Kitty Takes a Holiday (Kitty Norville #3) - Page 6

My nose itched, nostrils quivering. I—the Wolf— could smell blood, the thick stuff from an animal that had died of deep wounds. I knew what that smelled like because I'd inflicted that kind of damage on rabbits. The blood was here, just not with the rabbit.

I opened the door a little wider and looked over.

Someone had painted a cross in blood on the outside of my front door.

Chapter 3

I didn't go back to bed. Instead, I put a couple of new logs in the stove, poked at the fire until it blazed hot, wrapped myself in a blanket, and curled up on the sofa. I didn't know what bothered me more: that someone had painted a cross in blood on my door, or that I had no clue who had done it. I hadn't seen anything, heard anything after the rabbit's death cry, or smelled so much as a whiff of a breath mint. What was more, I didn't remember if I had only dreamed the rabbit's scream, or if I had really heard it. If it had been real, and crossed into my dream, or if my subconscious had made it up. Either way, it was like someone killed the rabbit, smeared blood on the door, and then vanished.

At first light, I called the police.

Two hours later, I sat cross-legged on the porch—on the far side, as far away from the rabbit as I could get—and watched the county sheriff and one of his deputies examine the door, the porch, the dead rabbit, and the clearing. Sheriff Avery Marks was a tired-looking middle-aged man, with thinning brown hair and a fresh uniform with a big parka over it. His examination consisted of standing on the porch, looking at the door for about five minutes, then crouching by the rabbit and looking at it for about five minutes, then standing on the ground, hands on hips, looking at the whole ensemble for about ten minutes. His deputy, a bearded guy in his thirties, wandered all around the cabin and the clearing in front of it, staring at the ground, snapping pictures, and writing in a notepad.

“You didn't hear anything?” Marks asked for the third time.

“I thought I heard the rabbit scream,” I said. “But I was still asleep. Or half asleep. I don't really remember.”

“You're saying you don't remember if you heard anything?” He sounded frustrated at my answers, and I couldn't blame him.

“I thought 1 heard

something.”

“About what time was that?”

“I don't know. I didn't look at the clock.”

He nodded sagely. 1 had no idea what that information could have told him.

“I'm thinking this looks like some kind of practical joke,” he said.

A joke? It wasn't funny. Not at all. “Would anyone around here think something like this was funny?”

“Ms. Norville, I hate to say it, but you're well known enough that you may be a target for this sort of thing.”

You think? “So what are you going to do about it?”

“Keep an eye out. You see anything suspicious, you see anyone walking around here, let me know.”

“Are you going to do anything?”

He eyed me and gave the condescending frown that experts reserved for the unenlightened. “I'll ask around, do some checking. This is a small community. Something'll turn up.” He turned to the earnest deputy. “Hey, Ted, make sure you get pictures of those tire tracks.” He was pointing at the ones leading away from my car.

This man had not inspired my faith.

“How—how am I supposed to clean all this up?” I asked. I was grateful for winter. The smell hadn't become too overpowering, and there were no flies.

He shrugged. “Hose it down? Bury the thing?”

This was like talking to a brick wall.

My cell phone rang inside the house; I could hear it from the porch. “I'm sorry, I should pick that up.”

“You do that. I'll let you know when I find something.” Marks and his deputy moved toward their car, leaving me alone with the slaughter. I felt oddly relieved by their imminent departure.

I dodged the rabbit, made it through the door without touching blood, and grabbed the phone. Caller ID said Mom. Her weekly call. She could have picked a better time. Strangely, though, 1 realized I needed to hear her voice.

“Hi,” I said, answering the phone. I sounded plaintive. Mom would know something was wrong.

“Hi, Kitty. It's your mother. How are you?”

If I told her exactly what had happened, she'd be appalled. Then she'd demand that I come stay with her and Dad, where it was safe, even though I

couldn't. I'd had to explain it a million times when I told her last month that I wasn't coming home for Christmas. I didn't have a choice: the Denver pack had exiled me. If I came back and they found out about it, they might not let me leave again. Not without a fight. A big fight. Mom still gave me endless grief. “We're in Aurora,” she'd said. “Aurora isn't Denver, surely they'd understand.” Technically she was right, Aurora was a suburb, but as far as the pack was concerned, Denver was everything within a hundred-mile radius.

I'd have to try to keep this short. Without lying outright. Damn.

“Oh, I've been better.”

“What's wrong?”

“The book's not going as well as I'd like. I'm beginning to think coming here to get away from it all may have been a mistake.”

“If you need a place, you can always stay here for as long as you need to.”

Here we go again… “No, I'm okay. Maybe I'm just having a bad day.” Bad week? Month?

“How are other things going? Have you been skiing?”

I had absolutely nothing to talk about. Nothing that I could talk about without getting hysterical, at least. “No, I haven't really thought about skiing. Everything's fine, it's fine. How are you doing? How is everyone?”

Mom launched in on the gossip. Everyone included Mom, Dad, my older sister Cheryl, her husband and two kids—a regular suburban poster family. Topics included office politics, tennis scores, first steps, first words, who went out to dinner where, which cousins were getting into what kind of trouble, and which of the great-aunts and uncles were in the hospital. I could never keep any of it straight. But it sounded normal, Mom sounded happy, and my anxiety faded. She kept me in touch, kept me grounded. I may have exiled myself to the woods, but I still had a family, and Mom would call every Sunday like clockwork.

She brought the call to a close, making me promise to be careful, promise to call if I needed anything. I promised, like I did every week, no matter what kind of trouble I was in or what had been gutted on my front porch.