Naked in death, p.4
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       Naked in Death, p.4

         Part #1 of In Death series by J. D. Robb  
“Any sexual act in a secured area is a misdemeanor, Mr. Monroe.”

  “Charles, please.”

  “It’s a nitpick, Charles, but they could suspend your license for six months. Give me her name, and we’ll clear it up as quietly as possible.”

  “You’re going to lose me one of my best clients,” he muttered. “Darleen Howe. I’ll get you the address.” He rose to get his electronic datebook, then read off the information.

  “Thanks. Did Sharon talk about her clients with you?”

  “We were friends,” he said wearily. “Yeah, we talked shop, though it’s not strictly ethical. She had some funny stories. I’m more conventional in style. Sharon was . . . open to the unusual. Sometimes we’d get together for a drink, and she’d talk. No names. She had her own little terms for them. The emperor, the weasel, the milkmaid, that kind of thing.”

  “Was there anyone she mentioned who worried her, made her uneasy? Someone who might have been violent?”

  “She didn’t mind violence, and no, nobody worried her. One thing about Sharon, she always felt in control. That’s the way she wanted it because she said she’d been under someone else’s control most of her life. She had a lot of bitterness toward her family. She told me once she’d never planned on making a career out of professional sex. She’d only gotten into it to make her family crazy. But then, after she got into it, she decided she liked it.”

  He moved his shoulders again, sipped from his glass. “So she stayed in the life, and killed two birds with one fuck. Her phrase.”

  He lifted his eyes again. “Looks like one of the fucks killed her.”

  “Yeah.” Eve rose, tucked her recorder away. “Don’t take any out-of-town trips, Charles. I’ll be in touch.”

  “That’s it?”

  “For the moment.”

  He stood as well, smiled again. “You’re easy to talk to for a cop . . . Eve.” Experimentally, he skimmed a fingertip down her arm. When her brows lifted, he took the fingertip over her jawline. “In a hurry?”

  “Why?”

  “Well, I’ve got a couple of hours, and you’re very attractive. Big golden eyes,” he murmured. “This little dip right in your chin. Why don’t we both go off the clock for awhile?”

  She waited while he lowered his head, while his lips hovered just above hers. “Is this a bribe, Charles? Because if it is, and you’re half as good as I think you are . . .”

  “I’m better.” He nibbled at her bottom lip, let his hand slide down to toy with her breast. “I’m much better.”

  “In that case . . . I’d have to charge you with a felony.” She smiled as he jerked back. “And that would make both of us really sad.” Amused, she patted his cheek. “But, thanks for the thought.”

  He scratched his chin as he followed her to the door. “Eve?”

  She paused, hand on the knob, and glanced back at him. “Yes?”

  “Bribes aside, if you change your mind, I’d be interested in seeing more of you.”

  “I’ll let you know.” She closed the door and headed for the elevator.

  It wouldn’t have been difficult, she mused, for Charles Monroe to slip out of his apartment, leaving his client sleeping, and slip into Sharon’s. A little sex, a little murder . . .

  Thoughtful, she stepped into the elevator.

  Doctor the discs. As a resident of the building, it would have been simple for him to gain access to security. Then he could have popped back into bed with his client.

  It was too bad that the scenario was plausible, Eve thought as she reached the lobby. She liked him. But until she checked his alibi thoroughly, Charles Monroe was now at the top of her short list.

  chapter three

  Eve hated funerals. She detested the rite human beings insisted on giving death. The flowers, the music, the endless words and weeping.

  There might be a God. She hadn’t completely ruled such things out. And if there were, she thought, It must have enjoyed a good laugh over Its creations’ useless rituals and passages.

  Still, she had made the trip to Virginia to attend Sharon DeBlass’s funeral. She wanted to see the dead’s family and friends gathered together, to observe, and analyze, and judge.

  The senator stood grim-faced and dry-eyed, with Rockman, his shadow, one pew behind. Beside DeBlass was his son and daughter-in-law.

  Sharon’s parents were young, attractive, successful attorneys who headed their own law firm.

