We don’t talk on the ride home. I have a thousand questions buzzing in my head and I can tell that Zeke is also thinking hard. He parks the car and I go inside to see what damage one small but very irate Schipperke has done. I am pleasantly surprised to see at least the shop in good shape. I go upstairs, stepping carefully and watching for puddles, destroyed belongings… and he is sitting there at the top, smiling at me.
“Some guard dog you are, I could have taken everything.” He just puts his paws up on my leg so that I can reach him to rub his head. “What did you eat?”
He perks on the word eat, so I take that as a sign that he would like to eat. Maybe it means that my pillows are still intact. By the time I can fill the bowl, Zeke is in the house and making coffee.
We stand, leaning wearily onto each other, listening to the coffee pot hiss and Vader crunch his food. Zeke breaks the silence.
“Mattie, tell me about John Robert. What did you see?”
I take a breath and begin. I don’t get far before he steps to the bedroom to get his notebook and begins writing it down. I repeat what I have already said so that he can get it in with the rest of his notes, and then we move on.
“I just don’t understand…well, if the dream meant that he wasn’t taking medications, and was not about poisoning, then I guess the oak staff is the athame. But how did it get into the office? Who brought it, and why?” He looks up.
“I guess whoever stabbed him brought it. They must have meant to stab him with it, ya think?” I am tired and feeling cross from being up all night with no sleep in sight for hours. I do stop and think about what I just said. “But if they did…then that means premeditated…and why was he naked? Was it a woman and he was forcing her to have sex…but then why was the athame there?”
“And why is the mistletoe tied to his dick? That indicates sex as a motive. But then he was arranged almost ritualistically…so did it have something to do with the coven? Did Eric lose his head and so John Robert lost his life?” Zeke frowns in puzzlement. “Something doesn’t add up here. It feels like….”
“More than one person was there last night.” I finish it for him. We stare at each other. “Why was Laurie there?”
“Oh! I asked her that while you were—in the office. She was taking him some of Shelly’s famous apple pie. She was supposed to take it at lunchtime, but apparently Mike had forbidden her to leave the house. He and Shelly had been arguing about ‘stuff’, to quote Laurie. She told me they had both been drinking pretty heavily and Mike left the house just after dinner. So Shelly basically told Laurie to take the car and deliver the pie, because she ‘sure as hell can’t drive like this’—so at least she doesn’t drink and drive.
So Laurie came down to the office. The door was unlocked, like when we got there, and the lights were on. She insisted that she hadn’t touched anything, but called us. I still don’t know why she just didn’t call the police. I also got the feeling that she was not happy that I did before we had seen John Robert. Do you think…the athame is the one you sold Mike? That exact one?”
I think about it a moment. “It looked a helluva lot like the one I sold him. I would have to see the manufacturer’s stamp to know if it’s the same brand, which would probably make it certain if it is. Those are not easy to find, and as far as I know, we are the only shop in a three state radius that carries it. I have sold one other—last year to tourists and the man who bought it made the point of mentioning that he had never been able to find one before. He had been looking for some time for it. I think they were from…Georgia, Alabama. Some place in the south.”
“That means the police will be back to see us, once they do the autopsy. Great. I just hope it’s not today.” He swallows the rest of his coffee. “Come on, let’s get a shower and get the shop opened. I will not have it closed—that makes it look too much like we miss the bastard.”
We get washed up and because we start the shower together, he can’t scare me today—and maybe he should, since it would get my blood moving. It’s going to be a very long day.
It must not take long for word of John Robert’s death to get out into the community because we get to see most of the coven by closing time. Most of them don’t really speak to us about what has happened beyond “Isn’t it a shame?” or “I can’t believe it”—but I do note that they all buy protection stuff.
Eric shows up, looking white and scared but while he wanders through the rooms, each time one of us tries to talk to him, he skitters off with a lame “Oh look at that, excuse me!” and he flees in the opposite direction. I can hardly wait to see Rhyssa.
When she does walk in, I barely recognize her. Her face is puffy and her eyes are swollen and red. It doesn’t take a genius to know that she has been crying and rather intensely at that. She walks like an old woman, taking each step carefully because she might fall. She doesn’t bother with the pretense of being here to buy something but walks straight up to me.
