"Keri Arthur is a master of the urban fantasy novel!"
Reviewed by Debbie Wiley
Posted September 24, 2014
Fantasy Urban | Thriller Psychological | Mystery Paranormal
Samantha Ryan expected her days as an agent with the
Investigations Unit (SIU) to be a bit more exciting than
previous years as a state police officer. Unfortunately,
Gabriel Stern is proving to be a very reluctant partner,
saddling Sam with the most tedious and boring tasks. All of
this is about to change, however, when two seemingly
unrelated cases appear connected and they lead Gabriel and
Sam straight into the military secrets of Hopeworth... and
Sam's mysterious past. Will Sam and Gabriel learn to work
together in time to save lives, perhaps even their own
GENERATION 18 is the second book in The Spook Squad
series and picks up shortly after the first book ends.
are some ongoing story threads that are further developed
GENERATION 18, making it a book best appreciated in the
context of the series as a whole. Besides, why on earth
would you want to miss out on reading a single Keri Arthur
GENERATION 18 lets us delve more into Sam's budding powers
as well as her own personal history. I love watching Sam
become more comfortable in her own identity as she's had a
lot of harsh surprises. Meanwhile, Hopeworth Military Base
has held onto quite a few secrets over the years and now
ramifications of their projects are creating problems for
the SIU. The plethora of supernatural creatures and powers
is enough to make any lover of urban fantasy happy.
Keri Arthur never ceases to amaze me at her world building.
I read and loved The Spook Squad series in its first
incarnation and am still amazed rereading it today just how
beautifully complex her worlds are. Keri Arthur draws the
reader into her stories immediately as we want to know the
answers right along with Sam and Gabriel. We see glimpses
the various factions, including the SIU, state police,
Federation, and Sethanon, as Keri Arthur throws us
tantalizing teasers to keep us rapidly flipping the
only to leave us wanting even more as GENERATION 18
concludes. Keri Arthur is a master of the urban fantasy
novel and I can't recommend this series highly enough!
A serial killer strikes every twelve hours. A vampire takes
lives at random. At first glance, these tragic incidents
seem unrelated. But Special Investigations Unit agents Sam
Ryan and Gabriel Stern trace them both back to a military
base known as Hopeworth. Is the murder spree part of a
cover-up? And are the vampire killings less by chance and
The investigation takes an eerie, personal turn when Sam
discovers a connection between herself and the victimsâ€”and a
clue to her own mysterious origins. With the violence
escalating and the danger drawing closer to home, the stakes
are raised and the mission changes from seeking justice to
ensuring Sam and Gabrielâ€™s own survival. And the one person
who seems to hold all the answersâ€”about Hopeworth, about
Samâ€™s pastâ€”is a mystery man she isnâ€™t sure she can trust.
They share a psychic link through her dreams, and he once
saved her life, but he may just be the greatest enemy
humankind has ever known.
ExcerptBeing a spook wasnâ€™t what Samantha Ryan had expected. Long
nights, sleepless days, yes. Sheâ€™d faced that, and worse,
during her ten years as a State Police Officer. In that
time, the agents of the Special Investigations Unit had
breezed in and out of situations, always on edge, always
on the move. Always looking like they loved what they were
doing. So the sheer and utter boredom that filled ninety
percent of a spookâ€™s job had come as something of a shock.
She sighed and shifted slightly, trying to find a
comfortable position on the icy metal step. Watch the back
door, Gabriel had said. Make sure the vamps donâ€™t hit the
blood bank from the alley. This, despite the fact that in
the five previous robberies, the vampires had always gone
in through the front door.
Why the hell would they change a successful routine now?
They wouldnâ€™t. He knew that. She knew that.
She rubbed her eyes wearily. She could hardly argue,
though, as he was her senior and in charge of the
investigation. And with intel stating that this blood bank
would be the next one hit, she couldnâ€™t argue with orders
that were little more than covering all the bases.
What the intel wasnâ€™t saying was whether it was actually
vampires doing these robberies. Hell, with recent
estimates saying that at least thirty percent of newly-
turned vampires were unable to control their blood desire,
human blood had become a hot commodity on the streets.
