“Snazzy casino like this, you have to have some good security cameras,” Mac said.
He nodded, but his skin paled. “We lost power for a half an hour. The whole ship. We’ll give you the footage we have of course—”
Mac cursed under her breath, and I glanced back at the vic.
“That’s a lot of work for a half hour,” I said. But was it, really? Maybe. Maybe not. Not if he’d been killed elsewhere, which the slit throat with minimal blood seemed to suggest.
“Anything special going on last night? Anything different?” Mac asked.
The man shook his head. “Nothing.”
“Do you recognize the deceased?” I asked. Sure, he probably would have said it already if he did, but best to ask just in case.
He shot a quick glance at the body and grimaced. “No. I’m afraid I don’t. But we get a lot of people through here.”
My attention wandered after that, as I approached the cadaver hanging from the wall. It was easier to think of dead bodies that way. Not as people. Not as victims. But as a simple object. A body. A corpse. Not a man.
Or in this case, not a vampire.
I stopped a couple of feet away, grimacing at the smell even though I was getting used to it. Eyes firmly shut, I forced my flittering thoughts into the back of my mind and tried to keep my focus on the energy in front of me.
I breathed slowly and let myself fall into an almost meditative state—or as close as one could get two feet from a dead vampire with a nervous ME tech shifting on his feet nearby.
The corpse was definitely a vampire, and had not just been killed by one. Sometimes that happened—sensitives could pick up the type of powers that had killed a person in addition to the victim’s otherworldly aura. In humans, that’s all that would linger. It made identifying the killer easier when it worked that way. But too often, things were muddled. Especially with otherworlder victims.
But nothing about this victim felt like anything but vampire, and the energy was soaked through to his bones. I stood still and let my senses open more fully, but I couldn’t sense anything but vampire in the area. Dark energy—unmoving because it lingered on a no-longer-living object—saturated the room.
And on the edge of my senses I could feel the other oh-dubs. Mac with her odd swirl of power. Jarvis with his pulsing beat—his power was nearly as twitchy as he was. Some of the vampire’s power lingered on him too. He must have been in the room longer than I’d thought, and probably closer to the body than he’d want the evidence techs to know. If I’d gotten here a bit earlier I might have snuck a small touch myself.
In order to get something more specific off the body, I’d have to touch it. And the medical man stood close by to prevent that very thing until he’d gotten the okay from his boss.
I frowned. Something else was here too. Vampiric, but different. Clearer. Through my closed lids I could almost see it. A blot in my vision of black, dark and shadowy like all things vampiric. But somehow thicker and blacker than the vampire above it.
I opened my eyes and blinked at the sudden brightness of the room around me. I took a step closer to the body and searched the floor with my eyes. There. Several feet away something shone under a poker table.
“Mac,” I called out, and shuffling sounded from behind me as I crouched by the dark wood table leg.
“You got something?” Mac asked.
“You have a glove?”
Mac reached into a pocket and handed me a purple nitrile glove. I pulled it on even though I didn’t intend to touch anything but the floor, and then pointed to a large coin leaning against the inside of the table leg. It had to have rolled there, to get to such an awkward spot at such an angle. Details were difficult to make out in the casino lighting and at our viewpoint, but it didn’t look like any poker chip I’d ever seen. And the circular shape looked wrong somehow, imperfect.
“Are you getting anything off of it?”
“Kind of. But to be able to match it to the owner I’ll have to touch it—with my skin. Inanimate objects don’t carry the juice to radiate much energy.”
Mac waved a tech over to take pictures and collect the coin. “We’ll get it processed ASAP.”
I stood and frowned. “Someone’s coming,” I murmured. And unlike the dark, inky blackness that signified vampire, this otherworlder’s energy shaded the area around it with a silvery tint. Like an afterimage from looking into a bright light or a scene washed in moonlight. And he smelled of fresh air. Where vampire energy moved slowly—and this vampire vic’s moved even less than normal since he was dead—the lycanthrope’s aura was wild, strong, fierce.
And this particular one, I recognized.
Lycanthropes were similar to werewolves of legend in that they were a heck of a lot stronger than humans, even in their human forms. And while they could shift, it was a difficult process that some never mastered. And the ones who didn’t, simply couldn’t shift—at least not without the help of a full moon and a pack. The ones who did—well I’d never seen one shift. Although I’d heard stories from paranormal unit veterans—or freak squad veterans, as normal cops liked to call us behind our backs—about the aftermath of violent crimes committed by shifted lycans or lycanthropes.
