A ghouls guide to love a.., p.7
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       A Ghoul's Guide to Love and Murder, p.7

           Victoria Laurie
 

  “How exactly is this ghost ‘housed’ inside the dagger?” Olivera asked, using air quotes.

  “Well . . . ,” I said, pausing for a moment to think about it. “The dagger is basically a hole in the electromagnetic energy that surrounds all of us, and it allows entities like Oruç and his demon to go from one plane of existence to another.”

  “Come again?” Wilgus said. I could tell he thought I was full of shit.

  With a sigh I tried explaining it another way. “For the sake of argument, I’m going to explain this as if we all agree that ghosts are real. Now, to the average ghost-believing layperson, ghosts are sort of that disembodied spirit that wakes up at night, floats down the staircase, and might freak you out on the way to the bathroom at two a.m. The truth, like most things, is a lot more complicated than that.

  “See, most ghosts are the result of people who don’t quite grasp that they’re dead. They exist in a sort of murky reality, an almost dreamlike state where they try to pretend that nothing has changed. They still wake up and find themselves in their own homes; it’s just that the furniture has been moved around. They sometimes spend decades in denial, but usually there will be a moment when they’ll sort of wake up to the reality that they’re no longer alive and can’t affect their surroundings anymore. At that point, they typically allow themselves to cross over . . . into heaven, if you will.

  “Now, having said all that, there is a sort of subset of spooks that come from far more sinister backgrounds. These were very bad people in life—murderers, rapists, serial killers, and the like. In death they have no interest in crossing over and facing any form of judgment, so they too become disembodied spirits without a lot of purpose. Unlike the other spooks, who live in a bit of a fog, these guys know full well that they’re dead. The problem for them, though, is that being a normal spook is pretty boring.

  “So, typically within a matter of a few decades, they begin to figure out that they can use some of their energy to create a sort of doorway that leads them to one of the lower realms.”

  “Lower realms,” Wilgus repeated. “You mean like hell?”

  “Not quite hell per se,” I said. “But close. We call it a lower realm because for us mediums, heaven, if you will, always appears to us as a light feeling upward—an ascension, if you will—and the lower realms feel, for lack of a better word, downward, or lower than where we are. Now, lots of bad stuff floats around in the lower realms. Within them, these evil spooks figure out pretty quick that they’ll be able to spend the day in a place that doesn’t drain them of energy, and come out at night when the higher humidity will allow them to affect their environment and the people in it. Within the lower realms these spooks will also have access to knowledge and even a little bit of extra power, and a few of them, like Oruç, will even bring back through that doorway a demon they’ve somehow managed to partner with.

  “But, to answer your question specifically about the dagger,” I said with a nod back to Wilgus, “think of our realm—where we live, work, eat, sleep, et cetera—and the lower realm as two separate nations with a really well-sealed border between them. If a spook like Oruç can find a place along that border where the barrier is weak, he can create a portal. Essentially, a portal is a rip or a tear in the fabric of what we see as reality, and it allows for these spooks to float between our reality and the lower realms. Most portals are fixed within something immovable and permanent. Over the years we’ve seen them in walls, floors, trees, tombstones, caves, roads, monuments, and even the side of a cliff. The dagger was one of the very first portals we ever came across that was small and portable—I mean, up until we encountered it, we’d never thought that a portal could be located anywhere that wasn’t large, solid, and fixed. I’d never even heard of an object like a relic containing a portal, but Oruç’s dagger is a very real portal, and its size has not limited the amount of evil that’s able to escape from it.”

  “So how did you come into possession of this evil portal?” Wilgus pressed me in a voice dripping with skepticism.

  I reined in the urge to snap at him and, without giving him the specifics that I knew would get our friend in San Francisco into hot water, I said, “The dagger came into our possession because it was too much of a threat to the general public in any hands but ours. It was linked to a series of murders in San Francisco. They occurred at the location where we were filming our very first TV show together, and after we suspended filming, Gilley, Heath, and I assisted the police with the apprehension of those people responsible, and we also made sure that Oruç and his demon were shut back behind the portal in the lower realms.”

