Megan Thomas: Forensic Sorceress

Megan Thomas works in the office of the District Attorney as a forensic sorceress. Her job is to protect the citizens of the greater metropolitan area of Tulsa from all manner of evil sorcerers and vampires—while also managing her personal life without endangering the people in it.

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Megan Thomas works in the office of the District Attorney as a forensic sorceress. Her job is to tell if magic has been used in the commission of a crime, in order to protect the citizens of the greater metropolitan area of Tulsa from all manner of evil sorcerers and vampires.

After arriving at her childhood home to celebrate Yule with her mother, she must help her high school crush, Police Officer Niall Lake, investigate a murder and track down the person who might be guilty. As a witness in a trial, she must defend herself against accusations of being a witch. She has to explain that being a sorceress is intrinsic to her being, but being a witch is a religion. At first, she doesn’t realize what evil is hiding in a very unusual place, but during the ceremonial excavation of a time capsule, all attendees find out.

All this as she tries to balance her work life with her love life and her mother without endangering them.

CHAPTER 1

Coming home at Yule time is supposed to be fun! At least that’s what people always say, like in all the media that bombards us from the first minute after Samhain until the end of Twelfth Night. I’ve always had a good deal of trouble believing that malarkey, especially when I have to deal with my dear relatives.

Once I turned off of Highway 169 and into Nowata proper, it was just a matter of minutes until I pulled into the driveway. I didn’t have to know how close I was to the house; my old SUV has driven the route so many times I could just close my eyes and take a nap. But if I did that, the old-fashioned brick streets leading up to the house, which I hate, would wake me up about ten feet into the block.

Don’t get me wrong; Nowata is a nice enough town and was actually a great place to grow up. In retrospect, that is. When you were doing the growing up it was a one of the most stiflingly, boring places in existence.

I definitely would not want to come back here to live. The only way would be for a humongous salary, or for a devilishly handsome and wonderful guy. Not that, given my social life over the last couple of years, the latter had any kind of a chance in hell of coming about. But a girl can dream, can’t she?

I had few friends in school. Most people were afraid of me, though they would never have admitted it. Something about being afraid that sweet little Megan might get mad and turn one of them or their little darlings into an obnoxious smelly thing. Some people spend too much time reading the tabloids and watching low budget movies that some of the cable channels churn out on a regular basis.

I banked around the curve and a familiar white two-story house came into sight. It sits at the intersection of two streets and the highway. I couldn’t help smiling when I saw it. My great-grandfather had built the place at the turn of the twentieth century; my grandmother had been born in it, and some years later, so had my mother. I think if Mom had had her wish, I would have been born under that roof, as well. However, my wonderful father intervened, so I had the advantage of coming into the world in a hospital.

Nowata is fairly small, only around ten thousand people. The town got its name because of a drunken sign painter; it was supposed to be called Noweta, which is, I think, Cherokee, and means running water or something like that. The problem was, nobody noticed the mistake on the sign until after the sorcerer they had hired to bless the settlement had done his thing, and that locked in the name that was on the sign. The early settlers couldn’t afford to pay him a second fee to redo it correctly, so the name stayed the same.

I pulled my car up behind my mother’s hybrid. She’s gotten very much into energy efficiency in the last couple of years. She even named the car some sort of Latin moniker that changes every couple of weeks. I’ve given up trying to remember it. Actually, I’ve ridden in her car and kind of like it. When it comes time to get rid of my faithful old Forester, I will definitely consider one.

I grabbed my backpack and overnight bag and headed inside. The blinking red light on the intruder alarm came to life as I stepped though the side door and into the laundry room. It didn’t go off. That didn’t surprise me in the slightest.

“Mom, why are you paying for this alarm when you never set it?”

My mother pushed open the accordion door that led into the kitchen. Mom is tall, nearly five-eight, her grey hair held back with a sixties-style hippie head band.

“So, my daughter the witch has finally decided to come home for the holidays,” she said. There are times I think that my mother is auditioning for the role of a Jewish Mother in a community theatre production of Fiddler on the Roof.

I rolled my eyes; this was a conversation that we had had before, and I was pretty certain that we would have again, many, many times. She does it deliberately. I know that, and I know she knows that I know. Also, it isn’t done out of any sort of malice or intent to hurt. Mom has just gotten it in her head that this is funny and that I expect her to say it.

“Mother, if I’ve told you once, I’ve told you a thousand times, you know good and well I am not a witch; I’m a sorceress. There’s a difference,” I said. “Just remember your daughter is a sorceress!”

“You better be a damn good sorceress,” she said, throwing her arms around me in a tight hug, “with what your education and training cost when you could have gone into something high paying, like law or medicine. You’d think you would have taken after me or your father, rather than your grandmother.”

I chuckled. Grandma had been a very adept sorceress as well as a teacher. She’d written several books on magic that were considered seminal and still used in a lot of university courses. The royalties from one of them had been enough to pay for my education, so Mom and Dad hadn’t had to fork over a dime.

“As for that stupid alarm, it’s been on the fritz all week. I’ve put in two calls to the alarm company, and they solemnly swear that they will have someone out here to look it over after the holidays,” she said. “Yeah, like I figure that’s going to happen before the end of January. Just watch, they’ll try to bill me for the time it’s on the fritz.”

“I’m sure you won’t let that happen.” And she wouldn’t, either. I know my mother all too well. During an ice storm a few years ago she was without power for four days. Once it was back on, she was in touch with the cable company and the newspaper demanding credit for the time that they were unable to supply her services.

