One Less Warlock
Hatchet came for Babet at three in the morning. His nickname fit him. His head was wedge-shaped, and everything about him looked sharp and dangerous—a perfect man to work liaison between the supernaturals and the human enforcers.
She answered the door before he knocked. He’d wakened her when he called. His news made her hustle to be ready. No one would mourn Emile, and everyone would wonder who’d been smart enough to kill him. No one thought it possible. The warlock seemed indestructible.
“Who found him?” Babet asked, as she climbed into Hatchet’s squad car.
“His personal servant. Emile sent him out while he entertained a friend. He wasn’t to return until two.”
“Do you know who his visitor was?” Babet glanced at a group of partiers, clinging to each other to stay upright, on the sidewalk outside of one of River City’s bars. Emile lived in a nearby suburb, a rich, secluded area that guarded its privacy.
Hatchet shook his head. “He dismissed Simon before dinner was served and ordered him to stay away until two. We’ve knocked on neighbors’ doors, but no one saw anything.”
That didn’t surprise Babet. Emile’s friends wouldn’t make a public entrance. No, she amended herself. The warlock had no friends that she knew of. He threw lots of parties, but rarely entertained one-on-one. Whomever he’d summoned in the wee hours of the morning might have been dreading their meeting. Or else hoped to form a brief alliance with him—but always at a price.
Hatchet’s headlights caught a man and woman leaning against a building at an alley’s entrance, their bodies smashed so tightly against each other, Babet couldn’t tell where one ended and the other began. The man’s hands roamed the woman’s curves, then slid under her blouse. Risky, in River City, where vampires and succubi prowled bars looking for willing mortals. Rumor had it that Emile called and paid female mortals to pleasure him, not taking any chances that a supernatural might take advantage of him during a heated moment.
“I’ve heard that Emile always hired humans for sex. Does your department know which agency he called?”
“You’ve got to be kidding.” Lillith ran the biggest whore house in the entire area. She supplied whatever a person fancied—mortals, witches, Weres…you name it. But being a succubus herself, her specialty was her own kind. And she had plenty of takers. No money passed hands. For the price of a tiny bit of your life force, a person got a sex partner that left him drained in unimaginable ways when the door shut behind her. Or him, Babet reminded herself, if the call was for an incubus. “I thought Emile would be more discerning, more secretive.”
“Who’s more secretive than a succubus?” Hatchet passed the public park that separated the plebeians from the patricians in their town. “If you want a striped virgin, Lillith can send you one. She guarantees her product. Emile didn’t have to worry about halfbreeds when he used her.” The park behind them, Hatchet entered the ritzy section of town, and the houses changed immediately. No more bungalows or townhouses. Huge mansions towered skyward with small side yards and intimate back patios. Lush landscaping. Even the air smelled more refined.
Hatchet pulled into a driveway, pushed a button on the gatepost, and waited for the metal gates to swing open. Babet studied the three-story, narrow, yellow house. With its white trim, glossy black front door, and black, wrought iron bars on each window, it looked both cheerful and intimidating. It was more daunting inside, Babet knew. She’d been summoned here a few months ago. She hadn’t liked it, but she didn’t think it wise to refuse.
Emile had wanted to hire her. He was looking for a witch who proved elusive. Babet turned him down. He couldn’t argue with her reasoning. She was a witch. A lot of her friends practiced magic. If she worked for him, she’d be cut off—no more information, no one to call on for backup. She heard later that he hired a vampire. As far as she knew, the vamp was still looking.
Hatchet drove to the sidewalk that led to the front door and parked.
Babet looked at a group of men huddled on the stoop and frowned. “What’s the problem? Why is everyone outside?”
Hatchet gave his slim smile. “Didn’t I tell you? We can’t figure out how to get in.”
She stared in surprise. “I thought the servant came home.”
“He did. The door was locked. He doesn’t have a key. No one seems to.”
“Then how do you know Emile’s dead?”
“Look through the window.”
Babet stepped past the blooms that bordered the house to press her face against the glass. Emile lay on the floor in the living room, not moving, looking completely relaxed, except that his eyes were wide open and didn’t blink.
She turned to the men. “What am I supposed to do? How can I help you if I can’t get inside?”
A deep voice came from the shadows of the driveway as footsteps sauntered toward them. “You’re the best in the business, Babs. Use your tricks to open the doors.”
Babet cocked her head. No one else dared to call her Babs. The Were had some nerve. But then, she already knew that. He was looking especially good tonight, dressed in khakis and a black tee. He could make casual look drool-worthy. “I thought your department hired a witch for moments like these.”
“She came. She went. The doors are still locked.” Prosper grinned. “No one would lock you out, hon, not even Emile. I bet he had a special hex to make the door spring open to beckon you in.”
“Not likely. He didn’t like other peoples’ magic.”
“But I bet he appreciated the package it came in.” His eyes looked her up and down. Prosper had always been a sucker for shapely legs and long, dark hair.
Babet shrugged. “He invited me here once. I came to a party or two. His magic gave off certain vibes, but it will take me a while. At least an hour. And the only reason I can help you at all is because his power’s gone. The magic is already fading.”
Prosper’s eyebrows rose. He hadn’t thought of that. But every witch knew it took energy to keep up shields. Emile’s energy was stronger than most witches’, but it wasn’t infinite. When he died, the shield did too. That didn’t mean there weren’t curses and spells that needed attention.
Babet shooed the men to the back of the house and slipped out of her shoes. She planted her feet firmly on the lawn, bonding with the earth. She inhaled deeply and felt the energy rush into her. She raised her hands and scanned the air for whiffs of Emile’s magic. Lights shimmered to life, and she studied the chants and spells that were etched in them. They were intermingled and entwined, a complex concoction of power. She began humming counter spells of her own, starting with the smallest and working her way to the most potent.
