Taya Turner sat in the passenger side of her partner’s Hyundai Accent.The silver-gray car idled at the curb as it waited for its driver to return. The gentle purring of the engine was lost on the woman inside.
What few rays of sun made it through the cloud cover shone in her shoulder-length hair. It caught on its artificial highlights in the otherwise brunette strands. Her soft, tan features gave her a slightly more youthful look than her actual twenty-four years.
She absently tapped her chin with the end of her favorite pen. She stared down at the papers and photos scattered in her lap, reviewing the file of one William Grant for the hundredth time.
No matter how many times she read through it, it still seemed more like a fantasy than an actual profile. Just like everything else since the start of the Werewolves Interpolation Reveal. Or, as everyone called it, W.I.R. Most people said it had to be a hoax. Some crazed group of maniacs who thought they were Lycans, and took it to the next level with impeccable special effects. Others clung to the belief of it like a lifeline.
All Taya knew for sure was that since its start, it’d caused nothing but trouble and no small mountain of paperwork and investigations. Fights had ensued. W.I.R. supporters had crawled out of the woodwork, while others made it feel like the Salem Witch trials on repeat, swapping witches for werewolves. Whatever these people—human or otherwise—had been expecting, it was mass chaos.
Since the ‘reveal,’ she had hoped to land a case involving the so-called wolves, to discover the truth behind the matter for herself. And now, she had one. Well, it was more that he
had an assignment and she just happened to be his partner, but still. It was her case by proxy.
But it wasn’t the kind of intel gathering case she’d hoped for. No. This was a homicide case. Her first murder case as an official FBI agent. And William Grant, acclaimed werewolf, was to join them in the investigation.
Her partner had muttered it being something about solidifying the blurry lines between truth and fiction in the public eye. If the government could work with and validate the werewolves’ existence, then maybe the citizens could, too. Or, better yet in his opinion, realize it was as fake as alien crop circles and return to their normal lives.
Regardless, what mattered most, was that they solved the string of homicides and disappearances as quick as possible. The sooner they found the killer—or killers
Taya’s hazel gaze strayed to the outdoors. She glanced to the café they had stopped at.
Gray, contaminated snow huddled against the building as if it feared someone would come shovel it away. Frost lurked at the edges of the storefront window. Inside, she could just make out the back of her partner’s head towering at the front of the line. His black trilby hat added a couple inches to his height. Beyond him, a flustered barista hurried about behind the counter.
Thankful he was almost done—and feeling a bit sorry for the barista—Taya returned her attention to the file.
If none of it was fabricated, then, by all accounts, William Grant should be dead. Or, at the very least, bedridden in a home for senior citizens. Yet, somehow, he looked even younger in his recent, out-of-state driver’s license photo than he did in the ones supposedly dated from nearly eighty years ago.
The sleeves of her burgundy coat rustled lightly as she picked up the photocopy of the old, black-and-white picture.
A family all dressed in their Sunday best posed in front of a park’s statue. A forty-three-year-old William Grant stood beside a rather pleasant-looking woman trying to keep her bonnet from flying away. Their children, three boys between the ages eleven and sixteen, each looked bored and ready to get on with the day. A normal, happy family. A family destined for tragedy, if the reports were to be believed.
She swapped it for the more recent photo. Besides being in color, it looked as if someone had Photoshopped the black-and-white one, cleaning up the signs of aging. He looked somewhere around his late twenties, give or take. And unlike in the family photo, his eyes looked haunted instead of happy. Like they’d seen more than their fair share of sorrow, the weight of seemingly existing outside of time making his smile drawn. No matter what way you looked at it, though, he looked completely human.
Though she trusted tests had been run to rule out tampering with the original from the 1900s, there was every chance the similar appearance and name was simply a biological coincidence. Like another Nicolas Cage conspiracy.
Still staring at the pictures as if she could spot some kind of tell he was a werewolf, she reached for her travel mug from the cupholders in front of the center console. She brought it to her lips.
She paused, taking a grateful moment to inhale the rich aroma of sugar-afied coffee. Anything was better than the earthy yet minty scent of sage filling the car. Sage and cinnamon. She’d started to think of it as her partner’s signature scent, so had expected it the first time she rode with him. What she hadn’t
anticipated was its intensity in such a condensed space.
The sage, she figured, had something to do with dispelling evil spirits. But the cinnamon? It was too natural smelling to be a cologne. She’d even done a quick search for a spice ball or something under the seats when her partner wasn’t looking, but hadn’t found anything. She’d resigned to the suspicion he bathed in it.
She slowly sipped at her coffee. Her attention shifted back to the file.
As much trouble as W.I.R. had caused, her curiosity and excitement threatened to get the best of her. She smiled around her mug’s lid. The detective side of her wanted to know the truth about the whole thing. Though she wished it was under different circumstances, the opportunity had still dropped right into her lap.
Maybe there really was
something to the whole, ‘beginner’s luck’ thing.
She glanced up as her partner strode past the windshield. His black, wool overcoat only enhanced his rather ominous appearance, its tails flaring out slightly behind him.
He hastily entered the car. The chill of the outdoors chased out the warmth inside, making Taya shiver. She reached to turn up the car’s heat.
“Blasted winter,” he growled. He scowled as he tapped off bits of slush from his shiny, cap toe shoes. Satisfied he wouldn’t dirty the pristine interior, he fully settling into the driver’s seat.
Everything about Eli Archer’s features was pointed. His high, prominent cheekbones. His long, thin face and slender chin. His beak-like nose that looked like it could easily take out someone’s eye if he turned too fast. Taya couldn’t help but wonder if he was a distant cousin of a crow.
