Cannot Unite (Vampire Assassin League)
Author:Jackie Ivie

Cannot Unite (Vampire Assassin League) - By Jackie Ivie

CHAPTER ONE

Flaked iron oxide.

Jeannette rubbed the particles between her latex-gloved thumb and fingers, watching the rust turn to fine granules that floated down and became dust. Same thing was left at the other murder site. In Philly. That…and a dead body with a lot of bruising and an equal amount of blood loss. Only difference was, this time the victim had managed a 9-1-1 call. That must have been what spared him some of the blood depletion.

“It’s rust, Lady.”

“I know.”

“Forensics already has a baggie full of the stuff.”

“Well…they missed some.”

“Who the hell cares about a little rust?”

“I do.”

“Why?”

She ignored the police officer escorting her. They’d given her an Officer Johnson today. He had a first name. She’d forgotten it the moment they’d been introduced. The guy was full desk jockey. Overweight and out of shape. Winded just from walking with her. Not much different from the policeman who’d been with her in Philly yesterday.

Jeannette walked around the chalked outline of a body to where two small spots of blood had hit the concrete. Forensics had already swabbed and no doubt bagged the evidence, but that wasn’t what she was looking for. There should be some arterial spray. Some sign of trauma. Something. Even hunched down in a squat, she couldn’t see any color other than what looked like a half-acre of light gray floor. Pretty nice floor, streaked intermittently with sunbeams from high-placed windows. Looked like it had even been waxed recently. Everything was nearly identical to the last time. Only in Philly, the body had been drained of over three quarts of blood. According to the police report, this one had lost significantly less. Probably due to that 9-1-1 call. Where would the blood be?

“You finished?”

“Just getting started, Officer.”

He sighed, loudly and heavily.

“You don’t have to stay,” she offered.

“Oh yes, I do. You’re my assignment for the day. I get to make sure nothing is messed with at the crime scene due to your hokie stuff.”

“Then I thank you,” she answered calmly, keeping the sarcasm out of her voice. It wasn’t easy. It was never easy around the uninitiated and closed-minded.

The crime scene faded. Warped. Became nightfall. If she blinked just right, she could end the vision. But that wasn’t what she was getting paid for. She tensed. Carlos Carlotti had been a second son. He’d been known for his big spending ways and his success with the ladies…and his movement to the top of the firm after the sudden death of his older brother in Philadelphia six weeks ago. The Senior Carlotti wanted this solved before they came after Son Number Three. That’s why he’d walked into her little shop two days ago, with a full retinue of bodyguards and a job offer.

Saying no wasn’t an option. She’d gotten that part instantly.

In her mind it was dark again, the cavernous warehouse lit by large round lights dangling from the rafters some two stories up. Carlos was lighting a cigarette. Smiling. Waving to his driver as the guy drove away, leaving him alone…for what? A new lady-friend? Maybe…a married lady-friend? What else would explain letting his security force leave him alone and vulnerable? Carlos reached for his neck, his fingers touching on the image of a recently inked tattoo...

Hmm.

That looked like a scorpion stinger. She assumed the rest of the insect graced his shoulder. Interesting design. Probably looked pretty sweet once he took his shirt off. If he’d kept up with his work-outs and stayed away from Italian restaurants, that is. As she watched, Carlos pulled out a cell phone and started pushing numbers. If she concentrated, she’d have it…there was a six. Four. Eight.

A length of chain slapped through the area, clanking and thudding as it looped three times about Carlos’ body. He screamed. The hand outside the chain embrace shook. And yet, somehow he managed to hang onto the phone.

Well…that explained the 9-1-1 call.

Before the call went through, a dark shadow slammed into Carlos, sending him to the floor, rust particles accompanying the move. The shadow became a man. Jeannette concentrated. No…not just any man. This one seemed plucked out of time long past. He was unbelievably masculine. Immense. Extremely muscular. A wicked-looking sword was strapped across his back. With that he wore low-slung, scuffed trousers of some brownish material, and nothing else. As if to show it all off. No…that couldn’t be right. Someone had damaged him. The portion of his back she could see was scarred in sections of stripes. How awful. Barbaric. He was in serious need of grooming, too. Especially his hair. Mid-back length, it was tied back with what looked like a length of rawhide about his forehead. And somehow he sensed her…

Watching.

