The Keenest Blade, by Laura Mortensen
It’s never a good thing when the FBI comes knocking on your door at 8 am on a Sunday morning. The doorbell rang just as my coffee finished percolating. I poured myself a cup, took a quick sip, and went to the door. A woman and a man, both in dark suits, stood on my front porch. They flashed their badges at me and I let them into the living room. I sat on my favorite old chair and took another sip of coffee. They sat across from me on the futon sofa.
The man said, “I’m Special Agent Olson and this is Special Agent Harding. You are Ms. Genevieve Adair?”
“That’s me.” I grasped my coffee, suddenly feeling cold.
“Do you know why we’re here?” Olson asked.
“I’ve no idea why you’re here. Please enlighten me.”
“We’re here because some of the knives you sold were returned to the factory. As I understand it, that’s quite unusual.”
I’m working my way through Necromancer School as a sales representative for a company called Blades Inc.; makers of some of the best knives in the world. The only reason a customer would return a knife the factory would be to have it sharpened. None of my customers had owned their knives long enough for them to need sharpening.
“Do you have a list of the customers who sent the knives back?” I asked.
He handed it to me without a word. I looked over the names and had to bite back a swear word. All ten customers had gone through my “special treatment.” I like to think of myself as an ethical person, but school is expensive. I only do this with people who can afford it. If a rich customer says no, I call up a spirit to possess them and turn their answer to yes.
I handed back the list. “Why did these customers return their knives?”
“Your customers,” Agent Harding said with a long pause, “sent back the knives because they claimed that they had developed rust spots that couldn’t be removed.”
“That’s impossible. Our knives are made out of surgical steel, they never rust.”
Olson nodded. “The technicians at the factory agreed that the red substance couldn’t be rust. They sent it to a police lab for testing. Do you know what was discovered?”
I shook my head. This Olson fellow had some sense of drama. He should be an actor.
“It was human blood. Each knife had a spot of human blood that strangely enough couldn’t be washed away. I’ve got nothing against magic, but I find it disturbing when the mystical side gets involved with murder. Can you explain any of this, Miss Adair?”
“How could I know anything about it?” I asked. “I never handle the knives, except for my sample-set. I’m afraid you’ve come to a dead end with me.”
“We know what you are, Miss Adair.” Agent Harding opened an envelope she was holding. “Take a look at these pictures. These are the victims killed by these knives. Tell me if you recognize any of them.”
These days, I never see anybody except my professors, fellow students, and clients. My friends complain that I don’t like them anymore. I took the pictures from her and flipped through them quickly, not wanting to linger. It may seem strange, a squeamish necromancer, but I only deal with the spirits of the dead. I don’t go around digging up corpses and making zombies. Each woman had her throat slashed from ear to ear. I turned a little pale and was glad I didn’t have to see the real thing.
I shook my head. “I’ve never seen any of these women. Did my clients know them?”
The two agents glanced at each other then Olsen said, “We haven’t yet had a chance to show them the pictures. They all claim to have been asleep in bed during the murders. The mystery is how their knives got to the crime scenes and then back to their houses without them knowing about it. Can you shed any light on this?”
I couldn’t tell if they saw me as a possible suspect or just a witness. Maybe they weren’t sure themselves. If I was a magician, I could be a suspect. They can use spells to teleport themselves and any object miles away. All I can do is talk to ghosts. The worst a ghost will do is a little poltergeist activity. Getting hit by a toaster is very rarely fatal. A poltergeist doesn’t have the fine control to take a knife and cut the throat of the living.
“I can’t explain it.” I took another sip of coffee. “Unless you want me to talk to the spirit of one of victims, I don’t see what you want from me. The FBI has Necromancers enough for that, I’m sure. I just realized I’m being a bad hostess. Did you want any coffee? ”
Agent Harding took the pictures back and slid them into the envelope. “It’s a little late for you to offer us hospitality. What we need is your cooperation. Agent Matthews tried to question the spirits of the victims, but they were gone. All of them were gone. I understand that is unusual in the case of murder?”
I nodded. “Most murder victims become ghosts. They are so surprised by their change in circumstance that they don’t even know that they’re dead. I would expect at least one ghost in ten murders.”
“Why would there be no ghosts?” Olson asked.
“If the killer was a necromancer or a psychic they would be able to banish the ghost. Which must be why you’re here talking to me.”
Agent Harding brushed a hair out of her face. “You’re as bright as your school records indicate. You’re not a suspect. You have alibis for eight of the murders. You were seen in class by at least 20 other students. The killings were all late in the evening. The women were single, so the killer had plenty of time to play with them. It seems the killer took your client list and stole one knife from each of them. Then he killed a woman and found a way to return the knife back to their kitchens. Another interesting fact is he seems to be working his way through all the different knives in what you call the ultimate set.”
