I'll explain my decision to start another story at the end of this one, as the explanation is spoilery. Do know that this is sorta my attempt at writing short(er), almost episodic, pieces. It's something to play around with when I'm stuck on Cat's-Eye or Heart of Camelot. I'm rating this M because the intent is that these stories will eventually get darker than the Cat's-Eye books. There's no content above T in this first story, but I don't want anyone to get into this series believing the storyline will stick to a T rating and then shift to M. So, heads up for future stories.
Detective Zach White carefully eased his car up to the crime scene and shifted it into park. He turned the car off and stared past the yellow tape at the crime scene. The eastern coast of Sand Island made a pretty park during the day. A nice place to take the kids and watch ships come into Honolulu harbor for a lazy afternoon. During the night, it became the last place Zach would want to take kids-- if he had any. Sand Island was an industrial area that dealt heavily in moving and storing freight that came in on ships. Not that it was necessarily a dangerous or crime ridden area, it just didn't have the nice, friendly feel of the tourist district.
As for the crime scene itself, it was weirdly empty, especially when Zach compared it to the crime scenes he had worked during his career as a homicide detective. What he wouldn't give for the hustle and bustle of a good old 'who-done-it' right now. Or even a twenty year old cold case. Anything was better than working paranormal homicides.
Someone tapped on his window. Zach turned his head and found Tia Lon, the former paranormal detective, standing right next to the driver side of his car. Lon was a mix Hawaiian and Malaysian. Shiny black hair with white streaks hung down to her ears. Dark brown eyes glared at him. The pair of rectangle spectacles did nothing to ease the force of her glare. Usually Lon looked like a pleasant grandmother, with her round face and smile lines and wrinkles around her mouth and eyes. Unfortunately, that pleasant, grandmother face was working against Zach right now. That frown she was giving him made Zach feel as though he should be squirming with guilt while babbling about how he would do better in the future. Zach gritted his teeth, reminding himself that he was mad at Lon right now.
Zach had liked Detective- well, Lieutenant now- Lon. While she was the butt of many jokes in major crimes for being the "X-Files" lady, Lieutenant Lon had also been the envy of most of the squad. Since Paranormal Investigations was independently funded, Lon had all sorts of state-of-the-art equipment at her disposal.
She had been a loner, preferring to work with the independent consultants that came with investigating the paranormal. Zach had pretty much been the only member of homicide who would have anything to do with her. After joining the squad, Zach had quickly come to the realization that no one else in Honolulu's Homicide Department had such a thorough understanding of criminals and crime as Tia Lon. He had long suspected that was why she had chosen to work the paranormal beat-- normal criminals were just too easy for her. But, Lon was always happy to let members of major crimes pick her brain or have access to the state-of-the-art technology she always got to use. Assuming, of course, major crimes detectives asked her nicely, which most didn't. Zach had always worked hard to stay on her good side, because he had seen her experience as an invaluable tool to help him close his cases. Now he wished he had been more of a jack ass to her. Like the rest of the homicide, who were now enjoying their cozy little lives as homicide detectives while Zach White was working the paranormal beat.
Zach opened his car door but made no move to get out. Lon smirked as she rested her hands on her knees and leaned forward, her clipboard of notes tucked under one arm.
"Are you planning on joining us, Detective White?" she asked.
"Just trying to get a feel for the scene," Zach said.
Lon rolled her eyes. "Get your ass out here, White. You'll have fun if you actually give it a chance."
Zach snorted as he unbuckled his seatbelt and got out of the car. At 6"1', Zach wasn't exactly tall for a guy, but he felt like he was towering over Lon's five feet. As he followed Lon across the grass of the park to the body, Zach ran a hand over his face and then through his short blonde hair. His green eyes swept over the scene, taking everything as the approached the body that was lying a few feet away from the beach with a sheet laid respectfully over it. Zach rolled his shoulders has he tried to get over the eeriness of how deserted the scene was. He was used to the crime scene specialists running around and collecting evidence while detectives spoke to witnesses and uniforms guarded the scene from onlookers. Paranormal investigations didn't handle a crime scene like that. Specialists and detectives weren't invited and uniforms were shuffled off as soon as Lon arrived. Morgue workers waited outside the yellow tape perimeter, waiting for Lon to give them the signal to collect the body. Soon to be 'waiting for Zach to give them the signal'. This was Lon's last paranormal case. Once it was 'closed', Zach would be taking over paranormal investigations. A prospect he wasn't looking forward to.
