A half hour after barging into Sandillo’s office, Belinda found herself back at her desk. The day planner sat there like an accusation. Balistreri refused to speak to them, then refused to even talk to Sandillo. He relented, finally, and agreed to see them – but later, not right that moment. He had ‘important business to attend to.’ She wanted to snarl with frustration.
“You hungry?” Jon asked.
Belinda blinked. “I could eat. Why?”
He stood. “Come on. I’m buying.” He walked toward the door without waiting for her.
Scrambling out of her chair, she snatched her shoulder bag and stuffed the case file and day planner into it. Her fingers lingered on the carved wooden button that she’d added to it after getting it last Yule. Her palm smoothed the soft leather flap down and she saw Jon glance over his shoulder at her. By this time, her partner had surged halfway down the hall so she jogged to catch up.
“What do you have a taste for?” she asked after climbing into the car. His car surprised her. The Cobra, crouched and waiting in the reserved lot, seemed out of place surrounded by dark, four-door sedans.
She watched as Jon folded himself into the low seat with the ease of long practice. His large hands gripped the steering wheel of the sports car and she realized how well her new partner and the car ‘fit.’ It highlighted how much she still needed to learn about him.
“Burgers. I was going to try a new place I saw… Why? You have a suggestion?”
“Brocach Pub has the best burgers in town. We’re kind of regulars there. It’s one of Brock’s favorite places.”
He blinked and shot a glance at her, but didn’t comment. He pulled to the entrance of the parking lot and then looked at her.
“Directions?” he drawled.
“Oh!” She gave him the headings and he set out for the pub. She liked that he’d asked her rather than reaching for the fancy GPS unit perched on his dashboard.
“So. Explain something to me.” His tone sounded firm, authoritative.
“What exactly can you do?”
“You can talk to Brock without a telephone. What the fuck is up with that?”
“Yeah, that.” He glared at her. “Exactly. Weird shit, you ask me.”
“You’re the one who transferred to Madison,” she retorted, stung.
The light turned green and he focused on the road again.
“You never saw magic in Chicago?”
He shrugged. “Not up close and personal. There’s a unit of practitioners, but I didn’t do much with them.” His tone seemed to indicate he thought that just as well.
“And what, you think it’s odd?”
“No, I wouldn’t use the word odd.”
“Creepy, then.” She felt bitterness well up inside her. It figured that she’d lose her third partner over something as stupid as her natural abilities.
“No, not creepy. But you’ve got to admit, if you’ve never seen it before, it’s pretty fucking weird.”
She felt a bolt of anger surge through her that it left her trembling. ~It’s not that weird~ she said into his mind.
He hit the brakes so fast it threw her against the seat belt hard enough that her ribs creaked.
“Fuck!” He stared at her, eyes wild. “What the bleeding hell was that?”
She wanted to laugh. “You want weird, fine.” ~I give you weird~
He stared at her. The car behind them honked but he ignored it. They honked again and he started moving, both hands gripping the wheel so tight she could hear his skin creak.
She glared out the passenger side window. “It’s not weird, Jon. It’s just natural ability, like running fast or a good singing voice.”
The Brocach appeared and he pulled into a parking spot but didn’t turn the car off, just stared out the windshield. He inhaled and blew air out, as though frustrated. “So you can speak into my mind?”
“I don’t know how, Jon! How do you walk?” She snapped her belt loose and reached for the door handle.
He caught her arm. “Wait. Please. I’m trying to get my head around this. Jesus, Belinda! It’s not like you broke it to me easy or something!”
She grudgingly conceded he had a point and sat back in her seat. “Sorry,” she grunted finally. “I probably should have picked a better way to show you.”
“Yeah. You sure are touchy!” He rubbed his face. “Okay. We’re parked and I’m not going to hit someone. Do it again.”
“Do what again? I’m not a trained dog, Jon!”
His eyes met hers, shocked. “I didn’t mean…”
She frowned. No malice showed in his eyes. “You really didn’t, did you?”
“No! I’m trying to understand this shit. I’m a profiler, Belinda! I deal with serial murderers, not weird magic daggers and brownies and shit!”
She digested that. Was it possible she’d misread him? Brock sure seemed to think he fit the bill…
~All right. This is what it’s like to talk without talking~
He jumped when she started talking and stared at her with huge eyes. ~Like this?~ His ‘voice’ sounded gravelly, but clear.
She nodded and felt herself smile. ~Exactly~
“And you and Brock can talk like this?”
“I can. Brock can only do it if I start. Otherwise, he has to be touching me for it to work.”
“Oh.” Jon seemed disappointed. “I thought…”
“His skills are more physical than mine. I can borrow his strength, but he’s an elemental mage. My skills are more in the mind. I’m psychic and a precog. He’s a telekinetic and empath. He can talk to people mind-to-mind if he’s touching them.”
“What’s a precog?”
