Dark Wine at Midnight
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Lux Enclave—present day
Orders from the Lux couldn’t be ignored—a fact Dr. Cerissa Patel knew too well. Since her birth, they had controlled her, drumming a simple message into her head: her wants and needs had to yield to the greater good.
As if anyone truly knew the greater good.
But the Lux thought they did. So here she was, packing for her next assignment. She slammed her makeup bag into the suitcase, stuffing it into the corner, pressing it down until it fit into the last remaining space, grumbling to herself.
She didn’t want to go to New York. She didn’t want to be a Lux pawn. And she especially didn’t want to become a vampire’s envoy.
No, she’d rather stay in her laboratory, researching the human genome, and looking for ways to truly help the world, but her mother’s family had spoken; they’d insisted she take this assignment.
I’m a good little soldier, aren’t I?
She looked around her bedroom. Had she forgotten anything? If she had, she could buy it in New York. Sighing, she flipped the lid of the suitcase closed.
“Hey, Ciss, why the gloomy face?”
She looked up at the sound of her cousin’s voice. “Do you really need to ask?” she replied, not bothering to hide her displeasure.
Ari stepped through the doorway into her bedroom and brushed back his wavy hair from where it’d fallen over his eyes. It immediately flopped down again, mimicking Superman’s famous curl. With his darkened complexion and hair the color of brown mink, they could almost pass as siblings.
“Don’t grouse at me,” he said, raising his hands in surrender. “I just work here.”
“Work here? It’s your fault I have this assignment.”
“Look, kid, show a little respect for your mission supervisor. Yeah, I convinced them to put you in my unit, but only after they decided to send you. Who else could I trust to look out for my little cousin on her first big assignment?”
He grinned at her, a smirk that reminded her of their time together as children. When she’d first arrived at the Enclave, he’d taken her under his wing when no one else had, but it came with a price: he loved teasing her.
“Speaking of your assignment,” he continued, “I’ve got your final orders.”
He held out a computer tablet for her to take, the screen already open to a communiqué detailing her mission. She accepted it and touched the screen to scroll through it, shaking her head. “I still think this is a bad idea. I’m a scientist, not a spy. With my medical training, my first undercover assignment was supposed to be at a government research facility.”
“Yeah, but we don’t have anyone else to infiltrate the undead. You saw the same intelligence reports I did—something’s brewing in the vampire communities, something that could threaten all humankind.”
“You’re exaggerating the risk,” she said, scowling at him. “The treaty communities have a zero population growth rule, remember?”
“It’s not just a numbers game. Sure, their population is stable now, but each community needs almost five hundred pints of blood a week, the equivalent of what six trauma hospitals use for the same time period—and they’re having trouble getting enough blood bank discards to meet their needs.”
“They still have another option. If supplies get scarce they can supplement with live feeding—so long as no one is killed.”
Ari shook his head. “The numbers are still too close for our comfort. And let’s not even consider what would happen if they started drinking animal blood again.”
Yeah, vampires could live off animal blood, but not for long—the results gave a whole new meaning to “mad cow disease.”
She tossed the tablet into her suitcase. “Tell me something I don’t already know.”
“How about something you’ve conveniently forgotten? We need eyes and ears on the ground now if the rumors about a vampire revolt are true—especially with humans on the losing end of that revolution.”
She frowned. “Evidence of a vampire dominance movement is weak. A few intercepted emails and a little phone chatter—nothing to prove there’s a real plan to enslave mortals.”
“We can’t take a chance. If it catches fire, we’ll have a harder time stopping it. You know what we had to do to stop their last war.” He held up his thumb and index finger, pinched together. “It was this close.”
Yeah, the butterfly effect. The Lux rarely got directly involved in a conflict, but when they did, they nudged events ever so slightly to change the outcome. But sometimes a larger nudge was required…and the results weren’t always predictable.
Ari plopped down on her bed next to her suitcase and lay back, tucking his hands behind his head for support. “Besides,” he continued, looking up at her, “you made first contact with Leopold. You’re the only one they could send in.”
“Another operative could have tried—someone with more covert experience.”
“You saved his life. Leopold owes you. These vampire communities, they pay their debts. We couldn’t have staged it any better.”
“You mean they were too afraid to try.”
