We took the tablet to Boone’s office. I entered Peter’s passcode, and it unlocked. I smiled at his home screen. He’d save a picture of the hosts of his favorite ghost hunter show as his background. The celebrity ghost hunters never found anything paranormal, even after the supernatural community revealed themselves. Really, they parodied the other medium reality tv shows. Peter tried to get me to watch the show with him. He always said even if they’re not the real deal, at least these guys are hilarious. That comedy kept their show going while others got bumped left and right to make room for witches who wanted their own reality tv shows and could guarantee extraordinary encounters. It hit me I’d never get the chance to watch the show with Peter, and my smile fell.
Agent Boone watched over my shoulder as I accessed the Specternet. Peter’s tablet had a folder that only revealed itself to a spell. Technomancers loved making things like that. The Specternet app featured a grey cauldron on a black background. When I clicked it, the icon grew to fill the screen, and purple bubbles and fuses rose from the cauldron. One bubble grew to fill the screen. When it popped, the tablet loaded the search engine Spookle, because yes, the witches who came up with this are giant nerds.
Peter saved his website as a favorite, so it didn’t take long for me to load it. He’d never logged out, so the site owner interface opened without asking for a password. I scrolled down to the chat feature and pulled up Peter’s last conversation. As soon as I saw the address where he died in the chat, I knew I’d found the right one.
“There we go. That’s our killer,” I said. I turned and handed the tablet to Agent Boone. Hopefully, Noah Smith’s screen name would help us track him down.
“Great,” he said, scrolling to the top of the conversation.
“Agent Boone, sir,” a young agent said, leaning in the doorway and frowning.
“What’s up, Fleming?” Boone asked. He didn’t give the other man his full attention. Instead, he only looked up long enough to identify the speaker and then returned to his reading.
“There’s been another murder, sir,” Agent Fleming said. That got his attention.
“Connected to Brook’s case?” Boone asked.
“Yes, sir,” Fleming answered.
“Send me the address,” Boone said. He handed the tablet to me and went to get his keys from his desk drawer. “I’ll drive, you read.”
“Okay,” I said, following him out of his office.
I read the conversation between Peter and Noah Smith aloud once we got to the car. Smith claimed to be looking for some unique entertainment for some friends visiting from out of town. He offered Peter double his usual fee if he could provide a location and perform the seance. Unfortunately, the exchange didn’t actually name Noah Smith. NSmith64 could be anyone with that last name and first initial. I couldn’t reveal how I’d learned his name without revealing our encounter with Milton.
“So N. Smith arranged everything. He’s either our murderer or an accessory,” Boone said once I finished reading. “Do you know any IT witches who can help us track the screen name? The normal tech team might be able to help since you can access the website.”
“They’re called technomancers, and I might know someone who can help us,” I said. I hadn’t heard from Lee yet, and I didn’t think I would. Even though I didn’t have much hope for a second date, I imagined he’d help if the DPI paid him.
“All right. Get in touch, and please don’t pull the same thing you did with your werewolf friend. I promise I’m not trying to arrest your friends,” he said.
I texted Lee. The message showed as delivered. He didn’t respond. I turned back to Peter’s tablet while I waited. I recognized another app in his magically hidden folder. Digital Grimoire allowed witches to create spell books they could access from any device connected to the app. The user could scan an existing spell book’s pages to preserve them online or start from scratch. The app provided pages formatted to spells, potions, and rituals. It also had a helpful tips section for witches who knew what they wanted to make but didn’t know where to start.
I found the export function and sent myself a copy of Peter’s grimoire. Once I confirmed the link in my email and ensured the pdf loaded, I logged out of Peter’s account on the app. Peter couldn’t get in trouble if DPI found any dangerous material in there, but I’d rather they didn’t have easy access to his grimoire all the same. By the time I switched back over to Peter’s website, Boone had pulled up to the curb of a new dead zone.
I’d grown familiar enough with them that I could sense them from a distance. This neighborhood looked similar to where we found the first dead zone. A ”for sale” sign stuck up from the lawn, just like at the first house. A larger swatch of grass died here. They must have stabbed the witch closer to the front of the house. What if they hadn’t chosen a witch this time? Given what the knife did to the tree in Fort Snelling, they might have picked a different type of supernatural this time.
I stepped out of the car, mentally preparing myself for the scene inside the house. Images of people I knew flashed through my mind, all of them dead, just like Peter. I wanted to stop the grizzly imaginings but couldn’t. My anxiety ratcheted up the closer we got to the house. I hesitated to walk across the line on the lawn where the dead zone started. My growing familiarity with them didn’t make it any easier to move knowingly toward that wrongness.
Agent Boone went first, got to the front door, and held it open for me. Wishing I could avoid it, I walked into the house. Everything looked worse. Agent Boone showed me pictures taken right after they discovered Peter’s body. But seeing the scene with that degree of separation made it so much easier to bear. Walking in to see the body still hadn’t been moved made me want to turn right back around. I stopped, took a fortifying breath, and approached the body.
I couldn’t help feeling grateful that I didn’t recognize the victim. It didn’t make the scene any less horrible. The witch clearly fought back. A couch smashed through the wall, giving a view of the adjacent room. She’d likewise launched the rest of the furniture around the room. A crystal ball embedded itself in a wall. The red silk tablecloth and white candles scattered on the floor told me they’d contacted her with the same pretense as Peter. A plan formed in my mind. If Lee didn’t get back to me, I’d find another way. If we couldn’t trace Smith through the Specternet, maybe I could get him to come to me.