Home > Circle of the Moon (Soulwood #4)(13)

Circle of the Moon (Soulwood #4)(13)
Author: Faith Hunter

I accessed the surveillance cameras from the earlier title loan shop robbery. Same slim form, same white skin, same hand in pocket. A finger. He had stolen a gun and ammo as well as money. Here, the lanky thief stole less than a hundred dollars and the .32 Smith & Wesson. He—I chose male for convenience—had calculated the value of the gun and ammo, adding them to the cash. Stealing a gun carried heavier penalties. I was guessing he didn’t know that. But, if both robberies had been connitted by the same person, he or she had been in possession of a gun on the second robbery, and hadn’t used it. So why steal the gun?

I clipped my badge where it could be seen, adjusted my vest and weapon, and stacked my tablet on top of the psy-meter. The robberies hadn’t been violent, but the robber wasn’t in custody. He’d taken off on foot, was smart enough to dodge security cameras, and was armed. Better safe than sorry. I checked my comms unit and went inside, spotting the cop right away, leaning over the counter, chatting with the Pilot employee. I said, “Officer Holt?”

The cop turned and looked me over, a frown on his face. He muttered, “You gotta be kidding me,” just loud enough to make sure I heard. Holt didn’t like female special agents, especially ones who looked too young to have come up through the ranks and paid their dues, as he had. And based on the hint of fear in his eyes, he especially didn’t like paras, and I didn’t look quite human right now.

His attitude got all over me like deer ticks on a dog. “Not kidding at all, Officer Holt.” I looked him up and down just like he looked at me, my eyes alighting on his thinning hairline and his paunch, which he sucked in to make himself look in better shape. “You were hoping for a nice big former Green Beret with scars and wartime experience? You call PsyLED about a nonviolent, very questionable vamp robbery after midnight, and you get me. Special Agent Ingram. You got a problem with that, you can call your headquarters and see if they’ll let you run and hide from the big bad para.” I tapped my chest.

Holt flushed.

“Did you get all that, Special Agent Dyson?”

“Every word,” Tandy said into my ear. “Making friends, there, Ingram.”

“I got your report,” I said to Holt. “How about you stand outside and ask people to wait out there for five minutes while I read the premises.” I turned my back on him and set the psy-meter on the counter near the Slim Jims and Ho Hos. I heard the door open and close and I caught sight of Holt walking it off outside. I hadn’t done a very good job improving interagency relations. LaFleur would probably have a few things to say about that.

To the clerk I said, “Okay if I tape our interview?”

“Sure.” The cashier nodded. He was in his midthirties, with patchy facial hair and an old odor of alcohol and weed about him. Idly I wondered where he’d hid his stash when he’d had to call the police. His name tag read HANK.

“Okay, Hank. Speak into the tablet. Tell me your full legal name, the date, and the current time. Then tell me what happened.” I set the tablet to record and as he talked I calibrated and did QC on the psy-meter 2.0. His story was pretty much what I had seen in the security cameras. “Can you describe the alleged thief?”

“Kid. I’m saying male. I mean, chicks don’t rob stores, ya dig?” I nodded, encouraging him to talk. “Probably between seventeen and twenty. White skin, black greasy hair to his shoulders, skin was dirty, medium height. Skinny.” He added, “He was shaking like a junkie, but the thing that made me think vampire was the white skin and the blood on his clothes. And he talked funny, so I was thinking fangs.”

I was betting that this kid loved horror movies and read vamp porn. “But you never saw fangs?”

“No, ma’am. Just the blood on his clothes and the white skin. But I thought bloodsucker and the cop agreed.”

“Uh-huh. Right. Okay, with your permission, I’m going to read you, then take a reading everywhere the perpetrator stood.” I calibrated the four levels to zero and then scanned Hank, who was excited to be part of a PsyLED investigation and who read fully human. But his countertop read moderately low on psysitope one, slightly lower on two and four, and a rise on three, giving a nod to every para in the book. The Pilot store had a lot of traffic and the residue had accumulated. I frowned. Such an accretion of psysitopes didn’t make sense. I pulled up a map and compared the location to the Glass Clan Home and to the address of the leader of the local witch coven. The store was close enough to these social gathering places to be used for gas and late-night purchases, hence the readings. “What made you think the subject was male?”

“I only got a good look at the chin,” he admitted, “but it had a few hairs on it like a kid trying to grow his first beard. If it wasn’t a dude, then she was the ugliest chick I ever saw in my life.”

“Hmmm.” Mentally, I ran through the possibilities. Vamps were white skinned, and both robberies had been after dark, but vamps had mesmerism abilities and would blood-kiss-and-steal to get money, not rob. Juvenile Welsh devil dogs were skinny and apt to be unkempt, and it was possible that one had slipped by in the recent roundup of the horrid, foul shape-changers. Maybe a witch wearing a glamour to look like a male? Could be; a glamour would mess up my readings. Male witch? Not likely. Male witches succumbed to childhood cancers with a regularity that was scary. Because of the childhood mortality rate, male witches, sometimes called sorcerers, were once rarer than hen’s teeth. With modern medicine, more males had begun to survive to adulthood, but the percentages were still low. If the pale unsub was a sorcerer, he might be sick. Even dying. There was a single report in the PsyLED databases that a sick sorcerer had thrown off strange psysitope readings. For now, I was betting on human junkie. I touched the counter and felt no maggots, but that meant nothing since the robber hadn’t touched the counter.

