A Catastrophic Theft

a catastrophic theft

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chapter-1

drop-cap-reg had been trying to sleep through a cacophony of bird calls in the garden outside her window, sheet pulled tightly over her head. Unfortunately, the sheet did not provide a sufficient barrier to block out their noise. All hope of sleep fled when Starlight decided it was breakfast time. He jumped down from the window where he’d been perched watching the avian activity and onto Reg’s bed, yowling impatiently to tell her how hungry he was.

“Not yet, Star,” Reg protested. “I’m not getting up for a couple more hours yet.”

Starlight had other ideas. He pawed at her head through the sheet, not giving in.

“I didn’t get enough sleep!”

He wasn’t persuaded.

Reg groaned. She knew she wasn’t going to be able to get any more rest once the cat decided it was time for her to get up. It was one of the joys of cat ownership that no one had bothered to tell her about. She pulled the sheet off of her face and Starlight touched his nose to hers, then rubbed the length of his cheek down hers, purring loudly. Reg pushed him away a little and scratched his ears.

“It wouldn’t be so bad if I hadn’t been up half the night.”

Being nocturnal, Starlight already knew that Reg had been up late to hold a midnight seance for a client, which meant she had only been in bed for a few hours before the birds had started making their racket. Keyed up and overtired, the little bit of sleep that Reg had been able to get had been restless and filled with wild, unsettling dreams.

Reg yawned noisily. Starlight put his ears back, looking at her like she’d belched at a fancy dinner party.

“I’m tired,” Reg reiterated.

There was no point in staying in bed any longer, so she forced herself to get up and wandered into the bathroom for her morning oblations. Starlight didn’t follow her into the bathroom as he sometimes did, wary of being flicked with water so Reg could have her privacy. He was waiting by his bowl when she made it out to the kitchen. Reg frowned, looking down at his bowl. She could swear that he’d actually eaten some of his dry kibble. Maybe he would actually eat the new brand that she’d paid an arm and a leg for at the specialty pet store. The clerk who had helped her had extolled the health benefits of the dry food, showing her the ingredients to verify that it was actually made from premium meat rather than the combination of grains and byproducts Reg had found on the label of the cheap grocery store box she had previously bought.

“Do you like that? Did you have some of it?”

Starlight just stared at her, waiting for her to hurry up and give him his morning meal.

Reg saw that her appointment book was on the island counter, which meant that Sarah had been by at some point and written someone into her calendar. Tired of surprise visits, Reg had decided to put a system in place to help her keep on top of the appointments that Sarah set up.

Sarah was not Reg’s secretary, but her landlord, a senior witch whose connections in Black Sands often put her in contact with people who were looking for psychic services. She had taken it upon herself to provide Reg with the clientele she needed, as well as keep the fridge stocked and maintain everything else in the furnished cottage in her backyard in top condition.

While Reg sometimes wished for the peace and privacy she should have been able to enjoy as a paying tenant, she couldn’t deny that Sarah’s intrusions were an unexpected benefit and had resulted in her being able to build up her psychic services business in Black Sands much more quickly than she had anticipated.

In the past, things had always gone the opposite way. She had aged out of the foster care system without any significant skills and hadn’t had any opportunities for further education. She would come up with brilliant ideas of ways to make money, but they never worked out the way she expected them to. Money just didn’t come in or people caught on to her scams too quickly, and before she’d managed to raise more than a comfortable living, she was forced to move on to avoid trouble and would again be looking for a way to get rich.

She paged through the calendar to make sure she was aware of her schedule for the next few days. Starlight rubbed against her legs, encouraging her to put something more interesting into his bowl.

“Okay, okay. Let’s see what we’ve got.”

Reg opened the fridge and surveyed the contents. There was a round plastic container that was unfamiliar. She popped the lid to have a peek at the contents. Some kind of stew that Sarah had probably made too much of and was trying to pawn off on her; or else she had deliberately made enough for Reg because she was concerned about Reg’s less-than-healthy eating habits—though Sarah’s weren’t much better.

“Let’s try some of this.”

