Authors: Constance Barker
They stayed up late talking about what Bailey thought, how she was feeling, and about the Coven. Avery took it all in without judgment. It was the final secret she’d kept from him, but she couldn’t hold it back now that Avery had told her his. On whether it was one of them or not, he couldn’t say. All he knew for certain was that she was close, and that Bailey knew her personally.
When they were finally too exhausted, emotionally and physically, to go on, it was well past two in the morning. Avery slept on the couch, and Bailey didn’t even bother to go to bed—she just curled up on the great big chair that Ryan and Wendy both had read her stories in since she was too small to remember, under a throw blanket, and slept that way.
They woke up together to the sound of insistent knocking on the front door.
“What time is it?” Avery muttered.
Bailey glanced at the ancient VCR under the television. “Only eight. Who on earth is that? Did you tell your parents you weren’t coming home last night?”
Avery made a face. “They wouldn’t come looking for me.”
“Right,” Bailey sighed. She groaned as she unfolded her stiff body from the chair—large, but not at all large enough to make a real bed—and went to the door. She looked terrible, she was sure, but at this hour what would any visitor expect?
When she opened the door, she stared in puzzlement at a grim faced Sheriff Larson and Deputy Jackson. “Good… morning, Sheriff,” she said. “Deputy. Can I help you?”
Seamus Jackson, only a few years older than Bailey and handsome, couldn’t look her in the eye. It was Sheriff Larson that spoke. “Bailey, honey; is your daddy home?”
“He’s probably still in bed, he was up late writing a story,” Bailey said. “All night. Why?”
“He was here all night long?” the Sheriff asked.
“I’d like to know why you’re asking,” Bailey said, a firm mental hand on her temper. Red heads and a temper seem to go together.
“Was he with Owen Turner last night? The scientist?”
“Archaeologist,” Bailey corrected. “And…” she didn’t want to lie, but she didn’t want to incriminate Ryan either. “I’m not sure.”
Larson and Jackson exchanged glances. “We better come in, Bailey,” the Sheriff said.
They wouldn’t answer any questions. She tried to stop them, but they showed her something, a piece of paper, that for some reason Bailey found she couldn’t read. The words were there, but they didn’t make any sense. It may as well have been in one of the handful of languages she still hadn’t quite gotten around to reading.
Avery took it from her. It was a carbon copy of the original. “What?” He hissed when he read it. “This can’t be right…”
Bailey was already up the stairs after them. She got there in time to see the Sheriff and Deputy calmly informing Ryan of why they had come.
“Ryan Robinson,” Sheriff Larson said, his voice stiff and tight. “You are under arrest for the… the murder of Owen Turner.”
Bailey’s world unraveled at the edges. She lost control of her gift, and in a flash, everyone’s thoughts assaulted her. The Sheriff, hurt and confused and disbelieving, but resolute; Deputy Jackson, embarrassed to be doing this in front of Bailey and certain that… that his chances with her were over? Ryan, certain this was a mistake, outraged that they would make an accusation like this, and horrified for what would happen to Bailey.
Everyone’s thoughts; accept for Avery’s. From him, she only heard a familiar, high pitch static.
Bailey reeled, and clamped down on her mind. Her temples throbbed. Her heart was beating too fast, and she couldn’t get enough air. “No,” she said, repeatedly, “there’s some mistake. It wasn’t him.” Avery had his arms around her, and she realized she was trying to pull away, to get to her father. Spells came to mind, one after the other. She could make them forget, or force them to believe her, or create a telepathic link so they could see for themselves her father’s innocence.
But she had none of the materials, none of the focus, and none of the necessary recall at that moment to have done anything like that. So instead, she watched as Ryan calmly dressed himself, and then offered his wrists to Deputy Jackson for arrest. He didn’t resist. He didn’t speak.
Once, a long, long time ago, Bailey knew that Ryan had been arrested. He’d written a story about the Vietnam War, after the war was over, that had exposed some high-level government officials. It had been the story that made his career. He’d refused to reveal his source, and spend almost a year in prison because of it until the charges were cleared in the wake of protests and scathing media attention on the trial.
He knew better than to fight, or argue, or to run. At this point, he had to ride this out, and be careful of everything he said. Some of this she got from his thoughts, and some of it she simply knew. None of it made it any better, though.
