+ Chapter 2
"Hey." Noin slid into her
chair and faced Zechs across their back-to-back desks. She leaned forward,
speaking just loud enough for him to hear. The noise of the station
swirled around them, isolating them in a bubble of privacy. "I think
I've got something."
Zechs looked up from his computer, hopeful. So far, he'd turned up nothing.
No enemies to speak of, no one with motive. No sour or shady business
deals. Nothing. He'd begun to believe that whoever killed Marcum had
an intensely personal reason to do so, some secret shared only between
the two of them.
"Nope. On Maxwell." She pushed a folder across the desk. "Look at
Zechs stretched and reached for it. "That's from downstairs."
"Yep. Sweet-talked one of the guys in records to let me bring the file
up here. Turns out Maxwell has a rap sheet. Juvenile record, too, but
Zechs held his breath as he opened the folder and scanned Duo's police
record. He wasn't sure what he was afraid of seeing, or why he was
afraid at all. With something that felt like relief, he read through
the string of arrests.
"Nothing particularly serious. Petty larceny, mostly. Trespassing.
A couple of drunk and disorderly. Resisting arrest with those, too."
He noted the addresses. "Nasty part of town. Street kid?"
"That's how I read it. I'd like to see what's in the juvie file, just
out of curiosity. I'm guessing more of the same."
Zechs looked at the date and location of his last arrest. It was more
recent than one would think for someone living in a trendy, expensive
neighborhood and working at a top consulting firm. How did Duo go from
the corner of Fifth and Main to a corner office at Marcum & Associates
in a few months?
Frowning, he drummed his fingers on the cold steel of his desk. "What
are the usual qualifications for a job like his?"
"Junior exec in a place like that? Degree in business, at the very least.
They can usually hire the best of the best. You know, Harvard, M.I.T.
The top business schools."
"I'm guessing that if Duo Maxwell set foot on a campus like that, it
was to steal a stereo out of someone's car."
"So how'd he get hired by Marcum?"
"How indeed." Zechs had an easier time mentally fitting Duo into a
gang hanging on a street corner than he could into an Ivy League classroom.
"Who had the job before him?"
Noin pulled out her notebook and flipped through it. "Guy named Trowa
Barton. He's at Winner Enterprises now."
"An even bigger player than Marcum. Check him out. I'm going back to
Marcum's office, see if we missed something. Try to have another chat
with Duo Maxwell while I'm at it."
"Oh, I see how it is." Noin feigned a put-upon look. "You want to ditch
me so you can make time with the cute witness."
Zechs rolled his eyes. "Don't be ridiculous."
"Me? You're the one who drooled over him. Not that I blame you."
"You want me to take Barton? Then you can go drool over Maxwell."
"It'd be tempting, if I thought for a minute you meant it." She grinned,
but her eyes were sharp and serious. "No, really. You'd better go.
He's already talked to you, you're familiar. You'll get more out of
him than I would."
"I didn't get much out of him before. He's not a talker."
"Use your charm."
Zechs let out an exasperated sigh. "Noin--"
She laughed again and grabbed her coat. "See you later, Zechs. Try
not to drool all over the nice topcoat." She waved, and then was gone.
Zechs scowled after her, then flipped through the file again, trying
to piece together Duo Maxwell's past. The date on the first adult conviction
was more recent than he expected, only four years ago, and judging from
the frequency of his run-ins with the court, he'd probably had his last
juvie conviction six or eight months before that. Young, then, to be
a rising star in the business world.
How had a street punk gotten catapulted into Grant Marcum's realm? Where
would their paths have ever crossed to begin with? Zechs frowned. He
was missing something. He studied the reports again, hoping for an answer
to jump out at him, but nothing did. Finally, he closed the folder.
It was all speculation until he talked with Duo again. He stood, put
on his coat, and left the room.
As he walked down the hall toward the front door, he felt a cold chill
and his neck prickled. He told himself to keep walking, that he didn't
need a confrontation today. But it looked like he was going to get
one, whether he needed it or not.
He turned, his hackles already rising at the ice in her voice. "Captain
She stood in the doorway of her office. Une was a striking woman, dressed
in a dark suit almost military in the severity of its cut, her brown
hair pulled back from a face both delicate and austere. Zechs didn't
doubt that some men and women found her beautiful, but he thought she
had the eyes of a snake about to strike. Those eyes fixed on him, hard
and predatory, and he suppressed a shiver.
