Belinda parked in front of the quiet house, police ‘do not cross’ tape blocking off the front yard from the neighbors. No neighbors congregated in front of the yard. The street had an abandoned feel, as if everyone hid from the ugliness of earlier. Street lights provided some illumination, but the house seemed shadowed with no porch light or any internal lamps turned on.
She jumped and snapped her head around to face her partner. “Huh?”
He frowned. “What’s wrong?”
“Belinda, you’re acting like a rookie case of nerves here!”
She shivered. A breath of wind flowed through her and it seemed for a moment like her hair would move in the face of it. Goose bumps popped up along her arms and throat and tightened both her nipples, but it didn’t feel like arousal. She turned back to the front of the house, inhaling.
“What is it?” Jon whispered.
“I don’t know yet,” Belinda responded. “There’s something…”
Jon’s phone bleated and they both jolted. He rolled his eyes and got out of the car, snapping the phone open. She heard him talking but didn’t pay attention, focused on the house in front of her.
She put her hand on the door handle and a snap of static electricity zapped her all the way up to her elbow. “Ow!”
“What’s wrong?” Jon asked sharply, bending to look in the car.
“Nothing, I’m fine,” she growled, annoyed.
She got out of the car and stood up. The scarab seemed to shiver on her skin and then went cold. She inhaled and opened her right hand, palm down. “Brock…” she whispered.
She felt his spurt of panic and then the sense of him riffling through her memories. He realized she stood at the crime scene, but not in any actual danger, and calmed down.
She let her eyes fall shut and inhaled deeply. Warmth tingled along her arms and then her fingers. A breeze stirred the leaves overhead and littering the ground, a soft susurration that smelled like dust and small animals. She walked toward the front door, moving through a strange double awareness.
A faint blue shimmer surrounded the stairs, only a couple inches off the ground. As soon as she registered it, the color faded like mist, but she could still feel it like a pressure against her collarbone.
Jon walked up and she caught his arm. “Don’t step on the stairs!”
He looked down, a bewildered expression on his face. “Huh?”
“Just stay back, will you? I’m trying to figure something out.”
Brock’s ghostly chuckle in her mind only irritated her further. ~Well?~
~It’s not human~ he answered with no delay, despite his clear wish to play with her.
She stifled her surprise. It wouldn’t do to annoy him when he wanted to help out. Then what he said hit her. “You’re kidding!”
“Who?” Jon asked.
~Would I do that to you?~
“Shut up, both of you,” Belinda muttered.
~Is it hostile?~ she asked.
~What are you there for?~
‘Not everything you see is visible.’ She studied the house and its shadowy angles that shrank from the light. She closed her eyes and opened her hand, palm out, and pointed it toward the house. It felt like she reached through a gauze curtain.
~Brock. I have no clover oil with me~
~Oh. Um… Hold on~
She got a sense of him riffling through his magical supplies and had a moment to wonder if she’d interrupted him mid-ritual. Then she felt a ghostly impression of something cool on her eyelids, as though a phantom hand brushed eye shadow across her skin. She realized he applied it to his own eyes, and used their link to ‘give’ it to her. She wasn’t sure that would work, but… She opened her eyes and the house sat there, ordinary-looking and unshadowed.
~Yeah~ Brock agreed. ~Bee careful~
She grimaced. ~Funny. But what is it?~
~No idea~ He paused. ~Drop your keys~
~Why? They don’t like iron!~
~So Jon picks them up~
She felt his grin like something physical and slammed her shields down on his ghostly laugh. “Prick,” she muttered.
“Who the fuck are you talking to?” Jon snapped, annoyed.
“My brother,” she answered without thinking. “Come on.”
Jon’s big hand landed on her arm, covering nearly the entire bicep. “What?”
“I have a blue tooth for my cell phone,” she lied. “Come on.” She pulled away and went up to the yellow police tape. She scratched on the door frame. “Hello! I’m coming in, and don’t want to disturb you. I’m a police officer, I’m trying to find out who killed the owner of this house.”
“You’re beginning to really creep me out.”
“Keep your shirt on, big guy.” The door opened easily and she stepped in. Even with the clover oil, the shadows inside seemed to move and freeze in slightly different positions than they were before the door opened. She shivered. “Stay behind me.”
She heard the click of his gun safety and resisted telling him to put the gun away.
His loud bellow made her jump and she rounded on him. “Keep it down!”
He frowned. “Why? The place is unoccupied.”
“How do you know?”
He studied her. “Where’s your blue tooth?”
“What are you talking about?”
“The blue tooth you talked to your brother with. Where is it?”
She flushed and turned away. “Never mind.” She moved toward the kitchen and then saw a flash of something move ahead of her.
Jon bumped into her and then stepped back, his large hand holding the gun next to her head as he sighted down the hallway. She’d go deaf if he fired it from that close. His hand stayed rock steady, but his voice came out breathy. “What was that?”
She eased a hand onto his arm and pressed down, so the gun pointed at the floor. “Relax. It’s what I came here to find. You’ll scare it with the gun. Put it away and stay in the hall.”
