Home > Hunter's Trail (Scarlett Bernard #3)(3)

Hunter's Trail (Scarlett Bernard #3)(3)
Author: Melissa F. Olson

“Of course not. I just haven’t seen you look happy in . . .” She trailed off, and then finished awkwardly, “You know. A while.”

I did know. I’d spent the last few days huddled in bed, alternately icing my knee and staring guiltily at the ceiling. And before that . . . well, Molly was right; it was good to be out. “Thanks for this, Molls,” I said quietly.

Molly flashed a smile—and then frowned down at my perfect sushi roll. Arching a smug eyebrow, I popped a piece of the roll into my mouth. It’s a rare day when I’m better at something than she is.

“Seriously, how is yours staying together?” she demanded.

“It’s all in the wrist,” I said around a mouthful of rice. Molly apparently had missed that particular idiom, because she examined her own wrists with new interest, and I almost choked on a bite of cucumber.

Then my cell phone buzzed in my pocket and I jumped, knocking my cane from where I’d propped it against the table. It clattered loudly to the floor, and the middle-aged lesbian couple at the next table glared at me. I shrugged in a “what’re you gonna do” kind of way and leaned back so I could dig the cell out of my jacket, which I’d tossed on the empty table behind ours. The caller ID said it was Will, the head of the Los Angeles werewolf pack. I frowned.

My job is cleaning up crime scenes for the three Old World parties in Los Angeles—the vampires, the werewolves, and the witches—and I’m on retainer, so in theory, any of them could call me anytime. But I hadn’t had any work calls since my injury, and frankly, Will was the last person I’d expect to call me for any other reason.

The phone buzzed a second time, and Hoshi paused in his explanation to glare at me. I was tempted to turn the phone off and put it back in my pocket, but that went against years of habit—and besides, Will wouldn’t call unless he absolutely had to. And by the time I hobbled out to the hall with my cane, I’d miss him. There was nothing to do but answer. “Sorry, Hoshi, but I’m an obstetrician,” I lied. “I have to take this.” The instructor’s face relaxed into a forgiving nod, and the couple next to me went back to their own rolls. I held the phone to my ear. “This is Dr. Bernard,” I said serenely. Molly grinned without looking up from her sushi.

Will didn’t even mention the fake title, which told me right away that things were serious. “You need to get to my house right now,” he said, his voice urgent.

I blinked in surprise. He was calling me into a crime scene? “For . . . working things?” I said stupidly. No, Scarlett, he’s got an emergency grape-juice stain. I glanced down at my swollen knee, which looked barely restrained by the metal-and-Velcro brace. “Will, I’m not exactly fit for duty yet. Is it . . . really minor?” I asked hopefully.

“No,” he said shortly. “It’s a disaster. At my house.” My face must have changed, because Molly’s own eyes widened in alarm. A weight I hadn’t known I’d dropped settled itself back into place on my shoulders.

My employers and I don’t discuss crime scenes over the phone, for obvious reasons, but we also don’t bother using a lot of code words to describe the situations. Codes are difficult to remember, and ultimately, knowing in advance what I need to clean up won’t make me get there any faster. They send me to a location, I get there as fast as I can, and I use whatever I have in my van, the White Whale.

One of the few codes we do have, however, is “disaster.” If Will was using it now, that meant that somewhere in his house there was a dead human body.

Chapter 2

“Scarlett?” Molly said uncertainly. She had put a hand out like she was spotting me, and I realized I had swayed a little bit on my stool. I grabbed the edge of the lab table for balance and told myself to get my shit together. It wasn’t like this was my first dead body.

“Hang on a second, Will,” I said into the phone. Without hanging up I put the phone in my hoodie pocket and looked at Molly, tilting my head toward the door. She nodded and began gathering our jackets and her purse. Technically Molly could have stayed, since it was after sunset, but she wouldn’t have been able to taste anything without me anyway. She handed me my cane, and we walked—well, Molly walked, I did more of a weird pirate shuffle with the cane—out to the hallway. “Good luck!” Hoshi said gaily, probably glad to be rid of the two of us. Didn’t blame him at all.

As soon as the door closed behind us I put the phone back up to my ear. “I’ll come,” I said to Will. I raised my eyebrows a tiny bit at Molly, mouthing Will you help? at her. She nodded an affirmation. “Molly’s driving,” I added, sending her a grateful look.

“Fine,” Will said impatiently. “I won’t be here; you’ll have to clean up without me. I was just stopping home for a second to grab some papers. I was lucky I noticed it on the doorstep.”

“Wait . . . you’re leaving?” I asked, genuinely confused. I’d expected Will to be angry with me, but I didn’t think he’d actually blow me off, not with a dead body.

“Yes,” he said shortly. “Esmé’s watching the bar, and she has to pick up her kids.” I had met Esmé, a short, pretty werewolf in her mid-thirties who had gotten married young, had kids young—and then had been turned into a werewolf when she and her husband were attacked during a camping trip to Canada. Her husband hadn’t survived, but Esmé had made it through the change, and suddenly found herself a thirty-year-old widow with three kids and never enough money. With Will’s office manager, Caroline, dead and his bartender, Eli, in hiding, I understood why Esmé was picking up shifts at his bar, Hair of the Dog.

   
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