Flight from mayhem fly b.., p.26
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       Flight from Mayhem (Fly by Night #2), p.26

           Yasmine Galenorn
 

  “That sounds terrifying. But it sounds like what we’re up against, given that the eyes and tongues of victims have been missing. Does it say where it’s likely to keep its hoard? That might help us to find it.” I had no desire to find out, to be honest, but we had to know everything we could.

  “Let me read further.” She scanned down the page. “Okay, the diatrofymata is very rare. It usually creates a home base in the area of its kills. You know—” She looked up from the book. “It occurs to me that if it does have a lair of some sorts nearby, that’s where it might be keeping its victims till it kills them. And maybe that’s where Bette and Gerta are. Since it can take the shape of those it comes in contact with as well as just its victims, I would agree that it’s probably keeping Gerta alive in order to force her tears.” Tonya skimmed the rest of the page.

  At that point, Ralph returned. He tossed the coins on the counter. “They aren’t gold. I’m not sure what they are; they remind me of amber resin.” He was right—they still had the basic shape of the coins, but they had altered in looks.

  “Then while the creature was able to mimic Gerta, it couldn’t fully reproduce her abilities. Tonya,” I said, heading toward Alex’s office, “why don’t you fill Ralph in on what you found out? I’m going to see if there’s anything in Alex’s files about Bette. He’ll probably be pissed that I’ve rifled through his papers, but given the circumstances, I’m going to chance it.”

  As I entered Alex’s office, I wasn’t sure what I was looking for. But anything I could find that would tell us why the diatrofymata had captured Bette instead of harming her would be of help. I glanced at the clock. Three thirty. Still far too long until Alex was able to wake.

  I sat down at his desk, feeling awkward, and began opening the drawers. There were five, and the bottom right appeared to be locked. In the center drawer, I found basic supplies and what looked to be a spare set of keys. The top left drawer contained paper and notebooks. The top right drawer had various bric-a-brac, a few small figurines, a wire mesh tray that held a deck of playing cards, some dice, a few coins, and other assorted trinkets. The bottom left drawer opened with ease and I found several bottles of blood in it, a big box of tissue, and some travel brochures that looked fairly old.

  But the bottom right drawer was locked. I jiggled it, and then remembered the keys. Hunting through them till I found one that looked about the right size, I tried it in the lock. A perfect fit. I was feeling more and more like a burglar—or worse yet, a voyeur—but I turned the key and the drawer silently slid open.

  Feeling vaguely guilty, I rifled through. There were several file folders and I recognized them as dossiers on Ralph, Bette, and me. There was another file folder there—unlabeled. Hesitating, my fingers hovered over the file as I debated on whether to look in it. After all I was looking for information on Bette, no one else. And it felt extremely disloyal to even think about peeking inside the file folder. But then, before I could second-guess myself, I pulled out all of the files and opened the unlabeled one.

  “Oh hell.” I immediately wished I’d kept my nose out of it. I found myself staring at several pictures of Glenda, stark naked and spread out on the bed. She was obviously comfortable with herself being photographed, I gave her that much. I glanced at the date on the back of the prints. They had been taken a year ago. Well, at least they weren’t new. But the fact that Alex had kept them made me uncomfortable. My cheeks flaming, I flipped the folder shut and put the file back in place.

  “Moving on,” I whispered to myself. “Let’s see what he has to say about Bette.” I opened the file folder. Inside were printouts with her address on it, and a list of all the men she had been involved with for the past five years. Next to each name was a checkmark. As I flipped through the rest of the file, I realized he had done a credit check and a background check on every man she had been with. Or at least, I thought, every man he knew she had been with. On several of the background checks, incidents where they had been incarcerated for assault or other potentially dangerous activities were highlighted.

  He has to be making sure that she’s okay, I thought. Alex loved Bette like a sister. No, that wasn’t exactly true. Their friendship ran deeper than that. I flipped through the rest of the papers and realized that whatever I was looking for, Alex didn’t have it in his desk.

  I hesitated over my file and then decided that I didn’t really want to see what was in there. Quietly, I replaced everything as it had been and locked the drawer. I put the keys back in the center drawer, hoping that nothing looked out of place. As I rose and headed toward the door, I couldn’t decide whether to tell Alex what I had done. I had a lot of thinking to do before he woke up, and I just hoped I could come to the right decision.

  CHAPTER 17

  Chai glanced at me and I swear he could read my mind. But he said nothing, simply nodded me over to where Ralph and Tonya were staring at the Mapsi program on the web. I noticed that they were searching the area around Stone Weaver’s house.

  “What are you looking for?”

  “It occurred to us that the land surrounding his house would be the perfect hiding place for the diatrofymata’s lair. It’s private, set out a ways, and it’s not public land someone can just stumble over. Stone Weaver owns a lot of acreage out there. The creature could have decided to hole up on the land long before it made him its victim. After all, if it has been trolling the Fae at the community center, then it probably knew all of its victims long before it decided to kill them.” Ralph looked up at me, waiting for my reaction.