Combine that with the recent spate of deaths through
infected blood products in all the major hospitalsâ€”leading
to the situation where private blood banks were inundated
with people wanting to stockpile their own bloodâ€”and you
had the perfect opportunity for those wanting to make a
quick buck on the streets.
So here she sat, in the cold night, on a cold step,
waiting for robbers who werenâ€™t likely to come by the back
entrance, while her goddamn partner watched the front door
from the warmth of the car.
Bitter? Her? Oh yeah.
He was certainly making good on his statement that he
would never work with a partner. Whenever possible, he
left her in her box of an office doing paperwork, or he
sent her on inane errands. This was her first "real" duty
in the three months since her transfer, and she suspected
she was here only because Byrne had given him a direct
order to take her.
The wind picked up, running chill fingers through her
hair. She shivered and flicked up the collar on her coat.
Overhead, the starlit sky was beginning to cloud over. The
rain theyâ€™d been predicting for days was finally on the
way. She could smell the moisture in the breeze. Could
feel the tingle of electricity running through the night
air, charging her body with an odd sense of power.
Why she could feel these things was another point of
concern, though it was one she kept to herself. There were
only two people she trusted enough to sit down and talk
to, anyway. Finley was still on leave, recovering from the
injuries heâ€™d received in the bomb blast three months ago,
and her goddamn partner was harder to nail down than a
snowflake in a storm.
And it wasnâ€™t just on a professional level that he was
keeping his distance, but a personal one, as well. Given
how well theyâ€™d gotten on during their investigations of
her former partnerâ€™s disappearance, sheâ€™d thought that
they could at least be friends. Obviously, sheâ€™d been very
God, how bad was it when he wouldnâ€™t even go for a cup of
coffee with her?
"Sam, you there?"
His warm voice whispered into her ear, so close she could
almost feel the caress of his breath across her cheek.
Except that he was tucked nice and warm in the car half a
She was tempted, very tempted, to ignore him. But sheâ€™d
spent ten long years as a cop doing the right thing,
following all the rulesâ€”like keeping in constant contact
when on watch duty. Even when her partner was being a
bastard and deserved to suffer, it was a habit hard to
"What?" Her tone left no doubt of her mood. Heâ€™d left her
sitting here so long her butt was almost frozen to the
step. If he expected civility, he needed a brain
"Just checking youâ€™re still awake."
Yeah, right. Like she was the one sitting in the nice warm
car. "The coldâ€™s doing a fine job of that, thank you very
He paused. "Do you want to swap for a while?"
She raised her eyebrows. Just for an instant, the
compassion in his voice reminded her of the man sheâ€™d
known before sheâ€™d become his partner. "You got coffee on
And he hadnâ€™t offered her any until now. It was lucky heâ€™d
only equipped the two of them with stun rifles, because
she was tempted, very tempted, to march right over there
and shoot him. "Sure you can spare a cup?" she said
tightly. "I mean, you older types need some sort of
stimulant to keep you awake at this hour of the night,
"Do I take that as a yes or a no?" His warm tones held an
undertone of annoyance.
But she was way past caring at this particular
moment. "That depends."
"On whether you intend to freeze me out, figuratively or
He made no immediate reply. She waited, wondering what
heâ€™d do now that sheâ€™d finally called him out. Down the
Main Street end of the alley, she heard a soft thump, as
if someone had jumped off a rooftop. A dog yelped
somewhere to the left of that thump, a short sharp sound
that spoke of fear. She frowned and stared into the
darkness. The electricity filling the night stirred,
running over her skin, standing the small hairs at the
back of her neck on end. Heat followed quickly. Then her
senses exploded outwards, and she was tasting the secrets
of the night.
A kite creature walked towards her.
She jumped and quickly pressed the earphone, cutting him
off. Heâ€™d once told her the kites hunted by sound and
movement. She wasnâ€™t about to chance the creature hearing
his voice, no matter how unlikely that might be.
The kite came into view. It almost looked like a large
white sheet, except that it had feet and talon-like hands.
The creature hesitated as it neared the steps, sniffing
the night like a dog. It turned milky white eyes in her
direction. She controlled the urge to reach for the stun
rifle and remained still.