I closed my eyes for a moment and let my senses slip into that hazy state where everything looks like it’s wrapped in a light fog and magic works. I could see that the alarm wards that I had laid were still working. Those should be enough until the alarm company showed up. Mom had tried to tell me that it was too much work for me to do something like this, but the very fact that she was having trouble with the normal alarm proved it wasn’t.  Of course, I hadn’t mentioned to Mom that if there was a burglar, the wards I had laid would cause the stereo to go off at full blast, playing “Who Let the Dogs Out.” I figure rock and roll music would be a pretty good crime deterrent.

“So, let me look at you.” She took a step back and let her eyes roam up and down my five foot four form, like a drill sergeant trying to find an imperfection during inspection. I’m surprised she didn’t pull out a pair of white gloves and check behind my ears to see if I had washed there. “Well, it looks like you’ve lost some weight, but knowing the way you forget to eat and don’t cook, I’m hardly surprised. You need to eat a little more; I don’t think the starving waif look is in this year.”

If Mother couldn’t play the Midwestern Jewish Mother part, she wouldn’t be happy. Occasionally, I’ve wondered what she would have been like if we actually were Jewish.

I took off my leather flight jacket and hung it on the coat tree that stands in front of the floor-to-ceiling mural that decorates one wall of the kitchen. This was a gift to my folks after my father’s dozen-year remodeling project on the house was formally completed.  I never cared for it, myself. It’s a little too postmodern for my taste, but it fit the house and my folks and that was all that mattered.

“Megan!”

I didn’t have to turn around to see the stern expression on Mom’s face; I well knew the disapproving look that I was getting. Like most women of her generation, Aline Elaine Yeager Thomas could communicate volumes with just the slightest change of inflection in her voice. And my dear mother was a Jedi Master when it came to that ability. It was a feminine skill that I apparently lacked, perhaps as a tradeoff for my other abilities. A tradeoff that, quite frankly, I’m glad I made, even though I never had a hand in it.

I already knew what the source of the problem was; it was resting in the small of my back, where it had been concealed by my jacket. I reached behind myself, pulled the clip-on holster free from my belt and pushed the snap into place to keep my police issue service revolver in place. Normally, I switch to a small twenty-two that I keep in my backpack when I come home. That had just slipped my mind tonight since I wanted to get out of town and up here as soon as possible. My relatives might drive me up a wall, but it was still the holidays.

“I’ve asked you not to bring that into the house,” said my mother. “You have a perfectly good lock box in the trunk of your car.”

“And I’ve explained to you that, even though I work for the Tulsa County District Attorney’s office, I am a duly deputized officer of the law and, as such, have to carry a firearm with me, on duty or off, and keep it where I can get to it,” I said.

“I just don’t like seeing you with a gun, Megan.”

As a compromise I walked behind the bar, looking up at the Moulin Rouge-type wallpaper that Daddy had thought fit the idea of a bar. I opened one of the drawers and put my gun inside it, making a big production out of locking the drawer and putting the key in my pocket.

The funny thing is, I have stuff in my backpack among my magical supplies that could, theoretically, be a lot more dangerous than a gun. Mom just has a thing about guns, themselves.

“Feel better now?” I asked. Hey, it’s her house; I hadn’t been more than an occasional visitor under this roof since I went off to college.

“Of course. Dear, I’m going to need your help with the angel food cake and getting the turkey ready to barbeque.”

Only my mother would come up with the idea of barbequed turkey for the Yule holidays. I grabbed my overnight bag, which actually had enough clothes for a couple of days, and my backpack and headed for my room.

“Oh, Megan, dear, I hope you brought something extra special to wear,” she said, turning her attention to several bowls that were spread out like a scientist’s lab bench on the kitchen table. There were three cookbooks open, along with a couple of recipe cards, though why she needed any of those was beyond me. She had a photographic memory.

“So, what did you bring?”

Oh, great. I knew it; I had known just as soon as I got in the car that this would happen. My dear mother had long ago decided that her beloved daughter couldn’t find someone for herself, so she was going to play matchmaker. Of course, it wasn’t like this was the first time that had happened, and probably wouldn’t be the last until I was actually standing with someone in front of a minister and saying “I do.”

“Just a skin-tight leather miniskirt, some fishnet stockings and a see through blouse, Mother. Will that do?”

“I’m sure you’ll look lovely in them, dear,” she said, reaching for a bottle of vanilla extract and grabbing a new mixing bowl from the drainer in the sink. I knew good and well she heard; this time she just chose to ignore me.

Is it any wonder that I don’t care that much about coming home for a visit?

✽✽✽

My bedroom was located at the top of the stairs along the south side of the house, with my parent’s bedroom only a few steps away, a single bathroom being the only separation. This made up the entire top floor of the house. This wasn’t the same layout that my great-grandfather had built over a century ago; there had been a lot of changes since he pounded his last nail into place.

Of course, there were some things about the house that he had never known, and neither did either of my parents. And if I had my way about things, Mother would never know about them. In fact, if it hadn’t been for Grandma, I wouldn’t have suspected a thing about my family home.

Grandma had been very explicit when she started teaching me that there were things that it was best that some people not know. Not because they weren’t trustworthy or anything like that; it was just a matter of their own safety.

My room looked the same. No, my mother had not kept it exactly the same as when I moved out. She can be wonderfully strange at times, but that would be just plain weird. No, the furniture was still the same, in the same places, but that was because I’m a little obsessive/compulsive and put it in the most logical place. There were a few things different, but a lot still the same. It did feel good to come back here.

I dropped my bags on the floor next to the double bed that had stood there since I was ten years old. Looking out the window, I could see how the town had grown, not by a lot, but it was still a slightly different view than the one that I had while I was growing up.

