Rogue Page 16

Marc held up his index finger, motioning that he’d explain it to me in a minute. Or maybe that I could ask the question aloud in a minute.

Regardless, I’d have to wait. I hate waiting.

My father made Parker repeat his instructions word for word, which was also unnecessary. But our fearless leader was not a risk-taker, which was why I didn’t understand his order to bring the body home.

Never shit where you sleep. That was rule number two for disposing of a corpse. Of course, my father’s phrasing was a bit different, but the point remained; corpses were always disposed of far from the Lazy S, and I knew of at least two burial sites between New Orleans and East Texas, neither of which had been used recently. So why would he want the body brought home? Unless he wanted to see it. Or maybe smell it. But why?

The answer hit me almost as soon as I’d thought the question. We’d found two bodies in three days, which was unusual, but not that big of a deal. Violence, like everything else in life, seemed to come and go in cycles. Sometimes we’d go a year without a problem, then deal with several bodies not of our own making in a single month.

What had obviously piqued the Alpha’s interest in this case was the fact that both of the victims had died of a broken neck, which meant the killers had acted in human form. That was almost unheard of. Most homicidal strays killed in cat form, by biting through the back of the victim’s skull, ripping out his throat, or—my least favorite—by eviscerating the poor fool.

But these victims had both been killed in the same, very rare manner.

They were related. They had to be. Which meant the foreign cat we’d smelled on Moore was still roaming free in the south-central territory, apparently exercising his own brand of population control—and in the process, breaking more of the council’s laws than I could even begin to list.

Not that this particular rogue gave a damn about our council’s laws.

Especially if it was a jungle cat. Jungle cats are to Pride cats what wolves are to the domestic dog. They’re feral. Brutal. Governed by instinct, instead of logic or law. Rather than convening to debate the best course of action, jungle cats converge to fight, and what the victor says, goes.

Such behavior has only escaped notice by humanity because—unlike Pride cats the world over—jungle cats live in…well, the jungle. They’re native to the Amazon, the deepest, darkest, least-explored wilderness on the face of the planet, where people go missing without explanation on a regular basis. Where humanity is, for the most part, still afraid to build its concrete roads and cell towers, the universal security blankets of the modern era.

But this jungle cat—if the worst-case scenario was accurate—had stepped out of the jungle, and here, his uncivilized behavior would not go unnoticed by the human authorities. Not without our help, at least. And we would help him, all right. We’d help him right out of this life and into the next one.

I swallowed thickly, still watching my father. Fear chilled my blood at the thought of confronting another jungle cat, even as anger curled my hands into fists in my lap. Sweaty, nervous fists.

When he was satisfied with Parker’s recitation, my father said goodbye and dropped the cordless receiver back into its cradle. For a moment, he stood with his back to us, his stil form framed by the sides of the glass-shelved display cabinet behind his desk, where his plaques and trophies gleamed beneath recessed lights my mother had positioned strategically.

The Alpha turned, releasing a weary-sounding sigh, then made his way across the room. When he sank into his armchair facing us all, I noticed for the first time how stiff he seemed, as if the action hurt, and I realized with a jolt of shock that my father was growing old. Too old, possibly, to deal with another jungle cat leaving his mark—and his corpses—all over our territory.

When he continued to stare at the rug beneath his feet instead of speaking, I glanced at Ethan, who shrugged at me. Marc was first to break the silence. “Did you want me and Faythe to get a whiff of the body, Greg?”

My father nodded, his green-eyed gaze flitting from Marc to me. “We need to connect the murders, if possible,” he said, confirming my suspicion. He cracked one knuckle, an old habit that sometimes meant he was angry, but in this case indicated deep thought. “But you might not find anything. This latest body may simply be the result of a careless new stray who hasn’t learned to control himself, or to cover his kills.”

Ethan frowned. “How do we know that’s not the case with Moore?”

Vic shifted in his seat, and leather creaked beneath him. “From what Marc told me last night, Moore’s attacker wasn’t new. Nowhere near.”

I whirled on Marc, wondering what he’d caught that I’d missed. “How do you figure that?” I hadn’t known there was a difference between the scent of an old stray and that of a new one.

“Moore’s scars. Most of them were old and faded.”

My eyes were drawn to Marc’s chest, where I knew similar marks lay hidden beneath a vintage Van Halen concert T-shirt. His scars were old and faded, too. Marc had been scratched—and thus infected—fifteen years earlier, when he was barely fourteen. “So, Moore wasn’t new.” I shrugged, stil staring at his chest. “What does that matter? We’re talking about the killer being new, not the victim, right?”

Marc crossed his arms over his pecs, as if he knew what I was thinking. “Moore had dozens of healed wounds. He’d obviously been in several brawls, and I’m guessing he won most of them, since they didn’t kill him. There’s no way a new stray could take out someone with as much experience as Bradley Moore clearly had.”

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