What were they doing here? What were they looking for? Lily Davis watched them from a distance, following a last-minute decision not to advance any closer, just in case they might see her. Well, not so much them – it was him in particular she was focused on – Victor Wright, the one with the orange glow, the hum that sent chills down her spine, if that could still happen to her, considering the position she now found herself in.
She was tracking Victor, a Seattle detective, the savior whose name she had heard whispered from beyond the grave. He could release her, so they insisted, but how could he? He looked too young, barely out of his teens. And he was stubborn, foolish and arrogant, so the stagnant spirits trapped between worlds had told her. Lily was determined to make him hear her, to get him to set her free from the nightmare of semi-existence that had now become her eternity.
All the way from Seattle, she had followed them. Now, she found herself within the passes of Snow Lake. Off the beaten track of what the locals called Snoqualmie Pass, Snow Lake was – to those who enjoyed sweating – a great, six-plus-mile jaunt of gradual elevation and descent, into one of the most picturesque lakes within the Alpine Lake Wilderness. It was definitely not a place she had ever wished to go, since she loathed the cold. It carved into her bones, with them protesting the whole time. Well, it had, anyway, before her…accident.
Could she call what had happened to her an accident? Accident meant an unexpected and undesirable event. An unforeseen incident. For Lily, it had definitely been unforeseen, but why? She wasn’t sure. That’s what she had to know. She could recall being dragged behind a couch. She had fought tooth and nail, screaming for help.
By now, Lily had come to the realization that, whatever was happening, this was not going to end any time soon. She was alone. She felt nothing but confusion. Confusion about what she was meant to be doing, and confusion as to why things had halted as they had. She should have passed over by now.
Instead, she was walking into the bright light of sun reflected off snow. Now, the cold she had always so dreaded meant nothing to her.
Her blood-streaked face, the bullet hole in the middle of her chest, ruining, to her utter disgust, her favorite blouse; the blouse she had waited in line for an hour to purchase during the mid-winter sales. It was now in tatters, and that was not even mentioning the pencil skirt that looked like it had been ripped and dragged up over her hips, displaying milk-white thighs, darkened by bruises.
Lily focused on holding back just enough, keeping her distance from Victor and the two people he was with, so that they would not detect her. Molly and Joe – so Lily knew they were called, from hearing these names float through the air on numerous occasions during the passing hours – were Victor’s companions. To Lily, Joe looked more like he was the one who could help her – older, tougher, more sure of himself. Maybe she had the names wrong; maybe Joe was the one she was supposed to approach.
She followed silently as the three of them walked. Victor had, on occasion, spun around swiftly, as if sensing Lily’s presence, but he waved off Molly and Joe, when they questioned him, asking, “What’s your problem?”
The sound of cracking ice, crunching beneath their feet, in great contrast to its fluffy, light appearance, bounced off the rock walls. For Lily, who had never taken to the outdoors even on occasion, it was a strange sensation to watch Victor and his friends sweat while tramping through such icy surroundings. For her, it was surprising to see snow on the ground when the early April sun burned hot overhead. The remnants of winter had yet to give up the fight, to release the icy fingers which dug so deeply into the crevasses. They would at some stage melt, giving the waiting rivers the boost they needed before salmon season would begin. On bare patches, back soil, displaying itself in dark splotches, disrupted the white backdrop, proving life was continuing.
All this left Lily contemplating whether she would even have to worry about snowfall again. Surely, it would just flitter through her, as if she was nothing at all. Winter had been nothing but an inconvenience for Lily, trying to get to work on time, or just getting out her front door without breaking a leg. Today, the snow and ice brought her the utmost serenity. She could sense things she hadn’t been able to, before…the accident. About that, she couldn’t quite remember what had happened to her.
Now, she couldn’t help but noticing Victor’s and Joe’s attention to the young woman accompanying them. Wearing yoga warm-ups, a pink hoodie she had taken off and tied around her waist, and a white tank top – clothing that fully displayed all her assets – Molly was allowing herself to bask in the sun overhead. Chilled just enough, with sunburnt shoulders. The perfect combination.
