"Thank you, ma'am." Brian said to the cashier, his tray loaded with chicken and potato salad, with three fruit cups for dessert.
"You're welcome. You sure have a healthy appetite." she said as she took his money and rang him out.
"I'm a growing boy." he replied, taking his food and seeking out his usual table. However, there was something not quite usual about it today. Scott was lying face down on the table, his food untouched.
"Hey, Scott?" Brian asked the young necromancer. If he had second sight, he would have seen Amber hurriedly shake him.
"Huh? Wazzit? I'm awake!" Scott sat up abruptly, blinking in the light. Amber sighed; this was the third time today she had to wake him up. Their recent nightly activities were taking their toll. He had nearly missed the bell to change classes in history. "Hmm? Brian? Ahh, good t'see you."
"You, uh, okay there dude?" Brian asked, sitting down and raising an eyebrow.
"Oh, I'm fine, I'm fine. Why do you ask?" Scott said innocently, picking up a fork and beginning to eat his food.
"You're trying to eat soup with a fork." Brian deadpanned. Scott looked down to see his fork empty, the soup merely draining through.
"Ugh." he grunted, dropping his fork. "I don't even like soup. Yeah, sorry. I am a bit out of it." He leaned forward into his hand, rubbing his temples to make the sluggish pain go away.
"Care to share?" Brian asked, placing some potato salad into a roll to make an impromptu sandwich. Scott took a quick glance at Amber, considering his options.
"Well...I haven't been getting much sleep lately." he said slowly, choosing his words very carefully.
"Yeah, I noticed."
"More than usual. It's about...listen, if I tell you, you can't tell anyone else, for any reason. It's actually sort of a matter of life and death. Understand?" Scott said harshly, lowering his voice and staring at his friend as hard as he could, trying to impress upon him the sheer gravity of the situation. Brian gulped.
"Y-Yeah, man. I get it. B-But what's so bad that you need to swear me to secrecy for?" he asked nervously. Scott's eyes shifted from side to side, trying to see if anyone was paying attention to them.
"Scott, be careful. You know you can't let him in on this.” Amber said worriedly, afraid her warning would fall on deaf ears. To her relief, he nodded slightly at her.
"It's about the Craven Falls Killer." Scott said softly, making Brian drop his fork in surprise.
"What?" he yelped.
"Shhh! Keep your voice down!" Scott hissed. He looked, but there was no one unduly disturbed by Brian's outburst.
"Sorry." Brian said, chastised.
"Nah, don't worry about it. Thing is, I, ah, obtained some info relevant to the case-information that could lead to an arrest." he said vaguely. "And it turns out I have knowledge of a sort that the police do not, about something of an unusual and not very well-known matter, which has made me something of an asset. I've been spending the last two days helping the cops with the investigation, sort of like a specialist or consultant. Strictly research only, of course, I get no details, nowhere near the heart of the matter. But yeah, I've been running around nearly ragged, trying to do anything I can." he finished, leaning back in his chair. Brian stared at him, trying to comprehend it.
"You're kidding. Right?"
"I wish I was." Scott said, shaking his head. "I've been going through all the material I have, looking for anything relevant. I guess I shouldn't have told you all that, but the stress is wearing me down. Nothing I said really violates the nondisclosure agreement, anyway."
"You're really serious. You're really working the case!" Brian whispered excitedly, making Scott crack a small smile. Amber giggled. "You're really important, you're really doing something!"
"Don't make it sound like I'm actually a detective." Scott said. A vision of Detective Cross came to his mind unbidden. He gagged. "Anyway, my part's as small as can be, kind of like a temporary internship. It should be over soon, anyway."
"Maybe. But seriously! We're teenagers! How did you even swing something like that in the first place?" Scott looked at him cockeyed.
"I can't tell you anything like that. I'll be able to tell you when it's over, okay?" He sat back, visibly more relaxed than Amber had seen him in days. Brian's face fell.
"Oh. Yeah. Guess so."
"Hey, it's not up to me, okay? But still, I'd appreciate you keeping this to yourself." he said, scratching the side of his head. Brian put his hands up and smiled ruefully.
"I gotcha. My lips are sealed. Besides, who would I tell?" He chuckled sadly. Scott shifted uncomfortably, knowing Brian didn't have any other friends, either.
