Trail of Dead (Scarlett Bernard #2)(5)

by Melissa F. Olson

“Yeah, well, it’s only been a couple of dates, but she’s…very sweet. Gentle.”

Ouch. I knew that probably hadn’t been a direct shot at me, but sweet and gentle were definitely two things that I wasn’t. I pushed the thought away. Jesse had paused, looking at me nervously.

“What?” I said finally.

“Are you still going to help me?”

I rolled my eyes. “Yes, Captain Ego. You’re still my friend. Or whatever.” He had the decency to look embarrassed.

I checked my watch. It was almost 5:00 a.m. in New York, and a half-assed catnap on the plane wasn’t enough to clear my head for thinking. “Okay, look, you have to give me some time to make some inquiries. Can we get together for lunch?”

His eyebrows furrowed with irritation. “Breakfast.”

“Jesse…” I said. Okay, maybe it was more of a whine.

“I’ll pick you up for brunch at ten. Final offer.”

“Ugh. Fine.”

“And I want the body,” he pressed.

I shook my head. “I can’t do that.”

He was fuming. “Knock it off, Scarlett. This isn’t the time to be cute.”

“No, I mean, I literally can’t do it. If—again, if—this is really my kind of thing, the body is gone. Like, gone gone.” If Eli had cleaned the scene, he would have gone straight to my incinerator guy in Van Nuys. Jesse’s sudden glare was full of ferocity and something like betrayal. “Jesse, it was gone before I got off the plane. Giving me the stink-eye isn’t going to change anything.”

Jesse sighed, and the glare collapsed into something sadder. “Sometimes…I just don’t know how you do what you do.”

I couldn’t help it. I flinched.

We got back on the freeway, and Jesse dropped me off at Molly’s house in West Hollywood less than twenty minutes later. It’s amazing how fast you can get around LA at two in the morning.

Molly, my landlady, roommate, and pseudofriend, is also a vampire. She and I have a deal: she lets me live there practically free, and I help her age. Molly was turned in Victorian Wales at only seventeen, and although she was considered an adult when she was alive, in the twenty-first century she couldn’t legally vote, have sex, drink, etc. When she’s around me, Molly becomes human again, and ages like any normal person. She also has to use the bathroom, sleep, and eat while she’s near me, which is a constant source of wonder and amusement for her, since apparently toilet habits have changed in the century since she was alive. At this point she looks like a college student, about twenty, and I’ve often wondered what age she wants to get to before she’ll kick me out. I love her house, which is old and cute and filled with carefully chosen things, but I’ve never really thought of it as my home.

“Scarlett!” Molly squealed, and ran up to hug me. Molly is surprisingly touchy-feely for a vampire. I usually beg off the hugging, but it had been a while since we’d seen each other, so I allowed myself to be enveloped. She was wearing supertight jeans that probably cost more than all the clothes in my suitcase, and a T-shirt with a skull and crossbones. Only the skull had a little pink bow where its hair would have been. She also had on one of those fancy phone headsets, the kind where the microphone wraps around to be in front of your mouth.

“Hi,” I said when she’d let go. She paused to straighten the headset around her hair, which had recently been dyed blonde and cut into sort of a long bob. I have no idea why vampires’ hair continues to grow. Chalk it up to magic. “What are you up to?” I asked cautiously.

She pointed toward the laptop that had been plopped on the couch. “Online gaming.”

“Oh, Molly.”

“What?” she said, defensive. “Geeks are in now, remember? And it’s soooo addicting.”

“I remember. Last time you started that stuff I barely spoke to you.”

She shrugged. “You were gone for like a month. I got bored.” She crossed her legs. “Besides, they’ve got this new one that’s all about vampires, see?” She pointed to the little screen, where an avatar woman with tight jeans and a black T-shirt was frozen, waiting for her real-life counterpart. Sure enough, she had comically long fangs pointing out of her mouth and a little wooden stake in one hand.

I rolled my eyes and picked up a stack of my mail that Molly had deposited on a side table. “I wonder what Dashiell would think of this.”

“He’d probably love it. Well, not ‘love,’ exactly, but he would find it amusing. I think he likes when American pop culture makes fun of vampires. It makes it all the less likely for anyone to actually believe in us.”

This was true. I’ve often wondered if there are vampires working in Hollywood, actually setting up the schmaltzy stuff to make the existence of vampires seem all the more ridiculous. I know that in the past they’ve started rumors about themselves—the whole “vampires fear religious objects,” for example, is bullshit designed to help real vampires pass as human—so that kind of modern PR blitz doesn’t seem unlikely.

I flicked through envelopes. “Except for maybe a coalition of teenage girls, who are of course known for their discerning intelligence,” I said absently, then looked up in time to see Molly’s face darken with sudden memory. I winced. Oops. “Sorry, Molls, exhaustion has reunited my foot and my mouth.”

She shrugged again and sat back down on the couch. “Did you learn anything in New York?”

“Yes and no. I learned a couple of new tricks, but not…what I was looking for.”

This was a somewhat dangerous subject. New York had been a fact-finding mission, though Molly didn’t actually know the whole story behind my going. A few months earlier, the first time I’d helped Jesse with an investigation, I had accidentally turned a vampire named Ariadne back into a human—permanently. Until it had happened, I hadn’t even known it was possible, and I was keeping it under wraps: so far only Dashiell knew what I had done. But the whole thing had made me realize that I didn’t know much about what I was. Hence the trip to meet the only other known null on this continent. Unfortunately, he had never heard of a permanent turn, either.

“What was the other null like? Was he yummy?”

“Molly! He’s nineteen years old!” But I thought of Jameson, and may have blushed just a teensy bit.