“This is very Hawai’ian!” Marla shouted into the wind as the convertible cruised down the highway, a longboard poking up out of the back seat next to a visibly miserably Jon-Luc. “Wind in my hair, salt in the air, a song in my heart, and murderers to catch!”
“Have you ever surfed before, Mrs. Mason?” Pelham said.
“No, but I’m good at everything, so I’m sure it’ll be fine.”
It was hard to tell, with the wind and all, but she thought Jon-Luc groaned from the backseat.
The drive took about an hour and a half, plenty of time for Marla to prepare various strategies, even though she knew, when the time came, she’d probably just improvise. How often did a detective end up telling their client: “I think I know who did it. I think you did it.”
Eh, maybe it was pretty often, at least in books. She’d have to ask Rondeau when they got back home. He’d read more mysteries than she had.
Jon-Luc directed them down a paved side road, and told Pelham to pull over just before it turned to dirt – or, more accurately, mud. “It rained recently,” Jon Luc said. “I wouldn’t try driving any farther. There’s no parking or anything there anyway, it’s all undeveloped land. It’s only a mile or so. We can walk it.”
The muddy road ahead was lined with the burned-out hulks of derelict cars. “What happened here?” Marla said. “Demolition derby?”
Jon-Luc shook his head. “People tried to block access to the beach years ago. They dragged cars across the way, and even dug trenches, so you couldn’t drive this way without getting stuck. The old cars got moved out of the way, but there’s still a lot of junk around. Technically, all the beaches in Hawai’i are public land, but…”
Marla nodded. “Rich assholes trying to make it a private party for themselves, huh?”
Jon-Luc shook his head. “Not this time, not exactly. See, Jaws is the best place to surf on the island, if you know what you’re doing – and I mean really know. I wouldn’t even try it myself, I’m not good enough yet. You get sixty-foot waves out here sometimes. But when the surf gets really big, tourists and posers and kuks all flock down, get in the water, and screw things up for the serious people. Back in 2004, it got really bad, and a few people got hurt, so some of the really well known big wave riders complained. After that, people took steps.” He nodded toward the wrecked cars. “It’s sort of an invitation-only spot now. I mean, you can get there, if you’re willing to hike, but… you might not find the best reception.”
“Ah, but you’re inviting us, right?”
“I guess so.” He didn’t sound happy about it. That was okay. Marla wasn’t that invested in his happiness.
“So, we walk from here?” Marla said, climbing out of the car.
“Unless you’ve got an ATV in the trunk,” Jon-Luc said.
She looked at Pelham, just in case. He cleared his throat. “Alas, no, ma’am.”
Jon-Luc carried the board she’d rented, balancing it on top of his head as they walked around a burned out Chevelle. “You can’t actually go out on this board,” he said.
“I heard you say you’d never even surfed before. This isn’t the place to start, okay? The water will just destroy you, it’s carnage, it’s chaos. You can’t even really paddle out into the waves – people do tow-in surfing, they get a jet ski to pull them out to the right spot so they can catch the waves. The surf is biggest in the winter, and – ”
“Is that what Glyph and the Glyphettes do?” Marla asked. “Tow-in?”
“No, but they’re different. They’re magic.”
“Me, too,” Marla said. She hadn’t actually been that interested in trying to surf before, but if someone was going to tell her she shouldn’t, that changed everything. They squelched along, avoiding the mudpits as best they could, occasionally walking on the shoulder, where their legs were whipped by knee-high grass. Finally they crested a hill, and Marla finally got a view of the cliffs leading down to the ocean. A few jet skis bobbed on the water, but it wasn’t the frenzy she’d been expecting. “Doesn’t look so scary to me.”
“Water’s not doing much today,” Jon-Luc said. “That’s how it is sometimes. Getting here’s a pain, and there’s not much point if there’s no big surf – most people will just go over to Ho’okipa and surf the Middles. On certain days, though, when you get waves taller than a building, you’ll see people lined up along these cliffs, watching… it’s unreal.”
“So why aren’t your tribe at Ho’okipa, if it’s better today?”
Jon-Luc shrugged. “They don’t care as much about big waves. They like them, don’t get me wrong, but they’re in the water every day, whether the surf is high or not. They say the ocean always whispers, but this is a place where the ocean shouts. They come here to listen.”
“Preserve me from mystics, Pelham,” Marla said. “If I ever start communing with giant chaotic systems, lock me up for my own safety.” They followed a rocky trail down to the beach, such as it was – this clearly wasn’t a place you came to set up a volleyball net or sunbathe or grill a few hot dogs. It was mostly cliffs and reefs and pounding waves, with a handful of people in wetsuits milling around. Jon-Luc handed the board to Pelham, who took it with relatively good grace, then ran down to the sand, waving, and calling out the names of his friends – “Leis! Ryan and Josh! Mad Gary! I brought the detective!” The surf-hive welcomed him warmly with embraces and shoulder-pats, then all their heads swiveled to look at Marla.
