Belinda stretched in her warm cocoon of blanket and quilts. She hated sleeping in a stuffy room, so even though Wisconsin nights got chilly, she always jacked down the thermostat before tumbling into bed. Rolling on her back the scarab ached a bit, reminding her that the skin had been broken and need extra care and attention.
It also reminded her of true reason for her deep, restful sleep. Despite the weariness making her eyes gritty, Belinda had fully expected not to be able to drop off. Her body ached, too tired and stressed to relax, while her mind replayed images of blood splattered in that pristine kitchen.
Earlier as she lay fretting over her theory of two perps, the idea that Jon dismissed so easily, the scarab had begun radiating warmth that slowly spread. It allowed her to drop into a restful haven protected from the horror of earlier. She knew her shields would be strong for hours to come, perhaps lasting until the small punctures fully healed and faded away days from now. No spillage from her new partner, or strangers, threatened to distract her.
Belinda viewed depending on her brother’s magic to be a crutch. But, as she sat up and pushed back the heavy drapes that let her nap the afternoon away, perhaps she was being too critical. She absorbed the serene view of the lake. She knew Brock only tried to help. The trouble was, lately, she felt like she didn’t deserve it. Not since she’d failed and Monica paid the price for it with her life.
She threw herself out of bed, unwilling to continue that line of thought. She got in the shower and by the time she finished shaving her legs, she had a plan.
The Prius felt cold against her still damp skin and her head chilled since she hadn’t yet dried her hair. The heater warmed up quickly and she ran it full blast all the way from her house to the pub. She drove around back to the small employee lot and parked next to her uncle’s pickup. A regular for as long as she could remember, he had permission to park back here and so did she, though in her case it owed more to her status as a police officer. She walked in the back door of the restaurant.
“If it isn’t little Spelling Bee!” Rudolph, the huge Black man who had cooked there for almost three decades, grinned from ear to ear. “You here for breakfast, little girl?”
He hugged her one handed, the other occupied stirring the day’s soup.
“Uncle out front?”
“He’s by the back dart board,” Rudolph grunted. “You need some food, girl. You’re gonna fade away, now that Monica’s not feeding you no more!”
Unfortunately, that reminded her of her earlier line of conjecture and she felt the smile fall off her face. Rudolph, occupied with his soup, didn’t notice. “I’ll catch you later, okay Rudolph? I need to talk to Uncle.”
“Sounds fine, little girl, just fine,” he responded cheerfully.
Matthias Gray remained Belinda’s favorite relative, with the exception of Brock, all through college and once she became a cop. He didn’t judge her, for one thing, and rarely told her what to do.
“If it isn’t Bee-Linda,” he greeted kindly when he saw her. “You out slumming today?”
His nickname for her lightened her heart. “Maybe I’ve come to arrest you.”
His blue eyes glinted and his welcoming grin grew predatory. “If you win a game of darts.”
“You’re just saying that. You won’t really go quietly when I win.”
“That’s because you never win.” He winked, then tossed her a set of darts when she came up to him, a gentle sideways toss so as not to hurt her.
She put each one in the triple ring on twenty.
Two men seated nearby turned to stare at the board and then watched her uncle surreptitiously. She didn’t recognize them and wondered if they knew Matthias or were just tourists.
Matthias didn’t even bother to rise. He took a sip of his beer and threw all three darts in a precise grouping dead-center. Triple bulls eye.
“Dammit!” Bee cried. “Every time!” She rose and twirled each dart free of the board.
Her uncle’s eyes twinkled as he grinned at her. “Looks like it’s not your day, Bee-Linda.”
She sat down, deflated. “Tell me about it.”
He cocked his head. “Tell you about what?”
She let the darts fall and put her elbows on the table. “Everything!”
“Hey Val!” Matthias called without turning. “Tell Kelly to get us the usual, honey?”
“Yeah!” The curly-haired blond bartender scribbled a note on a ticket and handed it to Kelly, their waitress, as she walked toward the kitchen window. Kelly went back and got Bee’s huge mug, a blue ceramic with a picture of a large flower and two drunken bees on it, from a shelf at the back of the bar. Monica gave the mug to her for her last birthday and Uncle Matt had them keep it for her, knowing well her coffee addiction.
“Just iced tea today, thanks Kelly,” Bee called before she could fill it. She turned back to find her uncle regarding her.
He blinked and then studied his beer. “So. What brings you to the bar in the middle of the afternoon? Sandillo know where you are?”
