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Seduction in Deathby J D Robb
Death didn’t only come in dreams.
Eve stood over it now, in the balmy early morning air of a Tuesday in June. The New York City sidewalk was cordoned off, the sensors and blocks squaring around the pavement and the cheerful tubs of petunias used to spruce up the building’s entrance.
She had a particular fondness for petunias, but she didn’t think they were going to do the job this time. And not for some time to come.
The woman was facedown on the sidewalk. From the angle of the body, the splatter and pools of blood, there wasn’t going to be a lot of that face left. Eve looked up at the dignified gray tower with its semicircle balconies, its silver ribbon of people glides. Until they identified the body, they’d have a hard time pinning down the area from which she’d fallen. Or jumped. Or been pushed.
The one thing Eve was sure of: It had been a very long drop.
“Get her prints and run them,” she ordered.
She glanced down at her aide as Peabody squatted, opened a field kit. Peabody’s uniform cap sat squarely on her ruler-straight dark hair. She had steady hands, Eve thought, and a good eye. “Why don’t you do time of death.”
“Me?” Peabody asked in surprise.
“Get me an ID, establish time of death. Log in description of scene and body.”
Now, despite the grisly circumstance, it was excitement that moved over Peabody’s face. “Yes, sir. Sir, first officer on-scene has a potential witness.”
“A witness from up there, or down here?”
“I’ll take it.” But Eve stayed where she was a moment longer, watching Peabody scan the dead woman’s fingerprints. Though Peabody’s hands and feet were sealed, she made no contact with the body and did the scan quickly, delicately.
After one nod of approval, Eve strode away to question the uniforms flanking the perimeter.
It might have been nearly three in the morning, but there were bystanders, gapers, and they had to be encouraged along, blocked out. News hawks were already in evidence, calling out questions, trying to snag a few minutes of recording to pump into the airwaves before the first morning commute.
An ambitious glide-cart operator had jumped on the opportunity and was putting in some overtime selling to the crowd. His grill pumped out smoke that spewed the scents of soy dogs and rehydrated onions into the air.
He appeared to be doing brisk business.
In the gorgeous spring of 2059, death continued to draw an audience from the living, and those who knew how to make a quick buck out of the deal.
A cab winged by, didn’t bother to so much as tap the brakes. From somewhere farther downtown, a siren screamed.
Eve blocked it out, turned to the uniform. “Rumor is we’ve got eyes.”
“Yes, sir. Officer Young’s got her in the squad car keeping her away from the ghouls.”
“Good.” Eve scanned the faces behind the barrier. In them she saw horror, excitement, curiosity, and a kind of relief.
I’m alive, and you’re not.
Shaking it off, she hunted down Young and the witness.
Given the neighborhood—for in spite of the dignity and the petunias, the apartment building was right on the border of midtown bustle and downtown sleaze—Eve was expecting a licensed companion, maybe a jonesing chemi-head or a dealer on the way to a mark.
She certainly hadn’t expected the tiny, snappily dressed blonde with the pretty and familiar face.
“Lieutenant Dallas?” Louise Dimatto angled her head, and the ruby clusters at her ears gleamed like glassy blood. “Do you come in, or do I come out?”
Eve jerked a thumb, held the car door wider. “Come on out.”
They’d met the previous winter, at the Canal Street Clinic where Louise fought against the tide to heal the homeless and the hopeless. She came from money, and her bloodline was blue, but Eve had good reason to know Louise didn’t quibble about getting her hands dirty.
She’d nearly died helping Eve fight an ugly war during that bitter winter.
Eve skimmed a look over Louise’s stoplight-red dress. “Making house calls?”
“A date. Some of us try to maintain a healthy social life.”
“How’d it go?”
“I took a cab home, so you be the judge.” She skimmed back her short, honeycomb hair with her fingers. “Why are so many men so boring?”
“You know, that’s a question that haunts me day and night.” When Louise laughed, Eve smiled in response. “It’s good to see you, all things considered.”
“I thought you might drop by the clinic, come see the improvements your donation helped implement.”
“I think it’s called blackmail in most circles.”
