A ghouls guide to love a.., p.6
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       A Ghoul's Guide to Love and Murder, p.6

           Victoria Laurie

  “I’ll call someone,” Gilley said, heading off toward the spare bedroom, and I knew he meant he’d be calling an attorney.

  I began to tremble. This had all gotten way out of hand so fast. I mean, I’d been worried about Oruç’s dagger being on display, but even I’d figured we’d have at least twenty-four hours to get it back before the worst happened. And the exhibit had been blocked off as we were being led from it by museum security—probably to prevent any further scenes like the one we were involved in. I’d figured that they’d keep the exhibit closed at least until morning and we’d have a chance to work the back channels to get the dagger out of there.

  What I still couldn’t understand was how the dagger had overcome all those magnets. Even with the amount of fear that’d been generated after the lights went out to fuel either Oruç or his demon, the lights had still been turned off and all the batteries drained before anyone had gone crazy with fear. So how had that anomaly happened, and why hadn’t anything like it happened when we had the dagger hidden in my office safe with just a few magnets to surround it? At the museum, none of the spikes had been touching the dagger, but it’d been surrounded by half a dozen of them only inches away. The whole room was decorated with magnets, in fact, and that kind of electromagnetic field should’ve kept even a demon as powerful as Oruç’s quiet.

  And then I thought of something even scarier. What if Oruç’s dagger had been stolen by a fan of the show? No one but myself, Gilley, Heath, Gopher, and a dear friend in San Francisco really understood the magnitude of danger the dagger represented. If some brazen fan had decided that the dagger was a collector’s item worth stealing, then we had a gigantic problem on our hands. “Detective,” I said as Heath took her card, “I’m sure by now you’ve heard that the dagger is a very dangerous relic—”

  She smirked at me. “Obviously,” she said. “It played a major part in a murder tonight, Mrs. Whitefeather.”

  She had no idea how right she was, but I didn’t want to fill her in any more than I had to about how we came into possession of Oruç’s dagger. It’d probably come out anyway, but for now, I figured Detective Olivera was on a need-to-know basis. “It goes beyond that,” I told her. “The dagger isn’t just some antique knife. There is a very powerful—very dangerous—set of forces that’re associated with it, and in the wrong hands, they could become a serious problem.”

  She cocked her head again. “You don’t think murder is a serious problem?”

  “Of course I do!” I snapped. “And please don’t think I’m not every bit as concerned as you are. But, ma’am, that dagger is evil. It needs to be locked away in a safe, lined with enough magnets to choke a whale.” I was beginning to regret very much the fact that we hadn’t at some point thought to take the dagger, wrap it in magnets, throw it down a deep hole, and cover it in concrete. In hindsight, simply leaving it in my safe seemed like the stupidest thing I’d ever done. There was no help for it now, but I silently vowed that once I got the dagger back, I was gonna bury that thing in a dry well and pour enough concrete over the top to seal it up for all time.

  “You keep talking about this dagger like it’s got a life of its own,” the detective said. “Come down to the station and explain that to me.”

  I sighed. Why were cops always so skeptical of the supernatural? I’d had my fair share of encounters with law enforcement, and it was always the same deal: suspicion and skepticism until they saw the demon du jour up close and personal, and then they were all, “Oh, please help us, M.J.!”

  “Fine,” I told Olivera. “We’ll follow you to the station.”

  Heath was quick to protest. “Em, we’ll need to wait for the attorney to meet us there.”

  “No, we won’t,” I told him. When he opened his mouth to argue with me, I laid a hand on his shoulder and said, “Heath . . . the dagger. Someone has it.”

  He pressed his lips together and nodded. “You’re right. Okay, let’s go.”

  I called to Gil, who came out from the spare bedroom looking frustrated. “I’m waiting on a callback,” he said.

  “It’s okay. We’re headed down anyway,” I said, as Heath handed me my jacket.

  “Without a lawyer?” Gilley said. “M.J., don’t be stupid!”

