Kitty Raises Hell Page 34

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“Okay,” I said when she’d finished. “I’ll be there as soon as I can.” I shut off the phone.

Ben waited for the explanation as I wiped tears away. This was stress, thinking of everything I needed to do, going to see his body, telling everyone else what had happened. I’d taken over this pack. I was the alpha. I was supposed to protect them.

I climbed out of bed and started dressing. “That was Detective Hardin. She says that Mick is dead.”

For a moment, we paused and looked at each other. His expression was stark, disbelieving. “Oh. God,” he said. “How?”

“Fire.”

Then Ben was standing next to me and holding me, a tight, comforting embrace without words. Because what could we say, really? But I needed the hug.

Chapter 12

What the police procedural TV shows can’t get across is the smell.

The morgue smelled overwhelmingly of alcohol and death. More so even than a hospital, which at least had a variety of odors of life and living overlaying the antiseptic reek. This place was a war between sterility and decay. A normal human would smell and maybe even be bothered by a sickly tang lodging in the back of the throat. But for me and Ben, for any lycanthrope, the smell filled our lungs and seeped in through our pores. My arms broke out in gooseflesh. I should have been getting used to this, the way these grotesque smells assaulted my sensitive werewolf nose.

I took shallow breaths and thought about escape.

Detective Hardin met us in the lobby. She was a brisk woman, always moving like she was in a hurry and losing her patience. Of average height, with dark hair tied in a tail, she wore a functional pantsuit that might have been on her for a couple of days now. The shadows under her eyes suggested she’d worked through the night. Her smile was grim, and she didn’t have a quip, which added another layer of depression and unreality to the situation. I wanted Hardin back to her snide, not in the middle of a disaster self.

“Kitty. Mr. O’Farrell. Thanks for coming. It’s this way.” We walked with her through a set of double doors marked private, then down a chilly corridor of off-white walls and an institutional linoleum floor.

“Can you tell me what exactly killed him? You said it was a fire, but complicated. Did his building burn? Was it someplace else?”

Apparently, she couldn’t tell me. “How long have you known Mr. Cabrerra?” she asked instead.

“A few years,” I said. “I didn’t know him well. We weren’t best friends or anything.”

“But you were both werewolves? Part of the same pack?”

“That doesn’t mean we all walk around arm in arm singing ‘We Are Family.’ The pack here is pretty standoffish, to tell you the truth. I only ever see most of the others on full-moon nights.”

She turned a quizzical expression to me. “Where exactly do you all go on full-moon nights?”

“I’m not going to tell you that, Detective.”

Unsurprised, she shrugged and continued on. The question had been offhand and unimportant, but I wondered if maybe we needed to start driving out to Kansas or Wyoming, to make sure no one bothered us.

“Did Mr. Cabrerra smoke?” she asked.

“I don’t think so,” I said. I’d never seen him light up, and he didn’t smell like someone who smoked. Now there was an interesting set of smells a werewolf could spot from a mile away. Detective Hardin smelled like that: sooty, musty, sharp.

“Did he work with fire at all? Was he a welder, a mechanic, anything that would have had him in contact with open flames, or with anything volatile?”

“I don’t know. I don’t think so. Why?”

“I’m just trying to rule out all the logical explanation, because the illogical one has everyone twitching.”

Detective Hardin, as head of the Denver PD’s newly established Paranatural Unit, got all the cases that made people twitch. She’d landed in the position by accident, but she seemed to be thriving in it. Fortunately or unfortunately, depending on your point of view.

We paused outside a room. So this was it. I braced. Ben curled his hand around mine.

She took a deep breath and said, “What do you know about spontaneous human combustion?”

I hadn’t braced well enough, because I blinked at her, dumbstruck. “What?”

“I thought you knew about all this supernatural crap,” she said. “Spontaneous human combustion, the idea that a human body can, for unknown reasons, suddenly generate enough heat to ignite.”

“I know the definition,” I said. “I can’t say I’ve ever encountered it. Ever.” I’d never even had a crazy person call in to the show wanting to talk about it, and that was saying something.

“Well. It’s on the list of what might have happened to Mr. Cabrerra. It’s on the bottom of the list—but frankly, it’s about as likely as anything else, based on what I’ve been able to come up with. There’s no reason he should have burned to death in the middle of his apartment, when nothing else caught fire.”

Fire. Burning. The smell of sulfur and brimstone. The smell from last full-moon night, the van at Flint House, and the fire at New Moon.

I shook my head at the door we stood in front of. “Detective, I’ve changed my mind. I don’t think I can do this.” I didn’t want to have to smell Mick burned and carry that memory with me forever.

“It’s not that bad, Kitty.” She touched my arm briefly. “Not as bad as you’d expect.”

She opened the door. The room was small, sterile, with a linoleum floor and tiled walls. It seemed more like a doctor’s office than what I’d pictured a morgue being like. A couple of plastic chairs stood against the wall, and a gurney rested in the middle. A body lay on it, a sheet drawn up to its bare shoulders.

He looked like Mick. I recognized him, short black hair, stocky frame, wide nose, and round cheeks. He hadn’t been burned to a crisp, but he had been burned. His face was red, like a sunburn. Blackened scorch marks reached up from under the sheet, streaks climbing his neck to his chin. His hair looked singed, scorched. It was like he’d been caught in a flash explosion at the level of his heart.

Ben and I stared for a moment. I kept wondering what had happened. The protection spell, the potion Grant had given me—it didn’t work. The thought almost pushed me to panic, because it meant none of us was safe. New Moon, my human family, everyone I’d given the jars to, all of it was for nothing.

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