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Subterfuge

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A pool of blood. That was the first thing Hugh Everhart saw when he entered the hallway outside the small apartment. He grimaced, following the blood to its source—the dead bodies of David Artino and his wife, collapsed together right outside the open door.

We failed, Hugh thought numbly. We failed to protect them.

This was Ace’s work. Ace Anarchy, the most feared villain in the world, number one on the Renegades’ Most Wanted list. He had done this. Maybe not the actual killings—he had most likely sent some hit man to do that. But there was no doubt about it—this was his doing.

He was who David had asked the Renegades for protection from.

Hugh stepped closer, forcing himself to look more closely at the bodies. David Artino’s nimble fingers, which had crafted so many beautiful, powerful objects, now stilled forever. His wife, whose small, thin frame looked almost childlike in the ever-expanding pool of blood.

We failed. They came to us for protection and we failed to deliver.

“Captain! You’re here.” A thin man clad in a white forensics uniform was standing just inside the apartment, looking up from a pad of paper. “We’ve drafted up a report.”

It took Hugh a ridiculously long amount of time to process what the man was saying. A forensics report. On the murders. Right.

Bracing himself, Hugh stepped over the bodies and into a room that appeared to be a living room-turned-makeshift-bedroom of sorts, with a small table near the entrance to the kitchen, and a full-size mattress tucked away in the corner. The tangled wad of blankets and pillows on the mattress immediately caught his attention, because they also seemed to be covered in blood. And there, mostly obscured by the tussled bedding—

Hugh felt his stomach clench. “Is that…”

The forensic followed his gaze and grimaced in apparent sadness and revulsion. “Their baby.”

Hugh reeled with horror. A baby. Ace had killed a baby.

You couldn’t get more villainous than that.

Struggling to maintain his composure, Hugh asked, “Any leads on the killer?”

The forensic nodded and gestured for Hugh to follow him. They walked past a tiny kitchen into a room that looked like it had belonged to a child, with a few toys strewn around the floor, and a little girl’s shirt draped over the foot of the bed.

A man was lying on his back in what looked like the remains of a dollhouse, his eyes closed, blond hair sleeked back in a ponytail, blood pooling out from a gunshot wound to his forehead.

“There was a gun next to his hand when we first arrived,” the forensic informed him. “We think this man was responsible for the deaths of the man, woman, and child, but we don’t know whether he killed himself afterwards or if there was someone else involved. We do know that all four deaths were caused by direct gunshot wounds, no prodigy interference.”

“What about the other child?” Hugh asked, afraid to hear the answer.

The forensic blinked at him. “There was no other child. These four are the only bodies we found in the apartment.”

“David Artino had two children,” Hugh insisted. “My guess is this was the older child’s bedroom.”

The forensic shrugged. “We’re going to interview the neighbors, get the family members’ names and ages and whatever information they have about them, and about possible motivations for the murders. It might be that she was staying with a friend or a family member tonight.”

 “Perhaps,” said Hugh. Georgia would know. He’d have to check with her.

Except—where was Georgia? She should have been here. She’d been patrolling the neighborhood for weeks now. She should have been able to intercept the villain, tranquilize him, take away his gun, and bring him straight to headquarters. These murders shouldn’t have happened.

But Georgia had been silent all night, not answering the urgent messages Hugh had sent to her as soon as one of the Atrinos’ neighbors had called about the gunshots. At first, Hugh hadn’t been worried. If she was in the middle of fighting the villain, of course she wouldn’t have time to answer her messages. But the minutes had slipped into hours, and finally Hugh had known something was wrong.

Something was very wrong.

I should have come sooner, he thought, regret surging through him. I shouldn’t have underestimated Ace. We should’ve had more Renegades on patrol, we should have had a backup team at the ready, we should’ve thought that Ace might try to take Georgia out first…

His phone chirped with an incoming call. Excusing himself, Hugh answered it with a sickening feeling mounting in his chest.

“Hugh?” The voice was Simon’s, and he sounded upset.

“What’s going on?” Hugh asked.

“They found Georgia. Hugh… she’s dead.”

Hugh closed his eyes. He’d been expecting this, expecting it ever since he’d seen the bodies in the hallway. But the news still hit him harder than the time the Detonator had collapsed a parking garage on him. Georgia had been his friend for years, ever since they were teenagers and she, Kasumi, Evander, and Tamaya had joined him and Simon on their quest to bring justice to the world. They had all always known that their line of work was dangerous, of course, but this was the first time that such a tragedy had struck one of their own.

Hugh took a moment to compose himself before asking, “Where are you?”

“In one of the little alleyways by the Lufton Building. That’s where—” Simon took a shuddering breath, and when he spoke again, his voice was pinched. “That’s where her body was found. They’re saying… they think someone might have pushed her off the building.”

“That can’t be right,” said Hugh. He was still reeling from the news that one of his closest friends was dead, but he found if he just focused on the facts, it was easier to concentrate. “Georgia could fly. She couldn’t be killed by being pushed off a building.”

“I don’t know what to believe,” Simon admitted. “That’s just what the forensics team is saying. And there’s more, but—”

“I’m coming over,” Hugh decided. David and his wife and baby were already dead. There was nothing more Hugh could do for them. It would be better for him to go be with Simon and the rest of their friends, mourning with them and trying to make sense of the whole mess.

Another thought occurred to him as he and the forensic left the child’s bedroom, this one almost as horrifying as everything else had been so far. Adrian. Georgia had a six-year-old son, who from now on would be all alone in the world. Georgia’s parents were both dead, she hadn’t had any siblings, and the man who had been Adrian’s father had been nothing more than a brief fling. What was going to happen to Adrian now that his mother was gone? The two of them had been each other’s whole world.

As he entered the front room, he glanced at the dead baby for a fraction of a second before averting his eyes. He should have been there for her. Protected her. Saved her. He was too late.

But he wasn’t too late to be there for Adrian, to comfort him when his world was crashing down around him, to protect him from everything that could threaten to hurt him. Already an idea was forming in his mind. He’d have to talk to Simon about it before making any final decisions, of course, but he was pretty sure Simon would be on board with the idea.

They could adopt Adrian.

New resolve coursing through his body, Hugh bade goodbye to the forensics team and crossed the room in two long strides. He was still shaken up by the night’s events—the Artinos’ murders, the baby, the loss of Georgia—but he didn’t have time to stand around dwelling on it. He needed to get to Lufton Alley and figure out exactly what had gone down, he needed to talk to Simon, and then he needed to find Adrian and let him know that he wasn’t alone, that he never would be alone, that Hugh was going to take care of him.

His mind was still on Adrian as he took out his tablet to jot down a few notes, which he would eventually revise into an official report.

Unknown man found in child’s bedroom, dead, accompanied by gun.

No prodigy interference

Will interview neighbors at a later time

ARTINO FAMILY:

-David Artino, dead (bullet wound)

-wife, dead (bullet wound)

-older child – missing – (check with neighbors about her whereabouts)

-baby, dead (bullet wound)