A Murder in Rook City

Chapter 1

            I knew she was trouble the moment she walked into my office.  Now, if this were a movie, I would tell you I was hungover at the time, but I don’t drink, and this isn’t a movie.  That hadn’t stopped her from dressing like a stereotypical film-noir femme fatale, though.  All in black (pot/kettle, I know), patterned stockings, sky-high heels, lacy veil, expensive jewelry, dress a bit too short and much too low cut for a grieving widow.  If she thought she could manipulate me with sex appeal, though, she would be disappointed; I don’t play for that team.

            “May I help you?” I asked.

            “Yes,” and of course her voice was breathy, “I’m looking for Thomas Diamond.”

            “Try Hills of Eternity Cemetery.  That’s where he’s been for the past three years.  But if you need a P.I., I can help you.  Faye Diamond,” I said, standing up and offering her my hand; I can hold myself together enough to shake hands.  “I’m his daughter.  I’ve been running Diamond Investigations since my father retired.”

            “Oh.  I see.”  She shook my hand with transparent embarrassment.  She had obviously thought I was the receptionist.  “I apologize.  Perhaps I should go.  I’m sure you are very good at your job, but I think I may need someone more experienced.”

            I needed the work—I spend a lot of time on cases that don’t exactly pay all that well—so I didn’t want her walking out.  “Mrs. Sinclair, there are plenty of other P.I.s older than I, but very few who more experienced, and none as good.”

            “How did you know my name?”

            “I told you: I’m the best.  Obviously, you have money.  But you are a little too young to have made a fortune in business on your own, and, though you have the face of a model or a movie star, you aren’t famous—or not famous enough that I recognize you, anyway.  Based on your outfit, you are in mourning.”  I tried to keep my opinion on the sincerity of her grief out of my voice.  I think I succeeded.  “And here you are looking to hire a private investigator, and you want someone experienced.  It’s been all over the news that Chesterfield Sinclair, head of Sinclair Overstreet Investments, was murdered three nights ago.  The police have already declared it a mugging gone wrong, even though nothing was taken.  The logical inference is that you must be the widow Sinclair.  How am I doing?”

            “Excellently.  You’ve convinced me: I don’t need a more experienced investigator.  May I?”  She gestured to the chair for visitors opposite my desk.

            “Of course.  May I get you some coffee or anything else to drink?”

            “No, thank you.  You’re right,” she continued, as we both sat down.  “I am “the widow Sinclair” as you put it, though I usually go by Kayla.  And I’m not naïve.  I know that most people think I’m just some gold digging trophy wife.  I suppose that’s inevitable, given the difference in ages between Chester and me, and our respective prior net worths, and maybe there’s some truth to it, but, believe it or not, there was real affection between us.  I’m not going to tell you that it was true love or anything, but I really did care for him.  And now someone has murdered him, and the police are saying it was a mugging gone wrong.  A mugging!  At four in the morning?  When he still had over eight hundred dollars in cash in his wallet, to say nothing of all his credit cards?  He had an eighty-thousand dollar Patek Phillipe still on his wrist, for crying out loud!  One hardly needs to be Sherlock Holmes—or Faye Diamond—to know that that is nonsense.”

            “Do you have any idea what he was doing in Arnem at that hour?”  Arnem was one of the worst neighborhoods in Rook City, and that was saying something.

            “No.  And it was not normal for him to be out that late at all.”

            “When was the last time you saw him?”

            “At home the previous evening.  Around seven o’clock, maybe.”

            “Called it an early night?”  I asked with an arched eyebrow.

            “No.  We had dinner together, but then I went out clubbing with friends.”

            “Did you often go out without your husband?”

            “Not that often, but from time to time, yes.  Look, I know how that sounds, but he is—that is, he was sixty-six and I’m twenty-three.  Do you think he wanted to go clubbing until dawn?  And he liked his alone-time too.  Believe me, when he wanted me with him, I was with him.”

            I considered asking just how far their mutual understanding extended, but I thought better of it at this stage.  Instead I said “I’m not here to judge you.  I just need the facts.  Do you remember what time you got home?”

            “Sorry, of course.  I’m just used to being judged, and not favorably.  Around five, five-thirty.  I didn’t want to wake Chester up, so I went to sleep in one of the guest bedrooms.”

            “What happened then?”

            “One of the maids woke me up at around ten to tell me that the police had come.  That’s when I found out that Chester had been found murdered.  Later I found out that he had taken one of the cars out around midnight.”

