EPISODE 52: THAWED

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Sevardin Harker, Jovday, Pisces 10th 2351. 7:24 AM. Arroyo Central Terrace (AFK Central Precinct)

If you told me I would be working the Black Lotus case when I started on the force, I would be giddy with excitement. Sev shook his head as he hauled the last box of casefiles from the records room to the meeting room. Seven years of stupid assumptions later, I appreciate what a colossal pain in the ass this is going to be.

Every dead celebrity meant false confessions, attention seekers providing bad info, and intense media scrutiny. And that was putting aside the enigma of the Black Lotus case. If the press caught wind of a legendary serial killer’s involvement, it would be all anyone talked about in the southland. And if the entity responsible is an egregore, it will feed on that panic. Hell, if the panic gets bad enough, egregores based on the case will literally coalesce in the veil and start stalking the streets, regardless of who the real killer is.

Sev set the box down on the long table of the meeting room. Our base of operations. Hell, our home for the foreseeable fucking future. Jecia and Vadon were already sorting evidence and organizing files into different categories. They had three boxes of reports and case notes, and one bin of evidence.

“This is the last of it,” Sev said.

“That’s it?” Vadon asked.

“Only two—well, now three—of the seven deaths took place in Arroyo. I imagine the bulk of the evidence is at the LAKF. But Glendale, Burbank, and Hollywood probably also have caches about this size.”

“Jesus,” Vadon said, beginning to grasp the problem.

“It gets better. Those chapters all loaned each other evidence, and over the years, some of it got lost in the shuffle. I know for a fact that one of the tarot cards from the original string of murders was stolen out of Hollywood’s lockup,” Sev explained.

“You studied the case before?” Jecia asked.

Sev grinned ruefully.

“I did a report on evidence control in my tenth year, using the Black Lotus as a case study,” Sev said, somewhat sheepishly. “Anyway. I need to make a bunch of calls to arrange access to the other chapters’ evidence. While I’m playing phone tag, I’d like you two to establish a basic timeline; first death to last. Commonalities between them. Once you’ve got that sorted, start a suspect board.”

“It can’t be the same killer, right? Or if it is, can’t be human,” Vadon said.

“Definitely doesn’t seem like it,” Sev said. “I’m not sure there is a killer in the traditional sense. Could be an extremely complicated curse. But don’t jump to any conclusions until you start digging.”

—|—

Sev retreated to his cubicle and looked up the names for his contacts at the various other chapters. He didn’t always have an obvious counterpart; each chapter was distinctive in terms of organizational structure and subdivisions. General patrol, malefaction, and entropathy were near-constants, but not every department had a dedicated cold case division. Many offices even held records and evidence under the same umbrella.

The LAKF had every conceivable division and sub-division in magical law enforcement and it was one of the largest in the world. Many division leads treated their commands as private fiefdoms within their chapter, and that was doubly true when they dealt with outsiders. Fortunately, Sev was on a first-name basis with the head of their cold case division: Rorick Grimm.

Sev dialed Rorick, who picked up on the third ring.

“Well, well, well. If it isn’t Sev Harker. What can I do for you, kid?”

Sev chuckled by way of greeting. He didn’t mind being called a kid now nearly as much as he did when he started working on the force, especially by veterans like Grimm. In many ways, Rorick was the mentor Sev always wanted. His first CO, Ashford Adams, had embezzled money early in his career, and capped things off by executing a criminal who had surrendered. Sev’s mentor in the Athenaeum, Ridger McCormick, was hardly better. He always found Sev to be impertinent and overly idealistic.

“Got a doozy for you, Rick,” Sev said. “You know where your Black Lotus boxes are?”

There was a long pause.

“I have to assume you’re helping some Athenaeum brat look for research material on a paper.”

“I wish. Got a dead actress who received a tarot card that matches the MO of the preceding deaths a couple days ago.”

Rorick laughed as if Sev had told a spectacular joke.

“Oh, you poor bastard,” he said when he caught his breath. Sev could picture him wiping tears from his eyes. “Tell me about the case. What do you want to see?”

