Belinda sat back and rubbed her chin. Her caseload sat on the left side of her desk, labels facing toward her, so she could see them. She knew the one she should look at, but truth to tell, she didn’t want to deal with a new partner on it.
“So, whatcha got?” Jon asked, leaning back in the chair and watching her. His milk chocolate brown eyes seemed penetrating and very serious, a lot more intelligent than a moment before.
She wasn’t going to be able to fool this one easily.
“I have a few to look at,” she told him. She slid the main case file onto her desk blotter and handed over the stack of the rest of them. “I’ll be right back, I need to powder my nose.”
He nodded, examining the labels. She walked out to the hall and slipped into the ladies’ room, grateful no one else used it. She washed her hands and then ran the cold water. It felt good on her face, chasing away memories of Monica’s blue eyes. ‘Blue’ didn’t really describe them; it was the kind of shade a lake turned just before a rain, deep, dark and shadowed, but very, very blue.
She turned away from the mirror, scrubbing at the tears angrily. “Get a grip, Belinda,” she snarled at herself. “And pick a new word for ‘blue.’” She nearly ripped the door off the hinges but managed to school her features to a polite mask by the time she got back to her desk.
The Balistreri file wasn’t on her blotter.
“What’s the deal with this one?” Jon asked, the file in his hands. He had the crime scene photos spread in front of him.
“You just take without asking?”
He shrugged. “I can see why you don’t want to share, new partner and all. But this saves time.” He glanced at her and it seared her to her toes. “Trust is earned, not guaranteed. On both sides.”
She swallowed and sat down. “Fine. You’re right. I didn’t want to share.” She inhaled deeply, trying to clear her thoughts and focus. Her eyes fell on her keys. “Look. You want to get out of here?”
He cocked his head and then slipped the photographs back in the file. “Yeah.”
She grabbed the second file, the related theft, and her purse. He followed her, his strides long enough that she’d have to jog to keep up but he didn’t move as fast as he must normally go. He just paced next to her, content to let her set the speed.
Interesting. After the little stunt with the file, she didn’t expect him to let her ‘drive.’
He held the door for her and they walked outside into the Madison air, chilly with the onset of Autumn but not yet cold. She led the way around the side of the building to the parking lot where she left her Prius.
“So, what’s the deal with Balistreri?”
She shivered, nipples tightening in a sudden gust of chill air. “Don’t say his name out here, please.”
He glanced at her, startled. “You’re serious?”
“Very. Get in the car, it’s the blue Prius.”
He folded himself into her tiny automobile, surprisingly compact for a man of his bulk.
“These are roomier than I thought,” he grunted as she got in.
She shrugged. “My brother fits in it just fine.”
“Your brother your size?”
He seemed impressed by that. “Older? Younger?”
“Twins, actually.” Why were they discussing Brock? It just reminded her she was mad at him. “Can we get back to the case please?”
Belinda pulled the case file out and put it in his lap, then pulled out of the lot and headed for the edge of town. She figured they could find a park and talk there, look at the trees instead of stare at blank walls. Maybe it would wake her up.
“Mister Gilberto Balistreri owns an antique shop downtown. Been there for years, very successful,” Belinda told him. “Shows up to work last week and finds something missing.”
“Something? Not several somethings?” He spoke without looking at her, thumbing through the papers.
“You’re quick,” she purred. “Just something. A dagger, to be specific. Only, it’s not just any dagger. But he’s been really cagey about what, exactly, it is. Which is where we come in.”
He thumbed through the file to her notes on the dagger. “‘Eight inches long, two wide at the base, sharpened on both sides, folded steel…’ What the hell is ‘folded steel?’”
“Very magical,” she answered. “It’s a technique of creating very strong metal in the forging process, and there are all sorts of legends about them. Sometimes called Damascus steel, it’s said to have magical properties.”
“Like what, witchcraft?”
She shrugged. “Some say.”
“What does Balistreri say?”
“Nothing. Refuses to meet with me.”
