Murder Game Page 40

“The puppet master believes he’s smarter than everyone else and he wants them to see him without really seeing. He wants his genius to be in front of them, easy to read, but not to really ‘get’ it. That way, he can gloat and prove to himself over and over that he’s superior, even to enhanced psychics.”

“Is he enhanced?”

She drew a breath, allowing her palms to be so close only a piece of paper could separate her from the game piece. The surge of energy was potent and filled with violence. The one she had dubbed “Blade” was definitely a dominant. She wondered what Kadan’s energy would feel like if he wasn’t shielding her. She imagined it would be something like this. Waves of force, relentless and sure. Blade had to be the East Coast team leader of the game. She didn’t want to read him right now; she was trying to get a feel for the puppet master.

“I can’t tell. Not like this. His energy is very subtle, but I think he weaves it that way.”

Tansy concentrated on the ego, the biggest part of him. The man was fastidious; she had the impression of someone who was very conscious of his clothes and style. He wanted to look well groomed, a GQ man. He wanted to appear cool and sophisticated without drawing attention to himself. He had money . . . She pulled her hands away abruptly, another piece of the puzzle falling into place.

“This is about money.”

Kadan frowned. She was already pale, the drain on her tremendous, and they’d barely gotten started. He could feel the energy in her mind, dark and violent, swirling with edges of red, but she hadn’t immersed herself in it at all. “What’s about money, Tansy?” Sometimes he thought she put herself in a trance, her eyes opaque and distant, gleaming with that violet-silver shine.

“The murder game. It’s all about money. That’s your connection.”

He shook his head. “I looked into insurance payoffs. A few of them had insurance. One or two left a hefty inheritance for a family member, but the majority don’t have enough money attached to raise a flag.”

“The two boys. The ones Frog killed. Did they have insurance on them?” Tansy sank into a chair because her legs felt rubbery.

“Why question that particular murder?”

“There couldn’t be another motive. Who would want to kill two high school boys who were smart, weren’t robbed, and probably had never done anything to anyone in their lives? I got the impression from them that they had barely started their lives. They were shocked. Frog didn’t want to kill them; in fact, he was upset with the puppet master and the others on his team and the other team. Really upset. He asked forgiveness and even went so far as promising revenge. He didn’t want to kill them, yet he chose those two boys. They weren’t random victims. You’re going on the assumption that each of these murders was random, but Frog’s murder wasn’t. He had to fulfill some contract . . .” She broke off and looked up at him in shock. “Contract murders? Could this game be about paid hits?”

Kadan automatically shook his head. How could that be? A game? But even as he was denying the possibility, her reasoning somehow fit. Her mind worked differently, taking pieces, discarding them, and trying them in ways no one else might think of. Another gift. A talent she didn’t recognize.

“Don’t touch anything until I get back.” He didn’t want to leave her, not when information was pouring into her mind, and he was afraid she might grasp the game piece now that she had a trail to follow. “I mean it, Tansy, wait for me.”

Tansy found it difficult to resist the lure of the ivory blade. The notches meant something to either the carver or the owner of the piece. Which was it? Her mind refused to stop racing for more details. Once she was on the scent, she found it nearly impossible to focus on anything else, and the energy of both men was much more potent in this piece.

“Tansy,” Kadan’s voice was sharp. “I said no.”

He caught her wrist, the sound of his palm hitting her arm loud in the silence of the room. She blinked up at him, a little distracted by his presence.

“I need to . . .”

“No.” He kept possession of her hand. “I went to check on the file in the war room. The boys were half brothers and the insurance on them was heavy for kids that age. Mother inherits. She’d only recently remarried. Boys had different fathers, and the third husband seems to have gotten along with the boys and was broken up about the whole thing.”

“Did you interview them?”

He shook his head. “I haven’t had the chance. I got my orders, read everything, and knew I needed you, so I went looking for you.”

“But either the mother or the stepfather could have hired someone to kill the boys.” Tansy made it a statement, but she was frowning, shaking her head. “Something is just a little off kilter, Kadan. I need to get stronger impressions. I need to actually handle it.”

“With gloves.”

“I won’t get what we want. You said we’d have to solve this fast. I know your friends didn’t do this, but whoever wants all of you dead is going to use the murders as an opportunity to get rid of them. By the time the real murderers are found, it will be too late.”

He didn’t want her pulling off the gloves. She’d be annihilated by the violent energy. He could feel waves pushing at her mind, and she merely had her hands close to the game piece.

“We need to know.”

He pulled her off the chair and sat down. “Sit on my lap.”

“Kadan.” It was a protest. She frowned at him, pushing at the long blond hair falling around her face. “What are you doing?”

“Protecting you. Sit on me. I’m going to keep my arms around you, my hands on your wrists. If I tell you to drop that thing and you don’t, I’ll be in a better position to force it out of your hand. We both know this is dangerous to you.”

“I don’t know if I can concentrate like that.”

Kadan shrugged. “Take it or leave it, but you aren’t touching that thing without me surrounding you with as much protection as I can give you.”

He had that tone again. Tansy sighed. There was no moving him from his position when he used that tone. Very slowly, breathing deep, she removed the protective barrier of the gloves. She sank down onto his lap and his arms immediately circled her, his hands resting lightly over hers, which gave her added confidence.

