Naked in death, p.16
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       Naked in Death, p.16

         Part #1 of In Death series by J. D. Robb  
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  She tugged her hand free and reached, casually she hoped, for her bag. “Going somewhere?”

  “The preliminary work on the resort requires my attention, and my presence on FreeStar One for a number of meetings with the directorship. I’ll be tied up, a few hundred thousand miles away, for a day or two.”

  An emotion moved through her she wasn’t ready to admit was disappointment. “Yeah, I heard you wrapped the deal on that major indulgence for the bored rich.”

  He only smiled. “When the resort’s complete, I’ll take you there. You may form another opinion. In the meantime, I have to ask you for your discretion. The meetings are confidential. There’s still a loose end or two to tie up, and it wouldn’t do for my competitors to know we’re getting under way so quickly. Only a few key people will know I’m not here in New York.”

  She finger combed her hair. “Why did you tell me?”

  “Apparently, I’ve decided you’re a key.” As disconcerted by that as she, Roarke led the way to the door. “If you need to contact me, tell Summerset. He’ll put you through.”

  “The butler?”

  Roarke smiled as they descended the stairs. “He’ll see to it,” was all he said. “I should be gone about five days, a week at the most. I want to see you again.” He stopped, took her face in his hands. “I need to see you again.”

  Her pulse jumped, as if it had nothing to do with the rest of her. “Roarke, what’s going on here?”

  “Lieutenant.” He leaned forward, touched his lips to hers. “Indications are we’re having a romance.” Then he laughed, kissed her again, hard and quick. “I believe I could have held a gun to your head and you wouldn’t have looked as terrified. Well, you’ll have several days to think it through, won’t you?”

  She had a feeling several years wouldn’t be enough.

  There, at the base of the stairs, was Summerset, stone-faced, stiff-necked, holding her jacket. She took it and glanced back at Roarke as she shrugged it on.

  “Have a good trip.”

  “Thanks.” Roarke laid a hand on her shoulder before she could walk out the door. “Eve, be careful.” Annoyed with himself, he dropped his hands. “I’ll be in touch.”

  “Sure.” She hurried out, and when she glanced back, the door was closed. When she opened her car door, she noticed the electronic memo on the driver’s seat. Scooping it up, she got behind the wheel. As she headed toward the gate, she flicked on the memo. Roarke’s voice drawled out.

  “I don’t like the idea of you shivering unless I cause it. Stay warm.”

  Frowning, she tucked the memo in her pocket before experimentally touching the temperature gauge. The blast of heat had her yelping in shock.

  She grinned all the way to Cop Central.

  Eve closed herself in her office. She had two hours before her official shift began, and she wanted to use every minute of it on the DeBlass-Starr homicides. When her shift kicked in, her duties would spread to a number of cases in varying degrees of progress. This time was her own.

  As a matter of routine, she cued IRCCA to transmit any and all current data and ordered it in hard copy to review later. The transmission was depressingly brief and added nothing solid.

  Back, she thought, to deductive games. On her desk she’d spread out photos of both victims. She knew them intimately now, these women. Perhaps now, after the night she’d spent with Roarke, she understood something of what had driven them.

  Sex was a powerful tool to use or have used against you. Both of these women had wanted to wield it, to control it. In the end, it had killed them.

  A bullet in the brain had been the official cause of death, but Eve saw sex as the trigger.

  It was the only connection between them, and the only link to their murderer.

  Thoughtfully, she picked up the .38. It was familiar in her hand now. She knew exactly how it felt when it fired, the way the punch of it sung up the arm. The sound it made when the mechanism and basic physics sent the bullet flying.

  Still holding the gun, she cued up the disc she’d requisitioned and watched Sharon DeBlass’s murder again.

  What did you feel, you bastard? she wondered. What did you feel when you squeezed the trigger and sent that slug of lead into her, when the blood spewed out, when her eyes rolled up dead?

  What did you feel?

  Eyes narrowed, she reran the disc. She was almost immune to the nastiness of it now. There was, she noted, the slightest waver in the video, as if he’d jostled the camera.

