Washington:Dark City

Romano zipped up his leather jacket as a gust of wind from across the Potomac River hit his chest. Walking down South Capitol Street he mulled over the events of the last few days. A light rain began to fall. The droplets fell into puddles along the pavement and in the gutter, causing ripples to blur the reflected sodium street lights. Romano shoved his hands in his pockets to keep warm as he walked towards his destination....

After securing Marsh's apartment and leaving a uniformed officer on duty, the crime team headed back to First Precinct to plan their next avenue of investigation over lunch. Sanchez put in a request to the Transport Authority for roadside CCTV footage for the area around the time of the murder, but it would take time for that to come through. By the time a junior assistant had returned with sandwiches, they were deep into analysing evidence.

"The lab has confirmed that the dental records definitely prove the body to be William Marsh. I know you wanted that double checked," Wetherly spoke to Sanchez, who nodded in acknowledgement.

"Everyone I spoke to at Mountain Apartments claim they were fast asleep at that time in the morning," added Locklear, "so it's likely we'll get nothing else from the residents. I made a call to an art dealer and asked him to value that painting. You're looking at two hundred grand for one of that quality, likely to be easily traceable though." Locklear shrugged and dismissed his line of thinking, "We know he had money, and there were plenty of other high value items that were left untouched. The motive clearly wasn't robbery."

"No," agreed Sanchez, "I suspect the burning body has a greater meaning. Wetherly, any thoughts on profiling?"

Wetherly nodded, "A few thoughts. First, the crime was execution by fire. This is an historical use of killing witches, although less common than drowning. This supports the witchcraft angle from the forum. According to some Judaistic texts, punishment for such 'crimes' was handed out by melting lead and pouring it down the convicted person's throat, causing immediate death. That's close to perhaps what Marsh suffered. "

"Does that make this some sort of religious killing?" queried Locklear.

"If you're thinking some sort of Jewish or Christian crime, then I don't think so," explained Wetherly shaking her head, "because the only clue to motive was the killer's email. It said 'His power is now mine'. That doesn't sound anything like either of those religions. It definitely suggests a premeditated murder, especially if you analyse the access problems in getting into the apartment in the first place. Regardless, there are lots of possible contributing factors to be sure one way or the other. I'm quite sure that we're looking for someone imaginative and educated."

Sanchez spoke up, "The email has the sound of some sort of gloat, basking in their success. Perhaps it was also a taunt. The use of 'Wizard' suggests some ridiculous magical slant. What else did we find out from the forums?"

Romano pushed open the door, walked straight to the bar without looking at anyone and ordered a drink. The bartender raised an eyebrow, but made no comment. Romano always chose milk whilst undercover - if anyone had spiked it you could tell instantly, not like other drinks with stronger flavours. Plus, people would think he was just a health freak. It all added to the cover.

Romano glanced up from his pastrami sandwich and said, "I've done some more reading of Marsh's forum postings. No one posted under the name Wizard. Looking into the bigger picture, Marsh was branded a Warlock by Jadis."

"Isn't that a male witch?" asked Locklear.

"That's what I thought, but actually it's a derogative term that means 'oath breaker'. Some wiccans use the term to mean one who has been banished from a coven," explained Romano. "In this situation, it appears the coven is made of the forum members."

"Our best lead at the moment is this Jadis. Why was she threatening on the forum?" Sanchez mused.

"Ah!" Romano exclaimed, "This is where it gets a bit silly. Marsh, posting under the name of Artemis, first got Jadis' attention when he said that the main reason people join the Craft was for the potential to dance with naked members of the opposite sex. He was being sarcastic, and probably trying to be funny. Jadis didn't see it that way. After that, Marsh appeared to have downloaded the Sanctum's Book of Shadows - it's collection of spells - and joked that he should send one of the truth rituals to the Governor and newspapers. Again, Jadis failed to see the funny side."

"You do know that Jadis is the name of the White Witch from The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe?" Wetherly pointed out, "it's also a French word meaning 'of old' I think."

"What's also interesting is that those in The Inner Sanctum are having their monthly meeting this Friday at a downtown bar in Second District. Amusingly, the bar is called 'Hell'," Romano raised his eyebrows in mock horror.

Sanchez decided it was time to get a plan into action. "Romano, you're going in undercover and will be making first contact with these witches. Post on the forum and get yourself invited to their gathering. Locklear, go to the bar tonight and tomorrow night, so that on Friday when you go again, you won't look out of place. You can be Romano's backup in case it all goes wrong. Wetherby and I will be in a van nearby, and you can call us in if things get messy. Let's try and find out who Jadis is. We can bring her in for questioning."

"By the way," queried Wetherly, "Where did Tyler go?" She hadn't seen him since before lunchtime.

"He's been reassigned," Sanchez replied quietly.

A blank look crossed Wetherly's face. "Did he screw up?"

"Not at all. A higher power called him to do other work," Sanchez said. The others waited expectantly for more information. "I'm not sure, but I think he's on secondment to Langley."

