May 2012 – Searchlight, NV – Vector
Vector sat in the SUV, chewing lethargically on his McDonalds fries. He could see the four FBI agents seated at a booth inside, talking about something intently.
He’d been assigned to the Bureau for just over thirty-four months and in all that time, he hadn’t even begun to figure out how to crack their human boy’s club.
It was different than it had been in Seattle, even when his own partner hadn’t acknowledged Vector’s supernatural status, at least Lachlan had been his partner. They hadn’t been as close as Vector wanted them to be, but there had been a time he would have considered them friends, if nothing else.
Henderson wasn’t his friend. Henderson was his leash holder. Though Vector didn’t know where the Bureau thought he’d run. He only had one place left to go and they knew it as well as he did. If he tried to skip out on his job, they’d track him down before he could climb the steps to Lachlan’s apartment in Capitol Hill and run him up on charges of—something. Obstructing justice maybe. Did the FBI classify people as AWOL or was that just the military? He couldn’t remember.
Vector shook his head. His eyes were gritty and tired from ally he dust. He’d forgotten his sunglasses in Denver.
He felt muzzy with the edge of their trail.
The searchlight bodies, the newest ones, had been in the ground a month already at least, making the trail fresher than it had ever been before but there was a pressure throbbing behind his eyes that made it difficult to focus.
The whole town smelled like decay, not just the gravesite, and it was wrecking havoc with his nose. He couldn’t seem to get a fix on where to look next. Their killer had been here for upwards of six months before he finished with his fifth victim—and there were exactly five skeletons buried out there in the desert, arranged in a pentagram descending into the earth just like the other locations.
“Foresthill, Fort Benton, and Denver,” he murmured. “Now, Searchlight.”
The oldest remains, dating back at least six years, had been their last find up in Denver. That’s when they’d picked up two extra agents.
Thirty-four months and this was the fourth serial killer he’d been assigned to track. The second case he’d worked with Henderson. Their last assignment had ended when Vector got himself kidnapped by the killer and drove an RV into the Hudson River. He limped away with four broken bones and a bad case of pneumonia.
He leaned his forehead against the hot glass window, cracked an inch as some kind of joke: got to be careful if you leave the dog locked in the car.
His brain kept straying to his conversation with Deputy Jones that morning, clinging to his memory of Seattle, so vivid for a second he could have been back there.
Maybe there was a local witch or a coven, someone strong who didn’t like outsiders. The itch int he back of his brain bore a certain resemblance to warding spells he’d encountered. Something stronger than himself kindly telling him to get the hell out of dodge.
He’d like nothing more than to be leaving but until he sniffed out a direction they were stuck scrabbling in the dirt.
The gravesite had been extensively photographed, and two relief Deputies were out there with the county coroner right now, packing everything up to ship it back to the Sherif’s station.
Their killer hadn’t left any physical evidence behind, but they’d also never found a scene so fresh before.
It was hard to describe how Vector’s tracker sense worked if you didn’t live in his head. Even his own alpha hadn’t been able to understand it, and Aunt Teagan had spent many years when he was growing up, helping him hone his skills into something useful.
It was like having a compass in his head. Or a dowsing rod. One he could tune towards a person. All he needed was a whiff of their scent—that visceral, olfactory fingerprint. Everyone’s was unique. It just happened that eighty percent of the population was ill-equipped to notice, to read it the same way a person might read words on a page or colors on a canvass.
But for Vector, his sense of smell went beyond even what a normal wolf could easily detect. For him, that scent rewrote his sense direction, until every cell in his body began straining towards it.
He could track a puff of smoke across a desert, a bird across an ocean, a trail of dust through Los Angeles during rush hour.
Given enough time. Given clarity and purpose.
There was only time in twenty-eight years that his sense of smell had failed him. Nearly failed him.
The driver’s side door slammed as Henderson and the rest of the Feds piled inside, smelling like grease, cheap hamburger meat, and cheaper cheese.
Vector pressed his nose and mouth against the back of his hand as subtly as he could to block out the rank smell that permeated the vehicle. Only made worse when Henderson turned on the air conditioning and began recycling icy cold, stale air, distributing that smell to every corner.
They pulled up Cottonwood Cove Road, outside the little station building which house an on duty Deputy and Dispatcher and climbed out of the SUV into the heat. His gut had been right; the day had turned into a scorcher, at least to Vector’s pale Northwest skin.
“They’re shipping the remains up to Las Vegas. Nothing we can use here to examine them,” Henderson said, leading the way inside the building.
