"I'm not going to get hurt!"Brenna felt a shove on her shoulder. She twisted away, pulling her covers over her head. The shove returned, this time on her hip. "Wha'?" she mumbled, turning again, this time on her stomach.
"I saw you having conversations with thin air."
"The Blade is usually passed mother to daughter, and it, well, how can I put it?"
"See you again?"
"Brenna, phone." Grace's voice penetrated through the fog roiling in Brenna's head.
"Message." Brenna tried burrowing her head under her pillow.
"I'm not taking a message." Grace slapped her sister's butt. "Come on, Brenna. Krista's waiting. Get up."
"Okay, okay," Brenna mumbled. She threw back her blankets and tried pushing herself up.
After what seemed much longer than it was, Grace grabbed one of Brenna's arms. "I will pull you out of bed myself, Bren."
"All right, all right." Brenna broke through her cobwebs. "Tell Krista I'm coming."
"Here." Grace held out the handset. "I brought her with me."
Brenna blinked as she tried to focus on the cordless phone. She took the receiver from her sister. "Hello?"
Krista's voice sounded too cheerful for the hour. "Bren, hi! Sorry to wake you up. I just got a call from my editor. I'm being sent up to Sacramento. Apparently there's a copycat up there. Same thing as the bodies found here. I'm going up to get the facts, but, well, you're my best contact for this right now. Brenna, do you think it's a copycat?"
"Hi, Krista. Sorry, what was that? I'm still half asleep."
"Good morning, Brenna. Late night?"
"Kind of." Brenna pushed the remnants of sleep out of her head. "What happened up north?"
"Late last night, police in Sacto released the details of a homicide in a suburb there. With me so far?"
Brenna sat up in her bed. "Yeah. And the body was boneless like the others?"
"You got it. A kid found her mother lying in the kitchen in a pool of blood. The police there jumped on it fast, but there was a leak and us media types are trying to get all the info. What I'm wondering is if this is a copycat like the police up there say, or if this is part of the killings here."
"Let me think a moment, Krista. We're sure that our killer isn't a serial killer, right?"
"Yeah. Serial killers have specific targets. You were thinking more occult than serial."
"Occult, yes. A business woman and a guy on the beach, with me as a miss, so no common element that I can see."
"Add the housewife," Krista suggested.
"Still no connections. How far a drive is it to Sacramento?"
"Google says eight to ten hours, unless traffic is heavy."
"The killer here seems to try hiding her work." Brenna tapped her fingers on her night table. "The poor person I found was in an office where everyone was out on training for the week. She'd only have been found yesterday unless cleaning staff noticed sooner. The housewife was alone?"
"Yeah. Her oldest kid got home from school first and found her."
"Poor girl, finding her mother like that."
"What do you think, Bren?"
"It's going to depend on how the body was found, really, but, yeah, not a copycat. I think the San Diego killer is trying to throw the police off her trail."
"The killing on the beach turned the heat up too much for her?"
"Let's not forget her attack on me."
"Right. So, off she goes to Sacto and kills and fillets someone there, giving her at least three skeletons."
"At least, yes. Probably more, but the police haven't told us."
"Leaving the question of motive. Why the hell is she doing this? This isn't something you do on a whim." Krista paused. "In fact, she's planned it out somewhat."
"I wish I could tell you, Krista. I have no freaking idea."
"I don't suppose you know how long it takes to remove all the bones from a fresh corpse, do you?"
"Ugh." Brenna felt her stomach turn. "No idea and I'd like to keep it that way."
"I'll look it up later." Krista sighed. "I wish I could spend a bit more time here, but work calls. Thanks for the tour Sunday. Call me. No, better, come visit. I've got space."
"I will, Krista."
The friends said their goodbyes and hung up. Brenna fell back in her bed. She laid there, staring at her ceiling, trying to decide if she wanted to go back to sleep or to get up, dressed, and back to work. Thoughts of paying her father back for all the gas money she borrowed made the decision for Brenna. With a groan, she rolled out of bed.
A shower later, Brenna felt more wide awake. She went downstairs, waved to her sister in the living room, and continued to the kitchen. The young brunette grabbed an apple to munch on while she worked on a rough draft for her third design request. The costume began to take form as Brenna added the elements requested. She soon switched over to her sketchbook to continue her work, double checking what she was doing with the original request.
