Three hours later I was sitting in the outer office of the police station, sipping really bitter coffee, and waiting for someone to let me talk to my prisoners. I had a badge, and I had the right to deputize anyone I saw fit in an emergency. The police had taken Bobby Lee, Claudia, and the one driver in for questioning. They'd been sent home an hour ago. Bobby Lee had tried to insist he stay with me, but his lawyer had told him going home after only two hours was a gift and he should take it. He took it after I insisted. It helped that there had been an MP5 Heckler and Koch submachine gun on the floorboard, not to mention about half a dozen more smaller weapons, four knives, one of those collapsible clubs, an ASP. Oh, and that the car they were driving wasn't theirs.
The dark-haired guy who'd been so sullen turned out to be ex-army, so his prints came up. Strangely, he had no criminal record. I would have bet almost anything that he was a bad guy. But if he was a bad guy, he was good enough at it to have never been caught.
The blond didn't exist, his prints weren't in our system. Because of the German accent and my insistence, they'd forwarded both sets of prints to Interpol to see if our boys were wanted outside the country, but that would take time.
So I had been left to cool my heels in a very uncomfortable desk chair beside the desk of a detective that never seemed to be there. The nameplate read, "P. O'Brien," but as far as I'd seen in over three hours, he was a myth. There was no Detective O'Brien, they just sat people by his desk and assured them that he'd be coming to talk to them soon.
I wasn't under arrest, in fact, I wasn't in trouble at all. I was free to go, but I was not free to speak with the prisoners without someone present. Fine by me, I talked to them with the nice policemen present. None of us learned anything, but that they both knew that they wanted their lawyers. Once they got read their rights that was all either of them would say.
There was enough to hold them for at least seventy-two hours, but after that we were up shit creek, unless their prints came back with an active criminal warrant.
I took another sip of the coffee, made a face, and set it carefully on the desk of the invisible detective. I thought I'd never meet coffee I couldn't drink. I was wrong. It tasted like old gym socks and was nearly as solid. I sat up straight and wondered about simply leaving. My badge kept me and the wererats out of jail, and made sure the two bad guys didn't get to go free, but that was about all. The local police weren't happy with anyone with 'federal' as part of their title messing in local crime.
A woman came to stand in front of me. She was about five eight, wearing a black skirt that was longer than was stylish, but then, her comfortable black shoes weren't exactly cutting edge either. Her blouse was a dark gold that looked like silk but was probably something easier to clean. Her hair had been dark brunette, but was so streaked with gray and silver and white that it looked like she'd streaked it on purpose. Natural punk.
Deep smile lines showcased a truly nice smile. She held her hand out to me. I stood up to shake hands, and her handshake was firm, strong. I glanced at the black suit jacket on the back of Detective O'Brien's chair and knew who I was talking to even before she introduced herself.
"Sorry it's taken me so long to get back to you. We've had a busy day." She motioned me to sit back down.
I sat. "Understandable."
She smiled, but her eyes didn't match the smile now, as if she didn't believe me. "I'm going to be in charge of this case, so I just want to get a few things clear." She laid the folder she'd been carrying on her desk, opened it, and seemed to be reading some notes.
"Sure," I said.
"You don't know why these two men were following you, correct?"
"No, I don't."
She gave me a very direct look out of her dark gray eyes. "Yet, you felt the matter was so urgent that you deputized," she checked her notes, "ten civilians to help you capture these two men."
I shrugged and gave her pleasant, empty eyes. "I don't like being followed by people I don't know."
"You told the officers on sight that you suspected the men of carrying illegal weapons. That was before anyone had searched them, or the car. How did you know they were carrying illegal weapons," there was the slightest hesitation before she said, "Marshal Blake?"
"Gut instinct, I guess."
Those warm gray eyes suddenly went as cold as a winter sky. "Cut the bullshit, and just tell me what you know."
I widened eyes at that. "I've told your fellow officers everything I know, Detective O'Brien, honest."
She gave me a look of such withering scorn that I should have wilted in my seat and confessed all. The trouble was, I had nothing to confess. I didn't know shit.