He turned to stare at her, his eyes wide. “Pardon me?”
“He’ll only talk to Sandillo,” she confirmed. “Says he won’t deal with ‘the help.’ Has enough clout to make it stick, too. Knows the mayor, a bunch of important people in town, the usual.”
He whistled. “Was the item insured?”
“It wasn’t in the shop for sale,” she told him, eyes twinkling. “It was in his own personal collection.”
“Not listed on the home insurance?”
She shook her head. “He had it in the shop, but he won’t say why.”
He digested that while they drove. She pulled into the parking lot overlooking Lake Mendota and cut the engine.
“This is gorgeous,” Jon said after a moment of staring, wide-eyed, out the windshield.
She smiled, touched. “I like coming here to think. It’s peaceful.”
“No kidding!” He blinked and seemed to pull himself back into the car, looking down at the papers in his lap. “So. Balistreri won’t talk to you. He has a rare dagger but doesn’t put it on his insurance… Do you think he’s had it for a while?”
“There are six in existence. One is missing and has been since eighteen forty-three. One of the others is owned by… it says in the file…”
“Mrs. Wilfrieda Kincaid?” he asked.
“That’s the one. One was in Mr. Balistreri’s possession.”
“Says he can produce it, but hasn’t yet.”
He whistled again. “Do you think it was stolen?”
She felt her eyes widen. “You mean, maybe he was fencing it? I honestly hadn’t thought of that…” Mr. Balistreri didn’t seem like the type to do that, but you never knew about people. “It’s a possibility.”
He thumbed through to the other file. “And what about Mrs. Kincaid?”
She sighed. “Poor old thing got a fright. Home invasion, but she wasn’t home. Convinced her little dogs were disturbed.”
Jon eyed her with a grin in his eyes, but he didn’t laugh outright. The warm chocolate seemed like syrup, rich and friendly. He sure had a good ‘good cop face.’ She wondered how genuine it was.
Since she had an expression similar to it, she figured it wasn’t very.
She cleared her throat and looked back at the lake, watching a duck flap heavily up from the surface and take off toward the far shore. “Their names are Mr. Churchill and Franklin D.”
His brows drew down. “Who?”
“The two pugs.”
His eyes widened. “You’re joking.”
“Do I look like I’m joking?” She laughed. “Mrs. Kincaid’s a widow. Mr. Kincaid died a few years ago, but she kept the dogs for company and to bark at the neighbors. She spoils them rotten. She got home and found the dagger missing. Nothing else was disturbed, not the jewelry, the television or home entertainment equipment, computer, nothing. Just the dagger missing.”
She nodded. “The file’s coming from the agent, but it won’t get here for another day or two.”
“So that leaves two more.”
“Nancy is looking them up for me. I’ll introduce you, she’s our research associate and all around fix-it lady.”
“Ah,” he nodded sagely. “Bring her chocolates, flowers and concert tickets.”
“She likes dark chocolate, yellow gladioluses, and Elton John.”
He chuckled. “Thanks for the tip.”
She hesitated. Jon hadn’t seen the part in the file about her ‘nameless’ informant. She knew her brother could help her, could tell her more about the daggers and their magic. But the problem lay with the fact it was police work, and Brock Gary wasn’t a cop. Wasn’t anything like a cop, and didn’t really like the police service to begin with.
Lord knew, he threw it in her face often enough.
“What aren’t you saying?” Jon asked, startling her.
“You’re good,” she grumbled.
He shrugged. “Just tell me.”
Or what? she almost asked, but didn’t. “Fine. I think I may know someone who can help us, but he’s not part of official channels.”
“My brother, Brock Gary. He’s a Wiccan priest and knows a lot about magical artifacts.”
Jon studied her. “And you think he knows something about Balistreri?”
“I think he knows something about the daggers. See, the legend is, there are six daggers, with all sorts of magical properties. A lot of it is fairy tales and hokum, but if two of the daggers really exist…”
“He have expertise in this area?”
