From the Files of the Otherworlder Enforcement Agency - Book Two - by Tiffany Allee
Someone is kidnapping and incinerating otherworlders beyond recognition, and detective Marisol Whitman, a succubus, races to find the murderer before he claims another victim. But her pursuit is derailed when her responsible younger sister vanishes. Marisol suspects foul play and enlists support from an unlikely source: an agent from the Otherworlder Enforcement Agency, Valerio Costa.
When the trail pointing to everyone from vampires to witches dries up, Agent Costa admits to knowing more than he’s shared. Marisol’s sister’s kidnapper harnesses more magic than she can imagine—and they’re running out of time. To find her sister before her powers are drained and twisted beyond recognition, Marisol must connect the dots between cases and put her trust in Costa, a salamander who may burn her before she can solve either case.
© 2012 Tiffany Allee
The smell hit me first. Not decay, like I’d expected after being called to the site of a homicide, but cremains and trash.
Spotlights and flashlights lit the darkened alley, casting eerie shadows onto the asphalt and against the brick of the surrounding buildings. It was enough to make a person imagine threats that didn’t exist, monsters hiding in the shadows. Surreal.
The alleyway behind La Maison wasn’t exactly as nice as the lobby of the chic Chicago hotel, and the night air was cooling quickly. I glanced longingly toward the back door of the building and clutched my blazer a little tighter around me, wishing I’d worn pants instead of a skirt for once. Inside the hotel door lay the kitchen, and past that was one of the nicest lounge bars in the city, as well as a first-rate restaurant. Putting on my cop face—a slightly knowing smile that my friend Mac called “smug with a touch of haughty”—I followed Astrid into the Dumpster-filled alley where a metal trash can seemed to be the source of the ashy scent wafting down the street.
“I’m Astrid Holmes, and this is Marisol Whitman.” Astrid flashed her badge at a police officer and a man in a crime scene investigator’s jacket. I did the same. This was her case, so I’d follow her lead. “What do we got?” she asked, her voice almost too official.
The CSI spoke first. “Freak squad, huh? Looks like a body, burned.”
Neither Astrid nor I so much as blinked at his rude greeting. It wasn’t the first time we’d been called freaks, and it almost certainly wouldn’t be the last.
At our lack of reactions, the CSI continued. “We won’t know for sure until we get the cremated remains back to the lab, but we’ve got bits of teeth, some melted fillings, and small pieces of bone.” Again the middle-aged man in the CSI jacket paused as if waiting for a dramatic response. The Chicago wind kicked up, and the ash smell grew even more pungent. Something living had definitely burned here.
“We’ve got guys going through this Dumpster again, and a couple of teams checking out the Dumpsters nearby,” the uniform said, giving the other man a bored glance. “Just in case some evidence was stuffed into one of them.”
“Who found the victim?” Astrid asked.
“Kitchen manager of the bakery.” He nodded to a building on the opposite side of the alley from the hotel. “Says he saw someone heading outta here fast, around four thirty this morning, but he didn’t get a good look at him. Big guy, he said.”
“No wonder he didn’t see much out here,” I muttered. Sure, there was a lot of light with our equipment in the area, but otherwise the whole shadowy space would only have been lit by a single standing streetlamp. I squinted at the light.
“Yeah, especially since it happened in the middle of the night—well, technically early this morning. The man who chased the guy called us, but since he couldn’t say for sure what the guy was doing, a unit didn’t get out here until ten this morning. It took us a while to figure out the ashes were human, then we didn’t know whether it was one of yours or not. Lieutenant said to call in your sensitive, though. That she’d be able to tell.”
Astrid’s attention had slipped away from our conversation, and her gaze was affixed on the metal trash barrel less than twenty feet away. As a sensitive—a human naturally gifted with the ability to feel magic and energy—she was probably itching to check out the remains.
“Why don’t you go have a look-see,” I suggested. “I’ll finish up here.”
Astrid’s eyes widened and she nodded, then hurried away. The girl really needed to work on her cop face.
I gleaned a few more bits of information from the uniform, who was more than willing to talk the case with an attractive succubus. Yes, they’d questioned the manager. No, he didn’t seem like he was hiding anything. No, they hadn’t found anything else to suggest this was a murder scene, but their techs were scouring the area for blood as we spoke.
Unfortunately, my succubus powers weren’t very helpful with gaining more information from a fellow cop who was already being forthright. Although my unconscious powers were likely loosening his tongue, between my questions he just jabbered incessantly about things like the weather and my eyes. Poor thing probably thought he was flirting. Luckily for me and my job security, unconscious powers were not illegal to use—they were just a part of an otherworlder. That’s why lots of police departments and government agencies loved to use vampire interrogators. The aura of fear vamps carried was an effective tool to get people to cooperate. A sexy aura didn’t always work as well as fear.
Astrid caught my eye as I interrogated the cop. Facing us, she stood over the metal barrel, hands open, palms down over the trash container. She didn’t seem to be touching anything but was as close as humanly possible without violating any evidence-handling rules.
She frowned and then walked around the barrel, turning so her back faced our small group. I waved the officer off and walked toward her. Careful to keep my heels quiet against the asphalt, I gave her a wide berth and made my way around to stand a few feet in front of her, but off to the side.
As I took in her expression, I smiled. Her brows were drawn together as she concentrated. Her mouth formed a sour expression, like she sucked on a lemon. When her features were taken together, her expression was truly dramatic and altogether silly.
