Chapter 2: I’ll drink to that
Copyright © 2015 by Brian Bixby.
Persephone Désirée Arabia Nightfeather Sanderson. That doesn’t sound like a female cop. That sounds more like the name of one of the “strippers” at last night’s party. All I can say to Rashelle is “What the hell?”
Rashelle chuckles. “That’s what comes up, Harry. I even called Decatur County to confirm.”
“And they were their usual charming selves? You couldn’t have talked to Hamilton, the sheriff. He swears he can tell a black person just by their voice or smell.”
Rashelle doesn’t even sigh. “Got their dispatcher. So I’ve dumped the files to you. And Amelia will be coming out tomorrow by plane. I’ll clue her in as to the wonderful people she’ll be working with.”
“Do that.” If Hamilton insults Amelia for being black, he will be one very sorry sheriff.
“Well, charmed as always. Go beat up a demon for me and close this file.” And Rashelle hangs up.
So I have a new case. And D.C. is sending out Amelia Laveau. Great, this case must kick ass. ’Cause I’m the best demon fighter in the region, but Amelia’s one of the best demon layers in the country. D.C. wouldn’t send her out unless a) it’s important and b) they expect trouble. Helping solve this case could be my ticket out of this place.
I log in to my computer pull the files off my e-mail, and send the bulkier ones to the printer. I go tell Maura that I’ve contacted D.C. and am on a case, grab the printed pages, and sit down in my cube to read. Oh, did I mention my headache is gone?
But there’s something about this case that doesn’t jibe. A moment, and I’ve got it. Where the hell is Farnham? And how can it be in Decatur County? Decatur’s too far south for the Interstate to cut through it.
I call up a map online of Decatur County. Nope, I was wrong. The Interstate nicks Decatur’s northeast corner, and it just so happens there’s an interchange there, and a town to go with it: Farnham. The place is literally in the middle of nowhere. There’s nothing near it on the Interstate, and it’s a long way from any other inhabited part of Decatur County. Hamilton must loathe the place on general principles, as it must be impossible to police without a dedicated officer up there. Guess that’s who this Persephone-whatever must be. Figures Hamilton would maroon a female cop up there.
Nope, that’s not quite right, either. Turns out this female cop has a boss who’s also stationed in Farnham, one Jason MacGregor. MacGregor’s face ornaments the town’s official web site. “P. Sanderson” is listed as his assistant; no picture of her. And they seem to be the town’s only local officials. Everything else is the local Chamber of Commerce, an uninspiring lot, to judge from their pictures. Unincorporated place, I presume.
I turn to the stuff Rashelle sent me. Murder victim is a prostitute, Valeria Angelina “Angel” Martinez. Enclosed photo shows a young Hispanic woman extremely dead, mutilated corpse, probably tortured beforehand. Place was a local motel room where she lived. Estimated time of death about 3 AM. The murderer, according to a credit card, is one John Parazetski. According to P. Sanderson, he was using the name Walter Cramb. He’s 5’11”, Mediterranean complexion, black thinning hair, heavy eyebrows, brown eyes, eyeglasses, thin lips, receding chin. Said appearance does not match any known malefactor with either name, according to the FBI. Parazetski/Cramb is presumed to be a trucker who left Farnham in his rig after the crime, again according to P. Sanderson. She doesn’t explain where she got this info from. I doubt the corpse was talking. If she made it up, I am going to burn her so bad.
I look up at the clock, and realize the morning’s wearing away. Skip the rest of the files for now. I need to get to Farnham today, if I’m going to be on top of the situation when Amelia blows into town tomorrow.
It’s just before 3 PM, and I’m in Farnham. The idea that our misbegotten branch might star in a case D.C. is watching got Maura to spring for a flight, rental car, and expense account.