“I don’t see Glyph,” Marla said. “Do you – wait, you haven’t met him.”
Pelham nodded. “I have not had that pleasure.”
Marla squinted out at the water. “There, on that wave, I think that’s him surfing.”
It wasn’t much of a wave, and Glyph didn’t look too excited about it – from this distance, at least, he looked like a guy standing around at a dull cocktail party, hoping the cute waitress with the shrimp puffs and the short skirt would come by again soon. Then, for no apparent reason, he lost his balance and fell off the board, disappearing under the waves. Marla joined the hive on the beach.
“Marla Mason,” a dark-haired man – he was either Ryan or Josh – said politely. “How is your investigation progressing?”
“Not bad, I have some leads.” She shaded her eyes and looked out in the water. She saw Glyph’s board, rolling in on a wave, but not the man himself. “I just wanted to ask Glyph a few questions. Are you guys sure he’s not drowning?”
“He won’t drown,” Ryan (or Josh) said, and the others chuckled. “We’re drown-proof. I’m not sure why he went off the board. He must have seen something interesting underwater – ” The man frowned, then shook his head. “That’s… strange. He broke his connection with me.”
A chorus of “Me too” rose up from the half a dozen surfers on the beach, and they all hurried toward the water, suddenly alarmed. Marla followed. Glyph’s board bobbed in the water a few yards out, not floating all the way in to shore for some reason, as if anchored. Jon-Luc and the others waded out, grabbed the board, and began feeling around in the water for something.
“The board tether,” Pelham said, pointing. One of the surfers pulled on the bright yellow cord trailing from the end of the surfboard… and after a few moments, they found the ankle it was attached to. The wave-mages lifted their comrade out of the water and flopped his body onto the board, then began walking it in to the shore.
Before they reached the sand, Glyph’s body was already melting, his flesh crumbling like wet sand, his blood appearing briefly red before going the clear of seawater, and the other mages wailed and sobbed and scooped up bits of his deliquescing body, only to have it run through their fingers and into the water.
“Well, hell,” Marla said. “So much for that theory.” The surfers came out of the water and sat on the sand, staring blankly at one another, in shock or quiet communion, Marla couldn’t tell which. She waited a respectful interval – respectful for her – then said, “You all saw that, didn’t you? His throat?”
“A shark,” one of them said. “There are shark attacks here, sometimes…” He subsided.
“I don’t think so,” Marla said carefully. “Unless it’s a shark with thumbs, and a knife. His throat wasn’t ripped out. It was cut. I saw it, before he…”
“Returned to his mother,” a freckled redhead said. She blinked. “Is this… do you think…”
“It’s the same person who killed Ronin?” a blond man said. “The cut, it was the same kind of cut, he was killed in the same way…”
“Is this all of you?” Marla said. “The whole family, tribe, crew, whatever?”
They nodded, all in unison, even Jon-Luc. Damn it. So much for the inside job theory, unless Glyph had cut his own throat to throw off suspicion, which was a pretty extreme tactic. Besides, the way he’d fallen off the board, it was like something had pulled him under. The killer might still be out there, under the water, but if it wasn’t one of these people, who was it? “I think we have to proceed on the theory that whoever killed Ronin also killed Glyph,” Marla said finally. “And that could mean all of you are in danger.”
“You think someone wants to kill us?” Jon-Luc said.
“It’s a possibility,” Marla said.
“I understand why you think that.” Reva approached from direction of the road, and Marla narrowed her eyes at him. She never liked it when gods showed up unannounced. “But there’s something you don’t know.” He took a deep breath. “I’m the one who killed Ronin.”
Marla was on him in an instant. She kicked his legs out from under him, and then knelt down on his chest, holding the dagger Death had given her against his throat. “I didn’t think you were the type to go in for human sacrifice,” she said. “So why’d you do it? And why kill Glyph?” She frowned. “And why tell Glyph to hire me?”
“I did not kill Glyph,” Reva said, as unperturbed as if he didn’t have an angry sorceress pinning him to the ground at all. “That’s my point. It wasn’t the same killer. If you’ll let me up, I’ll explain.”
“Ha. Like that’s going to – ”
A moment of blankness passed over her, or rather, she passed through it, and in her next instant of awareness she was sitting in the sand, in a circle with all the other sorcerers. Reva was on his back in the center of the circle, and Pelham was standing over him, the unsheathed length of a sword cane pointed unwaveringly at the god’s throat. “Are you with us, Mrs. Mason?”
