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The Sword in the Scone: Chapter 3

--By Kirsten Weiss


A part of me—okay, all of me—wanted to go home and curl up in my own bed. But duty was calling. Heart heavy, I returned to Zen.


I couldn’t abandon Hyperion. Not only would he make a major stink about it, but it would just be wrong. Also, if I knew Hyperion, he’d be itching to talk over the murder. I wasn’t sure if I was. This wasn’t a casual inquiry, not if Brik became a suspect.


But when I got to our suite, Hyperion wasn’t wearing a track in the carpet waiting for me. He was holed up in his bedroom, door closed. From the occasional murmurs that drifted through the door, I guessed he was on the phone with Tony.


Feeling hollow, I collapsed onto my queen bed in my side of the sand-colored suite. The bed was better than mine at home, the mattress firmer, the white sheets crisper.


Hyperion didn’t knock on my door to hash things out. I waited, staring at the shiplap walls, my shoes discarded on the sisal rug.


Brik had told me once about Lyssa—only a little. We hadn’t spoken of it since. It had obviously been painful for him. I hadn’t wanted to press.


Someone had been stalking her. Naturally, he assumed the stalker had killed her. The cops had assumed Brik was the stalker.


I rolled onto my side and slipped one hand beneath the perfectly plump pillow. My jaw hardened. I’d had my own online stalker experience, which I did not talk about.


The first rule of being stalked is to tell the police and no one else. The stalker may be listening and getting his jollies out of the complaints.


I’d actually broken that rule though and confessed to Razzzor, my boss at the time. His response hadn’t been legal. But he’d taken care of the problem much more efficiently than the police.


Back then, had my stalker been surveilling me up close and in person? I didn’t know. I hadn’t sensed being watched, but the incident had led me to distrust my senses. The more pressure you’re under, the harder it is to know what’s real.


Lyssa’s stalker hadn’t trekked from Eureka to the outskirts of San Borromeo just to torment Brik. But I got why it felt that way to him. My hand clenched on the pillow. Brik was falling under suspicion for murder again. He had a history with Lace. And unless the killer had wiped it, his prints would be on the sword.


It was damned odd.


There was a soft knock at my door. I sat up, relieved by the interruption to my thoughts. “I’m awake.”


Hyperion opened the door and sidled inside. “How’s Brik doing?” He padded across the wood floor and came to a halt at the edge of the pale rug.


“Why would you think I’d—?” I shook my head. It didn’t matter. “I don’t know. He seems to think the same person who killed Lyssa killed Lace.”


“What matters is what the police think.” He met my gaze, his brown eyes somber.


My stomach lurched. I knew what he was saying because I’d been thinking it too. The police were going to think Brik was responsible for both.


I swung my feet out of the high bed. “What did Tony say?”


“He said Brik should hire a lawyer.”


I cursed, my feet dangling above the floor. “What did Fraser say to you?”


“He wanted to know about Brik’s work on Beanblossom’s. I told him he did a great job.”


I gaped. “You’re kidding. An employee gets a sword through her chest, and he’s worried about contractors?”


“They’re about as easy to find as unicorns these days.”


“You think that was what he really wanted to know?”


Hyperion shrugged and braced one hip against the curving, biscotti-colored divan opposite my bed. “Probably not.”


“Is it a coincidence that Fraser’s from Eureka too?”


“Probably not.” His mouth set in a grim line.


“Fraser mentioned he’d brought Lace here, as well as the spa manager. Lace worked at Fraser’s hotel. They all worked together. Well, maybe not the spa manager. Who knows when he started there?”


“Jaysen O’Meara,” Hyperion said meditatively. “You know, I’m thinking of stopping by the spa tomorrow evening. I couldn’t book a massage—they were full up. But the Roman sauna doesn’t require reservations.”


I nodded. I had no idea how a Roman sauna differed from a normal sauna, and I didn’t much care. But finding out made a good excuse to nose around.


***


In the emptying breakfast room, I stared glumly at the remains of my oatmeal puree and tropical fruit salad. It had tasted fine but left me wanting to tear into a double chocolate scone. I should have brought some leftovers from Beanblossom’s last night.


I rubbed the back of my neck. Maybe my grouchy hunger was down to sleeplessness. Hyperion’s snores had kept me awake most of the night. I don’t know how he did it. I’d been in another room, separated by a seating area and two doors.


A chair scraped beside me. Eyelids heavy, I looked left, and my heart lurched.


Brik sat in the wooden chair, his broad back to the picture windows. They framed two massive cypress trees, enclosing the blue Pacific. Last night’s fog had cleared, leaving a horizon of unrelenting shades of blue.


