A Time For Crows

Chapter 3: What Happens in Franksburg Metro, Stays in Franksburg Metro

Franksburg Metropolitan Museum crested the top of a small hill right on the coast. And by the grace of God, I found a parking spot in a garage only three blocks away. Who knows, maybe I ought to start doing creative visualization and affirmations.

I wore a black, zip-up hoodie that was bulky enough I could hide my Glock 20 in, along with two spare magazines, and a few supplies I’d found useful when doing this sort of thing, like my rune-engraved rock salt. Plus, storm was coming in, and amidst the gusts of sea-salt and food-stand burgers, the gathering storm brought a chill. 

People milled the sidewalks and walkway in front of the museum; food trucks and gift booths offered all sorts of foods and knickknacks, and pigeons ganged up on anyone stupid enough to sit down at the benches. I’m telling you, the pigeons of Franksburg are the dirtiest thieves I’ve ever seen. One poor kid on a bench tried swatting a fat bird away, while its buddy waited for the kid to move his burger, and then the buddy bird struck, snatched the top bun out of the kid’s hand, and then both birds (plus a dozen more) flew off to the planters some twenty feet away. “Hey!” the kid yelled, but it was too late. I’m telling you—dirty.

I made my way to one of the gift and trinket booths. A brunette girl in her mid-twenties watched over the booth; she winked at me and said: “Anything in particular you’re looking for?”

“Shells,” I said.

“Like what kind of shells? We just got these shell earrings in, and oh my god, they are so cute.” She held up some blue sea-shell earrings that Eddy started oohing over.

“Eddy likes cute, so that’s perfect.”

Ha. Ha, Eddy said. I—ooh that blue ooh. Ooh, it’s electrifying, I want to touch it. Stroke the edges, come on. Oh gods, can you hear that? Put them up to your ears. I bet we can hear the waves. Come on. 

She grinned. “I bet he’d love the matching necklace.” She held it up, grinning even wider. 

I like her style, Eddy said. Maybe you should ask her out.

“Sure,” I said and took out my wallet. “How much I owe you?”

“That’s forty-two dollars and fifty cents.” 

Really? Eddy said. You’re going to?

Feel like I owe you, bud. This one’s important to me.

“What’s the booth fee for here?” I asked and handed her a fifty.

“So, it’s $100 a week, plus six percent of your earnings.”


“Yeah, it’s a bit pricey, but usually really worth it. You thinking of doing a booth?”

I nodded. “Yeah, I make kombucha, and you know, just need more exposure.”

“Oh my god, I love kombucha. Do you have a card? I actually know the coordinator, like really well, and we could really use a good kombucha booth. Beverages do phenomenal here.”

Anything weird about her? I asked Eddy.

Why? Because she’s nice?

  I handed her my card. “Thank you so much.  Listen, I’m late for an appointment, but can I come back later and ask you a bit more about it?”

“Oh for sure!” She handed me the bag with Eddy’s shells.“Just make sure that you bring Eddy back and show him off.” She practically squealed.

“Thank you.” I lifted the bag almost like a salute and strode off for the museum.

Kevin is going to love you when you bring him back here, Eddy said.

The museum itself stands like a Greco-Roman basilica, only with a healthy dosing of super-size me. Some twenty steps lead up to the grand entryway, which is guarded by corinthian pillars measured in stories rather than feet. 

The steps buzzed with footsteps and chatter; people oblivious to the fact that a murder had just happened a few rooms away. Museum was still open—this was freaking Franksburg after all. And if the Order wanted to save face and not have the news reporting the death of one of the museum’s curators, what better way to keep the vast majority of the museum open? That, and the cash cow.

I spotted Jenny waiting by the front doors and made my way up to her. 

“Hey, Joe,” she said, and fell into step beside me.

“Hope you didn’t wait long.”

“You’re fine.”

Which meant she did. “Had to do a little business first.”


“I’ve got fourteen barrels of kombucha that I can’t sell, and I sort of blew up at Kevin for saying no to a merger. So, I’ve got to figure out how to sell more, so I can stay afloat. I’m going to try setting up a booth here.”

