Whatever it was that made her pause, the fact was that Serena had faltered, and now her sister—the shadow in her shape—was alive, and apparently here in the city. Serena pulled on her coat, and went to look for Sydney.
THE ESQUIRE HOTEL
VICTOR savored the scalding water of the hotel shower as he rinsed the last of the grave dirt from his skin. Barry Lynch had been surprisingly receptive when he revisited the cemetery this morning. Victor had gone back just before dawn, scooped out the foot of dirt he’d put back on top of Lynch, to make the grave look empty if anyone chanced to walk by, and pried the lid off to find Barry’s terrified eyes staring up at him. Pain and fear are inextricable—a lesson that went back to Victor’s studies at Lockland—but pain has multiple forms. Victor might not be able to physically hurt Barry Lynch, but that didn’t mean he couldn’t make him suffer. Barry, for his part, seemed to get the message. Victor had smiled, and helped the once-dead man out of his coffin—even though he hated the way the man’s strangely nerveless skin felt against his own—and as he passed him the note and sent him on his way, Victor felt confident that Lynch would follow through. But just to be certain, he’d told him one last thing. He’d taken several steps back, and then turned toward Barry, and said it as an afterthought.
“The girl, Sydney, the one who brought you back. She can change her mind at any point. Snap her fingers, and drop you like a stone. Or rather, like a corpse. Do you want to see?” he asked, digging the phone from his pocket. He began to dial. “It’s really quite a clever trick.”
Barry had paled, and shaken his head, and Victor had sent him on his way.
“Hey, Vale!” Mitch’s voice reached him through the bathroom walls. “Get out here.”
He snapped the shower water off.
Mitch was still shouting his name when he stepped into the hall a minute later, toweling off his hair. Sun was streaming in through the tall windows, and he winced at the brightness. Late morning, at least. His message should be well on its way.
“What is it?” asked Victor, at first worried, but then he saw Mitch’s face, the broad, open smile. Whatever the man had done, he was proud of it. Sydney appeared, with Dol close behind, his tail wagging lazily.
“Come see this.” Mitch gestured to the profiles spread out on the kitchen counter. Victor sighed. There were more than a dozen now—and most of them dead-ends, he was sure. They couldn’t seem to get the search matrix exact enough. He’d spent the previous evening, and most of the night, looking over the pages, wondering how Eli did it, if he followed every lead, or if he knew something Victor didn’t, saw something Victor hadn’t. Now before his eyes, Mitch began turning papers facedown, eliminating profile after profile from the mix until only three were left. One was the blue-haired girl, and the second an older man he’d studied last night, but the third was new, it must have been freshly printed.
“This,” said Mitch, “this is Eli’s current list of targets.”
Victor’s cool eyes flicked up. He began to shift his weight from foot to foot. His fingers tapped out a beat. “How did you figure that out?”
“It’s a great story. Stand still and I’ll tell you.”
Victor forced himself to stop moving. “Go on,” he said, scanning the names and faces.
“So, I’m seeing this pattern,” said Mitch. “I keep ending up in police files. Merit police files. So I think, what if the cops are already working on their own database, right? Maybe we could compare it with ours. You mentioned, way back when, that one cop knowing about EOs. Or someone with the cops. And then I think, hey, maybe I can just borrow their data, instead of going through all the hassle—I mean it’s nothing beyond my reach, but it takes time—but what if they’ve done some of the work for me? So I start browsing in Merit PD’s ‘Persons of Interest’ database. And something catches my eye. I used to love those puzzles growing up where they ask you to spot the difference. I rocked that shit. Anyway—”
“They’re flagged,” said Victor, eyes skimming the profiles.
Mitch’s posture fell. “Man, you always ruin a punch line. But yeah … and I made it easy for you to see,” he said as he pouted. “I turned the pages down. Easy to see a pattern when it’s all that’s in front of you…”
“What do you mean, flagged?” asked Sydney, standing on her tiptoes to see the pages.
“Look,” Victor said, gesturing to the profiles. “What do all these people have in common?”
Syd squinted at the paper, but shook her head.
“The middle names,” said Victor.
Sydney read them aloud. “Elise, Elington, Elissa … They all have ‘Eli’ in them.”
“Exactly,” said Mitch. “They’ve been flagged. Specifically for our friend, Eli. Which means—”
“He’s working with the cops,” said Victor. “Here in Merit.”
Sydney stared down at the photo of the girl with the blue hair. “How can you be sure?” she asked. “What if it’s a coincidence?”
Mitch looked smug. “Because I did my homework. I cross-checked the theory by pulling up some of their old profiles, ‘Persons of Interest’ now deceased, all of which had conveniently found their way into the digital trash bin. Which is its own red flag, by the way, but I found matches to Eli’s killings over the last four months.” He dropped the dead EO folder on the table. “Including your man Barry Lynch. The one you just spent the night digging up.”
Victor had started to pace.
“It gets better,” said Mitch. “The flagged profiles were created by one of two cops.” He tapped the top right corner of a page. “Officer Frederick Dane. Or Detective Mark Stell.”
Victor’s chest tightened. Stell. What were the odds? The man who’d had Victor arrested ten years ago, the one who’d been on EO duty at the Lockland precinct, and the one who, when Victor recovered from his multiple gunshot wounds, personally escorted him to the isolation wing of Wrighton Penitentiary. Stell’s involvement, along with Eli’s testimony, was the reason Victor spent five years in solitary confinement (he wasn’t declared an EO on the records, of course, only an extreme danger to himself and others, and it had taken him half a decade of deliberately not hurting anyone—at least not in a conscious or appreciable way—to get himself integrated).
“You listening?” asked Mitch.
Victor nodded absently. “The men flagging the profiles, they are, or have been, in direct contact with Eli.”
Victor toasted the air with his water, his thoughts miles away. “Bravo, Mitch.” He turned to Sydney. “You hungry?”
But Sydney didn’t seem to be listening. She had taken up the folder with the dead EOs, and was flipping through, almost absently, when she stopped. Victor looked over her shoulder and saw what she saw. Short blond hair and water blue eyes stared up at her beside a cleanly printed name: Sydney Elinor Clarke.
“My middle name is Marion,” she said quietly. “And he thinks I’m dead.”