“Zynga!” Mollin exclaimed aloud, then cringed as the Cherrii equivalent of “bingo” reverberated through the game room.
A quick glance around showed the room remained empty but for himself and the lingering odor of the popped zoko he’d devoured while working.
Opposite the couch on which he sat, one of several vid-screens was frozen on the grand exterior of the Polaris Abbey station.
Mollin had paused the show when the swarm of search programs he’d set in motion began spitting out data.
Here’s your dot, Harry.
Or several dots, he thought, leaning forward, his feet tapping on the carpet as he studied intel dredged from the ConFed Department of Justice, Stellarpol, and the Interstellar Marshal Service.
The first dot came from two of the names on the list: Malq Bkhav and Adal Yazid. Both held positions of political authority—on Surad Prime and Earth, respectively—and both had been under CFDOJ scrutiny when it became clear they were meeting with members of the Black Rose Sisterhood, at the same time both made a series of improbably lucky trades in intergalactic stocks.
With additional data from the ISM and Stellarpol, Mollin soon established a similar pattern with five out of the six remaining victims, all of whom had received high-credit windfalls at various points over the past two Standard years. Some from the stock markets, others from high-stakes gaming on New Vegas, and still others from bets placed on professional sports.
And while there was no shortage of individuals in the Known who got lucky on the markets or in the casinos, it stretched the laws of averages that seven out of eight murder victims would all have had that much luck in money, followed by the worst luck imaginable.
Even more telling was the fact, uncovered in the Stellarpol d-base, that three of the vics were suspected members of the Draconis Crime Cartel and two were non-Rasalkan Black Rose affiliates.
With the original two victims, that gave him seven out of eight victims connected with two major criminal cartels.
Or, in Harry’s parlance, a whole lot of dots.
That left only the latest death without a dot to call its own because, no matter what source he tried, Mollin could find nothing on Kaneth Sooks beyond his age, nineteen; his profession, prostitute; and his cause of death . . . horrible.
Still, he’d found links for seven out of the eight vics.
Hopefully those dots would prove enough for Harry to make a picture.
* * *
“Father?” Ray echoed, staring at Harry and Jessyn.
“Father,” Jessyn repeated the word, her brows furrowing in a less intense version of the expression Ray had observed on Harry’s face several times in the two days they’d known each other.
“It’s complicated,” Harry said.
“It’s the czozprjz andi,” Fayla said, coming to a halt near the bar.
Ray turned to stare at her. “I’m guessing that’s not a fancy appetizer?”
“Mental conditioning,” Fayla explained. “Oftentimes it involves the planting of a false memory. For Harry, the memory was of his wife’s death. His pregnant wife,” she added, looking now at Jessyn.
“What?” Jessyn’s breath caught, and she turned to Harry. “Oh . . .” Her eyes locked on his, and her hand rose in a helpless gesture as the impact of what Fayla said struck home. “And for all those years? That must have been . . .” She shook her head as words failed. “I’m sorry,” she said at last, her eyes filling. “I am so sorry.”
Harry let out a sharp breath. “She said the same thing.”
At which point Jessyn made a small noise, and Harry suddenly had his arms full of daughter.
Ray, after one glance at the older man’s eyes, retreated to the bar where Fayla was pouring herself a glass of Arrion’s wine.
“How did she do it?” Harry was asking Jessyn. “Your mother said it was impossible for you to be raised with your people. Did the laws change? Did she make a deal? Where is she, anyway? Siane, I mean? Is she here too?”
“Deal?” Jessyn echoed the question. “No, there was no . . .” Her eyes darted to where Fayla stood silent. “You didn’t tell him.”
“Tell me what?” Harry also looked at Fayla, then at Ray, who was in that moment recalling Jessyn’s words from just a few minutes ago . . .
The Lady said she died with honor.
. . . and watched the realization hit Harry like the proverbial ton of bricks. “I didn’t ask.”
And the look on Harry’s face—the dying light in the man’s eyes—was like a punch to the chest.
* * *
“She used the name Sarah—Sarah Brennan,” Harry told Jessyn. “I knew it wasn’t her real name—she told me it wasn’t, even before we’d . . . ah . . .”
