“It’s just like you to stop and gawk at some police action.” Hyperion came to stand beside me and scowled. “What’s going on?”
I motioned to Brik, standing stiffly and speaking to a rumpled Detective Baranko. “It’s not just some police action,” I choked out. “There’s been a murder.”
The twilight had darkened, the fog thickening in the parking lot. Mist deadened the red and blue emergency lights strobing across the parked cars.
The owner of the resort, Fraser, spoke to another uniformed officer beneath a cypress. Fraser’s hair gleamed like moonlit snow.
Hyperion sucked in a quick breath. “Damn. Do you know who?”
“The woman who stopped into your Tarot maze earlier, Lace. Brik and I found her.” Lace, who’d known Brik in Eureka. Lace, who’d been afraid of him because of Eureka. My gaze on the big detective, I handed Hyperion the keys to his Jeep.
“Why is Baranko interviewing Brik and not you?”
My pulse beat sluggishly. I suspected the detective was saving me for a special treat.
We’d encountered Baranko before. He’d investigated our friend Tony with a vengeance. I still wasn’t sure if Baranko was a good or a fair or a thorough cop. But he was not a happy one. Ever.
“I don’t know.” My mouth compressed.
Baranko stepped closer to Brik. My neighbor straightened and didn’t budge, staring at the cop.
“What happened to her?” Hyperion asked.
“She was stabbed.” I tore my gaze from Brik and the detective. “With a sword.”
My partner paled. “Tell me it wasn’t my Ace of Swords.”
“It looked like it.” A short sword wasn’t the sort of thing the casual murderer carted around. It had likely been poached from us. I mean, how many swords could possibly be lying around a holistic resort?
But Hyperion’s Jeep had been locked. It couldn’t have been taken from there.
Hyperion made an odd sound in his throat, like air being let out of a tire. “This is so not good.”
Baranko strode toward us. The burly detective stopped in front of Hyperion. A dark stain marred the detective’s wide, blue tie. “I hear you’re missing a sword.” Baranko’s eyes were red, and it didn’t look like he’d shaved yet today.
My partner ran his finger inside the collar of his ebony turtleneck. “Maybe? I mean, it could be in my Jeep. I haven’t had a chance to check.”
“Come with me.” The detective pivoted and walked toward the body, hidden behind a white Lexus. Acid rose in my throat. I swallowed it down. There’d been blood spatters on the luxury car’s pearly paint when we’d found her.
Baranko pointed. Hyperion staggered backward and sagged against a red Acura SUV. The Tarot reader nodded. Any hope that maybe the resort did keep a stash of spare swords was dashed. It was Hyperion’s.
The back of my throat burned. We’d all handled that sword at some point today. I’d put it into the box back at the tearoom. Hyperion had snatched it away from me complaining I might cut myself. Brik had taken it and given it a few experimental swings before dropping it into the box. Our fingerprints would be all over it. But how had the killer gotten hold of the sword?
I wasn’t seriously worried about Hyperion and me being blamed. Baranko would investigate and threaten and generally make our lives stressful, but we had no reason to kill Lace. We hadn’t known her.
Brik had. I gnawed my bottom lip.
The resort owner appeared at my side, and I started. I hadn’t heard him approach. “Is it true you found her?” Fraser asked.
“Lace.” He raked a hand through his pale-blond hair. “This is awful.”
“I’m very sorry for your loss.” I paused. “Did she have any family?”
He shook his head. “No. It was one of the reasons it was so easy to move her here from Eureka.”
“You worked together there?”
“I own Onyx Bluff in Eureka, another resort. She was my facility and guest services manager there. When I bought this place, I couldn’t think of anyone better to take that job.”
“Did you bring many people from Eureka?” I asked casually, watching Baranko.
“Just Lace and the spa manager.”
Baranko pointed toward a uniformed policeman. Hyperion nodded again and walked toward the officer. The detective cocked his finger at me, and my pulse high-jumped.
Oh goodie. I gave Fraser and apologetic glance and moved to join Baranko.
A police photographer snapped a picture of the body. Lace lay curled on her side, the hilt between her arms as if she’d been trying to pull it free. Blood pooled around the woman’s torso.
“Did you touch anything?” the detective barked.
“No,” I said. It had been obvious Lace was dead, her eyes blank and open and dull. I swallowed and looked away.
“Have you seen this sword before?” he asked.
“I think so. It looks like the sword we were going to use for the Ace of Swords display. It went missing after lunch.”
“What do you mean, missing?”
Hyperion and Brik had surely already told him this. He was checking to see if I’d confirm their stories, and for some reason that ticked me off.
I glanced around the parking lot. Brik climbed into his pickup. “We brought it into the Tarot room before lunch, but the hand wasn’t up—”
“There’s a white plastic hand sticking from the card which was supposed to hold the sword. It wasn’t up yet. Brik was working on another card at the time. So we couldn’t place the sword in its hand. Then we stopped for lunch at one o’clock, and—”
“Where’d you eat lunch?”
