Landon locked the door as soon as Miguel pulled it shut. He leaned back against it, closing his eyes as he tried to stop his heart from bursting. Investigating the likelihood of Eliseo’s mother creating a psychic with Miguel was not his best laid plan, that was for damn sure. Christ, he had almost blurted out he liked the man before he even had the chance to put his shoes on. How the hell was he supposed to survive an entire monster hunt without saying anything?
He forced his eyes open and looked down at his phone. Desire for Miguel or not, he had a job to do. He’d been a chicken shit about his feelings for Miguel the whole time he’d known the man. Surely he could continue to chicken out for the duration of a monster hunting expedition. He was totally more than capable of that.
He lifted his eyes to Eliseo’s face. “What’s up, bud?”
“Are you thinking about how you want to kiss my daddy?”
Landon scoffed. “Get outta my head, twerp.”
The boy only smiled. “Are you really gonna chicken out forever?”
“I don’t know. I hope not.” Landon laid his free hand on Eliseo’s back and steered him to the living room. “I like your dad. He’s a good guy. But I also like this job. I enjoy babysitting you, and I don’t want to risk losing that because your dad doesn’t like me.”
“He doesn’t like you?” Eliseo asked.
“I… I don’t know. I wish I knew, but I can’t really do the whole mind reading thing,” Landon said. He lifted Eliseo onto the couch and sat down beside him. “Your dad doesn’t have to like me just because I like him. So there’s always a chance he won’t like me back, and then things’ll be awkward, and he probably won’t have me around for babysitting anymore.”
Landon nodded. “Yeah, I’m not a fan of it, either.” He elbowed the boy in the side. “Who’d be my best little psychic friend then?”
Eliseo offered a small smile before it faded away. “I didn’t wanna worry Daddy before he left.”
Landon’s shoulders sank. He set his phone on the end table before turning to face Eliseo. “What happened?”
“I had another bad dream. Not… as scary as yesterday, but still kinda scary. Father Whipper didn’t know I was there this time, so it wasn’t as bad.”
“I’m glad it wasn’t as bad, but I’m sorry it was still scary.” Landon reached out and gave the boy’s arm a comforting squeeze. “When happened in the bad dream?”
“He was out in the woods, I think. It was dark, and there were a lot of trees. He was humming and putting something into a barrel.” Eliseo’s gaze fell to the floor. “Someone.”
Landon’s heart skipped a beat. “I-I’m sorry you had to see that.”
“They were alive,” Eliseo said, looking back at Landon. “They were yelling and screaming, asking him to please stop. But they were alive.” Before Landon could work up a response, Eliseo grabbed his arm with both of his little hands. “Are my dreams real?”
“I’ll know if you’re lying to me.”
“You… you should talk to your dad about that, Eliseo. I’m willing to talk about a lot of things and answer a lot of questions, but that’s one I shouldn’t answer without talking to your dad first.”
“So… yes, they’re real.”
Landon shook his head. “That’s not what I said. There are just things I don’t want to take away from your dad. Like, your dad’s really good at sports, so if you asked me to teach you how to play baseball, I’d only do it with permission from your dad because I wouldn’t want to take away his ability to be the one to teach you.”
After a moment, Eliseo nodded. “Okay. I’ll talk to Daddy, then.”
“Okay,” Landon whispered with a short nod.
Eliseo scooted closer to him and leaned into his side, hugging his lamb toy to his chest. Landon wrapped an arm around the boy’s shoulders, letting out a relieved breath. The last thing he needed was to get in trouble for telling Eliseo that, yes, his friends were being hunted by a monster, and yes, the monster was very, very real. That was Miguel’s job.
He looked back down at his phone and opened up his text message thread with Nora.
Landon: I told Miguel about the Reaper thing.
Nora: And? How’d he react?
Landon: Better than I thought possible for someone… normal. I told him we need to see if the Reaper in this area is dead.
Nora: Do you want his number, or do you want me to arrange for him to meet you two somewhere?
Landon: Umm I’m NOT going to text the devil. You do it
Nora: Okay. Let me know when works best for you and Miguel and I’ll see what I can do.
Landon: Thank you
Nora: Of course. I’m all for taking down a monster that’s killing kids.
Landon glanced down at Eliseo before sending back a quick, ‘Me too’. He wanted nothing more than to guarantee Eliseo’s safety against at least one danger in the world, and with Lucifer’s help, he and Miguel would be able to do just that.
Miguel made it back to his desk without too much trouble. When you were the detective working the brutal murder of a three-year-old, most of the officers kept their heads down and avoided talking to you. Miguel was more than okay with that. He didn’t know how many more smiles he could fake or how many chats by the coffee maker he could take. He just wanted to get in, get Bo’s report, and then leave. Nothing more, nothing less.
He sorted through the papers on his desk twice, coming up empty on anything from Bo both times.
Letting out a harsh breath, Miguel closed his eyes. Maybe Bo hadn’t finished it yet. Or maybe there was something the analyst wanted to talk about. Miguel prayed for the first option and forced his eyes open. “In and out,” he whispered, pushing himself away from his desk.
He found the lab empty, but a folder sat on the table, ‘Pareja’ written on the sticky note stuck to the top of it. The smallest smile came to his face as he grabbed the folder. If nothing else, he had the report. No matter how successful or unsuccessful he and Landon’s investigation of the day was, at least he could officially say something had gone right.
“I watched the security tapes from the butcher shop this morning.”
