[REPOST] [THIS EXCERPT FIRST APPEARED IN MY DECEMBER NEWSLETTER]
“Who found the grave?” I asked, sidestepping around the site. I was wearing the Oxfords I put on when working so my heels wouldn’t sink into the well-trimmed, damp grass, which was the greenest I’d ever seen. The Vancouver rain obviously promoted striking greenery even in early October, but I was glad it was currently only misting.
“Caretaker,” Dalton said. “Phoned it in as vandalism to the West Van police yesterday. It filtered down from there. Any disturbed gravesite draws attention, of course. They sent out a necromancer first, then us when she didn’t pick up anything unusual.”
Dalton was an unusual witch name, so I assumed it was his last, not his first. Though I didn’t recognize it as a founder surname either. He was the secondary investigator, probably more skilled technically than magically. His main duties included collecting evidence and securing the location while the lead investigator interpreted the facts and clues, then decided when a case needed the attention of a specialist.
A specialist like me.
I’d arrived in Vancouver at half past four in the afternoon, secured a rental car at the airport, and immediately followed my GPS halfway up the mountain on which the suburb of West Vancouver was situated. I’d parked by the administration building rather than blocking the single paved lane that wove through the cemetery. The ‘CAUTION — BEAR IN AREA!’ sign at the entrance had left me momentarily disconcerted, but thankfully I was able to easily spot Dalton among the rows and rows of flush-mounted headstones.
I’d arrived just before five thirty. The sun would be setting around six forty, so I needed to be efficient with my collection. But I was always efficient. So as long as the team hadn’t bungled anything before my arrival, I had no expectation of any problems with making my 7:00 p.m. dinner reservation.
This was my second time in Vancouver, and I wasn’t going to pass up the opportunity to indulge in some great food. Even a reconstructionist had to have priorities.
“The site was scorched like this when you arrived?” I eyed the irregularly contoured burn that had seared the edges of the fresh turf running along each side of the gravesite. The burn appeared to be of mundane origin, but I wouldn’t know for certain until I activated my circle. The necromancer who’d accessed the grave earlier wouldn’t be an issue, because death magic was completely different from my own. But anything else would be important to know about ahead of time.
Dalton was still hovering over my shoulder, as if he thought I’d never set foot around a crime scene before.
“Yes,” he said, but the sandy-haired investigator sounded unsure.
“If this was done by your team afterward, I need to know,” I said, circling the burned patch. The interment was so fresh that the cemetery maintenance crew hadn’t sodded over the burial site yet. So new that there wasn’t even a headstone. The scorch marks were contained to a single grave. The remainder of the cemetery was pristine — untouched by vandals or time or magic. “Any spell might interact or introduce —”
“Is there a problem, reconstructionist?” a snippy woman’s voice called out from behind me.
Carolina Medici, the stout, forty-five-year-old lead investigator, strode across the blanket of grass between the gravesite and the path that led to the northern section of the cemetery. The late afternoon might have been cloudy, but the superior curl of the uppity, salt-and-pepper-haired witch’s lip was plainly visible.
“I was determining that, investigator.” I kept my tone even and crisp, professional though not particularly friendly. As was my preference when interacting with anyone of the magical persuasion. It was an investigator’s job to rattle cages until clues fell out, but I didn’t have to let the senior witch ruffle me.
“We aren’t interested in your observations or concerns, Wisteria Fairchild.” Carolina stepped close enough that I could see she had a smudge of chocolate on her upper lip. “Just do your reconstruction as requested.”
I smiled at Carolina’s sneering use of my family name. The forced expression was tight on my face. Though the Medici coven held a seat on the Convocation –– the international governing body of the witches –– they were not among the founding three families of Fairchild, Godfrey, and Cameron.
I was absolutely certain that the chocolate smear on Carolina’s lip came from icing. Cupcake icing, specifically. No witch came to Vancouver without visiting Jade Godfrey’s bakery, Cake in a Cup. Actually, I doubted whether any member of the magical community of Adepts would pass through without stopping in to pay respects to Jade’s grandmother, Pearl, and to get a treat. The fact that Jade was a dowser and an alchemist — at least to those in the know — probably did wonders for business.
A Medici witch wouldn’t be on the list of those ‘in the know.’ Hence, the posturing that was currently hindering my ability to do my job.
“Step back, Carolina,” I said. My informal use of her first name was as overly familiar as her use of mine had been.
“What?” she sputtered.
“You’re standing exactly where I need to construct my circle, investigator. So please, step back so I can get you your reconstruction.”
I paused, plastering a pleasant smile on my face while I waited patiently for her to remove herself from my personal space.
Carolina twisted her lips. “Some respect would be expected.”
“Yes, it would. Especially since I understand your usual reconstructionist already failed to collect at this site. The chair of the Convocation specifically requested that I drop everything and attend to your problem.”
Carolina narrowed her eyes at me, refusing to be easily put in her place. “One might wonder how you came to be on Pearl Godfrey’s speed dial in the first place.”
“One might wonder, or one could do one’s job, effectively and efficiently. Then perhaps one wouldn’t need to be bailed out.”
Carolina snapped her mouth shut, tamping down whatever nastiness desperately wanted to spew loose. She took two deliberate steps away, moving closer to the path.
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