Chapter 6: Scrabble
I looked at the photos, it was two people, a man and a woman in their twenties. One had been shot in the face, the other in the forehead.
In their teeth were Scrabble pieces.
My legs were shaking, I had to steady myself as I took the phone. “When was this?”
“A few months ago, in the beginning of the Cartel war.” She had just been hauled into Robert’s lap, he was nuzzling her neck to calm her down. His wolf knew her being upset wasn’t good for their pups. “Seth and Krista Connors were mates, both were working security at the road on the northwest access to our territory. It was three in the afternoon, nothing was going on. The last we heard from them was that a red pickup was approaching.” She took a deep breath, calming herself. “Then we felt their bonds breaking. We had people there in under five minutes, but it was too late.”
“Someone had gotten close enough to take them out. Two shots, large caliber handgun. They never had a chance,” Robert said. “Whoever did it shoved those Scrabble pieces into their mouths before he left.”
I looked at the phone again, scrolling through the photos. One piece was a ‘T’, just like the one we had found, while the other was an ‘H.’ Four points. “You never found the killer,” I stated.
“No, we thought it was the cartel,” Renee replied. “We never did figure out what the letters were about, and pretty soon there was no one in that Cartel alive to ask about it.” She was right, between the Packs and the other cartels, the Socorro cartel had been obliterated.
Robert had shifted her enough to pull his phone out and dialed a number. “William, it’s Alpha. Get on a plane with everything we have on the deaths of the Connors, and get to the Santa Fe pack house. Make sure you bring the physical evidence, too.”
“Wait,” I said. “Not there.” The others looked at me, shocked I would interrupt a guest Alpha conducting Pack business. Oh well, I wasn’t Pack yet. “We’d just have to turn around and drive to Albuquerque. This needs to go to the FBI office, there’s no way these deaths aren’t connected, and this is a Federal investigation.”
He pulled the phone away from his head, thinking about it, then he handed me the phone. I pulled my own out and looked up the contact information. “Hi, this is Senior Agent Rose Conspeill, FBI. We are investigating a homicide here, the killer left a Scrabble piece behind. I need you to bring everything you have to Agent Rob Smith at the FBI field office in Albuquerque.” I gave him his phone number as well.
“I’m familiar with that office, Rose. And congratulations on finding your Gunny.”
“How… do I know you?”
“William Post, I was the lawyer with Alpha Ella when we met in DC a few weeks back.”
I closed my eyes, I thought I recognized his voice. “Thank you. I’ll let them know you are coming.” I handed Robert back his phone and got up from the table, walking out to the big deck by the pool. I dialed my new boss at the Albuquerque office, waiting five minutes on hold for him. I was wearing a path in the paver stones by the time he answered.
“SAIC Luis Hernandez,” he gruffly answered.
“Boss, it’s Rose Conspiell. We’ve got a big problem here.” I paused and caught my breath. “Two more werewolves were killed a few months back, in Gila Pack territory. Both were shot at close range, execution style.”
“So? Do they want us to investigate now?”
“Yes sir. You see, both were found with Scrabble pieces in their mouths. We have a serial killer here.”
He didn’t answer right away, I could hear him yelling for some people and a door slammed. “Does Agent Smith know?”
“No sir, I called you first. I was just informed by the visiting Alphas. They are going to bring their information to your office; their Pack Lawyer, William Post, should be there soon.”
“I know him, his mate used to be in this office,” he said. “I’m also familiar with Robert and Renee Hastings, especially with everything that happened during the Cartel War.” I could hear him typing something. “Give me a quick rundown, the shit is going to hit the fan on this one.” I gave him the Reader’s Digest version of the investigation here thus far, and everything the Gila Alphas had told me as well.
I heard someone yelling at him that the White House was on the line. “Shit, that was fast. I’ll call you if I need anything else, Agent Conspiell.” And with that, I got a dial tone.
I went back inside, Gunny had been waiting for me and led me back to my seat at the table. “Rose, please, you should eat. There’s nothing else we can do tonight.”
I nodded, looking around the table. The mood was somber, there was a funeral ahead. Renee looked at me as her eyes flicked down to her phone. “Lisa Giovanni sends her regards, she said she misses having you around.”
“You talked?” Lisa was the White House Counsel and my boss when I was on assignment to the White House as the FBI liason.
“Of course we did. You of all people should know how explosive this could be, there’s someone out their killing werewolves. I gave her a heads up, the Alphas won’t hold back on this threat and they won’t defer to humans on this. I know I won’t.” Her gaze was steel. “This bastard better pray to his God that the FBI catches him before we do.”
I ate my food without really noticing anything about it, my mind was going a mile a minute. I could see where they were coming from, they had only recently started to work within the human system after the war. They didn’t trust the Government yet, not really. They had their own laws, their own justice.
Secretly, I hoped they would catch him first. Our legal system was lacking in many ways by comparison. I chatted briefly with Doctor Julia, she was going to represent the El Paso Pack for the funeral. Most of the children had been excused, but there was no shouting or the normal sounds of their fun. I could see them in the living room, they were all sitting around holding each other, some were crying. It wasn’t lost on me that Charlotte’s face was buried into Josh’s shoulder.
“What happens tonight,” I asked the Alphas.
“Well, each Pack has its own traditions for funerals. Before the war, we always burned our dead because we couldn’t afford our secret getting out. Now we can bury or burn,” Craig said.
