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Night Creature: Dark Moon Chapter Twenty

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“Uh-oh,” I murmured, staring at the empty grass where a body used to be.

The ground was still dark with blood. Otherwise I might have thought we were in the middle of a shared delusion, and there’d never been any dead sheriff at all.

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“Where? What?” Nic drew his gun and turned in a slow circle, eyes searching the forest. “Who?”

“There’s no one,” I said.

“But – ” He stalked around the body, took a few steps into the woods. “There aren’t any drag marks. I didn’t hear anything.”

He was still thinking in human terms. I could hardly blame him.

“That’s because no one dragged him away.”

“They had to – “

“No, they didn’t.”

My insistence finally penetrated his confusion. He put away his gun. “What happened?”

“I have no idea, but I’m thinking supernatural. Can I use your phone?”

He stared at the empty space as if the body might appear as miraculously as it had disappeared. No such luck.

“Nic?” I pressed. “The phone?”

He handed it to me, then went back to staring.

I dialed Edward, got voice mail, left a message. “Call me at – ” I frowned, then snapped my fingers in front of Nic’s nose. “Number?”

He recited it and I did the same, then called Jessie and relayed the news.

“Guess that explains where the dead bodies have gone,” she said.

“Where?”

Silence met my question. “Well, maybe it doesn’t explain it, but – Hell, I don’t know.”

“Are you coming back?” I asked.

“Can’t. According to the authorities I’ve talked to in Minnesota, they’ve got a major wolf problem only we can solve, if you get my drift.”

“Leigh and Damien?”

“Serious shit going on in Washington, too. They’ve got their hands full. I’d swear there was a full moon.”

I glanced at the sky where the silver orb wavered, appearing slightly off balance, not at all full. Weird.

“Did you call Edward?” she asked.

“Voice mail.”

“Figures.”

“What should I do?”

“Deal with it. You’re a J??ger-Sucher.”

“Not really. I’ve never had to handle a case.”

“You do now. Just wing it.”

“I’m not the winging-it type.”

“Change.” Jessie hung up.

“Hell,” I muttered.

“What did she say?”

“Wing it?”

“Hell,” Nic repeated.

“Yeah.”

“I’d better contact the ME,” Nic said, “tell him to call off the coroner’s wagon. Although how I’m going to explain a missing body I have no idea.”

I handed Nic his phone, then stared at the blood-drenched ground. I hadn’t a clue where to start. A few minutes later, Nic joined me.

“What did you tell him?” I asked.

“The truth.”

“What!”

“Not the whole truth. Take a breath.” Nic shook his head. “I said the body was missing. Since that appears to be an epidemic around here, the doctor wasn’t surprised.”

Silence settled over the clearing, broken only by the sounds of the night.

“I guess you can go,” I said. “Nothing natural here.”

“No.”

I glanced at him in surprise. “Why would you stay?”

“I don’t leave the scene of a murder, even if the body does. That’s not how we do things in the FBI.”

“You come across a lot of disappearing bodies in the FBI, do you?”

“That’s beside the point.”

“You can’t tell them what’s going on here.”

“No shit. I’d be on the next transport to a little white room.”

In truth, I wanted Nic to stay. I had no idea what to do. Not that he’d know any better how to figure out why a body – or ten – had disappeared into thin air. But at least he was someone who had dealt with death before. Still, there were other issues we had to get straight before we could work together.

“We can’t – “

“Sleep together anymore?” he snapped. “I figured that out for myself, Elise.”

“I was going to say ‘keep sniping at each other,’ but that, too.”

There was no way I would continue an affair with a man who found me disgusting – especially when I still loved him. I might be pathetic, but I wasn’t stupid.

“Fine.” His jaw tightened.

“We’ll work together.” I held out my hand. “But nothing else.”

He stared at my palm for several seconds, then spun on his heel and headed into the trees.

“I’ll take that as a yes,” I shouted at his retreating back.

The ride back to Fairhaven was silent. We reached town about 3 a.m.

“Looks like the deputy’s back,” Nic murmured, eyes on the sheriff’s office, where every light blazed.

“Guess we should tell him he’s been promoted,” I said.

“Mmm. He’s not going to be happy.”

“Why not?” I let my gaze wander over the quiet, peaceful street. “Fairhaven seems a decent place to be a sheriff.”

“It was.”

“He’s a cop. He’ll do his job.”

“I don’t doubt he will. But small towns usually hire retired law-enforcement officers – old men who don’t want any more hassles.”

“Oh,” I muttered, understanding why Basil might not be thrilled to learn of his sudden promotion to head cop of a town with serious troubles.

Nic stopped the car, shut off the motor.

“I don’t think we’re supposed to actually tell him what’s going on,” I returned.

“We don’t know what’s going on.”