“Everything you’ve got, ideally. Would love a collection of the case files, if you have them on soft copy.” As an afterthought, Sev added: “I figured I’d call you first, seeing how you probably have some first-hand experience with the case. You probably worked the first set of murders, right?”

Rorick laughed again. He was in his late sixties.

“The mouth on this prick. I was even younger than you when the second string of murders went down! Still in the Athenaeum. A goddamn fetus. But I do remember the panic. It was all over the continent. Hell, all over the world. Did you know the case actually drew tourism?”

“What? Amateur detectives, or…?”

“Among others. You got your amateur sleuths and garden variety nutjobs, but there were also aspiring actresses flocking to LA, convinced that they could kickstart their career by getting a death threat, or that they would be the Sinderetta story to crack the curse. Times did an article about it way back.”

“That’s fucked up.”

“Tell me about it. For the sake of the southland, to say nothing of your own sorry ass, you’d better hope this is a hoax.”

“No shit. The timing gives me a really bad feeling.”

 “That’s two of us. Can you walk me through what you know so far?

Sev gave him the rundown and Rorick was quiet as he spoke, probably taking notes.

“I don’t suppose you’ve ever taken a run at the case yourself?” Sev asked.

“I mean. I poked around the evidence one night when curiosity got the better of me, but there really isn’t that much hard info on the first string of murders, and the second set is such a fucking mess that I got a migraine after five minutes.”

“I’ve got Vadon and my new hire putting together a timeline of the original cases. Can you pull together what you have by one this afternoon? I just faxed a requisition form.”

“Sure, if you return the favor. What’s your newbie like?”

Sev hesitated. He wasn’t sure how to sum up Jecia Singh yet.

“She’s got a borderline scary gift for psychometry. A little bit quirky, but good police and cool-headed in a pinch. Helped us kill a mess of spider-gremlins on her first day.”

“They gave you a lady! She a looker?”

Yes. To degrees of distraction.

“I’ll let you see for yourself,” Sev said evenly.

“Boo!” Rick complained. “How’s Detective Hollywood doing?”

“Juel’s good, so far as I know. Still stuck playing poster boy and being paraded around writers’ rooms as a consultant. Last we met was at his boy’s birthday party. Ethano just turned two.”

“Ah! Good to hear. Well, I’ll leave you to your dumpster fire. Hopefully you get this sorted before lunch and we can call this off.”

Sev doubted it.

“Be seeing you, Rick.”

—8:02 AM—

“Okay. We have a meet-up at the LAKF central precinct at one o’clock and another in Burbank at four,” Sev said as he walked back into the meeting room. “Walk me through the timelines. First batch of deaths, then the second.”

“Chronologically, Calea Kennedy was the first victim,” Jecia said, beginning immediately. “She died on the second day of Pisces, 2253. Twenty-five years old. Hollywood’s original bombshell. She was struck dead when a light fell on her.”

Sev shook his head and fought a snicker. Sounds like something from a cartoon. Vadon continued:

“Elice Harding, twenty-two, was next. Drunk driver hit her at a crosswalk. She actually had the tarot card on her person at the time of death, which is how cops started connecting the dots. They circled back to Calea’s case and discovered an identical card in her dressing room. Then word about the cards got out. The LA Times received an anonymous tip about the cards and they were the ones to break the story. Every detail of the MO, from the correct tarot card deck down to the hand-painted lotuses, was in the article.”

Sev nodded and sighed. Fucking fools.

“Trimina Fillmore was the last victim of the original set,” Jecia continued. “And for most of the investigation, she was the prime suspect. She was an amateur magic enthusiast involved in the early occultist movements of Arroyo. Landed a lead role that was supposed to go to Kennedy, and the two were on famously bad terms.”

“She was the suicide,” Sev said, remembering. “Jumped out of her penthouse holding her card.”

He furrowed his brow and pulled out a notebook. Up to this point, I would guess the spell is entropic. But could it possibly alter the subjects’ behavior as well? Get them to voluntarily harm themselves, or suspend their judgment?