She touched my arm and forced a smile. “Sorry to drag you into this then. But I’m glad you’re here. I’ll try to make it up to you.”

Oh, she looks happy, Eddy said. 

Can you blame her?

Oh. Right. Well. Sorry, mate. 

Just keep your eyes open, will you?

Sure. Sure. Gods, I hate museums though. So many old artifacts with sleeping spirits inside them—gives me the creeps, it does

That’s creepy to you?

Well, think of something living inside you, completely dormant, until one day it suddenly wakes and takes over. Ugh, gives me the shivers. I mean, can you imagine?

Yeah, I mean that’d be one of the worst things ever. Imagine, no privacy, constantly wondering if you’re actually locked up in a nut house somewhere and just hallucinating, or going to be possessed. Can’t imagine.

Are you being sarcastic? Eddy said, and I swear he’d cocked his eyebrow, which is weird because Eddy doesn’t have eyebrows.

Me? I said back to Eddy. Never. 

 Jenny and I entered, and she lifted her badge to one of the male attendants in red who nodded and said “Yes, ma’am,” and he parted the velvet ropes.

Say thanks, Moses, Eddy said. I dare you.

Yeah, he wouldn’t get it. Just check for patterns, will you? Anything awake that shouldn’t be; that sort of thing.

You got it.

The inside of the museum puts the outside to shame. Arches support the grand hallway, with multiple accents and reliefs. Arched niches capped each supporting column on all sides and a marble statue filled each niche, backlit to give it an almost celestine glow. 

“I’ve got to warn you,” I said to Jenny as we walked. “I may not be able to find anything.”

“I know.” She shook her head. “But if anyone can at this point, it’s you. It just doesn’t make any sense, you know? Cameras didn’t see anything. No traces. I mean, you’d almost think that aside from the gash in his neck and no blood that he died of natural causes.”

“Is it possible this could be an inside job?”

“Don’t say that,” she said. 

We stepped under some post and lintel style pillars and into the beginning of the Egyptian exhibit, which was packed. Couple of teenage boys gawked over a statue of Bast in her mostly human form.

“Look, Jenny—“

“No, you look. I know we have different ideas about the Order, but not everyone’s Earl.”

I wanted to tell her the reason why I’d left the Order was because all of them, the uppers that is, were like Earl. And I’d been right there. But, while I may be an ass, I’m still a person. “I’m sorry.”

“Don’t be. I’m just stressed.”

“I know.” 

We passed through the Egyptian exhibit and then dropped down into a neo-classic room filled with Renaissance statues. Still blew me away that we had an actual Donatello here. Some day, I’d like to see if Jenny would like to just come and explore the museum with me. Sure, we’d been together, but never just the two of us. And that made me think of the two tickets I had to Kate’s performance tonight. Only problem was that asking Jenny now would win me the douche of the year award, so I just kept pace with her, and we made our way through the Renaissance exhibit over into a new exhibit entitled “Treasures of the Ancient World” with “Closed for Maintenance” in yellow, quasi police tape strapped across it.

False sliding doors covered the otherwise arched entrance, but you could still see the tips of a crowned statue peeking over the barricade. 

Three men in suits stood outside the sliding doors; two guarded them almost as conspicuous as a dog in a sheep corral, and the third had his back to us.

“You’ve got to be kidding me,” Jenny said.

“What?” I replied.

But she didn’t answer. Instead she strode up to the three men as if this were her museum, and they had just lost citizenship.

Well, those three are binders, Eddy said in a helpful tone.

Probably Order lackeys.

Oh, right.

Before Jenny could speak, the third man turned. “Ah, Miss Ashcraft,” he said in a low, rusty voice with a hint of high society. His name was Mike Buchannen, and the suit he wore probably cost more than my car. Lines carved his face, not quite wrinkles, not quite dimples, but lines so that even though he was somewhere in his mid thirties, depending on the light you could guess anywhere from thirty-five to fifty-five. I’m told the look comes from people who’ve done too much binding magic without enough rest. Mike cut a sharp figure, not ultra handsome, not striking, but sharp, with dirty pewter eyes and thick, sharp brows and a thick jaw and chin. And when he looked at you, and talked, seemed like he was always cleaning out his teeth or chewing imaginary gum. “I’m glad you decided to re-grace us. We could use your help. But what the hell is he doing here?” He nodded at me without looking at me. That was the thing about Mike—you weren’t ever sure if he was just being an asshat or if he just didn’t know how to actually connect with people.

