Home > The Grendel Affair (SPI Files #1)(8)

The Grendel Affair (SPI Files #1)(8)
Author: Lisa Shearin

I’d decided right then that I could go through the rest of my career at SPI perfectly happy not knowing exactly how large of a dragon Vivienne Sagadraco actually was. It was bad enough that during our interview my future boss’s glittering eyes had looked at me much the same way as I had the finger sandwiches.

After what I’d done tonight, the boss might decide that her initial impulse was correct, and that I’d make a better snack than agent.

Being escorted to the boss’s office by her right-hand legal eagle/vampire meant that what Ian and I had stepped in tonight wasn’t just another crime scene with a monster perp.

We took an elevator up to the fifth floor and the executive suite. As Moreau escorted us into her office, Vivienne Sagadraco was standing with her back to us in front of a two-way glass wall—which bore an unsettling resemblance to an interrogation room’s—gazing down into the bull pen. It was about two hours until sunrise, yet her tailored gray suit looked as crisp as it would have at the start of the business day, and her short, silver hair was perfectly styled. Vivienne Sagadraco wasn’t nocturnal and she didn’t live at headquarters, though rumor had it she kept a small apartment here for emergencies. Home was a penthouse overlooking Central Park West. Dragons liked to be able to survey their domain. So if this wasn’t an emergency, that meant she’d made a special trip here just for us on a night with a subzero windchill.

I shot a quick glance at Ian. He didn’t look like he felt special or flattered, either. Then again, Ian always had any and all of his feelings securely locked up. The man of steel and stone.

Vivienne Sagadraco spoke without turning. “Good morning, Agents Byrne and Fraser.” Her British accent was cool and smooth, rather reminding me of Judi Dench’s M about to give James Bond some really bad news. “Please be seated.”

We hung our coats on the brass coatrack by the door, then did as told. I perched on the edge of the chair with the only part of my jeans that hadn’t been soaked in whiskey. They were relatively dry now, but the smell was still there. Moreau remained standing by the door.

“I will not waste any of our time,” she told us, “since so little remains of it. Last night the mutilated body of a goblin noble was discovered in Chinatown. Kanil Ghevari was one of our own, and was a strong advocate with his people for keeping the supernatural realm hidden from the general population. Certain elements of his murder bear disturbing similarities to the incident at Barrington Galleries earlier tonight.”

Detective Burton had homed in on me and Ollie, but only in connection with tonight’s murder. Chinatown was close enough to the First Precinct, so why hadn’t Burton grilled me about where I was last night?

“We have his remains here,” Sagadraco said, as if she could read my mind. “The human authorities do not know of Kanil’s murder, nor can they know.”

“After his death,” Ian told me, “any spells Kanil had been using to pass for human would’ve faded; within an hour, they would’ve been completely gone.”

That would have been a big surprise for someone down at the city morgue.

“Kanil was the sole voice of reason with the radicals among their aristocracy,” Sagadraco said. “They are rapidly growing weary of concealing themselves from humans. He will be sorely missed.” Her steely blue eyes took in both of us in turn. “Tell me precisely what happened this evening. Leave nothing out.”

We did. I started with Ollie asking me to catch the nachtgnome, included the run-in with the vampire and the multi-faced man who scared him away, and topped it off with the picture of me having been found on the dead man—a photo taken at SPI. Ian filled in his involvement as it came up.

Sagadraco scowled, then glanced past us at Moreau.

“I will locate the vampire and the man outside the liquor store,” he said.

She nodded once.

“And I will know the identity of the photographer before dawn,” Moreau promised.

“Notify me as soon as you do.”

“Of course, ma’am. Permission to begin now.”

“Granted.”

The door opened and closed, leaving us alone with Vivienne Sagadraco.

Now her full attention was on me. “Did you capture it?”

“Ma’am?”

“The nachtgnome, Agent Fraser. Did you capture it?”

“No, ma’am.”

I heard a distinctly draconic sniff of amusement. “Unfortunate.”

“Yes, ma’am, it was.”

“And this was after it had consumed two bottles of whiskey.” She almost sounded impressed. “It must have been a large specimen.”

“And a mean drunk,” Ian added.

She almost smiled. “Agent Fraser, when we are finished here, please avail yourself of our shower facilities and a change of clothes.”

There was nothing I’d like more. “Thank you, ma’am.”

