Home > Cold Reign (Jane Yellowrock #11)(3)

Cold Reign (Jane Yellowrock #11)(3)
Author: Faith Hunter

I went back to Eli’s last statements. “And the Navy reserves housed near the attacks means what?” I asked.

“No idea,” Eli said. “But the attack on the sailors and the gunpowder tattoos on the butler bothered me. Now we have another vamp DB on or near an old naval port. Did you see the skull and crossbones with sword? On Berkins’ other arm?”

“No,” I grunted, zipping my jeans and weaponing up. My fighting leathers would have been nice, but they were back at the house. “Wait.” I looked up at the back of his head. “Gunpowder?”

Eli made breathy laughing sounds and said, “Back in the day, sailors didn’t have ink. They made do with what they had, like gunpowder mixed with urine. Tattoos had significance and more than a little superstition in them. I think there might have been a name inked in as part of the tattoo, but it was blurred by time and scarring. He might have more, and they might lead us to whatever made him rise revenant. Alex, make sure whoever picks up the body gets photos, front and back and the soles of the feet.”

“Copy,” Alex said, over coms.

Tattoos. Naval history. Back in the day, vamps had crossed the oceans the same way humans had, via ships, so seafaring blood-servants were likely to have been a thing back then. Confluence of thought processes was becoming more and more common the longer my partners and I worked together, though it seemed like a stretch to think this was an attack on the Navy based on such scant evidence. Not that I was saying that to Eli. I finished dressing and crawled back up front. I didn’t get cold, as a rule, but this weather was abnormally cold for the Deep South. I buckled in and braided my black hair by feel.

We pulled through the Popeye’s and I ordered a sixteen-piece, spicy, “Bonafide Family Meal.” The fried chicken smell overpowered the dead-vamp stink—intensifying because the heater was on—and the food was fabo. I had tracked the thrice-dead fanghead in Beast form, and the shift back to human had left me hungry. Shifting used energy, and skinwalkers used calories to shift. As we waited for the body pickup, I ate fourteen chicken pieces, the mashed potatoes, and all the biscuits, leaving the slaw, the green beans, and two bird legs for my healthy-eating partner. While we waited, parked in the shadows, he inhaled the veggies and peeled the fried layer off the chicken before munching down.

“Heathern,” I accused in my best Appalachian mountain accent, lifting the skin from the box he’d tossed it in. “I’ll rescue the poor, cast-aside crispy bits. Yes, my precious, I’ll eat you,” I cooed to the fried flesh. Biting down.

Eli didn’t even look my way, but he did let the faintest sound of a sigh escape. Long-suffering, that’s Eli. As I licked my fingers clean, he got out and unwrapped the body, took a few dozen photos, and then transferred the remains to the back of an armored Lincoln that pulled up beside us. Visible inside the tinted glass were Wrassler and Jodi, who were interrupting a date to run a fanghead errand. Neither looked happy at the interruption. Jodi was a cop. Dating Wrassler, head of operations at vamp HQ, had to be some kind of conflict of interest. Having a dead body in the back had to be some other kind of conflict of interest. I fluttered my fingers at her and held up thumb and pinkie, telling her I’d call. She frowned at me but pointed at her nails. She wanted mani-pedis, which was a waste of time and money for me since every time I shifted into animal form, the paint peeled off. Being a skinwalker is tough on the girly part of life.

As they pulled away, Eli closed the hatch and took a private call, standing at the back of the vehicle, and I deliberately didn’t listen in, figuring it was his girlfriend, Syl. When he got back inside, his mouth was tight, and he wore what I called his battle face. Utterly expressionless, utterly focused.

“Problem?”

“Personal.”

I shrugged. Eli and his snuggle-buns were on the outs because he refused to go on a cruise with her. I didn’t know the particulars and didn’t want to. “Good. I’m not a marriage counselor.”