The guard on the left turned to his buddy. “Is that Joyce?”

“Shit, I think it is,” the other one said.

Ahh, look, Eddy said, you’ve got fanboys.

Shut up.

“What are you doing here?” Jenny said, and while she didn’t have her hands on her hips, her tone said she did.

“The acting Warden called me in, actually,” Mike said.  

“And did you find anything?” Jenny said.

“No. No traces,” Mike said. He continued that odd teeth cleaning or chewing on imaginary gum. “That why you brought him?”

“He can see things we can’t,” Jenny said, and I couldn’t help but feel, thanks for the setup Jenny.

“Ahh,” Mike said. “Well, then again, every schizophrenic can.” He gave me a smile that could have been pitying or apologetic. “No offense, Joyce.”

“No that would just be creepy, we shouldn’t do that to him,” I said over my right shoulder. “What did you say, Mikey?”

“Hah,” Mike said. “So, you’ve come back to us then? The prodigal son returned in our time of need?”

“Jenny’s my friend,” I said and stepped up to her.

“Hmm,” Mike said. “Well then, I suppose it is your call isn’t it, Miss Ashcraft.”

“Yes, it is,” Jenny said.

“Though I do distinctly remember him leaving the Order.”

“He’s with me,” she said in a tone that brooked no argument. 

“Well then, if she invited you, we can let you in. If you’ll excuse me. I’ll be in and out.”

What’s he got on him? I asked Eddy

Not much, actually, Eddy said. It’s like he took a ritual salt bath or something. Think he’s hiding something?

Who isn’t? I said.

True. Well, if it helps, he’s not reeking of guilt or secrecy.

Good to know, thanks. What about Tweetle-Dee and Tweetle-Dum over here

See that’s just it, it’s like the guards are wiped clean too. Maybe inside the scene’s some sort of morphic field or something. 

Was Jenny clean like that

Honestly, I was looking at other parts

You’re such a pig, I said.

Yes, I am, Eddy said, but, I not only fully accept it—I fully embrace it.

Jenny and I stepped past the two guards who nodded at us, and then made our into the “Treasure’s of the Ancient World” exhibit. Yippee. Unlike the quasi-colossal Egyptian or Greek exhibit, this one featured a lot more stands with little jewels, coins, or ornamental weaponry behind glass cases. What was colossal and grand about the exhibit, such as the raised dais surrounded by pillars in the center of the room, was built by the museum. Eight men surrounded the dais, all searching for clues. Except for one, who stood with his hands clasped behind his back, surveying, what I presumed to be the actual murder scene.

And these guys? I said to Eddy. Are they wiped clean too?

Yes, Eddy said, drawn out as if he were looking through a microscope. Several are, except for that chap with his back to us. But by the looks of it, he just got here, and—oh wait, that’s juicy.


The edges of his energy lines are fading. Huh. Look at that. 

And mine?

Yes. Jenny’s too. Some sort of metamorphic field after all. He seems, hmm, resolute. 

But nothing tying to the murder?

Not that I can see. But don’t let me discourage you.

“That was weird,” I said to Jenny as we walked.

She exhaled. “He’s such a ladder climber.”

“Think the new warden actually called him in?”

“Acting warden. It’s Bill Raines’s brother, Randall Raines. Position’s actually open for a few weeks until the Council can appoint a new Warden.”

“Hmm. I mean it was weird though that he wanted to keep me out at first and then let me in.”

“He didn’t have a choice, because you’re with me—“

“Right,” I said, “because I can see things that other people can’t.”

“Joe—I shouldn’t have said—”

“No, it’s fine,” I said and slid my finger along a coin case that looked like something from ancient Sumer. “But you know what, it’s okay. Let’s just get this done.”


“Did you check and see why everybody’s energy fields are wiped clean when they come in here?”

