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"That's a dead vampire."
Selena Ward, my boss, raised an eyebrow. "Uh-huh."
"You dragged me out of bed, to a disgusting alley on Granville Streetat two in the morningto see a dead vampire?"
She handed me the clipboard with the MCS entry log. Anyone entering a mystical crime scene has to sign in first, just like a regular crime scene. The only difference is that some of our responding officers aren't human. The scene was divided into three zones with a base of operations, or staging area, near the far end of the alley where extra photographic equipment, evidence bundles, and chemical reagents could be stored in portable kits. The perimeter around the vampire's body was taped off as the primary focal point, with access far more restricted than the outer edges of the scene. It all seems orderly until you have to explain to a high-ranking investigator that she should really get the hell out of your way. I'll admit itI did get a secret pleasure out of that sometimes. There weren't any doors or fire-escapes at the back of the alley, so the only natural point of entry and exit was the street.
"Take a closer look," Selena said. "Make sure to put on gloves."
Tasha Lieu, our Medical Examiner, gave me a wink as she passed by. "Just released the scene, so it's all yours."
"Thanks, Tash." Selena looked tired.
I was already fishing the gloves out of my purse. "Sorry to call you out so late," I said sheepishly. I'd always assumed that Tasha had some type of normal human life outside of the CORE, unlike the rest of us. She was an intensely private person, and all I really knew about her was that she lived in Marpole and had a Calvin and Hobbes cartoon strip taped on the wall above the autopsy sink.
"No worries, I'm a night owl. See you at the morgue, bright and early tomorrow morning. I should have the post done by the time you get there."
I swallowed. "Yeah, great. See you there." It was just like a trip to the dentist, only the dentist was a vivisected corpse. Not my idea of a sweet morning. Tasha waved and left the scene, stepping carefully over the caution tape.
"Where's Siegel?" Selena's frown had deepened. Shit.
"Parking. The strip is packed, as usual, so I sent him down to the seedier part of Nelson Street. He may have to fend off some goth-chicks, but he'll survive."
West Granville was Vancouver's nightclub district, and its irregular streets were an explosion of noise and neon light. Hipsters danced the night away at Aquarius and The Plaza, while underage kids drank pitchers of cheap Molson at The Roxy. After last call, the strip became a drunken labyrinth of kids eating hot dogs and fries from late-night vendors, taxi cabs dodging each other, and police cars wailing their sirens. Just another night in Terminal City, as Vancouver was often called, since the only thing beyond it to the west was ocean. Like Shangri-La. The end of everything. No wonder demons liked it here so much.
"Funny lady." Derrick Siegel emerged from behind the yellow tape, smiling apologetically. "Right here, Selena. SorryI had to"
"park the car, yes, I heard." She rolled her eyes. "Just put some gloves on and follow us. Apparently there are four different concert venues spilling out drunken teenagers onto Granville right now, and I'd like to avoid a security leak."
Neither of us looked like we belonged at a crime scene. Derrick was wearing a pajama top and rumpled blue jeans with a jacket hastily thrown over. The jacket was probably Kenneth Cole: Derrick was the only person I knew who would wear designer clothes to a crime scene. He'd learned some tricks over the years, though, and he was wearing old shoes this time. Black runnersthe kind that he'd normally never be caught dead in. I was wearing the same. Try scrubbing blood out of a new pair of Charles David boots. I learned that lesson quickly, and now I always brought sneakers.
A black cat was wandering about the scene, delicately avoiding a tripod stand as she surveyed the walls of the alley. This was no random stray, but rather Sophie, one of the trained forensic animals that the CORE employed for sniffing out magical scenes. Cats didn't have quite a broad sense of smell as dogs, but their olfactory nerves were more refined, which allowed them to detect a variety of demonic and nonhuman scents that lingered in the air long after a kill. Unlike dogs, alley cats like Sophie didn't need to be trained with a scent padshe simply roamed about the alley, did her thing, and let her trainer know if she found anything interesting. Cats don't exactly work on the clock, but they're more valuable to the CORE because their close proximity to magic allows them to sense the residual chemicals left over by strong materia flows. Why do you think they always followed witches around? Cats are strongly attracted to the smell of materia leftovers, or ‘frass,' as they're known. Like mystical catnip.
Sophie, however, didn't appear to be turning up anything tonight. She sniffed the air around the body disinterestedly, then flicked her tail and retreated. A handler returned her gently to the cat-carrier, and she immediately curled up and fell asleep. She was used to being around mystical crime scenes.
