Only Human : chap 1
HE DIDN'T HAVE much face left. Lily stood back far enough to keep the tips of her new black heels out of the pool of blood that was dry at the edges, still gummy near the body. Mist hung in the warm air, spinning halos around the street lamps and police spotlights, turning her skin clammy. The smell of blood was thick in her nostrils.
The first victim, the one whose body she'd seen four days ago, hadn't had his face ripped off the way this one had. Just his throat.
Flashes went off nearby in a crisp one-two as the police photographer recorded the scene. "Hey, Yu," the man behind the camera lens called.
She grimaced. O'Brien was good at his work, but he never tired of a joke, no matter how stale. If they both lived to be a hundred and ran into each other in the nursing home, the first thing he'd say to her would be, "Hey, Yu!"
That is, assuming she kept her maiden name for the next seventy-two years. Considering the giddy whirl she laughingly called a social life, that seemed possible. "Yeah, Irish?"
"Looks like you had a hot date tonight."
"No, me and my dog always dress for dinner. He looks great in a tux."
O'Brien snorted and moved to get another angle. Lily tuned him out along with the rest of the crowd—the curious behind the chain-link fence, the uniforms, the lab boys and girls waiting with their tweezers and baggies and fingerprint gear.
They'd arrived almost as fast as she had, which said something about how nervous the brass was. That a crowd had assembled in this neighborhood said something about everyone else's nerves. Spilled blood often drew people the way spilled sugar draws flies, but not in this area. Here, people assumed that curiosity came with a price tag. They knew what a drive-by sounded like, and the look of a drug deal going down.
The victim lay on his back on the dirty pavement. There was a Big Gulp cup, smashed flat, by his feet, a section of newspaper under his butt, and a broken beer bottle by his foot. Defensive wounds on the right arm, she noted. Something had torn right through his jacket. There was blood on that hand, but she didn't see any wounds.
His other hand lay about ten feet from the body, up against the pole to the swing set.
A playground. Someone had ripped this guy's throat out in a playground, for God's sake. There was a hard ache in Lily's own throat, a tightness across her shoulders. She'd seen death often enough since she was promoted to Homicide. Her stomach no longer turned over, but the regret, the sorrow over the waste, never went away.
She crouched, careful of the way her dress rode up on her thighs, and studied the focus of all the activity.
He'd been young. Not young enough to have enjoyed those swings anytime recently, though. Twenty or less, she guessed, maybe five-foot-ten, weight around one-eighty. Weight-lifter's shoulders and arms, powerful thighs. He'd been strong, perhaps cocky in his strength—used to fighting, probably used to winning.
Strength hadn't done him much good tonight.
Whatever had torn out his throat and made a mess of his face had left the eye and cheekbone on the right side intact. One startled brown eye stared up at nothing from smooth young skin the color of the wicker chair in her living room.
He was wearing a red T-shirt, black hightops, black cargo pants, and a black jacket.
Gang colors. Not that she thought this was a gang killing. The bloody paw prints leading away from the body were a pretty good clue about that.
A pair of size eleven shoes, black and dusty, moved up beside her. They were connected to long, skinny legs encased in uniform trousers. "Careful, Detective. Don't want to get your pretty dress dirty."
Lily sighed. Officer Larry Phillips was half of the patrol unit that had been first on the scene. She hadn't run across him before—the San Diego PD was too big for her to know many beat cops. A few minutes spent taking his report had given her a pretty clear picture, though. He was pushing fifty, still on the streets and sour about it. She was female, twenty-eight, and already a detective.
In other words, he didn't like her. "This is your turf, Officer. You know him?"
"He's one of the Devils."
"Yeah, I got that much." She stood and glanced up at him. Way up—he was a long, stringy man, well over six feet. Of course, Lily had to look up to meet almost anyone's eyes. She'd persuaded herself that didn't irritate her anymore. "You think you could look at his face instead of his clothes and see if you can ID him?"
"Why? This wasn't a gang killing." He had a toothpick in his mouth. She found herself staring at it, waiting for it to drop, wondering if it was glued to his lip. "Not even murder, really."
Three years ago a case like this would have been handled by the X-Squad. Now it went to Homicide. "The courts say otherwise."
He snorted. The toothpick didn't budge. "Yeah, and we know how smart those bleeding heart judges are. According to them, we're supposed to treat the beasts like they were human. That mess at your feet proves what a great idea that is."
"I've seen uglier things done by men to other men. And to women. And I still need an ID."
Another cop joined them, this one young, short, with shiny black hair and a greenish cast to his complexion—Phillips's
partner, the other half of the responding unit. "I, uh, I think it's Carlos Fuentes."
Phillips raised one scornful eyebrow. "You basing that ID on his shoes? Not much else to go on."
"It looks like him around the eyes. I mean the eye. And the build is right. Fuentes is supposed to be good with his knife," he added. "Fast."
"Was he left-handed?" Lily asked.
"No. No, I'm sure he was right-handed. That fits—it's his right arm with the defensive wounds. If he were attacked by a dog—"
"Dog?" Phillips was incredulous. "You think a dog did this?"
"It could have been," Rodriguez insisted. "You always tell me not to jump to conclusions. Well, until they run the tests we won't know that this was done by a—by—"
"A lupus," Phillips drawled. "That's what we're supposed to call them now, right?"
"It could have been a rabid dog. Or one trained to attack. Maybe Fuentes was meeting someone, making some kind of deal. When it went sour the other guy sicced the dog on him."
Phillips made a disgusted sound.
She flicked a glance his way. Phillips wasn't much of a partner if he wouldn't take the time to educate the kid. Lily looked back at the younger officer. "Where's Fuentes's knife?"
"I don't..." His voice trailed off as he looked around. "He must not have had time to draw it."
"Right. Now look at the body, and think. You said he was good with a blade, and fast. He's right-handed, so when some animal comes at him out of the darkness, he uses his left arm for defense. Like this." She flung up her own arm. "He reaches for his knife at the same time. And the beast didn't pay any attention to the defensive arm. It knew he was reaching for a weapon. Went for his right hand, bit it off, and spat it out. Dogs don't do that."
His throat worked as he stared at the corpse. "If—if it had been trained to go for the right arm ..."
"It bit the hand off," she repeated patiently. "And flung it away. You can't train an animal to do that. What's more, Fuentes looks like he could have bench-pressed three-fifty or better, but he couldn't even slow the beast down."
"Where do you get that?"
"Observation. Aside from the blood and the body, you can't tell there's been any kind of fight here. The beast hit him quick and hard. He might not even have had time to know his hand was gone. He had good instincts, though. He tried to pull his head down, protect his neck. That's when he lost some of his face. Then it ripped out his throat."