She nodded. “He’s a tattoo artist. One of the best in the Midwest, actually,” she admitted grudgingly. “He’s interested in all sorts of the occult.”
“Can you trust him?”
“Of course!” she snapped, anger filling her so fast it startled her.
“Easy,” he soothed. “I’m just saying, you seem to want to hide this whole case from me, and then not tell me you wanted to see him.”
“That’s not why,” she told him. She looked out the driver’s side window. “I’m mad at him.”
“What does this have to do with the case?”
“If he knows you’re mad, he might not tell the truth. And if you’re mad, you may not be thinking clearly, and you’re giving confidential information to a civilian.”
“I know my job, Detective.”
“So why bring the case file? Why not just interview him?”
She sighed and looked back. “You always this pushy?”
He nodded, but didn’t say anything. Just waited.
“Fine,” she snapped, annoyed. “I need to have all the information or he may not be able to help. Psychic ability isn’t like science. If I leave something out that’s important, he won’t be able to get the whole picture. I’ve involved him before, Sandillo knows about it.”
“Then why isn’t he on the department’s list of experts?”
She stared at him, flabbergasted. “My brother?”
Because he’d kill me? she thought, but didn’t say. “He’ll only talk to me.”
He sniffed and leaned back in his seat, staring out over Lake Mendota. “So, an informant.”
“Why didn’t you just say that then?”
She flushed. Good question.
His eyes caught hers again, utterly serious. “I looked up your file, Gary. I know about Monica.”
She got ten feet away from the car before the tears spilled down her cheeks. She walked, steps quick and tense, until she came up to a picnic bench. She just stopped in front of it, back rigid. The trees in front of her wavered and jumped in her vision.
A car door behind her slammed and then a second one. She must have left her door open. He made no sound as he walked up.
“I’m sorry,” he murmured.
She said nothing. Truth to tell, she wasn’t sure her voice would work right that second.
“Look. When I got assigned, I had no idea what I walked into. Sandillo’s got a reputation for playing things close to his vest. So I researched you and the team. I don’t mean to dig up the past.”
“But you did.” Her voice came out hoarse and low, hardly sounding like her at all.
“I get why you don’t want to trust me, Belinda. But if you give me a chance, we can solve this case.”
She glanced at him. A crease between his brows formed as he watched her, though he didn’t quite frown. She could feel his earnestness radiate from him, but then the window in her mind opened and she saw more than she wanted to. He’d had a partner once too, but watched him die in the street.
She didn’t bring it up, no matter how much she wanted to throw it in his face. “Fine. Can we just get back to the case?”
Neither of them spoke on the way to the car and got in silently. He picked up the files and thumbed through. “So you think these daggers are magical in some way?”
“Yeah. I have a sketch of one of them.”
He pulled a sketch out of the pile. “This it?”
She nodded. “Yeah. I found that from a book written in eighteen forty-three by a wealthy society lady here in Madison.”
“Wait. Isn’t that the year…”
“The other dagger went missing. Yup. That’s the one.”
“‘Constance Greenlee,’” he read. “Scary looking lady.”
Belinda nodded. Miss Greenlee, not Ms., died a spinster at the ripe old age of ninety-four – not notable by modern terms, but an eternity in the pre-Civil War years. She dressed all in black, from her bonnet to her skirts, and the lines on her face all pointed downward – not a smile line among them. She didn’t look unhappy, precisely, more that she believed life cheated her of something rightfully hers. No, Miss Greenlee didn’t seem unhappy, so much as angry. Angry and calculating, as she glared at the camera such that Belinda could feel it more than a century later.
She shivered and rubbed her arms. “So. I was going to go see Brock before I called it quits,” she announced.
Jon blinked. “What, now?”
He studied her. “Well. Why are we parked then?”
It took a moment, but she felt her grin appear. Jon smiled back and the look in his eye matched hers: calculating, challenging, and altogether energized.
Maybe coffee could wait. She started the Prius and pulled back onto the road, headed for Brock’s house.