“What do we got, Aggie?”
The detective pulled a handkerchief from his back pocket and wiped at the sweat beaded on the top of his bald head. Some people might have assumed his reaction was nerves, but I knew it had to be hot in the house he’d just walked out of. Detective Joe Agrusa had been on the job for nearly twenty-five years, and only Mrs. Agrusa could make him nervous enough to sweat.
“What we got is a body. A weird one,” he said.
“No shit? Here I was thinking you called me out because you’re so damned fond of me.”
He grinned, revealing a set of crooked but stain-free teeth. “You wish, freak hunter.”
Aggie was human, shorter than me but at least twice my weight. I was usually the shortest woman in the room, which made the detective pretty damned short for a man. I looked down at him and snorted. “Fill me in.”
He raised an eyebrow at my tone.
I kept my face straight, just barely. “Don’t make me scream it out of you.”
“Shit, Mac. All the years my wife’s been nagging me and you think I’m not immune to a banshee? A half-assed one at that?”
The laugh bubbled out of my chest, and I choked it down. Only Aggie, of all the normals I worked with, would joke about my half-banshee status so easily. He realized what most cops didn’t—that it didn’t make me a whole helluva lot more dangerous than them. Oh, I could stun with a scream. Kill even, if given a lot of time or a weakened person. But I wasn’t much more dangerous than a perp with a gun. Most of the normal cops just saw a freak. The thought smothered my lingering urge to laugh.
“Don’t got any info for you, Mac. Not a crazed lycanthrope or goblin or anything like that. This one’s downright creepy. You’re gonna have to see for yourself.”
I stifled a sigh. Aggie wasn’t on the “freak squad,” the affectionate term the normal cops gave the paranormal unit, but he’d been around long enough to know when to hand off a case to us. The fact that he was at a loss on this one didn’t bode well. There wasn’t much the old cop hadn’t seen.
I glanced at a red Camry parked across the street. “Looks like Amanda beat me here.”
“Yeah, she’s inside already. Better get your ass movin’.”
I muttered an expletive and trudged up to the front door. It stood ajar, held open with a cinderblock. A couple of uniforms stood in a corner chatting. One pointed down the hall when he saw me, but otherwise the rest ignored me. Some cops did their best to pretend the freak squad didn’t exist, figuring the paranormal unit cops freaks by association.
Then again, most of us were freaks—and not by association.
A dark-haired Amazon stood over the bed, blocking the body from view. Amanda Franklin took three things very seriously: her job, her witchcraft, and her bodybuilding. All of which made her a great partner. We shared our hair color and penchant to exercise, but that’s where our resemblance ended. My hair was wavy and generally pulled back out of my face, and Amanda towered over my five foot three inch frame.
The crime scene was in a standard master bedroom, nicely decorated if you didn’t mind all surfaces covered in some sort of flora or fauna, both actual plants and plants printed on every available fabric in the room. Everything looked to be in its place and nothing indicated a struggle. Only a slight scent of something off touched the air. Not dead long, then.
I sidestepped to avoid a young guy carrying an evidence bag in one hand and a hard, metal specimen collection case in the other. A woman, mid-to-late twenties, lay spread-eagle on the bed, hands above her head, naked and wide-eyed. Her wrists were covered in purple and brown bruises, and her long, red hair fanned the pillow under her head. Other than the bruising, there were no obvious injuries.
“Vampire?” I asked. The bite marks from a vampire could be hidden, from a casual examiner anyway. The bite might be between her legs, behind a knee, on the back of her neck, or otherwise concealed under her body.
Amanda shook her head and tapped the file folder in her hand against her palm. “Medical Examiner just left.” She pointed at the woman’s legs. “Bruising on her thighs, mostly hidden by how she’s lying, and on the wrists. No other marks visible. We’ll know for sure when they get her back to the morgue, but I looked after the ME left and didn’t see anything.”
I frowned. If Amanda didn’t find anything, there wasn’t anything to find. “Are you thinking rape?”
“Well, it looks like she had sex before she died. Rape’s a strong possibility considering the bruising. But the dead part—no clear explanation on that.”
“Could be natural. Maybe a stroke or something. Her guy—if he was still here when it happened—took off because he was scared.”
Amanda handed me the folder. “I’d agree with you, if this was the first one.”
I flipped open the file. A woman’s photo had been paper-clipped in front of the police report. She was brown-haired with glasses, and rather plain-looking by her picture, at least compared to the striking redhead on the bed.
“Why didn’t we hear about this?”
“Normals called it death by natural causes. They didn’t have any reason not to. Just like this, no marks, no blood. Less bruising on that one too, so they didn’t see a reason to call us in. ME says both show signs of sex shortly before death.”
