“What?” Kayla growled in Addy’s ear.
“Good morning, sunshine,” she tapped the speakerphone button and set the phone down, as she unloaded the dishwasher. It had felt like ages since she last slept in and she found herself feeling a little restless, even after receiving a text from Maggie that she wouldn’t be needed in the store since Alex was doing such a great job. It was only his second day and despite his work ethic being strong, Addy had her reservations about his ability to keep up with the pace and accuracy of The Sweet Rack. Then again, he was so pleasant to look at, with his chiseled biceps and charming smile, he could probably get an order wrong and the customer would be the one to apologize.
“Remind me why I chose a career in law enforcement.” Kayla groaned.
“To serve the people and give them the justice they deserve… and it’s the one career that pretty much guarantees you free coffee and pastries anywhere you go.” She could imagine her friend on the other end of the call crossing her arms and considering this explanation. “What’s goin’ on over there?”
Kayla let out a frustrated sigh, “I just opened Tara Altschul’s portfolio. Of the 17 businesses she graded, 15 received poor marks that she had yet to follow up on. Her overall history in this town isn’t great either. Six businesses have shut down as a direct result of her inspections. Just about everyone in this town had a motive to kill her.”
“Including Miller’s?” Addy inquired, freezing as she was in the middle of putting the clean silverware away.
“That’s the weird part. She had multiple inspections scheduled throughout the year, but they passed each inspection without fail. It usually means there’s some probation in place, but there’s no notes in the file about it.”
“You think she just wanted to shut them down?” Addy had met a few inspectors like that while waiting tables in New York, but for the most part, inspectors just wanted to get in, do their job, and get out.
“Maybe.” Kayla replied quietly. Addy could tell theories were swirling in her head. “I have a warrant for her apartment. I’m hoping to find something there.”
Addy perked up, nearly dropping the plate she was holding, “Ooh, mind if I tag along?” There was a long pause at the other end. Hope bubbled in her chest, knowing that Kayla was considering bringing her along.
“I really shouldn’t.”
“I won’t touch anything.” She promised her friend. After another moment’s pause, Addy tried her hand at bribery, “We can stop at my mom’s place for road snacks.”
Addy never thought her first experience in the back of a police car would be as a pseudo-partner to the police officer, but there she was holding a box of pastries safely in her lap as Kayla drove the open road to Lincoln, a village half an hour south of Alpena, where Tara worked.
Kayla had put a podcast on, called “True Crime and Fine Wine”. The woman speaking had a smooth voice, like the silky chocolate from the inside of a lava cake, as she discussed a series of disappearances in their very own state of Michigan.
“Do you ever turn off your cop brain?” Addy asked.
“Do you ever turn off your creative brain?” Kayla retorted, stuffing the last bite of a raspberry danish into her mouth. She smirked through her bites and Addy shook her head with amusement at her friend.
Addy’s phone buzzed in her soft pink, layered-hem blazer. She pulled it out to see a notification from Instagram. Opening the app, she saw a message from a username she didn’t recognize.
We should meet up for coffee sometime.
Below the message was another line, To catch up. There’s a nice shop along the lake you’d love. Addy furrowed her carefully filled-in eyebrows while reading the message.
“Hm?” Kayla made a noise of concern from the front seat as Addy clicked on the profile picture only to find that the profile was private. She scoffed internally, slightly annoyed at the gall people had to keep their information private when she wanted to do a bit of snooping. The username was SocialRejekt and the profile picture was an obscured band photo.
Ignoring Kayla, Addy wrote out a reply, do I know you?
Three dots popped up under the message indicating that SocialRejekt was typing a response. It’s Jay lol, the next message said. “Oh. Em. Gee.” Addy’s jaw dropped.
“What? Don’t keep me in suspense here!” Kayla paused the podcast and glanced at her out of the rear view mirror.
“Guess who I just got an Instagram message from!” Addy looked up at her friend, whose eyes deadened.
“This is a game I refuse to play.”
“Jay. Jay just slid into my DMs!” Addy looked back down at her screen. “Didn’t you say he was engaged?”
“Very.” Her eyes were forward, watching the road. “I know you had a bunch of guy friends in New York, but out here guys and gals can’t be just friends.” Addy considered this. It was true that in small towns like theirs, it was difficult to argue that anyone was purely friends. It was a horrible mentality to have in the modern world, but small towns made for big gossip. How else would the red hats entertain themselves?
