Beauty & the beast some.., p.12
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       Beauty & the Beast: Some Gave All, p.12
 

           Nancy Holder
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  “Tess.”

  “No, listen. It’s not weird that he’s from Los Angeles and so is dead Theodore Coffey. But it is weird that he’s here a week early. Janice said that he said he was going to take some time off before he started here. But he practically came to the precinct straight from the airport. When I asked him about it, he said he wanted to ‘jump right in.’”

  “But into what?” Cat asked rhetorically.

  Tess pressed her lips into a thin line. “Exactly. But he would know that that would look suspicious to us. If he’s involved, wouldn’t he have lain low so he wouldn’t attract our attention?”

  J.T. held up his hand. “Like in The Princess Bride, when Westley is trying to figure out which goblet is poisoned. The reason he survives is because he knows that they’d know and that he’d know that they know.”

  Tess stared at him. “You have a TV reference for every single thing in the world.”

  He huffed very slightly. Maybe a police detective wouldn’t have noticed it, but she was a police detective. She was trying his patience. Because she lived in the real world.

  “The Princess Bride is not a TV show. It’s a movie,” he said. “And the Hellmouth is from Buffy the Vampire Slayer.”

  This relationship is doomed.

  * * *

  Vincent arrived about an hour later. He, Tess, and J.T. stared at the computer monitor, hoping for results. They had uploaded the fingerprints of Private X, also known as Theodore Coffey. Vincent took in the complex pattern of whorls and swirls on both sides of the screen. A definite match.

  “Run it again,” he told J.T.

  “I’ve run it three times,” J.T. retorted. “And it’s come up the same each time. Those fingerprints do not belong to Theodore Coffey. They belong to Richard Howison. And Richard Howison is currently listed as deployed in Okinawa.”

  Vincent exhaled. “How likely is it that the system is giving us a false reading?”

  “Pretty darn unlikely,” J.T. said. “I can give you the statistical degrees of uncertainty if you want. Of course, one can concede that it can make errors.”

  “Even Data made errors,” Tess said, sounding strangely proud of her statement.

  “Then, if the result is correct,” Vincent began, “Coffey is an alias or Howison is, but the point is, this guy was undercover.”

  “Maybe this guy had plastic surgery to pass as Theodore Coffey,” Tess speculated. “Hey, why didn’t you two ever do that with you, Vincent?”

  “Where would we have gotten major plastic surgery done?” J.T. asked, making a quarter-turn in his office chair to face her square on. “At the Spies R Us Plastic Surgeons Lair? We are just regular people, you know. Except for Vincent.” He swung back to his keyboard. “I’m bringing up the photographs Cat sent us on Tess’s phone.”

  He did so. The dead man’s face filled J.T.’s largest monitor. Before Vincent could make the request, J.T. zoomed way out and guided the mouse to roll over the image very slowly as the three inspected it.

  “There,” Vincent said. He pointed to a shot that Cat had taken as the man’s head had lolled toward Vincent’s chest, exposing the skin behind his right ear. A shiny purple scar proved Tess’s theory.

  “We could assume that Richard Howison is a ranger, if he’s undercover army. Elite fighting forces.” Vincent held up a plastic bag containing the military ID card he’d taken from the corpse’s pocket. “This identifies him as Major Alan De Graizo.”

  “This guy has more names than a character in a Russian novel,” J.T. muttered. “Let’s see how far down we can drill with this alias.”

  J.T. squinted at the name and typed it in. The screen filled with red letters that proclaimed TOP SECRET CLEARANCE PASSWORD REQUIRED ALL OTHER ACCESS DENIED.

  “You’ve got your firewall up, right, buddy?” Vince asked tersely. Muirfield had been able to tie Vincent to Catherine because she had uploaded an old photo of him with two of his friends from Delta Company. They had wiped her computer clean and initiated a manhunt for him. Their lives had never been the same.

  “My firewall’s up but with security tech it’s like playing an infinite game of Submarine, you know? We’re hidden for now, but if they lob something new at us and they get the right square…” He made an explosion sound.

  “Then get out of there,” Tess said. “It’s not like we’re going to be able to come up with the password while we’re standing here.”