“I can get echoes of future events. It doesn’t always happen, but when it does it can help me.” She looked away, memories of Monica welling up despite iron control. “It doesn’t always work.”
“Can you, uh, read my mind?” She didn’t need to be psychic to see the faint hesitation in his expression.
“Nope, not that good. Wouldn’t want to if those magazines articles are true and you guys think of sex every three minutes.”
Relief flooded her when Jon’s bark of laughter echoed in the confines of the car. “You hungry?”
She laughed. “You think with your stomach?”
“Yeah, why?” he retorted, but his eyes twinkled. “Come on. I’ll buy you lunch and you can pick my mind.”
“I’ll starve,” she quipped.
He snorted. “You wish. Besides, it’s more like every five minutes.” He got out of the car, grinning.
She rolled her eyes and followed.
They’d hardly ordered when Jon got the call that Mr. Balistreri would see them in ninety minutes at his shop.
“We have time to eat,” Belinda told him.
“Good. I’d’ve done it anyway. This guy pisses me off.”
She laughed. “Yeah.” She decided to change the subject. “Shame my uncle’s not here, you could meet him.”
“This is his hangout when he’s not at the dojo.”
“He owns a jiu-jitsu dojo a couple doors down.”
“Jiu-jitsu, huh?” Jon seemed impressed. “I suppose you and Brock studied?”
“Yeah. He’s had other training as well so he doesn’t compete, but I still hold a couple titles.”
“You don’t say!”
She smirked at him. “State Champion two years in a row in my age and weight class.”
She saw curiosity on his face and ‘felt’ that it concerned her brother, but Jon asked no further questions. Kelly brought their food and the big cop took an enormous bite out of his burger.
“Kelly, this is my new partner, Jon Taylor. Kelly’s an old family friend,” she added to Jon so he didn’t have to speak with his mouth full of burger.
“Nice to meet you,” Kelly said warmly. “You work with Belinda?”
He nodded and swallowed. “I just transferred from Chicago.”
Kelly cocked her head. “Welcome to Madison. How do you like it so far?”
“A lot,” Jon answered, not putting the burger down.
Kelly took the hint. “I’ll let you guys eat. Hope to see you again,” she told Jon, then moved to another table.
They finished and Kelly took their cash. “We can walk,” Belinda proposed.
“Sure,” Jon agreed, following her out into the bright afternoon sunlight.
The antique shop had a brass bell hanging from a hook at the top of the door and clattered as they entered. Mr. Balistreri, whom Belinda had seen multiple times, appeared in his habitual suit, this time a dark grey. As usual not a hair appeared out of place. Belinda would bet money that he touched up his hair coloring to keep the distinguished white wings in the still-dark hair.
“Miss Gary. Mr. Taylor. I was given to understand that Guillermo would join you?”
Sure you were, you pompous pig-head, Belinda thought. “He’s on his way.”
“Parking,” Jon added.
“Ah. If you’ll come this way, I have coffee prepared.”
Sandillo appeared at the door and stepped in. “Good afternoon.”
“Ah, Guillermo! Good of you to stop by,” Gilberto gushed, coming forward to shake the lanky Latino’s hand.
Belinda wondered what Sandillo thought of being called by his first name. His expression gave nothing away. They followed the dapper shopkeeper through the immaculate display area and into the office at the back.
Well appointed, with natural light from three large windows, the office fairly screamed opulence. A thick rug lay on top of the already wall-to-wall carpet, its black outline and jewel-bright colors setting off the furniture well. The desk stood diagonally to the room, heavy walnut with brass hardware. A matching glass-front cabinet stood on the left with two small spotlights inside, showcasing a gorgeous collection of decorated eggs and what looked to Belinda’s inexperienced eye like actual Faberge. Two heavy chairs sat in front of the desk, and Balistreri pulled another one out to set next to it before going to his credenza and pouring coffee.
He handed cups and saucers to each of them and she recognized the Havilland china without turning it over. Jon cocked an eyebrow at her but said nothing.
The coffee, predictably, smelled decadent.
Balistreri sat down. “So how can I help you?”
“What is your relationship with Thomas Evans?” Sandillo asked in his quiet voice.
“A client, nothing more. Why?”
The coffee tasted even better than it smelled and she sat there a moment, blissed-out.
“What kind of client?” Jon asked.
Balistreri waved a hand and the diamond in his pinky ring flashed. “He had an item he wished to sell. He didn’t come to his meeting, and I assume he’s changed his mind.”
“You’ve had no contact with him after scheduling the meeting?” Sandillo asked.
“No. Nor prior.”
“So you have no knowledge of his whereabouts?” Jon pressed.
“This is getting tedious, gentlemen.” He glanced at Belinda as though to say, ‘Men.’
“He’s dead, Mr. Balistreri,” Belinda told him while she had his gaze.
His eyes widened and he paled slightly. “Beg pardon?”