  Did your arm jerk? she wondered. Did it shock you, the way her body flew back, how far the blood splattered?

  Is that why she could hear the soft sob of breath, the slow exhale before the image changed?

  What did you feel? she asked again. Revulsion, pleasure, or just cold satisfaction?

  She leaned closer to the monitor. Sharon was carefully arranged now, the scene set as the camera panned her objectively and, yes, Eve thought, coldly.

  Then why the jostle? Why the sob?

  And the note. She picked up the sealed envelope and read it again. How did you know you’d be satisfied to stop at six? Have you already picked them out? Selected them?

  Dissatisfied, she ejected the disc, replaced it and the .38. Loading the Starr disc, taking the second weapon, Eve ran through the process again.

  No jostle this time, she noted. No quick, indrawn breath. Everything’s smooth, precise, exact. You knew this time, she thought, how it would feel, how she’d look, how the blood would smell.

  But you didn’t know her. Or she didn’t know you. You were just John Smith in her book, marked as a new client.

  How did you choose her? And how are you going to pick the next one?

  Just before nine, when Feeney knocked on her door, she was studying a map of Manhattan. He stepped behind her, leaned over her shoulder, and breathed candy mints.

  “Thinking of relocating?”

  “I’m trying geography. Widen view five percent,” she ordered the computer. The image adjusted. “First murder, second murder,” she said, nodding toward the tiny red pulses on Broadway and in the West Village. “My place.” There was a green pulse just off Ninth Avenue.

  “Your place?”

  “He knows where I live. He’s been there twice. These are three places we can put him. I was hoping I’d be able to confine the area, but he spreads himself out. And the security.” She indulged in one little sigh, as she eased back in her chair. “Three different systems. Starr’s was all but nonexistent. Electronic doorman, inoperable—and it had been, according to other residents, for a couple of weeks. DeBlass had top grade, key code for entry, hand plate, full building security—audio and video. Had to be breached on-site. Our time lag only hits one elevator, and the victim’s hallway. Mine’s not as fancy. I could breach the entry, any decent B and E man could. But I’ve got a System Five thousand police lock on the door. You have to be a real pro to pop it without the master code.”

  Drumming her fingers on the desk, she scowled at the map. “He’s a security expert, knows his weapons—old weapons, Feeney. He’d cued in enough to department procedure to tag me for the primary investigator within hours of the first hit. He doesn’t leave fingerprints or bodily fluids. Not even a fucking pubic hair. What does that tell you?”

  Feeney sucked air through his teeth, rocked back on his heels. “Cop. Military. Maybe paramilitary or government security. Could be a security hobbyist; there are plenty of them. Possible professional criminal, but unlikely.”

  “Why unlikely?”

  “If the guy was making a living off crime, why murder? There’s no profit in either of these hits.”

  “So, he’s taking a vacation,” Eve said, but it didn’t play for her.

  “Maybe. I’ve run known sex offenders, crossed with IRCCA. Nobody pops who fits the MO. You look at this report yet?” he asked, indicating the IRCCA transmission.

  “No. Why?”

  “I already tagged it this morning. You might be surprised that there were about a hundred gun assaults last year, country wide. About that many accidental, too.” He jerked a shoulder. “Bootlegged, homemade, black market, collectors.”

  “But nobody fits our profile.”

  “Nope.” He chewed contemplatively. “Perverts either, though it’s a real education to scan the data. Got a favorite. This guy in Detroit, hit on four before they tagged him. Liked to pick up a lonely heart, go back to her place. He’d tranq her, then he’d strip her down, spray her with glow-in-the-dark red paint, top to toe.”

  “Weird.”

  “Lethal. Skin’s gotta breathe, so she’d suffocate, and while she was smothering to death, he’d play with her. Wouldn’t bang her, no sperm or penetration. He’d just run his eager little hands over her.”

  “Christ, that’s sick.”

  “Yeah, well, anyway. He gets a little too eager, a little too impatient with one, starts rubbing her before she’s dry, you know. Some of the paint rubs off, and she starts to come around. So he panics, runs. Now our girl’s naked, covered with paint, wobbly from the tranq, but she’s pissed, runs right outside on the street and starts screaming. The unit comes by, catches on quick ’cause she’s glowing like a laser show, and starts a standard search. Our boy’s only a couple of blocks away. So they catch him . . .”

