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“Dios mio, nena,” Celia gasped as she surveyed the wreckage of her daughter’s living room. “What happened here?”
“I was hoping you could tell me,” Aracelli answered as she righted an overturned bookshelf. Celia didn’t envy her the task of picking up and re-organizing that big stack of books.
“Me?” Celia asked. “How would I know?”
“When I got home, Brian was lying in the middle of the floor,” Aracelli said as she picked up a few books and put them on the shelves. “He was burning up with fever and shaking like a leaf with the chills.”
Celia made a sympathetic noise, but otherwise said nothing. Aracelli liked to build her case and present all the evidence before she said something that was hard to believe. It was part of what made her a good cop.
“He was delirious, too. Talking about how he’d been seeing things, hearing things…even smelling things.” She paused and took a very deep breath. Her face looked calm, but Celia could see that she was gripping the book in her hands so hard that her knuckles were turning white. It was one of Brian’s books, something about darkness and monsters. Strange that such a gentle soul enjoyed reading about violence so much.
“Do you know what he said to me, mami?”
Celia shook her head.
“He said ‘God, love, I’m so scared. I’m so scared. How bad is it if I’m hallucinating?’ That’s what he said.”
Then she took another deep breath, relaxed her grip on the book, and put it on the shelf.
“After that, he went all delirious again, and he started raving. Talking about seeing faces in the mirror and shadows moving in the corners. About things flying around the room and sticking in the walls and food rotting in the fridge.”
That caught Celia’s attention.
“The food?” She asked.
“We got some nice steaks last night for our anniversary,” Aracelli answered. “They’re maggot meat now. The vegetables look like they’ve been in the fridge for a month, and the milk is green.”
“You would’ve just ruined it anyway,” Celia said as she started to look around the room. “The things stuck in the walls?”
Aracelli put a hand on her shoulder and, when she looked back, pointed up.
Celia followed the finger.
Then she blinked.
Stuck in the ceiling were a butcher knife, a screwdriver, a variety of tableware, and a nail file.
“Connnnyo,” Celia breathed.
“When I got home, Brian was too weak to stand,” Aracelli said. “He was much too sick to, I don’t know, take the stepladder and pound those things into the ceiling with a hammer or something.”
Celia nodded in agreement. That was not what had happened here.
“Can you think of anything you mighta done to make the spirits mad at you?” she asked.
Aracelli shook her head. It might have been strange to some of her fellow cops to see her talking so matter-of-factly about spirits – that’s why she didn’t talk about it with them – but she’d seen her mother at work often enough that it wasn’t a question of belief or doubt for her: magic and spirits were as real as handcuffs and perps. She just didn’t want to carry on the family business, which was something else they fought about.
“I thought that might be it,” she said. “I was trying to think of what we could’ve done…but then I saw the mail.”
Okay, this “building the case” business was starting to get annoying. “The mail?” Celia demanded. “What about the mail?”
“Here,” Aracelli said, picking up a package from a nearby table. “Take a look at this.”
Celia looked at her doubtfully as she took the package, then turned her eyes to the package itself.
Then her eyes went very wide.
She started to shout “conyo”, then corrected herself to “Ay, Dios mio!” It wouldn’t do to swear with this thing in her hands, and calling upon God might help.
She threw the package to the floor (something inside screeched in outrage), snatched a vial out of her purse and poured the contents all over it. Billows of blood-colored steam rose from the package, and the thing inside it squealed and died.
Grimly, she turned to Aracelli, who was staring wide-eyed.
“Imp,” she said. “This was like a magical letter bomb.”
Aracelli went pale. “I could tell something bad was in there, but…wait. What was that you poured on it?”
Celia held up the small, square glass bottle, which had crosses carved on all four faces. “Holy water,” she answered.
“You carry holy water in your purse?”
“And this is why.”
“Good point.” Aracelli sighed and turned her attention back to the sodden package. “So how do I get some? Do you have to buy it, or can you just take some out of the font, or – “
“Don’t worry, I got a bulk supplier.”
Aracelli looked at her quizzically. “There are bulk suppliers for holy water?”
“I have coffee with Padre Sandoval every Wednesday, and he’s always glad to – “ She noticed that one of Aracelli’s eyebrows had gone up. “…what?”
“Coffee?” Aracelli teased. “Is that what they’re calling it these days?”
“Coffee,” Celia snapped. Aracelli immediately raised her hands in surrender, her face a picture of “if-you-say-so” innocence.
“I’m not sayin’ I wouldn’t do it,” Celia continued, mollified. “When he was young, he was a real Father What-A-Waste. But he likes to follow the letter of the law, tu sabes? Probably just as well. Might mess up the holy water if he broke his vows. Besides…” she gave a lecherous grin. “I like ‘em younger. Nice young stallion, to ride all night.”
Aracelli made a face. “Ew, mother!”
“You started it. Now…” Celia turned her attention back to the package. “Who did you piss off, that they would send you something like this?”
Aracelli just looked at the package and shook her head. “I’m a cop, mami. I piss off people every day, most of them from this neighborhood.”
“And any one of them could have hired a bruja,” Celia finished. “Conyo.”
“Well yeah, but how many brujas even are there? Real ones, I mean. There can’t be that many.”
“Es verdad.” Celia rubbed one of her medallions as she thought. “Hmm. It has to be someone en el barrio. Someone who could get Brian’s hair or something – that’s the only way this could be hitting him so hard. And it has to be someone who’s either smart enough to know that you’re too strong and too protected…or just plain mean enough to want to come at you through him in the first place. Maybe both. Hmm.”
It must’ve been in the way she “hmm”-ed. Her daughter knew her too well.
“You know who it is, don’t you?” Aracelli accused.
“I got some ideas.”
“Good,” she said, turning toward the bedroom she shared with Brian. “Let me just get my – “
Aracelli looked back. “No?”
“No gun,” Celia said. “You shoot somebody, you maybe go to jail. That’s not winning.” Her face split in a broad and wicked grin. “The whole point of magic, when a gun is so much easier, is that there’s no way to test for it. Now: did the attack ruin everything in your kitchen?”