“I, uh – the fuck?”
“Reva has the power to control the minds of any of ‘his people,'” Pelham said. “Anyone who feels they are an exile, or otherwise away from home, is susceptible to his powers.”
“It’s not mind control,” Reva said, though now he sounded a bit annoyed. “It’s just a form of direct communication, stripping away all niceties, talking to the deep down true parts of a person.”
“His power does not work on me,” Pelham said, “for I am home, which is to say, by your side, Mrs. Mason. But, alas, it does work on you. He used that ability to stop you from questioning him so sharply. At least, he attempted to. I stopped him.”
“I am a god, you know,” Reva said. “What do you think this is going to accomplish?”
“I know that you prefer to use physical bodies,” Pelham said. “I know that destroying this body will inconvenience you. And I assume you are capable of feeling pain.”
“Fine,” Reva said. “I’ll explain. I wanted to explain, anyway, I just didn’t want to do it with a knife at my throat.”
“And look how well that turned out,” Marla said. “Don’t you ever try to mess with my head again, little god. There are things more powerful than you, and some of them owe me favors.”
Reva sighed. “If I can sit up? No? Fine. I only meant to help you, Marla. I could see you were bereft, without hope or purpose. I knew you were attempting to become a detective, without much luck. So I thought… I might help you get a case.”
“This is true, Mrs. Mason,” Pelham said, still keeping his eyes firmly fixed on the supine god. “I regret to admit that he discussed this plan with me some weeks ago. I met him during my travels – he was in a different form then, a different body – and he said I should rush to your side, and assist you. He said he had a plan…” Pelham shook his head. “I am sorry. I should have told you.”
“I see. Tell me about the plan.” There was enough frost in Marla’s voice to kill a thousand crops.
“Ronin wanted to die,” Reva said. “We were friends – he’s one of my people, he never got over how much he missed his home in Japan, never felt at home anywhere else, not really. He lost faith in the ocean, and he was going to kill himself. I told him there was a way his death could help another exile, and he agreed to let me stage a murder.” Reva sighed. “That’s why you couldn’t find any traces – I am a god. After I cut his throat, as per his request, I covered my tracks. Then I talked to Glyph and the others, and told them they should hire you, and that you could find the killer.”
“You set me up with an unsolvable case? Just busywork to keep me occupied, like a bored housewife doing crafts or something? And these people, you fucked with them, too, with their minds, with their grief? What’s wrong with you?” The surfers nodded their heads in unison.
“Ah, not unsolvable, I thought you’d figure out it was me eventually, I hoped that you’d understand what I was trying to do – ”
“Gods,” Marla said, disgusted. “You’re like children putting bugs in bottles, shaking them up to see what they’ll do.”
“I believe he did mean well, Mrs. Mason,” Pelham said. “Though his methods are questionable.”
“So why murder Glyph, then?”
“I didn’t, like I said. Someone else did, the same way I killed Ronin, and I have no idea why.”
Marla rolled her eyes. “Why should I believe you? How do I know this isn’t another fake mystery, one set up to seem real?”
“What can I do to convince you?” Reva said. “There’s been a real murder here, one that you should investigate – these people actually do need justice now, it’s not playacting anymore, it’s serious!”
“Huh. Jon-Luc, the rest of you – what do you think?”
“It’s different, this time,” the redhead said. Apparently she was the new speaker for the hive. “The killing, the method of attack was the same, but last time there were no traces at all. This time… we can sense something. Look.” She scooped out a depression in the sand, while one of the others ran to scoop up a double handful of sea water. When the water was poured into the depression, it began to fizz and splash, shapes forming in the foam. The redhead said, “I see… spinning roulette wheels. Butterfly wings. A double pendulum. Three spheres, circling one another, orbit decaying. An apple – ”
“Chaos magic?” Marla said.
The redhead nodded.
“What’s your name?” Marla said.
“Call me Leis,” she said.
“Ah, a bride of Poseidon,” Pelham commented. “Very clever.”
“How do you know I’m not actually her?” Leis said.
“She was Greek, and you appear to be mostly Irish,” Pelham said politely, still holding his sword to Reva’s throat.
“I know a chaos witch,” Marla said, bowing her head and staring at the sand. “There was a prophecy, I guess you’d say, that she was coming to the island. I didn’t think – why would she do this? Just to mess with me, I guess, to disrupt my investigation, to amuse herself. I’m sorry. Glyph dying – it’s my fault. One of my enemies, trying to get at me, hurt one of your friends.”
