Chapter 5: Working conditions
Copyright © 2015 by Brian Bixby
We’re supposed to meet this morning in Amelia’s room for breakfast and a conference. I run into Deecee Young in the hallway on my way to Amelia’s room. She’s looking cheerful, and gives me a smile and a “Hi!”
It’s time this trainee learned how to act professional. So I tell her, “Thanks for running out on the investigation last night. Have a good time being tied up?”
Young stops dead in the hallway and looks puzzled as she asks, “What investigation?”
“You know, trying to find witnesses to the murderer? The reason we went to that strip club in the first place, not for you to go fuck a whore.”
Young’s mouth pops open, and she turns red in the face. “It’s . . . it’s . . . it wasn’t . . .”
“Save it for Amelia,” I cut in. “Better yet, write up the disciplinary report yourself.” And I leave her behind in the hallway. She catches up to me only as we reach Amelia’s door. “Wait,” she pleads. “I can explain.”
I snarl at her. “Tell Amelia. I’m not interested in your little tryst.” And I knock on the door.
Amelia opens the door. She looks annoyed. “Get in, the both of you,” she says. I don’t need to be told twice; I slide past her into the room. I can hear Young saying to Amelia, “Agent Laveau . . .” but Amelia cuts her off by telling her to save it for now and get in.
My satisfaction lasts maybe two seconds. And then I see we’re not alone. Also sitting at the table in Amelia’s room are MacGregor and Sanderson. MacGregor smiles as he stands up to greet me and shake my hand again. Sanderson gives me a hostile smile before giving a genuine one to Young.
We all sit down. Young looks a bit shaken and worried. Amelia is stern. She opens our meeting. “I’ve called you all here to discuss how we’re going to proceed with this investigation. Normally, the Office of Occult Affairs does not include local law enforcement in its investigations when they bear on magical phenomena. That rule is suspended for this case. Everyone in this room shares everything to do with this case with everyone else so long as we are in Farnham. And Sheriff MacGregor and I are in joint command of this investigation for the same duration. You three, Eberhardt, Young, and Sanderson, will accept orders from both of us. Is this understood?”
Young nods. I don’t think it’s a good idea, but I nod. Sanderson gives Amelia an odd smile and nods.
“Good.” Amelia hands over a folder to MacGregor, announcing that it’s the Office’s analysis of the demon and its victims. MacGregor takes it, opens it up, barely looks at it, and hands it over to Sanderson. He then pulls out a similar folder, announces it’s his write-up on the murder here in Farnham, and hands it to me.
“Now that that’s done, let’s get down to how we’re going to tackle this.” Amelia sits down. “Sanderson is the only magician so far who’s been able to raise a victim’s ghost. We’d like to see her do it again, if she can, so we can figure out how she did it and why our necromancers can’t. If she can get any additional information on our killer, all the better. And then I’m going to have Eberhardt and Young interrogate the people who should have seen the demon and its victim together, and see if they can figure out just what the demon did to those people.” She looks at Sanderson. “You are of course welcome to observe and assist, just as we’ll be observing you. Understood?”
Sanderson nods and stands up. “No time like the present. Let’s go over to the morgue, which is in the jail.” She looks around, sees people agree, and heads out the door. Everyone else follows.
But Amelia holds me back until the others have left the room. And then she faces me, anger in her voice. “Harry, disciplining agents on this investigation is my problem. If you’ve got a problem with Young, you report it to me. You do not try to handle it yourself. Understand?”
Try to help, and see what happens? “I was just . . .”
Amelia cuts me off. “Understand?”
Okay, okay. I nod.
A bit of anger drops out of Amelia’s voice. “Do you wish to make some complaint about Agent Young’s performance, Agent Eberhardt?”
I’m in the dog house. I’ll bet Sanderson’s behind this. Best to leave it be. “No, Agent Laveau.”
Amelia’s features soften a little. “Good. Let’s get to work, Harry.”
I’ve dealt with dismembered corpses before. So has Amelia. But I guess Young hasn’t, because she’s looking uncomfortable and standing farther back than the rest of us. MacGregor’s standing with her and saying something privately to her. Who knows? Maybe he’s trying his luck. He’s going to be disappointed.
