"There's been another murder."Being confined to the house didn't help Brenna's mood any. With Grace becoming a taskmaster, the elder Halliday sister's thoughts turned black. She thought about asking Officer Henderson to tase her sister, then realized that the police officer probably didn't have a sense of humor about such things. Cleaning took up the remainder of the morning, leaving Brenna to fend for herself for lunch. She gave her police protector free access to the kitchen, thinking that he'd be better off trusting his skills than her own if he wanted something outside a vegetarian diet.
"Take a good look at them and tell me if you recognize any of them."
"Arrange for protection for her and her family the next twenty-four hours."
"You're not about to track blood into the house, are you?"
In the afternoon, Brenna set up her tent in the backyard in case any of her cousins wanted to use it. She disappeared into it, enjoying a brief escape from her sister's cleaning madness. As much as she knew why Grace was scrubbing the house from top to bottom, Brenna didn't want to get caught up in the madness. After an hour of hiding, Brenna returned inside. Officer Henderson sat on the couch in the living room with the television turned to a sports channel. Brenna waved to the officer before going up to her room.
Once she was safe in her bedroom, Brenna took out her cell phone and punched in Krista's number. Her friend picked up after the second ring. "Hi, Krista, it's Brenna. I am stuck at home with a crazy sister. Please talk to me? I need to hear normal people."
"What about that cop who took you away this morning? I'm sure you two can do lots of talking together."
"He hasn't said much of anything since we got here this morning."
"Do you really need him to speak, Bren? You were getting warm around all those officers this morning. I didn't know you had a thing for men in uniform."
Brenna felt her cheeks grow warm. "I didn't, either. I blame Matt."
"And you want him there right now to punish him?"
"As fun as that might be, Grace will have issues."
"Grace? Your sister, Grace? The same Grace that dated two guys senior to her at the same time in high school? That Grace?"
"She did what?" Brenna's voice raised. "Gracie couldn't have."
"I don't think anyone let you hear the rumor. It was during our senior year and you were a little excessive in protecting her during her first year in high school."
Brenna's mouth tried to form words. "But . . . two guys? At once?"
"It's possible. You either have to make sure they never meet or that they don't mind sharing. One or the other, though. It's much easier if the guys don't mind sharing, but that's rare at that age unless sex is involved."
"Are you telling me my baby sister was having sex with guys older than her in high school?"
"No, nothing like that, Bren. This is what I learned from Missy during university. Anyway, that was almost ten years ago. If she had two boyfriends now, she'd probably wouldn't have finished top of her class, right? The amount of time she'd need to keep both of them happy wouldn't have left much time for her to study." Krista laughed.
"Want to know what I learned this morning?" Krista asked, changing the subject.
"The dead woman was Fiona Leary, a secretary for a high-priced mediator. No word from the coroner on official cause of death, but with Detectives Kirk and McCoy on the scene, I'm guessing her bones were removed after she died. Her boss's name is Tricia Meadows, and she hasn't been seen since yesterday morning. I believe the police are looking for her, but nothing official. There's going to be a press conference this afternoon, probably too late for the TV stations to do anything with besides film and edit."
"Tricia Meadows, you said? Hang on." Brenna crept out of her room, not wanting to attract her sister's attention. She sat down at her father's computer and signed into it. "Detective McCoy had me look at some photos this morning. He said I identified their main suspect."
"And you want to see if you can find a picture of the missing woman online?"
Brenna opened up her web browser and went to Google. After a few moments, several thumbnails of pictures appeared in response to Brenna's search. The young brunette quickly checked each one, stopping at the sixth. She clicked on the picture, bringing up a larger scale version of it. "That's her! That's who attacked me!"
"You found her photo?"
"Yes! Tricia Meadows is the woman who attacked me last week. She's the one the police are looking for."
"I have to call my boss, Bren, and let him know. Man, this is so cool! I get to scoop the local papers here and television. This has to go on our web updates, at least."
"I'll let you go, then. Good luck, Krista."
"Bye, Bren, and thanks!" Krista disconnected at her end.
Brenna set her phone down. She felt a presence looming behind her. "Hi, Gracie."
"If you have time to play on the computer, you have time to clean." Grace spun Brenna's chair around so she lean down into her sister's face. "We have company coming tonight, remember?"
Brenna kicked the chair backwards, hitting the desk as she tried to get some space from her sister. "I was helping Krista, okay? She found out who tried to kill me last week."
"You're off the phone now."
"God, Grace, give it a rest. The house is clean. It's Aunt Dawn and Uncle Keith coming over, not the President. They're not going to care that the walls don't blind them when the light is on."
"No, Grace," Brenna said, cutting her sister off. "Get a grip already. Go out and spend time with your friends. Or clean their places, I don't know. Just give me a break already. The house is ready for the weekend."
"What about the groceries?"
