Home > Mist and Magic (Death Before Dragons #0.5)(13)

Mist and Magic (Death Before Dragons #0.5)(13)
Author: Lindsay Buroker

Willard stopped by the side mirror and studied me, but with the lights at her back, I couldn’t read her expression. “I’m guessing from your question that you haven’t,” she said.

“Not yet.”

“Nothing magical out here that any of your charms can sense?”

“Just whatever’s in your car.”

She hesitated, either because she didn’t want to tell me what it was, or she wasn’t sure what it was.

“Captain Rodriguez has magical bullets for his magical gun,” she eventually said.

“Is it aimed at me?”

“In your general direction.”

“Comforting.”

“I figured it was you, since Reynolds said he gave you the address.” Willard didn’t sound like she approved or wanted me here. Tough.

“I got a translation on my own from the ogres at Shoreview Park, so I was coming one way or another.”

Willard looked back at her SUV and made a patting motion, hopefully telling her officer that he didn’t need to hold his gun on me. “We went through here once and were going to make another pass in case we missed something, then head into town and study the USGS maps we got by better light. The GPS directed us here, so we thought this would be it, but…”

“Mine thinks this is Misty Loop Lane too.”

Her phone rang, and she moved away from me to answer it.

“Who’s calling you at 3:30 in the morning?” I asked.

“Colonel Willard,” she answered, ignoring me.

I caught a few words from the caller—a medical examiner saying she’d finished an autopsy. For Willard’s missing agent? Or was this someone who’d been killed by the feline claws? Whoever the subject of the procedure had been, his heart had stopped.

“That shouldn’t be possible,” Willard said. “He was barely thirty and fit.”

“…might have been electrocuted.”

“Electrocuted?” Willard scowled down at the ground. “When he was found next to someone whose throat was torn out by a tiger?”

“Tiger?” I mouthed, glancing at the cub. She’d stopped playing with the keychain and was sniffing at the damp air wafting in through my open window.

I missed whatever the medical examiner said, but Willard’s next words were, “I know, I know, it’s bigger than a tiger. Whatever it is, we’ll find it.”

“We also found something on your man. I don’t know if it’s more than a souvenir knickknack, but you’ll probably want to see it.”

“I’ll be there in an hour,” Willard said.

“Bring coffee.”

“Always.” She hung up and returned to my window. “Why don’t you keep hunting around here, and let me know if you find anything?”

“I want to go see the body and whatever the medical examiner found.” I would be willing to come back here once it got light and I had a better shot at seeing evidence of people—or ogres—leaving the road, but the mystery with the body and some unnamed item sounded like a better lead.

“You’re not on the case.”

“And yet here I am.”

“Annoyingly, yes.”

“You could use my help.”

“I told you before,” Willard said. “I looked at your record. You’re a reckless maverick who doesn’t think the rules apply to her. Even when you were in the army, you frequently failed to obey your superiors and ended up with more disciplinary actions than a drunken sailor on his first shore leave in a year.”

“Only because my superiors didn’t understand me and nurture my creative streak.”

“I’m sure I would side with your superiors.”

“I’m sure you would, too, but look, if some magic was used to kill your agent, I might be able to detect it.”

“Your record failed to mention that you’re an eavesdropper.”

“You have to read further. It’s in the appendix.”

Willard shook her head and stepped back. “You’re not coming, Thorvald. I can’t stop you from looking for your friend, but you’re not on my team.”

“Fine, but I’m going to look next for my friend at the morgue.”

“We don’t need your help.”

“He does.”

She glowered over her shoulder at me as she stalked back to her SUV. “You’ll find that the front door is locked to random civilians.”

“I have a lock-picking charm too,” I called after her.

“Merow?” the cub inquired.

“It’s true,” I told her, though I doubted that was truly a comment on the conversation. “I’ve been collecting this stuff for years.” I waved at charms on my leather thong, then put the Jeep back into gear.

Feeling a touch peevish, I drove past Willard as she was getting in, gave her a cheerful wave, and plugged in the address for the Whatcom County Medical Examiner, determined to beat them there. I hadn’t mentioned my stealth charm to Willard. Even if she called ahead and tried to warn someone that I was coming, it wouldn’t keep me out.

