The techs arrived at the Judd building just after two. Joy Tan showed up fifteen minutes after that. She passed the warrant off to A&B's contingent of lawyers. While the lawyers blustered at Tan- telling her it was a gross violation of privacy and that the DA would hear of the 'loose cannon attorney who was overstepping her authority'- Zach told the techs to get working around his last few bites of kalbi. Elsie made a copy of Brewer's sick days and told the techs to concentrate on meetings or correspondence that took place on the dates she had circled. Certain that all the information he needed would be waiting for him at the station should they hit a dead end with the pack, Zach and Elsie left the office and made their way to Zach's car.
"Two thirty," Zach said, looking at his watch. "What'd I tell you? Plenty of time."
"Maybe tomorrow we can skip the doubting game," Elsie said, taking a sip from her flask.
"Sounds like a plan," Zach said as his phone rang. He quickly pulled it out of his pocket, worried that it was Joy calling to tell him that something was going wrong upstairs. The number on the screen wasn't Joy's. Zach didn't recognize it at all. Cautious now, he pressed the accept button and brought the phone to his ear. "Zach White."
"Detective White, this is Dr. Maeda. I'm a researcher with Voivode Analytical."
"We have the preliminary test results from Mr. Brewer's autopsy. We think it would be best if you came down to the lab and had a look."
"Okay. We have another lead we need to follow up on, but we'll be in first thing tomorrow morning."
"Now would be better," Dr. Maeda said. "There are things you should know before meeting the pack. There are also things Dr. Lenus needs to see."
"Dr. Lenus?" Zach asked.
"Oh, she runs the preserve," Elsie said. "Who're you talking to?"
"Dr. Maeda," Zach said, stopping and covering the phone with his hand. Elsie stopped as well and turned to face him. "She wants us to come down to Voivode Analytical."
"Tell her we need to go see the pack," Elsie said.
"She wants us to bring something to Dr. Lenus," Zach said.
"Maeda knows the time limitations on meeting with the pack," Elsie said. "Tell her to wait till tomorrow."
Zach brought the phone back to his ear. "Elsie says we really need to get up to the preserve."
"I know, detective, and I wouldn't be asking if this wasn't important."
Zach lowered his phone again. "She says it's important." Elsie held out a hand and Zach passed the phone to her.
"Are you sure?" Elsie asked. Zach's eyes narrowed. That didn't sound like Elsie at all. She hadn't changed her tone at all and she wasn't speaking any different but it still... it sounded like someone else was speaking. Like the bounce usually in her voice wasn't there anymore. "I'll be there to make sure." She disconnected the call and held the phone out to Zach. He didn't take it. He was too busy staring into her eyes, trying to find his partner in those blue gray orbs.
"Hey, Elsie, you with me?" Zach asked.
Elsie smiled and the light came back into her eyes and that graceful bounce returned to her movements. "I'm with you." And her voice was hers again.
Zach took the phone back, wondering what the hell that was about. He didn't ask though. That was one more thing that would just have to tickle at his conscious.
The corporate headquarters of Voivode Analytical were located in the Confalone Prezzo- a ten story plaza on the edge of the Central Business District and a couple blocks from the Judd Building. The Prezzo had been built just after World War II by the Conti family. According to Elsie, the research facility that tested their forensic evidence was located in the basement of the building. Zach wasn't sure how he felt about that. Nor was he too keen about the heavy security on the other side of the doorway. Anyone coming through had to send their bags through an x-ray screener and then pass through a metal detector. Most people were being patted down by the security officers as well.
Elsie waved at the security guards and the two of them were able to duck under the ropes instead of passing through the metal detector. They made their way to the elevators and Elsie pulled him off to the one in the farthest back corner. The one that had a guard on it. Elsie held out her hand to the guard and he took it by her wrist, staring down at her palm. A moment later he released her and the elevator door opened.
"Have a nice day, Ms. Burnett," the guard said.
"You too," Elsie replied as she entered the elevator. Zach scampered after her with a wave to the guard and the elevator door closed behind him.
"What was that?" Zach asked, watching as Elsie flash a keycard over the security panel before pressing the B3 button.
"What?" Elsie asked as the elevator started to descend.
"All the security? What's Conti protecting?"
"Voivode has several contracts with the government. Especially the Bioengineering Division."
"And the guy guarding the elevator?"
"Oh... that's in direct relation to the paranormal thing," Elsie said. "With the right kind of power it's very easy to pretend to be someone you're not. The RyRy Susimanog can sense malicious intent. It would have stopped us if we had tried to enter the basement intending to do harm."
"By reading your palm?"
