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I’m not a patient person under the best of circumstances. Standing next to a dead man on a cold city sidewalk is not one of them. Add in the fact that I was the only homicide detective on the scene, and had been standing around stamping my feet and rubbing my hands together for almost half an hour, and you could kiss any patience I started the night with goodbye.
I grabbed Officer Martinez by the elbow as he walked past, headed to his patrol car.
"Where in seven hells is CSU?"
He shrugged. "Sorry, Detective Wilder. There was a drive-by shooting on Archer Avenue. Could be another forty minutes. We’re low priority to night."
I looked back at the dead man. Under the flickering sodium light his cheeks were gray hollows and his eyes receded until there was only black. He was thin, with grayish skin that puddled around his neck and wrists. A tan uniform shirt did nothing to cover the track marks on his forearms, between his fingers, in the fold of his elbow… everywhere. If I took off his shoes I’d find them in his ankles, his toes, and anywhere else a vein might be hiding.
A simple OD doesn’t usually warrant a homicide detective, but I had been driving to work and picked up the call. It was a block away, so I swung by. By the way the dead guy smelled, I was wishing I hadn’t. He was stale—stale skin, stale sweat. The tang of cooked heroin burned the back of my mouth as I inhaled.
"CSU is on the way, Detective!" Martinez called from his patrol car. I rolled my shoulders. Thank the gods. I was in a bad neighborhood with limited backup, and someone in the dark row houses that lined the street was probably itching to shoot me right this second.
"You want a cup of coffee, Detective? I got a thermos in the prowler."
I shook my head at Martinez, who looked sweetly disappointed. He was baby-faced, stocky and short, but had blazing black eyes and big hands that could probably snap a suspect in half.
"I don’t drink the stuff."
"Something a little stronger?" He pulled his blue satin jacket aside to show me an engraved silver flask. My mouth quirked.
"Your captain know you have that?"
"Don’t ask about the captain’s late-night lady visitors, he won’t ask about what you do on patrol." Martinez grinned back at me. "Hey, don’t take this as a come- on or nothin’, but you look familiar. You didn’t just transfer in, did you?"
I sighed. It had to happen sooner or later. Savvy editors had slapped my headshot from the police academy on the front page of every major newspaper in Nocturne City. Above the fold. "I’ve been on medical leave for three months. Just got back today."
"Three months…" Martinez’s gears ground for a second and then he blurted out, "Hex! You’re that cop that killed the DA!"
"Former DA," I growled, "and it’s not like he didn’t try to kill me—and call a daemon—before I did something about it."
"Holy shit," said Martinez, slapping his leg. "We got all your clippings up in the locker room at the precinct house. There was a pool whether they’d let you back on the force or Section-8 you."
I had an unpleasant flash of Dr. Merriman, my department-appointed psychiatrist, and beat it back. "Can I assume you bet against me?"
"Hell, no," said Martinez. "You’re a tough bi—er, lady. I knew you’d be back."
"Your confidence is touching," I told him, and turned back to the body. Suddenly, the company of a dead junkie didn’t seem so bad. At least he couldn’t point and whisper.
I was going through the black messenger bag emblazoned with a fancy winged- foot logo and the legend messenger of the gods when the CSU van pulled up.
A black Lincoln with the seal of the city medical examiner parked behind the van, and Bart Kronen exited after a fight with his seat belt. He brought a canvas tote bag holding the tools of his trade and waved to me with his free hand.
"Good to have you back, Detective! What present have you got for me this evening?"
"Nothing exciting, I’m afraid," I said as a CSU camera clicked and lit the scene to blinding daylight with a flash. "Just your standard street OD." I gestured to the one lit row house a block away. "I figured he came out of that shooting gallery and dropped dead before he realized he’d gone past the point of no return."
Kronen checked the man’s pulse perfunctorily and then wiggled the arm. It moved like a store mannequin, all stiff joints. "Rigor is fixed, skin is close to ambient temperature… dead less than six hours. Can’t be more specific, I’m afraid."
I shrugged. "Makes no difference to me, unless someone jabbed him with that needle against his will."
Kronen flashed his light over the man’s hands and fingernails. "No trace evidence that I can see." He lifted the lids of the staring eyes and examined them. The dead man had had green eyes, a bright grassy color that was already fading.
The pain caught my gut, a physical sensation to go with a memory of dark green eyes and shaggy auburn hair falling across them like autumn leaves on a deep pond. Hex you, Dmitri. Hex you and the ground you walk on.
"Now this is interesting, Detective. Detective?"
As quickly as he’d come, he was gone, fading into a cloud of clove smoke and gravelly laughter.
I crouched next to Kronen, trying not to wince when he poked the dead junkie’s eyeball with a rubber-tipped finger.
"See this here?" He indicated spidery columns of red drifting across the white.
"Little late for drops," I said. Kronen’s mouth curled in displeasure. I stopped smiling.
"This is petichial hemorrhaging," he said. "A bursting of miniature blood vessels on the surface of the eye."
"So?" I said.
Kronen snapped off his light and stood, fixing his tie and expansive waistband. "This is not consistent with a heroin overdose. Petichia usually occur when the brain is deprived of oxygen."