Her smile vanished. “Our source in the city medical examiner’s office reported that there was a winged scarab tattoo on the dead man’s palm.”

“There was also a large, bloody handprint on the window frame,” I said.

“How large?”

“At least five times the size of Ian’s . . . uh, I mean Agent Byrne’s.”

Sagadraco nodded in acknowledgment as if that information wasn’t news to her.

“Two units arrived within minutes,” Ian said. “Someone knew there was going to be a murder, and called it in to make sure the police would arrive immediately after. I didn’t detect any surveillance around the shop, but that doesn’t mean that it wasn’t there.”

“I’d told Ollie that I’d be there around ten o’clock,” I said. “Between the vampire and the icy sidewalks, I got there closer to ten twenty.”

“Given the photo of her found in the victim’s pocket, there is a chance that all this could have been a setup for Agent Fraser.” Ian continued, “Though I don’t know what the motive could have been. More likely would be that the caller wanted the police to find the body quickly; maybe even get a glimpse of the thing that did it. Though if they’d gotten themselves glimpsed, that thing would have probably added two more heads and arms to its collection.”

Both possibilities strongly suggested that the caller wanted the human authorities to discover an inhuman murder scene—and me. Combine that with the murder last night of a known and vocal advocate of keeping supernaturals secret from humans . . .

“Could this just have been an attempt to draw unwanted attention to SPI?” I ventured.

“Among other things,” Sagadraco said.

“Did our lab people find anything with Kanil’s body that’d give us a clue as to what we’re dealing with?” Ian asked.

“There were claw marks on his right shoulder consistent with a creature large and strong enough to tear an arm from its socket. The arm removal was done pre-mortem, yet there was very little blood found at the scene. The arm was not found with Kanil’s body.” She crossed the room to her desk and picked up a clear evidence bag like the one my bloody photo had been in. “However, this was.” She gave it to Ian.

I leaned forward to get a better look. It was big enough that I didn’t really need to, but morbid fascination got the better of me. The object was black, curved, narrowed to a fine point, and was at least five inches long.

“It looks like a claw,” I said.

“That is precisely what it is, Agent Fraser. It was found caught on a rib adjacent to Kanil’s heart.”

My mouth went dry. “The thing that belonged to was on the other side of Ollie’s office door?”

“We have every reason to believe so. And our examination of Kanil’s remains confirms that all of his wounds—with the exception of the decapitation—were inflicted before he died.” Sagadraco’s eyes narrowed and a low rumbling briefly vibrated the air around me. I froze as I realized that Vivienne Sagadraco had just growled. Ian only saw and heard the human version; I got the full dragon experience in surround sound.

“There were five puncture wounds on Kanil’s chest,” she continued as if nothing had happened. “Our own medical examiner reported that they were indicative of a large clawed hand restraining him—also pre-mortem. She believes that Kanil’s attacker tore off his arm, then held him down until he bled out.”

There was dead silence.

Sagadraco scowled. “Measurements taken from the claw placement on Kanil’s chest and the downward angle of the gash at the . . . amputation site on his right shoulder suggest a heavily muscled creature at least three meters tall.”

Ian sat perfectly still. “A nine footer?”

“Probably closer to ten.”

“The man in Ollie’s office was torn limb from limb in less than a minute,” I said. “And his head was taken as well as his right arm.”

“The attack tonight displayed animal savagery. Kanil’s murder was more the work of a sadist. I received a letter this evening from an individual who is claiming credit for bringing the creatures to New York.”

“Creatures?” I blurted. “Plural?”

“Two, to be precise.” Sagadraco took a piece of paper from her desk and handed it to me. “The letter was delivered to me at home earlier this evening. I took the usual precautions before opening it, and deemed it not to be dangerous.” She scowled. “I was mistaken. Immediately after I read it, both the letter and the envelope it was in burst into flames. I wrote down the vital portions before it vanished from my memory.”

Ian leaned over to read with me.

I will cure humans once and for all of the absurd notion that they are, or ever have been, at the top of this world’s food chain. To truly believe, they must see it for themselves. Their own literature abounds with predators that hunt them in the night. I have introduced two of them to this island teeming with prey.

I am certain that you will extend every courtesy to my guests as they sample the delights that this fair city has to offer—especially during the revelry that bids farewell to the old year, and will welcome what promises to be the beginning of an enlightened new age.

   
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