Ryan was led out of the house. Bailey and Avery followed.
“This will all be okay,” Ryan told her before he was led to the car.
Bailey broke away from Avery and hugged her father tightly. “I know it wasn’t you,” she whispered. “I looked. I’m sorry.”
“Its okay, Red,” Ryan muttered. “We’ll work it out. Look at the facts. Keep a clear head, okay?”
“I can fix this,” she said.
“Red,” Ryan told her, firmly, “facts. Nothing… unpredictable. Understand?”
He meant magic, of course. Bailey had told him about her ‘experiment’ with Gavin, and vented now and again about all the oddities and intricacies of magic, though he claimed not to understand half of what she said.
And of course, he’d been justified in saying it. Bailey was already thinking of how she could fix the problem as quickly as possible; but he was probably right.
“Okay,” she said. Then Sheriff Larson took her father away.
Bailey turned a hateful glare on Deputy Jackson. “How can you think this?” She asked. “How could you possibly think my dad could do a thing like this? Look at him! He’s seventy years old, Seamus.”
Seamus rubbed the back of his head, and looked to Avery for support, perhaps, but Avery wasn’t giving it. He was every bit as furious as Bailey was. “We didn’t make any assumptions,” he said. “Really, Bailey; I don’t want to believe it either. But we found his pen… well… it was the murder weapon. And it only has Ryan’s prints on it. Now maybe there’s more to the story, but we don’t know it yet and you know we have to act on that. There’ll be a full investigation, though. I promise we’ll look at every possible lead.”
There was nothing she could say. She almost thanked him for the reassurance, but the words on the tip of her tongue turned out not to be words of thanks at all. So she kept her lips sealed. Seamus tipped his hat, and got into the passenger side seat of the sheriff’s car.
Bailey looked at her father through the window of the back seat. He looked calmer than she was, though he wasn’t feeling it she knew. He mouthed that he loved her as the car pulled away.
Bailey and Avery stood there and watched the car leave toward the county jail. Her father would wait, in a cell, for his hearing and for the investigation. Bailey had seen them, once. They were spare, concrete floors and metal benches with uncomfortable cots. Not the sort of place a seventy-year-old man would be healthy for long.
She turned to Avery, and didn’t need to say what was on her mind. At least not until she recalled what she’d felt before, when she’d lost control. She stopped in front of him, and looked him hard in the eyes. “When were you going to tell me you’re learning magic from Aiden?” She asked.
Avery didn’t seem surprised. Probably he had felt her when she ran up against his shields. He only sighed. “Eventually,” he said. “I wanted to right away. But Aiden has this thing about keeping secrets. Wizard stuff. I wasn’t even sure it was something I could do.”
Bailey closed her eyes and rubbed her forehead. “I want to talk about this. I guess it makes sense. But, later.”
“I imagined that was the case,” he said. “What should we do?”
“We should clear my dad’s name, for starters,” she said.
Avery nodded slowly, patiently. “Yes, okay; that. But, what do we do first?”
“First,” Bailey said, walking past him and into the house, “we find out everything the sheriff’s department knows. Then we do our own investigation with tools they don’t have. I’m not leaving any of this to chance.”
Bailey and Avery left the house minutes later, unconcerned about looking as though they just woke up—Bailey wore a ball cap, and gave Avery one of Ryan’s old fedoras to wear. She didn’t intend to waste a second if she didn’t need to.
They drove into town, and Bailey directed Avery to park in front of the bakery. It wasn’t open yet, but the women were inside, visible through the windows and the glass pane on the door, doing the daily business of getting the place open. She’d intended to march in there and start hashing out some strategy—some magic that could help find the real killer. Now, she wasn’t so sure.
One of those women was her mother. She was certain of it. Maybe it was Aria. She was always especially kind and gentle with Bailey; maybe she felt bad for having abandoned her.
Then again, Francis was hard on her, constantly pushing her to ‘think like a witch’ and while it did get under Bailey’s skin now and again it was clear she only wanted Bailey to meet her potential. Just as any mother would.
Chloe had always been particularly fond of Bailey, though that was true of Aria as well. She had been the one to take Bailey aside and tell her about magic, and her future as a member of the coven. She seemed to leave much of Bailey’s education to Aria and Francis, though; and Francis in turn left much of it to Aria.
She supposed she could just ask them.
But not now.
