|Daughter to Demons chapter 1 2 3 4 5 6||Ashes to Ashes chapter 7 8 9 10 11|
|Daughter to Demons: Ashes to Ashes
by Jeffrey M. Mahr
©1999 Jeffrey M. Mahr -- all rights reserved
EDITOR'S NOTE: This story stands by itself, but it describes the continuing adventures of characters first presented in Daughter to Demons.
Chapter Seven: Kindling
|Billy, in one of his nice new sashes,
Fell in the fire and was burnt to ashes;
Now, although the room grows chilly,
I haven't the heart to poke poor Billy.
-- Harry Graham
"I got it! I got it! I'm real again!" Jackie Renfrew danced into the small, off campus apartment. Her purse dropped to the floor by the door and her shoes went flying in a low arc into the fireplace Frank had been procrastinating about checking for functionality. Seconds later dance music was playing loudly on her roommate's stereo.
"Congratulations," Frank responded albeit with a voice muffled by the huge pile of architecture texts and three dimensional structural dioramas surrounding his face. "Now please turn that down, I'm on a deadline and I'm not even close to finished. Dr. DeBaulk wants me to show him the finished analysis at the construction sight this evening, around eleven o'clock."
"But I want to celebrate," Jackie pouted briefly. She stood behind Frank, tapping out the rhythm on his head as she danced, but realized he was ignoring her. With a nefarious grin she stopped tapping in favor of another method of obtaining his attention.
"Yeow! Don't do that!" Frank shouted in fear and surprise as he nearly fell backwards off his chair as he jumped back from the table. Jackie merely smiled back at him from her new position. She had become immaterial and floated up through the table, her neck now apparently connected to the table.
"Thanks for the forced work break," Frank grumbled. "So, what are you so happy about?"
"I now have legal identification, a birth certificate, a driver's license, college transcripts, all the proof I need to get a credit card."
"To get a credit card, you don't even have to be human, just breathing."
"My point exactly. Remember, I don't have to breathe any more."
Reminding Frank of Jackie's recent death and reincarnation as a supernatural being put a damper on his annoyance at being interrupted. Jack Renfrew had been his best friend and Jackie Ahtram-Renfrew was still his best friend, as well as his wife of just four months and an incarnation of the supernatural being that lived off the sexual and emotional feelings of humans. "I'm sorry Jackie," he righted the chair and hugged her even before she fully cleared the tabletop.
"Umm." Jackie moaned sexily. "A hard man is good to find."
Frank blinked twice and then started laughing. "First, that's the tabletop. Second, where do you find lines like that?"
"The late movie on cable TV. Do you like it? I've been dying to try it since I heard it."
"Well, I appreciate the laugh. I needed a break from this project."
"What does Dr. DeBauck have you doing now?" Jackie gestured to the project materials scattered over the table.
"You mean Dr. Debauched? I've got to find a better class of professor if I'm going to continue to be a research assistant."
Jackie just nodded knowingly. Even though she was not a succubus, she still spent time at Calaca E., the night club where Lilith, the succubus that created her, worked. Many was the time that she had seen DeBauck there trying to pick up another one of his infamous "one night stands."
"I know he's a genius and seems to know just about everything about everything, but he's still a creep. How did you end up having him for an advisor anyway?"
"Bad luck I guess. He actually selected me. He said he had a minor in chemical engineering and thought we'd have a lot in common to talk about." Frank rubbed his stubble covered chin. "Funny thing is, I don't think we ever did discuss anything related to chemistry. Now he's got me doing busy work, doing a cost analysis of the project he's just completing down by the lake," Frank righted his chair and sat down. Jackie immediately sat on his lap and squirmed enticingly, reminding Frank of exactly how well his ex-best friend had adapted to being female, albeit any female she wished to be.
"The one Dr. Long is still steamed about?" Dr. Long was a full professor in the Humanities Department and Jackie's advisor. In the last few months it was the exceptional advisory meeting when he failed to make several angry comments about the house being built by DeBauck that blocked his view of the lake.