She saw the saucer of milk as she entered the kitchen. It sat on the counter in the mercifully spotless kitchen. Someone took their time cleaning, too; she could smell the cleanser in the air. Something fresh and non-chemical, but thorough. A small dish with chocolate chunks sat near the milk; definitely not snacks for a kitten or cat. It had to be one of the fey… but would it be friendly to a stranger?
Belinda felt a pressure in the air to her left and resisted the urge to move quickly. Instead, she squatted down and then sat cross-legged on the floor. “My name is Belinda Gary. I’m with the Madison Police. I’m trying to find out what killed your Master.”
The voice, when it came, sounded like dry sticks rubbing together. “Gary.”
“That’s right. Belinda Gary. My friends call me Bee.”
“You know Tilly.”
She felt a flash of cold bolt through her. She swallowed around a dry mouth and nodded. “She’s my grandmother.”
“Master likes Tilly. Good woman, Tilly, he says. You good woman, Bee-of-Tilly?”
She edged her face to the left slowly, so as not to startle the creature. “I try to be.”
“You not sing, Bee-of-Tilly. Why you not sing, Bee-of-Tilly?”
Her eyes widened. “How do you know I sing?”
“You have the music, Bee-of-Tilly. Tilly has it. Matthias has it. Bee-of-Tilly has it. You have brother, Bee-of-Tilly?”
“Yes. Yes, his name is Brock.”
The creature stood maybe two, two-and-a-half feet tall. Wrinkled brown skin, dark like a walnut, covered it. The hair wasn’t hair so much as corn silk, a silvery greenish brown that reminded Belinda of a garden in Spring. A neat white smock adorned it and its feet remained shoeless, the nails on the toes like little shiny claws. Beady green eyes, like little agates, regarded her out of a wizened face.
“Brock keeps the music. You not sing, Bee-of-Tilly. Not good, not sing. Must sing, Bee-of-Tilly.”
“I’m here to try to find out who killed your Master.” Maybe if she kept to the case…
The creatures eyes welled up with huge tears and it looked to where the body had lain. “Evil woman kill my man, Bee-of-Tilly. Evil woman!”
“Yellow-haired. Lighter than you. Taller, too. Said to buy the dagger. But lied.”
The hairs on Belinda’s arms raised at that last word, and the echoes hissed and bounced around the kitchen. Despite its diminutive size, the creature seemed menacing suddenly.
“Belinda?” Jon called.
The creature hissed and raised a clawed fist.
“It’s my partner,” Belinda soothed. “Stay there!” She hoped Jon would heed her.
“Your partner, Bee-of-Tilly?”
Belinda got the distinct impression the creature meant romantic partner. “No, my work partner,” she clarified. “He’s a police officer too. We are trying to catch the murderer of your master.”
“You must sing, Bee-of-Tilly. To catch this murderer, you must sing.”
Belinda stared at it. “What?” Her voice had hardly any sound.
“You must sing,” it insisted. It took a small step closer to Belinda and smiled, showing an alarming number of sharp, pointy and very white teeth. “You call me Buca.”
“Can my partner come in, Buca?”
“Your partner, Bee-of-Tilly?”
“He’s helping me find the killer, Buca.” She figured it would be good to remind the little creature. Was this a brownie? Had Belinda finally met a brownie? What would her brother think?
At that thought, Brock appeared in her mind like an overlay.
~Shit~ Brock sounded completely flabbergasted.
She’d’ve laughed if the situation weren’t so serious.
Buca cocked its head. “Bee-of-Tilly? That your partner?”
~She knows I’m here!~
~She?~ Belinda asked. “My brother, Brock.”
“Brock-of-Morgan already sing, Bee-of-Tilly. You must sing,” Buca insisted.
~Look at the dress, Buzz. Of course it’s a chick. Buca is Welsh for ‘brownie,’ I thought you knew that. You’ve never seen a brownie before?~
~Not in the flesh, and not in my murder scene~
~Did she see who did it?~
~Yeah, but her logic isn’t exactly human~
A snort is a weird thing to experience through a psychic link. She felt Brock riffle through the memory of the conversation and then he fell silent, thinking.
~Ask her if the woman had ever come here before~
“Buca, did the killer ever come here before? Did your Master know her?”
“No, not!” Buca said in a loud voice. Her eyes filled with tears again as she looked where the body had lain.
A step alerted Belinda and then Jon stepped in.
Buca turned her head and squeaked. “So big!” A loud clap, like thunder, split the air in the small kitchen and the brownie disappeared.
The force of it knocked Brock out of link with her.
“Fuck!” Jon shouted, frozen in the doorway.
“That was a brownie,” Belinda told him, rubbing her ears. “She saw the murderer.”
It wasn’t until she followed Jon back to the car, so they could go tell Sandillo what they’d seen, that it occurred to her: how did Buca know their father’s name?
She eyed the house, stomach clenched, until the shadows shifted and danced in her vision. Unsettled, she turned the Prius around and headed toward the office.