"I don't know, but can you call your local contacts and ask why Andy was at that restaurant? Are there more of the local shapeshifters or other supernaturals working there?"
"You sound like all the other humans blaming us."
"Micah, you know me better than that. It's why I called you and didn't tell Tyburn yet."
"I'm sorry, Anita. I know you. I'm sorry, but you've already met one of the local clan."
"No game playing. We're about to head over to the restaurant and see if Nathaniel can sniff out a clue."
"I called Andy's family to check on him and his wife and to see if they knew anything about Rankin."
"Come on, Micah, just tell me. We need to get to the next abduction scene."
"He's one of the family."
"Does he shift?"
"Just started. He was almost forty, so he thought he was safe."
"What's with his voice and shit? Because Andy and his wife didn't do that."
"It's a rare gift in the bloodline. They have siren blood in their ancestry."
"You mean like queen-of-mermaids kind of siren, like the wife of the Vampire Master of Cape Cod?"
"None of them turn into mermaids, but they call the family members that have this gift sirens, and it's a hell of a lot more than just being able to lure sailors to sink their ships."
"He can make you want to confess to crimes," I said.
"Or sleep with him, or who knows what he's made people do over the years," Micah said.
"Will the family testify to any of this in court?"
"Not yet, but I'm working on it. Christy had her baby, and it's got a snake lock."
"You mean Medusa for real?" I asked.
"Yes, the entire family is crazed with grief. They haven't had a newborn with a snake on it since Great-Great-Great-Grandma something, and it wasn't a home birth, because of the complications."
"Shit, they couldn't hide it," I said.
An SUV with Kirke Police on the side had pulled up. Tyburn yelled, "Blake, are you coming?"
I took the phone away enough to yell, "Coming!" and then talked to Micah as I went for the car. "Well, fuck, please ask them if there's anyone that would talk to us at the restaurant. We're headed that way now."
"I'll try to get someone to talk to me," he said.
"I love you," I said.
"I love you, too. Give Nathaniel my love, and Nicky, too. All of you, be careful."
"I will and we will be," I said.
Detective Dalton was driving the SUV. Nicky rode shotgun beside her and I got in the backseat with Nathaniel, who stretched across me like the huge cat he was. Everyone else rode with Tyburn. We hit the lights and sirens and away we went. Since Tyburn had almost gotten me killed last time he drove, I was sort of glad that Dalton was driving.
HERBIE'S PARKING LOT was just as full as last time, except some half of the cars were police of different flavors from FDLE, Monroe County Sheriff, Florida Highway Patrol, Kirke, and even one that read Key Colony on it, which was a new one for me. Tyburn parked blocking in two customer cars, but honestly, we were out of options on the gravel parking lot. He came over to our SUV and Dalton rolled down the window as if he'd asked. "Marshal, you and your friend stay out of sight until I warn people that he's here to help the investigation."
I stroked Nathaniel's head and he rolled on my lap, with his big head going off one side and his shoulders letting me know how heavy he'd be if I could get more of him into my lap. He started to purr. People tell you that leopards can't purr, but that's not true. They can only purr as they breath out, that's true, unlike domestic cats, which can purr breathing in and out, but Nathaniel purred as he writhed all that fur and muscle across my lap. I knew that two people were missing, and Denny was in the hospital still unconscious, but as I ran my hands over Nathaniel's fur and he filled my lap with purring, like a happy cat, I let myself enjoy it. Bad things happen, but good things happen, too, and if you don't let yourself enjoy the good moments, the bad will eat your life. It was like in Peter Pan: Think happy thoughts and you can fly.
Nicky turned around in his seat, face so serious it looked grim. "You guys look adorable; if I wasn't guarding your adorable asses, I'd be all smiles."
"If Nathaniel wasn't in animal form and Micah was okay with it, we could go back to the hotel and be adorable together," I said.
"The three of us don't really do adorable," Nicky said.
The leopard in my lap stopped writhing but didn't stop purring as he raised his head high enough for Nicky to pet him. Nicky couldn't help but smile as he stroked the huge black head.
"I knew you loved Anita, but I didn't know you loved Nathaniel, too," Dalton said.
"He's my bro." Nicky rubbed Nathaniel under his furry chin, while he closed his eyes in happy slits and filled the car with a deep bass purring that no small cat could equal.
"Nathaniel likes the term brother-husband," I said. It was a term that Nathaniel used for the men in our poly group whom he shared me with, and shared domestic duties with, but didn't have actual sex with himself. There were only two brother-husbands for him. Micah had more.
"He does," Nicky said and rubbed the big cat between the ears.
"Do you like being Nathaniel's brother-husband?" she asked.
"Yeah, I do."
Before Dalton could work her way up to asking exactly how we defined brother-husband, Tyburn came back and we were saved from having to explain ourselves, which you spent a lot of time doing if you were poly.
The remaining bridesmaids, plus bride, and their respective men friends had been sitting in a second area of Herbie's. It looked like a covered screened porch with picnic tables and benches that could seat much larger groups than the small tables in the bar area. To get to the bathrooms from the screened-in area, you had to walk outside in the parking lot and go around to the bar section. There was no direct route through the building itself. According to witness interviews, the two women had left together and were seen in the parking lot and in the bathrooms, but somewhere between leaving the bar area and walking the few yards back to the screened area, they'd vanished. Witnesses had the usu
al conflicting reports of them getting into completely different cars, trucks, vans. Two witnesses said they'd gotten into a car voluntarily. One witness said that they'd been fighting and calling for help. When the police asked the woman witness why she hadn't alerted anyone to their abduction, she had no answer. It wasn't that she was lying really, but once she'd heard abduction, missing person, her memory had just filled in the blanks with what she expected. It happens a lot more than you'd think. One of my great disappointments when I started working with the police and then became a marshal was how unreliable eyewitness testimony was. It just seemed so wrong that it didn't work like it did on Perry Mason or even most Law & Order episodes.
The witnesses screamed when they saw the big leopard. Ironically, I recognized a couple of them from the group that had flirted so hard with Nathaniel in human form. Now they were terrified; fair-weather flirts. Tyburn and some of the other officers cleared the witnesses out of the screened porch area so that Nicky and I could bring Nathaniel in without frightening them more. Edward, Bernardo, and Olaf stayed with us. The area was roomy when it was empty; we could have fit most of the police on-site in it if we'd moved the tables out.
Nathaniel hadn't really needed a personal item to get Denny's scent, because he knew her, but we needed one for the two new missing women. Lucky for them, one had left a light jacket behind and the other had left a huge hobo bag that she used as a beach tote and one of her favorite bags for carrying books around campus.
Nathaniel snuffled the jacket and then looked up at me. I stared into the big gray eyes and spoke before my human brain could get in the way: "Can you get a scent from the jacket?"
He shook his head.
"Can one of you ask Tyburn to see if the jacket is new? Nathaniel isn't getting much scent from it."
Bernardo went in search of Tyburn and the rapidly diminishing bridal party. Nathaniel snuffled at the big, loose purse. It slid off the back of the chair it had been hanging on. He rubbed his face on it, almost burying his head in it. He raised his head and gave a small sneeze-like sound, but he started sniffing the ground, and then as we got close to the door he sniffed the air. He followed the scent across the parking lot, threading his way between the end of the parked cars and the building. Only catlike grace got him through the small tables in the bar area without knocking over the stools and chairs. The bathroom barely gave him room to go in and turn around, and then back out we came. He followed the trail back out to the gravel parking area and then out into the far side of the parking lot, where it brushed up against the empty lot next door. There he stopped, sitting down by the car parked there.