The crime scene investigation I worked today turned sour when the victim spoke to me.
My partner, Jack Barnes, and I had been called to a dimly lit alley in downtown Portland. The early morning mist had burned off, leaving the pavement damp. The multi-story brick and mortar buildings on either side huddled close as if protecting the small figure centered in their midst, though she was beyond anyone’s help.
The air at the mouth of the alley smelled of freshly baked bread and cinnamon, but the odor turned fetid as I neared the corpse.
Jack joined the uniform who’d called it in, but I kept walking, accompanied by a steady drip of water from an overhanging eave.
I knelt beside the body, taking in her position on the damp gray pavement, the congealing blood pool and the utter destruction of the back of her head. That’s when it happened. Blue eyes popped open and short, well-manicured nails dug into my wrist.
“Help me,” she whispered, her voice parched and cracking. “Don’t let him do this again.”
Her eyes snapped closed, as I yelled, fell backwards into a shallow puddle, and scrambled to get to my feet and as far away from her as possible.
My partner glanced my direction over the bowed head of our lone witness and raised his eyebrows. “What’s up, Gus?”
I wiped my hands on my pants, backed another two steps from the corpse and asked, “Who called her death?”
Jack’s brows pulled together as he strode to my side. “The uniform. He was first on the scene. Didn’t take any brains.”
“Get the medics in here. She’s still alive.”
He grabbed my arm and squeezed. “Get a grip on yourself.” His gaze darted around to see who else might be listening. No one paid us any attention. “What’s wrong with you?”
I looked down at the young woman who had just spoken to me and acknowledged the obvious. She was an undeniable corpse. Blue-tinged skin, stiff limbs, a neat little hole in her forehead and a crater the size of Texas where the back of her skull had been.
But she’d spoken to me. My wrist still tingled from the bite of her nails.
I wiped sweat from my forehead with the back of my sleeve. I needed a break. The dead had never spoken to me before, and I’d been working homicide since I earned my release from a patrol car last year. I’d seen a lot of stiffs in my work, but never on my birthday. My twenty-eighth birthday.
I hated the number seven, and with good reason. I was the seventh son of a seventh son, and I’d spent my whole life explaining that yes, the birth order thing is true, but no, I’m not psychic, and no, I sure as hell don’t know what the blonde at the next table thinks of you.
People can be such idiots.
But now a dead woman had spoken to me. Shit. What if all the seventh-seventh crap had a basis in fact?
I couldn’t bring myself to approach the body again, so I dusted off my hands and forced myself to look Jack square in the eyes.
“Why don’t I finish the interview and you check out the corpse?” I worked at sounding nonchalant, but my hands shook and Jack’s wary expression told me my face must be white as my grandmother’s sheets.
“What?” Jack asked. “Is our resident seventh-seventh feeling a little woozy?”
I scowled at him and marched over to the kid he’d been interviewing. I had no intention of discussing my own personal mythological hell. Ever. But especially not when I was spooked.
The kid’s story checked with what the uniforms had learned. A bunch of high school boys had been playing skateboard tag on the street, generally raising a ruckus and terrorizing pedestrians when our witness had veered down this alley and run smack into a crime scene. He’d hightailed it back to the street and gone looking for the nearest cop. It hadn’t taken long. The solid citizens had complained about the havoc the boys had been wreaking.
The patrol officer who answered their call had gotten significantly more than he’d bargained for. His perpetrators had morphed into witnesses and his quiet lecture on respecting others’ rights had given way to a full-scale murder investigation.
I closed my notebook and rubbed my temple. Dead end. No one saw anything suspicious, other than the corpse, and no one heard the shot that destroyed the victim’s skull.
But she’d spoken to me.
Hell’s bells. How was I supposed to work that into my report?
* * *
“The victim’s name was Dr. Sarah Allen, a twenty-seven-year-old resident at Sisters of Mercy Hospital. She was in excellent physical condition prior to death and there were no indications of sexual molestation.”
The medical examiner paused in his recitation and glanced up at me and Jack. “In short, she died of a gunshot wound to the head. I’m guessing a .45, possibly a magnum, to cause this much damage. Did you guys find the slug?”
Jack shook his head while I avoided looking at the victim’s remains. Light bounced off flat white walls, chrome covered counters and instrument trays. Antiseptic assaulted my nasal passages and made my eyes water. At least I hoped it was the antiseptic. I didn’t like being this close to the dead woman’s corpse.