  “Don’t say it.”

  “Red-handed,” Feeney said with a wicked grin. “Kiss my ass, that’s a good one. Caught him red-handed.” When Dallas just rolled her eyes, Feeney decided the guys in his division would appreciate the story more.

  “Anyway, we maybe got a pervert. I’ll bump up the pervs and the pros. Maybe we’ll get lucky. I like the idea of that better than a cop.”

  “So do I.” Lips pursed, she swiveled to look at him. “Feeney, you’ve got a small collection, know something about antique firearms.”

  He held out his arms, wrists tight together. “I confess. Book me.”

  She nearly smiled. “You know any other cops who collect?”

  “Sure, a few. It’s an expensive hobby, so most of the ones I know collect reproductions. Speaking of expensive,” he added, fingering her sleeve. “Nice shirt. You get a raise?”

  “It’s borrowed,” she muttered, and was surprised that she had to control a flush. “Run them for me, Feeney. The ones that have genuine antiques.”

  “Ah, Dallas.” His smile faded away at the thought of focusing in on his own people. “I hate that shit.”

  “So do I. Run them anyway. Keep it to the city for now.”

  “Right.” He blew out a breath, wondered if she realized his name would be on the list. “Hell of a way to start the day. Now I’ve got a present for you, kid. There was a memo on my desk when I got in. The chief’s on his way in to the commander’s office. He wants both of us.”

  “Fuck that.”

  Feeney just looked at his watch. “I make it in five minutes. Maybe you want to put on a sweater or something, so Simpson doesn’t get a good look at that shirt and decide we’re overpaid.”

  “Fuck that, too.”

  Chief Edward Simpson was an imposing figure. Well over six feet, fighting trim, he preferred dark suits and vivid ties. His waving brown hair was tipped with gray.

  It was well known throughout the department that those distinguished highlights were added by his personal cosmetician. His eyes were a steely blue—a color his polls indicated inspired voter confidence—that rarely showed humor, his mouth a thin comma of command. Looking at him, you thought of power and authority.

  It was disillusioning to know how carelessly he used both to do laps in the heady pool of politics.

  He sat down, steepling his long, creamy hands that winked with a trio of gold rings. His voice, when he spoke, had an actor’s resonance.

  “Commander, captain, lieutenant, we have a delicate situation.”

  And an actor’s timing. He paused, let those hard blue eyes scan each face in turn.

  “You’re all aware of how the media enjoys sensationalism,” he continued. “Our city has, in the five years of my jurisdiction, lowered its crime rate by five percent. A full percentage a year. However, with recent events, it isn’t the progress that will be touted by the press. Already there are headlines of these two killings. Stories that question the investigation and demand answers.”

  Whitney, detesting Simpson in every pore, answered mildly. “The stories lack details, chief. The Code Five on the DeBlass case makes it impossible to cooperate with the press or feed it.”

  “By not feeding it,” Simpson snapped back. “We allow them to speculate. I’ll be making a statement this afternoon.” He held up a hand even as Whitney started to protest. “It’s necessary to give the public something to assess, and by assessing feel confident that the department has the matter under control. Even if that isn’t the case.”

  His eyes zeroed in on Eve. “As the primary, lieutenant, you’ll attend the press conference as well. My office is preparing a statement for you to give.”

  “With all respect, Chief Simpson, I can’t divulge to the public any details of the case that could undermine the investigation.”

  Simpson plucked a piece of lint from his sleeve. “Lieutenant, I have thirty years of experience. I believe I know how to handle a press conference. Secondly,” he continued, dismissing her by turning back to Commander Whitney, “it’s imperative that the link the press has made between the DeBlass and Starr homicides be broken. The department can’t be responsible for embarrassing Senator DeBlass personally, or damaging his position, by joining these cases at the hip.”

  “The murderer did that for us,” Eve said between her teeth.