Prosper came to check on her, saw the sweat dewing on her forehead, saw her arms quiver with fatigue, and left her alone. Once she removed the spells, she removed the hexes. And only then did she call Prosper and tell him to try the key.
He raised a brow and looked at her. “Are you sure?”
“Hell, no. Emile’s the most powerful warlock I’ve met. But I don’t feel any more magic. Maybe it’s gone.”
Babet ran a hand through the strands of dark hair that clung to her face, pushing them behind her ears. Working magic was hot work. “I’m not turning the key,” she told him.
A growl rumbled in his chest, but he inserted the key and turned the lock. Then he stepped back. The door creaked open. No sparks shot out at them. No dragon charged from the kitchen.
Prosper locked eyes with her. Brown eyes, like hers, only his looked like melted chocolate. His skin was the color of bronze. She wasn’t sure what his nationality was, but it was all things good.
She asked, completely out of context for the moment, “Are you Italian?”
His mouth quirked at one corner. “A little.”
“A little Creole, a little mulatto, a dash of this, a splash of that.”
“I wish I had that recipe.”
He laughed. “If I’m still around after I step inside this house, I’ll share it with you.”
“Lucky me.” She would be too. He’d shared before, and it was memorable.
They both held their breaths as he stepped over the door’s threshold. He started across the floor, was still in one piece, and called for the others to follow him inside.
Babet took that as an invitation to join them. She circled Emile’s body with Hatchet and four other cops, studying it. There was nothing to see.
Prosper nodded and the team went to work. Pictures. Evidence bags. When they finished, an older man stooped and turned Emile over. Must be the medical examiner, Babet decided. But they didn’t need an expert to see that something sharp had been rammed into Emile’s back, probably puncturing his heart.
Hatchet whistled. “Holy crap, who got close enough to stab him?”
“And how did they get inside the house?” the servant asked. A mortal, by his scent.
Babet shrugged. She had no answers.
Prosper turned to her again. “You have enough guard spells on your house to protect you against almost anything, don’t you? What would Emile have?”
She ticked spells off on her fingers. “Protection spells against enemies. Spells so no one else’s magic can work in his house. Spells against poisons…”
Prosper held up his hand. “We get the idea. No one should be able to kill the guy here. So how did it happen?”
“It couldn’t be a witch.” Even if someone tried to disguise her magic, Emile would smell it. “It couldn’t be an enemy, coming with the intention of harming him, or they couldn’t pass the invisible potion around the perimeter of his property.” She’d sensed it when she crossed it.
“Wait.” Hatchet rubbed his narrow chin. “Who else would stick a guy unless he was an enemy?”
Babet had to think about that. “He might not have come with the intention of killing Emile, but that might have changed. Emile probably pulled something dirty, and the person became an enemy before he left.”
“With Emile….yeah, that’s something to consider. But where did the person get the weapon? Wouldn’t Emile notice someone picking up a butcher knife and coming for him?”
“Nothing in this house could be used to hurt Emile,” Babet said.
Hatchet shook his head, unsatisfied with her answers. “But that means the person came with a weapon. Doesn’t that make him an enemy before he walked through the door?”
Babet let out a loud breath. “I’m a witch, not a detective. I don’t solve murders. I explain magic.”
“She’s right,” Prosper said. “She’s already done us a favor. She got us inside the house. It’s our job to find out how Emile died.” He grinned at her again, ruining his gallant gesture. “But we’ll probably need a little help along the way.”
She grimaced. “I can’t think of any magical creature that could get past Emile’s spells. My guess is, when the person left, Emile was alive.”
“Impossible. Once the door shut behind him, no one could get back in.” Prosper looked around the rooms that were visible from the hallway. “I tried the back door and every window has bars.”
“Unless whoever it was left something here—a talisman of some kind—that he could work through. Or else….” She shook her head. “I don’t have a clue. I don’t know how anyone pulled this off.”
“If someone left something, could you feel it? You can sense magic, can’t you?”
“Emile could too. He’d have noticed.”
Prosper started to prowl around the room. “Walk with me. See if you notice any magic in the air.”
She gave Prosper a quizzical look. “Why are you investigating this? I thought the supernaturals would get this one.”
“I wish.” Prosper nodded to Simon. “Our guy here’s a human. He called us. We were the first to respond. So here we are. Clueless.” He motioned her toward him. “Come on. Do you feel anything?”
They circled each and every room on the main floor and didn’t find anything, but Babet paused when they entered the downstairs bathroom. “The vibes are off in here. There’s black magic, but it’s just a hint of something that happened in the past.”
Prosper sighed. “With Emile, he could have practiced it. Can you tell if it was his or someone else’s?”
“It’s too vague. It didn’t happen here, but something started in this room and then moved on.”
“Hell, that could mean anything.”
She slammed out of the room. “I’m only telling you what I know. Oh, and there’s something else.” She told him about Emile trying to hire her to find the witch. “A vampire took it on for him.”
“That’s a lead we might be able to follow up on.”
There was nothing else of note in the entire house, and eventually, Hatchet gave Babet a ride home.
“Thanks for helping on this one,” he said. “We appreciate it.”
“Yeah, right. You always appreciate magic when you need my help. The rest of the time, you guys don’t trust witches any farther than a Were can spit in a high wind.”
“I’ll tell Prosper you mentioned him.” He watched her enter her house safely, then pulled away.
Babet went to the kitchen and brewed herself a pot of tea. She’d been around magic a long time, but something was different about Emile’s death. She needed to start asking around. There was something that was new to her, and she wanted to find out what it was. And as long as Prosper was trying to track the vampire who’d taken Emile’s case, she might as well too. There were people who’d talk to her who wouldn’t go out of their way for an enforcer.