  Richard DeBlass stood with his head bowed and his eyes hooded, a trimmer and somehow less dynamic version of his father. Was it coincidence, Eve wondered, or design that he stood at equal distance between his father and wife?

  Elizabeth Barrister was sleek and chic in her dark suit, her waving mahogany hair glossy, her posture rigid. And, Eve, noted, her eyes red-rimmed and swimming with constant tears.

  What did a mother feel, Eve wondered, as she had wondered all of her life, when she lost a child?

  Senator DeBlass had a daughter as well, and she flanked his right side. Congresswoman Catherine DeBlass had followed in her father’s political footsteps. Painfully thin, she stood militarily straight, her arms looking like brittle twigs in her black dress. Beside her, her husband Justin Summit stared at the glossy coffin draped with roses at the front of the church. At his side, their son Franklin, still trapped in the gangly stage of adolescence, shifted restlessly.

  At the end of the pew, somehow separate from the rest of the family, was DeBlass’s wife, Anna.

  She neither shifted nor wept. Not once did Eve see her so much as glance at the flower-strewn box that held what was left of her only granddaughter.

  There were others, of course. Elizabeth’s parents stood together, hands linked, and cried openly. Cousins, acquaintances, and friends dabbed at their eyes or simply looked around in fascination or horror. The President had sent an envoy, and the church was packed with more politicians than the Senate lunchroom.

  Though there were more than a hundred faces, Eve had no trouble picking Roarke out of the crowd. He was alone. There were others lined in the pew with him, but Eve recognized the solitary quality that surrounded him. There could have been ten thousand in the building, and he would have remained aloof from them.

  His striking face gave away nothing: no guilt, no grief, no interest. He might have been watching a mildly inferior play. Eve could think of no better description for a funeral.

  More than one head turned in his direction for a quick study or, in the case of a shapely brunette, a not so subtle flirtation. Roarke responded to both the same way: he ignored them.

  At first study, she would have judged him as cold, an icy fortress of a man who guarded himself against any and all. But there must have been heat. It took more than discipline and intelligence to rise so high so young. It took ambition, and to Eve’s mind, ambition was a flammable fuel.

  He looked straight ahead as the dirge swelled, then without warning, he turned his head, looked five pews back across the aisle and directly into Eve’s eyes.

  It was surprise that had her fighting not to jolt at that sudden and unexpected punch of power. It was will that kept her from blinking or shifting her gaze. For one humming minute they stared at each other. Then there was movement, and mourners came between them as they left the church.

  When Eve stepped into the aisle to search him out again, he was gone.

  She joined the long line of cars and limos on the journey to the cemetery. Above, the hearse and the family vehicles flew solemnly. Only the very rich could afford body internment. Only the obsessively traditional still put their dead into the ground.

  Frowning, her fingers tapping the wheel, she relayed her observations into her recorder. When she got to Roarke, she hesitated and her frown deepened.

  “Why would he trouble himself to attend the funeral of such a casual acquaintance?” She murmured into the recorder in her pocket. “According to data, they had met only recently and had a single date. Behavior seems inconsistent and questionable.”

  She shivered once, glad she was alone as she drove through the arching gates of the cemetery. As far as Eve was concerned, there should be a law against putting someone in a hole.

  More words and weeping, more flowers. The sun was bright as a sword but the air had the snapping bite of a petulant child. Near the gravesite, she slipped her hands into her pockets. She’d forgotten her gloves again. The long, dark coat she wore was borrowed. Beneath it, the single gray suit she owned had a loose button that seemed to beg her to tug at it. Inside her thin leather boots, her toes were tiny blocks of ice.

  The discomfort helped distract her from the misery of headstones and the smell of cold, fresh earth. She bided her time, waiting until the last mournful word about everlasting life echoed away, then approached the senator.

  “My sympathies, Senator DeBlass, to you and your family.”

  His eyes were hard; sharp and black, like the hewed edge of a stone. “Save your sympathies, lieutenant. I want justice.”

  “So do I. Mrs. DeBlass.” Eve held out a hand to the senator’s wife and found her fingers clutching a bundle of brittle twigs.

