"This is the second time I've met you because of one of your hunches."Brenna squirmed on the hard chair in Detective McCoy's office. The questions she answered weren't making the homicide detective any less intense. In fact, with each answer, McCoy picked a detail out and asked a new question based on it. It was all Brenna could do to keep the Soul Blade out of the interrogation, and she reasoned that McCoy knew she was hiding something. "Look, Detective, I don't know any of those other people. I don't know where you found them. I don't know how they died."
"The deal cannot be broken, my dear."
"Well, isn't that just ducky."
"And now I know there's a sheep dog among the sheep."
"Then how did you know about Jenna Wilcox? You said you never met her before."
"I didn't. I still don't know who she is."
"Then how did you know where to find her."
"A ghost told me." Brenna closed her eyes as she realized what she said.
"You told me it was a hunch," McCoy accused.
"Which sounds less crazy, a hunch or a ghost telling me? You probably want to send me to a psychiatrist right now."
"Let's pretend that I believe you about the ghost. Okay? Was it Jenna's ghost?"
"No. It was another person."
"Bert. Bertram Stanford."
"And is this Bertram Stanford related to the deceased?
Brenna shook her head. "He died when the building went up."
"He told you this?"
"No, Detective. He didn't tell me anything, other than his name and that something wasn't right in the building."
"Then how do you know he died there?"
"Ghosts are usually tied to the place they died in, especially if the person cared about something or someone in that place or if he or she died violently."
"Let me guess. This Stanford ghost died a violent death."
"I don't know. Probably not. Ghosts who die violently tend to be hostile, dangerous to anyone they can affect."
McCoy stood up and began pacing. "How do you know all this? Was your college thesis about death and afterlife?"
Brenna stared at the battered table in front of her. "No."
"How do you know this?"
"My mother taught me."
"If I talked to your mother, would she confirm what you're saying?"
"If you could, yes." Brenna took a breath. "She died eleven years ago."
"Now do you see why I told you a hunch? At least that doesn't sound insane."
McCoy stopped mid-stride. "And did a ghost tell you that the murderer I'm looking for was the person who attacked you?"
"No. No one did. It just follows."
"Everything I've seen and was told to me so far. You're looking for a serial killer. Bodies are turning up where they shouldn't be, mutilated. Then this woman attacks me out of nowhere."
"Go on. Why do you think the woman wasn't mugging you?"
"In broad daylight in a parking lot without disguising herself? And she didn't even ask for my stuff. She just tried to kill me."
"Because I was there."
McCoy sat down. "You don't think it was personal?"
"No." Brenna leaned forward. "Did any of those people you asked me about ever find any of the other dead bodies?"
McCoy flipped through his notes. "No. None of them were connected." The detective hmm'ed. "And you're saying serial killer because . . .?"
"You found all those people mutilated in the same way."
"How do you know they were mutilated?"
"Because Ms Wilcox was. I saw her, remember? And you're including her in that list."
"I still don't know, though."
Brenna sighed. "I told you everything I know. I answered your questions."
"I know, Brenna, I know. But I can't put down, 'eyewitness followed ghost to body.' No one is going to believe it."
"I think I know how you feel, Detective."
"And then there's the knife the forensics techs found."
"It broke, right?"
McCoy shook his head. "It was cut. The staff metallurgist thinks that cut had to be done with something extremely fine, extremely precise."
"A laser welder is the best he can come up with. At least, those exist. He was reticent to mention what he really thought it was. You know, he acted a lot like you are here."
"Yes. It took some prodding to get him to mention his lightsabre theory." McCoy smiled. "You know, 'Not as clumsy or random as a blaster.'"
"His exact word."
Brenna smiled wanly. "I guess that is far fetched."
"Just like your ghost story."
Brenna's smile disappeared as fast as it had arrived. "Can't your report say that I had a hunch?"
"I like my reports to be accurate, Brenna." McCoy looked at his watch. "I have a family waiting for me. You're free to leave, but I will want to talk to you again."
McCoy led Brenna out of his office and back to the reception desk. Matt sat on one of the plastic benches but got up once he spotted the tiny brunette. Brenna ran over to him. "She can go home," McCoy said. "It was an interesting talk."
Brenna wrapped her arms around Matt's waist. "Sorry to keep you waiting."
"It's okay, Bren." He guided her out of the station and to the parking lot. "I wouldn't blame you if you didn't want to go to dinner tonight." Matt stopped at his car.
"No, it's okay. Unless you don't want to go."
"Are you sure, Bren? You were with McCoy for a long time."
"And now I'm hungry. What time is it?"
Matt checked his watch. "A little before nine."
"Long past my dinner time. But I better call Dad so he doesn't worry."
"Use my phone." Matt passed her his cell. "Should be fully charged."
"Thanks." Brenna quickly dialed her home phone number. After the second ring, her father picked up. "Daddy, it's Brenna."
