Home > Meant to Be Immortal (Argeneau #32)(2)

Meant to Be Immortal (Argeneau #32)(2)
Author: Lynsay Sands

CJ didn’t particularly care. She had at first, but she’d gotten used to it, and what she did was important. To her mind, a good cop was worth their weight in gold, but every profession had their bad apples, and bad cops could do more damage than your average dirtbag criminal. She felt no regret or guilt over what she did.

“Well?” Dupree snapped. “Are you going to step up and help out here or what? If you don’t, we’ll have to wait for a detective from the Ontario Provincial Police to come help us. That could take days and evidence has a tendency to walk away or get trampled on if not gathered right away.”

CJ knew that when it came to fires, a lot of evidence was unavoidably damaged by the firemen as they fought to put out the fire anyway. But it was always better to collect whatever wasn’t damaged as quickly as possible.

“Sure,” she said finally. “I’ll help. But I can’t collect or bag evidence. That would affect your chain of custody.”

“You won’t have to. You just tell Jefferson what and how and he’ll do it,” he assured her, some of the stiffness sliding from his shoulders now that he had her agreement. He immediately came around the counter to hand her a slip of paper with an address on it. “That’s where the fire is. You’ll want to take your own vehicle so you aren’t stuck there until one of us is ready to go. You have GPS?”

CJ nodded as she glanced down at the address.

“Good. I’ll—”

“Captain!”

Irritation flickered over his face at that shout from somewhere toward the back of the building, and then Captain Dupree started to back away, saying, “You head on over there. I’ll follow in my squad car.”

He didn’t wait for a response, but turned and hurried around the counter and through the doorway at the back of the room, disappearing from sight just as someone shouted for him again.

CJ folded the slip of paper and headed back out to her car. This wasn’t how she’d planned to start her investigation, but that didn’t bother her. Investigations rarely went according to plan. Hell, neither did life for that matter, and she’d learned to roll with the punches that came at you. Still, being roped into a police investigation was a bit unexpected and, in this case, not something she was looking forward to since it involved a crispy critter. Her nose wrinkled at the term they had used on the force to describe murder victims whose remains had been burned. They’d had lots of nicknames for victims. Civilians probably would have thought them heartless and cruel for the most part, but when you investigated the atrocities people committed on each other, you had to find a way to separate yourself from it emotionally or it would tear you apart. Nicknames were just one of the ways they did that.

Sandford was a relatively small town of 12,000 people. That might not seem small to some. There were much smaller towns, but 12,000 was small for having its own police department. Most towns in Ontario that were that size, and some with even larger populations, had given up the expense of running their own department in favor of contracting out to the Ontario Provincial Police. Sandford had avoided that so far. But while the town wasn’t all that large when it came to population, it was much larger in physical size thanks to being a farming town and it took nearly twenty minutes to reach the address the chief had given her, which ended up being on a rural route lined with large fields and the occasional farmhouse.

CJ was able to see the house from several minutes away, or at least the fire raging through it. The building was an old brick farmhouse and the fire was still roaring, despite two fire trucks and more than a dozen men fighting valiantly to put it out. CJ pulled in behind a long line of pickups—volunteer firemen was her guess—parked on the grassy verge of the extremely long driveway and made her way up the gravel drive toward the chaos of bodies moving around the blaze. She was about halfway up the driveway when she heard the “whup whup” of the ambulance and saw it heading toward her. CJ had to step onto the grass to make way for it to leave, but then continued forward, heading for the only man in the mass of people ahead who was wearing a police uniform.

Pain, pain, pain. That’s what woke Mac. Every bit of his body was in agony, from the tips of his toes, to the top of his head, and every inch of his skin felt like it was afire. A scream of agony was rising up in his throat when voices pierced the cloud of suffering, distracting him.

“My God.”

“What is it, Sylvie? Is he dead? Should I turn the lights and siren off?”

“No, Artie. He’s still alive, but he’s—well, he’s healing.”

“What?” Artie asked. “What do you mean, healing?”

“He’s healing,” Sylvie said with something like awe. “The blisters are— You need to see this, Artie. This isn’t normal. Pull over and—”

The woman’s words died when Mac finally managed to push his eyes open.

“Your eyes,” she breathed with amazement as the ambulance began to slow. “They’re silver.”

