Excerpt: Whiskey Witches
Detective Paige Whiskey turned into the Metley Plantation outside Saint Francisville, Louisiana tired and frustrated, but intrigued. She’d flown in from Denver—her jurisdiction—to look at two bodies that were at the morgue. But when she’d landed, the local police captain had told her to come here instead.
That really couldn’t be good.
The place looked creepy, but Paige had been there with her ghost-talking sister and ghost hunter geek-boy husband a couple years before. There were no ghosts here.
Now, there was a dead body and that might all change.
An unmarked vehicle was parked half-way up the drive along with two other police cars.
She parked her rental behind the unmarked car and got out, leaving her jacket and her bags behind. She ducked back inside to grab a pair of gloves. CSI hadn’t arrived yet, and she didn’t want to look like the newbie who forgot her gloves. Though, in a small town like this, she’d probably be the one collecting evidence.
Awesome. She hadn’t canvased a scene in a long time.
Still, the coroner hadn’t arrived yet. She couldn’t touch the body before him, and most of the evidence would be there.
A tall, black man walked out to meet her. He’d rolled up his shirt sleeves. His bald head gleamed in the beating sunlight. He smiled at her, removing one glove, and offering his hand. “Chief Brian White.”
She returned the smile and took his hand. “Detective Paige Whiskey.”
“I’m glad you made it. Drive wasn’t too bad for you?”
She shook her head. He didn’t have much of an accent, though she wasn’t sure what she’d expected. All she really knew about Louisiana was what she saw on TV. St. Francisville was nowhere near New Orleans.
“Well, if you’re ready, we have a new scene to process.” He led her to a small shack not far off the drive. “Used to be an old slave shack.”
The thought of slavery made Paige’s gut twist. Being in a slave shack? That made history something touchable. Made it real.
A uniformed police officer stood by the door. He lifted one corner of his mouth and tipped his head to her.
Not a bad reception.
Another man stood just inside. He had his hand on his utility belt.
“Are you afraid the killer will come back?” Paige glanced significantly at the police officer inside the door.
Chief White looked at her and raised his eyebrows. “Coroner hasn’t arrived.”
As if that should explain everything.
An evidence collection kit sat just inside the door, the lid open. It looked like a big tackle box.
She took her sunglasses off to get a better look at the place.
Hard-packed dirt floor. Symbols of something painted onto the wall at the victim’s feet. She almost swore that most of those symbols were straight off of 1980’s rock bands’ albums.
More symbols carved into the east wall to the victim’s left side. Those were straight out of TV shows, like Buffy.
A mandala was carved into the wall at the victim’s head just under the single window.
Mandalas looked cool, but they were used for meditation. Like in the huge adult coloring craze going on at the moment. Big circles with loads of things to color? Yeah.
So, between the bad 1980’s rock band symbols, the Buffy the Vampire symbol collage, and the protection mandala, she was almost ninety-nine percent sure that the murderer was a complete idiot. If she had to wager a guess, he was after a reaction. What better way to get God-fearin’ folk to react than to murder people and spread “Satan” over the crime scene?
Not that she was giving “God-fearing” people a hard time. They didn’t know. Didn’t want to know. That wasn’t bad. It kept them safe.
But even morons could get something right sometimes.
The victim was male. Early to mid-thirties. Hispanic. Naked except for a pair of boxers.
His body had been carved on. Most likely with more rock band tribute symbols, but the blood made it hard to determine with any accuracy.
Seemed like the best place to start. She slipped on her gloves and knelt beside the victim’s head. “What do we know about him?”
“Eddie Lopez,” White said, kneeling on the other side of the victim near his shoulder. “Good guy. Owned the lumber store. Wife. Two kids.”
“Picket fence?” Because it sounded like the man had been living the American dream, which was practically unheard of. Well, at least in Paige’s circle.
“You laugh, but, yes.”
Well, good for him. Too bad he’d still caught the killer’s eye.
“The store hasn’t been doing so great of late. Not a lot of people working on their houses, I guess. But it was still doing good enough. His daughter is in soccer.”
Paige didn’t know much, but she’d heard coworkers who had kids complain about how expensive sports were.
Her heart twisted for reasons she didn’t know or understand the way it always did when someone mentioned kids. She swallowed past that.
X’s had been carved over his eyes. Bruising around the point of incision and the trails of dried blood indicated the man’s heart had still been beating.
Eddie’s wrists were clean with no ligature marks. He hadn’t been bound.
But a symbol had been carved into his chest. The longer she looked, the more it made sense. Not rock band tributes after all.
Runes. A series of them. She knew a few, but several had been drawn on top one another, sharing the same lines. She could make three out.
One looked like a diamond cut in half and then offset. Jera, the rune for rewards arriving at their rightful time. Opala looked like the Jesus fish, only standing up. It meant heritage. Fehu stood out. No connections to any other rune. It stood like a two-branched, lop-sided tree. Or a drunken F. It meant wealth and new beginnings.