The rookie was looking sick. Maybe she'd pushed reality on him a little too firmly.
"Now, now. You're not supposed to say 'it,' " Phillips said with heavy sarcasm. "We have to say 'he' now, treat 'em like people. Full rights under the law."
"I know the law." She turned away and frowned. A van from one of the TV stations had pulled up. Dammit. "I need you two to join the uniforms at the entrance. I don't want any media ghouls messing up my crime scene."
"Sure thing, Detective." Phillips gave her a mocking grin; turned, then paused and took the toothpick out of his mouth. When he met her eyes the mockery and anger had faded from his, leaving them dead serious. "A word of advice from someone who put in some time on the X-Squad. Call them whatever you like, but don't mistake the lupi for human. They don't think like we do, and they're damned hard to hurt. They're faster and they're stronger, and they like the way we taste."
"This one doesn't seem to have done much tasting."
He shrugged. "Something interrupted him, maybe. Don't forget that they're only legally human when they're on two legs. You run into one when it's four-footed, don't arrest it. Shoot it." He flicked the toothpick to the ground. "And aim for the brain."
LILY'S EYES WERE gritty and hot the next morning when she made her way through the mass of desks in the bullpen. It had been two in the morning when she'd returned to her little apartment onFlower Street.
The lab crew had put in an even longer night, though. The preliminary report was waiting on her desk. She settled into the battered chair that was just beginning to adapt its lumps to her own bottom, took a sip of her coffee, and skimmed it quickly.
It held one surprise. For some reason they were holding off on the complete autopsy "pending official notice." Her eyebrows went up. What did that mean? Otherwise it was pretty much what she'd expected. No blood other than the victim's, no tissue. A few hairs. At least they'd been able to establish that the attacker had been one of the Blood, though.
Science depended on things happening a certain way without fail. Water boiled at 100°C at sea level, no matter who did the boiling. Mix potassium nitrate, sulfur, and charcoal together in the right proportions and you ended up with gunpowder every time, no random batches of gold dust or baking soda to confuse matters.
But magic was capricious. Individual. The cells and body fluids of those of the Blood—inherently magical beings— didn't perform the same way every time they were tested. Which made it possible sometimes to identify the traces magic left in its wake, but played hell with lab results.
Still, the lab tech had been able to determine that the blood in the wounds had been contaminated by magic, probably by some body fluid from one of the Blood. Saliva, obviously, but the tests couldn't confirm that.
The report did list some negatives. Lily snorted when she read them. No one with a functioning brain would have suspected a brownie anyway, and gnomes were timid and extremely rare. Gremlins could be nasty, but there hadn't been a gremlin outbreak in southernCaliforniain years. Besides, they were way too small. The damage she'd seen last night hadn't been inflicted by a gremlin pack.
What the lab work couldn't tell them, the other physical evidence did. Lily knew very well which species they were dealing with—one of the lupi.
She sat back with a sigh, turning back to the first page to give the report a more thorough reading. The man at the desk next to hers tilted his head back and howled.
"Cute,Brunswick," she said without looking up from the report. "Very lifelike. You been tested?"
The woman at the desk behindBrunswicksnorted. "Him? You've got to be kidding. Lupi are supposed to be virile, charismatic, sexy as hell—"
"Hey, I'm sexy! Just ask my wife."
“They're also tomcats."
"Can't call a wolf a cat."
"Don't nitpick. You know what I mean—they'll stick it anywhere, anytime, to anyone who'll let 'em. You want me to ask your wife if that's true, too, studmuffin?"
Two of the nearest men laughed.Brunswickwas protesting his innocence when Lily's phone rang. "Homicide. Detective Yu speaking."
"You're wanted in the chiefs office."
It was Captain Foster. She knew it was him—yet her first reaction was that this was a prank. It had to be. A lowly detective with only two years on Homicide was not summoned
to the office of the chief of police. "Chief Delgado, sir?"
"How many chiefs do we have?" he snapped. Which was a bit unfair—there was only one chief of police, but there were several deputy chiefs. "He wants you there right away."
The line went dead. Lily gave the phone in her hand one incredulous glance, then set it down and stood.
The chief's office was, naturally, on the top floor. There was no point in speculating about why he wanted her, she thought as she punched the button for the elevator. And proceeded to do it anyway.
For once the elevator arrived immediately. She stepped on, brooding over what the summons might mean. It had to be something to do with last night's homicide.
Maybe Delgado wanted her for a press conference. The media were in a feeding frenzy. But Delgado usually handled that sort of thing himself when it was a major case. He might ask her captain to participate, but it was unlikely he'd want her.
The line between her brows deepened as the elevator let people on and off. Finally they reached the top floor.
Could the captain have told Delgado why he'd given the investigation to one of his newer detectives? No, she couldn't believe that. Foster was too careful. He hadn't even spoken of it to her in so many words.
Lily had only been to the top floor once before. The carpet was thicker here, the lighting more subtle. The hallway had doors with brass nameplates and ended at an office with living plants and framed pictures on the walls.
The pale oak desk was ruthlessly neat. The woman behind the desk was a sixtyish civilian named Adele Crimmings, a.k.a. the chief's enforcer. Lily had heard dozens of stories about her. She had sharp eyes, a crisply tailored blue dress, and white hair cut so short it looked as if she'd recently completed basic training.
"He's expecting you," Ms. Crimmings said when Lily identified herself. She touched a button on her desk, announced Lily's arrival, then nodded at her. "Go on in."
Delgado had a big corner office with wooden blinds at the tall windows. His own desk was larger than his secretary's, and nowhere near as tidy. He was seated there, a small, trim man with coppery skin stretched tight and shiny across flat
cheekbones. His tie was a very dark brown with narrow gold stripes. His suit jacket was on the back of his chair, and the sleeves of his white dress shirt were rolled up. He had very little hair on his forearms.
Delgado wasn't alone. Another man stood in front of one of the big windows, his back to the room—an Anglo, judging by the color of the skin on the long-fingered hands. A rather pale Anglo, forCalifornia.
He was at least six feet, slim, and standing utterly motionless. His arms hung loose at his sides, his feet didn't shift, his head didn't turn as she entered the room. Shaggy brown hair waved past his collar. The sunlight glanced off that ordinary brown hair, igniting it, drawing a burnished halo around his head. The casual elegance of his black slacks and loose black jacket fairly screamed money. The cuffs of his shirt were black, too.
The man in black, she thought with a mental sniff at-the dramatics of it. She wondered if he was an actor or a director. And was annoyed to notice that her pulse had picked up.
"Detective Yu," Delgado said. “Thank you for coming."
"I have someone here you need to meet. You'll be working with him," he said as the other man, at last, turned to face her.