Selena had paged me around 1:30 AM, which was actually a pretty decent time, all things considered. I'd gotten calls a lot later than that. As an Occult Special Investigator, it was my job to do the preliminary investigation around any mystical crime scene in the Greater Vancouver Regional District and follow up on leads. Selena gave the orders, and I followed them. Most of the time. I used to be scared shitless of her, but three years of working together had softened our relationship.
Derrick and I were both junior employees for the Mystical Crime Lab unit of CORE, the Central Occult Regulation Enterprise. CORE was a transnational blanket organization that controlled just about everything mystical within North America and Europe. The City of Vancouver's crime lab was one of the best in Canada, with a fully equipped DNA testing site and separate pathology departments that included a standalone morgue. Vancouver may have had the reputation for being a quiet city when it came to violent crime, but as far as mystical disturbances were concerned, it was a hot spot.
Since I was only an OSI-I, the crime lab tended to give me probationary assignmentsthat is, the back-alley jobs like this one that nobody else would take. Derrick was on probation as well, but as a telepath he had a different union. I think. Office politics get kind of hairy when you're dealing with demons and mages.
We slipped on our Tyvek suits, which were modified to protect us from mystical as well as organic contamination, and then Selena led us to the body. It was a male vampire, lying almost peacefully near the back of the alley. His head was propped up slightly against the corner of a dumpster, and his shirt had been unbuttoned, revealing a smooth white chest that was otherwise unmarked. He was wearing a pair of dress pants and black shoes. Cheap Stuffthe kind you could pick up at an Eaton's sale. The guy looked like he'd just come from an accounting firm. His blonde hair was neatly trimmed, and he was clean shaven.
"Have a look," Selena said.
I knelt down beside the body. The photo techs were milling around me, snapping pictures from every conceivable angle with different filters for contrast in the dark. One photographer was taking reference shots of the alley with a 28mm lens, while the other snapped shots of various artifacts around the alley with a 55mm macro-lens for close-ups, placing evidence placards next to them to establish scale. A third technician was furiously scribbling notes in the photo log, trying to keep up with the others. All of the flashes gave the scene an even more macabre feel.
An occlusion, or perimeter field, had already been set up at the entrance to the alley. In order to work unhindered, we have to seal off the area from bystanders. The occlusion is a kind of mystical envelope that alters light wavelengths around the area. It has something to do with quantum packets, but I never really get the explanation. With mystical crime scenes, you have to preserve all the evidence while simultaneously hiding it from the general public, and that includes the Vancouver RCMP. Not always a simple matter in this city.
Vampires decomposed a lot more slowly than human bodies, so it was impossible to tell how long he'd been lying here. No insect activity, no temperature changes, and no postmortem interval to establish. But I was trained to detect even more subtle alterations. Einstein told us that energy can't be destroyedonly transformed. Every organism has an energy signature, an aura. Even the undead.
I passed my fingertips through the air a few inches above the vampire's chest. I could feel a faint differential in the energy flowsa trickle of something, like spider silk against my face. It made me want to sneeze.
"Feels sketchy. Maybe 48 hours ago, but I can't be certain. You know how tough it is to establish time-of-death with vamps."
"Derrick?" Selena gestured to the body. "You want to give it a try?"
It wasn't really a question. Derrick sighed.
"One of these days," he said, "I'd like to read the dying thoughts of a really happy person. Someone who expired in a bed full of puppies and bunny rabbits."
"I'll see what I can do," Selena said flatly.
Derrick knelt down beside me. He placed his gloved fingertips on the vampire's forehead, and closed his eyes.
I didn't really understand how Derrick's powers worked, since I wasn't a telepath myself. All I knew was that, just like I could sense auras, Derrick could sense faint neurological impressionslike letters pressed into wax, or soft slate. He couldn't always make sense of what he saw.
Derrick's body tensed up. He was trying to read the vampire's last thoughts, just like a laser would read a compact disc. When we die and our brains collapse, they send a myriad of electrical spasms throughout our bodies. Organic memory, it's called. Telepaths can try to access that memory and reconstruct it. Sometimes, a victim's last few seconds or perimortem interval, can be recovered.
Derrick was starting to sweat. I put a hand on his shoulder, tentatively, and his eyes flicked open. He lurched away from me, as if my touch had burned him.
"You okay, hon?"
