Home > Sapphire Flames (Hidden Legacy #4)(7)

Sapphire Flames (Hidden Legacy #4)(7)
Author: Ilona Andrews

Runa didn’t hesitate. “Yes.”

I shut off the recording. “I have a small pile of paperwork for you. Once you’re done with it, we’ll start.”

“Where do we start?”

“At the medical examiner’s office. You said that the ME used dental records to identify your mother and sister.”

“Yes?”

“You are a House, which means your DNA profile is in some genetic database somewhere. Which genetic firm are you using?”

Runa frowned. “I don’t know. Mom handled all of that.”

I pulled up the Scroll website. Scroll was the largest DNA database in the US and the one we also used. I logged into our account, typed “House Etterson” into the search window, and the website spat the result at me.

“You are registered with Scroll. They will have all four of you in their database. We’re going to give them a call and have a representative meet us at the morgue. They should be able to confirm the identity of the bodies within twenty-four hours.”

Runa stared at me. “Why?”

I had to be really careful not to get her hopes up. “Because DNA identification is foolproof and dental records are not. Genetic testing is the established way to identify dead Primes. If it wasn’t done, I want to know why, and I want it done properly. That’s where we’re going to start.”

Chapter 3

The Harris County Institute of Forensic Sciences occupied a nine-story building on Old Spanish Trail. Its blocky lines, rectangular windows, and orange brick practically screamed government agency.

I maneuvered our Honda Element into the parking lot. It used to be our surveillance vehicle, because it blended with traffic, but last year Grandma Frida decided to rebuild it from wheels up. Now the Element sported a new engine, bulletproof windows, B5 armor, and run-flat tires among other fun modifications, which struck a perfect balance between protecting us and letting us get away fast. Unfortunately, even Grandma Frida had her limits, and steering was a bit sluggish. I aimed for a parking spot in the middle row.

“So, what’s with you and Alessandro Sagredo?” Runa asked.

The steering was sluggish, but the brakes worked perfectly. I jerked forward, and my seat belt slammed me back.

“Nothing.”

“Aha.” Runa pulled on her own seat belt. “That’s why we screeched to a stop halfway into the parking space?”

“My foot slipped.” I gently eased forward and brought the Element to a smooth stop.

“So you’re just going to go with ‘nothing’?” Runa asked.

“That’s right.”

“Your sister said you met during your trials.”

Sistercide was not a word, but it would be after today. Well, technically, sororicide was a word, but most people wouldn’t recognize it. When did Runa even have a chance to talk to Arabella?

“Yes,” I said.

“Yes what? Is there a story behind that?”

No. He didn’t follow me on Instagram, and he didn’t take my breath away during the trials. And he definitely didn’t show up under my window trying to convince me to go for a drive.

“We met during the trials, and my sisters haven’t stopped teasing me about it for the last three years. There is absolutely nothing between me and Alessandro Sagredo.”

Strictly speaking, there were 5,561 miles between our warehouse and the Sagredo estate near Venice, Italy. A commercial flight with one connection could get me to Venice in thirteen hours. I could be under Alessandro’s window tomorrow, asking him if he would like to go for a drive.

“You zoned out there for a second,” Runa observed. “Are you imagining there being nothing between you and Alessandro?”

She was trying to distract herself from the horror of never seeing her mother and sister again, but I had to put a stop to it, or I would never get out of the car.

I used my logical, reasonable voice. “Runa, do you see Alessandro in this car? No. He isn’t in this parking lot or in that building either, so he’s a non-issue. Let’s go.”

We started across the parking lot. Cold wind buffeted us.

Runa hugged her arms to herself. She wore a light windbreaker over a green sweater dress. “I should get a coat like yours. Is that Burberry?”

“Yes. I got it on sale last year at half off.”

“Lucky.”

I was wearing a beige mid-length trench coat over a grey sweater and blue jeans tucked into soft boots. The coat had a double-breasted front closure with a row of black buttons on each side. I had left it open. It flattered my figure and looked stylish and expensive enough to belong to a Prime, but most importantly, it hid my knife resting in a special sheath sewn into the lining on the left side.

