How was it that the second things started to go okay, reality inevitably intervened in the worst way?
Lachlan struggled to put the words he was hearing into a context that would compute inside his brain. His hand, gripping the cellphone, froze around the little plastic chassis. If the device had been any less well made, it would have cracked.
“I’m sorry, can you say that again?”
The woman—the police officer or the EMT, or whoever it was that the police station had gotten to call him—said the words again and this time they broke through the fog in his head. Lachlan politely thanked her for her time and hung up. He looked at Vector, but he didn’t need to say anything, the werewolf had heard it all with his wolf ears.
“Lachlan,” Vector breathed out in a soft voice.
He shook his head and dropped the phone. It thumped quietly against the thin rug under his feet. He should check it for other calls—texts—something. Surely the moment hadn’t passed without—while he was—
A man had died in Seattle, which was not a unique occurrence. Men killed each other day. People died from natural and unnatural causes. Took their own lives in some cases. This was a big city, filled with hundreds of thousands of people, all of them wading through existence, waiting for that moment for it be snuffed out.
“Alan’s dead,” he said in a toneless voice. Inanely. Because of course the wolf already knew it, he’d heard it, the three times Lachlan had had to ask the woman on the phone to repeat herself.
Long fingered hands cupped the sides of his face in the warm air, brushing sticky strands of hair off his forehead. He felt them, but not as hands, as anchors drawing him back into the moment. Focusing him. He was grateful, once again, for Vector’s steadying presence.
“I need to do something. What should I do?” he asked, looking up into the wolf’s dark, endless eyes.
“I’ll make a call. It happened in Patrick’s precinct. He might be able to tell us who has the case.”
“Patrick?” Lachlan asked, feeling the slow crawl of a numbing sensation sweep over his nerves. “Your cousin?”
The hands on his face smoothed over his skin and Lachlan felt the wolf smudge a kiss across his hot cheek before withdrawing. The wolf spoke in a low voice into his phone from the other side of the room, eventually wandering into the hallway for a couple of minutes.
Lachlan hadn’t even realized he was Alan’s emergency contact.
“I have good news—or, well, not good but convenient,” Vector tripped over his words, reappearing in the doorway. “Patrick said the case number is one of his, he’s been on the scene all morning. If you want, we can go down to the South Precinct.”
“Did he say that?”
“Not in so many words, but—Lachlan?”
“In a minute. Did he tell you how it happened? What they think?”
“No, he sounded distracted.”
Lachlan jerked back to the present when a glass appeared in front of his face, full of cool water from the tap and ice that clinked. He took the glass with a shaking hand and drank half of it in one long gulp, feeling his brain ache and his stomach lurch. Vector took the glass away from him when he stopped drinking and set it down on the nightstand.
“If you need a minute…maybe you should lay down for a little bit. Just to gather your thoughts. We don’t have to leave immediately. It’ll take them awhile to finish up at the scene and get back to the station.”
Lachlan shook his head and leapt to his feet. He was being stupid, letting the news incapacitate him like this. And while he appreciated Vector’s gentle handholding, he didn’t want it.
“No—no, let’s go. I need see the—the body. I need to know what happened.”
“Right.” Vector nodded briskly, all business again, and helped find his wallet and keys while Lachlan dug out a pair of flip flops.
“Are you sure you want to drive?”
Lachlan threw back the rest of his lukewarm coffee and gave his ex-partner a dark look. “Bad news or no, I’m still a safer driver than you are.”
“I’ve gotten better, actually,” Vector said, following him downstairs.
Outside, the sun beat down on the sidewalk, reflecting white light off the pale concrete, glass, and chrome—blinding him.
“Come on, we can catch the bus instead,” Lachlan said, jogging up the hill to the stop nearest his apartment. “I try not to drive if I don’t have to.”
“That’s very economical of you.”
“Hope you don’t mind.”
The wolf shook his head and dropped two dollars in the meter, sitting in the aisle seat next to him. They’d missed the worst of the morning commute and the bus wasn’t terribly crowded.
“As long as it gets us where we need to go,” Vector replied.
The werewolf’s eyes moved over the crowd. Lachlan imagined him cataloging the other passengers with his ridiculous memory and supernatural senses. Did he categorize people by their appearances or their smell? he wondered.
It was an interesting line of thought, but hardly enough to distract him from their destination. Or why their morning had been interrupted.
What had Alan gotten himself mixed up in to wind up dead in the middle of the week?
They’d had to cancel their last couple get togethers so it had been a week or two since the last time he spoke to his friend face-to-face, but he couldn’t think of anything Alan had mentioned that might have resulted in his—
Was it just bad luck on his friend’s part? Wrong place, wrong time? Had it been a mugging gone wrong? Not an impossible explanation. Seattle had its fair share of gang and drug problems, which resulted in certain hotbeds of crime. That was to be expected with any major metropolis. But it was nothing compared to the crime you found in Los Angeles or New York, and Alan wasn’t an idiot. He knew where not to get caught late at night by himself.
