April 23rd

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Dene left her apartment while she was too tired to dread the stairs. She nearly went face over heels twice from sudden imbalances, but at least she hadn’t had time to build it up in her head.

Across her apartment building was a small rundown park. It was so small Dene was surprised it had a name. The name was on a bronze sign, which Dene hadn’t committed to memory yet, beyond that the park was ‘in memorial’ to some poor deceased. She sat on a graffiti’d bench and pulled a small notebook out of her pocket, along with a pen clipped onto the elastic holding it shut.

She pulled the pen cap off with her teeth and looked down at the notebook. Best to start with basics.

First case, she wrote. She stroked it out. Case #1

She tapped her pen against the notebook for a second, then added:

Type: Murder.

That was a good start, she thought to herself. Very clear. Good to keep in mind. She had expected her job would involve making a lot more background checks and sitting around in her car with binoculars and less right into murder, to be honest, but a case was a case. Even if the kid who hired her wasn’t sure if he could pay. But you didn’t get an unsolved murder every day. She’d said she’d do it pro-bono.

Victim: Alexander Anastas, age 14.

Cause of Death: Unknown.

That had been a problem. He knew he was very definitely dead, but he did not know how this had come to be. Dene wondered what it was like to wake up dead. It hadn’t seemed polite to ask.

Details: Victim woke up in pool of blood (just his?) and proceeded to go wash off. When he returned, sister’s boyfriend (maintenance man, probably not really named Tax, PRIME SUSPECT, Dene underlined this part) was scrubbing up the blood. Sister has not been seen since. Neither has his pulse.

Technically it was a missing person’s case too. Alexander had indicated he wouldn’t be terribly upset if Dene found his sister too. He’d supplied a picture. Elisabet Anastas. She had the same soft kinky hair as her brother, full lips and soft features, but in her picture she had a faraway look that was nothing like Alexander’s. He’d stared rather unnervingly at Dene. Dene reckoned he’d forgotten how to blink and breathe, which were pretty essential living character quirks to keep from alarming people.

She went back and stroked out the 14 under age and changed it to 15. Alexander had been dead for just over a year.

Priorities: Ask ‘Tax’ what he knows (will not talk to Alexander. What do you do about zombies in your apartment? What if they’re your victim? Is this a tell-tale heart scenario?), try to locate Elisabet Anastas (go to police station to run a check. Do they allow that for unproven murders? Find out. May be relevant again in future), get Alexander to write down everything to analyze later when I’m not asking questions every sentence. Get a look around Alexander’s apartment.

Dene nodded at her notebook. That would do for now. Then quickly she added in above the records check to see if she could find out Elisabet’s credit card and debit numbers to see if she’d made any purchases. Signs pointed to alive if you were buying things, probably.

She had a to-do list, decided that was good enough for now, and checked her phone. Nearly ten am. The two magic shops would be opening soon. She clipped her pen back onto the notebook, shoved it in her pocket, and walked her way out of the park. On her way down the path, she heard footsteps running behind her and she dodged to the side to avoid the jogger. After a few seconds, she realized there was no jogger coming.

She looked around, shrugged, and walked a little faster to the shops.

When she got there, standing in front of their respective shops was a huge white man in black studded leather and fancy facial hair in front of The Fairy Ring arguing with a plump asian woman with long curly hair and a short gossamer dress in front of the Milk and Magick shop.

Hippie and poseur were thrown back and forth. The proud representative of the hippies, the woman, was shaking the keys to her store angrily at the man, who apparently stood for poseurs. Dene flipped a mental coin to see who would be more welcoming to someone asking for a favour after a fight.

She decided to go with the man. He must have been the ‘Evan’ who was in favour of dragonslayers that Melody Bell had mentioned. Dene didn’t care if he was for real or not, as long as he let her leave her card.

She stepped inside The Fairy Ring. Inside the huge man was laughing as he unpacked a small box full of a fragrant incense that smelled of booze-soaked lavender.

“Hey! You my ten thirty?” the man said when Dene closed the door. “Gimme a bit and I can squeeze you in early. You chose a good day, I’m really feeling the cards today.”

“Er, no,” said Dene, trying not to inhale. “I’m here about advertising my services.”

“I don’t take reading competition,” said the man. “I’m the only option in town for fortunes, as far as I’m concerned. You can’t do better than fairy-touched.”

“No, no.” Dene quickly pulled out her card.

The man plucked it out of her hand and looked it over. “Dragonslayer? That a euphemism or you one of those monster hunters?”

“Not a euphemism.”

“How about that,” said the man and grabbed Dene’s hand, shaking it. “Name’s Evan McPhee. I run this shop and we’re the real deal. Not like the Wicci Mart across the road. Sure, I’ll take your card. I’ll even tell people about you. I see some dark things when I do the cards, sometimes. Real dark. And I’m always right.”