"He wasn’t strangled," I said defensively. "He’s just dead." I was competent, dammit. I didn’t need to be walked through my own crime scene like a first- year patrol officer. I’d know if someone was strangled, thank you.
Kronen went about tucking all of his accoutrements back into their case, and he pulled out a clipboard, initialed a report of a white male, dead on the scene, and handed it to me to sign as the ranking responding officer.
"I have no idea what could have happened to him," he said. "But once I do the post I’m sure all will be revealed. In the meantime, do you… detect… anything?"
My pen froze mid-signature. "Exactly what’s that supposed to mean, Bart?"
He spread his hands. "Well, after the incident with Alistair Duncan certain… rumors have been flying heavily. If you can put your abilities to good use, it might speed a cause-of-death determination along."
I flung the pen down and shoved the clipboard back at him. "I don’t know what you think you know, Bart, but you’re barking up the wrong damn tree." He looked like a perturbed owl, eyes wide, as I snarled, "I’m not a trick dog," and stormed away up the street.
My hands were shaking and I compensated by stomping my motorcycle boots on the pavement. I’m a werewolf, and thanks to the debacle with Alistair Duncan, anyone who read the Nocturne Inquirer knew it, which included most of the department.
Kronen probably had no idea he was being insensitive, and I was a bitch for snarling at him, but since the Hex Riots, weres and witches don’t enjoy the best reputation. Or any kind, except as the thing under your bed that you pretend doesn’t exist.
And Hex it, I wasn’t a hound dog that could sniff clues on cue. Being were didn’t mean a shiny package of heightened senses that made my job easier. It was that, and uncontrollable rage and strength that could separate someone’s head from their neck if I ever let myself off lockdown.
I’d only met one person who knew what that felt like, and he was somewhere on the other side of the world.
I breathed in, out, and willed myself to turn around and go back to the scene, knowing that everyone currently clustered around the body was talking about me.
Down the street, light spilled out of the condemned row house as a door opened and another scarecrow started up the walk toward me. He saw the patrol car, Martinez, and the CSU techs. He used what was left of his brain and ran.
"Better and better," I muttered, taking off after the live junkie. I figured if he was sprinting he probably knew something about the dead one. I caught up with him after a block and used my arm like a battering ram to drive him into the iron fences marching up the sidewalk.
"Get off!" he yelled, shoving back and making me stumble off the curb. I windmilled and caught myself on a rusted-out Ford, panting in surprise. Not many plain humans can stand up to were strength.
He was fumbling in his coat for something undoubtedly hazardous to my health when I brought my service weapon to bear between his eyes. Just a Glock nine-millimeter, nothing special, but it does the job. The junkie froze, hollow chest fluttering from the exertion.
"Police officer," I said. "Show me your hands."
A shiver ran through him. "Don’t shoot." "Give me one reason not to, good or bad," I said, thumbing the safety off. His hand was still inside his jacket. His eyes held entirely too much panic for me to be comfortable.
"Please don’t shoot."
"Get your hands behind your head!"
He didn’t move, just watched me, unblinking.
"Show them to me!" I ordered again.
"It will be all right," he said in a low singsong voice. "Just calm down. We’re fine." In the low light, my were eyes saw his arm tense as he gripped what ever was inside his jacket.
"Please don’t kill me, Officer," he begged as I saw his hand come out of his pocket in gut-twisting slow motion.
I should have pulled the trigger. It would have been a good shooting, because unless the guy was the most idiotic plain human in existence he was armed and he was going to kill me.
My finger dropped to the trigger, everything happening in two clock ticks but seeming to draw out forever as my blood buzzed in my ears. The were instincts living in my hindbrain screamed Shoot!
"Please," he hissed again.
I didn’t shoot. I froze, like my limbs were encased in glass. What if he was just high? If he wasn’t armed I’d be a murderer. I was already a murderer…
The curved knife came at me in a blur. My better reflexes threw me sideways and I landed on my gun with a hot pain in my ribs. The junkie was on me, face wild, knife like a silver claw poised above my eyeball. I braced and kicked out, rolling us over so I was on top. I hit him one sharp blow to the side of the temple and he went limp, fingers relaxing his grip on the weapon.
Martinez came pounding up with one of the CSU techs. "You okay?" he asked me, training his ser vice weapon on the unconscious man.
I stood and brushed myself off. I didn’t smell any blood, but I’d have to check myself under better light. A ragged piece of black hair brushed my face, and I reached up to feel a chunk lopped off. The knife had come within millimeters of my left eye.
"Hex me," I muttered. "Cuff this piece of crap," I said to Martinez. "You can run him over to the Twenty-fourth Precinct. I’ll meet you there."
I pulled my leather jacket around me tightly as I walked away, so they wouldn’t see I was shaking.
Excerpted from Pure Blood: A Nocturne City Novel by Caitlin Kittredge.
Copyright © 2008 by Caitlin Kittredge.
Published in 2008 by St. Martin’s Press
All rights reserved. This work is protected under copyright laws and reproduction is strictly prohibited. Permission to reproduce the material in any manner or medium must be secured from the Publisher.