Reg spooned a generous helping of the stew into Starlight’s bowl and put it down on the floor. He sniffed at it for a minute, then apparently deemed it safe for feline consumption and started in on it. Reg put the container back into the fridge and looked for something better suited for her own breakfast.

Having a written calendar and Sarah acting as her scheduling secretary apparently didn’t keep Reg from having unexpected guests. She had eaten her non-Sarah-approved breakfast and was just having a cup of tea and deciding how to approach her day when there was a knock at the door. If it had been Sarah, she would just have walked in, but the door didn’t open.

Reg went over to look out the peephole, much more careful about letting just anyone into the house than she had been in the past. But the diminutive figure she saw through the peephole was not Corvin or some other threat. Reg opened the door, smiling.

“What can I do for you, Detective Jessup?”

Marta Jessup gave a little shrug, her Asian complexion taking on a slightly pink hue. “I hope I didn’t get you up.” She nodded to the tea, “but it looks like you already have the kettle on?”

“I’ve been up for ages.” Reg stifled a yawn, wishing she were back in bed. But maybe she’d be able to sneak in an afternoon nap between consultations. “Come in and have a cup with me.”

Jessup accepted her invitation and in a few minutes they were in Reg’s living room, as snug in the upholstered wicker chairs as one could be. Jessup sipped at her tea, which Reg noted she had added quite a bit of sugar and milk to.

“I wonder if you would consult for me on another case,” Jessup suggested.

“Sure.” Reg nodded. Her consultation on the previous case, that of a missing adolescent fairy, Calliopia Papillon, had been both successful and profitable. “What can I do for you?”

“We haven’t had any success in finding the missing knife.”

“Hawthorne-Rose’s knife?” Reg automatically ran her thumb over the healing cut in her hand. The knife was, she knew, a rare artifact. Fairy steel rarely fell into the hands of anyone outside of the kin, and especially not one that had been polluted with fairy blood. It should have been unmade before it could fall into the hands of a human like Hawthorne-Rose.

“I’ve talked to everyone I could in any position of authority at Corvin’s club. They all maintain that when they picked up the car, there was nothing in it. No knife. They suggest that someone must have taken it out of my bag before the car was retrieved.”

“Well, they would, wouldn’t they?” Reg gave a shrug. If possession of such a rare and valuable object had fallen into Reg’s hands, she certainly wouldn’t have been eager to return it to its rightful owner. Not without significant compensation. The police couldn’t prove that anyone at the club had it, so they couldn’t make threats to get it back.

“I can’t prove whether they have it,” Jessup echoed Reg’s thoughts, “or whether Corvin or someone else took it before the car was picked back up by the club.”

“My money is on Corvin. It wasn’t me.”

“I suspect the warlock too,” Jessup admitted. “Even after all the times he’s assisted with investigations in the past… I’m not sure he could resist the pull of a powerful object like the knife.”

“He’d be risking never being able to do any other work for you. Would he take that chance? When you’ve provided him with other artifacts as compensation before?”

“Could he delay immediate gratification for something he might get in the future? I don’t know. He doesn’t have the best record for demonstrating willpower.”

There was a knot in Reg’s stomach. She tried to breathe through it. Jessup didn’t know of Reg’s latest conflict with Corvin, but she knew that Corvin had previously stolen Reg’s powers. He had returned them to her, something unheard of, in order to save Reg and himself from Hawthorne-Rose, but that didn’t mean he didn’t want them back again. In fact, he seemed quite determined to possess them once more.

“No,” Reg agreed, “willpower is not high on Corvin’s list of virtues.”

“At the moment I have no way of proving that Corvin has the knife, or that his club does, or whether I’m just chasing my tail here and it’s someone else altogether. So I wondered… if you could put me on the right track.”

Reg nodded. “Yeah, I’d be happy to help.”

She stared for a minute into her cup, at the tea leaves swirling in the bottom. It wouldn’t be hard for her to locate the knife. She had located lost objects that she had no connection to in the past. The knife had drawn her blood, so she had a strong physical connection with it. She closed her eyes to focus, which didn’t give her a headache like rolling her eyes back in her head. Jessup didn’t need a show like less sophisticated clients. No need for over-dramatization.