“Too bad,” Jack said. “Her being a doctor and all … she could’ve saved a lot of lives.”
The M.E. nodded. “Yeah. A real shame.”
“Well,” I said, moving toward the door, “let us know if anything useful shows up in the lab results. We’ve got to get back to the precinct.”
We pushed through the swinging doors and walked to the elevator in silence. I breathed a sigh of relief. She hadn’t spoken. I’d been in close proximity to the corpse, but nothing weird had happened.
“So,” said Jack in a too-casual voice, “how are you feeling? Still a little psychotic?”
“The word is psychic, Jack. And we’ve been over this before. I’m just a normal cop.”
He smirked. “Yeah. It’s perfectly normal for a murder cop to think an obvious stiff is still kickin’.”
I groaned and punched the elevator button several times in rapid succession. I’d rather have been punching Jack, but you take your physical release where you find it.
The lights above the elevator doors counted down and the gleaming chrome slid aside with a soft whoosh. Jack stepped inside, but I balked. An attractive young woman shimmered at the back of the car.
Yep, shimmered…and not just any woman. Sarah Allen. Whole and unblemished, dressed in pale blue scrubs and soft-soled white shoes, with her long blonde hair tied back in a pony tail.
“Gus,” Jack said, holding the door open, “snap out of it, buddy. Look, I’m sorry about the psychotic crack. Just get in the elevator. I promise I’ll behave.”
Yes, Gus, said a quiet contralto. Get in the elevator. We have a lot to discuss.
The hairs on the back of my neck tried to yank me to the opposite wall, but I took a deep breath and stepped into the car. The doors slid closed sealing me in a metal coffin with my oblivious partner and a dead girl’s ghost. Could this birthday get any worse?
* * *
I ditched Jack the moment we got back to the precinct, lied to the captain — told him I had a family emergency, and drove like a maniac to my downtown studio apartment. Trust me. A ghost in the passenger seat doesn’t make for a relaxed commute.
I didn’t speak to her. I didn’t want to believe she existed. Thought if I ignored her, maybe she’d disappear. Hey, it could happen! Hell’s bells, if the seventh-seventh crap was real, what had triggered it today?
It’s your twenty-eighth birthday, she said. Seven quadrupled, remember? You were thinking about the seventh-seventh legend when we met in the alley. Her voice sounded calm, resigned. I didn’t make it to my twenty-eighth birthday. Consider yourself lucky.
Great. Just what I needed — to be haunted by a ghost with a dry wit.
I bit my lip and refused to legitimize my delusion by responding that kneeling next to a corpse hardly qualified as meeting.
Look, Gus, she said, I won’t go away just because you ignore me. She sighed, too loudly for a being who could no longer draw breath. Who else am I going to talk to? You’re it. Lucky me.
I reached my building and turned into the underground parking facility. After locking the car, I sprinted to the elevator and jabbed the up button. The doors slid open to reveal Sarah, arms crossed, leaning against the back wall.
Can we stop playing hide-and-seek? she asked. You know, I’m not any happier about this than you are. In case you’ve forgotten, I had my brains blown out last night!
“I know,” I mumbled, “and I’m sorry about that. Truly. I am. But I’m not interested in being haunted and I don’t want to be psychic.”
The doors opened on my floor and I moved quickly to my apartment door, unlocked it and stepped inside. With the door firmly bolted, I pulled off my jacket, dropped it next to the hall closet, shrugged out of the shoulder holster, placed it and my service revolver carefully on the end of the kitchen counter and collapsed on the hide-a-bed. That’s the great thing about a studio apartment — everything’s within reach.
My eyelids closed and I relaxed for the first time since arriving at the crime scene.
You need to grow up, Gus.
I groaned and pulled a throw pillow over my head.
You can’t change what you are. No one cares if you want to be psychic. You are psychic.
I sat up and glared at the ghost in my apartment. “What do you want from me?”
I want you to quit whining and get to work!
“And just what work is that?”
What do you think? she asked, hands on what had been very attractive hips. You’re a detective. So detect. Figure out who did this to me.
I jumped up from the sofa and prowled around my compact apartment—past the picture window framing a view of the Willamette River, past the built-in bookshelves and television, past the bathroom door and entry hall, past the kitchen nook and back to stand in front of the wide window. “Okay, great. Let’s solve your case. Who killed you?”
