Belinda Gary spread the file out on her desk. Mr. Thomas Evans, age forty-seven, formerly resident of the house with a brownie and a housekeeper… She left the crime scene photos in their plasticine sleeves, face down. She did not need more nightmares. Instead, she sorted everything across her blotter. Her own notes and Jon’s went on the left, then the details of the insurance file. The contents of the kitchen went to the right of that, followed by Mr. Evans’ day planner.
She jumped. “Don’t sneak up on me!”
“Connections,” she grunted, concentrating. He fell silent and she focused on the papers. Letting her intuition rule her hands, she sorted and resorted piles and kept coming back to the day planner. She leafed through it and then set it, closed, in front of her. Leather, its brown cover well-worn, the two-inch thick binder held all the mundane details of a life. An inkling tickled the back of her mind.
A babble that erupted near the door broke her concentration. Bee looked up from her desk. Why was she even surprised? Her family rivaled the Pony Express for gossip getting around.
As her mother breezed in, a chorus of “Hi, Heather!” rang out.
She insisted on not being called ‘Ms. Gary’. That title belonged to Gran, usually with bowing involved.
Heather Gary aged well. Her waist-length honey-blonde hair, the source of Belinda and Brock’s own color, flowed around her head like a crown, with very little grey. Belinda knew chamomile tea and other herbs kept the color shiny and bright, but nature merely supplemented her mother’s natural beauty. Large, almond-shaped blue eyes saw the world from a smooth-cheeked face of a woman ten years younger. Her favorite colors, autumnal shades of russet, lavender, and gold, decorated her long skirt and tunic. A plain ivory top peeked out from the tunic, and her long legs tapped along in soft brown leather knee-high boots.
The large brown paper bag, the type that supermarkets used to carry before being seduced by plastic, probably contributed to the enthusiasm of her greetings. Already the smell of fresh baked cookies filled the station.
It was no use telling the front desk sergeant to announce her first; bribes of his own bag corrupted him long ago.
Her mother’s trim form paused at the kitchenette counter at the back of the squad room. She tisked over the old pot of coffee and started a new one. Despite Heather Gary’s aversion to caffeine, it still would brew beautifully for her.
Hardened, grouchy detectives crowed around her like a football team of youths homing in on the most popular cheerleader, one that possessed baking talents rather than acrobatic skills.
Sandillo emerged from his office and Belinda’s coworkers parted like the Red Sea for her mother. Another, smaller brown bag appeared from the huge hand-knit satchel always on her mother’s shoulder when she ventured forth.
“I made chocolate chip for the squad, but I remembered that oatmeal raisin was your favorite so I whipped up a few for you,” Heather said, holding them out.
Belinda watched as her lieutenant accepted them silently, but sighed as a smile spread across his harsh countenance. She patted his arm like old friends and they began chatting quietly, too quiet for Belinda to overhear.
There would be no stern looks reminding them to work now. Thoroughly grumpy, Bee turned back to her file with her concentration totally out the window. She set the planner aside and pulled the photos from the insurance company over.
Jon sat opposite, a steaming mug in his hand. “The coffee’s really good, you want one?”
“Only if it’s big enough to drown myself in.”
“So, who’s Miss Popularity?” Jon asked, faint sarcasm in his deep voice.
She watched her new partner hide his wince behind a sip.
“It’s okay. I’m fully aware of her effect.”
“If your mother is visiting, why isn’t she over here?”
“Trust me, I wish she would ignore me. She’s letting me get accustomed to her invasion gradually.”
Belinda glared when she overheard Sergeant Gavin Tensell tease her mother.
“Heather, are you sure you’re already taken?” he called out around a mouth full of cookie.
The warm, soft look on her mother’s face as she looked over her shoulder gave answer enough. Belinda concentrated on the fuzzy photo in front of her. The reminder that her brother had been right about the quality of the insurance pictures didn’t improve her mood. The dagger seemed like so much metal blob, rather than a dagger.
She watched her mother approach from the corner of her eye and considered hiding under the desk. Realizing that would be too subtle Belinda resigned herself, raising her head and smiling.
A stronger smile that reached the warm blue gaze that matched Belinda’s one blue eye returned it. Belinda could see where Gavin’s teasing comment rooted in truth. Her mother still possessed a lithe figure, soft curves accented by the flowing tunic sweater and multicolored skirt of fall colors. No grey showed yet in the honey blonde Gibson Girl knot that Belinda could not master. On her, the style always ended up in messy disarray.
Of course, her father never being around helped fuel the good natured flirting a few of the detectives indulged. Gavin, catching sight of Belinda’s face, blushed and turned away to chat with his buddies. They all suddenly ignored Heather and Belinda, giving them the illusion of privacy.