  “That makes a lot of sense. And since people come and go from those groups, newcomers wouldn’t be unexpected or out of place. I wonder . . .” A thought struck me. “Do you think it might have set up a persona down there other than as bait? I mean, nobody ever mentioned the boyfriends or girlfriends of the victims showing up at the meetings. Even Bette, when she met Marlene’s boyfriend, she met him away from the community center. Maybe, just maybe, this creature has a separate persona who attends meetings, gets to know the people there, and then chooses the best pick. That way it could come and go without being a suspect.” I knew I was on to something.

  Tonya seemed to think so, too. “That makes perfect sense. You don’t shit where you drink. It would only make sense for it to keep a cover there that was separate from those it used to lure in its victims. Chances are, once it picked a victim, it met them off site—to avoid suspicion. And since, as you say, all the murders have happened in the past few weeks, it would make sense that whoever the creature is masquerading as probably showed up shortly before then. I have a feeling the diatrofymata doesn’t hang around long before it strikes. It has to get in and get out.”

  “Yes, except this time it found a gold mine. You find this many rich Fae together, it’s a temptation to something like the diatrofymata. I did a little extra searching while you were in Alex’s office, Shimmer. Even though this is an extremely rare critter, rumor has it that it’s getting braver and creeping into cities more. There is a clan of demon hunters near here. The Hunters Glen clan, and they come from the Old Country. They tend to hunt down things like this. I want to get in touch with them. They might have some information on this.”

  “Do you have a contact name?”

  He nodded. “Tanne Baum appears to be the front man. I have his number and I’ll give him a call directly. Regardless if he can help us on this case, I think they might be good contacts for the future.” He paused and glanced up at me from where he was sitting. “Did you find anything in Alex’s office?”

  Even though he didn’t say anything else, I detected a tone of disapproval in his question.

  “No, nothing relevant. And yes, I will tell Alex that I looked through his desk.” Until that moment, I hadn’t made up my mind what I was going to do, but I realized I had to. And I’d tell him I saw Glenda’s pictures. Getting it out in the open seemed the best idea. Meanwhile . . . I pointed to the screen. “So do you have any idea of where the diatrofymata mig
ht be hiding?”

  Ralph zoomed in on an area near a hill. “They tend to prefer underground lairs. I’m thinking it may have found a cave in the side of the hill. For all the contacts Stone Weaver had with the Elementals, considering he was an Elemental Fae, I don’t think the earth energy around there would necessarily suspect the creature was out of its element. Anyway, since the diatrofymata are also aligned with earth energy, because of their connection to metals and gems, nothing would seem amiss to set off the wards. Or at least that’s the way I’m reading it.”

  “Should we head out?” I glanced up at the clock. It still seemed far too long until Alex woke up. “Every minute that it has Bette in its grasp is another minute she’s in danger.”

  Chai cleared his throat. “Why don’t I go? I can take a look around. I promise I won’t do anything without checking in.”

  I realized I had to make an executive decision. Chai was my friend, and although I valued his offer, I wasn’t sure if he could hold to his promise. And if he went in after this creature, there was no telling whether it would kill Bette if it saw him coming. Plus, there was another reason to hold back.

  “I think you better wait. You’re from the realm of Fire. Going into earth Elemental territory means your presence will be noticed. And you were with us the other night, so if the creature sees you, it’s going to know we’re on to it and it might kill Bette.” I almost added if she’s still alive but then stopped. We had to hold out hope, because hope was all we had at this point.

  “Unfortunately, she’s right.” Ralph printed off the maps and sent the coordinates to his phone. “From what I can tell, these creatures are so connected to the earth, they’re bound to notice energies from other planes coming in.”

  “It kind of reminds me of dwarves,” I said. “Dwarves are often mistaken for being part of the Fae, but they aren’t. They’re actually Elemental earth spirits. Not many humans realize that. They lump all the creatures of legend and lore together under one or two labels.”

  I had met several dwarves in my life. Once in a while a few hardy souls—rather, a few foolhardy souls—trekked into the Dragon Reaches, hunting treasure. Most of them never made it home if they actually managed to find a dreyerie filled with treasure. The majority of dragons were wealthy, but white dragons were the ones who truly hoarded gold and gems. And white dragons would think no more of crisping up a dwarf or human who came to pilfer their stash than they would a cow when they were hungry. Attempt to part a white dragon from his treasure and you were writing your own death warrant. And I knew that from experience. The more I thought about it, the more I realized just how stupid I had been. And the more grateful I was to the Wing-Liege for saving my ass.

  Chai patted my shoulder. “Thinking of old times?”

  I rolled my eyes at him. “I wish I weren’t. Greanfyr will be hunting me for years. What I took didn’t amount to a backpack full of coins, a silver chalice, and a platinum belt. But in his eyes, I raided his vault and stole every penny from him. The chamber was filled with coins and treasures and goods. I didn’t really want his stuff, you know. I just wanted some sort of revenge.”

  “And that was the only way you could think of getting it.” It wasn’t a question. Chai knew my situation inside out.

  “Pretty much. Anyway, I think it’s best we wait for Alex to wake up, so we can go out there as a team.”