It’s Sanderson’s show, so she stands on the other side of the corpse from Amelia and me. She pulls a small bag out of her leather jacket pocket and puts it on the table where the corpse is lying. From it she extracts a small bar of silver, a handkerchief, and a small bottle. She wraps the metal bar in the handkerchief, opens the bottle, and douses the handkerchief with what smells like whiskey. Then she closes the bottle. Once that’s done, she holds the wrapped bar in her right hand over the corpse and begins muttering some sort of incantation which I can’t quite hear.
All this is bush league stuff, suitable for a Sunday parlor game among spiritualists, and retarded ones at that. Though I glance at Amelia, and she’s riveted by what Sanderson is doing. So I take a closer look. I can feel some sort of magic building up. And I realize Sanderson’s gloves are off. I can see something vibrating underneath on the back side of her hand. The “night feathers?”
Abruptly Sanderson raises her voice. “I, Persephone Désirée Arabia Nightfeather Sanderson, magician proved by trial and practiced necromancer, do hereby summon the spirit of Valeria Angelina Martinez, slain by measures most foul, to hold converse with me for the sake of the friendship we bore each other in life, and to take vengeance upon those responsible for her death. Spirit, answer my call.”
Hokey, hoka, hokum. Or so I think until a moment later when there is a veritable explosion of magic issuing from Sanderson’s right hand, and almost immediately a young woman appears as a ghost at the head of the table. It doesn’t take more than a moment to see this is “Angel” Martinez, and that she was a fairly good-looking hooker in life. The see-through negligee and absence of anything else underneath helps.
Angel looks around and then down at her corpse. Looking back up at Sanderson, she asks, “I’m still dead, aren’t I?”
“’Fraid so, Angel,” Sanderson replies. “These other people here, they think you were killed by a demon. So they want to know if there was anything unusual about him, or that happened while you were with him.”
Angel snorts and sarcastically asks, “You mean apart from him killing me? That wasn’t bad enough?”
Sanderson nods sympathetically. “Yeah, Angel, I know it’s tough. But we’re looking for clues that this guy wasn’t what he seemed, that there’s something way out of whack with him. Do you remember anything strange about him? How you met him? How he acted? How other people acted around him? How he kept you from defending yourself or calling for help? Even anything weird he did while he was killing you?”
Angel goes over to Sanderson’s side of the table and looks at her corpse. “Well, I don’t remember much about how he killed me. I mean, I was screaming my head off in agony. Just look at me.” She turns to Sanderson, some ghostly tears in her eyes.
Sanderson reaches out and strokes her cheek. “No one heard you, Angel. No one. Donna and Candy were on either side of your room and they were in that night. They heard nothing.”
Angel shakes her head. “I don’t understand.” She glances at her corpse and then looks over toward MacGregor. “Nothing, Mac?”
MacGregor’s no longer engaged with Young. He’s not smiling, for once. “Nope, Angel, nothing. And we don’t have any witnesses who saw you either that night.”
“What?” Angel yells. “Tons of people saw us together. Donna was with me when I met the guy. We were down at Louie’s. Everyone who knew me should remember my being there. And Susie the Sadist even sat down with us at one point.” Angel looks over to Sanderson. “It’s funny though. Susie didn’t stay long even though she had landed her john. That’s not like her. It’s like she got nervous all of a sudden.” She turns to us. “That happened to me, too, come to think of it. I got nervous when I first saw him, like there was something wrong with him. He didn’t look like your average trucker. I didn’t want to get near him. And then I just did, I guess. Does that make any sense?”
Amelia encourages her. “He might have put a spell on you.”
Angel looks down at the floor in front of her and shrugs. In a tiny voice, she says, “Maybe. It’s like I wanted to be with him and was kind of scared about something at the same time. And then when we went back to my room, I couldn’t stop him. I screamed and screamed, but I never tried to stop him at all.” She looks up at us, more tears in her eyes. “Did he do that to me? Or am I just such a loser? Did I want to get myself killed? You read about stuff like that all the time, that people put themselves into stupid positions to get killed. Maybe I was like that.”
