Flight from mayhem, p.5
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       Flight from Mayhem, p.5

           Yasmine Galenorn
 

  “Do you want to drop by her place and see if everything is okay?” I called the waitress back. “Make that to go, please.”

  Bette nodded. “We’ll give it five more minutes, till your shake is ready, and if she hasn’t shown up by then, I’d appreciate it if you’d come check things out with me.”

  The waitress brought my shake and we paid for our drinks. Bette ordered a dozen doughnuts to go and then we headed back to her car. I stuffed a cinnamon-covered doughnut in my mouth and stuck my shake in the cup holder, next to Bette’s refill. As we pulled out of the parking lot, I could tell that the Melusine was fretting. She might be a tough old broad, but she cared about her friends more than most people cared about their families.

  Marlene lived in a house near the arboretum. It was a single-story bungalow, small and cozy and pretty, with a garden that had been allowed to grow gracefully wild. The moment we stepped off the sidewalk and onto the walkway up to the house, a sense of peace flowed over me, like soft silk trailing past. The driveway was empty. If she was home, someone else had her car.

  “I can tell one of the Woodland Fae live here.” I kept my voice down—it seemed proper. No shouting, no swearing. This land was tended to by a steward of the planet and unless somebody was as thick as a brick, I had the feeling they wouldn’t be able to shake off the feeling of being watched by every tree and bush. As we quietly approached the front door, Bette tensed up. I tried to tune into what she was feeling, but the moment I opened myself up, a deluge of fear and anger swept over me and I let out a cry, dropping to my knees at the sudden assault of emotion.

  “Bette!” I winced, rubbing my forehead.

  She spun, then crouched down beside me. “Shimmer, what is it? Do you need me to call a doctor?”

  I shook my head, trying to drive back the spikes that felt like they were jabbing me from every which way. “I don’t know what it is. I was trying to sense whatever I could and . . .”

  A soft look of understanding stole over the Melusine. “You’ve become an empath—I suspected as much last night. I’ll bet you’ve always had the ability, but it never opened itself up before. And now, you’re having to come to terms with it. Pull back, girl. Pull those feelers back and it should help some.”

  I wasn’t sure what she meant, but I tried to do as she suggested and, after a moment, I could think again. But even though I was feeling better, I also knew that something had happened here. Something to desperately upset the beings who were rooted on this lot.

  “Bette, something horrible happened here—and recently. I’m worried about your friend. The trees, the plants, I think they’re all upset, though I can’t communicate directly with them. If there were a stream or the like running through the area, that would be a different matter.”

  Bette frowned and pushed the doorbell. The buzzer rang, a soft hollow chime from inside the house, but nobody was answering. She rang again. Still no answer. With a look at me—I nodded—she tried the door. It was unlocked.

  “Do you think we should call the cops?” I hesitated to just barge in. If something had gone wrong, then I didn’t want to destroy any evidence.

  “Maybe . . . why don’t we take a look inside? If we find her hurt, we’ll call the medics. If we find anything else . . . we’ll call the police.” She took out a handkerchief and softly pushed the door open, and I realized she wasn’t taking a chance on mucking up any fingerprints. With a cautious glance inside, she stepped through the door and I followed.

  We entered the living room. The house was cozy, that much I could tell right off. Plants covered the bookshelves and walls. And a long-haired black cat let out a mew and came running up to us, crying anxiously. Bette picked up the fluffy creature, petting it softly.

  “Hey there, Snookums. Where’s Marlene? Hmm? Where’s your mama?” She flashed a glance over her shoulder at me. “This is Snookums, and he seems awfully upset. He usually won’t come up to strangers. Me, he tolerates, because by now he knows me, but that he came running out with you here, too? Unusual.” She stopped, then pointed. “Marlene’s purse.”

