Naked in death, p.19
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       Naked in Death, p.19

         Part #1 of In Death series by J. D. Robb  
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  If they sent her up, she’d get kitchen duty and happily bake pastries for the other inmates.

  Eve filed her report, caught a quick dinner in the eatery, then went back to work on the still simmering lead.

  She’d no more than cleared half the New York banks when the call came through. “Yeah, Dallas.”

  Her answer was the image that flowed onto her screen. A dead woman, arranged all too familiarly on blood-soaked sheets.

  THREE OF SIX

  She stared at the message imposed over the body and snarled at her computer.

  “Trace address. Now, goddamn it.”

  After the computer obliged, she tagged Dispatch.

  “Dallas, Lieutenant Eve, ID 5347BQ. Priority A. Any available units to 156 West Eighty-ninth, apartment twenty-one nineteen. Do not enter premises. Repeat, do not enter premises. Detain any and all persons exiting building. Nobody goes in that apartment, uniform or civilian. My ETA, ten minutes.”

  “Copy, Dallas, Lieutenant, Eve.” The droid on duty spoke coolly and without rush. “Units five-oh and three-six available to respond. Will await your arrival. Priority A. Dispatch, out.”

  She grabbed her bag and her field kit and was gone.

  Eve entered the apartment alone, weapon out and ready. The living room was tidy, even homey with its thick cushions and fringed area rugs. There was a book on the sofa and a slight dip in the cushion, indicating someone had spent some time curled up and reading. Frowning over the image, she moved to a door beyond.

  The small room was set up as an office, the workstation tidy as a pin, with little hints of personality in the basket of perfumed silk flowers, the bowl of colorful gumdrops, the shiny white mug decorated with a glossy red heart.

  The workstation faced the window, the window faced the sheer side of another building, but no one had bothered with a privacy screen. Lining one wall was a clear shelf holding several more books, a large drop box for discs, another for E-memos, a small treasure trove of pricey graphite pencils and recycled legal pads. Cuddled between was a lopsided baked clay blob that might have been a horse, and had certainly been made by a child.

  Eve turned out of the room and opened the opposing door.

  She knew what to expect. Her system didn’t revolt. The blood was still very fresh. With only a small sigh, she holstered her weapon, knowing she was alone with the dead.

  Through the thin protective spray on her hands, she felt the body. It hadn’t had time to cool.

  She’d been positioned on the bed, and the weapon had been placed neatly between her legs.

  Eve pegged it as a Ruger P-90, a sleek combat weapon popular as home defense during the Urban Revolt. Light, compact, and fully automatic.

  No silencer this time. But she’d be willing to bet the bedroom was soundproofed—and that the killer had known it.

  She moved over to the fussily female circular dresser, opened a small burlap bag that was currently a fashion rage. Inside she found the dead woman’s companion’s license.

  Pretty woman, she mused. Nice smile, direct eyes, really stunning coffee-and-cream complexion.

  “Georgie Castle,” Eve recited for the record. “Female. Age fifty-three. Licensed companion. Death probably occurred between seven and seven-forty-five P.M., cause of death gunshot wounds. ME to confirm. Three visible points of violence: forehead, mid-chest, genitalia. Most likely induced with antique combat style handgun left at scene. No signs of struggle, no appearance of forced entry or robbery.”

  A whisper of a sound behind her had Eve whipping out her weapon. Crouched, eyes hard and cold, she stared at a fat gray cat who slid into the room.

  “Jesus, where’d you come from?” She let out a long, cleansing breath as she replaced her weapon. “There’s a cat,” she added for the record, and when it blinked at her, flashing one gold and one green eye, she bent down to scoop it up.

  The purring sounded like a small, well oiled engine.

  Shifting him, she took out her communicator and called for a homicide team.

  A short time later, Eve was in the kitchen, watching the cat sniff with delicate disdain at a bowl of food she’d unearthed when she heard the raised voices outside the apartment door.

  When she went to investigate, she found the uniform she’d posted trying to restrain a frantic and very determined woman.

  “What’s the problem here, officer?”

