Vengeful (Page 22)

If you knew what it was, it became something far more ominous.

Dominic parked and dismounted, climbing the front steps. The doors parted onto a pristine white hall, sterile to the point of purity. An officer stood on either side, one manning an X-ray, the other a scanner.

“I’ve got parts,” Dom reminded them, gesturing down his side.

The guy nodded, tapping away at the screen while Dominic set his phone, keys, jacket, and helmet in the tray. He stepped into the machine, waiting for the band of white light to scan up and then back down before reclaiming his possessions on the other side. He performed each task with an ease borne from habit. Amazing how things became normal, actions pressed into memory.

The locker room was the first door on the right. Dom set his jacket and helmet on a shelf and changed into a black uniform shirt, high-collared and long-sleeved. He washed his face, smoothed his hair, and patted his front pocket to make sure he had his access key.

Down the hall, and two floors up, he swiped himself into the control room and showed the senior officer the front of his key, where his face hung in holographic detail, right below the word EON.

“Dominic Rusher,” he said with an easy smile, “reporting for duty.”

VIII

FOUR WEEKS AGO

MERIT SUBURBS

STELL ducked under the yellow crime scene tape.

He didn’t flash a badge—didn’t need to. Everyone on the scene worked for EON. For him.

Agent Holtz was standing by the back door. “Sir,” he said eagerly, his tone too bright for the early hour.

“Who called it in?” asked Stell.

“Good Samaritan called the cops. Cops called us.”

“That obvious?”

“Oh yeah,” said Holtz, holding open the door.

Agent Rios was already in the kitchen. Tall, tan, and keen-eyed, she’d been Stell’s second-in-command for nearly four years. She was leaning against the counter, arms crossed, watching a tech photograph a pile of . . . something . . . on the tile floor. A large diamond glinted amid the mess.

“Same profile as the hospital?” asked Stell.

“Looks like it,” said Rios. “Marcella Riggins. Age thirty-two. Spent the last thirteen days in a coma after her husband tried to burn down their house—with her inside. Can’t really blame her for being mad.”

“Mad is conceivable,” said Stell. “Murder is a problem.” He looked around. “How many dead?”

Rios straightened. “Four, we think. It’s kind of hard to tell.” She pointed at the kitchen floor. “One,” she counted, then turned and led him down the hall to a room with a poker table, and a fairly grisly tableau. “Two,” she said, nodding down at a ruined body on the floor. “Three,” she pointed at a withered form only vaguely human. “And four,” she said, gesturing to a pile of dust that coated the back of a chair and spilled onto the felt table. “Hell hath no fury . . .”

Stell counted the chairs. “Survivors?”

“If there were, they didn’t go to the cops. The house belongs to Sam McGuire,” said Rios. “Safe to assume he’s here . . . somewhere.”

Holtz whistled from the doorway. “You ever seen anything like this before?”

Stell considered. He had seen a lot since his first introduction to EOs a decade and a half before. Vale, with his ability to modulate pain; Cardale, with his ability to regenerate; Clarke, with her ability to control—and those were just the start. The tip of the iceberg. He’d since seen EOs who could bend time, move through walls, light themselves on fire, turn themselves to stone.

But this, Stell had to admit, was something new.

He ran his hand through the mess on the felt. “What is this? Ash?”

“As far as we can tell,” said Rios, “it’s Marcus Riggins. What’s left of him. Or maybe this is. Or this.”

“All right,” said Stell, brushing the dust from his palms. “Compile the record. I want records of everything. Everything from the hospital. Everything from here. Shots and specs of every body, every room, every detail, even if you don’t think it matters. It goes in the file.”

Holtz raised his hand like a schoolboy. It was impossible to forget that he was new. “Who’s the file for?”

“Our analyst,” said Stell. But he knew how the agents and techs liked to talk. “You might have heard him called ‘the hunting dog.’”

“Well,” said Holtz, looking around. “Wouldn’t it be easier to bring your dog to the scene, instead of trying to take the whole scene to the dog?”

“Perhaps,” said Stell. “But his leash doesn’t reach this far.”

