“Cover her up already.” Cale turned away in disgust, discarding his long since cold coffee to the waves. He stared at the choppy sea, hoping the waters would calm before the shipments came in, otherwise the patrols would have a hell of a time protecting the area. Everyone would be tense, stressed to the point of boiling over, and tempers would flare. He had seen it time and time again. The lighthouse beam cut across the cliffs, curved back around. Clumps of fog hung on the horizon.
Little remained of the victim. She’d been turned into a jigsaw puzzle with few recognizable pieces. Blood caked her small, formerly-white purse, remnants of a dress still held bits of her frame together, but mostly she’d been scattered along the damp wood. A chunk of discarded flesh tangled in hair rested on the edge of the planks, tainting the wood crimson. His backups were taking their damned sweet time. He wouldn’t play the self-righteous card. They knew their fault.
The Council would be less than pleased to find a corpse hanging about, blood splattered across their shipments.
“Cale.” Terach Malloy clasped a hand on his shoulder, tugged, but Cale didn’t budge. Taken aback, Terach looked at the scene.
In a flash Terach squatted by the water, his breakfast coating the wood when he missed the sea entirely. Great. Another thing the crew would have to clean. The guard, tarp barely unwrapped, moved to help Terach, but Cale waved him on.
Terach stood, wiped his mouth with his arm. Grimacing at the olive stain, he made sure to stare into Cale’s eyes, nowhere else. “Why didn’t you warn me?”
“Never mind.” He rubbed the bridge of his nose. “What happened here?”
“Looks like she didn’t trip and off herself.”
“Stranger things have happened.”
“I’m sure,” Cale said. “Strange welcoming committee — who else is coming?”
Cale’s gut fell. “What?”
“This wasn’t seen as a priority.”
“How is murder not a—”
“There’s a perfectly capable Officer down here.” He gave Cale a hard look. “This is yours. No one else is coming on. There won’t even be a cleanup crew.”
“That doesn’t make sense.”
“They don’t want a scene.” Terach paused, glanced around to make sure no one had crept up. Down the way, the first of the watch filtered in for their shifts. He whispered, “We can’t have another panic.”
“But what if there’s another stalker? What if he’s returned?” Cale said, disregarding the secrecy.
Terach’s eyes drifted to the lighthouse.
“Then what are we going to do with the girl?” Cale pressed.
Terach looked down at the body, his skin shifting white. He closed his eyes, took a deep breath, then turned to Cale and opened his eyes. “Dispose of it.”
“You mean her.”
Their eyes locked but neither man twitched. Despite both graduating at the same time, Terach had devoted himself to orders and had naturally, if not gracefully, outranked Cale, while Cale continued to scrape by on the bottom of the barrel assignments. As a result, Terach had learned to manipulate and hold steadfast to his orders, irritating Cale to no end. While this might validate his position if it got out, he recognized he shouldn’t start a panic just to get his point across.
After all, it had been more than five years since the last killing.
Cale turned to the approaching dock watch and yelled in a clear voice, “All right, get out of here. We don’t need you guys mucking about.”
Several blank faces turned to each other. One opened his mouth to speak, but, when he saw the body, turned away. After they’d cleared the area, Cale said to Terach, “Help me.” He walked over to the girl, knelt beside the remnants.
“What’re you doing?”
He shoved his fingers into the tangle of hair and lifted. A hole in the back of the girl’s head yawned. What remained of her brain sloshed around.
Terach bolted, retching once more. Bile struck the side of a crate.
The pounds are just melting off, Cale thought at the sound. He dragged the first of the pieces toward the edge. Not even on duty yet and he had to dispose of the girl, clean up not one but two spots where Terach had lost it, and, on top of it all, he had another report to file.
Which meant talking to Liam.
The morning bell rang high above, signaling the passage of the first ships into the harbor. Cale looked out to the bay. The sun peeked over the horizon, revealing the silhouettes of sails. Cale cursed.
The officials didn’t want to remember, but Cale sure as hell would.
“Terach, I told you to get the fuck over here. We don’t have much time.”