  I followed her direction. There, on the floor, lay a purse. It was a pretty leather satchel, open, with the contents strewn around. I slowly walked over and knelt down, staring at it. The latch on it had been broken, as if someone had been in a great hurry and had trouble getting it open. Once again, a ripple of fear raced up my back. Motioning for Bette to stay where she was, I crossed to a partially open door on the other side of the room, and leaned in. A bedroom—Marlene’s by the look of it. The sheets were partially ripped off the bed. There was a jewelry armoire and it had been tipped over, with the drawers scattered around the floor. The closet door was half off its hinges. Still no sign of Marlene, though.

  Quickly, I made my way back to Bette. “We need to get out of here and call Chase.”

  “Look in the kitchen, first?” Bette was pleading with me, I could hear the fear behind her words.

  Grimly, I nodded and crossed to the opening that led into the dining area and the galley kitchen. I glanced around. Nothing. Dirty dishes on the counter, but not a lot of them.

  There was another door at the end of the kitchen and I cautiously approached. I grabbed a potholder that was on the counter to turn the knob, trying not to wipe off any prints that might be on the handle. The laundry room came into sight, as well as a door leading to the backyard. Nothing in the laundry seemed off, so I peeked out the door. The yard and patio were small, but everything looked normal, from the scrollwork chairs and glass-topped table sitting on red brick, to the tidy little herb garden. But even so, once again the sense of fear and anger and worry hit me. This time I managed to keep it at bay, while stumbling back into the house.

  I returned to the living room, where Bette was comforting the yowling cat.

  “She’s nowhere in sight. If it weren’t for her purse, I’d say she just got a late start. Her car’s not in the driveway, though.” I hadn’t seen any car in the drive when we pulled up.

  Bette shook her head. “True, it isn’t. But see, near her purse? Her key chain’s there, and her car key is on it. So whoever has her car has their own key to it. Or they hot-wired it.” She buried her face in Snookums’s fur. “I’m afraid, Shimmer. I’m afraid something happened to her.”

  “I’ll call Chase.” I softly crossed to the phone and put in the call to the Faerie-Human Crime Scene Investigation Unit. The FH-CSI was run by a detective named Chase Johnson. I didn’t know him very well, but he was father to a baby girl, I gathered, with the Elfin Queen. There was some big to-do over the fact, but I knew very little about it. What I knew best about him was that he ran the police unit set up to deal with Otherworld visitors.

  I had the phone number on speed dial, thanks to Alex’s insistence. A voice came on the line, a Yugi Brinker. With a glance at Bette, who nodded me on, I said, “This is Shimmer, from the Fly by Night Magical Investigations Agency. I’m calling in regard to our concern over a friend who has gone missing. She’s one of the Woodland Fae—elderly—and we have reason to be concerned over her safety.”

  Officer Brinker promised to send someone over within the next half hour, and so Bette and I settled in to wait. She found Snookums’s bowl—which was empty and looked like it hadn’t been filled that morning—and fed him from the bag of cat food sitting on the counter. He started to purr as he tore into the food. I watched.

  “Humans and Fae love cats, don’t they?”

  “Not all of them, but a lot, yes. Why?”

  “I’ve just never had much experience with the animals. I think I like them better than dogs. Dogs are messy.” I tilted my head, watching Snookums scarf down the food. After a few minutes, he finished and ran back over to Bette, sprawling at her feet as if he knew she would protect him. He was licking one paw as the doorbell rang.

  “I’ll get it.” I motioned for Bette to stay there and answered the door. It was a man
in uniform. He was pale and tall, slight with neatly trimmed dark hair.

  “I’m Officer Hancock, from the FH-CSI? Someone reported a missing person?” His eyes were gleaming and I recognized right off that he wasn’t human. I wasn’t sure what he was, but human? Definitely not.

  “My name is Shimmer. I’m the one who called. Please, come in.” I led him into the living room where Bette stood. “This is Officer Hancock.”

  “I think we’ve met, a few months ago, when Alex was working on a case for Were-mates, Inc.” Bette inclined her head. “Bette, if you remember? I’m the receptionist at the—”

  “I remember, ma’am.” The cop nodded, a friendly smile emerging from his taciturn expression. “And thank you again, for helping us with that case. What seems to be the problem?”

