+ Chapter 1
Grant Marcum often worked late. Handsome and self-assured, he'd inherited
a small fortune and built himself a bigger one. Marcum and Associates
had a top-drawer reputation, due largely to its CEO, who, despite his
charm, was both driven and driving. He had no family and few friends,
but those few warned him he'd die from stress before his fiftieth birthday.
His friends had turned out to be both right and wrong. He'd died long
before fifty, but not from stress.
Lieutenant Zechs Merquise, Homicide, exited the elevator with Lucrezia
Noin, his partner for the last two years. It sometimes amazed him that
she'd put up with him for so long, as she appeared to be his opposite
in just about every way it mattered. Generally speaking, it didn't particularly
bother him that the rest of his colleagues found him cold and stand-offish;
in fact, he'd carefully cultivated the image. It didn't make living with
the past any easier, but it kept him from repeating old mistakes. Still,
he'd come to value Noin's loyalty--to count on it, in fact--which made him
wonder if she was right, after all, and he was considering rejoining the
Noin looked around the lobby of the executive suite, running her hand
through her chopped black hair. The outer office, a soft mélange of oysters
and taupes, both soothed and irritated with its blandness. "It's very...beige."
"Predictable." Zechs noted the prints hanging on the walls and smiled
faintly. "And the art is reproduction."
Noin rolled her eyes. "It's a lobby. What'd you expect?"
"At least an expensive reproduction. This one looks like the designer
picked it up at Wal-Mart and put it in an expensive frame." His smile
faded, replaced by a thin line between his eyebrows. "Honestly, though,
I'm not sure what I expected. Marcum's reputation is odd."
"Like you know anything about Wal-Mart." Noin glanced toward the crime
scene, where the business of dissecting and quantifying human tragedy
had already begun. "What do you mean, odd?"
They walked down a long hall toward the CEO's office, their footsteps
muffled by dense carpeting. "He's been a cover boy for every business
magazine you can name, from Forbes to Fast Company. Everyone
agrees that he is--was--a phenomenon. You can find volumes of information
about his business model, his financial data, the bloody software on his
computers. I wouldn't be surprised if someone hasn't run a feature on
his favorite ink pens. If he still used anything so archaic."
"But there's nothing about his personal life. Interviews usually mention
something to make CEOs seem human--his house, his car, his pets, even.
Friends, hobbies. But not with Grant Marcum. Not a word about his private
life. It's as though he'd ceased to exist as person outside Marcum and
"Very. And now, true in fact as well as metaphor." Zechs paused outside
Grant Marcum's office. The door stood open, and inside he could see uniforms
going over the scene. "Who found the body?"
"One of the junior execs, apparently." She consulted her notes. "Guy named
Duo Maxwell. Ready to go in?"
Zechs nodded, and he and Noin ducked under the yellow DO NOT CROSS--CRIME
SCENE tape that already stretched across the doorway. A uniformed officer
wearing latex gloves bent over the corpse, still slumped at his desk.
She looked up when the detectives entered.
"What do we have?" Zechs had already read the report from the call-in,
but he always asked the officers at the scene. He gave the uniform his
complete attention, a habit that had earned him the respect, at least,
of the beat officers he encountered.
"Discovered the body about 45 minutes ago. Must've happened middle of
the night from the looks of things."
"Nope, sorry. Two perforating wounds to the head. And no weapon."
"Two." Noin snorted in disgust. "Guess they wanted to make sure."
The officer nodded.
"What about the junior exec?"
She jerked her thumb toward the sitting area of the office. In an oversized
leather chair, a young man sat hunched over his knees. Small and slender,
his surroundings dwarfed him, and he was pale and obviously shaken. Even
in the well-tailored suit, Zechs thought he looked more like a stray who'd
mistakenly wandered in than a junior executive in a high-powered firm.
A long, brown braid draped over his shoulder, and he twisted the end in
fine-boned hands. Zechs's eyes widened a little in unexpected interest.
Noin apparently noticed the interest and smirked. "So which body do you
"I'll take Maxwell. You can have Marcum."
"Oh, big surprise." She grinned, but quickly, then turned back to examine
the corpse, once again all smooth competence. For a moment, Zechs watched
her work with admiration and the unwilling stirring of warmth she'd informed
him was friendship.
