"You think we've got a case?" Mercer Wallace asked me.
"The answer's inside that cardboard box you're holding," I said, opening the glass-paneled door of his lieutenant's office in the Special Victims Squad.
I placed my hand on the shoulder of the young woman who was slumped over a desk, napping while she waited for my arrival. She lifted her head from her crossed arms and flicked her long auburn hair out of her eyes.
"I'm Alex Cooper. Manhattan DA's office." I tried not to convey the urgency of what we had to get done within the next few hours. "Are you Jean?"
"Yes. Jean Eaken."
"Has Detective Wallace explained what we need?"
"You're the prosecutor running the investigation, he told me. I've got to go through the details with you again, and then make a phone call that you're going to script for me. Is Cara still here?" Jean asked.
"She's in another office down the hall," Mercer said. "It's better we keep you separated until this is done. Then we'll take you over to the hotel and let you get some rest."
I had been the assistant district attorney in charge of the Sex Crimes Prosecution Unit for more than a decade, and Mercer had called me into the case to try to add something from my legal arsenal to speed the arrest process and increase the likelihood that Jean Eaken would be a successful witness in the courtroom.
Mercer told me that the twenty-four-year-old Canadian graduate student had met the suspect at a conference on adolescent psychology at the University of Toronto, which she had attended with her friend, Cara, four months earlier.
I sat opposite Jean, who stifled a yawn as I asked the first question. It was almost midnight. "When you met Selim back in January, how much time did you spend with him then?"
"I sat next to him at a couple of lectures. We made small talk during the breaks. He bought Cara and me a glass of wine on the last afternoon, at happy hour. Told us he lived in Manhattan, that he was a doctor. Nothing more than that."
"He invited you to New York?"
"Not exactly. I told him that we'd never been here, but that we had a trip planned for the spring. He was very friendly, very kind. Cara asked him if he knew any inexpensive hotels, since we're on student budgets, and he told us we could stay at his apartment."
"Did you talk about the sleeping arrangements?"
"Yes, of course. Selim told us he had a girlfriend, and that he'd either stay over at her place or sleep on a futon in the living room. He offered us the twin beds," Jean said. "He gave me his card, Ms. Cooper, with his office phone and everything. He's a medical doctor -- a psychiatric resident. It seemed perfectly safe to both of us."
"It should have been perfectly safe," I said, trying to reassure her that it was not her own judgment that precipitated her victimization. "Did you correspond with him after that first meeting?"
Jean shrugged. "A couple of e-mails, maybe. Nothing personal. I thanked him for his offer and asked him whether he really meant it. Then I sent him another one a month ago, after Cara and I set our travel dates, to see if those were still good for him."
Mercer nodded at me over Jean's head. He was keeping a list of things to do, and getting subpoenas for the e-mail records of both parties would be added to his tasks. We had worked together often enough to know each other's professional style, especially for documenting every corroborating fact we could in this often bizarre world of sex crimes.
"Were there any phone calls between you two?"
"Just one, a week ago. I left him a voice mail explaining when our bus arrived at the Port Authority and making sure it was a convenient time to show up at his apartment. He called me back late that night and we talked for a while."
"Can you reconstruct that conversation for us? The details of it, I mean."
There would be skeptics on any jury that was eventually impaneled, people who would assume that there must have been verbal foreplay between the time of the first meeting of this attractive young woman and the stranger at whose home she later arranged a sleepover. I needed to know that before Mercer and I took the next steps.
"Selim asked me if we had made plans for the days that we'd be in the city and what we wanted to see. Things like that."
"Did he say anything at all, Jean -- anything -- that made you think he was interested in you, maybe socially or even sexually?"
She answered quickly and firmly. "No." Her green eyes opened wide as she looked at me to measure my response.
She thought for several seconds. "He asked me why my boyfriend wasn't coming with me. I told him I didn't have one," Jean said. "Oh, yeah. He wanted to know if I liked to smoke marijuana, 'cause he could get some while I was here."
