Skin Deep Page 16

“Don’t kill me,” the kid whispered. “I just wanted to know what you did with him.”

“You’re Panos’s brother,” I guessed.

The kid nodded, still sobbing.

“Oh hell,” J.C. said. “No wonder it was so easy to spot the tail. Two people were following us: an amateur and a professional. I’m an idiot.”

I felt cold. I’d heard Wilson’s honk through the line when on the phone with Zen, so she had been nearby, yet we hadn’t spotted her. Zen had been invisible to us all along.


“What’s your name?” I asked the youth.


“Well, Dion, I’m putting the gun away. If you are who you say, then you don’t need to be afraid. I’m going to need you to come with me, and if you start to run, or cry out, or anything like that . . . well, I’ll have to make sure you stop.”

The youth nodded.

I climbed from the car, gun holstered, and pulled the kid out by his shoulder. A quick frisk determined he wasn’t armed, though he considered himself quite the spy. Flashlight, ski mask, binoculars, a mobile phone which I took and turned off. I marched him across the parking lot, fully aware that this whole exchange would have looked very suspicious to anyone watching. With J.C.’s coaching, though, I maintained the air of someone who knew what he was doing—arm on the youth’s shoulder, walking confidently. We were in the government complex; hopefully, anyone who spotted us would think I was a cop.

If they didn’t, well, it wouldn’t be the first time the police had been called to deal with me. I think they kept a department pool going on the frequency of it.

I shoved Dion into my SUV, then climbed inside, feeling a little more secure with the tinted windows and more of my aspects in attendance. Dion moved to the back seat and slumped there, forcing Audrey to climb onto Tobias’s lap—an event so unexpected, the aging aspect almost seemed to choke.

“Wilson, please give me warning if anyone approaches,” I said. “All right, Dion. Spill it. Why are you following me?”

“They stole Panos’s body,” Dion said.

“And by ‘they’ you mean . . .”


“And why on earth would they do such a thing?”

“The information,” Dion said. “He had it stored in his cells, you know? All of their secrets. All the terrible things they were going to do.”

I shared a look with J.C., who then facepalmed. Panos had been talking to his family about his research. Wonderful. J.C. removed his hand and mouthed to me, security nightmare.

“And what kind of terrible things,” I said, “do you assume I3 was going to do?”

“I . . .” Dion looked to the side. “You know. Corporate things.”

“Like take away casual Fridays,” Audrey guessed.

So Panos hadn’t completely confided in his brother. I tapped my fingers on the armrest. The family assumed that Yol and his people had taken the body to keep their information hidden—and, to be honest, that wasn’t far from the truth. They’d been planning to see it burned, after all. Someone had merely gotten to Panos first.

“And you’re following me,” I said to the kid. “Why?”

“You were all over the internet this morning,” Dion said. “Getting into a car with that weird Asian guy who owns I3. I figured out that you were supposed to crack the code on Panos’s body. Seems obvious. I mean, you’re some kind of superspy hacker or something, right?”

“That’s exactly what we are,” Audrey said. “Steve-O, tell him that’s what we are.” When I said nothing, she elbowed Tobias, in whose lap she was still sitting. “Tell him, grandpa.”

“Stephen,” Tobias said, somewhat uncomfortable, “this youth sounds earnest.”

“He’s being honest,” Ivy said, inspecting him, “so far as I can tell.”

“You should reassure him,” Tobias said. “Look at the poor lad. He looks like he still thinks you’re going to shoot him.”

Indeed, Panos had his hands clasped, eyes down, but he was trembling.

I softened my tone. “I wasn’t hired to crack the body’s code,” I told him. “I3 has plenty of backups on all their information. I’m here to find the corpse.”

Dion looked up.

“No,” I said, “I3 didn’t take it. They would have been perfectly content to let it be cremated.”

“I don’t think he believes you, Steve,” Ivy said.

“Look,” I said to Dion, “I don’t care what happens with I3. I just want to make sure the information in that corpse is accounted for, all right? And for now, I need you to wait here.”


“Because I don’t know what to do with you.” I glanced at Wilson, who nodded. He’d keep an eye on the kid. “Go climb in the front seat,” I told Dion. “When I get back, we can have a long conversation about all of this. For now, I have to go deal with a very surly coroner.”


The city coroner was housed in a sterile-smelling little office beside the city morgue, which was only one set of rooms in a larger medical complex. Technically, Liza liked to be called a “medical examiner,” and she was always surprisingly busy for a person who seemed to spend all of her time playing internet games.

At the stroke of eight, I strode through the medical complex lobby—suffering the glare of a security guard who was far too large for the little cubby they’d given him—and knocked politely on the coroner office door. Liza’s secretary—I forget his name—opened the door with an obviously reluctant expression.

“She’s waiting for you,” the young man said. “I wouldn’t call her excited, though.”

“Great. Thanks . . .”

“John,” Tobias filled in.

“. . . John.”

The secretary nodded, walking back to his desk and shuffling papers. I strolled down a short hallway to a nice office, hung with official-looking diplomas and the like. I managed to get a glimpse of Facebook reflected in one of them as Liza turned off her tablet and looked up at me.

“I’m busy, Leeds,” she said.

Dressed in a white labcoat over jeans and a pink buttoned blouse, Liza was in her late fifties, and was tall enough that she was very tired of answering whether or not she’d played basketball in school. It was fortunate her clients were, for the most part, dead—as that was the only type of person who didn’t seem to bother her.

Prev Next
Romance | Vampires | Fantasy | Billionaire | Werewolves | Zombies