He took a long swig of his warm drink as if trying to drown his frustrations of winter in it. Years of practice kept his nose from poking a hole in the lid.
“Long line?” Taya asked absently, refocusing again on the file. Whatever he’d gotten, the new scent of something citrusy joined the array of smells in the car. The strange mix threatened to make her stomach churn.
Eli grunted. He placed his cup in the holder closest to him. His icy blue eyes narrowed as he noticed the file. His scowl seemed to deepen, but it was hard to be certain; his resting face itself was always either a frown or a scowl. Taya wasn’t sure if his facial muscles even knew how to make a smile.
“What, don’t have those memorized yet?” he snapped. He took hold of the wheel, black leather gloves covering his hands.
Taya shrugged, doing her best to brush off his tone. In the nearly two weeks she’d been his partner, she’d started to think of that as his normal, neutral attitude. She’d heard that she was the senior agent's twelfth partner in half as many months, and was determined to show it would take more than his attitude to scare her off. She might be a newbie, but that didn’t mean she couldn’t handle bad manners from an arrogant senior.
Besides. The man needed someone who could actually deal with people without sending them off in tears just from introducing himself. Which, according to the stories, had actually happened a few times. Once to one of his now transferred partners.
“What can I say? I like to be prepared.” She sat the photo down and straightened the papers beneath it. “Current circumstances aside, this whole W.I.R. thing is
Archer snorted derisively as he adjusted his rear-view mirror. A couple crystalline pendulums hanging from it glittered dully in the gray light. A four-leaf clover preserved in resin hung roughly around their center.
“What do these people stand to gain from this?” she mused more to herself. She tapped her pen against her chin again. She took a last look at the pictures at the top of the thick stack of papers behind them. “Is it the publicity? A desire for chaos?”
“Whatever they want,” Archer interjected bitterly, “they can all drown in the River Styx for all I care.”
Taya closed the file and clipped her pen onto the folder. “I don’t get you.” She returned her travel mug to the holder and popped open the glove compartment. “You’ll give Styx the benefit of the doubt, but you won’t consider that maybe these people aren’t entirely malignant?”
He glared at Taya, the piercing effect enough to make the strongest of men wither beneath it. Somehow, his eyes always grew steelier when he was upset. Which, really, was 90% of the time from what Taya could tell.
She shoved the file into the glove compartment, carefully avoiding looking at him.
“You’ve seen the mess these idiots have caused,” he growled. He flicked on his blinker to rejoin the stream of cars on the road. “Trust me, Turner. It can only get worse from here. I guarantee those murders are just the start. The sooner this whole werewolf mess blows over as an elaborate prank, the better. For everyone.”
“Plus less paperwork to deal with?” Taya’s brows rose.
Archer snorted. The side of his mouth and nose raised with the noise, forming the closest thing to a smile Taya figured he could manage. “That too.”
If there was one word to describe Eli Archer’s driving, it was ‘insanity.’ The man knew how to weave between traffic in the perfect way to make cardiac arrest a real danger to his passengers. But at least it got them to their destination on time.
He parked a couple blocks away from Central Square. Killing the engine, he heaved a sigh.
Taya unbuckled, thankful to have finally come to a stop. There was no way she’d ever get used to his driving.
Archer pulled the keys from the ignition. A gray rabbit’s foot swayed from the keychain before he shoved them in a pocket of his overcoat.
As Taya sipped on a pair of knitted gloves, their red a shade brighter than her coat, Eli finished off his drink in a single long swig. He tossed the empty cup into a small trash container in the back seat. He swapped it out for a briefcase, then opened his door.
Taya grabbed her mug, and the two left the warmth of the car. Eli paused to pick off a piece of lint from his overcoat, then joined Taya at the sidewalk. He carefully avoided the snow bank, scowling down at it as if his ire alone would be enough to prevent it from soiling his gray suit trousers. For the sake of the snow bank, Taya hoped it worked.
The two headed toward the cobbled square. Archer’s shoes tapped sharply against the sidewalk, his long steps measured just right to avoid stepping on the intentional cracks in the cement.
Taya rushed to keep up. Each of his long strides equaled nearly two of hers, his head rising almost six inches above her own. The bells of a church rang faintly in the distance, chiming out eleven o’ clock.
As always, Central Square was packed. Voices rose into the air by the dozens. People came and went, hurrying about on break or changing shifts. The two agents scanned the area, searching for a stationary face matching William Grant’s photo.
An extra splash of color amidst the sea of darker and neutral colors caught Taya’s attention. A man with a blue stocking cap stood near a fountain at the center of the square. His gaze searched the crowd. Though his side faced them, she felt certain he was the one they were here for.
“Archer,” she nudged him lightly and nodded to the familiar man.
Eli followed her gesture. Without a word, he headed toward the splash of blue, Taya at his heels.
“William Grant?” Archer asked as they neared, his voice flat and as chilly as the wintry outdoors.
Taya suppressed a groan at his tone as the agents stopped in front of the blue-capped William. Contrasting her partner’s expression, she offered William a smile in silent greeting. Side-by-side, the two agents looked like the living version of the Comedy and Tragedy Masks.
Archer pulled his badge wallet out from an inside coat pocket. “I’m Agent Archer,” he said, opening the wallet to show proof of the statement.
Taya mimicked him, showing her own credentials with her free hand before replacing them in her coat.
“And this,” he nodded to Taya, “is—”
“Agent Taya Turner,” she introduced herself, her voice light.
Archer glared down at her for her interruption, but she ignored him. A skill she found she was getting rather good at.
She smiled warmly as she offered William her hand to shake. “Pleasure to meet you, Mr. Grant! Though, I wish it was under better circumstances.” Her smile faltered, gaining a hint of sadness.