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A Perfect Blood (The Hollows #10)(9)

By:Kim Harrison

“Jenks!” I exclaimed, and the undead vampire let some of his anger show, Nina’s eyes squinting. The anger wasn’t directed at us, telling me he wasn’t happy with how the investigation had been handled, either.
“The best we can tell, they probably died between the eighth and the tenth,” Nina said. 
I really wanted off this bandstand, but I didn’t want to look squeamish.
“Magic killed them, not blood loss,” she added, holding her breath when the wind blew and the man’s blood-caked hair moved in the breeze. “That came afterward. Apart from the girl at the school, they died from a transforming spell that wasn’t done properly. We can’t be sure until the necropsy, but if this man follows the pattern, his insides will be as deformed as his outsides. They died because their bodies couldn’t function.”
Jenks was a tight hum at my ear, and he was slipping a green dust. “Hey, Rache, you mind if I check the sitch with the local pixies? They aren’t hibernating yet.”
Nina stiffened. It was a slight movement that probably would have escaped my detection if I hadn’t been looking for it. The dead vampire thought it was a waste of time, but not breaking our eye contact I nodded. “Good idea, Jenks.”
“Back in a sec,” he said, and in a flash, he was gone. I wished I could fly away, too.
“Whose blood made the spells that did this?” I asked, starting to get a bad feeling. Three teenagers killed, then a few days later, a second victim, then a few more days, and then Thomas.
“What an interesting question.” Nina backed up to lean against the railing. “We didn’t catch on that fast—Ms. Morgan.”
Her stance said I knew too much. Maybe she was right. Maybe it just took a demon to catch a demon. “Whose blood twisted the spells that killed them?” I asked again, jaw clenching.
“At the school, they died from their own. The second victim died from a spell kindled with blood from one of the teenagers. We don’t know yet whose blood this man died from.”
My shoulders slumped as I exhaled, and Ivy, who was looking from the bloody floor to one of the photos to compare the glyphs, met my eyes, reading my worry. Crap, they were leapfrogging. Taking the blood from the last victim to capture and experiment on the next. I put a hand to my middle and looked at the pentagram around me, wishing I had enough guts to take my charmed silver off and see where the nearest ley line was. Close, I bet. Graveyards were often built on them. If Jenks were here, I could ask him.
“Our working theory is once the perpetrators harvest sufficient blood to play with, they simply use the blood of the previous victim to experiment on and torture the next,” Nina said.
Play. That was a good word. It was what I’d already figured out, but hearing it made me more nauseated yet. At least there’d probably be no bodies older than the ones found at the school.
“Experiment?” Ivy looked up from her pages.
Nina drew herself up into a lecturing pose, and I wondered if the vampire inside her had been a professor. “In each case, the blood has been modified. To what end, we don’t yet know.”
I didn’t know, either, and I looked at the body so I wouldn’t have to look at Nina. This man’s death had been painful, his body spending several days twisted somewhere between a human and a goat as his captors played with his blood. But why? This was just nasty. Whoever had done this had dumped him to create a sensation and get noticed. A perverted warning against black magic . . . or a way to get my attention?
“How about the circle?” I said, my hands in my coat pockets. “Whose blood made it?”
Nina drifted closer to me, her posture having a relaxed tension as she passed the body with barely a flicker of acknowledgment. “We’re having difficulty finding that out. Our standard, magic-based tests are coming back inconclusive, and we’re having some trouble duplicating the FIB’s barely legal tissue-typing techniques. We think it’s from the second victim as well. He died only a week ago. A businessman in town for a convention.”“Let me guess,” I said, doing the math in my head. “Thomas went missing exactly five days after the businessman died.”
“Exactly . . .” Nina whispered, her voice drawing through me to make me shiver and Ivy frown. Was she jealous? “How did you know?”
Knees wobbly, I sat down on the top step, my feet just shy of the word written in blood. The man’s cloven feet were at my eye level, and I turned away, breathing shallowly. “Because if you know how, and have the right equipment, you can keep witch blood active for that long. After five days, they’d need a new source of blood.” I looked up, my gaze flicking to Wayde, at the foot of the stairs. “Anyone file a claim for missing lab equipment?” I asked Nina, and her eyes narrowed.
