Page 33

And then…

She thought she saw someone standing by the front door. Waiting. But…

He was just an outline in the air, and he wasn’t real, he was certainly part of her imagination.

He was leaning against the wall there, thumbs hooked into the low pockets of the period coat he was wearing. He had on a hat. A tricornered pirate hat.

He was dark and strikingly handsome, and not really there….

She blinked. The apparition faded. But then she heard Liam whisper, “Yes, stay, thank you.”

“What?” she asked.

He turned back, looking at her. “Hmm?”

“You just spoke. You said, ‘Yes, stay, thank you.’”

“Must be muttering to myself. Sorry.” He walked back to her, taking her shoulders. “Be careful, do you hear me? Please be careful. If my theory is right…”

“Someone has a great deal at stake. I promise I’ll be careful.”

“Kelsey, I almost forgot. Where’s the box with that magic trick? You wanted it dusted for prints. I’ll take it into the station, let them look into it there. I can’t promise you much—there may be a number of prints on it. Or just yours.”

She hurried to the crate and produced the box with the motor and the jumping black shadow cloths. He kissed her lips lightly and headed to the door again. She followed him and locked him out. When she had done so, she leaned against the door for a minute. Oddly, she felt as if she weren’t alone. She moved her hands through the air as if she could feel an unknown entity, but she couldn’t.

She didn’t feel the fear that she sometimes did, the fear that made her lock the door to her room at night.

But she still didn’t feel as if she was alone. She had seen something. Or she had almost seen it. She couldn’t quite touch it.

She had things to do. She gave herself a mental shake.

But then she paused again.

When her mother had died, she had wanted so badly to believe in ghosts. She had wanted to be able to see her, feel her, just tell her one last time how much she had loved her, what a good mother she had been, what a brilliant and kind woman. At least, with her father, she had been there at the end. He had known her heart, known how much he was loved.

Of course, her mother had known, as well. But her life had been cut so short.

“Mom?” she whispered aloud. “Cutter?”

The empty room gave her no answer. She walked back into the kitchen to find Avery. She had a lot to do, and, eventually, she was going to have to get back to work.

Outside, Liam cursed himself. Bartholomew wasn’t next to him, since he was going to stay at the house to watch over Kelsey, so he couldn’t curse the ghost for making him look like a fool again. No choice but to curse himself.

He saw Yolanda Egert, a pretty young civilian in the crime-scene unit, packing up her box.

“How did it go?” he asked her.

She stood, shaking her head with disgust. “Nothing. And we searched, and we’re good. I know some folks figure we have to be yokels down here in the islands, but we’re good at our jobs, and better than any outsider because we know how to search beaches, the water, swamps, marshes, hammocks, you name it. We had divers out. We did a grid out there. There was no sign of anything. No one even left a damned foam cup out there!”

“I didn’t think there would be anything to find,” Liam said. “The killer took his weapon, there’s been rain, so no footprints, and I’m sure whoever did this was extremely clever.”

“You don’t think it was just a fight of some kind?” Egert asked.

“No. Who the hell has a stiletto-type weapon on them when it’s just a fight gone bad?” Liam said. “Someone is trying to get into this house. They want something in it. Gary White saw them and knew who they were, maybe even what they were doing. Or he was killed on purpose just to scare people away. That’s my theory. Anyway, I know you and your group are the best. I’ll see you later, Yolanda.”

“Well, you’re good at what you do, too, Liam. Wish we could give you more.”

“Not your fault. It’s just that a murder weapon is such a good thing to find.”

“I hear you. But the killer was smart. Took it with him.”

He said goodbye to her and headed to his car. The crime-scene tape was all coming down. Liam waved to a few of the other workers, calling in to the station as he did so. He wasn’t going in right away; he had a few stops to make, and he wanted to make sure that his officers were following up on questioning just about everyone everywhere to find out when Gary White had last been seen.

He headed to Truman and around U.S. 1 on Roosevelt to reach the “new” part of the island and the shopping center where Joe Richter had his offices. Richter’s secretary asked him politely if he had an appointment; Liam offered her his badge.

“Oh. Oh!” the secretary said. “Uh, sure.” Nervously, she pressed a button to announce Liam’s arrival.