For some reason, my eyes went right to the carport under my window. I could see the large black circle where I had tried to mark the house for any passing UFOs. I was seven; that’s an age where a lot of things make perfect sense, that years later you have no clue where the idea came from. It was also the place where one of my few boyfriends had snuck up to serenade me from. My parents heard but didn’t say anything until the next morning, and that had just been to critique his singing. Dad also added that if he were going to do it again, it might be safer if he used the ladder from the tool shed and that it was all right to tell him about the key under the rock.

Needless to say, I was totally embarrassed and said young gentlemen exited my life shortly thereafter, never to return. The last I heard he was running a smoking cessation clinic in New Mexico.

I pushed the memories away, made sure the door and the curtains were closed and turned my attention to other things. Over next to my bed, right in the area under one of the house’s gables (I had always wished there were seven of them after reading the Hawthorne book in school) I pressed a magnetic catch that was hidden by the paneling. There is so much storage capacity in this house that, if the place were ever put on the market, the real estate agent might have an orgasm after finding out about it.

Two doors popped open and I reached inside, the small light bulb coming to life when I touched it. I did a quick inventory. My matched set of deutonic pistols, extra wands, various magical supplies, and several grimoires were all exactly where I left them. Not that I expected to need them, but I always liked to check to make sure nobody had been where they weren’t supposed to be. Before I closed the doors I pulled out a flat manila envelope and checked the seal on it, which was unbroken.

I was just about to head downstairs when I felt something rubbing against my leg. I didn’t have to look to know what had happened. This was one of the reasons for coming home for a visit.

“Hello, Misha,” I said, and reached down to rub under my favorite cat’s chin.

The fact that Misha had been gone for over ten years didn’t matter; sometimes you get lucky and things you love stick around.

# # #

I had just finished sifting the flour for the angel food cake for the fifth time. I may not be that good of a cook, but I had mastered this one recipe. There were no boxed angel food cakes ever served in my mother’s house; every one of them was made from scratch. It doesn’t take all that long and the results can make your mouth water.

That was when the doorbell rang.

“Would you get that, Megan?”

We weren’t expecting guests until the next day, when the holidays officially began. A few people had wandered by to say hello and wish us the best of the holiday, but not that many.  So when the bell rang, I looked at Mother rather suspiciously, knowing what she had planned for me. I wondered if this was part of the set-up.

When you’re in law enforcement, you to tend to look at everything suspiciously, even your own family. But, given my mother and some of my assorted relatives, I don’t think there is anyone in the world who would blame me.

It had started snowing about an hour before sunset. Just a light dusting, but enough to be visible in the air for a while. Knowing Oklahoma weather, most of it would be gone by noon the next day. Either that, or we would end up with a snowstorm. I hadn’t bothered to check either the local TV weather report or online, figuring that no matter what, I had to make the trip.

The doorbell rang again, so I headed for the side door. It’s been years since anyone came knocking on the front door at my parents’ house. The side door is closer to the driveway and to the less traveled street, where visitors could park without having to worry about a semi taking the turn off the highway too quickly and smashing into them,

and that has happened on at least three occasions that I knew about.

Standing outside the door was a man in Nowata Police Department uniform; dark blue trousers, heavy jacket, a thick black belt around his waist with gun, mace and handcuffs. I didn’t remember any parking tickets, and I had never really done anything as a teenager that the cops would have been interested in; honestly, I was actually pretty dull growing up.

“Good evening, is Mrs. Thom, uh, hi, Megan.”

With the porch light at an odd angle, half of his face was in the shadows, but yes, there was something vaguely familiar about him. It hadn’t been that many years since I had gone away to school; of course, even a short time can change some people’s appearance.

“Yes?”

“Okay, gotcha. It’s obvious you don’t recognize me.” He said, a rather infectious grin splitting his face.

“Megan; don’t just stand there,” yelled Mother, standing in the door of the kitchen. “Invite Officer Lake inside and close the door. It does happen to be snowing outside, in case you hadn’t noticed!”

Lake? As in the Lakes who had been friends with our family for as long as I could remember? In fact, according to Grandma, her best friend in school had been a Lake.

I looked at him again, and then it dawned on me.

“Niall?”

“Took you long enough, shorty,” he said as I closed the door behind him.

Niall was my age and we’d shared several classes in high school. Several “friends” had tried to fix us up as we were growing up. I mean, I liked him and he was fun to hang around with. The two of us had not been part of Nowata High School’s “in” group, so you would have thought that the two of us would have suited each other quite well, but there never was a real solid spark. We went out occasionally, but there never was a connection.

Of course, it had been a half dozen years since I had seen him. I will definitely say that he had gotten better looking. Not that he was bad looking before, but his face had a more chiseled look to it. I couldn’t tell much else; the uniform jacket and mandatory Kevlar vest hid any details.

“You’re a day early for Yule dinner. I told you it was at two o’clock on Saturday,” laughed Mother. She had a grin on her face that told me Niall was part of her Yule plans for me.

I arched an eyebrow at the news that Niall would be joining us. This was a bit of information that Mom had forgotten to share with me. She was very good at forgetting to let me know things like that, and then trying to look innocent. She wasn’t that good, at least in so far as I was concerned. Not that I was objecting, other than with any plans she might have for the two of us. I like eye-candy as much as the next girl, and Niall definitely fit that bill.

“I haven’t forgotten, Mrs. Thomas, and I’m looking forward to it,” he said.

“You came by to pay me the ten dollars you owe me?” I asked.

