Hail, Guardians of the Watchtowers come! By the air that is Her Breath, send forth your light, be here now …

…The circle is cast. We are between the worlds… The fire is lit, the ritual is begun.

She wore a white ceremonial dress. It was gauze and swayed with her hips. Moving gracefully, she traced her circle with her athame making it her own. Now she was skyclad, having tossed her clothes off for the rest of her ritual. Twirling and moving in a carefree manner, she was focused on her magick. She chanted and danced. She felt secure knowing no one would be around to see.

But he was watching in the dawn. Silently he moved closer, the soft bare earth of the Berkeley hills beneath his feet. A set smile was on his lips but his eyes were dead pools of black as he walked right through her circle. She was startled out of her revelry. As he moved forward and grabbed her arms, her eyes darted from side to side looking for help, knowing no one was there. His smile didn’t soothe her. Now he had her hands restrained, yet she struggled and screamed. She pleaded with him not to hurt her. He was amused.

He slowly ran his knife down her leg, searching. There they were, twined in the roots of a willow tree, talismans. He reached behind his back, slid out his katana and with a smooth swing sliced off her head. As the head rolled to the side he was washed in her warm, bright red blood. He didn’t see it or feel it. He was after something more important. He went back to her tattoo. With his athame he skinned her of her talismans.

Blood pooled with ink as the needles pierced her client’s skin. Thorn colored in the intricate design. Her stomach tightened as it always did, but years of practice kept her from showing it. The man she tattooed flinched as the pain registered. She smiled to herself. Pleasure and pain would soon be his addiction as it often was for those who came to her.

Her nitrile covered hands moved swiftly as they dipped the needles into ink and moved back to the design. The outline evaporating into blood and a more permanent ink. The flesh raw after she was done with it.

Her shop, Stained, tucked into the slightly seedy, increasingly funky but always vibrant Telegraph Avenue, hummed with the noise of tattoo machines, music and people milling around looking at the art work displayed in books. Antique prints of ‘painted’ tattooed ladies gave the shop a burlesque feel. Thorn loved everything about it. Being just a few blocks from UC Berkeley, the shop was a favorite with students and more faculty and staff than one might guess. Each tat station was open to the public eye except for one back room where the artists could work on more private areas. She had chosen dark blue blending to cerulean towards the ceiling to soothe the customers, unlike the bright reds of so many other shops.

The man she worked on grunted, trying not to move, as she continued, adding ink and wiping away blood so she could see clearly. The design made itself known. As she wove it into existence, she chanted under her breath a spell of healing into the ink. She had created a sacred space in her store so she would be protected while she chanted and worked her spells.

Gérard, Reese, and Gwynn worked with her tonight and they were busy with customers too. Gérard with his creole accent, Reese with her red hair, t-shirt and jeans, and Gwynn dressed in a hemp dress with her blonde hair thrown up in a messy bun held together with chop sticks. Jason, her intern, worked the front, helping customers, running errands for the artists and selling t-shirts and other souvenirs. Tonight he wore skinny jeans showing his boxers and a rainbow Muppets t-shirt.

Thorn had more work than she could handle and that was the way she liked it. The shop was open during the day with a talented, experienced crew. Thorn covered the hours from early evening ‘til midnight and had a steady flow of customers until she shut the doors. Besides her discreet late night patrons, she catered to a select clientele and never took walk-ins. The high fees from her late night clients fed her bolt fund.

Her present client had made his appointment six weeks ago. He’d opted for a custom designed pinup girl and it was turning out nicely. She’d drawn up the design last night and he loved it. Halfway through the night, Raven, her familiar, swept into the room onto his perch and cawed, “Trouble.” He was a large, midnight black raven, talons that could shred a man to ribbons and a beak like a bowie knife. He refused to be named. He mentioned that names held power over the being and he wanted no binds on him, so she just called him Raven.

Raven would have warned her mind-to-mind if it had been a real threat. Whatever was coming was more likely some kind of annoyance.

A few minutes later a man in a black button down shirt, jeans and a jacket walked in. The suit jacket fit tightly over his broad shoulders, pulling under his right arm around the bulge of his gun. His eyes catalogued everyone and what they were doing.  He walked as if he was like every other patron but he was trying too hard to look casual. He had cop written all over him.

“I’m looking for Thorn,” he said in a whiskey-rough voice.

Thorn shifted slightly in her chair to look over her shoulder. “You’ve found her,” she answered.

“I’m Detective O’Bradigen.” He pulled out his card. Thorn nodded towards the countertop and he placed the card there as she was already gloved up. She noticed his first name was Sé, pronounced Shay in Gaelic, meaning raven. An omen? O’Bradigen meant spirited. She was getting defensive vibes from him though, guarded. He didn’t seem comfortable around her for some reason.