  “Lieutenant.” With obvious relief, the uniform deferred to her superior. “The civilian demands entry. I was—”

  “Of course I demand entry.” The woman’s dark red hair, cut in a perfect wedge, moved and settled around her face with each jerky movement. “This is my mother’s home. I want to know what you’re doing here.”

  “And your mother is?” Eve prompted.

  “Mrs. Castle. Mrs. Georgie Castle. Was there a break-in?” Anger turned to worry as she tried to squeeze past Eve. “Is she all right? Mom?”

  “Come with me.” Eve took a firm hold of her arm and steered her inside and into the kitchen. “What’s your name?”

  “Samantha Bennett.”

  The cat left his bowl and walked over to curl around and through Samantha’s legs. In a gesture Eve recognized as habitual and automatic, Samantha bent to give the cat one quick scratch between the ears.

  “Where’s my mother?” Now that the worry was heading toward fear, Samantha’s voice cracked.

  There was no part of the job Eve dreaded more than this, no aspect of police work that scraped at her heart with such dull blades.

  “I’m sorry, Ms. Bennett. “I’m very sorry. Your mother’s dead.”

  Samantha said nothing. Her eyes, the same warm honey tone as her mother’s, unfocused. Before she could fold, Eve eased her into a chair. “There’s a mistake,” she managed. “There has to be a mistake. We’re going to the movies. The nine o’clock show. We always go to the movies on Tuesdays.” She stared up at Eve with desperately hopeful eyes. “She can’t be dead. She’s barely fifty, and she’s healthy. She’s strong.”

  “There’s no mistake. I’m sorry.”

  “There was an accident?” Those eyes filled now, flowed over. “She had an accident?”

  “It wasn’t an accident.” There was no way but one to get it down. “Your mother was murdered.”

  “No, that’s impossible.” The tears kept flowing. Her voice hitched over them as she continued to shake her head in denial. “Everyone liked her. Everyone. No one would hurt her. I want to see her. I want to see her now.”

  “I can’t let you do that.”

  “She’s my mother.” Tears plopped on her lap even as her voice rose. “I have the right. I want to see my mother.”

  Eve clamped both hands on Samantha’s shoulders, forcing her back into the chair she’d sprung from. “You’re not going to see her. It wouldn’t help her. It wouldn’t help you. What you’re going to do is answer my questions, and that’s going to help me find who did this to her. Now, do you want me to get you something? Call anyone for you?”

  “No. No.” Samantha fumbled in her purse for a tissue. “My husband, my children. I’ll have to tell them. My father. How can I tell them?”

  “Where is your father, Samantha?”

  “He lives—he lives in Westchester. They divorced about two years ago. He kept the house because she wanted to move into the city. She wanted to write books. She wanted to be a writer.”

  Eve turned to the filtered water unit on the counter, glugged out a glass, pressed it on Samantha. “Do you know how your mother made her living?”

  “Yes.” Samantha pressed her lips together, crushed the damp tissue in her chilled fingers. “No one could talk her out of it. She used to laugh and say it was time she did something shocking, and what wonderful research it was for her books. My mother—” Samantha broke off to drink. “She got married very young. A few years ago, she said she needed to move on, see what else there was. We couldn’t talk her out of that, either. You could never talk her out of anything.”

  She began to weep again, covering her face and sobbing silently. Eve took the barely touched glass, waited, let the first wave of grief and shock roll. “Was it a difficult divorce? Was your father angry?”

  “Baffled. Confused. Sad. He wanted her back, and always said this was just one of her phases. He—” The question behind the question abruptly struck her. She lowered her hands. “He would never hurt her. Never, never, never. He loved her. Everyone did. You couldn’t help it.”

  “Okay.” Eve would deal with that later. “You and your mother were close?”

  “Yes, very close.”

  “Did she ever talk to you about her clients?”

  “Sometimes. It embarrassed me, but she’d find a way to make it all so outrageously funny. She could do that. Called herself Granny Sex, and you had to laugh.”

  “Did she ever mention anyone who made her uneasy?”

  “No. She could handle people. It was part of her charm. She was only going to do this until she was published.”

  “Did she ever mention the names Sharon DeBlass or Lola Starr?”