            “Where is your house?”

            “Alder Heights.”

            Alder Heights was probably the toniest suburb of Rook City.  Even so, at that time of night, I wouldn’t expect it to take more than thirty minutes, tops, to drive from there to Arnem.  “And the police estimated that time of death at four AM?  Any idea what he might have been doing or where he might have been between midnight and four?”

            “No.  Believe me, I wish I did.”

            “As far as you know, did your husband have any enemies?”

            “Not that I know of specifically.  You don’t need me to tell you that you don’t get where he got without upsetting some people along the way.  But he didn’t discuss his business with me.”

            “What about personal enemies?  He’d been married before, hadn’t he?”

            “Yes, twice.  I don’t think either of his exes would do this, though.  Why now?  And what would they stand to gain?  They don’t get anything from this.”

            “Who does get his money now?”

            “I do, as far as I know.  He had most of his assets in a trust.  I’m the principal beneficiary now that he’s dead.  His will gives the rest to his children from his previous two marriages.  Obviously that has to go through probate.”

            “Any chance they might be angry over being disinherited?”

            “Of course there’s a chance, but he gave them a lot of money while he was alive.  They’ve all been quite well provided for.  But that includes all of them being major investors in Sinclair Overstreet, and that would be much less valuable now: Chester was the driving force behind Sinclair Overstreet.”

            “Is it possible that one or more of them divested from the company before the murder, or before the news hit?”

            “I wouldn’t think so.  It’s a hedge fund, not a publicly traded corporation.  You can’t sell your units without the consent of the other partners.”          

            I paused for a moment as if considering something.  “I’ll take your case, but we need to discuss my fee.”

            “Of course.”

            “This is a homicide investigation, you understand, and one that is still active with the police—for a certain definition of active.  That makes it more expensive than a typical case, so we’d be talking two hundred dollars an hour.”

            “One hundred, surely?  That is the top range for a private investigator, isn’t it?”

            I was impressed.  She had obviously done her homework at least a bit.  “One hundred, plus expenses.  And I’ll need a five thousand dollar retainer.”

            “Done.  Is there anything I need to sign?”

            I took a standard client-retention form from my desk, filled in the relevant amounts, and handed it to her.  She glanced over it and signed, then wrote me a retainer check.  “What’s the next step?” she asked.

            “I’ll deposit this,” I said, indicating the check.  “Then I’ll get a copy of the police report, examine the crime scene, start re-interviewing witnesses, and put together a timeline of what happened between midnight and four on the night of the murder.”

            “Very good.”  We both stood up, and she extended her hand.  As I shook it, she said “Thank you.  I finally feel that this investigation is in good hands.”

            I walked her out and watched her drive off in a car that looked as though it cost more than everything I own, then I walked over to the bank to deposit the retainer.  Then I walked to the subway that would take me to the police station.

            As I waited for the train, I considered what I knew so far.  In a way, it was nice to be involved with a case that didn’t involve any eldritch abominations—something I’ve been called myself—trying to invade our world from some other plane of existence.  Just a good old-fashioned murder mystery. 

            I mulled over the possibility that Kayla herself was responsible.  She certainly had motive.  He might have been suspicious of her late nights out, left to follow her to try to catch her in the act.  Maybe he did, or she noticed him spying on her, they had a row, and she killed him.  Or maybe she had decided to kill him for his money, knew he had planned to go out late that night, scheduled her night out with the girls to provide herself an alibi, got away from her friends for a while, then killed him?  Or just hired someone to do it?

            The problem, of course, was that the police, even the Rook City police, would have considered all that.  She might have paid them off to declare it a mugging gone wrong, but that would mean she would have gotten away with it all.  Certainly, that they had so confidently and so quickly declared that it was a mugging gone wrong was suspicious in itself—it suggested that someone paid or otherwise influenced them to make that decision.

            But why would she then turn around and hire a private investigator?  Maybe to throw suspicion off of herself?  Sinclair had children from his previous marriages.  If they suspected their stepmother, they might want the matter looked into too.  Maybe she wanted to preempt them?

            But if not Kayla, then who?  Who else had the motive?  What was he doing in that neighborhood at that time of night?  By that time, thankfully, the train had gotten to my stop, and I could start looking for actual clues rather than just speculating pointlessly.

