Spirit Dances

Spirit Dances

4.4 83
by C. E. Murphy

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For Seattle detective Joanne Walker, spring is about new beginnings. She's mastered her shamanic abilities (mostly), survived a cannibalistic serial killer (barely) and now she's facing the biggest challenge of her career—attending a dance concert with her sexy boss, Captain Michael Morrison. But when the performance—billed as… See more details below


For Seattle detective Joanne Walker, spring is about new beginnings. She's mastered her shamanic abilities (mostly), survived a cannibalistic serial killer (barely) and now she's facing the biggest challenge of her career—attending a dance concert with her sexy boss, Captain Michael Morrison. But when the performance—billed as transformative—actually changes her into a coyote, she and Morrison have bigger things to deal with.

And there's more. Homeless people are disappearing, a mystical murder puts Joanne way out of her jurisdiction and with the full moon coming on, it's looking like the killer is a creature that can't possibly exist.

But Jo could probably handle all of that, if one ordinary homicide hadn't pushed her to the very edge….

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Publication date:
Walker Papers Series , #7
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FRIDAY, MARCH 17, 8:34 A.M.

"Walker, Holliday, you're up. Homicide in Ballard, probably domestic violence. Be there yesterday." A set of sedan keys flew across the room at my head. I caught them painlessly, only because I'd just come in the door and hadn't yet taken my gloves off. The guy who'd thrown them at me—our lieutenant, Braxton, who was decent, hardworking, and who never impinged on my consciousness for a single moment beyond those I spent following his direct commands—jerked his jaw at the door, indicating we should already be gone. I did a quick dance of shedding my coat, shrugging on my duty weapon—an item which, like Braxton, lay outside my realm of active awareness except when I was actually at work—and pulling the coat back on before my partner made it to the door.

Because my desk was three steps from the door, I got there first, and that meant I won: I got to drive. After nine months of that game, I wasn't sure why we bothered, because neither of us pretended Billy was the better driver. Not that he was a bad driver, mind you. It's just that it was the only class at the academy I'd been too proud to come in anything but first.

He caught up to me and muttered, "I hate domestic cases," as we headed out the door.

"I know." Nobody liked them, which was part of why Billy and I were up on this one. Braxton tried to rotate the DV cases through the whole Homicide team, because under the best of circumstances, they were emotionally messy, and under the worst—which was more usual—cops ended up the bad guys no matter what they did. "Could be worse. At least a murder means there won't be an outraged spouse trying to beat us off because her partner didn't really do anything wrong."

"Walker, are you seriously telling me murder is preferable to a live victim who doesn't want to press charges?"

"That wasn't what I meant." It was, however, kind of what I'd said. No wonder I let Billy do most of the talking at crime scenes. We drove over to Ballard while Dispatch offered a few more details on the homicide we were approaching. There was a pattern of abuse in the family, instigated by the wife, one Patricia "Patty" Raleigh, against whom the city had twice pressed charges. She'd done anger management courses and then a short stint in jail. We weren't sure yet if it was herself or her husband, Nathan, or possibly both, who was the victim: one of their children had run out of the house, bloody and screaming hysterically about Mommy and Daddy being dead. The neighbor had called it in.

Billy left his coffee untouched as the information came in, muscle in his jaw bulging like flexible stone. "I hate domestic cases."

"I know." There was nothing else to say. I pulled up along the curb in front of the Raleighs' ranch-style home a few minutes later, and we got out of the car. It wasn't a wealthy part of the city, the houses mostly from the fifties and sixties. They tended to look careworn, with sagging fences, older tricycles and swing sets in small front yards. A few houses stood out as having been renovated: fresh paint, new roofs, lawns trim and shipshape even though winter was only just letting go its grip.

The Raleighs' house wasn't one of those. I glanced over it, then met the eyes of a broad-boned black woman standing in the next yard over. She had two kids with her, both white, both huddled against her strong form. Her hands were on their chests, over their hearts: protective, like a mama bear. She was probably the neighbor who'd called in the 273D, and the kids were probably Nathan and Patty Raleigh's. I nodded to her once and she nodded back, then retreated to her front porch, taking the kids with her. She'd been letting us know where they were, and now planned to stay out of the way until we needed them and her. Most people intimately involved with a murder weren't that clearheaded. I chalked it up to equal likelihoods that she was involved or that she was very sensible, and followed Billy up the driveway to the house.

