It started to drizzle on the way home. Talk about a day to take away holiday cheer, but Babet meant to finish putting out Christmas decorations. Damn it, it was only late afternoon, and it was already gray and dreary. She turned on Adele’s latest CD and let the music lift her spirits. She dug through the big cupboard in the laundry room and found the two wreathes for the front and kitchen door—magnolia leaves nestled with red apples and big, red bows. The wreathes looked good against the bungalow’s red doors.
She dragged their seven-foot, pre-lit tree out of the spare closet and put it in the corner of the living room. She’d never removed the decorations, so it was ready to go. When she glanced at the clock, she realized she either had time to fix herself up or to cook something fun for the three men. She chose to cook. They’d already seen her with no makeup and her dark, curly hair pulled up in a messy topknot. Why try to impress them now? She went to the kitchen and made a bowl of ham salad with chopped deli ham, boiled eggs, celery, and mayo, among other things. Her Were had a thing for homemade ham salad on crackers. She tossed nuts in a pan with spices for more nibbles, then melted white chocolate and stirred in Rice Krispies and dried fruit to make a quick bark. By the time the men walked through the kitchen door, she had treats arranged on the counter top.
Morgana raised her head to greet them, but didn’t leave her spot next to the heat vent. The furnace had kicked on, and she was enjoying the warmth.
Prosper went straight for the ham salad, tossing an appreciative glance Babet’s way. “We didn’t stop for lunch when Damek called. This is great.”
Damek walked to the archway to look at the bungalow. “You’ve started to decorate. It looks nice.”
“I’m an amateur compared to Hennie.” Soon now, the incubi would be draping garlands around Hennie’s magic shop and the upstairs apartment they shared with Babet’s mom.
Hatchet tossed a handful of nuts in his mouth. As usual, his white shirt was pristine, his pants still perfectly pressed. Babet didn’t know how he did it, but he always looked impeccable. He mumbled, “Thanks. These are good.”
She brought them each a beer. “Did you learn anything?”
Damek nodded. “When we went to the last bar, the bartender knew Rory, told us he got lucky Saturday night. A woman who was a knock-out took the stool next to his at the bar and left with him. Ironic, huh? His luck didn’t last long. I hated to tell him that I found Rory’s body today.”
That had to come as a shock. “Did he give you a description of the woman?”
“Better.” Prosper held up a copy of a sketch. The woman had long, black hair; dark eyes; and an hour-glass figure. “He worked with one of our artists to create her image. We’re making it public and asking people to call us if they’ve seen her, that she’s wanted for questioning for a brutal crime and she might be dangerous.”
Babet was surprised. “You’re giving a lot away.”
He loaded ham salad on more crackers. “We don’t want another man to take her home. We want people to recognize her and run.”
“And then hopefully report her,” Hatchet added.
They were trying to warn off future, innocent victims. It would be great if it worked. “Any idea what she is?” Babet had thought about it, but wasn’t satisfied with any of her own guesses. She’d met werewolves, werebears like Prosper, and werecats. The woman had to be some kind of shifter, but not one that she knew about.
Damek shook his head. “I’ve met shadow demons that eat mortals from the inside out, shape-shifter demons, and fire demons, but none of my kind who kill like Rory was killed.”
Hatchet finished his beer. “I sent messages and the woman’s picture to every supernatural in River City, so they’ll know what’s happening.”
A good idea. Babet had already called her mom, the leader of River City’s coven. Vampires could watch for the woman during the night, witches during the day. Incubi kept whatever hours they wanted. But every supernatural would be searching for her. They all worked together to keep River City a safe place for mortals.
She and Hatchet reached for more nuts at the same time. “Did you warn Nadine and the voodoo settlement?”
Hatchet nodded. “Nadine’s already sent out her spirits to look for her.”
“And Prowl and the Weres?” Damek asked.
“I called Prowl.” Prosper had moved to eating the white chocolate bark. The man had a sweet tooth.
Babet went to pour herself a glass of wine. She was finished with Christmas decorating for the day. She hadn’t gotten to any of the table toppers or small stuff, but they could wait until tomorrow. “Sounds like we’ve done everything we can for now.”
Hatchet glanced at Prosper. Neither of them looked satisfied with that, but they’d accomplished as much as they could. He shook his head. “Doc called us with his initial report. All three men had been doused with acid, but it was stomach acid. And each of them had puncture marks at the base of their necks. At first, Doc thought of vampires, but then he found massive amounts of a poison in their systems.”
Babet shivered. What the hell? She glanced at Morgana. “A snake?” Boas swallowed their prey whole and their digestive acids dissolved them. “Maybe something like a cobra? Cobras spit poison at their prey’s eyes.”
Prosper scraped a hand through his soft brown hair, the same shade as his fur when he shifted into a giant Kodiak bear. “I’ve never heard of a weresnake, but that doesn’t mean one doesn’t exist.”
Damek tossed the last of his crackers in the trash . “If he was poisoned, was Rory dead before she started to eat him?”
Hatchet reached for more nuts, not meeting his eyes.
“Shit.” The incubus poured himself a glass of wine from Babet’s bottle. “He was only paralyzed, wasn’t he?”
“We’re just speculating.” Hatchet got himself another beer.
“How do we find a damned snake?” Damek pushed his hands deep in his trouser pockets and looked out the kitchen window at the courtyard with its twinkling lights. “The river runs through River City, and bayous are everywhere.”
Not everywhere, but there were plenty of them. Babet visited the voodoo women by the bayou often. “We should tell Nadine. Her spirits would notice a giant snake.”
Hatchet nodded, then they all looked at each other. “Can we protect ourselves from acid?” Hatchet asked. The Druid had lots of magicks, but could he call for winds fast enough to blow acid aside? If he was close enough, maybe his tattoos could stretch far enough to tie the snake’s mouth shut?
Prosper frowned. “My bear’s big enough, the acid could only hit parts of me, and as a Were, I heal fast, but it wouldn’t feel good for a while.”
Damek shrugged. “I’d have to toast her before she shot it. I can blast fire long enough to turn every inch of her crispy. You?” He turned to Babet.
“I can throw up a magic shield. Nothing gets past those, but Morgana would be in trouble. She has to bite something to poison it.”
Hatchet’s voice was firm. He turned to the snake. “You should sit this one out.”
Morgana stared at him, unblinking, and turned her head—a no.
Babet would have to be sneaky. She had no desire to risk her familiar in a battle she couldn’t win.
Damek drained his wine glass and sighed. “I’m ready to go home. Hennie’s probably wondering what’s keeping me.” The incubus had taken one look at the dowdy witch and begun a campaign to win her. He saw the beauty she’d hidden on purpose. Now, Hennie’s happiness and magic made her glow.
Hatchet nodded. “I’ll drive you to your car at Rory’s, then I’ll head home, too. Colleen’s probably waking up by now. It’s early, but it’s dark.” He loved spending time with his vampire wife. It was mutual.
Prosper came to wrap an arm around Babet’s shoulders as they waved them off. Then he pulled her close. “This has been a crap day, but you still made the house Christmassy. I could go for a movie and some popcorn. You in?”
They rented the new version of Ghost Busters with a female cast as the leads. The ghosts were supernaturals they could laugh about. And they needed a laugh tonight.