Reading the rest of the store took a full three minutes, and I saved my readings on my tablet before thanking the cashier and leaving the store. I went up to Holt and said, “It’s all yours.” I didn’t wait for his reply and got into my truck. I drove away, across the street toward the Walmart where the robber had seemed to be heading when he raced away on foot.

I drove around the Walmart, past big rigs parked in the shadows, a few RVs and travel trailers. Spotting the security guard, who was riding around in an orange vehicle with a flashing orange light on top, I followed and flashed my blue lights to get his attention. Unlike Holt, former KPD sergeant Wellborn was genial and chatty. We sat, driver-side door to driver-side door, and gossiped over the window edges for a while about the robbery and the homeless and drug problem in Knoxville.

He pointed to the back of the Walmart and said, “We try to keep them from bothering the shoppers and joggers. When there’s two of us working and when the numbers get too bad, we help the local boys flush them out of the greenery along the greenway back there.”

I assumed that local boys meant KPD and not armed yahoos looking for excitement.

“But they don’t need much more than a bush to sleep under in summer, and with Third Creek back there and nearby places to beg, they have everything they need to survive for six to nine months a year. Come winter, things’ll change up a bit, but for now, it’s homeless heaven.”

I pulled up the video of the suspect. “You ever see this guy?”

Together we watched both sets of footage and Wellborn shook his head. “No. Dark jacket, jeans, sneakers, maybe an old pair of Jordans. Moves like a female. I have to say, robbery by the homeless isn’t as common as most folk think. They make more and better money begging, without the fear of ending up in jail.”

Making a note to check the statistics, I considered the darkness behind Walmart. The security lights didn’t reach beyond the parking area, and though the moon was still up, it wasn’t providing much illumination. I really didn’t want to go back there, but … “I need to inspect it, to see if I can spot the perpetrator.”

“If you want to take a look, drive around and come in the back way, on the far side of the creek. Shine your lights at the creek and the back of the store. You’ll see some. See a campfire or two. Maybe a tent. If you want to wait till I’m off shift I’d go with you, but I’m the only one on tonight and can’t go now.”

“Thanks. I’m good. I’ll call for backup if I see anything that means I need to get out of the truck.” I shook his hand across the space between our vehicles and followed directions to the far side of the creek. I motored in behind a storage building or warehouse—there wasn’t a sign on the back road to tell me what it was—braked, and measured with the psy-meter out the window. The readings read background normal, and I moved on down the road. On my GPS it was called Unnamed Road, which seemed an appropriate and sad place for the human homeless. I made three stops, working from inside the truck cab, and found only tents, tarps, trash dumps, an abandoned campfire, and glimpses of people escaping into the brush, until I got past the Walmart. The psy-meter 2.0 went off, spiking and holding at level one and level four, the readings matching the circle that had called Rick. My heart rate rocketed. There was something witchy on the bank of Third Creek.

I called Tandy. “Got something, but not what I expected.”

“Describe.”

“Checking psysitope levels on an open field in the direction the subject had been walking after the robbery. High readings on one and four, holding at redlining, no downward movement. I don’t know what it is, but I’m requesting backup. Is T. Laine on call?”

“Roger that. Putting in a call for KPD and Kent. Do not—repeat, do not—leave your vehicle.”

“Roger that,” I said. “I’ll write up reports while I wait in the Walmart parking lot with Wellborn, formerly of KPD and armed.”

In my report, under “Comments,” I speculated that the store thief was human, but couldn’t rule out a witch using a glamour or carrying a charm that might affect the psymeter.

• • •

   Lainie made it to the parking lot in under an hour and a small KPD night-shift team met us in the parking area behind the warehouse-type building on Unnamed Road. Lainie and I went over the psy-meter numbers I had collected, and made an informed guess at the location of whatever or whoever awaited us in the brush near the creek. It hadn’t moved. I mentioned the robberies and the remote possibility that the two were related, based on my theory of a witch under glamour.

The KPD team listened in. There were six of us, the cops looking psyched at going into the wild and kind of freaked too, probably at the combination of an armed, magic-using suspect in the area, though I explained that the readings were wrong for a witch lying in the grass or for a vamp. There were no apparent heroes and no obvious para haters in the cop group, so that was good. Better was the fact that we could all share a single communications channel. After the crazy things that had happened with strange magic in the last year, KPD, KFD, and Knox County Sheriff’s Department had dedicated a single frequency to ops involving paranormal investigations or creatures. Most cops call it the para freq, and laughed.

   
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