Skin Deep

Skin Deep

Page 23

“Yeah, well, it wasn’t about the money. My brother was going to do great things. Cure diseases. He did things that even the others, traitors though they were, didn’t know about. He—” Dion cut off, then turned around immediately in his seat, and refused to respond to further prodding.

I looked at Ivy.

“Serious hero worship going on there,” she said, “I suspect that if you prodded, you’d find Dion was planning to study biology and follow in his brother’s footsteps. The philosophy, the mannerisms . . . We can learn a lot about Panos by watching his brother.”

“So,” J.C. said, “you’re telling me Panos was an annoying little sh—”

“Anyway,” Ivy interrupted, “if it’s true that Panos was working on projects even Garvas and the others didn’t know about, that could be the true secret Yol is trying to recover.”

I nodded.

“Stephen,” Tobias said, pointing at the laptop screen. “You’ll want to watch this.”

I leaned over, then rewound the footage. Tobias, Audrey, and J.C. huddled around, all ignoring Ivy’s pointed complaints that none of us were bothering with seat belts. On the small screen, now playing at normal speed, I watched someone leave the bathroom in the medical complex.

The cleaning lady. She pulled a large trash can on wheels, and approached the doorway into the coroner’s offices, then opened the door and went in.

“Does nobody in this world care about security anymore?” J.C. said, pointing at the screen. “Look at the security guard! He’s didn’t even glance at her.”

I froze the frame. The camera was positioned in such a way that we couldn’t get a good look at the figure, even when I rewound and froze it again.

“Somewhat small in stature,” Tobias said. “Dark haired, female. I can’t pick out anything else. The rest of you?”

J.C. and Audrey shook their heads. I froze the frame on the security guard. It was a different man from the one we’d met, a smaller fellow, who was sitting in the station and reading a paperback novel. I rewound to try to find where the cleaning lady entered the building, but she must have come in the back. I did catch the security guard pushing a button, perhaps to open the back door for someone who had buzzed for the lock to open.

Fast-forwarding, we watched the cleaning lady leave the coroner’s offices and go into each room along the hall. Whoever it was, she knew not to break pattern. She cleaned the other offices quickly, then disappeared down the hallway, towing her large trash can.

“That trash can could most certainly hide a body,” J.C. said. “I thought the guard said nobody went into those rooms!”

“Cleaning staff is usually considered ‘nobody,’” Tobias observed. “And the door into the morgue itself would be locked. Liza said even the security guard wouldn’t be able to get in, so presumably the cleaning staff doesn’t go into that room, at least not without supervision.”

“Does that drive have footage from other nights?” Audrey asked.

“Good idea,” I said, searching and finding the two previous nights’ footage as well. We watched, and found that at around the same time each night, a cleaning person entered and engaged in a similar activity. But the trash can they brought was smaller, and it was obviously a different person. Female, yes, and with a similar build—but with lighter hair.

“So,” Audrey said, “they replaced first the priest and then the cleaning lady.”

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“This should have been impossible,” J.C. said. “Protocol should have made it so.”

“And what protocol is that?” Audrey said. “This isn’t a high-security facility, J.C. You spend year after year without any kind of incident, and of course you’re going to grow lax. Besides, the people who pulled this off were capable. Fake ID, knowledge of the times the cleaning lady entered and left. The uniform is the same, and they even cleaned the entire set of offices so nobody would be suspicious.”

I replayed the footage of the thief, wondering if it was Zen herself. The build was right. What was it Audrey had said before? People are usually far less secure than the encryption strategies—or, in this case, security devices—they employ. This could have all been stopped if the guard had glanced at the cleaning lady. But he didn’t, and why would he have? What was there really in these offices that someone would want to steal?

Just a corpse carrying a doomsday weapon.

I stifled a yawn as we eventually pulled into a residential area. Blast. I’d been hoping to find a chance to squeeze in a nap while we were driving. Even thirty minutes would do me some good. No chance for that now. Instead, I replied to Yol’s return email, telling him that yes, I did want to make Exeltec more frantic and yes, I did know what I was doing. My next set of instructions seemed to placate him.

We pulled up to a quaint white suburban house, rambler style, with a neatly mowed lawn and vines growing up the walls. A careful air of cultivation helped offset the fact that this house—with its siding, its small windows, and its lack of an enclosed garage—was probably a decade or four past its prime.

“You’re not going to hurt my family, are you?” Dion asked from the front seat.

“No,” I said, “but I might embarrass you a little.”

Dion grunted.

“Come introduce me,” I said, shoving open the door. “We’re on the same side. I promise that when I recover your brother’s body, I won’t let I3 do anything nefarious with it. In fact, I’ll let you watch the cremation—with I3 getting no chance to lay hands on the body—if you want.”

Dion sighed, but joined me in climbing from the car and walking toward the house.


“Keep watch,” I said to J.C. as we approached the house. “I haven’t forgotten that Zen is out there.”

“We might want to call in some backup,” J.C. said.

“More Rescue Rangers?” Ivy asked.

“Time Rangers,” J.C. snapped. “And no, we don’t have temporal substance here. I was talking about real bodyguards. If Skinny hired a few of those, I’d feel a whole lot safer.”

I shook my head. “No time, unfortunately.”

“Perhaps you should have explained the truth to Zen,” Tobias said, jogging up. “Was it wise to let her think we have the information she wants?”