“Hey there,” I said with a friendly smile. “Need a hand?”
“Oh yes, please!” the woman cried, a southern twang evident in her voice as she flashed me a grateful, if harried, smile. She looked to be in her thirties, wearing a plain white tee shirt and faded jeans, and her dark brown hair was pulled back into a messy bun that was halfway unraveled by the wind. Frustration sparked in her brown eyes as she glared at the wrench, which didn’t seem to be cooperating with her efforts to unscrew the bolts on the tire. “I know I should be able to use a wrench at my age, but I can’t get this to work.”
“No worries,” I said, kneeling beside her. “I’ve changed a few of these in my time.” I took the wrench from her, then set to work on the first rusty bolt. “Oof,” I grunted. “No wonder you’re having trouble. This thing doesn’t want to give.”
Truthfully, it wasn’t hard to remove the bolts, even if they were rusty, but I played it up because I could tell she was embarrassed that another woman, a younger woman, was doing this for her. As a cop, I was pretty good at reading emotions, and I could tell by the strain behind her smile and the way she fidgeted that she was a little uncomfortable about the situation. Judging by the lack of a ring on her finger and the fresh-looking Salem High School bumper sticker on the back of her car, I figured she was a single mother, and likely prided herself on being independent.
“So, you’re from Salem, are you?” I asked.
“Not a native, but I’ve lived there a few years now.” The woman relaxed a little, comfortable with the idea of conversing over sitting around and watching me work. “It’s a nice town.”
“That’s great to hear. I’m actually moving there.”
“Are you really?” The woman’s tone became friendlier. “Where from?”
I opened my mouth to answer, but just as I touched the final bolt, a flash came to me. Suddenly, I was crouched in a driveway on a moonlight night, watching the woman fight with a man.
“You’re not leaving me, Shelley!” the man shouted. Both of the woman’s arms were caught up tightly in his meaty fists, and their wedding rings flashed in the moonlight.
“Yes, I am!” The woman struggled against his grip. Her dark hair whipped to the side, revealing a black eye and bruising on her cheekbone. “I’m taking Jason, and we’re leaving! I can’t deal with this anymore!”
“Like hell you are!” The man let go of one of her wrists, and the woman cried out as he punched her in the face. There was a loud crunch as her nose broke. “The only way you’re leaving me is in a body bag, bitch.”
“Are you okay?”
I blinked as the scene fell away, Shelley’s voice drawing me back to the real world. Turning my head, I looked into dark brown eyes that were round with concern.
“Yeah, I’m fine, sorry.” I wiped a hand across my face, then cursed inwardly as black grime from my fingers streaked across my nose. “I’m just really tired from all the driving.”
“Oh, I’m sure you are.” Shelley laughed, perhaps at the scrunched up look on my face, then stood. “Here, let me get you some of Tyler’s baby-wipes from the car.”
While she rummaged in the back seat for baby wipes, I finished changing the tire. Judging by the fussy baby sounds and mommy’s subsequent cooing, Tyler must have been the owner of that car seat. By the time she calmed him down and retrieved the wipes, I was done with the tire.
“Thanks so much,” she said as I stood. “I really don’t know what I would have done without you.”
“No problem.” I smiled, reaching for the baby wipes in her hand. The silver ring on her middle finger brushed my skin, and I stiffened as another vision swept over me, this one of a shadowy figure with glowing red eyes standing in a darkened alley. He opened his mouth, and I caught a flash of white fang.
“Are you sure you’re all right?” Shelley asked, breaking through the vision. “Maybe you should sleep for a few hours.”
“No, no, I’m fine.” I shook my head to clear it, then took the wipe and cleaned my face and then my hands. “I’ve got coffee in the car.” I hesitated, then decided to go for it. “I should have introduced myself. My name is Brooke Chandler, and I’m the new detective in Salem. If you ever need any help, please don’t hesitate to come to me.”
Her eyes widened. “I’m Shelley Williams, and I appreciate the offer. That’d be great.”
I scribbled my address on a diner-quality napkin she dug from her purse, then pressed it into her hand. She bit her lip, and by the glimmer in her eyes, I could tell she was considering whether to tell me about her troubles. But in the end, she only smiled. “Maybe I’ll come by with cookies some time.”
“You’re more than welcome to. Have a nice day.”
But as I walked back to my car, I wasn’t thinking about cookies. I was thinking about vampires. And about how nice it was that I’d chosen to pack my wooden stake bullets after all.
Fuck going down to the station, I thought, collapsing onto my bed with a groan.
By the time I’d finished unpacking, I was so exhausted I barely had the strength to pull my cellphone out of my jean pocket and order pizza. The long drive, plus my lack of sleep, had well and truly tuckered me out.
Thank God I’ve got a place to live, I told myself as I stared up at the peeling paint on the popcorn ceiling of my new bedroom. The walls weren’t a hell of a lot better, and the linoleum in the kitchen needed redoing, but I couldn’t really complain since this wasn’t my apartment.
Since I wasn’t staying in Salem permanently, I’d chosen to sublet a rental on Airbnb instead of paying through the nose for a motel room for who knew how long. The peeling paint and outdated kitchen was what I got for going cheap, and truthfully, it wasn’t as if I needed fancy digs. I wasn’t planning on spending a lot of time in the apartment, and as soon as I accomplished what I came here for, I was going back home.
I probably would have stared up at the ceiling all night if the pizza delivery guy hadn’t decided to lean on my doorbell. If not for the smell of hot mozzarella and yeast, I might have let him stand out there all evening, but the allure of thin-crust, tomato-basil pizza pulled me from the bed and into the living room.