“Thank you!” said Dene. Manners were super important. She pulled out the set of her cards for this store from her pocket. “I just got here and any advertising I can get is great.”

“Yeah, no doubt.” Evan went back to unpacking his incense. “I’ll definitely keep you in mind.”

Next stop was Milk and Magick, or the ‘Wicci Mart‘ as Evan had called it.

Dene crossed the road, jaywalking like the true free spirit she was.

Inside was the woman who’d been yelling at Evan and a bony white woman who was kissing her cheek. They looked over when the bell over the door tinkled.

“Hey,” said Dene. She held up her cards as a ‘Not here to shop, here on a mission!’ gesture.

“Can we help you?” said the bony woman. Dene liked her voice, it was low and smooth.

“I’m here about leaving my card,” said Dene. She was starting to wonder if she came to the right store. It had ‘magick’ in the name, but what it stocked was groceries. Then she noticed the jars and vials on the back of the wall with names like ‘wolfsbane.’ Okay, she was in the right place.

“Did McPhee send you here?” said the plump woman.

“No, no. I’m going to every magic store in town,” said Dene. “I was hoping you could help me out. I’m Dene.”

“Morrigan Goldenblossom,” said the plump woman, holding out her hand. “This is Penny. Sorry for being rude, McPhee’s a jackass who likes pranks.”

Dene shook and nodded. “Pleased to meet you guys. I’m definitely not a prank. I’m… are you guys a magic store? There’s a lot of uh, vegetables here.”

“We’re a grocery for the magicK community,” said Morrigan. “Our coven believes in contributing to our fellow practitioners. Wiccans need to stick together, after all.”

Ah, thought Dene to herself. That’s why the Wicci Mart.

Dene handed over her cards. “I solve problems. Like, dangerous problems that the police might not be able to handle. The supernatural kind.”

Morrigan glanced at the card and sniffed. “I hope you don’t really kill dragons,” she said.

“Pretty hard to kill something that doesn’t exist, hon,” said Penny. She had been sorting scratch cards while Morrigan and Dene talked.

“It’s just classier than monster hunter, that’s all,” said Dene.

“Yeah, we’ll put this up. But we believe in living with the supernatural world, you know. Not destroying it. I doubt you’ll get many clients from us,” said Morrigan.

“I might come here for supplies though, I’m welcome to, right?” said Dene.

Penny grinned. “Your money’s as blue, purple, and green as anyone else’s.”

“Thanks,” said Dene.

The police station was less than fruitful. Silver apologized, but she needed something more solid than a name to do a search on and told her to come back when she had the numbers of Elisabet’s cards. He asked if Alexander’s breath smelled of brains. She’d told him he wasn’t breathing to check.

She’d run out of things to do. She had to face the stairs again.

Climbing up, she swore something grabbed her shoulder. And at the glass door at the top, there was a silhouette. The figure was small. Must be Alexander waiting for her, wondering why she was taking so long to get started, she decided.

Then she got there and there was no one behind the door.

“Great,” said Dene.

Alexander and Tax’s apartment was beside the door slammer’s, and she made her way forthwith.

A white man in his thirties opened the door. He had bright tattoos of lizards and flowers up his arms, with long unkempt hair and a beard that hadn’t seen a trimmer in a while.

“You’re the new girl,” he said. “Something wrong with your apartment?” He didn’t sound too interested in the answer.

“I’m actually here on Alexander’s behalf,” began Dene.

The man went very still.

“He wanted me to come over,” said Dene. She started edging her foot forward to keep the door from shutting.

“What,” said the man, and Dene identified his thick accent as the American south, “was Alexander doing talking to you?”

“You’ve probably noticed something is up with Alexander,” said Dene. Tax, who this definitely was, looked unamused. Dene forged on. “He came to see me. Asked me over.”

Tax said nothing, just looking at her with the same even, not remotely pleased look.

“Can I come in?” said Dene hopefully.

“No,” said Tax.

That’s when Alexander intervened, with the sound of running feet from where a bedroom must be and he wiggled around Tax, shoving him out of the way. “You came!” said Alexander.

“Of course I did,” said Dene.

Alexander took her hand and pulled her inside, ignoring Tax’s glare. “Did you figure it out?”

“I’m not that fast,” said Dene at the same time Tax said: “You told her?”

Alexander looked up at Tax. “I want to know and you won’t tell me.”

Tax shuddered and turned around, walking into what must have been his room and slammed the door.

Alexander frowned, then looked up at Dene. “I’ll show you where it is. Tax’s cleaned and bleached the whole area so you can’t see the blood anymore, but there must be a clue.” He showed her to a corner by the window.

Dene crouched down and inspected every inch, but all she learned was that Tax was an amazing cleaner, and that Alexander did not know any of his sister’s card information.

She would not be able to get Tax to speak to her again until May and no one hired her for the rest of the month.

On the last day of April, she received a calling card from her downstairs neighbours, signed only ‘The Keys.’



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