Home > Clean Sweep (Innkeeper Chronicles #1)(9)

Clean Sweep (Innkeeper Chronicles #1)(9)
Ilona Andrews

He must've smelled different scents. Maybe throwing him out wasn't such a hot idea. No, no, it was. There were limits. No matter how powerful he was, I couldn't let him run hog wild over the inn and me.

"Them" meant the incidents would keep happening. Whoever was behind this would soon realize I had taken out one of the pack. He or she could retaliate, and I had no idea what form that retaliation would take. Save for an abbreviated entry in the Creature Guide, my search on stalkers hadn't turned up anything useful. They were a rare species, not too numerous and not well-known.

I could look through the rest of my resources. I had access to some other books, but I doubted I'd find anything useful. I'd have to look for any casual mention of the stalkers in association with other species, and none of the other volumes were indexed or searchable. They were mostly anecdotes recorded by various innkeepers.

When I was eight, my parents had taken me, my brother, and my sister to California on vacation. We'd visited many cool places, including Glass Beach near the town of Fort Bragg. The residents of the area used to toss garbage into the ocean, a lot of which consisted of glass, and over the years, the waves had smoothed the sharp shards into beautiful glass pebbles and deposited thousands of them back onto the beach. In the grand scheme of things, looking for the stalkers was like going to Glass Beach near Fort Bragg and trying to find a particular piece of glass among thousands of others. It would take a long time, and my time was in short supply.

I missed my sister. Unlike my brother, who occasionally dropped by when he could tear himself away from the great beyond, she never visited. She fell in love, married, and moved with her husband to his planet. I had no idea what her new life was like, I hoped it was nice.

I needed a shortcut. I needed someone with more experience and practical knowledge.

I walked over to the photograph of my parents and pressed my thumb to a wood whorl in the frame. A small notation appeared in the top corner above my mother's head.

Brian Rodriguez, 8200 Cielo Vista, Dallas.

I let go of the frame and the words faded. Brian Rodriguez was an innkeeper. He didn't know me and I didn't know him, but my father had mentioned him before. Mr. Rodriguez operated one of the oldest inns in Texas, which had stood there when the Viceroyalty of New Spain was still a real power. Unlike Gertrude Hunt, that inn had remained continuously occupied with the knowledge and expertise passed from one innkeeper to the next. If anyone knew about stalkers, it would be Mr. Rodriguez.

Dallas was over four hours away by car. If I left now, I could theoretically be back here before midnight. Unless I broke down on the highway. I doubted anything would occur during the day, but once darkness fell, without me the inn would be fair game. If stalkers, their allies, or Sean, decided to retaliate, tonight would present them with an excellent opportunity.

I sat down and gulped my tea. I'd never met Mr. Rodriguez. My father had spoken of him in flattering terms, and I'd been there when my mother had written his name and address on the portrait. I was told he was knowledgeable and I could ask him for advice. However, he wasn't a friend. When my parents vanished, I had written to him and received no reply.

Trying to phone him would be useless --no innkeeper would respond to a phone inquiry. The innkeepers were neutral entities and we operated covertly and independently of each other, separated by distance. The safety of our guests was our highest priority. We relied on first impressions and handshakes and did business face-to-face only.

If I made the trip to Dallas, there was no guarantee Mr. Rodriguez would even answer my questions.

What to do?

Sitting here waiting for the stalkers to make the first move was pointless. I had no idea what their avenue of attack would be. I didn't even have a clear idea what they were capable off. Was there some intelligence behind them pulling their strings or were they dumped here just to wreak havoc?

Leaving the inn was a risk, but it was a risk I had to take. I'd chosen to become involved --which might have been a mistake on my part, but now it was too late to second-guess it --and I needed to take steps to ensure the security of the inn. Forewarned is forearmed.

Besides, I'd overhauled the inn's security in the past three years. We'd run drills and tested different scenarios. The inn wasn't impregnable with me away, but breaking into it was impossible without making a lot of noise. I had a feeling noise was the last thing anyone wanted.

If I was going to go, I had to go now. At the moment Caldenia was my only guest, and she would stay safely in her quarters. But if another guest suddenly made an appearance, my trip would be canceled.

I got up and went upstairs to the northern balcony. Caldenia sat in her favorite chair, gazing at the street. She saw me and motioned with her long fingers. "Look. I find this extremely curious."

I sat next to her. Below us, a pair of cops was trying to calm two bloodhounds. The big goofy dogs shifted back and forth on their leashes. Officer Marais and another policeman looked on.

Finally one of the K9 officers got his dog under control and said something. The bloodhound obediently put its nose to the asphalt, took three steps forward, and backed away, whining, tail between its legs.

"Are they sensing the creature you brought in last night?"

"They are sensing Sean Evans."

Last night, as I was forced to hide in a bush with my grisly prize, I'd realized the creature's white blood was evaporating in the open air within about five minutes. The only way anyone would be able to track me would be by drag marks or scent. So I'd taken a risk and moved onto the road, dragging my corpse in plain view, ready to bolt or hide at the slightest noise. Eventually I'd made it to Uther Street, which connected to Igraine Road. I'd been about to turn onto Igraine when I saw Sean, a huge shaggy shadow, pure black, running on all fours. He'd dashed down Camelot and I'd sagged against the nearest fence to have a moment, afraid my heart might jump out of my chest because it was beating so fast.

The second bloodhound danced in place and howled, a hysterical, frightened wail.

"Last night he was reinforcing his signature," I said. "My guess is that he's ambitious as to what he considers his territory, so he must've gone quite far to mark his boundaries. Then when police showed up, curiosity got the better of him, and Sean turned to covert mode so he could close the distance fast, sneak up close, and see what was happening. His pheromone trail is all over the street."

The werewolves had three basic modes: their human form, which has the highest dexterity, they called the OPS form --operations; their wetwork form, a humanoid, wolflike monster for close and personal combat; and the OM, on-the-move, a covert form for rapidly and quietly covering great distances. When they shifted from one shape to another, the chemical cocktail in their bodies caused a release of pheromones that freaked out anything on four legs. Mrs. Zhu, an older werewolf who used to frequent my parents' inn, had told me the pheromone release was a deliberate signal, programmed into them but not under their direct control. When on a mission, it helped to know that other members of your group had changed shape without visual signs or sounds to give you away.

The neighborhood dogs had no problem with Sean the human. Sean the "wolf," however, made them hysterical. I was told that the pheromone emissions stopped within fifteen minutes or so of the transformation, they had left a lasting scent signature. Sean had freshly turned. I gambled that his scent would be strong and my gamble proved right. His pheromones freaked the bloodhounds out so much, they refused to follow his trail and since my trail lay in the same direction, they refused to follow it as well. With no blood and no scent trail, nobody had any reason to connect the inn and me with claw marks on the door of a house several streets away.

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