Jera shared a line with another rune. Lagaz, which kind of looked like a backward lazy number seven. It meant intuition. It shared a line with Ehwaz. Basically, the letter M. It meant abrupt change.
More sprang out: victory in battle, time of change.
Those runes made sense— if someone was looking to raise a demon.
Not her area of expertise. Her family veered as far from demons as they could. Rachel—her mother and personal villain—was an angel whisperer. Demons and angels didn’t mix.
Paige twisted on the balls of her feet and surveyed the symbols again, with a new perspective. What if someone threw up the stupid symbols to mask their actual knowledge of what they were doing?
“What do you think?” White asked.
“Too early to tell.” There, on the wall at the victim’s feet. One symbol hidden among all the others. The mark of the Order of the Nine Angles, a Satanic order who, strange as it might sound, used the symbol for meditation.
Satanists, surprisingly, weren’t nearly as bad as they were made out to be. She blamed it all on Hollywood.
On the other wall filled with Buffy the Vampire symbols lay another mark. The eye inside the triangle. She didn’t remember what it meant, but she did recall it was masonic. Legit? Maybe.
“Do you have any ideas?”
Yeah. And she didn’t like it. Not one bit. “I think he’s trying to summon something.”
“Like a demon?”
“You think it’s a man?” White asked, his voice lower.
“Probably. Statistics say it’s more than likely. Also, each person was killed separately. If the killer is summoning, that could replace the sexual drive most serial killings have in common.”
Paige, a deep, thickly-accented voice said.
She jerked her attention to White, her heart racing.
His eyebrows rose. “What?”
She cocked her head to the side and listened. Someone outside? The officer she could see shifted his weight from one foot to the other. She only saw the elbow of the other officer.
“Hear something?” White asked.
Paige looked at him through her eyelashes to hide her emotions. She didn’t hear voices. She wasn’t a part of the magickal world. “Did you?”
He shook his head, his expression similar to one Leslie, her ghost-talking sister, gave to other “psychics” every time they said they felt someone sinister standing behind them.
She stood, trying to shake it off. “Probably just the feel of the place. I’ve never been somewhere where real slaves were kept.”
She went to the mandala and knelt in front of it. They could be used in spells. Each symbol added to the series of circles could bring new meaning to it. It was complicated spell work, which was why they were so rarely used. And they were fairly weak as far as spells went. A lot of work for little pay, which was another reason they were typically only used for protection.
Could it be used to protect a summoner against a demon, though?
She went to scoot her right foot forward but tripped. She caught herself against the wall with her hand.
The world rotated with a slow-churning lurch. The dust-ridden sunlight streaming through the slats in the window above her head dissolved into nothingness. Brutal heat transformed to bone-setting chill.
Everything disappeared. Something slammed into her skull from the side. Pressure built inside her head until she thought her eyes would pop.
The moon hid behind a thick blanket of clouds. Fog rolled in and gently away only to fold itself around her again. Trees rose from the earth like prickly fingers. The ground lay dormant beneath her bare feet.
She pulled her black cloak tighter around her. Her earth-bound form did not feel chill or heat, was unfazed by a strong wind. She felt the energy, the tug towards darkness. Her demon heart froze in fear.
Paige barely had enough sense of self to realize she wasn’t the demon. It felt like it, though. The sights. The smells. She saw them. She smelled them.
A pentacle had been drawn in salt in the short, spring grass nearby. Candles lit each point of the star. A small cauldron reigned in the center.
Witch, the voice from earlier said.
Fear overtook her. She turned to run, to flee.
Soul-fire burned the side of her face.
She staggered backward. A magickal ward glistened in the air directly in front of her. The witch.
Wait. What witch?
Trapped by what? And why?
Something gleamed in the grass. An old and twisted knot-work of metal lay on the ground. Weak energy shot from it like the light of a distant star. The key.
The key. The thought took hold her mind like claws and gripped her tight. The key. Protect the key!
Hands grabbed her. Warm. Soft.
She was stuck in the memory. A demon tied to the earth. She couldn’t move. This wasn’t her world. This wasn’t her dimension. She belonged somewhere else, not here. The witch and the angel had chained her to this spot, helpless to keep the gates closed. She had to find a way out, had to get away. She had—
A slap across the face brought her back to reality.
Paige sat sideways in the passenger seat of Chief White’s unmarked car. The door was open and he was on one knee in the dirt, a hand on her arm, supporting her. He stared up at her with concern.
Bile rose in her mouth. She shoved him out of the way, collapsing on her hands and knees, retching. She heaved until nothing was left. Smoke rose from the spilled contents of her stomach and the stagnant smell of sulfur penetrated her nostrils.
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