."
"But if I had a chance to look at her--"
Joni interrupted. "She was too fast. Brenna, you fought her off. You saved the life of whoever she was after there. As difficult as you'll find it, you just have to stop worrying about the 'what ifs' and focus on what you need to do. And, right now, you need to be there for your sister, even if Grace won't say anything."
"Okay, Mom, okay." Brenna got up off the couch and started to leave the living room.
"Where are you going, Brenna?"
"Up to my room. I've got a skirt to mend and a dress that needs to be hemmed."
Wednesday morning, Tricia arrived at work around eight o'clock. She strode past her secretary's desk, barely giving the younger woman sitting there an acknowledgement. Tricia shut her door behind her, then sat down at her desk. Her computer sat ready, waiting for her to log in. As she did so, Tricia leaned back in her chair, swiveling to look outside the fifteenth story windows. Below her, traffic crawled along and pedestrians scurried on the sidewalk, everyone rushing and oblivious to their surroundings. The scene brought a smile to Tricia.
A knock came from her office door. Without looking, Tricia said, "Enter."
Tricia's secretary, Fiona, opened the door, a steaming cup in one hand. "Your mocha, Ms Meadows."
"Just put it on the desk."
Fiona entered the office and placed the coffee down beside the keyboard. The young secretary then backed out of the room, keeping an eye on her employer until she shut the door again.
Tricia turned her chair back to her desk. She opened her email. As new messages arrived, she took a sip of her mocha. The dark-haired woman scanned the subject lines, letting the caffeine hit her bloodstream. Two-thirds the way through her new email, she found what she sought. Tricia opened the message and read it; private delivery of a parcel had to be confirmed. The woman checked her calendar and found a time convenient to her. Tricia replied to the email with the proposed date and clicked send.
Brenna put on her new dress and checked herself out in the mirror. She could still see the minor problems she had found on the black dress, but only because she knew where to look. At least the hems were straight, she thought. The lack of sleeves concerned her, though. Object reading didn't need her full concentration; in fact, she had to concentrate to get just what she wanted. Just by brushing up against something, anything, Brenna would get images of people who have handled the object in the past. The ability made it impossible to sleep in most hotels and, especially, motels. It also forced Brenna to buy clothes as new as possible, despite her budget. Sales were always welcomed by her.
A quick check of her closet had Brenna finding a black cardigan. She put it on over the dress to see how it looked. The outfit wasn't the most stylish, but she wouldn't also see any dalliances done with chair she sat in. It had been a while since the last time she was taken by surprise. Even the memory of it was enough to cause Brenna to blush. She counted herself fortunate that Missy was able to drag her out of the theater without too much of a commotion.
Brenna took off the cardigan and the dress. She put on her glasses and checked all the seams one last time, looking for flaws and small tears. Satisfied, she set the dress down on her bed and got dressed, putting on her mended skirt and a light sweater. She then took the outfit to hang it up in her closet, placing her black lace gloves with it.
The phone rang. Brenna heard Grace call for it, so she continued with her own work. She had a shirt of her own to work with on her sewing mannequin. As she took out her thread, she heard her sister calling, "Brenna, phone."
Brenna set the sewing aside, then went into the hall to grab the cordless handset there. "Got it!" she called. "Hello?"
"Hi, Bren! It's Krista."
"Hi, Krista! What's up? How's Sacramento?"
"No idea, Bren. The only places I've seen here are city hall, police headquarters, the morgue, or the cheap motel the paper's paying for. Everyone's talking, but all we're getting is doublespeak and avoided questions."
Brenna grimaced. "So, they're really not saying anything about the body?"
"No. Anything new about the killings down there?"
"Two more bodies were found at the Zoo yesterday."
"I heard about that. Any relation to the other murders?"
"Nothing official, but the two detectives I met at my body went to investigate."
"Geez, Bren, what's the body count up to now, five?"
"Eight. And you remember that mess Summer sent me?"
"I do. What about it?"
Brenna sat down on her bed. "She found a ritual that requires eight sacrifices to summon a demon."
"My editor would not like hearing that. Fits, though, doesn't it?"
"I guess. Look, Krista, I'm not an expert on this."
"You're the closest I have, Bren. Don't sell yourself short. You know far more about this sort of thing than anyone else I know. That includes the tarot card reader with a table in front of the paper's office."
Brenna rolled her eyes. "Some company I'm in."
"I've had him do a reading for me, just to see if he's the real deal or just thinks he is. He's got a knack. Sure, he didn't even get the presidential election right, but he did predict me needing a new tire."
"What did you do?"
"I ran over a broken bottle that shredded the front tire. Fortunately, it was under warranty. So, Bren, I have to make a decision. Do I head back to San Diego or do I stay here and keep investigating or do I go back to Needles with what I've got already?"
"For purely selfish reasons, I vote for coming back here. Besides, seven bodies. You could tie them together for your editor and justify being here."
"I was hoping you'd say that, Bren. I really do miss everyone."
"I miss you, too, Krista."
"I better pack so I can get on the road before four. Traffic through LA is going to be a bitch."
Brenna got up off her bed. "Call me when you get in."
"I will. See you soon, Bren."
"You're with them!"
"I'm not going back in there."
"I can help you move on peacefully."
"Your choice had better be worth the extra time."