"Dad has the list. He'll pick it up tonight if he doesn't get distracted by his new girlfriend." Brenna stood up, forcing her sister to take a few steps back. She grabbed Grace's shoulders. "You need a break." Brenna guided her sister to her bedroom. "Get changed, go out, hey, go to the beach and say hi to Missy for me. Soak up some sun while you're at it." She released her sister and backed out of the bedroom. "Just stop cleaning before I borrow the nice officer's stun gun." Brenna closed the door and breathed a sigh of relief.
Returning to her father's computer, Brenna logged out of her account. She returned to her room, wondering what she should be doing. She had a pile of scrap fabric sitting around, too big to toss, too small to be used for a top. At the same time, with her family coming in late tonight, Brenna figured she should take a nap now so she can be somewhat awake when her cousins arrived during the wee hours of the morning. Sloth won out; Brenna set the scraps aside for later in the evening and curled up in her bed.
Tricia watched the evening news. As she expected, the discovery of her secretary's boneless body led the broadcast. The highlights from the police department's press conference tried to be reassuring, something that made Tricia laugh. It was obvious to her that the police had no idea of why the killings were occurring and the press conference was more to keep the general populace assured than anything else. The mention of a suspect ended Tricia's mirth. She paid closer attention to the television. The police spokesman mentioned an eyewitness who helped identify the suspect, now wanted for eight deaths in the San Diego area. Tricia sat back in her chair as she tried to remember each killing. She had been careful, researching her selected victims, striking when they were alone, even taking the bodies elsewhere for the ritual. There were only two exceptions: her secretary, where she performed the ritual in her own office, and the attempt on the medical receptionist, where she ran into the Bladekeeper. The only possible witness was the Bladekeeper herself. According to her new passenger, killing the Bladekeeper was an exercise in futility.
Tricia worked through the different scenarios the police could be using. The most obvious one was getting a warrant to search Tricia's listed residence. Given the evidence the police already had, it wouldn't be difficult to convince a judge to sign the warrant. Would one be at work now and ready to sign, Tricia wondered. She stood up and grabbed her car keys. There was a good possibility of her home being broken into and the skeletons discovered. The belongings inside were replaceable; Tricia kept a backup copy of all her books at her unlisted home. The skeletons, however, were not.
In the garage, Tricia walked past her Lexus, its black sheen covered with sawdust from the forest. She instead went for the other vehicle in her garage, a green Ford Econoline cargo van. She slid open the side door and grabbed two magnetic signs advertising a fictional company, though with a real phone number. It was minimal camouflage, but it should be enough to throw a coordinated pursuit off the trail for long enough. The plates on the Ford belonged to one of her ealiest sacrifices, replacing a set of plates that were registered to a client of hers from '97 in Fresno.
Tricia drove out of her garage, keeping to the speed limit. The cargo van was hard to steer, not as responsive as her Lexus. Despite the problems, Tricia made it back to her neighbourhood. She drove down the street, passing her home, taking note of the cars parked on the street. The cars she had detected earlier had disappeared, but new ones took their place. She turned the Econoline at the next intersection. Again, she let the magic within her out, feeling her body tingle with anticipation. The magic blanketed the road, letting Tricia feel where potential danger laid. The biggest threat was a sedan parked across from her home with a second car a block over, keeping watch on her backyard. She reeled the energy back into her.
Building the arcane energy up in her, Tricia reached out again, targeting the sedan in front of her house. Power seemed to crackle from her finger tips as the magic enveloped the car. Tricia closed her hand into a fist, squeezing. The sedan crumpled in on itself, trapping its occupants. The windshield popped out of its frame; the other windows shatter and crumbled. The investigators tried to escape, but their doors held fast. Tricia kept squeezing her fist until the sedan was half its original size.
Two men ran through her yard to the remains of the car. They tried to pull open a door. One began to run back through the yard. Tricia released the bolt of magic in her hand. It flew true, striking the investigator solidly, slamming him into the side of the house with a sickening crunch. The investigator fell to the ground. His partner ran towards him. Tricia let a wave of arcane energy loose down the street. Car windows shattered. Alarms blared. The remaining investigator looked down the street in time for the wave to hit him, cutting through him.
Tricia backed the van up so she could turn down her street again. She hit the remote for her garage door, then pulled the Econoline inside. Leaving the engine running, she left the van and ran inside. Tricia opened the basement door and called for her skeletal army. One by one, the animated skeletons walked upstairs. Tricia led them out to the garage and opened the Ford's side door. Her personal army entered and squatted down on the floor. Closing the door, Tricia ran around to get back in.
The dark haired woman back the van out of her driveway and tore off, leaving the neighbourhood before anyone could get a look at her. She eased off the accelerator as she hit the freeway. Police cruisers raced by the other way, lights on and sirens blaring. Tricia allowed herself a smile. Sometimes, audacity worked wonders.
"I try to avoid LA completely."
"Oh, Brenna, don't tell me you scare off your potential beaus."
"And you know how Grandma Novotny's girls are, with our special abilities and all."
"Are either of you expecting someone right now?"