Cory was already waiting when we pulled up in front of Kat’s house. He walked out of his car and leaned in the passenger window when I wound it down.
“Morning,” Eli greeted from the driver’s seat, with a smirk.
“Hey,” Cory responded. He looked out of the corner of his eye, over his shoulder. “Thank God, you finally made it. The curtain twitchers were about ready to call the cops.”
I glanced at the window of the house behind him without making it obvious. “That’s Mrs Gregory’s house. She thinks she owns the street, just ignore it.”
“Really?” Cory said.
“Yes. I cleaned her gutters a few times.”
Both Cory and Eli started laughing despite the early hour.
“What’s so funny?”
“I can’t imagine you’d be the type to do yard work,” Cory said.
“He’s not. Which is what makes it so bizarre.” Somehow Eli had stopped laughing long enough to speak.
“I knew you lot would gang up on me.” I pulled on the door handle, and Cory stood aside to let me out. I crossed the road to Kat’s house without turning back to check on the two men behind me who were giggling like schoolgirls.
Kat looked at me like I’d grown a second head when she opened her front door to me. She wore an ankle-length nightgown more suited to a woman three times her age under a knee-length, obscenely fluffy dressing gown. Her dark hair was so messy it was matted on one side. She squinted as the light from the morning shone in her eyes. She looked me up and down before sighing loudly. “Morning, Kat, glad to see you at eight-thirty on this bright and sunny day.” She gave me a thin smile after she finished speaking.
I swallowed my guilt as I realised I’d woken her up and met her eyes. “I have an offer.”
“Give me ten minutes to kick the boy toy out the back door and get dressed. He shouldn’t stay overnight, but he’s lazy.” She shut the door in my face.
I opened a book up on my phone and read. It took the arseholes behind me three minutes to recover enough to walk to the door. I still didn’t know why the concept of me doing yard work was so funny. At least they were getting along and not trying to tear each other’s throats out like I feared when Eli suggested coming together. How could Eli act so collected around someone who could have broken his nose?
Kat let us in ten minutes later, giving Cory a slight look of confusion. She wore jeans and a baggy tee, with her wet hair pulled back in a messy bun. She led us to the kitchen and started making her breakfast as we took seats around the table.
“Kat, this is Cory, he’s working with us,” I said.
“Not that I don’t appreciate the visit Dexter, but it’s Saturday morning. What’s this offer?”
“Eli has agreed to do that interview about the campaign. If you help us with some research.”
“Okay,” Kat said.
“We…” I saw the looks Cory and Eli were giving me. “I want to solve a murder.”
“Shouldn’t the cops be involved in this?” Kat asked.
“He doesn’t even know it’s a murder,” Cory replied.
“Cory and I tried to identify the victim, but she died of cancer. Somehow her ghost ended up haunting the corner of Short and Main street for the last four decades.”
“Did she die near there?”
“Not as far as we know,” I said. “We need to know everything about the Thornton family between 1960 and 1980. I was hoping you had some contacts who might have information that’s difficult to find.”
“There’s a guy who does the fact-checking for the local papers. Apparently, he inherited a vast collection of information that’s been collected by his family for generations.” Kat said.
“That’s the weird shit I’m looking for,” I said.
“Weird shit? You’re solving a cold case for what?”
“I was the reason they exorcised her, and she reminded me of Tara.”
Kat froze at the mention of Tara. “Should you be cracking open old wounds like that? You know it wasn’t an actual living creature?”
“When I saw that girl, I saw Tara haunting a piece of thick forest, forgotten and alone,” I said. “I felt her emotions like they were my own. She was betrayed.”
“You know ghosts do that to get a foothold in your mind,” Cory interjected. “She imprinted part of herself on you. This desire to bring her killer to justice isn’t even your own.”
I gave him a sharp look then looked back at Kat. “Jonah Wit approached me, and he wants to be my friend.”
Kat started choking on her orange juice, and Eli reached over to pat her back. When she recovered, she looked hard into my eyes. “I was almost on board. I know where you’re going to go with this and no, I don’t think Jonah is healthy enough to investigate a murder case involving a girl the same age as his dead sister. Holy fuck Dexter, you have some warped ideas.”
“It might help him heal a little. He said he wants to get better and rebuild the relationships he lost when Tara died.” I said.
“That dude was always odd, and he completely went off the deep end when she died.”
“He wants to make up for that. She was his sister. Can’t you understand why he might have been upset?”
“No. I can’t. When my Dad died, I didn’t think of strangling the friends that were with him when it happened.”
My head spun. Had she seen? “What?”
“Christ, Dexter, I saw what Jonah did to you.” Kat took a few deep breaths and blinked tears from her wet eyes. “At Tara’s wake, I saw Jonah put his hands around your neck and threaten you. I thought he would kill you, but I was too scared to do anything. You were my best friend for our entire lives, and I was too scared to save you because I didn’t want to die. My powers aren’t combative. If I tried anything and he got away, they would have punished me.”
“Punished?” I asked.
“How do you think they keep the secret? Jonah grew up here so it wouldn’t be as bad as telling the average mortal, but he would have been seen as a risk.” Kat said. “Eli would have been interviewed and given a punishment when you found out because he decided not to have your memory wiped.”
I turned to look at Eli, who had gone rigid beside me. “Is that true? Did they do something to you because I found out? How was that your fault?”
“You were attacked by a demon, and you’re born of an old family and married into one. It wasn’t that bad. They ordered Old Ed tell you because I wasn’t qualified.”
“That’s why he was there? They ordered him? He told me he wanted to be there.” I said.
