Excerpt from The Case of the Tormented Troll

            “Some detective I’ve never met showed up to ask me questions.”

            He took a noisy sip of his drink. “Who was it?”

            “He said his name was Wilhelm. Are you familiar with the guy?”

            Beldon stared at her for a couple of seconds. “Real spit and polish appearance? Not a wrinkle in sight? Acts like he’s got a poker shoved up his ass?”

            “Right down to shoes so glossy, I bet I could see myself in them.”

            He took another drink. “Yeah. That’s the bigwig who canned me.”

            Aura gasped. “Wait. I thought Captain Charming let you go?”

            “He did, but it was on Wilhelm’s say-so. He’s the schlub who got me kicked off the police force, and I believe he was also behind those who railroaded me.” Beldon narrowed his eyes at her. “What did you tell him? Is he the one who took my piece?”

            “Yes.” She lowered her voice. “Bel, he didn’t show up to ask about the attack on us. He wanted to know why we’d been at the morgue to see Ragg’s body.”

            The man beast sat up straighter in his seat. “Go on.”

            “He kept demanding to know why we were there.” She shook her head. “I told him it was none of his business.”

            “Then what did he say?”

            “Nothing much. He wasn’t happy I wasn’t playing along.”

            “But he took my piece.”

            “Yeah. He had both our guns checked, but he took yours, saying it was SOP.”

            Beldon drummed his fingers on the table. His thick claws made sharp, tapping noises. “Yes, it’s standard operating procedure to keep it until the case is resolved, but I still don’t like it. Is my Ruger still in the safe?”

            “As far as I know,” she assured him. They both had backup weapons stashed away in the event one got lost, destroyed, or in this case, confiscated. “I also told him about the two non-Statics who were in the sedan.”

            “You know as well as I do nothing’s going to be done about that drive-by,” Beldon told her. “There’s not enough evidence for them to go on.”

            “But there’s a black sedan running around out there with at least six bullet holes in it,” she persisted.

            “And it’s probably sitting in somebody’s barn or a hock shop somewhere right now, where it’ll never again see the light of day.”

            Their meal was delivered. Aura noticed how her partner dug into his food like he hadn’t eaten in a week. And knowing him as well as she did, she wouldn’t have been surprised to find out it was the first square meal he’d had in that many days. It wasn’t until they were finished, and Beldon ordered a slice of pie for dessert, that they picked up their conversation where they’d left off.

            “Okay. Give it to me,” Beldon asked.

            She relayed the brief meeting she’d had with the detective. He listened without interrupting. “But that’s not the kicker. I called the office to let Lucille know what had happened, and she told me we’d gotten a call from Estin Ragg. Bel, the cops have arrested him for the murder of his brother. They think he killed his brother.”

            Beldon looked deep into her eyes. “Do you believe he did?”

            Aura was quick to shake her head. “No.”

            “You think it’s a set-up?”

            “Yes. And I’m willing to bet this week’s pay that drive-by is also connected somehow to Ragg’s death.”

            At the mention of money, their check magically appeared on their table. Aura dug out a dollar bill from her pants pocket and slapped it on top of the piece of paper, which made Beldon chuckle.

            “You’re the only dame I know who doesn’t carry a purse.”

            “You know as well as I do a purse would only get in the way in this business. So what do you say? Do you agree with me that Ragg’s death and the attempt on our lives have something in common?”

            Her partner grimaced. “Definitely. We just have to prove it. What do you think we should do next?”

            Aura grinned without humor. “It’s time for Step Three. I want to know what the police know. Or what the police know that they don’t want us to know. Do you feel up to paying them a visit with me?”

            He began crawling out of the booth before she finished the question.