They stood in a shaft of sun yet her hands, when he gripped them, were death cold. “Stay inside,” he said. “Lock the door. Do not answer for anyone and draw all the blinds.” Dammit, he did not want to leave her alone.
Her fingers squirmed out of his and when they did he found he did not want to let go of her hands, either. “I promised I’d keep you safe.”
“I’m not a job, Owen.”
He’d hurt her. It was in her sunrise eyes. But how the hell had he hurt her? All he was trying to do was show compassion. Protection, dammit.
“Hurry,” she said. “Go.”
He stayed welded to the floor. “I don’t want to abandon you.”
“I…” Her hand twitched as if she wanted to latch onto him again.
He’d let her.
“I’m not alone.” Her chin jutted to the right. “Vincent Haslom,” she whispered and glanced out the open door, making sure Steve was out of earshot.
He looked in the direction she’d indicated. Nothing. Still—“He threw you against a damn counter this morning!”
“I know, but…” She glanced at what he could not see. “I don’t think he’ll hurt me. And…” She shuddered. “I don’t think he’ll let someone hurt me, either.”
How could he believe her when she looked so damn…breakable? “Natasha…”
“Go!” She shooshed him over the threshold. “I promise I won’t tell Jakob you left me alone.”
“Like I give a sweet shit about Jakob.”
“Yes, well…I do.” Her eyes pooled. “I’m afraid for him.”
“Because you think he killed Galinko?”
“No! Because…he’s never said goodbye to me before.” She looked anguished.
He hated leaving her.
“Owen!” Steve yelled.
“Just go.” She pushed him out, shut the door.
Rob’s new housing development looked like a neighborhood of cops. Police cruisers were haphazard and everywhere. The local Detachment had to have called in assistance from the larger station in Cascadia. After all, Vestemere had never had a murder he could remember, and even any suicides that had occurred were so rare that some already twenty years old were still spoken of as if they were news. He parked behind Steve, a significant distance away from the flurry of uniforms and yellow crime scene tape. A half dozen carpenters made up a rather lost looking group where they’d parked and Rob Haslom paced amongst them. Jessalyn too, hoisting onto tiptoe to try seeing beyond, where the police were working. Owen approached them. “Hey, Old Man.” He stilled Rob with a hand on his shoulder. “You didn’t need this.”
“No.” Jessalyn stalked up to them. “What we didn’t need was Jakob and Natasha Nikoslav and however they’ve contributed to this…to whatever the hell’s gone on here! Where were they last night when this poor guy was killed?”
Poor guy? He considered her. Had Rob never told her the name Galinko? Hell, hadn’t her Dad shared the name of the murder he’d been trying to solve since he was in uniform?
“Well?” She tapped a foot. “Where were they?”
“In the cottage you rented them.” He hesitated a beat. “So was I.”
She gaped. “You’re sleeping with her now?”
“Jessie!” Everyone, even Owen himself, took a collective step back at the snarl in Rob’s voice. “That’s enough.”
She stabbed her chin at him. “Look,” she said. “I know you think she’s—”
“Rob Haslom?” A constable in uniform approached, but Owen’s brow remained quirked. Rob thought the Tsarina was what?
“Yes?” Rob said tiredly, and stepped forward. Owen stayed with him, shoulder to shoulder.
“You made the report about threatening storybooks being sent to your residence?”
“To my wife, yes.”
The officer hoisted a brow at Jessalyn and Owen nursed an internal grin. Aha. How does it feel to be within the scope of suspicion, little Harpy?
“We found a stack of storybooks in the tenement Galinko was renting,” the cop said, then paused. “Some were defaced just like yours.”
“So this is our guy.” Rob’s shoulders drooped, relief, and Owen was alarmed to see how ashen he was. Old Man, you really don’t need more stress.
The cop said “Were you out here at all last night, Mr. Haslom?”
“No. I sent my last worker home around seven. Had supper myself about eight.”
“With you, Mrs. Haslom?”
“Yes,” Jessalyn held her chin high. “My father joined us. Corporal Cory Chandler?”
The RCMP member shrugged the name off as meaningless. Owen wanted to clap him on the back. “We’ve noticed you don’t have security cameras out here,” he added.
“It’s Vestemere,” replied Rob, and his big eyes looked so perplexed, so guileless…Owen wanted to groan. “Officer, what does it look like happened?” Rob asked then, still big-eyed. “What I saw looked like someone stabbed this guy with a shoe.”
The cop grimaced, and Owen recognized the debate playing over his face. What to share versus what to hold back to maintain the integrity of the investigation. “Is that what you saw?” the officer asked finally.
“Standby,” said the cop, and walked back to the scene.
