Grateful, she wrapped her hands around the mug as the other woman retook her seat. "Do you always take care of people?"
"It's part of me," was the simple answer. "Would you like more time?"
"No." If the kidnappers stuck true to form, Jon had very little left. "Can you translate the medical jargon?"
For the next five minutes, she listened as Tammy described Mickey's wounds. To her surprise, the beating appeared to have taken place postmortem. "Possibly to hide something else," Tamsyn said. "But if so, they went overboard."
Talin's gut burned at the reminder of the way Mickey's face had been turned to pulp. "Do you think he was killed as a result of the organ removals?"
"Likely." Anger lined the healer's face. "I wish I could tell you he didn't suffer, but what I can tell you is that his death was probably painless. He would've been anesthetized for the procedure, if only to keep him from moving. This beautiful boy went to sleep and never woke up."
Talin didn't cry. She had no right. Not when the monster or monsters who had done this continued to roam free. "The organ removal process?"
"Even the beating couldn't hide the marks of high-level surgery," Tamsyn said immediately. "We could be looking at black market organ sales."
"Max thinks that's a red herring."
Tamsyn's eyebrows rose. "Max?"
"The detective in charge," she explained.
"Oh, right. For a second there you startled me. Clay doesn't share well."
The pit of anger and horror in her stomach threatened to turn to ice. No, Clay didn't share well. And no matter how hard she tried to forget, deep inside, a part of her kept waiting for him to leave her again. But none of that was important at this moment. "Clay and Max think it's about the brain."
Tamsyn picked up the photos of Mickey's brutalized face and body. "Hmm. You know, something's not quite right with these images - I can't put my finger on what...The Enforcement pathologists looked at this?"
"They didn't spend much time on it. Just street trash, you know."
Tamsyn's eyes were suddenly pure leopard, a reminder that under that warm human skin lay the heart of a predator. "I'd like to get my claws on anyone who describes these children as street trash."
"So would I." She flexed her fingers. "I might not have claws, but I can use a knife."
Tamsyn's eyes flashed to human in a heartbeat. "You sound very sure."
"One of my adoptive brothers - Tanner - he taught me to use knives when I developed and he thought men were looking at me funny."
"Brothers." The single word held a wealth of affection.
Talin had never really considered how much that act of Tanner's had meant to her, but now she smiled. "Do you have any?"
"No need. I had the whole damn pack watching over me." She put the photos down, then stood. "I need to think." To Talin's surprise, she went to the counter and began pulling out ingredients for some type of baking. "I think better this way," she said, noticing Talin's expression. "The whole Earth Mother routine works for me."
Though it was said in a self-deprecating tone, it was clear Tammy was deeply content with who she was. Talin ached for that kind of peace, that kind of self-acceptance. "I like cooking, too," she found herself saying, when she didn't usually share anything. "I used to do it with my adoptive father."
"Do you want to help?" Tamsyn's eyes brightened. "I'd love a cooking buddy. And if you do the cookies, I can finish up a batch of muffins. I figure Kit and Cory deserve something extra."
Talin hesitated. "I have to work on why these particular children might have been targeted."
"You can do that as well on your feet, stirring" - she brought a bar of dark chocolate to her nose, breathed in the scent - "or chopping chocolate."
"You fight dirty." Pushing back her chair, Talin walked over. Yes, she could think about the kids even as she did this. It was not thinking about the kids that was the problem. They were ghosts in her mind day and night, whispering at her, pleading with her.
We'll get the bastards, she promised them, subconsciously including Clay in her vow. And we'll come for you, Johnny D. Just hold on a little while longer.
Jonquil could hear the sounds of their shoes in the corridor. His hearing had always been good. Better than good. It had saved his life more than once, helped him avoid getting the crap kicked out of him even more times. But today, he knew danger approached and he had nowhere to run.
You have every right to be proud. Stand up straight.
Talin's voice was a whip in his head. She'd said that to him the day he'd been nominated for some dumb city medal. All he'd done was pull a scared little kid out of a building going up in flames. The small burns he'd sustained hadn't even hurt much. But they had wanted to give him an award. He'd been planning to sneak out of the whole deal - like his posse would care that he had a medal - but then Talin had come along, bullied him into a stupid-ass suit, and brushed his hair.
That was when she had told him to stop slouching and be proud. Damn if he hadn't walked onto that stage and taken that worthless bit of tin from the frickin' mayor. Stupid. Except that he'd never thrown the medal away, hiding it in his stash of important stuff. He hoped his stash was still where he'd left it when he got out of this hellhole. And he would get out - he had to apologize to Talin.
The footsteps were getting closer. Closer. They stopped in front of his door.
Fear coated the back of his throat, but he pushed himself upright, back straight, head held high. They could hurt him, but he wouldn't let them break him.