I am not impressed with Farnham. I’m staying in the same motel where the victim was murdered. In other words, I rate as well as a whore. Either that or there’s no other place to stay in town. And the most impressive thing I’ve seen here so far is the humongous truck stop right by the interchange with the Interstate. Certainly my motel room doesn’t impress. I think this must qualify as an economy motel in the Third World. The furnishings have a 1970s feel to them, cheap, outdated, and bare. And the TV has pay-porn channels. I haven’t checked for WiFi yet, but I’m beginning to wonder if I should have dragged along one of those old Bell modems my father used to use when he was young.
I could use a drink before I meet with the local law. So I say goodbye to my cell away from home and hit the main drag. A quick drive down its entire length reveals two bars, one of which doesn’t look open. So I go to the other, a sports bar “and family restaurant.”
The family must belong to Hugh Hefner, because the waitresses in the bar are dressed to impress men with breast fetishes. Me! Me! Me! Hey, maybe Farnham won’t be so bad, after all. But I head straight to the bar. While it might be fun to engage one of these buxom ladies in conversation (and maybe something else later?), my drink takes priority.
I realize how much I’m giving up when I sit down at the bar. There are two bartenders back there taking to each other. The female one detaches herself from the conversation and comes down to serve me. Unlike the waitresses, this one is conservatively dressed in black slacks and white shirt buttoned up to her neck. She’s got a hard face, looks Hispanic, maybe 30, and she doesn’t look happy.
What’s weird is that she’s also got magical powers, quite a bit, in fact. And has some sort of crude shielding up to protect her thoughts. That’s not uncommon among untrained magicians. They develop it almost unconsciously to keep out other thoughts, and end up protecting their own a bit as well. I’m not going to be seducing this one anytime soon, not that I’m interested, not with the look on that face.
She stands on the other side of the bar facing me. “Whatareyoudrinkin’?” It comes out as one word, with a hint of a drawl. And she’s frowning at me. Although she’s shielded, some of her emotions leak through. This one doesn’t like me already for some reason.
I need this sort of thing like a hole in the head. So I push. “Have anything interesting on tap? You know, something other than Bud?”
She reaches below the bar, slaps something in front of me on the bar. “Beer menu,” she announces. She audibly exhales, as if I’m the last person she wants to see.
I pick it up, look it over, and am pleasantly surprised. It’s actually a better beer list than I can find in any bar at home. Who’d ’a’ thunk it? And I need something serious. I order an unfamiliar barleywine.
The waitress seems unimpressed by my style. “That’s a barleywine, mister. High octane. You don’t guzzle that.”
All I need, lessons from the hostile female bartender. “Look, lady,” I tell her, “I know what I ordered. Some of us have actually been to more sophisticated places than your charming little dump of a town here.”
She shrugs, indifferent, and then almost cracks me up by saying, “There are ghost towns more sophisticated that this place, so that doesn’t give you much bragging rights, mister.” She goes down the bar to the taps, pours my beer, and brings it back to me. It’s in a small glass that a lot of bars use for high-alcohol beers, a practice I deplore. “There you go, Mr. Sophistication. You goin’ to pay, or engage in one of those cosmopolitan practices they use in the big cities and run a tab?”
She doesn’t stop, does she? “Actually, I was thinking of not paying and running out on my tab.”
That causes her to chuckle. “You’d never make the Interstate before Mac nabbed you and threw you in jail.”
Ah, the Jason MacGregor of the town’s website. “Everyone in town as charming as you?”
She thinks about it, apparently an unfamiliar process. “Nope. Some are downright rude.”
Low standards, I guess. “What about MacGregor?”
“He’s OK. If he hits you, you deserve it.”
Lower standards still. “How about his deputy, Persephone, ah . . .”
She supplies the name. “Sanderson.”
“Yeah, you know her, I take it.”
“She as friendly as you?”
The bartender thinks about that one a bit, too. “I guess. But she holds grudges. Don’t ever get on her bad side.”
Quite a promising lot. I wave her off. “Thanks. Go bother the other customers.”
