I was in a foul mood as I elbowed the office door open and stalked inside.
"Ah. Doyle. Have any luck with your network?" Wesley asked, looking up from a book he was studying. Faith was nowhere to be seen. I’d sent her out to talk to a few of my contacts, so we could cover more ground that way. Wesley got to stay at home, since he would last about a minute in some of the places my sources hang out. I eyed the neat way he had laid a cup of tea, scone and container of jam on a handkerchief next to his book. More like a second.
"Guess," I bit out, tossing my jacket into a chair.
Wesley tried vainly to hide a smug little smile. He’d expressed his displeasure with my information-gathering plan the second it was out of my mouth, not really to my surprise. He’d pointed out the difficulty of finding one vampire in a city like LA. At length. "That’s a shame. Still, hardly unexpec - what in God’s name is that smell?" He sniffed the air, and frowned with distaste. "Smells like…rotting sewage. Maybe a hint of sulphur."
I pointed at the stain running down my jacket. "Turns out Malagor’s been eating curry again."
Damn Frilesh demons and their fragile digestive systems.
Wesley winced. "Oh dear. Are you all right?"
"I’m fine, Wes," I said irritably. "Having a five-foot demon vomit on me really is my idea of how to spend a nice afternoon. I may choose to live in the shower for the next four years or so, but apart from that, I’m tip-top."
His nose wrinkled. "I hope it’s a shower far away from here."
Muttering a few choice curses against Malagor and all three of his spawn-mothers, I went to change my shirt. I didn’t think anything was going to save the jacket except a flamethrower.
By the time I was re-shirted and smelling human, well, half-human, Faith was back, and from the sound of it her afternoon had been as profitable as mine.
"Jeez, where does Doyle get off on sending me round to see his creepy demon friends? I’m a Slayer, I slay. Making polite conversation with people with tentacles sticking out of their forehead wasn't in the job description!" I heard her complain as I dragged the elevator grate open.
"It’s only one tentacle," I said curtly to Faith’s leather-clad back. "An’ Yuzak’s very sensitive about it."
Faith fixed a stony glare on me, half-turning in her chair. "Like I care, Detective." Her nostrils flared and she sneezed explosively. "What the hell is that?" she asked, wiping her nose on Wes’s impromptu tablecloth.
"Long story," I muttered.
"Frilesh demon. Curry, " Wesley muttered to her.
"Yuck. That’s nasty." Faith smirked. "You’re sleeping on the floor tonight, mister."
"I don’t plan to be doin’ much sleepin’ at all," I responded. "We have still got a vampire to track and night’ll be our best chance."
"Great plan, boss," Faith said, crossing her arms. "Try and find a lone vampire in LA. At night. And oh yeah, we don’t even know what he looks like!"
"Or even if it is a he." Wesley observed.
"We’ll work somethin’ out. He can’t hide forever."
"Yeah, the truth is out there. Why the hell are we doing this, anyway?" Faith asked. "It’s Blondie’s problem, not ours."
"Because a vampire is killing people," Wesley said firmly. "And slaying it is in your job description, I think you’ll find"
I blinked. Was Wesley actually supporting me in this?
"On the other hand," he said delicately, "while I agree the cause is a good one, I might question our reasons for getting involved with it."
And then again, maybe Hell was getting its own ice rink.
"What’s that supposed to mean?" I asked sharply. "The reasons are the same ones as always. You know, kill vampires, save people? I’m pretty sure those qualify as decent motives, even by Watcher standards."
"Doyle," Wesley said reasonably. "Do you recall your delightful habit of getting shamelessly plastered and engaging in the Late-Night Drunken Cursing Marathon? Well, I haven't actually missed noticing the frequency with which the term 'LAPD' tends to crop up in those aforementioned rants. It does rather beg the question, why are you doing this?"
He studied me intently. Perceptive Wesley had come out to play.
Perceptive Wesley was even more irritating than the regular one.
"So I shouldn’t do anythin’, because I got a grudge with the department?" I shot back. "What, we start havin’ a review board for what jobs we do? Person has to fill in a form before we decide if they’re worth helpin’?" I knew I sounded defensive, but hell, I was defending. I was defending Kate, the case, even the thrice-damned department. And the fact he was making me do so was not improving my mood any. There was a vampire out there killing people, and here I was justifying why I wanted to turn him to dust, to a Vampire Slayer and her Watcher, no less.