  “Thank you for coming.”

  Eve nodded. One close look had shown her Anna DeBlass was skimming under the edge of emotion on a buffering layer of chemicals. Her eyes passed over Eve’s face and settled just above her shoulder as she withdrew her hand.

  “Thank you for coming,” she said in exactly the same flat tone to the next offer of condolence.

  Before Eve could speak again, her arm was taken in a firm grip. Rockman smiled solemnly down at her. “Lieutenant Dallas, the Senator and his family appreciate the compassion and interest you’ve shown in attending the service.” In his quiet manner, he edged her away. “I’m sure you’ll understand that, under the circumstances, it would be difficult for Sharon’s parents to meet the officer in charge of their daughter’s investigation over her grave.”

  Eve allowed him to lead her five feet away before she jerked her arm free. “You’re in the right business, Rockman. That’s a very delicate and diplomatic way of telling me to get my ass out.”

  “Not at all.” He continued to smile, smoothly polite. “There’s simply a time and place. You have our complete cooperation, lieutenant. If you wish to interview the senator’s family, I’d be more than happy to arrange it.”

  “I’ll arrange my own interviews, at my own time and place.” Because his placid smile irked her, she decided to see if she could wipe it off his face. “What about you, Rockman? Got an alibi for the night in question?”

  The smile did falter—that was some satisfaction. He recovered quickly, however. “I dislike the word alibi.”

  “Me, too,” she returned with a smile of her own. “That’s why I like nothing better than to break them. You didn’t answer the question, Rockman.”

  “I was in East Washington on the night Sharon was murdered. The senator and I worked quite late refining a bill he intends to present next month.”

  “It’s a quick trip from EW to New York,” she commented.

  “It is. However, I didn’t make it on that particular night. We worked until nearly midnight, then I retired to the senator’s guest room. We had breakfast together at seven the next morning. As Sharon, according to your own reports, was killed at two, it gives me a very narrow window of opportunity.”

  “Narrow windows still provide access.” But she said it only to irritate him as she turned away. She’d held back the information on the doctored security discs from the file she’d given DeBlass. The murderer had been in the Gorham by midnight. Rockman would hardly use the victim’s grandfather for an alibi unless it was solid. Rockman’s working in East Washington at midnight slammed even that narrow window closed.

  She saw Roarke again, and watched with interest as Elizabeth Barrister clung to him, as he bent his head and murmured to her. Not the usual offer and acceptance of sympathy from strangers, Eve mused.

  Her brow lifted as Roarke laid a hand on Elizabeth’s right cheek, kissed her left before stepping back to speak quietly to Richard DeBlass.

  He crossed to the senator, but there was no contact between them, and the conversation was brief. Alone, as Eve had suspected, Roarke began to walk across the winter grass, between the cold monuments the living raised for the dead.

  “Roarke.”

  He stopped, and as he had at the service, turned and met her eyes. She thought she caught a flash of something in them: anger, sorrow, impatience. Then it was gone and they were simply cool, blue, and unfathomable.

  She didn’t hurry as she walked to him. Something told her he was a man too used to people—women certainly—rushing toward him. So she took her time, her long, slow strides flapping her borrowed coat around her chilly legs.

  “I’d like to speak with you,” she said when she faced him. She took out her badge, watched him give it a brief glance before lifting his eyes back to hers. “I’m investigating Sharon DeBlass’s murder.”

  “Do you make a habit of attending the funerals of murder victims, Lieutenant Dallas?”

  His voice was smooth, with a whisper of the charm of Ireland over it, like rich cream over warmed whiskey. “Do you make a habit of attending the funerals of women you barely know, Roarke?”

  “I’m a friend of the family,” he said simply. “You’re freezing, lieutenant.”

  She plunged her icy fingers into the pockets of the coat. “How well do you know the victim’s family?”

  “Well enough.” He tilted his head. In a minute, he thought, her teeth would chatter. The nasty little wind was blowing her poorly cut hair around a very interesting face. Intelligent, stubborn, sexy. Three very good reasons in his mind to take a second look at a woman. “Wouldn’t it be more convenient to talk someplace warmer?”

