Archangel's Prophecy (Page 48)
She revised her conclusion: Kumar and Lee must’ve been alive but immobilized when the fire was set. The two had been burned alive.
Flexing her left arm to ease a muscle ache deep within, she turned the page with her right hand. With no viable DNA samples recovered and the fire so hot it had damaged the men’s teeth—though the pathologist had made a note the teeth damage could’ve been perimortem—Kumar and Lee had been identified by the process of elimination.
No one else in the building was missing; further, neither man had accessed any of their accounts in the aftermath. A neighbor had seen the two come home that evening, but no one had seen them leave—and neither had been spotted since.
Nevertheless, was it possible either Kumar or Lee had pulled off a hoax and was the murderer?
Possible, Elena decided, but unlikely. Especially since both victims had been of a slender and short build, while the man who’d knocked on doors the night of the fire was uniformly described as tall and well built. Muscular. That coincided with what Elena had seen on Al and Anita’s security footage.
Flexing her arm again, she turned another page.
As the victims had been vampires, the police had copied the Tower into their investigation, but the Tower hadn’t interfered, leaving the seasoned human detective in charge to do his job. That detective had uncovered Nishant Kumar’s qualifications as a chemist, been able to link him to new designer drugs that catered to the vampiric market.
Elena sat up straight at the drug connection.
Bored old near-immortals were constantly hunting for a new rush. Ninety-nine percent of the designer drugs just didn’t work, the vampiric metabolism simply too efficient—it was why honey feeds were so popular. However, every so often, one of the designer drugs would work just enough to make it viable . . . and deadly.
Umber, the last big vampiric drug to hit the market, had turned ordinary, law-abiding vampires into murderous machines. One of the saddest cases Elena had heard of involved a vampire who’d torn the woman he loved to shreds.
Picking up the phone on Raphael’s desk, where she’d set up shop, she called the detective in charge.
“Santiago,” was the gruff response on the other end.
“Hello, detective.” Detective Hector Santiago and Elena had worked more than one case side by side over the years, where the Guild’s job intersected with the police force’s. Their relationship had hit a wobble when she first became an angel, became consort to Raphael, her loyalties different, but the two of them had figured out a way through it.
“So now you call me.” A mechanical groan on the other end, probably Santiago’s chair straining as he leaned his big body back. “After blowing off my cookout.”
“Gimme a break, Santiago,” she said, settling into the familiar banter as if it was a favorite old coat. “I was on the other side of the freaking world at the time.” She and Raphael had flown to visit Caliane.
“Excuses, excuses.” Rasping sounds this time, Santiago probably rubbing the salt-and-pepper stubble on his jaw. “You got a case?”
“No, I wanted to ask you about a recent one of yours. Nishant Kumar and Terence Lee.”
“The deep-fried vamps,” Santiago said at once. “We figured the vics to be humans at first—my whole career, I’ve never seen vampires burned down that bad.”
Elena squeezed her forearm to ease the increasing ache even Nisia’s healing abilities couldn’t keep at bay. “The drug connection, you ever track down specifics?”
“Nothing but rumor—and I dug deep.” A rumble of frustration down the line. “Ash and that slow-talking smart-a*s husband of hers hooked me up with folks who’d normally rabbit if they smelled a cop, and my own informants were happy to talk, too.”
“Unusual.” Quarter residents usually clammed up to outsiders; they couldn’t afford to s**t in their own pond.
“Kumar and Lee had a history of running scams,” Santiago told her. “Penny-ante stuff like mixing up an innocuous substance and telling low-level buyers it was a powerful designer drug—you know, poisonous s**t the junkies would never be able to afford.”
Elena nodded. “You have a note in the file that it’s possible they did stumble on a dangerous drug at some point.”
“Yeah. I got approached by a couple of vamp street hookers—Red Cutie and Monique Darling—who swore up and down that Lee and Kumar had given each of them a taste of a ‘high’ that caused psychotic hallucinations then a blackout. When the women came to—in a back alley in Red’s case, and dumped in the stairwell of her building in Monique’s—their clothes weren’t quite right, and both were sure the bastards had raped them.”
And these men had been Harrison’s friends? F**k.
“No memories, though—couldn’t even get dates from them because their sense of time is f****d up after years on drugs,” Santiago added. “But both women remembered that they woke up wet, their clothes sticking to their skin. Their take was that the two rapists hosed them off inside and out to get rid of DNA. Not that they would’ve reported it.” Tiredness in his voice now. “You know what it’s like in the Quarter.”
“Yeah. Quarter takes care of its own—except it’s vamp-eat-vamp.” Elena’s stomach churned at the idea of Harrison being involved in such repugnant crimes. If it proved true, it’d destroy Beth. “If a woman did remember what had been done to her . . .”
“Hell of a motive,” Santiago agreed. “But then I had the guy who warned people too early. No smoke, none of the early evacuees saw any sign of a fire. I had him as the doer.”
“You had no luck tracking him down?”
“People were so happy the bastards were dead, they weren’t particularly interested in finding out who’d done it. If anyone knew the identity of the firebug, they weren’t telling. I got handed plenty of dirt on the dead guys, but other than the two street girls, no one came forward as a victim of rape.”
Laric walked in during the last part of Santiago’s statement and placed a fresh glass of Nisia’s energy drink in front of her. Smiling her thanks up at him, she said to Santiago, “The pros weren’t suspects?”
“Had airtight alibis for the time the fire was set—one locked up for public drunkenness, the other admitted to a local clinic after a john broke her collarbone. I checked to see if they had pimps who’d maybe taken exception to the lack of payment for use, but these two are individual operators.” More mechanical groans, followed by tapping, a pen hitting a desk over and over. “Don’t vamps get a payout after their Contract?”
Putting down the glass after drinking most of the mixture, she said, “Yes, some more generous than others.”
“Add in a hundred extra years to figure life out and they end up selling their bodies to losers on the street. I don’t f*****g get it.” Not waiting for a response, he said, “Why’re you so interested in the deep-fried rapists?”
Elena told him the truth. There were many things she could never tell him, secrets that would endanger his life, but three connected attacks against vampires didn’t fall under that umbrella. “A*****e threatened my sister and niece.”
“Fucker.” No give in his voice; Hector had a prettily plump wife he doted on and four energetic boys who were his pride and joy. “Blakely and/or Acosta might’ve been dealers, but strong case for saying Blakely at least used the rape drug on women—would explain the amputation of his genitals.”