"In a hurry?"
"I'm on my way to interview a witness." He pointedly looked at his watch,
even though he had nothing actually scheduled. "Is there something you
"You're going without Noin?"
"She's following another lead."
"She's perfectly capable."
"I'm not worried about her capabilities."
Zechs sighed. "Captain, if you have something to say, please say it.
I have work to do."
"I'm just surprised at you, Lieutenant. That's all. Letting your partner
go off alone. I thought you'd have learned. Carry on." She turned
on her heel, disappeared back into her office, leaving him standing
in the hall alone.
Zechs felt a sudden moment of fear and reached in his pocket for his
phone. He had dialed half of Noin's number when he realized what he
was doing and flipped his phone closed. Damn Une. That was exactly
what she'd wanted. She'd wanted him to be afraid for his partner, to
remember the helpless, numbing fear--as if he would ever forget it.
And more than that, by resurrecting that fear, she wanted him to blame
himself for Treize's murder. Savagely, Zechs shoved the phone back
in his pocket. He didn't need her help to feel guilty over his partner's
death. He managed that quite well on his own.
But that was the past. In the present, he had a murder on his hands,
and more questions than answers.
Zechs stepped off the elevator into the bland expanse of the executive
lobby of Marcum and Associates. Strangely enough, it had the same empty
feeling as the last time he'd been here, despite the presence this time
of a receptionist. Today, someone had turned on the ambient music,
and it made a soft, unobtrusive backdrop for the receptionist's "May
I help you?"
The receptionist was a pretty young woman with a friendly face but with
the eyes of a dragon. Her job was to keep people like Zechs away from
the company's top dogs. He gave her his best dragon-slayer smile.
Her defenses faltered slightly, and when she said, "Good morning, sir,"
she almost sounded as though she meant it.
"I'd like to speak to Duo Maxwell, please."
"Mr. Maxwell is in conference. I'll be happy to tell him you called."
She didn't ask for his name, nor did she pick up a pen or have a notepad
handy. Zechs wondered if she actually intended to mention his arrival
at all. He suspected not.
Zechs looked her in the eye. She melted a little more under his intense
Allowing the fiction that Duo was unavailable to continue a little longer,
he said, "I'm afraid that won't do. How long do you expect him to be
"I can't say."
Zechs tipped his head toward her slightly, allowing his platinum hair
to fall forward. With apparent nonchalance, he swept it back off his
face in an elegant, practiced gesture. She glanced at her phone in a
moment of indecision that he felt was probably uncharacteristic of her.
He gave her another hopeful smile.
She picked up her phone. "Let me see when he expects to be free. May
I have your name?"
Zechs waited while she spoke quietly on the phone. It took no more
than a few seconds before she said, "Mr. Maxwell will see you immediately,"
and only a few more seconds after that before Duo himself walked into
Duo looked much the same as Zechs remembered him. It caused him both
relief and discomfort, relief that his imagination had not created a
creature that did not exist, and discomfort in knowing that this very
real Duo Maxwell was going to be trouble for him.
Duo spoke first. "Lieutenant. Please, come back to my office?" He glanced
at the dragon. "Lisa, hold my calls."
Zechs followed him back a hall almost identical to the one that he'd
taken to Marcum's office, although this one led to a much smaller office.
Zechs looked around. There didn't seem to be anything of Duo's personality
in it. That disappointed him.
Duo saw Zechs' look. "I just moved in here. My old office was next
to Grant's. But I couldn't work there. I kept thinking...so I moved
"You're staying with the company?"
"For now. But I'm keeping my options open." Duo perched on the corner
of his desk. "Have a seat?"
"I'll stand, thank you. I won't take up much of your time."
Duo looked discomfited for a moment, as though unsure whether to stand
or remain where he was. After a second of shifting uncertainly, he
stayed seated, looking up at Zechs with his wide, violet-blue eyes.
"What can I do for you?"
"Can you tell me more about Grant Marcum? How well did you know him?"
"As well as anyone, I guess. He was a hard man to get close to."
"Were you close?"
Duo shrugged. "It depends on what you mean. If by ‘close' you mean
did he talk about his business plans with me, then yes. If you mean
did he tell me what kept him awake at night, no."
"What about family, friends? Did he ever talk about those?"
"He never mentioned his family at all, and I never asked. Friends...the
only ones I knew of were really more like business associates. He was
a very private person."