She opened her mouth, but no sound emerged. Frowning, she cleared her throat and tried again. Still nothing. Her gaze met mine and I read a mixture of surprise, irritation and fear. She shrugged and drifted over to perch on the end of the sofa. I don’t seem to be able to say his name.
“But you know who did it?”
“Great. I’m being haunted by a murder victim who knows all the answers, but can’t cough them up.” I loaded my words with sarcasm. “Were you this useless when you were alive?”
Sarah shot off the sofa and slapped my face with all the force she could muster. Nothing happened. Her hand whooshed through my jaw, leaving a slight chill in its wake. The expression on her face morphed from anger to shock to despair.
“You missed,” I spat. Good thing, too. I had the feeling if that swing had connected, I’d’ve been feeling the imprint of her hand for hours.
Grow up, Gus, she repeated, gliding back to the sofa, dejection in the slant of her shimmery shoulders. I can’t hit you and I can’t give you a name. Neither one makes me happy.
“Okay,” I said, resuming my laid back position on the folded up hide-a-bed. “You can’t give me a name. I couldn’t have gotten a warrant on your say-so anyhow. Can you tell me anything?”
Look, she said through gritted teeth. I’m new to this dead stuff. I’m still adjusting, so back off and give me a chance. She rose gracefully from her perch on the sofa and kind of paced the room. I mean, it’s hard to pace when you can’t even make contact with the carpet, but she wasn’t exactly floating either.
I wonder, she said, recalling my attention to the case rather than the fact that my only witness was a ghost.
Are you up for an experiment?
My heart skipped a beat and my mouth went dry. “What kind of experiment?”
Well, since I can’t say the words, I wonder if I could show you my death?
“What?” I asked. “Like some kind of Vulcan mind-meld?”
She stopped moving and stared at me blankly. What?
I rolled my eyes. “Seriously? Didn’t you ever watch Star Trek?” A little frown creased her forehead, and my heart rate steadied. She was kind of cute, really. Too bad she was dead. “Never mind. Sure. Let’s try your experiment.”
She moved to stand in front of me. Close your eyes.
The last thing I saw before my eyes drifted shut was Sarah bending over me, hands stretching for my temples. Damn those hospital scrubs. Not even a glimmer of cleavage.
Soothing coolness enveloped my agitated mind. I relaxed.
Weird, huh? I mean, an alien presence penetrated my thoughts, the very core of my being, and I relaxed…but Sarah’s touch felt so good, so cool, so…right. A deep inhalation and exhalation and I sank deeper into the sofa cushions. A guy could get used to this kind of relief…
…and the vision began.
I stood just outside the wide automatic doors of the emergency room at Sisters of Mercy. A car pulled up and I lifted my hand to wave.
Note to self: meticulously clean 2015 Lexus LS 460, white, license plate 728-PHL.
The driver lowered the passenger window with a flick of his finger and leaned over to look up at me.
“Well, this is an unexpected pleasure, Sarah,” he said. “Need a lift?”
“That would be great,” I said, my limbs trembling with exhaustion. The door locks disengaged with a muffled click. I lifted the car’s door handle and slid gratefully onto the gray leather seat. “I’ve been on shift for twenty-four hours and barely had time for a cat-nap. Thanks.”
The driver chuckled, swinging the Lexus out of the driveway and into traffic. “I remember my own residency,” he said. “It can be grueling.”
I nodded and closed my eyes, relishing the support of the firm leather seat. We rode in silence for a few moments.
He’s had medical training and knows her well enough he doesn’t have to ask for an address or directions.
“Tell me, Sarah,” he said, his voice low in the Lexus’ ultra-quiet interior, “are you experiencing any unusual symptoms? Any unexplained headaches or visual aberrations?”
What the fuck kind of question is that?
“Nothing,” I said, eyes closed, drifting perilously near the edge of sleep. “Other than sleep deprivation, I’m perfectly healthy.”
“Good,” he murmured. “That’s very good.”
An odd disappointment colored his voice. Unusual enough that I opened my eyes and rolled my head left to watch him. An attractive older man, his silver hair gleamed in the passing street lights, revealing remnants of the strawberry blond it had once been. Firm jaw, no facial hair; no glasses either. He wore an expensive dark gray suit with a conservative white shirt and royal blue tie. A pillar of respectability.
“Would you be willing to help me with a little experiment?” he asked, flashing a serene smile my direction. “If you’re not too tired, that is.”
“Tonight?” I yawned, a jaw-cracker, and belatedly covered my mouth. “I don’t know, I’m really beat.”