She leaned forward and she watched him fight to not look at her bosom. “He’s been murdered, Mr. Balistreri. For the dagger.”
That hit home, she could see it. She felt his flash of shock and then he broke eye contact. “This is very unexpected,” he murmured, but without his usual urbane tone.
“Frieda’s was taken too,” Belinda continued, suddenly angry. “They’re being collected and there’s a killer on the loose.”
“Surely you don’t think that I had anything to do with –”
“Then stop withholding information and help us do our jobs!” Belinda shouted.
“Belinda,” Sandillo murmured.
“No, Lieutenant, your detective is right,” Balistreri said. He sighed. “I have been… less than forthright in my dealings with you.” He looked up at Sandillo and Belinda could read the pain in his eyes. “But you have to understand my perspective! The daggers are priceless!”
“Enough to steal them?” Jon purred.
“No!” Balistreri swallowed. “No, I didn’t mean that. I mean…”
“Why don’t you start at the beginning?” Sandillo coaxed.
Most of it, they knew already. Balistreri kept his dagger hidden, not part of the insurance policy. He knew about Wilfrieda Kincaid’s dagger, but she refused to sell it. “But the other two…” He trailed off and sat back. “I was trying to strike a deal!”
“Two,” Jon echoed sharply. “What other two?”
“The one at the museum and the one in Milwaukee,” Balistreri said impatiently.
“The museum.” Jon rubbed his cheek. “What museum?”
“The Chazen Museum of Art at U-W Madison,” he answered. “It’s been taken out of public view by the Guest Curator, though, according to the museum staff. They won’t set up an appointment for me, either, but I’ll keep trying.”
“Who?” Belinda asked.
“A graduate student named Jade McKenzie. She’s finishing up her doctoral thesis, I’m given to understand.”
“And the one in Milwaukee?”
“It was the first one stolen,” Balistreri said. “That’s why I brought mine to the store, to keep it safe. I don’t know how they knew I moved it!”
“Can I look around?” Belinda asked. “Maybe get an echo of something?”
Balistreri hesitated. “Very well. Just be careful, please. This is my place of business.”
She smiled, but knew it didn’t reach her eyes. “I’ll be on my best behavior.”
Belinda slipped out of the office. No one occupied the store and she saw the reason: the “Be Back Soon” sign hung in the front door. She smirked. Must not interrupt the police, Mr. Balistreri. More like, he didn’t want anyone to know he was slumming.
She walked around the perimeter of the store. The echoes she felt didn’t seem like the ones at Mr. Evans’ house. She got the impression of a very orderly individual, methodical and careful. She didn’t disturb any of the other items in the store…
Belinda froze. “She.” The perpetrator was a woman? She got no such feeling from the murder scene. But here… She closed her eyes. Faint traces, like golden filaments, appeared in her mind. She opened her eyes enough so she could walk without running into anything, then traced the trail from the back door, through the store to the front. A detour to one of the étagère confused her for a moment and then she headed for a cabinet at the back of the store, beyond the office. Another presence, this time of a powerful object, intruded on her mind.
“That’s where it lay before it was taken,” Balistreri said.
She jumped. “I didn’t hear you come up.”
“I’m sorry. I assumed you knew. But that’s where I had the dagger, locked in that cabinet. How did you know?”
She glanced at him. “The thief toured the shop. They left very little traces and touched nothing. They knew what they wanted, walked through the entire place and paused up front, then came straight here. Very neat and surgically precise. A woman,” she added.
“Impressive,” Balistreri noted. “You see much. How long have you trained?” He stepped closer, invading her space a bit.
She stepped back. “My whole life. Why?”
“I’ve never met an ancestral Witch of your power before,” he noted.
~He’s lying~ she told Jon.
The big man jolted, but since he stood behind Balistreri the shop owner missed it.
~How can you tell?~
~He knows Gran. He’s flirted with two members of the crone’s coven, and they’re both ancestral Witches~
Sandillo stepped out from behind Jon and regarded her with his large, dark eyes. ~Ask him about them~
She blinked, startled. ~Sir?~
He smirked, but said nothing. Figured, he’d pull a stunt like that and not explain.
“Do you know Ginger Hopkins?” Belinda asked the shop owner.
“The City Councilwoman? Of course, we’ve met.”
~He’s head blind~ Sandillo put in.
Belinda covered her surprise by turning away to examine the cabinet. She decided to take a different tack. “Nothing else from this cabinet was disturbed?” she asked, even though she knew the answer.
“Why didn’t you tell us about the man in Milwaukee?” Jon interjected.
“I didn’t think it was pertinent! I gave you the address!” Balistreri protested, the picture of offended innocence. It was a good act.
“Thank you for your time, Mr. Balistreri. We’ve disturbed your business long enough,” Sandillo said. He collected Belinda and Jon by gaze.
She followed them out of the store. As she left, she could feel the shop owner behind them, watching them with a bemused expression on his face. Head blind or no, he gave her the creeps.