“What was that?” Artie asked from the front of what Mac now realized was an ambulance. The woman’s uniform and the gurney he was lying on gave that away.

Which meant he was on his way to the hospital, Mac realized, and knew that couldn’t happen. Rising up on the gurney, he sunk his fangs into the female EMT’s neck, and began to drink.

“I think that’s it,” CJ said as she watched the officer bag the cigarette butts she’d spotted. They’d started the search over an hour ago, using a grid-work pattern to cover the outer edges of the property first, and then moving slowly inward. Fortunately, by the time they’d reached the area around the house itself the fire had been all but out, the firemen concentrating on the interior.

“Yeah. I think we’ve covered everything outside,” Officer Simpson agreed, closing the evidence bag and straightening next to her.

CJ nodded absently, her attention on the farmhouse. They couldn’t look inside yet, but she doubted that would be necessary anyway. Gasoline had been used for the accelerant. She’d been able to smell it as she approached. That and the melted remains of three empty gas cans that they’d found on the edge of the fire had given it away. Two of the three plastic cans had just been melted lumps, but the third one had only been partially melted, and the handle and cap had remained. It might be a lucky find if the arsonist hadn’t used gloves. The cigarettes might be helpful too if they belonged to the arsonist. They might get some DNA off them.

“What now?” Simpson asked.

CJ turned to Officer Simpson. Not Jefferson. Simpson. Officer Jefferson had left about ten minutes before she got there. Simpson had told her that after introducing himself, explaining that Jefferson had been called away to handle a situation downtown. CJ suspected it was the same situation that’d had someone back at the station shouting for the captain as she left, because he had never shown up here either.

“I think that’s it for the night,” CJ said, and wasn’t surprised by the obvious relief on Simpson’s face at her words. It was nearly 2 a.m. and she suspected the younger man probably worked the same shift as Jefferson, and should have been off at midnight. He was probably ready to go home to bed.

“Will we need to go through the house itself?”

CJ eyed the charred remains of what had once been a charming old Victorian-era farmhouse. The fire was out, but a couple of firemen were still running a spray of water over the smoking ruins to make sure there were no embers that might spark up later. She knew from past experience that no one would be allowed inside for a day or two, if at all. An inspector would have to check to see that it was safe to enter and floors wouldn’t collapse underfoot. If there were still floors inside the brick exterior, she thought, but said, “Not tonight. Maybe in a day or two . . . if it’s even necessary,” she added. “I don’t think the arsonist bothered to go inside to set this fire. It looks to me like he just poured the gas over the front porch, back porch, and the bushes around the house and lit it up.”

“Yeah. It does,” Simpson agreed, contemplating the house as well.

“We can come back and check inside in a couple days if we have to, or whenever the fire chief says it’s safe to enter,” she said. “Will the body be examined here in town, or will they have to send it to the city?”

“The body?” Simpson asked, turning to her with a frown.

“Captain Dupree said the homeowner was in the house when it was set on fire and this was the town’s first murder,” she explained.

“Oh.” Simpson nodded, his gaze sliding toward the vehicles in the driveway. “Yeah, the guy who lived here was trapped in the basement until the firemen were able to beat back the flames enough to go in through a basement window and get him out. I guess they found him in a tub in a bathroom down there. He’d filled it with water and submerged himself.” Grimacing now, he added, “They said the water was boiling by the time they got to him. He was alive still, but barely. I didn’t see him when they brought him out, but Jefferson said he was red as a lobster, parboiled with huge bleeding blisters all over.” He shuddered at the thought of it. “They rushed him to the hospital just before you got here, but the EMTs didn’t think he’d even survive the ride.”

“Yeah, the ambulance passed me on their way out,” CJ murmured, her thoughts now consumed with the shape the man must have been in. Boiled alive didn’t sound any more pleasant than burned alive to her.

“I wonder why they’re back,” Simpson said suddenly.

Eyebrows rising, CJ followed his gaze to where an ambulance was parked on the lawn next to the fire trucks. It was quite a distance away, but she could see that the back doors of the ambulance were open, and there were a couple of people inside, hovering around the gurney.

“Do you think one of the firemen got hurt?” Simpson asked with concern.

“That or they found someone else in the fire,” CJ said, and set out across the yard toward the vehicles, with Simpson at her side.

   
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