"Hmm," Elsie replied and Zach could tell she was no longer with him. The elevator door opened to a closed door. Zach started and looked down at Elsie to see if she would use her keycard to open this door.
"Don't worry, they know we're here," Elsie said.
"Wha?" Zach asked. Anything more coherent that he might have said was interrupted by the door whooshing open. A tiny, sickly thin Asian woman stood at the door. She looked old, but Zach couldn't tell if that was because she was so thin or because she was actually old. Her black hair, pulled back into a tight bun, didn't have any white strands in it, but Zach knew better than to judge by that.
"Afternoon Elsie," the woman said. She held out a hand to Zach. "Detective White. I'm Dr. Suzu Maeda."
"Pleasure to meet you, Dr. Maeda," Zach said, reaching out to take the offered hand. Maeda grabbed the edge of his fingers to shake his hand. Zach didn't push for a more solid grip, afraid he'd break her hand. Even with just her fingers against his, Zach could only feel bone and he felt as though they were on the verge of snapping with just the light pressure of his thumb.
"Please, come inside," Maeda said, stepping aside and motioning for them to enter the room. Zach followed Maeda into the lab with Elsie coming behind him. He took two steps into the lab and then shifted off to the side so Elsie could enter the lab while he took in the sight. Large pieces of laboratory equipment were evenly spaced throughout the room. Lab tables were covered with test tubes and reaction wells.
Standing next to the closest lab instrument, with his back towards them, was a man. He was taller than Zach with broader shoulders. His black hair was short with only a few wisps of gray. He was wearing a suit and Zach was willing to bet a year's pay that it was designer and probably cost that year's pay too.
The man turned his head slightly and Zach caught sight of olive skin- as if he had any doubt about who stood in front of him.
"Detective White, this is Mr. Conti," Maeda said.
"Hello Luca," Elsie said. Zach did a double take. He was pretty sure Conti's first name was 'Lucas'. So 'Luca' had to be an affectionate nickname between the richest man in Hawaii and the Honolulu Police Department's paranormal consultant. Suddenly Zach had no desire to learn how Elsie had landed this job.
"Elsie," Conti replied. His voice was deep. Stern, but Zach swore he heard affectionate amusement beneath Conti's accent. He assumed it was Italian, considering the Conti family history. Lucas had been raised at his family's ranch on the island Molokai. So he had grown up around only Italian speakers and his accent hadn't faded after ten years of living and working in Honolulu.
"Shall we begin?" Conti continued, looking at Maeda. "Elsie and Zach have somewhere they need to be."
"Of course," Maeda said. She picked up a clipboard and handed it to Zach. "Mr. Brewer's toxicology report. All clear."
"Yeah. I figured," Zach said, taking the clipboard and looking it over. As Maeda had said, the tox screen had come back negative. Weston Brewer hadn't been drugged before he had been staked. But then, Zach had pretty much accepted that their perp had ripped up a concrete floor with his bare hands, so this news really wasn't that surprising.
Apparently Conti agreed with him. "Elsie would have determined this at the scene. I hope this is not why you called them here."
"Of course not, Mr. Conti," Maeda said. "DNA mixed in with the dirt and on the concrete matched Mr. Brewer. I can say conclusively that he was murdered in his basement after his murderer ripped up the floor in the basement."
"What was the perp looking for?" Zach asked.
"Coffin," Conti said.
"Coffin?" Zach asked.
"Historically considered the day-time resting place of vampires," Luca said.
"The hunter probably believed that it needed to be buried in order to be effectual," Elsie said. "He might have shown up at Brewer's house in the late afternoon when the sun was still up- believing that a vampire is dormant and vulnerable during the day."
"Brewer comes home and interrupts," Zach said.
"But he doesn't see the hunter," Elsie said.
"No defensive wounds, no sign of a struggle," Zach agreed. "So the perp has to hide and sneak up on him."
"Not an easy thing to do," Luca said.
"But not impossible," Maeda said. She picked up another back and passed it to Zach. This one was filled with what looked like some sort of processed grain. "That was found at the scene among the dirt. Wheat grain. And it's gone rancid."
Zach careful opened the bag and jumped back as the bitter stench hit his nose. "Oh. Yeah. I smelled that in the basement."
"It would have wrecked havoc on Brewer's sense of smell," Maeda said.
"But..." Zach looked back at Elsie. "You didn't smell the grain. You smelled the blood."
"Of course," Elsie said. "Vampires are hypersensitive to blood. We'd always smell that first."
"And that's kinda a duh. Even our moronic vampire hunter should know better than to use scent to hide from a vampire. So why scatter the wheat grain?"
