Mercy Thompson

 
 

Mercy Thompson Book 8 - Page 31


“I think you’ll find that at least some of them were mutilated while they were still alive,” I said in a low voice because I didn’t want it to be true. But my stomach cramped with knowledge that the smell of pain meant someone had hurt. It was faint because pain stops when someone dies.

“A werewolf could do this?” asked Willis.

“I told—” The wind shifted just a little, and I caught another scent. I closed my eyes and took a deep breath, trying to get below the smell of the dead.

“Magic,” I said, with my eyes still closed. It was subtle, like a good perfume, but now that I knew its flavor, it was strong. Problem was, I had no idea what kind of magic I was scenting.

“Fae?” asked someone who wasn’t Tony or Willis.

I opened my eyes and shook my head. “Fae magic smells different than this. This isn’t witchcraft, either, though it’s closer to that than to fae magic.”

“Witchcraft,” said Willis neutrally.

I nodded. It wasn’t a secret; the witches had been hiding in plain sight for a hundred years or more. In places like New Orleans or Salem (Massachusetts, not Oregon), they were virtually a tourist attraction. That human culture dismissed the validity of their claims was something the witches I know thought was a delicious irony: when they had tried to hide, they had been hunted and nearly destroyed. In the open, they were viewed as fakes—and, even more usefully, a lot of the people claiming to be witches really were fakes.

“But this wasn’t witchcraft,” I said again, in case he’d only been paying attention to part of what I’d told him. “Not any witchcraft I’ve smelled before, anyway. If you ask, Adam has someone he can send to check it out.” Elizaveta Arkadyevna was our pack witch on retainer. “She won’t agree to talk to you, but we can get the information for you if you would like.”

“Not admissible,” grunted Willis.

“Neither, probably, will Mercy’s testimony be,” agreed Tony. “But at least we won’t be running around in the dark with blindfolds on.”

Sister …

The whisper came out of nowhere. I glanced around, but no one else seemed to have heard it. A movement caught my eye—and there was a coyote crouched in the brush about fifty feet from where we all stood.

It could have been a real coyote—there are a lot of them around Finley. But I knew that the coyote was Gary Laughingdog, not because I had some sort of special way of telling walkers from coyotes—his body language said he was looking for me, and I wasn’t on speaking terms with the local coyotes. He met my eyes for a full second, then slipped away: message received and understood. He wanted to talk to me; otherwise, he would never have shown himself. Maybe he knew something about what had happened here.

I blinked at the dead a moment. Could Coyote have done this? It was a useless question because I had no idea what he was capable of. There were no stories that I knew about Coyote killing like this, but I didn’t know all the Coyote stories.

“All the women are wearing clothing,” said one of the police officers.

“Could still have been sexual assault,” said another one.

“Cougars hide their prey, so that they can eat it over a few days,” the first officer offered tentatively, and someone made a gagging noise.

I don’t think they realized I could hear them because they kept their voices down.

“Just for the record, you think this was done by something supernatural?” Tony asked me in a low voice.

“Yes. I told you, I smell magic.”

“A werewolf did this,” said Willis with authority.

I hunched my shoulders and shook my head. “The magic isn’t werewolf or fae. I might be able to do more if I can get closer.”

“You smell magic, and that means it wasn’t a werewolf?” asked Willis, sounding like he didn’t believe me. I didn’t blame him.

“I am not going to make things up just to make both of us feel better,” I said. “Werewolves smell like musk and mint. This smells like magic and scorched earth—and that is bad. Adam wouldn’t have a lot of trouble hunting down a rogue werewolf. It would be hard for one to hide from the pack more than a day or two. We can stop a werewolf—and I’ll tell Adam to keep an ear to the ground—but I don’t think this is a werewolf kill.”

“What if it was one of your pack?” Tony asked, almost gently. “They would know that we’d bring you in because we have before. They could hide their scent from you.”

I shook my head. “Trust me. This kind of mass killing? Werewolves can smell emotion, can smell when something is off. A pack member who did this could not hide it from the rest.”

“This wasn’t done with a lot of emotion,” said Willis.

I looked at him.

“Look at them,” he told me. “The bodies are arranged for maximum effect. The animals are on the bottom, the women on top, heads together like a macabre pinwheel.” I hadn’t looked that hard, but once he said it, I saw it, too. A pinwheel of dead women—and now that image was going to haunt me for a long time. “The killer felt nothing for the dead—unless you’re right, and they were tortured before they died. But when he left this, he was in control. No strong emotions for your pack to smell.”

He couldn’t smell the fear and agony that I did. Nor could I tell him that no wolf could have hidden from the pack bonds while he killed so many.

“Maybe someone is trying to make trouble for the werewolves,” Tony said.

“I think it is the werewolves making trouble for themselves,” said Willis.

“You brought me out because you wanted my opinion,” I told them. “It could be a werewolf, but if it is, isn’t one of our pack. I don’t think it’s a werewolf. I don’t smell one, but I can’t get close enough to check.”

“Why don’t you come over to the other scene,” Tony said. “They’ve got what they need from it?” He addressed that question to a woman in muddy overalls, and she nodded at him with a sort of studied weariness. “Maybe you can see something we don’t.”

I started to turn away and caught some movement out of the corner of my eye. I looked back over my shoulder and saw a woman kneeling right smack in the middle of the crime scene. Her blond hair was in a professional bun that contrasted with the jeans and tank top she wore. For a surreal moment, I thought it was Christy, and almost asked her what she thought she was doing. Then she moved and broke the illusion. It was just her hair and something in the sweep of her jawline that reminded me of Adam’s ex-wife.