Niall looked at me uncomprehendingly for a moment. Then his face showed the memory.

“Are you talking about that highly illegal bet that we had over the Nowata High School homecoming game during freshman year?”

“Highly illegal my ass; besides, it was your idea back when we were fifteen. I bet you that they would lose and they did; and you never paid up. So pay up!” I said.

“It was a tie, no loss, no bet.”

“No win, I won.” I had ridden him about that from our freshman year through high school graduation. Out of the corner of my eye I could see the wide grin on Mom’s face, listening to the two of us.

“I came by for another reason. As much as I would have liked to make this a social call, it’s not,” he turned to her and said, “I need to talk to Megan and it can’t wait.”

Mom’s grin lasted only a few seconds more. I suspect she had the same thought I did.

“Since the statute of limitations would have long since expired on any outstanding wants or warrants from my youth, I’m guessing that this is a professional call,” I said.

“Give the lady a gold star,” he said.

I motioned him over toward the fireplace that dominated the central part of the great room. It was a black and silver thing that was considered futuristic-looking when it had been designed in the 70’s; now it was just called retro.

“So what’s the problem?”

“Are you still working for the Tulsa County District Attorney’s office as a Forensic Sorceress Investigator?”

“Yeah,” I nodded. I actually was a journeyman sorceress. I didn’t have all that much experience, just a couple of years. “Don’t forget, this isn’t Tulsa Country, it’s Nowata County by several miles, with Rogers County in between.”

He grinned, considering that at one time another friend and Niall had gotten thoroughly lost and thought they were safely across the county line when they found out that the county line was thirty feet south of where they thought they were.

“I never have liked dealing with murders.”

Murder, I sighed. Happy holidays, everyone.

CHAPTER 2

“Would you just tell me where we’re going?” asked Niall.

I would have been happy to; I just didn’t know. It was all up to my little guide charm. I remember the first time Grandma taught me how to do it. I ended up tracking the neighbor’s dog, Brownie, for two hours.

“Basically, it’s a matter of like finding like,” I said. “There’s some fancy name for this in the textbooks. This little thread of duct tape wants to be back with the big gray roll that it was originally a part of, so I’m going to help it do just that.

“If I’ve charged this charm correctly, and I have every reason to believe I did, then it will take us to wherever the rest of the duct tape roll that this thread came off of is. Not necessarily to the killer, but maybe where he keeps his supplies.”

“So, even if he, and I’m assuming that it is a man, isn’t there, we might be able to get an idea of just who this maniac is,” said Niall.

It looked like Niall was still as sharp as he had been when we were growing up.

We cruised up and down the streets of Nowata for almost a half an hour before I got a reaction from my charm. In fact, I was beginning to think that I had messed something up, which is entirely possible. Magic is half art, half science and a lot of luck thrown in for good measure.

Then I felt the string start to pull to the left. I didn’t notice it at first; then, as we drove past the old city hall and headed into one of the newer built-up residential areas, I felt something. It was a tiny pull, then a tug on the string the same way my cat likes to get hold of one end of a toy mouse and slowly start to knock it around the room.

“I think we’ve found it,” I said, as the car cruised toward a house lit up with Christmas yard inflatables, the steady whir of their motors cutting through the night.

The pull was not hard, just steady, and now pointing in the direction of a single house. When I had been growing up, there hadn’t been much out this way except for a few farmers and a couple of milking operations. Now there were a dozen houses and signs of at least that many more in the planning stages. At least, they were before the economy went in the dumpster. I suspect some of them were “delayed,” which is contractor talk for “We haven’t got enough money to finish this and no schmuck on the line who is willing to pay for it, either.”

There were lights on in several of the houses, including the one that my little charm seemed so determined was where we would find the rest of the tape roll that it had come from. Thing was, as I had said, this was not a guarantee that the killer was here. I had come up with several scenarios that could play out, everything from ‘the tape had been taken home by a worker who had no idea that a killing had happened,’ to the perp being there and confessing when confronted by the law. Not that I expected the latter to happen; it was too Law and Order-ish. In the four years since I took my degree at University, I’ve seen exactly one confession come about like that, and later on the defense attorney had gotten it thrown out on the grounds of mental instability.

The house was a ranch style, heavily decorated for the season. Besides the inflatable items on the lawn, there were lights around the porch and a two-tiered wreath on the front door.

I dropped the charm into my jacket pocket; I could feel it tugging even then. Niall took a deep breath, smiled at me and knocked on the door.

“Ready?” he asked.

“Let’s rock and roll,” I said.

A woman in a turtleneck and jeans answered the door. I guessed her to be in her mid to late thirties, with strawberry blonde hair cut in what I thought was a really unflattering style. But I’m no fashionista, so that’s not saying much.

“Yes, can I help you?” she said, her voice going slightly tense when she saw Niall’s uniform. I’ve seen that reaction before. People love knowing the cops are around, somewhere out there in the distance, but when they find themselves face to face with one they go all stiff, wondering what they’ve done.

“Good evening, ma’am. I’m Officer Niall Lake of the Nowata Police Department. Are you the homeowner?”

“I’m Gail Willis; my husband, Randy, and I own this place.”

“I’m sorry to disturb you, but we’re requesting your assistance in an investigation?”

“What do you mean?” she said slowly, her eyes darting back and forth between the two of us.

I pulled my credentials out and held them up in the light for her to see. “I’m Journeyman Sorceress Megan Thomas. I work for the Tulsa County District Attorney’s Office. I’m on temporary assignment with the Nowata Police Department.”

“A sorceress?” The woman practically spit out those two words, then turned her head toward Niall, refusing to even look at me. “What is this about?”

