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He was so tired of all this, so exhausted by his nature, his urges, this thing inside of him that had to get out. He had done his best, at least in the Old World, to choose victims who deserved it, but now . . . he just didn’t give a shit anymore.

“Of course I did it,” he said as he looked at the Brother. “I killed both of them and I hung them up by meat hooks in the storage rooms. And unless you take care of me properly, I’m going to do it again.”

* * *

Hours later, as the sun gave up on its illuminating duties and sank below the horizon, Butch was back in his evidence room at the training center, staring up at the wall, his chair on two legs. In his hands, the Bic he used to take notes, notes, and more notes was traveling in and out of the stalks of his fingers, pirouetting around the digits in an endless dance.

When the door opened, he didn’t look over. No need to. By the scent of Turkish tobacco, he knew who it was.

Righting his chair, he pulled over some of the papers on the table to make a spot for Vishous if the brother wanted to park it. “How’s tricks, kid?”

“You tell me.”

The door closed, and his best friend went over and stared at the black-and-white photographs of Mai. Both V and he stayed silent for a very long time, and he had to admit he was glad his roommate was in the house, so to speak. V was the smartest person he’d ever met. Surely, if there was anyone who could make sense of this fruit salad of WTF, it was Vishous.

Because things just weren’t adding up, and that did not make sense. It just . . . did not. Everything on the surface was pointing directly at Syn, but that was it. The evidence didn’t back things up, and it was hard to fathom why somebody would cop to a killing—or two—that they did not commit. Butch had a few other angles he could explore . . . but if the way the case had been going so far was any indication, he wasn’t going to get any better answers than the ones that had been coming through to him already.

“You mind if I light up?” V asked as he backed up like the close-up hadn’t worked so maybe a panoramic view of things might help.

“Nope. I’m thinking of volunteering for the habit as well at this point.”

Vishous went to pull back one of the chairs. When it resisted, Butch sat forward and reached for his Phillips head. “Here, let’s unscrew the—”

The brother yanked the thing up, the high-pitched whine of metal reaching and surpassing its structural integrity making Butch wince. As some of the screws bounced on the hard polished floor, V turned the chair around and inspected the mangled feet.

“Didn’t think that one through,” he muttered.

His solution to the inevitable instability was to pound those four feet into the concrete over and over again until the thing was somewhat level on its legs.

“There,” he said as he parked his ass. “Fixed it.”

The fact that he was sitting off-kilter and had made holes in the floor seemed petty to point out.

“Good job,” Butch said.

“I could do the other two?”

“I think we’re okay. But thanks for the offer.”

Vishous nodded and got out his papers and his tobacco pouch. As he rolled one up, Butch watched those strong hands, the one that was gloved and the one that wasn’t.

“So what are you thinking?” the brother said as he licked down the edge of the paper and smoothed the flap in place.

Butch shook his head and refocused on the pictures of Mai. “Autopsy came back.”

“Any surprises?”

“Nope.” Butch rubbed his shoulder and rolled it around in its socket. “Toxicology will take a while, but what’s going to come from it? That she had drugs in her system? That maybe he drugged her before he slit her throat? Even if that was the case, I’ve been in Syn’s room. He doesn’t keep anything in it other than weapons and not enough clothes to get me through an afternoon. There were no drugs or paraphernalia.”

“He could have tossed it all.” V exhaled away from Butch even though they were in an enclosed space. “Gotten rid of the leathers and the jacket. And any drugs.”

Butch shrugged. “When it comes to his leathers, the count is right. I went to the supply closet. His backups, the ones Fritz ordered for him, match the receipt. The laundry count is also pristine. Everything is accounted for.”

“There are all kinds of way to explain that. He could order the leathers himself.”

“Doesn’t have a credit card. I got all his bank information—or shall I say the lack of it—from Balthazar.”

“Maybe he has an account we don’t know of.”

Butch inclined his head. “True.”

V picked an errant flake of tobacco off his lower lip and pulled a half-empty mug of cold coffee over to ash in. “Syn fucking did it. He admitted it to me. You listened to the recording.”

“Yeah.” Butch fished into his silk shirt and took his cross in hand, rubbing the heavy gold. “I know—”

The knock on the door was sharp and a one-off.

“Come in,” V muttered.