“I changed my mind,” Bailey said quietly. “Let’s see if Aiden can help.”
Avery drummed his fingers on the steering wheel, and watched the ladies inside the bakery.
“Any thoughts?” Bailey asked.
After a moment, he shook his head. “No. But I think you’re right. It’s one of them. A coven, here in Coven Grove. I mean… it does make sense. But it’s still surreal. They’ve been here this whole time. Does Aiden know?”
Bailey shook her head. “But I intend to tell him. I’m tired of secrets. If we all worked together, probably things like this wouldn’t happen. There’s some kind of history between wizards and witches, but I don’t know what it is and no one will tell me.”
“I hear that,” Avery sighed. “Getting anything out of Aiden is like pulling teeth. I get that I’m the apprentice and it’s up to him how fast I learn but, I’d know what questions to ask if I knew what it was I was supposed to be learning, you know.”
“You have no idea,” Bailey groaned. “Give Aiden a call.”
He did. Aiden was already at the office, and they met him there. Avery waited until they were all together to tell Aiden what had happened.
When it was out, Aiden gave Bailey a pained look. “I’m so sorry, Bailey. I never imagined.”
“That’s because it didn’t happen,” Bailey said. “You don’t know Ryan; he couldn’t have done this. Though, for the record, I did tell you that having Professor Turner here was a bad idea.”
Aiden’s jaw twitched. After a moment, he nodded once. “You did. So, what did you have in mind?”
Owing to the lack of police cars in the area, it seemed that at least this time the murder hadn’t occurred at the caves. “What I have in mind is finding out what really happened. I was hoping you might have some… spell, or something that would help.”
He regarded them both for a heartbeat, and then turned away. Bailey and Avery followed him into his office where he sat down and pulled from inside a desk drawer a small notebook. He flipped through it a page at a time and finally clucked his tongue and tapped a page. “Right, there is one possibility I can think of. We’ll need to go to the scene, though. Where it happened.”
“Which means we need to find out,” Avery said.
“Shouldn’t be hard to find.” Bailey stood, and waved the two men after her as she left. “It’ll be the place with all the tape around it.”
By now, Coven Grove was beginning to wake up in earnest. It was a Saturday—Bailey hadn’t even realized what day it was, she’d been so distraught and confused and hurried—and it happened late. When it did, however, the general buzz of gossip and news directed them to the Hotel. There was only one in Coven Grove.
It was called the Merry Fisherman Hotel, and had been around forever, as far as Bailey and Avery knew. Because it was the only hotel, however, most people simply called it ‘The Hotel’. And, sure enough, one of the rooms was taped over with yellow police tape. The ambulances were gone, but the Sheriff’s department still had people on site.
And Gloria was there. She was hovering around the edge of the place with her pad and pen, craning her neck to get a look inside like a vulture. Now was not a time to do any magic, then. Not while Gloria was looking on.
“So, what now?” Avery asked, watching the woman from the driver’s seat. “We could distract her. Draw her away from the scene. How long does the spell you’ve got in mind take?”
“A few minutes to set up,” Aiden said. “After that, it depends on what exactly happened, now much of an impression it made on the local enteric field. The state of the morphegenic fields of the victim and the killer. The angle of the sun and moon when it happened. It’s hard to say.”
“Is the local temporal impression susceptible to solar decay?” Avery asked.
Aiden didn’t answer right away.
“I know about you and Avery,” Bailey muttered. “And I don’t care.”
Aiden cleared his throat. “Yes, it is. But the sun is still low, and behind the door, so it shouldn’t have had much of an effect yet. We probably have until after noon. At that point, we’ll only have a few minutes.”
“Then we should split up,” Bailey said. “If Gloria sees me here, she’ll have no end of questions. You two work out a distraction and see what you can find in the room. I don’t care how you do it. Be careful what you say to Gloria, though.”
“Of course,” Aiden remarked.
Avery shot him a look, and then rested a hand on Bailey’s arm as she reached for the handle to the passenger side door. “Where are you going, then?”
“To the Sheriff’s department to check on my dad,” she said. “And to poke around heads at the coroner’s office.”
“Want us to drive you there?”
“It’s not far,” Bailey said. “And you need to keep an eye on Gloria for an opportunity.”
