Karen Yester folded her hands on my table. “We were trying to bring the dead back to life.”
I tried to keep my face neutral. I’ve had some experience with the supernatural. Vampires, demons, ghosts—more than I like, but it’s making up more and more of my business these days. “So how can I help you?”
She sighed. “When I was in college, I was part of a group of—well, witches. It was guys and women. Not exactly a Wicca coven. We were just playing with doing spells. Make people float in the air, grow giant flowers? Some of them worked. I was in charge of writing down all the spells. It was fun for a while. I kept the notebook for all the spells.”
She paused. “Then we started with animals.”
“Hamsters from the pet store. We’d suffocate them in plastic bags and Tupperware. Then we tried to bring them back to life. We . . . a bunch of them died. The last one came back to life. We did it a few more times, until all the pet stores stopped selling them to us. And then Marissa wanted to start trying with . . . bigger things.”
She looked down at the floor. “Felicia had a cat in her apartment, and she was going to . . . let us do it. But I was sick of it. Throwing dead hamsters in the dumpster, staying up all night trying out new spells? So I told Marissa I was quitting, and I was burning the notebook with all the spells.”
She leaned back in the chair, looking out at the twilight in the window behind me. “All those little hamsters . . .”
I pushed a box of tissues across the table.
I wished Rachel was here. She’s my upstairs neighbor, my girlfriend, and she’s sort of psychic. Rachel can sense things, and she has friends who know a lot about magic.
But she was busy designing a web page for her own client. And I hadn’t expected this meeting in my dining room to turn quite so dark.
Karen blew her nose. “But I didn’t burn it.”
“We didn’t want to put anything on computers. This was ten years ago, 2006 or whatever? But we wanted to be ‘old school.’ ” She lifted hands for sarcastic air quotes. “No technology, just parchment. I was in charge of keeping track of the spells and writing them down. What worked, what didn’t, and the results. I wrote it all down. Until I couldn’t do it anymore.” She grabbed another tissue.
So I asked again. “What can I do for you?”
“Marissa called me.” Karen Yester crumpled up her tissues on the table. “Marissa Sayers. She was always in charge of the group. She wants the notebook.”
“And she knows you still have it?”
“She always knew I was lying. The group was breaking up anyway. She was mad at me about . . . stuff. I don’t know why she’s doing this now. I just want her to go away and stop bothering me. I’ll give her the damn notebook.” She blew her nose. “But I want someone there with me when I hand it over. It won’t be dangerous. I’m just afraid . . .”
Karen wiped her eyes with another tissue. “I’m scared she’ll try it on me.”
At 7:30 p.m. I parked my Honda in front of Marissa Sayers’ condo building on Chicago’s Gold Coast. “Okay. Here we are.”
Rachel unbuckled her belt She’s got red hair, hazelnut eyes, and a mean jab. “Why am I here again?”
I unlocked the doors. “You know more about this stuff than I do. There probably won’t be any trouble. If there is—well, just run. I’ll be right behind you. Or possibly ahead of you.”
“You better run fast, or I’m leaving you behind.” But she kissed my cheek.
The doorman was young Hispanic man with a nametag: Raoul K. He called up to Sayers’ apartment and then opened the door with a fob.
Karen was waiting in the lobby. She carried a canvas bag slung over one shoulder. “Hi.”
“Ms. Yester, this is my associate, Rachel Dunn. She’s psychic. I told you I’d ask her to—”
“I just want to get this over with.” She punched the elevator button. But in the elevator she held out a hand. “Sorry. Nice to meet you.” They shook hands.
On the 17th floor we knocked at a door.
“Karen! Come in!” Marissa Sayers wore tight tan slacks and sandals, and a wine-colored blouse then dangled loosely from her shoulders. She reached forward for a hug.
Karen leaned forward, awkwardly. “Hi, Marissa.”
Rachel nudged my arm. “Stop checking her out.”
I’d already checked Sayers out on the internet. A real estate attorney, with degrees with from the University of Illinois and Purdue. Two lawsuits for breach of duty, settled. One award from a state realtors’ association.
And, okay, a few pictures of her in a bikini from her Facebook page, from a vacation in Jamaica. I’d saved those in a private folder. I’m a guy.
Sayers led us into her living room. A wide window had a dramatic view of Lake Michigan in the twilight—clouds drifting across the sky, sailboats rocking on the water. A long leather couch dominated the floor.
“I didn’t catch your names.” She smiled at Rachel and me. “Why are you here?”
“Tom Jurgen.” I held out a card. “And this is my associate, Rachel.”
“Mr. Jurgen’s a private detective.” Karen dropped her bag on the thick gray carpet. “I wanted someone here when I handed this over.”
Sayers’ eyes fluttered. “Of course. Let me get you a drink. Curtis?”
A short man in jeans and a black T-shirt emerged from the open kitchen door. “Yes?”
“Get some drinks for our guests.” She waved a hand. “The usual for me.”
He blinked, as if waking up from a doze. “Hi. I’m Curtis. What can I get you?”
“Just a glass of water.” Karen glanced at me. “We’re not staying long.”
Rachel reached out to shake his hand. “Hi, I’m Rachel. Maybe a beer? And one for my boyfriend.”
They held hands for a moment. Rachel’s shoulder went stiff, and she let her hand drop. “I didn’t get your name. Curtis . . .?”
“Just Curtis.” He nodded. “Beer. Water. Marissa?”
“The usual. Let’s sit down.” Sayers sank into a chair in front of a long glass-topped table. “Karen, it’s so good to see you again. What are you doing now?”
“I’m in marketing at D&K.” Karen zipped her bag open. “Social media, SEO, all that stuff. You?”