Wesley shook his head. "No, of course not. Nobody should judge if someone deserves help. But is futilely combing the city for a solitary vampire really going to help anyone?"
I glanced away. "So our plan of action needs a little refining. ‘Till you guys get a better idea, we comb. Futile or not."
Faith reversed herself fully in the chair, dangling her arms over the back as she faced me. "I got a better idea. How about we let Blondie go and play super-sleuth. If she finds our boy, we go and slay, stakes all round. This Sherlock Holmes shit is getting us nowhere. I signed on to kill and maim things, not interview every horned slime-ball in town until we find something useful."
"Well, gee, Faith, did you read the sign on the door?" I spat sarcastically. "We’re a PI agency. We investigate. That’s pretty integral to the whole concept."
Whatever she was about to say next went unsaid, as the phone on Wesley’s desk rang loudly. Faith grabbed it off the cradle. "Who the hell is it?" she snarled. I was pretty sure I heard the plastic receiver crack as she listened to the response. "Scully calling for ya, Mr Investigator, sir," she said darkly, tossing me the phone.
I pressed the receiver to my ear. "Kate? What is it?"
She sounded only marginally less angry than Faith. "New body. Morgue. You want in on the autopsy?"
"Shit," I said with feeling. "Who was it?"
"Still working on the ID. She looks about mid-teens."
"Oh, great," I said bitterly. "A kid."
Kate’s voice was as harshly sad as my own. "Uh-huh. See you in half-an-hour?"
I nodded, then belatedly realised she couldn’t see me. "I’ll be there."
"Right. And bring me my damn file back while you’re at it."
I listened to the dial tone for a few seconds after she hung up, then followed suit.
"What did she say?" Wesley asked cautiously.
"While we were busy squabblin', they found another body. Teenage girl," I announced coldly.
He sighed, toying with his spindly hands. Faith just sat there, her mouth working like she was chewing on air, staring at nothing in particular.
I glanced at them both, as they sat still like statues, and then scooped up my keys. "Some vampire hunters we are."
You leave a place, and you change. It always happens. It’s part of living, I guess.
You go out and do things, things are done to you, but you always expect the places you’ve left behind to stay the same, just like you remember. You store away little memory-snapshots of everywhere you’ve been, permanent records that will fade, but never alter.
The precinct was so close to my memory that it was shocking.
Some of the faces moving around me were different, but the expressions and emotions that played upon them were all too familiar. Boredom, anger, exhaustion, the same old feelings about the same old crimes and cases.
I nodded to the uniform at the entrance desk as I passed, still staring around me. The twin scents of nicotine and caffeine filled the air of the station house, and the discontented chatter of cops at work enveloped me.
"Doyle," Kate said.
"Uh-huh?" I murmured, still watching the people go past. It was creepy, how familiar it all was, how quickly the little details came back. The paper-crowded desks, the phones that were very seldom allowed to rest in their cradles, the discarded Styrofoam cups of coffee that lay around the chairs of detectives who were pulling all-nighters, and half-a-dozen things I hadn’t even realised I had remembered were all there.
"Um…you have to get one of these before we can go any further," she said awkwardly.
I turned. "What? Oh." I stared dumbly at the small white badge in her hand. A visitor’s badge. "Right. Of course," I said quickly, flushing as I scooped it out of her hands. The clasp didn’t fit properly onto my jacket, so I propped it up in the front pocket of my shirt. "Sorry."
The uniform regarded me with a mix of contempt and amusement. "Okay. Get a move on, this isn’t a stinkin’ tourist attraction."
"Sorry," Kate muttered as we headed for the morgue, my newly-acquired badge flapping against my chest. "Policy and all."
"Nah, no problem," I replied dismissively. "Should’ve remembered it the second I walked in the door. My mistake."
I glanced around a second time, my nostalgia slightly dampened. "So, the ol’ slave pit doesn’t seem to have changed much, huh? Everything still looks like it’s workin’ fine, even without this particular Defender of Truth, Justice an’ whatever the third one was."
"Integrity, " she supplied quietly. "Doesn’t mean you weren’t missed."
Doesn’t mean I was, either. Still, Kate was too polite to bring that up, and the situation was awkward enough as it was.