After a moment, it lumbered past, moving to the other end
of the alley. Avoiding the yellow wash of the street
light, it slunk round the corner and disappeared. She rose
and picked up her rifle before switching the earpiece back
"A kite just made an appearance in the alley. Iâ€™m about to
"Negative. Youâ€™re not equippedâ€”"
She snorted softly. "Neither are you, partner. You
continue to keep watch on the blood bank, and Iâ€™ll see
what the creature is up to."
"Stun guns wonâ€™tâ€”"
"Gabriel, remember imperative one?" The SIU had only
become aware of the Kites two months ago, but since then,
the creatures had reached the top of the SIUâ€™s
extermination list. With an edge in her voice that
imitated his own, she continued, "Find and stop all kites,
regardless of the cost."
"That doesnâ€™t mean you have to do a suicide run after them
when youâ€™re not properly equipped to deal with them."
"Please credit me with a little bit of brain power. Iâ€™m
merely going to see what the thing is up to. Besides, they
just may be using the creature to pull us away from the
"I donâ€™t particularly care about the damn blood bank."
Meaning he cared more about her? Given his recent
behavior, she found it a little hard to believe. She
stopped at the end of the alley and carefully peered
around the corner. The kite lumbered across the road.
"But Byrne does. If the vamps follow the pattern, this one
will be hit sometime tonight."
The kite disappeared round the corner of the opposite
street. She ran across the road and then edged forward,
keeping to the shadows of the three-story apartment
"Iâ€™m calling for backup," he said, voice terse.
"Fine." It only made sense to do so. "Iâ€™ll keep in
"Youâ€™d better," he growled.
She grinned. She might well pay for it later, but damn, it
felt good to annoy him.
She reached the corner. The kite was nowhere to be seen.
Wondering how the creature could have moved so fast, she
frowned and glanced upâ€”and found it. The loose skin around
its arms flapped lightly as it climbed crab-like up the
The wind tugged at her hair, throwing it across her eyes.
She brushed it back and listened to the sounds beneath the
soft cry of the wind. Two men were talking, their voices
harsh and grating. A radio near the top of the building
played classics. Between the two, the squeak of a bed and
a whispered good night. Sounds she wouldnâ€™t normally have
heard except for the odd sense of power flowing through
the night and into her soul.
The creature seemed to be headed for the apartment in
which the radio played. She watched it as long as she
dared. When it stopped and pressed a taloned hand against
a window, she turned and ran for the apartment buildingâ€™s
"Gabriel, the kiteâ€™s about to break into a top floor
apartment on the corner of Gibb and Macelan Streets."
"Helpâ€™s on the way. Stay where you are."
The words had barely whispered into her ear when she heard
the sound of glass shattering. A heartbeat later the
screaming began. Sickening visions swam through her mindâ€”
bloodied images of the street bum sheâ€™d found three months
ago, his body a mass of raw and weeping muscle stripped of
She swallowed heavily and pounded up the
stairs. "Negative. Itâ€™s attacking. Iâ€™m in pursuit."
"Damn it, youâ€™re not equipped to dealâ€”"
"Just get backup here quickly." She pressed the earphone,
cutting him off again. She didnâ€™t need to hear what she
could and couldnâ€™t do. Not when a manâ€™s life was at stake.
Two flightsâ€¦three. She leapt over the banister and up the
remaining stairs. People milled in their doorways, their
eyes wide and fearful. Not one of them appeared willing to
investigate what was happening to their neighbor. City
living, she thought, sucked. But then, would neighbors in
suburban areas be any more willing to risk investigating
screams as fierce as the ones currently shattering the
silence? She suspected not.
She slithered to a stop outside the apartment door and
glanced back at the pajama-clad crowd. "SIU, folks. Go
back inside and lock your doors."
The crowd melted away. With her laser held at the ready,
she stepped back and kicked the door. Wood shuddered,
splintering. She booted it a second time. The door flung
open, crashing back on its hinges.
The kite was in the middle of the living room, its
sheetlike form covering all but the strangerâ€™s slippers.
His screams suddenly choked off, and all she heard was an
odd sucking sort of noise. Blood seeped past the flaccid,
winglike sections of the creatureâ€™s arms, forming pools
that seemed to glisten black in the darkness.