“We couldn’t let the vampires learn about us, at least, not any more than what you told Leopold, for the same reason vampires hide what they are from humans. Once the cat is out of the bag, we’re toast.”
“I know…” she said, twisting a lock of her long hair around her finger.
“And don’t forget the enticement the bigwigs dangled in front of you. Your cover assignment comes with a pretty large bonus. If you pull this off, you’ll have your own research lab to run, independent of the Lux Enclave.”
Yeah, the lab was a huge incentive. She may not like working undercover, but Ari was right. Someone had to do it, and a twist of fate had put her in the best position to do the job.
Besides, it was a done deal. Leopold had already agreed to sponsor her. Six months of training in New York, and then she would be his daytime envoy, getting investors from among the treaty vampires for a large biotech research facility she had designed and would run. But Leopold’s support came with its own consequences: to be his envoy, she’d have to live among vampires…for years.
Though it was better than living in the Enclave. The place was a cave. Literally.
“Just remember,” Ari continued, “your job is observation only—watch and report. Don’t try to investigate; don’t ask questions. You’ll only make them paranoid.”
“Don’t you think I know that better than you do?” She crossed her arms and glared at him. “Like you said, I made first contact.”
He bounced up off the bed and gave her a brotherly hug, trapping her arms between their bodies. “You’re going to be fine,” he said, patting her back. “You’re just feeling opening night jitters. You’ll knock ’em dead, kiddo.”
Yeah, right. Knock ’em dead. That’s the problem: they’re already dead.
As soon as Ari left, dread pulsed through her. She didn’t want to live in a vampire community for several reasons, but one pained her more than the others. She would always be an outsider; she could never let them know her true self.
It just wasn’t safe.
She reached for the charcoal drawing hanging on the wall, a picture of her pita—her father—and, seeing her reflection in the glass, stopped herself. Not a good idea to bring it with me. She ran her fingers over the glass as painful memories entwined with her dread, pulling open the scar around her heart, the pain of past loss flowing out, leaving an empty well behind.
She took a deep breath and slapped the wall.
It didn’t help.
The hole in her chest wanted to be filled with something—and it wasn’t her mother’s love. Her amma had abandoned her when she was a toddler. When her father died seven years later, the Lux family hijacked her childhood. She squeezed her eyes shut and held her breath, hoping the pain would die down. She understood the reasons she never felt loved, never fit in anywhere, never seemed comfortable in her own skin, but it didn’t pay to regurgitate the whole mess again. Not when—
“Dr. Cerissa Patel. Report to Conference Room A,” the loudspeaker announced.
She kissed her pita’s picture goodbye, stuffed her feelings down, and grabbed her suitcase. She was going to New York, whether she liked it or not.
New York City—six months later
Cerissa ran her finger along the line on the map that represented Sierra Escondida’s infamous wall. The wall formed the third leg of a triangle of protection, with two mountain ranges forming the other two legs, creating a private valley of rolling hills where vineyards flourished and vampires lived in secret with their mortal mates.
It reminded her of where she’d been born: the walled city of Surat in India. Why did people think a wall would keep them safe? It never worked out that way.
Her basic training as an envoy had wrapped up last night when she passed her oral exams with flying colors. Being grilled by three vampires on the nuances of their law and etiquette had left her wrung out, but Leopold refused to give her time off. The next phase of her training started tonight, with the town of Sierra Escondida first up on the agenda.
Leopold wanted their research lab built in the small California town, in the business district located on the public side of the town’s wall, where wineries and other vampire-run businesses were open to unsuspecting mortals. If Sierra Escondida’s council approved her project, she’d have to live in the private valley behind their wall.
She’d have to live where they lived.
Sure, after six months she was accustomed to being around Leopold and his friends, but her trust didn’t extend to these strangers. They had founded their town over a century ago, and through a clever use of zoning laws combined with a series of land trusts and a homeowners’ association, they controlled who could live there—much like the Collective controlled the New York high-rise in which she currently sat.
The clink of glass told her Leopold was in the kitchen, preparing for her next lesson. She looked around his tastefully modern living room, her focus stopping on the balcony, visible through a large sliding glass door. Gentle flakes of a spring snow fell, piling high on the balcony rail to form a steep slope, like an alpine roof, the ice crystals sparkling in the moonlight.