Brik’s battered pickup pulled from the lot. “On a bench overlooking the ocean,” I said. “We’d brought sandwiches from the tearoom.”
“All three of you?”
“Did any of you leave at any point during lunch?”
I really wanted to believe he was asking because we were witnesses, not suspects. “Brik went back to his truck for another tool, and I used the ladies room.”
“What tool did Mr. Jacobs return for?”
“I don’t know. A kind of wrench, I think.” I crossed my arms over my stomach. The detective hadn’t asked us if we’d seen anything after we left the room. So we were suspects. Or at least Brik was.
“You think?” The detective’s jaw tightened.
“I know the basics when it comes to tools, but I’m not a professional builder,” I said, exasperated.
“And did Mr. Jacobs have it when he returned from his truck?”
“I wasn’t paying that much attention.”
“Did any of you leave the room after lunch?”
“We were in and out,” I said. “I don’t remember.”
He grunted. “When did you notice the sword was missing?”
“Around five. That’s why we returned to the parking lot, to look for it.”
“Why look for it in the parking lot if you’d brought it into the resort?” he asked.
“Because we thought we hadn’t brought it into the Tarot maze. It was in a box. There were a lot of things moving in and out. And when we couldn’t find the sword, we assumed it was still in Hyperion’s car. But obviously, it wasn’t—”
“Because his Jeep was locked when we came out here.” I’d checked while we’d been waiting for the cops. “Someone would have had to break a window to get at it, and they hadn’t.”
“The door could have been unlocked, and then the killer locked it.”
There was that. But I really thought we’d brought the box with the sword inside.
“Who found the body?” he asked.
“Brik spotted her first,” I said.
“Where were you when he saw Ms. Leahy’s body?”
I pointed to the red Miata I’d been standing near. “Around there.”
“Could you see Ms. Leahy from where you stood?”
I shifted, uneasy. “No, but I’m shorter than Brik, and—”
“Thanks. You can go.” He smiled mirthlessly. “I know where to find you.”
Feet dragging, I moved away. I found Hyperion talking to Fraser at the edge of the parking lot. “I’m going to run back to Beanblossom’s,” I said. “Check in.”
“Sure, sure.” Hyperion motioned distractedly.
I found my hatchback and piloted it past the police officers in the lot. No one stopped me.
When I was off the Zen property, the muscles between my shoulders loosened. I didn’t quite speed on my return trip to San Borromeo, but I was pushing the limit.
I found an empty spot beside the dumpster near Beanblossom’s rear door and hurried inside the tearoom. The lights in the front room were dim, waitstaff cleaning off the tables beneath dangling paper Valentine’s hearts.
My manager, Maricel, whipped a white cloth from a table and smiled. “You made it. But you missed your grandfather and Tomas. They left about an hour ago.”
Her long hair ran in a thick braid down her back. She’d ditched the usual apron, exposing her t-shirt. It read: English is a stretch language; one size fits all. I wasn’t sure what that meant, but Maricel had been an English major, so I assumed she did.
“I promised I’d help with closing,” I said. And it beat sitting around thinking about the murder. And about Brik.
She folded the cloth beneath one arm. “Yeah, but we all figured Hyperion would keep you late setting up.”
I smiled tightly. “I’m all yours.” I helped clear tables and clean the kitchen. I was washing out the reach-in fridge when the phone rang in the back pocket of my jeans. I checked it. My friend and ex-boss, Razzzor. “Hey,” I said.
“Abigail?” Razzzor said. “I heard what happened at Zen. Are you okay?”
My scalp prickled. Razzzor is a tech genius. And a tech bazillionaire. He had a scary amount of resources. I loved him like a brother. But the idea of those resources focused on me was unsettling, to say the least. “How’d you hear so fast?”
“Tosha told me.”
I wrinkled my brow. “Who’s Tosha?”
“One of my engineers. I gave her a spa package at Zen and half day off as a reward. She used it today.”
I pressed a palm to my eyes. He’d actually found out through a normal, human grapevine? That was a switch. But it could be useful. “Did she see anything?” I sat back on my heels, my knees pressing into the cool linoleum floor.
“Just the police cars in the parking lot. She found out what happened from a masseuse. And the fact you’re asking if she saw anything tells me we’ve got another case.”
We? Case? “No,” I said quickly. The last thing I needed was my ex-boss’s involvement.
I liked Razzzor. There was no one better for digging out info on the dark web. And out of other places I’d rather not think about. But Razzzor could get a little over enthusiastic. “Not a case. I’m just nosy.”
“Yeah, yeah,” Razzzor said. “I heard the victim was the guest services manager, Lace Leahy. Did you know she worked in Eureka? She was at the same hotel Brik’s old girlfriend worked at when she was killed.”
“Yeah,” I said, my stomach hitting the soles of my sandals. Razzzor had been investigating. And it hadn’t taken him long to uncover the pertinent details. “Did you learn anything else?”
