Flight from mayhem, p.18
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       Flight from Mayhem, p.18

           Yasmine Galenorn
 

  I didn’t recognize the expression but it was pretty self-explanatory when I thought about it. I was about to say something when the bushes parted. We readied ourselves, but it was just Ralph. He shifted back into human form and ran his hands through his hair.

  “I found him. He’s out there, all right, about a quarter mile into the trees. It’s not pretty, and the animals have been at him. You’d better call . . . well, who do we call? The locals or Chase?”

  Alex narrowed his eyes. “The local cops will be pissed if we go over their heads. I’ll call Chase and let him decide how to proceed. Meanwhile, you two get back in the car. We know the doppelgänger is likely to come back for Gerta—unless he’s been watching us tonight—and we don’t want to get caught off guard.”

  While he made the call, Ralph and I headed over to the car.

  “Be cautious in what you say. Gerta has it bad for Stone Weaver, and you don’t want to upset her.” I glanced over at Ralph, who nodded. “And, Ralph . . . whatever you choose to do about your sister-in-law, you know Alex and I will support you.”

  He snorted. “You had a talk with him, didn’t you? I know what you both think about this, but thank you for having my back. I can’t leave my Pack, Shimmer. They’re my blood, my family. I am bonded to them in a way neither you nor Alex can understand. We are born into the Pack. The Pack is our family, our blood, and we are bound by loyalty and heart. My brother turned his back on us, and he dishonored everything we stand for. I can’t let that act go without making reparations. And by Pack law, this is the way I can put it to right. I owe it to my family name, I owe it to my parents. I owe it to my sister-in-law.”

  My hand on the door handle, I paused. “Will you be happy?”

  He shrugged. “One thing I’ve come to learn in life—happiness isn’t a gift. You have to seek it out, to cultivate it. There’s never any guarantee in life, and joy? It’s not a right. And to be honest, there are far more unhappy ways to spend my life than married to a lovely woman and playing father to my nephews.”

  His fatalism startled me—I had always thought he was a dreamer. But he sounded a lot like me right now. As I opened the car door, I shot him a smile. “You’re right. And your sister-in-law is a lucky woman to have such an honorable man in the family. I hope you’re going to be happy, Ralph. I want you to be happy. And she deserves to be, too.”

  We settled into the Range Rover—me riding shotgun, Ralph sitting next to Gerta. Tonya was on the other side.

  Gerta let out a soft breath. “Did you . . . did you find him?”

  Ralph nodded, mutely. Gerta began to cry, silently, and we sat there, quietly, staring into the darkness as Alex returned to the car and we waited for the police.

  * * *

  Chase must have smoothed things over with the local PD because he and his men joined the Snohomish County police at the site. Ralph led them to the body while Alex and I waited with the FH-CSI team. Chase glanced at the Range Rover, where Tonya and Gerta were still waiting.

  “I’d like to question her. I asked Chief Sanders to let me do the talking. I told him she was Elder Fae and he didn’t want anything to do with the business. He’s frightened of all the Fae, Elder or Earthside, or Otherworld born, but he won’t admit it.”

  “Frightened of, or prejudiced against?” Alex asked.

  Chase let out a snort. “Is there much of a difference?” Then, answering himself, he said, “Well, actually, there is a difference. And Sanders isn’t prejudiced. He just doesn’t know enough about the Fae to be certain of how to act around them. He asked me to question Gerta so that he wouldn’t upset her by inadvertently saying the wrong thing. I told him what Ralph told me, that she was sweet on the victim.”

  “How did he die? Could you tell?” I didn’t want to go look, but I was curious.

  “Do you really want to know?” By the tone of his voice, Chase told me it wasn’t pretty.

  “No, I guess not.”

  But Alex interrupted. “We need to know if we’re going to do our job right. Give us the bare-bones details and spare the gore.”

  Chase ducked his head, his slicked-back hair gleaming in the light of the floodlights the men were setting up around the area. “Stone Weaver’s throat was sliced from ear to ear. Like the others, he was missing his eyes and tongue.”