As CEO of the New York Collective, Leopold had the entire forty-first floor of the apartment building to himself. She’d been staying in his guest suite, and now that her basic training was complete, Leopold insisted on conducting the next phase of her training—teaching her how to persuade the residents of Sierra Escondida to invest in their biotech research lab.
Leopold joined her carrying a wooden tray laden with three wine bottles and four glasses. One of the glasses was filled with a murky red liquid that didn’t look like wine—most likely donor blood for him. A large envelope was clutched under his arm.
She stood up out of respect for her sponsor and waited for him to deposit the tray on the large coffee table and sit down. Standing, he was a little shorter than her and painfully skinny. His brown hair was cut short and plastered straight back with some kind of pomade, an attempt to defeat the natural wave of his hair. It didn’t work. A thin, angular mustache grew from his cupid’s-bow indentation to the corners of his upper lip—a style favored by the seventeenth century residents of Amsterdam, the city he lived in when he was turned vampire over three hundred years ago.
“You’ve had dinner?” he asked, his clipped Dutch accent faint but still there. “I wouldn’t want you to get tipsy on an empty stomach.”
“No need to worry about that—I ate shortly before you woke up.”
“Good.” He sat down in the brocade winged chair across from her and handed her the envelope he carried. “These are dossiers on the vampires you’ll meet.”
She read what was written on the envelope. “The Hill?”
“Their nickname for Sierra Escondida. Read through the dossiers and let me know if you have questions.” He poured an inch of red wine into one of the glasses. “Now, these are three wines produced by the Hill.”
She perched on the sofa, accepted the wineglass he offered her, and started to raise it to her lips.
“No, no,” he said, waving his hand to stop her. “Never just drink.” He picked up the wineglass filled with blood and held it below eye level. “First, look straight down into the glass and roll it.” He did that with his glass. “You’re looking for color. Color tells you a lot about the wine, and we’ll go over those details later. For now, I want you to know the steps until they’re so ingrained you do it without thinking.”
He held his glass straight out, and she mimicked what he did. “Next, look for clarity. Is the wine clear or murky?” He then swirled his glass, and she followed suit. “See those tears forming down the inside? Those are the wine’s legs.”
“What’s their significance?” she asked.
“I said we’ll get to that. For now, just get used to the order of things.”
She gritted her teeth and tried not to let her irritation show. Leopold often acted like little time had passed since she had been a young student and he her tutor. He fell back into his role seamlessly. She didn’t.
“Fourth, tip the glass, angling it over a white tablecloth if you have one. Focus on the area where the wine thins.” He then placed the glass below his nose. “Next, the sniff. Give the glass another swirl, then hover above it like a hummingbird hovers over a flower, and take a quick, silent sniff.”
She did, and a lovely scent of ripe berries and oak suffused her nose. But all these steps seemed like overkill. Would the Hill’s vampire vintners really care if she viewed the wine at three angles?
Finished with his sniff, he raised the glass to his lips and, with a nod, said, “Now you may sip.”
He took a drink from his glass—more than a sip—while she took a small one from hers and rolled the wine around on her tongue. Not bad. She picked up the bottle and examined the label—a Cabernet from a boutique winery named Vasquez Müller Wineries.
“If the Hill’s main economy is wine, why do you want our lab built there?” she asked, returning the bottle to its tray.
He reached for the map she’d left on the coffee table and pointed to a section highlighted in orange, a part of the town’s business district. “This area is undeveloped and still within the boundaries of Sierra Escondida, a prime spot.”
“The scientists who’ll work for us can’t live in—”
“They’ll live in the neighboring city of Mordida.”
She took a breath. Why build in the western foothills of Central California, an area without infrastructure or resources to support the kind of research facility she planned to build? Of all the treaty communities to choose from, Leopold had insisted their project must be located near Sierra Escondida.
“Okay,” she said, “so there’s space to build, but that doesn’t explain why you want it there. There are better locations near other established medical tech businesses—South San Francisco, for one. Many biotech firms have established there. We’ll have no problem luring top scientific talent to the area.”
“Too far from the San Francisco Lodge.”
“Then what about Austin, Texas?”
“Too crowded. The millennials have taken it over.”
“Eau Claire? Plenty of room to expand, and they’re offering investment incentives to new businesses.”
“Have you ever spent a winter in Wisconsin? Besides, it’s not even close to an existing treaty community. We’ve been through all this before, Cerissa. The lab needs to be near the Hill.”