“They are?”


She shook her head. “Haven’t even been here two minutes—”

“It’s just the creepy voice in my head.”

Thanks, partner! Eddy said. Eddy loved it when I called him creepy—and I am being serious there.


“Come on.” 

“I didn’t mean it like that,” she said.

“I know. Me neither. It’s fine. Really.” I smiled in a way that I hoped lightened the mood. 

You’re such a bad liar, Eddy said. You know, if she really thought you were that creepy, I doubt she’d be asking you for your help.

I’ve asked all sorts of things for help over the years. But you know what, it’s not a big deal. 

I mean it stung, but whatever. Made my fingers feel a little tight, but it’s not like I hadn’t been called worse over the years. And besides, I knew it’s not what she meant. It was this place. These people. And honestly, I was just letting it get to me.

Don’t forget Dwarven Spirits, Eddy said cheerfully.

She laid her hand on my arm and stopped me from walking. “I’m serious. Let’s be cool. Please?”

I nodded and then shook my head and exhaled some of the tightness. “Just brings back a lot is all. Not you, not in a bad way; I’m not meaning that. It’s just seeing all these people. Thought I left most of it behind.”

“I really appreciate your help,” she said.

“Thanks. Is that Raines up on the dais?”

“Yeah,” Jenny said and sighed. 

“Alright, let’s go.”

Randall Raines was a tall man with silvering hair he kept pulled back in a ponytail. He stood there in a black overcoat with his back toward us, hands clasped. His getup wasn’t extravagant like Mike’s, but from here, looked classy. I didn’t know him well, his brother had always taken the limelight. But with how he stood there, I think Eddy had pinned him right—resolute. I remember when I’d lost Ann, it hurt, like I couldn’t breathe. My ears rang, seemed to for days, and all I’d wanted to do was hit things. People manifest grief and anger in different ways, and I hoped that what Randall was displaying here was more than an act of self control. 

We walked up next to him.

“Sir,” Jenny said, “I brought Joe.”

He smiled. He had a white beard cut close that gave him a dignified, contemplative look that some men are graced with, without trying. “It wasn’t supposed to happen, you know. Not like this.”

“I’m sorry,” I said and meant it. 

“Thanks for coming,” Raines said. “Normally, I wouldn’t allow someone not of the Order to be here, but, we all miss Earl.” He swallowed and forced out a smile. “Are you coming back to us then?”

“I’m just here to help Jenny. And Bill.”

“I see,” Raines said and turned to me. “Still, I would like to speak with you about Earl.”

And there it was—why Raines allowed Jenny to let me in. See how they can weasel away the library I’d inherited from Earl. Wonder if Jenny knew, but then again, she, loved the Order. 

“I don’t have much to say about Earl,” I said. 

“Joe,” Jenny chided, eyes wide and jaws tight.

But Raines smiled. “It’s no secret he was grooming you to replace him. My brother was not grooming me, and yet,” he spread his hands, “here were are.”

He wants you to share trade secrets? Eddy said. Is he daft?

No, he wants more than that.

“Do you know why your brother was here so late?” I said, steering back toward Bill.

Raines shrugged. “I’m even here late.”

“You work here?” I said.

“Different department, but yes,” Raines said. “It’s a great way for the Order to keep an eye on the real artifacts that come in, if you understand. But, this was his job, Joe. His passion. He always stayed late.”

“Sure,” I said, “but the museum has a big staff. And for someone in his seventies, always staying late, and more especially, staying here until after two—“

“Four, actually,” Raines corrected. “That’s the most likely time of death; little after four.” 

“That’s pretty late for a guy his age to stay here. Had it been any earlier, or he’d been dragged back as a statement, someone would have most likely seen something.”

“Unless it was one of the Varseuth,” Raines said.

My heart beat harder—if they had slinkers—I hate slinkers. But if indeed House Varseuth, or like I call them, slinkers, had done the job, that would be an act of war on the Order. Sure, the Order wasn’t the only human magical community around, but they were the biggest still. For how long, I wasn’t sure. If the slinkers did do this, and attacked the Order, things were going to get real interesting in the streets. Jenny, what did you bring me into? 