  “Don’t be stupid?” I repeated angrily. “Gilley, somewhere in this city someone has Oruç’s dagger—which you offered up to the museum on a silver platter, and in so doing, you placed it within the public domain, where it obviously tempted someone into stealing it. And now someone appears to be dead, so I gotta ask you, who’s really the stupid one in this scenario?”

  Gilley’s face flushed with shame and he dropped his gaze. “Me,” he said softly. “You’re right, and I’m so, so sorry, guys. I really thought I could keep it safe.”

  “Come to the precinct with us,” Heath said gently while I continued to fume a little. “I think we’re gonna need you to confirm our whereabouts for tonight anyway.” For emphasis he glanced at Olivera, who nodded subtly. So it was true. We were under suspicion for the crime. Great. Just great.

  • • •

  We met Olivera outside the precinct and then followed her inside, up a flight of stairs, and down a long hallway to the back of the building. Once through a set of double doors, we came out into a large room with desks arranged in a kind of haphazard fashion, some facing each other and others simply by themselves like little islands floating in a sea of paperwork.

  I wasn’t used to seeing actual desks at a police precinct—all of the previous investigative offices I’d visited had always been arranged in cubicles, which I personally hated. I never knew how people could spend hours at a time in a tiny three-walled area with barely enough room to turn around and which gave only the pretense of privacy. Looking at the area Olivera had led us to was like stepping back in time before corporations became so uniform. I liked it.

  “Over here.” The detective gestured, waving us to the far corner of the room, where a door stood open. We filed in one after the other and sat down in one of the four chairs assembled in the room. I thought maybe Olivera had called ahead and told someone to put enough chairs in the room.

  Behind us, a gentleman, probably in his late fifties or early sixties, entered, and he brought his own desk chair with him. Taking a seat in the corner, he crossed his beefy arms over his portly belly and studied us one by one. He also gave off a vibe of authority, perhaps one notch above what Olivera was putting out.

  “This is Lieutenant Wilgus,” Olivera said, with a subtle wave of her hand in his direction. “He’ll be joining us for the duration of our talk.”

  I shifted a little in my chair. If the precinct lieutenant was sitting in, then something really bad had to have gone down at the museum.

  Olivera took her seat and opened up her notebook. “Talk to me about earlier this evening,” she began. “Why did you go to the museum, and what happened there?”

  Heath took the lead and talked slowly, carefully, and in great detail about our trip to the exhibit. He had more presence of mind than I did, it appeared, and certainly more patience. I tried not to fidget or look guilty—a tough thing when two cops are staring at you like they’ve got you dead to rights.

  At last Heath was finished and Olivera asked him a few follow-up questions, mostly focused on the timeline he’d offered. She even tried to trip him up once or twice, just to see if she could, but he had the timing down solid. We’d been at the museum from about five thirty to about a quarter past six, when we’d been tossed out by Phil Sullivan. We’d then headed straight home, arriving at close to seven p.m., where the three of us had discussed the dilemma of getting the dagger back; then we’d eaten dinner; and, right around nine p.m., Heath and I had gone out for ice cream, arriving back home shortly before ten, when Olivera had shown up. Heath told her that there were plenty of people at the ice-cream parlor who could vouch for us—the place had been fairly crowded. She t
ook down the name and location of the place and then said, “Okay, so talk to me about this dagger. Why is it so special?”

  Heath glanced at me and I nodded, then leaned my elbows on the table and folded my hands together. I’d do the talking now. “Several years ago, me, my husband, and my business partner were asked to participate in a cable TV show featuring haunted possessions. The dagger was one of the items that Heath and I had to focus our intuition on, and within seconds it became quite clear to us that the dagger had a particularly violent history.”

  Gilley cleared his throat, and when I turned to look at him I saw that he was swiveling his iPad around to show Olivera and Wilgus something. “I have the video,” he said and pressed the play button.

