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THE Infernal DETECTIVE

Kirsten Weiss

The Infernal

Detective

Chapter 1
Riga checked her watch. It was thirteen oclock, and her feet hurt. Shed never liked high heels, shouldnt have worn the over-priced, strappy black pumps. Riga had been almost relieved when one of the heels snapped, relieved for the excuse to slip upstairs, relieved to escape. A roar of laughter, punctuated by shattering glass. On the stairway, Riga winced, the relief evaporating. A week to the wedding and shed already begun to feel proprietary about his things, their new lake house. But the crash was likely only a wine glass, and Donovan they could afford it Frowning, she looked again at her watch. Nine forty-seven. Riga rubbed her eyes. She had imagined the thirteen oclock. It wasnt an omen, a portent. She limped up the steps, dangling the broken pump from one hand, the other hand grasping the hem of her gown, a sweep of formfitting black lace. She looked damn good in it, but the dress was a fraction too long for her five-foot-six form, and shed been stumbling over the hem all night.
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At the top of the steps, she walked down the wood-plank hallway to a tall door swagged with holly. She pressed her forehead against the wood, and released her hold on the dress. Riga shut her eyes. Inhaled the scent of Christmas garlands and wood polish. Thirteen oclock. It had been a trick of the light, a trick of her brain. It wasnt magic. Not here. Not so close to her wedding. Shed told Donovan that the wedding was the least important part of a marriage, and Riga was old enough to believe it. Donovan needed good press after a recent unfair pummeling to his reputation. So shed pretended enthusiasm when his PR team planned their celebrity wedding, invited names she recognized but didnt know, sent out press releases. Soon theyd be married, and free. Riga smiled broadly. She could do this for him and in a week, the tumult would end. Her thumb found the band of platinum that circled her third finger, explored its edges. A draft of cool air pebbled the flesh on her arms.

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Idly, she wondered if the place was haunted, if someone had opened a door, or if they needed new insulation. Donovan had closed on the gabled manor a month ago, and any and all options were possible. Riga was coming to learn that just because something cost a fortune, it didnt mean it was well constructed. Escaping? Donovan asked from behind her. She turned, leaned against the door, her auburn hair pillowing about her head. Donovan prowled up the stairs, his green eyes gleaming, a great cat in black Armani. God, he was gorgeous. Wavy, raven-black hair, broad shoulders, chiseled features. But he had other, more important, attributes that attracted her. And he was easy, oh so easy, to love. She held up her shoes, dangling from a slender finger. Regrouping. Hm His broad hands traced the curve of her hips and he bent, kissing her, slow and intoxicating. He smelled of wild things, deep forests. When he pulled away, her lips burned. Have I told you how beautiful you look tonight? Once or twice. She laughed. Tell me again. His lips quirked, tugging at the small, crossshaped scar on his chin. I saw your expression when that heel broke. His fingers traced a line from her jaw to her collarbone, and her skin tingled beneath his touch.
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Annoyance? She tugged lightly on his crimso n tie, pulling him toward her. Relief. His voice was a low rumble. I just came up here for my Jordan McCall CD. Do you think hed sign it for me? Donovan chuckled. Star struck? A little. So far, the only thing thats stopped me from asking him is embarrassment. I dont have any of his wifes CDs. Liar. Deep in that dark little heart Ill bet youre an Annabelle Lee fan. A sucker for country love songs? Guilty. She arched toward him, her soft curves molding to the hard contours of his body. Its a lovely party. I know. He pressed against her, one hand exploring the small of her back. His mouth grazed her earlobe, his breath uneven upon her neck. Lets ditch. I thought youd never ask. She reached behind her, fumbling for the doorknob. The metal chilled beneath her fingers, iced, cold enough to burn. She gasped, jerking away. Donovan took a step back, releasing her. Whats He trailed off, brow furrowing.

