Monday, December 23, 12:05pm
Sirens had woken Celeste over two hours ago. She’d gotten up to empty her bladder and peep out the window. She saw black smoke billowing up and ascertained from the location that it was last night’s crime scene. Finding it hard to care that the house was in flames, she lay back down.
Her head throbbed and she felt sick to her stomach. Too much gin had passed her lips after Lt. Frio’s departure the night before. Celeste had used the excuse that alcohol helped breakdown the barriers between this reality and the Netherworld, but she knew she lied to herself. Alcohol blunted her senses, eased the pain and helped her sleep. However, she was paying for it now.
Her continued meditations the night before—or pretense thereof—had yielded very little. She had some nebulous impressions of darkness and violence. A dreadful malevolence lurked in the shadows that surrounded Rubicon Ranch. Not even the leaping flames of the Death Santa House could drive them away.
Was she sorry that miserable woman was dead? Not really. Nancy had a way of dredging up things better left hidden. She knew secrets she shouldn’t and wasn’t above telling people that she knew, expecting them to pay for her silence. Was that how she’d had so much free cash to buy up homes around the neighborhood?
Celeste didn’t have to be a psychic to know what Nancy was up to. She had approached Ward before his departure, though how she’d found out he was leaving, Celeste didn’t know. Nancy had also come to her as she moved in, wheedling and angling for details of the sale.
“Nasty, nosy, amateurish, short sighted bitch,” Celeste mumbled as she struggled to get out of bed.
She stumbled to the bathroom again, avoiding looking in the mirror. She knew how she looked—like the Devil himself had his way with her. Mumbling and cursing, she fumbled with the door of her walk-in shower. It wasn’t a complicated latch, but in her semi-inebriated state, it was difficult. Hot water hitting her from three sides and the top revived her somewhat. A pot of strong coffee would restore her even more.
Celeste had just settled down for a breakfast of toast with homemade marmalade when her doorbell rang. Was it another of those tiresome Sinclair groupies? They’d seen her sign in the window. At least three a day wanted a reading or a séance. She’d labeled them Morris Morons or Sinclair Simpletons.
It wasn’t a stranger, it was, in fact, Lt. Rosaria Frio. She looked put out but resigned. Celeste had seen the same expression on the face of every police officer she’d ever met. She took a deep breath and opened the door.
“Hello, Lieutenant. May I offer you a cup of coffee?”
The younger woman actually smiled. “Thank you. I missed my mid-morning cup.”
Celeste stood aside, ushering her in. “I’m on the lanai,” she replied, closing the door.
She led the way to the back patio. It was screened in and overlooked the work being done on Stonehenge. Constructed with real local stone, it was rather impressive. Frio complimented it as she accepted a cup of strong, dark coffee. She detected a hint of cinnamon in the lethal brew.
“Thank you. This is wonderful coffee.”
“I blend it myself,” Celeste replied without further explanation. “How can I help you, Lieutenant.? I’m sure you didn’t come all this way for a cup of coffee.”
“No. Sheriff Bryan really wants to see you, Ms. Boudreau. He respectfully requests your presence at his office as soon as you’re able. I’ve been instructed to bring you personally.”
“Is this in reference to the incident last night and the fire this morning?”
“I’m not at liberty to say, ma’am.”
“Your sheriff doesn’t like me much,” Celeste commented. She cut her eyes at Frio over her cup.
“He doesn’t like much of anyone, ma’am,” the lieutenant conceded.
Celeste smiled. “Let me tidy up a bit. I can’t go see the sheriff like this.” She indicated her sweatpants and flamboyant magenta sweater.
Frio grinned. “I’ll wait.”
Celeste rose, taking her dishes to the sink.
“Thank you,” Lt. Frio said as Celeste headed to the door.
“Of course, dear. If my gifts can help catch a killer, we can all sleep better at night. He doesn’t believe in my gift, you know,” she cast over her shoulder.
Frio followed her inside, setting her empty cup beside the sink. “He doesn’t, but others do. As long as it helps us track the killer, what does it matter?”
Celeste gazed into the stern lieutenant’s eyes. “Do you, believe dear?” She touched Frio’s cheek and her eyes widened. “This was your idea? Thank you, I’m flattered.”
Before Frio could respond, Celeste went upstairs to change. She had to look just perfect. Seth Bryan had never taken her seriously before, convinced her gifts were fraudulent. It was very important that he believe.
The drive to the sheriff’s office was done in silence. Even the ever present police radio was quiet. Celeste took the time to examine Rosaria Frio’s profile. She wasn’t a beautiful woman, her features were too strong, but she was a handsome one. Her age was hard to determine. She might have been anywhere from 30 to 50. Celeste assumed she was younger than she. The dark hair was pulled back in a tight braid. Her face was unadorned with makeup, but she didn’t really need it, having a lot of natural color on her own. There was a great deal beneath the placid exterior she presented to the world. A fiery soul burned within—smoldered, to be more accurate. Her aura was a bit different today, but the misaligned third chakra throbbed darkly.