Yes, she had heard it all before. And hearing it again for the umpteenth time, his explanation still sounded fishy to her. She suspected his reasons had more to do with New York losing the war forty-five years ago, not that he’d ever admit it.
As part of her envoy training, she’d learned that the war between North American vampires started with embargoes and travel restrictions in the 1950s. Then the Malibu Incident in the late sixties enflamed matters—a few East Coast residents ignored the travel restrictions because they wanted to night surf; the West Coast communities sent their remains back in boxes.
The vampire communities couldn’t conduct their war in public—not if they wanted to remain hidden—and their numbers had never been large. Plus, no one wanted to turn and then sacrifice a mate to the war. And if they hired mercenaries, they’d have to feed and house them later—after the war ended.
In a game of chess with no pawns to sacrifice, the leader of each community became the target, and assassination the goal. When the head of the New York Collective was killed, Leopold became their CEO and signed the North American Treaty.
He blamed Sierra Escondida for coercing him into doing so.
A momentary shudder went through Cerissa. What would Leopold think if he knew the Lux had engineered the events that led to his predecessor’s death?
She pushed the thought aside and took another sip of wine, returning to the key question: why did he really want her lab in Sierra Escondida? It put their project in his enemies’ backyard.
Leopold poured out the second trial wine and handed her the glass. She went through the same motions before taking a sip. As she did, Ari’s caution echoed in her mind: observe and report.
Leopold’s insistence on the location of the lab was a red flag if she’d ever seen one, one she’d report to Ari, but what to do about it? She had to go along with it to gain entry into their secret world. If she questioned his motives any further, he might get suspicious and cancel their project. She couldn’t risk it.
During the six months she was in training, she’d seen no real evidence that the vampire dominance movement existed, but she had heard a lot of grumbling about the treaty and the quality of banked blood.
The Lux had an old adage: With time, truth is revealed. She just hoped they had enough time to learn the truth.
Sierra Escondida police department—the next night
For close to seventy years, Tig Anderson had served as chief of police for Sierra Escondida.
Some nights, she wondered if it was worth it. Tonight looked like one of those nights.
On the corner of her desk sat a tall stack of binders. She reached for the next one and plopped it down, flipping to the Executive Summary. Another consultant who just didn’t get it. Town hall, including her office, would never be moved outside the walls of their gated community.
Yes, she’d read the legal arguments before—a government facility didn’t belong behind a wall, in a privately owned area. Yes, they should move town hall to the business district and merge it with the small annex of government offices currently there, so the general public would have free access to all town departments.
It will never happen. Not while Sierra Escondida hid a community of forty-two vampires and their mortal mates.
So why was she wasting her time reading another longwinded report on the subject, the page count clearly an attempt to justify the consultant’s fancy fee?
She let out a long exhale. Maybe it was time to move on. Even though she had the honor of being the first black police chief in California, anything seemed better than the administrative cesspool her job had become.
Yeah, first black female police chief, and the only vampire to hold the job. Of course, mortal police agencies didn’t know that last part. It took some occasional fast talking, but she’d become an expert at giving believable reasons for being absent during the day. Besides, no outside police agency ever questioned the old standby: “She’s in a meeting.”
She reached for the insulated tumbler on her desk and took a sip. The blood was so stale, it was hardly worth drinking. How could they call this “dark wine”? The name was an insult to the fine wines produced by Sierra Escondida’s vineyards. She returned the tumbler to its coaster and refocused on the consultant’s report—ruminating wouldn’t get it read.
Her cell phone rang. Yacov’s name popped up on the screen—one of the vampires who served on the homeowners’ board and had direct access to her private line. She gladly swiped “accept call.”
“Tig, I have a problem.”
Yeah, probably some touchy political situation—that, or someone’s cow had wandered into his yard again. She shoved her phone into the crook of her neck.
“What is it, Yacov?” she asked, trying not to sound bored. Out of habit, she glanced at the digital clock on her office wall: 8:01 p.m.
“Two shooters. I’m trapped in my car on Main Street, a mile past the gate.”
That got her attention. Before he finished speaking, she keyed the portable radio on her desk and called for backup. Rushing past the coat rack, she snagged her gun belt.
“Are you armed?” she asked him, still holding the phone to her ear.
“Leave the phone on. I’m on my way.”