            First, though, I would need to get into the police station and get access to the files on the Sinclair investigation.  Not that that would be difficult.  If there’s a building on earth that can keep me out, it certainly wasn’t the Rook City Central Police Station.  By now it was already early evening.  I casually strolled into a nearby alleyway, went into mist form, and then floated into the building through one of the ventilation ducts.

To be continued….


Two of my favorites: Super Heroes and Detective Stories.

A great start. I look forward to reading more. :)

Phantom561, I'm glad you are enjoying this so far.  Thank you for letting me know, and I hope you continue to enjoy it.

Chapter 2

            I had done this before, so I knew my way through the ventilation system here pretty well by this point, and the way to the part of the station where the homicide division detectives worked by heart.  And I could see the whiteboard where they listed the names of which detectives were assigned to which cases from the ventilation duct leading into the room.  McAllister and Renzado.  Like any P.I., I’d had my share of dealings with the police, but I didn’t know these two.

            But that was the easy part.  The detectives’ room, however, used an open-plan office, without even any cubicles, and the place was hardly ever completely empty.  So I couldn’t just float down and check McAllister or Renzado’s desks for a copy of the police report.  I had to figure out a way to get it without being seen. 

            I waited for the night shift to come on.  The captain of the squad went home for the night, locking his office up behind him.  I figured that there was a good chance that he’d have a copy of the report on his desk already.  I didn’t know for sure, of course, but this was a high profile case, and if the police were covering something up, then there was a good chance the captain would be involved.  So I floated down through the vent into his office and went solid again crouching behind his desk.

            I gave my eyes a few seconds to adjust—his office wasn’t that dark, and then I peeked over the top of his desk to look for a copy.  The bad news was that his desk was a mess, with papers everywhere.  The good news was that that meant that he was probably the kind of guy who liked to print out a document to read a hard copy rather than reading it on the screen.  I’m not bad with computers, but I’m not much of a hacker, and he had logged out before leaving.  Fortunately, I found what looked like the right file near the top of the pile.  I grabbed it and crouched under the desk.  I pulled out my penlight and started reading through the file.

            According to the report, the cause of death was a 9mm caliber pistol shot to the top part of the back of the head at close range.  The report concluded on that basis that Chesterfield Sinclair had been on his knees with the killer standing over him and shooting him from behind.  In other words, execution style.  So definitely no mugging, but what was really strange was that the medical examiner’s report had been signed by Dr. Kyle Farnsworth.  Who the heck was Kyle Farnsworth?  Unless something had changed, Rook City’s chief medical examiner was Juli Tremata.  So why had someone else signed the medical examiner’s report in this case?

            I turned off my penlight, tucked the file back on the desk, and misted back into the ventilation ducts.  I emerged in Tremata’s office and said “Dr. Tremata, I presume?”

            “You’re even worse than the Wraith.  What do you want?”

            “I want to know why someone named Kyle Farnsworth signed off on the medical examiner’s report in the Sinclair murder.”

            “I’d like to know that myself, but the order came from on high that Dr. Farnsworth should be assigned to the case.”

            “Any chance you did your own examination?”

            “No, but I get the feeling that you think I should.  Fortunately the body hasn’t been released yet.”  She walked over to the wall of meat lockers and slid one out.  The body had already been autopsied, but had then been stitched up again.

            “What did Farnsworth say was the cause of death?”

            “9mm caliber pistol bullet to the top-back of the head at close range.”

            She lifted up the back of the corpse’s head.  “I couldn’t tell you for sure about the bullet without examining it, but the entrance wound looks like a 9mm.  Definitely went in the top-back part of the head, angled down.  And given that there’s no exit wound, I’d say it probably was a pistol.  But there’s no stippling or burn-marks around the entrance wound, so it wasn’t close range.”

            “What about his knees?  Any trauma there?”

            She looked under a magnifying glass.  “Yes.  How’d you know?”

            I didn’t answer, but rather asked my own question instead.  “If he’d been standing up when he died, would he have fallen, hitting his knees?  Would that have caused this trauma?”

            “It’s certainly consistent with that, sure.”

            “Thanks, Doc.  Mind if I get a few photos of this?”


            “Any chance you could get a hold of the bullet from evidence and do your own ballistic analysis?”

            “I should be able to swing that.”