"Yup. That's the one. There's something wrong with the figures. It looks like it's costing about twenty percent more than it should."
"Well, given Debauched's reputation, maybe he's skimming money off the top on the project."
"I don't think so. If he is, it's through a dummy company or something. The bills seem to match the charges. What I don't understand is why so much concrete was needed. It's almost twice the amount that should have been needed."
"Don' axe me. I'm a Humanities major. I don' know none o' that there high falutin' stuff." Jackie gave it her best imitation of a country bumpkin.
"Right, my bare foot and pregnant wife."
"Who's pregnant?" she responded, although she did wiggle here bare toes in admission that he was at least partially correct.
"Aren't you the one who has always helped me complete my architecture projects and checked my math?" Frank continued as if she had not spoken. "Aren't you the one who reads all those mystery novels?"
"Aren't I the one who's going to kick you if you don't stop tickling me?" The only possible response was to adjourn to the bedroom, at least for a while.
"Open up. Open up now!" Jackie groggily rolled out of bed to the sounds of loud, persistent knocking and glanced at the bedside alarm clock; seven eleven in the morning. Next she checked the bed for Frank's blanketed from and thought, "At least Frank is safe at home. I wonder what time he got home last night."
A moment's concentration and she was magically dressed and ready to meet whomever was at the door. As soon as she unlocked the door two large men in cheap suits pushed into the apartment flashing badges.
"Is Frank Ahtram here?" They began suspiciously examining the room. The one in the brown suit walked over to the kitchen table, still covered with Frank's project material, and began noising about.
"Who wants to know?"
"Don't get wise lady," The one in the grey suit snapped. "We have a warrant."
"Then you'll show it to me, along with your badges again, so I can really read them." Jackie stood her ground and grey suit was surprised to be unable to push past her. Putting as much authority in her voice as she could she demanded, "And get away from that table now."
Brown suit jumped and actually stopped poking at the papers on the table for a moment. Grey suit shrugged and presented the requested items as he rumbled, "You a lawyer or something?"
"Nope. Just a citizen exercising her constitutional rights. You remember them, don't you?" Jackie examined the badge first and then started on the papers. "Hey, I said leave the stuff on the table alone."
"Read the warrant lady." Brown suit continued flipping through the material on the table. "I'm just doin' my job. Send your complaints to Internal Affairs."
"Are you done reading yet?" Grey suit was again trying to push past her. "I asked you if Frank Ahtram was here."
"Yeah, he's here." Instantly, guns were out and pointing at the man standing by the bedroom door with a softball sized contusion on the right side of his forehead. A bleary eyed Frank was instantly wide awake with his hand in the air.
"Frank Ahtram, you are under arrest for the murder of Sylvester DeBaulk." Jackie watched in shock as the two detectives read Frank his rights, waited while he dressed and put some antibiotic on the blood still slowly seeping from the wound.
Frank's final words as they escorted him away were, "Call my Uncle Hank. He's a sergeant at the thirteenth precinct."
"May I please speak to Sergeant Ahtram?" Jackie's voice quaivered as she tried to hold in her tension and worry.
"Hello Jackie. How are you?"
"Huh? You know me?"
"I was at the wedding."
Jackie fought back the tears that had been threatening to overwhelm her since her arrival at the station house and thought furiously. "For about five minutes before your pager went off. All I remember seeing was your back as you headed for a telephone."
"Ah, I see we remember each other." He leaned back in his chair and looked at her at last. Jackie felt she was under a microscope, but then he blinked and it was as if the examination was over and he was looking at a friend. "Before you ask, I've got a photographic memory. It helps in my line of work."
The chair moved back to an upright position. "From the way you're wringing your hands, I doubt this is a social call. Have a seat and tell me what's wrong."
Jackie sat, but said nothing. Hank watched her lower lip trembling and reached into a drawer to pull out a box of tissues and gave her an encouraging smile. This was the final straw and the dam broke. Through sobs Jackie explained how Frank had been arrested and how he had asked her to contact him.
