Jarvis snorted. He opened the door for me, bracing the box he carried against a hip, and we stepped out of the cold into a building that was less cold, if not exactly warm.
The inside of the warehouse was nearly empty, save for one police officer manning the caged-off entrance into the large storage area where evidence was held. A large man, he looked like he was in his early fifties, and though he’d probably been in great shape once, his muscle had faded to fat.
Not everything would have been sent to the chilly, large building so quickly if the OWEA weren’t taking over the investigation. Much of it would have made its way to a smaller area in the actual station. But, with the OWEA assuming responsibility, the evidence was no longer the Chicago PD’s problem, so it had been sent here.
The big officer behind the desk waved at me. I’d seen him several times before, but he still took down my badge number and had me sign in.
“Should have some evidence delivered earlier from the casino case,” I told him.
“They just brought some stuff in about an hour ago.” He reached onto a set of shelves directly behind him and grabbed a couple of boxes. “Not sure what all’s come in yet.” He nodded to Jarvis. “You need to log that?”
“Yep,” the imp replied, eyes shifting from object to object in the room in a most unsettling manner. Imps.
I took the boxes to a large table next to the officer’s desk and opened the first one. Officer Donaldson handed Jarvis a form to fill out, and then returned to whatever he’d been doing on his computer before I arrived. Given the current hour, I suspected Solitaire.
I closed my eyes and turned so my back was to the officer. I held my hands, palms down, over the boxes and concentrated on my breath. In and out. Slow and steady. There. The coin I’d found at Casino Merveilleux was inside one of the boxes. I could sense the other evidence too. Not its form, but the energies that lingered on the material. The coin had to be made of an older metal, silver or gold or bronze. Those metals held onto energy better than more modern blends. It took a while to soak in, but once it was there, the energy could remain for years.
Besides, with how saturated this coin was, I was almost certain that its owner had held onto it for a very long time. Carried it on his person for decades, at least. Wherever the vampire had gotten it, he had obviously prized the coin.
I frowned. It didn’t feel quite like the vampire victim had. It felt older for one, and the dark vampiric energy that clung to it seemed stronger than it had in the man who’d been staked to the wall of the casino. Nothing else in the box pulled at me quite so strongly, so I opened the lid and pulled out the small evidence baggy containing the coin.
It had already been fingerprinted and samples from the surface had been taken, but I left it in the bag anyway. I itched to take it out, handle it to get a better feel for its owner, but I studied it first. The OWEA would want it kept as untouched as possible in case they decided to run additional tests. Unlike most people, I wasn’t afraid of Mason Sanderson. But I didn’t want to be accused of mishandling evidence either.
The surface was well-worn, and while I didn’t recognize the imagery or lettering on the coin, it looked very old. Bronze maybe. I could make out hints of the original pictures, even with how rubbed down they were. The face on one side supported my very-old theory, as if the chipped edges weren’t enough. The man’s profile revealed a full beard with some sort of headpiece that tied behind his head. Not a modern crown, but regal all the same. And the lettering was odd too, but had been rubbed away so much I couldn’t be sure of the alphabet.
The opposite side portrayed what I could only call an angel. But judging from the age of the coin, the winged person with the low slung wrap around his waist might have been something very different. I kept my hands loose around the coin and closed my eyes. A tighter grip would have been better, but not as evidence-friendly.
Otherworlder energy soaked the thing, and I could see and feel it in my mind. Dark and practically dripping from the object, the energy was purely vampiric. And strong. Something about it was almost hypnotic. But there was something else niggling at the edge of my senses. Not vampiric. I needed to get it out of the bag.
“Can I get you some coffee?” A voice asked from behind me, far too loudly.
My eyes flew open, and I almost turned and snapped at the well-meaning officer. “No, thank you. I’m fine,” I said, instead. Couldn’t he see that I was working?
“Well, I’ll be right back,” he said, then disappeared into a door near his desk. I took a deep breath, setting the coin back into the box. I replaced the lid and bit my lip. A vampire owner for sure. I was willing to bet that it wasn’t the vampire who had been strung up—the owner had to be older and more powerful than the victim had seemed—so who did it belong to? In reality, even if the spot of blood marring the coin’s surface belonged to the victim, that didn’t necessarily mean that it was owned by the killer.