The next morning, Sanchez decided to follow up on some leads. She stopped outside the Morgan Stanley office and checked the time; three minutes to ten. Pushing open the heavy glass doors, she approached the reception desk whilst dodging men in suits chattering away on their cell phones. For all the social advancements in the last twenty years, the financial services wer still very much a man's world. Behind the counter sat a woman with a headset on. She smiled at Sanchez and asked how she could help. Since she was here on official law enforcement business, Sanchez showed her credentials and asked to speak the most senior board member available. "Might as well start at the very top," she thought.

The receptionist took a moment to study the badge and photograph. She then nodded and placed a call. A few moments of quiet conversation passed. "Mr Kelleher, our Chief Financial Officer is on his way down now. Please take a seat," she stated. Sanchez nodded her thanks and looked around for a place to wait. The lobby was beautifully airy and spotless, and on each wall was a large painting. Some of them were impressionist, others were abstract. Locklear would have been able to name them all, but Sanchez was happy to name one simply as 'Black Square'. Who knows what it might have really been called.

Within minutes, a grey haired man dressed in an impeccable blue suit approached her and introduced himself as Colin Kelleher. His handshake was firm, and his light blue eyes were sharp. Mr Kelleher suggested they head to his office on the fourth floor. After a short elevator ride and a walk across a busy open plan office, they were sat in private surroundings.

Sanchez explained the reason for her visit. On hearing of the death of Marsh, he was visibly troubled. They had known each other for about six years, and Kelleher had always been impressed with his talents. His track record held him in the top twenty stockbrokers within Washington. Within ten years, when he was due to retire, Marsh would have been one of his potential replacements.

There was no next of kin. Marsh had sometimes talked about a brother who had died in the riots a few years ago, but had never said anything else about family. He was quite well known and liked within the office. Kelleher was not aware of animosity or professional jealousy either.

Through her pervasive questioning, Sanchez managed to coax out more details. Marsh drank only to celebrate, and Kelleher was almost definite he didn't do any illegal drugs. One thing came up, and that was Marsh's liking for pornography. Nothing disgusting or extreme, just interactive. Kelleher explained that after one particularly bountiful day's trade, Marsh claimed he was going home for a spot of cybersex on his Playstation VR. It was his only vice. With no significant other, and no effect to his work, Kelleher had turned a blind eye. That was Marsh's personal life, after all.

Sanchez thanked Kelleher for his time, and gave him her business card should he think of anything else. She did say she might be back if anything new came up. Kelleher nodded. Sanchez excused herself; she could see herself out.

Romano had made the easy first step of identifying the members of the Inner Sanctum. They stood out like sore thumbs. The rest of the bar's clientele were mostly leather clad bikers, but a mixture of Goths, emo-kids and geeks had pulled some seats into a circle. They'd even arranged some candles into a pentagram. Romano was disappointed to see that none of them had brought brooms. He wondered if any of them had to wiggle their noses to cast spells. He purchased some snacks from the bar and wandered over. A simple timid question asking if they were from 'the sanctum' led to him being invited to sit down. Romano was instantly popular with the snacks he'd brought.

Romano was aware that Locklear was having a drink at the far end of the bar. He looked deep in conversation with a couple of bikers. They'd not acknowledged each other, but he knew if things got ugly Locklear would be instantly wielding a bar stool with vigour. Hopefully it wouldn't come to that. Downtown bar brawls were always messy.

The nine people within the circle were all late twenties or early thirties, although from their dress style they were trying to hold onto their younger years as long as possible. Most of them had cocktails; one had a bottle of beer. The one who appeared to be chairing the gathering called herself Aradia. Romano could do the clueless newbie easily. He'd done his research and was happy to let Aradia or the others correct him when he stated one of the common misconceptions about Wicca. Romano was careful not to seem like he was trying to hard so kept quiet as often as he could. They chatted about an upcoming Handfasting of one of their absent members. One spotty goth tried to start a discussion about Gardnerian versus Alexandrian wicca, but 'Maxine' was quickly shouted down when the others refused to engage in 'that debate again'.

It was approaching 11pm. About two hours had passed, and Romano needed to make some progress. However, his experience came to mind; never ask a direct question. That was one of the earliest tricks he'd learnt. Romano knew that if he asked outright they'd start to suspect and could clam up. However, there were ways to lead the conversation. "I wasn't sure how many people would be here," he stated.

"We normally have a couple more, but Jadis is working and Samantha's boyfriend has taken her to see Star Trek 15. She is such a geek!"

"Working on a Friday night? That sucks," Romano stated. Again: no questions, just statements. Let them lead the conversation. People share so much more information when they think they're not being interviewed.

"She's a chef in some fancy uptown restaurant," came the reply. Gotcha. Romano knew it would be wrong to push it further, but it was a step closer. It was time to let the conversation roll away from him.

Locklear caught the subtle sign from Romano, but to anyone else it would just look like he'd scratched the top of his ear. This prearranged signal between them told Locklear that Romano had some information. It was time for him to leave, so they wouldn't be seen departing the bar together. Locklear wasn't paranoid, but you just never knew who was watching. He pulled out his wallet and settled his tab. The last few nights had been well spent on talking about vintage Harleys with a couple of the bikers. He nodded to them on his way out. He figured Romano would be out as soon as he could leave without raising suspicion. They would rendezvous at the van with Sanchez and Wetherly.

The night air hit Locklear and refreshed his senses. Hell wasn't that bad after all.