Eli shrugged back. It was the action of a man pretending not to care but who cared very badly. I had seen the same expression and body language on him when my own honeybunch had dropped by for the game. Eli on the couch, pretending to ignore when Bruiser’s feet and mine intertwined in a wool-sock-footed twiddling match. It hadn’t been romantic. It had been playful and silly. But Eli had turned to stone. Yeah. Things were bad between Eli and Syl.

Not long after, we turned off Highway 23 onto Avenue G, passing Plaquemines Parish government buildings, one-story structures constructed of white metal siding and stained clapboards, and various flags flying overhead. In the parking lot there were two cop cars, government cars, and parking for the parish levee, the manmade hill constructed by the Army Corps of Engineers to keep the Mississippi within its banks. At the top of the levee, blue lights flashed into the night.

We crested the levee’s artificial hill, pulled over, braked, and watched. Multiple law enforcement agencies were present, some of them crime scene techs wearing white hazmat-type suits, complete with masks, gloves, and booties. And there was a stink of dead fish I could smell even in human form, even inside the SUV. “This is not what I expected for a vamp and a human pulled from the water.”

“Yeah, me neither.” Eli said. He handed me a coms set and I put on the gear, clipping the cell-phone-sized unit to my belt and inserting the earbud. Eli did the same and tested the connections to Alex. We were live.

We sat in the dark for all of five minutes before a uniformed officer approached, and we put our hands up where they could be seen. She knocked on the window and Eli let it down. Before I could offer to get out an ID, the woman said, “Younger and Yellowrock?”

“That’s us,” Eli said, turning off the SUV.

She shined a flashlight inside and blinded us. I squinted against the glare. “Leave your vehicle. This way, please,” she said.

Still blinking, I got out of the car and trailed the cop down to the ferry landing, closer and closer to the fish stink. The mist thickened and swirled, coiling and dancing on the altering air temps, moving with the river breeze.

The Belle Chasse Ferry Landing was a narrow two-lane road on a sturdy pier over the water. Well off the shore, the road met a wide wharf where two ferries were moored at a dock or a jetty or something. A late news crew from WGNO, the ABC station in NOLA, were milling around at the end of the road, held back by local cops and crime scene tape. The African-American woman talking into the camera spotted us as we boarded and I heard her whisper, “Jane Yellowrock. Get the shot. Is that the MOC? No. Has to be that hunky partner of hers.”

A cop waved us onto the ferry and out of sight, but I could hear the reporter saying, “Put this with the basketball players’ cell footage from the gym and we are golden.”

Eli breathed a laugh.

“Shut up,” I griped.

He laughed louder.

The chuckles stopped when we reached the end of the boat. Stern? Bow? I wasn’t sure, since both ends were straight, without the curving bow on, say, the cruise ship Eli refused to get on. The ferry was rusted, the red paint missing in many places, and the sidewalls dented. The white structure where the driver stood was in need of a good coat of marine paint. I later figured out it might be called the wheelhouse, and saying the driver steered the boat would have proven me to be woefully lacking in nautical terms. Fortunately I kept my mouth shut.

I leaped to the top of the wide sidewall to get a better view, the rubberized bottoms of my boots gripping the rubberized railing with ease. A small crowd of parish and state dignitaries and uniformed officers from various interconnected agencies policing the river were standing well back of two bodies, which were lying on the deck in a tangle of ropes and netting. There was a buoy of some kind, a few dead fish trapped in the netting, and what looked like a midsized tree. Everything was wet and trails of river water ran off, as if the mess had been pulled from the water and dropped. I didn’t ask how everything got here, didn’t ask permission; I just stepped down to the boat deck and walked in as if I belonged there, then across the mess to the bodies.

From the comment about the human, tangled in the arms and hair of a vamp, I had expected to find a human man with a female vamp, which proved how stilted my own social and sexual expectations were. It was two males, both dressed in the ruins of gray uniforms and leather shoes, one with very long brown hair. Gray uniforms meant a Pellissier Clan blood-servant and scion, the ones who worked in the clan home itself, the ones most trusted. The rotted cloth suggested they too were from the reign of Leo’s uncle, Amaury.

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