Deleted Scene from UNHOLY MAGIC
Obviously, since I removed the coincidence of stumbling across the hooker being attacked, Chess and Lex couldn’t return to the scene of the crime, as it were. This was also written when the Bad Guys were still an Oliver Fletcher-run conspiracy, the ultimate thrill for his Hollywood friends. (I dropped that because it was a bit too much plot, it didn’t make sense that he’d travel all the way across the country to do it, and honestly, Oliver just didn’t seem to me like someone capable of murder like that. I kind of liked the guy, actually.
Plus, it was fun to conjure up a mysterious past for him, and give him some vulnerability, instead of just making him an Evil Hollywood Executive, Mark 1.
There didn’t seem to be enough drugs in the world to help her forget that sight, but she would certainly try. She grabbed four Cepts, thought better of it and put one back. Lex probably had Oozers. She’d make him give her one before she went home.
Home…it was all she wanted, and it would take forever to get there.
They trudged back along the streets, not saying much, letting the icy air cool them down. Her water bottle was as empty of liquid as her body felt.
Finally Lex spoke. “Think he was truthtelling?”
“What, about there being other people, people he reported to?”
She sighed. Her sweaty bangs were turning into little icicles. “Probably. Just my luck.”
“But it ain’t a ghost, doing them killings.”
“It’s not a ghost alone doing the killings,” she corrected. “We don’t know where that ghost came from.”
“But he ain’t had the ghost when he running away from us.”
“No, but…I don’t know, Lex. Maybe the ghost was there because it’d recently died and its body was there. Maybe the killer summoned it while he was waiting for us. Maybe he was Hosting it, or it followed us in from one of the buildings we passed. We’ll see what happens when we get back to the alley, okay?”
He nodded and they walked on. “Thinking maybe it’s them whothefuck, from back before?”
“Aye, that them.”
She thought about it for a minute. “No, not really. Obviously it’s an illegal coven of some kind, but I don’t know that it’s that one specifically. We—the Church, I mean—haven’t heard much about the Lamaru since the airport thing happened.”
“Bump and Terrible put a mighty big dent in they side, aye?”
“I guess so. Maybe they’ve just been quiet. But they’re not usually shy about identifying themselves. This guy wouldn’t even give us a name.”
“Some other gang, then?”
“I guess. There are dozens, really. Most are just a couple of guys with some pages copied from a Church text and some herbs, but some of them…” She thought of Mama Lupita again, and her ability to summon ghosts. “They can be pretty strong.”
“No good thing, aye.”
He nodded. “You staying at mine this night?”
“I need to go home. Tomorrow’s Holy Day.”
“I keep disremembering.”
Three hookers waited for them, huddled together in front of the alley. Mai, whom Chess and seen before, and two others—the one who’d been with a trick and the one who’d been attacked, presumably. It wasn’t hard to tell which was which. The chest of the girl in the center was red, the brand only half-burned into the delicate skin of her breast.
“Hadda have a private,” she said. Her voice faltered but strengthened again. Chess wondered what kind of weapon she kept tucked in her purse. “He musta been waiting for me, see, I lean myself uppen the wall and he just there, grabbin me with he hand over my mouth. I can’t move, or nothing, and he tie me up and shove something in my mouth so I ain’t even can scream.”
Chess glanced into the alley. The candle flame still sputtered there, casting eerie shadows on the broken pitted bricks. Good. The girls hadn’t touched anything.
“Did he say anything?”
The girl shook her head. “He saying stuff, but I ain’t understanding it. Ain’t sounded like no language I ever hearing before.”
Words of power. She wished they’d caught the guy sooner. They might have been able to make him talk—no. Anyone who would willingly leap into an inferno to keep from giving up his bosses wouldn’t be vulnerable to a little random torture.
She knew one thing though. That guy had not worked for Bump. Not that she’d doubted Terrible, but who knew what kind of shit Bump did without telling?
“What about the owl?”
“He had a bird, didn’t he? A great big one?”
The girl shook her head. “Ain’t seen no owl. Ain’t seen nothing but he.”
Chess picked her way through the alley, finding it much like the one she’d looked at the night before. No metal box, though. This time a soft pile of ashes, long since gone cold, rested in a half-rusted hubcap. So the box hadn’t meant anything after all, he just needed something to use as a censor. Odd that he hadn’t brought one with him, but she thought she understood that too. The pile of ashes was large; to carry a censor big enough to hold that amount of whatever herb it was would have been conspicuous and awkward.
He hadn’t had time to make the symbol on the wall here, if he’d intended to. Chess couldn’t find it. Nor was she able to find ectoplasm anywhere. So either the man truly was working alone, in which case he was somehow managing to fake incredible ghosts that could even hold eyeballs—that mental picture was another one that seemed to like to pay her little visits—or he hadn’t summoned his ghost yet.
But how was he summoning, without herbs? Or…blood?
He hadn’t cut Daisy anywhere but the eyes, at least not that Chess had seen. But a ghost could be summoned with blood, if nothing else was available, and a murderer who liked to travel light certainly wouldn’t have a problem using his victims’ blood to raise a spirit. Especially not if he had one he worked with regularly, one he shared a bond with, even if it wasn’t a physical one.
What a night this was turning out to be. She’d caught a killer, saved a life…and ended up with nothing but more questions.