"So I gather. But even private people have enemies. Who would have
wanted him dead?"
Some of the color drained from Duo's face. "Believe me, I've thought
about that. But I can't think of anyone. He could be a hard person
to work for, because nothing less than perfect was acceptable. But he
didn't trample over people to get to the top in business." He looked
down, played with the edge of the desk. "He didn't have to."
"Maybe it wasn't business. Maybe it was personal."
Duo's head jerked up sharply, a sudden shadow in his eyes. "I-I wouldn't
know about that."
To Zechs, who had seen that shadow too many times, Duo suddenly looked
He wanted to press, but he didn't have enough yet to know what direction
to take. Still, the brief conversation convinced him that Duo knew
more than he was telling. "I'd like to take a look at his office again."
No matter how politely phrased, it wasn't really a request.
He seemed relieved not to be asked any more questions, though how Zechs
knew that, he couldn't say. "I can find my way. Thank you for seeing
"Oh, anytime!" A faint flush stained Duo's cheeks as he undoubtedly
realized he'd answered too quickly, too enthusiastically.
Zechs smiled a little. "Indeed." With a polite incline of his head,
he left Duo Maxwell's office and headed back to the murder scene.
Duo watched Zechs Merquise walk away, and to his horror, he discovered
he was shaking. The man's presence hit him like a juggernaut. It wasn't
just his appearance, although god knows that alone was enough to give
him the shakes. Duo had never seen anyone so beautiful and so completely
masculine at the same time. He could imagine angels looking like Zechs,
white and gold and beautiful, but with terrible strength when they were
He shut the door of his office and leaned against it, trying to get
control of his wayward body. There was more to Zechs Merquise than
his magnificent exterior. He had...power. Duo didn't know how else
to describe it. It's like when he's in the room, I can't look at
anything else but him. Like I just want to get down on my knees and
do anything he tells me.
The last time he'd felt like that...Duo closed his eyes and hugged himself.
The last time he'd felt anything like that, he'd wound up here. But
what Grant made him feel was only a faint echo of what Zechs' presence
did to him. And look what I did for Grant...
Dangerous. That's what Zechs was. Duo knew himself much better these
days. He knew where his vulnerabilities lay, and he understood how
far his weaknesses could take him. But he's a cop. How can I feel
that way about a cop?
Like an animal in a cage, he paced to the window and looked out over
the city. How many of the people going about their business down there
in the sunshine had shadow lives as well? How many had dark things
that they'd pay to keep hidden, secrets they'd kill to keep?
Lots of them. That's what kept Zechs Merquise in business. Duo took
another deep breath, slowly growing calmer as the immediacy of the man's
presence faded a little. He wasn't sure how he'd managed to keep from
babbling everything he knew to Zechs. It had been close. He didn't
dare get in that situation again. He didn't have any doubts about the
lieutenant's intelligence--one wrong word, one clue, and he'd have the
whole thing figured out. And if he does that, I'm a dead man. We
Zechs sat down at Marcum's desk, acutely aware of the bullet holes just
behind his head. From all he'd learned, the man practically lived here.
He opened a drawer, hoping to find more clues to who Grant Marcum was
and why someone wanted him dead than he'd found in Marcum's townhouse.
That place had reminded Zechs of a residence hotel suite. Tastefully
but unremarkably decorated, it reflected nothing of the man who'd lived
there. Zechs had a hard time picturing Marcum in such bland surroundings.
The pencil drawer held just that, at least a dozen pencils, all perfectly
sharpened. Zechs pulled it out all the way, but found nothing more revealing
than a box of paper clips. The pedestal drawers were just as mundane
in their contents. More out of habit than hope, Zechs ran his hand
along the bottom of one of the drawers. His fingers brushed something
irregular and he pulled the drawer out, lifting it off its tracks.
He dumped it over on the desk, ignoring the assortment of office supplies
that spilled out. When he found what he'd been looking for, he smiled,
a triumphant, predatory baring of teeth. Taped to the bottom of the
drawer was a flat manila envelope.
Zechs carefully lifted the tape and peeled the envelope away. Shoving
aside the mess on the desk, he laid the envelope down and opened the
clasp, then slipped his hand inside. His fingers made contact with the
slick surface of photographs, and he took them out.
The triumph in his smile died. Apparently, Grant Marcum had a private
life after all. One that included leather and whips--and Duo.
