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Imitation in Death (Eve Dallas Mysteries)by J D Robb
You never saw it all. No matter how many times you walked through the blood and the gore, no matter how often you looked at the horror man inflicted on man, you never saw it all.
There was always something worse, something meaner, or crazier, more vicious, more cruel.
As Lieutenant Eve Dallas stood over what had once been a woman, she wondered when she would see worse than this.
Two of the uniform cops on scene were still retching at the mouth of the alley. The sound of their sickness echoed back to her. She stood where she was, hands and boots already sealed, and waited for her own shuddering stomach to settle.
Had she seen this much blood before? It was hard to remember. It was best not to.
She crouched, opened her field kit, and took out her ID pad to run the victim’s fingerprints. She couldn’t avoid the blood, so she stopped thinking about it. Lifting the limp hand, she pressed the thumb to her pad.
“Victim is female, Caucasian. The body was discovered at approximately oh three-thirty by officers responding to anonymous nine-one-one, and is herewith identified through fingerprint check as Wooton, Jacie, age forty-one, licensed companion, residing 375 Doyers.”
She took a shallow breath, then another. “Victim’s throat has been cut. Spatter pattern indicates wound was inflicted while victim stood against the north-facing wall of the alley. Blood pattern and trail would indicate victim fell or was laid across alley floor by assailant or assailants who then...”
Jesus. Oh Jesus.
“Who then mutilated the victim by removing the pelvic area. Both the throat and pelvic wounds indicate the use of a sharp implement and some precision.”
Despite the heat her skin prickled, cold and clammy as she took out gauges, recorded data.
“I’m sorry.” Peabody, her aide, spoke from behind her. Eve didn’t have to look around to know Peabody’s face would still be pale and glossy from shock and nausea. “I’m sorry, Lieutenant; I couldn’t maintain.”
“Don’t worry about it. You okay now?”
Eve nodded and continued to work. Stalwart, steady, and as dependable as the tide, Peabody had taken one look at what lay in the alley, turned sheet-white, and stumbled back toward the street at Eve’s sharp order to puke elsewhere.
“I’ve got an ID on her. Jacie Wooton, Doyers. An LC. Do a run for me.”
“I’ve never seen anything like this. Just never seen...”
“Get the data. Do it down there. You’re in my light here.”
She wasn’t, Peabody knew. Her lieutenant was cutting her a break, and because her head wanted to spin again, she took it, moving toward the mouth of the alley.
She’d sweated through her uniform shirt, and her dark bowl of hair was damp at the temples under her cap. Her throat was raw, her voice weak, but she initiated the run. And watched Eve work.
Efficient, thorough, and some would say cold. But Peabody had seen the leap of shock and horror, and of pity on Eve’s face before her own vision had blurred. Cold wasn’t the word, but driven was.
She was pale now, Peabody noted, and it wasn’t just the work lights that bleached the color from her narrow face. Her brown eyes were focused and flat, and unwavering as they examined the atrocity. Her hands were steady, and her boots smeared with blood.
There was a line of sweat down the middle of the back of her shirt, but she wouldn’t stumble away. She would stay until it was done.
When Eve straightened, Peabody saw a tall, lean woman in stained boots, worn jeans, and a gorgeous linen jacket, a fine-boned face with a wide mouth, wide eyes of gilded brown, and a short and disordered cap of hair nearly the same color.
More: She saw a cop who never turned away from death.
“Peabody, I don’t care if you puke as long as you don’t contaminate the scene. Give me the data.”
“Victim’s lived in New York for twenty-two years. Previous residence on Central Park West. She’s resided down here for eighteen months.”
“That’s quite a change of venue. What she get popped for?”
“Illegals. Three strikes. Lost her top-drawer license, did six months in, rehab, counseling, and was given a probationary street license about a year ago.”
“She roll on her dealer?”
“We’ll see what the tox screen tells us once she’s in the morgue, but I don’t think Jack here is her dealer.” Eve lifted the envelope that had been left—sealed to prevent bloodstains—on the body.
LIEUTENANT EVE DALLAS, NYPSD
Computer-generated, she guessed, in a fancy font on elegant cream-colored paper. Thick, weighty, and expensive. The sort of thing used for high-class invites. She should know, she mused, as her husband was big on sending and receiving high-class invites.
She took out the second evidence bag and read the note again.