“What do you mean?” I said. “That’s a pretty serious accusation.”

Jenny shook her head answering for Raines. “Nothing saw them, no cameras, no people, none of the various wards Bill had placed up around the museum.”

“But a lot of things can go unseen,” I said.

“Not from what my brother had in place,” Raines said.

“So, is it your brother’s wards that wiped the energy signatures from everything in here?” I asked.

“Not that I know of,” Raines said. “But that sounds an awful lot like Varseuth work to me.”

“It’s circumstantial,” I said, not wanting to entertain the idea of the slinkers doing this. “But, I’ll look for their signs. So, why here though? What was Bill doing?”

Jenny made eye contact with Raines, who grimaced, but shrugged. “This doesn’t leave, you understand?”

“Sure,” I said.

Raines gestured behind him to the exhibit. You couldn’t quite call it a stage because that would imply it less grand; dais was more like it, only much bigger, some twenty feet in diameter. And up on the dais, past the thirteen marble pillars knelt a hooded statue of a woman with Baroque robes carved into the gleaming stone, so sheer her form burst through as though she’d just risen like Aphrodite from the sea. She offered empty, white hands that caught some hidden spotlights and returned the light with gleams. 

Bill lay in front of the statue.

“It was a stupid move,” Raines said, shaking his head. “But my brother insisted.”

“What?” I said.

“The Knife of Kashkumeekash,” Raines said.

Holy. Shit. Eddy said. It’s real?

“That’s a legend,” I said, shaking my head.

“Maybe the High Prince is,” Jenny said, “but the Order’s had the Knife for years.”

Raines opened this hands and shrugged. “Whether it’s the Knife or a knife—it fits the legends. And I can vouch for its magical authenticity. My brother insisted we showcase it, prove once and for all to the other magical orders that trying to dethrone us would be foolish.”

“That doesn’t sound like good logic,” I said.

“Or it’s a bit like showing the Declaration,” Jenny said. “Show everyone our roots. People in the know will understand the power of a symbol, particularly this symbol. And then, what else could we have?”

“There have been more and more attacks on the Order,” Raines said. “My brother reasoned it would work to help stave off some of the attacks, and once he was finished with his wards, tag any who tried to remove it. I disagreed with him. But, he was Warden, and the Knife under his jurisdiction. So, showcased it was.”

“You have a picture?” I said.

Raines pulled out his phone and showed me a picture of a knife built thick and strong like a Bowie, but with swirls in the steel, that made the spot in between and just above my eyebrows spin. The uninitiated might think it some sort of Damascus steel, but those swirls were spell forms set into the steel. I wouldn’t be surprised if they were also blood channels.

“What’s it do?”

“It’s a harvesting blade,” Jenny said.

“Harvesting blade?”

“Harvests soul essence,” Raines said, “probably more. And if it gets into the wrong hands—Joe, we have to find it.”

I made eye contact with Jenny, who grimaced. I guess she couldn’t have told me, but still, this was starting to get all sorts of messy. Then again, I tried to help where I could, like with the missing redheads—it screamed ritual sacrifice to me, and I’d been trying to find whodunnit since I realized it for what it was. So maybe this was her way of trying to keep me in the know without breaking loyalty to the Order? Guess I’d just have to ask her.

I sighed and shook my head. Kevin, I thought, you were right. I should have stayed back at the shop.

You know, Eddy said, if you’d listen to your friends more, namely me, and perhaps Kevin, you’d be saving yourself a lot shit, you know that, right?


“So Bill decides to showcase a known magical object,” I said, “and no one was here to protect him, or it?”

Raines shook his head and shrugged. “He ordered us not to, except for the standard security, but that was more to keep everyone away from the area than to protect him.”

“Can you verify that, Jenny?” I asked.

Her cheeks blushed, but she nodded. “Yes. It’s true.”

“So what was he doing last night?” I said.

“We think,” Jenny said, “he was putting the final wards on the Knife, and he always preferred to make wards alone so that no one could see how he’d built them and then be able to disable them from there.”

Paranoid much? Eddy said.