"Bren, sweetie. Is everything okay?"
"Definitely, Daddy. I'm just about to go out with Matt for a late dinner."
"Okay, dear. Call if you need anything."
In the background behind her father, Brenna heard a woman laughing. "Is that Grace?"
"No, just a friend. See you when you get home."
"Okay. Bye, Daddy." Brenna hung up and returned the phone to Matt. "Well, huh."
Matt pocketed his cell. "Something wrong?"
"No." Brenna stared into space for a moment. "No, nothing's wrong." Returning her attention on Matt, she asked, "Where do you want to eat?"
"I was going to take you out to something fancy, but, right now? I think a Chinese buffet would be better."
"Yeah, it does sound good." Brenna looked down at her skirt. "Aw, crap. I wanted to change."
"Bren, it doesn't matter. You look good."
"Really?" Brenna blushed. "But I had bought a dress and shoes for tonight." She sighed. "And they're in the van."
"You can get the van tomorrow. Your things will still be in it. Tonight, though," Matt paused to open the car door for Brenna, "is a time for you to relax. You need it. It's not good to go through all this stress."
"You're going through it, too." Brenna slipped into Matt's Honda Accord.
"No, I'm just going through paperwork." Matt got in behind the steering wheel and buckled up. "You found the body. You got attacked. I think you're getting the worst of it right now."
Brenna fastened her seat belt. "Maybe."
"One rule for tonight – no talking about work. From now, if you say anything about what happened the past two days or anything about whatever work you do, you have to buy me a drink. And I'll do the same if I do it. Deal?"
Matt drove to Wong's, a small Chinese restaurant in the north end of the city. He opened the door for Brenna, letting her go in first. The restaurant's dim light forced Brenna to stop to give her eyes time to adjust. Matt handled getting a table. The hostess led the couple to a small table along the window, then mentioned the night's specials before leaving Brenna and Matt alone.
A few people were already at the buffet table when Brenna and Matt made their first trip up. As Matt traveled up and down, looking over the available options, Brenna started with fixing her own garden salad. She kept an eye out for the few vegetable dishes available, glancing over at Matt to be sure he was still there. The pills she took earlier were still working, but she didn't know for how much longer. Brenna shoved that concern out of her head. Why worry about the problem now when she could be enjoying a nice dinner with Matt?
Brenna returned to her table. A pot of green tea awaited with two tall glasses of ice water. The young brunette sat down and began eating her salad slowly, giving Matt time to finish gathering his first course. Soon, the young police officer returned, his plate piled with several different selections.
"Is that all you're having?" he asked, seeing Brenna's much smaller amount of food.
Brenna swallowed her bite. "No, no. I'm going back for more."
"Good." Matt stabbed at several piles on his plate, bringing the mix up on his fork and took a bite. "I mean, it's not that you're too thin or anything. I just want to be sure you're enjoying dinner."
"I am." Brenna smiled. "Really, Matt. I can't think of a better way to spend tonight."
"You're not as shy as you used to be."
"Your stutter is gone and you're actually talking to me."
Brenna held a hand over her cheek to hide her blush. "I suppose. I guess I kind of had to get over it, seeing that I travel all over just to go to fairs and shows and such."
"Hey, no work talk, remember?"
"Oh, yeah, right. Sorry."
Matt smiled. "Bren, it's okay."
Brenna sipped at her water to compose herself. "I know. I just don't want to ruin your evening."
"How can my evening be ruined? I'm having dinner with a very attractive woman."
"I'm-- I'm not--"
"A very attractive woman who is easy to fluster." Matt laughed. "Just like high school."
Brenna poked at her salad with her fork. "I suppose," she mumbled. She took a bite of her meal, chewing it slowly. "Matt, do you mind if I ask a question. A personal one?"
"Sure, unless it gets really personal."
"Are you seeing anyone? Right now, I mean?"
"That sort of personal." Matt set down his fork. "No, I'm not. I was, but we broke up a few months ago."
Brenna digested the news. "What happened?"
Matt shrugged. "Jessica couldn't handle my shift work. We tried, but she wanted me to be around and I had to work. And, really, I always wanted to be a cop. So, now, I'm single, but if I get involved with someone, seriously involved, then whoever the next woman is, she had to be comfortable with the idea that I work crazy hours."
"I see." Brenna tried to keep her hopes at bay. "That wasn't Jessica from our class, was it?"
"No. Different Jessica. Blond, not a redhead like ours was." Matt picked up his fork again. "So, what about you? Are you seeing anyone?"
"No one." Brenna shrugged.
"I find that hard to believe."
"I travel around the state at odd hours and work weekends and holidays. You know, crazy hours."
"Wait, Bren, yes there is a problem."
"Daddy's Princess much?"
"I can explain, Daddy."
"Don't you know it's all dangerous for a woman to be alone these days?"