I tried for honesty. "Detective O'Brien, I swear to you that I just noticed that I had a tail today on the highway. Then I saw that the same two men were outside where I was in a different car. Until I saw them the second time, I was willing to believe I was being paranoid. But once I knew they were following me, I wanted them to stop doing that, and I wanted to know why they were following me in the first place." I shrugged. "That is the absolute truth. I wish I knew something to conceal from you, but I am as much in the dark on this one as you are."
She closed the file with a snap and hit it sharply on the desk as if to settle the papers inside it, but it looked like an automatic gesture, or an angry one. "Don't try batting those big brown eyes at me, Ms. Blake, I'm not buying."
Batting my big brown eyes? Me? "Are you accusing me of trying to use feminine wiles on you, Detective?"
That made her almost smile, but she fought off the urge. "Not exactly, but I've seen women like you before, so cute, so petite, you give that innocent face and the men just fall all over themselves to believe you."
I looked at her for a second, to see if she was kidding, but she seemed serious. "Whatever axe you're grinding, find someone else's forehead to sink it into. I have come in here and told nothing but the truth. I helped get two men off the streets that were carrying firepower with armor-piercing, cop-killing ammo. You don't seem very damned grateful."
She gave me very cold eyes. "You're free to leave anytime, Ms. Blake."
I stood, then smiled down at her, and knew my eyes were as cold and unfriendly as hers. "Thanks so much, Ms. O'Brien." I emphasized the Ms.
"That's Detective O'Brien," she said, as I'd almost been sure she would.
"Then it's MarshalBlake to you, Detective O'Brien."
"I earned the right to be called detective, Blake; I didn't get grandfathered in on some technicality. You may have a badge, but it doesn't make you a cop."
Jesus, she was jealous. I took a deep breath and let it out slowly. I would get nowhere rising to the bait and fighting with her. So I didn't. Bully for me.
"I may not be your kind of cop, but I am a duly appointed federal marshal."
"You can interfere on any case involving the preternatural. Well, this one doesn't involve the preternatural." She gazed up at me, face calm, but still showing signs of anger. "So have a nice day."
I blinked at her, and counted, slowly, to ten.
Another detective came striding up. He had short curly blond hair, freckles, and a big grin. If he'd been any newer to plainclothes, he'd have squeaked when he walked. "James said we caught some sort of international super spy, is that true?"
A look passed over O'Brien's face, a look of near pain. You could almost hear her thinking, shit.
I grinned at the other detective. "Interpol came back with a hit, huh?"
He nodded eagerly. "The German guy is wanted all over the place, industrial espionage, suspected terrorism . . ."
O'Brien cut him off, "Go away Detective Webster, go the fuck away from me."
His smile faltered. "Did I say something wrong? I mean the marshal here brought them in, I thought she . . ."
"Get away from me, now," O'Brien said, and the growl of warning in her voice would have done a werewolf proud.
Detective Webster walked away, without saying another word. He looked worried, and he should have. I was betting O'Brien carried grudges to the grave, and made sure everyone paid up.
She looked at me, and the anger in her eyes wasn't just for me. Maybe it was for the years of being the only woman on a detail, maybe the job had made her bitter, or maybe she'd always been a grumpy-grumpy girl. I didn't know, and I didn't really care.
"Catching an international terrorist in these days and times could make a person's career," I said, sort of conversationally, not really looking at her.
The look of hatred in her eyes made me want to flinch. "You know it will."
I shook my head. "O'Brien, I don't have a career in the police department. I don't even have a career with the Feds. I am a vampire executioner, and I help out on cases where the monsters are involved. Me having a badge is so new and so unprecedented that they're still arguing on whether we'll have rank as federal marshals, or be able to move up in rank at all. I'm not a threat to your promotion. Me taking credit won't help my career a damn bit. So help yourself."
Her eyes toned down from hatred to distrust. "What's in it for you?"
I shook my head. "Don't you get it yet, O'Brien? What did Webster say, international spy, industrial espionage, suspected terrorism, and that's just the top of the list."
"What of it?" she said, hands clasped over the file folder on her desk like she was shielding it from me, as if I'd snatch it and run with it.