  I winced, although I had to admit to myself, I felt less sorry for Stone Weaver than the others. He had been cruel to Gerta, stringing her along in order to satisfy his greed for her gold. He hadn’t been a very nice man, Fae or otherwise, and if the doppelgänger hadn’t come along, he would have continued to extort money from the Elder Fae.

  Alex must have caught my train of thought, because he shrugged. “The man was not without his own sins, that’s for certain. I don’t think the world is terribly worse off for his loss, at least as an ethical person. He was a genius, however, and it’s sad his work on the environment will stop.”

  “How are you going to work this with the locals?” I turned to Chase. “I know how territorial the human police can get.”

  “We’ve had a talk. Since this connects with the ongoing serial killer case I’m working on, they’ll report to me about the case. They asked if we should call in the FBI. I had to tell him what we’re up against. That the FBI won’t be able to help.”

  “Is there a federal version of the FH-CSI?” I was surprised that the Earthside governments hadn’t formed something of that very nature yet.

  Chase gave me a long look. “I haven’t told anybody this yet, and I’d appreciate it if you’d keep it quiet—though it’s not secret—but I’ve been tapped to help create one. They want me to move to Washington, D.C., on a temporary basis, and oversee the formation of a governmental Federal Supe Bureau of Investigation. The FSBI, it would be called. I have asked them to hold off for at least a few months, but I can’t tell them—or you—why. There’s so much the higher-ups don’t really know about, for everybody’s good, and I can’t talk to them yet. But in a few months, I’ll be flying down to Quantico.”

  I blinked. Chase seemed to be a fixture in Seattle. I wondered how his unit would get along without him. “Isn’t your wife the Queen of Elqaneve?”

  His eyes flashed and, although he still smiled, I had the feeling I had stepped hip-deep into a mud pit. “Sharah is not my wife, unfortunately. Not yet. But yes, she is my girlfriend and we have a child together. As I said, this will be a temporary situation, for six months or less. And really, it’s vital. They need someone who has been in the trenches. Someone who’s interacted with the Fae and the goblins and the bone-walkers every day, if they’re going to fully understand the cultural differences, the expectations, and the issues that can arise when humans interact with Supes, especially in the legal arena.”

  He paused as a couple of the local police walked by. They were headed toward the house with evidence bags. After they were out of earshot, he continued. “Anyway, the local boys are working hand in hand with us and they understand that they need to handle this case with kid gloves. Even if it’s not something the FBI could handle, the fact is that the doppelgänger could easily decide to start picking human victims, and then it would hit the papers.”

  I thought about what he said. “So most crime by the Fae . . . or other Supes . . . doesn’t get written up?”

  Chase froze, then let out a long grumble. “By the papers? No, it doesn’t. We have an agreement with Elqaneve and Y’Elestrial to do our best to keep events out of the news that are Supe-on-Supe. Unfortunately, the tabloids pick up on things ten times faster than the regular news agencies, and they always exploit it. But I agreed, when I helped create this agency, that we would . . .”

  “Whitewash Fae activities?” Alex let out a snort. “It’s always the same, isn’t it?”

  “No, it’s not, and I’ll thank you to keep your judgments to yourself. The fact is, it would be ten times worse for Otherworld citizens if
humans thought there were Fae serial killers and dem—” He stopped abruptly. “Let’s just say that it’s in everybody’s best interests if mortals don’t know everything that goes on behind the scenes. Hell, the hate groups are all over the vampires. And the Weres? They lump them in with the ‘if you’re not Earthborn, you must be a devil’ mind-set. What we are doing actually protects the Fae who come here to visit, as well as the ones who were born Earthside.”

  “Doesn’t protect vampires, though, does it?” Alex seemed determined to needle the detective and I wasn’t sure why. But then, it seemed like the type of night where anything could be taken as an offense.

  Chase stared him down. “I would like nothing better than to see vampire rights pass the legislature. I suggest instead of bitching about it, you put your energy toward making it happen. Because, Radcliffe, I don’t have time to play testosterone games. In the beginning, I might have. Now? I just want to catch this damned serial killer.” And with that, he stomped off toward the Range Rover.