Mercer moved his head back and forth. This was a fact he was hearing for the first time. It didn't necessarily change the case at all, but it reminded us that we had to constantly press for things that often seemed irrelevant to witnesses -- and for the truth.
"What did you tell him?"
"That I don't like weed, that it makes me sick."
"Did you expect to spend any time with him, Jean?"
"No way. Dr. Sengor -- Selim -- told us he'd be at work all day and with his girlfriend most evenings. I just thought he was being a nice guy, letting us crash at his place."
Most of my prosecutorial career had involved women meeting nice guys who had other things in mind. Cops and prosecutors -- and often Manhattan jurors -- found young people from west of the Hudson River and north of the Bronx a bit too trusting much of the time.
"So he didn't come on to you at all?"
Jean forced a smile. "Not until I was ready to go to bed the first night."
"What happened then?"
"It was after nine when we got to his place. We sort of settled in and talked for an hour. Just stuff. Psychology and how hard grad school is and what were our first impressions of the city. When Cara went into the bathroom to take a shower, Selim came over to the couch I was sitting on and like, well, he tried to hook up with me."
"Tell Alex exactly what he did," Mercer said, coaxing the facts we needed out of her as he had done earlier in the day.
Jean was a well-built young woman, almost as tall as I am at five-foot-ten, but much stockier. "I was tired from the long bus ride, and kind of leaning back with my head against a pillow. Selim reached over and tried to kiss me -- right on the mouth -- while he was fumbling to get his hand on my chest."
"What did you do?"
"I just pushed him away and stood up. I asked him to give me the telephone book so I could find a hotel to stay in."
"How did he react to that?"
"He was very apologetic, Ms. Cooper. He told me how sorry he was, that he had misinterpreted my body language. He pleaded with me not to tell Cara. He told me that in his country -- "
"His country?" I asked.
"Selim's from Turkey. He said that back home, if anybody did that to his sister, he'd be pilloried in the town square."
He'd be short one hand and castrated, too, no doubt. "So you stayed?"
"He was a perfect gentleman from that point on. He was just testing me, I guess. It's happened to me before. Maybe that's why I thought I could handle the situation."
"You'll have to ask her about that," Jean said, blushing perceptibly.
Mercer had already told me that Selim Sengor hit on Cara, too, after Jean fell asleep the first night. They stayed in the living room talking, and she engaged in some kissing and fondling with him, but had stopped short of further sexual intimacy. That was another reason to keep the witnesses separated. They were likely to be more straightforward with us out of each other's presence. Cara might blame herself for what happened thereafter -- an unfortunate but typical reaction when some of the sexual contact was consensual. She might even be less candid in front of Jean.
"Did you socialize with him during the week?"
"No. In fact, he actually did spend the night before last with his girlfriend. We hardly ever saw him." She bit at the cuticle of one of her nails, until she noticed me watching her. Then she straightened up again and began to wind a strand of her long hair behind her left ear.
"In the morning, after Cara and I made our plans, I beeped him at the hospital. When he called back, I told him that we were going sightseeing and planned to pick up some half-price tickets to a Broadway show, in Times Square. We invited him to join us, to thank him for letting us stay with him."
"Did he spend the evening with you?"
"No, he didn't seem the least bit interested in doing that."
"Did you and Cara go to the theater?"
"Yeah, we saw that new Andrew Lloyd Webber thing. Cara loves him. We got back to the apartment after eleven o'clock and Selim was waiting up for us. We bought him a gift, an expensive bottle of Kentucky bourbon," Jean said, smiling again, now braiding the length of hair as she talked. "It sounded very American."
"What did you do then?"
"He offered us a drink and we both said sure. We sat in the living room while Selim went into the kitchen and mixed the cocktails."
"Mixed them? What did he make for you?"
Again she shrugged and shook her head. "I don't know. I never drank bourbon before. I heard that loud kind of noise that a food blender makes, and he came out with something -- I don't know -- it looked very frothy when he brought it to us."