In the rear-view mirror, the SUV turned around quickly but awkwardly on the narrow road, then came after me. But my Jeep had more clearance and better tires for off-roading, and I smirked as I outpaced them.

“Time to find out how stopped hearts, giant tigers, and murders are tied in with Michael’s disappearance,” I murmured.

11

As I’d promised Willard, I had little trouble sneaking into the building without being seen. The back door was unlocked, and there weren’t any security or police officers waiting to apprehend me. Since the rain had picked up again, I was glad there weren’t any obstacles to bypass, though I had expected Willard to warn someone that an interloper might show up. Maybe she hadn’t wanted to risk putting anybody in my maverick path. Or maybe she secretly believed that I could help.

Even though I’d had assignments in this county before, I hadn’t been in the health center before, and it took me a while to hunt down the stairway to the basement that led down to the morgue. Sensing a magical item somewhere on that level made me pause. I didn’t think it was a weapon. Could it be the knickknack the medical examiner had mentioned to Willard?

I found the morgue and was about to enter, checking to ensure my camouflaging charm was still activated, when voices sounded in the hallway behind me.

Willard and Rodriguez had arrived. Before they came into sight, I slipped into the morgue. I paused to peek out the window in the door as they arrived. Captain Rodriguez was a bullet-shaped man with a bald head and granite jaw. He looked more like an infantry sergeant than an intelligence officer.

I moved away from the door so they wouldn’t be close enough to see through my charm’s magic when they stepped inside. It crossed my mind to make my presence known, but they might try to kick me out. I also might learn more if nobody knew I was there. Willard had shared more information than I’d expected so far, but she’d also made it clear she didn’t want me here.

Two bodies were laid out on exam tables, still zipped into bags. Or maybe already examined and re-zipped into bags. The medical examiner was sitting at a desk, her head in her hand, and her eyes closed. Her scrubs and lab coat were rumpled, as if she’d grabbed them out of a dirty-laundry basket in the middle of the night. Maybe she had. She must have been ordered in late—or early—as a favor to Willard.

The magical item I’d been sensing seemed to be located in a folder under her elbow. That would be difficult to extract without her noticing.

She stirred when the officers walked in carrying coffee cups—I wondered where they had found someplace open this early. Bellingham wasn’t a big city with copious all-night coffee options.

“Here are the reports for both of them, Colonel.” The medical examiner brought two folders to her, including the one with the magical item, then unzipped one of the body bags. “You can take a look at your agent, if you want, but there weren’t any physical marks on him, not even burns. And you’ve already seen the guy who was mauled.” She waved to the body closest to them and farthest from me. “The deep lacerations on his throat are indeed what killed him and are in line with what you’d expect from the claws of a very large cougar.” She opted for the only large cat indigenous to the area, but I doubted anything indigenous had been killing people. “He also has a broken tibia,” she continued, “which likely happened during a fall at the time of the attack.”

Captain Rodriguez gave the coffee in his hand to the medical examiner, surprising a thanks from her. The scents from the hot beverages teased the room, and I was almost tired enough to find them appealing, though my interest was in the caffeine, not the coffee, which I detested.

Willard was looking over the reports, so I took the opportunity to step closer to the body that had been electrocuted. That of her agent.

My gut clenched. I recognized him.

That wasn’t surprising, since Willard had said he was one of the soldiers in her unit, and I’d occasionally worked with them when Hobbs had been in charge, but I hadn’t expected it to be one of the ones I’d liked. Or at least liked to trade snarky comments with. Sergeant O'Sullivan. He’d always tried to get me to sell my sword to him and lamented that it was so much bigger than his.

I struggled for detachment as I surveyed him for evidence of magical tampering—or, more likely, a magical attack. Magic didn’t leave a telltale signature, unfortunately, but it could account for sudden deaths without physical signs. Wizards could hurl lightning attacks that would appear to a medical examiner exactly like a lightning strike or other electrocution. Elves and some of the more powerful magical beings could channel telekinetic power from within and use it to squeeze a heart until it stopped beating.

“Davie Thornberg is the name of the civilian?” Willard was reading the second report. “I wish O'Sullivan had checked in and let us know what he was doing. Was this guy a random civilian who happened to be in the hotel with him at the same time as he was attacked, or did O'Sullivan call him in for questioning?” She glanced at the captain. “You looked him up, right?”

   
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