Hello, Lieutenant Dallas:
Hot enough for ya? I know you’ve had a busy summer, and I’ve been admiring your work. I can think of no one on the police force of our fair city I’d rather have join me on what I hope will be a very intimate level.
Here is a sample of my work. What do you think?
Looking forward to our continued association.
“I’ll tell you what I think, Jack. I think you’re a very sick fuck. Tag and bag,” she ordered with a last glance down the alley. “Homicide.”
Wooton’s apartment was on the fourth floor of one of the housing structures thrown up as a temporary shelter for refugees and victims of the Urban Wars. A number of them stood in the poorer sections of the city, and were always slated for replacement.
The city dickered back and forth between tossing out the low-rent LC’s, chemi-heads, and dealers along with the working poor and mowing down the shaky structures or revitalizing.
While they dickered, the buildings decayed and nothing was done.
Eve expected nothing would be done until the dumps collapsed inward on their residents and the city fathers found themselves in the throes of a class-action suit.
But until that time, it was the sort of place you expected to find a down-on-her-luck whore.
Her room was a hot little box with a stingy bump-out for a kitchen and a thin sliver for a bathroom. Her view was the wall of the identical building to the west.
Through the thin walls Eve could clearly hear the heroic snoring from the apartment next door.
Despite the circumstance, Jacie had kept her place clean, and had made some attempt at style. The furniture was cheap, but it was colorful. She hadn’t been able to afford privacy screens, but there were frilly curtains at the windows. She’d left the bed pulled out of the convertible sofa, but it was made, and the sheets were good cotton. Possibly salvaged from better times, Eve thought.
She had a low-end desk ‘link on a table, and a prefab dresser covered with the various tools of her trade: enhancements, scents, wigs, tawdry jewelry, temporary tattoos. The drawer and closet held work clothes primarily, but mixed in with the whore-wear were a couple of more conservative outfits Eve imagined she’d used for off-hours.
She found a supply of over-the-counter meds, including a half bottle of Sober-Up and a full, unopened bottle as backup. Which made sense with the two bottles of vodka and the bottle of home-brew in the kitchen.
She turned up no illegals, which caused her to assume Jacie had switched from chemicals to alcohol.
She opened the desk ‘link and replayed the transmissions received and sent over the last three days. One to her counselor to request an upgrade in her license, one received and not answered or yet returned from the landlord regarding overdue rent, another made to an uptown body sculptor requesting rates.
No chats with pals, Eve mused.
She scrolled through, located the financials, and found Jacie’s bookkeeping spare and efficient. Paid attention to her money, Eve mused, did the job, banked the pay, and pumped most of it back into the business. Expenses were high for wardrobe, body treatments, hair and face work.
Used to looking good, Eve decided. Wanted to keep looking good. Self-esteem wrapped around appearance, which was wrapped around sexual appeal, which was wrapped around selling yourself for enough money to maintain appearance.
A strange and sad cycle, in her opinion.
“She made a nice nest for herself in a very ugly tree,” Eve commented. “I’ve got no transmissions or any correspondence from anyone named Jack, or any one guy in particular for that matter. No marriage or cohabitation on record?”
“We’ll talk to her counselor, see if there’s anybody she was close to, or had been close to. But I don’t think we’ll find him there.”
“Dallas, it seems to me, what he did to her...it seems to me that it was personal.”
“Does, doesn’t it?” She turned around, looked at the room again. Neat, girlie, with a desperate attempt at style. “I think it was very personal, but not specific to the victim. He killed a woman, and a woman who made her living from selling her body. That’s the personal part. You not only kill her, but you hack out the part of her that made that living. It's not hard to find a street LC in this area any time of the night. You just have to choose your time and place. A sample of his work,” she murmured. “That’s all she was.”
She walked to the window and, narrowing her eyes, visualized the street, the alley, the building just out of view. “He might have known her, or have seen her. Just as possible it was chance. But he was ready if chance presented itself. He had the weapon, he had the note written and sealed, and something—a case, a bag, a satchel, something to carry fresh clothes, or to store whatever he was wearing. He’d have been covered with her blood.
“She goes in the alley with him,” Eve continued. “It’s hot, it’s late, business can’t be very good. But here’s a job, maybe one last job before she heads home. She’s experienced, been in the life for two decades, but she doesn’t make him as trouble. Maybe she’s been drinking, or maybe he looked okay. And there’s the fact that she’s not used to street work, wouldn’t have the instincts for it.”