"Lockley! Hey, Kate!"
"Yeah, Fritz?" Kate asked, glancing towards the shortish guy who’d called out, and who was now struggling to keep pace with us.
"They’re ready for you in the morgue," he said, studiously ignoring me.
"Thanks. I’m on my way."
"Hey, Fritz, how you doin’?" I asked pleasantly. "Wife still givin’ you trouble, or did you ditch that ol’ bat?" Fritz’s marital troubles were a long-running joke around the stationhouse. They’d been separated four times, but she kept on dragging him back in. Fritz swore that one day he was going to take his .38 home and make her sign the divorce papers at gunpoint.
Fritz’s eyes flicked once in my direction and returned to Kate. "Frosty’s waiting on you. You know how cranky he gets if he has to mess up his work schedule."
I got the message. I was an outsider now, a stranger, just another random piece of flotsam on the waves of people who cruise in and out of the LAPD every day.
Funny, that. They say that in the army, you’re always part of a unit, that even years after your duty ends, you have a bond between each other. It’s not like that for the police. Every cop is a solo player, a loner, isolated from his peers. And to this bunch of antisocial misfits, the United States Government issues guns and handcuffs. I never did figure that part out. Most of the cops I knew shouldn’t have been given driver’s licenses, much less gun licenses. But fragmented and erratic as they were, now I didn’t have the badge, I wasn’t one of them anymore.
Not that I’d been Mr Popular while I was still wearing blue, that is.
"Sorry," Kate said a second time, as we started walking again. In fact, ever since we’d got inside the department, her entire demeanour had been slightly apologetic. Like she was apologising to me for the coldness of her co-workers.
Or to them, for bringing me here.
"Nah, no problem."
Passing a few more hostile stares from people I’d worked with for three years, I was starting to get sick of the whole affair. It was not unlike being gently whipped with soft string, and about as irritating.
"Well, what have we here?" an expansive voice asked. The string was replaced by big spiky chains.
"Carlson," I said flatly.
Carlson. Six feet of bad attitude, bad temper and bad habits. And, I remembered with a wince, he’d been pals with Newton, too.
He grinned viciously. "Doyle, haven’t seen ya around for a while. What’re ya doing here?"
"Standin’ in a corridor, old buddy. What’s wrong, your contacts givin’ you trouble again?" I smiled back at him.
Carlson flushed. He always took any reference to his short-sightedness very badly. "You’ve still got a big mouth, Doyle. Maybe you should keep it shut." Sometimes I think Carlson learnt how to speak from bad gangster films.
I patted him on the shoulder. "Good advice, Blinky. Thanks." School ground, I know, but it was fun.
"You should rein your boy in a bit, Kate," he said threateningly. "Looks like he’s forgotten he’s on foreign turf now."
"I’ll be sure to do that," she said easily. "Goggles."
Growing tired of the game, I brushed past him and continued on. I heard Carlson snarl behind me, as menacingly as any vampire, but even he wasn’t stupid enough to let it go any further, not here.
Besides, I could kick his ass, and he knew it.
"You know, I get the impression I’m not exactly welcome here," I remarked to Kate.
"Same old Carlson," she said.
"Big, nasty Rock of Ages," I observed. " But it seems a little more than that. First Fritz in the corridor, and now just about everyone seems to be staring at me like I have big antenna stickin’ out of my forehead. A bit more than just general grumpiness, you know?" We turned down the corridor to the morgue before Kate responded.
"The department wasn’t exactly…happy about letting someone who wasn’t a relative into the morgue to see the bodies. You know how the pencil pushers get."
Especially if the someone in question was me, I added sourly. Still, I couldn’t really blame them. I hadn’t exactly covered myself in glory when I quit the LAPD. And there were still enough nasty rumours about my less-than-normal heritage to ensure my alienation. I was a fool to think a few months would change that.
Kate sighed. "Sor - "
"Don’t even say it."
I once heard an old superstition that if you are in a certain line of work long enough, you start to take on some of the…attributes of the field. So a long-time jockey would look like a horse and a fisherman might have a slightly…scaly skin tone and not blink often. The person telling me this particular fable blushed quite red when I asked him innocently what would happen if someone was a gynaecologist for twenty years, but, boy, would he have gloated had he ever met David ‘Frosty’ Wilson.