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Ice crystals spread from the knob across the surface of the door and the wall beside it, expanding outward in a circular pattern. The temperature in the hallway dropped. Riga shivered in her thin gown. Another ghost. And she had a good idea whose. After years of exposure, shed gotten used to them. But Donovan had only recently gained the ability to see ghosts, and if Riga was right about this particular ghost There were issues. Donovan groaned, his lips twisting into a snarl. Dad. Hes more irritating as a ghost than he was as a live father. Dad? But no specter appeared. Show yourself, Donovan said in a low voice. Ive got some things to say to you. A breeze gusted mournfully down the hallway. Maybe I should leave you two alone, Riga said. Both Donovans parents had died when he was a child. He never spoke much about what had happened after, but Riga was a detective and had pieced together a rough sketch court dates and foster homes until Donovan came of age, and could manage a casino the state-appointed custodian had run into near-bankruptcy. No. I need to talk to him. But this is our time, and Im fed up with him knocking things over, chilling rooms, slamming doors, and not telling me what he wants. Rigas teeth chattered. They may not be games. This may be the only way his spirit can communicate. If we understood what he wanted
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Right now, I dont care what he wants. Hes the master of bad timing. Donovan glanced at her, and whipped off his jacket, draped it over her shoulders. Grateful, she slipped her arms inside, and pulled it tight around her. He rattled the knob, gripped it with both hands, muscles straining. He stepped away, wiping his hands on his slacks. Hes been dead for decades. He tackled the door again, grunting. And instead of acting his age, the man plays poltergeist. His hand slipped off the knob, and his knuckles banged the door frame. Wincing, he sucked on the broken skin. Cant you? He jerked his head toward the door. Use magic? She shook her head. The last time I tried that I melted the doorknob. I could burn the whole place down. Or worse. Worse than burning down our new home? Riga didnt respond. She wasnt sure what was more depressing being haunted by her future father-in-law or the fact that her magic was still a disaster. That missing piece of her was like a wobbly tooth she couldnt stop probing with her tongue. She told herself she could live without magic, but the loss nagged. Right. He nodded curtly, took a step back from the door. Riga backed away, alarmed. She recognized that look. Dono

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He raised one knee and stomp-kicked the door. The wood splintered, and the door crashed inward, ricocheting off the far wall. Donovan stopped the doors return flight with one hand. He looked at Riga. Were you saying something? No. Nicely done. There was a trick to kicking in a door. She felt irrationally pleased that he knew it. He strode inside, and Riga trailed behind, wary. The ghost had frozen the door for a reason a symbol, a sign, a warning. But as she followed Donovan down the short hallway into the master bedroom, she didnt sense anything wrong. A king size bed faced the darkened window, a faded kilim arranged artfully upon the hardwood floor. Glass doors looked out upon Lake Tahoe, a black pool at night. The waning moon was a mercury trail on the water and reflected lights glittered along the far shore. Above it, snowcapped mountains rose darkly. Enough games, Donovan said. When there was no response, Dad? Do you hear His voice dropped. Oh, hell. Riga stumbled to a halt beside him. On the far side of the bed was a reading area with a stone fireplace, wide, cozy chairs, and bookshelves. Before them lay a mans body, a plastic bag wrapped tightly about its head, clouding his face. Oh my God, Riga whispered, swaying. It had to be murder.
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Donovan knelt beside the dead man, and grasped his wrist. He shook his head, pressed his fingers to the mans neck. Donovan looked up at her, his expression grim. Hes gone. Even with his features distorted behind the plastic bag, Riga knew the man was dead, could sense his spirit had fled. The body was just an inanimate object now, an empty vessel. Of late, death seemed less an old acquaintance and more an annoying relative who visited too often, stayed too long, drank her best wine and hit her up for money. She stepped closer, swallowed. That looks like Cam Mitchell. The photographer? A pulse beat in Donovans jaw. His wife is downstairs. Riga leaned one hip against the bed and grasped the post, feeling sick, out of balance. We have to tell her. Shes pregnant, you know. Donovan stood, not looking at her, and she knew he was thinking about his childhood loss, the years in foster homes. I didnt know. How did you? He was crowing about it to anyone whod listen. He slipped his cell phone from his jacket pocket, thumbed the keypad. Lets call the Sheriff before we notify anyone else. Riga nodded, ashamed at her relief at the delay in giving the widow the bad news. King. Donovan here, he said into the phone. Im at my lake house. Riga and I found a body.
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Riga shot him a questioning look. He knew Sheriff Kings direct number? No, Donovan said into the phone. Someone helped him along Right. Fifteen minutes. He hung up. His eyes were hard, cold. I should stay with the body until the police arrive. Why dont you go downstairs, meet the Sheriff when he gets here. She approached the body, knelt on the soft white throw rug, placed one hand on the arm of a nearby cream-colored chair for balance. Donovan The killer had to be one of the guests. I know. His words were clipped. What I dont understand is what the photographer was doing up here. I dont see any drag marks on the rug, no sign of a struggle. And to do this She motioned towards the photographers head and the plastic bag wrapped tight around it. He wouldnt have let someone do this without a fight. Unless he was drugged, somehow incapacitated first. Were getting married in a week, he said. She flushed. And the police will take care of this. Sorry. Habit. Riga backed out of the room, closing the fractured door quietly behind her. She turned and faced two elderly women, dressed in black. Gagh! Riga clutched her chest, breathing heavily. Aunt Peregrine, Aunt Dot. What are you doing here?

