If I said Jason was a friend, they'd misconstrue it. If I said he was a bodyguard, they'd plaster the fact that I needed a bodyguard all over the papers. I finally stopped trying to answer questions and held my badge up so the uniformed officer could see it.
He raised the tape to let us inside and then had to push back the press of bodies that tried to follow us through. We walked towards the house to a hail of questions that I ignored. God knew what they'd do with the few things I'd said. It could be anything from the Executioner says, vampire attack,to the Executioner says not a vampire,to my love life. I'd stopped reading the papers, or watching the news, if I thought I might be on. First I hate to watch myself on a moving camera. Second, it always pissed me off. I was not free to discuss an ongoing police investigation, no one was, so the press were left to speculate on what few facts they had. And if Jean-Claude and our love life was the topic of choice, I never wanted to see, or read the coverage.
For some reason being caught in the media feeding frenzy had made me feel shaky again. Not as bad as earlier, but not as good as I'd felt when I first got out of the Jeep. Great, just great.
There were fewer cops here, and most of them were faces I recognized, members of RPIT. No one questioned my right to be at the scene, or Jason's presence. They trusted me. The uniform on the door looked pale, his dark eyes flashing too much white. "Lieutenant Storr is expecting you, Ms. Blake." I didn't correct the title to marshal. Marshal Blake made me feel like I should have been guest-starring on Gunsmoke.
The uniform opened the door for us because he was wearing rubber gloves. I'd left my crime scene kit at home, because when I raised a zombie for the higher-end clients, Bert liked me to not be covered in a baggy overall. He said it didn't look professional. Once he'd agreed to reimburse me for all dry cleaning incurred from this little rule, I'd agreed.
I told Jason, "Don't touch anything until I get us some gloves."
"Surgical gloves, that way if they find a latent print, they won't get all excited and then find out it was yours, or mine."
We were standing in a narrow entryway with stairs leading straight up from the door, a living room to the left, and an opening to the right that led into what looked like a dining room. There was an opening beyond that where I caught a glimpse of countertop and sink.
I couldn't see the color scheme clearly because I was still wearing sunglasses. I debated whether taking them off would make the headache come back. I slipped them off, slowly. I was left blinking painfully, but after a few seconds, it was okay. If I could stay out of direct sunlight I'd probably be all right.
It was Detective Merlioni who walked into the living room and saw us first. "Blake, thought you'd chickened out."
I looked up at the tall man with his curling gray hair cut short. The neck of his white long-sleeved shirt was unbuttoned, his tie tugged down crooked, as if he'd loosened everything without caring what it looked like. Merlioni hated ties, but he usually tried to be neater than this.
"It must be a bad one," I said.
He frowned at me. "What makes you say that?"
"You've tugged your tie all crooked like you needed air, and you haven't called me girlie or chickie, yet."
He grinned flashing white teeth. "It's early days, chickie."
I shook my head. "Do you have some gloves we can borrow? I wasn't expecting to do a crime scene today."
He glanced at Jason then, as if seeing him for the first time, but I knew he'd seen him. Cops see almost everything around a crime scene. "Who's this?"
"My driver for the day."
He raised eyebrows at that. "Driver, woo-woo, coming up in the world."
I frowned at him. "Dolph knew I was too shaky to drive, so he gave me permission to bring a driver with me. If there weren't enough press outside to cover an entire city block I'd have had him leave me at the door, but I don't want him going back out in that. They'll never believe he's not involved in the investigation."
Merlioni stepped to the big picture window in the living room and lifted the edge of the drape enough to peek out. "They are damned persistent today."
"How'd they get here so quick?"
"Neighbor called them probably. Everyone wants to be on f**king television these days." He turned back to us. "What's your driver's name?"
He shook his head. "Name doesn't mean anything to me."
"I don't know who you are either," Jason said, with a smile.
I frowned. "You know Merlioni, I don't know your first name. I can't introduce you."
He flashed those pearly whites at me. "Rob, Rob Merlioni."
"You don't look like a Rob."
"My mama doesn't think so either, she's always after me--Roberto, I give you such a nice name, you should use it."
"Roberto Merlioni, I like it." I introduced them more formally than I think I'd ever introduced anyone to anyone at a crime scene. Merlioni was stalling, he didn't want to go back inside.
"There's a box of gloves in the kitchen, on the counter, help yourself. I'm going outside for a smoke."
"I didn't know you smoked," I said.
"I just started." He looked at me, and his eyes were haunted. "I've seen worse, Blake, hell we've waded through worse together, you and me, but I'm tired today. Maybe I'm gettin' old."
"Not you, Merlioni, never you."
He smiled, but not like he meant it. "I'll be back in a few." Then the smile widened. "Don't let Dolph know I didn't make your driver wait outside."
"Mum's the word," I said.
He went out, closing the door softly behind him. The house was very quiet, only the rushing hush of the air conditioning. It was too quiet for a fresh murder scene, and too still. There should have been people all over the place. Instead we stood in the small entryway in a well of silence so thick you could almost hear the blood in your own ears, thrumming, filling the silence with something, anything.
The hair at the back of my neck stood at attention, and I turned to Jason. He was standing there in his baby blue T-shirt, his peaceful face behind the mirrored shades, but the energy trickled off of him, raised the skin along my arms in a nervous creep.
He looked so harmless, pleasant. But if you had the ability to sense what he was, he was suddenly not harmless, or pleasant.
"What's with you?" I whispered.
"Don't you smell it?" his voice was a hoarse whisper.
Shit. "No," I said, but of course his creeping energy along my skin raised my own beast, like a ghost in my gut. That phantom shape stretched inside me like some great cat waking from a long nap, and I did smell it. Not just blood, Jason was right, meat. Blood smells sort of sweet and metallic like old pennies, or nickels, but a lot of blood smells like hamburger. You know it's going to be bad, really bad, when a human being is reduced to the smell of so much ground meat.
My head lifted, and I sniffed the air, drew in a great breath of air and tested it. My foot was on the bottom step of the stairs before I came to myself. "It's upstairs." I whispered it.
"Yes," Jason said, and there was the thinnest edge of growl to his voice. If someone didn't know what they were listening to, they'd have thought his voice was just deeper than normal. But I knew what I was hearing.
"What's happening?" I asked, and I was still whispering, I think because I didn't want to be overheard. Maybe that was why Jason was whispering, or maybe not. I didn't ask. If he was fighting the urge to run upstairs and roll around in the murder scene, I did not want to know.
I hugged my arms, trying to rub away the goosebumps. "Let's go get those gloves," I said.
He looked at me, and even through the glasses I could feel him struggling to remember what I was saying, or rather what the words meant.
"Don't go all preverbal on me, Jason, I need you here with me."
He took a deep breath that seemed to come from the soles of his feet and slide out the top of his head. His shoulders hunched then straightened like he was trying to shake something off.
"You sure?" I asked.
"I can do it, if you can."
I frowned at that. "Am I going to have more trouble?"
"I don't have to go up into that room, you do."
I sighed. "I am so tired of this shit."