Trail of Dead (Scarlett Bernard #2)(9)


by Melissa F. Olson

She hesitated. “Maybe. It might not be that simple, though. In terms of magical ability, Erin and Denise had something else in common. They both dealt with the future.”

“Fortune-tellers?” I said, unable to keep the skepticism out of my voice.

She held one hand out flat and teetered it from side to side in a “kind of” gesture. “Both women were active in our society”—the witches’ word for their union—”but like many witches, both of them were really only talented with one thing: in this case, predictions. Denise read tarot cards on the Third Street Promenade, a block from the pier. She was very successful at it, but that was all she could do. Erin had even less natural magic. She got…feelings, about the future. But they were very vague.”

“What do you mean, vague?”

Her eyes searched the ceiling above my head, as if she might read off an example. “She worked as a loan officer at a bank, and she would sometimes get a feeling about the people who applied. That they were going to be successful, or that they would fail miserably.”

“Was she right?”

“Always, as far as she knew. But she never knew why or how something was going to happen, just sort of a general sense. I remember another witch, Stella, telling me that Erin had called and told her to keep her kids home from day care that day. Erin had no idea if that meant that the building would explode, or one of the kids would fall off the swing set, or what. She just told Stella not to let the kids go.”

“What happened?”

Kirsten smiled a little. “Stella kept the girls home, and that day there was a pinkeye outbreak. It wouldn’t have been fun, but it wasn’t exactly life threatening, either. You can see how it was sometimes frustrating for Erin.” She sighed. “And now they’re both dead, and I’m just…so…” Her fists clenched over the pile of coaster bits.

Premonitions, suspicious deaths, magical theory…yep, I was way out of my depth. There was an obvious answer here: Jesse wanted to know more about the Old World’s connection to Erin’s death, and Kirsten wanted to figure out who’d killed Erin. It was a match made in heaven—if I could convince Kirsten to participate. “Kirsten, I’m sorry. But I’m not an investigator. Would you be willing to talk to Jesse about all this? Detective Cruz, I mean.”

She looked at me as though I’d just suggested that she mow her lawn naked. “Absolutely not,” she said firmly. “We don’t involve the police, Scarlett.”

“This is different. He already knows about the Old World, and Dashiell already knows about him. Jesse can help you.”

“I’m not concerned with Dashiell and the vampires. Detective Cruz is with the human police. Do you have any idea the things that have happened whenever authorities got involved with witches?”

I suppressed the urge to roll my eyes at that. “Kirsten, come on. We’re talking about LAPD, not the Spanish Inquisition. There are no witch hunts anymore.”

“Do you know how hard we worked, how many of us died, to get it this way?” she countered, her voice rising. “The second you invite an officer of the law into our problems, you’re opening a door that we might not be able to close again.”

I blinked. I would bet every penny in my meager savings account that Kirsten votes for the far left, spends more than $100 on a haircut, and eats sushi at least once a week. This old-fashioned hell-and-brimstone outlook came out of nowhere.

She saw the look on my face and sighed, dropping her current mangled coaster. “I’m sorry. It’s been an awful day.”

“No worries.”

“You don’t know much about me, Scarlett, but I come from many generations of witches. There were witch hunts in Sweden a century before the trials here in Salem, so there’s a certain attitude about the police that has been sort of…ingrained in me, you could say. I know Detective Cruz did good work in helping you find that man who killed the vampires, but I will not bring the police into witch affairs.”

“Look, I promise I understand where you’re coming from,” I said. “But last fall, when I got cornered into working with Jesse, he really proved himself. And he hasn’t shown any interest in persecuting the Old World since then.” This was true. After some initial shock, and excluding this current problem with his crime scene, Jesse seemed to view the Old World the way other people view tigers at the zoo: fascinating, exotic, and interesting to look at from a distance, but you wouldn’t want to go prying and poking into their business. For the last few months, he’d kept a respectful distance from Old World affairs. I very much approved of this attitude.

Kirsten sighed. “Maybe he hasn’t. I’m not so prejudiced as to assume all police detectives are ignorant and hateful. But look at it this way: he still has to follow rules and uphold laws, and you know those very rarely mesh with our need for containment. What happens if the killer is Old World?”

I sat back, thinking it over. It was a fair objection. Jesse believed in law and order. If the search led to a vampire or a werewolf, he might decide to just arrest them and damn the consequences. And there would be consequences.

I had spent less than three hours in this time zone, but I already had myself a classic rock/hard-spot scenario. If I didn’t give Jesse something, he’d go to Dashiell, which could get him killed. On the other hand, if I told him about the witches without Kirsten’s permission, I would probably lose my job—and maybe worse.

Christmas in New York was sounding pretty good right about now.

“Kirsten,” I began again. “Two witches being murdered in a week can’t be a coincidence, can it?”

“No.”

“And there is every possibility that whoever is doing this will kill again.”

“Yes.” She stared morosely at a broken coaster, then picked up one-half and started to bend it again. “I’ve done what I can. I’ve told all my witches about Denise and Erin, and I’ve canceled the Solstice Party.”

That surprised me. I don’t really socialize with the witches, but even I had heard of the Solstice Party. Every year, Kirsten throws a blowout celebration for the witches on the night of the winter solstice, usually December 21. It’s sort of like any other holiday party, as I understand it, but has a lot to do with the significance of the solstice to witchcraft, something I didn’t know much about. Okay, didn’t know anything about.