Home > Dead Spots (Scarlett Bernard #1)(16)

Dead Spots (Scarlett Bernard #1)(16)
Author: Melissa F. Olson

I glanced over. Cruz looked calm now, like he was thinking through his words.

“But this time it was so casual and everyday. Like it was...normal.”

“It was normal,” I pointed out. I felt his eyes on me. When I got to a red light and looked over, he was grinning.

“Yeah,” he said in wonder. “Yeah, I guess it was.”

Hair of the Dog—yes, I know, the most obvious bar name ever—is located in one of the funky little stretches of Pico on the West Side. It was after 1:00 a.m. when we arrived, but Will’s place is always busy. Ordinary humans like his microbrews, and the werewolves tend to hang around long past bar close. They’re a pack, of course, but they also tend to stick together just like anyone who shares a common malady.

We came in the front door, and the bartender, an African American werewolf in her late twenties, looked up and nodded at me. I threaded my way toward the bar, Cruz lagging behind me as he tried to study the decor. I’d explained where we were going and why, but it hadn’t really prepared him for the bar’s effect: Will had set the place up to be sort of an overtly kitschy love letter to dogs and wolves. There are posters, cheap calendars, historic articles, Dog Fancy magazine spreads, etc. covering every inch of the brick walls. If you look really closely, you can even see a couple pictures of Will’s pack, disguised in wolf form. It’s a small space, so the effect is sort of like a den, I guess.

“Isn’t this a bit...on the nose?” Cruz murmured at my back.

“Yeah. It’s excessive. But Will’s a fan of the ‘hiding in plain sight’ approach.” To those in the know, it’s ironic and funny. To outsiders, well, lots of bars have themes.

At the bar, I asked for Will and learned that we’d beaten him, probably only by a few minutes. I ordered a Diet Coke and, playing a hunch, got a regular for Cruz. I carried the sodas to a battered wooden table that was as far as I could get from the rest of the bar patrons and settled down, with Cruz across from me.

After a long pull of the Coke, he began to study the people around us. “Bernard,” he said in a low voice, “why are half the people in this room staring at you?”

I glanced around. He was right. I was getting a lot of stares from the crowd. Most of them seemed curious but neutral, a few were a little pissed, and more than a few had the same pleased look of relief I’d gotten from Eli. When I closed my eyes and concentrated, I could feel all of them humming in my radius. I opened my eyes again. “Because right before we came in, half the people in this room weren’t human. Now they all are.”

“But they’re...you know. In people form.”

“It doesn’t matter. They never stop feeling the wolf. It pulls at them, like the vampires are pulled toward blood.”

“Really?”

I nodded, a little solemn, and explained about the magic residue. I’m really, really glad I don’t have to worry about ever becoming a werewolf. “Some of them love the feeling, but most have kind of a hard time.” I played with my straw, trying for inconspicuous. “Do you see the man from the park? I warn you, he may be wearing clothes now.”

Cruz smiled and glanced around, but shook his head. “No.”

“Damn. It would have been nice if it were just that easy.”

“Do you come here a lot?”

“I try not to. My being here, it messes with people. Some of them don’t mind—hell, a lot of them like it—but I try not to interfere.” Also, I tend to do stupid things like get drunk and go home with bartenders when I’m not really supposed to be drinking at all, since I’m continuously on call for crime scene cleanup. Sometimes, though, I get sick of being around normal people, who have absolutely no concept of my life.

Cruz just nodded, and I looked over at him, suddenly feeling a little girly rush of something like shyness. He was so good-looking—that perfect skin, warm eyes, full lips, muscle tone—I just kind of had to marvel at it. He looked a little flushed and excited but seemed to be handling all of this pretty well, all things considered.

“Don’t you have people you should be reporting to right now?” I asked him. “Aren’t you on the park case?”

“Technically, I was off duty at eight p.m., and I’m not due in again until eight a.m. I’m on my own time right now.”

Damn. So much for sending him off to his boss. “What kind of things are you guys investigating?”

He stared at me for a moment, then shrugged, probably figuring the same thing I had: we were in this together. “Today we were mostly trying to identify the victims, see what they had in common. That kind of thing can lead to a common link.” He hesitated. “Before, you mentioned the possibility that this wasn’t related to the Old World at all. Do you really think that could be true? Honestly.”

If I lied and said it looked human, would he leave me alone? But before I could respond, the bartender called my name and tilted her head toward Will’s office. I nodded my thanks. Before I could think about it too carefully, I said, “It’s possible, but I doubt it. The wolves run in that park, and there was so much blood everywhere, and it looked so ritualistic...It looked like a lot of other supernatural crime scenes I’ve seen.”

He stared at me, and I realized my mistake.

“You’ve seen a lot of crime scenes?”

Aw, crap. The thing is, I’m not all that great with subterfuge or politics—I’m not really a five-moves-ahead kind of girl. I caught the bartender’s eye again and held up one finger, rolling my eyes a little to suggest that the delay was Cruz’s fault.

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