She raised the stun laser and fired at the creature. The
blue-white light bit through the darkness, flaring against
the kiteâ€™s leather-like skin. If it had any effect, she
certainly couldnâ€™t see it.
She switched her aim to the creatureâ€™s odd shaped head and
fired again. The kite snarled and looked up. It had no
mouth, she saw suddenly. Or rather, its whole body was a
mouth. It was sucking the strangerâ€™s flesh and blood in
through pores on its skin.
She shuddered and fired again, this time at its eyes. The
creature snarled a second time, the sound high pitched,
almost bat-like. It shook its head and jerked upright.
Bloodied strips of half consumed flesh slid down its body
and puddled at its feet. Her stomach churned, but she held
her ground and kept on firing the stun gun at the
creatureâ€™s eyes. It obviously wasnâ€™t stunning it, but it
was doing something, because the kiteâ€™s movements were
becoming increasingly agitated.
It screamed again, then turned and stumbled for the
window. She edged into the apartment. The kite smacked
into the wall, then flung out an arm, feeling for the
window frame. It was almost as if it had lost all sonar
capabilities. Maybe there was something in the blue-white
beam that addled its keen senses.
It grasped the window frame, felt for the other side to
position itself, and then dived through the shattered
glass. She ran over to the window and leaned out. The kite
was floating back to the street, its arms out wide, loose
skin stretched taut to catch the light breeze. She pressed
the earphone again.
"Gabriel, the kite is now in Macelan Street, heading west."
"Do not go after it. I repeat, do not go after it. Stay in
Her smile was grim. If the tone of his voice was anything
to go by, he was madder than hell. He had a right to be,
she supposed, but what else could she have done? Let the
kite devour the stranger?
Not that her intervention had saved him. She turned away
from the window and dug out her viaphone, the latest in
gadgets from the SIU labs. It was similar to the wristcom
the State Police used, only it had a cell phone and camera
attached as well. And all in one palm-sized package. She
hit the record button and panned the camera from the
doorway sheâ€™d kicked open to the window and then down to
"The kite smashed through the living room window and
attacked victim at 3.15 a.m. SIU Officer Ryan intervened
and drove kite back through window." She hesitated,
walking across to squat beside the body. "Victim is male,
She panned the camera down the length of his body and
captured the bloody detail of the murder. What remained of
his flesh hung in strips, almost indistinguishable from
the remnants of his red and white striped pajamas. His
eyes were wide, mouth locked into a screamâ€”a look of
astonished horror that was now permanently etched into his
Why this man? Why not the two men talking in the flat
below? Or the woman whoâ€™d only just joined her partner in
bed? She glanced up and studied the room.
The kite had come straight to this apartmentâ€”had obviously
wanted this man, and no other. What they had to find out
now was why.
She rose and walked across to the shelving unit. After
sitting the camera on the shelf, she dug a set of gloves
out of her pocket and put them on. Then she turned off the
radio, picked up the camera and panned it across the
photos lining the shelf.
Each photo contained the same four men, either fishing,
drinking, or standing around a barbecue. All of them
looked to be at least fifty or sixty. She glanced at the
body. The only hair the victim had was scraggly wisps of
white near either ear. He wasnâ€™t in any of these photos,
then. Maybe heâ€™d been taking them.
She picked up one framed photograph and then turned at the
sound of footsteps. Gabriel entered, his gaze sweeping the
room until he found her.
"I could put you on report for your behavior here
tonight," he said, stopping just inside the doorway.
Though his face was impassive, his hazel eyes were stormy
with anger and, surprisingly, a touch of fear. She
fingered the viaphoneâ€™s off button, then shrugged and left
it on record. Procedures stated any and all activity at a
crime scene had to be recorded. If that had to include her
being told off, then so be it.
"Do it. Maybe then youâ€™ll get your wish and be rid of me."
She hesitated. What was the point of arguing about it
here? There were far more important matters to be worried
aboutâ€”like why the kite attacked this man. "Do you know
who our victim is?"
For an instant, it looked as if he might say something
more. Then he shoved his hands in his pockets and walked
across to the body. "Male, in his mid-sixties, obviously."