Lily's breath caught in her throat as she saw the narrow face, the tilted slashes of the eyebrows, the slightly sallow skin, and the cool gray eyes that met hers with no trace of a smile. It was a striking face, stark and clean, the lines of it swept back the way stone is smoothed by wind. Not handsome, but not a face one would ever forget, either.
She knew him. Knew who he was, at least. She'd seen his photograph often enough, though he was certainly no movie star or director. Most recently, she'd seen it in the file she'd started four days ago. The one on the first killing.
Her heart pounded and her eyes widened in disbelief. "You want me to work with a werewolf?"
BY THE TIME Rule turned around, he was fairly sure he had his reaction to her scent under control. Or at least concealed. His heart was thudding against the wall of his chest like Thumper introducing himself to Bambi.
I can't possibly know. Not for sure. Yet her scent... Fear
and exaltation filled him. He studied the face of the woman he'd never believed he would meet.
Something in the smoothness of her face, the sleek roundness of her body, appealed to him. Her eyes were as black as the braid that hung down her back. And greatly irritated at the moment. She would move well, he thought, and wanted to see her move.
There wasn't a great deal of Lily Yu physically, but he had the sense that quite a lot of person had been packed into that trim, tidy form. She wore plain black slacks and a jacket the color of the poppies that dotted the hills in the spring. He smelled the metal-and-gunpowder odor of the gun concealed by that jacket.
No fear scent, though. That intrigued him. Even Delgado gave out a whiff of fear in his presence, though he controlled it admirably. That, and the fact that she'd risen to detective at such a young age, told him the dainty packaging was misleading. A man who didn't look beyond that packaging might mistake her for doll-like. He wondered if any had been foolish enough to say so—and if they'd drawn back a stub.
Metaphorically speaking, of course. Humans didn't respond so vigorously to insult. "Obviously you recognize me," he said.
"Detective," Delgado snapped. "Your captain assured me you didn't suffer from racial prejudices."
"Sorry, sir." Those pretty black eyes slid from her chief to Rule. "My apologies, Mr. Turner. The old-fashioned term slipped out. Or should I say 'Your Highness'?"
"My title is used only among the clans and by journalists. Strictly speaking, it doesn't translate as prince. That is merely the closest approximation." Her skin was ivory—not the bland pallor of one who avoids the sun, but a dense, saturated color. She smelled wonderful, very female, the muskiness of her skin faintly overlaid with soap. No perfume.
He smiled slowly. He hated perfume. "You may call me Rule. I would like it if you did."
Delgado cleared his throat. He looked irritated, which Rule understood. This was his territory, and they were ignoring that. "Detective Yu," he said firmly, "this is Rule Turner, prince of Clan Nokolai. Mr. Turner, Detective Lily Yu."
"Mr. Turner," she said with a curt nod.
That put him in his place, didn't it? His smile widened.
Delgado was speaking. "Mr. Turner spoke with the mayor last night. He offered his expertise. Obviously he has an intimate knowledge of lupus culture and, ah, habits. He will cooperate fully with you."
“Pardon me, sir, but I'm unsure exactly what that means." Delgado's eyes flickered to Rule. Knowing the man's discomfort, Rule took the burden of explanation from him. "Initially, at least, it means we must visit the morgue. I need to smell the corpse."
LILY LEFT THE chiefs office fifteen minutes later, confused and irritated. Now she knew why the autopsy had been held up, though.
Maybe Rule Turner could identify the killer from the scent he'd left on his victim's body. Maybe not. She couldn't take his word at face value. People lied. They did it all the time, to protect small hurts or embarrassments as well as for more serious reasons. But if he claimed to identify the killer, that would be information, whether it was true or a lie.
She had to figure out his goal, what he had to gain by helping them investigate. Lupi weren't exactly civic-minded about cooperating with the police. Of course, Rule Turner was politically active on behalf of his people, something of a spokesman. Not to mention a favorite of the gossip mags.
He was also a civilian. Lily did not like working with civilians, but she could concede the necessity at times. Her confusion had little to do with her professional irritation.
Those eyes ... she'd never heard that it was dangerous to look into a werewolf s eyes. But there was a great deal she didn't know about them, wasn't there?
The man beside her kept pace silently. At least, she supposed that was the right word for him. Could you be a man without being human? Never mind, she told herself, moving briskly. The courts had ruled that lupi had the same rights and obligations as other citizens... when they were in human form.
His human form was pretty devastating, she admitted silently. Or maybe that was an aspect of his magic, whatever it was that enabled him to turn into a wolf. Or gave him no choice. Legend said that werewolves couldn't avoid the Change at the full moon.
"You move quickly, Detective," Turner said as they reached the elevator.
She jabbed the down button. "Habit. People with short legs learn to move fast, or we get left behind."
"Is that what it is?" He sounded thoughtful. "I thought you were trying to leave me behind. You're not happy with Chief Delgado's instructions. I'm afraid I disturb you."
"You annoy me," she corrected. "Cocky, arrogant men usully do."
"Arrogant, perhaps. Cocky is for puppies.”
"You said it, not me. Where were you last night betweenten o'clockandeleven twenty-five?"
"At a party with about twenty other people. A party at the mayor's house."
So much for wiping the amusement out of his eyes. "Were you there when the mayor was called? Is that how you heard about the second killing so quickly?"
"Yes. The mayor asked for my assistance."
The stupid elevator was taking forever today. She punched the button again. "If you're ready to start acting as an expert consultant, I have some questions."
"Of course. I hope they're personal." He stroked his hand down her braid. "Lovely. It feels as soft as it looks."
The shiver that ran up her spine was as distressing as it was instinctive. She stepped away. "None of this is personal, and you need to keep your hands to yourself."
"You'll have to do better than try."
"We are a profoundly physical people, Detective. It's difficult for us to remember that others don't have the same need to touch and be touched that we do."
She lifted a scornful eyebrow. The Nokolai prince had been mixing and mingling with normal humans quite regularly at events fromSan DiegotoHollywoodtoWashington,D.C., for the last few years. He knew perfectly well how to behave— when he wanted to. "And here I thought you were hitting on me."
'That, too, of course. Will you go out with me tonight?"
Her lips twitched before she could stop them. Maybe his existence wasn't illegal anymore, but that smile ought to be. The way it spread over his face was a crime—so slow and intimate, as if smiling were a sensual indulgence to be savored, not rushed....
The elevator finally arrived. Three people got off. She stepped in quickly.
He followed. "What impersonal questions did you want to ask?"
"I know lupi have a toxic reaction to silver, because the X-Squads used to use rounds made from a silver alloy." A very expensive alloy. She had a round in her clip right now, having requisitioned it and two more after the first killing. "What about garlic or crosses?"
"No and no. Old wives' tales." He pushed the button for the basement level, which held the parking garage. The elevator doors shut.