"Tess." He said my name like it was unfamiliar. His pupils were huge and black. Then he blinked, shaking his head as if to clear it. "Sorry. That was intense."
"Did you see anything?" Selena asked. "Anything that makes sense?"
"A lot of it was a blur." He closed his eyes again. "There was a girl, though."
Selena leaned in closer. "A girl?"
He nodded. "I can't really make out her features. I think she's a teenager. Thirteen, maybe fourteen years old. She seems young."
"What else?" Selena was writing notes on a pad.
"Fire." Derrick swallowed again. "Some kind of fire. Something burning, but I can't tell what." He nearly gagged. "A horrible smell."
I flinched at the word ‘fire.' Memories I didn't want to deal with. Screams I couldn't bring myself to hear again. I looked away to hide my stricken expression. I don't think Selena noticed.
Only things and people burnnot the past. I heard my old teacher's voice, sighed, pushed it down. You can't bring people back. It's not like in the movies.
Mostly, magic is just a bitch.
"I could feel intense fear," Derrick said. "Not of the fire, butsomething else. Whatever killed him must have been extremely powerful."
"Not necessarily," I said. "I think he was newly minted. Inexperienced. A lot of higher demons might have been able to scare him."
One of the photographers was leaning close to me, peering at the vampire's body. I pushed his camera away.
"Something we can help you with?"
He grinned sheepishly. He was just a kidbarely twenty, at bestwith one of those spiky faux-hawk cuts that was currently popular, hair sticking out every which way. He looked like he should be at a rave, not at a mystical crime scene.
"Sorry, Miss Corday." Points for knowing my name, at least. "I just don't get itshouldn't he be dust?"
"Vampires only dessicate when they're exposed to direct sunlight," Selena explained. "And even that takes a while. But this guy doesn't have a mark on him. No beheading, no heart trauma. Under optimal conditions, a vampire body like this could avoid decomp for a few days, maybe even a week."
"He looks so peaceful," Derrick said.
"I know. Almost like he's been posed this way." I turned to Selena. "Any way for us to tell if the body's been moved?"
She shrugged. "Hard to say with a vampire. No lividity marks, and you know how weird their blood chemistry isblood and plasma don't separate in the same way. I think we'd just be guessing."
Most bodies decomposed in a uniform fashion. As the process of cell-death, or autolysis, went to work, the body was devoured from the inside. All of the bacteria, the intestinal flora, that protected us in life now began eating away at the vital organs. Without any cardiac momentum to pump it through the arterial system, blood separated into plasma and serum, producing a marble-effect as it settled throughout the flesh. But none of this was evident on the body of a vampire. Their rate of decay was too bizarre for even CORE pathologists to determine any kind of pattern.
Two investigators were probing the area around the body with long, black-handled daggers that shone like snowflakes in the dim light of the alley. The athame was a ritual dagger used for channeling mystical energy, or materia, from a variety of sources, usually geothermic. Our bodies are like transistors that can absorb materia without the help of ritual tools like the athame, but the energyespecially the type used in combatcan be as harmful as radiation to the body. The athame works as a kind of circuit for the materia, breaking it down into a palatable stream that the body can absorb.
At the moment, the two investigators were using their blades as alternate light sources, manipulating the radiant-energy spectrum in order to produce more penetrative types of illumination within the darkness of the alley. One athame was calibrated to emit clear blue light, which would cause any stray fiber to flare up like a tendril of orange flame against the cone of blue. The second investigator was moving her athame in a slow arc like a flashlight, bathing the walls and floor of the alley with the purple glow of longwave ultraviolet light. She flicked the dagger momentarily, and the cone of purple narrowed to an intense line of burning mauveshortwave UV light, a new technology which could be used with a reflecting UV imaging system, or RUVIS, to reveal latent fingerprints. They fluoresced under the purple glow like writhing bruises, their loops, whorls, and tented arches glimmering like bright tattoos against porous wood and stone.
Derrick kept looking nervously at the vampire. "You're sure he's dead?"
"Yep. Again." I chuckled. "Sorry, I don't know why that's funny."
"Seems like a lot of expensive technology out here for a dead vampire," I said, noting one investigator as he began to carefully snap together the sighting rods for a total-station mapping device, which would be used to download 360-degree infrared pictures to a scene-reconstruction program like AIMS. That piece of equipment alone was worth far more than I made in a year.
