I squinted, trying to make sense of it. Greg's body had continued to release its magic even after his death and the scanner recorded it as a sloping gray line, sometimes an inch wide, sometimes almost invisible. The deep jagged purple cutting across it had to be the vampire's magic. I looked harder. There was a third line, actually a series of lines, faint and dashing at irregular intervals through the reading. The longest was about a quarter of an inch long and the color was undeterminable. I raised the graph so the light of the ceiling bulb shone through it. The ink stood out. Yellow. What the hell registered yellow?

I tugged at the graph, tearing it along the perforated lines and slid it into my folder. Julianne returned shortly. "Nobody there. Well, I'll leave you to it."

She took the binder and walked out, leaving me with the vampire's corpse. I slipped on a pair of medical gloves and approached the body. The placement of brands depended on the personality of the Master of the Dead. Phillian marked his with a big Eye of Horns smack in the middle of the forehead. Constance marked hers in the left armpit. Since the forehead on this one was conveniently missing, it could have belonged to Phillian. Theoretically. I set about finding the brand.

The armpits were clean, so was the chest, the spine, the back, the buttocks, the inside of the thighs and ankles. The only place remaining was the scrotum, so I spread the vampire's legs. The testicles diminished immediately after the human's death and continued to shrink during the vampire's life. There was a whole study on dating the bloodsuckers based on the size of the reproductive organs. I didn't care how old this one was, but judging by the signs he had to be pushing fifty. And he was clean. No brand. There was a scar, however, cleaving the scrotum at the base on the left side. It looked like it had been stitched together.

A quick glance about told me I would find no scalpel in this room. I took Slayer from its sheath. It smoked, sensing the undead. Thin tendrils of pale haze curved from the blade.

"Don't start dripping," I murmured and pressed the very tip of the edge against the scar.

The undead tissue hissed as the blade sank into the flesh. I let it cut about a quarter of an inch and withdrew the saber, leaving a neat incision. Taking the flap of the skin, I pulled on it lightly, and it came away from the groin, revealing a smooth burn scar about an inch wide and three quarters of an inch long. In the middle of the burned scar sat a neat scorch mark, an arrow tipped with a circle instead of an arrowhead. Ghastek's brand. Why wasn't I surprised?

"You do know there are penalties for mutilating corpses?" said a male voice.

I spun around, blade in my hand. A tall man stood leaning against the doorway. He wore scrubs, which meant he had more right to be here than I did.

"Watch out there," he said.

"Sorry," I lowered the saber. "I don't like being startled."

"Neither do I. Except by young attractive women." He looked to be in his mid-thirties. The colored stripe on his shoulder shone bright orange. Third-level clearance. The tag clipped to his suit confirmed it: I'd gotten a bloody unit supervisor.

A unit supervisor could make a person non grata in the morgue faster than I could blink.

The man waited until I finished staring at his tag and held out his left hand. "My name's Crest."

I peeled off my left glove without putting down Slayer and shook his hand. "Kate. Is there a first name that goes with Crest?"

"Yes, but I don't like it."

A funny guy. Perhaps I would get away without a black eye for dicing a corpse.

"It's a vampire," I said. "I was looking for the brand."

"Find it?"

"Yes."

He approached the table to examine my handiwork. I moved to stand across from him. Dr. Crest was actually on the appealing side. Auburn-haired, tall, and quite muscular, judging by the forearms. A pleasant face, open and honest, with large, well-defined features and nice eyes, honey brown and warm. The full mouth was downright sensuous. Attractive fellow, not strictly handsome in a classical sense, but still... He looked up from the body, smiled, and became handsome.

I smiled back, trying to radiate integrity and decency of character. That's right, I'll be very nice to you, sir, just please don't bar me from the morgue.

"Interesting," he said. "I've never seen one concealed in this way."

"Neither have I."

"You see a lot of vampires in your line of work?"

"Unfortunately."

I caught him glancing at me and he lowered his gaze back to the body.

"Dr. Crest?"

He blinked. "Yes?"

"Do I need to let Julianne know about the brand?" It was the least I could do.

"No. I can tell her myself if you have to run."

A little warning bell went off in my head. The good doctor was a little too accommodating. I would have to make sure that Julianne got my message.

Crest was frowning at the corpse. "A devious place to put a brand."

Ghastek was a devious fellow. "Indeed."

Another pause issued. "Let me walk you upstairs," he said.

How charming. He was trying to make sure that I didn't go on a mutilating rampage. I gave him my knockout smile. "Sure."

He didn't look dazzled. Damn it, that's the second time today my smile had misfired.

We left, walking side by side. I waited while he locked the grate behind us. "So what do you do here, Dr. Crest?"

He grimaced. "I suppose one can call it charity work."

I made the appropriate noise, "Charity?"

"Yes. I perform reconstructive surgery." He glanced at me as if afraid I would demand a nose job. "I make corpses presentable. Not everyone can afford it, so twice a week I do it here pro bono."

I nodded.

"It's kids mostly," he said. "Torn up and mauled. Not a pretty sight. Such a waste."

We reached the upper floor. He waited while I checked out with the clerk and wrote down Julianne's number, and then walked me to the door.

"So I'll see you again sometime?" he said.

"Hopefully not on the operating table," I said and left the building. As I walked away to where Karmelion waited for me, I could feel Crest watching my back.

A man was leaning against my truck. He wore a dark' gray shirt, black jeans, tucked in soft boots, and a black cloak that wanted very much to be a cape. While I was in the morgue, the sun had broken through the clouds, flooding the streets with sunshine. He seemed to shrug off the sun's rays - not a man, but a rectangle of darkness cut in the shroud of sunlight.


Tags: Ilona Andrews Kate Daniels Vampires
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