THE Infernal DETECTIVE

Dot peered up at her through coke-bottle lenses. They inflated her blue eyes to the size of silver dollars. Her black dress sagged and bagged around her, two sizes too big for her rotund frame. Looking for you, dear. Peregrine, a good foot taller than her niece, peered over Rigas head at the broken bedroom door, drifting open. Her shoulders hunched, vulture-like, and she clutched a massive black purse in her hands. Riga hastily grabbed the knob and yanked it shut. She smiled. Well, now that youve found me, lets head back to the party. You look jumpy. Peregrine lowered her head, studying Riga. Is something wrong? No. No. No, nothings wrong. She felt sweat bead upon her lower back. Why did her aunts terrify her? She was an adult, dammit, and this was her house. Dot tapped Riga on the arm, and Rigas skin twitched from the contact. Well, of course shes nervous, Peregrine. Shes getting married in a week! Yes, Peregrine regarded Riga narrowly. Awfully short engagement, if you ask me. Dot swatted her sister. Youre so bad! Of course shes not pregnant? At her age? Really! At my Im only forty four!

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Not exactly a spring chicken, Peregrine said. I hope youre not rushing into things because of the tick-tick-tick of your biological clock? Sometimes, it really is better to be alone. No, Aunt Peregrine, Riga said through clenched teeth. Thats not why were getting married. Dont feel bad, dear, Dot said. What bride doesnt feel occasional jitters? Poor cousin Lettie? What a mess she was. And then her bridesmaid fainted dead away. Knocked the ring bearer flat. What was his name? Wasnt that Harolds son? That wasnt Letties wedding, Peregrine said. That was Als daughter, Suzy. And the groom fainted, not the bridesmaid. Dot covered her mouth with her black gloved hand. Was it? I was certain it was Lettie and the bridesmaid. Dont you remember? The bridesmaid ended up marrying the best man. No, no. Peregrine shook her head. She married the father of the bride. Such a scandal. Oh. Dot patted her hair, tied neatly in a silvery bun. I dont like thinking about those things. Neither do I, said Riga, her desperation growing. So lets go downstairs. She hooked their elbows and steered them toward the steps. Dot neatly twisted away, moving toward the bedroom. But isnt there a ladies room in here? Not there! Riga dodged between Dot and the bedroom door, pointed down the hallway. Theres a guest bathroom, second door on the left.
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Dot clapped her hands together. You have so many rooms! I do love this house. She winked. I suppose the casino business must be very lucrative? Your Mr. Mosse must love you very much to buy such an extravagant home. Isnt there another bathroom in the bedroom there? Peregrine motioned with her purse and Riga ducked to avoid its arc. Id rather not wait for Dot. She takes forever. Donovans in that room now, Riga said. Theres another bathroom in the guest room across the hall. Peregrine nodded briskly and clumped away. Riga watched Dot dart into the guest bathroom, then glanced at the bedroom door, still hanging ajar. All she needed to cap the evening was for one of the old dears to find the body and have a heart attack. Awkwardly, she shifted her weight, and realized she was still one-shoed. She wrenched off the second pump, placed it on the banister, and slipped downstairs. How much time had she wasted? The Sheriffs station wasnt far nothing was really far at Lake Tahoe and he would be here soon.