  Bette ran down the facts that we knew of. Marlene was supposed to meet us for lunch, she never showed, we dropped by, found her apartment out of order—especially in the bedroom, her purse on the floor, the jewelry armoire overturned. All the pertinent pieces.

  He jotted down everything, and then as we waited, he knelt down by the purse. He took a picture of it, then gathered up everything while wearing a pair of latex gloves, bagging the purse and its contents. Then he looked in the bedroom. After a while he returned.

  “I’m going to call in the forensics team, see if we can find any source of blood or other possible evidence. If it weren’t for the purse and the jewelry case, I’d say she may have gone off on her own and forgot to say anything. But those two facts . . . we’ll have to see what we can find out. Do you know if she has any family in the area?”

  Bette shook her head. “No, she transplanted herself from up north a ways, she told me, and I have no idea who she might be related to. The only person I know about is a younger boyfriend. In fact, I was rather suspicious about him but never got a chance to meet him. I think she called him Doug but that’s all I remember.” She gave the cop one of our office cards as well as her home number. “Listen, is it okay if I take her cat with me? He seems lonely and I don’t want to just leave him here. I’ll leave a note for her—”

  “Go ahead, but I suggest you don’t leave a note, not just yet. Better not to advertise your presence until we figure out what happened to her.” He called in the forensics unit while we found the cat carrier and managed to stuff Snookums—who wasn’t making it easy—into the box. As Bette snapped the latch shut, she motioned for me to get the cat food. She elicited a promise from Officer Hancock to call her if they found any traces of blood or anything, and we headed out to her car.

  As we sat in the front seat, the cat wailing from the carrier in the backseat, I glanced at the yard again. The plants who lived there were afraid and upset. They knew something had happened. I had mentioned my impressions to the cop, and he had written it down, but I had no clue how seriously they would take me. Finally, Bette lit up a cigarette.

  “You can’t smoke that around the cat.” I pulled it out of her mouth and tamped it out. “He doesn’t get a choice.”

  “Well, I can’t keep him at my place then, because I sure can’t quit smoking cold turkey, not after all these years.”

  Sighing, I gave a little shrug. “Fine, I’ll take him. What do I need in order to take care of a cat?”

  “Cat box, litter, scoop, food, dishes, toys . . .” Bette let out a snort. “This is going to go ever so well. I just . . . oh well, at least you’ll have Chai at your place. He might be able to keep you and the cat from throttling each other.”

  “What do you mean by that?” I glared at her.

  “Just . . . oh, wait till you have him at home. I think you’re in for a surprise.” And with that, she gunned the motor and we were off to the pet store.

  CHAPTER 4

  By the time I got Snookums situated and fell asleep, Chai was cooing over him and I was frustrated. The cat was going nuts in front of my aquarium and I half expected him to hurl himself against the glass in pursuit of the fish. But finally he seemed to calm down and I decided I could chance going to bed. Snookums was sitting patiently, eyeing the swimming fish with a hungry glare. I made sure he had plenty of food and water, and Chai promised to get his litter box set up, and so I traipsed into my bedroom, stripped, and fell into an exhausted sleep.

  When the alarm went off, I opened my eyes to see a pile of fur. Granted it was pretty fur, but fur nonetheless. As I squinted myself awake, I realized that Snookums was curled up beside me, breathing softly. I stared at the creature, then hesitantly ran my hand over his back. He shifted and started to purr, and his fur felt silky against my fingers. I stroked him again and he shifted onto his back, stretching out to show his belly. With a laugh, I blew on it softly, then bounced up and began to dress.

  I had already taken two showers in the past twenty-four hours, and while I could happily stay under the water for days, I really didn’t have the time for another. I slid into my bathing suit—I was hoping to find time for a swim, and maybe wearing my suit would bring me luck on that—then jammed myself into my jeans and slipped on a sleeveless black tank top. Brushing my hair back into a ponytail, I sat down on the bed to slide my feet into a pair of ankle boots and zip them up. We worked Sunday nights and took Fridays off, depending on what our caseload was like.

  “You coming?” I asked the cat, but he ignored me in favor of the bed, so I gave him a ruffle on the head, then dashed downstairs.

