The dark, foreboding woods were so gloomy Raven could barely see two feet ahead of her. She was lost among the gnarled trunks of enormous trees. A faint mist rose from the forest floor that had the musty odor of an open tomb. As she made her way along the twisted path, she felt evil eyes upon her and shivered with fear and apprehension. Which way to go? And what was it that tracked her? Although she tried not to panic, her teeth chattered and her breath became labored. Whatever it was, it could not be human or even part of the natural world.
She stopped to get her bearings and calm herself. She reached for her pistol although she doubted that the thing behind her could be harmed by bullets. But her shoulder holster was empty. Did she leave her gun at home when she entered the woods? Then why was she wearing the holster? She could not recall putting it on or whether the automatic was in it. If she had lost her pistol in the forest, it would be impossible to find in the dark and the mist.
Whatever was behind her was closing fast. Its breathing was like an enormous dog panting, its presence, a bitter cold of terror upon her back. She increased her pace as much as she dared without tripping over objects in the gloom. It was not enough. The thing was almost upon her. She turned to face it and went into a martial arts stance.
To her utter surprise, it was a man, a man she knew. She shuddered. He was the only person she had ever feared, the man who had made her his abject slave, the man who was a powerful sorcerer and an evil necromancer -- Peter Magbertius.
"Peter, how did you get here?" She knew there was a reason that he should not be standing in front of her. For the moment, however, it escaped her.
"'Tis the place where I abide now. How be you, Raven? Look at you, as beautiful as ever."
Suddenly she was naked. His smoldering eyes slowly scrutinized her from head to toe. As his gaze moved down her body to her breasts, her belly and her lower chakra, she felt as though icy fingers had touched each part.
"Come to me," he ordered.
Raven wanted to resist, but knew it was useless. His will was too powerful. She stepped forward until she was in his arms. In an instant he was also naked. She leaned into him, her nipples tickled by the hair on his bare chest. He raised her head by the chin and pressed his lips against hers. The kiss lingered for an eternity during which her heart beat wildly. She knew she was lost again and would do whatever he asked. He whispered in her ear, "Bring me back, My Darling. Bring me back."
* * *
Raven was soaked with perspiration as she woke from the nightmare. She trembled from the terror and arousal she had experienced. She cursed, "Damned monster. Why do I dream of that bastard yet?"
Magbertius had been dead an entire year. Yet the nightmares persisted. Nightmares, because they always took place in a dark and frightening place, such as the woods in her most recent one, and because she was terrified of the sorcerer and the hold he'd had on her when he was alive.
She was a psychic, and as such, she knew dreams were portents of future events. She thought, In the dream, he said, 'Bring me back.' Bring him back from where? She knew the answer -- from the dead. But how? And would she want to? Was it was true that she was in love with him?
"No, damn it. Not fucking 'in love,' 'obsessed with' . Not even that. I was bewitched, put under a spell."
Raven was an independent woman. She never wanted to be under anyone's control. And yet, somehow he had made her his concubine, one who obeyed his every command.
To make her obsession with him an even worse fate, Peter Magbertius was not a good man. He had derived his power from evil sources. She did not know exactly who or what they were, only that they were sinister entities.
When he appeared in her dreams, she needed to fight with all her will the impulse to obey him. She was sure that wherever his aura resided that it was he who sent the nightmares to ensnare her and make her again his slave woman.
Her cat leaped upon the bed. She scratched him under the chin. "How can I free myself from his influence, Mephistopheles?"
A voice in her head said, "What I see in your future concerning the sorcerer is dim, but soon you will know the answer."
"How? From whom?"
The telepathic cat refused to reply. He meowed loudly, which meant that he was hungry and wished to be fed.
After Raven fed the cat, she gobbled down a bowl of cereal, took a shower, dressed and took a bus to her downtown office. She decided to forget about Peter Magbertius and the dreams. If Mephistopheles was right, soon her dilemma would be solved.
* * *
A tall cadaverous gentleman had been waiting patiently for her arrival. He was well dressed in a suit and tie. Raven estimated his age as late forties, early fifties. He was extremely pale, as though he never went out during the daylight hours. He seemed to have a permanently sad expression etched into his face.
