The Wire with wizards – in a world where illegal magic is as dangerous and addictive as hard drugs, Police Detective Kate Prospero is cleaning up the streets. Deadly Spells is the third thrilling novel in the Prospero’s War series.
There was a body in the church.
Even if Duffy’s phone call hadn’t alerted us to that fact, the line of news vans along the street would have tipped me off. Murders always made the media swarm like flesh flies on a corpse.
Outside the yellow police tape, reporters wielded microphones and cameras like weapons, and they shot questions like bullets at anyone wearing a badge. Special Agent Drew Morales and I were bundled up in coats and street clothes instead of cop uniforms, so they let us pass without too much trouble. If they’d known my partner and I were members of the Magic Enforcement Agency task force, they wouldn’t have been so dismissive.
In addition to the journalists’ vehicles, two CSI vans were parked at the curb. I cursed silently. Any scene that required that many forensics wizards had to be a clusterfuck of epic proportions.
The call had come from Detective Patrick Duffy an hour earlier. Given the tense track record between Babylon PD and our MEA task force, they’d only have called us in to consult if the murder had ties to the dirty magic trade. The most likely scenario in this case was that the victim was a known player in one of the three major covens. Still, why the church? Dirty magic covens rarely set foot in houses of Christian worship—not even to commit crimes.
Adrenaline and dread made the hairs on the back of my neck prickle. Adrenaline because I loved my job, and working coven
cases was my specialty. Dread because coven-related murders were always messy and never easy to solve.
“Any guesses?” Morales said.
“The vic?” I shook my head. “We’ll find out soon enough.”
He shot me his trademark smirk. “You’re no fun.”
“It’s Sunday night and I’m working a murder. Sorry for not being the life of the party.”
He put an arm around my shoulder. “Beats the paperwork you were working on before Duffy called.”
I expelled my breath on a laugh. “No shit.”
I grabbed the handle to the door and noticed streaks of white corrective fluid across my knuckles. Before Duffy’s call, I’d been pecking away at case reports and cursing the MEA’s refusal to automate the extensive forms we had to fill out after we’d wrapped a case.
Through the gaping wound that used to be the church’s ceiling, a helicopter’s spotlight created a strobe-like pattern in the sanctuary’s shadowed corners. I ducked under a large wooden beam blocking our path. The structural damage had allowed a
late-season snowstorm to have its way with the interior. Splintered wood and glass shards stuck out of the snow like skeletal hands. Broken windowpanes gaped like missing teeth in a battered face.
If you squinted hard, you could imagine this run-down temple in its heyday. Barrel-vaulted ceilings, gleaming woodwork, high stone arches, and stained glass that would have glowed like jewels in the late-afternoon sun. But now there was no sun—only
the helicopter’s lights. And instead of a temple, it looked like a tomb.
The old church was just one of many sad relics of Babylon’s steel empire. Some might see the empty shell of a church as a symbol that God had turned His back on the city. The truth was, even if God existed, He wasn’t the reason the economy had collapsed. Ask any of the old-timers—the ones who were too worn down to bother with lying—and they’d tell you the real culprit in Babylon’s slow death: magic.
Several of the other abandoned buildings on the street had been torn down years earlier, leaving behind lots choked with weeds and trash. Yet for some reason, this old church had been allowed to remain. Maybe some people believed God would come back to Babylon, after all.
As I walked up what used to be the aisle, a familiar uniformed officer turned to call out, “Hey, Prospero, you don’t call, you don’t write . . .”
“I came to collect that twenty you owe me, Santini.” He’d been one of the few patrolmen who hadn’t treated me like a pariah back when I was still a beat cop.
He motioned toward his crotch. “I got your money right here.”
“You’d have to pay me a lot more than twenty bucks, Jimmy.”
Raucous laughter echoed through the old sanctuary. Murder scenes are usually tense, for obvious reasons, and any chance to add a little levity to the grim task of cataloging some poor bastard’s final moments was leaped on with forced enthusiasm.
Farther up the aisle, I spotted Duffy standing next to the altar. Even on a good day he wore a perma-frown, but this night, among he snow and the wreckage, and the blood, his expression was downright grim. He was speaking to Valerie Frederickson, one of my friends from the CSI squad. Val was a fellow Adept and one of my few allies at the BPD.
Behind the pair, a sheet covered the body, which was splayed out on the stone altar like a sacrifice to old pagan gods. In the snow in front of the altar, someone had painted a symbol using a liquid that was too darkly red to be anything but blood.
“Prospero,” Val called. “Hey, Morales.”
I waved and picked up my speed to get the shit circus underway. Circumventing the bloody symbol, I joined them by the altar. Who we got?”
“That’s what I was hoping you could tell us.” His tone hinted that asking us for help was costing him a lot of pride.