Owww! I could taste the venom in her words. Magic had been a part of America for more than four hundred years. It had been a lot longer than that, if you counted Native American shamans, but there were still people who were convinced that anyone who had the Gift was an agent of the devil and even talking to one was risking their souls. There had been Klan witch burnings as recently as the mid-1980s, and don’t even get me started on the TV preachers!

“Inspector Thomas is assisting us in the investigation of a murder. I’m hoping that you will cooperate with the investigation.” Niall said.

“I don’t know what this is about,” she said. “I’ll be glad to help, but you get that woman off of my property. I’ll not have her kind anywhere near my family. And I certainly don’t want her practicing any of her hocus pocus around me.”

Niall’s face went very still, very unemotional. I remembered times like this when we were growing up. I think the easiest description would be ‘global thermonuclear war’, and expect few, if any, survivors.

“Mrs. Willis,” he said, slowly. “Inspector Thomas is a duly authorized law enforcement official. Her methods are legal and have been upheld by the Supreme Court. So you now have two choices and two choices only. You can cooperate, or I will place you under arrest for interfering with a police investigation. I can get a search warrant out here in maybe twenty minutes, but that will mean waking up Judge Garton, and he will not be in a good mood, especially when he finds out you are interfering in a murder investigation.”

I’ve always known that words had power; that’s a given in my profession. But you don’t have to have the Gift to make them have power. Look at orators like Churchill, Kennedy and Reagan. The words ‘murder investigation’ had power, even to a prejudiced person like Gail Willis.

The house itself seemed letter perfect. Everything was in its proper place and there wasn’t even a single speck of dust to be seen anywhere. Why did I suddenly envision Gail, here, as being more than a bit obsessive compulsive when it came to her house? Not that I blame her. Every few months I get that way about my place, usually when there’s someone coming over. Except for Jordan, my best friend. Her, I don’t clean for.

Normally, I could keep the charm in my pocket, just hold it in my fist, and get all the results I needed. But in this case, I decided to make a show out of it for the benefit of the homeowner. Actually, I just liked seeing her face turn red and have her start mumbling Bible verses every time she looked at me. Yes, it’s petty, but there are just times when petty is what is called for!

I really expected the charm to lead me to the garage, where most people keep their household tools. Either that, or they’re crammed into a drawer in the kitchen. That’s where I keep my duct tape and other assorted tools that I really need to learn how to use some day.

No, this time it was pointing us toward the den. That seemed a little out of character, given the look of the place, since I would not have expected to find tools of any kind there. But that’s where things were pointing.

“What are you looking for?” demanded Gail, again talking to Niall and not to me.

“Duct tape,” Niall said without offering any explanation. I must say, I always did like his style, and it had definitely improved in the last few years.

“All the tools are in the garage!” she protested, even pointing toward that part of the house as if neither of us was smart enough to find it on our own.

The charm began to whirl around as I approached the very large entertainment center that dominated one wall. I could see a jungle of cables that trailed off the television, DVR, DVD and CD player. I could remember back when there was just one line leading from the TV to the cable outlet. Does that date me? Oh, well, the price of progress.

There in the shadows behind the entertainment center, in a space that I figured you had to be a contortionist to get into, I saw light reflecting off of something.  Holding the charm in my left hand, I took Niall’s flashlight and pointed it down toward the floor. There was a roll of duct tape, a pair of pliers and several patch cords.

I looked at the front of the CD speakers. They were slightly out of line, leaving marks on the pristine wood of the cabinet. A section of the rather extensive DVD collection seemed to have been shoved back into place hurriedly as well. That said volumes. I motioned to Niall and he saw the same thing as I did.

“So where is your husband, Mrs. Willis?” I asked.

She ignored me again, staring holes through me. It was something that I had seen before and knew full well that I would see again. These sorts of people are everywhere. I had learned that the first time someone had seen me doing magic, even though I wasn’t more than ten years old at the time.

I pointed the light down toward all the wires and looked closer. One of them, a six foot silver one, looked odd to me. I reached down and pulled it toward me. The end of it was covered in something sticky, blood.

There were several candles spread around the room: cinnamon, bayberry and some other scent that I couldn’t identify. True, they fit in with the other decorations and with the season, but there might just be another reason for them.

I pocketed the charm; it had served its purpose. I could take it apart later when I had some time.  I walked over to one of windows on the back wall. Even in the dark I could see the swing set and slide that dominated the backyard.

“Are your children at home?” I asked.

“No, they’re at my sister’s house in Bartlesville,” she said. The fact that she was actually speaking directly to me seemed to be a sign of progress. I had a feeling that it might be progress in the wrong direction.

That was a good sign; these sorts of scenes never play out well, especially if there are kids thrown into the mixture. I’d been involved in more of them than I wanted to remember, and none of them had ended very well.

The problems that I was thinking about were all legal. My charm was considered to be probable cause and work as a search warrant. Anything else was going to need more solid evidence; otherwise, the whole thing was going to get tossed out of the first court it ended up in. That would also mean a chewing out from my boss for not following procedure.

“And your husband? You said his name was Randy?” asked Niall.

“Yes, Randall Anthony Willis. We moved here a few months ago when his company transferred us in from Providence. I have to admit that I was not crazy about moving out here to the wilds of Oklahoma, but it’s turned out to be a very nice place to live. I’m glad that we’re able to raise our children here,” she said.

Her eyes were darting back and forth. I noticed she had backed up toward the far end of the grey couch. If there wasn’t something there, she saw it as a place of safety.