To be blunt, had the man crawled out of a grave at three in the morning, I would have staked him without a second thought. He was pale, his skin was waxen and smooth and his fingernails were long enough to put some demons to shame. He’d been the Medical Examiner for longer than I had been a cop, longer than Kate had been a cop, hell, longer than anyone I ever asked in the department had been a cop. But he did have a reflection. I’d checked, just in case.
It hardly required a mental stretch to figure out how Frosty got his nickname. The man looked like he had to chip the ice off his body every morning when he got up. Cops are big on nicknames.
Unsurprisingly, Kate and I had heard every single X-Files joke ever told during our partnership. LA’s Mulder and Scully, they called us. I sometimes wondered which they thought was which.
Frosty was hunched over his latest guest’s neck as we entered the morgue, his long white-gloved fingers gently probing the white skin that nearly matched his own in shade.
Kate cleared her throat.
"If you’re here to fix the air-conditioning, get over to the box at the back right now. The bodies are getting a bit ripe already," he said without looking up.
I sniffed the air. "They are smellin’ a bit strong, aren’t they?" At first I’d thought it was me, but the smell was different from Malagar’s distinctive odour. Which isn’t to say it was anymore pleasant.
Frosty looked up, his stretchy features pulling themselves into a smile. "Detective Doyle! And Detective Lockley! How perfectly lovely to see you!" He rushed across and pressed my hand into his own chilly ones.
I fought the urge to snatch it back. "Uh, hey, Frosty. And it’s just Doyle now, remember."
"Oh, of course, so sorry," he said regretfully. "Yes, that was a distressing incident, wasn’t it? Such a shame, I thought, when you left us."
What a surprise. For the first time in months I had returned to my former workplace of three years, to people who I had worked and sometimes even fought beside, and the only one who was pleased to see me was the weirdo mortician.
"So, Frosty," Kate said firmly, breaking up our little reunion and thankfully causing Frosty to drop my hand, "I hear you have news for us."
"Oh, yes, of course," he said, skittering back towards his desk. "I do hope you don’t mind if I eat in front of you, but it’s my lunch break," he said, busily unwrapping some kind of cold meat sandwich as he talked. The meat between the slices of bread looked only marginally more appetising than the body on the slab.
"The dead person?" I hinted. "Helpful clues?"
"Right. She was killed approximately three hours before discovery, I place it." Three hours. That would have put the murder just after sunset. "Cause of death - "
"Blood loss," Kate cut in. "Get to something we don’t know."
"Actually," Frosty said pointedly, "it wasn’t. There was blood loss, true, but not enough to kill. Her neck was broken, too, probably when the killer realised she might survive the bleeding."
I felt my gut twist. Much of the time vampires didn’t need to kill to get enough blood to survive. It was just fun if their victims died. "Anythin’ else? Maybe a little name tag on her toe so we can figure out who just died for no good reason?" I asked bitterly.
"I’m afraid not," Frosty said with some asperity. "I’m sending off the bite marks for dental records, we’ll have to wait and see."
"Dental records?" I asked incredulously. It wasn’t like vampires needed a filling or two after a few too many jelly doughnuts, so what the hell was Frosty playing at? I wasn’t sure if he knew about the undead, but he had to have seen enough bodies to recognise a supernatural death when he saw one, and to know the regular tricks wouldn’t work.
"Why, yes," he said with some confusion, biting into the revolting sandwich.
I pulled the white cloth away from the woman’s neck, refusing to look at her face. Instead of the neat puncture wounds I was expecting, there were rows and rows of shallow indentations, all of them in shallow semi-circles, like bloody furrows in a field of white. Not like vampire teeth at all.
But I recognised the bite marks none the less. Frosty’s putrid sandwich bore similar ones.
"Human teeth," I said disbelievingly.
"What? You’ve got to be kidding me." Kate pushed past me and took a long, hard look at the woman’s neck. "God. I just skimmed the coroner’s report and assumed…" her voice died away.
Human teeth. Which meant whatever - whoever - had killed this woman had gnawed away at her throat until he broke skin and then killed her when his blunt teeth wouldn’t do the job properly.
We weren’t looking for a vampire, after all. We were looking for an ordinary human being, with a soul and conscience.
God, I hate police work.