She cupped her bare hands around the ivory knife. The energy swarmed to her, violent, almost angry. Smug. Superior. Oily sludge poured into her brain, dripping with blood, with the need for more blood. Beneath the muck, hidden, she found that small vein that ran under, nearly overwhelmed with the dominant strand, but flowing subtly, a monster at work behind the scenes.

She took a breath and worked at separating the two threads. Blade needed followers, needed them to see him dominate every situation. He looked for fights. Wanted others to argue so he could hurt and frighten them in front of others. He was cruel to his girlfriends and those who loved him, usually subtle cruelties, but he enjoyed the pain in their eyes—and the fear. Ridiculing others and making them look small in front of his friends was a favorite pastime.

Distaste. Smug satisfaction that someday . . . She almost had the puppet master, but Blade wouldn’t give up the spotlight. Something important eluded her as it moved by. She couldn’t focus properly because the violence in Blade was his primary characteristic.

More oily sludge coated her mind as he pushed deeper into her brain, determined to imprint himself there when she was really looking for the more subtle thread. Looking big mattered to him, almost more than anything else. He despised having to salute. He wanted to take out some of the officers and their families. He fantasized about it all the time.

The son of a bitch who wrote him up for beating the crap out of the stupid private that dared to contradict him. Yeah, he wanted to show Officer Showoff just who really was in charge. Damn the rules of the game. He’d agreed to them, but no one would know if he spent a few hours carving Mr. Officer up. Of course, it wouldn’t be nearly as much fun if the others didn’t know what he was doing.

Another voice began to rise, one she couldn’t push down. A woman, pleading. Begging. Stirring Blade to further action. He loved the begging. The victim had no idea she was rousing him to further acts of torture for his own pleasure, and Tansy had no way of warning her.

Shut up, bitch. Stop sniveling. Whiny, stupid bitch. Of course I’m going to kill you. I’m going to gut you and leave you hanging on a meat hook in the cooler. What did you think I wanted with you? Your fancy jewelry? Your grotesque body? No, I want you dead. But don’t worry, you’ll be like one of those fine fat pigs your family slaughters and butchers; I’ll leave you hanging there for the world to see. Or maybe your husband will carve you up and sell you to the markets to make a few extra bucks.

Blade laughed, the sound wholly evil, and Tansy’s stomach lurched. She would have problems getting his vile imprint out of her head. The stain was thick and intrusive, coating the walls of her mind and finding every niche and crack, until it seeped beneath the door where the other voices wailed to be let loose.

Look for the other one, Kadan murmured, his voice a breath of fresh air, like a cool breeze running through her brain.

Tansy made an effort to push the evil Blade to the back of her mind, ignoring his insistence on sharing his handiwork with her. His voice receded a bit, allowing her to find the lighter tracks buried beneath his thick, oily presence. The puppet master. There he was. She had to be careful, very cautious not to alert him to her presence. She tried to keep her touch light, but she’d never had to worry about her own back trail before when she’d tracked.

She drew another deep breath into her lungs, fighting to keep her stomach from churning. She leaned against Kadan and drew his masculine scent into her lungs. For a moment her world righted again, as she breathed him in, the clean outdoor spice of him. Blade receded a bit more, his voice dimming, and she seized the thread that was the puppet muster.

The impressions she received from objects such as this one often seemed like a giant spiderweb, thread after thread wrapped intricately around one another until the killer and victim were bound together and it was difficult to tell the threads apart. The puppet master had carved the game pieces, leaving a great deal of himself in the ivory long before he’d given them to the players and he’d left his own threads. They were light and subtle, but they permeated the entire web.

In all the years she’d tracked killers, none of the threads had been attached to a mind. There was no way to back-track and find them; she had to piece together information until she received a large enough picture to get the killer. She wasn’t certain how the puppet master was still attached, but he had found her particular thread and back-tracked. She had to be very careful to step lightly and cause no vibration of her own to warn him she was seeking him again.

She allowed the killer and his victim to wail and gnash around her, as she waded through the blood and gore to examine each thread until she found the strongest impression of the puppet master. She matched the flow in her mind to that subtle energy, taking care that there was no signal as she examined it. Yeah. He was there all right. She just couldn’t quite get him. Without hesitation, she closed that breath of a gap between her skin and ivory.

Heat seared her palms. The screams of the victim nearly shattered her. The killer was so strong she had the impression of him bursting through the door, his mouth stretched into a grin, his face shadowy, but there was no facial hair and no mask. The woman fell backward, trying to crawl away as he loomed over her. Tansy jerked herself away from the sight, trying not to hear or see, but looking for the shiny radial that formed the support of the web. It was several strands thick, the shiny primary thread, from the handling and carving of the knife.

The notches were made with care, each one exact and polished as per request. Idiot smug bastard wants the world to see how scary he is, but he’s a child wanting attention, wanting to be feared when he should be hiding. They’ll catch this one first, openly showing his kills on his game piece. And he’ll turn on his friends because he really isn’t so tough. He doesn’t like women, but he despises men, mostly because he’s afraid of their strength.

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