“Rhode Island,” said Niall. “I have some relatives who live in the area; some of my ancestors are buried in the Longview cemetery.”

Gail smiled. “Yes, I know the place.”

I stepped back toward her. “So where did you say Randy was? He must have left suddenly; his briefcase is sitting over near your dining room table.”

“He didn’t need it.”

I noticed that her large leather purse was sitting open on the floor near a small recliner; there was a matching but larger one nearby. His and hers furniture; it was straight out of Archie Bunker and All in the Family. Somehow, those two chairs seemed to fit this whole scene in front of me.

“I think he probably would have taken it, if he’d had a choice.” I said.

That seemed to be enough to do what I was hoping it would do.

“You satanic bitch!” she screamed, grabbing something from inside of her purse. I stepped back before I even saw what it was, a very big knife. In retrospect, it probably looked bigger than it actually was, but I defy anyone to have an angry person charge at you with a sharp pointy instrument in their hand and not have it look like it’s eleven feet long.

Niall screamed something and charged at her; unfortunately, the rather ornate coffee table was between them and he tripped and fell forward. I learned a long time ago, back in junior high school, that sometimes the best way to stop a dangerous situation was to charge right into the middle of it. Sounds crazy, but I’ve had self-defense teachers say to either do that or to run away as fast as you can. Since we were inside a house, I didn’t think I had the latter choice.

I don’t think that Gail expected that, which was exactly what I was hoping would be her reaction. I grabbed at her arm, well away from the knife, twisted hard and then did a move I hope my martial arts sensei would approve of. I used her weight against her and threw Gail hard down on the floor.

Then I applied a good swift kick to her crotch. Trust me, a woman can hurt down there just like a guy can.  I grabbed her arm and started pounding it on the floor until the knife dropped out of her fingers. She was moaning, but those sounds were mixed in with curses, mainly aimed at me. I leaned close and whispered into her ear; the color drained out of her face and she went totally still.

✽✽✽

The snow had gotten heavier in the last few hours; it had already begun to accumulate in places.

Niall pulled up behind my car. I could see that there was still a light on upstairs in my mother’s bedroom. I suddenly felt like I was back in high school and coming home late from one of my few dates. Go figure.

“You certainly know how to show a girl a good time,” I told him.

“My pleasure, Shorty,” he said.

“Hey, I thought we agreed that there wouldn’t be any more comments about my height years ago.” I’m five four, and I hate stiletto heels, but I will wear them if the situation calls for it; thankfully, that situation has yet to occur.

“So who was being rude?” Niall said. “Listen, there’s one thing I do want to ask you before you go in.”

I arched an eyebrow a. “Look, I’m exhausted and I have one hell of a headache. If you’re going to proposition me, you have shitty timing. Besides, if you are, you should have done it before we got here to the house, not that it would have gotten you anywhere. If you wait until after Yule dinner, then I’m not promising what my answer might or might not be.”

Niall laughed; it was good to hear that sound after the last couple of hours. “I’ll take that under advisement. Especially since, while you’re in there going to bed, I have to go back to the station and fill out the rest of the paperwork.”

He would have to mention paperwork; I would have to fill out my share of it when I got back to the office. However, that wasn’t ‘til a couple of days from now.

“So what do you want to know?”

Niall grinned. “Back there at the house, after you put Gail Willis on the floor, you whispered something to her. She stopped struggling and didn’t even try to give me any trouble when I cuffed her. So what did you say?”

“Oh, that,” I said. “I just said the sort of thing that she expected to hear me say.”

“What?” he demanded. I could tell from the look on his face, even in the dark end car, that Niall wasn’t sure if he wanted to actually know.

“Well, since you asked so nicely.” I tried to put the most demure, innocent look possible on my face. “Given what she had said earlier, I told her that if she didn’t stop struggling I was going to suck her soul out through her nose and then turn her into a hamster that I would feed to my cat.”

It took Niall a good two minutes to stop laughing. “That’s too good.” He said finally, then paused and looked at me for a moment.

I got out of the car, but before I was more than a step or two away the window rolled down. “Ah, you can’t actually turn people into things like hamsters, can you?” he asked.

“She didn’t know that.” I shook my head and headed inside. “I’ll see you at dinner tomorrow.”

CHAPTER 3

You would think that after being away for the holidays, the first thing people would ask you when you got into work was how your family was or if you had a good time.  Did my colleagues and friends do that?

Nope, no way, not the people that I work with. Actually, if they had, I probably would have suspected that they’d been kidnapped and replaced by brainwashed doubles or alien pod creatures.

I hadn’t gone more than a dozen steps out of the elevator before my best friend, Jordan, (she works over in court records) came up grinning wildly. Jordan is four inches taller than me and so rail thin that she makes me feel fat, yet she doesn’t look like she needs to gain weight. If there really were such a thing as elves, I would have to be suspicious that she just might have some elven blood somewhere in her background.

“There you are, Meggie,” she said. I have told her a hundred times that I hate that contraction of my name; Megan, or hey you, is what I prefer. Meggie sounds just too childish. The fact that it irritates me is why, I suspect, that Jordan manages to call me that at least once a day. That’s all right; I have my ways of getting even.

“Hey, Jordan, how were your days off?”

“Just fine. I tried out a new recipe for venison with that deer meat my cousin John sent me. I cooked it for my sister’s family. But I hear you had a really “fun” time when you went home to Nowata. Did they find the body?”

I just laughed. Sometimes I think the grapevine in the courthouse is faster than e-mail; you can tell somebody something and by the time they’ve typed it in an e-mail, at least six other people will be aware of it. There are ways of keeping secrets, and there are also ways of making sure that some information does get out, which is a fact true anywhere, but especially in the mini ecosystem that’s a courthouse.

