David put his cruiser into drive. “Do you think he’s a werewolf?”
“I don’t know.”
Harris hadn’t ordered us to check on Joshua Hamilton to see if he was dead or alive; she’d ordered Pierce Kemp and Leo Dodd, but Kemp owed me a favor and Dodd was lazy. So we’d piled into David’s car, obeying Harris’s original order in that respect, since she thought that having only one cop car show up at his apartment building wouldn’t freak him out too much. She’d told Kemp and Dodd to treat this as a welfare check. If he was breathing, call an ambulance. If he wasn’t, call an ambulance. Meanwhile, the sheriff was notifying the other victims’ next of kin.
“I mean, the guy got up, and we both saw him take, what, three to the chest? Three forty-fives?” David passed a Toyota Prius.
“And all that blood. Do you think, could you survive that?”
“I took a rifle slug to the stomach once, remember.”
He cleared his throat. “Sure. Yeah. You did. For me, you did.”
We drove in silence until we reached Hamilton’s apartment building. It was next to one of the four branches of the Mitchum Bay public library system. I wondered if Hamilton had a library card.
The building was a two-story walk-up, red brick, ringed by bushy green shrubs. David parked next to a dark blue Chevy truck. I smelled chlorine when I got out of the car. An archway cut into the middle of the building led us to a large courtyard with lounge chairs and a rectangular pool. An identical building squatted opposite from us, separated by the courtyard and a row of picnic tables.
David checked the copy of Hamilton’s license. “Place is bigger than it looked from the street. We’re looking for two-oh-six.”
I turned around. One-oh-two on my left. Two-oh-two above it. Stairway between 102 and 103. I spotted 206 and trotted up the stairs. David heard my boots clanging on the metal and called my name. I kept walking. I reached the landing and turned for 206.
And then I stopped. David’s own clang-clang-clang up the stairs faded. My nostrils flared. I’d smelled Hamilton in the McDonald’s, his natural body odor and his deodorant–Axe–and his cologne–Polo–and of course his blood. I smelled him now, but it was . . . different. The fine hairs on the back of my neck stood at attention. My skin tingled.
He wasn’t a werewolf. I didn’t know what he was, but he wasn’t a werewolf.
In the restaurant, he’d smelled human.
Now, not human.
I started growling.
David knew how to handle me. He touched my arm with his baton, then took three quick steps backward.
I whirled around, snarling, jacked up on adrenaline, that wrong smell ping-ponging around in my nose and making me crazy, and then I saw him. He had the ASP baton fully extended and held it in front of his chest while he stood on the stairs, four steps down, well out of my reach.
To his credit, he didn’t look scared. Concerned, but not scared.
My knees buckled. I let them. I sat on the concrete walkway and rested my back against the bricks between 202 and 203. David sat on the top step. He collapsed the baton.
“This looks bad,” he said. “Us sitting on the job.”
I looked at him. He grinned.
“Fuck,” I said.
“You remembered the baton trick.”
“Oh yes, definitely. I only need you to slam me to the ground once to remember not to surprise you when you’re upset.”
“Upset, is that what you call it?”
“What do you call it?”
“I try not to call it anything.” I pushed into a squat, gauging the likelihood of my legs giving way again. “This, this is why I like working alone.”
“Well, Harris wanted two deputies.”
“Not us two.” I stood.
David followed suit, tucked away his baton while he said, “So what’s wrong? Is it Hamilton?”
“I can’t . . . it’s hard to describe. He smells wrong now. In the restaurant, he smelled human. Now, he doesn’t. He’s not a werewolf, I can tell you that.”
“You can? Before, you said you weren’t sure.”
“It’s not like I’ve smelled many werewolves, Mercy. The last one, the only one, was the one who bit me. And my nose.” I tapped it. “It wasn’t like it is now.”
“But you’re sure he isn’t a werewolf.”
I put my hand on the butt of my Glock 17. “I’m positive.” I continued to Hamilton’s apartment.
David trotted a few steps behind me, slightly to my right. “So what’s the plan?” he whispered.
“Forget your Southern macho tendencies and stay behind me,” I whispered back.
We reached Hamilton’s door. I knocked twice–bam bam–and followed with “Sawyer County Sheriff’s!” and waited.
“We should’ve gotten the apartment manager,” David said.
“Is there one on-site?”–I knocked again– “I didn’t see one.”