Addy closed the message and slipped her phone back into her blazer’s pocket. She had never been the other woman, and she wouldn’t start now… but she missed how easy conversations used to be with Jay and the array of topics they managed to discuss on a whim.
Twenty minutes passed as they both sat listening to the podcast, while Addy wasn’t really listening to it but reminiscing about the good old days on the beach or in their secret hideout, an abandoned shed in the park near the library.
When the GPS directed them toward a shabby looking brick building, Addy was slightly surprised. She had seen the way Tara Altschul had been dressed the night of the murder. The girl knew her shoes and did not waste time with knockoffs. So why would her listed address lead them to a derelict looking building in a town even smaller than Grandloc?
In the front was an old timey soda shop with a sign that read “Open 9am-9pm” and the second story had three windows across with thick curtains blocking any visibility within. “Think the shop she lived above was under her jurisdiction?” Kayla wore a mischievous smile as she opened Addy’s side door. Addy climbed out, brushing off any lint from her white, straight-leg pants.
“Hmm… If that were the case, she’d have shut them down.” They walked until they found the stairs around back leading up to the apartment door. When they got to the landing in the front of the door, Kayla knocked three times. To the left of the door was a window. Addy walked toward it and peered in the small slit between the curtains. The lights were off but she could see what looked like a rustic shelf full of small succulents against the wall and a picnic table that was painted white. Addy loved a good repurposing project.
“I don’t think anyone’s here.” Addy turned to her friend who stepped away from the door.
“Me neither.” She muttered, leaning down slightly.
“Ohmygawd, are you gonna kick the door down?” She whispered. Her friend froze midway to give her a perplexed look.
“No, Detective Benson,” she shook her head and flipped the corner of the welcome mat up to reveal a spare key. “You watch way too many cop shows.”
As they stepped across the threshold into the dark apartment, Addy sighed, “I can’t argue with that.” She looked around for a light switch and found one next to the door. When she reached to flip it on, Kayla grabbed her by the wrist.
“Wait!” Addy’s eyes widened as she faced her friend, who was digging in her pocket. “I almost forgot. Gloves.” Addy released the tension in her shoulders and took the pair of latex gloves that Kayla handed her only to whack her on the shoulder.
“You about gave me a heart attack, Kayla!” She hissed as she snapped on the gloves, thinking her friend was going to tell her the light switch was rigged to set off a bomb. She really did watch too many crime shows. She looked pointedly at Kayla as she flipped the light switch on.
The living room and kitchen fully lit was a scene out of a magazine. The kitchen, though small, was efficiently styled with a beautiful pearly backsplash, a retro-chic gas stovetop, and wood panels with hooks for coffee mugs to hang up and out of the way.
The living room was just as tidy, with a flat screen tv sitting on a wicker-style stand and a wrap around white sofa with a crushed velvet throw. There were plenty of art pieces framed along the walls with simplistic symbols, like a crescent moon and what appeared to be a zodiac symbol.
“This is weird.” Kayla said, peering at the open shelved bookcase, which had antique books and gold statues of women and half-goat/half-man creatures.
“It’s totally my style.” Addy replied taking photos with her phone. She walked to the place Kayla stood.
“You remember how I said the symbol in the bakery was a pentagram?” Kayla asked, not tearing her eyes from the gold statue of an anthropomorphic goat.
“Or inverted pentagram. But yes.”
“I think our victim was an occultist.” Kayla finally turned to look at Addy, whose eyes widened. “C’mon.” She turned for the hallway and flipped the light switch on to reveal blank white walls. No pictures, which Addy found to be a little odd. Hallways were some of the best canvas areas for decor.
There was a door on the left and the right, and one at the end of the hall. The one at the end of the hall was ajar, revealing it to be the bathroom and from the glimpse they had of it, it was just as immaculate as the rest of the apartment they had seen.
Kayla wrapped her hand around the right door’s handle and turned it. She let go and the door creaked open ominously.
“I feel like we’re in a horror rather than a detective whodunnit.” Addy whispered, standing so close to Kayla she was practically spooning her friend.
