Trail of Dead (Scarlett Bernard #2)(8)


by Melissa F. Olson

Eli’s eyes became distant as he remembered. His hands, which had been doing little closing-up tasks as he spoke, went still on the bar. “There had been some kind of fight. That girl…I could hardly tell she’d been a person. It looked like she’d been liquefied.”

“Crushed?” I said.

He pointed a finger at me, nodding.

“What did you smell?” I asked. Eli’s werewolf senses have been helpful on more than one occasion.

“Mostly just the blood, and the other…body stuff. But there was a little bit of dirt there too. Odd smell.” He shrugged.

Jesse had said the forensics team had found dirt. “What made it odd?”

“It smelled…I don’t know, processed? I can’t really explain why, but it made me think of industrial buildings.”

“And it didn’t rain last night?”

“Nope.”

Hmm. No reason for Erin’s shoes to be muddy. “So you took the body,” I prompted. I would have too. If a person has clearly died of something explainable—gunshots or a heart attack or a car accident—I leave the body alone, even if someone from the Old World might have been involved. Basically, if there was a reasonable human explanation, I stay out of it. But a crushed body in a tiny third-floor bedroom would bring up too many questions.

“Yeah, and I cleaned up as fast as I could, but I heard the roommate coming. I grabbed the bag with the body, waited until she went into her own bedroom, and made a run for it. You said always deal with the body first, right?” He looked directly at me, and I realized what he was asking. In his quiet, pragmatic way, Eli wanted to know if he’d handled it right.

“Yes,” I replied, but a second too late.

“What? What else should I have done?”

This is what I liked about Eli—his tone wasn’t defensive or angry. He simply wanted to know. I felt awkward about correcting him in front of someone who was essentially our boss, but what the hell, Kirsten knew he was still training. “Taken the carpet,” I replied. “There’s a carpet knife in the bag, just for that kind of thing. With a bloodstain that big and that wet, they know they’re looking for a dead body. If you take the carpet, all they have is a missing girl who’s maybe in trouble, or maybe just ran away with her rug. It changes the story.”

“So I should have picked taking the carpet over straightening the room,” he said thoughtfully.

“Yes.” I shrugged to say not that it matters now.

Looking troubled, Eli excused himself to the back office to count the till and lock up. Kirsten finally looked at me. “If Erin’s roommate came home, I’m assuming the police have gotten involved by now?”

“Yeah.” I filled her in on my own evening, starting when Jesse picked me up at the airport. “But he doesn’t know that Erin was a witch,” I finished.

“There’s something else he doesn’t know,” Kirsten said suddenly. She reached up, making a weak attempt to smooth down her hair. “Erin wasn’t the first witch to be murdered this week. She was the second.”

Chapter 4

“Two dead witches?” I asked, startled. “Eli didn’t mention another body.”

“No, he wouldn’t have. This one was out of our hands. The woman was thrown off the Santa Monica Pier.”

“Okay, wait,” I said, and my mind was clearing now. “Can you start at the beginning please?”

“Yes, of course. I’m sorry.” Kirsten straightened her back, obviously trying to rally. With her makeup wiped off and her hair a lopsided cloud around her face, I was struck by how young she looked. How old was Kirsten? Thirty? Thirty-five? It seemed awfully young to have so much power and so many people counting on you. Granted, I was only twenty-three, but I had the opposite of power, and nobody counted on me.

“Last Friday, I got a call from one of my witches,” she began. “Her name is—was—Denise Godfry, although she worked under a different name. Anyway, she asked to meet with me, in person, to discuss a problem. I agreed, of course, but I had meetings that night. We were supposed to have brunch in Santa Monica the next morning, but Denise never showed. I called and called, and finally went down there. There was a policeman at her apartment.” Kirsten began victimizing a new coaster, and I noticed that her manicure was chipped to shit. A very bad sign.

“She was dead,” I prompted.

“Yes. The police said she had killed herself,” Kirsten said, with a bitter little emphasis on the word police. “Her body was found in Santa Monica, right up on the damned beach. It even made the Times, though you probably didn’t see it in New York.”

I tried to remember if I had ever heard her swear. “No.”

“Anyway, I was very worried. I tried explaining to the policemen that it couldn’t have been a suicide, but none of them would listen to me. Then last night it was the same thing all over again, with Erin.”

“I don’t mean to be insensitive, but how do you know Denise didn’t just fall? Or, um…jump?”

She was shaking her head. “Denise was hydrophobic. Deeply afraid of the ocean. She told me once that she’d seen that movie Jaws when she was a little girl, and she still couldn’t stand to be over water, much less in it. She would never have been on the pier. And if she were going to kill herself, it wouldn’t be like that.” The coaster in her hands was viciously ripped in half. “I told the policeman that too, for all the good it did me.”

I raised my eyebrows, surprised. “You told the police?” It wasn’t like her to involve the police in Old World affairs.

But Kirsten said, “At the time I was thinking Denise’s death didn’t have anything to do with her being a witch. I thought maybe it was an ordinary murder. If there is such a thing.”

I understood. This was Los Angeles, after all, and young women who are out alone in the middle of the night do disappear for “ordinary” human reasons. “But then Erin died too, and you figured it was an Old World connection,” I surmised. She nodded at her coaster pieces. “Aside from being witches, was there anything that Erin and Denise had in common?”

“Well…neither of them had much ability, I’m afraid. What you would call power.”

I nodded. When I paid attention to my radius, I experienced both Kirsten’s and Eli’s power as two distinctive hits on my null radar: Eli as sort of a low throbbing and Kirsten as a steady buzz that flickered if she flexed her magic. A witch with less power would register as a much lesser buzz. “So you think someone may be killing…what, minor-league witches?”