Home > Waking the Witch (Women of the Otherworld #11)(5)

Waking the Witch (Women of the Otherworld #11)(5)
Author: Kelley Armstrong

After some chitchat, I said, “I hear a young woman was murdered here about a week ago. I don’t need to be worried, do I?”

“Not unless you plan to join that cult of wackos up on the hill,” Jacob said.

The server rolled her eyes. “It’s a commune.”

“Same difference.”

“There’s a commune around here?” I asked.

“Cult.”

“Commune,” the server insisted.

I pushed my mug toward her for a refill. “Let me rephrase. There are people engaged in a group living arrangement that doesn’t conform to social norms?”

The server—Lorraine by her name tag—laughed. “That’s a good way of putting it. They aren’t brainwashed cultists waiting for the aliens to come and take them away. Just nice young girls with a different way of living.”

Jacob snorted. “Nice young girls living with one old guy doing who-knows-what.”

“Oh, we know what they’re doing,” Bill said with a snicker.

“So what is that, if not a cult?” Jacob said.

“Heaven,” Bill replied.

Laughter from the few patrons listening in.

“Was the girl who was killed last week from there?”

“Yeah,” Jacob said. “And she seemed like such a nice kid.”

Lorraine glowered. “She was a nice kid. They all are. It’s not Charles Manson up there. Just kids experimenting with a different way of life. I did some of that at their age.”

“I heard there were two other girls killed last fall,” I said. “Were they part of the, uh, group?”

“Ginny and Brandi?” Bill shook his head. “Those girls were into a whole other kind of trouble.”

“Ginny and Brandi were lost souls,” Lorraine said. “Those girls up at Alastair’s place are lost, too, but they’re getting back on track.”

“Alastair? So he’s the—?”

The door banged open. In strode a man of about sixty, rail-thin but walking like a man twice his weight. He wore a uniform and his gaze was fixed on me.

I slid off my stool, hand extended. “Chief Bruyn. I’m—”

“Savannah Levine,” he said with a scowl. “Private investigator.”

Heads whipped my way. Lorraine stepped back fast, distancing herself. Bill scowled at me. Jacob looked confused, like a dog getting a kick after a treat.

“That’s right,” I said. “I left my card at the station. I wanted to let you know I’m here before I started investigating.”

“If you start investigating,” Bruyn said.

Actually, there was nothing he could do to stop me, but I kept my mouth shut.

“Well, you’re off to a hell of a start, Miss Levine, bothering these people.”

“She wasn’t bothering anyone, Chris,” said Jacob. “Just asking about Claire.”

“Oh, was she? Miss Levine? Come with me, please. You and I need to have a talk.”

six

As Bruyn marched me down Main Street, people gawked through windows, some even stepping outside for a better look. I might as well have been in handcuffs—and I was sure, in more than a few recountings of this story, I would be.

Now, as for why the local police chief was involved in an investigation that should have been handled by the county sheriff’s department, Jesse had said the county was officially investigating, but when the local leads went cold, they’d backed off and now the town looked to Bruyn for answers. Or something like that. It’d been a long explanation and I hadn’t paid much attention. All that mattered to me was that Bruyn was the guy I needed to impress. And I was doing a bang-up job of it so far.

When we reached the station, Bruyn ushered me inside.

“Beth?” he said to the receptionist.

Her white head popped up from behind the desk and she smiled.

“Is anyone else here?” he asked.

“No, dear. I mean, sir.”

“Good. I need you to walk up to the grocer and buy some coffee. We’re low on cream, too. Take your time.”

“But—”

He stepped up to the desk, lowering his voice. “We talked about this when I gave you the job, Mom.”

Mom? He was kidding, right? I looked from him to the old woman. Nope. Not kidding.

“There are some things you can’t be a part of,” he said. “We discussed that.”

She shot an anxious glance my way.

“I need you to leave,” Bruyn said. “Can you do that?”

She nodded and scooped up her purse. As she passed, she gave me a look that was almost pitying.