“We understand that you have some unorthodox methods of contacting the dead,” Olson added. “We want you to use your talents on the victim here in Seattle. Perhaps you’ll be able to speak with her.”
Having been dead for almost ten minutes when I fell into Lake Washington as a child, it was true that I could contact almost any spirit. Even if the ties had been severed I should be able to call the woman back, but I had a bad feeling I wouldn’t like what she had to say. Who could have access to my clients and their knives? Was there a killer stalking me, saving me for last?
“I have a question, before we rush off to view the body. Did any of the victims look like me?” I asked.
Harding shook her head. “When we found out that you were a connecting factor, we looked for that pattern. The women have nothing in common besides being young and attractive. Some of them are college students like you and some are already in a career.”
“It’s still possible I could be this killer’s target at some point.”
“That’s why you should come with us and talk to the victim. We need to catch this guy before he kills again.”
“Is she in the morgue?” I asked.
Olson nodded. “I suppose it won’t bother you since you’re used to dealing with dead bodies.”
Despite my squeamishness, I’ve been to the morgue before. It’s located in Harborview Hospital. My friend, Julia asked me to speak with her sister, who had been missing for five years. She turned up drowned on the beach at Golden Gardens. She had gone on a boat trip with a few friends. They got very drunk and one of the friends pushed her playfully towards the water. She was so drunk she fell in. There was no way they could save her, but they decided not to tell anyone. I left it to Julia what to tell the police. She decided that they had most likely punished themselves enough. Part of the necromancer code is that the customer is always right so I respected her wishes.
“I’ve been there before and you’re right, we have nothing to fear from dead bodies. Let me get my coat.”
I got my coat and workbag. I usually wear cloaks, but I didn’t think the agents would appreciate my strange choice of attire. I didn’t want to ruin the reputation of Necromancers. I followed the agents out to a black SUV. I felt like I was on an FBI TV show. They put me in the back seat
“What’s the victim’s name?” I asked.
I wanted to prepare myself for communing with her spirit. Even though I would be with the body, it would have been better if I had something that she used in life. Especially since her spirit had crossed over to the other side.
Olson was driving so Harding turned to me and said, “Alicia Moss. Does her name ring a bell? She went to the UW and was majoring in art.”
“I’m afraid not. I’m in a graduate program, so I’m only taking classes that have to do with my own major.” I realized how pretentious that sounded, but it was probably what they expected.
Harding shrugged. “It was a long shot. The UW is a big school. It would be impossible to know everyone.”
Olson glared back at me. “You should lose the attitude Ms. Adair. We all want the same thing, to find the killer, right?”
It was fear that had me on the defensive. I had a feeling I knew what was going on. If I was right they could end up charging me with accessory to murder at the least. I could only hope that my cooperation would bring leniency. I’d have to do my best to calm down. I closed my eyes and took deep breaths, attempting to meditate and prepare myself for whatever was to come.
By the time I opened my eyes again, we had pulled up to Harborview. Olson apparently had good parking luck, since he was able to find a space right away. They led the way to the Medical Examiner’s office and flashed their badges. The receptionist told us that he was out, but that we could go ahead to the morgue. One of his assistants was there, a young woman with long dark hair pulled back in a ponytail. She wore a white lab coat and she was bent over what looked like a man’s body.
“I’m Special Agent Olson and this is Special Agent Harding and Ms. Adair. We need you to pull out Alicia Moss.” He flashed his badge again.
“Sarah Randall. Weren’t you guys just here yesterday?” she asked.
Harding nodded. “Ms. Adair is a Necromancer. We want her to talk to Alicia’s spirit.”
Sarah stared at me for a moment. “The police brought a necro in last week. It’s seems silly to try it again. They didn’t get anything.”
“Let us worry about that, just bring out the body.”
I pulled some equipment out of my bag. The only thing I needed was a little grave dust and holy water which I keep in a small glass jar. I always carried more complicated materials for emergencies. Hopefully they would stay in the bag.
Sarah left the man she was working on and went to pull Alicia from the freezer. She rolled the gurney in front of me and backed off to lean against the nearest wall. I had the feeling she didn’t think I’d be able to do anything different than the other Necromancer.
The body was naked. Alicia had been a very pretty young woman; wavy blonde hair and an athletic build. I could see that her throat had been cut with something very sharp, but there were no bruises or smaller cuts. I’d watched enough procedural shows to know that no defensive wounds implied she had known her attacker.