  “Don’t antagonize him.” I glanced at Alex. “Why does he bother you so much?”

  Alex watched him for a moment. “I think he’s hiding something. I don’t know what, but I have the feeling . . .” He paused, then shrugged, shaking his head. “Eh, just call me a conspiracy theorist. I always think the government’s out to hide things from the public.” With that, he motioned for me to follow him and we headed over to the car.

  Chase—very gently—questioned Gerta. After she had told him everything, the detective pressed his lips together and slowly walked away from the car. Alex and I joined him.

  “The bastard kept her around for her tears, didn’t he?” He spoke softly, and I realized he was used to being around the Fae, whose hearing was extremely heightened.

  Alex, softening, nodded. “Yeah, he did. We aren’t sure what to do with her. She seems . . . very young, if you know what I mean.”

  “She’s Elder Fae, but I suppose even they have to be born. I’m used to dealings with ones who would soon as eat you alive as make a daisy chain.” Chase’s lips twisted into a sad frown. “What are your options? I don’t think the safe houses would be the best place for her.”

  I snapped my fingers. “Bette. Bette would know. She’s been around a long, long time, and I think she would be the best person to ask. She’s the only one I can think of.” That wasn’t saying much, given the short time I’d lived over Earthside, but it was the best I could do.

  Alex gave me a nod. “I think you’re right. I don’t have much truck with the majority of the Fae, except those who come to me as clients. But Bette might be able to come up with an idea. We’ll take Gerta back to the office with us and ask her when we get there. What time is it, by the way?”

  We had started out for Stone Weaver’s place around eight thirty and it was now almost twelve thirty—given we had had to wait for Chase and his men to come out. They were still examining the crime scene, but there wasn’t anything more we could do there. With the detective’s permission, we returned to the Range Rover and Alex slowly began to ease out of the driveway and down the road. Chase had promised to call us first thing with any information that might help us on the case.

  On the drive back to the office, Gerta stared out the window, saying nothing. She looked lost, and afraid, and I couldn’t help but wonder how she had first met Stone Weaver. But that was a question better left for later, for when the grief had had a chance to settle. I still didn’t fully understand why she had loved him—as I had told Alex, I was new to relationships, and the thought of loving someone who hurt me didn’t make sense to me, but then again, I wasn’t even sure I knew what love was.

  By the time we reached Seattle and eased into the parking lot next door to the office, I could sense Tonya’s weariness. Even though she had slept, she seemed tired. Alex and Ralph escorted Gerta inside, but I hung back, motioning to the witch.

  “Are you all right? You seem . . .”

  “Don’t mind me.” She flashed me a mirthless smile. “I’ve been thinking about love and relationships all the way back from Stone Weaver’s place. Gerta’s story struck a chord. She’s in love with someone who didn’t love her back. Kind of sounds familiar, doesn’t it?”

  Of course—Degoba. I was about to say that the circumstances were different, though—that she wasn’t like Gerta—but she beat me to the punch.

  “I realize that whatever hell I’ve been in over this, I made it myself. Degoba never once led me on. He never told me he loved me, and while we hung out, he never encouraged me to stay and he certainly didn’t hurt me. He was always good to me. I feel bad now . . . like I let him down by not attending his wedding, but that’s my own feelings of insecurity eating at me. He had to have known how I felt, but he didn’t lead me on. What happened to Gerta—that’s truly heartbreaking. And how will she ever know if someone wants to be with her because of who she is, or because of the gold that falls from her eyes?” Tonya hung her head. “I feel sorry for her.”

  “So do I. She has a long, hard road ahead. I’m hoping Bette might get through to her. Bette . . . once you get to know her, you’ll see she has a way of cutting through the layers. She can get straight to the point and somehow she makes the situation seem very clear.” I noticed Tonya was shivering. “Come on, it’s misty and cold out here. Let’s go inside.”