A thin, long-haired woman in stretchy earth-toned clothing browsed a long table. It was lined with bowls of loose, herbal teas from Beanblossom’s. She scooped out a teaspoon of our Fool Tea and sniffed the colorful herbs.


Brik glanced around the breakfast room. “Where’s Hyperion?” He wore his usual white t-shirt and jeans. But his hair looked frayed, strands escaping their ponytail.


“Last I checked, he was schmoozing an Instagram influencer about his upcoming Tarot book. Hyperion’s probably in a lecture room now. What are you doing back here?”


“Did he talk to his friend Tony?”


I folded my arms over my silky seafoam-green blouse. It hadn’t escaped my notice that he hadn’t answered my question. “Yes.”


“What did he say?”


The woman at the tea table glanced over her shoulder at us. I hesitated. “I don’t think you hanging around here is going to help things,” I said.


“I’m not going to sit back and wait for the police to screw me over again. I did that last time. Look how that worked out. So? How do you two... uh, do it? Investigate crimes, I mean.”


I heard the unspoken word in that pause. You two idiots. “Look,” I said, “I get it. But—”


“Brik. What are you doing here?” Hyperion wound through the abandoned tables and dropped into the chair between us. His going-to-conference outfit today was an ocean-blue crewneck sweater. He wore it over a button-up shirt and skinny blue slacks.


Brik leaned back in his chair. “The same thing you’re doing. Trying to solve a murder.”


“We’re not—” I frowned at Hyperion. “What are you doing here? Don’t you have a Tarot lecture to attend?”


My partner laced his fingers behind his head. “I’m not interested in any of the speakers this session.”


“How do you investigate crimes?” Brik asked.


“We talk to people, poke around, gather evidence,” Hyperion said. “It’s easy.”


“No,” I said sharply. “It isn’t.” Brik couldn’t be here. He’d just look suspicious. He might not be a suspect yet, but I wanted to keep it that way for as long as possible.


“It boils down to means, motive, and opportunity,” Hyperion continued. “Did the person have access or ability to use the weapon involved? Did they have a motive? Do they have an alibi for the time of the murder?”


“That’s it?” Brik’s pale brows sketched upward.


“Obviously,” Hyperion said, “it takes a certain degree of skill to get the info without making suspects suspicious.”


“Obviously,” Brik said.


“For example, I’ve offered Fraser a Tarot reading,” Hyperion said, expression smug.


My stomach hardened. “What?” Tarot readings were private. I couldn’t be there to listen in.


“Don’t worry, Abs.” Hyperion leaned back in his chair. “We’re doing it in the Zen garden, so you can hang around. The key is to make the questions seem natural. Idle gossip, that sort of thing.”


I shook my head. “The key is to not get arrested for interfering.” Would he stop encouraging Brik?


“Right.” Hyperion nodded. “There’s that whole interfering with an investigation thing. You have to be careful not to step on the toes of the fuzz.”


“Got it. I need an excuse.” Brik pushed back his chair and strode from the breakfast room.

“What are you thinking?” I hissed. “He might become a suspect. If he hangs around here, it’s just going to make things worse.”


“I doubt he can be more of a suspect than he is already,” Hyperion said. “What worries me is how sure he is this murder is connected to Lyssa’s death. It smacks of obsession.”


An iron band squeezed my lungs. That wasn’t fair. Who wouldn’t be obsessed if their loved one was murdered? And I hadn’t told Hyperion about what Brik had said at the bar. “Why would you say that?”


“It’s obvs he thinks the murders are connected.”


“Connected or not, odds are someone at the resort killed her, someone who knew her well enough to want her gone.”


Hyperion quirked a dark brow. “And Brik’s going to do what he’s going to do no matter what we say. We may as well help him.”


“Well, of course I want to help him, but...” But so much could go wrong. Admittedly, Hyperion and I did have a bad habit of getting involved in murder investigations. But we were good at it. It was part of our quirky charm. (Ha.) But this was Brik.


“Worried all this close contact at a coast-side luxury resort will stir up feelings between you and the boy next door?” he asked, arch.


“Of course not,” I said sniffily. “There are no feelings.”


The slender woman from the tea table sauntered to our table. “I wouldn’t talk to him if I were you.” She tossed her straight, brown hair over her shoulder. Her nose was long and narrow, pointing like an arrow to her sharp chin.


“Talk to whom?” I asked, because I’m all about grammar when I can remember it.


“Brik Jacobs,” she said. “He’s a dangerous man.”


“Sorry, who are you?” I asked, annoyed.


She smiled. Her teeth were straight and even, and she held a mug of tea. “Verbena. Verbena Pillbrow, Tarot reader and tea witch. The police probably don’t know it yet, but they will. He killed his girlfriend in Eureka. I’ve no doubt he killed that woman here too.”


