The Pack and the People existed in a very fragile state of peace. None of us wanted to do anything to jeopardize that.
The People were efficient, I gave them that. One crew went for the vampires, the other headed for the woman's body, the third for the despondent journeyman. Two women and a man in business suits made a beeline for the booth where the owners sat.
Ghastek came close enough to be heard. "I want it to be clear: this was not an attempt to kill either of you. The journeymen weren't supposed to be here and the guilty party will be harshly reprimanded."
Curran shrugged. "Don't worry, Ghastek. If this was an attempt, I know you'd bring more than two vampires."
"What happened?" Ghastek asked.
"They were having dinner," I told him. "They seemed happy together. The boy handed her a necklace and it choked her to death."
"Just so I understand, Lawrence himself wasn't personally injured."
"No," Curran said. "He was in shock from watching his girlfriend die in front of him."
Ghastek looked over the scene again, looking like he wanted to be anywhere but here. "Once again, we're dreadfully sorry for the inconvenience."
"We'll live," Curran said.
One of the People stepped away from Amanda's body. "The necklace adhered to her skin. There doesn't appear to be any locking mechanism. It's a solid band of gold."
"Leave it," Ghastek said. "We'll remove it later."
If I were them, I'd cut it off during tech and stick it into a hazmat container.
A middle-aged man shouldered his way inside the restaurant, followed by a young woman and a boy who looked about seven. I glanced at the woman and had to click my mouth shut. She was in her late teens, right on the cusp between a girl and a woman. Her body, full in the bust and hips, slimmed to a narrow waist. Her long slender legs carried her with a natural grace. Her hair streamed from her head in a shimmering cascade so precisely matching the color of gold, I would've sworn it was gold if I didn't know better. Her face, a pale oval, was angelic. She glanced at me in passing. Her irises were an intense deep blue and her eyes were decades older than her face.
She was beautiful.
She was also not human. Or she had bargained with something not human for that body.
Curran was watching her. His nostrils flared a little as he inhaled, sampling the scents and I felt a punch of jealousy right in the gut. Well, this was a new and unwelcome development.
Ghastek focused on the woman as well, with a kind of clinical interest usually afforded to an odd insect. "Here come the grieving parents. I've met them before."
"Is that her sister?" I asked.
"No, that's Mrs. Sunny, her mother. The boy is Amanda's brother."
The middle-aged man saw the female navigator, whose body the People had just loaded on the gurney. "Amanda! Jesus Christ, Amanda! Baby!"
"No!" The woman cried out.
He dashed to Amanda. "Oh God. Oh God."
The golden-haired woman chased after him, the boy in tow. "Don't go near her!"
The man grasped Amanda's hand. The golden band of the necklace popped open. An eerie soft light ignited within the necklace, setting the gold aglow.
"Oh Go-" Amanda's father fell silent in the middle of the word, transfixed by the necklace.
His hand inched toward it.
"Stop!" Curran barked. The man froze, arrested by the unmistakable command in that voice.
I was already moving.
The golden woman pushed past him, yanked the necklace from Amanda's neck, spun, and thrust it at the boy's throat. The gold band locked on the child's neck, adhering to his skin. I missed it by half a second.
The boy gasped. His father shook his head, as if awakened from a dream.
The golden-haired woman stared at me with her old eyes and smiled.
*** *** ***
"Are you out of your mind?" I snarled. "That necklace just killed your daughter."
"This isn't your affair," the golden-haired woman said.
"Take it off. Now."
She sneered. "I can't."
She knew exactly what that necklace did. She made a conscious choice between her husband and her son.
The boy dug his fingers into his neck, trying pry the necklace loose. It remained stuck. The skin around the band of gold was turning pink. We had to get that thing off of him.
The man stared at her. "Aurellia? What's going on? What's the meaning of this?"
"Don't worry about it," the woman told him. "I'll explain it later."
"No, you'll explain it now." Curran moved next to me.
"I have to concur," Ghastek said.
The woman raised her chin. "You have no authority over me."
"Aurellia, what is going on?" her husband asked.
"On the contrary. We have all the authority we need." Ghastek snapped his fingers. A woman in a business suit and glasses popped up by his side as if by magic.
"The necklace caused the death of a journeywoman in our employ," the woman said. "We've expended a considerable amount of money training her, not to mention the cost of the two vampires that were terminated as a result of her death. That necklace is evidence in our investigation of the incident. If you obstruct our investigation by withholding this evidence from us, we will obtain a court order requiring you to surrender the necklace to us. Should we choose to pursue this matter further, you will find yourself in a very actionable position."