“Mattie? I can’t believe he’s dead.” I put my arms around her and that must have been the signal because she begins to cry. Loudly. The other customers look over but politely turn back to their shopping. Zeke comes over and murmurs in my ear that he will watch the register and that I should take her into the conservatory.
I am beginning to be very glad that we fixed it up the way we did, since I really would not like having to take people up into our space in order to give them tea and calm them down. I don’t need that kind of energy bouncing off the walls where I live. I lead her to the back of the house.
I settle her in a chair and get that cuppa tea. I hand her a couple of tissues which she uses, sounding like the mating call of the North American moose. I have to bite my lip to keep from laughing out loud…I am really tired and probably not up to the scene we are about to have.
I brace myself for whatever flood of emotion is about to come out when I feel Vader lean against me. I reach down to pet him and I feel his energy. He got to sleep all night, so I am happy that he’s here. It will be a help.
“Rhyssa? You okay?” I sit down next to her.
“Yes.” She sniffs and then takes a sip of her tea. “It’s awful. You know Laurie found him…who would want to kill Lord Candeur?”
I can think of several people, but I don’t tell her that. “So how did you find out?”
“Shelly called me. Laurie came home from the police station this morning and that’s how Shelly found out. I don’t know where Mike is…anyway, Shelly thought one of us should go over to Dorie and be with her.”
Mike was not home all night? I would like to know where he is. I do spare a fleeting thought for the specter of a wife John Robert has left behind. I wonder how she will do, now that she is no longer eclipsed by him. Maybe she’ll have more of a presence…
“So if you’re here, who is with her?”
“Oh, I went over there, but she insisted that she was fine by herself, that the children are there and they don’t really want anyone else over just yet.” She takes another sip. “She said something about it not seeming real, and they just want to be together, the three of them.”
I thought John Junior was away at school…I ask Rhyssa. “Oh, no. He ummm, well he was asked to leave school. He did something bad in like, the second week of the semester and they expelled him. Dorie has really been having problems with him because he sleeps all day, goes out at night with who knows what kind of crowd. He takes money out of her purse. She and Lord Candeur had some… disagreements about John Junior. He wanted to kick him out of the house, but his mother…of course she just couldn’t see putting him out.”
I would, but what do I know of mothering?
“Shelly had to call the doctor for Laurie. She was still crying and carrying on when the police dropped her off.” Rhyssa looks up at me. “Shelly told me she’s pregnant. I’ll bet Mike freaked out when he heard that. He really has issues about her mom being pregnant and him not knowing about Laurie for years.”
Would he have freaked out enough to kill John Robert, if that is the father of the child? I need to ask Laurie about this, but I’m not sure that she will tell me, even now.
Rhyssa finishes her tea. “I don’t know what we’ll do about Yule. I guess Apollo can be High Priest now…” She stands and I get up to walk with her to the front door. “I’ll call you later. I just want to go home and try to grasp that he’s really dead…it just seems so…it’s like a TV show.”
I watch her walk down the sidewalk then go back to the register to tell Zeke all that she has said. He leaves me long enough to add this information to the notebook that is rapidly getting filled up. I notice that he tucks it into the desk he is using in the living room…but locks the drawer.
Shelly Johnson saves her visit for after lunch. Zeke sees her coming first, and nudges me. She looks like hell warmed over. She walks up to the register and leans on it.
“Have you seen Mike?” No greeting and her voice is rough, like she’s been screaming.
“Not since yesterday morning, when he slapped his daughter and dragged her into the car against her will.” Zeke’s answer is just as polite.
“Little bitch deserved it. She’s just like her mother, spreading her legs for anyone who will look at her.” She glares at us, daring us to contradict her.
Zeke steps up to the dare. “Shelly, her sexual activities are really none of your business. If she’s old enough to make those choices, she’s old enough to accept the consequences. She was dealing with it before your husband interfered—“
She cuts him off with a chopping gesture of her hand. “It is my business if she’s living in my house. She thinks I don’t know that she’s been sneaking out and meeting him. Hell, they been screwing right out in the yard, right in front of the altar! I didn’t say anything to Mike because I knew it would make him crazy. But now she’s knocked up…damned straight he’s gonna interfere!”
“Shelly?” Her face swings to me as I speak. “You saw her having sex in the yard? Who was with her?”
