|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 Ten: Flame
|A condition of complete simplicity
(Costing not less than everything)
And all shall be well and
all manner of thing shall be well
When the tongues of flame are in-folded
Into the crowned knot of fire
-- T. S. Eliot
"I saw Frank this afternoon. He's hanging tough, but he looks gaunt." Jackie threw herself onto the Athram's couch, frustration clear in her every word and action.
"There, there dear. Everything will be all right." Sarah's arm was around Jackie hugging her, holding her. "Hank will help you. Won't you, Hank?"
"I do the best I can." Hank cleared the assorted knickknacks off the coffee table and spread out a bunch of papers for a thick folder. "This is what I got so far. Lets start with the autopsy.
"The autopsy is a bit weak, but then there wasn't a lot left besides bone and ash for the coroner's to work with. Additionally, DeBaulk had no broken bones or fillings, a disgustingly healthy corpse. The determination of identity was based primarily on the discovery of an heirloom ring amongst the ashes, the location of the body at the construction site, and the chronology that placed DeBaulk there about the time of the murder."
"So they can't really prove it's DeBaulk?" The smoldering hope in her eyes belied the calmness of her words.
"Forensics rarely proves anything. That's why they still have cops. A good lawyer could play with it, but in the end, the autopsy is unlikely to be a deciding factor. Motive, opportunity, and means are the real issues so lets move on the them. Did your friend check on the two sets of books?"
"Yes, but it's not that helpful. The books weren't 'cooked' as he called it. The problem seems to be the purchase of more concrete than the house should have needed or has. He thinks someone got a kickback, but if it went to DeBaulk, he couldn't find it without comparing the books of the excavating company."
"Difficult, but not impossible. I'll start the paperwork tomorrow, but you'll have to submit it to a judge and get him to authorize a subpoena. Then comes the fun part as the excavating company has it's attorneys file show cause orders ad nauseam."
"My god, is this what you go through every day?"
"Yup. Fun ain't it?" Hank responded ruefully before continuing. "Considering what an unlikable person DeBaulk was, it's quite amazing how few people there are who would want him dead. Most of them are dead instead."
"In the short time I spent checking out DeBaulk's acquaintances I found twelve dead people. The interesting thing is that all the deaths were somehow related to fire. The folks I talk to tell me he has a 'bad rep' and no one, even on the fringe, is willing to work with or for him. He's damn close to a pariah in this town."
"That's got to mean enemies. Doesn't it?"
"No. It means he didn't have any enemies. You can't have enemies if people won't do business with you. Hell," Hank snorted, "he couldn't borrow a cigarette from a bum. No one would do business with him, above or below board. Even his credit cards had been revoked."
"So who did he have as enemies?"
"Well, unfortunately, it's a very small list and Frank is still on the list, high on the list. He had motive, DeBaulk was making his life hell and everyone knew it. He had opportunity, he admits he saw DeBaulk at the construction site that night. He had means, there was an oxyacetylene torch at the site."
"Great." Jackie was almost in tears and Sarah gave her a gentle pat on the knee. Startled, she looked up into the older woman's eyes and saw the love and concern. The tears stopped stillborn and a tentative smile appeared in their place. They hugged.
At last Jackie was ready to continue. "So who else do we have?"
"We have Dr. Long. He had motive, what with DeBaulk being responsible for the university not agreeing to the expansion of the Humanities Department and the home construction. He had opportunity being at home and alone at the time of the death. But means is a bit weak, unless he used the mystical arts," Hank laughed sheepishly.
"There must be someone else. Isn't there?"
"No." A deep sigh. "Not that I can find. I can't even find the guy the house was being built for."
Do you have a name?"
"Sure." Hank flipped through his papers. "Here it is. Ignátio Fénix. Funny thing is, he doesn't seem to care about the construction delay this investigation is causing. He hasn't answered any of the messages Handelson's left."
"Could he be a suspect?"
"I don't think so. The guy lives somewhere in Mexico. There's no evidence that he's ever been in this area so opportunity is out. As to motive, why do something to delay the construction of your dream house?"
"He's never been in this area? Then how could this be his dream house?"
"Who knows? The guy apparently has enough money that he can afford several houses."
Jackie sat very still, concentrating as hard as she could. Something didn't make sense, but she couldn't put her finger on it. Well, tonight would be the full moon and that would help her powers, maybe it would help her think too. "I think I need to go home now."
"Don't worry dear, something will come up. I have total confidence in Frank's innocence."
"Thank you Aunt Sarah. I'd better go now." Jackie nearly tripped over her feet in her rush to leave before the tears started again.
"Why am I here? Why am I here?" Jackie kept mumbling as if by repetition it would become a mantra to relax her and keep her safe as she squatted by the still incomplete home's fireplace. She had just started a roaring fire in hopes of luring back the salamander so she'd have someone to talk to while she waited.
It would have been easier if she knew what she was waiting for, but she didn't. There was just that gnawing feeling that the answer to her problems was here if she could just figure out what it was.