I put a dot of the mixture of grave dirt and holy water on her lips, on her eyes, and a large circle on her forehead. I called out to her spirit to come back across the divide. Some Necromancers feel a need to say the ritual words out loud, but unless it’s a more formal setting, I stay silent.
It takes time for a spirit to reunite with its body, especially when it’s not acting like a ghost and hanging around. I kept my eyes closed to help with concentration, but I heard the others shifting in the room, and assumed they were becoming impatient. At last I heard a long moan and opened my eyes. Alicia’s eyes were open and although they were dead as the rest of her, I could see her spirit looking through the clouded windows.
“Alicia, I won’t keep you here long. I just have a few questions and then you can rest. Do you know who your killer was?”
“Yessss.” The sounds the dead make always send shivers up my spine.
“Was it someone you knew?”
“My Aunt Sophia.” The voice was more normal as if Alicia had found a way to un-freeze her vocal cords. “I couldn’t believe it. She called to say she was going to take me out to lunch. She showed up at my apartment and pulled out a butcher knife. Then I can’t remember anything but darkness.”
“Thank you Alicia. Now go back to your rest.” I reached out and gently closed her eyes.
Olson said, “This corpse just accused a 75-year-old woman of being a murderer. Sophia Moss can barely walk; there’s no way she could wield a knife to kill a twenty something woman.”
“Could it be some sort of shape changer?” Harding asked. “There are legends of doppelgangers that look just like someone else.”
I shook my head. “My guess is that it was a spirit. A spirit can possess anyone and give them unnatural strength.”
I knew Sophia Moss, or rather Mrs. Sophia Moss Johnson. She was my first client. I had the feeling that the sloppiness I had used in summoning the spirit to possess her, had just bitten me in the ass. I needed to find out what spirit I had called and whether it was going around possessing my clients. I also needed a way to admit to the agents what I had been doing.
I turned to Sarah. “Is there another room we could use? I need to tell the agents something.”
She pointed to a door in the back of the room. “That’s a small conference room. Will that work?”
“Thanks. Agents, if you don’t mind?”
Olson and Harding followed me and I shut the door. The room was small enough that the table with four chairs filled it. I sat down in the chair facing the door and the agents sat on either side of me. I pulled out some chalk and a ritual knife from my bag.
“I’m going to come clean about something, but I hope that you’ll keep the fact that I’m cooperating with this investigation in mind. Alicia’s Aunt, Sophia Johnson was one of my clients. I had just started at Blades Inc. and I hadn’t gotten a sale yet. Mrs. Johnson was not going to buy, so I called a spirit to possess her. Unfortunately, I didn’t have the time to call a spirit safely. I’m afraid that the spirit I called used Mrs. Johnson’s body to murder Alicia. I’m proposing calling that same spirit and finding out whether my supposition is correct.”
“If this spirit killed Alicia, is it possible that it also killed the other girls?” Olson asked.
“How could you do something so irresponsible?” Harding looked shocked. “A police or FBI Necro would never do such a thing.”
She was being more than a little naïve. I know plenty of Necromancers who do a lot worse things than I had done. Police Necromancers were always cutting corners because of budget issues. There were all kinds of rumors about what our professors got up to at parties after midnight.
“We all make mistakes,” I said. “Let me try and fix mine.”
Olson leaned back in his chair and Harding sat there glaring at me. I drew a protective circle on the table. A pentagram went inside it. I needed a formal summoning, so that I would also be able to send this spirit back to the other side. It would be better late than never for banishment.
“I summon thee, spirit of destruction.” I cut the palm of my hand and dripped blood into the center of the circle. “I know you possessed Sophia Johnson and I know you killed her niece Alicia. By my blood you must come. By my blood I summon you.”
A hazy cloud appeared in the circle. I couldn’t view what it had looked like in life until I discovered its true name. I got the feeling the spirit was laughing at me. I got an impression of short dark hair, a long coat, and old-fashioned clothing.
“You have me, love.” The voice was masculine and it had a British accent. “Now what are you going to do with me?”
“Did you take the life of Alicia Moss?”
“That I did. She was a pretty little thing. It was so much easier then back in my day especially when I was riding her auntie’s body like a horse. She gave me a lovely hug before I slashed her throat.”
I’ve talked to a lot of ghosts without fear, but this one gave me a cold feeling. It was as if the spirit wasn’t the ghost of a human, but was some alien being from the other side. It made me want to get this conversation over with as quickly as possible.
“And what about the other nine girls? Were you responsible for their deaths as well?” I asked.
The spirit laughed. “Oh yes, lovey, I rode their friends and relatives and got up real close. Then it was easy to kill them. They didn’t even scream. I did miss the screams a bit.”