I couldn't imagine anyone adding something to a good scotch, and I doubted there was much to improve on in a fine bourbon either.
"Had you changed your clothes, Jean, to get ready to go to sleep?"
"No. Cara turned on the CD player and we started listening to the soundtrack from the show. Selim came back into the room and handed us each a drink. He offered a toast to our friendship and we clinked our glasses together."
The young woman rested her elbows on the desk and cushioned her head in her hands while I asked her how much of the cocktail she drank.
"Three sips of it, Ms. Cooper. Maybe four. I swear I didn't have any more than that."
"No. I mean he had some in the apartment -- he offered me a joint that he took out of a drawer in one of the tables, but I didn't smoke any."
I needed her candor. The blood and urine that had been collected by the nurse-examiner would confirm her answer.
"Did he smoke?"
"Not in front of us. Not that I saw."
"What's the next thing you remember?"
"There was no next thing. That's the last memory I have, really. I felt dizzy and weak -- so weak that I tried to stand up but I couldn't. The room started spinning and then it was dark. Completely black. That's all I know." Jean pushed herself upright again, looked at her nail -- the bed red with irritation from her biting -- and then back at me.
"Until I woke up this morning."
"In the living room?"
"No, no. No. I was in one of the beds in the other room. That's what's so strange about this, Ms. Cooper. I was dressed in my nightgown, my clothes were folded neatly on top of my suitcase," Jean said, dropping her head back in her hands and lowering her voice. "And I ached. I ached terribly."
"I need to know where it hurt. Exactly where you felt it."
Jean Eaken didn't lift her head. She rubbed her lower abdomen with one hand.
Mercer and I both knew what she meant, but that wouldn't be specific enough for the purposes of the law. "On the outside of your body?" I asked, speaking softly.
"No. Inside me. Like someone had sex with me. Too much."
"Do you remember having intercourse with Selim? Do you think you might have consented to it after you started drinking with -- "
Jean flashed another look at me as I gently challenged her and cut me off abruptly with a single sharp word. "No."
"Tell me what you did this morning, Jean."
"I was frozen. I didn't know what to do. At first I couldn't even remember where I was. I looked at my watch and saw that it was eleven thirty in the morning. We'd had the alarm set all week for seven, but I didn't even hear that go off. I got out of bed -- I was still a little dizzy -- to lock the bedroom door. Selim had been working rotating shifts -- different hours all week. He told us he had to work sixteen hours today -- eight A.M. to midnight -- but I was scared he might still be there. Then I woke Cara up."
"Where was she?" I asked.
"In the other bed. Same as me -- dressed in her nightgown and her jeans and sweater all folded up neatly. She was sleeping so deep, I had to keep shaking her to get her up. She didn't remember anything, either. She started crying, so first I had to calm her down. It was my idea to get dressed and go over there to the hospital."
"That was the best thing you could have done, Jean. Very smart."
"But the doctors haven't told me anything."
"We won't let you go home until they've explained their findings to you," Mercer said, watching Jean nervously twist and untwist the same plait of hair.
"Did you leave your things at Selim's?"
"Are you crazy? I never wanted to see that guy again. We brought our suitcases with us."
"The glasses you drank from," I said, "did you see them in the apartment this morning?"
"I didn't look around. I just wanted to get out of there as fast as possible."
"Did you have any reason to go into the kitchen, to put things away or clean anything up?"
"No. That's his problem."
Even better. It meant there was a shot that we might get lucky and still find some inculpatory evidence if Mercer and I could get going on this.
"I know it's been a long day for you, Jean. Just give us a few minutes to put things together and we'll be back," I said, stepping out of the room behind Mercer, who had picked up the cardboard evidence collection kit that had been prepared by the nurse-examiner at the hospital. We were in the hallway of the quiet corridor that Special Victims shared with the Manhattan North Homicide Squad.
"How long will it take to get the tox screening back on these?" he asked, referring to the slides and plastic bottles inside the compact box.
