Read an Excerpt
By Caitlin Kittredge
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 2010 Caitlin Kittredge
All rights reserved.
When you're a cop, you learn fast that any attempt at a nice evening out can and will be spoiled by a dead body.
The restaurant was Macpherson's, an upscale steakhouse with medium-rare walls and décor made of antlers, and my dining partner was Agent Will Fagin, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms. More than just my dining partner, really ... I guessed that William Fagin was, after six months of steady dating, my boyfriend.
I don't do well with the boyfriend/girlfriend designation, but we went out on too many dates to be friends with benefits and stayed in too often to be friends, period.
Will smiled at me over his porterhouse. He had a great smile. Great everything, if you wanted to quantify it — forty years ago he would have been staring back at me from a movie-house poster. Thick blond hair, dancing black eyes, a long skinny frame that belied strength and manly prowess and all of that stuff that women supposedly swoon over in a boyfriend.
"I get something on my face?" he asked, running a hand along his mouth.
"No," I said. "Sorry."
Will's eyes gleamed. "You were staring at me like you're thinking hard. That never bodes well for me."
"I was just thinking about what this is," I said, gesturing with my napkin at the table, the near-empty wineglasses and the remains of my New York strip, the crumbs in the bread basket. Will held up his hand.
"Say no more. That what is this talk never ends in anything except me sleeping on a sofa, so I'm going to ask for the check and we're going to head back to your apartment and have great sex until we forget about this conversation."
I laughed, pulling Will's hand down and covering it with mine. "If you let me finish, I was going to say that for me, this is good. It's the first time it's been good — calm — since I was in high school, and I like it. Gods, you're neurotic sometimes."
Will turned my hand over, running his thumb along my palm. "The offer to go back to your apartment still stands, Lieutenant Wilder."
I was about to tell him that sounded like a fine idea when my BlackBerry chirped from inside my purse. As the lieutenant in charge of the Supernatural Crime Squad for the Nocturne City Police Department, I was never really off call. The brass liked me to show up at crime scenes, wave to the news cameras, prove to the plain humans of Nocturne City that their pet werewolf detective was on the job.
"Hold that thought," I told Fagin, praying it would just be a text message from my cousin Sunny and not an emergency call.
My luck is never that good. Code 187, Pier 16, Port of Nocturne, the message read. It came from Javier Batista, one of my detectives who had started picking up overtime and doing night shifts a few days a week.
"What's the word?" Fagin said, forkful of steak poised halfway to his mouth.
"Homicide down at the port," I said. "Batista wants me at the scene."
Will shrugged. "It happens. Don't take all night, doll." He leaned across the table and kissed my cheek, then turned around and called for our check. One of the benefits of having a man who has the same job you do — he may not like it, but he can't very well complain about the odd hours and the rushing off and the constant low background noise of the job in your everyday life.
I was already jogging out of the restaurant when he pulled out his credit card to pay. I got my 1971 Chevy Nova out of hock from the valet, who looked at the car like it personally offended him when it rumbled up at the curb. He did not receive a tip. My baby might not be pretty, but it had a decent amount of power under the hood and a roomy, boxy interior that I favored for things like changing out of a couture dress into jeans and a blouse in the front seat.
I pulled around the corner into the alley, wriggled into a pair of battered jeans that had seen more than one washing to take blood, fingerprint ink or plain grime out of them already and a plain black blouse. I was a lieutenant now — torn T-shirts and leather jackets were a thing of the past. Sadly. I kicked off my Chanel pumps — vintage, like most designer clothes worth wearing — and slipped on a pair of motorcycle boots that I kept on the passenger seat. Another thing you learn fast as a cop — have a change of clothes handy. You never know what will get spattered on you at a crime scene. Wardrobe change accomplished, I put the Nova in gear and drove.
The Port of Nocturne is a sagging, rusting collection of warehouses, piers and cargo containers stacked like a dystopian labyrinth along the broad main avenue that stretches like a skeletal finger into the dark water of Siren Bay.
I rumbled up to the gate, flashing my bronze shield at the gatehouse guard. He waved me on. "Your people are down at Pier 16. Hell of thing."
Well, wasn't he a ray of sunshine. I drove through the stacks of cargo containers, the sodium lights spitting in the light mist rolling off Siren Bay. It was mid-March, that dank, chill time when even sunny California hunkers down and hibernates until spring. Nocturne City, poking out into the Pacific, felt the chill more than most.
Batista's unmarked car and a pair of patrol units were at the entrance to the pier, and a small cluster of officers milled around, staring at something in the water.
I reached over and grabbed my tub of VapoRub out of the glove compartment. As a werewolf, I have the heightened sense of smell to go with the temper, the strength and the once-a-month bloodlust, and floaters never smell all that great even if you're a plain human.