“Hmm.” I flipped through the first few pages of the file and skimmed. Claire Simons, twenty-six years old, single, no kids. Found dead of apparent natural causes, nude with minor bruising on her legs. No mention of bruising on her wrists.
“What do you think?” she asked.
“Not sure. The sex thing makes me think succubus, but I haven’t heard of one killing her victims, and I’ve never heard of a succubus going for a woman—let alone two. Maybe an incubus, but incubi have been extinct since…”
“1850 or so.”
“Sounds right. Vampire, we’d see some sort of marking.” I sighed and looked back at the victim. Her lips were turned up slightly, like she was smiling. Creepy indeed. “You already call in for a sensitive?”
“Yeah, but we’re looking at a couple of days.” She grimaced. “Budget cuts.”
“What about Holmes?”
Amanda shrugged. “Out of town.”
It figured that the only sensitive on the squad would be unavailable. Sensitives could sense trace magic left behind when otherworlders used their powers. They were rare, and hiring one outside of the police department cost a pretty penny.
“Anything you can do?” I fanned myself with the file. No wonder Aggie had been sweating.
“Maybe, but forensics isn’t going to let me muck up the scene with spell ingredients and a circle.” Amanda pulled a small pair of scissors and a tiny plastic evidence baggy from her pocket. I turned to face the door and scanned the hall to make sure we were still alone, giving her a discreet thumbs-up behind my back.
A witch testing a victim’s hair wasn’t illegal or against regulations, even for an amateur witch, but with paperwork and procedures it could take upward of a week for approvals to be processed. Amateur witches like Amanda tested for licenses that allowed them to perform certain lower-tier spells. Unlike the rare Covenant witches, they weren’t allowed to work for profit. Regulations didn’t specifically prohibit Amanda from using magic to gain leads, but anything she did find would have to be duplicated by a contracted Covenant witch for it to be admissible in court.
After hearing a quick snip, I turned around. The evidence bag and scissors had disappeared back into Amanda’s pocket. The victim was now short a few strands of hair, a small enough amount that no one was likely to notice.
A week was a long time to wait when hunting a potential serial killer.
“Maybe the women weren’t murdered. Could just be an unfortunate coincidence,” I said.
“Hah,” Amanda replied without humor. “What’s the first thing I told you when you made detective and were assigned as my partner?”
I opened the victim’s file and looked at her picture. “There’s no such thing as coincidences.”
“What’re you thinking?”
“I agree it sounds like a succubus, but I want to see what the ME finds with the autopsy. Succubus wouldn’t really fit if she had sex with a man right before she died.”
“Unless the sex isn’t connected with the death.”
“Doubtful, but not impossible.” Amanda stared at the woman as if the answers might materialize if she only looked hard enough.
“Divide and conquer?”
Amanda frowned. “Probably best. You talk to the Medical Examiner in the morning so I can work my mojo without Lieutenant Vasquez butting in.”
The lieutenant didn’t approve of Amanda using witchcraft for cases—then again, he didn’t approve of much that wasn’t strictly human in nature. And there were some definite stirrings in local governments as the Covenant pushed for making amateur witches use of magic in solving police cases illegal. Publicly, the Covenant questioned the expertise of amateur witches, but I suspected protecting their witches’ pocketbooks was their real motivation. Their services cost police departments around the country significant cash.
“What, too sleepy to do it tonight?” A grin crept onto my face despite my best efforts to keep my expression blank.
Amanda raised an eyebrow at me. “I need my beauty sleep. You think shit this gorgeous comes without sacrifice?”
I barked out a quick laugh.
“Shops are closed. Unless you have some wormwood in your bra, we’re SOL until morning,” Amanda said.
“Sorry, left all my magical herbs in my other bra.”
A smile flashed across Amanda’s face, and she walked to the front of the house. I gave the victim one last glance and followed.
The two uniforms chatted in the corner. About their latest conquest or size of their guns, no doubt. Their conversation faded as we approached and the younger officer took in Amanda’s fit body with barely concealed interest while the other kept his expression carefully neutral—a sure sign of a man trying not to sneer at the freaks. Amanda never failed to gain the attention of the younger generation. Those men weren’t so bogged down by prejudice that a witch wasn’t fair game. Their glances rarely shifted my direction. Having banshee powers—even stunted ones like mine—just wasn’t sexy, despite my decent figure. Sure I didn’t look any different from the average normal. But, my human appearance, as nicely packaged as it was, wasn’t enough to counteract the fact that I was a half-banshee. And my banshee nature was well-known, especially among my fellow officers. Banshees had a reputation for being scary creatures—not sexy ones.