A cold, chilling, sea borne wind whipped across the wet slippery docks. Darkness fell rapidly, as winter approached on swift icy feet. Shadows fell heavily across the tourist shops, which lined the cruise ship’s port. An eerie howling floated on the winds.
The young girl in her late teens, hurriedly locked the shop’s door, struggling against the forceful wind to hold on to her purse, as the sea’s angry breath ripped and tore at her thin coat. Her long black hair whipped about her face, in the wild rush of the gale force. She moved with caution as she maneuvered the slick, wooden dock planks, wet with sea water, scum and patiently growing moss.
Sea spray had soaked through her coat, plastering it to her thin, fragile body as her hair clung to her wet face, obscuring her already limited vision in the darkness. An odd scrapping sounded behind her, distorted by the ripping winds. The girl turned her head to look behind her, fear thickening her blood as it unfurled through her with lightning speed.
She saw nothing in the inky blackness behind her. She moved quickly around the corner of the building,
ducking under the short stairwell to enter the sidewalk parallel to the curving street. Thick white ropes barricaded the sidewalk and dock from the street, placed to keep tourists from wandering aimlessly into traffic. Uncertainty filled her as the ropes were invisible to her now.
Reaching out a trembling hand, she moved forward slowly. The girl felt in the darkness for it. A sigh of relief escaped her chapped lips as her hand touched the cold, wet, tightly bound cotton rope as thick as her forearm in front of her. The stench of rotten fish and sweet-soured garbage assaulted her nostrils, gagging her. Gripping the thick rope, she glanced behind her.
Her terrified eyes saw nothing, but she felt the sinister presence only seconds before the hot, rotted breath gripped her lungs. Her body spasmed as it fought for air, gagging, as a wrenching nausea rose to her lips, unable to scream. A car's headlights flickered behind her as it rounded the corner, illuminating the tall, slender thing that hovered menacingly an arm’s length away.
Panic sized her as she looked up into the glittering green eyes that bore into hers. A brutal cruelty edged brilliant eyes, which began to shift into a glowing blood red. Hatred consumed them as those eyes pierced her soul.
A short snout with thin lips curled back to reveal rows of crooked, long, sharp tiny needle-shaped teeth gleaming threateningly in the approaching headlights. Its sleek head, covered with shiny black and silver fur, pinned large cat-like ears to its head as the creature glanced up at the car.
A bristly seal-like pelt covered its lithe body from head to foot. Arms, long and muscular, hung nearly to its knees. An odor of rotted fish and death clung to the shimmering fur, reeking in the wind. The car rounded the curve, heading for the tunnel, leaving them in inky blackness. The girl trembled, jerking up the rope to slide her body beneath it.
The creature roared, a long-fingered hand, tipped with razor-sharp claws, gripped the girl’s neck, lifting her bodily backward. Her scream turned into a gag as her face rammed into the rancid fur of the creature’s muscular chest. Panic sized the girl as she realized she was going to die. The streetlamp twenty feet away flickered on, revealing the gangly monster in front of her.
“Please...” She whispered.
The creature’s ears shot forward, an odd expression of pleasure flickered through its eyes and was gone. It loosened its tight hold on her upper arm, grimacing a horrid smile that flashed momentarily across its terrifying features.
The lamp brightened, and the girl swung her purse at the creature’s head before twisting free, running as fast as she could towards the Visitor’s Center. She ran breathlessly towards the unroped sidewalk, nearly colliding head-on with the massive brass statue of fishermen that sat on the dock near the entrance to the street next to the Visitor’s center.
A wild roar of fury ripped from the beast as it tore after her; its long legs hurtled it with incredible speed across the windy, slippery docks. She screamed as it caught her. Razor-sharp claws wrapped themselves tightly into her hair, jerking her to a sudden stop.
She looked up at the statue towering above her on the dock, praying it would not be the last thing she ever
saw. The rancid, putrid odor permeated the air despite the heavy gale force winds that swept against them. An almost greasy smell accompanied the rotten sweet odors. It was as if this creature took pleasure in rolling in the filth it reeked of. Sobbing and gagging, the girl began to sink to her knees. The beast jerked her upright, leaning down, shoving its face close to hers. It’s hot, rancid breath forced her to hold her breath as it stung her face.
The creature lifted its clawed hand, a long finger with a curved yellowed claw, traced the line of her high cheekbone. The razor-sharp talon sliced deeply, flaying to the bone. She trembled violently, unable to scream, fighting the terror that rose in her throat, paralyzing it.
Tears streamed down her face, mixing with the salty sea spray that filled the wind as waves crashed violently against the dock. Blood ran freely down her jaw to drip on the brilliant white sweater, coating her breasts with her own blood. Before leaning in to lick her blood with its wide raspy tongue, the creature smiled hideously at her.