  “How’d you do that?” Wilgus wanted to know.

  “It’s a long story,” Heath said, cutting in. “But basically, we got the dagger away from the murderer and covered it in magnets.”

  “Why magnets?” the lieutenant asked next.

  “There’s some science involved,” Gilley said, also jumping in. “Spooks are very sensitive to changes in electromagnetic frequencies. When you introduce a magnet to a spook’s environment, it’s like setting off the fire alarm. To a spook, it’s extremely uncomfortable to be around, and enough magnetic energy can actually burn a spook. When you shove a magnet into the center of a portal, you shut it down permanently. As we couldn’t really do that with Oruç’s dagger, we settled for wrapping it in magnets.”

  “But how did you three come into possession of the dagger?” Olivera pressed.

  Gil looked to me to answer. This was the third time we’d been asked that specific question, and I understood then that there was no dancing around the answer anymore. With a sigh I said, “While assisting the police with the murder investigation, it became apparent to all of us that Oruç had developed the ability to possess the minds of anyone near his dagger. Once the police apprehended those responsible for the murders and we neutralized the dagger, the inspector on the case thought it best if the dagger didn’t end up in his evidence room to be handled by various police and DA personnel. He felt that would simply be too risky, so he asked us to look after it, and we agreed.”

  Olivera swiped a lock of her hair behind her ear and looked to Wilgus as if to say, “You believe this bullshit?”

  He ducked his chin and covered his mouth, as if he were stifling a laugh; then he shook his head to let her know that, no, he definitely didn’t believe it.

  I wanted to shout at them, “We’re right in front of you, you know!” but instead I settled for fuming in my seat.

  “Let me get this straight,” Olivera said after a lengthy pause. “A couple of years ago, you three managed to convince some idiot inspector from SFPD that there was an evil ghost and his demon responsible for a series of murders, and he then helped you tamper with evidence in a murder case?”

  I glared at her. She wasn’t listening. Turning to Heath, I said, “They don’t get it, and I’m not putting our friend in jeopardy. Let’s go.”

  “Whoa, whoa, whoa!” Olivera said, holding her hands in a T for “time out.” “I gave you my word that I wasn’t going to pursue a criminal charge for anything having to do with a crime scene that isn’t ours, but, guys . . . I mean, come on! This is all a little too crazy to believe.”

  A thought came to my mind and I glanced at her iPad, and my memory flashed to the shock in her eyes that’d appeared when she’d looked at my scars and the footage from Gil’s tablet. Pointing to her iPad, I said, “There were talon marks at the museum, weren’t there, Detective?”

  Her chin tilted up slightly and she crossed her arms over her chest, mirroring Wilgus’s posture. “What makes you think that?” she asked me, but I could tell I’d just struck gold.

  I smirked. “Because it’s the demon’s signature. He likes to mark up the walls and tear up the furniture and, occasionally, a person. I’m guessing some part of the exhibit was torn to shreds or at least shows three talon marks. Just like the ones on my back.”
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br />   Again Olivera and Wilgus exchanged a look. They looked perhaps a bit less confident in the belief that we were big fat fibbers. “Let us talk to your inspector in San Francisco,” she said at last. “I want to hear what he has to say about all this.”

  It was my turn to hesitate. I didn’t really want Ayden to get sucked into this mess, but I was also very worried about him after what Heath had told me. “Let me call him and explain what’s going on, first,” I said. “I’ll leave it up to him as to whether or not he wants to talk to you.”

  Olivera shrugged. “Okay,” she said. “In the meantime, we’ll check your alibis.” She got up, effectively dismissing us, and both she and Wilgus turned to the door, but Olivera paused to turn back to us to say, “Don’t leave town.”

