Trail of Dead (Scarlett Bernard #2)(16)

by Melissa F. Olson

“Okay,” Jesse said. “Then she couldn’t have killed the witches by herself. The sun was still up during Erin’s time of death.”

It took a second for that to register with me. There was another possibility, besides Olivia working with a partner. Nulls, like me, were very rare—maybe six in the world, that we knew about. But I still wasn’t the only null in Los Angeles.

“Oh, God.” I checked the mirror and cut off an Audi on my right, screeching across two lanes to make the next exit.

“Scarlett,” Jesse yelped, reaching to grab what my older brother always called the “oh shit” handle. “What the hell?”

“Gas station. I need a big gas station, maybe a convenience store…” I scanned the street, but the neighborhood seemed mostly residential.

“Stop,” he ordered. “Pull over.” He used a very big cop voice, and I found myself wrenching the wheel to bring the van to a stop at the curb.

Jesse leaned forward and flipped on my hazard lights. He looked at me. “What is it?” he asked softly.

I met his eyes. Corry, I mouthed, and understanding struck his face. “I need a disposable cell phone,” I said, as calmly as I could manage. “Where can we get one?”

During our last case together, Jesse and I had encountered another null living in LA—only she was fifteen and had been forced into several dangerous situations by a psychopathic serial killer. We had gotten her out of the mess, and since then I’d done everything I could think of to keep her away from the Old World. But if Olivia had found out about Corry…all bets were off.

Jesse started to speak, and I shook my head. I knew I was being paranoid. The odds that anyone had bugged my phone or my van in hopes that I’d mention Corry were tiny. But my job—my life—is all about paranoia. Most of the crime scenes I clean up wouldn’t even appear suspicious to normal people, but there’s always the chance that somebody will be just bored or rich or angry enough to ask a lot of questions and make a lot of noise. I live on paranoia. And if there was even a tiny chance that being paranoid would keep Corry safe, well, sign me up for my tin hat.

After a moment, Jesse nodded, and his face relaxed in understanding. He had met Corry, briefly, and knew how I felt about keeping her safe. He pointed left. “There’s a Target a couple of blocks that way.”

I left everything in the van except my keys and some cash. Just in case.

A few minutes later we sat down in the little café area with an instrumental version of “O Little Town of Bethlehem” pealing out over the loudspeakers. Jesse showed me how to get the phone working, and I dialed a number I knew by heart. It wasn’t until the phone was ringing that I realized she might be in school.

But Corry answered. “Hello?”

“Hey, it’s Scarlett,” I said.

“Hi,” she said cautiously. “I, um, thought you weren’t going to be calling me.”

The last time we’d spoken, I’d made it clear to Corry that she needed to stay away from me, for her own good. It had come out a lot harsher than I’d intended at the time, but she’d gotten the message. “There’s sort of a…situation…happening in my world right now. Is everything okay with you?”

“Yeah, of course,” she replied. “We’re on holiday break, so my brother’s driving me nuts, but other than that I’m good. Why do you ask?”

I relaxed and let out a breath. “She’s fine,” I whispered to Jesse. To Corry, I said, “Do you guys stay in town for the holidays?”

“We have to. My dad’s a minister; he has services to conduct.”

I thought that over. “Listen, I don’t think anyone will involve you, but just…keep an eye out, okay?” Then I added, “Especially for a female vampire with long, dark hair, looks to be in her forties.”

“What do I do if I see her?”

“Get your family, keep them inside your radius, and get into a private house. Stay away from the windows and doors. If she gets inside your radius, scream your head off and call me.”

“Call you while screaming my head off?” she asked, amusement in her voice.

I took a deep breath. “This particular vampire is extremely bad news, Corry. When I said I couldn’t see you anymore because it was too dangerous, this is one of the people I was talking about.”

Sobered, Corry agreed. As we hung up, I felt guilty for scaring a teenager, especially one who had been through as much as Corry had already. But it was better to have her scared and alive than relaxed and dead.

In the parking lot, Jesse said, “So if she’s not a part of this, then someone else must be helping Olivia.”

“You think she’s working with a human?”

“That’s my guess.”

“Wow, I feel like we’re in a detective novel in the forties.” He gave me a puzzled look. “Oh, come on. The PI takes on two cases, and at the end it turns out that they’re the same case!”

“Except that we’re not at the end, Scarlett. If she—they—really killed those witches to hide their actions, we’re just at the beginning of something.”

Well, that was alarming. “Huh. But Kirsten said both Erin and Denise could only predict the futures of people they came into contact with. So does that mean they both knew Olivia?”

“I don’t know.” He sounded tired. “Maybe they both knew the accomplice. But I’m officially assigned to investigate all of it.” His voice sounded a little bitter on the word officially, and I knew he was annoyed at the way Dashiell had pulled his strings. I could sympathize. “And I could really use your help.

“Will your girlfriend be okay with that?” I sounded a little sour, even to me.

“Will Eli?” he countered.

I had nothing to say to that, so we drove the rest of the way in silence.

Recipedia is a little place on La Cienega that started as an Internet café, back before everyone had their own laptops and smart phones. When people started carrying their own devices, the owner got rid of the computers and found a new gimmick: a different food special every day. There was always a full coffee menu, but each day just one food: a pastry, a sandwich, a soup—it could be anything, but it was always beyond delicious, thanks to a rotation of guest chefs wanting to show off their best items. You wouldn’t think a business could survive with only one menu item per day, but somehow Recipedia made it work. Maybe they had an underground casino in the back or something.