“Maybe it was both. Your Grandfather loves you dearly, Dex.” Eli said.
Kat cleared her throat. “Back on the topic of Jonah Wit. You need to keep your distance from him, Dex, he’s dangerous. Why is he suddenly here after ten years?”
“I don’t trust him, Kat. He still scares me. Maybe we’re judgemental, but I want to know why he’s here. I thought we could use this investigation to get closer to him. There are layers to the plan, he needn’t know about the ghost part.”
“Jonah? Is that who was sending you messages like a desperate creep?” Eli said. “Do I need to tell him to fuck off?”
“Yes and no,” I replied.
Cory slowly raised his hand like a school child and waited for us to look at him before he spoke. “Could someone tell me who Jonah and Tara are?”
“Kat and I had a friend called Tara, growing up. One day when we were fifteen, we went to a party in the national park not long after torrential rain. We’d wandered off from the main group, and Tara decided we should swim across the creek and climb to the hill behind it to get a better view of the sunset. The creek was a torrent, and no one else wanted to. She dived in and got swept away in the current.” I said.
“Were you drinking?” Cory asked.
“Yes.” I looked down at the table. “Jonah was Tara’s elder brother. He didn’t take her death well.”
“Didn’t take it well? He wanted to kill everyone who’d been at that party.” Kat said. “I heard he threatened other people who were there.”
“There are layers to this plan. Jonah is on a different need to know level to us.” I said. “There’s his level where he thinks this is just an investigation into a cold case, then there’s our level where we are, and in between is the level where the people who think I’m the evil Mage Nox are. The plan is we find out what Jonah wants, and they realise I’m too boring and weak to be Nox.”
“Step back a bit. Who thinks you’re Nox?”
“Law enforcement and the creepy Templar Fuckers.”
Cory gave me a sharp look.
“She works for a magical newspaper, she knows about the little cult,” I said.
“I know what a freaking dangerous cult the Nate Island Templars are. God, Dexter, I know you being Nox is laughable, but you need to take this a little more seriously. Where the hell would they get the idea that you’re Nox anyhow?”
“Nox and another guy called Dark Matter stole from someone’s stash of magical artefacts, and I was the last known person in the area,” I said.
“How do you know about that?” Cory said.
“I was in the basement when they broke in.”
“And you didn’t think to mention this before?”
“I didn’t know which people knew about magic.”
Cory sighed and ran a hand through his long dark hair before he stood up and walked over to the hall that led to the rest of Kat’s house. “I need to find a room to scream in.”
“You’ll get used to it.” She washed up her breakfast dishes. “Two doors down on the right.”
“Where did he go?” I inquired.
Eli rolled his eyes and gave me that ‘are you clueless look’.
“The bathroom, dumb arse. God, you’re so dense.” Kat said. “Can we trust him?”
“Yes.” I wrote a time and location on a small piece of paper and held it in front of Kat until she nodded. I then ripped up the piece of paper and swallowed it.
Eli just shook his head at me and looked down at his phone.
I opened my phone at the text beep without thinking and read, ‘there’s no need for that spy shit’. I looked back up at Eli and stuck my tongue out at him. There was a lot of need for the spy shit. There was no way Cory could find out about the meeting. Kat needed to be at the deepest level, to be fully weary of him.
“I told Julie,” Eli said.
“Excuse me?” I looked up at him.
“Well, the whole us solving a cold case didn’t really seem like a secret, and she’s my best friend, I tell her everything,” Eli added. “Besides, she wanted to know why I cancelled our plans today.”
“You can’t just go around telling everyone. What if the murderer finds out?”
“One we don’t know it’s a murder and two Julie wasn’t even alive in the nineteen seventies. None of us apart from Cory were alive in the seventies.” Eli said.
“I’m twenty-seven.” Cory walked back into the room.
“Really?” Eli raised an eyebrow.
“Okay, kids. I have a plan.” Kat sat back down at the table. “One of you has to pay Aubrey Quinn with a favour in return for the information because I’m not.”
“A favour?” I said.
“He’s from an old Beckham family. He doesn’t need money if you want something from him; the only bargaining power is a favour.” Kat said.
Both Eli and Cory looked at me, and Kat shook her head. “It has to be someone with the power to give something worth his time.”
“I will,” Cory said.
“What is it you do exactly?” Kat asked.
“I’m a forensic pathologist and the head mortician for the Dunn Agency,” Cory responded.
“He’ll want you.”
“There has to be some other way,” Eli said. “Are you sure we can’t just write him a check?”
“I’ll call him.” Kat picked up her phone from the bench. “What was your name again?”
“Okay.” Kat smiled and left the room.
When she came back, she crossed her arms over her chest. “Is that all you had for me? You come here at eight in the morning on a Saturday, and all you have is this.”
“I thought we could investigate all day,” I said.
“Investigate what? It sounds like you’re at a standstill until you get this information I just ordered. Why didn’t you call ahead?”
Everyone in the room was looking at me with a, ‘oh, Dexter the silly fool’ look on their faces. Why the hell hadn’t I called first, so she had time to get the information?
As I was bidding Kat farewell, I felt her stick something in my back pocket; I didn’t even hint that something had happened as I finished hugging her goodbye and left with Eli. As soon as we got home, I locked myself in the bathroom and pulled the small slip of paper from my pocket. It contained a simple straight to the point message, ‘ditch the baggage and meet me on Cheshire Road’. I smiled as I mushed the note into tiny pieces and pushed it down the drain. I knew the perfect way to ditch Eli; he hated chlorine in his hair. If we went swimming, he’d have to take a shower afterwards. I had to know what Kat’s grand idea was.