“It was a woman,” Ivera said.

I glanced at Juke. She raised her arms. “Don’t look at me. I only saw him from the side. Looked like a man to me.”

“Ken?”

The mage folded his long fingers in front of him, pondered them for a long moment, and met my gaze. “I don’t know.”

I rubbed my face. Eyewitness accounts were supposed to narrow the pool of suspects, not make it wider.

“Thanks,” I said, snapping my notepad closed. I had taken to carrying it, because it was necessary. It made me feel stupid. I could duck in a room for half a second and tell you how many people were in it, which of them were a threat, and what weapons they carried. But when it came to interviewing witnesses, if I didn’t write it down, it was gone in a couple of hours. Gene, a knight-inquisitor with the Order and a former Georgia Bureau of Investigations detective, whom I strove to emulate because he knew what he was doing and I didn’t, could listen to a witness or a suspect once and recall what they said with perfect accuracy. But I had to write it down. It made me feel like I had a hole in my head.

It was time to wrap it up. “On behalf of the Order, I appreciate your cooperation and all that.”

Juke gave me the evil eye. She was trying hard for an early version of me, but although Juke was good, by her age I had already dropped out of the Order’s Academy. I’d eat Juke for breakfast, and she knew it, but kept at it anyway.

“So you’re in the big leagues now. Investigating for the Order and all that. I feel like bowing or something.”

I fixed her with my little deranged smile. “Bowing not necessary. Don’t leave town.”

Juke’s eyes went wide. “Why? Are we under arrest and shit?”

I kept smiling. We stared at each other for a long moment and Juke glanced into her cup before tipping it down to her mouth. “Screw you!”

“Now come on, sugar, you know I don’t swing that way.”

“Whatever!”

Curran’s alpha-staring habits must’ve rubbed off on me. Curran. Of all the people, why did I think of him? It’s like I couldn’t shrug him off.

“It comes,” Ivera murmured.

Mark trotted through the crowd toward me, looking well put together in a navy business suit.

The Four Horsemen glowered in unison.

Mark had a last name, but nobody remembered it. When someone condescended to add some moniker to his first name, it was usually “corporate asshole” or “that bastard,” and if the speaker was particularly displeased,

“massa.” At least he got to keep one name, unlike the Clerk.

Officially the Guild’s secretary, Mark was more of an operations manager than an admin. Solomon Red had created the Guild and earned the lion’s share of its profits, but it was Mark who solved day-to-day problems and the way he went about that didn’t make him any friends. The universe created him with his “understanding”

setting stuck permanently on zero. No emergency or tragedy, real or fabricated, made a dent in his armor as he raced to a better bottom line.

Part of it was his appearance, too. His skin was unstained by the sun and probably generously moisturized. His toned body marked him as a well-off man who paid attention to his appearance, rather than a fighter who used his body to make a living. His face was meticulously groomed. In a crowd of blue-collar thugs, he stood out like a prissy lily in a flower bed full of weeds, and he broadcasted “I’m better than you” loud and clear.

He came to an abrupt stop in front of me. “Kate, I need to talk to you.”

“Is this regarding Solomon’s death?”

He grimaced. “It’s regarding its consequences.”

“If it doesn’t directly relate to the investigation, it will have to wait.”

Bob narrowed his eyes. “Moving fast, are you, Mark? Wasting no time.”

Mark ignored him. “Do I have to make an appointment?”

“Yes. Give the Order a call tomorrow and they’ll make sure to coordinate something with you.” I headed toward the stairs to examine Solomon’s quarters.

Behind me, Bob said, “Tomorrow the front page of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution will be screaming all about how Solomon Red voided his bowels and then his mercs had to chase the puddle of his blood and shit across the floor. Shouldn’t you get on that?”

“Mind your own business, and I’ll mind mine,” Mark said.

Solomon’s death created a power vacuum. Something had to fill it and they were already drawing the battle lines. They could draw all they wanted. You couldn’t pay me to get involved in it.

I walked up the stairs, past a desiccated Solomon. The Guild leader sagged on the spear shaft, reduced to a sack of dried-out skin over the skeletal frame. The man who’d built himself into a living legend had died with great indignity. The universe had a razor-sharp sense of humor.

The Biohazard team was filing out without Solomon. All of the disease had ended up in the puddle, which Biohazard took into custody. Solomon’s corpse was now a mere inert shell. Mark must’ve convinced them to let the Guild have the body for burial.

I climbed up to the third floor and entered the internal stair leading to Solomon’s quarters. A variety of weapons decorated the walls: bearded axes, slick Japanese blades, simple elegant European swords, modern tactical weapons . . . I came to an empty space between two bare iron hooks. Just large enough for a spear. My hope that the spear in Solomon’s neck belonged to the Steel Mary just went up in flames.

He could have anything he wanted, but he chose the spear. Why a spear?

The stairs led me to a hallway bordered by a balcony. Four floors below, in the main hallway, mercs mulled about, still shell-shocked. The front door of Solomon’s quarters hung ajar, its left side splintered. The Steel Mary must have shattered the wood around the lock with a single kick.

I stepped inside. Barren walls greeted me. No paintings broke up the malachite green paint. The plain, almost crude furniture supported no knickknacks. No photographs on the mantel over the small fireplace. No magazines on the coffee table. No books. The place resembled a hotel room awaiting a guest, instead of lived-in quarters.

I stepped through to the left into the bedroom. A simple bed, a simple desk with a flurry of papers. Chair overturned on the floor. Solomon must’ve been sitting here when the Steel Mary broke in.

A tape recorder lay on the desk. I picked it up and pushed play.

“Seven lines down. Sign,” Mark’s voice said. “Count three pages. Page six. Count three lines from the bottom of the page. Sign.”


Tags: Ilona Andrews Kate Daniels Vampires
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