“Then there shouldn’t be any problem. But werewolves, disappearing bodies. Let’s just keep that to ourselves, shall we?”

“What if we just tell him what we know? As little as that is.”

“Rule number one,” I recited. “No truth for civilians. They panic, then they call the press. The National Enquirer would be a real pain right now.”

“I suppose.”

I got out of the car. Nic followed and together we climbed the steps to the sheriff’s office.

“But I don’t like keeping law-enforcement officials in the dark. This guy should know what he’s facing.”

I reached for the door just as it opened, and I nearly fell into the man on the other side. He wasn’t old.

Though at least twenty-one, since he was a deputy, Basil Moore appeared much younger.

His long, wheat-shaded hair was tied in a ponytail. His cheekbones were high and sharp, his eyes bright green. He could have been a model, except for the scar that bisected his right cheek. What a waste.

Then again, the scar gave him the air of a pirate in a modern world. The perfection’s marring only seemed to highlight how perfect he was.

“Deputy.” I straightened. “I’m Elise Hanover. This is Dominic Franklin.”

“FBI,” Nic said, offering his hand, and in doing so, including me as one of them.

I let it pass. If Basil thought I was FBI, that saved a lot of questions as to what I actually was.

“More FBI?” Basil asked, shaking Nic’s hand, then nodding to me.

“More?” Nic asked.

“That tall gal and the Injun.” His lip curled. “Too damned friendly, if ya ask me. What the hell’s she thinking?”

I recalled Will’s description of Basil – not an Indian lover. I’d heard people like him existed, but I hadn’t really believed it.

Basil kept on talking in a striking bass voice that would have been lovely if he hadn’t been such a racist.

“They were FBI, too. Why on earth the government would hire a red man, I have no idea.”

Nic glared at me and I shrugged. I wasn’t surprised Jessie and Will and probably Edward, too, had identified themselves as FBI. We lied all the time so we could do our jobs with the least amount of questions asked.

Besides, our usual lies – we were with the DNR, there was rabies, and so on – wouldn’t work in Fairhaven. There weren’t any wolves.

“Yes, well – ” Nic cleared his throat. “Will and Jessie found Sheriff Stephenson.”

“I’d hope so since I told them exactly where he was.”

“You didn’t tell them he’d be dead.”

Basil blinked. “Dead?”

“As in ‘not alive,'” I offered.

Nic threw me a quelling stare, and I shut my mouth.

“I guess that makes you the acting sheriff,” Nic continued. “Where have you been? I’ve been calling since the body was discovered.”

“I was talkin’ to some folks around town. They’re upset. People disappear, and they start whisperin’

about black magic, Devil worship, witches.” Basil’s eyes narrowed. “You think something like that is going on in Fairhaven?”

“Nothing like that,” I muttered.

“Should I grab Dr. Watchry and head to the crime scene?” Basil asked.

“The doctor’s been there already. He examined the body. Before – ” Nic broke off and Basil sighed.

“Gone again?”

“I’m afraid so.”

“Don’t suppose anyone saw who stole it this time.”

“One minute it was there,” I said, “the next, poof.”

Nic lifted a brow in my direction. I ignored him.

People hear what they want to hear, and Basil was no different. “I wish I knew who this crazy was, and how he managed to steal bodies with no one seein’ him.”

“Mmm,” I agreed.

“What was Sheriff Stephenson doing out there?” Nic asked.

“Report of a grave desecration. Happens sometimes, here and around. Usually kids.”

“Has it been happening a lot lately?”

“No more than usual.”

“And what’s usual for something like that?”

“Now and again. Few times a year maybe.”

“Hmm,” Nic muttered.

I understood his concern. Anything odd, especially anything odd that had to do with the dead, was cause for inquiry – both in his world and mine.

“I didn’t see any graves. Did you?” Nic asked.

I shook my head.

“There are graves all over the woods,” Basil said. “Folks buried their dead wherever they dropped in the old days.”

“That’s true,” I agreed.

“And this grave?” Nic pressed. “Whose was it? Who called and said it had been disturbed?”

Basil shrugged. “I didn’t take the call, but from the location I’d say that was the Anderson homestead.

You’d have to look at the plot maps to be sure.”

“I’d also like to see the paperwork,” Nic said.

“Paperwork?”

“On the grave desecrations. Just point me in the right direction.”

“I can’t think that there’s paperwork on something so simple.”

I understood Basil’s confusion. Though murders were rare, mischief was not. Bored kids did a lot of drinking in the woods, at the end of dead-end roads, on dusty trails, then they got into trouble. Until recently, a little grave-digging was probably the most excitement anyone got in Fairhaven.

“I suppose this means you Feds are going to be taking over the case,” Basil murmured.

Nic and I glanced at each other.

“Yes,” I said. “That’s exactly what it means.”

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