“Precisely, Ms. Russo.”
“I don’t seem to have the name of your security chief.”
“He’s dead.” Brisk words coated in frost. “He was killed in an accidental fall three weeks before the assassination attempt.”
Max folded his arms, his gut tight. “He was the first victim.”
“Yes, I’ve come to believe so.”
Sophia looked up from her organizer. “You haven’t hired a replacement.”
“No—I haven’t found the right candidate. The assistant chief is doing an unobjectionable job at present.”
Max stared at the image of the Duncan building, but he wasn’t really seeing it. There was dedication here, he thought, a long-term commitment that had to rise from a very specific motive—and whatever that motive was, it was about more than the thrill of murder. “You’re telling me,” he said to Nikita, “that you no longer trust anyone in your inner circle.”
“No. I—” She cut herself off as her phone began to beep. “It must be something critical. I ordered no interruptions.” Picking up the handset, she said, “Yes?”
Max glanced at Sophia, caught by the way a sudden sliver of sunlight glimmered off the rich ebony silk of her hair. He could play with the soft strands for hours, intended to do exactly that once he’d coaxed his J into bed.
“Don’t disturb anything. Don’t enter.”
Nikita’s words had his attention whiplashing back to her. “What is it?”
She hung up. “It seems you will no longer have to satisfy yourself with cold case data. My international financial advisor, Edward Chan, has just been found dead.”
This time, Max thought, there was no question of it being murder. Either the people behind the acts were getting impatient, or this was a message. “Sophia, you recording?”
“Yes.” She’d clipped a small wireless camera over her ear, curving the lens in front of her left eye. “Go.”
Having barred anyone else from entering, Max took his time looking over the scene, which happened to be on the second-highest floor of the Duncan building, right below Nikita’s penthouse. The murdered man lay on the otherwise undisturbed bed, his legs hanging over the side. His pants were slate gray, his belt sedate black leather, his white shirt stained like a Rorschach painting in red.
“No bruises, no defensive marks on his hands.” The only evidence of violence was the bowie knife thrust hilt deep in his sternum—solid, thick, and Max guessed, with a wicked curved edge. The kind of knife you might use to bring down game or skin the pelt off a downed animal. “Looks like a single blow, directly to the heart.”
Sophia continued to film as they spoke. “Either the victim allowed his attacker close, or the killer used Tk to punch the blade home.”
“Tk—telekinesis?” That would explain how the knife had ended up buried so deep—though a burst of cold rage might well have sufficed to give the killer enough strength.
“Yes. I’ll go through the personnel files”—Sophia moved to his left, capturing images of the body from every angle—“find out how many telekinetics the Councilor has in her organization.”
“Nikita said Chan got in from Cairo last night,” Max murmured, “but that he had a number of informal meetings scheduled here in his home office this morning.” Which meant someone had known his schedule well enough to time the murder when Chan would’ve been alone and vulnerable.
As she shifted position again, the clean purity of Sophia’s scent swept over him, providing a much-needed antidote to the ugliness of death. Psy, human, or changeling, Max thought, murder always had the same putrid stench. And the dead always screamed for the same justice. Edward Chan was one of Max’s now, just like every single one of Bonner’s lost victims.
“It was an individual he trusted,” Sophia said. “That’s the only way a telepath of his strength—8 on the Gradient—could’ve been taken by surprise.”
Raising his gaze from Edward Chan’s cold flesh, Max put his hands on his hips, pushing back his jacket. “One problem though—even the most perfectly aimed stab wound wouldn’t have caused death instantaneously and a telepath could get out an emergency message within seconds, if not less.” Unlike with the Vale scene, everything here suggested a quick, brutal operation. No time to drug the victim into compliance. “Why didn’t he call for help?”
“Turn his head a fraction.”
“What’re you looking for?” He saw nothing remarkable except for a couple of droplets of blood below the—Damn. “Telepathic blow.”
“If someone hit him with a hard enough one at the same instant that he was stabbed, while his attention was splintered by shock, it would’ve torn through his shields, destroyed his mind.”
“Cold, calculated.” A one-two hit to ensure success.
“Max.” Sophia’s voice was almost soundless.
Spine prickling with awareness, he followed her gaze to the bathroom mirror—just barely visible through the half-open door on the other side of the bedroom.
The single word was written in blood that had dripped onto the white porcelain of the sink. But the accusation was still very legible.
The space for your father’s name is blank in our records. Such an action is permitted in some limited circumstances, but the cause must always be noted. There is no such note on your file. We apologize for the error.