"He was following me, O'Brien, why? I've never been out of the country. What does an international bad ass like this want with me?"
She gave a small frown. "You really don't know why they were following you, do you?"
I shook my head. "No, and would you want someone like that following you around?"
"No," she said, and her voice had softened, was uncertain. "No, I wouldn't." She looked up at me, eyes hard, but not as hard as they had been. She didn't apologize, but she did hand me the file folder. "If you really don't know why they're after you, then you need to know just how bad a man you've dug up . . . Marshal Blake."
I smiled. "Thank you, Detective O'Brien."
She didn't smile back, but she did send Detective Webster for fresh coffee for both of us. She also told him to make a fresh pot, before he poured our cups. I was liking Detective O'Brien more and more.
His name was Leopold Walther Heinrick. He was a German national. He was suspected of almost every large crime you could think of. And by large I mean not petty. He wasn't a purse-snatcher, or a con artist. He was suspected of working for terrorist groups worldwide, mostly those with a decided Aryan bias. It wasn't that he'd never taken money from people that weren't out to make the world safe for bigots, but he seemed to prefer to work with them. He'd been linked to espionage that specialized in helping paler people either stay in power or get power over people that were less pale.
The file contained a list of known associates, with pictures of some of them. A few of the pictures were the equivalent of mug shots, but most were grainy faxes of surveillance photos. Faces in profile, faces caught dashing to cars, into and out of buildings in distant countries. It was almost as if the men knew they were being photographed, or feared they would be. There were two faces that I kept coming back to–two men–one in profile wearing a hat, and the other a blur of face staring out at the camera.
O'Brien came over to stand beside me, looking down at the two pictures that I'd laid side by side on the edge of her desk. "Do you recognize them?"
"I'm not sure." I touched the edge of the pictures, as if that would make them more real, make them give up their secrets.
"You keep coming back to them," she said.
"I know, but it's not like I know them-know them. More like I've seen them somewhere. Somewhere recent. I can't place them, but I know I've seen them, or two people very similar." I peered down at the grainy images, gray and white and black, made up of little dots, as if the fax was a copy of a copy of a copy. Who knew where the original had come from?
O'Brien seemed to pick up what I was thinking, because she said, "You're working from faxes of bad surveillance photos. You'd be lucky to recognize your own mother in these."
I nodded, then picked up the one with the big dark-haired man in it. He was about to get into a car. There was a generic older building behind him, but I wasn't a student of architecture, it told me nothing. The man was looking down as if watching his step off a curb, so I didn't have a full front view even. "Maybe if I could see a front shot. Or did they send us all they had?"
"They sent me all they had, or that's what they said." The look on her face said she wasn't sure she believed that, but she had to act as if she did. "They're pretty worried that more of Heinrick's friends might be in the states. We're going to be giving a stack of these photos to the patrol cops, with orders to follow and report, but not to apprehend."
"You think they're that dangerous?" I asked.
She gave me a look. "You've read Heinrick's resume, what do you think?"
I shrugged. "Yeah, he sounds dangerous." I went over the list of known associates again. "None of these rings a bell." I closed the folder and laid it behind the two pictures. I picked up the second photo this time, the one of the pale-haired man. His hair looked white in the photo. White or a very, very pale blond. There wasn't much background to help me judge his size. It was a full-face shot, up close, only his upper body showing. He was leaning over a table, talking. This was a better photo, more detailed, but I still couldn't place him.
"Was this taken with one of those concealed spy cameras?"
"Why do you ask?"
I moved the photo so she could look straight down on it. "It's an odd angle for one thing, up, like the camera is low, about hip level. You don't usually take photos from the hip. Second, he's talking but not looking at the camera, and it's too natural. I'd bet good money he doesn't know he's being photographed."
"You could be right." She took the photo from me and looked at it, turning it a little to get a better angle on it. "Why does it matter how the photo was taken?" Her eyes had gone nice and cold, good cop eyes, suspicious, wanting to know what I knew.
"Look, I've watched you guys try to question Heinrick and his friend. They sound like a fucking broken record. You can hold them for seventy-two hours, but they can spend every hour of that time saying nothing."