“You don’t know? She’s been fucking Mr. High and Mighty himself, John Schmidt!”
I can feel my jaw drop and I can see that Zeke is also trying to pick his up off the floor. “She was having sex with John Robert?”
Shelly laughs and it’s not a pleasant sound. “Hell, not that old fart. No, our sweet little Laurie has been screwing his son since he got kicked out of that fancy school his mother paid to have him go to. John Junior has been sniffing around Laurie since she moved here, and I guess she finally let him do what he wanted. They’ve been seeing each other for months. Mike thought she was going to the Schmidt’s for meditation lessons. HAH!”
Zeke and I can only stare at each other. This puts a real crimp on figuring out who the doe in my dream is…
“So if you see Mike, tell him to come home, okay?” Shelly turns and walks out. We don’t say good-bye because we’re still reeling from the bomb she just threw at us.
With customers around we can’t talk about all of this and I am looking forward to closing up so that we can hash it out. The clock crawls but I am finally able to go to the front door and flip the sign over to “Closed”. I am just about to lock the door when the storm door opens and I see a man in a suit standing there, hand raised to knock. I open the door.
“Ma’at Weaver?” He reads my name off of a piece of paper.
“Yes, that’s me.” I motion that he should come in. He has just gotten points for pronouncing my name correctly. Most people do not.
“Detective Paul Dobson. I’ve been put in charge of the Schmidt case. Can I ask you some questions?” He has a very pleasant speaking voice and I idly wonder if he’s taken lessons to make it so…smooth and soothing.
Zeke walks up to us and holds out his hand. “Detective. Zeke Taylor. I imagine that you want to talk to both of us?”
He shakes it and I can tell by Zeke’s expression that he is what Zeke refers to as a “good shake, not a dead fish”. He gets a few more points.
“Yes, I would like to talk to both of you. There are some things I need to go over from your interviews this morning.”
Has it really only been since this morning? I feel like it’s been a hundred years. I am surprised at Zeke’s next words.
“Of course. Let us finish closing the store, and we can go upstairs and talk all you want.”
I look over at him and he smiles at me. “I have already closed out the register, do you want to get the shutters and I’ll turn off lights?” I nod and so we take care of things quickly.
The three of us head upstairs, led by Vader who has accepted this new person with a minimum of fuss. And Detective Dobson knows that he is a Schipperke. If I keep racking up the points, we’ll have to adopt him.
Zeke offers him some coffee which he accepts. He even indicates that we are certainly able to have our wine. “In vino veritas” goes through my mind and I make a point of sipping slowly. I am so tired that I don’t think I can reach the point of babbling without reservation before I will pass out from sheer exhaustion. But I don’t want to count on it…so I don’t chug.
He pulls out a notebook and I am reminded of Zeke’s. Apparently it also rings a bell with him as he excuses himself to go back downstairs to get his own. When he comes back up, he lays it on the table and I am confused by this apparent intention to share our notes with the…cops.
“I read what you all told the other officers this morning.” The cop in question glances up at me. “You actually walked into the office and saw the deceased?”
What a nice, antiseptic way to refer to the things that had been John Robert. I take a deep breath. “Yes, I did.”
“Please describe it to me, any detail, anything that stands out in your mind.”
I look over at Zeke who is looking at me with tender eyes. He smiles at me and then turns to Detective Dobson.
“Paul, you’d get farther if you just told her.”
“I didn’t think you had recognized me.” The two men grin at each other.
Told me? And he’s just called this man by his first name…like he knows him? And “recognized me”? What is going on here?
“Mattie, Paul and I were…members of the same coven in college.” Zeke laughs at my classical double take. “I knew he was in the police, but I didn’t know he was in Homicide until tonight. We have been emailing for years now…Hell, I didn’t even know he was in this area.”
He turns to the detective who is now grinning like a fiend. “I haven’t seen you in what, like fifteen years? I wasn’t even sure it was you until you opened the notebook and I saw your tattoo.”
“I actually just got transferred up here about a month ago. I haven’t had time to email you the change of address.” Paul holds out his hand to show me a tattoo so small as to almost be unnoticeable on the inside of his wrist. It is the Goddess spiral and it matches the one that Zeke has on his wrist. I can breathe easier, but I am still not sure how much we tell him. Zeke lets me know.
