Stephan switched radio stations a few times before sighing and just turning the radio off entirely. “Today’s music sucks.”
“You really want to get into a ‘back in my day’ conversation with me?” Magda raised an eyebrow.
“Not all today’s music sucks. Just the popular stuff that gets played all the time.” Ash leaned forward from the backseat. “No classical station?”
“Lost it about twenty miles ago. Doubt we’ll pick another up until we are closer to a big city.” Stephan looked out the window. “At least the landscape is pretty.”
“I remember reading once that the Pacific Northwest is technically a rainforest, just not a tropical one.” Magda smiled. “If we weren’t in a hurry, I wouldn’t mind…” She shrugged. “Well, going wolf and running around in there a while.”
“Me either.” Ash chuckled. “There is a lot of seismic activity, and the Cascade Range has risen in just the last 5 million years. Volcanoes are all over, and it’s not just the big ones Mount St. Helens. There is a string of like twenty major volcanic centers that create a network of small, shorter-lived volcanoes and underneath that the ocean plate plunges under the North American plate. The subduction creates all kinds of cool effects and there are things like hot springs and stuff all over the place.”
“Who let the nerd out?” Stephan grinned at him. His tone was light, but he couldn’t help but give a quick look at Magda. She was smiling too. That was the most words Ash had strung together since they’d rescued him. “Can’t say I’d mind visiting a hot spring after we save the day.”
“It goes up into Canada. Mount Cayley is one of the most spectacular landscapes in the world. The natives call it the landing place of the thunderbird, and Dad promised…” Ash trailed off. He made a small whimpering sound before retreating into the backseat again.
He swallowed, then glanced at Magda. “I bet some of the best geological stuff is under the water. Maybe after we save the day, we can look into renting one of those glass bottomed boats.” He turned toward the backseat. “Do some fishing?”
“Woof.” Ash nodded.
Despite the beautiful surroundings, the campground was all but abandoned. Then again, it was a weekday. Matthias paid for their camper and his mother’s, then drove until he found a fairly isolated area. The place had wi-fi, and they were still in range of the signal. Daniel started hooking the camper up to the electrical outlet as Matthias put the supports down and unhooked the truck.
By the time they’d finished, Stephan already had his laptop up. “Where do you think Rosa will meet you?” He raised an eyebrow.
“She’s a seer. I pick a spot, she’ll find me.” Matthias shrugged. “Though best bet is a dive bar that serves good margaritas.” He smirked. “Kind of traditional.”
“Can I take Ash for a walk?” Anna raised an eyebrow.
“Go ahead.” Magda nodded. “But don’t go far.”
“Woof.” Ash grinned as Anna grabbed his hand and started dragging him toward an open area. At least he wasn’t wearing a leash today. That just got kind of weird.
Daniel turned toward him. “Are we going to be here long enough for me to open the camper up for airing?”
“All things considered…” Matthias frowned. “Rosa was scared. I want to be ready to move fast if —”
“Matthias.” Stephan looked up at him.
“I…” He started shaking his head. “No, we just talked to her…”
Stephan turned the laptop around to show him the website for the local news. He recognized her from the photograph. Her driver’s license photo, from the look of it. Quickly he scanned the article. “Matthias?” Daniel came toward him.
“Car accident.” Matthias narrowed his eyes. “From the sound of it, this couldn’t have happened more than an hour after she called us.” His fists clenched, and he knew his eyes were golden. Daniel’s hand was on his shoulder, providing a calming influence. He wasn’t sure if it was the young man’s magic, or just his presence.
The laptop was turned back around. Stephan went back to the article. “According to this, a local LEO witnessed the accident. Detective L. Michaels.”
“Witnessed, it says?” Matthias shook his head. “No offense to those present, but we know the Cabal has cops in it’s number. Find this —”
“Matthias.” Magda’s voice was sharp.
“You are not going off half-cocked after a police officer.” She shook her head. “That kind of trouble we do not need.” She gestured at Stephan. “It is why he got the PI license. He can question Michaels, say he was looking into her, and we can get information that way.”
“And if it turns out this cop is Cabal…” Matthias folded his arms. All the shit under the bridge, it was still Rosa. “You’re going to get the hell out of my way.”
“I’m the one that picked her and her mom up from the hospital when she was born, Mother.” He narrowed his eyes. “This cop had anything to do with her death, you’re getting the hell out of my way.”