"Hey, this weekend I got nothing going on. Wanna come over and play some games?" he said, abruptly changing the subject. Brian brightened up immediately.
“Mayor Whipstaff will see you now.” the secretary said, ushering her in.
“Thank you.” Detective Cross said, sweeping inside. It had been hard to get this meeting on such short notice, but Chief Mason had pulled some stings. He had gotten her admitted to the end of his weekly meeting, and she wasn’t about to waste this chance.
“Ah, hello, Detective.” the mayor said, standing up to shake her hand. Mayor Whipstaff was in his late forties, his slicked-back hair and immaculate mustache tinged with grey. Dressed in a severely pressed pinstripe suit, Cross could easily imagine him as a head of the mob during Prohibition. “Good to finally meet you in person. How’s the case going? Any leads?” he said, puffing on a large cigar.
“Richard, don’t unload on her with questions first thing.” Chief Mason chided good-naturedly. “Cognac?” He offered a decanter and a glass at her. She noted his was a quarter full. She waved him off.
“No thank you, Chief. Besides, that’s why I’m here today. Sirs, I have a request: I’d like to bring in some of my men from the Nahumville precinct. We’re, ahh, more used to incidents of this nature over there, and have more experience with them.” she said, mentally replaying the details she’d hashed out with Scott three nights ago at the cemetery.
“Yeah, there’s no way to prove their perceptions have been altered. There’s literally no physical evidence, and they can’t even tell something’s wrong.” he’d said.
“So I don’t mention it at all. We play up the fact that a newcomer was able to spot things that the locals missed. See if I can bring any of my old boys over here.” she’d retorted.
“Worth a shot, I guess. We’ll start the operation tomorrow.”
“You want to bring in more men?” the mayor said, puffing his cigar. “But why?”
“I realize this is unusual, but this is an unusual circumstance. The Craven Falls locals, no disrespect meant to them, are too close to the case. I’m finding that they are…reluctant to suspect anyone from this town. The thought that it might be one of their own is distracting them, making them miss things. I’m hoping a small retinue change will help alleviate the problems, and get those who remain focused again.” she lied smoothly.
“And how many is a small retinue change, Detective?” Mason asked, frowning.
“Twenty men, sir.” she said, staring straight ahead.
“Twenty!” both men laughed uproariously, while Cross stood stock-still, not even twitching. “That’s more than a small change, Detective. I’m afraid there’s no way I could justify the cost.” Whipstaff said, topping off his drink.
“Sir, I realize that it would be an overhaul, but that’s my lowest projected estimate of what we’d need. It would only be temporary in any case, and more like a personnel exchange-”
“Enough, Detective Cross.” Mason cut her off with a wave of his hand. “There’s no way I could justify such a drastic measure, for just one case.” She stared at him, trying not to lose control and start shouting at him.
“But sir! The public is living in fear right now. People are dying. This is the most effective solution that exists. I don’t think the job could be done with things as they are!”
“Ahh, but isn’t that exactly your job, Ms. Cross?” the mayor said, his voice and face hard, his eyes cold. “To do your best to protect us from this terrible criminal running around? If you think that’s the case, you’d better let us know right now.” Taken aback, she looked to the chief for support, but he folded his arms across his chest and sat back with a disdainful eye.
“After all, Detective.” the chief said softly, almost bored. “If you don’t think you can, you’ll be replaced with someone who does. Understand?” Cross stared at them, looking for all the world like she was trying to set them on fire with her gaze.
“Understood, sirs.” she ground out with barely constrained fury.
“Good.” They both relaxed. “Don’t look so tense, Detective. After all, we’re cooking up a little something to help ease the tension for the town. Trick-or-treating will have to be cancelled this year, I’m afraid, but we have something better; the whole town is invited to a Halloween party, right here in the town square! There’ll be music, dancing, we’ll set up a haunted house for the kids, the works!” Whipstaff said, almost giddy.
“It’s wonderful, don’t you think? The perfect thing to distract the townsfolk with from the recent troubles.” Mason said, a twinkle in his eye.
“Fantastic, sirs.” I’ll save the date. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have duties I must fulfill.” Cross turned on her heel and swiftly exited, trying to keep from shaking.