Too accustomed to the high life, Eve thought, to the sexual kinks of the wealthy and discreet. Coming down to Chinatown must’ve been like landing on Venus for her.
“She’s up against the wall.” Eve could see it, see it perfectly. The dark, spiked hair shimmering with silver, the come-on-big-boy red of the halter. “And she’s thinking she needs the fee to make the rent, or she hopes he hurries because her feet hurt—Jesus, they had to be killing her in those shoes. She’s tired, but she’ll take one more mark before she calls it a night.
“When he slashes her throat, she’s surprised more than anything. It had to be quick and clean. One quick slice, left to right, straight across the jugular. Sprayed blood like a son of a bitch. Her body’s dead before her brain computes it. But that’s only the beginning for him.”
She turned back, scanned the dresser. Cheap jewelry, expensive lip dye. Perfumes, designer knockoffs, to remind you that you’d been able to bathe in the real thing once, and damn well would again.
“He arranges her, lays her out, then cuts the woman out of her. Had to have a bag somewhere to put what he’s taken from her. He cleans his hands.”
She could see him, too, the shadow of him crouched in the filthy alley, hands slick with blood as he tidied up.
“I bet he cleaned his tools, too, but he certainly cleans his hands. Takes the note he’s written, sets it neatly on her breasts. He had to change his shirt, or put a jacket on. Something, because of the blood. What then?”
Peabody blinked. “Ah, walks away, figuring job well done. He goes home.”
“Um, walks if he lives close enough.” She took a breath, pushing herself out of the alley and into her lieutenant’s mind. Into the killer’s mind. “He’s on top of the world, so he’s not worried about being hassled by a mugger. If he doesn’t live close by, he’s probably got his own ride because, even changing, or covering up, there’s too much blood on him, and there’d be a smell. It’d be a stupid risk to take a cab or the subway.”
“Good. We’ll check the cab companies for pickups around the crime scene during our time frame, but I don't think we’ll find anything. Let’s seal this place up, canvass the building.”
Neighbors, as was expected from neighbors in such places, knew nothing, heard nothing, saw nothing. The landlord operated out of a storefront in Chinatown, between a market that was running a special on ducks’ feet and an alternative medicine joint that promised health, well-being, and spiritual balance or your money back.
Eve recognized Piers Chan’s type, the beefy arms in shirtsleeves, the pencil mustache over thin lips. The humble surroundings and diamond pinky ring.
He was mixed-race, with enough Asian to have him set up in the business bustle of Chinatown, though she imagined his last ancestor to see Peking might have been at his prime during the Boxer Rebellion.
Just as she imagined Chan kept his home and family in some upscale suburb in New Jersey while he played slumlord of the Lower East Side.
“Wooton, Wooton.” While two silent clerks busied themselves in the back, Chan flipped through his tenant book. “Yes, she’s got a deluxe single on Doyers.”
“Deluxe?” Eve repeated. “And what makes it deluxe?”
“Got a kitchen area with built-in friggie and AutoChef. Comes with the package. She’s behind. Rent was due a week ago. She got the standard reminder call a couple days ago. She’ll get another today, then an automatic evict notice next week.”
“That won’t be necessary as she’s changed her address to the city morgue. She was murdered early this morning.”
“Murdered.” His eyebrows lowered into an expression Eve interpreted as irritation rather than sympathy or shock. “Goddamn it. You seal the place?”
Eve cocked her head. “And you ask because?”
“Look, I own six buildings, got seventy-two units. You got that many tenants, some of them are going to croak one way or another. You get your unattended death, your suspicious death, your misadventure, and your self-termination.” He ticked them off on his fat fingers. “And your homicide.” For that he used his thumb. “Then you guys come along, seal the place up, notify next of kin. Before I can blink some uncle or other is clearing the place out before I can put in a claim and get my back rent.”
He spread his hands now, and sent Eve an aggrieved look. “I’m just trying to make a living here.”
“So was she, when somebody decided to carve her up.”
He puffed out his cheeks. “Person’s in that kind of work, they’re going to take some lumps.”
“You know, this outpouring of humanitarianism is choking me up, so let’s stick to the point. Did you know Jacie Wooton?”
“I knew her application, her references, and her rent payment. Never set eyes on her myself. I don’t have time to make friends with the tenants. I’ve got too many.”
