“Is this guy even going to be out of the bag yet?”
“Killed on the Magister’s property in such a public way? They probably called in Martinson.”
I took a long drink from the bottle of water Mason had produced for me on our way out of the hospital. Then I followed Mason into the building.
They had, in fact, called in Dr. Martinson. And he looked every bit as unhappy to be called in at dawn as any nine-to-fiver could look.
“What do we got, Doc?” Mason asked as soon as we reached the room where autopsies were conducted. Dr. Martinson stood next to a table, notebook in hand and autopsy gear still covering his undoubtedly nice slacks and button-up shirt.
The body was covered. Had he already completed the autopsy? In record time, if so.
“Detective—excuse me, Agent Sanderson. Detective Holmes.” He nodded to us in turn. The consummate professional. “I just completed the autopsy. No toxicology yet, of course. But I do have COD for you.”
“Slit throat?” I asked.
“Yes, Detective. To put it succinctly. Though it wasn’t what I’d call a clean slice. We have repeated cuts, and some damage that I can’t say for sure came from the knife. But it’s difficult to say considering how much they cut into the neck. I’ll be taking a closer look at the wounds.” Dr. Martinson paused to gather his thoughts, no doubt to offer us a level of detail that would make our eyes glaze, but Mason interrupted.
“Anything unusual about the death? The state of the body?”
I had to give Martinson credit; he didn’t even blink at Mason’s questions. “Other than the fact that he was staked to the wall with large chucks of wood? Yes, several things. First, he was hung post-mortem, although it wasn’t long after his death. He also appears to have been tortured before he was killed.”
“Tortured how?” I asked.
The doctor tugged at the cloth covering the victim, revealing his skin down to his waist. The gaping wound in his chest, left from the stake used to hold him in the wall, was the first thing I noticed. Dark circular shapes were the second.
I took an involuntary step forward and my breath caught in my throat. The circular marks—three of them—had been burned in a symmetrical curved line below his collarbone. One, perfectly centered on his sternum, was directly below his neck. The other two also fell below the collarbone to either side. And I recognized the shape.
“The coin,” I said.
Mason leaned in to examine the coin marks, and to Dr. Martinson’s obvious disgust, sniffed the victim’s chest.
“Are you sure this is from the same coin?” Mason asked.
“Or its twin.” How many super-old coins exactly like the one we’d found could there be? Two of the burns showed the front of the coin, while the third in the center revealed what I assumed to be an angel on the back. “But these…these are more detailed. Strange. It’s like the detail that was rubbed off the coin is showing perfectly here.” I could see the lines in the wings, as detailed as the day the coin was minted, if I had to guess.
“Can you sense anything else? Magic? Anything odd like you sensed on the coin?”
I took a deep breath and glared at Mason. It wasn’t his fault, but I so hated touching dead people. I placed my hand on the chest, with part of it grazing the coin-shaped wound. Then I closed my eyes.
The oddly cold feeling of the flesh under my fingers faded as I concentrated on my other senses. I did my best to ignore Mason, though his power flashed behind me and constantly filled my nose with a fresh, wild scent. I forced my attention to the vampire.
The taste of coffee filled my mouth right away, and I saw the shadowy energy of the vampire on the body, as dead as the vampire it belonged to. Everything about the man’s energy was generic, and I grimaced. Put this man in a crowd of average vamps and I’d never be able to pick him out.
Some otherworlders—powerful ones especially—were distinctive in their energies. My partner Claude’s power tasted like coffee, but with a touch of mocha. The Magister tasted like cream with a touch of coffee added. His son, Nicolas, had energy so bitter that after I’d met him I’d stayed off coffee for days.
The victim’s energy swirled beneath my fingers, moving very little, like a stagnant pond. That, if nothing else, would have told me he was dead. But a foreign energy intruded. Heat touched my fingertips, and I almost pulled my hands back, but the slight burning sensation wasn’t physical, and I knew from experience that it wouldn’t hurt me. Nonetheless, I bit my lip and concentrated on keeping my hands in place.
“What is it?” Mason murmured, far too close to me. I jumped, just a little, but it was enough to break my skin on skin connection to the vampire.
“Do you mind?”
“Sorry.” He held it hands up. I shot him a glare and then turned back to the vamp.