Miguel flinched before turning around to face Bo. The blonde stood in the doorway of the lab, hands tucked behind his back. “Why?”
“I had already finished the report, but I still didn’t have a good picture of what happened,” Bo said quietly. “You’ve watched them?”
“And… you’re the only one who’s been inside that shop for more than a couple seconds?”
Miguel wasn’t sure where Bo was going, but he was pretty sure he didn’t like it. “That’s right.”
Bo nodded, taking a small step forward. “You and I both know it would have been impossible for a human being to get into and out of that room without at least a hand or shoulder being seen on camera, even if only for a split second.”
“I’ve seen stranger things in investigations than that. Cameras stop working, recordings stop saving to the DVR. Files get corrupted.”
Bo shook his head. “I watched the timestamps. Not a moment was skipped.” He nodded toward the file in Miguel’s hands. “The average height of a U.S. male is approximately five-foot-nine. Your killer is seven feet tall.” He lifted his shoulders. “Now, I’m not saying that no human being has ever been seven feet tall, but I am saying that you’d probably know about them. This is a relatively small town. Unless this killer came from somewhere else simply to murder children in a butcher shop, I think you’d know them.”
Miguel cleared his throat. “I don’t know what your angle is, Mister Austen, but I’ve got a case to work.”
Bo glanced up at the ceiling before letting out a breath. “I’m an open-minded person. So when you find the thing that did this… you’ll have an open case file for the rest of eternity. Once the thing is dead, if you need a warm body in a prison cell,”—he held out a business card—“Jamal can help.”
Miguel took the card from him. Bo turned around and walked out of the room without another word. “What the fuck,” Miguel whispered. Was he the only damn person in the world who hadn’t known monsters were real?
He shook his head and looked down at the card in his hand. Rather than an actual business card, it was a small notecard. Neat cursive handwriting filled the card, but it wasn’t anything more than Jamal’s name, a phone number, and instructions to call from a cheap prepaid phone.
Miguel wasn’t really sure how much he trusted Pitman, but he’d keep the card, if nothing else. Landon knew more about monster hunting than he did. If they needed someone in a prison jail, surely Landon would know.
Miguel barely made it into his car before his phone rang. Pulling the damn thing from his pocket, he couldn’t even begin to describe the wash of relief that rolled over him at the sight of Landon’s name on his screen.
“Hey. Are you still at the station?”
“Yeah. Just got into the car. Everything okay?”
“Oh, yeah. Everything’s fine. Just wanted to make sure you didn’t get caught up or anything.” Landon cleared his throat. “I talked to Nora. She said she’ll set up a meeting with Lucy for us. She just needs to know what day, time, and place works best for us.”
Miguel set his phone in the cup holder in the side of his door. “Does the devil really let you call him that?”
“All the time.”
“Your family is… wild, Landon.”
The younger man let out a little soul-warming chuckle. “That’s one word for it.” A pause. “Did you get what you needed?”
“Yeah. But, uh… speaking of that. Am I the only damn person in the whole world that didn’t know monsters were real?”
“No. People who know about it are definitely the minority in the whole deal. Why?”
“The forensic analyst we had to bring in for this case came into the lab, told me we both know I’m hunting something rather than someone, and told me to call Jamal Pitman after the thing’s dead in case I need a warm body in a prison cell to close the case.”
“I… think Nora’s worked with him a time or two. Pitman, not the analyst. I don’t know how much he knows about the supernatural aspect of things, but, umm… he’d probably do just about anything if Nora called in a favor. He takes care of his own.”
Miguel’s brow furrowed. “Your sister is one of Pitman’s?”
“In which way?”
“I still think it’s best if I don’t answer that,” Landon said quietly.
“Landon, if I’m going to let your sister around my boy, I need to know what kind of person she is. Not all siblings are cut from the same cloth, you know?”
“Nora’s one of the best people I know. She’s strong and generous and smart as hell. But for a while, she worked with the mob. End of story.”
Miguel blew out a harsh breath. “What’d she do for them?”
“End of story,” Landon repeated. “What Nora did or didn’t do is the reason she and I are alive today. It’s the reason we didn’t go into foster care or starve to death. I’ve never asked what she did for them, and I don’t care to. I never will. I beg that you don’t care, either.”
“Okay,” Miguel said, his voice a hell of a lot softer than he had expected it to be. Of course, his lack of ability to ignore Landon’s best wishes probably had something to do with his crush on the man, a word he hated but an accurate one, nonetheless. “So… these people who do what your sister does. The hunting thing. What do they do once they kill the thing? That case remains open forever. The analyst is right about that.”
“Well, most hunters aren’t cops. They travel the country–sometimes the world–to kill these things. The open case it leaves behind isn’t their problem.”
“And the cops don’t know about the supernatural suspect for the case?”
“Jesus. Do you know what that would do to a department if the case was heavily reported in the news? Like… like Son of Sam. You’d have to fire the damn detective working the case just to please the public.”
“I know it’s not ideal, but the other option is trying to convince every cop in a department–the ones that matter to the case, anyway–that the supernatural isn’t just a fairytale. That’s a good way to get yourself marked as a crazy person in at least part of the country or part of a state. If people think you’re crazy, you can’t do your job. You can’t… you can’t kill the things that hide in the shadows.”
“I guess you’re… probably right.” Miguel sighed. “I’ll be home soon. Just gotta stop for breakfast. And then we can see what you and I can figure out about this fucker while Eliseo’s busy watching cartoons. Sound good?”
“Sounds good to me. We’ll be here when you get back.”
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