Naked in death, p.3
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       Naked in Death, p.3

         Part #1 of In Death series by J. D. Robb  

  The explosion had Eve jolting. Her stomach twisted as she saw the woman fly backward like a broken doll, the blood spurting out of her forehead. The second shot wasn’t such a shock, but Eve had to force herself to keep her eyes on the screen. After the final report there was silence, but for the quiet music, the fractured breathing. The killer’s breathing.

  The camera moved in, panned the body in grisly detail. Then, through the magic of video, DeBlass was as Eve had first seen her, spread-eagled in a perfect x over bloody sheets. The image ended with a graphic overlay.

  ONE OF SIX

  It was easier to watch it through the second time. Or so Eve told herself. This time she noticed a slight bobble of the camera after the first shot, a quick, quiet gasp. She ran it back again, listening to each word, studying each movement, hoping for some clue. But he was too clever for that. And they both knew it.

  He’d wanted her to see just how good he was. Just how cold.

  And he wanted her to know that he knew just where to find her. Whenever he chose.

  Furious that her hands weren’t quite steady, she rose. Rather than the coffee she’d intended, Eve took out a bottle of wine from the small cold cell, poured half a glass.

  She drank it down quickly, promised herself the other half shortly, then punched in the code for her commander.

  It was the commander’s wife who answered, and from the glittering drops at her ears and the perfect coiffure, Eve calculated that she’d interrupted one of the woman’s famous dinner parties.

  “Lieutenant Dallas, Mrs. Whitney. I’m sorry to interrupt your evening, but I need to speak to the commander.”

  “We’re entertaining, lieutenant.”

  “Yes, ma’am. I apologize.” Fucking politics, Eve thought as she forced a smile. “It’s urgent.”

  “Isn’t it always?”

  The machine hummed on hold, mercifully without hideous background music or updated news reports, for a full three minutes before the commander came on.

  “Dallas.”

  “Commander, I need to send you something over a coded line.”

  “It better be urgent, Dallas. My wife’s going to make me pay for this.”

  “Yes, sir.” Cops, she thought as she prepared to send the image to his monitor, should stay single.

  She waited, folding her restless hands on the table. As the images played again, she watched again, ignoring the clenching in her gut. When it was over, Whitney came back on-screen. His eyes were grim.

  “Where did you get this?”

  “He sent it to me. A disc was here, in my apartment, when I got back from the station.” Her voice was flat and careful. “He knows who I am, where I am, and what I’m doing.”

  Whitney was silent for a moment. “My office, oh seven hundred. Bring the disc, lieutenant.”

  “Yes, sir.”

  When the transmission ended, she did the two things her instincts dictated. She made herself a copy of the disc, and she poured another glass of wine.

  She woke at three, shuddering, clammy, fighting for the breath to scream. Whimpers sounded in her throat as she croaked out an order for lights. Dreams were always more frightening in the dark.

  Trembling, she lay back. This one had been worse, much worse, than any she’d experienced before.

  She’d killed the man. What choice had she had? He’d been too buzzed on chemicals to be stunned. Christ, she’d tried, but he’d just keep coming, and coming, and coming, with that wild look in his eyes and the already bloodied knife in his hand.

  The little girl had already been dead. There was nothing Eve could have done to stop it. Please God, don’t let there have been anything that could have been done.

  The little body hacked to pieces, the frenzied man with the dripping knife. Then the look in his eyes when she’d fired on full, and the life had slipped out of them.

  But that hadn’t been all. Not this time. This time he’d kept coming. And she’d been naked, kneeling in a pool of satin. The knife had become a gun, held by the man whose face she’d studied hours before. The man called Roarke.

  He’d smiled, and she’d wanted him. Her body had tingled with terror and sexual desperation even as he’d shot her. Head, heart, and loins.

  And somewhere through it all, the little girl, the poor little girl, had been screaming for help.

  Too tired to fight it, Eve simply rolled over, pressed her face into her pillow and wept.