“It’s up to his parents, they decided on a burial so they would have a place to visit,” Ella said. “We have a spot under a tree picked out. When the moon rises, we will carry him out and do the service. His brothers and his father are digging the grave right now.”
I looked at Gunny. “Why aren’t you helping?”
“It’s part of what his family has to do for him, Rose. They won’t eat, sleep or rest until he is at rest. It’s our way.”
I finished the dessert and went upstairs to our room. Gunny followed me into the shower, but this time there was no funny business. He just helped me get clean and ushered me into bed, tucking in behind me. “I’m sorry you had to do all this today, Rose, but I’m not sorry you’re here with me.”
“I love you, Rico.”
He pinched my side. “Gunny. Only my mother calls me Rico.”
I laughed a little. “Oh, so I can’t cry out your name in passion anymore? I’ll keep that in mind.” I wiggled back into him, enjoying the sensation of the tingles. Being in his arms, I felt safe, like nothing could ever hurt me.
“I think there is an orgasm exception to that rule, love.” I turned around so I was tucked into his side, my arm and leg over his. “Have you thought about what you want to do after this weekend?”
“No.” I rested my face on his arm. “There’s nothing back there for me, Gunny. I like this place, I love your Pack. It’s the first time I’ve felt like I had a home since I was sixteen.”
“And the way it looks, Charlotte won’t want to return either.” I snorted. “I’m not surprised, when you find your mate it seems like things progress quickly. All those things you are feeling, she is feeling as well. Well, maybe not ALL. He hasn’t fully mated her yet.”
“And he won’t, not until she is eighteen AND only if she agrees. You are right, though. She didn’t like her old school and didn’t have many friends she would leave behind. What do you guys do for schooling?”
“The younger ones stay home, Jerry and Mary run a school for them. Now that we are in the open, the older ones, those that have mastered the shift and control over their wolves, they can attend the local schools. That usually starts in fourth or fifth grade now.”
“You don’t worry about them shifting and causing trouble?”
“No, Alpha Craig commands them to stay in human form unless their life is in danger. One of the benefits of being in a Pack as opposed to on your own.”
“What are your plans for this next week?”
“With what happened today, I’m needed here. I’m in charge of Pack security, and until this threat is dealt with I have to think of it first.” He gave me a squeeze. “I’ll sleep better with you here with me. I can’t bear the idea of you or Charlotte being where I can’t protect you. Losing you, it would kill me and my cat,” he said.
I could sense his emotions through our shallow bond, he was afraid of losing us before he really had us. I thought about it; I might have to return home to supervise the packing of our stuff, but that would only be for a few days. I hated the idea of being away from Gunny.
All too soon, the sun set outside and it was time. I reluctantly got up and went to the closet; I had borrowed a dress from Ella as I had very little here. It was black, with lace from the bodice up over my shoulders and halfway down my upper arms, and a skirt that was just above the knee. I paired it with some black flats, and pulled my blonde hair back into a ponytail. I looked over at Gunny, he was wearing a black robe, no shoes. “Come on,” he said, “They’re gathering.”
I walked outside with him, the whole Pack was gathered with the exception of the Robertson’s near the doorway. Everyone was wearing the same black robes except me and Charlotte, it looked like a choir or a graduation ceremony. “Why the robes?”
“We will shift graveside, these just pull off.” Gunny escorted me to the front, as a Beta he would walk just behind the family and the Alphas. I saw Charlotte, she was crying on Josh’s shoulder as they stood with his family. I caught her eye, she clutched him tighter and I felt a pang of jealousy. For the first time in her life, she was turning to someone other than me when she was hurting. Josh figured out what was going on, and he brought his arm higher, showing he would protect and care for her.
“She’s doing all right, considering,” Gunny said. “Josh says she is still having flashbacks, she saw him get shot.”
I’d have to talk to her afterwards, because Marge and Mabel opened the doors and held them. I saw the procession begin; his mother and father leading, the children carrying the blanket with his body. I could smell the flowers and the oils used to cover the scent of blood and death. His fur had been washed and brushed, and he looked almost peaceful as he was taken past us. The Alphas fell in behind him, and we followed them out the gate and up the hill to the tree that had been picked. The other elders were waiting by the graveside.
We gathered around as he was lowered gently into the ground. His parents went first, taking a handful of dirt and tossing it on top of him. I was crying as his family followed, and before I knew it I was standing there, a handful of dirt in my hand, looking down at the boy who had died for no reason at all. “I’ll find him,” I said as I tossed the dirt in. I let Gunny hug me from behind, lending me strength as I watched the Pack file by. When Charlotte was done, she ran over to me and I hugged her tightly. We both cried as the Alphas said a few words about Lance and then the robes started coming off.
Charlotte and I both closed our eyes until the sound of cracking bones had stopped. The Pack was shifted, wolves of all sizes and colors and panthers from tan to black had gathered close to the grave. We and the two elders were the only ones left in human form. When they started to shovel the piled dirt into the grave, Zach’s wolf lifted his head and started a mournful howl. He was joined by his family, the sound echoing off the mountains and hills. Alpha Craig started the next howl, this one joined by Robert, Renee and Julia, Ella’s roar disturbing the melody. Finally, Craig started a howl and the entire Pack picked it up. The howling continued until the grave was full and the shovels were tossed down.
We climbed onto the backs of our men, our tears dampening their necks as we all returned home.