"I thought it might be. I'm afraid a lot of what I know is the sort of garbage spread by movies like Witch Hunt”
"At least you know it's garbage."
He was tense. She wasn't sure why she was convinced of that—he stood easily, spoke smoothly, and that remarkable face was still, unrevealing. "I've also heard that lupi are claustrophobic."
"It's hardly a phobia. We simply prefer open places."
Not small, enclosed spaces. Like an elevator. Abruptly she pushed the button for the next floor down, and the elevator slowed.
"Why did you do that?" he snapped.
"There's no reason for you to be uncomfortable. We can take the stairs."
The elevator halted smoothly and the doors opened. Two people were waiting to get on. The woman was a civilian, fortyish and plump—a clerk or secretary, from the look of her.
Lily knew the man slightly, a Vice officer named Burns. She nodded at him.
He didn't notice. He was staring at Turner. If he'd been a dog, his hackles would have been raised. The woman was staring, too. But the expression on her face was entirely different.
The tableau lasted only a second before she and Turner got off, the other two got on, and the elevator doors closed. She glanced at him as they started down the hall, wondering if he'd noticed the woman's reaction. She had to look up, of course. He was too blasted tall.
He was looking straight at her, those rainy-sky eyes amused and knowing.
"You tend to evoke a reaction from people, don't you?"
"Usually. Why don't we start my expert consultation with listening? You can tell me what you think you know about lupi and I'll correct any misinformation."
"Good enough." The door to the stairwell was metal with the usual red Exit sign over it. She reached for it.
Somehow he was there before her, opening the door and holding it for her. He hadn't seemed to rush, yet he'd moved very quickly. Lily stopped, studying him. He looked elegant and not at all civilized in spite of his trendy black clothing. "Legend says lupi are fast. Really fast."
He just smiled.
Something shivered down her spine. She got her feet moving and didn't speak again until they both were on the stairs, headed down. "I know the legal history best. Until 1930, the only federal law related to lupi was the one making it a crime not to report someone, ah, afflicted with lycanthropy. State laws varied widely. Most of them treated lupi as humans who had a dangerous disease. Some called for them to be killed outright. Then Dr. Abraham Geddes proved that lycanthropy could not be transmitted, as had previously been believed."
"The Change isn't catching," he agreed mildly.
"Right. It's an inherited condition. Folklore and experts alike agree that the trait is sex-linked. There are no female lupi."
"I guess the experts can't be wrong about everything. Anyway, soon after that came Carr v. the State ofTexas. The
Supreme Court's ruling effectively made lupi legally human, but with a congenital disease, one that, well..."
"Makes us mad. Incurably insane. We were locked up, if discovered. Usually in chains."
"Yes. Well, that was some time ago. There continued to be a good deal of debate about whether lupi were human. Some of those of the Blood are obviously nonhuman, of course."
"Gremlins, brownies, the odd pooka or banshee."
"Pookas? I thought they were—never mind." She shook her head. Later she could ask if pookas were really extinct or not.
They'd reached the fourth-floor landing. He was still moving easily. She was, too, though her heart rate was up slightly. She wondered if he could hear it. Lupi were said to have extremely acute hearing. "In 1964 Dr. Beatrice Pargenter discovered a serum that inhibited the Change, and everyone who considered lycanthropy a disease applauded. It was considered an enormous, and humane, breakthrough. Congress passed the registration laws, which remained in effect until five years ago."
"You do have your legal history down."
"I've boned up."
Rule Turner's forehead was smooth. No tattoo, nor any sign that one had been removed. The authorities had used a special, silver-infused dye to tattoo the registration number, since the body of a were would otherwise have healed the tiny wounds inflicted by a needle within minutes. "You never registered, did you?"
"Why, Detective, I do believe that's a personal question."
"And I do believe you're obnoxious. That's a personal comment, by the way. I understand the drug was very unpopular with the lupi."
"Since the side effects ranged from vertigo to nausea to impotence—yes, it was unpopular. But even if they'd been able to refine their damned drug, no one wanted it."
His voice had lost its subtle balance between seduction and mockery. The emotion she heard was real, and personal.
They'd reached the subbasement. He pushed open the door and held it for her, as he had before. She went through it, uncomfortably aware that he was inviting her to expose her back to him.
The parking garage looked like others everywhere—gray and ugly. The air was hot and smelled of exhaust fumes. The light was flat, fluorescent, and grimly bright. "You didn't want to give up the Change."
"We no more wish to give it up than you would want to be chemically lobotomized. Still, I suppose it was an improvement over being killed or castrated."
She paused, startled. "Castrated?"
"Ah. A gap in your legal history, Detective." His eyes were oddly pale in the artificial light. "Yes, for a few years some states dealt with 'the lupi problem' the way scientists have dealt with fruit flies—by rendering us unable to breed. It was considered more humane than shooting us on sight, like rabid dogs."
He radiated anger, far more than the glimpse she'd had before. His face was taut with it. An old anger, she thought, but one that hadn't lost any of its power over time. Over the castration? Yes, she decided. His people had been killed, imprisoned, chained, drugged, tattooed, but it was the castration that made him vibrate with suppressed rage.
Had he been...
No, that was stupid. According to the file on her desk, Rule Turner had two sons, by two different mothers. Neither of whom he'd bothered to marry.
Even if he hadn't been a lycanthrope, he would so not be her type. She nodded to the left. "My car is this way."
"Mine isn't. I prefer to drive myself."
"Life is full of these little disappointments." She started walking without waiting to see if he followed.
After a bare second's pause, he did. "Are you used to having your way, Detective, or simply testing my willingness to cooperate?"
"I'm used to driving myself.Californiahasn't allowed the kind of vigilantism you described for over three decades, you know." And never castration.
"Which is one reason my clan chose to settle here."
Lily knew about the Nokolai enclave in the mountains outside the city, of course. She'd gone there shortly after the first murder—and been turned away at the gate, politely but firmly. It was outside the city limits, so she lacked the authority to insist she be allowed inside. The lupi were a secretive people. Not without reason, given the persecutions of the past. But
those persecutions hadn't been entirely without reason, either.
Before the change in the laws, the enclave had masqueraded as a religious commune. Most people knew differently now, but they didn't realize that the land that made up the enclave was owned by the Nokolai chief personally. So was the other property Lily had found—a ranch in northernCalifornia, some choiceL.A.real estate, and several condos here inSan Diego.
The Nokolai chief was a rich man. His son seemed to do pretty well for himself, too.
She stopped at a plain white sedan that looked like a dozen others lined up beneath the low ceiling. He stood on the other side of the car, waiting for her to unlock it. Their eyes met. Her spine tingled. “There's a bill due to come before the House this fall," she said. “The Species Citizenship Bill. According to what I've read, you're strongly in favor of it"
"Interested in politics, are you?"