            I snapped a few shots of the entrance wound and his knees, then left.  I left the police station and headed over to the scene of the crime.  I had a few answers, but a lot more questions.  The trauma on his knees told me that he’d been standing when he died, not kneeling.  But Sinclair was a tall man.  To shoot him in the top-back of the head, the shooter would have to have been a giant.  Possible, but I think it was more likely that it was a sniper with a rifle shooting from a high-up sniper’s perch.  That would also explain the lack of stippling around the wound.  There were 9mm rifles that took pistol-caliber bullets.

            But why had someone gone to such great lengths to disguise that fact?  And who arranged for Farnsworth to do the forensic report?  Why?  Someone with a lot of power had worked hard to cover up the truth about this crime.  I still didn’t know what Sinclair had been doing there by this time of night.  And how did the shooter know that Sinclair would be in that alley?  The obvious conclusion was that someone set up Sinclair to be killed there, but who, and why? 

            By now, I had gotten to the crime scene.  It was a blind alley between 146th and 147th Streets off of Avenue C.  There was still crime scene tape up, but not much else to show that any investigation going on.  I still didn’t want to disturb anything, so I misted up and floated around the scene to look around. 

            There wasn’t much to see by this point.  There was no chalk outline.  The police only do that in the movies.  The police report, though, said that Sinclair’s body had been found in the middle of the alley, facing away from the street.  That would mean that if I were right, the shooter would have to have been pretty much directly across the street, which would put them in one of the middle floors of the boarded-up old tenement that I was looking at.  If I had to guess, I would say somewhere on the fifth or sixth floor, maybe seventh.

            Of course, no one exactly boards up the windows on abandoned buildings anymore.  They just tack up sheets of plywood instead.  Once I floated across the street, I saw that the plywood on the sixth-floor window was loose.  It looked to be hanging cockeyed off only a single nail in the upper right corner, as if the shooter had pulled the other nails out to swivel the board out of the way so he could take the shot, then not bothered to replace them.  I misted through the gap into the abandoned building.

            A lot of these abandoned buildings aren’t really abandoned though, and I finally caught a break.  As I took on solid form inside, I heard a gasp from the next room.  I walked toward the sound of the noise.  Sure enough, there was a homeless lady hiding behind a shopping cart filled, probably, with all of her worldly possessions.

            “I won’t hurt you,” I said, trying to sound as reassuring as possible.  “I just want to talk to you.”

            “Ar-are you a ghost?”

            “No, but I get that sometimes.  I’m very much alive, though.”  What?  That was true.

            “There was a ghost here before.  I hid from it.  Can you hide from a ghost?  Or can they sense living souls?”

            “Depends on the ghost.  Most ghosts are just echoes.  The soul has passed on.  They can’t hurt you.  They can’t really do anything.  They float around and repeat the same actions over and over, usually what they were doing right before they died, but they can’t affect anything.  Every so often you get one that has a bit more oomph.  They can toss small objects around, open and close drawers, that sort of thing.  Occasionally you can communicate with them a little.  They’re still usually more nuisances than anything else.  Only when someone has not moved on at all, the whole soul is still walking the earth, then you can get a full-blown spectre.  Those can be dangerous.  But they’re very rare.”  I left out that most hauntings are hoaxes or hallucinations.

            “The ghost that was here three days ago must have been one of those last ones, then.  I hid.  I hid.”

            “Three days ago?  What happened three days ago?”  This conversation just got interesting.

            “I hid.  I hid.  I saw nobody!  Nobody!  Nobody.”  She wasn’t looking at me anymore.  She was curled up in a ball in the corner, shaking, not looking at me.

            “Please, tell me.  I know about ghosts.  I stop the bad ones.  I can make sure that this ghost never comes back.”

            Now she looked at me, staring me right in the eye.  “You don’t understand.  I saw nobody!  No body!  I heard, though.  I heard footsteps on the stair.  Ha-ha!  Three days ago upon the stair, I heard a man who wasn’t there!  Just the rifle, in the air.  He wasn’t there.  It isn’t fair.  How I wish he’d go away.”

            “A rifle?  You heard footsteps coming up the stairs?  In the middle of the night?  You woke up, you heard the footsteps, but you didn’t see anyone?  Just a rifle floating in the air?  Is that right?”  I was getting excited.  I think I understood what had happened.  If I was right, I had my first real lead.

            “Yes!  You see, you see the man that wasn’t there!”

            “And then the piece of plywood got pulled off the window?  He pushed it to the side, and then the rifle pointed out the window?  And then the gunshot?”

