Home > Dead Spots (Scarlett Bernard #1)(22)

Dead Spots (Scarlett Bernard #1)(22)
Author: Melissa F. Olson

The comic book shop, which was adorably called Nerdvana, was on a block with two dry cleaners and a day care center. Drop off your kids, read some comics! We couldn’t find a meter within a block or two, and Cruz shot down my suggestion that he use his special cop powers to secure illegal parking, so we ended up having to park a few long blocks away and walk back to the store. As we came in, I noticed a little sign above the door that said, No Cylons, replicants, or shoplifters allowed.

It was going to be that kind of day.

I stepped inside, Cruz at my heels. The store was one big rectangle, with bookshelves of comics lining the walls and four scarred and faded tables arranged in the open floor space. A glass counter with a cash register took up the back wall. It was 1:40 on a weekday, but each table held seven or eight guys and a huge stack of cards, with more cards spread around the tabletops in careful patterns. I could see a few cards with pictures of little weapons and elves and stuff. When I walked in the room, every single guy froze, staring at me with a combination of shame and resentment, as though I’d just walked into the men’s locker room and found them all jerking each other off. Great. I tried to look nonthreatening, and after a long moment, they all returned to playing, but the mood was subdued. Scarlett Bernard, professional buzzkill.

I took a few steps over to the wall, examining the comic titles, and then felt the brush against my radius that meant werewolf. I glanced up and locked gazes with Ronnie Pocoa, now fully clothed and bringing a few fresh decks of cards out from the back area behind the counter. Under the store’s bright lights, I realized he was a towhead, with ruddy cheeks and pockmarks dotting his face. Ronnie had to be in his early thirties, but had that baby-faced look of the perpetually timid. Or the perpetually victimized. You see that a lot with the wolves. Cruz stepped up beside me, and Ronnie looked from his face to mine, turning white. Then, to my surprise, he dropped the cards, turned around, and bolted from the room.

Cruz and I exchanged one of those quick What the...? looks, and without any advance coordination, he turned and ran out the front door, while I followed Ronnie through the back, trying to keep him within my radius. I was fairly fast, but if he got his werewolf strength and speed back, I’d never see him again. He knocked down piles of boxes and games behind him, trying to trip me up, but I stumbled my way around them. Ronnie raced through a door and into a narrow storeroom where a desk and file cabinet had been haphazardly assembled. I caught him just before he got to an emergency exit door on the far side of the room, grabbing the back of his T-shirt and rearing us both backward. We collapsed in a pile on the floor, and I scooted far enough to kick the exit door open, letting Cruz inside. All three of us were panting. Cruz leaned down to rest his hands on his knees. “What the hell...was that?” I gasped.

“Don’t kill me!” Ronnie screeched. “I won’t tell nobody!”

Cruz and I exchanged another look. I climbed to my feet, reaching a hand down to Ronnie. He stared at me, terrified, and I made an impatient come on motion. “Ronnie, I don’t know what you’ve heard, but I’m not going to kill you. This guy”—I nodded at Cruz—“is a cop. It would be seriously stupid for me to kill you in front of a cop. Do you think I’m that stupid, Ronnie?”

“No.”

“Awesome. Can we sit somewhere and talk?”

“Uh...I guess.”

Ronnie led us back into the main storeroom, pushing some of the overturned boxes around to create makeshift chairs. He seated himself closest to the door, which I ignored. Let him feel like he had an edge. I glanced at Cruz, indicating that he should take over. Interrogations aren’t really my thing.

“Ronnie, I’m Officer Cruz, with the LAPD. I’m not going to arrest you—yet. I just want to know what you saw the other night. Or...um...smelled.”

Ronnie’s eyes darted nervously back and forth between us. “So...he knows? About us?”

“Yes,” I assured him. “It’s okay.” His eyes didn’t leave my face, so I added, “Will knows all about it.”

He nodded then, turning back to Cruz. “Um...Well, I was running in the park,” he said uncertainly. “We do that sometimes, to stretch out. We go when the park’s closed, and we don’t hurt nobody.”

Cruz glanced at me with a question on his face.

“Their bodies have to change at the full moon,” I explained. “But most of them are strong enough to change a few other times during the month if they want to. It calms them.”

“Yeah. It helps.” Ronnie straightened up in his seat, a little more confident. “Anyway, I smelled blood, and it was strong. I had to go see what it was. And then I got close, and I felt something go by me, not too far.” He nodded at me. “It was you.”

“Right, after you came into the clearing,” I said.

“No, no.” He was shaking his head. “Before I got to the clearing. I was on my way, and I felt you go by, and I smelled the nothingness.”

“I smell?” I said, confused.

“No, you, like...You don’t smell, and everything else does. You’re a space in the smell.”

Huh. No one had told me.

“So, Ronnie,” Cruz broke in, “let me see if I understand this. You were on your way to the clearing, and you passed someone you thought was Scarlett, going in the other direction?”

“Yeah.”

“And then you came into the clearing, and you saw her and me.”

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