He glanced around the apartment. "And fairly well off.
Those paintings are by Kyle Parker."
She glanced across to the stylized landscapes. To her
admittedly untrained eye, a three-year-old could have done
a better job. And yet Parkerâ€™s paintings sold for millions.
"If he could afford those, youâ€™d have thought heâ€™d have
installed better security."
"Security doesnâ€™t usually stop the kites."
"No, only decapitation or the sun can do that." She
frowned down at the body. According to the SIU labs, the
kites were some sort of offshoot from the vampire family
tree. The SIU researchers were desperate to get their
hands on a live specimen to do some tests, but as yet, no
one had figured out a way to capture one and stay
alive. "This wasnâ€™t a random attack. The kite came
straight to this apartment."
"Maybe the victim was the only one moving around."
She shook her head. "There was movement in several
apartments. The creature ignored them all and came
He frowned. "Thereâ€™s been no evidence that the kites can
be programmed to kill certain individuals."
"But thereâ€™s been no evidence that they canâ€™t, either."
"True." He studied her for a moment, hazel eyes
intense. "How did you drive the creature away? Stun rifles
donâ€™t work on kites."
"No, but they definitely donâ€™t like it when you fire at
their head. It seemed to lose its sense of place."
He raised his eyebrows in surprise, but any comment he was
about to make was cut off as a viaphone beeped. His, not
He reached into his pocket and dragged it out. "Stern," he
said, a hint of impatience in his voice.
Given the tightening of his already annoyed expression,
the news obviously wasnâ€™t good.
"What?" she said, the minute heâ€™d hung up.
"Looks like our serial killer has struck again. Byrne
wants me to investigate."
Me, not we, she noted, and wondered if, in fact, Stephan
had said that, or if Gabriel was locking her out
again. "Where this time?"
She raised her eyebrows. If it was the same killer, then
he was certainly showing no preference for a particular
area. So far, heâ€™d killed in Toorak, Broadmeadows, and now
Elwood. And it was more than just miles that separated the
three suburbsâ€”each one held a different step on the social
"What about the blood bank watch?"
"Briggs and Francis have taken over."
Lucky them. Though sheâ€™d seen the two working together
before, and she had no doubt that Briggs would be
considerate enough to offer her partner a hot coffee long
before his butt froze to the step. "So letâ€™s go
His gaze narrowed, as if heâ€™d sensed the hint of sarcasm
underlying her words. "You disobeyed orders and came after
the kite. Now youâ€™re stuck with the case, Iâ€™m afraid."
And if the kite hadnâ€™t attacked, he would have found some
other reason to keep her away from the murder
investigation. Had it been anyone else, she would have
sworn it stemmed from distrustâ€”both of her and her ability
to cope with the job. With Gabriel, it was something
deeper. And if it was distrust, then it was more distrust
Not that that thought made any sense at all.
"Well, at least its better than filling in endless rounds
His brief smile held a grim edge. "Youâ€™ve been with the
SIU for just on three months. Youâ€™ve yet to go through
full training. Do not expect to be treated as anything
more than a trainee."
She snorted softly. "Donâ€™t worry. Any expectations I might
have had have long since died."
Anger flared briefly in his eyes. Then he glanced at the
cell unit in her hand, and his face became impassive once
more. "Keep in contact. Iâ€™ll see you back at the office."
He turned and walked away, his movements sharp and somehow
She stared at the door for several minutes after heâ€™d
disappeared, and then she turned and walked across to the
bedroom to see what she could find.
Gabriel showed his ID to the black-clad police officer
keeping watch and then ducked under the yellow crime scene
tapes. The rotating red and blue lights of the nearby
police vehicles washed across the night, splashing the
otherwise somber, glass-walled building with color.
Like so many other buildings built in the area recently,
this one had no real character. Its only purpose in life
was to provide a decent view for those wealthy enough to
afford an apartment so close to the city and the beach. He
glanced upâ€”ten floors in all. Surely, this time, theyâ€™d
find a witness.
His brother walked down the steps as Gabriel approached.
Stephan was a multishifter capable of taking the form of
any human male he touched, but the shape he mostly wore
these days was that of Jonathon Byrne, the head of the
SIU. Gabriel raised his eyebrows in surprise. It was
unusual for the head of SIU to become involved in routine
investigations such as this. Something had to be up.
