“Did I put you to too much inconvenience with my request?” he asked, his expression filling with what many would’ve mistaken for the sincerest of apologies. “I find that I like you the best. You’re so much . . . gentler than the other Js.”
“Did you know, Mr. Bonner,” she said conversationally, “that in the early part of this century, they still incarcerated males together in the same cell? Tell me”—she held his gaze, let him see that she’d looked into the abyss, that nothing he said could touch her—“do you think you would have . . . enjoyed”—a deliberate echo of his word, his tone—“being in a cell with another inmate who might not have shared your more sophisticated tastes?”
Bonner didn’t like that, his eyes showing the sadistic bite of malignant rage before he got it under control. “I’m sure I would have survived, Sophia. Hmm, does anyone call you Sophie?”
She hated that he’d used Max’s pet name for her, hated it so much that for an instant, she wondered if she’d betrayed herself, because Bonner’s blue eyes glinted with pleasure.
“You may call me anything you wish.” A facsimile of calm, good enough that it had fooled the medics all these years. “All I care about are your memories.”
Another crack in the facade, the ugliness inside him rising to the surface for a fleeting instant. “Then take them, Sophie.” Vicious words laced with charm. “Take what you came to find . . . then maybe you can tell me how you got such a pretty, pretty face.”
She did nothing, felt nothing. His words didn’t matter—not when Max saw her, knew her, accepted her. “I’m not going on some kind of a scavenger hunt in your brain, Mr. Bonner. If you want to cooperate, then cooperate. If not, I’ll make a final recommendation that your offers to share information have been nothing but a waste of time and that all further approaches from you be ignored.”
“Bitch.” It was said in that same charming voice, his smile never slipping. “Is the rest of your skin marked? Or are you a blank canvas just waiting for the right artist?”
“One last time, Mr. Bonner—are you ready to cooperate?”
She held the eye contact, sweeping out with her unique telepathic gift. Some Js needed physical contact with those they scanned, but she never had. And now, with her Sensitivity, touch would take her too deep, lock her into another’s mind. And if there was one consciousness she did not want to be trapped within, it was that of the sociopath on the other side of the table.
Moving effortlessly through the easily permeable barrier that was the weakness of a human shield, she stepped into his mind. It was as calm, as orderly . . . but the pieces had shifted. Bonner was rearranging his memories of the past, perhaps to better fit his own personal view of the world.
A woman’s screaming face, her back contorted in agony, her eyes bleeding at the corners. Sophia recoiled inside, but years of training kept her from betraying her abhorrence on her face. “We already know what you did to Carissa White,” she said. “If that’s all you’ve got—”
A small wooden glade, peaceful almost.
She felt the handle of the shovel vibrate under her hands as he/they drove it into the earth, heard the eerie quiet, felt the cool crackle of the plastic under his/their hands as he/ they rolled the body into the shallowest of graves. Bonner didn’t waste any time covering his victim up again, his/their actions as impersonal as if he/they were raising a garden. The body had ceased to have any meaning once it stopped screaming. Not long afterward, the earth covered the plastic, and then they were walking through the forest, exiting less than five minutes later onto a rugged track swathed in fog.
Firs—deep green, thick with foliage—their tips disappearing into the fine white mist, surrounded them on all sides, but there was a lot of undergrowth, a few spindly trees of other species. So not a tree farm, but something more natural. She got into the vehicle, started the engine after stripping off heavy gardening gloves. The four-wheel drive took the rickety road with ease, until half an hour later, she appeared out of the fog and found herself at a T-junction, a sealed road in front of her. Her heart was calm, her body relaxed. It was—
Sophia realized she was losing herself in Bonner, fought to bring herself back. “I need a location.” She could see nothing but the infrequent car zipping by fast—a lonely highway.
“Patience, my sweet Sophia.” Bonner was breathing hard, excited by the memory . . . by making her relive it with him.
That was when she saw it, the board on the left that marked the entrance to “Fog Valley Track.”
She took note of the kinds of flowers she’d seen, the angle of the sun, the weather, everything she could.
Then Bonner’s memories shifted sideways, a twisting kaleidoscope.
She’d expected something of the kind, pulled back before it could affect her. “That doesn’t give us much.”
“You’ll find her.” He drew a long, deep breath. “You’ll find my lovely Gwyn.”
Gwyneth Hayley had disappeared six months after Carissa White and was widely considered to be Bonner’s second victim. Sophia tried to pry further details out of the Butcher, but he just smiled that intimate, satisfied little smile and told her she’d have to do some of the work herself.
Exiting, she let the medic scan her. “You need nutrients,” was the response.
She drank the energy drinks he gave her, then let Bartholomew Reuben lead them up out of the bowels of the building and to a conference room on the upper floor. “If everyone could drop their shields,” Sophia said, “I can project the scan into your minds.” This was part of what made her a J, rather than a simple telepath—the ability to literally project entire memories. She could only do five people at a time, but other than Max, there was only Reuben, the warden, and Reuben’s assistant. “I’m sorry, Detective Shannon, I can’t project through your natural shield.”