Page 44 of The District

“Sure it is, Elaine.” He grabbed the microphone from its stand on the podium and crossed in front of the room.

“My partner here was just attacked outside in the quad. A woman named Uma sent her out there looking for the restroom.”

Murmurs rose around the room and furtive glances were exchanged.

“Yeah, I said partner. She and I are with the FBI’s serial killer unit and we’re investigating the murders of Liz Fielding and Nora Sterling, and two other murders of a man and a woman out of state.”

It seemed as if everyone let out their breath at once or let loose some giant hissing snake.

“We know the murders are connected to a particular cult, Los Brujos de Invierno and we want some answers.”

The chanting started in the back of the room, and goose bumps spread across Christina’s flesh as more and more people took up the chant.

“Simbala, sarai, simabala, sarai.”

It swirled around the room and Christina had to grab the back of a chair to stay upright as the sibilant sounds washed over her.

Eric was gripping the microphone with two hands, a scowl creasing his face. His eyes sought hers, but she shrugged weakly.

When the chanting had subsided to a whisper, Elaine stepped toward Eric and asked for the microphone.

“We’re sorry your partner was attacked, Agent Brody, but that’s what happens when you play with fire.”

“What are you talking about? What was that chanting?”

“The coven you speak of has turned to the shadows. The members of that coven have always flirted with the dark side. You of all people should understand that.”

“What? How would I know that? I don’t know anything about this coven except that some of its members have a bull’s-eye on their backs.”

“And we’re sorry for that, too. We knew Nora. She didn’t practice the dark arts, but it’s guilt by association.”

Eric pressed the heels of his hands against his temples, probably to keep his head from exploding. “Are you trying to tell me that some other coven or some witches are eliminating members of this coven because they’re evil? Sort of an internal housecleaning?”

Elaine spoke into the microphone. “This meeting is over. Please clean up after yourselves, and someone put the trash out.”

Eric crossed his arms and rested one booted foot on a chair. “Are you going to answer me?”

“Why? You’ve figured it out.”

“But who is it? I don’t care what the motivation is, it’s still murder and you said yourself, Nora didn’t deserve to die.”

She lifted a shoulder. “We don’t know who it is.”

“And if you did, you wouldn’t tell us anyway.”

Her other shoulder joined its mate, and then she crouched down to unplug the mic.

“Wait a minute. How did you know my name?”

She twisted her head to the side and met his eyes with hers. “I’m a San Francisco native. I know the Brody story.”

A finger poked his gut, sending a quiver of unease up his spine. What was it with these witches and his family? What did the suspicions about his father have to do with a coven of witches?

“You can’t condone what’s happening now to innocent people.”

“We don’t condone it, but we’re powerless to stop it.”

Christina asked, “What was that chanting for?”

“To ward off evil at the mention of that coven.”

“You’re confused. I think the person who’s doing the killing is the real evil.”

“If you knew what that coven was capable of, you wouldn’t be sporting that tattoo. If you know what’s good for you, get it removed.”

The lights flickered once and the hall cleared out.

Before she locked the door, Elaine turned to them. “Are you going to call the police?”

Eric leaned against the wall where Christina stood hugging herself. He should be the one doing that. “Do you want to report your attack to the police, Christina?”

“No. They’re not going to find anything, and I don’t want them smirking behind my back.”

“It wouldn’t do any good anyway.” Elaine hitched a huge bag over her shoulder and ambled down the sidewalk.

He trailed his fingers down the angry red marks on Christina’s throat. “Are you sure you’re okay?”

“Do you think he was going to kill me?”

“With a little formaldehyde? I doubt it.”

“A warning, then? He couldn’t have thought he could drag my limp body over that fence.”

Eric smacked his hand against the closed door of the union   hall. “This little charade raised more questions than it answered, didn’t it?”