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"Do any of our witches?" I asked, curious.
He took a sip of his coffee, then nodded. "I'll roust our magi for their reports and see if they confirm what you suspect about the business card. What do you plan to do next?"
"I'm going out to talk to the parents of the other victims, just to see if any of them know what sort of work their kids had been involved in before their death."
He nodded. "Did Shore's girlfriend provide any useful information?"
"She said he was a regular visitor to strip joints, and liked bringing the dancers home. The last one he took home was from Meinhardt's."
"Both Armel and Garrison were regulars there, too." He glanced across at Kade. "You feel like a little investigative trip tonight?"
Kade grinned. "Boss, anything is better than sitting behind this goddamn desk chasing names that don't exist."
"Just remember you're there to get information about our victims, not just ogle the scenery."
"I'm versatile. I can do both."
Jack harrumphed-a sound of disbelief if ever I'd heard one-then glanced at me. "Anything else?"
I shook my head. "Ben said Meinhardt's opened about six months ago, but he couldn't tell me who the owners are. I'm going to do a search through business registrations to get names, then do a background check."
"Let me know if you find anything," he said, then uncrossed his legs and walked out.
I went through the eye scan and signed into my computer, then pulled up the records for the last two zombie victims. I jotted down their addresses and the names of their parents, then I retreated to the search function and typed in Meinhardt's. As the cursor began to blink, I glanced at Kade, who was still grinning like a Cheshire cat.
"And what is Sable going to think about you going off to some strip joint while she stays home and minds the baby?"
"It's work, so she has no say. Besides, minding babies is a woman's business."
I snorted. "I bet you don't say that within earshot of her."
"I enjoy sex too much to ever say that within earshot of her, trust me on that. It doesn't counter the truth, though."
"You are such a sexiest at times."
"Totally. It is the way of the world."
"Maybe in the horse-shifter world, but not in the real one."
He waved a hand. "There may be a few enlightened souls in this world of ours, but trust me, deep down most men believe they are the superior sex."
"Believing and fact are two totally different things."
He grinned again. "I'm aware of that. And you will note that I've never mentioned my views to Sable."
"Wise move." Because I very much suspected Sable was one mare who packed a hell of a punch.
The results of my search flicked up on the screen. Meinhardt's was a surprisingly popular business name, with a good half dozen listings coming up. I clicked what appeared to be the latest link, and discovered the two women who ran Meinhardt were Hanna Mein and Jessica Hardt. Two woman running it, and two murderers running lose. Coincidence? It was always possible, but I just didn't think so. I clicked the next link down. The same women, same type of club, different state. As were the remainder. It seemed the two women had a habit of setting up a business and selling it nine months later.
I hunted down their license photos, sent them to the printer, and noticed with interest that one of the licenses was for a handicapped driver. Maybe it was coincidence, but those coincidences were beginning to add up. I started a search to see if either of the women had a police or Directorate record in any of the states they'd run their businesses in. I also ran a separate search for unsolved vamp murders in the time periods they'd owned their businesses. It was a long shot, but occasionally long shots did come in.
With the searches on the way, I walked over to the printer to get the pictures. Both women had dark hair, with one having green eyes and the other an odd brown that could almost be yellow. They could be described as plain looking, but given that these photos were only head shots, that didn't mean much. Hell, they could both have buxom, hourglass figures for all I knew.
What did strike me was the fact that one of them-Hanna Mein-bore a striking resemblance to the picture Joe had drawn of the blonde who'd recruited Kaz.
Which didn't mean she was guilty, but it was yet another pointer that the investigation was probably headed in the right direction.
I shoved the pictures into my pocket and headed out. The parents of the third murdered woman weren't home, so I went to the address of the first victim. And wondered if Kye would turn up, given these people were supposedly his friends. Or was that just another lie he'd spun?
Their home was a nondescript red-brick house that was surrounded by other nondescript red-brick houses. Fading roses littered the front garden and pencil pines lined the side boundaries, providing the illusion of privacy.
As I walked up the cracked concrete path to the front door, the blinds twitched aside and a freckled face briefly peeked out. It definitely wasn't the face of a parent-more like a younger brother.
I stopped on the porch and pressed the doorbell. The buzzer rang harshly and footsteps echoed, coming from the room where the blinds had twitched.
"What?" a surly voice said, without the door being opened.
"Riley Jenson, from the Directorate," I said. "I need to talk to your parents."
"They ain't here."
"Where are they, then?"
"Why do you want to know?"
I bit down on my impatience, trying to remember he was probably little more than thirteen or fourteen and alone in the house. Technically, he was doing the right thing-although the standard security screen door and the old wooden door behind it wouldn't have stopped many nonhumans if they really wanted to get into the house.
"I'm investigating your sister's death, and I need to ask them some questions."
"What type of questions?"
Okay, so this kid was seriously annoying, whether or not he was doing the right thing. "I'd really prefer not to be talking to two doors. Open the wooden door."
"You going to show me your ID?"
"I will." I grabbed my ID from my pocket and slapped it against the metal mesh. "You going to tell me your name?"
There was a pause, then the main door creaked open. The kid was thin and gangly, with a thatch of carrot-red hair and blue eyes to go with the freckles I'd briefly glimpsed earlier.
"It's Josh." His eyes widened as he studied the ID. "You're a guardian? I thought only vampires were guardians."
"I'm part of a new daytime squad." I shoved the badge away. "What time will your parents be home?"