            “Yes!  I was so afraid.  Why would a ghost need a gun?”

            “Leave the ghost to me.  I promise I won’t let him hurt you.  Do you know if anyone else has been near that window since you saw the ghost?”

            “I-I don’t know.  I don’t think so.  Most of the others have their squats on the first few floors.  That’s why I like it up here.  I haven’t been anywhere near that window.”

            “Thank you, you’ve been a big help.”  I took out my billfold and handed her a couple of twenties.  “Get yourself something to eat, okay?  And I promise to deal with the ghost.”

            “Thank you very much.  Bless you!”

            I took my camera out and started toward the window, slowly, photographing the floor as I went.  There was a layer of dust on the floor and, sure enough, there were footprints in the dust, which I was careful to disturb as little as possible.  The most recent set of prints were a pretty distinctive pair.  Combat boots.

            After I left the tenement, I went back across town, but not to my office.  Instead, I grabbed a booth at Lucky’s, my favorite diner—by favorite, I mean open all night, only a block from my office, cheap, but with good coffee.  I don’t eat much—I can’t, given my curse, but I can still enjoy a good cup of coffee.  It used to be that you could go into any diner or coffee shop in this country, get a decent—sometimes excellent—cup of java for a buck with unlimited free refills.  Now, thanks to a certain chain of coffee shops whose name I shall not utter—and I’ve uttered the names of eldritch abominations from beyond time, so that should tell you something—You can spend five bucks to get a cup of liquid sewage.  Lucky’s is one of the last of a dying breed.  My father used to take me here when I was little.

            If I seemed to be getting nostalgic for the good old days, it’s because I was.  My dad would be smiling at the turn this case had taken.  He always told me that there was no such thing as ghosts, goblins, or anything else going bump in the night, and that all apparently supernatural phenomena had rational explanations.  The two of us were like the Scooby Gang, unmasking hoaxers and charlatans.  Even though I knew differently now—heck, I was one of the things going bump in the night now, and not in the fun way—I still smiled.  He would have loved this case: a flesh-and-blood hitman mistaken for a ghost.

            Of course, I still had to find my “ghost.”  I sipped my coffee and got my phone out to search online for the whereabouts of Haka.  If I was right about who the shooter was, he had almost certainly done it for the money to pay for continuing his real passion, which would mean that wherever Haka was, my quarry wouldn’t be far behind.  Haka and I didn’t know each other all that well, so it’s not as though I could just call or text him.  There weren’t many superheroes I knew all that well, although I’ve met most of them by now (known supervillains I kept files on). 

            Despite what you may have heard, I am not one of them—superheroes, that is, or supervillains for that matter.  I’ve moved in their world, but it’s their world, not mine.  Ever since I consulted with the Freedom Five that first time, the press has been writing about me as if I also flew around with my underwear on the outside.  They gave me that silly name, Nightmist, because heaven forbid the press give the credit to Diamond Investigations and actually help me drum up some business.  Sometimes I’ll get a potential client come in and expect me to work for free, and, don’t get me wrong, if it’s some seriously dangerous evil spirit or cult that’s up to no good and the client really can’t afford to pay, I’ll take a case pro bono, but I really can’t stand the people who want me to get photos of their cheating spouse but don’t want to pay me because “you’re a superhero, you’re not supposed to get paid.”  But that’s enough complaining for this year, as my dad would have said.  The upside of the press is that when a seven-foot immortal Maori chieftain is teaching middle school history classes in some place called Matewan, West Virginia, that tends to get a few column inches, so it was pretty easy to find it online.

            I paid for my coffee, walked back to my office, grabbed a few things, and opened a portal to Matewan.  From what I had found online, there were a few hotels, B&Bs, and other lodgings in the area.  I decided to start with the Hatfield McCoy Inn Resort—I guess the infamous feud had happened in this area, and circle out from there.

            It was the middle of the night by now, and I showed the night clerk a photo of my suspect.  Of course he was committed to preserving the privacy of his guests, couldn’t tell me a thing.  He remained committed even after I got out my billfold and started pulling out twenties (night staff are generally easier to bribe, not because they are less honest, but because they are usually the only ones on staff, meaning no witness), which told me that my shooter wasn’t here.