Molly was beautiful in her own way – dark hair pulled back into a ponytail, glowing skin, a warming smile that appeared to always make its way to her eyes (from this distance, Lily couldn’t tell what color they were), and a laugh, which was, under the circumstances even for Lily, contagious. If Lily had been in the mood to laugh. Which she wasn’t.
Lily picked up on that fact that Joe, Victor’s partner, the man who had his back day and night, was there for one reason and one reason alone – Molly. Understanding that Joe had feelings for Molly, the fact he had not moved in for the kill – so to speak – was puzzling to Lily.
Victor, tramping along in his own world, was thinking about Molly, too. Even though he had already made a name for himself as someone who could solve crimes with astounding accuracy and speed – an unheard of accomplishment for someone who had only been in the department less than three years – Victor was glad Joe’s interest in Molly had never materialized into anything more than kidding around. Why he was glad, Victor didn’t quite understand, because he and Molly were practically sister and brother. Victor was secretly jealous of Molly. Her abilities were so unlike his own; intense, deadly gifts, which left him feeling insecure, in more ways than one. Clearing his head with a shake, Victor laughed at himself, his enjoyment of escaping the city flashing across his face.
Joe, too, was lost in his own thoughts about Molly, quite different from Victor’s.
Suddenly, not far away, a woman’s scream echoed eerily, making Lily cringe at the image that flooded her mind: a wall of snow crushing them, the beauty morphed into an avalanche brought on by this careless woman. A mountain of snow it was not. It was a wall of granite, comprised of boulders layered with snow.
“Run!” Molly shouted, panicking that the scream had come from a cougar.
Joe laughed, declaring that a cougar would be miles from people, not to mention it would never just explode out into an open area and attack with no reason. Lily was relieved to hear this, but in her state, surely she could be in no danger. A cougar would probably run from her!
Up until now, there had been clear paths, with no chance of slipping or stumbling. Now, the ground was littered with rocks, which seemed to move on their own accord. Lily gritted her teeth. Why hadn’t she mastered the art of just floating? She had assumed it would be a benefit of coexisting, or more specifically, of being dead.
To Lily, it should have seemed like an absolutely implausible idea to hike in such circumstances, but to her amazement, it was genius. It was fun. Lily cursed herself for never doing this while she still in the land of the living. Lily’s career had come first, as did most women’s in her field, leaving fun to come a low fourth or fifth, or never, when climbing the steps to success.
Out of Lily’s sight up ahead, the trio took the next switchback. Lily could hear their labored breaths as they were hauling themselves along, lengthening their strides just enough to ensure stability. Coming around a bend, Lily caught sight of Molly looking out over the mountain.
“How much farther?” Molly asked, the growing need for coffee increasing at an alarming rate in her veins. Every step was turning into digging, kicking, and tugging herself sideways to avoid trees whose roots had minds of their own, taking all the room they needed.
“The cabin’s right over the peak, down in the valley,” Joe answered, clearly enjoying every minute.
Victor was more than holding his own. Molly wondered if Victor had informed his partner of his abilities. Or hers. When the three were together, conversations had never ventured into the realm of incantations, curses, or dead people, so she assumed Joe had never witnessed Victor perform a séance. Or if he had, he had chosen to remain quiet about it.
Molly was enjoying Joe’s company. She had known of him since Victor had joined the force, but they had never spent any time together. He seemed to be intelligent. And open-minded to the world and its messed-up realities. And he seemed interested in her. Of course, that may not have remained the case, if he learned of her ability to draw demons from Hell. It had only happened once, and the memory of it made her cringe.
It had been a terrifying lesson. Released by the demon, she had run to Daniel, Victor’s estranged father, desperate for help. It had caused some ill feelings between her and Victor, but what could she do? She had absolutely needed the best advice she could get.
Daniel Wright was the most level headed, kind hearted and strong-willed man Molly had ever known. In fact, growing up in Twisp, a little town in Western Washington just south of the Canadian border, he had been like her surrogate dad. Daniel knew the headstrong teenage brain all too well; his own son was just growing out of it at 21, giving Daniel hope that their sort-of estrangement would soon end.