Detective Pat Duffy used to be on the homicide beat for a precinct in an upscale Mundane area of Babylon. But last year, after his work on a case involving the murder of Babylon’s former mayor, he’d been made head of homicide for the Cauldron precinct, which handled crimes in Babylon’s magical slums.
Before his promotion, Duffy had rejected Gardner’s invitation to join the MEA task force—twice. None of us could figure out why he’d been so opposed to the move, especially since as an Adept, he shouldn’t have problems working under and beside other Lefties. But apparently he did. Now every time any of us had to work with him, it was twice as difficult and five times as frustrating as it should be. But since he was Captain Robert Eldritch’s new favorite, we were forced to deal with the guy.
“Who called it in?” I asked.
Standing beside me with his arms crossed, Morales loomed like a large shadow. Even though he outranked me, I was the one who knew the covens best, so he was letting me take the lead.
“Homeless freakhead across the street called it in,” Duffy said, using the term for a potion addict. “Unis found him in an abandoned gas station across from the church. He gave an initial statement, but it didn’t make much sense. He was spouting nonsense and half-frozen, so I called an ambulance to take him to Babylon General. Once he’s lucid, I’ll head over to get an official statement.”
“All right.” I blew out a breath. “Let’s see who’s behind curtain number one.”
Val flicked back the covering.
The limbs had been severed from the trunk and arranged around the body. “Where’s the head?” Morales asked.
Val nodded toward a covered statue next to the altar. Wearing a grim expression, she slowly pulled the sheet away. On top of a marble pedestal, a kneeling angel cradled a severed head.
“Shit!” The outburst escaped my lips like a bullet from a gun muzzle. The sound echoed off the crumbling walls and the banks of snow. I felt rather than saw everyone in the ruins freeze. Tension rose like a plasma dome over the crime scene.
The empty eye sockets and the blackened potion burn in the center of the forehead were important clues, but they hadn’t unsettled me. Instead, it was the bull ring hanging from the nose and the close-cropped gray hair that made my stomach flood with acid.
“One of your old friends?” Duffy was asking if I knew the victim from my days as the scion of a dirty magic coven.
I swallowed hard and dragged my gaze from the face of the man I’d known since I was born. “H‑his name is Charles Parsons. On the streets they called him Charm.”
“Figured he was Votary from the tattoo on his wrist.”
Duffy’s tone was filled with contempt, and he flicked a glance at my left arm.
Without thinking, my right hand moved to cover the matching Ouroboros on my own wrist, which permanently marked me as a made member of the Votary Coven. I’d left the coven ten years earlier and started a new life, but not everyone was willing to let that old life stay in the past. “He was Abe’s left hand—his enforcer.”
A parade of black memories goose-stepped through my head.
The last time I’d talked to Charm was on the worst day of my life. As both the next of kin and the leader of the Sanguinarian Coven, Uncle Abe had been the one to tell me that my mother had died, but Charm had stood nearby with his arms crossed. That’s how I’d always remember him: standing with his head bowed like a bull ready to charge. Lots of people had been afraid of Charm, but I’d always found comfort in his steady presence.
After my uncle had told me the news, I’d cried myself out and screamed until I was hoarse. Abe hadn’t known how to comfort me, but Charm had offered me a cigarette and patted me on the arm. “It’s not your fault, Katie,” he’d lied. Abe had told me my mom overdosed on a potion I’d cooked, and Charm had listened patiently as I broke down with guilt. Charm hadn’t been a man of many words, but he always listened. That’s why he’d been such an asset to Abe—he heard everything.
“Kate?” Morales prompted.
I shook myself and tried to ignore the grief smudging my vision. There’d be time for mourning later. Now I had a job to do. “After my uncle got pinched and thrown into Crowley, Charm took over as the day‑to‑day leader of the crews still loyal to the coven.”
I scanned the crime scene again to avoid looking at Charm’s sightless eyes. Now that I knew who the victim was, it put a whole new light on the visible evidence. As I did, I scrolled through a mental Rolodex of possible enemies.
“What are you seeing, Prospero?” Morales asked.
“The blood in the snow,” I said. “It’s an ankh, I think.”
His knees popped as he knelt closer to the symbol. “Sangs?”
I nodded. The Sanguinarian Coven specialized in blood magic, and a lot of their Arcane symbolic language revolved around Egyptian hieroglyphs. But the ankh was especially damning because the new leader of the Sangs, Harry Bane, had one tattooed on his forehead.
Morales rubbed his lower lip and looked up at me. “Think it’s retaliation for Ramses?” Ramses had been Harry Bane’s father, who had been murdered the previous November.
“The old leader of the Sangs?” Duffy asked. “What about him?”
“I was just wondering if this is some sort of grudge hit,” Morales said, not looking in my direction. “After Ramses died, chatter on the street speculated that the Votaries were responsible.”