“Mattie, we need to start at the beginning, with your first dream. Paul isn’t going to write it all down—until we get to the official portion of our story. Right?” He looks at the detective…who is also a Pagan? I am too tired to be able to assimilate all of this.
“Right in that I won’t write it all down, but let’s start with last night first. We can go back to dreams in a while.” Paul flips back a page. “Mattie, please describe the body as you first saw it.”
I take a breath and begin. Zeke rubs my hand and helps keep me calm. It’s like walking in there all over again…I just keep seeing John Robert’s face staring at me. Paul writes his notes and asks intelligent questions. When I mention the pupils being so dilated, he nods like he knows that it’s meaningful.
I describe the scene, the position of the body, how Laurie had called us. He doesn’t comment, only keeps writing in his notebook. In some ways, I am reminded of Zeke and his intensity when he is making notes.
When I come to an end, we sit in silence for a few moments. Paul looks back over his notes and he apparently comes to a decision.
“We got the preliminary autopsy reports. He did not die from the athame.” He looks at us and we look at each other. “Would you like to tell me what he died of?”
Zeke gestures at me to answer. “I would have to guess that it was poisoning of some sort…” I hesitantly offer.
“Yes, but do you know what kind?” Paul asks like it’s a test.
“Belladonna?” I keep seeing those eyes. “Or the chemical name for the actual poison is atropine. It’s used in eyedrops.”
“Give the lady a cigar!” He turns to Zeke. “She is very good. You didn’t tell me you were living with a psychic.”
“Um, Zeke is the plant expert. He told me about belladonna when we planted some in the backyard.”
“You have the plant here?” This has piqued the policeman’s interest. “Can I see it?”
“Sure, but do we have to go outside right now?” Zeke asks. “And I may have told her the lore about the plant, but she’s the one who has had the dreams about it.”
“No, we don’t have to go out—but don’t pull it up and throw it away before I can see it, okay?” He is only half joking. “And I guess it’s time I hear about the dreams.”
Zeke opens his notebook and I audibly sigh. They look at me and this time it is my lover who is psychic. “Darling, I wrote them down. You don’t have to tell him the whole thing. Just answer questions, okay?”
I nod, greatly relieved that I do not have to relive those today as well. I am surprised to discover an empty wine glass in my hand, since I don’t remember drinking it. I pour out another one, hoping to numb the dread that I am feeling.
Zeke reads his notes and I sip my wine, lulled by the low rumble of his voice. Paul has laid his pen down and listens very intently. When Zeke talks about the Tarot readings, I can tell that the detective is seriously considering how this all fits together.
I am thankful that we have gotten what surely must be the only Pagan policeman in Homicide. I wonder if his path is known at work and if that is part of the reason he has been assigned to the case.
As if he has heard the question, the next words out of Paul’s mouth verify my guess.
“My boss knows that I am Pagan. He asked me to handle this because I would understand the people involved and be more willing to really listen to them. He figured any other cop would think they were all kooks and not pay attention to the things that they will say.” He grins. “He is too nice to say that I am one of those kooks, but as long as I catch the killer, he doesn’t care who I pray to, to quote him.”
“So…do you have any suspects?”
“Based on what you have told me, both the dreams and the information on his coven seem to indicate that this man was not well liked. It’s going to be a matter of weeding out those who wanted to kill him from the one who actually did.” He shifts in his seat.
“We found all sorts of interesting things in his blood. Atropine is what killed him, but they also found tyramine in his blood stream.” He looks up from the notebook. “It’s an alkaloid found in mistletoe. Why would he be taking mistletoe?”
Zeke frowns thoughtfully. “Well, it is used for all sorts of things. It can be used as a healing herb for just about any disease. It can be used for certain types of heart disease or nerve disorders. It can be an aphrodisiac…” I can’t help but smile at the recollection of our use of mistletoe oil…yeah, I guess aphrodisiac is one use.
Paul writes this information down. “He had a bad heart. The coroner said that he probably would have died anyways in the next couple of years. Apparently he overindulged in a great many things that are not good for you. Hardening of the arteries, high cholesterol. Usual story.”
“John Robert was a man of great appetites and he fed all of them without regards to the consequences.” Zeke sums up the High Priest’s life rather well. “He did not understand the meaning of the word ‘no’.”
