“They were my pansies, you know.” A small sigh. “So pretty, so sweet. So easily bruised. Like you.” His eyes lingered on a scar that ran a ragged line over her cheekbone.
Ignoring the blatant attempt at provocation, she said, “What did you do to bruise them?” Bonner had ultimately been convicted on the basis of the evidence he’d left on the battered and broken body of his first victim. He hadn’t left a trace at the scenes of the other abductions, had been connected to them only by the most circumstantial of evidence—and Max Shannon’s relentless persistence.
“So delicate and so damaged you are, Sophia,” he murmured, moving his gaze across her cheek, down to her lips. “I’ve always been drawn to damaged women.”
“A lie, Mr. Bonner.” It was extraordinary to her that people found him handsome—when she could all but smell the rot. “Every one of your victims was remarkably beautiful.”
“Alleged victims,” he said, eyes sparkling. “I was only convicted of poor Carissa’s murder. Though I’m innocent, of course.”
“You agreed to cooperate,” she reminded him. And she needed that cooperation to do her job. Because—“It’s obvious you’ve learned to control your thought patterns to a certain degree.” It was something the telepaths in the J-Corps had noted in a number of human sociopaths—they seemed to develop an almost Psy ability to consciously manipulate their own memories. Bonner had learned to do it well enough that she couldn’t get what she needed from a surface scan—to go deeper, dig harder might cause permanent damage, erasing the very impressions she needed to access.
But, the otherness in her murmured, he only had to remain alive until they located his victims. After that . . .
“I’m human.” Exaggerated surprise. “I’m sure they told you—my memory’s not what it used to be. That’s why I need a J to go in and dig up my pansies.”
It was a game. She was certain he knew the exact position of each discarded body down to the last centimeter of dirt on a shallow grave. But he’d played the game well enough that the authorities had pulled her in, giving Bonner the chance to sate his urges once again. By making her go into his mind, he was attempting to violate her—the sole way he had to hurt a woman now.
“Since it’s obvious I’m ineffective,” she said, rising to her feet, “I’ll get Justice to send in my colleague, Bryan Ames. He’s an—”
“No.” The first trace of a crack in his polished veneer, covered over almost as soon as it appeared. “I’m sure you’ll get what you need.”
She tugged at the thin black leather-synth of her left glove, smoothing it over her wrist so it sat neatly below the cuff of her crisp white shirt. “I’m too expensive a resource to waste. My skills will be better utilized in other cases.” Then she walked out, ignoring his order—and it was an order—that she stay.
Once out in the observation chamber, she turned to Max Shannon. “Make sure any replacements you send him are male.”
A professional nod, but his hand clenched on the top of the chairback beside him, his skin having the warm golden brown tone of someone whose ancestry appeared to be a mix of Asian and Caucasian. While the Asian side of his genetic structure had made itself known in the shape of his eyes, the Caucasian side had won in the height department—he was six foot one according to her visual estimate.
All that was fact.
But the impact was more than the sum of its parts. He had, she realized, that strange something the humans called charisma. Psy professed not to accept that such a thing existed, but they all knew it did. Even among their Silent race, there were those who could walk into a room and hold it with nothing but their presence.
As she watched, Max’s tendons turned white against his skin from the force of his grip. “He got his rocks off making you trawl through his memories.” He didn’t say anything about her scars, but Sophia knew as well as he did that they played a large part in what made her so very attractive to Bonner.
Those scars had long ago become a part of her, a thin tracery of lines that spoke of a history, a past. Without them, she’d have no past at all. Max Shannon, she thought, had a past as well. But he didn’t wear it on that beautiful—not handsome, beautiful—face. “I have shields.” However, those shields were beginning to fail, an inevitable side effect of her occupation. If she’d had the option, she wouldn’t have become a J. But at eight years of age, she’d been given a single choice—become a J or die.
“I heard a lot of J-Psy have eidetic memories,” Max said, his eyes intent.
“Yes—but only when it comes to the images we take during the course of our work.” She’d forgotten parts of her “real life,” but she’d never forget even an instant of the things she’d seen over the years she’d spent in the Justice Corps.
Max had opened his mouth to reply when Bartholomew Reuben, the prosecutor who’d worked side by side with him to capture and convict Gerard Bonner, finished his conversation with two of the profilers and walked over. “That’s a good idea about male Js. It’ll give Bonner time to stew—we can bring you in again when he’s in a more cooperative frame of mind.”
Max’s jaw set at a brutal angle as he responded. “He’ll draw this out as long as possible—those girls are nothing but pawns to him.”
Reuben was pulled away by another profiler before he could reply, leaving Sophia alone with Max again. She found herself staying in place though she should’ve joined those of her race, her task complete. But being perfect hadn’t kept her safe—she’d be dead within the year, one way or another—so why not indulge her desire for further conversation with this human detective whose mind worked in a fashion that fascinated her? “His ego won’t let him hide his secrets forever,” she said, having dealt with that kind of a narcissistic personality before. “He wants to share his cleverness.”