Raven's business did not make enough money for her to hire a receptionist. In fact, her last case was not only pro bono once the FBI had decided that the case was closed, but actually cost her portion of her savings.
As she entered, the man stood and offered his hand. His grip was flabby, and his hand had a softness unusual in a male. "My name is Mordecai Wilsey."
"Raven Lenore. Please come into my office." She led him into the cubbyhole that held her beat-up used desk and a straight back wooden chair for guests. Once they were seated,, she asked, "How may I help you?"
"Before I tell you my problem, I need to know that our conversation will be strictly confidential."
"Of course. Private investigators are like lawyers and doctors. Client confidentiality is a given."
"Even if I concealed the execution of a crime?"
"Absolutely. What crime are you guilty of?"
"Not me. Well ... a misdemeanor perhaps. But I am the victim of a greater crime which I did not report to the police. In fact, I actually helped the perpetrator by concealing what he did."
"I don't quite follow. Regardless, unless you murdered someone, everything you tell me will not leave this office. My lips are sealed. Please explain what happened, and what you want me to do."
His thin lips curled into a tight ingratiating smile. "I'm the owner of a mortuary, The Wilsey Funeral Home." He handed Raven his business card. "Last week, the morning after the wake of a young man by the name of John Grebelowski, I went to seal the coffin for burial, and his remains were gone. Someone had broken into my place of business during the night and took him. I panicked and sealed the coffin anyway. I never reported the crime or told his relatives. I simply allowed the empty coffin to be buried."
"I see. And you are hiring me to do what?"
"Find out who stole the loved one and have him returned to me."
"And what about the perpetrator? Do you wish to press charges against her or him?"
"Heavens no. If this ever got out, I'd be ruined. Perhaps you could threaten the person so that he or she would never commit such a crime again. It may have been a prankster. What other motive would someone have for stealing the deceased?"
"That depends. What did Mr. Grebelowski die of?"
"Sudden cardiac arrest."
"So, you don't believe that this is a case where a murderer wants to destroy the evidence of a crime?"
Wilsey took out a handkerchief and wiped his brow. "At the time of Mr. Grebelowski's passing there was no suggestion of anything unusual. The death certificate said simply that he died of cardiac arrest. As far as know, no police were involved. No one ever hinted at such a thing."
"Well, suppose he was poisoned. There are poisons that can cause the heart to suddenly stop beating."
"He was examined by a physician at the time of death. As far as I know, nothing untoward was suspected by the coroner's office or the police."
"Yet, you'll grant that the possibility exists?"
"Tell me something. Suppose I find out who stole Wilsey's corpse and return it to you. What will you do with the body?"
"I know the cemetery people very well and do a lot of business with them. I'm sure they would dig up the coffin and allow me to place John in the ground where he belongs without making a fuss."
"I see. Suppose my hypothesis about a murderer stealing the body to destroy evidence turns out to be correct, who would stand to benefit by his death?"
"No one that I can think of. He did not have life insurance. He lived with his mother and more or less supported her. His father had passed several years ago. He has an older married sister, but as far as. I know he had no money of his own. The sister chose our least expensive coffin."
"I see. It's quite a mystery then. Okay. I'll take your case. My fee is fifty dollars an hour plus travel expenses while I'm actually working the case. I'll give you a written report at the end of the week. At that time you can tell me whether you want me to continue. I'll need a one hundred dollar advance. Is that agreeable?"
Wilsey shrugged. "I suppose so. I knew this would be expensive."
"I'll get my standard contract." Raven rose and took two copies of her contract from the filing cabinet. She filled in some details and handed them to Wilsey. "Read them over. If there's anything you object to, let me know. Otherwise, sign where it says "Client Signature."
She sat back while Wilsey read over the contract and signed both copies. She also signed them both and handed one back to the funereal director.
He said, "I'll need to write a check. I don't have that much cash on me."
He handed her a check for a hundred dollars, and they shook hands. Raven did not think it would take more than a couple of days to find out who took the corpse. People who steal things like corpses usually leave a trail a mile wide.