            There was a B&B called the Historic Matewan House right across Main Street from the Hatfield McCoy Resort, and I considered trying there next, but I decided that this was too inefficient a way to search.  He might not be staying in a hotel at all.  He would want to avoid attention, after all, so he might have rented someone’s house through AirB&B or something like that.  In that case, finding him might take much longer, and I wanted to get him before he made his move against Haka.  If I didn’t, Haka would turn him over to the local police, and they would be a lot more interested in making their own case against him for trying to kill Haka than in helping me make mine for the murder of Sinclair.  I wanted to have him back in Rook City before anyone else knew that he’d ever been here.

            Fortunately, my magical powers include something I call astral premonition.  The only way to describe it is that I can see through the mists of time and space to gain a kind of extra-sensory perception.  I don’t like to use it, because it drains my strength and isn’t always reliable, but I thought it was worth a try now.

            That’s how I ended up in the bedroom of somebody’s rented-out house, standing at the foot of the bed at 3:30 in the morning, looking down on the sleeping form of one Ansel G. Moreau, also known as Ambuscade.  “Wakey, wakey!” I shouted.  “Or should I say reveille instead?”

            To his credit, he woke up immediately and grabbed for the pistol he had left under his pillow.  He came up empty though.  I pulled back the flap of my trench coat to reveal the pistol now tucked into the waistband of my skirt.  “Looking for this?” I asked. 

            By the way, it’s a very bad idea to keep a pistol under your pillow.  Never mind that it can go off accidentally, people move around in their sleep, and you can just wait and grab it when they aren’t on top of it anymore.  Amateur mistake, but it’s what I’d expect from an actor playing a supervillain.  Much better to tape it to the back of the headboard.  He’d stacked the rest of his arsenal on top of the desk; I’d been careful to stand between him and it, and to position an easy chair between us.  Among the weapons I found was a CMMG Mk9 T rifle, which took 9mm pistol-caliber bullets; I'd worried he might have disposed of it, but I'd brought an extra-large plastic evidence bag for it just in case, and I'd bagged it before waking him.

            “Quoi?  Qui est-ce que—”

            “En Anglais, merde-tête.  I don’t have the patience for French tonight.  As for who I am, all you need to know is that I’m investigating the murder of Chesterfield Sinclair, which I already know you carried out four nights ago, and yes, I already have proof.”  I held up the plastic bag into which I’d put Moreau’s boots, which he had laid out neatly at the foot of the bed.  Before I’d bagged them up, I’d checked their soles quickly.  I’m not a forensic expert myself, but I was pretty sure they’d match the footprints from the sniper’s window.  “Did you know that shoeprints are as distinctive and unique as fingerprints?  Turns out that everyone has a distinct stride, so everyone wears out their soles in a unique way.”  Then I held up the other evidence bag I’d collected.  “And I’m guessing this rifle will match the ballistics of the bullet in Sinclair’s head, won’t it?”

            “So arrest me, sorcière, if you think you have proof of anything.  I have no patience to listen to your prattle in any language.”

            “First you tell me who hired you to kill Sinclair.”

            “Why should I tell you anything?”

            “Because I am a sorcière, and not just any witch.  I am the mistress of magic, and I can magically fix your face.  That’s what you want more than anything, isn’t it, not to be hideously deformed anymore?”  If you consider a tiny scar on one cheek a deformity, but I figured it was best to play on his vanity.

            He looked stricken, desperate to believe me but not quite willing to.  To punctuate my offer, I pulled his knife from off the easy chair and made a nasty cut across my left cheek.  Before it had a chance to bleed much, I channeled some of my magical energy through the starshield necklace I had on under my shirt.  I muttered some vaguely mystical-sounding mumbo-jumbo and waved my fingers over the cut to make it seem as though I were casting a spell (the starshield necklace only works for me; I did have another way to heal him, though; I wasn’t lying about that).  The cut closed without so much as a scab or scar, as if it had never been there.  It was a little wasteful, but it helped make my point.  He was staring transfixed at my palm.

            “I…”  He turned away from me.  “I don’t know who hired me.  It was all done through dark web cutouts.  I’d tell you if I knew.”

            I smiled inwardly while I paused to consider that.  I was recording the conversation on a digital recorder, and this was a pretty clear confession.  “Then tell me what Sinclair was doing in that alley.  Whom was he meeting?”

            “I do not know.  I was just told he would be there and at that time.”