"The mythos of arithmomania," Conti said.
The fact that Zach had no idea what Conti was talking about must have shown on his face, because Elsie swooped to his rescue.
"Some stories claimed that a person could escape a vampire if they scattered rice or millet on the ground. The vampire would be forced to count the grain and the human could escape."
"Huh. I'm now impressed with Sesame Street," Zach said.
"Pardon?" Conti asked.
"Count Von Count?" Zach asked and the billionaire frowned. A moment later his expression changed to a mix of annoyance and disgust.
"Time is running short, Suzu," Conti said. "I hope that's not all you have."
"No," Maeda said. She picked up a plastic bag that held the wooden stake that had killed Brewer and a small test tube with pits of concrete. "I was not able to match the hunter's DNA to anyone in the Magian System."
"No surprise," Elsie said. "Everything points to the hunter having recently gained his powers. Someone gifted him. A witch or a sorcerer or a magian."
"There's residual magic on the stake and within the hunter's blood. Dr. Lenus should be able to trace it back to whomever empowered the hunter."
"A courier could have delivered those Dionisia," Conti said. Zach gave Elsie a blank look.
"Dr. Lenus," Elsie said.
"I know, Mr. Conti, but I thought as long as Elsie needed to come here, she could deliver these to Dr. Lenus."
"But you have yet to give a reason why they need to be here."
Dr. Maeda picked up a photograph and passed it to Zach. "Kah'ali'i took these during the autopsy."
Zach looked down at the photo. It was a close-up of Brewer's left hand. "What am I looking at?" Maeda tapped Brewer's ring finger. Zach stretched out his arm so the picture wasn't so blurry. The ring finger was red and swollen from the knuckle down. His middle and pinky fingers also had red spots at the base on the sides that would have touched the ring finger. It looked like some sort of rash. "What is it?"
"I first thought it was a nickel allergy," Maeda said. "But Mr. Brewer wore one of those magnetic bracelets. It contains nickel and he has no rash on his wrist."
"So... what?" Zach asked.
"Likely Mr. Brewer had an allergy to gold or silver," Maeda said. "It's rare, but not unheard of."
"You said that silver doesn't hurt a werewolf," Zach said, pointing to Elsie.
"It doesn't," everyone else in the room said.
"The allergy is just a coincidence," Maeda said.
"Early mythos associated silver as a weakness nearly every creature believed to be evil," Conti said. "It was considered a pure substance and therefore deadly to something that wasn't.
"Including vampires?" Zach asked. Conti nodded. "Then this is it. This is how the hunter pegged Brewer as a vampire. He saw Brewer have a bad reaction to silver. Our perp probably works as a jeweler."
"Good to know," Elsie said. "But that doesn't help us. This is Hawaii. There are as many jewelry shops as restaurants."
"Ring finger, left hand," Zach said, pointing to the picture. "There's only one reason you try a ring on that finger. Brewer went to the store with someone. He was planning on getting married."
"To someone in the pack," Elsie said.
"Excellent work, Suzu," Conti said, glancing at Elsie.
"Come on, Zach," Elsie said, jogging to the door. She paused only to pick up a gym bag that was resting next to the entrance of the lab. "We can't miss the pack now."
"Coming," Zach said, tucking the picture under his arm and grabbing the bag that held the stake and the test tube of concrete. He followed Elsie out of the lab and into the elevator. They had a lead now. They knew how the perp had identified his victim and they knew of someone who could help them located the place where that identification had taken place. Considering the way the case had been going so far, going to the lab and meeting Dr. Maeda had definitely been the most useful part of the day. Zach could only hope that going to the preserve would prove equally as useful, if not more so.
It was well after dark when Zach and Elsie arrived at the Preserve. Elsie had a key to open the main gate. She directed Zach off the main road and down a smaller side road that wove through the rainforest. Finally, near a large clearing, Elsie told him to stop the car.
"What now?" Zach asked, turning off the car. Elsie reached into the back seat to grab the gym back.
"Now I find us a werewolf," Elsie said. "You back track to the main road and head to the preserve's main complex. Di- Dr. Lenus will be there. Have her help you trace the magic."
"While you go off by yourself? No way. I'm the cop. I have the gun. I'm going with you."
"Gun isn't the way to go on this one." Elsie pulled out a pair of brass knuckles- probably made of silver. Next came the boots with the silver heel and toe. Last was a whip with a silver tip.
"I'm not going to let you go alone," Zach said.
