The masochists won the poll. The priests of Moloch now have a name – komer (sg) kmarim (pl.)
I sat inside Alycia Walton’s office behind her desk. The door was open and the light from fey lanterns in the hallway drew a long rectangle across the floor. The rest of the room lay shrouded in gloom, and I sank into it, wrapping myself in it like it was a blanket.
Luther and I spoke for almost an hour. He wanted to know about Shinar, the social structure, the goals. He had defaulted to a European monarchy model, where a single person was the absolute ruler, supported by feudal lords. The old Shinar was never that, and the new Shinar would never become it. It would be a long conversation and we had agreed to revisit it at a calmer time.
Luther and I struck a deal. I would keep him in the loop, and he would allow me unsupervised access to crime scenes I believed were connected. Then a woman from Biohazard arrived and Luther had to go. PAD and Biohazard finished processing the scene and left too, taking the body with them. Only I remained, waiting.
Moloch’s priests would come. The kmarim were fanatically single-minded. It was just a matter of time.
My leg still hurt.
Magic tugged on me and I sank into Abra’s vision. The eagle perched at the top of the oak across from the entrance to Bowden Hall. Three people ran across the lawn toward the building, low and fast. One dashed to the entrance, and the two others rounded the corner.
I disconnected. Just what I needed right now.
Faint sounds came from beyond the broken window. A light rustling of the hedge, a scrape against the stone. Three, two, one…
Ascanio jumped through the open window and landed by the rug.
“What, no combat roll?” I asked.
He pivoted to me, his eyes flashing with ruby glow as they caught the light from the hallway. For a moment he looked ready to pounce, then he straightened, his expression nonchalant.
“You again. We keep meeting like this. It must be fate.”
Oh no, the return of Mr. Smooth. “What is your interest in Pastor Haywood’s murder?”
Ascanio picked up a chair, set it before the desk, flipping it around, and saddled it, his arms resting on the chair’s back.
“My interest is private. I may be persuaded to exchange information, but you don’t have the authority to question me.”
“And you don’t have the authority to be here.”
“Neither do you.”
I gave him a small smile. “Actually, I do.”
Ascanio smiled back. “Fine, I’ll play. Says who?”
“Luther Dillion, the Assistant Director of Biohazard.”
Ascanio rested his chin on his arms. “If that’s true, I’m intruding on your crime scene. What’s your plan for removing me?”
Somehow, he managed to make it sound suggestive. “You’re being tiresome.”
“It’s a personal failing. I was told I can also be invigorating under the right circumstances.”
I bet. “Does the Beastlord know you’re here?”
“He didn’t give me an order to be here, but I’m not hiding it from him. This is a clan matter.”
He had Andrea’s and Raphael’s blessing and was confident that they would back him up if things went bad. “Why does Clan Bouda care about these murders?”
“You’re still not trading. How about this, I’ll tell you mine, if you tell me yours?”
I gave him a theatrical sigh. “You must think that your smile is charming.”
“Is it not?”
“You know what I see when you smile? Teeth. Teeth that can grow into big scary fangs. We both know it’s a threat.”
He pushed from the floor, and the chair rolled back with him in it. “Do you feel less threatened now?”
“Not really. Keep rolling. Out the door, down the hall, down the steps…”
He tilted his head to the side. He really was stunning.
“Why don’t you like me?”
“You menaced me on the bridge, showed up uninvited to my house, made veiled threats, and now you are contaminating my crime scene.”
“The bridge was a misunderstanding, I came to your house to apologize, and as for the crime scene, I was on this case before you were.” He spread his arms. “I’m blameless.”
I laughed. I couldn’t help myself; it just came out.
“You stopped scowling for a second there. Are you alright?”
“Pe…” I caught myself. I was about to say “peachy,” and the moment he heard it, the game would be up. It was my mom’s favorite phrase. “Perfectly fine.”
A warm sensation washed over me. My ears heard a phantom lamentation, offered in an eager voice. My nostrils caught the scent of burning herbs and human flesh. It should have been revolting and intellectually it was, but there was a part of me that found it comforting. A very small, faint voice whispered in my mind, “This is right, you should be offered this, this is your due.”
The kmarim had arrived. I had to get Ascanio out of here.
“We are getting nowhere,” he said. “How about this? Each of us asks one question, and the other gives an honest answer?”
“And then you leave.”
“Deal. Ladies first.”
I leaned back in the chair. “What advantage would you personally and or Clan Bouda gain if you tie this murder to Desandra Krall?”
The charming smile vanished. The man who rose smoothly out of the chair was lethal and dangerous. He stalked across the room, put both hands on the desk, and leaned forward. He glared at me, his eyes like two bloody moons. It was a stare that said I was food.
A cold shiver dashed down my spine. Ascanio was right before. When he threatened someone, they didn’t have to ask. Suddenly the office was too small, and I was acutely aware that I would have to get past him to reach the door.
“You made a deal.” I kept my tone cold. “Pay up or leave.”
The red light in his eyes grew brighter. His stare was difficult to hold. That’s twice in one night. First Derek, now him. This time, I wouldn’t be running.
Seconds ticked past.
Ascanio opened his mouth. His diction was perfect, but his voice was knitted from a growl. “Be very careful. You’re playing a dangerous game.”
“That’s not an answer.”
“It’s free advice. You had trouble with one overgrown human. I won’t go down that easy.”
That was about enough. “That’s not what I heard.”
He whipped around and leapt out the window. The sudden emptiness was startling.
I raised my chin. “We’re alone now. Show yourself, worm. I don’t have all night.”