  “No.” Samantha started to drag her hair back, then her hand froze in midair. “Starr, Lola Starr. I heard, on the news, I heard about her. She was murdered. Oh God. Oh God.” She lowered her head and her hair fell in wings to shield her face.

  “I’m going to have an officer take you home, Samantha.”

  “I can’t leave. I can’t leave her.”

  “Yes. you can. I’m going to take care of her.” Eve laid her hands over Samantha’s. “I promise you, I’ll take care of her for you. Come on now.” Gently, she helped Samantha to her feet. She wrapped an arm around the distraught woman’s waist as she led her to the door. She wanted her out before the team had finished in the bedroom. “Is your husband home?”

  “Yes. He’s home with the children. We have two children. Two years, and six months. Tony’s home with the children.”

  “Good. What’s your address?”

  The shock was settling in. Eve hoped the numbness she could read on Samantha’s face would help as the woman recited an upscale address in Westchester.

  “Officer Banks.”

  “Yes, lieutenant.”

  “Take Mrs. Bennett home. I’ll call for another officer for the door. Stay with the family as long as you’re needed.”

  “Yes, sir.” With compassion, Banks guided Samantha toward the elevators. “This way, Mrs. Bennett,” she murmured.

  Samantha leaned drunkenly on Banks. “You’ll take care of her?”

  Eve met Samantha’s ravaged eyes. “I promise.”

  • • •

  An hour later, Eve walked into the station house with a cat under her arm.

  “Hey there, lieutenant, caught yourself a cat burglar.” The desk sergeant snorted at his own humor.

  “You’re a laugh riot, Riley. Commander still here?”

  “He’s waiting for you. You’re to go up as soon as you show.” He leaned forward to scratch the purring cat. “Hooked yourself another homicide?”

  “Yeah.”

  A kissing sound had her glancing over at a leering hunk in a spandex jumpsuit. The jumpsuit, and the blood trickling at the side of his mouth were approximately the same color. His accessories were a set of thin, black restraints that secured one arm to a nearby bench. He rubbed his crotch with his free hand and winked at her.

  “Hey, baby. Got something here for you.”

  “Tell Commander Whitney I’m on my way,” she told Riley as the desk sergeant rolled his eyes.

  Unable to resist, she swung by the bench, leaned close enough to smell sour vomit. “That was a charming invitation,” she murmured, then arched a brow when the man peeled open his fly patch and wagged his personality at her. “Oh, look, kitty. A teeny-tiny little penis.” She smiled, leaned just a bit closer. “Better take care of it, asshole, or my pussy here might mistake it for a teeny-tiny little mouse and bite it off.”

  It made her feel better to see what there was of his pride and joy shrivel before he closed his flaps. The good humor lasted almost until she stepped into the elevator and ordered Commander Whitney’s floor.

  He was waiting, with Feeney, and the report she’d transmitted directly from the crime scene. In the nature of the repetition required in police work, she went over the same ground verbally.

  “So that’s the cat,” Feeney said.

  “I didn’t have the heart to dump him on the daughter in the state she was in.” Eve shrugged. “And I couldn’t very well just leave him there.” With her free hand, she reached into her bag. “Her discs. Everything’s labeled. I scanned through her appointments. The last one of the day was at six-thirty. John Smith. The weapon.” She laid the bagged weapon on Commander Whitney’s desk. “Looks like Ruger P-ninety.”

  Feeney took a look, nodded. “You’re learning, kid.”

  “I’ve been boning up.”

  “Early twenty-first, probably oh eight, oh nine.” Feeney stated as he turned the sealed weapon in his hands. “Prime condition. Serial number’s intact. Won’t take long to run it,” he added, but moved his shoulders. “But he’s too smart to use a registered.”

  “Run it,” Whitney ordered, and gestured to the auxiliary unit across the room. “I’ve got surveillance on your building, Dallas. If he tries to slip you another disc, we’ll spot him.”

  “If he stays true to form, it’ll be within twenty-four hours. He’s holding to the pattern so far, though each of his victims has been a distinctly different type: with DeBlass you’ve got the glitz, the sophistication; with Starr you’ve got fresh, childlike; and with this one, we’ve got comfort, still young but mature.