“Trust me, Sarah,” he said, eyes straight ahead, guiding the car through traffic. “This won’t take a minute. You’ll be able to rest soon.”
I nodded and closed my eyes again. The car purred around me, racing me to who knew where. A seed of doubt sprouted in the back of my mind. Why the unscheduled experiment? Why in the dead of night? I wasn’t his research assistant anymore. Didn’t he have a new student to help him with this stuff?
Years of trust smothered the seedling and exhaustion claimed me.
His voice sounded muffled, as if he called from a great distance.
“Wake up, Sarah. We’ve arrived.”
I struggled to orient myself. Who was I? Gus, or Sarah?
Get a grip, man! You’re Gus, dreaming Sarah’s murder. Just because she relaxed enough to fall asleep doesn’t mean you needed to. Hell’s bells, man. The woman’s about to be murdered! Pay attention.
I opened my eyes and stared around the moonlit night. He’d parked the Lexus in an alley between multi-storied buildings. The streetlights were out, but the full moon shone from the zenith.
“Where are we?”
“I told you,” he said with gentle patience, “I want to try an experiment. Step out of the car.”
The seedling struggled to lift its head above my ingrained trust. “Aren’t we going to the university?”
“Trust me, Sarah. The sooner you get out of the car, the sooner you can rest.”
Obviously the alley led somewhere important to his work. Delay only robbed me of much-needed sleep. I unbuckled my seatbelt, opened the door and stepped out into the narrow alley.
He beckoned me forward. “This way. Come stand right over here. That’s right. Center yourself in that patch of moonlight. Do you know what day this is?”
I frowned. Residents kept bizarre hours. I often lost track of the days of the week, let alone the date.
“It’s, ah, June twentieth, no, twenty-first.”
“Actually, you’re right on both counts. We’re on the cusp of the summer solstice. Midnight at the beginning of the longest day of the year. The perfect time for my experiment, and you’re the perfect subject.”
He pulled a gun from beneath his suit coat and aimed it at my head. The seedling engorged to a full-size oak. Why hadn’t I paid attention to my instincts?
“What are you doing?” I gasped, desperate to delay his trigger finger.
“I’m sorry, Sarah, but you’re the only one who can answer my question.”
He pulled the trigger and …
… Sarah pulled her hands away from my face.
My eyes popped open and I sat bolt upright. Adrenaline coursed through my veins and I jumped to my feet and paced the small apartment.
“Shit! You knew the guy? You trusted that madman, and he…” I gulped and wiped clammy hands on the seat of my pants, “he blew your brains out.”
Yes, I know.
“Okay. I know who the bad guy is. Give me his name and I’ll figure out a way to get a search warrant.”
I can’t. At least the memory transfer worked.
“Who made up these stupid rules?” I asked. “And what question did that bastard think he could answer by killing you in the middle of the night?”
Sarah shrugged, but remained silent.
“Never mind. I’ve got enough to go on. Good old fashioned detective work will find his name.” I stomped to the hall where I’d dropped my jacket and yanked a small spiral notebook from an inside pocket. I needed to jot down the Lexus’ license number before I forgot it. My only clues to Sarah’s murderer: some kind of doctor; a license plate number; and a face I felt certain wouldn’t show up in any mug shots. Hell’s bells, why couldn’t the woman simply tell me the bastard’s name?
A shiver ran down my spine. Forget that. Why in the name of all that’s holy could I communicate with a dead woman at all? What a great birthday present … my own personal ghost.
* * *
Jack glared at me when I reached my desk at the precinct.
“Where the hell have you been?”
He didn’t so much ask the question as he chewed up the words and spat them at me. Not a good sign.
“I’ve been following a tip,” I said, deftly avoiding his gaze.
“What tip? Nobody gave us any tips.”
“An anonymous tip. It came to me at home.” Not the whole truth, but not a bad lie.
Jack tapped a pen against his chin and then threw the slender cylinder on his desk. Like all the partners in the precinct, our desks butted against each other, so that when we were seated we could see each other, discuss our findings.
Right now, I wished my computer monitor occupied the center of my desk instead of sitting to one side. I wouldn’t have minded hiding behind its 17-inch screen.
“Well,” he growled, “you gonna fill me in, or you just gonna sit there like a lump?”
I pulled the notebook from my pocket, copied the license number onto a scratch pad and pushed it across the desk to him. “That’s what I’ve got. The tip said it was attached to a white Lexus LS, probably a 460 model. Have we got anything else?”