She shrugged and moved her hand so Kelly could set the tea down. “Not exactly. I’m not on for another couple hours.”
The two men who’d watched their dart game got up to leave and Belinda waited for them to be out of earshot. Kelly, meanwhile, brought them both scrambled eggs with what looked like every vegetable in the kitchen as well as a double stack of toast to share.
It had been Monica’s favorite dish.
“What’s wrong, Bee-Bee?” Uncle Matt coaxed.
She shook her head. “This case,” she said, not lying but not telling the whole truth. “I have a new partner, and I don’t know if it’s going to work. And there’s been a murder, Uncle Matt!” She had to put her fork down as the scene welled up around her.
Her uncle said nothing, just ate another bite as placid as ever.
“The murder happened near the lakefront. The wards weren’t disturbed, not even a little. They recognized me, and it was like they could tell what I said, that he’d been killed!” She shivered. “There are two perps, Uncle Matt. But Jon doesn’t believe me!”
He broke eye contact and took a sip of ale. When he looked at her again, his eyes seemed bluer than before. “They weren’t his wards, then,” he pointed out. “As long as he’s human, the wards die when he does. What does your partner think?”
“I don’t know. But there’s something else weird. The rug in the living room felt…” She trailed off, searching for a description.
“Well, like Gran’s crone circle, sort of.” She took another bite of food but hardly tasted it. “It recognized me when I walked on it.”
He digested that, playing with a fragment of mushroom on his plate. “What about the rest of the wards?”
“Nothing. Just the living room.”
“Not all you see is visible to the naked eye.”
She blinked. “What?”
He shrugged. “Finish your food.”
“But Uncle Matt –”
“Don’t ‘Uncle Matt’ me, girl. Eat your food before you get sick from bad habits.”
“Yes, sir.” She sighed. When he got that tone, there was no arguing.
One thing was certain. If not all she saw was visible, she would have to go back to that house. She finished her lunch and excused herself to go to the bathroom. The bar steadily filled with patrons, there to watch the Colts play the Bears. Any time the Bears played anyone, the Brocach filled to watch them get trounced. And if they played their beloved Packers, the patrons cheerfully threatened all sorts of mayhem to their Chicago rivals.
“Not everything is visible to the naked eye.” Bee stared at herself in the mirror. “Like what, though?” She stopped further inquiry when two women came in, overly cheerful and definitely tipsy. She washed her hands and checked her makeup.
Her hazel eye looked back at her from its contact, blue now, and then seemed to change. She bent closer and felt her blood run cold. Monica’s darker blue eye looked back at her from her own face, filled with love and concern.
She dropped her purse and the sharp sounds its contents made as they clattered around the floor broke her reverie.
“Here, let me help you,” one of the other women said kindly. Her eyes, safely brown and shaped like downward-facing ovals, seemed friendly but not too forward.
“Thank you,” Belinda managed to mumble, feeling her face heat. She prayed she wouldn’t tear up in front of her.
She emerged to find her Uncle embroiled in one of his dart wars with two older burly marines. She knew their military branch from the patches on their coveralls, by their age she guessed them to be retired. The second one threw a good shot, in the center too, but her uncle repeated his performance of earlier.
“Dayum!” the other marine blurted. He finished is Coke. His arm had three paint spatters on it, and a bruise peaked out of his sleeve. “We’ve got to RTW, but next time we’re in town, we’ll look you up!”
She knew ‘RTB’ meant ‘return to base,’ since Brock went through a phase where that’s all he’d say: acronyms for everything. Her uncle must have shared her puzzled look because they grinned and explained.
“That’s ‘return to wives’ nowadays.”
She resisted rolling her eyes. Her Uncle refused to give up paintball; now it appeared he played with Marines.
The three of them shook hands and the two big men passed her and exited the bar.
“I’ve got to go, Uncle,” Bee interjected.
“Just remember what I said.”
“Yes. Thank you, I will.” She hugged him.
“Are you all right?” he murmured, his hands on her shoulders.
“Yeah, why?” She smiled brightly up at him. “Just a late night, and this case..”
He nodded and broke eye contact. “Come over for dinner this week. Gran’s getting irritated.”
She broke off the rest of her whine as his blue eyes regarded her, utterly without sympathy this time.
“Yes, all right. I’ll come for dinner. Thursday.”
He beamed. “Good.”
Good. Right. She walked out into the midday sun and went to her car, lost in thought.