  “Try ‘Chimera,’” Vincent said.

  J.T. complied.

  WELCOME, MAJOR HOWISON, the screen said. Now in blue letters.

  J.T. opened a drawer and pulled out three surgical masks and a container of computer monitor wipes. He handed out the masks; everyone put one on. Then he turned off every single computer except for that one, and draped the top of the screen with several wipes, arranging more wipes at the bottom of the monitor.

  J.T. grabbed a pen and wrote on a yellow sticky note, For all we know, some tech is staring at us right now.

  By mutual unspoken agreement, they walked out of potential viewing range. J.T. wrote on another sticky, Bugs? Cameras?

  We just did an electronic sweep yesterday, Vincent reminded him. Place was clean. And suddenly it was three years ago when they spent a good part of each day making sure they were still safe, still off the radar. Some people kept track of trash day, they’d kept track of sweep for bugs day. Vincent felt the walls closing in again and anxiety nibbled at his nerve endings. He could actually sense his hormone levels rising.

  I’m supposed to be free now. All this is supposed to be over, he thought.

  In an act of defiance, he tore off his mask and walked outside into the busy New York sunshine. A driver in a car studied him and Vincent lowered his head, just like in the old days. A homeless man shuffled down the street and Vincent narrowed his eyes. Was he undercover?

  A helicopter flew overhead. He flinched. Then he moved in a slow circle, taking in a hundred pairs of eyes, a dozen people talking on cell phones, and his heartbeat pounded harder and harder.

  I’m surrounded.

  A hand touched his shoulder and he whirled around so fast he staggered. It was Tess. Her big brown eyes were filled with concern. She put both hands on his shoulders, steadying him.

  “What’s wrong?” she asked him.

  “I don’t know,” he replied. “My blood pressure’s ramping up and I’ve got the cold sweats.”

  “You’re afraid?”

  He raked his fingers through his hair. “Yes,” he said after a beat. “I want to run. Everything in me is shouting at me to flee.”

  “Like when the other beast attacked you?” She put her hand on his shoulder. “Vincent, this must be some kind of residual effect of the thing that set you off. Maybe there was some chemical in the warehouse last night, or on Howison’s ID. Something is affecting you but it’s not real. You’re here, with us.”

  He took a deep breath and exhaled. Another. He stared into her eyes and saw reassurance there. “He wanted me to go in his pockets. He wanted me to take something. All I found was the knife, an ammo clip, and the ID. And I took them all.”

  “Maybe there’s something on them. Like a chemical that elicits fear.”

  “But you’re not reacting.”

  “Maybe you have to be predisposed. Like cross-species DNA must be present for it to take effect. We’ll check it all out.”

  “I don’t think he wanted me to be afraid. I don’t know. Maybe I missed something. I was hurrying.” He thought back. “You know, he mentioned Tiptree by name and it was in connection with a serum of some sort. I remember when Lafferty lost it. I always assumed she was moving into rage because that’s what I’ve felt every time I beast out. But what if she felt fear? And they figured that out and they used her response to create a serum that causes terror?”

  “That makes perfect sense,” she said. “There have always been efforts to demoralize the other side into not fighting. Displays of power, propaganda that questions the morality of the
confrontation—or persuades the fighters that they are going to lose, so they might as well give up. This would take warfare to a new level.”

  “Your tax dollars at work,” he said sourly. “The people who funded Muirfield still have access to huge amounts of money. After we shut Muirfield down, it would start burning a hole in their pockets. They’d find a new project, or finesse the results of the old one.”

  “Well, it’s working. You’re scared. And all of New York is scared, and you know that New Yorkers scare easily.”

  “I hate being scared. It makes me feel helpless.” He quirked a grim smile. “Which is exactly what they want. But knowing that doesn’t help me. I can tell myself that I know I shouldn’t be afraid, but it doesn’t stop me.”

  “You’re trembling.”

  “I can’t seem to stop. I think I’m just going to have to ride it out.”

  “Then come inside.” She looked around at the busy New York street. “It’s sensory overload out here. It’s even scaring me.”

  That brought a little smile to his lips. Together they walked back into the club. J.T. looked up. He still had on his mask. The sight unnerved Vincent but he fought it back. It’s just a mask. It’s still J.T.