“Sé… raven,” she said. One dark eyebrow climbed, but didn’t alter the expression on his square-jawed face. His eyes were deep blue, and vibrant under his thick ink-black hair.

“You speak Gaelic?”

“A bit,” she said as she wiped away some more blood from her client.

Sé’s eyebrow climbed again.

“Something I picked up over the years traveling. What can I do for you, Detective?”

His eyes took in her leather pants and short t-shirt, her hands in gloves, poised above the shoulder blade of a young woman, her second customer of the night. “I want to ask you a few questions for a case I’m working.”

She blew the hair out of her face as she kept working. “I’m booked solid until midnight. Can you come back then?” Raven shifted on his perch, turning his head from side to side. He didn’t say anything. He didn’t have to. She knew what he was thinking. He was going to make her pay for delaying the hunt for his late meal.

He nodded. “I’ll see you at ten till.”

She gave him a slight nod of the head in return and turned her attention back to her customer. But her mind was on the detective.

Thorn noticed Jason snap a picture of her with his phone as she bent over her client. She sat up and stretched and he took another and furtively put his phone away. She shivered like a goose ran over her gave as her mamó used to say. He sometimes took photos for the display books, but he didn’t have to hide that. She glanced back at Raven but he was preening his feathers.

Two stations over, Gérard’s honey-colored face concentrated on his customer. Thorn thought Gérard was humming to himself, perhaps a creole lullaby? He looked up and met her gaze with a smile. She went back to her customer, asking the Goddess to aid in her healing as she continued to ink in the design. The hours passed and Thorn stretched as the end of the night approached.

At ten minutes to twelve, Detective O’Bradigen strolled through the door. Thorn was just wiping down her station and checked to make sure the sharps box wasn’t full. She could have guessed he would be punctual. Gwynn shook out her bun taking Reese’s hand as they left for the night. They threw curious looks at Sé. Gwynn pulled her woolen shawl tight against the wind and Reese pulled on her hoodie. Raven ruffled his feathers and turned his back to Sé. Sé mirrored the gesture by shaking the cold October air off with a brisk shiver.

Thorn rolled her neck and stretched her shoulders, letting the muscles relax. “I could use some coffee. Want some?” Thorn led him to the back of the shop.

“That’d be great.” He shivered. “I think the rain’s going to start early this year.”

They made their way down a hallway to the break room. It was cheerful and brightly lit, painted white with watercolors from local artists on the walls. Everything was neat and clean like she expected the rest of her shop to be. She had some old and new artists represented and Sé took his time appraising them while she put water in her electric tea kettle. Thorn loved the way the muted paintings washed color across the stark white walls. It was a calm room to be in after dealing with people all day and that was her goal when she set it up.

Thorn noticed the broadness of Sé’s shoulders as he studied the paintings. The way his hair fell across his eyes made her wonder if it was as silky as it looked. Before she got too worked up, she pulled two mugs down and a canister of coffee beans. She ground the beans she’d picked up at Peet’s and scooped the fresh grounds into her French Press. When the water boiled she poured it in. The strong aroma of French Roast permeated the room.

“Mmmm,” Sé said with a lopsided smile. His smile transformed his face from tired cop to sensuous Irish rogue, his eyes sparkled and his dimples showed.

She carried two steaming coffee mugs across the hardwood floors and put them down on the table, took a seat, and asked, “Do you follow any local artists?”

“A few. No one in this media,” he said as he took a mug. After a sip, he asked, “How long have you been tattooing, Miss Thorn?”

“Please, it’s just Thorn. I’ve been doing this for six years now. How can I help you, Detective?”

“I’m a homicide detective. My partner, Detective Scettico, and I are working on a case that involves a tattoo. A very intricate tribal looking tattoo. I asked around and was told you specialize in tribal tats. Is that so?”

“I like to do them. I do a lot of them.” She crossed her legs, letting the butter-soft leather slide across itself. “I don’t know if that qualifies as being specialized in something.”

“I’d like you to look at the tattoo and tell me if you recognize anything about it.”

“Where do we go, the morgue?”

“No, I’ve brought you pictures,” he said as his face closed up and he pulled away. Thorn knew that this man was holding something back. He was still guarded around her. It was more than the cop thing of keeping too much evidence a secret. It was something more. Keeping his body tight and distant. He did make it clear he meant business, though, by looking her directly in the eye.

“I understand,” she said meeting his gaze. “I remember Detective Scettico. He helped me with a break in we had a few months ago.” Thorn wrapped her now cold fingers around the warm mug of coffee. Scettico seemed to hate her before they’d even met. He’d had something against female tattoo artists. Thorn thought against females in general.

“Let me show you those pictures.” He laid them face down trying to prepare her. “The weather and animals did a number on it.”

He turned over the first 5×7. She took the picture and held back a gasp. The tattooed flesh had been cut up and was green and bloated but she recognized the tattoo immediately. She had worked it on a witch a year ago. She felt the blood run from her face as she took in the pictures and she breathed slowly and calmly to settle herself. She knew this witch.