A million stories about small-town cops ran through my mind, images of pistol-whippings and broken fingers. Granted, 99.9 percent of those images came from movies and TV, but still, every now and then I’d hear a story that suggested some of that shit happened in real life.

With a binding spell at the ready, I followed him into his office.

He kicked out a chair. “Sit.”

I did.

He walked to the window, looked out, and nodded as the tiny figure of his mother headed downtown. Then he filled two mugs from the pot on his desk.

“What do you take?”

“Um, black ...”

“Tough girl, huh?”

I braced myself, but when he turned, he was smiling. He handed me the mug and started adding cream and sugar to his own.

“Little young to be a private eye, aren’t you? I’ve got a grandnephew at Everest about your age.”

“I’ve been with my firm for five years.”

“Firm?” He took my card from his pocket. “Cortez-Winterbourne Investigations. Out of Portland.”

I nodded. “We have a staff of four investigators with over thirty years’ experience among them. On this particular case we’re working in conjunction with a Seattle firm. Their lead investigator will be joining me soon. My primary job here is information gathering.”

He nodded, then perched on the edge of his desk. “So who hired you?”

“Claire Kennedy’s mother.”

“I can check that, you know.”

“Please do. The lead investigator is Jesse Aanes, from the Seattle firm I mentioned. Here’s his card.” I passed it over.

He took it. “So Mrs. Kennedy doesn’t think small-town cops are up to the job?”

I struggled to remember the line Lucas always used. “No, she just hoped a private investigator might be able to ... cut corners.” Not exactly what Lucas would say, but I was improvising. “Go where the law can’t.”

“Huh.”

He held my gaze. I probably should have dropped it, acted deferential, but it took everything I had just to hold it, calmly, not challenging.

“Let’s cut the bullshit, Miss Levine. Maybe you talked Mrs. Kennedy into hiring you, but I know who called you first. It was Paula, wasn’t it?”

“Paula?”

His face darkened. “You really think I’m an idiot, don’t you? Small-town cop doesn’t know his elbow from his a**hole. Paula Thompson called you because she doesn’t think I give a shit about what happened to her druggie daughter. She can’t afford to hire a PI, though, so she gets you to hit up Claire Kennedy’s rich parents. Am I right?”

I looked him in the eye. “No.”

He glowered at me and held my gaze. Did Lucas and Paige have to go through this crap every time they spoke to local law enforcement? I was tempted to walk out and dare him to do anything about it. I was even more tempted to practice my new persuasion spell. Memory loss in the recipient was the most common side effect. I could live with that, but there was also the possibility of a three-day power outage for the caster. I’d have to be in serious shit to risk that.

“Look,” I said. “Paula Thompson has nothing to do with me being here, but I can tell that you don’t believe me. So let’s cut to the chase. You think Paula hired me to embarrass you, correct?”

“Correct.”

“To do that, presumably I’d need to solve the case and make an ass out of you.”

His face darkened again, as if he was two seconds from telling me to watch my mouth.

“What if I told you I don’t care who claims the arrest?” I said. “In fact, you’re welcome to it.”

“Exactly how stupid—”

You already asked that. And, trust me, you don’t want an answer. “The collar doesn’t do me any good. All I need is a recommendation from you to my employer, telling them I was instrumental in solving the case.”

He chewed that over, eyes narrowing in speculation now. Either I was naïve or I was desperate to prove myself on this job. Neither actually—a collar meant media attention, which we avoided, but he didn’t know that. Naive or desperate, I could be useful on a case that had obviously stalled.

“I’m not here to take the case away from you,” I said after a minute of silence. “My client wants me to help you find who did it.”

“Oh, I know who did it. I’m just compiling the evidence.”

“Then maybe I can help with that. Like I said, there are things I can do, places I can go. No matter how good a cop you are, you’re still bound by cop rules. Those girls deserve the best and most complete investigation they can get.”