“Nada. Do you think your informant is reliable?”
I shrugged. “Who knows with these anonymous types. Could be solid, could be totally bogus, but at least it’s a lead.”
Jack nodded and turned to his keyboard. “I’ll run it now.”
“Great,” I said, edging around the desk. “I want to check out the board.”
The whiteboard was mounted to the wall across from our desks. So far the only information was Sarah’s name and age, the address of the alley where her body was found, and the estimated cause and time of death. The last item was what interested me—between 11:30 p.m. (June 20th) and 12:30 a.m. (June 21st). I had to give the medical examiner credit, he’d nailed the time according to Sarah’s memory. The perp had pulled the trigger just as one day ended and the next began.
“Got it,” called Jack. “That plate is registered to a Jason Morgan.”
I sprinted to Jack’s desk, flipped my notebook open and jotted down the name and address. “Great. Let’s see what Mr. Morgan has to say.”
“Yeah, and we should check out the vic’s friends and co-workers at the hospital while we’re out. Might be some of them will give us something useful.”
Half an hour later, I stood face to face with the man who had gunned Sarah down in cold blood. A full professor of sociology at Portland State University, Dr. Jason Morgan was a well-respected academic. He didn’t look like a murderer, but in my experience they never did.
“Good afternoon, detectives,” he said, ushering us into a bookshelf-lined office filled with dark wood and heavy upholstery. “How can I be of assistance to Portland’s finest?”
Jack flipped his notebook open, glanced at the notes scrawled inside and said, “Dr. Morgan, do you own a white Lexus LS 460, license number 728-PHL?”
“I’d have to check on the license number,” he said, a slight frown furrowing his brow, “but, yes, I do own a white Lexus. What’s this all about?”
“Your car was seen leaving the scene of a homicide early this morning,” I said, watching his eyes for any flicker of fear.
His gaze moved from Jack to me. Cool, steady as glass. His face gave nothing away.
“I’m afraid you’ve been misinformed, detective,” he said, studying my face with those cool blue eyes. “I was home all night. My car was parked in my garage and the door was locked.”
He paused and his gaze flicked back to Jack. “Someone has been murdered?” he asked, eyebrows raised in academic interest.
“A young woman,” said Jack, “a doctor. A resident at Sisters of Mercy.”
Morgan shook his head. “How very sad. A healer…her talents lost.” He clicked his tongue in a tsk-tsk-ing sound.
You murdering bastard. Why me?
My heart thumped wildly and I glanced sideways at Sarah. I hadn’t noticed her standing beside me. “Did you know Sarah Allen?”
His eyebrows shot skyward and then drew together in concern as bits of information fitted together. “Sarah? Why yes, she was my research assistant a few years back. You’re not suggesting …”
Jack nodded, a sympathetic expression on his grizzled face. “Dr. Allen is the victim in this case.”
Morgan’s face blanched. He fumbled for the arm of his desk chair and lowered himself into it. “Sarah? Dead?” he whispered, and then with more vitality, “There must be some mistake. Sarah can’t be dead. I saw her at the hospital just last week.”
You bloody hypocrite, Sarah seethed.
Jack flipped his notebook shut, stowed it in his breast pocket and edged toward Dr. Morgan’s desk. “Well,” he said, “I think that about wraps things up for now. If you think of anything that might help our investigation, please call the precinct.” He dropped a business card on the smooth oak surface and turned towards the door.
That’s it? Sarah cried in outrage. You’re not going to arrest him? Not even taking him in for questioning?
Morgan glanced in my direction, a slight frown pulling his brows together.
“That’s it for now,” I said, apparently to Morgan, but really for Sarah’s benefit.
Jack and I showed ourselves out, Morgan still glancing around the room, a puzzled expression on his face.
We strolled across the park that fronted the administration building and back to our car, Sarah trailing sullenly behind. Jack rattled the keys in his pocket creating a counterpoint to our muffled footsteps. The afternoon was clear, but muggy. We reached the car in silence. Jack unlocked the doors and I slid into the passenger seat. Sarah settled in the back, arms crossed, foot tapping. I faced forward and tried to ignore her irritation.
“Well,” Jack said as he inserted the key into the ignition, “I guess your informant was wrong. I’ve never seen a guy more surprised. He’s a college professor, not an actor. That was genuine shock.”
