The music continued for a few seconds more, and then it began to skip over a section about two seconds long, repeating it over and over again.

I grimaced. As I said, I have this effect on machinery. It has something to do with being a wizard, with working with magical forces.

The more delicate and modern the machine is, the more likely it is that something will go wrong if I get close enough to it. I can kill a copier at fifty paces.

”The love suite, ” came a mans voice, drawing the word love out into luuuuuuuv.

”What do you think, Mister Man? ”

”Hello, Detective Hunt, ” I said, without turning around. Hunts rather light, nasal voice had a distinctive quality.

He was Ericsons partner and the resident skeptic, convinced that I was nothing more than a charlatan, scamming the city out of its hard-earned money.

”Were you saving the panties to take home yourself, or did you just overlook them? ” I turned and looked at him.

He was short and overweight and balding, with beady, bloodshot eyes and a weak chin.

His jacket was rumpled, and there were food stains on his tie, all of which served to conceal a razor intellect. He was a sharp cop, and absolutely ruthless at tracking down killers.

He walked over to the chair and looked down.

”Not bad, Sherlock, ” he said.

”But thats just foreplay. Wait and youll see the main attraction. Ill have a bucket waiting for you. ”

He turned and killed the malfunctioning CD player with a jab from the eraser end of his pencil.

I widened my eyes at him, to let him know how terrified I was, then walked past him and into the bedroom.

And regretted it. I looked, noted details mechanically, and quietly shut the door on the part of my head that had started screaming the second I entered the room.

They must have died sometime the night before, as rigour Mortis had already set in.

They were on the bed; she was astride him, body leaned back, back bowed like a dancers, the curves of her breasts making a lovely outline.

He stretched beneath her, a lean and powerfully built man, arms reaching out and grasping at the satin sheets, gathering them in his fists. Had it been an erotic photograph, it would have made a striking tableau.

Except that the lovers rib cages on the upper left side of their torsos had expanded outward, through their skin, the ribs jabbing out like ragged, snapped knives.

Arterial blood had sprayed out of their bodies, all the way to the mirror on the ceiling, along with the pulp, gelatinous masses of flesh that had to be what remained of their hearts.

Standing over them, I could see into the upper cavity of the bodies, I noted the now greyish lining around the motionless left lungs and the edges of the ribs, which apparently were forced outward and snapped by some force within.

It definitely cut down on the erotic potential.

The bed was in the middle of the room, giving it a subtle emphasis. The bedroom followed the decor of the sitting room a lot of red, a lot of plush fabrics, a little over the top unless viewed in candlelight. There were indeed candles in holders on the wall, now burned down to the nubs and extinguished.

I stepped closer to the bed and walked around it. The carpet squelched as I did. The little screaming part of my brain, safely locked up behind doors of self-control and strict training, continued gibbering.

I tried to ignore it. I did. But if I didn get out of that room in a hurry, I was going to start crying like a little girl.

So I took in the details fast. The woman was in her twenties and in fabulous condition. At least I thought she had been.

It was hard to tell. She had hair the colour of chestnuts, cut in a pageboy style, and it seemed dyed to me. Her eyes were only partly open, and I couldn quite guess their colour beyond not dark. Vaguely green?

The man was probably in his forties and had the kind of fitness that comes from a lifetime of conditioning.

There was a tattoo on his right bicep, a winged dagger, that the pull of the satin sheets half concealed.

There were scars on his knuckles, layers deep, and across his lower abdomen was a vicious, narrow, puckered scar that I guessed must have come from a knife wound.

There were discarded clothes around—a tux for him, a little sheath of a black dress and a pair of pumps for her. There were a pair of overnight bags, unopened and set neatly aside, probably by a porter.

I looked up. Hunt and Ericson were watching me in silence.

I shrugged at them.

”Well? ” Ericson demanded.

”Are we dealing with magic here, or aren we? ”

”Either that or it was incredible sex, ” I told her.

Hunt snorted.

I laughed a little, too—and that was all the screaming part of my brain needed to slam open the doors Id shut on it. My stomach revolted and heaved, and I lurched out of the room.

Hunt, true to his word, had set a stainless-steel bucket outside the room, and I fell to my knees throwing up.

It only took me a few seconds to control myself again—but I didn want to go back into that room. I didn need to see what was there anymore. I didn want to see the two dead people, whose hearts had exploded out of their chests.

And someone had used magic to do it. They had used magic to wreak harm on another, violating the First Law.

The White Council was going to go into collective apoplexy. This hadn been the act of a malign spirit or a malicious entity, or the attack of one of the many creatures of the Never Never, like vampires or trolls.

This had been the premeditated, deliberate act of a sorcerer, a wizard, a human being able to tap into the fundamental energies of creation and life itself.

It was worse than murder. It was twisted, wretched perversion, as though someone had bludgeoned another person to death with a Botticelli, turned something of beauty into an act of utter destruction.

If youve never touched it, its hard to explain. Magic is created by life, and most of all by the awareness, intelligence, and emotions of a human being. To end such a life

with the same magic that was born from it was hideous, almost incestuous somehow.

I sat up again and was breathing hard, shaking and tasting the bile in my mouth, when Ericson came back out of the room with Hunt.

”All right, Ryan, ” Ericson said.

”Lets have it. What do you see happening here? ”

I took a moment to collect my thoughts before answering.

”They came in. They had some champagne. They danced for a while, made out, over there by the stereo. Then went into the bedroom. They were in there for less than an hour. It hit them when they were getting to the high point. ”

”Less than an hour, ” Hunt said.

”How do you figure? ”

”CD was only an hour and ten long. Figure a few minutes for dancing and drinking, and then they
e in the room. Was the CD playing when they found them? ”

”No, ” Ericson said.

”Then it hadn been set on a loop. I figure they wanted music, just to make things perfect, given the room and all. ”

Hunt grunted, sourly. ”Nothing we hadn already figured out for ourselves, ” he said to Ericson.

”Hed better come up with more than this. ”

Ericson shot Hunt a look that said ”shut up, ” then said, softly, ”I need more, Ryan. ”

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