With my eyes open, I traced the cold skin. Then, grimacing in disgust, I touched one of the coin-shaped wounds. Fire crawled up my fingertips, and I yanked my hand back, my body’s instinct more powerful than my desire to continue touching the body.
“The coin is enchanted. Spelled. Powerful, too.”
Mason was silent for a few seconds, and I took the opportunity to go to the sink to wash my hands. I’d need a shower too. The morgue always made me feel coated in death.
“I thought that was a myth,” he said as I dried my hands.
“It’s so rare it might as well be.” And that was the understatement of the year. Objects could be infused with spells, but said spells nearly always destroyed the object upon completion. And they were difficult as hell to work. But something about this one was different. It wasn’t destroying the coin, for one.
“Are you sure? Did you get that off the coin, too?”
“No, which isn’t surprising. If a spell isn’t active it can be very difficult to detect.” I glanced at the body. Something was off about this. Enchanted objects tended to feel a bit like the witch who’d cast the spell, and a bit like the spell itself. The burning might be related to the spell, but I should have felt something relating to the witch. Maybe. Unless the spell was as old as the coin appeared to be, which might explain why the image burned into the body was so clear. It would mirror the coin when it had originally been spelled. But who the heck could work magic like that? The idea of it made my head hurt.
“Did you get anything about the witch who cast it?” Mason asked.
“No.” I almost said more, but stopped myself. I didn’t really know anything. And my guesses wouldn’t help. Mason had witches on his payroll who’d do a better job of it.
I was no witch.
I stared in disgust at the moldy bowl of something that might have once been cereal in the officer’s hand. “No. I told you I can’t sense anything off that stuff. I’m not taking it out of the bag and touching it.”
Kowalski grimaced and carried himself, and his zip-locked bag of crap, away with him. It was amazing, with how long otherworlders had been fully integrated into the police force in Chicago—one of the first cities to allow all oh-dubs to work at all levels—that some officers still didn’t understand how otherworlder powers worked. Half the humans—and even a few of the more ignorant nonhumans—assumed my powers were far more encompassing than they actually were. I wasn’t clairvoyant for crying out loud. And I couldn’t get images off objects like a psychometrist could. I could feel energy. That was it.
Which was damn useful in most situations, if not in a fight.
That usually led to me being corralled in the station until I was needed, and then I was only allowed out with Claude. No matter how proficient I became with my sidearm, I was viewed as weak by my fellow oh-dubs. Practically human. But that was A-Okay with me. I liked what I did—identifying oh-dub energy on victims and objects. I was good at it. Just because I didn’t have the desire to chase after murderers and stare victim’s families’ in the eye, didn’t mean I wasn’t a good cop.
I finished writing the report on the riverboat casino crime scene, and the additional impressions I’d noted when touching the coin through plastic in the evidence locker. Evidence, whether physical, psychic, or sensed, had to be catalogued with the same amount of detail.
I spared a quick glance at Vasquez’s office. Mason and a couple of other OWEA agents had gone in with Vasquez nearly an hour before. I’d kept my attention away from the door as much as possible, but I couldn’t help the occasional glimpse at the men inside. For one, even though the case was no longer my problem, I was still curious about it. For another, despite my best efforts, I couldn’t ignore Mason Sanderson if my life depended on it.
The door clicked open and I tore my eyes away to stare at the police report I’d polished within an inch of its life, praying that Mason hadn’t seen my interest. My heart thumped faster in my chest as footsteps approached me from behind. But it wasn’t Mason who spoke.
“Holmes,” Vasquez said, “we need to talk.”
I followed Lieutenant Vasquez back to his office, snagging a copy of my finished report off of the printer on the way. Mason waited inside, but the other two agents were gone. They’d probably left while I was pretending I wasn’t interested in what was happening in the office behind me.
Vasquez gestured for me to sit, a hard expression on his face. Mason remained behind me by the door, his arms crossed and his expression closed off.
“What’s up?” I asked, heart racing now for a different reason. Tension saturated the air, and I had the sudden feeling that it was directed at me.
“How are you feeling? Any side effects from whatever spell knocked you down?” Vasquez asked.
“I’m fine. Just a bump on the head.”
“Good.” He crossed his arms, his gaze never dropped from mine. “Did you remove evidence from the lock-up?”
My mouth dropped open. “Excuse me?” That my voice stayed at its normal, polite level was a testament to my mother and the years of training she’d insisted on, because I couldn’t remember the last time I’d been so angry.