  “Lieutenant.” At precisely seven A.M., Commander Whitney gestured Eve toward a chair in his office. Despite the fact, or perhaps due to the fact that he’d been riding a desk for twelve years, he had sharp eyes.

  He could see that she’d slept badly and had worked to disguise the signs of a disturbed night. In silence, he held out a hand.

  She’d put the disc and its cover into an evidence bag. Whitney glanced at it, then laid it in the center of his desk.

  “According to protocol, I’m obliged to ask you if you want to be relieved from this case.” He waited a beat. “We’ll pretend I did.”

  “Yes, sir.”

  “Is your residence secure, Dallas?”

  “I thought so.” She took hard copy out of her briefcase. “I reviewed the security discs after I contacted you. There’s a ten minute time lapse. As you’ll see in my report, he has the capability of undermining security, a knowledge of videos, editing, and, of course, antique weapons.”

  Whitney took her report, set it aside. “That doesn’t narrow the field overmuch.”

  “No, sir. I have several more people I need to interview. With this perpetrator, electronic investigation isn’t primary, though Captain Feeney’s help is invaluable. This guy covers his tracks. We have no physical evidence other than the weapon he chose to leave at the scene. Feeney hadn’t been able to trace it through normal channels. We have to assume it was black market. I’ve started on her trick books and her personal appointments, but she wasn’t the retiring kind. It’s going to take time.”

  “Time’s part of the problem. One of six, lieutenant. What does that say to you?”

  “That he has five more in mind, and wants us to know it. He enjoys his work and wants to be the focus of our attention.” She took a careful breath. “There’s not enough for a full psychiatric profile. We can’t say how long he’ll be satisfied by the thrill of this murder, when he’ll need his next fix. It could be today. It could be a year from now. We can’t bank on him being careless.”

  Whitney merely nodded. “Are you having problems with the rightful termination?”

  The knife slicked with blood. The small ruined body at her feet. “Nothing I can’t handle.”

  “Be sure of it, Dallas. I don’t need an officer on a sensitive case like this who’s worried whether she should or shouldn’t use her weapon.”

  “I’m sure of it.”

  She was the best he had, and he couldn’t afford to doubt her. “Are you up to playing politics?” His lips curved thinly. “Senator DeBlass is on his way over. He flew into New York last night.”

  “Diplomacy isn’t my strong suit.”

  “I’m aware of that. But you’re going to work on it. He wants to talk to the investigating officer, and he went over my head to arrange it. Orders came down from the chief. You’re to give the senator your full cooperation.”

  “This is a Code Five investigation,” Eve said stiffly. “I don’t care if orders came down from God Almighty, I’m not giving confidential data to a civilian.”

  Whitney’s smile widened. He had a good, ordinary face, probably the one he was born with. But when he smiled and meant it, the flash of white teeth against the cocoa colored skin turned the plain features into the special.

  “I didn’t hear that. And you didn’t hear me tell you to give him no more than the obvious facts. What you do hear me tell you, Lieutenant Dallas, is that the gentleman from Virginia is a pompous, arrogant asshole. Unfortunately, the asshole has power. So watch your step.”

  “Yes, sir.”

  He glanced at his watch, then slipped the file and disc into his safe drawer. “You’ve got time for a cup of coffee . . . and, lieutenant,” he added as she rose. “If you’re having trouble sleeping, take your authorized sedative. I want my officers sharp.”

  “I’m sharp enough.”

  Senator Gerald DeBlass was undoubtedly pompous. He was unquestionably arrogant. After one full minute in his company, Eve agreed that he was undeniably an asshole.

  He was a compact, bull of a man, perhaps six feet, two hundred and twenty. His crop of white hair was cut sharp and thin as a razor so that his head seemed huge and bullet sleek. His eyes were nearly black, as were the heavy brows over them. They were large, like his nose, his mouth.

  His hands were enormous, and when he clasped Eve’s briefly on introduction, she noted they were smooth and soft as a baby’s.