He paused at the door, an eyebrow lifted at me. I gave him a nod much like I'd just given the neighbor, then let the Sight filter over my normal vision.

Truth was, though normal investigative homicides like this one made up the bulk of our work, Billy and I weren't partnered because we were good at solving run-of-the-mill cases. We were partners because he saw dead people and I was a shaman. A healer, basically, though I had a wider range of talents than that. Together we made up Seattle's one and only paranormal detective team, and even on a mundane case, there was no reason to let our esoteric skills go to waste.

The world viewed with the Sight was something of a wonder to behold. Everything shone with purpose, rich aura colors making light of the most ordinary objects. Newly budding leaves on trees thrummed with brilliant blue-green threads that would become bluer as they grew, until they were vibrant with life pouring through them. Houses, buildings and fences tended to radiate a resolute green, a pride in protecting the things they held. Everything, living or inanimate, had purpose, and I could See that purpose when I looked with shamanic eyes.

I could also See people's auras, even through walls, which was unusually handy in clearing a house for entry. There was nothing living inside the Raleighs' house, though a bright orange shimmer said a housecat was probably in the backyard hunting early-season bugs. A crawl space beneath the house would've been a better choice for the cat: plastic tarp down there kept the earth warm and I could See the squirms of potato bugs and other such small things doing whatever it was bugs did. The attic was quieter than that, not so much as a squirrel hiding out. I nodded to give Billy the all-clear.

He knocked anyway, as was polite, and introduced us loudly before trying the doorknob. It turned, to neither of our surprise: if the kids had come running out, they weren't very likely to have stopped and locked the door behind them. And an inSightful all-clear or not, we both went in like we were entering hostile territory, because God forbid I should be wrong and we should fail to follow protocol.

Our boss—Morrison, the precinct captain, not Baxter-the-forgettable—would rip us apart if we did.

Nathan Raleigh was just inside the door, a late, macabre addition to an otherwise low-key, attractive living room. He hadn't been dead all that long. His color was still fading, but there was a remarkable amount of blood soaking into the pale blue carpet. Billy and I exchanged glances, then Billy tipped his head to the left, indicating he'd check out the room through the next doorway, barely two steps away. I nodded and edged forward just far enough to keep an eye on him. There was a short hallway in front of us, down which I guessed were bedrooms, which I couldn't let go uncovered while he checked out the open-plan kitchen and second living room to our left.

He said, "Clear," after a few seconds. "Doorway to my right."

"One to my left here, too." We knocked our respective doors open, winding up on opposite ends of a T-shaped bathroom, guns pointed at each other. Billy crooked a faint grin, then stepped into the top of the T, putting himself exactly opposite me.

A short brunette woman came through the door behind him, a nail-spiked baseball bat already descending toward his skull.

I shot her.

Time slowed down in crises, for me. I wasn't sure it was possible to drop into actual bullet-time, like in The Matrix, but I swore I saw the bullet's spin and the percussion blast as it slammed into Patricia Raleigh's right shoulder. Blood misted out. She screamed. The bat's downward momentum was knocked far enough askew to no longer threaten Billy. He hit the deck anyway, flipping on his back to bring his weapon up defensively, finger still on the trigger-guard.

Mine was still squeezing the trigger. My throat hurt, though I couldn't remember yelling. I knew I should have. Drop your weapon! or Police! or something like that. Maybe I'd said both. In protocol terms, it mattered. It mattered very much. In real-world terms, it mattered a lot less: my partner had been under attack, and shouting was never going to stop the bat from bashing into him. One shot, a good one, had been enough. Good thing, too. I'd never shot another human being before. I wasn't sure I could do it again, even for a double-tap to make certain Billy would remain safe.

Patty Raleigh staggered a few steps backward and fell over.

My belly erupted with pain, diamond claws digging in and hauling my insides apart as the core of my magic went to war with what I'd just done. I dropped my gun and limped forward, one arm curled over my stomach. I paused next to Billy, who hadn't yet moved, cords standing out in his neck and breath coming hard. He jerked his gaze to me, then nodded, one sharp movement to say he was okay. Nausea that I interpreted as relief swept through the pain in my gut, and I kicked Patty Raleigh's baseball bat—it was already bloodied, the nail thick with matter I didn't want to examine—farther away before kneeling at her side.