Besides himself and Lieutenant Lon, the only other person at the scene was a young woman. She was perhaps in her early thirties. Her thick, curly hair was a dark color, but in the light Zach couldn't tell if it was black or brown. Probably brown. She had tied it back into a loose ponytail while she was examining the body. She looked up as Zach and Lon approached. The light at the scene was poor, so Zach's first impressions of her consisted of strong jaw, small nose and very fair skin.
"Is this my new partner?" the woman asked, getting to her feet. She brushed the dirt off her jeans and straightened out her dark red long sleeved t-shirt.
Partner? Zach thought as he watched the woman work on stripping a latex glove from her right hand. He knew that Lon had always worked with a paranormal consultant during her cases, he just hadn't known that she always worked with the same person. The cop part of him also bristled at this woman's assumption that they would ever be 'partners'. He'd had some damn good partners during his years in homicide. And some paranormal consultant would never be able to measure up to that.
"Detective Zach White," Lon said, motioning to Zach with her thumb and then to the woman. "This is Elsie Burnett. She'll be consulting on all of your investigations from here on out."
Burnett finally managed to remove the latex glove. She held her right hand out to Zach. "Pleasure to meet you. Lieutenant Lon speaks very highly of you."
"Yeah, I'm starting to regret that," Zach muttered under his breath.
Lon jammed her elbow into his side and Zach grunted. "A little professionalism would be appreciated, Detective White."
"It's a pleasure to meet you, Ms. Burnett," Zach said, drawing his teeth back in what he hoped was an unpleasant smile as he shook Burnett's hand. Maybe if she didn't like him he could get kicked off paranormal investigations and return to homicide before the night was over.
"Just Elsie, please," she said, lifting her right hand to her forehead and brushing her bangs off to the side.
"Sure," Zach said, cringing inwardly. The last thing he wanted to do was make friends with the consultant.
He looked at Lon, who passed him a pair of latex gloves without a word. He turned his attention to the dead body lying in the grass as he pulled the gloves onto his hands. He walked past Burnett and knelt next to the body, lifting the sheet that had been laid over it. He raised an eyebrow as he looked over the body, noting the wooden stake that had been stabbed through its heart.
"Looks like someone killed a vampire," Zach said sarcastically.
"Werewolf," Burnett and Lon said at the same time. Zach looked back over his shoulder, his brow furrowed as he studied both women. Yep. They were both serious. God damn it he needed to be pulled from this assignment.
"See the belt?" Burnett asked. Zach looked back down at the body. This time his eyes focused on the belt tied around the man's waist. It was a fur belt. Burnett seemed to be suggesting that it was wolf fur, but they wouldn't know for sure until they had it tested at the lab. "That's how werewolves shift forms."
Zach took a moment to translate that into a language he could understand, because werewolves didn't exist and he was pretty sure Lon knew that. He was also pretty sure that Burnett knew that too, but her job depended on her pretending otherwise. So, werewolves didn't exist but this victim was one. It was probably some role-playing thing. Zach knew that there were crazy people out there who believed they were vampires and ran around only at night with fake fangs. So it was also reasonable to assume that there were crazy people out there who believed they were werewolves and ran around wearing illegal wolf-skin belts. Yeah, that's probably what Lon meant.
"So someone killed a werewolf by staking him through the heart," Zach said. He looked up at Burnett. "Does that mean anything to you?"
Burnett shook her head. "Any weapon can beat a werewolf while they're in their human form. A stake is a pretty poor choice of weapon when it comes to a werewolf."
"I'm sure," Zach said, looking back at the body so he could roll his eyes.