“The Supreme Court ruling already gives you citizenship. The Species Citizenship Bill won't
"But entitled to the rights and responsibilities of citizenship whether we're on two feet or four." He studied her face a moment, then nodded as if he'd confirmed something. "You don't approve of a law that would treat a beast as a person."
"I don't understand why you'd want to be declared non-human!"
He lifted those tilted eyebrows. "I am a lupus of Clan Nokolai. What else matters?"
Arrogant bastard. Lily swung her door open and slid inside. She could well believe he was royal. She could also, all too easily, believe he was a predator.
She let him in and started the engine. He slid in beside her and, after a second's hesitation, reached for the seat belt.
It occurred to her that a car was another small, enclosed space. She punched the buttons to let down the windows. “Hope you don't mind," she said casually. "I like fresh air."
"Not at all. I'm sure the air will grow fresher soon."
At the moment it smelled of oil, exhaust fumes, and hot concrete. Heat rose in her cheeks, but she didn't think he'd notice. She was, quite literally, thick-skinned. Neither bruises nor blushes showed much. "Do you really think you'll be able to sniff out the identity of the attacker?"
"I don't know. My senses aren't as acute in this form. It's worth trying."
"A less acute sense of smell would be a blessing at the morgue." With sudden alarm, she added, "Unless you plan to, ah—"
"I won't Change. Aside from the discomfort, and the danger of doing so in these surroundings, it is not allowed. Not within the city."
"The Change is uncomfortable?"
"It can be. We are tied to nature. Changing while surrounded by buildings, concrete, and steel instead of earth and sky, is ... possible. But it exacts a price."
She thought about that as she pulled out into traffic. Had whoever Changed in order to kill done it in a park, or some other pocket of nature? "You say you're forbidden to Change within the city limits. You're not talking about the law."
"My Lupois forbade this many years ago."
"You would say 'king' or 'high prince.' Though perhaps 'clan chief is closer." He was sitting with his forearm propped on the window opening. Air streamed through, pouring itself around that narrow, sculpted face, whipping his hair around it.
She spotted a gap in the other lane between a panel truck and an SUV, accelerated smoothly, and whipped into it. The panel truck honked. Turner's hand clenched tightly on the door. Charitably, she chose to overlook that. “The Lupois is your father."
The Change was intensely important to him, to all lupi, from what he'd said. If the Lupois had the authority to forbid or restrict it, that was considerable power. "And do all members of your clan obey the Lupois in this?"
"I would have said yes, until I heard of the first killing. Now I don't know."
"You think it's someone from your clan."
"I don't know," he repeated, and she heard a thread of anger or frustration in his voice. "We are the only clan nearSan Diego, but we aren't the only lupi."
He would want it to be someone outside his clan, she thought, signaling for the turn. "I know about big, close-knit families. I come from one myself. A brother, two sisters, three
uncles, four aunts, lots of cousins. Both of my father's parents are still living. Then there's Grandmother."
If he thought it was ridiculous for her to compare her extended family to a lupus clan, he didn't say so. "You say 'grandmother' as if she were the only one to bear that title."
"She's one of a kind, all right. My sister and I call her Tiger Lady—though not to her face. I'm named after her. That is, I bear the English version of her name."
"My name is Anglicized, too."
She glanced at him quickly. "Turner?"
"No, Rule. It was originally Reule. French."
"So what does it mean?" The light was about to change. She accelerated through it without quite running up the bumper of the car ahead of her.
"Little wolf." He exhaled. "Get a lot of tickets, do you?"
"No." She hadn't seen him tense this time, but out of the corner of her eye she did catch him relaxing again. She grinned. "I'm a good driver, actually. Good reflexes. Not as fast as yours, I suppose. I guess it might be nerve-wracking to have someone whose reflexes are half the speed of yours in the driver's seat."
"Only if they think they're invulnerable," he said dryly.
"You're the one who ought to feel invulnerable. It takes a lot to hurt a lupus, doesn't it?"
"Because we heal so quickly, we can take a lot of damage. But we have the same nerve endings humans do. We hurt every bit as much."
He thought of himself as a lupus. Not as a human. For the next few blocks she couldn't think of anything more to say.
LILY HATED THE morgue. It was an unprofessional reaction, one she'd tried to overcome, but she had yet to set foot inside the cold, white walls without feeling repelled.
It wasn't the bodies that got to her. Nor the smell. It was what happened to those bodies here that made her skin feel two sizes too small. Autopsies were necessary. They were also the final, most complete invasion of privacy possible.
The attendant was new—at least, Lily hadn't run across her before. She was young, African American, her hair cropped very short to show off an elegant head and neck. And she was staring at Rule Turner.
Did the man have that effect on every woman whose path he crossed? "Detective Yu," she said, holding out her shield in the soft leather case her brother had given her for her birthday last year. "I understand you've got Carlos Fuentes chilled down. We need to have a look."
She blinked, then stood. "Sure. This way, Detective."
Lily's shoulders and spine were tight as she and Turner followed the attendant down a short hall.
"You don't like this place, either," he said abruptly.
She looked at him. There was strain around his eyes, and
his lips were thinned. "I guess it smells pretty bad here to you."
"It's not the smell that bothers me."
The attendant spoke cheerily as she pulled on one of the handles and slid the long drawer out. "Here you go."
What blood was left in the body had settled, of course. The back and buttocks would be livid, but the undamaged part of his face, his shoulders, and his upper chest were waxy and pale. He looked cold beneath the thin sheet. And very dead.
Lily's lips tightened. She glanced at Rule. "The sheet—?"
"I'll need it off."
The attendant looked surprised, then upset as she removed the sheet. That puzzled Lily. Why would a morgue attendant be upset at being asked to remove a sheet from a body? The obvious assumption was that Rule was here to identify the victim and, given the condition of the dead man's face, looking at the body made sense.
Oh. Lily's lips twitched. The young woman didn't like the idea that Rule might be intimately familiar with another man's body. Well, no one enjoyed having their dreams snuffed out. Even the brief, silly ones.
Rule bent close to the ravaged throat and sniffed.
"Hey!" The attendant grabbed his shoulder and tried to pull him back. She might have been tugging on a Buick, for all the effect she had. "Just what do you think you're doing?"
"Exactly what he's been asked to do." Lily took the woman's arm and firmly urged her back. "By Chief Delgado."
"He was asked to sniff a corpse?" she exclaimed, outraged.
Lily lifted both eyebrows as if the question were absurd, rather than the action. "Yes."
The attendant looked as if she would have bolted from the room if regulations hadn't called for her to remain. Lily didn't much want to watch him, either, but perversity or pride kept her from looking away.