  I turned my face from the monitor and shuddered. I’d lived through that first encounter with the dagger—no way did I want to see it again. But I did watch the detective’s and lieutenant’s reactions. They both leaned forward to peer at Gil’s tablet, and I noticed that Olivera jumped when the talon marks started etching themselves directly into the table where Heath and I were sitting.

  But Wilgus wasn’t at all convinced. “Special effects,” he said before the video had even stopped rolling.

  “No,” I said firmly, and stared right into his eyes to let him know I wasn’t fibbing.

  “It’s real,” Heath said.

  Olivera must’ve been bolstered by her boss’s skepticism. “We’re supposed to believe a couple of professional filmmakers?”

  “We’re not professional filmmakers,” I said testily. “We’re the talent. That film was shot on Gil’s phone. It’s real.” For emphasis I stood up, turned around, and lifted up my jacket and shirt to expose my back and the long white scars that still marred my body from where the demon had dug its talons into me. Looking at Gil, I said, “Play the part of the video again where I got raked,” I told him, and then waited for Gilley to rewind and play that part again slowly. Over my shoulder I said, “You’ll notice those marks appear exactly where my scars still are.”

  I watched over my shoulder as Olivera’s gaze darted between my back and the screen. I could see she was at least a little rattled. I let go of my clothing and sat back down. “The dagger houses an evil spook named Oruç, who was a sadistic, murderous Turkish warlord several centuries ago. He was killed by a woman he’d been trying to murder with the dagger, and he became a ghost who has attached himself to the dagger. He’s a powerful spook who likes to possess anyone either near or holding the dagger, and if that weren’t bad enough, he’s somehow also attached himself to an evil demon that’s capable of doing what you saw on that tape . . . and a lot more.”

  “It’s because of the ‘lot more’ that we need that dagger back,” Heath said. “We have to find it.”

  Olivera considered all three of us for a bit before she pulled up her own iPad and flipped it around to us. Turning it on, she tapped on the photos icon and said, “I’d say it’s definitely imperative that we find your dagger.”

  Her finger stroked the iPad to one particular photo that caused me to suck in a shocked breath. The victim was someone I recognized. It was Phil Sullivan, the museum director, and in the photos of his body, he appeared to be lying faceup on the museum floor staring sightlessly upward with his mouth hanging open as if in midscream. The scene was quite gruesome; the top of Phil’s head sported a terrible wound, and the area behind him was covered in a pool of blood.

  There are things in life that you don’t really need to see. A man murdered like that is one of them. Turning my face away from the screen, I whispered, “My God . . . that poor man.”

  “When did this happen?” Heath asked.

  “We believe it happened between eight fifty and nine p.m.,” she said.

  “That’s pretty specific,” Gilley said, and I knew the three of us each felt a tiny hint of relief that we all had alibis for the time Sullivan was murdered. Heath and I had been at the ice-cream parlor, and Gilley had been at our place, on the phone with his fiancé for almost that entire time.

  “The museum closed at seven and the last employees left at eight,” Olivera explained. “An alarm in the exhibit was triggered at eight fifty p.m., and we think Sullivan was in his office working late when the alarm sounded upstairs and he went to investigate. Officers responded to the alarm, and they got there at two minutes past nine, finding Sullivan already dead at the scene, the dagger gone from the display case, and no sign of the killer.”

  “Security footage?” Heath asked hopefully.

  Olivera said, “All fed to a computer that was housed on-site at the museum. A laptop kept in a security closet on the same floor as your exhibit. The closet was broken into and the laptop was also stolen.”

  Gilley’s jaw dropped and he became visibly upset. “Why would the museum have such a stupid setup for their security footage?” he demanded. “Everyone knows that, these days, you send the feed off-site to make sure law enforcement always has access to the footage!”

  Olivera shrugged. “Sullivan was the one who set up the system. So we can’t really ask him why he had it set up that way.”

  “Fingerprints?” I asked. “DNA? Other witnesses?”

  “We’re still processing the scene and canvassing the area,” she said. “It’ll be a while before we know if we have anything to go on.”

