We called Syn and Gray when we were close to Muddy River.
“Syn took me to Ruby’s for lunch,” Gray admitted. “I might have something light for supper.”
“We forgot lunch,” Brown said. “We’re going to eat anything that’s not nailed down.”
I could hear his father chuckle over the phone. “I’ll warn Derek to hide any peanuts or popcorn he has out to snack on.”
“Not fair! See you soon.”
Raven didn’t slow down until we reached the town limits, and then he drove straight to the bar and parked as close to the door as he could get.
When we walked inside, Derek looked up and pushed a huge bowl of popcorn on a nearby table for us. “The usual drinks?”
“Take our orders, too,” I said, grabbing for the popcorn as I sat.
He gave a whistle, and Cordelia’s husband stepped out of the tiny kitchen. “Hey, Speedy, feed this witch before she gnaws on any of my customers.”
Speedy came to lean against the bar. Five-ten and lanky, he wasn’t classically handsome, but he had dimples deep enough to trap an unsuspecting female. Cordelia had fallen for them when he first came to Muddy River. Their son favored him, while their daughter favored her. “What’s your poison?” he asked us.
“A hamburger with the works and fries for me.” I rarely ordered the works. I couldn’t eat that much—sautéed mushrooms, bacon slices, onion rings, lettuce, tomato, and mayo all piled on half a pound of ground chuck. But tonight, I’d probably finish it and all my fries.
The guys both ordered double cheeseburgers and onion rings. And Meda went for a breaded pork tenderloin sandwich. With a grin, Speedy gave us a salute and disappeared back into the kitchen. Derek brought beer and wine.
He sat down to hear about our progress. We were halfway through the story when Syn came in with Gray.
Gray sat quietly while Brown finished telling about the incubus and the three people he’d drained. Then he narrowed his eyes. “I ran into something like that out east a year ago. No one caught the culprit before I left to wander more.”
We were still talking about it and how Raven wanted to track the people who’d hired him when Speedy came out of the kitchen with our orders. He listened while he served our food, then cocked his head. “I knew an incubus once who was an enforcer. A long time ago. He tracked criminals until he found them. But while he was out of town on a case, some shifter killed his wife. He always thought she’d be safe since she was half succubus, half sorceress, but come to find out, she’d been sleeping with the guy, and when they’d finished having fun and she told him this was their last time, he ripped out her throat.”
We all stared.
“What happened then?” Raven asked.
“He hated supernaturals and went to live with mortals. He found out they were no saints either, so he decided to go rogue and do what was best for him.”
Raven rubbed his chin. “Do you think he could be our guy?”
“Could be. I sure hope not. The last I heard of him, he’d hooked up with some warlock.”
Brown could hardly contain his excitement. “We killed a warlock who was his partner. Do you remember a name?”
Speedy strained to remember. “Cane. Cane Bussey.”
I put down my burger. I should slow down on the eating anyway. The burger was juicy, and my fingers were a mess. “We found a business card for their P.I. agency—the C & M Agency. The warlock we killed was named Magus.”
Speedy pressed his lips together and looked a little sad. “Wish it wasn’t my old friend. In his day, he was one of the best enforcers around. Really dedicated to finding justice.”
I could hear how much our news bothered him. “I’m sorry,” I said.
He grimaced. “Life can give you hard knocks, but that doesn’t mean you should go rogue. Most of us here has some kind of crap in our past, and we didn’t turn into mercenaries.”
I thought about the business card again. “At the bottom of the card was their company’s slogan. Good Guys Finish Last.”
Speedy sighed. “He turned bitter. That never does anyone any good.”
Syn had been content listening to us, but now she spoke. “I wanted to be surly and angry about Yenene’s death until I heard how many times Belladonna’s coven had cursed poor Sandris. And even then, she didn’t mean to hurt them. She just wanted to curse them back so they’d stop. What good would it have done if I let myself hate her? If I wanted revenge?”
Gray looked at her with admiration. “Same thing for me. It wasn’t Lucille’s fault I couldn’t live in her small town. When we finally parted ways, I wanted her to be happy. We both wanted the best for each other.”
Their gazes locked. Again. It was starting to become a habit. One that made me hopeful.
Silver Loper and Slinky stepped through the door and sat at a table. They waved a greeting.
Speedy grinned. “When those two come in this early, they want supper. I’d better get back in the kitchen.”
Derek stood. “And I’d better take their order.”
Raven finally bit into his double burger, and sauce dripped down his chin. He swiped it off with his napkin and dug in. Brown licked his lips and followed suit. So did Meda. We didn’t talk again until our sandwiches were gone.