“She breaks a lot of other patterns too,” Vadon added. “Oldest victim in either set of cases at twenty-seven. Only victim to die in Aries instead of Pisces. She was the only married victim, and the only one with a child; the equally famous Miritha Fillmore. She was also originally a Broadway star who migrated to the silver screen.”

Sev made another note to try and find any surviving recipients of Black Lotus cards. Is it always a death sentence? Sev scanned the dates.

“Alright. Onto the next set.”

Vadon nodded and wheeled over to the second evidence board they had set up.

“Welcome to the heady year of 2307, back when every bottom was belled, every shirt frilled, and disco dominated the radio,” Vadon said. “On Pisces 6th, Byanka Gorbachev, Hollywood’s sex-symbol import from the SSS, was killed by a gas explosion, and a Black Lotus tarot card was found in her boudoir.”

“Right,” Sev said, nodding as the details of the case came back to him.

Gorbachev was a complicated figure in the West. She denounced her former nation and embraced her role as Hollywood’s modern, liberated woman of the west. Her abrupt death led many to believe that the KGB had her assassinated and tried to cover it up by framing it like the revival of a serial murderer. Hell, I’m sure there are plenty of people on conspiracy message boards who are convinced that both waves of murders are Soviet plots to undermine Hollywood.

“That’s about as far as we’ve gotten,” Jecia said. “I just started looking into Lotine Churchill; the only non-Erician national to be killed by the curse. Vadon is working on Marigold Tyler, the last victim before Garfield.”

“Alright. Good work. I’m gonna review the timeline in detail and look for links while you guys finish the final two suspects and start a board.”

—|—

“I think I found something,” Jecia said. “A fun fact at the very least.”

“I’m all about fun facts.” Vadon practically jumped at the opportunity to ditch his own pile of research in favor of giving Jecia his full-attention.

“Actor-director Rothford Bush was affected by the Black Lotus murders twice.”

“The vampire?” Vadon interrupted.

“You’re not really supposed to call afflicted humans ‘vampires’ anymore,” Jecia chided. “If it’s a Lilithian or anything else that was born as monstrum and subsists on blood, it’s a vampire. Most humans with vampiric urdic disorders prefer to be called ‘ahemes’ these days, though.”

“Learn something new every day,” Sev murmured, though he had heard something to that effect before. Old habits die hard.

“Bush wasn’t afflicted in the first set of murders. He got bit at seventy-five years old.”

Sev snickered and said:

“Let me guess: Galeen?”

It wasn’t uncommon for aging Hollywood A-listers, tech luminaries, politicians, and other celebrities to suffer extremely improbable, and conveniently timed vampire attacks in their old age or when facing failing health. The trend would be farcical enough if there wasn’t a designer strain of vampirism involved. And yet.

Ahematolazaria-Galeen’s side-effects were the mildest and most easily controllable of any of strain of vampirism. They included severe-solar photosensitivity, anaphylactic reactions to garlic, a second set of retractable canines, and effective immortality at the expense of a dependency on the blood of still-beating hearts. Oh, and as a fringe benefit, the ‘afflicted’ would regain their youthful appearance and a virile physique.

“Close!” Jecia said. “But Galeen had yet to ‘emerge.’”

“Stokera?” Vadon asked disbelieving.

Jecia nodded once.

Holy hell. The practice of strategic vampirism began with another relatively mild strain called Stokera. In addition to the side effects of Galeen, Stokera vamps lost their sense of taste for everything except the blood of living humans—which they specifically required—as well an urdic quirk that caused them to be invisible to mirrors and cameras. In exchange, they got the classic vampire set of powers. They were supernaturally faster and stronger than humans with an extremely rapid healing factor. They became capable of beguiling magic regardless of the presence of magic licenses. Of course, most of the Hollywood’s voluntarily ‘afflicted’ Stokera vampires were long-dead.

“Isn’t Bush still alive?” Sev asked.

Unlike Galeen vampires, who could greatly prolong their lives by augmenting their rations of human blood with other mammalian blood, Stokera vamps had to endure a continually escalating, ever-worsening need to feed on humans exclusively. I don’t know what is more terrifying. The thought of Bush downing a quart of virgin blood every night, or him having the indifference to hunger and pain required to survive this long despite his deepening bloodlust.