But I found that unlikely. The vampire who’d owned the coin had held onto it for decades, if not centuries. To keep something—probably on your person—for that long…no. The owner wouldn’t have simply left it on the ground. He would have come back for it. He would have searched for it. Unless he couldn’t come back to that room for some reason, like because he’d just hung a body over a poker table.
I shook my head. It didn’t matter, not really. The murdered vampire was Mason’s problem now. I’d file my report and let him handle the rest. Or let him and Mac arm wrestle for it.
But, just a small touch wouldn’t hurt anything. And Mason would likely want information sooner rather than later. With that thought in mind, I reopened the box and pulled the coin out. I turned to wave Jarvis over. But, to my surprise, he already stood right behind me, watching the coin with interest.
“I’m going to touch this to get a better reading. You’re going to observe so if needed, you can testify to the fact that I didn’t manhandle it or dip it in blood, or whatever.”
Jarvis frowned. “Are you sure that’s a good idea? Shouldn’t you wait until the OWEA confirms they’ve already done their testing?”
I glared at the coin. I needed to touch it. Just a few seconds and I’d be able to ID the vamp if they could find him. I was sure of it. “It’ll just be for a sec.”
Jarvis took a step back, as if my decision would somehow contaminate him. I gripped the edge of the baggy, ready to slip it open. Then a pop sounded, and the world went black.
A hard, angry scowl on a very handsome face was the first thing I saw when I opened my eyes. I scowled back, or at least gave it a go.
“Astrid? Can you hear me?” Mason asked, voice rough as if he gargled with gravel. For all I knew, he did. Would be fitting, some sort of tough guy thing.
“If you keep scowling, your face is going to freeze that way,” I muttered.
A hint of a smile touched his face, and he let out a long breath. “You scared us there for a minute.”
I snorted. Yeah, the day I scared Mason Sanderson was the day I could…well something equally unlikely—like pigs would fly.
“What do you remember?”
I glanced around, taking in my surroundings, the oddness of the situation finally hitting me. I was lying on a hospital bed, in what looked like the ER at county. How had I gotten here? My mind whirred, trying to come up with an explanation, a memory.
“You were in the evidence locker,” Mason said, his voice soft, encouraging.
“Yeah. Crap. I remember. I went in to look at the coin. Wanted to see if I could get anything off it before you guys wrestled the case away from Vasquez.”
Mason ignored my jibe. “Talk me through it.”
“I got there the same time as Jarvis—oh, Jarvis.” I hadn’t even thought of the imp. Great person I was. “How is he? And the other officer?”
“Everyone is fine,” Mason said impatiently. “Keep talking.”
The more certain of my health he was, the bossier he seemed to get. I frowned. “Jarvis and I went in. I decided—” To tell or not to tell Mason that I’d decided to remove the coin from the bag? No. Lying about it would be wrong. Besides, Jarvis had probably already ratted me out. “I decided to take the coin out of the evidence bag.”
“Why?” Mason betrayed none of his feelings in his tone.
“Because I wanted to see if I could get a signature on it, see if I could use it to identify the vampire it belonged to,” I said.
“And did you? Get a read on the coin?”
“I didn’t get a chance to touch it. I started to pull it from the bag, and that’s when I heard a loud noise. A popping sound. But…”
Mason watched me, finally raising his eyebrows and nodding slowly for me to continue.
“I did feel something else on the coin, even through the bag. Not vampiric.” I shook my head and puzzled over what I could remember of the sensation. “It was similar to how a witch would feel, but off somehow. Or maybe it just felt off because it was in the bag, I don’t know.”
“The sound you heard, was it a gunshot?”
“No. Sounded more like a firecracker. Were Jarvis and the other officer knocked unconscious too?”
He leaned back in his chair. “Yes. And the power went out in the building—also in a couple of buildings nearby.”
“Disabling the cameras,” I said. Crap. Just like the casino.
“Yes. How are you feeling?”
That was a good question. I swallowed and touched a sore spot on my head. “I’m fine,” I said. And I was. Not like a headache and a scratchy throat mattered much in the grand scheme of things.
“You want to take a little ride with me?”
Oh hell, did I ever. I met his gaze, searching for a glimmer of amusement, but saw only his intense eyes that never failed to make my stomach clench and my mouth water. “Sure,” I managed.
The sun had barely peeked out onto the city when we left the hospital. It felt like days had passed, but I must have been only unconscious for an hour, at the most. I wasn’t entirely surprised when we pulled up to the morgue.