"LT," Batista called to me, waving me over. I met him at the edge of the pier. Batista looked tired, rings under his eyes and his normally tanned and healthy face sallow. "It's a bad one. My wife is gonna kill me when I don't come home at six."
"How's Marisol?" I asked. His wife was the reason he was working nights.
"Pregnant, as is usual these past few months," he said. "Morning sickness, and I'm still pulling double shifts to pay for the kid's nursery, and his college fund, and God knows what else."
I patted him on the shoulder. "I'll make sure you clock out on time, Javier."
"I appreciate it, jefe." He gestured to the water. "She's caught up against the pilings. I called the ME and he's en route, but it's definitely a homicide."
"And the SCS caught this how?"
"One of the first responders, Natchez, says he recognizes her. Says she's a were."
Freaking fantastic. "All right," I said, taking out my penlight and walking to the edge. The water was black and oil-slick, the weak lighting catching the detritus and spills floating on the surface.
The girl's face floated up at me on the gentle swell of the waves, caught just below the surface of the water. She had pale hair that drifted in the current like sea life, wide staring eyes and an open mouth, everything pale and bleached by her time underwater.
I saw a gaping stab wound in her sternum, dark against the translucent skin. It was ugly and broad, nothing clean or surgical about it. The girl was wearing a black miniskirt, mesh top and bra. Club clothes. She'd been having a good time somewhere, and ended up here, suspended in the filthy water of the port.
"Call the rest of the team, will you, Javier?" I said, standing up from my crouch. "Once we get her out of the bay, I want this wrapped up quick."
"Sure thing, LT," he said, pulling out his cell phone. The rest of the detectives in the SCS wouldn't be happy about getting rousted out of bed, but a dead were girl warranted it. Were packs are territorial and hostile on a good day, and when one of their number is killed, they close ranks faster than a bunch of bad cops facing an Internal Affairs investigation.
I walked over to the knot of uniforms and found Officer Natchez, tall as a beanpole and curly-haired. "You told Detective Batista you recognized the victim?"
"Yes, ma'am," he said. "I worked private security before I joined the force and her family hired me for a few events." He pushed a hand through his hair. "This is pretty awful. She was a nice kid."
"And this nice kid's name would be?"
"The family is Dubois. The girl was named ... Lila or Lisa or something. I'm sorry, ma'am. I can't recall."
Dubois didn't ring any immediate alarm bells as bad-ass pack members, but at least we didn't have to faff around with dental records or DNA for an identification. Unless Natchez was wrong, which was entirely possible, judging from his shell-shocked expression.
"This your first floater?" I said gently. He nodded.
"We don't catch much worse than junkie ODs or bar fights, ma'am. I was going off shift and I heard the call."
"Take a break," I said. "I'm sure my detectives and the CSU team could use some coffee."
"Okay," he said, and got into his patrol car, backing away from the pier. It's all about delegating at the crime scene — an officer who's losing his shit is worse than worthless for actual police work. Plus, everyone needs coffee.
"Sawbones is here," Batista said. "And I've called in."
"Great," I said absently. I was watching the second car behind the ME's black city Lincoln. It was a pale green hybrid, the sort of thing that Will — and me, too, I freely admit — would have dismissed as a "chick car." Sure enough, a chick was driving it, and she got out from behind the wheel in a swirl of Columbo-esque tan trenchcoat.
"Lieutenant Wilder?" she called. I sized her up as she came over. Brown hair, carrying about twenty over her ideal weight, flattering, flaw-minimizing pantsuit, makeup that was way too good for this time of night.
"Help you with something?" I said.
"I'm Detective Lane, with Special Victims," she said. "You can call me Natalie, though."
I cocked my eyebrow at her. "Right. Good to know. Was there something you wanted?"
"Oh, yes, actually. I got the call that there was a minor homicide."
"I appreciate you coming down," I said perfunctorily, "but we've got it under control."
"If the victim is under eighteen that makes it SVU jurisdiction," she said. "The rules are in place for a very specific reason, mostly to prevent cross-contamination of sensitive investigations ..."
"Detective Lane." I held up my hands. "I appreciate that your captain yelled at you and made you drive down here, but the dead girl is a were. That makes it an SCS case."
"Actually," she said, "it was Deputy Chief Beck. Your boss? He requested someone from Special Victims liaise this case to cover all of the bases."
I shut my eyes for a second, praying for self-control. Beck never did a thing with the SCS unless he was haranguing me for something he figured I'd done the wrong way. He preferred to cozy up to the lieutenants and captains in Vice and Narcotics, who were men and didn't turn fuzzy on the full moon.
I hated the guy, but if he'd set this perky soccer mom with a badge on me, there wasn't much I could do except act bitchy and complain a lot.
"All right," I snapped, since complaining never did anything for me. "If I'm stuck with you, hang back and don't expect a warm, friendly group hug from the rest of my squad."