  “You okay, Vincent?” J.T. asked cautiously.

  “Yeah,” Vincent said, at the same time that Tess cut in, “He’s having some kind of reaction. Can you examine the ID he brought you, see if there’s any kind of drug adhering to the surface?”

  “Reaction?” J.T. half-rose from his chair. “Of the very violent fugue variety?”

  “No, J.T.,” Vincent said. “Just… more fear.” He wiped his face with his free hand. “I was telling Tess that Howison—or whatever his name really was—wanted me to find something in his pockets. He told me to take it. Those were his exact words. I’m wondering if he had something else on him—maybe an antidote for whatever this is. I think whatever is affecting me is a distillate of some kind of pheromone that triggers terror.”

  “Well, if it’s in his pockets, that would be too bad since you performed a home-grown cremation,” J.T. said.

  “Maybe it was left behind,” Tess offered. “I mean, the military makes structures that can withstand nuclear bomb blasts. Why not a small bottle or a vial that can survive a fire?”

  Vincent reached for his jacket and gloves. “I’m going back to the warehouse to look around.”

  “Wait until I check these objects,” J.T. said. “You might not need to go.”

  “No. Arson investigation will be combing through the ashes. I need to go now.”

  “If arson’s there, they won’t let you get anywhere near the scene,” Tess argued.

  He shrugged. “Then I’ll try to blur in, examine where his body was burned, and blur out.”

  Tess looked at J.T., who moved his shoulders with an air of resignation. She cocked her head at Vincent and smiled faintly. “Why do I get the impression that this isn’t really a discussion? You’re going to go no matter what we say.”

  “Yes.” He turned to J.T. “See what else you can get on Tiptree. Howison mentioned him with his last dying breath. We need to find out what we can. And, Tess, can’t you get Wilson a new partner? We need Cat on this and she’s hamstrung because he’s looking over her shoulder.”

  Tess made a growling sound. “My first and only new hire as Captain.”

  “Yeah, what’s he got on you?” J.T. teased her.

  “Nothing,” she said quickly. “It was just like a foreign-exchange program, only with police officers. I did it for the goodwill.”

  J.T. clacked his keyboard. “No good deed goes unpunished, Tess.”

  “While you’re working on that, I’m going to look into the Thornton Foundation,” Tess said. “Off the books. It’s just like having two jobs rolled into one.” She flashed them an artificially happy smile.

  “I think it’s time to pay another visit to Mr. Riley,” Vincent said. “I’ll go to his place after the warehouse.”

  “Poor old guy.” J.T. clucked his teeth. “He’s probably a wreck.”

  Tess said, “We should also go by the psych hospital and talk to Aliyah. Still no word on the social worker, Julia Hogan. I’m betting she’s dead.”

  “This is a nasty business,” J.T. declared. He slipped on a pair of gloves and picked up the military ID. “And as for this. It reminds me of when the government used to give the Native Americans blankets permeated with smallpox. They had no immunity and it wiped out entire tribes. So if there’s a scare-factor pathogen on here, it was engineered to hurt anyone they thought was a threat.”

  “If you can find a way to give me immunity, I’d appreciate it.” Vincent pulled some tissues out of a box on J.T.’s desk and dabbed his forehead.

  “Still feeling it?” Tess asked.

  “Oh, yeah,” Vincent replied. “But you know what they say: ‘Feel the fear and do it anyway.’”

  I just hope I can.

  CHAPTER TEN

  SILVERADO ACADEMY OF DESIGN

  Heather was proud of herself as she straightened the pie-crust collar of an emerald-green silk blouse she had made herself and pushed through the revolving door with a smile on her face, not revealing that her heart was thudding in her chest as she scanned everywhere for Walker. Cat and Vincent had been stuck in a sewer, and J.T. and Tess had been kidnapped. Those were the reasons they hadn’t called her. Good reasons. What was Walker’s excuse?

