Home > Trail of Dead (Scarlett Bernard #2)(10)

Trail of Dead (Scarlett Bernard #2)(10)
Author: Melissa F. Olson

“She was dead,” I prompted.

“Yes. The police said she had killed herself,” Kirsten said, with a bitter little emphasis on the word police. “Her body was found in Santa Monica, right up on the damned beach. It even made the Times, though you probably didn’t see it in New York.”

I tried to remember if I had ever heard her swear. “No.”

“Anyway, I was very worried. I tried explaining to the policemen that it couldn’t have been a suicide, but none of them would listen to me. Then last night it was the same thing all over again, with Erin.”

“I don’t mean to be insensitive, but how do you know Denise didn’t just fall? Or, um…jump?”

She was shaking her head. “Denise was hydrophobic. Deeply afraid of the ocean. She told me once that she’d seen that movie Jaws when she was a little girl, and she still couldn’t stand to be over water, much less in it. She would never have been on the pier. And if she were going to kill herself, it wouldn’t be like that.” The coaster in her hands was viciously ripped in half. “I told the policeman that too, for all the good it did me.”

I raised my eyebrows, surprised. “You told the police?” It wasn’t like her to involve the police in Old World affairs.

But Kirsten said, “At the time I was thinking Denise’s death didn’t have anything to do with her being a witch. I thought maybe it was an ordinary murder. If there is such a thing.”

I understood. This was Los Angeles, after all, and young women who are out alone in the middle of the night do disappear for “ordinary” human reasons. “But then Erin died too, and you figured it was an Old World connection,” I surmised. She nodded at her coaster pieces. “Aside from being witches, was there anything that Erin and Denise had in common?”

“Well…neither of them had much ability, I’m afraid. What you would call power.”

I nodded. When I paid attention to my radius, I experienced both Kirsten’s and Eli’s power as two distinctive hits on my null radar: Eli as sort of a low throbbing and Kirsten as a steady buzz that flickered if she flexed her magic. A witch with less power would register as a much lesser buzz. “So you think someone may be killing…what, minor-league witches?”

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.”

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