“I promise. I won’t let you down.”
Butch nodded and went across to Helania to take his leave. And then Boone was closing the door behind the other male.
Taking a deep breath, he sat on the sofa where the Brother had been. “Are you okay talking to me about this?”
It was a while before she answered, and in the silence, he turned things into a multiple choice situation: A) Fuck no, I don’t want to be alone with you; B) Are you insane, I have to go; C) Do you have any idea what you’re doing, or are you just winging this?; and D)—
“Actually, I’d rather do this with you.”
Okay. Wow. His D) had been more along the lines of I’m not a celebrity, get me outta here.
“With your permission, I’ll start recording on my phone?” See, he could be professional. “It’s just so Butch can listen, and this way, maybe you can be all done with this.”
“I thought the room was recording it?”
Boone looked around and saw security stuff everywhere. Duh. “Well, this is just an extra belt and suspenders thing, then.”
Boone put his phone on the coffee table, and when he was sure it was working, he sat back. “Can you tell me what happened? And take your time. I have all night.”
* * *
Helania stared at the phone because it was easier. She could tell the thing was recording because a little counter at the top of the screen was marking passing seconds that would turn into minutes.
This may well be a waste of time, she thought, given that her voice seemed to have left her. She really did not want to talk about the nightmare that had unfolded eight months ago and was still very much with her. But she had called the Brotherhood for help. What had she thought was going to happen?
More to the point, if she wanted to stop whoever was killing females . . .
“My sister, Isobel . . .”
As that name left her lips, she was suffused in sadness, and found herself falling silent again as memories came to her.
She cleared her throat. “Isobel was not like me. She was outgoing—she liked to be with people, and people liked being with her. She had a boyfriend, and she went to Pyre with him a lot.”
Boone frowned. “Tell me about the male.”
“She was happier with him than I had ever seen her before. She had had boyfriends from time to time, but he was different. Her eyes sparkled whenever she talked about him.”
“What was his name?”
“I don’t know.” Helania shrugged. “I never met him.”
As Boone’s face settled into a mask, she shook her head. “It wasn’t him who killed her. I know Isobel, and she never would have been with someone who was abusive. Besides, she was giddy whenever she spoke about him. She couldn’t wait to see him.”
“Was he of the species?”
“Yes, he was.”
“How long were they together?”
“She first told me about him a couple of months prior to her death, but I had the sense she had been seeing him for a little while before then.”
“How long is ‘a little while’?”
Helania took her parka off her lap and put it on the floor beside the chair. “Let me think . . . she mentioned him sometime in February last year. But her mood picked up around the human holidays before then? So I think they first started seeing each other maybe in December. But it’s hard for me to say for sure. She was always really social and out most nights with her friends anyway. Again, though, something changed around the holidays last year. She was different. In a good way.”
“Are you close to any of her friends?”
“Not really.” Helania shook her head. “I usually stayed home.”
And didn’t that sound lame to her own ears.
“Do you think any of Isobel’s friends might be willing to talk to me? About the boyfriend?”
“Again, I didn’t spend a lot of time with them, but her social media is still live because I haven’t had the heart to delete her Instagram or Facebook. Some of them have to be on there and I could contact them.”
“That’d be great.”
Boone smiled a little, and the subtle movement made her focus on his lips. He had a really nice mouth, she decided, a full bottom, a peaked top. It looked soft—
“So, Isobel had this boyfriend,” he said, “and as far as you knew, they had a good relationship.”
Okay, she totally and completely needed to stop with the mouth thing. “Yes.”
“And she would meet him at Pyre. Was there anywhere else they would go? Would she stay over at his place?”
“No, not really. Not often, I mean. Mostly she was at our apartment during the days.” Helania looked down at her hands. “I think she felt as though she had to look after me. It was a throwback to when we were younger.”
Back in the era when Helania had been different and at a disadvantage. And Isobel her champion.
“Your sister sounds like a female of worth,” Boone said softly.
“She was the very best person I’ve ever known.”