“I’ll find out.”
“Good idea,” I said sarcastically. God, vampires were clueless sometimes, so secure in their superiority that they didn’t ask the right questions.
“So let me get this straight,” Ivy said, the papers hanging from her hand as she stood beside and above me, her hip cocked and clearly not impressed. “You found body number two before you found the earlier crime with the kids?”
Nina flushed. “The location of the first bodies was remote. Whoever did this was unhappy that we missed the first one and so left the next one in a more public space.”
The better to tease you with, my dear, I thought as I held my breath and looked at the floor. A drop of coagulated blood dangled at the tip of the man’s hoof, suspended forever. Why couldn’t I have just taken the blue pill and gone home? Taking a deep breath, I stood, gripping the railing until I was sure I wouldn’t fall over. Someone was torturing witches. Why? “Ivy, what do you think?”
She shrugged. “Lots of IV marks. He reeks of antiseptic. They tried to keep him alive.”
“They were successful for about a week,” Nina interrupted.
Seeing me again upright, Ivy slid herself up to sit on the railing and leaf through the packet of information. Her ankles were crossed, and she smiled at me as she saw me catch my mental balance. Shrugging, I turned back to the body hanging before us. Yes, it was ugly, but if I couldn’t get past it, I’d never find out who had done it so I could pound his or her head into the pavement.
“The businessman,” I said as I finished my circuit of the man and carefully stepped between the cords keeping his legs spread-eagled. I was at his face, and I dropped my eyes. His skull looked malformed, the brow heavy. “Was he contorted like this?”
“Fairly close, but he still had his hands. Obviously they’re working toward a specific body type. There was no sign of a fight from him. Stress levels recorded in the body say he was kept alive for several days under a sleep charm after he was subjected to the malfunctioning spell. They probably woke him only to try a new charm or feed him. The change in SOP was either to extend his life after the failed spell or because their new facility was somewhere public and they couldn’t risk someone hearing him. We’re not sure.” 
Whoever did this was insane, but I was willing to bet it wasn’t a demon. A demon curse would have worked, and this obviously hadn’t.
Ivy perked up as she found something she liked in her paperwork, her feet swinging as she sat balanced on the railing. “They kept moving their base?” she said, not looking from the pages. “Odd.”
“Agreed.” Nina rocked from her heels to her toes and back again, her hands clasped behind her in a decidedly masculine gesture. Behind her, the I.S. officers were getting impatient, wanting to cut the body down and get on with it. “Microscopic evidence from all the victims is different: dust samples, pollen, residual ley-line orientation at the time of death.”
Ley-line orientation at the time of death? I’d been out of the I.S. for a little over two years, and I’d already missed hearing about new technology.
“We’ll try to locate where they held this man, but they’ve probably moved already,” Nina said, glancing at the I.S. officers and the radio chatter below us. Two geeky living vampires at the bottom of the stairs with a gurney and a body bag fidgeted in the cold as they waited for us.
“We found enough evidence on the businessman’s body to sensitize an amulet. It led to an abandoned site, thoroughly cleaned, but they left the cage so we’d know it was them.”
Ivy slid from the railing with the papers securely bundled in her arms. I could tell she was not going to give them back. “They’re laughing at you,” she said mockingly as she started for the stairs, her motions slow and provocative. Crap on toast, she was intentionally goading the undead vampire, knowing he’d screwed up this run and rubbing his nose in his mistake. Either that or she just wanted to talk to the waiting techs.
“I know they’re laughing at us,” Nina almost growled, but she was watching Ivy’s ass as she took the stairs, and Ivy knew it. Jenks flew in to land on Ivy’s shoulder when she reached the sidewalk. He’d probably finished his investigation a while ago and simply hadn’t wanted to get near the body again. I could understand. It was probably like being next to the rotting carcass of a blue whale.
“Can we see the previous sites?” I asked just to get the undead vampire’s eyes off Ivy.