“Lace was interviewed in a local paper about Lyssa’s murder years back. She wasn’t a fan of Brik.”
“Oh.” I’d already guessed as much, but if there was a public record... Baranko would find it soon enough.
“Brik was supposed to help you two with the Tarot setup there, wasn’t he?”
“Yes,” I said flatly. “He was there.”
“Look,” he said. “I know Zen. I’ll sniff around, see what I can turn up.”
I supposed a little internet snooping couldn’t hurt. “That would be great. Thanks.” My hand spasmed on the phone. Wait. What did he mean by I know Zen? “How—?”
“No problem.” He hung up.
My phone rang again, and I answered without looking. “How do you know Zen?”
“Uh, I don’t,” Tomas said. “Am I supposed to?” Tomas was my grandfather’s best friend. I’d grown up calling him uncle. And maybe because my parents had long been out of the picture, he felt like the real deal.
I winced. “Sorry. I thought you were someone else. How are you?”
“Your grandfather and I are at the yacht club.”
“I don’t think I can stop by for dinner. I’ve got to get back—”
“I know. We heard what happened at Zen.”
I sucked in a quick breath. “How’d you hear about it?” Gramps and Tomas were pretty much the last people to go to a holistic health resort or to pay much attention to one.
“That’s why I’m calling. Brik’s here too. He’s at the bar, and he’s not looking too good.”
I swore. “I’ll be there in thirty minutes.”
I finished cleaning Beanblossom’s commercial kitchen. We locked up, and I drove to the yacht club.
The bar was on the second floor. Its wooden stools faced away from the windows overlooking the harbor. Normally, the bar had a vibe of dark elegance. Tonight it just seemed gloomy.
I spotted my grandfather first, his broad girth spilling over the barstool. His white hair tufted around the line his hat had made. The cabby hat sat on the bar before him.
Tomas was my grandfather’s opposite, tall and lanky, with skin like old leather. His coffee eyes were devoid of their usual good humor. Brik hunched beside the older men, an empty beer glass in front of him.
“Hi, everyone.” I took a seat beside Brik. “I didn’t expect to see you here,” I told my neighbor.
His head turned toward me, and my midsection iced. If I hadn’t been sitting down, I might have recoiled. Brik was utterly expressionless. The eyes of the dead woman had been more animated.
“Why are you here?” he asked, his voice toneless.
Hyperion was more of a student of human nature than me. But I knew it would be a bad idea to admit I’d come because Gramps and Tomas were worried about him. “The usual reason.”
I flagged the young bartender, filling a glass of beer from the tap. He set the glass down, smoothed his black apron, and gave me a “in-a-minute nod.
“You keeping an eye on me?” Brik asked sourly.
“You’re a big boy,” I said. “You’ve never needed that from me before. You think you need it now?”
“No.” He faced forward.
The bartender whisked away Brik’s empty glass and set a full one in front of him. “What can I get you?” he asked me.
“Your house Zinfandel.”
The bartender nodded and hurried away.
“That’s on my tab.” Tomas lifted his arm, one finger raised. The fabric of his SF Giant’s jacket rustled.
“Thanks,” I said. “How did it go with Baranko?” I asked Brik.
“It doesn’t matter how it went.” Brik squinted at his glass. “He’ll find out about Eureka, and history will repeat itself. It’s all happening again. I thought...” He shook his head.
My grandfather’s round face wrinkled with concern. “Brik told us you two found the body.” He fiddled with his cabbie hat on the bar.
Just keep to the facts. The murder has nothing to do with Brik. “Unfortunately,” I said. “It looks like someone stole one of Hyperion’s props—a sword—and killed her with it.”
Tomas nodded. “That’s what Brik told us too.”
“I told you that Zen place was trouble.” Gramps nudged Tomas. “It always attracted weirdos.”
So much for my grandfather not knowing much about the resort. “I’m staying at Zen for the week,” I reminded him. “It attracted me.”
“What you and Hyperion do is different,” Gramps said. “There’s been something cult-like about that place since it opened in the seventies. And now a murder?” He shook his head.
“I suppose Baranko caught the case?” Tomas asked casually.
“Yeah.” I braced my elbows on the bar. “He’s still San Borromeo’s only homicide detective.”
“At least he’s thorough.” Tomas leaned forward against the wooden bar to catch Brik’s eye. “What’d you think of the detective?”
“I’m not going to let him do this to me again,” Brik growled.
“Who?” My grandfather’s bushy brows drew downward. “Baranko? Have you tangled with him before?”
“Whoever did this.” Brik rose and tossed a few crumpled bills on the bar. “The man who killed Lyssa.”
My stomach clenched. The murders weren’t connected. How could they be? For Brik to jump to that conclusion was just—
“I thought the victim’s name was Lace?” My grandfather’s bushy gray brows drew downward.
“It’s happening again,” Brik said. “Another murder. Another resort. Another parking lot. It’s not a coincidence. And this time, I’m not going to let it—” His nostrils flared. “I’m not going to let it go.”