Owen wished he could go take a look himself. A shoe? Seriously? How had she, the woman Sondra had profiled, done it? “Did they get into it and he fell down? Did she stomp him?” He surprised himself by murmuring aloud, and when he looked, everyone was ogling him. He turned to Jessalyn. “Where is your Dad, by the way?”
“I beg your pardon?”
Oh, cut the affronted bullshit, Harpy. “This is a murder scene. He’s a cop. I’m surprised he isn’t here.”
“I think he had to run errands back in Cascadia.”
‘I think’? She ‘thought’? ‘Thought’ was a bullshit word. A liar’s word. What did she know about Cory Chandler he didn’t? More importantly, what did Cory Chandler know that they all didn’t?
Vincent Haslom was glaring, but Natasha refused to shrink within the chill of his stare. “I do not approve of Owen Brophy,” he said.
“Really? Well, I’m sure his girlfriend couldn’t care less who you approve of.”
The spirit narrowed its eyes and she was keenly—in fact sharply—aware that she did not feel frightened without Owen beside her.
She felt lonely.
“You keep glancing out the window like a lovesick teenager,” Haslom said.
“Be still,” she retorted tonelessly.
“Over a Brophy. My God. What is it about that blue collar trash that compels all my children?”
“So you do call Rob and Sabrina your children?”
“I never said they weren’t mine, darling girl. I only said I didn’t want them.”
Yet he did want her. Lucky her. Fatherless a lifetime and now a monster had risen from the grave to claim his paternity.
“You don’t trust Brophy, either,” he said, shrewd.
“No. He still hides behind the same dimples he used when he was a kid and thought I didn’t know he was sly.”
Nothing she hadn’t picked up on herself. “Well done, Tat’ka.” She bowed. “Perhaps it is you who’s been my psychic lineage, not Matka.”
He met her sneer with his own. “You don’t have to be psychic to be smart, darling girl. And clearly you don’t need to be smart to be psychic. Brophy is beneath you. Cut contact.”
Play her remained, a Shadow on the wall. Still—“When you were living, Vincent Haslom, was it so easy for you to simply walk away?”
“Easier than wringing a cat’s neck.” He smiled pointedly in the direction of Shoes, cowering beneath the wingback. “Figuratively speaking,” he added.
“You’re a monstrosity.”
“Go to the door,” he replied. “You have a caller.”
Out the window a spear of sun glinted off strawberry curls. “Cory Chandler.” Here, yet another member of the Galinko family currently lay dead on his son-in-law’s property.
Haslom followed her to the entrance. She rounded on him. “You,” she said, “Will say and do nothing.”
“Like that fool will see me.” His dead breath was a blast of heat. “He never could see the flesh right in front of his face.”
She drew a bracing breath, opened the door.
Chandler’s hand fell back to his side before he could knock. “Precognition.” A smile filled his face, wide and fond.
“No.” She stepped back. “I saw you through the window.”
“Oh? Not in shadows?” His freckles were merry.
He knew she was psychic. She took another step back, felt the Hell-heat of Haslom. “Policii Chandler, my Uncle Michael—”
“—was not my blood relative. We share no genetic…anomalies. He was married to my mother’s sister.”
The name unlatched her Aunt’s Shadow: “You’vesold your abilities to the police?” She looked so aghast Natasha winced. Auntie Danieta had always been discreet to the point of denial about her abilities, so demure that Baba had teased she must be part Galinko.
Jakob, though, was more cynical—he maintained that his mother’s reticence with her psychic prowess was a way to hide all she couldn’t do compared to the rest of them. Yet now Natasha observed her Shadow, fretting before her husband Mihajlo, and her heart contracted. “Michael,” said Danieta. “We don’t tell people what we can do. It...it’s not safe.”
He laughed, looking so much like Jakob Natasha’s breath caught. “The policii are paid to keep people safe, Danieta.”
Yet as he spoke, the toxic skull and crossbones fell over his Shadow, green and…bitter. The tasted arrived on her tongue. Don’t show. She flicked a hand, so subtle it would make Auntie Danieta proud, then refaced Chandler, a hunch emerging at the back of her mind. “What happened to my Uncle?” she said.
That had always been the official story. Still LIAR! was a smudge floating from Chandler’s lips. She regarded it. “Family lore is that you and he were known as ‘The Grimm Brothers’,” she lied. “Who named you that?”
He shook his head. “Natasha, Mihajlo did not kill your Matka.”
There was pain on his face. Yet on her left Haslom spoke. “Fool,” he spat. “Blind, trusting fool.”