Magda stared at him for a long moment, then nodded.
“Are you alright going in solo?” Magda raised an eyebrow at Stephan. She felt a little sheepish about worrying. It wasn’t like he wasn’t an adult capable of handling himself even with a bum leg. Still, he was one of her pack and they had no idea what the situation really was.
“Considering everyone else here is either a wanted fugitive or dead, I suppose I’ll have to be.” Stephan smiled. Then he frowned. “I’m the best option for multiple reasons, Mags.”
“Reason one, I’m a former cop myself and that carries weight.”
“I know, I just…”
“Reason two, I have a PI license and that gives me an actual right to request information.”
“True, I just…”
“Reason three, I can’t actually be affected by any magic, so…” He gave her a pointed look.
“I actually hadn’t considered reason three when coming up with reasons to worry.” Magda gave a slightly abashed chuckle. “It’s a really good point.”
He clicked on the laptop and brought up another website. “Check this out.”
She sat down next to him. “A local natural history museum?” She smiled. “Ash used to collect rocks.”
“Anna apparently likes them too.” Stephan snickered. “According to Ash, her necklace is made of corprolite. Which is apparently the fancy technical term for fossilized dinosaur feces.”
“Her necklace is made out of dinosaur poop?” Magda stared at him. “My son bought her a dinosaur poop necklace?”
“Yep. Paid almost a hundred bucks for it too.” Stephan nodded.
“That uh…” She shook her head and laughed a little. “That girl…” She glanced at where Matthias and Daniel were talking quietly. “They really did find his heart, didn’t they?”
“If uh…” Stephan took a deep breath. “If this Rosa thing goes sideways, you think you and Daniel can talk him down?”
“I don’t know.” Magda sighed. “He and Rosa weren’t an uncomplicated relationship. Matthias led the pack her father belonged to and…” She looked down at Stephan. “And Matthias is the one that killed her father.”
“So when you say they weren’t an uncomplicated relationship, you mean like a minefield isn’t an uncomplicated walk through a park.” Stephan rubbed the back of his neck. “Wow.”
“Pretty much.” Magda nodded. “Strangely, while I’m not surprised she would sell the kids out…” She frowned. “I don’t think she would have ever sold out Matthias himself.”
“He killed her father.”
“And her mother thanked him for it. Matthias was effectively Rosa’s stepfather for a couple years.”
“I thought he was…” Stephan blinked.
“We live a long time, Stephan. Sometimes we try things. I spent almost twenty five years with another woman.” When he gave her a surprised look, she just smiled. “And you already know I worked in a brothel for a decade.” She glanced back at her son. “I think Rosa was more upset about Matthias leaving her mother than she was about him killing her father.”
“Rosa was the daughter of a werewolf, and a witch herself. She knew about all this shit, and apparently had no problem holding a gun on someone like Matthias…” Stephan frowned. “And yet, Matthias said she sounded scared.”
“Be careful, partner.”
“Matthias…” Daniel sounded apprehensive as he approached. He kept his voice quiet, and sent a glance at where Anna and Ash were playing fetch before relaxing a little.
“Daniel?” Matthias frowned. “What’s wrong?”
“Are you…” He put a hand on Matthias’s arm. Whatever his feelings toward Rosa were… “I know she was important to you.”
“I was tempted to kill her for selling you two out, but uh…” He rubbed his neck. “She and I went back fifty years, kid. That’s a hell of a lot of history. And…” He trailed off.
“And she called you for help and you didn’t get here in time.” Daniel nodded. For a man like Matthias, that kind of thing was going to leave a mark.
“I…” Matthias nodded. “Yeah. She asked me for help, and I didn’t get to her in time.” He took a deep breath.
“There uh…” He glanced toward Anna again. She and Ash were still oblivious to what was going on, and since they were still near Stephan, he knew Anna couldn’t pull the information out of their heads. “There is something else.”
“Rosa’s vision.” Matthias nodded. “She dies the day she meets…”
“The broken angel.” Daniel exhaled. “Which means who or whatever that is, it’s here, or was here yesterday. We should make sure Stephan knows before he goes to ask the questions.”
“Really don’t like sending him in by himself.” Matthias shook his head.