  Simpson spared her a glance. “Officially, there is no connection. When asked, deny.”

  “When asked,” Eve corrected. “Lie.”

  “Save your personal ethics. This is reality. A scandal that starts here and reverberates to East Washington will come back on us like a monsoon. Sharon DeBlass has been dead over a week, and you have nothing.”

  “We have the weapon,” she disagreed. “We have possible motive as blackmail, and a list of suspects.”

  His color came up as he rose out of the chair. “I’m head of this department, lieutenant, and the mess you make is left to me to clean. It’s time you stop digging at dirt and close the case.”

  “Sir.” Feeney stepped forward. “Lieutenant Dallas and I—”

  “Can both be on Traffic Detail in a fucking heartbeat,” Simpson finished.

  Fists clenched, Whitney lunged to his feet. “Don’t threaten my officers, Simpson. You play your games, smile for the cameras, and rub asses with East Washington, but don’t you come in on my turf and threaten my people. They’re on and they stay on. You want to change that, you try going through me.”

  Simpson’s color deepened further. In fascination, Eve watched a vein throb at his temple. “Your people press the wrong buttons on this, it’ll be your ass. I’ve got Senator DeBlass under control for the moment, but he’s not happy having the primary running off to pressure his daughter-in-law, to invade the privacy of her grief and ask her embarrassing, irrelevant questions. Senator DeBlass and his family are victims, not suspects, and are to be accorded respect and dignity during this investigation.”

  “I accorded Elizabeth Barrister and Richard DeBlass respect and dignity.” Very deliberately Eve shut down her temper. “The interview was conducted with their consent and cooperation. I was not aware that I was required to receive permission from you or the senator to proceed as I see warranted on this case.”

  “And I will not have the press speculating that this department harasses grieving parents, or why the primary resisted required testing after a termination.”

  “Lieutenant Dallas’s testing was postponed at my order,” Whitney said with snarling fury. “And with your approval.”

  “I’m well aware of that.” Simpson angled his head. “I’m talking about speculation in the press. We will, all of us, be under a microscope until this man is stopped. Lieutenant Dallas’s record and her actions will be up for public dissection.”

  “My record’ll stand it.”

  “And your actions,” Simpson said with a faint smile. “How will you answer the fact that you’re jeopardizing the case and your position by indulging in a personal relationship with a suspect? And what do you think my official position will be if and when it comes out that you spent the night with that suspect?”

  Control kept her in place, made her eyes flat, had her voice even. “I’m sure you’d hang me to save yourself, Chief Simpson.”

  “Without hesitation,” he agreed. “Be at City Hall. Noon, sharp.”

  When the door clinked shut behind him, Commander Whitney sat again. “Dickless son of a bitch.” Then his eyes, still sharp as razors, cut into Eve. “What the fuck are you doing?”

  Eve accepted—was forced to accept—that her privacy was no longer an issue. “I spent the night with Roarke. It was a personal decision, on my personal time. In my professional opinion, as primary investigator, he has been eliminated as a suspect. It doesn’t negate the fact that my behavior was inadvisable.”

  “Inadvisable,” Whitney exploded. “Try asinine. Try career suicide. Goddamn it, Dallas, can’t you hold your glands in check? I don’t expect this from you.”

  She didn’t expect it from herself. “It doesn’t affect the investigation, or my ability to continue it. If you think differently, you’re wrong. If you pull me off, you’ll have to take my badge, too.”

  Whitney stared at her another moment, swore again. “You make damn sure Roarke is eliminated from the short list, Dallas. Damn sure he’s eliminated or booked within thirty-six hours. And you ask yourself a question.”

  “I’ve already asked it,” she interrupted, with a giddy relief only she knew she experienced when he didn’t call for her badge—yet. “How did Simpson know where I spent last night? I’m being monitored. Second question is why. Is it on Simpson’s authority, is it DeBlass? Or, did someone leak the information to Simpson in order to damage my credibility and therefore, the investigation.”

  “I expect you to find out.” He jerked a thumb toward the door. “Watch yourself at that press conference, Dallas.”

 
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admin 22 September 2018 10:45
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