Brenna heard the phone ring but ignored it. Being too far into her work, she hoped Grace would pick the call up. The phone rang again, but not a third time. Brenna went back to her sketching. She wanted to get something ready to email to her customer before the end of the day. Missy appreciated getting everything at once instead of something every few days.
"Brenna, phone!" Grace called from the living room. "It's Summer."
The young brunette set down her pencil and picked up the cordless receiver in the kitchen. "Got it!" Brenna heard her sister hang up her phone. "Summer?"
"Hi, Bren. Sorry for not calling sooner. Work got insanely stupid, then I had to take Rae shopping because she and Mom are having a fight. I am seriously not responsible for what Rae wears to Grace's party Sunday. So, you wanted to talk with me?"
"Yes, about the notes you sent me."
"Were they useful? I tried to condense it and get the highlights."
"Thanks. Summer, one of your notes mentioned a ritual to throw off witches and the inquisition. What does that mean?"
"Let me check." Brenna heard her cousin rifling through papers. "It's something my translator friend found out. Oh my God, Brenna, you have to see him. He's totally hot."
Brenna rolled her eyes. "So, he found it?"
"Did he translate the ritual itself?"
More rifling. "No, Bren. He said it was in a language he didn't recognize."
"Can you bring the book with you when you come down for Grace's graduation? Maybe I can take a stab at it."
"Ah, well, that's going to be a problem."
"Your 'totally hot' friend has the book."
"How did you know?"
Brenna sighed. "Your mom mentioned a missing book when I called Sunday."
"Better get the book back, Summer."
"That's the thing, Bren. In return for doing the translation, my friend wanted to make a copy of it. I don't know how long it's going to take."
"So, your new friend has a book of rituals that may or may not work that he can read?"
"I didn't think of that. Mom's going to kill me."
"Get the book back, Summer. And email me the details of that ritual. I think it was used here."
"Really? That's awesome, Brenna!"
"No, it wasn't." Brenna worked to keep her irritation out of her voice. "It almost erased me."
"Yeah, ouch. That's why I need the details."
"I'll get right on it and email you something before I go to work."
"Thanks, Summer. I really appreciate this."
Tricia woke up far later in the day than she expected. She rolled out of bed to her feet, then combed her hair with her fingers. Before even getting dressed, the woman turned on her laptop to check her calendar. She noted her three o'clock appointment, a meeting with negotiating teams from two oil companies. Tricia glanced at her alarm clock. Shortly before eleven, giving her plenty of time to update the ashen man on their deal, then go out for a power lunch, maybe even call her secretary to get messages.
A quick shower later, Tricia wrapped a robe around her, not bothering to otherwise get dressed. She dried her hair, then entered her guest bedroom. Tricia laid out her tarp and performed the ritual to summon the portal. The smoke-filled rift opened. "Greetings," she said as she bowed at the waist.
The ashen man didn't deign to look at the woman. "About time."
"Ever driven through Los Angeles? I don't recommend it." Tricia straightened up. "I assume you received my latest offering?"
"Adequate?" Tricia arched an eyebrow. "The long term potential from the bitch's death is incalculable. Her daughter found the body. The trauma will just spread from there as families start worrying about their own safety. That entire dead end street will suffer." She snorted. "Adequate isn't the word."
"Her soul didn't feel as substantial as I expected."
"How worldly could a housewife in a suburb be? However, I will make up for her with the next. I have been personally been preparing the last to please even your high standards."
The ashen man glanced over at Tricia. "Indeed?"
Tricia adjusted her robe, opening it to reveal an expanse of cleavage and leg. "As long this is the last. The police are getting close to figuring something out. The housewife should confuse them."
"The police are your concern, not mine."
Several responses came to Tricia's mind, all of them she managed to hold back. "Of course. However, I will be on schedule."
"See that you are." The ashen man waved his arm. The smoky portal shrank, then disappeared.
Gnarly's Boards was busy when Brenna parked outside. She sat in her van as the after school crowd gathered out front. Although she had very little bare skin exposed, mainly her hands and throat, Brenna didn't want to risk unnecessary contact. Still, she needed to get the packages to Missy to be sent off. Steeling herself, Brenna got out of the van. The young brunette threaded through the crowd of teenagers, wondering how she managed to survive being that age and wondering how the youthful crowd managed to be taller than her. Brenna slipped into the store, holding her packages tight against her chest.