In complete contrast to Victor’s sandy, shoulder length hair, brown eyes, strong nose and full lips, Daniel was broader across the shoulders, with a head of jet black hair still as thick as the day Molly had met him, with not a gray hair in sight. Green eyes, exhibiting crow’s feet, scanned each and every individual they came into contact with, his lips permanently holding an enigmatic smile.
Having dealt with his disappointment that Molly, of all teens, could have been so air-headed, Daniel did what any necromancer would. He never thought he could fool Sekhet – after all, she cared nothing for the living. He knew he would have to negotiate an agreement with the Hell Demon: he would resurrect some recently deceased beings, in order for her to hunt, to satisfy her predator instinct, if she would forgive Molly’s misguided attempt to grow her supremacies.
Sekhet, after two weeks of reburying bodies, had grown bored and returned to her own realm, but not before informing Molly that Molly would be her aide in the Underworld – but only when Sekhet was in the mood to summon her. Aware that she must treat a demon with honesty and respect, always – never command, demand, or try to exploit them in any way – it had been a terrifying lesson, but Molly still thought herself smart enough to handle the consequences. Molly told no one she had found Sekhet horrifyingly fascinating.
Lily could pick up on all this as if she were watching a movie. Glancing at Joe now, Lily had to admit he was handsome. A little taller than Victor. A couple of years older. Thin, but not so thin that all she would want to do was feed him. He was well-built, with sculpted abdominals showing through his plain gray T-shirt. His strong arms hoisted him over tree roots with ease. Lily could tell that Joe was definitely someone Molly would consider dating. If he ever got around to asking her.
Lily could pick up so much; why not who killed her? Why couldn’t she remember that? She would dare to approach Victor and just ask him.
“Who am I kidding?” Lily hissed, angry at herself for being so nervous. What was the worst thing he could do? It wasn’t as if she wasn’t already dead. “Besides, Victor can probably sense every trapped soul from here all the way back to Seattle. A gift or a hindrance?” Lily said to herself as she focused wholly on the back of his head. “Okay, let’s find out.”
Marching toward Victor with purpose, throwing caution to the wind, Lily got so close that if he could have possibly smelled her perfume, he would have. Dolce and Gabbana Pour Femme Intense, a powerful floral aroma, but for the $112 she had paid for it, little was definitely more. Could Victor smell it? Was there anything left of it?
“I need to speak to you,” Lily all but yelled in Victor’s ear, but he disregarded her, refusing to acknowledge the ghost standing to his left. He had been aware of her presence from the beginning – he had felt that familiar hair prickling on the back of his neck while he was shaving, before leaving his cluttered apartment. The prickling pins and needles that traveled down your spine, refusing to leave any nerve endings untouched, the identical feeling he got every time he and his partner Joe got called to yet another murder in the back alleys of Seattle.
Molly, sensing Lily’s approach, threw Victor a questioning look, receiving a slight shake of his head in response. If they hadn’t been present, Lily was sure Victor would have talked to his ghostly stalker. Seeing Joe looking at his partner with suspicious eyes, Lily, growing agitated, decided to take the lead.
“Stop ignoring me,” Lily barked. “I know you can hear me.”
Bending to impersonate someone whose boot laces had come undone, Victor spoke in whispered words. “I can’t help you right now.”
“I know you can!” Lily took a step back, allowing him the space he obviously needed to feel more approachable. “Please, I need your help.”
“I told you, I can’t do anything right now.”
“No, you don’t understand,” pleaded Lily.
“I said—” Victor began, only to have Lily stop him in midsentence.
“It’s not me who needs your help.”
Victor was confused. Lily was dead, she had sought him out, and now she didn’t want his help?
“It’s my husband.”
“Your husband needs my help?” Victor asked.
He was fully aware of who she was: Mrs. Lily Davis. Murdered by a jealous husband. He had yet to prove it, though. “Is he deceased?”
“You’re the detective, you should know that.” As soon as the words left her mouth, Lily wanted to kick herself. Antagonizing Victor would serve no purpose.
