Home > The Grendel Affair (SPI Files #1)(6)

The Grendel Affair (SPI Files #1)(6)
Author: Lisa Shearin

“And the bottles were broken how?”

“I tripped. It was my first time using night vision goggles.”

Burton raised an eyebrow. “The broken bottles were found in different sections of the shop. So you’re saying you tripped twice?”

“I threw the second bottle at the wall because the rat was climbing up it. I don’t like rats.”

“There was more glass found by the door from a broken jar containing a”—Burton flipped open the manila folder and read with distaste—“monkey brain, according to the jar’s label.”

My frozen, open-mouthed grimace wasn’t an act. I remembered the wet, squishy plop hitting the floor by my feet after the nachtgnome had chucked that jar at me. “I could have stepped on a monkey brain?”

Ollie only carried stuff he knew he could sell. I didn’t know what disturbed me more: a monster on the loose that could tear off arms and legs, or some wacked-out collector scurrying around the city shopping for just the right monkey brain to go on his mantle.

“Odd thing though,” the detective continued, sitting down across from me at the table. “Whatever liquid was in the jar shorted out the alarm keypad. So the jar couldn’t have been broken before you arrived as you said in your statement, since you claim that you deactivated the security system using the code that Mr. Barrington-Smythe gave you.”

I sighed and slouched in my chair. “Listen. I don’t know anything about security systems. Ollie gave me the code and I used it. That’s all. I have no idea what the alarm and the monkey brain did or didn’t do before I got there.”

Detective Burton leaned forward, elbows on the table, hands folded. “Ms. Fraser, I don’t believe a word you’ve said. But as a former reporter at one of our city’s least reputable tabloids, no doubt you’re more than capable of fabricating what you need to fill in the gaps.” He inclined his head toward the manila folder. “I see that you’re presently employed by Saga Partners Investments. That’s quite a move from a tabloid reporter. Exactly what do you do there?”

Saga was just one of the business fronts for SPI. Located off Waverly Place near Washington Square Park in Greenwich Village, Saga was an actual, working private securities firm, whose clients included SPI agents and employees. Saga had a few clairvoyants on staff, so our 401k accounts were in really good shape.

Having worked at a sleazy tabloid didn’t make me sleazy. I was tired, I smelled like a still, and I wanted to go home. I sat up straighter and looked Burton in the eye. “I’m an investigator. I do background checks on the smaller companies we recommend, or don’t recommend, to our clients.”

Burton nodded absently. “And how do you explain this?”

He tossed a ziplock bag tagged for evidence. Inside was a small, blood-spattered photo.

Of me.

I just stared at it. I blinked and looked again. It was still me and still bloody.

In the photo, I was wearing the green sweater my grandma had knitted me for Christmas. I had a cookie in each hand, and was eating one of them. I wasn’t doing that great a job of it, judging from the powdered sugar I was wearing in addition to the sweater. I’d worn it to work for the first time yesterday. Judy from HR had baked and brought cookies.

Someone at SPI had taken that photo. At SPI headquarters.

“It was found in the coat pocket of our John Doe,” Burton said.

I’d heard the expression about your blood running cold, and at that moment, I knew exactly what it felt like. A photo of me was taken yesterday at the super secret—and supposedly secure—SPI headquarters and was found tonight on a dead man whom I’d never seen before. Who took the picture and why? At least at my old tabloid job, I knew who wanted to stab me in the back—everybody. I hadn’t been at SPI long enough to have pissed anyone off that bad, at least I’d like to think so. At SPI, the stabbing could be literal and it could be anyone.

“I want a name, Ms. Fraser.”

“So would I,” I heard myself say.

“It’s a stretch to classify as a coincidence you being at a murder scene where the victim was carrying a photo of you, don’t you think?”

I didn’t respond because I was officially beyond words. At that moment, I knew I really needed a lawyer. The sight of the photo combined with the smell of my own clothes and the chair I’d been sitting in made me feel more than a little queasy.

There was a knock at the door—as the door was being opened.

“Miss Fraser will not be answering any more questions, Detective Burton.”

I knew that cool, lightly accented voice, and I didn’t need to turn around for confirmation.

Alain Moreau, SPI lawyer.

Speak of the devil.

Most people would be glad to see a high-powered lawyer arrive to save the day. The day might be saved, but I wasn’t, at least not for long.