  I bit back the retort that was on the tip of my tongue. No way did she have the authority to dictate where we went, but her warning was still pretty intimidating, regardless of the fact that I’d had no plans to go anywhere as long as the dagger was missing. I just prayed that we’d find it before the body count rose. Something told me we weren’t going to be so lucky, though. And that had far less to do with my keen intuition and much more to do with a wealth of past experience in such matters.

  Ain’t my life grand?

  Chapter 4

  An hour later we were back home and in the midst of a deep discussion. “We’ve got to make sure that we stick together as much as possible and account for our whereabouts at all times,” Heath said, heading to the window to peek out at the street, as if he expected there to be an unmarked cop car below with a detective on stakeout duty. “If BPD thinks we’re involved in Sullivan’s murder, then they’ll be looking to us if any other bodies turn up.”

  “You mean when other bodies turn up,” Gilley said miserably. “I keep going over it and over it in my mind, and it just doesn’t add up. I checked the museum’s security before I loaned them the dagger. How is it that the central alarm wasn’t triggered when the thief broke in?”

  “He could’ve been there the whole time,” I said. “I mean, there was a lot of chaos earlier tonight when the lights went out and everybody’s cell died. The thief could’ve been hiding in a restroom or something until after closing.”

  Gilley shook his head. “No way. The security guards check all the restroom stalls before closing, and they’re supposed to do a sweep of the building too. And there are motion sensors throughout the whole place. I’m telling you, it would’ve been impossible for the killer to have moved around freely without triggering at least one alarm. I know because I went over the security for the whole building to make sure it was sound.”

  “And yet you missed the part where the security cameras all fed to an on-site computer,” Heath said with a hint of anger. I couldn’t fault him, because Gil had been reckless in his decision to loan out the dagger, especially the part about not bringing us in on the discussion, but Gil was still my best friend and I felt a pang of sympathy—especially after he winced at the rebuke.

  “I did miss that,” he said, dropping his gaze to the floor. “I don’t know how I did, but you’re right. That got right by me. And now Sullivan is dead and the dagger is missing.”

  “I think we need to stay on topic here, guys,” I said softly. There was no point in making Gilley feel any worse than he already did. “If we figure out how the killer got past all the security except for the alarm in the exhibit hall itself, maybe we’ll be able to give Olivera a lead she can follow instead of looking at us as suspects.”

  Gil tapped his lips, thinking, and then he snapped his fingers as if he’d figured it out. “I know how it was done!” he said.

  “How?” Heath asked before I could.

  “Well, if Sullivan was still there, he might not have turned on the motion detectors inside the building until he was ready to leave. Maybe the killer was walking around freely until Sullivan was ready to go. Before leaving, Sullivan would have flipped the central switch for the motion detectors, which then activated the one upstairs in the exhibit room where the killer already was. The man’s movements would have set off the alarm up there. Sullivan probably then raced upstairs to investigate, and bam! He gets murdered.”

  “Yeah, but it still doesn’t explain how the killer got inside the building in the first place,” I said. “How’d he bypass the initial alarm into the building?”

  “The same way our spook and his demon drained everyone’s cell and turned out the lights. Oruç must’ve drained the power to the central alarm for the building.”

  “Wait, what?” I said. “Gil, how could Oruç target something so specific, and for that matter, how did he coordinate with the living, breathing thief? I mean, until tonight, we have no evidence that the thief had any prior contact with Oruç, who couldn’t have known that his portal would be stolen from the exhibit.”

  Gil scratched his head in a frustrated gesture. “Okay, so I have no idea how the thief bypassed the exterior alarm, but you’re raising an even bigger question, M.J.,” he said. “Even without any prior contact with the dagger, someone had to know what kind of power was locked away in it, and they targeted that possessed relic specifically.”

  “What’d the sign on the dagger display read?” I asked him, wondering if he hadn’t imparted the dagger’s history to anyone willing to walk by the display.

