White Witch, Black Curse
The bloody handprint was gone, wiped from
Kisten’s window but not from my memory, and it ticked me off that
someone had cleaned it, as if they were trying to steal what little
recollection I retained about the night he’d died. The anger was
misplaced fear if I was honest with myself. But I wasn’t. Most days it
was better that way.
Stifling a shiver from the December chill
that had taken the abandoned cruiser, now in dry dock rather than
floating in the river, I stood in the tiny kitchen and stared at the
milky plastic as if willing the smeared mark back into existence. In
the near distance came the overindulgent, powerful huff of a diesel
train crossing the Ohio River. The scrape of Ford’s shoes on the
metallic boarding ladder was harsh, and worry pinched my brow.
The Federal Inderland Bureau had officially
closed the investigation into Kisten’s murder—Inderland Security hadn’t
even opened one—but the FIB wouldn’t let me into their impound yard
without an official presence. That meant intelligent, awkward Ford,
since Edden thought I needed more psychiatric evaluation and I wouldn’t
come in any more. Not since I fell asleep on the couch and everyone in
the FIB’s Cincinnati office had heard me snoring. I didn’t need
evaluation. What I needed was something—anything—to rebuild my memory.
If it was a bloody handprint, then so be it.
“Rachel? Wait for me,” the FIB’s
psychiatrist called, shifting my worry to annoyance. Like I
couldn’t handle this? I’m a big girl. Besides, there wasn’t
anything left to see; the FIB had cleaned everything up. Ford had
obviously been out here earlier—given the ladder and the unlocked
door—making sure everything was sufficiently tidy before our
The clatter of dress shoes on teak pushed me
forward, and I untangled my arms from themselves and reached for the
tiny galley table for balance as I headed for the living room. The
floor was still, which felt weird. Beyond the short curtains framing
the now-clean window were the dirty gray and brilliant blue tarps of
boats at dry dock, the ground a good six feet below us.
“Will you hold up?” Ford asked again, the
light eclipsing as he entered. “I can’t help if you’re a room away.”
“I’m waiting,” I grumbled, coming to a halt
and tugging my shoulder bag up. Though he’d tried to hide it, Ford had
some difficulty getting his butt up the ladder. I thought the idea of a
psychiatrist afraid of heights was hilarious, until the amulet he wore
around his neck turned a bright pink when I mentioned it and Ford went
red with embarrassment. He was a good man with his own demons to
circle. He didn’t deserve my razzing.
Ford’s breathing slowed in the chill
silence. Wan but determined, he gripped the table, his face whiter than
usual, which made his short black hair stand out and his brown eyes
soulful. Listening in on my feelings was draining, and I appreciated
him wading through my emotional crap to help me piece together what had
I gave him a thin smile, and Ford undid the
top few buttons of his coat to reveal a professional cotton shirt and
the amulet he wore while working. The metallic ley line charm was a
visual display of the emotions he was picking up. He felt the emotions
whether he was wearing the charm or not, but those around him had at
least the illusion of privacy when he took it off. Ivy, my roommate and
business partner, thought it stupid to try to break witch magic with
human psychology in order to recover my memory, but I was desperate.
Her efforts to find out who had killed Kisten were getting nowhere.
Ford’s relief to be surrounded by walls was
almost palpable, and seeing him release his death-grip on the table, I
headed for the narrow door to the living room and the rest of the boat.
The faint scent of vampire and pasta brushed against me—imagination
stoked by a memory. It had been five months.
My jaw clenched, and I kept my eyes on the
floor, not wanting to see the broken doorframe. There were smudges of
dirt on the low-mat carpet that hadn’t been there before, marks left by
careless people who didn’t know Kisten, had never known his smile, the
way he laughed, or the way his eyes crinkled up when he surprised me.
Technically an Inderland death without human involvement was out of the
FIB’s jurisdiction, but since the I.S. didn’t care that my boyfriend had
been turned into a blood gift, the FIB had made an effort just for me.
Murder was never taken off the books, but the
investigation had been officially shelved. This was the first chance
I’d had to come out here to try to rekindle my memory. Someone had
nicked the inside of my lip trying to bind me to them. Someone had
murdered my boyfriend twice. Someone was going to be in a world of hurt
when I found out who.
Stomach fluttering, I looked past Ford to the
window where the bloody handprint had been, left like a signpost to mock
my pain without giving any prints to follow. Coward.
The amulet around Ford’s neck flashed to an
angry black. His eyes met mine as his eyebrows rose, and I forced my
emotions to slow. I couldn’t remember crap. Jenks, my backup and other
business partner, had dosed me into forgetting so I wouldn’t go after
Kisten’s murderer. I couldn’t blame him. The pixy was only four inches
tall, and it had been his only option to keep me from killing myself on
a suicide run. I was a witch with an unclaimed vampire bite, and that
couldn’t stand up to an undead vampire no matter how you sliced it.
“You sure you’re up to this?” Ford asked, and
I forced my hand down from my upper arm. Again. It throbbed in a pain
long since gone as a memory tired to surface. Fear stirred in me. The
recollection of being on the other side of the door and trying to break
it down was an old one. It was nearly the only memory I had of the
“I want to know,” I said, but it sounded
wobbly even to me. I had kicked the freaking door open. I had used my
foot because my arm had hurt too much to move. I’d been crying at the
time, and my hair had been in my eyes and mouth. I had kicked the door
A memory sifted from what I knew, and my
pulse hammered as something was added, the image of me falling backward,
hitting a wall. My head hit a wall. Breath held, I looked
across the living room, staring at the featureless paneling. Right
there. I remember.
Ford came unusually close. “You don’t have
to do it this way.”
Pity was in his eyes. I didn’t like it
there, directed at me, and his amulet turned silver as I gathered my
will and passed through the doorframe. “I do,” I said boldly. “Even if
I don’t remember anything, the FIB guys might have missed something.”
The FIB was fantastic at gathering
information, even better than the I.S. It had to be since the human-run
institution had to rely on finding evidence, not sweeping the room for
emotions or using witch charms to discover who committed the crime and
why. Everyone was capable of missing something, though, and that was
one of the reasons I was out here. The other was to remember. Now that
I was, I was scared. My head hit the wall . .
. Just over there.
Ford came in behind me, watching as I scanned
the low-ceilinged living room that stretched from one side of the boat
to the other. It looked normal here, apart from the unmoving Cincy
skyline visible through the narrow windows. My hand went to my middle
as my stomach cramped. I had to do this, no matter what I remembered.
“I meant,” Ford said as he put his hands in
his pockets, “I’ve other ways to trigger memories.”
“Meditation?” I said, embarrassed for having
fallen asleep in his office. Feeling the beginnings of a stress
headache, I strode past the couch where Kisten and I had eaten dinner,
past the TV that got lousy reception, not that we ever really watched
it, and past the wet bar. Inches from the undamaged wall, my jaw began
to ache. Slowly I put a hand to the paneling where my head had hit,
curling my fingers under when they started to tremble. My head had
hit the wall. Who shoved me? Kisten? His killer? But the memory
was fragmented. There was no more.
Turning away, I shoved my hand in my pocket
to hide the soft shaking. My breath slipped from me in an
almost-visible cloud, and I tugged my coat closer. The train was long
gone. Nothing moved past the curtains but a flapping blue tarp.
Instinct told me Kisten hadn’t died in this room. I had to go deeper.
[ . . .]