“May I ask something?” I put up my hand like a student in class. Paul nods. “Who benefits? I mean, who gets his money, who stands to gain the most?”
“Ahhh you read Agatha Christie…Hercule Poirot, right?” This time, I nod. “You are right to ask that. So often the killer is the person who inherits. But there is no will. The deceased died intestate. The state will disperse his belongings. Of course that means it all goes to his wife, by law. So unless she knew that there was no will and she would get it all…is she the kind who would kill for that?”
“Dorie? She’s so…insubstantial. I can’t imagine her having an opinion without John Robert to tell her what it is.” I am trying to picture her giving poison to her husband. It’s not working.
“But we have been told that they argued about their son. So she had at least one opinion that did not line up with his.” Zeke points out.
“Mother’s instinct? I don’t know…”
Paul makes a clearing noise in his throat. “Um, actually we have been told that both of you have argued with the deceased within the past few days.”
We turn to face him. Zeke answers first. “I’m not sure that I would call it an argument. I threw him out of the shop. Twice, in fact.”
“Want to tell me about it?”
“Sure. I have to start back in March. Rhyssa Jordan introduced me to Mattie, that’s how we met. I know that I have mentioned her in my emails.” Paul nods. “So she is a member of the coven and she had been talking about it to us for a while. She asked us to go talk to John Robert about joining.” He looks at me.
“So we went over, but Zeke had to stop at the bank first. So I went on down to the office and started talking to him. He first was all about finding the spiritual path and sharing it with others, but he rapidly went off on this tangent about quote serving the High Priest unquote and the Great Rite. He made it very clear that I could progress quite rapidly through the ranks if I took ‘special’ classes with him.
He actually was pulling out his dick when Zeke walked in. What he didn’t know is that Zeke saved his life that day. I would have hurt him badly. My ex-husband used to try to force sex on me so I was not going there.”
Paul makes a sound of disgust. “Makes me sorry to be a man sometimes…there’s just enough of the assholes to make the rest of us look bad.”
Zeke grins. “I know what you mean.”
“Excuse me, I’m talking about one of the assholes.” They both look at me and I grin. “So anyway…I pissed John Robert off that day by refusing but I don’t think he was angry with Zeke until…oh, about a week or so after Mabon.”
“So not until after the 21st of September?”
“Right.” Zeke picks up the story. “We met him at the bank and he got … rude … to Mattie again, suggested starting up her ‘studies’ again. I turned into Primitive Man and basically told him to fuck off.”
“And he was furious. Not just at being told that I belonged to Zeke in no uncertain terms, but in being told that out in a public place where everyone standing around heard it as well.” I pause for a moment to recall how red John Robert’s face had gotten that day.
“We were…foolish enough to agree to attend Samhain with that crowd. He noticed my ring. He wouldn’t let go of my hand and he made nasty comments about our being with each other. Zeke ended up pinching his hand to make him let go of me. And all of this happened in front of the coven, so I know that it really pissed him off.” I shudder, remembering that face.
“We didn’t stay for the feast either. I think that added to his anger. Rhyssa told us that he had given his wife a public dressing down for her part of the ritual.”
“Oh?” Paul indicates that I am to fill in this information.
I explain how Dorie had opened her mouth and spoken the words but no one could hear her…and how surprised I had been that she had even been given a part in the ritual because of her lack of substance, physical as well as vocal. Paul gives a sour chuckle.
“I had the pleasure of going to inform her of her husband’s death today. I know what you mean. I don’t think I’ve ever met someone who was so not there.” He shakes his head and gestures that I am to continue. “So when did you see him again?”
“He came in the following Tuesday, looking to order some mistletoe oil.” All three of us exchange glances. “He indicated that it was for Yule…and the implication was that the Great Rite would definitely be a part of that, since he said it as he ogled Mattie’s breasts.” So Zeke had noticed where John Robert was looking. No wonder I got sent upstairs to a teapot that was not on the stove.
“He made a really rude remark about Mattie being well trained…which she’s not.” I stick my tongue out at him and Paul tries to look elsewhere while we do this. “I basically told him that I would not sell him a thing and I told him to get out. Then he got all pompous about how his coven was doing us such a favor to shop in our store, blah blah. I set him straight on that and showed him to the door.”