"Zzz-ang-oo. Vvv-uzzz cold. Zzz-ooo cold."
"How's it going? Still waiting for the master?"
"Any idea when he'll come?"
"You don't sound very sure of yourself."
"Not zzz-ure. Hhh-ope."
"You know, it doesn't sound like your master is a very nice person."
"Not pur-zzzon. Vvv-nix. Vvv-nix izzz vvv-nix."
"Well, it sounds like your phoenix isn't very nice."
Jackie thought for a moment. "Tell you what. If this phoenix doesn't come back, you can live with us. We have a fireplace you can use."
"Zzz-ang-oo. Be nnn-ew mazzz-der?"
"How touching." Jackie jumped and turned to see a tall man standing in the shadows by the door. "We'll deal with your treachery later, salamander."
Two quick steps and the man was standing over Jackie. "It... it's you," she got out before a fist came out of nowhere and caught her on the chin. She was unconscious before she struck the ground.
The room was about twelve feet by twelve feet and solid concrete. Even the roof was concrete. What was more unusual was the absence of any doors or windows. What was even more unusual, although Jackie found herself ruefully admitting that it was fast becoming commonplace, were the black candles surrounding the elaborately drawn pentagram. In one corner, seemingly shivering from the cool air, was the salamander, and in the middle of the pentagram was her captor.
"Wh... where am I?"
"Where I want you, in the room I had built beneath my house."
"Not a great conversationalist, are you? Yes, this is my house." Some powder was sprinkled onto the floor inside the pentagram and it flared up brightly for a moment, clearly showing the face of the man standing in the center of the room.
"You're Ignátio Fénix?"
"At your service, sweet thing."
"But you're Sylvester DeBaulk. And you're alive."
"Right on both counts. It's a shame I cannot keep you for later."
"What's that supposed to mean?"
"Is it possible I've overestimated your intelligence? Do you expect me to spell it out for you?" he sneered. "Oh, what the hell. I've got time to kill. Where would you like me to start?"
Jackie slowly sat up and tucked her legs under her. Thinking a few moments before speaking, she asked, "Why Frank?"
"Tsk. Tsk. And I thought you would ask what I was doing first. Oh well. The answer is 'Why not?'"
"That's it? 'Why not?' You set up your research assistant for your own murder and the reason is 'why not?'"
"Would you prefer something deeper?" Jackie was getting really tired of the sneer. "He was available and easily manipulated. What more reason should I need? You humans are so weak and unworthy."
Jackie noticed that he had described her as human. She knew her mystic aura was less when she was not tapping into her magic, but he should still have been able to see it, just as she could see his. Whatever the weakness, Jackie knew that she would need to take advantage of it if she could.
"What do you hope to gain here?" Jackie gestured to the pentagram.
"Ah, now that's what I expected to be your first question although it should be obvious." He tsked at her blank look and continued. "I'm about to be reborn."
"But how's that possible?"
"I," you could see him preening as he spoke, "am a phoenix, an immortal being that is reborn every millennium."
"Sure, and I'm a succubus turned cupid."
"You disbelieve? You doubt my supernatural nature? Then see me in my true glory." With that he shimmered and something else stood before her. It was still DeBaulk, but it was something else also. It had the hoofed legs and pelt of a goat and two small horns on the head. The hair on its head looked the same as that on the legs and the ears were pointed.
"You're a satyr?" Jackie was careful to sound disbelieving.
The already ruddy skin turned a deeper purplish red and the perpetual sneer became a snarl. "I am a phoenix! Do you hear me? A phoenix, not some common wood nymph! How dare you suggest anything to the contrary!?"
His rage was beginning to dissipate a bit. " I should destroy you for such blasphemy." His face became calculating and an evil smile replaced the snarl. "But no, I must not forget. I have a special fate in store for you. "You will be the thirteenth. The last needed for my ascension."
"Thirteenth? The thirteenth what? Corpse?"
"Ah, there is a glimmer of a brain in that pathetic human head of yours. The thirteenth sacrifice."
"Of course, the twelve people who died by fire," Jackie blurted out. Then her eyes grew wide as she realized that she might have given herself away as knowing things that she should not have known, things that might show her to be more than just a human to be sacrificed.
"What do you know of them?" He was instantly wary.
"I... ah, nothing. I'm in the Humanities Department." She ignored his derisive snort as she frantically searched for an explanation that he would believe. "I specialize in mythology. The phoenix was reborn each millennium from the ashes of its own funeral pyre. Actually, it's not exactly a millennium, but full moons approximately a thousand years apart.
"There is nothing specific that I've ever read about thirteen sacrifices as a precursor, but thirteen is a mystic number. I suppose there's a timing to the sacrifices?"
"Very good," he nodded. "At the rising of each moon of the last year of the millennium, which is almost upon us. Know that your death shall assist me in my ascendance."
"But wait, you don't have a funeral pyre."
"Of course I do, that's what salamander here is for. But enough idle chatter. It is time." With a wave of dismissal he turned to the salamander.
"I know you're hungry. There's your food." He pointed to Jackie.