“Become lovers?” Jessyn guessed.
“That,” he agreed, looking out the window to watch the sun dipping below the spires of Romeria’s skyscrapers. “She told me her given name, the day we married. A wedding gift,” he said after a moment. “But she never shared her family name. I never knew she was House Breeshandra.”
“No,” Jessyn murmured. “But I imagine you know how little love she held for her House.”
“She may have mentioned it.” A moment passed while each recalled the woman they’d both lost. “When we met, I was already aiming for a career in law enforcement. But because she was on the run, I took a job with the marshals, where I could use the WitSec system to hide her.”
He didn’t add that, in doing so, he’d broken any number of regulations.
“It is not your fault it wasn’t enough,” Jessyn said.
He glanced at Jessyn, saw how earnest she was—his girl—Siane’s girl, all grown up. “Maybe not,” he said, giving her what she wanted to hear.
“No one could have done more than you,” she told him, taking his hand. “And doing what you did, letting her close the truth away from you? You gave us seven years we might not have had, possibly even allowed me to be born in the first place, if they were as close as you say.”
Close wasn’t the word.
Harry’s falsified memory was only one part of the con.
It had also been necessary to create the scene of death, using every WitSec trick in the books, and a few off, to make it appear that a woman of human registry and Rasalkan heritage had died in the blaze.
And once the fire was out, when Harry had been combing the ruins with the firefighters, he’d come across a stranger, someone not part of the fire rescue team.
The stranger, a tall woman with unforgiving eyes the color of hematite, had been a Rasalkan telepath—which Harry discovered when the woman had the distinction of being the first sadist to plunge Harry’s psyche into the burning cabin where he believed his wife had died, taking their unborn child with her.
“A long time to live with so heavy a secret,” Jessyn said.
He looked at her, a grown woman, with griefs and loves of her own, “Given that nothing’s really changed, we’ll have to live with it a while longer.”
“He is right, you know,” Fayla said, pulling Ray’s attention from the father-daughter reunion. “No one outside this room can know of their relationship.”
“You’re worried I’ll rat them out?” Ray asked.
“Hardly that.” Fayla set her wineglass down and angled herself to face him. “But given the company you find yourself in, you would be a fool to pretend your secrets are easily protected. And it is not only Harry at risk,” she added. “A human male bonded to a Rasalkan woman, one sworn to the service of a Nhaiad? You swim in dangerous waters, Mr. Slater, the both of you.”
But before Ray could comment, she turned away, raising her voice. “A question,” she said as Harry and Jessyn turned her way. “Would anyone here care to help me discredit Mariska, prevent the proposed alliance with the Draconis Brotherhood, and destabilize the Black Rose?”
Without even blinking, Harry raised his hand. “I call dibs on Two-Face and Madame de Sade.”
“You got my vote,” Ray chimed in. “So long as Al-Kar and Booth are mine.”
“My service to you,” Jessyn said with a bowing nod. “Doubly so if it provides my aunt even a single trying moment.”
“I’m confident we’ll manage to give her several,” Fayla assured.
Mollin’s voice pulled everyone’s attention to the open door. “Sorry to barge in on—whatever—but Harry, I have your results and you were right, Neishi’s not a ripper. Or not just a ripper.” He waved the hand not holding the comp. “It turns out that seven of Neishi’s vics were doing business with either the Draconis Brotherhood or the Black Rose. The only outlier was—”
“Kaneth Sooks?” Harry guessed.
“Kaneth Sooks,” Mollin agreed.
“You were looking into Neishi’s victims?” Fayla asked Mollin.
“I was,” Mollin said with a respectful nod.
“You got all that with a portable comp comm?” Ray shook his head. “Nice work.”
“And,” Harry added, shooting Fayla a tight grin, “I’m betting that info will come in real handy with your destabilizing activities.
“In that case,” Fayla said, turning to the Cherrii, “welcome to the party.”
FYI, The Libra Gambit, Book 2 of The Zodiac Files, is now available. Pick up your copy before 11/10/22 to get it at the discounted price of $1.99!