  “We’re still interviewing neighbors, and I’m going to hit the family again, look into the divorce. It looks to me like she took this guy spur of the moment. She had a standing date with her daughter for Tuesdays. I’d like Feeney to run her ’link, see if he called her direct. We’re not going to be able to keep this from the media, commander. And they’re going to hit us hard.”

  “I’m already working on media control.”

  “It may be hotter than we think.” Feeney looked up from the terminal. His eyes lingered on Eve’s, made her blood chill.

  “The murder weapon’s registered. Purchased through silent auction at Sotheby’s last fall. Roarke.”

  Eve didn’t speak for a moment. Didn’t care. “It breaks pattern,” she managed. “And it’s stupid. Roarke’s not a stupid man.”

  “Lieutenant—”

  “It’s a plant, commander. An obvious one. A silent auction. Any second-rate hacker can use someone’s ID and bid. How was it paid for?” she snapped at Feeney.

  “I’ll need to access Sotheby’s records after they open tomorrow.”

  “My bet’s cash, electronic transfer. The auction house gets the money, why should they question it?” Her voice might have been calm, but her mind was racing. “And the delivery. Odds are electronic pick-up station. You don’t need ID for an EPS; all you do is key in the delivery code.”

  “Dallas.” Whitney spoke patiently. “Pick him up for questioning.”

  “I can’t.”

  His eyes remained level, cool. “That’s a direct order. If you have a personal problem, save it for personal time.”

  “I can’t pick him up,” she repeated. “He’s on the FreeStar space station, a fair distance from the murder scene.”

  “If he put out that he’d be on FreeStar—”

  “He didn’t,” she interrupted. “And that’s where the killer made a mistake. Roarke’s trip is confidential, with only a few key people apprised. As far as it’s generally known, he’s right here in New York.”

  Commander Whitney inclined his head. “Then we’d better check his whereabouts. Now.”

  Her stomach churned as she engaged Whitney’s ’link. Within seconds she was listening to Summerset’s prune voice. “Summerset, Lieutenant Dallas. I have to contact Roarke.”

  “Roarke is in meetings, lieutenant. He can’t be disturbed.”

  “He told you to put me through, goddamn it. This is police business. Give me his access number or I’m coming over there and hauling your bony ass in for obstructing justice.”

  Summerset’s face puckered up. “I am not authorized to give out that data. I will, however, transfer you. Please stand by.”

  Eve’s palms began to sweat as the screen went to holding blue. She wondered whose idea it was to pipe in the sugary music. Certainly not Roarke’s. He had too much class.

  Oh God, what was she going to do if he wasn’t where he said he’d be?

  The blue screen contracted into a pinpoint, then opened up. There was Roarke, a trace of impatience in his eyes, a half smile on his mouth.

  “Lieutenant. You’ve caught me at a bad time. Can I get back to you?”

  “No.” She could see from the corner of her eye that Feeney was already tracing the transmission. “I need to verify your whereabouts.”

  “My whereabouts?” His brow cocked. He must have seen something in her face, though Eve would have sworn she kept it as smooth and unreadable as stone. “What’s wrong, Eve? What’s happened?”

  “Your whereabouts, Roarke. Please verify.”

  He remained silent, studying her. Eve heard someone speak to him. He flicked away the interruption with a dismissing gesture. “I’m in the middle of a meeting in the presidential chamber of Station FreeStar, the location of which is Quadrant Six, Slip Alpha. Scan,” he ordered, and the intergalactic ’link circled the room. A dozen men and women sat at a wide, circular table.

  The long, bowed port showed a scatter of stars and the perfect blue-green globe of Earth.

  “Location of transmission confirmed,” Feeney said in an undertone. “He’s just where he says he is.”

  “Roarke, please switch to privacy mode.”

  Without a flicker of expression, he lifted a headset. “Yes, lieutenant?”

  “A weapon registered to you was confiscated at a homicide. I have to ask you to come in for questioning at the first possible opportunity. You’re free to bring your attorney. I’m advising you to bring your attorney,” she added, hoping he understood the emphasis. “If you don’t comply within forty-eight hours, the Station Guard will escort you back on-planet. Do you understand your rights and obligations in this matter?”

 
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admin 22 September 2018 10:45
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