  He brought his adjutant with him. Derrick Rockman was a whiplike man in his early forties. Though he was nearly six-five, Eve gave DeBlass twenty pounds on him. Neat, tidy, his pin-striped suit and slate blue tie showed not a crease. His face was solemn, attractively even featured, his movements restrained and controlled as he assisted the more flamboyant senator out of his cashmere overcoat.

  “What the hell have you done to find the monster who killed my granddaughter?” DeBlass demanded.

  “Everything possible, senator.” Commander Whitney remained standing. Though he offered DeBlass a seat, the man prowled the room, as he was given to prowl the New Senate Gallery in East Washington.

  “You’ve had twenty-four hours and more,” DeBlass shot back, his voice deep and booming. “It’s my understanding you’ve assigned only two officers to the investigation.”

  “For security purposes, yes. Two of my best officers,” the commander added. “Lieutenant Dallas heads the investigation and reports solely to me.”

  DeBlass turned those hard black eyes on Eve. “What progress have you made?”

  “We identified the weapon, ascertained the time of death. We’re gathering evidence and interviewing residents of Ms. DeBlass’s building, and tracking the names in her personal and business logs. I’m working to reconstruct the last twenty-four hours of her life.”

  “It should be obvious, even to the slowest mind, that she was murdered by one of her clients.” He said the word in a hiss.

  “There was no appointment listed for several hours prior to her death. Her last client has an alibi for the critical hour.”

  “Break it,” DeBlass demanded. “A man who would pay for sexual favors would have no compunction about murder.”

  Though Eve failed to see the correlation, she remembered her job and nodded. “I’m working on it, senator.”

  “I want copies of her appointment books.”

  “That’s not possible, senator,” Whitney said mildly. “All evidence of a capital crime is confidential.”

  DeBlass merely snorted and gestured toward Rockman.

  “Commander.” Rockman reached in his left breast pocket and drew out a sheet of paper affixed with a holographic seal. “This document from your chief of police authorizes the senator access to any and all evidence and investigative data on Ms. DeBlass’s murder.”

  Whitney barely glanced at the document before setting it aside. He’d always considered politics a coward’s game, and hated that he was forced to play it. “I’ll speak to the chief personally. If the authorization holds, we’ll have copies to you by this afternoon.” Dismissing Rockman, he looked back at DeBlass. “The confidentiality of evidence is a major tool in the investigative process. If you insist on this, you risk undermining the case.”

  “The case, as you put it, commander, was my flesh and blood.”

  “And as such, I’d hope your first priority would be assisting us to bring her killer to justice.”

  “I’ve served justice for more than fifty years. I want that information by noon.” He picked up his coat, tossed it over one beefy arm. “If I’m not satisfied that you’re doing everything in your power to find this maniac, I’ll see that you’re removed from this office.” He turned toward Eve. “And that the next thing you investigate, lieutenant, will be sticky fingered teenagers at a shop-com.”

  After he stormed out, Rockman used his quiet, solemn eyes to apologize. “You must forgive the senator. He’s overwrought. However much strain there was between him and his granddaughter, she was family. Nothing is more vital to the senator than his family. Her death, this kind of violent, senseless death, is devastating to him.”

  “Right,” Eve muttered. “He looked all choked up.”

  Rockman smiled; he managed to look amused and sorrowful at once. “Proud men often disguise their grief behind aggression. We have every confidence in your abilities and your tenacity, lieutenant. Commander,” he nodded. “We’ll expect the data this afternoon. Thank you for your time.”

  “He’s a smooth one,” Eve muttered when Rockman shut the door quietly behind him. “You’re not going to cave, commander.”

  “I’ll give them what I have to.” His voice was sharp and edged with suppressed fury. “Now, go get me more.”

  Police work was too often drudgery. After five hours of staring at her monitor as she ran makes on the names in DeBlass’s books, Eve was more exhausted than she would have been after a marathon race.

  Even with Feeney taking a portion of the names with his skill and superior equipment, there were too many for such a small investigative unit to handle quickly.