She could sense the creature’s growing excitement as it lapped at the flowing blood. The girl attempted to pull her head away and froze as it snarled in warning, pinning its ears tightly to its head.
Cold, soulless eyes glared at her before yanking her head back by her hair. Slowly, with purposeful movements, the beast licked the girl’s neck, its raspy tongue removing the thin skin.
Lifting a long sharp claw, it slit the woman’s throat. Her scream choked off as the creature sank its teeth into the tender flesh of her throat and fed hungrily.
Minutes later, it dropped the body at the foot of the statue, leaving its victim staring sightlessly up at the black stormy sky as it disappeared in the inky shadows of the nigh
Gale force winds blew through my insulated raincoat as the icy rain and sea spray plastered my coppery shoulder-length hair to my head. I shivered as chilling rivulets of rain ran down my neck, soaking my thick Irish cable sweater. Nausea rolled violently around in the pit of my belly as I eyed the young female’s body some fifty feet from me, where I huddled at the side of the small dock coffee shack, trying to stay out of the wind and away from the mangled, bloody body.
Lieutenant Charlie MacAvoy glanced at me as he walked past. Shaking his head as if to say I was a baby. I glowered at his retreating back as if my being there was all his fault. It was my own nosy fault—that and letting Joe D’Amico, Ketchikan’s Chief of Police, talk me into it. I had decided after the murder of my father, his wife, and the Voodoo priest Sutton a month before that I had had enough of murder.
I failed to look at the caller ID when my cell rang, answering it without much thought. Joe demanded I come take a look at the body of a young female on the docks because it did not look right to him.
Normal was what he meant. I eased myself around the shack and fought the wind to walk to where the body lay, bracing myself by holding onto the cold metal statue. Nausea again rose swiftly, and I clamped my lips tightly together as my throat tightened painfully. She lay crumpled on her side; her head twisted to stare sightlessly up at the angry gray clouds. So young. She looked as if she could have been no more than eighteen.
Long black hair fanned out around her head, thick ropes of it clung wetly to her face and neck, drenched in bloody sea spray. The white cotton sweater was pink with blood that had paled under the constant assault of sea spray and rain. An angry gash above her high cheekbone lay open to the gleaming white bone. Biting my lower lip, I bent down to get a closer look at the gaping wound across her pale throat.
I moved back, allowing the police photographers to do their job, and walked over towards the thick barrier ropes that separated the docks from the curving street and the newly rebuilt Visitors Center. Joe stood above a white vinyl plastic purse, waiting for Charlie to finishing videotaping it before reaching a rubber-gloved hand down to pick it up. He held it up by thumb and forefinger as he turned towards me, a puzzled expression moving across his ruggedly handsome face.
“Why would she have dropped this here if she came from locking up the Totems and Trinkets shop four shops down? She died over there...” Joe searched through the contents, withdrawing a slim pink vinyl wallet. “She wasn’t robbed. Her name was Julie Hensley, eighteen years old last month.”
Joe flipped the wallet shut, slipping it back into the purse. I raised my brows at the name, my mind working fast.
“What? You look like you just had a light go off somewhere in your head.”
I shook my head, staring at him as I connected the name to several gossip tales I had recently heard.
“Nothing really,” I told him, not wanting to repeat that Julie was considered a bed-hopping boyfriend stealer by other teens and twenty-somethings on the Island. I sighed. There was not much evidence considering the heavy winds and rain that continued from the night before. Who would want to kill this girl? I stood in front of the thick rope barricade and watched the flow of traffic. The shops had closed since the first week of October when all the tourist and Cruise Ships ended their summer season. The Island was slowly returning to normal.
I turned and followed Joe back towards the body. My stomach lurched again, and I turned my eyes away to find myself looking into Evan Wilder’s mesmerizing bright blue eyes as he walked towards me, a brilliant smile wreathing his normally stoic face.
I never knew why he had stayed in Ketchikan after he had told me he was transferring to a Post in Palmer. Even though he had assured me his reassignment had nothing to do with my reluctance to have a romantic relationship with him, I had felt guilty. He believed it was because he was a Vampire, and I was a half-human half werewolf. We had remained friends, though neither of us ever spoke of his reassignment that never happened or why he had changed his mind and stayed here. Evan reached me, grinning wider as he took in my bright red nose and dripping hair.
“You look like those pictures of that Christmas reindeer...What’s his name?”
“You mean Rudolph, the red-nosed reindeer?” I scowled up at the tall, muscular State Trooper who towered over me.