“Hi, honey.” Heather hugged her and pecked her cheek. Then she turned to Belinda’s desk mate. “You must be Jon.”
Jon stood and stuck out his hand to shake. “Jon Taylor. I’m Belinda’s new partner.”
Instead of shaking hands, Heather deposited a small bag of cookies into the huge paw. “These are for you. Do you like Snickerdoodles?”
“Yes!” Jon sounded delighted and dove into the bag. “These smell better than…” He blushed and cleared his throat. “They smell great!” He took a bite of one and beamed. “Taste even better.”
Bee rolled her eyes. “Other than bribing half my department, what are you doing here, Mom?”
“You’re in a snappy mood,” Heather commented. She sat down in the extra chair next to Belinda’s desk. “I can’t check on my daughter?”
“I’m not fourteen, Mom. What are you doing here?”
“Mind your tone,” Heather warned, heat in the back of her eyes.
Belinda felt her face redden and sat down. “Mom…”
“How are you, honey?”
She frowned. “Fine. Why?”
“Are you coming to Gran’s for dinner this week? Thursday night is good.”
“I…” She cleared her throat and stood abruptly. “Let’s take a walk.”
Jon eyed them with mild surprise but didn’t comment. Heather stood gracefully and hefted her much-lighter bag. “Sure, honey.”
Bee led the way outside and across the street to the park where Heather parked her bicycle. “Why are you here, Mom?”
“I was in the neighborhood, Bee. You really ought to come to dinner, you know. Your Uncle wants you to be there.”
Belinda sighed and looked down, avoiding her mother’s gaze. She concentrated instead on the fluttering strands of green, silver and white that streamed from the handlebars of Sasha. For as long as she remembered her mother rode the same bike. Bright green, the smaller basket hanging from the front of the handle bars supplemented the larger ones that resembled saddlebags. Large enough to be stuffed full of various baked goodies.
Unable to resist she slipped into her ‘sight’. An aura of a large pony superimposed over that of the bike now. Her hand reached out and long, silky stands of a mane tangled around her fingers. The flapping sounds of cards stuck among the spokes covered the faint echo of hoof beats Belinda knew she would hear when her mother pedaled away. Often she swore that the shrill bell her mother often rang resembled a whinny.
For the last few years she gained the ability to ‘see’ Sasha’s ‘other’ form and it fascinated her, but frustrated her as well. For now there existed yet another subject that her mother refused to fully explain.
The fuzzy image of an equine head tossed and Belinda jerked her hand away. She stepped back and shoved her hand in her pocket, her fingers tingling. She glared at the metal bike, leaning on its kickstand. Raising her gaze she caught her mother’s frown.
She hated earning her parent’s censure and it made her angry. Angry that this time she felt it wasn’t deserved. Angry that her mom seemed more concerned about Brock than her right now. And especially angry at herself for using her magic again.
The case justified its use, someone had died. But it felt good in an odd way that, even thought the subject had been horrifying, a tightness in her chest eased afterwards. Just now had been for fun, and fun and her magic were not allowed to mix anymore.
“And Gran?” she asked bitterly.
“Gran too, you know that.”
“All right. I already told Uncle Matt I’d come, so I’ll come. Thursday?”
Heather eyed her but didn’t comment on her tone. “That will be fine.” She went to her bicycle and deposited her bags into the basket. “I’ll let Gran know.”
Belinda gave her mother a stern look. “You really didn’t need to come to the station to check up on me.”
“That wasn’t the reason behind my visit.”
“Okay, to check out my new partner, then. He probably won’t last anyways for you to worry if we’ll get along.”
Her mother’s warm palm cradled her jaw and Belinda leaned into it. “I didn’t for your sake, honey, but for Brock’s.”
Belinda blinked as her mother climbed on her bicycle and peddled off.
Jealousy flared in her stomach and she felt tears in the back of her eyes. “Damn you, Brock,” she muttered without real feeling. It wasn’t like it was his fault.
She turned and trudged back to her office.
The day planner sat on her desk, practically talking to her. She picked it up and set it in the center of her blotter. “What is with you?” she muttered.
“Huh?” Jon asked, looking up from some forms.
He shrugged and turned back to his paperwork and she leafed through the planner. The pages fell open to reveal that week and she stared at it for a moment in shock.
“Jon!” she cried.
He jumped. “What?”
She looked up at him. “Our vic had an appointment to see the antique dealer. Tomorrow.”
Jon sat back, looking as stunned as she felt. “You don’t say.”
She tapped the day planner. “It’s right here.”
“I think it’s time we talked to this antique dealer, don’t you?”
She grinned and his answering expression matched it: feral, excited, and altogether predatory. They turned as one to go to Sandillo to set up a meeting.