Wait. Vlad had spoken to the guard and the doctor in English. I looked around. The signs were in English, too. Had Vlad gone to Georgia upon hearing of my purported demise?
If so, I wished I knew what he was feeling at this moment! Satisfaction, if he really was behind the gas line bomb? Or grief, if someone else had planted it and he thought this bag's contents was all that was left of me?
His head remained bowed, hiding his expression. Look up, Vlad! I silently roared. If he smiled as he stroked the remains, it would confirm my worst suspicions, but what if grief was etched on his face instead?
Suddenly, he did look up - and seemed to be staring right at me. It still didn't answer my question. His gaze was so bright that his expression blurred by comparison.
I jerked, but it wasn't Vlad who said my name. It was another man's voice, accompanied by a hard jostle. I snapped into alertness, the morgue transforming into the front seat of a car. Maximus let go of my shoulder, frowning before he returned his attention back to the road.
"Must've been some dream. You started trembling."
I didn't doubt it. My hands still shook and I kept looking around the car as if expecting Vlad to magically appear. I'd had vivid dreams before, but none had ever felt this real.
I glanced at my hands, relieved that I still had my gloves on. They not only kept my currents in, they also kept my ability to accidentally connect to someone out. Not that I'd ever linked to anyone in my sleep before. Linking took concentration, and sleep was the antithesis of concentration.
"You're still trembling. Are you all right?"
"Yeah," I replied. "It's nothing. I don't even remember what the dream was about."
His raised brow said, Bullshit, more eloquently than words, but he didn't push and I pretended that I hadn't lied.
"Now that you're up, link to the bomber. We're only an hour from Chicago. If he's not home, I want to know where he went."
Good idea. I pulled out the pouch I'd stuck in the drink holder and then took off my right glove. We'd returned the plastic evidence bag to the officer minus one piece of wire.
I rubbed that wire, bypassing the first images to focus on the replay of Adrian whistling as he made the bomb. His imprint was as strong as before, but when I attempted to follow it back to its source, I came up against a brick wall of . . . nothingness.
I tried again, concentrating until the traffic sounds faded into soft white noise. Though I focused with all of my might, I couldn't find anything at the end of that essence trail.
"Is he still home?" Maximus pressed.
Frustration mingled with a sense of foreboding. "I don't know. I can't see him. Either I'm temporarily out of juice, or . . ."
I didn't need to finish the sentence. Maximus's lips thinned into a hard line. Then he stomped on the gas pedal.
The flashing lights, crime scene tape, and stench of smoke were becoming all too familiar. We'd had to park over a block away since the street Adrian lived on was cordoned off. Though I couldn't see any house numbers at this distance, I'd bet Adrian's was the one that the firemen were still hosing down.
"Son of a bitch," Maximus spat.
"Whoever's behind this must not like loose ends," I replied, while inside, I cursed. I doubted this was a case of a bomb accidentally detonating while Adrian tinkered with it, though I was sure it had been staged to look that way.
We still had a chance to see what really happened, but we needed to hurry. Even if the killer was still in the area, he wouldn't be for long.
"Maximus, go down there and get me a bone off the body."
Confusion flashed across his face. Then he smiled. That was the last thing I saw before he sped away, reminding me of a large, charging lion. Less than a minute later, I heard a gunshot and the whoop of a police siren. Then he was back with a charred hunk of something in his hand.
"Let's go," he said at once.
I grimaced at the burnt meat smell. If I survived all this, I might become a vegetarian. The reek didn't seem to bother Maximus. He tucked the chunk into his coat and walked me back to our car as more sirens went off. The cops probably hadn't seen every detail of what just happened, but from the sounds, they knew enough to be alarmed.
I got into the car, forcing back a gag as the closed interior made the stench worse. Maximus quickly sped us away. After a few minutes, he took the blackened chunk out of his coat and plunked it onto my lap with a muttered "Here."
I couldn't help it - I shrieked. He slammed on the brakes, causing the thing to hit the windshield with a splat. I shrieked again when it smacked back onto my lap, smearing my pants with soot and thicker, grosser things.
He looked around, one hand on the wheel, another holding a large silver knife.
"What's wrong?" I repeated, days of pent-up grief and stress making my voice shrill. "You slapped a smoldering body part onto me without even a warning, that's what's wrong!"
His brows drew together. "But you asked me to get that."
"I know I did!"
Frustrated, I swiped my hair off my face only to feel something slimy. A glance at my gloved hand was the final straw. I'd just smeared blackened bomber goo onto my cheek.
I flung the body part in Maximus's direction and got out of the car. My slimy gloves came off next as I ran to the nearest sidewalk. Then off came my jacket, but before I threw it away, I wadded it up and scrubbed furiously at my cheek. My shirt also had revolting smears on it, so it went flying, too, leaving me in nothing but a bra, jeans, and sneakers. I dashed down the sidewalk without any real idea what I was doing or where I was going. All I knew was that I couldn't stand to be covered in my attempted murderer's stinking goo for another second.