“I think I saw a sign near where we parked. List of hours and a phone number.”
“Why didn’t you say something?”
“Sure, like you would wait for a manager to show up and let us in.”
“He’s not answering.”
“Maybe he’s not home. Or maybe he died en route.”
Hamilton’s car was a black 2009 Dodge Charger. There were cops looking for it, county and state. To get here, we’d driven the quickest route from the Mickey D’s, the one we figured Hamilton would’ve taken himself.
David touched my shoulder. “I’m going down to get that number. Christ, I can’t believe I didn’t get it before. Stay here and don’t do anything.”
I put my hand on the door, a few inches above the doorknob, and pushed hard. There was a cracking noise, and the door popped in like I’d kicked it.
“Oh for God’s sake, Elizabeth,” David muttered.
We entered the apartment. White textured walls, beige carpet. Hamilton had a fat black leather couch and a glass coffee table in the living room, nothing in the small dining nook between the living room and kitchen. Galley-style kitchen, with white appliances. Matching microwave on top of the refrigerator, with liquor bottles behind it.
Bathroom next to the kitchen. Bedroom next to the bathroom. David checked it out while I nudged the bathroom door open a bit more.
“Huh,” I murmured. I looked at the combination shower-tub. The floor of the tub was wet. There was a wastebasket beside the toilet.
“Bedroom’s clear,” David said behind me a few moments later.
“He’s been here,” I said. “Shower stall’s wet.” I picked up the wastebasket and upended it. Q-tips and a disposable razor tumbled out, along with a bloody washcloth. The cloth made a splap sound when it hit the linoleum floor.
David knelt and studied the cloth. “All right, he came home and showered. Where’d he go? And where are his clothes? Laundry basket in the bedroom is empty.”
We checked the kitchen garbage. No clothes in it.
Next, we checked the Dumpsters on the side of the building. There were three, hidden from the street by a seven-feet-high privacy fence. We opened the plastic lids and peered into each one, but it was the one closest to the fence that turned out to be the winner. I climbed inside.
Hamilton had stuffed his bloody garments into a white garbage bag. Rather easy to spot. If you truly want to hide bloody clothes, put them in black bags. It’s why I keep a roll in the trunk of my cruiser and Mustang.
I bent over, standing on mushy piles of God knew what, and sliced open the bag with my Leatherman’s knife attachment. The video from the McDonald’s had been grainy color, but I’d been able to get a look at Hamilton’s clothes. Red fleece jacket, blue shirt, jeans. Those articles of clothing matched the bloodied ones in the bag.
I prepared to toss the bag over the side and get the fuck out of there. I despised the smell of garbage. It had taken minutes for my nose to be able to deal with the stench.
Then I heard the voice–deep, male–coming from outside the Dumpster, and I paused, slowly lowered the bag to the garbagey floor, and put my hand on my gun.
“And how are you today, Officer?” said the voice.
“Fine, sir,” answered David. “And yourself?”
“Aces. Mind stepping away from that Dumpster?”
I thumbed off the strap across my gun.
“I do, actually. Who are you?”
Shit, fuck, shit, I hate this, I can’t smell that guy, who is he–I didn’t dare take a deep breath, but I needed to. I needed to focus.
“Whoever else is in there, come on out.” Different voice this time. Female.
Wait. Was she talking to me?
“Elizabeth, it’s fine,” David called out.
We’ll see. I pulled my gun and straightened up.
NFL linebacker-sized black guy with a shaved head, wearing a gray suit that had to be custom-made. He didn’t have the build that allowed shopping at Men’s Wearhouse. Shorter white female with short blond hair, wearing a dark green pantsuit and black Converse sneakers.
“You can put up the gun,” the black guy said.
And here I thought I’d had it hidden from view.
“Who are you?” I looked at David. “You okay?”
He nodded. I put my right hand on the lip of the Dumpster and vaulted out, eyes on the strangers, too preoccupied with them to check what I was doing. It was only after I landed on my feet that it occurred to me that the exit from the garbage bin might have been a bit unnatural. Standing in the bin, the top of it had reached the middle of my chest.
Too late to worry about it. I kept the gun out at my side. “I hate repeating myself. Who are you?”
The blond cocked her head to the side. “You know, I thought when you jumped out that you might be . . . your teeth just confirmed it . . . how long have you been a lycanthrope, Officer?”