Byrne stopped in front of him, blue eyes
narrowed. "Whereâ€™s Ryan?"
Gabriel shrugged, even though he knew his nonchalance
would only irritate his brother more. Right now, he didnâ€™t
really care. "Handling the kite murder."
Stephan shot an aggravated look at the two police officers
standing nearby. Gabriel smiled grimly. Their presence
restrained Stephan from saying too much. It was a well-
known fact that Byrne had very little to do with his six
assistant directors. Being too familiar now might just
blow Stephanâ€™s new identity out of the water.
"Damn it, Stern, youâ€™re supposed to be partners."
"I donâ€™t want or need a partner." And his brother, more
than anyone, should have understood why.
"Andrea was a long time ago," Stephan said softly, an edge
of compassion in his voice.
"Mike wasnâ€™t." He tried to control the almost instinctive
rush of anger, but the desire to hit someone, anyone, was
so fierce his fists clenched. "Death comes in threes,
Byrne. Iâ€™m due one more."
And come hell or high water, that death was not going to
Stephan studied him for a long moment, then shook his head
and headed back to the apartment building. Gabriel fell
into step beside him. The matter of a partner might have
been dropped, but it was definitely not forgotten. But
this was one battle of wills his brother was not going to
"Why are you here?" he asked, as they entered the building.
"Itâ€™s a personal favor for Frank Maxwell."
Maxwell was the Federal Minister for Education, and one of
the few friends the real Byrne had actually had. As such,
heâ€™d posed a very real threat to Stephan securing his new
identity. Luckily, the two men had seen little of each
other in the last year. Any differences Maxwell might see
in Byrne now heâ€™d surely put down to time. "Why?"
"Itâ€™s his son whoâ€™s been murdered."
Gabriel glanced at his brother in surprise. "A male? You
sure itâ€™s the same killer, not a copycat?"
Stephanâ€™s smile was grim. "Youâ€™ll see when we get there."
Which could only mean the clinical brutality of the
previous attacks was evident here also. He eyed the police
officer guarding the express elevator and frowned. The
same young officer had been guarding the doorway after
Jack had bombed Samâ€™s apartment. Odd that he was here now,
"Is Marsden on scene?" he asked softly.
Stephan met his gaze and gave a minute shake his head. The
young officer stepped aside as they approached the
elevator. Gabriel glanced at his nametag. Sanders.
"Tenth floor, sir?"
Gabriel nodded, noting Sanderâ€™s eyes were a deep,
unfathomable green, and somehow seemed older than his
years. It was almost as if the soul behind the eyes had
seen more than one lifetime.
The officer pressed the button, then stepped clear as the
elevator doors slid shut. Stephan raised an eyebrow at
Gabriel. "Why the question about Marsden? Heâ€™s a beat cop,
He shrugged. "That kid was working with Marsden when Samâ€™s
apartment was bombed."
"He might have been transferred."
"Maybe." Maybe he was just getting suspicious in his old
age. Still, it wouldnâ€™t hurt to check why the kid was
here, when he had the time. "How old was Maxwellâ€™s son?"
"Twenty-five, same as the others."
The lift came to a stop, and the doors opened. The hallway
beyond was pale blue, offset by gold carpet. Four doors
led off the hall, and a police officer stood guard at the
far end. Gabriel glanced up at the ceiling. Monitors were
stationed at regular intervals, tracking them silently.
"You requested the security tapes?"
Stephan nodded. "Copies have already been sent back to
"Good." He stepped into the apartment. The place was huge,
and the wall to ceiling glass flanking two sides of the
apartment only added to the feeling of space. What few
inner walls the apartment had were pale blue, but the
carpet and the furniture were white. A spherical-shaped
crimecorder hovered in the middle of the room, red light
flashing to indicate it was recording.
"He obviously didnâ€™t have any youngsters visiting, not
with all this white furniture," he commented. "Whatâ€™s the
"Harry. And thereâ€™re no kids, no wife, and as far as Frank
knew, no girlfriend."
He raised an eyebrow. "What about a boyfriend?"