Apparently with good reason.


“Alright, I’ll see what I can find,” I said.

“You’ll help us find it?” Raines said. 

“I’ll see what’s here,” I said, “no more.”

“We can pay,” Raines began. “I think you’ll find the Order a very different place from when you left. For the better.”

“No,” I said. “I’m here because of Jenny and Bill; I’m not getting hired by the Order.”

“Are you sure?” Raines said. Call me crazy, but that looked to have pissed him off—though he hid it well. But the muscles around his eyes narrowed just enough, and his elbows raised just a hair, and even the thumb and forefingers of his left hand twitched just enough that it told me he wasn’t in the habit of being told “no” and really didn’t like it.

“Nothing against you, Raines,” I said. “I’m already swimming in shit up to my armpits. If I agreed, I don’t think I’d be able to do a good enough job. But I might be able to find something here. God knows Earl and I ran into a few cases like this.”

“Fair enough,” Raines said and exhaled. His shoulders still held tension, but the other muscles I’d noticed tightening relaxed, at least enough to know he wasn’t about to smite me for impudence as soon as my back was turned.

“Thank you, Joe,” Jenny said, and gave me one of those smiles that normally made my heart flutter. She knew what I did just now, and maybe even Raines did to.

Well, Eddy said, maybe you aren’t a complete ass at diplomacy after all.

Yeah, we’ll see. 

“Though,” Raines said and began walking toward where his brother lay, “we do have much to discuss about Earl. Not here. But soon.”

My look must have spoken more than I’d intended because Raines frowned and said, “The Order above all, Joe.”

Another reason why I left. Asshole.

We walked up six white marble steps onto the dais and over to where Bill’s body lay still in his white shirt, red tie, and blue slacks.

Jenny wasn’t kidding: Bill Raines lay on his side, white as plaster and deader than old Marley’s doornail. His pale skin lay in stark contrast to the trapezoid-shaped marble tiles, all various shades of gray and green and blue. Save for the chunk taken out of his neck, deep enough it flirted with decapitation, you could almost say this looked like a ritual killing. 

I’d seen some similar several years ago, where the victim’s blood had been drained, but you couldn’t get all of it. But here? It’s like Bill had never had blood—just wasn’t there. Made me sick.  Bill had shrunken some, but not as much as you’d expect, and there was no mistaking it was him. It’s not like he looked like a mummy just without the jerky look. No, it’s like the other fluids were still there, just no blood. And not a speck stained his clothing, or the floor. Even if something with a penchant for blood were to have attacked him, they couldn’t have sucked it all off his clothing.

Though I tried to look at this as detached as I could, I knew Bill. While we weren’t friends, we’d helped each other—but of the two of us, he’d helped me even more, which seeing him like this made the pit in my stomach grow. And while it wasn’t rational, I did wonder, if I’d stayed with the Order, would Bill still be alive? I shook my head, wondering if maybe I’d spoken too soon about not helping beyond what I found here.

“If you have any more questions, Joe,” Raines said, “I’ll be about.”

“I’ll need to talk to all the security team, Order and not,” I said. “And take a look at the cameras.”

“Done,” Raines said. “Fetch me when you’re ready.” And he turned and walked off the dais.

Jenny exhaled and raised her brows. “I’m sorry I couldn’t tell you about the Knife.”

“But you kept me in the know,” I said.

She nodded and folded her arms, looking at Bill. “Yeah, it’s just so tricky, you know? There’re some things I’ve sworn to secrecy, but you need to know. So, I guess this works?”

I nodded. “Thanks.”

I crouched over Bill’s body, forearms on my tight knees—I’ve had too many accidents over the years.

Someone had dragged Bill here in front of the statue as if the statue itself were some sort of offering altar. His brown, left shoe had a smudge, like he’d been dragged. His shirt, while still tucked in, wasn’t as tucked in on the left side. Other than the gash on his neck, and the subsequent fluid drain, his body held no other signs of damage, at least not without turning him over. I’d get to that. But I guessed I wouldn’t find anything, especially because without any blood, trying to find bruising was going to be pointless.

“How big is the Knife?” I asked Jenny.