He made a thorough job of it, smelling all up and down the body, paying close attention to the wounds and the cold, flaccid hands. He was intent, focused, and somehow still impossibly elegant. Not like a beast at all—more like a wine connoisseur about to deliver a verdict on the bouquets of various vintages.
And that thought was both absurd and macabre. Lily bit her lip to keep from giggling like an idiot
At last he straightened, met her eyes, and shook his head slightly.
"You couldn't tell."
"He was killed by a lupus," he said flatly. "Beyond that..." He shrugged. "Very little scent remains."
"We already knew the killer was a lupus."
"Perhaps you did. I didn't until now. There are some who might want to fake the slaying of men by lupi."
Lily remembered their audience, a wide-eyed attendant who might talk to the wrong person, like a reporter. She jerked her head, indicating she wanted him to follow, and headed for the door.
He thanked the attendant politely. She should have done that, she thought, upset and not knowing why. Had she counted so much on his sense of smell to give her a lead? That was foolish.
He caught up with her at the door and took her elbow. “I want coffee. Something to get the taste of this place out of my mouth."
Before she stopped to think, she'd agreed. Together they left that cold, bright room with its neatly filed bodies.
INSTINCT TOOK HER to Bennie's Bar & Grill. Bennie's was large, dark, and noisy, known for its cheeseburgers. As soon as she stepped inside, Lily sighed. Usually her instincts weren't this lousy.
Bennie's was a cop hangout.
It wasn't crowded at this hour. She only spotted two faces she knew as they headed for the back, but everyone seemed to recognize the man with her. The looks she and Rule drew varied from startled to snarly. Cops were good with faces, and his was memorable.
By the time they sat in a booth near the rest rooms, she was feeling self-conscious and prickly. "I wonder if this is how a white woman felt inSelmain 1960 if she went into a restaurant with a black man."
He shook his head slowly. "Our fellow customers aren't going to take either of us out in the alley and beat us up for having dared to be seen in public together. The waitress won't even refuse to serve me."
She grimaced. "I'm overreacting, you mean."
“There are parallels. If people hadn't started refusing to sit at the back of the bus back then, measures like the Species Citizenship Bill wouldn't be possible now. Have you given any thought to going out with me?"
She blinked. "For a supposedly sophisticated man, you have lousy timing. I just watched you sniffing a corpse."
"It's a subject that will keep coming up, good timing or not."
A waitress drifted up—young, blond, and pierced. There was a ring in her eyebrow, three studs on one ear, and another ring in the belly button her midriff-hugging top exposed. She set Lily's water in front of her without glancing in her direction. Her eyes were wholly on Turner, huge with fascination ... and fear.
And he knew. Awareness of the girl's fear was there in the flicker of his eyes, the softness of his voice as he ordered coffee.
"I'll have a cup, too," Lily said, peeling the paper from her straw. "Make it blond."
The waitress nodded and left.
Lily crossed her arms on the table and leaned forward. "Is it because you're a lupus? Or do you get all this attention because you're a celebrity?"
He didn't pretend to misunderstand. "I'm probably the only lupus she'll ever meet—knowingly, at least."
Lily nodded as a piece fell into place. “That's the reason for all the black, isn't it? I've never seen a photograph of you where you're wearing colors. Just black. You want people to recognize you. You want them to know they're meeting a lupus."
Amazingly, a touch of color sharpened those hard cheekbones. "Black is good theater."
"And your face is unforgettable. When people see you, they remember. You do the mystery bit well—a hint of glamour, the allure of the forbidden or the dangerous. That's the image you want people to associate with lupi. You're sort of a poster boy for your people."
He was insulted. She grinned. "You don't like being called a boy or cocky, which is for puppies. I think you've started to believe your image."
All at once he grinned back. "Maybe I have."
The grin transformed his face, turning it from dark and disturbing to someone outrageously appealing—but someone who wore ragged jeans on weekends, played baseball with the guys, and changed the oil in his car. Lily didn't even think about trying to reply. She was too caught up in that grin, what it did to his eyes and the way it lifted her heart
"Here you go." The waitress deposited their coffee, dumping a couple of containers of creamer beside Lily's cup.
Lily hadn't so much as glimpsed her approach. Shaken, she tore one of the creamers open and dumped half the contents into her coffee.
Had he used some kind of magic on her? Or did it just spill out from him naturally, without his willing it? If it wasn't magic ... she didn't want to think about what it would mean if she could react like that to him without any magic involved "Does magic have a smell?"
His eyebrows lifted. "It can. Why?"
"You knew the attacker was lupus. Our lab did, too—at least, they could tell it was someone of the-Blood, because magic leaves traces. I wondered if you were smelling the same kind of traces they found."
"I don't think so. Magic does have a distinctive scent, but only when it's active. When a spell is being performed, for example. What I identified was the smell of lupus, not magic itself."
"Is there anything else you can tell me about the killer?"
He frowned and sipped his coffee. She was not surprised to see that he drank it black. "He wasn't a juvenile."
"You can tell that from the scent?"
"No. The body wasn't eaten."
Coffee sloshed in her cup. She set it down carefully. "Explain."
"It's pure superstition that an adult lupus will be overcome by bloodlust and attack whatever moves. Young lupi lose themselves in the beast, but we learn control. If we didn't, we really would be the ravening beasts depicted in movies like Witch Hunt.”
"So a child or adolescent wouldn't have acquired control yet."
"Not a child. The Change arrives with puberty."
She thought of a particularly improbable photograph she'd seen while waiting in the checkout line at the grocery store recently. A woman had been sitting up in a hospital bed with several blanket-wrapped bundles tucked into her arms. Bundles with puppy faces. “The National Tattler would be disappointed to hear that."
"I doubt the Tattler allows facts to interfere with its editorial focus."
"I guess not. Talk about raging hormones." Lily gave herself a moment to think by sipping her coffee. This was completely new information. She hadn't heard it, read it, anywhere. Why would he trust her with this knowledge? Was it true? "You’re saying that a young lupus kills. And eats what he kills."
"If he is allowed to, yes. But we are careful with our children. None go through the Change unsupervised."
Her lips twitched. Embarrassed, she took a quick sip of coffee.
"Something amuses you?"
"I have an odd sense of humor," she said apologetically. "I thought of those ads—you know, the public service ones?— where parents of teenagers are told to nag them about where they're going, who they'll be with, all that. And I pictured one aimed for the parents of teenage lupi: 'Where are you going? Who else will be there? Have you eaten? I expect you back before the moon rises, young man!' "
He burst into laughter. "You're not that far off."
A bubble of happiness lodged beneath her breastbone. She liked the sound of his laughter, the way his head went back to open his throat to it, the smooth line of his throat... uh-oh, she thought, the bubble popping. What's happening here?
