Their guide, Sandeep Singh, met them in the hallway of the hospital. “Did you find what you needed?” His voice had a faint British-Indian accent.
“Yes,” Belinda told him. “I released the spell keeping him in a coma.”
Sandeep’s dark brown eyes, so dark as to be indistinguishable from black onyx, bored into hers. “You have power.”
His eyes narrowed. “You aren’t what I expected.”
“What, ten feet tall and fire-breathing?” Jon snapped from next to them. “The dancing’s getting old, Sergeant.”
Sandeep transferred his gaze to her partner. Jon outstripped him by several inches of height and at least fifty pounds of solid muscle, but Sandeep looked as though he wanted to test him in a boxing ring or something.
“Gentlemen,” Belinda soothed. “Let’s not fight. We’re on the same side.”
“Are we?” Sandeep asked.
“Yes!” Belinda frowned. “What would make you ask that?”
“Oh, I don’t know. The first time in living memory that a Gary comes out of Madison, she’s after a dangerous artifact. The only victim in Milwaukee is taken by a sorcerer and left in a magically-induced coma that you just happen to remove when you get what you need from the victim.”
Jon stepped closer, menacing suddenly. “I don’t like your tone, or the implication.”
Sandeep swallowed but resisted stepping back. “I don’t like your partner in my city, Mr. Taylor.”
“It’s Detective, Sergeant, and she can go anywhere she damn well pleases. You’ve got something to accuse her of, then do it. Otherwise, back the fuck down before you and I have a problem.”
Belinda eyed her partner in shock. He defended her with no self-consciousness, radiating sincere outrage. She had to admit, it felt good.
Of course, if they got into a real fight this far from Madison…
“Please. Let’s not fight. Let’s share tea, and have no lies between us.” Belinda stepped closer. “Please.”
Sandeep flicked his gaze to hers and back and then nodded. “Fine.”
Of course, finding tea in this hospital wasn’t exactly what one would call a simple matter. They ended up in the cafeteria, which did have a large selection of tea packets. She grimaced and picked out a Blackberry leaf tea and went to pay.
“Allow me,” Sandeep put in, handing the cashier a twenty. “You are in my town.”
She hoped she only imagined the slight emphasis on ‘my,’ but Jon’s glower let her know she probably wasn’t the only one to do so.
Sandeep led the way to a table. Even here, the odor of disinfectant permeated the place. She lifted the cup of tea and let the steam wreath around her face, trying to ignore the depressed feeling the room evoked. Hospitals weren’t places where healthy people went.
They all sat down, and Sandeep jumped right in. “Why don’t you explain to me, Detective, why you’ve come to my town and interrogate a sick man?”
Okay, this time she knew she didn’t imagine the superior tone. Jon shifted in his chair and drew breath to speak, but she shook her head slightly. The big man subsided, but the glare on his face endeared him to her.
“We are following a string of burglaries turned homicides. When we heard one of the daggers was here, we came to check it out.”
Sandeep sat back, playing with his paper cup with long fingers. The water’s surface trembled slightly with the vibrations of his hand, and she wondered if he’d knock it over.
“Does Ashara know you’re here?” The Sergeant’s black eyes snared hers and he gazed at her with such intensity, it sent chills down her spine.
“What does the High Priestess of the Temple of Bast have to do with this?” Belinda frowned. Part of the Protective Circles of Madison, Ashara Kendrick wasn’t a Gary herself but Belinda knew her from childhood. “I’m not here on her behalf, if that’s what you’re asking.”
“It’s well known the Garys do not travel beyond their borders. Yet here you are, Miss Gary.”
“Detective,” Jon snarled.
Sandeep bared his teeth and waved his palm in Jon’s direction, but didn’t look away from Belinda. “I think that Ashara would have much to say if she knew you came here without Mathilda Gary’s permission.”
Belinda blinked. Hearing Gran called by her first name, and by someone with such an urbane accent, made her want to laugh.
Yeah, that would be appropriate…
Instead, she allowed herself a small, sardonic, smile. “You want me to believe that you know her so well personally? Then you know that anything that annoys my grandmother she would support, as long as it does not bring danger.”
Sandeep snorted. “Perhaps.”
“Look, Sandeep. I’m not trying to do anything wrong. I’m trying to solve a murder. Please, help me.”
Jon cleared his throat. “All of this is wasting time. Why are we indulging this man’s crap?”
