"That's a dead vampire."
Selena Ward, my boss, raised an eyebrow. "Uh-huh."
"You dragged me out of bed, to a disgusting alley on Granville Streetat two in the morningto see a dead vampire?"
She handed me the clipboard with the MCS entry log. Anyone entering a mystical crime scene has to sign in first, just like a regular crime scene. The only difference is that some of our responding officers aren't human. The scene was divided into three zones with a base of operations, or staging area, near the far end of the alley where extra photographic equipment, evidence bundles, and chemical reagents could be stored in portable kits. The perimeter around the vampire's body was taped off as the primary focal point, with access far more restricted than the outer edges of the scene. It all seems orderly until you have to explain to a high-ranking investigator that she should really get the hell out of your way. I'll admit itI did get a secret pleasure out of that sometimes. There weren't any doors or fire-escapes at the back of the alley, so the only natural point of entry and exit was the street.
"Take a closer look," Selena said. "Make sure to put on gloves."
Tasha Lieu, our Medical Examiner, gave me a wink as she passed by. "Just released the scene, so it's all yours."
"Thanks, Tash." Selena looked tired.
I was already fishing the gloves out of my purse. "Sorry to call you out so late," I said sheepishly. I'd always assumed that Tasha had some type of normal human life outside of the CORE, unlike the rest of us. She was an intensely private person, and all I really knew about her was that she lived in Marpole and had a Calvin and Hobbes cartoon strip taped on the wall above the autopsy sink.
"No worries, I'm a night owl. See you at the morgue, bright and early tomorrow morning. I should have the post done by the time you get there."
I swallowed. "Yeah, great. See you there." It was just like a trip to the dentist, only the dentist was a vivisected corpse. Not my idea of a sweet morning. Tasha waved and left the scene, stepping carefully over the caution tape.
"Where's Siegel?" Selena's frown had deepened. Shit.
"Parking. The strip is packed, as usual, so I sent him down to the seedier part of Nelson Street. He may have to fend off some goth-chicks, but he'll survive."
West Granville was Vancouver's nightclub district, and its irregular streets were an explosion of noise and neon light. Hipsters danced the night away at Aquarius and The Plaza, while underage kids drank pitchers of cheap Molson at The Roxy. After last call, the strip became a drunken labyrinth of kids eating hot dogs and fries from late-night vendors, taxi cabs dodging each other, and police cars wailing their sirens. Just another night in Terminal City, as Vancouver was often called, since the only thing beyond it to the west was ocean. Like Shangri-La. The end of everything. No wonder demons liked it here so much.
"Funny lady." Derrick Siegel emerged from behind the yellow tape, smiling apologetically. "Right here, Selena. SorryI had to"
"park the car, yes, I heard." She rolled her eyes. "Just put some gloves on and follow us. Apparently there are four different concert venues spilling out drunken teenagers onto Granville right now, and I'd like to avoid a security leak."
Neither of us looked like we belonged at a crime scene. Derrick was wearing a pajama top and rumpled blue jeans with a jacket hastily thrown over. The jacket was probably Kenneth Cole: Derrick was the only person I knew who would wear designer clothes to a crime scene. He'd learned some tricks over the years, though, and he was wearing old shoes this time. Black runnersthe kind that he'd normally never be caught dead in. I was wearing the same. Try scrubbing blood out of a new pair of Charles David boots. I learned that lesson quickly, and now I always brought sneakers.
A black cat was wandering about the scene, delicately avoiding a tripod stand as she surveyed the walls of the alley. This was no random stray, but rather Sophie, one of the trained forensic animals that the CORE employed for sniffing out magical scenes. Cats didn't have quite a broad sense of smell as dogs, but their olfactory nerves were more refined, which allowed them to detect a variety of demonic and nonhuman scents that lingered in the air long after a kill. Unlike dogs, alley cats like Sophie didn't need to be trained with a scent padshe simply roamed about the alley, did her thing, and let her trainer know if she found anything interesting. Cats don't exactly work on the clock, but they're more valuable to the CORE because their close proximity to magic allows them to sense the residual chemicals left over by strong materia flows. Why do you think they always followed witches around? Cats are strongly attracted to the smell of materia leftovers, or ‘frass,' as they're known. Like mystical catnip.