LaneI got the feeling shesorry, Natalie — blinked. I got the feeling she was used to her sweet round face and perky demeanor making people nice and cooperative. "I ... All right. You're the ranking officer."
"What do you know. You can recite protocol." I was probably being nastier than I strictly had to be, but I resented Chief Beck sending some white-bread kiddie cop to babysit me. I was good at my job — two years on the street, five in Homicide and nearly a year heading up the SCS.
Ignoring for the moment the suspensions, write-ups and general chaos that had categorized my time as a detective, I went to meet Bart Kronen, the night-shift medical examiner.
"Only the good die young," he greeted me. "I'll wait for CSU to take a few scene photos and then we'll get her out of the water."
The techs showed up in short order and once they'd documented the scene, Kronen laid out a body bag and then got one of the patrol officers to lend him a rope from his prowler car.
"A bit of help, if you please," he said to the scene at large. No one moved, so I came over.
"We will attempt to slip the rope around her torso to avoid unnecessary damage to the skin," he said. We laid down on our stomachs, the girl's face staring back at us. The rope looped around her skinny torso, and Kronen drew it tight. "Pull, Lieutenant Wilder. If you please." We got to our feet and drew the girl up and out of the dark water. Even waterlogged as she was, she weighed barely enough to strain my arms.
I'm stronger than a human, but even Kronen only gave a slight wheeze as we lowered her into the body bag. He crouched, unzipping his portable kit. Lane crowded at my shoulder.
"Poor girl. She can't be more than seventeen." She bent down to examine the body and Kronen cleared his throat loudly. I reached out and pulled Lane back by the shoulder of her coat.
"Let the doc work. Save the Oprah moment for later."
"Cause of death appears to be mutilation to the left upper chest," Kronen said. "She most likely bled out, accounting for the lack of lividity in her skin."
He took a pair of tweezers and plucked at the edges of the wound. The top layer of skin sloughed off, with a sound like wet paper bunching. Lane's face lost color and she let out a small, choked sound. Kronen had the grace to pretend not to notice. "By the condition of her dermis, I would estimate that she's been in the water at least twelve hours. Time of death will be difficult to fix because of the condition of the body."
He probed the wound further, and his forehead furrowed. "Hmm. That's odd."
"What?" I said. Kronen finding things "odd" was never good. After twenty years as a Nocturne City ME, he was about as hard to rattle as an android.
"Her heart," he said. "It appears to be missing."
"You mean it's hacked up?" Lane said. "That wound looks pretty severe. Maybe she got impaled on something."
"No," Kronen said. "Her ribs have been cracked. Her heart is not damaged. Her heart is gone."
I cocked my head. "Gone?" Just when you think you've seen everything.
"That's what I said," Kronen agreed mildly. "I think we're done here. Zip her up and I'll get her back to the morgue."
"I want her autopsied ASAP," Lane said. "This isn't some hooker we're dealing with. This is somebody's daughter."
Kronen gave a stiff nod and gestured for the coroner's assistant to zip up the body bag.
Lane noticed me glaring at her after a second. "What?"
I crossed my arms. "A hooker is somebody's daughter, too."
"You know what I meant," Lane said. She at least had the grace to turn colors under the sodium lights.
Just because the body leaves the scene doesn't mean there isn't still a crapton of work to do. The rest of the SCS trickled in, and I assigned them each to a sector of the scene to process it.
David Bryson, whom I'd known in Homicide, looked rumpled and red-eyed from lack of sleep. Andy Zacharias, a rookie detective who'd been initiated into my squad by being the hostage of a bunch of off-the-reservation Thelemite cultists, looked like he'd either been awake waiting for my call or mainlined a whole lot of caffeine.
"Andy." I corralled him, as Bryson and Batista started looking for tire tracks along with a CSU tech.
"You look nice, ma'am," he said, gesturing to my upswept hair and makeup. "Date interrupted?"
"None of your damn business, Andy," I said cheerfully. "I need you to find the security office and pull their footage for this part of the port. If we're lucky, everything is on tape and we can wrap this up before the weekend."
Hunter Kelly was the last to arrive, and with Andy shooed away from anything that would actually get him into trouble, I caught him at the yellow tape. "I need to ask you something."
Kelly, who's built like a surly Irish tree trunk and about as expressive, grunted. "Shoot."
"Is there something that a witch would need a human heart for?" I said. Kelly was a warlock, a battle witch, and I figured if anyone would know about the icky, slasher-film stuff he would.
Kelly shrugged. "Lots of things. You can eat your enemy's heart for prowess in battle. You can preserve it to bind someone to you in spirit for eternity. And it's a punishment."
"That, I agree on," I said. "Losing internal organs usually isn't a fun, lighthearted romp through the park."
Excerpted from Daemon's Mark by Caitlin Kittredge. Copyright © 2010 Caitlin Kittredge. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.