"What if the killings are occult related?"The rain started to let up shortly after noon. Tricia's hopes brightened as the sun started to peek through the clouds. The suburb looked promising. There were enough families with just school-aged children to choose from, and the last of the stragglers were just leaving the cul de sac. Tricia calculated that it should give her a couple of hours to go in, perform the sacrifice, and get on the road for Los Angeles.
"Do you believe in the occult, Ms Halliday?"
"If the killer does, then there's the motive."
"Now go tell the District Attorney that."
Seeing one of the last of the children turn the corner to return to school, Tricia got out of her car. Briefcase in hand, she walked down the dead end street, keeping an eye out for potential witnesses. She chose her destination, a cream colored house halfway down the street, close enough to where she parked to make a quick escape if needed but far enough down to keep her hidden. The dark haired woman marched to the front door and rang the bell.
A loud series of thumps came from inside before the door opened. A woman in her thirties, hair disheveled, clothes rumpled, stood at the threshold. "Yes?"
"Good afternoon, ma'am. I hope I haven't caught you at a bad time." Tricia listened for the sounds of pre-schoolers playing or eating.
"I'm a little busy at the moment. Can I help you?"
Hearing just the television at a slightly louder volume than she preferred, Tricia smiled. "I believe I can help you. My name is Lynn Smith, and I've been traveling through your neighborhood selling a new line of knives."
"I'm sorry, Miss Smith. I really don't need new knives right now."
Tricia grimaced. "Are you sure? I could demonstrate and it would give you a five minute break from your day."
After a moment of hesitation, Tricia's target relented. "Sure, come on in and get out of the rain. Did you want anything to drink? I have a bit of coffee left."
"I'm fine." Tricia unlatched her briefcase, opening it just enough to slide her hand in. "Let me show you our latest blade." She pulled out a hunting knife, the replacement for the one the Bladekeeper destroyed. Before her victim could react, Tricia lashed out, the blade cutting through the housewife's throat and artery. Blood sprayed from the wound, covering Tricia's business jacket.
The harried woman staggered back, clutching her throat, trying to keep her lifeblood from escaping. Tricia closed the door, then turned back to her victim. "As you can see, the knife slices through all sorts of meat." She grabbed the woman by the shoulder and picked her up. "Let's go." Tricia pushed the woman into the kitchen.
The last of the woman's strength left her. Her legs collapsed under her. She tried to hold herself up off the floor. Her arm folded in, sending her prone on the floor.
Tricia looked down at the lifeless body. "I hope you're done." She wiped the blood on her knife on to her finger. Kneeling down, the dark-haired woman intoned her ritual, rubbing the woman's blood on to her forehead. After a moment, the blood faded into the dead woman's skin. Satisfied, Tricia retrieved her briefcase from the front hall. She cleaned off her bloody hunting knife before putting it away, then pulled out her skinning blade. Tricia returned to the kitchen. Without bothering to remove the woman's clothes, Tricia started her second ritual. The blade sliced through the woman's shirt and skin, the same pattern as before. The words the dark-haired killer spoke resonated through the dead woman's body. Bones shifted even before the incisions were complete. Tricia stepped back, letting the woman's skeleton the space to escape the shell it had been trapped in. She allowed herself a smile. The two rituals she had discovered were close enough in appearance that combining them was child's play. Having one ritual to both send a soul to a recipient and to remove evidence at the same time freed her from taking great care to avoid leaving evidence.
Tricia looked down at her clothes. Another jacket to replace, but the results were well worth it. She washed the blood off her hands and skinning knife, then grabbed her briefcase. The skeleton started to follow the dark-haired woman out of the kitchen, but a word froze it in place. Tricia dashed upstairs to the bathroom and took a quick shower, getting rid of the blood and gore spattered on her. She rolled her business suit up into a ball and put on a more casual outfit consisting of a tank top and a miniskirt. Returning to the kitchen, she grabbed a spare garbage bag and shoved her blood soaked suit into it. Tricia gave instructions to her latest minion, the left through the front door, waving to the dead woman's body.
Brenna wandered downstairs late in the afternoon. She shook out her hand. The sewing had gone well, with one project already to be sent out. Brenna made a note to drop by Missy's work tomorrow to let her friend handle the shipping. For now, though, the television beckoned. If she was lucky, she could catch the baseball news. The Padres should be back in town soon, and she was curious at how they were doing. She flopped down on the couch and started flipping around the channels.
Annoyed at her TV's lack of pandering, Brenna shut the device off. The room plunged into silence. Laying on the couch, Brenna could hear herself breathe. Not the way way she wanted to spend the day. She flipped over on her side. Maybe a nap would help. At least she'd have a way to pass the time. Brenna adjusted the cushion her head was on, trying to get comfortable.
A car stopped outside. Brenna pushed herself off the couch. She padded on her bare feet over to the window to look. Her sister's car sat beside her van, the convertible roof up to keep the Beetle dry. The Volkswagen's door opened. Grace's long leg stretched out as she got out of the car. The tall blonde trudged to the door.
Brenna dashed to the living room's entrance. As the front door opened, she greeted, "Hi, Gracie."
Grace looked up. "Oh, hi, Bren."
"How was your trip to Los Angeles? Did you find a place?"
"Is Dad home?"
Brenna shook her head. "Not yet."
"Oh." Grace hung up her jacket and took off her shoes. "Did anyone call?"
"Not while I was home. Is something wrong?"
"Nothing. So, yeah, the trip was good. Found a possibility but we have to go back down in August to confirm." Grace slipped past her sister to get into the living room. She sat down in the recliner.
Brenna followed her sister into the room. "What's wrong, Grace."
"Nothing. Just tired."
"Yeah, right. Tell."