* * *

THE lights in the EON cellblocks came on all at once.

Eli Ever opened his eyes, looking up at the cell’s mirrored ceiling, and saw—himself. As always. Clear skin, brown hair, strong jaw; a copy of the boy he’d been at Lockland. A pre-med student at the top of his class, the peak of promise. As if the ice bath hadn’t only stopped his heart, but had frozen time itself.

Fifteen years, and though his face and body remained unchanged, Eli had aged in other ways. His mind had sharpened, hardened. He’d shed some of his more youthful ideals. About himself. About God. But those were the kinds of changes that didn’t show in the reflected glass.

Eli rose from the cot, stretched, and padded barefoot across the private cell that, for nearly five years, had marked the boundaries of his world. He went to the sink and splashed cold water on his face, then crossed to the low shelf that ran against one wall, folders stacked along its length. All of them were beige, ordinary, except for one—a thick black file at the end with a name printed on the front. His name. Eli never reached for that one—didn’t need to—he’d memorized the contents. Instead, his fingers danced along the spines before coming to rest on one considerably thicker than the rest, unmarked, save for a simple black X.

One of his few open cases. A pet project of sorts.

The Hunter.

Eli sat at the table in the center of his cell and flipped back the cover, turned through the pages of the file, skimming past the reports of older killings to the most recent one.

The EO’s name was Jack Linden. A mechanic three hundred miles west of Merit. He’d slipped through EON’s algorithm, but not, apparently, the Hunter’s notice. A crime scene photo showed the EO on his back, amid a sea of tools. He’d been gunned down at point-blank range. Eli ran a finger absently over the entry wound.

A pressure seal sounded nearby, and a few seconds later the far wall of Eli’s cell turned clear, dissolving from solid white to fiberglass. A thickset man with salt-and-pepper hair stood on the other side, carrying another file, and, as always, a mug of coffee. The last fifteen years might not have touched Eli, but every single one had left its mark on Stell.

The man nodded at the beige folder in Eli’s hands. “Any new theories?”

Eli let the file fall shut. “No,” he said, setting it aside and rising from his chair. “What can I do for you, Director?”

“There’s a new case,” said Stell, setting the file and mug in the fiberglass cubby. “I want your thoughts.”

Eli approached the barrier and collected both offerings.

“Marcella Riggins,” he read aloud, returning to his seat and taking a long, slow sip of his drink.

Eli didn’t need coffee, just as he didn’t need to eat or sleep, but some habits were psychological. The steaming mug was a small piece of change in a static world. A concession, a prop, but one that allowed him to pretend, if only for a moment, that he was still human.

Eli set the coffee aside and began to turn through the file. It wasn’t enough—it was never enough—but it was all they would give him. A stack of paper and Stell’s power of observation. And so he flicked through page after page, skimming the evidence, the aftermath, before finally pausing on a photo of human remains, a diamond glinting in the ash. He set the file aside and met Stell’s waiting gaze.

“All right,” said Eli. “Shall we begin?”

IX

FIVE YEARS AGO

LOCATION UNCERTAIN

AFTER Eli killed Victor, it was all a blur.

First, the chaos. The red and blue lights, the sirens, the officers storming through the Falcon Price, and the horrible realization they weren’t on his side.

Then came the cuffs, so tight they cut into Eli’s wrists, and the black hood, swallowing the sight of Victor’s corpse and the blood-slicked concrete, muffling the voices and the orders and the slammed doors, erasing everything but Eli’s own breath, his pounding heart, his desperate words.

Burn the body. Burn the body. Burn the body.

Then came the cell—more like a concrete box than a room—and Eli slamming his fists against the door over and over until his fingers broke, and healed, broke, and healed, the only evidence the blood left smeared across the steel.

And then, in the end, there was the lab.

Hands forcing Eli down, cold steel on his back and straps cinched so tight they cut into skin, pale sterile walls and too-bright lights and the chemical smell of disinfectant.

In the center of it all, a man in white, his face swimming above Eli’s. Dark eyes set deep behind black glasses. Hands drawing on plastic gloves.

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