“Alright,” I said as I scanned the flattened body, “the girls need something that has the killer’s scent in order to track him.”
“Or her,” Ares added.
“Yes, or her.”
“Well, they’re magic wolves. Can’t they just sniff the killer out?”
I rubbed my face with the palms of both hands. I left a naked and willing Estrella for this moron. It was going to be a long night.
“My girls can smell a multitude of scents. It’s our job to let them know which one they should be following. Did you check with Uncle Hades to see what time this guy checked in?”
“Charlie,” Ares answered.
I couldn’t hide the puzzled look on my face. “Charlie? Who is Charlie?”
Ares pointed to the bloody rollers and replied, “This guy is Charlie. You know he’s here, and here, and well, that’s him over here. Then there’s some more of him over…”
“Okay I get it,” I cut in. But then I stopped as I looked at where he was pointing.
“Ares, look down there, between the rollers. Is that a strip of fabric in the bottom of the machine?”
Ares squinted and looked down into the machine. It was clearly visible, but there was no way either of us was going to stick our arm down into that massive machine. The space was simply too small. Ares scanned the room until he saw a broom in the corner. He snapped the broomstick in half, then shoved it down between the rollers and hooked the fabric with the broken end. Within a minute or two, he pulled it out.
He held the fabric up and smiled at me.
“Huh? Huh? Look at that, pretty ingenious.”
“Ingenious. You’re a regular Archimedes.”
“You’re just mad you didn’t think of it first.”
“Yeah, maybe. Do you think it belongs to the killer?”
“Well it doesn’t match what’s left of Charlie’s shirt, that’s for sure. Bill told me earlier that this forge and roller had been shut down. My guess is it got caught in the rollers and ripped off as the killer was stuffing Charlie through the machine.”
I nodded as I pulled out a cigarette and lit it.
Ares wrinkled his nose. “That’s a disgusting habit, you know.”
I continued to nod as I exhaled. “So is fucking your brother’s slutty wife.”
Ares threw the broomstick and fabric on the ground and advanced toward me. “Okay, that is your mother, and dammit, you will show some respect.”
Right as he reached me, I pointed and hissed, “Look, the girls!”
He paused before he hit me to turn and see Hate and Jealousy circling the piece of cloth and sniffing intently. Hate then sat down and stared out the exit of the forge, and Jealousy actually raised her front paw and pointed in the same direction.
“You think they smell the killer?” Ares asked as he lowered his fist.
I thought, “Thank you, Zeus, he didn’t hit me. Getting punched by him hurts like nothing else.”
“Looks like it,” I said aloud. I walked over to the two wolves, scratched their ears, then leaned over and said, “Go, track him down.” Both wolves instantly trotted out of the forge with their noses to the ground and their tails wagging.
Ares looked at me and smiled.
“C’mon, we better follow them.”
“Right behind you.”
We followed the two wolves across the massive parking lot to a line of trees at the edge of the property. I held them up there.
“This will likely take several hours. If you want, I will follow the trail and you can go check on your date.”
Ares frowned. I could see he thought I was plotting something.
“Well, Cassandra was pretty upset,” he said after a minute. “But didn’t you give up a date to come out here as well?”
Another image of Estrella flashed through my mind. I sighed at what I was missing.
“Well, I will have another chance to see her, she works for me,” I replied.
Ares looked at me for a moment, then said, “No shit? Your secretary?”
I nodded and he laughed.
“Cassandra is Dad’s secretary.”
“Wait, the blond or the redhead?”
Ares answered, “The redhead. Why?”
I shook my head. It was my turn to chuckle. For the first time ever I felt a momentary flash of kinship to my father.
“What’s so funny?”
I paused then looked at him and said, “Well, Dad, I guess we do have more in common than either of us will admit. We’re both dating our redheaded secretary.”
A smile spread across his face. “Maybe we are more alike than we care to admit. Is that why we fight so much?”
“Probably, but if you want to go to her, then go. If I find something, I promise you will be the first to know.”
He stared at me again. I couldn’t read his face at all.
“Go,” I repeated. “After all, I do owe you for helping me out with Grandpa Zeus and the construction workers.”
“Okay,” he replied, “I’ll check back on you in a few hours.” I nodded and he teleported away. leaving just the telltale *pop* of displaced air.
The girls started whining as soon as he disappeared. They were ready to hunt.
“Alright ladies, let’s go find a killer.” With that, they hopped up and trotted into the woods, with me close behind.
The trail led us through a sparsely wooded plot, then out to a field of tall grass. At the edge of the field, the girls became excited by a smear of blood on the grass, about waist high.
“Blood about waist high. That means they are wounded. If the strip of fabric came from a shirt sleeve, our killer may have an injured hand or arm.”
The girls nipped at me and pranced around to get moving again as I contemplated the blood. There wasn’t any blood trail in the parking lot or the forge; it only started here.
What if the killer was wounded at the forge? We wouldn’t have noticed it there since blood sprayed everywhere from Charlie’s pressing demise. But why no blood trail until now? We’re at least a mile from the forge. Think, Dinlas, think. Of course! The killer wrapped it in something and it just now soaked through and is actively bleeding again.”
“Go on, but slowly,” I told the girls.
They continued walking the trail. Blood splashes dotted the ground in dribs and drabs. We walked another mile before we found a blood soaked rag. I’d seen other rags just like it back at the forge on the workbenches. They were plentiful for wiping hands and cleaning up messes. We were now several miles away from the forge and on the edge of Olympus National Park. I thought about Artemis.
“She said she’d like to work with me. Maybe I could call her in for this. I dunno.”
I thought about how intoxicating I found her to be.
“I’m not sure I could think straight with her closeby.”
Strangely enough, as soon as I started thinking about Artemis, the images of Estrella came shooting back into my head. As if my Estrella thoughts were jealous of my feelings for Artemis. I shook my head.
“What a weird sensation.”
We continued to follow the trail, but soon enough, we were forced to stop. A wide shallow creek blocked our path and there was no sign of where the trail went. We worked downstream, then up, but could find no more blood trail or footprints. After searching the near side, we waded across to the other side, but there was no sign. Reasoning that it would be easier for the wounded killer to walk in the creek with the current, we followed it downstream for over a mile.
No luck, the trail was gone. I sighed as I turned over the bloody rag in my hands to look for any other clues.
I almost looked past it. There, on the rag, was a partial bloody fingerprint pressed into the fabric. Praise be that the rag didn’t get wet when I crossed the stream. Well, we lost the trail, but we did retrieve another clue. We now had a partial fingerprint as well as the ripped fabric piece from the forge.
I thrust the rag inside my jacket and kneeled down to the girls. “Good girls. Yes, you are both so good. C’mon, let’s go home and get some sleep.” They both nipped and growled as they nuzzled my face and ears. As always, each tried to push the other out of the way as they vied for my attention.
“Good for the ego, you two are…good for the ego.”