“Only other person we’ve got who isn’t a fugitive is currently chasing a rubber dog bone being thrown by my sister.” Daniel shrugged.
“I get that we don’t have another option, but that doesn’t mean I like it. Something goes down, the guy can’t run for shit.”
And that remained a source of frustration for him. “And until we figure out some way to turn his power off, I can’t fix that.” Daniel sighed. “Anna and I can both control our powers, so it seems like he should be able to do the same thing.”
“I’m guessing the biggest roadblock there is he doesn’t want to.” Matthias frowned.
“Matthias?” Daniel raised an eyebrow.
“Day the guy learned about the supernatural, he got crippled for it. He’s got a power that can protect him. Can’t really blame him for turning it up to eleven and leaving it there.”
“I get it. I just…” Daniel glanced at Stephan, who was showing Magda something on the laptop. Stephan was a nice guy and pretty open about most things, but he tended to change the subject whenever Daniel tried to ask about how they’d ended up effectively on the lam. All he knew was that the werewolves that had crippled Stephan were the same ones that had broken Ash, and one of them was still out there. Sometimes it amazed him either of those two accepted the fact Matthias and Magda were werewolves themselves.
“Someone’s got a hurt, you want to make it better. It’s who you are, Boss.” Matthias smiled. Then he sent a look Anna’s way. “She’ll put it together herself, you know. She’s not even halfway dumb.”
“Guess we better start figuring out how to identify a broken angel.” Daniel nodded.
“Crooked wing?” Matthias raised an eyebrow.
“I’d have gone with bent halo, but crooked wing works too.” Daniel smiled.
Magda dropped him off at the library, and said she’d wait there for him. He took a cab to the police station. It wasn’t far, and most would consider it within walking distance. Stephan leaned on the cane as he started up the steps to the police station. Walking distance had become a dismayingly short span since his leg had been ripped open by one werewolf and shot by another.
The PI license worked exactly as they’d hoped. It only took a couple minutes for him to be directed to a desk. Detective Michaels looked to be about thirty five, and if he didn’t know Matthias he’d have characterized the detective as a fairly big man. The inside of the man’s left arm had an armed forces tattoo. Marines. “An actual PI.” Detective Michaels smiled. “You know, I didn’t think you guys even existed anymore.”
“I used to be a cop.” Stephan leaned his cane against the desk as he sat. “Can’t pass the physical anymore.”
“That’s shit.” Michaels nodded. A strange expression briefly crossed his face, and he gave Stephan a second look. “What can I do for you?”
“You witnessed the demise of one…” He pulled out his tablet. “Rosa Gutierrez?”
The friendly smile vanished, and Michaels nodded. “And you’re asking because?”
“I’m investigating another individual. She’s possibly a ‘known associate of’.” Stephan shrugged.
“I’m going to need information on your investigation.” Michaels eyes narrowed. “Starting with who hired you.”
That was a strange reaction from someone who’d witness what the newspapers had suggested was an accidental death. “I’m just trying to confirm if it’s the same Rosa Gutierrez. She has a habit of…”
“Am I going to need to subpoena the information?” Michaels raised an eyebrow. “Cause I’m sure I can find something to charge you with while I go track down a judge.”
Michaels definitely knew something. “Look, Detective…” Stephan smiled. “As I told you a few minutes ago, I used to be a cop. So if you want to make this an in the system thing, my hourly rate is substantially more than yours. I’m happy to waste your time, make you look like an idiot in front of your boss when you try to justify those charges, maybe even get IA involved cause we know how much everyone just loves when they —”
“You want info, you give info.” Michaels face had darkened considerably during Stephan’s speech. “Unlike you, nothing obligates me to cooperate. If you do know something and didn’t share, well, you were a cop. You know how much trouble ‘obstruction of justice’ charges can make for someone with a license.”
“My card.” Stephan put one of the cards down. It just had an email address and the number of one of their burner phones. “Once you’ve confirmed her identity, please give me a call. If it turns out to be the same Rosa Gutierrez, perhaps we can exchange some information. Good day, detective.”
He was very aware the detective didn’t take his eyes off him as he limped out of the building. Rosa’s death couldn’t have been an accident. Not for the man who supposedly witnessed it to have reacted like that. He took a deep breath. Now he just needed to figure out a way to tell Matthias that wasn’t going to end in someone getting their head literally ripped off.