She hit the door at full run and sprinted out into the dark night, reaching her police cruiser just as gunfire exploded over the phone. She clipped the phone to her belt, the car’s Bluetooth capturing the call, and then slapped the car’s siren switch on. The noise might scare off the shooters before they hurt Yacov.
“Do I have backup?” she yelled into the radio. She put the car in gear and sped down the two-lane road, the homes and vineyards along the road nothing but a blur.
“Four on the way,” the dispatcher responded.
“Jayden with them?” She could only hire mortals who knew about vampires, and Captain Jayden Johnson was the most qualified among them.
“Roger that, chief. Jayden and three reservists.”
In radio-speak, that meant three vampires.
The car’s insulation muffled the siren, but out of habit, she leaned toward the hands-free microphone. “Yacov, are you still there?”
No answer. Not good.
What was Yacov doing in the town’s business district tonight? He ran his diamond import company from home. So what was he doing outside the wall and in the public area?
Tig swerved. A car had pulled over to let her by. The gate stood open—the guards must have heard the siren. She raced into the business district.
The dashboard clock read 8:05 when she slammed on her brakes, stopping at an angle behind Yacov’s disabled Mercedes. His two flat tires faced her, the sidewalls chewed up, probably from gunfire. Shit. Fear for Yacov’s safety crawled through her belly. She killed the siren and cautiously inched out of the car, using the door as a shield to get the lay of the land.
She scanned wide, taking in the storefronts—all dark. The wineries and other tourist-oriented businesses were closed for the night. No sign of anyone moving, but plenty of places to hide.
One man lay sprawled on the sidewalk, shot through the forehead with his face pointing at the sky. She didn’t recognize him. No heartbeat audible, so probably dead. Another man hung halfway out the driver’s side of Yacov’s car. Most of the car’s side windows were shot out, the remaining glass held together like a fragile spider’s web. She approached with caution, trying to watch both Yacov and the nearby storefronts, her hands wrapped firmly around her Sig Sauer pistol. The smell of fresh blood tickled her nose. Her fangs extended reflexively, and she forced them back in. Now was not the time to lose focus.
Yacov sat in the driver’s seat, leaning back against the leather upholstery, his eyes closed. The man hanging halfway out of the open door lay across Yacov’s lap. Yacov’s arms wrapped around him in a loverlike embrace, and the man’s head lolled to one side. Multiple rows of fang marks gouged the man’s neck—he must have struggled against Yacov’s bite.
She detected the sound of one beating heart. No blood flowed from the man’s mangled throat, so the heartbeat must belong to Yacov. Some of the tension eased from her body, and she scanned the street again. Nobody on foot, but she caught the sound of cars fast approaching, and spun around. Two police SUVs skidded to a halt and blocked the street at an angle, forming a defensive perimeter.
With reinforcements guarding her back, she holstered her gun, reached in, and pulled out the dead body, depositing it on the pavement—another stranger. She bet the body would stay dead where she dropped it. Yacov would never have given the attacker his blood, and it took both vampire blood and the venom in a vampire’s fangs to turn a mortal vampire.
She offered her hand to Yacov and helped him stand. He seemed all right, aside from some cuts inflicted by the broken glass, but those would heal quickly. Good. She didn’t want to consider the consequences if he’d been killed.
Yacov still gripped his gun. She pulled a plastic evidence bag from her back pocket, where she always kept one or two, and threaded it over the barrel. She held the bag with one hand and gently pried the gun loose from Yacov’s fingers with the other. From the look in his eyes, he wasn’t ready to talk—still too dazed from gorging on a body’s worth of blood.
Turning to the arriving officers, she barked out instructions. “There may be others. Liza, Zeke—take the north side. Rolf—take the south. Go.”
Give her just one live perp and she would have the truth by sunrise.
She searched the dead bodies. No form of identification. “No car keys,” she called out. “Be careful. They hid the keys or someone drove them here. That someone may be nearby.”
Jayden arrived in the crime scene van and she signaled for him to join her. He placed his kit on the ground next to Yacov’s car.
“ID first,” she said. He took out an electronic fingerprint scanner, printed the two dead men, and then handed the scanner to her. Seconds later, a ding told her they had a match. The names of two known felons appeared on the screen. She returned the scanner to him, pulled on gloves, and picked up the gun near a dead shooter.