“Here, you forgot this,” Vector said, handing him his cellphone.
“Thanks.” Lachlan thumbed the device on and checked his calls and text history, but there was nothing before the attempts from the ME’s office.
“You were close, weren’t you?”
“He was my best friend,” Lachlan replied. “We’d been through a lot. There were a few rough years for me, after that last case, and Alan carried my ass home more than once.”
“I’m sorry,” the wolf repeated. And he really did sound sorry. Not like all those careless throwaway apologies people bandied about without any real feeling. But sincerely a little heartbroken—both for himself, but also for the perceived distress the situation was causing Lachlan himself.
Their shoulders brushed together as the bus lurched up and down the steep Seattle slopes. Lachlan wasn’t about to engage in any overt displays of public affection, but still, he reached between their bodies and squeezed Vector’s fingers between his own. One quick, tight moment of human contact to acknowledge the words and manner with which they had been offered to him.
“Thanks. And thank you for this. Calling your cousin.”
He felt Vector shrug.
They were stuck waiting for a connecting bus for the better part of half an hour, but they made it to the station before noon. And if Vector was frustrated or put out by the inconvenience of traveling by public transportation, he didn’t show it. He remained strong and silently stoic beside Lachlan, occasionally glancing at his phone without actually typing anything.
Lachlan wondered how glad Patrick Clanahan would actually be to see them, but he didn’t care as long as it got him answers about Alan’s death.
The South Seattle Police Precinct displayed architecture typical of the area: three floors high, blank square windows that stretched from the bottom of the floor to the top without any adornment, and the exterior constructed entirely from red brick. It was a relic of a time when South Seattle and its neighborhoods were dominated by a more industrial crowd. Seventy years ago, these brick warehouses and low rises had been home to manufacturing businesses that stretched from Marginal Way to Beacon to Rainier Avenue.
In the distance, he could occasionally catch the low drone of planes taking off or landing at Boeing field.
They walked to the police station and Vector led the way inside, up two flights of stairs to the top floor and stopped at two desks near the center of the action, neither occupied at the present. One had books spread across its surface and the remains of a sandwich sitting in its brown paper wrapper. The opposite desk was neat and tidy, papers organized in the In/Out tray, pens and pencils sorted into matching cups, and the computer painstakingly free of dust.
“Is this…?” Lachlan glanced over his shoulder when the doors to the bullpen swung open behind them and two sweating figures stalked towards them. One was a man, tall and broader in the shoulders than Vector, with a dark look on his face. He was accompanied by a woman, average height, with darkly tanned skin and her long dark hair pulled back in a braid that draped across her shoulder. Next to him Vector perked up and held his hand out to the man.
Detective Patrick Clanahan grunted and gave his cousin’s hand a perfunctory shake. “You didn’t say you were going to come down here.”
“I thought it was implied. This is my—ex-partner, uh, Lachlan Graham. He’s the emergency contact of your victim. I was hoping you could fill us in on what’s going on. The ME’s office was light on details.”
Clanahan shot a quick look at Lachlan. They had met once before, years ago, right after Vector took his reassignment with the FBI. It hadn’t been one of the better moments of Lachlan’s life, but he was still a little surprised when the other wolf’s eyes slid right through him, no shred of recognition flickering across his face.
“I don’t know, Vector. Things are a little crazy here.”
“It wouldn’t hurt to get a positive ID on the victim,” the woman interrupted. “I’m Detective Sabira Mallory, I’m sorry that we’re meeting under such unfortunate circumstances.”
Lachlan and Vector both shook Mallory’s hand.
“I’d like to see the body,” Lachlan interjected when it looked like Clanahan might try to brush them off again.
“I can take you.” She held up her hand to Clanahan and gave him an expectant look. “Didn’t we just agree that I’d take point on this case while you continue looking into the St Mark’s bodies?”
“You’re still investigating St Mark’s?” Vector asked, folding his arms behind his back.
Lachlan fidgeted as the three police officers started discussing the case he and Vector had just wrapped up in Tacoma. As glad as he was to have contributed to putting Ryan Ellms behind bars, he wasn’t in any mood to rehash the case. Not when his best friend was lying downstairs in a body bag.
“What do mean it has nothing to do with my funeral home case? I’m the one who gave you the St Mark’s files.”
“I know, I thought that was the point,” Vector protested. “Look if you were better at picking up your phone when I call you, I might have been able to keep you in the loop on developments with the St Mark’s bodies, but that’s hardly my fault.”
“You’re one to talk about not keeping in touch, Vector,” Clanahan growled.