“Uh-huh. And if somebody falls behind on the rent, wiggles around the evict, do you pay them a little visit, try to appeal to their sense of fair play?”
He rubbed a fingertip over his mustache. “I run by the book here. Costs me plenty in court fees annually to move the deadbeats out, but that’s part of the operating expenses. That's part of the business. I wouldn’t know this Wooton woman if she stopped in to give me a handjob. And I was home, in Bloomfield, last night with my wife and kids. I was there for breakfast this morning, and came into the city on the seven-fifteen, just like I do every day. You need more than that, you talk to my lawyers.”
“Creep,” Peabody stated out on the sidewalk.
“Oh yeah, and I’d make book he takes some of his rent in trade. Sexual favors, little party bags of illegals, stolen goods. We could squeeze him if we had nothing but time and righteousness.” She angled her head as she studied the display of naked hanging fowls so skinny death must have been a relief, and the odd groupings of webbed feet for sale. “How do you eat feet?” Eve wondered. “Do you start at the toes and work up, or at the ankle and work down? Do ducks have ankles?”
“I’ve spent many sleepless nights pondering just that.”
Though Eve slanted over a bland stare, she was glad to see her aide back in tune. “They do some of the butchering right here, don’t they? Slice and dice the merchandise in the kitchens. Sharp knives, lots of blood, a certain working knowledge of anatomy.”
“Cutting up a chicken’s got to be a lot simpler than a human.”
“I don’t know.” Considering, Eve rested her hands on her hips. “Technically, okay. There’s more mass, and it’s going to take more time, and maybe more skill than your average fowl plucker. But if you don’t see that mass as human, it wouldn’t be so different. Maybe you practice on animals, get the feel for it. Then again, maybe you’re a doctor, or a vet, who’s gone around the bend. But he had to know what he was doing. A butcher, a doctor, a talented amateur, but somebody who’s been perfecting his technique so he could pay homage to his hero.”
“Jack,” Eve said as she turned away to walk back to her vehicle. “Jack the Ripper.”
“Jack the Ripper?” With her mouth dropping open, Peabody trotted to catch up. “You mean like over in London, back in...whenever?”
“Late 1800s. Whitechapel. Poor section of the city during the Victorian era, frequented by prostitutes. He killed between five and eight women, maybe more, all within about a one-mile radius over a period of a year.”
She got behind the wheel, flicked a glance over to find Peabody gaping at her. “What?” Eve demanded. “I can’t know stuff?”
“Yes, sir. You know great bundles of stuff, but history isn’t generally your long suit.”
Murder was, Eve thought as she pulled away from the curb. And always had been. “While other little girls were reading about fluffy as yet ungutted duckies, I was reading about Jack, and other assorted serial killers.”
“You read about...that sort of thing when you were a kid?”
“Well...” She didn’t quite know how to put it. She was aware that Eve had been raised in the system, in foster homes and state homes. “Didn’t any of the adults in charge monitor your interests? What I mean is my parents—and they were big on not restricting our choices—would’ve brought the hammer down in that sort of area when we were kids. You know, formative years and all, nightmares, emotional scarring.'
She’d been scarred, in every possible way, long before she could read more than a few basic words. As for nightmares, Eve didn’t remember a time she hadn’t had them.
“If I was scrolling the Internet for data on the Ripper or John Wayne Gacy, I was occupied and out of trouble. Those were the essential criteria.”
“I guess. So, you always knew you wanted to be a cop.”
She’d known she wanted to be something other than a victim. Then she’d known she’d wanted to stand for the victim. That meant cop to her. “More or less. The Ripper sent notes to the police, but only after a while. He didn’t start off, like our guy. But this one wants us to know what he’s about straight off. He wants the play.”
“He wants you,” Peabody said and got a nod of acknowledgment.
“I’ve just come off a highly publicized case. Lots of screen time. Lots of buzz. And the Purity case, earlier this summer. Another hot one. He’s been watching. Now he wants some buzz of his own. Jack got plenty of it back in the day.”
“He wants you involved, and the media focused on him. The city fascinated by him.”
“That’s my take.”
“So he’ll hunt other LCs, in that same area.”
“That would be the pattern.” Eve paused. “And what he wants us to think.”