Yacov still leaned against his car. A small amount of blood clung to his unruly brown beard and his olive-toned skin looked rosy. At the sound of her approach, he opened his eyes. “Tig, my friend, I had no choice. They tried to kill me, I swear.” He inclined his head toward the nearest dead man. “I don’t know why. I’ve never met them before.”
“Do you recognize their names—Anthony Luzzari and Rocco Giordano?”
He shook his head, rubbing his eyes with the palms of his hands.
She unclipped her phone and started the built-in audio recorder, letting Yacov see what she was doing. He nodded his consent, and she slipped the phone into her shirt pocket so she wouldn’t have to hold it. “Tell me what happened.”
“I was on my way to Los Angeles. A new shipment of diamonds to cut.”
“Were you carrying any?”
“Not this time. The raw diamonds are at the wholesalers.”
So he did carry diamonds sometimes. She’d heard rumors, but never confirmed them. “Continue,” she said.
“What’s to tell? A loud bang and my car dropped in the back. I thought I’d blown a tire.” He shrugged, looking sheepish. “The second bang—I realized it was gunfire. With two tires gone, I stopped the car and ducked down.”
Lucky for him he drove an older-model Mercedes with bench-style seats—no tall center console, so he could get below the window line.
“I grabbed my gun from the glove box and called you. Bluetooth,” he said, tapping his old-fashioned earpiece. He paused, looking down. “They may have wanted me alive.”
“What makes you say that?”
“Well, either that, or they were stupid.” He tugged at the end of his long beard, twining and untwining his finger in the ragged ends. “They approached from behind, one on each side, shooting out the windows. Then they stopped.”
She saw Yacov’s point. Why stop shooting? They had him cornered.
“I heard footsteps,” Yacov continued, “and the sound of a heart beating louder as it came closer. I took the chance. I sat up and shot him.”
“The man on the sidewalk?”
“That’s right. Then the other man opened my door. No one told him how fast we can move.” He chuckled and released his beard. “I grabbed his gun and pulled him in. You know the rest.”
His story matched what Tig’s eyes told her. The council would probably clear him of any wrongdoing for draining his attacker. Self-defense and heat of the moment—even an older vampire like Yacov, amped up on adrenaline from the attack, couldn’t stop a feeding frenzy.
“Has anyone threatened you?” she asked.
“No. No one. And it makes no sense. Why attack me while I’m driving? Why not wait until I’m alone and not in public?” He gestured while he spoke, his whole body taking on the appearance of a question mark.
She ejected the clip from the gun the assailant used. “Silver,” she said, running her finger along the half-full cartridge and feeling the telltale burning sensation through her glove. “How did they know to use it?”
“I have no idea, my friend.”
She shoved the clip back into the gun and dropped it into another plastic bag. “A business dispute?”
“I’m on good terms with the diamond merchants I cut for. Besides, they wouldn’t know to use silver. They don’t know what I am.”
“What about ex-lovers?”
“None who want me dead. Besides, I’ve been with my wife for ten years. I’m a faithful husband, Tig.”
She kept her eyes locked on his. “You have no idea why they attacked you?”
“Believe me, I wish I knew.”
“Anyone know your travel plans?”
“Only about half our community, as well as the community in the Fairfax District—I was going to stay with them.”
That didn’t narrow it down much. “I’ll need their names and contact information.”
“Of course, of course. I’ll email it to you later.”
She clasped his shoulder. “I’m glad you’re unharmed,” she said, releasing him. “One of my officers will drive you home.” She motioned to Zeke.
Yacov waved him off. “I’d rather walk.”
She got it—he wanted to walk off the effects of the kill before his wife saw him. It wouldn’t do for him to arrive home with blood in his beard, mortals didn’t always understand that sort of thing, and she touched the corner of her own mouth before pointing to his. He caught the message and wiped his beard clean.
“When we’re done with your car, we’ll have it delivered to your house,” she told him.
He nodded, and she watched him hike back to the guard gate. One of their own kind was behind this, or word of their existence had finally escaped to the world beyond their walls. To date, none had figured out the true nature of Sierra Escondida, although other vampire communities had been attacked by self-proclaimed hunters of her people.
“Fucking bigots,” she mumbled. She said nothing of her suspicions when her officers returned empty-handed. Better to keep her mouth shut until she had an idea of who or what was behind this.