Samantha Welles had her offices in a midrise off Central Avenue, in the isolated corridor of development that was midtown Phoenix.
I don’t normally use public transit – large crowds made my wolf nervous, and being trapped in an enclosed space with a large crowd was even worse – but there weren’t likely to be many commuters on a Saturday, and I needed to stretch my legs. It had been a stressful week, and the wolf was already starting to get restless. The walk to and from the light rail stations would give me a chance to release some of that pent-up energy.
The unusually long winter had finally given up the ghost earlier in the week, and the temperature had risen into the 80s. Perfect weather for being outdoors. With any luck, it would last a few more months before summer came around with a vengeance.
I relaxed my hold on the wolf as I walked, letting her guide my movements and my senses.
The world seemed to expand as wolf sharpened my awareness, making scents and sounds more vibrant and intense. The acrid smell of gas and asphalt that tended to overpower the nose became just another layer of the complex tapestry that was the city, and wolf reveled in her ability to decipher it. Nothing could hide from us, not even in this concrete jungle.
It was risky, letting her loose like this, since it poised me right on the edge of a shift, but it quieted her urgings and gave me room to think.
By the time I arrived at Welles’ office thirty minutes later, I had managed to work off most of wolf’s pressure and assuaged the worst of my own anxieties.
Tony and the others were waiting in the building’s lobby when I arrived. Tony nodded to me slightly as I came in.
“You’re looking very relaxed,” he said by way of greeting.
“I feel very relaxed,” I said. “First time all week where I don’t have to worry about asking the right questions.”
“I can certainly see how that would help,” he said. He gave a quick glance towards his watch, then set off in the direction of the elevators. “Come on, let’s not keep her waiting.”
I motioned for Byrd and Miller to follow, then fell into step next to him.
“So how’d you hear about Welles in the first place? I looked her up, and she doesn’t advertise much.”
“I’ve heard about her before,” he said. “She has a reputation in certain circles.”
“Ah.” I liked to think of myself as being pretty active in the larger werewolf community, inasmuch as there was one, but alphas had their own circles they moved in. They all kept in touch with one another, sharing information and quietly offering each other support. If Samantha Welles had a history of helping parahumans, it would have been circulated among the pack leaders eventually.
Welles’ office was on the third floor and down the hall, tucked away between two much larger suites. She was waiting by the door to let us in.
Now that I was seeing her in person, I was once again thrown by the incongruity between her appearance and her age. I was also becoming quite sure that she couldn’t possibly be a full-blooded faerie.
“Thank you all for coming,” she said. When she smiled, the hairs on the back of my neck stood up.
Tony nodded, completely at ease. “Thanks for having us.”
As I stepped over the threshold into the office, a sudden feeling of dread swept over me. The wolf lurched against the bars of her mental cage, desperate to push me into a shift.
This place smells like death. The thought came from the wolf, but it was as clear as any of my own.
I paused in my steps for the merest fraction of a second as I pushed down my wolf’s rising panic. It was an automatic response, which was fortunate, because her intruding thought had infected the rest of my thoughts and sent my heart racing into overdrive.
Tony turned his head to look at me, and I could feel the concern starting to radiate off of him.
I met his gaze and nodded. I’m fine.
He nodded back and turned to face Welles again.
Welles escorted us into a small conference room and motioned for us to sit. I only half-paid attention as she exchanged further pleasantries with Tony. I was too busy dealing with my wolf.
Keeping a firm hold on her mental leash, I let the wolf flood into my sense, testing the air for the scent that had set her off.
I struggled to sort through the flood of sensation. The human brain just isn’t wired for olfactory processing, but I couldn’t rely on the wolf for this.
“– and of course, I’m sure you’ve heard of Heather Stone.” I looked up at the sound of Tony saying my name.
“Oh, yes, we spoke on the phone yesterday,” Welles said. She looked at me carefully. “Are you alright, Miss Stone? You seem out of sorts.”
I seemed out of sorts? Hah, she didn’t know the half of it.
I nodded. “I’m fine. Just a bit tired, is all.”
I continued sifting through the smells of the office. Like most rooms, it had come to smell predominantly of its occupants, but there was something wrong. I could smell that two people worked here – Welles and her assistant, I surmised – but I could only smell one person. That didn’t make any sense.
I stared at Welles. I could smell her, but I couldn’t smell her.
