When I got back to my car, I had a text message waiting.
Me: Nope. There were eight guys with him. I explained what was going on, he asked if they knew anything, no one came forward.
Penny: He didn’t force the issue?
Me: He said he’d done all he could.
Penny: That’s bullshit.
That pretty much said it all, so I didn’t bother replying. I wasn’t really in the mood, anyway. Without the werewolves’ cooperation, the investigation was dead, dead, dead.
At the office the next day, I sat at my desk, staring off into space, clicking my pen so often that the sound integrated itself into the regular ambiance of my office. When I lost the rhythm, the absence of it became oppressive.
I would’ve passed the entire day that way, but Penny walked in carrying a pink bakery box, breaking my broody focus.
“Oh, now, you decide to show up,” I said.
His smile didn’t waiver. “Thought you might need something to cheer you up,” he said, opening the box top and revealing a dozen mini chocolate cupcakes.
The muscles in my face tried to lift into a smile, but failed. Penny sighed, setting the box on an empty corner of the desk, and sitting across from me.
“You can’t save everyone all the time, Caro,” he said.
“I know that.” I said, pushing my lower lip out.
“It doesn’t seem that you do,” he said. I opened my mouth to argue, but he raised his hand. “Hear me out, okay?”
“I’m not judging you for wanting to save everyone. But it’s not how the world works. Sometimes you’re gonna fail.”
I crossed my arms over my chest. “I train hard so I don’t fail.”
His eyes rolled. “That’s not realistic. You could be the toughest, strongest fighter in the world and still not win every time.”
“It’s not about winning,” I said. “It’s about making sure no one else dies.”
“And I’m saying you can’t always do that,” he leaned forward. “There is one of you and so, so many more of us.”
“’Because the monsters outnumber me’ isn’t a good reason to give up.”
“I’m not asking you to give up,” he said. “Jesus, do you always have to think the worst? I want you to put this case on the shelf for a while. Not forever. Bide your time until something new comes up.”
“That’s what I’m afraid of, “I said, slamming back in my chair and standing. “I leave this alone and the next batch of zombies successfully wreaks havoc.”
He got up, too, crossing the room to me, and grabbing the tops of my shoulders. “Then you’ll stop them,” he said. Our faces were only a few inches apart. “I don’t want you to quit looking, only to stop obsessing. You’ve said this witch is careless. It’s only a matter of time before they make another mistake.”
A billion different arguments floated to the surface of my brain, but I knew he could counter every single one. My teeth sunk into my bottom lip as I nodded.
“Good girl,” he kissed the top of my head, lingering a bit longer than he should with his nose buried in my hair.
I grabbed a cupcake on my way back to my chair. “Thanks,” I said, lifting it up to him in a salute.
For the first time, I noticed that the circles under his eyes were almost gone and his cheeks a bit more filled out.
“You’re looking better,” I said. “It’s even the first day of the full moon and you’re out of the house before night fall. What gives?”
He propped his feet up on my desk, popping an entire cupcake in his mouth. “Locking myself in the house wasn’t doing me any favors,” he said through a mouthful of cake. “I’ve been running between ten and fifteen miles every day. Really helps with the mood swings.”
“Looks like it,” I said. “I suppose all that running is why I haven’t been able to get ahold of you lately?”
He shrugged. “Yeah, it’s keeping me busy.” His eyes were flicking anywhere but on me. The index and middle fingers of his right hand twitched. Something was up.
He hung out for another few minutes, fiddling with papers on my desk and making small talk, before grabbing another one of my cupcakes and heading out with a “see you after the full moon.”
Despite my promises to the contrary, I spent the rest of the day reviewing the case, searching for anything I might’ve missed. I still came up empty handed.
I was quiet at dinner.
It was my turn to load the dishwasher. This was usually a solitary chore, but my dad stood next to me, rinsing the crustier dinnerware, grey eyes watching me when he thought I wouldn’t notice.
“Been over to Wilkesville lately?” he asked, scrubbing at persistent grime.
“No,” I said. “I’ve been working on something over near Riverview.”
He handed me a plate. “Some high school girls went missing over the weekend. They were found on Monday in an abandoned furniture warehouse. None of them remember how they got there, except that they’d all been at a party. Police think they were drugged.”
“You disagree?” I asked.
“There are always rumors about vampires.”
“I’ve looked.” I said. “I haven’t found any sign of vampires anywhere in the area.”
“You think you can find vampires if they don’t want to be found?”
I put down the silverware I held, turning to face him. “Dad, what happened to them that makes you think it was vampires and not really poor decisions?”
“A friend on the police force mentioned that, while none of the girls showed any signs of trauma, they were all experiencing the effects of significant blood loss.”
I rolled my eyes. Fucking vampires. “They’re lucky they weren’t killed,” I said.
He scrubbed at a baking dish, not responding.
“You’re worried that killing isn’t the intention. Are the vampires trying to turn them?” I asked.
“That’s more your area than mine,” he handed the dish to me. “But I think it’s something to be taken into consideration.”
I chewed at the corner of my lip. “Alright. I’ll go over there tonight.”
An hour and a half later, I parked on a dirt road in the middle of a field outside of Wilkesville. There were several abandoned farm buildings in the vicinity; all of them perfect hiding places for a vampire clan.
I couldn’t help feeling like Buffy whenever I searched for vampires—armed to the teeth and cute as hell. I had wooden stakes, sharpened to lethal points, hidden in both sleeves of my jacket and in the inner pockets, and a silver dagger sheathed in the ankle of my boot. In my jean pockets I had a silver cross and a spray bottle filled with holy water. If I’ve learned one thing about fighting monsters, it’s that the things you read in folktales are always based somewhat on truth.
It was night, but the moon was bright enough to see by as I traipsed further down the not-quite-a-road. The fields on either side of me started out as soybean crops, but soon deteriorated into fallow farmland. Off to the right, I could just see the outline of the pasture fence. I heard the distant lowing moo of cows and the snickering whinny of horses, but couldn’t see the animals.
It was a peaceful summer night, which made the abrupt cessation of noise that much more startling. All sound stopped: animal, insect, even the wind seemed to stop whispering through the trees. My body registered the change in the atmosphere before my brain caught up, body tensing, legs seizing up.
I whirled around, but it was too late. The massive body hurtled at me from the shadows; the hulking beast knocking me off my feet. I flew, weightless, for several feet before hitting the ground, the air exploding from my lungs in a concussive burst.
Not being able to breath was the least of my worries. The animal was on me, enormous body pressing me into the ground, all musty fur and muscles. The wolfish face was inches from my own, lethal teeth barred; hot, soured metallic breath washing over me.