“Alive and currently producing a film in fact,” Jecia said, holding up her cellphone.

“Don’t suppose Garfield is involved?” Sev asked hopefully.

She peered at her phone, then shook her head.

“Doesn’t look like it,” Jecia said.

“We should definitely pay him a visit,” Sev said. “If nothing else, he has a perspective on this that no other human witness will.”

“A bloodsucking actor-director,” Vadon snickered.

Sev chuckled and said:

“I’d say ‘write your own joke,’ but it’s a little—”

“On the nose,” Jecia said in sync with him.

Sev and Jecia both giggled. I am not prone to giggling. Vadon looked on with a vaguely displeased expression. Forget it, kid. You’ve been interested in Jecia from the day she arrived and your dumbass doesn’t have the sense to even try to hide it. And Jecia—Well, Jecia doesn’t seem remotely interested, which is good, because—Sev squinted at himself inwardly. Wait. There is nothing ‘good’ about that. Why would that be good? She is your subordinate officer, Harker! Sev cleared his throat.

“How was he involved in both cases?”

“Calea Kennedy was supposed to play his love interest in her next movie. They were dating too. And when Fillmore killed herself too? The double tragedy established him as a cursed star. Uncharitably, one might say the controversy helped cement him in the public eye early on.”

“How was he affected by the second set of murders? Was he a vampire—err, aheme yet?”

“Only just. Lotine Churchill was the star of what was to be Bush’s post-bite, directorial debut. But Churchill was killed on the studio lot when a film vault exploded near her set. As a result, the studio decided to cut its losses. It took five years before a studio was willing to give Bush the reins to a new movie: Mesmerize.”

“And then he won Best Picture, right?” Sev said, as more of the details of the case came back to him.

Jecia nodded.

“Alright. Add him to the list. At the very least, he’ll have a unique perspective on this.”

—10:48 AM—

As the morning wound down to a close, the phone in the media room started to ring. Sev knew it was a bad call before he answered. Just had one of those feelings. He knew it was a bad even before Jecia looked at the phone and said:

“Uh-oh.”

Vadon raised an eyebrow at her as Sev answered.

“We have a problem,” Drake said.

“Chief?” Sev asked.

“Press hasn’t picked it up yet, but take a look at social media.”

Sev’s heart imploded and fell into his stomach.

“Fuck,” he muttered on reflex as he pulled out his sym phone to scan his various feeds. The top notifications were about Glianna’s death which was to be expected, but after less than seven seconds of scrolling, he caught the tag “Black Lotus Murders.” And when he searched for it, he saw that it was quickly climbing the list of trending topics in the area.

“Fuck!” Sev repeated, louder.

“Indeed,” Drake affirmed. “Glianna’s seventeen-year-old sister posted everything about the card. She said that she ‘refused to remain silent about what happened to her sister.’”

Of course. How could the younger sister of Hollywood’s latest dead darling pass up the opportunity to stand in the spotlight herself? Gibson’s venture would have requested Garfield’s family keep the detail of the murders quiet, lest the case become unmanageable with bad info. Something to the effect of “the more detail you provide the press with, the harder it will be to capture her murderer, assuming this is in fact a crime.” Guess that wasn’t motivation enough.

Sev’s kneejerk reaction was to blame it on “kids these days and their damn social media bullshit,” but after spending a morning immersed in tabloid reports and newspaper articles dating back a century, the whole thing had a sick circularity about it. The format was different, and things had definitely accelerated, but kids were still kids, and people were still people. Hungry for attention. Hell, her own publicist might have put her up to it.

Jecia and Vadon pulled out their own phones and met the news with dismay and despondence. We haven’t finished a single shift yet, and this case has already evolved into the worst possible version of itself.

“So. Do we have to hold a press conference?” Sev asked, massaging his head.

He had sat down next to the conference table at some point, but he didn’t remember doing it. I am adrift in an ocean of shit.