  But as we headed into the building, I couldn’t help but wonder: Was I clear on my relationship with Alex? I really didn’t know how I felt. I cared about him, but now I wondered if I was even capable of love. And if I was, would I know what it was when I felt it? With those thoughts and others running through my mind, I followed Tonya through the door, into the building.

  CHAPTER 12

  Gerta seemed tired, so Bette led her to one of the conference rooms where she could rest on a sofa, then returned as we discussed the situation. As she slid into the chair, the Melusine had a determined look on her face. “You have no idea how to catch this creature, do you?”

  Alex played with a bottle of blood, sliding it back and forth on the table. He looked grumpy, but then again, we hadn’t been running a winning streak lately.

  “No, to be honest. And I don’t think Chase does either. How do you catch somebody who can—whenever they want—transform to look like someone else? I called Johnson a few minutes ago. They’re wrapping up out at Stone Weaver’s place, and he said that he’s going to notify the banks Weaver frequented. He’ll tell them that if someone purporting to be Stone Weaver tries to make a withdrawal or transfer, to call the FH-CSI immediately. He can’t very well tell them it’s a doppelgänger, they wouldn’t understand, so he’s telling them there’s an impersonator defrauding wealthy Fae. But chances are the creature has already been there and wiped out every account it can. We’ll know more when the offices open, so Bette, love, will you do us a favor and get that information before you leave work in the morning?”

  She jotted down a note. “Sure thing. I’ve been thinking. The doppelgänger will move on pretty soon, so if we want to have a chance of catching it, we have to move now. I suggest . . . bait.”

  “Bait?” I glanced at her, not sure I liked the sound of that.

  “Yes, bait. This doppelgänger goes after wealthy older Fae. We know he—she—it . . . travels in the circles I do. I suggest that I let it be known I just came into an inheritance. I look older, let’s face it, I look like a grandma—”

  Alex and Ralph both snorted.

  “You look as much like a grandma as Glenda did,” Alex said.

  I shot him a long look. Just how much was he thinking of Glenda, lately? But the flare of irritation passed as Bette let out a loud chuckle.

  “Sugar, you’re blind. Truth is, I do look like an elderly Fae. Not an Elder Fae, but an elderly one. Melusines don’t retain their physical looks quite so much as they retain the power to charm. We have it where it counts, but the wrinkles and gray hair are there from fair
ly early on. If the doppelgänger is still around—and I suspect it may try one or two more catches before it moves on to new territory—then I’ll set myself up to be right smack in plain sight. And truth is, I have more than a pretty penny set by, so if the critter checks me out, it will see money in the bank.”

  The silence was worthy of a pin drop. Ralph cleared his throat, speaking first. “Nope. We can’t let you do that, Bette. What if something goes wrong? And doesn’t everybody know you work for Alex? If the doppelgänger is smart, it won’t dare try anything.”

  “There’s the kicker, sugar butt.” Bette flashed him a bright smile. “I don’t tell anybody down there what I do. I figure it’s best if they don’t know. Oh, they know I have a job, but most of them assume that I work in a brothel. I let them think that.”

  Alex choked on his blood, spitting a bright red patch of liquid on the table in front of him. He immediately grabbed a napkin and wiped it up. “My apologies, but . . . What the hell? You let them think you work in a brothel? As a hooker?”

  She stuck out her tongue. “As the madam, I’ll have you know. The men are too embarrassed to ask about it—they don’t want me knowing they’re interested. The women aren’t all that interested. It’s the perfect cover and it fits a lot more than trying to pass as working as a medical receptionist or something equally inane. I’d never be able to pull off that disguise.”

  I hated to agree with her. The idea seemed too dangerous, but it was the only one we had to go on. “Bette may have something. We need to engage the doppelgänger before it moves on. This might be the way to do it. At least it’s a plan, and if we can attract its attention, then it won’t be hunting some unwary victim. Bette knows what to look out for. It’s not like she’s going to be taken in by a smooth-talking charmer. But what about Dent? Don’t your friends know you have a . . .” I paused, about to say boy toy, but I didn’t want to offend her.

 
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