Alain Moreau wasn’t just any agency lawyer; he was SPI’s chief legal counsel, right-hand man to Vivienne Sagadraco, the boss lady herself. Here he was at oh-dark-thirty elegantly attired in a black suit that probably cost more than I’d make this year; that is, if I still had a job come sunrise. It set off his always meticulously cut white blond hair, pale skin, and light blue eyes to perfection. I’d always thought he looked like Anderson Cooper, minus the giggling and sense of humor. Most people couldn’t carry off that look in the middle of the night, but Alain Moreau wasn’t most people. The night was the middle of his business day.

Alain Moreau was a vampire.

I was sure that plenty of people at SPI had been tempted to make the bloodsucking lawyer joke. An ill-timed vampire lawyer reference to my former editor was what had made me the target of his creepy attentions. So I, like everyone else at SPI, kept any joke urges to myself.

I’d been brought in to the First Precinct for questioning in relation to a gruesome murder.

Now I was really in trouble.

I’d rather have told Detective Burton the absolute and unvarnished truth and risked getting locked up for a full psych evaluation than have Alain Moreau here. Moreau meant that Vivienne Sagadraco had a personal interest in what had happened tonight—and in her two agents who had been there when it’d happened.

“Miss Fraser, if you will come with me.” Moreau’s tone betrayed no emotion whatsoever.

No part of this turn of events could be called good.

Burton stood. “I’m not finished questioning . . .”

“Yes, Detective Burton, you are. Miss Fraser has told you all that she knows. I have spoken with your captain and filled out the necessary paperwork. Miss Fraser and Mr. Byrne will be leaving with me.”

• • •

Ian Byrne wasn’t happy.

News flash. None of us in the agency SUV were happy. Not only was I not happy, I was downright terrified.

Alain Moreau sat up front with the driver. He was facing ahead, his eyes on the frozen tundra that was Lower Manhattan, his thoughts probably on the fastest way to terminate my employment and where to scrounge up a new seer on short notice. He hadn’t said a word since we’d left the police station. I didn’t know what he was thinking. Maybe he felt that it was just more efficient to ask his questions once we were in the boss’s office. Maybe Moreau didn’t like repeating himself. Probably he was just too pissed to talk.

Unlike the rest of us, the uniformed driver might not have had a bad night, but I couldn’t see his face from where I was sitting, and he hadn’t so much as glanced in the rearview mirror. Not that I could have seen his eyes anyway. He was wearing sunglasses. According to the blue-lit digital clock on the SUV’s dash, it was nearly two o’clock in the morning. Who—or what—wore sunglasses at two o’clock in the morning? Not that I really wanted to know or find out.

Ian sat next to me, his profile in shadow, illuminated only when we passed a streetlight. “What did you tell them?”

I slouched back into my own little patch of dark. “We were hunting a rat, whiskey was bait, NVGs because rats like the dark, I didn’t know the dead guy . . .”

“And?”

I really didn’t want to have the rest of this conversation, but this wasn’t one of those problems you could ignore and it’d go away. Ignoring it was liable to get me killed—or worse, fired. If I hadn’t offered to help Ollie with his nachtgnome problem, none of this would have happened. Well, the murder still would have happened, but we wouldn’t have been there to hear it and then get caught in the aftermath.

“The dead guy might have known me,” I said.

Silence from Ian, though I knew that was temporary. And even deeper silence from the vampire lawyer in the passenger’s seat.

I told Ian about the bloody photo and made sure Moreau heard every word. This was one story I didn’t want to tell again.

“Are you sure the photo was taken at SPI?” Ian asked.

“It was the only place where I was eating cookies.” I didn’t like what it said about me that most of the time when someone aimed a camera at me, I was eating.

“Who had the camera or phone?”

“No one that I could see.”

“Then who was standing close enough to get that shot?”

“A lot of people. Like I said, there were cookies.”

“What time was it when you ate two cookies?”

“Uh . . . actually that should probably be which time was it. I ate two cookies at the same time more than once. They were really good—but they were small,” I hurried to add.

“How many times?” Ian repeated.

“Three . . . or four. Yesterday was a slow day.”

Moreau let a small sigh escape.

Way to make a good impression on the boss lady’s right-hand man, Mac. Tonight you freelanced, got arrested and interrogated, and now Moreau probably thinks you spend more time eating than working.

“I’ll have security pull the break room and adjacent hallway footage for the entire day,” Moreau told us. His disturbingly pale blue eyes met mine in the rearview mirror. I guess that thing about vampires and mirrors wasn’t true; I could see his disapproving expression just fine.

   
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