“Not yet,” Drake said. “My secretary is drafting a statement right now. Something to the effect of ‘we have taken an interest in Miss Garfield’s death, but that’s all we have to say at this time.’”

“Roger that,” Sev said.

“You should expect people to come at you directly though. If they do, tell them to wait for the department’s statement. If they try to angle for more, invade your privacy, or impede your investigation in any way, pistol whip them in the throat.”

Sev snickered and raised his eyebrows. Drake cleared her throat.

“Apologies,” she said brusquely. “You will comport yourself with the restraint, consideration, and good will of an Amagiate Peacekeeping Officer. But I know I don’t need to tell you how bad this is.”

“You really don’t. But I’d appreciate any guidance you can offer. What’s our next move? Got a meeting at the LAKF’s Central Precinct with Rorick Grimm scheduled for one this afternoon, but beyond that…”

“Your first goal is ascertaining whether there’s a genuine threat. This reeks of a stunt to me. Find the piece that doesn’t fit. The sooner we can debunk this, the better it will go for all of us.”

“And if we aren’t that lucky?” Sev asked.

“You’re looking at a countywide task force. The LAKF will probably hijack it, and then you’ll be at their mercy instead of mine. But don’t go borrowing trouble from tomorrow. You have enough on your plate already.”

“Yes, sir,” Sev said.


Drake hung up and Sev followed suit, staring at the receiver in a daze. Jecia had turned on the aging CRT symvision set up in the meeting room and was surfing the channels. She stopped when Glianna Garfield’s star-crossed portrait appeared on the screen.

“What the fuck are we supposed to do now?” Vadon demanded.

The three of them stared at the screen for a long moment. The news anchors weren’t mentioning the Black Lotus murders yet. But it’s just a matter of time.

Finally, Sev answered:

“Drake says we need to find the pieces that don’t fit,” Sev said, gesturing at the evidence board.  “But I think she’s skipping a couple steps cause she wants this off her lawn. If we try to poke holes in Garfield’s death before we know how the earlier killings are connected. We could either drag this out or miss something crucial.”

“Alright. So how do we do that?” Vadon asked.

Sev sighed. I have no clue.

“We keep on like we have been. First, we need Jecia to get a look at Garfield’s card.”

“Forensics said they would be done with their initial assessment at eleven,” Jecia said.

— 11:12 PM —

The tarot card looked innocuous enough, and Sev only sensed the barest hint of magic coming off it. The containment chamber they had it in—a vacuum sealed crystal cylinder inscribed with various runes—seemed to be the only thing keeping the dying embers of energy alight. The card floated upright in the container, rotating slowly.

The forensic tech on duty, Annami Sanada, was an old veteran of the force. Diminutive, no nonsense, dry humored, and very good at her job. She wore her frizzy gray hair in a tight bun, and always had on a head-mounted array of urdoscopic, microscopic, and other forensic lenses that made her look vaguely like a spider.

“Near as we can tell, the cardboard is just cardboard and the ink is just ink,” Sanada said. “The only thing that’s ‘funny’ about the card is the paint on the flowers. If I had to guess, it’s some sort of masking agent. Meant to obscure the card’s Inherence. Our contracts couldn’t sus out what kind of additive is inside it, but maybe you’ll have better luck.”

“I don’t suppose I can touch it?” Jecia asked.

Sanada folded her lip and shrugged.

“If we take it out of there, you’ll have about thirty seconds tops before all the magic on it dissipates entirely. We have the initial energy readings though, so if you think it’s worth it, we aren’t really losing any evidence.”

Jecia looked to Sev.

“The preservation magic might interfere with my ability to read the card. With your permission—”

“Do it,” Sev said.

Sanada touched a glyph on the side of the preservation cylinder. It hissed and automatically unscrewed its top cap. Jecia reached inside and touched the card, eyes closed. Sev felt her wyrd withdraw from the air around her, redirecting its focus on the card. She furrowed her brow and made a small, puzzled noise. After about fifteen seconds, she set the card on the table and swayed slightly.

“Whew!” Jecia said, touching her temples.

