The dark spots on the body were at both palms, both wrists, forearms just above the elbows, shoulders, collarbones, lower legs just below the knees, just above the ankles, then through each foot. The legs were apart, not pierced together. They hadn't tried to imitate the Crucifixion. If you went to this much trouble, it was almost odd to not echo that long-ago drama. The very fact that they hadn't tried seemed strange to me.
The man's head slumped forward. His neck showed pale and whole. There was a dark patch of blood on his nearly white hair just behind one ear. If the nails were as big as I thought they were, if that blood had been caused by a nail, the tip should have protruded from the face, but it didn't. I stood on tiptoe. I wanted to see the face.
The white hair and the face, slack with death, said he was older than the rest of him looked. The body was well cared for--exercise, probably weights, running--only the face and white hair said he was probably over fifty. All that work to maintain health and well-being, and some nutcase comes along and nails you to a wall. It seemed so unfair.
I leaned forward too far and had to put my fingertips out to catch myself. My fingers touched dried blood on the wall. Only then did I realize I'd forgotten my surgical gloves. Fuck.
Zerbrowski was there with a hand on my elbow to steady me, whether I needed it, or not.
"How could you let me come in here without gloves on?"
"I didn't expect you to touch the evidence," he said. He fished a bottle of hand sanitizer out of one of his pockets. "Katie makes me carry it."
I let him pour some into my hands, and I scrubbed them. It wasn't that I was really worried about catching anything from that one small touch, I did it more out of habit. You didn't take pieces of the crime scene home if you didn't have to.
The gel evaporated against my skin making my hands feel wet, though I knew they weren't. I looked around at the crime scene, taking in what else was there.
Colored chalk had been used on the off-white walls. There were pentagrams of varying sizes on either side of the body. Pink, blue, red, green; almost decorative. Any fool that's trying to fake a ritual murder knows enough to use a few pentagrams. But there were also Nordic runes drawn among the candy-colored pentagrams. Not every nutcase knows that Nordic runes can be used in ritual magic.
I'd had one semester of comparative religion with a professor who had really liked the Norse. It had left me with a better knowledge of runes than most Christians had. It had been years, but I still recognized enough to be confused.
"This makes no sense," I said.
"What?" Zerbrowski asked.
I pointed at the wall, while I spoke. "It's been awhile since I studied runes in college, but the perps used all the runes in a pretty standard order. If you're really doing ritual, you have a specific purpose. You don't use all the Norse runes, because some of them are contradictory. I mean, you don't want to use a rune for chaos and a rune for order. I can't think of a true ritual where you would use them all. Even if you were doing a working where you wanted to invoke polarity, healing, harming, chaos, order, god, goddess, you still wouldn't. Some of them aren't easily made to fit any true polarity/opposite sort of thing. And they're also in a pretty standard textbook order."
I backed up, taking him with me, because he was still holding on to my elbow. I pointed to the left side of the body as we looked at it. "It starts with Fehu here and descends straight through, ending with Dagaz at the other side. Someone just copied this, Zerbrowski."
"I know this sounds funky, but do you feel any magic?" he asked.
I thought about that. "Do you mean was this a spell?"
He nodded. "Yeah, can you feel a spell?"
"No, there's been nothing of power in this room."
"How can you be so sure?" he asked.
"Magic, power of any kind of a metaphysical nature, leaves a residue behind. Sometimes it's just a tingling at the back of your neck, goosebumps on your skin, but sometimes it's like a slap in the face, or even a wall that you run into. But this room is dead, Zerbrowski. I'm not psychically gifted enough to pick up emotions from what happened here, and I'm glad. But if this had been some big spell, there'd been something left of it, and the room is just a crime scene, nothing else."
"So if no spell, why all the symbols?" he asked.
"I haven't the faintest idea. From the looks of things he was shot behind the ear and nailed to the wall. The body isn't arranged to imitate any mystical or religious symbolism that I'm familiar with. Then they threw some pentagrams around and copied runes out of a book."
"There are a lot of books on the runes, everything from college textbooks to the occult to New Age. You'd probably have to go to a college store or one of the New Age shops, or you could probably special order it through any bookstore."
"So this isn't a ritual murder," he said.
"There may be ritual to it from the killer's point of view, but was it done with magical purpose? No."
He let out a deep breath. "Good, that's what Reynolds told Dolph."
"Detective Tammy Reynolds, your one and only witch on staff?" I asked.
"Why didn't Dolph believe her?"
"He said he wanted confirmation."
I shook my head, and it didn't make me dizzy to do it. Great. "He doesn't trust her, does he?"
Zerbrowski shrugged. "Dolph's just careful."
"Bull-fucking-shit, Zerbrowski, he doesn't trust her because she's a witch. She's a Christian witch for heaven's sake, a Follower of the Way. You can't get more mainstream in your occult expert than a Christian witch."
"Hey, don't get mad at me, I didn't drag you out of bed to double-check Reynolds's work."
"And would he have dragged her down here to check my work, if I'd been first on the scene?"
"You'd have to ask Dolph about that."
"Maybe I will," I said.
Zerbrowski went a little pale. "Anita, please don't go after Dolph angry. He is in a bad, bad mood."
He shrugged again. "Dolph doesn't confide in me."
"Is he just in a bad mood today, or for the last few days, what?"
"The last few days have been worse, but two murders in one night have sort of given him a reason to be grumpy, and he's taking full advantage of it."
"Great, just great," I said. My anger helped me stomp off towards the bank of windows that took up most of the other wall. I stood there and stared off at the amazing view. Nothing but hills, trees, it did look as if the house sat in the middle of some vast wilderness.
Zerbrowski came to stand beside me. "Nice view, huh?"
"Whoever did this had to have scouted the house." I motioned at the windows. "They had to know for sure that there was no neighbor out there that could see what they were doing. Shooting him, you might take your chances, but putting him up on the wall, and all the symbols, no, they had to be sure they wouldn't be seen."
"That's pretty organized for a wacko," Zerbrowski said.
"Not if it's really someone wanting you to think they're a wacko."
"What do you mean?"
"Don't tell me that you and Dolph haven't thought of that."
"That it's someone near and dear to the dead man, someone who stands to inherit all this." I looked around at the living room, which was as large as the entire downstairs of my house. "I was too sick to really notice when I came in, but if the rest of the house is as impressive as this, then there's money to be had."
"You haven't seen the pool yet, have ya?"
"Indoors, with a Jacuzzi big enough for twelve."
I sighed. "Like I said, money. Follow the money, find out who stands to gain. The ritual is only window dressing, a smoke screen that the murderers hope will throw you off."
He stood staring off at the beautiful view, hands behind his back, sort of rocking on his heels. "You're right, that's exactly what Dolph thought once Reynolds said there was no magic to it."
"I'm not going over to the other scene just to check her work again, am I? Because if that's the case, I'm headed home. I may not always like Detective Tammy, but she's pretty good at what she does."
"You just don't like that she's dating Larry Kirkland, your animator in training."
"No, I don't like that she and Larry are dating. She's his first serious girlfriend, so forgive me, but I felt protective."