Those crimes ended with cops struggling to identify pieces of victims.
Mac pulled a small notebook from the inside of her jacket and started making notes. “So we’ve got a dead vamp hanging in the high-roller room of the fucking Magister’s casino ship. This is going to be a shitstorm.”
“But it won’t be your shitstorm,” A low voice said from behind me.
Damn. He was here, all right.
A shiver crawled up my spine. I mentally winced, but kept my face clear. And I could even see the man in my mind’s eye. Dark gray eyes that reflected in the right light marked him as a lycan, but the handsome face was a credit to simply awesome genetics. He wasn’t overly tall for a man, but not short either. Still, he seemed to pour into a room, filling it with his presence. And he towered over my four-foot-eleven-inch frame. His light brown hair was only a few shades darker than my sandy blond, but his chiseled features in perfect proportion gave him an edge in the looks department. His power was wild and raging like the beast that dwelt within the lycanthrope.
I turned around, just in time to see a flash of pain when his gaze met mine, gone so quickly I might have imagined it.
Snow—large fluffy flakes of it—fell onto my car as I drove back toward my townhouse in the northern suburbs of Chicago. Not the first snowfall of the winter, but the second. The first had fallen a week before and melted in an odd warm-up, making the still unfinished tiny backyard behind my townhouse into a muddy swampland. A state this snowfall would surely remedy. Luckily, at eleven at night, traffic wasn’t an issue.
Mason Sanderson. The man poked holes in my defenses. Originally a paranormal unit veteran, he’d moved off the freak squad into a very unpopular internal affairs position after the squad had been taken over by a normal—Lieutenant Vasquez.
I’d missed the lycan after he left, even though we hadn’t worked together on a daily basis like I did now with Claude. Missed his serious eyes, his intense expressions, and his ruggedly handsome features.
I sometimes wondered if I hadn’t chased him out of the Chicago Police Department and into the OWEA, but that was pretty darn unlikely. It was probably ambition that pushed him into the Otherworlder Enforcement Agency, just like ambition pushed some human cops into the FBI. The man had only kissed me once. And just because it had been the kind of toe-curling kiss people wrote songs about didn’t mean it had affected Mason like it had affected me.
He’d called it a mistake.
We’d been friends, I’d thought. Laughed about the same things, chatted after finishing up with crime scenes and at events we had both attended. A few times we’d actually talked. About things bordering on serious. But then, it happened. After following me outside on a beautiful night during a Christmas party held at a fellow freak squad member’s house, he’d kissed me. And we hadn’t talked since. When he’d been forced to talk to me because of cases, his responses had been short. And humorless.
The change had shocked me. Not made of stone, I’d noticed Mason plenty. But the idea that he’d be attracted to me hadn’t really crossed my mind. The intense stares I’d occasionally catch him levying in my direction had been purely my imagination. Or just the way he looked. I thought I had been reading too much into it.
Apparently, I’d been wrong.
I shook my head, trying to eliminate thoughts of the man, and pulled into my garage. I trudged into the house, fed my cat, and put on a fresh set of work clothes. I might as well make myself useful. And lazing about my townhouse with thoughts of Mason Sanderson on my mind was hardly useful.
I drove back downtown and reached the evidence lock-up area adjacent to the main police department offices at three twelve, according to the brightly lit clock on my Accord’s dash. A lone SUV was in the parking lot as I pulled in, its brake lights shining. When I got out of my car, I saw Jarvis doing the same.
“Hey.” I gave him an awkward wave before dropping my hand to my side.
“Hi,” he said, voice jovial and a big grin on his face. I toned my smile down a notch. No need to give the imp the wrong idea. Jarvis was a nice enough fellow, but imps in general creeped me out. Far too excitable.
“What brings you here so early—or late?” Jarvis asked. He carried a small box. The last of the evidence.
“Just thought I’d come by and see if I could get a reading off that coin while we still have it. I’m guessing the OWEA is taking over the investigation since Mason stopped by the crime scene,” I said.
He waved me ahead and we walked up to the door. “Mac got into it with him after you left. Guess they want to take over. The Magister asked the OWEA to look into it—his boat and all. But we settled on a joint investigation.”
As one of the most powerful vampires in the world, the Magister got what the Magister wanted. “Guess he’d want the best out there,” I said, not even attempting to keep the sarcasm from my tone.