“It’s a very public place. There’s only a small window where that room is closed to the public, and an even smaller window when there aren’t any cleaning people in there. He didn’t want to get caught.”
I rubbed my temple. “You’ve got vics killed here in places as public as a Magister’s front lawn. An art exhibit that opened less than thirty minutes after a vic was killed right in the middle of it.” I shook my head. “Isaiah isn’t afraid of being caught. It’s almost like he relishes playing chicken with authorities.”
Mason walked around the desk and peered at the photos in my hand. “The blood pattern from the hands is the same. Or very nearly.”
He was right. The art exhibit vic had been posed very similarly to the one in Casino Merveilleux, and the blood beneath their arms was of similar amounts.
“Jake Stone was still alive when he was pinned to that wall,” I muttered, an idea forming quickly in my mind. “But he was hung lower,” I said as I reached a shot from farther out. “How tall do you think Isaiah is?”
“Six feet five inches.”
“These older vics were hung so that he could still reach their necks, but high enough a shorter man couldn’t—not without standing on something.” I handed him a picture of Jake Stone. “He’s hung a foot lower than the others.”
Mason frowned. “They aren’t all exact. He could have just hung Jake lower.”
I ignored Mason, mind too full of an idea that had formed while I stared at the macabre photos. I flipped through the pictures until I found one of Jake’s gaping neck wound. Swallowing hard, I focused on the injury.
“It’s imperfect,” Mason said, as if reading my mind. He grabbed several photos off the top of the stack on my lap and flipped to another neck wound, this one of a previous victim. The similarities to Jake’s wounds were obvious. And the differences subtle.
But there were differences.
“Is it just me or does that look like one clean slice, whereas Stone’s looks like he’s been cut a couple of times over the same area? Dr. Martinson mentioned that it wasn’t a clean slice, and it didn’t look like one when we saw the body. But this…”
“You’re right. The casino vic’s wound is bigger. Again, like he was slashed more than once over a small area.” He grimaced. “And not quite as deep.”
I nodded. “Big enough maybe to cover a bite. Martinson said there were some marks in the wound that seemed inconsistent with the knife.” The victim attributed to Isaiah had his neck sliced so cleanly and deeply that bits of his spine could be seen. “We should go through the other pics. Make sure none look like the casino victim’s.”
Mason tossed the pic back in the pile and then gripped my chair back. “How did I miss that?”
“You saw a neck wound matching that of a hired killer who happened to be in the city at the time—that’s a big damn coincidence. If that’s even what it was. Could be he’s here just to throw you.” I fingered the picture thoughtfully. “And the wounds are very similar. The setup is similar. Heck, they both even have a similar amount of blood on their clothes. I’ll bet it was supposed to match Isaiah’s handiwork exactly. But whoever killed Jake Stone didn’t have Isaiah’s self-control. Hell, he might have even been murdered where we found the body. He was just mostly drained of blood from a vampire bite before his neck was cut.”
Mason cursed under his breath, and I didn’t bother reassuring him again. Anything I could come up with wouldn’t make him feel any less irritated with himself.
“Let’s go eat,” I said instead.
Despite the pictures, my stomach greeted Mason’s omelets with enthusiasm. The man could cook. Over breakfast we chatted about neutral topics. Like if we thought my fellow detective, Mac, would actually go through with her recent engagement. I argued that she would without a doubt. Mason, who hadn’t worked with Mac since shortly after she’d met her fiancé, argued that the woman just wasn’t the type.
And we talked about the weather and football.
“What kind of fair weather fan are you?” I glared over the last bite of my omelet. “The Bears will go all the way this year, and anyone who doubts it isn’t a real fan.”
Mason laughed and the sound filled the air around me. The load on my shoulders lightened, and while I didn’t want to rock the boat just yet by insisting on accompanying him to investigate today, I decided that he couldn’t be all that mad at me if he was willing to laugh like that.
“I think we should go talk to Jake Stone’s wife today,” Mason said, and the amusement drained from his face, leaving behind a determined expression. “I think you were right. You should talk to her.”
Hope blossomed in my chest, for more things than just getting to work the case with Mason, but I quickly pushed it down. I couldn’t afford to think past this problem just yet. And just because Mason was willing to work with me didn’t mean that he was interested in anything else.
I searched my mind for a clever retort, something that would say “thanks” without being too revealing. Finally, I settled for, “Sounds good.”
