“I—I’ll go and check. I think so. Maybe.” She started for the doorway.
Hyaki spoke through clenched teeth. “What a faz assignment this has been. First a house tries to kill me, then monkeys.”
“Tries to kill us,” Cardenas reminded him as he kept pressure on his friends arm. “Don’t feel singled out. You didn’t have to deal with the Inzini or the Ooze.”
“Wouldn’t want to keep all the fun for myself,” the sergeant shot back. A moment later, Surtsey Mockerkin’s scream and the sound of her gun going off reached them from the hallway.
“Mierde!” Cardenas rushed from the kitchen. Wrapping a towel around his injured arm, Hyaki followed.
The primate sitting on her shoulders was not very big. Certainly it was a lot smaller than the invading mandrills. But the howler was big enough, and strong enough, to wield the machete that hung from one powerful, hirsute hand. As they entered, it dropped the blade, and in a single prodigious leap reached the front doorway, caught hold of the lintel, and swung to freedom. Seconds later there was a screech, followed by a squeal. Though he was admittedly ignorant of the meaning of ape sounds, to Cardenas it did not sound like a cry of triumph.
Staggering, Surtsey Mockerkin turned to face them. Her expression was blank, her eyes vacant of comprehension. As the two federales looked on in horror, she slowly sank to her knees, then toppled forward face-first onto the floor. Both men raced to her side. A single glance told them more than they wanted to know. Nothing could be done for her. She had been half decapitated.
An enormous figure appeared, completely blocking the doorway. Hanging limp in one hand was the body of the big howler. Absently, Sorong tossed it aside. It rolled a couple of times on the varnished parquet floor before tumbling to a still, soundless stop. Its back had been broken.
Supporting his weight on his knuckles, the silverback slowly approached the body of Surtsey Mockerkin. With one huge hand he lifted her head, let it fall loosely back to the floor. Looking up at Cardenas, he observed quietly, “This is not going to do our reputation any good.”
The Inspector hardly knew how to reply. Awareness of his partner’s presence finally presented him with a response. “My friend’s been hurt.”
Sorong glanced at the cut that ran the length of Hyaki’s upper arm. “I’ll take you to the infirmary myself.” His gaze returned to the pitiable female corpse. Blood had spread across half the floor. “Roger is outside—dead. What happened?”
Cardenas did his best to reconstruct the attack. “The howler must have been waiting in the rafters, and dropped down on her from above.” He indicated the sitting room’s exposed beams. “I think one of the mandrills that attacked us might have gotten away.”
“It will not get far. The female activated a warning device. Alarms travel quickly, but those of us who are not machines must still travel on foot. I deeply regret my tardiness. Tell me”—he looked at Cardenas—”had she agreed to return with you?”
“No.” The Inspector tried to avoid looking at the body. “She was going to stay, here. She felt safe here.”
Slow thunder rumbled deep in Sorong’s broad chest. “I know that she sought sanctuary here from those who intended her harm. I know you spoke of them. But who would do such a thing?”
“People hired by her husband. Perhaps others. When she left the States, she left enemies behind.”
The silverback bowed his head. “I cannot believe that simians would do this. And for what? Money?” He spat the word. “Is this what elevated intelligence leads to? Greed? A craving for things that we never used to need? A willingness to mimic all the moral faults and ethical imperfections of Homo sapiens?”
Hyaki murmured low under his breath. “Monkey see, monkey do.” While he intended it as a serious observation, the sergeant was careful to keep it to himself. Even though it was entirely devoid of intentional humor, he realized that someone like Sorong might not look kindly on the reference.
“I have one favor to ask,” Cardenas told the gorilla. “When your people run down the one who escaped, see if they can find out who paid for them to do this. There are pathways I’d very much like to backtrack.”
The huge, heavy-browed head nodded slowly. “I promise I will do that. And in return, I would beg a favor of you.”
Cardenas hesitated. “If it’s something I can manage, it’s yours.”
“I think you are not only the kind of human who can do this thing, but are one who is not unfamiliar with what is required, as you may have had occasion to do it before.” Reaching out, he picked up the lifeless form of Surtsey Mockerkin, holding it as easily as if it weighed nothing at all. Her head flopped at a crazy angle. Cardenas was glad her blonde hair hid her face.
Deep-set, painfully intelligent eyes met those of the waiting human. “Would you be the one to tell the daughter?”
“Mierde!” Cardenas’s gaze shot toward the doorway. “The ones who did this may try to kill her, too. We’ve got to find her, and fast.”
Sorong looked thoughtful. “If she is not here, then she is probably out on one of her rainforest hikes. She likes to get away from talk. She always goes with someone to guide and watch over her, and for a short walk they will not have taken communicating gear with them. We will go and find out when she is due back. Do not worry, friend Cardenas. I am sure she will make it back safely.”
It was the first time in his life Cardenas found himself relying on the word of an ape.
THE SILVERBACK WAS CORRECT IN HIS assumption about his visitor. In the course of his long career, Cardenas had all too often been obliged to deliver terrible news to the grief-stricken. However, ever since his elevation to the rank of Inspector, that particularly onerous duty had not been required of him in many years. But with Sorong having made the request, and no one else available to carry it out except Hyaki, Cardenas felt himself left with no alternative.
As they waited for the girl to return from her rainforest hike, he tried not to worry about her safety while systematizing what little they knew of the daughter. Because of his singular talent, he was better equipped than most to handle the forthcoming confrontation anyway. That meant it might go easier for her—but not necessarily easier for him. While he would be able to read her emotions and anticipate certain reactions in ways only another intuit could replicate or understand, it also meant that he would feel her pain that much more deeply. Still, he knew he had no choice. There was no one else to do it.
It would help that, by all accounts, the girl was unusually mature. Or maybe it was just easier to think of her as unusually mature, as a uniquely gifted tecant, than as a lonely, isolated twelve-year-old on the run whose mother had just been brutally murdered. How much did she know about the reasons behind their flight? How much had Surtsey told her? Was she aware of the circumstances that had guided their time on the street, living with a stranger named Wayne Brummel who was not her father? Or had she endured it in comparative isolation, allowed to lose herself in studies of technology and nature?
They would find out very soon. According to the chimpanzee he and Sorong spoke with in Administration, she was due back from a morning walk with her bonobo guide in time for lunch. Care would be taken to protect her when she returned to the camp and then to channel her, not to her now-unsafe house in the trees, but to a quiet room within the main compound research building. As the solicitous silverback solemnly and sensibly pointed out, that structure lay alongside the Reserva infirmary. If her reaction proved health-threatening, she could be rushed next door for immediate treatment.
Offered lunch, the two federales refused it. They preferred to wait in the designated room, surrounded by the silence and efficient air-conditioning that made it possible for visiting human researchers to carry on their work in the otherwise oppressive environment of the jungle. Hyaki toyed absently with the seal tight that had been placed atop the sprayskin. At the rate he was sacrificing personal integument on this case, it wouldn’t take long before he replaced his entire outer layer.
While his partner retired to the restroom to fix his bandages, Cardenas relaxed by admiring the paintings hanging on the wall. All of them, he had been informed, had been done by residents of the Ciudad. Some boasted bright colors but amateurish technique. A notable few reflected a sophistication of skill and acuity of observation that would have been the envy of any human photorealist. At least four of the local artists represented, the two guests had been told, contributed nicely to the Ciudad s income thanks to gallery sales of their work in Nueva York, London, and Zurich.