“Donation, blackmail. Let’s not split hairs. You’ve helped save a few lives, Dallas. That’s got to be nearly as satisfying to you as catching those who take them.”
“Lost one tonight.” She turned, looked back toward the body. “What do you know about her?”
“Nothing, really. I think she lives in the building, but she’s not looking her best at the moment, so I can’t be sure.”
After a long breath, Louise rubbed the back of her neck. “Sorry, this is more in your line than mine. It’s my first experience nearly having a body fall in my arms. I’ve seen people die, and it’s not always gentle. But this was . . .”
“Okay. You want to sit back down? Want some coffee?”
“No. No. Let me just tell it.” She steadied herself, a subtle squaring of the shoulders, stiffening of the spine. “I ditched the date from tedium, grabbed a cab. We’d gone to dinner and a club uptown. I got here about one-thirty, I suppose.”
“You live in this building?”
“That’s right. Tenth floor. Apartment 1005. I paid the cab, got out on the curb. It’s a pretty night. I was thinking, It’s a beautiful night, and I just wasted it on that jerkoff. So I stood there for a couple minutes, on the sidewalk, wondering if I should go in and call it a night, or take a walk. I decided I’d go up, fix a nightcap, and sit out on my balcony. I turned, took another step toward the doors. I don’t know why I looked up—I didn’t hear anything. But I just looked up, and she was falling, with her hair spread out like wings. It couldn’t have been more than two or three seconds, I’d barely had time to register what I was seeing, and she hit.”
“You didn’t see where she fell from?”
“No. She was coming down, and fast. Jesus, Dallas.” Louise had to pause a moment, rub the image from her eyes. “She hit so hard, and with a really nasty sound I’m going to be hearing in my sleep for a long time. It couldn’t have been more than five or six feet from where I was standing.”
She drew another breath, made herself look over at the body. Now there was pity over the horror. “People think they’ve reached the end of their ropes. That there’s nothing left for them. But they’re wrong. There’s always more rope. There’s always something left.”
“You think she jumped?”
Louise looked back at Eve. “Yes, I assumed . . . I said I didn’t hear anything. She didn’t make a sound. No scream, no cry. Nothing but the flutter of her hair in the wind. I guess that’s why I looked up.” She thought now. “I did hear something after all. That flutter, like wings.”
“What did you do after she hit?”
“I checked her pulse. Knee-jerk,” Louise said with a shrug. “I knew she was dead, but I checked anyway. Then I took out my pocket-link and called nine-one-one. You think she was pushed? That’s why you’re here.”
“I don’t think anything yet.” Eve turned back toward the building. Some lights had been on when she’d arrived, and there were more now so that it looked like a vertical chessboard in silver and black. “Homicide gets tagged on leapers like this. It’s standard. Do yourself a favor. Go in, take a pill, zone out. Don’t talk to the press if they wheedle your name.”
“Good advice. Will you let me know when . . . when you know what happened to her?”
“Yeah, I can do that. Want a uniform to take you up?”
“No, thanks.” She took one last look at the body. “As bad as my night was, it was better than some.”
“I hear you.”
“Best to Roarke,” Louise added, then walked toward the doors.
Peabody was already standing, her palm-link in hand. “Got an ID, Dallas. Bryna Bankhead, age twenty-three, mixed race. Single. Residence apartment 1207 in the building behind us. She worked at Saks Fifth Avenue. Lingerie. I established time of death at oh-one-fifteen.”
“One-fifteen?” Eve repeated, and thought of the readout on her bedside clock.
“Yes, sir. I ran the measurements twice.”
Eve frowned down at the gauges, the field kit, the bloody pool under the body. “Witness said she fell about one-thirty. When was the nine-eleven logged?”
Uneasy now, Peabody checked her ’link for the record. “Call came in at oh-one-thirty-six.” She heaved out a breath that fluttered her thick, straight bangs. “I must’ve screwed up the measurements,” she began. “I’m sorry—”
“Don’t apologize until I tell you you’ve screwed up.” Eve crouched, opened her own field kit, took out her own gauges. And ran the test a third time, personally.