            “Don’t jerk me around.  He didn’t go to that alley in the dead of night to go sightseeing.  He was meeting someone.  He was meeting somebody, and if that somebody weren’t there when he arrived, he would have been facing the street, not the end of the alley.  But you shot him in the back of the head from the other side of the street.  That means that whomever he was meeting was already there when he arrived.  Don’t tell me you didn’t look through your rifle scope and see the man he was meeting while you were waiting.”

            “Yes, I looked, but I have no idea who it was.  He was just some man in a suit.”

            “Fine.”  Without turning my back on him, I put down the bag with his boots and got out my sketchpad, then sat down in the easy chair.  “You are going to describe him to me in detail.”  I may not be a hacker or a forensics expert, but I am a pretty good sketch artist.

            It took a while, but I eventually had a sketch of the mystery man, assuming that Moreau had been telling the truth.  It wasn’t clear that that would be helpful, though.  The mystery man was pretty nondescript.  Slim, tall, but not as tall as Sinclair.  White with short brown hair slicked back but with long bangs over his forehead, blue or grey eyes.  A somewhat angular face with a strong chin.  Wore a grey suit and tie.  His one really noticeable feature was a very prominent mustache.  I showed Moreau the drawing.  “This him?”

            “Yes, a remarkable likeness.  You missed your calling.”

            “Alright, get dressed.”  I put the pad back into my bag.

            “May I have some privacy?”  He gestured to the bedsheets covering him from the waist down.  “I am afraid you have caught me at something of a disadvantage.”

            “I’m sure that both of our respective modesties will survive intact.  Now get moving.  Slowly.”

            “What are you going to do with me?” he asked as he got up and opened the dresser.

            “What do you think?  I’m going to turn you over to the police for murder.”

            “Such a shame.  I could think of much more enjoyable ways we could spend our time together.”

            I snorted in disgust.  Don’t get me wrong, Moreau was gorgeous, and, whatever he thought, the scar really only enhanced that, but I had gotten over my bad-boy phase before I turned sixteen, and even then, “bad boy” meant stayed out past curfew and cut class occasionally. 

            That was when he pulled a pistol out of the dresser drawer.  Idiots.  Both of us.  Me, for not checking the dresser before I woke him, and him for trying something so stupid.  I felt the amulet of the elder gods pulse on its choker around my neck as it drained some of my magical energy.  My body looked solid as it ever did, but I felt myself turn into a magical portal.  The bullet entered me and then left in the opposite direction. 

            “Gurk—” he said as he hit the floor.  The wound was making a sucking sound, and he was turning blue, so I was guessing tension hemopneumothorax.

            “You idiot.  I should really let you die on the floor here, you know that?  And I will if you don’t toss the gun.”  He did, so I put my sketchpad away and took out a zip-tie and the idol of Anput. 

            It was a relic I’d acquired in the course of dealing with Isis.  No, not the terrorist group.  Isis was a member of a group called the Ennead, who claimed to be the gods of ancient Egypt.  Isis claimed that she was the matron of magic.  Claimed.  I made a habit of collecting powerful and potentially dangerous or useful magical relics I came across.  Fortunately, this one fell into the useful category. 

            I flipped Moreau onto his stomach and zip-tied his wrists together behind his back.  Then I waved the idol over Moreau, and the wound closed up, his breathing returning to normal.  I did not heal his scar.  He hadn’t told me who hired him, after all, but even then I might have done it.  But then he took a shot at me, so this was his idiot tax.

            “No more games, moron.” Before he was fully recovered, I grabbed the evidence I had bagged up and my other things, opened a portal back to Rook City, and shoved him through it.

            It took some doing to explain to the police why I had dragged a naked former movie star into central booking first thing in the morning, but fortunately I’d texted Tremata, who met me there with her own ballistic report.  Between that, the boots, and the confession, I figured that the case against Moreau would be pretty open and shut.

            That was the good news.  The bad news was that I really had no idea where to go from here.  I’d hoped that Moreau would be able to tell me who hired him, but he really seemed to have no idea.  The only lead I had now was the drawing of the rather nondescript man Sinclair had been meeting with.  I thought about how I would package the developments in the case for Mrs. Sinclair and chewed over what my next step should be.  First, though, I needed to get home and get some sleep.

To be continued….

Great work! Very cool so far. I do have a question though: is this before or after Nightmist absorbed energy from the Realm of Discord? It sounds like it's before, but I just want to make sure. From the look of things this is between the 'original' Ennead attack and the 'retconned' second.

I am loving this! I really like good detective fiction.

Enjoying it. Thank you.