*The Watcher in the Darkness Series and all characters contained therein are the sole copyright of K.M. Spires. All rights reserved.*
The Watcher in the Darkness series contains adult situations, graphic violence, and lots and lots of bad language. Rated M for Mature, seriously.
By the time I came down from the tower, the sun had broiled most of the skin from my face. My flesh stung like the bites of a thousand fire ants. Broken blisters seeped into my eyes, which were blinded by the dawn. I have nothing to say for myself, except that the pain was kind of a relief.
So, great. What was next on my growing list of personality defects? Was I about to start cutting myself?
I kept my right hand on the wall for guidance as I stumbled toward my room. I didn’t recognize the shadowy figure that came to stand before me until the stench of Michael’s cologne assaulted my senses.
“The baron gave me this business card to pass along to you,” he said, then his voice sharpened with alarm. “Jesus Christ, Tobias, what the hell happened to you?”
I managed to snatch the card from Michael on the third swipe. “Anything else?” I said as I ripped it into tiny pieces.
“Yes. He asked what sort of priestly training I’ve received. When I told him, he informed me that I’m useless then walked out.”
Michael’s silhouette was broken by jagged flashes of light, but he was beginning to gel into focus. “That sounds like my father,” I said. “Don’t let him get to you. I’m going to bed.” I didn’t hold out hope that I’d actually sleep, but my aching body demanded that I try again.
“Hold on. Dr. Walters faxed this over for you this morning. She said you were asking her about it last night?” Michael thrust a thin stack of copy paper in my direction. There was shit written on it, but the words were a grey haze. “I thought you’d gone out, or I would’ve brought it by sooner.”
My head felt strange, like an unholy cross between being sick and being drunk. I didn’t have much experience with either sensation, so I wanted to lay down with my eyes closed until it passed. I pinched the bridge of my nose as I said, “It must be Justine’s coroner report. Awesome.” I was honestly glad to have it, yet my tone was flat and disinterested. “Can you read it to me? I can barely see. Besides, I doubt I’ll understand all the technical medical stuff anyway.”
I felt Michael look me over. “Sure,” he said, a frown in his voice. He took me by the elbow to guide me, and the touch of his hand irked me to the bone.
The overhead lights in Michael’s office were dim, but I could make out the outline of a wheelchair next to the tinted windows. Song stared at the Sanctuary’s eastern wall, as stiff and still as a wooden statue. Her hair had finally grown back, and someone had brushed it as smooth as her newborn vampire skin. Her bathrobe was thick and pulled tight around her body, but only the profoundly unobservant would fail to notice she had only one arm and half a leg.
A growl rumbled up from my chest as I flopped onto the couch. “Don’t you ever fucking sleep?” Like I had room to talk.
Song said nothing, not that I expected her to speak. If she wasn’t hysterical, she was catatonic. In truth, I was grateful she was being quiet, for a change.
I heard Michael’s desk chair squeak as he sat down, then a click as he turned on the lamp. “Are you looking for anything in particular?”
“Just read it,” I said, wishing I had a cold compress for my eyes.
“Yes, your highness.” The papers rustled as Michael picked up the fax then tapped it against his desk. “Wow. I guess terrible handwriting must be a graduation requirement in medical school. Anyway. Name, Justine Anne Walters. Race, Caucasian. Sex, female. Age, twenty-five. Home address, blah-blah-blah. Marital status, single. Occupation, unemployed. Notified by police department, investigated by police depart—Toby, what are we looking for, here?”
“Keep reading and I’ll let you know when you get there.”
“Fine. Synopsis; manner of death ruled suicide, specifically self-mutilation of both wrists resulting in exsanguination.”
He stopped. No one told him to stop. “Was there anything else?” I said.
“I mean her neck. Does the report say if anything was wrong with her neck?”
“No,” Michael said with care, “and I don’t know why that is. You said you remembered killing her. Right?”
Apparently, the same thought that occurred to me had occurred to Michael. My stomach twisted with a growing energy I couldn’t name. “I don’t know what I remember. Maybe I didn’t kill her. Maybe I just…knocked her out.”
“There would still be bite marks on her—”
“But, there wouldn’t be. Justine ‘killed herself’ about a week after Ellie was admitted to the hospital, right? My bite would’ve been nothing but a couple ugly, yellow bruises by then. Hell, Justine was tough, they might’ve healed altogether. So, that means, Justine did actually kill herself. She was never a ghoul, and all that incorruptibility crap actually happened. She was a saint, and that bitch Gretchen turned her into a revenant, not me.”
Michael turned his attention back to the report. “Well, I’m not seeing anything about any sort of damage to her neck. Eyes, brown. Hair, brown. Height. Weight. Internal temperature, seventy-two-point-six degrees—”
For some reason, this snapped Song out of her trance. “What?”
We were both stunned that she’d actually spoken. “Excuse me?” Michael said.
Song turned in her chair to face us. “What was her internal temperature?”
“Seventy-two-point-six degrees,” Michael said. “Why?”
Song waved what remained of her only hand, as though it should have been obvious. “Well, there’s your proof right there.”
I felt my hackles stand at attention. “What do you mean, there’s my proof? Proof of what?”
