Ezra turned and walked back to his den. I handed the painting to Jack and stepped over the rubble. Tucking my hair behind my ears, my mind scrambled to think of what I had done wrong. I had fallen a bit behind in the schoolwork Ezra assigned me, but I’d been really busy lately.
Well, maybe not really busy. But Peter and Mae had thrown everything off, and I was still training and trying to find Jane’s killer, and I’d been hassled by those vampire hunters tonight. So, Ezra couldn’t blame me for being ten pages behind in a law textbook meant for college students.
Maybe he was angry at me for not keeping the boys in line. Mae had always done that, or at least tried to. Since she’d been gone, I’d tried to step up and do my part, but it was hard being the only girl in a house filled with adolescent males. Even if they weren’t really adolescent, they sure acted like it most of the time.
By the time I reached Ezra’s den, I’d thought of a million apologies and excuses I could give him.
“So… you wanted to see me?” I said, barely stepping into the office. I hid by the door, my hands folded behind my back.
“Would you close the door behind you?” Ezra gestured to the door and sat down at his chair behind his desk.
“Uh… yeah.” I shut the door and swallowed hard.
“I’m assuming you don’t want Jack to know you’re tracking that serial killer?” Ezra asked. He looked up at me with a bemused expression, noticing my anxiety.
“No. Why?” I narrowed my eyes at him.
“Well, I’ve been doing some digging around, like you asked,” Ezra said.
“Really?” I hurried the few steps forward so I was right in front of desk. “What’d you do?”
“I found out this.” He typed something on the keyboard in front of him, then turned the monitor around so I could see it.
The screen showed a red mark, so swollen it was hard to decipher. I leaned in closer, squinting at it. It was shaped in a U, just like Violet had said. I could tell there were more details in the marking, even if I couldn’t make out what they were.
“Is that a horseshoe?” I asked.
“Not exactly.” He clicked the screen and a different picture appeared.
This one was the same as the first, expect it had healed up more. The U had some kind of design on it, like a crosshatch pattern. The left side of the U was thinner than the right, and the right had some kind of disfigured knob at the end.
“Is it a serpent?” I tilted my head, hoping viewing it from a different angle would help.
“It’s a dragon.” Ezra pointed to the screen, touching on the underbelly of the U. “The wings are tucked into the sides there.” The crosshatch pattern I saw were scales, and the disfigured knob was the head. “The design doesn’t hold up well when it’s been seared into flesh, but whatever made the brand was quite detailed.”
“This is the brand?” I leaned in even closer, as if getting nearer would solve anything.
“Yes. This one here-” he nodded to the second picture that was displayed, “- is a picture taken from a girl that was picked up downtown for prostitution.”
“The police know about bloodwhores?” I stood up straighter and walked around the desk, so I could sit on the edge of it next to Ezra. He turned the screen back to face himself more and leaned back in his chair.
“Most of them, no,” he shook his head. “She was picked up for the old fashioned kind of prostitution, but she’s definitely a bloodwhore.”
“Did she say anything about the guy who branded her?” I asked.
“Not that I could find out, but I doubt she said anything. Bloodwhores are loyal to a fault.” He exhaled deeply and stared at the screen. “The first picture I showed you, that was from a body of one of the slain girls.”
“Jane?” I whispered, a lump swelling in my throat.
“No. I wouldn’t show you that.” His dark eyes met mine, and I nodded my gratitude.
“But this is good, right?” I pushed any sadness I had about Jane out of my mind. “This is the link I wanted. Whoever is branding the girls is the killer.”
“It seems that way,” Ezra agreed. “It could be a coincidence, but the reason the marks are so hard to see on the dead body is because they were fresh. He did it right before he killed them, so they didn’t have a chance to heal.”
“Do you know that it’s a ‘him’ for sure?” I asked.
“No,” he shook his head. “But I do think it’s a vampire.”
“For one thing, they all had scar tissue from repeated bites.”
“How do you know that?” I asked.
“I saw the autopsy report,” Ezra said offhandedly.
“How did you manage that?”
“I know people,” he shrugged and leaned more to the screen. “But the big clue is this symbol.”
“It was long believed to be a symbol for Dracula. ‘Dracul’ means dragon.” Ezra nodded at the dragon brand on the screen.
“Wait. You’re saying Dracula killed Jane?” I scoffed.
“Of course not.” Ezra shot me a look like I was a moron. “I’m saying that whoever did is marking his girls with the symbol of a vampire. They want people to know a vampire did this.”
“Is that how they died, then? By vampire bite, I mean?”
“No. They were all stabbed.” His brow furrowed.
“Wouldn’t it make more sense for him to kill them like a vampire if he wants people to know that is a vampire?” I asked.
“One would think so, at first. But it’s a clean death.” He looked back at me. “No blood. No nothing. If he wanted to make an impact, he needed a violent death.”
My mind flashed back to the crime scene photo I’d seen in the newspaper. All the blood staining the sidewalk from Jane’s body, and my stomach twisted.
“Why?” I stared down at the oriental rug on the floor and swallowed. “Why would he want to do that? Why would anybody want to do that?”
“I honestly have no idea.” Ezra watched me, and he put his hand gently on my leg. “Are you alright? I didn’t tell you this to upset you. Maybe I-”
“No, thank you.” I shook my head and smiled wanly at him. “I needed to know. I’ll be fine.”
“I shouldn’t have told you that. I looked into this a few days ago, but I’ve been debating telling you.” He chewed the inside of his cheek, his dark eyes going far away. The pressure from his hand on my leg intensified. “You can’t go after him alone, do you understand me?”