“I’ve already called my superior to get them rerouted to our office,” the agent from Las Vegas replied. “Even with a push, however, you’re looking at a weight to get anything back from the lab. We’re swamped up there.”
“Yeah, but it’s better than dealing with the podunks down here, if you ask me. Just need to sign off on the paperwork—hey, Clanahan, go back to the car. We’ll just be a second.”
Vector’s steps slowed to a stop as Henderson blew into the station, the agent from Vegas hot on his heels. The two other Feds from Denver loitered in the lobby, poking at the ancient soda machine there while Vector watched through the glass.
He felt the sweat break out along the back of his neck.
“Wham, bam, thank you ma’am.”
Deputy Vicki Jones made a peculiar yipping laugh in the back of her throat. She had an icy can of root beer in one hand. Her nails were painted bright shiny red; he hadn’t noticed before.
“You always blow through crime scenes this fast?”
Vector shrugged one shoulder. “You aren’t equipped to handle a full forensics investigation.”
“More to a case than the forensics of it.”
“There were five bodies in the ground.”
“Our killer has most likely moved on.”
“Don’t you want to poke around though? Try and figure out where he stayed. Who saw him. Who he spoke to. Where he killed them before burying the bodies?”
Vector blinked slow, gritty eyes at Vicki. “The killer has already moved on.”
“You can just sense that?”
“So, where’d he go next?”
Vector licked his bottom lip, and let his sense of self spread thin across the surface of his skin. His eyes glazed over as his ears tuned to the kick of hot metal in the SUV, the thrum of Vicki’s coyote heart under her deputy’s shirt, the lonely caw of a scavenger wheeling over head, the scrape of sound that dust makes when it traverses the empty land.
“I’m not sure yet,” he said in a low voice.
“But you’ve been where he was last?”
“Where he was last, before that, maybe where he started. It’s all jumbled up,” he answered reluctantly.
“But you’re going to pack up and leave all the same.”
“It’s not my decision.”
“Right, you’re just the trick wolf in this operation. How’d that happen, anyway? You one of those criminals the Feds caught and press ganged into service?”
Vector cocked his head. “I’m not a criminal. I was a police officer. They just recruited me. Nothing nefarious.”
“If you say so.”
Vicki scraped loose strands of hair out of her face and pulled a little blue glass bottle out of her pocket. She handed it to him.
“A bit of earth, since you can’t stay. This here is a piece of my home.”
She quirked a sharp smile at him.
“Not like your home at all, but still sacred in a way. This man you’re hunting, this killer, he violated the land, but maybe it’ll help you on your search.”
“I don’t see how. But I appreciate the thought.”
She tipped her tasseled hat and strolled across the empty parking lot to a diesel truck parked until a broken street light.
Vector watched her drive away, his blood warming up the glass bottle. He sloshed the contents back and forth, staring at the way they blocked the sunlight.
“That was strange.”
“What is?” Henderson barked.
Vector palmed the bottle and smoothly hid it away in his pants pocket.
“Oh, yeah, chick is weird all right. They’re all missing a screw out here. Must be all the sun, am I right?” Henderson chuckled at the dark look the agent from Las Vegas shot him. It might have almost passed for camaraderie if the smile had managed to reach Henderson’s eyes, if he’d even looked at Vector to commiserate, one northerner to another.
Vector’s chest ached as he found his thoughts brought back once again to the partner he’d left behind at the Seattle Police Department. Usually, he tried not to let himself dwell on those memories, on regrets, because dwelling never did anything except leave him staring at a dark ceiling in the middle of the night, unable to sleep, gasping for air. Because there was no changing the decision which had—stupidly, stupidly—led him to say “yes” when the Federal Bureau of Investigation offered him a new job.
It might have been different for your average Special Agent, but the Bureau had dug their hooks in deep into Vector, a fish wrapped up in its own line and without an exit strategy.
He slipped his iPhone out of his suit jacket’s inner breast pocket and swiped through to the home screen. No calls, no txt messages, no one outside the Bureau was allowed to have this number.
While the black SUV jounced across the Nevada desert, Vector thumbed through his news app. It had been set up with the major feeds from New York and Washington D. C., his two primary places of residence these past thirty-four months. But he also had a link to the Seattle P-I’s RSS feed and it was this he switched over to, idly scrolling through the headlines, looking for something—anything—that pinged as familiar.
FIFTH BODY UNEARTHED IN BRIARWOOD INVESTIGATION
Vector hesitated, eyes darting across the first couple lines of text.
“A fifth body.”
“What was that?” Henderson snapped.
“Change of plans,” Vector said, flicking on the SUV’s GPS and keying in BRIARWOOD, IDAHO.