“Real estate.” Sayers crossed an ankle across one knee. “It’s booming all over the city. More highrises coming up every day.”
Curtis emerged from the kitchen, holding a tray full of drinks. Rachel and I took our beers. Sayers took a gulp of her white wine, and Karen sipped her water.
“Curtis, take a seat.” I sipped my beer. “Or are you working?”
Rachel kicked my ankle.
“I’m . . .” He seemed confused. “I have stuff to do. Maybe later?”
“Go ahead, Curtis.” Sayers waved a hand. “I’ll call you if I need you.”
He nodded, like an obedient butler, and went back into the other room.
Karen yanked her bag open and dropped the notebook on the table. It had a brown leather cover, and it looked at least 20 years old. “Here it is. You can have it.”
Sayers leaned forward and started flipping through the pages. “Thank you.”
“What are you going to do with it?” I sipped my beer.
Sayers giggled. “What do you think?”
“If you’re planning to start up again . . .” Karen shuddered. “With cats or dogs or, I don’t know—”
“We did it, didn’t we?” Sayers slammed the notebook shut. “It’s all here. And I’ve got more.” She sat back. “Death doesn’t have to be the end. Do you remember when your grandmother died, and how you—”
“Don’t even talk about that!” Karen grabbed her bag. “I’m out of here. Keep it if you want it, but don’t drag me back into this!”
Curtis returned from the kitchen. “Is something wrong?”
“We’re going.” Karen waved an arm at me. “Come on.”
Sayers smiled, as if we were leaving a cocktail party early. “Well, it was nice to see you again, Karen.” She didn’t go for another hug. But she did glance at Rachel and me. “And meeting you two.”
“Yeah.” Rachel pulled me to my feet. “Sorry to drink and run, but . . .”
I gulped my beer and set the half-finished bottle on the table. Rachel pulled at my wrist, but I stood my ground on the carpet. “I have to tell you—raising the dead? I’ve seen it before. It doesn’t always work out the way you want.”
“We’ll see.” Sayers picked up the notebook.
Karen was waiting for the elevator down the hall, tapping impatiently on her phone.
“Okay, that was weird.” I looked back at Sayers’ door. “Am I right about what’s going on?”
Rachel punched my arm. “Couldn’t you feel it?”
“Yeah.” I’m not psychic like Rachel, but I could pick up the vibe. “Curtis. He’s dead.”
“I saw the same thing.” Karen jammed the phone in her back pocket. “With the hamsters.”
I glanced at Sayers’ door. “But she didn’t have your notebook.”
“I wasn’t the only one taking notes.” The elevator opened. “I just took the best.”
A man was riding down. He checked Rachel out as the elevator descended. I couldn’t exactly blame him, but I was annoyed that we couldn’t keep talking.
In the lobby Karen split away from us, walking as fast as she could toward the revolving door. “Wait!” I ran around the short man and followed her outside. “We need to talk.”
“No, I’m done.” Karen wheeled around on the street. Her body was trembling. “I’ll mail you a check.”
I couldn’t stop her. I stood back as her Uber slowed down at the curb. She jumped in and slammed the door. The car sped away.
“So that went well.” I unlocked the Honda.
Rachel got in and buckled her seat belt. “Now what?”
They’d killed hamsters as experiments. Now Sayers had a dead man working for her. Not exactly a zombie. But not a human. And she had Karen’s notebook.
“I don’t know.” I started the car. “Let’s just get away from here.”
I couldn’t sleep. By the time Rachel came down the next morning I’d been up since 4 a.m., and I was wired by coffee. My hand fingers shook on the keyboard as I tapped at my laptop.
“So what have you got?” Rachel poured herself a mug of coffee.
I turned the laptop to let her see. “Curtis Atlee. Facebook friend of Marissa Sayers. That part was easy.” I wondered how The Big Sleep would have turned out if Philip Marlowe had social media in the 1940s.
The profile page showed Curtis, a bright smile on his face, leaning into a selfie. His other pictures showed him eating lunch, walking a dog, and laughing with friends.
“What’s their connection? Aside from social media?” Rachel scrolled down. “He was posting two or three times a day up until last week. Ever since—” She looked up at my Sierra Club calendar on the wall. “Almost two weeks. Nothing. Like he’d—”
“Died. Yeah.” I rubbed my eyes. “They might be college friends. He has a degree from Purdue, like Sayers, but Karen didn’t go there. So she wouldn’t know him from there.” I rubbed my eyes.
My coffee was lukewarm. Time for a fresh pot. “He’s got an employer listed. Not Marissa Sayers’ office. I’m going to call them at nine.” I stood up and checked the time over the door to the kitchen. 7:30. “Do you want some cereal?”
“What about Sayers?” Rachel followed me into the kitchen, where I got bowls from my cupboard, milk from my refrigerator, and a box of Lucky Charms from the pantry.
“She’s on my other list.” I poured cereal. “Are you eating?”
“That?” Rachel grimaced. “I guess.”
Out on the dining room table I tapped at my laptop while Rachel ate. “Marissa’s a real estate lawyer. Nothing about dabbling in witchcraft or necromancy on any of her social profile pages, obviously. Not much of an internet footprint at all, but I’m checking out all her friends and contacts—wait a minute.” I picked up my phone. “I’m an idiot.”
“Well, I knew that.” But she nudged her foot against my leg instead of kicking me. “I should call Karen Yester to find out who else was in that group.”
But Karen didn’t pick up. I left a message and went back to going through Sayers’ Facebook friends. She had 216. This could take all morning. And I had a client meeting at 10.
Rachel finished her cereal and left. I worked for as long as I could, and then I took a shower and headed out for my meeting.