She reached out with her mind, feeling for the knife. She was surprised not to get an immediate hit. She frowned, squeezing her eyes shut more tightly and drawing her brows down, focusing intently. Jessup sat quietly, waiting, and didn’t distract her from the process with questions.

Reg kept her eyes closed and made a noise to call Starlight to her. She shouldn’t need a psychic boost to find the knife, yet obviously she did. She heard the patter of Starlight’s feet and he jumped up into her lap. The only time the cat actually came when he was called—other than for meals, which she never had to call him for—was when she needed him for a psychic reason.

Reg scratched his ears and pressed her face into the velvety fur on top of his head. Starlight was still, but it was an active, focused stillness, not like when he was sleeping or cuddling. Reg imagined the knife. She tried to conjure up a detailed picture of it in her mind. She had seen it several times. She had been injured with it. It had been joined with her.

But it was like there was a wall around the knife. She couldn’t locate it. She tried to see the wall itself or the area around the wall. If it were in a box or protected by some kind of enchantment, then maybe she couldn’t see the knife itself but would be able to see its location. Still, nothing came to her. Starlight dug his claws into Reg’s leg. She tried to harness all of his energy and hers and to focus it on the task, but she still failed to find the knife.

Reg breathed out in a long sigh and opened her eyes. “I can’t see it,” she said, shaking her head. “I should be able to, I don’t know why I can’t.”

Jessup nodded, not looking surprised. “I wasn’t betting on you being able to, but I figured it was worth a try.”

“I don’t understand why I can’t reach it. It shouldn’t be that hard, when I’ve seen it and… err, had it in my hand… before.”

Jessup’s eyes flashed amusement. “Yes. Well, in my experience, these paranormal phenomena never quite work out the way you expect them to. And you can never be sure what the other person is up to… what kind of magic or other power they might have on their side.”

“But if it’s Corvin…” Reg wanted to say that she had a connection with him and she should have been able to use that, but she couldn’t figure out how to say it in a way that wouldn’t make it sound like they had a relationship.

“If it’s Corvin,” Jessup picked up the thread, “he’s had your powers. He knows better than anyone what you’re capable of and what he’d need to do to block you. It wouldn’t be hard for him to guess that I’d come to you to help find it.”

“I suppose.” Reg still didn’t think Corvin should be able to block her. They’d been so intimately connected in the past.

Starlight fluffed out his fur and looked at her contemptuously, which told her that he knew exactly who she was talking about. There was no love lost between Corvin and Starlight.

“I’m not going to see him,” Reg told the cat. “We’re just talking about whether he had the fairy steel.”

Starlight made a little burping meow, jumped down, and walked away. Reg shook her head. “I’ll never understand cats.”

“It actually seems like you understand him pretty well.”

“Then maybe I understand him too well.”

Jessup laughed and nodded. “I’m not sure any of us wants to know what cats are thinking about us.”

“Mostly, I’m just the provider of fish.”

“I’m sure there’s more to it than that…”

“Not a lot. If you want to know what cats think about… mostly it’s about food.”

“Well…” Jessup shifted, preparing to stand, “I appreciate you trying, Reg. If something comes to you later… let me know.”

“Sure.”

There was a hurried knock on the door that made Reg jump, and the door opened. It was, of course, Sarah. She popped into the room and looked around, her eyes wide, looking disheveled. Sarah, a grandmotherly type, always looked neat and tidy and was the master of quick changes, so Reg was surprised to see her in such a state.

“Sarah? Is something wrong?”

“My emerald!” Sarah’s breathing was quick and labored. “I can’t find it. I don’t know where it is. My emerald!”

I hope you enjoyed this sample of

A Catastrophic Theft

By P.D. Workman

Link to details and buy links

Comments

  1. Tonia Williams says

    Very interesting. Looking forward to the rest of the book.

  2. Venette Schafer says

    I’m very intrigued. Very well written.

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