  He shook his head. “Only that the dagger was an ancient relic said to be a haunted possession of a Turkish warlord. I wrote it up myself, making sure to leave out any specifics.”

  “Did you identify the warlord?” I pressed. Maybe someone had looked into Oruç’s history.

  “No way,” Gil said. “I mean, I’m not stupid, M.J.”

  I sat down with a tired sigh. “Someone had to know how powerful that dagger was,” I said.

  Heath came to sit down next to me. “Maybe not,” he said. “Maybe some obsessed fan saw it and wanted to steal a little piece of our history.”

  I eyed him skeptically. “No way,” I said. “There’s no way, Heath. If you’re an obsessed fan and you want to steal something from our show, then you’re gonna go after something like my leather jacket that was hanging on the wall. Or a couple of the spikes, or even some of Gopher’s notes from the shows. You’re not going to risk a long prison sentence by breaking into a museum after hours for a relic that may or may not be haunted, and then you’re definitely not going to murder someone over it.”

  “Once he got his hands on it, would he have even known he was killing Sullivan, though?” Gilley said.

  I motioned to Gilley with my hand. “I don’t know that the dagger would’ve worked that fast, Gil. Still, I seriously doubt that a fan, even an obsessed one, would be willing to risk his freedom for what he thinks is probably just some dusty dagger—especially one that was never even featured on Ghoul Getters.”

  “That’s another good point,” Heath said. “The dagger and its history were a secret, right? I mean, none of us has ever talked publicly about Oruç or his dagger. But someone knew. They had to know; otherwise, why risk so much for a stupid knife?”

  I looked at Gil. “You never put anything online about it?”

  “No!” he said, as if I’d insulted him.

  “Okay, okay,” I said, holding up my hands in surrender. “Just making sure.” There was a pause before I spoke again. “So who could’ve known about the history of the dagger?”

  We all looked at one another. The people who had knowledge about Oruç and the dagger were almost all accounted for in my living room. “There’s Gopher,” Gil said.

  “You think he told someone?” I asked.

  “Well, he did tell that producer who called me from the production company,” he reasoned.

  I palmed my forehead. “Shit,” I said. “I’d forgotten about him. So if Gopher told that guy, who knows who else he told?”

  “Great,” Heath said. “That means it could’ve been anybody.
And what the hell is Gopher doing shooting his mouth off about the dagger anyway?”

  I shook my head. “I don’t know. I’ve never heard him talk about it to anyone. Maybe he got together with this producer for a few drinks one night and that loosened his lips.”

  “Maybe it had nothing to do with the production side,” Gil said. “Maybe Gopher telling someone from the studio was just a coincidence, and other people we haven’t even thought of heard about it.”

  “From whom?” I said.

  “Well,” Gil said, blinking while he thought his theory through. “Anyone from that original shoot could’ve blabbed about the dagger and the demon inside it. I mean, guys, think back to that shoot. There was a camera guy who walked off the set after the demon showed up—remember?”

  “I’ve never seen anybody turn so pale,” I said with a smirk.

  “Yeah,” Gil continued, “and that actor . . . What was his name? That former child star?”

  “Matt Duval,” I said with a roll of my eyes. “He was a piece of work. Just wanted a ticket back to the fame and fortune of his yesteryear.”

  “Fat chance,” Gil said with a giggle. Heath and I chuckled too, because Matt Duval had gained a considerable amount of weight since he’d been a teen heartthrob. “I heard he’s now living in a trailer park.”

  “Ouch,” I said. “Oh, how far those stars fall when they come back to earth.”

  “Well, the point is that he was there that day, and he saw what came out of the dagger.”

  “I can’t see fat, broke Matt Duval coming after the dagger, Gil,” I reasoned.

  Gilley shrugged. “We’ve got to consider everybody who was there on the day the demon first made his appearance,” he said. “And Matt doesn’t have to be the one who stole the dagger, just the guy who blabbed about it. Anyone there could’ve talked about it, in fact.”

 
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