I threw the vial of grave dust and holy water towards the spirit. It shattered against the table it ran up the spirit’s form so that I could see that it was a man; tall and skinny definitely in old fashioned clothes. Most spirits moan or scream when hit with the mixture, but this one was silent.
“By blood, holy water, and the dirt of the grave you must give me your true name.” I demanded.
“No, it’s not so easy. They called me ‘Jack the Ripper’ and that’s my name now. I don’t even remember what my name was in life. There’s no true name for sending me back. Now that you called me, I’m staying here.”
I turned to Olson and Harding and found them staring in obvious fascination at the materialized spirit. It was sure that they had never seen a spirit manifested before. Since law enforcement usually had the body there was no need for the circle and pentagram. The only reason I’d been able to call “Jack” without something of his own was because I was the one who brought him across in the first place.
“You know those knives you’ve been selling?” Jack asked. “You see I’m trying to find the best blade; the best one for killing. I never was a butcher or a doctor, but I’ve always appreciated a good blade.”
I ignored Jack and said, “Agents, as I understand it, once you’re dead you can’t be put on trial. The only punishment we can give this spirit is to send him back to the other side. Whether he really is Jack the Ripper, or some other spirit messing with us, we can send him back. But I need your help.”
“We’re not Necromancers,” Harding growled. “How can we help you?”
“We need to hold hands around the table. I’m sure you’ve seen a séance, in a movie if not in real life. I’m going to use some of your life energy to help call the victims. They are going to drag him back to the other side. Can you let me see the list of victims?”
Olson slid it across to me. I pulled out white candles and put one on each point of the pentagram. While I was doing this Jack was insulting me and shouting about how he was never leaving the land of the living. I ignored him, but I could tell Agent Harding was rattled. I grabbed her hand on one side and Olson offered me his on the other. I studied the list of victims and began.
Since she was the closest I called her first, “Alicia Moss, come join our circle. Dorothy Martin. Angela Nash. Rita Burks. Your killer is here, unpunished. Juliet Wilson, Ramona Joyce, Martha Gibson. Alone you were defeated, together we can send him back to where he belongs. Sofia Phelps, Traci Goodwin, Jane Williams; come and lend us your strength.”
I saw their spirits enter the room; ten young woman who hadn’t deserved to die. Now I would help them get their revenge. I noticed that Jack had gone silent. I had the feeling he was watching with at least a little fear as the women spun around the circle that trapped him.
“Jack the Ripper; you’ve escaped justice for far too long. I have conjured your victims here to be your jailors.” I dropped Harding’s hand and smudged out part of the protective circle.
Before Jack could fly through the gap, his victims flew in. I was sure that Harding and Olson could also see 10 women holding hands as if they were about to play “Ring-around-the-Rosy.” But it wasn’t for fun and games, they had the Ripper trapped and they weren’t going to let him escape.
I quickly re-drew the line and grabbed Harding’s hand. “Spirits by my blood I banish thee. Return to the realm of death, return to the realm of death. Those who should find rest; rest. Those who should be punished shall. Be gone spirits both fair and foul.”
I watched as all eleven spirits began to spin around in the circle. The Ripper blinked out first, disappearing into shadow. Then the women spun away into the light. I breathed a sigh of relief and dropped both the agents’ hands. Before they could say anything, I took out a cloth and cleaned the chalk and blood off the table.
“Now what,” I asked when I was finished. “Are you going to turn me over to the police?”
Olson looked thoughtful. “There are a number of things we could charge you with; accessory to murder, fraud, practicing without a license.”
I grimaced. “I hope you’ll pick just one, since I did stop the killer.”
“I have a proposal. It comes with three conditions; you will take you Necromancer license examination, you will stop working for Blades Inc., and finally you will consult for us when we ask you.”
“Does that come with any sort of stipend?”
Harding laughed. “Don’t push your luck. You’re free to go, but we’ll be in touch.”
I got while the going was good, not caring that they had been the ones to drive me here. I’d catch the bus. I felt like I had dodged a bullet. Why had Harding and Olson decided to keep my secret? Could they really be so impressed with my skills? It seems I would soon be finding out.
Laura Mortensen is currently working on her Masters in Teaching at City University in Bellevue, WA. She lives in Seattle with two cats and a boyfriend. Her hobbies include writing, table top roleplaying games, and trying to balance life with school. Laura hasn’t been published yet, but she will keep on trying. She has been in the same writing group for the past seven years. This story was inspired by a brief stint working for Cutco. The names have been changed to protect the innocent.
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Tags: crime, ghosts, Laura Mortenson, lies, murder, supernatural