  “What should we do until then?” Ralph asked.

  “You contact Tanne Baum. I’m going to call the director of the Supe Community Center and ask for a list of any new members in the past two months. Maybe we can figure out the name of the cover persona the diatrofymata has been using.”

  Ralph put in a call to the Hunter’s Glen clan, but all he got was an answering machine. He left his number and a brief message, then hung up.

  At that moment, Chase Johnson arrived. “I’m sorry it took me so long. We’ve had several pressing matters that I had to attend to. Emergencies.” He didn’t elaborate and we didn’t ask. I knew there were things about his job that he couldn’t tell us. I did ask if they had any new information, but he shook his head. “I wish I did, but I’m sorry. No.”

  “Well, we have some for you.” At that moment, I noticed Tonya was yawning. I realized she hadn’t had any sleep in well over twenty-four hours. “Tonya, why don’t you go in the back for a while and rest. There’s a couple rooms that have daybeds in them. You need sleep. The rest of us can manage for a while longer without it, but you’re human. You need to get some rest, especially if we’re going hunting for Bette tonight.” I motioned to Ralph and he nodded, leading her off to the back. I turned back to Chase and filled him in on everything we had discovered.

  “So it looks like we’re dealing with a creature that’s not quite a doppelgänger. It’s actually worse. I was about to put in a call to the Supe Community Center to find out if they’ve had any new members in the past two months. We think that the diatrofymata set up a cover persona there to gather information on potential victims. Then it could masquerade as a love interest, once it knew all about them.”

  “Why don’t you go ahead and do that while I check in at the station.” He pulled out his phone and moved off to the side.

  I flipped through Bette’s contacts and found the number. I called the contact listed, hoping that I wouldn’t get hold of the diatrofymata.

  “Supe Community Action Council, Donna speaking.” A brisk voice answered me—female.

  I realized I wasn’t exactly sure what to say. “My name is Shimmer, and I’m from the Fly by Night Magical Investigations Agency. We are working on a case involving several of your members who have been murdered.” I knew that Chase had given us this case on the QT, but now was not the time to pussyfoot around. “Can you tell me how long you’ve been with the Council?”

  “Five years, why?”

  I supposed the diatrofymata could be lying, but I decided to chance it.

  “We need to know if you have had any new members in the past two months. This particular member would be someone who would probably show up at every meeting, and who might have taken an overt interest in several of the elderly members.”

  There was a pause, and then Donna cleared her throat. “Actually, yes we do have a couple members who fit that description.” There was something about her voice that made me take notice.

  “One of them strikes you as odd, don’t they? We need as much detail as you can remember. If you would like to verify that I am who I say I am, I can have Chase Johnson, director of the FH-CSI, call you.”

  A pause, and then she said, “No, I trust you are who you say you are. I have the ability to sense these things. And you’re right. One of them has never sat well with me. She makes me uneasy. She kept asking about their mental state—whether they were lonely and lived alone.”

  “Did she get the information she was looking for?”

  “I imagine she did, but not from me. She signed up as a volunteer during an art class led by one of our other members. She also signed up to volunteer during our community dances. I asked her if she would like to work with some of our more indigent members, those who need help but can’t afford it. Basically, our homeless Fae and Supes. But she said she wasn’t geared for that kind of work. I turned her over to another board member who is more diplomatic than I am.”

  I could read between the lines. “In other words, she didn’t want to work with the poor and hungry. Can you give me her name? Do you have a home address for her?”

  “She goes by the name Estelle, and she said she was rooming with a friend until she could afford an apartment. She did give me a cell phone number. Let me get it for you.” After a moment Donna rattled off a number and I wrote it down on a pad of paper next to the phone. I had the feeling the number would be a no-go, but there was always a chance.

  “When was the last time you saw her?”

  “Let me think . . . I’d have to say that it was last week. She showed up for a short time, and then took off again before I
could say anything to her. I haven’t seen her since then.” A pause, and then Donna asked, “Do you think she’s the one who murdered our members?”

  “I can’t answer that, but I will say this: If she shows up again today, will you please call me or Chase Johnson? And whatever you do, don’t let on we were asking about her. This is extremely important.” After giving Chase’s number to Donna, I hung up.

  As Ralph came back, Chase finished his conversation and I told them both what I had found out.

  “We have the cover persona, that much is for sure. Chase, can you marshal together a group of officers to go with us? They need to be Supes—strong ones. The diatrofymata tend to be exceptionally strong, and they’re resistant to all attacks from metal because it’s part of their element. Which means I doubt if bullets will do any damage. We’re going to need a different way to attack it. I wish I could just turn into my dragon self while we’re out there, but I can’t unless I’m underwater. So we need brawn and plenty of it. And I don’t think Ralph and Alex will provide enough muscle to take the thing down.”

  “Don’t forget I’ll be there,” Chai laughed, but there was a seriousness behind his levity. “She’s right. Creatures that are from an Elemental plane tend to be overtly strong on a physical level. And because this creature’s from the Elemental plane of Earth, it’s going to be exceptionally muscular in its natural form.”

 
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