Victor’s face changed abruptly as he glared at Lily. When a ghost turned up accusing him of not doing his job, that was the moment his barriers went up. “I can’t help you,” he repeated flatly, turning away. What are you doing, Victor? He asked himself as he began to turn back to face her.
Lily saved Victor the trouble – she appeared directly in front of him, eyes wide in horror. “Wait! Please. I’m sorry.” With the ability to just disappear, Lily knew, at that moment, she had the upper hand. “Frankie is about to kill someone.”
She finally had Victor Wright’s interest. He blinked hard, standing to his full height and towering over her small physique, choosing when to emit an audible breath at appropriate intervals. This was a lesson he had learned over time when dealing with the dead.
“Tell me what you know,” Lily begged.
Victor was reminded of the old saying, “What they don’t know won’t hurt them.”
But In this case, it would. She apparently didn’t realize what had happened. She was trying to stop him, not knowing that it was already too late, that it was her husband who had killed her. Another chance to put those darned drama classes he had to suffer through in high school to good use; the last thing Victor needed right now was a ghost throwing a fit over the fact that he was still chasing his own tail at this stage of the investigation. He had to play stupid. Swallowing, Victor tried to clear his face of any telltale sign that he was, in fact, the detective assigned to her case. With no luck.
“I know you have to help me.”
“Can’t I just have a day off?” Victor said.
An hour later, Molly and Joe were in the one-bedroom cabin, borrowed for the weekend from a friend who had obtained it at some stage during a messy, mid-life crisis divorce. Situated in the Mount Baker National Forest, Denny Creek Campground was just beyond the tree line and the river. Victor knew Lily was still with them. Molly knew someone was with them. If Joe was aware of anything, he wasn’t letting on.
Children’s voices could be heard in the distance as they sat at picnic tables, waiting for a variety of food which, on a normal day, was out of bounds. Camping and parenting seemed to co-exist simply because it was all about experiencing and remembering days and nights, so unlike the normal day-to-day run of the mill. Sweets, hotdogs and burnt marshmallows brought a weekend of teeth-rotting guilty pleasures.
It had been decided that Molly would take the bedroom, and Victor, who was still outside, sitting alone at the picnic table, would set up camp on the couch, which had seen better days. It did still have cushions holding some sort of comfort, and while the blankets smelled slightly musty from the long winter, it was nothing a firm shake in the warm air wouldn’t fix. Joe, who had been here before, had already thrown his backpack under the windows, pointing out that he was partial to watching the moon if he couldn’t sleep.
Sitting alone at the table outside, Victor pushed his sandy hair back from his face. Unlike Joe, who insisted a buzz cut was the way to go, considering the job they were in, Victor refused to get rid of his thick locks, even though his hair was close to being out of control, two inches away from hitting his shoulders. Until he got an official reprimand from the higher powers, he would keep his hair the way he liked it. Even then, they would have a fight on their hands. He had learned the hard way that when attending a crime scene, he should not have his hair flying everywhere, which was the reason he always carried elastic bands. He was nervously snapping one of them right now.
Unknown to Molly, Victor, in fact, unable to withhold anything from his partner, had recently informed Joe of Molly’s abilities – but not before adamantly making it clear to Joe that he was never to talk about this to anyone.
“How do you expect me not to talk to my future wife about this?” Joe had said, filling Victor with a terrible dread that he should have kept his damn mouth shut. “I’m joking!”
But Victor wasn’t quite sure. It had been enough to make him back up, forcing enough distance between them for Joe to feel awkward.
Leaving his place by the window, with a glance in Victor’s direction, Joe sauntered into the bedroom.
“Don’t even try,” Molly said. “We all already agreed I can have the bed.” Laughing at Joe’s expression, she pushed past him, in search of coffee. There had to be some kind of caffeinated beverages in the cabin. The prospect of drinking anything but stiff coffee in the morning was absolutely absurd, and her search grew feverish the longer it took to locate her addiction.
“Third drawer down on the left,” Joe called from the bedroom. Clearly, Molly’s inability to find a simple pack of coffee was noticeable.