Duffy crossed his arms. “His death was ruled a suicide.”
Morales and I exchanged a quick look. Ramses had been murdered while in protective custody. The cops charged with his care claimed he’d hanged himself rather than face standing trial for his crimes, which included distribution of an Arcane substance and murder. But Morales and I both knew that was bullshit. We also knew the rumors were sort of true. Uncle Abe had put out the hit on Ramses from prison, but no one could prove it.
“Well?” Duffy prompted.
“Street thugs don’t tend to put too much stock in police reports, Detective,” I said. “All it takes for this to happen is one Sang corner boy looking to prove himself.”
“Still, that was months ago,” Morales said in a thoughtful tone. “Why get revenge now?”
“I have a feeling once we have that answer we’ll have our guy,” I said.
“Murder weapon been found yet?” Morales asked.
Val shook her head. “Doubt we will. The body was obviously moved here after they dismembered him. ME should be able to tell us whether they cut him up before or after they hit him with whatever potion caused that forehead burn.”
I shuddered at the possibility Charm might have been alive during the ordeal. Morales touched my arm and shot me a concerned
look that seemed to ask if I needed to leave. I shook my head and cleared my throat. “Are there any other wounds? Gunshots?”
Val shook her head. “Nothing visible, but we’ll know more once Franklin gets him back to the morgue.” Thomas Franklin was the medical examiner, who should be arriving any minute to collect the body—or the pieces of it, anyway.
“Question is—why move the body here?” Duffy rubbed his lower lip and narrowed his eyes.
I looked at the ankh on the ground. “I know Harry Bane isn’t exactly a candidate for Mensa, but does it bother anyone else that there’s so many obvious clues that he’s behind this?”
“Explain,” Duffy said.
“This church is just inside Sang territory. If someone wanted us to think this was their handiwork, this is the perfect place to leave the body. It’s on their turf but not so far that some other coven member getting caught here couldn’t make a quick escape.”
“Hold on,” Duffy said. “You said you thought this was a revenge hit by the Sangs?”
I shook my head. “I said it appears that way. It’s possible someone just wanted us to think that.”
Morales blew out a long breath. “Jesus. We need to keep these details out of the news. If the Votaries believe this is a Sang hit, they’ll come out with guns blazing to avenge Charm.”
Duffy opened his mouth, but a voice called out for Val. We turned to see a tall black man entering the sanctuary. “There’s Franklin now.” She gathered her evidence kit. “I’ll go fill him in so he can get started.”
“Let us know what he finds,” I said.
“Sure thing.” She turned to go.
“Excuse me?” Duffy said, sounding exasperated.
“What?” She froze and shot him a confused look.
“Why would you call the MEA with details about my case?”
Val glanced from Duffy’s boorish expression to my annoyed one and back again. “I’ll let you two figure that out. Bye.” She marched away, lugging her evidence case.
I raised a brow at Duffy. Next to me, Morales crossed his arms and looked down at the older man.
“Don’t flash those fed intimidation glares at me,” he said. “Homicides are the BPD’s.”
“Something you seemed to have forgotten when you called us in to explain your crime scene to you,” Morales said.
Duffy’s eyes narrowed. “I appreciate the help, but this was never an invite to team up. I assure you Captain Eldritch will agree.”
I barely managed not to call bullshit or roll my eyes. Duffy was clearly still pissed at us for stealing his thunder on the Babylon
Bomber case five months earlier. He’d been called in after Mayor Owens had been killed, but Morales and I were the ones who solved the case and got all the credit in the media.
“Why don’t you call Eldritch and ask if he agrees with your plan to lock federal agents out of a case involving players in our ongoing investigations?” I suggested.
“You damned well know he’s at that Mayor Volos’s inauguration party.”
My lips curled up at the mention. I’d been invited to that party, too, but luckily I had a great excuse for begging off: I hated the new mayor. He knew it, too, but had sent that damned invite anyway to screw with me.
“Gardner’s there, too, right?” Duffy said, triumph clear in his tone. “Guess you’ll have to take it up with her in the morning.”
By then Duffy would have already warned his boss, Eldritch. Unfortunately for us, Captain Eldritch had his eye on a promotion to chief under the new mayor, and would fight tooth and nail to get a big coven bust on his résumé.
“All right,” I said. “Fine. We’ll let the brass decide. But don’t call us next time you need someone to save your ass.”
With that Morales and I turned our backs on the sputtering detective. As we marched back down the aisle, Val and Franklin stopped talking to shoot us apologetic glances. That’s when I realized every uni and CSI wiz in the place was watching us leave, which meant everyone had heard the exchange.
Except Charm, I thought. The man who used to keep his ear to the ground for the Votary Coven would never hear anything again. With one last look toward the altar, I thought, Rest in peace, big guy.