She looked from one man to the other, but couldn’t think of anything else to say and didn’t feel much like saying anything. When they both gave her a nod of agreement, she got out of the car, and took off at a brisk pace toward the Sheriff’s office.
Coven Grove’s Sheriff’s department was comprised of two buildings. The original Sheriff’s office, which was nearly a hundred years old, built in a colonial style that was part of the mismatched design of the town; and the newer, red-brick addition that was the city jail. Once upon a time, there had been five cells inside the Sheriff’s office that were rarely used. At some point, however, the county had funded a proper jail, as the county jail was no longer large enough for the incoming population of criminals and miscreants.
Coven Grove’s jail was largely unused, save for the occasional hard lesson for a teenaged vandal or a safe place to sleep off a late night drinking binge after someone was caught driving drunk or passed out on the street, and those events were rare as well.
Now, in one of those oft-unused cells, Bailey’s father was probably waiting for something to happen, helpless to change his fate by his own actions.
She steeled herself when she pushed through the front door to the main office, and very carefully brought her gift into focus, listening to the thoughts that echoed through her mind from the people here.
Most of it was useless. Everyone was shocked, of course, at another murder taking place so soon after the other. What was this town coming to? And Ryan Robinson of all people. Bailey’s blood nearly boiled when she heard the thoughts of some of the deputies who already believed he’d done it. Weren’t they supposed to be objective? Weren’t they supposed to collect all the evidence, and leave a conviction to the courts?
When she nearly reached across the counter to slap the middle aged woman behind it with awful, triangular glasses that belonged in the sixties and something just this side of a bee-hive on her head—Darla Simmons, she was pretty sure the woman’s name was—Bailey pulled her gift back a little. It was too much like hearing people talk blatantly, out loud, about Ryan’s ‘obvious’ guilt.
Darla was already wondering what would happen to poor Bailey now. She looked sympathetic, and Bailey felt bad for being angry with her, but not bad enough to quit it.
“Bailey,” Darla said gently. “You’re… uh, Ryan’s not done with intake just yet. He won’t be able to take visitors until he’s, you know… booked.”
Bailey’s voice was cool and calm when she spoke. It took some effort. “I’m not here to visit with him just yet, although I do want to see him as soon as I can. I’m here to speak with the investigating deputy and if possible the coroner.”
Darla blinked at her. “Bailey, dear… I’m afraid that’s not possible.”
“Why not?” Bailey asked.
“Well you’re a civilian, darlin’,” Darla said. It was the most obvious thing in the world, wasn’t it?
“If I was a journalist you’d let me ask questions,” Bailey countered. “It happens all the time. Unless there’s another suspect, right?”
“Yes,” Darla said patiently, “but you have to have credentials for that.”
Bailey simmered quietly. She had to find out something. The frustration of being so helpless, even when she knew she wasn’t, was maddening. She could feel her temper rising. It wasn’t fair. There should be at least one person on her father’s side, one person who was willing to look at this all as a mistake, or a set up, or just a strange series of circumstances. One person who was willing to believe he was innocent, and if it wasn’t going to be one of them then it was going to be her.
Darla’s thoughts were leaking into Bailey’s head.
Poor girl must be just beside herself. Maybe we could put together a little something and take it by her house. I could make my green bean casserole; I bet she’d like that.
Bailey snapped. “I don’t want your casserole,” she hissed. “I want you to let me speak with someone who can give me details about what happened to Professor Turner so that I can clear Ryan’s name.” There was a sudden spike of pressure behind her eyes. A cluster headache that lasted only a second, but made Bailey wince before it faded.
“I suppose,” Darla said slowly, with a gloss of confusion over her eyes, “James might talk with you… under the circumstances…”
Bailey rubbed her temple, but began to relax. Darla moved as if in a dream, though, and typed something into her computer before she handed Bailey a lanyard with a ‘guest’ badge hanging from it.
“Just show that to James,” she said. “And return it to the front desk when you’re done.”
“Okay,” Bailey muttered as she slipped it over her neck. She watched Darla suspiciously, as though she might change her mind. “Thank you,” she said. “Sorry about losing my temper.”
“What’s that, dear?” Darla asked. Then she blinked, and looked down at her keyboard. She began to stir a moment later.
Bailey wasn’t sure what had happened just then, but she wasn’t going to wait and find out. She’d talk to Chloe about it later. For now, she’d take what she could get. She went to find the coroner.