He sat down without waiting for an invitation. Duo Maxwell looked up,
and Zechs saw that his eyes were wide and unusually deep blue. He imagined
they'd be violet in some lights. "Lieutenant Merquise, with Homicide."
He flipped open his badge, but the young man barely glanced at it.
"I'm Duo Maxwell." He had a pleasant voice, shaken as it was, though somewhat
deeper than Zechs expected.
The combination of voice and eyes and body touched something in Zechs,
something dark and dangerous that he thought he'd buried a long time ago.
He squashed the impulse so hard that his next question came out sounding
almost like an accusation. "You found Mr. Marcum?"
Duo seemed not to notice. "When I came in this morning."
He seemed to have to dig down and bring each answer up from some deep,
buried place. Shock, Zechs realized. And possibly grief, but it was too
soon to tell.
"What time was that?" Another clipped, demanding question. Zechs winced
a little at his own tone, but instinct to command was strong.
This time, Zechs' harshness penetrated Duo's daze. Blue-violet eyes turned
hard and wary. "I already explained all this."
"I know. But I haven't had a chance to talk to the officer. Sorry if
I'm making you repeat yourself."
Duo drew a shuddering breath. "No...no, it's okay. Sorry, it's just that...Sorry."
"So what time did you find Mr. Marcum?"
"Probably about ten ‘til eight. I know it was before eight, that's why
I went to his office, to let him know I was here. I pulled into the garage
at twenty ‘til. It usually takes me about ten minutes to get upstairs,
hang my coat up, that stuff."
Zechs nodded, making notes in his palm-sized spiral notebook. "Is that
your usual routine?"
Duo nodded. "I'm supposed to be here by eight. Grant's always here ahead
of me, and if I'm not on time he's not too happy." He looked toward the
corpse, his face suddenly stricken.
"Was anyone else in the office?" Duo continued to stare at Grant Marcum,
still slumped over his immaculate desk. "Mr. Maxwell?"
Duo blinked and turned back to Zechs. "I'm sorry--?"
"Was anyone else in the office?"
"No. Everyone comes in at nine."
"Do you know if Mr. Marcum worked late last night?"
"We...we came back from a-a reception around midnight. He was still here
when I left."
"What time was that?"
Duo shrugged. "One, maybe? One thirty...I don't know. I was tired."
"Was he alone when you left?"
"We were the last ones here. The cleaning crew leaves at ten."
"Security?" Zechs couldn't imagine a building like this or a man like
Grant Marcum without security.
"Him, sure. He's there all night."
"Just one security guard?"
Duo nodded. "Grant said that was enough."
Zechs smothered a sigh. Some witnesses had a tendency to babble under
stress. Not Duo Maxwell, apparently. He hadn't volunteered anything
that wasn't a direct answer to a direct question. "Did you socialize
with Mr. Marcum?"
"You said you went to a reception together."
"Oh...that." Duo's face colored slightly. "That was business. Face time,
networking stuff, you know. Schmoozing the board members."
Zechs hoped he concealed his distaste for schmoozing of any kind. "You
came upstairs with him?"
"Yes, we...I needed something in my office. And Grant had some things
he wanted to go over."
"Some." Duo looked up as a pick-up crew arrived with a gurney and body
bag. He went white around his lips, and his eyes widened impossibly.
"Mr. Maxwell? Are you all right?"
Duo gripped the arms of the chair and pushed himself up. He stood unsteadily,
and Zechs instinctively put a hand under his elbow to support him. The
ME's crew began to lift Grant Marcum's body out of the chair, and Zechs
stepped between Duo and the dead man. No need for him to watch.
Duo looked up at him, his eyes pleading. Zechs caught his breath at the
jolt Duo's expression gave him, at the sudden need he felt. It came as
a relief when Zechs heard the metallic creak of wheels and looked over
his shoulder to see the crew wheeling out the body, now anonymous in a
canvas bag and strapped to the gurney. Duo made a small, keening whimper,
reminding Zechs of a dog whose master has left it behind. He waited until
the crew left the office before he spoke to Duo again.
"We'll finish as quickly as we can, Mr. Maxwell, and then you can go.
Do you have someone to call?"
Duo blinked stupidly at him. "What?"
"Someone who can pick you up." He didn't look like he should drive. "A
Duo gave him an odd look at that last. "No. I'll be all right."
Zechs wasn't sure he believed him, but it wasn't any of his affair. "Then
if I could ask you to answer a few more questions?"