He considered that. Or at least he pretended to. Truth was, he didn’t give a shit about the victims; I could see that in his eyes. But he did care about his job.

“All right,” he said. “But if you interfere in my investigation in any way ...”

He blustered for a few more minutes as I struggled to pay attention.

Finally he ran out of steam and I assured him I’d be a good little PI. “But to do a proper job, I’ll need full access to the files,” I said. “Crime-scene photos. Lab findings. Coroner’s report. Witness interviews. A copy of everything. I’d hate to waste time going over ground you’ve already covered.”

“I’ll give you the lab findings and the coroner’s report. You come back to me with proof that you can handle more and I’ll give you more.”

In other words, he’d dole out tidbits as I fed him my findings. That was fine. This place looked easy enough to break into. I’d get the files myself. So I agreed, and he ran off a copy of the lab and coroner’s findings and, as a bonus, threw in the name of the killer.

“Cody Radu. Ginny Thompson’s boyfriend.”

“But you don’t have enough evidence yet to charge him.”

Bruyn snorted. “No one in this town needs a scrap of evidence to tell us Cody’s guilty.” He cocked his head, then glanced to the window. “And speaking of that son of a bitch, I hear him now.”

He walked to the front door and opened it just as a rusty pickup squealed past, muffler dragging and belching blue smoke, earning a glare from a guy getting out of his silver SUV across the road.

The pickup driver was a weasel-faced guy with hair that hadn’t been washed since Christmas. He slowed to give me a skeevy once-over, mouthing something I was sure wasn’t hello. Then he shot Bruyn the finger, gunned the engine, and roared off.

“Nice guy,” I said.

“Oh, Cody’s a sweetheart. Look at that bastard. Off playing golf, not a care in the world.”

Stereotyping is bad. Living with Lucas and Paige, that’s a lesson that’s been drilled into my head. I can’t say it always penetrated. However hard I tried to imagine the loser in the pickup swinging a nine iron at the country club, it just wasn’t working.

A boom from across the road made me jump, and I looked to see the SUV owner standing at the back of his vehicle, hatch closed, golf bag in hand. He was in his midthirties, clean-shaven, blandly good-looking, dressed in a bright blue golf shirt and pressed trousers. I could see him at the country club. But with Ginny Thompson? No way.

He strolled up the walk to a house—a picture-perfect oversize English cottage, with a swing on the porch, ivy climbing over every surface, and a cat napping in the garden. It was no McMansion, but it was the fanciest place I’d seen in town. Definitely the prettiest thing on Main Street.

The SUV now parked out front was a Lexus, as was the sedan in the drive, both gleaming so brightly I was sure if you opened the doors, you’d still get that new-car smell. An equally new powerboat took up most of the driveway. Behind it, a garage was under construction. Someone definitely wasn’t feeling Columbus’s economic pinch. Taking advantage of it, more like—from the construction, it looked as if they’d moved in recently, snatching up the best house in town.

The door opened to a pretty blond woman holding an infant. The guy bounced up the steps, gave his baby a kiss, put his arm around his wife, and ushered them back inside.

“Makes you want to puke, doesn’t it?” Bruyn said.

I nodded. Domesticity has that effect on me. Then I looked at him.

“That’s Cody Radu?” I said. “Ginny’s boyfriend?”

“Yep.”

Was Bruyn bullshitting me? Sending me on a wild-goose chase after the wrong guy? Easy enough to find out. Ask someone. Just not Bruyn.

AS BRUYN WAS walking me out with my files, I promised to provide him with regular updates.

“Make sure you do or you won’t find this town nearly so cooperative.”

“Yes, sir.”

We were at the door when it opened and in walked the guy whose BMW I’d failed to fix earlier. He frowned at me, then turned to Bruyn.

“Chief Bruyn?”

“That’s right.”

The man flipped out a badge. “Detective Michael Kennedy. Dallas PD. I believe you’re investigating the death of my sister, Claire. I’m here to help.”

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