Evan nodded, chuckling. His golden blonde hair ruffled slightly in the fierce winds that swept over us from the sea. I looked down at my feet, feeling self-conscious about my glowing red nose and a movement caught my eye. I saw something fluttering between the cracks of the faded grey wooden dock planks in front of me. Squatting down on one knee to balance myself in the wind, I looked closer at what looked like a thread. Lifting it carefully from the small piece of wood it had snagged on, I held it up to see it better.
What at first had appeared to be a single thread turned out to be strands of long black hair held together by a tiny clump of the bloodied scalp. Pressing my lips tightly together to force back the rising bile in my throat, I waved Joe over with my free hand. He scowled at me as he strode towards us, just as my brother Nicolai drove onto the dock a hundred yards away beside the Ketchikan Visitors Center.
The dock's wooden boards creaking as his tires made loud popping sounds. He maneuvered his white dually truck around the picnic tables in front of the tiny coffee shack and came to a stop near the dead body. I handed Joe the strands of hair, watching him as he inspected it closely before stuffing it into a plastic baggy. Joe said nothing, glancing between Evan and me before turning on his heel to walk back towards the truck my brother was now climbing out of.
Evan raised his dark brows in silent question at me. I shrugged, and we both knew what neither of us said aloud. Joe was being stupid jealous again. I walked up to my brother as he pulled his heavy CSI case from his back seat. Nicolai looked up from what he was doing, his brown eyes twinkling merrily at me. Nicolai always had this weird sixth sense about me, and he knew without me telling him that I was ready to run away from the gore and death. Joe’s weirdness was messing with my head, and I felt the most at ease with Evan, strangely enough. Nicolai grinned, gripping his fingers on my shoulder as he walked beside me.
“Tough morning, huh?” he said, checking his watch on his other wrist.
“Quite the understatement.” I sighed, zipping my coat up to my chin. “I hate this... how do I get talked into looking at dead bodies?”
Nico laughed, drawing the instant attention of Joe and Evan, who both watched us as we headed for the body. My brother was the only person in my life who totally understood my reasons for not wanting a committed relationship.
I could never really trust that my lover would not bail and run off like my father had: like every other man in my life had, except my brother. I had discovered that I loved Joe very much, but his stupid Italian jealousy scared me and infuriated me at the same time. I figured I probably needed more time to figure out what I really wanted and needed from a relationship. So, I took my time. If Joe could not or would not wait... well, that was how it was meant to be.
Unfortunately, he was so damned sexy I could not keep my hands off him and he was not satisfied with just being friends with benefits. Nico’s low whistle shattered my train of thought and I turned to him as he knelt beside the body.
“Julie Hensley. I just saw her yesterday hanging out with that Ander’s kid.” Nico turned Julie’s head slightly to get a better look at the gaping wound on her throat.
My heart sank. Jason Anders, son of Mayor John Anders, the biggest pain in the ass in town. It was not going to be pretty when he discovered his son was now a suspect in a murder. The man hated me for no apparent reason except that he resented any woman who he perceived might be smarter than himself. A man of limited vision and downright sexist. It was a wonder Lori Anders had not dumped him long ago.
I hated dealing with the pompous ass. Normally I could control my temper, but this was one man that quickly got under my skin and sent me into a tailspin of fury.
Even in the rough sea blowing wind, I heard the collective groans of the others as they heard Nico’s remark. Nico inspected the back of the girl’s head, locating the area where her hair had torn from her scalp. A bloodied hole in the scalp remained. Joe handed him the baggy with the clump of hair I had found, and he put it in a bigger bag before turning the body over.
I just noticed the flesh around the throat wound looked raw, as if sand paper had roughly scraped the neck, peeling, and scraping the flesh away. Pointing it out to Nico, he looked at it closer and took Charlie’s camera to snap more photos of the wound. Something about this victim did not feel right to me. Thousands of tiny bells went off in my head. I did not know how I knew, but this was no ordinary murder.
I knelt to get a closer look, wondering how I had missed it before when I heard heavy tires slapping against the weathered dock planks as a vehicle approached. I looked up to see a shiny black SUV pull to a stop two yards away. I knew I should have left earlier. John Ander’s, Ketchikan City Mayor stepped down from his vehicle and looked around before his seedy green eyes locked on the young girl’s body at the foot of the statues.
Joe walked forward quickly to meet him. Ander’s ignored Joe as his eyes fell on me. He looked almost comical as his eyes widened in disbelief and an angry red flushed his craggy face. Stepping around Joe as if he was not even there, he stomped towards me as I stood up. Nico saw him coming and got to his feet beside me. Anders halted three feet away, his tiny eyes glaring furiously into my own smiling ones. Hell, I used to be an actress, might as well use the training. He thrust out his bony chest, squaring thin shoulders. The looking down his nose effect became lost due to the fact he was forced to look up at me as I was a good six inches taller than him.