  “I’ve been unable to reach you,” she began.

  “I’ve been traveling. You’ve reached me now. I assume you’re returning to New York. Today?”

  “Yes. I have a few minutes before I have to leave for the shuttle. So . . .”

  “So we’ll go back together. That should give you time enough to grill me.”

  “Question you,” she said between her teeth, annoyed that he turned and walked away from her. She lengthened her stride to catch up. “A few simple answers now, Roarke, and we can arrange a more formal interview in New York.”

  “I hate to waste time,” he said easily. “You strike me as someone who feels the same. Did you rent a car?”

  “Yes.”

  “I’ll arrange to have it returned.” He held out a hand, waiting for the key card.

  “That isn’t necessary.”

  “It’s simpler. I appreciate complications, lieutenant, and I appreciate simplicity. You and I are going to the same destination at the same approximate time. You want to talk to me, and I’m willing to oblige.” He stopped by a black limo where a uniformed driver waited, holding the rear door open. “My transport’s routed for New York. You can, of course, follow me to the airport, take public transportation, then call my office for an appointment. Or you can drive with me, enjoy the privacy of my jet, and have my full attention during the trip.”

  She hesitated only a moment, then took the key card for the rental from her pocket and dropped it into his hand. Smiling, he gestured her into the limo where she settled as he instructed his driver to deal with the rental car.

  “Now then.” Roarke slid in beside her, reached for a decanter. “Would you like a brandy to fight off the chill?”

  “No.” She felt the warmth of the car sweep up from her feet and was afraid she’d begin to shiver in reaction.

  “Ah. On duty. Coffee perhaps.”

  “Great.”

  Gold winked at his wrist as he pressed his choice for two coffees on the AutoChef built into the side panel. “Cream?”

  “Black.”

  “A woman after my own heart.” Moments later, he opened the protective door and offered her a china cup in a delicate saucer. “We have more of a selection on the plane,” he said, then settled back with his coffee.

  “I bet.” The steam rising from her cup smelled like heaven. Eve took a tentative sip—and nearly moaned.

  It was real. No simulation made from vegetable concentrate so usual since the depletion of the rain forests in the late twentieth. This was the real thing, ground from rich Columbian beans, singing with caffeine.

  She sipped again, and could have wept.

  “Problem?” He enjoyed her reaction immensely, the flutter of the lashes, the faint flush, the darkening of the eyes—a similar response, he noted, to a woman purring under a man’s hands.

  “Do you know how long it’s been since I had real coffee?”

  He smiled. “No.”

  “Neither do I.” Unashamed, she closed her eyes as she lifted the cup again. “You’ll have to excuse me, this is a private moment. We’ll talk on the plane.”

  “As you like.”

  He gave himself the pleasure of watching her as the car traveled smoothly over the road.

  Odd, he thought, he hadn’t pegged her for a cop. His instincts were usually keen about such matters. At the funeral, he’d been thinking only what a terrible waste it was for someone as young, foolish, and full of life as Sharon to be dead.

  Then he’d sensed something, something that had coiled his muscles, tightened his gut. He’d felt her gaze, as physical as a blow. When he’d turned, when he’d seen her, another blow. A slow motion one-two punch he hadn’t been able to evade.

  It was fascinating.

  But the warning blip hadn’t gone off. Not the warning blip that should have relayed cop. He’d seen a tall, willowy brunette with short, tumbled hair, eyes the color of honeycombs and a mouth made for sex.

  If she hadn’t sought him out, he’d intended to seek her.

  Too damn bad she was a cop.

  She didn’t speak again until they were at the airport, stepping into the cabin of his JetStar 6000.

  She hated being impressed, again. Coffee was one thing, and a small weakness was permitted, but she didn’t care for her goggle-eyed reaction to the lush cabin with its deep chairs, sofas, the antique carpet, and crystal vases filled with flowers.

 
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admin 22 September 2018 10:45
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