Song rolled her eyes, amazed and disgusted by the need to explain. “Whenever an average, healthy human dies, their core body temperature will be around ninety-eight-point-six degrees. If left undisturbed, the corpse will cool at a rate of one to one-and-a-half degrees per hour until it reaches the ambient temperature of its surroundings. At that point, the temperature will remain constant. Therefore, your little girlfriend had been dead for at least twenty-six hours before her body was found.”
“According to the police report, Justine called 911 at ten-forty-five AM,” Michael said, leaping onto the bandwagon so he could…I don’t know. Be a dick? “The paramedics arrived on scene less than twenty minutes later, where Justine was found not breathing and unresponsive. CPR was attempted at the scene, and in the ambulance en route, without success. She was declared legally dead at the hospital at eleven-thirty-seven.”
Song held out her hand. “Can I take a look at that?”
I rolled my eyes as Michael handed it over.
The former Watcher studied the report for less than five seconds before her lips pursed in contempt. “Yeah, this is a fake.”
If there’s one thing I hate, it’s a know-it-all. “Why do you say that?” It was apparent from my tone that I didn’t appreciate her input.
Song gave me a snide look. “I’ve actively hunted bloodsuckers for the majority of my life. If there’s one thing I know how to spot, it’s a falsified autopsy report.”
I felt my face sour. “Fine. How do you know it’s fake?”
Song rolled her chair closer to me then thrust the papers into my hands. “Okay. First of all, you can see where the coroner made marks on the human diagram. They do that to illustrate where the wounds are on the body, right?” I nodded that I understood. “Even though this is a copy, you can see the smudges where the ME indicated there was a wound of some sort on the victim’s neck, but those marks have been erased.”
I could feel my spirits sinking. Still, I said, “That doesn’t mean anything.”
Song’s eyebrows nearly arched off of her face. “Really? And here, where someone also erased the check in the box that indicated the death was a result of ‘suspicious, unusual or unnatural circumstances’? I guess that doesn’t mean anything? Oh, and here, where someone with completely different handwriting filled out the synopsis of death. That doesn’t mean anything, either?”
I stared at the inconsistencies, and wished that I was still blind.
“Then who did fill it out?” I said, as though Song would know.
It was Michael who answered. “Justine. Justine filled it out. Then she signed the coroner’s name.”
“Why would she do that?” I said, more harshly than I had intended.
“Because, she knew that if they sealed her in a coffin then buried her under six feet of dirt and clay that she would eventually starve to death, long before the hunger for living flesh got the better of her.”
Song made a disgusted sound. “Odin’s lost eye, drama much? If that was the case, why not just tell the authorities, ‘hey, by the way, I was actually killed by a vampire, and now I need someone to jiggle my brains for me’? That would’ve been a thousand times faster and easier.”
“Unless she wanted to punish herself for what she did to Tobias?” It was like Michael had punched me in the gut. “Even if staking him was the only option she had to save her daughter’s life, the guilt of it must have been agonizing.”
Song shrugged. “I don’t know. If I were you, I’d find the coroner that performed her examination and ask a few questions.”
I shook my head as I wadded the report into a ball then tossed it into the trash. “No.” I started toward the door. The room was suffocating.
“Toby, let’s talk about this,” Michael said.
“I can’t.” The instant the words left my mouth, I wished I’d said literally anything else. “I’ve got to get some sleep.”
“Alright. Before you go, don’t you think you should thank Song?”
I was offended by the very idea “For what?”
“Her expertise just proved invaluable.” Condescending prick. “Now, you should thank her.”
“You want me to thank her?” I said. “Fine, I’ll thank her.” I turned Song’s chair to face me then waved the single digit salute right in her face.
Michael scowled, as I knew he would. “Tobias, that was uncalled for.”
I ignored him. “Notice anything?”
Song met my gaze without blinking. “You mean the way your hands are small and dainty, like a woman’s?”
I had to hand it to her, the bitch was quick. Under different circumstances, I might’ve liked her. “Do you see how the skin below my second knuckle is just a little bit darker than the rest of my finger?”
Song’s eyes flickered toward my hand then back to my face. “No,” she said coldly.
“Notice the scar right above the knuckle that goes all the way around?”
“You don’t have a scar,” she said, managing to emphasize every word.
“Exactly. When I was nine, an elder vampire caught me feeding off a teenage hooker in his territory. Spankings don’t exactly work on vampire kids, so to teach me a lesson, he bit off these three fingers.” I indicated the pinky, ring, and middle fingers of my right hand.
Song’s eyes narrowed in distrust. “What are you saying, they grew back?”
Song took a sharp breath that caught in her throat, her eyes widening.
“I’m surprised you’re not an expert on that too, but not a lot of people know that about vampires. Hell, I’m only half, but two years later, I didn’t even have a scar anymore.”
Song’s expression was pained. “Two years?”
“You won’t take that long to heal, but you are tore up all to hell. You might take…I don’t know. Six months? Maybe eight, to get back on your feet. What are you bitching for? You’re a vampire now. Stop thinking like a human, you big baby. Oh, and the longer you refuse to feed, the longer you’ll take to heal.”
I turned to leave as Song blinked away tears. Michael smiled then gave me a nod of approval that made me hate them both.