“Rain,” Tucker said. “You wanna tell me why we’re always getting called out in the goddamn rain?”
“Clean living,” Ryan Doyle answered, eyeing his partner with amusement as he slid his ’63 Pontiac Catalina in beside an LAPD black-and-white. The flashing lights cast eerie shadows over the thickly wooded park, illuminating an ambulance and two unmarked piece-o’-shit vehicles that had homicide written all over them.
“And that,” Tucker said, pointing to the nearest patrol car as he continued his diatribe of bad fortune. “We got cops coming out our a-holes. Now we gotta deal with the whole f-ing system.”
Doyle slammed the gearshift into park. “I’m gonna assume you didn’t get laid last night, and temporary celibacy has soured your mood. ’Cause if this is going to be your attitude for this entire investigation, I’m putting in for a new partner.”
Beside him, Tucker spread his arms wide, then flashed the smile that had made him a celebrity among all the Division 6 females. “I’m good, man. Don’t get your panties in a wad.”
Doyle grabbed his umbrella off the floorboards and shoved open the Pontiac’s door. “Let’s do this thing.”
Tucker fell in step beside him, and they slogged toward an officer in a rain-soaked slicker who was currently roping off the area with crime scene tape. The officer stiffened as they approached, his eyes widening like a deer caught in the headlights. Rookie, Doyle thought, as the officer held up a hand. As if that could keep them out.
“You might want to step aside, junior,” Doyle said, flashing his badge out of politeness, but not bothering to slow as he lifted the tape and started to slide under.
“I’m sorry,” the officer said. “No one passes.”
“We got authority here,” Tucker said, staring hard at the guy. “So come on, rookie. Get off our backs and let us through.”
The officer’s face went through the usual jumble of confusion before smoothing out. He smiled, all polite cooperation. “Absolutely, sir. Detective Sanchez is right over there.” He pointed to a woman with a heart-shaped ass. “She’s in charge.”
“Not anymore,” Tucker said.
Doyle followed his partner inside the crime scene tape, unable to stifle his grin. “One of these days, you gotta teach me how you do that.”
“It’s a gift,” Tucker said. “Comes in handy with the ladies, too.”
“I bet it does. Doubt you could get the ladies any other way.”
“You wound me, man,” Tucker said, pressing his palms over his heart. “I’m seriously wounded.”
Doyle shook his head at his partner’s antics, but didn’t bother to respond. Sanchez had already spotted them and was on her way over, her Noxzema-fresh face pinched.
“Hold up, hold up,” she said. “You want to tell me who you boys are and what you’re doing at my crime scene?”
“That’s just it,” Doyle said, pulling his shield from the pocket of his raincoat. “I’m not so sure it’s still your crime scene. I’m Agent Ryan Doyle.” He nodded at Tucker. “My partner, Agent Severin Tucker.”
She peered at his shield and ID, then met his eyes, her own filled with confusion. “Homeland Security?”
Doyle nodded. Technically, it was true. With the passage of the Patriot Act, his employer—the American arm of the Preternatural Enforcement Coalition—had been formally set up as a division of Homeland Security. A secret division, but there nonetheless. And considering the type of terror the PEC chased, there was a certain circular beauty to the ancient organization’s new cover story.
She stared him down. “Are you shitting me?”
“No, ma’am,” Tucker said. “We at Homeland Security do not have a sense of humor of which we’re aware.”
She tilted her head and sent Tucker a scathing glance, because despite the soft shape, she was clearly a hard-ass. “Since when did killers mimicking some creature out of a bad B-movie cross the line into a federal crime?”
“Sorry, Detective,” Doyle said. “That’s classified.”
“Suffice it to say there’s been chatter,” Tucker added.
She looked from one to the other, obviously not buying their bullshit. Doyle watched Tucker’s face, saw that he was getting the look, and stepped in front of his partner. Tucker’s trick came in handy, but he couldn’t pull his sort of heeby-jeeby on the whole crew. And while Sanchez might be the only one making noise, there were at least seven officers hanging back, circling the body with intent to claim grazing rights.
“We got jurisdiction here, Sanchez. You need confirmation, you call this number and ask for Nikko Leviathin.” Doyle handed her a card. “Otherwise, we’re gonna go check out our crime scene.”
The gal stepped up, getting right in his face. He clenched his hands into fists, fighting a temper that rose like molten lava, ready to explode at any moment. He sucked in air, stifling the urge to lash out and show her right then exactly who was in charge there.
“You wanna play who’s got the bigger dick?” she said, unaware of the increasing danger. “You go right ahead. But this is my crime scene until my lieutenant or the district attorney tells me otherwise.”
“Those’ll work, too,” Tucker said, his hand firm on Doyle’s shoulder, the pressure just enough to keep Doyle grounded, to bring him back from the rising red danger. “In the meantime—” He cut himself off, then shot Doyle a warning look before turning and heading toward the body.
Doyle drew in a breath, then another, forcing the final remnants of the dark back down before he followed in Tucker’s wake. Sanchez looked ready to spit nails, but she hung back, her cell phone now plastered to her ear.
“So what’ve we got?” he asked, peering down at the ghostly pale form of retired judge Marcus Braddock. By all accounts, the man had been a shape-shifting son of a bitch, but that didn’t mean Doyle would wish murder on him. And this particular cause of death was the worst kind of murder. The draining of a human or a para-human was a Class Five homicide in violation of the Fifth International Covenant, and punishable by public execution. Bad shit all the way around.
