I waited in Kowalski’s patrol car for an hour while more police showed up to “take charge” of the scene. Then Kowalski took me back to the station where I waited another two hours at my desk for Detective Karter. He came in, glanced at me and hurried past into an office. Ten minutes later he came out and approached me.
He opened his mouth to speak but I cut him off. “Detective Karter, can I get pictures of the circle? I recognized some of the symbols but I’d like to try to find the rest.”
“Ms. Espinosa, your help has been invaluable but we no longer require it.” He sounded apologetic.
“What does that mean?”
He sighed heavily. “It has been made clear to me that no one outside the police force is to be working on this case.”
“You’re shutting me out?”
“I pulled a lot of strings to bring you on in the first place. It was a desperation move on a case that had dead-ended. Now that there are new leads and evidence–”
“That I found.”
He held his hands up. “I know. If it was up to me, you’d already have those photos but it’s not up to me.”
“Now what?” I asked.
“I need you to leave. If you have any more insights, you have my number but I can’t share any more details of the case with you.”
I had wanted to study the circle to know exactly what we were dealing with but my hand was being forced. “Detective Karter, you have to destroy or damage the circle.”
“I can’t destroy evidence,” he said.
“If the killer manages to finish their spell–“
“Nothing is going to happen because magic doesn’t exist.” I watched his face shift from apologetic to suspicious. “How did you find the circle again?” He was close to accusing me of being involved with the killer and I didn’t really blame him. I was spouting off about magic and spells.
I took a calming breath and said, “I looked at the files and found a pattern in where the victims lived. Officer Kowalski and I went to one of the victim’s home and I tripped over the loose rug. That’s all.”
He stared at me before gesturing toward the front. “Thank you, Ms. Espinosa, but we will take it from here.”
Later that evening I sat thumbing through a magic reference book. The book was just a book, not a magical book. Those I had burned and buried. I was looking for more info on magic circles. There was a surprisingly lot of magic systems that used circles for various rituals. They had differing structures but it was easy to find several that used the cardinal directions in setup for the main ritual or spell. The killer had to have a place for the final part of their spell and it had to be in the center of the victim’s homes.
Using the map app on my phone I pinned the victims’ homes and eyeballed the center point to be near the duck pond in Creekside Park. I gathered some supplies from around my apartment in one of those reusable grocery bags and headed to the park. Twenty minutes later I was wandering through the park toward the approximate center of the four ritual circles. A quick walk around the pond didn’t turn anything up. I checked the map again.
My location looked to be dead center. I zoomed in until the pond’s bean shape filled the screen. A smaller circle popped into view inside the pond. The gazebo. Except as I looked across the pond I didn’t see it. The duck pond gazebo had been closed for repairs after a big storm last year but I couldn’t remember hearing about it being demolished. The bridge to the gazebo remained with a heavy chain across its opening. I stepped over it and started walking across.
A few boards creaked and wobbled but otherwise, the bridge felt solid. At the end was just water. I stared at the end of the bridge for a couple of minutes. The last board was only half as wide and the railing didn’t end in a post instead just hanging in space. I steeled myself and stepped forward off the end of the bridge. My vision blurred and static filled my ears. Then I was inside the gazebo. Magic. That seemed to confirm whether or not the circles would work.
Outside, under the full moon and light from nearby street lights, I hadn’t had much trouble seeing but in the shade of the gazebo’s roof, I found myself in the dark. I pulled a flashlight out of my bag and swept it across the floor. The circle I had found in the apartment had been four to five feet across. The one carved into the gazebo’s floor was at least twice as wide and as jammed packed with sigils, glyphs, runes, and words written in languages I didn’t know. The was no blood traced over the carvings.
The killer hadn’t finished their ritual. Ok, now I just needed to find a place to hide nearby so I – Wait, wait, no. What was I thinking?! I’m not going to play into the plot. I’m not.
I swung the beam of my flashlight behind me, checking for the killer. No one was there. Right, the killer is on track to kill tomorrow so I have most of a day to do something but first things first. I pulled out a box of salt from my bag and popped out the spout. I started at the door and poured a line of salt around the inside of the gazebo. Salt was good protection against a general number of evil things. It probably wouldn’t keep the killer out but it might disrupt the magics they were using. Blood magic tended to be evil.
Once the salt circle was done, I carefully stepped over it back onto the bridge. The gazebo remained visible. Either my stepping through it or the salt had broken the spell hiding it. Hopefully, it wouldn’t scare off the killer when they returned. I left the park and headed home.
I didn’t think Detective Karter would listen to me so I called Kowalski.
“Hello is this Officer Kowalski?”
“Yo, Kowalski here.”
“I … You answer the phone with yo?”
“Who is this?”
“Sorry, it’s Francine Espinosa. The consultant.”
“Oh hey, what can I do for you? I heard you had been taken off the case?”
“Yes but I think I have a lead for you. The center point of the four victim’s homes is in Creekside Park. I think you should check out the gazebo in the duck pond.”
“Have you been out there?”
“No. I just looked at a map. If the killer thinks they’re doing magic then it makes sense that they’ll want to finish their ritual.”
“I’ll pass this along to Detective Karter.”
“Don’t tell him I told you. Tell him you thought of it.”
“Thank you. Bye.”
A few days later I read about an attempted murder in Creekside Park. The papers reported that there were occult connections but a lot of the details were being withheld by the police. Kowalski called to tell me my tip had been good. They found the circle, staked it out and grabbed the killer when he showed up dragging a homeless man to the gazebo. It’s unclear if he will be officially connected to the first four murders.
Not a completely satisfying conclusion but better than trying to fight some magic powered killer in the park. The ghost in the park across the street has started calling my name again. I’m thinking of walking over for a chat.
Author’s Note: So, this is the end of the story started in “The Alibi” which was meant to be a one off story.
“The Non-Adventures of Francine” was conceived as a series of very short stories about Francine avoiding story plots. The first three stories followed this format. It was while writing “The Scrapbook” that I had the idea of continuing the story from “The Alibi” the previous story.
I’m currently thinking of using “The Non-Adventures of Francine” as the title story of my next e-book.