Celeste wanted to speak, but Lt. Frio seemed disinclined to do so. Accepting this, Celeste settled more comfortably in the seat. She had foregone her usual flashy clothing for a pair of slacks and a warm sweater. They were both done in a deep, vivid purple. Her wardrobe did not lend itself to sedate. She wasn’t wearing one of her wigs, finding that she was taken more seriously by the conservative crowd if she left them at home. Her jewelry was minimum, half what she usually sported. She even wore pumps instead of her usual sandals.
The car stopped and Frio opened the door for Celeste. The psychic followed the police officer into the station where she was given a hard, uncomfortably tall chair, and asked to wait. After about ten minutes, Frio reappeared and ushered her into the sheriff’s office. He stood when Celeste entered, extending his hand.
“Ms. Boudreau,” he said with a curt nod. “Or would you prefer Celeste?”
“Whatever you like, Sheriff.”
He indicated a seat. Celeste cast discerning eyes over the man. His aura was dark and brooding. A deep sorrow swarmed around his heart chakra. Forcing herself to meet his eyes instead of staring at his chest, she smiled and took a seat.
“I guess you know why I asked you here,” he began.
“You’d like my help finding out who killed Nancy Garcetti.” She took a seat.
His eyes widened. “Actually, I brought you in because I have witnesses who tell me you and Nancy had quite a heated discussion right after you moved into Ward Preminger’s house.”
Celeste’s laugh bubbled out. “I don’t know who’s been spreading rumors, Sheriff. Nancy and I didn’t argue. She was quite miffed that we took care of the deal ourselves instead of going through her.
Ward paid cash for his home. He sold it to me for a very reasonable sum. I paid for the title transfer and that was that. Nancy was a greedy woman. She wanted her slice. When she didn’t get it, she got angry with me and yelled. Am I to blame that someone misconstrued that as an argument?”
“Then you had no quarrel with Nancy Garcetti?”
“None whatever.” She paused, hands folded in her lap. “Now, do you want my help?”
Seth Bryan tossed up his hands resignedly. “Why not? Well?”
Head to one side, she eyed him critically. “You would love for me to tell you exactly who your killer is, but my gift doesn’t work like that. Unfortunately, I can’t dial into it like a phone.”
“What can you tell me?”
“Nancy wasn’t a sweet, sunny lady like everyone seemed to think. She was in a position to spy on folks and she did it with no compunction.”
“Is that a psychic premonition?”
“Hardly. One only had to meet the woman to know she wasn’t to be trusted. Shall I tell you what she said when she came to see me?”
“She asked how much I’d paid for the house. I wouldn’t tell her. None of her damn business. She wanted to know where Ward had gone—like I’d tell her. He left because he wanted to get away from all this craziness.”
“Where did he go?” Seth asked.
Celeste smiled sweetly. “Honestly, Sheriff, I don’t know. He simply said he was leaving. He got in his car and drove north. That’s all I know.”
“You’ve had no further contact?”
“No. Surely you don’t suspect him for killing Nancy?” She laughed loudly. “He was long gone. That boy’s never coming back. This place is too dark for a sensitive man like Ward. He should never have come here, but he was compelled.”
Seth couldn’t help but lean forward. “Compelled?”
“Nothing important. You were asking about Nancy. She was blackmailing people, you know. Where do you think she got so much money to buy up property. Pocket full of secrets, that one had.” She paused. Unbidden a vision came to her.
“Look for a book.” She closed her eyes, trying to focus on it. “I can’t see it well—just papers blowing in the breeze. Hand written.” Her hand moved as if it held a pen. “Many secrets in it—some better left untold.”
“Are your secrets in it, Ms. Boudreau?”
Celeste didn’t answer right away. Eyes still closed, she breathed slowly. Frowning, her head jerked. “Something dark lurks in Rubicon Ranch. Something evil—as evil and black as Morris Sinclair. Be careful. Evil will find you, Sheriff. It will touch the lives of everyone in this room. You can never know where Evil dwells or where it will strike next.”
Her eyes flew open and she pointed accusingly at Seth. “Find the notebook, Sheriff. Start with the pits of hell.” She stared at him, unmoving.
“I’m sorry? Celeste?”
Finally, she blinked.
“Find the notebook, Sheriff. Decipher the code. It will be something simple. Nancy wasn’t very bright. Cunning and canny, yes, but simple.”
“Thank you—I guess.”
“Can that sweet Deputy Midget drive me home? He’s such a dear.”
“I’ll take you back when the sheriff is through with you,” Lieutenant Frio said.
“Thank you, dear. And Sheriff?”
“Yes, Ms. Boudreau?”
“Sheriff Bryan, don’t be misled by a dazzling smile and a flashy presentation. He’s a fake, you know. All smoke and mirrors. Darkness has made a home here and it’s up to you to drive it out.”