Thursday morning, Jon pulled onto the highway and Belinda stared out of the window, watching the city turn to fields and rolling hills. This being the first time she ever left Madison, Belinda decided to enjoy every moment of her unexpected freedom. She remembered Sandillo giving her a long look that morning before they left. Jon suggested they travel to Milwaukee to interview a possible victim and she pretended to flip though the file while waiting for her Lieutenant’s reaction. He didn’t forbid her to leave, but his look conveyed to her that he knew her family would.
Jon slipped in a CD and she leaned back in the deep leather seats while the deep bass of Nickelback rolled around her.
She woke with a start. Dammit, she hadn’t meant to fall asleep! Then she looked up at the building Jon parked behind, still groggy from her nap. She didn’t realize they’d actually arrived in Milwaukee.
Then she craned around, confused. “This isn’t the hospital.”
“Nope, that explains the squad cars instead of ambulances. Good job, Detective.”
Bee glared at him. She’d missed the whole drive and saw nothing, dammit! Her first time out of the city and she had to fall asleep!
He just gazed back at her, impassive. “We need to talk to the local cops first. We can’t question, or even gain access, to the vic without them. And looking over their files might give us more clues.”
“Sounds good,” Bee admitted. She craned her head around, trying to see everything at once without looking like a tourist.
“Of course, it was my idea.” Jon grinned at her. “Oh, a tip. I was here for a seminar on Jeffery Dahmer, no Laverne and Shirley jokes.”
Belinda rolled her eyes as she climbed out of the car. Jon seemed in a good mood, driving on the highway and letting the Cobra gobble away the miles must have mellowed him out. They walked into the precinct together, but soon her steps lagged. While her partner strode up to the Sergeant’s desk, her shields went haywire. She tightened her magical barriers and glanced around. Nothing seemed out of the ordinary, but it ‘felt’ odd. Distinctly odd.
Jon touching her elbow drew attention back. “Their supernatural division is handling it.”
“Huh? Why?” Belinda started following him down the hallway.
“I guess the crime scene reeked of magic, from what the Sarge said.”
“Then it sounds like our perp from the last one,” Belinda told him. “Especially if there’s a physical mess to match the magical one left behind.”
He didn’t argue her ‘two perps’ theory, just led the way to a double door with inset frosted glass windows. “It’s in here.” Jon opened the door to a larger room with more detectives than Belinda expected. Jon seemed to agree with her unspoken opinion. “Damn, why doesn’t Madison have a Supe Squad?”
A masculine voice nearby answered. “Because a roach can’t fart in Madison without their witches’ permission.”
Belinda turned her head to glare at the speaker. She might not want to be part of the coven anymore, but they were still family.
She also thanked the Goddess that she strengthened her shields in the lobby. This room reeked of some kind of strange, electric energy. The big, bearded man returned her glare. His East Indian features seemed exotic to her and he smelled like unfamiliar incense.
A trim middle-aged woman bustling towards them broke the staring contest. Her sharp gaze flicked between Belinda’s and Jon’s faces to their badges flipped to hang from their belts. “I’m Lieutenant Marjorie Bells. The front desk called back, can we help you?”
Jon smiled and offered his hand. “We hope so; it looks like our cases are overlapping.”
Belinda offered her hand next, the shake aborted when a charge passed between their palms. Bells jerked her hand away and stepped back. Filling the awkward silence, Jon continued his introduction.
“I’m Detective Jon Taylor and this is my partner, Belinda Gary.”
“Did you say… Gary?”
Belinda nodded and offered a small, hard smile. In the stillness that now filled the busy room, she bet anyone could hear a roach fart.
“Did you hear?”
“She’s a lot smaller than I thought.”
“Is that her brother?”
“No, he said Taylor…”
The whispers continued in that vein until Bells cleared her throat. Absolute silence fell. “This way, please.” She spun and strode toward the glass-walled office at the back of the room.
Jon glanced at Belinda and then followed the older woman. Feeling like she was on stage, Belinda trudged along behind. Lieutenant Bells waited for her to enter and then swept the door closed. “Sit.”
Jon sat down and Bells walked behind her desk. She regarded Belinda with a raised eyebrow.
“I’d prefer to stand.”
“Sit down, Gary. I don’t want to get a crick in my neck staring at you. I’m not going to eat you, for the love of Pan.”
“Who?” Jon asked.
“Never mind,” Belinda muttered. She sat down.
“Your Gran know you’re here?” Bells demanded.
Bells leaned forward. “I’ve been a Witch for longer than you’ve been alive, girl. And I know Mathilda Gary, I trained with her when I walked from Maiden to Warrior Circle. So don’t play stupid with me!”
Belinda swallowed. “I…”
“This is a police investigation, Lieutenant, not a personal visit,” Jon snapped.