He nodded. “Guess we should get going.”
I almost sighed as the camaraderie we’d just bathed in faded, and only cool professionalism remained.
We bundled up quickly and headed for Mary Stone’s house. Mason parked across the street and asked if I could feel anything in the house.
I closed my eyes and let my other sight settle over me. Mason, his aura sharp and powerful and so close, caught my attention first. I almost jumped. He’d faded like Claude already. I could sense him if I wanted to, but his aura no longer attracted my attention constantly. It had happened so subtly that I hadn’t even noticed. Sure made concentrating around him easier.
I turned my attention to the victim’s house. I could sense Mary Stone in there. She was on the near side. Had she already seen us? No other oh-dub energy caught my senses.
“Can’t feel anyone from here. Other than the succubus,” I said. I blinked and forced my focus back to Mason and the very solid world around us.
“Could someone be in there that you can’t sense?”
“Sure. A human. Or a very weak oh-dub. But at this distance, it’s not likely they’d evade my senses when I concentrate.”
“All right, then. But you sense anything out of the ordinary, then you get the hell out.” He pointed at the digital clock built into his dash. “Fifteen minutes, then I’m coming in.”
I suppressed a sigh. Fifteen minutes wasn’t long, but hopefully it would be enough time.
“See you in fifteen,” I agreed.
I treaded carefully over the ice and snow until I reached Mary Stone’s door, then I knocked briskly.
She didn’t seem surprised to see me when she opened the door to admit me, and I guessed that she’d probably seen us outside her window. Dark circles ringed her eyes, stark against her too-pale face. Only two days had passed since I’d last seen her, yet she looked like she’d lost weight in that brief amount of time.
She got us coffee and we sat across from each other in her living room.
“How are you holding up?” I sipped the coffee and examined her over the rim. This was more than just losing her husband. The woman looked positively haunted.
She hesitated, a pained expression on her face. “I’ve been better.”
“I’m sorry for your loss,” I said automatically. “And I’m sorry to bother you today. But you haven’t been entirely honest with us, Mary.”
The cup of coffee shook in her hands as she set it back on the table.
“Tell me about Nicolas.”
She flinched as if I’d hit her. “How did you—”
“That’s not important, is it?” I took a deep breath. “I know that this is hard for you. But you can trust me. And right now, I think you need someone in your corner.”
Eyelashes fluttering to combat tears, she nodded. “I could use that right about now.” Her voice was shaky and thin.
I moved to sit next to her on the couch and took her hand in mine. I gave it a quick squeeze before releasing her. “Tell me.”
“It all started very innocently. Nicolas needed someone to decorate his new home.” She looked down at her hands. “I’m an interior designer, you see.”
Innocently? Fat chance. I was certain that the succubus sitting next to me probably believed what she said. But I had no doubts as to why Nicolas Chevalier had decided to hire her to decorate his home.
“Well, one thing led to another. I just…he’s a very charming man.”
Of course he was. The vampire was at least a couple hundred years old. Seducing his coworker’s wives was no doubt a skill he’d cultivated during that time. “You had an affair.”
“Yes,” she whispered, gaze firmly affixed to her lap.
“And your husband found out?”
Her hands twisted, gripping each other for support. “He did.”
“I’m guessing he objected pretty strongly.”
A gasp that sounded half like a laugh escaped her. But there was no humor in her voice when she spoke. “Jake was livid. He threatened to complain to the Magister. Threatened to kill Nicolas.”
Young Jake Stone loved his wife. But the relatively weak vampire would have had no chance against Nicolas. And would the Magister have acted? Against his own son? Perhaps. If only to tell Nicolas to stay away from Mary.
“What happened next?” I asked. Energy vibrated off of her, like she would explode if she didn’t get this out. And I wanted to ask her the tough questions, but I had to ease into it. For all that she’d told me, she wasn’t entirely comfortable yet.
She shrugged, and stared at her hands, looking so miserable that I almost reached out to her again. “Jake left. I guess he went to talk to the Magister, or to Nic. I’m not sure. When he came back, he was still angry. I’d never seen him like that before.” She looked up and the pain in her eyes twisted my heart. She’d cheated on her husband with a very dangerous man, had probably gotten him killed, but I couldn’t help but feel for her as the real weight of her decisions crashed onto her shoulders.