"I just have to get some sleep, Brenna," Grace said. "I'll feel better after that."
Brenna pulled her baby sister into a hug. "Are you sure?" She felt Grace's forehead. "You're a little warm."
"I'm fine, Brenna. I'm just going to miss everyone this fall, okay?" Grace ruffled her tinier sister's hair. "Even you."
"I thought you couldn't wait to get out on your own."
Grace slipped out of her sister's hold and fell back into the recliner. "I did. The reality of it isn't the same as what I'd hoped for."
Brenna returned to the couch. "You seriously cannot be afraid of moving out."
"Gracie, you've always been the outgoing one while I hid beside Dad." Brenna stretched out. "You're going."
"Yes, Bren, I'm still going. This is what I wanted." Grace sighed. "Doesn't mean I won't miss it here at home."
"We aren't that far away from Los Angeles. I can make the trip to visit you easily. And you can just as easily drive down here."
"It's not the same, Brenna. I'm not going to be home every weekend. Hell, Bren, the new place will be home. I'll have my own life."
"Isn't that something you've wanted ever since you started at university?"
"You're not getting it, Brenna." Grace twisted on the recliner to face her sister. "It's a big step."
"I know, Gracie. But, really, I know you can do it. You've worked hard to get graduate and I know you're not going to throw it away because you're homesick."
"You're that sure."
"I've had to live with you for twenty-two years. I know once you get your mind set on a goal, you're not going to stop until you've reached it." Brenna smirked. "You're a stubborn bitch."
"What?" Grace sat up a little. "You did not go there."
"You heard me."
"It is on, pansy."
Grace giggled. "Fluff? That one's new." She got up and stalked to the couch. "Fluff, huh?"
Brenna looked up at her looming sister. "Yeah, fluff!" She stuck out her tongue defiantly.
"I'll show you fluff!" Grace pounced, tickling her sister. Brenna shrieked as she tried to block her bigger sister. "You are so getting this."
"Stop!" Brenna couldn't keep Grace from tickling her sides. "Gracie!"
Grace ignored her laughing sister. "Am I still fluff? Am I?"
The front door opened. Brenna called out, "Daddy!" before she cried with laughter.
Gary stepped into the opening to the living room. He took in the scene. "What did Brenna call you this time, Grace?"
Without letting up on her assault, the blond Halliday sister answered, "Fluff, Dad."
"I see. Okay, two more minutes then let your sister up." Gary returned to the front hall.
"Daddy!" Brenna called.
"You did the crime, Bren."
Grace redoubled her efforts. "You heard Dad, Brenna."
Between gasps for breath, Brenna said, "I give up! You're not fluff."
"Damn straight." Grace backed off. She held out a hand to Brenna. "Here."
Brenna accepted the help off the couch. She took a deep breath. "Feel any better?"
"Much," Grace answered. She disappeared to the kitchen.
Brenna followed. Seeing her father, she latched on to him. "Hi, Daddy." She kissed his cheek.
"Hey, Dad," Grace shouted from the kitchen. "Any idea what you want for dinner?"
"Amy's picking me up tonight, so you're going to have to fend for yourselves." Gary kissed Brenna on the forehead. "And you're going to have to let me go, Bren."
Gary picked up his eldest daughter. "Did you want to come with us?"
"No, Daddy." Brenna laid her head on her father's shoulder. "I have to call someone later. You go have fun."
"Positive. I do need to call someone tonight anyway. You go have fun."
"You heard her, Dad." Grace leaned on the door frame at the kitchen entrance. "Have fun with Amy."
Gary set Brenna down. "She should be here soon. You girls can entertain her if I'm not down when she arrives?"
"Of course." Grace walked up behind Brenna. "Go get ready." As her father climbed up the stairs, Grace hugged her older sister.
Brenna didn't resist. "What's this for?"
"For encouraging Dad." Grace gave Brenna an extra squeeze. "For not tagging along."
The doorbell rang. Grace tossed Brenna on the couch, then ran to answer the door. "Hey, Amy! Come in, please."
Brenna scrambled off the couch and fixed her shirt. From the front hall, she heard Amy say, "Hi, Grace. Is your father getting ready?" Brenna hurried to see her father's friend.
"Yeah. He shouldn't be long." Grace started walking to the kitchen. "Want a glass of water or anything?"
Amy, wearing a green dress that showed off both her red hair and her legs, turned to Brenna as she entered the front hall. "Hi, Brenna. I didn't know you were here, too."
"Hi. Yeah, I've been home most of the day. Working. Sewing. On commission." The young brunette forced herself to stop talking.
"Gary mentioned that you design costumes. I'd love to see some of your work when we're both have the time."
"Sure, I guess."
"You wouldn't believe some of the costumes Bren's made," Grace said. "In high school, she was always helping the Drama Club."
Amy beamed. "You were in Drama Club, too, Brenna? I was part of the technical crew, climbing up in the rafters to handle the lights."
Brenna heard her father returning downstairs. She backed into the living room's entrance to give him room to get to Amy. "Here's Daddy now," she said.
"Hi, Amy," Gary said as he reached the bottom of the stairs. "I trust the girls kept you entertained." He leaned in and kissed Amy.
Grace had an amused expression. "We did, Dad."
"We better go," Gary said. "You two don't have to wait up for me."
As Gary led her out, Amy waved to the Halliday girls. "Nice seeing you again."
Once the door closed, Grace said, "I hear some hamburgers in the freezer asking to be made. Want anything?"
"Yes, I want a nap." Brenna retreated to her room.
"Well, I remember Gettysburg."
"Not going to touch it."
"I have to wonder if it's nothing big then why are you yelling at me?"
"I'm not going to get hurt!"