She looks down the empty bar. “Not even any ghosts in this afternoon.” She looks back at me. “Just give me a shout if you want anything else. If you’re still sober enough after you drink that.” And with a sharp laugh, she goes back to talk to the other bartender.
Nuts to her. And to this crappy town. The beer, on the other hand, is just what I want, a lot of texture in its flavor layered on top of a substantial amount of alcohol. I sit back, turn to face the tables, and eye the waitresses. They’re worth eying, between those uplifted breasts almost bursting out of their outfits and the very short skirts that reveal a lot of leg. They’re not particularly busy, so they notice, but I guess they’re used to it. Still, one of them looks like she’s eying me back. Oh, she definitely is. Tall, raven-haired, big breasts even among this lot, and long legs, combined with something of a little girl look. Oh, yeah, she’s definitely eying me. Looks like she’s making up her mind whether to come talk to me. Oh, yes. I’m tempted to give her a little nudge.
And then she backs off as this guy comes in. Big guy, taking long strides, coming right at me. For a moment, I think he’s maybe the husband of the waitress. Then I recognize the face. Another two seconds, and he’s sitting beside me, holding out his hand. “You must be Agent Eberhardt. I’m Jason MacGregor, and I’m the law around here.” We shake hands. I’m prepared to wince when he tries to crush my hand in his huge paws, but to my surprise, he just shakes normally. And I look at him and realize he’s actually shorter than me. Stockier, but shorter.
He glances dubiously at my drink, and then looks across the bar to the female bartender who’s walking towards us. “Do I want what this guy’s having?”
The bartender’s actually smiling for once. She plunks down a glass with some sort of brown ale in it in front of MacGregor and tells him, “Nope, not the way you drink. Here’s a nice Belgian dubbel style, and I’ve carefully calibrated how much there is so the two of you are drinking the same amount of alcohol. That way when you go out back and see who has the biggest dick, neither one of you will have the advantage.”
MacGregor ignores the last part, and takes a sip of the beer, smacks his lips, and then takes a bigger drink. He nods at the bartender with a smile and turns to me. “And so you’ve already met my deputy, Sanderson. She’s the one who found the body.”
I’m confused for a moment, until I hear the bartender say, “Why, we’ve just been having the most marvelous conversation, haven’t we, Mr. Cosmopolitan?” She’s giving me a ridiculously fake smile.
MacGregor’s smile wavers. He knows there’s something wrong. But he doesn’t make an issue of it. He asks the bartender, “So, when are you getting off shift?”
She’s dropped the smile for a neutral expression. “Supposed to be 7, but I told Nick it was a ‘national security case.’ So I can go now. Give me a moment to change, and I should be out before you two boys finish your beers.”
MacGregor nods, and the bartender takes off through a door behind the bar. MacGregor shakes his head and turns to me. “You do something to offend Sanderson?”
I’m tempted to say several things, but this guy is the local law, and he seems to have his ornery deputy figured out. Still, I can’t help saying, “Yeah, like being born, to judge from the way she treated me when I came in.”
That causes McGregor to laugh. “Nah, that’s just the way she treats everyone normally.” And then his face gets all serious and he reaches out and puts a hand on my shoulder. “Go easy on her, Eberhardt. She knew the Angel, and I think it really tore her up to see Angel’s body like that.”
I’m tempted to say that Angel looked pretty torn up in the crime photos, but MacGregor’s not finished speaking. “And the last time one of you magicians from the Secret Service was here on a case, Sanderson took a dislike to her as well. So maybe that’s just spilling over onto you. Though she gets along with D.C. very well.”
Another magician was here before, and I never heard about it? And this guy Jason MacGregor knows about us magicians? And this P. Sanderson knows people in D.C.? “How long ago was that? And what was the name of the magician?”
MacGregor looks up at the ceiling for a moment before replying. “Oh, only a few months ago. And the agent was a pretty sharp lady named Valerie Thompson.”
Forget staying sober. I down the rest of my drink. If Val takes an interest in this case, I’ll never get out of Siberia.