"Yeah," she said.
"We could go fishing. Tell Heinrick that his friends really need to watch themselves better. You can't tell where these photos were taken. The blond is just in a room."
O'Brien shook her head. "No, we don't know enough to go fishing, not yet."
"If I remember where I've seen these guys, we might," I said.
She looked at me, as if I'd finally done something interesting. "We might," her voice was cautious.
"Even if I don't remember where I saw them, if it gets close to the seventy-two hours, can we try bluffing?"
"Why?" she asked.
I crossed my arms over my ribs, and fought the urge to hug myself. "Because I want to know why this bugger is following me. Frankly, if he wasn't following me specifically I'd be more worried about St. Louis in general."
She frowned. "Why?"
"If Heinrick and crew were in town in general, then I'd say we have terrorism to worry about. Probably something with a racial bent." I touched the folder without opening it. "Though he's worked a few times for people of color, as the saying goes. Wonder how he justified that to his white supremacist friends?"
"Maybe he's just a mercenary," O'Brien said. "Maybe the fact that he's worked for the white supremacist is coincidental. They were the people who had the money at the time he needed it."
I looked up at her. "You believe that?"
"No," she said, and smiled. "You think more like a cop than I thought you would, Blake, I'll give you that."
"Thanks." I took it as high praise, which it was.
"No, if it walks like a duck, and quacks like a duck, it's a duck, and his dossier reads like he's a white supremacist that isn't above taking money from the very people he wants to destroy. He's a racist, not a zealot."
I nodded. "I think you're right."
She looked down at me for a second or two, then nodded, as if she'd made up her mind. "If the seventy-two hours gets close, you can come and we'll play go fish, but I think we're going to need better bait than a couple of grainy photos."
I nodded. "I agree. I'll do my best to come up with more before we have to beard the lion in its den."
"Beard the lion in its den?" she shook her head. "What have you been reading?"
I shook my head. "I have friends that read to me, if there aren't pictures, I'm pretty much lost."
She gave me another of those looks, half disgust, half trying not to smile. "I doubt that, Blake, I doubt that very much."
Actually, Micah, Nathaniel, and I were taking turns reading aloud to each other at night. Micah had been shocked that neither Nathaniel nor I had ever read the original Peter Pan,so we'd started with that. I'd then discovered that Micah had never read Charlotte's Web.Nathaniel had read the book to himself as a child, but no one had ever read it to him. In fact, he didn't ever remember being read to as a child. That was all he said, just that he'd never had anyone ever read aloud to him when he was small, but that one bit of knowledge seemed to speak volumes. So we were taking turns reading aloud to each other, a bedtime ritual that was more homey, and strangely more intimate than sex, or feeding the ardeur.You didn't read your favorite childhood stories aloud to people you fucked, you read them to people you loved. There was that word again, love.I was beginning to think I didn't know what it meant.
"Blake, Blake, you in there?"
I blinked up at O'Brien and realized she'd been talking to me, and I hadn't heard her. "Sorry, really, I guess I'm thinking too hard."
"Whatever you were thinking about didn't look too happy."
What was I supposed to say, some of it was, some of it wasn't, like most of my personal life. What I said out loud was, "Sorry, it's unnerved me a little to have someone like Heinrick after my ass."
"You didn't look scared, Blake, you looked like you were thinking too damned hard."
"I've had hit men after me before, but not terrorists who specialize in politics. There is nothing political about what I do." The moment I heard it leave my mouth, I realized I was wrong. There were two types of politics that I was deeply involved in, furry, and vampire. Shit, had Belle hired him? No, it didn't feel right. I'd touched her mind too intimately; she still thought she could own me. She wouldn't destroy what she believed she could control, or use.
Richard was still digging out of the political mess he'd made of his pack when he tried to make them a true democracy. You know–one vote per person. It so hadn't worked, because he'd forgotten to keep that presidential veto power. He was Ulfric, wolf king, but he'd gutted the office of Ulfric and still hadn't built back up the respect and power base he needed. I was helping him rebuild, but some of the pack saw my involvement as another sign of weakness. Hell, so did Richard.