"A possibility. Frank was rather brusque when I asked if
there was any particular woman his son might have been
The body lay on one of the white sofas. He walked to it.
As long as you didnâ€™t look below the waist, it would be
easy to think Harry had merely died in his sleep. His arms
were crossed, his face peaceful. There was no terror, no
hint that heâ€™d known he was about to die so brutally.
"Cause of death?" he asked, despite the fact it was
obvious. No man could loose his penis and scrotum, and
survive the resulting shock and blood loss unless he had
medical help real fast.
"Same as the othersâ€”blood loss. Thereâ€™s an ashtray full of
cigarette butts on the dining table, too."
"Same brand as before?" He squatted to inspect the gaping
wound. The blood staining the leather no longer smelled
fresh, and the wound itself was beginning to blacken.
"Yes. Weâ€™ve scanned for prints, but he was wearing gloves
again. All we got was a latex smudge."
"Thereâ€™s one difference, at least. Thereâ€™s no real effort
to be precise in his knife work here. Heâ€™s basically just
hacked it all away."
Stephan snorted softly. "Hell of a lot easier to part a
man from his penis than it is a woman from her womb."
"True. But all three victims were obviously unconscious
before the murderer operated, so why the care with the
women and not young Harry here? There are several deep
nicks on his right inner thigh."
"Maybe our murderer gets perverted pleasure from gutting
women and wants it to last longer."
He frowned. Something in that statement didnâ€™t sit right.
The murderer had been meticulous in every detail so farâ€”
why would he change anything just because this victim was
a male? The fact that the murderer had sat back and
watched the blood pour from their bodies suggested it was
the death, rather than the cutting, that he enjoyed more.
He rose and then hesitated. On the back of the sofa, near
Harryâ€™s right hip, a hair glinted softly in the light. It
wasnâ€™t one of Harryâ€™s. His hair was red, the same as the
other two victims. This was blond and long, with dark
Gabriel dug a glove out of his pocket and carefully picked
up the hair. "Got a bag?" he asked.
Stephan dug one from the crime kit sitting on the
table. "Maybe he did have a girlfriend."
"Could still be male. Long hair is fashionable in the rave
scene at the moment. Iâ€™ll run a check on Harryâ€™s
acquaintances and see what I can find."
Gabriel secured the bag in the crime kit and turned back
to the sofa. He had an itchy feeling that there was
something else to be found. In the previous two murders,
the killer had been careful not to leave anything behind.
No hair, no prints, nothing that might give him away.
This time heâ€™d been less than precise with his cutting.
Maybe, just maybe, heâ€™d been less than precise with his
clean up. He studied the position of the body for a long
moment, and then walked around to the back of the sofa.
Blood had stained through, contrasting starkly against the
white, embroidered material. Oddly enough, the thick
carpet showed signs of a recent vacuuming.
He frowned and studied the crisscrossed suction patterns
across the carpet. Only the small section between the sofa
and what looked to be the bathroom had been touched. Near
the bathroom door, a faint footprint marred the lush white
"How many people have been in the apartment since the body
was discovered?" he asked, squatting near the print.
"The usualâ€”the two state officers who attended the
original call, the building super who let them in, and us.
Forensics is still on the way. Why? What have you found?"
"A print." He glanced up at the crimecorder. "Record image
and location of print."
The black sphere responded immediately, zipping across the
room to hover inches from his head. "Image recorded," a
metallic voice stated.
"Resume original position." He knelt to study the print.
As he did, he noticed a slight stain near the door. Liquid
of some sort had been spilled near the doorframe. He
touched it lightlyâ€”the carpet was dry and stiff, almost as
if had been glued together. He sniffed his fingers. The
faint but unpleasant mix of urine and rotten eggs had him
screwing up his nose in distaste.
"Jadrone," he muttered, coughing to ease the sudden
stinging in the back of his throat.
"What the hell is Harry doing with something like Jadrone?
Frankâ€™s family is human, not shifter."
"Which means maybe our killer is shifter." It would
certainly explain why no one had noticed any strangers
hanging about in the two previous murders, particularly if
their killer was a multishifter.