  Behind the receptionist’s glass desk, Elaine Tugong was wearing a scarlet baby-doll kimono top and flared black crepe pants. She had on very shiny eyeliner and wet-look scarlet lipstick that matched her top perfectly, but truthfully and not in a catty way? She looked dated. Being one of the receptionists at Silverado was a plum student work-study job because they got to meet all the visiting designers, who were always on the prowl for new talent. That was why the magazines held contests like New Looks. But if Elaine was going to catch their eye in a good way, she needed to put an accent on new.

  Elaine was texting; she gave Heather a little wave without pausing. Heather was just a student, hence, inconsequential. Today on Heather’s schedule was History of Design followed by Silks. As she headed for the lecture hall she caught sight of Mr. Summers, who owned Silverado. Now there was someone who knew how to put a look together: perfectly cut black wool trousers, Italian loafers and no socks, and a white shirt that had to be custom-made, accented with simple onyx cufflinks. His hair was white, trimmed short, and he had black eyebrows.

  “Good morning, Mr. Summers,” she sang out, giving him a wave.

  “Heather, isn’t it?” he said, and smiled at her. “Green is your friend.”

  Buoyed by the encounter, she walked into the lecture hall for HoD and Georja and Tyna, two of the girls in her class, bounded up to her. Everyone was changing the way they spelled their names to set themselves apart. Georja had told Heather she should change her name to something new, too, because “Heather” was boring.

  “Did you hear?” Tyna trilled. “Walker had an argument with Mr. Summers and walked out! He’s not working here anymore.”

  Heather jerked, her cheeks as hot as if Georja had slapped her. Mr. Summers was totally in with everyone in New York fashion, and she couldn’t imagine anyone with an ounce of ambition having an argument with him. That had to be why Walker hadn’t gotten in touch. But it still didn’t explain why he’d left the apartment without a single word before that argument.

  “What did they argue about?” she managed to ask.

  “The door was closed. All I heard was ‘record,’” Georja said.

  As in criminal record? Heather thought, astounded. No, that couldn’t be right. And anyway, they did background checks before they hired people, right? She’d had a background check for all three of her events coordinator jobs.

  “Wow, so, okay,” Heather said. “Gosh. Has anyone talked to Walker? Is he okay?”

  “No clue,” Georja replied, and Tyna lifted a brow.

  “I kind of thought you two had gotten
together,” Tyna said. “Didn’t work out, huh?”

  Humiliated, Heather tried to put on an enigmatic smile. She had a feeling she looked like she had indigestion. But Tyna had a point. They had gotten together.

  Before she could respond, the two turned and headed for the lecture hall. They caught sight of a guy they all knew—Jimm—and hurried up to him. Heather heard Walker’s name and whipped out her phone.

  We did get together, she told herself. That gives me certain privileges.

  She texted him: Walker? At SAD. U quit????

  The message was delivered. She waited to see if he read it. Everyone was walking into the lecture hall for the class but she loitered, getting a drink of water from the fountain, checking her lipstick in the hope that Walker would respond before class started. Canada Browne, her HoD teacher, had a zero-tolerance rule for texting. Get caught even once and she’d throw you out of class. History of Design was a required course to receive the coveted design certificate.

  The message remained unread.

  Then Heather’s irritation plummeted into the deep-freeze of worry. What if something had happened to him?

  You’re thinking like a cop’s sister, she told herself. It’s not like every single person you know gets murdered or something. But it was true that her sister’s boyfriend was a beast who had killed one of Heather’s own boyfriends to keep him from killing Heather. And that her mother had been murdered, and probably her father too.

  I’m allowed to think the worst, she thought petulantly.

  Then she went into her History of Design class and didn’t hear a single word about the evolution of the bathing suit.

  * * *

  Meanwhile, back at the precinct… or the seventh circle of hell, as Cat now liked to call it:

  “The keyboard goddess has smiled on me,” Sky informed her. He took a hefty gulp of wheatgrass juice like it was champagne. “I found no unusual activity for Julia Hogan until four days ago, when a transaction she began at an ATM in Brooklyn was never completed.”

  Cat’s heart skipped a beat. The chase was on. “Tell me you’ve found out the location and subpoenaed the footage.” She crossed her fingers that the footage did not contain a beast attack. She would have to intercept it. The jury was still out regarding whether Sky’s arrival in the 125th was just an escape from a sexual harassment suit.

 
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