“Gentlemen, do you really think this is the time or place to have this particular discussion?” Mallory interrupted with her sharp, British accent. She gestured to get Lachlan’s attention. “Follow me, Mr Graham.”
Vector snorted and hurried after them as Mallory led them downstairs to the city morgue.
“We don’t know much right now. We’re waiting on the toxicology report, obviously.”
“Where did you find him?” Lachlan asked.
“South Park, on the bank of the Duwamish right across from Boeing Field. Some kids from the neighborhood found him. When was the last time you spoke to your friend?” she asked, glancing at him.
“I don’t know. It’s been a busy week.”
“Think about it.”
The elevator dinged and let them out in a cool, dimly lit hallway. The rest of the building might swelter in this heat, but they were still sure to pump enough air conditioning down here to combat the smell of death.
Mallory waved to the kid sitting behind the ME’s desk. “Hello, Tobias. Has the South Park body arrived yet?”
“We haven’t finish processing it.”
“I want to see it anyway,” Lachlan said.
“Are you sure? It’s not going to be very pretty.”
“I used to be a cop. I can handle it.”
Mallory shrugged and motioned for Toby to get up and follow them inside the main diagnostic opera. The Medical Examiner—Lachlan didn’t recognize her by sight, but his contact with the ME’s office had been limited during his time with Vice—was braced against the examination table which held a naked body. She spoke into a microphone clipped to the collar of her lab coat. There was blood on her hands.
Lachlan froze in the doorway and swallowed. Even if he’d thought he was ready for this moment, there was no preparation you could do to see your best friend laid out on stainless steal like nothing more than a slab of meat, waiting to be quartered, weighed, and measured.
“You don’t have to do this right now. We can come back,” Vector murmured, wrapped a reassuring hand around his left arm.
Lachlan shook his head and shoved down the squirming sensation in his stomach.
“Mallory?” the ME asked, pausing in her work.
“Hello, Doctor. I’m sorry to interrupt your work but this young man is a friend of the deceased.”
“So, you just decided to bring him down into my office? Come on, Mallory, that’s not—”
Mallory shrugged. “I just wanted the young man to make a positive ID on the body.”
“We’ve got his license. I’m sending the fingerprints upstairs, you’ll get your positive ID.”
Mallory’s expression remained placid as she gestured for Lachlan to come closer. He stepped up to the operating table, ignoring the disgruntled noise the ME made as she stepped back.
“Where’s Patrick?” Doctor Lynch asked, removing her bloody gloves and disposing of them in the bin marked with a biohazard sticker.
“Upstairs, working on another one of our cases,” Mallory replied.
“It’s going to be a busy summer. With all this heat.”
“Strange how those two things go hand in hand, isn’t it. Now, Mr Graham—”
“You can call me Lachlan.”
“Lachlan, are you ready?”
He grimaced. He’d already gotten an eyeful of his friend’s pallid skin the second he stepped fully into the room.
“That’s definitely him,” he said, jerking his chin past her shoulder. “Now, can you tell me how he died?”
“I haven’t found anything to disprove my assessment at the scene,” Doctor Lynch said.
“As far as we can tell, your friend, Mr Wade, was the victim of a violent attack. There are defensive as well as offensive wounds, so it’s our theory that he was involved in a fight of some sort. Whether he instigated or was merely the victim, we can’t say yet. There’s evidence of a skull fracture and several broken bones, including the left orbital socket and his nose.”
“He was beaten to death,” Lachlan said, filling in the blanks.
“Do you mind if I take a closer look?”
“Don’t touch the body,” Dr Lynch snapped.
Lachlan stared down at his friend’s face. As expected from Mallory’s description, it was distorted and covered in a thick coat of blood and grime. There were multiple bruises and contusions bisecting Alan’s chest, arms, and legs. The skin along his knuckles was jagged and raised where it had been torn: he’d had fought back. Fought for his life. While Lachlan was sleeping safe in his apartment across the city, bemoaning the fate of his love life.
“When did he die?”
“Last night some time. More then fourteen hours ago at least.”
Lachlan sighed. At least he could be sure that Alan hadn’t tried to contact him last night. It was small comfort.
There was dirt covering most of the body. It was even in his sandy colored hair, but a particular blue tinged smudge under his friend’s nostrils caught Lachlan’s eye. He leaned over to get a closer look.
“What?” Mallory asked.
Lachlan sniffed subtly. He didn’t have a nose like Vector, but he could still detect the faint trace of lavender and electricity and something like burnt sugar cookies.
“Nothing,” he said, straightening up. He stepped away and asked Mallory, “If I give you my email, will you keep me updated on what happens?”
She looked between Vector and him and Alan’s body on the slab and shrugged. “I suppose I can do that, yes.”