Picking up an onion ring, Brown waved it at us. “You know, we have a name now, but we still have no idea where to find this Cane.”
“We’re making progress,” Raven told him. “One baby step at a time.”
That’s what it felt like. Baby steps. We had a long way to go.
We were still at our table, talking, when Marie’s aunt from the voodoo village walked into the bar. The room had filled up by then, and all conversation stopped as people turned and stared. No one in town wore long, flowing bright yellow dresses and matching turbans.
She looked around, saw us, and smiled. Before grabbing a chair to join us, she announced for everyone to hear, “I’m from the voodoo community across the river. Your enforcer and Hester came to help us protect our property and deliver my niece’s body to us. We think well of Muddy River.”
People raised their drinks in a salute and returned to what they were doing.
Meda and I scooted farther apart to make room for her. “Do you want a drink?” Raven asked. “Food?”
“I wouldn’t mind a beer.” Raven motioned to Derek, and she glanced around the table, studying each of us. She pointed at Meda. “Witch.”
She narrowed her eyes at Gray and Brown. “Werewolves.”
She frowned at Syn.
“A succubus,” Syn told her.
When Derek came with her beer, he gave a deep bow. “A vampire, at your service.”
She shook her head. “It must be interesting to live in a community with so many different kinds of magic. Our village only has one—voodoo. Are there more here?”
I ticked them off on my fingers. “Most of the Fae live on Amulet Avenue, the Druids live in their own community nearby, a Siren lives on the river—she needs to be near water, and then we have a banshee, a wood nymph, a griffin, and an enfield, plus combinations of all of them.”
She stared, and Derek chuckled at her. “And we all respect each other,” he said. “Raven makes sure of that, or he banishes us from the entire area.”
“And it works?” she asked.
“It’s wonderful,” I said.
More customers walked through the door and Derek went to take their orders. Marie’s aunt took a sip of her drink, then said, “I wanted to let you know that Marie’s spirit returned to us last night. She wanted to describe the incubus who killed her.”
The bar went suddenly quiet. People leaned closer to listen.
“Everyone here knows about the rogue hitman?” she asked.
“Good, there’ll be more eyes to look for him.” She spoke up to share her news with everyone. “He should be easy to spot. He’s taller than Drago with fiery red hair and a well-kept, red beard that comes to a point. Marie said he had piercing black eyes.”
Speedy had stepped from the kitchen, curious when the bar went still. He nodded at her description. “Yup, that’s Cane. Exactly as I remember him.”
Raven locked gazes with me. “That means he came himself to drain Marie. Probably to kill all of the hits on his list. He must take pride in completing a job.”
I agreed with him. “But that still doesn’t help us find out where he is.”
Raven tapped his fingers on the wooden table. “But we know one of the vampires from the bar near the voodoo settlement hired him. That should be our next place to go.”
Brown jumped into the conversation. “Not yet. Whoever hired him isn’t going to confess to it, and his partners won’t turn on him. I’ll come to your house tomorrow morning, and we can start searching through phone records and finances.”
Marie’s aunt finished her beer and rose to leave. “I need to drive home, but good luck with your search. When you find Marie’s killer, will you let me know?”
Raven nodded, and she left. I tried to stifle a yawn but couldn’t. “Let’s call it a night,” he said. “We can get a fresh start tomorrow.”
The other patrons were just warming up, but our table stood to head our separate ways.
“You coming with us, Dad?” Brown asked.
“We have plenty of room,” Meda told him. “And since Brown’s staying in town tomorrow, I’ll work in my barn. I need to make some weather vanes for this Saturday’s market.” She glanced at each of us. “Why don’t you all come to our house for supper tomorrow night? Gray will be tired of my company by then. You’re invited, too, Syn.”
When Syn looked surprised, Brown said, “We appreciate it that you donated your whole day to Dad.”
Syn raised her eyebrows and studied Gray’s lean build. “Maybe he can make that up to me.”
Gray blinked, taken aback.
She grinned. “I’m getting two big shipments for my shop tomorrow. They’re heavy. I could use someone strong to carry boxes.”
“You’re on. I’ll be there when your shop opens. I owe you.”
“And you’ll both come to supper?” Meda asked.
“I’ll drive Gray there,” Syn said. “Thank you.”
I had a lilt in my walk as I made my way to our SUV. The evening had ended on a pleasant note. On the drive home, though, I felt my energy fading. When I yawned a second time, Raven said, “It’s straight to bed tonight.”
Claws looked up, waiting for the rest of the statement.
Raven grinned at the cat in his rearview mirror. “And straight to sleep.”
My ocelot started purring.