Human body odor is complicated and influenced by a myriad of factors, but it largely derives from sweat and the microorganisms than feed on sweat. These are what create the distinctive scent ‘fingerprint’ that is largely unique to each person, and it’s this fingerprint that werewolves rely on when identifying people by smell.
Welles didn’t have a fingerprint. And this was as terrifying as meeting someone without a face. She smelled, in fact, exactly like what I had always expected a mummy to smell like. Dry flesh and nothing else.
And then I realized that I couldn’t hear her heartbeat.
I knew she wasn’t a faerie, I thought for an incredibly brief moment. This was followed by a simple, Holy shit.
Welles was saying something about the lawsuit. “– along with a request for a preliminary injunction seeking the removal of those affected from the no fly list.”
I wanted to leap up and shout, “She’s a vampire!” right then and there, but I restrained myself. There was no doubt in my mind that Tony already knew, and if Byrd and Miller hadn’t already figured it out for themselves, then they probably didn’t need to know right now.
I tried to figure the odds. Vampires were rare, far rarer than werewolves. I’d read a CDC study from a few years back that estimated the occurrence of vampirism at perhaps 1 in 1 million, mostly clustered in urban areas. At that kind of population density, there might be half a dozen in the whole state. Probably less – they didn’t like sunlight, right? I wasn’t sure about that.
Still, call it around six in the entire state. Even if all of them were in Phoenix, the odds of running into any given person in a city of 4 million were slim. In this particular case, they were probably even slimmer – I didn’t get out much, and mostly associated with other werewolves. So it wasn’t that surprising that I hadn’t encountered a vampire before now.
I got to the point of trying to figure out how many of the city’s lawyers were vampires before giving up and deciding that the whole thing was probably pretty unlikely. Which wasn’t much comfort, considering that it had happened anyways.
I zoned back into the meeting and realized that things were being signed. I tried to read the documents from where I was sitting, but legalese is hard enough to read when it’s not a table away and at a slight angle. I gave up and decided I’d just ask for copies later.
“I’m fairly confident in our chances,” Welles said, reaching across the table to shake hands with each of us in turn. “I wouldn’t be surprised if the government agrees to settle out of court.”
“Don’t count on it,” I said, forcing myself to return the offered handshake. “Kidd’s not the kind to give up easily.”
She smiled at me, and I could have sworn that I saw a flash of fangs. “We shall see, Miss Stone.” She clapped her hands together and stared at the table for a moment. “I believe that is all for today, ladies and gentlemen. I’ll be in touch.”
I leaned over and whispered to Tony, “I’ll catch up. I want to ask Welles some questions.”
He turned and whispered back, “Don’t do anything stupid.”
Before I could respond, he stood up, shook hands with Welles one last time, and filed out of the room after Byrd and Miller.
Don’t do anything stupid, I thought. Like be alone in a room with a vampire? I wasn’t sure if the question was mine or my wolf’s.
Welles turned to face me, her expression blank. “Did you want something, Miss Stone?”
What was I going to say? “I know you’re a vampire?” What would that accomplish?
Instead, I said, “You don’t have a heartbeat.” Which, on reflection, wasn’t much better.
“Really? I hadn’t noticed,” she said sardonically. “I’ve so rarely needed one for practicing law.”
I laughed nervously. Then, swallowing my fear, I asked, “Would you be willing to do an interview?”
She stared at me for a long moment. “Miss Stone, I do believe you’ve already been told that I don’t do interviews.”
“Yes, but –”
“But what? You have questions for me? Why should that matter?” She smirked ever so slightly. “If you have questions about the case at hand, I will, of course, answer them fully and honestly. But my personal life is my own, and I will not see it plastered across the pages of your newspaper.”
Despite my anxiety about being alone in a room with her, I couldn’t help but feel crestfallen. “You can’t hide forever,” I said. “You’re not getting any older.”
She grinned, and this time I did see fangs. “Who says I’m hiding? Obscurity is not the same thing as invisibility, Miss Stone. It’s a great deal more valuable.”
“If you change your mind, you have my phone number.”
“I’ll be sure to remember that. But now, unless you have any questions about the case…” She unclasped her hands and waved one dismissively at the door.
Taking the hint, I scurried out of the vampire’s lair – it didn’t sound right anymore, calling it an office – forgetting, in my haste, to ask about copies of the discussed documents. I was already in the lobby by the time I remembered, but by that point I wouldn’t have gone back for anything.