The surfers exchanged glances in that eerie way they had, then Leis shook her head. “You are not at fault. You didn’t hold the knife. Life is unpredictable. The waves push some of us together and push some of us apart. You can’t blame yourself. Might as well blame Reva, for telling us to hire you.”
“That’s not a bad idea,” Pelham murmured.
“Or blame the sea, for sinking Reva’s island, and making him a wandering god, so long ago,” Leis went on. “No, we blame the actor, the one directly culpable. And we wish her brought to justice. Do you think you know the killer, Marla Mason? Then we ask only that you bring her to us.”
“Nicolette,” Marla said. “Her name is Nicolette.”
“Can I get up now?” Reva said. “I’ve finally got this body broken in, and I don’t want to start over with a new one.”
Elsie appeared in the middle of the office, sopping wet and grinning, bringing with her the mingled smells of blood and salt. Dr. Husch started squawking about her ruining the carpet, and Crapsey said, “Did you fall off the island?”
The witch sat down on Husch’s loveseat, the cushions making a squelching noise, and said, “I had a little talk with Lupo. Well, he thought he was Marla’s old murdered mentor Artie Mann, dragged back to life and enslaved by my will, but anyway. He did some spying for me, listened in on a little lunch date Marla had, where she was playing detective.” Elsie rolled her eyes. “I found out where Marla was going, and who she suspected of committing the dastardly crime she’s investigating, so I thought it would be funny to get there ahead of her and cut her prime suspect’s throat. Isn’t that the way it always happens in detective novels? The PI thinks they’ve figured everything out, and they go to confront the bad guy, only to find him headless and stuffed in a closet? I love a good plot twist.” She tilted her head and tugged on her earlobe, apparently trying to shake some water out. “My victim was a surfer, out in the water, so I got to play shark attack with him. Death from below! Fun, but damp.”
“So was the guy you killed really a murderer?” Crapsey said.
“Don’t know, don’t care, don’t know why you’d bother to ask,” Elsie said crisply.
“Because it would be interesting if you turned out to be a tool for justice, I guess?”
“If a murderer gets hit by a garbage truck, that’s not justice. It’s not even karma, despite what some people want to believe. Remember, kiddies: Stuff Just Happens. Trying to figure out why will make you crazy.”
“I did not release you so that you could kill innocent people,” Dr. Husch said, sitting behind her big desk like a judge presiding over a particularly disappointing trial.
“Thpt.” Elsie stuck out her tongue. “You can’t make an omelet without stabbing a surfer in the neck. Not any kind of omelet I’d like to eat, anyway. I might have to send a few more people to the bottom of the sea before I’m done, Doctor Prettyface. Besides, maybe that guy really was a villainous killer, did you think about that? Either way, if you’re so upset – are you calling me off?”
Husch sighed. “No. Try to keep collateral damage to a minimum from here on out, would you?”
Elsie shrugged. “We’ll see, won’t we? Anyway, between the dead people wandering across Marla’s path and this sudden exciting development in her investigation, and the grim foretellings of oncoming doom that Rondeau told Dr. Husch about, I’d say Marla’s pretty well softened up. It’s time we got the whole gang over to the islands, I think, and moved on to phase two of Operation Murderkill.”
“I don’t guess we’re chartering a plane, are we?” Jason said miserably from his seat in the corner.
“Nah,” Elsie said. “I thought it would be more fun to steal one.”
“I thought you were planning to teleport?” Nicolette said. “Not that I’m complaining, but – ”
“Here’s the thing,” Elsie said. “Teleporting is like setting off a flashbang. It’s noisy, magically speaking, when you rip gaping holes in the flesh of the world. When I do my little moving-the-Earth thing, that’s quiet, almost undetectable. I know Marla’s on edge now, so if she’s got any sense, she’ll be on the lookout for intra-dimensional incursions. I teleported Lupo over, and if Marla starts sniffing around, she’ll find a trace of that, and a little divination will tell her that two people came through. According to what Rondeau told the good doctor, Marla thinks Jason and Nicolette are the ones coming to kill her. So – let her think you two are the ones who teleported, why not? We’ll travel by more conventional means and then, boom, element of surprise, a whole crowd when she expected a duo. I doubt she’s watching the airports. Everybody pack a bag, we’re leaving in half-an-hour. I’ve got my eye on a nice redeye flight we should be able to mind-control our way onto.”
“Uh, all my shit is at the apartment Nicolette and me rented,” Crapsey said. “I haven’t changed my shirt in two days – ”
“You can steal new shirts from the corpses of your slain enemies,” Elsie said. “Really, do I have to think of everything?”