"Detective White," Lon said in a tone of voice that served as a very good reminder that she was his boss now.
"Sorry," Zach said. "Want to give me the rundown?"
"Weston Brewer. Twenty-eight years old. Found dead at 3:41 this morning." Zach checked his watch. 4:37 AM. Lon moved fast. So did Burnett. "Murder weapon is a wooden stake pounded through the heart."
"Stabbed," Burnett said. "He was stabbed."
"No way," Zach said, focusing on the stake. He rolled the body onto its side so he could confirm his suspicion. Yep. The point of the stake was just poking out through the victim's back. Even if the point had been razor sharp, there was no way a normal sized human could have stabbed it that far through a man's chest without taking a hammer to it. And considering how tall the victim was… "You'd need to be a giant to do this." Which the killer hadn't been. If the victim had been stabbed, as Burnett suggested, by someone larger than him, the stake would have been angled down in the chest. But the weapon was sticking straight out at close to a ninety degree angle. The victim and his killer had been the same size.
"Angle of the stake suggests someone of similar height," Burnett said, echoing Zach's thoughts. Almost as though she was contradicting her own assessment that the victim had been staked.
"Which means the killer probably knocked our vic out and then staked him," Zach said. If the victim had been conscious when the stake had been pounded through his chest, there would have been more signs of a struggle. The wound wouldn't have been so clean cut. The hole around the stake would have been much larger and the angle wouldn't have been so close to 90 degrees.
"No other visible wounds," Burnett said. Zach took a closer look at the torso and then the hands. Burnett was right. There weren't even any defensive wounds. Nothing to suggest that Weston Brewer had fought back against his attacker. So, no wounds to suggest Brewer had been knocked out and no wounds to suggest he had been awake when the stake was pounded through him. Only one other option.
"Well, then he was probably drugged," Zach said.
"He wasn't drugged."
Zach looked back at Burnett. "And how could you possibly know that?"
"I'm your paranormal expert," Burnett said. "Consider it part of my job description to know these things."
"Are secrets a part of your job description too?" Zach asked.
"Detective," Lon said.
"If you need the morgue to confirm it, I don't mind waiting," Burnett said.
"I do," Lon said. "And until you have evidence to the contrary, Detective White, you will trust what Elsie tells you and follow leads that she presents to you."
"Of course, Lieutenant," Zach said. "There's not enough blood for this to be the murder scene. Specialists find any blood trails?"
"No," Tia said.
"He wasn't murdered anywhere near here," Burnett added.
Zach pulled the sheet back up over the victim and stood so he was facing Burnett. "So, let me guess. We poor, puny mortals have gotten it all wrong and it's not silver that kills werewolves, but a stake through the heart. And then, in order to make sure a werewolf stays dead, you have to move it so it doesn't absorb the angry energy of the area and come back to life. Care to tell me the special trick to kill a vampire?" Lon groaned, but Burnett just smiled at him.
"Half right on the werewolves," she said. "Silver doesn't kill them. It only forces them to retake their human form. You can't kill a werewolf when it's a wolf. You can only force it to become human, but as a human it's just as susceptible to traditional weapons as yourself and Lon."
Zach's hands clenched into fists as he fought the urge to punch Burnett in the face. Or maybe shoot her. Take a moment to break through her little delusion that 'traditional weapons' couldn't hurt her. If only Lon wasn't standing right there, glaring at him as though she could read his mind.
"As for moving the body," Burnett continued with a shrug. "Sounds like any killer trying to cover up their crime. Nothing special about moving the body to Sand Island."
"Any particular supernatural or paranormal being that likes to use a wooden stake as a weapon?"
"No," Burnett said.
"Okay. So what do you think happened?"
"My first impression is that an amateur vampire hunter mistook a werewolf for a vampire," Burnett said, her eyes drifting back to the body. "But you're right about the strength needed. Only someone with supernatural abilities could have killed a werewolf like this."
"Didn't you just say that any old weapon will kill a werewolf?" Zach asked. Gotcha. "And now you're saying only someone with supernatural abilities could have done this. Which is it?"