“Fourteen-inch blade,” she said.

“Shit. Not a stretch then to think it was used on him.”

“Nope. It was even secured to the statue here. But you know what’s weird?” she said and bent down next to me. “Look at this.” She pointed to the edge of the wound. “It almost looks like glass right there.”

I nodded. “Binding energy has to come from somewhere, which—“

“Looks an awful like like slinker work,” Jenny said. That was a good point because slinkers who could do binding magic had figured out how to use their victims’ bodies as the energy source. But, theoretically, any binder could figure that out—I’d just yet to meet one who wasn’t a slinker.

“I was going to say that the legendary power of the Knife to hide your trail probably isn’t accurate, assuming the authenticity of the Knife.”

“You still don’t think it’s authentic?”

I shook my head. “Would you believe it if Zeus’s Thunderbolt were all of a sudden found? Or Mjölnir?”

“But, it is a magic blade.”

“It is a magic blade,” I agreed. But what was I missing? Jenny was right—there was always a trace, somehow. 

Well? I asked Eddy.

There’s a faint residue left on his neck. Might even be something inside the wound, I’m not sure.

Like what?

Well, that cleansing binding is sort of on top of it, so I can’t quite see what’s in there, other than something’s there. But it’s no wonder no one could see anything.

How’s that? I asked. 

Well isn’t it obvious?


I’m just that damn good, Eddy said.

Maybe if I hadn’t known Bill, and he wasn’t important to Jenny, I might have chuckled. Instead I just said No, you’re just sick, man. And I think he grinned.

Right. Well, that and the fact that this cleansing binding is geared toward humans; no wonder they couldn’t see anything.

But you’re seeing it through my eyes—

Which is probably why I’m having a hard time seeing what’s underneath everything, but since I’m just the creepy voice inside your head, rules don’t quite apply in the same way.

“I might have an idea,” I said to Jenny. 


“Any of you touched him?” 

“We’ve just done magical sweeps. Everything’s clean. Police wanted us to wait until forensics had their say.”

“They been here?” 

She shook her head.


I’d stuffed some black nitrile gloves in my back pocket before we came over, and I pulled one out and put it on and grabbed a pinch of my rune-engraved rock salt just in case. I took a breath. I hate this part of the job—but I didn’t know what else to do.  

Wait, Eddy said. You’re not seriously going to touch him are you?

Sometimes when your vision fails you, you’ve got to use your other senses.

I think I’m going to vomit.


Relax? No, I just saw what you’re planning on doing. Your mind has a way of broadcasting nasties to me. No, I don’t want a part of it. Put me back to sleep. 

Shut up. You said there was something in there. Now see if you can feel it for me.

I hate you sometimes, you know that?

“What are you—“ Jenny began.

“Sorry, Bill,” I whispered. And I dug my fingers inside the gash. 

That’s it, Eddy said. I’m going to vomit.

Bill’s flesh was cold, like you’d expect, but what you wouldn’t expect was gas to come puffing out like I’d just opened a hidden cavity. 

“Oh God,” I whispered when I caught the whiff. My heart picked up hard and loud enough it beat in my ears. The muscles in my legs tightened. I wanted to scream—the rational side of me in frustration and revulsion. But the darker side of me wanted to scream in elation because I’d found something.

“What?” Jenny said and bent down.

“Smells like guts and vinegar, just without the shit stink.”

Boss, Eddy said, but that means—

I know.

After all these years—I found it: a new lead and a connection. Jenny didn’t know what this meant already, did she? No, that was stupid. She hadn’t been there when Ann died. And this smell, guts and vinegar without the other accompanying reeks accustomed to the human gut, I’d only ever smelled it one other time. When Ann had died.

Jenny crinkled her nose. “Quite the description, but, ugh, yeah. I mean, I guess I’d caught it before, but I figured it was just, I don’t know part of getting the blood taken out, and what a body would smell like after that?”

“What’s this?” Mike Buchannen said from behind us. 

I turned.

Mike stood over us in his primped suit, arms folded, and shaking his head. “Thought we’d agreed no one would touch him.”