  Sharon had been a very popular girl.

  Feeling discretion would gain her more than aggression, Eve contacted the clients by ’link and explained herself. Those who balked at the idea of an interview were cheerfully invited to come into Cop Central, charged with obstruction of justice.

  By midafternoon she had spoken personally with the first dozen on the client list, and took a detour back to the Gorham.

  DeBlass’s neighbor, the elegant man from the elevator, was Charles Monroe. Eve found him in, and entertaining a client.

  Slickly handsome in a black silk robe, and smelling seductively of sex, Charles smiled engagingly.

  “I’m terribly sorry, lieutenant. My three o’clock appointment has another fifteen minutes.”

  “I’ll wait.” Without invitation, Eve stepped inside. Unlike DeBlass’s apartment, this one ran to deep, cushy chairs in leather and thick carpets.

  “Ah . . .” Obviously amused, Charles glanced behind him, where a door was discreetly closed at the end of a short hallway. “Privacy and confidentiality are, you understand, vital to my profession. My client is apt to be disconcerted if she discovers the police on my doorstep.”

  “No problem. Got a kitchen?”

  He let out a weighty sigh. “Sure. Right through that doorway. Make yourself at home. I won’t be long.”

  “Take your time.” Eve strolled off to the kitchen. In contrast to the elaborate living area, this was spartan. It seemed Charles spent little time eating in. Still, he had a full-size friggie unit rather than a cold cell, and she found the treasure of a Pepsi chilling. Satisfied for the moment, she sat down to enjoy it while Charles finished off his three o’clock.

  Soon enough, she heard the murmur of voices, a man’s, a woman’s, a light laugh. Moments later, he came in, the same easy smile on his face.

  “Sorry to keep you waiting.”

  “No problem. Are you expecting anyone else?”

  “Not until later this evening.” He took out a Pepsi for himself, broke the freshness seal from the tube, and poured it into a tall glass. He rolled the tube into a ball and popped it into the recycler. “Dinner, the opera, and a romantic rendezvous.”

  “You like that stuff? Opera?” she asked when he flashed a grin.

  “Hate it. Can you think of anything more tedious than some big-chested woman screaming in German half the night?”

  Eve thought it over. “Nope.”

  “But there you are. Tastes vary.” His smile faded as he joined her at the little nook under the kitchen window. “I heard about Sharon on the news this morning. I’ve been expecting someone to come by. It’s horrible. I can’t believe she’s dead.”

  “You knew her well?”

  “We’ve been neighbors more than three years—and occasionally we worked together. Now and again, one of our clients would request a trio, and we’d share the business.”

  “And when it wasn’t business, did you still share?”

  “She was a beautiful woman, and she found me attractive.” He moved his silk-clad shoulders, his eyes shifting to the tinted glass of the window as a tourist tram streamed by. “If one of us was in the mood for a busman’s holiday, the other usually obliged.” He smiled again. “That was rare. Like working in a candy store, after a while you lose your taste for chocolate. She was a friend, lieutenant. And I was very fond of her.”

  “Can you tell me where you were the night of her death between midnight and three A.M. ?”

  His brows shot up. If it hadn’t just occurred to him that he could be considered a suspect, he was an excellent actor. Then again, Eve thought, people in his line of work had to be.

  “I was with a client, here. She stayed overnight.”

  “Is that usual?”

  “This client prefers that arrangement. Lieutenant, I’ll give you her name if absolutely necessary, but I’d prefer not to. At least until I’ve explained the circumstances to her.”

  “It’s murder, Mr. Monroe, so it’s necessary. What time did you bring your client here?”

  “About ten. We had dinner at Miranda’s, the sky café above Sixth.”

  “Ten.” Eve nodded, and saw the moment he remembered.

  “The security camera in the elevator.” His smile was all charm again. “It’s an antiquated law. I suppose you could bust me, but it’s hardly worth your time.”

 
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admin 22 September 2018 10:45
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