“Yeah. I agree, but I don’t get it. He’s the one, I’m sure of it. So why was he so shocked?”
Because he didn’t expect you to connect him with my murder, Sarah answered. He was shocked that you showed up and he had to act surprised or you would’ve been suspicious.
Jack snorted and pulled the car away from the curb. “That must have been one convincing snitch,” he said. “We’ve got nothing on that guy and I say he knew nothing about the murder until we told him. Your informant was wrong. Get over it.”
Idiot, she seethed. You have an eye-witness account. Go arrest him!
“Maybe,” I said. Listening to Sarah while talking to Jack took a lot of concentration. “But I’m still going to dig into that guy’s background.”
“Knock yourself out,” Jack said with an exasperated sigh. “But for now, let’s go interview her colleagues at the hospital.”
* * *
The hospital interviews proved to be a royal pain. I had to endure shocked and grieving medical personnel while ignoring an agitated and highly vocal ghost.
What are you doing? Sarah shouted in my left ear. These people don’t know anything. You know perfectly well who killed me. Leave my friends alone and go get the guilty guy!
Standing in a hospital corridor beside my partner and a boatload of doctors and nurses was not the place to carry on a detailed conversation with a ghost. I was forced to ignore her, which only steamed her clams.
You’re wasting your time! If you’re going to be this thick, I’m not sure I want to work with you.
And so it went. I interviewed the other residents Sarah trained with, the doctor in charge of her work this quarter, and the nurses she came into contact with on a daily basis. Jack made the rounds of her patients—the ones capable of answering questions, and hospital administrative staff who’d dealt with her directly.
The composite we came up with was of a hard-working, dedicated young doctor. Her superiors all agreed Sarah was gifted. Her fellow residents admired her and admitted to being jealous of her obvious talents … but Sarah had been too sweet to resent. Not only was she gifted in dealing with her patients, she was generous in assisting her co-workers without stealing their thunder. In short, everyone was going to miss Sarah Allen.
Everyone but me, that is.
I had a raging headache by the time I excused myself and made my way to the men’s room. Predictably, Sarah followed.
After assuring myself that the stalls were empty, I rounded on the relentless ghost.
“Look,” I said, “you’ve got to back off and give me some breathing room. I know Morgan’s guilty, but I don’t have any proof. If I don’t do my job — and interviewing everyone who knew the victim, sorry, everyone who knew you, is a major piece — if I don’t do my job thoroughly and effectively, I’ll get canned, and then where will we be? So shut up and give me some time to think.”
I don’t know if ghosts can cry — I mean where would they get the tears? — but Sarah looked like she was about to spring a major leak.
I’m sorry, Gus. You’re right, of course.
She gulped and kind of shivered all over. If she’d been solid, I would’ve put my arms around her and hugged her. Hell’s bells, if she’d had a real body I’d have been tempted to do a lot more than that … but she didn’t, so I couldn’t.
“I’m not trying to be mean,” I said and my voice sounded rough and gravelly even to my own ears, “but you can’t talk to me when we’re not alone.”
But what if I’ve got information that you need? What if it can’t wait?
“Fine. If you’ve got something pertinent, tell me,” I held up one finger and tried to look stern. “But it’s got to be information only. You can’t be asking me questions. I can’t talk to you when there’s anyone else around. Agreed?”
She sniffled, but her eyes weren’t full of unshed tears anymore. Agreed.
“Okay. Let’s get out of here and get back to work.”
I pulled the bathroom door open and held it while my ghostly partner sailed through. Yeah, I know. She could’ve sailed through the wall, but old habits die hard.
* * *
Late that night, I sat on my sofa staring out the wide picture window at the lights reflecting on the Willamette River and nursing a cold beer. Sarah floated near the counter in the kitchenette, chin resting on one fist, pretty little lips flattened into a grim slash. I’d been trying to distract myself with the dancing lights on the river’s black surface, but it was no use. Sarah’s unhappiness permeated my apartment.
“Look,” I said, giving up the pretense of not noticing her, “I can’t do anything tonight. Hell, I probably won’t be able to do anything tomorrow either. We don’t have any evidence against him. No probable cause.”
She opened her mouth, probably to lambast me, but my cell phone rang. I grabbed it like a life preserver and tapped it on. “Collier.”
“Detective Collier,” said a man’s voice, “this is Jason Morgan. We met this afternoon.”
“I remember,” I said, glancing meaningfully at Sarah. “What can I do for you Dr. Morgan?”