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She darted past the wide, arched doorway to the living room, not daring to look left for fear of catching someones eye. The room inside was filled with celebrities and relatives and friends mostly Donovans. Their laughter and the tinkling of glasses flowed toward her, a contented warmth, scented with cinnamon and wood smoke and sweat. She shied from it, through the stone-floored foyer with its massive Christmas tree decked in red and gold, and ducked through a nondescript doorway, into a claustrophobic, windowless room. The uniformed man seated at a bank of video monitors swiveled in his chair to face her. He was middle aged, with a comb-over and a paunch, but shed seen him in the boxing gym. The man, Thomas, was lightning with his fists. He lumbered to his feet. Evening, Miss Hayworth. Can I help you? Yes. The police will be arriving shortly. Could you let the man at the gate know? He grabbed a handheld radio off the narrow table. Something I should know about? The floor here was stone too, and cold, and she curled her toes. We discovered a body upstairs. But youve called the police, not an ambulance. Foul play? Possibly. Definitely.

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He glanced over his shoulder at the video monitors behind him views of the exterior, doorways, windows dripping icicle lights. No shots of the inside. I havent seen anyone come or go for the last two hours, but Ill check again. Thanks. She shoved the door shut with her foot. Mind if we check now? He rolled his padded chair toward her. Have a seat. She sat, watched him queue up the videos with one hand while he radioed the gate with the other. Thomas grunted, eased himself into a swivel chair, and they watched the videos from the last hour on high speed, the sounds of revelry drifting through the closed door. Nothing caught her eye. Aside from the guard patrolling the exterior, nothing moved. No one entered or left the house. Riga released a slow exhale. So that was it then. The killer was one of the guests. She didnt realize shed clung to the hope it had been an outsider until it was snatched away, leaving behind a weight of lead. Frowning, she checked the slim gold watch a gift from Donovan that circled her wrist. Fifteen minutes had long gone. What was keeping the Sheriff? When the police arrive, will you show them upstairs? The bodys in the master bedroom. His expression flickered, but he nodded. She exited, pausing in the doorway to make sure the coast was clear, then hurried past the partiers and up the stairs, stumbling near the top.
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Cold. Sickening. An invisible miasma flowed out the bedroom door, coiled sluggishly on the stairs. Her stomach twisted, and she clutched the railing. Corpses. Rancid things. Decaying flesh. Her skin crawled. Donovan? She called softly, forcing herself forward. She was used to ghosts. This was something different. The hallway chandelier flickered above her, brightened. Fingers trembling, she touched the slim silver cross that hung from her neck, gathered the forces from above and below. Fueled by her fear, the energies rushed through her and outward, creating a bubble of safety around her, cutting a path through the rot and horror. She pressed her fingers against the bedroom door. It swung open at her touch and she sidled through, barefoot and silent. Her fingers curled, palms ready to strike as she prowled down the truncated hallway, turned the corner into the bedroom. It was empty.

Want to read more? You can buy the Infernal Detective on Amazon at http://bit.ly/InfernalD

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About the Author Kirsten Weiss worked overseas for nearly fourteen years, in the fringes of the former USSR and deep in the Afghan war zone. Her experiences abroad not only gave her glimpses into the darker side of human nature, but also sparked an interest in the effects of mysticism and mythology, and how both are woven into our daily lives. Now based in San Mateo, CA, she writes paranormal mysteries, blending her experiences and imagination to create a vivid world of magic and mayhem. Kirsten has never met a dessert she didnt like, and her guilty pleasures are watching True Blood and drinking good wine. Follow her on Twitter @RigaHayworth or on her blog at http://kirstenweiss.com, where you can sign up for her newsletter.

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