Zechs' focus narrowed to the photo on top of the small stack. Grant
Marcum, in black leather bondage gear, one booted foot propped on a
low stool, dominated the photo, but he didn't rivet Zechs' attention.
The other figure in the picture captivated him. Dressed in little more
than black, heeled boots that reached nearly to his knees and a black,
silver-studded collar, Duo bent over Marcum's thigh. His legs were
spread wide, his toes barely touching the floor, and cuffs held his
wrists at the small of his back. Marcum pulled Duo's head up by the
braid with one hand. In the other, he held a riding crop. From the
red welts that crisscrossed the white skin of Duo's ass, it was obvious
what he'd been doing with it.
Zechs shifted in the chair, his slacks suddenly, uncomfortably tight
in the hot rush of blood to his groin. He turned the first picture
face down on the desk, momentarily forgetting he was investigating a
The second picture seemed more posed. Once again, Marcum wore bondage
gear. He stood with his boots planted shoulder width apart. One fist
rested solidly on his hip; the other hand held Duo's bound wrists. Duo
knelt at his feet, arms stretched above his head, back flush against
Marcum's knee, his cheek pressed against the man's inner thigh. His
hair hung loose over his shoulders, pooling around him on the floor.
He wore the boots and collar, a tightly laced black corset, and black
panties pulled down halfway to his knees.
Zechs closed his eyes. He could almost smell the leather and the perspiration,
could feel the whip in his hand. He remembered the heady thrill of
seeking that small spark of fear in even the most acquiescent sub's
eyes when he stood over them. It was like a drug, that feeling of absolute
power. An addiction he'd kicked, but a high he still craved.
He imagined himself in Grant Marcum's place, with Duo Maxwell in any
one of those positions. His breath grew ragged as he pictured Duo over
his lap, felt that smooth, white skin warm under his hand. He ached
thinking of Duo's soft cries as he begged for more. Because Duo would
beg, he knew. He wanted it. Zechs read his need in the line of his
body, the soft glaze in his eyes, the arch of his bowed neck. He was
submission, willing and beautiful. Perfect.
How long had it been since Zechs had had that? A long time. Too long.
The other photos were much the same, Marcum displaying his dominance
through a variety of poses and paraphernalia, Duo offering his submission
in an exquisite fusion of struggle and surrender. The room seemed suddenly
hot and airless, even though he could hear the soft whisper of the ventilation
He turned over the last photo. At first, the only difference Zechs
saw was that, unlike in the others, a third man joined them. Marcum
had Duo on a leash, and Duo knelt before the other man, who was much
Something nudged at his awareness. He studied the face of the third
man more closely, eyes widening in sudden recognition. Alexander "Duke"
Dermail, chairman of the Romafeller Foundation. The Feds had been watching
Dermail and Romafeller for years, knowing the Foundation was a front
for organized crime, but never able to make any charges stick. Mostly,
witnesses had a way of recanting--or disappearing.
Zechs examined the photo again, noting other differences. Duo wore
thigh-high boots this time, and a thong, and the background was different,
a curtained window or wall. It wasn't just Duo's wardrobe, if one could
call it that, that had changed. His whole attitude, his posture, his
expression was different. Tense. Fearful, even.
A cold rush snuffed his desire as surely as an icy shower. His mind
cleared, and he realized the importance of the photos he held. They
might somehow tie Marcum's murder to the Romafeller Foundation, might
give him the means to bring down Dermail for good. But for the first
time in his career, he was half sorry for finding a clue, for getting
the first break in a case. He'd never wished before that he was the
kind of cop who could look the other way, make evidence disappear, but
part of him wanted to take these photos home and send them through the
shredder. But he couldn't. Duo was in this, whether Zechs liked the
thought or not, and if he was involved in Marcum's murder, then Zechs
would see him pay.
He laid the photos out on the desk in a row, looked at them with a cop's
eye. His body had gotten control of his head, and for a moment, he'd
almost considered looking the other way. But it didn't matter that
the pictures gave him a hard-on. They might also give Duo a motive--or
tie him to the largest, most deadly criminal organization in the city.
He took out his phone and punched in Noin's number. She answered on
the second ring.
"Hey. What's up?"
Zechs traced the line of Duo's braid with his finger. "Where are you?"
"HQ. Didn't get a lot out of Barton. You got something?"
"Yes." He took a last look at the photos then slipped them back into
the envelope. "Go get us an interrogation room. I'm bringing Duo Maxwell
in for a chat."