“Yes, they did find Randall Willis’s body. His wife had slit his throat and had him hanging up in the garage, ready to butcher him into smaller pieces; easier to handle that way,” I said. “I just can’t figure out why she tried to get us to go there, knowing what we’d find.”

“Yuck. But, there have been a few guys I went out with in school that I don’t think I’d have objected to doing something like that to. In fact, it sounds like it might have been fun.”

Now, that surprised me. Jordan is a definite fashionista, always wearing dynamite clothes with perfect shoes and makeup, and she sometimes comes across as the sort of woman who would get upset if she broke a fingernail; a real girly-girl. She wasn’t, though. Jordan has a trust fund, but she and I have gone mountain climbing together, prowling thrift stores, even gone adventure racing. But somehow, I had never thought of her as one who held grudges. Okay, people can surprise even their friends.

“Well, just remember that if you do, then you have to fill out the paperwork, in triplicate!”

“That’s not a nice thing to say.” She grinned. “You wanna have lunch at Nathan’s?”

A big thick Nathan’s Hot Dog, now that’s something I could go for. “Of course! I’ll meet you on the plaza.”

My office, or at least what they laughingly refer to as an office, is located in what at one time was the auxiliary accident room. I share it with one other forensic sorcerer, Mike Jacobson, who was out on family medical leave. His wife had had twins right before the holiday. So I had the place to myself for up to the next six weeks, if not longer.

I barely had time to drop my backpack behind my desk and hang my coat up before two other people stopped by wanting details about my holiday case. One of them had the gall to call it an adventure. I just gave them the look and that settled things down.

It was barely nine o’clock and there were already five new files in my inbox, which didn’t surprise me in the slightest. Most of them would be requests for me to come look at crime scenes and see if there was anything that the usual Crime Scene Unit people had missed. Most of these were breaking and entering cases, which meant that there would be nothing unexpected to find. Since it was on the DA’s desk, there was a suspect, and they wanted to make sure everything was done properly.

At one point, the office had had four journeymen, two apprentices and two full master class sorcerers, but that was over a year ago and there had been cutbacks at every level of city government, so that meant our department, too.  There wasn’t a lot I could do about it, just what it took to get the job done.

I was about to go through the files when my computer beeped and an IM popped onto the screen. It was a note from the assistant DA saying that I needed to go down to the police station and sit in on the interrogation of a couple of guys that the cops had picked up. I saw two words at the end of the message that made me roll my eyes and wish I had called in sick today.

Vampire hunters.

I’ve enjoyed my share of vampire movies. Hey, my mother admitted to having a crush on Christopher Lee when she was a teenager, saying that she figured he knew how to give dynamite hickeys. That’s my dear mother for you. A lot of the books were pretty good, except for that one about glittering vamps. I’d even broken down and watched a couple of those vampire hunter shows on television where they go to places, spend the night and look for vampires. Amazingly, they never seemed to find much of anything.

People want to believe vamps exist, but nobody had been able to find one. I had my serious doubts if anyone ever would.

Some of these guys called themselves urban explorers and went sneaking into all sorts of places, looking for some trace of the fanged ones; most of them were nuttier than a fruitcake.

When I first went to work for the DA’s office, they told me that the interrogation rooms ware in the basement of the courthouse. I spent a half an hour wandering around in that maze before I found out where I was really supposed to go.

Let’s just say, I got even with the person who told me that. It was one of the assistant DAs who thought it was funnier than hell to send the newbie off in the wrong directions. As tempted as I was to use magic to cause him trouble, I didn’t. That would have been too obvious. Instead, I got a hacker friend to sign him up on every spam mail and bulk mail list in existence, both at his house and at work. Karma can be a bitch, and, given the right circumstances, so can I.

The interrogation rooms are actually on the second floor of the police station, near the detective squad’s offices. They are small, about the size of a broom closet on steroids, just enough room for a table and a couple of chairs. The walls are painted an army puke green color that hasn’t been retouched in about a dozen years. I always suspected some city official had a brother-in-law or some other such relative who gave him such a deal on leftover paint.

Detective second grade Shaun Flynn had a huge Black’s Law dictionary lying on his desk. It was about as thick as a standard Webster’s unabridged, and, given the size of the desks that the city gave the detective squad to use, seemed to cover the whole thing, pushing papers and file folders perilously close to the edge. Flynn had been taking night classes at the university, and, rumor had it, was close to getting his law degree.

Flynn was in his late thirties, but his eyes had the look of someone who had seen a lot more. I think he had served in Iraq, but I had never asked and he had never volunteered the information. I know he was married, but I didn’t know much about his wife, other than that she’s a medical doctor. Her picture is on the corner of his desk.

“You know, you could download that whole thing to a tablet, and then you might actually be able find things on your desk,” I told him.

“Nice to see you, Thomas. Glad you didn’t end up in the basement again,” he said. “Hear you had fun up in Nowata.”

“Yeah, right,” I said.

“So did you bring me back some of your mother’s angel food cake?” he asked.

For the fact that he let the whole thing about the killing in Nowata drop, I went ahead and plopped the brown paper bag I was carrying on his desk. He stared at it for a moment, then at me; the look was asking if this was real or a joke.

“Are you going to eat that or just leave it sitting there all day?”

Flynn pulled out a wedge of cake wrapped in aluminum foil and carefully opened it. Most people are used to store-bought angel food cakes; my mother’s are made from scratch and have won awards. I’ve even seen people at a church fundraising auction get into fights to get the winning bid for her cake. One went for a $150; Mom promised the loser a cake if he would donate the same amount to the church. If you’re wondering, yes, he did pony up the money, and said it was worth every cent.