Sophie, however, didn't appear to be turning up anything tonight. She sniffed the air around the body disinterestedly, then flicked her tail and retreated. A handler returned her gently to the cat-carrier, and she immediately curled up and fell asleep. She was used to being around mystical crime scenes.
Selena had paged me around 1:30 AM, which was actually a pretty decent time, all things considered. I'd gotten calls a lot later than that. As an Occult Special Investigator, it was my job to do the preliminary investigation around any mystical crime scene in the Greater Vancouver Regional District and follow up on leads. Selena gave the orders, and I followed them. Most of the time. I used to be scared shitless of her, but three years of working together had softened our relationship.
Derrick and I were both junior employees for the Mystical Crime Lab unit of CORE, the Central Occult Regulation Enterprise. CORE was a transnational blanket organization that controlled just about everything mystical within North America and Europe. The City of Vancouver's crime lab was one of the best in Canada, with a fully equipped DNA testing site and separate pathology departments that included a standalone morgue. Vancouver may have had the reputation for being a quiet city when it came to violent crime, but as far as mystical disturbances were concerned, it was a hot spot.
Since I was only an OSI-I, the crime lab tended to give me probationary assignmentsthat is, the back-alley jobs like this one that nobody else would take. Derrick was on probation as well, but as a telepath he had a different union. I think. Office politics get kind of hairy when you're dealing with demons and mages.
We slipped on our Tyvek suits, which were modified to protect us from mystical as well as organic contamination, and then Selena led us to the body. It was a male vampire, lying almost peacefully near the back of the alley. His head was propped up slightly against the corner of a dumpster, and his shirt had been unbuttoned, revealing a smooth white chest that was otherwise unmarked. He was wearing a pair of dress pants and black shoes. Cheap Stuffthe kind you could pick up at an Eaton's sale. The guy looked like he'd just come from an accounting firm. His blonde hair was neatly trimmed, and he was clean shaven.
"Have a look," Selena said.
I knelt down beside the body. The photo techs were milling around me, snapping pictures from every conceivable angle with different filters for contrast in the dark. One photographer was taking reference shots of the alley with a 28mm lens, while the other snapped shots of various artifacts around the alley with a 55mm macro-lens for close-ups, placing evidence placards next to them to establish scale. A third technician was furiously scribbling notes in the photo log, trying to keep up with the others. All of the flashes gave the scene an even more macabre feel.
An occlusion, or perimeter field, had already been set up at the entrance to the alley. In order to work unhindered, we have to seal off the area from bystanders. The occlusion is a kind of mystical envelope that alters light wavelengths around the area. It has something to do with quantum packets, but I never really get the explanation. With mystical crime scenes, you have to preserve all the evidence while simultaneously hiding it from the general public, and that includes the Vancouver RCMP. Not always a simple matter in this city.
Vampires decomposed a lot more slowly than human bodies, so it was impossible to tell how long he'd been lying here. No insect activity, no temperature changes, and no postmortem interval to establish. But I was trained to detect even more subtle alterations. Einstein told us that energy can't be destroyedonly transformed. Every organism has an energy signature, an aura. Even the undead.
I passed my fingertips through the air a few inches above the vampire's chest. I could feel a faint differential in the energy flowsa trickle of something, like spider silk against my face. It made me want to sneeze.
"Feels sketchy. Maybe 48 hours ago, but I can't be certain. You know how tough it is to establish time-of-death with vamps."
"Derrick?" Selena gestured to the body. "You want to give it a try?"
It wasn't really a question. Derrick sighed.
"One of these days," he said, "I'd like to read the dying thoughts of a really happy person. Someone who expired in a bed full of puppies and bunny rabbits."
"I'll see what I can do," Selena said flatly.
Derrick knelt down beside me. He placed his gloved fingertips on the vampire's forehead, and closed his eyes.
I didn't really understand how Derrick's powers worked, since I wasn't a telepath myself. All I knew was that, just like I could sense auras, Derrick could sense faint neurological impressionslike letters presse...