“Yes, I’ll retrieve my organizer.” The words came out calm, though her heartbeat had turned erratic. “It’ll take me only a minute or two.” Stepping to her door, she pushed through and picked up the small case she’d left on the coffee table. She should’ve walked straight back out, but she took a minute to breathe, to check her PsyNet shields for any minor fractures that might betray the swiftness with which her recent reconditioning had begun to degrade.
Satisfied that everything was holding for now and certain, too, that her secrets were safe from a cop who saw too much, she went to Max’s. His living area was empty. Assuming he’d gone to retrieve his own notes, she closed the door and took a seat at the small table in the dining alcove near the window.
She’d just opened her case when a huge black cat jumped onto the chair opposite, placed its front paws on the table, and looked at her with one gray and one brown eye. Physically startled, she nonetheless contained her reaction—that aspect of her conditioning was so much a part of her, it no longer took much effort to maintain.
The cat continued to stare at her.
Curious as to what the creature would do if touched, she extended a hand and brought her fingers to its nose. It sniffed at the leather-synth of her glove before proceeding to stare at her again.
“Ignore Morpheus.” Max walked back into the room and picked up the cat to drop him easily to the floor. The feline padded off, tail in the air. “He likes to stare people out.”
“I see.” She found herself following Max’s movements as he put some cat food and water into a split feeding dish. He’d changed into jeans and a black T-shirt that bared his arms, the color an austere contrast to the golden warmth of his skin tone. “Have you had any further contact from Bonner?”
Sleek black hair fell across his forehead as he shook his head and rose. “No.” A single harsh word. “Bastard’s probably waiting for us to crawl back to him.”
“He’ll wait a long time.”
To her surprise he said, “If I thought he’d tell us the locations of the bodies if I crawled, I’d do it without hesitation.”
The answer added another layer of complexity to his personality, made the fascination inside her grow. “Most males, especially those drawn to a career in Enforcement, would consider that an insult to their pride.”
“Pride is meaningless if you can’t keep your promises.” Washing his hands after making that cryptic statement, he wiped them on a towel and came to take a seat opposite her. “First things first”—all cop, not even a trace of the deceptive charm she’d seen in the doorway—“here’s what I know.” He recapped the situation. “Do you have any more information?”
“I don’t believe so.” She made herself concentrate on the screen of her organizer. “As far as I can tell from your summation, we were given identical files.” Except that hers had included an image of Max Shannon, an image she’d saved to an encrypted file.
Max leaned back in his seat, waiting to speak until she’d lifted her eyes to him. “Have you been to any of the scenes?”
“No. Kenneth Vale’s—the apparent suicide’s—apartment has been compromised to the point where it’s useless as far as any forensic examination is concerned,” she told him, having checked that with Councilor Duncan. “However, it was left intact to give Council psychologists a chance to examine it in case it threw any light on Vale’s personality. His suicide is considered an unusual case.”
Max narrowed his eyes. “You talking about the method he used to hang himself?”
“Yes.” Sophia couldn’t imagine the demons that would drive a man to choose such a long, tortuous form of death—if indeed, he had chosen his death. “I’ve been given the codes to access his apartment.”
“Good, we’ll go have a look. I’m guessing we’ve got nothing on the heart attack victim—file says he was cremated,” Max said, tipping back his chair.
“They would have taken samples of his blood, checked for—”
“I e-mailed Nikita from New York,” Max interrupted, “asked her about that. Seems like the samples have mysteriously disappeared.”
“Isn’t it?” He tapped his finger against the table, and it wasn’t a restless movement. “What about the car the third possible victim was driving when she had her accident?”
“It’s being held at a private facility here in the city.”
“Well, that’s something at least.” Scowling, he tipped his chair even farther back. “Would’ve been better if Nikita had called us in right away instead of waiting several weeks after the crash—but I guess she figured she could get to the bottom of it herself.”
Sophia couldn’t concentrate on his words, her attention held by something else altogether. “You’ll fall over if you keep doing that.”
He shot her an amused look, continuing to hold the precarious balance. “Used to drive my foster families nuts.”
His openness about being in the foster-care system was unexpected. And it made Sophia give in to the seeds of rebellion, to ask a question that a perfect Psy would have never asked. “You weren’t with one family long term?”
“No. Longest was six months,” he said easily, and tipped his chair back down on all four feet. “I assume Nikita had her techs check the vehicle out?”
She nodded, a strange realization taking form inside of her. Max hadn’t had parents either, not in reality. He was like her, at least in that way. She wanted to share that with him, with this man who’d seemed to see her from their very first meeting, but she didn’t know how, having no capacity or experience at building bonds with another individual. “Yes,” she said instead, harshly aware of how remote she sounded, how inhuman . . . as if she was already dead. “However, Councilor Duncan has authorized the expenditure required to get an independent report if you think it necessary.”