Balthazar entered and reclosed things. The Bastard was in his field clothes, but without his jacket or his weapons, and Butch had to wonder if he’d deliberately removed the latter as a measure of respect. Known for being a thief, Balthazar was nonetheless an honorable, stand-up guy—at least to the short list he considered worth being honest with. As for the rest of the world? He was liable to rock the five-finger discount and then some.

In truth, he reminded Butch of some of the Irish mafia thugs in Southie, and oddly, it made him respect the guy.

“Hey,” the Bastard said. “You wanted to see me?”

Butch got to his feet and offered his palm. “What’s doing. Thanks for coming down.”

“Sure. Yeah.”

Vishous offered his palm over his shoulder, and the other male clapped it. “You want a cigarette?”

Balthazar squeezed his muscle-loaded body into the chair on the other side. “Wow, this is a tight squeeze. And yes, please, on the nicotine.”

“You want I fix your chair?” V offered.

“No,” Butch said. “We’re done with the redecorating. My eardrums can’t take another round of that.”

V shot him a buzzkill glare and then got to work rolling one for Balthazar.

Butch sat forward and linked his fingers around his pen. “I’m thinking you know why I’ve asked you to sit down with me.”

“My cousin Syn.”

“Yeah. I’ve kind of got issues with him.”

“I know you do.” The Bastard looked down at his own callused hands. “He’s a tough case, and it makes me sad.”

There was a quiet moment as V passed a fresh hand-rolled over as well as his lighter. While Balthazar accepted both and lit up, Butch thought about the barren rooms Syn kept himself in. “Sad” was a good word for that living space, even if you assumed he was just staying with a tradition that he felt comfortable in.

“Oh . . . this is nice tobacco,” Balthazar murmured. “So smooth.” V smiled with satisfaction, like the guy had complimented his car.

“Anytime you want one, I got you, true?”

“’Ppreciate you.” Balthazar exhaled in a long, slow stream and then looked back over at Butch. “So . . . Syn. How can I help?”

“Tell me about the shit in the Old World,” Butch said.

Balthazar turned the hand-rolled around and stared at the glowing tip. “I love my cousin. I have a great deal of loyalty toward him. He’s not a bad male, but he . . . growing up, he was in a bad situation. Back then, things were different. Young civilians were bred to work in the fields and provide food—they were farm equipment, not blessings. His sire was a drunk who needed something to hit, and Syn decided at a young age that he’d rather it be him than his mahmen. So he took the beatings.”

Butch shook his head. “I knew households like that on the human side.”

“People can be assholes, no matter the species.” Balthazar shrugged and tapped his head. “One night, Syn’s father took a copper pot and chased the poor kid into the pantry. He beat Syn’s skull so hard it bent the fucking metal out of shape. He was never the same after that. Seizures. Blackouts. And . . . the rage came after that.”

“Classic concussive trauma,” V muttered.

“Even if that hadn’t happened, I think Syn would have had a lot of anger, but after that . . . he was different.”

“How did he get out of the situation at home?” Butch asked. “He killed his father.” Balthazar rubbed his eyes as if he were seeing things he would have preferred not to. “I was the one who found the body. It was unrecognizable. Field dressed and decapitated. I didn’t know who it was until I saw the head off to the side under a goddamn bush. Syn was sitting there, next to the remains, covered in his sire’s blood staring at the knife in his hand like he was surprised by what he’d done with it.”

“His first taste of death,” V whispered.

“I didn’t blame him for that one.” Balthazar shook his head and ashed into the mug. “His father had to go. But then, after his transition, there were others. A lot of others.”


“Yeah, females, too. To his credit, he never targeted someone who didn’t deserve it. The people he killed were murderers, cheats . . . thieves.” The Bastard looked up and smiled remotely. “I get a free pass on that last one because I’m family to him.”

“Sounds like you lucked out there,” Butch said.

“Yes, indeed.” Balthazar took a drag on the hand-rolled. “Things get gruesome when he goes to work and he’s very creative.”

“So the two females who were found down at Pyre are right up his alley.”

Balthazar got to his feet and went over to the black-and-white photographs of Mai’s body. “This is a little tame for him, actually.”

“Well, he got depraved enough for my tastes.” Butch shook his head as he looked at the wall of evidence that he’d created. “Autopsy showed he had sex with her after she was dead.”