|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 Nine: Ignition
|For every time She shouted 'Fire!'
They only answered 'Little Liar!'
And therefore when her Aunt returned,
Matilda, and the House, were Burned.
-- Hilaire Belloc
"Be quiet and don't turn on your flashlight until I tell you." Sergeant Athram slipped out of his car and into the passenger seat of Jackie's. Jackie had just pulled to the curb behind his car. They were both parked a block from the house where DeBaulk had died and well away from any street lights. "It's not quite dark enough yet. While we're waiting, let me finish bringing you up to date on what I found out.
Seeing the expression of hope on Jackie's face even in the dim twilight he quickly raised a hand. "Before you get too excited, I don't have much."
"Sorry. I couldn't help myself." The hopeful tone in her voice belied her words.
"I understand, but you must understand. This isn't one of your mystery novels and we don't have a Hercule Poroit or an Ellery Queen to take a dozen obtuse clues and wrap them up in a solution in the last chapter. We've got you and me to dig and dig and hope for a break." Hank realized he was lecturing and stuttered uncomfortably before continuing.
"I saw the autopsy. The dental work was inconclusive, there were no bone breaks or fractures in DeBaulk's record, or the 'corpse's,' to use for an identification, and you can't do reliable DNA sampling from ash so the identification comes from the personal items found in the remains. DeBaulk had this huge ugly ring with some mystical creature on it; half man half goat."
" A satyr."
"A male wood nymph," Jackie explained. "It's usually depicted with these wooden pan pipes like that guy Zamfir plays on the late night music commercials. They were the original party animals and were known to be extremely sexually active. Some scholars even wondered if they were a divergent form of incubus."
Well, that's more than I probably ever wanted to know about satyrs," Hank responded ruefully. "Anyway, it's not a conclusive identification, but it's good enough that it will probably stand up in court unless DeBaulk magically shows up."
"Boy that would be nice Uncle Hank, but I guess we can probably rule out him being so obliging. Heck, even if he were alive, the bastard probably wouldn't assist in his own mother's defense... if he had a mother."
"Whoa girl. Whatever happens, you can't let your emotions get in the way of good police work. It's a sure way to mess up a case."
"But this isn't just any case. It's Frank."
"I know," he sighed and they sat there silently for a while before Hank cleared his throat and continued. "Anyway, DeBaulk always seemed to have plenty of money, but I couldn't tell how much as all his accounts are offshore.
"In other news, for someone who was as universally disliked as him, I'm having real difficulty finding anyone who he'd screwed over."
"But there must be dozens, maybe even hundreds..."
"You didn't let me finish. I found a bunch of people he'd cheated, but very few still alive besides Frank and Dr. Long; and some of his marks were heavy hitters, people no one in their right mind would mess with. I guess he just had problems keeping friends."
"What happened to them?"
"That's a bit peculiar. It seems almost all of them were involved in fires. One died when his house burned down in a lightning storm. One died when a tanker truck crashed into this car and exploded. One fell in a vat of bleach at a chemical plant although they never figured out what he was doing there in the first place. One committed suicide rather than go to jail for embezzlement by dousing himself with barbecue starter fluid in the bottom of his empty pool and having a smoke. I think you get the idea." Jackie nodded.
"The other funny thing is even his dog is missing."
"Yup. Some really ugly mixed breed. Say, that gives me an idea." Hank glanced at the dashboard clock and swung open his door. "We'd better get going, but tomorrow I'll check out some vets, kennels, and pet transport companies. It's a long shot, but maybe I'll turn up a long lost relative that killed him for his money."
The ground sloped gently down toward the house, and then beyond to the lake. Luckily there was no moon, so they would be hard to see, but it also made it harder to walk and so they walked very slowly, feeling the path before them prior to each step. Finally, they were at the house, or what there was of it.
"Go under the barrier." Hank bent at the waist and slipped under the length of plastic tape before holding it up for Jackie.
"Keep your flashlight aimed at the ground. We don't want anyone to know we're here," Hank whispered. Jackie nodded and followed him up the steps to the front door.
Jackie furrowed her brow and squinted about her as if to see something just at the edge of sight. "Something doesn't feel right."
"Yea, crime scenes are always that way. You never quite get used to it, that feeling of wrongness. This one feels wronger than most for some reason."
His comment made Jackie briefly wonder if the police detective might not have some supernatural talent. She clearly knew why she was uncomfortable, the entire area was glowing with the dark aura of evil magic. With growing trepidation she followed Hank around the side of the partially completed structure to the back door. There was a foundation and first floor, but the second floor and above was just framing. It looked like the living room was going to be a solid wall of windows and skylights facing out toward the lake and the moon.
"Shine your flashlight here." Jackie shone her flashlight at the door knob while Hank pulled out a key ring and sorted through it. "Master keys. Not supposed to have these, but all detectives get them, just like a second gun." Seconds later they were inside.
