Home > Dead Spots (Scarlett Bernard #1)(3)

Dead Spots (Scarlett Bernard #1)(3)
Author: Melissa F. Olson

“You are late,” he stage-whispered. “Our situation has grown more complicated.”

No point in groveling. “I’m sorry. Tell me what’s happening.”

“I got a text message from a private number and came to see for myself,” he said shortly. “There are three bodies ahead; they have been torn apart. There is blood, so I do not think it was the vampires. Perhaps one of Will’s people.” Vampires, as a rule, don’t waste blood. Will is the head of the local werewolf pack. The werewolves in Los Angeles occasionally run around in the parks that close at sunset. LA is one of the rare cities where the Old World creatures share territory more or less in peace, though when push comes to shove, Dashiell is in charge. Witches and werewolves aren’t immortal, after all. It’s an uneasy peace, darkened by preceding centuries of tension, and it works best when everyone sticks to their own kind. Usually the vampires take care of vampire business, and the wolves take care of wolf business, but there is some overlap, especially when the perpetrator is unknown.

“What’s the complication?”

“A jogger ran through here two minutes ago, and she saw the bodies. You have only a few minutes before the police arrive.” He pointed toward a nearby clump of trees. “Go.” And just like that, he vanished.

I grabbed my duffel and sprinted toward the trees, fumbling to pull out a flashlight as I went. In cases where there’s a time crunch, you have to prioritize, and priority one would be the bodies. There would still be evidence without bodies, but the police couldn’t do much with a few bloodstains outdoors in a public park. I raced through the trees, trying to avoid roots and rocks, and stopped dead a quarter mile in, where I found a small clearing that had been painted red.

Chapter 2

I stared. I’ve seen dead bodies before, of course, and plenty of blood, but this was...very different. At first it just looked like meat, like one of those movies where the monster is blown to bits and the pink pieces fall down everywhere. Except, this time, the monster was actually people. I counted heads and came up with three. Their bodies had been carved open at the stomach, and the insides were pulled outside. All four limbs had also been separated from each body, though there was way too much blood for me to determine which had come first, the evisceration or the dismemberment. The limbs sat in a pile in the center of the clearing, with the body cavities and body insides stretched around them like petals on a flower. It was almost a pattern, and I suddenly thought of the squares on a patchwork quilt. The smell of blood—and other things—was overpowering, even to my human nose, and I realized that the blood was everywhere. Splattered on the scrubby little plants, the tree trunks. I saw enough spilled blood to wonder if the killer had deliberately hit every artery. Maybe he had. Fear suddenly wobbled in my stomach. I tried taking a woozy step forward, but the shock made it feel as if I were slogging through gelatin.

That was my first big mistake: I hesitated. My kind of crime scene cleanup is all about moving quickly—not only are you generally in a hurry, but you never want to take too much time to think about what you’re looking at. This, however, was the worst scene I’d ever been to, and I probably stared for a full minute, though I wasn’t exactly aware of the time passing. Finally, without taking my eyes off the carnage, I slid a hand into my duffel’s outside pocket and pulled out a heavy garbage bag, the thickest Hefty has ever made.

I had just pulled apart the bag’s folds, ready to snap it open, when a cop ran into the clearing from the opposite side. Suddenly, my head cleared and time sped back up.

“Police!” he hollered, gun pointed at my chest. “Show me your hands!” I let the garbage bag flutter to the ground and obediently raised my hands to shoulder height. He was young, around thirty, and Latino—and very handsome, even for LA. Under his leather jacket, I saw that his badge swung on a chain at his neck, just like the cops in movies. His gun barrel never strayed from me as he glanced about the scene and then swore in Spanish, his face paling to a sickly gray.

“Did you do this?” he demanded bluntly, and I just shook my head.

“Are you the only one?” I said stupidly, my tongue still thick.

“The rest are coming. Don’t you move.” He began to circle around the gore, stepping carefully on the scrubby grass. “Easy, now.”

He reached slowly for the handcuffs on his belt, and I realized for the first time the kind of trouble I was in. Even if I could convince the police that I wasn’t the murderer, I would be on their radar forever. My reputation for discretion would be ruined, if it wasn’t already, and I would probably lose my job. I took an automatic step backward, and then three things happened at once: I heard the first sirens, the cop opened his mouth to scream at me, and the werewolf burst into the clearing between us.

It was a male gray wolf, thin but still unmistakably, unnaturally huge, and it ran at an angle pointing straight toward the bodies, probably smelling the meat. The cop swung his gun toward the new threat, looking frightened, and the wolf saw this and tried to reverse directions. But it was too late: with its last few steps, it skidded just a little too close to me. I felt it cross the edge of my whatever, my blankness, and then the change happened in midair. A wolf had taken the leap, and a man crashed to the ground, naked and tumbling. He fell facing slightly away from me, and I saw the cop actually drop his gun with the shock of it.

This time I didn’t hesitate. I turned on my heel and raced back to the van. I threw open the driver’s side door and tossed my bag onto the passenger seat, trying to think over the sound of the police sirens. I started the van and threw it into drive, but instead of turning back toward home, I took the first left, across from the park entrance, and found myself in a small middle-class subdivision. Gotta love LA, where you can cross any street and be in a whole different town. The houses had bars on the first-story windows but not the second, which meant it was a decent, if not completely secure, neighborhood. I took two more quick turns and parked the van on the street near a house that still had its lights on. I turned off the motor and squashed myself down onto the floor in front of my seat. It wasn’t perfect, but I didn’t think I’d be able to get all the way to the highway before the cops came flying by. I tucked my hair under a dark baseball cap, opened the door, and darted around the van to slap on the big logo magnet I have that says Hunt Bros. Cleaning Service. Fake, but since my tax returns say that I am a professional housecleaner, I figured I could always piece together a story if needed. Any eagle-eyed insomniac neighbors wouldn’t have much to go on, just a cleaning service van parked outside a house where people were still awake. I just hoped that the cop at the crime scene hadn’t seen what kind of car I drove. I sent Dash a text message, shielding the phone’s glow with one cupped hand, and crammed myself down between the two front bucket seats to wait it out.

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