Belinda winced. Subtle, Jon. Subtle. She turned to him. “Jon, we need his help. His and the unit’s.”
“When I leave, the victim needs police protection.”
“Why?” Jon demanded at the same moment that Sandeep rumbled, “How?”
“Police protection as well as magical.”
Jon and Sandeep gazed at each other as though trying to decide how to best take each other apart. Oh, dear. This was not going well, dammit!
“Gentleman, please. Let’s start over.”
Sandeep glared at her, but she sensed a slight softening of his manner. She wished she dared go deeper into his thoughts, but knew he’d sense it.
“You think the killer will come back.” Sandeep eyed her and then Jon, and it wasn’t a question. “Why?”
“To finish their work,” Jon responded. “But we disagree on that.”
Sandeep studied the big man. “Oh?”
Jon shrugged. “Belinda thinks it’s two perps. I think it’s one.”
A flush crawled up Jon’s throat at the order, but he answered readily enough. “They’re devolving. Started out organized but getting steadily more desperate.”
“If that is the case,” Sandeep mused, “then they know what they are after.”
Belinda felt a chill walk up her back on cats’ feet. “What do you mean?”
“If the legends are even halfway true, it is an artifact of rare and frightening power.”
“You say ‘it.’ There is more than one dagger.” Jon studied Sandeep like the man had finally done something interesting. “Why?”
“The Year Sword can be reformed from the daggers.”
Belinda felt like the air went out of the room. “You can’t be serious!”
Jon looked back and forth between them, his nostrils flared. “Will one of you please explain what you’re talking about?”
“You can’t be serious!” Belinda leaned forward, fear growing in her belly. “They’re daggers! How can they make the sword? I thought the legends told of the daggers being formed from the sword!”
“The daggers are the sword.” Sandeep sat back. “And now, I think I believe you when you tell me that you are here for nothing more than to find a dagger.” He paused. “You are a fool to leave your protections like this.”
“You go too far!” Jon shouted.
Several people nearby glanced over, startled.
“Jon, keep your voice down!” Belinda hissed.
Sandeep chuckled. “If you have collected all the information from the victim that you need, I suggest you come back to the station with me and then leave Milwaukee with all possible speed.”
Belinda gaped at him, the fear that started in her belly now out to her arms and chilled even her fingers. “You’re scaring me.”
“Good. You should be scared. Forewarned is forearmed, and you have been treating this like a teenager sneaking out of her room at night.” He leaned forward so suddenly it stopped her breath. “And the monsters out at night really can hurt you, Miss Gary.”
“Detective,” Jon growled.
They stared at each other for another couple moments and then Sandeep stood. He finished his tea in one swift swig and crumbled the cup. “Come.”
Jon rose. “Are we done with the victim?” He asked it of Belinda, ignoring Sandeep entirely.
“I guess so.” She frowned, trying to think. She finished the rest of her tea and stood. “I think so.”
Jon narrowed his eyes and glared up at Sandeep, still seated. “You really want a pissing contest? To act like her self -appointed curfew officer? Have her running home scared like she’s ‘all alone’ out here in scary Milwaukee?”
Sandeep smirked. “And how can you protect her here? You are so out of your depth you only understand half of the discussion.”
“I don’t have to.” Jon flipped open his phone and punched a number. “Somebody is trying to push Belinda around here.”
Jon snapped it shut and sat back with a smug expression.
Belinda glared at him even as she took a deep breath and relaxed. She could feel it, familiar and unwelcomed. Her twin connected with her, not mentally but magically. Her aura deepened and expanded as Brock’s energy flooded into her.
And though she might have distanced herself from the Gary Covens, the energy of them pulsed from him straight to her. A part deep inside her stirred and began to sing. She wanted to crush it and push it away even as her soul soaked in like parched earth waiting for the rain.
Sandeep’s eyes narrowed. “What just happened?”
Jon laughed outright. “Not so smug now, eh?”
Belinda looked across the table at Sandeep, who still stood by his chair. She might not want this power, but she certainly wasn’t going to waste it. She just held his gaze without speaking.
“I sincerely hope, Miss Gary, that you do not need to use that power for anything more than your shields.” Sandeep bowed from the neck and then strode to the door without looking back.
“Arrogant son of a bitch,” Jon snarled half under his breath. “And it’s Detective!” Jon called out after the retreating cop.
Laughing, Belinda turned to follow. “Come on. We don’t want him to leave us behind.” She winked and let the grumbling detective stomp after her.