  Chai was there, holding out a massive sausage-cheese muffin in one hand, my purse in the other. “Eat.”

  I slung the purse over my shoulder and jammed the sandwich in my mouth as I glanced up at the clock. I had overslept and Bette would be here to pick me up any minute. “Cat’s up on my bed,” I said around the mouthful of bread, sausage, and cheese. “Can you feed him and keep an eye on him?”

  Chai nodded, a sly grin on his face. “I like cats.”

  “He’s yours until we find Marlene.” And then, blowing him a quick kiss, I headed out the door as Bette’s unmistakable, absolutely obnoxious horn sounded. It was raining like crazy, and I tried to protect the rest of my sandwich as I dashed down the porch steps and yanked the door open, sliding inside.

  Bette gave me a pale grin. “Chai takes care of you, doesn’t he?”

  “Chai’s like a brother to me.” I polished off the rest of the sandwich and licked my fingers, then burped. Surprised by the sudden belch, I rolled my eyes. “Spicy sausage.”

  “Yes, I’ll bet Chai has a spicy sausage.” Bette snorted.

  “That’s not what I meant—” I stopped, realizing she was teasing me. It still took me some time to figure out when somebody was joking, but I was getting better about not rising to every jape.

  But her smile was short lived. She cleared her throat. “There’s been no sign of Marlene. I called the FH-CSI before I came over to pick you up. They’ve been asking around, and the last thing they figured out is that she talked to someone last night, at around ten P.M. I’m not sure who it was, but they have her cell phone records. Apparently, she sounded nervous, according to whoever they were talking to, but she insisted that everything was all right.”

  “Her neighbors know anything?”

  Bette shook her head. “No, except the boyfriend—Douglas Smith—was around for about three weeks. He hasn’t been seen today. The police have an APB out on him as a person of interest, though with a name like that and nothing else to go on, it’s not going to be easy to find him.” She edged into the parking lot next to the building the Fly by Night Magical Investigations Agency was in.

  Alex had bought the three-story brick walk-up some years back. He had left it almost in pristine condition, repairing it in the style in which it had been built. A red neon sign glowed in the front window with the agency name on it, and as we headed into the building, the sound of our shoes echoed on the tile. The main offices of the agency were housed on the main floor, though old files were kept upstairs in the
archives. To be honest, I hadn’t gone exploring the rest of the building because I felt it really was none of my business.

  Now, as we approached the half door with the frosted window that led into the waiting room, I turned to Bette. “What else is in the building? I know archives and old case files, but this is a huge building and we seem to only take up the main floor.”

  She laughed. “Oh, Alex has a number of secrets, chérie . . . Some of the rooms are empty. Others, well, let’s just say that he keeps what he wants to in them. Don’t go prowling around, though. You might not always like what you find. Even though I will guarantee you there’s nothing illegal on the premises, you just don’t go prying into another person’s secrets without good reason.”

  I frowned, not sure if I liked her answer. But I didn’t have time to think it over because, as we entered the room, we found Alex and Ralph sitting in the waiting room, talking to a lovely young woman. She couldn’t have been more than nineteen, with red hair that was caught back in a braid. She was frowning, biting her lip as Alex and Ralph seemed to be lighting into her for something.

  “What’s going on?” Bette sauntered over.

  The girl glanced up at her, looking grateful to see us. She started to stand, but Alex motioned for her to sit down. He nodded me over to his side and slid his arm around my waist, giving me a quick kiss. I still felt odd about him kissing me in the office, but it wasn’t like we were hiding anything.

  “You’re just in time. Bette, will you start a new file for this young woman? Her name is Lydia Wagner. She’s our newest client.” He gave the girl a look that told me he wasn’t exactly thrilled about the case. “Lydia, this is Shimmer. She’s one of our detectives, and my girlfriend as you might have noticed. And that’s Bette, our receptionist.”

  Lydia murmured a “Nice to meet you” that sounded anything but genuine, and she stared back at the floor. Puzzled, I caught Ralph’s eye, but he just shook his head.

 
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