In addition to the traditional testing of fluids and stains recovered from a patient's body during the emergency room treatment of a rape victim, the latest kits required samples be taken of blood and urine for the most refined testing, as assailants used more sophisticated methods to overcome their prey.
"Seventy-two hours, if they jump us to the front of the line."
"I'm sending this whole thing to the M.E.'s office, to Serology?"
"It starts there," I said. Mercer knew that our medical examiner's serology lab did most of the analyses we needed. "Unfortunately, if there are any exotic drugs involved, it'll go out to a private lab and take even longer."
"Damn. I hate to give this bastard a three-day pass. We'll even have the DNA results by this time tomorrow."
"DNA tells us next to nothing in a case like this. We know they spent the night in his apartment. We know the docs recovered semen specimens from both women. None of that's a crime unless he used force -- "
"No sign of that," Mercer said.
Even the aches that Jean described could be consistent with consensual sexual activity if it was vigorous or prolonged -- or infrequent, since she had told Selim she did not have a current boyfriend.
"Or he spiked their drinks to render them unconscious. We're nowhere without the toxicology," I said.
"How do you want to take it from here?"
My deputy, Sarah Brenner, had stayed behind at the DA's office to draft the search warrant with the facts Mercer provided to her, and she would take it before the judge who was sitting in night court to sign while we set the rest of the operation in motion.
"I'll work up the conversation for Jean to have with Selim," I said, "but I don't want her to make that call until your team is stationed outside the door of his apartment. His shift ends right around now and he should be home within the half hour. The minute Jean hangs up, I'll be on the phone to you and you'll go in with the warrant. If her questions raise his antennae, I don't want him to have a chance to clean house before you get there."
The glass-paneled door with the gold-and-black lettering -- HOMICIDE -- opened from within and Mike Chapman called out to Mercer Wallace. "Your witness is getting antsy in here. She wants to know when you and Coop are gonna move on the perp."
I walked farther down the hallway to greet Mike, whom I hadn't seen in several weeks. I smiled at the sight of him back in his natural habitat in the Homicide Squad -- his thick shock of straight black hair, the long, lean body, his personal uniform of navy blazer and jeans. All that was missing was the infectious grin that had been good to bring me out of every dark situation and mood I'd faced in more than a decade that we had worked together.
"Hey, stranger. When did you come on?"
"Doing steady midnights. I'm not sleeping much, so I might as well have a place to hang out."
"When Mercer and I finish up in another couple of hours -- around two a.m. -- why don't we take you downstairs for something to eat?" I asked.
Mike walked to his desk, seated himself with his back to me, and put his feet up while he examined his notebook. I paused at an empty cubicle next to his and started writing the lines I wanted Jean Eaken to deliver to Dr. Sengor.
"I'm sticking here," Mike said. "Just got a scratch I got to sit on."
A scratch wasn't a formal report of a crime, but rather a notification to the NYPD of an unusual circumstance.
"What's so serious you'd pass up the greasiest bacon and eggs in Harlem with me?" I tried to tease a familiar smile out of my favorite homicide detective and still-grieving friend.
"Right up your alley, twinkletoes. There may be a swan on the loose. Lieutenant Peterson has me on standby."
"What are you talking about?"
"Ever hear of" -- Mike looked down at his notes to get the name -- "Talya. Talya Galinova?"
"Natalya Galinova." The world-renowned dancer who commanded more curtain calls in a month than most performers would ever know in a lifetime was as famous for her artistry as for her ethereal looks and regal bearing. "She's starring with the Royal Ballet at Lincoln Center this week."
"Well, sometime between the second act and the curtain calls tonight, she pulled a Houdini. Me and the loo got other plans for the weekend than breakfast with you. Personally, I'm hoping your missing swan doesn't morph into a dead duck."
Excerpted from DEATH DANCE © Copyright 2011 by Fairstein Enterprises, LLC. Reprinted with permission by Scribner, an imprint of Simon & Schuster, Inc. All rights reserved.