His head turned. Her breath caught. Her heart stalled. He had vivid green eyes. Impossible to forget features…

And fangs.

“Hey. Want a breath mint?”

The officer’s voice interfered. Jeannette started. She was cold. Trembling. She blinked continuously and rapidly on the sun-streaked floor in front of her until the tremors calmed. And then she reached for the box of mints he held out. Jeannette watched her fingers pick out a mint. She put it on her tongue. Sucked on it. Good. It was spearmint. She liked spearmint. Always had. The mint melted slowly. She stuck it to the roof of her mouth, following the mundane back to normalcy. As always.

“You look a bit peaked, there. You okay?”

Darn. She’d hoped to disguise the reaction. Jeannette pasted a smile on her face and looked up at him. Not because he was that tall, she just was diminutive. She had to look up at practically everyone.

“We can leave now,” she told him.

“Really? You’re done?”

She nodded.

“Great. Come on. I’ll see you out.”

“Thank you.”

She should’ve worn heels. Or put her hair atop her head. Or, maybe asked for an escort shorter than five foot eight. He moved the crime scene tape aside for her to precede him, and put his hand along the small of her back when he’d finished. She skipped out of reach easily. Maybe it was a good thing she’d worn flats.

“So. You have any plans for today?”

“Uh…no.”

“Me, either. Want to catch some dinner later? Maybe a movie?”

He had to be kidding. The guy was about twenty years older than her, packed enough weight he had a hard time reaching his steering wheel, and probably had an ex-wife or two in his past. And some kids.

“No thank you. I have some calls to make.”

“Well. If you change your mind, or get lonely—”

“I won’t.” She interrupted him.

The sun outside was golden. Warm for spring. Ten thirty a.m. Even in the warehouse district, sunshine managed to reach through to the street. And she didn’t have to jog across the street to feel it since they were on the sunlit side. Jeannette looked up, and closed her eyes, letting the warmth leach through some of the leftover chill. The impact…from that man. He’d had such amazing green eyes.

…and fangs.

“The spirits aren’t working today, huh?”

Officer Johnson had walked off the step onto the sidewalk. Jeannette brought her head down and looked directly across at him.

“I didn’t say that,” she told him.

“We spent five minutes in there and now we’re leaving. What would you call it?”

“Tell the coroner the item behind the bruising is chains. Chain links crafted about one inch size…but flat. And squared. It’s an ancient design.”

“Ah. That would explain the rust,” Officer Johnson said.

“There is only one perpetrator. In both murders. Both cities.”

“Same one?”

Jeannette waited. He might not take her seriously, but he fished a pocket notebook out and started scribbling in it.

“And they need to look closely at the deceased’s scorpion tattoo.”

The officer flipped the notebook closed and gave her a deadpan look he’d probably perfected years before meeting her. “He didn’t have a scorpion tattoo. I know. I just read his police record this morning.”

“Check his autopsy report when it’s done. He had a scorpion tattoo. Just got it. It’s on his shoulder.”

“How the hell do you know that?”

“But the interesting section will be on the stinger portion of his neck. Tell them to look for two puncture wounds. This far apart.” She opened her fingers about an inch-and-a-half.

“Right. You want me to tell them we’re looking for a vampire? Oh, brother. I’m going to get laughed out of the station.”

“There are no such things as vampires, Officer Johnson.”

“No such things as psychics, either.”

He had his mirrored sunglasses on now. Jeannette watched herself smile without much emotion.

“Nice talking to you.”

Jeannette swung her hobo bag over her shoulder, stepped down onto the pavement, did a forty-five degree turn to the right, and started walking. The sun felt so good. So warm. So…safe. He called her name once. She ignored him. There wasn’t any answer she could give that he’d accept, and none she could invent. She still had to tell her client. And she was scared.

The least of her worries was Officer Johnson.