“So when was the next time you saw him?” He takes a swallow of his coffee. I figure it’s cold by now, so I get the pot to warm it up. He looks over at Zeke. “I thought you said she wasn’t trained?”
Zeke points to the expression on my face. “She’s not. Mattie, don’t pour that on him.”
“I won’t. But he can warm up his own damned coffee from now on.” I pout as I return the pot to the burner.
“Sorry, I just had to say it. I mean, the timing of it…Zeke just says that you aren’t trained and you jump up to refill my cup.” He laughs and we join in. “Okay, so you threw him out…what’s next?”
We stop laughing and try to remember. “Dorie came in to buy the boline. And then her husband showed up the next day to accuse us of selling a cursed knife.”
Paul steps us through the details; how Dorie seemed terrified, how relieved she had been to find the one she wanted, and how John Robert had known the difference. We talk about Vader’s biting him and how Zeke had manhandled him outside. He asks us pointed questions about how angry John Robert at been…and we tell him about the accident.
He is shocked about the car hitting them. He makes a note about it so that he can see if any progress has been made on that case and then we really shock him by telling him about the backyard.
“Why didn’t you report it to the police?” He keeps asking us. We can’t come up with the words to describe how painful that would have been, or how much Zeke needed to have it put back into order as soon as possible.
Karl has done a fabulous job with the wolf and his decapitation is almost invisible. Zeke has put him closer to the gazebo and wants to plant lavender around him in the spring.
“So there’s a very good chance that John Robert is at least responsible for the damage to the yard. I don’t know if he drove the car that hit you, but he knew it happened.”
“Oh yeah, considering he showed up two days later.”
“Tell me about it.” Paul has picked up his pen again.
“Oh, he came in to see why we were opened. Asked us if we had been closed the day before to do…’yard work’ was how he put it.”
“You mean he admitted to the damage?” Paul is incredulous.
“Not in that many words, but since Mattie, our handyman and I were the only ones who knew about it…he had to have done it to know.”
“Damn. He really was a pompous ass.” I wonder if Paul will write that in his official notes. I hope so.
His next words startle me. “Can I have a copy of your notes, Zeke? I want to go over the dreams and the Tarot readings, compare them sort of side by side. I need to figure out how they fit into this whole thing. I hope that they can point me to some hard facts that I can use to catch the killer. Although it doesn’t sound like there’s going to be much of anyone who will miss him.”
Zeke manages to startle me even more. He pulls a stack of paper out of the back of the notebook. “You can have this copy. Just don’t let the boss see these, he’ll know you’re a kook.”
“I know. But I think that they will be a big help. I really appreciate your cooperation. You all have told me a lot. I’ve got some idea about the coven, their HP, who hated him, who had reason to hate him…how did his wife feel about him observing the Great Rite with other women?”
“No idea. She never made a public fuss, if that’s what you’re asking. Actually, you want to know more about the group, you need to talk to Rhyssa. She seems to have all the dirt, all the time.”
“Well, I don’t know about that. Were you aware that she was one of the women he was having ritual sex with?” Somehow I am not the least bit surprised to find this out. It does explain a lot. “She hasn’t really told us much more than he was—well, not a saint, since Pagans don’t have them, but such a wonderful human being that she just cannot understand how he’s dead. I find her impressions of him a little biased.”
Talk about an understatement. Poor Rhyssa. Her love life was not a successful one between this lover being dead and her ex-husband announcing that he had discovered his true sexual orientation and it did not include women. Bad enough to be left for another woman, but how does a woman compete with a man for her husband’s affection? She was always saying that she didn’t want to date again…poor choices do come home to roost.
Paul looks at his watch. “I’m sorry to have kept you all this long. I know that it’s been a long day for you. Can I come back and talk to you all some more later this week?”
We nod. Zeke takes it a step farther. “Come have dinner with us.”
“Zeke, I can’t. Not as long as you all are involved in this case. I know you, I don’t think that you did it…but until I can come up with some facts and a real suspect, I have to keep my friendships out of this. As much as I can, anyways.”
“Of course. We are here anytime you need to talk to us. And when this is over…”
“I would be honored to share a meal with you.”
Zeke walks him out while I start dinner. Thank the gods for microwaveable meals. We eat and fall into bed.