As she said the words, she realized something. For Isobel to be dead and her to be the one who lived? It seemed like a waste, and that was part of her guilt.
“Tell me about the night she died—”
“Killed,” Helania corrected. “The night she was killed.”
Boone nodded gravely. “Tell me what happened. And as I said, take your time. I don’t care how long you need. I will sit with you until dawn if we have to.”
“It brings it all back, you know.” Abruptly, Helania felt like she couldn’t breathe, and she sat up straight, as if that would give her lungs a little more space to expand into. “It brings back . . . everything.”
While she struggled with her emotions, Boone just sat on the sofa beside her chair, his eyes steady, his body still. And in the end, his calm presence was the only thing that made it possible for her to go on.
Inhaling deeply, she sighed out the words. “It was four in the morning when I found out. But at least I still had time to get to her.”
“No, at the house where they brought her. After she was found at Pyre.” Helania tangled her fingers, knotting them and then forcing them to release. “She had these two friends who she saw all the time. One she met in nursing school. Another was somebody she’d crossed paths with out in the scene. They were the females who went looking for her that night—and one of them found her.”
As Helania teared up, Boone held something out. A handkerchief. And of course it was monogrammed, as befitting his station. She wanted to tell him no-thank-you, but she couldn’t stand the crying. For godsakes, if she couldn’t handle speaking about Isobel’s death without losing it, how in the hell was she going to be strong enough to find the killer?
Accepting what he offered, she put the soft folds to her cheeks. “Thank you.”
“Would you like some water?”
“No, I just want to get through this.” She took another deep breath and backtracked, names and faces jamming in her head, syllables getting twisted in her throat. “That night, Isobel . . . Isobel and her two friends went to Pyre. From what I was told, her friends lost track of her in the crowd at the club. When it was time to go, they couldn’t find her and tried her phone. They told me they even went down to the lower level, but they didn’t see anything or scent anything out of the ordinary. They went home, thinking she’d gone to their place, and they were worried when she wasn’t there.”
“So how did they find her?”
“One of them went back. She broke into each of the storage areas, and that was where . . .” Helania pressed the handkerchief into her stinging eyes. “That was where the female found Isobel hanging from a hook on the ceiling. Her throat had been . . . cut. She was stiff, I was told. Cold. The—ah, the one who found her called the other friend. Together, they removed her from the scene. There are so many humans at that club, as you know. They couldn’t leave her, especially with the dawn coming.”
“Of course they couldn’t.”
Helania glanced down at his phone and watched the numbers go up for a little bit. “I will never forget what the knock on our apartment door sounded like. Four a.m. Knocking. I knew something bad had happened because no one ever came to see us. Isobel always went out. Anyway, I went to check the peephole . . . there was a female on the other side and she was crying. I opened the door, and she all but collapsed into me. It took her three tries to get it all out, and I don’t know whether that was because I couldn’t hear right or because she couldn’t speak right. The next thing I knew, we were driving across town. I don’t even remember what kind of car it was, but good thing she had it, as we were both too upset to dematerialize.”
Glancing up from the phone’s counter, she focused on Boone’s face. “I could smell my sister’s blood in that car. It was what they had used to move her.”
Boone squeezed his eyes shut and cursed. “I can’t even imagine.”
“I just kept thinking, she can’t be dead. She can’t be dead . . . she can’t be dead. It just seemed—I mean, Isobel was the most alive person I knew. How could anyone like her not be breathing?”
Helania folded the handkerchief and dabbed at her face. As she breathed in, she caught the whiff of a delicate smell, as if the square of fine cotton had been handwashed in something as gentle as it was expensive.
She continued, “It was a proper house that we went to. A nice house, not as fancy as this by far, but set back from the road with lots of bushes and an attached garage.” She blinked and saw the place clear as moonlight in her mind. “It was clean inside, and the furnishings were all new and fresh. Isobel . . . she was on the floor in the living room, wrapped in white. A sheet, it was. Like a mummy. They had laid her out on the hardwood floor. The scent of her blood was more intense, and even wrapped up like that, I could see a red stain spreading on the back of where her neck was.