As soon as Flynn bit into the cake, you could see the pure joy in his eyes. I know exactly what he was going through; it’s like a wee bit of heaven. They also make great bribes, and don’t leave any evidence behind. My dear mother may be a pain in the ass sometimes, but boy does she know how to bake cakes.

Shaun finished his mid-morning snack, which he washed down with a swallow of that swill he laughingly calls coffee.

“You do know how to treat a man,” he said.

“So, where did we find our brave vampire hunters? I’m guessing they’re kids who are looking for the vamps so they can “join up”. Or somebody trying to get material for yet another reality show. Idiots who want their fifteen minutes of fame.”

If vampires were real, I figure any smart ones would stay a long way away from the Goths and the wannabes. After all, if you live on a warm liquid protein diet, you don’t want to be too obvious about it. Not to mention the fact that a real vampire would probably more resemble Edward Woodward than Tom Cruise, although, after seeing ‘Interview with the Vampire’, I do wonder about him a bit.

Flynn picked up a thin file that I could see some DD-77 forms sticking out of. Those are what arresting officers have to fill out as soon as someone is booked. Basically, they’re what any case that comes across my desk, or anyone else’s in the DA’s office, start with. I’ve looked at so many of those things I think they turn up in my dreams sometimes, or should I say nightmares.

“Sounds like somebody got up on the wrong side of the coffin this morning,” he chuckled and flipped open the file. “Actually, you get a zero on your psychic mind reading this morning, but that’s okay. It is Monday.”

“So who have we got in interrogation and why didn’t they get busted for trespassing and processed out like most of the other vampire hunters?”

Flynn laughed. He picked up a bowl full of those mini-Butterfinger candy bars and held it out for me. That slime ball knew that I loved those things, but they don’t love me in return; that’s why I try to allow myself only one or two a week.

“Try a college professor and an ex-cop. They were found in the south part of town inside the old theater there on 101st street. The only reason that anyone even knew they were there was that a drunk rear ended someone out on the street and the cops investigating the accident noticed their car. They’d hidden it back near some old rusty garbage dumpsters,” said Flynn.

The report was fairly cut and dried, straight out of just getting the facts down with no elaborations what-so-ever. That may be a class that they teach over at the police academy, though I’m sure that a lot of people slept through it.

He motioned me over to a small closed-circuit monitor that was sitting on a desk that looked like it would tip over if you looked at it wrong. He punched a couple of buttons on the remote and the screen lit up with a black and white picture of a curly-haired man with a thick mustache in his late fifties.

“I repositioned the camera a little bit the other day. This way we can actually see the suspect, rather than just the top of his head,” said Flynn. “Thomas, say hello to Casey Leonard. He’s a retired gunnery sergeant from the Marines, and also a former Tulsa homicide detective. He has a horse ranch up near Claremore, but makes a good living now as a writer, usually on war and true crime.”

Now, that surprised me; this was not the profile I would have expected for the vampire hunter that they wanted me to talk to. No, those were usually kids or people who were, shall we say, a lot off center of reality.

“You ain’t seen nothin’ yet,” Flynn grinned. He switched channels on the closed- circuit monitor and I found myself looking at a woman with lightish hair that she wore in a short braid. She couldn’t have been more than a few years older than me.

“His daughter?” I wanted to give Mr. Leonard a chance not to turn out to be robbing the cradle, date wise.

“Nope. My dear Inspector Megan Thomas, you are looking at DeLinda Hardeman, PhD. I looked her up on the web. To say that this woman is brilliant is to put things lightly. She’s a physicist who, apparently, has been on the short list for the Nobel a couple of times, if you can believe what you read on Wikipedia.”

I did a quick scan over the printout on Dr. Hardeman that Flynn had attached to the DD-77s. The list of the things she had done, science-wise, was impressive, and she was barely thirty. There was something about her that rang a bell with me, but I just couldn’t put my finger on it.

“So what am I doing here? Why haven’t they just been charged with trespassing and processed out?”

Unless there were outstanding warrants of some kind, or other extenuating circumstances, like staking a corpse or stalking, that’s what generally happened when the cops picked up vampire hunters.

“You obviously didn’t get the memo,” the detective said, savoring his moment of triumph. Of course, one thing about Flynn, he knew when to back off. The story of what I had done to the guy who had given me wrong directions was legendary around the courthouse.

“What memo?” I had a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach. There was always a pile of paper memos on my desk, on everyone’s desks. In spite of a pile of politician’s promises two feet tall, the city government had never quite managed to go paperless.

“Apparently, our wonderful leaders have decided that in order to discourage escape attempts of a supernatural nature, all suspects need to be inspected for hidden spells and such by someone of at least the certified rank of apprentice sorcerer. Since the police department hasn’t cleared new sorcerer hires, it’ll be at least two more weeks, knowing how slow the paperwork is. So we have to call on other departments to assist us.”

And, since I was currently the only one in my office, the job fell to me.

Oy vey! This was one of those times I really wished I had gone corporate rather than into law enforcement. Better money, better hours, maybe not a better class of people, but money can balance that part of the job out.

“This is all I need, more work.” I picked up both file folders from the desk and headed toward the interrogation rooms.

“Oh, I didn’t tell you the kicker.” This time Flynn was scratching his head. I’m pretty good at reading body language, and I didn’t like what I was seeing right now.

“Yes?”

“The lady doctor there says she knows you. In fact, she asked if it would be possible to speak with you.”

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