Trail of Dead (Scarlett Bernard #2)(3)

by Melissa F. Olson

Jesse ushered me into a little vestibule with beige paint and a couple of neglected-looking potted plants. No lights for them. He made a beeline for the call box, stabbing the button for apartment 313 with an index finger. He identified himself to the female voice on the other end and marched us through the buzzing interior door—all without saying a word to me. I clenched my jaw. Fine. I was too tired and travel-worn to try to apologize for whatever it was I had allegedly done to piss him off. If Jesse wanted to play the quiet game, I could hold my own.

He led me up two flights of stairs, down a very long, very beige hallway, and to the last door on the right, the only one with a cheerful welcome mat and a plastic wreath adorning the door. Jesse rang the bell and held his badge up to the peephole.

After a moment, the door creaked open a few inches and two large, red-rimmed brown eyes appeared in the space. The girl was maybe a couple of years younger than me, college aged, with gorgeous dark-brown skin. She had a crumpled washcloth in her visible hand and that wrung-out look of someone who’s been crying for hours.

“Ms. Jackson?” Jesse asked. “I’m sorry for the late hour, but I did want to have the specialist here as quickly as possible.”

Her voice was soft and grave, with a slight Southern accent. “Of course, please come in.” The door swung all the way open, and she stepped back to let us in. I looked around. The apartment was very small, but the space had been used with efficiency and color in mind. It had a whole Urban Outfitters dorm room kind of feel to it. Not exactly my thing, but not terrible, either.

Cruz made the introductions. “Jubilee Jackson, this is Scarlett Bernard. Scarlett is the crime-scene specialist I told you about.”

“Uh, hi,” I said. She was plump, but in a natural, self-confident way. She wore a summery yellow top with dark-green pajama pants and those long, stripy wool slippers that go halfway to your knee. She held out a hand, which I shook, and then I glanced over to Cruz, waiting for my next cue.

“Could we have a moment alone in the room, please, Ms. Jackson?” he asked.

“Of course,” she said, waving her hands absently toward a hall. “I need to call Erin’s mom back, anyway. They’re flying in later this morning.” She sniffled, dabbing at her nose with the washcloth.

I followed the two of them through the entryway and down a long hall, completely bewildered. Jubilee stopped in front of a door. “I haven’t touched anything, like you said,” she told Jesse, her worried eyes lingering puppy-style on his face. “I’ll just be in my room if you need me.” She nodded to the door across the hall.

“Thanks, Ms. Jackson. We’ll let you know when we’re finished,” Jesse said, in the soothing “it’ll be okay” voice you use with broken people. He reached out to touch her arm, and she nodded trustingly. Jeez. I was glad that Jesse used his hotness powers for good.

When Jubilee’s door had closed, Jesse opened the door in front of us and flicked on a light switch. “Go ahead,” he said, tilting his head. “I want to hear your impressions.”

I should have been angry that he’d dragged me out here only to give me the silent treatment, but he was beginning to really freak me out. I straightened up and stepped forward, looking around the small bedroom. I saw the enormous bloodstain on the carpet right away, and glanced back at Jesse. His arms were folded in front of him, face expressionless. No help there. I squatted down for a closer look. The stain ran almost the length of the room, maybe five or six feet. It had to be at least a few hours old—I figured Jesse’s crime scene guys had come and gone already—but it still looked soaking wet. It was also much longer than it was wide—vaguely person shaped, I guess, but more like a snow angel than a chalk outline. I deal with blood all the time, but usually it’s just little spatters. The vampires, of course, don’t waste much blood, and the werewolves usually start healing before it gets this bad. The only other time I’d seen this much blood in one place was during the massacre in La Brea Park in September. I shuddered. Turning to look at Jesse, I spotted a framed picture on the wall of a young woman, twenty or so, smiling arm in arm with Jubilee. She had light-brown hair, an easy smile, and a hint of something secretive in her eyes. Erin, I presumed.

“Is this…Erin’s blood?”

“We think so. Blood type matches, though it’ll take a while for DNA.”

“Did your experts think…can she still be alive?” I asked, keeping my voice low.

“No. With that much blood loss, unless she’d basically been at the hospital…she’s dead.”

I sidestepped the pool and continued around the room. The girl who lived here was a student, judging from the textbooks that were stacked on the small bookshelf above the computer table and the backpack tossed against the wall just inside the doorway. All of her belongings also had this look like they’d been purchased separately over time. The curtain and bedspread were a matching purple-and-green pattern, but the desk and desk drawer were a different green that didn’t quite match. The desk lamp was from a completely different style…genre, I guess. I’d seen the same thing when my brother Jack was in college; it happens when you move a lot.

I turned in a circle, and finally figured out what was bothering me. The entire room was fairly neat, especially by my own low standards, but the half with the desk and the bed was slightly tousled. Books were stacked haphazardly on the shelf instead of lined up, and the pillow and covers were thrown across the bed, like someone had shaken them out without smoothing them down. In a hurry. That could have just been Erin’s style, except that the opposite half of the room was pristine.

And the window…Erin’s window was standing open, and had no screen or bars. When I stepped closer I realized why—the whole apartment building was like a big hollow box, with a little courtyard in the middle, containing a few picnic tables and a small spa pool. This window faced inward, with a straight thirty-foot drop to the courtyard below. Cool air drifted into the room, and I shivered in my wool peacoat, which had seemed too warm only a few minutes ago.

“We found the window screen floating in the spa,” Jesse’s voice said behind me. Reading my mind. I pulled my head in and turned around.

“Did your guys find anything else?”

He gave me a little not much shrug. “There was some gray dirt on the floor. The roommate says they were both pretty careful about tracking mud in, so we’ll try to match it to a pair of her shoes to see if it’s related.”