She poured more creamer into her coffee so she could stir it around. A light touch on her cheek made her look up, startled.
"Hey. The light suddenly turned off in your face. What happened?"
She could have told him again to keep his hands to himself, but it would have been dishonest. Somehow, between one grin and a moment of shared laughter, they'd stepped outside their proper roles and entered undefined territory.
But the very lack of definition made complete honesty im-
possible. She couldn't refer to a relationship that hovered over them only in potential, a heavy cloud that might hold storm and lightning—or might pass on without shedding a single drop. She certainly couldn't tell him that his promiscuity repelled her.
Lily chose her words carefully. "You have two sons yourself, I understand."
"It seems you do read the Tattler."
"Like I said earlier, after the first killing I did some research."
"On me?" His mouth twisted. "What exactly is it you suspect me of?"
She shrugged, uncomfortable but unwilling to apologize for doing her job. "You're very well known. You live in the enclave—"
"Clanhome. We don't call it an enclave."
"All right, then, you live at Clanhome, but you have a condo here in the city and you travel all over the place, partying with the Hollywood crowd, meeting with policy makers in Sacramento and Washington. You've made yourself into a public figure, and I have to think that's intentional—you're trying to replace the old stereotypes with an image you've consciously created. Of course I found out what I could about you."
One corner of his mouth tipped up, more in irony than humor. "You're perceptive. Has it occurred to you that if I've been creating an image, whatever information is available about me would be part of that image?"
"And not necessarily true, you mean? But the image tells me things, too. Like what you want people to believe about lupi. Why does your father so seldom appear in public?"
He studied her for a moment, his mouth drawn into a thin line, as grimly expressive as those remarkable eyebrows. "You should ask him that. He prefers not to come into the city, however. You'll have to go to Clanhome."
"I tried that. They wouldn't let me inside the gates. I've called. A very polite young woman told me she'd pass on my message. You can get me in, though."
"I could get you in, yes, but just getting inside the gates won't do you any good. No one would answer your questions.
You need the backing of the Lupois. Give me a few days to arrange things."
Or to hide whatever needed to be hidden. "What needs arranging?"
"My father is away right now. Wait until he returns."
The muscles along her cheeks and jaws tightened. He was concealing something, and doing a clumsy job of it. "Why can't you arrange for me to speak with people at Clanhome yourself? Aren't you in charge with your father gone?"
"It doesn't work that way." His fingers stroked up and down the mug absently.
"How does it work, then?"
"I'm not like a vice-president, able to step in if the real leader is unavailable. I'm the prince and the heir, and..." His smile flickered. "A poster boy for my people. I have no authority of my own. I simply uphold the Lupois's authority."
"Okay." He seemed to think he was telling her something significant, but nothing he'd said so far was startling. "How do you get to be prince, anyway? Is it strictly hereditary?"
"To be named prince, I had to prove three things. That I was of royal blood, yes, though we do not follow primogeniture. My father has two other sons, both older than I am."
"I didn't know that."
"Very few do. My brothers, unfortunately, did not succeed at the second test. Since a king must be able to pass on his power, the prince must be able to sire children. As you know, I have two sons."
Had he gotten those sons on their mothers in order to become prince? The possibility left a foul taste in her mouth. "And the third thing?"
"That I could tear out the throat of any who issued a formal challenge."
That left her with nothing whatsoever to say.
His mouth crooked up on one side, but there was no smile in his eyes. "Think about it. The Lupois rules for life. If anyone disagrees with his decisions, they have two alternatives. They can try to change his mind. Or they can kill him."
Slowly the ramifications sank in. "When you say you support his authority, does that mean you're a sort of bodyguard? Or are you more like his muscle?"
"Both, perhaps, in the sense that the army is the 'muscle'
of the president. We are not a passive people, but we have great respect for honor and custom. Any member of the clan may challenge the Lupois."
"What does this challenge consist of?"
"Battle. In wolf form."
A sick certainty grew in the pit of her stomach. "A trial by combat, you mean. Your father is over sixty. He couldn't defend himself against a young opponent. You do that for him. You answer any formal challenges to his authority."
He didn't answer, just looked at her gravely the way an adult might watch a child struggling to understand some complicated matter.
She did not like being patronized. She didn't much care for the implications, either. "How is the winner determined in one of these battles?"
"It varies, depending on the nature of the challenge and the will of the Lupois. In a serious challenge to the Lupois's authority, the winner is the one still alive at the end. Don't look so shocked, Detective. It's only illegal to kill one of us when we're on two feet, after all."
THE SUN HAD set, but the sky still flew crimson and purple flags in the west. A boy who should have been inside at this hour whizzed by on his skateboard. Lily's breath heaved in her chest as she neared the outdoor stairs to her apartment. Sweat trickled down her temples and stung her eyes. Worf s claws clicked dully on the concrete beside her. His big head drooped, but he was panting happily.
Lily's dog was undoubtedly a good deal more satisfied with their run than she was.
It had been four days since the last killing. She knew little more now than she had when she had looked down at the ripped throat of the first victim, a young man whose only crime seemed to be that he'd been in the wrong place at the wrong time.
There was nothing to link the two victims other than the manner of their deaths. She'd found no hard evidence, and only two possible witnesses. An old man and a teenage girl both spoke of seeing a tall, well-dressed man—an Anglo— near the park where Fuentes was killed. The timing fit, and the man's clothes, bearing, and race had made him stand out in an area mostly Hispanic. Neither witness had gotten a clear look at his face, but they thought he was smooth-shaven, neither especially old nor very young.
When they reached the iron stairs Worf stopped, whimpered, and looked up at her with pathetic eyes. "Forget it," she told him. "I'm not lugging seventy pounds of lazy up those stairs."
His tail waved twice hopefully. Her lips twitched. Worf was a peculiar-looking fellow. His body looked like a barrel set on stubby legs, his ears drooped along with his jowls, and his kinky fur was the color of mud. Lily's vet thought the dog might be a mixture ofLabrador, basset, and poodle. She'd found him huddled in the alley, looking pathetic and half-starved, about six months ago. He was scared of cats and he hated stairs.
"Forget it," she said again, and started up the stairs. Worf heaved a huge canine sigh and followed. They were near the top when she heard the phone ringing inside her apartment.
It might be Rule.
She cursed herself even as she scrambled up the last steps, nearly tripping over Worf, who decided they were racing and tried to get to the door first. She wasn't supposed to want the man to call again, dammit. But whoever was calling, it wasn't police business—Dispatch would use her beeper.
And so far Rule had called every day, discussing the case and then asking her out.
Every day, she'd turned him down. So he just might be getting tired of calling. Which was a good thing, she told herself firmly as she grabbed the phone, cutting off her answering machine's spiel. "Hello?"