“You established time of death accurately. For the record,” she continued. “Victim, identified as Bankhead, Bryna, cause of death undetermined. Time of death oh-one-fifteen. TOD verified by Peabody, Officer Delia, and primary investigator Dallas, Lieutenant Eve. Let’s roll her, Peabody.”
Peabody swallowed the questions on her tongue, and the quick rise of her own gorge. For the moment she blanked her mind, but later she would think it had been like rolling over a sack full of broken sticks swimming in thick liquid.
“Impact has severely damaged victim’s face.”
“Boy,” Peabody breathed through her teeth. “I’ll say.”
“Limbs and torso also suffered severe damage, rendering it impossible to determine any possible premortem injury from visual exam. The body is nude. She’s wearing earrings.” Eve took out a small magnifier, peered through it at the lobes. “Multicolored stones in gold settings, matching ring on right middle finger.”
She eased closer until her lips were nearly on the victim’s throat—and Peabody’s gorge tried a second rising. “Sir . . .”
“Perfume. She’s wearing perfume. You walk around your apartment at one in the morning, Peabody, wearing fancy earrings and fancy perfume?”
“If I’m awake in my apartment at one in the morning, I’m usually in my bunny slippers. Unless . . .”
“Yeah.” Eve straightened. “Unless you’ve got company.” Eve turned to the crime scene tech. “Bag her. I want her tagged for priority with the ME. I want her checked for recent sexual activity, and any injuries that are premortem. Let’s have a look at her apartment, Peabody.”
“She’s not a leaper.”
“Evidence is pointing to the contrary.” She strode into the lobby. It was small and quiet, and security cameras swept the area.
“I want the discs from security,” she told Peabody. “Lobby level, and twelfth floor to start.”
There was a long pause as they stepped into the elevator and Eve called for the twelfth floor. Then Peabody shifted her weight, trying for casual. “So . . . are you going to bring in EDD?”
Eve stuck her hands in her pockets, scowled at the blank, brushed metal doors of the elevator. Peabody’s romantic liaison with Ian McNab, Electronics Detective Division had recently detonated. Which, if anyone had listened to me, Eve thought bitterly, wouldn’t be in many ugly pieces because it never would have existed in the first place.
“Suck it in, Peabody.”
“It’s a reasonable question on procedure, and has nothing whatsoever to do with anything else.”
Peabody’s tone was stiff enough to communicate insult, hurt feelings, and annoyance. She was, Eve thought, good at it. “If during the course of this investigation, I, as primary investigator, deem EDD is needed for consult, I will so order.”
“You could also request someone other than he who shall not be named,” Peabody muttered.
“Feeney runs EDD. I don’t tell Feeney which of his people to assign. And damn it, Peabody, this case or another, you’re going to end up working with McNab, which is why you should never have let him bang you in the first place.”
“I can work with him. It doesn’t bother me a bit.” So saying, she stomped off the elevator onto the twelfth floor. “I’m a professional, unlike some others who are always cracking wise and coming to work in weird getups and showing off.”
At the door of Bankhead’s apartment, Eve lifted her eyebrows. “You calling me unprofessional, Officer?”
“No, sir! I was . . .” Her stiff shoulders loosened, and humor slid back into her eyes. “I’d never call your getups weird, Dallas, even though I’m pretty sure you’re wearing a guy’s shirt.”
“If you’re finished with your snit, we’ll go back on record. Using master to gain entrance to victim’s apartment,” Eve continued, and coded through the locks. She opened the door, examined it. “Interior chain and snap bolt were not in use. Living area lights are on dim. What do you smell, Peabody?”
“Ah . . . candles, maybe perfume.”
“What do you see?”
“Living area, nicely decorated and organized. The mood screen’s on. Looks like a spring meadow pattern. There are two wineglasses and an open bottle of red wine on the sofa table, indicating the victim had company at some point in the evening.”
“Okay.” Though she’d hoped Peabody would take it a little further, Eve nodded. “What do you hear?”
“Music. Audio system’s playing. Violins and piano. I don’t recognize the tune.”
“Not the tune, the tone,” Eve said. “Romance. Take another look around. Everything’s in place. Neat, tidy, and as noted, organized. But she left a bottle of wine sitting open, and used glasses sitting out? Why?”