  “Was anyone else hurt?” Gilley asked, and I could hear the guilt in his voice. A sideways glance at him told me he was on the verge of tears.

  “No,” Olivera said, but I knew it was just a matter of time, and truthfully we had no way of knowing if there weren’t already more victims. Maybe there were other casualties that simply hadn’t been reported yet. Still, I wasn’t going to mention that to Gilley. He felt bad enough.

  “How can we help?” Heath asked the detective. But it was her lieutenant who answered.

  “You can’t,” he said, crossing his arms over his chest. “And frankly, even with your alibis I’m not convinced you three aren’t behind this as some kind of publicity stunt.”

  I felt myself getting really angry. It was one thing to accuse us of faking the footage from that hotel in San Francisco when Oruç’s demon had first reared its ugly head, but it was another thing entirely to suggest we’d conspired to commit murder just to make ourselves famous.

  “Would it help if we offered you the name of someone who could vouch for us and the veracity of the story behind the dagger?” Heath said.

  I stiffened and put a hand on his arm. The person I was protecting was an inspector on the San Francisco police force. He’d risked his job—hell, he’d risked getting charged with obstruction—to get us the dagger, because he knew that we were the only people it’d be safe with. “Honey,” I whispered. “Don’t.”

  Heath looked meaningfully at me. “I talked to our friend a couple of months ago, Em. He saw our show and called. He left his job last December—took early retirement. He told me that ever since the thing in San Francisco—ever since Oruç got inside his head—he’s been suffering from panic attacks. He says he has nightmares all the time and he can’t shake ’em. He swears that there’s still a little bit of Oruç left in his mind, toying with him. I told him that was unlikely, but now I’m not so sure. Maybe there’s something to it.”

  I put a hand to my mouth. “I had no idea.”

  “I know,” Heath said. “I didn’t want to tell you because I knew you’d feel bad, but I think it’s important to loop him in on this. For a number of reasons.”

  I bit my lip. Could it be true? Could the last person Oruç had tried to possess really have a bit of that vile spook still roaming around inside his mind? Turning to Olivera, I said, “What I’m about to tell you is off the record.”

  Olivera frowned and tapped her finger on the table like I had to be kidding.

  “I’m serious,” I said.

  “I’m not a reporter,” she said flatly.

  “No, but the information I’d be giving to you could be used to prosecute.”

  “Prosecute?” she said. “For what?”

  “Tampering with evidence,” I said. “And probably obstruction.”

  Olivera’s left eyebrow arched. “If you two tampered with any evidence at my crime scene, I’ll have the DA prosecute the hell out of you,” she warned.

  “It wasn’t your crime scene, and we weren’t the ones who tampered with the evidence. Well, at least not directly. And the crime scene was from several years ago and well outside your jurisdiction.”

  “Then why would you be worried I’d have the DA prosecute you for obstruction?”

  “I’m not,” I told her. “I’m worried that you’ll make a few calls and have someone important to us prosecuted when all he was trying to do was protect the public.”

  “Explain,” she said.

  “First, your word, Detective. And you too, Lieutenant.”

  Olivera and Wilgus exchanged a look. They seemed to consider my offer a trap, but Wilgus finally shrugged and Olivera said, “Okay, Mrs. Whitefeather. We won’t pursue an obstruction or evidence-tampering charge with you, your husband, Mr. Gillespie, or whomever else you’re protecting, as long as what you’re telling me about this crime scene being outside of our jurisdiction is true.”

  I let out a breath of relief and said, “The footage we showed you on Gilley’s iPad was taken at a historic hotel in California. While we were there filming for a show called Haunted Possessions, there were a series of murders and this dagger was at the center of them. In the end, Heath, Gilley, and I helped solve the case and we were entrusted with the dagger for safekeeping.

  “Anyway, the evil spook housed inside that dagger likes to take over the minds of anyone within range of the weapon. You don’t necessarily even need to be holding it to be taken over.”

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