“How dare they…how dare they!” she growled when she was alone in the hall. “Those bastards! Those pigs! They’re using me as a pawn! Just brought me in for my reputation. It’s all just…bread and circuses!” She slammed her fist into the wall, cracking plaster and making dust rain. “I’ll get them for this!” she snarled, ignoring the throbbing of her hand.
Back inside the mayor’s office, the two most powerful men in the city shared a chuckle over Cross’s little display.
“So, Richard. What do you think her chances are of finding the Craven Falls Killer?” Chief Mason said, filling up his drink. Whipstaff smirked.
“That’s a fool’s bet, my good man. I don’t care for her chances at all.”
“True.” They clinked their glasses together, and drank to that.
"I can't believe how much you ate during dinner." Amber said, looking at Scott with concern. He had third helpings on everything, chicken tenders, mashed potatoes, corn, the works. Along with devouring his lunch when he was awake enough to eat it, he’d even seemed to be losing weight. Amber was growing worried. "Are you going to be okay?"
"Yeah, I'll be fine." Scott said, lying down on his bed with his eyes closed. "It's just doing all this takes a lot of power. It's nothing I can't handle, it's just strenuous. I think it'll do me good in the long run, even." he said philosophically. "But it's kind of like lifting weights with my mind. Speaking of which, it's getting to be that time. Mind checking in on my folks?"
"Sure, no problem." Amber drifted through the door and down the hall, peeking her head through to his parents' room. His father was already asleep, his mother zoning out watching TV, soon to join him. She walked through the walls into Claytons' room, seeing him lying in bed as well, playing with his phone in the dark.
"Looks like everyone's down for the night, but your mom and brother are still awake, so we have to be quiet." she said, floating into the room.
"Good." He got up and went over to the closet door. He opened it, revealing a decaying and skeletal zombie standing there in jeans and a button down blouse. "Sit down." he said, pointing to a spot on the floor, and it did so mechanically. "Uuugh." he grimaced, dreading what was coming next."
"Hurry up, we have to meet with Detective Cross in ten minutes." Amber said, looking away. She understood the necessity, but that didn't mean the body didn't creep her out.
"Got it, got it." Scott unenthusiastically replied, rubbing his hands together. "Alright now. Sasach, tolarath. Sasach, tolarath. Sasach, tolarath." he began chanting quietly, frowning in concentration. Slowly, the skeletal body began to swell and fill out, glowing softly as ectoplasm infused it, temporarily reversing the damage time had done to it. Skin and hair grew and filled out, sunken cheeks puffed back up, eyelids slid down and opened, revealing a blank blue stare, a pale girl of seventeen from over a hundred years ago.
"There." Scott said, sitting back on the bed, already feeling the strain start to set in. It was a strange sensation; nothing was wrong with his physical body, but he could swear there was a smoldering, almost burning pain in his muscles and his head. "Ugh. This spell was not meant to be used for so long." he muttered, rubbing his head.
"You say that every time." Amber said absently, concentrating to style the corpse's hair and straighten her clothes, borrowed from Detective Cross.
The plan was simple. The Craven Falls Killer needed victims, so the three of them had decided to give him one. Scott had dug up a teen from 1908 and used his magic to simulate her appearance in life. Thus, Victoria Harford. The hope was to have her walk around town "alone", and when the killer struck Cross would be waiting in the wings to close the trap. Not a perfect plan, but with the killer only one heart away and no other leads, the best one they had.
"Well I mean it every time." he grumbled, and stood up. "Victoria, let's go." The corpse nodded and stood by the open window. Scott unceremoniously shoved her out.
"Scott!" Amber said accusingly.
"What? She's not getting any deader. I'm not struggling with just waiting while she climbs down the rope, we were late last time." he said. She glowered at him.
"No, you idiot. I just spent all that time fixing up her appearance, and you've ruined that work! Now I have to do it all over again!" He sighed, and looked out the window. Cross's car was waiting for them down the block. It was time to go.
"Just do it on the way, then. It's not like she has to be perfect, anyway." he huffed, making sure the rope was secured correctly.
"Hmph. I'll have you know I take pride in my work." Amber said.
"And you do very good work." he placated. "Now would you hurry up? We have a serial killer to catch."