She edged closer to him as another Shadow, her Matka, Silva, shimmered in delicate color. “Come, darling,” she said and scooped a tiny, silver-haired toddler up, a baby in fussy lace and crinolines like little Robyn would wear. That’s me. Natasha clung to the image. “She loved me,” she whispered.
“No, she loved me,” Haslom replied. “But darling child—she worshipped you.”
Tears leapt to her eyes and she glared at Chandler. “My Matka was murdered.”
“No.” He looked helpless. “It…a car accident. I’d moved by then, my own baby and me, but Mihajlo…he called me, told me. He was devastated. He’d cared deeply for your mother. Like a sestra.”
‘Sister’. Her heart was pounding. Haslom was growling.
“He adored you too. Yes,” Chandler added, addressing her surprise. “He spoke of you. He and Danieta used to babysit you when you were an infant, wanting to give Silva a break because she was so young to be a mama…” He trailed off, carried wistfully, she could see, by whatever sort of Shadows a person with no psychic ability had. “Mihajlo used to chuckle at Silva’s defiance. She flat-out refused to disclose who your father was, would only say he was the ‘Great love of her life’.”
Haslom made a tortured sound and laid his hand on her shoulder. The heat branded her so intensely she yelped.
“I’m sorry,” said Chandler. “I’m upsetting you.”
“N-no.” She wanted to hear this. Needed to hear this. Somewhere within everyone’s Shadows of the past was every reason they’d arrived at this future.
“Mihajlo called you Sleeping Beauty,” he said.
Her heart stopped.
He smiled. “Said you were such a content baby. That his Jakob doted on you.”
‘His’ Jakob? This threw her. Surely Uncle Michael—Mihajlo—had known how fractured his connection to Jakob was. He, with his unerring ability, had to have seen that Jakob knew Mihajlo had love and time in abundance for everyone…except he and his mother.
“Mihajlo was so heartsick when Silva died,” Cory murmured, oblivious. “She was just a girl. Hell, little more than a child.”
“She was a woman!” Haslom thundered. “A woman who knew everything. Everything!”
“Like what?” She turned to him.
Chandler looked confused. “What?” he said, then shook it off. “Natasha…Mihajlo was a good man. My best friend. My bratr. He would never…he didn’t kill your Matka. He loved her—and you.”
“Naïve,” spat Haslom. “A rube. No wonder this fool loves my son as if he were his own.”
Natasha’s head spun and she whispered “Stop” to both of them as Shadows thundered around her, a kaleidoscope of all she’d already seen. She cataloged through them rapidly, pulse cresting as—“What about your wife?” she blurted as Shadows of Silva and Elayna whirled by, Silva slapping Elayna’s face. “Did Elayna kill my Matka?”
Chandler looked startled. “Ne. No. Natasha, Elayna was already dead when Silva was—”
“—murdered. No accident. And does that matter, Policii Chandler? Didn’t your dear bratr Mihajlo ever tell you what the dead can do?” She spared a quick glance at Haslom.
He smiled. “That’s my girl.”
Chandler shook his head, red curls bobbing. “Natasha, no. Elayna…what have you seen about Elayna?”
It was none of his damn business what she’d ‘seen’. “I know she was connected to my Matka.”
He looked skeptical. “Elayna had nothing to do with Galinko.”
Meaning he knew Silva did? She felt Haslom inch closer, blistering heat.
“And as far as anything else…” Chandler grimaced. “Elayna was never as important as…well, as she wanted to believe.”
Her brows arched. What did that mean?
A rueful, twisted little smile met his mouth. It unleashed her tongue. “Is that why you—”
‘Cheated on her?’ was lost as he said “Natasha, I know you came to Vestemere because of Galinko, and I know you must have all sorts of questions. Hell, after all these years so do I, but one thing I can answer for certain: Mihajlo did not harm your mother.”
“Then who did?”
The fondness dropped off his face. “I don’t know,” he answered, yet a Shadow breezed over him, a younger version of himself holding a baby—Jessalyn!—and alongside her Uncle Mihajlo. “Have you taken your insulin?” he asked him.
Mihajlo scowled, an impatient expression. “You are not listening, Cory. I—”
“Your needle,” said Chandler. “You’re ornery.”
“Dost!” Mihajlo grasped him by the upper arms. “You are being hunted!”
A chill lanced Natasha’s arms, yet “Ne,” Cory replied, laughing. “I’m the hunter, kamarad. I’ll hunt Haslom till—”
The infant Jessalyn started to cry.
“The Zlý Kralovna is far more dangerous than Haslom.”
‘The Wicked Queen.’ A rash of goosebumps seized Natasha arms, and a trickle of blood began to leak from her nose as the scene faded beneath new Shadows forming words, shock-red slashes on the air.
©bonnie randall 2005