But to my knowledge no one was trying to move in on Richard's pack. Neighboring packs were giving us a wide berth until the dust settled. There wasn't anyone worthy of challenging him for pack leader except Sylvie, and she had held off, because she liked Richard, and didn't want to have to kill him. If Richard hadn't been afraid of what Sylvie would do as Ulfric he might have just stepped down for her, but he knew, and Sylvie had admitted, that her first order of business would be to kill anyone she suspected of disloyalty. That could be a dozen, or two. Richard wasn't willing for that to happen. But Sylvie would have come directly to my face if she had a problem. So . . .
I looked up at O'Brien. She was watching me, trying to read me. I had no idea what she'd seen as the different thoughts played over my face. I was definitely not on top of my game today.
"Talk to me, Blake," she said.
I decided for half-truth, better than nothing. "I was thinking that there's one type of politics I do participate in."
"And that is?"
"Vampires. I've got close ties to the Master of the City of St. Louis. I don't think Heinrick would knowingly work for a vampire, but he might not know. Most people like this work through intermediaries, so no one ever sees faces."
"Why would some vampire want to kill you just because you're dating the Master of the City?"
I shrugged. "The last time someone tried to kill me, it was for pretty much that reason. They thought it would weaken . . . the Master, make his concentration bad."
She leaned on the edge of her desk, arms crossed on her stomach. "You really think that's it?"
I frowned and shook my head. "I don't know. I don't think so, but it's the only politics I could think of."
"I'll put a note in the file, pass it up the line," she said. "We could offer you some police protection."
"You got the extra budget for that?"
She smiled, but not like she was happy. "Heinrick has terrorist in his dossier. Trust me, right now, with the T-word in the picture, I could swing the man power."
"Wouldn't that be person power?" I said, straight faced, looking her dead in the eye.
She snorted. "Oh, please, I'm not that P.C., and I don't think you are either."
"Sorry, couldn't resist."
"Besides you've worked with the police long enough to know that it usually is man power."
"Too true," I said.
"How about the police escort, or some surveillance?"
"Let me think about it," I said.
She pushed away from her desk. She didn't exactly tower over me, but she was tall. "Why won't you let us help protect you, Ms. Blake?"
"Could I have a copy of the report?"
She smiled, but it wasn't a pleasant smile. "Apply through channels, I'm sure you'll have one in a day or two."
"Can't I just use the Xerox machine?"
"No," she said.
"Because you wouldn't take police protection, which means you are hiding something."
"Maybe, but if you give me copies of the photos I might be able to I.D. them."
I shrugged. "I've got a few connections."
"You think your connections give better intelligence than the government?"
"Let's just say that I know the motives and priorities of my connections. I can't say the same for every branch of my government."
We looked at each other for a few heartbeats. "I won't try and debate this with you."
"Good, now can I have a copy of at least the photos?"
"No." And it had that ring to it of finality.
"You're being childish," I said.
She smiled, but it was more a baring of teeth, a friendly snarl. "And you're hiding something. If it comes back and bites this investigation on the ass, I'll have your badge for it."
I thought about saying try and see how far you get,but I didn't. I was new enough to the badge that I wasn't really sure what I could lose it over, and what I couldn't. I probably should look into those kinds of details.
"I don't know enough about why Heinrick was trailing me to hide anything, O'Brien."
"So you say."
I sighed and stood up. "Fine."
"Have a nice day, Blake. Go talk to your connections and see where it gets you. I'll stick with the government and Interpol." She gave an exaggerated shrug. "Call me old-fashioned."
"Suit yourself," I said.
"Just go," she said.
I opened the Jeep and heard my cell phone ringing. I kept leaving it in the car, forgetting I had it. I slid onto the warm leather of the seats, fumbling for the phone from under the seat, even as I closed the door behind me. Yeah, it would have been cooler with the door open, but I didn't want my legs hanging out the open door while I lay across the seat. Not because bad guys were after me, just normal girl paranoia.