There were only a handful of ways to conceal a blade long enough to be effective in a fight. You could wear it on your thigh under a loose skirt, which would have you pawing at your skirt to draw it and was impractical in cold weather. You could wear it in a shoulder sheath, but if you took the outer garment off, it was no longer concealed. Hiding it in the coat lining was the best option. Even if I took the coat off out of politeness or necessity, I could carry it so I could draw in an instant. It was highly unlikely that the Forensic Institute would require me to check my coat.

We entered the lobby. The designers of the institute must have been great fans of modern industry, and monochromatic colors. The floor gleamed with white tile, the walls highlighted with pale grey; the ceiling featured stainless-steel beams with long fluorescent lights, and the counters practically glowed with pristine white. Even the visitor furniture, upholstered soft chairs, were a greyish off-white. The place begged for a plant or a Gustav Klimt print.

I walked up to the receptionist behind the counter. I had checked the case status on the institute’s website. The case was listed as pending, so I called ahead and warned them that the two of us would be coming.

“Catalina Baylor and Runa Etterson,” I told the woman behind the counter. “We’re here about the Etterson case.”

The receptionist, an older Latina woman, gave me an apologetic smile. “I’ve spoken to AME Conway and he says that you can’t view the bodies.”

“Can’t?” Runa asked. “What do you mean by can’t?”

“They’re not available.”

The air around Runa shimmered with a faint trace of green. Her voice went cold. “Make them available.”

The lobby went completely silent, as the three admins behind the counter held very still.

I had to defuse this standoff before someone panicked and escalated it. Luckily, bureaucracy was made of rules, and rules and I were friends.

I smiled at the receptionist. “As the next of kin and Head of her House, Prime Etterson has a right to view the remains of her family members at will. If you deny her access, I’ll be forced to notify her House counsel and you will have to show cause for failing to comply with your own regulations, in court, before a judge. I’ll wait while you check the validity of our claim with your in-house attorney.”

The receptionist reached for the phone. “One moment please.” She turned away from me and spoke into the phone in an urgent whisper.

I stepped away and steered Runa toward the window.

Minutes ticked by.

“What is taking so long?” Runa ground out.

“They’ll sort it out.”

The admin hung up. “Our apologies.” She motioned to a young white man with longish, dark hair who had been hovering by the copier behind her. “This is Victor.”

Victor, who had been trying very hard to be invisible up to this point, performed an award-winning impersonation of a deer in headlights.

“Victor will take you to the correct autopsy suite.”

“Thank you,” I said. “We’re also expecting a Scroll representative. Please have him join us when he arrives.”

We followed Victor to the elevator. It took us to the third floor, which was just as gleaming as the lobby. We walked through a white hallway to a large room, where six autopsy tables waited in a row against the wall. Four stood empty. The other two held bodies covered with white fabric.

A white man in his late thirties waited by the nearest table with his arms crossed. He wore a pristine white lab coat, which gave a glimpse of a striped grey dress shirt and yellow tie. His dark hair was cut so short, it was barely there. You would expect him to be clean shaven, but the stubble sheathing his face and neck was about the same length as his hair. It looked like he had gotten up a couple of mornings ago, shaved everything from the neck up, and now was letting it grow out. The effect was rather unsettling.

Victor beat a hasty retreat without saying a word. The man in the lab coat showed no signs of coming forward to greet us, so I headed for him. Runa followed. Two security cameras, one on the right wall and the other directly above the door, watched our every move.

The man lifted his badge, showing it to us. “Silas Conway, MD, assistant medical examiner.”

I waited. Nothing else came out. That was the totality of the introductions. Great start.

“Catalina Baylor and Runa Etterson. Thank you for meeting with us on such short notice, Dr. Conway.”

“What are you doing here?”

“What do you think we’re doing here?” Runa asked.

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