“Are you okay,” Sé asked.

“I just need a minute.”

It shocked her to know the young witch had died and someone had mutilated her this way. The witch, Willow, had wanted the typical protection symbols but also a love spell worked into it so she would be unaccountably irresistible. Thorn had cautioned her about this but the witch was strong magickally and confident she could defend herself. It was clear from the pictures Thorn now held in her hand that the magick symbolism was missing. It had been cut off the body. The witch had recently been giving Reese, one of her artists, some trouble. She claimed Reese had made a pass at her girlfriend but Reese was committed to Gwynn. Once Thorn had explained this, the witch, Willow, backed off.

Witches and vampires came to Thorn to be inked as she was able to invoke spells into her artwork and ink. She’d weave talismans into the tattoos to imbibe them with magick. These were her late-night patrons who paid so well. She could also bespell the ink so a vampire could be tattooed. Normally they healed too fast and the ink disappeared. She was the only one who could do it that she had heard of and she had vamps coming from all over the world to get tattooed.

“This is my work.”

“What can you tell me about it?”

“Part of it’s missing.”

“You’re sure about that? So many tattoos, you remember all of them?”

“Some are more memorable than others. This is one of those. There were some distinctive symbols that have been removed, just those specific symbols. It was very carefully done too.” Thorn pointed to the missing skin which hadn’t disrupted the unmagicked design.

Sé gathered up the pictures and studied her. “What did the symbols mean?”

Thorn laughed. “Detective, they’re just symbols.”

“I know that and you know that but our killer seems to think otherwise. You must know what they mean, Thorn.”

“She had a symbol for protection and for love woven together. Funny, the protection thing didn’t work too well for her did it?” Thorn said. She let out a big breath.

“No it didn’t.” He looked at the pictures a moment longer before he put them away. “Where did you learn to be a tattoo artist?”

Thorn’s face froze. Was this just curiosity or still part of the interview? “I was an artist first. Then I studied the art of tattoo in Japan, New Zealand, England, and all over the States.” Thorn shifted in her seat and took a sip of her coffee. “Tattooing is an old art.” She studied his eyes, trying to determine how much to tell him. “Its history is a mix of mysticism and magick.”

“Why do you think someone would want to cut these symbols off a person?” Sé asked.

“I have no idea, Detective. Why would anyone kill?” He lingered, looking past her. She needed him to go. She had a client coming in at three a.m. A vampire. One of the special clientele she kept separated from her everyday customers. There was blood involved and she didn’t want undue temptation from other customers being near. Besides the fact that the mixing of human mundanes and vampires was strictly forbidden in her licensing agreements with the vampire council. And she needed some time to recover from this shock.

“I didn’t ask why someone would kill. But I guess you’re right,” he said. “We never really know why these guys kill and even less why they mutilate. Thanks for your time, Thorn.”

He met her eyes and then, as if needing to prolong the conversation, he thanked her for the coffee too.

She walked him back out of the shop and saw him to the door. He gave a little wave as he strode into the night and she locked the door behind him. She stood in the doorway for a few minutes watching his figure get smaller as he faded amongst the shadows. The street was dark, hiding the homeless that used doorways for shelter once the sun went down and the shops closed up. The scent of rain was on the wind. This made her think of Sé again and she smiled to herself.

“Trouble that one.”

“Oh Raven, I can look at least can’t I?”

“Our kind don’t mix well. Trouble.”

“Clap your trap, Raven. I think I need to do some investigating of my own. Let’s go hunt.”


7 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Tracy
    Feb 15, 2013 @ 06:30:27

    I Loved this book very much will there be any more Thorne stories?


  2. jessicamcbrayer
    Feb 15, 2013 @ 06:41:04

    Yes, I will be working on one starting next month. Look for it’s release in late summer early fall. 🙂 I’m really glad you liked the book! Thank you for leaving a comment.


  3. Trina
    May 10, 2013 @ 19:26:20

    I’ve just finished Stained…. I really enjoyed it and i look forward to the next one.


  4. Linda Trinklein
    Jan 05, 2014 @ 22:28:46

    I just finished Stained!!!!!!!! AHHH Loved it 😀
    Im looking forward to more!


  5. jessicamcbrayer
    Jan 06, 2014 @ 11:18:40

    Linda, There is a second book in the series called A Murder of Crows. And a prequel will be coming out soon (next two weeks) about Raven. I’m so glad you liked it! Make’s my day hearing from readers 🙂


  6. Tammy
    Feb 15, 2014 @ 04:32:49

    loved a murder of crows when does raven story come out


  7. jessicamcbrayer
    Feb 16, 2014 @ 09:40:16

    Hi Tammy,
    Raven’s Tale is out and FREE 🙂 Hope you enjoy it as much as Murder of Crows.


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