I stiffened. “How do you know that?”


“Because I knew his girlfriend in Eureka. She was a client of mine.” She shook her head. “She didn’t deserve what that bastard did to her.”


Heat volcanoed from my chest to the top of my head. “Brik didn’t—”


Hyperion put a hand on my arm. “Tell us absolutely everything.” He motioned to the empty chair Brik had vacated.


I fumed. Okay. Yes. She was a potential witness possibly chock-full of information. But she was also obviously prejudiced.


The Pillbrow woman sat, setting her mug by her elbow. “Lyssa was a beautiful woman. She had an almost fey quality, and then that quality turned haunted. She realized something was wrong. But she refused to believe what was wrong was right in front of her, in her relationship.”


My mouth pinched. Who was this woman?


“But you saw it,” Hyperion said encouragingly.


She giggled. “Are you psychic?”


“No,” he said. “I’m a Tarot reader.”


The two laughed. This wasn’t as odd as it might seem. A lot of Tarot readers, Hyperion included, didn’t consider themselves psychics. They let the Tarot cards do the work. And Hyperion was quite clear about this in all his advertising.


“You know how it is,” she said. “Sometimes the cards shout the truth, but the client isn’t always ready to see it. Lyssa grew paranoid, but not paranoid enough.”


“Because someone killed her,” Hyperion said.


“Brik.” She picked up the mug and blew on it.


“The police didn’t arrest him,” I said tightly.


“I’m sure they will now.” She took a sip. “I can’t believe I was here when it happened. I got to Zen a day early so I could reserve the room I wanted. I just love this place. Are you both Tarot readers?”


“Just me,” Hyperion said. “I have a book coming out in a few months, The Mysteries of Tarot. This is my partner, Abigail, of Beanblossom’s Tea and Tarot. She runs the tearoom.”


The tips of Verbena’s nostrils whitened. “Those are your herbs?” She inclined her head toward the tea table. A couple browsed the teas, white cups in hand.


“Yes,” Hyperion said. “Aren’t her Tarot tea blends genius?”


“They’re not tea,” she said. “If you’re going to sell tisanes, at least learn about the topic, okay?”


“Tisanes?” Hyperion asked.


“It’s a word for herbal teas,” I explained. “Most people aren’t familiar with it, so—”


“But tisanes aren’t teas at all,” she said. “Tea comes from the tea plant.”


“Yes,” I said. “I’m aware. But in common parlance, a beverage of any leaves steeped in water is tea. So I—”


“As a tearoom owner,” she said, “it’s your job to educate people.”


No, it wasn’t. “It’s my job to provide an enjoyable—”


“My words are falling on the ears of the ignorant.” Verbena rose. “There’s no point in my staying.” She flounced away and through the breakfast room’s double doors.


“You didn’t need to antagonize her,” Hyperion said.


I glared. “Antagonize her? She was antagonizing me. And she’s probably the killer. She knew Lyssa. She was from Eureka. What are the odds?”


“Don’t be catty.”


“Did you not see how she was behaving?”


“Like a know-it-all and a busybody—in short, like an ideal witness.”


“Or suspect,” I grumped.


“Oh, she’s totally sus.”


I glanced at the open doors leading to the conference rooms. “Do you think she heard our conversation with Brik?”


“Why else would she be hanging around?”


“Dammit.” I shoved my plate away. “He’s got to get out of here.”


“Why?”


“Because if I throttle a tea witch,” I growled, “he’ll probably be blamed.”


“I don’t think you have to worry about that. He can’t just hang around for no reason. It’s a private resort. It won’t be good for him if they throw him off the property, and he’s not stupid. He’s knows that.”


I sighed. “I guess you’re right.” Maybe I was catastrophizing.


“Of course I’m right. When he cools down and can think straight, we’ll offer to be his eyes and ears here. We can keep him busy doing internet research—maybe even connect him with Razzzor to dig through the dark web. And we’ll hold the fort at the resort.”


It was a good plan. It would keep Brik busy and useful and out of trouble. I nodded, the tightness in my chest easing. It would work. Of course it would work.


Brik and Fraser strolled into the breakfast room. Fraser clapped my neighbor’s muscular shoulder and moved toward the tea table. Brik ambled toward us.


“What’s going on?” I asked him.


“Fraser’s going to take me down to that house on the beach to figure out what’s involved. Fortunately, they already have plans for the renovation.”


“Renovation?” I asked blankly.


Brik smiled. “I’m starting today. You’re looking at the newest member of the Zen team.”




Collage: Sword in the Scone bookcover, Sword in the Scone ebook on a table beside a deck of Tarot cards, young woman staring through a magnifying glass, and a picture of tea with rose blossoms.

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