“I see it,” Molly called. “I’m not stupid, you know.”
“I’m not, either,” Joe answered from the bedroom. “How long do you think Victor will be conversing with his friend?”
“His friend? What friend?” A hot blush ran from up Molly’s neck, across her cheeks, and onto the top of her scalp, as her mind rushed to find something to say. What does he know? What has Victor told him? I didn’t know he was aware of anything. Oh, shit! What does he know about me?
The cup she had been holding felt cold in her hands as she opened her mouth and spoke the words that seemed to be caught tightly against her vocal cords. “Victor can be… a tad peculiar.” A strange, high-pitched laugh escaped, bursting out as if it had been oppressed for some time.
Maybe he didn’t hear me. That’s it, Molly, just go with it. Molly relaxed enough so that she was no longer considering racing from the cabin and jumping into the river. Thinking now, she added, “You know Victor, always talking to himself.”
“You better be making me some coffee, lady,” Joe called from the bedroom, his voice light.
Pouring herself a cup of steaming java, Molly said, “Make your own.”
“I could make you,” Joe boasted.
“I would love to see you try.” Molly snorted. “No man can make me do anything.”
“Not with your abilities,” he returned just as tartly, and the cup fell from her hands with a crash as yelp of surprise filled the small cabin.
The sound of bed springs popping came from the bedroom. Joe burst into the kitchen, gun in hand. “What happened!”
Not waiting for an answer, he took two enormous strides to the door. “Victor!” he roared, holding the gun over his head. “Run! Victor, run!”
“What the hell is wrong with you?” Molly gasped, considering casting a spell, just to freeze him to the spot.
“Victor! Don’t worry. I’ve got your back!” Joe was yelling.
Victor’s head lifted in complete and utter shock as he witnessed his partner of three years face-plant into a patch of snowy pine needles.
“Is he crazy?” Lily muttered as she took in the scene unraveling before her eyes. Not only was Joe face down in dirt, but Molly had jumped on his back, grabbing for the gun, all the while pushing him deeper into the earth. His arms flailed madly while his feet kicked frantically, like a child throwing a tantrum over not getting a chocolate bar.
“For the love of god, will you stop?” Molly shouted.
Struggling to hold Joe down, she was breaking out in a cold sweat, only Molly wasn’t one hundred percent sure if it was the fact that she was using every bit of energy she had, or the memory of his words, ‘not with your abilities.’ Her distraction was all Joe needed. Before Molly knew it, she was flat on her back, looking directly up into Joe’s dirt-covered face.
Victor, still sitting at the picnic table, was laughing hysterically.
“What do you think you are doing? There is a cougar out here stalking us and you want to wrestle?” Joe gasped, trying not to laugh, helpless against Molly’s surprising strength, which left Joe even more enthralled by her. “Victor, help me!”
“What?” Victor turned away from the ghost beside him; Lily was now howling with laughter.
“Let me up!” Molly cried.
Joe sat up, laughing, covered with mud, snow and pine needles. Victor sat there, shaking his head. Molly’s dark hair had come undone from its resting place, tightly bound into a high ponytail for convenience, now long strands whipped across her face and shoulders. Joe’s breath caught in his throat as he took in her appearance.
“There is no blasted cougar,” Molly uttered through her teeth. “I dropped my coffee cup and it burnt my hand, you idiot. That is why I screamed. And I will have you know, it was not a scream; it was a startled yelp. Besides, how exactly did you get cougar out of all that?” Glaring at Joe, Molly got to her feet, wiped the dirt from her clothes as best she could, and marched back to the cabin, grumbling to herself about stupid cougars, and stupid, crazy men.
“He’s crazy,” Lily offered, taking her leave, but not all that confident Victor would keep his end of the bargain to stop Frankie from killing someone.
“Dude,” Victor laughed as he shook his head. “There are other ways of getting her to throw you on the ground – you know that, right?”
“Of course I know that.” Brushing off his hiking pants, Joe chuckled, “This is what I call breaking the ice.”
Joe was ready to have a fun weekend, that was until Victor’s words filtered through the air. “We need to head back to Seattle first thing in the morning.”