"You've been out running again, haven't you? At night, Lily. You know how unsafe that is."
Lily sighed. "Hello, Mother. I'm a big girl now, and a cop, and I keep to well-lit areas where there are people."
"None of which makes you invulnerable."
Her lips quirked up as she thought of Rule's opinion of her driving. "I had Worf with me."
"As if that lazy creature was any kind of protection! I don't know why you kept that animal. You aren't home enough to take proper care of him, and he's too large for an apartment. Besides, you know how Grandmother feels about dogs."
"Grandmother isn't living with Worf. I am." She picked up
his water dish and carried it to the sink. "What's up? You didn't call to lecture me about pet ownership."
"I don't need a reason to call my daughter. But I did think it was time to finalize some of the details for Grandmother's party. It's this Friday."
Lily managed not to groan. "I know that, Mother. The cake's ordered, the invitations went out weeks ago, and it's being held at Uncle Chan's restaurant. He won't let anyone mess with his menu, so there's no point in discussing the food. I've bought a dress, and yes, I've bought a present, wrapped and ready. What's left to discuss?"
Stupid question. Her mother had plenty to say. Lily's older sister was attending with her husband, of course. And her brother was bringing his fiancee, a young woman whose virtues included the possession of a good Chinese family, a position at an accounting firm, and respect for her elders. While Worf slurped up his water and Lily grabbed a bottle from the refrigerator, she learned that her younger sister was bringing a doctor from the hospital where her older sister worked.
She also learned who each of her cousins was bringing, and their financial and family histories. By the time her mother reached the real point of her call, Lily was sprawled in her favorite chair, one leg dangling over the padded arm, prepared for what came next.
Her mother didn't disappoint her. "So who will you be bringing, dear?"
"I haven't asked anyone." Lily slumped farther down in the overstuffed chair. "I don't see that it's necessary."
"Of course it's necessary. This is a formal party, Lily. You will look foolish if you attend without an escort. You will cause your father and me to lose face, and Grandmother, too."
She closed her eyes. The "face" argument was one she couldn't counter. "I'm not seeing anyone right now. Do you want me to ask someone from Homicide? Or there's a very nice Vice officer—his name isLawrence, but we all call him Curly. I think he'd agree, and he might even shave, since it's formal. He works undercover a lot," she explained. "The three-day beard helps him blend in."
Stony silence greeted that bit of flippancy.
She sighed. "I'm sorry, Mother. But there really isn't anyone I want to ask."
"I'm well aware that your job exposes you to the wrong sort of men. This is only one of the reasons your father and I had hoped you would choose a more appropriate career. Who do you ever meet, other than police officers and criminals?"
The words came out before she could stop herself. "I did meet a very good-looking man a few days ago. His family owns quite a bit of land—a vineyard, a cattle ranch, some other properties. He manages some of their investments and, ah, has contacts in the government. He's asked me out several times."
"And you haven't accepted? He is single, isn't he?"
Extremely single. From what she'd heard, lupi didn't believe in marriage. "I would hardly have mentioned him if he weren't."
"I don't know what you are looking for, but you must be realistic. You aren't getting any younger, and while you're a very pretty girl you don't always take the care you might with your appearance. And your job—well, we've covered that subject many times, so I won't go into it now. You must learn to make some accommodations, dear. I suppose this man isn't Chinese, but surely you don't think that would make him unacceptable?"
"Ah ... no, he isn't Chinese. Actually, he—"
"Asking him to accompany you to the party is not a lifetime commitment. You make too much of a simple thing. Of course, I can arrange an escort for you, if you prefer. Su Lin Chen's nephew is doing very well. He will inherit the restaurant, you know—"
"Freddie Chen?" She sat up, alarmed. "Mother, if you ask Freddie Chen to escort me to Grandmother's party I'll never speak to you again. He's an octopus. A sweaty octopus. With bad breath."
"Then ask this other man. What is his name?"
"Rule—" Lilly's beeper went off. "Just a minute. I've got a call." She unclipped the beeper from her belt and checked the number quickly. "Got to go, Mother. I'll call you later."
"Ask him," her mother said. "Or I will speak to Su Lin." She hung up.
The number on Lily's beeper was one she knew all too well. She had it on speed dial on both her land line and her cell phone. Lily punched it listened, asked two questions, then headed for the door, grabbing her holster on the way out.
THIS TIME THE victim was a woman. Charlene Hall had been forty-eight, African American, probably single. No wedding ring, and her credit cards were in her name. She had a California driver's license, an unpaid traffic ticket, and a whole slew of those wallet-sized school photos millions of parents buy every year.
A dozen pictures, Lily thought, her gut clenched tight with pity. All of the same two boys, taken over many years. The two pictures on top were the most recent. One showed a young man in a sailor's dress uniform, his dark face solemn, his eyes gleaming with pride. The other was a family shot minus the husband-father element. The boy who in one photo had been missing three teeth was a young man now, his smile still wide and happy. He wore a suit in this photograph, and stood behind a young woman holding a baby dressed in blue ruffles and lace.
Charlene Hall had taken these photographs with her everywhere. Even when she went for a run by the lake atMissionTrailsPark.
Lily glanced at the body, almost ignored at the moment. Charlene had worn the same brand of running shoe Lily favored. Lily sighed. It was too much to hope that her mother wouldn't read about this.
There was no crowd this time, and so far no press. Just the police, a couple of park rangers, the victim, and the poor guy who'd found her. They were only twenty yards from the start of the trail near the sturdy adobe building where tourists bought sodas, postcards, and film. Charlene had nearly made it back when the killer struck.
Lily was talking with the man who'd found Charlene when Rule arrived.
"Detective?" called one of the patrol officers from farther up the trail. "This the guy you're waiting for?"
She turned. Rule stood beside the officer at the edge of the lights cast by the police spots. His face was shadowed, his expression shuttered. He was wearing black.
Rule waited for Lily to come to him. He was a patient man, he reminded himself. Which was just as well. He would need to be. If she felt what he did, she was fighting it. Maybe she
felt nothing more than a sexual buzz. He rubbed his chest, but the ache wasn't one he could touch.
The scents were rich here, away from the nose-clogging odors of the city. The green smells of growing things mingled in a pattern too complex to easily yield its separate notes, but he was aware of creosote, cypress and sumac, wild mustard and cholla. The lake, invisible from where he stood, was a rich, damp presence blending water, fish, a whiff of decay. He smelled dust and people, one or more of whom gave off the faint, sour tang of fear.
The ground was hard and dry beneath his feet. A lumpy three-quarter moon squatted near the horizon, peering at them through the dark lace of leaves in the trees to his right. He felt its pull in his blood, a song without words or