Bells leaned back in her chair and regarded Jon with a sardonic expression on her face. She transferred that gaze to Belinda, her brown eyes thoughtful and slightly mocking. “You didn’t tell him, did you?”
“Tell me what? I’m beginning to lose patience,” Jon growled.
“Your partner,” Bells stressed the word, “is out of Madison without permission.”
“She’s a grown –”
“From the coven,” Bells interrupted. “Which means, she’s in danger.”
Jon’s eyes widened and he swiveled around to stare at Belinda. “Is what she says true?”
Belinda waved her hand in front of her. “Let’s stay on point.”
“Is it true?”
“Jon, just focus –”
“Answer me!” he shouted.
She blinked, startled. “Yes.”
“Yes. That’s all you have to say? You drag my ass across the state after God knows what and that’s all you have to say?”
“What’s so funny?” Jon snapped.
“Think about it from her perspective, Sergeant Taylor,” Bells said. She glanced at the windows behind them and the blinds swiveled shut.
Jon whipped his head around and swallowed audibly. To his credit, though, he said nothing.
“You never played hooky?” Bells asked him.
“Hooky, Taylor. You ever run off where you’re not supposed to, kiss someone you’re not supposed to, smoke in the bathroom?”
“I don’t smoke,” he said almost reflexively. He studied the Lieutenant. “So what you’re saying is that she’s sneaking out of town because she can?”
Bells nodded. “Not very smart, with a killer on the loose, but totally understandable.” She shifted that brown-eyed gimlet stare to Belinda. “If you get me in the middle of a family fight with your grandmother, however, and you and I will have words.” She leaned forward. “And I guarantee you, you will not like the results.”
Belinda felt a chill and her shields wavered. Bells was a crone, all right. “Yes, ma’am.”
She saw Jon’s eyebrows shoot up but couldn’t look away from Bells to say anything to him. The Lieutenant’s gaze bored into hers and Belinda could feel the edges of the older woman’s power beat at her shields like an axe. She strengthened them and waited, wondering if the woman meant to attack her.
“That’s better,” Bells said then, startling her. She reached into a drawer and pulled out a small crystal decanter and a matching chalice. “Keep them that way while you’re here, Gary. There are things in this city you don’t want to meet.”
“Like what?” Jon asked.
“Like nothing you need to worry about. You’re here on a case. Do your business and get out. The less I have to explain to her family, the better. The boys outside may joke about the Garys, but the truth is, they’re strong mojo. You may be a Christian, Mr. Taylor, but that doesn’t make their power any less real. Or needed. Your partner would be a powerful tool in the hands of an enemy strong enough to use it.”
“Are you?” Jon asked.
Bells shook her head and took a sip. “No. That’s what that was just now, a pissing contest. Her shields are stronger now, thicker. I can’t do anything to her.” She passed the chalice to Belinda first. “May you never thirst.”
“Thank you.” Belinda sipped and passed it to Jon. “May you never thirst.”
“Just take it and sip it,” Belinda growled. “Don’t be rude. It’s a sacrament,” she added when it looked like he’d refuse.
He hesitated and then took the glass. He sipped it and his eyes widened. “Wow! That’s really good!”
Bells smiled, a kinder, gentler version of her more ferocious expression of earlier. “It’s Barenjager. Honey liqueur.”
He took another sip and handed it back. “May you never thirst.”
Her eyebrows shot up. “We’ll make a Wiccan of you yet, Mr. Taylor.”
“Call me Jon.”
Belinda smiled to herself. She’d have him charmed in no time. “So will you help us?”
“Will it get you the Hells out of my city faster?” Bells shot back. “What are you here for?”
Belinda pulled out her case file. “A Mr. Daniel McCaffey. He owns a…” She trailed off, seeing the expression on the lieutenant’s face. “What’s wrong?”
Bells pulled a file of the stack to her left and flipped it open. “Mr. McCaffey hasn’t woken up. He’s at Aurora St. Luke’s.”
Belinda went cold all the way to her toes. “What happened to him?”
“Home invasion. The attacker probably meant to kill him. Skull fractures in four places, subdural hematoma, a bunch of unpronounceable medical crap; the usual.”
“Can we see him?”
“Belinda!” Jon protested.
“Jon, I need to see him. I may be able to help him!”
Bells picked up the telephone receiver. “Get me Sergeant Singh when he’s done with the staff meeting, Destry, please?” She hung up. “I’ll have a Sergeant take you over. He’s in a meeting for the next thirty; take a desk and look over the file.” She stood and handed the file to Jon. “Good luck, and keep me informed.”
The blinds flipped open and Jon flinched. He shook hands and turned.
“Thank you, Lieutenant.”
“Call me Marjorie, Belinda. I’ve known Tilly for years. When she forgives you, tell her hello for me.”
“I will,” Belinda promised. She followed Jon out of the room.