Missy waved from the counter. "Hey, stranger!" She turned to her assistant and said something Brenna couldn't hear. The leggy blonde then strode around the counter to meet her friend. "Let me take those."
Brenna let Missy take the two wrapped packages she had, but held on to the file folder underneath them. "Those need to be sent out. Everything is done, unless there's a detail missing." The brunette waved the folder. "This needs to be scanned and emailed to whoever wants the new work. I need to know whether I should continue on to making the pattern or if that's enough for now."
"All right, Bren. I'll make sure that you get some payment for the work already done, too." Missy set the packages on the counter. "Get a chance to talk to Krista before she left?"
"Yeah, this morning. Did she tell you what happened?"
Missy nodded. "Poor woman. Poor kid who found her, really. Papers are calling it a copycat."
"Feels odd to say it, but I hope it is."
"I'm waiting for Summer to email more details to me. I don't want to call it a hunch."
"But that's all you have right now." Missy leaned against the front counter. "Why is this different?"
Brenna looked around, then leaned in closer to her tall friend. "It's different when there are ghosts," she said in a low tone. "They tend to just tell me stuff."
"They found someone to listen to them. Why lie?"
"I suppose." Brenna forced herself to cheer up. "Anyway, not much I can do, not without anything else to work from. Got any plans for tonight?"
"Oh, Bren, sorry. I've got a date."
Missy shrugged. "I'd invite you along, but, well, he's mine and I'm not sharing."
Brenna patted her friend's arm. "It's okay, Missy. You have a life beyond me. I'll figure out something. Maybe get an early night."
"Are you sure, Bren?"
"Positive. Look, I'm fine right now. I even managed to talk with Matt last night with no problems."
"In person or over the phone?"
"In person. I showed him the Blade, warned him about what he's getting into."
"Because, you know, that really is attractive on a woman, the hint of desperation."
"I wasn't desperate. I just told him that I liked him."
"Hey, if it works for you." Missy opened the small drink fridge. "Want something? We just got in a new energy drink."
"Just an iced tea, please. I think I need to cut back on the caffeine."
Missy pulled out a bottle of iced tea for Brenna and an energy drink for herself. "So, what are you going to do tonight?"
Brenna took the iced tea from her friend. "I think I should go talk to Mr. Sanford and see how he's doing. He probably could use someone to listen to him."
"I'd like to, even if it's just for one day, meet some of these people you talk about." Missy opened her bottle. "You make them sound so interesting."
"They are. I should become an historian, collecting all their stories. They've seen so much that just doesn't get mentioned in history class."
"So why don't you?" Missy took a chug of her drink. "Oh, ugh, nasty." She turned to her assistant. "Jared, try this." The blonde thrust the bottle at him.
Jared took a healthy swallow of the energy drink. He shrugged. "Seems okay to me."
"Keep the bottle." Missy returned her attention to Brenna. "Where was I?"
"Gagging on something that tastes awful and asking me why I'm not collecting the stories." Brenna shrugged. "I'm not an historian, though. I don't have a degree, and unless fashion history counts, I never took any related courses when I was in college."
"That shouldn't stop you, Brenna. You don't even have to publish the stories professionally. You have heard of blogs, right?"
"Yes, Missy, I know about lots of them there new-fangled things like automobiles, telephones, and web sites."
Missy wrapped an arm around Brenna's shoulder. "Come with me. I'm going to get you set up." She led Brenna into the office, closing the door behind her. "Sit at the computer."
Brenna did as she was told. "Missy, we don't have to do this now. Don't you have work?"
"Just do what I tell you. Open up Opera."
"Okay, okay." Brenna opened up the browser. "It's open. Missy, what's with all the tabs?"
"Don't touch any of them." Missy walked around to stand behind Brenna. "Okay, this tab's fine. Click on 'Bookmarks', then go into the 'Blogs' folder. See what there is out there?"
Brenna started reading through the sites Missy had bookmarked. "Um, Missy, what's this one labelled called 'Stargate Slash Reviews'?"
"Never you mind. But you get the idea. Anyone can start a blog. As long as you maintain it, people will come by."
"I suppose. But won't I need my own computer for that?"
Missy grinned. "I talked to the guy from the Union-Trib. He knows a place where we can get you a refurbished laptop for about two hundred dollars."
