There was no need to ask her what she’d seen.
“It’s like the land died here,” Sophia said, her eyes on the lifeless patch of earth in front of them, which though bordered by the living beat of the forest, tiny shoots and greenery, was itself as browned and dry as dust.
As if Gwyneth Hayley’s lifeblood had soaked into the soil and turned it barren.
The forensic team worked deep into the night, under brilliant lamps. By midnight, they’d found only seven discrete bones, the others in all probability having been carried away by forest creatures, but amazingly, one of those seven was the skull. And there were teeth still attached to that skull.
A positive dental match was made on the spot using mobile equipment.
Sophia saw Max’s shoulders shudder and drop the instant after the forensic technician made his pronouncement. “I’ll do it,” he said to Bart Reuben.
Bart’s face was drawn, his eyes full of old pain as he acquiesced. “They trust you more.”
Letting the prosecutor walk past her and back to the site, Sophia went to stand beside Max as he moved away from the group and into the night-shadow of a giant tree with sweeping arms. “You’re calling her family?”
A nod, his face lined with angry sorrow. “I’d prefer to do it in person, but I have to make sure they get the information before it leaks to the media.” His fingers clenched on the phone. “It’ll tear them apart all over again.”
Hidden in the darkness, she dared lay her hand on his arm. “But it will give them peace—and Gwyneth a safe place to rest.”
Max didn’t reply, but he leaned into her touch. It threatened to shatter her.
Because Max Shannon was not a man who leaned on anyone.
As she stood there beside him, he coded in a number from memory and raised the phone to his ear. And then he did what had to be done.
The next two days passed in a blur. Sophia had another comm-conference with Bonner. However, he wasn’t in the mood to cooperate. “I’m enjoying my extra hour in the sun far too much,” he told her. “So obliging of the prison authorities to stick to their bargain with me.”
Knowing he’d string them along now that he had their attention, she didn’t squander her time and, instead, asked Max if there was anything she could do to assist him.
“Keep an eye on the Nikita situation,” he told her. “Go over the forensic reports as they come in, compare the results sent in by Nikita’s people against those of the independent lab we contracted.” As the lead detective on the Bonner case, he wasn’t only dealing with the families of the victims, but also the brass and the media; his eyes bloodshot with lack of sleep. “Did we receive the report from the mechanic on the crashed car?”
“Yes. She confirmed the computer was tampered with.” Sophia wanted to touch him, give comfort in the human way, but they were in the hastily thrown together “war room”—located in the closest Enforcement station to where Gwyneth Hayley’s body had been found. Activity buzzed on every side, crashing against her senses. “The second autopsy you ordered on the driver has also been completed. There were no drugs in Allison Marceau’s system.”
“Makes sense if the car was the weapon.” He glanced quickly at the report. “Even if she sent out a telepathic scream, it wouldn’t have been noted as anything suspicious.”
“It might be better if I went back. I can deal with things—”
“Stay.” It was a single quiet word, but it carried a thousand unsaid things.
Bound to him now by threads she didn’t quite understand, but that had become the defining truths in her life, she stayed—setting herself up in her hotel room, away from the constant storm of the war room.
To everyone’s surprise, the Council dispatched several Ps-Psy to help with the search around what had been dubbed Bonner Site #1. “Psychometrics sense the imprints of the past,” Sophia explained to Max when he asked for a quick précis. “They usually work verifying the age and provenance of works of art, other expensive objects—but I’ve heard it said that some can also pick up ‘echoes’ of events that took place in a particular location.”
“I had a look at the title of the land,” Max told her a few hours after the psychometrics arrived. “It’s owned by a Psy conglomerate and earmarked for development.”
That, Sophia thought, made much more sense. “They don’t want any unanswered questions lowering the value of the land and subsequent development.”
“Not that it matters why they’re here. Tanique”—he named one of the Ps-Psy—“already located two of Gwyneth’s bones almost half a mile from the gravesite.”
That was one of the few conversations they managed to have in the bleak, exhausting hours that followed. It was on their last night at the search base—right after it was announced that no evidence of further bodies had been found within a mile-wide radius of the site—that she discovered something interesting.
She’d been digging deep into the backgrounds of all the individuals of interest, tapping her connections in Justice when necessary. The aristocratic Quentin Gareth came across as a ruthless businessman, but seemed otherwise clean. Andre Tulane, in contrast, had repeating weekly meetings that she could tie into nothing official, while the intern, Ryan Asquith, had a note on his file that meant he’d been reconditioned within the past year as a result of a court order.
All merited further investigation, but the most interesting data resulted from a logarithm she’d been running on news uploads at around the time of the killings: Councilor Kaleb Krychek had been in the relevant area at the time of every single murder. He’d even been snapped by the San Francisco Gazette—leaving an early morning meeting with Nikita—on the day Edward Chan had a knife thrust into his heart.