On a bench in a postage stamp of green, Chelsea stared at her map without seeing it as she tried to blend into the background. The tiny town on the Hudson River, home to classic writers and old ghost stories, saw tourists all year round. Strangers hanging out would never draw too much attention.
Bentley ruined her anonymity somewhat. A small crowd of children and people who loved dogs had gathered. The huge mutt’s obvious delight in all attention didn’t help either.
Still, she could sit for a while without seeming suspicious. A bag of fresh produce from the farmer’s market and a map of town provided all the camouflage she needed.
Hoping for a better ending than her first monster hunt, Chelsea resettled on the bench and looked over the top of the map.
Tom Peterson, middle-aged but still fit, sauntered out of his law office at eleven, just like he had yesterday and the day before that. He ate lunch at one of the nicer restaurants in town, which happened to be right next to his office. Today, he shook hands with a group of people outside before heading in.
Chelsea sighed. Shadowing Tom Peterson had been easy. Getting useful information from doing it, was significantly less so. She put her map of town away and picked up her notebook.
The first page was a list of monuments and attractions in case helpful locals stopped to talk. A few pages after that was a list of people who had played basketball at the local high school in 1973. One of them, Bob Kestal, had tried to feed her to a monster that didn’t exist. Chelsea was hoping one of the others might know why. Tom Peterson was still in town and had been in several pictures on the website for Bob’s boat rental business.
“You looking for the best parking spot near the church?”
Anxiety rising, Chelsea beamed in the direction of the voice, turning to the first page of her notebook. Her panic subsided when she finally saw who was talking to her, Julie, the local cop who knew about monsters.
The uniform, and gun, seemed out of place as she casually settled in beside Chelsea. “You can park at my place and walk. It’s faster.”
The current mom watching her child snuggling Bentley laughed. “Always the best idea.” She smiled before gathering her child. And, blessedly, that left them alone.
Chelsea flipped to a blank page. “Any word on Amber?”
“Not yet. We start dredging the river next week. Fingerprints should be back by then too.”
Her lungs felt heavy in her chest. “Why so long?”
Julie snorted. “Because this isn’t television. Stuff doesn’t get done between commercial breaks.” Her ire softened. “I’m pushing as hard as I can.” She gestured to the notebook. “You seem to be passing the time.”
“I’m looking into Bob.”
Chelsea licked at dry lips. “Because it doesn’t make sense. Kipsies aren’t real, but he thought one was coming. He really believed it. There’s something weird here.”
Julie looked at her, a thoughtful smile playing on her face. “Okay, so what have you found?”
“Not much.” Chelsea flipped back to her notes. “So far, I’m mostly just finding patterns of behavior.”
“A good start.” Julie leaned over. “Give me the names. I’ll check them out. See if there’s anything fishy there.”
Reluctant fingers jotted down the names. These were her clues to investigate. “I’ve never worked with the cops before.”
Julie stretched out her legs before getting to her feet. “There’s a few hunters, like me, who are cops. We try to help, especially with the monsters that imitate humans, but we can only do so much. If we lose ours jobs, the rest of you lose us as a resource.” She looked over at the list of names. “Seven leads, not a bad start, newbie.”
“You went hunting for a monster without checking if it was real.” Julie snickered. “I figured you couldn’t have been doing this long.”
Heat rose in Chelsea’s face. “I took this specific job to find Amber. Mostly though, I do hunts that have a few notes on how to kill the monster, or team up with other hunters at a haunt.”
Julie smiled, wide and friendly. “That’s actually really smart.” Her smile faded. “Any word on your friend?”
Chelsea shrugged. “This was my only lead on her. It’s really why I’m still here. Finding out what’s up with Bob… kills time while I wait for answers.” Chelsea held out a hand and Bentley loped over, ready for pets. “I don’t have a clue what to do next.”
Julie nodded. “Find other friends, see who she’s called. And find out if they know anybody she might have talked to or if she has any family. And since it’s hunters, ask who owes her a favor or if she has any debts.”
“I can do that.” Chelsea hoped she hid her doubts. She knew that Jackson Hawk had bought one debt for Amber, but she surely wasn’t up for that conversation. “Well, don’t let me keep you.”
Julie flashed a knowing smile. “I’ll text you a website and my log in. It’s an archive of old, local newspapers, stuff they don’t even have at the library. High school newspapers, local publishings. See if you can find anymore old friends of Bob’s to look into.”
“Really?” Chelsea couldn’t hide her skepticism.
“My mom is a member of the historical society in a town famous for being part of the Revolutionary War and for our classic literature. We archive everything.”
Her native Georgia drawl escaped. “I know what you mean.” She shook it off. “And thanks, I’ll get on it.” She waved goodbye and swept up her stuff. Bentley followed her to the car, leash trailing on the ground.
The drive to her rented cabin was short, the sun muted gold through the thick canopy of green leaves overhead. Once she and Bentley were settled, she powered up her second-hand laptop and headed for Julie’s website.
When her stomach growled, she ate. Bentley had long since figured out the door, and so let himself in and out. All she had to do was read, and read, and read, about Bob and the rest of the class of 1973.
Her ringing phone startled her out of her reverie. The sun was long since down. She blinked twice and barely answered the phone before it went to voicemail.
Jackson’s voice boomed. “Hello, my little nun.”
“Yeah.” She stood and stretched, gooseflesh rising in the cool summer breeze. “Just researching.”
“Sounds like fun.”
“Not at all.” She pulled her soft, oversized cardigan out of the dresser. A fabulous find from Pittsburgh. “High school was boring when it was about me. Other people’s high school experience is excruciating.”
Jack chuckled. “Not a big reader?”
She shrugged. “I read. Just not, like, a ton.”
Laugher spilled out of the phone. “Is this an artist thing? Do all of you just hate reading.”
Warm embarrassment lit up her face. “Maybe.”
“Did you find what you were looking for?”
“I don’t know.” She grabbed more water. “There’s this cult that was in the area at the same time that Bob went to states. And here’s where it gets weird. The team started the season in last place. Then the number one team in the league had a bus crash. Took out most of their starting lineup. A few pulled hamstrings, a bout of the flu, and some bad grades later, and our boys had climbed up the ranks.”
“That could be fishy.”
“That’s what I thought, but I have no idea how to research a magical cult. I can barely research monsters.”
“Hmm.” Jack’s thoughtful noise trickled into a laugh. Nearly a giggle. “How far are you from New York?”
“About an hour. Why?”
“’Cause I have favor you can cash in.” The laughter in his voice was making her nervous. “Let me make some calls and I’ll get back to you.