“Nice to meet you,” I said. I took a few steps forward, until I was standing in the space between the partitions and could see what they had hidden before. A narrow hallway stretched out in front of me. It was lined with rooms on either side. Each room had only three walls.
Immediately to my left, I found Sloane standing in the middle of what appeared to be a bathroom. There was a door on the far side, and I realized that the space looked exactly the way a bathroom would if someone had removed the back wall.
“Like a movie set,” I murmured. There was glass all over the floor, and at least a hundred Post-it notes stuck to the edge of the sink and scattered in a spiral pattern on the tiles. I glanced back down the hallway at the other rooms. The other sets.
“Potential crime scene,” Lia corrected. “For simulations. On this side”—Lia posed like a game show assistant—“we have interior locations: bathrooms, bedrooms, kitchens, foyers. A couple of miniature—and I do mean miniature—restaurant sets, and, just because we really are that cliché, a mock post office, for all your going postal needs.”
Lia pivoted and gestured toward the other side of the hall. “And over here,” she said, “we have a few outdoor scenes: park, parking lot, make-out point.”
I turned back to the bathroom set and Sloane. She knelt gingerly next to the shards of glass on the floor and stared at them. Her face was calm. Her fingers hovered just over the carnage.
After a long moment, she blinked and stood up. “Your hair is red.”
“Yes,” I said. “It is.”
“People with red hair require roughly twenty percent more anesthesia to undergo surgery, and they’re significantly more likely to wake up on the table.”
I got the distinct feeling that this was Sloane’s version of “hello,” and suddenly, everything clicked into place: the prevalence of patterns in her wardrobe, the precision with which she’d divided our closet in two. “Agent Briggs said that someone here was a Natural with numbers and probabilities.”
“Sloane’s absolutely dangerous with anything numerical,” Lia said. She gestured lazily toward the glass shards. “Sometimes literally.”
“It was just a test,” Sloane said defensively. “The algorithm that predicts the scatter pattern of the shards is really quite—”
“Fascinating?” a voice behind us suggested. Lia dragged one long, manicured nail over her bottom lip. I turned around.
Michael smiled. “You should see her when she’s had caffeine,” he told me, nodding at Sloane.
“Michael,” Sloane said darkly, “hides the coffee.”
“Trust me,” Michael drawled, “it’s a kindness to us all.” He paused and then gave me a long, slow smile. “These two have you nice and traumatized yet, Colorado?”
I processed the fact that he’d just given me a nickname, and Lia stepped in between us. “Traumatized?” she repeated. “It’s almost like you don’t trust me, Michael.” Her eyes widened and her lower lip poked out.
Michael snorted. “Wonder why.”
An emotion reader, a deception specialist, a statistician who could not be allowed to ingest coffee, and me.
“Is this it?” I asked. “Just the four of us?”
Hadn’t Lia mentioned someone else?
Michael’s eyes darkened. Lia’s mouth curved slowly into a smile.
“Well,” Sloane said brightly, completely unaware of the changing undercurrent in the room. “There’s also Dean.”
We found Dean in the garage. He was lying on a black bench, facing away from the door. Dark blond hair was plastered to his face with sweat, his jaw clenched as he executed a series of slow and methodical bench presses. Each time his elbows locked, I wondered if he’d stop. Each time, he kept going.
He was muscular but lean, and my first impression was that this wasn’t a workout. This was punishment.
Michael rolled his eyes and then strolled up behind Dean. “Ninety-eight,” he said, his tone full of mock pain. “Ninety-nine. One hundred!”
Dean closed his eyes for a brief moment, then pushed the barbell up again. His arms shook slightly as he went to set the weight down. Michael clearly had no intention of spotting him. To my surprise, Sloane pushed past Michael, wrapped dainty little hands around the barbell, and rocked back on her heels, angling it into place.
Dean wiped his hands on his jeans, grabbed a nearby towel, and sat up. “Thanks,” he told Sloane.
“Torque,” she said, instead of you’re welcome. “The role of the lever was played by my arms.”
Dean stood up, his lips angling slightly upward, but the moment he saw me, the fledgling smile froze on his face.
“Dean Redding,” Michael said, enjoying Dean’s sudden obvious discomfort a little too much, “meet Cassie Hobbes.”
“Nice to meet you,” Dean said, pulling dark eyes from mine and directing those words at the floor.
Lia, who’d been remarkably quiet up to this point, raised an eyebrow at Dean. “Well,” she said, “that’s not strictly—”
“Lia.” Dean’s voice wasn’t loud or hard, but the second he said her name, Lia stopped.
“That’s not strictly what?” I asked, even though I knew that the next word out of her mouth would have been true.
“Never mind,” Lia said in a singsong tone.
I looked back at Dean: Light hair. Dark eyes. Open posture. Clenched fists.
I cataloged the way he was standing, the lines of his face, the dingy white T-shirt and ratty blue jeans. His hair needed to be cut, and he stood with his back to the wall, his face cast in shadows, like that was where he belonged.
Why wasn’t it nice to meet me?
“Dean,” Michael said, with the air of someone imparting a fascinating bit of useless trivia, “is a Natural profiler. Just like you.”
Those last three words seemed more aimed at Dean than me, and as they hit their target, Dean lifted his eyes to meet Michael’s. There was no emotion on Dean’s face, but there was something in his eyes, and I found myself expecting Michael to look away first.
“Dean,” Michael continued, staring at Dean and talking to me, “knows more about the way that killers think than just about anyone.”
Dean threw down the towel in his hand. Muscles taut, he brushed by Michael and Sloane, by Lia, by me. A few seconds later, he was gone.