Joe Richter came straight out of his office to greet him. “Liam Beckett. How are you? Sad business, yesterday. Poor Kelsey. She comes home to bury her grand father, and a corpse shows up on her property. Sorry—did you know Gary White? Folks say he’s been around, that I must have seen him, but I don’t think that I knew the man.” He pumped Liam’s hand and indicated his office. “Come on in and let me see how I can help you.”

“Thanks,” Liam told him.

Seated across from Richter’s desk, Liam said, “You know, Joe, Gary White was one of the people I caught breaking into the Merlin house after Cutter died.”

“Bad business,” Joe said. “Cutter was such an old coot. Amazing man, but I guess that house has so much in it, it’s just a major temptation.”

“A lot in it, but it’s not always easy to recognize what’s valuable.”

Joe shrugged. “I knew the man’s legal dealings. I don’t know much about his collections. He left all that for his granddaughter to handle.”

“Do you think that Gary White might have been searching for something specific?” Liam asked. “Did you know of any piece that Cutter had that might be extremely valuable—and easy to slip out without anyone knowing any better?”

Richter lifted his hands. “I know there’s a lot valuable in there. Believe it or not, the damned mummy is extremely valuable. There was a time, when the English first delved heavily into Egyptian archeology, that mummies were a dime a dozen, in many places. I don’t think that Cutter’s mummy was someone incredibly important historically, but I know that the coffin and sarcophagus are considered fine examples of Egyptian art during the reign of Ramses II.”

“A sarcophagus is rather big to slip out,” Liam commented. He sat back comfortably in the chair and tapped his fingers lightly together. He had alienated Ted and Jaden last night, and he’d hoped he’d made it up and explained. Ted and Jaden were longtime friends. He didn’t want to alienate Richter, because he didn’t want the man on the defensive. If he was clean, he might be able to help. If he was dirty, it would be good to have him think that he was getting away with everything.

Which the perpetrator was, at the moment, he reminded himself dryly.

“Well, that’s true.” Richter shook his head. “The damned property is worth a mint. But I guess you can’t walk away with property.”

“That takes a different kind of thief,” Liam said lightly.

Joe Richter drummed his fingers on his desk. “I always think of that big beautiful living room. The heads on the wall, the voodoo altar right there…the mummy…the Victorian coffin. I guess I’ve always been struck by the larger artifacts. I know he has gargoyles from medieval churches, stained glass, lamps, some kind of Chinese good-luck cats…you name it, Cutter Merlin had it. Crosses, ankhs, relics of all kinds.” He frowned, sitting back. “The ledgers and notes and instructions were all in the house. It was left to Kelsey Donovan as it was when he died. Disposal of the estate is up to her. He might not have seen her in years, but he had no doubt she’d follow all his wishes.”

“That’s true, of course,” Liam said. “I had just hoped you might be able to help. The place is so vast, and I’ve got a murder on my hands.”

“You have my sympathy, that’s for sure,” Richter told him.

“Then—well, you know, I found Cutter holding one of his relics, a shotgun and a book. A friend told me about another book, and I looked for it at the library. It’s gone. I noted that you’d been in the rare-book room.”

Something passed over Richter’s face.

Was he wary now?

The man made a pretense of shrugging casually. “I go there a lot. What was the book you were looking for?”

“Key West, Satanism, Peter Edwards and the Abel and Aleister Crowley Connection,” Liam said.

Richter blinked. Was it because of the title, or because he’d been nailed?

“There is such a book?” he asked.

Liam nodded.

“Why would you want a book like that, Liam?”

“Friend of a friend said that it talked about the book that Cutter was holding, In Defense from Dark Magick,” Liam explained.

Richter frowned, shaking his head. “Cutter Merlin was eccentric—he wasn’t crazy.”

“You don’t think he might have suffered some dementia at the end?” Liam asked.

“I…I…I’d say the man was sane. How do you judge eccentric from dementia at all levels?” Richter asked. “I was at the library. I enjoy the rare-book room. But I’ve never seen the book you’re talking about, and I certainly don’t have it. Why would you think it was me?”

“I didn’t say I thought it was you. I was just asking. I’d like to find the book. Read it. Apparently, there was a man who lived in Key West during the Civil War who did believe in magic and wanted to use it to keep the enemy forces at bay. Then he wanted to atone for his sins, or felt demons were chasing him or some such thing. I’d like to find out what was going on in Cutter’s mind. It might just have something to do with the murder of Gary White.” Liam shook his head. “Were you around a lot? Were you friends with Cutter? Is there anything you can think of to tell me?”