Agent Carson didn’t apologize for his accusations, but he didn’t make any more once Boone and I joined him in the car. The further we got from the house, the more at ease I felt. I imagined the agents were likewise feeling more like themselves as we drove. As much as I didn’t want to go back to that place, I knew that I’d need to check on it again. I needed to know if that dead zone would grow or shrink over time. I hoped the ambient magic would fill back in over time, but I didn’t want to think about the threat it posed if the spot grew. I didn’t want to have Agent Carson in tow when I went back. Agent Boone kept him in line this time, but I didn’t want to chance it another time.
When we got to the morgue, Agent Boone and I went in without Carson. He said he needed to make a call. I didn’t mind him staying behind. If the body had the same unnerving quality as the house, who knows what the agitation would make him do next? I’d handled worse, but none of the confrontations I’d had in the supernatural community came with legal consequences. Any false steps with the DPI could land me in a very different kind of trouble than I was used to.
“Have you ever seen the body of someone you knew before?” Agent Boone asked as the coroner led us over to a covered body.
“Mm-hmm,” I said. His question barely registered as I mentally prepared myself for seeing Peter’s body. The same empty feeling reached out from under the sheet.
“Are you squeamish?” he asked.
“Not usually,” I said.
“Go ahead,” he said to the coroner.
The coroner nodded and pulled the sheet back to reveal Peter’s head and chest. The knife wound was small and tidy. It couldn’t have been more than a couple of inches from top to bottom. How could something so small have emptied every part of my friend and left this shell behind? I couldn’t believe this was Peter. Even after feeling the dead zone at that house, I’d hoped to find some fragment of his magic. I touched his skin and pulled back immediately. That second of contact made me back away. My magic recoiled from the emptiness of Peter’s body. I couldn’t have cast a spell to save my life at that moment.
“Are you okay?” the coroner asked.
“No. Definitely not,” I said. I didn’t have words for what I was feeling. Worse than hopeless. I wanted to run and hide. I owed Peter more than that, but I fought my instincts just to stay in the room. “This shouldn’t be possible.”
“What shouldn’t be possible?” Agent Boone asked.
“There’s no trace of his magic. No trace of any magic at all. Even if he were a mundane, I should be able to feel something right now.”
“Death doesn’t cut the magic off?” he asked.
“No. Magic is part of death. Otherwise, necromancy wouldn’t be a thing,” I said. That gave me an idea. “Do you know any necromancers?”
“No. Or if I do, they haven’t called themselves that,” Agent Boone said.
“Damn,” I said. I knew of one but wouldn’t be able to find her without putting myself in crosshairs.
“Um, I might be able to help,” the coroner said. I looked him over but didn’t sense any necromantic energy.
“You’re not a witch, Jones,” Boone said, looking at the coroner suspiciously.
“No, but, I um. Well, I don’t know if they’d meet with a DPI agent. They might meet with another witch, though,” Jones said.
“Agent Boone. Will you excuse us for a few minutes, please?” I asked.
“Okay,” he said, drawing out the “o” in hesitation. I made eye contact and nodded, hoping he took it as reassurance that I wouldn’t hurt the coroner. He left, and I used a privacy spell to ensure he wouldn’t overhear anything.
“How well do you know your necromancer?” I asked.
“We’ve been acquainted for a few years,” Jones said. That meant he’d known about magic before the rest of the mundane population.
“And in that time, have they ever shown any signs of instability?” I asked.
“What do you mean?” he asked.
“Do they seem crazy, unhinged, or the least bit villainous?” I clarified. It’s an unfair stereotype that necromancers are dark witches, but the power to manipulate death isn’t something that should be taken lightly.
“I mean, they’re a bit weird, but I’ve never felt like they’d hurt me,” he said.
“Fair enough,” I said. “Do they know that you’re involved with the DPI?”
“They know I work with law enforcement. I’ve never given them the specifics,” he said.
“Take my number and call me with a time to come back here. It’s better not to have agents close at hand for this,” I told him. If Jones never felt threatened by this witch, I was probably being over-cautious. But if I were in this necromancer’s shoes, I wouldn’t want people volunteering my services to the DPI without consulting me first.
“Why should I trust you over Agent Boone?” he asked.
“Because I won’t bust you for letting your necromancer friend walk out of here with spare parts from time to time,” I said. It didn’t take any intuitive leaps to figure out what a necromancer would get out of this friendship. His face went red with anger or embarrassment; it was hard to tell which. “I’m not judging. All I want is to figure out what happened to my friend.”
“All right,” Jones said, handing me a piece of paper and a pen for my number. As I reached out to take it, I remembered my phone was disconnected.
“Hold on to this and throw it when you’re ready for me to come back,” I said, taking the paper and folding it into an airplane. I put a tracking spell on the airplane and one to keep it safe on its way to me. “Keep forgetting my phone’s broken.”
“Maybe my friend isn’t so weird after all,” Jones joked.
“See you later,” I said, breaking my privacy spell and walking out the doors. Agent Boone leaned against the wall across from me with his hands on his hips. He looked at me expectantly. “I just wanted to talk to him about the hazards of outing witches without their permission.”
“You left him in one piece, right?” he said, craning his neck to look around me. “Jones is the only coroner I actually like.”
“He’s fine. Trust me, it’s better he learned the lesson from me than a necromancer,” I said. If he doubted my story, I couldn’t see it on his face.
“So you’re not gonna help us connect with the other witch?” he asked.
“That’s not a connection you want to make, and it’s not one I want to make either. I’m sorry I couldn’t be more helpful to you, but whatever happened to Peter is out of my league. I’m going to back off while I still have the chance,” I lied. If I stayed with Agent Boone any longer, I might as well sign up to work for the DPI myself. Besides, if my meeting with the necromancer led to the person who killed Peter, I didn’t want someone who’d sworn to uphold the law impeding what I needed to do.