“You alright?” Sev asked steadying her.

“Just a little high, I think. Could use a glass of water.”

“I’m on it,” Vadon said, and wheeled out of the evidence lab.

“I’m sorry, did you say you were high?”

Jecia nodded, perched herself on a lab stool and continued to massage her temples. She gestured that she needed a minute. Vadon returned with water, and Jecia drank it gratefully. After another moment of silence, Jecia bobbed her head and spoke up.

“Okay. This is a doozy. The card itself is inert. Nothing there. All the magic that is left is in the paint on the lotuses. And it’s hard to read because there are a lot of reagents in there. Elemental. Egregoric. Psychic. Basically every type of ether you can get. But the real problem is the fae dust.”

Sev scowled. Fae dust has a very distinctive signature. It should be easy to detect. But her eyes are crazy dilated, and I’m guessing her mouth is dry. Classic symptoms of a fae dust high. Sanada also looked skeptical, but waited for Jecia to continue.

“The paint on the card is laced with a small amount of fae dust. Spring Court if I had to guess. Feels watery.”

Sanada opened her mouth to object, then closed her eyes like she was struck by an epiphany and shook her head.

“Of course. The dust is acting as an eraser.”

“What now?” Sev asked, confused.

“Fae dust degrades in reality because it is disconnected from the Faed’s magic saturated environment. But as it fades, it will leach away the etheric energy from most forms of enchantment to try and ‘survive’ on this plane,” Sanada explained.

“Think of it as a self-destruct sequence,” Jecia said.

Sanada considered her with a smile.

“If you ever get tired of field work, I’ve got a spot for you in forensics. And if there are no openings, I’ll make room.”

Jecia bobbed her head at Sanada in polite thanks, but said nothing.

“Were you able to detect anything else?” Sev asked.

“All I could tell is that there was some other part of the spell. Something had to ‘sustain’ the dust until that other part of the spell was triggered—probably the cause of Garfield’s death. After that, the dust starts degrading and takes the rest of the magic with it.”

Sev bowed his head and frowned. The perpetrator either knew a great deal about magic, or had a tutor who did. There are lots of ways to clean magical residue, but setting up a self-erasing, magical time bomb? That’s new to me. And I studied this shit for eleven years.

“Seems complicated. Would you need a cracked magic license to pull this off?” Vadon asked.

“Not necessarily,” Sanada said. “All you’d need is access to magical reagents to mix the paint. Fae dust is ‘illegal’ but any middle schooler could get the amount you’d need for this. I can’t speak for the part of the spell that has already triggered though.”

Jecia nodded in agreement.

“If I can get a card that hasn’t… ‘detonated’ yet, I might possibly be able to tell us more.”

Sev sighed. “Let’s wait for another victim to give us a fresh lead” is hardly ideal policework. But at this point, I don’t know what else we can do. At least where the card is concerned. He looked at the clock in the forensics lab. Not much time before we need to head downtown.

“Let’s grab some lunch before we meet with Rorick. Thanks, Anni.”

 — 4:12 PM —

The meeting with Rorick downtown was as cordial as an evidence exchange could be, and Sev’s venture ended up hauling away eight boxes of evidence and files. Jecia inspected one of the older cards, the one from Gorbachev’s murder, but the only energy it retained was from the focus of the various detectives who had fruitlessly studied it over the years. Before they left for Burbank, Sev convinced Rorick to come to The Drowned Book that evening to shoot some theories around over drinks.

It was clear from a glance that the Burbank Chapter of the Keeping Force was well-funded. A larger-than-life steel statue of three Keepers stood before the building’s entrance in a vigilant chevron, polished to a sheen. The building itself was wrought from metal, glass, and unblemished granite. It was located near the civic center, south of the suburbs, and north of all the studios.

For some reason, the gleaming spectacle rubbed Sev the wrong way. The lionized, metal venture struck him as overblown and domineering. Maybe I’m just jealous. God knows our chapter is due for a renovation.