“She didn’t have a chance to put them away.”
“Or turn off the lights, the audio, the mood screen.” She stepped through, glanced into the adjoining kitchen. The counters were clean, and empty but for the corkscrew, the wine cork. “Who opened the wine, Peabody?”
“The most likely conclusion would be her date. If she’d opened it, she would have, giving the indication of the apartment, put the corkscrew away, dumped the cork in her recycler.”
“Mmm. Living area balcony doors closed and secured from inside. If this was self-termination or an accidental fall, it wasn’t from this point. Let’s check the bedroom.”
“You don’t think it was self-termination or an accident.”
“I don’t think anything yet. What I know is the victim was a single woman who kept a very neat apartment and that evidence indicates she spent at least a portion of this evening at home with company.”
Eve turned into the bedroom. The audio played here as well, dreamy, fluid notes that seemed to drift on the breeze fluttering through the open balcony doors. The bed was unmade, and the disordered sheets were strewn with pink rose petals. A black dress, black undergarments, and black evening shoes were piled beside the bed.
Candles, guttering fragrantly in their own wax, were set around the room.
“Read the scene,” Eve ordered.
“It appears as if the victim engaged in or was about to engage in sexual intercourse prior to her death. There are no signs of struggle here or in the living area, which indicates the sex, or plans for the sex, were consensual.”
“This wasn’t sex, Peabody. This was seduction. We’re going to need to find out who seduced who. Record the scene, then get me those security discs.”
With a sealed finger, Eve eased open the drawer of the bedside table. “Goodie drawer.”
“Sex drawer, Peabody. Single girl provisions, which in this case includes condoms. Victim liked men. Couple bottles of tasty body oils, a vibrator for when self-servicing is necessary or desired, and some vaginal lubricant. Fairly standard, even conservative and straight goodies. No toys or aids here to indicate victim leaned toward same-sex relationships.”
“So her date was a man.”
“Or a woman hoping to broaden Bankhead’s horizons. We’ll nail that down with the discs. And maybe we get lucky with the ME’s report and find some little soldiers in her.”
She stepped into the adjoining bath. It was sparkling clean, the ribbon-trimmed hand towels perfectly aligned. There were fancy soaps in a fancy dish, perfumed creams in glass-and-silver jars. “My guess is her bed partner didn’t hang around and wash up. Get the sweepers up here,” she ordered. “Let’s see if our Romeo left anything behind.”
She opened the mirror on the medicine cabinet, studied the contents. Normal over-the-counter meds, nothing heavy. A six-month supply of twenty-eight day contraceptive pills.
The drawer beside the sink was packed, and meticulously organized, with cosmetic enhancers. Lip dyes, lash lengtheners, face and body paints.
Bryna had spent a lot of time in front of this mirror, Eve mused. If the little black dress, the wine, the candlelight were anything to go by, she’d spent considerable time in front of it tonight. Preparing herself for a man.
Moving to the bedroom ’link, Eve played back the last call and stood, listening to Bryna Bankhead, pretty in her little black dress, talk of her big plans for the evening with a brunette she called CeeCee.
I’m a little nervous, but mostly I’m just excited. We’re finally going to meet. How do I look?
You look fabulous, Bry. You just remember real-life dating’s different from cyber-dating. Take it slow, and keep it public tonight, right?
Absolutely. But I really do feel like I know him, CeeCee. We’ve got so much in common, and we’ve been e-mailing for weeks. Besides, it was my idea to meet—and his to make it drinks in a public place so I’d feel more at ease. He’s so considerate, so romantic. God, I’m going to be late. I hate being late. Gotta go.
Don’t forget. I want all the deets.
I’ll tell you all about it tomorrow. Wish me luck, CeeCee. I really think he could be the one.
“Yeah,” Eve murmured as she shut off the ’link. “So do I.”
—Reprinted from Seduction In Death by Nora Roberts by permission of Berkley, a member of Penguin Putnam Inc. Copyright © 2001, Nora Roberts. All rights reserved. This excerpt, or any parts thereof, may not be reproduced in any form without permission.
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