There was no exit wound spilling blood onto her pale blue carpet, which meant the bullet had lodged in her right clavicle. A very good shot, then, because the impact and lodgment would have knocked her farther off balance than a clear shot through the muscle would have. In terms of preventing a nail from taking up residence in Billy's head, I couldn't have done better without killing her.

Which I hadn't. She was still breathing, though the inhalations were shallow and shocky, and her eyes were glazed with pain. The wound technically wasn't life-threatening, but that made less difference than people thought, with shooting victims. Shock or sepsis did them in. The human body was not meant to stop small metal objects traveling at 850 feet per second, and tended to react poorly. Patty Raleigh might very well die with me kneeling beside her.

Of course, I could prevent that from happening. Or at least, I could in theory prevent it. My stomach was still a mass of twisting pain, every bit of magic I'd ever commanded turning black and red with its own kind of septic shock. My fingers were too thick to bend, my hands frozen and stiff. I put one on Raleigh's shoulder and applied pressure, disquieted at the heat of her blood. She gurgled, more disturbing than a scream, and I thought if anything should unlock the healing magic I carried within me, it should be that sound.

Nothing happened, not a rush of instantaneous healing, not even the far more familiar layered vehicle body work that I'd used as my healing imagery for most of a year. I was no more use than any ordinary person, putting pressure on a bleeding wound. "Billy."

He started talking as I said his name, calling in the shooting, requesting an ambulance, requesting backup: all the things I'd been going to ask him to do. Intellectually I knew he was on the ball, that it had been barely ten seconds since Patricia Raleigh had swung the bat at his head, but I felt encased in ice, like everything was still happening at a glacial pace. Shock, just like Raleigh was in.

Billy said, "Don't move," to me, and went to clear the rest of the house. I should have thought of that. I should have thought of a lot, except I couldn't think of what else I might have done. Patty hadn't been in the house—hadn't been on the property—when I'd examined it psychically. Either that or she could batten down her aura like nobody I'd ever met, but I really didn't think so.

There was an open sliding glass door beside us, making up the back wall of the living room. She'd clearly come through it, but where she'd been before that, I had no idea. The cat I'd Seen was still pouncing around the backyard, intent on capturing a moth.

"Clear." Billy came back from the bedrooms and crouched beside me, face grim with concern. "You okay, Walker?"

"Yes. No. I can't heal her."

To my utter surprise, he touched my right cheek. I had a scar there, thin and mostly invisible, a remnant and reminder of the day my shamanic powers had exploded to life. "You couldn't heal this, either. Some things aren't meant to be fixed."

"But I did this." My belly cramped again and the words came out tiny and painful.

"Maybe that's why you can't undo it. The paramedics will be here in a few minutes." He was silent a few seconds, then put his hand on my shoulder, squeezing. "You saved my life."

I wanted to make a joke. Just a small one, something about I had to or your wife would kill me, but I couldn't. I couldn't at all. I only nodded, a jerky little motion like he'd given me a minute earlier. He offered a heartbreaking smile in return, like he understood exactly what I couldn't say. "Keep pressure on that wound until the ambulance arrives."

It was a very sensible order. It made me feel like I was accomplishing something, when we both knew the truth was I couldn't have moved if I'd wanted to. If I'd had to, yeah, probably. But short of somebody else coming out of the woodwork to kill Billy, no, I was stuck there on my knees next to Patricia Raleigh for the interim. I nodded again, and Billy went to the front door to await an onslaught of cops, paramedics, forensic examiners and, inevitably, Michael Morrison, captain of the Seattle Police Department's North Precinct, and our boss.

I was sitting on the front steps, holding gun and badge loosely in my hands, when he came up the driveway. Any cop involved in a shooting had an automatic three-day suspension, so Morrison didn't have to ask: I just handed the weapon and badge over. Patty Raleigh's blood was under my fingernails, and Morrison noticed it as he accepted them. He checked the chamber and magazine—I'd already unloaded it—then tucked the gun into an empty holster under his suit jacket before asking, "What happened?"

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