“Huh?” Dragging his eyes away from the cabin, Joe glanced at Victor, a slight frown etched on his brow. “Why?”
“I just got a lead.”
“Yeah?” Interest washed across Joe’s face.
That was all Victor had to say. All thoughts of Molly and her dirt-smudged face disappeared from Joe’s mind. “What about her? Did she tell you who killed her?”
“She doesn’t know.”
“She doesn’t? You’re kidding. Well, what does she know?”
“That her husband is about to kill someone,” Victor said.
“Someone else, you mean?”
“We have yet to prove Frankie is responsible for Lily’s death, let alone to have actually committed the crime himself, hands-on,” Victor pointed out. “There’s nothing to suggest Frankie Davis touched his wife the night she was murdered.”
“Nothing yet,” Joe countered.
“We really need to get back to Seattle. I want to bury this guy.”
“Well, shit, yes!” Joe said. “You better tell Molly.”
“Are you sure you don’t want to do it?”
It was too late in the afternoon to head back. They decided they would spend the night in the cabin and go back the next morning.
“Not god-awful early,” Joe pleaded.
They sat around that night, a roaring fire in stone fireplace against the cool night air, and told stories. Since Molly and Victor knew all theirs, and Joe had already heard his share of the most outrageous exploits from Victor, it was Joe, mostly, who talked. Molly was surprised at the hardship and the sadness he had endured; it seemed to have had no ill effect on him. Curled up against Victor’s back on the couch, listening, Molly had to admit to herself that her childhood hadn’t been so bad.
Joe’s upbringing had involved countless homes and a number of stepfathers, most of whom had insisted on being called Dad. By the age of fifteen, Joe had decided he had had enough and had taken to the road.
“I left California in the early hours of the morning, while my mother and Dad Number Four were winding down a house party that had been going on all week.”
Joe, armed with only the clothes on his back, went in search of a new life. He found it in Seattle, but it wasn’t paradise. He was homeless, he didn’t know how to seek help, or even that there was any help out there. He lived under a bridge that first summer, lying about his age, getting a job in construction, and caught sight of things most people would only ever see in horror movies. By that first winter, he had discovered Seattle’s homeless shelter system.
“I got lucky. By the Grace of God, with the help of some over-enthusiastic shelter workers, who saw in me a burning determination to succeed, they got me a place in a family. It was like a real family…and I was part of it,” Joe said, fighting tears. “Stan is the only true father I’ve ever had.”
Joe had become part of a family without even recognizing the signs. He graduated from high school, then the Police Academy. Six months into the job, while on the beat, he had met Victor.
“The rest was history,” Joe smiled, throwing another log on the fire.
“Have you ever seen your real parents again?” Molly asked. “I mean your birth parents?”
“There’s no birth dad – I’m a virgin birth,” Joe laughed.
“Me, too,” Molly said. “I never met my father. And I don’t believe my grandmother. I think she just made up a name and a story to tell me. I think they really don’t know who my father is. But what about your mother? Do you ever see her? Are you in touch with her?”
There had been only one occasion after leaving home that Joe had been in touch with his mother.
“One day, this young girl shows up on my doorstep. My landlady insists she wants to see me. I figure she’s a runaway, she knows I’m a policeman, she wants my help. Well, no. It’s Mona, my twelve-year-old baby sister. Dirty. Tired. Without help of any kind, she uses babysitting money and gets on a bus to Seattle. The only thing she knew was that I was my address.”
“So where is she now?” Molly asked.
“Oh, she’s mine,” Joe said. “She’s with me forever. I didn’t give my mother a choice, she signed the papers making me her legal guardian. She a great kid. Smart as a whip. She just started community college. You have to meet her.”
“I’d love to,” Molly said.
“Ring, ring, ring,” Victor said, ringing an imaginary bell. “Time to bring out the photos of those adorable Labrador puppies you saved from that burning building, Joe. And the kittens you rescued from that drainpipe.”
“Oh my gosh!” Molly said. “You did all that?”
Joe just laughed.
“And don’t forget to tell her you walk on water in your spare time.”