"Both if you assume Brewer was stabbed instead of drugged and a stake pounded through his chest," Burnett said.
"Which he isn't," Lon said dryly.
Burnett sighed. "Werewolves don't have any increased healing power in their human forms. So, if you shoot or stab one, it'll cause as much pain and harm to the werewolf as it would any human. However, werewolves do have certain gifts, even in their human form. Increased strength and agility and a sixth sense for those who intend to harm them, to name a few." Burnett knelt next to the body and pulled back the sheet. Using her left hand, which was still covered in a latex glove, she lifted one of the victim's right hand. "No defensive wounds, as we've both already noted. No sign of struggle, not even around the wound itself. Someone very dangerous managed to get face-to-face with a werewolf without alarming him and staked him through the heart with enough force to break the ribcage and kill instantly."
Zach watched Burnett as she rested the hand back on Brewer's stomach and pulled the sheet back up over the head. "So, in your expert opinion, we're dealing with something really powerful and really stupid."
"That's the criminal profile you've managed to put together from my consultation?" Burnett asked, giving him a small smile. Zach looked away as she got back to her feet. Great, now the consultant thought they were on their way to becoming friends. So much for a quick reassignment.
"Let's get Mr. Brewer to the morgue," Zach said, standing up and waving to the morgue workers who were waiting just outside the yellow tape. "Find out if he was drugged first."
Lon let out one last, harassed sigh. "I'll leave you two to your investigation, then. White, you know where to find me if you need any help. Elsie, I'm going to miss you. Don't be a stranger."
"I wouldn't dream of it," Burnett said.
"Well," Zach said, looking at his watch. "I need a shower and coffee and it should be an hour or so before the ME has anything worthwhile. So, how about we meet at the ME's office at 7:00? It should give me time to find a residence and next of kin for our vic."
"Residence," Lon said, unclipping a plastic bag from her clipboard and passing it to Zach. He smoothed out the bag in his hand and held it at arm's length so he could see the contents- Mr. Brewer's license and keys.
"And you won't find a next of kin," Burnett said.
"Oh really?" Zach asked.
"He's a werewolf," Burnett said. "The pack works hard to hide their ties to one another. It's safer."
"Uh-huh," Zach said. He wondered how long it would take to convince the department that Burnett's services were a waste of money. "I'll see you at seven at the morgue."
"Copacetic," Burnett said.
Zach started, but then turned and left the scene with a shake of his head. He heard the rustle of grass behind him. Zach looked of his shoulder, but didn't slow his pace, and found Lon trying to catch up with him. "Have a nice rest of the evening, Lieutenant," Zach said, focusing his attention back on his car.
"Zach," Lon said, finally catching up with him as he reached his car. She leaned against the driver side door before Zach could open it. "Look, keiki, I know you're still upset about the transfer. You'd rather be in homicide, I understand. But you need to realize that there is no one I trust to do this job more than you. And that is quite a compliment, Detective White."
"Anything else?" Zach asked.
"Give it a chance," Lon said. "You'll enjoy it, I promise."
"Have a nice evening, Lieutenant," Zach said again. Lon stepped away from his car and Zach pulled the door open and slipped into the driver's seat. He didn't look at Lon as he buckled up and started the car. Only after he had flipped on the headlights and shifted the car into reverse did he glance up at the Lieutenant. He had expected Lon to be giving him a look of disappointment. She wasn't. She was chatting with Burnett. Zach had wanted to see disproval on her face. Her indifference pissed him off. Zach wasn't exactly sure why. Maybe it was because he had been her choice for this assignment, so she could at least show a little concern at how poorly he was taking to it. Or maybe it was because she seemed so damn sure that he would eventually enjoy it.
Zach looked away from them and over his shoulder as he backed his car away from the crime scene. He couldn't waste time if he wanted to get back to his condo in Manoa with time for a shower and breakfast, then get back to the precinct with enough time to look up Brewer's next of kin and still manage to meet Burnett at the morgue at seven. Zach looked at the car radio. 5:00. It was going to be a long morning.