Her next stop was Jacie’s counselor, who worked out of a three-office suite on the lower fringes of the East Village. On her large, overburdened desk was a bowl of colorful hard candies. She sat behind them in a gray suit that gave her a matronly air.
Eve judged her to be on the shadowy side of fifty, with a kind face and, by contrast, a pair of shrewd hazel eyes.
“Tressa Palank.” She rose to offer Eve a firm handshake before gesturing to a chair. “I assume this concerns one of my clients. I’ve got ten minutes before my next session. What can I do for you?”
“Tell me about Jacie Wooton.”
“Jacie?” Tressa’s eyebrows lifted, a slight smile touched her lips, but there was a look in her eyes, a steady look of dread. “I can’t believe she’d give you any trouble. She’s on a straight path, determined to earn back her A-Grade license.”
“Jacie Wooton was murdered early this morning.”
Tressa closed her eyes, did nothing but breathe in and out for several seconds. “I knew it had to be one of mine.” She opened her eyes again, and they remained direct. “As soon as I heard the bulletin about the murder in Chinatown, I knew. Just a feeling in the gut, if you understand me. Jacie.” She folded her hands on the desk, stared down at them. “What happened?”
“I’m not free to give you the details as yet. I can only tell you she was stabbed.”
“Mutilated. The bulletin said a female licensed companion had been mutilated in a Chinatown alley early this morning.”
One of the uniforms, Eve thought, and there would be hell to pay for the leak when she found the source. “I can’t tell you any more at this time. My investigation is in its earliest stages.”
“I know the routine. I was on the job for five years.”
“You were a cop?”
“Five years, sex crimes primarily. I switched to counseling. I didn’t like the streets, or what I saw on them. Here, I can do something to help without facing that day after day. This isn’t a picnic, by any means, but it's what I do best. I’ll tell you what I can; I hope it helps.”
“She spoke to you recently, about her upgrade.”
“Denied. She has—had—another year’s probation. It’s mandatory after her arrests and addiction. Her rehab went well, though I suspect she’d found a substitute for the Push she was hooked on.”
“Vodka. Two bottles in her flop.”
“Well. It’s legal, but it violates her parole requirements for upgrade. Not that it matters now.”
Tressa rubbed her hands over her eyes and simply sighed. “Not that it matters,” she repeated. “She couldn’t think of anything but getting back uptown. Hated working the streets, but at the same time never considered, not seriously, any alternative profession.”
“Did she have any regulars you know of?”
“No. She once had quite an extensive client list, exclusive men and women. She was licensed for both. But, to my knowledge, no one followed her downtown. I believe she would’ve told me, as it would’ve boosted her ego.”
“She wouldn’t give a name, not even to me. But she swore there had been no contact since her release. I believed her.”
“In your opinion, did she hold back the name because she was afraid?”
“In mine, she considered it a matter of ethics. She’d been an LC nearly half her life. A good LC is discreet and considers her clients’ privacy sacred, much as a doctor or a priest. She considered this along the same lines. I suspect her supplier was also a client, but that’s just a hunch.”
“She gave no indication to you during your last sessions that she was concerned, worried, afraid of anything or anyone?”
“No. Just impatient to get her old life back.”
“How often did she come in?”
“Every two weeks, per her parole requirements. She never missed. She had her regular medicals, was always available for random testing. She was cooperative in every way. Lieutenant, she was an average woman, a little lost and out of her element. She was not street savvy as she’d been accustomed to a more select clientele and routine. She enjoyed nice things, worried about her appearance, complained about the rate restrictions at her license level. She didn’t socialize any longer because she was embarrassed by her circumstances, and because she felt those in her current economic circle were beneath her.”
Tressa pressed her fingers to her lips a moment. “I’m sorry. I’m trying not to be upset, not to personalize it, but I can’t help it. One of the reasons I was no good out there. I liked her, and wanted to help her. I don’t know who could’ve done this to her. Just another random act, on one of the weaker. Just a whore, after all.”
Her voice threatened to break, so she cleared her throat, drew air through her nose. “A lot of people still think that way, you and I both know it. They come to me beaten and misused, humiliated and battered. Some give it up, some handle themselves, some rise to a different level and live almost like royalty. And some are tossed into the gutter. It’s a dangerous profession. Cops, emergency and health workers, prostitutes. Dangerous professions with a high mortality rate.
“She wanted her old life back,’ Tressa said. “And it killed her.”
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