Though Gabriel doubted if the killer would actually be
taking the stuff himself. Jadrone was designed to ease the
inevitable bone and muscle problems that afflicted most
shifters late in life, but it also had an unpleasant side
effect. After several months of continual use, the ability
to tell truth from fantasy blurred. Life became one big
dream for the user. Their killer was too practical, too
careful, to be on some Jadrone-inspired trip.
So why in hell was there Jadrone on the floor?
"The government took Jadrone off general prescription a
year ago," Stephan said. "It shouldnâ€™t be too hard to
track through records and find out whoâ€™s still taking it."
He smiled grimly. It might not be too hard, but it was a
task he had no intention of doing. Sam could. It would
keep her out of his way a bit longer. Her anger and
frustration had been all too evident in her smoke-shrouded
blue eyes tonight. A few more pushes, a few more inane
tasks, and sheâ€™d be asking for a transfer. All he had to
do then was convince Stephan it was for the best.
He rose and continued on into the bathroom. The stark
whiteness was practically blindingâ€”it had to be hell on
the eyes when the sun hit it. A slight breeze stirred the
hairs at the back of his neck. He glanced at the ceiling
to make sure it wasnâ€™t the air conditioning and then
turned. A hole had been cut into the thick glass wall.
"Crimecorder, record bathroom evidence," he stated. As had
been the case in the two previous murders, this hole was
barely big enough to fit his fist through. And the edges
were razor sharp, indicating laser cutting.
"Any thoughts on these holes?" Stephan asked from the
Gabriel shrugged and stepped out of the crimecorderâ€™s
way. "Escape route, maybe."
"If the killerâ€™s using Jadrone, he canâ€™t be a
"No." Jadrone was as deadly to shapechangers as it was
helpful to shapeshifters. No one knew why, though Karl, a
good friend of Gabrielâ€™s and one of Australiaâ€™s top herbal
scientists, thought it might have something to do with
body chemistry. "Nothingâ€™s making much sense in this case."
"Well, it had better. If the killer keeps to his current
schedule, you have precisely twelve hours before he
Twelve hours to find someone as illusive as a ghost. What
could be simpler? "It would be a damn sight easier if we
could find some sort of pattern. Other than being the same
age and having red hair, the victims have nothing in
"The answers are there. All you have to do is find them."
Stephan hesitated and then smiled grimly. "And I want
Agent Ryan brought in on this case."
Gabriel stared at his brother, wondering why he was so
determined to see him and Sam as a team. "No."
"Thatâ€™s a direct order, Stern."
And it was one he had no intention of ever obeyingâ€”if only
because Sam had red-gold hair, the same as the three
victims. She might not be twenty-five, but he wasnâ€™t about
to chance her safety. Not with his track record.
"Are you listening, Stern?"
"Iâ€™m all ears, sir."
Anger flared briefly in Stephanâ€™s blue eyes. "Good. Report
to me hourly."
He turned and walked away. Gabriel stared after him for a
long moment, and then he glanced up at the
crimecorder. "Position of autopsy team?"
"Entering building now."
"Good. Resume original monitoring position." Gabriel
followed the crimecorder back out to the living room. The
clue was here somewhere. He could feel its presence, like
an itch he couldnâ€™t quite scratch. He stared blankly at
the corpse for a long moment and then turned.
Why had the killer vacuumed? Why just the section behind
Frowning, he crouched down, studying the vacuum marks
intently. Something had to have been spilled or dropped
hereâ€”why else vacuum? He shifted slightly, and caught
sight of something glittering deep in the white pile. He
carefully plucked it outâ€”a shard of glass. He ran his
fingers through the carpet. A plate size section near his
feet felt damp. He sniffed his fingers again. Ginger and
lemon, mixed with something spicy he couldnâ€™t define. Its
touch burned across his skin.
He knew the scent. Heat, the latest rage in female
perfumes and one designed solely for female use. The
manufacturers claimed it made the wearer irresistible to
the male genderâ€”a claim that had proven so true the
government was considering putting the perfume on the
dangerous drugs list. Oddly enough, when used by a male,
Heat lived up to its name in an entirely different way,
burning where it touched.
Harry had no wife, no girlfriend. No reason to buy Heat.
The killer was female, not male.
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