Suddenly, she let out a small sigh and her face relaxed. She opened her eyes and gave me a level look. “Please quit staring at me. It makes me paranoid about how I look when I need to be concentrating.”
My cheeks heated, I muttered an apology, and then turned my attention to the asphalt around me.
“Actually, if you wouldn’t mind…” Astrid’s voice was hesitant.
I raised an eyebrow at her. “What? I’m not watching, I swear.”
“No, it’s just…it’s harder to get a read if an OW is nearby. Muddles things up a bit.”
Oh. No wonder. Astrid could feel the energies of any otherworlders around her. If I lingered, my succubus energy could drown out or jumble any traces she might pick up from the remains. “Got it,” I said, making myself scarce. I went to look for the uniform and CSI who’d first talked to us. Couldn’t hurt to make sure we’d gotten every bit of information from them possible.
Interrogation was what I was good at, after all.
Light from the window pressed against my eyelids, and I threw an arm over my face. Damn curtains. I’d been more than a little drunk when Astrid had dropped me off the night before. What had I done? Opened them?
Astrid convinced me to get a drink after our sweep of the crime scene left us with little to go on until we got some lab work back. Then we lamented over our normally laughable cases, and having someone on the less-dangerous end of the otherworlder scale to talk to made me feel like I wasn’t alone in my general assignment of crappy cases. A fact that didn’t make me feel a whole lot better that I was usually relegated to interrogating suspects in the safety of the station. At least Astrid caught good cases because of her vampire partner sometimes, although she was lucky they let her out of the office with Claude out of town.
I tottered to the bathroom and stepped into the shower, yelping as the cold water hit me. Slowly, my brain unfuzzied and I was able to dress with a modicum of stability and care. I carefully applied makeup and styled my long blond hair into a loose chignon. Satisfied with my appearance, I wandered down to the kitchen, grabbed my teakettle from the stove, and filled it.
It had been a long time since I’d allowed myself to get more than just tipsy, even with people I trusted.
The source of the stress I’d needed to drink off was none other than my boss. Lieutenant Vasquez’s face flashed in my mind and I pushed down the anger that followed. I was a good cop, even if he thought I was nothing more than a bit of fluff, a conwoman who could get men to confess with her false charm. And I was good at training new detectives, even if Vasquez never gave my partners and me any particularly challenging cases.
I reached into the cupboard next to the stove and pulled out a teabag, then grabbed a cup from another cabinet. It wasn’t entirely Vasquez’s fault. I knew that. New detectives rarely got the toughest cases, especially when they were partnered with a succubus. As far as otherworlders went, succubi weren’t the toughest—or anywhere near the most fearsome—species. Not that we couldn’t be stronger than the average human, but that required feeding. And in order to stay sane, that would necessitate, at the very least, a long-term partner.
I hadn’t had even a boyfriend in years. Not since before Elaine was attacked.
The teakettle whistled, and I suppressed a sigh of pure self-pity. The clock read ten, and some terribly important shoes awaited Elaine at the mall. Shoes she needed my credit card to purchase.
“Elaine!” I yelled at the open loft area that led to Elaine’s bedroom. “Time to get up. Shopping was your idea.”
I grabbed the newspaper off the front step, wandered back to the kitchen, and opened it. As I listened for the sound of the upstairs shower, I scanned the articles. Getting Elaine up and around had never been an issue until she’d started college, and she rarely stayed out obscenely late, but her new ability to sleep well past what the rest of the world considered morning was another small adjustment.
When silence still permeated the house after I’d made it to the comics, I poured myself another cup of tea and hiked up the stairs. Elaine’s shift from shut-in to social butterfly had gone clear past normal kid and into the realm of super student. She managed to hold a very aggressive academic schedule and do very well at it. But how did she expect to add a part-time job onto her load when she couldn’t even get herself up? Not that she’d gotten around to doing more than talking about looking for a job.
I paused. She never slept with her door open, but I heard nothing from the bathroom to my left, and that door stood a few inches ajar as well. Hands shaking, I pushed her bedroom door open and my stomach twisted at the sight of her bed. Corners tucked just so, made in the hotel fashion that I used when helping her put new bedding on.
I touched the bed. My head grew light and I took a deep breath. She hadn’t slept here last night.
I raced down the stairs to the house phone and hit the voice-mail button. No messages. I grabbed my cell phone and touched the screen. No texts. No voice mails. Nothing.
I swallowed around the cold rock growing in my throat. With trembling hands, I hit her name on my cell phone screen. She was fine. It had gotten late while she was studying so she’d stayed with Wendy. Or maybe they’d gone to a party and she was passed out on the floor somewhere. I’d kill her when I found her.
The phone rang a few times, and then a computerized voice came onto the line, informing me that the person I had called was unavailable and could I please leave a message.
Eyes burning, I took a deep breath. “Hey, it’s me.” I was going for light and airy, but even to my own ears I sounded like I was on the edge of tears. “Where are you? Call me as soon as you get this.” I hit end and concentrated on my breathing. I had to stay calm. She was fine, and calling her friends while hysterical wasn’t going to make her happy with me. But the possibility that something was really wrong was too frightening. I couldn’t be worried about embarrassing her.
I hit Wendy’s number and concentrated on the sound of the ringer in my ear. Four rings, six, finally Wendy’s voice came onto the line. My stomach lurched.
Voice mail. Personalized with a message from Wendy, but voice mail all the same.
“Wendy, it’s Marisol. Tell Elaine to call me ASAP,” I snapped.
She was fine. She had to be.