Inside, the receptionist had Sev’s venture sign in with an incanter pad instead of a normal record book, and asked them to wait until their contact came to take them in. After about three minutes, a handsome, sandy-haired Keeper around Vadon’s age came to greet them. His pins pegged him as a rank two detective.

“Detective Harker. I’m Detective Kaytham Lecarde. Burbank Cold Case Division.”

“Call me Sev, Detective. This is Detective Freeman and Detective Singh.”

Handshakes were had by all.

“I thought we were meeting with Detective Zuiker?” Sev asked.

There was the barest flicker of annoyance in the edges of Lecarde’s eyes, but Sev caught it before he could cover it with a fake smile.

“Zuiker’s my CO. He and Detective Thiel had a prior engagement they needed to cover. Asked me to show you our evidence.”

“Lead on,” Sev said.

Lecarde led them to an elevator bay. When the doors shut and they were in motion, he turned to Sev with a wry grin:

“So. The Black Lotus, huh?”  

Sev snickered and shook his head.

“Yeah. This is not how I saw today going.”

“I’ll bet. You have anything to go on?”

“Ten boxes of bullshit and counting,” Sev said dismissively.

Sev decided to keep quiet about the fae dust. Information leaks torpedoed the last two investigations and while most detectives had better sense than that, he figured it was better to play things sa—

“Detective Singh’s got a gift for psychometry,” Vadon said. “She took a look at Glianna’s tarot card this morning. Apparently, the hand-painted flowers are some kind of Inherence smokescreen mixed with fae dust.”

God damn it, Vadon. Sev knew it was his own damn fault. He had been upfront with Rorick, and the kid didn’t have the judgement to appreciate the professional distinction between a random officer you just met and an old friend you could vouch for.

“That a fact?” Lecarde asked as the elevator doors opened. “Well, I don’t know how much our boxes will help. The only death that took place in Burbank was Elice Harding, but four out of the six cards—well, seven now—were delivered in Burbank. Most of the victims received them on the studio lots.”

“I guess that figures. Burbank is where Hollywood actually happens, right?”

“Good way to put it,” Lecarde said with a chuckle.

The walked down the hall toward a door labeled Review Room three, but Lecarde hesitated before they reached it.

“Did Garfield tell your detectives where she got the card?”

Good question.

“All they told me is she got it in the mail, but I’m not sure whether it was at work or home.”

Lecarde nodded his head, trying to act nonplussed. But again, Sev saw a glint in his eyes. Something hungry. Sev pointedly looked at him for a second and raised an eyebrow.

“Depending on how the spell activates—assuming the card triggers the spell—the case might technically belong to us,” Lecarde said. “If she received it while on set, the malefaction was technically committed here.”

Are you serious? This ship is already on fire and half-flooded, and you want to hijack it? Sev had to cut off a laugh. But Lecarde watching him with a slightly impatient and very serious smile. You think this is your ticket out of the Fridge, kid?

“Heh, if you want in on this mess, be my guest,” Sev said. “Happy to walk you through what we know as we review your evidence, but it’s been a busy morning and we’re really just getting started.”

Lecarde nodded.

“I’d also appreciate it if you could send us soft-copies of your early findings. When you get the chance, of course.”

Last I looked, my Detective pins have one more stripe than yours. And your CO couldn’t even be bothered to show. So I’d appreciate it if you refrain from trying to assign me extra work when we are mid-crisis.

“Like I said. Busy morning,” Sev repeated. “But I’ll shoot you what we have when I get a chance to put a file together.”

Lecarde continued to linger in front of the door.

“I only ask, because if this is genuine, Garfield’s the first victim, and the last two times this happened, three women were dead inside of two weeks.”

“So let’s have a look at your evidence,” Jecia said, gesturing toward the door.

Lecarde looked surprised to hear her speak up. She and you are the same rank, hotshot. Before he could find something else to say, she added:

“Clock’s ticking. Right?”

Lecarde didn’t have a rebuttal for that. He bobbed his head and turned to open the door. Sev shot Jecia a glance. She glanced at Lecarde and rolled her eyes. Sev had to stifle a laugh. Glad to know I’m not the only one without any patience for bullshit.

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