Tucker was already squatting near the body, his hand reaching for Braddock’s collar.
“Do you mind?” a rat-faced little man said, firmly shoving Tucker’s hand out of the way.
“Careful,” Tucker said mildly. “Do that again, and you’ll lose a few brain cells.”
The rat hesitated, confused. Then Sanchez stepped up, her expression pure business. “Let him see,” she said. “They’ve inherited this mess. Guess that means they’ve got access to whatever they want.” She faced Doyle head-on. “Including my resources, I’m told. At least until your own team arrives.”
“And we appreciate the cooperation.”
Sanchez’s smile was like ice. “I’m sure you do.” She nodded toward the uniformed officer. “You’re relieved,” she said, then smiled at Doyle. “Limited resources.” She signaled to the rat with a jerk of her chin. “Go ahead. Show the Feds what they want to see.”
Ratboy slid his hand into a latex glove, then tugged the collar down, revealing the ripped flesh and brutalized muscle.
Bloody vampires. Despite the Covenant and the strict laws against contact feeding, it seemed like every time Doyle turned around one of the fuckmongers had sucked somebody dry.
He clenched his fists at his sides, hating their weakness. Disgusted by their lack of restraint. And, yeah, he’d seen all the damn statistics that showed that the vast majority of vampires could control the daemon within. That they didn’t feed on humans. That they didn’t kill. That they obeyed the law.
That they weren’t the walking, talking incarnation of pure, fucking evil that Doyle knew they were.
Statistics be damned. As far as Doyle was concerned, the only good vamp was a dead one.
Marcus Braddock may have been a prick—on and off the bench—but Doyle was going to make sure that the rogue vampire who sucked the life from him went down—with either a stake through the heart or an ax to the head.
“I would have said serial killer until you boys showed up,” Sanchez said, her comments pulling Doyle back to the moment.
“No, ma’am,” he said. “This is much worse.”
The rat and Sanchez exchanged a glance, and when she nodded, Ratboy cleared his throat. “We found this under the body,” he said, holding up a clear evidence bag.
Doyle took it, his eyes not needing the illumination from the flashlight that Sanchez politely held up. A silver signet ring, caked in mud. Even half hidden by the earth, the intricate craftsmanship stood out. A delicately carved dragon with a ruby eye, the body forming a circle as the beast consumed its own tail.
Tucker leaned in for a closer look. “Isn’t that—”
“The Dragos crest,” Doyle said, his smile cold and hard. Lucius Dragos, the last Dragos standing. Finally, after all these years, he had his old friend’s balls in a vise.
“Holy fuck,” Tucker said. “Talk about a gold-star evening. All this time without one piece of solid evidence, and now Dragos goes and makes a mistake like this? It’s too fucking good to be true.”
“That’s what worries me.” Doyle squatted beside the body, then tilted his head to look at his partner. “I need to see if there’s more.”
Tucker shook his head, then looked meaningfully at Sanchez and Ratboy. “You really want to deal with the paperwork?”
Doyle thought of the stack of reprimands and warnings that already peppered his file. Any more, and he was deep in some serious shit. “I’ll only get dinged if Division finds out.”
“Is there a problem?” Sanchez asked.
“Not yet,” Doyle said. To Tucker, he added, “You know I have to do it.”
“Aw, hell,” Tucker said, then rolled his shoulders in defeat. “Fine. Go for it. What’s a little official reprimand between friends, right?”
As Tucker looked deep into the eyes of Detective Sanchez, Doyle pressed his palm over Braddock’s forehead. Ratboy’s feathers ruffled almost immediately. “Are you insane? You’re not even wearing gloves. How can you—”
“I can explain,” Tucker said, crouching down next to the man as Detective Sanchez wandered away, suddenly remembering that she had an elsewhere to be. While Doyle concentrated on finding Braddock’s last thoughts, Tucker put some mumbo in Ratboy’s jumbo and sent the little worm on his way as well.
“I couldn’t go deep,” Tucker said. “Too risky. So you better find it fast.”
Doyle nodded, but didn’t speak. He was getting close.
Darkness. Surprise. Pleasure, even. At least until it turned. Shifted.
Then the fear came.
A mishmash. Horror. Pleasure. Pain.
None of it coming together, none of it coalescing into an image.
Just confusion. A jumble of confused emotions and reactions. Nothing to grab.
Nothing to hold on to.
“Come on, come on,” Tucker said, as Doyle closed his other hand over the body’s heart, trying to get purchase on the fading aura.
And death, so cold and familiar.
And then, finally, a face.
The last image of death. The last conscious thought.
Doyle looked. And in his mind saw Lucius Dragos, fangs bared, as he bent close to suck the last vestiges of life from Judge Marcus Braddock.
Doyle’s teeth chattered and his body shook as he pulled free of Braddock’s mind. But he had Dragos now, had him dead to rights.
Exhausted, he tilted his head up to face Tucker. “We finally got him, partner. And we are going to nail his ass to the wall.”
Excerpted from When Blood Calls by J. K. Beck. Copyright © 2010 by J.K. Beck. Excerpted by permission of Bantam, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.