Even knowing what to expect, he was still startled at seeing his daughter standing in the foyer.
“Oh!” she gasped. “I didn’t realize Ethren was here.”
Vlad looked down at his clothing and groaned. After a quick mist to the laundry room to grab a shirt, he was back, steering Lilith out the front door. “Ethren is not here. Thank you for visiting. I love you; now go away.”
“Why?” she whirled around and folded her arms.
She knew. Latimer had almost certainly blabbed about Alice on one of those infernal family video chats. Vlad ground his teeth. “I’m indisposed.”
“Oh,” she cocked her head innocently to the side, “Do you mean like when you were at my conference?” Her smile widened into something dangerous—icy. “You know, the one you deigned to attend and then left early?”
“I didn’t leave early. I saw your whole talk and filled out that occult-forsaken feedback card. Five stars, by the way. Now if that’s all you wanted to know…” He turned to go back inside.
“But I haven’t even told you about Caleb coming by looking for help.”
Vlad skidded to a halt. “Help? What happened? Is he in trouble?” As soon as the words were out of his mouth, he realized his mistake.
“Of course, you’d ask that,” Lilith scowled. “If it concerns your precious Caleb, you’ve got all the patience in the world. Meanwhile, you can’t be bothered to spend a fucking weekend doing what I need you to do because you don’t give a shit about my life. Probably because I’m a witch, and you’re tired of parenting me.”
Part of being a parent was not letting your children push your buttons until you freaked out. Unfortunately, that was the part Vladislaus struggled with. “Of course I loathe witches,” he hissed, “What’s to like? And yes, I understand what parenthood is. I don’t need you to remind me.”
“Seems like you do; you don’t bother to do it!”
“You are over three hundred years old, Lilith; what parenting am I not doing?”
“Caring about me!” she stomped her foot. “Maybe I’ll just go lie in a ditch somewhere and die! Make you happy with your beloved son and this perfect family you’ve built!” With a scream of frustration, she stormed off.
“Perfect?” Vlad yelled after her, “This entire occult-forsaken family is made up of lunatics! Who would choose this?”
SAN MYSHUNO SUBURBS
Bella paced the hall. Deacon was right; her records request was a bust. It set off a bunch of red flags, and now military lawyers were making the chief’s life miserable.
“Goth! In here now!” he yelled.
Bella lifted her chin and walked into the office.
“What in a San Myshuno fuck is this records request?”
She couldn’t help but flinch as she took a seat. “It’s for a case.”
“A case?” He slammed a folder down on his desk. “Do you mean the one you’ve been dicking around on for months with no progress?”
“It’s a murder!” the chief cried, “Two murders. Unsolved. What is going on with you? Your partner is flapping in the wind, and before you get worked up, Deacon has your back. He lies his ass off for you when it’s clear to everyone you’ve iced him out.”
The sick feeling that started in her stomach was spreading. “I’ve been running some things down, working some angles—”
“Like the Landgraabs? Do you know I had to sit on the phone with that uppity bitch and beg her not to sue this department? Bella, when I brought you on, it was against recommendations. Everyone thought you were some rich sim’s spouse trying to keep herself from being bored. Your work has been exemplary, but now this? What the hell is going on?”
“I’m having a midlife—” Bella choked the sentence off. She would not fail at this. “I mean, I have a suspect. A real one.”
She explained everything Salim told her, along with what she’d gathered from Caleb’s updates, minus the supernatural stuff. The more she talked, the more confident she grew. “That’s why I put in the records request. I wanted to have as much backup as possible, but I am sure Alice Martin murdered Eliza Pancakes.”
“And I believe Salim Benali murdered Johnny Zest. In fact, I know it.” Bella always gave her suspects storylines and motivations; it helped get in their heads. But now, those flourishes came pouring out like facts. “Salim and Alice had a twisted love that became violent. Poor Johnny and Eliza got in the way—innocent bystanders who were swayed by the charisma of these two master criminals!”
By the time she finished, even the parts she wasn’t sure about felt true.
The chief held eyed her suspiciously before he nodded. “Alright, Goth, I trust you. We’ll bring them in, but you better ensure we have enough to hold them, or the next time we meet in this office, I’ll be firing you.”