I finally dug the phone out on the fourth and last ring before it went over to message mode. "Yeah, it's me, what?" I sounded rude and out of breath, but at least I picked up.
"Ma petite?" Jean-Claude made the word almost a question as if he wasn't a hundred percent sure he'd gotten me.
With the gearshift digging into my side, and the overheated leather against my arm, I still felt better. Better to hear his voice, better to know he'd called me first. He couldn't be all that mad at me if he called first.
"It's me, Jean-Claude, I forgot the phone in the Jeep again, sorry." I wanted to say other things, but I couldn't figure out how to get the right words out of my mouth. Part of the problem was I wasn't sure what the right words were.
"The police have taken Jason," he said.
"What did you say?"
"The police have come and taken Jason away." His voice was matter of fact, empty even. Which usually meant he was hiding a lot of emotions, none of which he wanted to share.
I moved over an inch so the gearshift wasn't stabbing me, and lay on the seats for a moment. The first hint of panic was fluttering around in my gut. "Why did they take him?" My voice sounded almost as normal and matter of fact as Jean-Claude's.
"For questioning about a murder." His empty, cultured voice said it, as if the M-word hadn't been there.
"What murder?" I asked, and my voice was getting emptier.
"Sergeant Zerbrowski said you'd figure it out. That bringing Jason to a crime scene was a bad idea. I was not aware you took anyone on your crime scene visits."
"You make it sound like I'm visiting friends."
"I meant no insult, but why was Jason with you?"
"I wasn't feeling well enough to drive, and the police didn't want to wait for me to feel better."
"Why were you unwell enough not to drive?"
"Well, it seemed to be because Asher took a hell of a lot of blood. And I was having a bad reaction to having my mind rolled. It left me feeling a bit sick."
"How sick?" he asked, and there was a note of something in his empty voice now, something I couldn't quite place.
"I fainted a couple of times, and threw up, okay? Now let's concentrate on the current crisis. Did they actually arrest Jason?"
"I could not get a good sense of that, but I think not. They did take him away in restraints, though."
"That's standard with any known, or suspected, lycanthropes," I said. I pushed myself up, so I could sit on the seat instead of lying across it. The front of a Jeep just wasn't made for lying across. "You do know that if they didn't arrest him then he's free to walk out of questioning at any time?"
"It is a pretty theory, ma petite," now he sounded tired.
"It's the law," I said.
"Perhaps for humans," he said, voice mild.
I couldn't keep the indignation out of my voice. "The law applies to everyone, Jean-Claude, that's the way the system works."
He gave a soft laugh, and for once it was just a laugh with nothing otherworldly about it. "You are not usually so naive, ma petite."
"If the law doesn't apply evenly to everybody, then it doesn't work at all."
"I will not argue this with you, ma petite."
"If Zerbrowski picked him up, I know where they took Jason. I'm not that far from RPIT headquarters."
"What are you going to do?" he asked, voice still holding the soft edge of his laughter.
"Get Jason out," I said, buckling on my seat belt, and trying to pin the phone against my shoulder enough to start the Jeep.
"Do you think that is possible?" he asked.
"Sure," I said, and nearly dropped the phone, but I got the Jeep started. I seemed to be having a little trouble coordinating everything today.
"You sound so confident, ma petite."
"I am confident." I was, the fluttering feeling in my stomach wasn't. "I've got to go."
"Good fortune, ma petite,I hope you rescue our wolf."
"I'll do my best."
"Of that, there is little doubt. Je t'aime, ma petite."
"I love you, too." We hung up, at least we'd ended with I love you. It was better than screaming at each other. I dropped the phone on the seat beside me and put the Jeep in gear.
One emergency at a time. Save Jason, contact some people I knew to see if they knew anything about Heinrick, then prepare for the big banquet with Musette and company. Oh, and figure out how to keep the mess with Asher from driving a permanent wedge between Jean-Claude and me. Just another day in my life. This was one of those days when I thought that maybe a new life, a different life, wouldn't be so bad. But where the hell had I put the receipt, and could you return something that was over twenty years old? Where do you go to get a new life when your old one has you so puzzled you don't know how to fix it? Wish I knew.