“You’re so dramatic.” She took a step forward, but Addy could sense the smirk that was undoubtedly on Kayla’s face. Addy’s jaw dropped when the room lit up to reveal another picturesque scene. The bed was made so neatly that you could have bounced a quarter off of it. The comforter and pillows were grey while the sheets beneath were white, a nice contrast. The drapes were heavy blacked-out grey to match the bedding. There were a few shelves built into one of the walls filled with knick-knacks, books, and more plants, and a frameless vanity with a plush white heart chair tucked beneath it. The surface was clean and there were no flecks of make-up residue anywhere.
“She’s got some serious cleaning skills.” Addy whispered as she leaned over the vanity, careful not to breathe on it. She opened the drawers carefully to see the most organized make-up station she had ever laid her eyes upon. “I need this girl’s secret.” She muttered to herself, before realizing she would never actually get her secret, because they were, in fact, sifting through a dead woman’s apartment.
“Addison!” Kayla shouted from across the hall. She hadn’t even realized Kayla had left the room, leaving her with a chill traveling up and down her spine until she rushed to the other room, where she stopped dead in her tracks, her jaw unhinging.
“Right?” Kayla said. The entire room was a polar opposite of the rest of the apartment. The lights glowed red throughout the room, giving off a very sinister vibe. Where the window would be, there was a large black curtain with a pentagram stitched into it, or was it…
“An inverted pentagram.” Kayla confirmed Addy’s thoughts. “And check this out.” She pointed across the room, the floor of which was covered in deep purple, forest green, and black as night rugs. Addy held her hair away from her face as she looked down where she stepped in her wedges, careful not to trip on any lumps. When she reached the black cloth-covered end table, she had to pull out her phone to even see what was on it.
When the light from her phone’s flashlight shone on the table, Addy clutched her chest. Among all the things carefully placed on the table from a mystical-looking dagger, several crystals of varying size and color in a neat row, and a photo held up in the center by a a card holder probably taken from a banquet hall, the thing that startled her was the vial of red fluid next to the photo.
“Is that…?” Addy’s voice trailed off.
Rather than confirming her suspicions, Kayla pulled out a small evidence bag and slipped the vial inside before sealing it. “This is a witch’s altar. I’m a little rusty on my research, but from what I remember, it’s a focal point in pagan religions, symbolizing a witch’s innermost desires. There’s more to it but this,” she pointed to the altar, “is very telling.”
Addy was never as interested in the supernatural as Kayla was growing up, and now she was regretting that. She looked closer at the photo in the center of the table to see a man and woman embracing. The way the man was holding the woman made it difficult to see any distinguishing features as his face was obscured, but the woman looked full of glee. Her straight, brunette hair was flying in the wind, her smile was wide, revealing a mouth full of sparkling white, slightly longer than usual teeth, and a nose with a bump on the bridge. If she ever used make-up it wasn’t evident in the photo.
“Take a picture and send it to me.” Kayla demanded before moving across the room where there was a desk old enough it could have once belonged to an ancient alchemist. There were candles and bottles of ingredients with labels that Addy didn’t recognize. There was a small cubby underneath, so Addy knelt and noticed what looked like a stack of papers or a book. She reached into the dark cubby and pulled it out, revealing a thin, expensive laptop.
“Jackpot!” Kayla exclaimed, pulling out a plastic evidence bag. Addy slipped the laptop inside of the bag and Kayla taped it over. They both started moving around the room with their respective flashlights, Addy still using her phone. In a shabby bookcase were stacks of loose leaf papers amongst occult books, from Book of Lilith and Sexual Sorcery to Necronomicon and a long title in Latin that Addy couldn’t pronounce if her mother’s bakery depended on it.
On a shelf just below her line of vision was a photo album. She picked it up and started shuffling through it. There were photos of Tara and what looked like her best friends, bonfires, several even that were taken in Grandloc.
“Kayla, did anyone say they knew Tara?” She tip-toed around the lumpy room until she got to her friend.
“Mm, no. Why?”
“Someone knows something. She visited often enough to have this.” She handed the album to Kayla, who flipped through it before pausing to stare a particular photo that caught her eye.
“That’s Jack’s grill.” Kayla turned the page and her eyebrows furrowed. Her voice lowered. “And that’s the bar that closed last winter.” Kayla looked up at Addy and she immediately knew what her friend was thinking. There wasn’t just one person who knew Tara, there had to have been a handful of Grandlockians that knew the woman who was murdered in their town less than a week ago, and lips were sealed for once.
Addy’s eyes moved to the laptop resting on the desk in the plastic evidence bag. “I’m willing to bet there’s something on there that will lead us to who killed her.”
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