“I wondered if you might meet me at the fountain at Waterfront Park. I have some thoughts about Sarah Allen that might be helpful to your investigation.”
“It’s a bit late,” I said, though my curiosity was piqued. “Wouldn’t tomorrow morning be better.”
He hesitated, his breath whispering through the phone. “Of course,” he said finally, “if you’re too busy tonight…I just thought you’d want to hear my information right away.”
“Sure. Sure. I can meet you at the park. Give me twenty minutes.”
“Fine,” he said, relief evident in the word. “I’ll see you in twenty minutes.”
Sarah gazed at me sober-eyed. Be careful, Gus. He’s a murderer.
Twenty minutes later, Sarah and I stood between the fountain’s dancing water and the shining blackness of the Willamette River. The night air smelled of fish, chlorine, and the heavy sweetness of new mown grass. My usual cop’s calm eluded me as I peered into the shadows the streetlights couldn’t penetrate, unusually aware of the weight of my service revolver in the shoulder holster under my leather jacket.
I should’ve called Jack. I knew better than to meet a suspect alone, especially late at night in a deserted park. I knew better, but I wasn’t alone and this wasn’t a normal case. Sarah shimmered just behind my right shoulder and while she couldn’t physically effect this meeting, her presence helped relax the tension spasms in my gut.
“You’re a seventh-seventh, aren’t you Detective Collier.”
I whirled around, amazed that Morgan had been able to get so close to me unnoticed.
“What?” I said, totally caught off-guard.
“Don’t act like you don’t understand,” he said. Light glimmered from his silver hair, white shirt, pale skin, almost like he glowed from within. “It’s the only reason she’d be with you.” He turned his gaze on Sarah. He looked directly at Sarah.
She floated forward, stopping just short of his nose. Why? she asked. Why did you murder me? What did I ever do to you?
“I’m so sorry, Sarah,” he said. “I had nothing against you, but I had to know. Had to discover if the power of a seventh-seventh could be co-opted.” He turned to me and smiled. “As you can see, it can.
“And you, Detective. You’re newly come into your powers, aren’t you? Still adjusting to your new reality?” His smile widened. “I could see it in your reactions to Sarah earlier today in my office. Today is your twenty-eighth birthday, isn’t it?”
I nodded. Wary, but not yet alarmed.
“How fortuitous for me,” he said, extending his hand from behind his back. He held a matte black magnum revolver, “and how unfortunate for you.”
I reached for my weapon, knowing I’d waited too long, that I didn’t have a chance in hell of getting off a shot before he blew my brains out.
But I hadn’t reckoned on Sarah. Neither had he.
My annoying ghost flew screeching into his face. No! You will NOT kill again. You will NOT harm Gus.
Morgan flinched away from her, giving me the instant I needed. Deeply ingrained reflexes came to my aid; I dropped to one knee, aimed my service revolver and fired, hitting him in his gun arm. He dropped the weapon, fell to the ground howling and cursing the dead woman who continued to scream at him in rage.
* * *
Jack stared at me, disbelief etching his unshaven face. “You mean to tell me that lunatic killed a woman over the seventh-seventh crap?”
“Yep. No clue why, but he dug into Sarah’s family history when she was working as his assistant and discovered that, including a set of still-born triplets, Sarah was a seventh-seventh. I’m betting Sarah had no idea and had never even heard of the legends. Morgan seemed to think if he killed one of us on a solstice or equinox just before a twenty-eighth birthday, he’d get our ‘power,’ whatever that’s supposed to be.”
I shook my head for Jack’s benefit, but glanced over his shoulder to where Sarah smiled with satisfaction. She’d seen the light after Morgan’s arrest, but had opted to stay with me. We’d come to appreciate our newfound partnership.
“Shit, Gus,” Jack said, grabbing my shoulder and squeezing. “If there are nut-jobs out there who would kill you over it, I’ll never tease you about being a seventh-seventh again.”
I smiled. His new-found sensitivity would evaporate like a morning mist, but I’d appreciate the sentiment while it lasted.
Debbie Mumford specializes in the unknown — fantasy, paranormal romance, and science fiction. Author of the popular “Sorcha’s Children” series, Debbie loves mythology and is especially fond of Celtic and Native American lore. She writes about dragons, thunderbirds and time-traveling lovers for adults as herself and for tweens and young adults as Deb Logan. Visit debbiemumford.com to learn more.