The minotaur lay decapitated in a pool of blood in the alley behind Irish Murphy’s. I inch back as the liquid spreads, not wanting yet another pair of Chucks ruined, and rub a hand over my face.
"Well, now, I don't really see this being a suicide. Hard to chop off your own head."
My new partner shoots me an irritated glare, and gestures toward the body with his half-smoked cigarette, ashes flying everywhere. "Not that hard. He coulda run into that low hanging roof ladder."
I can feel my brows crinkling in patent disbelief but c'mon. Reilly isn't even trying anymore. Four months until retirement, and he just doesn't give a fuck that this is the sixth citizen in as many days to be murdered in a similar bloody fashion.
"No, he really couldn't have. Physics, and all." I crouch, careful not to touch the body and incite the wrath of the techs waiting behind me to tag and bag. Squinting in the dim light of the alley, I spot something that makes my heart skip a beat.
This one had fought, and hard. Finally, we'll get a break. I try not to crow with glee as I wave the techs in. The sooner we get this one to the labs, the sooner we'll have our killer. It's in the bag, baby... so to speak.
Eight hours later, I slump back in my desk chair, confused.
"This doesn't make sense. There's nothing in the report. Nothing under his fingernails, nothing on him. Nothing," I mutter, frustration surging within me. I slam my fist on my desk, making Reilly bobble his donut in surprise, and white power dusts him from chin to spare tire.
I lean forward, ignoring him, and study the autopsy sheet again. Something nags at me, but I just can't see anything off. Anything wrong. Digging through the folder of like victims, I spread all six sheets out in front of me. What am I missing? It has to be there.
A minotaur, three humans, a vamp, and a pixie. It doesn't seem like they had anything in common, but I'm just not seeing it. These murders are connected and I'm going to catch the fucker who did them, before he can kill again.
The signature at the bottom of the page catches my eye, and I shuffle the papers, looking at each one carefully. Dread fills me as I stare at the looping scrawl. This can't be my clue. It has to be a coincidence.
But I can't ignore it either.
Shoving out of my seat, I drag my unwilling body down three levels to the basement floor, to the morgue. Palms damp, I push open a set of swinging doors, and step into the large room filled with empty metal tables.
Almost empty tables. A woman stands before one of them, carefully washing down the dead minotaur from the alley. Her sunny smile hits me like a blow to the gut when she looks up.
"Hey, Cate! I hardly see you anymore. What brings you down here?"
I almost think I'm wrong, that I can go back upstairs and be relieved, but then I see the sly glint in her cornflower blue eyes. And the scratches on her wrists. I want to puke. My stomach heaves, responding to the horror scrambling my brain.
Leaning against a table, my fingers grip the edge until they turn white around the nails. I try not to scream at her. "What are you doing?"
"My job, of course." She gestures to the dead body, her smile wide.
"No," I whisper, the certainty I now feel transforming some of that horror into fury. My voice grows stronger. "No. Your job is to take care of the bodies once they arrive in the morgue, not put them here."
She doesn't even pretend not to know what I mean, just shrugs and wipes a cloth down one stiff, chilled arm, while humming.
She rounds on me, eyes flashing, teeth pulled back in a sudden snarl. I stumble back a step, alarmed at the rapid change. "Don't call me that. No one ever calls me that anymore. Not since Mom died."
"I'm sorry. I... Tina—"
"Mom died and Dad left, and you went off to college, leaving me with Aunt Dee. Who was deaf, nearly blind, and never had time for a little girl." She drops the rag, her hands sliding into the deep pockets of her lab coat, straining as she pushed at the material. "I wanted to play games, but no one was around to play with me."
"I didn't know—"
"Do you want to play now, Cate? I want to play!" she shouts, a manic look in her wide eyes as she pulls a metal razor garrote out of her coat pocket. "It's all fun and games until someone loses a head!"
My heart leaps into my throat as I scramble away, putting several tables between my giggling baby sister and myself. Shaking so hard I can barely aim, I raise my gun, centering my sight on her chest.
"Don't make me do this, Tina. Please."
She pauses, and cocks her head, her gaze bright with madness. "But I'm so bored. And you'll make me stop, I know you will. I can't stop now. I won't."
My breath shudders out as she inches forward, edging around the table, the garrote gripped in her hand.
"I just want to play, Cate." Her face twists into something unrecognizable, dark and evil. "Come play with me."
I shut my eyes and squeeze the trigger as she springs forward, the overhead light gleaming off the lethal edges of the razor wire in her hand. The sound of the shot going off is so loud it blots everything out for a moment. When the ringing fades, I open my eyes again and look down.
Dark heart's blood stains my Chucks, turning them black.