Home > Hunter's Trail (Scarlett Bernard #3)(6)

Hunter's Trail (Scarlett Bernard #3)(6)
Author: Melissa F. Olson

I supposed it was possible that one werewolf had killed another. A vampire is always a vampire, and witches are comparatively ordinary people with the ability to channel magic, but werewolves have a rough time of it. The magic that forces them to change into wolves once a month never lets them truly relax; instead, it itches away at their psyches, keeping them on guard and antsy like recovering alcoholics at an open bar. That’s why the pack members get into fights so often. The problem with that theory, though, was that it’s insanely difficult to kill a werewolf— one of the other benefits of their condition.

My thoughts spun around and around like that, testing and rejecting scenarios, until I realized Molly had been asking me a question. “Hmm? What?” I asked.

“I said, this must be a long commute for Will, to get to the dog food place.”

I smiled briefly. I’d never heard anyone call Will’s bar “the dog food place,” but then again, the vampires aren’t exactly known for their respectfulness toward other Old World factions.

The stoplight a quarter mile in front of us turned yellow, and Molly stomped on the gas pedal. I grabbed the passenger seat’s “oh shit” handle, my fingers tightening until the knuckles glowed white. “I guess he probably works unusual hours,” Molly said thoughtfully, oblivious to my panic. I took a few deep breaths, distracting myself by imagining what we would do if Molly got us pulled over. As a vampire she could press a cop’s mind and get us off without a ticket, but I’d have to get at least ten feet away from her first, and didn’t cops get really upset if you got out of the car?

It was almost eight by the time we wound up Temescal Canyon Road toward Will’s street. The alpha werewolf of Los Angeles lived in the last house on a little dead-end street off the canyon road. It was an ideal location for the pack because Will’s property backed up to Temescal Canyon Park, which closed every day at sunset. Once a month, all the werewolves in LA drove up to Will’s place, hiked deep into the park, and changed together as a pack when the moon rose.

We turned onto Will’s street and cruised past Will’s next-door neighbor, who was only a hundred yards away from the alpha’s property. Will had planted a thicket of carefully chosen shrubs to insulate sound between the two houses. The small lot across the street from Will’s was empty—in fact, I was pretty sure he owned it, because I’d seen him use it for overflow parking when his driveway was full.

I made Molly take the time to turn the van around in the empty lot so we could back it into Will’s driveway. This was one of the useful tips I had learned from Olivia: when you’re dealing with a complete dead body, always back in. It means less exposure, and you can get away faster if there’s trouble.

We climbed out of the Whale at the same time, and Molly rounded the nose of the van to walk next to me. I took a second to glance around, checking for witnesses. We were still well within LA County, but the combination of the empty lot and the next-door shrubs made it seem like we were in the middle of nowhere. The smog still dimmed out the stars up here, but the expanse of city lights below made it seem like the night sky had just relocated a little lower. Looking at it too long was disorienting.

It was also quiet this far into the mountains. My hometown of Esperanza had also been quiet compared to the city, but not like this. There was an eerie stillness in the air, like we were inside a bubble of silence that covered the city below us, and if we so much as breathed wrong, it could burst. “What is that?” Molly whispered, looking around. There was no reason to whisper, but I understood the impulse. The sudden quiet was like being in a church or library. “Why does it feel like something’s about to shatter?”

I shrugged. “I think that’s just nature,” I said. I tried to keep my voice normal, but I was a little creeped out too. Someone had taken a big risk, driving way out here in this quiet just to dump a corpse on Will’s doorstep. One flat tire, suspicious neighbor, or broken taillight could have blown the whole thing.

I leaned on the cane to pivot, hobbling around the van to open the back door. I grabbed my black duffel bag of tools and supplies, slinging the strap over my head to wear it across my body. Molly watched me closely as we moved toward the house, probably expecting me to keel over. In her defense, I’d fallen down several times in her house while my equilibrium was returning.

Will’s driveway terminated into a small one-vehicle carport, which was empty, since Will had gone back to work. From the outside, there was nothing at all memorable about Will’s house. It was a small white split-level with a narrow wooden walkway, sort of like a boardwalk, that started next to the carport and ran around the corner of the house to the front door. Most of the homes we’d driven past made a point to exploit every possible opportunity for a big picture window, but Will’s had only a couple teeny bedroom windows visible from the front. However, I knew that the back of the house made up for them with an enormous window that was nearly the size of the whole living room wall. If you were inside the house, it seemed like you were in a cave that looked out over acres of wilderness—the perfect den.

Will had left several exterior lights on for Molly and me, which I very much appreciated as we made our way up the long boardwalk. The last time I was at Will’s, I could have sworn there was an extra large welcome mat out here, an ugly green thing that said Please Wipe Your Paws. Now it was missing. When we were about five feet from the door I paused, switching the cane to my left hand and pulling a heavy-duty penlight out of the duffel with my right. The penlight’s beam was the width of my thumb, and I ran it around the wood at my feet. Sure enough, I could make out a rectangle of darker, less worn wood where the welcome mat must have been only an hour or two ago. I looked for blood and spotted a number of red smears just outside of the rectangle. Whoever dumped the body must have dropped it right on the damned welcome mat.

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