He listened quietly without saying a word until she had wound down. "Before you get your hopes up, I need to tell you that this is not my case," Hank gestured at the pile of folders threatening to topple off the corner of his desk, "and I have more than enough of my own."
He raised a hand to stop Jackie before she interrupted him. "Let me finish dear. I can, however, tell you that the detectives who have the case are Hamilton Handelson and his partner Cecil Parmenter."
"I met them," she blurted out before he could stop her.
"I'm sure you did. Now let me finish dear." He waited patiently as Jackie bit her lip, but nodded acquiescence.
"You probably did. Handelson is a big hulk of a man, favors grey suits?" Jackie nodded. "And Parmenter isn't much shorter, but can't stop poking about and favors brown." Jackie nodded again.
"Not very bright, and not likely to dig once they've made an arrest. I've talked to Handelson, off the record, of course. They've got motive and opportunity, but they're weak on method. Frank is in trouble, but it's not an open and shut case.
"The motive is embezzlement. They found the books in your house and they don't match the books at the site."
"But Frank was going over them complaining that they didn't make sense. That's why they were there. DeBaulk had asked him to check them."
"A fact which no one else knew about and Frank cannot prove given DeBaulk's death."
"But..." Hank gently placed one of his huge hands over hers to stop her.
"As his wife, you're not going to be considered a credible witness. Anyway, the opportunity was when they were together at the construction site. Handelson and his partner found blood stains there and it matches Frank's type. DNA testing won't be done unless your lawyer insists on it and you pay for it."
"But..." Again he gently hushed her.
"Let me get the good news out. Like I said, they're weak on method. They had to do dental comparisons to confirm DeBaulk's identity. There wasn't much left but bone and ash. The problem is that Frank's minor is chemical engineering and they figure he had the knowledge to pull it off. They're expecting Forensics to come up with a method that they'll have no trouble proving Frank was aware of and had access to equipment to accomplish."
"But Frank couldn't have done it. He just couldn't have."
"Nor do I believe he did it. I've known Frank from the day he was born and I need to be a fairly good judge of character in my job." Hank sighed with a sound like a steam locomotive releasing pressure. "Let me lay it out straight for you. I can't interfere and I can't ask a lot of questions. Similarly, I can't investigate on my own without being investigated myself by Internal Affairs. Do you have any money saved up?"
Jackie shook her head.
"Too bad. I can lend you some, but Sarah, Frank's Aunt, has been ill and the doctor bills have been a real drain. Can you get a couple of thousand dollars from a friend?"
"No sir, I'm an orphan. The only people we're close to are George Dombrowski and his fiancee Julie... and they've got most of their money invested in their wedding in two months."
"I was afraid you'd say that. Credit cards? Stocks? Bonds? Annuities? Property? Inheritances?" Jackie just kept shaking her head no, looking more and more solemn and woebegone as he spoke.
"Then my best advise is useless. The idea that cops have this cozy relationship with private detectives and can get them to help for nothing is a myth to say the least." Another huge sigh. "I'll see if I can scrounge up some money and get a private detective on the case. I know a few that are pretty good, but you're going to have to help, a lot, or Frank may be spending quite a few years in jail."
"Save the money. I'm afraid we'll need it more for the lawyer, unless you're foolish enough to use an overworked and underpaid public defender. If I do the grunt work, will you tell me what to do to investigate this myself?"
"Girl, that's crazy. You know what they say about a man who acts as his own lawyer. It applies double to investigatory work."
"It's not going to get done any other way. Will you?"
"Jackie, please don't do this."
Yet another sigh, longer than the others. "Yes my dear. I'll help you."
"Oh, thank you. Thank you Uncle Hank." Jackie threw herself at the older man and hugged him mightily.
"Whoa. That's some hug you've got for a little slip of a girl," Hank laughed as he carefully disengaged. "Come by my house this evening and we'll do what we can."