"Use your flashlight just long enough to survey each room. Always point it downward and don't touch anything. If you see anything, and I mean anything, unusual don't move, just call me. You don't know how to preserve evidence and you could end up destroying the evidence needed to prove Frank's innocence." Jackie wasn't going to tell him, but it seemed that everything in the house was lit by the glowing darkness she'd seen from the yard. A flashlight was going to be superfluous.
While Hank was slowly and methodically examining every inch of every room Jackie turned off her flashlight and closed her eyes as she tried to determine where, if anywhere, the source of the darkness. The glow of darkness was so bright it was hard to distinguish any differences, but slowly, gradually, as if her senses were adapting, she began to get a feeling, a impression if greater darkness in the basement that seemed to be the primary source, but there was other source of magic and it was outside; much smaller, it seemed to move about, and it was an orange red.
"Jackie. Come here, but watch out for that pile of wood." He didn't look up from his position kneeling by the fireplace as she a approached. "What do you make of this?"
"It's a fireplace with singe marks on the stone." He nodded, silent and unmoving; waiting for her to continue. "But this is a new building. Not even; it's still under construction. Would the construction workers have used it to burn rubbish or something? It doesn't seem likely."
"Not if they wanted to avoid getting docked pay to cover the cost of cleaning it." Hank quickly flashed the light around the room. "We need to check the rest of the place, but there's no sign of anyone squatting here or of entry damage that would suggest vandalism."
"Ah, Hank? I think I should tell you that there's something moving about outside the house." There was a gun in his hand before she could blink as he moved into a crouch against the wall after pushing her behind him.
"Hank. Relax. It's not human and it doesn't seem to want to come in." The man continued scanning the yard from the edge of the open window frame, searching for whatever Jackie had seen move.
"Wha..?" Her words finally sunk in. "What do you mean, not human?"
"It's a dog or something silly," but the levity in her voice was strained. Dogs didn't usually have auras. "Let's check the basement."
There was only a construction ladder built of two by fours and Hank insisted on going down first to check the area out and make sure it would be safe. While she waited, Jackie tried to get a better look at whatever was lurking outside. It was clearly magical in origin, but it kept just far enough away to make a good view impossible.
"Come on down if you must, but the stench is going to be really bad."
"Be right there." As her head moved below the level of the floor joists it hit her, a cloying, sweat smell, like roasted pork and charcoal. "What is that smell?"
"Ask me after we've left and I'll tell you." The detective was kneeling beside a dark stain on the concrete floor, staring at it intently. Hank reached out and gently rubbed a finger against the stain. A fine powder came away on his finger and there was a line in the powder where his finger had been.
"I have a friend who investigates fire scenes and we like to compare notes over a beer every now and then. You never know when some piece of information will be useful.
"Anyway, I don't know everything he does, but I've never heard of something that could burn hot enough to cause cement to powder. Have you? It would have to be something hot, very hot."
"Somewhere between 1610° and 2230°C, but heat alone wouldn't do it."
"Huh?" he looked up at her confused.
"What? You think a girl wouldn't know facts like that?"
"No. I don't expect anyone to have facts like that at their fingertips unless they were in the profession or were a trivia buff like me."
"Oh." Mollified and a bit chagrined, Jackie explained. "I used to help Frank study for his exams. I guess some of it stuck." Hank looked a bit dubious.
"My bigger concern is that heat alone would not have turned cement, which is mostly sand, into powder. There's something else going on here."
"I think you're right, " he stood. "Unless there's something else you want to see, I think we should get out of here."
"I'll call Daren Fuego tomorrow." Hank had his head by the rolled down window of Jackie's car. "He's the fire investigator I was talking about."
"Bye Uncle Jack. Oh, and I think I can guess what the odor was." She touched the back of her hand to her lips and grimaced fetchingly. "I'm going to sit here a few moments more."
"Are you going to be able to get home okay?"
"Yes thank you, Uncle Hank." Jackie smiled at the old fashioned concern in his voice and wondered what he would think if he knew what she really was.
Jackie waited until he'd gotten into his car and driven away before hurrying back to the partially built house. Eschewing the door, she passed through the wall and squatted demurely before the fireplace.
"Come out, come out, where ever you are." She could feel the presence. It was close, but it was hesitant. She needed something to entice it to come to her, something to make it feel safe and comfortable -- comfortable.
"Of course." Jackie ran to the fireplace and tossed in a bunch of wood, then searched about for something to use as tinder but the room was bare. In fact, the whole house was bare, except for the wood.
"Gotta start a fire." Yanking off her blouse she stuffed it under the wood and dug a match out of her purse.
Soon there was a roaring fire and Jackie could feel the presence moving closer and closer. Then suddenly there was something else in the fire, something alive, something looking at her from the heart of the fire. "Zzz-ang-oo. Vvv-uzzz cold."
It took her a moment to figure out that whatever was in the fire had just thanked her and told her it was cold. "You're welcome, but what are you?"
"Sss... Sal... Oh, a salamander. What are you doing here?"
"Vvv-ate vvv-or Mazzz-der."
"Wait for Master? Who's your Master?"
"Vvv? Oh, phoenix. There's a phoenix around here? Damn, this town is getting too crowded with mystical creatures."