"Marcus says we have to be thorough, given the delicate political situation," Selena replied. "We've got a vampire body with no visible wounds, which means that something must have killed him from the inside. We'll have to do an autopsy."
"Shit." I rubbed my hands to keep warm. "The vampire community won't be happy to hear that we're cutting up one of their own."
"We can do damage control later. We'll put a spin on it. For now, the body's in public view. It's fair game, and we found it first."
"That's kind of cold-blooded, don't you think?"
She blinked. "You want to send his family a card?"
I sighed. "Fine. Just trying to be politic for once."
"Leave that to me. Your job is to follow up."
"I know what my job is."
She handed me two evidence bags. There was a small, yellowed square of paper, folded up, inside the first bag, and a crumpled photograph in the second.
"From his pocket?"
Selena nodded. "The note is written in vampire script. I'll send it to questioned documents for analysis."
"And the picture?" I peered at it. One of the subjects was the dead vampirehe was grinning, eyes bright, arm wrapped around a woman's shoulder. I didn't recognize the woman, though. She had blonde hair and sharp blue eyes. She was smiling as well, but there seemed to be a hardness to the expressionalmost a hint of cruelty.
"What do you think?" I asked Selena. "Vampire sweethearts?"
"Could be. Audiovisual should be able to pull something out of it."
"So, other than this picture, and the note, we've got nothing?"
"Nada." Selena cast another look at the body. "We've already been over every inch of the alley with UV and IR lights. We sprayed every surface with luminol and swabbed his clothes with phenolphthalein. Not a drop of blood. Anywhere."
Luminol was a chemical reagent that reacted to the iron in hemoglobin. Spray it on a surface, turn the lights out, and it fluoresces. UV light works particularly well for that. Phenolphthalein was a bit trickiergenerally it was used for swabbing fabrics. Just add a drop of hydrogen peroxide, and if there's blood present, the swab turns purple. Our solutions were modified to detect the unique plasmids in demon blood, so our presumptive tests were species-specific. Goblin blood was pink. Like Klingon.
"A vampire dies without a mark on him, and there's no trace of blood. Seems unlikely. What about fibers?"
"None that we could find."
"There must be a print somewhere," Derrick said. "Nobody's that clean. Not even a trained killer. They always leave something behind, right? Locard's exchange principle: every interaction leaves a trace."
"Depends if it was another vamp. Prints come from a mixture of oil and amino acids, right? But vampire's don't sweat or produce oil. They're ghosts." Selena drew out a pack of smokes from her pocket. She stared at it ruefully for a moment, then sighed and put it back. I'd forgotten that she used to be a smoker. "If another vamp did this, we might never find prints. Aura traces, maybe, but getting a match will be impossible. And auras don't hold up in court."
A photographer's flash lit up her face momentarily, and I was struck by what a surprisingly beautiful woman she was. At nearly 6'1", she was tall enough to be considered statuesque. Lean and lithe, she had the kind of body that most women would kill for, although she made every effort to conceal it with grey pant-suits and men's shirts. She was wearing a tan jacket that made her brown skin look even darker, and her hair was tied up tightly. Selena wasn't the kind of black woman who let her hair down in public. I'd have killed to see what it looked like.
"What?" She asked. She'd caught me staring.
I looked away. "Nothing. Just wondering if the victim's own prints will pan out. We can run them through D-CODIS."
D-CODIS, our own version of the Combined DNA Indexing System, had all sorts of interesting DNA profiles that would have knocked the Vancouver Police lab techs right out of their chairs. Fortunately, our records were restricted.
I signed the tag on the evidence bag, then put it in my pocket. "I'll swing this by the lab on my way home. Anything else?"
"You leaving already?" Selena asked. "Why don't you stick around? There's still lots of work to be done here."
"I've got a meeting with Marcus at 6:30 AMsomething to do with my upcoming performance review." I exhaled. "I'd rather chew on napalm than deal with him so early in the morning, but I guess I don't have a choice."
"He does outrank both of us." Selena's grin was sympathetic. "Don't worry about the meeting. I'm sure it'll go fine."
"That's probably what they said to Napoleon. And Custer."
"C'mon." Derrick fished the car keys out of his pocket. "You have to drop me off in Kits, and I don't want you taking any of your rage out on the late-night joggers."
"Right. Let's go." I took the keys from him. "Maybe we'll stop at Denny's for an ice-cream sundae. I'm craving sugar."
"You just saw a dead body."
"What's your point?"
He sighed. "None whatsoever."