"I mean it Zach, get out of here," Elsie said, getting out of the car. Zach jumped out after her and pulled his gun from his belt. He froze with his hand on the car door. The moon was large and cast down a fair amount of light. But the trees in the rainforest were thick and Zach couldn't see more than a few feet in front of the car. Elsie was long gone.
"Elsie!" Zach hissed, trying not to make too much noise. He started carefully forward, careful to keep one hand on the car. Every step he took sounded like an explosion to his ears. He couldn't hear anything over his own footsteps.
He stopped when he reached the very front of the car, trying to listen for any sign of Elsie. The pounding of his heart faded away and he was able to hear the rustle of the leaves as the wind blew by. No... that wasn't wind.
Zach carefully started backwards to the car door. "Elsie," he called, no longer making any effort to be quiet. He had been a cop for almost fourteen years, so he had a good sense of when he had walked into a bad situation. And right now, he was pretty sure he needed Elsie back to save his butt.
His hand hit the door handle and Zach raised his gun as he pulled the door open. He lowered himself halfway into the car and stuffed the key into the ignition. He turned the key and the engine roared to life and the headlights flipped on. Zach nearly dropped his gun when he saw what was standing a few feet from the car.
He had never seen anything like it before in his life, but he knew what he was looking at. There was only one word for it. Werewolf. A wolf- clearly with the snout and pointed ears and silver fur. But with distinct humanoid features as well. Its arms were longer than that of a wolf or a man and the creature used those long arms to move on all fours like a gorilla. It had a broad and distinctly female chest.
The creature turned its head slowly to face the glaring headlights and bared its teeth in a snarl. Zach considered jumping in the car, but quickly discarded that idea. He had no doubt that the car wouldn't do a damn thing to slow the werewolf down. Running was also out of the question. He had his gun, but if Elsie was right...
"Elsie!" Zach yelled again, closing the car door and stepping away from it. The wolf's yellow eyes followed every move he made. "Elsie! Help! Help!"
The werewolf snarled as it turned and rushed him. Zach started firing. He saw the bullets make contact and bounce off. The werewolf jumped into the hair. Zach planted his feet and lifted his gun, intending to shoot that thing in the mouth when it landed on top of him. There was a scream from behind him, piercing and eerie enough that Zach's heart slammed against his chest and he nearly jumped out of his skin. Something jumped out from behind him and slammed into the werewolf with enough force to knock it backwards. The werewolf and Zach's rescuer hit the ground and rolled apart. That was when Zach realized his rescuer was Elsie.
She got to her feet first, her back to Zach. She let the whip uncoil and held it loosely in her hand. The werewolf growled as it got to its feet and started to circle to the left. Elsie cracked the whip and the werewolf jumped backwards. Elsie moved, placing herself directly between the werewolf and Zach.
For a moment, the werewolf just stood there and stared at them. Zach watched its eyes, amazed at the calculating intelligence he saw in those yellow orbs. That wolf was making a plan, and Zach could only hope that the same intelligence was reflected in Elsie's eyes right now.
The werewolf threw back its head and howled. Elsie moved, spanning the space between herself and the werewolf in a single jump. Her foot slammed into the werewolf's throat. The howl cut off with a painful yip as the creature fell backwards. Elsie grabbed it by the shoulder with one hand. Her other curled into a first and she pressed the silver made brass knuckles against the werewolf's cheek. Slowly, the silver hair grew back into the werewolf's body and the long arms, muzzle and pointed ears shrunk away. A moment later, Elsie laid the naked body of a young woman on the ground.
"Thanks," Zach said, his voice shaking. He reached out to the nearest tree and rested most of his weight against it before his legs gave out.
Elsie turned and bared her teeth at him. Zach's felt his heart come to a sudden stop. Her white teeth reflected brightly against the headlights, giving Zach a clear view of the sets of fangs on her upper and lower jaw. Some sort of white liquid had milked over her eyes, leaving them completely white and completely blank.
She had told him. Over and over again she had told him. But Zach hadn't believed her. Not really.
"I thought I told you to get out of here," Elsie said, and the fact that she sounded completely normal was what did it for Zach. His eyes rolled back into his head and his body went limp. He was out before he hit the ground.
More than a year ago, I was talking to SamoaPhoenix and another friend about the recent rash of vampire fiction and media. One thing that struck me in these stories is that of the main pair, the vampire is always male and the human is always female. I know that the vampire mythos is often considered a metaphor for sex, but at the same time there is nothing I love more than playing well known conventions and turning them on their head.
I know this ends on a bit of a cliffie. But since these will be shorter than my other projects, it'll be easy to knock one out of the park between projects. So, I can't promise when the Tepes Legacy II will be posted for your viewing pleasure, but I can promise that it is coming.