“What are you doing at this crime scene, Miss Thomas?” He demanded in a superior tone. “I have repeatedly told you not to interfere in official business.”
“You are merely the mayor, and not for long. You have no authority over who is present or who is hired to aid the investigations.” I informed him; with a bright smile I did not feel.
“Not for long? What are you talking about, woman!”
I arched my brows at him. He suffered from severe little man syndrome.
“You have insured every Islander now regrets voting for you the first time. No one wants you for a second term, Anders. If you call me woman again, I will slap a suit against you and this city. You see me coming, you keep your mouth shut.”
Anders paled, realizing he had finally pushed me too far. He looked helplessly at Joe for support.
“I warned you, Mayor.” Joe told him before turning away.
“John, you can’t tell us who we hire as a consultant to assist us. It makes no difference if you approve of our choices or not.” Nico told him matter of factly. “I wouldn’t shove Claire too hard, John. She has powerful connections in the media that could ruin your life forever.”
The mayor swallowed hard, glancing hatefully at me. He sat down on the nearby bench and stared at me in hostile silence. Joe joined him, and I watched as John went to the body and pulled back the covering to view the body. Without a word, I slipped away, reaching my car parked behind the Ketchikan Visitors Center and headed for Emily’s Cafe.
My body was quivering with fury. I had to escape that man’s presence before I said or did anything further. Emily Thomas, my brother’s wife, and my best friend since childhood, saw me coming and hurriedly grabbed a pot of strong Italian coffee, meeting me at my favorite table.
“My God, Claire! You look like a drowned rat!” Emily peeled my wet coat from me as I struggled to free myself from its clinging confines.
“Gee, thanks. It is cold and wet out there. I don’t know why I keep letting Joe talk me into helping.”
“Because your good at this sort of thing. Because a good mystery gets you excited, and you won’t stop until you’ve solved it.” She told me, pouring the coffee into my cup.
“And then there’s that. A bad storm is brewing out at sea. We are going to be in for a bad couple of days, Emily.” I looked up into her wide green eyes as she tucked perfectly straight golden reddish hair behind her ear. Her beauty always took my breath away.
She was one person who glowed with a beauty inside and out. I still flustered with anger when I thought about how Joe and a lot of people had been so quick to accuse her of murdering my father and Sutton several months before.
Sutton had been an evil demon, posing as a voodoo priest from New Orleans who had helped my stepmother and her friend murder my father before they had a simple-minded boy help them keep killing. Sutton had wanted my father’s Book of Magic and Emily’s daughter Noel who was a natural witch, who was also his daughter who could give him the powers of Lucifer. the women had wanted Dad’s money. Noel had sent her demonic father back to hell. Emily had seemed to put all the horror she had lived through behind her, appearing happy. She had admitted to me a month before that she was studying magic hard with my half-sister Allie to increase their powers.
I looked out the window at the blustery sea and the dark grey clouds that hovered heavily across the rough waters, my thoughts on the victim Julie Hensley, and Jason Anders as I tugged on my wet sweater.
“The girl we found murdered was Julie Hensley.” I told Emily. “Nico saw her last night with Jason Anders.”
“Oh God! You think he was the last person to be with her?” Emily asked. She knew exactly what was bound to happen if we confirmed Jason as a prime suspect.
“Yes. I think so. And Mayor Anders made a show at the crime scene a few minutes ago. He isn’t going to be easy to deal with.” I sighed, wishing I could just drop the case.
“So, you slipped out.” Emily’s knowing eyes probed mine, reading me clearly. “You can’t just drop out Claire, they need you. Ignore the Bastard.”
“Scuttlebutt has it that Jason Anders is a notorious bed hopper and fidelity to his girlfriends is not very high on his list.”
Emily nodded. “I heard the same thing. He seems to like to indulge in threesomes and it usually backfires for the girlfriend. I heard he left several girlfriends for one of the participants, each time. These girls are stupid to go along with anything he wants.”
“I need to find out if Julie was one of his conquests.” I said, taking a sip of the scalding hot coffee, loving the way the warmth spread rapidly through me.
“Uh, she bragged about a one-night stand with him a few days ago...last Friday to be exact. Right here in the diner. Mylie Green, Jason’s girlfriend was furious, and threatened to kill her if she ever touched Jason again.”
I sat up straighter. “Are you sure?”
Emily looked at me like I was crazy. “Of course, I’m sure, Claire. There were dozens of people here who saw and heard everything.