He shrugged. "Mom in an hour or so, Dad after six. They won't be able to tell you much, though."
"And why is that?"
"Because Amy and them never talked. She was supposed to be moving out next week, in fact."
"Who was she moving out with?"
"Some dumb guy she lurved."
I raised my eyebrows. "You don't believe in love?"
"Not when all she talked about was banging the guy."
I grinned. "Did she talk about anything else other than sex with her hot guy?"
"Not really." He shrugged as he said it, but his gaze flicked away from mine and heat crept into his cheeks.
"It's really important to tell me if you do know anything," I said softly, "It might just be the difference between catching her killer and not."
He didn't say anything for several seconds, nor would he meet my gaze. "I promised Amy I wouldn't tell anyone."
"I think this is one promise Amy would want you to break. You don't want her killer going after someone else, do you?"
Which wasn't fair, but it had the desired effect.
"I guess not," he mumbled, then sniffed. "She was offered some big-paying job. It's how she could afford to move out of home."
What were the odds that the job was offered by a woman wearing an ill-fitting blond wig? "What kind of job?"
He hesitated. "She wasn't a crim or anything. She just needed the money."
"I understand that, Josh, but I need to know what she did."
"A lady paid her eight grand to bang some vampire."
I blinked. That certainly wasn't an answer I'd been expecting. "And did she get paid money often to bang people?"
"Hell, no. She wasn't a whore. This was a onetime job, like."
"I don't suppose you know the name of the vampire she was supposed to be with?" Maybe if we could find him, we might stand a chance of understanding what the hell was going on. And why these kids were being killed.
He shrugged. "It was strange. Arkell? Or something like that?"
Oh my God... "Armel?" I said, and almost held my breath for his answer.
"Yeah, that's it."
Armel. Who liked redheads. Fucking hell, we had a connection. But there was no way on earth any of the murdered teenagers had the magical resources needed to overpower old vampires, so why were they being paid so much money to seduce them? It had to be a part of the plot, but I wasn't yet seeing the connection. "And that's all she had to do? Sleep with him and leave?"
He nodded. "Easy money."
"Do you know how Amy was supposed to meet this vampire?"
"Some club." He shrugged.
Meinhardt's, I thought, remembering what Anna had said about Martin Shore's last conquest. Only Amy wouldn't have been old enough to get into a strip joint like that. So somewhere along the line, club security and/or its owners were involved in these cases. "And she did what she was supposed to?"
"Yeah. No problems."
Except that she never got to spend her earnings, because her life had been ripped apart by the living dead. "So where did Amy meet the woman who gave her the job?"
"At the social security office. Amy was waiting to hand in her form so she could get rent assistance, and the woman just started talking to her." He shrugged. "It went from there, I suppose."
"Did she ever mention what the woman looked like?"
"No." He hesitated. "She did get one of the woman's business cards, though. It was black, with a really cool picture of a staked heart on it."
The same card that Joe had given me. Surprise, surprise. "What happened to it?"
"Amy probably kept it in her purse. Don't know where that is."
Meaning the zombie or the sorcerer had probably removed it after the kill, because otherwise Cole would have mentioned it. "There's nothing else you can remember that might help with our investigation?"
"Don't think so." He hesitated. "Are you going to catch whoever did this?"
"We certainly plan to."
"Good." He hesitated again. "Kick him for me. The bastard deserves that. And make sure some sappy lawyer doesn't get him off easy."
"Oh, trust me, the person behind these murders won't get off easy." Mainly because he or she would be dead. I hesitated then asked, "Tell me, do you know anyone by the name of Kye Murphy?"
"Dad's friend? Sure. Why? He in trouble?"
So the bastard was telling the truth. Amazing. "No, I was just checking. Thanks for your help, Josh."
He nodded and slammed the door shut. The windows twitched as I walked away, and a freckled face watched me climb into the car.
The next stop should have been the safe house so I could show Joe the picture of the two women and check whether one was his blonde, but with the business cards all but confirmed as trackers, that wasn't the wisest move. The magic might have faded, but that didn't mean the witch couldn't still track us through it. I hoped the magi had come up with something to counter it-and had already given it to Joe.
I traveled back to the Directorate then headed for my desk and checked out the searches. Both of them were still ongoing.
I blew out a breath in frustration, then glanced up as Jack came into the room.
He didn't look happy. "You'd better get over to the safe house straight away."
Alarm ran through me and I stood up quickly. "What's happened?"
"Another zombie has been raised, and the safe house holding your street kid has been attacked."
"How long ago was this?" I asked, grabbing my old leather jacket from the back of the chair. Though it was actually Rhoan's old leather jacket, I'd recently liberated it.
"Five minutes, if that."
"What happened to Joe and the guardian minding him?"
"We don't know." His expression was grim. "Jacques isn't answering, nor is he picking up the phone."
"Then how do you know about the attack?" I grabbed my car keys and purse and headed for the door as I spoke.
"Because unlike some guardians, Jacques has his com-unit on during all working hours. He managed a quick report before things went silent." Jack stepped to one side to let me through the door, then fell in step beside me as I walked toward the elevators. "Two zombies apparently crashed through the front door. Jacques killed one, but then everything went silent."
I frowned as I punched the elevator call button. "But Jacques is a vamp. Surely he would have been able to cope with a couple of zombies?"
"I would have thought so. The bigger question is, though, how the fuck did these people even know where to go?"
The elevator doors opened and I stepped inside. "What about the magic on the business card?"