“That’s just for your Order cronies,” I said, fingers still neck deep in Bill. 

Wait, Eddy said. Do you feel that?


I think there’s hair in there


I spread the wound open. Nothing I could see. But if Eddy saw it, or sensed it, it was there.

Mike glared at me. “Have you no respect—”

“Ah, don’t worry, Mikey,” I said, digging deeper. “I’ll shake your hand in a minute.” 

“Really, Joyce?” Mike said. “I remember now why I’d always found working with you such a pleasure.” 

“I need you to bring the security team here,” Jenny said, presumably to Mike. “We’ve got questions.”

Little to the left, Eddy said. Hair to the right—hah—get it, hair? Aaaaand pinch. Good. Got it.

“Can I get you some iced water, perhaps?” Mike said. “Maybe some tea?”

Anything else? I said to Eddy.

Not that I can tell.

Good. Thanks.

Yep, Eddy said, but you owe me for this. More than just those shells too. Eddy made a sound like the nasty shivers. The things I do for you.

Sure, you want to catch a flick? 

Oh, boss, I’d love too. You know, there’s that new porno store over on Parrish Way.

“Actually, while you’re at it,” Jenny said, “get me the security footage too. It’s already been cleared with Raines.”

“What’d you find, Joyce?” Mike said.

I shook my head. Nice try, I said back to Eddy and pulled my glove inside out, keeping my fingers pinched. And sure enough, a long hair slid out of the wound. Call me paranoid, but I didn’t let anyone else see, and smooshed the hair inside the gloves like its own little baggie. 

But the truth was, I barely heard Mike because when I pushed off my knee and stood, my eye had caught something reflecting off the glass ceiling. Most people don’t look up, but I always make a habit of it; it’s saved my neck more than once. And something was up with one of the glass panels up there. 

The museum rose a few stories sure, but here in this new exhibit, glass in triangular panels crowned the ceiling. The skylight spanned several exhibits, and some on various floors. The glass ceiling’s steel framework was dull black, so it didn’t make any sense for the steel itself to look like it was sporting a reflective icicle.

“What’s that up there?” I said both to Jenny and Eddy.

Good god, Eddy said, the energy signature matches the hair. Move on out of the cleansing field, let’s take a closer look.

“Looks like binding slag,” Jenny said. “Huh.”

“Hang on a second,” I said and strode down the dais behind the beautiful statue, past a set of armor reported to be from the Shang Dynasty, and kept going until I felt the subtle shift of passing through the morphic field, like a weighted mist had just lifted from me. 

Can you still see it? I asked Eddy.

Wow, he replied, that hair we just found belongs to a woman, and she was right up there where the steel sort of melted. Fascinating.

My heart began to pick up.

And get this, Eddy said, she’s a redhead.

I hadn’t had time to look at the color of the hair, just pulled it and stuffed it. A redhead? Here?

Mmm-hmmm. And, I wouldn’t be surprised if she dropped down from the ceiling.

How’s that?

“Well?” Mike said, chewing on his imaginary gum or sucking his teeth. “What is it?”

“Give him a second,” Jenny said.

“Answer me, Joyce.”

“Shut up,” I said, still scanning the framework for any other bits of changed material.

Because one of those windows is a fake window, Eddy said. And it’s right above where the Knife was.

But wouldn’t the energy signature have faded by now?

Yes, unless she was pumping a lot of energy in, and it sort of burned her energy signature there for a while.

Can you tell if she’s still alive?

I’d say there’s a good chance, Eddy said, given that the energy in her hair isn’t decaying yet.

My mouth dried some. We had a lead, and with that smell I’d found on Bill, there was no way I was staying out of it now. 

I only told Jenny about the hair; though I did tell Mike, and later Raines, everything else I’d found. Raines couldn’t hide the appreciation on his face when I told him I’d be digging deeper. Maybe he realized I wasn’t doing it for him, maybe not. But now that I had something concrete of who to look for, it would make it so much easier for Eddy to spot something we’d missed before. Not only was I looking into the missing redheads—and finding one here at the scene of a legendary knife used in ritual sacrifices was too much to ignore—I might finally get some answers about Ann.