—Office of Births and Deaths: City of New York,
to Max Shannon, June 2079
Nikita handed Max a data crystal as soon as they returned to her office. “I’ve downloaded the security footage for you—it covers the period since Edward’s return from Cairo.”
Max slipped it into his pocket. “Are private comm conversations backed up on your main servers? The killer dropped a corrosive acid in the computronic ‘brain’ of the system in the victim’s room.” And they’d found neither a cell phone, nor an organizer.
“Edward’s entire file was wiped using his own security override,” Nikita said, the words succinct. “The murderer must’ve torn it from his mind.”
The callous nature of it all might’ve shocked other men, but Max knew that no matter the race, some were always born with a capacity for evil. “We thought we might have a pattern of deaths—each of your other advisors was hit before a major deal. Does Chan fit?”
Nikita was shaking her head before he finished speaking. “Edward had a lot of things in play but nothing close to completion.”
Frustrated at the sudden end to that line of inquiry, Max focused on another. “Sophia says the victim was high profile enough that he was known outside business circles?”
A quick nod that sent her glossy hair swinging. “It was part of his job description to wine and dine human and changeling businessmen and women. As a result, he occasionally found himself in the society pages.”
Max felt Sophia glance at him with those amazing, perceptive eyes, knew she’d made the same cognitive leap he had. “Would it be fair to say he’d made some personal connections within those groups?”
Nikita took a moment to think about it. “Not in the human or changeling sense. However, certain individuals had come to have a measure of trust in him because of a shared history of successful deals.”
“An unquantifiable loss,” Sophia said. “One that you will feel the effect of for some time.”
“Yes.” Nikita looked at Sophia for a long, quiet moment before returning her attention to Max. “I’m beginning to see the pattern it appears you already have, Detective.”
“So my next question won’t come as a surprise—who doesn’t like you getting into bed with the other races?” Edward Chan, Max was certain, had only been considered a traitor by association. It was Councilor Nikita Duncan who was the key.
“That,” Nikita said, “is something I’ll have to think about.”
Sophia spoke into the small pause. “I’ve heard rumors of a group called Pure Psy—the members seem to believe that contact with the other races is tainting the purity of our Silence.”
“Yes. They’ve begun to gain a measure of support in the Net.” Nikita returned to her desk. “I have some additional data on them that I’m sending you now—please brief the detective, Ms. Russo.”
It was a dismissal from a woman who was used to obedience, but Max wasn’t finished. “Whoever’s behind this, he or she is getting bolder—they’re going to come directly after you sooner rather than later.”
“I’m protected. That’s why Edward and the others are dead—the assassin went for the next best thing.” A razor of a glance. “You’d do well to protect yourself. You are, after all, only human.”
Sophia didn’t say anything to Max until they were in the car heading out from the Duncan building. “Does it bother you?”
“Being thought of as less because of your humanity?” It bothered her a great deal. Max was worth far more than any other man she’d ever met.
But he shook his head, his lips curved in a distinctly satisfied smile. “Nikita felt the need to point out my humanity because she’s been forced into a position where she has to rely on a measly human. That has to bite.”
“It’s an irony, is it not?” Sophia murmured, thinking of connections, of mothers and fathers. “She’s one of the most powerful people in the world, her net worth in the billions—and yet she doesn’t have a single person in her life whom she can trust not to thrust a knife into her back.”
“She made her choices.” Max had no sympathy for a woman who’d disowned her child. He knew exactly how bad that had to have hurt Sascha.
When Sophia didn’t say anything, he glanced at her. “What about you, Sophie? Who do you trust?”
Her answer rocked through him. “You’re the only person I’ve ever told of my parents’ rejection of me.”
“Strange, isn’t it?” His voice came out harsh, raw with emotion.
“That the two people Nikita chose to work this case are both people whose mothers threw them away.” It couldn’t be a coincidence, not with the resources Nikita had at her disposal.
Sophia’s organizer flashed at that moment. “Nikita’s lab techs have done a first-look analysis of the forensic data—the blood on the mirror was the victim’s, the DNA and prints in the public areas belong to either Chan or Nikita’s other employees, all of which can be explained by the meetings he held in his home office. No unexplained or suspicious DNA in the bedroom.”
“That was fast.”
Sophia’s answer was practical—and said a thousand things. “She’s a Councilor.”
“Hmm.” Pulling to a stop in front of a small, bustling restaurant, he turned off the engine. “It’s almost half past two. You can tell me about Pure Psy over lunch.” From what he’d heard so far, the group sat in diametric opposition to Nikita’s growing business alliances with the other races—but he needed to know more about their tactics to judge whether murder might be part of their arsenal.