He asked Duo more about the previous evening, where they'd been and whom
they'd seen. Duo seemed to calm down a bit now that there wasn't a dead
body a few feet away, and his voice grew firmer as he answered.
"Did you go home after you left the office?"
"Yes. I went right to bed. It was late, and I don't like getting up
"Anyone who can verify that?"
"No. I-I live alone."
Zechs felt an unaccountable rush of relief despite the fact it meant Duo's
alibi remained uncorroborated. "I need your contact information in case
we have more questions."
Duo gave him an address and phone number. Zechs recognized the neighborhood--young
and upscale. Grant Marcum must have paid well. Duo left, and Zechs watched
Zechs looked down at Noin. He tried to scowl.
"Give it up. I know you too well."
"All right. It is a nice braid." And he was going to have a hard
time forgetting how it twitched when Duo Maxwell walked away. He looked
at Grant Marcum's chair. "What did you get?"
She pointed to two bullet holes near the top of the chair. "His murderer
must have been close."
"Couldn't sneak up on him. Not with this room arrangement." Marcum's
desk faced the door. Power position, Zechs thought.
"Unless the killer was already in here. Could've been waiting for him."
"What about Maxwell?"
"He says he found Marcum when he came into work this morning. They were
both in the office last night, but Maxwell says he left first. Went straight
home, but no witnesses. First in the office this morning. Again, no witnesses."
" ‘And' what? That was about the extent of what I got from him."
"You got his address and phone number. Did you ask him out?"
"Noin..." Zechs groaned.
"Oh, come on. I saw you. You were almost drooling. Almost, because
you'd never do anything as crass as drool."
"Noin, he's a witness. That's all. Anything else would be wrong, and
you know that."
"Yeah, yeah. Mr. Regulations, that's you." She patted his arm with the
familiarity of an old friend. "Zechs, it's okay. He's a cute guy, and
you haven't been on a date in how long?"
"There's no point in me answering, since I'm sure you've already calculated
it down to the hour."
"Seven months. You haven't been out with anyone in seven months. And
you haven't had any kind of a steady since--"
"I'm not asking Duo Maxwell for a date."
"Okay, then, what about after we're finished with the investigation? Would
you ask him then?"
Zechs looked down at the address and phone number written in his notebook.
The trendy address seemed somehow at odds with the young man he'd questioned.
"Maybe. I might. If..." He frowned and looked at the door, once again
draped with yellow vinyl tape.
Zechs laughed, but even he heard the forced note in it. He knew he had
no chance of fooling Noin. But he didn't need her to explain the heat
he felt when he looked at Duo Maxwell. "If he doesn't turn out to be
the murderer, of course. I'm hungry. Did you have breakfast?"
Duo Maxwell wheeled into his garage, tires of his sports car screeching.
He stared at the steering wheel, at his keys dangling in the ignition,
not quite able to remember what to do next. His fingers rubbed unconsciously
at his wrists where bruised abrasions peeked out from under his shirtsleeves.
What do I do now?
He took a deep breath, trying to stave off the hysteria he felt building
just under the layer of numb, icy calm he'd manage to hold on to.
Cops. A whole room full of them. His heart pounded and his stomach churned
at the memory. He'd struggled against the fight-or-flight reaction he
still felt when he saw a uniform, fought it so hard that he felt exhausted
and sick. And that detective--Zechs Merquise...why do I know that name?--he'd
looked at Duo like he knew.
But he couldn't. There's no way. Duo sank deeper into the leather
seat. He'd find out, though. Something in his eyes, sharp and cold and
bright as cut blue diamonds, told Duo that he wouldn't stop until he found
out who killed Grant, no matter what got destroyed in the process. Or
Duo's heart jumped a beat as he remembered Zechs' blue eyes. And his
hair, his face, his body. His hands, long, slender fingers caressing
his pen as he made notes. Even with Grant's dead body a few feet away,
Duo had still been aware of Zechs, not just as a detective, but as a man.
It figures that I meet the hottest guy ever and he's a cop. There
was something else about him, too, a strength that Duo had never known
he needed until Grant woke the hunger in him.
Duo swallowed hard, trying to blank the memory of Grant's corpse from
his mind. He's gone. He's really gone. And hard on that realization
came another: It's over. It's finished. And finally, I'm free.
And then he cried.
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