"Two hundred? Missy, I didn't even make that much on my last trip."
"I know, Bren, but I can help out."
Brenna shook her head. "Missy, I don't want to take money from you."
"It's a loan, Brenna. What I can do is set up your blog and combine it with your design site. I'll take the money as a percentage out of what you make from both."
"I don't know, Missy. I don't know how things work on the Internet."
"That's why you have me. Brenna, trust me. I'm looking out for you, okay?"
Brenna's uncertainty leaked into her tone of voice. "Okay. Just tell me when things aren't going so well. I don't want you on the hook for my mistakes." She sighed. "Do you mind if I check my email? Summer should have sent me something by now."
"Sure. You know how to use Opera?"
Brenna studied the browser. "I think I can figure it out." She typed Hotmail's address in the address bar, then entered her password. As she had hoped, Summer's email was waiting in her inbox. Brenna opened the attached document and started reading. As she got deeper into what Summer wrote, she felt her stomach souring. "Um, Missy, can you read this?"
"Sure." Missy leaned over Brenna's shoulder to read the highlighted section. "Oh, crap. Summer's not playing around with you, is she?"
"Probably not. You're reading the same thing I am, right?"
Missy stood up again. "Two rituals, nearly the same. One of them removes evidence of who killed a person."
"Right. We ran into that one on the beach."
"The other one summons a demon. Summer's saying it needs eight people sacrificed?"
"And that a ninth sacrifice frees it."
"Demons don't exist, do they?"
Brenna shrugged. "I don't know, Missy. But if the killer believes it . . . I need to call Detective McCoy."
"The police? Wait, Bren, you're not going to ask him here, are you?"
"He needs to see this."
"I need my customers. Bren, half of the people here are going to disappear at the merest whiff of the police around and never come back."
Brenna swiveled around in Missy's chair. "You're not selling anything illegal here, are you?"
"I'm not stupid, Brenna. However, my clientèle aren't known for their brains. I try to keep drug deals out of here, but I can't stop my customers from buying them elsewhere and coming into my shop."
"Okay, okay, not here. Can I print this out, then?"
"Please. And try the Clam. They have an odd mix of customers this time of day."
Brenna sent Summer's work to Missy's printer. "Thanks, Missy." She looked through her purse for Detective McCoy's business card.
"No problem, Brenna. Good luck. I really hope this helps the cops find this twisted bitch."
"So do I, Missy. Mind if I use your phone?"
"Go ahead. I better go back downstairs and make sure Jared hasn't been overwhelmed yet. The bikini brigade is due soon." Missy slipped out of the office, closing the door behind her.
Brenna waited for the printer to stop, then dialed McCoy's number. The call was answered in the middle of the first ring by a gruff voice. "Hi, Detective McCoy? It's Brenna Halliday again. It's not a bad time, is it?"
"Ms Halliday, no, not a bad time. I don't suppose you want to confess to the murders?"
Brenna's eyes widened. "I-- Detective, no, I couldn't-- I didn't--"
"Relax, Ms Halliday. I was joking. What do you have for me?"
"Oh." Brenna forced her breathing to return to normal. "It's something my cousin was looking up for me. Her mom has most of my grandmother's library and she lives in San Francisco, otherwise I would have done the research myself."
"And what did your cousin find?" McCoy asked, trying to steer Brenna back on track.
"Right! There was this ritual that needed eight sacrifices to summon a demon. I can show it to you, well, the translated version, if you're available."
"Yes, Detective. Nine releases the demon."
"Do you really believe this would work, Ms Halliday?"
"Again, if the killer believes it, does it matter if we don't?"
"Can you come in to the station?"
"I'd prefer not to, Detective." Brenna shifted in her chair. "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."
"I think I understand. I wouldn't want to be here when I explain things to my boss, either." The detective covered his mouthpiece for a moment. "Sorry about that," he said when he returned. "My partner just came in. Where do you want to meet."
"Ever hear of the Perfidious Clam?" Brenna gave driving directions to McCoy. "I can be there in ten minutes."
"Grab a table for us, then. It'll take me longer."
"Each time, there has to be a sacrifice."
"I need something provable, not a magic spell."
"But, I was thinking that maybe the anti-CSI ritual has messed up your foresight."
"Are you going to find this bitch, Bren?"