Sanderson reaches out and touches her with her right hand again. I hadn’t really thought about it, but Sanderson is touching a ghost, and the ghost feels it. And whether it’s related or not, I can see the feathers on the back of her hand rhythmically rising and falling. Sanderson says to the ghost, “We’ll get the bastard, Angel. We’ll make him pay for hurting you. Okay?”
The ghost doesn’t answer, but just embraces Sanderson instead. She’s shaking and crying, and Sanderson embraces her as well. This goes on for some time, and then Sanderson whispers something in her ear. The ghost nods, and then vanishes.
Sanderson’s wearing a few tears of her own. She takes the handkerchief from her hand where she’s been carrying it this whole time and wipes her eyes. Making a gesture of dismissal, she mutters to MacGregor, “Put the body back, Mac.”
While MacGregor is putting the corpse back in its drawer, Sanderson looks back up at Amelia and me. “That tell you what you need to know?”
Amelia solemnly nods. I see a chance to actually get on Sanderson’s good side, and say to her, “You know, you don’t need to use all that rigmarole to summon the dead. The magic comes completely out of your hand. You don’t need the rest of that nonsense.”
Far from being complimented, Sanderson takes offense and looks angry. Before she can reply, Amelia jumps in. “Forget what Harry just said, Sanderson. He’s right on principles, but not in your case. That’s a warding as well as a summoning, right?”
Sanderson vigorously nods as she puts away her working materials in their bag. “Exactly. I’ve strengthened the wards since the ghost of Abigail Lane warned me I wasn’t protecting myself well enough.”
Now that is an unexpected name to crop up. Abigail’s been dead for the better part of a century, but her ghost keeps turning up now and again at magical crises. Makes me wonder just what Sanderson’s been up to.
Amelia has the same thought. Sanderson goes off to freshen up, and MacGregor goes with her, leaving the three of us in the cold morgue room. Amelia addresses Young. “Sanderson saw Abigail Lane?”
With a certain amount of pride, Young replies, “Twice, even. There was a soul eater loose here. Abigail was advising Seffie, I mean Sanderson, on how to work with Valerie Thompson to destroy it.”
Amelia throws up her hands. “Why couldn’t Val tell me this?” She turns on me. “And Harry, remember: Sanderson is a wild talent. You or I don’t need that rigmarole to work magic, but she does. And maybe it makes her more effective, too. She could raise that ghost, and that’s more than any of our necromancers have done with the other victims.”
“Okay, okay,” I apologize to Amelia, “I’ll treat her accordingly.”
Amelia’s not finished. “And Agent Young?”
“You been providing Sanderson with any disciplined training? Or know if Val has been doing that?”
Young screws up her face. “I’ve been trying, Agent Laveau. But it’s hard to do when we don’t know what she can do. Sometimes I think I learn more from her than she does from me. I watch what she does and try to figure out how to do it myself. It has helped me in my qualifications.”
Amelia contemplates Young for a while before nodding. “Okay, then. You said in your report that there was some sort of booby trap on the trail of this demon at the murder scene?”
Young replies with more confidence, “I think it was trying to stop me from tracing it by having me recreate what it did to the victim. Sort of like following its path without being able to control myself. I think it was meant to kill me.”
Amelia frowns and shakes her head. “I don’t like the sound of that. Let’s go over there and give it another look. And then we’ll track down the two women the victim mentioned and try to figure out what the demon did to them.”
Four of us go back to the motel; MacGregor’s got his usual duties to attend to, so he begs off. Sanderson calls for the keys at the main desk, and we head off down what I’m already thinking of as the whore’s wing.
Sanderson’s fiddling with the keys at the door when I hear another door open behind us. Immediately, I know something is wrong. There’s a sense of demonic energy here. I spin about. There’s a man standing in the doorway. A big guy with unruly brown hair and a mustache. He’s carrying a desk lamp, and its base looks to be very heavy, given the way he’s holding it. Only then do I realize he matches the description Sanderson got from the ghost yesterday. This is our killer, a man possessed by a vicious demon. What the hell is he doing back here in Farnham?
Before I can react, the killer swings the lamp directly at Amelia, and catches her on the side of her head with a horrible thud. She crumples to the floor.
End of chapter five